Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dawkins' Stupid People

In a recent Newsnight interview Richard Dawkins had the following exchange with the interviewer, Jeremy Paxman:
Paxman: Do you really care that there are a lot of stupid people around?

Dawkins: I do actually, yes. I really do. I mean, I care that children are being misled by those stupid people.
This is where I have a really hard time with Dawkins. Instead of replying that those people aren't 'stupid', but simply 'misguided' he went with the 'stupid' moniker. Unfortunately, in The God Delusion Dawkins makes the point that religion is inherited from parents. Thus most people who are religious got that way because their parents taught them about religion. This doesn't make them stupid. You might say incorrect, or indoctrinated, you might even say dangerous, but that doesn't make them stupid.

Stupid is a really strong word. I know a talented programmer called Jonathan Zdziarski who is clearly not stupid (I met him through the anti-spam world) but who holds strong beliefs about Christianity including the creation story. I find those beliefs difficult to reconcile with evidence in the world, but he doesn't.

I've also met many other religious people in the computer industry. Just recently I reviewed a technical book which began with the author thanking Jesus for inspiration and his very existence. Difficult for me to understand, but the book was good and the author clearly not stupid.

Historically, many scientists have been religious. The most striking example is Michael Faraday. Clearly, not a stupid man.

Calling people stupid doesn't help progress an argument, it just makes the person that uses the word look pompous and overbearing. It just sounds like school playground level name calling.

Dawkins should have retorted that he didn't think 'those people' are 'stupid' and qualified his thinking. But I suspect that he actually does think they are stupid and it's that judgemental tone that annoys me most whenever I accidentally hear him speak.

PS Silly me, I had forgotten to add Donald Knuth to my list of examples.


If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.


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