With Richard Dawkins's Descent to a Figure of Fun, Atheism Has Lost Its Champion
The spiral to irrelevance is now complete. Read Tim Stanley's hilarious piece in the Telegraph, mocking Dawkins along with Stephen Fry's absurd recent interview in which he indignantly seemed to think he was the first to realize innocent suffering poses a challenge to faith.
The article is funny, but in another way it's dispiriting. Stanley is dead on, observing that "Richard Dawkins’ insanity has now become an English institution -- like warm beer and rain." It seems every day brings something more ludicrous from him than the day before, like tweeting about what an excellent response it would be to radical Muslims to beam pornography at them. They should never have set him up with a Twitter account.
Time was when it looked like Dawkins was about to go the full "nut-job 180" and declare that, upon reflection, there actually is a God and it’s Richard Dawkins -- and have himself blasted into space on the back of a dolphin singing "Onward Christian Soldiers." As you can tell, I’ve come to regard Dick with a great deal of affection. He’s just a mad uncle -- a genius academic with monomania who probably isn’t a bad person just a rather na�ve one. And his capacity for dreaming up new ways to irritate the religious is, at least, not boring.
An accompanying photo of Dawkins is captioned, "A nice old man with monomania, probably best ignored." When they start writing things like that about you, it's over. I see today at Why Evolution Is True that he did a not particularly amusing video, "Mr. Deity and the Atheist," where he pretends to talk to God. It goes on and on.
When Christopher Hitchens perished from cancer at an untimely age, with all his eloquence intact until the end, he became a secular saint. Dawkins, by contrast, has outlived himself. Still evidently in the pink of health, at age 73 he is full of spry energy to play the fool day in and day out. Despite losing a hero, the Hitchens story was ennobling for atheists. The Dawkins story is a serious black eye.
Not much is left of Dawkins's scientific legacy, the "Selfish Gene," since the concept of the gene itself is rapidly transforming, barely recognizable from what it was in 1976 when Dawkins's signature work was published. His best books remain a monument to fine prose on science for the general public.
Beyond this, the Dawkins legacy is now strictly one of clowning, and has been for some time. I'm not happy about it. When Darwin's defenders talk about science, there's an opportunity for interesting debate on an ultimate question, whether nature does or does not reflect purpose and design.
With scientific atheism's leading figure having checked out of intellectual life, who's there to talk to? In fact, this seems to be the general trajectory with the more gifted evolutionary spokesmen, giving up on explaining and arguing about science in favor of juvenile religion-bashing and self-parody.
Jerry Coyne seems on track to follow suit. It's now clear that he missed his true calling as a professional curator of adorable animal videos -- something at which he's actually quite talented, and to which he applies himself daily with relish.
Of the top New Atheists, only Lawrence Krauss is still on his feet and interested in debates touching on his field of cosmology. His campaign against Eric Metaxas after the latter published a Christmas Day op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God," was at least on point. (Though see Daniel Bakken's dismantling of the actual arguments brought to bear, here and here.)
Even as an advocate of intelligent design, I'm sad about all this. If I were a proponent of Darwinism, materialism, and atheism, I'd be really, really depressed.