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Selfish Gene Turns Forty, in Time for Dawkins Crackup

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The book that made a name for biologist Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, was published in 1976. Would anyone have predicted that forty years later, the author would be in the headlines not for his scientific contributions but primarily for ill-considered tweets, offending feminists, Muslims, and more, that currently threaten to dislodge him as figurehead of the unruly New Atheists?

His most recent offense: Posting a witless video to Twitter thought to be encouraging of misogyny and Islamophobia. The Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism withdrew a speaking invitation over it: "We have taken this action in response to Dr. Dawkins' approving re-tweet of a highly offensive video."

At the Huffington Post, Chris Sosa laments, "I'm Finally Breaking Up With Richard Dawkins." Identified as a "a full-time vegan strategist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)," Mr. Sosa reveals: "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm done with Richard Dawkins." In case you are triggered by dangling modifiers, I warn you -- here comes one:

As a teenager, the brilliant scientist was among the first to break through my bubble of petty fundamentalism and push me to think critically about the superstitions that envelope our cultures. I miss that guy and have no idea where he went.

Sosa means that this occurred when he, not Dawkins, was a teenager. More:

As an atheist, I'm embarrassed that there are so few of us in public. Richard Dawkins is leader-by-default in a group that would reject such hierarchy but can't due to lack of visibility. He's holding atheists hostage. But angry, misogynistic white men who try to silence opposition through racial fearmongering already have a home base: the GOP. They don't belong in movements that reject superstition in the interest of making a kinder, more rational world with fewer boundaries separating us from each other.

Richard Dawkins does not represent me. He doesn't represent atheists. He doesn't represent scientists. He's a single person with too much power who's clearly become enamored with himself and needs to be gracefully demoted by the movement he helped build, not followed off the cliff he's marching it toward.

Meanwhile, Salon advises, "Never tweet, Richard Dawkins: Famed atheist now signal-boosting Nazi propaganda." What's that about?

Famed atheist and of-late-anti-PC crusader Richard Dawkins is again in hot water after retweeting images of a parody book called "The Social Justice Delusion" (a spoof of his best-seller, "The God Delusion"), which was meant to criticize the supposed double-standards of political correctness. Though ostensibly par-for-the-course for Dawkins' Twitter ethos, the jacket (go figure) featured a QR code linking users to infamous White Nationalist slogan "Fourteen Words," which goes, "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."

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Realizing his error, Dawkins soon deleted the tweet, but not before some hawk-eyed users could take him to task.

It's like a strange dream, not exactly good or bad, but mostly just...weird. As I said here not long ago, "Atheists Deserve a Better Spokesman than Neil deGrasse Tyson." They deserve a better one than Dawkins, too. And frankly so do we. It would be edifying to have a thoughtful major evolutionary atheist as a critic. Like Chris Sosa, I too "miss the guy" who wrote The Selfish Gene.

Image credit: www.CGPGrey.com [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.