If you ask someone who is the most famous atheist in the world, chances are they will tell you to leave them the hell alone, but, if they do give you an answer, it will probably be Richard Dawkins. Together with the late Christopher Hitchens, he is best known today for railing against religion and spirituality in general by calling himself one of the enlightened ‘Brights’ and sneering at the stupidity of the vast majority of the human race for not interpreting the wonders of the world solely through the dull lens of the modern scientific method. But it was as a youthful academic that he first established his name by using that method – or more likely the very illogic inspiration he disdains so much – to develop his theory of the gene as the critical replicating entity behind Charles Darwin’s monumental insight.
Echoing some of the greatest asshole scientists of all time, the author of The Selfish Gene would take his theory out of his limited field of expertise where it applies, and attempt to explain all of human experience with it in a hugely impressive display of vanity. Most memorably, he argued that there was a fundamental replicating unit of culture analogous to the gene, which he called a ‘meme’. Unfortunately, this rigid oversimplification would prove unsuccessful, though his ‘meme’ would live on as the term for mildly amusing boldly captioned images circulated via social media, which proved a far better match for the concept intellectually speaking.
But the true glory years were yet to come, when Dawkins found the vehicle most suited to his eloquent ideas – a pithy social media platform optimized for those who find sentences more than 140 characters long a challenge. He would use his twitter pulpit to deftly advance cause of rationality and critical thinking by becoming insanely enraged in the style of a fulminating evangelical about all manner of illogical minutia or displays of imagination in the wider world. There are many tweets to pick from, but perhaps the most inspired was this gospel truth:
“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”
It was here that he surely gave the game away that he is not what he seems, since his thought process is so obviously riddled with unjustified axioms, such as the fact that the rapist you go on a date with is necessarily well known to you, and that they don’t use a knife, and that an overprivileged white male who lived his life coddled in the Ivory Tower would have any insight into the relative suffering of rape victims. He also surely tipped his hat with his ‘Dear Muslima’ letter, in which he feigns a total lack of awareness of the informal fallacy of relative privation, and yet again exhibits the misogyny inherent in the evocation of horrific violence against women to score utterly pedantic points.
Obviously, we are waiting for the final chapter in Dawkin’s evolution, when the wily Professor reveals that his tweeting was cleverly designed as an example of how not to think, fraught as it is with ignorant assumptions and deep-seated malevolence. One can only imagine he is trying to nudge us to an optimal nuanced position, as opposed to the lazy pastiche of rational thought that Dawkins practices when he takes on the difficult task of debunking people who literally believe there is a big man with a beard and a toga up in the sky who nitpicks our behavior, and other variants thereof.
It is good to know that far from being a pompous egotistical jackass that should never have been afforded the lofty trappings of the highest academic honors, Dawkins is actually a man so devoted to the elevation of considered human thought that he is prepared to sacrifice himself as a living testament to the humongous mistake it is to think of ourselves as mere organic abaci with no room for mystery, flights of fancy, or humility in the face of the unknown.
Praise of the highest order, then, to the emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, who works so hard to remind us by counter example that we should never become too enamored of a supposedly all-knowing all-powerful dogmatic entity that seeks to suppress us, just as we also should never become beholden to things that aren’t Richard Dawkins – like religion.