Why Dawkins is wrong on politics

Dawkins in 2008, Photo by Shane Pope, http://flickr.com/people/shanepope

Richard Dawkins in 2008, Photo by Shane Pope, http://flickr.com/people/shanepope

Concerning evolution and religion, the popular British biologist Richard Dawkins is a significant thinker. Especially his magnum opus The Ancestor’s Tale is a true masterpiece. So, many secularists came to assume that, given he is so clever on science and religion, he must also be right on other matters.

Yet, at least concerning politics, Dawkins is dead wrong. 

In fact, he is wrong on politics in many ways. To start with, his methodology is wrong. Dawkins should use the same methodology that he uses in science to judge political questions, starting with actually reading what people say and what these questions are. He should read books on politics by actual experts and political scientists. He should make logical arguments on a strong empirical foundation. But he doesn’t.

Should scientists shut up about politics?

The philosopher Paul Craddick goes so far as to say that Dawkins is an important counter-example to the notion that we should listen to scientists on matters of politics which would intuitively seem like a good idea because they are used to applying the critical method. Craddick wrote a philosophical analysis of Dawkins’ article Bin Laden’s victory. His conclusion:

In the course of the piece, Dawkins repeatedly abuses language, erects straw men in place of his opponents, and generally avoids any truck with the serious arguments for the opposing view. Even if, qua scientist, Dawkins speaks with no particular authority, this is quite surprising in a man of undeniable intelligence and erudition.

There also is an analysis of Dawkins’ letter to George W. Bush. It’s called “Richard Dawkins, George W. Bush, and Morality“. In it, the author makes the following important point:

Indeed, the belief that all purportedly objective moral values are necessarily rooted in the supernatural is one which, ironically, Dawkins shares with President Bush and nearly all religious people. And many religious people, especially religious fanatics, share with Dawkins the view that the purportedly objective moral values of other religions are no more than myths and verbal tricks to frighten believers into submission to the priests of false gods.

An atheist who makes that mistake is therefore likely to be especially alienated from morality. Such a person must construct, and distort, their moral view around the non-objectivity of all moral views, and their passion comes from the conviction that people who deem moral questions to be susceptible of true answers are the epitome of evil – indeed, the only evil. That fact that this stance is self-contradictory only serves to increase that passion.

Quite so. I’m actually not the one (as some think) who has fallen into the trap of the “good and evil dualism”. It is the ones who think that Bush would be somehow as bad as bin Laden or that there was no objective enough distinction between good and bad actions. Dawkins is stuck so far in this trap that he actually seems to consider Bush evil, a living conglomerate of all that Dawkins hates, “an idle nonentity; inarticulate, unintelligent, an ignorant hick”, as he writes.

The author of the precedent analysis of Dawkins’ letter to Bush was none other than David Deutsch, the famous quantum physicist and living proof that scientists are not inherently incapable of using their methodology on politics. David Deutsch also gave an answer to the Edge-question “What now?” in 2001, an answer that is absolutely brilliant and that I agree with entirely (which almost never happens). Here is an important extract:

People wring their hands and say that there must be “better ways of finding solutions” than warfare. Of course there are. We have already found them. The nations and people of the West use them all the time. They are openness, tolerance, reason, respect for human rights — the fundamental institutions of our civilisation. But no way of finding solutions is so effective that it can work when it isn’t being used.

And when a violent group defines itself by its comprehensive rejection of all the values on which problem-solving and the peaceful resolution of disputes depend, and embarks instead on a campaign of unlimited murder and destruction, it is morally wrong as well as factually inaccurate to represent this as a case of our needing “better ways of finding solutions”. That is why we have to insist, by force if necessary, that everyone else in the world also respect, and enforce, the minimum standards of civilisation and human rights. Western standards.

David Deutsch wrote an article on ethical realism (my ethics) that anticipated Sam Harris’ new book The Moral Landscape in 2002 – in fact, Deutsch even uses the term “moral landscape”. And in this article, he offers an important perspective yet again! I am positively enthusiastic about David Deutsch on politics and ethics. So, my answer is no, we should not ignore scientists on political issues. Just Richard Dawkins.

How Dawkins almost escaped Leftism

Dawkins once almost escaped his lefty illusions, as his first reactions to 9/11 attest. In his article Religion’s misguided missiles from September 15th, 2001 he wrote:

There is no doubt that the afterlife-obsessed suicidal brain really is a weapon of immense power and danger. It is comparable to a smart missile, and its guidance system is in many respects superior to the most sophisticated electronic brain that money can buy.

He almost joined my side on September 27th, 2001 when he made the following statement in his answer to the Edge-question “What now?”:

“The chips are down, and I suddenly know whose side I am on. A world without Islam, indeed a world from which all three Abrahamic religions had been lost, would not be an obviously worse world in which to live. .. But a world which had lost enlightened scientific reason (which is at its best in America, and not only because more resources are spent on it) would be impoverished beyond all telling. So I hope I shall not sound too corny if I want to stand up as a friend of America. Even (and it feels like pulling teeth to say so) Bush’s America.”

In his article Time to stand up from September he wrote:

“To blame Islam for what happened in New York is like blaming Christianity for the troubles in Northern Ireland!” Yes. Precisely. It is time to stop pussyfooting around. Time to get angry.

And he did get angry. He did get angry at the people who fought the terrorists he had earlier compared to computer guided missiles. A year later, in 2002, the British Independent asked all sorts of famous people who their heroes of the year were. Dawkins’ choices seem bizarre. He could have chosen anyone as a hero, even Mickey Mouse, the friendly duck from the river nearby, the Marshmallow Man, yet he chose Robert Fisk as the hero of 2002. I would have chosen George W. Bush, as did Independent columnist Bruce Anderson, who gave the following reasons:

Throughout the year, the President has grown in stature, confidence and authority. His powers of leadership were acknowledged by American voters, enabling him to win the mid-term elections despite the US’s economic difficulties. He is now about to put those powers to the ultimate test: leadership in war. Those continental European politicians who refuse to recognise President Bush’s ability merely reveal their own political decadence.

Dawkins’ false heroes

And here is Dawkins’ reason to chose Robert Fisk, a British lefty journalist, as his personal hero of 2002:

He is not afraid to tell the truth, however unpleasant. His serious sincerity redeems the profession of journalist from the dishonour inflicted by the tabloids.

His “serious sincerity”? I looked through an extensive list of rhetorical devices and couldn’t find out what this is supposed to be. If you know, please tell (there must be a term for this). It is indeed a reoccurring phenomenon that Dawkins’ style becomes really bad whenever he writes about politics compared to when he writes about science.

In every case, Fisk is not sincere and he doesn’t inform us of important truths at all. To the contrary he is, as Mark Humphreys puts it, “the man who is always wrong”. The once famous blog Little Green Football named his annual award after Fisk. It’s called “Idiotarian of the Year“. Eaoghan Harris wrote about Fisk:

Fisk has now been wrong about three wars in a row. In the Gulf War he told us the Republican Guard would give the Americans a hard time: in fact, they folded. In the Kosovo War he said American bombing would not work: today Slobodan Milosevic is on trial for war crimes. And Fisk has been wrong about the Afghan War from first to last.

Harris is the guy who coined the verb “to fisk” in 1999, one of the new words invented by bloggers. It means to do what Fisk does: Sloppy, biased, one-sided argument; hopelessly wrong predictions, lack of embarrassment about said predictions and so on.

Next to Dawkins, Fisk has fans like Adam Gadahn from Al Qaeda who said:

As for those who have expressed their respect and admiration for Islam, and acknowledged that it is the truth, and demonstrated their support and sympathy for the Muslims and their causes, like George Galloway, Robert Fisk, and countless others, I say to them “Isn’t it time you stopped sitting on the fence and came over to the side of truth?”

Osama bin Laden even said that Fisk was “one of your compatriots and co-religionists and I consider him to be neutral”. Yet, Dawkins is not neutral at all on Islamism, he would appear to be against it.

All of this begs the question why Richard Dawkins considers someone like Fisk to be a “hero”?

Dawkins’ false villains

At one of his talks in Germany I attended, Richard Dawkins refused to call George W. Bush “president”. He did so because he believes in the conspiracy theory of the “stolen election”. I don’t call it a “conspiracy theory” for polemical reasons, but because it actually is a conspiracy theory. See this analysis if you doubt it.

What follows is the reason Dawkins gave for calling Bush the “villain” of 2002:

This illiterate buffoon cheated his way into the White House with the help of his well-connected family and friends. Having dismally failed to anticipate or prevent the atrocity of September 11, he spent the rest of the day zigzagging around the country like a jet-propelled chicken. His personal cowardice was mirrored in the country at large, and he fanned it to his advantage in the mid-term elections, and now, to foment an unprovoked war that has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with oil. His record on the environment is as appalling as you would expect. Bush is rightly despised throughout the world, and it is humiliating that Britain is seen as his only ally.

This is an offense to terms like “evidence” and “reason”. Obama also had help of his family and friends. Like every president so far! To say that Bush “failed to anticipate” 9/11 is like accusing him of not having supernatural powers. To accuse him of visiting several places in the US on this day is simply incredible – of course he did! There was an attack on the US! What was he supposed to do? Go to bed?

Then Dawkins simply states that Bush showed “cowardice” – no idea why. What was he supposed to do? Fly an airplane into the Islamic headquarter? Obviously not, given that Dawkins seems to be opposed to violence, even against Islamic terrorists. What follows is the unfounded “Iraq was about oil” conspiracy theory. Well, I guess WW II was planned by Jewish bankers, right? And Bush is bad for the environment as well, guess what. Instead of saying that Osama bin Laden is “rightly despised throughout the world”, Dawkins asserts us that the guy bin Laden hated most is “rightly despised throughout the world.”

It’s cheap, it’s bad, it’s unworthy of Dawkins – whom I have a very high opinion of on matters of evolution and whom I mostly agree with on religion. It is simply disappointing. I’m a disappointed fan.

Bush seems to appear like an evil demon to Dawkins. Leftys are always aware of people who demonize others, like Reagan maliciously did with the “Evil Empire” that killed 60 million people, but who even cares. Except when they do it! It’s perfectly alright if someone demonizes Bush, who defended the free world. Mark Humphreys commented on a similar article by Dawkins from 2003 on Iraq:

He gloats that “US armed forces are “overstretched”, and that is exactly how they should be.” What he is doing here is actually gloating over attacks by Islamic religious fascists on Americans and Iraqis trying to build a new society. He is also in this letter delighted that the Islamic religious tyranny of Iran will be left alone for the moment. Dawkins here is not an enemy of religious fascism. He is a friend of it.

Dawkins is not normally a friend of religious fascism, of course, but when he writes about politics, he suddenly seems to become one. It is very sad, indeed.


Is it not obvious that we have to fight the enemies of civilisation and that we should at least not be glad when American soldiers get killed by Islamists, as friends of the Iraqi “resistance” are? Just what on earth is wrong with everyone?

Start using the scientific method on politics and inform yourself. Or don’t comment on politics, at least not with the conviction and authority that Dawkins uses for his cause. The new atheists should be, as a said, more self-critical. They might know much about science and religion (maybe not even so much about religion, but they are at least vaguely right about it) but this does not imply that they know anything at all about politics!


Mark Humphrey’s open letter to Dawkins

Richard Dawkins: The Ancestor’s Tale

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4 Responses to Why Dawkins is wrong on politics

  1. Anonym says:

    Thank you for this article, it was very interesting to me, i did not knew this stuff about Dawkins.

  2. numnm says:

    Hmm………. You complain about Dawkins lack of objectivity and application of scientific and historical methods to politics, and yet you fail to provide a single primary source example of Dawkins committing this error. Your subjective tosh is built upon subjective tosh. Epic fail, Terry.

    • terryrotter says:

      I have no clue at all how you reached this conclusion. There is simply no detectable connection of your statement to reality, given that I quote Dawkins several times by the use of several primary sources that are all linked in my article. Your allegation is completely and utterly absurd. I directly quote passages where he uses strawmen and paranoid conspiracy theories and I link detailed analyses of his mistakes.

      I am a fan of Dawkins, by all means. Yet he is simply wrong on politics. In fact, what he says about religion directly contradicts what he says about politics, as I have shown.

  3. Ingo Bading says:

    If you want to write about the relationship between darwinian science and politics, especially about the relationship between sociobiology and politics, you have to comment scientific literature about “cheater detection”, about group evolutionary strategies. There exists a Darwinian science about politics. One important thinker is Kevin MacDonald. There are a lot of things do be done in this field. But a good start is made. And Dawkins knows about this start without talking so much about it.

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