Okay, advanced warning – I’ve been in a really bad mood for the last few days, so I expect this post will be even snarkier than usual. Consider yourself warned…
(Newsies voices:) EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT! BREAKING NEWS! RICHARD DAWKINS LIKES *NICE* RELIGIOUS LEADERS! RUMORS CIRCULATE THAT HE ALSO LIKES PUPPIES! AND SUNSHINE!
So yes, in response to his pithy observation that more Trinity Cambridge people have won Nobel prizes than Muslims, Richard Dawkins, full-time biologist and part-time old man yelling at clouds, has addressed any bad feelings he totally accidentally created by explaining that he likes “nice religious leaders.” And the Jews. And possibly Pope Francis? And by explaining the Nobel Peace Prize “doesn’t count.” I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he means “counts” toward calculating who has the most, and not just in an abstract, existentialist way. So that clears that up.
Honestly, the whole interview is super mansplainy (and available here - trigger warnings for Islamophobia, casual racism, mansplaining and general public schoolboy douchebaggery). Dawkins revises his comments about the Nobel Prize to note that more Jews than Muslims have won, and then absolutely denies that has anything to do with race – because apparently the fact that of the 185 Jewish-identified Nobel Prize winners (excluding the 8 Peace Prize winners), only 28 of them were born outside of Europe or North America, and even the vast majority of those did most of their research in Europe or North America has nothing to do with race. Again, as I said in my last post, the divergence in performance in things like the Nobel are massive, institutional problems having to do with the availability of resources and the privilege to define parameters. To put it simply, people in North America and Europe get more Nobel Prizes because we invented the Prize and set all of the parameters for its awarding, and continue to control most of the resources required for it (university positions, university rankings, grant funding, collaborations, etc).
The interview is obviously set up to present Dawkins in as positive a light as possible. It’s in fact the interviewer who throws in a passing comment about not being able to choose your religion in “a poor, religious, Muslim country.” Pro-tip: Always be clear in what you mean by “Muslim country.” Are we talking about Iran? Iraq? Pakistan? India? Canada? All of those countries have large Muslim populations. Also lots of Americans are both poor and religious, but not Muslim, and some are Muslim, but neither poor nor terribly religious. Also some people are just poor. These things are not actually related.
I keep trying to convince myself that Dawkins is just an apologist, and that everything he says should just be taken as atheist polemic, but with all of his talk of education, it just makes me sad that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care to understand the relationship between things like race, nationalism and culture and things like privilege and imperialism. Religion is really not the only factor when it comes to the differences between Europe and the Middle East, and pretending it is is both (a) bad scholarship and (b) massively destructive for the people living in the rest of the world (oh, and while we’re at it, also (c.) the same thing Western imperialist said to try to convert everyone else to Christianity, a group I don’t think Dawkins wants to be associated with).
And then, charmingly, at the end of the interview, he throws in that he’s a sucker for “nice” religious leaders. Which is obviously untrue, because the man spoke out again Rowan Williams, who is, by all accounts, an incredibly nice guy (and also, according to some rumors, a hobbit). Which is actually what bothers me the most about the atheist polemic that tries to claim education as its own unique identifier – if you honestly believe that all negative representatives of a religion demonstrate the awfulness of all religions ever, but that all positive representatives are merely outliers, then you are terribly bad scientist. Some people are good and kind. Some people are massive douchenozzles. Some of each group are religious. And some of each group are atheists. The end.