Reason versus Ridicule

anti-intellectual_dunceThough I’ve not yet had time to listen to the most recent debate between Richard Dawkins and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, I can’t let the Gaurdian report on the event pass without comment. Mostly, I was appalled at the focus of the article.

So, what was that focus? What did the reporter think most interesting about a Cambridge debate on the future of religion?

Dawkins made a penis joke.

It is unfortunate enough that a man trusted to represent the sciences at Oxford so often resorts to antics, relying on junior high humor and ridicule rather than cogent arguments in order to “promote reason”. It is worse when many in the audience, even those who write for the Guardian, are so quick to buy into cheap giggles that they forget to think.

Even the subtitle of the article implies that this joke is the important issue, downplaying the loss (saying that Dawkins lost “on paper”–which is an odd way of saying that the anti-religious motion was voted down by a large majority of the audience).

It seems that the writer is either so committed to Dawkins’ views that he’s uninterested in the arguments – or that he actually likes the idea that Cambridge debates could be turned into potty joke contests.

I’m not sure which idea bothers me more, but the former, if less obviously silly, isn’t any less anti-intellectual.

But there is a ray of hope in this. Apparently, at least most in the audience weren’t so impressed by the penis joke that they voted in favor of Dawkins regardless of the issues. Still, that so many have been willing, even eager, to let him get away with claiming that crass insults and ridicule somehow promotes reason and scientific thinking shows something of a breakdown in the quality of academia.

The article closes with the suggestion that Dawkins would make a good comedian. In one sense, he already is one. What’s been called reason and science by the New Atheists is actually a series of stand-up style quips and jokes designed to embarrass their opposition.

4 responses to “Reason versus Ridicule

  • David King

    I wonder whether Cambridge found Dawkins to be something of an an embarrassment? When he retired from the Simonyi chair in 2008, his replacement emphasized a desire to follow a different path from Dawkins, seemingly one closer to the promotion of science. What a concept, that the professor for public understanding of science should focus on science rather than religion.

    • Debilis

      I hadn’t heard that. That is encouraging news; thanks for mentioning it.
      As a lover of science, I’m always excited about the prospect that we can talk about the subject without making it about something else.

  • makagutu

    First, what is wrong with a penile joke? Would you rather be a joke about the eye or the leg? If this should be your argument against Dawkins don’t you think you are missing the point.

    I have watched the debate, listened to the commentary and in as much as I will grant that the Atheists lost on the vote country, the question of whether religion was true as asked by Dawkins was not answered and am not sure you can answer it.

    • Debilis

      Greetings again!

      Nothing is inherently wrong with such a joke. What bothered me was the fact that this was the emphasis of the report. I’d rather the writer have shown more concern for the issues.

      So, no, that wasn’t an argument against Dawkins. It was a complaint about the journalist.

      Admittedly, I did also complain that Dawkins too often resorts to rhetorical antics rather than logic (which is true), but that was not meant as an argument against his position, but simply a side comment.

      I’m definitely not convinced that I can answer the question of Christianity’s truth in a blog response. Still, I think this is a bit irrelevant. The debate was not over whether or not any particular religion was true, nor was my comment about that question. It seems strange to expect that a tangent question be answered here.

      But, I’ll do my best to work on answering that question as the blog develops. That is definitely a more interesting question than the debate proposal.

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