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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.