Josh had a very good post yesterday, and not only because it defended us from some ongoing misrepresentations. In it, Josh also raised an important point: Why is Richard Dawkins, promoting his new evolution book, regularly being asked about his atheism, and why he is “strident,” “polarizing,” etc? Is it the media’s fault–or is it Dawkins’?
I would actually say a bit of both.
Journalists can be quite irresponsible, and even when they’re not outright irresponsible, they love to be provocative and to stir up conflict. To them, Dawkins is “Mr. Big Atheist,” and thus instinctively seen as a polarizing figure. Many radio or TV hosts, and even print journalists that Dawkins encounters on his tour, will not have read his books carefully; instead, they will be going on impressions and what they’ve heard.
Moreover, some of these journalists probably partake of the popular misconception that evolution and atheism are somehow equivalent. They may not even be able to distinguish between Dawkins’ last two books, and so of course, they’ll leap from one to the other insensibly.
Finally, atheism is, to a trouble-making journalist, potentially a much sexier topic than evolution. It’s divisive. It’s controversial. It’s much easier to create sparks with culture war questions than it is to patiently allow Dawkins to explicate science.
Frankly, I wish the media would just let Dawkins talk about evolution–it is the topic of the new book, and would be much more educational for the audience. But I don’t believe for a second that this is how the media behaves. That Dawkins would, after The God Delusion, be framed as a scientist-atheist combo, or even the icon of atheistic science, was as inevitable as night after day. It’s the media equivalent of a law of nature.
And this is where Dawkins himself comes it–for at least on some level, could he possibly not have known this? A few years back, long before we had The Greatest Show on Earth, I wrote (with Matt Nisbet) of Dawkins that “The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism.” Just swap “media” for “public” and the sentence is equally accurate.
Now, should the public and the media know the difference? Hell yeah. But is that the world we live in? Hell no.
And thus arises the really tough question: Should Dawkins and his followers recognize this reality and adapt accordingly, or should they blame the media and public (for being the media and public)?
Links to this Post
- Chris Mooney and essential properties. : The Uncredible Hallq | November 4, 2009