Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Guardian's editorial policy on Richard Dawkins

It would appear that the Guardian Comment is Free has an anti-Dawkins editorial policy - or if not actually a policy, then at least an inclination on the part of its staff to publish anti-Dawkins articles and columns.

I've had that impression for a while, so I decided to do a bit of research. I did a search for all the Guardian articles this year that mention the word Dawkins. I came up with 52 articles. Most of them mention his name only in passing, while a few are talking about some other Dawkins. But of those that make some substantial comment, I've formed the following categories

Carlo Strenger, How the Enlightenment taught us to laugh
Ciaran Toal, How science and faith grew up together

Dan Jones, The downside of religious doing
Caspar Melville, The real debate about atheism is here already
Khaled Diab, Survival of the nicest
Colin Blakemore, Science is just one gene away from defeating religion
Simon Jenkins, Scientist v statesman: who can call the battle of the bicentennial men?

Mark Vernon, God, Dawkins and tragic humanism
John Harris, Tutu, an archbishop for unbelievers
Charlotte Allen, Atheists: No God, just whining
Thomas Jackson, Thomas Aquinas would have loved genetics
Justin Thacker, Did Darwin Kill God?
Andrew Brown, Enemies of creationism may be hindering science teachers
Mary Midgley, Hobbes's Leviathan, part 6: responses to readers
Ed Halliwell, Dawkins strips away religion's dead wood
Carlo Strenger, Dawkins is wrong about believers
Andrew Brown, Dawkins raises the tone
Terry Eagleton, The liberal supremacists
Mary Midgley, Hobbes's Leviathan, Part 3: What is selfishness?
Madeleine Bunting, Real debates about faith are drowned by the New Atheists' foghorn voices
Andrew Brown, Why atheism must be taught
Mark Vernon, Darwin's year

Most of the pro-Dawkins articles make some either factual or approving reference to Dawkins more or less in passing. I've bent over backwards to classify the articles in a way that minimises the apparent imbalance. The majority of the anti-Dawkins articles make quite a meal of their criticisms.

This isn't a matter of the Guardian not being able to find any authors willing and able to defend Dawkins's ideas. There are plenty such available, and some of them already write for the Guardian. The only available conclusion is that deliberately or unconsciously, there is a significant anti-Dawkins bias in the Guardian's editorial policy.


  1. Have you considered the possibility that the Guardian isn't anti-Dawkins but that many people think he can't write intelligently about religion, and that that is why there have been lots of articles that you perceive as being "anti-Dawkins"?

    I don't think anyone is saying he can't write about science, are they?

  2. biskieboo

    The problem is that none of the anti-Dawkins articles actually make any attempt at explaining where he is wrong about the existence of God. Like most theology, they just assume god exists (and therefore Dawkins is wrong) and proceed from there.

  3. So Dawkins hasn't managed to change their minds. No surprise there.

  4. A concern highlighted to me by the recent "Science and religion: a history of conflict?" article is the number of religionistas who have PhDs in the history of science (or history of the philosophy of science) or similar and positons in science or medical faculties and seems to want to re-write history to downplay the conflict in history ....

  5. OK biskieboo. Offer Andrew an article which explains Dawkins' mistake in fact or logic which incorrectly leads him to the conclusion that God almost certainly doesn't exist. If he refuses it, email it to me, and I'll put it up here under your name - either your screen name or your real one, whichever you prefer.

  6. By the way, that offer to biskieboo applies to any other religious readers. If you have evidence for God's existence which I haven't already addressed in my various Guardian articles, then feel free to get in touch.

  7. I'm not "religious". I'm a member of a church that best reflects what I expect a church to provide for the community, and I believe in a higher power because of personal experience.
    I don't believe everything in the Bible, but I like Jesus a lot (whether he actually existed or not I find irrelevant).
    You'll find it quite hard to pigeon-hole a lot of other believers too. It's not that straightforward. And I have a biology degree, so I know about science too.
    God may almost certainly not exist for Richard Dawkins, but I'm not Richard Dawkins and he is not me. I've led a completely different life and faced different challenges. The odds of God existing are much higher for me.

  8. biskieboo

    You seem to be suggesting that God doesn't have an objective existence - he exists for you but not for Richard Dawkins. Do I have that right?

  9. I'd like to take you up on your challenge, Jonathan, but I'd need to re-read TGD first, and then do a little bit of work. No easy matter!


  10. BTW, Biskieboo's comment made sense to me, if I've got her right. Everybody builds up a picture of "God" in their imagination, irrespective of what God is - or arguably is not - in "reality". As I remember it, Dawkins spent some time in TGD building up a really unpleasant picture of "God" - so unpleasant that FWIW I'm rather relieved that he came to the conclusion that God probably does not exist (if I've got that right about his state of belief).

    In fact, almost all Christians would think, like Dawkins, that Dawkins's picture of God probably did not represent anything in reality, and they'd be thankful for it.


  11. Hi nikias1

    Here's what I suggest. Drop Andrew Brown an email offering to write such an article. One of the early entries in his blog, from about October or November last year gives his email address, or if you can't find it, email me privately (my address is available here on my blog) and I'll forward the message to him.

    If Andrew's not interested, then I'll publish it here when you've written it. The key point that I'm interested in is what mistake Dawkins has made in the chapter "Why God almost certainly doesn't exist". What evidence has he missed, or what error of logic has he made in reaching his conclusion?

  12. Hi Jonathan -

    I'll certainly re-read the chapter and see whether there would be any useful points that I could make.

    It may be that the subject matter is not discursive enough for CiF Belief, if you see what I mean (!) But it would be worth discussing anyway.


  13. nikias1 - By "not discursive enough" do you mean not reasoned enough or not rambling enough :-)

  14. biskeridoo: i'm afraid, that you (who thinks that the only conclusion worth drawing from the fact, that dawkins' critics never even try to explain, where they think he's wrong (aside that he is 'shrill' and 'strident' and 'militant'), is that he didn't convince them) are in no position to decide, who is capable to write intelligenty about anything.

  15. Why did he write the book then wice?

    If I was going to write a book I would like it to get people round to my way of thinking. On that score it has been a massive fail. It's the type of book that reinforces the position you had before you read it.

    And why do you feel the need to insult me? Why are you implying that I am mentally deficient? Because I don't agree with you? That's a very poor argument. There's plenty of people who agree with me. You'll have to do better than that.

  16. biskieboo: Dawkins has said on more than one occasion that he wasn't really attempting to convert those who are religious, happy and without doubts on the subject. His target audience was doubters - those who have been brought up in a religion and have come gradually to have significant doubts about it all.

    So if you say that he has failed to convert many religious people, it is true, but he has failed largely because he hasn't actually tried. If you read the comment Dawkins made (and which Andrew partially quoted in "Dawkins raises the tone"), then you will see this laid out perfectly clearly - and it is a point Andrew missed completely.

    That said, there are criticisms that can be levelled at Dawkins for the way he speaks and writes, and I have made such criticisms on occasion.

  17. biskeridoo:
    so, you basically blame dawkins for his opponents' inability to construct a logical argument against him. sweet.

    btw, i feel tempted to answer the second part of your comment with "And why do you feel the need to insult Dawkins? Why are you implying that he is mentally deficient? Because he doesn't agree with you? Taht is very poor argument. There's plenty of people who agree with him. You'll have to do better than that."

    but i won't. i will try to explain it to you instead. i didn't insult you because you don't agree with me. i insulted you, because you failed to understand the difference between condemning disagreement and condemning the inability to construct a logical argument, _while_ criticising someone else's intelligence. that was too much. had you shown the sufficient level of intelligence in you critic of dawkins' intelligence, i wouldn't have say a thing.

  18. wice: Let's see if we can disagree without insulting each other at all. Don't attack a person - attack his or her ideas.

  19. jonathan: sorry (and that goes to biskiedoo, first of all), i just couldn't resist. in my book someone saying "you idiot, 2+2=3!" is just begging for insult. my bad. i'll try to behave.

  20. "so, you basically blame dawkins for his opponents' inability to construct a logical argument against him. sweet."

    No, I said nothing of the sort. I said he hadn't managed to convince anyone. You are inventing things that you think I've said. Just read what is there. Don't let your anger get the better of you, it clouds your judgement Grasshopper.

    And I don't think you understand the difference between criticism and insult. Calling someone stupid is an insult. I didn't say Dawkins was stupid, I said many people think he can't write well about religion. I think he can't write well about it because he has too much emotional attachment to the subject.

  21. Which is something you might well find applies to too wice.

  22. applies to *you* too Wice.

    Too quick to anger over percieved slights - not good.

  23. biskiedoo:


    JW: the anti-dawkins articles don't even try to explain, where he is wrong.
    you: so he hasn't managed to change their minds.

    this is _exactly_ what i talked about. the only thing you care about is, that they disagree with him. i care about other things, like that they don't event try to make a point, while dawkins does.

    and as JW said, dawkins explicitly states, that he doesn't want to convince the fervently religious. so it doesn't matter they are not convinced. even the most intelligent (supposing that it is possible to argue agains religion more intelligently than dawkins does) and extremely polite arguments wouldn't convince them, they would just go on and on about how impolite it is to question the validity of religion. did you see anything else from andrew brown, madeline bunting, mark vernon or mary midgley? more than a half of the anti-Dawkins articles are written by them. not to mention theo hobson.

    btw: cif belief seems to have almost exclusively anti-atheist writers, and shows a tendency to invite more anti-atheist than atheist writers. it doesn't say anything about how many people is convinced by dawkins or not. and don't you think, that cif belief's policy has to do something with the fact, that its editor, andrew brown obviously hates dawkins?

    btw2: for the upteenth time, i didn't call you stupid.

  24. biskieboo: Are you really prepared to stand by a claim that Dawkins hasn't converted anyone?

  25. wice - nowhere do I say that it's the only thing I care about - again you are just making stuff up to suit your own purposes. Please just read what I write and comment on that.

    My point, which I'll repeat for you, is that The God Delusion is the sort of book that will reinforce whatever position you held before you read it. I'm not claiming that NO ONE has been persuaded by it.

    For this reason I don't think it is a very good book. Why bother writing it? What exactly is the motivation behind it? To have a good moan to other atheists? That's what it reads as to my mind.

    If I were to write a book about religion I would concentrate on criticising particular behaviours, not religious belief. Its far too broad a subject to lump together as it is in The God Delusion. As many have already commented, most religious people will not find "their" God described in its pages. It's an atheist idea of God, not a believers.

  26. wice - have you considered anger management? You can across as someone who needs it badly.

  27. Biskieboo: That last comment is completely uncalled for. I really don't want to start moderating comments here, but any more of that, and I will.

  28. Fine, I can't be arsed to argue with people who direct their misplaced anger at me on line. I shall go elsewhere.

  29. "btw2: for the upteenth time, i didn't call you stupid."

  30. the statement, that "dawkins' book will reinforce whatever position you held before you have read it" direcly involves, that it _cannot_ persuade anyone, since persuading means changing someone's mind on an issue. e.g.: before i read the book, i was like "sure, we have to respect every religious belief", and i have completely changed my mind after that. it was _one_ of its goals. a friend of mine, who labeled himself as an agnostic before, now likes to refer to himself as a "bloodthirsty atheist" (jokingly, of course), and became much more critical towards religion. that was the _other_ goal of the book. and of course it won't change the minds of the fervently religious, but, as we said, it _wasn't_ its purpose at all.

    i'm not making stuff up. if the problem of the anti-atheist authors on cif belief had been, that dawkins cannot write intelligently about religion, they would have explained exactly where he's wrong. from the fact that instead of pointing out problems with dawkins' logic they simply complain about him not being a theologist (and doing so they use almost every logical fallacy in the book), it's obvious, that their problem is not that his arguments are wrong, but that he dares to argue at all. that was JW's point in the second comment, and you've just swept it off with "so he hasn't managed to change their minds". that's why i said that you only care about them not being convinced.

    btw: that anger management stuff was very cheap.

  31. by "almost every logical fallacy in the book" i mean "almost every logical fallacy known", i'm not referring to dawkins' book.