No, Richard Dawkins Does Not Represent Atheists Or Atheism — Here Is Why

Legendary “New Atheist” Richard Dawkins is a man whom some people worship — and others loathe. There seems to be little sentiment towards Richard Dawkins that lies in between those extremes. Those who loathe him have new fuel for the fire of their loathing over Ahmed Mohamed, the now famous Texas student who was arrested after bringing a homemade clock to school.

Some are outraged that Richard Dawkins has once again put forth the idea that the clock incident was a “hoax”, a trap in a way, to entice discrimination towards Ahmed Mohamed so that he or his family could take advantage of that discrimination.

Certainly, after his arrest, Ahmed Mohamed became celebrated, showered with gifts and invitations to here, there, and everywhere, including to the White House to meet the President. He accepted an offer to go to school in Qatar and has left the country. However, this isn’t stopping his family from demanding an apology and a $15 million payout over the incident.

Richard Dawkins’ skepticism over the Ahmed Mohamed incident has some upset, and he has been accused of picking on an innocent young boy. In his defense, Dawkins wished to point out that kids of Ahmed’s age are not immune to doing concerning things. To prove the point, he linked to an article about a kid who was groomed by ISIS and was shown beheading a captive. That didn’t go down well with critics.

Dawkins skepticism isn’t completely unfounded. The entire story regarding Ahmed Mohamed has been quite bizarre, with the boy and his family profiting quite well from the situation, and poised to profit more if they get the $15 million they want. All of this is over a very odd clock “invention” that merely involved Ahmed taking apart a digital clock out of one case and putting it into a new case. So, being skeptical of Ahmed (and/or his family) seems legitimate given how odd the situation is. And regardless of how anyone feels about the boy’s age, Ahmed isn’t above criticism and the clock story is not above being analyzed.

This is not a full-on defense of Richard Dawkins, who himself is not above criticism or skepticism either. It is also fair to ask what the motive behind Dawkins’ skepticism of Ahmed might be. Of course his view should be open to scrutiny.

For those not impressed with Dawkins’ rhetoric, over and over, the sentiment comes up “Richard Dawkins is making atheists/atheism look bad.”

New Atheists are an embarrassment. I hate that they support #ExMuslimBecause they tarnish our cause

— Secular Voice (@SecularVoiceEn) November 25, 2015

What? He is? Really? Let’s get something straight here. What is atheism? Atheism is merely the acknowledgement that there is no god or gods. That is it. Nothing more, nothing less. That is the ONLY thing that binds all atheists.

Jett Heer of the New Republic (who appears more on the loathe end of the scale when it comes to Dawkins) lays it out in a short blast of an article, starting off with the sentence “Richard Dawkins is giving atheism a bad name,” inspired by Dawkins’ criticism of Ahmed.

“Dawkins has promoted the idea that atheists call themselves ‘brights.’ But Dawkins isn’t always terribly bright himself. On Twitter, he’s notorious for his daffy, tone-deaf comments on gender and race politics.”

He further went on to blast the idea that Richard Dawkins would post the article referring to a kid who joined ISIS.

“To add to the absurdity of his long crusade against Mohamed, Dawkins tweeted a comparison between Mohamed and a youth who joined ISIS. Since the only thing Mohamed has in common with this youth is their religion, it’s clear that Dawkins is not just a little daft, but something much worse.”

Well, okay, so what? Ya, Richard Dawkins says a lot of things. Many atheists do. But none of it means anything when it comes to anyone beyond the person who made that statement. To disagree with Dawkins opinions, no matter how daft they may be seen, is merely that — a disagreement with Richard Dawkins.

Here is the thing: Atheism is not a religion. It has no official representatives. It has no central governance. It has no doctrines. It has no claims beyond a very simple one: There are no gods. Anything beyond that has nothing to do with atheism. No one convened after the death of Christopher Hitchens while people stood outside the atheist version of a Vatican waiting for a puff of colored smoke to rise from a chimney to see who would follow in the shoes of Hitchens as determined by a group of men working on behalf of their god.

Sadly, this is something that some atheists who put Richard Dawkins on a pedestal, atheists who say Dawkins gives them a bad name, and many non-atheists who see Dawkins as the messiah of atheism don’t seem to grasp either.

Furthermore, what do we keep hearing over and over and over again when it comes to, say, Islam? When an attack of some sort happens in the name of the religion, the idea that those few bad apples do not represent the whole religion becomes a major talking point. So, why, when it comes to atheism, does that argument disappear and the words of one (in this case Richard Dawkins) are looked at as representing all atheists or atheism as a whole? It makes no sense, especially given that atheism is simply an acknowledgement that there is no god or gods. At least Islam has a core book and a set of doctrines. It’s an actual collection of ideas, with some of them very much connected to the activities of the few bad apples.

Without a doubt, Richard Dawkins, who is an evolutionary biologist, is a highly intelligent man, even if sometimes he says things that people think are stupid. He has written books, such as The God Delusion, that spoke to people who were skeptical about religion and a belief in gods. For some, his was the first voice that gave them the courage to be public with their atheism. And it seems that some people, as a result, have chosen to idolize him. And that is a personal choice each of his admirers have made. But that is not a doctrine that exists within the very simple definition of atheism, and should not be seen that way by anyone. He is not a messiah. He isn’t a leader. He isn’t a guru. He isn’t a pastor. He is Richard Dawkins.

So, love him or hate him, there is one thing that no one can actually say, and that is that Richard Dawkins represents atheists or atheism. He doesn’t. Period. Deal with it.

[Feature image Allison Shelley/Getty Images]