No, the Great Atheist wasn’t fired.
In Dawkins’ view, there is a battle taking place in Britain between the forces of reason, and religious fundamentalism and it is far from won. He is one of its most famous and prolific combatants - but the question might be whether he is among its most effective. The God Delusion’s stated aim was to “convert” readers to atheism - but he admits that as a proselytising tool it has broadly failed. “Yes,” he smiles. “I think that was a bit unrealistic. A worthwhile aim, but unrealistic.”
In fact, Dawkins has been described as “the biggest recruiter for creationism in this country”. Critics accuse him of an imaginative failure when it comes to human nature’s susceptibility to the comfort of irrational thought. They say his intellectual intolerance alienates people, and have questioned his wisdom in attacking a target such as the comedian Peter Kay, for admitting to finding faith comforting. “How can you take seriously,” Dawkins notoriously scorned, “someone who likes to believe something because he finds it ‘comforting’?”
When Sherine approached him about funding for the atheist bus, the wording he preferred for the advert was “There is almost certainly no God”. Wouldn’t this just infuriate believers, and put off potentially sympathetic agnostics? In the end they agreed on “probably”.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Dawkins interrupts. “I know. People say I’m shrill and strident.”
Dawkins has a theory about this, which is very persuasive. “We’ve all been brought up with the view that religion has some kind of special privileged status. You’re not allowed to criticise it. And therefore, if you offer even a fairly mild criticism, it really does sound strident, because it violates this expectation that religion is out of bounds.”
But even so, from a purely strategic point of view, why doesn’t he therefore take more care to be ...
Well, yes. If people find the certainties of his intellectual style off-putting, why doesn’t he try and make himself seem a little less intimidating
“Well, this is a thing that worries me,” he says earnestly. “Yes. And I meet it all the time. And it’s by far the most intelligent criticism that I meet. I suppose there are two different ways of doing it, and I’m extremely happy if other people do it that way. Dan Dennett’s Breaking The Spell at least sets out to do that, to be seductive - is that the word? Not quite, but to seduce the reader in. And I can do that. I know how to do it.” He pauses to reflect. “But I seem - I seem to have lost patience.”
Indeed, Dawkins has a difficult time with those who don’t share his worldview. As we learn in the “Go God, Go XII” episode of “South Park,” Dawkins came to the concluson that “using logic and reason isn’t enough. You have to be a dick to everyone who doesn’t think like you.”
So what’s next for anti-God crusader? Not entirely sure, though he’s working on a “God Delusion” picturebook. (That’s not really true.)