Richard Dawkins, Germaine Greer and the Importance of Free Speech


Australians will unfortunately miss an opportunity to hear Professor Richard Dawkins on his planned tour down under after he suffered from a minor s2403003110_6294bda24b_richard-dawkinstroke last Saturday in the UK. Professor Dawkins is recuperating at home and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Richard Dawkins is perhaps the world’s most famous atheist, and has pulled no punches in his criticism of religion. His most famous work, ‘the God Delusion’ was published in 2006 and attracted a mix of high praise and condemnation, with very little in the middle.

Although Dawkins and I would fiercely disagree over many spiritual and cosmological matters, I can’t help admiring Dawkins’ willingness to say it how he sees it, in no uncertain terms. Dawkins’ bluntness, and let’s be perfectly honest – his belligerence, unfortunately in many people’s mind overshadows his subtlety and circumspection. [Yes, he really does have them!]

Dawkins is clearly one of the most gifted thinkers of our generation, and has offered profound insights into biology. He is also responsible for coining a now ubiquitous term – ‘meme’, defined as “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”, all before the internet took off.

Despite Dawkins’ sometimes flagrant criticism of religion, he has curiously expressed his enjoyment of attending Christmas carols services, and has even referred to himself as a “cultural Anglican.” More recently, Dawkins spoke out against the banning of a cinema add because it contained the Lord’s Prayer.

Like his fellow outspoken critic Germaine Greer, Richard Dawkins has recently fallen foul of the politically correct speech suppression police. For Dawkins, it was over his criticism of Islam and its violent teaching and terrorism. For Greer, it was for daring to say that surgery won’t turn a man into a woman.

In my view like many polemicists, Dawkins and Greer are the kind of people that either get things very very right, or very very wrong. But that’s really not the point. Richard Dawkins and Germaine Greer are among those who throw down the gauntlet in social and political discourses that are increasing becoming sanitised in the kinds of views that are allowed be placed on the table for debate, or even the opinions that are permissible to hold. There are important debates that we need to have, and it is often the polemicist among us that get the ball rolling and challenge our assumptions.

Short of inciting violence or flagrant ad hominems in debate, feeling offended by someone else’s opinion, or their criticism of your belief or perspective is no reason to suppress their speech.

Calling belief in God “delusional” is not ‘hate speech’. Nor is saying that Capitalism is evil [*rolls eyes*] or that a man is not a woman simply because he thinks that he is. Is is especially in relation to these topics that we need to have fearless and robust debate.

In fact, it could be said that branding someone’s speech as ‘hateful’ is in fact, hateful. Moreover calling someone a bigot for expressing an opinion which has become heterodox simply succumbs to the exact behavior one purports to abhor.

There are increasing demands on all of us to give offerings of incense to Caesar upon the altar of marriage ‘equality’, gender fluidity and cultural relativism, without exception. Should you refuse, you will not be executed as of old, but your refusal will be deemed unacceptable, and you will be relegated to social and political exile, where your opinion will be made not to count. Every generation needs their idol smashers.

I admire Richard Dawkins and Germaine Greer, not because I agree with everything they say since I disagree with many of their opinions, but because they have the courage to challenge debate, express views regardless of whether they are popular or politically expedient.

Professor Dawkins, I am sure you won’t try and stop me from offering up a prayer for your quick recovery. I look forward to you renewing your tour to Australia and New Zealand later this year.

Photo by Shane Pope