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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Friday, February 03, 2012

Richard Dawkins' site reacts to George Pitcher (so does Richard himself)

Over at richarddawkins.net you'll find a thread that links back here to my "shrill atheists" post the other day. That, in turn, discusses a meretricious Daily Mail piece by George Pitcher.

The richarddawkins.net thread contains some strong criticism of Pitcher, including a comment by Richard Dawkins that does some setting the record straight.

Pitcher claims: "Just before he died, Christopher Hitchens expressed some generous sympathy for the Christian worldview, much to the evident frustration of his interlocutor Richard Dawkins."

This appears to be a fabrication. The interview concerned can found in a recent issue of the The New Statesman, which Richard edited, and short extracts are available online here. The extracts certainly do not give the impression of an interviewee who favours, or wishes to express, "some generous sympathy for the Christian worldview" - quite the opposite!

Hitchens says:
If I was strident, it doesn't matter - I was a jobbing hack, I bang my drum. You have a discipline in which you are very distinguished. You've educated a lot of people; nobody denies that, not even your worst enemies. You see your discipline being attacked and defamed and attempts made to drive it out.

Stridency is the least you should muster . . . It's the shame of your colleagues that they don't form ranks and say, "Listen, we're going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements."
To quote Richard, "Well, it is true that I was his interlocuter in his very last interview, for the Christmas issue of New Statesman, which I edited, and I can state with total certainty that he expressed no sympathy whatsoever, generous or otherwise, for the Christian worldview. So that is a lie, and so is the 'evident frustration of his interlocutor Richard Dawkins.'"


Birdieupon said...

Hitchens, unlike Dawkins, also had some respectable things to say about William Lane Craig too:


...unlike Dawkins, who preferred ad hominem vitriol to an academic debate. A certain pattern seems to be repeating here, does it not?

strangebrew said...

'A certain pattern seems to be repeating here, does it not?'

The only pattern repeating here is self delusion, invention and when all superfluous argument fails lies that infer the opposite of reality.
Typical theist bate and switch.

"...unlike Dawkins, who preferred ad hominem vitriol to an academic debate"

And then finally projection.

Tony Lloyd said...


"Also" sits awkwardly in your comment. The use of “also” suggests some kind of matching; that, for example, Hitchens said something “respectable” about other theists and his treatment of Craig is another example. But there is no question in the matter being discussed of anything said by Hitchens to stand in the place of “also”.

Your use of “also” would make sense had Hitchens “expressed some generous sympathy for the Christian worldview”. But he didn’t: that was a lie on Pitcher’s part.

I surmise that you haven’t taken on board the information imparted, that the Pitcher article was dishonest, and have used the merest mention of “sympathy” in the context of atheist-theist relations as an opportunity to raise a false and dishonest contrast of Dawkins with Hitchens.

The other side of your contrast uses the term “ad hominem” in relation to Dawkins. The natural reading of “ad hominem” would be that you accuse Dawkins of the fallacy argumentum ad hominem, the words “ad hominem” being usually used to refer only to that. I know of no instance of Dawkins succumbing to argumentum ad hominem. That’s not to say that he never has, but that it is a rare event and not characteristic. So I suspect that you do not mean “argumentum ad hominem”. The alternatives I can come up with are:

1) There is something else a tiny bit like the argumentum ad hominem that Dawkins does do, call it “P” and the argumentum ad hominem “Q”. You can defend and accusation of P, but the trouble is your reader might not think P is anything to be ashamed of. You cannot defend Q, but your reader does think Q is something to be ashamed of. When you use the term “ad hominem” you do so hoping your reader will read “Q” and think less of Dawkins knowing that, if attacked, you can defend “P”.
2) You misunderstand the concept of the fallacy of argumentum ad hominen

PR Guy said...

I'm sure this is building up to a future fantasy piece which will be all about Hitch's sudden deathbed conversion to evangelical Christianity and his repudiation of atheism, much to the consternation of mean-old-dour-and-strident Richard Dawkins.

With Christianity, everything is allowed. Especially bald-faced lying for Jesus.

Papalinton said...

"Theology is but the ignorance of natural causes reduced to a system." Paul Thiry, Philosopher.

George Pitcher's claim is no less so.

Shockwave Plasma said...

Pitcher was the press officer to the Archbishop of Canterbury for about a year.
Seems Rowan Williams can't stand him either.