26 April 2013

World Thinkers 2013: Richard Dawkins and The Problem with Polls

The recently announced results of Prospect's world thinkers poll  indicate that Richard Dawkins is "The World's Greatest Thinker". They state that 10,000 votes were collected from over 100 countries. For what appears to be a great general consensus, the statistic doesn't tell us very much. For example, it doesn't tell us which countries, or how many votes came from each country. It doesn't tell us anything about the demographics of those who voted. I would say it's definitely well worth your time to look through The List of 65 Winners to learn more about the intellectual contributions of all the people on the list. You'll definitely learn some things that will blow your mind.

The frustrating thing for me personally about the results of the poll is that people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and other popular anti-religion atheists regularly employ large numbers of logical fallacies and anecdotal evidence to make their points about the destructiveness of religion, while blatantly ignoring the overwhelming amount of good accomplished by the same religions. They also downplay or ignore the massive amounts of evidence proving that atheistic/secular governments and regimes are responsible for the deaths of far more people in the last century than all religions combined. I hardly consider that to be "thoughtful" - more like clever and deceptive.

Dawkins consistently loses debates against Christians because his arguments against religion are almost always built upon logical fallacies. The only times he appears to have good ideas is when there is no one to respond to his statements, namely in his own books, when being interviewed, or when presenting lectures where no one can respond to his claims. He builds armies of straw men and skillfully decimates them, impressing all of his onlookers who can't tell the difference between a scarecrow and a real person. Recently, he was part of a panel that lost one such debate a few months ago which also included former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on the topic of whether there is a place for religion in the 21st century. The majority agreed that there is and must be a place for it, whether they wanted it or not.

He has successfully built a large following of people who gladly accept the caricatures of religion he paints. He's like the artist at the amusement park who draws pictures of passers-by, highlighting and emphasizing their worst features, and then selling the pictures to others for a profit.

A quick check of Twitter at the time of writing this post showed that Dawkins had 690,955 followers. I only mention this statistic because part of the explanation to justify his win points to his great online influence as evidenced by Twitter. But Christian leaders and teachers such as Rick Warren (997,393 followers), though he would by no means be considered a great thinker, have far more followers and engage those followers much more effectively than Dawkins. A New York Times article last year demonstrated that even Christian leaders with relatively small audiences compared to celebrities exerted much more influence than actors, athletes or politicians.

The key to his win of this poll appears to be, more than anything, his popularity with readers of Prospect magazine. Unless I could see the the breakdown of data regarding who voted, it doesn't really prove to me that Dawkins is the greatest thinker in the world today. It tells me he's popular and influential with certain elite segments of populations. 100,000 votes out of a global population of 7 billion doesn't prove much to me about a person's true global influence.

The list contained an impressive mixture of scientists, artist, historians, economists, writers, philosophers, biologist, psychologist, and businessmen. It contained no women. The absence of any theologian from the list also demonstrates the bias and belief that theology cannot be taken seriously to contribute useful knowledge about reality. It reminded me of an article I read recently in which Roger Olson asked, "Where Have All The Theological 'Public Intellectuals' Gone"? I hope to see one of them in a list like this again someday. Who are your favorite Christian thinkers, past or present?

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