This would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic. Over at Richard Dawkins’s site, he reports a conversation with Adam Lusher, a reporter from the Telegraph who, writing a story on Richard, insinuated that he not only condoned slavery, but carried genes for slaveholding, and perhaps is still financially benefiting from slavery. In “The sins of the fathers,” Richard tells the story:
Yesterday evening I was telephoned by a reporter who announced himself as Adam Lusher from the Sunday Telegraph. At the end of a week of successfully rattling cages, I was ready for yet another smear or diversionary tactic of some kind, but in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined the surreal form this one was to take. I obviously can’t repeat what was said word-for-word (my poor recall of long strings of words has this week been highly advertised), and I may get the order of the points wrong, but this is approximately how the conversation went.
“We’ve been researching the history of the Dawkins family, and have discovered that your ancestors owned slaves in Jamaica in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. What have you got to say about that?”
I replied, “Your ancestors probably did too. It’s just that we happen to know who my ancestors were and perhaps we don’t know yours.”
I’d scarcely had time to re-open my lecture notes when he rang back: “Darwinian natural selection has a lot to do with genes, do you agree?” Of course I agreed. “Well, some people might suggest that you could have inherited a gene for supporting slavery from Henry Dawkins.”
“You obviously need a genetics lesson,” I replied. Henry Dawkins was my great great great great great grandfather, so approximately one in 128 of my genes are inherited from him (that’s the correct figure; in the heat of the moment on the phone, I got it wrong by a couple of powers of two).
There’s another nasty bit:
His next volley was the suggestion that I should make financial reparation for the sins of my ancestors.
And if that weren’t enough, there’s this:
His parting shot (actually it was I who did the parting) was to suggest that Henry’s ill-gotten gains [Henry Dawkins, born 1698, apparently owned slaves in Jamaica] might have been used to purchase the English “estate”, a small fraction of which my family still owns. I told him that far from being an estate, it is a small working farm, struggling to make ends meet in a bad time for farming.
This stuff may all appear in tomorrow’s Torygraph, and I’ll try to find the piece if it appears. But the insinuations and sheer sliminess of this journalist are revolting.
Why is this happening now? People have always gone after Dawkins, but it’s usually for his godlessness, his “militant” atheism, his so-called “shrillness.” Now, however, he’s jumped on for not remembering the long title of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and for being descended from slaveholders (remember, many Germans are descended from Nazis).
My own guess is that this character assassination stems from the new Ipsos MORI poll comissioned by the Richard Dawkins Foundation, a poll (see here and here) showing that UK Christians aren’t as religious as everyone thought, that many of them don’t even know the tenets of their own faith, and that many oppose the incursion of religion into public life. It’s one thing for Dawkins to write books and speak against religion—detractors could argue that he’s simply crying in the wilderness—but it’s a completely different thing to show that religion is actually losing its grip on the UK. And could it be that Dawkins has in some way helped weaken that grip? I suspect that while Richard has had a hand in this, the increasing secularism of the UK is simply the continuation of a historical European trend that is at a more advanced stage in continental Europe than in Britain. But the faithful have to blame someone for it, and it’s going to be Richard.
Again, I’m just guessing here, but I have no other explanation for the sudden tide of completely ridiculous vitriol that’s washing over Dawkins. It has to be the militant secularism that’s insinuating itself into British culture.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Torygraph. Oh, and if you want another laugh, see Andrew Brown’s ham-handed attack on “militant secularism” at the Guardian.
Faith is on the run.