First, I am a great admirer of biologist Richard Dawkins. I thoroughly enjoy his fierce defense of evolutionary biology and his advocacy for atheism. However, I am dismayed by his recent comment on alleged Jewish power in the Guardian a couple of days ago. To wit:
"When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told—religious Jews anyway—than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place."
Naturally, this remark has been making the rounds of the blogosphere. One interesting comment comes from Chris Dillow's blog on Dawkins' resort to "social proof." To wit:
[Dawkins] seems to believe Jews are small but monopolize US foreign policy because others tell him so. But you could use exactly the same method to believe in God—or at least to be agnostic. God exists as far as many people can see—indeed, many more, for much longer, than believe in Jews' influence on foreign policy.
So, why is Dawkins happy to use social proof in one context, but reject it so violently in another? It would be too glib to say this is an example of how rational people cease to be rational in thinking about politics, because there's something to be said sometimes for the use of social proof.
The comment editor, Daniel Finkelstein, at the (London) Times writes:
So Dawkins, a liberal hero, believes, er, that Jews control world power. And, judging from the Guardian, it is now a part of mainstream debate to say so. Perhaps you think I am over-reacting, but I am a little bit frightened.
I think that's a bit overwrought; nevertheless, those of us who esteem Dawkins are right to be distressed by this uncharacteristic lapse in judgement.
Final note—there is now an atheist lobby in DC, the Secular Coalition for America.
Full disclosure: I have been an atheist since I was about 13 years old.