Andrew Brown is an Ignoramus

Andrew Brown has written a blog post about the atheist rally in England at which Dawkins gave his now famous speech. Brown quote mines Dawkins in a way that is utterly abominable. Dawkins, in his speech, discusses a somewhat complicated relationship between certain facts ... not too complicated but complicated enough that an ignoramus would misunderstand, as Brown had demonstrated. Here's what Dawkins was saying, nice and slow:

1) Pro-pope interlocutors have stated that even if Adolph Hitler was baptized as a catholic and went to church and stuff, he really can't be counted as a catholic.

2) Pro-pope interlocutors have stated that there are X million (the number does not matter, but it is inconceivably large) Catholics in Britain.

3) We must guess that the number of British Catholics is based on baptismal roles, but that should not really be considered accurate because of the number of ex-catholics who don't count themselves as Cathlics.

4) Therefore, the Pro-pope interlocutors are trying to have it both ways. If all those Brits are Catholics, then Hitler was a Catholic by the same definition.

Here, Dawkins actually makes a weaker argument than possible (though he makes the stronger argument elsewhere in his speech) because Hitler was not merely baptized Catholic, but he was totally in bed with the Catholic establishment of Germany.

Anyway, the above four statements describe the somewhat complicated thing Dawkins said very clearly. This got translated by Brown to:

There was a picture of the pope holding a golden swastika, which the organisers apparently took down later, as offensive. I don't know why, since Richard Dawkins later published on his web site the speech he meant to deliver, comparing every Catholic in Britain to Adolf Hitler: "Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic as the 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today", although in the event he said something less gratuitously provocative: "Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic ... If the church wants to claim [5m Britons] as Catholics, then they have to claim Hitler as a Catholic".

Dawkins statement was not even slightly provocative or gratuitous. Nothing he said was gratuitous during the entire speech, and if you want provocative, look elsewhere in what he said. I would start with his comments on original sin, or his assertion (quite correct) that the Pope is an enemy of Humanity! Is it more important to Andrew Brown that someone may have compared Brits to something bad, or that Humanity has an Aweful Powerful Deadly Enemy?

Brown is an ignoramus at a higher level as well. If you read his commentary (and sadly, comments are closed on that piece) you'll see that he appears surprised that any atheists showed up at all, that they were unhappy about the Pope, yet cheerful and good humoured, and then he figures maybe they'll just go away .... their energy will 'dissipate' ... now that this is over with.

Clearly, Andrew Brown has not been paying attention.

More like this

For most guardian readers just the title would have sufficed.

an apologist for religion his use of tricks like quote mining and creating enough strawmen to fill a scarecrow convention, is all to familiar. I must say I rarely bother with him now- his entire purpose seems to be pushing up the comment tally to increase advertising revenue.

If Dawkins hadn't pulled a Godwin's Law and brought up Hitler -- even though he did so in a legitimate comparison -- then Brown probably wouldn't have gotten so bothered by it. I can see how any correlation that is made to Hitler would be bothersome to anybody, regardless if that correlation is true or not.

But Dawkins' point is something that I've made many times. I have relatives who follow the old "Christian Nation" nonsense and believe that since Christians hold a supermajority in the US, that they should be able to have full reign on everything... 'tyranny of the majority' be damned.

And then they have separate conversations about how only Pentecostals who believe in the Oneness doctrine (and force women to have long hair, wear long skirts/dresses, not wear makeup, etc) are real Christians who are worthy of going to heaven.

Like Dawkins' point above, they want their cake and eat it too. When it's convenient, they'll count any and all Christians they can to support their current arguments... And then turn around and only count a select few for other arguments they want to make.

By doctorgoo (not verified) on 23 Sep 2010 #permalink

Doctorgoo, I agree with most of what you say, but you are joking about Godwin's Law, right?

If Dawkins hadn't pulled a Godwin's Law and brought up Hitler -- even though he did so in a legitimate comparison -- then Brown probably wouldn't have gotten so bothered by it. I can see how any correlation that is made to Hitler would be bothersome to anybody, regardless if that correlation is true or not.

Erm..are you aware that Dawkins was actually responding to the Pope's first speech when he touched down in Britain, blaming atheists for Nazism? A comparison, incidentally, that Andrew Brown attempted to defend with the "he didn't really mean that" defence:…

By clarifying that it was a "legitimate" comparison, I was implying that it was Godwin-ish, more than it actually was a Godwin. But yes... I get your point.

Good catch baldywilson... You're correct in that I hadn't read any of the links - just Greg's post - as I'm settling into my work this morning.

With that bit of (rather important) context in mind, I understand how Greg's response was basically WTF??? to my Godwin comment.

Oops! .......mea culpa.....

By doctorgoo (not verified) on 23 Sep 2010 #permalink

Right, and just be be clear, Dawkins did not make the correlation. Brown made up the correlation and suffed it into Dawkin's speech.

Anyway, your Godwin comment has inspired an entire blog post, so that should make you feel good. Maybe.

sadly, comments are closed on that piece

It's still possible to rate comments. And the ones getting hundreds of ratings are those saying, very simply, that Brown is outright lying, that Dawkins didn't compare Catholics to Nazis, and Brown should issue a retraction with apology.

We can email complaints about Andrew Brown's defamatory lie to the "Comment is free" editor at I don't know about the UK's defamation laws, but this should be brought to the attention of the Guardian's lawyers.

I believe we should raise the priority on fighting back against defamation of nontheists. We need to build that meme, as gays have done so effectively, that anti-atheist bigotry is as evil as religious or racial bigotry. It's within our grasp, and it's needed to to enable us to speak powerfully and effectively on our issues. It's impossible to discuss the merits of our arguments when our opponents are given social license to bypass them and go in for ad hominem, prejudiced attack. As long as even most liberal pockets of Western society deems it acceptable to attack atheists in a way it finds intolerable with any other group, we're effectively shut down. We need to make this a moral issue.

LOL... maybe not?

pls be gentle!


By doctorgoo (not verified) on 23 Sep 2010 #permalink

Here's the email I just sent. A targeted, concerted effort like this can really make a difference, can send a message to an important outlet like this to be on guard more against this sort of thing.

To: Editor of the "Comment is Free" department of the Guardian UK

From: Bo Gardiner, (city, state) USA

Subj: Retraction needed for Andrew Brown's fabricated, defamatory statement

Your blogger Andrew Brown, in his Sept. 20 post, More than 10,000 people take to the streets to protest against pope made the following claim: "Richard Dawkins later published on his web site the speech he meant to deliver, comparing every Catholic in Britain to Adolf Hitler".

This is a simple fabrication. It is defamation, clear and simple, of Richard Dawkins. Brown has no evidence to support this claim, it is a clear lie. His commenters are asking for proof of his statement, which he has not supplied. They are asking for a retraction, in which I join them.

The Guardian, or its legal department, should require that Brown publish a retraction of this defamatory lie. Fabricating an immensely provocative statement and falsely attributing it to a public figure is neither acceptable personal expression nor free speech.

I appreciate your consideration of this request being made by hundreds of persons responding to this published piece by the Guardian.

Is this a competition in who is faster in Godwinning?

The papal pedophile protector started it, and as Dawkins pointed out, he must be rattled to sink so low so fast.

They ARE losing traction, and Benny the Pervophile knows it.

It is happening faster in Europe; the memeplex which is organised religion is weakening.

The acting editor of the "Comment is free" section is
Ms Ros Taylor. I have also emailed her about this defamatory stupidity.

MacTurk, some days I would like to be a better person than I am. Today is not one of those days.

There is no evidence that the pope has any kind of paraphilia that would be the cause of his protection of child-molesting priests. There is ample evidence that he puts the needs of the church, as he sees them, ahead of the needs of any other person or group of people. Statements like yours will simply give those who want to stand up for the pope ammunition in their assault on your, otherwise reasonable, position.

However, you're doomed now, because that comment is what it is, and everything you say from here on out will be irrelevant to the fact that you made an offhand comment in the first place.

Sorry for resurrecting a zombie thread, but in the interests of fairness, it should now be pointed out that Baptism isn't the method the Catholic Church use for working out the number of UK Catholics.

However, they do use statistical data from if people call themselves Catholic. Dawkins point is still valid - Hitler called himself a Catholic after all.…