Telegraph invents comparative degrees of atheism. Dawkins = "athiest"

A wonderful headline malfunction at the Telegraph, in their story about the Dawkins Forum dustup, where the discussion forums at have been summarily suspended and made “read only” (*):


So, what are you?



or athiest?

(*) My take is that the Telegraph is rushing to catch up with a “religion” story that the Times got hold of first when blogger Chris Wilkins tipped them off (and updated later). Ruth Gledhill already had an interview with Richard Dawkins done before it even appeared on the Telegraph website. The Telegraph piece reads slighty like a digested and regurgitated version of the previous one in the Times.

They all seem to have got the wrong end of the stick in several respects, including Richard Dawkins himself, and are playing the “nasty rotten horrible anonymous internet culture” tune. Further, newspapers seem to have invented an intra-atheist culture war where one doesn’t exist, albeit based partially on Richard Dawkins’ own misapprehensions.

The actual history is well summarised by blogposts by former moderators Pete Harrison, Jerome23 and Darkchilde. The problem is not that the forum has closed; it is of the way the process has been (mis)managed – particularly because RD has taken a very hands-off approach and backed his employed staff over his volunteer moderators, when it is the former who may well be in he wrong.

The vitriol is being generated because volunteer moderators who have invested hundreds of hours building an online community, and the members of that community, have had their community summarily yanked from beneath them, and had their means of communicating with each other turned off. RD’s “Outrage” response is a restatement of a line from his employed staff which does not match the facts.


27 thoughts on “Telegraph invents comparative degrees of atheism. Dawkins = "athiest"

  1. Grant

    Thanks Matt for correcting some of the fallacies that, not entirely unexpectedly, are doing the rounds at the moment.

    This whole debacle will settle down fairly quickly, I’d have thought, and we can see where things go from here when the dust settles and tempers have cooled off.

  2. Ilovelucy

    Hooray! Someone actually took the time to read up on this! As one of the former RDF moderators,I am so happy that bloggers such as yourself are getting the real story out there, while others seem to be of the opinion that the forum wasn’t moderated at all. Thank you!


  3. Chris Jensen Romer

    A huge thank you for actually printing the facts, and for your amusing comment and sensible opinion. It’s been quite amusing to watch the pres reaction, and the way in which stories have circulated on the web among both Christian (my own) and Atheist communities to ‘account for’ what was ultimately just a terrible piece of mismanagement of a software update and the loyal staff. One small correction: I was a forum member, but was never a moderator on I moderate on the ‘exile’ website where i am in the unusual position of being a Christian mod on an atheist and sceptic board, but I think this tells you something of the trust and camaraderie of the old boards that such a thing could come to pass.

    I was mildly amused by Richard’s response : he objects to his friend being called ” a slack jawed turd” as unreasonable insult, but described the lady at the heart of the BA crucifix scandal as having the “stupidest face”? (ref: He is hardly known for his measured, polite and civil responses to those he opposes. πŸ˜‰

    Anyway thanks for your excellent coverage, now I’m sure we all just want to get on with the future

    cj x.

  4. John A W Lock

    I spent 3 months on the RD forum under my own name over Christmas 2008 and I would say that Richard Dawkins’ action in cleaning things up is tardy rather than timely. The forum resembled a bear pit with some of the moderators actively participating in the dodgier practices.

    I went in as an atheistic scientifically trained believer in evolution by natural selection and I was generally appalled at what I found. The users break down into theists, non-theists and a hieratic set calling themselves ‘critical thinkers’, using this label to berate and abuse anyone who did not tread the “no deities, only evolution” line. The process begins at the “welcome” thread where newcomers are invited to introduce themselves and are then asked leading questions to trick them into making what could be interpreted as “a statement of faith” which would the be interpreted as “preaching” (a banned activity on the site); they would then be reported as a “troll” and turfed off into the outer darkness. Of course there were some people who kept returning but no conviction Creationist would bother.

    The site was good for learning about the various sorts of trolls – there has been a considerable adaptive radiation in these – there are ‘concern’ trolls and ‘poe’ trolls (who as I recall put forward a case they don’t really believe in). The preferred prey was a Young Earth Creationist (branded “creotards”) and those from the ‘Intelligent Design’ set; other Theists were more problematic. As Dawkins says the language used against these was thuggish in the extreme.

    Of course the absence of bona fide YECs created a problem for the baying hounds – i called them Dawkinicanes to match the Dominicanes (“Hounds of Dawkins v “hounds of god”) – and so they would create fake ids (also banned) and purport to be Creationists (or rather what they thought Creationists were all about) and see how long they could carry this off for. Reasoned debate? I didn’t see much of it.

    The most interesting people I found were those who had bothered to study history, particularly that of the early Abrahamic faiths. There is no doubt that religions have been knocking around for a long time and where this ‘god-shaped hole’ in the human psyche came from should have been of interest to even the non-theists.

    My own slight lapse came with the western buddhists who were very good at being sanctimonious about having avoided some of the pitfalls that the western Abrahamics carved out for themselves (e.g. absolutist core texts) ; their serene composure cracked somewhat when the ecological consequences of releasing ‘captive’ animals came under scrutiny.

    Overall the experience was insightful but not illuminating. Too many of the non-Theists did not understand the scientific concept of proof nor the passive nature process of evolution. Apocryphal stories abounded and the ignorance of the texts they were attempting to challenge was frankly embarrassing as were the terms with which they did it. I am pleased to learn that Richard Dawkins feels that embarrassment too.

  5. Crazyfrog

    Thank you for taking the time to get to the bottom of this debacle, instead of lazily posting press releases as others have.

  6. Chris Wilkins

    I wish to clear up one small point. I am a freelance journalist and the Times got the story first because I broke it to them. My name, small and unknown, was most certainly dropped off along the way, which I sort of expected. Such is life.

    I only say this not because I am some sort of blow-hard but because I believe credit should be given where credit is due.

    In their first blog post they did mention me. Ruth Gledhill, taking up the story, did not. And when it went to press, I most certainly was not. Guardian copied them. The Telegraph jumped in somewhere, etc, etc.

    The very first blog on this, “scooping everyone” (I always wanted to say that) can be found at if you remotely give a hoot.

    So there.

    PS Made me giggle a bit when I thought about how Old Rup complains that bloggers copy his content.

    PPS I have a fantastic follow up feature article coming out about it. I think I will keep this one exclusive to my small blog if a newspaper does not at least agree to give me a byline.

    It goes something like this; “Creationist sympathises with Dawkins”.

    How’s that for an exclusive?

  7. Matt Wardman


    I hope you don’t mean Archdruid Eileen as your creationist :-), she ‘has sympathy for the Professor’.

    I’ll update the piece here, and at my place to reflect your finding the story first.

    I’ll address the other points a bit later after supper.

    Many thanks all for the comments.


  8. Chris Wilkins

    Chris JR, this is a silly remark. If you blogged about it, hurrah. If yours was up before mine, good for you.

    Without me doing a ton of spade work with the editors of several UK national papers, all that would be said about this now would be your blog, mine and some others.

  9. Matt Wardman

    Calm down, girls πŸ™‚ You both have links now.

    I love crediting bloggers over the MSM; it adds spice to life’s sandwich.

    And I just spotted that New Humanist were taken in completely by a spoof “our prayers closed down the Dawkins Forum” article at Christwire. Hoist by their own petard. Gorgeous !

    Best chuckle since all the nationals fell for Alex Hilton’s Mayor of Baltimore spoof.

    Not so sure about some of the other stuff at Christwire, though.

  10. Chris Jensen Romer

    Chris i was joking mate: as I said I’m not a journalist, and I thought my comment was clearly playful and jokey! I’m a bloke who happened ot be pissed off on an internet forum and blogged about it: you deserve credit for breaking the story, which you did, and I hope you get it! (Did I not actually say that before?) You and Matt might find this useful and for actual Christian response (ie. not Christwire :));f=2;t=014150

    Still think the story run its couurse now, but I’m glad i met you two, and will watch your stuff in future – sorry read it; I used to work in TV so still think visually. Sorry if i offended by my playful comments!

    cj x

  11. Pingback: links for 2010-02-27 « Onlinejournalismtest's Blog

  12. Matt Wardman

    Let me answer a few points.

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments.

    I think there’s a bit more to say about this, but this post has been strictly about the process, and I put it here because OJB is in Google News (my own site isn’t there yet – grrr), and it would therefore be found by the same people looking for coverage in the same list of articles.

    Also, I thought that the media coverage needed some commentary, which is a continuing emphasis here at OJB.

    If I have to guestimate (i.e., speculate “intelligently”) what the underlying cause is, I put it down to RD spreading himself too thinly to have time to devote to manage the diverse set of initiatives he has created, and that has perhaps not put in place an organisation/secretariat capable of doing that on his behalf. In short, I’d suggest he may need a Chief Operating Officer / Deputy Head / Senior Administrator type figure to run the organisational gubbins that it needs to make everything work and deliver his goals.

    There may be some stuff in there about thinkers, authors and academics not usually being good managers.

    Or it may have just simply all “just growed” beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

    I think that the “overstretch” theory is supported by the slightly hurried nature and lack of attention to certain details of the Non-Believers Giving Aid launch, where they didn’t have the UK tax setup properly supported until several days after they launched.

    I’d also suggest that the same overstretch may have contributed to the not very careful way the forums have been closed down, even though the decision to do it may be part of an effort to prune the range of stuff going on so as to get things back under tight control.

    I’d emphasise, though, that all this is just speculation.

    I’m quite interested in what will happen now, and the outcome will depend heavily on how RD manages resolving the conflict.

    I do have some things to say about RD and the forums (I’m critical of certain aspects of his approach, including what I see as the slightly too enthusiastic floccinaucinihilipilification * of opponents and their views) which are not about the process, so I’ll aim to say those over at my place over the next few days as they are off topic here. That is why I haven’t specifically responded to your questions, John.

    Sorry – couldn’t resist putting it in. Disestablishmentarianism is so last year πŸ™‚ “Floccipaucinihilipilification” = act of estimating as worthless.

  13. Chris Wilkins

    No problem, Chris. Thanks for that.

    Matt, regards what you said about RD, I actually think the biggest problem was not that he annoyed his most loyal supporters (he did). It was more his “damage control” after.

    As many people have said the abuse he refers to actually happened AFTER he announced he was closing the site, and was not the cause of him closing the site. The Times got this wrong because they did not bother to read my original post (although I sent them the link). I suspect they just took his announcement, assumed a bit too much, and then away they went.

    Originally when it was annnounced the site was going to change, something like 28 pages of criticism appeared in the forum. I believe this was not abusive but merely contradictatory thoughts. Then it was announced it would be closed because of this. Then the abuse started. Then RD responded. Then ….. etc.

    IF RD had responded properly to the criticism of his loyal fans this would never have happened, I believe. I think this was more a failure of some proper “customer service”. An appearance in the forum of RD saying, “Gee, fellas, what’s the problem? How can we solve this?” and this would never have happened.

    As it stands, from my reading of it, the forum is dead and is being ressurected at by the many avid supporters of the forum. It was this core that made the forum live and now they are gone. So it is logical that the original will fail. Besides, it will not be a forum, any way. More a bunch of highly “monitored” articles.

    There are some other aspects as to the motivation of why this happened, but at the moment I would be speculating and so cannot say.

    Eilee, re. your picture, it’s just very dark and gloomy with a purple background. That’s why it looks creepy. Perhaps brighten it up and make it sharper contrast. Dunno. There it is.

  14. HughMcB

    Well done on actually posting some real news! About time someone actually did their research and got their facts straight on this! πŸ™‚

    With the sudden collapse of the Richard Dawkins Forum (the biggest forum of its kind on the internet), many members have banded together and started their own forum. We have all the old moderators from RDF and all of our old friends are back together;

    We encourage all to join no matter what your beliefs or outlooks are. Diversity is paramount to stimulating discourse!

    We are somewhat new and improved there. We are still committed to the guidelines allowing criticism of ideas but not attacks on the person. Now we have been able to rationalise the structure without the Richard Dawkins sales/fan aspect and with wider science range. On the old site there was General Science and then evolution and biology. The new site now includes Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Geology and more. The area on religion is more comprehensive and focussed as is the scope of topic areas for debunking creationism, pseudo science and other enemy of reason stuff.

    Read the full story of the collapse of the old forum and controversy with Richard Dawkins here;

  15. Pingback: New Humanist Richard Dawkins oooops | The Wardman Wire

  16. Pingback: Richard Dawkins forum closure: the true reason according to the New Humanist | eChurch Christian Blog

  17. Chris Wilkins

    Another update. I interviewed Ken Ham, a creationist and something of an opponent to Dawkins, as you can imagine. He is, in fact, the CEO of the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

    So I wrote a commentary piece about Dawkins, and wrote up the interview with Ken Ham. They are now published and if are remotely interested you can see them at

    My commentary about Richard is open and free. The interview with Ken is not and is “locked” (well, actually, it sort of is, but you have to register. Twice).

    Enjoy. And I shall be waiting to see if you all think they are fair or not.


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