Religious people can't stand him because he's always saying how stupid they are for being religious, but really, he pretty much thinks everybody is stupid compared to himself, and he is not in the least ashamed to show it.
That he has gotten a ton of negative publicity for attacking a woman in the skeptic/atheist community for daring to complain about something that he, Richard Dawkins, doesn't feel is acceptably complaint-worthy doesn't surprise me - what surprises me is that it took this long for it to happen.
Most people agree that Dawkins over-reacted to what may or may not have originally been an over-reaction, but Dawkins has a legion of fanboys who are ready to defend his right to be a complete douchebag on account of his alleged "brilliance."
I am not impressed by Richard Dawkins. He may have written a few good articles or book chapters, but he is both a sexist who completely buys into the gender essentialism of evolutionary psychology - he claimed on Pharyngula that women are naturally more monogamous then men - and he's an anti-Muslim bigot.
I've already gone on at length about Dawkins and evolutionary psychology on this blog, so I'll address his bigotry.
Dawkins is not alone in his bigotry - there are many in the atheist community who use their atheism as an excuse to be anti-Muslim bigots.
Now I'm an atheist, and nobody detests religion more than me. But I detest it because it's anti-rational and virtually all religions are based on the most absurd premises, or at the very least based on claims that are untestable.
The Invisible Pink Unicorn pseudo-religion covers the absurdity of all that perfectly.
I am an atheist because I find the claims of all religions unbelievable. That's all you need to be an atheist.
But there is a subset of the atheist world that attributes all bad things to religion, especially for example, war and violence.
This is obviously wrong to any reasonable person after about five seconds of reflection. Napoleonic Wars. The Khmer Rouge. The Civil War. And on and on and on.
But as a proponent of cultural materialism I do not believe that religion is nearly as powerful a force in controlling human behavior as Dawkins and all the other cultural idealists believe. Religion is just one aspect of a culture, and the culture itself is shaped by the infrastructure - that is the environment, the means of production and the means of reproduction.
Marvin Harris tackled the malleability of religion-based behavior in his study of Hindu cow-worship, recounted in his wonderful Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches.
First he explains why cows became sacred in the first place - because through making cow-killing taboo, those farmers who believed in the taboo were less likely to kill their cow during famines, and thus would still have a cow and be able to farm, once the famine was over. It's a form of cultural selection, as opposed to natural selection.
But he demonstrated that although it is considered sacrilege to kill cattle by Hindus, Indian farmers had a wide array of passive calf-killing techniques, such as selective starvation, if they so desired to rid themselves of calves of the wrong gender - females were preferred in southern India for their milk, but males were preferred as plow animals in northern India.
But in spite of the obvious evidence of calf-killing through lopsided gender ratios, all the farmers agreed that it was wrong to kill a calf. They hid the truth from the law, but maybe even from themselves.
But to idealists like Dawkins, cow-worship just happened out of thin air, and Indian culture was built around the idea - rather than the other way round.
And this is why Richard Dawkins believes that the religion of Islam is inducing Muslims to be violent, rather than a culture that promotes violence happening to be Muslim.
Here's Dawkins' most famous howler:
“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”
As recently as the 1990s the IRA, a proudly Catholic and anti-Protestant organization had a bombing campaign going on in London.
I find it hard to believe that Dawkins, a British citizen, has never heard of the IRA.
The creeds of Christianity are no less pro-violence than the creeds of Islam. And the history of Christian groups is no less violent than the history of Muslim groups.
So Dawkins' claim that Muslims are inherently more violence-prone than Christians is based on, literally, nothing. Or more to the point - his anti-Muslim beliefs are based entirely on bigotry.
I should add though that as appalling as his bigotry is, his sexism is just as appalling.
In his follow-up to his original belittling comments, he dug himself even deeper by suggesting that rape can't possibly happen in an elevator with the implication that any woman who is assaulted in an elevator has only herself to blame:
I sarcastically compared Rebecca's plight with that of women in Muslim countries or families dominated by Muslim men. Somebody made the worthwhile point (reiterated here by PZ) that it is no defence of something slightly bad to point to something worse. We should fight all bad things, the slightly bad as well as the very bad. Fair enough. But my point is that the 'slightly bad thing' suffered by Rebecca was not even slightly bad, it was zero bad. A man asked her back to his room for coffee. She said no. End of story.
But not everybody sees it as end of story. OK, let's ask why not? The main reason seems to be that an elevator is a confined space from which there is no escape. This point has been made again and again in this thread, and the other one.
No escape? I am now really puzzled. Here's how you escape from an elevator. You press any one of the buttons conveniently provided. The elevator will obligingly stop at a floor, the door will open and you will no longer be in a confined space but in a well-lit corridor in a crowded hotel in the centre of Dublin.
No, I obviously don't get it. I will gladly apologise if somebody will calmly and politely, without using the word fuck in every sentence, explain to me what it is that I am not getting.
See, if you are raped in an elevator you are just too fucking stupid to press a button. You fucking whining moron. Now shut the fuck up because unless you are a Muslim woman, you have nothing to complain about.
Actually this letter brings together both Dawkins' anti-Muslim bigotry and his sexism. Because his main focus on the suffering of women in Muslim cultures is the MUSLIM part. He keeps presenting the issue of genital mutilation as if it's both rampant in Muslim cultures and unique to Muslim cultures. It is not. But he keeps pushing it that way due to his anti-Muslim bigotry.
And any woman who says that being propositioned by a guy in an elevator at 4 AM makes her uncomfortable is just crazy or paranoid. Because Richard Dawkins just can't imagine what it must be like to be someone other than Richard Dawkins even for a moment.
It puts me in mind of what Albert Einstein said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."