The Richard Dawkins Facepalm Watch

When I last wrote about Richard Dawkins, it was to report on the backlash over some clumsy, badly-judged remarks that he made about Islam. I was hoping that, at the very least, he’d learned a lesson from all the criticism he received and would watch his words more carefully in the future. But alas:

In an interview in The Times magazine on Saturday (Sept. 7), Dawkins, 72, he said he was unable to condemn what he called “the mild pedophilia” he experienced at an English school when he was a child in the 1950s.

…He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”

“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today,” he said.

Like the last time, if you turn these words and squint at them just right, it’s possible to discern a valid argument buried somewhere in there. I’d agree that not all cases of child abuse are equally harmful, and that there should be degrees of punishment depending on the circumstances. For example, consensual sex between a teenager and an adult, like a teacher, shouldn’t be punished with the same severity as the violent rape of a child.

But again, like the last time, he’s managed to couch this point in probably the worst possible way. Even if we atheists were determined to be charitable in our interpretation, we can be sure that Dawkins’ many enemies won’t be, and will use these remarks to paint both him and the larger atheist movement in a poor light, or to deflect attention from their own moral failings. As I said on Twitter, the next time a priestly pedophilia story breaks, we can be almost certain that some Catholic apologist will say, “This is no big deal, and you’re just trying to exaggerate how serious it is to embarrass the church. See, even Richard Dawkins says it’s not always so bad!”

Dawkins’ opinion apparently stems from the fact that he himself was molested by a schoolmaster as a child, but didn’t suffer any lasting harm from it. That’s a fortunate thing for him, obviously. But we can’t assume, as he seems to, that everyone who has a similar experience came out similarly unscathed. For one thing, it’s almost never assumed that men who suffer sexual abuse must have been asking for it, nor are they treated as if they should share in the blame. But these assumptions often are made about women who are raped or molested, and that can’t help but worsen the harm inflicted. (This is another example of how Dawkins’ own privilege has repeatedly blinded him to the lived realities of others, to his detriment.)

What’s even worse is that Dawkins gave his endorsement to the notion that child abuse wasn’t always understood to be wrong, and that we can’t judge the past by the moral standards of the present. Yes, we can, and we should! To accept this terrible argument would require us to excuse all kinds of evils – from genocide and slavery to mundane racism and sexism – on the grounds that the people of the past didn’t know any better. How can he not see that this even badly contradicts his own arguments, made on so many occasions, about the historical harm done in the name of religion? (As Alex Gabriel says, if it had been a Catholic bishop saying these same things, there’s no doubt that the reaction from the atheist community would be blistering.)

There’s a parallel here to the way that scientists who study evolution ought to be judicious in their public statements, and not make arguments that can be seized upon and quoted out of context by creationists. When you’re under scrutiny by people who are eager for you to make a mistake, it’s vital to carefully weigh your remarks so as not to speak in ways that can easily be used against you. Dawkins doesn’t seem to understand this, and it speaks poorly of him that he keeps committing these unforced errors. I have no explanation for why he can’t see that he’s harming not just his own reputation, but the entire secular movement that, for better or for worse, he’s widely assumed to speak on behalf of.

Courtney Caldwell has started a Change.org petition calling on Dawkins to retract these awful remarks. I’ve signed my name, and I encourage you to add yours, although I think most of the damage has already been done.

* * *

On a related note, my friend Sarah Moglia has revealed that she witnessed an angry, vindictive outburst from Dawkins during a meeting for the planning of the Reason Rally:

As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video.

In response to this, American Atheists put out a statement on Facebook in which they state that there were never any plans to invite Watson in the first place, but if there had been, they wouldn’t have acceded to a demand to blackball her. That’s good to hear, and it’s exculpatory for American Atheists and the other Reason Rally organizers – but not for Dawkins.

This is just further evidence of why Richard Dawkins is unsuited for a leadership role within the atheist community. Making tone-deaf and embarrassing public statements is bad enough, but throwing his weight around in an attempt to bully conference organizers and suppress other voices – especially the voices of women – is unacceptable. We need better leaders than this.

UPDATE (9/12): Richard Dawkins has apologized, saying: “I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been recurrent where mine was not.”

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • ahoogamazda

    Does Richard Dawkins actually *have* a leadership role within the atheist community?

  • Richard Hollis

    Officially, of course not. But he is perceived to by many non-atheists. Many outsiders view atheism as a unified movement or even a religion, with such public figures as Dawkins, Harris and the late Hitchens assuming the roles of great prophets.

    Annoyingly, comments like this are manna from Heaven for those who want to use selection bias to tar all atheists as morally degenerate. And believe me, there are plenty of them.

  • Richard Hollis

    But I have to say I’m sincerely glad I’m not a famous figure, having to watch my every word in case I voice a controversial opinion.

    I know that sounds like sarcasm, but it really isn’t.

  • Shawn

    It’s a pity that such an eminent scientist is not capable of distinguishing “I don’t think he did me any lasting harm” from “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting harm”. I guess it goes to show that anyone can universalize their own personal experiences, even when it may not be warranted. But I guarantee he’d fail a student who made a similar logical error about biology.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    “For one thing, it’s almost never assumed that men who suffer sexual abuse must have been asking for it, nor are they treated as if they should share in the blame.”

    From what I’ve seen, it’s more likely people assume it doesn’t happen (for adult men, I mean) especially if the alleged perpetrators are women. It seems that men are presumed able to defend themselves-if they fail, it’s their loss. The casual way in which prison rape is treated as just part of a criminal’s punishment, for instance, utterly appalls me.

  • pRinzler

    Which shows a case in our own house why *any* person should not be deified, in the way that theists often try to imagine that atheists deify, say Darwin, which is one reason why they call evolution “Darwinism.” Even someone as brilliant as Dawkins, someone who has done so much for atheism as Dawkins, can make mistakes, and serious ones. No one is immune from and above criticism.

  • crashfr0g

    Well, look. It’s not unreasonable that Dawkins would actually have kept in touch with his classmates, and therefore would be in a position to reasonably judge whether they seem to have suffered any lasting harm. He may even have asked them about it. And it would be reasonable that he would not necessarily have elaborated on any of that evidence in the context of a single throwaway line in an interview that wasn’t, in fact, about childhood sexual abuse.

  • crashfr0g

    Dawkins’ opinion apparently stems from the fact that he himself was molested by a schoolmaster as a child, but didn’t suffer any lasting harm from it. That’s a fortunate thing for him, obviously. But we can’t assume, as he seems to, that everyone who has a similar experience came out similarly unscathed.

    I’m sorry, can you show me where he “assumes that everyone who has a similar experience” suffered no lasting harm? His remarks seem pretty clearly limited to the specific people that he has knowledge about – himself, and the classmates with which he’s presumably maintained contact.

    Like the last time, this seems pretty clearly an effort to slag Dawkins not on the basis of what he said, not even on the basis of the least charitable interpretation of what he said, but on an outright distortion of what he said which would hypothetically be made by someone else in order to attack him. “I’m not saying that Dawkins said that pedophilia was no big deal”, says Adam, “but somebody will.” Like last time, I’m unclear as to why Dawkins has some unique obligation to somehow prevent others from misrepresenting him.

  • GCT

    It would still be an incredibly small sample size to extrapolate to the general public, even if this unlikely scenario were true. And, it doesn’t excuse the callous way he addressed the topic.

  • GCT

    I’m sorry, can you show me where he “assumes that everyone who has a similar experience” suffered no lasting harm?

    When he claims it was minor and had no “lasting harm.”

    Like the last time, this seems pretty clearly an effort to slag Dawkins not on the basis of what he said, not even on the basis of the least charitable interpretation of what he said, but on an outright distortion of what he said which would hypothetically be made by someone else in order to attack him.

    Well, it might appear that way to you, but you made it quite clear that you were unwilling to see it as anything else and unwilling to deal with our actual arguments. So, why should we entertain your complaints now?

    Like last time, I’m unclear as to why Dawkins has some unique obligation to somehow prevent others from misrepresenting him.

    Because it’s only by giving him the continued benefit of the doubt that we can claim that he’s not saying horrible things. I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt anymore. What he said was horrible and insensitive to the many people who have suffered so-called mild sexual abuse at the hands of teachers, preachers, and others and have had lasting harm. It is not acceptable for Dawkins to speak for anyone’s experience but his own. If he only spoke about himself, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  • katiehippie

    Dawkins should step away from the microphone and the Twitter.

  • Ronald Davis

    For someone as influencial in the Atheist community as he is. And for someone who is a public figure you would assume he would be a little more careful on how he articulates his opinions.

    http://secularatheist.blogspot.com/

  • Shawn

    It’s a pretty big thing to say in a throwaway line, and critiquing him for doing so is fair. Besides, while I’m mostly all right with taking him at his word that he didn’t sustain lasting harm, I’m not entirely willing to accept his self-report on that. Maybe it gave him some messed up ideas about human sexuality, or intimacy issues, or made him less empathetic. Or maybe it really didn’t have any lasting effects. My bigger point is that you can’t go from “I don’t think this affected me” to “this doesn’t affect anybody” and especially to “this is not worth anyone’s time worrying about”.

  • crashfr0g

    I don’t see where he “extrapolated to the general public.” Can you point it out?

  • crashfr0g

    When he claims it was minor and had no “lasting harm.”

    His claim is that he had no lasting harm. Presumably Dawkins is the authority on what has harmed him, personally. There’s no place where Dawkins has claimed that nobody has ever been harmed by pedophilia in the history of pedophiles, or whatever nonsense claim you and Adam are asserting he’s made.

    The notion that he’s speaking any broader than his personal experience, and the experience of some other individuals whom he’s in a position to know about, just isn’t supported by the text.

    Well, it might appear that way to you, but you made it quite clear that you were unwilling to see it as anything else and unwilling to deal with our actual arguments.

    Quite the opposite. I was eager to deal with your actual argument – you just refused to explain what it actually was.

  • Bdole

    There’s a notion that the human race would stagnate if people’s life spans were extended indefinitely. I used to laugh at that idea. Listening to Dawkins, who you’d think is a reasonable and open-minded individual, I’m starting to see the truth of that notion. Imagine a bunch of people with 50′s-style ideals and values holding, admittedly diminishing, sway over public opinion for the next 200 years. No matter how forward thinking they were in their time, they’re going to lag the following generations.

  • GCT

    Yes. When he claimed the such abuse is minor and has no lasting effect.

  • GCT

    His claim is that he had no lasting harm.

    He claimed that it is minor, that it didn’t do him lasting harm, nor any of his other classmates (a claim I have no idea how he could know is true). The implication is that it does no lasting harm for anyone.

    There’s no place where Dawkins has claimed that nobody has ever been harmed by pedophilia in the history of pedophiles, or whatever nonsense claim you and Adam are asserting he’s made.

    No one has claimed that. If you can’t even understand the arguments being made, how can you be so sure they are wrong?

    Quite the opposite. I was eager to deal with your actual argument – you just refused to explain what it actually was.

    I invite anyone to go back and look. I explained it multiple times in multiple ways using different language. Every time was met with you claiming that I had said nothing. I doubt that you have the intestinal fortitude to operate in an intellectually honest fashion here as well, based on your outrageous straw man above. It would be much simpler if you could just face the fact that Dawkins is not the pope of atheism, he is not infallible, and he is capable of making mistakes. We shouldn’t hold anyone above criticism.

  • crashfr0g

    The implication is that it does no lasting harm for anyone.

    How on Earth is that possibly the case? He’s pretty clearly speaking about his experience and the experience of his classmates. He goes on to resoundingly condemn sexual abuse of children in the clearest terms. How on Earth are you getting “sexual assault is no big deal for kids” out of that?

    No one has claimed that.

    Well, you just did.

    I explained it multiple times in multiple ways using different language.

    No, you never explained it even once.

    I’m quite sure Dawkins is capable of making mistakes. It’s also possible that people are capable of incredible acts of invention about what he’s actually said – for instance, the notion that he’s ever said that sexual abuse of children “does no lasting harm to anyone.” That’s clearly the case, here.

  • crashfr0g

    He didn’t claim that all such abuse is minor and has no lasting effect. He claimed that the abuse he experienced was minor and had no lasting effect, and he’s the only one that would know whether that’s true or not.

  • crashfr0g

    Yes, I agree that you can’t go from there to here. But the point is, Dawkins didn’t do that. He didn’t even come close to doing that. The notion that he did is an utter fabrication, and I’m surprised people are finding it so convincing to read Dawkins words and then read someone tell them that Dawkins said something completely different than what they just read – and believe it. It’s an astonishing case of “who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

  • GCT

    …had no lasting effect *on him*, you mean. He makes it sound as if this type of abuse is minor, full stop. That it has no lasting effect, full stop.

  • GCT

    How on Earth is that possibly the case?

    As I’ve already explained, by claiming that type of abuse is minor and has no lasting effect. He can’t know that.

    How on Earth are you getting “sexual assault is no big deal for kids” out of that?

    Straw man.

    Well, you just did.

    Another straw man. As I suspected, you seem incapable of dealing with the actual arguments presented.

    No, you never explained it even once.

    For anyone interested, it’s the first link Adam provides in the OP. I’m not going to argue this further with you.

    That’s clearly the case, here.

    No, it’s not. If you can’t actually deal with what we are saying, then I see no way to move forward. There’s only so many times I can point out that you are creating straw men and clarify my position. If you refuse to deal with what I’m saying (and other people are saying), then there’s little I can do except note the deja vu and point out that you are not acting in good faith.

  • smrnda

    On the other hand, we actually have had some Catholic leaders pretty much say the boys molested by priests were somehow leading the priests on.

  • Azkyroth

    Not another Selective Implicit-Communication-Denialist.

  • crashfr0g

    How could abuse that happened to Dawkins have a relevant “lasting effect” on anyone besides Dawkins?

    But now I see we’ve left “what Dawkins said” and veered firmly into the imaginary territory of “what it seems like Dawkins made it sound like”. But, fine. Show me exactly where Dawkins made “it seem like” all examples of this sort of abuse were nothing to worry about, and had no lasting effect on anyone who experienced it. Be specific.

  • crashfr0g

    I simply think it’s unfair to criticize someone for saying something that they didn’t actually say. Crazy, I know.

  • crashfr0g

    As I’ve already explained, by claiming that type of abuse is minor and has no lasting effect.

    But he didn’t make such a claim.

    Straw man.

    No, a synonym.

    As I suspected, you seem incapable of dealing with the actual arguments presented.

    You seem incapable of recognizing the actual arguments presented, including your own. You seem to be operating from a double standard where you’re going to criticize Dawkins according to a radical re-interpretation of his remarks along lines that stretch the very notion of “interpretation”, but you’ll refuse to recognize any argument as your own unless it’s presented in the exact words you used, verbatim.

    There’s only so many times I can point out that you are creating straw men and clarify my position.

    And there’s only so many times that you can accuse a simple restatement of your position of being a “straw man” before people either catch on to the deceit or conclude that you’re such an idiot, you don’t even seem to know what you’re saying. You’re the one not acting in good faith – you make arguments, and then refuse to defend them.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    True; I imagine they would say that of girls too though. I did distinguish between the treatment of men vs. boys in this.

  • Jason Wexler

    For what its worth I agree, they are inventing context out of thin air, unless there is more to the original article, and they’ve read it but not posted it here.

  • Justin

    I think Dawkins is going senile in his old age.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’ve known Dawkins to be a huge asshole since running into him on Pharyngula in 2009. It’s so satisfying to see the atheist community come around on this, slowly but surely.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Here is what Dawkins said:

    “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”

    Now clearly this indicates all the children the teacher groped.

    We don’t know how many there were. And neither does Dawkins. But he took the liberty of thinking he didn’t do “us” any “lasting harm.”

    Putting the quibbling about “the general public” aside, how can you possibly defend Dawkins’ cavalier and sweeping statement?

  • Nancy McClernan

    What has Dawkins done for atheism? Besides making atheists look like privileged, bigoted, evolutionary psychology-mongering douchebags, while making a nice buck and being fawned over by fanboys while doing so?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Did you actually read what Dawkins said?

    I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.

    What part of that leads you to the belief that Dawkins is only speaking for himself?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I’m sorry, can you show me where he “assumes that everyone who has a similar experience” suffered no lasting harm?

    He said he was “unable to condemn” what he called “the mild pedophilia” that took place in the era of his childhood. Presumably, if he believed that his experience was an exception and that pedophilia is in general harmful to children, he’d have found it within himself to utter at least a few words of condemnation.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Yeah, I get that. If I were as famous as Dawkins, I’d probably put my foot in my mouth on occasion as well.

    The difference, I like to think, is that if it were me, I’d realize when I’d screwed up and would feel bad about it. Dawkins apparently doesn’t.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes to the many fanboys who spent two freaking years attacking Rebecca Watson with threats of violence and rape after Dawkins used his celebrity to attack an obscure person for a brief remark on an obscure video, Dawkins is a god.

    And to the best of my knowledge Dawkins has never expressed any concern over the violent shitstorm that he started. I don’t think Dawkins can admit to being wrong, like any respectable god.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Not to overstate things, but I think Dawkins does deserve credit for being one of the people who helped to get the New Atheist movement off the ground. His writing brought atheism into the public eye in a way it never had been before and got millions of people talking about it. It might have happened even without him, but he undoubtedly helped it catch fire faster than it otherwise would have.

    On the other hand, it seems he’s been on a steady downhill course since then, with one embarrassing blunder after another. That’s especially true when it comes to feminism, which it’s clear he’s abysmally ill-equipped to speak about knowledgably. It’s a familiar pattern, I’m afraid; he wouldn’t be the first public intellectual who had one great accomplishment and then descended into abject crankery.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes, like any of Dawkins classmates would want to share with Dawkins their negative feelings. We all know how that turned out for Rebecca Watson.

    I’m sure Dawkins classmates, if they know him personally, know what a petty, contemptuous, insensitive creep he is and hardly feel like sharing with him.

  • Nancy McClernan

    What has “New Atheism” done for atheism? Unless you want to include non-asshole atheists like Eddie Izzard, Julia Sweeney and Neil DeGrass Tyson in that category. But if by “New Atheism” you mean Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Pinker, well each and every one of them is (was) a contemptible ass, which I’ve been documenting for years. Anything good they (arguably) have done has been erased by their misogyny, bigotry and general repulsiveness.

    New Atheism has been very good for their book sales. I haven’t seen evidence for much else.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    It’s not unreasonable that Dawkins would actually have kept in touch with his classmates, and therefore would be in a position to reasonably judge whether they seem to have suffered any lasting harm.

    Actually, I find that difficult to believe: that Dawkins has not only kept in touch, over a period of decades, with his childhood classmates; but that he knows them with sufficient intimacy to speak with confidence on their behalf about whether they suffered any lasting harm from being sexually abused.

    I think the more likely scenario is that he was just popping off something that happened to cross his mind. He doesn’t know of any evidence they suffered lasting harm, and simply assumed that absence of evidence was evidence of absence.

  • Nancy McClernan

    As bad as he is on feminism, I think his anti-Muslim bigotry might be worse. All the big New Atheists seem to genuinely believe that there is something special about Muslim woo that makes it much more powerful, and much more likely to turn adherents into killers than Christian woo. It’s truly stunning to read some of the things they’ve said on the subject.

  • Nancy McClernan

    It’s lack of empathy and/or imagination. Just as Richard Dawkins cannot imagine being uncomfortable in an elevator late at night with a stranger, and therefore anybody expressing discomfort must be an idiot, making a big deal over absolutely nothing while Muslim women are suffering.

    And Richard Dawkins must then get himself to a public forum for the specific purpose of humiliating that other person for expressing such unimaginable feelings.

    And he was truly surprised that anybody would object to his behavior.

  • Steve J

    “we can’t judge the past by the moral standards of the present. Yes, we can, and we should! To accept this terrible argument would require us to excuse all kinds of evils”

    Trying to understand what you mean here. Are you saying we should judge the actions of say George Washington by today’s standards? Because in that case he should never have been president.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_slavery

  • Antigone10

    For example, consensual sex between a teenager and an adult, like a teacher, shouldn’t be punished with the same severity as the violent rape of a child.

    Pick a better example. A teenager is STILL a child legally and in a lot of cases, emotionally. Adding to the fact that, even if some sort of way I could agree it’s okay for an adult to have sex with a teenager (I don’t) a teacher having sex with a student is fucked up and wrong. There is too much of a power differential. Also, you get shit like this: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/justice/montana-teacher-rape-sentence/index.html

    Part of the awfulness of this case was the judge saying the girl “acted older than her age”.

    Is the 18 line a perfect solution? No. But in a lot cases it’s still better to have a bright red line than any other solution we have come with. And I think this radiation of how awful this rape is versus that rape only supports a rape culture, rather than rebuts it.

  • GCT

    How could abuse that happened to Dawkins have a relevant “lasting effect” on anyone besides Dawkins?

    OK, you’re not acting in good faith.

  • GCT

    You seem incapable of recognizing the actual arguments presented, including your own.

    This is the height of arrogance. Not only can you not deal with my arguments, but you have to claim that I’m not even cognizant of what my own arguments are? Please. You’re not arguing in good faith. When you have to resort to dishonesty to defend your BFF, perhaps you need to take a step back and think about what you’re doing.

    As an example, claiming that Dawkins is calling the sexual abuse he suffered “mild” is not the same as saying that Dawkins claims all sexual abuse is “mild.” This is a charge that you repeatedly make and continue to make even though you’ve been corrected on it. Then, you go so far as to claim that it’s a “simple restatement” when it’s far from it. I’ve never claimed all A as you claim I am doing. You’re being dishonest and we can all see that.

  • crashfr0g

    He said he was unable to condemn what happened to him, personally, because there was no lasting harm and he doesn’t judge people of the past by the moral lights of the present. Like most people.

    Misrepresenting his remarks doesn’t help your case, Adam, and it’s not up to the intellectual standard that otherwise typifies your work on this site.

    Presumably, if he believed that his experience was an exception and that pedophilia is in general harmful to children, he’d have found it within himself to utter at least a few words of condemnation.

    You’re eliding the fact that he goes on to do exactly that. Did you actually read the Times piece, or just the breathless, exaggerated coverage?

  • crashfr0g

    The part where he speaks only for himself and his classmates in the context of a specific act of abuse. Did you go read the Times piece?

  • crashfr0g

    As an example, claiming that Dawkins is calling the sexual abuse he suffered “mild” is not the same as saying that Dawkins claims all sexual abuse is “mild.”

    Yes. That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make – Dawkins’ claims about abuse that happened to him, personally, don’t constitute a sweeping universal claim about the abuse that happened to everybody else.

  • crashfr0g

    But again, in the context of an interview, and a portion of the interview that was not about sexual abuse but about how social acceptance of abuse has changed over time, it’s not clear that he’s “speaking with confidence”.

    And I think you’re ignoring the camaraderie and intimacy that would result from growing up in an English boarding school. These aren’t distant Facebook buddies we’re talking about.

  • GCT

    Again, this is highly dishonest. You’ve claimed that my argument was that Dawkins is claiming all sexual abuse is “mild” and has no lasting effect. Now, you are trying to claim that this example of your dishonesty really means something else, which is a dishonest claim in itself.

    Dawkins did make a sweeping statement. He claims that the specific abuse he suffered was mild, thereby making it seem that this specific type of abuse is indeed mild. He also claimed that it had no lasting effect on him or anyone else. You can twist this all you want to try and protect your BFF, but you are simply being dishonest, and we can all see it. Stop lying and start thinking about why you have to lie in order to protect Dawkins.

  • crashfr0g

    One, it’s a pretty qualified statement. Two, he didn’t actually say that.

    You didn’t know that, did you? Because you didn’t go read the Times piece. Here’s the material that actually does appear in the piece, but it’s an extract from his memoir:

    Back at Chafyn Grove I would watch games of squash from the gallery, waiting for the game to end so I could slip down and practise by myself. One day – I must have been about 11 – there was a master in the gallery with me. He pulled me onto his knee and put his hand inside my shorts. He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely disagreeable (the cremasteric reflex is not painful, but in a skin-crawling, creepy way it is almost worse than painful) as well as embarrassing. As soon as I could wriggle off his lap, I ran to tell my friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him. I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage, but some years later he killed himself. The atmosphere at morning prayers told us that something was up even before [the headmaster] Gallows made his grim announcement, and one of the woman teachers was crying. Many years later in Oxford, a large bishop sat next to me at high table in New College. I recognised his name. He had been the (ah me, much smaller then) curate at St Mark’s church, to which Chafyn Grove marched in crocodile for matins every Sunday, and he was evidently in touch with the gossip. He told me that the same woman teacher had been hopelessly in love with the paedophile master who had killed himself. None of us had ever guessed.

    If you can read that as a sweeping defense of sexual abuse of children, you’re a complete idiot.

  • crashfr0g

    No, you’re not acting in good faith. Like always. Good faith has to include addressing only the claims actually made, not the strawmen you keep inventing.

  • GCT

    My thoughts exactly. When you gain the intellectual integrity to deal with our arguments, let us know.

  • crashfr0g

    You’ve claimed that my argument was that Dawkins is claiming all sexual abuse is “mild” and has no lasting effect.

    Because that’s the argument you and Adam have made:

    He claimed that [sexual abuse] is minor, that it didn’t do him lasting harm, nor any of his other classmates (a claim I have no idea how he could know is true). The implication is that it does no lasting harm for anyone.

    The problem is, Dawkins didn’t make those claims. He doesn’t even say “it caused us no lasting harm” in the interview; nearly every criticism of his words has been of words he didn’t actually use. Here’s the relevant material from the Times piece, but it’s from his memoir, not his interview:

    Back at Chafyn Grove I would watch games of squash from the gallery, waiting for the game to end so I could slip down and practise by myself. One day – I must have been about 11 – there was a master in the gallery with me. He pulled me onto his knee and put his hand inside my shorts. He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely disagreeable (the cremasteric reflex is not painful, but in a skin-crawling, creepy way it is almost worse than painful) as well as embarrassing. As soon as I could wriggle off his lap, I ran to tell my friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him. I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage, but some years later he killed himself. The atmosphere at morning prayers told us that something was up even before [the headmaster] Gallows made his grim announcement, and one of the woman teachers was crying. Many years later in Oxford, a large bishop sat next to me at high table in New College. I recognised his name. He had been the (ah me, much smaller then) curate at St Mark’s church, to which Chafyn Grove marched in crocodile for matins every Sunday, and he was evidently in touch with the gossip. He told me that the same woman teacher had been hopelessly in love with the paedophile master who had killed himself. None of us had ever guessed.

    It’s impossible – utterly impossible – to read this as a defense of sexual abuse of children.

  • Nancy McClernan

    and his classmates – you do realize that his classmates are distinct human beings from himself, right?

  • Nancy McClernan

    So are you saying that because Richard Dawkins said other stuff, it completely negates the fact that he said, as you yourself have just posted twice “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage”?

    He decided to make this statement on behalf of other people, with zero supporting evidence, just what I suspect is the usual Dawkins attitude: if I Richard Dawkins did not have this reaction, then nobody else could possibly have it.

    Unless they are a complete idiot.

  • Nathaniel

    One thing to remember is that in the US, 18 is not the only or even the most common line for the age of consent. In fact, I do believe that the average age of consent is 16. But of course you are quite right when it comes to the abusive power dynamics between student and teacher.

  • crashfr0g

    We don’t know that there’s “zero supporting evidence”, for all we know he’s done elaborate interviews.

    Or maybe he hasn’t, and he’s just going off his impressions and experience. He’s making coarse judgement about the degree of harm other victims of this abuse seem to have suffered, and given his direct experience with the abuse in question I’m inclined to give his judgement the benefit of the doubt. He’d know better than you, or I. And again, it’s in the context of his memoir, which inherently reflects his own memories, viewpoint, and understanding of events – not necessarily the absolute truth as it really happened, in every single detail. He’s not denying anybody else’s experiences – just relating his own, which is that the abuse from this teacher was “mild”, as he puts it, and doesn’t seem to have harmed anyone, particularly in comparison to the students who suffered immense physical abuse. I’m sure if someone comes forward and claims that they did, in fact, suffer greatly as a result of the exact same kind of abuse, Dawkins will be the first to amend his statement.

    I don’t understand how you go from Dawkins speaking perhaps injudiciously in the context of an aside, in a memoir, to a sweeping, universal claim that sexual abuse of children never harms anyone. You’re just not making any sense.

  • crashfr0g

    All the big New Atheists seem to genuinely believe that there is something special about Muslim woo that makes it much more powerful, and much more likely to turn adherents into killers than Christian woo.

    Is there some reason to believe that’s not the case? I mean, aside from all the Episcopalian terrorists on the FBI’s most wanted list, right?

  • crashfr0g

    And I think this radiation of how awful this rape is versus that rape only supports a rape culture, rather than rebuts it.

    But the converse can be true, as well – the sweeping conclusion that all forms of sexual assault are monstrous, and that therefore any who commit such an act is a moral monster, supports a rape culture as well, because people become unwilling to condemn their friends and family as monsters, simply because they committed an act that, while illegal and harmful, objectively may not have resulted in a great degree of harm. (That point, interestingly, can be found in the Dawkins interview, but you’ll see no mention of it here, of course.)

    I agree with you that often, the desire to pick apart a sexual assault detail by detail in order to find some way in which it’s “not that bad” is an effort to duck responsibility and victim-blame instead of prosecuting a powerful or respected rapist. But the problem is, it’s also consonant with our desire that punishments should fit their crimes in their particulars, not in the aggregate – that a thief who steals a loaf of bread to feed a family is guilty of far less than a mugger who steals a wallet to feed a drug habit. The answer has to be looking at the particulars objectively, not in closing our eyes and assuming that every example of this crime makes the perpetrator History’s Greatest Monster.

  • ahermit

    I’m sorry, can you show me where he “assumes that everyone who has a similar experience” suffered no lasting harm?

    His exact words, quoted from the interview, which you can find here:

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/9/7/the-world-according-to-richard-dawkins-the-times#

    He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely
    disagreeable (the cremasteric reflex is not painful, but in a
    skin-crawling, creepy way it is almost worse than painful) as well as
    embarrassing. As soon as I could wriggle off his lap, I ran to tell my
    friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him. I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage…

    Now how can that be read as anything but an assumption that those who had a similar experience suffered no lasting harm?

  • Nancy McClernan

    I never made that sweeping statement. You appear to have imagined it.

    But at least we are getting somewhere since you’ve acknowledged that Dawkins did presume to speak for other victims of the pedophile.

  • GCT

    Because that’s the argument you and Adam have made

    No, it’s not.

    The problem is, Dawkins didn’t make those claims.

    Never claimed he did, despite the fact that you are inserting words into my mouth. I find it highly reprehensible for you to quote me, then insert your own words to change the meaning. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    He doesn’t even say “it caused us no lasting harm” in the interview…

    Then you go on to quote him where he says, “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage…

    Did you think people would be too lazy to read through that long quote? Seriously?

    It’s impossible – utterly impossible – to read this as a defense of sexual abuse of children.

    Yet again, no one is making that claim. I think I’ve demonstrated quite decisively that you are creating straw men left and right and lying through your teeth. You do know the first rule of holes, right?

  • Nancy McClernan

    So am I to understand that you also think that Muslims have a brand of woo that is more powerful than the Christian brand? Could you explain what makes it more powerful?

  • ahermit

    Wouldn’t a lot of people have been better off if Washington’s morals hadn’t allowed for enslaving them?

  • Nancy McClernan

    This reminds me of something Katha Pollitt said of Katie Roiphe when Roiphe attempted to minimize the problem of campus rape:

    It may be that Roiphe’s friends have nothing to tell her. Or
    it may be that they have nothing to tell her. With her adolescent certainty that bad things don’t happen, or that they happen only to weaklings, she is not likely to be on the receiving end of many
    painful, intimate confessions.

    http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/notbadsex.htm

  • Nancy McClernan

    As PZ Myers pointed out, in fact pedophilia was not considered any less immoral in Dawkins time. And also Dawkins is a flaming hypocrite.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/09/09/i-beseech-you-in-the-bowels-of-christ-please-stop/

  • crashfr0g

    You appear to have imagined it.

    No, I read it directly out of Adam’s OP and your response.

    But we can’t assume, as he seems to, that everyone who has a similar experience came out similarly unscathed.

    What’s being claimed, here, is that Dawkins has claimed that sexual assaults can’t harm anyone if they reach some objective level of “mildness.” And that’s simply not what Dawkins actually said.

  • crashfr0g

    Come on, you have to know that’s revisionist history. Rebecca was getting threats well before Dawkins was involved. Dawkins didn’t “start” anything, and he bears zero responsibility for the acts you’re trying to blame him for.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Who said she never got threats prior to Dawkins?

    The issue is Dawkins fanboys – who were encouraged by Dawkins. As she says here:

    http://mobile.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/10/sexism_in_the_skeptic_community_i_spoke_out_then_came_the_rape_threats.single.html

    Dawkins will never take responsibility because he’s a shithead worshipped by assholes.

  • GCT

    Dawkins bears zero responsibility for his callous attack on Rebecca Watson and the subsequent fallout? Keep digging….

  • Nancy McClernan

    You seem to have confused me with someone else. I am only responsible for what I’ve said. I don’t speak for other people. Like Dawkins does.

    Now show me the quote where I made some sweeping statement on what Dawkins said

  • crashfr0g

    So then you admit that the scope of Dawkins’ remarks were limited only to himself and to the specific classmates who endured the specific type and mode of abuse he refers to.

  • crashfr0g

    What does “more powerful” mean?

  • crashfr0g

    But as PZ Myers ignores, in Dawkins’ time a significantly broader range of acts between adults and children were not considered “pedophilia.”

  • crashfr0g

    Never claimed he did

    No, but Adam did, and you’ve adopted his side. If you no longer agree with Adam then you should be arguing with him, not with me.

    I find it highly reprehensible for you to quote me, then insert your own words to change the meaning.

    You’re a liar. I didn’t “insert my own words”, those are Adam’s words directly from the OP, and they were quoted as such. These spurious accusations are just more evidence that you’re not prepared to argue in good faith.

    Then you go on to quote him where he says, “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage…

    But again, that’s not a quote from his words in the interview, that’s from a section of his memoirs. There’s a different context – the context of a memoir, after all, is your own personal experience and memories of how events seem to have transpired; not necessarily a completely factual-in-every-detail legal affidavit attesting to events under oath.

    Yet again, no one is making that claim.

    Well, except for Adam and you.

    You do know the first rule of holes, right?

    Yes: “know when you’re in one.” How come you don’t?

  • crashfr0g

    Dawkins bears zero responsibility for his callous attack on Rebecca Watson and the subsequent fallout?

    Not what I said, now is it? Try again, liar.

  • crashfr0g

    Who said she never got threats prior to Dawkins?

    Well, you did:

    Yes to the many fanboys who spent two freaking years attacking Rebecca Watson with threats of violence and rape after Dawkins used his celebrity to attack an obscure person for a brief remark on an obscure video

    Apparently your notion of revisionist history extends to your own posts. Why people feel like they can make arguments and then deny having made them is a complete mystery to me. The things you say, Nancy, are recorded here. Anyone can scroll up and see them. It honestly does you no good at all to say something and then say you never said it.

  • Nancy

    I’ve never said anything else. Dawkins making that assessment on behalf of his classmates is damning enough.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And how is that relevant given that Dawkins (and therefore Myers) was talking about what happened to himself and not any theoretical “broader range of acts”?

    He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”
    “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today,” he said.
    He said the most notorious cases of pedophilia involve rape and even murder and should not be bracketed with what he called “just mild touching up.”

    http://www.religionnews.com/2013/09/09/richard-dawkins-under-fire-for-mild-pedophilia-remarks/

    As Myers noted, the actions done by the teacher were not acceptable in Dawkins time either.

    And Myers asks a really good question:

    “Just when did it stop being OK for acquaintances to put their hands inside Richard Dawkins shorts? I presume it would be an utterly intolerable act now, of course — at what age do the contents of childrens’ pants stop being public property? “

  • Nancy McClernan

    I thought you already knew, since you asked rhetorically “is there some reason to believe that’s (Muslim woo is more powerful) not the case?”

    In any case more powerful in its capacity to turn its adherents into killers.

    Do you think there’s something about Muslim woo that gives it that more powerful abilty?

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’ve never said anything else. Dawkins making that assessment on behalf of his classmates is damning enough.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes, Dawkin’s fanboys spent two years attacking Watson after Dawkins begot “elevatorgate.” Or are you suggesting that it wasn’t any old assholes, but specifically Dawkins’ fanboys who were attacking Watson even before elevatorgate?
    Yes, I know what I write is recorded here. The real issue is your ability to understand the English language.

  • GCT

    Dawkins didn’t “start” anything, and he bears zero responsibility for the acts you’re trying to blame him for.

    Um, you said it, now deal with it. And, don’t call me liar when it’s all in print.

  • GCT

    No, but Adam did

    No, he didn’t.

    You’re a liar. I didn’t “insert my own words”, those are Adam’s words directly from the OP, and they were quoted as such.

    Um, no. You quoted me, and you inserted a parenthetical that I did not say nor did I imply. The one who is being dishonest here is you.

    Well, except for Adam and you.

    This is more dishonest straw men, and I’m not going to argue about it anymore. Deal with our arguments or go away and troll elsewhere.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    UPDATE: Dawkins has apologized for his remarks on pedophilia, saying that he was “perhaps presumptuous”: “I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been recurrent where mine was not.”

    I’ve updated the post to reflect this.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I absolutely agree that teachers shouldn’t be having sex with their students! My apologies if I didn’t make that clear.

    My point was that there are gradations of harm. A high school or college teacher shouldn’t be in a sexual relationship with one of their students, because of the power and maturity differentials that present a clear potential for coercion. Anyone who ignores that bright line ought to be drummed out of the profession at the very least. But even though that kind of relationship is never appropriate, it could still be consensual in a sense that, say, the groping of a child could never be. The punishment ought to be proportional to the degree of harm inflicted.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Now if he could just express some kind of regret over the tide of evil released after elevatorgate, we’d really be getting somewhere.

  • Antigone10

    I’ve never been a fan of the “monster” theory of criminal behavior. Monsters don’t exist. People exist who do bad things. And our desire to say “He’s a monster” even for crimes that could be called monstrous is just a way to reassure ourselves that we aren’t that bad, that we would NEVER do that. Or that our friends or neighbors or family could NEVER do those bad things. Or we’ll never be a victim of that because we don’t know any monsters. So even the violent rapist is not a “monster”.

    Yes, there are gradations of harm, and yes punishments should fit the crime. And I do feel that you have to take in intention when deciding punishment. But I think it is really tricky to say “Oh, well because it didn’t bother me, clearly it is less of a big thing”. I’m glad that Dawkins didn’t suffer major adverse effects by being sexually assaulted. Others can, and I’m not going to say their response to someone doing something wrong and evil is bad, just like I’m not going to say that Dawkins response is wrong.

  • crashfr0g

    I’m sorry that I can’t bring myself to the level of intellectual integrity represented by your “I know you are but what am I” response.

  • crashfr0g

    Do you think there’s something about Muslim woo that gives it that more powerful abilty?

    I think it’s pretty obvious that Muslim theology is more prone to turning educating people into suicidal murderers than Christian theology, but I have no idea if that can be ascribed to the “power of its woo”, whatever the hell that means, and I doubt very much that any of the people you’re referring to think that, either.

  • crashfr0g

    I’d agree.

  • crashfr0g

    And how is that relevant

    The relevance is that the “mild touching up” that Dawkins experienced was not, broadly speaking, considered pedophilia.

    And Myers’ question is pretty gross, actually. Dawkins certainly didn’t refer to what happened to him as “ok.” In fact he describes it as being fairly disturbing to him as a young person.

  • crashfr0g

    Now how can that be read as anything but an assumption that those who had a similar experience suffered no lasting harm?

    Because he doesn’t say “similar experience.” He refers to specific acts and a specific group of people – not the entire class of people who may have had a similar experience.

    If I say “some friends and I were out at the local Denny’s and we got great service”, that doesn’t imply that everyone who has ever been at a Denny’s got great service there – even though I’m testifying to a scope of personal experience somewhat more broad than just my own. There’s a difference between “me and some others” and “everybody in the world.”

  • crashfr0g

    Or are you suggesting that it wasn’t any old assholes, but specifically Dawkins’ fanboys who were attacking Watson even before elevatorgate?

    I’m suggesting that your claim that Dawkins somehow started the campaign of harassment against Watson is clearly revisionist history. And I’m further suggesting that, having made the claim and subsequently recognizing how wrong it is, you’re now desperate to pretend you never made it at all.

  • Nancy McClernan

    LOL – what’s all this about “revisionist history”?

    It’s more like you can’t blame your hero Richard Dawkins for anything and so the sudden barrage of hatred experienced by Rebecca Watson immediately after Dawkins’ infamous “Dear Muslima” comment was just a coincidence. And I didn’t even say that Dawkins was responsible at the top of this discussion – I said “Dawkins has never expressed any concern” – which you would think he would, knowing the incredible abuse aimed at Watson. He could have made a statement to the effect that the threats of rape, etc. should stop, and that he doesn’t approve of such behavior.

    But he didn’t. Instead HE BLAMED HER!

    Because he’s a contemptible shithead, and so is anybody who considers Dawkins a hero.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Myers’ question was rhetorical. I guess you don’t get that.

  • Nancy McClernan

    It isn’t “pretty obvious” that Muslim theology can do anything more than Christian theology. Unless you believe that there’s something special about Muslim theology that makes it more powerful than Christian theology.

    Presumably when we say Muslim theology we mean as expressed in the Koran. For as Richard Dawkins tweeted:

    Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote ch&verse.But often say Islam greatest force for evil today

    Although Dawkins hasn’t read the Koran, he seems to think that is where the magical violence powers reside. But he doesn’t explain how its magic is stronger than Christian book magic.

  • J_Enigma32

    Don’t worry, creationists and Republicans feel the same way about their heroes. You’re in good company.

  • MV

    I’m sorry, but do you not actually understand the concept of rape? By its very definition, it cannot be consensual. If teachers (high school and below) are having sex with their students (or any high school student) they are raping them.

    When criticizing a famous atheists, please try not to reason like them.

  • Azkyroth

    Keep doing your best with self-improvement. You’ll get there eventually :)

  • Azkyroth

    The term “consensual” has more than one meaning. You’re using it in the term-of-art sense of “[Informed/Ethically Sound/Legally Relevant] Consent,” Adam’s using it in the sense that’s synonymous with “willing,” AKA what it’s meant in common English usage for decades if not centuries.

    Now, there may be a good case to be made for restricting the usage of the term to this narrow sense, but throwing a temper tantrum every time you find yourself having to actually make that case for radically redefining the scope of a vocabulary word (or, at minimum, explicitly acknowledge having done so) is poor form.

    Also, am I the only one around here who actually remembers being a teenager?

  • DavidMHart

    one great accomplishment

    Not to defend his latest foot-in-mouthery, but can we at least credit him with two? ‘The Selfish Gene’ really did set out for a lay audience the premise that when you see natural selection operating at the level of the individual replicating molecules, rather than at the level of whole organisms, the evolution of altruistic behaviour becomes much more explainable.

  • James Carrier

    I’m not an atheist yet I’m not religious. I’m what one would label a seeker. I subscribe to various atheist blogs, along with blogs for all the major religions and some blogs with beliefs that are not conventional, and enjoy differing points of view, provided no one gets hurt. At 50+, I’ve come to believe I will never stop at a quest for truth, the one truth I have concluded personally is organized religion is simply not something that works for me, I don’t however have a problem with others beliefs no matter what they are if by adhering to those beliefs you become a better member of society than you would be otherwise. In reading atheist blogs like Adam’s I feel the positive message brings me insight, and allows me exposure to views that I may one day adopt or hold dearly in the future if that viewpoint is one that I feel works and rounds me out to be as the Army says to “be all I can be”. When first reading about atheism, one can’t help but come across Richard Dawkins. I find Richards views divisive and at times hurtful to those with differing views, I feel he shines a very negative light on atheism by not concerning himself with the feelings of others. He seems to have a spirituality that brings pain and hurt to his fellow man, making me wonder about his belief system as a whole. I imagine a elderly couple whose existence in life has no hope other than the hope that they get from their belief in God and Jesus Christ that they will one day go to heaven. This hope may be the only light in their entire life, yet if they stumbled across work by Dawkins that hope may be extinguished if Richard is convincing enough with his diatribe that day. What would society gain, aren’t we all here to lift each other to some degree why have a message that hurts, does Dawkins not understand this possible outcome or is it his desire to hurt. What’s the point? You can be atheist and still compassionate to your fellow man, I’ve seen other atheist messages nothing close to the pain Dawkins potentially subscribes to passing. Their are those who rely on their belief in god as a the only light in an often miserable existence. Why wouldn’t Richard have some compassion towards people who have differing beliefs, beliefs that give a great deal of people the only hope they carry in their lives. Richard seemingly oblivious to this fact passes along the message to them that they must be ignorant to have such beliefs. The question begs, Why do most people when it comes to spiritual beliefs or lack of spirituality feel it necessary to want others to have the exact same beliefs. I have certain beliefs yet I have no desire to want others to hold those beliefs. All religions want you to change to their own belief system, I get that but Atheism is not put in a positive light when his message is vile towards those with differing beliefs. Anyway, if we all had one belief system the world would be a very boring place, yet probably quite a bit more peaceful. Personally, I find Dawkins delivery repulsive and divisive, and I have a hard time getting beyond that divisiveness to even register what his message is other than “believe as I do or you must have the IQ of a toad”. That’s just not necessary.


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