Richard Dawkins Isn’t Defending ‘Mild Pedophilia’… but That Doesn’t Make His Comments Okay

***Update***: Dawkins has now responded to the criticism. He acknowledges that many other victims of sexual abuse have suffered serious trauma, while still explaining that his own experience hasn’t had the same result. He also points out that some of his childhood friends, subject to the same abuse, may have suffered as a result, but none of them have said as much yet. I’m sure people will still complain this isn’t enough, but Dawkins did exactly what I hoped he would do. I only wish he had said it like this in the first place.

Today we read, almost daily, of adults whose childhood was blighted by an uncle perhaps, or even a parent, who would day after day, week after week, year after year, sexually abuse a vulnerable child. The child would often have no escape, would not be believed if he/she told the other parent, or told a teacher. In many cases it is only now, when the abused children have reached adulthood, that these stories are coming out. To make light of their stories, even after all these years, might in some cases re-awaken the trauma of not being believed at the time when it was all happening, and when being believed would have meant so much to the child.

… 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. That’s why I said only “I don’t think he did any of us lasting damage”. We discussed it among ourselves on many occasions, especially after his suicide, and there was indeed general agreement that his gassing himself was far more upsetting than his sexual depredations had been. If I am wrong about any particular individual; if any of my companions really was traumatised by the abuse long after it happened; if, perhaps it happened many times and amounted to more than the single disagreeable but brief fondling that I endured, I apologise.

Richard Dawkins is no stranger to saying provocative things that he finds harmless that also manage to offend plenty of other people. It’s fine, of course, when he’s criticizing religious beliefs or bad public policy. It’s harder to defend when he types out a tweet like the one he put out last month:

While technically true, it’s easy to see how that could be interpreted as a criticism of Muslim people (and a slam on their intelligence) and not something about, say, a repressive culture in many Islamic countries that doesn’t allow all people to reach their full potential.

He managed to outdo himself this past weekend as he prepares for the release of his memoir An Appetite for Wonder. His (to put it mildly) inarticulate way of talking about a sensitive subject has led to all sorts of well-deserved criticism today.

In an interview with The TimesGiles Whittell, which is behind a paywall but which you can read in full here, Dawkins recalled a teacher he had who was sexually abusive to students, yet Dawkins can’t bring himself to fully condemn him:

“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 paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.

In the book, Dawkins mentions one occasion when a teacher put a hand down his trousers at a prep school in Salisbury, and four others at Oundle, when he “had to fend off nocturnal visits to my bed from senior boys much larger and stronger than I was”. The Oundle incidents don’t seem to have bothered him. The prep school one did, but he still can’t bring himself to condemn it, partly because the kind of comparison his adult mind deploys is with the mass murders carried out by Genghis Khan in the 12th century. “Without condoning what was done, at least try to put on the goggles of the period and see it through those eyes,” he says. “I find it much harder to put on those goggles where we’re talking about the monstrous cruelty that went on in past times. It’s hard to think of that and to forgive using modern standards in the same way as it might be for the schoolmaster who touched me up but didn’t actually do me any physical violence.”

The actual excerpt from his memoir dealing with this topic looks like this:

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.

A generous interpretation of all of that would be that Dawkins personally experienced sexual abuse, something that was sadly not uncommon at that time, but it didn’t traumatize him. It wasn’t okay, but it didn’t do him any lasting damage. Even though Dawkins takes a leap when saying his classmates felt the same way he did — an irresponsible statement that should not be assumed so easily — he’s not saying that the same experience might not have been traumatic for someone else.

A less generous interpretation would be… well… pretty much everything that’s making news today.

Like this over-the-top headline from Salon (which was also used by Raw Story):

I find that one particularly egregious, because when I’m reading Dawkins’ comments, I’m not seeing anything that even suggests “defending pedophilia,” mild or otherwise. Dawkins isn’t condoning what happened. Nor is he suggesting that others who experience the same thing today should just “get over it.”

What he’s guilty of is what he’s always been guilty of — being insensitive, inarticulate, and unsympathetic. He’s trivializing something others rightly take very seriously because he’s found a way to get past it. As someone who once held the title of “Chair for the Public Understanding of Science,” he’s doing an awful job of bringing people over to his side. Good educators know you have to meet people where they’re at before you can move them in your direction and, by basically downplaying his own abuse, he’s showing a callous disregard for how others might interpret the same situation.

Other children who have been touched the way Dawkins was have suffered. The timeline of when it happened, 50 years ago or now, is irrelevant, as Trevor Grundy noted in a piece for Religion News Service when he interviewed someone who is an expert in these matters:

Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, called Dawkins’ remarks “a terrible slight” on those who have been abused and suffered the effects for decades.

“Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way,” Watt said. “But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or yesterday.”

That, to me, is a better handle on what Dawkins got wrong. While he is able to see what happened to him through a generational lens and move past it, he just doesn’t do enough to say how wrong the behavior was or admit that other students may have been seriously harmed (psychologically, if not physically) by what their teachers did.

Homophobia is homophobia, hateful and harmful, no matter when it happened. Same with racism. If we’ve become better on those issues today — and that’s arguable, I know — it’s because we no longer let it slide when we see it or hear it. Similarly, sexual abuse is sexual abuse and it must be condemned no matter where a certain act may sit on a fictional spectrum of mild to serious. I’m glad Dawkins got through it without any lasting effect (that he would acknowledge, anyway) — but he missed a golden opportunity to point out how the same scenario could have seriously damaged someone else’s life.

Back in April, there was a powerful article in the New Yorker by Marc Fisher about the sexual abuse of students that took place decades ago at the Horace Mann School in New York City. The boys at the school practically worshipped one of their teachers to the point where they would sometimes visit him, alone, at his apartment, and the teacher took advantage of that trust and isolation. The level of abuse and secrecy involved were just astonishing. More relevant to us, while the abuse described in this article was far more than just touching, the trauma stayed with the victims for a long time. Still does, in fact. Here are just two passages from the piece:

For years, [student] Stephen Fife kept what happened with [teacher Robert] Berman mostly to himself. He told his mother only that he was depressed and unable to sleep, that he was in trouble and needed to see a therapist. He recalls her saying that in their family one did not tell secrets to strangers. She urged him to take classes with other teachers, and suggested that he transfer to a different school for his senior year. For Fife’s eighteenth birthday, his parents gave him the twenty-four-volume complete works of Sigmund Freud so that he could figure out what was bothering him. During the next several months, he read volume after volume.

“People don’t understand,” [former student] Gene told me. “People think of child abuse as a moment in a shower, like Sandusky. They don’t think of it as essentially abducting and brainwashing. This was a cult of art, literature, and music, a cult that was revered in some circles. And being in a cult is seen as a sign of weakness.” Once a week, Gene goes to a meeting of adult survivors of childhood abuse. Others attend for a few months and move on. Five years later, Gene is still going.

If you want to get a better understanding of the lifelong effects of sexual abuse by a teacher, read that piece. I hope Dawkins does, anyway.

By the way, none of Dawkins’ statements are new information. He spoke openly about his teacher’s sexual abuse in 2006. Remember: when the God Delusion came out, one of the more controversial aspects of the book was his argument that “Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.”

Again, while that may be true for some people, it’s certainly not true for all people. Unfortunately, in the years since, Dawkins hasn’t learned any better.

On Twitter this morning, Dawkins attempted to respond to his critics. He kept arguing that “mild touching” was bad, but rape was far worse. But that’s not the real issue here. The issue is that the mild touching, even though it could be much worse, must still be taken seriously because of the lasting impact it can have on victims. Dawkins didn’t treat it with the appropriate level of condemnation, regardless of what his own experience was.

If the Pope said the same thing, no matter how he framed it, we’d all condemn it and criticize it. I think Dawkins would, too. There’s no reason to let these comments slide just because they came out of Dawkins’ mouth (or computer). No matter his intentions, his words hurt people and he ought to acknowledge that. As a scientist, he should be on the lookout for evidence that he could be wrong and be willing to change his mind if necessary. When it comes to abuse, even “mild” abuse if we can call it that, there are too many people whose experiences have been different from Dawkins for him to not at least change the way he speaks about the topic.

I’ve reached out to Dawkins for comment. I’ll let you know if he responds.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Eliot Parulidae

    I remember a moment in The God Delusion when Dawkins recounted a girl’s sexual abuse by a priest, and her story was strikingly similar to his. She said she only found the touching “icky” and claimed that other parts of her religious upbringing caused a lot more trauma. How eerie, that the story of sexual abuse in a religious environment Dawkins chose to address was so mild despite his overwhelming drive to denounce religion – it’s like he couldn’t bear to delve into the many much more horrible stories out there in the world. In other words, his utter lack of emotion in discussing pedophilia, which many interpret as insensitivity, could be some kind of coping mechanism.

    Dawkins should have stuck to writing about evolutionary biology, an area in which he has real expertise. To play The World’s #1 Atheist, he has to pretend to be something he’s not: a polymath. He has to use his prissy British manner to convince us that he’s an expert in philosophy, history, political science, cosmology, comparative religion, women’s issues, and psychology (he is not.) It makes me a Sad Panda, because I like his biology books.

  • decathelite

    I think pedophila today is so much more vulgar and reprehensive than it used to be because we know how harmful the lasting effects of it are.

    To say, “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage” is irresponsible for a scientist of his caliber. How does he know? Way to take a sampling size of one and apply the results to everyone.

    It’s no different than the RCC saying, “well some of the boys that were touched by priests turned out ok, so it really wasn’t that bad.”

    Teachers and priests and authority figures that touch kids without their consent knew what they were doing, and we shouldn’t go easy on them.

  • decathelite

    In college the body of one of my assistant pole vault coaches was found shot in the head by a shotgun on a rural mountain trail. We loved him a lot, and we wished vengeance on the guy that shot him. Who could have harmed such a great guy? Turns out part of the story was that he was fooling around with some other guy’s kids.

    It was really hard for all of us to lose the friendliest guy we knew, but also come to terms that were were coached by a child molester. We rationalized, “He wasn’t really doing anything wrong, that killer took things way too far.” “Well, maybe it wasn’t as bad as the news is reporting”.

    At his funeral, we all stood around in awkward silence, all of us thinking the same thing: the coach was dead because a guy got mad that our coach was fooling around with his children.

    So I think I might understand where Dawkins is coming from, trying to rationalize it. But I will say, child diddling is bad, no matter who does it or when.

  • ShoeUnited

    I have to agree. His downplaying of the scenario probably was how it damaged him. He writes it as if it was happening to someone else. And that’s a way people cope with these issues. You pretend it didn’t really happen to you. That person was powerless. You are not. So to speak.

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    His literary contributions aside, I get a bit more disenfranchised with Mr. Dawkins every time he makes a public statement as of late, because it’s almost like he’s not even TRYING to get his audience to understand the mindset that would justify his claims (which is already a stretch for most decent people anyway). He’s basically becoming the Pat Robertson of atheism.

  • Atheist for human rights

    Can you guys see why I hate bigoted New atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins?

    And if a Mormon said the same thing about black people or a priest said the same thing about child rape would Mehta bd minimizing how egregious the comment is? Probably not. He would (rightly) sensationalize like the raw story did. New atheists make me sick.

  • Dave Murphy

    A great post, Thanks Hemant

  • Alex

    I was molested as a child by a neighborhood girl who was several years older than I was, and the experience was so traumatic that my memory of the event, repressed for all my life, came rushing back to me last Christmas. Dawkins’ comments are distasteful and he should take responsibility as well as apologize.

  • L.Long

    Really this is so silly!
    Atheists have no gawds, only fallible people. Some are expert in certain fields and spout BS in others. Dawkins is a person, as such he is allowed to be stupid and silly and non-apologetic. When he says somethin’ we evaluate it like everything else. OK its over lets go on with important stuff like you know people really doing sexual harm.

  • double-m

    Hemant, thank you for your balanced comments on the issue. Like you, I disagree with Richard Dawkins’s views. I’d like to add, however, that he has a right to express them. He IS a survivor of sexual abuse after all, and things such as “petitions” to silence him are way, way out of line. If we keep telling the world that survivors have a right to be heard, then we have an obligation to apply that standard universally and not selectively.

  • LesterBallard

    I imagine a lot of abuse by RCC priests was done in the fifties. I guess it didn’t count.

  • trivialknot

    I think it is poor taste to look at ANY trait of a victim of sexual assault and say that it is really a coping mechanism. It’s like whenever a queer or kinky person says they’ve been sexually abused, people blame their orientation on the abuse.

    I believe what Dawkins himself says about it: he wasn’t hurt that bad, and thinks it must be the same for others. I believe his experience, I just don’t think it’s generalizable.

  • LesterBallard

    And how does Dawkins know that teacher didn’t do worse to other children?

  • Paula M Smolik

    “some years later he killed himself.” Well, good. A kid shouldn’t be screwed up for the rest of his life because of a grope. He/she should certainly know to fend off anything like that again or worse. The bad part was none of those kids reported it. Hopefully we raise kids to tell, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  • Eliot Parulidae

    I don’t think his personal beliefs or his pretense are outcomes of his sexual abuse – I have no authority to make so broad a statement. My paragraph on his expertise or lack thereof was making a totally separate point. I just think the dismissive/numb way he handles the *particular* issue of pedophilia is suspicious.

  • Ray

    Is it possible that Dawkins was traumatized and this minimizing of the event is the result?

  • Stan Pak

    I think that you did not get the Dawkins’ point there. He is not defending pedophilia or in any ways justifying it. He is just pointing that there are shades of this crime. Viewing pictures, touching is not the same as raping or beating. While all of them are decisively worth condemnation – equating these things is just an error – so simple. This is how I understand when Dawkins says that not all pedophiles are the same. Just like not all crimes are the same.

  • Peter Beattie

    “Again, while that may be true for some people, it’s certainly not true for all people.”

    And where does Dawkins say that it is, Hemant? I suppose you are well aware, since Dawkins has explained this in his tweets, that he was making a point about bad things not all being the same level of bad. Nothing that I can see in your post either acknowledges that point or even serves as an argument against it.

  • Peter Beattie

    That’s not just how you understand Dawkins, that’s what he explicitly said.

  • Eliot Parulidae

    The word you’re looking for is disenchanted, but yes, I am so over how every conversation one has with open-minded people about atheism must begin this way:

    Open-minded guy: How can you be an atheist when Richard Dawkins is such an ass?
    Atheist: He is indeed somewhat of an embarrassment.
    Open-minded guy: You hate him too?
    Atheist: Alas, yes.
    Open-minded guy: Cool! Now that that’s out of the way, we can have an interesting conversation!

  • sara

    The way he talks about it sounds similar to what I’ve heard from other people who were abused around the same time. It’s always “Sure it was bad, but you just didn’t talk about those things. It’s just the way things were.” When I can convince them to go further into there is a remnant of the childhood fear of getting in trouble for making a scene, for making trouble for an adult, for having somehow deserved it. I think a lot of victims have convinced themselves that they were less traumatized than they were because admitting it could have lead to more and worse abuse.

  • Helz

    Thanks for striving to write a relatively objective article on a controversial topic – seems rare these days, & refreshing.

  • Peter Beattie


    “Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a
    long time ago we should judge it in a different way,” Watt said.

    That, to me, is a better handle on what Dawkins got wrong.

    Except Dawkins never said any such thing. He said that he himself finds it hard to condemn (not that anybody else shouldn’t), and that he thought it a good idea to at least try to understand that perspective. That by itself is not exactly hard to understand, is it? And condemning him for not saying x, y, and z that you would have liked him to say strikes me as remarkably self-righteous.

  • Justine Noland

    I agree, I experienced multiple instances of sexual abuse as a child, from multiple perpetrators; dissociation and minimization are classic coping mechanisms that I also (unconsciously) used during my recovery from the abuse (and I probably still use them presently, to some extent.) It is hard to get around and some people don’t recognize that they are doing it (minimizing or dissociating from the experience) as they do so.

  • katarn

    I remember this say passage in the god delusion and feeling very uncomfortable about it. I also remember him alluding to but not directly mentioning this incident involving his own abuse. Ugh, he tried to show how it was not as bad as the psychological abuse of religion, but still disturbing. Its a chapter in an otherwise good book I’d rather forget. Now I just kinda wanna forget about Dawkins.

  • Anathema

    Maybe that’s what Dawkins was trying to say. If it was, he worded himself incredibly poorly. His comments in The Times made it seem that he was excusing child molestation as something that wasn’t really all that bad. Whether or not he intended them to, his words trivialize child molestation.

    Dawkins should be able to understand that the people who read his article cannot read his mind. He shouldn’t blame people for not knowing what his intentions were or for misunderstanding what he meant when he expressed himself so poorly. He ought to apologize to the people who his comments inadvertently hurt and acknowledge that he made a mistake.

  • NoGodsBeWithYou

    I’m sorry. Could someone please reference Dawkins’ defense of pedophilia? I believe he stated it was bad. What I see in most of these comments is condemnation of those who do not condemn, usually a theist tact. Does political correctness or rationality rule here? Please someone, simply restate his defense. Not your interpretation, but the defense in his own words, thank you.

    Frankly if I were to evaluate the amount amount of harm caused by such instances as Dawkins describes versus that of religion, I must agree with him – pedophila: bad, religion: worse.

  • Anathema

    I haven’t seen anyone denying Dawkins’s right to say what he said. The only petition that I’ve seen has been asking Dawkins to retract what he said in that interview. How does asking someone to retract a harmful statement that they made the same as denying someone the right to express their opinion?

    I’m fine with Dawkins speaking out about his own experiences. Part of what was so problematic about that interview was he asserted that he thought that there wasn’t any serious lasting harm done to any of his molester’s other victims. Even though many other children who are molested do experience serious and lasting harm. Dawkins may be entitled to speak about his own experience, but he is not entitled to project that experience onto others.

  • HollowGolem

    I think the damning thing here is the cognitive dissonance that must be required for him to almost hand-wave the sexual abuse of himself or another decades ago, but condemn the systemic justification and defense of such child-rape by the Catholic church as one of the most heinous behaviors of which they’re guilty.

    A double standard is still a double standard, even if a few decades have intervened. Human psychology certainly hasn’t evolved enough to change the sort of reaction such abuse causes in two thousand, let alone fifty, years for such behaviors to have been so recently “okay” but to now be as abhorrent as they actually are regarded.

  • hardlyever

    Haven’t had time to read all the comments here, but take a stroll over to pharyngula. They have read every single bad, nefarious, bigoted, hateful, thing they can into RD’s words. And not only that, they’ll hammer you down if you even suggest that it may be otherwise. And they bristle at the suggestion that it may have something to do with who said it – RD – rather than the words, or intents, themselves. It’s predictably ugly over there.

  • Dolce

    I understand Dawkin’s point about seeing the past though a different lens, and certainly condemning people for simply believing what their culture around them promoted is hard to do, but that doesn’t mean condemning the culture itself has to be done according to a different standard.

    Never mind that child sexual abuse is still a huge hidden problem. It can take years for abusive teachers (or priests, or parents, or anyone who works with children) to be caught, if they ever are … look at the UofT Toronto education professor (who also worked for the government in education) who was just arrested for owning and making child pornography, and arranging a sexual offense with a minor. Or take the example of a teacher somewhere in the states who was convicted of sexual abuse with a minor (one of his former students), and a bunch of teachers from the school wrote an open letter asking for his sentence to be reduced because he was such a great teacher and worked well with students. Or there was another teacher who only got two months in jail, because the girl he had abused “looked older” than she really was.

    So a condemnation whenever you are talking about pedophilia is in order, especially considering that many people today still don’t take this sort of thing as seriously as they should. That’s not to say that Dawkin’s is a horrible person or anything like that, but he certainly worded himself poorly, and I can’t say I find his view particularly benign considering.

  • Anathema

    Did you actually read anything that Hemant wrote? Heck, did you even read the title?

    Because I cannot understand what would possess someone to write a comment demanding that someone show him where Richard Dawkins had defended pedophilia on a blog post entitled “Richard Dawkins Isn’t Defending ‘Mild Pedophilia’… but That Doesn’t Make His Comments Okay.”

  • VStaccato

    Now I know what about God Delusion messed with my head in such an unexplainable manner. Trigger familiarity…

  • Art_Vandelay

    I once read a news headline that read “1 Billion Catholics Still Funding the RCC Despite Being Cognitively Aware That it Runs a Worldwide Pederasty Ring”…said no person ever.

  • NoGodsBeWithYou

    No, Hemant was certainly defending Dawkins. I’m so sorry.

    This article is certainly disengenous. It purports one thing while arguing another. Did you read it? While I do respect Hemant, he is not without blinders and sometimes preaches a political line in direct contradiction to the text he references. After rereading again, I fail to glean from Dawkins’ statements just what ‘isnt okay’. Please restate that for me.

    Furthermore, I would like to see one opinion on the subject of atheism here in the context of Dawkins’ statements. I for one have had quite enough of the conflation of other issues with that of atheism. Pedophilia has nothing to do with athesim. How many times does one have to cry straw man?

  • LesterBallard

    What about Muhammad and his child bride? Should we try to understand that perspective?

  • Anathema

    No, Hemant was certainly defending Dawkins. I’m so sorry.

    I am aware that the the article was critical of Dawkins. There is, however, a difference between being critical of Dawkins and asserting that he defended pedophilia.

    This article is certainly disengenous. It purports one thing while arguing another.

    How is it disingenuous to write a blog post that explains and supports an assertion made in its title?

    After rereading again, I fail to glean from Dawkins’ statements just what ‘isnt okay’.

    What about the part where Dawkins says that he doesn’t think that the man who molested him did any serious lasting damage to any of his other victims, despite the fact that Dawkins has no way of knowing this?

    What about the part where Dawkins says that he can’t condemn the acts of “mild pedophilia” committed by his molester simply because it happened at a time when standards were different? I don’t have a problem with Dawkins acknowledging that people in the past have held different standards of morality. But the way that Dawkins expressed himself made it seem like he wasn’t just pointing out that there were different moral standards in the past, but saying that because we did not have the same standards back then, therefore child molestation wasn’t wrong. (I doubt that Dawkins intended to say this. But that’s still what his words imply.)

    Furthermore, I would like to see one opinion on the subject of atheism here in the context of Dawkins’ statements. I for one have had quite enough of the conflation of other issues with that of atheism. Pedophilia has nothing to do with athesim.How many times does one have to cry straw man?

    I never said that pedophilia had anything to do with atheism. Neither did the original article.

    Talk about straw men.

  • Blacksheep

    “Richard Dawkins Isn’t Defending ‘Mild Pedophilia’’

    Why is it necessary to come to his defense? Atheist privilege?

  • 3lemenope

    If you want to understand Muhammad, you ought to. If you have no interest in such a task, then of course it’s optional. Do we write off all of Ancient Greek history and philosophy because of the many wacky practices they practiced (infanticide, child rape, brutal conquests, and so forth)? The value in understanding is great, and carries no obligation whatsoever to excuse or minimize. I think that’s the bit that gets to everyone, an elision of the space between understanding what/how/why a thing is, and furnishing excuses for it. Understanding is a prerequisite to excusing, but does not inevitably lead there; just as often, understanding leads to a more certain and confident condemnation.

  • jazz142857

    The overwhelming tide on pharyngula is epistemological overreaching of interpretation that the evolutionary psychology they so criticise for that very reason cannot even come close to.

  • Dartheon

    Presumably because a lot of people are incorrectly reporting that he defends “mild pedophilia” when he does not. Correcting misinformation is kind of a theme here in-case you’d not noticed.

  • NoGodsBeWithYou

    Dawkins did not defend pedophilia. Hemant employed a rhetorical tactic in citing a false characterization of his words and then, in contrast to his usual analysis of such blather, only weakly called it out, thus implying some truth in it’s words. I defy you to name Dawkins’ transgression in one sentence. Hemant did not do it and neither did you. You are sanctimoniously condemning him for not having the amount of outrage that you believe he should have, just as moralistic theists do every single day.

    Edit: I’ve deleted some things I wrote as emotional and unduly personal. I apologize to those who read them and to Anathema. I’m done on this subject. :)

  • Dartheon

    “They have read every single bad, nefarious, bigoted, hateful, thing they can into RD’s words.”

    I could apply this to pretty much every article on Pharyngula which mentions Dawkins.

  • wmdkitty

    If he got past it, great. That doesn’t make it okay to just dismiss others’ experiences, or judge survivors for not “getting past it”.

  • Dartheon

    Exactly. This is an important point. He is making no statement as to what people “Should” or “Shouldn’t” do. He is simply making the point that we do not always evaluate the merits of a persons actions based on current social standards.

    Stretching this to mean that he advocates or endorses his tendency is an unnecessary extrapolation and serves no purpose but to give people something to be outraged over.

  • LesterBallard

    He “married” a child and raped her; you understand it.

  • Sneezeguard

    His comments are more to be pitied than loathed.

    He has said hurtful and wrong things, but he was a man who was hurt and wronged. Being a victim does not give you a free pass, but I’m far more sympathetic to the misguided views of the abused than the abuser.

  • Anathema

    I understand that this was considered acceptable by the standards of the time. But even though I understand that, I still condemn it. I can understand an action and still denounce it as immoral.

    I don’t have a problem with Dawkins trying to understand the perspective of the man who molested him. That wasn’t the problem with what Dawkins said. The problem was that he said that he could not condemn what his molester did because the standards of the time were different.

  • Roger Peritone

    I placed a comment on Ray Comfort’s facebook page where he tries to get some mileage out of this incident:

    I referenced an article from the Christian Chronicle:

    You’ll notice that they are a lot more forgiving of one of their own for being one, than us atheists are for Dawkins talking about it!

    Apologetics Press, the Montgomery, Ala.-based church organization that has waged a quarter-century battle against atheism and the theory of evolution, has
    fired its longtime director, Bert Thompson, amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

    Interim executive director Dave Miller said the organization, which has a $1 million annual budget, intends to proceed “undaunted by Satan.”

    “We are deeply grateful for Dr. Thompson’s longstanding warfare against the sinister doctrine of evolution, with his eloquent affirmation of the biblical account of Creation,” Miller wrote in an open letter to Apologetics Press supporters.

    “Truth is truth, even if those who defend it eventually succumb to personal sin,”
    Miller wrote.

  • cityzenjane

    What he HAS been saying is that religious training by families is WORSE than molestation.

    I was raised Catholic. I was an early atheist..not a believer from about age 11… I am damned sure I would not trade my time in Sunday school for being molested “mildly” or profoundly.

    I am intimately aware of the impact on his generation – as the effects are still trickling down.

    He’s an ass.

  • cityzenjane

    If it had been a priest rather than a teacher – I rather doubt he would be so level headed about it. As it is – he uses it as a rhetorical device – and a poor one.

    I doubt any of us would trade boredom in Sunday school for molestation…but that’s the point he’s trying to make. Isn’t it on it’s face – absurd?

    Most of us have survived some form of religious training or culture…and most of us know someone profoundly hurt by sexual molestation.

  • Jim Valentine

    This is his memoir. This is about his experiences. Was it an opportunity for him to speak on pedophilia? Yes. Did he take that opportunity to do so? No not in any meaningful way for those that think he should have done so. Did he have to? No. Could it be that his insensitivity about mild pedophilia was just how he learned to cope? Yep. Could it also be said that such insensitivity could also be used to cope with life in general? Yep. Does that fit into his personality profile, yes it does. Am I surprised? No, I am not.

  • Grotoff

    He’s only articulating the necessary attitude of the moral relativists. “We can’t condemn the pedophile by the standards of today, we must see him within his cultural context.” That’s ridiculous of course, but a moral relativist can not help but agree.

  • Agrajag

    Yes, but to a certain point it *is* reasonable to judge a person by the standards of his time and culture. Let’s say a man grows up in a time and culture where it’s considered not only acceptable, but indeed a -duty- to kill your daughter if she has premarital sex.

    He then has a daughter, and discovers she has premarital sex. He spanks her.

    Judged by our standards today, spanking a daughter for having sex with whomever she please, is inacceptible and a horrible thing to do.

    However, I do think it makes sense to nevertheless claim that this person — judged by the standards he grew up with is ok, a liberal, someone with *good* morals.

    That isn’t to say it’s not wrong. It is. It’s just to say that most people don’t manage to tear themselves FULLY free from the culture they’re a part of, therefore even partial successes are a good thing, atleast they’re steps in the right direction.

    I don’t think that’s a good parallell to Dawkins experiences though, because most people when he grew up refrained from abusing kids, so anyone who did at that time, was clearly among the -worst-, not among the -best-.

  • gd


  • midnight rambler

    The underlying flaw with this whole argument, as it applies to this specific case, is that groping children was not acceptable behavior in 1950′s Britain. It was usually quietly shoved under the table and not something anyone talked about, but it wasn’t considered normal or okay.

    ETA: I was replying to this thread in general, I see you mentioned it a bit at the end of your comment.

  • Steven Carr

    If something does not cause lasting damage, then obviously you are defending it.

    For example, if I cut you with a razor blade, and the scar heals after 2 years, then the fact that it left no lasting damage means it is ‘trivial’ in the eyes of everybody attacking Dawkins.

    In their eyes, if it is not long lasting damage that you are doing to people, you can hurth them with no comebacks.

  • Steven Carr

    Of course, we should always listen to the stories that child abuse victims have to tell.

    Except when they tell us that no lasting harm was done to them.

    In that case the child abuse victims must not be listened to, but must be attacked as hard as possible.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    What really gets me, is that he has done more for the movement that most of you guys have done, and yet you all feel qualified to sit in judgement on him and his statements, almost as if you are Christian or something.

  • wmdkitty

    When he says it “didn’t cause lasting harm”, he is dismissing the experiences of other survivors, and that is extremely harmful.

  • Steven Carr

    He was describing his own experiences.

    Do you think that I can do what I like to you, provided only that it does not cause *lasting* harm?

    Because that is the party line being peddled against Dawkins.

    No lasting harm = it isn’t wrong

    At least in the eyes of people attacking Dawkins.

  • Steven Carr

    Curiously, all this has surfaced just after Dawkins condemned the death of an 8 year old girl, after a ruling that a marriage to an 8 year old was legal in Islamic terms.

    Rather than attack the death of Muslims, people prefer to divert attention away from that by turning their attack to Dawkins.

    Then they can ignore what he said about how it is wrong for an 8 year old girl to be killed on her wedding night.

  • Mark P Richardson

    Another point about “mild touching” being “not as bad as rape” – the person that gropes fondles and otherwise treats other humans as sexual objects may well go on to become a rapist. It shows a propensity for violating another persons body integrity.
    The brutal murderer might start out torturing and killing beetles, then cats dogs birds – before progressing to humans.
    Not all inappropriate touchers are going to graduate to rape – but its definitely a warning sign and needs to be treated seriously.

  • wmdkitty

    That is NOT the “party line” being peddled against Dawkins. What people are saying is: YES, ABUSE CAUSES LASTING HARM, STOP DISMISSING IT.

    Dawkins is causing further harm with his callous dismissal of child sexual abuse as “not causing lasting harm”. It doesn’t matter what his experience was, he’s using it as a club against other survivors. It’s like saying, “I was raped, but I got over it, so why can’t you?” It’s a statement that lacks even the barest shred of empathy for others.

    And what the shit does that have to do with this:

    “Do you think that I can do what I like to you, provided only that it does not cause *lasting* harm?”

    That’s bullshit and you know it. If you cause me harm, whether it’s fleeting or lasting, you have caused me harm. I may be more forgiving of truly accidental harms, sure, but I cannot and will not forgive those who downplay the effects of abuse as “no big deal”.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘The brutal murderer might start out torturing and killing beetles, then cats dogs birds – before progressing to humans.’

    What should we do about people who kill beetles?

    Should they be locked up , like we should , and do, lock up people who go in for ‘mild touching’?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘That’s bullshit and you know it. ‘

    Yes. the party line being peddled is bullshit.

    ‘ If you cause me harm, whether it’s fleeting or lasting, you have caused me harm.’

    You are correct.

    But the line being peddled, if I may be allowed to quote the opening post – is that it has to cause *lasting* damage before it is important.

    ‘The issue is that the mild touching, even though it could be much worse, must still be taken seriously because of the lasting impact it can have on victims. ‘

    It is *because* of the lasting impact that it should be taken seriously.

    So if I cut you with a razor blade, and it heals, that should not be taken seriously.

    No lasting damage, you see….

    As you so rightly point out, this is bullshit.

    Further discussion is useless, as you do not listen to child abuse victims and resent the very idea that there are child abuse victim that can get over their child abuse.

    I resent the idea that they can’t. I only wish they all could, but it hurts me to think that there are many child abuse victims who can’t ‘get over it’.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘It’s like saying, “I was raped, but I got over it, so why can’t you?” ‘

    No it isn’t.

    I see you now have to change Dawkins words so you can be offended by them.

  • wmdkitty

    Mild touching IS still abuse, and it SHOULD be taken seriously — that’s my fucking point!

    But Dawkins is saying that mild touching is “no big deal” because he managed to get over it. That is what is so insulting and damaging to other survivors!

    If you can’t understand that… *shakes head*

  • trivialknot

    What Richard Dawkins said was incredibly insensitive, but it is also somewhat insensitive to say that his experience was not real. I’ve experienced sexual assault that wasn’t that bad, and unlike Dawkins I do not generalize my experience to other people. This is within the range of experiences of sexual assault. Don’t contribute to the already-pervasive idea that there is a “right” pattern of response to sexual assault.

  • wmdkitty

    Nope. I’m not changing his words one bit, I’m drawing a parallel between what he said and that example.

    The point is, his callous dismissal of kiddie-fiddling as causing “no lasting harm” is wrong, insulting, and damaging. It’s plain as fucking day!

  • Feminerd

    Dawkins heavily implied that the abuse he suffered caused him and his friends who suffered the same abuse no lasting harm, which is thus the universal experience, and thus why are people whining about their abuse nowadays? He doesn’t know if the abuse hurt his friends in long-lasting ways, he just says “it doesn’t seem like it” without considering that people have all sorts of coping mechanisms for dealing with abuse, some of which include dissociation and minimization, or considering that maybe his friends don’t talk about it but are still deeply affected by it.

    His statement is indeed “I got abused, I got over it, it’s not that big of a deal”, which is a terrible message to send to people to whom it is a big deal and they can’t get over it. Abuse 50 years ago was just as wrong and just as damaging as abuse today, and minimizing the suffering of people who have been through the same thing as Dawkins doesn’t help anyone.

  • AltheaLost

    Hemant, I am so disappointed in you with this article. Who the fuck is anyone to criticise dawkins for dealing with this in his own manner? And for those expecting him to apologise, please, go fuck yourself.

    As a survivor of sexual abuse I seriously resent the implication that I have to remain a victim my entire life. I experienced it, I dealt with it. Now? I actually consider myself a better person for being able to pull through but to express that is wrong? To express that I’m not scarred for life is wrong? Fuck you and the donkey you rode in on.

    And for all you whiny bitches out there, mu experience has made me a stronger and better person. Just because I say thay doesn’t mean I think sexual abuse is helpful or not damaging to others. It means im a stronger person, that I am a better person because my experience forced me to be thay way or to harm myself. Again, fuck you all.

  • Msironen

    Okay so according to a certain blog network, Dawkins is now a NAMBLA spokesperson, Harris is a genocidal maniac, another famous skeptic is a serial rapist … Why exactly are you giving these deranged demagogues and their smears further publicity, Hemant?

  • wmdkitty

    Nobody has claimed, even in jest, that Dawkins is a member of NAMBLA. Harris has made statements that, if not “genocidal” in nature, are extremely racist and privileged. He also supports profiling. As for the “serial rapist”, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, but I suspect you’re Making Shit Up.

    Please provide sources for your statement, or admit you’re lying.

  • Michael W Busch

    I suspect that the “Someone is smearing [famous skeptic] as a serial rapist” line is a nearly-complete misunderstanding of this piece from PZ Myers: .

    And the “Someone is claiming Dawkins is a NAMBLA spokesperson” appears to be a similar misunderstanding of part of PZ’s comments on Dawkins’ latest horrifically wrong statements,

    PZ: Should we be giving pedophiles the idea that a “mild touching up” is reasonable behavior? It’s just a little diddling…it does no “lasting harm”. Christ, that sounds like something out of NAMBLA.

    Msironen appears to be indulging a personal dislike of FreeThoughtBlogs in general and PZ in particular, without regard for accuracy or any concern for propagating a culture that defends people who excuse and enable sexual assault.

  • jeffj900

    “What he’s guilty of is what he’s always been guilty of — being insensitive, inarticulate, and unsympathetic.”

    Actually I would call Dawkins comments articulate, sensitive, and compassionate.

    What they are not is cowardly capitulation to the loud shrieking legions of thought police and political correctness who don’t have the subtlety to discern the meaning of entire statements, but only the crude ability to latch onto particular words and phrases that trigger emotional hysteria, which incidentally also happens to be effective at generating page views.

    What Dawkins is being is intellectually honest and frank. If he is guilty of something, it is not being a shrewdly self-promoting and self-censoring master of the trickery of effective PR and political spin.

  • Michael W Busch

    No. This all has surfaced the day after Dawkins said something incredibly harmful and wrong in an interview.

    Many other sources have covered and quiet rightly uniformly condemned Rawan’s (the girl you mentioned) death – although the facts of the case are currently in dispute, that reaction is entirely appropriate. Google News indexes upwards of 50 stories about the case, and that’s only in the English-language news media. If I were to pull Arabic sources as well and include blog posts, the number would be far far higher. That tragedy is not being ignored, and Dawkins’ words about it are not unique.

    And nor is this thread the place to discuss it. Don’t use a murder as a distraction.

  • AltheaLost

    How is publicly accusing someone of multiple accounts of rape based on third hand, unverified (because the victims remained anonymous) accounts a misunderstanding? That is quite clearly a smear on someones name and character. How would you take it if it was your name in that blog post?

  • Michael W Busch

    No one should be given any special sanction for harmful speech, regardless of what they have done for “the movement”.

    Also, what “movement” are you talking about? There is no one “atheist movement”. There are a bunch of different people and groups of people with different goals, who happen to all correctly believe that there is no evidence for the existence of any gods.

    And that diversity is a good thing. We should not simply replace authoritarian religion with authoritarian irreligion. And one part of doing that is to not give anyone special sanction for harmful actions simply because of their particular social status.

  • Michael W Busch

    No. He is not being “intellectually honest and frank”. He is taking one data point (himself), making some conclusions from it, and then wrongly generalizing that to an entire group of people. And that he has done so is minimizing the trauma many of those people have experienced, and excusing the evil acts that caused it. That is harmful.

    This has nothing to do with PR or “political spin” or “political correctness”. It is about Dawkins apparently not recognizing the pain of others.

  • wmdkitty

    Uh, right, ‘cuz bitches be lying…. *rolleyes*

    There is more than just an “anonymous accusation” in play. His pattern of predatory behavior has been corroborated by others who have come forward. It has, in fact, been verified, and is not a “smear”.

  • Dirk

    PZ Myers has so little charisma that the groupthink and cultish devotion he inspires is really confounding.

  • Michael W Busch

    The reports of Shermer being a sexual predator given in that post are not “third hand” – they were provided to PZ by the victims, and substantiated by other witnesses.

    It is not necessary for the victims to reveal their names – and given the amount of harassment and threats victims of sexual assault who do reveal their names receive (one of the many forms of victim-blaming), their remaining anonymous is entirely reasonable. All that is necessary is that PZ was given reports that he had reasonable grounds to find credible. And given that, it is not a smear to say “This man has a history of predatory behavior. Watch out for him.”

    And this thread discusses Dawkins’ mis-speech, not how creepy and evil Shermer’s actions have been. So I am done.

  • AltheaLost

    Oh yes, that’s right, because PZMyers is an unconditional source of credibility… not.

    Even Myers himself says he cannot vouch for her, but fear not readers, for a very good friend of his, who he can vouch for, can vouch for her, and thats more than good enough for such a serious accusation amirite?? Huh???

    I mean, it’s not like we are treating rape like a game of telephone now are we? It’s not like we are listening to gossip and rumours as gospel truth (oh, the irony).

    Please… you insult victims and women in the highest degree in the babyish attempt to degrade the average joe. Get over yourself.

  • Edward Gemmer

    I completely disagree. There is one decent response to Dawkins’ comments, and it is “thank you.” You don’t get to criticize someone for how they feel about an issue that is personal to them. You can make arguments and disagree with their arguments, but when someone is talking about their feelings and personal history, that is clearly the time to shut up and listen. I wish certain people would take the advice they always preach to other people.

  • Cosmosspring

    Best most ensible comment ever.

  • AltheaLost

    Oh, so when a woman is sexuallu abused she experiences a horrific thing, but when it’s dawkins… it’s a data point. Yea, cos dawkins is a robot and can’t feel, cos dawkins isn’t shaped in part by the emotions and events of his past. Just like you myers bitches to demonize anyone who doesn’t agree with you, even as you proffess to be protecting them.

  • AltheaLost

    See above as to why you’re so fucking wrong it’s embarrassing.

  • 3lemenope

    Who the fuck is anyone to criticise dawkins for dealing with this in his own manner?

    Because Dawkins is “dealing with this” in public, in a manner that obviously affects others?

  • captainthecapn

    As Anathema said, nobody is denying Dawkins the right to say what he said. That being said, just because he was a victim doesn’t mean he gets to say shitty things; particularly when said shitty things can be detrimental for other people who have dealt with it.

  • AltheaLost

    So should only people who are unable to cope and unable to move on speak out about it? In which case, have you been greviously abused? Because, by your own standards, if you haven’t your not allowed to comment on it. Should we only talk about the people who have committed suicide?

    Should we take away any success stories of victims triumphing after disaster? Provide no model tp shows others that it can be done?

  • Bitter Lizard

    What Dawkins said was cringeworthy, and I’m glad you called him out on it, in a way that was mostly as eloquent as his own comments were obtuse. In terms of comparing it to a similar statement by the Pope or anyone in the Catholic hierarchy, though, I would like to point out that there’s a difference between a victim of sexual abuse being insensitive about the subject and the perpetrators of systemic sexual abuse of thousands doing the same. This is an important point for any religious apologist who sees Dawkins’ embarrassing comments as a happy opportunity to bash atheists in general.

  • 3lemenope

    Uh, yeah.

    [Points to Public Figure with index finger]
    [Points to Public with two thumbs and a smile]

    If we belonged to a hierarchical religious organization, such criticism would be unthinkable. So, not sure what you’re getting at.

    Paula Deen has done more for the popularization of southern cooking than any of y’all have done, and yet I’ll bet anything you feel qualified to sit in judgment of her wanting to have a slavery themed wedding party. What on Earth do contributions to “the cause” [whatever that happens to be] have to do with transgressions against people?

  • 3lemenope

    Yeah. Of course, the part that won’t sink into your head is that “harmful speech” is a tricky thing to nail down. Two people can have earnest disagreements about whether the descriptive or denotative aspect of a given word is more valuable than any unfortunate etymological baggage it might carry.

    Might have something to do with that diversity I keep hearing about.

  • 3lemenope

    He attempted to speak for others’ experience; that they had “no lasting damage” too. Not sure why you can’t see why that is the bit that is inappropriate. He certainly gets to speak for himself (and when he does it in public, as is the nature of ‘public’, he opens himself up for commentary), but it is illegitimate for him to assume that others had the same non-reaction to abuse that he did.

  • Peter Beattie

    Yeah, let’s hold Dawkins responsible for all the things he didn’t say and has no way of knowing. Which we obviously don’t either, but we’re clearly justified in feeling superior because we judge Bad People at the drop of a hat. That’s sensible.

    [Too much sarcasam, didn’t read: To insist that Dawkins make a different point from the one he did (which you ignored) is rather presumptuous.]

  • Peter Beattie

    To say, “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage” is irresponsible for a scientist of his caliber. How does he know?

    By actually personally knowing the people involved. Which you don’t. And still you feel justified to judge him. How does that work?

    And why is pretty much everybody ignoring Dawkins’s point, ie that there is a continuum of bad things and that lumping less bad things in with very bad things serves no discernible purpose in the way of making actual people’s lives better?

  • AltheaLost

    Well that’s a whole load of bullshit.

    He was speaking in specific reference to his experience and his group of friends at the time. But how do you know he didn’t grow up with them? How do you know he is not friends with them now and has spoken to them of it? You don’t. Instead, you get all up in arms over hyperbole and missed context. Jump on the, he doesn’t agree with me so we must pressure him to conform to what I think is right and good bandwagon. Regardless of the point being made.

    My skin crawls to think that people actually believe this utter horse shite.

  • DaveDodo007

    Lol, was your brain on holiday when you wrote that first paragraph.

  • Peter Beattie

    it’s like he couldn’t bear to delve into the many much more horrible stories out there in the world

    Or it’s like you couldn’t bear to try and understand his actual point—or even not judging him for not riding your hobby-horse. His point is, ‘Some forms of religious indoctrination are arguably worse than some forms of physical abuse’. And in his tweets it was, ‘There are mildly bad things and very bad things indeed—don’t lump them together’. How you think it is somehow his moral duty to point out all sorts of other things too has remained, largely for lack of arguments on your part, a mystery.

    And the baseless, gratuitous personal abuse from “lack of emotion” to your whole second paragraph serves what purpose exactly?

  • Peter Beattie

    He IS a survivor of sexual abuse after all

    You really didn’t get his point at all, did you? ‘There are different levels of severity of abuse, and over-dramatization of mild abuse is very unhelpful.’ Your saying that he “survived” fondling is an excellent case in point.

  • Peter Beattie

    What about Muhammad and his child bride? Should we try to understand that perspective?

    Yes, we should try to understand it. That doesn’t mean, as you apparently take it to imply, that we should condone it. Which Dawkins also explicitly said.

  • Ron

    My two cents based on my reading of the original article…

    “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,”

    “can’t find it in me” is whats key. Wants, to, knows its wrong but can’t. Why? Racism=bad, caning=bad, pedophilia=bad. The point being made is that at the time he’s referring to attitudes were different then they are now and those crimes weren’t perceived the same way. If you ask people now in their 70′s or 80′s about groping or canning a child they might say the same thing. Again, not condoning but revealing the power of indoctrination to cultural norms of the time and how once instilled in childhood how hard they are to break, even if modern society has changed radically.

  • DaveDodo007

    You all realize that Richard is a ‘product’ of the British boarding school system, don’t you. Where anything from sexual assault to losing a limb was considered ‘stuff and nonsense’, ‘lie back and think of England’ and ‘god save the queen,’ bullshit. Haven’t any of you read Tom Brown’s Schooldays? They were very strange places and if you have a problem with how Richard deals with his experiences then blame his education and teachers. It seems that it is fine to blame the victim if it is Richard Dawkins.

  • allison

    I avoid that cesspool these days. Interestingly a few days ago one of the regular commenters there admitted to having molested a 3-year-old when he was 12, and the other commenters were all telling him what a great guy he is, and how they would choose him to babysit their kids. Meanwhile, Dawkins is a villain to the same people. In the same thread another commenter admitted that she can barely control her urge to kill other human beings. What a sick place PZ has created.

  • allison

    Nice of you to support rape culture, by suggesting that women take some repsonsibility for their own safety.

  • allison

    Shermer’s accusers are not trustworthy, and have repeatedly made false claims of rape/assault. How do I know? A number of anonymous people have come forward with this information.

  • Dave Littler

    “Nobody is saying he can’t say what he said. We’re just saying that he should be pressured to say the opposite of what he said. He can say whatever he wants. He should just take it all back if he’s told to.”

    Your approach to the topic is pretty problematic in and of itself. The problem being that it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    When I was about eight years old, I had some older boy who was well into puberty take me out to a corn field and, shall we say, experiment with his burgeoning sexuality with me. At that time, I had no concept of sexuality. None at all. I had no idea that this was something that was supposed to be shameful or private or indeed that it was even a thing that existed. My most vivid memory is one that I actually find funny in retrospect; his frustration at my treating his erection like a joystick,complete with hammering the “button” at the top while making “pew pew” noises. I wasn’t hurt or disturbed by it, either then or later, because it was just one more confusing, incomprehensible thing that happened every day in a world filled with experiences with things I had no knowledge of yet. It was about as traumatizing as overhearing a discussion on economics; I just didn’t get it, and didn’t much care, either while it was happening or later.

    It sounds like Dr. Dawkins had a similar level of trauma to me in a fairly similar situation, so to that extent I can say that he does speak for me, and probably for a lot of other people in similar situations. He’s not saying that EVERYONE responds the same way, or that they should be expected to. He’s just making a speculation based upon his own reactions and the sense that there was nothing especially atypical about himself at that point.

  • jeffj900

    The comments you quote from PZ are a complete misrepresentation of what Dawkins said. I don’t see any place where Dawkins even implies, let alone says, that what this teacher did was reasonable behavior.

    And as for judging the past differently from the present, that is a perfectly reasonable idea as well. Society learns. Today any idiot can understand things that took very smart people to figure out a hundred years ago or fifty years ago. This applies as much to social attitudes on race, gender, and sexual conduct as to more practical knowledge.

    To make this observation out to be condoning such behavior today is either willful slander or else a rabid form of atheist piety hungry to manufacture reasons to lambast others for their lesser grasp of the rules and techniques of presenting one’s self as a superior ethical being.

  • Moronicus_Litho

    I feel like Dawkins is constantly of the opinion that as long as anything worse has existed, anything else doesn’t matter. Mild pedophilia doesn’t matter because there is worse pedophilia… sexual creepiness and misogyny doesn’t matter in the U.S. because it’s worse in other countries, etc…

  • Warren McIntosh

    A good analysis, thank you. I was subject to what Dawkins (and anyone else) would describe as ‘mild abuse’ as a child, but sadly for me I was born a very sensitive human being and I can say without doubt that it has destroyed my life.

  • Dave Littler

    That’s a dreadfully unfair interpretation of the actual words that he spoke. I realize how attractive it can be to look for the most damning possible interpretation of the words of someone you dislike so that you can attack them; I think we’ve all fallen victim to this urge from time to time. But it hardly seems like doing so rises to the level of intellectual integrity that this sort of topic deserves.

  • Dave Littler

    Technically, I think it’s “willful libel”, if it’s in writing.
    Semantics, I know. Otherwise I agree with you.

  • Huh?

    “A generous interpretation of all of that would be that Dawkins personally experienced sexual abuse, something that was sadly not uncommon at that time, but it didn’t traumatize him.”

    So you admit that sexual abuse was “something that was sadly not uncommon at that time”

    Yet, when Dawkins says he cannot condomn this sexual abuse, (“something that was sadly not uncommon at that time”) you jump on him and claim he’s being insensitive, inarticulate, and unsympathetic

    That seems massively disingenuous on your part

    and this here is the cherry on top

    “Dawkins didn’t treat it with the appropriate level of condemnation, regardless of what his own experience was.”

    Does every public speaker need to fall over themselves condemning all manor of horrible things?

    Would it been of he just mildly condemned it?

  • Peter Beattie

    What he HAS been saying is that religious training by families is WORSE than molestation.

    Please do find a quote for that, so that you might convince yourself that you’re wrong. Short version: he has never said any such thing; what he has said, though, is that some forms of religious indoctrination are arguably worse than some forms of (mild) physical abuse. The difference is kind of important.

  • Agrajag

    Yeah. I don’t think child-groping was widely-accepted in Britain, 1950. My comment was more general: generally speaking, it DOES matter what background you’re from, when we’re judging your actions. I’ve got Iranian friends that I’d classify as “liberal” and “modern” despite the fact that I’d classify Norwegians with the same ideas as “conservative” and “old-fashioned”

  • Bitter Lizard

    Because in a post that was mostly critical of Dawkins, Hemant still found it important to get the facts straight. Why does it not surprise me that a theist would have a problem understanding that concept?

  • Peter Beattie

    Maybe that’s what Dawkins was trying to say.

    Nope, those are his actual words. Lots of examples in his Twitter timeline, if you’d care to look.

  • decathelite

    I thought his point was that same act by a teacher today would be judged by much stricter standards. He’s right, because we today know that copping a feel leads to more harm than we thought.

    Stabbing someone in the hand with a fork causing them to bleed is less bad than stabbing someone through the abdomen with a paring knife, but it’s useful to lump those two together to show that stabbing hurts people, no matter how it is done. And it’s wrong to say that stabbing someone with a fork 50 years ago is not as bad as stabbing someone with a fork today.

    If we can stigmatize all inappropriate child touching, no matter how mild, hopefully it will lead to a society where less people will want to do it. That would make people’s lives better.

    Also, to be clear, what I’m judging is the thing he says, not him personally. I am still an enormous fan of his.

  • Moronicus_Litho

    “I find it much harder to put on those goggles where we’re talking about the monstrous cruelty that went on in past times. It’s hard to think of that and to forgive using modern standards in the same way as it might be for the schoolmaster who touched me up but didn’t actually do me any physical violence.”

    Previously, his Muslima comment etc… Just observing a trend.

  • jeffj900

    We also know more about how prevalent it is. People talk more about sexual matters. Long ago the tendency to hush things up, coupled with the widespread assumption that such things simply didn’t occur probably masked the problem.

    The major difference today is that information travels further and faster and more easily reaches a large audience, and we are bolder about airing scandals publicly.

  • shockwaver

    This is exactly it. I’ve heard it before, hell I’ve said it before. “Oh it wasn’t bad I’m fine.”

  • shockwaver

    Uh huh – even assuming everything you’ve said is 100% accurate – you can’t hold a 12 year old to the same standards as you’d hold an adult. You don’t expect a 12 year old to know exactly what they are doing – you do expect a 30+ year old to have a much better handle on things.

  • shockwaver

    He does say that he doesn’t think it caused lasting harm to “us” – being all the children that were abused in his situation. Which is not something he can really claim because the effects of child abuse are deep seated and often incredibly difficult to quantify. And underlying problems caused by it can take years or decades to manifest.

  • shockwaver

    Wow really? I swear some people switch off the logic centers of their brains when someone they admire does something that brings criticism. No one has said that Dawkins isn’t shaped by his experiences. And minimizing the effects of an abuse is a pretty common coping mechanism among people who have been abused as children. My issue is that he is also speaking for other people that were in his situation at the time saying they are fine when that is a nearly impossible to state with any degree of certainty. These things can take decades to fully manifest themselves because the brain does a ton of things to protect itself from trauma – ESPECIALLY when it’s still developing.

  • AltheaLost

    You state that with impossible certainty. You can’t possibly know that he has never spoken with the people he is referencing about it. You can’t possibly know that. And yet you see fit to condemn him for something that has been warped out of context rather radically simply because he hasn’t been the cowering victim everyone expects those abused to be. Oh, you were raped? Oh you’re obvioisly weak willed and cant possibly get over this experience. You will forever have to live with shame and guilt for no other reason than I expect it of you. And if you profess anything other than this, about yourself or those you have spoken to about their and your own experience than we are going to hound you as evil and horrible and an absolute disgrace.

    Fyi, I’m not arguing in this manner because I like the guy and you insult my intelligence ny saying so. Just because I vehemntly disagree with you I’ve lost all ability to reason? Go fuck yourself you sanctimonious prick. I have made very reasonable and logical points, you just refuse to consider them because that would make you think…

  • Martin Phipps

    I think we also have to take his word that it was socially acceptable.

    I know that in Taiwan physical abuse of children is considered socially acceptable. I’ve worked at kindergartens and they hit kids all the time. All it seems to do is make their behavior worse because as soon as the teacher leaves the room the kids go nuts because they feel they are now free to do what they want.

  • Allison Kirkpatrick

    His “Dear Muslima” comment was spot-on.

  • shockwaver

    I state with impossible certainty that it is *nearly* impossible to state with certainty that a group of people weren’t harmed by it? Is that what you are saying? If so (ignoring the fact that I said nearly and not absolutely), then to address that I’ll say again that the effects of childhood sexual abuse are incredibly deep seated and VERY VERY hard to quantify. I will say again that they can often manifest themselves decades after the actual abuse (which can account in some cases for the lag time between the abuse and the reporting of the abuse). I have a problem with Dawkins talking for anyone besides himself in this situation because of these points. If Dawkins wasn’t affected by the situation then fantastic, good for him! I mean that with all honesty. That is not the most common outcome by far though.

    But I feel like you are ignoring the larger context of what he’s saying here. He’s said that him and his group of friends weren’t really affected by this (which I’ll take at face value) so he can’t see condemning what his teachers did. How can you read that as anything other then “We weren’t affected by this long term so I can’t see condemning it” – even if he is only talking about this one situation (and it is likely that he is) – it SHOULD be condemned. If his teacher hadn’t killed himself then he should be brought to justice EVEN IF DAWKINS WASN’T DEEPLY AFFECTED. It is still wrong. Just because someone isn’t harmed irreparably by something doesn’t mean that it wasn’t harmful and wrong.

    It wasn’t just your defense of Dawkins that I made that comment about – it is also your outright dismissal of the multiple, independently verified accounts of rape by Shermer because as you put it he is “well respected”. I shouldn’t have to explain to a rational person that “anonymous to you” doesn’t mean “completely anonymous” and what a web of trust means.

  • Dave Littler

    Let me parse that comment out and see if it seems as indefensible as you seem to think.

    He seems to be saying that, much like monstrous cruelty in past times, it is all but impossible to forgive a schoolmaster who abused a student, even in a non-violent fashion.

    What’s wrong with that idea?

  • Allison Kirkpatrick

    I don’t “expect a 12 year old to know exactly what they are doing”. I do expect a 12 year old to know that sexually assaulting toddlers is wrong.

  • shockwaver

    Sexuality is a concept that most 12 year olds don’t have a good handle on. I expect them to know they shouldn’t do that – but I’m not going to suggest that they be arrested and thrown in the jail because of it. I will expect that of a 30 year old. That is the difference. An instance of it happening doesn’t make a 12 year old a child rapist – it does make a 30 year old a child rapist. You just can’t compare a 12 year old and a 30 year old doing the same action to have the same degree of mental development. To suggest otherwise is dishonest.

  • Erra

    My two cents based on your comment…

    “ the same standards..” is really the key here for me. It seems to me his whole comment is being looked at as black and white. The people who are offended appear to be reading “I don’t condemn the sexual molestation of children 50 years ago.” When what he’s really saying is he can’t condemn it quite as much as he would condemn it now “.. can’t condemn it quite by the same standards..”. Put it in %’s: I condemn parents who spank 90%, I condemn my parents spanking me 15 years ago 70%. He’s expressing how he feels about something, and people are jumping down his throat about it.

    It’s a fleeting comment, that he felt was necessary to make his point, where he’s trying to be politically correct about a sensitive subject. The only reason he’s getting this much criticism is because it’s Richard Dawkins, and it seems people want reasons to hate him.

  • double-m

    The point is, I’ve never experienced any kind of sexual abuse as a child. In this one case, that makes me the privileged one, as strange as that may sound given that Dawkins is a white, middle-class male. I usually advocate the “shut up, listen, and be very careful about how you reply” approach when it comes to harrassed women, ethnic minorities and so on. Not applying it here would make me a hypocrite, and that’s one thing I never want to be.

  • Ron

    Especially in those creepy english boys schools. read hitchens autobiography, he had similar experiences.

  • Ron

    I think his attack on the church was the systematic coverup of the abuses and the church prolonging and aiding the abuse with coverups and moving the priests around to abuse others.

  • Ron

    He’s English, he’s dismissive and numb about everything

  • Ron

    And if you read the source article the quotes come from.

  • Ron

    “Us” being his classmates who we touched by that same teacher who he talked to about the abuse after the event, not all child abuse victims.

  • shockwaver

    Which is what I said: “us” – being all the children that were abused in his situation.

  • Guest

    “If you want to get a better understanding of the lifelong effects of
    sexual abuse by a teacher, read that piece.”

    Please see:

  • Jim

    What did he say that was shitty? That he wasn’t traumatized for life by the incident? How is that shitty?

  • Jim

    “take a stroll over to pharyngula”

    LOL, nope.

    “They have read every single bad, nefarious, bigoted, hateful, thing they can into RD’s words.”

    They do that to anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their group-think over there. Twice I’ve commented on FTB blogs and both times they read all kinds of nonsense into my comments, such as me hating women and providing cover for sexual harassers. (I think I said something along the lines of “Not all jokes about sex are harassment. It depends on the context.”)

  • Jim

    “His comments in The Times made it seem that he was excusing child molestation as something that wasn’t really all that bad.”

    He said that his experience wasn’t that bad. How do you jump from that to saying that he thinks all child molestation isn’t really that bad?

  • Jim

    “He does say that he doesn’t think it caused lasting harm to “us” – being all the children that were abused in his situation.”

    Keyword: “think”. Are you saying that he can’t claim that he thinks something? Saying “I think this” is not the same as saying “I know this”.

  • Jim

    “It’s like saying, ‘I was raped, but I got over it, so why can’t you?’”

    Except that’s not what he said at all, nor is it anywhere near the point he was trying to make. I know it’s fun to be outraged, but let’s not make stuff up, ok?

  • Jim

    “The point is, his callous dismissal of kiddie-fiddling as causing “no lasting harm” is wrong, insulting, and damaging. It’s plain as fucking day!”

    He didn’t “callously dismiss” anything. He made a statement about his own experience and perceptions of the situation. Twist his words if you want, but you’re being dishonest as hell.

  • Moronicus_Litho

    That’s adorable.

  • TychaBrahe

    I’m sure the women in this country who are regularly leered at, followed home, shouted at from cars, and groped aren’t bothered by it at all, because after all, it’s not like it’s genital mutilation.

    His “Dear Muslima” comment was belittling and hyperbolic.

  • TychaBrahe

    Maybe we should keep in mind that these things can escalate, and be on the lookout for the next step?

  • TychaBrahe

    So you want to cover up his transgressions because he’s a powerful figure and well known to the public and a continuing good impression of him by others would help our “movement?”

    Because that sounds very Christian. I believe the words of Pope John Paul II (unofficial patron saint of child molesters) were, “Why can’t these American cardinals control their media?”

  • wmdkitty

    And that’s the exact attitude (“Oh, it wasn’t bad, I’m fine”) that’s so damaging to other survivors. It’s saying that if you’re not “fine” with what happened, there’s something “wrong” with you.

  • wmdkitty

    Especially when said 12 year old had been taught by his abuser that, well, that’s what you do.

  • Ann

    Not uncommon at all.. in fact almost expected . that is just the way it was at the time…

  • Anathema

    Yeah, how stupid of me to say that there’s a difference between denying someone the right to say something and asking someone to apologize for something that they said.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    What is “mild pedophilia,” anyway? And caning? Really? Man, that had to hurt.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    A lot of things that are far from OK don’t do “lasting harm.” Harm can be very real even if it doesn’t qualify as “lasting.”

  • pgoeditorial

    His experience may have SEEMED less traumatic to him when shared by so many schoolmates, but he should realize everything that was said in this article. He should realize how insensitive his comments are. Yes, it’s true some kids deal better than others, but for him to minimize the lasting effects of even “mild touching up” like this condemns kids who react more strongly (or have fewer people to support them) to not only living with their reactions but feeling somehow weaker and less valuable as people because they can’t cope. Not a good thing to do to kids.

  • Dave Littler

    There’s a difference between apologizing for a statement and retracting it.

  • Dave Littler

    I think that it’s inappropriate both to presume to speak for every single person who experienced this sort of abuse (assuming that nobody who did so actually IS fine and that you know better than them what their emotional experience of it is) and to read into the idea that one person has gotten through it okay somehow means that anyone else who hasn’t is somehow flawed.

    As I said in response to another comment in this thread, I experienced something as an eight year old fairly similar in nature to what Dawkins experienced in his recounting of events, and it sincerely had no impact on me at all. Nobody else gets to tell me what my experience of it was, and my stating the fact that I got through it without emotional scars is not a condemnation on my part of the people who didn’t. It just means that individuals experience things in different ways; that there’s a diversity of experience and ways of processing similar experiences.

  • Dave Littler

    In defense of his “prissy English” manner, your own [insert negative stereotype about your own ethnic background, asserted as factual here for rhetorical punch] manner makes it difficult to take your criticism of it seriously.

  • Dave Littler

    Let’s seriously put this into context. What Dawkins describes is some jackass groping his junk for about three seconds while he was too young to know it was supposed to be a big deal to him.

    Stack that up against years of continuous brainwashing of the variety that leads people to all of the sorts of extremism which a lifetime of indoctrination gives rise to.

    Yeah, I’d say the former isn’t as bad as the latter. Like, on a scale from one to ten, I’d place the former at a six, and the latter at a nine. Both bad. Both to-be-avoided. Both to-be-censured. But one is spectacularly worse than the other.

  • Dave Littler

    Well of course. He once disagreed with the holy mother, Saint Rebecca. To do anything but to savage him when his name comes up is to embrace the very devil himself to your breast. Their dogma is quite clear on that point.

  • Dave Littler

    They decided a long time ago that the world is populated by two types of people: 1) Unfalteringly enthusiastic Atheism+ Members, and 2) Misogynistic, rape-supporting mansplainers. By showing yourself to be anything other than the former, you demonstrated yourself to be the latter. Just like Dawkins has.

  • Dave Littler

    Let’s parse out that comment a bit.

    He seems to be saying “It’s hard to forgive this schoolmaster, despite the fact that his molestation wasn’t violent in nature, just as it’s hard to forgive the monstrous cruelty being alluded-to.”

    I don’t see anything especially objectionable about that.

  • Beet LeRace

    Harris must be enjoying a relaxing stretch right now…

  • Beet LeRace

    Agreed. What the hell happened over there?! I used to love reading that blog.

  • wmdkitty

    He is dismissing the lived experiences of other survivors when he says it “didn’t cause lasting harm”.

    If you cannot understand why that is problematic (not to mention insulting, condescending, and utterly unhelpful), you need a reality check.

  • wmdkitty

    You’re the dishonest one, here. I’m saying that his dismissal of it as “no big deal” is causing harm.

  • Chris Anderson

    “On Twitter this morning, Dawkins attempted to respond to his critics. He kept arguing that “mild touching” was bad, but rape was far worse. But that’s not the real issue here. The issue is that the mild touching, even though it could be much worse, must still be taken seriously because of the lasting impact it can have on victims. Dawkins didn’t treat it with the appropriate level of condemnation, regardless of what his own experience was.”


    Dawkins’ unwillingness to step back from his comments, or to even acknowledge that relying on anecdotal evidence to draw conclusions about the experiences of others is sloppy thinking, is dangerously arrogant. Worse, the fact that he has a very loud megaphone with which he can opine to the masses makes his views potentially very harmful.

    There are millions of people who allow their intellectual perspective to be shaped by Dawkins, either because they agree or disagree with him. To say that he encourages people to think for themselves does not release him from the ethical responsibility incumbent upon a figure of his stature to consider the consequences of his action.

    The outrage that has been directed at Dawkins is not entirely based on the culture’s reflective distaste for sexual abuse. It’s also a backlash against him for his arrogant insensitivity on this issue (and others in the past). He has placed himself on a pretty high pedestal, raised higher by the piles of honorary degrees, prizes and awards heaped about his feet. Perhaps one needs a certain degree of intellectual arrogance and self-righteous certainty to blaze a trail, but that doesn’t justify making statements that fly in the face of established research and can, in all likelihood will, be used to justify, excuse, and condone abusive behavior.

    Riding high on all the wealth, influence, and fame that he has earned by attacking the hypocrisy of religion, he is blind to the truth that he himself has become a pope of the new science. The man has become subsumed by the mantra, the actor become the role. And just as is the case with anyone who cloaks themselves in the air of infallibility, his reputation and persona have become more important than the truth.

    It’s unlikely that he will acknowledge the crushing irony that he has become. It’s even less likely that he will be willing to recognize that he has become a force for the promulgation of a harmful ideology. The rigid orthodoxy he now preaches is converting the unwashed masses of his world to a way of being that is less empathic. And by all appearances he is too trapped in the need to guard his reputation to be capable of acknowledging that some of those who disagree with him may have access to a truth that he has lost sight of, or perhaps never held in view.

    All it would takes to mitigate the harm he has done would be to acknowledge that he might be wrong. Sadly, these acts of contrition come from men, never from their gods.

  • DaveDodo007

    Maybe we Brits are just made of sterner stuff to everyone else, we were from birth told to grin and bare it, keep a stiff upper lip, don’t be a baby etc. We didn’t have bully counseling, if you went home to tell your parents that you had been bullied your parents would hit you and send you back outside to confront the bully. I was a hard time to be young, have you ever had dripping bread for tea or even just gone hungry.

    What do you want from us, would you prefer us to curl into a ball in the corner of the room and cry. How about we spend hours and lots of money on therapy to deal with the many traumatic events in our childhood that we seem to be coping with, without that. Should we cut ourselves or contemplate suicide to make you feel better. What do you want from us oldies?

    Are you really telling us how to cope with our OWN feeling about OUR own experiences. It’s nice that up were brought up in a more enlightened and gentler time, with more education and a caring compassionate attitude. If you have a time machine or a magic wand then feel free to send it back to the UK in the 50′ or 60s as we could certainly have used some modern information. That is the way we were educated then and that’s the way we were brought up then. Do you know how to un educate and then re educate without whole scale damage because I don’t.

  • DaveDodo007

    Now you are just lying.

  • Pseudonym

    You don’t get to criticize someone for how they feel about an issue that is personal to them.

    I agree, but I can’t help thinking about this in the context of Dawkins’ criticism of Rebecca Watson. He has used his position of influence to try to silence someone else in a very similar situation.

    There should be a Barney Frank Rule for silencing tactics.

  • Lumen

    I’d hazard to point out that the fact that we have to “parse” the comment and talk about what he “seems” to be saying is actually a point for Hemant and the original focus of his post. Frankly the more I read the Dawkins quote the less clear I am on what the hell he’s trying to communicate.

    So yes. I think the criticism that he’s making highly inarticulate comments is perfectly valid, and it’s fair criticism of a person who has fashioned a career around public speaking. As far as the “insensitive” descriptor goes… well it’s Richard Dawkins, so that’s not news. Frankly I think the man needs to give up on Twitter. He simply isn’t cut out for short format.

  • Lumen

    Conspiracy theory for the win. Clearly this is all a plot to protect Muslims.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    I think you are actually proving my point, sure it’s a dumb statement, but it really does not matter, except where it gives respite to our opposition. If you complaining about the body odor of the guy in the trench next to you, you are not shooting at the enemy across the line. And if you continue to talk about it until every one in the trench is having their say about your stinky associate, no one will be shooting at the enemy.

    Of course, if Dawkins had said that hands in the crotch should be part of any growing boys experience to make them understand abuse or something like that, then we would have something to beat the snot out of him for.

    The fact is the most atheists would rather just get along with the religious than actively stop religion. That is why they are always ready to eat their own if the boat gets rocked.

  • rg57

    Hemant, I’ll listen to Dawkins rather than you, when he’s talking about his own experiences. He was there. This happened to him. He knew these people. I assume you don’t. He’s the victim. Have some decency, and listen to what he’s telling you.

    If you’ve listened to the man speak anything longer than a sound-byte (and I insist that is the correct spelling), the last thing you’d come away with is that he’s “insensitive, inarticulate, and unsympathetic”. He simply speaks his mind plainly, and then his opponents cherry-pick what he said.

    About the general principle you’re suggesting we apply to all of history (“no matter when it happened”), what the heck would any of us have done in the 1800s? Would we all just be scum? Is nobody ever good? Is anyone good now? And how would we know? It’s almost certain that we’ll be viewed by the inhabitants of the next century as bigots and barbarians for reasons we can’t even comprehend. It seems certain that statements that gay people (like me) are the “last civil rights issue” will be portrayed very negatively. Context does matter.

    As for “homophobia is homophobia”, it’s a ridiculous and petty thing to say. I’m still alive. I never had to fear I’d be executed, or tortured to death by my government.

  • Hemant Mehta

    I didn’t criticize Dawkins’ experiences nor did I tell him how he should feel about his own past.

  • TychaBrahe

    What level of behavior should we tolerate in our midst because those people share our opposition to religious fuckery? I’m guessing you agree that the most impassioned critic of religion in the public space should not be tolerated if s/he is a murderer, a rapist, or a pedophile. But what if s/he’s only in the habit of getting drunk and beating up people? Or only making crude comments to others at cons? Or only drawing erotic pictures of children?

    How about this: the fact that someone agrees with me does not make their support for or participation in disdainful, disgusting, or harmful practices acceptable. If I found out that Hemant here was engaged in cockfighting, it wouldn’t matter how much I enjoy reading his blog; I’d be gone.

  • Jim

    He said that he didn’t think it caused him or the others lasting harm. How can you not see the difference?

  • glenister_m

    I find it interesting how age and context changes your perspective on things, particularly something that at the time was ‘just something that happened’ or ‘boys will be boys’, but when reflected back on years later is hard to defend. In my first year of university, I lived in a frat house (you can probably see where this is going…). Without going into too many details, just call it hazing or something, I remember witnessing one incident between a few of the guys that at the time I thought little of (a bit like Douglas Adam’s ‘Someone else’s problem’ field). Now I think back and don’t understand why it didn’t bother me (or any of the others).

  • Houndentenor

    You haven’t? I have.

  • Houndentenor

    It does sound eerily like the moral relativism that I so often complain about. “We can’t condemn people in other cultures for doing things that they don’t think are wrong” or some other BS. It was still wrong.

    Conversely, I don’t think the fact that someone did some terrible things (like owning slaves, being a racist, homophobe or anti-semite) makes their life’s work invalid. We get a lot of that too both past and present. Many people are brilliant in one field and downright foolish in another. I think about this often when it comes to Dawkins’ twitter feed. He is not very good at navigating social issues and probably shouldn’t. It’s not his field and he is always putting his foot in his mouth. He can, of course, say whatever he likes, but as someone who admires him for his work in his own field, I would suggest that in our cultural climate making controversial statements that should have been seen as potentially offensive will be used to discredit his other work. I don’t like that practice, but it is common and currently unvavoidable.

  • Houndentenor

    But he neither said nor implied that others should be fine with exactly what he experienced. Wouldn’t it be better to tell your own experiences rather than forcing someone to make a fake apology for something they aren’t sorry they said? Then people can draw their own conclusions for a wider body of personal experiences.

  • Houndentenor

    Agreed. Since he can’t run a simulation of his life with and without those incidents, he can’t actually determine if there was any harm.

  • Houndentenor

    It was always wrong and always illegal and immoral. it’s just that children used to not report such incidents and adults who knew about them were more likely to look the other way. Not exactly the good old days. None of that means it was okay back then, or that the person committing such acts wasn’t fully aware that they were wrong. I doubt this person admitted in public that he was doing them, which in and of itself is evidence that he knew people wouldn’t approve.

  • guest

    If I could give this 10 likes, I would.

  • Ashley Moreno

    ALL sexual abuse of children should be condemned! NONE should even seem to be excused in any manner!

  • Ashley Moreno

    This is what would be called “grooming”! He is grooming children for pedophiles with his comments. I wonder how many people who are troubled with childhood sexual abuse are now contemplating suicide– cause according to him, it’s not supposed to be so bad!

  • Ashley Moreno

    Does this guy have Asperger’s??

  • jazz142857

    “Uh, right, ‘cuz bitches be lying…. ”

    I always raise an eyebrow at this sarcasm – Are you implying he’s sexistly disregarding the testimony because it’s from women?

    “verified” – I don’t think this word means what you think it means.”

  • Sk3ptec

    “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours.” Does the rest of the atheist community agree with this statement?

    “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 don’t believe this standard is actually put into practice when engaged in public discourse. I’m constantly getting blamed for slavery in early America, the crusades, and suppressing women’s right to vote, etc. What gives?

  • Peter Beattie

    And he is on record as saying that he has spoken with all the people he was taking about, even years after the events. Which you haven’t. In fact, you know nothing about the people that Dawkins talks about. And yet you presume to know better than him. Seriously, how does that work?

  • Peter Beattie

    He is not dismissing them. He knows these people, and he has talked to them about it, even years after the events, and that’s what they told him. You know nothing about them, so how about you stop presuming to speak for them?

  • cgosling

    This is silly! Many people have been sexually acousted in their youth and done no harm. Trauma to one person may not be trauma to another. I believe Dawkins was trying to say this, and his critics and news writers are trying to make a news worthy story out of it. Get real! It goes without saying that Dawkins was done no harm, his life was not ruined, he did not molest other little children, and he is not recommending the molestation of children to others.

  • AugustineThomas

    Dawkins is a depraved lunatic and only culturally bankrupted societies care what he has to say..

  • AugustineThomas

    (Except perhaps in regard to biology, the only subject he’s actually trained in.)

  • rabenatz

    Yeah, European countries are so culturally bankrupted. XD Which is I guess why they do better in all social issues than the US and have much lower murder, homicide, rape and teen pregnancy rates.

  • rabenatz

    Er, he’s the victim in case you haven’t noticed. And he was talking about his own personal experience. Why would anyone with half a braincell think that applied to his/her own experience regardless of the severity of the incident? You’ve got to be willfully ignorant, stupid or just plain evil to assume that.

  • rabenatz

    He doesn’t make excuses for sexual abuse but who do you think you are to tell the victim how to feel about it? Is there some kind of obligation to feel appropriately traumatised and victimised about it?

  • rabenatz

    Seriously? Having been touched once for 30 seconds by a guy has destroyed your life? In that case there must have been other issues as well.

  • rabenatz

    Rebecca Watson was never sexually harassed nor touched up or forced to do anything. There are grades of severity of events.

  • AugustineThomas

    All those things you mention are because they have less poor people because they invite less poor immigrants in because they’ve more thoroughly given up on Christianity than us (I think because they were so blown away we took the world over that they had to be “better” than us in some way, ANY WAY, but instead have sowed the seeds of their own decline).
    And every social statistic in Europe is worse than when it was thoroughly Christian, despite the fact that the fruits of the labor of Christian monks have made life much less miserable in many ways.

  • Tony Davies

    Dawkins was the victim and for him to publicise what happened to him was a brave act. Sex abuse victims rationalise away acts committed against themselves. Obviously (to me) this is Dawkins victim viewpoint and consequent rationalisation of the act committed on him as a child.
    He probably needs counselling to help him understand the wrong committed against him. I believe in God. However I know that Dawkins comments should be seen in the context of some form of cognitive dissonance originating from his sex abuse as an 11 year old.

  • northernTNT

    He may consider himself unaffected, but many feminist atheists might disagree with his “intactness”, I’d dare to offer that his “mildly uncomfortable” pedophilia experience informs his attitude towards feminists atheists. If “he” didn’t suffer and got over it, then “we” all should… I’m not at all surprised by this story, it informs us about his nature.

  • northernTNT

    If he had only made pronouncements about himself, sure, but he made pronouncements about others as well. As for his “getting over it”, maybe he only perceives he did, and has gotten used to that bias, but maybe in fact it did affect him and he’s simply ignoring certain feelings inside himself. Statements on long-ago childhood experiences are often as valid as supernatural experiences. The faculty of human memory is terribly flawed, and humans’ ability to cope hides many traumas that informs our daily lives and opinions.

  • northernTNT

    No he included the other kids in his conclusion as well.

  • Jim

    He said he was ok and that he *thought* the others were as well. That’s not the same as saying that they weren’t actually harmed. He’s simply stating his experience.

  • northernTNT

    You are splitting hairs. When a group of children were sexually molested the assumption is that there are mental consequences. When a PUBLIC FIGURE is INFORMING an audience, and his primary message is the other kids are OK, one should have shut up. One does not publicly make psychological assessments of fellow molestees.
    He should have said: “the other kids may or may not (though they probably have, because statistically most do) have dealt with their abuses, you should speak to them”, but no!

    In spoken discourse, in discussions, in interviews, “think” is just a few hairs short from “certainty”. But it does not surprise me in the least, this has been his style in addressing all human issues. I have found him to be an inept atheist figurehead from the beginning, and the popular missteps in recent years have only confirmed my opinion of him.

  • Sean

    What you’re talking about (You, me and other currently living white people getting shit for past injustices perpetrated by someone else’s ancestors just because you’re white/male) is indeed a slice of racist stupidity that we live with, but that’s not what Dawkins’ was talking about. It is actually a thing in sociology/anthropology, to not use the moral/ethical standards we have today when looking at the morality/ethics/behavior of people in the past. Why? Well, because the obvious reason 1) they didn’t have our standards and norms, ours are inapplicable and 2) if we’re spending time passing judgement on their actions/behavior/words, we’re not looking at the entire story, we’re ignoring that in the past, societies DID have different norms and standards, and those are vital attributes that must be included and considered as part of the whole study.

    So we don’t look back at (pick some person in the past) and sit around saying “oo that guy was a jerk and a racist,” we incorporate the norms/standards of that person’s time and culture into our understanding of the person, and their culture/time.

    The principal of the matter is that having as complete an understanding of something/someone is best, worthwhile, sensible, interesting, and practical.

  • Sean

    Dawkins isn’t doing anything to any kids. He had his experience, he spoke about his experience.

  • onnesty

    I agree with you. But from what I can see, I don’t think this concept is actually put into practice. The points you and I make here are two sides of the same coin. Different angles of the same issue.

  • Mar

    Just because he was too young to know what it was, it doesn’t mean that kind of stuff is not a big deal. Some people barely remember the moment their abuse took place, and it still affects them.

  • Mar

    Why do people act as if touching was not a big deal? It IS a big deal, just because something doesn’t involve penetration it doesn’t mean it’s simply “not as bad”.

  • Dave Littler

    Which is why I characterize it as a 6, rather than, say, a 2.