This week, I published a column in the Guardian arguing that Richard Dawkins’ sexism is overshadowing his contributions to the atheist movement. It got, shall we say, a large reaction. But not all negative, I hasten to add! I was very pleased with the amount of praise and compliments it attracted – I heard from a lot of people who told me that I said exactly what they’ve been thinking (including this piece by Allegra Ringo in Vice, published the same day as mine).
As it turns out, the man himself felt a bit of a sting:
@LvAryaSta But why do you believe that liar in the Guardian? Isn't it obvious that what he says is false?
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) September 18, 2014
Note, it’s not just that he disagrees with my criticism – he thinks I’m lying, as in deliberately setting out to deceive. This, unfortunately, is of a piece with Dawkins’ recent pattern of assuming bad faith on the part of any atheist who criticizes him (“clickbait for profit”), and acting as if this means the criticism itself doesn’t need to be answered. (“Isn’t it obvious?” After all this time, he can’t even comprehend why people might object to anything he says. I think this post on Underverse offers an excellent explanation of why that is.)
Since everything in my Guardian piece was based on public statements that Dawkins has made, if I’m lying or misrepresenting anything he’s said, it ought to be very easy to prove. Just cite a claim that I attributed to Dawkins, then point to the corresponding place in his public record to show that what he actually said was the opposite. For a rational community like us, that should be a simple task.
The evening it went up, I heard from Miranda Celeste Hale, whom I gather is a friend of Dawkins. She expressed surprise that the Guardian published my piece at all (shock, horror, an atheist Thought Leader is being criticized!), and repeatedly accused me of dishonesty. Was she able to substantiate that charge? Judge for yourself:
This is the debate tactic of a creationist: make sweeping, vague accusations (“You’re lying!” “About what?” “About everything!”). Then, when asked to substantiate this, just refer back to the original accusations as if they constituted proof, and refuse to clarify or add any more detail. I’d guess that this is what happens when you follow someone so slavishly: Dawkins said I was lying, so his devotees say it must be true, but because he didn’t say what he thought I was lying about, they can’t explain it either.
There was also this bit of victim-blaming, which is probably not the sort of help Dawkins needs:
@DaylightAtheism how dare u smear Dawkins! Women need to learn how to handle their alcohol. U dont hear russians complaining about this!
— ?????? (@AweEmil) September 18, 2014
And no defense of sexism would be complete without the classic “some of my best friends are women!”:
— Simon Tuffen (@SimonTuffen) September 19, 2014
Because if you’ve ever said anything good about any woman, under any set of circumstances, you can’t be a sexist! Who knew it was so simple?
Along those same lines but even more hilarious, there’s this:
@DaylightAtheism So a man who speaks out against an sexist and racist religion (Islam) is now a sexist and a racist?
— Daniel Sidnell (@DanielSidnell) September 18, 2014
Even taking this at face value, it’s hard to see what the author thought his argument was. If you criticize someone else for being sexist or racist, that means you can’t be sexist or racist yourself?
UPDATE: Another defender of Dawkins joins in: Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True. He’s none too pleased with my article, although, yet again, he declines to specify exactly what about it is false: “I won’t bother to dissect it in detail”. I posted a comment in reply.