Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?

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by Richard Dawkins

 

Are there kingdoms of emotion where logic is taboo, dare not show its face, zones where reason is too intimidated to speak?

Moral philosophers make full use of the technique of thought experiment. In a hospital there are four dying men. Each could be saved by a transplant of a different organ, but no donors are available. In the hospital waiting room is a healthy man who, if we killed him, could provide the requisite organ to each dying patient, thereby saving four lives for the price of one. Is it morally right to kill the healthy man and harvest his organs?

Everyone says no, but the moral philosopher wants to discuss the question further. Why is it wrong? Is it because of Kant’s Principle: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” How do we justify Kant’s principle? Are there ever exceptions? Could we imagine a hypothetical scenario in which . . .

What if the dying men were Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein and Martin Luther King? Would it be then right to sacrifice a man who is homeless and friendless, dragged in from a ditch? And so on.

Two miners are trapped underground by an explosion. They could be saved, but it would cost a million dollars. That million could be spent on saving the lives of thousands of starving people. Could it ever be morally right to abandon the miners to their fate and spend the money on saving the thousands? Most of us would say no. Would you? Or do you think it is wrong even to raise such questions?

These dilemmas are uncomfortable. It is the business of moral philosophers to face up to the discomfort and teach their students to do the same. A friend, a professor of moral philosophy, told me he received hate-mail when he raised the hypothetical case of the miners. He also told me there are certain thought experiments that divide his students down the middle. Some students are capable of temporarily accepting a noxious hypothetical, to explore where it might lead. Others are so blinded by emotion that they cannot even contemplate the hypothetical. They simply stop up their ears and refuse to join the discussion.

“We all agree it isn’t true that some human races are genetically superior to others in intelligence. But let’s for a moment suspend disbelief and consider the consequences if it were true. Would it ever be right to discriminate in job hiring? Etcetera.” My friend sometimes poses this very question, and he tells me that about half the students are willing to entertain the hypothetical counterfactual and rationally discuss the consequences. The other half respond emotionally to the hypothetical, are too revolted to proceed and simply opt out of the conversation.

Could eugenics ever be justified? Could torture? A clock triggering a gigantic nuclear weapon hidden in a suitcase is ticking. A spy has been captured who knows where it is and how to disable it, but he refuses to speak. Is it morally right to torture him, or even his innocent children, to make him reveal the secret? What if the weapon were a doomsday machine that would blow up the whole world?

There are those whose love of reason allows them to enter such disagreeable hypothetical worlds and see where the discussion might lead. And there are those whose emotions prevent them from going anywhere near the conversation. Some of these will vilify and hurl vicious insults at anybody who is prepared to discuss such matters. Some will pursue active witch-hunts against moral philosophers for daring to consider obnoxious hypothetical thought experiments.

“A woman has an absolute right to do what she wants with her own body and that includes any foetus that it might contain. I don’t care if the foetus is fully conscious and writing poetry in the womb, the woman still has the right to abort it because it is her body and her choice.” Do we discuss the hypothetical intra-uterine poet, or does emotion simply close down the discussion, in either direction? Do we think the woman’s right is absolute, absolute, absolute – end of? Or do we think abortion is wrong, wrong, wrong; abortion is murder, no further discussion.?

“We agree that cannibalism is wrong. But if we don’t need to kill someone in order to eat them, can we discuss why it would be wrong? Why don’t we eat human road-kills? Yes, it would be horrible for the friends and relatives of the dead person, but suppose we hypothetically know that this person has no friends or relatives of any kind, why wouldn’t we eat him? Or is there a slippery slope that we should consider?” Do we proceed to discuss such questions rationally and logically with the professor of moral philosophy? Or do we throw an emotional fit and run screaming from the room?

I believe that, as non-religious rationalists, we should be prepared to discuss such questions using logic and reason. We shouldn’t compel people to enter into painful hypothetical discussions, but nor should we conduct witch-hunts against people who are prepared to do so. I fear that some of us may be erecting taboo zones, where emotion is king and where reason is not admitted; where reason, in some cases, is actively intimidated and dare not show its face. And I regret this. We get enough of that from the religious faithful. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we became seduced by a different sort of sacred, the sacred of the emotional taboo zone?

Moving from the hypothetical to the real, if you raise the question of female genital mutilation, you can guarantee that about half the responses you get will be of the form “What about male circumcision?” and this often seems calculated to derail the campaign against FGM and take the steam out of it. If you try and say “Yes yes, male infant circumcision may be bad but FGM is worse”, you will be stopped in your tracks. Both are violations of a defenceless child, you cannot discuss whether one is worse than the other. How dare you even think about ranking them?

When a show-business personality is convicted of pedophilia, is it right that you actually need courage to say something like this: “Did he penetratively rape children or did he just touch them with his hands? The latter is bad but I think the former is worse”? How dare you rank different kinds of pedophilia? They are all equally bad, equally terrible. What are you, some kind of closet pedophile yourself?

I have met the following reaction when discussing the vexed and terrible question of Israel/Palestine. Israeli friends have said to me things like, “We needed a Jewish state because, after the Holocaust, we realised that nobody else was going to look after us, we’d have to look after ourselves. Jews have been downtrodden for too long. From now on, we Jews are going to stand tall and take care of ourselves.” To which, on one occasion, I replied, “Yes, of course I sympathise with that, but can you explain why Palestinian Arabs should be the ones to pay for Hitler’s crimes? Why Palestine? You surely aren’t going to stoop to some kind of biblical justification for picking on that land rather than, say, Bavaria or Madagascar?” My friend earnestly said, “Richard, I think we had better just terminate this conversation.” I had blundered into another taboo zone, a sacred emotional sanctuary where discussion is forbidden. The emotions aroused by the Holocaust are so painful that we are not allowed even to discuss such questions. A friend will terminate the conversation rather than allow entry to the sanctuary of hurt emotion.

On Twitter during the current horrible events in Gaza, I wrote the following:
“The extent of the destruction in Gaza is obscene. Poor people. Poor people who have lost their homes, their relatives, everything.” I was immediately bitterly attacked by friends of Israel. But then I quoted Sam Harris to the effect that “Hamas publicly says they’d like to kill every Jew in the world” and I went on to raise Sam’s hypothetical question: What does that say about Hamas’s probable actions if positions were reversed and they had Israel’s military strength? Sam’s suggestion that this contrast might actually be demonstrating restraint on Israel’s part, unleashed a storm of furious accusations that he, and I, relished the bombing of Gaza’s children.

I also quoted Sam as saying “I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state.” So of course I, and Sam, got vituperative brickbats from Israel and from American Jewish interests. I summed up my position on the fence (linking to an interview with Christopher Hitchens) as follows: “It is reasonable to deplore both the original founding of the Jewish State of Israel & aspirations now to destroy it.” But I swiftly learned that emotion can be so powerful that reasonable discussion – looking at both sides of the question dispassionately – becomes impossible.

Apparently I didn’t learn swiftly enough – and I now turn to the other Twitter controversy in which I have been involved this week.

‘“Being raped by a stranger is bad. Being raped by a formerly trusted friend is worse.” If you think that hypothetical quotation is an endorsement of rape by strangers, go away and learn how to think.’

That was one way I put the hypothetical. It seemed to me entirely reasonable that the loss of trust, the disillusionment that a woman might feel if raped by a man whom she had thought to be a friend, might be even more horrible than violation by a stranger. I had previously put the opposite hypothetical, but drew an equivalent logical conclusion:

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

These two opposite hypothetical statements were both versions of the general case, which I also tweeted:

“X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think properly.”

The point was a purely logical one: to judge something bad and something else very bad is not an endorsement of the lesser of two evils. Both are bad. I wasn’t making a point about which of the two was worse. I was merely asserting that to express an opinion one way or the other is not tantamount to approving the lesser evil.

Some people angrily failed to understand that it was a point of logic using a hypothetical quotation about rape. They thought it was an active judgment about which kind of rape was worse than which. Other people got the point of logic but attacked me, equally furiously, for choosing the emotionally loaded example of rape to illustrate it. To quote one blogger, prominent in the atheist movement, ‘What would have been wrong with, “Slapping someone’s face is bad, breaking their nose is worse”? Why need to use rape?’

Yes, I could have used the broken nose example. I accept that I must explain why I chose to use the particular example of rape. I was emphatically not trying to hurt rape victims or trivialise their awful experience. They get enough of that already from the “She was wearing a short skirt, I bet she was really begging for it Hur Hur Hur” brigade. So why did I choose rape as my unpleasant hypothetical (in both directions) rather than the “breaking someone’s nose” example? Here’s why.

I hope I have said enough above to justify my belief that rationalists like us should be free to follow moral philosophic questions without emotion swooping in to cut off all discussion, however hypothetical. I’ve listed cannibalism, trapped miners, transplant donors, aborted poets, circumcision, Israel and Palestine, all examples of no-go zones, taboo areas where reason may fear to tread because emotion is king. Broken noses are not in that taboo zone. Rape is. So is pedophilia. They should not be, in my opinion. Nor should anything else.

I didn’t know quite how deeply those two sensitive issues had infiltrated the taboo zone. I know now, with a vengeance. I really do care passionately about reason and logic. I think dispassionate logic and reason should not be banned from entering into discussion of cannibalism or trapped miners. And I was distressed to see that rape and pedophilia were also becoming taboo zones; no-go areas, off limits to reason and logic.

“Rape is rape is rape.” You cannot discuss whether one kind of rape (say by a ‘friend”) is worse than another kind of rape (say by a stranger). Rape is rape and you are not allowed even to contemplate the question of whether some rape is bad but other rape is worse. I don’t want to listen to this horrible discussion. The very idea of classifying some rapes as worse than others, whether it’s date rape or stranger rape, is unconscionable, unbearable, intolerable, beyond the pale, taboo. There is no allowable distinction between one kind of rape and another.

If that were really right, judges shouldn’t be allowed to impose harsher sentences for some rapes than for others. Do we really want our courts to impose a single mandatory sentence – a life sentence, perhaps – for all rapes regardless? To all rapes, from getting a woman drunk and taking advantage at one end of the spectrum, to holding a knife to her throat in a dark alley at the other? Do we really want our judges to ignore such distinctions when they pass sentence? I don’t, and I don’t think any reasonable person would if they thought it through. And yet that would seem to be the message of the agonisingly passionate tweets that I have been reading. The message seems to be, no, there is no spectrum, you are wicked, evil, a monster, to even ask whether there might be a spectrum.

I don’t think rationalists and sceptics should have taboo zones into which our reason, our logic, must not trespass. Hypothetical cannibalism of human road kills should be up for discussion (and rejection in my opinion – but let’s discuss it). Same for eugenics. Same for circumcision and FGM. And the question of whether there is a spectrum of rapes, from bad to worse to very very much worse, should also be up for discussion, no less than the spectrum from a slap in the face to a broken nose.

There would have been no point in my using the broken nose example to illustrate my logic, because nobody would ever accuse us of endorsing face-slapping when we say, “Broken nose is worse than slap in face”. The point is trivially obvious, as it is with the symbolic case of “X is worse than Y”. But I knew that not everybody would think it obvious in the special cases of rape and pedophilia, and that was precisely why I raised them for discussion. I didn’t care whether we chose to say date rape was worse than dark alley stranger rape, or vice versa. Nor was I unaware that it is a sensitive issue, as is pedophilia. I deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion of sensitive issues.

That, then, is why I chose rape and pedophilia for my hypothetical examples. I think rationalists should be free to discuss spectrums of nastiness, even if only to reject them. I had noticed indications that rape and pedophilia had moved out of the discussion zone into a no-go taboo area. I wanted to challenge the taboo, just as I want to challenge all taboos against free discussion.

Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.

It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.


Update: See Richard’s latest follow up to this piece.

Read the German version of this piece here: Gibt es emotionale Sperrgebiete, wo sich die Vernunft nicht blicken lassen darf?

544 COMMENTS

  1. Why is human life worth more than other life forms? If one sees a human brutalizing an animal such as a dog or horse, is it not tempting to do all possible to stop that act? Humans are in biological plague phase, having triples in number in my 69 years, and risen around 700% in two centuries. Many species have been driven to extinction due to our activities. Rarity is one measure of value; we have gone in the opposite direction of biodiversity, and toxified our nest in the process. A sci-fi dream is that a sterility virus emerges which is effective only on the superstitious among us. Perhaps rational planning might then kick in and reverse our race towards a crash and die-off scenario.

    • I agree completely. Of course it could be considered rude to take that position of your preposition about the virus,(to be honest i would also choose the superstitious ones, instead of the rational ones)

      I also saw man against animal brutality and i also saw the way, lions for example, killed and did not eat hyena’s threatening there cubs. this is only a great example i believe of our instinct, but without emotion, moral, consciousness and more developed intellect. Instead we can “see” into the future and take actions based on the effects in the past.

      i.e, lets not make war, cost a lot of money, will make casualties, hurts environment and in the end the issue stays often unresolved.

      of course, as humans, we have ‘developed consciousness”… at least..we like to think being better than the ones with fur and feathers.

      It seems to me that we would only take actions if we were to be threatened directly.

      Now here it becomes a bit interesting…”threatened directly”.

      there seems to be a great difference of understanding on that point.
      The ones with more knowledge about certain topics would be more “threatened directly” that the ones who are not so busy with said topic.

      to make my point clear, i think, by taking a drastic point (fundamentally) I or we would not be any better that the ones who would take point, in any other way.

    • Blaming culture for natural behavior.

      Things you might believe if you’re more familiar with ideological slogans than with the natural sciences: that our society/species does not practice moderation in the exploitation of natural resources and compassion towards other societies/species, because of the belief that we are better and entitled to do so. You confuse correlation with causation, by thinking the “belief” itself is the cause.

      This is so wrong, wrong, wrong! The default premise on which it starts is that, naturally we would behave differently, but the culture in which we live has corrupted, brainwashed us, overwrote our inherently good natural instincts and transformed us into predatory monsters, by giving us bad beliefs.

      The truth is that most behavior that has been blamed ideologically, including distaste for foreigners, the need to seize natural resources, disregard for out-groups and other species etc. are not foreign to nature at all. They are very familiar to it, having evolved over billions of years.
      - The trees in the forest have evolved to be so tall because the highest in each generation were just a bit better at collecting sunlight than their neighbors were.
      - A plant placed in an atmosphere with a higher concentration of CO2 will absorb more CO2 and grow bigger than the same plant grown in a normal atmosphere.
      - A rat placed in a foreign nest will be attacked and dismembered by them.

      These take place not because the plants are “consumerist” or because animals “discriminate” are chauvinistic, racist, speciesist or “nestocentrist”, or because they have certain beliefs.

      Obviously I do not agree with all the consequences of these attitudes, it is just a discussion about their origin. As long a you think man is an exception, as in the famous speech by Agent Smith, in The Matrix, movie you not to possess the correct understanding of things. And having this misunderstanding, you will keep finding false false solutions to problems (usually various forms of reeducation – let’s destroy the consumerist mentality, let’s all just hug trees and sing kumbaya together with all the other animals).

      Man is not different from other organisms, it is just more efficient. Ne never fell from the Garden of Eden.

      Stop inventing and blaming -isms.

      • You see to have established a strawman dichotomy here, where you propose human actions and attitudes are consequence to subversive biological imperatives and that the other side are made up of naive tree huggers singing kumbaya. This argument is an ‘ism’: biological determinism. It is not a new argument, and it is a tremendously flawed and unscientific argument (I hugged tree as a child, literally, but I’ve never sung Kumbaya).

        It is incorrect to assume because we are alike, we must operate the same. Humanity is certainly an animal species operating within the frame of nature, but we are also certainly very, very unique (Advanced language, logic, abstraction, spacial and inferential reasoning, pattern recognition etc…). More to the point, to claim we have an instinct, it has to be demonstrated we intuitively operate in such a way without having learned or been taught the action. Very few actual instincts have been demonstrated substantially for humans (nursing, fear of heights, etc..). For that matter, many of our dispositions and actions are not universal throughout all cultures of all time (private property, xenophobia, homophobia, monotheism and religious intolerance, antiintellectualism, gender roles, etc..). There is no such thing as an exception that proves the rule (this is a logical absurd). When there is an exception, we know that it either not an instinct, or that the instinct can be overridden by social conditioning.

        Humans rely on reasoning, and not primordial instincts (which is why we’re hyper-intelligent hominids and not amoebas). To pretend like our cultural evils are somehow inevitable flaws of being mammals, and not challenges of social responsibility and awareness, is to encourage these evils go unrefuted. It is ignorance of the worst calibre (to argue there is nothing more to know, so don’t bother and just accept it as it is). Your argument is not logical, it not scientific, and it not ethical.

        • I don’t agree that Twitter is “the front lines” in any meaningful sense. It’s a wasteland where people trade insults with each other. The real front lines exist in political activism. Dawkins really doesn’t do much there. Sure, he takes stands on issues that no rational person can argue with like FGM and climate change but, for example how about making a statement about the virtual genocide that is going on in Gaza now? Israel is waging war against a civilian population in order to kill a few lunatics with antiquated weapons that barely work. Even from the standpoint of Israel’s security it makes no sense let alone from the standpoint of International law or basic decency. To take a stand on that would be risky. It would piss of some of Dawkins’ supporters who think there’s no good Muslim except a dead Muslim. For someone who has been so outspoken against Islam to take that kind of a stand would be a real example of moral courage and what I consider being “on the front lines”.

          • “Liking” Red Dog’s statement about speaking out about the slaughter of Palestinians. That is an area where it would worth it to take the storm of insults that would inevitably occur. At least it would be about a real atrocity and not a theoretical one.

          • @Justin:
            Right on. Cut to the heart of the moral/cojones issue of really speaking truth to real power. On would then have to prepare for onslaught of Keyboard brigade swamping Huffpo, Daily Beast, etc. Comments sections w/ Netenyahu talking points “What would you do if Mexico blah blah?” Of course the implication is US would have to bomb some schools in Tijuana dontcha know

          • You fail to mention the ‘H’ word- Hamas.
            “Virtual genocide’ is utterly disingenuous and outrageously false- had Israel intended genocide Gaza would be the graveyard of millions by now.
            What is ACTUALLY going on in Gaza is an horrific slaughter, yes- precipitated and engineered by an Islamic terror organisation whose Charter calls for the destruction of Israel and murder of the entire Jewish population- the REAL genocide; to achieve this Hamas cynically exposes Palestinians as human shields, children included. But no matter, these children have been ‘educated’ in Hamas-run schools that Jews are ‘sons of and and pigs’, deserving death by jihad and that they will become martyrs in the Islamic paradise-cum-whorehouse.

            Recall that Hamas took Gaza by force after the Israeli handover and was subsequently elected by said Palestinians. Israel’s reward for giving land for peace? Thousands of rockets; and I suppose your reasoning leads to the conclusion that if/when Hamas has Iranian weaponry that will devastate Tel Aviv all will be fair and reasonable?

            Sounds very much like moral relativism, to me.

          • Jim Fox already stated the obvious but did not emphasize several points. Hamas started this war launching hundreds of rockets towards Israel. Israel managed to knock out the vast majority of them the first few days while trying to get the world community to condemn the attacks. You would think a rational group of people, seeing the vast majority of their rockets being destroyed would conclude there must be a better way to accomplish whatever their goals were/are. This begs the question – perhaps Hamas is not rational? In that case you are apparently dealing with an irrational group of people and more drastic measures are necessary. Now, not to diminish the loss of the innocent lives of women, children and old folks, and Hamas’ proclivity to hide among them as the cowards they are, Israel has the perfectly rational right to defend themselves from further attacks. You noticed I left out ‘men’ in the loss of innocent lives. I don’t claim to understand the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinians but I suspect it is fear instilled among the Palestinians by Hamas due to something in their religion. It appears that the Palestinian men should outnumber the Hamas and could ‘save’ their women, children and old folks through whatever means are necessary. I think you can appreciate that in our country (USA) and most likely in most free countries we would never succumb to such a situation largely due to our heritage from the founding fathers of our country. Therefor, since the Palestinians cannot control or eject Hamas Israel has no other alternative but to do exactly what it is. And, it appears they have tried to warn specific targeted areas to clear out. I’m sure Hamas has forced them to stay to get world sentiment against Israel for being ‘heathens’.

            Red Dog, Israel is not ‘waging war against a civilian population in order to kill a few lunatics with antiquated weapons that barely work’. Those missiles are not antiquated. They are deadly and meant to kill according to their jihadist beliefs. Unless you are as cowardly as they or the Palestinian men, you too would fight and destroy them if they were directing those missiles at your town or home.

            Let’s understand what Richard Dawkins is saying in his article. We must not condemn others for thinking or doing what we may not approve of until we have stood in their shoes and tried, at least, to understand where they are coming from. To condemn Israel’s action is paramount to saying it is taboo to do so. Dawkins only wants open and frank discussion and then hopefully an answer that is acceptable to all may be found. That is what science is all about.

          • Sangfroid-

            “I suspect it is fear instilled among the Palestinians by Hamas due to something in their religion”

            Absolutely- Hamas executed about 30 ‘collaborators’ (ie Palestinians who criticised their actions) similar to what IS/ISIS has done in the new ‘Caliphate’. A recent Pew poll i Gaza found support for Hamas collapsing even before the Israeli incursion-

            The group doesn’t do any better among the Palestinians for whom it purports to fight — but, paradoxically, Hamas is far more unpopular in the Gaza Strip (63%) it dominates than in the Palestinian Authority-run West Bank (47%).

            Its support has dropped among Palestinians since it forcibly took over the Gaza Strip. In 2007, Hamas enjoyed a 62% favorable rating, which fell to only 35% in 2014.

            Read more: Pew: Support for Hamas, Hezbollah collapsing in region | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/pew-support-for-hamas-hezbollah-collapsing-in-region/#ixzz39g9EXNVc
            Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

            There was quite a bit of discussion and some support on this site for Islam a year or two ago- I hope that we all now accept that the actions of the so-called ‘extremists’ are in fact more mainstream than previously thought. Jew hatred is becoming rampant worldwide, driven by IS success and western moral equivalence- very, very disturbing.

    • The solution for Richard is obvious: ditch Twitter and write articles and books again. I don’t accuse you of malice, Richard, but I do accuse you of severely poor judgement in your choice of medium, and in trying to express such a complex and carefully thought-out position in a format better suited for hyperlinks and simple “party-line” slogans.

    • I don’t think Richard should give up Twitter, I think he should plan his campaign. Anything controversial should have a well thought out position posted here first, and then Twitter should be used to advertise it.

      I assume the whole point of the move to Twitter was to reach a larger audience. It is inevitable that for every person with an IQ of 120 there will be one with 80 (though 130 might not be balanced with 70 because some of them can’t write). There will also be a wide political spectrum, and some with axes to grind. So controversial tweets will lead to real or disingenuous misunderstanding and will kick up a shit-storm. If that is the intent – fine. But I suspect better management would achieve more.

      • Good points. I’m of two minds. On one hand, it seems everytime that Richard tweets something controversial he has to then explain it in an article. So why not just write articles? On the other hand, he would only reach a fraction of the audience he does if he just wrote articles here.

        Furthermore, what is the net effect? If people read the tweet, get enraged but then come and read an article like this (which they wouldn’t have otherwise), hopefully they will come away with a better understanding and a favorable impression. But if all the tweets do is give ammo to his detractors and push fence-sitters away from him, then this whole campaign has to reexamined.

        I think that Richard recognizes the great power of something like Twitter and wants to take advantage of it, and he being who he is will not simply be tweeting banal nonsense.

        • You are right Michael, I’m not sure twitter is the right forum for Richard! What has happened today is that most press have reported two of Richard’s tweets and not the third one, the important one that looks at the issue from the other side and acknowledges that date rape could be worse in some circumstances. Whether they have done this accidentally (because they did not see the third one) or deliberately (because they have an agenda against Richard) I’m not sure and it is probably a mixture but the medium lends itself to problems like this. I really think it’s best avoided for serious topics like this.

          • Why not use Twitter? After all it acheived its purpose. Which was to get people talking. And to be honest, I could see his point immediately, from the tweets alone.

          • The press ( and that includes the Guardian not just the usual suspects like the Daily Mail) definitely have an agenda against RD and will twist his tweets to their own ends but if RD stops tweeting then they have won.
            I am not a fan of twitter but that is where it is happening at the moment and RD should continue his campaign of trying to educate those who are hard of thinking.

          • Agreed, AdOculos. I still think that the issue of rape was a careless one to use as an example in a Tweet, but it really makes me sick that people rip apart everything he says. Most of the time I really like what he has to say on Twitter, and too many people are sitting around waiting to be offended by something he says. I don’t know Richard any better than you do but he strikes me as a kind, compassionate, and exceptionally openminded man. So when people try to paint him as a misogynist bastard who wants to put women in their place, it upsets me a bit.

          • I say it was done deliberately.. that´s how journalism works.. give the audienace that which you want to give them, not what they (us) want to have.. aclose up of fity or a hundred people making a fuss can easily be portrayed as thousands.. who are we to say it isn´t so without evidence…

        • The problem is that most people will hear about the tweet and only the tweet but won’t actually come here to read the full article. The full power of twitter should not be underestimated in leading to people’s downfall. Dawkins has come out with some real howlers on it.

          For example he recently posted a tweet about an incident in Scotland where bacon was smeared on a Mosque. He abhorred the sentencing of those bacon loving smearers. The problem the incident was the work of a neo nazi race hate group. With previous convictions for threatening behaviour against various families of Pakistani origin. And they had also broken into the Mosque. The sentencing was taking all that very nasty previous form into account. So the whole thing blew up in his face.

          It was then compounded by his tweeting that Islam is not a race. Which is true but everyone who was cognisant of the issues knew that for the group involved Islam was perceived as a race. They were after all a racist offshoot off the BNP (Britain’s equivalent to the KKK).

          A hell of a lot of UK atheists were appalled at what they saw as siding with racists. They would be less inclined to come here.

          If Dawkins is going to tweet he needs to be fully aware of every fact and the real backgrounds and motives of those he tweets about.

    • As a rule of thumb, it’s probably better if people in their seventies do not tweet. The case in which a celebrity (well known for drawing hostility from a segment of the world population), it is highly unwise! I wish you’d stick to writing articles, Richard.

      • As a rule of thumb, it’s probably better if people in their seventies do not tweet.”

        As a rule of thumb, it’s probably better if women in their twenties do not go out at night.

        This type of social control by manipulating emotions from past events is kind of what Richard just touched on. This type of advice, if you could call it that, doesn’t really help the person/s that the advice was intended for.

        The more reasonable and rational people involved in social media the better. Even if they have to endure the emotionally charged threats that come with the territory.

        • The problem is that none of Richards tweets show him in any rational or reasonable light.

          The rule of thumb should be that 140 characters should never be used for anything other than humorous comments about cats or letting folk know you’re having coffee. It cannot deal with serious issues at all.

        • @IrishPredator
          I admire Richards writing style immensely and find his books a pleasure to read; the flowing sentences, the imagery. His tweets have the power to elicit a very hostile response from many quarters. I think this is unhelpful in the ‘grand plan’. Isn’t that the ultimate aim of the atheist movement? It’s in the best interests of those who seek to end the divisiveness of religions that a unified front is projected by those with the most sway. I think the maxim ‘ first do no harm’ has been derailed by these tweets.
          Personally, I have no reason to object to the content of these tweets as I know what he means and I’m happy to go along with his thinking. This is not the case for a large number of readers who bring their own experiences to the table. Why would RD risk offending and devaluing a significant group by carelessly typing off a couple of 140 character tweets?

      • Because preaching to the choir is more comfortable? Did you get the message of his answer here (if you haven’t got it in the tweets)? Exactly what happened is the target of his tweets! Showing that even atheists and rationalists have their own thought police in their heads! You only react to the form of his message instead of reacting to the real content! Bad thinking in my opinion!

        • @Joe Wolsing
          It’s the brief nature of a tweet that causes offense. Instead of being to expand on an idea and add shades of meaning as with an article ( such as the one above), it comes across as curt and possibly offensive. The number of responses from people who were offended is evidence of that fact.
          I don’t think twitter is a suitable medium for comments that have the potential to cause offense particularly when there are those who are apt to jump on the bandwagon and hurl abuse. We atheists are already perceived as being unpleasant and uncaring by many.
          Regarding the age of the tweeter, I think it’s used more effectively by the younger members of society as they’re adept at high tech, instantaneous media.

          • @joe Wolsing
            I do realise that the theme of the article is that subjects should not be taboo just because they touch on areas that are considered unpleasant, I understand the point. I don’t think a tweet is an effective way of communicating such thoughts even though this method reaches a large audience.

    • The shit storm only shows, how necessary this discussion is. There was no need for this elaboration by Richard, as his twitter posts were clear enough.
      This reminds me of rallies in Europe against rape in former Yugoslavia while meanwhile a lot of people got killed there.

    • If I understand his explanation above correctly, then he’s using twitter precisely for that reason :
      It’s like the perfect lab conditions for generating shit storms.

      It’s quite efficient actually : one statement gets you 1000′s of replies, from a diverse set of people, all in a matter of hours.

      Or perhaps he’s just trying to get enough material for his next “Hate Emails” fireside reading :-)

    • Recommendation for future Twitter usage:

      A) Type tweet that will fire up a shit storm.
      B) Don’t post the Tweet.
      C) Write the explanation here.
      D) THEN post the tweet, with a link to the explanation.

      It would save a lot of time, wouldn’t it?

  2. Hi Richard,
    You might avoid some of the criticism over the idea of a spectrum of harm if you were to explicitly add that it is for the victims of rape or paedophilia to say how bad it was for them, rather than for third parties to make presumptions about it. People are different, and, when it comes to sexual abuse, someone might suffer great and lasting harm from an eposide that a third party might mistakenly regard as “mild”.

    That, of course, does not negate your central point here. But it is part of why discussing the “spectrum of harm” of sexual abuse can be controversial.

    • This is all correct. We can accept that some people react worse than others to certain traumas. But you have to distinguish between whether you are judging the action or the reaction. It is hard for a judge to rely on grading of their trauma by rape victims. Every rape victim would naturally rank their trauma a ten on the scale. That doesn’t mean we can’t say that i.e the rapist with a knife, may have done an even worse action than the guy who took advantage after a lot of drinks. Even though the victims’ reactions (the amount of physical and/or psychological harm befallen them) happened to be reversed.

      The rapist with a knife can be assumed to have reasonably expected to do even more damage to his victim. He shouldn’t get off lighter if he happened upon a victim with a stronger psyche. Though the other rapist should possibly be penalised stronger if he happened upon a victim that could be proven to take more psychological damage.

      Likewise could date-raping someone whom the perpetrator knew were already in a vulnerable psychological state arguably be even worse than “just” date-rape. Though again, the action is the thing we judge, not the reaction or the damage actually done. Psychological damage is difficult to measure or prove and our legal system has to make assumptions about what is reasonable to expect as the result of a bad action, even though those assumptions aren’t always correct.

      Both the discussion of the spectrum of action and reaction are valid points of course, but you have to distinguish between the two and not mix them up in one discussion as they may skew the understanding of arguments. In any bad action like the ones we are discussing here, there are two people involved. One victim and one perpetrator. And we should be able to discuss the consequences from both points of view, as long as we don’t mix them together.

    • “People are different, and, when it comes to sexual abuse, someone might suffer great and lasting harm from an eposide that a third party might mistakenly regard as “mild”.”

      With this logic, you would have to exclude the testimony of rape victims as well, otherwise you are making the leap that the testimony and experience of a particular victim holds true for all victims–which is clearly not the case. Some people suffer PTSD or commit suicide and others overcome the experience without lasting trauma.

      • What should be punished is solely the intent, not the consequences. The person who has tried to murder but by some quirk of events failed is equally dangerous to the society and eligible for punishment as the one who has succeeded.

        The variation in victims’ perceived experience should be dealt with by way of the statistical median.

    • You are wrong , wrong, wrong.

      There is no logical nor sensible reason to avoid moral discussion because you’re not a victim of a particular harm. You don’t have to be a victim to qualify for discussion about morality, crime and punishment. And it would be cowardly of anyone to shy from these important discussions just to avoid criticism.

      Of course there are shades in all crimes, also sexual abuse, even rape. They are all dark and bad shades. But some are even darker, even worse than others. And while all of them deserve a harsh punishment, the worse ones deserve even harsher punitive measures. And of course such a punishment can’t be determined by the victim alone or judged solely by the victim’s internal experience and his/her particular psychological suffering. We have to create laws and enforcement systems, which are as fair and objective as possible. So, we need discussion and I greatly welcome the input by Richard Dawkins, too.

      I realize it may sometimes not be politically suitable to differentiate these shades, and certainly not when talking to a recent victim of a crime. But in twitter and web forums we are not social workers talking to shattered victims. We are discussing general, in this case even hypothetical questions of moral philosophy.

      There seems to be a horrible problem of exaggarated political correctness prevailing over almost social commentary in the US and apparently in the UK, too. And because of this, even asking certain moral questions seems to be an abomination to certain people of the political left and allows the moral discussion to be monopolized by those who don’t care one bit about the approval of the liberal left — the right wing conservatives.

      • Many complaining have been of a religious (Christian) background – the Church is known for it’s right wing affiliations and indeed it’s whole ideology is right wing. I feel it is a shame that you have brought politics into this discussion – where, IMHO, it does not belong.

        • I have seen RD mostly criticized by the (usually American) liberal left wing, or at least sites affiliated by such ideals. They seem to hate Richard Dawkins as an anti-feminist representative of the wealthy white male priviledge. I assume he is also criticized by the religious, but that I haven’t encountered and I do not consider the irrational opinions of the religious worth my time.

          Apparently, it is mainly the feminists who hate RD. And in my view, he is much more respected by the religious and the moderate right wing people than the left wing liberals, who dismiss anything he says. And that is a pity, since I consider myself a feminist and assume RD considers himself one, too.

          And since feminism is a political thing, of course it’s all political. So I don’t understand what you mean by saying it is I who brought politics into this discussion. Not all politics can be described in terms of left and right.

          • Yeah, sometimes it seems like people are just sitting around waiting to be offended by something, waiting for Richard to make a mistake (like this week’s Tweets) so that they can use it as further evidence that he is a misogynist who wants women to be barefoot and pregnant and to learn their place. Jebus.

      • Whilst it may not be wrong moral discussions, it is probably always wrong to have moral discussions on something like twitter.

        Discussions about things like rape require sensitivity and a lot of clarification about what you really mean. 140 characters doesn’t allow that at all. It’s not for serious discussion nor is it appropriate for deeply emotive and stressful events.

        • Actually they don’t really require a lot of clarification. Anyone who isn’t waiting to be offended understands there’s a difference between an action and a reaction. We weren’t (and couldn’t possibly) begin to gauge the severity of how a person experiences a traumatic event, but we can certainly gauge the severity of the ACTION itself. Why are we all tiptoeing around such a simple concept and pretending as though their outrage is justified?

          It also doesn’t really matter how he said it, the more radical feminists were going to jump on him regardless. That’s what they do. They huddle together and self-perpetuate their victim complexes and wait for someone to say something they can be offended about.

          As someone else in this thread pointed out, murder is treated as less serious than rape on a regular basis. And yet, murdering a person is one of the worst things you could possibly do to them. I suspect the feminists who are spewing vitriol would not have objected to a similar mental exercise involving murder. But because Dawkins touched their golden goose (read: rape) they lost their collective minds, as usual.

  3. Thank you for writing this. Besides the verboten areas of rape and child molestation, you forgot to list the third prong on the fork of taboo subjects: male on female domestic violence. Today the Twitterverse is on fire lighting up Whoopie Goldberg for her OUTRAGEOUS comments that women should not hit men and if they do, they should not be surprised when men hit back.

    Was that an endorsement of men hitting women? Obviously not. She said women should be taught from a very young age, as are boys, not to hit anyone. She did not say a woman deserved to be struck if she threw the first punch, but just that she shouldn’t be surprised if she assaults a man and he assaults her back.

    As a post-modern feminist warrior, I find her comments sound and wise and it is distressing to see the reaction to her basic argument that nobody should hit anybody and if you hit first, be prepared for a reaction. Some women want all the benefits of equality while still denying their own equal share of responsibility in this world. Along with equal rights come equal obligations.

    Having been vilified myself on Twitter for making a joke (and then perhaps taking it too far once I was fed up with the trolls) I can certainly relate to your experience. I now only post my blog on Twitter and I don’t interact with people because frankly, their inability to reason frightens me.

    No, not just inability, but downright refusal. I think most of the world is made up of people like this and that explains war, genocide, global warming, obesity and the Kardashian empire.

    When people close their eyes and plug their ears so as not to be exposed to difficult questions and hypotheses, they are assuming their place in line with the millions of sheep that have come and gone before them. No great man or woman was ever afraid of a controversial conversation.

    Love your work, Mr. Dawkins. Having been a victim of date rape in college, I agree. What happened to me was bad. But not as bad as it could have been. There, I said it.

    Robin

      • Thank you. And yet, though I supposedly have a “right” to say these words because I went through this terrible thing, I would still be strung up by the very people who claim to support victims of sexual assault, because I did not spout the company rhetoric.

        These same people would tell you that yes, there are varying degrees of criminality and experience when it comes to taking a human life. I think they would agree that a driver who speeds and as a result has an accident that kills someone is not as morally or legally culpable as someone who plans the murder of their wife and children to collect the insurance money.

        But rape? Can’t talk about rape. It’s the sacred cow of the “I don’t really want to be equal” feminists and as a result, the entire issue is shrouded in mystery and hysteria.

        We joke all the time about murder and casually toss the threat around (if you steal my muffin I’ll kill you!) despite the fact it is just about the worst thing one human can do to another. I find the ban on discussing or even joking about rape, well, interesting.

        • You sound like a very strong woman for being able to talk logically about this, after what you’ve been through. Don’t know if I would be able to do do the same thing. And I’m sorry to hear that you were raped.

          In any case, I think the conversation hasn’t backed away to the fundamental point. I don’t think people are reacting to RICHARD, per se, but his careless comments (while not malicious), acted as a catalyst after a longer prologue, as it were. One needs to understand that many women who report their rapes are not believed. Or they are asked what they were wearing, sometimes by cops and judges. Or they’re asked if they led the guy on in some way. And so forth. I used to live in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn and was hit on every time I left my building, without fail. Most people said, “Those guys are assholes” but one coworker said, “Oh men just do that” and someone else said, “Well it means you still got it.” I’m supposed to take that as a compliment? Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME? And you know what’s funny? It’s mostly men who make these comments and assumptions. It’s mostly men who think they can tell women how they should feel if something’s happened to them, anything as mild (yes, I’m using that word) as a catcall on the street up to and including rape. It’s funny because most men don’t get raped. So they have the luxury of making these assumptions.

          Now, before anybody jumps down my throat, I’m not one of those feminists who chants “white male privilege” three times every hour. In fact, I don’t even think that most well-educated men would make the aforementioned assumptions. But enough do that it’s worth talking about. And there is a valid point to be made about how it’s usually men (at least in my experience) who make these judgments (“Oh, she’s overreacting”, etc.) So I think what was happening was a lot of women who were sick of hearing the same crap from men over and over again saw Richard’s comment and thought, “Christ, now another man– an educated, intelligent, well-respected man– is telling me how to feel about rape.” That wasn’t Richard’s intention. I’m confident of that. But given what many women have to face in terms of sexual harassment and rape, it’s understandable why their minds would immediately go there when they saw that Tweet.

          I admit that when I first saw the Tweets when I woke up yesterday morning, I muttered, “Why does he do this to himself?” I wondered what the hell Richard was thinking. I read the thread and thought, “Okay, I get what he’s saying but this is a poor example and reflects a bit of nativity and misinformation on his part.” But I also haven’t been raped and haven’t had to deal with, as many women have, of having my personal experiences trivialized.

          I have a great deal of respect for Richard, and he impresses me as a very kind, compassionate man. But it seems he has a blind spot with issues like this. Okay, so that’s a flaw. Everyone has flaws. I keep bringing up the example of the blind spot my father has. He’s good– I’d say exceptionally good– at understanding women’s issues and not being affected by unconscious bias– but he has this really bizarre hangup about people who cut themselves or attempt suicide. He thinks they do it to get attention (and no, I haven’t done either). I told him, only 7,452,742 times that people who do things like this are in horrible psychological pain and are taking out their anger in a very unfortunate way. I think maybe NOW on the 7,452,743rd try that he’s starting to get it. I don’t know why someone as intelligent as my dad takes such a long time to learn what I think ought to be common sense. But I’ll tell you this: I’m glad he’s not a celebrity on Twitter. And I suspect that Richard would react to hearing about self-cutters and people who attempt suicide by feeling bad that they felt they had to do something like that. That’s just speculation, obviously, as I don’t know him any better than the rest of you. But my point remains. Flaws. Blind spots. We have them.

          • But in this case the medium is the message. Twitter is exactly the kind of social space that results in knee jerk reactions, based on making unreasonable inferences from the limited information in the 140 characters. This then dissuades people from making any comment at all about certain topics that often provoke such reactions, making them taboo. Worryingly, these are frequently important topics, such as the Israel Palestine conflict and the prevalence of sexual violence. So he is making the point that to have useful discourse on such moral issues, we need to allow people to express their views. Part of that is not to tell them what they can’t talk about. Another part is not to assume they are saying things that they are not. It’s easy to do this when the subject is not controversial or emotive. Dawkins chose a provocative subject and a shallow medium to illustrate these points.

          • Kieran, that’s why I think when Richard wants to talk about stuff like this he should just write a blog post and link to it. Not only will his audience appreciate it more, but it will also help him and he won’t have to spend days trying to deescalate it.

      • Absolutely. There are a lot of people here completely ignoring that he put this point from both sides.

        Someone could go on a date with someone who seems nice. Go back to their place and then find the door locked on them, and be subjected to the most appalling ordeal in which they fear for their lives, and this could be just as bad as stranger rape (and how well do most people know their date the first time they go out with them?) Just because one woman sees it like this doesn’t mean anything. Her experience was this. Others may see it differently depending on what happened to them.

    • I deeply regret the cruelly wounding betrayal of trust and brutal violation of the intimate sphere both physical and emotional you experienced. Awed by how you have not let this distort your compass of reason. To you this may seem the most natural and reasonable reaction not meriting much further recognition. It is the most reasonable but sadly far from the most common. As any discussion soon reveals where people argue in defense and or justification of their nation, tribe, gender, ideology, religion, sports team, “feeling offended” etc.

      • Thank you, but I must admit that what happened to me clouded my reason for many years. I was very angry at men (this was how I lost my virginity, believe it or not) and I went on to minor in Women’s Studies at the University of Oregon – a course of study that solidified my belief that all men were nefarious rapists seeking to hold me down and deny my gender equal opportunities in life whilst impregnating me and demanding braised short ribs each night for dinner (I would be forced to cook barefoot, n’est pas).

        And here’s the part where I would really be excoriated by some folks if I spouted this in a more open forum – the point at which I was able to resolve this issue in my head was the point at which I realized that not only did I play a part in what happened to me, the man who I labeled my “rapist” was so drunk that I’m not sure he even knew what he was doing at the time. Neither of us should have been there doing what we were doing.

        This is MY experience and does not take away from anyone else’s experience, nor do I seek to understand the experience of every rape victim, simply because there are so many variables of what can occur in a sexual assault. But I agree with Richard: some rapes, just like any other type of assault, can be worse than others.

        Did I have my throat slashed or get beaten within an inch of my life as so many other victims of rape have? No. If forced to choose between someone entering me while I was passed out at a party and a knife-point rape and beating in an alley, I’d prefer to suffer my experience, thank you very much.

          • Thank you for your superb posts: Robin and InYourFace. I fear that the male actions/reactions here (drunk or not) are socially contrived or taught – I am most certainly not making excuses for any individual but slighting such societies. Personally, I have been hurt by the ‘live with it’ culture that seems to be in mode at present – and as Robin’s post shows this is a dangerous maxim and as others have said seems to emanate from the abusers (or their knowing or unknowing allies). This maxim is now used across the financial and political spectrum (UK and US) seemingly for similar reasons – to get victims to ‘live with’ their abuse.

        • Hi Robin,

          Very interesting personal account; it seems you’re one of a kind, or at least a drop in a pool, to be so freely discussing this perspective.

          I’ve become somewhat pessimistic, lately, about whether there’s any real hope for future rational discussion of these issues. I’ve just about had it with PC groupthink, super-multiculturalism, “destroy the patriarchy”, and related subjects—and the thought-police who circle these topics like buzzards. People of my generation (the millennials) seem to be so very smart in some areas (e.g. technology, science) and so very dull in others (e.g. social justice). IMO, there’s no topic that attracts more loud-mouthed, small-minded people than one where you only need an opinion—the right opinion—to enact social reform, where research and logic can be dispensed with as a matter of course. As in, “is x wrong/right?” “Of course!”

          As for your explanation for your experience, I find myself coming back to a quasi-maxim of mine:

          “If it works!”

          You’re obviously a smart, resourceful woman, who (most importantly) seems to have made an active effort to reassess your situation reasonably, after many years. And if I get your logic, it appears sound: that we are responsible for not putting ourselves in risky situations, but not (generally) for the crimes that may come of consequence. That’s a good, liberating, but also responsible way to go about things.

          On the subject of alcohol, I personally think it’s a matter of moral clarity that one should be less morally culpable for what one does while drunk, and I don’t get why there is so much backlash against this (legal culpability is a separate matter). But while certain inhibitions may fall away under the influence, I also think that men whose only barriers to rape can be torn down by alcohol are generally not men I would like to make my company with—not Ted Bundy’s, obviously, but also not the best folk.

          Anyway, I suppose I’ll end this note with a wistful hope that real social change on important issues of feminism, equal pay, racism, social inequality, etc, will be less hindered by the aggressive, tone-death approach of people like Robertson, and instead advanced by more thoughtful voices, ready to listen as well as to lecture, in order to develop solutions that work.

          • Very interesting personal account; it seems you’re one of a kind, or at least a drop in a pool, to be so freely discussing this perspective.

            People are often surprised when we rapees talk openly about our rapes. They often comment (as others have done to Robin) that we are ‘brave’ to do so. Talking about my rape is the most natural and easy thing in the world. It was an incident of huge impact so not talking about it would be odd. I think what I’m driving at (and no doubt expressing badly) is that there appears to be a cultural expectation that we will NOT talk about it – is the word ‘taboo’ perhaps appropriate for this? Perhaps not as no doubt this expectation of silence from us is in the kind but in my view mistaken belief that our thinking about it and talking about it will be painful to us compared with keeping silent about it.

    • Having been a victim of date rape in college, I agree. What happened to me was bad. But not as bad as it could have been. There, I said it.

      What’s your point? I was raped by a couple of near-strangers while traveling in Italy as an exchange student. I have a close friend who was raped, beaten, and nearly killed by a stranger. I was relatively untraumatized, she was more traumatized. Neither of us takes our individual experience to be representative of what other victims of rape experience, because that would be rude and insensitive in the extreme. Neither of us tries to pass off the relative levels of trauma we experienced as universal benchmarks for other victims. And that is precisely what I fear Dawkins is doing here and has done in the past, and it’s the criticism about that sort of thing he’s responding to–without actually saying as much, which strikes me as rather dishonest.

      • “Neither of us takes our individual experience to be representative of what other victims of rape experience, because that would be rude and insensitive in the extreme. Neither of us tries to pass off the relative levels of trauma we experienced as universal benchmarks for other victims.”

        If that is truly what you took away from my comments, that I am trying to claim my experience and reaction to it should apply to all victims, I’m not surprised you attributed to Dawkins what you did.

        I quite specifically said that my experience was my own – and I have a right to share it and own it as much as anyone else, including you. The obvious main point of this essay was to ponder why certain topics (as illustrated by this example of rape) are off-limits when asking questions, drawing comparisons or simply making observations or doing analysis.

        I don’t think my experience was representative of anyone else’s, but if a person were faced with mine or the alternative one I posed, which do you think they would choose? And does asking that question make me insensitive to date rape victims or advocate date rape? If you think so, that indicates an unwillingness to suspend your personal experience to engage in a debate.

        In my humble opinion, of course.

    • Just a point…
      “… the third prong on the fork of taboo subjects: male on female domestic violence.”
      Why ‘male on female’? I know you go on to discuss rape in your various responses and that is something which for obvious reasons is a ‘one-way street’ if you would, but it is important to differentiate strongly between rape and domestic violence. In the case of the latter – despite the public’s general perspective and how things are presented in the media – many decades of evidence indicate that domestic violence – or at least violence within intimate relationships – is pretty much a 50/50 affair, with some research even suggesting women are MORE violent than men. If you are surprised, so was I!

      Here’s a link: http://www.domesticviolenceresearch.org/pdf/PASK.Tables2.Revised.pdf
      It really is important to consider that most stats are hugely biased by: male reluctance to report violence; law and order forces’ reluctance to deal with female-on-male violence; automatic sympathy for the physically weaker sex; and self-fulfilling cultural bias.

      • John, you actually share the same opinion I do on the subject, I just didn’t articulate very well what my point was on male on female DV, which was the belief that a man should never, under ANY circumstances, hit a woman. I was reacting to the overwhelming negative response to Whoopie Goldberg’s comments that if a woman hits a man, she should not be surprised if he hits her back, and that everyone, including women, should be taught never to put their hands on another person in anger.

        Of course, just like Richard’s tweet, everyone is now coloring her comments with the brush of lies: that she is saying women deserve to be beaten or she is blaming the victim somehow.

        I believe men are victims of DV too and I appreciate your comment. Thanks!

        • Robin…
          I sympathise with your ‘coloring of comments’ comment.
          This site seems relatively civilised in that department but I’ve seen a few where the spats and distortions get so very out of hand. And there it definitely seems to me that that IS a male thing. It’s always the guys that end up with the long rants of ‘No you said… I was only answering your silly comment about…” – and that’s a very polite flavour as you no doubt know!

    • Having been a victim of date rape in college, I agree. What happened to me was bad. But not as bad as it could have been. There, I said it.

      As a fellow rapee, you have my empathy and solidarity. I hope your recovery is complete and of course I fully respect your view of your rape. I too was date raped not stranger raped, and what happened to me was as bad as it could have been. I only mention this in case people (mistakenly) use your post to justify a wider general position (as opposed to the experience of one individual) on date rape v stranger rape.

      • Sandra, I cannot help noticing that the men who’ve replied so sympathetically to Robin (the woman above who says she has recovered, doesn’t see data rape as seriously as stranger rape and even that she was partly to blame) haven’t said a word similar to you. Nothing to do I’m sure with the fact that she concurs with their own views and you are contradicting them… I think this shows quite well that even those on this site who presumably see themselves as logical unbiased individuals are just as fallible as everyone else in this regard.

        Robin is entitled to her view but so are you and this is the problem with Richard’s tweets. He may not have these attitudes (and you’d probably have to know him personally to be sure) but he is giving succour to a lot of (mainly) men who like nothing better than to minimise date rape.

        I can’t help reset the balance much because I am a woman but think you are a brave strong woman too (and all the other compliments they gave to Robin) and I wish you all the best in your recovery.

  4. You are logically correct – but also very naïve if you think an emotive subject like rape (or paedophilia) won’t generate a great deal of upset if you try to cram your point into 140 characters or less.

    Some people may make the logical mistake of thinking that if someone is intelligent they will also have a high EQ and therefore may have concluded that you were being deliberately contentious rather than – for example – being a bit of a pointy-headed twit.

  5. I am a Christian on your web site and yet I don’t disagree with what you say. It is important to explore the consequences of a ‘what if?’ scenario, as that can lead to a greater understanding of something that had previously been ignored or not touched for being a ‘no-go’ area.
    I think you could have approached the issue of rape differently to the way you did if you really wanted to explore the possibility that different prison sentences should apply to different incidents of rape (although I guess the Uk courts at least allow the judge some discretion in sentencing.) I think, had you wanted to explore this, it might have been better to specifically introduce the topic and your concerns. You didn’t do that and I’m thinking your justification for using the rape example above is something of an afterthought.
    With the right level of preamble describing what you want to discuss and why it may be important, I think most topics are not off limits. I don’t (unlike many tweeters) condemn you. It is obvious to me you never meant your example to be a comment on some rapes being less important than others. But, thinking of the victims of rape, I can see why they would react, why they would see a sentence like rape X is less important than rape Y as infuriating. Because it DIDN’T have the necessary preamble that you now add (on the sentencing of rapists.) And why didn’t t? Because you weren’t really making any point about rape. Rape was picked out of the air as an example of your more general X is bad Y is worse statement.
    Where does all this get us? Just choose examples that don’t upset people.

  6. This whole debacle reminds me of the story Hitchens often told about the women who scoured a new edition of a dictionary looking for obscene words. Amazing how the people attacking your posts on Twitter both are looking for something to be offended at as well as completely missing the point all together.

    It seems that not only are some people unwilling to discuss certain issues but are perfectly willing to crucify anyone who makes any kind of criticism. I would think that if you are willing to espouse your opinion on any current political, social, moral, or religious view you implicitly open yourself up as a target of criticism, constructive or not. It is the strength of an idea or movement to be able to address any criticism as well as the weakness of any movement to respond so poorly to it.

    • Exactly – and that is Twitter personified: angry, powerless, unhappy and unfulfilled people crouched over their monitors in search of the daily outrage. What is so deeply troubling to me is that in this day and age, I see much more outrage over what people are SAYING, rather than what people are DOING. See: war, planetary destruction, corrupt politicians, and Donald Trump in general but specifically what he did in Scotland. And his hairpiece.

      Oh yeah, don’t forget actual rape. How many of these Twitter users that vomited their “logic” in reaction to Richard’s Tweet are outraged enough about rape to volunteer as a victim’s advocate or do anything at all to help combat the problem?

      • Robin:

        First, I wanted to say that all of your points are spot-on. It is very refreshing to see sanity coming from someone who considers themselves (I assume) a feminist. It is mind boggling to me that the things Whoopi Goldberg said are considered even the least bit controversial. I thought “don’t hit” was a lesson we taught children as toddlers. Ray Rice’s wife allegedly spit in his face repeatedly (I believe she even admitted it) and yet nobody wants to talk about cause, only effect. I can’t help but wonder how long those radical feminists believe someone should have to stand there and put up with being hit and spat on before they are allowed to retaliate. Obviously I am not condoning the amount of force Ray Rice used (perhaps he didn’t mean to hit with so much force) but it’s hard to argue that he had no right to retaliate. It seems logical to me that we say “don’t hit, and if you do, you might just get hit back.”

        The fact that Stephen A. Smith was suspended for suggesting that sometimes women provoke it says it all. At no point did he say “every woman who is a victim of domestic violence deserves it”, but as we’re discussing here, it’s taboo to even suggest that sometimes a female might not be the victim.

        Regarding Twitter and outrage, I couldn’t agree more. It seems like people these days are just looking for a reason to be outraged or offended. One of my favorite quotes is by Stephen Frye, I think it’s appropriate to this discussion:

        “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?!”

  7. I have observed Y worse than X in alpha datasets that experienced both phenomena. I have also observed beta people that experienced X and gamma people that have experienced Y and have concluded from all of these observations and comparisons of effect and outcomes that Y is worse than X.

    This is a logical statement.

    The statements you tweeted yesterday were the moral equivalent of “The earth is 6000 years old. If you disagree with that, then you haven’t read The Bible.”

    The pushback you experienced was from people who have first-hand data that they collected from being unwilling members of one of those datasets.

    A more correct statement for you would have been: “X and Y are both bad. I have greater empathy for Y and consider it to be worse. I have based this determination solely on my unscientific observation and I now believe that my determination should be considered law because I am more logical than the rest of you, have degrees in unrelated subjects. I have decided that these things qualify my intuition based empathy determinations to be more correct than yours.”

    This is theology, not logic, and it was odd seeing it spouted by you of all people.

    • X and Y are both bad. I have greater empathy for Y and consider it to
      be worse. I have based this determination solely on my unscientific
      observation and I now believe that my determination should be
      considered law because I am more logical than the rest of you, have
      degrees in unrelated subjects. I have decided that these things
      qualify my intuition based empathy determinations to be more correct
      than yours.”

      He wasn’t making a determination that Y was worse than X. Date rape could be worse than stranger rape, and his point would still hold. His point is that we should be free to discuss whether there are gradiations in the severity of things like rape and pedophelia. This was just explained very clearly in the article you just read.

        • Wrong about what? Look at what he wrote:

          Apparently I didn’t learn swiftly enough – and I now turn to the other
          Twitter controversy in which I have been involved this week. ‘“Being
          raped by a stranger is bad. Being raped by a formerly trusted friend
          is worse.” If you think that hypothetical quotation is an endorsement
          of rape by strangers, go away and learn how to think.’ That was one
          way I put the hypothetical. It seemed to me entirely reasonable that
          the loss of trust, the disillusionment that a woman might feel if
          raped by a man whom she had thought to be a friend, might be even more
          horrible than violation by a stranger. I had previously put the
          opposite hypothetical, but drew an equivalent logical conclusion:
          “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think
          that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”
          These two opposite hypothetical statements were both versions of the
          general case,

          So he’s not making an empirical claim about one type of rape being worse or better than another. He’s using hypotheticals to make the following points: 1) calling something worse than another thing is not saying that the less bad thing is ok 2) we should be free to discuss whether some forms of rape are worse than others, just like we can with things like murder.

          So what “data” are you talking about? If someone gives you a hypothetical to illustrate a point and you start to ask for data to support the specific example used in the hypothetical, then you are missing the point to say the least.

          • Data is what you collect before doing science and applying reason.

            Your example of:

            “Eating ice cream is worse than eating beans” they are not logically
            committed to the proposition “Eating beans is okay.”

            So to ask Richard for “data” for his example would be like saying to
            Russell, “Hey, where is your data showing that ice cream is worse than
            beans? What kind of a rationalist are you?”

            is a good one. I’m perfectly happy for Mr Dawkins to weigh in on the logic of comparing ice cream to beans as it is reasonable to assume that he has at least one dataset from which he is making this assumption. He has likely eaten both ice cream and beans. I would not accuse him of promoting his Grand Theology of Beans and Cream.

            Unless I am grossly mistaken, he has not experienced good or bad rape. He has observed that people are raped and had an intellectual exercise about how he thinks he would feel if this happened to him.

            That isn’t good enough. That doesn’t lead to any application of reason or logic or science. It’s mumbo jump.

            Survey people who’ve had date rapes. Look at data on what became of their lives afterward. Survey people who’ve had stranger knife rapes. Look at data on what became of their lives afterward. Survey people who have experienced both types of rape. Look at data on what became of their lives afterward.

            Then… make a logical assessment of your data

            Scientists are required to back up their claims not with private
            feelings but with publicly checkable evidence. Their experiments must
            have rigorous controls to eliminate spurious effects. And statistical
            analysis eliminates the suspicion (or at least measures the
            likelihood) that the apparent effect might have happened by chance
            alone. – Richard Dawkins

            Show me the data or he isn’t being a scientist. He’s being a theologian and these y worse than x discussions are pointless exercises that do not advance rationalism.

          • This is example Russell Blackford used below:

            E.g., If someone says: “Eating ice cream is worse than eating beans”
            they are not logically committed to the proposition “Eating beans is
            okay.”

            So to ask Richard for “data” for his example would be like saying to Russell, “Hey, where is your data showing that ice cream is worse than beans? What kind of a rationalist are you?”

        • Are you actually promoting the idea that people should not be “free to discuss anything” without supplying data? How about love? Or the existence of God? Or whether there are planets with advanced life out there? Where is the data on those subjects?

          Susan, you seem rather grumpy and determined to purposefully miss Richard’s point. I hereby sentence you to three days of vacation and an ice cream cone. Perhaps that will help.

          • You are free to discuss it, you just can’t pretend it is logic. It isn’t. It is theology. Richard is promoting the Theology of X and Y and trying to claim we can discuss it like science.

            You know what happens when you apply the scientific method to faith? You get the process of how Saints are made.

            If y person goes to heaven, they are in the communion of saints.
            If y person is in the communion of saints, they are watching us run the race.
            If we ask for y to intercede for us (without mentioning it in prayer to anyone else) about something awful and a miracle happens, it proves that y is there, in the communion of saints.
            Therefore if x miracle happens, y is proved to be in heaven.

            My point is that Mr. Dawkins is performing this same dance. He hasn’t proved x worse than y or y worse than x in any way. He has faith that x is worse than y. He is practicing theology.

            Fine to practice theology, but don’t keep calling it science.

            I actually came across a great quote from Dr. Feynman tonight that explains where Dr. Dawkins went wrong.

            I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just
            as dumb as the next guy.
            – Richard P. Feynman

            Amen

            And thanks… I’ll go have some ice cream.

        • Data is not relevant, since I was not claiming EITHER that X is worse than Y nor that Y is worse than X. All I was saying is that IF somebody, anybody, were hypothetically to claim that either X or Y was worse than the other, that would not imply approval of the lesser evil. How could data be relevant to that?

          • What sad confusion this whole affair has descended into! The real difference being discussed is that between science and logic on the one hand – and personal judgement and experience on the other. Now listen folks: n’er the twain shall meet! Deal with it. The lesson? Twitter is for birdbrains! Don’t use it. When communication is reduced to one-way text with a limit on the characters involved it’s time to realise that the facilitator of that service is not primarily interested if furthering human understanding… which of course they are not. Binned religion? Bin Twitter! Don’t get sucked in. There are plenty of other things to do with our time on this planet.

          • Richard,
            I’m with you on this matter, and perhaps someone has brought this up before, but could all this be about your choice of words? Whatever the logic or context, using e.g. the expression “mild rape” will cause a storm, as some people seem to be so eager to misconstrue your words. Not being an expert in this discourse within the English-speaking world, I wonder if saying “rape is bad, brutal rape is worse” could have been less provocative?

          • If you have no basis for the claim… If you do not have data to support either X is worse than Y or Y worse than X and you have the conversation anyway and advocate for X worse than Y then you have crossed into theology. You are arguing based on your empathy. Not science.

            By advocating without data you show implicit approval of the lesser evil because you made a decision based on faith, and that says everything about you. It says that you have faith x worse than y and nothing I ever show you that proves epigenetic changes in future generations caused by y will sway your understanding. You’ve crossed into theology Dr Dawkins, and I expect more from you than that.

            To discuss X and Y you must have a basis for the claim. You must have eaten the beans and ice cream or studied people who have eaten the beans and ice cream.

            I found a quote from Dr. Feynman that I think speaks to where you went wrong with this.

            I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just
            as dumb as the next guy. -Richard P. Feynman

          • Here is what I think you are looking for Dr. Dawkins

            Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?

            Logic may show its face in emotional no-go areas if it has observed the conventions of science. You must be able to back up your claims with good science or personal experience in order to eliminate the suspicion that your judgement did NOT in fact imply approval.

            When you define X worse than Y without basis, you’ve shown an implied bias based on faith and it is reasonable for people to infer approval.

            For example: The poster Robin wrote about her Y experience and made an X worse than Y argument that I don’t agree with. It didn’t make me angry. When you made the same X worse than Y argument without basis, I was incensed. A large swath of the population like me loses their ability to have a rational discussion when you trigger the PTSD. If you want to venture into emotional no-go areas, you must do your part to keep the emotion out of it. If you had stated X worse than Y because of Z science (or (X or Y) or (X and Y) experience), I would have accepted your discussion the way I accepted Robin’s discussion.

      • “We should be free to discuss whether there are gradations in the severity of things like rape and paedophelia. http://bit.ly/1nTDE1c

        132 characters including the link, in proper English and everything, and I doubt that there would have been so much heat if it had been tweeted that way. it reads like an invitation to a discussion rather than a troll. I’m not saying Dawkins is a troll, only that his tweets can sometimes read that way.

        He’d be better off simply stating his thesis and linking to a longer form article where he can better utilize his impressive strengths as a writer.

        • BT:

          Who gives a shit how he chose to express it? It’s the same point regardless of which 140 characters-or-less he chooses.

          The point is that no matter how he said it the radical feminist types were going to jump down his throat. That’s because they wake up every day just looking for things to be outraged about. Their reaction to his post is exactly what he is talking about! None of them seem to want to acknowledge what he is actually saying, instead, they prefer to go for the oppression points and be offended.

          Anyone with half a brain understands there’s a difference between rating the severity of an ACTION versus the severity of a person’s experience. I’m sick of living in a society that is so obsessed with being PC for fear of offending Tumblr feminists.

  8. The twitter storm created by your discussion of “x is worse than y, but that doesn’t make y right” gives weight to the argument that Philosophy should be taught to all in school. We all have issues where emotion quickly overwhelms logical discussion. I have even see a university Ethics lecturer fall into this trap, calling me a “Nazi” when I was playing Devils advocate during a discussion (and as she had advised the Thatcher government, I thought she was being a touch harsh!)

    As you mention above, all rape is bad, but if every attack was equally vile, each perpetrator would get the same sentence. Perhaps the problem was discussing “rape” as a single entity rather than teasing out the component parts. That way it is possible to say all rape is equally horrific but some are made even worse by the addition of other crimes, such a beating or kidnapping the victim.

    But that still avoids the issue you raise. There are some people who, because of their make-up/experience are unable to have a logical argument about some subjects. One problem with this view is that it would follow that the victims of certain crimes are not best place to discuss dealing with those crimes as they will discount logic in favour of emotion.

    • Hello Mark, I think you are actually misunderstanding what Richard said. He makes it quite clear that he can understand why someone would take the opposite view, that rape by someone you trust could be worse in some circumstances.

  9. Well put – as usual. And obviously true. It’s a crying shame that it needs to be said – especially on a website like this. It’s even worse that you have to waste time stating the bleeding obvious to the choir.

    To your critics that prompted this article: get a grip – there’s evil aplenty out there – direct your ire at it – not at one of our finest.

    To Richard Dawkins: thank you.

  10. I’m glad you make reference to those moral philosophical dilemas, because what immediately popped into my head when I saw the arguments, was the “Train problem,” which I’m sure you are aware of. You know, “would you pull the lever to divert the train to save five, yet kill one?” One of the main things about that moral test, is that the next example pushes the moral dilema a bit further, and so on, making the choice more difficult. But even then, it is known that philosophy students ask “what if” questions about the given scenarios, no matter how tight the questioner tries to make the situation.

    So a few things puzzled me. As a regular Twitter user, you seemed surprised at the mixed reaction. I might have thought you’d already know what you would get. And also, why you stepped right in at the deep end, rather than build up the context, which may have been more understandable. At this point though, we probably both agree that Twitter is hardly the place to make something like this work.
    And then the “Date-rape versus Stranger-knifepoint rape.” I might be wrong, but did you originally leave out the ‘knife’ and put it in later, in order to up the stakes? But whatever the case, it struck me that this example of a comparative moral judgement is so far away from how the “train problem” tries very hard to stop the “what if” questions (yet they still come), and is open to so many challenges to the questioner, that it was plainly the wrong example to use.
    In summary, you should know what to expect from Twitter, its limitations on usage, and you used examples that were far too open to challenges!

  11. I think rationalists should be free to discuss spectrums of nastiness, even if only to reject them. I had noticed indications that rape and pedophilia had moved out of the discussion zone into a no-go taboo area. I wanted to challenge the taboo, just as I want to challenge all taboos against free discussion.

    Richard, you are free to discuss these subjects, clearly. As we are free to be offended by them. No-one is being censored.

    Just as the ‘thought police’ can’t actually stop you from using whatever ammunition you chose in your quest for logic uber alles, you can’t outlaw people having an emotional response to emotive subjects. Indeed, I dare-say your career would suffer if they did!

  12. You need to stop accusing your critics of “failing to understand the logic…” Most of the criticisms I’ve seen start with a clear statement of the logical point you were trying to make and then go on to demonstrate how the use of rape muddied the water rather than clarifying it. Doing so on Twitter, where the format makes the kind of careful, nuanced and thoughtful approach that such subjects deserve was irresponsible.

    Yes, these are complicated, difficult subjects and they deserve thoughtful, careful attention. Dismissing the legitimate criticism of your apparently off the cuff comments as a failure to understand the logic, instead of as the careful, nuanced, thoughtful response it actually is, looks like dishonesty.

    It’s that kind of condescension and failure to appreciate the legitimate criticisms of that carelessness that get up my nose. If you really feel there’s a need for a discussion about rape you need to find a more appropriate venue than Twitter and you need to take criticisms of your carelessness seriously.

    And as you rightly point out there are people in our community who are getting rape threats and sexist harassment. If you seriously recognize this as a problem you might want to consider the effect of a careless Twitter approach to the subject. Is that kind of apparent minimizing (note, I didn’t say endorsement!) of rape a helpful thing to be doing when we’re trying to deal with rape threats? Or are you inadvertently giving cover to the harassers?

    • You need to stop accusing your critics of “failing to understand the
      logic…”

      He acknowledged that a lot of people understood the logic. Look at what was just written above.

      Some people angrily failed to understand that it was a point of logic using a hypothetical quotation about rape. They thought it was an active judgment about which kind of rape was worse than which. Other people got the point of logic but attacked me, equally furiously, for choosing the emotionally loaded example of rape to illustrate it.

      Most of the criticisms I’ve seen start with a clear statement of the
      logical point you were trying to make and then go on to demonstrate
      how the use of rape muddied the water rather than clarifying it

      The point was apparently that subjects like rape should not be beyond logic. Do you agree? I’m not sure if I do yet, but it has made me think.

      • Of course no subject is beyond logic. The problem is that any number of people are pointing to the logical flaws in the Twitter comments and that’s being ignored here.

        Logic also shouldn’t be excuse to ignore the legitimate emotions people feel around issues like rape, nor should the emotion be used as an excuse to hand-wave away legitimate, logical objections or the rhetorical implications of what’s being said.

        And context is important; many of the people objecting the casual, careless sloppy use of rape are the same people getting the rape threats Dawkins says he opposes. Some of them are actual rape survivors…http://freethoughtblogs.com/entequilaesverdad/2014/07/30/how-nice-of-richard-dawkins-to-provide-this-opportunity-so-quickly/ The apparent minimzing of their experience is areal issue here.

        Ignoring all of the rhetorical and emotional implications of comments like those Dawkins made is not rational either.

        If we’re really interested in bridging gaps and building a community then surely compassion and empathy are just as important as logic and reason, would you agree to that?

        • The problem is that any number of people are pointing to the logical
          flaws in the Twitter comments and that’s being ignored here

          What logical flaws? Can you elucidate them?

          The apparent minimzing of their experience is areal issue here.

          Applying logic to a situation is not minimizing it.

          • Applying logic to a situation is not minimizing it.

            Always? Is it impossible to both apply logic to a thing and simultaneously minimize its importance by doing so?

            Are you positive you’re being totally logical? Is it even logical to try to be that logical, given that new understanding of psychology and neuroscience has shown that emotions are essential for good decision-making?

          • First of all he tells he’s creating a syllogism, but the structure of a syllogism consists of a major premise, followed by a minor premise followed by a conclusion. That’s not what he’s actually doing here. “saying x is worse than y is not endorsement of y” is more of a tautology. “Statement A is not Statement B.” It’s a trivial observation at best, not some great logical construct.

            Then there is the question of the truth of his propositions. He’s suggesting that there is a simple, purely objective way of ranking the impact of the “badness” of different kinds of rape. He gets this all wrong. Faulty premises are faulty logic.

            He’s reducing a complex issue to a trivial one; pretending tat the question is “Does saying X is worse than Y equal endorsement of Y” when the real objection is that “Saying X is worse than Y can be a way of minimizing or being dismissive of Y.”

            This is just sloppy thinking, if not actually dishonest.

            Applying logic is not being dismissive, but denying the rhetoricaland emotional aspects of something like rape is very much dismissive. Telling the people who point this out that they don’t know how to think is dismissive.

          • Then there is the question of the truth of his propositions. He’s
            suggesting that there is a simple, purely objective way of ranking the
            impact of the “badness” of different kinds of rape. He gets this all
            wrong. Faulty premises are faulty logic.

            Aleister, did you read RD’s article accompanying his tweets. You know, the one were he was at pains to point out that he was not presenting these judgement as facts, but as examples of a particular kind of statement. His point had nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘truth’ of the propositions.

          • Sally, I’m not saying that ONLY logic should be applied to situations. It was not a statement of exclusivity. If we have an emotionally sensitive subject, applying a bit of logic as well should not be verbotten.

            If you think otherwise, please list the subjects that must be logic-free, with differing opinions based solely on emotion, with no reasonable way to resolve those differences.

            Is it even logical to try to be that logical, given that new
            understanding of psychology and neuroscience has shown that emotions
            are essential for good decision-making?

            And i’m sure some logic was involved in coming up with this finding!

    • It is not accusing from my point of view. It is just a simple ananlysis and naturally people finding themselves in that group tend to be accused, That is the central point of the thoughtexperiment and everyone complaining about the subject failed to understand it. It is the goup that is run over by the own emotions and not able to keep the straight line of dispasionaltely reason and logic based debate and mental work. You will always find someone insisting that this or that issue is taboo to be discused. I’m glad that there are people like Prof. Dawkins going beyond this barriers – otherwise I would be a negro slave on Guadeloupe in chains working on the fields of my master instead of sitting here and discussing the bad influence of the thought crime idea! And I CAN think about a hypothesis that says: What if we take it as truth that one race (an term that is ready for retirement – read Nina Jablonski: Race; here ot at edge.org) is superior in terms of intelligence than another … It’s a Gedankenexperiment you remember?
      When people start with: “Oh I understand the logic …” and than swift to: “but you should not use this or that example”. they are not even aware to be run over by their own emotions. Besides if the media Twitter is the problem than I have to admit that it is not a good one! I don’t own a smartphone so using twitter is not of interrest for me …

  13. We’ll said. Just about anything you say these days offends someone, results in psychoanalysis or inferring ulterior motives to them, and clarifications just result in further offenses in their eyes. This says much more about them than you. You’re never going to get rid of whiners or extreme identity politics in the twitter age. So what, life goes on. Keep up the great work.

  14. I have enjoyed your clear way of writing like I use to do reading your books. It is indeed a bad thing using your emotions instead of reason during a discussion. And certainly if the discussion concerns logic.
    I like discussing and a little provoking makes a discussion even more interesting. But people need to stay reasonable and that seems hard sometimes.
    People reacting emotinally, also often think understanding and agreeing are synonims. Their reaction comes before they actualy think. I clearly think that this is exactly what happened on Twitter.
    I just started with Twitter and I must admit that I was utterly surprised not only by the reactions but most of all by the amount of tweets. What a waste of time making such a fuss.
    I hope you will continue writing for a long time because I enjoy your writings very much.

  15. A very good response, but I was a bit surprised/confused by the following paragraph:

    There would have been no point in my using the broken nose example to
    illustrate my logic, because nobody would ever accuse us of endorsing
    face-slapping when we say, “Broken nose is worse than slap in face”.
    The point is trivially obvious, as it is with the symbolic case of “X
    is worse than Y”. But I knew that not everybody would think it obvious
    in the special cases of rape and pedophilia, and that was precisely
    why I raised them for discussion. I didn’t care whether we chose to
    say date rape was worse than dark alley stranger rape, or vice versa.
    Nor was I unaware that it is a sensitive issue, as is pedophilia. I
    deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion
    of sensitive issues.

    I had assumed Richard had chosen the example of rape precisely because it ought to have been mutually understood by all that no reasonable person would ever endorse any kind of rape, therefore it was a very apt example in demonstrating the logic that saying x is worse than y is not an endorsement of y.

    • Yes, that was my thinking exactly. I am therefore surprised to read that Richard’s choice of subjects – pedophilia and rape – were deliberate. A conscious attempt to provoke and to promote emotive discussion and debate. Less of a faux pas – more of playing devil’s advocate, knowing perfectly well that it would create at least some kind of public response. Why not just play the game honestly? Why not just put your cards on the table, Richard, and say: let’s have a rational discussion? And why admit to your real motivation today – and not yesterday…?

      Most people welcome real, honest meaningful – and yes, rational – discussion and debate. But a time will come when you are no longer taken seriously, pulling punches at people’s emotions – just to get a response. I’m in agreement with a lot of what you say. But dropping in ‘pedophilia’ and ‘rape’ just to get a stronger reaction here seems a little underhand.

      • There is a big problem with Mr. Dawkins strategy.

        If he was simply making a poing about logic, as he claimed before, then he wasn’t making a mental experiment. If he was making a mental experiment, as he now claims, then he wasn’t simply making a point about logic. Either way, in at least one moment between his “wind sowing tweets” that reaped a “bizarre Twitter storm”, he has failed to be completely truthful about his acts. This will evidently make people speculate (logically or not-so-logically, honestly or not-so-honestly) about exactly when Mr. Dawkins was being not perfectly truthful. If this becomes the main point of contention, then any discussion about whether saying “X is worse than Y” is an endorsement of “Y”, and any discussion about whether there are blind spots into which logic cannot look, or can look but won’t see anything, are likely to be derailed. Which might save five common criminals or one extraordinary genius from being trampled by a train, but then that one extraordinary genius, I fear, won’t be Mr. Dawkins…

  16. Richard, I am a big fan of yours but not today.
    You do realize that “consent” is an emotional thing, right? And that rape is bad precisely because of what it does to emotions, right? And that there is NO such thing as “mild” vs. “violent” rape because ALL rape is VIOLENCE, right? And that sex without consent is rape and THAT is how it is legally defined, right? And that judges don’t give “worse” sentence based on whether one was drugged or beaten but that those acts of drugging someone/beating etc are counted as SEPARATE charges in ADDITION to the rape charge, right?
    Yes, being beaten on top of being raped altogether is PHYSICALLY worse because you are dealing with additional injuries and pain but that does not render any one ACT of rape worse than another. You are talking about which METHOD is worse. Eg someone murdering your one kid with CO poisoning & slitting throat of the other. Can you say that one MURDER is worse than another? You can talk about the method but the CONSEQUENCE of the act is what we are talking about. Your example was wrong. You are the one who is being irrational here by discounting what rape survivors have been talking about and adamantly playing the victim card yourself. You should sit with those of us willing to engage in a dialogue instead of insisting that we’re crazy emotional women who don’t see “reason.”

  17. Ok. Human beings are BOTH rational and emotional. We cannot just switch off emotions. There are some arenas where we deliberately try to do so in order to further a rational argument. This arena for example, where discussion of difficult issues is the norm. But I would argue that twitter is not like that. It’s for people to share emotions – perhaps as well as rational arguments, but emotional issues predominate. Don’t be surprised therefore when emotional responses are triggered by attempts at rational arguments.

    • Surprised? Perhaps not. Disappointed? Can’t help it.

      Still, one can hope that we will grow up as a species.

      The rational people – create cars, planes, cellphones, laptops, buildings, etc etc
      The irrational people – art?

      Its not about lacking emotion, its about emotion dominating subjects that should at least involved by logic.

        • Art is not “irrational.”

          Exactly. Is it rational then? Or some weird blend that confuses and results in a lot of shrugs?

          Sure we can ignore the emotional aspects! In the sense that we put them aside and consider other aspects. Break down the topic and analyse it. Otherwise we end up with mindless mob mentality.

          The point is that emotion is so powerful and overwhelming that it completely shuts down discussion. We need to sometimes put it aside and consider other aspects.

          The next time someone gets angry about people leaving milk out of the fridge, encourage them to embrace their emotions and express them however they see fit. Or road rage maybe. Yes, your emotions are real so makes decisions that impact other people because YOU feel strong emotions.

          Note: the discussion is not about rape, its about extreme emotions stopping rational discussion.

  18. Richard, you say, “let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion”.

    Then why do you tweet statements that essentially say people who don’t see things the same way you do should “go away and learn how to think”?

    • A – Jul 30, 2014 at 11:44 am

      Richard, you say,

      “let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion”.”

      Insults do not resolve problems.

      Then why do you tweet statements that essentially say people who don’t see things the same way you do should “go away and learn how to think”?

      That would be because the inability to think, often leads to an irrational contrarian viewpoint when looking at the same evidence, but of course it would not apply just anyone with a different viewpoint – only those who arrived at it by using flawed thinking!

        • Logic clearly has a proper process. As long at that process is used accurately, then different answers are more than welcome! That is, what some crazy people call: science.

          Try to engage in a calm discussion with someone who thinks the moon landings were faked. Its not that they have any reasonable evidence, or that they are clearly wrong, its that they fail to grasp logical arguments.

  19. Dr. Dawkins,

    I hope this reaches you. This marks the 2nd time I’ve found a need to address your comments on victimization. As a fellow survivor of sexual abuse myself, I am loathe to be critical of any survivor. However the open statement published recently on your website calling for people to “manage disagreement ethically” stands in such stark contract to the Twitter tirade you went on shortly thereafter that I feel it necessary to address you directly.

    You clearly feel that any attempt to say that all perpetrators are equally evil, or harmful, or monstrous is a logical error. On this point we agree. I also fully understand that you feel that the impact of the abuse you experienced as a boy was “mild.” I am sincerely glad that you do not sense that the “touching up” you experienced in your youth significantly harmed you. I take at face value your assessment of the incident, as you are the only person who can speak to your perception of what was done to you and how you have processed that. I would respectfully ask the same courtesy of you. When I choose to express the harm that I have experienced, I do not wish to have the severity of the abuse I endured placed on an arbitrary scale. I respectfully request your attention as I lay out my arguments for why I believe such scales have no place in our social commentary, and that they can inflict additional harm to survivors.

    You deemed it necessary to establish a hierarchy of rape based upon what you declare are the varying degrees of severity of rape. Although you claim that you were not making a point of stating which kind of rape is worse, the fact is that you have stumbled into minefield of unintended consequences. To suggest that, since your intentions were pure, the outrage it sparked is invalid is a little like saying, “I didn’t mean to break his leg. His bones are so brittle why should I be punished so unjustly because I stuck my leg out to trip him?” The overwrought emotions that you so passionately decry in others cannot be simply silenced by judicious application of reason. Reason is not a tonic that repairs the harm caused by trauma. We are thinking AND feeling creatures, and have evolved massively complex neural structures that process life on both levels. While it’s certainly appropriate to call into question decisions and policies fueled by an overly strong influence of emotion, or laws that are passed based on more on speculative fears than definitive proof, it is just as flawed to demand reason be the ultimate guide and arbiter for our ethics. By so doing, you are establishing 2 principles that are logically unsupportable and potentially profoundly harmful.

    First – you are mistaking your subjective experience as objective knowledge. This is all too common a trait in survivors of significant abuse and/or trauma, especially when experienced at a young age when our prefrontal cortexes have yet to fully develop. Many of us struggle with seeing the world objectively outside of our own elevated sensitivity to danger, threat, and pain. To cite a personal example, I have long struggled with the self-perceived certainty that I am a flawed, broken, and incapable person. These subjective feelings persist in spite of many years of hard work in therapy, the love and support of many people, and in spite of all objective evidence to the contrary that I am, in fact, a well-adjusted person in spite of the things I have lived through. The abuse I experienced at a young age (I have an Adverse Childhood Experiences score of 5) laid down deep grooves in my psyche. The neurological impact of these traumas profoundly impacts how I perceive both myself and the world. Many survivors face similar struggles. It is possible that you have been impacted in ways by the traumas that you have experienced throughout your life, perhaps to the point where you cannot distinguish between your subjective views and the objective evidence of how your behavior impacts others. As such, on this point you have my empathy as opposed to my criticism. But the important thing to stress here is that you have not been a victim of many of the kinds of rape that you used as examples. Therefore your subjective assessment of what kinds of rape are more harmful does not lend itself to objective declarations that rape X is worse than rape Y based solely on the external evidence of what was done by perpetrator A to victim B.

    Your second mistaken premise, however, is more egregious and damaging than the first error. By stating flatly that there are varying degrees of severity of rape, you are creating a harmful principle. And here, let me be clear so that you do not draw erroneous conclusions about my meaning – I am not suggesting that you are tolerant of or condone any form of rape or abuse. The harmful principle you are espousing is this:

    By establishing that rape form X is more severe than rape form Y, you are creating out of whole cloth a measurement of harm based not on the experiences of the victim, but rather on the actions of the perpetrator.

    Doing so is harmful because it inevitably creates an environment where victims are permitted to declare only as much harm as the severity of the rape they suffered will allow. If you think this is an unlikely outcome, I would direct your attention to the recent “Lucky Bastard Syndome” skit on Bill Maher’s program. In addition, it places the focus of our assessment of the level of harm done on the actions of the person who harms, rather than on actual harm endured by the victim. Doing do creates a perpetrator centric system of assessment, rather than a victim-focused one. This discourages compassion for victims and encourages a needless level of skepticism and withholding of support from victims until it can be determined just how much help the specific abuse they endured merits. While this may be necessary for assigning blame and establishing proper punishment/restitution in a court of law, I believe it is an ethically abhorrent standard to establish in all other areas of our social interactions. Compassion and support for those who have been hurt should not be a commoditized and rationed resource.

    Why is it important to establish victim-focused inquiries into how harmful their experiences of abuse and trauma are? The emotional harm born of trauma and abuse does not admit of perfect alignment between action and reaction. Trauma does not give rise to a response that can currently be measured objectively. Therefore our only valid source of information on the emotional harm a person suffers is the subjective reporting of the victim him or herself. Survivors of rape may feel more or less pain based on a wide range of influencing factors including, but not limited to: the historical weight of previous traumas, the overall physical health of an individual at the time of the attack, the inherent resiliency of the victim’s body and mind, and the neurological functioning of a victim’s amygdala and higher level cognitive controls over startle response.

    Again, to be clear, I am not suggesting that the criminal justice response be based upon the subjective level of harm that a person experiences. Doing so would punish people inequitably, and also force persons to serve out punishments for harms that they did not cause nor could they reasonably foresee. Neither am I in any way suggesting that you approve or condone any form of sexual violence. What I am saying is that establishing a hierarchy of harm is the job of jurists, judges, and legislators, for use exclusively within the framework of criminal and civil law. Outside of those legal frameworks, an entire world of social support systems and responses exist. Applying legal standards outside of that realm sharply limits the compassion and support given to survivors overall, thereby creating strong disincentives for survivors to come forward and openly disclose the crimes and abuses they have endured.

    Being told that some rape is more severe than others reinforces the harmful perception many survivors carry that the pain they endured is not worthy of being spoken, or perhaps even that what they endured could not possibly have been rape (or not that bad of a rape) because they were inebriated, or perhaps they were only bound but not gagged as well, or perhaps because they were a boy and the perpetrator was an older woman who took advantage of a vulnerable child to serve her needs, and as society tells so many boys – any sex with a woman is to be applauded.

    In making the kinds of sweeping statements that you did most recently on Twitter, and in the past in response to valid critiques of your position on “mild” paedophilia, you have displayed a haughty arrogance that will permit no dialogue, no respect for the opinions or lived experiences of others, and most distressingly absolutely no compassion for those whose suffering is of a degree that you would deem unwarranted based on the degree of harm to which you feel they might legitimately lay claim. Even if that is not how you yourself actually feel, this is the unavoidable implication of your words and your actions, and it is precisely how many survivors perceive your position. Your attacks on critics whom you think are distorting logic are needlessly vicious, and fly in the face of the tolerance that you make a point of calling out for in the statement you just issued on your website. You cannot expect to ask for fair treatment from others when you yourself are unwilling to extend that same courtesy. Even if you didn’t intend to break someone’s leg, when you stick your foot out and trip someone you own the moral responsibility for both the intended and unintended consequences.

    I do not feel that telling someone they are wrong is ever a profitable exercise. And, again, I am loathe to criticize a survivor for any reason. But in this case I feel I must speak up. A scientist who demands he be seen as infallible or who refuses to acknowledge that he may be in fact, mistaken about something is no longer a scientist. He is a zealot. I fully recognize that I am placing you on the defensive and your past behavior indicates that you are not likely to receive criticism calmly. I harbor no illusion that you are likely to change your behavior or recant your statements. Rather, I would hope that you might read this and consider engaging in a dialogue on the nature of trauma with those who understand this subject with a level of objective expertise that surpasses yours and mine combined. Also, it is my great hope that people, and especially other survivors, might see these words and recognize that yours is not the only perspective that matters in this dialogue. The lived experience of every survivor of abuse and trauma is unique, and equally deserving of the full measure of our compassion. I also hope that others who have had to walk paths similar to those you and I have journeyed might see this letter, and that it might help them know that they are not alone, and that healing is possible.

    Christopher M. Anderson
    Executive Director, MaleSurvivor

    • Well, you certainly have 1) a big fat chip on your shoulder and 2) way too much time on your hands.

      All of this for a twitter post? Really? REALLY? Sheesh.

      “I do not wish to have the severity of the abuse I endured placed on an arbitrary scale”

      I didn’t realise you were mentioned by name. People seem to miss the point that averages do not apply to individuals. It is purely logical – common sense – that there are scales of abuse. Oh wait….

      “I have an Adverse Childhood Experiences score of 5″

      Isn’t that an arbitrary scale? You had yourself tested! So, what you mean is that the general public cannot discuss this topic? Only people with a justifiable need to engage in this topic? You are actively arguing for the removal of freedom of speech in your sacred area.

      Just because you find something upsetting or offensive, doesn’t automatically mean other people cannot do it. Your offence is actually irrelevant. For example, upsetting Muslims would entail curbing a great deal of our rights, if not brining in shariah law. Do you want that? Is the fact that people are distraught about something mean we cannot discuss it?

      No bones are being broken here. These are words. Discussion for the sake of healthy conversation about topics that are very important.

      “possible that you have been impacted in ways by the traumas that you have experienced throughout your life, perhaps to the point where you cannot distinguish between your subjective views and the objective evidence of how your behaviour impacts others”

      Wow. Just WOW. You can seriously say this? I hope you do not do any counselling yourself as this is just terrible and very condescending.

      I have been kidnapped, threatened, extorted and blackmailed. And others. Everyone has something. Some are worse than others. I don’t care what anyone says about the “types” of things that have happened to me. Go for it. They aren’t talking about me or my experiences.

      • Dear Albert,

        Well that is certainly an exhaustive and complete critique of my letter, and posted only 35 minutes after my letter. I am impressed by your ability to dispassionately and reasonably review all of my arguments and come to these reasoned conclusions about my thesis. I also greatly admire your ability to refrain from what were the unjustly severe ad hominem attacks I presume you had built up against me against me and settled for only casting mild aspersions upon my character and intentions.

        There are few assertions in your comment that are credible or answerable, but I will attempt to reply to the ones I can.

        Blockquote People seem to miss the point that averages do not apply to individuals.

        But averages in these examples necessarily include them, and the use of these arguments can and does have an impact on some of them. That does not make them weak, overly sensitive, or inappropriate. That makes them human.

        Blockquote It is purely logical – common sense – that there are scales of abuse.
        Logic and common sense are not one and the same thing. Surely you appreciate that point if you are posting here.

        Blockquote For example, upsetting Muslims would entail curbing a great deal of our rights, if not brining in shariah law. Do you want that? Is the fact that people are distraught about something mean we cannot discuss it?

        Ok. Here you are just running to an unjustified conclusion that is so far from my premise that I can’t even decide how to properly respond. In short, nothing that I have written requires a curbing of free speech. What I am calling for is more thoughtfulness and awareness of the impact of our speech.

        Regarding the ACES study, it is arbitrary to the extent that only 10 forms of childhood abuse and trauma are included. Aside from that, it is an objective measurement of the number of different types of abuse and trauma one experiences. It is also finds very strong correlations between the experience of ACES and significant health impacts later in life. A 2009 paper showed that within the 17,000+ persons first screened in the ACES study, those with a score of 6 or higher died, on average, 20 years earlier than those who had a score of zero (i.e. no experiences of adverse childhood trauma/abuse). These results are correlative, not causal, but I think many people agree that this is not arbitrary measurement. Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of premature mortality.

        Lastly, I am sorry to hear of the traumas that you have endured. And it is precisely because everyone has something that I felt it is so important to issue this open letter to Dr. Dawkins, and now to respond to your criticism. You may not care what other people say about what happened to you, however you are not the ultimate arbiter of what is and is not acceptable. Nor, for that matter am I, obviously. However I do believe that the standards and principles I am arguing for lead to healthier outcomes for individual and societies.

        • Sorry, but I think you have missed the point completely.

          “Arbitrary scale”? Who is suggesting that? That is the very, very opposite of what RD (and those agreeing with him) are actually saying.

          Rape is an individual experience, experienced solely by the victim. It is the right of precisely no one else to determine what their reaction & emotions afterwards should be. No one. Not even victims of similar crimes.

          So not only is there not an “arbitrary scale”, but there can never be such a thing. To even suggest it implies that victims do not own their own experiences – and they do. And must.

          I was raped, by a boyfriend. Someone that I had willingly had sex with many times previously. His rape of me occurred when he was drunk, I was tired and he didn’t listen to “no”. His behaviour was reprehensible, but I suffered no ill effects, neither physically or emotionally. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that, had I been dragged into a dark park by a stranger, viciously raped and left bruised and bleeding that would have been significantly worse.

          I have the right to feel this way, because it was my experience. RD has the right to say that being groped by a master was, for him, “yucky” rather than traumatic. He’s saying nothing about other people’s experiences or their emotional reactions, he’s talking about himself and acknowledging that being penetrated by a penis would have been a far worse experience.

          Is he not allowed to say this because it isn’t exactly the same response you’ve had to YOUR experience?

          You seem to be the one wanting a “scale”. Are you not saying “Rape & child sex abuse are dreadful, but if your personal experience – whatever it was – didn’t have the same impact on you as mine did on me, please don’t talk about it because you really ought to have felt what I did, regardless”.

          I can see that, for many, many women being raped by their partner would be a horrifying event, for a whole host of reasons. My personal experience says nothing about theirs, and theirs nothing about mine. And it never can. Similarly, RD’s says nothing about yours, and yours nothing about his. To imply otherwise would, indeed, be introducing a “scale” aka “Feel this way if x happens to you or shut up”.

          But all of this is academic. RD said not the slightest thing about which form of rape is worse than another. He used a hypothetical statement to illustrate a logic point. That’s it.

          • He used a hypothetical statement to illustrate a logic point. That’s it.
            Donna,

            Thank you for your comment. I think we can all agree that actions have consequences. Human actions lead consequences that can be either physical in nature (I push you and you fall down) or emotional (I push you and you get angry).

            Dr. Dawkins cannot escape the moral responsibility he bears for the ways in which his words are interpreted and, especially, for the harm his tirades have on others. I know that many will say that a person should not responsible for the misunderstandings (or as some would say in this community “idiocy”) of other people. But that’s not an acceptable response. If you don’t intend to harm, or cause damage, and yet harm or damage is done as a result of your actions, a certain degree of responsibility for that harm or damage falls upon you.

            Dr. Dawkins is free to say whatever he wants. But if his words are hurtful to others, they have the right to bring that to his attention. Should he disagree that he has a moral duty to take into consideration other people’s reactions and responses, that’s his choice. But you cannot presume to free him from all culpability simply by saying, that’s not what he meant.

            His intent is not what this hinges on, it is the impact of his actions. And I have laid out in great detail the deleterious impact his actions had on many survivors. You are, but your admission, not a part of this subset of the survivor community. That does not invalidate my arguments or my ultimate point that Dr. Dawkin’s actions were inappropriate, caused distress and harm.

            It is disingenuous to ask if there are emotional “no go” places. The issue isn’t that there are topics that cannot be discussed. The issue is that if issues such as rape are going to be discussed in public fora, it is necessary for us to be mindful of how these topics can trigger distress and harm in order to not made the problem itself worse.

      • Albert, the ACE Score is an accepted standard. It is not an arbitrary scale and you can assume that someone able to rationally discuss their ACE score has been tested. Your response was unnecessarily asinine and dismissive. I suggest spending a few minutes researching it with Google.

        ::hugs:: to Christopher

        It would be interesting to collect data on the people who responded negatively to Dr Dawkins posts. I wonder if we all have high ACE scores. I’m a six. To say it made my head explode feels like a very mild exaggeration.

        • Sally, agreed that the ACE is not an arbitrary standard. Nor was Richard asserting an arbitrary standard.
          > "unnecessarily asinine and dismissive" Unnecessary? christopher.m.anderson.10 was stretching a tweet into a ridiculous tirade because he has an ax to grind. [Removed by moderator to bring within Terms of Use]. Hence my being dismissive. AGAIN on the point of logic. I am not being dismissive of anyone's terrible experiences. I find it a travesty the experiences that people go through during and after these events. Even thinking about it on an individual level makes me angry. Currently I live in a third world country and watching the daily suffering for many people is similarly heart breaking. Watching young children climbing through rubbish to sort it out into different types.

          • If I may, Albert, if you intent is not to be dismissive or insulting, then I would suggest that you refrain from making ad hominem attacks in your inquiries as to my meaning. The impact of doing so is that it dismisses me as a person worthy of respect in the whole and therefore is, by extension, also dismissive of all the parts of my lived experiences (terrible or otherwise).

          • In reply to christopher.m.Anderson.10 reply below (the system seems to avoid conversations getting too deep!
            What I do and say as a person is a reflection of me. People are allowed to draw conclusions about the person. We may hide these by directing them as what is written, but we all know who it is directed to. See Sally’s comments as a fine example.
            You really take things too personal. Clearly I don’t know you, but think your comments are well worded but logically lacking. If you, again, want to draw such as long bow, then by all means.

        • HI Christopher,
          I’d just like to second Sally in saying that your first post was very interesting and seemed pointed but balanced to me. There’s no point in writing if you don’t ‘say something.

          So I was a bit gobsmacked at some of the criticism it drew but I think it was knee-jerk reactions and it seemed to me that people had not grasped what you were saying.

          It is interesting how the scientific mind can struggle to deal with issues couched mostly in the emotional aspects of who we are and this whole topic highlights that well. I really think the whole notion of moral science is a nonsense if not a paradox. Absolutely surprising is that anyone would want to deal with Twitter for anything in this department. It’s all a bit like trying to play a symphony on a broken rubber band. Sometimes ‘science’ is more about selling itself than anything informative…

          • John,

            Thanks much for your supportive comments. It is greatly appreciated. I think scientists are trained to eliminate as much as possible their humanness from their work, for obvious reasons. Sadly, it’s often the case that some people forget that try as we might, we are still humans before, during, and after any of our scientific inquiries.

  20. Richard, how many points did you score for covering cannibalism, trapped miners, transplant donors, abortion, circumcision, FGM, eugenics, torture, Israel/Palestine, the Holocaust, paedophilia AND rape in a single blog post?

  21. Richard – nice response. Articulate and thoughtful.

    On occasion I briefly entertain the idea of getting actively involved in online “communities”. It usually only takes one or two chats to see me straight.

    Even on LinkedIn where profiles are very public and reputations on the line, I cannot believe at time the knee-jerk comments through to acid spewing vitriol. When we get to a place like this where registering takes seconds and people are only named things such as “Aleister” and “Chris”.

    Engaging in meaningful conversation is really just a wishful, well meaning delusion.

    Even the commenter’s here that have read the entire response resort to “you shouldn’t have used twitter” and the old chestnut of you being arrogant. You might be arrogant. I would be if I had your accomplishments (versus say a useless middle manager of some dead end department who has contributed to the world only through their bodily excretions and forum comments).

    Just like people have trouble accepting a rational discussion around rape, they cannot, ever consider the notion that their opinion or even life is worth less than another persons.

    I am going to watch Hitchens Youtube three part video on freedom of speech. It reminds people that shutting down other peoples free speech through the court of public is in fact making yourself a prisoner.

  22. Thanks for writing this, Richard. The logical point is, of course, correct. It would work even with ludicrous examples.

    E.g., If someone says: “Eating ice cream is worse than eating beans” they are not logically committed to the proposition “Eating beans is okay.”

    For all we know, they may have a strange belief that eating beans is reprehensible (perhaps because beans contain the souls of dead ancestors) but eating ice cream is even worse (maybe it contains the souls of especially virtuous or important dead ancestors). That would be ridiculous but logically consistent.

    “X is worse than Y” simply never logically entails “Y is okay”

    People who were, in effect, accusing you of saying that some less severe or aggravated kinds of sexual abuse of children were okay were being illogical – some (or many) may also have been deliberately and opportunistically unfair to you.

    It still bothers me that there are people who genuinely don’t seem to be able to understand this simple logical point.

    I’ve had a bit to say on Twitter and elsewhere in your defence, although to be honest I still tend to think that it was unwise to use the example of rape to illustrate the point in this case: it added an extra layer of distraction and controversy, and gave opportunists a new excuse to attack you. I would have preferred, perhaps, armed robbery and shoplifting, since you were only illustrating a logical point. “Armed robbery is worse than shoplifting” does not entail “shoplifting is okay”. On the other hand, this might also have been twisted to be used against you, so I’m not sure of this (I can see the headline: “Dawkins compares ‘mild pedophilia’ to shoplifting!”)

    I completely agree with what you say about the need to discuss painful issues openly and honestly. I would also have thought it obvious that any category of crime includes a range of acts of varying levels of severity. That is why statutory jail terms are maximum terms that can be handed down, why judges are supposed to weigh many factors (some perhaps aggravating, some perhaps mitigating) in sentencing, why many us of worry about mandatory sentencing laws that reduce judges’ discretion, etc. It’s very worrying when some topics become so driven by emotion and ideological purity that we can’t even talk about different levels of severity of, say, child abuse, without fear of being misrepresented and having our good characters trashed. Often, the intention seems to be to punish and deter the expression of all but a particular view. As you say, people can be intimidated into silence if they have something to say that is more complex than a particular party line that is being enforced.

    I sometimes think there is a war on nuance in the mainstream and social media. If you make nuanced comments, such as talking carefully about the different levels of severity of certain kinds of child abuse, how some kinds of emotional abuse may, in some circumstances, be more damaging than some kinds of physical abuse, and so on, you are likely to be misrepresented as saying something very crude. You can find yourself held up for public vilification and shaming for absurd and outrageous views that you never expressed and don’t hold.

    That is an effective way to stifle debate over important issues, to frighten off the very people who might have something fresh and usefully complex to say, and to impede well-informed policy deliberation.

    As always, we should look for thoughtful views that run counter to our own, welcome them, interpret them charitably, look for what genuine arguments and evidence strengths they might have in their favour (and certainly not look for ways to shame or attack the people who express him, and so destroy their credibility and deter others from speaking), and be open either to changing our own views or at least developing them so they take into account the strengths of what opponents are saying. Unfortunately, that seems to be a hard message to get across.

    • Very well written, friend. I especially like the “war on nuance.” I completely agree with this and see it every day and it’s infuriating; however, I’ll have to disagree with you on the point that “it was unwise to use the example of rape to illustrate the point.” I think quite the opposite is true, in fact. By using this ultra-emotional imagery, he not only can illustrate the point that” X is worse than Y” simply never logically entails “Y is okay” but also can demonstrate the fact that many people are incapable of even having a logical, rational discussion about anything that they find to be “taboo.” The ol’ double-whammy. He can defend his logic and also prove the point he was trying to make in the first place: EVERYTHING should be up for debate / discussion / philosophy. There simply cannot be any exceptions and to attempt to make things off-limits is damaging in ways that most of us don’t even understand.
      NONE of the topics covered were suggestive of supporting or condoning any sort of activity, nor were they attempting to trivialize or make light of them. By using extreme examples, it is possible to set up a grand spectrum of philosophical, legal, emotional, and realistic outcomes by establishing a hierarchy of experience.

      People act strangely when it comes to suggesting the ideas of experiences they are familiar with and using imagery when hypothesizing logical examples. I mean, Sam Harris uses the term “The worst possible suffering for everyone” as a jumping off point to discuss the idea of a (theoretically) scientifically calculable spectrum of morality. I don’t see nearly the hype over that line, yet we can all agree that “The worst possible suffering for everyone” would be infinitely worse that brutally anally raping and dismembering a group of 10 toddlers. Since I used colorful and specific imagery…people can’t get past the 2nd one and decide that I am bad, or that the point is invalid…yet I could describe literally ANY human atrocity in gory and specific detail and it could not logically be worse than “the worst possible suffering for everyone.”

      So you see, the devil truly IS in the details. Like you said, it is a war of nuance instead of an open debate. THAT is the point (I think?). It’s mine anyway dammit. LOL.

      • @Matt
        I had to read through all preceding comments before coming to the one that most fits my opinion on the subject. I like your reference to ‘imagery’ because it’s the very language used and feelings evoked that make this such a hot topic.

        Perhaps the series of tweets was based on the ‘elevatorgate’ affair discussed at length in the previous thread? A way of putting things into perspective without mentioning the ‘war’ as it were.

        The theme of the tweets could have been a calculated attempt to be deliberately provocative, rape and paedophilia drawing forth the most intense reactions, or could have been a simple error of judgement. Who knows the motivations of the ‘tweeter’?

        The extended article makes for better reading in my opinion. I’m glad Richard posed more dilemmas for us to ponder because it takes us into the world of ideas and hypotheticals. Were I sitting in the class being asked to assess various unpalatable scenarios I would probably find myself in the taboo camp initially. With a little prompting I have no doubt that I’d venture into less agreeable areas and give thought to a wider range of possibilities.

        • I seriously doubt this had anything to do with Elevatorgate. It was three years ago, and who would want all that negative attention again?

          Again. Again. AGAIN. I think this was an error of judgment on Richard’s part, nothing more, and people are reading too deeply into his motives. But if you follow him on Twitter, these comparison Tweets didn’t come out of nowhere. Every time he dares say FGM is worse than male circumcision, for example, all hell breaks loose. Same with anything else he criticizes, even if he doesn’t compare it to something else. It’s just unfortunate that this time when he made his point, he used a really bad example that reflected a serious lapse in judgment.

    • Russell

      If you want to discuss eating ice cream vs eating beans, you will not be considered to be applying logic and reason to your discussion if it can be assumed or in some way shown that you’ve never actually tasted ice cream or beans.

      If you don’t have any actual experience of ice cream and beans, then your conversation is a theology based on faith of how you think ice cream might taste and that’s not usually Dr. Dawkins arena.

      • Susan

        Asking for “data” to support a hypothetical statement is a bit pointless, isn’t it? Presumably you know what hypothetical means? Either not true or not necessarily true. There is no data that exits to support a statement that is either not true or not necessarily true. If there was, surely it would move into hypothesis territory?

        When or if Professor Dawkins chooses to categorically claim that one form of rape is worse than any other, then that is the time to start demanding data. He hasn’t done any such thing so far, so your request is premature.

      • Susan, if you’ve never eaten ice cream and/or beans, then by your own logic you would be in no position to assert that eating either of them was to any degree reprehensible, let alone one being more reprehensible than the other. That hardly translates well into a discussion about rape, does it?

        Which is of course was not what Dawkins’ was doing.

    • It seems to me that one of the problems with your position, as highlighted by this ‘… talking carefully about the different levels of severity of certain kinds of child abuse … ‘ is the assumption that such levels – if indeed they exist – can be known. That is not to say that all ill treatment or suffering (child abuse in your example) is the same – just to deny that there are levels or even a continuum. To have levels you must have a scale. What is that scale? Terrible to OK? Depraved to just a little weird? The list is endless because there is no scale.
      Life in general is too complex to measure the way science measures simple parameters such as temperature or pressure. This is central to the whole debate of this thread. We can mention our personal judgement about how awful any human act is and compare it with a different act but to pretend there is some objective way of comparing these things is a bit silly to say the least.

  23. Reading the original article after the tweets and then these comments has gone some way to restoring my faith that there are still a few people around that can think. Much of what happens on the internet and in discussion groups, even technical forums, is either unedifying or ill informed and unconsidered. Neither of those descriptors is intended to imply either are acceptable, nor that they have any particular rank.

  24. I really do care passionately about reason and logic. I think dispassionate logic and reason…
    Is caring’passionately’ not emotional and therefore irrational?
    Also, I’m not sure what this says about me but when I read about the four casualties, I rejected using a perfectly healthy person but I have few qualms about picking the least likely survivor to provide organs for the other three.

  25. ‘“Being raped by a stranger is bad. Being raped by a formerly trusted
    friend is worse.” If you think that hypothetical quotation is an
    endorsement of rape by strangers, go away and learn how to think.’

    That was one way I put the hypothetical.

    I don’t fault your logic, and I don’t think subjects like rape and paedophilia should be verboten. The problem I had was with your premise. Is there some way I should have inferred that your premise is hypothetical and not in fact a categorical statement that one type of rape is worse than other type? Because it was not obvious to me at all that you weren’t saying stranger rape at knife point is worse than date rape (which was the first tweet I read).

    • The word hypothetical didn’t ring any bells? It was also referring to the endorsement part being the topic for debate.
      I admit it wasn’t blatantly clear and could be considered murky because it lacked any big red flags.

      Another reason I don’t bother with twitter.

      • It says hypothetical right here. His actual tweets were as follows:

        X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away
        and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

        then:

        Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think
        that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to
        think.

        then:

        Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think
        that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.

        In none of those did he use the word ‘hypothetical’.

        He then went on to say

        If you prefer to think date rape is worse than knifepoint, simply
        reverse my syllogism. To say Y is worse than X is not an endorsement
        of Y.

        That one got more or less overlooked in the rush to tell him he had no authority to speak on what ‘types of rape’ are worse than what other ‘types’.

        If he had put the “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse” in quotes., or said “If I said that stranger rape was worse than date rape, it doesn’t mean I endorse date rape”, I think the reaction would have been a lot milder and it would have been a lot more obvious that he was making a point about logic instead of categorically saying one type of rape is worse than other type.

        It seems like he’s deliberately jerking people around to get clicks. I wish he would stop doing that.

  26. Seeing as you touch upon this slightly: I also wish we could discuss whether or not rape of a woman who dresses conservatively is worse than of a woman who dresses promiscuously. Once you try to have this discussion you’re assumed to be – or accused of being – in the “I bet she was really begging for it Hur Hur Hur”-brigade.

    I’m not stating that there’s any difference, just that it’s another complicated discussion. And even if there may be a difference, I’m definitely not saying this lays any of the blame on a promiscuously dressed victim. Women should be able to dress in “sexy” clothes and still expect men to behave.
    But it is a hypothetical that I’ve pondered every time some “conservative” person “innocently” points out the fact that some rape victim is known to have worn lots of makeup and a short skirt or something. ‘Is the rapist crossing a bigger boundary when the victim is conservatively dressed?

    • An interesting point alright, especially in light of taboo subjects and differentiation. The moral outrage of those who vilify complex discussion in an era when “I bet she was really begging for it Hur Hur Hur” seems to be used too often by the “noble” law profession to brand victims in court.

        • No problem. Allow me to also point out that the question you think you asked is probably not the one you’ve actually asked. Is rape worse when the victim is dressed revealingly or modestly? No, from the perspective of the victim, it doesn’t matter. And asking such a question is extremely offensive, and nonsensical, so it really should not be asked at all.

          Reading charitably, I infer that you are wondering whether revealing clothes can increase one’s risk of being raped. The answer is no. Or, if it does, the increased risk is quite miniscule. The things that seem to attract rapists are mostly things out of control of an individual. For instance: women of color are more likely to be raped than white women. Physically and mentally disabled people are more likely to be raped than able-bodied people. In the US (and probably elsewhere, but I haven’t looked at those figures), the majority of rape victims are under 18.

          If you want to make a difference, ask yourself why rapists target those groups, and stop worrying about what rape victims were wearing at the time of their attack.

          • Is there a question that one can not ask? – I think this was pointed out in Richards article above – as a hypothetical logical premise – the answer is ‘absolutely not’, and seems to be Richard’s stand point and is mine. Whether it is or is not insensitive/hurtful etc., to discuss/debate it in front of or to a victim is a separate issue. Probably best answered by the individual victim. As to whether Twitter is ‘in front of or to a victim’ is yet another question – and one to which I have no answer. As with the vast majority here and elsewhere I think – rape is not acceptable in any form – but that doesn’t and shouldn’t prevent debate, nonsensical to the individual or not. ‘Offensive’ comes back, I think, to the Twitter argument I’ve referred to.

          • Agreed, it seems to be a ‘power’ thing, doesn’t it – and praying upon the potentially most vulnerable in the community – rape is truly a foul thing.

          • As to whether Twitter is ‘in front of or to a victim’ is yet another question – and one to which I have no answer.

            Really? I’m baffled as to why you don’t have an answer. There are millions of people using Twitter. Rape victims make up, for sure, at least 10% of the global population.
            It would be against that thing that Dawkins is always talking about… what is it again? Oh yes, logic. It would defy logic not to assume that there are rape victims reading what you write on Twitter. All the more so if you have a large following like Dawkins does.

          • Agreed, it seems to be a ‘power’ thing, doesn’t it – and praying upon the potentially most vulnerable in the community – rape is truly a foul thing.

            All the available evidence seems to indicate that rapists are more interested in assaulting people with little power to fight back and/or bring them to justice, much more than they are interested in assaulting people thought of as being stereotypically “sexy.”

    • You could argue that it is, if you consider ‘subjective-severity’ to be the measure.
      First, an analogy outside of the case in question, to remove any clouded judgement. Let us assume the following hypothetical facts:

      All Bees are attracted to bee pheromone.
      All Bees can sting.
      Some Bees behave abnormally aggressively in the presence of said
      pheromone.
      Some Bees sting when they are aggressive.

      Therefore, we can conclude:

      If a rational and informed human goes out wearing Bee pheromone,
      they have accepted they have a higher risk of being stung by bees,
      and therefore, they attribute a lower cost (subjective-severity) to being stung.
      If the same person does the same thing whilst in an area more likely
      to be frequented by bees, or particularly by the abnormally behaving
      bees, and does so whilst drunk, they attribute an even lower cost to
      being stung.
      Neither our desire nor actions towards removing abnormal bees from society does anything to change these two points. Nor do these points infringe upon the right of people to wear Bee pheromone without being stung.

      There is nothing particularly contentious here, and it is not hard to decipher this analogy. (Clearly, Richard’s above argument applies: it is obvious when your emotion is not clouded by the issue at hand that it can be broken into smaller logical points that apply directly to the taboo subject, and that doing so does not insinuate any moral position on the issue at hand).

      So to answer the question. If we assume that the abnormally behaving bees target certain areas because they know that they are more likely to come across a pheromone-wearing human (who attributes less cost to the event of being stung), we can perhaps now distinguish between the ‘severity’ of the stinging. Is it worse to sting someone that has attributed more cost to being stung, than someone that has attributed less (in terms of subjective severity)?

      Is it worse to take money from a non-participating, but cash-flashing gambler at a casino, or from a discreet, non-gambler at a bus-stop?

    • Ah, I see I misread you. Too charitably, as it turns out.

      ‘Is the rapist crossing a bigger boundary when the victim is conservatively dressed?

      No. The boundary is the same. The boundary is the personhood and dignity of the person who was raped. Unless you think that women who dress revealingly mind being raped less than women who dress modestly, I can see no reason to even wonder about this.

    • “Women should be able to dress in “sexy” clothes and still expect men to behave.”

      In a perfect world, yes. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth…
      I would never advocate prohibiting women from dressing however they want but the fact is that we – men and women – have hormones and these hormones interfere with our behaviour and stuff happens.
      Now let me state again before I am hated by all and sundry – I am not advocating any sort of control on women’s dress, or advocating ANYTHING for that matter. I’m just pointing out on a web page associated with a well known evolutionist that, as animals, we have an impulse to mate.
      Don’t shoot the messenger!

  27. It should be pointed out that Sam Harris has reached a new low with his recent screed “Why don’t I criticize Israel?”. Lower even than his previous low which was a rapturous ode to (his) gun ownership. It’s unfortunate that Professor Dawkins lends it his imprimatur of respectability by quoting from it.

    In it Mr. Harris’ rationalization of the massive slaughter and maiming of innocent civilians (meanwhile over 1000 children) in Gaza boils down to this: “There is every reason to believe that the Palestinians would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could.” Because it says so in the Hamas charter and the Koran. Yes it does indeed say that there. However those words were not authored by those children.

    His phantasmagorical and apparent complete ignorance of or indifference to the history of the conflict infects so many of the “religion poisons everything” brigade where the ideological habit runs rampant of attributing everything to religion while trivializing the socio/economic/political/cultural/historical aspects of reality.

    • nomorewoo It is ironic that you have chosen to post this in a thread debating “saying x is worse than y is not endorsement of y” . Sam Harris’ piece by no means endorses Israel’s actions.
      (see http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/why-dont-i-criticize-israel)
      He says, for example:
      “But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza—especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel—and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them.”

      IN a piece full of agonised reservations and caveats, he concludes that, while both contenders are in a moral swamp, Israel is on somewhat higher ground because it is showing at least some concern for the fate of Gazan civilians, which Hamas is not.

      I hold no brief for Israel, yielding to no one in my execration of their settlement policy, but I think your attack on Harris is unfair, muddled, and exactly the kind of logical error lamented by Professor Dawkins in the OP.

      • Christopher, I’m going to refrain from hijacking the several pages of this thread that if would take to catalogue the goal post moving, special pleading, hedging and category errors that Harris’ displays in his piece and limit myself to what you quote from him on this page.

        Let me start with your very own straw-man: “Harris’ piece by no means endorses Israel’s actions”
        en·dorse : to publicly or officially say that you support or approve of (someone or something)

        Which I never said.
        Contrast and compare with what i did say:

        “…Mr. Harris’ rationalization of the massive slaughter and maiming of innocent civilians…”
        ra·tio·nal·ize : to think about or describe something (such as bad behavior) in a way that explains it and makes it seem proper, more attractive, etc.

        Now to Mr. Harris: “Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, (riddling infants and toddlers with shrapnel), it seems impossible to support them.”

        Christopher, does it also “seem” to you impossible or IS it impossible? If it only “seems” monstrous, as it does to Mr. Harris, to riddle infants and toddlers with shrapnel, well goodness gracious, there must then be some circumstances under which it juuuuust might not be monstrous. Do you find this defensible? See, I just naively find it monstrous full stop.

        And now to the pièce de résistance of Mr. Harris’ reasoning: “Israel is on somewhat higher ground because it is showing at least some concern for the fate of Gazan civilians, which Hamas is not.” Since we are of an evidence driven proclivity here at RDFRS let’s quantify that “concern” shall we: Internally displaced persons in Gaza at almost 220,000. 1,340 killed overall, with more than 7,000 wounded.

        Who killed, wounded and displaced those people Christopher, Hamas or the “concerned” ones?

          • OK – so I looked at it as urged and thought it was just a pompous, evasive, self eulogising refusal to be honest. For example the phrase ‘it seems impossible to support them’ is as far as he can go about Israel. Why not admit that they are in there with military might far in excess of anything Hamas has and are murdering wholesale – three quarters of the victims being civilians. He effectively equates Hamas with the Muslim world and that Muslim world with a few extremist nutcases. I’m sure Gaza has less support for Hamas than the 80% that the Israeli public has for what is being done to the Palestinians.
            He’s all Western media textbook distortion even to the pretence that Israel is losing the propaganda battle. I doubt he really knows why he thinks what he thinks – that’s the most I can do to excuse him. Sorry, I couldn’t stomach enough of his claptrap to reach the end.

  28. This response makes some good points and there has been a massive overeaction on twitter and some blogs however I think there are valid reasons for people taking offence at some of Richard’s comments.
    The first being the concept of different levels of rape. Rape is rape, if there is violence it is rape plus violence. If there is drugging it is rape plus drugging. If there is betrayal by a friend it is rape plus betrayal by a friend. The severity of the rape part is the same (although the physical and emotional damage will vary with each case).
    The problem with Richard’s “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knife point is worse…” example is not the logic but the rhetorical implications. This is probably only an issue because this is exactly how some people try to trivialise rape. Although it is obvious this was not Richards intent it is still an unhelpful example to use.

  29. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

    You promise you are not exaggerating? Impressive, to break a promise within the same sentence as you made it.

      • And, despite his endorsement of ethical disagreement, it reeks of hypocrisy. Accusing one’s interlocutors of being torturers and murderers of Jews, heretics, and witches–which is what he’s doing if it’s true that he’s not exaggerating–hardly strikes me as an ethical means of disagreeing with someone.

      • You wish it were an exaggeration. Which means you don’t think it’s an exaggeration. Which means one of two things:

        You think that feminists, social justice activists, and advocates for victims of sexual violence are literally going to track down, kidnap, torture, and murder people by the thousands for committing “latter day blasphemy”
        You think that other people are afraid that the above is literally true.

        In either case, it seems more like a problem with reality perception on the part of those allegedly living in fear of such atrocities than it does a problem on the part of those advocating for social justice, women’s rights, and the rights of victims of sexual violence.

        In either case, the disconnect from reality leads inexorably to the sort of hyperbolic, angry-making, emotional accusations that you and Dawkins claim to detest so much.

        • You think that feminists, social justice activists, and advocates for
          victims of sexual violence are literally going to track down, kidnap,
          torture, and murder people by the thousands for committing “latter day
          blasphemy”

          Don’t be ridiculous. I know that you have disagreements with his position, but do you seriously think that he is accusing his detractors of that? I think that Richard has something like this definition of witchhunt in mind:

          witch-hunt – searching out and harassing dissenters

          That has happened. People like Michael Shermer and Richard himself have been called “sexually predatory” by none other than his co-signer of the “let’s all get along” document. If that doesn’t qualify as harassment for dissenting views, I don’t know what does.

          • Well, since calling someone sexually predatory falls fall short of actually kidnapping, torturing, and murdering them, we're still left with the inevitable conclusion that characterizing those people who aim such accusations at either Shermer or Dawkins as "witch hunters" is an exaggeration, without question. I mean, I'm sure it's very disturbing to be accused of such, but really. There are actually people in the world today being hunted down, exiled from their communities, beaten, and even killed because people think they are witches. If you want to hyperbolically compare people making accusations (you know–using their words–everything's up for debate, right?), however extreme, to literal witch hunting, then go ahead. But don't insult my intelligence by flatly claiming that it's not an exaggeration to do so.

            [Last para removed by moderator]

          • Well, since calling someone sexually predatory falls fall short of
            actually kidnapping, torturing, and murdering them

            Do you understand that a witchhunt does not have to literally involve kidnapping and torturing? Do you have ready access to a dictionary?

            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/witchhunt

            Witchhunt
            1. a searching out for persecution of persons accused of witchcraft

            2. the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (as political opponents) with unpopular views

            Used in a sentence:

            He was the victim of a congressional witch hunt against Communists.

            Were any of McCarthy’s targets accused on being witches by him, or kidnapped, or tortured? As far as I know, most of them were harrassed and hectored and intimidated, but they were still victims of A WITCHHUNT.

            Does Dawkins need to write another essay explaining what he meant by witchhunt?

          • That has happened. People like Michael Shermer and Richard himself have been called “sexually predatory” by none other than his co-signer of the “let’s all get along” document. If that doesn’t qualify as harassment for dissenting views, I don’t know what does.

            No. First of all, your statement about Dawkins is inaccurate. Nobody that I know of has accused him of being sexually predatory. Certainly not Ophelia Benson. Second of all, reporting harassment or assault is not harassment.

            Thirdly, it’s still an exaggeration. To compare women bringing the informal network of warning about men who are sexually predatory out into the open to McCarthy’s campaign of intimidation and blacklisting of his political opponents is exaggeration.

            Personally I dislike the use of “witch hunt” as a metaphor. My distaste for it has grown as I have observed the trend of men complaining that feminist criticism is a witch hunt, when women were the main victims of the original mass murder that gave rise to the term. Shermer even used the phrase “secular Maleus Maleficorum”, thereby anchoring the phrase right back in the historical context of a prolonged campaign of murder and terrorism against supposed witches during the Middle Ages.

            I notice you’ve nothing to say about why comparing verbal and written criticism to the Inquisition and to Orwell’s thought police isn’t exaggeration.

          • Another thing–I’d forgotten that McCarthy had some of his targets arrested, besides having them blackballed and exiled from their professions and communities.

            Again, comparing Dawkins being criticized to this is exaggeration. Emotionally laden exaggeration. To claim otherwise is to lie.

  30. Are there kingdoms of emotion where logic is taboo, dare not show its face, zones where reason is too intimidated to speak?
    Don’t think it’s about intimidation, but wisdom. If you are in a classroom or debating chamber you can ask if there are any rape victims present who would mind a hypothetical discussion about rape. If you are on twitter, there are bound to be some victims of rape or people who know victims of rape listening in. As whole human beings with emotions as well as rationality, this is bound to have an affect and may have a profound affect.
    So, yes, there is an area where discussion of some examples of logic is unwise (rather than taboo).

  31. If you were really trying to engage people in the logic of your discourse you would not have used such inflammatory examples. Of course, no subject should be made taboo, but if your aim was to achieve understanding there was no need to use such incendiary examples, especially on twitter!
    I consciously became an atheist at the age of 10 and later, to have someone voice some of my own internal dialogue on a world stage was incredibly inspiring to me. I very much thought the aim of your public dialogue was to engage and encourage people to be more rigorous in the way they thought about the world. To stimulate a desire for critical thought, rational debate and empiricism. Increasingly (at least through social media) this no longer appears to be your goal. You regularly articulate your thoughts in such a way that actively seems to disengage. Of course the premiss of what you say is never wrong, but often you use purposefully inflammatory or culturally bias ways of presenting perfectly simple information. You regularly use combative or dismissive language to address people who clearly don’t understand what you are saying and you go to provocative extremes in order to demonstrate simple points.
    I had thought enlightenment was about engagement. I thought critical thinking was a methodology of thought. A discipline, that one needed time to reflect upon, cultivate and practice. You no longer try to inspire that in you dialogue with others. The expectation that people on twitter will engage with you as though in a academic debate, I find to be deliberately obtuse. You know that such comments will provoke reaction as oppose thought. You know that these subjects play to the basest parts of people emotional make up and then you tweet surprise at the storm you have laid.
    Richard Dawkins, in my mind you were meant to bring the people with you. If new atheisms agenda is about espousing the correctness of ones own position and telling people without the tools of scientific discourse to f*** off, well fine ….I had just hoped for something better.

  32. “What if the dying men were Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein and Martin Luther King? Would it be then right to sacrifice a man who is homeless and friendless, dragged in from a ditch?”

    No! Hell, no!
    Murder is bad because it turns a person into a thing. Once you accept that there is some price point where turning a person into a thing is justified, where does it end? “OK, I’ll murder one ‘nobody’ in order to save five geniuses.” If five, why not four? If four geniuses, why not three geniuses plus your mother? How about one genius who is not dying, but suffers from extreme diabetes?
    George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ran this calculation and determined that thousands of American soldiers lives, plus hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives was an acceptable price to pay for cheap oil. They also did your torture equation, and surprise!, surprise!, they decided that lots of people being tortured was also an acceptable price.THAT’S why having a “rational and logical” duscussion like that is wrong.
    Rape is bad because it also turns a person into a thing. Once you realize that, how can you decide being raped by a atranger is less bad than being raped by your boyfriend? Or is it more bad? I’d say that someone who rapes a friend is worse because they betrayed a trust, but someone who rapes a stranger is worse because they turn everyone in the world into either a potential victim or a potential rape suspect. How, and more to the point, why, would a judge want to give a lighter sentence to the one rapist over the other?

    • Murder is bad because it turns a person into a thing.

      What about euthanasia and PAS? Does that turn a person into a thing, and is therefore bad? There certainly seems to be instances out there in the possible types of murder that would not only be considered acceptable but humane.

      If PAS is okay to relieve suffering of an individual, why couldn’t it be possible for other forms of murder to relieve the suffering of many individuals?

      Also, I am usually wary of slippery slope arguments. Standards and rules can be put in place to prevent the slide down to the worst outcomes – we see this time and time again in the real world.

        • In most states in the US, it is indeed legally considered murder. But let’s say that one of the distinguishing features of murder is that it does not involve the consent of the killed.

          So PAS is not murder, even though it is a planned killing of a human being. But what if we obtained consent from the homeless man in that hypothetical? Would it then be acceptable?

          That also calls into question your Dick Cheney example, as you can’t really characterize sending troops to battle as murder based on lack of consent from the troops.

  33. Dear Richard, I am struck by the similarity here: those able to parse differences and those emotionally unable do so and the progressive and conservative mind. Conservatives dwelling more in the limbic system, progressives more focused on distinctions.

  34. Dear Richard,
    Thank you for the clarification of your position on the tweets on rape. Your tweets have, shamefully, been reported very partially in the press today with the one putting the contrary position left out in the main. This has led to huge numbers of male posters gloating on comments websites eg the Guardian that you agree that date rape is not serious. I reaIise that you are not saying this and that you are not to blame for the misrepresentation but using the subject of rape has given a huge boost to some very unsavoury individuals. I really wish you had chosen to illustrate your point on logic in some other way. I am very much a supporter of your views on religion and evolution but some of what I have seen on the comments sites today is really distressing. Perhaps Twitter is not the right forum for such topics… it is very easy for people to just pick out a couple of tweets and leave out the third one that makes sense of the whole.

  35. Dr. Dawkins,

    I agree with the premise of your post. People should be able to have rational, objective discussions without mudslinging and automatic brandings. However, I find the way you made your point to be in poor taste. You must have known that being unclear in your usage of inflammatory examples would have led to misunderstandings and backlash. I think your point would have been better made if you began it here first.

    Although I must disagree with a particular point you made here. You stated that a man getting a woman drunk (rape) and a man threatening a woman at knifepoint (also rape) deserve different sentences. Well they do: one includes an ‘assault with a deadly weapon’ charge. But the point you made was that these types of rape are two different points on a spectrum. I must disagree. In both instances, the victim is being violated without her consent. In both instances, trauma is likely. It is not possible to rank rape objectively because being a victim is a subjective experience: for some, being raped at a party would be just as traumatic as being raped at knifepoint, because the victim’s power was taken away. I am aware others may see it differently. That’s my point. This is a subjective thing, depending on the victim in question. Thus it is disingenuous to try to rank these things or place them on a spectrum.

    I understand free speech is important and I do not think people should be silenced in any way. But when it comes to genital mutilation, rape, pedophilia, murder, and other uncomfortable topics, why do they need to be placed on a spectrum in the first place? They are all abhorrent, we agree-so why not focus on solutions instead of discussing which is worse.

    • Abby,

      We need an objective spectrum on rape or sexual abuse, because our society has to have objective laws and objective punishments about them. The court of law can’t determine a case based the internal feelings of the victim. The victim’s personal experience is of the utmost importance to friends, family, therapists and social workers, but for our jurisdiction we must be allowed to have a spectrum for all kinds of crimes. Of course such an objective spectrum is crude and cold in the eyes of a victim, but as a fair society we just have to try to do the best we can.

      So, it is absolutely necessary to say that rape is always bad, but brutal rape is even worse. Or would you really wish to have the same flat punishment for all non-consensual sex, no matter what the circumstances were and what amount of violence was used? Of course all sexual crimes like rape deserve harsh punishments. But I certainly wish a brutal, extremely violent serial rapist receives even a harsher one.

  36. Abby says:

    because being a victim is a subjective experience

    Being a victim of anything is a subjective experience, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t objective facts to be learned about it. If someone pokes me in the chest during an argument, I guess I have been the victim of battery and have suffered some. If someone severely beats me up and leaves me for dead, I’ve also been a victim of battery. To say that these are both equivalent because they are subjective experiences and shouldn’t be placed on a spectrum of severity does not make sense to me. The courts certainly recognize the distinctions and would probably give a much stiffer sentence to the latter incident.

    And that gets into making the claim that you can actually be wrong about your subjective experience. If I attempted to argue that me being poked in the chest was every bit as bad as someone being beaten up and left for dead, and that the courts should punish the chest-poker as much as the other criminal, then I would probably be wrong. In fact, I might be wrong in the same sense that someone is wrong if they claim that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

    For rape, the distinctions of severity might not be nearly as clear, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      • That doesn’t answer my point. Even if I have the worst motives in the world for ranking rape, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t rational to do so. Go after the argument; don’t impugn motives of the arguer.

        My motivation is making sure that liberals like myself are being logically consistent in our moral arguments and their real world consequences. For instance, I might debate someone who insists that any and all abortion is wrong because a zygote is a human being and murder is wrong in every instance. There are no possible gradations from zygote to embryo to a new born. Black or white, all or nothing. And it is this very argument is used to deny women control over their bodies.

        Now, what is the counter to that argument? Clearly, there are levels of human, where a cluster of cells is not and does not deserve protection, and a newborn is, and does deserve protection. It is not black and white. This is the entire basis of formulating and defending rational laws that give women the right to control their bodies and terminate the pregnancy, up to a point in the baby’s development where termination would justifiably not be allowed to because it would be murder of an innocent. And even then, we could see scenarios where terminating a pregnancy at a very late stage would be ok because the act of childbirth would place the woman in grave danger.

        But with rape or pedophilia and possibly many other crimes, apparently there is only black and white. If this is correct, then our legal systems should follow this lack of nuance too. I don’t see why punishments for rape or pedophilia should distinguish between severities of acts of rape if there is no distinction to be made in reality. But that would seem to be very draconian, resulting punishments that are vastly disproportionate to the crime. We would obviously want to throw the book at a man who, say, stalks a woman jogger in park, attacks and rapes her. Life in prison would not seem an unreasonable sentence. But what about the drunken male college student who has sex with a drunken female college student, where consent is not given and the woman feels violated. That is technically rape as well, and punishable, but punishable to same extent as the former example? According to what I am reading from folks like you, rape is rape is rape, so the answer must be yes.

        That is why I want to see the argument for why rape should be considered only in absolute terms – it would have real world consequences for how we prosecute rape crimes.

        • But with rape or pedophilia and possibly many other crimes, apparently there is only black and white.

          That’s not the argument Dawkins’ critics are making. There are, of course, gradations–but they’re not immediately apparent to outside observers, and they’re not relevant to anyone except the victim, plus the judge and jury assigned to decide the punishment for the rapist.

          IF, of course, things even get that far. As things stand, the rate of conviction for actual rapes committed is less than 5 convictions per hundred rapes–precisely because there is a widespread belief that date rape isn’t “really real rape.” Which is a problem that Dawkins is exacerbating with his careless, callous thought exercises.

          If he really wanted to do a provocative thought exercise that challenged taboos, he should have started out saying that perhaps date rape is worse than stranger rape at knifepoint.

          The whole exercise is unnecessary. There is in fact no thought police that will throw people in jail for saying insensitive things about rape. And, as a rape victim who has talked about my experiences in public, both online and off, I can tell you that few people hesitate to share their opinions on the subject.

          • “And as a rape victim who has talked about my experiences in public, both online and off, I can tell you that few people hesitate to share their opinions on the subject.”

            Have you considered that by talking about it in public you have created a unique situation where people feel invited to also talk about it? Isn’t that kind of inherent to broaching topics in public fora?

            “There is in fact no thought police that will throw people in jail for saying insensitive things about rape.”

            See, now that strawman, in turn, wouldn’t be the argument the critics of Dawkins’ critics are making. What those critics of Dawkins’ critics are saying is that pronouncements such as these: “The whole exercise is unnecessary” in other words (rape victims as sole legit self-appointed arbiters) issuing a before the fact delineation of what is properly inside the bounds of what can and cannot be said, is just not on.

            If you and anyone else wishes to pillage Dawkins for what he said after the fact, welcome. Such pillaging can achieve all the effects your heart may desire and more. For example it derailed, to my great schadenfreude, Todd -legitimate rape- Akin’s election campaign. In fact I would vigorously join in to beg professor Dawkins to keep his finger off the twitter trigger. It does his reputation and status as a global public intellectual no favors. I wouldn’t be the first to make that observation.

            However, efforts to limit speech to prevent potential real or imagined butt-hurt of one faction/group/religion/gender/tribe/individual or the other can and will not be tolerated.

          • As things stand, the rate of conviction for actual rapes committed is
            less than 5 convictions per hundred rapes

            How could anyone know that? Why bother with trials if we know beforehand that a rape was committed?

          • How could anyone know that?

            Surveys. For years and years–decades even–various organizations have been doing anonymous surveys to find out how many people are sexually assaulted, beyond what is reported to the police. Seriously, you didn’t know that? That’s fairly basic knowledge if you’re talking about sexual assault.

            Why bother with trials if we know beforehand that a rape was committed?

            Because it’s useful to talk to sexual assault victims to find out their experiences, even if it never goes to trial? Because that gives useful information about how to reduce sexual assault in the future? Are you trying to be inflammatory here?

          • “And as a rape victim who has talked about my experiences in public, both online and off, I can tell you that few people hesitate to share their opinions on the subject.”

            Have you considered that by talking about it in public you have created a unique situation where people feel invited to also talk about it? Isn’t that kind of inherent to broaching topics in public fora?

            I had always thought that in speaking about a subject that was both personal and often very traumatic, I would NOT be opening myself to people opining on what I ought to have done or not or ought to have responded or not. That was then, this is now. Now I am less naive and have a more cynical expectation of people’s ability to behave appropriately in response to people sharing information like that.

            “There is in fact no thought police that will throw people in jail for saying insensitive things about rape.”

            See, now that strawman, in turn, wouldn’t be the argument the critics of Dawkins’ critics are making.

            If it’s not a straw man, then why does Dawkins emphasize that he’s “not exaggerating” when he claims that people are “afraid… of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police”?

            What those critics of Dawkins’ critics are saying is that pronouncements such as these: “The whole exercise is unnecessary” in other words (rape victims as sole legit self-appointed arbiters) issuing a before the fact delineation of what is properly inside the bounds of what can and cannot be said, is just not on.

            It’s my informed opinion, based on my experience as a victim of sexual assault, but also as a rational observer of this whole brouhaha, that the exercise was unnecessary. Me stating my opinion does not make me the sole arbiter of anything. Calm down, please.

            If you and anyone else wishes to pillage Dawkins for what he said after the fact, welcome.

            When did reasoned, reasonable criticism become “pillaging”?

            Such pillaging can achieve all the effects your heart may desire and more.

            Dubious. My heart’s desire would be that Dawkins ceases to attempt to set himself up as the public’s educator on logic using rape and pedophilia as his subject matter. He writes well about biology but his disdain for the social sciences makes his pronouncements on these sensitive topics both embarrassing and damaging. But he seems committed to continuing to use rape victims and pedophile victims as handy object lessons in a classroom that nobody appointed him the head of.

            For example it derailed, to my great schadenfreude, Todd -legitimate rape- Akin’s election campaign.

            Yes–feminists and advocates for victims of sexual violence helped with that. Dawkins was nowhere to be seen. You like what we do when the criticism is directed outward, but not when it’s directed at someone you admire. That’s not critical thinking.

            In fact I would vigorously join in to beg professor Dawkins to keep his finger off the twitter trigger. It does his reputation and status as a global public intellectual no favors. I wouldn’t be the first to make that observation.

            Indeed, though personally I’m more worried about the effect he’s having on the victims I’ve been talking about. I’m also concerned, as an atheist, that his repeated gaffes are cementing the public’s perception that atheism (in its organized form, anyway) is an affair strictly for white men and any minorities who don’t mind enduring the microaggressions that inevitably come along with entering white male dominated spaces.

            However, efforts to limit speech to prevent potential real or imagined butt-hurt of one faction/group/religion/gender/tribe/individual or the other can and will not be tolerated.

            Well, thank goodness that strong criticism isn’t the same thing as trying to limit anyone’s speech. I thought Dawkins ought to shut up about rape and feminism and related subjects (unless he suddenly decides to drop his irrational disdain for the social sciences and social justice advocacy), but I have zero power to enforce my opinion even if I were inclined to do so.

            Remember when you accused me of arguing against a straw man? When I said, “There is no thought police,” you said that was a straw man of Dawkins and his supporters. And yet here you are again, repeating that same exact position. Telling me that efforts to limit speech will not be tolerated–as if anyone had either the inclination or the ability to limit your speech or Dawkins’. There is no thought police. Stop pretending that criticism is censorship.

          • Surveys. For years and years–decades even–various organizations have
            been doing anonymous surveys to find out how many people are sexually
            assaulted, beyond what is reported to the police. Seriously, you
            didn’t know that? That’s fairly basic knowledge if you’re talking
            about sexual assault.

            Why bother with trials if we know beforehand that a rape was
            committed? Because it’s useful to talk to sexual assault victims to
            find out their experiences, even if it never goes to trial? Because
            that gives useful information about how to reduce sexual assault in
            the future? Are you trying to be inflammatory here?

            Firstly, if we are talking about the UK, the 5% attrition rate is wrong. It is closer to 12%, which may even be higher than average for all reportable crimes. The conviction rate is around 58%, which is above average.

            Secondly, sexual assault and rape are not necessarily the same thing.

            Thirdly, taking rape statistics from such surveys is unreliable. Sexual relations are a very emotional business and quite often end with at least one bitter and vengeful party. There is a reason we have trials and don’t present the jury with a survey form completed by the supposed victim. The reason so many cases don’t go to trial is not always just lack of evidence. How the hell can you know if you are surveying a true victim if their case has not gone to trial? Please don’t try the 98% probability business because that would be a circular argument, using survey results to validate the survey. I’ve also seen enough examples of survey questions designed to balloon the statistics.

            Fourthly, I don’t care if anyone takes the above as a denial of their victimhood, because it just isn’t.

          • Fourthly, I don’t care if anyone takes the above as a denial of their victimhood, because it just isn’t.

            Ah, well. How can I argue with ironclad logic like that?

        • IMO, in the court, motive should be considered. A drunk man, without his senses, raping a woman who could not consent would depend not only on the level of drunkenness of both parties (this is a very complex scenario-was he raped too? How drunk were they? etc) but also the man’s motive, which was likely not aggressive, as opposed to the stranger who raped the woman on the street.

          But your counterexample is disingenuous because Dawkins’ example was not discussing the complexities of consent when alcohol was involved. In my mind, the issue you bring up is while related separate from this ‘rape gradient’ Dawkins mentioned here. He was talking about (presumably) sober people, and where those sorts of rapes ‘ranked’ on a spectrum. And in that instance, as I said previously, there is no definite difference in the damage the victim faces, thus it’s not correct to say that one is worse than the other.

          • But your counterexample is disingenuous because Dawkins’ example was
            not discussing the complexities of consent when alcohol was involved.

            Maybe not in his tweet, but he was in the article above:

            If that were really right, judges shouldn’t be allowed to impose harsher sentences for some rapes than for others. Do we really want our courts to impose a single mandatory sentence – a life sentence, perhaps – for all rapes regardless? To all rapes, from getting a woman drunk and taking advantage at one end of the spectrum, to holding a knife to her throat in a dark alley at the other? Do we really want our judges to ignore such distinctions when they pass sentence? I don’t, and I don’t think any reasonable person would if they thought it through.

            He was talking about (presumably) sober people, and where those sorts
            of rapes ‘ranked’ on a spectrum. And in that instance, as I said
            previously, there is no definite difference in the damage the victim
            faces, thus it’s not correct to say that one is worse than the other

            As noted above he wasn’t just talking about sober people, but you bring up a point. Taking his example comparison of stranger rape and date rape, and (for hypothetical purposes), saying that the stranger rape is worse, does that mean that we punish the stranger with a harsher jail sentence? I’m not sure that follows if we are talking about two sober men (that aren’t otherwise mentally handicapped or possessing some other mitigating characteristic). So if he was trying to illustrate the point about needing to distinguish between types of rape because it might affect sentencing, comparing stranger rape to date rape is not the best example.

          • Michael,

            I can’t respond directly to your latest post but here is my response. I was not under the impression in Dr. Dawkins’ example that the man and woman were both drunk. If that was the case I would agree with him in the sense that the perpetrator’s intention was different and thus it should be tried differently. But, since again, emotional response is not objective, the victim’s reaction may be just as severe as if she were raped sober by a friend, or a stranger, or so on, so legally there is a distinction, but in reality, for the victim, there may not be one. Basically, if we are discussing the necessity of levels of rape in regards to persecution, I think it is necessary as far as drunk/sober is concerned. But in terms of levels of rape as far as the victim is concerned, I do not think it is possible to judge whether one type is worse than the other on an individual basis. I agree with your second paragraph.

          • I agree with your second paragraph.

            It is a soft spot in his position. As I read the comments I see some very intelligent people, who clearly get the simple logic lesson, nevertheless struggling to understand just what is the specific absolutist rape position that needs de-bunking. Back in the day, Richard wrote an essay about the Discontinuous Mind, which was very useful for me in understanding the flaws of absolutist positions such as the pro-life movement and was helpful in getting me to jettison my Catholicism. So if we are talking about a similar absolutist position with negative real world consequences, where some people really are advocating the same punishment for all forms of rape, or have some irrational definition of rape that ropes in behavior that is not criminal, then it would be helpful for him to identify who is making these arguments.

            Maybe his reponse would be: “There is no absolutist rape position with real-world legal consequences that I had in mind, but as I wrote I wanted to use rape to show that nothing should be considered beyond logic (unless an exception can be demonstrated). A non-controversial subject would not have hammered this point home.”

            But if that is the case, why warn against the dangers of judges imposing the same sentences for all rape, as he did in the essay? He needs to flesh this out.

      • Sally, Susan,

        Respectfully, I think you confuse ranking the severity of the trauma and ranking the severity of the crime.

        I don’t think anyone here tries to rank the personal traumatic experiences of the victims of rape. At least I hope no one does. I certainly wouldn’t do it, having seen how one friend of mine was deeply distressed by a non-violent burglary while another one was mugged and got over it quite easily. Both of them were arguably less traumatic experiences than sexual abuse. But that’s not the point, since we are not comparing internal, psychological traumatic experiences.

        But because in our societies we need to punish crimes, we need to estimate, perhaps even rank the severity of the crime. Richard Dawkins, you and I are equally entitled to discuss such crimes. Also the crimes of rape and sexual abuse. The courts of law have to punish crimes according to their severity, and one punishment is harsher than another. So, sometimes they have to rank the severity of rape A to rape B.

        Our society creates and amends laws based on our changing Moral Zeitgeist, and we express that Moral Zeitgeist through public discussion.

        That is not the same as suggesting that a victim isn’t entitled her/his personal feelings of trauma, nor is it belittling anyones’s traumatic experiences.

    • Michael,

      I meant that in terms of rape. In your example, the damage you receive from being poked in the chest is not equal to being beaten mercilessly. That is simple to determine. But as you say yourself, distinctions of severity when it comes to rape are not nearly as clear. Rape victims, regardless of how they are raped, usually come out quite emotionally damaged. It is not as though there is clearly less damage in the case of a stranger as opposed to a friend for example.

      Although I suppose one could argue that being raped at knifepoint is worse if one is assaulted by the knife. But that is not a case of the rape itself being worse, it is the case of the rape being accompanied by assault, or at least that is how I would view it. Regardless, does it matter, considering both events are incredibly traumatizing? What good comes from ranking these events?

      I don’t think much if any does, but I do think it is important that discussions be open.

      • To clarify my earlier comment, I meant that the victim’s response to the kinds of rape can be very subjective. Some who experienced a rape not at gunpoint may think it could have been worse, and be less traumatized, or they may be just as traumatized. It is not as though there is an objective reaction to the different sorts of rapes. That is in addition to my earlier statement, that regardless of how a victim is raped they usually come out very traumatized. The sort of rape would not necessarily make a difference.

    • Michael,

      You are making the presumption that the objective facts of an crime will perfectly correspond to the emotional impact felt by the victim. They do not. It is entirely possible that the person who is poked will struggle with severe PTSD as a result of the unprovoked attack (and likely a host of other factors), while the person who us beaten and left for dead may process and move forward with relatively little long term emotional harm done. The issue isn’t that the objective facts of a crime aren’t able to be categorized and ranks, it is that doing so outside of the specific context of a legal assessment of culpability ((which is what Dr. Dawkins did) causes needless distress to survivors of abuse and trauma.

      • You are making the presumption that the objective facts of an crime
        will perfectly correspond to the emotional impact felt by the victim.
        They do not. It is entirely possible that the person who is poked will
        struggle with severe PTSD as a result of the unprovoked attack (and
        likely a host of other factors), while the person who us beaten and
        left for dead may process and move forward with relatively little long
        term emotional harm done.

        If someone has severe PTSD from the poke attack, that can be documented by trained professionals using objective facts. Those facts could then be a basis for additional prosectution. So facts can correspond to subjective emotional states, and can be used to inform our punishments of crimes.

  37. Dr. Dawkins,

    I wanted to comment here and tell you that I thought this was a beautifully written piece addressing an issue in our community that severely needs addressing. What separates us skeptics from other groups is that nothing is dogma. We’re allowed to question everything, to debate any belief, no matter how dearly held that belief may be held by some. If and when we agree upon boundaries, then those too remain open to future debate. I couldn’t have possibly stated this idea as well as you have. Thanks.

  38. It’s not about freedom to raise taboos or about how superior it is to be rational rather than emotive about issues, it’s simply about having a modicum of savvy about how to communicate what was a very simple point.

    In that sense, it was pretty stupid to communicate it with such a terrible example.

    The purpose of tweeting about the issue was to clarify a point about Gaza, not to raise questions regarding the boundaries of acceptable discourse. Anything that distracts from the main point is poor communication.

    If we want to be rational we have to realise that humans are emotional, and that twitter amplifies this.

    Yes you have the right to use these examples. Yes, people shouldn’t get so worked up about it. But, FFS, being surprised that phrases like ‘mild paedophilia’ draw a negative response on twitter is just being naive. Then going on about how stupid these people are for getting annoyed simply detracts further from the initial point you were trying to make.

    When using logic and reason, you should also apply these to the communication process. Assuming that a twitter based discourse is free of emotive and disproportionate reactions is inherently irrational.

    I assume the purpose of engaging in public discourse is to persuade people towards your point of view, in which case you adopt the art of rhetoric in a way which is most likely to persuade.

    The point of logic being made was so simple that even a child should be able to understand it. But even a child should be able to communicate far more effectively.

    • Actually my main purpose was nothing to do with Gaza (although that is another very important topic). My main purpose, as indicated in my title, was to question the existence of taboo zones, which are so overlain with emotion that logic dare not go. I agree that “mild pedophilia” is an unfortunate phrase if it is taken to mean something absolute. But RELATIVELY mild pedophilia (which is – I should have thought it was obvious – what I meant) is a defensible phrase in, for instance “Touching with the hand is RELATIVELY mild compared to violent penetration”. I am aware that there are people so blinded by emotion that they will be incapable of seeing the difference, but I can see it and, although I have only experienced the RELATIVELY mild form, I think it is sufficiently obvious that it is the lesser of evils. Whether it is or not, I was only using the example in support of my main thesis which was that to say X is worse than Y is not to endorse X.

      • This whole thing got me thinking about some books I read a couple years ago by another famous name I often drop, Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Yeah, Dr. Death. He wrote a 8 books, most of which he self-published. Despite his reputation, his books were about a variety of topics besides euthanasia: philosophy, limericks, and even dieting. He wrote one in 1991 called Prescription Medicide: The Goodness of Planned Death. It got universally bad reviews (it was the one book he published mainstream), but I thought it was actually well-written. It was about getting benefit out of death, such as retrieving organs from condemned criminals and sick people who chose euthanasia (with their consent of course). The other thing he proposed was doing medical experiments on these people just before death under heavy anesthesia (again, consent required). Immediately people started comparing him to Josef Mengele, never mind that in the case of that infamous Nazi doctor, these people were prisoners of war, no anesthesia was used and, most importantly, no consent was involved. I thought Dr. Kevorkian’s proposal was brilliant. If I were dying I would want something good to come out of my death and I would willingly donate my body for such a cause. I am baffled as to why this topic is so uncomfortable for people. But the book was well-written and had a good editor, so it helped me to be receptive.

        Fast forward to 2010 when Dr. Kevorkian wrote his final book about overpopulation, When the People Bubble POPs. This poorly written and edited book was published by some hole-in-the-wall print-on-demand self-publishing house in New York. This was the only one of Dr. Kevorkian’s books that I didn’t like. The whole thing… well… this is Dr. Kevorkian we’re talking about. What do you think his “solution” he proposed was? Oh, take a wild fucking guess! On an outline of his solution, one of his bullet points is “All neonates born of rape, incest, or casual encounters out of wedlock will be destroyed. Immediately after the designated population limit is significantly exceeded; and if exceeded to dangerous levels, all newborn infants will be promptly destroyed.” Then at the end, he says, “Please understand that I am not foolish enough, and do not intend, to promulgate this issue as a ’cause’ or crusade which is an impossibility for Homo sapiens. My sole aim is to stimulate or, better yet, to provoke human beings into thinking about an issue involving everyone– a profound taboo too long neglected out of fear of ridicule or just plain vacuous sentimentality over their beloved species.” Okay, Dr. Death, you wanted to provoke discussion? Fair enough. What you fail to realize is that at the end of this book, people are talking about you and only you, not the important issue of overpopulation. And especially, Dr. Death, stuff like this coming from you will make people read into it more. Maybe the “shock value” would have worked better to make his point if the book had been well written.

        And taboo subjects should be discussed, absolutely. But there’s a time an a place for them: in a well-written, blog post like the one Richard just posted, not in a Tweet with 140 characters.

        In any case, Richard, thanks for writing this post. I think this definitely opens the door for more interesting, meaningful, and productive discussion.

      • My main purpose, as indicated in my title, was to question the existence of taboo zones, which are so overlain with emotion that logic dare not go.

        There are no such zones, certainly not rape (I speak as a recovered rapee who is quite comfortable talking about my rape and rape in general). What is interesting is that you feel that there are. Dare I suggest that perhaps what you are really trying to say in the above sentence would be better expressed with the deletion of the word “logic” and the insertion of the word “Richard”? You were quite right in your earlier article that the storm would never have arisen if you had used quotation marks in your tweets. Your use of language let you down, not your use of logic, and your bewilderment at the result is, dare I suggest again, perhaps in part bewilderment at your own mistake in not having expressed yourself clearly. Forgive me if this post is presumptuous.

  39. Yes! Although…

    I have a habit of producing outrageous hypotheticals to illustrate arguments, and when my interlocutors respond emotionally I generally think (but try not to say) “go away and learn how to think.”

    However, when reading this I suddenly realized that I was made to feel a little uneasy by the “We all agree it isn’t true that some human races are genetically superior to others in intelligence….” example. Why should this be?

    I think it’s because, unlike cannibalism, murder for organs, etc., there are and have been plenty of people who actually do believe this hypothetical. So though I pride myself on my rationalism, if I were in this classroom I feel I might be one of those who refused to engage in the conversation. Not owing to pure emotion, but more a creepy feeling that perhaps some kind of manipulation or intellectual trickery is afoot, or that the professor is metaphorically crossing his fingers behind his back while he says the “we all know” part so that he can indulge in a racist conversation with any fellow travelers in the classroom.

    I think this points to the reason that most of these hypotheticals are couched in a kind of arid, folkloric setting. One couldn’t mistake the idea of Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein, and MLK being in the same room for anything other than a hypothetical (or a really awesome reality show). To put it another way, these hypotheticals are illuminating and interesting in the classroom or over your second cocktail with friends, but if a colleague just tells you her husband had just been killed in a road accident, I doubt very much that you would be crass enough to respond, “Terribly sorry to hear that. Oh, that reminds me of a hypothetical about cannibalism that’s been on my mind…”

    And the the thing about Twitter is your tweets are appearing in a feed, in a context, that’s absolutely beyond your control.

    So, though I deplore the inability of so many people to see the logic, and support the invaluable point that one should at least be able to speculate over whether some instances of rape or pedophilia are worse than others (I think they obviously are), it’s not that surprising to me that some people were more interested in the content of the hypotheticals than the point of logic being made.

  40. The book “Descartes´ Error” written by the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio was a real surprise for me and it took me some time just to see the point, that actually becomes more clear because Antonio Damasio always uses his professional experience examples, such as a patient with damage in some brain area related to emotional cannot take a simple decision such as what restaurant shall I choose for dinner, because the patient has not the “lift of emotion” to make a decision. Perhaps serial killer have enough rationality to hide their many crimes, otherwise, they would be caught easily.
    Of course Marx just thought he had achieved a rational materialism (wasn´t it emotion, afteral, the return to a primitive form of communism would be like the end of history, a kind of nirvana, haven´t he belonged to the christian youth as did Hegel?)
    I actually happen to to have a good management of emotions I think (however, I might not to think in myself to defend some strager, when most people would have been indifferent), but to know that there are such threads in this community is not to blame emotion, but something I would rather call a deficient sociality, as far as I can recall some scientist reporting that his children -from a certain age, i don´t quite recall-have reached the point of recognizing other people have different minds from their own.
    Or just to be silly, I think Leonardo Da Vinci might think that emotion play a role in knowledge.
    PerhapsDescartes would not be as rational as he thought? (he would n´t accept different models of the universe, because his own was “too beautiful”.

    Just wondering, almost as when I had a Professor who used to relate nonsense with children and I always commented on” what a shame for children”. What a shame for emotion?

  41. There are, I believe, some Richard Dawkins fans that have put Dawkins himself in the emotional ‘no-go’ zone as if he’s above criticism. Let me try to explain.

    I can relate to this feeling. Prior to reading TGD, I was confused about the topic and wasted time muddling over the same old ground getting nowhere. So I really appreciated the explanations and reading that book has in fact improved the quality of my life. I would subsequently go on-line and read some criticism of Dawkins and my first reaction would be emotional. “How dare that so-and-so.” (I’m not talking about ‘elevatorgate’ per se, but instead things I’ve seen written elsewhere that got me riled up).

    I think a good deal of this ‘elevatorgate’ fiasco was a few of Richard’s fans reacting emotionally because they personally had Richard in the ‘no-go’ zone. They saw criticism of Richard and flew off the handle in inappropriate and sometimes criminal ways. It’s a crime to threaten people.

    Some may argue that I’m engaging in ‘Psychological Projection’ by projecting my feelings onto others. I’ll disagree in advance! I think most people at this site don’t engage in this type of reactionary post, first of all, so I’m not projecting it on everyone. Second, while my my feelings are not universal they are not unique either. If I have these feelings, rest assured, others have them as well. As I understand evolution, this must be true. Third, I saw some of the comments. They are not only deplorable, they are emotionally charged. Indeed, “The Statement” uses the term ‘brawling like enraged children who need a nap’ implying to me that RD and OB would agree that these comments were driven by emotions.

    So, I used my emotions to try and ‘reverse engineered’ the motives of the commentators. This isn’t Psychological Projection as I understand it, which requires a denial of that I in fact have the attribute in question. I believe I’m on to something in terms of how ‘elevatorgate’ escalated but anyone should feel free to explain where they think I may have went wrong.

    So now, finally I can come to my criticism of Richard Dawkins part of this whole affair.

    What you did wrong, sir, was that you held Ms. Watson out to public ridicule. While the Dear Muslima letter didn’t name Rebecca Watson it did name her website and it was clear enough to whom you were referring. What was the purpose of ridiculing her publicly? She hadn’t mentioned the name of the elevator guy, she wasn’t ruining another person’s reputation. Even if you had a point to make, it should have been done in a way that did not single out Watson.

    • What was the purpose of ridiculing her publicly? She hadn’t mentioned
      the name of the elevator guy, she wasn’t ruining another person’s
      reputation.

      RW used a public speaking opportunity on another subject to suddenly ridicule a female student who had criticized her on this affair. That student was sitting right there in the audience at the time, and was quite humilated.*

      RD wrote an essay on the internet criticizing a position that RW took. While you could argue that RD shouldn’t be picking on someone like RW, why should her arguments be immune from criticism? And I must say, she certainly fired back with an essay of her own.

      *RW is free of course to engage that student in debate, but that was a shitty way to do it.

      • No. I don’t have RW on a pedestal. I really don’t know anything about her.

        As far as ‘Watson’s public statements’ I didn’t really consider RW a public figure at the time and the statement was really a request to be left alone made to the relatively few followers she had at the time. It’s not as if she was commenting on public policy or the like.

  42. This is an interesting article, but I’m not sure it isn’t empty. I don’t mean that as empty of thought, but empty in the sense that it doesn’t lead anywhere.
    I went to catholic grade school and high school. In religion classes, we would always initiate these types of moral dilemmas. The nuns would eventually shut us up because of the emptiness of such what if scenarios. They led nowhere.
    Moral philosophy is bankrupt, in the same sense that moral theology is. To go on and on about these kinds of things gets us nowhere. When they occur in reality, this is the time that they are judged, usually in a court of law or other institutions and methods that humanity collectively sets up.
    So, as the nuns would say “stop wasting time and get on with more productive things.”

  43. Mind experiments are usually useless, not because they are dealing with sensitive issues, but because they present exremely unrealistic scenarios, that simply don’t relate to human practice.

    I remember once responding to one of those absurd mental experiments (it was, if I correctly recall, something about whether we should save one great scientist or four common criminals from death if we couldn’t save everybody. And my answer was, “I would save those who I could save more easily, unless it involved some utilitarian philosophaster keen on making foolish ‘mental experiments’, in which case I would go out of my way to purposefully save the four common criminals. Because common criminals are better people than those who concoct such absurd charades.

    There is however on part of your post that I feel the need to address more in detail. Here it is:

    Could eugenics ever be justified? Could torture? A clock triggering a
    gigantic nuclear weapon hidden in a suitcase is ticking. A spy has
    been captured who knows where it is and how to disable it, but he
    refuses to speak. Is it morally right to torture him, or even his
    innocent children, to make him reveal the secret? What if the weapon
    were a doomsday machine that would blow up the whole world?

    This a concentrated example of why such mental experiments are foolish.

    I have been a member of underground resistance in a country suffering a dictatorship – a dictatorship that routinely tortured people. I can say, from experience, that torture is never used, nor useful, to obtain short-term information. What the underground does is simply to instruct militants to hold long enough that people who would be implicated by their confessions to relocate. If the police captures Mark, and Mark knows Matthew, Luke, and John, what is expected from Mark is that he shuts up about Matthew, Luke, and John, for 24 hours, so that Matthew, luke, and John can vanish.

    If what Mark knows is the location of the gigantic nuclear weapon, then what he needs to do is to shut up about the gigantic nuclear weapon until it explodes. If that is too difficult, then Mark will simply lead the police to a wrong direction.

    Consequently, the police uses torture for very different ends. To break and demoralise people, so that they turn into reliable informants. This requires time. Not 24 hours, but weeks, perhaps months, and even then it can’t be done to everyone. So your “scenario” with a nuclear weapon, gigantic or not, is a fairy tale. What it means is simply that someone is concocting a more or less convincing rhetoric device to justify the personal psychological destruction of resistence militants.

    And so those are the questions that need to be answered: do we want a police with the ability and resolve to torture people into psychological destruction? Are we willing to delude ourselves with completely bogus “scenarios” about “ticking bombs”, in order to let the powers that be to convince us that the police should have the techniques and the human resources (ie, professional torturers) to torture people? Are we foolish enough to misbelieve that techniques of tortures that we are paying for with our taxes to destroy the psyches of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists cannot or will not be used to destroy the psyches of communists, anarchists, liberals, social-democrats, or conservatives?

    It was Benjamin Franklin, if I am not mistaken, who once said that “those who would give up their liberty to ensure their safety deserve neither”, and I would say more, not only they don’t deserve neither freedom nor safety, but they are too foolish to keep them.

  44. It kind of seems as though many people came here just to prove Richards point, albeit unknowingly. Many of these comments can be boiled down to very few components that seem to illustrate that there is indeed, for them as individuals, areas of conversation in which they cannot step out of all emotional influence and examine logically. People who are stating that Richard shouldn’t have used rape as an example are ignoring the fact that he did so simply to convey that people should be able to remove their emotions and examine everything with calculative mindsets and logical toolkits. If rape shouldn’t have been used to illustrate that, then it couldn’t have so brilliantly proved his point. Objections to his chosen object of demonstration are based in nothing but emotion. One can logically speak of the impact on the emotions of others that such a discourse can inadvertently cause, but that is not a case for eliminating its use as a topic of logical communication rather than emotional communication. There are ways of viewing everything. Furthermore, people who are stating that his comparison of two rapes on a scale of which is worse or not is insensitive and morally deplorable, are emotionally coming to that conclusion. They have read what offends them and omitted logical examination from their reading process, becoming emotionally stuck on the issue and lacking understanding on the actual nature of the article because of it.Many of these people seem to be having difficulty remembering that richard himself said that he was not attempting to state that one act is worse than the other, but that it was a valid topic of logical communication, and that one thing being worse than another does not equal the first thing being okay. This has been very overcomplicated by the individuals who have confused it with other viewpoints and intentions. Richard had no intention of establishing degrees of rape or differentiating one from another. He merely wanted to make a point concerning people’s emotions overriding logical thought process with rape as the variable. Which I might add, worked as somewhat of a social experiment to get many of you people to come onto this website and show the world exactly what he meant by your inability to discard emotion and logically examine a topic or a question. One must abstract themselves, remove their individuality and along with it their emotional perceptions of the impact of discussion on those emotionally afflicted, to have a logical discussion about emotionally sensitive issues. It is the duty of a logical thinking person to remove their opinion and focus on what is. Anybody who cannot do that, will not understand, and will become frustrated at the idea of speaking this way in the first place. I think rape was an excellent choice of a variable,and that Twitter was precisely the kind of tool to present this self-demonstrating phenomenon involving humans and cerebral inability to remove emotion from equations concerning interpretations of things within the real world. If richard did not choose rape, and instead chose a non offensive variable, he would not have thousands of people rushing to prove his point by emotionally objecting to the conversation in the first place. Perhaps the only difficulty richard has in this situation is the dissatisfactory result that people who react emotionally to this issue will not see all of this for what it is and understand they have committed the exact logical folly of which he speaks, and correct it accordingly. Instead, electing to beleive that he made a mistake and poorly brought forth his subject matter, and tarnishing slightly his reputation in the eyes of those who cannot remove emotion.

    Brilliant article, Richard.

  45. But then I quoted Sam Harris to the effect that “Hamas publicly says they’d like to kill every Jew in the world” and I went on to raise Sam’s hypothetical question: What does that say about Hamas’s probable actions if positions were reversed and they had Israel’s military strength? Richard Dawkins

    Why on earth did you quote Sam Harris on the subject of Hamas. Do you think he is an informed or even disinterested source?

  46. nomorewoo “There is every reason to believe that the Palestinians would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could.” Because it says so in the Hamas charter and the Koran.

    Surely you must know that the Koran was compiled centuries before Israel came into existence so it can’t possibly be true that there is any reference to it in the Koran. (Unless you believe in the supernatural).

    The Hamas Convention looks forward to bringing Palestine (including Israel) under Islamic rule through armed struggle. The ‘killing all Jews’ is an ‘interpretation’ by the pro-Israel wordfare movement. What Hamas actually promises (not that their promise is going to be put to the test) is peace, harmony and tolerance.

    Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions ­ Islam, Christianity and Judaism ­ to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that. HAMAS CONVENTION

    • What Hamas actually promises (not that their promise is going to be
      put to the test) is peace, harmony and tolerance.

      After the armed struggle to quash Israel, which will involve the killing of only SOME of the Jews there, but not all. So you’re right, Sam was way off.

      I guess I have a question – why the armed struggle? Why not just peace and harmony under a two state solution, right now?

      Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three
      religions ­ Islam, Christianity and Judaism ­ to coexist in peace and
      quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except
      under the wing of Islam

      Uh, that doesn’t sound very tolerant to me. More like some of the worst doublespeak I have ever seen.

      Are you actually being ironic, and posting these quotes in support of Israel?

      • So, the point is the following:

        Some people claim that Hamas’ “constitution” requires the physical elimination of all Jews in historic “Palestine”.

        This claim is verifiably false (in less neutral wording, it is “a lie”, even “an outright lie”); what Hamas’ charter says is very different.

        However, there are some reasons to believe that Hamas’ charter lies, and hides Hamas’ true intentions (which would be to physically eliminate all Jews in historic “Palestine”).

        The question is, how does one come to the conclusion that Hamas is lying? Certainly not by reading its charter. How then? Can it be done with “pure logic”, or does it require some knowledge about how emotions work in the real world?

        • Thought experiments are perfectly legitimate, even when they pose what may seem shocking dilemmas. Even more so when they are shocking because it can force is to face difficulties in establishing moral principles which can too easily be glossed over. However, when the premise is supposed to be a fact, it should really be a fact and not an outrageous lie.

          It seems to me that that is a charge which can be made against Sam Harris, supposing that he has read and honestly assessed the Hamas Convention. Sam Harris certainly does ‘criticize’ Israel but only to claim that however bad it is, the Palestinian resistance is worse. I don’t know why Professor Dawkins accepted Sam Harris as a ‘moral philosopher’ when he is an apologist for Israel, even if his excuses are delivered by a tortuous route.

          • I agree with you – experiments, even when they are not “thought experiments”, are valid if they are well constructed, and variables are as well controled as one can honestly expect them to be.

            What it seems illogical to me is the following:

            “Someone says, ‘under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three
            religions ­ Islam, Christianity and Judaism ­ to coexist in peace and
            quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except
            under the wing of Islam’. If you think this is an endorsement of total genocide of the Jewish population of Palestine, go away and learn how to think.”

            Some of us, at least – and I think Professor Dawkins among them – would have problems with that. Because while the genocide of Jews is not a logical consequence of the sentence above, they “feel” (and presto, we are well within the realm of emotions) that the sentence cannot “really” mean what it seems to mean, and must have a hidden subtext, which somehow includes the genocide of Jews in Palestine.

            Whether they are right or not, I don’t think their reasoning is very different from those who hear or read something like “someone says, ‘X kind of rape is worse than Y kind of rape’. If you think this is an endorsement of Y kind of rape, go away and learn how to think”, and “feel” that the sentence cannot “really” mean what it seems to mean, and must have a hidden subtext, which somehow includes some kind of moral or legal justification for Y kind of rape.

            Maybe there is some huge difference, but I don’t see it. To me both reasonings are equally (il)logical, and equally emotional. If one is invalid, the other is invalid. If the other is valid, so is the first one.

            Which brings into question, is it only emotional when it is the emotions of others?

  47. I can appreciate Dawkins’ reasoning. However, we are not just reasoning beings. Our humanity also includes our emotions. And as with other attributes, some people are just better than others at dealing with emotions. I respect Dawkins’ intelligence and logic but he would get failing grades for how he relates to others. If someone is raped, the experience is so bad that it’s a horribly ugly example to use to demonstrate a point of logic. Dawkins just does not get that and will continue to needlessly turn off other people to the power of reason.

    • Yes. Did you actually read my article? If so, I must have failed to get the point across. I did give reasons why I chose the example of rape. I could have said, ‘If somebody says “Petty theft is less serious than grand larceny” that doesn’t imply that they are endorsing petty theft’. But then the point would have been so obvious as to be trite. As I explained in my article, the point needs to be made that logical reasoning should not be derailed by the injection of personal emotion. Of course I respect personal emotion, and of course I sympathise deeply with the horror of being raped. But personal sympathy doesn’t mean we should declare a whole area of moral philosophy a no-go are, out of bounds to logical reasoning. You really don’t have to suspend your faculties of logic and reason in order to prove that you have a heart. You really can do both logic and emotion. And I do. But please don’t muddle them up together.

      • Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my comment. I appreciate it because I know how busy you are. You are right that “logical reasoning should not be derailed by the injection of personal emotion”. However, if the intent is to get that point over to your audience then I would not have used an example involving rape. People have to take steps to get to the point where they can overcome their emotional responses which shut down all discussion. For many, rape involves too far of a jump for them to make in one leap. It’s that explosive of a topic with many people and having worked with rape survivors I can understand why they feel that way. Your critics saw the word “rape” and seized upon that and you know the rest. Your point was valid and your intent was right but sometimes I think you need to do more to understand how something you say can be perceived or even misperceived.

        What helped me to start making the journey away from relying upon emotion (and I still have a long ways to go) was debating in high school and college. It helped me learn to see things from the side of those who disagreed with me and to be able to evaluate evidence for a particular position. There also was a book by the late Herman Kahn called “Thinking the Unthinkable” which was about nuclear war. Kahn outlined how such a war could be fought and was attacked as a warmonger because he thought that a nuclear war did not have to mean the end of the world. People ignored his real point which was that we should think about a nuclear war because there should be some alternative to just killing everyone. We owe a real debt to him and to people like you.

        • Agreed. And I think that’s why such explosive topics are best suited for eloquent blog posts like this one, not 140-character Tweets. It takes a lot to upset me, but even I had the initial reaction that others’ did. As I said in another post, once I saw the Tweets I muttered, “Why does he do this to himself?” And then I simply wondered WHY? After I read the thread I thought, “Okay, I see his point, but this was a bit inappropriate. Let’s move on.” But I think I’m more rational and patient than most people, and you can’t expect most people to handle it the way I did.

          • Ooops! While trying to reply to your comment, I inadvertently clicked on the “Report comment” button. My apologies! What I wanted to say is that you are right. Twitter is just not the place you go to when you try to express thoughts that take more than two seconds to digest. It just makes it all too easy for others to misrepresent Dawkins.

  48. Richard Dawkins has millions of admirers, especially me, but he also has millions of religious “haters” who will jump all over him if they perceive him to have made any kind of mistake. Even nonreligious “thought police” usually of the leftist stripe will pile on if they feel their pet bull has been gored. This is just another example. I think they sit at their computers all day, typing in Richard Dawkins every minute just in case some controversy might have arisen so that they can pounce. The sad thing is that criticism hurts, no matter how unjustified it is. I am by no means saying that Dawkins made any kind of mistake, but I think we should not be so quick to condemn someone who is a shining light of atheism in this very dark world of religion and who might have said something that sounds a little starnge. Face it, there are very few atheists with Richard’s intellect and accomplishments and I pray, okay I hope, that he will be with us for decades to come. I really believe the future of the world does depend on it. Let’s not drive Richard into early retirement by becoming hypercritical whenever he makes some perceived mistake. He has better things to do than write long explanations about why he said something. Although I admit, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as I do everything he writes.

    • I admit, your comment made me laugh. A most un-Vulcan like emotional expression, yes? Dr. Dawkins would be so disappointed. There are plenty of atheists who are just as smart, talented, and accomplished as Dawkins. There aren't many who are as famous. Perhaps if people could look up from [their] hero worship and take note of writers like Susan Jacoby, Taslima Nasreen, Leo Igwe, Sikivu Hutchinson, or Norm Allen (to name just a few), all of that might change. I'm an atheist in part because I prefer to think for myself. [Dig at another user removed by moderator - see our Moderators' Message above and please avoid snide comments to or about other users] Dawkins is a good writer and a good science communicator but that's about it. All heroes have feet of clay. Also – he's 72. Any retirement from here on out could hardly be described as "early."

  49. Although I enjoy Richard Dawkins ramblings, I decided a while ago that he seems to sit by the sidelines in life and comment about how others engage with it. My sense is that he hasn’t really gone through many difficulties so many of these issues are just abstractions to him. I visualize him as an elitist intellectual with very little passion. I kind of feel sorry for his sort since I’m not really sure if they are fully engaged in the world and all its options. I’m not sure why someone would spend so much time insisting that God doesn’t exist when God offers hope for many who suffer, and clearly there is an evolutionary reason for that. TMr. Dawkins seems to have the privilege to logically pick through life. Not a very interesting existence after all.

    Like I said, I enjoy reading his ramblings but I would prefer to spend time with a preacher singing gospel and bringing exuberance into the world than a tired old academic who picks through life like he does in this article.

    • . Like I said, I enjoy reading his ramblings but I would prefer to spend time with a preacher singing gospel and bringing exuberance into the world than a tired old academic who picks through life like he does in this article.

      To each his own. It’s good that we live in a free country.

      • So we all live in Brazil?

        I wasn’t aware of that. Why aren’t all of us writing in Portuguese, then? Puxa vida, seria bem mais fácil.

        There are a lot of “unfree” countries in this world, and the responsibility of the free ones in keeping them unfree shouldn’t be underestimated.

  50. I don’t think there’s emotional areas where debate can’t happen, but I think the approach would make all the difference.

    I suspect you don’t ‘blunder’ into taboo zones, I suspect you like to provoke. I suspect less of ‘dispassionate logic’ and more of arguement. You haven’t ‘somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.’ You’ve admitted to understanding the issues. As for seeing where the discussion may lead – you already knew. This was a calculated risk. And not much of a risk when you love to have a good blue. I admire a lot of what you are on about, being brought up atheist myself (and often enjoying arguing), but the tweets were simply provocative. You seems to have made your own personal line a bit clearer in this post but I suspect you haven’t been concerned about the attacks at all. You’ve used emotive language yourself – against the people who argue with you. If you are being as dispassionately logical as you claim then stay away from the junk terms such as too intimidated, blinded by emotion, revolted, witch hunts, emotional fit, screaming. You are continuing the provocation while you are explaining.

    If you really are “emphatically not trying to hurt rape victims or trivialise their awful experience” then you could try to recognise and respect when someone is emotional about a subject. It happens. Cope with it. There are subjects I’m too emotional to talk about, and if provoked I’m likely to come out ripping faces off too. For example lots of us have given up on point scoring about which abuse was worse than others, and after lots of debate and explanations (and yes, yelling and screaming and arguing and crying) we decided (so many years ago) it wasn’t logical to point score when dealing with the health and wellbeing of victims. We’ve already settled it and we don’t need to revisit the arguements or be provoked about them.

    I’m also not sure you need to be looking after those who are “afraid to raise even hypothetical questions” – they are grown up people in their own right and can decide for themselves whether they wish to speak about difficult subject. I suspect, again, an excuse to provoke. If you wish to provoke go ahead and do so, don’t bother to dress it up as something else. Logic can tempered with awareness, compassion, common sense or you can just say you’re out to have an argument.

  51. Richard, I don’t share quite the same perspective on religion as a whole or science as a whole as you (though I have an identical perspective on fundamentalist religion in all its forms). But I was very pleased to read this particular essay and signed up just now in order that I might add my very strong support for it.

    Your argument here is exceptionally, critically important and I am grateful to you for making it. Those who fail to understand it do not grasp how fatal to free expression is the alternative they suggest. Even further, of course: “emotional no-go areas” are in fact highly dangerous to us all, on multiple levels. Free enquiry is the only mechanism we have to correct not only error, but hysteria and scapegoating — perennial mob-human responses to fear. And there has been an enormous increase in both hysteria and scapegoating in recent decades — on both sides of the political so-called divide. It has been increasingly worrying to witness.

    However, it still comes as something of a shock that your eminently sober, commonsensical words elicited the reaction they did. So it seems we must thank you for your bravery here as well. I’m so very glad you are not backing down here as all too many do. Thanks again.

    • It is not really a shock. Dawkins poorly presented his points because it seemed at first as though he was putting forth the ‘date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse’ argument himself which people reacted to because this is sometimes a fallacious statement. If he had put the argument in quotes or emphasized that it was an example, people would not have reacted in such a manner. It appeared as though he himself was taking a position.

  52. Dear Richard,
    To add to my previous message, I think it would be really helpful if you were to take your clarification out of this essay and publish it on its own so that the press would report it and make sure that it has as wide an audience as possible. On the Guardian comments page yesterday (which, alas, on such subjects as rape, domestic abuse etc is hardly full of Guardian readers, it is targeted by many men seeking to undermine women’s complaints on these issues), when you published this essay, I and others printed your clarification and links to it but all to barely any avail. The basic discussion went on based on just one of your three tweets, the one that seemed to imply that you believe date rape not to be serious. Some of the men contributing are going further and claiming that you agree that date rape does not exist. One man told me online yesterday that if a male friend forced himself on me non-violently (and one would do that how exactly!!) that I shouldn’t whine about it. Surely these are not the kind of individuals you want claiming you as their spokesman (and I’m afraid they have been in the last couple of days). And they are joined occasionally by religious contributors saying ‘ooh look atheism leads to date rape’. Rubbish of course but neither group could be doing these things if you had chosen a subject other than rape to make your points.

    You have a serious grievance against the Guardian article and others who reported just two of your tweets and not the third one and a clarification published on its own would make sure that far more people actually understand what you were getting at. As I said before, I am very much a supporter of yours but I do think this whole business could do your reputation a lot of damage if you don’t clarify what you said to more people than those on this website.

  53. Every year 70 millions girls are deprived of even a basic education. And a staggering 60 million are sexually assaulted on their way to school. And you want to QUIBBLE about LOGIC?? Dearest Logical Dawkins, the 70 million with no education is BAD, the 60 million sexuallly assaulted on the way to school is WORSE. AND I know that this is not an endorsement of the 70 million who haven’t LEARNED HOW TO THINK, but if you think that this makes your tweet acceptable, YOU go home and learn how to think about others – the 130 MILLION GIRLS you disrespected this year alone, and the countless others who will suffer because of your puling tweet and subsequent, disdainful non-apology, accompanied by MORE self-aggrandising about your brilliant capacity to THINK. Get a heart and ‘go figure’.

      • Implied in your comments above (including “I didn’t care whether we chose to say date rape was worse than dark alley stranger rape, or vice versa. Nor was I unaware that it is a sensitive issue, as is pedophilia. I deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion of sensitive issues. That, then, is why I chose rape and pedophilia for my hypothetical examples. I think rationalists should be free to discuss spectrums of nastiness, even if only to reject them. I had noticed indications that rape and pedophilia had moved out of the discussion zone into a no-go taboo area. I wanted to challenge the taboo, just as I want to challenge all taboos against free discussion” is the fact that you think it is completely acceptable to place your right to discuss LOGIC above any requirement to be respectful to people who have suffered the trauma of sexual assault (for instance, the 60 million who are sexually assaulted on the way to school). I find this disrespectful in the extreme, although I’m sure you’ll tell me there can be no degrees of disrespect. I also find it disrespectful that you DIRECT people to go and LEARN how to think when, because of poverty and other unbelievable dilemmas (such as being seen as sex objects) 70 million girls per annum don’t even make it anywhere near an institution which might ‘teach them to think – i.e. teach them the hallowed thing called LOGIC). I therefore do find your comments highly disrespectful to the 130 million girls per annum who are either raped on their way to school or don’t even have a chance to go to school. AND, I find your comments disrespectful to all people who’ve suffered rape or other forms of sexual assault such as paedophilia. Are there no go zones for practitioners of logic such as yourself … Hell yes!! Why? Um, because it can readily be misconstrued in the media, on talk shows, and in the annals of public discourse where this has already gone … and guess who gets to hear their ANGUISH bandied about?? Survivors of sexual trauma – trauma … the suffering does not end. And your elitist desire to go on about LOGIC and your elitist RIGHT to direct people to GO and LEARN HOW TO THINK … using such insensitive examples is mean-spirited, disrespectful and does cause sorrow.
        Your tweets were BAD, but the impacts they’ve had around the world, the hurt to so many survivors of rape and paedophilia are WORSE, and I understand that this is not an endorsement IN ANY WAY of your tweets.

      • That would be the part where you deliberately chose emotional subjects to make your point, which was essentially that people should be less emotional.

        You stirred up emotions, for the purpose of telling people not to be emotional.

        That’s not logic, that’s just psychological manipulation.

        • No Sally, my point was that people like Richard Dawkins who holds a position of power in society, ought to have a heart for the people who will be affected by the tsunami of discourse he’s unleashed. People who’ve suffered from rape and assault via the hand or the penis of a paedophile (to use the descriptors used by Dawkins) WILL be retraumatised by them being splashed across the corridors of social media, news media and so on.
          Dawkins doesn’t care.
          He says so above.
          He wants to show what logic is, and to demonstrate that it ought to be allowed to play (or is it plod) in any arena it jolly well likes.
          But, what if it’s playing or plodding causes harm?
          What then, Sally?
          What then, Dawkins?

          • Richard Dawkins’s tweet was bad for survivors of rape because they didn’t understand his logic, the eruption of discourse in news and social media was worse for rape survivors because it brought up feelings of sorrow about their rape, and this is in no way an endorsement of Dawkins’s initial tweet.
            Have I got it right yet, Richard and Sally, or do I need to away and learn how to think a bit more?

  54. I am a great fan of Richard Dawkins’ books and essays, but I think he is just terrible on Twitter. Whether it is snootily implying that Muslims worldwide are stupid due to a lack of academic prizes or this unnecessary condescending logic lesson inexplicably using rape and ‘mild pedophilia’ to make what is an obvious point, he is steamrolling his own well-deserved reputation for careful, thoughtful and persuasive argumentation. Also, when telling people who object to his grotesque comparison of different forms of rape to ‘go away and learn how to think’, he basically comes off as callous and dismissive. Now in his response he is actually comparing getting criticized on Twitter to the Inquisition? Witch hunts? Please, Prof. Dawkins, you didn’t gain your fame and reputation by throwing out half-baked incendiary Tweets about hot button issues. I would recommend that you go back to what you are good at. No problem if you want to discuss rape, pedophilia, Muslims, etc (I agree with you that no issues are taboo), but when you do it on Twitter you come off as an obnoxious cad.

    • I am a great fan of Richard Dawkins’ books and essays, but I think he is just terrible on Twitter.

      I don’t think he is terrible on Twitter. I think Twitter is terrible. Or rather I think Twitter is an example of how the Internet has devolved from something wonderful to something trivial and stupid. Such devolution is not a surprise, I think it’s sort of a corollary of the law of entropy that cool things become less cool over time as the masses of people adopt them and there are still plenty of awesome things about the Internet.

      But what I really don’t understand is why Dawkins wastes his time on Twitter in the first place. I’m guessing it’s at least partly because some media consultant is telling him that’s the only way to reach young hip people. You can’t have meaningful debate 140 chars at a time. All you can do is trade insults or snarky comments with people. Twitter is a waste of time for anyone interested in serious discussion and I think it’s a shame that Dawkins spends as much of his valuable time there as opposed to writing more books or having actual discussions with the people here on his site. In fact I also think you can view the whole redesign of his site in that light as well. The effect was to vastly diminish the capabilities for users to actually launch and participate in meaningful discussions.

      • Could not agree more re: Twitter. I haven’t joined and never look at it. In nineteenth-century England friends used to write (by hand!) 20-page letters to each other without batting an eye. Then we got email (wonderful), which made letter-writing as painless as possible. But with the ever-greater distractedness of the times — and the appearance of texting (and Facebook) — I have noticed that more and more people forget to answer them, or write increasingly telegraphic ones. And now … more and more people seem to spend their time reading Twitter feeds than, heaven forbid, deeply considered and carefully written essays longer than a couple of paragraphs (and as for whole books! …). We’ve become a skimming, darting, endlessly simplifying and trivializing culture, magnetized by ever-flickering screens.

        Kill your Twitter! You have nothing to lose but your diminishing attention spans! Terrible, terrible invention, methinks.

  55. If Mr Dawkins were innocently interested in a simple lesson in logic for the masses, why would he use rape and child rape in the content of his logical argument? In any debate, opening with ‘reductio ad hitlerum’ is a distracting bit of demagoguery designed to raise hackles. For what purpose? Another demagogue would know.

    • He answered it in the post:
      “…To quote one blogger, prominent in the atheist movement, ‘What would have been wrong with, “Slapping someone’s face is bad, breaking their nose is worse”? Why need to use rape?’

      Yes, I could have used the broken nose example. I accept that I must explain why I chose to use the particular example of rape. I was emphatically not trying to hurt rape victims or trivialise their awful experience. They get enough of that already from the “She was wearing a short skirt, I bet she was really begging for it Hur Hur Hur” brigade. So why did I choose rape as my unpleasant hypothetical (in both directions) rather than the “breaking someone’s nose” example? Here’s why.

      I hope I have said enough above to justify my belief that rationalists like us should be free to follow moral philosophic questions without emotion swooping in to cut off all discussion, however hypothetical. I’ve listed cannibalism, trapped miners, transplant donors, aborted poets, circumcision, Israel and Palestine, all examples of no-go zones, taboo areas where reason may fear to tread because emotion is king. Broken noses are not in that taboo zone. Rape is. So is pedophilia. They should not be, in my opinion. Nor should anything else.”

  56. Here we have an article that squirms throughout with the idea of right and wrong as though these were givens beyond question. Expressions of right and wrong may be seen everywhere from logic to religion but they have no place in a proper understanding of reality.

    As regards logic, we obviously simply accept abstraction and its symbology, and perhaps ‘wrongly’ equate equivalence with ‘being right’. For example, 3+4 = 7 is generally considered as ‘right’ but just look either side of that equals sign and you will see that the two things that are supposed to be equal are actually quite different – even graphically. So much for logic.

    It’s quite curious however to hear the likes of Richard Dawkins agonising about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ within an apparently moral context. He is strangely close to the religious ideas he so often mocks. Maybe all that religion-bashing subconsciously made him embrace some of its notions of righteousness in order not to lose too many friends.

    No matter – right and wrong are just like good and bad, democracy, god, human rights and other human-invented concepts that are exploited to attain power by selling the masses some make-believe set of justifications. If this is not obvious, ask yourself a simple question: of what elements, compounds or form of energy are any of these things composed? Not easy is it? That is because they have no existence other than as cognitive concepts.

    Our obsession with right and wrong is founded on a fear that if we do not endorse such ideas we will personally be seen as morally bereft or reprehensible. And at a societal level there is the cultural perspective that morals are what make us ‘good’ people and so must be made publicly explicit and observed. How sadly like a religion-minus-god it all is!

    It might be quite flattering all this stuff, but where were the human rights of the millions of innocents who have been killed – and still are being killed – in our mindless wars? The holocaust may have been ‘wrong’ but that didn’t stop it for one second. The native people’s of America may have had a ‘right’ to their land but they were slaughtered just the same. That same country calls itself a ‘democracy’ but it is increasingly becoming a police state of great inequality that spies not only on dissidents, but on its whole population. The list of such non-truths is long and wearisome and only proves how easily we are taken in…

  57. A plethora of Palestinian Arabs played a role in Hitler’s crimes. In 2002, Yasser Arafat described Hajj Amin al-Husseini as a “hero.” Husseini, the leader of the Palestinians during the war, was a Nazi collaborator and worked as their adviser on the Jewish problem. After meeting Heinrich Himmler during a tour of Auschwitz, he vowed to open his own extermination camp for the Jews in Palestine after the war. He was sought after the war by the Allies for war crimes. Egypt gave him asylum.

  58. Some people respond with “We don’t talk about that!” I don’t know if the subject, pedophilia, e.g., 1) is so awful that to discuss it is to somehow approve or if 2) the discussion of the subject causes emotional distress (disgust?) in the participants. To others the subject is just taboo, but it is so taboo that they cannot discuss why it is taboo.

    Perhaps, Dr. Dawkins, in the class prior to the rape discussion you should have a discussion of the nature and causes of taboo-ness.

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  60. “Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.”

    “Could eugenics ever be justified? Could torture? A clock triggering a gigantic nuclear weapon hidden in a suitcase is ticking. A spy has been captured who knows where it is and how to disable it, but he refuses to speak. Is it morally right to torture him, or even his innocent children, to make him reveal the secret? What if the weapon were a doomsday machine that would blow up the whole world?”

    “We all agree it isn’t true that some human races are genetically superior to others in intelligence.”

    Is the purpose of the suggestion to promote discussion or convince readers of the truth of your POV (or both)?

    Could eugenics introduce a species of humans that would be genetically superior?

    If human survival is threatened and eugenics could greatly improve the odds against extinction, should eugenics be re-evaluated?

    Does the question of survival of the human genus deserve special treatment?

    Are discussions of questions such as these valuable overall or are they essentially merely mental masturbation for a certain subset of intelligent people?

    • Surely there are enough real ethical and moral dilemmas in life that we do not need to invent hypotheticals to permit useful discussion. If we debate imaginary situations, we get unhelpful conclusions that are divorced from real contexts.

      Should we accept a modern technical convenience of great general utility to millions, yet which harms the global ecology and demands the blood sacrifice of thousands per year taken at random? Sounds like an ethical no?

      Ponder it on your next commute to work.

      • “Surely there are enough real ethical and moral dilemmas in life that we do not need to invent hypotheticals to permit useful discussion.”

        Let’s see how that idea would play in physics:

        “Riding a light beam? Surely professor Einstein there are enough real examples in life that we do not need to invent hypotheticals to permit useful discussion.”

        Sometimes creating a thought experiment can yield insight.

        However, I do agree that a lot of the thought experiments done in ethics and especially the way they are analyzed are not very useful. If you are familiar with things like “the doctrine of double effect” for example, I think those things are mostly rubbish and the people who come up with them need to think more about the scientific roots of ethics (e.g. reciprocal altruism and kin selection) rather than just spend all their time on academic analysis of language. It’s why I think the evolutionary psychology people are the ones who are doing most of the interesting work in the “soft” sciences.

          • Yes, I think that’s fair to say about Wilson’s book. I’ve always wanted to try reading that one, I think most of it would be over my head but sometimes it can be fun to try going over your head a bit. It’s really disgraceful the way Wilson was vilified by the left after that book, I think it’s one of the most disgraceful examples of PC gone nuts in recent memory.

            BTW, a good book I read recently was The Triumph of Sociobiology by John Alcock. I think it may be primarily an overview text book but it’s very well written and more at my level (and more up to date) than Wilson’s book.

  61. Dear Mr. Dawkins!
    Can emotion-based taboos be the consequence of psychological (physical?) neoteny? Is it possible that the whole religion inventing, authority seeking, irrationally emotional stuff is all the side-effect of human neoteny? And there are data which point towards an increasing neoteny in human race. Could it be stopped with the toolkit of democracy?

  62. “We all agree it isn’t true that some human races are genetically superior to others in intelligence. But let’s for a moment suspend disbelief and consider the consequences if it were true.”

    Of course, this can also be used as a rhetorical device for not speaking your belief but still debating it. Maybe the professor truly believes that there are (or could be) genetic differences affecting intelligence in the same way it can affect health issues. Of course, in the current climate, you cannot say this, so he or she uses this thought experiment to get people to debate it while protecting him or herself from persecution.

    Is this not the same rhetorical device employed in the Middle Ages. Let’s just assume God does not exist. Of course he exists but let’s just assume….

  63. The very fact that most legal systems provide different classifications for the crime of taking a human life, (i.e. – manslaughter, murder in the 2nd degree, in the 1st, etc.) an arguably worse crime than rape, takes this subject out of the realm of thought experiment and into an important discussion of practical consideration.

    You cannot say, “Rape is rape, is rape,” while also saying that homicide is not always homicide.

      • We already have this in some or most jurisdictions: “sexual assault”, “rape”, and “aggravated rape”. Depending on the mens rea for the offence of rape as defined in the jurisdiction, some crimes may not technically be rape but may be something else such as reckless endangerment. Then there are various crimes involving sex with young people. Sometimes we hear about “statutory rape”, though often there is a crime that involves having consensual sex with someone below the age of 16 (assuming that is the age of consent in the jurisdiction) but above, say, the age of 12. This may be called “carnal knowledge with a minor” or some such thing, not “rape”. And then there’s the fact that all these crimes will have maximum statutory sentences, with the judge setting the actual sentence based on all the circumstances of the particular conduct.

        So the law already has categories and much flexibility built in. Discussions about all this – e.g. how the various crimes should be labeled, what elements should be required for the different crimes, what the different maximum sentences should be – do take place. Usually, it seems that they only take place among legal experts. One question is whether it would be a good idea or a bad idea to involve the public more broadly with questions like this.

    • Ah, yes. But then, almost all legal systems already provide, if not classifications, instruments to qualify rape. It is worst, depending of the legal system, when committed against elderly people, against your own relatives, against children, against virgins, against non-prostitutes, against police officers, against married women, against men, against the mentally ill, against prisoners… it is worse if committed by law enforcement personal, bosses, parents, teachers, prison guards… it is worse if committed with the use of guns, knifes, ropes, cuffs, drugs… it is worse if committed with the intent of profit, with the intent to induce suicide, with the intent to spread disease… etc.

      All of this can be rationally discussed. Is raping a prostitute as bad as raping a “honest woman”? Why or why not? What consequences would follow from considering these things different or equal? Is it possible to make them different without making other related differences between prostitutes and other women, and would these differences be acceptable? Is it possible to make them equal without making prostitutes and non-prostitutes equal in other sences, and would such equalities be acceptable?

      All this, however, can surely be made without resorting to “raping a prostitute is bad, but raping a ‘honest woman’ is worse; if you think this is an endorsement of raping prostitutes, go away and learn how to think”. Indeed, I can’t see how such weird sentence would in any way help us in deciding whether raping prostitutes should or should not carry the same penalties as raping a non-prostitute; on the contrary, it would probably make the intended rational discussion impossible.

      Again, we are dealing with post-fact rationalisations that don’t sound wholesome. Was it an attempt to teach logic? If so, why use such examples? Was it an attempt to rationally discuss the differences between different kinds of rape (wich was, by the way, especifically denied in th OP, where it is said that it doesn’t matter whether X or Y kind of rape is worse)? If so, why not clearly stating the differences between different kinds of rape, and attempting to reason about what makes one worse than other? Was it an attempt to demonstrate that people react irrationally to certain subjects? If so, why not starting by stating that fact, and then going on to examples?

      (To make it clear, I don’t think raping non-prostitutes is worse than raping prostitutes, nor do I think each case should carry different penalties. Nor do I use language such as ‘honest women’ except when giving examples like the above to make a point – which would be, choice of words is also not neutral, and opposing ‘date-rape’ to ‘rape at knife-point’ is illogical; a stranger can rape without a knife, and an acquaintance can rape at knife-point.)

  64. I agree with Dawkins that intellectuals should feel free to ask any question but that doesn’t absolve them of considering the consequences of the things they say. That is the problem that I have with Harris and his discussions of torture. When Pinker talks about things like genetic predispositions he is clear to point out that nothing he is going to say is meant to nor in actuality does support racist or sexist ideologies.

    When Harris published some of his most important writing on torture it was actively being discussed and people were actually BEING TORTURED by the US government. Harris never gave the kind of qualifications that Pinker has. What’s more to this day Harris to my knowledge has never acknowledged that the torture he was tacitly supporting by the Bush administration has been shown, and the evidence is overwhelming, not only to not have worked but in fact to be counter productive. Read The Black Banner by FBI interrogator and expert on Islamic terrorism Ali Soufan.

  65. Isn’t it the opposite, that there are locations where emotion is inapt and not allowed to show its face?

    Thomas Paine said, “Government is the mode necessary when moral virtue has shown an inability to govern the world.” As such when government is tasked with the decision to either wage war or concede defeat, they are not involved in a moral calculus and what is best for social justice, but are deciding what is necessary from a logical calculus those options that ensure national survival.

    The moral mind might be closed to discussion, but it is the logical mind that cannot suffer morality in rationalizing its outcomes. Admitted moral virtue is closed, and an absolute system and thereby unchallengeable, but this is rectified by politicians by exclusion of morality in decision making. The battle or schism between morality and logic is presented as zero-sum and mutually exclusive, but this is a mistruth.

    God is defined by those aspects which yield positivism of identity, clockwork orchestration, animation or nature of behavior, and self-organization. Creation is the word of God. Morality are those systems that relate self-oganization to the species of man.

    The atheist does not challenge God, but a specific delineation of the ‘way’ to his word, ie a prophecy of morality. God is undeniable as an external force the the unified laws of existence. Thereby is religion questioned outright because religion does unite but separate mankind into divisions.

  66. I found this post through reddit and I glad I did. I was an atheist from the birth and so, even though, I heard about Dr. Dawkins I never bothered to check him out. I mean why bother reading arguments that explain that evolution is real and there is no God. I already know that.

    Now that I read the post, I feel like I missed out. The level of knowledge, well-thought arguments, coherence, eloquence… just smote me. And to me it was about a very trivial point. “X is worse than Y does not mean that you endorse X”. It’s beyond me why it became viral so that he had to explain it, but the way he did it was brilliant.

    I know I’m being off topic. Just talking about my personal shock and that I think I need to read what he says about evolution as well.

  67. Very well said, Professor Dawkins. Taboo is the perfect word for “sacred cows” of this kind. One only has to read its definition to see the parallel to religious dogma:

    a social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.”

    Emotional discomfort keeps people from even looking into the dark corners, where the honestly reasonable must dare to tread.

  68. Richard Dawkins demonstrates valor above and beyond the call of duty by calling for open debate on “controversial” personal or socially sensitive subjects. Perhaps the invidious distinction between Logic/Reason and Emotion smacks of a false dichotomy, but in common sense terms, we know what he is trying to say.

    Findings derived from scientific investigation are necessary and sufficient for a conditional understanding of natural phenomena pending further research, but empirical inputs while necessary are not sufficient for understanding emotional, moral and aesthetic issues. Human interests and purposes deeply internalized to form a point-of-view evoke diverse consensus about what we should believe and how we should act upon those beliefs in moral dilemmas.

    Nonetheless empiricism broadly understood to encompass modern scientific method, forensic evidence, circumstantial evidence and carefully screened eye-witness observations should constitute the foundation for arriving at moral or legal judgments. Moving from analysis ( determining matters of fact) to synthesis (comprehending a coherent narrative), we must still appeal to a consensus or intersubjective agreement expressed in culturally determined moral codes, statutory law or our own moral intuitions in order to arrive at a judgment. Obviously bias, custom, community standards, self interest and feelings/emotion cannot be extirpated completely from the process. In the rhetorical sense of “the last best hope,” Richard is right to remind us that an open ended methodology consistent with science, reason and respectful consideration for coherent inputs from multiple diverse viewpoints on any topic, no matter how controversial, keeps us on the only pragmatic course for human progress.

  69. That’s it, Robin for PM – European President and ‘President of the West.’ And I am NOT being sarcastic – maybe a little flippant – but I’d strongly advise people to read her posts on 30th July and her reponses.

  70. I was raped and I am very happy to talk about it, so no of course it should not be taboo. And I entirely understand that in his tweets Richard was putting forward an example to illustrate a point, not grading rapes. And yet the odd thing is that the substantive question of whether some rapes are worse than others is what Richard goes on to discuss in the above article, in the paragraph about sentencing policy, prompting a (no doubt emotional) response from me, a raped person, on the lines of “has he seen the conviction rates and yet he’s chewing on sentencing policy?”. In other words, if we are going to talk about rape then let’s talk about it properly. To do otherwise feels to me akin to the all too common response to FGM that Richard so rightly highlights (the one which runs “what about male circumcision?”). It’s a way of pulling the focus away from the important issue.

    There is also an assumption in the article that emotional responses are bad, and close down rational debate. My education and intellectual interests lie in literature and poetry, so my academic training was infused with developing the skills of analysing the expression of feeling. (The fact that Richard and many of the commentators are from quite different academic disciplines makes these discussions particularly fascinating for me.) Further, the best healing from my own rape came from expressing and carefully analysing my own powerful emotional reaction to it (my anger in particular). So I’ve learned to trust emotions (but not necessarily to act on them of course – for example I wanted to take the life of my rapist but punched shit out of a cushion in a therapist’s consultation room instead). Emotion provokes debate as much as, even more than, it closes it down. To dismiss passion as the enemy of reason is an error. We are at our greatest and most effective when we temper, not squash, passion with reason. Let the passionate rage. Let the angry shout. They are not always right, but people are only ever angry for one reason: they think something is unjust. What a wonderful response to wrong-doing.

    • You are HAPPY to talk about it? Or you talk about it to help you overcome it, or to maybe help someone who went through the same horror as you? See, everything can be misinterpreted and I think Mr. Dawkins was highly misunderstood. He never said you should not use emotions dealing with your situation or such thing, he said, in plain English, let’s discuss rape (pedophilia, holocaust, torture, you name it) as it seems that these areas have become emotional no-gos. As this blog has shown, people don’t understand the value of discussion without emotion. Mr. Dawkins was not telling you not to feel emotions about your particular and surely very painful experience. He used rape as he could have used Holocaust (and then maybe the people on the blog would be from an entirely different category), torture (another set of bloggers) and so on. He in no way (even by comparing different types of rapes) condoned, minimized or clinically analyzed rape. I don’t think we read the same article or maybe, as Protagoras would supposedly hve said: man is the measure of all thing

      • Hi Maria, yes I am happy to talk about it. The cultural expectation that we rapees will not talk about (on the kindly-meant but misguided principle that it will be painful for us to do so) is not helpful to us. I agree that Mr Dawkins said “let’s discuss rape”. My reply is “I’m happy to do so”, and it is interesting that you immediately challenge this clear and unambiguous statement of mine, wondering if that’s what I actually meant. It is.

  71. I have been teaching philosophy for over 40 years. I have noticed that since schools ceased to teach geometrical proofs, students think that proof is the same as evidence. Thus they cannot follow remarks like those Dawkins makes which rely on the form of the argument.

  72. I wonder if Dawkins could have tweeted two versions of the hypothetical.

    “Prison (male on male) rape is bad, but a male raping a female is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of prison rape, go away and learn how to think.”

    “A male raping a female is bad, but Prison (male on male) rape is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of men raping women, go away and learn how to think.”

    It would have made it clear that he was not saying which is worse as a matter of fact. And it would draw attention to the fact that, if one includes prison rape, men might be raped in similar numbers as women. It’s a horrible crime with both genders as victims.

    • I would say that the “shock and awe” tactics is the problem.

      “X is worse than Y; this is not an endorsement of Y – can everybody agree?”

      Hm, yes.

      “So now, what if we flesh up X and Y with emotionally loaded issues – does that invalidate the reasoning?”

      Hm, no.

      “Even if such loaded issue is pedophilia or rape?”

      Hey, wait…

      “Ah, so, it does make a difference, is it? What would that difference be?”

  73. Tom Jul 31, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Of course, in the current climate, you cannot say… there are (or
    could be) genetic differences affecting intelligence in the same way
    it can affect health issues,…so he or she uses this thought
    experiment to get people to debate it while protecting him or herself
    from persecution.

    Damn Adolph dude; not only did he kill or cause to perish multi-millions (it’s beyond me to come up with an actual agreed upon number) but because of his legacy (racial bigotries Hitlerism promotes instill more fear in individuals who label themselves rational than any others IMHO) all facets of genetics can’t even be discussed.

    Truth is, neither a non-existent God nor a scientifically observable operating system (of infinite reality) judges anything. Humans judge.

  74. So add me to the multitudes that are extremely bothered by your little logic exercise. Since you claim to be interested in logic, and I consider myself a logical person, I will try to break it down for you lest you accuse me of being “emotional”.

    (Such an accusation is itself emotional, especially because you fail to recognise the privilege in having the education sufficient to break down your own emotional responses into logical steps and not recognise that just because other people lack that education doesn’t mean the process by which they came to their emotional response is not rational, or that they “cannot think”. If you are unable to work through the possible logical steps of the opposing argument, you may just be too emotionally attached to your own viewpoint.)



    We have your basic statement, “X is bad, Y is is worse. This is not an endorsement of X.” So “worse” or “bad” is a quality, A, which X or Y can possess an amount of, or not. This means A is measurable.



    Measurable by whom? I don’t recall any universal units of badness.

    There are two groups of people that have either the right or the need to measure the “badness” of rape. These are the victims, and the law. Each of these groups should be handled differently, because while the measurement the law uses is relevant to everybody in society, the measurement for a victim is theirs and theirs alone. I would put to you that due to the well known phenomena of everyone’s experience being unique, not only do people external of an individual have no right to impose a measurement on their suffering, they have an obligation to take that individual’s expression of their suffering at face value without comparison. Physicians well know that pain is completely subjective. I would say that people’s habit of trying to impose some sort of comparative scale of what you should be feeling on victims of rape adds significantly, psychologically, to their suffering and guilt. Listen to victims, believe them. Deal with their hurt, and the act, separately. This kind of compassionate understanding is sorely lacking in your discussion.



    Which brings us to the law. Here is where there is a major flaw in your logical premise, one that those untrained in your language of logic have been telling you over and over, and you have failed to listen. Rape is rape. Rape is rape is rape. Rape = rape. Got it yet?

    

Your assertion that “being raped by a stranger” and “being raped by a friend” are two different things that can be compared is wrong at its very core, because you have ignored that rape is rape. Therefore, “being raped by a stranger” is rape plus something, and “being raped by a friend” is rape plus something different.



    Logically: Is X+B greater than X+C in terms of A, where X, B, and C each have quantities of A?


    X is X. According to this premise, for the legal discussion only and not the victim’s experience, X has static amount of A. Which means your comparison is between B and C.

    So, is B greater than, less than, or equal to C?

    Is a legal transgression upon a person committed by a stranger worse than a legal transgression by a friend?



    See how uncontroversial that question is? 

Your retreat into calling such things “taboo” instead of breaking it down in a logical fashion is lazy thinking. Maybe you need to go away and …. improve your ability to think logically.

    

From a legal point of view, if we are to find consistent punishments for rape, everything involved in that incident must be taken into account. So really two comparisons involving X as a constant, must also look at B, C, D, E ….. where they stand for violence, bodily harm, trespass, abuse of authority, vulnerability of victim, attempted murder, deprivation of liberty etc. The reason for the varying punishments of rape should have more to do with the sum of all A in the circumstance rather than varying A of rape. That they don’t has more to do with the prevailing social attitudes that sometimes rape is less bad than any logical discussion, a social attitude that you have displayed and unwittingly perpetuated right here.

    As a rationalist, you are free to follow moral philosophic questions. As a twitter user, you ought to know your audience. As someone with a great deal of experience in using the language of rational expression and logic, you are aware that very few others on Twitter are. As a global citizen, you should feel some impetus to go through this life without adding to the pain of others. As someone with great reach and reasonable authority, you affect other people with your words, and as a thinking being, all these things combined should lead you to choose your words intelligently. You know better than many people, pure logical justifications without the interference of “emotion” has led to great acts of evil historically. As a person of supposed high intelligence, you can’t just say 140 characters of inflammatory, hurtful words, and not expect a backlash. Gilding it with “hypothetical” is no better than a comedian using a puppet to tell racist jokes. And classifying people’s reactions as “angry”, “emotional” and “learn how to think” is deliberate language designed to provoke and belittle others. I don’t know why you think it’s ok to poke the bear and then feign astonishment when you get bit.

    • To a Judge trained in law, rape may be separable X+A or X+B.
      To a scientist trained in chemistry, Orange paint may be separable into Yellow + Red. And Green paint may be separable in Yellow + Blue. But to the human visual perception, orange is orange and green is green. We can know that the two are composed of separate parts, but we can’t ‘see it’.

      I would then also argue there is a case for saying that for those untrained in the logical dissection of emotions into constituent facts, X+A and X+B are very different beasts. One is Green and one is Orange. For a given person, these are likely separable by subjective comparison. I, for example, prefer Green, and yet I prefer Red to Blue. So much for additive logic in emotional discourse.

      In any case, emotionally speaking, I would argue that the constituent parts should be combined more intimately than just added. Not necessarily multiplicative, but perhaps. So is XA > XB? Most, I think, would agree that the emotional experience of being alone at a music gig, and the emotional experience of being in a cheering crowd on the street are not linearly additive. When combined, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Does this apply to our question? As it is also a case of emotional experience, I would suggest yes, but again, it is only answerable by each individual.

  75. Richard,

    The following is written with respect for much of your work.

    I can’t disagree with your post but I’m struggling to see it as an argument for your tweets. These tweets on rape/child abuse seem to be stating subjective opinion as objective fact without a hint of questioning. There seems to be a notable lack of logic. However, If there was some high-end philosophical debates that led to your assertions and classifications of forms of rape/child abuse I’d love to hear the reasoning behind the twitter.

    My advice is, as you are a highly subjective character, that you should employ language that suggests you know this about yourself.

  76. If one is not prepared, to take reality as what it is, in many cases much more than uncomfortable, one can do without asking those questions. But there is rape everywhere in the world, the „war“ in Gaza is reality and even questions like the one if torture of a perpetrator is justified by the situation is reality.
    Germany 2002 the case Magnus Gäfgen. The confessed child kidnapper (and murder) was threatened „pain beyond everything he ever experienced“ to get the information where the victim was located. In the following the vice president of the police in Frankfurt Wolfgang Daschner and the co-defendant Kriminalhauptkommissar Ortwin Ennigkeit were investigated to be guilty of coercion in office. Daschner was fined 10.800 € Ennigkeit 3.600 €.

    The fact that evils like this exist in the human world immediately rises the question where we get the standards from, based on which we judge such things and mark them as evil. Neither are they given a priori, nor did they derive from so called „holy scriptures“. We developed them over thousands of years by means of more or less rational discussion (and than implanted them into the holy scriptures, to make them generally mandatory!) and the evil mentioned above shows very well that we would do well not to take the process as finished, but keep on working on our standards to make them more accurate. Even because we live in a world getting permanently more complex, where evil sometimes hides and sometime is outsourced in parts of the world, so far away from us, that we are are able to supersede it very easily.

    The example of rape is not only about the victim, but also about the question of the degree of civilization concerning the treatment of the rapist. In conversations with people in my surrounding I received a few times the the totally impassive answer rapists should be killed or at least castrated. Even a life long imprisonment seemed not to be a sufficient punishment. It was even asked why the society should pay for the life long imprisonment of the perpetrator. At this point, in my opinion, it is very obvious, that the development of our civilized thinking is not even close to be finished.

    The history of my own family as offspring of former Caribbean slaves made me sensitive for the issue. Never the less I am able to take slavery not just as a “faux pas” in the human history, that can be seen as overcome because on the island my father derives from slaves are no longer in chains, but right at the moment I am writing this I am aware that for the resources necessary to build the laptop I am using and for the final production of it, at different places of the world people have to suffer situations that are comparable to slavery either only to survive in the first place, or because they are forced by the systems there – tolerated by us. Only by thinking about such issues it is possible to change them and so improve the life off at least all humans. To gain the understanding of this, it is necessary, among other actions, even to construct extreme and uncomfortable hypothesis and to discuss them.

    Banning those discussions – putting them in a taboo zone – in my opinion would be equivalent to accept the status quo and let a significant part of the human society be a victim of their fate. Only by dispassionately discussing moral issues it is possible to shine light on the even dark abysses of us humans and enlighten them and continue to approach what I see as civilization.

  77. I realized something earlier today.

    There would have been no point in my using the broken nose example to
    illustrate my logic, because nobody would ever accuse us of endorsing
    face-slapping when we say, “Broken nose is worse than slap in face”.
    The point is trivially obvious, as it is with the symbolic case of “X
    is worse than Y”. But I knew that not everybody would think it obvious
    in the special cases of rape and pedophilia, and that was precisely
    why I raised them for discussion. I didn’t care whether we chose to
    say date rape was worse than dark alley stranger rape, or vice versa.
    Nor was I unaware that it is a sensitive issue, as is pedophilia. I
    deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion
    of sensitive issues.

    This is not logic. It’s merely psychological manipulation.

    Teach people to be logical instead of emotional. How? By saying things that are inflammatory and designed to stir up emotions, then afterwards by berating and lecturing people that they shouldn’t be emotional.

    A bit like teaching nonviolence by first slapping people, then lecturing them about how it’s better to be nonviolent when they hit you back.

  78. With firsthand experience, I can absolutely vouch for Mr. Dawkins in that there are spectrums of evil, even for the most sensitive, taboo crimes. As a survivor of multiple rapes, I can admit that one was far worse than the other. Does that mean a certain sort of rape is okay? Of course not–anyone with a hint of reason can figure that, regardless of their past experience.

    • Thank you for your honesty and courage. I hope you don’t get bullied for saying that. I am appalled that anyone should suffer rape, and even more that she should suffer multiple rapes.

      Another woman. Teresa Wadman, tweeted something similar this morning. She was immediately pounced on by malicious people accusing her of being a fake. Isn’t that just exactly an example of what rape victims so often have to put up with: having their word automatically doubted? But this case is unusual in that the doubters assailed her because she blasphemed against the sacred dogma that rape is rape is rape and it’s in principle impossible to distinguish gradations.

      • Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that most people who comment here are not critical thinkers. There are many “atheists” but ofcourse that does not mean they are critical thinkers. I have tried to get across that being a critical thinker leads to atheism while being atheist does not lead to critical thinking, and that it is critical thinking we should champion and identify with, not atheism. In fact, atheism is but a reflection and has no substance of its own, while critical thinking is the foundation for understanding truth.
        As a request, I was hoping you could put a greater emphasis on everyone becoming critical thinkers and in turn, discarding the accommodating badge of atheism.
        I truly feel that the last and greatest obstacle for humanity to overcome is the reason vs supernatural/irrational confusion. It is inevitable that critical thinking will lead to a stronger moral compass, and really, critical thinking is the only thing that can empower humanity towards a better future.

  79. We have to differentiate between the fact that there is evil in the world and the fact that many people DON’T want to think or even talk about this and the fact that there are quite a few people who want to think and talk about it. And we should be careful not to mistake those who choose to think and talk about evil with the evildoers themselves and those who choose NOT to think and talk about it with the righteous. I am a secular humanist, a biology teacher, an atheist. I choose to do my best to understand Richard Dawkin’s motives in presenting the moral dilemmata, namely that he chose them for people to feel free to think and talk about them. That’s it.

  80. What Dawkins did was that he divided ‘bad deeds’ into ‘bad’ and ‘worse’. and put ‘date rape’ in ‘bad’ and ‘stranger rape at knife point’ in ‘worse,’ i.e ‘bad’ is a less ‘bad deed’ than ‘worse’ and ‘worse’ is a more ‘bad deed’ than ‘bad’ while both falling under ‘bad deeds’ catagory.

    Though true it also implies that among ‘bad deeds’ (specifically among bad deeds), ‘bad’ is relatively more good than ‘worse’, i.e for a rapist ‘date rape’ is a better ‘bad deed’ than ‘stranger rape at knife point’.

    Dawkins, I think that though it is not an endorsement of ‘date rape’ among the public it is an endorsement of ‘date rape’ among the rapists. That means if we call a rapist and say your statement he might endorse it and may become more inclined towards date rape.
    And the same goes for pedophilia too that though not an endorsement of mild pedophilia among public it is an endorsement of mild pedophilia among pedophiles.

    • Does a rapist actually care how bad their actions are? I think not. I think it is a psychopath action. There is no thinking of the victim. There is no admission of guilt, certainly not while performing their action. Same for a peodophile.

      • I cant agree with that. Rapists don’t care about their victims thoughts so they may not care how bad their actions are but from the evidence of their acts that we can watch in the news we can definitely say that there are different kinds of rapists. For example
        a. There are rapists who drug and rape their victims solely for satisfying their sexual pleasures without causing other physical injuries,
        b. There are rapists who cause physical injuries to their victims
        c. There are rapists who kill their victims after they are satisfied with their desires.
        Though all of them are social psychopaths category ‘a’ falls under the ‘bad’ among the ‘bad deeds’ and category ‘c’ falls under the ‘worse’ among the ‘bad deeds’.
        So when Richard Dawkins statement is said to social psychopaths it is like asking them to endorse a lesser severe form of bad deed.
        So it is good if a psychopath of catagory ‘c’ change to ‘a’ after hearing RD’s statement

    • @ anees: In 1999 David Howard, in Washington D.C. was fired for using the word “niggardly” instead of, say, “miserly” and, by your logic, rightfully so. Please, Mr. Dawkins, have your editors do a WWRT check (What Would Rapists Think) before you publish anything else.

  81. Dear Richard,

    I am one of those ‘moral philosophers’ you talk about.

    I think perhaps if you had studied philosophy at university, you would have come across the quite voluminous literature that has grown up since Kant which acknowledges and investigates the role of emotion in moral reasoning.

    Maybe you could read something like Raimond Gaita’s ‘A Common Humanity’ to start with. But until then, perhaps simply consider the following:

    Our perception of certain objects and actions as having moral value involves subjectivity and emotion. Therefore, although we do have something we call ‘impartiality’ in discussing moral questions, this is not the same as other forms of impartiality such as that employed in scientific investigations.

    Yours sincerely,
    Jessica

    • Why do people make a religion out of emotion… Spin it in this mythical dichotomy with reason – a specious one in my mind.

      Our perception of everything in our conscious reality involves “emotion and subjectivity”.

      The drive to do “reason” in the first place was driven by emotion. Survival gives emotion. Knowledge and awe give emotion. We are made of emotion.

      Reason is emotion bridled, and steered towards an emotional end – science its triumphant neigh.

      Pleasure and pain are the checkered stepping-stones of our evolutionary march through space and time. Now that is a genuine dichotomy.

      • . @ena. Our perception of everything in our conscious reality involves “emotion and subjectivity”.

        Our emotions can lead us to make faulty decisions. It’s the emotional response to the unfamiliar that can lead to racism and sexism, jingoism and xenophobia. Dictators grab hold of emotions and sway the populace to commit terrible deeds. Marketers seek an emotional response to sell products. It’s better for us if we try very hard to eliminate an emotional response when making a decision or assessing the truth of the matter. Emotions can lead us astray.
        The practice of science tries to eliminate the errors made when normal human beings view things emotionally; that’s why absolute objectivity is essential. Experiments need to be repeated to weed out any emotional interpretation of results.
        We both know that religions seem set to stir up the emotions, often featuring embarrassing displays of people speaking in tongues and falling into trance-like states. The emotions are fine when kept in their appropriate settings, such as appreciating music or really “getting into” a movie or play. Showing empathy is calling upon our emotions in a good way but assessing truth requires objectivity.

        • “Our emotions can lead us to make faulty decisions. It’s the emotional
          response to the unfamiliar that can lead to racism and sexism,
          jingoism and xenophobia.”

          Don’t forget that a positive response to the unfamiliar and the different is also an EMOTIONAL response. (Do you think that the abolitionists’ quest wasn’t utterly consumed with emotion?)

          Emotion is not the problem. It cannot fail or deliver. It is just there, and we are all endowed with it more or less the same. But reason can; fail and deliver. Reason is the real stumbling block. Never could two people differ in emotion as they could in reasoning.

          Racism, sexism, fascism, etc. are in my view not failures of emotion but, if anything, at best the failures of reason. And I believe most failures of reason derive from failures of education and upbringing.

  82. Professor Dawkins’s article posted above presents an interesting question for discussion, and the discussion on this board has for the most part been interesting and well-conducted. Speaking for myself, however, I must say how glad I am that, well before the sending of the tweets that Prof. Dawkins has felt the need to justify and clarify in the above article, I closed the Twitter account that I had tried for some six months, sparing myself the tiresome inanities that seem ceaselessly to occupy the inducedly birdbrained twitterers and tweeters of that time-wasting medium. Much better to sit or walk outside and listen to the birdsong in the trees of my neighborhood.

  83. Richard, thanks for this outstanding post. On your main point that “I don’t think rationalists and sceptics should have taboo zones into which our reason, our logic, must not trespass” I agree with you 100%. We should use reason and logic to devise and modify our morality. What other tool do we have that is better for these tasks? None! Also, moral dilemmas, similar to the hypothetical ones you posed, are coming up frequently in “real life.” For example, suppose you are controlling a drone with a missile and you can push a button which will completely destroy a vehicle and kill everyone inside. Good intelligence shows that there are five bad men and one ten-year-old child in the vehicle. By “bad men” I mean persons who have killed many innocent persons in the past and are likely to do so in the future. Do you push the button? Should you push the button? The Emotion Fanatics will say that we shouldn’t even discuss this moral dilemma, but surely they are mistaken.

  84. Dear professor Dawkins,

    It may be ok to discuss the sense or nonsense of a “rape scale”, as it is ok to discuss anything, really. Indeed, freedom of speech is one of the most important aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I assume this freedom is also anchored in the constitution of the UK and that you are thus protected against witch-hunts, thought police and the like. It’s even thinkable this applies to most, if not all people who have replied to your comments here or elsewhere.

    With al due respect, I think you have failed to grasp the legitimate concerns some of your critics have with the controversy you have created, willingly or not. I agree with you that nothing should be beyond discussion. However, I fear that your bold statements and the kind of discussion they incite may encourage people who believe “date rape isn’t that bad” (or even “date rape isn’t really rape”) to cement their beliefs. They may also encourage people to judge victim’s responses to, and thoughts and feelings about the in essence violent crime they have suffered. Depending on the victim, this can possibly have detrimental effects on the way they deal with trauma. It can also make victims not talk about it, even not report the crime.
    Indeed, the judging of victims is already the case on this page, as people who state here to have suffered rape are treated with more or less “égards”, according to the popularity of the viewpoint they have on their own experiences.

    While I agree it can be interesting to have this discussion in a legal sense with the aim of improving and thus ameliorating justice and jurisdiction, the danger of having the discussion in the way you are propagating it is very real (see above). In my opinion, the tone should always be respectful and mindful of other people’s feelings, especially if you do not know who you are speaking to, as is the case with all internet bound media. This sensitivity does not equal taboo.

    In an above post you said „… pleas don’t muddle them (logic and emotion, Ed.) up together”.

    I say: you SHOULD “muddle them up together”.

    The use of logic and reason does not automatically exclude the simultaneous use of tact, respect and empathy, all of which result from the acknowledgement that your words can stir up legitimate human emotions in your interlocutor. In fact, I thoroughly believe that a combination of all these when engaging in any discussion is the true hallmark of any humanist.

    You claim to be one, then please be one.

    Sincerely,

    Jessie

    ps: As I am not a native speaker, please forgive any mistakes against the English language.

    • Exactly! Human beings can’t (and shouldn’t) try to compartmentalise themselves. One can’t blank off one’s feelings – except in a limited way for the purposes of discussion; and twitter is not the ideal place for that.

    • Hear hear. I completely agree with what you say.

      Too many people say controversial things on the internet, and then complain of being censored when other people object. Just because you ‘can’ say something doesn’t mean you should – especially if you are an influential and famous figure, if your point is easy to misunderstand, and the topic is one which affects a lot of vulnerable people who already have doubt routinely cast upon the severity of their suffering.

      Also it is very true that one need not exclude the emotions in order to think reasonably about moral questions As I pointed out in my comment above, many contemporary philosophers have challenged the Enlightenment distinction between reason and emotion; especially in the area of moral decision-making.

    • Great post Jessie, especially the second and third paragraphs.

      I think there are actually TWO main groups of people who are misinterpreting what Richard said as meaning that he thinks date rape is less serious than stranger rape (and let’s be clear I totally understand that he did not say this).

      One group is those who are outraged by the suggestion that date rape is less serious and this group have very much been recognised and discussed.

      The other group, much less recognised and discussed, is the group who really do believe that date rape is less serious or even not an issue.

      Social media and below the line comments pages on newspapers are full of such comments as ‘Richard Dawkins is right. Women shouldn’t moan about date rape’ or ‘Date rape is just women claiming rape when they’ve had bad sex.’

      Such people are now claiming Richard as their spokesman and I think this is actually one of the worst things of all about this situation and one that he really needs to address. The fact that he did not intend this outcome is not a good defence. It is happening.

        • Hi InYourFaceNewYorker,
          I didn’t say headlines, I said comments on social media and below the line comments on newspaper sites. Actually this website itself has quite a few examples of exactly the same thing now.

      • Hi Kim, this is actually a reply to your post below, which for some reason has no “reply” link next to it. (Does the software cut off replies after merely a couple of exchanges? Grr, that makes no sense.)

        Thanks for your thoughts. The purpose of narratives like that is to try and hone in more precisely on distinctions. Very strictly speaking, one could argue that consent was ignored there, because one person changed their mind and the other didn’t instantly change their actions. You don’t agree with this, and I don’t, but merely in posing the scenario we are forced to think about questions which are quite specific to date rape.

        For example, my scenario then does raise the messy question of how quickly someone is expected to respond to another person’s changed mind. Surely it’s not hard to see that two people can very easily have different views on this, and that this could make all the difference in how a situation is perceived. Let’s raise that 15 or 20 seconds I posed to 40, or a full minute before response. Is it rape now? This is not an academic question. It arises out of the fact that sexual situations aren’t always so cut-and-dried.

        Dates used to be chaperoned because it was understood they could easily lead to sex. For many people, dates still are all about simply expressing potential interest in someone and getting to know them better, sex being off the table for a long time to come. But as we moved into the late 1960s I guess, and beyond, hookup culture became more prevalent too, and I think today we’re living in a pretty confused world where quite different kinds of understanding coexist within that institution of “the date.”

        Obviously, it goes without saying, certain behaviors within the situation of a date are as clear-cut as the sudden attack in “stranger rape,” ie, they are exactly the same thing. But other situations really do involve ambiguity of communication. And the unfortunate reality is that since there’s rarely a witness to sexual encounters, then unless someone left a tape recorder on … and sometimes even then! … proof that someone has violated consent can be tricky to establish. Again, I don’t know what the solution is beyond, ultimately, building, moment by moment, a better society… More immediately, and as a purely practical matter, perhaps women should always have some means of self-defence at hand?

        • Hi Matt,

          I know why you put your scenario but I still think if you are going to pick the mildest scenario you can think of in order to discuss this matter, you still need to keep it within the boundaries of what is seriously going to end up as a rape prosecution. I cannot imagine any woman accusing someone of rape in your scenario, and if by chance she did, the idea that any police/prosecution force would ever take such a case forward is laughable I’m afraid.

          • Hi Kim, see David’s reply to me below. According to him, this scenario is not laughable in Australia. I find it a little hard to fathom, but if that’s the case, then it’s a good illustration.

        • For example, my scenario then does raise the messy question of how quickly someone is expected to respond to another person’s changed mind. Surely it’s not hard to see that two people can very easily have different views on this, and that this could make all the difference in how a situation is perceived. Let’s raise that 15 or 20 seconds I posed to 40, or a full minute before response. Is it rape now? This is not an academic question. It arises out of the fact that sexual situations aren’t always so cut-and-dried.

          The law where I live in Australia is quite clear. The moment consent is withdrawn, any continuance is rape. The consent may be withdrawn for partial acts, but to continue with those particular acts after consent is withdrawn is rape or sexual assault of a lesser degree. And I am aware of prosecutions based on these scenarios where convictions have been recorded.

          In sexual encounters, both parties must be cognizant of the withdrawal of consent, and need to act on it. While this is typically the female withdrawing consent, it can apply to a male withdrawing consent as well. Again, I am aware in my jurisdiction of females who have been prosecuted for non consensual sex with a male, typically, an under age male who is incapable at law, to provide an informed legal consent.

          Your jurisdictions may vary on this.

  85. Most of the instances discussed here are a comparison of evils: Which is worse…? The perception and experience of evil are largely subjective and can not be “solved” like an equation. The hypothetical situations proposed (kill one to save four, for example) are unrealistic and silly. These “thought experiments” are largely a waste of time.

  86. I have been sexually attacked by a stranger and also by an acquaintance. The experiences were so different I think they should have different names. It’s along the lines of out group/in group- the former was absolutely terrifying, but the latter destroyed my trust in people, my sense of judgement, zeitgeist etc . That’s why I don’t think they should be compared- but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking about it. I understand the point R Dawkins is making, but I also understand why so many people are scared about it.

  87. P.S. But I sort of feel-
    I was 14- Points on presumably?
    But no knife, only fists. Points off.
    My jaw was dislocated. Points back on.
    But he didn’t actually put his cock in me. Points off- fingers only.
    I live in a culture that doesn’t explicitly punish raped women. Points off
    The police investigated – Points off
    But did nothing- Points on again…. etc etc etc
    Come on, no one wants to be ranked for an experience like this.

    • I absolutely agree with you. It’s good to seem someone on this forum who actually recognizes that you can not reduce violent emotional human experiences to logical terms. It makes absolutely no sense. There is no empirical grounding in the statement “x is worse than y” it completely eliminates what gives x or y their meanings, the subjective human experience, and that can’t be reduced to a greater than or lesser than statement.

      • Thanks for putting it better than I did. I didn’t mean to emotionalise the subject- I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t make moral judgements. Perhaps a better thought experiment would be trying to rank people within a category, for example “people who have been raped at knife point”- which we don’t do, practically because it’s hurtful to the victim, but also because the impact is too subjective and there are too many variables. Instead we have broad legal categories, which generally do the job in society- but I was clumsily trying to make the point that these categories are quite vaguely defined and subjective, and the consequences are very dependent on the victim’s psyche (for want of a better word) so using a better/worse ranking system doesn’t really work in this case.

      • “It’s good to see someone on this forum who actually recognizes that you can not reduce violent emotional human experiences to logical terms.”

        You cannot reduce violent emotional human experiences to logical terms, but you can logically term individual violent emotional human experiences and assess and assort them accordingly, for the betterment of society.

  88. Many have complained that the 140 characters that TWITTER provides are unsuitable for argument on any serious topic. I agree. But TWITTER is where the battle is, where thousands of indignant people have enlisted in the opposing armies that clash by night while those of us who don’t use it sleep peacefully in our beds. If you are one who would march to the sound of the guns you must, as silly as it sounds, TWEET.

    The comments herein focus thoughtfully on the specific words that Dawkins used in several tweets to make observations on rape and child molestation. He makes his points, however limited, so that we may yet distill the main message with clarity: we should value logic more than emotion; criminal acts vary in severity by circumstances, notably by the greater or lesser harm inflicted on victims as a finding of fact. Nowhere does he imply any endorsement of rape under any circumstances as something less than a serious felony.

    Largely missing from the discussion are considerations of motivation, background and context for the message. Richard Dawkins did not wake up a week ago ago and say, “I’ve got an idea, I’ll tweet some offensive comments on the vile crimes of rape and pedophilia. That should light a fire under folks. Oh yeh, it’s going to be a hot time in the old town tonight.”

    No… Over the last 8 years, a small but well-organized faction of radical feminists have used social media in the atheist-secular community to try to impose an authoritarian ideology entailing egregious censorship. The principal tactic is the dissemination of innuendo, character assassination, and slander repeated on the order of “The Big Lie” to convince women that they are unsafe online or at conferences because of virulent misogyny which permeates a male-dominated community. The fodder for the propaganda finds its stereotype in the immature, drunk, pathetic or pathological men who pepper their disgusting comments with rape threats or other gender-specific obscenities. From this tiny demographic, the feminist extremists have created the myth of a rape culture which thrives on unrelenting misogyny and sexism, rape apology, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.

    Like all revolutionary movements, the third-wave feminists have adopted a mission to overthrow the establishment; in this case, to decapitate the Patriarchy (the forces of darkness) and replace it with…well.. themselves (the forces of light). Male leaders and prominent male public intellectuals in the movement have been denounced not just for misogyny and sexism but for sexual harassment and, far worse, – sexual assault up to and including rape.

    Anticipating possible objections to the legitimacy of the new regime, the feminists take refuge in the claim that they are actually fighting proactively for “Social Justice” under any commendatory category one can think of. Regrettably “Social Justice” must be put on nominal status until all racists, classists, ethno-centrists, ablists, xenophobes, homophobes, elitists and anti-feminists are purged from the rank and file and from the leadership. This can be accomplished easily in cases where miscreants openly show themselves; and with somewhat more effort when dissenters are shown under the microscope to be infected with “microagressions” or barely detectable “dog-whistle” signs of thoughtcrime.

    Richard Dawkins, for all the defects of twitter as a tool for argument, is fighting the good fight for science, reason and free inquiry in an open, civil and democratic society.

    I hope this overview helps.

    • If the good professor must tweet, I would urge him to use hyperlinks to articles he has posted on line. He could still include a terse, provocative utterance (preferably one that is more an enticement to click on the link than an indication of his contempt), but the article he links to would, if it is anything like his usual writing, make his meaning and argument eloquently and respectfully clear. He should also remind himself that giving offence in the public arena (as distinct from shocking and scandalizing, which people, especially the priggish and prudish, find very stimulating) is never good for furthering one’s cause; one does have to be careful about that.

      • Hi Cairsley. I think a hyperlink to the full article old be a good idea as well. If I recall, most of his tweets are made in this way. I have a Twitter account myself, though I never tweet. Actually, I think it’s a bit creepy! I have never issued a single tweet and yet I have followers. It feels as if I’m being stalked!

    • “Richard Dawkins, for all the defects of twitter as a tool for argument, is fighting the good fight for science, reason and free inquiry in an open, civil and democratic society.”

      That’s the most illogical statement of all. What exactly makes you think that Dawkins is fighting the good fight? He has probably done more to sully the good ideas of atheism than any Chistian preacher. He has taken what began as a radical assertion of an individual right to determine their own realities and transformed it into a dumbed down, centralized militant movement complete with talking points and guidelines for “proper” belief.

      If you think that Dawkins encourages free thought, consider this point, when was the last time that you disagreed with something that Dawkins tweeted or said? Do you think that’s because he is an infallible logitician or because you feel compelled to find proper and correct meaning in his words? A statement like this worries me “He makes his points, however limited, so that we may yet distill the main message with clarity.” It seems to suggest that even when Dawkins appears to be spewing hateful, irrationalism, we should give him the benefit of the doubt because he is the source of truth.

      This, imho, has nothing to do with the tenets of atheism, which should always be encouraging us to challenge knowledge rather than passively accept it.

      As for your comments about feminism, well, I don’t really understand what you are talking about. Maybe there is an underground feminist movement seeking to overthrow the partriarchy, but to me that sounds like an imagined boogey man and a dangerous generalization that disregards the reality that we do still live an a patriarchal society which contains the remnants of past systems of sexism. If you are saying that Dawkins tweeted that specifically to upset feminists, I am even more disgusted by his blatant disregard for the perspective of others.

  89. I understood exactly what Richard was trying to say in his tweet even without the above explanation and qualification.
    Failure to understand is the reader’s problem not RD’s.
    Either they have not learned to think logically or they are one of the professionally outraged.
    Either way those advocating that RD should not use twitter or stick to non controversial logical arguments are guilty of attempted censorship and are playing into the hands of the religious and the professionally outraged who want to silence RD and give religion a free ride.
    RD should resist this at all costs.
    He is not responsible for the lack of logic in the general population and his posts are I hope didactic to many.

  90. ““X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think properly.”

    The point was a purely logical one: to judge something bad and something else very bad is not an endorsement of the lesser of two evils. Both are bad. I wasn’t making a point about which of the two was worse. I was merely asserting that to express an opinion one way or the other is not tantamount to approving the lesser evil.”

    The problem with that statement is that terms such as “bad” or “worse” or “evil” (another word that Dawkins likes to use) aren’t really logical or empirical terms. Logical Positivism (which has its own flaws) addressed this 70 years ago. Bad, worse, and evil are pseudoterms based in purely emotional reactions. How does one empirically measure “evil”? Its impossible.

    This is a point which continues to elude Dawkins. Rather than truly hold a rational, logical, or empirical position on reality he prefers to reinterpret is emotional responses as logic. This makes absolutely no sense. So he feels justified in tweeting emotional reactionary crap and then defending it as pure rationalism when people (not surprisingly) have emotional responses. This is why Dawkins feels he is correct by saying that Female Genital Mutilation is “worse” than male circumcision. Such a statement is meaningless and only serves to eliminate from each topic the human/emotional element which is the only source of meaning. but, alas, Dawkins would rather pretend to be rational than actually challenge his on views. He is a conservative reductionist who really has no position to talk about ethics or morality. He creates imaginary demons to attack while failing to recognize the inherent racism, sexism, and classism embedded in his on cultural upbringings.

    • If you are unclear why female circumcision is “worse” than male circumcision, it is because you have illogically substituted the measurable physical consequences and the extent to which the bodily mutilation has harmed the individual with the “human/emotional element” which you undoubtedly find subjective. This position is a philosophical copout and is meaningless in determining which circumcision is worse. Ofcourse female circumcision is worse because of the physical ramifications of the procedure. Why do you refuse to take into account the greater physical toll inflicted on females over males(ie. pain during intercourse, inability to conceive), not to mention the more barbaric reasons for circumcising females which ofcourse is a direct result of it being dictated by males. And if the human/emotional element is what you look to, how could this in turn not manifest itself in the human/emotional element to prove that females suffer more.

  91. Bad, worse, and evil are pseudoterms based in purely emotional reactions. How does one empirically measure “evil”? Its impossible.

    I use common dog @#$%.

    Rather than truly hold a rational, logical, or empirical position on reality he prefers to reinterpret is emotional responses as logic.

    I know quantum physics is weird, but you must be living in an alternative universe, because your observations don’t fit the reality I live in. If there was anyone on this planet who did not, reinterpret is emotional responses as logic. It is Richard Dawkins.

    Sometimes the bull can’t see the arena, because the only thing they can see is the red flag.

    • If there was anyone on this planet who did not, reinterpret is emotional responses as logic. It is Richard Dawkins.

      Sorry, I don’t just accept what Richard Dawkins says because he is Richard Dawkins. I’m sure you have read the God Delusion, but read it over again with a critical eye. You will find that many of his arguments are not based in facts, but rather rely on anecdotes, generalizations, and often outright mischaracterizations that clearly fail to recognize his own biases and cultural background. I would point to his use of the argument about conscientious religious objectors, his reduction of complex religions like hinduism, his over reliance on anecdotal and false claims (such as the german judge who denied a woman of speedy divorce because of the quran, and other debunked stories), his ridiculous misrepresentation of the swedish cartoon scandal, his overemphasis of the respect our society has for religion, his claims that secular groups (such as his very on tax haven, the richard dawkins foundation) are some how treated unfairly, and, perhaps most telling of all, his revisionist history, when he claims that Barrack Obama, JFK and even Jesus were atheist while Mao and Stalin were not. He has made a career out of playing on people’s emotions to sell books, and he very very very rarely ever makes a truly logical or rational argument. Twitter controversies are good for book sales, as are appearances on the oreilly factor. Statements like like the one I quoted from you only reveal how much Dawkins followers want to believe in him regardless of whether or not he is being rational. In this case, he is being definitely irrational, and in the process, disregarding all the moral philosophy that recognizes the role of emotions in ethics. Most contemporary philosophers don’t rely on Kant, he’s kind of, well, outdated. Frankly, hearing someone talk about ethics and morality without emotions is a little embarrassing, it’s like a child saying that he never lies, its painfully naive.

    • I should add two points to this. Rather than reinterpret his emotional responses as logical I should say reinterpret his emotional (or, in this case lack of emotional) responses as logic. In this case, he is claiming that his lack of emotion makes him logical, but I would still hold that the terms he uses are grounded in emotions. Further more, I would point to the inherent bias of the terms Female Genital Mutilation and Male Circumcision. Why does he not refer to circumcision as Male Genital Mutilation? by any standard definition the act of male circumcision mutilates the body of the child. Such terms are grounded in emotional responses, Genital Mutilation causes a different semantic reaction than male circumcision. So Again, i ask, is he really being logical??

  92. Psychologists say that resoluteness and lack of emotional dissonance upon being faced with such choices are manifestations of psychopathy.

    Yet there could be a logic reasoned out to go with the reasonless bedside scenario. Let’s say that every being born into this world has a right to live its life in the world, a right to make the most of his prospects and skills, as long as it does not impede on the same rights of others. The four dying beings (be it Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein and King) in need of transplants have all had that intimate chance, and lost it – for whichever reasons in or out of human dominion. The bedside passerby is in the bloom of his “outing”, intact. Now, why should his take at happiness and the harvest of this life be sacrificed on account of someone else’s loss of his? Wouldn’t that amount to tyranny?

    Sounds logical and sound, even algorithmic, doesn’t it?

      • If happiness and contentment are the things desired for by human beings, and all beings in general, then at once it turns into a logical right, in that it generates the greatest (latent) happiness for the greatest number. Logic and reason generate desired outcomes, faith and emotion but seldom.

        • But still, you cannot disconnect emotions from happiness and contentment. You may be able to use an egalitarian logic in the final statement, but to get there you need emotions to recognize that happiness and contentment are important ends. If I had no emotions, I probably would not be able to recognize that human desire happiness because I would lack the ability to empathize. Therefore, it seems like logical reasoning, but the individual pieces are emotional.

          • I suppose however there is a quite logical argument against transforming hospitals into human butcher shops.

            Do we want people to trust hospitals, or to fear them?

            Because if you can go to a hospital with a broken and end up dead because some physician playing god decides that your kidneys, liver, and heart fit better into the bodies of some dying geniuses, then any rational person who is not a genius will conclude that it is better to completely avoid hospitals.

            That’s why such “logical” exercises like that are actually bordeline insane: because neither the geniuses nor the passerbies are the only or the last human beings on Earth, because life will continue after them, and because hospitals will be necessary when it continues. And so, unless we think we are better off without hospitals, we shouldn’t actively destroy their credibility like that.

  93. FGM impinges right on a women’s lifelong prospect for sensual contentment, often ruining it altogether, as the clitoris is one of the sexual cruxes of a woman.

    Circumcision does not, as the prepuce is irrelevant to men in that regard, and its outcome could at worst be deemed an aesthetic impairment.

    Therefore, FGM is clearly terribly worse.

    The only thing the two have in common is the violation of one’s wishes made when the person is too young to consume his right to decide.

  94. Circumcision does not, as the prepuce is irrelevant to men in that regard, and its outcome could at worst be deemed an aesthetic impairment.

    That’s a misguided reduction. Circumcision undoubtedly limits a man’s experience of sexual pleasure as it removes many of the nerve endings in the penis and to say that it is merely an aesthetic impairment is frankly abhorrent and sickening. Perhaps this is one of the worst outcomes of this type of logical ethics, maybe saying that FGM is worse than MGM is not an endorsement of it, but it does cause a serious issue to be overshadowed. The history of modern “medical” MGM comes out of an attempt to limit the sexual pleasures of young men (especially in regards masturbation) in the mid 1800′s. It is a barbaric and horrific practice which forces young babies (often only a couple weeks old) to experience extreme pain. There are different types of FGM which do not complete remove the clitoris, and might be seen as equivalent to MGM as it is practiced by the modern medical community. Whether or not FGM is worse than MGM is totally irrelevant, and only obscures the serious issue of MGM.

    Being a man who was circumcised without my consent I can tell you that from personal experience, I believe, that my experience of sexual pleasure is limited (of course I will never know this for sure as my body has been maimed throughout my entire sexual life), and that the scars which are permanently left on the most intimate area of my body are often a source of anxiety. To say that FGM is clearly worse than MGM is idiotic and reductionist. I don’t care if this is an emotional response, I find it to be deeply offensive to my own emotional pain. Further more, if you are not a man, I would suggest you have no right to reflect on the experience of MGM and its long term effects. period.

    • Average square inch of any skin has around 1000 nerve endings, so the info on prepuce nerves is by itself irrelevant. All the important ones are in the top of the organ, as the head of a man’s penis is a physiological equivalent of a woman’s clitoris. It is all well understood and investigated and arguing against it would be like arguing against the blood-pumping function of the heart.

      No circumcised man has ever lost the ability to orgasm, while genitally mutilated women have in vast numbers. Comparing woman’s clitoris with man’s prepuce in regard to the pleasure potential is just plain ludicrous, on the order of stranger rape vs. slap in the face. Not to mention how Jewish and Muslim populations would have decimated following the eve of such practice if the thing had any significant input in male sexual function, as, unlike in women, man’s ability to execute a conception is directly related to it.

      That pretty much closes the case of which is worse. Unless, of course, one is stuck in an emotional taboo zone of which Richard has been writing here so neatly.

      As sorry as I am about your bad experience, it is evident from your writing that the mutilation is mainly of the aesthetic kind – the one I was putting forth as the only one possibly present. There are millions of men who do not share your circumcision impressions and consequences.

      • MayBeLogical Aug 3, 2014 at 4:12 am

        You should do some research.
        I will state this **in the least emotional way possible**, but simply do not know what you are talking about.

        Those advocating non-medical circumcision,certainly should do some proper medical research and avoid any biased flawed studies or subjective biased quackery.

        Circumcised men have been shown to more frequently suffer from erectile dysfunction. Circumcised men experience less pleasure, that’s just the truth.

        You have presented an accurate and clear explanation.
        There is clear scientific evidence to support this view.

        ▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬

        However you seem to be letting your biases and lack of understanding intrude in the following statement:-

        This is why emotionless logic for ethics is idiotic, you need empathy to be able to understand the suffering of others. I know this forum abhores emotions, but you’re kind will never understand, I wish you the absolute worst in life.

        You were using the right approach in your first statement but now have this backwards and all wrong! Atheist scientists abhor religious (or any other) emotional preconceptions intruding on, and supplanting, objectivity.

        It is precisely BECAUSE science makes an emotionless unbiased assessment of the outcomes, that an accurate judgement can be made, then allowing empathy to be exercised and informed decision making providing the best options.
        Those who permit their emotional “faith-thinking” to allow indoctrinated dogmatic preconceptions, to overrule their objectivity, simply make poor decisions – often followed up with rationalisations, as they doggedly try to justify their crass assumptions, lack of quality research, or logic.

        Many will seek out on-line pseudo-science from the diverse abundance of asserted ignorance, – which lacking any scientific standards or integrity, will confirm whatever they want to hear.

        Perhaps you should read this page, to help clear your misconceptions: –
        https://richarddawkins.net/aboutus/

      • I admit my lack of detailed information with regards to circumcision and, inasmuch as it has allowed me to grant it undue softness, I beg your pardon. I now wish to alter its end within my metaphoric relation and liken it to a broken nose, perhaps even a mugging at knifepoint.

        BUT on the other side still stands – rape!

        The equivalent to FGM (which essentially means scraping off of the whole of a woman’s outer sex organ, including clitoris) would be cutting off of the penis head – or at the very least half of it.

        The two are simply incomparable. Which doesn’t mean that the lesser of the bad’s isn’t bad and shouldn’t be abolished – surely the neonatal kind.

        What your fervent promulgation of anti-circumcision (unfortunately stemming from personal emotional experience) amounts to is taking the point that “circumcision is bad but FGM incomparably worse” as an endorsement or condonation of the former.

    • Your sexual pleasure is limited..
      They do not know sexual pleasure on any level, only pain.
      Think about the way you are able to speak about your circumcision, reflecting on your anxiety, and carelessly using words like “maimed” to try to express your trumped up rage, as a spoiled child would when trying to garner unwarranted sympathy…
      Do you really think your mental and physical pain is comparable to theirs? Take a deep breath and step off your soapbox.

  95. Hi I think you’re right Richard. However I believe you should stick to, say, boring sports analogies. Or perhaps something topical like Augustine’s definition of Rules of Engagement.
    No one wins with those types of comparisons. It’s an unnecessary experiment to show that there can be different degrees of wrong. It’s the kind of diversion the religionists are begging for. Best to come at it from another angle.

    • That means we surrender to a status quo we don’t like? No, I admire that Richard challenges it even though it might not be in is own best interest. He puts his reputation where his mouth is, I like all people who does that (even when I don’t agree with them).

      PS: I would very much dislike if Richard started only sharing sport analogies.

      • No I don’t think he should surrender logic ever. It’s just whether this particular point is the best example to use.
        I do appreciate anyone who puts their money where their mouth is. I enjoy Richard’s many views a hell of a lot & this doesn’t shake my support at all.

        Ok, I guess I wouldn’t be happy with sports analogies much either. Just threw out a quick example.

    • It’s an unnecessary experiment to show that there can ei differen kinds of wrong? No one wins? My ancestors won a lot when the idea arised that holding slaves is worse than employing people for laughable low budges on a farm or somewhere else! I won a lot not to run around in chains and work for my master until I break! Fundamental religious people do exactly the opposite. They use a set of unquestionable unalterable rules to judge behavior. That’s why they have terrible the idea of eternal punishment for nothing else than the finite “sin” not to believe in their gods! The discussion of hypotheical cases of the worst imaginable bahavior or actions is the reason we have legal systems today that are very differentiated (never the less they stil can be and are improved, that’s why there is philosophy of law!) and treat delinquents not just by one limited set of rules.
      The use of extrem examples is one of the central techniques of thought experiments. Bringing people to the limits and beyond forces them to reflect their own behavior, judgement and morals like nothing else. You find replies here by women who have experienced the horror of being raped and understand Dr. Dawkins atempt and position very well. Maybe they can be a good example how these tasks should be handled. I had lectures at university where the techniques of thought experiments were used too and I can confirm the experiences described by D. Dawkins friend. Many of my fellow students were unable to step over the boarder of their emotional bias and therefore unable think on a metalevel in order to analyze themselves and on which bases they form their morals and ideas!

      • Nothing should be open to question. That segment of ancestors of yours deserve to have had the treatment of them questioned. I’m certain all our ancestors played both roles at some time.
        I do think things such as these should be argued, just that he might have had someone else in the organisation argue that point? It’s a magnet not only for those who have genuine hurt but also cowards who thrive off trolling the subject. Though I guess if there’s anyone who has the intellectual strength to hammer this out it would be someone like Richard.
        Put simply, it’s invariably some male who has forced their penis upon another for a moments physical & emotional pleasure. There are degrees but it always vile & the victim is always right.
        Sure the finer points can be argued out, but the religionists are very much at their timeless murdering right now. Specifically Islamists & not enough people seem to have got the message. I’m not sure what the answer is for that. I just wonder if Richard’s energies could be best served on that annoying issue still.

        • I do agree with logic and thought experiments. But I don’t agree with you that he is the only one who can answer everything as if he is an omniscient and that the answer given by richard dawkins for every thought experiment is true. The interpretations can vary beyond the environment-boundary where the hypothetical question take place in the experiment. As has happened here.

          If there are two worlds where in the first world ‘good people’ and in the second world ‘bad people’ lived. And if the people of the first world only knows bad things as one entity and if his hypothetical statement (the rape scenario) was put in the world of the good people then Dawkin’s answer that it doesn’t become an endorsement of a less bad crime becomes true because in the world of the good there is only one bad entity which doesn’t have a scale.

          But if the same hypothetical statement was put in the second world where bad people( E.g. rapists) lived and if there was a scale of measurement of the severity of rape (in that world) and if good was a single entity which none of them followed, then the statement will be like a suggestion for an endorsement of a less severe form of rape than a more severe form.

          But when Richard Dawkins put his statement in twitter it was in the real world where both these worlds(first and second world) coexisted. Thus his answer to his own statement that it won’t endorse the less bad thing becomes true only when considering the good people in the real world which is not the reality as there exists bad people as well who do different scale of bad things. Thus the answer varies if the environment-boundaries of the hypothetical question is extended.

          So when applied to the real world where the environment-boundary is large his answer that it does’t endorse less severe form of bad things is wrong.

          • What?? I never said he was omniscient. I only suggested he has proven ability & a profile to make cases such as this.
            I don’t know why you take that many paragraphs to say what you do. I believe he has a point though disagree that it was the right argument to attempt. On twitter. The mystics are still at large & need hammering first. I’m not sure if I follow what you’re saying anyway.

          • I agree that the mystics are still at large and need hammering and that RD has definitely got a point, but his answerer to his own question ‘if it is an endorsement of a less severe crime?’ was arrived from a restricted environment-boundary of the thought experiment.

        • But it’s not enough that just one person hammers down such ideas. He put both versions as a tweed. This alone should indicate that it is an invitation to challange the problem of logical questioning the bases of our moral standards. In the example of my ancestors (and it is not just hypotheically because I know the stairs my ancestors have been lead over to count them after crossing the ocean – unwillingly, I know my grand-grand mother still worked for a master!) the point was to question a common state of morals in the whole society by some people who had the guts to do so. Today the world is even more complex and to find out how we can improve the moral standards we use, we can use the method of thoughtexperiments. The examples should cross the boarders of our moral standards to force the involved people to question their own standards and the way they generate them.

          • Indeed, though I think we can all agree slavery is wrong & so is rape. If the interactions aren’t by consenting agreement then they’re wrong. Sure, you can argue out degrees. Perhaps he could have started with condemning the act before launching the comparison, I don’t know. It just seems unnecessary. There’s an elephant in the room that hasn’t been dealt with yet.
            Before your recent ancestors encountered Christian Slavers those before them likely had centuries of incredible lives. Our liberal democratic beliefs are quite new to the world.

  96. I totally support Richard here! We need the debate – on all subjects. How else can we understand them? Yes, some of them are terrible or difficult and all don’t want to debate or consider some of them, and that is ok. But we need to express opinions and debate them to evolve our minds. There is no other way to new and better knowledge.

  97. Allowing a taboo to completely subsume a topic gives power to terms relating to the taboo. They may then be leveraged to various ends.

    For instance, Julian Assange stands accused of rape. What rarely gets mentioned however is that in Sweden—from whence the charges arise—knowingly continuing with consensual intercourse after a condom breaks is legally considered “rape”. That Sweden has a much broader definition of “rape” than many other nations rarely gets mention. Perhaps a general taboo against openly discussing/qualifying grades of “rape” plays into the lack of discussion on this. Even though most countries have legal statutes defining “rape” and hence have ‘de jure’ and ‘de facto’ qualifications for the term such is somehow taboo to discuss outside of legislative and judicial settings.

    Giving unqualified scope and power to a term, treating it as an absolute, opens up all sorts of issues. Terms may then become like black holes. Once having crossed the event horizon—by a assigning a taboo label—preceding contextual distinctions start to seem meaningless.

  98. I’m amazed at some of the hysteria and elaborate misconstrual of Richard’s simple point. I can only think it proves his point. There are people will make just about anything into an ideological crusade or service to their own versions of identity politics or worse demonization of Richard. Don’t we get enough of that from the religious.

  99. It wasn’t until the second last paragraph that I found the missing point (the answer to my primary objection to it, at least) in your basic thesis:
    “Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that.

    ****If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together
    and discuss that proposition itself.****”

    Thank you. This is the first thought that came into my mind. Without this option, your premise rejects out of hand all those who do not wish to discuss a topic.

  100. Rape is rape is rape. Regardless of the setting in which it takes place or the degree of physical injury that occurs, rape is a fundamental violation of a person’s bodily autonomy and integrity. It is perceived as a threat not only to a person’s self-esteem but to their identity on a survival level. We relate to human beings; we use objects. Rape tells the victim, “You are nothing but an object for me to use as I please.” All rape carries with it the very real threat to a person’s survival. If someone sees you as nothing but sexual object to be used and thrown away, what is to stop them from killing you?

    I’m no psychologist or neurologist, but the explanations for why some people seem to overcome such trauma while others are incapacitated to varying degrees are thin on the ground, and seem to have little to do with the objective circumstances of the rape. Our legal system hands down punishments based on objective harm, such as physical injury or death, property damage and loss, and so forth. But doesn’t emotional and psychological harm have objective consequences that can be measured? What about inability to function, to hold a job? What about the societal and other costs of addictions or destructive behaviors that might result from such trauma? It’s difficult to actually measure what another person feels or how deeply they feel it, but it does have objective consequences that I think should be taken into account. It is also why it is so hard to discuss “dispassionately” with reason and logic. Rape survivors see rape categorized into hierarchies not only to determine the culpability of their attacker, but to dictate the level of support and sympathy they deserve. The term “date rape” implies that the victim was implicitly agreeing to sex on some level just by being in the company of a man; that the perpetrator deserves a break for thinking that he was entitled to sex, because, after all, he paid for dinner and drinks and a movie and should have gotten something in return. She led the man on, or was stupid enough to accept the drugged drink – hence, less sympathy for her, even if her attacker bruised her and took pictures of her and posted them on the internet. Such an act is premeditated and in utterly callous disregard for the victim – is that any better than a knife attack? What’s to stop such an unfeeling person from taking it to that level? No wonder anger and outrage ensue.

    I think Richard has a good point about nothing being too sacred to discuss. However, I think he needs to put himself in the place of the victim and think through the wording of his arguments and lose the comparisons that trivialize the experience of victims. Think about murder. The law views murder in degrees of culpability of the perpetrator. People can actually kill others by accident or mistake, so there is such a category as manslaughter, which carries a lesser penalty. The victim’s family may still think the punishment wasn’t harsh enough, but the court makes this judgment. However, we don’t categorize murder like we do rape. There is no “date murder”, ‘stranger murder’ and ‘marital murder’. It’s all murder. There may be extenuating circumstances on the perpetrator’s part, but the victim is dead, and there’s no getting around that. There are no such excuses for raping someone. One can’t say “I penetrated her/him by accident”, or “I didn’t even see her coming. All of a sudden, there she was with my penis inside her.”

    Sorry for the long rant. I hope I’m being clear. I think such serious moral discussions about matters of emotional and physical survival need to be addressed seriously, with depth of thought and sensitivity to those affected, not thrown out in snarky 140-character soundbites. I’m a fan of Richard’s but I have to say I’m very upset by this. It’s certainly not helping the public perception of atheism or science or reason.

    • I appreciate your post Sue Blue (it wasn’t a “rant” in the slightest by the way), and have a few thoughts in reply.

      I think language gets in the way here. For example, you say: “There is no ‘date murder’, ‘stranger murder’, and ‘marital murder’. It’s all murder. There may be extenuating circumstances on the perpetrator’s part, but the victim is dead, and there’s no getting around that.”

      But I would say that this puts the cart before the horse, because one is already confining oneself to scenarios where people are agreed that premeditated, intentional killing (or however the law defines murder — I’m somewhat ignorant in the matter) has taken place. Let’s substitute the word “killing” instead. So: we have “cold-blooded” killing (which we may also call “murder”); killing in war (and within this various difficult and painful distinctions); manslaughter (as you mention), which occurs within a great variety of scenarios; killing that occurred during a mutually motivated fight, say, or in other situations in which it was more-or-less completely accidental; killing in self-defence; “capital punishment”; euthanasia; abortion; the killing of animals for food. And so on.

      Again, the first of these ends up with the label of “murder”, but which others might? Well, this is very often not a straightforward matter to determine, and people can legitimately disagree here. In each case, as you say, “the victim is dead, and there’s no getting around that.” Likewise, the relatives and friends of those killed in whatever situation grieve, and there’s no getting around that either. (Personally, I happen to regard state execution as murder, though clearly many do not. On the other hand, I don’t regard euthanasia — with of course all proper precautions in place — as murder, though many do. Abortion of course has created the depth of controversy it has because for many people it does constitute murder, while for many others it doesn’t. As for the last example, which might seem trivial to some people, I as a lifelong vegetarian do regard the killing of highly sentient animals for food, in cultures where this is not necessary, as a kind of murder, but have to accept that I am in a very small minority.)

      In other words, the issue here involves taking specific sexual scenarios and deciding whether they all constitute the “same” phenomenon in the first place. And I would contend that this really isn’t as clear-cut as “rape is rape is rape” suggests. Does in fact the concept “rape” point to one singular entity? One might make a first attempt by saying: yes, it means sex with someone without that person’s consent. But I’m not sure how straightforward a definition this is. For instance, one question that immediately arises is: does “sex” have to involve penetration? If not, why not? And if so, why?

      We also have the phrase “statutory rape,” defined with regard to an age of consent. But civilized nations disagree fairly substantially on that question; even individual US states disagree. So saying “rape is rape is rape” can lead to this deeply disturbing result: two younger people with a difference in age between them of a year or so, walking in a park throughout almost the entire continent of Europe, say, might brighten the hearts of passersby, who comment on the beauty of “young love,” while in the US, the older of the two can — and has been — prosecuted, put in prison for years, enduring all manner of brutality, required then to live with all the stigma a sex register entails, and so on. Since ages of consent differ even from state to state, perhaps even ten miles away, across a state line, that person would, again, not even be considered to have committed a crime in the first place! Far from it. And partly what is to blame here is the sheer power of the word “rape.” Qualified, yes, by the adjective “statutory,” but as you and many others say, so what? “Rape is rape is rape.” This too is the point.

      For now, let’s assume that penetration is part of the definition. Here’s a scenario: A man and woman are out on a date, perhaps their third or fourth. They’ve had a couple of drinks, as is routine. They are having an enjoyable, harmonious time. They are in the midst of sex, entirely consented to. It has been going on for some time; a lot of playful dialogue has been exchanged; a mutual fantasy world has been created. At a certain point the woman expresses a desire to ease off, but does so maybe without 100% clarity — the playfulness and intoxication and generally human, all-too-human lack of complete understanding within dialogue create some ambiguity (or perhaps the music is just too loud). Even if not, let’s say that in any event they are on the verge of culmination and the man finds himself continuing for another ten or twenty seconds, unable to stop. He even would have liked to respond instantly but was just unable to. Is that rape? If rape is rape is rape, as people have been saying in response to Richard, then the answer must be “yes,” it seems to me. The man didn’t respond instantly.

      But surely there is an utter universe of difference between that scenario and one where someone is held up at gun- or knife-point and attacked with angry violence and hatred, where the person attacked is experiencing utter terror, afraid for her or his life. Again, in the first scenario the man truly had no intention of going further than his date wished, but simply couldn’t stop himself because the change of consent was too sudden or late. If we say that these two situations are the same, that the latter is not more violent than the former, then I submit that this would be utterly immoral and in fact monstrous thinking. I don’t regard the first scenario as rape at all, whereas the second, of course, is horrific brutality.

      Now, if someone’s response to my example is that it is absurd or trivializing, that is okay with me. But then my question would be: even in bringing such an example up we are attempting to delimit the nature of the word “rape” — and this is precisely the point. Not asking these questions means that otherwise innocent people involved in a very ordinary human situation can be (and are) made scapegoats, their lives perhaps destroyed. And I would also argue that our unwillingness to look closely at this area creates rippling effects of further confusion and uncertainty. More and more we hear the phrase “sexual assault” used in larger ways, encompassing unwanted “advances” of various kinds. If so, how do we define those advances? How do we determine intention? What forms of communication are considered appropriate in a certain kind of nightclub that aren’t in a work environment or on the street? Should language previously reserved for physical assault be applied to non-sexual touch, or verbalizations? I would suggest that this entire realm of our experience — playfully expressing interest in someone, flirtation, the dance of attraction — is inherently messy and ambiguous. Without unceasing care in the ways we categorize experience and unceasing attention to all the overlapping contexts within each situation, we’re not being responsible.

      I understand well that rape represents an unspeakably traumatic event in the lives of a great number of women (and a lesser number of men too). I myself have not been raped, but have experienced many profound and enduringly traumatic events along the line — life-changingly damaging to me personally. I have been relating to their after-effects for decades now and