Should Richard Give Up Twitter and Retreat to His Ivory Tower?

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by Notung of Skeptic Ink

An article on Religion News Service by Catholic journalist Kimberly Winston (an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer) asks whether Richard Dawkins is an asset or a liability to atheism. Actually it tells us: he’s a liability. Of the eight people who were interviewed, seven said that he’s a liability (though Hemant Mehta’s statement appears to have been misrepresented), and only one (Dennett) said that he’s an asset.

It’s a very biased article, and I left my comment on it explaining why I feel this it is biased, and so I won’t discuss that here. Rather, I will outline what I would have answered had I been asked for my opinion.  

 

My Relationship to Dawkins’ Work

I’ve always been non-religious – my family is non-religious and though I went to a Church of England school and the Sea Scouts (a Christian organisation), I never really believed that God existed, save for a bit of wishful thinking here and there. My view of religion was that it was fairly benign (a result of the tea and scones, friendly Anglican community flavour of religion I’d been exposed to), but unfortunately not true.

After being told by an (intelligent) college friend that I was going to Hell for not believing, and later on having a conversation with a couple of Muslim friends in which they informed me that evolution had been ‘disproven’ (my first encounter with, and discovery of creationism), my disposition towards religion altered. How can a decent and intelligent person sincerely tell me (without even seeming that bothered by it) that I’m destined for Hell? Shouldn’t we be worried that people’s religion is interfering with their acceptance of science?

I went to the Internet to make sure that I hadn’t missed a big story about evolution getting disproven. I’m delighted to have re-found the first article I read on creationism (in all its dated web-design glory): this one! I eventually found James Randi’s site and videos and wonderful as he is, it didn’t scratch the anti-religion itch I had (though I continued to learn from him about skepticism). From Randi I discovered this site (at the time it only listed Dawkins, Randi, Shermer, and Pinker), and then after being thoroughly impressed with Dawkins disdain for religion and deep love for science, I read The Selfish Gene, followed by most of his other books.

I was transformed from a musician dedicated to music, to a musician dedicated to music and with a deep desire to learn more about myself and the world around me. It was this transformation that led to me studying philosophy, both informally and later formally. As I child I used to read children’s science books, and I remember having (childish) philosophical discussions with my friends (“Do we all see the same colours? How could we know?”). This curiosity what reading Dawkins helped me rediscover, and my life has been enriched as a result.  

 

Dawkins the Atheist, Dawkins the Twitterer

As almost everyone (even some of his most ardent detractors) agrees, Dawkins has written wonderfully on science, both on specific scientific facts and on the general wonder of scientific discovery. It is often said that he should stick to doing only this. If he’s not talking about evolutionary biology then he should just keep his mouth shut. This criticism is twofold: his criticism of religion is thought to be amateurish, and his Twitter output is portrayed as an absolute disaster.

Religion first. I read The God Delusion on its release day and liked it a great deal, though I haven’t read it since. Between now and then I’ve studied Philosophy of Religion (which has bafflingly become a controversial topic these last few weeks), and read and listened to various atheist philosophers. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I do feel that my criticism of religion has “moved on” from the days of reading TGD. A non-philosopher, Dawkins’ arguments often lack robustness and care. However, that doesn’t mean that TGD and Dawkins’ other criticism of religion don’t have a place at the table. For starters, his points can spark discussion. Even if they are under-developed, others can take on the mantle and develop them further, as right or wrong they’re almost always interesting. He’s a non-philosopher writing philosophically about philosophical issues, without the usual rigour expected of philosophers, but with a lucidity that makes it accessible to to those who are just getting started, or merely curious. I don’t see TGD as addressed to philosophers of religion, but rather to the layperson who might be wondering about their own faith, or who want some well-written literature on atheism to whet their appetite. It’s changed plenty of minds about religion, and I’m confident that’s all Dawkins really aimed for when he wrote it.

When he became active on Twitter, I was delighted. I loved A Devil’s Chaplain, a collection of thoughts on various different issues not all relating to religion or evolution, and Twitter allows for a sort of stream of consciousness that we don’t usually get. It’s usually impossible to develop ideas properly on Twitter but if we’re sensible enough to keep this in mind, we should always apply the principle of charity to tweets; indeed more so than usual due to Twitter’s imposed limits. For people like me who are interested in what Dawkins has to say, Twitter is a great tool; for those who aren’t, they don’t have to follow him. What a wonderful arrangement!

This then sets the scene. I’m a big admirer of Dawkins, though I disagree with him from time to time. I’m interested in what he has to say, as I owe my own curiosity to his (especially his willingness to question and challenge received wisdom and taboos), and Twitter is a great way of staying in touch.  

 

The Culture of “Shut Up, Dawkins!”

Whenever Richard Dawkins tweets something contentious or controversial, we get what could be referred to as a culture of “shut up, Dawkins!” (appropriating Jon Lovett’s coinage). The idea that Dawkins “can’t do Twitter” or frequently “puts his foot in his mouth” is a now tired cliché, so much so that there’s an air of “oh, not again!” whenever he tweets something that people might dislike. I know of nobody else on Twitter that meets with this kind of resistance. Even Ann Coulter and her British counterpart, Katie Hopkins do not seem to have the same chorus of outrage whenever they tweet, and they regularly come out with some pretty horrifically immoral stuff.

Dawkins is being singled out. If you don’t think this is the case, then try a thought experiment. Transplant his exact tweets onto the timeline of any other commentator, author, or scientist on Twitter. Take Matt Ridley as an example. He’s written popular books on evolution, and writes regular opinion columns for the newspaper. Most informed people who have heard of Dawkins have also heard of Ridley. Can you honestly imagine the same reaction to Ridley if he tweeted the exact same things? I don’t mean that people will suddenly agree with him – I mean that there won’t be the same old “oh look – Ridley’s put his foot in his mouth again! He should really stay off Twitter. We should stage an intervention!”. What would probably happen is that there would be a bit of disagreement, but just the usual “person offers controversial opinion on Twitter”-style disagreement. I’m not sure why Dawkins is singled out, but he is singled out.

The culture of “shut up, Dawkins!” is anti-intellectual. Many of his controversial tweets bring up serious and difficult questions in moral philosophy. Take one that happened today; his claim was that aborting Down Syndrome fetuses should be acceptable (in addition to an offhand remark in a reply to someone else that he thinks not aborting a Down Syndrome fetus is immoral). These are the sorts of questions and opinions that moral philosophers like Peter Singer are famous for. I agree the latter claim is contentious even to a liberal, but I myself think that there are good arguments for supposing it to be true. It’s at least defensible.

I’ll quickly outline one of them:

P1: It is immoral to give birth to a child (when you have the choice of an abortion) who is likely to experience significantly more suffering than the usual amount for a child born in the same environment.

P2: Children with Down Syndrome are likely to experience significantly more suffering than the usual amount for a child born in the same environment.

C: Therefore, it is immoral to give birth to a child with Down Syndrome (when you have the choice of an abortion).  

The conclusion is distasteful to some, but to deny it you have to deny either P1 or P2. Are they as distasteful? Perhaps you can deny one or both of them, but it isn’t clear to me that either premise is obviously false, downright absurd, or distasteful. Now, this isn’t an argument that Dawkins used, but it reaches the same conclusion; it is his conclusion that people are red-faced about (and I don’t see that any of his angry critics have bothered to find out what his actual argument is). The outrage at Dawkins here reminds me of the outrage that got Peter Singer banned in Germany. It is saying not (just) that he is wrong, but that he shouldn’t have ever said it in the first place. From the same cut as science denialists, these people are discourse-denialists; anti-intellectuals who would rather the debates just didn’t happen; that the question just doesn’t get asked.

I’m not claiming that people shouldn’t disagree with Dawkins. Of course they should if they don’t think his claims stand up to scrutiny – I do this myself from time to time. What I’m complaining about is the attempt to get him to stop giving his opinions or asking questions. If anyone doesn’t want to hear his opinions, they can unfollow him. Trying to stop him tweeting these things at all is an attempt to prevent other people from reading them, and to my mind that’s selfish and immoral.

I like having Dawkins on Twitter, and it would be very unfortunate if after all the nonsense he decides to pack it in. If he does, it will be a sad indictment of the online world; a world that has shown itself to cope badly with taboo and difficult moral questions. Academics are often told to get down from their ivory tower. Dawkins is getting pushed back upon his by his zealous detractors, who would rather surround themselves with Buzzfeed and Salon than Mind and Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. What a shame.

(Republished in full with permission from the author: See original article here.)

296 COMMENTS

  1. I suggest Richard:-

    1) Recruits a group of moderators/editors and runs everything he proposes to tweet past them.

    2) If they think the argument is too complex for 140 characters, Richard should write an article here, and advertise it on Twitter.

    3) If they think it is too controversial, he should keep quiet.

    For instance, the current Down Twitter-storm was over an unnecessary (albeit accidental) statement. If Richard had stuck to “it’s a personal choice” the Catholic Church in Ireland would still be the bad guys.

    • People know more about what Richard means because of these silly tweets, after he explains himself in the shit-storm aftermath, than they would know if he had said what he meant, properly. It’s the shit-storm that gets the coverage. A good honest article will get no coverage.

    • Perhaps you too should only be allowed to communicate on the Internet after a committee approves your opinions. I find #3 in your post to be good evidence that if your advice is good for RD, it should apply threefold for you.

    • I agree with (2) , but not with (3) .
      The reason is that for some people ‘anything’ is controversial, and ‘keeping quiet’ means you censor yourself for those people, while there may be many others who would be interested in the controversial topic.

      Those who find his articles too controversial can simply unsubscribe.

    • I also am a G-d fearing atheist, (but I’m trying not to be), and I totally agree with God-fearing Atheist’s leading comment above, if Richard cares what other atheists think. If he does not care what other atheists think, then frack ’em.

      • Sorry Tom you’re not an atheist if you’re still god fearing. And answer to articles fundamental question, is Richard an asset is. He’s the best outspoken jesus on atheist as anyone ever was. I say that because for example Christopher Hitch, was very popular, great debater for athiesm but he wasnt for atheism per say, he was more about outline the ridiculousness’s accompanied by institutions.

    • Is Dawkins supposed to be a politician for some atheist party? Pretending to be all things to all people to build up maximum support and a base of donors?

      I don’t think that’s the point at all. He’s a thinker, not a politician. When he says things that turn out to be “controversial”, it’s to trigger a discussion and give us something to think about. There will be some people who prefer not to think about it.

      The people who think being an atheist means having to defend every hypothetical raised by Dawkins on Twitter would seem to have misunderstood what it means to be an atheist! It’s really nothing to do with atheism what Dawkins thinks about (say) feminist rhetoric.

    • I’m so glad I took the time to find this cite. I’m a fan of Dawkins but lately have been hearing these attacks on him due to tweets he makes. After listening to them and hearing his explanations I can see why. I was thinking of writing a letter/ about this very subject. I’m delighted the suggestion has been made to him to either stop with the tweeting, or if he must, then employ steps 1 and 2. As to 3, if it is indeed controversial leave it to an article. I know he enjoys a good fight, but the shit storm isn’t good for his message as it becomes a distraction. I’ve never heard such trumped up drivel in my life. Someone out there is got to be using these nonissues to discredit him, and through him, the atheist message. Same thing with Sam Harris, who also bent over backwards to explain himself. The salient point to me is the offended ones are NEVER placated. They just keep on the offensive.

      And another point, while I’m at it. On one hand these attackers appear to scream about nothing, but this morning when I checked out the Atheist Nexus I was floored by the name calling and lurid comments, even threats, that we’re being hurled at “feminazis.” It’s like the community has gone mad.
      What’s going on? At any rate, back to Dawkins, please, no more tweets. Seriously, foot in mouth and all that.

  2. I like the idea of first writing an article on here and then pointing to it on twitter. As the above blog demonstrates, it is extremely difficult (perhaps impossible) to engage in a sensible discussion of the points raised while restricting comments to 140 chars.

  3. But who’s at fault here?

    I’m sure some of these tweets do harm Dawkin’s reputation, and of course it’s a poor format for complex thoughts. But that means that these backlashes are coming precisely from the people who don’t bother to check Dawkin’s website to learn what he meant. From people who seem to feel it’s not actually important what Dawkins intends, and that it’s somehow appropriate to attack someone without that knowledge.

    I think if Dawkins wanted to hang up his twitter account, he might find his life more peaceful. There may also be a more effective way to use Twitter. But I value immensely his willingness to comment on areas that most of us wouldn’t go near. I’m afraid to express some of the ideas he does, and I’m ashamed of it.

    • No it doesn’t. The backlash is because he said something outrageous that it turns out he didn’t mean. That’s not the fault of his readers. Nor is it even the fault of the 140 character limit (I have demonstrated in the “apology” thread how he could have got his thought into 140 characters). It’s the fault of Dawkins for a) showing either the inability or the unwillingness to state his ideas clearly in twitter format and b) failing to understand (as he still fails to understand, apparently) why his original wording conveyed something quite different to the story he is now telling.

      Also, this “clarification” did not appear until after the tweets, and the tweets (obviously) did not link back to it. It’s not that people did not “bother” to check – it’s that he said something he has now retracted.

  4. Given how Twitter has backfired on Dawkins, I would advise him to avoid it. I stay away from it as well since I don’t believe it’s possible to deal with issues in 140 characters or less.

    The flaw with the Down Syndrome argument is the idea that the possibility of significant suffering later in life justifies an abortion. One could use the same point to justify the abortion of children conceived by poor parents. Plus, it shows an amazing lack of knowledge regarding the experiences of Down Syndrome kids.

  5. What seems to evade both theist and many atheists alike is that “atheism” is not a consensus religion, community, or system of morality. It is not a hierarchical body comprised of a deity, priesthood, Bible, community, dogma and canon. Religionists are by nature, psychology and belief members of a very specific and defined moral system that is very different, if not, antithetical to atheism and not just in its cosmology. It is practically impossible for a religionist to perceive of such a thing and therefore assumes that atheists, like themselves, are members of a consensus group with authoritarian leaders and inspired texts. They believe by attacking prominent individuals whose writings are described as “atheistic” ( Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris ) they are decapitating and discrediting atheism as a whole. Of course this is a complete fallacy. The reason they want to quiet Dawkins is because they believe he is a de facto leader and authoritarian head of the church of atheism. As with their own experience and bias if you remove the head of the snake you kill the entire body. The fact is atheism is not some monolithic body of thought. If anything, it is a science-based world view that encompasses many individuals of disparate backgrounds and experiences who have agreed to align themselves with the appellation without surrendering their individuality, education and critical faculties.

  6. “Give Up Twitter and Retreat to His Ivory Tower” That implies a false, fallacious, dichotomy. More accurate would be “Give up Twitter and use other ways to communicate his ideas”.

    No matter what Richard says or does he will always be criticized, no need to give examples, we are all familiar with that… That is why I think it is ok for him to go on tweeting, although I don’t like it and it is, frankly, quite pointless (unless he has a good time playing with that toy). I would prefer him using twitter just to let his followers know about what he is up to (i.e: original articles posted here) and not to expose opinions or ideas.

  7. As the old Duke of Wellington might have said:- ‘Tweet and be damned’.

    Not an exact analogy, as Wellesley was responding to an attempt at blackmail; by someone offering to withhold scandalous information for a price.

    The point was, though, that the great man allowed his personal and private information to go out into the public domain; and the result was that his reputation was unaffected, or possibly enhanced, and he went on to even greater things, such as becoming Prime Minister

  8. Saying that Richard is “a liability” to the atheist movement is total nonsense. Just ask yourself where this movement would be now if it were not for him; just consider what would happen if he were to be substituted by the likes of any of the guys and dolls that are mention in the above article criticizing him… What amazes me most is that people are really listening to a bunch of self-righteous social warriors and atheist+ fanatics that have done absolutely nothing for the atheist movement and just use it for their own social/professional promotion. Pathetic.

  9. If ideas are indeed “memes”, then they are problably “memiest” on twitter. Which should be grounds for anyone interested in the supposed “science” of memetics to try and understand how and why tweets “mutate” almost naturally, instead of complaining that people misunderstand and misrepresent them…

  10. Catholic journalist Kimberly Winston (an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer)

    That’s like being an expert on the effects of different bird calls on the deceased. The first line of this article just screams “don’t read this crap written by a delusional and fraudulent moron”. If she were an expert she would admit the effects are zero as prayer has been demonstrated to have no effect. So, she must be a fraud a the very least.

    They even mention Ivory Tower. Ivory Tower, really? The religious actually build Ivory towers to look down on their mind prisoners. It was actually illegal to build a taller building than the church steeple. If Richard is on an ivory tower, he didn’t kill anyone to build it.

    Not reading

  11. Professor Richard Dawkins has a right to express his opinions, which are far more informed than people give him credit for. He may not be a philosopher but what Professor Dawkins does know about is scientific truth, abortion is not murder, full stop. I share Professor Dawkins’ pro choice stance because it is based on scientific inquiery. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Professor Dawkins because he has the guts to stand by scientific truth instead of backing down due to political correctness.

    • what Professor Dawkins does know about is scientific truth, abortion
      is not murder, full stop

      I would say this is classic “scientiism” and is what gives science – and atheism – a bad name. It is not a “scientific truth” that “abortion is not murder”. It is a legal convention (that a foetus does not become a person until born). The scientific part tells us that the process of becoming a self-aware person is a gradual one that begins well before birth and continues after birth. It also tells us that at birth, the health and interests of the mother radically separate from those of the baby. This does not tell us that abortion is not murder. It merely informs what is a societal judgement about what we think is morally acceptable.

      We do not need God for morality, but to pretend that science is a substitute is a profound mistake.

      • Science is only the preferred method for observing the natural world and recording and sharing the findings. It can only be a substitute for other methods of collecting data about the natural world. For example, religion’s method for observing the natural world is to make it all up our of thin air; this method is considered to be a shit method. Science can only observe the behavior currently classified as morality (they can’t actually study morality because there is no such thing) but can not be a substitute for it.

        If it is okay, without any consequence, to kill a foetus before it can recognize its potential as a living being (hasn’t developed enough yet), then it is okay to ruin the career of a rising star athlete before they “go pro” without consequence. We should throw out of all courts claims against lost potential income. Injured in a car accident, sorry, those wages were only potential wages, no compensation for you.

        Hell, if we can take away “potential” lives who gives a fuck about any other potential thing? Sorry we burnt your house down but the potential for you returning to live in it was only as high as a pregnant women giving birth.

        • Science observes much more than behavior. It observes reality as good as possible and that alters behavior.

          Your comparison of potentiality of an unborn cluster of cells that do not have a nervous system with a person injured in a car accident, is very poor. Unlike the foetus this person might already be responsible for other persons. But parents have to carry their responsability for their child – in the case of a child with down syndrom pabably for it’s whole life wich they can’t guarantee because they cannot say when they die!

          Pro-life argumentation is very dangerous and has feet of clay. It is in fact the argument only based on potentiality and not on facts. And last but not least keep in mind that it is the womans decision to abort her child no one elses. Not yours, not mine – hers! Do you really think a woman can do this without consequences? Are you kidding? And b. th. w. in contrast to you this was the first thing Dr. Dawkins mentioned! So you see he is much more thoughtful about the topic than you are in your comment!

        • But law tries to orientate on reality and by that creating a better reality. Biology is a way to observe reality. Don’t you agree that it is a wonderful thing, that law has changes over times or do you really want to be hung for stealing a horse, or get your hand cut of for stealing at all? Law has to react to current developments in the human world/culture. If not so it is worthless!

          • But law tries to orientate on reality and by that creating a better
            reality. Biology is a way to observe reality. Don’t you agree that it
            is a wonderful thing, that law has changes over times or do you really
            want to be hung for stealing a horse, or get your hand cut of for
            stealing at all? Law has to react to current developments in the human
            world/culture. If not so it is worthless!

            Of course law changes, and often for better. And evidently I don’t think people should be executed for stealing a horse (as a good gaúcho, however, I dislike the implication that I am a horse thief).

            And evidently law reacts to developments in the human culture. Even to developments in science. This isn’t always a good thing, especially when science “develops” racist or sexist world views, which is not unheard of (science, too, reacts to developments in human culture).

            But what makes a law that mandates a death penalty for stealing horses absurd is not biology, it is the internal workings of a penal system. It is a very unintelligent idea because if someone was going to steal a horse, then it would make all the sence to kill the owner of the horse also – after all, the victim of the theft would probably denounce the crime. And so killing the horse’s owner would decrease the probability of being caught, wihtout increasing the penalty, isn’t it?

            And of course it is silly to pretend that “science” can tell us that abortion should not be a crime. If anything, science will tell us that fetuses develop quite gradually, and that there is not much (biological) difference between a seven-month fetus and a nine-month newborn. So what makes killing the former a right of the pregnant woman and killing the later a serious felony must be elsewhere, not in biology.

  12. tl;dr, aquilacane?

    Feel I should point out that the original title of the article is “Richard Dawkins is Not a Liability”, and not the silly title we’ve got at the top of this page. I agree with MrPickwick’s suggestion for how it should have been renamed (if it had to be renamed) as in any case, referring to an ivory tower in the title biases the reader into thinking that the article is going to be another example of the “anti-intellectual/shut up Prof D” culture that the writer mentions! The fact that its conclusion comes out quite strongly in supporting his desire to actually put ideas such as these on the table for some kind of reasoned debate is really not done justice to by the negative “ivory tower” image, to which the chastened intellectual supposedly “retreats”. As a rehashed title it really has not been very well thought out!

  13. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Professor Dawkins because he has the
    guts to stand by scientific truth instead of backing down due to
    political correctness.

    Right on, jag1859. Always feels refreshing to have people reiterate the importance of standing one’s ground when there are some fundamental, crucial principles at stake such as defending rational inquiry and preventing the closing down of uncensored, unsilenced debate by people who sully the whole notion of political correctness by projecting their own insecurities onto important discussions.

  14. What we see with some of the reactions to Richard on Twitter is really no different to the reactions to The God Delusion and other commentaries he has made on religion. He has broken taboos on what can be discussed in public, and I think that is both a good thing and very brave. Most people would not dare to discuss subjects like abortion and Down Syndrome, even privately amongst friends. But these are real world problems that people have to deal with, and as voters were ultimately the people who decide upon the legislation covering these issues. They’re not always easy to think about, but the more we do so the better equipped we are to deal with them if we ever have to. The less touchy we become, the more we are willing to listen, the easier we find it to talk about these things, the better able we are to cope when we need to.

    • Most people would not dare to discuss subjects like abortion and Down
      Syndrome

      I don’t think this is true. People do and will discuss it, as long as there are dissenting opinions. What people rarely do, however, is to state that they favour the freedom of choice, and then slap the epithet “immoral” on one of the choices.

        • The narrow spectrum of opinions that I have seen goes from “abortion for any reason is a right of the pregnant woman, up to birth” (which is probably unpopular) to “abortion is a particularly awful kind of murder, and should be punished as such” (which would be “politically incorrect”).

          I am not sure how it could get broader, but that’s probably the result of my lack of imagination, or of more extreme options being even more unpopular and/or politically incorrect.

      • People refuse to realize that their morals and choices which are often based on fallacies and rhetoric do not have to and should not apply to everyone. With the demystifying of religion and the realization that faith based philosophy is not the moral due north for all people on earth. We should learn to accept people’s choices as theirs wether they are good or bad. No one has the right to control another. Especially an organization based in lies and deceit. Not withstanding of course the harming or restriction of the rights and safety of another human being. If someone chooses abortion in the case of Down’s syndrome it is their choice. It is also their choice as a parent to weigh the pros and cons of the difficulty of experiencing life with downs and then make the decision to bring that child into the world. There is no supreme ruling on morality of choices only our opinions of them. Once you get over the fact that there is no book to say unequivocally right wrong or indifferent. Then just maybe we stop trying to judge and categorize someone else’s choices as better or worse than the ones we would have made in a given situation. No real right or wrong just “being” and making the best of the outcome. Oversimplified yes but true none the less.

        • This would be perfectly acceptable if:

          1) we could be assured that there was a good quality of life for that future DS individual, and

          2) the parents were financially capable of taking care of that DS individual with no government support

  15. The title of the article poses a question which is different to the one posed by the text of the article. As to the title, of course Richard shouldn’t quit Twitter. However, I do think he would be advised to double check his tweets before sending them and think about what the reaction will be. The reaction may not be fair – as the article points out, he is subject to undue levels of scrutiny and criticism – but it’s what he has to deal with.

    As far as the question posed by the article goes, Richard is indisputably an asset to the atheist cause. Virtually everyone I know who has become an atheist in the last decade or so cites him as an influence. The article says that his arguments against religion aren’t “philosophical” – well, frankly, philosophical sounds to me like a euphemism for not offending anyone by suggesting religion is a load of bollocks. The reason Dawkins is attacked is because he is feared, and that’s a good thing. Before him, atheism could be safely ignored by organised religion, but now they are worried.

  16. “Many of his controversial tweets bring up serious and difficult
    questions in moral philosophy.”

    It’s hard to argue with this and whatever you may think of the rights or wrongs with Richard Dawkins making controversial comments on Twitter, he certainly sparks debate on whatever the ‘topic du jour’ happens to be.

    In contrast to those who think he should either be quiet or stick to his own subjects, I see no reason at all why he shouldn’t speak up and stray from science or atheism into moral philosophy and beyond.

    Debate is healthy and even though not everyone agrees with positions taken by Richards Dawkins, the fact that they are free to offer counter-arguments often results in greater knowledge and understanding for all.

    The recent example given in the article above with P1, P2 & C is a perfect case. You might want to point out that Down Syndrome isn’t that bad after all and can actually result in increased happiness. In this case, if you believe that there isn’t significant suffering, the P2 argument may no longer apply. The debate can then move on (as it did) to how you measure the happiness or suffering of the person with Down Syndrome. And what about the rest of the family; how are they affected? Are there any studies? Actually, as it turned out, yes there are studies. People can then continue to discuss what was perhaps once a ‘taboo subject’ and end up with a far more informed opinion – even if they still disagree.

    In reality of course, it isn’t that easy. Whilst we might all debate these topics in a (reasonably) civilized manner on this website, the media throws up a few short sentences for maximum effect and then quickly moves on. That’s a shame, but it isn’t Richard’s fault. And who knows, maybe people will continue to talk about these things with their friends/family or at work. Maybe they’ll discover that a colleague has a cousin with Down Syndrome but hadn’t felt comfortable with discussing the subject until now. There are also sorts of potential consequences but a blanket ‘Ssh – don’t be controversial‘ suggestion for Professor Dawkins is hardly going to shed any light on anything.

    Just finally, the language used in his tweets isn’t always perfect but that’s fine – we can discuss the language too! It’s all good.

  17. Should Richard give up using Twitter? It depends on who is complaining, why, and how it affects his ultimate goals of educating the public and winning minds. Within Richard’s group of detractors there are two main subgroups: 1) people who demonstrate understanding of his point of view and, 2) people who do not demonstrate understanding of his point of view. Within that second group there is an even further subgroup that seems to wallow in the misunderstanding, often deliberately looking for ways to twist and mangle Richard’s comments in the most disingenuous way possible. These are the people with which Richard literally cannot win.

    With regard to Richard’s statements on Twitter, or anything that he has ever written or uttered as a matter of fact, I am always most interested in the folks that have demonstrated a solid understanding of Richard’s position but still disagree (Group Alpha). I have some interest in people whose disagreement is based on an honest misunderstanding (Group Beta). I have no interest in the “Cannot Wins” (Group Epsilon) – they will moan and complain no matter what.

    If you take Richard’s books in his area of expertise and were to examine the population of his detractors (perhaps people who “hated The Selfish Gene”), you would find mostly Betas and Epsilons. People who, on further examination, honestly did not get the book (which unfortunately included people like the late Stephen Jay Gould), or do not wish to understand the book because is conflicts with some cherished personal ideas about reality. Now, if the book accurately reflects something that is logically and empirically supported AND is clearly written, the number of Alpha detractors should be few and far between, and the nature of their disagreement would be based more on things like writing style or minor themes.*

    What is Richard’s responsibility to these groups of detractors? He should certainly address the concerns of the Alphas, especially if they are respectfully offered in the spirit of honest disagreement. If the number of Betas is larger than expected, he should examine why and address very common misunderstandings (for example, write an article on the Twelve Misunderstandings of Kin Selection), with the goal of educating people and removing the misunderstanding. But at some point, after all of the explanations, people have to take a responsibility for their own learning. The Epsilons should be ignored unless their narrative somehow takes over the public conception of what Richard was trying to say. Fighting back against them will not change their minds, but it might be necessary to protect reputation and public persona.

    With Richard’s Twitter statements, is the breakdown of his detractors to these statements by Alpha, Beta, and Epsilon more or less the same as you see with his books? If there are large numbers of Alphas, people who have understood exactly what was meant (and not meant) by the 140 character statement but still disagree strongly, then that might indicate a serious problem with accuracy of the statement itself. The Betas should be canvassed as to why they thought X when Richard meant Y, and perhaps we would learn that too much inference was required to unpack the 140 character statement into the larger point that Richard wanted to make. Again, that would indicate that for Richard, tweeting can be a confusion-generator rather than a way of simplifying and clarifying good ideas for mass consumption. The Epsilons will be there as always, but may regard his Tweets as a sort of gift. If they know that Richard’s tweet with reasonable point Y will be misconstrued by many as horrible point X, then they can simply distribute it with malicious intent and technically say that this is exactly what Richard Dawkins wrote.

    At this point, I don’t think that the % of Alphas for his Tweets is any higher than that would be for his books. There are tons of people who understood 100% what the tweets meant and agree with and applaud Richard for making them. But among the Betas, some of the misunderstanding could be attributed to the fact that the Twitter statement itself was not well worded, and Richard shares the blame for that. And although the Epsilons have been out in full force, what else is new?

    So Richard should continue Tweeting as long as he is 1) saying something worth saying 2) learning from the poorly worded Tweets and not repeating the same mistakes 3) noting whether the Epsilons are using the Tweets to do material damage to Richard’s larger goals, such that reward is no longer greater than risk. If he needs assistance, as some have suggested in the form of second pair of eyes to bounce things off of before firing away, then he should make use of that.

    *You could on the other hand have an Alpha that demonstrates 100% understanding of an argument, has no problem with the logic and the facts, but nonetheless refuses to take on the argument’s conclusions because they find them too unpalatable for whatever reason. This is at heart a purely emotional reason for being a detractor, and perhaps Richard has always had a higher percentage of these people because of the subject matter that he deals with. If this type of Alpha then tries to dishonestly smuggle their rejection of the argument through the vehicle of a straw man argument, then they become an Epsilon.

    • @Michael.

      . Within that second group there is an even further subgroup that seems to wallow in the misunderstanding, often deliberately looking for ways to twist and mangle Richard’s comments in the most disingenuous way possible. These are the people with which Richard literally cannot win.

      Almost to;dr. Sorry, there are many long posts to follow. I definitely agree with the sentiments you’ve expressed. I’m deflated when I read so much negative comment. I always know what he means even if I think that it could be expressed with more sensitivity.
      To my way of thinking Richard is just too honest! He expresses what he actually means without resorting to the sort of crowd-pleasing non comment we’ve become conditioned to expect from those in the limelight. Thoughts are processed by a team to be swallowed by the masses. I hate this type of commentary!
      I’m not sure exactly what the ‘wallowers’ are getting from their twisted and mangled understandings, but I suspect they wish to discredit Richard and anyone choosing to be outspoken about their disbelief.

      • Ha ha, when I wrote this post and pressed submit, I thought “this is exactly the type of long post I tend to ignore”. Brevity is the winner the competition of the scarce resource of readers’ attention!

        But thank you for taking the time to read it. I agree with you that Richard’s honesty is what gets him into trouble, but I hope that he keeps plugging away. Despite his occasional missteps, he will come out on top in the end, as the ugliness and stupidity of many of his detractors becomes more and more obvious.

  18. Twitter is not the ideal format for publishing in-depth views but unfortunately it is the most popular and visible medium.
    I do not think that RD has tweeted anything that deserves the opprobrium meted out to him.
    The controversy is all in the minds of those who are threatened by the only person who is having a genuine effect on the debunking of religion
    There are many others who are well known to atheists but are unknown to the general populace.
    The people who are criticising RD are deliberating misreading his tweets with the aim of silencing him.
    I think it is important that RD continues with his campaigns even if they create more controversy as to stop would be admitting defeat and would give religion a free run.
    From everything I have learned about the character of RD I know he will never (literally) be on his knees.

  19. Twitter is the ‘Speakers Corner’ of the internet. A bastion of free speech, where anyone can get up on a virtual soapbox and address the crowds milling about. The best speakers attract a crowd; the worst are ignored.

    In the case of twitter, the popular and famous get most followers; the obscure speakers have a chance to attract followers; though not without difficulty.

    Of course the best tweeters are those who pursue wisdom and truth, from a knowledgeable base, rather than seeking popularity. This has always been Richard’s objective.

    I believe that the deliberately controversial approach is good for stimulating debate and thought, and for vitalising the medium and the participants. I enjoy the levelling effect too; navvies and judges swapping thoughts with bus drivers and professors.

  20. …Take Matt Ridley as an example. He’s written popular books on evolution, and writes regular opinion columns for the newspaper. Most informed people who have heard of Dawkins have also heard of Ridley. Can you honestly imagine the same reaction to Ridley if he tweeted the exact same things? …I’m not sure why Dawkins is singled out, but he is singled out.

    Richard Dawkins is the international public face of modern politicized atheism. If he’s singled out it’s because the informed and uninformed alike know that responding to lesser-known atheist figures’ Twitter comments won’t give the responders the ego boost they so desperately crave, won’t elevate their own Twitter ranking and secure them more followers, and won’t potentially result in what I understand represents some some sort of temporary Nirvana for twitterers: that they will be (imagine celestial choir-singing here) ‘trending’. I’m not sucking up to your man; there are plenty of things he says and does on Twitter and elsewhere that sometimes make me question his reasoning skills, political judgement and even capacity for basic human compassion.

    Richard is a lightning rod for fruitcakes, trolls, bigots and loser social-media climbers everywhere (“yup, got myself an angry response from another famous person; should get me a couple dozen more followers”) and the only thing necessary for them to get their hateful little messages through to him is a Twitter membership. Perhaps if one had to pass an empathy/IQ test before an account could be approved and activated on that network it would be a less bilious place to hang out.

    So while I don’t always agree with RD’s twitterings, I would admire anyone who, knowing a significant proportion of the planetary population absolutely despises your fucking guts and have a direct conduit allowing them to make sure you know it, chooses to stand his or her ground; doesn’t compromise, doesn’t tone down the nature of his or her online utterances (“fish fingers for tea, nom nom nom,” “here’s a picture of my cat Mr Tiddles doing something absolutely adorable“) in order to be more liked and get the haters to crawl back under their rocks; and most importantly, doesn’t allow him- or herself to be bullied off a network which reaches more people than our modest little oasis could hope to, a place where this person can do his or her bit to keep the atheism flame burning as a candle in the darkness (that phrase rings a bell) and a beacon to closeted atheists everywhere.

    Jeezalu, on one side there are the religious cretins who wage a relentless campaign of online hatred to get your man to abandon Twitter; then there are those on his own website, his effective supporters, whispering in his shell-like that he isn’t doing himself or the cause any favors and it might be best for all concerned if he slunk quietly away, shoulders drooping, hands stuffed deep in pockets, maybe dejectedly kicking the dust.

    Well, forgive me, but no. I’m sorry for all the abuse you’re subjected to, but there’s no room for deserters in this man’s army (some imagined military background music—bugles blowing, drums beating, fifes trilling out across a battlefield eerily draped in cannon/musket-fire smoke sort of thing—would be appropriate here). Not unless you want to be taken out and shot. It was your decision to leave the hallow’d halls of academe and accept an officership. Your people could have gotten you out of it; they’d have made you parish parson in a nice rural vicarage somewhere. You might have spent a lot of time wondering why as a parson you hadn’t been allocated a parsonage, but you’d have adapted. You chose to put duty before selfishness (I’m beginning to wish I’d stuck with skiing metaphors). Nobody said this was going to be a walk in the park; being ankle-deep in mud, gore and human excrement is part and parcel of the theater of war, even for intellectual-toffs.

    Now get back out there damn your eyes. It is your God-given duty!

    And, you know, tweet something inappropriate about Muslims or the disabled or summink. Sniffs

  21. I think Dawkins is clearly an asset to atheism. You would have to be doing the equivalent of living in a cave or be completely intimidated by the still obviously real bias toward religion in general and Christianity in particular to think otherwise.

    But I reject the notion that the alternatives are “give up twitter” and “retreat to his ivory tower”. You can stop wasting time by tweeting and you can focus your arguments on substantive issues (rather than rehashing to death the 8 millionth time some Muslims do something stupid like walk out on a talk) without “retreating to your ivory tower”.

    As usual Chomsky is I think a perfect example. He is incredibly accessible. He goes on Youtube and talks to people about the singularity. He let a punk band use an excerpt from his talk for the B side of a single. He is very much in the real world but he doesn’t descend to the insipid “You shouldn’t say X its not PC”->”But I didn’t really say X I said Y!”->”Well you shouldn’t say Y either and you didn’t apologize in the right way either!”… kind of dialog that inevitably results from twitter fights. When people make personal or groundless attacks on Chomsky, and given how controversial his politics are Chomsky gets such attacks far more than Dawkins, but Chomsky just doesn’t bother, he does what I would expect a true intellectual to do, he sticks to issues that matter. in contrast to Dawkins who is far more in the mainstream of political ideology in the US, he’s just at the edge with his atheism but very much in the mainstream in his support for US foreign policy and big corporate agribusiness but lately Dawkins seems to be looking for petty controversies and avoiding serious discussions.

    When was the last time Dawkins said anything interesting about memes, something he hasn’t said before? Or about altruism, or really about anything other than “oh look here’s something stupid that a Christian or Muslim said”?

    • For how long does someone have to remain out on the cutting edge of his or her profession? Isn’t retirement or semi-retirement an option? Dawkins has about twenty books under his belt; maybe he doesn’t have anything profound to say anymore. He is in his seventies. I’m not suggesting he’s losing his marbles or anything, just that perhaps he’s enjoying some sort of active retirement, semi or complete, in which he globetrots around the planet to give lectures and take part in debates, participates in the occasional television or radio program, tweets his tweets and generally has a bit of fun.

      When someone begins publishing his memoirs, that can usually be taken as a sign he no longer intends to play as active a role in his vocation as he once did, even if no formal statement to this effect has been made.

      P.S. I’m really going to have to find out one of these days just who this Chomsky guy is. From the way you tell it, he sounds awesome.

      • For how long does someone have to remain out on the cutting edge of his or her profession? Isn’t retirement or semi-retirement an option?

        Sure it’s an option. But the best minds don’t do it because their minds keep working until they are dead. Bertrand Russel, Einstein, most of the greats kept active intellectually until the very end.

        BTW, there is a difference between being “on the cutting edge” of your profession and still doing interesting science. Chomsky, I think he would admit this, is no longer “on the cutting edge” of linguistics but he still does very interesting talks where he gives an overview or personal perspective on various issues. Some of those talks he’s made in the last ten years, where he’s got to be in his 70’s or even 80’s are some of the most interesting things I’ve ever heard him say. Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omg4lUwOZII

        Dawkins could be doing similar kinds of talks. Hearing his reaction to the new work in evolutionary psychology for example, or responding to the criticisms of memes that people like Atran have made, those kinds of things don’t require you to be on the leading edge but someone respected and brilliant like Dawkins can still say very interesting things. He’s obviously not retired but what bothers me is his non-retirement is frankly so boring. Actually, I wouldn’t care if he decided to turn all his energy to political organizing as his focus in later years, Einstein and Russel focused more on political causes as they got older too. I just wish he would say something more interesting rather than “Look another Muslim said something stupid!” That’s my real criticism, not that he tweets or doesn’t do biology but what he does say is just so boring lately. I think the tweeting is more a symptom than the disease, the disease is I don’t find what he has to say in politics or atheism to be interesting in any way. It’s not that I disagree either, just that everything he says now he’s said already a while ago and he hasn’t said anything new in years.

  22. To accept the argument we have to accept that morality is a function, subject to having the choice of abortion, of projected likelihood of suffering across an entire lifetime compared to some measure of ‘average’ lifetime suffering in the general population within a given environment.

    I am at a loss to know how a prospective parent is meant to assess the likelihood of comparative suffering in this way. My nine year old daughter is a feisty, intelligent, engaged young girl who delights in artistic endeavour, practical creativity, reading and a whole host of other activities. She clearly derives great pleasure from her interaction with friends and family and gives every sign of thoroughly enjoying a full and stimulating childhood. She has some difficulty articulating her thoughts in spoken and written language, is rather ‘young for her age’, and has a mild heart defect. She has a ‘T21’ trisomy (Down Syndrome). When my wife and I, a decade ago now, were sitting in a hospital room discussing options with a long-faced obstetrician, how do you suppose we were able to assess the likelihood of my daughter’s suffering in comparison to others at that time? How do you think we might assess it today? Can you suggest some algorithm we might have usefully employed to avoid Dawkins’ judgement of immorality?

    I do not accept that P1 is meaningful. I will not accept P2 without evidence, and my personal experience to date leads me to conclude the opposite. With this in mind I find Dawkins assertion of my immorality to be, frankly, insulting. Logic is a good thing, but such questionable, imprecise and uncorroborated reasoning, when used as an excuse to abrogate the most basic duty of respect towards others, is an awful thing.

    • Thanks for this, you’ve nailed the objection. As with his comments on rape Dawkins is suggesting that we should be able to take his subjective understanding of a situation and use it as an objective measure of value. And then of course when anyone points out that his subjective understanding may not be shared by others who may have different experiences those others are dismissed as simply being too “emotional…”

      There’s a narrow mindedness in this kind of reasoning that reminds me an awful lot of the religion I left behind all those years ago…before I ever heard of Richard Dawkins.

      • Thanks, Aleister. To strengthen the argument, here is a peer-reviewed paper which provides evidence that strongly suggests P2 is false.

        Skotko BG, Levine SP, Goldstein R. 2011. Self-perceptions from people with Down syndrome. Am J Med Genet Part A 155:2360–2369.

        The abstract reads as follows:

        This study asks people with Down syndrome (DS), ages 12 and older, about their self-perception so that their information could be shared with new and expectant parents of children with DS. We analyzed valid and reliable survey instruments from 284 people with DS on the mailing lists of 6 non-profit DS organizations around the country. Among those surveyed, nearly 99% of people with DS indicated that they were happy with their lives, 97% liked who they are, and 96% liked how they look. Nearly 99% people with DS expressed love for their families, and 97% liked their brothers and sisters. While 86% of people with DS felt they could make friends easily, those with difficulties mostly had isolating living situations. A small percentage expressed sadness about their life. In our qualitative analysis, people with DS encouraged parents to love their babies with DS, mentioning that their own lives were good. They further encouraged healthcare professionals to value them, emphasizing that they share similar hopes and dreams as people without DS. Overall, the overwhelming majority of people with DS surveyed indicate they live happy and fulfilling lives.

        See also these related papers from the same series of studies:

        Skotko BG, Levine SP, Goldstein R. 2011. Having a son or daughter with Down syndrome: Perspectives from mothers and fathers. Am J Med Genet Part A 155:2335–2347.

        Skotko BG, Levine SP, Goldstein R. 2011. Having a brother or sister with Down syndrome: Perspectives from siblings. Am J Med Genet Part A 155:2348–2359.

          • Be careful though of linking morality to wealth. In his tweets, Richard Dawkins said “…if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering…” By this reasoning, the position would be that Richard’s argument is somehow linked to the wealth of parents. The richer the parents are, the more likely the foetus with T21 trisomy is to have a very happy life, and so the more moral those rich parents are by not terminating the pregnancy. If evidence emerges that children with T21 trisomies of poorer parents are less likely to be happy, then their morality is more questionable. But then, how would we know what amount of their lack of happiness is due specifically to their medical condition and what amount is due to the comparative poverty of their parents? And again, how on earth are real people in real situations meant to act in a moral way, according to Richard’s definition, when faced with the dilemma? I’ve been in that situation, and I can tell you that neither my wife nor I were in much of a fit state to start making calculations of projected likelihood of happiness based on projected likely income.

            The underlying problem here is that Richard asserted that morality is linked to measures of happiness and/or suffering (specifically to the desire to increase the sum of happiness). This is deeply problematic. I’m sure we all agree that the desire is a good thing, in itself. However, why would the desire to increase the sum of happiness form the basis of a theory of morality? What if we are faced with a choice in which the moral action will decrease the sum of happiness? It can and quite regularly does happen.

          • @Charles

            What if we are faced with a choice in which the moral action will decrease the sum of happiness? It can and quite regularly does happen.

            An example would be good…Unless you mean that current hapiness is reduced in favour of greater happiness later? If it is this, then you haven’t broken away from utilitarianism in some form or another.

          • @phil

            I would want to restrict my argument simply to the assertion that making the ‘desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering’ the ‘basis of’ our morality leads to significant problems. Making moral decisions of the sort Richard discussed on this basis is not necessarily feasible. I’m confident that, today, my daughter is very happy indeed and is not suffering in the slightest. Tomorrow, that equation might change. Maybe it won’t. Ten years ago I had no realistic or dependable mechanism or algorithm for projecting, measuring or, indeed, doing any kind of trade-off calculation. A decade later I’ve been able to cite a peer-reviewed study above which provides direct evidence that contradicts the assumption that T21 trisomies are inherently associated with unhappiness and suffering. I absolutely see that consideration of future happiness or suffering can have a significant bearing on deciding on a moral course of action. However, what if I can’t tell what the ‘sum of happiness’ will be? What if I am forced to trade one person’s happiness against another person’s suffering? What happens if other considerations arise that have nothing to do with happiness or suffering per se? I don’t accept my argument leads inevitably to some bleak utilitarian position devoid of compassion.

            Forgive me but I am going to avoid the invitation to provide additional examples at this point. I think there is a significant risk this could lead to a barren debate that deflects from a discussion of the principles.

  23. Richard should use this site and all you good people, to road test his ideas first. We are free and (mostly) give a damn about him and have the widest range of opinions. On recent post-tweet discussions Richard has learned something (eg that the sense of betrayal might make date rape a much worse experience than he imagined.) Pre-emptive learning (from the wide varieties of our experiences) when it comes to the science/cultural crossover he is venturing towards, would help those tweets get finer tuned.

    Two thirds through the life of the road test thread he tweets his views, pre-challenged, and with some borrowed nifty quotes and ideas. The thread bursts back in to life as outsiders pour in with some argument and counter argument already in place. The impression of Richard shooting from the hip is dispelled, we breathe easier and brief unqualified/misapprehended assertions don’t float around in the Twittersphere breeding toxic shock levels of auto-immune counter-memes….

    • One of two days into the road test thread he tweets his
      views…

      That’s the best part of your plan. When I started reading I was thinking that it would take forever to reach any kind of reasonable consensus on the wording he should even use, never mind which topic and the inevitable “don’t mention paedophilia, you should be tweeting about disability or war or, oh yeah, atheism”.

      But then the one or two days (two-thirds) bit came along and you had me. Richard would certainly have the got the gist of the counter-arguments by then and, like you say, would be prepared with an arsenal of well-considered retorts.

      Only problem is, I quite like the fact that he shoots from the hip. I know he cocks it up sometimes but perhaps that’s a price worth paying for some straightforward honesty.

      • @BarryM

        . Only problem is, I quite like the fact that he shoots from the hip. I know he cocks it up sometimes but perhaps that’s a price worth paying for some straightforward honesty.

        Perhaps he could go even further. The haters are still going to hate, irrespective of any pronouncements he makes. It does start the conversation and of that we should be pleased.
        I wish he’d link all tweets to a longer article myself, because I like to be given more material to get my head around. Just for the record, I think having baby number sixteen is immoral! Maybe I can expect of flurry of hate responses for daring to suggest. Hell! I think baby number six is immoral.

        • “I wish he’d link all tweets to a longer article…”

          I like the longer articles too. In the ideal world we’d have a quick tweet for the headline backed up by an in-depth expansion here for us to sink our teeth into. Perfect!

          “I think having baby number sixteen is immoral!”

          I’m with you on baby number sixteen and number six and probably a few more numbers down to about two!

          Funnily enough, at the other end of the spectrum, I know several child-free couples (they all seem to have horses and/or cats), who are often criticized as being selfish for not having children. I would have described such people as quite responsible myself but perhaps I’m wrong!

      • The problem with shooting from the hip is that it makes him look like he’s willing to wallow in the mud, instead of rising above the fray (pardon the cliches). It makes him look undignified. He is a very public figure in atheism, having put himself there with his books. If he cares deeply about atheism, perhaps he should think twice (or three times) about how he interacts with the public.

  24. Richard knows that there are people if a ‘sensitive’ debate is brought up, they’ll just go away. Then there those who are willing to follow through to the end.

    What i don’t understand is, doesn’t Richard take this into consideration when he is arguing? Is he expecting everyone to agree with him?

    Richard, whether you like it or not, whether it pleases you or not. Millions of people disagree with you on religion, on evolution, on using logic, on abortion, on wearing a t-shirt that insults their gods. You’re going to lay to rest with millions still disagreeing with you on so many issues.

    Here’s the thing, whether it’s a million or just one person agreeing with you, you should stand your ground. Don’t run away from the debates or even where steam seems to come from most.

    I’ve honestly learned so much in these debates. I’m glad i’m following you. Think about it Richard, if it weren’t for your tweets, would these topics even be brought forward in such a manner and coverage?

    I actually thought the debate on abortion is one where we have to go against religious people. To see atheists arguing like religious people is just scary. People just want what they know to be right, they don’t want to seek what is right.

    Like one of your own sayings “teach kids how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence and how to disagree with you”. You’re doing it superbly.

    For us who follow through your debates, who value different opinions, want you to stay on twitter. You’re actually exposing their thinking capacity. If you shut up, they’ll shut up too and we’ll assume they’re intellects. Let’s see how far they go with their thinking. How much do they know?

    • Ms. Benson. What is it that you find not just ugly, but “very ugly” toward Kimberly Winston? Was it the introduction on prayer beads? According to her profile at Religion News Service (where her article appeared), she is “the author of three books, including Bead One, Pray Too: A Guide to Making and Using Prayer Beads”

      Perhaps you didn’t like that Ms. Winston’s article was described as very biased. That is most accurate, too. Isn’t it not true that the people she quoted as seemingly independent voices share a close connection with the FreeThoughtBlogs and SkepChick network, either as bloggers, friends or allies? And is the impression really false that these places are brimmed with Anti-Dawkins sentiment?

      You know as much as I do, that you and your co-bloggers there edit out, heavily moderate and remove comments that go against the grain. Therefore, I take the comment sections as tacit agreement, too (unless otherwise commented). And they are filled with the sentiment that Richard Dawkins should resign from Twitter (and preferably from atheism) – these are the rather positive voices. Since the days of Rebecca Watson’s boycott of him, the “horde” used every opportunity to apply the most uncharitable interpretation. Ms. Winston wrote another article a while ago, with the very same slant, which was effectively a mouthpiece of the views that are common in your community, too.

      Now to your other claim that you believe the article to be “grossly misleading, not to say flat-out false”, where you allege that “Four of the seven said he’s both. Phil Zuckerman did. I did. Hemant Mehta did. Adam Lee did.”

      Four out of seven?

      Phil Zuckerman is introduced with a general remark that Prof. Dawkins has done a lot to bring a new generation to atheism. Past tense. Ms. Winston then quotes him with “Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists: He is smug, condescending and emits an unpleasant disdainfulness” and that’s it. That doesn’t sound overly positive and it certainly not “grossly misleading” or “flat-out false” to take this statement as a negative overall.

      Three out of seven.

      The next one in the list, Adam Lee, is again an ally of the FreeThoughtBlog and SkepChick faction. He sums up that Richard Dawkins “balance has been shifting towards harm.” On his blog, Adam Lee frequently and harshly critcizes him. He has blog posts titled “Richard Dawkins Facepalm watch” and believes that Richard Dawkins has invited the harassment of Rebecca Watson. Is Notung really “grossly misrepresenting” the situation? Surely, you are joking Ms. Benson.

      Two out of seven.

      Now, to yourself. It is true, you recently wrote one positive article on Richard Dawkins and you crafted the Joint Statement with him. But for this one positive article, or any one positive sentence you have five articles that are negative, again with comment sections always filled with negative commentary, which you allow through moderation (whereas you routinely curb opinions that go in the other direction).

      You are firmly side-by-side with people who have quite negative to extremely negative opinions on Richard Dawkins, that easily cross over into hostility. I do not hold you accountable for what your co-bloggers write, with whom you blog in concert, but your dissent if it exists has not be apparent. Rather, the impression is that you all generally go in the same direction, which is overly negative with Richard Dawkins.

      One of out of seven. Nothing is “grossly misrepresented” here.

      You leave me wondering why it is your interest to tone down the antagonism with Richard Dawkins this time around. What about the so-called “rift” that is a common trope within your community? Could it be that you are trying to backpedal now that more and more people have enough of your faction’s antics?

      TL;DR
      To sum up, your assessments are demonstrably false. There is nothing “very ugly”, there is nothing unethical in the article by Notung, and it does not “grossly misrepresent” anything, and neither is it false. But these attributions can be applied to what you and your friends and allies are doing with routine.

  25. Also, a key claim in the article is grossly misleading, not to say flat-out false.

    Of the eight people who were interviewed, seven said that he’s a liability (though Hemant Mehta’s statement appears to have been misrepresented), and only one (Dennett) said that he’s an asset.

    Wrong. Four of the seven said he’s both. Phil Zuckerman did. I did. Hemant Mehta did. Adam Lee did.

    • The original article asked the question whether he was more of an asset or liability, which was perhaps slightly misrepresented in this here article, but I have to question your accuracy as well.

      E.g. I don’t see a whole lot of difference between what Greta Christina says (in the article) and what Adam Lee says (in the article): they both say (IMO) he was a huge asset, but now the liabilities outweigh that. That may not be what they believe, but that is how the original article reads. I think at best you can read that Adam Lee’s opinion is that Dawkins has such a reservoir of good deeds that his recent negative actions shouldn’t call for excommunication.

      • Nope. That fits what Phil Zuckerman is quoted as saying, but not what Hemant and Adam and I are quoted as saying.

        So when his recent tweets about rape and pedophilia hit the Twittersphere two days after the release of the civility agreement with his longtime critic, the debate started anew.
        “Perhaps he was testing it,” Benson said of the agreement, which she characterized as a positive step in repairing a rift over feminism within atheism that she traces to Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comment.
        Benson said Dawkins attracts people to the movement with his well-reasoned arguments against religion and superstition. But he then repels them with what many see as an unwillingness to listen to ideas other than his own.
        “In his two or three recent Twitter combats, the most striking thing is he does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to represent long-term, healthy atheism.”

        And

        And it isn’t only women atheists whom Dawkins upset. Writing on The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta said: “I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins. I know he means well. But damn, it’s annoying having to defend him. More importantly, I shouldn’t have to!”

        Adam Lee, who blogs at Daylight Atheism, said: “I don’t think (Dawkins) has done more harm than good to the atheist movement, but the balance has been shifting towards harm. He has made comments about women and minorities that give people a bad impression of what atheism stands for. I wish he would stand back and let other people add their voices to his.”

        • I did not analyze or mention what you or Hemant Mehta or Phil Zimmermann said in the article, although I will if you insist. I mentioned only that you misrepresented this article and that you were wrong about Adam Lee and I stand by that.

          I don’t think (Dawkins) has done more harm than good to the atheist
          movement, but the balance has been shifting towards harm

          I don’t want to have bring calculus into this, but the clear implication is that right now at this point in time Dawkins is doing more harm than good. Again, I don’t know if that’s what he meant, but that’s what he said.

          • No, that’s not the implication. Adam said he doesn’t think as of now that Dawkins has done more harm than good, but he thinks the balance is now shifting – meaning, at some point in the future if the trend continues he will have done more harm than good.

          • No, that’s not how math works.

            We all here agree that Dawkins has in sum done more harm than good. However, if Dawkins contribution right now were still positive then how can the total be diminishing as Adam Lee suggests?

            If Adam Lee meant to say that the amount of harm Dawkins was doing was accelerating vs. his contribution then there are many ways he could and should have clearly said that (perhaps his quote was taken out of context). However, that would be a pretty wacky thing to say unless you think Dawkins is suffering from senile dementia.

  26. First off, while it is an interesting discussion, nothing posted here should be taken too seriously by Dawkins himself. He is incredibly smart and has incredibly smart friends who presumably share his long term goals (in furthering atheism). Those are the people he should be listening to in order to cancel out any egotism or personal bias he has himself.

    There is no doubt that he gets more visibility for his ideas because of the furor over his tweets, but none of us really know whether this results in furthering the ultimate goals which “atheists” share.. However, Dawkins (and others with similar goals) can make reasonable estimations, even if it were imprecise. Even if it were determined that such tweets lower the support for RDF, it may be more than offset by driving the atheist curious to less outspoken secular sources. Atheism has a very big tent, there is room for (almost) all.

    Some claim that Dawkins doesn’t understand Twitter. I argue that he understands it far better than most and uses it exactly as it should be used. If you were to thoroughly analyze, review and edit every tweet (from Dawkins et al.) it would be a useless medium. Personally, I would not want to see The God Delusion fed to me in 140 character boundaries, which is what many people seem to want.

    By its design and nature Twitter is a casual medium where ideas (even serious ideas) can be explored in a less rigorous setting and Dawkins uses it that way. Throwing out thoughts and ideas that often (usually?) even he is not completely sure of. Amongst smart people who are used to conversing with other smart people, this is a very productive way of communication. People (smart or not) who are not used to having this kind of discussion find this baffling. Often this is because of a cultural divide (e.g. it wouldn’t work in Japan), but sometimes it is just ignorance or simple cognitive impairment.

    In the culture Dawkins thrives in, every statement is implicitly followed by “(please) show me where I’m wrong.” His detractors (re: twitter) demand that every statement be substantiated and vetted thoroughly before being posted.

    I think history has shown us which culture is more productive, even if it is less harmonious.

    • I entirely agree. I think Twitter is a great tool for at least starting discussions on difficult or complex subjects, and though it obviously has limitations in itself for fully exploring difficult and complex subjects, that doesn’t mean it should only be used for selfies and celebrity gossip.

    • “Throwing out thoughts and ideas…”

      This seems like a perfectly productive way of sparking discussion and often leads to everyone involved becoming more informed – even if they still end up disagreeing. Any reasonable person should be able to explain to Richard Dawkins why they think he is wrong and present a decent counter-argument.

      It always seems such a tragic waste when people become agitated and come back at him with meaningless statements along the lines of “you should just keep quiet” or “this is like saying…” or “how dare you presume…”. None of those people end up stating their case properly so any potential progress through dialogue is shot down in flames from the very start.

      Hopefully, next time (if there is a next time), Richard’s detractors can try and add to the discussion rather than just ranting from the sidelines.

  27. I remember seeing a documentary about the poor microcephalic “chuas” or “Rat People” of Pakistan. The cause of the microcephaly is a genetic one. In Pakistan, such people are often used as a sort of minder at religious shrines, performing very nominal tasks such as guarding shoes. This article, written by Dr. Armand Leroi, argues that genetic testing should be used to identify fetuses with two copies of the recessive gene responsible for the disorder, and that those fetuses should be aborted:

    Microcephaly cannot be cured. But it can now be prevented. Now that
    some of the mutations have been found, parents from families with a
    history of the disorder can have their newly conceived embryos tested.
    If the embryo has two copies of the mutation, it can be aborted.

    Some will find this application of genetics, now routinely used in
    Britain to prevent many inherited disorders, repugnant. I am not among
    them. In Lahore, I met a middle-class family with two microcephalic
    children. Their mother, a woman who loved her disabled children
    passionately, spoke of her joy when just such a genetic test – the
    first in Pakistan – enabled her to give birth to a healthy girl.

    It is easy to see why. The care that Pakistan provides for the
    mentally disabled is negligible. “What,” said Rubina, speaking of her
    microcephalic children, “will happen to them when I am gone?” “Who
    will look after them?” “They will become” – she could barely say the
    word – “chuas”. She wept; we filmed her; I did not know what to say.

    I agree with Dr. Leroi’s reasoning under the circumstances, and I cannot see why the same type of reasoning can’t be employed with other disorders that affect cognition that can be detected before birth. While it is true that this disease is heritable while Downs is not, the question of whether to knowingly bring into this world a person with limited cognitive abilities and capacity for independence is exactly the same. Perhaps if services were more widely available for these people and they weren’t doomed to be sideshow oddities, the decision to abort might be different. But that is exactly the point – these matters should be open for discussion and depend on a proper analysis of all of the facts.

  28. One thing that I wish people would remember is this: Richard was replying to ME in that Tweet.

    What does that have to do with it? A lot. He didn’t start out with a Tweet of his own, saying, “Women pregnant with a fetus with Down Syndrome should abort”. Was it clumsy of him to not realize that many people would see it? Yes. The articles started twenty minutes after the post, just as I thought they would. Clearly journalists are monitoring his Twitter account to look for sensationalist crap about him.

    Now here’s something a lot of people don’t know. Richard does not know me well but, without going into detail, I will say that he does know a little bit about me. I strongly suspect that one thing he DOES know is that it takes A LOT to get me offended (with a nickname like InYourFaceNewYorker, I certainly hope I don’t get offended easily!). Remember, his Tweet was a reply to me. Whether or not Richard’s (possible) knowledge that it takes a lot to offend me was a factor when he responded to me, I don’t know. Richard, if you’re reading this, could you confirm/deny this, please?

    As for Richard being sent to his room without Twitter, so to speak, no I don’t think that’s the answer. I think he should be careful about what he Tweets– or at least how he phrases it. I think he should also listen when people warn him that articles are going to pop up within an hour if he doesn’t clarify right away. It will help to avoid drama like this! :)

    • Hi IYFNY.

      Are you sorry that this tweet saw the light of day? Perhaps this format was required. I’m not sure myself at this stage. I think I’ve had a complete change of mind after taking all the comments into account.

    • Initially I thought that tweeting was a very poor choice on the part of Richard. After reading all the comments so far, perhaps it was his intention that the controversy should hit the airwaves. I don’t think any method of communication could be guaranteed as private.
      If you could reverse time, knowing what you know, would you have still asked the question? I think that it was worth the angst and furor myself as it made me think hard about my own views.

  29. Well it’s interesting… from what I can see Richard is a well-meaning decent person. So it’s slightly upsetting to me when I see him post stuff like this that draws negative attention on him and makes people pass horrific judgments on him. But his choice.

    I really doubt he was intending to stir the pot. I find it hard to believe he enjoys this cycle over and over which ultimately ends with him spending a couple days cleaning it up.

    What is your position now?

    BTW does the email response notification thing on this website work for you? I keep having to check to see if I have received any responses as I do not get notified!

    • I don’t think the reply notification has worked from the beginning. Very annoying, I agree. These days I have to trawl through old threads to find any interesting discussions I could be having.

      As well meaning and decent as he obviously is, I don’t think he’s concerned about being liked. After TGD a certain segment of the community hated him! How dare he say these things! Even media figures pull a face at the mention of his name at times…..believe me, I’ve seen it!

      I’m certainly in favour of having a termination if the scan or tests show abnormalities. The series of comments made me think about at what point I’d draw the line. I do think that the decision is a personal one, however. No one should feel railroaded into doing something that doesn’t sit well.

      It’s funny really, I always thought you were a male? Your avatar and username are very confusing!

      • My avatar is a cartoon I drew of the late and great Dr. Jack Kevorkian! My avatar on Twitter is a picture of a cartoon fox I created. The funny thing is that on my Twitter there is a photo of Dr. Kevorkian in the background. I’m amazed that not even ONE of the right-wing media outlets commented on that in the context of this shitstorm!

        I really do wonder why my name alone automatically makes people think I have a penis. Seriously, why is it that only men are expected to have funny, smartass usernames? No matter what my avatar is, people ALWAYS assume I’m a man! It’s like the idea of a woman having a smartass name is just out in left field. Why? Are women supposed to have usernames like PollyPrissyPants? Yeesh!

        You say Richard isn’t concerned about being liked. Why, then, would he issue apologies/clarifications?

          • I think I know InYourFaceNewYorker’s name is Susan and that she relocated from New York to someplace else a while ago, so her username is a lie! That’s all knowledge gleaned from this site. There’s some advice for you, guys: if you want your comments to be remembered get yourself a striking avatar (or a fantastic memory like yours truly). Now that comments are no longer numbered, it makes it easier on threads with a lot of feedback to find a particular user’s posts (including your own).

        • @IYFNY

          . You say Richard isn’t concerned about being liked. Why, then, would he issue apologies/clarifications?

          Good point. Perhaps to be seen to be genuinely contrite? Perhaps to explain further? These are all guesses about the motivations behind the original tweet.
          I refuse to join the band out for blood! He has inspired so many to question their assumptions and that is overwhelmingly positive. Maybe he’s not going to win any awards for charm; so be it.

          I’ve been posting for a few years and I don’t recall a point at which you mentioned being a woman. Maybe I forgot? I do remember a series of exchanges a short while back when you told me how you came by you username. In case you’re interested, I got mine when a friend tracked down the derivation of my actual name to an Indian goddess. I was tickled by the irony and have been using it fairly regularly since then. A bit girly I suppose, but ironic. 😉

        • I’ve just been reading about Jack Kevorkian – sounds like he was a great guy. It’s always very impressive when someone is brave enough to speak up about issues that people would rather not think about. And even more impressive that he was willing to act in accordance with his conscience regardless of the consequences.

          By the way, just in case it gets lost, I thought your point about Richard’s reply being specifically to you was very interesting. The fact that he ‘knows you’ could definitely change the context in which his language should be regarded.

          • Kevorkian was very interesting. And he was more than “Dr. Death”. My reasons for admiring him actually have very little to do with that and more to do with that he was just a very interesting person. He did a bunch of oil paintings, released a jazz CD, had a public access show in the ’80s, tried to make a movie in the ’70s, taught himself several languages literally to fluency, wrote 8 books, invented a waterbike… he was just interested in everything! Go to my Twitter page and find the cartoon drawings I have in there in tribute to him! There are about 15 of them, I think.

          • Very interesting indeed. His paintings are quite disturbing (no wonder you have weird dreams) but “Chromatic Fantasy” is a nice one.

            I absolutely love the cartoon drawings though – they seem like a real heartfelt tribute to him. Good stuff!

          • @Barry, I’ve had weird dreams long before I heard of Dr. Kevorkian. It’s more like, “You have weird dreams, no wonder you like Dr. Kevorkian’s paintings!” My favorite is “Nearer My God to Thee”. Watch the documentary “Kevorkian” to learn more about him. You’ll see why I find him so fascinating!

  30. We want all the information we can get from him. He’s a scientist, a thinker, a human. As a figurehead/leader, it’s great to see his humanity and casual musings.

    Should he be on twitter? If he’s enjoying it.

    I do find to ‘advice’ that he should stay off curious. It’s like people are trying to control him. The prevalence of armchair generals is a testament to where we are as a species. Just watch and learn.

  31. Just glad your out there Richard, keep it up as long as you can stand it. You’re human, I’m sure you’ll make mistakes, any reasonable person will see a reasonable mistake for what it is so long as you are prepared to explain any misunderstandings. Unreasonable people are just unreasonable, try not to give them too much oxygen.

  32. If you do not like Richards tweets there is one simple answer. DO NOT READ THEM!!!!! How about if churches give up there communication to the world ? No we could not enforce that because that would be persecution like when we tell them to stay out of our secular government.

  33. The people complaining about his comments (specifically the delineation of degree of trauma and the muslima series) are a fringe group lost in irrational emotionalism who cannot appear to divide the critical logic of points from some social agenda to curb the commentary of anything that they or an otherwise ignorant public cannot parse without devolving to a strawman misrepresentation. Dawkins may not always get everything spot on, as he has his own views as to the severity of a religious influence on humanity, but the two cited articles are clearly rational, while their critiques are not.

  34. Twitter can be a useful tool for communicating mundane information and sometimes brief
    reactions like “way to go – keep up the good work – you blew it man – that sucks – etc.” Beyond trite
    sound bites the medium is more likely to foster hysteria and nightmares of dysfunctional communication on controversial topics in our brave new social media world.

    Dr. Dawkins neither has to forsake Twitter, the bastard son we all love to hate, nor does he have to give up residence in his Ivory Tower (a moot point since the itinerant atheist seldom stays at home). Instead he could utilize the medium primarily as an advertising platform to entice a larger audience to his web site where he can develop his arguments comprehensively through a superbly written essay. Offering an example prompted by the Down Syndrome feeding frenzy, Dawkins might consider the advertising approach which provides a “teaser” for those who are serious about engaging the topic.

    Woman tweets me with question about morality
    of aborting fetus screened positive for Down Syndrome.
    See my full reply @richarddawkins.net

  35. Dear Professor Dawkins,

    Your debate with Cardinal George Pell was the first on atheism vs. religion I watched. I’ve watched The God Delusion as well as your other television documentaries many times. For decades, I was indifferent toward religion, but between TGD and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great I am no longer hesitant to declare myself atheist. You have influenced many more like me, shown us the absurdities of religious superstition and the clear path to reason and science.

    It is no surprise an “expert of prayer beads” with opposing views to yours should want to discredit you, as Alister McGrath eagerly attempted following publication of TGD. I understand no human is infallible and we all have our quirks. We may not agree on every issue. However, your arguments against religion, championing of science and against emotional taboos are valid and valuable endeavors. Any person of reason who disagrees should address your points logically without reactionary fervor.

    You are an asset to atheism and humanity. That’s just my opinion, but I’m no expert of beads. :)

  36. A fine article defending the fundamental right for all individuals to express themselves freely. The author’s comment on the calls for Richard Dawkins to ‘shut up’ as ‘selfish and immoral’ must also be compounded with the fact that this vendetta is essentially sinister and obnoxious.

    There seems to be a very disturbing conspiracy within the British Press to denigrate Richard Dawkins in recent months. It would be fascinating to know who or what is funding this vitriol.

  37. A good general will decide when and where to fight. They will choose the most favourable conditions and the most favourable piece of land. They will maximise their chances of winning the conflict and inflicted as much damage as possible on the enemy. If these conditions are not met, they are smart enough to know that they need to live, and fight another day. No shame in this. Just great strategic thinking.

    Richard. Do not go quietly in this dark night. Stand and deliver, but do so on your own terms. The God Delusion was one of the key documents that put the secular debate on the front foot. I couldn’t wait to read it. On the big stage. It gave permission for people like me, to come out and discuss. To take it to the irrational with I have with relish. A great strategic victory. So we need you and your fellow secular stars to keep fighting the good fight.

    Twitter is like the Vietnam war. The jungle is full of the enemy. Every tree could mean your death. You can’t see an horizon. There are suicide bombers on every corner. Napoleon would not use Twitter. Might I suggest you continue to use Twitter, but use it strategically. If you spot a good argument, reference it and tweet something like. “Interesting argument”. You are not going to with any decisive battles in Twitter. You are reduced to sniping from behind trees.

    You are one of the top predators on the Serengeti plains. But if you falter, there are numerous jackals, hyenas and vultures just waiting to pick over your carcase.

    If the “Spirit” moves you to write on a topic, then set out your arguments in the longer form, as you do so well, post it, then reference it from Twitter.

    People in the public arena are not like me. I can say what I like an no one will care. Although I hope someone cares just a little bit. A Judge must be on guard at all times and must not express an opinion on anything at the Bridge Club or the golf course. People holding public office like the UN. Ssshh. Ambassadors and some politicians. People who hold high public profile positions, and wish to use that position to effect, must be circumspect when it comes to street fighting. Your guerrilla force is numerous and diverse. The denizens on this forum and the like, are the ones to go into the jungle and snipe away at the irrational. We are your army. You are the general.

    So choose your battlefield and choose your battles.

    • David, to continue your metaphor, a little more stretching won’t hurt it, Sun Tzu, no slouch in the ways of war, said:

      “You must plan your enemies retreat as carefully as you plan your own attack, If your enemy cannot retreat easily, you will have to fight him to the death, and your own losses will be greater than they need be.”

      This is sage wisdom that our esteemed Professor Dawkins would be well advised to consider, and his failure to understand it may be why his contentious discussions drag on and on as interminably and as bloodily as they do..

    • You must plan your enemies retreat as carefully as you plan your own attack, If your enemy cannot retreat easily, you will have to fight him to the death, and your own losses will be greater than they need be.”

      Old Sun Tzu had a way with words. In one of the alternative quantum universes, they nailed him up to a cross and now pray to him now.

      Replacing irrational decision making, religion, with rational evidenced based decision making will take a very long time. It can a hundred years before a society can live with democracy. The whole society has to change and they have to be able to cope with not winning. Thailand is an example where it doesn’t matter who wins, the red shirts or the yellow shirts, the losers will close the country down with protest. Just shows how stupid the Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld adventure in Iraq was. It was never going to work.

      The struggle to place the world on a rational footing will take hundreds of years. No one is going to land a knock out blow. Currently the secular lobbyist are all independent and I would like it to stay that way. The moment you come together under an umbrella organization, you’re just another political party. The secular movement should be in for the long hall. It will be like the erosion of a stream bed. Sand grain by sand grain. A chip off a cliff. Occasionally a small bank may collapse.

      What would Sun Tzu advise to Richard and the secular lobby. “Slowly, slowly catchee monkey”??

  38. To me, is clear why Richard is singled out in Twitter. He’s “the most famous atheist”. Most religious people base their beliefs on Arguments from Authority. They tend to use that fallacy, so they think everybody has the same way of thinking. In their minds, Dawkins is the “Profet of Atheists”, so they think if they can destroy or silence him, atheism will be suppressed and everybody will accept god.

    Despite I agree with most of his arguments I usually don’t follow Dawkins (except for some conference ordocumentary). I became skeptical and atheist without knowing him or any of the famous atheists, and I find him a little soft when he faces some preachers, but that’s his style and I respect him for what he does: Teaching the importance of Reason.

    • “I find him a little soft”

      This illustrates what most people fail to realize about Dawkins. I don’t find his occasional sharp quip or blunt statement shocking or provocative at all. Rather, given the abuse and ignorance he faces on a daily basis, I am amazed at his self restraint and that he manages to filter himself as well as he does.

  39. I think that because Richard has so many friends and FOLLOWERS he has to tweet. Although there is a great deal of intelligence in twitter, I personally find it a bit unpleasant. Perhaps an introverted person finds it a bit unpleasant. Maybe Richard should find a delicate balance between writing proper articles and tweeting.
    That’s what I think, an introvert. An extrovert may think differently.
    I don’t like Facebook also. But Google+ is fine.

  40. Kimberly Winston (an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer) I laughed so fullsomely my trousers were besodden after imagining how she acquired her qualifications (and the august institution that handed them out).

    Asks if Dawkins is an asset or a liability to atheism! Well as he is doing a good job of prompting people to think instead of make infantile heuristic judgments after handling rosary beads the answer is rather too obvious. Dawkins is not an advert for “I’m a nice guy and if you’re an atheist we’ll all be nice guys and we’ll all live happily ever after with our delusions”. Atheism isn’t a political body that has to appear nice it isn’t even a philosophy. Unlike the scourge catholicism which PRETENDS to be both and does an appalling job from the company it keeps.

    He is inter alia an ambassador for a) rational thinking as opposed to resorting to the emotional charge of a proposition and b) an advocate of free speech and open dialogue. That sometimes puts him at odds with people who don’t entirely share his opinions, those people who think the emotional charge is more important than the rationale and lastly some people for whom thinking is more difficult than dying.

    Dawkins should stay on Twitter and tweet what the hell he has a mind to. If people don’t like it then all they need is a better argument. Resort to emotional charges, political correctness, ad hominem attacks or petulant e-foot stamping and they’ve lost the field.

    I’m off to change my trousers.

  41. Today I posted a series of tweets, relevant to this discussion and designed to be read in order:-

    As a pejorative, “Politically Correct” has lost its bite. It’s now a cliché. What we have is an Orwellian (but unofficial) “Thought Police”.

    Rotherham Police & Council were fearful of the Thought Police:
    Let’s learn to lose our fear of the Thought Police.

    Academics fly kites, try ideas on colleagues & students, often rejecting them after discussion. “What if . . . ?” “Could it be that . . .?”

    It’s a pity if we have to look over shoulder for fear of PC Thought Police, Verbal Vigilantes, Feeding Frenzy of Political Piranhas.

    Yesterday I raised an academic, philosophical question on vulnerability of all our existences to apparently unconnected causes such as WW1.

    And many responded in interesting ways. But also many responded with vitriol as if offended by the very idea of asking academic questions.

    Maybe Twitter is not the place for fully worked out exposition. Maybe it is a good place for thinking aloud & seeing how ideas will fly.

    This is what many of my tweets try to do: think aloud & see what others think. It works for some readers. If you don’t like it, don’t follow.

    • I dunno. PC Thought Police, Verbal Vigilantes, Feeding Frenzy of Political Piranhas.

      These terms are politer than Cunt, Twat, Nazi, I’ll give you that.

      They hardly seem designed to encourage rational, civil debate.

      As I might have said before, I don’t twitter myself. Is it all just name calling on that network?

    • The term “Politically Correct” certainly is a cliché now and “Political correctness gone mad” sits next to “Health & safety gone mad” as a useless pair of pointless phrases that generally cause me to close my eyes and breathe deeply.

      However, I find that both political correctness and health & safety are often used as convenient shields. People will hide behind them whenever they want to avoid a difficult situation/decision. Either that, or they will use them as useful distractions that generate even more clichés such as “you can’t say anything these days, can you” and thus move the focus away from the contentious issue.

      The supposed inability of the authorities to clearly identify the Rotherham paedophiles as Pakistani men is a useful example. Did political correctness (or fear of the thought police) really prevent them from speaking out? Or is that now perhaps just a convenient shield/distraction?

      But, back to the point, Twitter is looking more & more like a handy hill upon which you can reel out your idea kite and see how it flies. Make sure you pick a decent windy day though or it might just flop down onto the grass like an embarrassingly damp squib.

  42. I’m actually a fan of political correctness. I think for the most part it’s awesome. We have this phenomenon to thank for the drop in racism, homophobia, sexism. Even if you just happen to be ginger and are picked on for it, your employer or headmaster will summon the guilty party to his office and read this bully the riot act. You might object to this but, like pork products being draped on the outside furniture of a religious establishment, no one other than the pig itself has cause to complain.

    Seriously, how can any decent person not love PC? It’s only right wingers, Daily Mail/Express readers, Fox News viewers and other haters who rail against political correctness.

    • PC of old, in relation to gender and racial issues, was wonderful and achieved much in a very short space of time. Watching TV programs from the sixties and seventies is pretty much agony now, but a price well worth paying.

      Trouble is it has been spotted as a powerful tool and fallen into the hands of lesser women and men. It is, in some of its newer instances, compromised. Certainly my vocabulary is nowhere near good enough for some sites. The necessary forelock tugging, the skirting of the newly sacred, keeps the likes of me out of them.

      If you don’t feel it right here….sorry….here, straight away, you’re out of the club.

      • Hi Phil,

        I have memories of all that period.

        It is true that language is now less often laced with absurdities on race and gender – and that’s clearly a good thing.

        I remain unconvinced that politically correct language was (a) a distinct element of a well thought out plan to combat racism (b) ditto for sexism (c) a price worth paying – even if a and b are true, and (d) that self-censorship is anything more than anti-democratic dogma and oppression.

        Peace.

    • Nope. The drop in racism, homophobia, and sexism came when people demanded to be respected as human beings. When you stand your ground, when you demand respect, when you engage your antagonist, you get respect.
      The beginning of the end of racism, homophobia, and sexism starts when you say “Respect me.”
      PC is just a game of giving old bigotry a shave and a haircut.

      • The drop in racism, homophobia, and sexism came when people demanded to be respected as human beings.

        Exactly! But how do you think that respect was evidenced? What daily reminder to check your thinking? Changing the language, particularly descriptive terms for people, is powerful if you are ready for change. It took a cultural idea and put it on skates.

        You look a lot, lot younger than me if the avatar is anything to go by. Did you live through the 1970s? (Wow…this is the first time I have tried to pull age rank on anyone. I don’t think I’m much good at it.)

        The changes being sort by most current/new wave PC terminology is nowhere near as widely supported and nowhere near as reasonable.

      • Hi denonde,

        I’m inclined to agree with Katy and Phil on this one. I see your point, racism in Australia in recent years has welled up when many of us thought we had turned a corner. But fear of the other has been engendered with the boat people. Foul the way all branches of government are pandering to the ignorant. However I see hope in many of my students who were born largely after the PC stuff on gender, sexism homophobia started, they have no memory of Benny Hill or Are You Being Served or numerous other shows and movies from that era. They stand up for the mentally handicapped, homosexuals, etc and shout down anyone who spits out that sort of crap. I think you are right that for the first generation the PC stuff just forces sexist, racist views down. But the new generation actually to a large extent seems to have embraced this as normal and are just less racist, less sexist, less homophobic than most of my generation.

    • Not any more! It was only Right Wankers that hated the term because the public pressure of it shamed them into being modern!!!
      Now it’s become a monstrous thing, creating idiotic terms like Islamophobe and Militant Atheist.
      I was a fan of the term when it pushed traditionalists into a corner. Now it’s backfired on rationalism, Humanism and Atheism.

    • Well, I’d say there’s a lot wrong with political correctness, the idea of which is not a condemnation of egalitarianism per se, but of authoritarianism in the service of supposedly egalitarian ideas. A prime example would be the LSE Student Union banning Jesus and Mo cartoons from public display. An attack on freedom of speech and secularism by any standard, but ostensibly carried out for the purpose of ensuring equal treatment of a minority group.

      Are you really going to say that bans of this kind are something that “decent people” should love?

  43. The main problem with political correctness is that what stated out as a laudable means to prevent discrimination has now morphed into a tool for the thought police to try to control the agenda of what can and cannot be discussed.
    Ideas should always be open to criticism and analysis but many people attempt to use PC to avoid the discussion completely.
    For example RD has criticised religions but the thought police take this as being racist and tried to use this to prevent religions being criticised.
    It can also be used to take offence when no offence is meant.
    For example words like ‘handicapped’ or ‘crippled’ were changed to ‘disabled’ and then to ‘people with disabilities’ and people who used the wrong word could be castigated without having meant to cause offence.

    • I’m glad this discussion has morphed into a critique of Political Correctness. Words and language are very important as they shape our thoughts as we well know. It’s unfortunate that the logical progression of PC language has taken us along a path to the banal examples above.
      To my mind there’s a difference between using insulting terminology to describe segments of society and putting forth provocative ideas worthy of discussion. Using PC terms is a simple example of good manners. There’s no reason to deliberately hurt the feelings of others when it applies to an area of their life in which they have absolutely no control. however, if one is willfully ignorant, cruel, discriminatory, bigoted ….all niceties are off.

  44. A tediously written arrogant and pompous article. I just hope that Dawkins doesn’t wast his time reading it as I now regret it.

    No rational argument or assessment, it basically consists of what now passes for pseudo philosophy. Reams and reams of meaningless meanderings that don’t stand up to any kind of sensible analysis.

    • Goodness, Howard Brittain, are you sure you haven’t wandered into the wrong thread? Even if you disagree with Notung, I don’t see how you could possibly see it as “what now passes for pseudo philosophy.” “Reams and reams”? t’s actually rather a short article. “Meaningless meanderings”? Really? Once again, you may disagree of course, but meaningless? Meanderings? This sounds like prejudice rather than rational criticism.

  45. In reply to AdOculus

    The main problem with political correctness is that what stated out as a laudable means to prevent discrimination has now morphed into a tool for the thought police to try to control the agenda of what can and cannot be discussed.

    Who are these thought police exactly? Where do they live, what are their names, how does one apply to join this constabulary and does the job come with a uniform or is there a plain-clothes division? Thought police is just another of those terms used to shut down proper debate when we’re too lazy to argue our position or it happens to be untenable but we’re determined to stick with it. It’s just so much easier to say someone is being politically correct. So what if they are? They’ll still usually be making some argument even if it is couched in politically correct language, whatever that is. Personhole cover and chalkboard rather than blackboard “because that’s racist,” I suppose.

    We are allowed to look behind the nonsense if that’s what it is and address the crux of the actual argument, and if we’re still accused of being bigoted after that then we can walk away. If our own position has legs. If it doesn’t, that’s usually the time the phrase “PC gone mad” is muttered under our breath. It swings both ways (tuh, you can’t even say bisexual anymore, you have to say that, bloody thought police).

    I think those who rail against political correctness actually benefit more from it than the ones who are supposed to be guilty of committing it in the first place. Think of all the air-time Bill O’Reilly is allocated to talk about the so-called war on Christmas when November rolls around every year, how department store employees are instructed by their PC employers to wish customers a happy holiday rather than the traditional salutation. And think about how many column inches in British rags are devoted to the same idea. Has anyone here heard of Richard Littlejohn? Count yourself lucky if you haven’t. He’s made a career out of writing headlines like, “Now the loony left Health & Safety Nazis now want to stop British schoolkids playing conkers,” and “The money from your lottery tickets is going to fund a crèche for battered lesbian Muslim women in Wolverhampton, has the world gone mad?”

    And it’s all bollocks. Most of the time he really does just make it up, as does Fox News, because they know people like to get angry over their morning coffee and bowl of cornflakes and they’ll have something to talk about over the water cooler at work if last night’s football game was rained off, and an imaginary Orwellian oppressor who looks over everyone’s shoulder makes for good, paranoid resentment we can bond over.

    Ideas should always be open to criticism and analysis but many people attempt to use PC to avoid the discussion completely.

    Yup, both sides do this.

    New Atheism has its own track record when it comes to trying to manipulate language for its own ends don’t forget. Richard and Sam put an awful lot of effort into trying to remove the word Islamophobia from the English vocabulary. A perfectly serviceable term, does exactly what it says on the tin, but it put a dent in these chaps’ agenda so they launched a little campaign to have it nixed. Someone want to tell me how this isn’t a textbook example of trying to police thought/language.

    • Define Islamophobia.

      By some uses I am Islamophobic.

      By some I am not.

      I loathe it with a passion especially when it short circuits debate with an imputation of flawed thinking.

      It is used by people to manipulate debate. Political correctness was indeed once about not calling people things they themselves disliked. Now it is about a pre-emptive, value laden, debate fritzer directed at your enemies. There are more precise terms available depending on what is disliked and whether it is un-evidenced or not.

      • I loathe it with a passion especially when it short circuits debate with an imputation of flawed thinking.

        ‘Islamophobia’ is a parallel term to ‘anti-Semitism’ . They both refer to a form of prejudice which there is all too much of. They both can be misused. The objection is not to the perfectly valid terms themselves but their use as boo words. You’d have a very thin vocabulary if it consisted only of words that were never subject to manipulation.

        • I am pushing for the companion word to Anti Zionism to share the load of multiple meanings. I’d also like to see an equivalent of anti-Judaism become a thing.

          The use of phobia adds a fourth dimension to the word of “unreasonable” and completes a horrid sawn off shotgun of a word.

          So is it about Muslims? Is it about Islam? Is it about a political belief? And is it about being unreasonable?

        • There is no equivalent phobia term for Judaism because it is not a threat in any reasonable person’s mind. Zionism could be, Judaism just isn’t.

          In a similar vein, the “phobia” suffix does not connote “unreasonable” by itself. As they say, it’s not paranoia if they are actually out to get you. Islamaphobia expresses a real concern, even if it is overused and misplaced; Judaiphobia (or homophobia, for that matter) is silly.

          • Phobias are excessive or irrational fears. That is why the word is coined. Fears are in contradistinction, rational. I fear the mad axeman in front of me. I fear those daffodils.

          • Phobias are excessive or irrational fears.

            Phil,
            You’re not making the distinction between medical phobias and phobias which are forms of prejudice and discrimination. Homophobia does not mean fear of homosexuals. It is a feeling of disgust about homosexuality which leads to prejudice against those who practise it.

            Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, is a form of prejudice which defines another culture by what are perceived as its worst aspects and sees individuals, not as human beings, but in terms of a stereotype.

            Islamophobia is, essentially, political. The supposed enemies of America must be demonised so that they can be killed and oppressed with good conscience. In Europe, Islamophobia is an instrument of anti-immigration sentiment and of support for American foreign policy.

          • I look them up and it says, top of the list-

            Homophobia- an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people.

            Prejudice- preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

            To call someone phobic or prejudiced (more judgmental than mere phobia in that it implies pro-active behaviours rather than possibly just reactive ones) is to rhetorically undercut any merit in another’s arguments for their beliefs. It is a very effective rhetorical device.

            I happen to be very deeply fearful of the capacity for a radical (i.e. back to the roots) fundamentalist Islamic, socio-religio-political culture to create a new dark age for many many undeserving people. Proposing that concern amongst others, has netted the catchall response of Islamophobic for me and poisoned my standing with others.

            Lets be clear I am unashamedly judging other cultures here to be toxic and worthy of some effort or other to mitigate their harms to the undeserving. For those who call me Islamophobic all cultures are somehow natural behavioural excressences and worthy of respect…b

            I fear, greatly, radical Islam in very many of its cultural aspects.

            What would you lose if I took your word away and gave you a better correlate for anti-semite, Muslimophobe?

            No-one chooses the culture they are born into. All individuals start with the default of respect. All automatic fear or aversion of an unknown individual is phobic.

            Am I, in fact, Islamophobic?

            If you look at how the Islamophobia callers proceed in their arguments they always go on to talk of the reasonableness of Muslims. They love their children too! Their concerns overlap greatly with our own. Exactly so! Conflating culture (particularly a dirigiste culture) with its individuals because you fear others cannot see the difference or because you yourself can’t see the difference will get active opposition from me.

        • Aldous,

          You’d have a very thin vocabulary if it consisted only of words that were never subject to manipulation.

          Yes, but this word is used almost exclusively for the purpose of manipulation.

          People wrongly use it in the sense of ‘Muslimophobia’, as Phil says. The reason they do that is to conflate fear of Muslims with fear of Islam. There’s nothing wrong with having a word that means both of those things, except that we are left with no way of expressing one thing or the other without meaning implying the wrong one or both. Unless we can use Muslimophobia for the sin of irrationally fearing Muslims, and try to reclaim the tainted ‘I-word’ for the justified fear of Islam.

          That doesn’t work either though, as I-phobia is not irrational, therefore not a phobia; so it’s meaningless. Let’s just ditch it.

          That leaves another problem: How to refer to Muslim-haters like, say, the millions of displaced and bereaved Middle Eastern and South Asian Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Atheists, Ahmadiyas, Shiites, Alawhites, Jews, Buddhists and Pagans who have an entirely rational hatred of at least some Muslims based on personal experience.
          Or similarly the victims of British 90%-Muslim ‘rape gangs’ and their families in places like Rotherham as shown in the well-researched collection of media, government and police reports published in the document titled ‘Easy meat’?

          How about ‘appeaseophobes’?

          But, you say, you’re a bigot, a racist, this is nothing to do with Islam!

          Well Ok; but it’s at the very least an incredible coincidence that all these aggressive behaviours against non-Muslims and the wrong kind of Muslims by Muslims, up to and including beheading and genocide and all the various forms of jihad, are authorised and prescribed in the foundational texts of Islam. Texts that are being used increasingly effectively by imams and internet groups to inculcate, rouse and activate the once-innocent young minds of Muslims in the 1.8 billion strong community of communities.

  46. To retreat on the ivory tower or not to retreat on the ivory tower.

    The premise is: all organizations want to expand themselves. So they are not very interested to the nature of the people that they embark.

    The Roman octopus is the Master of this game: put your men inside the organizations of the others as spies; collect information; put your men in key roles in such organizations and let them act as if they were authentic supporters; let them start a very slow campaign of “moral suasion” directed toward the authentic supporters and authentic leaders. This strategy can be pursued also with the use of psychological tricks (as the Jesuit has taught). Then, when those men are convinced of being able of to manipulate the majority, they begin to come out little by little and … they begin to play domino.

    For what follows: “Christians” := Christians plus Catholics plus others nearly-nones.

    The “Christian” leaders have put their agents in all the associations they could, and those agents did their work. The “Christian” restoration is running very fast in Occident. This restoration is a phenomenon that mostly concerns tribal matters rather than religious matters. To them it was said that they were of the tribe of the “Christians”. So they react to every supposed attack to their tribe of the “Christians”, even though they aren’t interested to religious things. From a lot of time the “Christian” leaders are mounting a campaign based on this tribal mechanism. And now the thing gives its fruits. And we can recognize the effect of that propaganda from the behaviour of our “friends”.

    The talk here above is done to remembering their tactic to myself. The talk that follows is done to give you some practical examples if you need them.

    Some years ago I have enrolled myself in a Partisan association as “young” antifascist. During the WWII in Italy the Partisan fighters were mainly Communists or Leftists. Some of those were Catholics as secondary title or as ascribed qualification or for habit. Now they are nearly all died. So, “young” antifascists take charge in that association and now it comes out that they were in large part hidden Catholics or Catholics who were so able to minimize that characteristic – avoiding of to talk of it when the Partisan Communists were still alive and trusting them – that they seemed pure antifascists.

    Now the Catholics say that the Resistance in Italy has been done by the Catholics.

    In fact there were many Catholic antifascists during the Resistance, but they mainly became so in the ’30s when the Fascists punished the members of the association Azione Cattolica because the Church had took 750milion of Liras for the concordat of 1929 and had granted that they would not have contended with the Fascists anymore for the education of the young people, instead the association Azione Cattolica has done it. Then the Fascists fiercely beat plenty of them and even killed some of them. So they become antifascists, but differently from all other antifascists they preserved the aim of to save the concordat and to preserve the advantages for the Church. While the genuine antifascists (say leftists) fought Fascists since 1920 and many genuine antifascists died in 1922: the Catholics joined Mussolini in his first government.

    Some years ago they had had the face of bronze of to say that the reunification of Italy (completed in 1870) has been done by the Catholics, but they refused to say if they had fought the pope!

    Nowadays they are at work also with the LGBT associations. And they work hard and have plenty of money. They start silent, take practice with the environment and then run for chairs, finally they say: the Catholics have done this! I have seen a number of them in a gay pride in Bologna some years ago, they were marching almost nude and wearing the crucifix in their necks.

    And, of course, as for all, the new media are their new fields of battle. You cannot expect that they will not try to ascribe Twitter to themselves and bully you on Twitter with their great number.

    Best wishes to all the commentators and readers.
    Fiorenzo

  47. I am so angry and saddened to see Dawkins remarks about this subject. He really needs to go meet people with Down Syndrome instead of assuming he knows the “sum total of their happiness”. It is impossible to know which people will suffer more or less than others, not to mention most people are happy to be alive despite being “disabled”. Sadly, he IS ableist and so are many who have responded. Why does he assume that a person must be like him in order to be happy? I did read his post to clarify his position, it simply restates his original point in different words. He acts offended that we would suggest that he is saying people with DS should have been aborted, yet that IS what he is saying! “The worlds sum total of happiness would increase without you being born but surely I don’t mean that you should’ve been aborted!” If not allowing people who are less than physically or mentally “perfect” to be born is seen as moral, then you have a broken moral compass. He lacks understanding of DS and his ideas are eugenics at worst and extremely prejudiced at best. He says its not eugenics because DS isn’t hereditary, but he is confusing positive vs negative eugenics, someone of his educational level should never do. I for one enjoy and celebrate human diversity, and consider my “sum total of happiness” increased because of it, so there.

    • One of the problems is the equating of a decision about an unborn fetus with the person that fetus might grow into if allowed to be born. Imagine a couple who have just been told that the child they have conceived is almost certainly going to be disabled in some way. They have the choice of termination, and they weigh this up against the child’s probable short lifespan, limited mobility, general quality of life, effect on the lives of siblings…and they decide to terminate. These kind of decisions are made every day.

      Now get into a magic time machine and show that couple the future where they don’t abort their child. The child is disabled, disadvantaged, perhaps resented by siblings, and has little chance of living past a certain age. Bringing up the child has been a stressful experience and has definitely impacted the family in many ways. But the child is very loving, and is loved in return, and the parents still feel their own lives enriched by the child’s presence. What couple would then continue with a termination?

      Of course we don’t have magic time machines, and we can’t do this. But by looking at disabled children who are alive now, and using that as proof that they should not have been terminated in the past is entirely the wrong way to look at it. Our past decisions are informed by the facts we have at our disposal at the time, not knowledge of the future. In 1980 my girlfriend became pregnant (I was 19 and she was 16). We seriously discussed termination as we were both at college and this would irrevocably change our future. In the end we decided not to, but it was a close-run thing. Now 34 years later I have a fantastic daughter and 3 grandchildren. Does this mean I made the right decision at the time? Not quite. It means I made the decision that was right for the time, at the time. No matter how glad I am for my daughter’s existence today, that doesn’t mean we should never have considered termination at the time, and it doesn’t mean that if we had gone with termination, it would have been the wrong decision. Similarly the presence of a loving and loved Downs Syndrome child in a family shouldn’t make the discussion one had about termination years ago wrong. Nor should it influence similar decisions taken today.

      I also can’t believe that a site that should attract rationalist commentators is hosting a discussion on whether someone should or should not use Twitter. What the hell has it got to do with us if Professor Dawkins posts on Twitter? Who are we to even advise him that he shouldn’t? Or that he should hire people to moderate him? Next we’ll be telling him that he shouldn’t give interviews on Television, or write books, in case he offends someone.

      • Dave,

        I also can’t believe that a site that should attract rationalist commentators is hosting a discussion on whether someone should or should not use Twitter.

        No, that’s exactly right.
        Nor can I believe that I am commenting on it, How about you? Isn’t it crazy?

        Is it because we get a frisson of illusory superiority over Professor Dawkins?

        Nah!

      • Well I disagree with your beliefs on personhood, but that’s for another time. You see nothing wrong with targeting a certain group of people and saying “the world would be happier and have less suffering if you weren’t in it?” An entire group of people are being told that they do not contribute to society, and they are “condemning” their parents by being born! How horrible, and untrue at that. I am reading a book about the experiments the US government and various ivy league medical groups did on disabled children (mostly) and some poor infants and adults. When we dehumanize groups of people, and no doubt people with DS are dehumanized and marginalized by the mere fact that we are even discussing the value of their lives, it is only a hop, skip and jump to euthanasia (i.e government killing). Really the same exact arguments can be made for killing people who are deemed to “suffer” to much if your morality is based on that rather than “don’t kill people!”. I fall into the category of people deemed repeatedly by society as not worth living, and since eugenics has been widely propagated and ingrained into our collective subconscious, I believe it is extremely important to point it out lest I become a test subject or deadly gas victim like many of my peers have in the past. It is related, deeply so, to what Dawkins is thinking. Everyone is just sitting around casually discussing if people with DS are of any value, and if they suffer too much to be allowed to live. It makes me shudder. Your justifying this by saying “but we are talking about fetuses not born people”, but the desire is to avoid allowing those people to be born. This is not the same as your situation with your daughter, this is systematically targeting a specific group of human beings. We can not, and should not, place a persons life value on a scale (esp when they haven’t even been born yet!); often those who are “disabled” are found wanting.

        • Hi Stephanie,

          I fall into the category of people deemed repeatedly by society as not worth living, and since eugenics has been widely propagated and ingrained into our collective subconscious, I believe it is extremely important to point it out lest I become a test subject or deadly gas victim like many of my peers have in the past.

          I was moved by your post; and I mean all of it, not just the quoted bit.

          May I try to make an important distinction here? If you live in any of the civilised countries that subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights then have a look at that via the link.
          You, as a human being should have exactly the same rights to life, freedom, security and happiness, as anyone else.
          Any discussion about foetuses and abortion should not be extended to infer any kind of threat to any living persons.

          My take is that the element of chance in the conception of life in the womb is such that there are thousands of different theoretical outcomes of each pregnancy. Meaning in effect depending which sperm wins the race to which egg, thousands of` potential individuals may result; all different.

          So is it worth discussing whether, given an element of control in the process, should some choice be exercised between DS babies or babies without DS. And could choices be exercised for other conditions? None of this in any way should be taken to minimise the value and rights of any person on this side of the womb. Human beings are equal in the eyes of the law; just as all baby human beings are gorgeous in the eyes of their parents (and grandparents, like me)!

          • Thank you very much, and thanks for replying. I have to disagree that it doesn’t affect people who are living. For example, the obvious reason for aborting a baby prenatally diagnosed with DS is the belief that living life with DS is a bad thing. That certainly translates into how people with DS are treated and viewed in society. For example, in New Zealand it is actually being openly promoted by the government to abort every prenatally diagnosed DS baby. It is seen as a good for public health for these people to not exist. So now, instead of funding going towards help for people with DS to live their lives to their fullest potential (which continues to far exceed expectations when given the chance), they are focusing on eliminating Down Syndrome, which can only be done by ending their lives in the womb. It certainly cant feel very good to know that your own government thinks its good policy for people like you to not be allowed to be born. How can we say that we value their lives and what they bring to the community while at the same time saying it might be better for everyone (including them) to be aborted? It truly does affect the people with DS who are alive, because it reflects the very negative view of the public about life with DS which frankly doesn’t represent the reality for the majority. The most suffering caused by disability, I believe firmly, is caused by a society that does not welcome people of ALL mental and physical abilities. I think having inclusive schools and workplaces is a great start to a world that welcomes everyone. Conversations about aborting people who may live differently than the majority is not helpful, and is hurtful to us all. Who gets to decide which suffering is worse, or whose life is not worth living? Really we cant make those choices for other people, only ourselves. I just cant see how we can say “well, this fetus has a disability, its better off dead” and then a few months later as a newborn say “you are just as wonderful and valued as everyone else”, it just doesn’t translate that way. Of course parents (and grandparents!) love their own children most of the time no matter what but society is not nearly so forgiving. I also have seen the HUGE amount of pressure from the medical community to do a lot of testing and to find (and eliminate) babies found with “defects”. I have three children, and I was heavily pressured by my OB office to get DS testing done even though I have zero risk factors. I was also shocked by their extremely outdated information about DS, if I had not had the knowledge and experience to know they were wrong, I would have thought DS was the worst possible outcome ever. It was really pushed on me a lot, I think many parents are given incorrect and biased info, sadly. Thank you for responding so respectfully, I was not sure if I would received that kind of a response here.

  48. In reply to Phil Rimmer, https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/should-richard-give-up-twitter-and-retreat-to-his-ivory-tower/#li-comment-153851

    Define Islamophobia.

    Oh god I don’t want to get into that again. It’s been done to death.

    Nevertheless, and since you demand.

    Here is the anti-Islamophobia position, put forward by the Dawk (did I really see you use this sobriquet yesterday when referring to Fearless Leader? You must know that however it’s spelled the word dork is a euphemism for a chap’s front bottom. Somebody on the let’s kill downs fetuses thread already used the dimunitive of Dawkins’ forename familiar to us all as a vulgar descriptor of a gentleman’s gentleman in response to him. If that catches on, and yours catches on, pretty soon your man might start to think of himself as a small antelope in the genus Madoqua that lives in the bushlands of eastern and southern Africa) and Mr Harris:

    Islamophobia is not a thing, and it certainly isn’t a racist thing, because Islam is a religion and therefore a matter of choice. It’s fine to attack the choices someone has made, therefore the very notion of Islamophobia is a nonsense. It’s like Vegetarianophobia or Kirk-is-better-than-Picardophia.

    That is their argument in a nutshell.

    The counterargument, supported by yours truly and agreed with I think by Che Grrrvara and a couple others here, is a bit more complicated. First of all your Moohammedans for the most part don’t get to choose their faith; it’s thrust upon them at birth. And Islam has a rather uncompromising approach when it comes to the issue of apostasy. There isn’t a massive market for cakes inscribed with the words “Good Luck With Your New Religion,” in the Muslim world. Talib’s Tergiversate Tarts & Turnovers, of no. 73 the High Street, Kabul City, Kabul, went out of business in under a week.

    Then we have antisemitism. Is that not real neither? One doesn’t have to be born Jewish to be Jewish. A Red Indian can fall in love with a nice Jewish girl, convert to Judaism so they can get hitched, and according to Hebraic law he will then be considered fully Jewish. As will any future offspring they have. Little Moishe and Fyvush Soarswitheagles, even if they grow up to be atheists, are and forever will be bona fide members of God’s chosen people, with all the protection that affords them.

    If Islamophobia doesn’t exist, neither does antisemitism. Race itself is purely a social construct anyway. The only truly mixed-race people in the world are mermaids. Those bitches who sit on rocks all day combing their hair before returning to their undersea council houses—that my taxes pay for—to slap their equally mongrel offspring around and snort lines of Ascophyllum nodosum. Scum. Ooh, sorry, no doubt the PC thought police Nazis will be on my case about that now. You couldn’t make it up.

    Was…was I just talking about mermaids?

    That anyway is why Islamophobia is a thing, and why it isn’t not a thing.

    By some uses I am Islamophobic.

    By some I am not.

    You’re not an Islamophobe by any definition, Phil Rimmer, because you are not malicious. That is the important thing here: Intent.

    This is why I think your man is naïve to imagine alliances can be forged with those on the far right; that their hatred won’t leak back and contaminate a movement meant to be based on rationalism. Hate is infectious. Ebola and Legionnaires’ Disease look upon this emotion with envious eyes. I don’t want to go all Godwin, but think about Germany in the ’30s. Perfectly decent people polluted with intolerance. There should be a word for ideas that spread like viruses.

    I loathe it with a passion especially when it short circuits debate with an imputation of flawed thinking.

    Hyphenate flawed thinking and stick it within scare quotes, doubles not singles, stick a pling or two on the end, and for all the world you could be subbing for another regular user.

    It is used by people to manipulate debate. Political correctness was indeed once about not calling people things they themselves disliked. Now it is about a pre-emptive, value laden, debate fritzer directed at your enemies. There are more precise terms available depending on what is disliked and whether it is un-evidenced or not.

    Hey, I’m mostly with you. The only bone of contention from my point of view is that I believe both sides exploit political correctness whereas you and others seem to think this stargate only squirshes out in one direction. It is indeed a preemptive value-laden debate fritzer, but it also serves as a pre-preemptive value-laden debate fritzer. Those two pres probably cancel each other out. Is there such a word as emptive?

    • The only bone of contention from my point of view is that I believe both sides exploit political correctness whereas you and others seem to think this stargate only squirshes out in one direction.

      Bugger that. I don’t at all.

      You know that I don’t believe an individual has a cat in hell’s chance of escaping a culture that in extreme cases puts the bully police at the gates. But we musn’t muddle things up.

      The word Muslimophobia is the the accusation we need and the sooner people start using it the better. Hating a person for what they are, the product of a culture they had no say in IS the phobic and corrosive thing we need to finger. We need to make a point about the treatment of people.

      The argument before that people will use it to talk of the religion I believe unlikely if “Islamophobia” is still in play.

      Modern PC terms are mostly f*cked up and partial in this way.

    • Katy,

      You’re not an Islamophobe by any definition, Phil Rimmer, because you
      are not malicious. That is the important thing here: Intent.

      Your moral judgement is unwarranted. Though I’m pretty sure that Phil is wholly benign, I think that’s beside the point.
      The word in question, if it means anything at all, being a conjunction of those two particular forms, must mean an irrational fear of Islam; no?

      A concept flawed to the point of meaninglessness by the fact that fear of Islam is not irrational.
      If you want it to mean something else; presumably to do with malicious intent, why not coin a different neologism using other fitting small words that may be conjoined?

      Problem is, I can’t think of any, can you?

    • I couldn’t find a single original thought or insight in that article and it repeats most of the fallacious arguments to be found (and clearly rebutted) in the 400+ posts on the topic here. Reading those might have been more productive unless the author had her own agenda and made a foregone conclusion (which based on her other articles looks like she did and had).

      For example, she complains about the Dawkins quote “might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare” and she fails miserably in showing how that is not a valid statement. Not only does Dawkins qualify it several ways (not least of which by saying that his conclusion on that may not be certain), but he very clearly says that the decision could be made on that basis alone. That does not mean he is abandoning or softening his position on morality, far from it. He’s simply saying that you don’t need to look very far to reach a preliminary estimate (of the sum happiness).

      How does someone get a PhD in Philosophy while failing Logic 101?

      • It happens all the time. I personally know individuals with PhDs in Philosophy from prestigious British Universities ( e.g. Imperial College, London) who are some of the most irrational and illogical scientists or engineers I have ever met.

        They all have one common trait: They were raised muslim.

        When things get difficult for them in any discussion, the fall back position is one of declaration from Authority. jcw

  49. This has little to do with Catholics but Dr. Dawkins has sure made it hard to quote or direct people to this site in the feminists and disability rights communities, two groups most horribly impacted by religious policy.

    Dawkins books are some of the most important I have read, but these tweets are alienating the progressive atheist community. Does Dr. Dawkins want to expand the movement or make off the wall tweets? Is his work about only educated and privileged intellectuals or changing the world for everyone for the better?

    My advice, write books, make long youtubes, your tweets work against you.

  50. I see in the free flow of diverse comments on this thread, an object lesson for Katy Cordeth and others who ask: “Who exactly are these thought police?” and, more generally, how does political correctness work for good or ill?

    We pragmatists do not seek the “meaning” of words. Instead we try to observe how specific practices under specific circumstances may justify the descriptive or narrative use of terms. As the late Richard Rorty quoted, “what does not make a difference in practice does not make a difference in belief.”

    Notung introduces his essay with reference to an article on Religion News Service by Catholic journalist Kimberly Winston… [who] asks [ seven people] whether Richard Dawkins is an asset or a liability to atheism. Using the Twitter controversies as a springboard, the proposition lays out the ground for debate.

    Dr. Dawkins welcomes not only Notung to his venue but also uncensored comments, some of which will castigate, even insult him. We are more fortunate than we appreciate to have a place to go where our voices will be heard.

    Katy along with the rest of us takes Freedom of Expression for granted. It’s a free country isn’t it? Where do you find all this censorship and oppression? In hundreds even thousands of places. But I will stick my neck out and get specific.

    At Freethought and Skepchick blogs. The four ultra- feminists cited in Ms. Winston’s article: Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson and Amy Roth, reign over their shriveling blogosphere with an iron fist. After a brief rise to modest influence in the atheist Keekdom, these ladies have fallen on hard times. Ophelia Benson’s copious daily posts rarely attract 20 comments and usually fail to reach double digits. Curiously 20% to 30% of the comments for many posts are inserted by Benson herself. So many dissidents and heretics have been purged that only a handful of sycophants persist in responding at a diminishing rate. The juvenile, vicious ranting has worn thin even for the faithful. Greta Christina has apparently cut back on blog opinion pieces in favor of announcing where she will be “speaking” next or promoting her new vain and vacuous “book.” As always, the assorted enterprises of these folks involve ideologically correct ranting laced with sarcasm, obscenity, slander, intolerance and the pleasure of banning critics from their blogs. ( “Get the fuck out of my life” Christina rages at people who are to be banned, presumably for disagreeing with her on matters which have already been settled with her first and final word.)

    Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina and the gang keep an enemies list of the famous and the obscure for whom they and their rabid followers nurse a fathomless hate. Be assured that Richard Dawkins is on this list and avoids the chopping block through the saving grace of his widespread fame and influence in the atheist community and, more significantly, in the mainstream community.

    The civility accord between Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins is a charade. Over at Freethought and Skepchick blogs, the natives’ sense of betrayal has grown beyond appeasement. General apologies no matter how abject were only a nominal beginning. Like most fanatical ideologues, they demand confessions of wrongdoing and renunciation of “false” or “harmful” beliefs. Beyond lip-service to the extremist ideology, beyond unwavering allegiance to its honey-coated rhetoric, they demand an impossible purification of the mind which empties the self and fills it with love for Big Brother. Winston in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
    suffers this dystopian fate. But Richard Dawkins?…Never.

  51. Kimberly Winston seems to me to be engaging in what is referred to on political sites as “concern trolling”. That is feigning concern that some action may be harmful to a group in order to turn parts of that group against the action, along with one’s own group. It’s like saying “Oh, I’m really worried about how that outfit will look on you,” because it looks better than your own.

  52. your own government thinks its good policy for people like you to not be allowed to be born.

    Stephanie,
    You are defining people by their disability. Respect the person, deplore the disability. Love for your fellow human beings means not giving disabilities to children when it can be avoided.

    • Aldous,

      Stephanie,
      You are defining people by their disability. Respect the person, deplore the disability. Love for your fellow human beings means not giving disabilities to children when it can be avoided.

      Damn, this is more concise and succinct than when I tried to say it.

      What do you think, Stephanie?

      One thing could be reiterated: I think Richard made the point that in a sense, every child is taking the chance of life away from thousands of other potential babies, simply by the chance of their selection instead of the selection of some other. This goes for all of us. If, by intervening, one feels bad for the DS baby that might have been; just think, what about the DS-free baby that might have been if you fail to intervene?

  53. Phil and aldous,

    What is a person to do if he dislikes both the koranic and the biblical (read christian) and all other religious and quasi religious systems of thought?

    I have been looking for a snappy word to express “Your system of thought represses all other free though and is designed to enslave my body and mind under a mental choke hold and will have me killed if I try to escape, and I don’t like it one bit”. Any suggestions from this community?

      • I use that often to solve denonde’s problem. Like Hitch I am viscerally inclined to antitheism (technically I am not against theists per se.)

        Theism is a living fossil kept grotesquely alive by its parasitical shamans and power mongers. Once it did sterling work from 35,000 BC when the new-fangled social invention of grannies probably created it by accident but found it could pay for their existence beyong gathering food. Its greatest work was in creating super tribes and a division of labour commanded by a remote authority to manage the next invention, that of agriculture.

        But by 600BC all its good bits had evolved into nascent entities of their own, morality, justice, politics, entertainment, art, brown-nosing the boss ….

        The only response now…(thanks to Kathy for pointing to this)

  54. Dawkins is being singled out. If you don’t think this is the case, then try a thought experiment. Transplant his exact tweets onto the timeline of any other commentator, author, or scientist on Twitter. Take Matt Ridley as an example. He’s written popular books on evolution, and writes regular opinion columns for the newspaper. Most informed people who have heard of Dawkins have also heard of Ridley. Can you honestly imagine the same reaction to Ridley if he tweeted the exact same things? I don’t mean that people will suddenly agree with him – I mean that there won’t be the same old “oh look – Ridley’s put his foot in his mouth again! He should really stay off Twitter. We should stage an intervention!”. What would probably happen is that there would be a bit of disagreement, but just the usual “person offers controversial opinion on Twitter”-style disagreement. I’m not sure why Dawkins is singled out, but he is singled out.

    This is the heart of the problem, I think. There’s this notion that Richard is THE representative of atheism – or at least, the chunk of atheism that won’t coddle religion, the “militant and angry” atheism, the atheism that everybody in society can lump in alongside fundamentalists and so find a way to feel superior to both of them – and so whatever he does will, automatically and negatively, impact atheist PR. This idea that he’s supposed to behave in certain ways and not put a foot wrong is starting to weary me, because it’s a sign of the very problem that plagues religion: paying too much attention to the character and “authority” of the person making the points, as if they were high priests from a homogenous chunk of the population rather than individuals with their own opinions.

    Are we really going to buy into the media’s and public’s Dawkins-bashing and play up to it? Atheist-bashing isn’t going to stop when Dawkins stops posting dumb and badly worded slogans before hastily backtracking on his superficial dip into ethics. That’s like saying Newtonian physics would be accepted if it weren’t for Newton’s weird obsession with alchemy and general unpleasantness when dealing with people. It’s going to stop when the atheist-bashing influence of religionists and accommodationists becomes as disreputable as gay-bashing, racism, and misogyny, when it’s exposed for the dishonest ad hominem that it is.

    Pick the worst-case scenario: Richard could descend to a racist, homophobic, sexist, ranting, random-stranger-murdering nutjob who insults rape victims and posts foul-mouthed mockery at the families of dead soldiers, claiming all the while that as an atheist he should be able to do what he likes. This would be horrible (for the victims alone!), but the implication the media and the mainstream would take from it is not A MAN GOES MAD, but DAWKINS, REPRESENTATIVE OF MILITANT ATHEISM AND SYMBOL OF ITS HYPOCRISY AND DARK SIDE, FINALLY GOES ALL THE WAY. The slandering mindset behind this logic is a bigger problem, for atheist credibility, than anything Dawkins could conceivably do, because at the end of the day, it reveals that atheists of this ilk are society’s kooks with an “authority figure” who’s kooky enough to represent them. Can you imagine, say, the same reaction to Catholicism if Pope Francis were to suddenly do the same thing?

    And the first person who gloated about the falling face of atheism if Dawkins went mad would be, in the long run, the bigger problem than Dawkins himself.

    Let him post. I think he could do much better work down other avenues, and I agree his arguments don’t always hold water. But at the end of the day, I’m not his boss, he’s not mine, and I resent the media for acting as if it’s otherwise and using Dawkins as a stand-in for atheists for them to bash in the process.

    I’m more concerned about dismantling the pretensions of accommodationists, “liberal” religionists, and New Agers and their ilk. That was the whole point of the “New Atheist” movement in the first place.

  55. Yaffle shouldn’t tweet, he should hammer.

    No one can be contracted to their words. Apart from in contracts. Then one is in effect. Only effects are effected.

    The effects are effected later. Depending on where you stop the stop-watch, some of his tweets are wrong right wrong right.

  56. Raping a drunk woman is appalling. So is jailing a man when the sole prosecution evidence is “I was too drunk to remember what happened.”

    Richard, Richard, Richard, When will you learn? Is everything OK with you in your own life? something is wrong. I’m trying to understand why you are making so many poor choices lately. Yes, you acknowledge that there needs to be evidence before making a decision, but on a personal/social level it’s best to keep your mouth shut.

    Here’s a comment I read on another site:

    I’m so saddened by what has happened to Dawkins over recent years; by his repeated mouthing off on issues where his voice is disproportionate to his insight.

    I now ask you,

    Pleeeeeaaaase Richard, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!

    Go back to science. Get a new hobby. Take a vacation and discuss the beauty of the landscape and science behind it.

    • I now ask you,

      Pleeeeeaaaase Richard, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!
      Go back to science. Get a new hobby. Take a vacation and discuss the beauty of the landscape and science behind it.

      Before writting nonsense like this, maybe you should ponder the Question, QuestioningKat, “Who are you, and what gives you the ‘right’ to ask Richard Dawkins to keep his mouth shut?”
      Perhaps it is your extensive contributions to popularizing science, and advancing skepticism and atheism in place of ignorance and superstition?

      • Well, the question posed in the OP is “Should Richard Give Up Twitter and Retreat to His Ivory Tower?” I’d say that gives her the right, unless you think the only permissible answer to this query is a resounding “No, Richard, you’re wonderful and every utterance you make in public is to be welcomed.”

        Then again, my own contribution to popularizing science and advancing skepticism and atheism is pretty much nil so there’s no reason for my opinion to be given any credence either. Given what you said in your previous comment, AgeOfReasonXXI, I wonder if you think it’s QuestioningKat’s lack of a Y chromosome that renders her words unworthy of consideration. I’m guessing you yourself are not a double exxer, even though there’s nothing in your username to suggest this.

          • I wasn’t ignoring it, because I didn’t know anything about it. My own fault I’m sure for being only a casual atheist; nor was I aware Sam Harris was accused of sexism and Dawkins defended him, natch, or that that other prominent New Atheist Penn Jillette called a woman a cunt for daring to criticize a Superbowl half-time ad, or that yet another has been accused of rape.

            As I say, I have only myself to blame for not being aware of this stuff. I can’t help feeling I’m better off out of it though.

            I’m sure we can at any expect an article on this site written by your man, with a title like “An Apology for Tweeting Something Else about Women and Their Bodies a Bunch of People Not as Clever as Myself Stupidly Misinterpreted, Probably Only as an Act Of Fake Outrage and in Order to Attract Clicks,” any day now.

        • I’m not sure exactly what in my comment gave you the idea that my response had anything to do with QuestioningKat’s ‘lack of a Y chromosome’? What’s with this presumption of sexism when an XY (like myself) criticizes an XX? I’d have thought in the XXI c. we had progressed past that.
          Also, my comment was about a sense of proportion, not making one’s opinion unworthy of any consideration. QuestioningKat isn’t exactly talking to her boyfriend or something, when saying “Please, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT”.

          • I’m not sure exactly what in my comment gave you the idea that my response had anything to do with QuestioningKat’s ‘lack of a Y chromosome’? What’s with this presumption of sexism when an XY (like myself) criticizes an XX? I’d have thought in the XXI c. we had progressed past that.

            You might want to ask yourself how I knew you were an XY. I had a fifty/fifty chance of guessing so maybe it was blind luck.

            Or it could have been this from your other comment…

            “Pseudo-Feminist Circle of losers… Professional Victim-hood stance against the rape-apologist, patriarchal universe they inhabit, while constantly whining that all of us just don’t get it and are, of course, rape apologists for that”

            …that led me to think you were one of the MRA crowd.

            Also, my comment was about a sense of proportion, not making one’s opinion unworthy of any consideration. QuestioningKat isn’t exactly talking to her boyfriend or something, when saying “Please, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT”.

            When a person you admire says in public something you find deeply stupid or offensive, not for the first time but the umpteenth, I think you can be forgiven for resorting to SHOUTING to get your message across.

            Maybe you’re right though and speaking to someone you’ve never met as though you were personally acquainted with them is more objectionable than suggesting to over a million people that if a chick is passed out blind drunk and you like what you see you can flip her over, rip off her underpants and play hide the sausage and more fool her for having touched the demon drink in the first place.

            Especially if that someone—the person commenting, not the woman who was “raped”—has made extensive contributions to popularizing science and advancing skepticism and atheism in place of ignorance and superstition.

            Kindly show a little more decorum when commenting in future, Questioning Kat. Anyone would think you’d been drinking.

          • When a person you admire says in public something you find deeply stupid or offensive, not for the first time but the umpteenth, I think you can be forgiven for resorting to SHOUTING to get your message across.

            Yes Katy, You hit the nail on the head. Those of us who have been here for several years are likely to have read my comments, some of which are “longer than a Sam Harris book” that attempted to educate Richard on certain Faux Pas comments that he’s been making. I was also online at Pharyngula during the whole “Elevatorgate” incident. My comments are many and have been what I felt was sincere and diplomatic. Yes, I’m frustrated that someone who I admire and would drive several hours to see, spend money on a hotel stay, books, and donate to this site would continually make the same mistake over and over and over. (Yes, I don’t know him…I assure you I do have a good perspective on this.) Those of you who “know” me here may realize, I think, that I’m fairly careful of what I say, rarely swear, generally don’t belittle, not perfect by all means – I slip up- but I’ll try to correct myself if it’s called for. In this case – I’m fed up. Lately, I’ve been having some life challenges and this type of internet drama is relatively unimportant and unhealthy in the grand scheme of my life… It’s time to distance myself from all of what I’ve been reading lately. I wish I could read happier more productive news about certain atheists…

            Who are you, and what gives you the ‘right’ to ask Richard Dawkins to keep his mouth shut?

            Again, Katy nailed it. Read the title. Perhaps you feel that telling someone to “shut their mouth” is offensive. Perhaps you would have preferred I say “Richard, please refrain from making comments about topics outside of science and atheism.” Well, I’ve had enough. Do you know, AofR, what I consider to be more offensive than telling someone to shut up? It’s making an assumption about someone you do not even know.

            QuestioningKat isn’t exactly talking to her boyfriend or something, when saying “Please, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT”.

            This makes the assumption that I would be disrespectful to those I know and care about. It’s an attempt at a personal slam to discredit me. (My telling Richard to “shut his mouth” was a frustrated attempt at helping him.) Or perhaps your comment is an assumption that Richard is in an “ivory tower” and I am not worthy of firmly telling him to stop. (“poor little woman”) You opened this up with your “boyfriend” comment…

            Perhaps it is your extensive contributions to popularizing science, and advancing skepticism and atheism in place of ignorance and superstition?

            Ahh, more personal attacks at belittling me. You are calling me ignorant when it is you who is displaying snobbery. Would you have made the above comment if I had a male username? No need to answer this, but I suggest you honestly ask yourself this.

            No, Age of Reason, you assume to know my intention, past history, and are mistaken by your own sense of proportion of the scope of the ENTIRE history here. You have made comments with the intention of belittling me, which DO reek of subtle sexism. My intention towards Richard has always been respectful and even my telling him to “SHUT UP” still has the intention for him making better choices. I’m just frustrated and that’s that.

            Kindly show a little more decorum when commenting in future, Questioning Kat. Anyone would think you’d been drinking.

            Yes Katy, In the future, I will kindly smile as I type and refrain from any and all alcoholic beverages, so help me God. 😉

    • Can you please explain exactly what’s wrong with his original statement. Cos I think if you removed rape from that sentence and someone simply said “Is it acceptable to jail someone when the only evidence is a drunk person’s very vague memory?”, the answer would universally be NO.

      What’s happening here is that a huge minority of people have decided that rape is so messed up that they need to think emotionally rather than logically about it. Richard is simply getting stick for being one of the people who says “no, I’m sticking with logic”

  57. Richard,
    I really think you should be more cautious with twitter given it’s limits, and I’m sure you can understand how putting out one-liners, especially on complex, often controversial issues, can easily amount to shooting yourself in the foot. You might write a detailed post to clarify the issues involved later on, like you’ve done on a number of occasions, but isn’t it wiser to just skip the middleman(twitter) in those cases in the first place?

    On a somewhat related issue: you’ve probably seen by now the latest hysteria over your twitter defense of Sam Harris’ alleged sexism (with the odious P.ssy Meyers disowning you officially; can you imagine the ego of that little squirt?) , and I’m wondering why haven’t you, Sam, along with others, who’ve been vilified and accused of everything, from sexism, misogyny, racism to … rape (in Shermer’s case), been tougher on the “Freethought” Pseudo-Feminist Circle of losers (there can’t be anyone still thinking that these buffoons have anything in common with the feminists of 50 or 100 yrs go, can it?). Especially given the fact that they don’t see any other way of being relevant than ostracizing prominent skeptics and atheists in the aforementioned manner, and as for their ‘record’ with regard to contributing to the Atheist Community, it’s been limited to adopting a Professional Victim-hood stance against the rape-apologist, patriarchal universe they inhabit, while constantly whining that all of us just don’t get it and are, of course, rape apologists for that.
    I can assure you that there are a lot of people who’ve been totally fed up with the stench that emanates from the whole “Freethought” Blogs hole.

  58. I usually try to ignore all this Twitter stuff. However, I was about to comment (to defend Dawkins) on another site when I looked at one of the links that the person who wrote the article left. It seems like Dawkins tweeted:

    “Exactly. If you want to drive, don’t get drunk. If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don’t get drunk.” This seems like it was in response to a thread about rape and the person he was responding to had tweeted:

    “if you get drunk, plan it before, stay safe at home, don’t go with strangers, its not difficult”

    https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/510656024169447424

    Is this accurate? Because if it is it seems pretty sexist to me. It’s essentially saying a woman who drinks to excess (which most of us have done, some of us like me made a career out of it for awhile) and then gets raped shouldn’t expect to have a right to testify against her rapist and shares some of the blame for not “staying home” when she decided to drink. I hope I’m misunderstanding something but if I’m not this is some pretty disgusting stuff.

    • We women also put ourselves in danger by wearing provocative clothing, and have no one but ourselves to blame if we leave the house in an immodest state of dress and are attacked. Perhaps in addition to not inviting rape by overconsuming alcohol, we should be encouraged—the law would have to step in here as we can’t be trusted to do what’s best for ourselves—to wear at all times a full body covering, including face and hair, and only going outside when accompanied by a male relative, even if it’s just a little boy.

      • Hasn’t this debate already got enough of people twisting other people’s opinions?
        I don’t agree with Richard on this particular point, but the sheer amount of deliberate caricaturing is absolutely ridiculous.
        The fact that Richard has to reply to actual Newspaper articles with the simple answer “No, that’s not what I said.” is insulting, or should be, to anyone who cares about reasoned argument. Just because it’s something you care a lot about, doesn’t mean the rules change.

    • It’s essentially saying a woman who drinks to excess (which most of us
      have done, some of us like me made a career out of it for awhile) and
      then gets raped shouldn’t expect to have a right to testify against
      her rapist and shares some of the blame for not “staying home” when
      she decided to drink.

      Yes and no.

      If you were (or are) drunk, you are not a credible witness. It doesn’t mean you can’t testify, but surely the word of someone who was drunk or has blackouts should not be given as much weight as someone who was sober. How is this controversial?

      It is also true that a woman who gets drunk has some responsibility for putting herself in a risky position. As does a woman who wears provocative clothing. As does a woman who is out by herself. As does a woman who leaves the house for any reason….

      This should also not be controversial. The only controversy is that people at one extreme argue that this absolves a rapist from his actions and people at the other extreme argue that women/people should never be responsible for their own actions. As usual, reasonable people in the middle get ignored.

      Dawkins crime, once again, is simply trying to apply reason to an emotional topic. If this were not one of the verboten topics of conversation then no one would have thought twice about his reasonable analysis.

      • If you were (or are) drunk, you are not a credible witness. It doesn’t
        mean you can’t testify, but surely the word of someone who was drunk
        or has blackouts should not be given as much weight as someone who was
        sober. How is this controversial?

        You’re right; it’s not controversial at all. It makes complete sense. If you’re drunk, not only is your judgement compromised (e.g. wandering off with a dubious stranger), but you’re also unlikely to be taken seriously as a credible witness. I don’t see it as sexist at all – just seems like common sense (aka logic) to me.

        Just as a real-life example; a friend of mine went off to a stag weekend in an Eastern European country (I declined to go with him thank goodness!) and, while he was there, him and a buddy met a couple of ‘enthusiastic’ girls. The girls led the two (very drunk) Englishmen to a bar where they were lured into a back room and promptly robbed / beaten-up. Not completely their fault but certainly made much worse by the fact that their judgement was affected by alcohol. The police saw a pair of drunken fools and were uninterested. Not as bad as rape (I’m not saying that) but a similar lesson can be learned.

        • The police in the case you mentioned were wrong to not take the crime seriously, just as they would be in not investigating thoroughly an accusation of rape/date rape no matter what contributing factors might have led up to it.

          However, let’s say “not the same as rape” as opposed to “not as bad as rape.” We wouldn’t want anyone to think we have the ability to rank various crimes, would we?

          • Yes, the police (wherever the country) should always investigate all crimes as thoroughly as possible – but the unlikely prospect of a conviction when the only willing witness(es) were drunk/unreliable must surely influence the proceedings.

            As for a hierarchy of crimes, I’m steering well clear of that one!

  59. Katy said: I wasn’t ignoring it, because I didn’t know anything about it.

    Actually, that’s what I meant. It’s funny I commented much earlier just on the general question should Dawkins tweet and I never bothered to read about the actual issue. Just assumed it was more petty stuff. Now that I know it’s kind of amusing to read some of the comments defending Dawkins here. One person wrote some sarcastic (or was it ironic?) comment about how Dawkins should have a team of moderators screen his tweets… I’m sorry but it doesn’t take much awareness to realize that telling rape victims to not get drunk is sexist.

    This stuff is just so discouraging. I’m going back to reading about Mirror Neurons… actually it’s a book about why Mirror Neurons aren’t nearly as significant as people think but the book itself is really a nice take on cognitive psych from the standpoint of neurobiology. It’s interesting how so many people get tunnel vision, many of the neuro guys tend to just ignore so much research that is directly relevant just because it’s not about neurons or neurotransmitters. That is what this guy claimed happened with the Mirror Neurons, e.g., the promoters latched onto a theory of speech comprehension that had been long discounted… but I digress.

    • There’s nothing intrinsically sexist about telling rape victims not to get drunk. It certainly COULD be if you otherwise operate under different standards. Of course, people don’t care about that, they instantly run the argument through in their own heads and come to the conclusion they’d already decided on.
      But what if someone also thinks the exact same is true of guys who get mugged or beat up when they’re drunk in rough parts of town? That seems more or less the analogous situation.
      I don’t actually agree on this particular point by the way, I’m just trying to point out there’s a serious lack of rigorous thinking here and the tendency to label anyone “sexist” as soon as possible, instead of trying to explore their reasoning, is really quite worrying.

      • “There’s nothing intrinsically sexist about telling rape victims not to get drunk”

        Yes there is. It implies that some of the responsibility for the rape is on the person who was raped. That if they had just been more “responsible” than they wouldn’t have been raped in the first place. I certainly consider that sexist because there is such a difference between what men and women have to think about in these situations. Although if you want to say it’s not sexist and just being an ass hole I’m fine with that too but it’s not the kind of utterance I expect from anyone I respect.

        • I certainly consider that sexist because there is such a difference
          between what men and women have to think about in these situations.

          For that very reason I would tell my daughter to go out and keep her wits about her. There are some nasty people out there. I give the same advise to my sons so they are more able to spot dangerous situations and stay clear of them. I was the first of my group of friends to drive so drinking was out of the question. I can’t tell you the number of times I got us out of sticky situations because I saw it coming, when their judgements were deep at the bottom of a bottle.

        • Yes there is. It implies that some of the responsibility for the rape
          is on the person who was raped. That if they had just been more
          “responsible” than they wouldn’t have been raped in the first place.

          Are you saying that it’s not true or that we should just pretend it’s not true?

          Saying that this is sexist just means that reality has a bias against women (because they are weaker?).

        • correct

          There is also a wide variety of choices how to respond. I find it interesting that many depersonalize the event by focusing on the behavior and not the person’s psychological well being. They talk about the event in generalized ways that compare the incident to their own view of such incidents and how they should ideally play out. They then preach the “moral of the story” and offer up their opinion and judgement like a preacher or “fix it” theist. Just because many atheists see themselves as intelligent, rational individuals doesn’t mean that they make the best choice with issues regarding social intelligence. Intelligence in one areas does not necessarily make you an expert in all areas. Unfortunately, many seem to lack the ability to recognize this distinction.

    • That was my feeling as well (no wriggle-room). I’ve been a bit uneasy at some of the quotes that came before these but usually (e.g. the things he said about molestation and his particular childhood) when I looked at the context I could see what Dawkins was trying to say and I understood it. Which was what I expected to think when looking into this one as well. In fact, I hadn’t even realized what he said until a day or two ago. Usually when I see “twitter controversy” I just avoid or glance over the story. Also, I now understand there is more context to this, something about Michael Schermer I think but still the idea that women are supposed to think “well I might get raped so I had better not drink so I can testify if I do” as far as I can tell that is essentially what Dawkins is saying and I don’t care what the additional context is that’s just incomprehensible to me.

  60. Simple Solution:

    You’re a fairly wealthy guy Richard. Make a donation to a rape victim charity.
    You’ve entered into a domain where people simply don’t care about logic and are following an emotional compass. Give them a taste of their own medicine.

    • I think it’s bullshit that Dawkins is just being “logical” here and those of us who are appalled at what he is saying are being emotional. Here is the tweet:

      Exactly. If you want to drive, don’t get drunk. If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don’t get drunk.

      Comparing not driving with drunk to not being raped while drunk is a completely illogical comparison.

        • But that WAS the context of the original quote. I’m not making an appeal to emotions I’m simply explaining the logic behind why people are rightly pissed off at Dawkins. And BTW, it’s not true anyway. You can still testify about something in court even if you were drinking at the time the crime occurred. Of course the defense attorney will use that to impugn your testimony but depending on how often you drink, what you say, what exactly you are testifying about it’s still very possible to testify even if you were drunk.

          I’m not going to comment more on this because even typing this is just mind numbing. That moderately intelligent men still can’t understand this stuff makes me sick.

          • But you’re not explaining why people are pissed at Dawkins. If the logic is sound it is sound for all cases. If “rape” is special somehow then you need to make the case for why it is special. Why can someone who was drunk reliably testify in a rape case, but not a fraud case, for example?

            It is true anyway, btw. You can’t honestly believe that Dawkins was saying that someone who was drunk would not be physically able to testify (too drunk to walk to the witness stand?) or would be physically prevented from testifying or that no one in the court should even consider listening to anything that the drunk person has said.

            No, all he said was that someone who is drunk is not a perfectly reliable witness, which you don’t even seem to want to admit to. At least in the case of rape.

            It is a fair question as to why moderately intelligent men can’t suspend their logic and address an issue emotionally the way moderately intelligent women seem to be able to.

          • …it’s still very possible to testify even if you were drunk.

            I guess there are degrees of drunkenness but, in general, you’ve pretty much discredited yourself as a credible witness if you can’t clearly remember what happened or what you may/may not have agreed to.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m disgusted by men who treat women in this way and rapists should (obviously) be punished to the full extent of the law. I’m just saying that Richard Dawkins does have a point. In fact, by raising awareness in this way, it’s quite possible that he might he even help all people (not just girls) to stay safer if they insist on going out and getting stupidly drunk.

          • In fact, by raising awareness in this way,…

            I think that’s a stretch. Nobody was going to change their actions based solely on anything Dawkins himself said on the topic. There was a chance that a reasonable dialog on the issue could have arisen which might have made some people more aware, but the hyperbolic and emotional reaction to the tweets prevented that from happening.

          • Sedan stated

            If the logic is sound it is sound for all cases. If “rape” is special somehow then you need to make the case for why it is special.

            The problem is that it is social inept to depersonalize a traumatic incident by comparing it to “standard” that one has decided on their own using what they consider to be logic. People know this and will react because the actions of the person making the judgement seemingly puts themselves in a role of “superiority” by playing the expert.

            Imagine (pretend for a few minutes) that you experiencea tragic event in which your vehicle blows a tire causing you to veer into a telephone pole totaling your car and killing your dog. Distressed over the event, you tell a group of friends the details. One person comments that they recall you being in need of new tires since a pair were starting to become bald. Also, it wasn’t a good idea to have your dog in the front passenger seat instead of safely securing him towards the rear. Ultimately you’re liable for city property damage since you were negligent taking care of needed repairs. Another friend gets ticked because you are upset and in grief over the loss of a dog that you loved and cared for for ten years. Your children grew up along with this cherished family member. The event has left a hole in your life that will take time to heal. Even the financial losses will burden you for some time to come. This friend offers their condolences and asks if there is anything that they can do for you to lessen the grief and hardship that you are currently experiencing.

            Here’s my opinion – Knowing how to respond socially is an intelligence of its own. Recognizing how to communicate and interact with others is a skill and ability that makes rational sense. Having awareness of WHICH topic is best avoided also takes social intelligence. No we shouldn’t steer clear of upsetting people when we burst their precious views of God, but some topics do not need our supposed “expert” opinions and judgement.

          • Which would be a reasonable position IF Dawkins were responding directly to someone who was a victim of a rape and the accuser was set free because the victim was too drunk to recall the events.

            That is to say, there is a big difference in how you deal with a direct victim and how you approach a topic in the abstract. You would not tell a mother that if she had put a seat belt on her child he would still be alive today. You can advise people to put seat belts on their children. You don’t just not bring up the topic because someone somewhere might be sensitive to that particular topic (and then act outraged that not everyone knows you’re supposed to wear seat belts).

            If we were willing to say that Dawkins (or whoever) should avoid the topics you find too delicate then contrary to what you’ve said he (or we) would also have no legitimate reason to discuss God or any other possibly sensitive issue. Telling someone that their entire lifestyle and philosophy is a sham seems far more insensitive than anything Dawkins has said on rape.

          • @QuestioningKat

            …tragic event in which your vehicle blows a tire causing you to veer into a telephone pole totaling your car and killing your dog

            It would obviously be very insensitive to remind the driver that the tyres should have been replaced; especially if the event is still recent and the driver/family are upset over such a tragedy. However, as Sedan has pointed out, Richard Dawkins isn’t making any reference to a specific rape victim; the whole topic is being discussed in the abstract. If RD had said to an actual rape victim “it’s your own stupid fault; you shouldn’t have been so drunk” then that would have been outrageous indeed!

            …but some topics do not need our supposed “expert” opinions and judgement.

            I completely disagree. All topics should be up for discussion. As soon as you decide that topic X is too sensitive to be discussed, you open the door to topics Y and Z jumping on the bandwagon. Imagine how many topics would try and claim that they were too sensitive and therefore out of bounds; euthanasia? paedophilia? racism? sexual orientation? religious wars? We would soon end up going in the exact opposite direction to which we’ve been heading for the last 50 years. There are so many more things that can be discussed these days and we are all much more well-informed as a result.

            Going back to the dog/tyre/pole scenario, I would argue that if several people had been involved in such tragic accidents then society could be said to have a duty to warn other people and help them avoid the same tragic mistakes.

          • These views are things I do not want my son or daughter to entertain without serious qualification. I am absolutely with Katy that we need to go entirely in the opposite direction to burkadom. There should be no hint that it is acceptable for women to take disproportionate action, that the greater task if any is truly the subjugation of cultural partiarchy and testosterone-first behaviours. But as Olgun points out the advice to watch your alcohol intake in situations of risk is good for both sexes. It is essential that risk taking teenagers are advised that the ideal world does not yet exist and they should plan as much as they can and that intoxication must remain correlated with expected safety.

            I think the view that any single action to make things better must of itself be fully balanced in its outcomes is to underplay drastically the levers we have to mitigate harms. To deny the use of “watch your alcohol advice to young women” (say) because it risks transfering blame away from the guilty person, when you need, in fact, to add two further pieces of advice to young men (watch your alcohol and the asymmetry of harmful outcomes in sex) is in itself harmful, as idealism so often is.

            For me Dawkins’ fail was egregious in having the distinct hint in the phrasing that a woman may want to trap a man into a rape. I’m not sure he intended this. I hope not.

          • approach a topic in the abstract

            Here’s the thing that many do not realize: Rape is a highly charged issue in which nearly all incidents are personalized – especially by women. It doesn’t matter if you do not personally know this person – empathy is the typical response. With social media of today, we are more likely now than ever before, able to learn the details of this person’s life. As a woman, I realize that it could potentially happen to me. I wouldn’t want to turn on the internet to read all the victim blaming going on. I’ve been socialized and warned to be aware of my environment, wait for the next elevator if it means that you will be alone with a man, turn around to look behind you to see if anyone is following you, walk in a well lighted secure area…

            You can certainly choose to view these incidents as “topics” but realize that you will get flack. It’s going to happen especially if you are a well-know individual with unpopular or controversial views. Furthermore, if you in any way blame the victim, you WILL be slammed as insensitive, ignorant… You may not like this…but it’s a reality and you need to deal with the results if you step foot into this territory.

            I would also question whether this type of “topic in the abstract” moves understanding forward in these particular cases. Personally, when it comes to women as atheists going to conferences, being viewed with respect…..It’s my view that more empathy, compassion, and understanding is needed far more than approaching the topic in the abstract. If anything, it moves the topic forward allowing us to see that better social skills are desperately needed

          • Here’s the thing that many do not realize: Rape is a highly charged
            issue in which nearly all incidents are personalized – especially by
            women.

            Everyone realizes that. Some people, however, would like to take a step back and ask that we apply a little reason, logic and fairness to the issue. Maybe even some common sense, like saying that people shouldn’t be convicted of a crime that will destroy their lives when there is little or no reliable evidence. We can say that, of course, unless we’re talking about rape, in which case we are no longer allowed to talk without emotion. That’s insane.

            It doesn’t matter if you do not personally know this person – empathy
            is the typical response.

            As it should be for every victim of every crime.

            With social media of today, we are more likely now than ever before,
            able to learn the details of this person’s life. As a woman, I realize
            that it could potentially happen to me.

            It can happen to all of us.

            I wouldn’t want to turn on the internet to read all the victim blaming
            going on. I’ve been socialized and warned to be aware of my
            environment, wait for the next elevator if it means that you will be
            alone with a man, turn around to look behind you to see if anyone is
            following you, walk in a well lighted secure area…

            There is a difference between taking sensible precautions and seeing yourself as a constant victim. Having grown up in a dangerous city I also took similar precautions (and far more) and still by reflex do those same things when it isn’t necessary.

            It is a terrible thing when people have been through so much trauma that they are constantly looking over their shoulders, afraid of every shadow and have their pulses race when they are in an enclosed space with a man. It is very different when those risks are blown out of proportion and every man should feel like a criminal and be treated as one until proven otherwise.

            You can certainly choose to view these incidents as “topics” but
            realize that you will get flack. It’s going to happen especially if
            you are a well-know individual with unpopular or controversial views.
            Furthermore, if you in any way blame the victim, you WILL be slammed
            as insensitive, ignorant… You may not like this…but it’s a reality and
            you need to deal with the results if you step foot into this
            territory.

            Blaming the victim. Like you just did there?

            Of course, we know that will be the reaction. An inappropriate, counterproductive, knee-jerk reaction. That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean you should support it. Let alone jump on the bandwagon with your own deliberate distortions of what Dawkins (or others) has said.

            I would also question whether this type of “topic in the abstract”
            moves understanding forward in these particular cases.

            It might not, but not for lack of trying. When the response is totally emotional we are probably not going to get anywhere.

            Personally, when it comes to women as atheists going to conferences,
            being viewed with respect…..It’s my view that more empathy,
            compassion, and understanding is needed far more than approaching the
            topic in the abstract.

            I’ve never been to such a conference, but they’re probably not much different than tech conferences in this regard. I reject the notion that women should be treated as delicate flowers who need special handling. An atheist/tech conference should be focused on the rational, while giving everyone the proper respect and consideration.

            If anything, it moves the topic forward allowing us to see that better
            social skills are desperately needed.

            Everyone has different skills and some of them are just not compatible. There may be more room in the atheist community for people who are more emotional and less coldly rational, but I certainly don’t want the best and brightest of the rationals to keep quiet just because they don’t filter every thought.

          • For me Dawkins’ fail was egregious in having the distinct hint in the
            phrasing that a woman may want to trap a man into a rape. I’m not sure
            he intended this. I hope not.

            I didn’t get that at all. In his tweet I saw the hint that a woman might regret a sexual encounter and then assert rape (perhaps not knowing herself whether it was fully consensual).

            As Kat says, we all bring our own situational and historical knowledge to vague or abstract cases such as this, so we all have slightly different understandings. However, I don’t see how we’ll better clarify our thoughts and opinions by not talking about them.

          • I didn’t get that at all. In his tweet I saw the hint that a woman might regret a sexual encounter and then assert rape (perhaps not knowing herself whether it was fully consensual).

            Good. I’m glad, because that would be more consistent with what I understand of the man and what he says or agrees to in argument. My “egregious view” is what I surmised from the outrage of the empathic intuiters here. So…

            A fairly common trope of mine in the last few years has been the warning of a trust in the out and out efficacy of empathy when maxxed out. I depend on cues from others on a few things for a steer about harms in others but it seems to me that the hyper pro social, those at the high empathy end of the empthy bell curve from the antisocial may mark a limit for a similar reason to the sociopaths.

            Empathy is not a servo-controlled attribute. There is no over-riding of our acquired harm detecting heuristics, no guarantee that actual harms are as terrible or as mild as an individual observer imagines them to be. I know I under-read some. I like to read personal accounts of harms to get a better handle. My strong suspicion though is that those at the end of the curve are more likely to be in error. I think you can certainly have too much empathy. I think harms can be over-read and that the villainy of those identified as the harmers can be disproportionate.

            So far, each time I think I get to an example of Richard’s alleged villainy, I find contended evidence with always the option of low bandwidth communication as the problem or some other lesser crime than villainy, the worst being thoughtlessness.

            On the crime of rape I am fully behind the Swedish attempt to smack us in the face with something more akin to the real numbers. The bulk of the heavy lifting here is for men. But until the norm is more nearly a bilateral trust between the sexes over accusations and the acknowledgement that harms will always sit upon a continuum and so too guilt, then male honesty and male sorrow may be forced into an unhelpful and distasteful hiding by unfettered and unevidenced empathy.

            Of course we cannot have no-go areas in coming to terms with these issues. Of course they are not for legal experts alone. We are all experts for our own moral position, our own experiences. It is immoral when any are excluded from a collective moral discourse. We suffer by coming from a buttoned up past, when harms were literally unspeakable. Well, fuck that. As Robin Williams said, many times, “Its not your fault…”

        • reject the notion that women should be treated as delicate flowers who need special handling.

          Who said empathy, compassion and understanding are weak behaviors? You assumed this – from where? Some antiquated views on being an emotional person. To be vulnerable is to be strong. To be skilled in these areas are to be tremendously strong as an individual. To lack these qualities is to be an incomplete human being. Who said I was only saying that these strengths should be towards women and by women? On the contrary, I have been saying that men need to embrace this aspect of themselves all along.

          It might not, but not for lack of trying. When the response is totally emotional we are probably not going to get anywhere.

          It has not be a dichotomy of emotion vs. logic. In reality is has been an issue of appropriate response vs. unwise wording and bad PR. This idea of it being emotion vs. logic is an excuse and failure to see the total dynamics of the situation. I don’t really think you believe all of what Richard has said is ‘OK” I think you are now branching off into a way to argue issues beyond Richard’s Faux Pas comments. Bring your attention back to the wording of the Tweets and I don’t think you can honestly agree that they were all acceptable.

          What you are calling “totally emotional” is a convenient way of dismissing a situation without looking to see if the core reasoning of their position has logical justification. This idea of logic vs. emotion is an old view which needs to be smashed. They are married to each other like yin and yang with the “opposite” present but not dominant. There is irrational logic and emotion. There is rational emotion and logic. People keep conflating or not acknowledging this.

          Blaming the victim. Like you just did there?

          I hope you’re not calling Dawkins a victim… He responded, unwisely to a situation involving a victim. We can keep going on in a circle now saying that you are now blaming /victimizing me. At some point we need to stop and return to the core incident/topic.

          Everyone has different skills and some of them are just not compatible.

          There you go again – not seeing that there can be rationality in emotion and irrationality in logic. If someone is unskilled or lack intelligence, they should admit it and we will all be better off.

          I certainly don’t want the best and brightest of the rationals to keep quiet just because they don’t filter every thought.

          I want them to stop repeating mistakes and learn. Being vulnerable and recognizing that you still have something to learn is a strength and makes sense.

          (I hope this line of conversation ends soon. Much to do.)

          • Who said empathy, compassion and understanding are weak behaviors? You
            assumed this – from where?

            Nobody said this, including me. Well spotted.

            Some antiquated views on being an emotional person. To be vulnerable
            is to be strong. To be skilled in these areas are to be tremendously
            strong as an individual….

            I’m all for supportive rhetoric such as this if that’s what you need to tell yourself (yourselves) to feel more empowered and in control. It’s just that it’s not true, certainly not as a general rule.

            I don’t really think you believe all of what Richard has said is
            ‘OK”… bring your attention back to the wording of the Tweets and I
            don’t think you can honestly agree that they were all acceptable.

            On the contrary, I have no issue with any of the tweets that I am aware. They are fully consistent with an honest and fair opinion on the “topic” by a reasonable and informed person. That does not mean I think he should publish a paper entitled “Richard Dawkins’ Analysis and Expert Opinion on Rape and the Law.” But as part of an honest conversation, sure, I have no problem.

            What you are calling “totally emotional” is a convenient way of
            dismissing a situation without looking to see if the core reasoning of
            their position has logical justification.

            Not at all. Dawkins (and others) have presented the logical case and you (and others) respond with an emotional argument. Are you really going to put the burden on us to deconstruct your emotional argument to find the logical underpinnings? Believe me, we’ve tried, but you need to help us out at least a little.

            This idea of logic vs. emotion is an old view which needs to be
            smashed.

            This is a view only espoused by people who don’t want to think and act rationally. The view which needs to be smashed is that logical people can’t (or don’t) factor in emotions into their reasoning. What you can’t do is interpret a rational argument with emotion – that never works, as is evidenced here (and in every other Dawkins twitterfest). If that’s what you want I suggest you spend more time with Deepak Chopra and less with Richard Dawkins.

            I hope you’re not calling Dawkins a victim…

            Yes, he is a victim. A victim of an unwarranted smear campaign that distorts his opinions and takes them out of context. Was he “asking for it”? Sure, but that shouldn’t let those who jumped all over him off the hook.

            There you go again – not seeing that there can be rationality in
            emotion and irrationality in logic.

            And there you go again. There is no irrationality in logic. Sure there can be faulty logic and there can be times where you might just keep your flawless logic to yourself. But there is no irrationality in logic itself. There is also no rationality in emotion, that’s what makes it emotion. We have two different words for a reason.

            If someone is unskilled or lack intelligence, they should admit it and
            we will all be better off.

            Does Dawkins claim to be a great communicator to the emotional and irrational? I don’t think so.

            I want them to stop repeating mistakes and learn. Being vulnerable and
            recognizing that you still have something to learn is a strength and
            makes sense.

            I am sure Dawkins et al. will learn and change their methods of communication at just about the same time that their critics (such as yourself) learn that such criticism is futile. So basically … never.

            “Why won’t Dawkins ever learn to stop posting offensive tweets? I’ve criticized him a hundred times and he won’t change. What a stubborn oblivious fool.”

  61. You can still testify about something in court even if you were drinking at the time the crime occurred. Red Dog

    This is not about ‘drinking’. It’s about being so dead drunk that you don’t know what you were doing or who you were doing it with. Dawkins is 100% right to defend the victims of accusations of this sort, even if they are a small minority.

    • No i’m sorry but he absolutely isn’t. The law is quite clear on this point. If someone is dead drunk to the point that they don’t know what they’re doing, they are seen as being incapable of giving consent so the person having sex with them is guilty of rape. Everyone should remember this.

  62. Your responses overlook the obvious point I’m trying to make. Humans are not consistent beings. Someone espousing logic can and does, at times, come from an emotionall, personal approach. Our lives, upbringing, experiences colors our choices. I’m talking about people and their behavior here. Not an abstract depersonalized view of emotion and logic.

    What you can’t do is interpret a rational argument with emotion – that never works, as is evidenced here (and in every other Dawkins twitterfest).

    I disagree that Richard’s comments were entirely rational. Dear Muslima lacked crucial social knowledge of Western women. Richard’s comparison of types of rape lacked knowledge of the psychological dynamics of date rape by bundling all cases into one.

    Not at all. Dawkins (and others) have presented the logical case and you (and others) respond with an emotional argument.

    Yes, in TWITTER aka social media, what a perfect forum for such in depth discussions and arguments. I especially like how his factual evidence comes to play. pfft His comments are not fact based nor are they entirely logical. They masquerade as logic when they are opinions colored by his own perceptions.

    I do stand corrected with one of your comments. There is no common ground.

    • I disagree that Richard’s comments were entirely rational.

      “Rational” and “wrong” are in no way mutually exclusive.

      Dear Muslima lacked crucial social knowledge of Western women.

      No! He may have misjudged the lightness of RW’s comments on 4am male lift behaviour, but all atheist women of my acquaintence felt her comments (from the evidence she included) disproportionate to their inclusion in the conference. RD’s Dear Muslima was also disproportionate as well and a comment better made to entirely others. Did he not acknowledge that later?

      Richard’s comparison of types of rape lacked knowledge of the psychological dynamics of date rape by bundling all cases into one.

      Again he acknowledged the point early on that betrayal may be a devastating aspect to rape by a known assailant and the absolutes of his earlier thesis must give way.

      Isn’t this the essence of rational debate? In both instances emotional scaling is argued for and accepted.

      • Again he acknowledged the point early on that betrayal may be a
        devastating aspect to rape by a known assailant and the absolutes of
        his earlier thesis must give way.

        Exactly, that is a perfect example of how reasonable discussion should go. It is not evidence that Dawkins isn’t rational, just evidence that he is not omniscient.

        This is also an example of how emotion can inform a rational debate rather than be the master of it.

    • I still can’t see the reason for the hysterical over-reaction. The phrase “outrage junkies” seems an appropriate description for those responsible for awful articles such as the poorly-written one in The Guardian or the irrelevant one in New Statesman.

      I’m not suggesting that QuestioningKat is either hysterical or an outrage junkie but there certainly seems to be an emotional over-reaction to RD’s fairly straightforward comments.

      For example; I fail to see how the following tweet is either illogical or coloured by RD’s own perception:

      “Raping a drunk woman is appalling. So is jailing a man when the sole prosecution evidence is “I was too drunk to remember what happened.”

      It’s very short (naturally) but it seems a perfect starting point for others to rationally put forward their own opinions/assessments without resorting to I can’t believe he said that! or When will he learn?! etc. etc.

      • In reply to Barry.M

        …For example; I fail to see how the following tweet is either illogical or coloured by RD’s own perception:

        “Raping a drunk woman is appalling. So is jailing a man when the sole prosecution evidence is “I was too drunk to remember what happened.”

        I don’t think that is the tweet people have been taking issue with. This one is:

        “@mrgregariously Exactly. If you want to drive, don’t get drunk. If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don’t get drunk.”

        Do you not see something deeply messed up about suggesting women should refrain from getting so drunk that it might be an impediment when it comes to testifying against the men who will rape them later that evening?

        “Girls, you know you’re going to get violated at some point on this bachelorette party so for goodness sake try and stay sober enough so you can remember at least some of the details when the inevitable happens, and I’ll see you all in the emergency room sometime tomorrow morning. Off you go, and have fun.”

    • In addition, I particularly enjoyed the below-linked article by Jerry Coyne, which is a brief reaction to the terrible Guardian article by Adam Lee (written in response to RD’s rape tweets). It includes the following:

      “I am friends with both Richard and Sam, have interacted with them a great deal, and have never heard a sexist word pass their lips. […] Both have seemed to me seriously concerned with women’s rights…”

      However ‘uninformed’ RD may appear to be on the details of various rape types (I don’t believe he has ever pretended to be an expert), I hope nobody here would seriously regard him as the outdated misogynist that some journalists consider him to be.

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/adam-lee-has-lost-it/

      • Barry M. I’ve never seen him as an outdated misogynist for an instant. The ‘Dear Muslima’ letter struck me as an attempt to highlight just how awful conditions are for women in many parts of the world…emphasising that aspect and not the triviality of being propositioned in a lift. Being a white, well-to-do male can go together with a superior attitude to females, or at least it has in the past though I very much doubt that this is the case. In fact, I would think..far from it!

        Well I hope so, and I hope I’m not projecting!
        The most recent tweet seems to be a bit harder to explain away, but I’m still confident that it was not intended to suggest a double standard. Surely not!! So this brings me back full circle to the OP. No …don’t tweet. The only individuals permitted to do this should be comedians and even then they should think twice before each effort.

        • Being a white, well-to-do male can go together with a superior attitude to females, or at least it has in the past though I very much doubt that this is the case. In fact, I would think..far from it!

          And is there any particular colour or income band of females that us males should be wary of?

          • Um, not sure. None? :)
            I see what you’re getting at so perhaps I should clarify. Articulate males can disguise their misogyny in such a way that it slips painlessly into the mainstream where it passes un-commented.
            The less able misogynist will blurt out with some blatantly sexist remark and is immediately called to account. That makes the articulate male more damaging in a way. So, what have I done? I’ve managed to conflate the articulate male with the well-to-do white male and that was very naughty of me. I’ve seen the error of my ways! :-)

  63. In reply to Sedan’s response to QuestioningKat

    QK: “Here’s the thing that many do not realize: Rape is a highly charged issue in which nearly all incidents are personalized – especially by women.”

    Sedan: Everyone realizes that. Some people, however, would like to take a step back and ask that we apply a little reason, logic and fairness to the issue. Maybe even some common sense, like saying that people shouldn’t be convicted of a crime that will destroy their lives when there is little or no reliable evidence. We can say that, of course, unless we’re talking about rape, in which case we are no longer allowed to talk without emotion. That’s insane.

    An argument can be both emotional and founded on logic. The two are not mutually exclusive. Plenty of issues have passion at their core, such as the one having to do with female genital mutilation. It’s all too easy to dismiss what someone says because her position is motivated by deep feelings. I think you’ll find the logic of what’s being discussed here will amount to the same whether emotion informs it or doesn’t; the two paths will eventually converge at the same point.

    Obviously nobody should be convicted of something they didn’t do. No one is suggesting a woman who says she was raped will be given more credence if she was intoxicated at the time than if she’d been completely sober. The issue is should her testimony be dismissed offhand if she can be demonstrated at the time to have been impaired by alcohol to a significant degree. That sounds perfectly fair and rational, and the chaps in their clubs smoking their cigars and drinking their brandy will mutter appreciatively at such common sense thinking. But at its heart it’s deeply reactionary.

    It’s all very well to ask, in Richard’s own words, “Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?” The answer to this very loaded question should of course be “no”. Another good one is, Do those in the public eye who are considered great brains and expert logicians, perhaps even having been recipients of a World’s Greatest Thinker award or two, have a responsibility not to give fuel to those who would take us back to a time only a couple decades ago when jurists in rape cases instructed jurors to take into consideration what the victim was wearing at the time of her attack and could she have led the accused on to such an extent that he couldn’t reasonably have been expected to do anything but have his manly way with her?

    I realize I might be begging the question—in the proper use of that phrase, not the sense it has come to mean—but as Red Dog suggests, any moderately intelligent person should see this is a no-brainer. Here is a pretty good tweet https://twitter.com/neverjessie/status/495095743989153794/photo/1, and a bit more context for it http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2706734/Anger-government-poster-appears-blame-rape-alcohol-women-drink.html

    We like to imagine sexism as a thing of the past in western countries; that every glass ceiling has been smashed, every sticky floor degunked and misogyny is now only in the purview of those in or from backward nations. I disagree. Just as mankind is never more than three meals away from descending into savagery, women’s hard-won equality, or approximation of same, is constantly under threat. Our job is to ensure that the number of forward steps we take isn’t outmatched by the backward steps the Man (and there’s a reason he’s called the Man, not the Woman) makes of his own. If we manage to get ahead on occasion, all the better, but the slog will never be over. Racism and homophobia may not be genetic, but animus between men and women is.

    The U.S. is packed with those who think ‘marital rape’ is an oxymoron, and they are well represented, not just in fringe but in mainstream politics. In the UK, a rising political force has as a backer someone who shares this view (google Demetri Marchessini if interested) and also thinks women by law shouldn’t be allowed to wear trousers and gay people are incapable of love.

    This stuff is always simmering under the surface, waiting for an opportunity when it can be spoken aloud. Political correctness, that bête noire of so many, keeps a lid on it as best it can, naming and shaming when it shows its ugly face. PC is an unpopular and underappreciated beast though, and we now live in a postmodern age. An age in which all the racist, homophobic, misogynist things that were unacceptable years ago are permissible once more.

    “But it’s okay now, yeah? Because it’s ironic, yeah? Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Carr are not really making fun of cripples, and when Frankie Boyle joked about breast model Katy Price’s disabled son Harvey raping her, he was just being postmodern. Grow a sense of humour, yeah?” I imagine a lot of the same sort of things have been said in defense of Penn Jillette for his calling a female writer a cunt because he didn’t like something she wrote about a television commercial. Thank God for Stewart Lee is all I’ll say.

    If Richard wants to contribute to this societal retrogression, that’s his business. He’s a private citizen, one who doesn’t represent any political party which might hold him to account. Still, I sometimes wish he’d keep his PhDs away from my ovaries… and my drinks cabinet.

    • It is quite clear I have not been educated to the level of most here and maybe that is why I am confused and upset when you say “we women” often. In 1978 I was 18 years old and my girlfriend brought a cousin along to date my best friend. We had a great evening and all went back to my friends house because his parents were away. We went to two separate bedrooms, I with my girlfriend as expected and my friend with his new girlfriend. As I have mentioned before, I was the driver so was stone cold sober and a reliable witness in that all I heard was lots of giggling and some sounds of passion coming from the room next door. The next morning was a little rushed but not much to report. By the afternoon the accusations of rape against my friend were told to us by my very shocked girlfriend. No police were involved so far and my friends father quickly asked for a meeting with the girls parents. I still don’t know what exactly went on when they met but I know that the sum of £10,000 was what it took to not involve the police. My girlfriend disowned her cousin and we went out for another year or so. A mans life nearly ruined with definite trauma for the three of us. I found out that my girlfriends cousin should not have stayed out all night even at the age of 18 because her parents were strict. This was not a con trick for money but money was the deciding factor.

      • This is not exactly clear cut is it? What if the girl was OK with the foreplay and was indeed giggling, but then didn’t want to go any further but was forced (raped) and was too scared to fight or cry out? The father was quick to offer money, maybe something like this had happened before. Is he still your best friend?

        • The giggling went on for hours before and after the sounds of passion. There was nothing that made me or my girlfriend suspicious that something was going wrong. My friends family were just very protective of their son and he was a school friend of mine. I know for a fact this was only his second encounter of the sexual kind. I am not sure if his father offered the money, was asked for it or it just ended up that way. As I said, I am not sure what went on at that meeting and neither is my friend. I was friends with him until about ten years ago.

      • I’m not entirely sure what the point of your comment is, Olgun. You seem to be blaming your girlfriend’s cousin for this sad series of events, using the disownment as further evidence that the girl was a conniving money grubber. Being in an adjacent bedroom makes you an earwitness at best. Presumably you and your girlfriend were not boinking all night; you will have slept for some of this time. A lot can happen while we sleep. Perhaps after you were passed out in a post-coital stupor, your best friend got his second wind and insisted his teenage bedmate, to whom he’d only been introduced earlier that very evening, do something she wasn’t comfortable with.

        Given this girl’s parents were strict, what makes you think she had any say in accepting this money from your best friend’s wealthy father or even saw a penny of it? Perhaps in addition to being violated by your friend, to whom she was introduced by her not exactly loyal cousin, she was also betrayed by her own immediate family.

        Pure speculation on my part, of course. But as plausible an explanation as any, given only two people know what happened in that bedroom on that long ago night.

        • What we three put it down to in the end was a young girl so frightened by her parents she screamed rape as the reason she stayed out all night. A childish fear that nearly caused great tragedy. Speculation that IS as good as any that could have been made more speculative by alcohol. I know I can’t be totally sure of another persons actions no matter how close I was to him, and we were like brothers, but I do believe, with my girlfriends explanation of how strict and controlling her cousins parents were, how a false accusation could have come about. I didn’t say the girl got any of the money or was involved in that part. All I know is it happened.

      • Compared to the NHS poster I linked to in my comment, you mean? I sense a heffalump trap here, but no, I’d say it’s okay because it doesn’t single out women and suggest, even inadvertently, that they are somehow complicit if they’re raped while intoxicated.

        There’s nothing intrinsically offensive about a subway sign warning ‘pickpockets operate in this area.’ Unlike one that said ‘75% of pickpocketing incidents in this station target female commuters so you have no one but yourself to blame if your purse is stolen and wouldn’t it be better if you gave up on this silly notion of a career and became a housewife or nun?’

        • I have worked in council estates since I was 14 years old. An average of three jobs a day, five days a week for forty years. As the famous quote goes, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”. Racism, abuse of all sorts, stupidity beyond belief and women who would benefit from that poster a great deal if it was directed at them. Women you would disassociate yourself from in an instant. I think it’s irresponsible of you to deny them that.

        • Last night it was going to be a heffalump trap until I realised I was truly puzzled by what was going on. What worries me is the advice I give my kids (and I’ll admit to a necessary gender bias, emphasising caution for her vulnerability about drink and the need for responsibility from him).

          By continuing drinking you are increasing your risk of being raped.

          Is the difference, in fact, just the image of a woman?

          Wouldn’t both simply become acceptable if a substantial part of the same campaign utilised say the superb Police Scotland “We can stop it” interlarded?

          Fussing over political correctness to the detriment of the power of the actual intended message, when extra material can correct it seems feeble to me. I have no doubt the intention was not to (in effect) pre-emptively wash our hands of “bad girl” behaviour but to connect viscerally with some of the increased risks to the expansion of laddish drinking culture to women. Many responses to the poster you linked suggested its sole purpose was “slut shaming.”

          Your pick pocket advice should read, “Women, mind your bags in this area. Pickpockets at work.” Focusing exactly on a single specific problem is most effective in dealing with it. The implied folly of being a woman with a gender weakness for handbags is in yours and other people’s heads, likewise the statistic in the poster.

          • Fussing over political correctness to the detriment of the power of
            the actual intended message, when extra material can correct it seems
            feeble to me.

            Agreed. I can now admit my story above was only true to the point of my girlfriend and her cousins conversation, on the way home, in shear panic, because it really was her first “all-nighter”, briefly thinking about rape as an excuse. I was shocked it even came to mind and my whole story came about through “what if” in my own head.

            I have only been here for a short time but knew not to challenge Katy intellectually so I hoped my opening line would help. I wanted to see if all this speculation would change anything if a real case was put forward. It seems even with me as an “ear witness”, there still existed the speculation and accusations towards my friend. No smoke without fire. I could have been asked a lot more questions first, such as, what was my friends mother doing while all this was going on but the instant defence of the young lady began and the guilt of my friend seemed imminent. I don’t know what to make of why the conversation was so short and maybe I was being blamed also for even being in the same house? Was it because I admitted to being stupid that political correctness stopped people from attacking me? You will make up your own mind I am sure and maybe a few honest answers would help from those that read the story and how they felt!!

          • phil rimmer: “…I’ll admit to a necessary gender bias, emphasising caution for her vulnerability about drink and the need for responsibility from him…”

            I’m in the same boat as you and have had those exact same conversations with my son and daughter. Your link to the Police Scotland campaign was excellent. I’d never seen that before.

            Perhaps a twin-pronged attack is the best approach. One campaign warning women that excessive alcohol increases their vulnerability to rape and could reduce their reliability as a credible witness. And a simultaneous campaign telling men that having sex with barely-conscious women is not only unacceptable behaviour but could lead to them being convicted of rape.

            Even if both men and women take offence at the campaigns (or some aspect of the wording or whatever), at least the topic would be discussed and it might lead to positive change. Raising awareness is rarely a bad thing…

  64. In reply to Barry.M

    …I hope nobody here would seriously regard him as the outdated misogynist that some journalists consider him to be.

    As someone with a million-plus Twitter followers, and a worldwide reputation as a formidable intellectual, he doesn’t have to hate women to give succor to misogynists, anymore than he has to be a racist for his words to be co-opted by bigots.

    • . Katy Cordeth. his words to be co-opted by bigots.

      Therein lies the problem. I keep asking myself who is to gain by causing dissension in the ranks! I can only see one beneficiary, the religious right in America. These people seek to differentiate themselves from the Islamic view of women when in reality their views are only one micron away. They’ve had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards any notion of equality themselves and yet they’re probably rubbing their hands together with glee, thinking that they’ve scored a hit!

  65. I think this is the point at which I give up on Richard and the atheist movement.

    The CPS, over a period of 17 months recorded over 5,500 rape convictions and 35 false allegation convictions. Less than 1% of the total. And considering that rape is known to be a massively under-reported crime the true percentage figure for false allegations will be far, far less than even this. Recent estimates put the true figure for rape at about 85,000 in the UK, per year.

    If Richard wants to be controversial, perhaps he might stand up and quote such statistics and say how awful this situation is and that as a society we have to confront this and start challenging the environment in which rape and abuse of women is so prevalent and excused. There are many, many people, including some on this site who would be truly horrified if he were to say something like this and really prove his feminist credentials.

    But instead we got the Dear Muslima remarks, attacking Western feminists for complaining while worse things happen in other countries (couldn’t it also be argued along this line that atheists should shut up and stop complaining because they have it so good in the west and are not beheaded on a regular basis?). And then we got the date rape remarks a while back. Possibly not intended to excuse date rape but used by many date rape apologists as validation of their views. And now remarks about rape victims and alcohol. Possibly not intended to blame victims who have been drinking but used by many rape apologists to blame rape victims who have been drinking (although I have to say in this most recent case it does look to me that he definitely is agreeing that women are to blame if they have been drinking). And also hinting that his sympathy is reserved for the very tiny number of men who are falsely accused rather than the thousands of women whose lives are devastated by this awful crime.

    Anyone can make a mistake and I’ve tried to see these things as isolated mistakes but it’s becoming a bit of a pattern and I can’t ignore it any more and the things he is saying are classic rape apologist tactics. I’m sorry but it’s true and he’s far too intelligent not to know how his remarks are going to be used.

    And this analogy with drunk driving – it just doesn’t work. A drink drive accident and a rape where the woman was drunk are not analogous at all. The woman in the rape case is not the driver, she is the person who is knocked down. The rapist is in charge of the car. If the woman has been drinking that doesn’t effect the outcome at all unless she walks straight out into the road, in which case is Richard seriously saying that a man who rapes a drunk woman has as little choice in the matter as a driver who knocks down a drunk person who strolls suddenly into the road? The driver has no way to avoid someone walking straight out in front of them. The rapist always has a choice about whether to take advantage of a drunk person or not.

    I will always be an atheist and I’ll always be grateful to Richard for clarifying my thoughts on the matter many years ago. I had been considering getting more involved but I cannot support a movement that seems to be as unwelcoming to women as the religious movements it mocks.

    • It’s more people like you, Kim, that would make me keep distances with atheist movements. Hateful people who can’t read. The girl was saying that the man “got her drunk”, and “made her drink”. If that is alright for you, that means that women are irresponsible and immature creatures who drink when told to. And that is VERY sexist.

      • I have no idea what you are talking about but I was talking about richard’s tweets last week, the delay being that I have only just come back from holiday. Where is the hatred – I say quite clearly that I will always be grateful to Richard for his work re atheism. But I don’t like the comments he is is starting to make on the subject of rape and women generally and therefore I have decided to step back from this movement. I have every right to do that and to state my reasons without being called hateful. If you think what he said on the subject of rape is just fine, good luck to you. I think you’re wrong but I would never attack you for it the way you’ve just spoken to me.

  66. I would love to live in world where Richard Dawkins would not be controversial. It would be a darn good world. In the meantime, I need someone to say that all religions are bullshit, that getting hit on in an elevator is nothing like getting raped, that saying “he got me drunk” is hypocritical unless you consider yourself an everlasting child, and that accusing all atheists conventions to be sexist gatherings, only because one or two speakers are known womanisers, is bigoted slander. Gods hate seduction.

    Please keep up the good work, Mister Dawkins. Open your big mouth. Use your voice. Kick asses.

    By the way, when I heard (today) about that girl who said that a man “got her drunk”, I immediately thought of getting arrested for drunk driving and blaming it on “a guy that got me drunk”. And then I saw your brilliant tweet. Great and small minds think alike.

    Even though I happened to disagree with you on punctual issues in the past, and certainly will in the future, your comments, articles, tweets and of course your books have always seemed to me full of sensibility and sensitivity. It is a real pity that the controversy should come now from our own ranks, from narrow-minded radical activists looking for destruction of what they could never equal. Spitting on what is higher than you is like pissing against the wind. Let’s hope all that crap soon fall back on their jealous heads.

    Sorry for non-native English.

    Vincent.

    • Non native English seems to be the least of your problems it seems to me. A very big part of not being narrow minded is allowing other people to speak. If you don’t agree with them you can walk away or you can argue. But to condemn someone as hateful and all the other nastiness you have levelled at me just because I happen to not agree on the wisdom of richard’s rape tweets is intolerance in the extreme. I was very polite in my original email but I did have to explain in detail why I was saying what I did because I want him and others to know it is not just religious nuts who are criticising him now. For many years I have talked about Richard Dawkins in glowing terms to everyone I discuss religion and atheism with. He is losing a supporter, someone who if it hadn’t been for these recent events would have continued to be a supporter. And I’m sure that I won’t be the only one though I may be only one to post about it here. Most others will just go…

  67. The law is quite clear on this point. If someone is dead drunk to the point that they don’t know what they’re doing, they are seen as being incapable of giving consent so the person having sex with them is guilty of rape.

    If the accusations depend on the recollection of events by somebody who was drunk , it may do serious damage to an innocent person.

  68. > My own first sexual experience with another woman was rape. Like many women, I didn’t know that women could rape other women. It wasn’t until I recounted the incident to a friend and she said, “So you were raped?” that I truly recognized this is what it was. A close high school friend, Toni,* slept over the night before we were scheduled to go to an event together. She was a junior, I was a freshman. After we had gone to sleep, I was awakened in the dark by her kissing and touching me. She had unbuttoned my pajamas and pulled down the pants. She performed oral sex on me and tried to penetrate me. In the morning she acted as if it had never happened. Part of me thought it must have been a dream. But each subsequent time she stayed at my house, the same scenario played out: She waited until I was asleep and then began having sex with me. It was years before I could acknowledge this was rape.

    http://www.curvemag.com/Curve-Magazine/Web-Articles-2010/Lesbian-on-Lesbian-Rape/

  69. Can you please explain exactly what’s wrong with his original statement. Cos I think if you removed rape from that sentence and someone simply said “Is it acceptable to jail someone when the only evidence is a drunk person’s very vague memory?”, the answer would universally be NO.

    What’s happening here is that a huge minority of people have decided that rape is so messed up that they need to think emotionally rather than logically about it. Richard is simply getting stick for being one of the people who says “no, I’m sticking with logic”

    Perhaps failing to factor emotion into the equation is Richard’s problem. Consider the following hypothetical. A dentist is in the habit of undressing his female patients while they are under anesthetic and photographing their private parts. He doesn’t molest or rape them; he’s been doing this for years and is in no danger of escalating his behavior. None of the women or girls he has done this to ever woke up while it was happening, so remain untraumatized by… it can’t even be called an experience: by what he does.

    Were his hobby to come to light, his patients would doubtless be mortified at this breach of trust, and instantly attain a legitimate state of victimhood.

    An argument predicated on logic alone would inevitably arrive at the conclusion that the dentist has done nothing wrong until and unless he’s caught. This can’t be right though, can it? A crime cannot become a crime only on its discovery. If you stole the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London and replaced them with facsimiles so perfect not even the Queen herself could tell the difference, then buried the originals somewhere they would never be found, you’d still have committed a crime.

    Emotionless Schrödinger’s cat-type thought experiments are okay as an intellectual distraction, but when dealing with something which affects literally every female on the planet and many males—not pervy dental care practitioners, sexual exploitation generally—emotion surely has a role to play, just as established cultural mores do, even if these happen to be Judeo-Christian. Pure logic is enough only when you do reside in an ivory tower.

    • This can’t be right though, can it?

      Why not? If your gut/emotional response is contrary to the logical analysis then it might make you take a closer look at the logic, but automatically overruling the logic because it doesn’t feel right is a terrible approach.

      The logical analysis of all your scenarios is that if there is no harm committed by an action then that thing is not wrong, it should not be a crime. Sometimes you need to look a little deeper to find the harm, however. The logic is sound, no emotional interpretation need be applied.

      • If your gut/emotional response is contrary to the logical analysis
        then it might make you take a closer look at the logic

        This is very true and can often result in opinions changing – or perhaps even existing opinions being reaffirmed by the logic turning full circle and helping validate the emotion.

        In fact, the approach of applying logic in the face of what ‘feels’ right can often lead to atheism!

  70. In reply to Roy Batty

    I have worked in council estates since I was 14 years old. An average of three jobs a day, five days a week for forty years. As the famous quote goes, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”. Racism, abuse of all sorts, stupidity beyond belief and women who would benefit from that poster a great deal if it was directed at them. Women you would disassociate yourself from in an instant. I think it’s irresponsible of you to deny them that

    You’ll have to tell me which poster you’re referring to, Olgun: the one I linked to, the one Phil linked to, or either of the pickpocketing ones, real or hypothetical. Help a girl out.

    You’re quite right when you say I would never associate with anybody who came from one of those beastly council estates, chock full of ruffians, chavs and n’er-do-well chimney sweeps who would drag one into a chalk pavement drawing as soon as look at one.

    Some time ago I was driving the Wolseley through an unfamiliar locale in the northernmost part of the great land of Albion when I had a sudden craving for my favorite sandwich treat: caviar, on malted wholegrain bread, with lemon juice, whole-leaf basil, avocado, and Koh-i-Noor shavings (no mayo). I endeavored to locate a branch of Waitrose but to no avail.

    I eventually found myself in an establishment called Tess Co. Not a Thomas Hardy-themed grocers to my great disappointment, but a brightly lit Abaddon populated with extras from a George A. Romero motion picture, purchasing ‘noodle-pots’, ‘golden turkey drummer boys’, flat screen television sets and copies of The Sun newspaper and Viz magazine.

    I couldn’t get out of there quickly enough, let me tell you, and it was a relief to get back to the family seat and my antique foie gras and fox head collection.

    Thinks: Perhaps some of my comments are on occasion ever so slightly sarcastic.

    • You’ll have to tell me which poster you’re referring to, Olgun: the
      one I linked to, the one Phil linked to, or either of the
      pickpocketing ones, real or hypothetical. Help a girl out.

      I thought it quite clearly pointed to Phils but I do suffer from a lack of education so maybe I shouldn’t try to think!! Perhaps it explains all the headaches?

      You’re quite right when you say I would never associate with anybody
      who came from one of those beastly council estates

      “Anybody” or a selective few? The people I am talking about would absolutely love your sarcasm and use of language. A word of advise though!!!!! Perhaps you could dumb it down just a little………………….Apart from that I think you would be the life and soul of the party!! Perhaps you could even make a black friend?

    • “Perhaps some of my comments are on occasion ever so slightly sarcastic.”

      ’tis true to be sure. But they are also occasionally quite funny. I particularly enjoyed the image of the Wolseley driving back home to the fox head collection. The n’er-do-well chimney sweeps also raised a smile. Sooty-faced little rascals they are.

  71. If you do not think the law should be applied that is up to you.

    Of course, the law should be applied and new laws and amendments brought in where they serve the interests of justice. Malicious or culpably mistaken accusations of rape should certainly be prosecuted.

  72. I am sure others like me enjoy pondering on the thoughtful ideas Richard puts forward in his tweets, maybe not everyone agrees with them but so what? If so called journalists have nothing better to do than replying with rude comments, at least it keeps them off the streets. So, my answer to the question is simple…keep on tweeting Richard. Say what you want when you want, after all, everyone else does!

  73. Richard Dawkins has written at least one book (maybe four) about why beliefs should be based on evidence. Don’t expect him to say that, in some cases, it’s alright to believe without evidence.

    Someone suggested that his publications should be submitted to a moderators board. What would be left of the God Delusion, after such moderation ? Don’t expect Richard Dawkins to be uncontroversial. Or not offending.

    I have recently seen a video of him wondering, for the sake of provocation, if it could be alright to eat people who died in car accidents ! I’m amazed some radical feminists are not already accusing him of cannibalism. That would be their usual strategy.

    For example, I saw today a new post on Saint Stephanie Zvan’s blog. The headline read : “Our Employees Are Not Authorized to Speak Against Harassment”. It was quite shocking and I immediately wanted to know what company could possibly have such policy. As it happened, it was the Centre For Inquiry. Except that they never wrote, said, or probably even thought such a thing. What the CFI tweeted was “Individual employees are not authorized to call for a ban on speakers; any such decision must be made by CFI management. No further comment.” This goes far beyond misquoting Harris or voluntarily misconstruing Dawkins’ tweets. It’s plainly twisting the truth, it’s putting words in people’s mouth, it’s an outright lie. That is how those people fight.

    But I understand the strategy, though. It is very hard, almost impossible, to prove that a rape did happen. Many rapists are never condemned. So, radical feminists try to make the alleged rapist look as bad as possible. For example by saying “He did hit on a married woman when her husband was in the room” (thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife) or “He made a salacious joke about chicken wings and naughty girls” (the joke was totally lost in translation to me). By doing so, they might destroy his reputation, career and family. It’s a kind of tar and feathers mob justice. And anyone who steps in, noticing that those arguments are utterly irrelevant, ridiculous, counter-productive or illogical has to be destroyed as well in the process.

    So, if someone says that there is sexism in the atheist community (implicitly suggesting : more than in the rest of the society) because they have been hit on by an atheist in an elevator, and Dawkins points out that it is quite an illegitimate generalisation, then he is defending misogyny like the Pope paedophile priests. And if Boghossian says that no, Dawkins was not, then he has to die too. And if I say that Boghossian was right (for once) then I am probably a rapist as well.

    Then it becomes a matter of how dirty are you willing to fight. It could be alright to kick under the belt, but is it fair to shoot in the back ? You can bite and pull hair but do you accept collateral damages without a blink ? Those people are gangsters ; no honour, no rules.

    But the most dramatic problem with this strategy, is that it can only target liberals, progressists or gender equality advocates. The conservative right is quite immune to sexism accusations. If you tell them they are sexist, they’ll answer “I am not, you stupid cunt. I sell sexism for a living. Please keep the buzz on” . But to back-stab moderate feminists, that method works miracles.

    We can just hope that those people are so disgustingly dishonest that their movement will self-destroy out of sheer shame. They don’t give a shit about atheism or fighting religion. Saint Ophelia Benson rejoiced today, on her blog, that the CFI announced that Bahais religion was granted new privileges by Indonesian authorities. Indonesia is a country where you can go to jail for saying that no gods exist.

  74. I’m trying to defend Prof. Dawkins on another site. I think the recent quote about rape was wrong but in general I still think Dawkins has a good record on feminism. In fact I thought that in one of his books he more or less said that he considered himself a feminist. Does that ring a bell with anyone? I tried googling but just got lots of recent stuff about the current controversy.

    • I’m trying to defend…

      Apologies for being blunt ~

      Sounds like a thankless job; “hell hath no fury…”, meaning, perhaps this particular bubble should be set free.

      Consider commenting here again instead – your comments are invaluable @ RD.net!

    • I think Dawkins has a great record on feminism, but like you think the tweets have mostly been an ill-considered disaster. The fact that he has changed his view twice on tweeted matters, to me is wonderful and illustrates the sort of man he is, but what he first appears to have uttered (and probably intended) is the only, eager judgment of the judgmental.

      I have seen written the statement by him that he is a feminist. This was maybe five or so years ago and I can’t find it after an hour or so of looking either. His promotion of equal education, equal rights, full emancipation and the like for all women in the thrall of the patriarchies of religion cannot have been stated without this being the case.

      The question is what sort of feminist? His recent tweeted endorsement of Christina Hoff Sommers and Equity Feminism brought down on him howls of (gender?) feminist derision. I suspect he is like Sephen Pinker (and myself!) drawn towards the concern for the nuance of all gender positions as the biggest roadblocks to equality are seen off. Are we a racist society? At some point it is beneficial to say no and more dramatically isolate the remaining offenders and not give them a whole country (or half a country for sexists) to hide amongst.

      Besides perfect equality can never be established if we grant all the liberties people may wish for themselves.

      Having said that equal pay for equal work, say, is a no brainer, and despite some of the claims of hyper pro social feminists, I’m confident Dawkins concurs. (Sorry thats useless for you but possibly good enough for a wiki reference…) Its when the engineering of rigid, balanced quotas rather than eliminating roadblocks that equity feminists make the plea that that will probably entail fewer people doing what they want and that it could very well be women. Culture, and not legislation, really does have to be the process for the final balancing as it drifts this way and that at its many differnt points.

      Politicians? 67% women would get it right for me.

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