Who is “belittling” what?

185

by Richard Dawkins

Let me add just one afterthought to my article Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face? I’ll use the example of pedophilia, but an exactly parallel point could be made for adult rape. It’s about alleged “belittling”.

I have briefly explained (it’s in An Appetite for Wonder) that, as a small boy, I was the victim of a pedophile teacher in the school squash court. He pulled me on his knee, put his hand inside my shorts and fiddled for about half a minute. It was very unpleasant, but it didn’t ruin my life and I had the temerity to say so in my memoir and elsewhere. I had the effrontery to downplay my experience and imply that it could have been worse. The teacher could, for example, have . . . well, I didn’t specify details, but anyone can fill in some of the appalling things that have happened to other children of both sexes.

Pandemonium in the Pigeon-lofts. Freethought Feeding Frenzy. “Dawkins actually said – I kid you not – that his experience in the squash court wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened. Wow, just wow. Where has he been these past few years? Doesn’t everyone nowadays know there are NO gradations? All cases are exactly equally bad. How dare Dawkins BELITTLE the horrors of pedophiliac assault?”

But let’s think about it. Who exactly is doing the belittling here? Suppose I had said what my critics apparently wanted me to say, namely that my experience in the squash court was among the worst things that ever happened to me? I could imagine the following explosive retort from another pedophile victim: “WHAT? You cannot be SERIOUS. When I was a child, I was painfully raped by my father, week after week for years and I was too terrified to tell anyone. How DARE you go on about your 30 seconds of discomfort and momentary embarrassment with a teacher who, unlike my father, meant nothing to you. How DARE you big up your paltry 30 seconds, thereby BELITTLING my five years of painful misery and betrayal? Check your privilege, Dawkins, and take a look at what REAL child abuse looks like.”

Well, I hope nobody would actually say that. There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.

185 COMMENTS

  1. One topic that used to come up back when this site was more interactive was what atheists/secularists could do to become more involved in politics. I think examples like this show why that isn’t happening. Dawkins spends a lot of energy arguing over some esoteric point about some comment or tweet he made a while back. I barely know what the controversy is about because I mostly skip over these stories about who tweeted what and who got upset by it and how the original tweeter then responded, etc. None of it is consequential to begin with.

    While Dawkins is involved in this “controversy” over non-PC tweeting Israel has been waging war on the civilian population of Gaza. The stories coming from that region will make any decent person appalled at the casual barbarity, things like telling people they have to leave their homes because those homes may be attacked and then shelling the UN designated sanctuaries that are supposed to be the few safe places in the area. On this issue Dawkins is silent. My guess is if the tables were turned, if it were a Muslim nation shelling civilians or perhaps even if Israel was shelling people specifically because they were Muslims than perhaps Dawkins might take notice and chime in about how “religion poisons everything”.

    It’s why Dawkins and most of the New Atheists have no real moral authority and can’t be taken seriously by people like me who are involved in political organizing. Unlike intellectuals such as Chomsky they have a very narrow almost self serving focus.

    Professor, I really don’t give a fuck who is bellitling what. There are so many more important issues to focus on.

    • Liked

      Edit: Although I’m a little ashamed the only thing I could think to add was ‘Liked’. Richard has so much power at his fingertips and he chooses to waste it on trivialities. It’s like if the Incredible Hulk spent his days going round opening pickle jars for people.

      Tweet about Gaza dude. Take a stand. It might lose you the support of Pat Condell and his ilk, your friendship with Sam Harris might be tested, you’ll probably have the anti-semite lobby on your back, but sweet Jesus you’d have the support of decent people everywhere.

      • “Richard has so much power at his fingertips and he chooses to waste it on trivialities…
        Tweet about Gaza dude.”

        This article is totally lost on you.

        Use your critical thinking to identify and engage in debate.
        Don’t let your emotions unfairly characterize someone else’s argument.
        Debate the issues, not the personality.

        • I think Katy and Red Dog are highlighting that we can get terribly intellectual about technical or linguistic niceties of ‘points’ – engaged in debate – when material realities with real world consequences go ignored. I think the emotions are against wasting time and media space on (pedantic?) argumentation itself – not against Dawkins specific points.
          At least, that’s my take on their posts… Life is finite!
          Anyway, why can’t they debate the personality? Dawkins certainly does that.

          • I agree that they are highlighting what you say they are, but, they are doing so because they are guilty of the exact thing this OP is speaking on.
            This is why it is so ironic that them and many others think there is no worthwhile point being made in this and the previous OP.
            The point Dawkins has been trying to make is that on sensitive issues that evoke extreme emotion, like pedophilia or adult rape, we have to be aware of the common emotional pitfalls that masquerade as rational arguments. This OP gives a great example of one.
            How can this point not be relevant to anyone that wants to have a discussion on such a sensitive, emotionally explosive, and morally polarizing issue like the Gaza crisis.

          • As for why they shouldn’t debate personality,
            it is because, if we truly understand the significance of reason and rationality in our search for truth, and thus want to protect the sanctity of a rational debate, we should want to eliminate any debate tendencies that might risk violating that sanctity.
            By debating personality during a rational debate, we risk irrationally linking the merits of an opponent’s personality, with the merits of the facts and logic behind their argument. The merits of any issue that qualifies for rational debate, are independent of the personalities of those debating those merits. And we as critical thinkers should be aware of falling for that temptation.

        • “Richard has so much power at his fingertips and he chooses to waste it on trivialities…
          Tweet about Gaza dude.”

          This article is totally lost on you.

          Use your critical thinking to identify and engage in debate.
          Don’t let your emotions unfairly characterize someone else’s argument.
          Debate the issues, not the personality.

          Well that’s me telt. If you can put your righteous indignation to the side for a moment, this thread is, in Richard’s own words, an “afterthought to my article Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?” The cheese platter after the rest of the meal has been enjoyed if you like.

          Said article, the appetizers, starter, main course, pudding and brandy, gained more than 500 comments, which is a heck of a lot for this site. I myself submitted a few of these (I don’t know how to link to them and none is numbered but I have a recognizable avatar so they shouldn’t be too hard to find; they’re mostly at the tail end and I think one of them might even have been in response to your good self). I got the point Richard was making and largely agreed with it. I argued my case over there, anyway. I’d respectfully request that you read those posts before ticking me off and giving me a further lesson from your masterclass in the art of online debate.

          If you can be persuaded that my critical thinking skills are not as lacking as you insist, perhaps I will then be trusted to join in any “rational discussion on such a sensitive topic like the Gaza crisis,” you refer to in your subsequent reply to R.Patrick

          Maybe you would also be kind enough to tell me when in my comment I allowed my emotions unfairly to characterize someone else’s argument or debate their personality, because I don’t think I did any of that in what was a very brief reply to Red Dog. I do hope you aren’t one of those who whenever a woman makes an argument you disagree with say she’s being emotional.

          • “I got the point Richard was making and largely agreed with it.”

            Excuse me for asking you to repeat yourself, but would you tell me again what Richard’s point was and what you didn’t agree with.
            I’m ready to change my mind, and frankly it would make me happy.

          • “…waste it on trivialities…”

            It is your characterization of his point that makes me think you do not really know it; clearly you do not understand its significance. His point would never be dismissed as trivial by any critical thinker.

      • Yes ,all Richard Dawkins has done in his life is write this one article with all his power. The mans credentials for the betterment of mankind over the past 50 years are endless and yours seem to be limited to this one article

    • Unfortunately, there are muslims killing, beheading and raping civilians for years now, but it took the reaction of Israel to their Jew-hating, Nazi neighbours to stir the feeling of anger among many of the so called “humanitarians” and “progressives”.

      Richard Dawkins has been consistent in criticizing violence no matter which side it came from.

      No Jews, no news.

          • aquilacane Aug 15, 2014 at 7:02 pm

            Gazaschwitz, where the prisoners are provided every opportunity to kill themselves. WWII taught vital lessons on how not to deal with your unwanted masses. We learn well from history.

            The Zionists liberated from NAZI concentration camps were offered a new home in the UK colony of Palestine, to avoid persecution and live in peace with their neighbours as the local Jews were already doing!
            In no time at all they were organising terrorism to overthrow the colonial government, and apply the lessons they had learned in the concentration camps, to suppress the local Palestinian population.

            The Israeli governments have continued to ignore UN resolutions on political justice, because they “have a god-given right” (allegedly), to do what they like in Palestine, while being funded and heavily armed by western powers to suppress and displace the earlier native population!

            Like the WW2 French, the local abused population has organised resistance to the army of occupation which is overseeing and enforcing the theft of their land and property and killing of their people.

            Perhaps a little study of history, would clear some media propaganda out of some confused and misinformed minds?

          • imJFox Aug 18, 2014 at 6:13 am

            Don’t you know? Wow.

            Yes I do know about Islamic fanatics, but it appears that you wish to dodge the subject of Zionist fanatics imported as immigrants by foreign powers!

            My post was about what it appears you don’t know about the history of Palestine and how terrorist activity has polarised the politics into armed Torah thumpers, VERSUS Quoran thumpers, – with one group of armed fundamentalists more heavily and technically armed by foreign funding.

            Perhaps you missed the bit where I pointed out that the locals had lived together in relative peace, before 20th. century foreign war-mongers intervened to stir up conflict!

            Perhaps you should read your own link?

            http://www.tellthechildrenthetruth.com/amin_en.html
            BEFORE AMIN AL-HUSSEINI, JEWS AND MUSLIMS LIVED SIDE-BY-SIDE WITH MEMBERS OF OTHER RELIGIONS THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA FOR CENTURIES.

      • So tell me who were these muslims raping and beheading?

        As Palestinians Go To ICC, Human Rights Watch Alleges Israeli War Crimes for Shooting Fleeing Gazans

        And how about the civilians shelled at this school, who were they raping and beheading?

        US ‘appalled’ by ‘disgraceful’ Israeli shelling of Gaza UN school

        To respond to war crimes by saying “well the other side did it too” is the worst kind of immoral rationalization. Just for the record I of course am against Hamas terrorism as well. But to slaughter innocent civilians in the hopes of killing a few nuts with rockets that barely work is immoral, illegal, and criminally insane.

        And to the mods, yes I realize I’m off topic. That was kind of my point actually but this is the last I’ll say on the topic. You can all go back to arguing over tweets now.

        • During the Second World War the RAF made 314 raids over Berlin and killed 50,000. On 14 February 1945, 35,000 were killed in one single air raid over Dresden. In a single raid over Hamburg in 1943, the death toll was over 40,000.
          On November 11 every year, I give thanks for the immoral and criminally insane airmen who won our freedom.

          • I actually study military history a bit. And the overwhelming consensus of military historians is that strategic bombing (regardless of morality military historians don’t care about such matters for the most part) was a vast waste of resources by the people doing the bombing. One of the purported goals was that the civilian population would rise up and demand their government end the war but that didn’t happen, indeed just the opposite, the strategic bombing, and you can find this time and again in Germany, Japan, and later Vietnam, made the civilian population MORE willing to fight even though the governments they were supporting often were not popular for other obvious reasons. It had the exact opposite effect.

            And while of course there was some degradation of war making capability if you analyze it closely it was based far more on things like the US and USSR shutting down routes for raw materials like oil rather than bombing. The people being bombed just moved the factories under ground.

            Even General Patton — not exactly a bleeding heart — thought Strategic Bombing was stupid. Not because he gave a fuck about civilian deaths, Patton loved war, quite literally, but because he realized that the planes used for strategic bombing would have been much more effective if used to support tactical operations and to help troops on the ground win actual battles.

            Of course all of this is irrelevant to the original point about Gaza anyway. Talking about fighting WWII and comparing that to Israel slaughtering women and children is ridiculous, the differences between the two situations are so obvious no one who critically reads history could make such a facile comparison.

      • Indeed, Muslims slaughter other Muslims, Christians and Pagans by the hundreds of thousands and all is A-OK, but a let a stray shell kill fired by a Jew accidentally kill a few Muslim teenagers, and a second Shoah is called for by baying crowds of Muslims and their Lefty enablers.

        It seems the war crimes statutes of the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to members of the Ummah.

        To return the original topic of this thread:

        As a forensic analyst in the country with the highest rape figures on Earth and after examining the exhibits from literally thousands of rapes, I can with certainty say that there are rapes that are worse than others. I shan’t regale you with some of the Incident Descriptions I have had to read, because I do not wish to ruin your respective evenings.

        • We haven’t removed any post answering that description, Red Dog.

          Comments containing links are frequently held back by the site’s anti-spam system until a mod approves them. And we’re not constantly online, so there is sometimes a delay before we see them. We have just approved a number of comments that fell into this category, so you may find it is visible on the thread now.

          The mods

    • “when this site was more interactive”

      I’m a newbie around these parts but I’ve had confirmation from the contact address that the system does not seem to be ‘set to send emails’ from these posts. (The reply sounds pretty vague ‘It doesn’t appear the service is active’). I think that’s pretty crappy on a site where there is a box to check ‘Notify me of follow-up comments by email’ and they are inviting user donations. How long has it been broken and do others feel like asking that it get’s fixed?

      • Yes, I’ve had the same problem and I’ve seen several others say the same thing. It’s just one example though. The old site made it possible for people to create our own discussions. Also there was a live feed of the latest comments that people like me who are ADD and always doing ten things at once could keep up and monitor with spare cycles. For me at least the new site design totally ruined the site. I used to have excellent dialogues with people, this was one of the few places on the Internet where you could actually have substantive discussions. Now I have to remember where I commented and navigate to my comment, etc. I mostly don’t bother but I miss the interaction of the old site. I actually think that is also related in a way to the issue I was bringing up. Dawkins seems to turning himself into a scientific media personality as opposed to a serious intellectual. Hence more tweeting and fake controversies about tweets and less support for thoughtful people to have serious discussion.

        • Agree, Red Dog, with all your basic comments: That Richard is wasting capital on trivia, that the massacre in Palestine is far more deserving of his time and opinion, and that the new website design is damned irritating.

          Oh, and Alexandros. We are familiar with the “Jews are always the victims – everybody hates us” meme. Give it a rest.

      • Why is it that military action by Palestinians is seen as making war, while Israeli military action is seen as making peace. What exactly is the noble reason for Israel’s slow and gradual takeover of Gaza that all reasonable people should proudly support. What is the morally sound reason that justifies Israel’s destruction of the Gaza societal infrastructure through economic sanctions and the direct killing of its population.
        Shouldn’t anyone who claims to employ reason and critical thinking for their views on Gaza, recognize the lopsided imbalance of military power; the obvious massacre of a militarily powerless people by a well armed, well funded, and well trained military.
        Doesn’t the fact there is such a ludicrous imbalance mean something of the context, and thus the motivations and sincerity, behind the reasons given by Israel to justify their Gaza policies.

      • As a civilian, were someone, anyone, to build a wall around me and deny me passage out or access for the outside to come in, I would try to destroy the wall. Every time they raised it, I would bring it down.

        Which is probably what they should be doing. F the stupid useless rockets that cause more death to your own people and are launched against militarily inert civilians.

        Gazites should be relentlessly blowing up that damn wall. Hell, bring it down and just walk the civilians through, a million at a time. Die huddled in a classroom or die walking proud, damn it.

        I wonder if Israel would massacre them all? Would they really just mow them down? If so, Israel would be gone.

        What really needs to happen here, of course, is to admit your imaginary sky daddy with a thing for children’s genitals does not make you special and deserving of anything. You are equally as crap and pathetic as one another.

        They could use twitter to coordinate something or mention things… (phew saved it there with an on topic ending).

        • So depressing. ‘Intelligent’ people showing complete lack of understanding of the issue, reacting with (understandable) emotion in place of reason.
          Who is not sickened by deaths of children?
          Who refuses to empathise with those whose families are killed in war?

          Then allow me to tell you- HAMAS, THAT’S WHO.

          So please stop and reconsider this bleeding heart liberal nonsense and call out the terrorists whose propaganda has seduced you, who are responsible for the tragedy, who inculcate their children with racist Jew hatred in their ‘schools’.

          Are you really so ignorant of all this? If so then investigate HAMAS (and Islamic Jihad and the other terrorists pretending to support the Palestinians). Otherwise you are supporting them and their hideous ideology… what you see (or choose not to?) with ISIS, Boko Haram, al Shabaab is NO DIFFERENT to what HAMAS does in Gaza.

          ISLAMIC JIHAD is on the march all over the world…. or hadn’t you noticed?

          • Then allow me to tell you- HAMAS, THAT’S WHO.

            Hamas are bad guys. No doubt.

            Israel has the power to pull the political rug out from under HAMAS but it chooses not to. It chooses not to do this, using the very same motivation that HAMAS uses to inculcate their children with racist Jew hatred in their ‘schools’. Religion. Israel won’t pull the rug out from under Hamas because it is captive of the very same people who hold the Gaza Strip captive. Religious extremists. I find no difference at all between the religious extremists of HAMAS and the religious extremists of Israel.

            Both believe, that they, and only they are correct. That they, and only they worship the one true god. That they, and only they, have god on their side. That they, and only they will triumph in the end. That they will go to heaven. That…. and on and on. Did you spot a pattern here. The psychological profile of a religious fundamentalist is identical, regardless of the brand of god they subscribe to. The Afghan or American Taliban. ISIS. Opus Dei. etc etc boring etc… So I hold HAMAS equally to blame, with the extreme right wing fundamentalist Jews who are settling in occupied land gained through war.

            God, with a universe to run is bit busy right now. He didn’t come to a minor planet on the edge of a minor galaxy in the back waters of the universe and choose one illiterate nomadic tribe as his favourite, and give them a piece of this planet for life. And yet in 2014, this is the argument the Jewish fundamentalists used to prolong this stupid, stupid conflict. How can anyone except a religious extremist believe this. But their voting power in the glorious “Israeli” democracy is so strong that the rational majority cannot escape from them, and side line them to political obscurity. So on and on it perpetuates. And easy problem with an easy solution.

            Israel can pull the rug out from under HAMAS but knocking down all the settlements, making just boundaries with the moderate Palestinians for a two state solution, and massively supporting the economy of the moderates in Palestine, leaving the voting public in the Gaza Strip looking with horror at nutters like HAMAS. “I want what she’s having.”

            So don’t you dare come on this forum and point the finger at one side or the other. Both sets of fundamental extremists are identical, and both are identically to blame.

          • David R Allen

            Israel can pull the rug…. EVIDENCE, please?
            You claim Israel is a theocracy which is an outright lie- it is secular. Extremist religious Jewish nuts exist but unlike HAMAS, they were not elected to Government.
            So don’t come here with your fatuous false ‘logic’ and moral relativism.
            There IS a solution and that is the elimination of Hamas and demilitarisation of Gaza; then the Palestinians need to be re-educated to remove the fanatical Jew hatred instilled in their kids. Of course this can’t happen because Islam has them paralysed with said hate.

            Be a HAMAS supporter if you like. That’s your privilege in a free democracy (such as Israel).

          • There IS a solution and that is the elimination of Hamas and demilitarisation of Gaza; then the Palestinians need to be re-educated to remove the fanatical Jew hatred instilled in their kids. Of course this can’t happen because Islam has them paralysed with said hate.

            I love this “LOGIC”. One side is pure. The other side is evil. Can anyone think of another person who believed this? Anyone??

            The moment Israel comes to a just peace, two state solution with the Palestinians, Hamas looses it constituency. Israel can’t come to that solution, because governments of both sides are captive to the religious fundamentalists. Israeli’s that believe that god gave them the land. Give me a break.

            Sit down now Jim, because this is going to come as a shock. You’re on the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science discussion forum, one of the preeminent atheist (note that word atheist) web pages in the world, and the argument you are putting to justify your position is god is on your side. Now, a rational person would probably feel at this time, a little silly. But a fundamentalist can feel nothing, because by the very definition of a fundamentalist, you can never EVER be wrong, because, god is on your side.

            Jim. I don’t believe in god. Most of the correspondents in this forum don’t believe in god, but you, with your belief in god, a god of the entire universe, you want us to believe that one minor tribe gets the nod from god. God wants to cozy up to one small nomadic tribe, and play favourites and the rest can go to hell. When god created us all, in his own image, god created us equal. You are alleging that god plays favourites. Not a good psychological profile for the ruler of the universe. A little ridiculous actually.

            It is the intrusion of religion fundamentalists on the part of Hamas, religious nutters, and the religious fundamentalist Jews, religious nutters, that prolongs and prevents a simple solution. The problem with Hamas can be seen by Jim looking in the mirror, to seeing Hamas staring back at himself. You both need to go to the naughty corner until you can all play nicely in the sand pit. If I could remove the religious nutters from both sides, I would have a peace settlement in a week.

            This is why, I don’t believe in god. Because of people like you, who ruin the planet for everyone else. This is why your argument of one team of black hats and one team of whites hats is so ridiculous, that ridicule is all it deserves.

      • Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve actually thought about trying that since the discussions went away. It’s odd you appreciate things so much more when they are suddenly gone. The biggest problem I think would be getting critical mass of enough people from here to get it going. The Dawkins site doesn’t allow links to promote private blogs.

        Also, while the technical side is pretty easy these days just the basic administrative stuff can suck up a non trivial amount of time, at least if you do it right. That’s sort of a double edge sword, the more traffic you get the more time you need to spend moderating. Not that I would want such a site to have heavy moderation but I think — and I’ve actually changed my views on this a bit over the last few years — a little moderation to cut off speech that is just rude and off topic is good.

        Anyway, I am thinking about it, at least I know one person is interested ;-)

    • You clearly haven’t read his tweets if you think he was silent :

      “I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state.” ( quoting Sam Harris )
      “The extent of the destruction in Gaza is obscene. Poor people. Poor people who have lost their homes, their relatives, everything.”

      Offcourse, tweets are way to short to fully understand someone’s opinion.

      You do realize though that Richard Dawkins is against all religious bullshit. That includes Judaism,Islam,Christianity,etc…

      For this reason, atheists are in a good position to judge the situation in Gaza, since we hold no religious biases towards it. We can look objectively at the problem.

      To put it simply : the only places I have found objective and balanced articles about the situation in Gaza, has been from articles written by atheists ( like Sam Harris ).

      And no we don’t claim to have moral authority. It’s the religious that claim that ( God is on their side, after all ) . We are not the one’s claiming to have a book that tells us who’s right or wrong.

      • For this reason, atheists are in a good position to judge the situation in Gaza, since we hold no religious biases towards it. We can look objectively at the problem.

        Not believing in fairy tales hardly makes one objective about politics or any issue outside religon. Sure you can remove the religious element but then you have to deal with all sorts of issues.
        If you think that Harris (a gun supporter) can actually be objective about a conflict like what is happening in Gaza, then you haven’t really paid enough attention to his writings. Harris will defend continually the actual acts of murder from Israel, by pitting these actual events against (wait for it) words of anger spoken by Palestinian leaders.
        I’m not sure in what universe Harris believe that those who have been constantly disproportionately made to suffer would never utter any threatening words. Anyone with a bit objectivity would probably try to see where those words are coming from and perhaps deal with the root causes. Just not him.

        • Well, this conflict is in part about religion, so not being religious does make one more objective to it.

          It’s true though that there are other factors, and it may be harder to be objective about those.

          That being said, I’m interested in your conclusion that Palestinian leaders would not act on the words they utter. There has been so much violence on both sides, why would any side not take the other seriously when it utters a threat ?

          • .

            That being said, I’m interested in your conclusion that Palestinian leaders would not act on the words they utter.

            There is no evidence to support any of their threats and they don’t have the capability anyway. Israel is the most heavily armed country in the middle east, they have nukes, I have no idea why they think other countries need to “affirm their right to exist”. I have never seen other countries request that kind of pointless statement of approval. Then again as long as we play the word game, I also have rarely heard a country’s political official call another group (guess who) “animals who do not deserve to live”.
            And once again, the threats are irrelevant compared to actual criminal acts.
            When someone is perpetrating genocide, the half coherent howls of the victims are hardly something to point the finger at when assigning blame. Expecting decimated groups to keep throwing flowers at their assailants would show a complete lack of any kind of understanding.

    • With respect, you miss the point, which I submit is universally applicable. Different words have different emotional loading in the minds of different people. RD’s subsequent explanation of what he actually was implying in his twitter comment shows just how difficult it is to reach understanding of what is intended to be communicated when emotinally loaded terms (like paedophillia) are used in a summarised medium like twitter without full explanation. It should be a warning to all of us….think before you make comments on Twitter as the chances are that people who do not share your frame of reference will misunderstand what you meant.
      As an aside, how can you say that RD has no moral authority and can’t be taken seriously when he has single handedly precipitated a revolution in world perceptions of religion. “people like YOU who are involved in political organising” must be taken seriously especially if we need to hide behind pseudonyms?

    • Unlike Muslims and their atrocities, e.g. those of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which somewhat inexplicably remained unreported until recently, the Israelis went on the offensive after they were attacked by Hamas. This happens time and again, every such conflict begins with Hamas launching rockets, to which Israel responds, and the conflict escalates further. I know this whole mess there is not as simple as that and by no means am I trying to justify Israel’s apparent cruelty in the handling of things. But I don’t accept that the only way out of the Palestinian conflict is through armed clashes. And I am not prepared to deny the possibility that Hamas uses tactics that ensure civilians are hit by Israeli bombardment. My point is, it’s bordering on hypocritical to accuse someone, e.g. Dawkins, of not wading on the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to suggest he’s somehow biased if he comments instead on Muslim related conflicts. The former doesn’t automatically follow from the latter. And indeed, a quick check on Google reveals Dawkins’ hardly ambiguous stance on Israeli politics towards Palestine (see below).
      https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Dawkins+on+Israel&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb&gfe_rd=cr&ei=gx_lU-XnG9DAbN-OAQ

    • If you’d actually been following this story at all, like, say, reading the article that preceded it, you might understand things better.

      It was exactly because of tweets Dawkins posted about the current conflict in the Gaza that set this all in motion. He began with a tweet about how awful things are right now for Gaza. This resulted in a bunch of ‘Don’t you know how scared the Israelis are?!’

      A little later, he linked to Sam Harris’s article, which asks people to think about the conflict in moral terms — Hamas who wish to kill all Jews and Israel who actively try to minimize civilians casualties. This summoned another swarm of angry people of the “How dare you support the Zionists and their apartheid state!?”

      Which brings us to the idea Sam Harris argued — a bit of logical nuance that went over some heads — that Israel is bad, but Hamas is worse. This is not an endorsement of Israel.

      So, you see, he got himself in this bit of controversy talking about exactly what you claim he’s been silent on…

    • Could not disagree more. First the issue of proportionality and accuracy are important to every issue. His brief comment to clarify a real issue is more than reasonable. Demanding every public person only address issues you care around says a lot about you.

    • And for you to concentrate ONLY on the Israeli/palestinian hatefest when the ISIS atrocities makes it pale in comparison, points to what is inherently wrong with the PC political crowds mindset. Stop bitching about whats wrong with others when your own foibles are so blatantly on display.

    • Let’s leave aside the fact that Israel is acting defensively against the first aggressor, Hamas, who have launched thousands of rockets aimed at their civilians (are you going to blame them for being better defended??) and doing so from schools, hospitals and refuges in the full knowledge (and cynical calculation) that civilians and their children will be at risk in any retaliation. Your rhetorical questions beg answering …There IS a Muslim country bombing civilians. It’s called Syria. No warning of attacks here …Bombs, poison gas, bullets – whatever it takes suppress dissent, with tens of times more casualties, including thousands of children, than there have ever been in Gaza – but obviously not important to you …no Jews there. And while Israel is not bombing Gaza because they are Muslim, Hamas IS firing rockets at Israel because they are Jews! That will do just as well for the ‘religion poisons everything’ argument.

      [Edited by moderator to bring within Terms of Use – see link at foot of page.]

    • Im afraid this is the usual moan by people people who are wearing the blinkers of the politically correct topic of the day. Dawkins has a special interest in this topic and he is perfectly entitled to continue in his special interest no matter what is happening in the world. You may feel that Gaza is your big thing right now but not every one agrees. I have other things on my mind and clearly Dawkins does too. The fate of two equally odious and murderous groups of religious zealots in the Middle East comes so low down on my list of interests it barely registers. Also this anointing of Dawkins as someone with authority ? Where does that nonsense come from ? Dawkins is not a politician or a leader of any community. He is a scientists and a writer on the topic of Atheism and rational thinking.

      [Last sentence removed by moderator to bring within Terms of Use.]

    • You are making the assumption that there is nothing worse than what is happening in Gaza, so Dawkins should be talking about it. Utterly untrue, horrible though it is. What has been happening in Syria and Iraq is far worse. Have you spoken out on that? If you havn’t, that makes you anti-Semitic. Only criticising Jewish misbehaviour and nobody else’s.
      You also seem to think that how we judge rape and paedophilia is also unimportant… Wrong again.
      The fact that you don’t understand Dawkins’ point is illustrated by how you are not making balanced pronouncements on the horrors of Middle East conflict. There are many groups which deserve condemnation besides the IDF, Hamas for one. So perhaps you need to rethink and re-read Dawkins’ argument about making balanced, proportional judgements.

    • I really don’t give a fuck who is bellitling what.

      Kind of makes one wonder why you came here at all… There are plenty of other sites where these more pressing issues are discussed. At some point you have to stop holding public figures on pedestals and expect them to confirm to your opinion of what they should be doing. This is something that you learn at some point when growing up, these guys are just as fallible as most.

      If you go by the rule of, is that person on the same level as Chomsky?, you will be disappointed 9 out of 10 times if not more. Dawkins has a role in promoting atheism but don’t expect him to be too vocal about Gaza lest he loses some of his friends. One of these being Sam Harris who also fails the rule with his unexamined beliefs in state religion, guns and torture.

    • “if it were a Muslim nation shelling civilians”

      So Hamas firing rockets into Israel gets a free pass? Hamas using human shields is mere Zionist propaganda? Tunnels to attack Israel are mythical? IDF makes up stories of weapons caches in mosques and UNRWA schools?
      Sorry, the evidence says otherwise. Hamas can stop the slaughter by NOT attacking Israel; it
      chooses not to do so because its Charter demands destruction of the Israeli state and death of all Jews. Hamas accepts Palestinian deaths for their propaganda value and praises the victims as ‘martyrs’. You MUST know all this, it is not difficult to establish. You are unaware of the Jew hatred endemic to muslim countries, as mandated in Muhammad’s koran- we are seeing anti semitism at alarming levels in Europe now- Hitler would be proud.

      This has gone too far off topic- but your comment needs rebuttal

      • JimJFox Aug 15, 2014 at 9:23 am

        So Hamas firing rockets into Israel gets a free pass? Hamas using human shields is mere Zionist propaganda?

        Hamas (correctly) views the Zionist settlers as thieves, protected by an army of occupation.

        The casualties are out of proportion.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28392636

        Israel and Gaza have both suffered their bloodiest day since the beginning of the current offensive.

        Israel says that 13 of its soldiers died since Saturday night, the biggest one-day loss for its army in years.

        At least 87 Gazans were reported killed on Sunday – 60 of them in the district of Shejaiya alone. The total death toll in Gaza now stands at more than 425.

        The Israeli casualties seem to be mainly soldiers engaged in combat. The Gazans mainly civilian families indiscriminately bombed or shelled!

    • There is major belittlement going on in Gaza, only belittlement by arms – not by words.

      What is more belittling than taking someone’s whole life and breaking it down to pieces of charred meat and bone in a second by a push of the button?

      In actuality, the likes of prof. Dawkins might be doing more for the plight of people of Middle East than “intellectuals involved in political organizing”, as the major problem there is religious and nationalistic indoctrination, the teaching of contempt over generations that bridles ancient grievances and whips the natural destructive impulses of the human animal.

      All of that amounts to a failure of rational thinking and education.

  2. This is a great article. I agree it is dangerous to say that all sex crimes are “equal”. As you’ve seen, people are afraid that doing so is a slippery slope of endorsement of the lesser of the evils.

    I am also glad that you now see that the “Muslima” comment was out of line. But we all make mistakes, and we learn from them! Now, if I could only get my father to see how belittling it was for him to say that cutters and those who attempt suicide are just looking for attention! Well, I think he can learn too!

    • The Muslima comment was fine, it was objectively correct.
      This whole thing with a bunch of adolescents making a mountain out of the mole hill of one guy asking a girl for coffee in an elevator had to be put in perspective.
      Off course the self obsessed girl in question ended up using all the argumentation skills she had learned from no discernible education:
      1) Richard, I’m going to call you Dick coz that’s going to show how lower I can sink.
      2) You are old, white and privileged. (who knew?)

      So if anyone should have learned a little something….

  3. Richard, honestly, this is such a boom bang wtf are you talking about subject, because it’s so old and talked over and over, but like the other guy up in the posts, said, Israel is in the lime light about the shit they’re doing. They get billions of dollars from USA, to kill Palestinians, then are shocked about some god damn tunnel they didn’t know about? Give me a god damn brake! I am only angry because you don’t know personally what it’s like living here, with less and less fund to educate our kids, find jobs, etc…..yet, we hear, how Israel is our BFF and will get anything they want to kill other people. WTF? This dome deal, I don”t even know what the hell it is, but what’s it going to protect, rocks? Is USA just using that area to test the dome? That makes us criminals and murderers as well. And that’s why the world is starting to hate us more and more.

  4. Why do we have courts of law?

    There are, principally, three reasons:

    Justice (or at least, some semblance of an attempt) is seen to be done
    Not all crimes are the same
    To test the evidence

    It is this second point that is important in this discussion. Both law-making assemblies (like parliaments) and courts recognise that all crimes occur on a scale. Law-makers write laws every day that include scales of retribution (in some cases varying a great deal from a small fine to decades locked up) and which classify wrong-doing into different categories with different scales of wrong within each category. Many countries go further – they have different classes of court to hear different classes of case – because those societies recognise that different approaches are needed for different cases.

    Millenia of human development – based, (as far as I can tell) by and large, on trial and error – are encapsulated within these facts of life.

    Richard has only been pointing out that our modern culture is pushing back against this model by sidelining a just system of law enforcement. If we say, for example, that ‘stealing is stealing is stealing’ – will the next kid to steal a packet of sweets from the local mini-mart, for a dare, go to prison for ten years?

    It seems to me that the furore that resulted basically answerd Richard’s main question: Are there areas of discussion where people are so emotive that reason becomes completely sidelined? Yes.

    Is Red Dog [Comment 1] correct – is this a mere side show in the greater scheme of things? No.

    If we want to live in a just World – including in the Middle East – then we need to stop waving flags and start looking at facts, and we need to engage in politics. In the case of Israel versus Palestine facts are not going to come to the surface without someone standing between them to count and time the missiles, shells, etc. going in each direction. Preferrably, the people in the middle would put a stop to this kind of thing.

    Even then the facts will be disputed, by both sides; old accords claimed as broken will be dusted off, funeral processions will remain propaganda factories, grievances thought by anyone more than 30 years old to be long passed away will be disintered like diplomatic zombies, and both sides will be egged on by people who don’t have to live with the results.

    In both cases – personal assault and the ME – we see dogma, emotional turmoil and politicians prepared to misuse personal traumas in order to support a cause. Justice be damned – and it is.

    I recently wrote to my democratic representative about my concern that the Net is being wholly misused by governments and commercial interests to undermine our civil rights, our natural human rights, to privacy, due process and recourse to a fair trial – among others. I received back a letter that was a truly appaling demonstration of a lack of any actual thinking by an elected person in power. By making emotional appeals to terrorists and peadophiles she thinks she has trumped my real concerns with nasty ghouls. She is very wrong – as she will shortly discover when I reply.

    By allowing emotional appeals to trump thinking in any area we allow politicians to avoid the real issues. Do it once, and they start to think they can do it in every subject.

    Richard chose a simple example that anyone could identify. I think the whole episode could have been launched far more effectively – Twitter is not a great medium, as several people on this Site have already pointed out – but it was otherwise an excellent example of how people decide issues on emotional grounds rather than thinking them through.

    As Red Dog’s ME example shows, clearly, the World ignores the lack of critical thinking in politics at very great risk to every one of us on this tiny Lifeboat Earth.

    Our politics – even the politicians – deserve better. We all deserve better.

    I’m doing my bit, are you … ?

    Peace.

  5. Yes, Gaza/Israel is a very important topic, I am deeply concerned about it and have expressed my concern elsewhere, but it just happens to be not the topic of this extremely brief essay.

    You chose to avoid explaining your reliance on Sam Harris, a Jewish American supporter of Israel (in a labyrinthine way, it’s true) as the source of your information about the supposed genocidal intentions of Hamas. The Hamas Convention does not propose any such ‘final solution’. You might read it yourself, reasonably carefully. Nor does the current stance of Hamas justify any such extreme interpretation.

    The Hamas position is the same as that of the Jewish State. Deplorable, indeed, but envisaging the defeat of the enemy through force of arms and not extermination.

          • …I’m pretty sure this was blatant sarcasm from her

            Only the two words you and Katie alluded to. The entire first para was sincere. This site needs Richard more than Twitter needs him. RDnet is going to continue on a slow descent into the maelstrom of irrelevance unless its titular star can be persuaded to return and become a presence here again. It might suck for him but… that’s showbusiness. Does Justin Bieber look happy?

            The site has already had to sack a bunch of mods and shut down the Discussions section and half the news articles — it’s like The Grapes of Wrath or something.

            I’d sell my soul to be able to comment on Bryan Fischer Blames Air Force Academy Scandals on Christian Watchdog Group and Calls for Its Leader’s “Removal”

            Well, maybe… maybe not that particular article, but there have been several before it which were comment-worthy.

            And for the record, Red Dog, Steven or whomever, my comments are not sarcastic. Sarcasm is indeed the lowest form of wit. I employ irony. Say it with me: “Irony”. There is a subtle but very significant difference.

            Hmmph

          • The site has already had to sack a bunch of mods

            We generally make a point of not getting sucked into making comments ourselves, but this statement is simply false and we’re not sure where you got the idea from. No mods have been sacked. The site still has precisely the same mods as it had before the new version was released.

            The mods

          • Katy Cordeth
            Aug 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm

            The entire first para was sincere.

            In that case, my original assessment stands.

        • In reply to Katie: Don’t feel bad. One time I screamed at Katy for several paragraphs and only realized later (and she confirmed in a reply) that she was really agreeing with me and just being sarcastic. For the record IMO that is the best sarcasm, when you put smiley faces next to things or “snark” tags or whatever it kind of spoils the effect.

    • Aldous
      Your reference to Harris as “a Jewish American” as if that tells us all we need to know about his argument in fact tells us all we need to know about you and your argument. Enjoy your appeasement when the caliphate has you hanging from a construction crane.

    • The only reliance of Sam’s views that I have seen, is the tweet “Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state ” .

      Granted, what Sam Harris means by that is that Israel shouldn’t be dominated by a single religion ( shouldn’t be a theocracy ) but do you really think he would make such a statement if he was ‘a supporter of Israel’ .

      Your statement ‘a Jewish American supporter’ , could you clarify :
      – I actually can’t find any reference that Sam is Jewish
      – Why would it matter if he was Jewish ? Are you implying a link between being born/raised Jewish, and having a political opinion ?
      – In what way is Sam ‘ a supporter of Israel’ , and what does that even mean ?

    • “I actually study military history a bit”

      Your time might be better spent studying Islamic history and what motivates a great many muslims today. A small sample-

      “Allah said, ‘A prophet must slaughter before collecting captives. A slaughtered enemy is driven from the land. Muhammad, you craved the desires of this world, its goods and the ransom captives would bring. But Allah desires killing them to manifest the religion.'” (Quran 8:67)

    • The Covenant
      of the
      Islamic Resistance Movement

      18 August 1988

      In The Name Of The Most Merciful Allah

      Ye are the best nation that hath been raised up unto mankind: ye command that which is just, and ye forbid that which is unjust, and ye believe in Allah. And if they who have received the scriptures had believed, it had surely been the better for them: there are believers among them, but the greater part of them are transgressors. They shall not hurt you, unless with a slight hurt; and if they fight against you, they shall turn their backs to you, and they shall not be helped. They are smitten with vileness wheresoever they are found; unless they obtain security by entering into a treaty with Allah, and a treaty with men; and they draw on themselves indignation from Allah, and they are afflicted with poverty. This they suffer, because they disbelieved the signs of Allah, and slew the prophets unjustly; this, because they were rebellious, and transgressed.” (Al-Imran – verses 109-111).

      Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it” (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).

  6. I once made a comment in a sociology class that I was worried that if bigoted doctors were not allowed to refuse treatment to homosexual patients openly then they would be forced to treat them and may secretly injure them. I am for equal rights for gay people and everyone else. And while I don’t wish to protect bigotry, I am concerned about the peculiar dangers we may encounter in the struggle to resist it.
    Needless to say, I was treated as if I was a Grand Dragon in the KKK for the rest of that semester.
    Richard hits the issue square on the head. And I’m compelled once again to say ‘thank you RD for helping reasoning people stand up and be counted.’

  7. Bringing up Gaza/Israel is a straw man. Not for this discussion. Thank you Prof Dawkins for an enlightening addition to your previous post. You were absolutely right to use the rape argument to point out how emotion can colour rational thinking. This has now been more than adequately demonstrated by the responses. (Love your take-off of Freethoughtblogs!) Comparing the suffering of victims is interesting, and victim impact statements are beginning to be heard in law courts, but I doubt if emotional suffering is weighted the same as physical suffering by the judges and jury. If I was a victim of violent stranger rape at knife-point
    , I would feel very belittled by someone who was date-raped by a friend with no threat of physical violence who dared to compare the two and say the degree of suffering was exactly the same.

  8. Wow, I think that’s a record for speed topic-derailment. I’m afraid I have little patience for the argument that because X is important, Y cannot be discussed. Logically, under that argument, Richard (and indeed everyone else) should discuss nothing else until the Gaza issue has been resolved.

    Oh, but wait. Many more people have died in Syria haven’t they? So please stop harping on about Gaza and concentrate on the really important things that are going on in the world.

  9. Oh my goodness, get a grip on yourselves. You should read the comment thread on the German website. Focussed, gentle, polite, intelligent, concise. Use that as an example. If you have nothing better to do than to be unkind, impolite, unfriendly, nasty, why don’t you just sit in front of a mirror and be mean to yourselves.

  10. Your reference to Harris as “a Jewish American” as if that tells us all we need to know about his argument

    Tribal loyalty seems a likely explanation for his recognition of manifest atrocities while nevertheless justifying them with tortuous rationalization. A serious misuse of his intellect, I suggest. However, I was referring to what I consider an unreflective acceptance of Sam Harris’s ‘interpretation’ of the Hamas Convention and his ‘understanding’ of the situation in general by Richard. If I can persuade him to look at the evidence for himself, the point was worth making.

    • @Aldous

      . Tribal loyalty seems a likely explanation for his recognition of manifest atrocities while nevertheless justifying them with tortuous rationalization.

      It was tortuous. I’m finding myself more distanced from Sam Harris with every utterance. I think he’s lost insight into his own motivations. In this case he would have been wiser to keep his opinions to himself for a while until the whole Gaza debacle has played itself out. I can understand his rationalization of events in light of tribal loyalty but I’d rather not be subjected to having to listen to them.

  11. Hey, I am a nice person, been around longer than Jesus…:)
    Please allow me to introduce myself
    I’m a man of wealth and taste
    I’ve been around for a long, long year
    Stole many a man’s soul and faith
    And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
    Had his moment of doubt and pain

    Just don’t mess around with me, and we’ll talk pleasantly.
    whoo whooo, whoo whooo, oooohh yea,, get down baby!

  12. There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point?

    Whoa. It’s almost like Dawkins was wrong about something. Once. Very inconsequentially. A long time ago.

    Perhaps in another four years we will find apologies for current mistakes buried paragraphs down in unrelated articles?

    If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.

    Perhaps four years from now, we’ll find, buried in an article about vaccinations, an apology for creating a straw man of his critics, to the effect that they are insisting that all examples of a sexual crime are equally bad, when really what they’re saying is that maybe Richard Dawkins in particular shouldn’t try to rank the badness of various sexual crimes for the purpose of idle, abstract thought experiments, with the full expectation of provoking an emotional reaction, for the purpose of chastising people for having an emotional reaction.

  13. Thanks for sharing with us the “squash court incident” Richard. I once underwent about 60seconds or so of similar “curiosity” by an older boy whilst lying in my hostel bed one night. Must say I was not ‘devastated’ nor did it change my life one bit!
    Regarding Middle East.: “Tribal wars” that have been going on for centuries.(?) Both sides subscribe to the ‘Old Testament,’ one of the bloodiest books in the world. This will perpetuate the problem forever!
    Now a some of satire for those who have not seen. :)

  14. I’m amazed. The comments, views, and arguments expressed here reflect about a point and a half higher g than those one finds below YouTube videos. Perhaps nothink is the only one who hasn’t missed the point completely, and the rest do so with a deftness that could only be described as tragic.

    To the contingent of those who want Dawkins to address the issue of Israeli/Palestinian conflict (and honestly, what for? What fresh hell do we need to cart to Gehenna? So more people can tell Dawkins to stick to biology? For another sound bite that can’t reflect the nuance of the situation? Go read what Hitchens had to say about it, and if you can still honestly pretend there’s any easy answer that would best be brought forth through a blog, then you’re either a partisan, a cognitive embarrassment, or both.), I’d ask you this: if an author can catch this kind of controversy from saying that the briefest amount of sexual abuse as a child did not alter substantially the entire subsequent course of his life, what makes you think anyone will listen with ears more acute to his views on a subject of a great deal more complexity and geopolitical import?

    This is a blog and a tool of communication. Dawkins attempted to use it to refine the conversation and to pave the way for further discussion. If the first principles of discourse cannot even be established, I don’t know how anything he could say might reasonably be considered too trivial for the medium. You refuse, abjectly, to try and speak the same language, and then you beg for a lecture on semiotics?

    Communicate in good faith for more than ten minutes and maybe we can get around to that talk of Gaza. Until then, back to the children’s table.

    • You don’t know what a relief it is to read your comment. I was beginning to get disheartened by the lack of critical thinking displayed on this forum. So many, claiming to be rational thinkers, claiming to be for reason and critical thinking, yet clearly not so in practice; instead, caught up in proving how smart they are and how well informed their opinions are; ironically refusing to acknowledge or even consider, the rational point of the OP.
      I share your reservations concerning a Gaza discussion, in that, how can we trust those who do not see the validity of the OP, to then be able to engage in a rational discussion on such a sensitive topic like the Gaza crisis.

    • Dawkins attempted to use it to refine the conversation and to pave the way for further discussion

      That’s exactly how I saw it too. It was a fairly minor refinement to the original (much longer) point RD was trying to make about the apparent inability of some people to discuss topics logically without resorting to irrational emotional outbursts. Once this ‘ground rule’ can be accepted, it really does pave the way for much more detailed & interesting discussions.

      It is obviously terribly ironic therefore that poor Mr Dawkins has received emotional outbursts as a response to his minor afterthought (although still not as bad as the crazy people accusing him of belittling rape), taking the whole discussion off into Gaza, which is apparently much more important than people’s inability to discuss serious matters (such as rape or child abuse or any number of serious matters) without becoming excessively emotional and illogical. Perhaps there could be a subcommittee on here producing a weekly chart of the most important things in the world that everyone can use as guide for focusing their efforts and attention!

  15. Much as I have enjoyed the comments in here for many years I just don’t understand a lot of the answers (and I get it that it is my fault).

    Logically are we saying that a person should never be abused by another person?
    Almost everything we do is potentially at someone elses expense, even breathing in the air. Out in a field its no problem but stuck in a sealed room . . .

    Does the use of making a point in an argument to increase or reduce the impact of another point mean that the argument is already lost, does it serve as an example to clarify the point? This in itself must create a bias in the minds of both the person making the argument and in the person listening to it.

    I base my emotions on (my poor grasp of) logic which can infuriate some people yet be praised by others depending upon the logic and experience of the others, is this not true for everyone?

    As such surely every argument bad or good has within it elements which when examined indicate a lot more than their content would initially suggest.

    As you can see logic is lost on me!

    • I had begun a more detailed reply but it got lost. And though I am feeling impatient, I respect your sincere pursuit of truth, and so I will just offer my “straight to the point” perspective. I would be happy to elaborate further at a later time if necessary.

      “Logically are we saying that a person should never be abused by another person?
      Almost everything we do is potentially at someone elses expense, even breathing in the air. Out in a field its no problem but stuck in a sealed room . . .”

      I understood this as you asking about the nature of morality. It is the intent behind the action and not the action itself that we judge for moral value. Yes, breathing the air in the room will negatively affect others, but since there is no intent to harm, there is no moral question. Always think of the intent when asking what should never be done.

      “Does the use of making a point in an argument to increase or reduce the impact of another point mean that the argument is already lost, does it serve as an example to clarify the point? This in itself must create a bias in the minds of both the person making the argument and in the person listening to it.”

      I do not understand what you are questioning here. What is “impact”. What is it that you are saying is so objectionable that it could invalidate an argument?
      “does it serve as an example to clarify the point?” It is the merits of the point that determines whether it offers clarification or not.
      I think you’re trying to express your impatience with people who try to hammer in their points by expressing multiple perspectives or points, which they think are profound, but you find unconvincing. They usually start with “If you think of it this way..”

      “I base my emotions on (my poor grasp of) logic which can infuriate some people yet be praised by others depending upon the logic and experience of the others, is this not true for everyone?”

      If you mean that its logical to dislike someone who maliciously inflicts harm, then yes I agree. But what is the significant point here?
      A problem I see regarding logic and emotion is the warped logic behind those who insult those that champion logic as being “emotionless.”
      Logic, reason, rational/critical thinking. These are only rightfully applied when investigating and explaining academic matters. By confusing this, one risks representing logic and emotion as being zero sum polar opposites inside the human psyche.

  16. I had the effrontery to downplay my experience and imply that it
    could have been worse.

    I don’t think that was the objection. The effrontery was in presuming that your experience was shared by other victims; that others with the same experience should have the same response.

      • http://richarddawkins.net/2013/09/dawkins-under-attack-for-his-lenient-view-of-mild-sex-abuse-the-times/

        He writes that the episode was “extremely disagreeable” and that other
        boys were molested by the same teacher, but concludes: “I don’t think
        he did any of us any lasting damage.”

        The other criticism of that passage was the apparent hypocrisy of saying this:

        “Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn
        people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person
        for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things
        like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn
        it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

        given his refusal to accept exactly that kind of reasoning from the likes of William Lane Craig in defense of Biblical atrocities.

        Those criticisms were a bit more nuanced than the simplistic and misleading idea that he was failing to classify all sexual assaults as equivalent.

        http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2014/07/29/sexual-assault-plus-2/

        I think everyone is in accord that, as Dawkins noted on Twitter, an
        eight-year-old girl being raped to death is worse than what happened
        to him. I didn’t see anyone claim in the first place that they were
        equivalent, but I doubt anyone disagrees.

        http://freethoughtblogs.com/godlessness/2013/09/13/dawkins-has-made-the-wrong-apology-admirable-it-still-suggests-hes-missed-the-point/

        Three main problems, by my count, were drawn out from his statements
        on abuse.

        He said he doesn’t, and we can’t, ‘condemn [molesters] of an earlier era by the standards of ours’.
        He presumed to know how much harm other victims’ abuse did them, or how harmful any given act of abuse might be.
        He suggested harm done by abuse correlates directly with how much we should condemn it.

        I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone whose criticism of Dawkins’ comments about paedophilia wereas he describes them here. This was the problem with the “Dear Muslima” thing too; Dawkins was badly misrepresented the case there too; no one, especially not Rebecca Watson, was trying to say that her discomfort at being propositioned on an elevator by a stranger late at night (after he’d heard her explaining how she dislikes being propositioned at conferences) was in any way equivalent to the suffering of women living under theocratic oppression. The accusation of “strawman” tends to get over-used on the internet, but in that case it was certainly appropriate.

        • Thanks Aleister.

          I thought he qualified that first statement a bit more but the original is behind a paywall. I did find the following though written after the furore.

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

          Part of the problem with Dawkins’ I think is that he would have carefully put “think” into the sentence and it will pass unnoticed for a lot of people. Media statements need to be qualified and qualified again and even then you are likely to find people miss the point.

          Michael

          • I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the
            same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been
            recurrent where mine was not. That’s why I said only “I don’t think he
            did any of us lasting damage”.

            That still misses the point. It isn’t about the duration of the event or its repetition. Someone might have had exactly the same experience and been badly traumatized by the betrayal. It’s not up to Dawkins to decide how that experience would affect anyone other than himself. (…or to minimize that teacher’s serial molestation in a way he would never do if it were a Catholic priest we were talking about…)

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  18. “There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.”

    Does anyone else think that making this concession does, in fact, affirm a false equivalency? I have had my head taken off over and over again in forums like this for suggesting that “street harassment”, which depending on whom you ask could include something as innocuous as simply looking at a woman to whom you are attracted, is not as bad as the systemic disenfranchisement and abuse women face under sharia law. To make no distinction there is to make no distinction between a society in which women have no political voice and a society in which women are heads of state. It is to make no distinction between a society in which women are not allowed to drive a car and a society in which women are auto racing champions. It is to make no distinction between a society in which women have no economic agency and a society in which a women can attain the position of CEO of a firm like General Motors. The San Antonio Spurs just added Becky Hammon to their coaching staff which isn’t even the first tim an NBA franchise has hired a woman to coach. How long do you think it will take before a men’s football club from Riyadh adds a woman to its coaching staff?

    • I have actually seen a lady respond positively to sexual harassment because the sexual harasser was the right sexual harasser. I believe the words were “Ohh!, hi, you can squeeze my ass anytime”. Were the sexual harasser ugly and fat, he probably would have had the police to deal with. Both would have committed the same act but only one would be seen as offensive. I wonder how often sexual harassment has brought people together?

  19. Dear Richard, I am a big fan of you and your work so I post my opinion in an effort to help. Your reasoning example where you would take one life to use the organs to save four implies the reasonable person should opt to save the four lives. There are a few problems with that specific example. Firstly, a state should not murder someone to save someone else for moral reasons. Secondly, murdering someone or allowing them to suicide could been that they did not have a child in their future. That child could have been someone that discovers how to use stem cells to save billions of lives. So my point it that every action has consequences that are not always obvious. If you want me to critique more of you examples send me an email, I am happy to help.

  20. It’s a mystery to me why this is even an issue. The notion of proportionality is an important part of criminal justice and international law. How can we apply the concept of proportionality without first acknowledging that there is a continuum of offences of increasing severity?

  21. Professor, What is the common thread as to what is upsetting so many people about your comments?

    Each one of your topics, whether it’s date rape vs. rape at knifepoint, Dear Muslima vs. western woman, Nobel prize winners vs. Muslims,… involves a direct or indirect comparison.

    “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Roosevelt

    If you ever want to make yourself feel down, look at someone who has something more than you. It could be talent, attractiveness, more opportunity… As humans, we seem to be wired to compare and see ourselves as either superior or inferior to others. At times, we have an extraordinary capacity (or insanity) to juggle both emotions simultaneously.

    If you ever want to make someone especially angry and upset, create a comparison in which they either directly or indirectly relate to the topic personally. A person who is quite thin complains that she is sooooo fat and just can’t stand herself. She doesn’t understand why other women (who are actually heavier than her) become upset. Indirectly, she expressed that her weight was unacceptable and indirectly implied a standard in which others listening realized that they did not fit. Even a self-effacing insult draws a line in which another can understand what you regard at better, best, and worst. Emotionally, people want to be heard and recognized in a positive manner. We reveal subtle hints through our choice of words that we communicate.

    At times, someone outright uses a comparison of “better” in ways that are unintended. Someone writing a resume cover letter may state : “I am better able to meet the needs of your corporation due to my training….” Indirectly, the candidate comes off sounding arrogant because of the indirect comparison of themselves with other people (that they don’t know) that are also applying for the job. A celebrity states that mothers working 9-5 have it easier than her. She needs to leave the country to shoot movies or spend 12 hours on a set for a few months at a time. She overlooks finances, hired help, private jets, income… Naively, she compared herself to other mothers and caused an uproar.

    The above comments might seem a bit odd and common sense, but amazingly we humans seem to forget the human dynamics that can result from comparison. As I read the previous article, I realized that each scenario compares one group to another in a way in which a value judgement is asked. Comparison asks for you to pick, in turn, one option is viewed lesser. This is a perfect environment for hostility to brew. No one wants to be told that they are lower on the totem pole. That may not be the intention, but that’s what people hear.

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

    Knowing the emotional parameters surrounding conversations that use comparisons is being rational and wise. Being able to tactfully deal with these issues takes skill. To tread onto certain personal realms of qualitative experience with supposed “rational” “logical” approaches is irrational, illogical, ignorant, and lacking compassion. Having social intelligence to know when comparison is off limits is reasonable.

    I recently read “The Dawkins effect: Being attacked for trying to talk rationally about an emotional topic.” Perhaps I don’t understand the definition of “rational” (logical, reasoned, sensible, reasonable, cogent, intelligent, judicious, shrewd, common-sense, commonsensical, sound, prudent;
    down-to-earth, practical, pragmatic) but wouldn’t a response/comment that motivates positive action, understanding be more likely to be logical, reasoned, sensible, reasonable, cogent, intelligent, judicious, shrewd, common-sense, commonsensical, sound, prudent;
    down-to-earth, practical, pragmatic?

    My point is to avoid comparisons that are very closely personal – especially if they put you at a higher level than the other group you are comparing.
    Avoid comparisons that make value judgements of another’s subjective experience.

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

    “I wasn’t making a point about which of the two was worse. I was merely asserting that to express an opinion one way or the other is not tantamount to approving the lesser evil.”
    Professor, no, no, no. You WERE making a point about which of the two was worse whether you like it or not. The word “worse” implies comparison. Some date rape can be a worse experience for some individuals causing fear and issues around trust of loved ones for years- maybe a lifetime. Each person has a unique, personal psychology and will deal with an experience in their own unique way. You may realize this, but you did a poor job of communicating your idea. AVOID COMPARISONS that are deeply personal and subjective.

    I assume you now realize your error in the “Dear Muslima” comment. Your error was in assuming that western women do not have any challenges COMPARED to muslim women from middle eastern countries. You do not know all women’s stories and came off as a pompous. Frankly, I thought someone else was using your name and couldn’t believe you would make such a glaring error. Well, you keep making the same error with other groups of people and I’m wondering when you’re going to learn your lesson. (Which is why this is such a damn long post. I want you to GET IT so you stop.

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

    Off limits – subjective personal experiences. Open for discussion comparisons in the form of a non-personal thought experience that is intended on creating a result that “moves” people forward in some sort of positive way that is relevant for a societal concern of the day. Notice how most of the “uncomfortable” dilemmas you mentioned are not deeply personal or part of our experience? They are not off the cuff remarks made on Twitter, but posed in a formal situation in which people are asked to respond with supportive evidence or views. You will not get as many people upset as women’s issues or discrimination. You will still get backlash because certain individuals will be faced with a part of themselves that they don’t want to deal with. Some people will quickly attack you for posing the idea of killing the miners because they do not want to be confronted with that choice. Others feel that no positive outcome could take place discussing the topic, so they avoid discussion.

    “We all agree it isn’t true that some human races are genetically superior to others in intelligence. But let’s for a moment suspend disbelief and consider the consequences if it were true. Would it ever be right to discriminate in job hiring? Etcetera.” I could see why people would not want to participate. It’s breeding grounds for someone to get really ticked off at you. In a social situation or even a classroom, you’re bound to make an enemy. Human nature discriminates all the time. We all know this. It sets up a comparison/dichotomy which may not even be relevant. If you do step into this arena, know that you will get some hassle. It’s a choice you make. If I were in a social situation and this topic came up, I’d step lightly knowing that no usable answer will come from the conversation. (Personally, I’d rather people become aware how they discriminate against people physically. The attractive and pleasant are favored over the competent. But that’s a different post/topic.)

    So in a nutshell, my advice to you Professor Dawkins – Avoid sloppy Twitter comments, stick to formal, drawn out conversations in which you can elaborate. Before making comparisons, ask yourself if you can word it so that you are focusing on the positive aspects of the position you desire instead of pegging one idea against another. Make a stand FOR what you believe in and leave the rest out of the conversation.

    Hopefully, I’m clear with my views. Anyone please feel free to ask for further clarification.

    • Hello QK. I’m new here and enjoyed reading your contribution. I largely agree with your points about subjectivity and the dangers of comparison but I’m afraid I disagree with your assumption that Professor Dawkins is somehow responsible for emotional reactions to his comments.

      “If you ever want to make someone especially angry and upset…”

      I can see what you mean here but this gets to the heart of what I think RD was trying to say. Some topics are obviously very emotive and when they relate to personal experiences or subjects about which people feel very passionately, emotion can get in the way of logic/reason and result in angry outbursts. However, the emotional reaction of the reader should never be blamed upon the writer. Intention has to be taken into account but, on the whole, offence is taken rather than given and I don’t believe that you can make someone angry through expressing an opinion.

      For example, I have a friend who agrees with hunting/shooting and thinks that it is a valid ‘hobby’. I fundamentally disagree with this position and think that killing animals/birds for fun is a repulsive activity that should have been consigned to history many years ago. However, whilst I can discuss this with her in a rational way and not become angry, another person could easily become very agitated by her position and resort to shouting or swearing or worse. The point is (not to be drawn into a hunting debate!) that neither my calm reaction nor another’s emotional reaction could be described as the responsibility of my gun-toting friend.

      “Off limits – subjective personal experiences”

      It’s interesting that you say this and it gives a fairly clear answer to RD’s original question “Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?”. You obviously can’t argue with how someone feels about something but it can normally be widened out to discuss the general topic. Personal religious experiences would come under that category. You might describe a visitation from an angel one night but that shouldn’t mean I can’t discuss the more general topic of whether angels exist or not without fear that you’ll think I’m treading on your subjective personal experience.

      “Before making comparisons, ask yourself if you can word it so that
      you are focusing on the positive aspects of the position you desire”

      Another fair point and it might well have avoided such a backlash. I guess Professor Dawkins could have started with “All rape is unacceptable and should be severely punished but is it possible to discuss whether rape X is worse than rape Y. By the way, I think that X is definitely much worse than Y”. Is that really necessary do you think? Do we have to know the ‘position he desires’ before having a rational discussion about the more general topic?

      • Thanks Barry for your comments. I hope I can better clarify my comments since you pointed out an area that I really didn’t focus on.

        “I’m afraid I disagree with your assumption that Professor Dawkins is somehow responsible for emotional reactions to his comments.”

        Actually, I don’t mean this at all. Everyone is responsible for their reactions even a negative or challenging situation. We can always choose how we respond. Unfortunately, most of us are not skilled enough to come up with quick replies or humorous comebacks. We may even lack knowledge, experience, or an upbringing that would help us express a meaningful response. What my long drawn out comment intended to do is show that certain responses can easily be anticipated. If I tell someone that I prefer an outfit another coworker is wearing compared to the one that they are wearing, you can guess the possible outcomes on one hand. 1. They get angry and lash back verbally in some sort of way. 2. They are shocked and say nothing – maybe complain about you to someone else later. 3. They retaliate later on – maybe get others to join in. 4. They make a diplomatic comment that is thought out – maybe use humor or laugh. 5. They physically attack. Most likely, people will get angry in some way or another. It’s a matter of cause and effect. It’s predictable. What I am saying is when RD makes a comment comparing date rape to rape at a knife point, many people will take the comment as a personal slam of their own experience or experience of someone they know. A negative, angry response can be anticipated. You could probably bet on the odds someone would lash out.

        You could say this works for both sides of the conversation and it does. Yet, if you step into certain personal situation, especially ones that involve being a victim, BEWARE.

        As someone who is in the public arena, Professor Dawkins should be aware how his choice of words could be misconstrued and attempt to express himself in the most effective way. IMO, that would be avoiding off-hand comments on Twitter and recognizing that comparisons that are subjective value judgements about someone’s experience should be avoided.

        Should all topics be avoided because they step into an emotional arena? NO! That is not what I am saying. People will get offended by nearly any challenge to their deeply held beliefs. If they want to bury their head in the sand to avoid truth, that’s their problem. What I am calling for is DISCERNMENT between a personal or general slam and genuine call for intellectual examination.

        • Thank you for your reply and making your position much clearer. I think what you’re saying is that there’s a distinct difference to be made along the following lines.

          • Challenging beliefs/ideas (e.g. shooting birds for fun or having some kind of religious faith)

          • Challenging topics about which people may have had personal experience (e.g. rape, abuse etc.)

          To use your own phrase (which did make me laugh actually), I think you see the former as ‘fair game’ but the latter as a potential minefield which should be avoided if you don’t want to suffer an angry backlash.

          Intention is one of the key aspects here, which is why I believe that all topics should be up for discussion as long as the intention isn’t to deliberately upset someone.

          For example, I agree with you that RD should have anticipated an angry response from rape victims along the lines of ‘how dare you presume to know how victims of rape X or rape Y might feel!’ However, I don’t believe his intention was to upset those people, it was merely to use rape as an example of an emotive topic that is hard to discuss without emotional responses.

          Just because potential negative responses can be foreseen, this doesn’t mean a topic has to be avoided. To use your co-worker example, the key issue would be the intent of the person commenting on the difference between outfit X and outfit Y. Are they just trying to be nasty to person X? If yes, then that’s not very nice behaviour and says something about the commenter. Equally, it is perfectly possible that person X might see the comment as a revelation and find out where person Y buys her outfits! It all depends on the intent behind the comment, which can only be derived from rational discussion.

      • ALSO –
        “have a friend who agrees with hunting/shooting and thinks that it is a valid ‘hobby’. I fundamentally disagree with this position and think that killing animals/birds for fun is a repulsive activity that should have been consigned to history many years ago.”

        Your not the one getting killed. You’re not being victimized. This topic is not a deeply, personal situation that can only be valued subjectively. It’s fair game.

  22. It is lamentable that those who wish to discuss something rationally
    are silenced by those who can only react emotionally.

    It can also be said that:

    It is lamentable that those who think they are being intelligent and rational are in fact being irrational and socially inept.

    It takes wisdom to know the difference.

    • I read your entire former post (longer than some books by Sam Harris!) and was quite heartened by the fact that, while I don’t agree with almost a single element of your position, it was more nuanced than many positions that I do indeed agree with. Certainly it was better thought out than most of the reactionary swill that floats the cork of some who drink deeply off so-called (or shall we say self-described, as to avoid the normative!) ‘social justice.’ (Repellent that I’m reduced to inverted commas and an implicit wrinkling of my nose while my thumbs utter those words!)

      And then you bring up social ineptitude and irrationality.

      I have great respect for those who are better able to straddle the boundaries of rational discourse and a surfeit of empathy (far better than I, whose gross lack of liminality in this area raises shades of Cuchulain and his bathtub). Still, empathy ought to mean more than a Universal Declaration of Human ‘Feels,’ and that it is a crutch so often beat into a shillelagh is more indicative of an irrational conservatism of mind than it is a liberal force of spirit.

      Agreeing not to be bound by the taboos of right speech doesn’t mark ineptitude, but is, in fact, how the world is improved. Discourse is not a children’s card game where one can make their opponent ‘draw four’ by shifting the burden of proof, ‘lose a turn’ by summoning the Eumenides of privilege, or ‘reverse’ the action of play through the dark arts of invoking one’s hurt feelings. A great edification is to be found in stropping one’s paws through the playing of Uno, but it doesn’t change the fact that, at best, the cards are dealt at random. At worst, the deck is stacked by those most conservative of players who don’t remember the way it felt when the deck was stacked against them.

      The only thing to level the playing field (and rescue this fool from one of the most ludo-ludicrous metaphors ever served at the Taefl of siblinghood) is a shared vocabulary and the agreement that, while one ought to be considered decent if, only if, they make at least some attempt to be civil and considerate, there exist no domains of conversation wherein the breaching disqualifies the speaker.

      Don’t talk about the war.

      Useful for dinner parties, perhaps, but not the ones to which I want to be invited.

      • R. Patrick

        “while I don’t agree with almost a single element of your position”

        That’s unfortunate. It means I did a poor job of expressing my views. I am not saying all topics are taboo. Almost anyone could become offended by anything. IDEAS should be attacked. Precious religious experiences should be questioned and challenged since they are not based in truth and ultimately affect others and effect policy. The personal experience of rape or discrimination can only be subjectively judged by the individual. Comparing you/your group to another in these situations is likened to saying chocolate is better than vanilla. Yes, you can bring up statistics showing which flavor sells more, which flavor has a longer history, which flavor has promoted international trade more than the other. Yet, no one can tell me the value of my experience when I eat a cone sitting at the beach watching waves wash onto my feet. No one can tell me the value of my experience when I deal with intimate or damaging sexual encounters.

        Agreeing not to be bound by the taboos of right speech doesn’t mark ineptitude, but is, in fact, how the world is improved.

        It takes all types to create change. Grumpy and abrasive people can make as many good points as diplomatic people. Knowing which conversations are dead horses takes skill and awareness and probably a good dose of compassion and understanding.

    • The point is why can’t we discuss it? Why do emotional outbursts occur when open rational discussions are on the table? I don’t understand any of your post. So here is the only thing I have to say about both your posts. If you let your emotions out during a rational discussion, you are no longer acting rationally but emotionally. At that point, all other rational thinkers know your not acting rationally. So no there is no topic that cannot be discussed rationally and the emotional aspect left out. Also most topics can reach better results when such practices are established and kept by all involved. So yeah your emotions are important. But when they push your rationality out the door, your no longer helping the situation.

  23. In reply to nothink @comment no. God knows but it’s near the top and there’s no reply button

    “I got the point Richard was making and largely agreed with it.”

    Excuse me for asking you to repeat yourself, but would you tell me again what Richard’s point was and what you didn’t agree with.
    I’m ready to change my mind, and frankly it would make me happy.

    Am I supposed to summarize it so I can prove to you I got it? Go check out my comments on the original thread like I told you. It’s all there.

    I notice you didn’t answer my question about where I allowed my emotions to get the better of me or when exactly I debated Richard’s personality in my reply to the Dog. I think you’ve constructed a little straw man there.

    • I thought it was valuable of Richard to own up to the error of belittling one moan just because more serious moans exist, however, that is exactly what you do in your inital comment. How dare Dawkins philosophise over something less important that the atrocities in Gaza?!
      It must be flattering for him that you think he can weigh in and thus solve everything, but maybe his goal of teaching clear thinking to the world has a way to go yet before it’s ready to take on the likes of Hamas and Israel.

      • No, I’m not questioning Richard’s right to discuss this subject if he wants. This thread is an addendum to the previous one, which garnered over 500 responses and is still active.

        Should every topic from now on be related to that one? That for me would be pretty dull. I actually think this thread is a bit of self indulgence on the part of our benefactor. It could easily have been submitted as a comment over there.

        I don’t think my post was an instance of Fallacy of privation as others have suggested. This bit of naval gazing by Richard is a fine philosophical distraction, important in its way. But if the atheist movement gets bogged down in three-year-old controversies such as Elevatorgate and now Don’tsomepeopleoverreactgate, it’s going to become a bit of a damp squib. People’s Front of Judea versus Judean People’s Front sort of thing.

        Sometimes people need to be reminded that there’s real-world stuff going on out there, so when Richard dropped in for the first time in a long while a couple of us just decided to buttonhole the guy and ask him if he would weigh in on an issue that’s of concern to us. He is the poster boy for New Atheism and could make a real difference here. A tweet from him about Muslims can result in article after article being written in the popular press in response. The squeaky atheist gets the column inches.

        I would draw the attention of all those who say Gaza is not the subject of this thread, it’s an attempt at derailment or even a straw man, to the fact that none of the comments submitted which attempt to discuss that conflict has to my knowledge been removed by the moderators. And those guys are sticklers for keeping things on track.

        I shall now tick ‘Notify me of follow-up comments by email’ and ‘Notify me of new posts by email’ in the vain and no doubt futile hope that it actually proves fruitful this time. Fingers crossed.

  24. In regard to all this talk of logic vs emotion, of course it’s preferable if people don’t get over emotional while discussing these things. But it’s also rather naïve to think that logic has all the answers either (not to mention the fact that insistently claiming how rational and logical one is before offering one’s opinions unfortunately is no guarantee that the opinions that follow will be either of those things – and that’s not aimed at Richard but at certain other posters on this thread and others who demonstrate this rather frequently).

    Surely what’s rather missing from this argument and from this whole discussion on the whole is the question of expertise.

    Most of us taking part do not have this expertise. The whole subject of rape is hugely convoluted, there are a vast number of myths about it, the spectrum is not at all clear cut and worst of all it all comes down in many cases to the word of two individuals. Even the most logical people on earth are not going to necessarily be the best ones to comment on such a topic, what is required is people who know what they’re talking about, experts on the subject.
    Richard Dawkins is an expert on biology, evolution, atheism; most of us posting here, including myself, will respect him hugely in these areas. But he is not an expert on rape or sexual assault. For example, in a comment on one of these threads, he said that the whole issue of trust in a date rape situation had not occurred to him before many pointed it out, and I applaud him for admitting this.

    But, you know, it did occur to me, it was almost the first thing that came into my mind when I heard about the tweets. Now why is that? Am I more intelligent than Richard? Almost certainly not. Am I more capable of rational thought than he is? Almost certainly not. The reason it probably occurred to me immediately is likely that I am female and the possibility of rape and how I would feel about it is something that I have probably had to consider more frequently than he has over the course of my life (although I have not experienced rape, I have experienced two incidents of sexual assault by strangers and a five-year stalking situation by a former platonic friend – (before the days when stalking became a recognised crime, so I had very little assistance from the police). The latter, incidentally, was far, far worse for a number of reasons, even though he did not lay a finger on me, but I digress…)

    I’m certainly not claiming to be one of the experts we need, although rape victims themselves certainly would be part of this group. I’m merely illustrating that there are other things involved here other than just the ability to be logical. If the question of grading rapes is to be effectively discussed, we need to hear from experts, people who’ve worked with victims and perpetrators for years, people who’ve worked in the prosecution service, people who’ve studied these issues and have real, reliable statistics to provide, and yes, the people who’ve experienced the various forms of rape. The danger on these forums is that the views that predominate and stick in people’s minds may not be the most informed ones but merely those most frequently expressed, which is not the same thing at all.

    At one time Channel 4 did a programme called something like ‘The People’s Court’ – it involved a representative section of the population – maybe a couple of hundred voting on a particular issue. After the initial vote, there was some discussion and individuals put forth their views. Then what happened was that a selection of expert witnesses were called, people who were directly involved in the issues and could produce real figures and very informed information. There was opportunity for the public to ask these people questions and then there was a lot more discussion. The programs were quite long, with plenty of time given for all this. At the end of the programme, another vote was taken on the issue, and sometimes it produced a completely different result to the first one.

    Perhaps, if it’s deemed a good thing to have some kind of public discussion on this, something like the above would be a better forum for these kinds of discussions than Twitter or this site?

    • “In regard to all this talk of logic vs emotion, of course it’s preferable if people don’t get over emotional while discussing these things. But it’s also rather naïve to think that logic has all the answers either”

      Yes, thank you. Your post is a good example for part of what I am trying to express in my posts above. Logic cannot be used in all situations. Unfortunately, it takes skill in knowing the difference – skill that many if not most of us do not have.

    • “In regard to all this talk of logic vs emotion”

      You are confusing what is actually being debated by characterizing the terms based on your personal feelings about the terms, rather than the critical thinking issue brought on by those terms in practice .
      Take your logic vs emotion.
      How are they opposites? Logic is a way of thinking. Emotion is a phenomenon local to the brain. But for this debate, you see logic as cold and heartless and just one part of what makes up a human; while emotion is that beautiful spiritual side of us, its what can answer the questions that science and reason cannot.

      “of course it’s preferable if people don’t get over emotional while discussing these things. But it’s also rather naïve to think that logic has all the answers”

      This is a lapse in critical thinking.
      First, one can think logically about emotions because emotions are natural human phenomenon local to the brain thus are bound by the logic of physics. They are not opposites or mutually exclusive. But, what is mutually exclusive and what is being debated, is the deterimental impact that emotions can have on communication, specifically, the irrational, illogical, unreasonable strings of arguments responsible for degenerating what is a debate about meaningful, investigable issues, into a personal mudslinging contest.

      Once again, it’s not the human element or beauty of emotion that is being debated, it’s the irrationality that can come about when emotion is left unchecked during a debate.
      Think of the debate being about logical thinking vs illogical thinking. rational arguments vs irrational arguments. critical thinking vs uncritical thinking.

    • What kind of debate would you rather have? Rational or irrational?
      That is at the heart of it.
      On a grand scale, isn’t communication the only way humans can achieve peace with each other. Individual interaction can be extrapolated to nations in that sense, in that strangers will fear each other and make up stories and speculate out of that fear. It takes communication to see that we are just like each other, and that we can relate to each other. Any effort to encourage rationality in communication directly helps achieve our dream of world peace.

      • …isn’t communication the only way humans can achieve peace…

        Absolutely. 100%.

        This is the tragedy of people attacking Richard for posting such ‘trivial’ comments on our apparent inability to communicate rationally on emotive topics. If we can’t establish the basic principle that all topics should be up for discussion then how on earth are we ever going to move forward.

  25. Not to long ago, someone has take on sexual abuse reported in TGD.
    Now someone did it again, but in the new book.
    Perhaps I had the wrong idea it must had been painfull, sense Richard compares his own experience with the one o a girl that reported as experience of being abused esier compared with the fear that her friend might be in hell.
    Am I wrong? is it a different sexual abuse, did Richard suffered from one or two abuses?

    Ah it takes peoples attetion, just speak of sex and you´ll see .

    • I disagree.
      An example of your point might be, it could be “very bad for personal relationships” to try and conversate rationally with an angry girlfriend going as far as to suggest during the argument that she should be more reasonable or rational with how she presents her points during the argument.
      However, communication is not just verbal.
      So if there is another avenue of communication that is more rational for that moment, for example a firm embrace or giving some space, then that would be another example of communicating rationally only helping personal relationships.

  26. If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.

    You keep referring to the possibility of not all sexual crimes being “equally bad”. To whom? It may help you answer if you think more about the “judicial practice” you cite. Which judicial practice? In the criminal or civil courts? Criminal law is a way of maintaining a decent society. The criminal courts are society’s way of addressing a wrong done to it. This is their primary purpose, not to give a victim a way of addressing a wrong done to him/her. The civil courts are for that. The same act may achieve contrasting outcomes in the two. Take your own sexual assault: had the assaulter been prosecuted, the impact on you as a victim would have been given weight but not as much weight as the fact the act was done to a child by someone in a position of authority and trust. The sentence would not have received much discount because of any evidence from you that it was “not that bad”. By contrast, had you brought a civil claim, any damages would be substantially reduced because, based on what you’ve told us about it, your evidence would presumably be that you weren’t that damaged by it.

    So when you talk about some sexual crimes being “better” than others (which they must be if, as you contend, some are “worse” than others), don’t make the mistake of thinking that the way they are codified by the criminal law (vital for the functioning of justice and society though that codification is) is the last word on how “good”, “bad”, “better” or “worse” they are. It’s one version, but it’s not definitive.

    • “So when you talk about some sexual crimes being “better” than others (which they must be if, as you contend, some are “worse” than others), don’t make the mistake of thinking that the way they are codified by the criminal law (vital for the functioning of justice and society though that codification is) is the last word on how “good”, “bad”, “better” or “worse” they are. It’s one version, but it’s not definitive.”

      He is not making that mistake, and that is not what he is basing his “better” comment on. It is the reality that these crimes are defined by criteria that can be characterized and judged along a gradation scale. You say it is but “one version”, but whatever other “versions” you think make up the whole picture, aren’t they defined by criteria that can be gradated as well.
      We should check our emotions and our misguided subjectivism, also that first instinctual disgust, so we are able to pursue rational investigations into the gradation aspect of sensitive crimes. This is the answer to those that scoff at the suggestion that we could say one type of suffering is “better” than the other.

      • The words of his I quoted suggest that he was referring heavily to judicial practice in support of the premise that some sexual assaults are worse than others, so I don’t think I’ve misquoted or misunderstood him. Indeed, one of the main thrusts of my post was to explore the particular gradation scale – “judicial practice” – which he had chosen in support of his premise. I’m not sure if your penultimate sentence is a criticism of my post, but I was in fact doing exactly what you suggest in that sentence, i.e. pursuing rational investigationis into the gradation aspects of sensitive crimes. It was in pursuit of exactly this that I pointed out the difference in outcomes in civil and criminal courts in respect of the same offending act, thus questioning and clarifying what can be meant by “judicial practice”.

      • PS if you want to think about some “gradation scales” that can be used to assess how “bad” a sexual assault is, below are some starting points:

        The sentencing strategies developed by Parliament and the courts for the punishment of those convicted of sexual offences.

        The remedies available in civil courts, as developed by Parliament and the courts, against proven sexual offenders.

        Clinical assessment of changes to victims’ physical health as a result of sexual assault.

        Clinical assessment of changes to victims’ mental health as a result of sexual assault.

  27. I love this one statement: “There should be no rivalry in victimhood.’ That is something to live by.

    I remember watching the Phil Donahue show when I was very young. There was a panel arguing over who had it worse (can’t remember the subject), and Phil said “We could spend all day playing ‘My atrocity is worse than your atrocity.” That line really stuck with me.

  28. Some people have a very big ax to grind against atheists –and Richard, in particular– because they are likely to expose the scam to the believers who might then see the scam, reducing religious financial contributions. That is the real underlying issue here. The believers are clearly attempting to vilify Richard by distorting his statements. It was an ad hominem attack of the worst kind! Excellent retort! We are all behind you, Richard! So sorry to hear about the abuse that you endure because it was, at the end, an abuse.

    I find your analyses and information so refreshing and so appealing when I read them. Keep up the great work!

  29. There was another one of these taboo subjects in the headlines this week when a UKIP member cited the public speaking skills of Hitler at a seminar.

    Whilst I have no doubt he did it for the shock factor, and probably could have used someone else as an example, he certainly raised some good points about his powerful and commanding style of dilivery. However, the media immediately took the bait and choked on the Hitler reference, without giving much if any credence to the substance.

    Oh, and before anyone accuse me of being a Nazi sympathiser, I am an ethnically Jewish born again atheist. Several generations of my extended family were lost in the Holocaust.

    • Good point, that problem of history is one which catches everybody out. But no matter how many times we fall into the same old trap we still don’t get it.
      Bloody genetics, evolution takes millions of years to modify the obvious, then only gives us at best a hundred years to get a grip on understanding everything, which time proves impossible…………so no surprise that we invent someone to blame that might.
      Faith might be troublesome, but it’s not pointless.

  30. I have just one question regarding Richard Dawkins’ social media activity (on Twitter especially). I pose my question as an ally: a secular humanist who (along with a brief investigation of Vipassana Meditation) has been an atheist since the age of five years old and who believes heartily in the benefit of occasional philosophical inquiry into controversial problems, and who regards the scientific work of Richard Dawkins highly. I hope one day Richard Dawkins or a representative of his foundation will answer my question.

    Question

    On social media platforms like Twitter, is it Richard Dawkins’ purpose to create productive, constructive debates that appeal to a diverse international audience beyond his hardcore admirers (including, for example, survivors of the atrocities implicated in his hypothetical logic-based examples or religious people who nevertheless use reason to make some decisions in their lives)?

    Background

    I ask this question because if Richard Dawkins’ purpose is to create such debates, then his tone and approach undercut this aim. Rather than fostering productive and constructive exchange, the manner in which Richard Dawkins engages with his language on social media seems vituperative and provocative. His diction and phrasing are shaped in ways that convey hostility, and this is not just a measure of some readers’ emotionalism. Moreover, Dawkins’ responses betray an oddly reductionist understanding of the role of emotion in human consciousness as if Dawkins’ is affecting an almost comedic parody of a Vulcan’s knee jerk rejection of “human emotion” in the fictionalized Star Trek universe–a reductionist posture that ignores the braidedness of our human engagements, the way we respond from a combination of reason and feeling. Further still, in his responses, he betrays a none-too-veiled petulance that is itself an emotionalism borne of an odd refusal to think through how his approach engineers and invites the kind of emotionalism that he claims to eschew. It is odd that such intelligence can be so tone-deaf about its rhetoric; odd that such intelligence cannot itself see that its responses are hardly dispassionate; odd that such intelligence fails to address not just the content of what is said, but how it is expressed. Scolding, brusque diction; flippant tone; the projection of smug arrogance by arguing in a way that rarely concedes rational and even reasonable points of contention–these problems of tone and approach have become stereotypes of atheist behavior and this saddens me because they are the very same tones and approaches of the religious that I so take pains to avoid. If he wishes to be deliberately provocative, hostile, and unpersuasive, then so be it, but if he wishes to do anything on the contrary then I hope Richard Dawkins will address my concerns here.

    • Maybe I can help while away the time before you receive a reply from the only person who can truly answer. What is the answer to the question likely to be? The way that it is posed allows for the answer to be yes or no. I would predict that it would be yes, it would be beyond Machiavelli to contrive a scenario where the answer was no. What you are stating is, simply put, a critical dislike of the way Richard expresses himself. You imply a disparity between what you think he must surely mean to convey and the way he says it. I believe, but cannot know, that his motives are of the highest intent; but he is who he is. The implication of modifying his language to better suit your perception, is that he should gather around him spin doctors and special advisors to hone his “message” into a more universally acceptable form. I’m not sure that Richard Dawkins has any ambition to become so political as to need to develop a more palatable persona, that would be a paradox beyond me.

    • “Scolding, brusque diction; flippant tone…”

      I wouldn’t go quite that far but there was definitely a sarcastic edge to this afterthought on the original posting of Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?.

      To be fair though, RD has an understandable right to react in such a way. He had been so astoundingly misunderstood in the earlier article that it was almost beyond belief. The answer to his question for many people (based upon their reaction) was yes, there are areas where logic dare not show its face. That should never be the case – it should always be possible to use logic to explain your position, even on topics where emotions run high. The most interesting interviews I’ve seen with Professor Dawkins are the ones where both sides have had an opportunity to argue their case with clear logic rather than emotional outbursts (see Bill O’Reilly!). Sure, people can argue their case passionately, as Professor Dawkins does with great style, but when emotion takes over the logic goes out of the window.

      “…his approach engineers and invites the kind of emotionalism that he
      claims to eschew…”

      If some people perceive that RD has invited an emotional reaction then they are under no obligation to deliver it for him. Their response is their responsibility. An appropriate reaction in such a scenario would be to argue your case, passionately if need be, but with a clear logic – rather than sentences beginning with How dare you… etc.

    • “Scolding, brusque diction; flippant tone; the projection of smug arrogance by arguing in a way that rarely concedes rational and even reasonable points of contention–these problems of tone and approach have become stereotypes of atheist behavior and this saddens me because they are the very same tones and approaches of the religious that I so take pains to avoid. If he wishes to be deliberately provocative, hostile, and unpersuasive, then so be it, but if he wishes to do anything on the contrary then I hope Richard Dawkins will address my concerns here.”

      Some seriously disingenuous content in that post, mate. It seems clear from your comments that you lack confidence in your view point and expect Atheists to lie low, stay silent and respectful to the superior theists.
      That day is gone. Dawkins has shown us that expressing our views in a confident rational manner is the future and the completely irrational criticisms you raise are designed to cow him and the rest of the Atheist community. It’s too later The genie is out of the bottle.

  31. When Richard first started his Twitter account, I advised him not to do it, or at least to have a professional PR firm handle it for him (as many celebs do). The events in the subsequent years have been exactly what I worried about.

    One can seldom get deep thoughts on hotly debated subjects (especially ethics) across in 140 characters. Often there needs to be adjustments to what people think the words mean and to their deeply held ideas of context. Richard is the master of the long essay where he can do exactly those things. However, in a single line of text he is at the mercy of anyone’s crazy interpretation, and then the media echo chamber propagation of said interpretation. If he keeps tweeting on his own, this will keep happening; it is built into the structure of the medium.

    • in a single line of text he is at the mercy of anyone’s crazy interpretation

      He can always add another tweet, as he does. Or quite a few, as he does. Or link to an essay, as he does. He can even be ‘at the mercy of anyone’s crazy interpretation’ of a ‘single line of text’ plucked from an essay, or even from an entire book, as he is. The twitter medium is not the problem.

    • A fine philosophical point to ponder whether just wishing someone dead is an evil act, and then if it were, whether the malice would be mitigated by wishing someone else alive in their place. A whole new thread I’m sure.
      How perverse the outcome would be if there were a power that could grant such wishes; Robin Williams still unwillingly and unhappily here, and friends (there must be some) of Joan Rivers wondering why she suddenly changed her mind “I enjoy life when things are happening. I don’t care if it’s good things or bad things. That means you’re alive.”

  32. Much as this line of thought initially looks like semantic trivia, I agree with R.D on this occasion, if I understand him right in saying that separation of the general case from the specific act is fundamental to any realistic understanding of the moral argument.
    In general, decency equates to sympathy for the underdog, not entirely consistent with legal justice, judging both sides of an argument with complete impartiality. When specifics add multiple layers of time related complexity, the veracity and effectiveness of established laws could easily be doubted

  33. To all of you who defend HAMAS/ISLAMIC JIHAD in Gaza by equating Israel’s actions in defence-

    I stand by my opinions- there is no ‘moral equivalence’ between Israel and terrorists; I find your
    arguments offensive and inaccurate.
    ‘Zionist fanatics imported as immigrants by foreign powers!’ and here I am thinking they were ….Jews! Holocaust survivors, remember? As for Palestinian history, you might recall Jewish tribes lived in the area 3000 years before the muslim invasion.

    Where does David R Allen get the ridiculous assumption that I am religious- nothing in my post suggests that and in fact I’m what they call a ‘militant atheist’. So much for Mr Allen’s ability to reason.

    I have had enough of this leftist Guardian antisemitism; its tiresome and distressing- when Hamas/ISIS/Iran/ whoever defeats Israel the ensuing slaughter may be to your liking, but not mine. I’ll say no more.

    • “when Hamas/ISIS/Iran/ whoever defeats Israel ”

      That comment alone shows how uninformed you are. ISIS is a radical Sunni group, Iran are Shia muslims. They hate each other more than they hate the US as indicated by the fact that Iran and the US have been cooperating to fight ISIS.

      As for the anti-semitism claim that also shows your ignorance. Many of the strongest critics of Israel such as Chomsky are Jewish. And while I’m not Jewish my adopted daughter is and it’s not a coincidence, I’ve had closed ties to Jewish people in various ways all my life. Calling people like me who criticize Israel anti-semitic is just nonsense. It’s like the people who say the critics of American foreign policy are anti-american. Criticizing a nation or people for their flaws is not a sign that you are biased against them. If anything the opposite, I expect my country to adhere to higher standards than normal (even though we’ve often failed at that lately) and the same for Judiasm, one of the reasons I’m so in love with many Jews and why I find Judaism in general one of the less offensive of the religions is their long proud tradition of advocating for underdogs and oppressed people, and the treatment of the Palestinians is a terrible stain on that tradition.

    • JimJFox Aug 18, 2014 at 11:02 am

      To all of you who defend HAMAS/ISLAMIC JIHAD in Gaza by equating Israel’s actions in defence-

      I stand by my opinions- there is no ‘moral equivalence’ between Israel and terrorists;

      Viewed through your bias-blinkers, what other view could you take?

      I find your arguments offensive and inaccurate.

      The offence card in response to indisputable evidence from history?
      Your emotional response is no substitute for an evidenced reasoned argument.

      ‘Zionist fanatics imported as immigrants by foreign powers!’ and here I am thinking they were ….Jews! Holocaust survivors, remember?

      .. . and here am I having pointed out that they were (Zionist) Jews, Holocaust survivors, and terrorists, who took over a state from its native population.
      Of course I don’t try to pretend the categories are mutually exclusive, or that being a holocaust survivors, entitles people to abuse other people as the NAZIs abused them, hi-jack countries, or steal land from previous owners.

      Like I said earlier, you need to get real and study some unbiased history!

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

      The Irgun policy was based on what was then called Revisionist Zionism founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. According to Howard Sachar, “The policy of the new organization was based squarely on Jabotinsky’s teachings: every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state”.[2]

      Two of the operations for which the Irgun is best known are the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre, carried out together with Lehi on 9 April 1948.

      The Irgun has been viewed as a terrorist organization or organization which carried out terrorist acts.[3][4] In particular the Irgun was branded a terrorist organisation by Britain,[5] the 1946 Zionist Congress[6] and the Jewish Agency.[7]
      The Irgun believed that any means necessary to establish the Jewish State of Israel, including terrorism, was justifiable.[8]

      The Irgun was a political predecessor to Israel’s right-wing Herut (or “Freedom”) party, which led to today’s Likud party.[9] Likud has led or been part of most Israeli governments since 1977.

      Chanting denials of history, really only illustrates you biased preconceptions.

      Where does David R Allen get the ridiculous assumption that I am religious- nothing in my post suggests that

      Biased support for Zionism could be a clue, – but atheists who do not do their homework can wear the bias blinkers, as atheist AGW deniers for example, often show!

      and in fact I’m what they call a ‘militant atheist’. So much for Mr Allen’s ability to reason.

      You really should check out Psychological projection before making claims about reasoning ability!
      You sound like a militant Zionist!

    • Where does David R Allen get the ridiculous assumption that I am religious- nothing in my post suggests that and in fact I’m what they call a ‘militant atheist’. So much for Mr Allen’s ability to reason.

      We’re on the same team. Right. Both militant atheists. So you and I would condemn people who makes decisions based on religious grounds. You and I would condemn ISIS for their atrocities committed in the name of their god. You and I would criticize any person who promotes a religious view that their god, is the one true god, that is only on their side, and is going to send everyone who disagrees with them to hell for eternity. We’re on the same team right.

      So lets test whether Jim is a true militant atheist, or whether he is just another religious extremist trolling through an atheist discussion forum. I expect to see Jim give two or three paragraphs on why the Zionist settler movement, the biggest impediment to peace in this conflict, that expands and expands the reach of settlements in war occupied Palestinian land, with the only justification being that god gave them the land. Lets’ see Jim demolish the “God gave me this land” justification and condemn the politics that this causes, and the contribution this makes to prolonging a stupid conflict. Lets see whether Jim can construct a militant atheist critique (Just like me) of religiously inspired fanaticism by Jews, identical with religiously inspired fanaticism of HAMAS. If you fail at this test Jim, the forum members are entitled to view your claim of being a militant atheist as being a bit like god, shallow mysticism.

  34. The conclusion is “if you have been victim of a crime, don’t talk about it”. If you say it was bad, someone would say that it is nothing compared to what they experienced. If you say it was not that bad, someone would argue that there should be no gradation between crimes, that all crimes are equally awful. Conclusion, especially if you have been sexually assaulted, don’t talk about it. You have already lost. Shut up, now.

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