Dawkins did an interview at the Global Humanist Conference this morning, and PZ has a report-plus-dissent on it.
Dawkins spoke at #whc2014 this morning, in an interview with Samira Ahmed. Ahmed held his feet to the fire a bit, and grilled him on the recent rape comparisons on Twitter. Unfortunately, he made the same justifications all over again. Basically, his argument was that his critics are:
- Irrational, incapable of grasping the lucid logic of his argument.
- Emotional, driven entirely by a visceral reaction to rape.
- Suppressive, unwilling to discuss the issues calmly. They never discuss some topics, like rape and pedophilia.
He received resounding applause from a receptive audience, and he would have deserved it if there had been any truth at all to his claims. There isn’t.
Well I’m not even sure he would have deserved resounding applause if there had been a tiny bit of truth to his claims, because the truth would be incomplete and tendentious.
For one thing – it’s just not a good approach to keep announcing that “I am being flawlessly rational and everyone who disagrees with me is being irrational.” It’s really not.
It’s not good epistemology to start with the assumption that “I am flawlessly rational” period. Humans aren’t flawlessly rational; even humans who know all about the ways humans aren’t flawlessly rational can be irrational in the same ways as everyone else, and the best of them know that and point out examples of it. Daniel Kahneman does that in Thinking Fast and Slow, and Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson do it in Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).
And what he was saying wasn’t formal logic anyway. It wasn’t a syllogism. It made sense, it was reasonable, but it wasn’t a syllogism. It was a tweet but it was not a syllogism.
For the other thing, he’s just wrong in this disdain for what he calls “emotional.” Morality is an emotional subject; morality makes no sense without emotion; morality is not like a blueprint or an algorithm or a recipe. You need reason and feeling to be able to talk about it sensibly.
As many many many people have pointed out, he knows that himself – he said he chose a provocative subject on purpose. Well quite! If you’re going to choose a provocative subject, it’s no good then rejecting all the provoked responses on the grounds that they are provoked.
It’s not rational to think you can discuss inherently emotive subjects like rape “calmly” and with pure logic. I suspect he would be able to see this with no problem if the subjects were different. Imagine one of those BBC round-table discussions, in which an Islamist guy very calmly and logically explained why it’s haram for a woman to participate in public life. Would Dawkins frown on a feminist ex-Muslim woman who responded with heat as well as reason? I doubt it.