Exposing Adam Lee’s lies about Richard Dawkins

While I was gone Daylight Atheism‘s Adam Lee wrote a piece at Comment is free. Originally called ‘Richard Dawkins has officially lost it: he’s now a sexist pig giving atheists a bad name’, the article has since been renamed ‘Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name‘. Perhaps someone wanted more brevity; perhaps Lee didn’t like editors’ choice of title; perhaps Dawkins fired off an email rant, as he did last year when a colleague tweeted my criticisms.

Since that Buzzfeed article went up and Sam Harris mouthed off about ladybrains, Dawkins has railed nonstop about bloggers like me and Lee ‘faking outrage‘ for money. (Far be it from the author of The God Delusion, worth $135m according to the Sunday Times, to engineer controversy for profit.) Backstroking through my own pools of cash, I have to tell him £17.50 – from seventeen different posts – is the most I’ve ever made from a month’s ad hits.

If outrage posts do well, it’s only because normally they’re topical. The biggest factor in the traffic something gets is how ‘current’ it is: while I’m sure Lee’s article has done well, I’d put money on Scotland’s referendum being the Guardian‘s biggest pull this week; I imagine a Cif piece defending Dawkins would do similarly well and posts about a five- or -ten-year-old controversy would flop. At least in my case, calling him out doesn’t get half the traffic now it got a year ago because readers are used to it – that Richard Dawkins’ Twitter feed is awful is old news. I’m expecting Adam Lee name’s will do more than his, in fact, to draw attention to this piece.

Most of Dawkins’ critics aren’t even paid bloggers. That he can’t imagine atheists rebuking him without ulterior motives – that he doesn’t think a rational person could sincerely object to him – speaks to his greatest and best-established flaws: the man has an out-of-control ego and no grasp that there’s more than one point of view.

In case you still need more evidence of that, see what he said about Lee’s article:

This seems to be the main objection, but to date no one has said which sentence in particular contains a lie. I’ve decided to look for it myself.

We can rule out first the parts that are unfalsifiable, i.e. that would be called opinion in court or claim entirely personal knowledge. Isolating them looks like this.

I became an atheist on my own, but it was Richard Dawkins who strengthened and confirmed my decision. For a long time, I admired his insightful science writing, his fierce polemics, his uncompromising passion for the truth.

So, I’m not saying this is easy, but I have to say it: Richard Dawkins, I’m just not that into you anymore.

On Twitter these last few days, Dawkins has reverted to his old, sexist ways and then some.

Remarks like these make him a liability at best, a punchline at worst. He may have convinced himself that he’s the Most Rational Man Alive, but if his goal is to persuade everyone else that atheism is a welcoming and attractive option, Richard Dawkins is doing a terrible job.

What’s so frustrating, from the standpoint of the large and growing non-religious demographic, is that Dawkins is failing badly to live up to his own standards. As both an atheist and a scientist, he should be the first to defend the principle that no one is above criticism, and that any idea can be challenged, especially an idea in accord with popular prejudices.

[W]hen it comes to feminism, he’s steadfastly refused to let his own consciousness be raised. Instead, he clings to his insular and privileged viewpoint – and, worse, he’s creating the impression that ‘true’ atheists all share his retrograde attitudes.

Like many scientists who accomplished great things earlier in their careers, Richard Dawkins has succumbed to the delusion that he’s infallible on any topic he chooses to address, and in so doing, has wandered off the edge and plummeted into belligerent crankery

Whatever he may say, it’s up to the wider atheist community to make it clear that this one public intellectual doesn’t speak for all of us. If the atheist movement is going to thrive and make a difference in our society, it needs to grow beyond its largely older, largely male, largely white roots.

Dawkins . . . is harming the cause he himself claims to care about.

In the long run, however, the reputation Dawkins will damage the most is his own.

Nothing there, as far as I can see, could be a lie. Then there are opinions quoted from other people:

‘I’m surprised and, frankly, shocked by Richard’s belligerent remarks about feminist bloggers over the past couple of days,’ [Ophelia Benson] told me. ‘Part of what made The God Delusion so popular was, surely, its indignant bluntness about religion. It was a best-seller; does that mean he ‘faked’ his outrage?’

(It is, of course, a claim of fact that TGD was a bestseller. I assume no one’s challenging that.)

Blogger and author Greta Christina told me, ‘I can’t tell you how many women, people of colour, other marginalised people I’ve talked with who’ve told me, “I’m an atheist, but I don’t want anything to do with organised atheism if these guys are the leaders.”

[A]uthor and blogger PZ Myers told me, ‘At a time when our movement needs to expand its reach, it’s a tragedy that our most eminent spokesman has so enthusiastically expressed such a regressive attitude.’

As [Amy Roth] told me this week: [']The men and women in this community have a right to speak up about it, and if the best argument you have against us is that we are the “thought police” or we are writing for “clickbait” or that the weight of our words is equivalent to an actual “witch hunt”, then perhaps it’s time to retire to your study and calmly reevaluate the actual topics at hand.[']

Nothing falsifiable there either: you might not share any of these opinions, but you’d be hard-pressed to call them lies. That’s half the article out of the way. Now to the bits that do make factual claims.

[When] something I’d written got a (brief) mention in The God Delusion[, it was one of the high points of my life].

It did. This thing, specifically.

The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it.

It has. It really has. No one doubts that.

Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement:

They have – here, here and here, for a start.

parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership[...]

Quite so.

and that’s before you get to the vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off, that’s designed to intimidate women into silence.

There’s some room for debate on how sexual harassment is defined, and its purpose is a matter of opinion. To begin with, though.

Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better – as with his infamous ‘Dear Muslima’ letter in 2011[.]

He has.

But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment; he even apologized for the ‘Dear Muslima’ letter. On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist and said that everyone else should be, too.

Links are right there. (Tangentially I think Lee gives Dawkins too much credit on the last point: he’s always called himself a feminist, just not the ‘radical‘, ‘conformist‘ or counting-white-sexism-too sort.)

Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an ‘estrogen vibe’ and was ‘to some degree intrinsically male‘. And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over.

Again I assume no one doubts this happened.

There’s no denying that Dawkins played a formative role in the atheist movement, but it’s grown beyond just him.

Or this. (Either half.)

It’s not just women who are outraged by Dawkins these days[.]

Or this. (Hello.)

[Roth] recently debuted an exhibit in which she literally wallpapered a room with the misogynist messages that she and other feminists have received[.]

She did. Three quarters of the article and still no lies. Apart from stray words I’ve cut to preserve grammar, all that remains are summaries and representations of other people’s statements. Lee on ‘Dear Muslima‘:

[H]e essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation.

Here’s what Dawkins said. Here is his own recent summary of what he said:

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, 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.

Sounds pretty similar to me. Lee on Dawkins’ comments about Skepchick’s ‘Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated’ campaign (the quote links to a full dissection):

There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies.

Here’s some background information. Here are Dawkins’ tweets about it (see also the immediate replies):

Sounds pretty sneery to me.

Lee on Dawkins’ tweets this last week:

He’s been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans who just want an excuse to take offense, and how Harris’s critics (and his own) are not unlike thought police witch-hunter lynch mobs. Dawkins claimed that his critics are engaged in ‘clickbait for profit’, that they ‘fake outrage’, and that he wished there were some way to penalise them.

Follow the links. Re-read the introduction here.

Lee:

For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking.

Here’s what Dawkins tweeted:

Sounds pretty similar to me.

Lee:

Benson, with whom Dawkins had signed the anti-harassment letter just weeks earlier, was not impressed.

I assume again that this isn’t in doubt.

[W]ith no discernible sense of irony, Dawkins is publicly recycling the bad arguments so often used against him as an atheist: accusing his critics of being ‘outrage junkies’ who are only picking fights for the sake of notoriety;

roaring about ‘thought police’ as though it were a bad thing to argue that someone is mistaken and attempt to change their mind;

scoffing that they’re ‘looking for excuses to be angry’ as though the tone of the argument, rather than its factual merits, were the most important thing; encouraging those who are targets of criticism to ignore it rather than respond.

000

Lower tweet retweeted by Dawkins.

Lee:

[Roth] finds the systemic sexism incredibly frustrating.

I assume this isn’t in doubt.

On other occasions, Dawkins himself has emphasised the importance of awakening people to injustice and mistreatment they may have overlooked.

Here he is, doing so. Note he immediately models his argument on feminism.

And I assume- no. I conclude this final bit isn’t in doubt:

Dawkins [shows] very public hostility toward the people who emphasize the importance of diversity, who want to make the community broader and more welcoming, and who oppose sexual harassment and sexist language[.]

That’s it. That’s the whole article.

Now all the facts are in front of you: where was the dishonesty here, exactly? Who and what was misrepresented?

It’s time Adam Lee’s lies were exposed – because I sure as fuck can’t find them.

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Recommended reading: Dawkins, Harris, Shermer, homeless queer youth and invisible disabilities

Things happened recently. Other things happen frequently and were recently discussed.

  • ‘The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out By Religious Families’, by Alex Morris (Rolling Stone)
    Since 2002, when President George W. Bush issued an executive order that permitted faith-based organisations to receive federal support for social services, an increased amount of federal funding has gone to churches and religion­affiliated organizations where LGBT youth may not feel welcome.
  • ‘Too many LGBT kids are still homeless. And we still throw money at marriage?’, by Zach Stafford (Comment is free)
    Young LGBT people who experience homelessness commit suicide at a higher rate (62%) than heterosexual homeless youth (29%), and are 7.4 times more likely to experience sexual violence than their heterosexual counterparts. They have higher risk of mental health problems and unsafe sex practices leading to the acquisition of HIV. Young people between 13-24 are the only age group to experience an increase rate of infection from 2007-2010, with much of this incident linked to young gay and bisexual men.
  • ‘4 Ways to Be an Ally to People with Invisible Disabilities’, by Sara Whitestone (Everyday Feminism)
    It’s a constant juggle between wanting to do as much as I can without hurting myself while dealing with the social repercussions of my fluctuating abilities. The most common thing I hear from strangers is, ‘But you don’t look disabled’ or ‘You don’t look sick.’ In my experience, strangers confront me every time I go out in public to validate my disability to them in some way – and this is a common experience.
  • ‘Sam Harris Is Just Factually Wrong – Globally, Atheism Has No Gender Split’ (Greta Christina’s Blog)
    Harris recently gave an interview to the Washington Post. When asked why the vast majority of atheists . . . are male, he said this this: ‘I think it may have to do with my personal slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas . . . There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys’. There are a lot of possible responses to this. The first one that springs to my mind, and to many people’s minds, is, ‘Fuck you, you sexist, patronising asshole.’
  • ‘Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?’, by Mark Oppenheimer (Buzzfeed)
    Movements cannot, if they are to continue growing, be led by men who talk like Penn Jillette or act like Michael Shermer. Their language and behaviour would be a huge problem if they sought a political career, a Supreme Court nomination or a college presidency, yet they are exalted as leaders of an ethical and philosophical movement.
  • ‘Dawkins Tries Again (or, 16 pieces of evidence against Michael Shermer)’, by Stephanie Zvan (Almost Diamonds)
    As I pointed out to Dawkins on Twitter this morning, we have significantly more evidence against Shermer than [he suggests].

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Recommended reading: Lena Dunham, (black) atheists, transphobia and Scotland

Time for some recent favourites from around the web.

  • ‘Why Lena Dunham’s Curves Make Me Feel Like Shit About My Own’, by Chelsea Leibow (Feminspire)
    The extremism against her form, the repulsion I’ve witnessed from not just random commenters hiding behind a handle, but real friends willing to screech about their need for a sick bag when they see her on screen, break my goddamn heart. Because god forbid I be so lucky as to have a career like this woman’s.
  • ‘Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris Are Old News: A Totally Different Atheism Is on the Rise’, by Chris Hall (AlterNet)
    When old-school atheists attempt to dismiss social justice issues as ‘mission drift,’ it seems like a betrayal of the very principle that was most attractive about standing up and identifying as an atheist in the first place.
  • ‘It’s Time For People to Stop Using the Social Construct of “Biological Sex” to Defend Their Transmisogyny’, by Mey (Autostraddle)
    Those who claim that sex is determined by chromosomes must not realize that sex is assigned at birth not by chromosomes, not even by gonads, but by genitals. In fact, the vast majority of us never learn what our sex chromosomes are. Sex isn’t something we’re actually born with, it’s something that doctors or our parents assign us at birth.
  • ‘Scotland should go it alone’, by Dòmhnall Iain Dòmhnallach (The Oxford Student)
    Voting yes to independence is not anglophobic – it is a statement that the people who happen to live in Scotland deserve better than Westminster. Voting yes means voting no to nuclear weapons, no to the bedroom tax, no to the all-out assault on the welfare state which has become almost axiomatic within the London parties.
  • ‘Atheism has a big race problem that no one’s talking about’, by Sikivu Hutchinson (The Washington Post)
    When [black nonbelievers] look to atheist and humanist organizations for solidarity on these issues, there is a staggering lack of interest. And though some mainstream atheist organizations have jumped on the ‘diversity’ bandwagon, they haven’t seriously grappled with the issue. Simply trotting out atheists of color to speak about ‘diversity’ at overwhelmingly white conferences doesn’t cut it.