Dammit, Richard

So much wrong.

Transcript below the fold.

This is a sad, disappointing video for me. Once again, Richard Dawkins screws up in a television interview, this time with Piers Morgan. His first mistake was appearing on a program with that loutish oaf and pandering to a lot of conservative nonsense without reservation. Morgan is a Catholic of the stupid flavor, and argues with him that a failure of evolution is that no human brain can explain what nothing is, and it all goes downhill from there. I could dwell on the idiocy of much of the conversation, in which I’d mainly take Dawkins’ side, but I won’t — I think Dawkins should have just walked out on the persistent fool in the first five minutes. I would have.

Then they started on sex. I’ll focus on one thing.

[clip: As a biologist, there are two sexes, and that’s all there is to it.]

That’s not true. There’s a lot more to it. But I can understand why he said it.

Dawkins’ reputation is as an eloquent science popularizer, but what he has been popularizing is a strongly reductionist view of biology, favoring a gene-centric perspective that was developed by Hamilton, Trivers, Williams, and Maynard Smith. It’s a valid and useful perspective that has been successful in answering questions about evolution. Dawkins gives a great example of this view in the interview when he tries to explain life’s origin.

[clip: replicators]

He’s not wrong. My objection is with that phrase, “that’s all there is to it.” It’s a gross oversimplification of both evolution and sex. He has to know that, and if he were pinned down on that phrase — something Piers Morgan is ill-equipped to do — he’d probably squirm uncomfortably and admit that it is a simplification, but a useful one. I’d add that it may be useful, but it’s also incomplete and lazy.

For example: “there are two sexes, and that’s all there is to it.” I can see where he’s coming from, that’s a common view among many TERFs/Gender Criticals who think it’s a slam dunk argument to say that there are only two kinds of gametes, eggs and sperm, and therefore there can only be two kinds of sexes. My problem with that is that it’s incomplete. We are not sperm and eggs. We are not simply gametes, or even meat robots bumbling about with a small package of sperm or eggs, even if that is a metaphor I’ve heard scientists use.

As a developmental biologist, the idea that there are only two sexes because there are only two kinds of gametes is nonsense. It’s true that there are only two kinds of functional gametes in humans, but we are not our gametes. We are complex multicellular organisms. The moment of fusion of sperm and egg might be adequate for an extreme reductionist, but it neglects so many aspects of subsequent biological change and variation. Sperm meets egg…but we’re not even close to being done. Months of differentiation follow, and even at birth the process is not complete. Hormone levels, secondary sexual characteristics, maturation of internal organs, the brain…all are going to take years to develop. You might think you can peek in the baby’s diapers and predict with absolute certainty their future role as biological organisms in human society, but you’d be wrong. Genitals aren’t destiny. There are layers and layers of biological change that are going to occur, and all of them exhibit variation, sometimes in contradiction to previous layers of change. There is nothing counter to biology for someone to develop a female brain in a male body, or vice versa, or to have a non-gendered mind.

Dawkins is wrong. There’s a heck of a lot more to it, and it’s a disservice to developmental biology to claim otherwise.

As an evolutionary biologist, I have to point out that while the properties of individual cells are part of the story, it’s not the whole of it: evolution occurs at the level of populations. The success of the human species isn’t a matter of individuals producing gametes, but is all about groups of people with diverse abilities and specializations. It’s not just about half the population picking up a spear and the other half tending the hearth — and, by the way, neither of those occupations require the use of the genitals. It’s also all about
The ones who dance
the ones who teach
the ones who play with nephews and nieces
the ones who make tools
the ones who weave baskets
the ones who remember
the ones who fish
the ones who provide mutual aid
the ones who compose poems
the ones who garden
and yes, the ones who hunt and the ones who keep the home.

The human experience is all about diversity. The kind of reductionism Dawkins is promoting does us no favors, and would only apply if we were asocial single-celled breeders. Which is valid for most of the life on earth, but most of which, curiously, don’t bother with the whole business of differently differentiated sexes anyway.

I’ve been seeing a lot of this particular kind of argument from the anti-trans folk lately, that there is sperm and there is egg, and therefore sex is binary and there should be only man and woman. It’s wrong and it’s irrelevant. People are not perambulating spermatozoa and ova, and you have to discard an awful lot of complexity and developmental history to pretend they are. We are all the products of elaborate epigenetic interactions that produce the variety of different human beings we see all around us, and you can’t ignore the signicance of that, or the fact that it obviously creates people who do not uniformly fit into two stereotypical boxes.

As a gotcha against trans men and trans women to deny their identity, it also fails as irrelevant. Trans men are not pretending that they have testes, and trans women are under no illusion that they have acquired ovaries — they don’t even consider either of those organs to be essential to their sexual identity. They are usually more aware of the biology of sex than are conservative pundits, and for that matter, some world-famous biologists. Do these antis think that telling a trans person that they were formed by the fusion of a sperm and an egg would be a huge surprise that would shatter their worldview? Do they believe that reciting a trivial, basic biology fact would completely undermine the more sophisticated, thoroughly understood facts that go well beyond their grade school oversimplifications?

As a former ally of Richard Dawkins — I would not go so far as to say we were close enough to be friends — I want to say one more thing. Richard, you are not going to restore your respectability by embracing thuggish know-nothings like Piers Morgan. That these are the only people you can find who will publicly agree with your unenlightened views on sex and gender does not make them your friends. They’re just going to drag you down deeper into the cesspool of bizarre radical conservative views, out of the light of reason and truth that you’ve always said you valued, into a conspiracy of hate that is all about authoritarianism and doing harm to your fellow human beings. Stop now before your world becomes even darker.


  1. nomdeplume says

    Well, I guess it’s the ultimate extension of the “Selfish Gene” idea, ie that bodies are just vehices for passing on a new generation of genes. A view that was always wrong, but which was an original and useful way of turning received wisdom on its head.

    But from an original insight to Piers Morgan is a downward path that many people seem to be taking, most recently Russell Brand and John Cleese.

    Very sad. I don’t have heroes, but I once thought highly of Richard. Not any more.

  2. spinynorman8 says

    The simple answer is that the prototypical X and Y chromosomes can come together (or not) in a number of non-binary combinations (X0-Turner’s syndrome, e.g.) that do not produce simple XX or XY sexes (which I presume is his definition here), meaning that they are not themselves sex determinant.

  3. petesh says

    @1 IX-103, the ■■■■ing idiot — I was not aware of that paper, which I have just saved, so thank you for that.
    @3 spinynorman8 — and yours of course is the easier route to sanity.

  4. says

    I appreciate all the cogent comments above. But, Piers Morgan is a Nat C. catholic corporation Ahole being fed a shovel full of bullshit by an imbecile. It is documented that there are about 1.5 percent of births that are not strictly, biologically male or female. I am so frustrated by these ahole’s diseased obsession with other peoples’ gender, sex and genetics. They are tiny, malformed, bigoted minds trying to pound the entire spectrum of humans into either a round or square hole to try to prove that their obscene book is correct. Let’s see them work geometry with their obscene book’s mandate that pi is 3, not 3.1415… I have to stop letting this crap contaminate my thoughts. Please everyone, let’s not let these imbeciles waste any more of our time.

  5. wzrd1 says

    I shitcan him immediately when he claimed the human brain cannot define what nothing is.
    “So, you can’t tell if your checking account is empty or not?”
    “How can we possibly discuss this when you don’t comprehend the difference between something from nothing?”
    For some odd reason, reporters are loathe to consider interviewing me. Probably because I suffer fools poorly.

  6. chrislawson says


    I personally am of the “chicken is an egg’s way of making another egg” school of thinking, but I completely reject Dawkins’ literally idiotic, anti-evidentiary statement that there are just two sexes and that’s the end of it. I mean, seriously, as a biologist he must know that this is a bullshit statement and going on regressive conservative shows to spout this bullshit is a complete betrayal of his self-claimed humanistic ideals.

    My point here being that even a gene-centric view of evolution does NOT extend to completely misrepresenting the very clear evidence on sex and gender development that Dawkins is — let’s be open here — outright lying about.

  7. Artor says

    Speak for yourself, PZ. Some of us are quite adept at keeping the hearth or hunting food with our genitals. I used mine to mop the floor after I killed a deer with it.

  8. beyondhope says

    Thanks so much for this PZ. It’s genuinely so helpful to have a professional biologist’s opinion cut through Dawkins’ reputation to the actual science of the matter. I’m sure I speak for so many when I say I’m always learning here.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    To cheer you up after watching this television interview, I just want to mention Labour just won in the New South Wales election. This means the coalition (approximately the Tories, or the Republicans) has lost power in all mainland states of Australia as well as on federal level.
    I can only hope Rupert Murdoch gets a stroke when he reads the news.
    Also, may Britain and USA be purged of the charlatans as thoroughly as Australia!
    And now back to biology. 😁

  10. wzrd1 says

    Artor, your buttocks isn’t your genitals. Trust me, I’ve killed quite a few organisms by sitting on them and have definitely mopped the floor with my butt plenty of times.
    But, there is no creature on earth whose genital orifice emit poison gas.

  11. chrislawson says

    I don’t mean to teach anyone how to suck eggs, but please allow me to start with some basics as a launching point for explaining that the problem here is not reductionism.

    I’m sure we all pretty much agree that, broadly speaking, reductionism is the process of breaking things down into smaller parts to see how they work while holism is the process of working out how things work together and the effects that are generated by those interactions. Both holism and reductionism are necessary for scientific understanding. And I think it’s fair to criticise Dawkins for being overly reductionist in much of his thinking, and that his preference for reductionism is contributing to his current statements, but it is not sufficient.

    Lots of scientists over many decades have worked on examining sex determination models and we have amassed a huge wealth of genetic and chromosomal studies. There’s a lot we still don’t understand (for instance we still don’t have an explanation for that XY person giving birth to an XY daughter mentioned upthread), but we know that Dawkin’s binary model is wrong and we can say it is wrong because of reductionist evidence. That is, when you break down the model with reductionist studies, first we find that XX/XY is not the whole picture because of XXY, XO, and other non-XX/XY variations. Then we find that that isn’t the full story because of the SRY gene. Then we find that the SRY gene is not the full story because of metabolic variations like AIS. Then we learn that androgen metabolism is not the full story because of numerous case studies of people who do not fit our existing models at all. A significant proportion of intersex people have no identified genetic or metabolic condition. And this is just on the anatomical and physiological development side of things. The (relatively) easy to measure stuff. On issues like gender identity and sexual orientation we have literally zero effective explanatory models. At best we have a small cluster of interesting observations (e.g. that people with autism are more likely to identify as transgender), but no genetic, hormonal, metabolic, or indeed any biological model that bears even a superficial descriptive resemblance to observed reality.

    What Dawkins is doing here is the logical equivalent of a 1920s physicist insisting that there are only protons and electrons in atoms and nothing else, ignoring the evidence on atomic mass that showed there must be non-charged entities in nuclei. This is not reductionism. It’s not holism either. It’s misrepresentation. Dawkins is pretty much demanding we stick to an undergrad model of sexual development from the 1950s, about the time he would have been a young biology student, in a subfield in which he has no expertise. And unlike a stubborn refusal to believe in neutrons which only damages the reputation of the denier, dismissing the spectrum of sex, gender, and orientation is actively harmful to vulnerable people at a time of escalating violence against sex and gender minorities. How very humanist of him.

    For those who want an excellent historical summary of the subject, I can recommend this chapter in Measuring Sex, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation.

  12. StevoR says

    @ ^ birgerjohansson : Yes! A particularly religious extremist LNP leader* famous for uber-Catholicism and once wearing a nazi costume* wiped out in a landslide. (see : https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-03-25/western-sydney-electorates-return-to-labor-in-2023-election/102145798 & https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/chris-minns-vows-fresh-start-for-nsw-as-labor-on-track-to-form-majority-government/w1c10bqb3 ) All those hopes seconded by me.

    .* See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominic_Perrottet

  13. chrislawson says


    Weirdly, Perrotet was probably the most moderate of all the current LNP leaders. If you looked at his policies he belonged in the regrettably conservative camp rather than the mad Murdochist camp. And although he is a traditionalist Catholic, he (much to my repeated surprise) refused to let that dictate his legislative agenda. Still, it’s good that he’s gone. Our next problem is convincing the ALP that they don’t have to stick to irresponsiby regressive politics like AUKUS, high-end tax cuts, or opening new gas fields just because of a fear of being wedged on them.

  14. says

    nomdeplume @2: I have similar feelings about John Cleese lately. Perhaps this is a good time to formally bid farewell to both him and Dawkins, and admit that all their best work is now behind them. WAAAAY behind them.

  15. numerobis says

    His first mistake was appearing on a program with that loutish oaf and pandering to a lot of conservative nonsense without reservation

    I can’t figure out if “his” refers to Morgan or Dawkins here.

  16. microraptor says

    Raging Bee @19: Cleese’s “all-in” racist support of Brexit and Elevatorgate weren’t enough to convince you?

  17. chrislawson says


    No question Cleese repeatedly disgraced himself over Brexit (especially weirdly since at the same time he was making egregious comments about London not being part of England any more, he was also excoriating the right-wing press; really, Mr Cleese, were you not aware that Brexit and the dogwhistle racism of ‘not my England anymore’ were almost entirely inventions the UK right-wing media?). But I didn’t think he’d even be aware of Elevatorgate and couldn’t find any hits on Google. Do you have a link?

  18. chrislawson says


    Unfortunately that Wikipedia entry is almost entirely about the mechanical trivia of politics, you know, who was in which faction, etc., while saying almost nothing about his policies. I do know, though, that he torpedoed the state’s negotiations on an Indigenous treaty using the Murdoch-encrusted soundbite that it was ‘symbolic’ and ‘not practical’. (My usual response to that is ‘So you’re not even willing to make symbolic changes!’)

  19. birgerjohansson says

    Another horrible person.
    De Santis is scrambling to cover his tracks after incriminating video uncovered. The sociopath gave legal advice to “legalise” torture at Guantanamo and was even present at force-feeding of prisoners.
    This person wants to be president, and claims to be better than Trump.

  20. cartomancer says

    I had pretty much this exact conversation during the week, with two colleagues. One was an English teacher, the other a Biology teacher. Needless to say I had to point out to the latter that the whole “it’s all to do with gametes” bit was massively reductive.

    Of course, it didn’t start as just an academic discussion about the explanatory power of scientific models of the world. The school was putting on a charity staff vs. students football game to raise money for Stonewall, and the English teacher objected because, apparently “they’re trying to roll back women’s rights by allowing men into women’s spaces”. I tried to remain respectful, because she had clearly got these talking points from an uncritical absorption of right-wing media, but it’s worth pointing out that when your starting point for how to treat a minority group is “they’re all probably deceptive rapists trying to hurt women and children”, you’re following in the footsteps of innumerable bigoted hate campaigns throughout history. In the 80s and 90s it was gay people who were trying to molest our children and shouldn’t be allowed to teach or share toilets with ordinary folk. In the 60s and 70s it was black people and Pakistani people who you wouldn’t want to live near, because they’re all dirty and probably also rapists who want to kidnap our women and children. In the Middle Ages it was Jewish people. Every single time it’s the same tired old tropes. Every single time.

    I don’t normally like confrontation at work, but this time I felt I had to. We have trans students at the school, and they have probably taught them at some point in the past, and will again in future. Also, it’s Surrey, and the Tory nonsense is strong here. Someone has to reach these people before they go spreading it to others.

  21. says

    …and that’s all there is to it.

    This statement should never be uttered by anyone claiming the slightest understanding of biology.
    There’s always more to it, it’s always more complicated, and there’s always an exception.

  22. René says

    I learned Dicky was a dick in Dublin a day or so before Elevatorgate. He stole my beer at the bar as if he was entitled by the grace of god. I blame PZ too, to a lesser degree, as he saw Dicky steal my beer, and didn’t say a word.
    In short, Dawkins хуйло.

  23. says

    #25: Fortunately, I work in a biology department where everybody seems to be quite aware of the actual facts of biology. There is a certain philosophy professor who has appeared on Fox News demonstrating that he isn’t aware, but he’s in a different building so I rarely encounter him.

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    cartomancer @ # 25: The school was putting on a charity staff vs. students football game to raise money for Stonewall, and the English teacher objected because, apparently “they’re trying to roll back women’s rights by allowing men into women’s spaces”.

    Eh what? Just to make sure this wasn’t, say, a repair effort for Hadrian’s masonry project, I looked up stonewall.org.uk, “the largest LGBT rights organisation in Europe”*, and they have unambiguous pro-trans-rights statements on their front page – so why did that English teacher with that attitude even get involved?

    *Do they oppose either of the Qs?

  25. microraptor says

    @22: Sorry, it was late when I posted that so I was not terribly coherent. What I meant was “Between Cleese’s support of Brexit and Dawkin’s debacle with Elevatorgate.” Didn’t meant to imply that Cleese had anything to do with Elevatorgate, to the best of my knowledge he had no involvement.

  26. moonslicer says

    “As a biologist, there are two sexes, and that’s all there is to it.”


    Well, in the late sixties I could have said, “As a beginning biology student, there are two kingdoms, and that’s all there is to it.” At least that’s all we were taught. Plants and animals: if you’re a living creature you’re one or the other. There are only two choices.

    I remember, too, how that often confused me. I’d see a photo in our textbook of some little critter, and I was constantly asking myself, “Is that one a plant or an animal?” It didn’t look anything like any plant or animal I’d ever seen.

    So later when I learned about four domains, plants and animals being two kingdoms within one of those four domains, that made sense to me. A more complex scheme, yes, but it made sense. Things aren’t so binary, so simple.

  27. Matt G says

    I explained to 9 and 10 years about the sry gene and how an XY person could develop ovaries, a clitoris, etc. They understood quite clearly. Also explained Klinefelter’s. Not so difficult.

  28. Alan G. Humphrey says

    Dawkins can’t even reductionist right. The vast majority by number of living human cells in a living human don’t even have a nucleus, much less XY chromosomes, so by that measure we are vastly non-sexual beings. An even more vast majority of our lives are spent not having sex, so in that measure we are more vastly non-sexual beings. Sexuality is vastly cultural, and that’s all there is to it.

  29. Pierce R. Butler says

    Raging Bee @ # 5: Is that interview recent, or something I heard about elsewhere around two weeks ago?

    Apparently, March 20th of this year.

    Did either you or your broad-/pod- cast receiver fall into a chronosynclastic infundibulum earlier this month anytime?

  30. silentsanta says

    Dawkins’ position here is incredibly sad, but it’s also inconsistent with biological science (leaves out developmental biology, including things like unexpressed SRY genes and androgen insenstivity), but it leaves out sociology and medicine as well:.. when I was a medical student in the birthing suite filling out a birth certificate, I wasn’t karyotyping the infant, I was simply looking between the infants legs and ticking a box on a piece of paper: this is not a transcendent exercise, it is a piece of bureaucracy. The paper is an (imperfect) pointer to the person that just arrived. Maps aren’t territory: Social assignment of gender is emphatically a cultural process, and it occurs different ways in different societies (fa’afafine for example), it can clearly be done incorrectly, and it should be contestable.

    What is even more sad is that Dawkins argument here relies on ignoring even more relevant science in areas he has written about. Dawkins spends a signficant amount of time in /The God Delusion/ specifically arguing that parents assigning social labels like “Christian” or “Muslim” to their kids is wrong. It’s so incredibly wrong, Dawkins declares, that he repeatedly argues that assigning these labels amounts to a form of child abuse. I am deeply unsympathetic to Dawkins’ portrayal of the severity of that issue; I think if that practice was abusive there would be some pretty alarming empirical outcomes associated with it, and what evidence we have doesn’t match.

    Unfortunately for Dawkins, this same non-consensual label scenario is exactly what we have when it comes to trans people: and here we have decades of empirical research showing devastating outcomes to their wellbeing from an unwanted and non-consensual social category enforced on them by society. The evidence for this harm is mountainous by this point, addressing it is an ethical necessity, but Dawkins’ commitment to consistency and to following the evidence disappears when it comes to trans people. It was heartbreaking to see Dawkins sign the anti-trans WDI/WHRC declaration a few years ago; so him talking about this on Piers Morgan wasn’t some isolated mis-step.

  31. curbyrdogma says

    Two sexes in mammals; two gametes — egg and sperm. This is a false equivalency WRT the “transgender” issue, which has much more to do with fitting into human society than it does with how you contribute your DNA to the next generation. Pop “transgenderism” is more about defining the sexes according to cultural gender stereotypes, — stereotypes which may have served a more practical social function in simpler bygone days, but are increasingly less necessary as modern technology changes culture (ex: families’ survival depended on occupations that required men’s physical labor).

    As anyone in biology also understands, stereotypes are reinforced by selective breeding — and humans have pretty much relaxed their standards wrt that (with the exception of maybe the Spartans and the occasional nefarious political movement) …So it’s to be expected that there should be individuals with various secondary traits and characteristics that don’t all align with a strictly dimorphous, “binary” view of gender. That doesn’t mean they’re biologically the opposite sex, it just means humans are more multifaceted than we’d like to assume. …As is biology. Just look at the examples of the Cassowary, Spotted Hyena, Emperor Tamarin and other species that don’t follow the common-knowledge assumptions about stereotypical gender traits.

  32. wzrd1 says

    PZ @29, well, at least it was only beer. Were it coffee, the offense is a serious one, utterly worthy of shoelace tying together.

    curbyrdogma, there you go, trying to confuse important things like the issues with silly little things like facts.
    Won’t someone please think of the children before they get the deviled eggs and I can’t get any?
    I think my coat’s over there…

  33. birgerjohansson says

    There are plenty of cultures in the world that do not follow the expectations of hierarchic clan leaders among pre-industrial groups, nor do all cultures condemn outliers in gender identity.
    I am reminded of the saying “what is the truth in Berlin is a bad joke in Heidelberg”.

    As Cleese has been mentioned; yes, he is an 80 year old man who is sad that London looks different than in his youth (more cosmopolitan, for instance). He also bought into the Brexit propaganda.
    What he does not approve of was laughing “down”, otherwise he thinks pretty much everything is fair game.
    This certainly makes him a better person than Pence, or Chapelle or the racist **** on Downing Street.

    Another Englishman* that is flawed but basically decent is John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten. A working class kid, he has said stupid things in his youth (and probably still has some prejudices) but what made me respect him is when I learned he tried to out Jimmy Savile the BBC-protected child molester.

    Flawed people but better than their “betters” who vote to ship refugees to Rwanda.
    *He lives in Ireland today, where he is looking after his Alzheimer’s-sick wife.
    Jeez, every time De Santis comes up in the news they have dug up something despicable. He sent undercover cops to a bar featuring performers in drag hoping they could find something lewd so he could close it down.
    They found nothing, but not DeSantis is withdrawing their permit to serve alcohol anyway. Because he can.

  34. Thornapple says

    The religious conservatives’ view are obvious, but to see the New Atheists like Dawkins and most of the atheist/skeptic community going down the same rabbit hole against trans people are just sad and frustrating. That they abuse their “logic & reason” to undermine trans people is disheartening.

    You know that the current (mostly white male) atheist community are too far gone when even a prolific webcomic like Jesus & Mo is doubling down against trans people.

  35. says

    mocroraptor @21: I never followed Cleese all that closely, and never heard of him WRT Brexit. And I only hear of him indirectly WRT trans people. I did, however, hear a LOT about Elevatorgate, and have dismissed Dawkins as — AT BEST — old and lazy ever since.

  36. lotharloo says

    Heh, I have not seen J&M in a long time, after a while they a bit boring and I’m not into webcomics anyways. Do you know which one(s) were anti-trans?

  37. Derek Vandivere says

    And the first post up on whyevolutionistrue.com is Jerry Coyne defending the idea that sex is a binary, not even a bimodal distribution. He makes the interesting observation that you can’t really make a bimodal distribution if you don’t define what you’re measuring, and as PZ points out there’s not one value you can measure for maleness vs. femaleness.

    It’s an interesting question, but ultimately of limited value in talking about trans rights. As Coyne points out in his post, a lot of the debate seems to stem from conflating sex and gender – and gender is the relevant characteristic when you’re talking about to treat fellow people.

  38. lotharloo says

    @Derek Vandivere:

    As Coyne points out in his post, a lot of the debate seems to stem from conflating sex and gender – and gender is the relevant characteristic when you’re talking about to treat fellow people.

    Coyne mentions gender only in the passing. The undisputed fact is that right-wing uses science to bash and slash human rights and Coyne, Dawkins and all these fuckers are silent. While we can appreciate Coyne for admitting the difference between “gender” and “sex”, Dawkins outright dismisses it by saying that “he doesn’t care [about gender]”. But even in the case of Coyne, there is not affirmation of existence of trans people and the only acknowledgement of trans people is …

    You may remember that a while back SBM removed from its website Harriet Hall’s positive review of Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage, a book that argued against a rush to “affirmative care” for gender dysphoric youth and also speculated that the rise in transgender youth (mainly girls claiming a male identity) could be partly attributed to social contagion. That rubbed Novella & Co. the wrong way, so they removed Hall’s piece and explained why.

    Let me summarize Dawkins, Coyne, and all these fuckers. The argument does like this:

    Men: Sperm. Women: Egg. But … (wait for it) cough cough SPERM ≠ EGG!!!! All HAIL SCIENCE!!!!!

  39. Derek Vandivere says

    I can never quite tell with Jerry (I actually took him out for a boat ride when he visited Amsterdam some years ago – PZ, invitation’s open for you too if you ever make it!). He seems to focus in on the one specific issue (the nature of biological sex) while ignoring the context (should people use the toilet that matches their gender identity). Sometimes I get the feeling that he thinks of course they should, other times he weirdly defends JK Rowling.

    He DEFINITELY has a lot of transphobes in his commenters – if that’s even the right word for people who deny that trans people have a valid existence (e.g., “they claim to be a sex that they’re not” is a pretty common and disturbing comment).

  40. wzrd1 says

    Derek, I have fun with the toilet that matches their gender types on both sides. I’ve yet to see a boy’s toilet and girl’s toilet in the plumbing supply store, only toilets.
    With public toilets being inside of stalls for privacy, turning different room/same room pretty much a moot point.
    For all I care, when I’m in a stall doing my business, I don’t give a flying fuck if a horse is in the next stall, as long as it doesn’t knock the wall down.
    Anyone attacking another needs to be held down for law enforcement to remove, like the trash that they are.

  41. rorschach says

    “I learned Dicky was a dick in Dublin a day or so before Elevatorgate.”
    He would go for walks around town with Paula Kirby if memory serves, and then come back to the hotel and there would be the crazy Muslim creationist types ambushing him with their embryology nonsense while filming him with 20 grand worth of fancy recording equipment. I’d steal anyone’s grog too, if that was me.
    But on a more serious note, as he has aged, his answers to complex problems sure seem to have become more simplistic and binary. Who was that former priest turned atheist foundation person again, Dan something? He used to give a great talk about how the Bible is always all black or white, no shades of grey allowed.

  42. says

    Kudos for an excellent essay. This called for a longer than usual piece, and you rose to the occasion.


    the “Selfish Gene” idea, ie that bodies are just vehices for passing on a new generation of genes. A view that was always wrong

    The only thing wrong here (excusing typos) is the word “just”–as it almost always is; multiple frames and levels of description are possible–but I don’t think that was ever part of the formulation. The idea that genes, not bodies, are the unit of replication with modification is correct. After all, biological evolution is defined as a change over time in the frequency of alleles in a population.

    @15 Also an excellent informative and germane comment.

    @30 “a certain philosophy professor”

    Known to some as Dumbass Demetriou.


    It’s so incredibly wrong, Dawkins declares, that he repeatedly argues that assigning these labels amounts to a form of child abuse. I am deeply unsympathetic to Dawkins’ portrayal of the severity of that issue; I think if that practice was abusive there would be some pretty alarming empirical outcomes associated with it, and what evidence we have doesn’t match.

    I think it does.

    @46 “Do you know which one(s) were anti-trans?”

    See https://www.reddit.com/r/GamerGhazi/comments/neiylr/atheist_webcomic_jesus_and_mo_touches_on_trans/

    As for heroes: People are complex and flawed. People like Dawkins and Cleese have done a lot of good things, as well as some stinkers. Sam Harris too, and Jerry Coyne is even worse (I wrote that before seeing him mentioned here–I was thinking of a lot more than his post referred to above). The one “new atheist” who has never disappointed me is Dan Dennett, but I might have missed something. Even MLK Jr. cheated on his wife. And I saw a Noam Chomsky video where in the Q&A he claimed that a guy at the mic said something he didn’t say and arrogantly dismissing the fellow’s protest–but the video confirms that Chomsky was wrong. I still consider him heroic, despite his arrogant certainty about things I think are unclear or wrong. But I worship no one and no thing (which is different from nothing Piers, you ignorant buffoon).

  43. BACONSQAUDgaming says

    This was posted on WEIT today:

    And why is “reductionist” always used as a pejorative word? In fact, sex is reductionist, because evolution has worked on the gametes themselves to turn them down two pathsways–and only two pathsways, and from that everything else flows, including sexual dimorphism in appearance and behavior, difference in parental attentiveness, hairness and other secondary sexual traits, and so on. Male vs. femaleness can rest on chromosomal constitution, rearing temperature, environment, the sex of others around you, and other factors, but it in the end it always results—in all animals—in just two outcomes: individuals with the reproductive equipment to produce eggs, or the equipment to produce sperm. We know why, too: evolution will take a system beginning with all gametes the same (isogamous) and turn it into a system into which there are two, and only two, types of gametes. The two-gamete system (“gonochorism”) is then stable against the evolutionary invasion of new sexes. That’s why there are just two sexes. All vascular plants, too, produce sperm and eggs, and more often than animals in fertile hermaphrodites, but you won’t see botanists claiming that plants have three sexes.

  44. Jazzlet says

    Sometimes someone is just so wrong on a subject there is no point in challenging them beyond a simple “you are wrong” or perhaps “your premises are incorrect so everything that follows is incorrect”. That would be the both of you in case you are in any doubt.

  45. birgerjohansson says

    Jim Valter @ 52

    BTW goddamn Bertrand Russell could be arrogant, but he got it right about WWI. And nuclear war.

  46. wzrd1 says

    Well, he was known to change his mind frequently, so Russell had at least that going for him.
    Well, that and being like a properly broken analog clock, right twice per day.
    Sorry, but I part ways with eugenicist appeasers and those who suggested biological warfare against their entire species as a means of population control.
    But, he was spot on about Soviet style communism and socialism.
    Which part of nuclear war was he right on? When he advocated US use against a non-nuclear armed Soviet Union or later?
    Personally, I’m of the belief that the products of the insanity factories should be put under full UN control only. Given the UN’s history, they’ll never get used, as if the UN had to unanimously agree on when to have lunch, they’d starve to death.

  47. Ichthyic says

    The main thing that keeps bothering me, and has ever since as a grad student I was educated on Dawkins’ actual LACK of current scientific understanding, is that people actually ACCEPT him as an authority on science… at all.
    His entire post graduate research was a nonstarter really. He would have not even managed to get a PhD at Berkeley at the time, for example.
    …and yet, here we are, 40 years later, and Dawkins is STILL trotted out as a science authority figure, when he NEVER WAS. It’s a fail across all peoples. including many here.

  48. Ichthyic says

    “. The idea that genes, not bodies, are the unit of replication with modification is correct.”

    hate to inform ya, but that is INCORRECT. you seem to have missed taking even the most basic course on evolution theory. the level of selection is the individual, not the gene. I’m not even going to take the five minutes it would take to fully explain why to you. just pick up ANY basic text used for frosh biology even. it will explain it to you without me needed to take the time.

  49. Ichthyic says

    ^nevermind, I think you were not trying to support the selfish gene model, but you were rather muddled in your response to PZ, who WAS trying to clarify why the model was incorrect, and always was. there is a difference between the mechanism of replication, and the mechanism of selection. selection does not happen at the level of the gene, and this is what PZ was pointing out. I think you misunderstood him.

  50. Ichthyic says

    “The one “new atheist” who has never disappointed me is Dan Dennett”

    more bubble bursting then. he thought it was a great idea to go on a “debate tour” with William Dembski. Dennet can be pretty clueless.

  51. says

    @63 Even if that were true, which it isn’t, I’m talking about presented arguments and positions held. Dennett, like Hitchens, has debated numerous loons and I have no problem with that. Also, anyone who can’t spell “Dennett” is clueless (which I learned about you way back when on comp.ai.philosophy).

    the level of selection is the individual, not the gene.

    I didn’t say that the gene is the unit of selection, you moron; of course it’s the phenotype that is selected.