Dear Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins: you’re wrong. Deeply, profoundly, fundamentally wrong. Your understanding of feminism is flawed and misinformed, and further, you keep returning to the same poisonous wells of misinformation. It’s like watching creationists try to rebut evolution by citing Kent Hovind; do you not understand that that is not a trustworthy source? It’s a form of motivated reasoning, in which you keep returning to those who provide the comfortable reassurances that your biases are actually correct, rather than challenging yourself with new perspectives.

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Richard Dawkins still doesn’t get 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:

  1. Irrational, incapable of grasping the lucid logic of his argument.

  2. Emotional, driven entirely by a visceral reaction to rape.

  3. 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.

  1. Most of us understand the logic of “X is bad, Y is worse” not being an endorsement of X. To argue otherwise seriously disrespects your opponents (I would not be surprised if some individuals fail to get that, but they aren’t representative).

  2. When you are making an intentionally emotive argument, as Dawkins admitted, you lose the privilege to complain that your opponents have an emotional reaction. As he knows, some subjects are inherently threatening and are appropriately dealt with using a strong emotional component…not to reject logic, but to recognize the motivation that drives the importance of the topic.

  3. This one is extraordinarily aggravating. Feminists talk about rape all the time. The flip side of that complaint is to suggest that they’re reveling in victimhood and should just shut up about rape. You can’t win!

    It’s not that you aren’t allowed to talk about rape, but that you have to include some sensitivity to the fact that certain groups, such as men in prison and women in all situations, are particularly at risk and have a much deeper interest and awareness of the magnitude and impact of the problem, and that if you are outside those categories, you need to tread with great caution. It is especially galling when the outsider assumes they know best how to address the issue, because logic.Patronizing logic.

    Honestly, women have been wrestling with this deep problem in our culture for a long time. It was a bit like something else I’ve experienced: having a creationist march up to me and accuse scientists of never ever considering problem X with evolution.* Yeah, we have, and with more knowledge and evidence than you’ve got, guy.

Another problem is context. We’ve been dealing with political figures, like Todd Akin, who have been using an artificial hierarchy of wrongness of rape to argue for placing the blame for some rapes on women…on the victims. This is, as Dawkins would say, completely illogical, and I’m confident that Dawkins himself is not thinking that way. But people who have been threatened with rape know full well that the world is not logical — if it were, they wouldn’t be worried about other people violating their autonomy. Vulcans don’t rape, and rapists aren’t logical, so reducing a life-threatening issue to a simplistic logic problem is illegitimate, and we also know that irrational people will abuse any hierarchical ordering of crimes to justify policies that do great harm.

Zero points to Team Dawkins on this issue. He hasn’t grasped the critics’ arguments at all, and is still hammering away with this irrelevant logic, logic, logic complaint.

One point for defining humanism as atheism plus an ethical stance, which is pretty much what Atheism Plus is all about.

One point, maybe, for clearly announcing that he is a feminist, and further declaring that it is self-evident that everyone should be a feminist. I reserve the right to adjust that score if he’s talking about a Christina Hoff Sommers kind of faux feminist.

Generally, it was a good talk with lots of red meat for the godless, but it had that big disappointing chunk in the middle where he addressed criticisms with misperceptions of the critiques.


*Curiously, we had an example of that in the Q&A. A fellow got up to the microphone and announced that he was a medic, and that genetic scientists had never considered the problem of the number of genes — that they used to think there were hundreds of thousands of genes (factually wrong: when I was a genetics student in the 70s, my prof, Larry Sandler, told us the best estimate was a few tens of thousands), and that we’d never dealt with the reduction in the number of genes in the HGP. There aren’t enough genes to make a human, he claimed. He was getting ranty, and couldn’t manage to state a question, so he was unsubtly dragged out of the building.

That was an appropriate response. I wonder if he’s at a pub somewhere right now, regaling the other patrons with a fanciful tale about how Dawkins was unable to process his logical argument, got all emotional, and had to silence him?

Now look who’s picking a fight with Dawkins


(via Ophelia)

Facepalm time.

It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

Richard Dawkins

Being burnt at the stake or being sent to Room 101 is bad, but being criticized on Twitter is worse, I guess. Where the fuck are these witch-hunts, other than in the mind of every person whose misogynistic behavior is rebuked?

Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins

I’m very happy to see this: Ophelia and Richard had a meeting of the minds and made a statement deploring the behavior of some atheists.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

Here’s Richard’s very important addition:

I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

Now that is a step forward.

The 2013 Dawkins Award goes to … Steven Pinker

Who well deserves it, I think. It’s “presented every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance.” Very laudatory and gratifying press release here.

I just finished reading his Better Angels of Our Nature: Why violence has declined. I thought it a well-reasoned and researched testament to the power of humanism and a excellent resource for rebutting the folks who think the world is worse than it has ever been and people never more wicked. One would think that evidence to the contrary would be welcome … but it’s not. My neo-pagan spiritual friends would have none of it. I hold out even less hope for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Last year’s recipient was also excellent: Eugenie Scott. Perhaps not quite a ‘mirror’ representative of  “the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins” — but quite solid on the raising of the public awareness of science. Pinker, then, is a twofer.


He’s also an excellent speaker. I plan on attending the Atheist Alliance of America’s national convention to see him receive the Dawkins. It’s taking place on  Aug 30 – Sept 2 … in Boston. The Alliance’s conventions are imo one of the best. Everyone should go. And now there’s Pinker to tempt you.

(from Sastra)

Dawkins & Krauss in a new movie

I’m looking forward to The Unbelievers, too…although I suspect there is no way in hell it will ever be shown at the Morris theater. When I can get it on DVD we’ll have to have a screening for the godless folk around here.

Is every CNN announcer now required to bring up the Boston bombing at every occasion? My wife had it on yesterday while she was working out, and it was intolerable — everything was Boston, Boston, Boston, with talking heads yammering about the horrible Mooslims. I think Dawkins addressed it well here, though.

The Dawkins Challenge…doesn’t even get out of the starting gate

Are there any good Christian writers who write about Christianity? I’m always astounded at what a confusing mess they generate when they try to explain their faith.

Case in point: some theologian named William Carroll has issued something he calls The Dawkins Challenge. I read halfway through it before I could puzzle out what it was about. He’s annoyed that Richard Dawkins (along with many other atheists I could name) has knocked the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Dawkins opined both in Australia and previously at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. that people should be encouraged to confront Roman Catholics about transubstantiation. Do they really hold the “utterly nutty belief that a wafer turns into the body of a first-century Jew just because a priest blessed it?” Such a view is “barking mad.”

He goes on and on about Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, and I thought he was going to get around to issuing some challenge to them…but no, it’s completely different. He’s challenging Catholics to defend themselves against charges that their beliefs are silly. Fair enough, and a good idea; please do. I’d love to hear your sensible, rational defense of transubstantiation. Go ahead, be bold and open in your beliefs and explain them!

So this is what we get from William Carroll.

The body of Christ, present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, although real (neither symbolic nor metaphorical), is vastly different from the ordinary bodies subject to empirical analysis. It is sacramental presence and theology, aided by philosophy, that help to make intelligible what is believed.


Well, I guess you showed Richard Dawkins…that he’s completely right and that your beliefs are “utterly nutty” and “barking mad”.

I think Carroll recognizes that his explanation is pretty damned stupid, because he wraps it up in excuses, claiming that the conclusions of physics are also hard to comprehend and often defy common sense. But what he really doesn’t understand is that those conclusions are a consequence of mathematical reasoning and actual experimental observations — they aren’t just made up, but are derived from the real, natural world, and can be evaluated objectively no matter what your religious upbringing. The accreted natterings of Catholic apologists have no such virtues.

You can’t say something is “real”, and then claim it exhibits none of the properties of any other real objects, and can’t ever be examined or analyzed empirically. That’s pretty much a good definition of “not real”.

Dawkins/Pell on Q&A

It’s about to be a long weekend of triumphant atheism in Australia, and Richard Dawkins set things up by sacrificing that idiot, George Pell, on the altar of reason. The whole debate is now online.

I was really unimpressed with most of the audience’s questions, and even less impressed with Pell. Pell threw in Atheist Hitler at about 11 minutes in, and some smug audience member exhibited his confusion about atheism and agnosticism at 14 minutes. Also, the guy at 21 minutes with a video embarrassed all Australians, I think.

It’s a good warmup for the rest of the week, though.

It was also a warmup for Richard: here he is the next morning on the radio.