And now the Daily Mail . . .

February 19, 2012 • 9:32 am

The baying of the yellow hounds of journalism continues at other papers, with the Mail Online breathlessly reporting: “Revealed: how atheist Richard Dawkins’ family fortune came from the slave trade.” Note the use of the descriptive “atheist” instead of “biologist,” and the article’s complete neglect of the fact that the vast bulk of Richard’s “wealth” came from his writings.  The article’s claims are lifted directly from Adam Lusher’s Telegraph article, with the addition of these three lovely illustrations:

This is the journalistic equivalent of the racks and thumbscrews of the Inquisition.  There is no explanation other than Dawkins’s criticism of religion.  Will the Guardian join the pack?

I’d like to point out that the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth and her royal relatives engaged in torture, poisoning, and beheading of wives who didn’t produce sons.  Shall we then see a headline like “Revealed: Queen’s ancestors were murderous, misogynistic thugs”?

167 thoughts on “And now the Daily Mail . . .

    1. There was a lot about Richard Dawkins in today’s Sunday Times too. A full front page article (cont. on page 2) took up the News Review section and there is a couple of references to Dawkins eleswhere in the paper, including a back page ‘cartoon’. The News Review article was almost entirely concerned to show Dawkins as a grump, and it even appeared that both the journalist and the photographer went out of thir way to make him ‘grumpy’. Poor Richard, I felt sorry for him myself, though I have little reason to!

      There is another main article written by the columnist Minette Marrin. Bizarrely, although the heading of her article is “Rise up, tolerant secularists and drive faith from public life”, and her article does, indeed, support such a viewpoint, as she, in fact, argues that faith should not be allowed official endorsement, she STILL finds it in her to disparage Richard Dawkins with this “All this is nasty and alarming. For generations in this tolerant country people of Christian background who are themselves unbelievers have not usually found it necessary, or polite, to trash Christianity aggressively in the inflammatory way of Dawkins and his supporters. I sense something mean-spirited in the extremes of his attacks even though I agree with his views…”

      Apparently, Dawkins is wrong and mean because he fails to recognise that people have something called ‘…a religious bump’. Which, predictably, turns out to be a need to believe in utter bollocks, but with a sprinkling of solemn ritual to make it appear less bollocks within a solemn ritual.

      Interestingly, both the author of the News Review article, Camilla Long, and Minette Marrin mentioned the kerfuffle over Richard forgetting the exact title of Darwin’s book – hilariously, both of them got it wrong too, by leaving out the word ‘On’. nd these two had the only to look across to their bookshelves (one hopes!) or look it up on Google! Dawkins, of course, had no such convenience.

    1. I tweeted about that a bit ago. Further down, you can find this: “In 2010 Dawkins, an [sic] firm admirer of Charles Darwin . . .”

      There’s nothing like a well-researched, well-written news report . . . and that’s nothing like a well-researched, well-written news report.

        1. The sad part is that I regularly read tweets from less than sober people who are more reliably accurate and grammatically proficient than this, ahem, journalist. Proofreading is hard!

          1. I can forgive the second one you mentioned, we’ve all made typos, drunk or sober!
            Getting the book title wrong was particularly stupid, especially in light of the recent non-story about Dawkins’ inability to remember the full title of “Origin of Species” verbatim. The anonymous reporter even had ample opportunity to look it up!

    2. “Gene” is unlikely to figure in the vocabulary of the average Daily Mail reader. On the other hand, “Game” will conjure up confrontational images from the football pages.

  1. If this wasn’t so sad, it would be funny. Six generations ago, Richard Dawkins family owned slaves. In the U.S., we still have people whose grandparents owned slaves. It is entirely possible that there are people here still alive who had a parent who *was* a slave. To the point, the last Dawkins in Richard’s family tree to own a slave died over a hundred years before the last U.S. slave owners were born.

    1. There remain those in my (former) neck of the woods (the Appalachian South) who, though their mountineer ancestors never owned slaves, use racial epithets just as if they had owned slaves. (Not a few of them referred, and refer, to their geographic location as “God’s Country.”) In earlier times, not a few were born, lived, and died there without ever having in real time laid eyes on a non-WASP human.

  2. It is valid to question why they are picking on Richard Dawkinns about this. Have they been systematically hounding people in modern day Britain if they have ancestors who were somehow involved with the slave trade? Shouldn’t they start with the Queen?

    1. They might ask about some of her murderous ancestors: William the Conqueror and Edward I spring particularly to mind.

  3. A few of Frederick Douglas’s attacks on Christianity:

    The church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. … For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! Welcome atheism! Welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by these Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done!

    I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

  4. That’s a pretty good phylogenetic tree. Maybe Richard can use it to explain the concept of common ancestry.

  5. I hope someone’s already pulled a Godwin in the Mail‘s comments, observing that the Nazis used the same basis to determine who was guilty of being Jewish.

    1. These things can backfire on unwary journalists; The present owner of the Daily Mail’s father, Lord Rothermere was rather notorious for his support and admiration of Hitler in the 1930s – he wrote to Hitler in June 1939 “My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country.”
      and more . . .

      1. The present owner is Harold Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere (born 1967)

        His father was Vere Harmsworth, 3rd Viscount Rothermere (b.1925 d.1998). He was too young to have been involved in pre-war politics.

        Vere’ father was Esmond Harmsworth, 2nd Viscount (b. 1898 d 1978). Esmond was old enough to have been involved in pre-war politics, and was elected an Conservative MP in 1919 and spent 10 year in Parliament. However he was never especially outspoken about facism and rise of the Nazis. He ran the business side of families newspaper empire and was not involved with editorial decisions.

        Esmond’s father was Harold Harmsworth, 1st 1st Viscount Rothermere (b. 1868 d 1940). Now Harold was a supported of the British Union of Fascists, and of Hitler.

        1. I imagine that there must be some big tome that keeps track of all these viscounts and such. Or is it all online now?

  6. Some of my ancestors owned slaves. I didn’t. Tough shit, politically correct crybabies. Life’s a bitch. Furthermore, I only plan to pay reparation to myself.

  7. It seems obvious to me that the follow-up article is how far back one needs to go to link the editor to slave trading family members.

  8. Ok, ok, I am at last seeing the funny side in all this. I’ve find myself most reliably enraged when confronted with the twin maladies of stupidity AND malice (both present in great abundance here), and so the anger has taken a while to settle down.

    But now that it has, have you EVER heard of a more stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid attack than this one?

    Thank you Adam Lusher. You, sir, may be an irretrievable idiot, but you can at least make people laugh.

  9. The Guardian has posted a much more sensible article on the matter:

    It still manages to be incorrect at a point though: “After the reporter quoted the biblical verse about the Lord “visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” Dawkins said he ended the conversation.” It wasn’t the reporter that brought up the quote by Prof. Dawkins.

    1. I meant to say: It wasn’t the reporter that brought up the quote. It was Prof. Dawkins who did so (in order to make the point that it is idiotic to try to hold people responsible for the crimes of their ancestors).

    2. I found this wonderful comment buried in the responses to the Guardian’s article, by a certain “mikedow”:

      Maybe Dawkins’ ancestor was a good Christian slave owner.

      1. “When parliament voted compensation in 1833 – to former slave owners rather than the slaves themselves – the Archbishop of Canterbury received £8,823 8s 9d, about £500,000 in today’s money, for the loss of slave labour on its Codrington plantation in Barbados. The Bishop of Exeter received even more, nearly £13,000.” — John Simpkin


  10. Revealed: how atheist Richard Dawkins’ forebears were church-going and slave-owning Christians.

    In other news: journalist hack prostitutes himself to support smear campaign.

  11. I think my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather stole some grapes. I am so ashamed. I wonder if they will put me in prison.

          1. Come to think of it, I’ve got some Neanderthal genes, too.
            I’m going to sue myself to smithereens. Want to join me in a class action?

            1. “Want to join me in a class action?”

              Wouldn’t the action be more appropriate on the order or family or genus (if not species) level? 😉

              1. You ain’t goin’ euarchontogliric on me, mate? Coz’ soon we stand accused of cladism, if not blatant phylism, and who’s to blame? Those highfalutin’ godless liberal taxonomists.

  12. Are you sure the article wasn’t originally found on the Onion?

    /As an aside, I think it would be interesting to go through the families of famous or rich people and see their ancestors relationship to slavery, slaughter & other social ills, and if it correlates to their natal family’s wealth and prestige–like “Who do you think you are” with statistics.

  13. “‘I can’t help wondering at the quality of journalism which sees a scoop in attacking a man for what his five-greats grandfather did. Is there really nothing more current going on?’

    The Sunday Telegraph declined to comment.”

    If only they’d follow this policy of declining to comment with greater frequency.

  14. As a White,british,middle-aged male I must apologise to the many readers of this website who are not any of the above for my terrible choice of parents. It will not happen again

    1. As a half-Irish person whose RECENT ancestors used to build bonfires to trick various ships into dashing themselves on the shores, and then plunder the various goods that washed up, I am not sorry in the slightest. You English pig-dog types were a bunch of right bastards, and you deserved it. 😀

    1. Sorry, I mean “wives who didn’t produce sons” (and of course it was Henry VIII’s responsibility to produce a Y-bearing sperm).
      Now if Henry VIII wasn’t an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth, I’m screwed.

      I fixed the reference above, thanks.

      1. She is not a direct descendant. She is descended from a sister of Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII. This sister, Margaret married James IV, King of Scots.

        1. Yes, I’ve made the correction above. More interestingly, HM may be descended from Vlad the Impaler. A couple of links are however rather uncertain. It seems such a descent is a little bit closer to proof in the case of George Bush!

      2. I think I’m correctly remembering having read in the NY Times a month or so ago that somewhere in South Asia (Afghanistan?) women are being (and for the longest time no doubt have been) killed for not bearing sons.

        Those women who go to school to learn, among other things, that having only girl babies is not their fault, as a result get doused with acid and get their noses cut off.

  15. I think someone should research Adam Lusher’s family tree.

    Given the fact that by ten generations back our ancestors number over a thousand, I’d be highly surprised if all of his were saints.

    Ditto for everyone else on the planet. L

  16. The slime fest continues, huh?

    Making a tacit accusation of racism, it seems to me, has sort of been in the Gnubasher’s Toolbox since the beginning, although I’ll credit a good many new atheist critics of being able to argue without resorting to such nasty insinuation. Nevertheless, recall Chris Hedges on a stage with Sam Harris for a debate during which he (Hedges) in no uncertain terms said that Sam’s critique of Islam was racist and strongly implied that it was motivated by bigoted views of Arabs (SH has since said CH is the only person he will refuse to share the stage with——and good for him). Insinuations of racism is something the most prominent gnus should, evidently, expect to some degree. The fact that this is being passed off as journalism, though, makes it especially obnoxious.

  17. Giving the Daily Mail this much attention, as if it were a credible journal, is the equivalent in the U.S. of critiquing the National Enquirer for running stories on UFOs. Just laugh it off, nobody with two functioning neurons will take this seriously.

      1. Jerry, I think you are correct although I cannot readily discern why this should have become of importance. There have during recent months been one or two speeches by Cameron extolling Christian values. These may have been preparatory to a keynote speech by HM The Queen at Lambeth Palace on 15 Feb. when not only was Canterbury present but also representatives of eight other faiths. I think there is an agenda here. Two events of major significance will take place in the UK this year: the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics: both of which may very well be seen as targets for protest and disturbance. Britain is not quite in recession and although there is austerity, it is hardly at the level of that of Greece. Nevertheless, business closures and unemployment are impacting more severely in some areas than in others. Shortly, there is likely to be another belt tightening budget. Recent riots and extensive shop lifting in inner London and in other urban areas demonstrated the potential for breakdown of law and order which lurks beneath the surface.
        I feel these appeals to the civilising values of religion and the traditional values of marriage and family life will become more prevalent as this year goes on.

        1. It’s news now because of (a) Dawkins’ poll results, and the accompanying publicity he’s done for them, and (b) the parish council prayers case, coinciding with (c) Govt visit to see the Pope – prompting Warsi’s silliness earlier in the week – and (d) Her Maj doing a 60th anniversary speech to the CofE. Religion vs Secularism has got newsworthy recently.

          It’ll pass, though, and the general slow decline of religion will continue.

      2. Yes it does. Used to be that saying you were a god-botherer in the UK was political suicide. You wouldn’t be treated seriously. Now, it appears as if we’re catching some kind of disease where too many people are forgetting that this stuff has no place in the halls of power.

        By the way, just in case you don’t check it out. The Daily Mash (kind of a British Onion) coined a great tagline for the Mail:

        The Daily Mail, Like spending 20 minutes in a Mental Hospital

    1. Unfortunately, a great many people acquire their opinions on most issues directly from the Daily Mail. It would appear, sadly, that a large chunk of the population either have only two functioning neurons or choose to disable all but two functioning neurons when it comes to “thinking” about politics, religion, race etc.

  18. This suggests a variety of headlines:

    “Revealed: The British Royal family’s crown jewels were stolen from Indians.”

    “Revealed: Predecessors of the Pope burnt women at the stake”

    Let the revelation-fest begin!

    1. Or, ‘The great cathedrals of Spain were built by gold stolen from the Indians of Meso-America, and mortared with their blood!’

  19. I don’t understand the implication of that first photo caption: “Richard Dawkins has condemned slavery despite his ancestors making their money through forced labour.”. Are they suggesting that, because of his family’s past, he shouldn’t be against slavery? That he should always endorse the beliefs of his ancestors? What is that “despite” supposed to indicate, apart from bad writing?

      1. Exactly. From the moment of his birth, Dawkins was condemned to be either a pro-slavery monster or a hypocrite.

        Unless, of course, he became a Christian and invoked its magic get-out-of-jail-free card.

  20. “and so do his sisters and his cousins and his aunts! His sisters and his cousins, whom he reckons up in dozens; his sisters and his cousins and his aunts.” Tra-la.

    1. Shhh… not so loud … after all, Lusher polishes the handles on the big brass door. Or at least we all heard that somebody heard, which is incontestable proof!

  21. “Richard Dawkins has condemned slavery despite his ancestors making their money through forced labour.”

    What a hypocri… Uh, what? Is he supposed to favour slavery, then, out of deference to his forefathers? If so, do I have an obligation to condone everything my viking ancestors did?

    1. Indeed. It would be interesting to trace the journalist’s genalogy, though it would probably be disappointing: I’m sure he’s his family’s shame.

  22. I tried to post a comment on the Daily Mail thread, but “the site is experiencing technical problems with this section”.

    They must have been flooded with so many pieces of reasonable minds that they decided to weasel out.

  23. >> I’d like to point out that the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth and her royal relatives engaged in torture, poisoning, and beheading of wives who didn’t produce sons.

    And they used religion as cover to carry out these abuses. Could there have been a feudal system in England without validation of the monarchy by divine law?

  24. Since a lot of this comes from Warsi’s weaselly comments of the other day, it did set me thinking about this militant secularism stuff. So I tried very hard to remember the last time I got stopped in the street and was asked to buy a book on secularism (though a Hindu once tried to force a Hindu text on me in Liverpool) or was asked to come and see what secularism was all about (thought Scientologists have done that to me plenty of times). I can’t remember the last time someone came, uninvited, to my door to ask me what I knew about secularism or whether I wanted to buy a magazine about it(but thanks to the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Moonies I’ve had to suffer that). Nor, finally, has a secularist come to offer me comfort and sympathy following the death of my grandmother, an uncle or my mother, without the decency of an invitation, though my local Anglican vicar has done that on all three occasions. I don’t want their religion. If I want it, I’ll go and ask for it. But I know I won’t.

    1. Perhaps one should carry a few small short secular pamphlets with him and, when approached, say, “I’ll read yours (again) if you read mine!”

      1. Do we have pamphlets? I’ve only seem books, often large. Maybe this is a problem. Maybe we need to develop a line of tracts.

    2. That last struck me as ironic.

      When my maternal grandmother died, our priest never called on my grandfather to offer comfort and sympathy — even though my mother had asked him to. Consequently, we stopped attending church, which was the first step on my road to atheism.


      1. This might have been inspired by Kevin “Bloody” Wilson’s song “The Festival of Life” in which he posits a religion called Pissed Up Testicosticals.

        Googling should get you a video and the lyrics very easily: be forewarned, though: it’s probably not suitable for minors (or wowsers)…

  25. This comment made me laugh.

    If Richard Dawkins is descended from slave traders, then how comes there are still slave traders around today, eh? How comes THEY didn’t evolve into Richard Dawkins too? Answer that science.

  26. Haven’t read all the comments, but according to the third diagram the 1013 slaves of Henry Dawkins are irrelevant to the case.

  27. I did a little digging on the Interweb and found that this story is definitely news. Or at least it might have been in 1974 when the book “Sugar and slavery: an economic history of the British West Indies, 1623-1775” by Richard Sheridan was published. It has a detailed account of the Dawkins’s activities in the West Indies. What the Daily Mail’s family tree fails to take into account is the fact that there were other branches (a bit like the genus Homo). Henry Dawkins MP was the fourth son of Henry Dawkins who died in 1744. The slave owning Henry (d1744) has his will downloadable, for a fee, from the National Archives website. I have downloaded it but it will take a while to read (I’m out of practice at reading eighteenth century script I’m afraid) to work out what young Henry the fourth son got. I’m sure he wasn’t left destitute, but at the same time I reckon he was hardly left the family jewels. Be interesting to see if he got the tail end of the family fortune.

    1. Rereading the relevant bit in Sheridan’s book, I wonder if the originator of this “news” got confused. Henry (d1744) had two sons called Henry – the eldest was MP for Hinden in Wiltshire, the fourth son (of Over Norton in Sheridan’s book, therefore the relevant Henry) was MP for Southampton and Chippenham. If I find more, I will let you know.

  28. Oh gee, what next?

    Are they going to accuse a lot of Americans of being descended from rebels against the British government and king?

    Why not? It’s perfecly true. You Brits can take your Tea tax and shove it.

    1. Reparations gratefully received, thank you. BTW, didn’t Blair apologise on behalf of George III for harassing you? He seems to have apologised for everything else, including the Irish Potato Famine.

  29. Needless to say, Richard Dawkins has spent a lot of time freeing the slaves of this era.

    Slaves to religion. Slaves to hate, fear, superstition, and ignorance.

    Slaves forced to produce silly, logically fallacious articles for the lesser British newspapers. Hmmm, oops. Well, he can’t free them all now, can he?

  30. “I’d like to point out that the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth and her royal relatives engaged in torture, poisoning, and beheading of wives who didn’t produce sons. Shall we then see a headline like “Revealed: Queen’s ancestors were murderous, misogynistic thugs”?

    Here is a little project that one could do on anyone and come up with something nasty.

    One who lives in a glass house…

  31. Anyone notice the reverend James Dawkins was related to slaveowners?

    This of course puts the black mark of all of the Church of England.

  32. By this(Fox news)logic I am guilty of the treatment offered to the American natives as well as the holocaust.

    German heritage.

    No Godwin intended.

    So, what do I do now…report to the Sheriff’s office?

  33. What a nasty and crude ad hominem this is turning out to be.

    “Oh Dawkins has criticised piety in a way we can’t counter – quick, fish for something horrible we can spuriously accuse him of / link him to…….Nazism…….misogyny……no…….ah! Racism! Yes, that’ll do nicely!”

    This is nothing other than a smear campaign.

    All of us have ancestors way back into deep time with less than golden behavioural records. Dig deep enough and you’ll find dirt in any pedigree – given our species predilection for violence and xenophobia, I don’t think any of us come out of this type of retrospective well.

    Oh, and seeing as how I’ve now actually appraised their argument and found it wanting (as have the rest of you, more eloquently) I’ll cast a few aspersions on their own records.

    The Daily Mail – sympathetic to Oswald Mosley and his Black Shirts in the 1930s.

    The difference is, no matter how much I despise that paper, I would never seek to label any of its current crop of journalists as xenophobic thugs based on its past record. I’ll let their contemporary attitudes, not that of their forebears, help me decide that. Shame they wouldn’t do the same for Professor Dawkins.

  34. It takes a bizarre cast of mind to show special love for the reformed sinner (such as the former slave trader who penned “Amazing Grace”), but animus for a man because his family renounced sin six generations ago.

  35. The Rev James Dawkins?

    The REVEREND James Dawkins??

    Scandal! I demand that my Dawkinseses be uniformly anti religious, now and at all times in history! It is unacceptable that 99 years ago there was a Dawkins in the clergy!

    1. This is big news! And wonder why Richard is hiding this heinous fact? That one of his ancestor is from the OTHER? Why? Scandalous!


  36. I don’t think I even get what point they’re trying to make? That Dawkins is a hypocrite for condemning slavery while having ancestors who didn’t? That atheism makes you susceptible to having ancestors who owned slaves?

    And I wonder what percentage of living Americans and Brits have ancestors who owned slaves? I imagine it’s a high number.

    1. It’s likely not very important whether a point was being made or not. I think it was partly a diversionary tactic to make people forget the Matthew question and partly a bullying tactic to discourage criticism of religion.

      1. Mostly drawing attention from Matthewgate, I’d say.

        (Yay, I finally got to call something a gate!)

        Which is currently succeeding a little, but can be repaired.

    1. I didn’t try to post, but there’s hardly any need. Massive rejection of the attempt to blame Dawkins for the actions of his ancestors in the comments. I suppose there were some critical of Dawkins, but I didn’t see any.

      But, I looked at some other parts of the Daily Mail — yuck. What a gross and idiotic tabloid. But, even their readers could see through this, so I think it’s a good day.

  37. Why all this hostility towards Dawkins now? He had a book and stuff before now. His criticisms of religion are nothing new. And yet this week it sounds like attacks on Dawkins markedly increased. Also the attacks with the survey have become more desperate (they’re grasping at straws) and more hysterical. Some seem about to scream “We are too a Christian nation!” as if to hysterically silence Dawkins before he says any more.

    Why all this hostility now? Is it the survey?

  38. So one of his 1024 GreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreat Grand Parents owned slaves.

    I wonder what this “reporter” thinks the white people who voted for the Nat’s in South Africa should pay in reparations? Or the Germans, or Rwandans. Gosh, just imagine if you had to pay taxes on bad deeds of your previous 10 generations of ancestors.

    Just trying to figure it out would become an industry!

    (I hope Dawkin’s readership increases from this mess)

  39. Wait, aren’t there journalistic institutions and organizations in UK like in every modern country that condemn these sort of things?

  40. You know you are making your impact felt when they stoop to these gutter tactics to try and compete.
    A sure sign that they are loosing the battle.
    Well Done Richard.

  41. What a scurrilous attack on Richard by this so-called journalist. The man is clearly a theist and will use any low tactic to poison the debate regarding religion, organized superstition and it’s place in a modern secular society.

    1. One might as well ask how Dawkins dares being an atheist given the Reverend in his family tree – or how we all dare being humans given the apes in our ancestry.

    1. He got rich off writing his books. Richard commented: “The family fortune was frittered away in the 19th Century. Such money as I have is scarcely inherited at all.”

  42. I would suspect that murder and mayhem and the torture of slaves is in almost everyone’s family history, regardless of wealth, etc. It’s the way things were!

  43. From the Autobiography of Mark Twain (page 212):

    In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind – and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.

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