Dawkins decries taboos in discussions about society

August 5, 2014 • 6:17 am

If you pay any attention to internet atheist sites, or to reporting about atheist brouhahas by the likes of the Independent and the Guardian (for whom Dawkins is a favorite whipping boy), you can hardly be unaware about the fracas surrounding Dawkins’s latest tweets.

I suppose he was fed up by a segment of the atheist blogosphere whose ideology is so rigid that not only is dissent from its views prohibited, but mere discussion of some issues, particularly around gender, is also prohibited. To engage in such discussion immediately brands one as a sister-punisher, a misogynist, a rape-enabler, and various other nasty creatures. Richard, always an advocate of free speech, made several comments on Twitter which seem related to that. The first involved simple logic: if you think two acts are bad, saying that one is worse than the other doesn’t justify the lesser evil: Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 2.58.17 AM

Unfortunately, he chose as an example one of the most hot-button issues around: Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 2.58.39 AM Well, that last tweet is not quite accurate, I think, because the trauma of being raped by a stranger, even at knife-point, may be less than of being raped by someone you knew and trusted. And some people feel that, unlike murder, all rape is equally bad. It would have been better had Richard, say, mentioned consensual statutory rape, in which both partners assented but one was six months below the legal age of consent, and then compared that to more violent forms of rape.

But his point was that, among bad acts, there are degrees of badness, and this is recognized by the courts (“first” vs “second-degree” murder, for instance). He hastened to clarify this with other tweets and with a piece on his website. But it was too late. Using the rape example, for which there do seem to be degrees of badness (I’ve just given one) instead of, say, slapping someone versus beating them within an inch of their life, was not a tweet that, in the present climate, would inspire cool-headed and rational discussion.

But, in a new piece at HuffPo UK, “Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?“, Dawkins explains that he used those issues precisely to demonstrate his point about emotion overcoming reason.  And his tweets about rape (and pedophilia) were also based on his personal experience, since he’s been accused in the past of trying to soft-pedal both (he was a childhood victim of pedophilia). Unfortunately, the reaction he got demonstrated his point about taboos, and in the HuffPo piece he admits it:

I didn’t know quite how deeply those two sensitive issues had infiltrated the taboo zone. I know now, with a vengeance.

I could have told him! But nevertheless, the firestorm had begun. He was accused of saying that some rapes aren’t too bad (prompting further “X and Y” tweets), and was accused again of misogyny.

While he could have used a better example, I was still disturbed by some of the reaction. To me, it seemed, there was a lot of intellectually dishonest pretend-misunderstanding of what Richard (and Sam Harris and others) were actually saying, for there are some people who constantly play a word-parsing game to try to find offense. Such offense is what some bloggers thrive on: it drives traffic, the lifeblood of the Internet.

Richard is clearly not condoning any form of rape or pedophilia, and as his friend I can assure you that I’ve never detected a scintilla of that attitude in him. Nor have I detected misogyny: the overweening hatred of women. I’ve spent a lot of time in his company, and if he’s a woman-hater or rape-enabler, I can assure you that he keeps it completely hidden from his friends.

Perhaps Richard’s a bit ham-handed on Twitter, but let’s remember what point he was making, even if less aptly than I’d prefer:  asking people to think about a question is not the same as asking people to come to a specific conclusion about it. It’s the difference between sharpening a knife and stabbing someone with it. Sam Harris, I think, has, among prominent atheists, suffered the most from this confusion, and in his piece Richard discusses the opprobrium that Sam has experienced.

I’ll be in the air most of today, and so am leaving this piece as an open thread for discussion. Please be civil, and don’t level insults at fellow commenters.  And try to avoid insulting Richard, even if you aren’t keen on him, for he’s my friend. What I’d really like is a demonstration of our ability to discuss calmly and thoughtfully the issues raised by Dawkins in this piece. Taboos are pervasive in US and UK society, and, as Steve Pinker has repeatedly argued, should not be part of intellectual discourse. To discuss a taboo subject is not the same as condoning invidious sentiments. One of the academically taboo subjects I’ve encountered is “human race”: no matter what I say about genetic differences between human groups, I’m sure to be excoriated for not only bringing up the subject (and thus supposedly enabling racism), but not recognizing that race is clearly a “social construct.”

So discuss, and I’ll ask someone with keys to the website to moderate the discussion.  Here are some relevant quotes from Richard’s piece, but you should really read the whole thing before commenting. See you in the U.S.!

I believe that, as non-religious rationalists, we should be prepared to discuss such questions using logic and reason. We shouldn’t compel people to enter into painful hypothetical discussions, but nor should we conduct witch-hunts against people who are prepared to do so. I fear that some of us may be erecting taboo zones, where emotion is king and where reason is not admitted; where reason, in some cases, is actively intimidated and dare not show its face. And I regret this. We get enough of that from the religious faithful. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we became seduced by a different sort of sacred, the sacred of the emotional taboo zone?

. . . I hope I have said enough above to justify my belief that rationalists like us should be free to follow moral philosophic questions without emotion swooping in to cut off all discussion, however hypothetical. I’ve listed cannibalism, trapped miners, transplant donors, aborted poets, circumcision, Israel and Palestine, all examples of no-go zones, taboo areas where reason may fear to tread because emotion is king. Broken noses are not in that taboo zone. Rape is. So is pedophilia. They should not be, in my opinion. Nor should anything else.

I didn’t know quite how deeply those two sensitive issues had infiltrated the taboo zone. I know now, with a vengeance. I really do care passionately about reason and logic. I think dispassionate logic and reason should not be banned from entering into discussion of cannibalism or trapped miners. And I was distressed to see that rape and pedophilia were also becoming taboo zones; no-go areas, off limits to reason and logic.

. . . Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king. 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.

By the way, I am one of those who has been afraid to discuss certain issues, cowed into silence for fear of being pilloried. I am ashamed of that, and the sole reason for my hesitation is that I am a bit of a coward: afraid that what happened to Richard could happen to me, and that my epidermis is not thick enough to take it. (Of course, I’m not nearly as prominent as he, so I shouldn’t worry so much.) And that’s all I’ll say about that.

664 thoughts on “Dawkins decries taboos in discussions about society

    1. I don’t think that is really the case. Nor do I think Richard Dawkins got into hot water for tackling an emotive issue particularly. What he got into hot water for is tackling an emotive issue that he had no real understanding of.

      There aren’t emotional no go areas per se. But there are areas about which he know nothing. Rape is clearly a very complicated emotional and legal issue, that requires a bit of background before discussing.

      In the UK a lot of that discussion has already been had by the legal system which has resulted in very clear sentencing guidelines. It has been had by people who’ve first looked at research and background to get sufficient knowledge of the issues. Such as emotional harm, age of victim, level of force and so on. Those discussions have been used to come up with a differential sentencing structure. Dawkins would have done well to read up on those first. To tackle an emotional, or indeed any issue requires research. If he’d done that I doubt he’d have used the examples he did because he’d have found a range of issues within each.

      A modicum go background research would have probably led him to realise that emotional issues aren’t taboo they are just incredibly complex and sensitive. it would have perhaps led him to say that they were best discussed carefully by experts in depth and with consideration of the victims state rather than by glib non experts on twitter feeds. As the person that subsequently published the Rate Your Murder with Richard Dawkins scale said, it’s not his logic but his callousness that was questioned.

      I don’t think he is callous or a rape apologist, but I do think he needs to stop, think and research before speaking. This is far from his first twitter faux pas due to not being in complete possession of facts.

      It is also probably not a good example to use as it has taken quite a long time to have it taken seriously as a crime. It is rife with myths and victim blaming, including a recent one by the UKs Health secretary.

      Dawkins did not get burned for using it as an example. He got burned for not knowing what he was talking about.

      1. What special training am I required to take before I may express an opinion about this sort of crime? Do I need similar training before saying something about burglary or premeditated homicide?

        1. Hmm what special training do you need? You can offer any opinion you want, after all creationists are always offering opinions on evolution aren’t they!? Yet Dawkins doesn’t seem to take them seriously – and rightly so.

          Offer an opinion but be aware if it is uninformed you’ll sound like an idiot. As Dawkins did in this case. If it’s an issue that is deeply emotional, like this one, you’ll sound like an insensitive idiot.

          So give me your opinion of your rape rankings. And then I’ll ask you to back them up.

          Oh and for the record burglary is a far less complicated crime if you look at the sentencing guideline considerations.

          1. It stokes me as passing strange to suggest that RD is unaware that “emotional harm, age of victim, level of force and so on. Those discussions have been used to come up with a differential sentencing structure.” while the crime he was bashed about was failing to recognize that “rape=rape”.

            1. Yep I’m fully aware that he was firstly using rape to try to make a simple logic example. Bit too many variables I’d have thought. Followed by suggesting that some there are emotional taboos that prevent discussions of some subjects.

              Whereas I’m pointing out that he is incorrect there are no taboos. But there is the caveat that emotional and complex issues do not lend themselves to meaningful discussions unless those involved are prepared to make themselves aware of the issues and, in the process, balance the trivialities of the discussions or twitter examples, with the harm caused. You can use anything for a logic comparison.

              And don’t forget he compounded it with a stealing a pound is bad, stealing an old ladies savings is worse ooh don’t compare you idiots type of tweet. Perhaps if he’d engaged brain he’d have said stealing old ladies savings and breaking her jaw is bad, stealing her savings and beating her to death is worse. Might have made a better comparator.

              Rape taxes the courts and juries and has long lasting effects on victims. It’s victims deserve proper supportive discourse not trite sound bites that led to lots of the usual old victim blaming on his website.

              As I said creationists often have discussions about evolution. Doesn’t make it right or useful! Doesn’t make what they say worth hearing either. Perhaps a better title would have been are there some discussions that don’t work if people too ignorant to have them.

              1. I was raped as a child. I guess that makes me “qualified” — and I agree with Dawkins. Oh, and he was also a victim of child molestation himself, so is also “qualified.”


              2. @catherine “that led to lots of the usual old victim blaming on his website.”.

                Can you substantiate that with examples?

          2. Dawkins makes comments that go for the jugular. That is why he is loved/hated. His comment was his opinion. It was just a Tweet, not an article.

            As to which as worseDateRape v Stranger KnifepointRape- not in the legal sense- it depends on how the individual woman perceived it. There is no right/wrong answer.

      2. » Catherine matthews:
        What he got into hot water for is tackling an emotive issue that he had no real understanding of.

        And obviously you have no real understanding of the point he was making, or you would realize that he did not formulate any opinion.

        As for the emotion part of the example, that was exactly the point he was trying to make with respect to some topic being a taboo. Which you corroborated splendidly.

        1. Well if you read what I said, I stated a) the discussion on rape had already been had hence a sentencing structure. Rendering his comment irrelevant.

          And b) some discussions are so complex and emotive they need a lot of information and sensitivity to have them. That was not what Dawkins said. He suggested emotional issues should be open for discussion by any old idiot. Which they can be, after all creationists have discussions all the time on stuff they don’t understand, but it doesn’t really work at all.

          I just suggested had he thought for five minutes that would have been the statement he’d make.

          But I’d like to suggest another topic for him. Is Richard Dawkins such an emotional topic that discussions about him are taboo. Cos it seems he’s either got to be wholly right in the eyes of his fans, or wholly wrong in the eyes of his detractors. Why can’t he be right sometimes and wrong others? Some, most of his stuff is brilliant. Other stuff is naff. That is actually acceptable and normal. Uncritical adoration of anyone does not sit well with rational thinking.

          1. Alright Catherine, that’s enough. I said Dawkins is my friend, and you simply want to run him down. I already criticized him in my post above, so it’s clear that nobody here adores him uncritically. You are attacking a strawman, and I want you to stop it now.

            Focus on the ideas, not the man–if you’re capable of doing that. Otherwise you’re trolling.

  1. Please keep doing what you do. The response to Dawkins has been totally inappropriate. Don’t become PZ Myers.

    1. I hope Richard keeps raising these issues. His honest approach towards breaking certain taboo’s, is something that is greatly needed in these days of forced political correctness.

      PZ Myers attack on Dawkins a while back was totally inappropriate. Coupled with the whole Debacle around falsely accusing Micheal Shermer of sexual assault; without a shred of evidence, has greatly reduced my respect for PZ.

      1. Political correctness gives people a measure of protection against having their lives made hell.

      2. Political correctness gives people a measure of protection against having their lives made hell.

    2. I second this. I like PZ, and I read pharyngula regularly. But the tone of that blog is vastly different than the tone of this website (not blog!).

      At pharyngula, civil discussion is not encouraged as it is here. There is a sense of pride about the unruly horde mentality. And the horde all acts to tow the singular party line.

      I agree with most of the social issues that Meyers champions, feminism, environmentalism, social justice, economic fairness, but so many of the posts seem to exist only to whip the horde into an acrimonious zealotry so they can tear apart any body that asks questions in the comment section. And if one brings this up, you only get accused of “tone trolling.” Turning the vitriol up to 11 is the only way many of these blogs know how to have a discussion, and in Pharyngula’s case, they take pride in that fact.

      I am liberal, but sometimes liberalism can get out of hand. The right doesn’t have a monopoly on faux outrage.

      1. “toe the line,” not “tow the line.”

        Also, I agree about PZ’s blog. What is interesting is that I recently re-read Sam Harris’s blog post from 2012 “Wrestling the Troll” (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/wrestling-the-troll) which tears PZ apart (deservedly, in my opinion), and I’ve also recently re-read part of The God Delusion, in which Dawkins commends PZ and recommends readers to visit Pharyngula. He says something like, “PZ Myers almost always gets it right” or something to that effect. I hope this error can be corrected in future editions. It is really interesting and strange how Pharyngula and PZ have changed over the years. It used to be a great blog. Now it’s an embarrassing mess.

        1. I recall many years ago, PZ used to frequently have lurid, almost shocking, posts with scantily clad woman and then he stopped. He definitely felt some forms of liberalism were not worth pushing especially with the possibility of offended half of humanity. Likewise, he has, in the last few years, gone overboard a few times with thinking the world rests on his shoulders to defend all issues regarding woman’s rights.

          1. That’s because PZ is just an attention whore, he’ll do anything for hits. If putting up naked women gets him attention, he’ll do that. If jumping on the hyper-feminist bandwagon will get him attention, he’ll do that too. If he could get away with both at the same time, I’m sure he’d be putting that up on Pharyngula right this second.

            1. IMO that sort of comment is uncalled for just as much as gratuitous Dawkins-bashing. There’s no reason to suggest that PZ doesn’t mean what he says.

              (Note so as not to be misunderstood: I don’t often visit his blog for the reasons others have already described. I’m only defending him from name-calling.)

              1. I don’t buy that for a second. As someone who read him for many years, he goes where the wind blows. Just my opinion, of course.

          2. The strange thing is that his commentariat generally had no problem with that (the scantily-clad girl photographs) right up until the Elevatorgate mess broke. Then, just like PZ, they all became radical feminists overnight. Now they’re a bunch of Victorian prudes when it comes to sexuality.

            1. Huh? I’ve been reading Pharyngula for years. I don’t remember scantily-clad girl photos in the years before Elevatorgate.

          3. Maybe PZ simply recognised a problem earlier than the rest of the atheist websites did. Maybe he’s compensating for them.

            I found the Dawkins website very sexist in the past. More like a lads mag at times than a discussion site. And when women objected they were verbally eviscerated.

            I like PZ better purely and simply because I’m not a second class citizen reduced to body parts there. As you said you can’t be relevant if you dehumanise and alienate half of humanity.

        2. It is really interesting and strange how Pharyngula and PZ have changed over the years. It used to be a great blog. Now it’s an embarrassing mess.

          I agree. I hardly ever visit it. Usually only to see the “show” of fulmination over some issue that was mentioned elsewhere.

          I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen honest, civil questions in the comments section of Pharyngula be answered with: “Fuck you!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Real serious discussion we’re having there, eh? Really repulsive. And especially from a group that supposedly prides itself for its reasoning attitudes.

          And the minions-horde attitude is very off-putting. Should the secular/rationalist community really be in lockstep and have a hair-trigger for outrage (so similar to the “Danish Cartoons Incident”)? And, as Richard points out, should we have a taboo list and thought police? My answer is no.

          1. Yes indeed. I was a regular for years there as well, many of the notable commenters here were also. I stopped visiting years ago. PZ always had a problem with sticking his foot in his mouth and then holding on to that mistake like a pitbull instead of simply admitting he was wrong.

            I thought that was his one weak spot, but it didn’t happen very often. Until it became normal, that is. In my opinion PZ has gotten high on the adulation of his followers and his fame. It is probably too late to save him. Perhaps if he had had one of his followers regularly whispering in his ear “All glory is fleeting,” he may have remained more grounded.

            1. “Z always had a problem with sticking his foot in his mouth and then holding on to that mistake like a pitbull instead of simply admitting he was wrong.”

              Indeed. He seems to be so emotionally invested in his arguments – with support of the hoard he has fostered – that he takes even well founded criticism very poorly. I posted over the years but was banned – not for being uncivil, for that is allowed as long as it is in service of the blog’s ethos, but essentially for disagreeing with PZ.

              1. That is so bizarre. Call someone a fuckwit and you are fine, as long as you are spouting acceptable views. But if you disagree in a civil manner with a popular position, you could get banned.


              2. Yes, I remember your comments there for years. (When I still visited it.) And it doesn’t surprise me one bit that you got banned for disagreeing with PZ.

                I got an absurdly violent tongue-lashing in the comments section from PZ himself, when I commented in a way he didn’t like (I didn’t slavishly agree). It was waaaaaay out of proportion.* (That was when I stopped visiting the site.)

                He has zero tolerance for dissent. The mark of a fully closed mind.

                (* I think he has styled himself as Dr. Out-of-Proportion. Dr. Outrage. I think some people, like the people who used to watch Jerry Springer, love that kind of stimulation: Give me over-the-top conflict to hold my attention! And, has been mentioned: He sure seems to have developed into a serious narcissist and “get’s high” on the adulation of his “minions”.)

        3. Huh, I never knew it was “toe the line.” “tow” just made so much more sense. Thanks for the correction, as I have always wrote it with a ‘w’

          1. That’s besides the point. Irregardless of what it actually is, I could care less how you should use it. 😉 [/joke]

          2. How could “tow” make more sense? The line refers to a set of rules or dictates that must be adhered to, visualized as making sure your digits don’t encroach on a line!

            As “toeing the line” means to adhere, how could “tow” (i.e. to pull or drag) make more sense? You conform to the standard, not the other way around.


              1. that is actually what I always thought it referenced. I always had the image of a group of people lined up holding a rope trying to pull a large object. That is what I thought it meant when I was young and never had any reason to think to look up what it actually meant. Life is funny like that.

            1. As “toeing the line” means to adhere,

              Actually, I always thought it was a cognate of “coming up to [scratch, snuff]”, in the sense of bare-knuckle boxing.
              what does the Wikipedia article say? …
              Hmmm, sensible other derivations, including from various forms of racing, and disciplined parades (can you have an undisciplined parade?) ; but the concept of coming up to a predefined mark before commencing [whatever] runs through them all.
              “towing the line” … sounds like an euphemism for taking a log reading.
              homophones? Hoo kneads them?

          3. Toe the line comes the Royal Navy, when the divisions were called for inspection. The crew would line up on specific seams in the deck (the line).

      2. I used to like PZ. I used to read and occasionally post on his blog. No more. He’s gone round the bend.

      3. Pharyngula used to be my favorite blog, and I loved his sense of humor, writing and how he stood up to accommodation. But the place has changed, now mob-mentality and sanctimonious “shout downs” in the comments – encouraged by PZ himself – turn off rational discourse in favor of emotional group think. PZ used to criticized the Chris Mooney for cutting off dialogue in the comments, now PZ is the one doing it. It is a great disappointment.

        1. I think PZ was a great writer, able to create beautiful and effective prose. I loved his Sunday Sacrilege feature.

          But I do not respect the way he has been increasingly tarring and feathering other atheist activists, many of whom, imo, don’t actually deserve it. So I visit Pharyngula much less often than I used to, because that’s most of what he does these days.

          1. Yes, there was a time. But I can’t recommend his book. That was a damp squib. And especially considering the build-up, the online hand-wringing, the sabbatical.

            It took all that to assemble (and very slightly, very-very slightly) polish some blog posts that he already had on his ‘puter?

        2. Exactly the point, Scote. If the host encourages, or at least doesn’t curb, the mob mentality, the pile-ons, and the irrational attacks, then something like Pharyngula is exactly what you get—arguably, what you want to get.

        3. I never visit Pharyngula anymore, unless maybe someone here posts a link they think is relevant to some WEIT discussion. PZ’s status as one of the widely-known atheist celebs embarrasses me.

          IMO Greg Laden self-destructed first, though.

          1. “IMO Greg Laden self-destructed first, though.”

            Yeah, I’m still unsure of why they invited him on FtB. He crashed pre-FtB, and during FtB.

      4. Here is an example of this kind of phenomenon on pharyngula that I experienced a while back. There was a post on feminism some months back that I foolishly replied to. It had to do with rape culture, and men not taking “no” for an answer, and that women don’t like that. All fair enough, I agreed with the point he was making.

        In my post though, I posed the legitimate question, “What are men to make of all of the hyper popular female erotica focused on rape or female submission to male dominators, such as 50 Shades of Grey? Do women that promote rape fantasies have a hand in propping up the idea that women want a dominating man?” Even FreeThoughtBlog’s own feminist Greta Christina writes erotica that frequently focuses on female submission, and even rape fantasies. Hell, she has even written about the very question I brought up. I wasn’t defending rape, blaming women for being harassed, or anything of that nature. It was a legitimate question that I thought was worthy of discussion amongst a group of feminists.

        By their reactions you would think I had just insisted that all women are to blame for being raped and probably liked it anyway. No matter how much I tried to insist that I was not blaming women for being raped, I was accused of being a “secret MRA” that was blaming the victims, defending rape culture, and “JAQing off,” (an acronym I didn’t even know, and that they refused to explain, insisting that I knew what it meant.)

        To them, I was just the nefarious “other.” I eventually was just shouted down and left, and they all patted themselves on the back for accomplishing whatever it is that they think they had done. Of course Greta, whom I like, is rewarded for asking the exact same question. Within some liberal circles, political correctness goes to such an extreme, to even bring up a topic is to endorse the worst side of it.

        1. You mean Greta Christina — author of rape fantasy books and proud member of a community known for it’s rather extreme language (including death wishes, insert porcupines, bleed to death, die in a fire etc…) who recently declared that people who write shocking/insulting things — say with rape imagery — are to be ostracized from the movement and that their dubious quotes shall become a permanent feature of their online persona, like the scarlet A on Heather’s shirt. The same Greta Christina who named one protagonist/rape victim of her stories “Abbie”, like their arch enemy A. Smith at the time? The same Greta Christina who pretends to not know any of this and pretends that it does not raise any eyebrows?

          Yeah, these people are impossible. I’m not condoning any of these things, I am just somewhat astonished at the level of hypocrisy and/or utter lack of introspection of her and her gang (Ed Brayton and co, to make matters even more comical, agreed to her message).

        2. In my post though, I posed the legitimate question, “What are men to make of all of the hyper popular female erotica focused on rape or female submission to male dominators, such as 50 Shades of Grey?

          “No True Scotsman,” would be the response, I guess. not having read any of that claptrap (de Sade probably did better. Remember the ‘Gor’ novels of John norman – no, sorry, bad example ; I thought that the popular trope that they were written under a male name, but by a woman; it seems not so.
          I don’t waste time with literary reviews – is the author of the “50 Shades Of bondage erotica confirmed to be female, or just allegedly female?

            1. Like I said, a bad example. I’d picked up the idea somewhere – back in the days before the Internet – that “John Norman” was a pseudonym and that the real author was a woman. Incorrect as I found out when I checked.

              1. make the philosophy critics happy …

                Is that a logical – let alone a physical – possibility? Sounds like a straight-edged circle to me.

      5. PZ Myers has this public image as an uber-rationalist, yet I think of him as a Jim Jones type leading a weird online cult. There’s no tolerance of dissent on an open blog that calls itself “no holds barred unmoderated chaos” (Thunderdome) while Myers tells commenters to “expect rough handling”, but jumps in when his Inner Circle are losing an argument. A sad clusterfuck of stupid.

    1. And apparently one doesn’t have to toe any party line to post there. I like the way his moderators work.

  2. Jerry, this is very good, and if Dawkins is guilty of anything, it is, as you suggest, his ham-handedness. That’s unfortunate — but it doesn’t take anything away from his solid argument.

    1. I don’t think it’s ham-handed at all. He was making a point and the furor that erupted over it showed that he was right. Atheists, and more specifically liberal atheists, cannot evaluate discussions of sex crimes rationally. The second anyone says anything about rape, they react emotionally and freak out and run around with pitchforks. It isn’t just Richard Dawkins, but anyone who has ever tried to have a rational discussion about rape or the like. It’s always PZ Myers and the FtB/Skepchick mob that lead the charge of irrationality. Why? Because it gets them hits!

      Dawkins proved once again what a huge irrational contingent we have within atheism.

      1. I don’t think you can claim both “Because it gets them hits!” AND that they are irrational because if the former is true then the latter isn’t.

        Why can’t we allow that they actually mean what they say. We don’t need to agree with it, but it doesn’t help to assert that they are, in essence, lying about their position.

      2. I agree. And when I first read Richard’s tweet and the reactions to it, I thought “What a neat thing he’s done, using social media to conduct a social experiment.” I suspect after reading his explanation that I might have been giving him a bit more credit than was deserved, but from the emotional reaction of so many “tweeters” he was certainly proved right (not to mention that most “tweeters” missed his point entirely).

  3. Nice one, Jerry.

    The problem with twitter, facebook et al is that the minimum, and often the maximum, requirements one needs to participate is the ability to like something: a skill which does not even make it to the bottom level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Quite literally, dumbing down.

    And yes, many commenters deliberately misunderstand any contrarian point you might make: it is a sheep-pen for grandstanding one’s approbation for the blindingly obvious and banal.


    1. A number of months ago, Richard decried having had a pot of honey confiscated at airport security.

      The outpouring of scorn and venom and “how could he not know it was forbidden”, “first world problems” style of response that followed on Twitter made it clear that those who joined the scorn or mockery were delighted to deliberately misunderstand and twist what he had said into some idiotic caricature for their own malicious amusement.

      It wasn’t the fact that some people really dislike him that was noteworthy; it was the deliberate dishonesty.

      1. Yes, I’ve noticed that too. That people lie in wait for Richard (or others) to say something for them to be outraged about.

        There should be a measure for potential outrage!

        1. O = pck

          Where O: outrage, p: prominence of person, c: controversiality of subject, k: media dependent constant.

        2. A post-facto measure could be the group size of, let’s say the scum (because they flocculate around hot air issues), of outraged.

        3. Of course, because Dawkins hasn’t bought into their emotionalized nonsense hook, line and sinker, he’s been critical of them, therefore they lie in wait for anything he says that can be twisted into a controversy.

          This is how these people operate.

        4. There really should be a measure for potential outrage. If there were, we could assign grades to people based on their propensity for outrage. I think a lot of the reactions to Dawkins’ post are those of grade “A” outrage junkies.

        5. Every time I’ve mentioned Dawkins on Twitter (whom I greatly admire), I get responses irrationally attacking him. I believe there are people with alerts on his name waiting to attack.

          There is a part of the atheist community on Twitter who are quite nasty and have all these rules that they think atheists should follow, and woe betide those who don’t! This even includes words you’re not allowed to use.

          Imo, while these people are atheists, they are not logical or rational. They annoy me intensely and I really wish they’d either just grow up or go away. They seem to be trying to impress, but it’s really not working. It’s attention seeking behaviour and we should probably feel sorry for them, but they make it pretty difficult.

            1. I’m not sure you can use George in an argument. That’s probably against the Geneva convention.

      2. Absolutely. We often exclaim how anyone who claims Richard is strident must have never heard him speak, or read anything by him. What was a bit surprising to me until relatively recently is just how many people who are scientists themselves, or merely “science friendly,” have the same prejudiced reaction to Richard, whole being almost totally ignorant of him, as the believers do.

        I learned this after encountering a few posts regarding him on websites that are specifically science oriented and inhabited largely by people working in the sciences.

  4. RD can be proud to have been the target of hatchet jobs in both the Telegraph AND the Guardian now, thus covering both ends of the journalistic political spectrum.

    The UK press just love to hate him. For my part, I’ve always thought him a perfectly decent human being.

    In reality, he’s an easy target for those who don’t like people being openly dismissive about religious belief.

    1. As far as the press is concerned,they think Richard Dawkins should stick to science and let the humanities people (ie – themselves)do the talking about the other stuff. He encroaches on their patch and they don’t like him for it.

  5. Is part of the problem with the rape/date rape issue precisely the one that Jerry raises – they can’t be put in order of severity, because they are multi-dimensional. On an ‘immediate peril’ axis, knifepoint rape scores more highly than date rape or ‘boyfriend rape’ because though the violation may be the same, the victim is less likely to believe that s/he will be killed. But on the ‘betrayal’ axis, the date rape is far worse. In multi-dimensional spaces, ordering isn’t really possible. Is that why Richard’s critics disliked his logical reduction, whether consciously or not?

    1. The thing is, that Richard was not actually trying to put rape into order of severity. He was trying to point out that the fact that someone is of the opinion that one form or another *might* be worse does not automatically mean that they think that the putative lesser form is acceptable or excusable.

        1. Also, it can’t be repeated enough that people who do order the severity should not be dismissed due to it being taboo. If you disagree with an argument that one is more severe, justify why, just as you would any other claim.

    2. I agree there are many variables that go into deciding if one thing is worse than another thing. It resembles that “would you rather” game – “would you rather eat a bunch of grubs or drink a cup of vinegar?” That game.

      What is important is we think through if these things can be put into a sequence of bad, more bad, etc., and what criteria we would consider when doing so. This is what Richard suggests – that we have the discussion and that nothing is off limits – in this discussion; we may find that Richard has missed some criteria, or we have. This then moves the discussion forward and our brains give us little chemical rewards for getting closer to an understanding.

      1. Replacing the toilet paper in the improper “overhand” position is bad. Not replacing the toilet paper at all is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of putting the toilet paper in the improper overhand position, go away and learn how to use toilet paper properly! And how to think!

        Dawkins really should have used that example in his follow-up tweet.

        1. If you want to make a point about taboos, it helps to use an example that elicits the “taboo reaction”. Toilet paper roll orientation fails on that account.

          1. I have to agree – it isn’t taboo, it’s just that the advocates of one or the other are entrenched in their opinions.

            1. Well I take it seriously. In my household, you can get a big fine for loading the paper wrong – and everyone with half a brain knows the end goes over to top! Sheesh.

              1. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused for only having half a brain but you’re toilet paper orientation is still wrong.

        2. OT:

          If you have cats, placing it over hand is bad. Got to go with under hand if you don’t want the cats to unreel the entire roll with their paws.

        3. So I guess leaving just one square of tp on the roll is somewhere in between.
          BTW, Diana, on my recent road trip across Canuckland, I was pleased to see that every single motel had in installed properly in the overhand fashion🐱

          1. Over top is the preferred way of installing toilet paper. Everyone I’ve met believes so. It doesn’t make it the right way though. 🔙

        4. I liked your analogy. It defuses the situation. But it seems Dawkins *wants* to inflame. Which is his right, he certainly takes the heat for it.

    3. Part of the problem here, and Dawkins chose the subject for apparently this specific reason, is that one can never comment on certain issues without drawing a tidal wave of opprobrium just for bringing it up. How can we have a serious discussion about the issue of sexual abuse when every time its brought up, it produces such deeply emotional reactions in people that reason can’t squeeze through the door? I completely gave up on trying to engage on a reasonable level with people when I suggested in a few forums some months ago that, regardless of one’s personal feelings, it is irrational and unreasonable to paint the entirety of masculinity as Elliot Roger, only to have my head taken off by dozens of the most vicious and vile of personal attacks. No one ever argued as to the veracity or logical consistency of my statement, they simply disagreed with me on an emotionally charged issue and lashed out accordingly. This is, in and of itself, a serious problem.

  6. A bit of insight into the storm that was brewed over Dawkins’ tweets and follow-up article. No one ever accused Richard Dawkins of saying that Date Rape is Okay by him, and his defense seems to be stuck on that accusation against his accusers.

    The criticism relates to the pretension of being able to rank “logically” a scale of badness of rape and then to dismiss any criticism through deflection as an emotional display of weakness. Also, he continued on far past where he should have listended to the criticism to gain an understanding of where the objections lie rather and continued to bulldoze his way in defense of “pure reason and logic” when discussing something that bears a heavy emotional cost for victims.

    Rape is not a “taboo” subject for discussion, but the point of discussion is to read and comprehend the perspective of the people with whom one is discussing and Dawkins and his tone-deaf supporters are responding by dismissing as “emotional” the objections again refusing to understand what the problem is.

    People have been willing to give him a pass on the “mild pedophilia (whatever that is)” tweet based on knowledge that he has written about that experience, but on the rape charge he approached “logically” an issue on which he has no experiental reference and has constructed what he calls a syllogism that can’t be constructed logically because the experience of rape can not be absolutely scaled. Legally, yes, by necessity, but the law is often a poor example of logic considering how it has been developed and applied.

    This is not about ‘hurt feelings’ and ’emotions’ this is about someone wading in without the qualification to “rank” rape and then dismissing out of hand the objections.

    1. How exactly is logically ranking badness of rape (or anything else) a “pretension”?

      If you are serious about your question (“mild pedophilia (whatever that is)”), you might bother to read what he had to say on the subject.

      Finally, what qualifications do I need to say that statutory rape of a willing 16 year old girl by her 17 year old boyfriend is less bad than rape of an 8 year old child by a priest? Do I need these special qualifications to comment on the difference between petty theft and systematic extortion by the Mafia?

      1. I think you’re not accurately reflecting RD’s example. IF he HAD used your example, it would have passed by unmolested (har). He could have used many examples to illustrate his point. You used a very clear example “consensual sex between 2 teenagers is (much) less bad than child rape by a priest” (and most laws agree, most places have caveats in statuary rape laws concerning the age of the people in question). That is not even close to RD’s example.

        You could even argue your example contradicts RD’s. A priest in question could have been the child’s priest since baptism, so hardly a “stranger”, whereas 2 teenagers could be hooking up at a party without having known each other and essentially be strangers.

        The law does rank “badness” rape tends to be rape with extra “badness” added as aggravating factors.

        RD’s example was a dumb thing to say, it was inaccurate, and I think it is fair to call him out on it. I am not saying you take one dumb thing said and then crucify RD!

        1. I wasn’t addressing RD’s example. I was responding to the assertion that rational ranking of offenses can’t (shouldn’t?) be done. It is a preposterous assertion.

          And I was pointing out that ignorance of someones position (“mild pedophilia (whatever that is)”) doesn’t put you in a very good position to criticize the position.

          1. You may not have been addressing RD’s example directly, but, in my view, you reinforce the criticism about RD’s example because *your* example is so clear cut in contrast to his. Try asserting that rational ranking of offences can’t be done is preposterous using RD’s example. Your counterclaim becomes so much weaker.

            RD should have used your example.

            1. I think Dawkins’ real point is a level of abstraction higher. GBJames pointed out a pretty clear cut example of two types of rape that most people see a clear distinction between. Dawkins may have picked a less clear cut example, but his point that discussion about ranking them being taboo is still clear. Hence, the “rape is rape” hysteria. If we parse this objection, it closely resembles the No True Scotsman Fallacy. Sure, we could argue that a 17-year male having sex with his 16-year old girlfriend isn’t “real rape,” especially when the charges are brought by the girl’s parents through some misguided attempt at revenge. But, the fact is, society does call this case rape and it is no controversy to argue that it is much worse than a priest raping an 8 year old child, and defining rape in a way where only unclear cases are considered is to simply avoid discussion. There’s a quite obvious distinction when the far ends of the spectrum are compared.

              That sais, I disagree that Dawkins using this clear cut example would’ve necessarily resulted in less of a firestorm. Imagine the uproar amongst Catholics, who far outnumber atheists, if RD had brought this subject up again. One doesn’t need much of an imagination to envision the outrage over “unprovoked attacks on the Church.”

      2. GB, I have to somewhat agree with Tangled here.

        Ranking can be done logically, legalistically, no question. But, different people are going to have different reactions to being in the same situation, and it behooves us to respect that. The whole “rational is good, emotional is bad” thing doesn’t necessarily apply when someone is traumatized.

        Dawkins has displayed this problem when he expressed that because he was the victim of “mild pedophilia” and didn’t suffer much from it, that therefore, anyone else in the same situation should react as he did. There may be other factors in other situations that the listener is unaware of. I don’t think Dawkins is misogynist because of that; he may have just expressed himself badly.

        My take is that a rational analysis is useful in the main over a kneejerk reaction, but that there are times when that emotional reaction is protective of the user. Having been a shrink for many years, I can guarantee you that if you don’t take people where they are, you won’t get anywhere trying to convince them that they should be elsewhere. L

        1. The problem is, of course, that there is no subject that doesn’t provoke an emotional reaction in somebody. The only way to eliminate emotional reactions is to STFU.

          Which was the point of the exercise.

        2. Rape, as a definition, is difficult to pinpoint. What I consider as a form of rape is no where near what others would consider rape. There are things that could be done to my body that others would simple be unwilling to accept as reasonable and vice versa. In my experience, perspective helps. The more one learns about the experiences of others the more one has a better understanding of what is rape.

            1. I have been disqualified from a jury. The defense knew I was going to charge the young man for rape, regardless of the evidence, in fact, in the very absence of evidence. I was young and retributivist back then. I no longer feel that prison rehabilitates people properly, especially rapists.

              1. “The defense knew I was going to charge the young man for rape, regardless of the evidence, in fact, in the very absence of evidence”

                Wow, that’s really scary that there are people like you out there. Now I can understand why O.J. Simpson got off. Some people just have an axe to grind; evidence be damned.

          1. Rape has a legal definition, which varies from country to country, or state to state. It isn’t up to each of us to decide what rape is.

        3. I consider the various ways people view rape as inputs into the ranking. Richard expressed his ideas, others could express their’s. It does not follow that ranking is bad, it does follow that further inputs may be required.

      3. In Florida, a 16 or 17 year-old can drive a car and wield a rifle, but the State will afford her no agency over her own body when it comes to sex. Compound that with the fact that the state will argue that her lover has to go to jail for many years because she doesn’t have the mental capacity to give consent, but if she were to be implicated in a felony, there is virtually no chance that she wouldn’t be tried as an adult. It makes NO SENSE.

    2. You’ve completely missed the point. You say “The criticism relates to the pretension of being able to rank “logically” a scale of badness of rape…” He was not trying to rank the badness of rape (“logically” or otherwise). He was trying to illustrate a logical fallacy and used rape as a hypothetical example. He has said himself that the order doesn’t matter (to his point). It easily could have been reversed. He was not trying to rank anything; he was only trying to say that if someone does rank something on a scale of bad to very bad, that is not an endorsement of the thing that is bad. The fact that you can still misunderstand and still misrepresent his position after his clarifications (in which he specifically addresses this misunderstanding) suggests that you are being disingenuous here.

      1. pacopicopiedra hit it on the head – people are arguing with the hypothetical as if it were the meat of the argument; it wasn’t. The point isn ‘rape blah blah rape’, the point is ‘we need to stop creating taboos that shut down rational discussion’.

        ANY dissection of the hypothetical as the gist of RD’s argument is profoundly missing the point of the entire thing.

      2. The fact that it took you so many words to say it suggests that Twitter was not the best medium for RD to use.

        1. No, I don’t think Twitter’s the problem.

          It’s reading comprehension. Some people need to have it explained, others can understand it as it is just fine.

          If there’s anything RD possibly should’ve done differently it was to choose other things to fill in as X and Y.

      3. Yes, you´re right, he was not ranking but pointing out a logical fallacy. That´s why the Skepchick ranking of rape according to RD is not only childish but beside the point. However, I don´t know of anybody who ever claimed he was “endorsing” rape etc. What people accused him of in the “mild pedophilia” kerkuffle was belitteling other´s experiences (and rightly so, in my opinion). In his tweets, if you replace “endorsement” by “belittling”, his whole logical argument falls apart. So my perception is that RD is building a straw man. But sure, if anybody shows me that he was being accused of “endorsing” rape etc. by the FTB, Skepchick crowd, I will reconsider.

          1. I see, thanks. Hopefully it´ll calm the waters, although it´s about elevatorgate and has less to do with scales of rape. It´s a good move. I still think his claim that there was (literally!) a witch hunt is ridicilous. But that goes as well for the FTB crowd: How about ignoring the nasty and stupid comments and instead engaging the thoughtful ones?

            1. I doubt he meant a literal witch hunt. After all, this would entail hunting down people and burning them at the stake, and this type of thing actually goes on in some African countries now. I’ve probably just opened a can of worms here, what would the sophisticated theologians say about Dawkins and his Biblical literalism while speaking metaphorically in life? It may cause brains to implode…

    3. “but on the rape charge he approached “logically” an issue on which he has no experiental reference”.

      As I understand it swedish law begs to differ, Dawkins was a victim of rape or sexual harassment by the latest definitions here in Sweden, e.g. non-consensual intercourse/similar action or sexual touching of a minor depending on what happened. [ http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexualbrott_i_Sverige ]

    4. You write : . . . Rape is not a “taboo” subject for discussion, . . .”, but Dawkins isn’t claiming that rape is a taboo subject for discussion; he is claiming that in some circles the argument that while all rapes are morally reprehensible some rapes are more morally reprehensible than other rapes is a taboo subject for discussion. And he is right. Try having the discussion among your friends some evening. Ditto, pedophilia. Coyne correctly points out that Dawkins’ example is extremely weak, if not outright wrong. One can say, ditto Harris re. Israel/Palestine: Harris’s argument is that while Israel’s sloppy military response may needlessly, even criminally kill innocent civilians and be morally reprehensible, the palestinians’ willful hiding of rocket launchers behind the skirts of women and children is more morally reprehensible. Harris may be right or he may be wrong, but among a certain population it is taboo even to suggest a moral difference between the two sides.

    5. » Tangled Up in Blue Guy
      No one ever accused Richard Dawkins of saying that Date Rape is Okay by him

      Apparently, you have read none of the reactions to his tweets. Thas is exactly what lots of people have said.

    6. » Tangled Up in Blue Guy:
      The criticism relates to the pretension of being able to rank “logically” a scale of badness of rape and then to dismiss any criticism through deflection as an emotional display of weakness.

      Um, no, you are misrepresenting RD’s point. The ranking has nothing to with logic and can be arbitrary. The point is that even if you rank X and Y, nothing follows in terms of endorsing either. See below for more detail.

  7. Yes, there is certainly a lot of “intellectually dishonest pretend-misunderstanding”. But then again, I fail to see what Richard Dawkin’s point is. Are there really witch-hunts going on? Surely that is a bit of hyperbole.

    Are some people reacting aggressively to certain opinions, and to certain topics of discussion? Well yes, but honestly that would appear to be somewhat understandable, and I would be surprised if there were many people without their own hot button topics.

    Imagine, for example, if a significant section of society would regularly, perhaps every few months, publicly re-start the discussion of whether “The Jews” drink the blood of Christian children. Because among rational people we must be willing to question all dogma and be able to ask all questions; and because this is just asking, and just having a discussion, and not actually inviting or even promoting a conclusion. Surely at some point an impartial observer would have to wonder what this is all about, and perhaps consider the idea that the people in question are not “just asking questions”.

    And that is also what puzzles me about the “we should be prepared to have the discussion” argument in this context. Using the unfortunate example of rape, what exactly would somebody who wants to break the taboo want to achieve? If not to say something on the lines of “X isn’t really all that bad” then why go there? Same for other cases, such as “just having a rational discussion about torture” for example. If not to invite the conclusion that one should torture, why go there in the first place? To achieve what, precisely? So the idea that there might be some motivation behind opening the discussion is at least not a particularly crazy one.

    So yes, at some point everything should be critically examined. But there are some topics where I kind of think that there is a civilised position and a barbaric one, and some topics where there is a factually correct one and an incorrect one, and that after having gone through the same discussion for the umpteenth time people have the right to be exasperated at the umpteen+1th time the issue is raised, and also that it is understandable if people have reasonable suspicions about those who are “just asking questions”.

    I do not mean to imply that Dawkins has such a motivation, but I think it is understandable that people react the way they do. In certain contexts I would react the same way.

    1. The difference between your example “Jews drink the blood of Christian children” and “is one type of rape worse than another type” is that the former can be answered with a presentation of fact with the knowledge we already have. We are 99% certain that Jews do not drink the blood of Christian children and we could prove it very easily. In other words, it doesn’t have much bearing on our present society – it may have been a more relevant discussion in the ignorant bigotry of the Dark Ages.

      But at the present, are we entirely sure that one rape is worse than another? We need to have that discussion because, as Richard points out, it is handled differently in the law. It is a useful discussion to have to challenge the law or to challenge ethics and social perspectives.

      All the thought exercises Richard mentions in his essay are important when we consider ethics and societal attitudes so we should have them – indeed, Richard has already uncovered how humans react to rape, at least the humans he interacts with to find just how taboo a certain topic is.

    2. “what exactly would somebody who wants to break the taboo want to achieve?”

      The obvious knee-jerk reaction is: all rape is equally bad and equally traumatic for the victim. It may be an understandable reaction, but that does not mean that it is correct. Treating such a topic as off-limits means that they can’t think of a situation where it might be deserving of discussion, but that is short-sighted and wrong:

      What about the Kaitlyn Hunt case? She and many other teens like her have fallen foul of statutory rape laws. These laws were usually enacted to prevent exploitation and abuse of children by adults. But sometimes they are used to punish a teenager for having a consensual relationship with someone their parents or their community disapproves of.

      I don’t think most people have too much difficulty seeing that there were a lot of problems with the Hunt case.

      1. The only truly remarkable thing about the Hunt case was that the accused is a woman. If Kaitlyn Hunt had been Ken Hunt, there is no media attention given to the case and another teenage male is branded a sex offender for life because he made love to his girlfriend and didn’t have an expert understanding of sex laws in his state.

      1. Blech. That was some painful reading. It feels a bit like reading a bunch of teenage diaries. Even the setup post by the guy who was headed for a smack-down was pretty hard for me to read. She did this, so I said that, then she said this, and I said that in return, etc. Save it for your therapist. Who want’s to hear all of that?

    3. @alex, I agree.

      There was also a problem of timing with these tweets. They came the day after Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson made an attempt to draw a line under the problems there have been in the Atheist ‘movement’.


      Apart from anything else you can see why the tweet on rape could be perceived as both condescending and arrogant. (I’m thinking about “Go away and learn to think” here).

      I don’t think it’s taboo to talk about rape but it’s a sensitive subject and twitter is probably not the best place to start the conversation.

      1. In light of the timing issue and the obvious connection between the tweets and the last paragraph of this joint statement (I was unaware of the joint statement), I do think Richard was in the wrong to post those tweets. Not for their content, but for the somewhat abrasive language he chose to couch it in, and for the scab-picking nature of them.

        Richard, please, let the wounds heal.

      2. The joint statement was about how people ought to engage with each other (i.e. like civil human beings rather than the denizens of 4chan), so in actual fact the tweets came at a very good time: where you could see an example of how people engage with each other on a subject that is highly sensitive.

        But for the quadrillionth time, the tweets were not actually about rape, he wasn’t discussing rape, and he wasn’t even trying to start a discussion about rape. This is blindingly obvious to anyone who actually tried to check his Twitter stream to see what he *actually* said, as opposed to what people who like to get enraged on the internet have assumed he said.

        1. You seem to be contradicting yourself. First you say that there was a chance to engage on a highly sensitive subject and then you say “he wasn’t even trying to start a discussion about rape”.

          1. No, I am really not contradicting myself. The two things are completely separate and unrelated events.
            Let me break it down into short sentences.

            1) The joint statement was: people in the atheist community should try to engage civilly, even when the subject is one that people regard as controversial and contentious.

            SPECIAL POINT: It was not about how Richard conducts himself on social media platforms. It was about the abuse and name-calling and character-assassination that parts of the atheist commentariat indulge in.

            2) Richard’s tweets were in fact relating to outraged response of people who can’t be bothered to read what he actually says to comments he had made in the past about child abuse, namely that thinking that certain forms of abuse might have worse effects than other forms did not mean you endorsed or dismissed or diminished either form of abuse.

            3) Hence the X & Y example

            4) and then he tried to illustrate the point for a third time with a similar example substituting rape.

            To summarise: his tweets were not an attempt to compare “types” of rape; nor an attempt to discuss rape.

            How certain people reacted (outrage, shock, horror) simply illustrates the original problem: that some people cannot bother to look for context and prefer to attempt the least charitable interpretation of what they think they have read.

            1. Grania always seems to me to comment sensibly on social and political issues.

              Of course I would never agree with everything Dawkins says on those questions but I find myself sometimes bewildered at the invective that his tweets generate. And of any defence of him that I might make on Facebook.

              For example, an atheist recently FBed his outrage at Dawkins’ criticism of the length of a sentence that some racist dumb-bell got for idiotically waving a load of pork in front of some poor Muslims in the UK. Foolishly, I got into a debate with the bloke explaining that the point RD was making was about the appropriacy of the sanction: before long I was being accused of travelling with the Daily Mail, and RD suspected of having a racist agenda. And I’ve seen RD called a c*nt, a liar and all manner of disgraceful epithets by British atheists: and I think it’s because they can’t be bothered finding out what he actually says. And I’m absolutely sure they haven’t read The God Delusion.

              I think this visceral hatred amongst British atheists derives from 2 sources. Atheism, or rather secularism, has basically won in the UK: even Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ really consists of pallid liberal representatives of whatever religion opining that ‘this or that is shocking/quirky/to be thankful for and how it’s a bit like what Jesus/The Prophet (pbuh)/Guru Nanak/Rabbi X said’. For the queasy consensus in the UK, when people like Dawkins come along and point out the privileging of religion in our hate crime laws (in the sense that all our hate speech legislation refers to a person’s nature [race, gender, disability], except in the case of religion where it refers to a person’s choice [but not to that of a child]), their cosy conceptions are disrupted. The corollary is that even as progressive a Goddist as Giles Fraser is beyond the pale: and leftie Brits don’t like having that pointed out to them.

              The second source of the UK ire directed at RD comes, and I am ashamed to say it, from the remnants of the largely atheist socialist movement, still essentially in disarray since the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was always the understanding that one should promulgate certain ideas when it was politically expedient or appropriate to do so: it was called tactics. The tendency had its ideology, but what you said, and when, depended on the political circumstances. Muslim women were triply oppressed: by religion, by their men and by capitalism itself, but the means to attract them to socialism varied according to circumstances: the form of one’s propaganda changed, according to conditions.

              Of course, RD will have none of this: a logical case is precisely that, irrespective of political tactics. Yet the most disappointing aspect about those who attack RD is that they come largely from the Old Left: and because their social attitudes are currently in the ascendant in the West – widespread abhorrence of racism, better rights for the disabled, a general wish for the equality of the sexes – they seek to reinforce those social gains with a denial of the legislative conditions which buttressed those improvements. Free speech, the right of the contrary, the controversial, the marginal, in short, the arsey, to be heard. So you can not criticize these ideas: these gains are too precious to be threatened by anything like the inconvenient argument.

              All this particularly saddens me as I view RD as a link in an ancient chain of thoroughly admirable thinkers. From the Ancient Greeks who reserved the Areopagitica as a Speakers’ Corner, via Milton to J.S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ in which he pointed out that free speech crucially involves our right to hear the dissident opinion, for without it we are condemned to a life of prejudice.

              It further depresses me that these British haters of RD would call themselves Marxists. For so do I: and I bet in his heart of hearts so would Hitchens, even when he was being attacked as a Yankee sell-out in his last 10 years.


    4. I see your point. Although Richards’ example of using different rape circumstances was not a good choice, it would be more than just a choice error if he kept bringing it up every few months. Then it would be more than ‘just asking questions’.

    5. I agree with you in general. There’s really no reason we should have to continually debate Holocaust deniers or young earth creationists as long as they have no new arguments, and people should be entitled to make negative assumptions about people who want to argue those positions. But I don’t think it should rise to the level of a taboo.

      And in this specific case I have to say that the issues are not really settled.

      It’s a common feminist position that “rape = rape = rape” (i.e. that all types of rape are equally bad), but neither the courts nor the general public have ever felt that way and feminists haven’t really advanced an argument for that position. But if you question it, you may be viciously attacked.

      There are interesting questions about minors and sex and their ability to consent. (For instance, what is the principle that bars sex between adults and minors and is it consistent with allowing sex between minors? If minors are “simply incapable of consenting to sex” as is often said, why is sex between minors okay? Or if the problem is “power imbalance”, does a 20-year-old really have so much more power than an 18-year-old or a 16-year-old?)

      In fact, it seems like all the most controversial topics are unsettled. Infanticide? (Some widely accepted arguments for abortion also justify infanticide.) Incest? (What is the principle that bars consensual, non-procreative incest? And we don’t ban marriages between the genetically incompatible, so why ban incest?) Cannibalism? (Assuming people aren’t murdered, is it really so wrong? What if someone consents?) Race and gender? (People have had their careers destroyed for doing or describing research, or reaching unpopular conclusions, on these topics.)

      Taboo subjects are the ones that elicit the most knee-jerk aggression against anyone who appears to question conventional wisdom, but there are plenty of good arguments to be had about pretty much every one of them, so I don’t think we can justify closing the book on them just yet.

      1. “…and feminists haven’t really advanced an argument for that position.”

        I’m not sure that’s quite right. The argument seems to go something like “this is too subjective for differentiating”. I don’t find it convincing, but that is what I hear.

    6. » Alex SL:
      what exactly would somebody who wants to break the taboo want to achieve?

      You could have just read RD’s second piece for the answer to that:

      I think dispassionate logic and reason should not be banned from entering into discussion of cannibalism or trapped miners. And I was distressed to see that rape and pedophilia were also becoming taboo zones; no-go areas, off limits to reason and logic.

      If you want to see to it that certain things do not enter that no-go area, you’ll have to bring them up in a way that shows your point. Which RD did quite successfully.

  8. I am confused, in the “Dear muslima” incident Dawkins basically said that a woman shouldn’t complain that much about X because some womans have to suffer Y, and Y is worse. That sounds as an endoresement of X to me.

    1. I think you misunderstand “endorsement”.

      Murder is worse than burglary.

      I did not just endorse burglary.

      1. Dawkins didn’t just said that being stoned to death is worse than harassment, or something in the like, he pretty much said that women *shouldn’t complain* about harassment on a hotel elevator at 4 o’clock in the morning because it’s way worse to be a Muslim woman under Sharia law. That’s endorsement of harassment.

        1. he pretty much said that women *shouldn’t complain* about harassment on a hotel elevator at 4 o’clock in the morning

          That event cannot reasonably be called “harassment” (and as far as I’m aware RW has never said it was). It was a social faux pas, a bit clumsy.

          Dawkins was not saying that Western women should not complain about harassment because Muslim women are worse of, he was saying that this episode was too minor to make an issue of.

        2. Still not endorsement. Maybe English is not your native language? (I mean that respectfully). To paraphrase a great quote: “endorsement,” you keep saying that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.

    2. Actually, Richard clarified what he meant in a follow up to that. He wasn’t claiming what Watson suffered in the elevator was “less bad”, he was claiming that it was “zero bad”.

      Whatever the strength of his original point, he will forever leave a sour taste in the mouth of some femininists for the way he expressed it.

      1. Yeah, it’s this history which really made this example a dumb choice. As I’ll keep saying, there were innumerable amount of choices he could have used for his example. Why (as someone who cannot actually experience life as a woman) did he choose a very poor, inaccurate one which brings up ghosts from that earlier controversy?

        In this, he reminds me a lot of Jeremy Clarkson (another privileged old white British guy) of Top Gear and similar infamy. But Jeremy Clarkson is an entertainer and the sometimes very foolish things he says are supposed to be part of his “shtick”. RD is not an entertainer.

        1. Yes, that history should have made RD think before posting his Tweet.

          It was ham-handed of him to use Twitter to bring up this example. I think it is this lack of care that really gets him in trouble.

      2. The Elevatorgate probably was what started the Pharyngulate hatred of Dawkins. The silly thing is, it wasn’t really about Watson vs. Dawkins, but about hoards blowing it all out of proportion. And it was also about the logic of ”X is bad, Y is worse”.

        Originally, Rebecca Watson expressed a very reasonable personal account about her being propositioned by a man in an elevator. Being in an enclosed space in a foreign country, she felt uncomfortable by this. So she gave a practical advice to men: Guys, please don’t proposition a woman who’s alone with you late at night in an elevator, because it feels creepy. It seemed a fair point to make.

        Then, the commenting went crazy. Instead of talking reasonably about Watson’s fair rebuke of a faux pas by a polite young man, the hoards seemed to be just about ready to lynch the guy, all but equating this with actual rape and describing the incident as an epitome of global misogyny. And juvenile men also fueled this rage with their anti-Watson preconceptions.

        Richard Dawkins apparently read the comments and understandably considered them ridiculous in light of the plight of women in some muslim countries. And when challenged that muslim women may have it worse, but that’s no reason to accept bad things in the west, Dawkins saw it necessary to double down by declaring the polite sexual proposition was ”zero bad”.

        Probably coming from a culture of civil, educated, but shy men, he perhaps saw nothing wrong with a young person politely propositioning another.

        I took Watson’s advice, and accept that elevators apparently have some special meaning that I never realized. But Richard Dawkins seems to have too much intellectual pride to retreat an inch from his logical position in favor of social acceptance. That will always make him a target of very harsh and emotionally charged criticism.

        But a courage to face a fire like that will get things done in this world. It requires a thick skin and iron self-confidence, but you have to respect that.

        1. I wouldn’t call it zero bad, simply because one should take into account the reasonable likelihood of offending and/or frightening a woman in this situation. However, in light of what the man was presumably seeking, consensual sex, we can’t dismiss this as irrational or even a serious offense. After a,ll there are women who would take him up on the offer. Should the women who would accept be alienated by those who automatically call this behavior misogynistic?

          1. I basically agree with you. Many women find a polite proposition of consensual sex flattering, and many even wish it to happen in unusual places. Perhaps it’s also cultural, since living in a relatively shy and civil society, I have often heard young women being actually frustrated about young men not having the guts to approach them. I suppose USA is very different, and women find male attention more threatening there.

            Being a serious Dawkins fan, I’m willing to assume his background is a bit similar to mine in this way, so he would encourage people to have a more positive and fearless attitude towards sex. Also, having a happy sex life is among his own ten commandments.

            Still, accepting my ignorance as a male, I took Watson’s surprising remarks as practical advice about how some women might feel. And it’s good to know an enclosed space carries an extra burden. Being in a relationship, I’m not actually hitting on any women myself, but I write fiction and people’s behaviour and feelings are important to me. Based on my own experience from my younger and more vulnerable years, women have appreciated such polite sexual offers even if often declining, never found them threatening. But that was a different time and culture, and one has to remember Watson has been receiving horrible online threats for years. Her fears are very reasonable.

            Anyway, it’s refreshing to discuss this matter here at WEIT, since Pharyngula is a very nasty site to visit whenever Dawkins or sexuality is discussed. I suppose many of the people commenting there have been greatly afflicted by bigotry and social injustice, and tend to have knee-jerk reactions to most matters regarding e.g. abortion, feminism, sexual minorities and such. Exactly what Dawkins referred to in his post about taboos.

        2. See my comment below on social justice warriors (on 31). There was apparently a climate for that already. Then take into account the McGraw incident, ERV’s bad form comment, more feuds and comment sections firing broadsides at each other, and so on.

          It is an overstated strawman that this was solely about Ms Watson’s “guys don’t do that” remark. When I recall correctly, Dawkins came then, and it appears to me that the community was polarized by then already. Also note that Ms Watson was already controversial before, since she abused accidential admin powers to ban people on JREF.

          Richard Dawkins underestimated this polarization, and the sjw mind-set (again see 31). Then Ms Watson declared her boycott of all things Dawkins. PZ Myers was probably horrified but had to stick to his side, hence he reacted with “didn’t happen, no boycott” and claimed it was invented by Teh Misogynists — this emerging narrative didn’t sit too well with the detractors. Some who reacted trollish, angry etc, where then kafkatrapped, subsequently lost the prerogative of interpretation and were officially ostracized. Dawkins went quiet on the matter and the social justice warrior gang then rolled out their alternate reality propaganda, with Atheism Plus being one highlight.

          For some time they rewrote history, and to this day did bizarro hypocritical things, but the movement lapped it up. E.g. being famous for extremst language, enviscerated anyone who expressed horror (“tone troll”) when confronted with pharyngula death wishs and shock tactics. But then somehow had this bizarre idea to tone police the movement… recently Greta Chriatina and her “shun & shame doctrine” of anyone who wrote mean things (lolwut) you can still see Adam Lee and other blind followers carrying this banner with glowing cheeks, uncritical, never even twitch their eyebrow (normal reaction of non-imbeciles: raising one through the roof).

          Wasn’t it for WEIT and some others, I’d declare the whole movement a complete laughing stock.

        3. » ColdThinker:
          Originally, Rebecca Watson expressed a very reasonable personal account about her being propositioned by a man in an elevator. Being in an enclosed space in a foreign country, she felt uncomfortable by this. So she gave a practical advice to men: Guys, please don’t proposition a woman who’s alone with you late at night in an elevator, because it feels creepy. It seemed a fair point to make.

          Then, the commenting went crazy.

          Except that isn’t what happened. RW did not just say, “Guys, don’t do that”. In her video, RW explicitly said that Elevator Guy’s behaviour was an example of “blatant misogyny”—which phrase was exactly what RD was reacting to.

          1. “Except that isn’t what happened. RW did not just say, “Guys, don’t do that”. In her video, RW explicitly said that Elevator Guy’s behaviour was an example of “blatant misogyny”—which phrase was exactly what RD was reacting to.”

            Peter, here’s the video. The relevant part starts at about 4:30. I don’t hear “blatant misogyny” and I do hear “Guys, don’t do that”.
            (insert http stuff )youtu.be/uKHwduG1Frk

              1. The context for this fracas was FAR more complicated than just this video. You do understand that, right? If it was just this video, it would have all died out now (of course certain people have an interest in keeping it alive). Several commenters have mentioned other issues around this, like the dissing of Stef McGraw, the demonization of Russell Blackford, and so on. Anybody that says the controversy cam from this fairly innocuous video alone is either in a bubble or being willfully ignorant.

                I will remove the embed.

              2. Russell Blackford’s demonizing was one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen. The guy is a gentle, well behaved writer who just happened to have an opinion. He was called a liar, rather unfairly, by Myers who to this day hasn’t ever apologized for it. Not the first shit-move Myers has made, IMO.

            1. » Mal:
              Peter, here’s the video. The relevant part starts at about 4:30.

              Um, no, the context for that, which is kind of important, is given before that mark. The “blatant misogyny” is at 3:45, and EG was given as an example of somebody who didn’t quite get that.

              1. I think that’s a stretch, Peter, and in any case very different from “RW explicitly said that Elevator Guy’s behaviour was an example of ‘blatant misogyny’”, which you said in response to CoolThinker.


              2. You’re right, Ant; RW didn’t explicitly say that, and I retract that statement. As to EG being an example of the kind of “blatant misogyny” that RW sees in the atheist community, I still think that is exactly what RW meant to say. I put the text of the whole passage in a pastebin for easy reference.

                In a nutshell, RW says that there is not just sexism in the atheist community but “blatant misogyny”, and in her talk, she wanted to highlight that as part of her perspective/experience. One guy, however, didn’t grasp what RW said in her talk and “sexualised” her in the elevator.

                To my mind—given that RW prefaced the episode by saying that EG “didn’t really grasp what I was saying on the panel”—that is meant to say that Elevator Guy was a prime example of what RW was talking about on her panel. Which was not just sexism but “blatant misogyny”. This interpretation, in fact, coincides with a lot of the comments made during ElevatorGate, where a number of defenders of RW said explicitly that EG’s behaviour was misogynistic. And it is still a fact that Richard Dawkins, in his ‘Dear Muslima’ letter, specifically referenced “misogyny” and how inflationary use of that term is capable of draining it of all meaning—which, he said, would be a slap in the face of those women who are not just asked an arguably awkward question but actually mistreated, assaulted, and possibly killed.

              3. I still think you’re stretching. It seems to me that the specific thing that EG didn’t get was RW’s “how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualise me in that manner,” which she said she had been talking about.


              4. Okay can we PLEASE stop talking about Elevatorgate, the most mischaracterized incident in the history of the atheist blogosphere. It’s not really relevant to this discussion, and is derailing things. In fact, I think this discussion has reached its end. If you have something new to add, and NOT about “Elevatorgate”, you can comment, but I’m not having this thread devolve into the kind of stuff that has characterized some other sites that thrive on drama.

              5. “…can we PLEASE stop talking about Elevatorgate…?”

                Oh, good; now I can stop biting my tongue.

    3. I remember he was asked at the time whether he was making the argument that because much worse problems exist that lesser problems can be ignored, and he said that of course he wasn’t. I don’t think he ever really explained what his argument was, though. It’s possible he didn’t consider the ‘lesser problem’ to be a real problem at all, but I don’t know.

      1. “It’s possible he didn’t consider the ‘lesser problem’ to be a real problem at all, but I don’t know.”

        That’s exactly his argument. He compared the annoyance that Watson suffered to the annoyance that he has when someone is loudly chewing gum in the elevator.

        1. Maybe he is not equipped to empathise with being approached by a physically larger and stronger individual, in a small enclosed space, with a suggestion of a kind which often amounts to a sexual advance. Perhaps he should have asked a woman.

            1. Of course they do. The problem I have run across with “ask a such and such” people is that they believe you can find one to speak for EVERYONE who fits that description. It’s a fools errand.

          1. Perhaps, but I have to point out something. It seems that when we are talking about things like female participation in the armed forces and other professions that require physical strength, we as liberals tend to (properly) de-emphasize gender differences in size and strength, nothing that there are huge areas of overlap b/t the sexes. It is this large variance among the sexes that undercuts arguments to categorically bar women from these jobs.

            But when we are talking about a man and a woman in an elevator, suddenly every man becomes a large, formidable He-man and every woman is a vulnerable defenseless petite little thing. Gender differences suddenly become hugely amplified to conform to outdated stereotypes.

            The fact of the matter is that a large number of men couldn’t kick their own ass, much less that of a healthy adult (male or female). When I worked as a personal trainer during school, I was shocked at how weak and undertrained some young men are. Past participation in sports or some background in hard physical labor was a better predictor of a person’s baseline strength than gender was.

            When we look at high level athletes, female athletes have far more in common with male athletes than the male athletes have with non-athletic males. An untrained male is little better than an untrained female in strength. As women are engaging in things like athletics and strength training in ever larger numbers, this assumption that a male can always overpower a female is increasingly inaccurate.

            And I always thought that Dawkins should have claimed that he, as a lightly-built man in his 70s, can certainly be in a position to experience vulnerability as well!

            1. Actually, when I was in college I used to see quite a few very fit and muscular women in the gym lifting weights. I’m talking female rugby players and the sort, big, strong girls. What shocked me was how little weight they were capable of lifting even though they were, for woman, quite well defined and bulky. They were astonishingly weak for their size and mass.
              No, most men are orders of magnitude stronger than even the strongest of women. It’s not even close in my opinion. Not that I’d ever fight a woman, but there are very few that would pose even a mild threat to me.

              1. That’s not true at all. Women have perhaps 2/3 the strength of men, and this gap decreases even more when controlling for bodyweight. This is not an orders of magnitude difference.

                Elite women in strength sports, such as Olympic weightlifting, are freakishly strong. Even though women have only been allowed to compete at international level in this particular sport for less than two decades, they can already rival the performances of men from the 50/60s. With more exposure for women to this sport, the gender gap in weightlifting will likely shrink to the rather modest 8-10% that you see in other sports.

                I don’t know what women you witnessed, but I saw experienced female lifters capable of squatting and deadlifting multiples of their bodyweight (just like advanced men). This meant in some cases squatting 120 kilos and pulling 150 kilos, far beyond what the average male gym rat can do. I will concede that upper body lifts posed more of a problem, but the strongest females could easily handle their own bodyweight on exercises such as pull-ups. The bench press and similar exercises are rather overrated anyway.

                The biggest takeaway for me was that women responded extremely well to strength training, once you were able to convince them that training hard was not going to transform them into She-hulk.

            2. A problem here was, I think, that when Richard weighed in, the real issue had moved on from Rebecca’s having felt vulnerable in a lift to the rabid tirade of insults she received for posting a mild reproof to “elevator guy”. Exactly the kind of behaviour that Richard has just deprecated in his joint statement with Ophelia Benson.


              1. » Ant:
                the rabid tirade of insults she received for posting a mild reproof to “elevator guy”

                As I say above, the whole point was that it wasn’t just a mild reproof. The RW camp mantra-like insists on that, but is a simple falsehood. Instead, the situation quickly devolved into a competition to name the most people misogynists—prominently among them Russell Blackford, who had the temerity of making a variant of RD’s point we’re discussing here.

              2. Peter: although your post at FTB is quite valid, most of the criticism was not spurred by Watson’s video, but by her very inappropriate call-out of Steph McGraw while on a podium, with Steph being right down there in the audience, bereft of a good avenue to respond. “Parroting misogynist thoughts” and all that. Which prompted Myers’ “Always Name Names” and Abbie Smith’s subsequent “Bad Form, Rebecca Watson” blogposts. And thus, we have Elevatorgate.

    4. Just in:

      There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and 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.
      — Richard Dawkins


      1. This confirms my suspicion that if all the sides had talked about this issue, it would have been resolved. I’m glad Richard said this.

          1. Oh I agree. I guess what I should have said is that I don’t think Richard Dawkins was the demon he was made out to be and that if we were to talk to him, he’d certainly clarify and show himself to be the mensch we all thought he was. 🙂

  9. While I agree with the sentiment of the Twitter posts, I hope we don’t forget to temper our logic with compassion, lest we become the “straw Vulcans” that we are often painted to be, abandoning so much of our humanity in favor of pure logic or pure reason.

    I’m sensitive to this from my exchanges on YouTube, where libertarians, radical anti-natalists and race realists abound. Each of these groups advance arguments that our sentimentality or human frailty are preventing advancements that are logically beneficial.

    It’s a fuzzy line, and the best approach may be to simply accept that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

    1. I think your main mistake is in participating in exchanges on Youtube! 😉 Youtube comments have a certain reputation, and it is definitely one part of the internet I never partake in, not to read, much less post!

      But I agree with your comment about emotion. I think a) it is delusional for anyone at all to believe they are purely rational beings, the emotion is always there. And b) it wouldn’t even be a desirable thing if it were possible!! I can only imagine what solutions a purely emotion-free, rational intellect would come up with when looking at the current state of the world’s biosphere AND the growing human population of 7 billion…

  10. Glumly, I’m going to make myself unpopular here. Let me begin by saying I like Dawkins. He inspired me as a child and an adult and I’ve met him! He’s a lovely person. I haven’t met Jerry, but WEIT is one of my favourite books. Not just one of my favourite books on evolution: *man*, that Coyne guy can write.

    But there are a few silly things said in this post. I’m going to concentrate on one quote (from JC):

    I suppose he was fed up by a segment of the atheist blogosphere whose ideology is so rigid that not only is dissent from its views prohibited, but mere discussion of some issues, particularly around gender, is also prohibited. To engage in such discussion immediately brands one as a sister-punisher, a misogynist, a rape-enabler, and various other nasty creatures.

    If there’s such a section of the atheist community, you haven’t demonstrated it in this post (or elsewhere, as far as I know). Nor has anyone else, ever, as far as I can tell. That’s not a challenge to find examples, it’s a challenge to justify counter-examples.

    It is *not* prohibited by any section of the atheist community to engage in discussion about, well, anything by, well, almost anyone. Lots of people tell me otherwise. If you, Jerry, really think that’s happening, I’d love to see more evidence than you’ve provided.

    1. “If there’s such a section of the atheist community, you haven’t demonstrated it in this post (or elsewhere, as far as I know).”

      You can find them if you just read through the comments on this page. Here’s one now. Now, I realize that the comment I link to is framed in terms of the idiotic comments of people like Todd Akin. But the complaint isn’t that Akin (et al) are idiots but that men in general have nothing to say on this subject? Why is that? Am I not allowed to chime in on Akin being an idiot regarding what rape is because I’m male? If I do so am I just “twitching”?

        1. Sorry, latsot, but I’m having trouble parsing that comment. What your word “that” references is unclear.

          1. I don’t think there was a point. Upon refutation there is usually a back pedal into rhetorical dodging. This is just a tired pattern at this point.

    2. Are you familiar with the Atheism+ (Atheism Plus) movement? It’s an attempt to combine atheism with feminism and potentially other isms, but it had problems like those Jerry mentioned, and I would guess that that’s what he’s referring to.

    3. Dawkins was probably referring to FreeThoughtBlogs, Skepchick, and Atheism Plus Forums. Discussion of gender issues is not permitted at such sites, unless your opinion is in agreement with PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, Stephanie Svan, et al.

        1. 😀 😀 😀

          Someone defending Zvan while complaining about “bad mouthing”. Irony, colnago80 is thy name.

  11. Such offense is what some bloggers thrive on: it drives traffic, the lifeblood of the Internet.

    The more you read such sites (Freethoughtblogs, I’m looking at you), the more it becomes apparent that it is 100% about personal drama for them. One hundred percent. Some people are instinctually drawn to it, some manufacture it for traffic, but what they all have in common is a kind of “Oh my god!” Facebook approach to everything. Everything.

    Thank dog for rationalists like Dawkins and Harris.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I followed Freethoughtblogs for a few months after the essential collapse of Science Blogs, then realized it was becoming a hysterical kindergarten. I’ve not been back since so I can’t judge if that’s still the case; I found it too profoundly depressing.

      1. I think the dynamic between PZ and his horde is the same as that between a bully and his gang of toadies. They are on the lookout for any chance to put down someone they know is unpopular with the boss. RD hasn’t fallen for the post-modernist forms of political correctness and it’s plain that PZ dislikes him intensely. Hence the horde all want to get a kick in whenever they can.

        1. “it’s plain that PZ dislikes him intensely.”

          If that is the case, then PZ is lying intensly as well. He has recently gone on record saying that he likes Richard personally, it’s just that he disagrees with him on certain matters.

            1. “Order Of The Molly”

              An award that PZ used to (may still) award to notable commenters that was awarded monthly. It had sort of devolved, even before I stopped frequenting there, into a bit of a popularity / celebrity thing rather than what it was originally. Originally it was awarded to commenters based on the quality of their arguments and writing, and awarded pretty well.

              Torbjörn was a regular at Pharyngula back then and, in my opinion, was a very appropriate recipient of the award. He was one of the dozen or so regulars there that really made the place shine for a while.

              1. Indeed! I first encountered her at Pharyngula as well, and have admired her ever since. I seem to remember Ben Goren from there as well. There are several other names I remember from back then that I see here (WEIT).

              2. @Jim

                Yes. Most OM winners broadcast the fact by appending “OM” to their handle. Sastra never has, and I asked, several years ago, why Sastra’s nym was not followed by OM, meaning “wow, this commenter impresses me!” I was quickly informed by many that she indeed was a winner.

  12. I’ll just say that for me personally, I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape. Rape and abortion and birth control and men making pronouncements about those subjects is beyond obnoxious. In the courts, in the statehouses, in the universities, men opining about rape and abortion and birth control. It needs to stop.

    1. I can somewhat relate to the first part of your comment. I get so furious these days listening to anti-choice arguments that I actually can’t bear to read them, let alone participate in any discussion about it with anti-choicers.

      However, I cannot move from “I am offended by and sick of their terrible and bogus arguments” to “therefore no argument against abortion may be made”.

    2. So you need personal experience to have an an opinion of something? You have then to be a participant in a war to have an opinion about suffering in war?

      I have an opinion about those subjects which mainly goes along the lines that I would like to string up rapists by the testicles and that regulated abortion is the mark of a civilised society. Or am I not allowed to have those views?

      1. I am going to agree with Kathy. The specific subject was where such pronouncements are so often made by people (they will usually be men) who have taken the mantle of power. So their opinion about women’s issues is more important than those of women b/c, well, obviously they have the moral authoritay. Also, their opinion will differ from the ones that you expressed. The woman should not have gotten drunk at a frat party, so what was she expecting? That hollow ball of cells growing in her is a human with a soul.

        1. You could read the Comment Is Free articles in the Guardian. The general tenor is that not only can men not speak about ‘womens issues’ but the wrong kind of feminist woman can’t either.

          While I can respect honestly held opinions I take exception to those who would deprive me of mine. Which comes perilously close to Richard Dawkins point about rational thought and taboo areas.

          1. Again, from my point of view, here is how I feel Why do men have to express so many opinions about women’s bodies? Can you see what I’m saying–rape and abortion and birth control are male obsessions. Every man on the planet has an opinion about my vagina.

            1. “Why do men have to express so many opinions about women’s bodies?”

              How many opinions am I allowed?

              Does it matter that my opinions very likely correspond to yours?

              1. These comments are a perfect illustration of the frustration I’ve been expressing. No, it doesn’t matter if you’re opinions are aligned with mine. I’m expressing how I feel. I’m not making a law, or putting forward a corporate policy, or writing a Supreme Court opinion, nor am I a public figure tweeting out provocations to the world. I am a woman who has had it up to here with hearing men talk about rape, abortion, and birth control. It feels horrible.

              2. Is “I feel you should STFU” significantly different from “You should STFU”?

              3. Besides that rape happens to men, what is this “vagina” = “rape” conflation? Or is it figurative emotional speech rather than rational?

                Similarly with “vagina” = “birth control”, since there are very many ways that men can do this today, and many are discussing more ways (i.e. the eagerly awaited chemical means).

                If you care about your own body, fine, you are its boss. But don’t drag issues that touches the whole of the population into it, either directly or indirectly (medical care, legislation).

            2. The men* who developed modern contraceptives obviously thought deeply about vaginas. So clearly, there are some instances where men focusing their attention on this area is not only appropriate, but to the benefit of women!

              On the moral and ethical and legal fronts, if men understand the issues better, it should only benefit women. And understanding will sometimes involve debate and criticism of positions that people hold.

              *I’m not implying that only men can be scientists and engineers.

            3. Here is how I feel: I feel your reaction is very weird.

              When ignorant men say stupid things, let’s criticize them! I don’t feel we need to prohibit any man anywhere at any time from addressing the issues at hand in any way shape or form. That seems to me to be cutting off your nose to spite your face. You’re willing to throw away GBJames’ vote against anti-abortion laws because he’s not female?

              Like it or not, you live in a world half populated by men. We all can and have to work together to address the issues.

            4. Women should STFU about men’s issues.

              Men should STFU about women’s issues.

              Whites should STFU about blacks’ issues.

              Blacks should STFU about whites’ issues.

              Atheists should SFTU about the issues of religious people.

              Religious people should STFU about the issues of atheists.

              … er … somehow this doesn’t seem like a formula for progress.

            5. I’m terribly confused about how birth control is a woman’s issue or how my opinions on birth control have anything to do with your vagina.

              The vast majority of couples use birth control. Most men and women have opinions about birth control and have every right to their opinions.

              1. Indeed, should my wife have had something to say about my vasectomy? I’d say so.

                She had used oral contraceptives for years. After our child was born, we decided that was enough. I figured since she had borne (by her own choice, I had no input on that) the risks of contraception for a long time, I should take the pain/cost/risk in the end. We decided this together.

          2. I used to think that men shouldn’t be able to speak about abortion and rape either as they truly didn’t understand what it is to be a woman, afraid to walk alone at night, always looking over her shoulder or a woman who was forced to carry a baby to term that she did not want and faced social stigma.

            However, I realized that silencing wasn’t the answer. I have been silenced – “you’re white, Diana, you shouldn’t be allowed to talk about racism”, or “you don’t have kids, Diana, you shouldn’t be allowed to talk about education of K-12”.

            I think everyone should be allowed to express an opinion – we may not consider the opinions of some expressions as valid but it should be because the opinion is wrong, not because the giver of the opinion belongs to a particular social class, gender or race. In fact, I welcome discussion with men about rape because then they may better understand a woman’s perspective and if they say silly things like many US politicians have, I welcome the opportunity to put them straight, as many men have.

        2. You agree with Kathy that men should not comment about rape, abortion, and birth control *in* your comment about rape, abortion, and birth control? And your reason is that men’s opinions will differ from your (male) opinion? You lost me there, Mark.

      2. I’m giving you my point of view, bonetired, which is that men need to stop talking about what is rape and how do we define it and is it legitimate and how can you get pregnant and date rape is this and stranger rape is that and women lie about rape and men get raped too and on and on and on and on. It’s clearly some neurotic obsession to parse it again and again, and keep bringing is up to make a point, and argue about it. Why does RD have to comment? Because it’s a twitch, a tic, men cannot stop ticcing and twitching about rape and abortion and birth control.

        1. Unfortunately you are going for the foreseeable future to have to accept the some men, rightly or wrongly, will continue to have views about rape and that their opinions are important. The UK House of Commons is overwhelmingly male (there are 142 women MPs and make up 22% of the House) and it is their opinion that matters. Fortunately, the vast majority of MPs of all sides actually agree with you about subjects like rape and abortion. But you cannot exclude men from having opinions about such subjects.

          1. Yes, men should have, and should express, their opinions about women issues and vice versa. But what should not be lost here in this discussion is that there is a difference in invoking an opinion about things that one owns, like ones’ own body, and what one does not own, like the bodies of other people. Ownership means that ones’ opinion matters more.
            I happen to be a man, but for the moment pretend that I am a woman. When I hear free speech like ‘you should not get an abortion’, then my gut reaction would be ‘who made you the ruler of my body?’ My opinion should matter more (although unfortunately it often does not). Of course if you said ‘you have a right to do what you want with your body’, and if that happens to also be my opinion as well, then my reaction would be ‘thanks for your support but I already knew that’. My opinion still matters more.

            1. Mark – I totally agree with you about what you just said. Including the key point that “My opinion still matters more”. Not “My opinion is the only one which is allowed.”

            2. I should have read further. Your clarification makes a bit more sense. I still don’t agree that men should just STFU about these subjects, though. Some men have intelligent things to say about them. And I’m sure you agree. Otherwise you wouldn’t be commenting about them.

        2. So you suggest that women are the only ones entitled to define what is rape? Is that all women, or only those who feel they have been raped?
          Do all others then have to accept it if a woman claims she is raped because a man looked at her in a strange way?

          Had it occurred to you that this male “neurotic obsession” might originate from the fact that it’s mostly men who are accused of rape?

          1. Men can define rape too, but who do you think can more authoritatively define what rape is like for a woman? Democracy is a wonderful thing, but in some areas some opinions and votes should count more than others. I am not saying that the opinion of half of our population should be stifled. I am saying that half of our populations opinion should matter more on this subject. As men, you and I should listen more.

    3. I have known two men who have been raped. It was worthwhile for them to talk to others about the experience.

      Also, did you know that lawyers will frequently want men on juries for rape cases. Men are much more likely to put away a rapist than women.

      1. I am not apprised of what lawyers will do, but I can see why lawyers for the prosecution would want men on the jury, if what you say is true. But I suspect lawyers for the defense will also want men, b/c it is easier for the defense to then play the ‘she provoked it’ card.

    4. “I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape”:

      (O.o) I’m pretty tired of hearing that men can’t make pronouncements about rape! Seeing how in peace time they are at least a few % of the raped but despite being a taboo subject during political aggression or war _routinely as many men and boys as women are raped_. (Or perhaps more, seeing the taboos.)

      “Laying the pus-covered pad on the desk in front of him, he gave up his secret. During his escape from the civil war in neighbouring Congo, he had been separated from his wife and taken by rebels. His captors raped him, three times a day, every day for three years. And he wasn’t the only one. He watched as man after man was taken and raped. The wounds of one were so grievous that he died in the cell in front of him.

      “That was hard for me to take,” Owiny tells me today. “There are certain things you just don’t believe can happen to a man, you get me? But I know now that sexual violence against men is a huge problem. Everybody has heard the women’s stories. But nobody has heard the men’s.”

      It’s not just in East Africa that these stories remain unheard. One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California’s Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.

      I’ve come to Kampala to hear the stories of the few brave men who have agreed to speak to me: a rare opportunity to find out about a controversial and deeply taboo issue. In Uganda, survivors are at risk of arrest by police, as they are likely to assume that they’re gay – a crime in this country and in 38 of the 53 African nations. They will probably be ostracised by friends, rejected by family and turned away by the UN and the myriad international NGOs that are equipped, trained and ready to help women. They are wounded, isolated and in danger. In the words of Owiny: “They are despised.””


      “According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, 30% of women and 22% of men from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that they had been subject to conflict-related sexual violence.[16]” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_rape#Rape_of_men ]

      [There are a massive amounts of links to study if you google “men rape war”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_rape should be a good start, besides the reasearch Guardian mentions.]

      Rape is not about gender and sexuality, it is about power. Even I, a man who has had the fortune to never be molested in any way (but has heard anecdote from victims), know that. And as part of a population where power play and rape appears, I feel obliged to “make pronouncements about rape”. To then see my concerns and actions trampled on is dire, to say the least. And I can’t even start to imagine how it would be for molested men.

      As for Dawkins I understand it swedish law begs to differ. Dawkins was likely a victim of rape or sexual harassment by the latest definitions here in Sweden, e.g. non-consensual intercourse/similar action or sexual touching of a minor depending on what happened. [ http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexualbrott_i_Sverige ]

    5. In the US, more men are raped each year than women (a lot more). More men are sexually assaulted, more men are physically assaulted. Rape, sexual assault, spousal abuse and assault are not women’s issues, they are humankind issues.

          1. Actually,no. While the prison population is millions, a hundred and fifty million must dwarf that by a large amount. So at any believable rate it can’t really be the case I don’t think.

      1. Sorry, I got swamped yesterday and didn’t come back to check on replies. I was basing my comment on this article:
        Their statement was based on Bureau of Justice statistics. It appears, and I find it quite feasible, that if you include prison assaults in the statistics, that men are raped more often in the US than women. Even if you argue the numbers, my main point is still valid, that rape is not a women’s issue alone and that telling men to shut up about rape is wrong.

    6. ” I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape.”

      What an awful thing to say. What about the boys in Catholics churches who were raped, are they not allowed to comment? What about men who were raped by other men, or women for that matter, are they allowed to say anything.

      Your comments seems to imply that only women can be raped or sexually assaulted. Even though women are statistically more affected by the issue, this should not exclude men who have been raped. They must be allowed to voice their opinion as well. Your personal feelings do not negate that.

    7. I’ll just say that for me personally, I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape. Rape and abortion and birth control and men making pronouncements about those subjects is beyond obnoxious.

      I see this statement as an expression of frustration, and while I can sympathize with this sentiment, this is exactly the taboo making that Richard Dawkins argues against (correctly, in my opinion).

      By the way, I am a woman, I consider myself a feminist, I believe that there is no excuse for rape, and I am for abortion on demand and for broad access to birth control that should be paid for by the state. And I expect men to take part in discussing these issues openly and without limitations. If they have arguments against my position, I want to hear them. I certainly know how to defend my opinions, I don’t need artificial taboos to protect me.

      1. Well said! And beautifully put.

        I would be very happy debating those issues with you (though I’m unlikely to as I share your views on most of them). I wouldn’t dare try that on Pharyngula…

    8. You seem to be arguing that because some men have an opinion on certain subjects that you disagree with that ALL men should no longer be allowed to voice an opinion on that subject.

      Now, I can easily find women who also have these exact same opinions that you feel should exclude a whole gender from voicing an opinion on that subject. This means that if we follow your logic then no one is now allowed to voice an opinion on these subjects.

      I’m afraid I’m going to have to reject your criteria for stifling opinions as unworkable, and infringing on peoples basic right to free speech.

      I can understand that it is annoying to hear ignorant proclamations about how women should act from men who are obviously biased against women, but being annoyed, even greatly annoyed, doesn’t justify trying to revoke half of humanities free-speech right

      1. Uh oh, this talk about “free speech” makes the SJW crowd upset. They will call it “freeze peach” and blow you off now. Check out FTB if you would like to see how “free speech” and “free thought” are implemented in practice.

    9. Kathy,

      That sounds like an opinion right out of some conservative islamist playbook. Segregate the sexes, disallow topics, alienate one half of humanity from the experiences of the other.

      Is it also your position that women shouldn’t talk about things like castration, female doctors shouldn’t diagnose testicular cancer, or the female spouses of urological patients shouldn’t be allowed to talk about this experience from their pint of view? Actually these are more exclusive form of victimhood, since rape or sexual abuse are not limited to one sex.

      There are facts and wisdom — legal, social, humanitarian — to be learned about these matters, and that’s why we talk about them. Granted that some opinions are stupid or misguided, but the only way out of that is discussion and education, not stifling public conversation.

      If you’re tired of the conversation, please take a rest and refrain from it for a while.

  13. I think Richard Dawkins has written a very good piece here. Unfortunately, I can easily see both sides, and the merit of both sides, and I’m not really sure where I completely stand. I tend to think of myself as a rational thinker, someone who should be willing and able to participate in the thought experiments that he mentions. And for the most part, I think I can. But over the past few years, I’ve observed in family and friends, and even in myself, certain topics of conversation, certain scenarios, which just elicit an emotional reaction. Maybe some of us can have a hypothetical conversation about absolutely anything, but I know that’s just not true for me. I’d like to think this doesn’t make me any less thoughtful, critical, or rational, I’m just a human who has psychological or emotional reactions to certain things. And I admit, if I had to sit in a class and pay attention to a conversation that was emotionally disturbing to me, I would probably have a bad reaction.

    I guess the takeaway is that 1) we shouldn’t force people to participate in a thought experiment if it makes them uncomfortable (nor should we think less of them for that), but also 2) people who are made uncomfortable by certain thought experiments shouldn’t seek out those conversations, express the emotional distress they have brought on themselves by finding those conversations, and then suggest that no one participate in such thought experiments. I think Dawkins basically says this at one point.

    I think I do agree with Jerry, though, that Dawkins could have made his point more tactfully. This is why certain conversations are preceded with the phrase “trigger warning,” and then a brief explanation of what in the conversation might be a trigger for some people. In the case of rape, for example, victims, advocates, and the general public might be interested in following certain conversations about rape, such as new laws. But sometimes these conversations contain information that triggers an unpleasant psychological/emotional response, which is why many people suggest the use of a trigger warning. Simply reading words certainly has the power to inflict severe pain on some individuals, so I think doing something like this just makes sense. Give people fair warning, let them know what kind of conversation they’re about to enter into, and then I think everyone’s done what they can and should do.

    I agree that the “offensive” tweets were not horrific descriptions of rape, just simply general scenarios, so I’m not sure a trigger warning would have made sense here. I think things like Twitter just make these difficult human interactions so much more difficult. And in the end, I think I do side with Dawkins: he was simply trying to entertain a thought experiment, but there were people who seemed to say that even having the thought experiment was wrong. So long as no one is ever forced to participate, in terms of thought experiments, there should be zero taboos.

    1. “…we shouldn’t force people to participate in a thought experiment…”

      How exactly would one force someone else to participate in a thought experiment?

      And how is this suggestion anything but a STFU demand for some selected topic(s).

      1. “How exactly would one force someone else to participate in a thought experiment?”

        Say, if a professor required his/her students to participate in such scenarios.

        1. Thought experiments in university classes are to be off limits? Because someone in the class might have an emotional response?

          The problem with that whole line of thought (imagine if you will…) is that it simply hands to the most sensitive person a veto pen on conversation. To say nothing of comics drawn in Denmark.

          1. I didn’t say anything about what should or shouldn’t be allowed in university classes. I was merely answering your question with a scenario I felt demonstrated an instance in which someone might “feel forced to participate” in a thought experiment.

            1. I didn’t think you were advocating the position. Still, I can’t see this as actually forcing someone to do a thought experiment. At best the case could be made that such a student might “feel” forced to participate, but that seems a bit like saying that they are being forced to learn. They aren’t, of course, but if they don’t they are in the wrong place. Thought experiments constitute a very large component of learning. (I have trouble even imagining an academic class that isn’t mostly thought experiments, broadly construed.)

              1. “At best the case could be made that such a student might “feel” forced to participate…”

                That’s all I meant.

                (It’s going to be interesting to see just how many things we can construe broadly. 😉
                I do agree with “science, broadly construed.” Hmmm, after a while we’ll almost need an abbreviation–too bad “bc” is already taken…maybe not the in lower case, though… but I digress.)

    2. » Chris Slaby:
      we shouldn’t force people to participate in a thought experiment if it makes them uncomfortable

      That, by extension, means that you are against the idea of general education, the whole idea of which is to expose people to new kinds of thinking and ideas even if those make them uncomfortable.

      And secondly, nobody is being forced to read RD’s tweets. If you do, that’s your choice; you don’t get to complain if they make you uncomfortable.

  14. Unfortunately, there are necessary and legitimate reasons why we need to discuss awful things. Keep in mind that our criminal laws have long established hierarchies of “awful things.” Here in Indiana we have first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter. We have rape, “criminal deviate conduct” and “sexual battery” depending on the perceived awfulness of the conduct. We have different criteria for “statutory rape” based upon the respective ages of the the perpetrator and the victim. To Richard’s point, crimes involving a weapon ARE perceived to be worse and are punished more severely. Unfortunately, in establishing these various hierarchies, discussing the relative “awfulness” of those things was obviously unavoidable.

  15. It’s a subjective argument, that X is worse than Y. It isn’t a logic statement, it is dependent on the person/persons involved. Richard states his experiences as a child was not that bad. This is a subjective opinion others in similar circumstances may have suffered worse because of the very same “level” of abuse. As such we can’t quantify if x is actually worse than y in a general sense because each incident is unique to the individual involved.

    In nearly every case where Richard has made a statement like this through twitter or elsewhere it always seems like the lemon lyman scenes from the westwing.

    1. You’re right that there is a lot subjectivity and uniqueness to individuals.

      Unfortunately, the need to frame laws and ethics around different kinds of abuse doesn’t go away because of the uniqueness of individuals. Someone has to decide, “Does the 18 year old who had sex with the 16 year old go to prison, and for how long?”. Someone has to decide if groping a teenager in a public bookstore merits the same punishment under law as anally penetrating them in the gym. Who do you ask what the penalty should be? The 16 year old? Their parents? An opinion poll? Some kind of criminal epidemeology that evaluates the optimum sentence to achieve acceptable deterrence?

      There is no easy answer to this, I don’t think, but I don’t think we can avoid the question. We can not avoid ranking abuses somehow, so surely we should try as much as possible to use some kind of reason in the process?

      1. The same argument is made for mandatory minimums ranking crimes and setting the sentence before the crime is even committed. There are victim impact statements in court but how much weight is dependant on both the court and the law.
        There is scope in law to measure and decide individual cases the system is there to be used.

        1. I completely agree with that point and I’m all for lots of judge and jury discretion in cases. Still, I don’t think you’d argue that the legal sentence for every crime should be: 0-life, to be determined at trial, right? If it were then you could go to trial for littering and, if the jury really doesn’t like you, get life in prison. That doesn’t seem quite right, does it? So even though I agree that mandatory minimums have been a bad thing, I still don’t see how we can avoid ranking all together.

    2. » Kieran:
      It’s a subjective argument, that X is worse than Y. It isn’t a logic statement, it is dependent on the person/persons involved.

      That’s right. And it’s also completely irrelevant to RD’s tweets. (See below)

  16. When I first saw the posting about the Tweets on Pharyngula I thought ‘oh boy, there those two go again!’

    This is not the first time that the Cosmos has demonstrated that Tweets are not the place to bring up hot button topics. Its like walking along a curb during a rain alongside traffic. Even smart people will get drenched.

    1. I’m not sure Twitter itself is a huge player, here.

      Dawkins and Harris also get this kind of treatment for long pieces that they’ve obviously put a lot of thought into.

      1. But I do think that Twitter exacerbates the situation; it creates a kind of “attractive nuisance”.

        Not everyone would have been viewing Richard’s Twitter feed as a continuous thread. A majority of people would likely have come across individual tweets isolated by numerous other people’s tweets, with no context, no framing, no trigger warnings, &c.

        In such a situation, you don’t need to have an ax to grind to take things the wrong way. But amongst those still nursing their Dear-Muslima wrath, or those who simply see Richard as an arrogant, privileged, old white dude, it’s a spark to a powder keg. And surely Richard *knows* that there are such folk amongst his readership?

        I think Richard long form prose is generally very good (if not flawless*). But it loses coherence and sense when split across disconnected 140-character paras. He might be better served taking the same tack as Jerry, and using Twitter (and Facebook) only to advertise such blog/website posts.

        * One flaw: To use hyperbolic language and claim that he’s not exaggerating. I see no-one being burnt at the stake and no-one being thrust into Room 101.


  17. I think the main criticism (or at least MY criticism) towards RD in this case, is why did he use this as an example? The “X is bad, Y is worse” statement is fine and there are probably an infinite number of possible examples to fill in for X and Y. So WHY did he choose the rape ones, which as Jerry pointed out, a lot of the legitimate criticism is that it is a very poor example because it *doesn’t* work.

    RD has plenty of examples, even among “taboo” topics which would have been accurate.

    So I think RD, in this case, made a very poor choice and most likely because he is very far removed from his example. It was a dumb thing to say.

    And like any public figure, any dumb thing you say will be used against you by those who are against you. Whether that is fair or not.

    1. It is always risky to try to get into some elses’ head, but my best guess is that since he is accustomed to explaining difficult things to people, he thought he could successfully explain a logical distinction by using an example that was both narrow and a hot-button.

    2. I think he brought it up for two reasons, based on his essay:

      1) He recognized it was taboo and wanted to highlight how taboo topics should be discussed
      2) He didn’t realize just how taboo it was

      I think it was good to bring it up because we now can see demonstrably how taboo some subjects are and how silencing they can be. My only criticism is that, as Jerry mentions, he would have done better with a more clear example, such as statutory rape.

      1. re: 1) Sure, but even permitting discussion about a taboo topic, an individual can still say a stupid thing, and the defence can’t only be “we should be able to discuss taboo topics”. You can still be called out for saying something dumb. (and this really applies whether the topic is taboo or not).

        My criticism is also that the example he chose, was a really dumb one, which hurt his arguments. Added to that he is starting to have some history (you may consider rightly or wrongly) with what one could categorize as “women’s issues”. And I’m thinking it’s plausible *this* example was motivated, in part, to be a contrarian bad boy. I am much reminded of Jeremy Clarkson. If you don’t know who that is, google Jeremy Clarkson controversy.

        1. “…he is starting to have some history (you may consider rightly or wrongly) with what one could categorize as “women’s issues”.”

          Yes. Precisely because of this history, one is surprised that he would choose to use something associated with ‘women’s issues’ just as an example of a deeper point he was trying to make. In his long reply to the kerfuffle he mentions many other examples that would have worked just as well and that aren’t associated with previous controversy.

    3. » Daoud:
      I think the main criticism (or at least MY criticism) towards RD in this case, is why did he use this as an example?

      Why don’t you just read his explanation in the second text Jerry linked to? Preferably before declaring with a somewhat comical lack of self-awareness that what RD said was dumb…

  18. The problem is, Richard Dawkins is not using logic, in his logical example. He’s using an emotional example, despite how logical he claims to be. Which also makes his example so mind blowing stupid. And he should just own up to it, but I guess it’s hard when the whole internet is shouting at you.

    As you say yourself, how or by who’m you’re raped, and which is worse, is entirely EMOTIONAL and up to the one raped. Yet, Dawkins, claims he knows by using logic which one is worse, which is just ridiculous!

    This is why he is so mind boggling wrong! And his example belongs to the mind of a teenager, not a professor who knows how to actually think before putting things down in books or paper.

    1. I agree 100%. I don’t believe RD is evil or a hated figure because of it. It was just a really dumb thing. But just because there are some who want to crucify RD and are exploiting it, doesn’t mean I will refuse to say it was a really dumb thing.

      1. Yes, but below you say the example is “idiotic.” Remember, as I noted above, that Richard is my friend, so I ask you to be civil. You have a tendency to be obstreperous and I ask you to not use such pejorative words towards a friend of your host.

    2. No, he was not claiming that he used logic to know what kind of rape is worst.

      He was trying to explain that it is a logical fallacy to interpret “murder is worse than assault” as an endorsement of assault. This is what the word “logically” is doing in his tweet.

      1. Yes. It amazes me how many people keep missing the point no matter how many times it is explained. He is saying that the statement, ” X is worse than Y” is not an endorsement of Y. FOR ANY X OR Y! X and Y don’t matter. He is not commenting on X and Y. He is commenting on the logical fallacy.

        1. The point is not missed. His choice of example is still idiotic and wrong. His X/Y formulation is fine. His choice of example does not actually support it. You’re missing that point.

          1. » Daoud:
            The point is not missed.

            He said, while continuing to miss the point spectacularly:

            His choice of example is still idiotic and wrong. His choice of example does not actually support it.

            Again, glass houses. If you understand the logic, then you understand that the concrete examples of X and Y are irrelevant for the logic. The separate point about absolutist thinking is also not idiotic, as you would perhaps notice if you started actually arguing about it.

        2. I agree with Daoud, here. It’s hard for me to parse the structure of this particular tweet in any other way than that the first couple of sentences are intended as an example of the point he’s making in the last sentence. So why not chose something that’s a slam-dunk obvious example? And the fact that he’s walked this back somewhat in his long replies (there is a second one) leads me to believe that he realizes this himself, now.

          (Though personally, given my own experiences, I happen to agree with his original ranking.)

          1. And Jerry’s characterization of it as “ham-handed” is just about perfect; if anything, this was just a simple misstep that’s probably been belabored more than enough by now.

    3. You have completely misunderstood Dawkins.

      And, an EMOTIONALLY charged example is precisely what he intended, and is central to the point he tried to make.

    4. » twentynine:
      Which also makes his example so mind blowing stupid.

      Glass houses?

      Yet, Dawkins, claims he knows by using logic which one is worse, which is just ridiculous!

      Oh dear, you didn’t even understand the first thing about his tweets? Do you also think he showed logically that X is worse than Y? And yet you have confidence to call his thinking ridiculous…

    5. I asked people to avoid pejorative terms toward my friend. “Mind blowing stupid” is one of the discriptors that I consider uncivil. You can discuss stuff without such insults, okay?

    1. I do not think Dawkins would agree that logical thinking must “consider the audience when bringing up some topics.”

      1. First a disclaimer: I’m not a great fan of RD mostly because I don’t like his writing style – so be it.

        And I think that this episode/series of episodes shows something of that issue. First it’s a demonstration of logic (somewhat faulty in my opinion – see below) and then when attacked it becomes about taboos. If he wanted to discuss taboos rationally he would have educated himself first not just assumed that how he sees one thing as less worse (date rape) is indeed so. Not knowing of the studies on this shows he was not ‘really’ interested in the discussion but was being provocative, unnecessarily.

        Why faulty logic – if any two things are on some (objective) linear scale of value (let’s assume) it tells us nothing about personal preferences/attitudes at all. It’s a failure of logic not to state that.

      2. Since it’s pretty obvious that emotions exist and sensitive topics can elicit an emotional response, wouldn’t it be logical to be mindful of emotions and emotional responses when discussing sensitive topics like rape?

        1. That would depend on what exactly is meant by “being mindful of emotions and emotional responses”. Does it mean self-censoring and avoiding “sensitive topics” for fear of eliciting an emotional response?

          1. What “being mindful” means in practice is a good question.

            I do know that Twi**er’s 140 character limit makes it very hard to convey nuance and it’s probably not the right venue for discussing rape (especially if a person has demonstrated ham-handedness with Twi**er in the past).

            And I’m pretty sure that “being mindful of emotions and emotional responses” is hard to do when one says via Twitter “go away and learn how to think.”

            After all, if I used a similar tone in response to your questions instead of treating you and your concerns respectfully, it probably would have made you angry. And that anger would have made further communication between us more difficult.

              1. Merely offering an example. Do you think I have no good reason to be angry with anything you have written here? Should me being angry matter enough for you to bother censoring yourself?

          2. No, I don’t think so. It is impossible to be mindful of all possible emotional responses. The whole point is to not let emotions limit the discussion.

            1. Regulated emotion can make a discussion whether oral or written come alive. Sam Harris is a champ at this. When reactive, that is, not processed, emotions are largely manipulative, disruptive, and in my book, boring. Folks with a strong sense of self-identity have an easier time pulling off what Harris does. Generally bullies, like Social Activist Warriors, don’t.

              Instead of trying to eliminate non-rational aspects in discussion, focusing on strengthening one’s identity makes more sense. People with egos do not necessarily equate with people who feel at home with themselves. How to do this? Public discourse of course!

            2. It’s not possible to mindful of all possible emotional responses. But it is possible to be careful and be polite when discussing hot button topics.

              And it probably leads to more productive conversations … after all, there’s a reason behind one of our host’s rule for his website:

              Most important, please try to refrain from insulting other posters, no matter how misguided you think they are. I don’t like name-calling, for it lessens whatever class this site has and certainly doesn’t foster discussion.

              Emotional responses to what one says or writes is important. That’s why we are concerned about name-calling and strong emotional responses it can produce in others?

              1. Here’s the thing, Steve. “Careful and polite” are fine. But using it as a substitute for a legitimate argument often ends up in tone trolling. I don’t think there is anything in any of RD’s tweets or articles that would be in violation of our host’s roolz.

              2. In reality degrees do matter. What you say is accurate in many contexts, but I think you carry it too far. Perhaps RD’s goals are not your own. Perhaps RD thinks that other people should be held, to some degree, responsible for learning to be more reasonable.

                One example, in this comment you are painting a context that favors your argument, but that is not an accurate description of the context of RDs tweets, and the inaccuracy is largely one of degree.

    2. If that is true, then do we need to do a better job of considering the emotions of the religious when we criticize them?

      It seems that we care little about giving offense to certain audiences when making a rational argument, but then we should tread lightly with other audiences? I guess the difference is that the religious often harbor beliefs that have negative consequences, while it is less clear what negative consequences the “rape absolutists” are promoting. All the more reason for Richard to bring this into the concrete realm.

      1. There are many voices of criticism directed toward the religious. Some will make fun of them, calling them morons, but I think that is both a moral error, as it is unjustly mean, and it is also a tactical mistake.
        The best strategy is to consider their feelings, but to concentrate our critique on their lack of evidence and illogic. This too will raise their emotions, but I do not think that can be helped.

        1. So we are supposed to consider their feelings but then when our critique on their lack of evidence gets them emotional… well, I dunno.

          That’s the whole point. Dawkins said come back when you can discuss a topic without letting your emotions get the best of you.

          He was on Twitter. How does one consider the feelings of their audience on Twitter?

              1. Apparently so. It has got people talking about the issues.

                Perhaps this is Richard’s ploy. He’s the iron man of atheism and rationalism, who can soak up all the invective the interwebs can throw at him. And rich enough and popular enough and so sure self-assured* that it’s of no consequence. So he’s deliberately provocative.

                * The fact that this self-assurance comes across to some as him being sure of himself and arrogant** does amplify things of course.

                ** Peter Atkins can beat him hands down at this, however: “It’s not arrogance if you’re right.” I wish Peter was a more well known.


  19. Richard needs to do two things:

    1.) Give specific examples of the witchhunt behavior he referred to*.

    2.) Demonstrate how not thinking about rape in terms of gradations of severity is contributing to real world consequences that harm women and men. For example, he could show rape laws that are unfair or unreasonable because of absolutist thinking.**

    In the past week, I have spent (wasted?) significant time trying to understand how this whole brouhaha happened, the nature of the complaints, and who the main characters are. While there does seem to be a segment of the atheist community that does not handle criticism well, particularly on issues of gender, most of their behavior merely seems petty, run of the mill internet nonsense (although some will argue that the dishonest tactics used in concert with this behavior make it more serious). The exceptions to this are the serious accusations of sexually predatory behavior that have been lobbed at the likes of Michael Shermer and others. Hopefully all of that nonsense is now water under the bridge.

    I guess my main takeaway from this exercise was: most of the people responsible for the infighting are very minor characters in the atheism/skeptical movement, usually younger people whose “expertise” is mainly blogging. That is the reason that many of us have never heard of them – they have little to contribute outside of these spats and disagreements. Now, in time some of them may develop deep expertise in important areas and go on to become productive activists, but the jury is still out.

    * Richard may not want to do this because it would inflame and stir the pot again. But then why bring it up in the first place?

    **It might be said that Richard was employing the use of hypotheticals here to demonstrate a logical point, and that real-world examples are not needed. But many people understand that but still question the need to use such an emotional subject if there was never a problem with how rape crimes are treated under the law. When I last checked his site, it looks like he had attempted to address this point with a link to an article about rape laws.

    1. To answer 2.)

      Statutory rape laws that are used to prosecute teenagers who have annoyed the wrong parents or community.

      1. Yes, that’s one. These should be collected by Richard and he should write an essay. That would bring it from the abstract realm into the concrete, which would quell a lot of the criticism.

        He’s making the same mistake as Sam Harris did on torture. Despite what most people think, there are some instances when torture has been used effectively. Sam hinted at this but never got more into the details. It has left people with the impression that torture is never effective and that Sam was being foolish for even using it in a hypothetical. They equated it with tacit support of torture.

      2. Well said. The choice to enforce statutory rape laws is another illustration of the irregularity of what defines rape in society.

  20. 1) Israel/Palestine is a taboo? Jeez, we’re really sunk. Here’s my take: it will never end until BOTH side give up their religions and wrap their heads around their common (supported by genetic evidence) origins. Never happen? Well, nothing else shows any promise of ever happening, so get this out in the mix!

    2) An old friend who somehow wound up in the movie industry (on both the acting and produucing side) approached me not that long ago to buy a share ($16K) in production of a film about some famous serial pedophile from decades back. I said I couldn’t imagine very many people wanting to go to a movie about a pedophile, regardless of how artistically (for lack of a better word) it might be done. So if Pedophilia’s a taboo (suspect it’s instinctive), that supports my sense on that one.

    1. Yeah, Israel/Palestine as taboo topic is funny, considering the oceans of ink (well, virtual digital ink) used just in the past few weeks.

      I think one thing you’re missing about your simple solution: economics (resources, land, water etc) and power. It’s never just about religion (and I seem to stand apart from the general view here, in my view, religion is rarely the cause, again, it always come down to economics, Marx, people, Marx!) 🙂

      1. “religion is rarely the cause”

        It was in the persecution of Jews that occurred for centuries in Europe and elsewhere. It’s actually difficult to explain the animosity against Israel by its neighbors without reference to radical Islam.

        Trying to account for the current violence in Israel/Palestine without reference to religion is like trying to explain global warming without reference to human activities.

        1. Trying to account for the current violence in Israel/Palestine without reference to access and ownership of resources is absurd.

          (Trying to account for ANY human conflict in all history without reference to economy [as well as sexual violence] is absurd).

          But let’s not derail this thread anymore!

  21. I’m usually not following these things closely, but my science feeds floated a Dawkins-bashing blog which I got to this morning. Pretty much the usual “STFU!” stuff.

    he was a childhood victim of pedophilia

    And rape or sexual harassment by the latest definitions here in Sweden, e.g. non-consensual intercourse/similar action or sexual touching of a minor depending on what happened. [ http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexualbrott_i_Sverige ]

  22. None of this is new. Forty or more years ago Garrett Hardin wrote about how taboos are used to suppress not only discussion but thought. I haven’t read all of these posts, so maybe this has already been pointed out, but here’s another current and very important taboo in the USA: immigration. I consider myself a “liberal”, but I am appalled at how my fellow liberals, many of whom consider themselves environmentalists, refuse to even consider concepts like carrying capacity and population impacts when it comes to immigration. In their minds, if you are against more immigration, then you must be a racist. We progressives must be a cowed bunch these days. We desperately need people like Hardin and Ed Abbey who didn’t mind speaking up in spite of taboos and without regard to what today we call “political correctness”.

    1. If you really want to hit a taboo subject talk about reducing the world’s population to macth the carrying capacity of the environment. No matter how carefully you explain that there should be no compulsion or force used you will be accused of promoting death camps and final solutions.

      1. Good point. I can relate. For example, I think anyone living in a first world country who, by choice, has more than two children is committing a crime against our planet and everything that lives on it. If I express this opinion, I’m often accused of being a Nazi or something equally odious. People don’t like to be told some things, especially if those things are true but taboo. When you point out how someone’s selfishness in having many children is contributing to the destruction of this planet, they immediately deflect criticism by pointing out that it is their right to do this. And, it is their legal right—no argument there. But it seems to me that people are way too concerned about what they can do, and not about what they ought to do, what is the right thing to do. This is a discussion that we need to start having a lot more, but it is taboo to do so.

        1. Absolutely agree with you there.

          So far as I know, the Chinese are the only government who have ever tried to address this seriously with their ‘one child’ policy. And where did it get them? – half-witted American activists accusing them of breaching human rights.

          In fact, why should it be anyone’s ‘legal right’ to have more children then the planet can sustain?

    2. David Attenborough catches flak when he talks about the human population explosion. It’s ‘sinister’ to suggest it’s a problem we should seriously address.

  23. We have an intricate situation here with many contexts that are important. There is the social justice warrior phenomenon that arose on Tumblr some years ago. It influenced social media and the atheist-skeptics movement, too, and served as a kind of combustive agent. The spark, of course, was that incident in the Irish lift. A comment won’t allow to explore the social justice warrior mind-set in detail, but some aspects can be highlighted.

    Social justice warriors need some Evil Other, a genuine dragon but often times just a windmill, which they use to gain social standing within their community spaces. It serves two purposes. By combatting the Evil Other, social justice warrior “safe spaces” can manufacture consent on ideological matters (which I place under progressive views and authoritarianism).

    They can fight side by side, act heroically in the face of oppressive adversaries, and can thus foster their community cohesion. The social justice warrior always cast themselves in the role of the underdog, often as victims and at times even with martyrdom undercurrents. The other purpose is to delineate their “safe space” from the rest, which is typically a world of evil, the patriarchy, the old guard, and the like. All the actions of a social justice warrior are always aimed to improve their social status “at home”. They want to come back, battle-wounded, shoulders pierced from “harassment” and receive their pat on the back, or more typically virtual “hugs”, from their peers. Giving “hugs” and support then fosters their community some more.

    Importantly, social justice warrior communities are even based around solidarity and support, which renders them incapable of discussing a matter (of course all community have some element of solidarity and some element of disagreement, but the priorities are typically different fro social justice warrior spaces).

    Solidarity is too important, hence all the “ideological” topics are taboo. But they need taboo-breakers outside to have some way to create consent within their community, which is done by shared outrage.

    When Richard Dawkins went against the social justice warrior faction with his “Dear Muslima” comment, he assigned himself to their out-group, despite that he suggested an area where atheism and feminism could join forces (albeit with a heavy dose of snark).

    All the other things then pretty much fall in line. Social justice warrior communities are known for their extreme hazing, to protect their “safe spaces” from freeloaders (just look around and you know what I mean). Their views are informed by gender studies, post-colonial studies, feminism and the like, however the concepts borrowed have idiosyncratic meanings and are “weaponized” for the internet. For example, when a social justice warrior stirs up controversy (which they need), and it is suggested that they themselves invited the criticism they receive, then this criticism becomes “harassment” and the suggestion that they are responsible becomes “victim blaming”. Most people are thus emotionally manipulated and bullied to give them sympathy, which again feeds into solidarity and also improves their influence overall.

    Social justice warriors are informed by left-wing progressive politics, but mix this with a heavy dose of authoritarianism. They prefer speech codes, are very “PC” aware, like to dictate what people can or can’t say and they make heavy use of “shibboleths” to delineate their community from the rest. Sometimes this can be comical, as in: “Don’t call people stupid – that’s ableist – you moron!”
    What you also will frequently find on social justice warrior “safe spaces” is a refusal to link to sources, allegedly to protect the delicate feelings of their audience (“It’s too terrible to show you this, just believe me, it’s horrible!”). This gives way to intricate telephone games, wherein the dragon, or the windmill gets more terrible with each subsequent comment, which then fuels the outrage.

    Another common element you’ll find is a tendency to Islam Accommodationism, which comes by way of the hatred of the “White Man” and his imperialistic ways from left-wing politics, where Richard Dawkins hits two high notes. He is critical of Islam and he fits the archetype of an upper-class Englishman, who was born in colonial British-Kenya. Here you find the reason why Sam Harris isn’t exactly appreciated by them, either.

    Other conflicts of the recent past can be put into perspective as well. Informed by gender studies and other fields within humanities, social justice warriors tend to be “blank slaters”. They are perhaps not exactly like the post-modernists Alan Sokal’s went against, but they are distant relatives who tend to believe in socially constructed genders and sexes, and are also very critical of evolutionary psychology. It is perhaps only surprisingly that Steven Pinker, who shows up in several contexts, managed to get by without becoming a “Witch of the Week”.

    There is still a lot more at play like certain forms of “identity politics”, where someone is viewed as a spokesperson of all people in the categories they belong to. This concept is idiosyncratically named “intersectionality”. The problem with Richard Dawkins was that the “official PR message” of “child-abuse-survivors” can’t be that their abuse was “mild”. This is of course rubbish for many reasons. You can survive a car accident, call your family and reassure them you are “fine” when they got away with a broken rib. This does not mean that all people in car accidents, or all people with broken ribs are “fine”. This ties to bad situations that can be more or less worse.

    Generally, I don’t know if my observations herein can be confirmed by other people, but if they are true, they are currently underestimated in the atheist-skeptics “movement” and I think that matters perhaps more. After all, there is no shortage of critics of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris et al and it would be very easy to just add another collection of annoying fleas to the list.

    1. One slight correction, you kept saying “social justice warrior” when you meant “social justice strawman.”

      1. Yes, we can’t go to Tumblr or FTB and see this occurring. Which “straw man” were you pointing out exactly, I am pretty sure I can cite examples of all of it.

      2. I find it interesting you refer to it as a strawman.

        Hidden by the strawman is a real argument.
        Hidden by a strawfeminist is a real feminist.

        What is hidden by the straw social justice warrior?

        Are you agreeing there is a real group of people who identify themselves as social justice warriors and that Aneris (and so many others) are misrepresenting the values and behavior of social justice warriors?

        Tell me then, what ARE the values and behaviors of social justice warriors?

    2. Wow, that’s a pretty good summary. One thing to mention is what happens to women who side with the “outgroup”. Some the worst venom is directed at these “tokens” and “chill girls”. While men can be simply be dismissed as “not getting it”, fellow women who have strong criticisms of these SJWs present a different problem that must be dealt with. The irony is that the invective hurled at females who don’t toe the party line effectively gags these women, and makes a mockery of the claims that the larger outgroup atheist movement “silences women”.

      1. The only silencing I ever see is the SJW trying to make words unspeakable or ideas “off limits.” Already in these comments you see the desire to put groups out of the discussion based on traits they cannot change. If these folks spoke about races the way they speak about sex, there would be outrage.

      2. Yes, and this leads me to conclude, from observation and from Aneris’s description of the SJW, that these people are, at the core, bullies. Social exclusion is a key tool in the bully’s toolbox and it is the most effective way to silence dissent & foster in-group cohesion.

        1. Of course, there is no irony lost in that this is the precise behavior that fundamentalists display when it comes to their religion. Authoritarian, unwilling to change their minds, unwilling to listen to dissent and, not only unwilling to listen, but often determined to utterly ruin those with whom they disagree. The only difference is their views are opposite those of the PZ Myers’ crowd.

    3. *Whew*! I understand what you are saying about the commonalities and possible flaws in the s.j.w. communities, but please bear in mind that their energies are mainly not directed at how they micro-manage their message, it is about the message itself. There really is socially accepted misogyny in the seats of power that enable rapists to go free. There really are xenophobic white people who generalize brown immigrants to be drug traffickers and thieves.

      1. I don’t think that “message” is clear at all. And even without “micromanagement” I seem quite able to articulate quite clearly my ideas about racism and sexism. Why is it so hard for them?

      2. This is true. And that is what I find most frustrating. It is weird having your allies in a real cause shut you down because your comment doesn’t align perfectly. It results in self-censorship and withdrawal. Not good, IMO.

      3. One of the claims that has now become gospel is that the RDF site had and/or has a huge problem with misogyny and was hostile to female commentators. This has been supported by a few specific examples but is mainly based on anecdotal evidence. I would love to see something a little more substantive, perhaps a real statistical sample of the posts there in a given time period and some consistent definition of what constitutes sexist comments. Although there were certainly some comments of that nature, I am questioning whether they were as bad or as common as some people claim.

        It is one of the major planks of this SJW/Atheism + movement and is another great source of the animosity toward Richard, as it is claimed that he ignored it and even contributed to it indirectly.

        1. This seems to be a common thread among these claims. Citations become secondary to the narrative, and just asking for citations is evidence of the problem to them. It makes discussions impossible.

        2. It all started, as far as I know, during the back and forth over ‘the elevator incident’ at a conference. here is one summary of it.

    4. It is amusing that you mention Sam Harris in your description. Right now over at pharyngula there is a topic talking about how terrible Ayaan Hirsi Ali is, and the comments go on about how Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne are privileged racists using atheism to justify their racism and classism.

      What gets me is the specific comment by PZ

      “You’ll have to excuse me, though, if I scratch both mass murderers, as well as the person who admires them [referring to Ali], from my list of admirable people.”

      So much of what FTB does now is just list keeping. Who is on the good list, and who is on the bad list. It isn’t even subtle any more. They can’t quite decide with Richard which list he belongs on, but I have a feeling he will end up on the naughty list in time.

        1. Will I be put on the bad list if I say I do agree with Ali? What if I say people are complex webs of beliefs and actions, some of which are admirable, some of which aren’t? Which list does that get me on or off of?

          My point is FTB seems to have tasked itself with sorting through all of the atheists past and present and deciding who are the good righteous progressive warriors of truth and justice, and which ones are racist, classist, misogynistic, not politically correct enough, or some other issue. And they are both judge and jury on the matter. This whole “no more heroes” trend of posts seems to serve no purpose other than to assert that no one deserves any kind of admiration or respect…except for maybe the posters at FTB who are all good and righteous.

          There may be only post that mentions Jerry by name, and then more posts in response talking about how you have to be racist and or classist to agree with Israel. Then there are posts talking about how horrible Ali’s husband is based on his views of World War 1 politics, and musings about whether or not it is fair to call Shermer guilty by association for being friends with Dunning who ran an atheist podcast was convicted of fraud. The whole atmosphere is one of sorting through people so that they can be put on a good list or bad list and why.

          What I respect about Jerry and this website is that he is exceedingly cordial to even the people he disagrees with, and insists that we all do the same. Sam Harris doesn’t keep a running tally of which atheists are ok to associate with and which ones are the bad guys. Richard Dawkins doesn’t search the internet to find atheist youtube channels to condemn. FTB has become a High School.

          1. Agreed (after once again re-visiting the Pharyngula threads on Dawkins).

            I used to like PZ Myer’s site, and I still think he gets many things right and is a very clever writer. But my god the drama-queen bitchfest that site has turned into is impossible to stomach for more than a few minutes.

          2. I think this is a good description of the feeling I sometimes get when I go there. I notice that Ant asks you if you admire what she *said*, as though that would determine whether you should agree with PZ that we shouldn’t admire *her* (the person). That’s a pretty big shift, from evaluating a statement to evaluating a person. I’m a big fan of sorting through good and bad ideas. Sorting through good and bad people, not so much.

            1. I did ask that question but I wasn’t suggesting an equivalence. I was going to go further, but Jonathan’s response obviated that.

              But, how many, and how seriously bad, bad ideas does a person need to have before they’re seen as a less than admirable person.

              Jonathan seems to think that people who make lists of people are bad… maybe he thinks PZ is a German U-boat captain. 😉


      1. I just went to check out that thread on Pharyngula where someone attacked Jerry Coyne in the comments and I think a few things are worth noting.

        #1 – Commenter “addicted44” writes “There is a pretty vocal corner of atheism (Sam Harris and the like) which aren’t just anti-Islam, but anti-Muslim.” Commenter “pick” agrees with this and says Jerry Coyne is one of these people. “pick” also says, “Their atheism is largely a cover for their hatred of muslims and apparent favor of jews,” adding “…Netanyahu creeps me out. You can see the blood on his teeth.” Blood libel much, “pick”? Finally “pick” adds (regarding Harris and Coyne), “These people should not associate with atheism.” And there is not a peep from PZ Myers.

        #2 – The next comment quotes some of this approvingly and adds, “… they don’t give a flying fuck about Islam, they just identify Muslims as plebeian metics who must be forcefully kept in their place at the bottom of the food chain.” BUT, search Pharyngula for the word “christians” and you a find post about the time “I treated a cracker with extreme disrespect.” Referring of course to the communion wafer episode. But that’s not anti-Christian, right? If Sam Harris desecrated a Koran, the Horde would have no problem with that, right? You can find a post titled, “It’s good to be annoying the Christians again.” And you find this from PZ, “Right now, I get more vicious hate mail from atheists, a little bit from Christians, and almost none from Muslims.” Now why do you think that is, PZ?

        1. I understand the point of the whole cracker episode and the absurdity of treating a baked good with reverence worthy of, well, just about nothing I can think of. Still, I found it distasteful and wondered what the hell it was supposed to be accomplishing. Did PZ really think this was going to show anyone the rational side of secularism?

          Maybe PZ was never a believer, so he can’t empathize. But, I can assure you, my road (and the path for many others) out of religious indoctrination was not due to people acting like assholes. What’s worse is that his horde of followers feeds into the precise caricatures of atheists that many of us former believers were fed. Pharyngula doesn’t have a Converts’ Corner, and I’d suspect as the site exists today, the number of religious people who have re-thought their views due to the views espoused over there is probably close to zero.

          1. I thought the cracker episode was entirely appropriate. And let’s remember what was also “desecrated” in the incident (pages of the Koran and a copy of Dawkins’ book).

            What it accomplished was to make a statement about the nature of blasphemy and false respect. This sort of thing is necessary. The fact that some believer’s feelings were hurt is not a measure of his having misbehaved, it is a measure of the absurdity of the beliefs held by the guys with hurt feelings.