The Godless Spellchecker defends Dawkins against transphobia

April 21, 2021 • 10:30 am

I’m getting really tired of social media pile-ons, especially when the victim isn’t really guilty of a gross transgression. One of these is happening now, and the object is—once again—Richard Dawkins. The reason: his rather awkward attempt to discuss transphobia and transracialism on Twitter, which isn’t the place for this kind of discussion. (I suppose Richard needs a “blog.”)

Here are two of Dawkins’s tweets that caused all the trouble:

As I wrote a week ago, Richard’s tweets were interpreted as transphobic by several people, including Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist”, who wasn’t so friendly this time.  My view is that Richard was trying to discuss the same issues Rebecca Tuvel did in her paper in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, an article on “transracial” people like Rachel Dolezal. Tuvel, an academic philosopher, was also demonized for merely asking the question of what relevant differences there are between feeling like you’re in a body of the wrong sex versus feeling like you’re in a body of the wrong race. This is an intriguing and relevant question to ask, and it should be discussed, not dismissed. And those who ask this question, like Tuvel, should surely not be damned.

For writing that article, Tuvel was viciously attacked and her article nearly pulled, but it remains online.. And, like Tuvel, Richard was damned as a “transphobe” for asking the same question.  I don’t think he’s transphobic at all.  He’s just a bit awkward about how he tries to discuss stuff on Twitter, and somewhat insensitive to how his words might be construed (i.e., “choose to identify as men” are not words I would have used). I myself have urged him to stop trying to have serious conversations on Twitter, but to no avail.

Anyway, I’ve been informed by multiple people that, because he’s seen as a transphobe and has repeatedly “demeaned marginalized groups”, Dawkins has lost his 1996 Humanist of the Year Award conferred by the American Humanist Association. Their rationale for withdrawing the award is given here.  I don’t think they should have done this, especially in view of their not having withdrawn the very same award given to Alice Walker the next year, for Walker is writer who is a blatant and pretty vicious anti-Semite (see here, here, and here).  But the AHA has the right to make its own decisions, and I’m not going to wail about this one. It just shouldn’t be hypocritical about them.

What bothers me is the glee with which Dawkins-haters see the withdrawal of this honor. The article below by Stephen Knight summarizes the reactions of the DHers and is also a defense of Dawkins. I’ll direct you to it by telling you to click on the screenshot below. On his website, Knight summarizes the opprobrium heaped on Richard by several prominent atheists, including Mehta and Matt Dillahunty; Dawkins was also damned by P. Z. Myers, who flaunted his own AHA award crowing “I’ve still got mine”.  Knight’s column seems reasonable and measured, unlike the hysteria permeating the internet from other directions.

And to point out the hypocrisy of withdrawing Dawkins’s award but not doing the same with the award given to Alice Walker, click on the screenshot below. There is no question that Walker is an arrant bigot and Jew-hater, so why is she still a “Humanist of the Year”?

Lord, I’m so tired of these kerfuffles, but if you want to see the fracas, read the articles above and below. And, as they say, “have a good one.”

h/t: Malgorzata

50 thoughts on “The Godless Spellchecker defends Dawkins against transphobia

  1. I think you’ve got a typo: ” I don’t think they should not have done this” – one too many negatives?

  2. Revoking an award given a quarter century ago based on a recent tweet (and an ambiguous recent tweet at that) is just flat friggin’ silly.

  3. I’m glad that I don’t identify as a humanist.

    Unfortunately, there is not much that a civilized person can do against a lynch mob.

    1. Can we not with the ‘lynch mob’ language? I don’t agree with them pulling the award, but Dawkins is a very smart man. He knows that when he posts things that are going to stir controversy that people are going to be all over it. He’s a public figure with a large platform who also likes to stir the pot. Lynched, he is not.

        1. Yes, that’s my take, and I know him. He doesn’t mean to cause trouble; he’s trying to be professorial on Twitter, asking people to consider various propositions. He hasn’t learned that in some areas that just doesn’t work.

          1. There was an interesting interview in The Times recently (based on his new book), where the suggestion was that Dawkins treats Twitter like an Oxbridge tutorial — a one-on-one teaching style where the student or the academic propose an idea, and then they both critique or defend it. The aim is to examine the idea and learn from that. If the idea is shot down then fine.

            Here’s the quote (paywalled link):

            “Then he says something that chimes with my next planned question. He compares his tweets to what an Oxford tutor might throw at a pupil to get a discussion going. Exactly, I think. The new book reprints his — somewhat niche — encomium for the Oxford tutorials. In these a don tests undergraduate opinions with contrarianism and scorn. After a while you get used to it but try it elsewhere and you court the sort of trouble Dawkins gets into. “That’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought of it and I think that could be true. That could be part of the problem.” “

            1. Good point, but it’s not just an Oxford thing, but I propose a personality type. Some people, and I include myself, learn things by poking, prodding, testing.

              It was not actually my idea, either, but I got this flash of insight one day from reading about Isaiah Berlin’s take on the fox and the hedgehog (I think through Tetlock). The hedgehog was seen as virtuous, for it defends its ground and has mastered it. The fox is a classically a bit of an opportunist, knows many tricks, but says something was anyway ‘sour grapes’ and not worth trying harder, and does something else. However, it should be seen more positive as the one who has many ideas, shifting views, and has flexibility. I’d add that this is also the archetype of the promethean cultural hero, likewise with a dual nature of being both a total fool and smart, satanic but also humanistic. Always, however, a thorn in the eye of authority.

              What struck me there, years ago, was that wokies are hedgehogs. They are hegemony, and authority in US secular circles. They have their big idea, and see everything through that one lens, or rather their one great trick of balling up, spines out. They don’t try much else, because it works too well for them. I saw this everywhere when, back then, the hostility against anything contrarian, playful or erisian set in (hence I picked my moniker half ironically, which is the opposite, eris = discordia).

              Dawkins is also a fox type, he never stays in his lane. You can identify the hedgehog in Matt Dillahunty‘s request that Dawkins should just retire. It‘s great that Dawkins doesn‘t appear to care.

        2. Dawkins has a somewhat nerdy personality. Perhaps he struggles to compute moral outrage. He rejected religion because he found its claims irrational, not because it made him uncomfortable or because some overtly religious people are right-wingers who voted for George Bush. When posting innocuous facts like the one that eugenics is scientifically possible, he fails to anticipate the negative reactions. Still, he has nothing on James Watson.

      1. The problem is that Dawkins *wasn’t* able to stir controversy—’a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views : dispute’ according to Miriam-Webster, which was clearly what he was trying to start about a seeming inconsistency, and a big one, in how self-identification is viewed among the Woketariat in matters of gender as vs. how it’s viewed in matters of race. For people of the AHA stripe, there is nothing controversial about questioning this inconsistency, because there’s nothing to be discussed or argued about. For them it’s a done deal, an axiom: your gender self-identification cannot be questioned, your racial self-identification cannot be condoned. End of story. The seemingly hysterical response from the people going after Dawkins doesn’t correspond to controversy, but to something much closer to a reaction to blasphemy. And yes, that response does suggest the mind-set of a lynch mob. ‘Stir the pot?’ Isn’t that the *point* of discussion and debate in an open society?

      2. He knows that when he posts things that are going to stir controversy that people are going to be all over it.

        Actually, I don’t think he does. I don’t think he understands the Twitter platform at all and I don’t think he’s realised the power of the woke mob.

      3. Lynching comes from the phrase “Lynch Law”, a term for “a punishment without trial”. I think it’s appropriate.

    2. Humanism entails an open approach to free and scientific enquiry, support for free speech, and the value of science and reason over dogma.

      The likes of AHA, PZ Myers, Hemant Mehta, and so manty other supposed “humanists” are not humanists. They are the opposite.

      It is like having a “Humanist Chaplain”** who opposes free speech, praises Communist mass murderers, and unfollows an ex-Muslim activist because she opposed BDS. Or the many self-proclaimed “anti-racists” who have been exposed as virulent antisemites. Quite a few of those reside at Pharyngula, these days.

      **Ryan J Bell.

  4. Yes, I have a trans friend who enthusiastically condemned Dawkins, in spite of her being an equally enthusiastic atheist who used to love Dawkins. It’s like critical race theory, any attempt to discuss the topic rationally only condemns you as, in the first case, ignorantly anti-trans or in the second as an unrepentant racist. And there is no forgiving once that happens.

  5. An article in today’s Times confirms the withdrawal of the award. It also says Dawkins claimed that the loss of the award would have little practical effect as he had never used it. He went on to say, ‘ Apparently the honour hadn’t meant enough to me to be worth recording in my CV.’. He continues – ‘ Thinking to do my duty by deleting the entry, I opened up my CV only to discover that there was nothing to delete.’.

  6. Quotes by Dawkins in The Times today:

    “Apparently the honour hadn’t meant enough to me to be worth recording in my CV.” “Thinking to do my duty by deleting the entry, I opened up my CV, only to discover that there was nothing to delete.”


    By the way, I don’t think that there was anything awkward about Dawkins’s Tweets or that there is anything wrong with attempting to discuss such things on Twitter — the fault is entirely with those who don’t want sensible discussion, but simply want to freak out at any questioning of their ideology.

  7. Not super impressed with Knight’s analysis. Two obvious boners: he uncritically accepts the “Dawkins was just asking questions” interpretation of events, rather than discuss the actual reason people objected to it: they think the analogy Dawkins used is flawed, and flawed in such a way as to imply all trans people are lying.

    Second: he says AHA is accusing Dawkins of contributing to anti-trans violence. I don’t see that in their statement. They say anti-trans arguments are used as justification by the perpetrators of violence. But that is likely true. It doesn’t mean Dawkins condones the violence or intends it or anything, but like ye olde “The Bell Curve”, the intentions of the analyst can be perfectly innocent, yet we can still say with reasonable certainty that bigots will use it as ammunition for their bigotry. It’s not a reason to stay silent on your analysis of course – that is to give the bigots a sort of heckler’s veto, something we should not do – but it should induce some carefulness. And Dawkins, when he sends tweets, is anything but careful.

    For the record I’m not super impressed with AHA’s decision either. Seems like a waste of time and a bit of posturing.

  8. The criticism or shaming should be aimed at the American Humanist Association. After all, this is where the gutless action of removing awards given long ago take place and for what? Boy they really show’d em. Their action is what allows these people to gain ground and survive in such cracks as Twitter. Ask the Humanist, what kind of reputation are you looking for. What are you afraid of.

    1. There’s a meme going around (see what I did there?) that many people complaining about other peoples’ victimhood don’t actually want to fix it but are quite happy to use it to signal their virtue.

      It would explain a great deal… how everything is ‘racist’, how mere biology is transphobia and so on.

  9. Isn’t the point what effect this action by the AHA is going to have:

    Is it going to damage Dawkins? Not a bit.

    Is it going to encourage Dawkins to change his mind? Unlikely. His response to such bullying is almost certainly going to be to fight against the trans-ideology all the harder.

    Will it change anyone elses mind? Lol!

    Will it help trans people? Not a bit. It’ll make the whole topic even more toxic, even more entrentched, which will hurt everyone involved.

    Will it hurt the cause of humanism / atheism / rationality? A very big yes.

    This last is what pains me the most. Not only will this lead to pointless division in the godless community – it makes humanism look ridiculous. If we as humanists don’t stand up for the right to rationally discuss difficult topics then we deserve ridicule.
    A sad day indeed.

    1. Being woke is regressive, or rather, the kinds of behaviours that we tend to disparage by calling “woke” are regressive. For example, segregating forums by race is regressive. Condemning entire classes of people based on appearance is regressive. Breaking down gender stereotypes is progressive. Reinforcing them (which is what TRAs do) is regressive.

  10. Dawkins raises an interesting question. What is the difference between someone identifying as a different race and someone identifying as a different gender? Perhaps there is a difference. It would be more enlightening if the difference were explained rather than attacking the questioner.

    1. Just passing through—I’d say the difference is that race is a physical concept, while gender is more of a psychological one.

      Dawkins appears to be unfamiliar with the fact that “gender” isn’t a synonym for “sex” anymore. And he’s starting from the premise that anyone with a male body, say, must have also a man’s psychology (complete with being comfortable having a male body, being treated as a man socially, etc).

      You can see this in the way he refers to people with male bodies and women’s psyches as “men who identify as women.”

      To make it even clearer (I hope): it’s impossible to identify as an attack helicopter unless you’ve lost your hold on reality. It’s completely possible to identify as a Trekkie without being clinically insane (all it takes is actually being super enthusiastic about Star Trek).

      “Trekkies who identify as non-Trekkies” is a nonsense statement.

      So is “men who identify as women.”

  11. > Dawkins was also damned by P. Z. Myers, who flaunted his own AHA award crowing “I’ve still got mine”.

    Having an award from an organization that had now disgraced itself cannot possibly make up for having to wake up and be PZ Myers every day.

  12. Ahem…PZ Myers still has his award, even though he admitted he was at the centre of very serious allegations from a student years back.

    Questions have been asked to the American non-Humanist Association about Walker and Myers…but radio silence so far.

  13. “I made a tweet that upset some people.” — We’re revoking your award!

    “I’ve been spreading horrifyingly antisemitic conspiracy theories and even just vicious antisemitic rhetoric for years.” — You’re cool, no worries.

  14. Regardless of what we, me personally or anyone else thinks of RD tweets his influence over many decades to the betterment of humanity far exceeds the loss of an award.
    The eternal inquiry for human and universal truths is a tricky business today as it was yesterday.
    His tweet has exposed this particular humanist body for what it is and it’s inability to… discuss.

  15. BTW, Ophelia Benson is predictably all over the shop on this one.

    She says the AHA is dead wrong on this, but insists Dawkins should have had his award revoked because of (get the fainting couch ready, folks) the “Dear Muslima?” and “Clock Kid” controversies.

    Just remember, right up until she fell foul of, and blasphemed against, the regressive SJW cults’ trans dogma, she was rolling around in the hay with those crazies. She was a True Believer, and would react to anything Dawkins said in the same manner the anti-humanists at the American Humanist Association have just done.

    Oh, and you can forget about the likes of Hemant Mehta and Matt Dillahunty. They’re far gone, and have discovered they like the comforting soma that is their New Religion of SJW/CRT dogma.

  16. What a joke. I swear, most people today have lost the ability to read.

    From the AHA’s rescinded award announcement:
    “His latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient.”

    No morons, Rachel Dolezal did. Why is this hard? To paraphrase Dawkins’ point, if the immutable charactetistics of race cannot be chosen by an individual then why is it acceptable for the immutable characteristics of sex to be? Fact: the genotype of both an individual’s sex and skin color determines their phenotype with sex being a far more definitive category than race. If critics then claim that sex can be changed (via surgery, hormone treatments, etc.) then the same is true of skin color (skin bleaching, makeup, etc.). If we’re talking about gender and not sex, why can’t an individual culturally develop an affinity for another race?

    The AHA says that humanism is informed by science which is why they will have to lie about science when it produces facts hostile to the happy emotional state of some primates. Scientists must follow the data where it leads while humanists get to stay on yellow brick road.

    1. Dolezal publicly declared to be black and bisexual. Now, it is possible that she is bisexual, since sexual orientation is a biological trait located in the brain and only the person who owns that brain can know this trait. However, it is not possible that Dolezal is black, since race is a biological trait recognizable by any observer because it is not located in the brain.

      Sexual identity (gender) is a biological trait located in the brain, just like sexual orientation. Therefore, between sexual identity and sexual orientation there is a profound analogy, while the analogy between sexual identity and race is extremely poor.

      1. You keep saying the same thing over and over again, but I keep telling you that your analogy is weak, and you keep repeating it. Where, exactly, was Dolezal’s idea that she really was a black person in a white person’s body (I do believe her, by the way). Hint, Rawandi, IT WAS NOT IN HER LIVER. You have completely missed the argument, which is that self-identification is what matters for gender, but seemingly not for race.

        Now you can go away, as you’re one of those monomaniacs whose erroneous ideas coupled with their persistence annoys me. I let you have your say, but you keep saying it over and over again.

  17. I wrote to the Ass’n to protest their idiotic woke move. (So that should change everything – hehehe)

    Dillahuntly and Mehta’s pile on is disappointing. PZ’s contribution is… typical of him – he never fails to disappoint.

    There is a very woke thread through the atheist community.
    Of course Dawky was prodding things like an Oxford Don, he is an EDUCATOR. Knowing his life’s work and opinions does anybody think he actually has any animosity or bigotry against trans (or any other group of) people? REALLY?
    THAT is why they didn’t study at Oxford…

  18. Since PZ Myers was mentioned in the post, I feel I can now mention the fact that Myers has cancelled Jerry Coyne, calling him incredibly regressive, and the “active commentariat” (I guess that’s me and everybody else who comments) are mainly “rat-droppings from the slymepit”.

    People seem to have stopped bothering to read for comprehension. Myers has clearly read Jerry’s posts, or he wouldn’t know which bits to quote, but he doesn’t understand them. And his judgement of the people who comment here seems to be based more on what Myers imagines the comments on the alleged regressive articles would be rather than what people actually say.

    I sometimes wonder if Myers has such hatred for Richard Dawkins and Jerry because they are both better writers than he is.

  19. The claim is that every human being has a part of the brain which tells them whether they’re a man or a woman, and this forms in the womb. It’s not connected to reproduction, it’s not connected to any inherent attributes or tendencies which differ between the sexes. Its sole purpose is to convince the person that they’re the sex they are. And sometimes it goes the other way.

    This must have evolved. I’m not surprised Dawkins isn’t treating this idea as if it were sacrosanct. Not only are such disputes a common feature of evolutionary biology, but I suspect it’s probably not a comfortable fit with what he already knows about evolution.

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