Pinker and Goldstein respond to the American Humanist Association’s cancellation of Dawkins

April 22, 2021 • 8:45 am

As I wrote yesterday, the American Humanist Association (AHA), interpreting some of Richard Dawkins’s tweets as “transphobic”, revoked his Humanist of the Year Award from 1996, saying that he “demeaned marginalized individuals,” both transsexual and black (the AHA’s statement is here).  And as I said, I think this “cancellation” was a mistake. Though the AHA has a right to do what they want, I disagree that Dawkins’s statements have been either transphobic or racist.

Apparently Rebecca Goldstein and Steve Pinker do, too. In a tweet from Steve yesterday, the pair, who had separately received Humanist of the Year Awards, objected strongly to what the AHA did. I’ll reproduce their letter as screenshots:

It’s hard to take issue with what Rebecca and Steve say. The penultimate paragraph of their letter, “This will only intensify. . . “, is especially good.

And crikey, while I knew that the anti-Semite Alice Walker had gotten the same award, I didn’t know that Margaret Sanger had as well. She’s been accused of racism and eugenics by the group she founded, Planned Parenthood, which is in the process of cancelling her. (See this response from a biographer of Sanger.)

You can see the list of Humanist of the Year Awards here, and I already spotted several that would, by Woke standards, now be seen as “problematic.”

I won’t adjudicate the Sanger debate, but it’s clear that Walker was anti-Semitic and has made clear statements to that effect. If a case for bigotry is to be made against award recipients, that against Walker is far clear than any case against Dawkins. The AHA, if it’s to be consistent, should take away Walker’s award immediately. Or, better yet, stop this Pecksniffery.

I doubt that the AHA will restore the award, but if they read what Dawkins actually said, and abided by their own dictates, they should give it back. They have indeed turned themselves into a laughingstock.

h/t: Simon

52 thoughts on “Pinker and Goldstein respond to the American Humanist Association’s cancellation of Dawkins

  1. A very good letter. I saw someone tweet yesterday that if the AHA were so offended by Dawkins, they should return all the money he’s raised for them. I won’t hold my breath.

    1. Sometimes I think the best way to deal with the “woke” is to laugh at them, and show how ridiculous they are. The problem is they have too much power, and they do hurt people. As I said yesterday, they aren’t progressives; I don’t know what they are.

  2. The letter was really a good one. The AHA has made itself smaller in every way. Maybe the word tolerance will be removed from dictionaries.

  3. Many centuries later, you are getting your Torquemada moments. It’s a real pity, but seen from outside it’s almost impossible not to think that America is coming undone. Be it the age of a bigoted Cultural Revolution, or an almost inevitable victory of a very ugly Right at the next available elections, what’s coming will be painful to live and to look at. Some people really don’t learn the lesson of history

  4. Good to see some reason from Goldstein and Pinker. It’s a shame that also humanist organisation like AHA have jumped on the cancel and woke train.

    1. Indeed. It support’s John McWhorter’s contention that it is a religion. And as we know, religion poisons everything.

    1. Charles Pigden, a philosopher at Otago, nailed it:

      If you can pose as a champion of the underdog and a speaker of truth to power whilst ingratiating yourself with the neoliberal regime, that kind of hits the jackpot, by combining the ego gratifications of being a tribune of the people with the career benefits of being a lackey of the establishment. Consequently this is what a lot of people do.


      1. I find the Pigden quote confusing. If he has elaborated on it, can you provide a link? I may be missing what he is trying to say.

        Neoliberalism, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a terminology used to describe the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with economic liberalism and free-market capitalism.” I doubt that this is what the Woke yearns for in terms of principle or career opportunities. Indeed, the right-wing revels in labelling the Woke socialists and Marxists. It could be argued that much of corporate America has embraced Wokeism in terms of cancellation, but this is probably due to financial calculation as opposed to any actual belief in Woke ideas. In other words, I doubt that actual adherents to Wokeism have any sympathy for neoliberalism. That corporate America has taken advantage of Wokeism is an unintended consequence of the movement.

        1. Source here, but it’s from a comment, not a developed essay. The synergy between neoliberalism and wokesim is well known, at least in leftist circles, because both– for different reasons, to be sure– downplay the role of poverty, economics, and class in the ills of American society. As Kenneth Warren et al. put it

          [A]ntiracists … remain attuned to a vision of justice defined by ensuring equal access to hierarchically distributed social goods.

          The basic critique of the neoliberal-woke alliance is that they’d all be quite pleased if 1% of the population continued to own 1/3 of the wealth of the nation, as long as 12% of the 1% were black.

          This essay by Adolph Reed is a good, brief summary of the critique.


          1. Thanks for the links. I think it is true that the Woke, perhaps unwittingly, contribute to the hegemony of neoliberalism by viewing society through an almost exclusive cultural lens while ignoring the class component of the subjugation of minorities (as well as many whites).

          2. Thanks for the Warren quote and the Reed link. The “12% of the 1%” idea crystallizes everything else.

  5. I can’t help wondering if the AHA action wasn’t driven by one extremist on it’s board of directors. The rest would then fall in line because of the fear of being called insufficiently woke. Not that it matters much, I guess.

    1. It certainly could be something like that.
      But to those behind this action against Dawkins, the protestations from the old-school humanists will only fall on deaf ears. All counterarguments from fellow humanists automatically become counterarguments from The Enemy.

        1. Indeed. He mocks and derides the letter from Todd Stiefel (I don’t know who he is, but he was generous to the AHA).. but the letter he mocks is very reasonable and accurate.

      1. Yeah. It’s personal even if they won’t admit it. They don’t like Dawkins so they look to catch him at every turn.

        1. This is not wrong. I kind of get it, in that Dawkins was rather petty/spicy (is that what it was?) back in the days of Ye Great Rifts. And so now he’s permanently the bad guy. I think that this tweet is interesting because the interpretation of it depends on what one thinks of Dolezal. Was she a liar who used the fake identity to further her career? Or did she really believe she was ‘transracial’. If you believe the former, his tweet is offensive because it seems to be calling trans folks liars who take that identity to further their careers or something. If you believe the latter, and interesting discussion could be had. I don’t read Pharyngula any more, because I’m not keen on movement infighting. It’s a bit of a shame though, as I did enjoy the posts back in the day.

          1. Well I think if you’re upholding Humanist principles which AHA is supposed to all this is wrong. It’s wrong to argue against an idea because you don’t like the person who argued it instead of arguing against the idea itself; this is a bad faith argument. It’s also wrong to assume the arguer is arguing in bad faith by assuming the position is Dolezal is a liar (that is double bad faith because the assumption here is Dolezal is making claims in bad faith). The position of the AHA is completely mired in a tangle of bad faith roots dragging them down into muddy arguments.

          2. Oh, very much agreed on the AHA decision. I suppose I was speaking to the individuals responding to his tweet. Silly, pointless and damaging decision by AHA.

          3. Yes, the responders just break my heart because I thought we were making progress with reason but of course we aren’t. Why would I even think that given the state of education?

    1. Good choice on the breath thing. None of the responses I have seen so far do the apparently unthinkable: Actually *address* the issue of when, how broadly, and why identity claims should be accepted or rejected.

      1. They should always be rejected when they go blatantly counter to fact. If I’m 5’5″ tall and demand to be treated as 6’2″ tall because that’s what I really feel and “know” my height to be, it doesn’t matter how sincere I am about it. I’m still fantasizing, and it’s wrong to demand that others accept or pretend to accept the fantasy.

  6. That’s a good letter and the penultimate paragraph is a real zinger. I especially like that it emphasizes that these actions affect the reputation of the organization rather than Dawkins’s feelings because I see this non sequitur argument put forth regularly in the form of “well I care more about the feelings of people who are marginalized than an old white man”. Leaving aside the bigotry of that statement, this isn’t really what anyone is arguing, rather we are arguing that doing this is unreasonable, dogmatic, and contrary to the principles of Humanism. How anyone feels is out of scope for this debate, though it is telling that those who support the AHA’s decision immediately refer to these supposed feelings.

    1. I think there is something to what you say, and it’s doubly ironic because the woke are the ones that routinely disregard facts as being of any importance compared to feelings. They are the the ones that argue that merely being made to feel bad is to have violence done to you, regardless of the actual facts of the matter are, like what the offending spoken or written words actually, factually mean or where intended to mean.

          1. The only Grumio I know is Caecilius’s often drunk slave who that jerk Clemens knocked unconscious during the whole Pompeii eruption thing.

          2. I didn’t know that one – but I bet the scriptwriters for the sitcom did.

  7. The American (Psuedo) Humanist Association seem to get a bit tetchy when people point out that other awardees, namely Alice Walker (antisemite, conspiracy crank, David Icke fan), PZ Myers (admitted he was accused of rape), Gloria Steinem, and Margaret Sanger, have not had their awards revoked as yet.

    Sadly, racism and antisemitism towards Jews doesn’t bother many “Humanists”, and this seems to be the case with the AHA. There is another group, I think Secular Students, or something like that, who have an association with Ryan J. Bell, a “Humanist Chaplain”. However, he is also an antisemite, follower of pro-Assad war crime deniers, and is a confessed Communist/Maoist. Rather odd for a “humanist”, eh?

    Just goes to show, that like the label “anti-racist”, a lot of people put these great-sounding labels in their bios, but their actions are at complete odds with what those labels are supposed to represent.

    PS No mention of the Alice Walker issue over at UnFriendly Atheist (the comments are atrocious), and of course, Pharyngula avoids mentioning Walker and the other elephant in the room.

      1. Well, PZ himself says “false rape allegations are extremely rare.”

        So, the AHA can hold him up to his own standards, given that they have don’t have any standards of their own, anymore.

  8. Just had a look at Pharyngula after years of absence. Used to read a lot from PZ like 15-20 years (before WEIT came) ago. I haven’t really thought much about why I stopped…………

    After that quick look, I now realized why I stopped………………life is to short…etc,etc……..

  9. I understand when Americans want to protect their secular institutions, but from afar, it’s getting quite comical, too.

    It turns out Alice Walker, AHA Humanist of the Year 1997, wrote a glowing admiration about David Icke, whom she compares to Malcolm X. Let me cite:

    I have not known of David Icke until recently; I owe the introduction to my partner who encouraged me to share a couple of videos with him. What I admire most about David Icke is the freedom of his mind. […] What a joy it was to have that. As it is to witness the comfortable freedom of thought in which David Icke lives and thrives. Such people are a rare gift to the planet; whatever one might think of whatever appears most weird to us. They are the reason, perhaps the only one, we humans progress. Dragged along at times by our curiosity if not our courage. […] The best news: We are awakening. David is awake already. — Humanist of the Year, Alice Walker on David Icke (<a href=" "

    Matt Dillahunty, who led the charge against Dawkins together with Hemant Mehta opined on Twitter that Richard Dawkins would “tarnish” the brand of the AHA. Apparently, then, when an AHA Humanist of the Year endorsed David Icke, that must be “on brand” — they didn’t see the need to act on that case in the last couple of years since she expressed such views.

    You got to admit, it’s getting comical. They now could sweep the house, but how would that look like?

  10. Oh the damn Pinkers are so eloquent, aren’t they? I just wrote to the Humanists and told them they were idiots and I’m not sending them any more money. Bested by Pinkie…. again!

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