The Friendly Atheist becomes the Misleading Atheist

June 1, 2022 • 10:15 am

Although this is a family-friendly website, there are times when I myself feel uncivil and have to withhold epithets and cursewords that fight to emerge onto paper. This usually occurs when I see someone who should know better distorting facts to further his/her/their ideology, creating a misleading argument.

In this case that “someone” happens to be Hemant Mehta, the so-called “Friendly Atheist,” who for the past couple of years has been taking out after Richard Dawkins for being “transphobic”, all on the basis of a couple of tweets shown below. The tweets, as you’ll see, are not transphobic, but part of the ongoing discourse among liberals about how far “transsexual equality” should go. Should transsexual women participate in women’s sports, be rape counselors, or incarcerated in men’s prisons? Is there a difference in thinking that your identity is black when you’re white and in thinking that you’re a woman when you’re a man? Is feeling that you’re a black person in a white person’s body meaningfully different from feeling you’re a man in a woman’s body?

Apparently merely asking these questions is “transphobic”, a ridiculous slur leveled at those of us who think the questions above need to be discussed and yet, at the same time, favor treating transexual or transgender people with respect, affording them equality in nearly every way. “Transphobic”, the slur used by Mehta, is only part of his latest column at the nonreligious site Only Sky. Along with Dawkins, Mehta’s target is also Robyn Blumner (head of both the Center for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation), whose recent recent column in Skeptical Inquiry, “Identitarianism is incompatible with humanism“, I discussed here.

Click below to read Mehta’s piece and my analysis of it.

Let’s take up the Blumner-dissing first. It’s clear from reading Robyn’s piece and seeing the examples she uses, that the “incompatibility” is not between all of of identity politics and humanism, but between “performative” or “woke” identity politics and humanism. (I have noted before that Mehta is growing increasingly woke, and by “woke” I mean “engaged in performative virtue signaling”. In fact, that’s exactly what Mehta does in this piece!)

Blumner says this at the outset of her piece (my emphasis):

 I fear that our cohesion as fellow humanists is being torn apart by a strain of identitarianism that is making enemies of long-standing friends and opponents of natural allies.

Just at a time when it is essential for all of us to come together to work arm-in-arm against Christian Nationalism and the rise of religious privilege in law, humanism is facing a schism within its own movement. It is heartbreaking to watch and even more disheartening to know that the continued breach seems destined to grow.

Note that she says a “STRAIN of identitarianism”, not “identitariaism”. Shortly thereafter she identifies this strain as what I call “authoritarian Leftism”: in her case the identitarians who aren’t keen on free speech:

Today, there is a subpart of humanists, identitarians, who are suspicious of individuals and their freedoms. They do not want a free society if it means some people will use their freedom to express ideas with which they disagree. They see everything through a narrow affiliative lens of race, gender, ethnicity, or other demographic category and seek to shield groups that they see as marginalized by ostensible psychic harms inflicted by the speech of others.

It’s clear from the outset that by “identitarians who aren’t down with humanism,” Blumner’s referring to those woke identitarians who suppress counterspeech and try to censor the speech those who oppose them. And she’s right, for if anything is characteristic of humanism, it’s belief in the right of people to speak their minds and the need for their opponents to hear them. She’s talking about the kind of identitarians who try to quash their opponents through demonizing and name calling rather than rational argument. Indeed, when Mehta takes up Dawkins’s “transphobia” in this piece, he completely avoids the points Dawkins was trying to make. Either Mehta is ignorant, which he’s not, or he’s distorting Dawkins’s words and slinging around slurs to kill the messenger and the message. And that makes Mehta intellectually dishonest. Even P. Z. Myers has recognized this division, which I believe he calls “Deep Rifts”.

Instantiating this schism, which we all know exists, Blumner cites the American Humanists Association revoking Dawkins’s 1996 Humanist of the Year Award for the supposedly “transphobic” tweets mentioned below.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, here’s the way Mehta dismisses Blumner’s main argument:

The problem with [Blumner’s] argument here is that she uses right-wing rhetoric to exaggerate what those critics are actually saying. And—this may be the most damning thing about her essay besides her initial citation from Urban Dictionary—she neglects to explain why those critics are so upset in the first place.

No, the critics are themselves exaggerating what Dawkins said. Mehta and the “transphobe-word” slingers are engaging in the same type of anti-humanist tactics that Dan Dennett warned us about: assuming at the outset the worst possible construal of an intellectual opponent’s arguments. Dawkins is not a transphobe, but has issues about transsexual rights; about the mantras “trans women are women” and “trans men are men.” I have those same issues, but, like Richard, they don’t involve demonizing transsexuals or transgender people. Rather, they involve civil philosophical exploration about how far this equality should extend.

More by Mehta on Blumner’s piece:

By claiming identity politics are antithetical to humanism, the head of one of the largest humanist groups in the country is also claiming trans rights and social justice aren’t as important. If Dawkins wants to throw trans people under the bus under the guise of a hypothetical question, then Blumner wants Humanists to just accept that in the name of unity. Anything less, she says, distracts us from coming together “to work arm-in-arm against Christian Nationalism.” (You know what else distracts us from working against Christian nationalism? The most famous atheist in the world helping Christian nationalists demonize trans people.)

Does Mehta realize, or did he bother to find out, what Blumner means by “identity politics”? She described the invidious aspect of some identitarians in the passage above, and it’s not the same thing as black people pushing for less racism or LGBTQ+ people pushing for moral acceptance. Blumner is talking about what all of us know about, and what is palpably true: humanists on the Left have become split into those who are woke versus those who are “anti-woke” but still adhere to humanistic ideals.  The schism that Mehta deems “exaggerated” is in fact one so profound that it even threatens Democratic victories in this fall’s election. As a reader pointed out here yesterday, it was “identity politics” that helped secure civil rights and gay rights in the last 70 years. Is Blumner against that kind of “identitarianism”? I seriously doubt it!

As for Dawkins “throwing trans people under the bus under the guise of a hypothetical question,” that’s just a lie. Read on and judge for yourself.

At any rate, Dawkins’s tweets and the suggestion by California school authorities that calculus be de-emphasized in school curricula (a move meant to achieve “equity” in math achievement, since many minority students don’t do well in calculus or math in general) are all characterized by Mehta as “the best examples of cancel culture and ‘identitarianism’ [Blumner] can find”, implying that there aren’t any more. He’s arguing that Blumner can come up with only a few examples because the supposed rift just doesn’t exist.

Mehta knows better than this. He could, for example, consult FIRE’s Disinvitation Database to see many, many examples of the Left trying to suppress free speech: exactly Blumner’s point. (Presumably much of the left would identify as “humanists”.)

Now on to Dawkins’s “transphobic tweets”.  Here’s the first one from seven years ago, and you probably remember it:

Mehta’s take, in which he uses the “old man” trope:

In 2015, Dawkins tweeted that trans women weren’t women because their chromosomes said otherwise, boiling a complicated and nuanced issue down to a simple binary. Then he added that he would still use their pronouns if they wanted as if he were doing them a favor.

It was a remarkably ignorant tweet. But maybe you give the guy a break. Maybe he didn’t realize the problems with what he was saying. It was, after all, 2015, and Dawkins was in his 70s. Maybe he just didn’t know why a seemingly harmless comment would be controversial.

It’s controversial precisely because many trans activists, and Mehta himself, get riled up by mere discussion of these issues, deeming their opponents “transphobes”, and taking the worst possible interpretation of their opponent’s views. The problem is that many seemingly harmless comments set off the woke, giving them what feeds their psyches: opportunities to flaunt their virtue by enacting a “performance”. And that’s what we see here.

First of all, yes, it whether a transwoman is a “woman” is a semantic question, for it deals with redefining what we’ve long considered as “biological” sex. What do you call a transsexual woman? Is she a “biological woman” or a “biological man who identifies as a woman”? (I would use gametes instead of chromosomes as the separating feature, but the correlation between gamete size and chromosomal constitution in humans is close to one.) “Courtesy” is, charitably interpreted (the way I’d have said it), “Out of respect for the person’s wishes and feelings.” But this is really a distinction without a difference; you use someone’s preferred pronouns to be civil to them. Even if you don’t accept their characterization, there’s no reason to be disrespectful or hurtful.

But what is most misleading about Mehta’s characterization is his claim that Richard is saying “trans women aren’t women because their chromosomes say otherwise.” That is simply a gross and willful distortion of Dawkins’s claims.

But it gets worse. Here’s a second tweet highlighted by Mehta, one that leaves out crucial information:

Mehta’s take, which infuriates me:

But then, last year, he did it again. It was even more egregious this time around.

So now, he was comparing trans people to a white woman who pretended to be Black, said that being transgender was a choice, and acted like those who challenged any aspect of trans identities were the real victims. If that weren’t enough, he added “Discuss”… as if trans lives were a matter of debate. (Two days later, he tried to walk back some of this.)

First of all, Dolezal was not “pretending” to be black; she identified as being a black person. I don’t see a substantive difference between that and a transgender woman identifying as being a man. You could be uncharitable in saying that in both cases the person is “pretending”, but that misses the nuance of the case. Transsexualism and transracialism have many things in common, as philosopher Rebecca Tuvel pointed out in a notorious but thought-provoking paper. And of course, just for pointing out the similarities (which could lead to a philosophical justification of transracialism), Tuvel was demonized by her colleagues, the media, trans activists, and social media. But she didn’t back down, and she shouldn’t have, either. It’s a good question, one that elicits kneejerk reactions from people who don’t think the issue through.

Being transracialist may not be any more of a “choice” than being transgender; both could be biological imperatives, and in Dolezal’s case I think it was.

But the worst part of presenting this tweet is Mehta’s deliberately not showing out the immediately succeeding clarifying tweet about the word “discuss” and misleadingly saying that Dawkins tried to “walk back” his views. No, he wasn’t walking them back—retracting them—he was clarifying them.  Do you get that distinction, Mr. Mehta?

Let’s look at the pair of tweets now, separated by two days.

The “discuss” issue is precisely what Tuvel did in her paper, and in a scholarly way (I recommend reading it; the flap about this paper precisely illustrates Blumner’s point about the schism). And note that Richard vigorously denies disparaging trans people or associating with Republican bigots (note that Mehta accuses him of adopting the ideas of Christian nationalists).

Since Mehta knows about this clarification, which should both serve to dispel the “transphobia” accusation against Dawkins as well as clarify the meaning of “discuss”, his tangential mention of it here seems to me a case of intellectual duplicity: downplaying clarification and pretending it’s a retractin. If Mehta were, as he claims he is, an honest and objective critic, he would not only have shown the second tweet, but mentioned the Tuvel paper. But Mehta isn’t urging his readers to weigh different views; he’s urging them to accept his distorted view of the situation. Again we see instantiation of The Schism.

I won’t go on except to say that Mehta goes after Blumner for using as an example of the schism the fight in California over whether calculus should be included in the math curriculum. Yet he admits that it is indeed a schism. I quote him in full (bolding is Mehta’s]:

The other example [Blumner] cites in her piece, by the way, is “a draft plan in California to deemphasize calculus as a response to persistent racial gaps in math achievement.

Suddenly a subject as racially neutral as math has become a flashpoint for identitarians set on ensuring equality of outcomes for certain groups rather than the far-more just standard of equality of opportunity. In this freighted environment, reducing the need for rigor and eliminating challenging standards becomes a feasible solution. The notion of individual merit or recognition that some students are better at math than others becomes racially tinged and suspect.

Once again, that description ignores a very real and very complicated debate at the center of math education. Simply put, American schools often steer the best math students in the direction of calculus, even though that’s not necessarily the most useful subject for them. Statistics or data science are arguably more important to learn, and more relevant to our current lives compared to solving integrals and calculating derivatives, therefore pushing kids in those directions rather than calculus could be worthwhile, especially when the reality is that students of color sometimes struggle with that subject. (As the New York Times notes, “calculus is not even offered in most schools that serve a large number of Black and Latino students.”)

None of that means those students aren’t gifted in math, only that demanding they succeed at calculus—and only calculus—is extremely short-sighted. There are many ways students can be excellent mathematicians.

The debate is complicated, but Mehta does all he can to argue that calculus should not be required, because many students who do well in math don’t do well in calculus. But how is one to find that out without trying to teach math students calculus? And of course “statistics and data science” aren’t offered in many secondary schools. The fact that there is a debate, and it proceeds along identitarian lines (“woke” humanists don’t want required calculus; other ones do) also shows there’s a schism. And even though Mehta was a math teach in his previous life, I am not going to accept his assertion that trying to teach math students calculus may not be “useful” for them. One has to at least try.

Mehta tries hurling one more zinger at Blumner, asking her to write an article she didn’t write:

No one’s asking CFI to change its mission to become a purely social justice and civil rights-oriented organization. But they could at least stop complaining when the rest of us push back against the (often faith-based) attacks on marginalized groups because our version of Humanism demands it even if theirs doesn’t.

Blumner could easily have offered a better path forward. What’s the proper way, in her mind, for people to educate Dawkins? To correct his mistakes? To criticize him? What’s her organization doing to make sure it’s supporting trans people who are vulnerable to Christian nationalist legislation?

I don’t see Blumner calling for an end to free speech or discussion: she’s trying to point out a schism that might be politically unproductive and certainly not useful to the image of humanists.

And, to quote Mehta, he could easily have offered a better path forward.  Can he at least characterize his opponents’ views correctly before he tears them apart or accuses them of being running dogs of Christian nationalists?

The palpable fact that Mehta’s wokeness causes him to distort his opponent’s arguments is the best evidence that Blumner’s thesis is right. I’m a humanist, but I’m not going to hurl slurs of “transphobia” (and implicit accusations of racism) at people who are trying to make honest arguments. But I will hurl one slur at Mehta: he is being intellectually dishonest in the service of an ideology.

81 thoughts on “The Friendly Atheist becomes the Misleading Atheist

  1. Complaining about Dawkins’s tweets is like criticizing Sinatra for his barroom banter.

    The man is best judged by his métier — which, in Dawkins’s case, comprises the exquisite books he’s written.

  2. Hehmant has a big audience and he had an opportunity to educate people on both sides of this issue by presenting their views charitably and honestly, and appealing to a common commitment to humanistic ideals. Instead he chose to deepen the rift.

    1. Peter, do you think that the rift can be healed? I’m not sure, but I doubt it. I think it will just get deeper and wider for the foreseeable future. I don’t think I see anyone who seems genuinely interested in educating people on both sides – at least not without the intent of proselytizing and bringing people over. Bearing all of our free will discussions in mind, I’m not sure it’s entirely appropriate to call Hemant’s actions a ‘choice’ – at least in some sense. He drank the kool-aid and I suspect he no longer feels that his actions are due to choice, but some kind of moral imperative. (Yah, it’s a choice in all but the most physically determinist of senses, but he probably refuses to view it that way, and that is not the angle I would choose to engage with him.)

      1. I fear not. I fear that before this century is over this will all be swept away by truly monumental problems like the looming climate catastrophe. But meanwhile I don’t see that a productive dialog, and mutual education, are possible as long as the Woke make it an article of faith that one must either agree with them or some be kind of monster.

  3. In her book Irreversible Damage Abigail Shrier makes the same point about a white person identifying as black that Richard Dawkins does in his tweet. (Doubtless one of many reasons that it was the book that Chase Strangio of the ACLU said he wanted suppressed and that fighting for it to be banned was “the hill I’m prepared to die on”.) She writes:

    Or what about a black girl who has internalized the racism of her peers? Suppose Nia, twelve years old, informs her therapist that she desperately wants to become white. She wasn’t sure about this for a while, but then she saw these white girls on YouTube who were just so amazing, and that’s when she knew what she was supposed to be. “Call me Heather,” the girl pleads. “I want my ugly nose narrowed,” she says. “And I hate my hair; I want it to be straight and blonde. I want my skin bleached. There are creams; I know—I’ve read about them. I was never meant to look this way. Anyway, I don’t feel black. I find white boys cute. I’m not good at basketball. I like the TV and food that white girls like. I’m basically white already.”

    Imagine if the therapist said, “Okay, Heather. Nobody knows who you really are better than you. So based on what I’m hearing today, I can absolutely affirm that you are Caucasian. See, sometimes white people are born with black bodies and features. I can bring your dad up to speed on the medical interventions, but even if he doesn’t agree, you should know this is a safe space. I will always respect who you really are. We’ll talk about how to procure those creams at our next session.”

    Shrier’s point is that automatic affirmation, which is what trans activists expect therapists to provide to children insisting that they are really the opposite sex, would be considered monstrous in other situations. She also gives the example of an underweight anorexic child who believes that they are fat and wants slimming drugs and liposuction. Any decent therapist would try to deal with the mental health issues, not recommend medication and body modification – and yet that is precisely the route that children identifying as the opposite sex are supposed to be offered – and any attempt to talk them out of it is “transphobic”.

    What a world we live in where asking reasonable questions leads to criticism and abuse.

    1. Shrier’s other point is that both a girl insisting she’s a boy and a black person insisting she’s white must necessarily be internalizing stereotypes.

  4. I think Hemant Metha has gone woke, I’m not sure if that was his own ‘initiative’ or pandering to the woke commenting on his site. For several years now I rarely go there, precisely for that reason.

    Tuvel has an outstanding point. The immutability of sexes probably originated with the Eutherians or at least placental mammals (changing sex in placentals requires major anatomical changes, an investment so much larger than in eg. some fishes, that actually can change sex).
    The sex division is hence more than 100 million years old (possibly even more than 160 million yrs) in our direct ancestors. The distinction between races is only about 200,000 years old at best, and probably much less. That is about 3 orders of magnitude difference. Changing race should be much easier than changing sex (but apparently it isn’t).

    Reducing the importance and level of maths and calculus to ‘accommodate’ some (not all*) minorities is giving in to racism, the racism of low expectations. My children are ‘coloured’, they are pretty good to excellent at maths, I’d hate to see the standards lowered for them, it will make them f..king lazy.

    * of the top 10 mathematics students in the US recently, 9 were of East Asian origin, and only one was of European descent.

    1. I too have avoided the Unfriendly Atheist for years. He became a raging asteroidea (biological in-joke) shortly after Peezus and things went downhill from there.PCC(E) will be called out in a post as a result of writing this, and we shall all see it as a badge of honour.

  5. Statistics or data science are arguably more important to learn, and more relevant to our current lives compared to solving integrals and calculating derivatives…

    Anything more than an elementary understanding of statistics is greatly aided, to put it mildly, by knowing calculus. How better to understand the relationship between the probability density function and the cumulative distribution function of a continuous probability distribution function?

  6. I read and post there too. Trying to understand it from his/their perspective, I feel like both sides are trying to “recruit” science to dictate a social policy. Science, however, informs social policy, it doesn’t make it.

    So for example with climate change, science tells us what will happen if we do nothing, or if we do certain interventions. But it’s up to us to decide whether an intervention (or which intervention) is worth doing. That’s very much not a scientific question, it’s a human values one.

    Likewise with trans rights. Science tells us there are developmental differences between the sexes. It even tells us what they are, and might even predict what will happen in terms of outcomes if we follow one policy or another (in sports, in jailing, etc.). But it is very much not a science question as to whether we decide one outcome is more preferable than another. Dawkins’ tweets give the impression (mistaken, intentional, or completely unintentional) that chromosomal differences are some ‘deciding factor’ in the debate over trans rights. But it’s not. We can accept there are significant developmental differences AND STILL choose to organize sports by gender – if that’s our choice. Because science doesn’t decide the “how will you organize your competitive sports” question. Now, on the other side of the debate we have an extreme facet of the left who tries to claim all sex differences are socially constructed. They’re wrong about that. But if we ask why they would make such an outlandish claim, its for the same “to recruit science on our side” reason. They’re making the same mistake about science’s role in social policy; they think if they communicate that science says no biological sex differences, that this must inevitably decide how human societies organize their sports competitions. No it doesn’t. The science of human sex differences and sames doesn’t dictate that at all.

    Whether it’s jails, or sports, or bathrooms, or anything else, we humans must decide how to socially organize and live. And while science can help us see clearly what happens if we choose A or B (or C, or…), science doesn’t decide A or B or C. Given Hemant’s post’s focus on what the subject is doing to ‘Humanism,’ I find it somewhat aggravating that everyone seems so bound and determined to take the humans out of the loop.

    .

    1. Dawkins’s tweets didn’t give ME the impression that chromosomal differences were some ‘deciding factor’ in the debate over trans rights, let alone that HE thought they were. He clearly and specifically couched the question of whether trans women are women in an “if…then” form: IF you judge who is a woman by what chromosomes they have, then no, but IF you judge by the person’s own sense of self, then YES. He seemed to me to be plainly and patently making it clear that what one decided would be based on one’s assumptions and what “definitions” one uses (i.e., “semantics”), but that he thought the polite thing to do was to treat someone as the gender with which they identify. I have a difficult time understanding how someone could honestly read the tweet otherwise.

      Just because something is inferred does not mean it was implied.

  7. Sadly, this is why the Left will lose in upcoming US elections. That squishy 10% of undecided voters see what the Woke are arguing and decide that the democrats are the more authoritarian and dangerous choice, handing power to the actual bigots and transphobes. Thanks, Hemant.

    1. > this is why the Left will lose in upcoming US elections

      Remember the good ol’ days of the 1990s when the electoral spoilers were coming from outside the party ranks, like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader (who ostensibly got Clinton and GWB elected, respectively)? Now the spoilers have infiltrated the two parties and fragmented them from within. They finally figured out game theory.

      I sometimes wonder how much ‘balance’ a two-party system inherently has; both parties try for 50% of the voters, so they end up see-sawing back and forth to power, as each side shifts platforms just enough to gain a tenuous advantage from another voting bloc. And now there seems to be a balance in the insanity level of both parties – for the first time in 30 years. The extremes of one party lead to the extremes of the other.

      > That squishy 10% of undecided voters

      … will probably just be discouraged from voting for the lesser of two evils. I’ll still be voting libertarian.

      > handing power to the actual bigots

      There are actual bigots on both sides now.

    2. Yes, I think that to pandering to the woke, and especially to the trans-activists, will be instrumental in the Democrats’ apparently inevitable “tsunami defeat” in November. It must get worse before the Revolution can make it better? That about never works.
      Despite Biden’s close to outstanding policies regarding Ukraine: firm, giving support, while at the same time avoiding WWIII, it mysteriously does not appear to be reflected in his approval ratings. I’m profoundly puzzled. US-ians do not realise how blessed they are with a POTUS like Biden. Could Eisenhower or Kennedy have done anything better?

      1. Hemant panders to the far left, now. This is the same far left that will blame Biden before they blame Putin for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

        At least two bloggers (Mano Singham and Marcus Ranum) at FreeThoughtBlogs essentially blamed NATO aggression and ‘The West’ for ‘provoking’ Russia. This was while they were both denying Russia was going to invade, as that was just the “Western media” and “US intelligence” making stuff up again (a la WMD, etc.). Top skepticism, eh? When Russia did invade, they both went quiet, and have not commented much on Russia/Ukraine since.

        Meanwhile, Hemant hasn’t touched Russia/Ukraine at all, but pumps out daily updates about Ark Encounter, and the apparent extremism of the tweets of Richard Dawkins. He was challenged about his support for American Humanists and their decision to “revoke” Dawkins’ “Humanist of the Year” award, and the fact that they haven’t revoked the award given to Alice Walker, despite her antisemitism and crackpot conspiracy theories, but alas, there was silence.

        Scratch the newer audiences of Hemant, and long-time audience of PZ Myers, et al, and you find antisemitism, and anti-humanist leftist dogma. The same peeps who moaned at “centrists” and liberals for calling the excesses of the left, and not “focusing on the far right.”

        1. It’s almost amusing – I started out as a Pharyngula reader, way way back. Then later read TFA and the Patheos gang. Then later PCC(E)’s webpage. Was deep rifts really a whole decade ago? We’re getting old, Richard! All that to say I’m still reading here and not the other places. I like a consistent depth of content & opportunities to learn, which Jerry provides. I don’t get anything much from Hemant nowadays – I feel like he’s more for newbie atheists. And while it was fun back in the days at PZs, things got weird. So I’m here.

          Is the slymepit still a thing?

          1. You do get plenty of updates about Ark Encounter over at Hemant’s, tho. Important stuff like that!

            I don’t know if Slime Pit is still going. I’ve not heard about that site in a long time. A bit like Skepchick! 🙂

          2. That’s really interesting. In order to arrive here, I have followed exactly the same blog journey as you. It feels a bit like a convergent evolutionary process: us readers are the selection mechanism, the blogger (sorry PCE!) is the genotype, and the blog website is the phenotype. It would be interesting to see how many others have arrived here by a similar route.

            I used to read PZ Myers, but it became very far-left, very quickly. As with nearly all far left communities, members would jostle to appear farther left than everyone else. The comments section became as bad tempered and toxic as a swarm of angry hornets in a septic tank.

            Around the same time I was also reading stuff at Patheos, particularly Mehta’s blog. There was one blog I loved that I can’t remember the name of now. It was dedicated to religious hypocrites and bigots getting their comeuppance – pastors getting locked up for very un-godly crimes, homophobic politicians having sex with 18 year old boys from church.

            Toward the end of my Patheos ‘phase’ I discovered Jerry’s site. I think Richard Dawkins mentioned it in a book. I love how, in his recent books, Dawkins flies off at tangents in his copious footnotes, and I think it was tucked away in one of those bits.

            I quickly realised WEIT was head and shoulders above anything else, and have read avidly ever since (around about 2012). There truly is nothing like it, such good content, so much of it, and on such interesting topics. The comment section is good natured and I’ve never seen a site with such an intelligent and well informed readership. I often learn as much from the comments as I do from the article.

            I stopped reading Mehta gradually, and as he slowly turned the woke dial up to 11, I turned my visits down to zero. I never visit now, although I have to thank him for one thing. It was from Mehta that I first heard about Dan Carlin’s history podcasts. I’ve been an avid listener and follower of Carlin ever since!

            1. That is interesting! I think, for myself, it was a function of my age and my new atheism. I think the term ‘convert zeal’ grasps the newbie vibe pretty well. As those edges softened, I was also getting old and hopefully wiser. And had less time for commenting.

          3. Kinda? Last I looked there were only a few members left and they’ve gone from skepticism to Alex Jones style conspiracy mongering (the election was stolen, the pandemic is either a hoax perpetrated or at for nefarious reasons by some cabal or it’s bio warfare, vaccines kill more people than the disease, it’s all on Hunter Biden’s laptop, etc.).
            Once authoritarian leftists successfully tanked movement atheism, they lost their purpose.

            1. Huh – I guess that tracks! Wild times, those were. I was wondering the other day about a commenter I used to see here and there – Matt Cavanaugh. Hope he’s doing well!

      2. Biden’s Ukraine policy has indeed been admirable, but the right is already whining that he cares more about sending money to the Ukraine than to the US. Additionally, voters will punish Biden for high gas prices and inflation, though those were not in Biden’s control. Though pandering to the woke is a problem, the Democrats real problems are inflation and high prices. Biden is acting proactively to combat these, but there is a limit to what can be done, and the Democrats are almost certain to fare badly in the upcoming elections. And I shudder to think what will happen in 2024, thanks to Republican gerrymandering and new laws to give right-wing state legislatures greater ability to interfere in counting (and discounting) votes.

  8. Eric writes: “Dawkins’ tweets give the impression (mistaken, intentional, or completely unintentional) that chromosomal differences are some ‘deciding factor’ in the debate over trans rights.”

    “Deciding factor”?

    How is it possible for anyone with even the smallest pretension to honesty or intelligence to derive this “impression”? Is a trans woman a woman? I said it was a semantic issue. It is a semantic issue, and if you deny it you don’t understand what semantic means. I said “IF you define by chromosomes”– I never said you SHOULD define by chromosomes, but IF you define by chromosomes – then a trans woman is not a woman. That is a simple matter of fact, IF you define by chromosomes.

    If you DON’T define by chromosomes – and there’s no reason why you should – then it’s another matter. If you define “by self-identification” then the answer is yes, a trans woman is a woman. This again follows necessarily from the premise. It’s necessarily true if that’s how you frame your definition.

    Both my opposite statements are true matters of fact, depending on your definition of “woman”. That is what semantic means.

    Eric should apologise. So, of course, should Hemant Mehta but I have less hope of that.

    1. First, I’m honored you read and responded to my post. Let’s lay out the tweet for everyone to reference:

      Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.

      In my opinion this response is tone deaf, Prof. Dawkins, in two ways.

      First, the word “semantic” has both a denotation (relating to linguistic meaning) and a connotation (minor, unimportant). Particularly when paired with the word “purely” – “purely semantic” connotes “a difference that has no substantive importance at all”. It is the connotation that people interpreted you as suggesting, and it is that connotation that they take issue with.

      Second, your last sentence communicates condescension. Whether you intended this or not, it communicates that you aren’t using their preferred pronouns because they deserve that treatment or because you respect the individual, but rather that you’re treating the person far more nicely than they deserve. Consider if I said: “I call him “Richard” out of courtesy.” With the scare quotes. Does that connote respect? No not at all, especially with the scare quotes. That sentence comes across much more like a backhanded insult – like I’m doing you a favor you don’t really deserve.

      I really respect your scientific work. I’m looking forward to your upcoming book. I’m not a theist, and I don’t even think trans women should be competing with cis women in Title IX-protected sports (I personally think an open category is the “least worst” solution proffered to date). So please take the above comments as coming from someone who admires and respects you, has no axe to grind, and has no personal issue with you on this topic or any other. But your tweets really do often give a bad impression of you.

      If you DON’T define by chromosomes – and there’s no reason why you should…

      Agreed. Though I’d probably phrase it as: there are sensible reasons to do so, other equally sensible reasons not to do so, and it’s up to us as a society to decide how we balance these competing interests.

      Thanks again for your reply.

      1. Sorry Richard, but I agree with Dr. Dawkins. You are essentially saying that your interpretation of his statements is the correct one rather than what he intended and what he actually thinks. It’s a leap to insist that because the word semantic might have two different meanings that only the second one must have been the intended one, therefore “proving” that he is a condescending transphobe.

        That kind of logic is the whole problem with those who want to condemn and cancel anyone perceived to be even slightly out of line with orthodoxy.

        Now I understand you probably don’t think Dr. Dawkins is a condescending transphobe, but rather that his words make him vulnerable to that claim. But then wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ask him to clarify his views before criticizing him? It would be just as easy to misinterpret your statements as intended to cancel him, which is probably not your intention.

        1. “Sorry Richard, but I agree with Dr. Dawkins.”
          – I chuckled at you misaddressing Eric by using the first name of the person you agree with! Now that’s meta-funny!
          – or just as humourous; if it was addressed to Richard, he’s now wondering if he’s schizophrenic!

      2. I wouldn’t use the adjective “tone deaf” if I were you. Nor “condescension”. You’re not acting like you’re honored; you’re acting like a petulant jerk. You can carry on a discourse without using words like that, esp. given that Dawkins is responding to you.

        1. Well, the post is made; I can’t edit it. I stand by my position that the original tweet connoted a negative message even if unintended. If I sounded like a petulant jerk in making that point, I’m sorry, that was not my intent.

          I set out to say that one can intend one message but accidentally signal another, and that this happened here, and in saying that I did it myself!

      3. I wrote my reply to your comment above before I had realized Professor Dawkins himself had replied, and I obviously agree with him here. BTW, not all quotes are “scare quotes”. Sometimes (I would go so far as to say “originally” and perhaps even “usually”) they are used to indicate what has been said or would be said or will be said, as when the good professor was quoting what HE says. No need to be frightened by these quotation marks.

        1. I would add that a word being used as a literal word—the string of letters—and not as a symbolic part of speech is properly enclosed in quotation marks so as not to derail the meaning. Thus even not as a direct quotation, a writer might say that calling her “she” is a useful courtesy. Without the quotation marks, the reader stumbles over the two instances of the personal pronoun, one objective, the other subjective and says “Huh?” before catching the meaning. With the quotation marks, the meaning lights right up.

          I try not to assume that any quotation marks in a text are pejorative or sarcastic until I’ve excluded the other uses, unless the writer is clearly a crackpot.

      4. I thank Eric for the distinction between denotation and connotation. It never remotely occurred to me that “semantic” might be taken to mean “minor, unimportant”. If there really are people who think it has that connotation, I’m not surprised they took exception to my tweet. But why on Earth would anyone load it with that supercilious connotation? I intended the denotation only: “related to linguistic meaning”. That is the English dictionary meaning and that was precisely what I meant. English is my native language.

        1. Thanks again for your replies.

          why on Earth would anyone load it with that supercilious connotation?

          I have no idea how the word got to be used that way. Maybe it’s a UK/US difference in usage, or a vernacular vs. academic difference in usage, I don’t know. I think your tweet is a case of honest above board message sent, honest attempt by audience to receive, yet because of the nuance of language and limited content on twitter, a big portion of your audience took it the wrong way. Not out of dislike, or bias, or malice, but simply because that’s the way it naturally read to them.

          Twitter uproars remind me a bit of Blaise Pascal’s “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” The Americanized Twain version: If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.

          1. Thank you, Eric. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: the same word can be heard racially differently by different people. “Semantic” is one example. I intended the dictionary meaning, but others (probably including the Board of the American Humanist Association) heard it as meaning “minor, unimportant, worthy of being ignored”. Another example is “Discuss”. I regularly mean it literally, after my many years as a university teacher: “Here’s a topic for a conversation. Perhaps something fruitful might emerge. Here’s a superficial paradox which might be resolved if we sit down together and thrash its out.” But others hear “discuss” as meaning.” Talk about it if you like but I’ve already made up my mind in a particular direction.” That, I now realise, may have been the case with several of my “Discuss” tweets, including the Rachel Dolezal one.

      5. First, the word “semantic” has both a denotation (relating to linguistic meaning) and a connotation (minor, unimportant).

        I have heard people use ‘just semantics’ as a dismissive retort even when meaning is important. Meaning is often important. But I did not know people now understood the word ‘semantics’ (plural) to mean ‘unimportant’. I had to look it up here. It’s not exactly a contronym, but it comes close.

  9. Jerry, I think you’re wrong about Dolezal. Even if you accept the validity of transracialism, it is still accurate to say that Dolezal pretended to be black. She lied about her parents, claiming that a black man was her father. She said that a DNA test would prove that she’s black. These are not simple matters of identification. If a trans woman claimed that she had two X chromosomes, or that she was born with female genitalia, that would be pretense, not just identification. There is a difference between identifying as belonging to a particular social category and lying about your past to make it seem that your biological markers line up with the usual correlates of that category. Dolezal did the latter.

    1. The mantra “trans women are women” can be taken as a biological male pretending to be identical to a biological woman. QED. Some would say that is a lie. And since race is a “social construct”, what does it matter, anyway. What’s important to the activists is what you FEEL you are. If you have to dissimulate to convince others of that, it’s not that relevant. Read Tuvel’s article.

    2. I am reminded of Trevor Noah’s position in that he identifies as black. In South Africa he would have been deemed coloured in his so called “Book of Life”. Quite reasonably, he identifies as black in that the community he lived in and hung out with was black. No problem there, I feel. Dolezal also identified as black. OK this is a bit more tricky. She had five brothers, three of whom were adopted African Americans and one Haitian. So she may well have subsumed a black culture there and then.

      Of course she did some not sensible things along the way, which undermines her creditability. But then the human brain takes on some weird chemistry.

  10. I’ve always felt a bit bad for Ms. Dolezal. I think she genuinely wanted to be/believed she was what she presented as. And really, I think the only complaint about her was that she was not that. She wasn’t using the identity to defraud or abuse. But some would see her taking an identity she is not ‘entitled’ to as defrauding be default. Which reminds me of the complaints of some 2nd wave feminists who feel trans women are unfairly taking up women’s spaces. It’s all rather a pickle.

    1. I agree, I think a lot of the criticisms directed at her were mean-spirited, although it is fair to say that she lied about certain aspects. But there’s no indication that her intent was to defraud or harm anyone. If she wants to identify as Black then so what, let her. Pretty much the same argument as for transsexuals.

  11. Herman M. has pulled this kind of woke stunt before – there’s a thrilling charge in it for some moral entrepreneurs to take pot shots at great people like RD.

    Increasingly I see use of the word “transphobe” thrown about as a red flag for a fire starter, a virtue signaler and bad actor. Not always, but often. Like… here.
    D.A.
    NYC

  12. I feel some compassion for Dolezal also – I think she was/is kind of a mixed up person looking for meaning in identity, not a bad actor. And RD made a good point about it in his tweet. For which he was pilloried, as was Abigail Shrier. Social media has done to the left what talk radio did to the right – bring out the crazies at scale.
    I’m sooo sick of censorious liberals, the professionally aggrieved. And I’m a lifelong leftie!
    Damn.
    D.A.
    NYC

  13. I think Mehta is a good example of audience capture. His blog really gained steam when Free Thought Blogs started going down hill. Over time, his views more and more reflected those of his commentariat which came from FTB.

  14. “I would use gametes instead of chromosomes as the separating feature…” – J. Coyne
    Is your reason for preferring the gamete criterion that many reptiles, alligators and turtles lack sex chromosomes, instead determining sex by the temperature at which their eggs are incubated?

    1. The terms “sex”, “male”, and “female” have always been used in a range of contexts, but I agree with Jerry that the only way to consistently define the sexes across species is by the gametes (and along with that the nature of the gonads that make them). That immediately creates a rare thing in biology, which is an opportunity to define something that is clear and unassailed by seemingly capricious rule changes and ambiguities. There are high thousands of metazoan species with two mating types in which some individuals make sperm, and we call them males. Those that make eggs are females. All other criteria for trying to define the sexes in a unified way will immediately run up against different rules for different species. Trying to use sex chromosomes is a good example. Besides the reptiles, which don’t even have distinct sets of sex chromosomes, there are other examples where the rules are different. In birds and butterflies, for example, the sex chromosomes are effectively reversed from the familiar arrangements that we see in mammals. Albeit in birds and butterflies we call them Z and W chromosomes rather than X and Y.

      1. In her book “Material Girls”, Kathleen Stock distinguishes between three biological accounts of maleness (boyhood/manhood) and femaleness (girlhood/womanhood):

        1. “the gamete account”

        2. “the chromosome account”

        3. “the cluster account” (with maleness and femaleness respectively defined in terms of some cluster of morphological/phenotypical sex characteristics such as genitals)

        She then mentions that “on both gamete and chromosome accounts, there are occasional cases of DSDs [Disorders of Sexual Development] not easily characterised as either male or female.”
        The problem with the cluster account is that “what counts as having ‘enough’ of the ‘important’ properties in a cluster is in some sense a practical decision, relative to wider collective theoretical goals.” For example, does a post-operative transwoman with female breasts, a vulva, and a vagina (but without any postvaginal female sex organs such as a uterus and ovaries) have enough of the “woman-making” morphological sex characteristics, such that she can properly be counted among the women from the perspective of the cluster account?

          1. I generally agree, but even the gamete account isn’t entirely free of borderline cases: Ovotesticular disorder of sex development is a very rare disorder in which an infant is born with the internal reproductive organs (gonads) of both sexes (female ovaries and male testes); and, as Kathleen Stock writes (in “Material Girls”), “the gamete account would struggle to classify such people as definitively male or female since it is unclear precisely which gamete-producing developmental pathway they are on.”

  15. I think part of the problem re: Ms Dolezal was the confusion of culture with ethnicity. Cultural affiliation/affinity doesn’t have to be tied to your ethnicity or colour, but in the US – for political reasons – this seems to be a real obsession. There should have been no problem if she had stuck to saying that she felt more at home in/comfortable in African-American culture. But trying to change her appearance & get money from an affirmative action scheme was far more questionable.

    I feel more at home visiting France & Italy than I do where I live in the UK. I feel more of an affinity with the cultures of the Romance languages, but I’m not going to pretend to be French or Italian. Cultural affinities are – or should be – a choice. You shouldn’t have to like certain things, have certain interests & c just because your parents did, or be trapped by geographic or genetic accident in your tastes and interests.

    1. > You shouldn’t have to […] be trapped by geographic or genetic accident in your tastes and interests.

      Here’s the difference, though: you can opt in to being French, Nigerien, or Haitian. If that government accepts you, you’re in. There is an authoritative and exclusive body that reviews the application. The only formal ethnic groups I know of in the US with that kind of power are Native American Tribal Governments.

      There are no authoritative and exclusive bodies for informal/non-hierarchical demographics (ethnic groups, races, genders); not only is there no authority to admit you, there is also no authority to exclude you. There are no gatekeepers, so we’re stuck in a chaotic transitional period with self-redefinition. Of course, with one drop rules and one-sixteenth rules, nothing has ever been cut-and-dry, but instead of scrapping the old system entirely, people are trying to move other categories within the system, supporting its very existence.

      I have lived in countries that insist that each demographic (religion, etc.) has an officially recognized community and hierarchy, under the idea that each group is responsible for their own people, and where individuals might be considered traitors to their kind for not supporting their formal community. Ugh! In the words of this site, that is institutionalized identitarianism.

      I’m just looking forward to the day when we become institutionally blind to it all. Some day we may even stop talking about gender and race. It’ll take a while to get there, though.

      1. As long as there is affirmative action, people who are the beneficiaries of it will devote a lot of effort to identifying and excluding interlopers, as well as continuing the system itself in perpetuity.

  16. Dawkins said “Discuss”, Mehta said “Educate him, correct him”. It’s clear which side has good approach to know real world.

  17. I do think Dolezol identifies with Black culture. I believe she has a genuinely held belief that she is black in that respect. I don’t see why that should be dismissed but identifying as and believing one is a woman despite being male shouldn’t.

    But she did try to pass herself off as ethnically black for a long time. She did take opportunities that were intended for people disadvantage on account of being Black Americans. Her dishonesty is an issue for me.

    I do think she’s recieved a LOT of unfair treatment tho.

  18. Richard Dawkins makes a statement on what a woman is (based on science) and the woke humanist crowd takes away his HUMANIST OF THE YEAR award.

    Dawkins is trying to use common sense on people that “GOD GAVE THEM OVER to a depraved mind.” Romans 1 states this very clearly. Let me give you another example of this same common sense below and how it is rejected.

    “Certain moral truths — such as do not kill, do not steal, and do not lie — do have a special status of being not just ‘mere opinion’ but bulwarks of humanitarian action. I have no intention of saying, ‘I think Hitler was wrong.’ Hitler WAS wrong.” (Gloria Leitner, “A Perspective on Belief,” THE HUMANIST, May/June 1997, pp. 38-39)

    Here Leitner is reasoning from her God-given conscience (discussed in Romans 1) and not from humanist philosophy. It wasn’t long before she received criticism. Humanist Abigail Ann Martin responded, “Neither am I an advocate of Hitler; however, by whose criteria is he evil?” (THE HUMANIST, September/October 1997, p. 2)

    HOW CAN A REASONABLE SAY SUCH A THING AS THE HUMANIST Abigail Ann Martin? She has no standards but relative standards! That is where humanism finds itself in 2022!

      1. When I think of the Trans community I think of these words of Francis Schaeffer: “…since the Fall, the fact of his rebellion. He rebels against, and perverts, the testimony of what exists—the external universe and its form and the mannishness of man.”

        Francis Schaeffer wrote the book ESCAPE FROM REASON and Jimmy Page told Schaeffer’s son that he enjoyed reading that book and when asked how he got it, Page replied Eric Clapton told him to read it! My answer to one looking for the answer to relativism is to check out this 90 page book. Here is a short passage from chapter 7:

        When we talk about the possibility of men beginning from themselves to understand the meaning of life and the universe, we must be careful to define clearly what we mean. There are two concepts or ideas of knowing which must be kept separate. The first is the rationalistic or humanistic concept, namely that
        man, beginning totally independent and autonomous of all else, can build a bridge toward ultimate truth—as if attempting to build a cantilever bridge out from himself across an infinite gorge. This is not possible because man is finite and, as such, he has nothing toward which he can point with certainty. He has no way, beginning from himself, to set up sufficient universals.

        Sartre has seen this very clearly when, as a result of finding no infinite reference point, he comes to the conclusion that everything must be absurd.

        The second concept is the Christian one. That is, as man has been created in God’s image, he can begin with himself—not as infinite but as personal; plus the important fact (as we shall see below) that God has given to fallen man content- full knowledge which he desperately needs.

        The fact that man has fallen does not mean that he has ceased to bear God’s image. He has not ceased to be man because he is fallen. He can love, though he is fallen. It would be a mistake to say that only a Christian can love. Moreover, a non-Christian painter can still paint beauty. And it is because they can still do these things that they manifest that they are God’s imagebearers or, to put it another way, they assert their unique “mannishness” as men.

        So it is a truly wonderful thing that, although man is twisted and corrupted and lost as a result of the Fall, yet he is still man. He has become neither a machine nor an animal nor a plant. The marks of mannishness are still upon him —love, rationality, longing for significance, fear of non-being and so on. This is the case even when his non-Christian system leads him to say these things do not exist. It is these things which distinguish him from the animal and plant world and from the machine. On the other hand, beginning only from himself autonomously, it is quite obvious that, being finite, he can never reach any absolute answer.
        This would be true if only on the basis of the fact that he is finite; but to this must be added, since the Fall, the fact of his rebellion. He rebels against, and perverts, the testimony of what exists—the external universe and its form and the mannishness of man.

        THE SOURCE OF THE KNOWLEDGE WE NEED

        In this setting the Bible sets forth its own statement of what the Bible itself is. It presents itself as God’s communication of propositional truth, written in verbalized form, to those who are made in God’s image.

        1. So… you’re simply declaring that we already know moral truth, and that this knowledge comes from God. Whatever. Doesn’t tell us why eg. killing is wrong.

          1. Jamie B., you got to watch Woody Allen’s movie CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and answer the question: CAN A MATERIALIST OR A HUMANIST THAT DOES NOT BELIEVE IN AN AFTERLIFE GIVE JUDAH ONE REASON WHY HE SHOULDN’T HAVE HIS MISTRESS KILLED?

            The Bible says not to murder and if you do then there is a final judgment. As a secularist can you tell me if Josef Mengele the ANGEL OF DEATH will ever face a punishment for what he did?

            1. “The Bible says not to murder and if you do then there is a final judgment.”

              So evil is simply whatever God punishes? What would prevent God from declaring eg. caring for the helpless to be an evil?

              1. Jamie B., I am not going to chase down this rabbit hole but it is obvious to anyone with any common sense that Dawkins is right to say that you can’t declare yourself black or female if biologically you are are white and male. The Democratic Party has followed a path that even some humanists and feminists find silly! Have a good day and I hope you have enough common sense to agree with Dawkins on this one!

            2. As a secularist, I am pretty sure that Josef Mengele will never face punishment for what he did on account of the fact that, being dead, he no longer exists. Whether or not you think he should face such punishment unfortunately has no bearing on the matter.

            3. “…not going to chase down this rabbit hole…”

              Would you allow a humanist/materialist to respond this way?

              “…it is obvious to anyone with any common sense…”

              Again, would you allow eg. Dawkins to respond with such a flip dismissal?

              You’ve implied that belief in God gives you an escape hatch from moral relativism. Perhaps you should give more thought to how you ‘know’ these things before making such claims.

              1. Dawkins and now Michael Shermer has pointed out how the Trans community has LEFT ALL COMMON SENSE BEHIND!

                Shermer noted:

                This is one of those issues where “progressives” are forced to embrace a position that is PALPABLE NONSENSE (emphasis mine), because they must adhere to the “trans women are women” mantra in every sense. If they don’t, they they violate the dictates of trans activism. In this kind of ideology, there is no room for heterodoxy.

            4. Why are YOU allowed to make an appeal to ‘common sense’ but not Shermer/Dawkins? Again I ask: How does belief in God immunize YOU from moral relativism?

  19. The transwomen I know are women in the same way that the gay men I know are gay. They felt that way from at least early adolescence and for them it is a defining feature of who they are. I do not know, but I suspect that there may be a real mismatch between some aspect of the way their brains are wired and their outward appearance.

    At a time when they are a highly stigmatized minority, I do think that the semantic question is very important and we should all proclaim that they are women.

    Having said that, there are clear distinctions between women born with XX chromosomes and those born XY, and certainly some edge cases as well.
    Discussing how those differences affect how society should view XY women’s ability to get athletic scholarships, where they should be housed in prison, and other issues is fair game.

    Ironically, I think that the issues become harder as the stigma gets smaller.

    Right now, I am comfortable saying that if an adolescent self identifies as an XY girl they should be allowed to play on women’s high school teams. Despite the moral panic that has been carefully nurtured by the right, there is not a flood of such girls and most of them do not stand out as particularly gifted. For those that do, who is to say that the fact that a female athlete was born XY is any different kind of genetic advantage that other extremely gifted athletes have (e,g, Brittany Griner).

    If we succeed in destigmatizing transwomen then I think that there is a possible moral hazard of boys pretending to be trans in order to get scholarships, and we may want to ensure that transwomen are willing to take concrete steps such as taking puberty blockers or hormone treatments before we allow them to compete against other women, on the assumption that very few pretenders would be willing to go that far.

    I also think that gender-affirming care is vital for trans-children. Again, though, as we remove stigmas, more children will question their sexual identity and come to decide that their genetics and identity match, so gender-affirming care has to balance the affirmation with the understanding that their current identification may be fluid so they can make reasonable, age appropriate decisions about the benefits and possible costs of transitioning.

    As to the Dawkins tweet and his stigmatization, I agree that it carried bad connotations. As he said he was unaware of them and didn’t mean anything derogatory, I will not join those who disparage him. In the meantime, if we decide to drop the semantic questions and affirm that transwomen are women I think that we can reduce some friction.

    1. Sorry but many of us will disagree with you, and you may be expressing your opinion, which is fine, but I’m not going to say that I’m down with transwomen competing with biological women or with kids taking puberty blockers or especially not with “gender affirmation care”, which carries the danger of causing regretted and irreparable physical harm to kids who are pushed to transition.

    2. I’ve never been concerned boys were going to ID as trans in order to win sporting events or get scholarships. I believe athletes who went through male puberty introduce a level of unfairness greater than any of the physiological advantages between female athletes pose. Based on available data, I don’t believe cross-sex hormones negate this advantage. Ultimately I don’t believe the desire of a few to compete in a sporting event as the sex they identify with is more important than female people being able to compete against other female people.

      Maybe boys who are put on puberty blockers at 9 and cross-sex hormones at 16 and therefore never experience male puberty lack all those physiological advantages. That’s something we don’t have data for. Whether this use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones is appropriate is a seperate issue.

    3. The transwomen I know are women in the same way that the gay men I know are gay. They felt that way from at least early adolescence and for them it is a defining feature of who they are.

      The way that gay men are gay is by being sexually and/or romantically attracted to other men. At what point they realize this or whether they think it defines them is secondary. A man who’s only attracted to women but “knows he’s gay” because being gay is who he is would be confusing.

      1. Exactly. Being attracted to others of the same sex is not the same as believing that you are the opposite sex.

      2. I certainly haven’t felt I was a woman from a young age. I still don’t. I can identify myself as one based on my body. I don’t believe a feeling is what makes someone a woman though.

  20. Mehta is wrong of course. “Woke” – in its various definitions, generally broader than construed here – is a US phenomena and Dawkins should generally be criticized for what he is and not where some of his tweets are read. Even the tweet where he picks a US example of self identification – which Mehta rudely denies – is referred back by him as a local misread. (“It was also not my intent to ally in any way with Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue.”)

    So I don’t have to agree with Blumner’s description of identarianism (which is recognizable at low frequency in Europe) or Jerry’s description of free speech – I adhere to the UDHR and EU’s version of the same where it is a balanced human right. People are free to chose their labels and identify by them, but the trouble is when they try to rudely and inappropriately incorporate others. E.g. not all lightly skin toned people identify as the US racial “white” or all darkly skin toned people as its racial “black”. I don’t buy such racism, or the ageism that Mehta wants to sell. He should be ashamed of himself.

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