Richard Dawkins opens mouth, inserts foot, mumbles something about “mild pedophilia” again

A young Richard Dawkins contemplates the beauty of the universe.

A young Richard Dawkins contemplates the beauty of the universe.

Apparently Richard Dawkins was worried that people might have forgotten what an asshat he is. So, helpful fellow that he is, he decided to give us all a demonstration of why he’s one of the atheist movement’s biggest liabilities, a “humanist” who has trouble remembering to act human.

Earlier today Dawkins decided, for some reason, that he needed to remind the people of the world of a fairly basic point of logic, and so he took to Twitter and thumbed out this little thought:

 Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins  ·  5h  X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of X, go away and don't come back until you've learned how to think logically.

However petulantly phrased this is, the basic logic is sound: If I say that Hitler was worse than Stalin, I’m not endorsing either Hitler or Stalin. Unless I add “and Stalin was totally awesome and I endorse him” at the end.

The trouble is that Dawkins didn’t stop with this one tweet. He decided to illustrate his point with some examples. Some really terrible examples.

    Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 5h      Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.     Details         Reply         189 Retweet         287 Favorite  Richard DawkinsVerified account ‏@RichardDawkins  Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.Yep, that’s right. He decided to do what comedians call a “callback” to some terrible comments he made last year about what he perversely described as “mild pedophilia.” And then he added asshattery to asshattery by suggesting a similar distinction between “date rape” and “stranger rape.”

Anyone seeing these comments as insensitive twaddle designed to minimize both “mild” pedophilia and date rape has good reason to do so. As you may recall, in the earlier controversy about so-called “mild” pedophilia, Dawkins told an interviewer for the Times magazine that

I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.

He went on to tell the interviewer that when he was a child one of his school masters had “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” But, he added, he didn’t think that this sort of “mild touching up” had done him, or any of the classmates also victimized by the teacher, any “lasting harm.”

Huh. If Dawkins says that a teacher groping him was no big deal, I guess this kind of “mild” abuse shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone else, either, huh?

I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of logical fallacy here.

Given his history of minimizing these “mild” sexual crimes, it’s not a surprise that his crass tweets today inspired a bit of a twitterstorm.

Dawkins has responded with his typical petulance, and has stubbornly defended his comments as an exercise in pure logic that his critics are too irrational to understand.

If you take a few moments to go through his timeline you’ll find many more tweets and retweets reiterating this “argument.” Dawkins is not the sort of person to admit to mistakes. Indeed, he so regularly puts his foot in his mouth it’s hard not to conclude that he must like the taste of shoe leather.

But these recurring controversies can’t be doing much for his reputation. Indeed, they seem to cause more and more people to wonder why anyone takes Dawkins seriously on any subject other than biology. Even his critics on Twitter are growing a bit weary.

Seems like it. I’m beginning to wonder why any atheists — at least those who are not also asshats — continue to think of Dawkins as an ally of any kind.

Click my kitty to see the smash hit new blog!

Click my kitty to see the smash hit new blog!


About David Futrelle

I run the blog We Hunted the Mammoth, which tracks (and mocks) online misogyny. My writing has appeared in a wide variety of places, including Salon,, the Washington Post, the New York Times Book Review and Money magazine. I like cats.

Posted on July 29, 2014, in atheism minus, patronizing as heck, pedophiles oh sorry ephebophiles, playing the victim, richard dawkins and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 938 Comments.

  1. Full disclosure: I’m drunk.

  2. Don’t worry, your spelling and grammar will be better than most MRAs’ when they’re sober, as will the quality of your comments.

  3. kittehserf MOD

    Full disclosure: I’m drunk.

    It’s to drown the pain of furzoning, isn’t it?

  4. Some animals don’t suffer in zoos. They don’t possess the consciousness and intelligence to appreciate that they’re captive. When I talk about that I’m referring to critters like fishes and lots of rodents. Animals that can respond to all their instincts within an artificial environment without knowing the physical limitations of it due to not being very smart do great in captivity. They’re protected from predators and receive veterinary care.

    Then there are animals like bottlenose dolphins who, yeah, receive veterinary care and are free from predators in captivity. They live a long time but their intelligence, emotional and intellectual, allows them to experience the lack of stimulation and choice in their captivity.

    Then there are orca who despite veterinary care and being free from predation (not that they have predators) and disease present in the wild live shorter lives in captivity than they do in the wild. Their entire lives are spent in small, sterile tanks. They are entirely aware of their lack of choice. They know every inch of their enclosures very quickly after being introduced to them. THey experience their captivity to the fullest extent and engage in stereotypical behaviour demonstrating the absolute lack of psychological stimulation they’re provided.

    I don’t know pandas well so I don’t know where they fit re: the extent to which they’re aware of their captivity.

  5. Look, I realise my toolkit re: coping with furzoning is less than ideal. I know I need therapy and to build upon it. Prior to being furzoned though I didn’t know cats had this privilege, that they could do this to me and it would be deemed totally acceptable. Pussy privilege, indeed. Fuckin’ cats. Society values them over me.

  6. kittehserf MOD

    Take the red hairball, sister!

    Or maybe the red laser dot. Be less likely to come back.

    (“The eco-friendly Red Hairball! We only use one!)

  7. Re: Zoos

    Then you have critters like great white sharks, who are pretty near impossible to keep for more than a couple months because they’ll either go on a hunger strike or a “must eat ALL the things” binge, and then start ramming themselves into walls…

  8. I will share the passionfruit with anyone who wants some.

  9. Passionfruit! Aaaaah. Childhood. We had both a peach tree and a passionfruit vine. Which means that summer desserts consisted of Completely Ripe beautiful peaches sliced into a bowl and covered with Completely Ripe passionfruit for a few ecstatic weeks. For peaches that means soft, aromatic flesh but no bruises. For passionfruit that means outside totally dark purple and a little bit crinkled all over.

    I’m still amazed every time I go into a greengrocer’s and stand beside a gigantic display of peaches or apricots or nectarines – and there is no. smell. at. all. Stone fruit that’s worth eating has an irresistible aroma – apart from plums that is. They just smell sort of clean. You should be able to smell peaches or nectarines or apricots from yaaaards away.

  10. Argenti Aertheri

    I’m not caught up but I’m watching my loaches over the top of my screen and …

    “Ethically, I’m torn about all the animals in zoos.”

    My upstairs tanks contain almost exclusively wild caught fish. I’m always torn on this, given the obvious issues, and the number that don’t survive to make it into home aquariums. But I’m anal about my tanks, so I figure that the since I usually go for popular species where my not buying them will have zero affect on if they’re captured, at least in my tanks they get pampered.

    Zoos and animals that are endangered? I’d prefer to save their natural environment, but keeping the species alive in captivity does extend the time we have to do that.

    And I should put on some pants (mine go in the ass and knees) and do a water change on the 55g. Going the lazy route — out the window and then climb out on the porch roof to refill from the hose.

    In other fish things, the gobies and Puff are getting along, and while last night’s freeze dried brine shrimp went over well with Puff, I ended up giving them live ones. But oh well, they are eating in the 30g, and I reclaimed a bunch of floor space!

  11. Argenti Aertheri

    Eh, idk if fish don’t know. Some certainly understand “outside here” — a thing that doesn’t exist in the wild. But no way to know if that’s just “hey, what’s this?” or a sign they get that they’re in captivity. They do tend to act differently than captive bred ones about more than just humans and food though (those are expected, of course human hands go over better with fish that have been bred in captivity for generations), but things like paying attention to the glass and watching outside the tank.

    Puff definitely has a case of “what is this see through barrier?!” — he swam into the bag with the gobies while they were swimming out, having spent half an hour trying to swim through the sides, up the sides, jump the lip (that was hilarious)…and then he did the same from the inside.

    For lulz, picturing a clear floating bag, open top, and a grape shaped fish trying to jump the lip. There was lots of flopping and swimming around like a new angle wouldn’t result in the same silliness. (Grapes are not terribly aerodynamic, he’s like lightening underwater, but his helicopter fins do him no good in the air)

  12. Argenti Aertheri

    Also, thank you for reminding me that I have one of these and it should be ripe —

    Yummy yum yums! (Seriously, best “wonder what that tastes like” purchase EVAR)

  13. Is that really a young Dawkins in the picture? Because he looks disturbingly like David Tennant.

  14. I think it looks more like Richard Dawkins.

    And yeah, it’s him.

  15. No, nothing like David Tennant. More like a young David McCallum.

  16. More David McCallum-like, though a little bit of a combination of the two.
    Which is an insult to both of them, mind you, and too much of a compliment for Dawkins :P

  17. Does adding to the end of a week-old thread = necroing a thread?

    I have been thinking about logic last night, and this whole “you feminists are too emotional to do logic right” bloody thought.

    I am hoping someone who reads this is a trained philosopher, because from what I can work out:
    – ignoring the logic around things like mathematical proofs, so we only focus on living creatures
    – all logic around how we should* treat living sentient things, including people, has emotion as the basis.

    I did a little thought experiment where I kept asking “why” to the premises around things like: don’t steal. Fundamentally it all comes back to hurting people/depriving them of liberty. That’s where these atheist anti-feminists seem to stop in their “thinking”. I tried to take it back further, basically “but why is hurting people/depriving them of life or liberty wrong”. I cannot find a single answer of merit** that doesn’t involve emotion.

    From what I can see, the whole logical foundation of how we should treat living sentient things is based on emotion.

    * should is defined from your own philosophical basis. Depending on which philosophy you follow, YMMV in your answers.

    ** i.e. not so trivial that it can’t be immediately dismissed. For example, for hurting people I thought about biochemical changes but that doesn’t answer why those biochemical changes (e.g. increase in ephinephrine) are “bad”. Upon what basis is a biochemical state change bad?

    I’d be interested in other people’s thoughts.

  18. Well, I’m not a trained philosophist, so take the following with a truckload of salt.

    As I see it, emotions are extremely logical. They’re based on both inherited and learned reactions to certain stimuli, which are, in essence, neutral, but they affect the sensoring organism in a certain way. Pain and death (like pleasure and life) are basically nothing more than biochemical reactions, but they represent a reality to the organism suffering from them; they represent harm to the continued existence of the organism, the individual. They are logical, but they invoke a biochemical (an emotional) response, which makes the organism avoid the harmful things.

    It is only through the individual’s interpretation that things like life and plesure may gain value above pain and death and evolve into norms; there is nothing inherently “good” or “bad” about these things (see Hume’s Guillotine, or the is-ought problem). To quote Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen: “A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?”

    Yet the logical thinker finds zirself valuing life, as it is the prerequisite for zir continued existence. Ze values community, as it provides a greater chance for survival. Ze values norms, as they provide a framework which allows zir to interact with other logical thinkers, and as ze has learned that pain and death = not beneficial to zir continued existence, ze seeks to reduce these. Being part of reducing pain and death for others in the community = even smaller chance of the logical thinker zirself to suffer from these.

    Norms are there to guide our interactions with other living beings. So yes, logical, normative guidelines are based on emotions regarding ethics, which in turn are based on logical responses to stimuli and the ability to extrapolate to other living beings capable of experiencing same things (also known as empathy, another emotional, beneficial phenomenon easily described with logic).

    As the research linked by emilygoddess indicates (don’t remember if it was this thread or some other; too lazy to scroll back), so-called social justice warriors are motivated by logical responses to what they see as unfair treatment, not knee-jerk reactions (often dismissively equated with emotion), which are fight-or-flight responses to something threatening the knee-jerker’s worldview and sense of self. These self-identifying qualities are also based on biochemical reactions and valued only because of their beneficial effects on the individual.

    To conclude: Logic is emotional, emotion is logical. Logic and emotion are no dichotomy, but a complementary system, simple words to describe what is essentially a full range of human responses.

    Note that this clinical, materialistic view in no way negates the possible existence of the supernatural, but as it is outside the scope of natural sciences, it is treated as non-existent for the purposes of this thought experiment.

    Sorry about the random, pointless, probably pretty elementary, definitely confusingly written crap. Sleep deprivation does not work in my favour.


    Anyway, don’t feel bad about resurrecting a fairly recent thread and sharing your thoughts; I had half a mind doing so myself after seeing the following comic (be sure to click on the red-dish button thingy underneath the comic to see the bonus joke relevant to this thread):

  19. Thanks for the thoughtful response. I didn’t find it elementary or confusing. :)

  20. I think it makes perfect sense, and I’m going to add on, using mental illness!

    During the Homeless Year, my suicidal depression seemed, to me, extremely logical. I was consuming more resources than I was producing: air, water, food, shelter. I was therefore a negative presence on the world around me. Ergo, to kill myself would be a gift to the world! The only downer was that I’d end up killing my entire system (who, unlike me, were totally worth shelter and food) and people would miss me, for some unfathomable reason.

    I did not stay alive for logical reasons, because my reasons to die were logical. (I have a special hatred for that old chestnut “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Well, yes, because LIFE is a temporary problem. I studied Buddhism too, asshole.) I stayed alive for emotional reasons: because even in my miserable state, I didn’t want people around me to feel bad or guilty, or have to deal with disposing of my corpse. Also, because my mentally ill brain pulled the plug on certain free will actions, so I COULDN’T knowingly end myself. It was specifically irrational behavior that kept me alive!

  21. @LBT:

    A very good point. And sorry you had to go through that.

    [TW: suicidal thoughts]

    I might relate, at least to some extent: in my more suicidal times, I’ve constantly been saved by my own irrationality, whether because I once was deathly afraid of the eternal punishment I had been taught awaited self-murderers (although I don’t know if “being too cowardly to commit suicide” is a positive trait), or because I haven’t wanted to cause pain to the people around me.

    I often got lost in trying to come up with a method and scenario that would traumatize as few people as possible, including putting up several warning signs so people would know what to expect when entering the room where my corpse would be lying. Heck, I did a lot of research to come up with the “cleanest” way to off myself, making as little mess to clean up as possible. I once constructed personal suicide notes to every person I knew, letting them know that what I’d be doing was not their fault, and giving them all a final piece of personal encouragement (something I was known for doing, and wanted to do one last time). I don’t know, perhaps it was all a convoluted way my mind was trying to tell me that I didn’t really want to die, I just wanted the pain to stop. I know that sounds like a terrible cliché, but it might have literally been true in my case.

    Even during times when I’ve been consciously hurting myself, it was perhaps solely my knee-jerk aversion to pain that has kept me from going too far.


    Yeah, I have little patience for little asshole atheist misogynistic libertarian shits pretending that Straw Vulcanism is the best way to pretend to live. Emotional responses and irrationality might sometimes be the only things keeping us alive. After all, if your life is pointless and you’re just a burden on society, it would be irrational to keep living it. If you do, you’re just an emotional feeeeeemale with feeeeeelings and stuff. And that’s somehow a bad thing, I guess.

  22. Okay, so can we just point and laugh at the Vulcan rationalists who say that there is no place for emotion in logic?

    Checkmate Vulcan rationalists!

  23. Logic is only as good as its premises. Flawed premises and flawless logic results in flawed conclusions.

    I spent a good chunk of Watchmen wanting to slap Dr. Manhattan because he kept feeding garbage through his brain and acting like he was smarter than everyone else. He subjectively decided what was important about the universe, and the acted like his personal preferences were an objective metric. It’s fitting that he changed his mind through another bout of shitty logic and suddenly concluded – subjectively – that humans have value (but again acted like a self-important ass about it).

  24. This is something Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels wrote about. Yes, emotion is helpful in making reasonable and ethical decisions. Empathy is something we feel. Even without feeling empathy we can understand that other people feel the same pain, pride, joy etc. we feel. We are still basing our ethics off of not just our recognition of other’s basic physical needs, but off of their emotional needs too. Empathy is the foundation of morality. You don’t want to live in a society without it. Though, I fear there is a dearth of it in most societies, whatever we might want.

    Ever played Civ? Ever burned your own graininess and make the farmers into entertainers to improve your popularity among the people? It works. They starve, but they’re happy with you while they do it. Ever bomb a phalanx with fighter planes? It’s overkill, but you win. It’s just a game and no real people get hurt when you play a game without any concern for the “people” in the game. If you treat people that way in reality, you’re evil. You’re doing what works. You’re figuring out solutions with logic. Logic is a tool and is only as ethical as the people utilizing it.

  25. I’ve been playing Civ V a lot, having only previously played the original. I do the overkill on the units, especially death robots.

    These “rational atheists” seem to be trying to use logic without ethics, in dealing with people. But all the philosophical logic positions I know about include ethics considerations. The logic path they are following is the one that allows genocide and eugenics to be acceptable answers.

    Gah, are the “rational atheists” all libertarians? Because that would fit.

  26. Phoenician in a time of Romans

    I’ve been playing Civ V a lot, having only previously played the original. I do the overkill on the units, especially death robots.

    Suggestion – go back to Civ IV, find the free mods “Fall From Heaven” or “Rise from Erebus”, download, install, wonder what the hell happened to that tired old game you thought you were over…

  27. Phoenician in a time of Romans

    Lea, the game Crusader Kings II is RENOWNED for this. EVERYBODY starts off with “I shall be a benevolent and beloved ruler”, and within a few hours they’re engaging in Roose Bolton-like sociopathy.

    You know you’re there when a question like “My son is gay. Since no grandchildren shall be produced, should I kill him, send him away or keep him around?” makes perfect sense to you…

  28. Ethics gives you a better sense of priorities. Somehow the “logic” that the vulcan rationalists follow always seem to lead to genocide, euthanasia, forced sterilization, where the pros of achieving something not worth achieving are never outweighed by the cons of real human suffering. Especially when that suffering would never fall upon the vulcan rationalist.

    Not only do I believe they’re missing important modes of thought by only focusing on “logic,” but I refuse to concede that they ever used “logic” in the first place. To them, “logic” is being blind to emotional and ethical concerns to make horrific “solutions” to “problems” more palatable. It’s all just a big front.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,153 other followers

%d bloggers like this: