Dawkins Throws Himself on a Grenade

Last night, we saw the Shermer allegations hit the broader media. Knowing that the women whom Shermer had targeted were using their names in the article and having a pretty good idea what it said, I’d already written a post telling people who had previously dismissed these claims to think hard about their reactions to the article before going public with them. I read the Oppenheimer article to be certain it said what I thought it must, but my post went up within half an hour of the article.

I’m more than aware that Richard Dawkins has no obligation to read the free advice I give, much less take it, but I have to believe it would have been better if he had in this case. He and Twitter are not on good terms most of the time. This morning was particularly egregious.


He didn’t address the matter directly, but given the timing specificity of the tweets and, well, one or two things I know that aren’t public, I’m quite certain Dawkins’ tweets were an attempt to defend Michael Shermer.

Dawkins has deleted the second tweet, claiming it was sarcastic. There’s no word on what part of it he didn’t mean, however, and his retweets about “totalitarian orthodoxy” and people being afraid to confront the radical feminism that is now mainstream remain. So does this tweet.


So there’s Dawkins’ position for you. He doesn’t appear to believe Shermer’s story, which is that Shermer had sex with Smith after she sobered up. Dawkins took Smith’s story as read, although he isolated it from Ashley’s story and Pamela’s.

Then he ignored the parts of that story that make Smith’s lack of consent and Shermer’s knowledge of it clear. He ignored that Shermer followed Smith away from the party. He ignored the promise to help Smith back to her room, only to end up in Shermer’s. Instead, he grasped the fact that Smith was drunk to the point of not remembering parts of the evening and used that to assign responsibility to her. He claimed Smith was responsible for the encounter despite the one fact that both parties agree on being that Shermer was sober.

He believed her story, not Shermer’s.

He believed she was intoxicated.

He knew Shermer was not, from all sources of information.

He believed Shermer deceived her in the process of getting her past the point of being able to consent.

Then he tweeted that she was responsible for the encounter.

Then he compared Shermer following Smith away from the party to Smith driving drunk.

Then he compared Shermer taking Smith to a different room than promised to Smith driving drunk.

Then he compared Shermer sexually assaulting Smith to Smith driving drunk.

Then he compared the whole thing to “any sex”.

Then he claimed feminists were patronizing rather than respecting women by saying this is unacceptable.

So now you know what Dawkins has decided.

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Dawkins Throws Himself on a Grenade
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30 thoughts on “Dawkins Throws Himself on a Grenade

  1. 1

    There’s a lot going on there from Dawkins.

    Obviously, he’s just substantively wrong, but I’m also surprised that he resorts to such trite, ridiculous arguments. Comparing someone too drunk to consent to drunk driving is the equivalent of challenging evolution by asking why there are still monkeys: it’s more than wrong; it displays total ignorance combined with an intent to remain so.

    I shouldn’t be surprised given his general twitter output, but having read his books and enjoyed them, I am. It would be disappointing if wasn’t so vile. A stronger concept is necessary.

  2. 2

    I was an atheist long before I ever heard of Richard Dawkins. I’m glad I’m not one of those people who once saw him as a model for anything. I’d be even more pissed off than I am now…

  3. 4

    Trying to straw-man this to be all about alcohol is pretty standard apologetics. If thsi were a matter of Shermer and Smith getting bombed on wine, then having sex, I don’t think anyone would have a problem.

  4. 5

    Right. If I get behind the wheel drunk, I deserve to go to jail. If I’m around an immoral ass while drunk, I deserve to be punished sexually. It’s not the equating of the bad decision of drunk driving with drunk flirting that is the most disturbing. It’s equating “officer, please don’t arrest me” with “Mr, please don’t rape me”, as if rape is just an accepted consequence for certain actions in our culture.

  5. 7

    Thirded on Dawkins not being responsible for my atheism. I never warmed to the man, but just a few years ago, I admired his accomplishments. Now, I have no respect for the man, whatsoever. However, I started the reasoning that directly led to my atheism after hearing James Randi’s talk, “Science and the Chimera,” at a Florida college in April of 1998. It took *many* years for my gratitude, admiration, and affection for Randi to evolve into clear-eyed disappointed contempt.

  6. 8

    Ace of Sevens @4:

    Trying to straw-man this to be all about alcohol is pretty standard apologetics.

    Yep. Transferring Dawkins’ tweet onto Smith’s situation would imply that she was the one who started it all, not Shermer. Yet as Zvan points out, Dawkins believes Smith’s story and not Shermer’s. Rather large contradiction there.

    The whole alcohol thing is a red herring. Consider the ethics of love potions: if you had a potion that would make someone instantly fall in love with you, would it be ethical to give it to a person? Some people might waver a bit on that one, so let’s reword it: if you could alter the chemistry of someone’s brain so that they instantly fell in love with you, would it be ethical to do so? Here, you’d get almost universal condemnation. But look carefully: both scenarios are identical.

    This is really just the Trolley Problem in another form. The parallels to alcohol become obvious: if you knew of a substance that made someone more likely to have sex with you, would it be ethical to use it on them, whether or not sex occurs? We can extend that somewhat, too: if someone was drinking a substance that made them more sexually aroused, and you knew this, would it be ethical to have sex with them?

    Nope. But thanks to action-at-a-distance, different moral metrics kick in and turn what would be morally reprehensible in one situation into something far less problematic.

  7. 11

    @6 Ace of Sevens

    Or if the car was feeding her shots while dumping its oil on the ground to stay sober, and then when she tried to stagger to a phone to call a cab, the car pulled up next to her, opened its door, and forced her in.

    It’s so dumb on so many levels.

  8. 12

    Count me in the crowd that wasn’t converted by Dawkins. I had the great fortune of being raised by parents who had long since tossed religion aside.

    I did, however, refer to his books an awful lot during high school in Kansas. He really did write clearly and elegantly on the topic of evolution, and certain arguments — like the three independent branches of science each sufficient to prove evolution – fossil record, biodiversity and molecular genetics – I still use.

    I doubt I’ll read anything he produces ever again.

  9. 13

    So basically: being in a room with Schermer is as dangerous as driving a car?
    In that case is the equivalent of a driver’s license the warning that he’s a sexual predator?

  10. 14

    In most parts of the US, bartenders or bar owners can be held partially liable for damages and injuries resulting from serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated people. “Someone got me drunk” won’t get you out of trouble for drunk driving, but may in fact get the person who got you drunk in hot water. Just one of many ways that this analogy fails. For instance, a drunk driver is the perpetrator of a crime; a drunk person who has been raped is the victim of a crime. Getting someone drunk is not necessarily criminal or immoral, it’s getting someone drunk so you can fuck them without their consent that’s the illegal and immoral act.

    I used to defend Dawkins against the philosophers and theologians who criticized him for sloppy thinking and poor logic. I wonder how wrong I must have been in those circumstances.

  11. 15

    I never had any interest in reading The God Delusion. It sounded like a whole book on “the little man who wasn’t there (The little man upon the stair/He wasn’t there again today/Oh how I wish he’d go away.”)

    I enjoyed that bit of doggerel when I was about six. But by the time Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, I’d already realized that God and the little man who wasn’t there were the same entity.

    I have recommended The Ancestor’s Tale to various people. But I think I’ll now give that a pass as well.

  12. 17

    Re: Randi’s comments; the interesting thing there is that he contradicts Shermer, who tells us he and Smith were both sober by the time they got to his room (in spite of her demonstrating that she could “drink him under the table” earlier that evening). Randi, on the other hand, says that Shermer assured him that his “misbehavior” with “the women” only happens when he’s drunk…

    It’s almost as if the story changes depending on the audience.

  13. 19

    Ah, hadn’t thought of that. Still leaves us with the option of excusing Shermer because he was drunk or blaming Smith becasue SHE was drunk…

    It’s a win/win for the bros!

  14. 21

    Nothing “seems” about it, Joe. Celebrity and accused date rapist Cee-Lo Green said as much to Elyse Anders on Twitter the other day, that “real rape” you remember, and if you’re unconscious, the fact that you’re with the guy is clear evidence of consent.

    One thing I’ve noted is that the “fellow skeptic, who was one of the conference organizers, and […] the friend Smith called from her mobile phone” isn’t named, but golly gosh, that “vicious rumor” phrasing shares an awful lot in common with the “distressing locker room banter” that DJ Grothe cited back around the Elevatorgate affair–banter that, we later learned, was specifically about Shermer. Was Grothe the “fellow skeptic” here? And was this another incident to add to the list of TAM harassment problems Grothe has never heard about? Grothe wasn’t head of the JREF in 2008, but was he one of the TAM organizers?

    Incidentally, the fact that Grothe’s story about “locker room banter” was specifically about Shermer suggests he’s lying (yet again) in the article when he says he “had never once received a complaint about Jillette’s or Shermer’s behavior at The Amaz!ng Meeting.” I do like the caveat there at the end, since we know he’d heard about (and intervened in) Shermer’s bad behavior at DragonCon. But TAM? Never!

  15. 22

    No, I know who the skeptic organizer is, and it isn’t Grothe. This was before Grothe’s time. I think I understand some of the reasons why that person isn’t using their name, but I wish they had anyway. People close enough to TAM at the time have to have a pretty good idea who it is.

  16. 24

    (As I commented over at Ophelia Benson’s….)

    One thing I don’t like about Dawkins’ use of analogies is that there’s plenty of vocabulary for us to simply discuss the problem as it is; there’s no need to explain by analogy when everyone understands what’s going on. Ultimately there are only two questions:
    – Do you believe that someone who is drunk can give consent?
    – Do you believe Smith’s story or one of Shermer’s various versions?
    Discussing those issues does not require reasoning by analogy which means one of two possible things:
    1) The analogy is intended to deceive rather than clarify
    2) The person resorting to analogy to “clarify” what is already understood is mistaken to do so
    A professional science communicator like Dawkins knows when analogies are useful, and when it’s more useful to explain what something is (defining terms when necessary) and discuss it in its own terms.

    Personally I find it suspicious that Dawkins keeps resorting to bad analogies and weak arguments when I know that he’s capable of being clear and direct when he wants to. I’ve read several of his books and he’s pretty good at saying what he thinks is right. So why is he unable to do that now?

    Having asked the question in that form, I think my answer is pretty obvious.

  17. 27

    @Tom Foss, 25:

    That’s an important observation. I’m pretty sure that the publishers that worked with Dawkins will have required the manuscripts to be edited. Do we know if anyone in addition to Dawkins is writing on his Twitter feed? I think you might be right with the “unfiltered” aspect.

    As to “unconsidered”. From personal experience, try as one might, careful, detailed logical arguments don’t get written down perfectly the first time. Case in point – I’m working with collaborators on a paper at the moment. Each sentence not in the general introduction will go through 3 or 4 different versions before we will settle on the final form.

    Dawkin’s tweets might be considered, but we’re probably getting “first draft quality” keyboard splurges which still need work. Of course, the solution is to not tweet the first draft…

  18. 29

    Sunday Afternoon Says … not gunna work.

    Surely if you’re faffing about trying to get your thoughts clear, an ordinarily sensible person would recoil in horror after reading these words in a draft.

    You wouldn’t “redraft”. You’d discard the lot and start again after a mind-cleansing walk in a cold breeze.

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