I would very much like it if people stopped treating Dawkins as the Secular Pope. We don’t want any “leaders” in this movement, and yet friends of the secular movement will bow and scrape, and foes will treat him as the King of Atheism whose decrees are handed down from on high for all to internalize. Hell, half the time we can barely decipher what he’s saying. Take Twitter for example. A 140 character limit does the man no justice whatsoever — he does not wear “pithy” well.
His recent misstep is, as I’m sure you’re all aware, less than pithy — he’s been given plenty of time and space to bring this intellectual pursuit to full flower, and this is what he’s come up with: his recent suggestion that being sexually assaulted as a child is less bad than being brought up religious, and that one shouldn’t condemn sexual assault done in another era under different social mores.
Those of you who are actually members of the online atheist communities in which we reside should already know that he’s said that since at least The God Delusion. A number of us have been throwing real science in his face over this repeated diminishing of actual sexual assault victims, in fact, to no avail. He’s been saying this for years and years and not one word of the counterarguments against his statement have entered into his consciousness or forced him to reconsider his position, or even acknowledge the existence of these arguments. In fact he seems to rather fetishize the idea of applying scalar values to certain experiences as being more or less bad than others, as though he’s in an objective position to meter out what’s relatively more or less harmful without any eye to the circumstances of any one event.
And now, suddenly, he’s getting press over his repeated minimizing of the harm of so-called “mild pedophilia” — which he’s so argued because he didn’t personally feel victimized when he was himself diddled by a school teacher. Theists are quick to say “see, see, being an atheist leaves you with no moral compass!” As though a large and vocal contingent in the community — arguably the larger portion of the community, in fact, since we’re engaged in a sort of culture war between hero-worshipping dudebros and those atheists among us who have functioning senses of empathy — haven’t been arguing against it for exactly as long.
A petition is now circulating expressing the sentiment that he does not speak for us in this mistaken projecting of his own experience on others.
I am grateful for the work he’s done in the field of evolution, which you’ll note comes from deep study and scientific inquiry. He is not speaking from merely the experience of having evolved.
In the case of his speaking about relative harm between being brought up religious, and being sexually assaulted as a child, he speaks only to his experience. Since there exists real academic science explaining the relative psychological harms these childhood incidents have on a person, it seems to me that he is extrapolating from his sample size of one — his own experience — and universalizing that experience. That is morally repugnant, insofar as it deprives child sexual abuse of its gravity and could lead to worsening the psychological trauma suffered by victims who DO experience trauma, unlike Dawkins, by depriving them of necessary resources by virtue of his having made light of the severity of the crime.
Richard Dawkins does not speak for me. As an ethicist, he makes a decent biologist. As a humanist, he makes a decent antitheist. Our philosophical differences run deep, despite neither of us believing in any gods.
Someone else signed this petition fairly early on, though, with an absolutely hilarious and fractally wrong paean against the REAL witches: the Freethought Bullies.
Witchfinder General LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM about 21 hours ago Like 0
I refuse to support the notion of this petition because it has the support of various factions from FreeThoughtBlogs.
These factions are associated with bullying and harassment, several have accusations of rape or sexual harassment hanging around them. They have been banned from several atheist/skeptic conferences because of their behaviour, and leaked emails from their “backchannel” has seen evidence of pre-planned malice and plans to intimidate women.
Sexual assault of children is a truly mild crime when compared to having an organizational mailing list, I guess.
(“Pre-planned malice and plans to intimidate women”? I’m pretty sure Thunderf00t is actually a cis male!)