Child Sexual Abuse: What “Yucky” Means

Richard Dawkins is at it again, talking about things he doesn’t seem to know much about.

There was a little clarification on “yucky” in a subsequent tweet:

There are a few people on Twitter asking whether this is something Dawkins actually said. This isn’t anything he hasn’t said before. He made the comparison at length in The God Delusion.

Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience (composed, admittedly, of Dublin intellectuals and presumably not representative of the country at large). (p. 358)

He bolstered this idea by suggesting that child sexual abuse wasn’t really that big a deal in the long-term. More of an opportunity:

Forty years on, it is harder to get redress for floggings than for sexual fondlings, and there is no shortage of lawyers actively soliciting custom from victims who might not otherwise have raked over the distant past. There’s gold in them thar long-gone fumbles in the vestry–some of them, indeed, so long gone that the alleged offender is likely to be dead and unable to present his side of the story. The Catholic Church worldwide has paid out more than a billion dollars in compensation. You might almost sympathize with them, until you remember where their money came from in the first place. (p. 356)

Dawkins also used a couple of individual women who were particularly affected by their childhood religious experiences, one of whom is the origin for “yucky”. He also used himself as an anecdote yesterday.

Now, of course, being condescendingly minimizing and arguing from anecdote don’t mean that Dawkins is wrong about this. Is teaching children about hell worse for them than sexually abusing them? Finding out is going to require research.

Luckily, there has been quite a bit of research on the effects of childhood sexual abuse. If you want to look into this yourself, the Google Scholar search you want is “sequelae of child sexual abuse“. I’ll give you the relevant bits from a couple of publications.

The first presents the results from a large U.S. study (abstract|pdf). From the introduction:

In the past 2 decades, epidemiologic and clinical studies have identified negative sequelae associated with a history of child sexual abuse (CSA), especially psychopathology. CSA has been linked to depression across all age groups, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and especially posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CSA has also been linked to substance problems and dependence. Although there have been several informative review articles, to our knowledge no previous studies have examined the associations between CSA and a range of mood, anxiety, and substance disorders in a nationally representative sample of individuals in the United States.

CSA is a major public health problem, with estimates from national probability samples ranging from 0% to 16% among men and 3% to 27% among women. Its measurement is complicated, given debate over case definitions, the stigmatizing nature of abuse experiences, and the controversial, private nature of the abuse event itself.

This study compared incidence of these disorders in populations that had and had not experienced childhood sexual abuse. Their results?

Comparison of lifetime risk of various disorders between those with and without experience of child sexual abuse. Females and males reported separately. Discussed in the text.

As you can see from this, males who reported being sexually abused as children experienced approximately twice the rate of drug problems and drug and alcohol dependence, as well as five times the rate of PTSD. Females who reported being sexually abused experienced elevated rates of depression, dysthymia, mania, agoraphobia, panic attack, panic disorder, PTSD, simple phobia, social phobia, alcohol and drug problems, alcohol and drug dependence, and severe drug dependence. Their likelihood of experiencing mania and PTSD were very highly elevated, at nine and ten times respectively.

That’s only one study, of course, though it is one specifically chosen to be a study of the general population, not a clinical sample (a sample already diagnosed with some kind of disorder). So let’s look at another, also conducted in the general population. This study looked at a different set of scales, the Trauma Symptom Inventory (abstract|pdf).

The TSI produces scores for ten trauma-related consequences: Anxious Arousal, Depression, Anger-Irritability, Intrusive Experiences, Defensive Avoidance, Dissociation, Sexual Concerns, Dysfunctional Sexual Behavior, Impaired Self-Reference, and Tension Reduction Behavior. From the abstract:

A national sampling service generated a geographically stratified, random sample of 1,442 subjects from the United States. Subjects were mailed a questionnaire that included the Traumatic Events Survey (TES) and the Trauma Symptom Inventory (TSI) [Trauma Symptom Inventory Professional Manual, Psychological Assessment Resources, Odessa, FL]. Of all potential subjects, 935 (64.8%) returned substantially completed surveys. Sixty-six men and 152 women (14.2% and 32.3%, respectively) reported childhood experiences that satisfied criteria for sexual abuse, and 103 males and 92 females (22.2% and 19.5%, respectively) met criteria for physical abuse. Twenty-one percent of subjects with one type of abuse also had experienced the other type, and both types were associated with subsequent adult victimization. Sexual abuse predicted more symptom variance than did physical abuse or adult interpersonal victimization. Various aspects of both physical and sexual abuse experiences were predictive of TSI scores.

From the study’s results:

The current data suggest that, as has been found in clinical and university student studies, childhood sexual abuse is a significant risk factor for a range of psychological symptoms in the general population. Specifically, reports of sexual abuse were associated with elevations on all 10 scales of the TSI, even after controlling for a variety of sociodemographic variables, including sex, age, race, and family income, as well as subsequent interpersonal victimization as an adult and physical abuse in childhood. These data support not only the majority of the literature on mental health sequelae of childhood sexual abuse, but also the findings of one of the only general population studies in this area (Saunders, Villeponteaux, Lipovsky, Kilpatrick, & Veronen, 1992). Saunders et al. found that in a 391-person random sample of Charleston County, South Carolina, self-reported childhood sexual abuse was associated with a wide range of psychiatric disorders and problems, including depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, sexual disorders, and both suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

In the current study, certain characteristics of the sexual abuse experience were specifically associated with psychological symptomatology. Predictive of TSI scores were sexual abuse at a later age, a greater number of abuse incidents, multiple abusers, victimization that involved oral, anal, or vaginal penetration, and a greater level of emotional upset at the time of the abuse.

So, childhood sexual abuse is kind of a big deal. Belief in hell in childhood? Well, it’s not studied much, but where it is, we get results like such beliefs being accepted uncritically but not generally internalized and not making much difference in children’s anxiety over death.

This means that, at best, Dawkins is making a comparison that is unsupported in the literature. What literature there is, however, suggest he is making a claim that trivializes childhood sexual abuse. Not only that, he’s been making it for years.

If this is something Dawkins feels strongly about, which he seems to after many years of repeating the claim, perhaps it’s time for him to take a different approach. Instead of pitting anecdote against masses of studies, maybe his foundation should fund a study on the subject and find out what kind of harm, if any, believing in hell does to children.

Child Sexual Abuse: What “Yucky” Means

42 thoughts on “Child Sexual Abuse: What “Yucky” Means

  1. 1

    I think that the good doctor tends to confuse believing in hell with being in hell. But still, the statement alleged in the tweet is not the same as the statement made in the God Delusion, which is more than a little ambiguous as to its meaning. I still have not read/heard his comment made just now, so I can’t make the comparison.

    Nonetheless, Dawkins does seem to be making the same error he made with the Muslima missive. As Ophelia has pointed out in numerous tweets in the same conversation cited above, making comparisons is not productive or, often, even meaningful.

  2. 2

    I’m ashamed to say this didn’t register when I first read the God Delusion at 14. But it certainly is now. Uch.

    Especially because there is definitely a way to argue that teaching kids about hell is damaging/abusive or something else (carefully, and with evidence) without *ever* comparing it to sexual abuse. There’s no need at all.

  3. 3

    Yes, but, but, Dawkins is the guy with the infallible way to objectively compare values of bad, complete with scalar values to assign to them. They’re all integers, of course. And they aren’t dependent on context or anything.

  4. 6

    Thank you so much for this. Last night I was thinking about what the percentage of people who had psychological problems after child sexual abuse was compared to those who had such problems after being taught about hell, but a half-assed internet search didn’t give me much data. This is exactly what I was looking for.

  5. 7

    I’ll repeat what I said elsewhere as well – the Catholic church’s position is that learning about God and the dangers of Hell is so important that child rapists had to be protected so they (the church) could continue to preach, right?

    So they’re saying that, on the whole, learning about Hell is more of a big important issue than child rape.

    Which is exactly what Dawkins just said, putting him in agreement with them.

  6. 8

    Thanks for finding some studies. I’m becoming increasingly annoyed with a seeming ignorance or denialism of the value and possibilities of psychology research. Very nice to see someone actually seeing a psychology issue and actually looking into the research.

  7. 9

    The paper you referenced is from 2001; you find it useful to look at the more sophisticated re-evaluation of that study published in 2010, “Childhood adversities and adult psychiatric disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication I: associations with first onset of DSM-IV disorders” (abstract here:

    The abstract of that 2010 paper says, in part:

    Although significant associations of childhood adversities (CAs) with adult mental disorders have been documented consistently in epidemiological surveys, these studies generally have examined only 1 CA per study. Because CAs are highly clustered, this approach results in overestimating the importance of individual CAs. Multivariate CA studies have been based on insufficiently complex models.

    OBJECTIVE: To examine the joint associations of 12 retrospectively reported CAs with the first onset of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication using substantively complex multivariate models. …

    RESULTS: The CAs studied were highly prevalent and intercorrelated. The CAs in a maladaptive family functioning (MFF) cluster (parental mental illness, substance abuse disorder, and criminality; family violence; physical abuse; sexual abuse; and neglect) were the strongest correlates of disorder onset. The best-fitting model included terms for each type of CA, number of MFF CAs, and number of other CAs. Multiple MFF CAs had significant subadditive associations with disorder onset. Little specificity was found for particular CAs with particular disorders.

    So, while the table from the 2001 article implies that childhood sexual abuse could be a key single factor predicting subsequent psychological/substance disorders, the more sophisticated 2010 re-evaluation finds that the 12 “childhood adversities” they examined are “intercorrelated” and that the “maladaptive family functioning cluster” correlates with future psychological/substance disorders better than any one childhood adversity, including childhood sexual abuse.

  8. 10

    Oh,dear! Dawkins,you’re using the old “it never did me any harm” apologism-univerally applicable,universally invalid.
    You may consider the idea that your own experience is not universal and that there are other people in the world,whose experiences differ from your own.Shocking,I know.
    What you do with pearls of wisdom like the one above is to piss all over people who weren’t as lucky as you.They have no need for that,they have (and have had)plenty of people pissing on them already.
    So basically,eat shit and die.

  9. 11

    If I remember the passage from TGD rightly, the gist of it was that there are some children who experience some form of sexual abuse and some sort of Hell-indoctrination who find the Hell-indoctrination more traumatic – but of course there are degrees of both, and being raped is a lot worse than being merely groped, and being taught that your dead friend who happened to believe differently from you is going to be slow-roasted for eternity for that reason is a lot worse than believing that you have to have done really bad things in your life to get into Hell.

    So it is entirely plausible that some forms of Hell-indoctrination are worse than some forms of sexual abuse. But if he is now eliding that point and claiming (or appearing to claim) that it is on average worse, that’s where it becomes insupportable.

  10. 12

    Weird, I remembered it from the God Delusion but my remembering was that it was akin to a form of child abuse. Obviously edited out the ‘arguably less damage from sexual abuse’ angle as that is a bizarre assertion. I suppose I get what people are saying about it being said for effect and hyperbole to make a point, also others saying don’t minimise abuse for effect!

    So yeah, RDF should fund a psychological study into the prevalence of psychological disorders and a Catholic upbringing. But the Hell stuff is what usually happens to other people since they don’t chant the right magical spells and have the right type of bloke in a dress to negotiate forgiveness with god. So I’d imagine it might engender a preference for ‘othering’ and schadenfreude but could even strengthen a persons psyche despite the evil they experience and enact. I suppose that hardening against others evil and their own could be seen as a type of abuse — but difficult to quantify the harm done on an individual level as it probably manifests more in society as a whole.

  11. 13

    Thank you Stephanie for some proper data.

    In The God Delusion, Dawkins says that the very worst fears of hell can be worse than the mildest sexual abuse (being fondled). He also says that being raped must be very different from being fondled. I think he underestimates the difference, but

    I’d like to know exactly what Dawkins said now. Was it the same as in The God Delusion or not? Anybody know?

  12. 14

    skeptixx, when you think a paper is providing some sort of refutation, you might find it useful to read the study itself. An abstract is simply no substitute. Relying on it will just make you look silly.

    While this study does say:

    Within the context of these limitations, our results are consistent with previous studies in suggesting that most US children are exposed to childhood family adversities that are often clustered. Neglect, in particular, virtually always appears with other CAs. Even the CAs most likely to be independent co-occur with at least one other CA in the majority of cases. Because of this high co-occurrence, it is critical for future research not to focus on one CA without considering others because bivariate analyses artificially inflate estimates of individual CA effects.

    if you look at the results, you will find that, even isolated, child sexual abuse still significantly increases risk of mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, as well as disruptive behavior. That being part of a more dysfunctional household also increases the risk is no surprise.

    As for the second part of the abstract you bolded, the study itself says:

    Despite considerable early theorizing to suggest unique effects of particular CAs on particular mental disorders, such as of childhood parental death on adult depression, we found remarkably little specificity of this sort in the NCS-R data. Most CAs we studied, especially MFF CAs, were associated with all the disorder classes we considered. Importantly, this pattern was found even in the models that controlled for number of CAs, in which ORs associated with specific CA types can be interpreted under the model as the associations of pure CAs (i.e., having a particular one and only one CA versus none) with disorder onset, thereby removing the confounding effects of CA co-occurrences. We also controlled comorbid child-adolescent disorders to increase our ability to detect specificities of this sort. Previous studies found some evidence for specificity in predicting prevalent cases, but inspection of coefficients in our best-fitting models both at the level of disorder class and the level of individual disorders (The latter results are available on request.) yielded very little evidence of specificity. The obvious implication is that the causal pathways linking CAs to onset of psychopathology are quite general.

    In lay terms, this means, while being sexually abused as a child does significantly increase your likelihood of mental illness, it does not predict which mental illness you’re more likely to experience. This has nothing to do with anything Dawkins said or anything I’ve said.

    So what’s your point, aside from “I didn’t read the article”?

  13. 15

    As someone who suffered both, I can tell you which I would rather have stricken from memory given the choice of only one or the other, and I agree with Dawkins. I don’t know how many of those commenting here have also actually lived through both and disagree with him, but if you’re just offering opinions about which you think would be worse when it hasn’t happened to you, you need to shut the fuck up and actually listen to the actual victims.

    Just because one is worse than the other doesn’t mean the less-worse one is good. Please don’t be that lazy – I expect that kind of thinking from the other side, not here in the part of the universe where we supposedly value reality and truth over comforting lies.

  14. 16

    …but if you’re just offering opinions about which you think would be worse…

    You might not have noticed, but this post is specifically about taking things out of the realm of opinion.

  15. 17


    Dawkins should really stick to his strengths and avoid making specious comparisons that, even if factual (a big if), serve to alienate vast segments of the population. Religion, especially the fundamentalist, literalist kind, has perpetrated uncountable physical, intellectual and emotional outrages upon humanity, children especially. That statement, and any specifics he wants to go into with respect to belief in hell, is totally fine. Emotional suffering resulting from such practices, and from sexual abuse as a child, is experienced subjectively, but measured in psychological and sociological studies with objective well-being indicators, so even if the indicators said that one was worse than the other, there’s really no way to compare the two except by experiencing both (and even there, sexual abuse comes in many flavours, and some are worse than others).

    So why the hell minimise one atrocity to highlight the nefariousness of another? He should really think twice before spewing such pointless speculations.

    Note: I respect Richard Dawkins and admire what he has done for godlessness internationally. But I still think that those who embrace Atheism “Plus” can have a far greater impact on Western culture because they (we) recognise that god-belief is a symptom of dogmatic, uncritical thinking, and that this root cause creates suffering via many different institutions, organised religion only being one. And I hope that Dawkins someday realises that he can be an ally to causes besides atheism while still working towards atheist goals, simply by fighting dogmatic thinking itself.

  16. 18

    You might not have noticed, but this post is specifically about taking things out of the realm of opinion.

    You’re right, I didn’t notice, because it seems to me like the exact opposite. Theorizing about events at a distance, and coming to apparently indisputable conclusions, reality-be-damned.

    I was raped once or twice a week from age 12 thru age 17 – not with a gun to my head or a knife at my throat, but it was still rape. My abuser had multiple victims (Boy Scout troop leader) and was caught and convicted a few years after I had moved on. I wasn’t involved in the trial, and I have never talked about it publicly before, so apologies if I’m not clearly expressing myself or using the correct approved language used to talk about these things.

    My opinion still stands, both in the narrow personal view, and as regards affects on society at large. If I won a cosmic game show and my prize was a magic wand that would eradicate forever either all child sexual abuse, or all religious indoctrination of children, it would not be a very difficult choice to choose the latter. And my choice would be based on having lived through both.

    Feel free to disagree, but do so on the merits, not with accusations and slurs and even more abuse.

  17. 19

    Yes, what happened to you was horrific, comfychair. You have my sympathies.

    That still doesn’t tell me what about presenting the best data we’ve got on the problems presented by both issues constitutes inserting options or damning reality. I disagree with you, but I disagree with you based on the data.

  18. 20

    Ah, something else that RD and I have in common, aside from a contempt for religion and superstition in general. @comfychair I too have experienced both. I must say that the threat of hell always just seemed silly to me. Never took it seriously for a minute. The sexual “abuse” on the other hand has been a part of my consciousness for about fifty-eight years. My problem with it is that it is not memories I would give up, nor is it experiences I wish I’d nnever had. It’s just what happened when I was a kid.
    If I have a problem with it, it’s because the vast majority of pedophiles are known to have been sexually abused as children. So merely admitting that I had that experience makes me suspect in the eyes of some people. I don’t know of any study of how many people who were sexually abused as children did not become pedophiles. Presumably RD didn’t, and I can assure the world that I have no sexual interest in children at all. This is too big a subject for a comment thread like this, but as others have said, the comparison is pointless and only makes RD look bad. He’s been one of my intellectual heroes for many years, and I do wish he’d be a bit more circuspect with these pronouncements. His brain fart over Elevator Gate was bad enough, without him wading into these murky unscientific quagmires.

  19. 21

    And *you* might not have noticed that the large majority of the associative studies and research you mention in your attack on Dawkins is made up of complete garbage:

    It would be just peachy if some of these so-called “skeptic” groups actually acted with due skepticism toward their own sacred positions, but as the the real research shows (and to which
    various blogs can attest)…that seems rather too much to ask.

  20. 22

    […] Yeah, actually. It is.  This hypocrite — who it goes without saying would never support society taking his blood or using his organs against his will — also said this: Gaylor, the paper goes on to detail in inexorably unfolding horror, founded the fund whose sole purpose is to pay for abortions. Last year alone, it paid out $162,000 or so, three-fourths of it from individual donors and a quarter from foundations that apparently do not see some humans as, well, debris incubators. […]

  21. 23

    skeptixx, when you think a paper is providing some sort of refutation, you might find it useful to read the study itself. An abstract is simply no substitute. Relying on it will just make you look silly.

    ☺ Says the blogger who linked to 2 abstracts purportedly about “belief in hell” that don’t specify that “belief in hell” was assessed, quoted the last phrase from an abstract from a 1934 study on childhood conceptions of death, and summarized as “not making much difference in children’s anxiety about death” the abstract of a study on undergraduates that did report correlations between afterlife belief and both “judgment/punishment expectation” and “reward expectation”.

    But you’re right, there is not much in the literature about belief in hell and psychological outcomes. Presumably that’s due to religious belief having a “sacrosanct” position in society – investigating its negative effects is not a great way to get funded, published, hired, or promoted. If a researcher got past that, it’s certainly possible that it would be difficult to study for several reasons, including that people under the influence of hell-belief would presumably be under duress imposed by their hell-beliefs to hide psychopathology, both thoughts and behaviors deemed unacceptable by their religious group.

    It’s not a journal article, and has been criticized for various reasons, but there’s Edmund Cohen’s 1986 book The Mind of the Bible (focus is psychopathology of adult evangelicals, including some mention of religion used as ‘justification’ for physical and sexual child abuse). It’s not a journal article, but there are pages and pages of anecdotal reports at various ex-Christian websites about the lasting harm of hell-belief instilled in childhood. Presumably for some reason the term “Religious Trauma Syndrome” been coined; PZ blogged about it in January 2012.

  22. 26

    skeptixx, when you think a paper is providing some sort of refutation, you might find it useful to read the study itself. An abstract is simply no substitute. Relying on it will just make you look silly.

    Let’s keep in mind that I don’t get any $ for evaluating the evidence you present, whereas you do get financial remuneration from your posts (the hits, at least). I’m quite willing to hold you to a higher standard in your blog posts than I hold your commenters, including myself.

    From the 2010 paper itself, since it’s so crucial to you that one cite from that so as not to look “silly”:

    In the bivariate models (i.e., only one CA considered at a time) of the pooled associations of CAs with first onset of the 20 DSM-IV/CIDI, all but one CA (parental death) was significant, with ORs of 1.5-1.9 for MFF CAs and 1.1-1.5 for other CAs. (Table 2) ORs are generally smaller in the additive multivariate model, with eight CAs significant and ORs of 1.2-1.4 for MFF CAs and 1.2-1.3 for other CAs. The 12 degree of freedom χ2 test for associations of all CAs is significant (χ212=884.5, p<.001) although ORs are substantively modest. We can reject the hypothesis that the ORs are the same for all CAs (χ211=286.6, p<.001).

    The multivariate model that considers only number rather than type of CAs shows generally increasing ORs with number of CAs, from 1.3 for exactly one CA (compared to respondents who had no CA) to highs of 3.4-3.2 for 6 and 7+ CAs. The χ2 test for the joint associations is statistically significant (χ27=822.0, p<.001). The model that includes measures of both types of CAs and number of CAs fits the data better than the earlier models in terms of AIC, as indicated by the types-of-CA measures being significant after controlling for number of CAs (χ212= 86.9, p<.001) and the number-of-CA measures being significant after controlling for types (χ26= 63.7, p<.001). (Detailed results of model-fitting are available on request.) The hypothesis that the ORs are the same for all types of CAs can be rejected (χ211=60.0, p<.001). MFF CAs consistently having higher ORs than other CAs.

    “Sexual abuse” was only 1 of 8 or more factors that correlated with future psychopathology, and didn’t contribute more than other factors did. In fact, the contribution of a single type of childhood adversity was relatively small (not that I want to discount it, just saying that’s what this data that you presented as evidence says). “Neglect” was the single childhood adversity factor with the highest contribution to future psychopathology.

    And, did you notice? This survey did not ask about religiosity in the family of origin or childhood household (as far as I saw, in the 2001 paper describing the method). So the effects of any contribution of religious-based psychological, physical, or sexual abuse cannot be separated out – and definitely can’t be assumed to be absent – in this data set.

  23. 27

    I don’t know. Even making this comparison seems just… yucky to me.
    For individuals who have experience both, one might be worse than the other, but why make generalizations? We can agree that both are wrong and horrible without trying to compare them.

  24. 28

    Whether Dawkins got it right or wrong there is, at least, one thing about this makes me glad; as an atheist I don’t have infallible high-priests and sacred writings that I must defer to. I can admire some things Dawkins says and disagree with others. Even more importantly he is not above criticism and, when assessing whether he is correct or not, we don’t turn to an ancient text to see how well his words match up with what it seems to say – rather we can look at current research and evidence.

  25. 29

    Why can’t those guys just shut up about “worse than rape”.
    It’s the easyness with which Dawkins and Harris dismiss rape that makes me uneasy and uncomfortable.
    Because inadvertedly, saying that one is less than the other is a punch in the face of the victim who experienced “the lesser evil”.
    And no, being fondled isn’t the same as being raped.
    Being groped and touched against your will still isn’t.
    I had the garden variety of sexual assault most women experience, but I’m damn glad I haven’t been raped.
    That is not a judgement on what any individual victim has experienced. I’m truely sorry about what you had to suffer.

  26. 31

    I’ve never been sexually abused, but I believed in the literal realness of Hell for about 30 years. It wasn’t all that bad, really, and I’d take that any day over sexual abuse. So there, my anecdote beats his.

  27. 32

    Actually, GregB, your link doesn’t say what you say it says. It calls for greaters openness and replication. As skeptixx has demonstrated for us, one of these studies has been reassessed because the data was available to other researchers and the conclusions generally found to be sound.

  28. 33

    So, is Greg G saying that we suddenly shouldn’t trust science anymore at all and rely on anecdotes instead, or does that only apply when Dawkins is wrong?
    So 1 Dawkins anecdote > 10 studies or something?

    And it’s pretty sickening how some atheists just start to throw everybody and everythig under the bus because like if rape is really horrible and actually traumatizing then Dawkins would have said something that’s at least debatable, just like religious people throw out the age of the earth because if it wasn’t 6000 years old then the Bible would be wrong.
    Here’s a hint: If you start to argue whether rape and sexual abuse actually are that bad and traumatizing you have left the community of decent people way behind you.

  29. 34

    Says the blogger who linked to 2 abstracts purportedly about “belief in hell” that don’t specify that “belief in hell” was assessed, quoted the last phrase from an abstract from a 1934 study on childhood conceptions of death, and summarized as “not making much difference in children’s anxiety about death” the abstract of a study on undergraduates that did report correlations between afterlife belief and both “judgment/punishment expectation” and “reward expectation”.

    Well, yes, the trick is to understand which abstracts give relatively reasonable summaries of the studies. If, as in the study you brought up, you don’t even understand what the abstract is saying, it’s going to get you in trouble. Feel free to show how the studies where I linked the abstract because the full paper isn’t available online are misused in my post, if you feel they are. You haven’t done that here. In fact, you really don’t seem to understand what the abstract of the paper about death anxiety is saying. Hint: It’s says specifically that even where there are expectations of a rewarding or punishing afterlife, those expectations do not have any measurable influence on anxiety over death.

    On “religious trauma syndrome”, try looking it up on Google Scholar. Look at the citations in the full article. It’s a theory, specifically a theory about leaving religion, that hasn’t been studied or published on. It is simply one person’s theory that there should be some kind of PTSD in those who leave religion, not those who believe.

    As for the rest of comment #23, you seem to be supporting my contention that if Dawkins wants to be particularly useful on this topic, his foundation could fund some studies. I’m all for measuring the impact of a belief in hell. It’s simply that, so far, when it’s been done, the results contradict Dawkins’ assertion.

  30. 35

    Let’s keep in mind that I don’t get any $ for evaluating the evidence you present, whereas you do get financial remuneration from your posts (the hits, at least). I’m quite willing to hold you to a higher standard in your blog posts than I hold your commenters, including myself.

    To what standard are you going to hold someone who is getting paid pennies on an hourly basis? You know that whole idea that I make lots of money doing this has been debunked multiple times, right? I’m doing this because the realities of child sexual abuse are worth standing up for for their own sake. Why are you doing it?

    “Sexual abuse” was only 1 of 8 or more factors that correlated with future psychopathology, and didn’t contribute more than other factors did. In fact, the contribution of a single type of childhood adversity was relatively small (not that I want to discount it, just saying that’s what this data that you presented as evidence says).

    No. Sexual abuse didn’t contribute more than the other seven factors that were found to have a significant effect. There were other factors not found to have significant impact. As for the size, actually, you are discounting it. You don’t say small relative to what? How big would the effects have to be for you to consider them to be important?

    And, did you notice? This survey did not ask about religiosity in the family of origin or childhood household (as far as I saw, in the 2001 paper describing the method). So the effects of any contribution of religious-based psychological, physical, or sexual abuse cannot be separated out – and definitely can’t be assumed to be absent – in this data set.

    What does “religious-based psychological, physical, or sexual abuse” have to do with a child’s belief in hell? You do remember that this is what Dawkins was talking about, right? What sort of hypothesis are you suggesting about what happens because of children’s belief in hell?

  31. 36

    “But I still think that those who embrace Atheism “Plus” can have a far greater impact on Western culture”

    Impact in the blogosphere maybe. Beyond that? Good luck

  32. 37

    No. Just… no. I’d rather sit through hours of religious indoctrination than be sexually abused.

    And I can’t stand it when some survivors are like, “Oh, well it happened to me, and I’m okay, so shut up.” That doesn’t help. It just adds to the baggage. Not all of us are that fucking resilient. We don’t all have healthy coping strategies (if any!) We’re. Not. You. And you don’t get to dictate how we “should” feel about our experiences.

    (“You” here can either be the “generic you”, or refer to Richard Dawkins — it’s not directed at anybody here.)

  33. 38

    In my case, the concept of Hell was very much internalised and made me terrified of dying. I would cry myself to sleep while praying to God to forgive me for anything I might have done that had made him mad.

    I was 5 years old.

    If given the choice between that and sexual abuse, I choose being taught about hell. You can outgrow hell. Sexual abuse while a child is going to have impacts that many people can’t simply shrug off. To suggest that the idea of hell is worse for a child is appalling.

  34. 39

    OK, here’s something I don’t get.

    Richard Dawkins is a smart guy. But I feel like he reminds me of — well, myself, a long time ago.

    I mean in the sense that he seems to think scientific thinking makes him able to dismiss what other people are feeling. Like he’s so darn smart and logical that nothing will bug him. So nobody else should be bothered, either. I mean he just seems to have no conception of context, or historical patterns, or even that people don’t think in single factors like computers.

    I mean, look, I learned a long time ago that there’s loads of stuff I am irrational about. I try to understand why I am irrational about those things, and that’s ok. We all have stuff like that, or things that just aren’t rational choices anyway (Beatles, The Who or Stones? Star Wars or Star Trek?).

    I also get that religious thinking isn’t just because people are idiots, and that when you’re talking about these things a little nuance is in order. I may not dig being religious, per se, but I damned well understand that while it is a pernicious influence in many areas, if you walk into a black church or a Lakota Sun Dance the picture looks a bit different. (And yes, I reject the “religion came about because people had no better explanation for phenomena” hypothesis, because if it were true than little god-belief would survive at all much past the stone age; there’s a lot more to it than that).

    But Dawkins seems to view things in this weird ahistorical way. As though stuff like a belief in hell is some isolated thing; I can’t quite get my head around the way he seems to view the world. I mean, there’s a bit of a sense I get that he thinks belief in hell, which can affect all kinds of things, would somehow permanently exile you to the wilderness of superstition or something.

    He’s a guy with a great and deep understanding of scientific fields, yet he seems to be unable to see that his own social position has nothing to do any of that.

    Maybe it’s a generational thing. I grew up on the science fiction of the 50s, and there is certainly that kind of hyper-rational vision of the scientist who’s just the smartest guy in the room (and it’s always a guy) who if we just listened to him all would be well. History? Context? Never heard of ’em, you know?

    I dunno. It’s just weird I guess, the blind spots we all have.

  35. F


    Weird: You’ve been doing science and communications long enough that you feel you can make logical, reasonable conclusions based on no useful evidence and a bagfull of unexamined assumptions. Dawkins is heading in the direction of other good or great scientists that started talking out their asses on subjects of which they know nothing. He’s getting cranky. He just isn’t making actual scientific claims about such things yet, but he’s still making lazy and incorrect pronouncements from his (also apparently unexamined) position of privilege (some the “innate” social privilege, some academically and popularly earned).

  36. 41

    @F — I guess I am just saddened a bit.

    I know, I know, no heroes. But I think back to other scientists/ communicators who have admitted they were wrong, publicly — Carl Sagan was one — and been OK with it. You say “Yup, I screwed up. Better luck next time.”

    Dawkins has earned his striped in so many ways, but day-um, for a guy who studies a historical science, it’ like, WTF?

    (By the way, I thought for a moment your first sentence was referring to me because communication is what I do. Then I said to myself, “why in the hell would anyone care about me if they don’t know me, or my work?” and had a good laugh at my reading comprehension fail).

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