A Defining Moment for Dawkins and the Atheists

We have all received an early Christmas present. For we have been given one of those rare moments of crystal clarity, a defining moment, where it is has been demonstrated that Richard Dawkins, along with the New Atheist movement, are not sincere when they demand evidence.

As you know, for ten years Richard Dawkins has been publicly insisting that it would be better to sexually or physically abuse a child than to raise the child as a Catholic. And for ten years, Dawkins has been supporting this offensive and outrageous claim with some letter he supposedly received from some woman in America. During all this time, no journalist and no “accomodationist” has ever challenged Dawkins on this. In fact, after ten years, we still have no evidence that this letter actually exists, and if it does, that the account is true. So after ten years, his signature argument amounts to nothing more than hearsay.

But this has changed thanks to one single Muslim journalist who posed the most obvious challenge to Dawkins: .

Mehdi Hasan: With respect Richard, you’re an empiricist. You’re a rationalist. One letter from one woman in America isn’t really a basis to extrapolate and making such sweeping conclusions.

Dawkins reply?

Richard Dawkins: That is of course true. And I am not basing it on that. It seems to me that telling children, such that they really, really believe, that people who sin are going to go to hell, and roast forever, forever, that your skin grows again when it peels off from burning, it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse, that it will give more nightmares, that will give more genuine distress, if they don’t believe it its not a problem, of course.

First, note that Dawkins acknowledges one letter from one woman in America isn’t really a basis to extrapolate and making such sweeping conclusions. Yet he has been doing that for ten years! He  denies he has been basing his argument on this hearsay yet prior to him being challenged by Hasan, that was his entire argument (see the video).

Second, and most important, is that Dawkins offers not one shred of evidence in his reply.


Instead of replying to the challenge with evidence and science, he retreats into some armchair philosophy. His argument amounts to this: “My intuition makes me think it seems like my claim is entirely reasonable.” That’s it. That’s all there is. No data. No studies. No science. No evidence. Nothing more than some hypothetical story that appeals to his intuition and confirmation bias. And he believes it.

A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence. – Richard Dawkins

And just how is his reliance on hearsay and intuition any different from faith? It would seem that Dawkins believes Catholic parents are worse than child molesters on the basis of faith alone. For its clear he wasn’t able to offer up one tiny shred of scientific evidence.

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. – Richard Dawkins

This is inexcusable. Dawkins has had ten years to practice what he preaches. But in ten years, he has not lifted a pinky in trying to come up with any evidence. He is still relying on the same unsubstantiated letter and intuition. You could only do this if you didn’t care about the evidence. Hearsay and intuition was all that Dawkins needed and all that Dawkins needs. If he had truly cared about evidence, he would have needed more.

The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry. – Richard Dawkins

Of course, if a theist tried to support their belief in God with nothing more than hearsay and intuition, Dawkins would suddenly change his views. He would put on his Mr. Science persona. At that time, hearsay and intuition would not count. They would not be evidence. The theist needs evidence. The theist needs to have his views shown to be true by science. In other words, Dawkins holds to the “do as I say, not as I do” ethic.  Why would anyone enable that?

This is not some simple little mistake or slip up. It is a defining moment that shows us Dawkins and his followers are not being sincere and truthful about the need to have evidence. When it comes to smearing religious people, they simply do not care about evidence. They have exempted themselves from this need to have evidence and have forfeited their credibility. They simply cannot be trusted when it is so obvious they do not mean what they say.

So the next time a New Atheist begins to posture about the need for evidence, stop right there and tell them you do not believe they are sincere. That is the rational stand to take. Point to Dawkins and his ten year history of abandoning evidence and his reliance on hearsay and intuition. Point to the video of the interview. Point to this blog entry. Point to the fact that no one in the Gnu community has called him out on this. Point to the fact that no “accomodationist” has called him out on this. For ten years. If it is perfectly okay for New Atheists to trivialize child abuse just to smear religious people, all on the basis of hearsay and intuition, then atheists have completely forfeited their entire position.

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7 Responses to A Defining Moment for Dawkins and the Atheists

  1. Bilbo says:

    Al Jazeera’s entire interview of Dawkins is here:


    Interestingly, when asked about which was worse, teaching children about Hell or sexually abusing them, the audience was about evenly divided between the first, the second, and both being equal.

    But no studies were cited by anybody.

  2. Crude says:

    I don’t think the audience reaction says much. Listen to what he asks – he puts it in a confusing way, and almost makes it sound as if he was asking the same question twice, and then asking if they were both equally bad.

    But yeah. As Mike said – he’s been on this for around a decade now. And his response is ‘well, to me it’s intuitive’?

  3. Crude says:

    Not only that… but Dawkins doesn’t even get the teaching about hell close to right.

    People who sin go to hell? That’s not Catholicism, or Christianity generally – otherwise everyone would be going to hell given the universality of sin. But at least he was finally called out, even though I wish it was more forcefully done.

  4. Michael says:

    I agree the audience reaction says nothing about the truth of his claim. It just further discredits Dawkins. What respectable scientist would agree to resolve a truth claim with a show of hands? Answer – none.

    It also tells us something about his fan base. Let’s face it, a group of people who decide to attend an interview of Richard Dawkins is not exactly a group that is representative of the larger population. The audience is likely to be composed of people interested in the religion vs. science debate and fans of Richard Dawkins. It’s safe to say that most of those who sided with him were fans, and thus showed that they shared his lack of commitment to evidence while possessing a twisted moral compass.

    And I also agree that the interviewer could have been more forceful. Instead of asking for some show of hands, he should have pushed for a retraction. Either retract the claim about child abuse or retract the need to have evidence. It would have been fun to watch Dawkins turn red and walk off the set.

  5. Bilbo says:

    I agree on all counts.

  6. The Deuce says:

    He doesn’t just ignore evidence; he defies it. The scientific evidence that we have is clearly against him on both his claim that religious upbringing is bad for mental health and his claim that sexual abuse isn’t.

  7. Alejandro says:

    Want it better? Saying it is child abuse is dehumanizing a whole group of people. Religious parents are moral monsters that are doing bad to children. He also is using the same kind of language used against LGBT people. Religion is a virus of the mind (homosexuality is a disease), religious persons are child abusers (same-sex parents are hurtful to children). Dawkins is just another loony that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

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