Looks like Dawkins has jumped the shark with his attempts to trivialize child abuse. Check out some of the tweets responding to him:
Don’t be so silly. C’mon man, you’re descending into self parody. I admire your work but such rhetoric sells you short.
What the hell is “mild sexual abuse”? In what possible sense can any form of sexual abuse be considered “mild”?
OMG Professor! @RichardDawkins Stop! You have lost your nut.
It’s not like sexual abuse comes in wing sauce varieties.
So you’ve coined a new phrase Richard, ‘mild sexual abuse’. What a crass and insensitive term. Unbelievable.
So Dawkins felt the need to engage in some damage control:
Following a recent report in the Daily Mail, various twitterers are horrified at what I am alleged to have said about child abuse. It was in The God Delusion published in 2006 and distributed in more than 2 million copies and therefore hardly red hot news.
Hmmm. Looks like 2 million copies doesn’t translate as 2 million readers, eh?
In view of the tweeted responses to the Daily Mail article, I thought it might be helpful to reproduce what I actually said in 2006. Incidentally, I was myself sexually abused by a teacher when I was about nine or ten years old. It was a very unpleasant and embarrassing experience, but the mental trauma was soon exorcised by comparing notes with my contemporaries who had suffered it previously at the hands of the same master. Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe – in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.
First of all, Dawkins originally made this argument in 2002. Perhaps he should read his own web site. Don’t be fooled by the date, as that is simply a reprint of Richard Dawkins, ‘Religion’s Real Child Abuse’, Free Inquiry, Fall 2002, Vol. 22, No. 4., p. 9.
And it looks to me like the story has changed over the decade. In 2012, he tells us he didn’t believe in hell as a child. But in 2002, he claimed his experience wasn’t as bad as believing in hell:
Being fondled by the Latin master in the Squash Court was a disagreeable sensation for a nine-year-old, a mixture of embarrassment and skin-crawling revulsion, but it was certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire.
But let’s get to the good part of his “clarification”:
Anecdotes and plausibility arguments, however, need to be backed up by systematic research, and I would be interested to hear from psychologists whether there is real evidence bearing on the question. My expectation would be that violent, painful, repeated sexual abuse, especially by a family member such as a father or grandfather, probably has a more damaging effect on a child’s mental well-being than sincerely believing in hell. But ‘sexual abuse’ covers a wide spectrum of sins, and I suspect that research would show belief in hell to be more traumatic than the sort of mild feeling-up that I suffered.
This is hilarious. Richard made this claim, based entirely on anecdotes and plausibility arguments, ten years ago. And he has been making this claim, based entirely on anecdotes and plausibility arguments, for ten years. Only because someone finally challenged him on this, ten years later, it finally occurs to him that anecdotes and plausibility arguments need to be backed up by systematic research. Give me a break. Who falls for this stuff?
So now, ten years later, after being caught peddling claims without evidence, he’d like to hear from some psychologists “whether there is real evidence bearing on the question.” Did you get that? He’s looking for real evidence to support his belief. Please, someone, anyone, send him some evidence! Not only is this a confession that he has no evidence, and thus has never cared about evidence, but he is now demonstrating that he does not know how to think like a scientist. The whole notion of starting with a belief and then looking for evidence to support that belief is a common mistake in thinking among first year science students. Dawkins is in full blown confirmation bias mode.
And what’s with wanting to “hear from psychologists?” Hasn’t he ever heard of the scientific literature? You mean after ten years of making his claim, he has never once thought to search the rather extensive literature on child abuse? Scientists don’t put out requests on web pages. Help me, psychologists, help me. Scientists dive into the literature.
So Dawkins tries to save face by putting on his Mr. Science persona, acting as if he has come up with the idea that we need some scientific research, when in reality, he has been ignoring this dimension for ten years. It’s not only that he hasn’t cared about evidence all this time, it’s now a question of whether the atheist activist still knows how to think like a real scientist.