Is he making it up?

Okay, let me raise a possibility about Dawkins’ story that just occurred to me and see what you think – there is a distinct possibility he is making the whole thing up.

Let’s begin with an issue that is supposedly very important to all atheists and skeptics – evidence. Is there ANY evidence that Dawkins’s story is true? Has he provided any such evidence? So far, I see none. It’s as if Dawkins, who spends his time denigrating faith, expects us to accept his story solely on faith. If we are supposed to support our beliefs with evidence, and there is no evidence his story is true, are we not rationally obligated to dismiss it?

Secondly, why does his story keep changing?

1. In 2002, Dawkins made it sound like he was taught to believe 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 then in 2012, he tells the story by insisting he never believed in hell:

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.

2. In 2002, he tells us he was nine. In 2012, he tells us he was 9 or 10. In 2013, in his new book, he says “I must have been about eleven.” If he tells the story again next year, will he have been 12?

3. In 2002, he claims the experience gave him a good laugh: “As soon as I could wriggle off his knee, I ran to tell my friends and we had a good laugh, our fellowship enhanced by the shared experience of the same sad pedophile. “ In 2013, the laughter goes away: “it was extremely disagreeable (the cremasteric reflex is not painful, but in a skin-crawling, creepy way it is almost worse than painful) as well as embarrassing. As soon as I could wriggle off his lap, I ran to tell my friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him.”

Of course, I suppose one could harmonize these different accounts, but atheists have long insisted that different accounts should not be harmonized.

Third, there is the unusual and rather strange nature of Dawkins’ reaction. He insists the incident, although embarrassing, was harmless and even wrote in The God Delusion that he would be willing to defend the man who molested him – ““All three of the boarding schools I attended employed teachers whose affections for small boys overstepped the bounds of propriety. That was indeed reprehensible. Nevertheless, if, fifty years on, they had been hounded by vigilantes or lawyers as no better than child murderers, I should have felt obliged to come to their defense, even as the victim of one of them (an embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience).” As Mary Elizabeth Williams notes, “Dawkins, in his recollections, comes off like a character in “The History Boys,” a fellow who views the fondlings by his educators through a nostalgic lens.”

If you were molested as a child like Dawkins, would you be reacting like he is?

Fourth, maybe there is a good reason why Dawkins is so reluctant to name and judge the teacher who molested him – it never happened.

Fifth, Dawkins has been telling this story for over 10 years and, as far as I can tell, none of his childhood friends have come forward to corroborate it.

So why would Dawkins make this up? Simple. As should be clear to all, the story plays an important role in his bizarre “religion as child abuse” attack. To make the case that it is better to molest a child than to raise the child as a Catholic, he needed an example of someone being molested who was not harmed by the molestation. So, he invented such an example using himself as the victim. Who could say otherwise?

Now, let me be clear and note that I am NOT saying he did in fact make this story up. I simply do not know whether it is true or not. I do know there is no evidence it is true and there are reasons to think he could be lying about it all. I suppose in the end, I choose to believe he is telling the truth; I will accept it on faith. But then, I’m not the one who has serious problems with faith.

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3 Responses to Is he making it up?

  1. Mr. X says:

    Well, I think it’s the case that people who’ve suffered a traumatic experience often have difficulty remembering exactly what happened, although I can’t remember the names of any studies off the top of my head. As for the downplaying it, that’s not unknown as a coping mechanism: people who’ve been raped have been known to try and minimise the seriousness of the incident, since it seems less terrible that way.

  2. Michael says:

    Good points, but that would mean his experience was not truly harmless. Nevertheless, I am still struck by the fact that Dawkins is violating his own advice, for he once wrote: “And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.””

    So, is there any evidence that Dawkins story is true?

  3. TFBW says:

    Dawkins has a real problem with this anecdote if we hold him to his own standards of evidence. He’s asking us to believe the testimony of a single person who gives a somewhat inconsistent account of the event, which happened sixty years ago (give or take — the timing is one of the inconsistencies), in childhood. This from the man who, very early in The Greatest Show On Earth (p.14), emphasises the fallibility of eye witness testimony, even when the event has only just been witnessed. If such an inconsistency were to be found in a source to which he is ideologically opposed, he’d be denouncing it as unsound from every podium he passed.

    On top of that, he wants us to believe that this experience wasn’t as bad as being made to believe in the reality of Hell, even though he’s not talking from experience on the matter. The nearest we have in that regard is another person’s anecdote, which is similarly a matter of unverified personal testimony. When this flimsy basis for belief was pointed out to him during an interview on Al Jazeera TV, he agreed, and said his basis was, “it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable, that that is a worse form of child abuse.” So we have shifted from a somewhat flimsy personal anecdote, to a pure personal revelation, the kind that he denounces as a bad reason to believe in Good and Bad Reasons for Believing (A Devil’s Chaplain, Ch.7), where he says such intuitions are “not worth anything until they are supported by evidence.”

    Since then, he has further admitted that, “anecdotes and plausibility arguments, however, need to be backed up by systematic research,” and expressed an interest in hearing from psychologists as to “whether there is real evidence bearing on the question.” Note: this means he has been going on about it for years as though it were an indisputable fact, yet he doesn’t even know whether there is “real evidence” bearing on the question! That post is dated January first this year. As far as I know, no actual evidence has been forthcoming. Please post references if it has.

    So not only is there no evidence that Dawkins’ story is true, there’s no evidence that the allegation it props up (that the doctrine of hell is more harmful than “mild” sexual abuse) is true either. By Dawkins’ own standards, we should dismiss the whole thing as unscientific piffle of the worst kind.

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