Rather than do any science, Dawkins has been sharing his opinions about rape on twitter. As you might expect, the only thing Tweety Dawk accomplishes is getting noticed:
And so, freshly released from the stocks, Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and famed atheist, is today wiping off the rotten tomatoes from his lapel. He will be doing so unapologetically.
– From Atheist King Richard Dawkins’ Rape Fantasy
The leader of the New Atheist movement is getting slammed all over the place. For example:
You can almost imagine him tweeting this, his fingers jabbing away at the keyboard as his glasses slide down a face contorted with disappointment at how irrational everyone is being. This is Dawkins in 2014: a figure of mockery, a man so convinced that he possesses God-like powers of omniscience that he can’t understand why everyone’s getting angry at him for pointing out the obvious. Why won’t we all just learn how to think, damn it! Then we could all live together in a peaceful society where nobody wears “bin liners”, and women shut up about sexual harassment.
Remember when Dawkins was widely respected? When his biggest detractor was late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould? I don’t. Having grown up after Dawkins made the transition from lauded science communicator to old man who shouts at clouds, it’s hard for me to understand why anyone continues to listen to him about anything.
Sure, he wrote some pop science books back in the day, but why do we keep having him on TV and in the newspapers?
I’d have a simple question for Dawkins and his “sincere” attempt to use logic in the context of moral relativism – when it comes to eating meat (which Dawkins likens to slavery) and date rape, which is the “bad” one and which is worse?
Is “Dawkins as an old man who shouts at clouds” a meme at this point? I swear I keep seeing this come up.
Also it’s amusing to notice how the change in opinion from him has gone with hand in hand with popular perception of the man shifting from “world famous evolutionary biologist” to “guy who wrote some pop science books”.
Note that, in context, Dawkins has been trying to say that a statement of the form, “X is bad, Y is worse,” does not constitute an endorsement of X. The reaction against this has been almost entirely emotional, which is to be expected, but still disappointing to me, because it represents a missed opportunity to engage Dawkins on his moral calculus, thereby shedding light on how subjective and unscientific it is.
The thing that Dawkins doesn’t seem to have taken into account with respect to these remarks is that you don’t have to be endorsing X in order to be offensive about it. Simply de-emphasising the horribleness of it will do, and that’s what happens when you deliberately compare it with something worse. I’m naturally a fairly insensitive person, and even I know (or think I know) of that trigger mechanism. Of course, the people who actually are offended by it can rarely (if ever) spell out the reason for its offensiveness like this: a strong emotional response like offence is hardly amenable to rational analysis, particularly when one is in the grip of it.
But that’s merely a lesson in avoiding offensive remarks. Dawkins wants to be engaged on logic, and I’d love to do so. Please tell us, learned doctor, how did you determine that Y was worse than X? You seem to be making a statement and simply hoping that we all agree with it. Maybe we do — even the people who find your remarks offensive might consider them to be true (but offensive). But what if I take the contrary position, for the sake of argument, that both X and Y are evil, and evil is evil, no “better than” or “worse than” any other evil? I would be properly incensed by your remark without considering it an endorsement of X. Would you just huff and call me “ABSOLUTIST” as is your common reaction, or would you actually have an answer? Or what if I say that it’s subjective — that while Y might generally be worse than X, perhaps X is worse for A than Y is for B? In other words, what if I consider your position to be too absolutist? Again, I would take exception to your remark without interpreting it as an endorsement of X.
In short, learned doctor, if you want to lecture us on logic and morality, please give us more detail as to the calculus of morality. As your lesson stands at the moment, it lacks the necessary rigour and formality to be a lesson on logic: it is merely a lesson on language, and a poor one at that, because it failed to grasp the concept that one need not openly endorse evil in order to offend those who have been victims of it. That has been your underlying assumption, hasn’t it — “these fools are angry at me because they think that I am endorsing X.” No, learned doctor, that is not why they are angry at you. They are angry at you partly because your remarks are offensive even if they are true, and partly because your remarks assume a calculus of morality with which one might legitimately differ.
Perhaps you have a thing or two more to learn about this subject before you lecture on it.
I hadn’t heard the slavery reference before, so I found the source http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znMBG5DQn14
The argument Dawkins makes seems entirely reasonable to me, in which slavery is briefly mentioned in a reasonable context. Human history is sometimes appalling, and future generations will no doubt be appalled at certain aspects of our current society. It seems reasonable to suppose that our treatment of animals, especially with regard to things like factory farms, will be part of the shame of future generations.
I must be missing something (or perhaps something has become distorted along the way) because if eating meat is comparable to slavery and slavery is bad why then is Dawkins a carnivore?
Because that is what you get with an atheistic morality. So long as majority opinion does not deem it to be bad, then it isn’t actually bad. Unless majority opinion believes something the atheist doesn’t, then of course it’s religion and ignorance that’s to blame and society must be educated.
In other words, any system of atheistic morality is a big mess.
Back in the day when slavery was an accepted social norm, Dawkins would probably have been a “reluctant” slave owner, just as he is a “reluctant” carnivore now. Don’t take my word for it: refer to past coverage of the subject on this blog, particularly starting at around 8:35 on the embedded video interview. Apparently his sense of ethical obligation isn’t so strong that it overcomes his desire to conform to societal norms. He thinks that we should all change, but he only has the courage to follow the herd, not lead it. He needs to wait for other people (like Peter Singer) to get society shifted in the right direction before he can stop being such a self-confessed bad person.
It seems to me that the shift in opinion and the way he is described is a reflection of his utility to the anti-religious Left. Before The God Delusion, he wasn’t that big a public figure, but that book propelled him to popular descriptions of “noted” or “leading” evolutionary biologist (the emphasis on “scientist”). In this phase, he was primarily anti-Christian in his specifics, if not his generalities.
He went down a notch in a few eyes when he started spouting anti-Islamic specifics, and the emphasis went from “scientist” to “New Atheist”. He still had a lot of support from the Militant Left at this point, though: only the milder ones position themselves as anti-Christian and anti-Israel, while drawing the line at anti-Islam, it seems. Being anti-Islam scores points with the militants, because you’ve then got the “big three” monotheistic religions covered, and you’re genuinely anti-theistic.
He then did the comparison between teaching a child religion and “mild paedophilia” (the former being worse), and he went down another notch — not for the ludicrous suggestion that religion was worse, but for the implication that there could be such a thing as “mild paedophilia”. This is a demographic that takes its “anti” stances very seriously, and describing something as “mild” is tantamount to describing it as “acceptable”. At this point, he was demoted to “author of best-selling pop science books” by those who wished to publicly distance themselves from him, but the still-loyal fans mostly just tried to overlook the faux pas.
He’s really offended a core support demographic with the whole “rape A is not as bad as rape B” thing, though. Way to create division in the ranks, Richard: now anyone who defends you risks positioning themselves as anti-feminist, and that’s not a Leftist happy place. That’s what’s got him demoted to “old man who shouts at clouds.” Disowned, big time.
So, short version: media portrayal varies proportionately to how much they approve of your message. Shocking, isn’t it? And Richard? Poor guy probably thinks that people agreeing with him was a reflection on how rational his arguments were, rather than a reflection on how much he was telling them what they wanted to hear.
Jerry Coyne is hyper-sensitive to any criticisms of Richard Dawkins on his blog. Here’s a comment from “Arthur”, responding Adam Lee’s rejoinder to Coyne ref Coyne’s blog post dated September 20, 2014, entitled “Adam Lee has lost it”, where Coyne let his acolytes know he disliked Lee’s “The Guardian” article entitled “Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name”.
Jerry Coyne doesn’t like his blog being called a blog; he prefers “website”: well, there’s the lovely wildlife photos his readers send in, and there’s often some very interesting and well-written article on evolution or on other aspects of biology; but mostly it is undoubtedly a blog, and undoubtedly Coyne’s blog.
Except for the daily guest posts by a cat, that is: Coyne’s blog (or website) seems aimed at people who don’t believe in Santa, don’t believe in God, but do believe in Polish talking cats.