Back in October 2015, Richard Dawkins tweeted about transgenders:
Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) October 26, 2015
It’s a fascinating tweet, as Dawkins is trying to bridge the incompatibility of the scientism promoted by New Atheism and the postmodern view of reality promoted by the transgender community.
I think we can accurately translate what Dawkins is trying to say without the character limits imposed by twitter:
‘Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. From a scientific/objective perspective, no. From a subjective perspective, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.’
Note how Dawkins is backing away from the hardcore empiricism he demands religious people to adhere to. For the same Richard Dawkins has also insisted:
Yet scientists are required to back up their claims not with private feelings but with publicly checkable evidence”
“evidence is the only good reason to believe anything.”
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.
The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn’t seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as “faith”.
When it comes to the issue of a trans woman, Dawkins abandons all of this for the sole reason of “courtesy.” He still pays lip service to his extreme empiricism by putting quote marks around “she,” but he’s happy to play along for the sake of being polite.
So if an XY male self-indentifies as a woman, Dawkins is willing to be polite and defer to the other person’s subjective reality and treat it as objective reality.
But if an XY male self-identifies as someone who was made in the image of God, Dawkins responds, “Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Mock them! Ridicule them! In public! Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.”
What this striking contrast clearly illustrates is that Dawkins’ desire to publicly challenge and mock religion (and have others do the same) is NOT rooted in some principle that prioritizes Truth above all else. It is NOT about a commitment to truth/evidence being more important than courtesy. We can know this because of his behavior/position with regard to trans women. He adheres to no such principles. In that context, courtesy is the most important thing.
Since we cannot explain Dawkins’ desire to challenge and mock religion as a function of some deeply held conviction that we must always speak the truth, what does explain his desire to challenge and mock? I would propose the explanation is quite simple – this is a textbook example of bigotry.