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NerdyKeith's avatar

Should Richard Dawkins ever be respected by anyone ever since he made those thoughtless choice of words?

Asked by NerdyKeith (5479points) July 6th, 2016

This was only brought to my attention recently and I was not aware that Dawkins believed in a concept of “mild pedophilia”.

Dawkins was interviewed by The Times back in 2013 he recalled an incident he had with a teacher as a young boy in the 1950s.

“... pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts… I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm…

… I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

Personally the child abuse and racism that occurred in times past was never ok or acceptable. Just because certain attitudes back in those days permitted it doesn’t make it right. Just as I don’t condone the execution of women who commit adultery under sharia law. The specific culture of the time may argue that its acceptable; but that doesn’t make it so. Its puzzling to me that Dawkins being as outspoken as he is against organised religion, cannot find it in himself to criticise inappropriate behaviour of the 1950s (and more distant pasts). Many barbaric religious traditions and beliefs are based on much older standards and cultures. So why would the 1950s and other eras be exempt from criticism?


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28 Answers

olivier5's avatar

His point seems to be different than yours though. As I understand it, it’s that past behaviors and people ought not to be condemned based on today’s moral standards. Forced marriage, for instance, was pretty much the rule in Europe until what? the 19th or 20th century. Today it’s unacceptable. Would you condemn 17th century parents for doing it? They were just conforming to the norm of their time and place.

Let’s assume that 200 years from now, eating animal meat will be considered as morally disgusting as cannibalism today. And let’s assume you’re not vegetarian. Would you think it fair for your eating habit today to be judged by the moral standards of the 23rd century?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Well, with the exception of these words on pedophilia (which I had never heard of before your posting), I agree with Dawkins’ view on religion.

I wouldn’t read your quotation (that pedophilia never hurt HIM) as supporting it – I think his considered view that it didn’t affect HIM in particular. That may not have been the case for his buddies.

And I agree with @olivier5 – what is considered odious in 2016 may not have been odious 50 years ago and may not be in the future. In that respect, Dawkins is 100% correct. People, sexual practices, a common understanding of society – changes and evolves.

So @NerdyKeith when you write “Personally the child abuse and racism that occurred in times past was never ok or acceptable” – that’s with the standpoint of your 2016 values. I think it’s intellectually specious to condemn practices of 50 or 100 years ago based on today’s Puritan values.

I’m always dubious when people say “never”.

Seek's avatar

Dawkins is speaking about a personal experience that he, personally, experienced. He feels this unfortunate circumstance didn’t cause him lasting harm. He is entitled to that opinion. He is allowed to not want to decry his former teachers who abused him.

His area of expertise is in zoology, specifically evolutionary biology. He is famous for his work in scientific fields as well as his words against organized religion and the systemic harm it causes.

When he claims to be an expert in sexual abuse and victim treatment, we can talk about how his words about his childhood experiences should reflect upon his work.

stanleybmanly's avatar

What a stupid premise! That Dawkins should diminish in stature for reflecting on an event from childhood over which he had no control. Whatever his opinions on the subject, there’s no getting around the fact that he was and remains without question a commanding intellect of our age.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Honestly, I never respected him. I think he comes across as an arrogant jerk most of the time, even if he is right about religion.

Regarding the question, abuse it abuse – there’s no such thing as “mild” abuse. He can be as unaffected as he claims to be without saying that people shouldn’t be condemned for their actions of abuse, regardless of whether or not the standards have changed. The danger in calling it mild, or saying that people from the past shouldn’t be condemned, is that not everyone who was abused to the same degree he was is as okay as he is. No one has any right to delegitimize the experience of another person who has been abused, end of story.

NerdyKeith's avatar

@stanleybmanly I think he’s a little over-rated at this point. He’s a great biologist don’t get me wrong. But Dawkins likes to fancy himself as this profound great philosopher, but he’s not. I’m not saying this poor choice or wording from Dawkins discredits his scientific merits. But I find it difficult to talk about a man in high praise after hearing him make such comments. He has the freedom of speech, but that doesn’t make him right about his issue. Dawkins has a habit of publicly speaking about things (that he perhaps is not informed about).

@DrasticDreamer Well said, very well said

MrGrimm888's avatar

Still a great mind. Still no reason not to respect his scientific contributions. These claims aren’t the cultural norm by any stretch. But most ‘big brain’ people are different in their views on life. Some super smart people also think that when they say something like that, it has a form of scientific merit. Perhaps he thought that his personal experience was not so negative, and worth discussion. It’s doubtful he would have been as unfazed by it if it were Sandusky pounding him in Penn state locker rooms, but he’s expressing his opinion based on life experience. Like many smart people, he made the mistake of assuming his words would be carefully scrutinized. Instead, many took it at face value and ran with it. Many people prior to these remarks didn’t like him for his anti religious beliefs. They probably love that he said this because it may invalidate his thinking, therefore validating their own. Nice try theists. His words still carry the weight they deserve. He just had a fd up childhood, weather he realized it or not….Maybe if he wasn’t abused he wouldn’t have that opinion. Maybe he is deep down upset by it, and this coming to grips that it didn’t warp him so bad is a form of coping.
Or maybe he’s just weird.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@NerdyKeith over rated or not, in view of this country’s present mental vacuity, the loss of a single intellect no matter how vain is an unmitigated catastophe.

olivier5's avatar

I don’t undetstand this thread. Why would one consider Dawkin as a towering intellect? His views on religion were quite narrow minded, as far as I know (not much I admit). And why would anyone consider that the quoted “mild pedophilia” disminishes him? To me, that’s more an indication of smarts… The guy understood that moral rules evolve over time. Good for him.

Being careful in judging others is a good thing in my book.

MrGrimm888's avatar

To be clear olivier5, I don’t consider him to have a ‘towering intellect. ’ But I was saying hypothetically, if he was a genius, sometimes those people have trouble connecting with average people. They just aren’t social butterflies, and they say things that they don’t understand will be taken as the person who asked this question took it.
His views on religion are only narrow minded if you believe in religion to me….If you don’t believe in God, you’re narrow minded?

olivier5's avatar

I don’t believe in gods either but anyone whining about religion that much is psychologically insecure in my book. Beside, to consider atheists as “bright” and therefore religious people as “not bright” is a form of contempt very similar to the contempt of some believers for non believers.

Live and let live.

Seek's avatar

The irony of claiming one should “live and let live” and “be careful judging others”, whilst admitting to know nothing about the person they call “whining” and “psychologically insecure”.

olivier5's avatar

I don’t write books about Dawkins nor make conferences about him, mind you, unlike him on religion.

Seek's avatar

And yet you have neither read the books nor watched the conferences, or you wouldn’t admit to knowing nothing.

olivier5's avatar

Fair enough. And to be fair I liked the “no god bus”. But still, it seems to me he was rather contemptuous of religious people.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I don’t agree. In view of the influence of religion on the world, and the resulting consequences, Dawkins’ hand was more or less forced. How can an individual ignore a world suffering the consequences of warring silly superstitions?

olivier5's avatar

He could look at the positive aspects of religion, for instance. It’s not a black and white picture.

stanleybmanly's avatar

That’s true. And he does credit religion with positive effects, but he is unquestionably a critic of religion, and I might add earned a respectable living doing so. Sure he may have beat the horse to excess, but I would too and enjoy it considerably if it payed the mortgage.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@olivier5 – sure, he could, but that’s not his gig. He’s a guy that has made his reputation on the power of his opinions and views. What’s the benefit to him to credit religion for much of anything.

olivier5's avatar

Sure, polemic stances sell well. Similarly, Trump, Hanity and scores of other loud mouthes making good business uttering polemical, totally one-sided, caricatural statements. Doesn’t make them particularly credible in my eyes.

I guess as an atheist, i tend to resent it when fellow atheists come across as just as simplistic, ideological and contemptuous of other people’s worldview as some religious folks. It doesn’t help our cause. Not to mention that Dawkins has been seen as a divisive figure in the atheist camp, with rather unnecessary polemics about feminism, rape, etc. He lacks a capacity for nuance. Even in his biology work, he’s much more simplistic than Gould for instance. The “selfish gene” is reductionist, and reifies genes. Genes are just small pieces of information in the grand book of life, IMO. They are not “things”, they are “texts”.

This said, there could also a cultural difference here. I’m French, and atheism is fairly dominant in France nowadays. We don’t feel on the defensive, whereas French religious people do feel threatened. In the US and UK, religion seems dominant and atheists an embattle minority. So they need to fight back and that takes some aggressiveness.

Way back in the 18th century when religion was dominant in France and Jean Meslier wrote his “Superstition In All Ages”, he famously wrote that he wished the last king would be hung with the bowels of the last priest. That was probably more rabid than anything Dawkins ever wrote… because Meslier was very very angry at the extent of religion’s influence.

SmartAZ's avatar

I know nothing about Mr. Dawkins and I have never heard anything about him that made me want to learn more.

NerdyKeith's avatar

@SmartAZ So why are you answering about a topic you clearly know nothing about? Not trying to be rude here, but usually its expected that you have some knowledge on the topics you are responding to.

Personally if I see a topic I don’t have relevant information on to share, I tend to not answer it.

SmartAZ's avatar

I’m taking a charm class. So far they have taught me to say “I know nothing about him” instead of “He’s full of shit.”

NerdyKeith's avatar

@SmartAZ If you think he is full of shit and can back up your statement with something to support it; I’ll certainly read what you have to say. But you have already admitted that you know nothing about Dawkins, so your statement wouldn’t have very much to back it up.

Personally when it comes to Dawkins I can take him or leave him. Some issues I agree with him on and others I don’t. So if anyone has a criticism about him, its certainly no blow against me.

SmartAZ's avatar

Why are you hung up on one third of a sentence? My point was contained in the other two thirds.

NerdyKeith's avatar

Because it’s generally regarded as willfull ignorance to be commenting on topics you have no idea about nor a desire to become more educated about. You should also be hung up on it. It would be no different from me criticising a religion without researching it first.

Talking about something you have zero bases of information on; literally adds nothing to a conversation. It is literally the most irrelevant and unhelpful thing you can do.

If you were watching a televised debate and heard one of the debating opponents admit that he knew nothing about what they were debating about, but gave an opinion based on nothing. What would you think?

I can tell you what I would think. “Why is this person talking about what they have no experience or insight on whatsoever? It makes no sense!”

SmartAZ's avatar

Well excuse me all over the place. I will not inflict myself upon the followers of this thread any more.

You and some others here are being awfully unfriendly, scolding me for posting just because you couldn’t get my point.

NerdyKeith's avatar

Not trying to be rude. It was constructive feedback. I’d advise you to write what you know, I’ll leave it at that.

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