Finally! Dawkins Being Called to Account on Child Abuse Claims

Mike Gene has been running a series on Richard Dawkins’ outrageous claim that Christian teachings are often more harmful than sexual abuse. Apparently he’s finally being called to account.

It’s about time.

It’s been almost six years since I showed in a BreakPoint article that science completely contradicted Dawkins’ claim. At the time he was the Oxford University Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, or in other words, a complete hypocrite with respect to this issue.

Almost four years ago I wondered why no one was pressing him on it. I repeated the question a little over a year ago.

Apparently some others are finally asking the same question. See Mike Gene’s articles:

While you’re there, you ought to check out Mike’s penetrating insights into scientism, under the unexpected title of Aspirinism.

Tom Gilson

Vice President for Strategic Services, Ratio Christi Lead Blogger at Thinking Christian Editor, True Reason BreakPoint Columnist

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15 Responses

  1. d says:

    One atheist down…

    … one distinctly unhelpful slam edited out by siteowner.

  2. I did call him on it in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, too. But I look forward to seeing what Mike says.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    What’s different this time is that more people are paying it some attention, Dawkins included.

  4. Ray Ingles says:

    The fact that theists, even prominent theists, sometimes make mistakes, even fundamental ones, isn’t supposed to count against theism.

    So if Dawkins makes any mistakes or is in some areas irrational, that means he can’t be correct in any other areas?

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Well, that’s obvious enough, Ray. Not even worth asking, in my opinion.

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    And by the way, your cheap shot on “theists’ mistakes” is nothing better than that. It’s 13,500 word essay and you expect to pick a fight over it? Which part and on what grounds? And what on earth would it have to do with the OP? (In other words, since it has nothing to do with the OP, don’t bother answering those rhetorical questions.)


  7. Ray Ingles says:

    The thing is, I’m perfectly willing to grant that – most of the time – teaching about hell isn’t as harmful as Dawkins intimates. Some kids do, in fact, react badly to it – and it can certainly be taught in a manner that’s harmful to most – but both cases seem rare.

    And I’m totally fine with hammering him when he makes a mistake. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, even from his fellow-travellers.

    But why even leave that portion of “d’s” comment up? How is Dawkins ‘down’, exactly? With respect to this issue, sure, he’s lost credibility… but that’s not the same thing as being wrong on the central part of his claims.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    I left that portion of d’s comment up for reasons d would understand. In a word, he said something really out of line, and I wanted him to think about it.

  9. David Foster says:

    While I’d agree with Ray that Dawkins being shown to be factually wrong on this point doesn’t mean that he’s wrong in his other claims, I’d say that there are at least two significant points here:

    1. His platform has lost a fair amount of credibility.
    As Dawkins has claimed to be a proponent of a scientific worldview, this is more damaging than his simply being imperfect in his practice of them. Rather, its direct evidence that the view he’s been promoting as scientific is, demonstrably, not based on science.

    2. This is, in fact, fairly central to his claims.
    Dawkins has not claimed the non-existence of God. Rather he has claimed that God’s existence is unlikely, and that religion is harmful. This has been his platform.
    While this particular point tells us nothing about the likelihood of God’s existence (his reasoning there has been addressed many times elsewhere), it does tell us something important about the validity of his claims about the harmfulness of religion.

  10. Ray Ingles says:

    David Foster –

    As Dawkins has claimed to be a proponent of a scientific worldview, this is more damaging than his simply being imperfect in his practice of them.

    Not following that. Can you elaborate? It really does seem to me to be “imperfect in his practice of them”. When did Dawkins claim to be invariably rational in all aspects of his beliefs at all times? I don’t recall reading that anywhere.

    it does tell us something important about the validity of his claims about the harmfulness of religion.

    I think this particular claim about religion’s harm is exaggerated, yes. Why does that mean any and all other claims are automatically less supported, though? He’s got a pretty good case regarding creationism and science education, for example.

  11. heddle says:

    The issue is not that Dawkins is sorta “finally wrong” about something. That’s a red herring. He has been wrong many times, some documented on this blog. The problem is that he now appears to be lunatic-fringe wrong. You have to give him credit: by using the phrase “mild sexual abuse” and comparing it to our teaching children about hell (or rather a complete Jack Chick inspired fantasy/caricature/misrepresentation of what we teach children) he has managed to annoy, simultaneously, both Christians and many of the gnu atheists. That is some accomplishment!

  12. Mike Gene says:

    It’s not merely a question of Dawkins being wrong – its a demonstration that he truly does not care about evidence. When he demands evidence from theists, he is not standing on some princple. He is playing a game. In essence, Dawkins is not trustworthy because of what these latest event has shown us.

  13. David Foster says:

    Ray Ingles,

    I agree that Dawkins has never claimed to be invariably rational, and expect that he’d deny being so if asked.

    Rather, I feel that Dawkins has claimed that it is more rational, and more scientifically minded, to believe that the teachings of religion in general and Christianity in particular are harmful. The more it is shown that his reasons for claiming this are not based on anthropological study, but on personal intuitions, the more clear it is that his position is self-contradictory.

    So, the point has nothing to do with how rational Dawkins, personally, happens to be. It is about the fact that the position on religion he promotes as scientific is not based on findings from the relevant sciences.

    However, I completely agree with you that discrediting this case does not mean that he is incorrect on others. In fact, it does not even mean he’s incorrect on this one, but merely that he has given us no reason to believe him (though actual studies do happen to contradict him).

    Yet this does tend to discredit him as an authority on this subject. The same principles would hold regarding other points. He’s obviously an authority regarding the truth of creation science (and, for the record, I reject it myself). However, he is not an authority on the social effects of it. He’s given no more reason to believe his conclusions there than he has on the issue of child abuse. So, even if one agrees that it is harmful, one must admit that it is not because Dawkins has provided any scientifically gathered information. He has not.

    And that is the crux of it. He praises the concept of following the evidence where it leads, then gives a list of conclusions which he has not remotely supported by evidence.

    That is certainly a problem for both Dawkins and the overwhelming majority of his supporters I’ve encountered online. It is a direct contradiction in the platform itself. Anyone committed to insisting on evidence would find no value at all in most every statement Dawkins has ever made about the effects of religion.

  14. Ray Ingles says:

    David Foster –

    He praises the concept of following the evidence where it leads, then gives a list of conclusions which he has not remotely supported by evidence.

    Can you give me specifics on the “list of conclusions” Dawkins gives, in particular others you object to?

  15. David Foster says:

    Ray Ingles,

    Can you give me specifics on the “list of conclusions” Dawkins gives, in particular others you object to?

    I’m inclined to say “nearly all of them”.
    To be more helpful than that, my most basic disagreement with him is with his insistence that the question of God’s existence is a scientific, rather than a philosophical, question. I’ve never seen this supported, and seems to be the basis of the often implicit assumption that God can be treated as a physical object.

    In fact, Dawkins often seems to think every question is a scientific question. This may be why he constantly implies that one must choose between evolutionary biology and belief in God. But, as yet, I’ve never heard him offer any logical (and certainly not scientific) reasons why those who accept both are wrong.

    He also argues that God needn’t exist in order to have a logical reason to behave morally. Personally, I don’t for a moment think that one need to believe in God to behave morally (I’ve known many morally commendable atheists), but I disagree with the idea that his morality (much as I appreciate it) is supported by logic and science.
    And, more to the point, he’s provided no scientific evidence that any of the alternate ten commandments he gives are morally correct behaviors (whether I agree or not with any one of them). That is, he’s not shown that we can get an “ought” from an “is”.

    He’s also claimed that the existence of the heads of communist states does not discredit the idea that an atheistic society would be morally superior to a theistic one. Personally, I don’t see any reason to think that either would automatically be morally superior, but I’ve certainly received no scientifically gathered data from Dawkins which would suggest that people like Stalin were exceptions to an otherwise clear trend.

    I also completely disagree with several of the underlying assumptions in his Boeing 747 argument:
    1. He assumes that simplicity is the only factor which need be considered in order to reach a valid conclusion.
    2. He assumes that the multiverse theory is simple (relative to theism).
    3. Based on his definition of “simple”, his calling God complex assumes that God is a composite of parts.
    4. He apparently assumes that this argument, which is merely a challenge to the cosmological argument, is a positive reason to believe that God almost certainly doesn’t exist.

    All of these are ideas being promoted by his book. None of them have been supported with evidence. And, in my view, all of them are incorrect.

    There are more, of course, but I think I’ve made my point. Really, I’m curious as to what scientifically gathered information Dawkins has ever presented on the issue of religion. I have no memory of him citing an anthropological study at any time, to support any point at all.

    For someone who insists on evidence, this seems a problem, but I am aware that I’ve not read everything he’s written. Is there any point when he’s done this?

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