Response to a bizarre Twitter storm

Jul 29, 2014

This morning (29th July 2014) I posted three tweets together, making a simple logical point. It seemed barely plausible that such an obvious point needed making, but the subsequent tsunami (as one tweeter called it) of  agonised attacks, not only on Twitter but in some blogs and even some newspapers, actually demonstrated the opposite.

My first tweet set out the logic without any specific example. It’s hard to imagine anyone objecting, and I don’t think anybody did:-
X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

Tweet 1

I fleshed it out with two examples:-

Tweet 2

I should of course have said RELATIVELY mild. Obviously I don’t think any pedophilia is mild in an absolute sense. But I presume most victims would agree that being touched by an adult hand (though very unpleasant, as I know from my own childhood experience) is RELATIVELY speaking not SO unpleasant as being violently penetrated by an adult penis. But the logical point is, or should be, uncontroversial: no endorsement of the less bad option is implied.

My second hypothetical example, which caused most of the trouble, was this:

Tweet 3

In both my hypothetical examples, I made the mistake of forgetting to put quotation marks around the hypothetical quotations. The second one, for instance, should be amended to

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.” If you think anybody who said that would thereby be endorsing date rape, go away and learn how to think.

Actually, it’s rather plausible that some people might find date rape WORSE than being raped by a stranger (let’s leave the “at knifepoint” out of it). Think of the disillusionment, the betrayal of trust in someone you thought was a friend. But my logical point remains unchanged. It applies to any hypothetical X and Y, which could be reversed. Thus:-

“Being raped by a stranger is bad. Being raped by a formerly trusted friend is worse.” If you think that hypothetical quotation is an endorsement of rape by strangers, go away and learn how to think.

I wasn’t even saying it is RIGHT to rank one kind of rape as worse than another (that caused an immense amount of agony and a scarcely creditable level of vitriolic abuse in the Twittosphere). You may be one of those who thinks all forms of rape are EQUALLY bad, and should  not, in principle be ranked at all, ever. In that case my logical point won’t be relevant to you and you don’t need to take offence (although you might have trouble being a judge who is expected to give heavier sentences for worse versions of the same crime). All I was saying is that IF you are one of those who is prepared to say that one kind of rape is worse than another (whichever particular kinds those might be), this doesn’t imply that you approve of the less bad one. It is still bad. Just not AS bad.

I was only talking logic, with no desire to make light of the seriousness of any kind of rape or any kind of pedophilia. And the hypothetical comparisons that illustrated my logical point could, in all cases, be reversed without in any way changing the validity of the logic.


166 comments on “Response to a bizarre Twitter storm

  • Depressing that you’ve needed to re-explain such a simple and apparently obvious concept. The lack of nuance possible in 140 characters is a problem, but, viewing the tsunami, my impression was that the intent of many commentators was to assume the least charitable interpretation of your tweets despite repeated clarification.

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  • I find it very illuminating that there was almost no reaction to the notion of “mild pedophilia.” Even among people who were missing the point of your syllogism (which had nothing to do with its contents), one would expect the sincerely aggrieved to be equally antagonized by both notions, which did not seem to be the case.

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  • “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.”

    WHAT IS YOUR POINT? You’re saying that one is quantifably worse than the other. You say you’re not but by your statements that is what is happening by fiat. You can’t get around it. You stated that one is WORSE than the other.

    I DON’T think you’re endorsing either, I just think the statement is absurd and you have failed to justify it. How do you know being raped by a stranger is worse than that of a friend? Have you talked to rape victims? Are you a rape psychologist? What study have you done to demonstrate this ludicrous statement?

    It’s really hard to restrain oneself when you contradict yourself in one paragraph.

    “I wasn’t even saying it is RIGHT to rank one kind of rape as worse than another”
    “It is still bad. Just not AS bad.”

    So it’s not right to rank rape, but you’re happy to do it anyway, and in the same paragraph where you say it’s not right to do it. What the f*ck?

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  • It’s a shame that Dawkin’s comments have attracted such unthinking, ignorant responses. It seems that a lot of people are politically motivated, and very skilled at faux outrage!

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  • So what was the motivation for the original posting? Launching that kind of exercise in logic apropos of nothing, particularly with those examples, seems quite odd.

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  • 6
    philiprose says:

    Like I said on twitter. I got your point. However you really should watch the horrible examples that set ratio equivalences between concepts/ things that are not comparable and thus blow up the point you are trying to make.

    Unless using trigger examples to generate a twitter storm to drive traffic to your site was your chief goal?

    Then it worked out quite well.


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  • What exactly was the reason in using the two subjects?
    You show puzzlement, bewilderment, and annoyance that people
    on Twitter reacted “badly.”

    If you consider yourself a scientist, you may be familiar with
    testing something and seeing the reaction over time. I reckon you’ve
    tested Twitter enough not to be surprised at the reaction. I also reckon
    you’ve tested Twitter enough to know that the two subjects would be emotive.

    You think this is all about logic.
    All that has puzzled me is why you went straight for those two subjects.

    Take a moral philosophical class, and on a logical, moral point, they will
    start mild (if I can use that word in this case), and then get further shocking
    with examples, in order to make the students understand how their decisions
    are being made.

    All you have done, is a very bad class, going straight to the shocking end,
    for whatever your motives were.

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  • I agree with you. This morning I saw a friend of mine posting some article saying “Richard Dawkins has passed beyond the plot”, I read it and immedietly went to your twitter and realized exactly what you meant. I’m disgust at the way that “media” immedietly created this missleading hoax without even trying to, like you said, think!

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  • It is rather sad to see that, even after the above mentioned statement, about a quotation that was quite obvious and clear, some people still react in a rather ignorant manner.

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  • I’m baffled by exactly what point was actually being made. Citing some abstruse logical formulation with not apparent motivation seems quite strange to me.

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  • Bizarre? How is it bizarre? It’s predictable is what it is. Using pedophilia and rape as examples to make a point that very few people have trouble understanding will predictably result in people being upset about it.

    Look, if the point is “saying X is worse than Y doesn’t entail acceptance of Y” then we’re fine.

    If you want to use non-controversial, widely understood examples of X and Y to further illustrate your point, that’s fine. For example, “Being mugged is bad. Being mugged and beaten is worse. If you think the previous sentence means that being mugged is okay then [you’re wrong]. ”

    This works because there’s very little controversy in people’s minds about either mugging being a crime, or mugging and beating is also a crime, and probably more traumatic.

    This is not true for the case of the comparison for stranger rape vs. acquaintance or date rape. First of all, there is a great deal of controversy as to whether date rape is a crime at all. Second of all, regarding the actual research on the traumatic effects of rape, it’s really unclear as to whether being raped by a stranger or someone you know is more traumatic. One clear trend shows that people who are raped and are subsequently disbelieved and unsupported when they try to talk about it are more traumatized than those who get support and aren’t accused of lying. Also, some date rapists do use weapons, and some stranger rapes take place without one, so the knife is really just a big confounding factor.

    All in all, that particular set of examples was a really bad choice of examples.

    So, no, the problem is not with people understanding the basic concept that ranking things as bad or worse doesn’t erase the badness from the less bad thing.

    And I imagine that the lack of response to the pedophilia example is also related to a relative lack of controversy based on the terms he chose. If the pedophilia is “mild” then it is by definition not as bad as the pedophilia that is worse. So that’s not really controversial either.

    Dawkins is either ignorant of the fact that there is a large swath of society that really considers date rape to be not rape at all and therefore not a crime, or he’s being a jerk to rape victims. Or maybe both. Not a good look, either way. He should really stop talking about rape in public.

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  • 12
    davidp-schmitt says:

    The psychological pain experienced by victims of different types of rape has been investigated. Empirically, stranger rape does appear to be more psychologically painful than other other types.

    Thornhill, N. W., & Thornhill, R. (1990). An evolutionary analysis of psychological pain following rape:: II. The effects of stranger, friend, and family-member offenders. Ethology and Sociobiology, 11, 177-193.

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  • When discussing logical syllogisms, premises must be true for the argument to be sound and valid. When you say x is worse than y, you are asserting that x is in fact worse than y. If you could flip it around, then your logic syllogism isn’t sound.

    It is perfectly reasonable to people to discuss the truth of a premise in order to invalidate an argument. This is the basis of logic and logical thinking.

    I believe you did not mean to make a valuation but you did. It isn’t an issue of the outraged people misunderstanding your intent, it is accepting your argument the way you made it.

    By saying date rape isn’t as bad as stranger rape, you are making an assertion – which must be true in order for your conclusion to be true, valid and sound or X isn’t not as bad as Y but not the same as X is good.

    So are we discussing logic – in which case your argument fails or are we discussing informal conversation in which case you, maybe unintentionally, marginalized the suffering of child molestation victims, and rape victims.

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  • 14
    Benjamin says:

    So he was actually empirically WRONG when he said “Being raped by a stranger is bad. Being raped by a formerly trusted friend is worse.”

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  • There’s nothing wrong with trying to quantify suffering. You may want to try it out when planning your next vacation destination… Hmmmm, Syria or Hawaii.

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  • I wonder if Richard is scrutinising the well-made points, questioning his motives, or busy re-tweeting all the short, hero-worshipping “I love you” comments? I don’t know, because I had to stop his retweets earlier today.

    Sometimes a blog answer sorts out the regular foot-in-mouth tweets he has sent out.
    In this case, it has only added to the confusion.

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  • Bravo Mr. Dawkins!

    You have, once again, pierced the bubble of false equivalency to illustrate there are DEGREES of suffering and criminal behavior the world.

    This is so obvious, at least to most of us, that it is enshrouded in our penal codes. Here in the State (US) I live in, we have 1st Degree Assault (felony, up to 20-years in prison), 2nd Degree Assault (Felony, up to 7 years), 3rd Degree Assault (Felony, 5 years), 4th Degree Assault (gross misdemeanor, no more than 1 year), and 5th degree Assault (simple misdemeanor, no more than 90-days).

    So, clearly, we recognize that there are, in fact and practice, vast differences of suffering and damage (and consequently punishment) in otherwise related crimes.

    And for those who don’t get the ‘rape’ Tweet. Read about the horrors suffered by the women raped by Charles NG and Leonard LAKE. It might make you puke. And, hopefully, you’ll really understand that there are degrees of horror that your false equivalency sweeps under the rug.

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  • Okay: let’s do logic. When ‘bizarre Twitter storms’ keep happening, you can either retreat into basically restating your position over and over, in longer and longer forms, assuming (pretty much wrongly) that the problem here is that you weren’t understood, or that people are stoking false outrage.

    Or, you can actually listen to what people are saying and react specifically to that. Not agree, necessarily, but at least actually take account of real objections. And not the people whose objections make no sense and are easily swatted away. Intelligent, thoughtful, informed people, who happen to think what you’re doing here is damaging — to your own image as well as the general issues. And then you can address those concerns. Yes, I get that you have your own issues with some of them. Fine. Find one or two that you do have some respect for, sit with them for a while and let them explain to you why this keeps happening. If you end up disagreeing with them, okay. But I don’t get the impression you’re even going that far. You restate and restate, feel misunderstood, wander off with a sense of grievance, then the whole thing repeats some time later. Not, IMO, logical behaviour, but your mileage may vary.

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  • 21
    terrycollmann says:

    Benjamin, Benjamin – reread what Richard is saying. They’re all examples of possible statements people could make, and he’s merely using those possible statements to make a point – he’s not endorsing the statements, or saying any are true, or indeed false. He’s just saying that the inferences people are drawing from those sorts of ststements are wrong. Just like the equally wrong inferences you seem to be drawing from them.

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  • 22
    terrycollmann says:

    I’m baffled why you don’t understand the point. Let’s try to put it another way: “Saying Y = X + n does not signify approval of X.” Understand now?

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  • I’m guessing he doesn’t like people applying positions to him that he didn’t state he holds.

    That’s how it came across to me. Like most twitter comments I’m guessing it lacks context.

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  • I understand what the point is claimed to be; that it is a totally uninflected exercise in logical thinking with no other agenda whatsoever. My question is about motivation; why that question, and why now? If you choose to respond I’d appreciate it if you’d do so with a little less condescension. Thanks.

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  • 26
    Benjamin says:

    “he’s not endorsing the statements, or saying any are true, or indeed false.”

    His hypotheticals are sloppy, unnecessary and poorly thought out. If he has no opinion on it, which he’s claiming now but didn’t claim before, then again I ask, WHAT IS THE POINT? He’s simply making logical syllogisms for the sake of making logical syllogisms, then going to extremes that are flatly wrong, and he doesn’t endorse what he’s saying, he’s simply using logic. It’s just ridiculous. The whole thing is ridiculous. I don’t know how else to even put it.

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  • 27
    Aleister says:

    Of course everyone understands this. The question is, why would someone think it’s important to point out to some rape victims that other rape victims have also been threatened with a knife and therefore have suffered more? Is there some compelling need to tell the first category of rape victim that their rape wasn’t actually that bad?

    What is the purpose here?

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  • 28
    SQuiller says:

    Whether there is controversy about the rape example,or not, is entirely irrelevant to the point being made. Anyone with any reading comprehension will understand that he was not making a categorical statement about date rape or stranger rape. It’s not Richard’s fault if some people are unable to understand that. Maybe he also wanted to illustrate emotionally driven reasoning.

    Dawkins is either ignorant of the fact that there is a large swath of
    society that really considers date rape to be not rape at all and
    therefore not a crime, or he’s being a jerk to rape victims.

    Does rape turn people into idiots?

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  • I think Richard was wrong in this case. I don’t think his intent was malicious, but I think he was wrong. He’s a human being, and human beings say facepalm-worthy things all the time. Likewise, it upsets me that people are immediately throwing the misogynist label at him like it’s going out of style.

    Here’s an example of a facepalm worthy thing my dad said recently:

    “People who cut themselves do it to get attention.”

    Wow, Dad. What decade are you living in? When he said that I let him have it with both barrels. I’ve never cut myself but I know people who have. They’re in a lot of pain and are taking out their rage in a very unfortunate manner.

    Dad has also said that people who attempt suicide and fail do it to get attention. I had to explain to him that they fail because they don’t know how to do it. Again, I was shocked. I asked him where he had read this. A college textbook. And Dad went to college in the ’60s-’70s. Psychologists didn’t know SHIT back then.

    The fact that Dad said these tragically misinformed things does not make him mentalillnessophobic, someone who hates people with emotional problems, or whatever else. It simply makes his statements WRONG AND UNINFORMED. Imagine if my dad were famous and used Twitter. They’d have called it Cuttergate.

    I want to write a longer blog post addressing this, but I think it’s best to let it lie. So that is my opinion, concisely.

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  • 30
    SQuiller says:

    He probably went for those subjects because sexism and sexual crimes are issues around which the Social Justice Inquisition have been trying to convict him. Maybe he was making a point to them, and maybe deliberately drawing out the hysterics to illustrate a point to sane people.

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  • Oh good lord. Let’s grant that Dawkins is absolutely right about what he said. It’s still emotionally color blind. Jeezus, not everything has to be about being right or proving a point, even when your opponents are asshats.

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  • 32
    Aleister says:

    Well he hasn’t helped himself much then has he? Has anyone actually accused him of endorsing rape? If so why doesn’t he address them directly?

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  • Honestly, I don’t think the reason people are offended has anything to do with them thinking you are endorsing one act over the other. At least that’s not the responses I have seen.

    The reason they are mad is because you are trying to be objective about something that is completely subjective. One cannot claim either is worse than the other because the effects that either scenario has will be completely different from person to person. Some people are violently raped and are able to rise above it with no problems, while others are “mildly” molested and they are messed up for the rest of their lives. There is no logic to the way rape and molestation victims react to their attacks, it’s different for everyone and 100% emotional.

    I know this was not your point but I can understand where people are coming from. That being said, you knew damn well using rape and pedophilia as examples was going to create a shit storm. You did it to prove a point I suppose, but please don’t act surprised or offended, this is exactly the reaction you were looking for.

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  • 34
    notrobsongreen says:

    Thing is, while I can understand the point you were trying to make, I don’t understand why you just went in all guns blazing using two such incendiary topics as your examples? You HAVE to have known that whatever point you set out to make was going to be affected by virtue of using topics like rape and pedophilia to make your point.

    You’d have presumably been better served by just using a basic example that aided your point and would have garnered little to no backlash. You even tweeted one yourself later. “Stealing £1 is bad. Stealing an old lady’s life savings is worse.” Why didn’t you just use that to start with? Considering you say you were only talking logic, which is fine, why then was it necessary to use rape or pedophilia to aid your point?

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  • Oh, wow.

    You think it’s “bizarre” that people are upset by your usage of rape (and grading different types of rape, as well!) as some kind of abstract thought experiment? Are you really that insensitive and clueless of the issue of sexual abuse? You think your logical exercises exist in some kind of vacuum? These are issues that have a profoundly traumatic effect on people, so even if your logic is correct, perhaps you should consider the effect your statements have on other people. Unless you think the feelings and responses of victims of sexual abuse are silly and irrational and that they should bow to your oh-so-rational reasoning?

    If I may give you some advice here, considering the frequency that you find yourself in these kind of situations where people are critical of you and your statements, perhaps you should stop and take a step back and look at your view of the world when it comes to these type of things. Perhaps your perspective as a white cisman with no personal experience of sexual violence isn’t the ultimate one, eh?

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  • The popular response to your tweets seems to be viewing the meaning of the tweets through some assumed post-structuralist / speech-act theorist view of meaning. I’m going to ignore all that for another issue.

    Can we please NOT REDEFINE the term syllogism by means of how it is being used in this twitter storm. Your tweets were not a syllogism, apart from the rarely listed definition of “an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument.” At its most basic a syllogism is a form of deductive argument whereby the conclusion necessarily follows from two premises.

    The offending tweets are not even a logical argument. There is no conclusion. There is simply a statement of a necessary logical truth, that a logical conclusion does not follow from a judgment of value (in this case a comparison of two things, which is understood to be a value judgment). And then you provide an example illustrating this logical law. Again, this is not an argument. Nor is it a syllogism. To illustrate by means of an actual syllogism: A syllogism is a logical argument. A logical argument contains a conclusion. Dawkin’s tweets did not contain a conclusion. Therefore Dawkin’s tweets are not syllogisms.

    Ironically, this very discussion and twitter storm, by it’s hasty regard to formal logic, is actually contributing to careless, non logical thinking!

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  • The original context was this tweet about Israel, for which Professor Dawkins took a certain amount of flak:

    He clearly woke up this morning worried that he’d given people the impression that he was pro-Israeli. So he decided to clarify, by analogy to paedophilia and rape. Because, you know, if there’s two subjects that relax people more than Israel, it’s paedophilia and rape.

    Odd that professor Dawkins didn’t mention his initial tweet in this otherwise exhaustive response to his critics.

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  • Exactly. Someone using rape and pedophilia as examples in an exercise of logic, is clearly looking for an intense reaction. I’m really bothered by the fact he is now trying to play dumb, when the reaction he got was exactly what he wanted.

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  • This would be a great point if there was an actual syllogism (or argument) involved. But the statement of the form “x is worse than y” does not serve as a premise in a argument. It is merely an illustration of the principle that a comparison or value judgment (depending on your moral realism/relativism regarding the term “worse”) does not entail a commitment to or endorsement of the lesser of the things being compared.

    One could argue from a post-structuralist view that it does involved such an implicit commitment in terms of how such statements are used in society, but that is orthogonal to any discussion of logic.

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  • The key word there being “sincerely.” This is a subject that attracts outrage junkies. (see comment below) Which, to echo Richard Dawkins, is NOT to imply that sexual assault isn’t an outrage, but it is almost impossible to have a productive discussion in a social media forum about this issue because, invariably, that forum will be descended upon by people long on allegations and recriminations and short on facts, but those people won’t let that belay their invective. They are admittedly obtuse to the facts, so they don’t really care about who’s right and who’s wrong, but they have no compunction telling others that they are wrong. They’ve chosen indignation, utterly righteous in their eyes and fatuous to any critically thinking person, over having a substantive point. If you frequent atheist forums, you know exactly who I’m talking about.

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  • Whether there is controversy about the rape example,or not, is
    entirely irrelevant to the point being made.

    Not entirely irrelevant, IF the goal is to successfully help people understand his point (which is ostensibly about logic, not sexual assault) better.

    Anyone with any reading comprehension will understand that he was not
    making a categorical statement about date rape or stranger rape.

    Excuse me? He did categorically say that the latter is worse than the former. Perhaps I lack reading comprehension.

    It’s not Richard’s fault if some people are unable to understand that.

    Understand what, precisely? That it’s not as clear as Dawkins pretends that one is worse than the other?

    Maybe he also wanted to illustrate emotionally driven reasoning.

    If so, then he should have said so.

    Does rape turn people into idiots?*

    No evidence so far suggests that. Were you also trying to illustrate some emotionally driven reasoning? Better luck next time.

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  • 42
    evilducks says:

    Kidnapping and murdering Dawkins family without leaving a trace is bad. Kidnapping and murdering Dawkins family and then dismembering them to make a religious diorama is worse. If you think that is an endorsement of kidnapping and murdering Dawkins family without leaving a trace then you need to go away and learn to think logically.

    See, simple enough, can’t fathom why anybody dislikes simple logical statements.

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  • No, he wasn’t. The previous comment spoke about the psychological pain associated with victimization so only if limited to the context of psychology is Dawkins statement wrong. Psychological pain is pretty hard to measure empirically so in order for Richard to be empirically wrong, the above analysis would have to be empirically correct, which I’d argue is tricky when the only metric is an interview with a victim and that victim’s self assessment of the resultant psychological pain. Psychology is not a hard science like bio or chem and does not generally traffic in the empirical.

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  • Perhaps your perspective as a white cisman with no personal experience
    of sexual violence isn’t the ultimate one, eh?

    From Dawkins’ book “An Appetite for Wonder”

    I would watch games of squash from the gallery, waiting for the game
    to end so I could slip down and practise by myself. One day – I must
    have been about eleven – there was a master in the gallery with me. He
    pulled me onto his knee and put his hand inside my shorts. He did no
    more than have a little feel, but 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.

    You’re free to do as you please, but I’d suggest that many would find your race-labeling in fairly poor taste, especially alongside your ignorance of Dawkins’ experiences.

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  • 45
    Seyed Ardalan says:

    Do you have any problem with his first tweet? (It’s super clear that what he wants to demonstrate)

    No: Then there is nothing wrong to use any hypothetical examples (either right or wrong) Because there are just hypothetical examples and it’s matter of opinion to how rank those. and ofcourse arguing that examples are wrong or “sloppy, unnecessary and poorly thought out” is completely irrelevant.
    Yes: Then as he said go read about how to think logically.

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  • I read your tweets. I thought you were utterly wrong about rape, because the most important aspect of rape is its impact on the victim, and my instinct was that whether it was a stranger or acquaintance/”date” raping you, the impact on the victim would be equally bad. I spent 2 minutes on google. I found this article which contained clear irrefutable primary evidence confirming it.

    Some excerpts:

    criminologist Prof David Wilson of Birmingham City University, who has worked on the sex offender treatment programme at Grendon prison. “If we listen to what the victims of rape tell us about its impact, there is no difference between those who have suffered date rape and those who have been attacked by strangers.”

    “Rape is a man having sex without gaining permission from the woman,” says Eileen Calder, who has worked with rape victims for decades and is the co-founder of the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre. “How he does it and his relationship to the woman are insignificant. I have worked with rape victims for 26 years.”

    You have attempted to incorporate this into your response above by stealing arguments people like me tweeted to you. But this fails in 2 ways:
    (1) This evidence refutes your entire concept of the “ranking” rape being a valid example of syllogism.
    (2) It doesn’t matter what your motivation was in making this point about rape. You still made the point about rape, which is wrong, and posted a blog post which does not retract it. Instead this blog post attempts to claim you didn’t mean what you said, and characterise anyone who thought you did mean what you said as “bizarre”. Next time shall we all assume you are always lying?

    Some side points.
    (1) you claim that denying ranking rape is like denying stealing £1 is less bad than stealing granny’s life savings. This is a false analogy because the impact on the victim clearly differs vastly, whereas with rape, as I have proved, the impact on the victim is equally bad no matter what the circumstances.
    (2) you claim that anyone who believes that all rape is equally serious (i.e. as I have established the impact of all rape is equally bad and this is the most important consideration) cannot be a judge. This is false and your most damaging claim of all, because it risks incorrectly harming people’s trust in the courts. The aggravating factors clearly reflect the reality of impact on victims because the CPS explicitly states that there is no difference between “stranger” rape and “date” rape when it comes to sentencing. The BBC article lists the aggravating factors from CPS guidelines which may influence sentencing, none of which are to do with the seriousness of the rape per se, but cover premeditation and things which are crimes in their own right: violence beyond that necessary to commit the rape (assault); abduction, detention (a crime); abuse of trust; sustained attack, more than one offender (i.e. multiple rapes); use of drugs/alcohol to ply (premeditation; drink spiking is a crime); rapist knew he carried sexually transmitted infection; offence motivated by prejudice; causing ejaculation (risking pregnancy)

    So, where does this leave things? well the current state of play is that you have informed us that logic / syllogisms exist. thank you very much. how useful. but you have failed to illustrate it, providing a failed example with a false analogy and fallacious justifications.

    so what value have you added? none. In fact with your ignorant statements on rape, you have done considerable harm. A massive net negative.

    What is the way forward from here? First you need to retract all of your statements on rape, apologise to all rape victims, acknowledge the reality of the impact of rape, acknowledge the correct legal position on rape sentencing, and provide a valid example to illustrate syllogism.

    Based on the evidence I have seen, you are a 1st rate biologist, but a 10th rate philosopher/logician, with no more knowledge of those or the social sciences than the proverbial bloke down the pub. I suggest you either read up on the subject or, better still, interactive learning is more fruitful so why not sign up for Introduction to Philosophy at Birkbeck. Even better, you’ve got a few quid, how about Tony Grayling’s Philosophy class at this new-fangled New College of the Humanities place. He might even give you mate’s rates!

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  • I’d submit that he reason Richard so often finds himself the subject of opprobrium has much more to do with being an outspoken critic of religion than anything else.

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  • I presume he opted for the subjects he did because it ought to have been obvious that he would never endorse rape or pedophilia, therefore it ought to have helped make the point that saying x is worse than y is not an endorsement of y.

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  • I disagree. The examples of rape and pedophilia are very apt precisely because they are horrific crimes that no respectable person could excuse, which makes the point that saying one case may be worse than another cannot be taken as any kind of endorsement.

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  • With so many people slinging so much crap on the internet it’s so easy to slip into friend-or-foe on everything — it takes a lot of courage and maturity to admit you missed something! Good for you!

    It was a good reminder for me, too, not to judge people quickly — it’s so easy to assume what people have or haven’t been through.

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  • 58
    sanguinous says:

    I think part of the problem may stem from the lack of external relativity, and general vagueness, in statements of the form X is bad Y is worse.
    Is X extremely bad, or just a little bit naughty?
    And is Y a lot worse than X, or just a little bit?

    There is a lot of room there for misunderstanding or misinterpretation (be it accidental or willful).

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  • Richard, I thought your central point was sound, as was your logic and your examples. Something that needed saying, considering what we sometimes hear from a particular group of radical feminists.

    But then you used the words “mild rape”. (At the time I missed your “mild pedophilia” tweet.)

    It’s no good trying afterwards to say that you meant “milder”. It’s obvious to anyone that’s gone to the effort of reading this blog post that this is what you meant. But even “milder”, albeit defensible logically, would only have been marginally less gratuitously, unnecessarily insensitive.

    Use of the word “mild” in the context of rape was staggeringly poor judgement on your part. Even if you could manage a decent logical explanation for its use over other available terms – and you haven’t – that it elicited such a reaction shows that your use of words was terrible. Many sensible online atheists seem now to think that you’re making this sort of unnecessarily provocatively worded statement to manufacture outrage and garner attention. I don’t agree with this – I think you either lack emotional intelligence, or refuse to act on your emotional intelligence. Either way, you need to improve on this front because it’s diluting – or worse, distracting from and poisoning – your otherwise hugely important message.

    Frankly, as a lifelong admirer of yours who has huge respect for you, I think you need to apologise for the words you used on this one.

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  • That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying it’s ridiculous for him to use those examples and then act surprised at the response he is getting. He used those examples because they would invoke a strong response and therefore prove his point. I’m not arguing his point, I’m arguing the fact that he is acting naive about the response he would get, when he knew full well that’s what would happen

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  • How dare you say being mugged and beaten is worse than being mugged! All muggings are violent and terrifying acts. Are you a theft expert? Then why are you even talking about mugging. Anyone with half commonsense would know someone could be offended by mugging. You disguise this talk about mugging with logic but we know what you’re REALLY saying, you’re endorsing non-beating muggings, sicko.

    Get it now?

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  • Except for the part about him lacking emotional intelligence (yeesh! That’s loaded!) I think you really nailed it here. You’re probably one of the few people who’s approaching this in a calm, diplomatic and reasoned manner. If you’ll see my post I have my own thoughts on the matter. As I said, I think it was wrong on Richard’s part and I hope my “Cuttergate” example when talking about my father got people to think a little bit. People say facepalm-worthy things sometimes. The difference is that most of them aren’t celebrities on Twitter. I too have a lot of respect for Richard, but he was careless here. I’m glad that you’re not letting this incident color your entire perception of him like it has others’.

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  • They are offended because of the multitude of things Richard Dawkins has said that are true and that upset them terribly. They are just using this (rather absurd) opportunity to try to discredit and change public opinion of him. This is willful character assassination, not a misunderstanding.

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  • So let me get this straight. You’re saying that Dawkins just woke up this morning and thought “I think I’ll send out an informative message that gives my followers on Twitter an exercise in logic”, totally apropos of nothing. Having had that thought and wishing to educate his followers he casts around for a suitably illustrative example, ideally one that has no ambiguities or obfuscating controversy attached to it that might detract from the main, totally educational intention. “I know” he says, “rape and paedophilia, there’s something we can all agree on as being easily classifiable into better and worse categories and that no-one is in any danger of misunderstanding. There’s also the advantage that I’ve never involved in problematic conversations about those topics in the past” Oh, wait…

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  • Nope. Perhaps you could explain further. My point is that, while everyone agrees that mugging is bad, there is no such universal agreement about the badness of date rape.

    All you’ve done here is to ape an imagined response to a mugging, by a mugging victim’s rights advocate, in a world where mugging had the same status as date rape does in this reality: something that is kinda-sorta bad, but probably something that’s not a criminal offense, and why are mugging victims making a big deal about it anyway?

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  • I tweeted Richard this a.m. that its,”sad,but ppl generally don’t see logic through opinion. Now if language was mathematical….”

    He replied with.”Yes yes,you rank X and Y differently. Fine. Whichever you rank as worse,it is still illogical to interpret that as approval of the other.

    I can not understand the need for any apology. The comments were about logic and not opinion. Not about subject,not about taste,decency right or wrong. Or more right against ‘worse’ wrong.

    Folk missed the point completely. Subjects mentioned within the tweets are important. But within the equation itself,not so.

    2 (a) + 2 (b) = 4.
    2 (a) is bad
    2 (b) is worse
    The ranking does not matter. As neither visa versa ranking matter. The outcome remains logical. Anything else illogical.

    People should carry out less kneejerking. Slow down. Carry out basic exposition.

    Logic is the means to a correct answer. Opinion is the idiot who refuses to pay for the batteries for the calculator. Because it isn’t his/her turn.

    Forgive me. I’m an uneducated man.

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  • I was raped and it destroyed my life. Thanks for adding the quotes, which adds clarity to what you were driving at. I just find it odd that something that wrecks people should have been used in rather a flippant way to illustrate a point about logic and the meanings we infer from statements. I know you didn’t mean to get into a nonsensensical taxonomy of rape, but you must understand why those of us who’ve spent years rebuilding our psyches gave a weary sigh on reading your tweets.

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  • what “important message”? you mean the stuff about evolutionary biology right? because the stuff about religion is even more indefensible and fallacious than this rape nonsense. His position on religion is easily refuted by the following 3 points which I make in the Socrates-esque way of asking questions:

    Question 1: where would you put yourself on the scale of 1 to 7, where 1 = you are certain God exists, and 7 = you are certain God does not exist? decimal points are allowed!
    Question 2: how good or bad are the teachings of, e.g. Jesus Christ, as a template for how to live a good life?
    Question 3: are you tolerant of people’s beliefs which you do not share, which do others no harm?

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  • Just to follow up, my comment perhaps didn’t emphasise enough my central point, which is that this abysmal blog post of Dawkins attempting to backtrack misses the point entirely. Which is: date rape and stranger rape are equally bad, judged by impact on victim which is the most important yardstick.

    So X=Y.

    Thus Dawkins’s point fails.

    (apart from the level “Logic exists. Here are some statements which are flawed in a way which means they bear no relation to the logic I am trying to express, and here are some fallacious arguments attempting but failing to defend those incorrect statements”)

    So I say to Mr Dawkins, go away and learn to think properly

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  • If you want to illustrate a logical principle, please consider using a food or driving metaphor. It gets the point through clearly without letting the example get in the way of the logic.

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  • The point of these tweets is to clear up the confusion over Richard’s comments about mild pedophelia. As in, I Richard Dawkins consider what happened to me as a kid to be less serious than other forms of pedophelia. But because I rank things does not mean that I am condoning the thing I call less serious.

    It probably would have been fine without the rape example, and the omission of the quotes around the examples was unfortunate.

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  • Willful character assassination? Give me a break. I’m a huge fan but even I saw this as a shameless grab for publicity. Richard Dawkins is not a God, he is just a man. He should be held to the same scrutiny as everyone else.

    When he chose to use rape and pedophilia as his example he willingly decided to enter extremely sensitive territory and should not feign surprise at this “bizarre” response. Please, do you think he is that stupid?

    That being said the topic of rape and child molestation are very subjective areas and logically speaking he cannot truly say what’s worse.

    Suppose someone is mildly molested, but that mild experience caused him to grow up and molest dozens of other children, and from those children a few grow up to molest a couple dozen more kids.
    Is that objectively worse than one person experiencing one very tramautic violent episode?

    The subjectiveness of this topic made it an extremely poor choice to demonstrate a simple exercise in logic.

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  • Imposing a rigid hierarchy of good/better/best on rape may not mean that Dawkins endorses rape per se, but it completely fails to consider that rape – or for that matter any abuse – will not be experienced in an objective vacuum with logical responses to established an categorised spectrum of abuse behaviours. The terms he used in his tweet were “bad” and “worse”. This is Dawkin’s perception of an imagined crime – unless he is speaking from experience? It is offensive and problematic because making this judgment in itself implies that only Dawkins himself is able to measure and calculate the correct response to the experience of being raped, and that anyone who has been raped and felt differently from this is “illogical”.

    Rape is a subjective experience. The circumstances of the rape will vary, as will the vulnerability, the perception, the circumstances of the victim. It is arrogant, presumptive and illogical for Dawkins to categorise the experience of rape in terms of his perception of what would be “bad or worse”, because to do so then implies that there should be a uniform scale of the allowable impact of a rape on a person’s life.

    Rape is a crime, and part if the legal handling of that crime is to examine the circumstances surrounding the crime to determine the veracity, the motives, the impact, and the context. How can it possibly be sensible to ignore or disregard the experience of the person being raped in favour of the scale of suffering as laid out by Richard Dawkins?
    Surely a more logical point to start would be the assurance that as citizen in this democracy that people have the right to bodily integrity. Therefore, the person whose bodily integrity has been violated should have the right to seek recourse based on the damage they consider that violation has caused.

    perhaps he should read Mary Gailtskill’s very interesting essay on the topic.

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  • I should of course have said RELATIVELY mild.

    The opposite of “violent” is “non-violent”. So logically, if you were comparing “violent pedophilia” with some other kind of pedophilia, it should have been “non-violent” pedophilia.

    Is there something as “non-violent pedophilia”, though?

    Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.

    I am not so sure of that. Perhaps if this is qualified with “other things being equal”, maybe it has some merit. But one could be victim of a date rape, and end up with HIV or syphillis, while other person could be victim of rape at knifepoint and face no other consequences than the violence itself.

    Usually saying that things are “bad” or “worse” don’t make too much sence. In case of crimes, it would be more reasonable to say things such as “Date rape should carry a punishment. Other things being equal, rape at knifepoint should carry a harsher punishment”.

    Sentences can be wrong in several different ways. They can be logically wrong, of course: “Rex is a dog, therefore Rex is not an animal” is logically wrong. I don’t think your tweets are logically wrong. But sentences can also be pragmatically wrong. Saying “Rex is not an animal” is not logically wrong, and it may even be factually correct (if “Rex” is a sculpture, for instance), but would be pragmatically wrong if uttered as an answer to “Do you believe in god?”

    I think your tweets are pragmatically problematic at least. In the context of a judicial trial, uttered by the defence lawyer, they would possibly make sence, perhaps indeed a lot of sence. But out of the blue? What is the point of them? Teaching a logic lesson? Trying to establish a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” and “worse”?

    I think that if one makes provocative statements, one should expect to provoke disagreeable reactions. I think that knowing what is provocative and what is not is part of the social abilities adults should master when making public discourse. I think being aware of that is an important part of “knowing how to think”, too.

    I was only talking logic, with no desire to make light of the
    seriousness of any kind of rape or any kind of pedophilia. And the
    hypothetical comparisons that illustrated my logical point could, in
    all cases, be reversed without in any way changing the validity of the

    Well. A young fellow is hired to teach logic at an orphanage. He then starts his class by proposing that “having your parents dying of cancer when you are 10 years old is bad, having your parents violently killed in your front when you are 6 is worse”. I don’t think he should get the opportunity to give a second class. Do you?

    If you merely wanted to make a point about propositional calculus, then you should probably have kept to something like “Shostakovich is bad. Prokofiev is worse. If you think that this is an endorsement of Shostakovich, you are not thinking clearly.” (“not thinking clearly”, instead of “go away and learn how to think”, see?) Or, better even, give examples without words like “good”, “bad”, or “worse”, that are quite difficult to analyse from logical or semantic points of view.

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  • Why are you owed an explanation as to why he chose to tweet anything?

    People really do have an absurd obsession with people needing a reason to express their view on anything and then when they don’t understand, or someone else misinterprets what was said, or read an article that omits the original tweet (therefore leaving no context), endless arguments ensue.

    Say if the first tweet was…”Today is Tuesday. Why?”

    Would you or half the people have bothered commenting. The dog-whistle words of “Rape” and “Paedophile” went out and people sensed blood.

    Read the Guardian article by Eleanor Robertson and you’ll see exactly why it was blown out of proportion, no context to the reporting and people jumping on a non-existent bandwagon.

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  • 82
    nightmusic says:

    Where is your data?

    Would you allow a student to turn in a paper that declared y worse than x without a single bit of supporting data?

    Did you only talk to people that experienced y? How many data sets were people that experienced both x and y?


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  • “First of all, there is a great deal of controversy as to whether date
    rape is a crime at all”

    Incorrect. It is a crime. That is a fact. You cant have controversy/debate about whether something is a law. It is or it isn’t.

    “Dawkins is either ignorant of the fact that there is a large swath of
    society that really considers date rape to be not rape at all and
    therefore not a crime,”

    Again that is illogical. Whether some people believe an action not to be a crime is irrelevant to whether it is a crime. It is a crime. No discussion. I think you mean that some people don’t believe date rape should be a crime – even though it is.

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  • But why choose incendiary statements in the first place? Why not keep it simple and say something like a sprained ankle is bad, a broken leg is worse? Bringing up rape (btw, we need to stop categorizing date rape as “mild rape” — it can be just as violent (or more violent) as a rape involving a stranger with a knife) and pedophilia are automatically going to attract negative attention and blur the point you’re trying to make. (I’m not a fan of the negativity of the “go away” comment, but it’s not as leading as the rape/pedophilia comments.) It just looks like you’re trying to shake things up. I don’t like it when people think that if you say X is worse than Y, you’re minimizing X; one semi-related experience I can share is that I’ve been accused of being a rape apologist a number of times for saying I don’t think rapists should be raped and/or tortured. I just think there were ways to do it that wouldn’t have blown up in your face and would have better made your point.

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  • Indeed, Twitter is a limiting tool so, perhaps, an illogical choice of medium by Prof. Dawkins for such challenging and emotive issues impacting, as they do, on one of the most cherished freedoms: to whom men and women give their bodies and the circumstances under which this occurs.

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  • The argument ( saying Y is worse doesn’t mean saying X is OK” ) is a logical argument.
    It’s stands on it’s own, and doesn’t need a reason. The example for it is just an example.

    If I were to tell you
    ” If a statement is true, then the contrapositive of this statement is also true” , and then point to an example :

    statement : “If it is raining then the grass is wet”
    contrapositive : “If the grass is not wet then it is not raining.”

    The responses are a bit like stating that the argument doesn’t make sense because it hasn’t rained for weeks now, so the grass couldn’t possibly be wet.

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  • Would you mind if I turned that around ?

    Why would you have to self-censor what is clearly an example, just because it involves a sensitive topic.
    If you allow certain ‘examples’ to be off-limits, you are making it possible for a wide range of people to take offense to any example.

    If I were to say “religions that indoctrinate people with silly believes are bad” , “religions that indoctrinate people to blow themselves up in crowds” are worse , this doesn’t mean the former is OK.

    this would most certainly offend a lot of religious groups. Still it’s an absolutely valid example.

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  • 89
    Raoulis says:

    “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape is worse.” = Doesn’t mean I endorse date rape.
    “Killing a black person is bad. Killing a white person is worse.” = Doesn’t mean I endorse killing black people.

    I understand the logic but examples can still be offensive.
    Instead of actual actions or even degree of actions(like in your example of touching) you compared one person acting instead of another(ignoring the knife). This is what causes so much anger. This is rape culture. Leave out the word “stranger” from your example and the flames would be tamed but it’s still a bad example.

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  • Whether you deny a spectrum exists or not. They still exist and are of relevance to almost everything. This is exactly why the “vitriolic abuse” must be expected. Human comprehension, their ability to conceptualise ideas, critically think and apply context is also subject to a spectrum. It is no surprise then that many on the less well functioning end of the spectrum who have diminished abilities in the aforementioned areas will hear ‘trigger words’ and turn to “vitriolic abuse”. They will historically in their lives have encountered trouble partaking in logical debates and thus have developed comping strategies such as trying to bring the level of conversation down to their level by introducing abusive vitriol in an attempt to lower the level of intellect required to participate in the debate .

    I understand you have debated in almost every arena and will be aware of this. I simply offer my support and hope those with less evolved critical thinking skills never dilute your desire to call shenanigans on ignorance and injustices within society! Which I am sure it will not 🙂

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  • What Zaid said. Twitter is not a good place to make such statements. Little nuance is possible, but it would be wise to check with a reliable friend before posting such comments. Even putting quotation marks around the first bit leaves it easily misunderstood.

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  • 92
    Virgin Mary says:

    If only intelligence and understanding were equal and universal, that way people wouldn’t be frothing at the mouth over syllogistic reasoning. I’m actually embarrassed for Prof. Dawkins here. He shouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense.

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  • 93
    Steve_M says:

    Question 1: where would you put yourself on the scale of 1 to 7, where 1 = you are certain God exists, and 7 = you are certain God does not exist? decimal points are allowed!

    Try reading the God Delusion, you may just find the answer to this question with regard to Richard Dawkins’ position on this scale – and in what way does it refute his position on religion?

    Question 2: how good or bad are the teachings of, e.g. Jesus Christ, as a template for how to live a good life?

    On the face of it, some of the teachings attributed to Jesus appear to be rather good, others are morally repugnant. Same goes for the teachings of Mohammed. What is the point of this question when it comes to refuting someone else’s position on religion?

    Question 3: are you tolerant of people’s beliefs which you do not share, which do others no harm?

    Harmless beliefs, such as believing that fairies live at the bottom of your garden, may do no harm to others. However, if someone started believing that those fairies were demanding that people dress a certain way, and that those who don’t are immoral and deserve punishment; or that humans are born with inherited sin, and the only way to redeem themselves is to believe in what they are told about the garden dwelling fairies; or that those who don’t believe in garden dwelling fairies will be tortured for eternity – then those beliefs, if acted on, are not without harm to others. So why should they be ‘tolerated’?

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  • I have to disagree with Richard. Whilst he is correct that such statements do not imply endorsement of either X or Y, such statements imply a ranking. Y is more important than X. I think this is what is upsetting people When Richard uses rape as an example. Better not to have used such an example.
    I don’t believe that Richard in any way was expressing an opinion about rape so it is more an unfortunate choice of an example than a statement about the perceived importance of any crime of rape.

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  • 95
    Straight says:

    Regardless of whether or not he had been a victim of sexual abuse there was no excuse for the racism and gender prejudice in your original statement:

    “perhaps your perspective as a white cisman with no personal experience of sexual violence is not the ultimate one, eh?”

    How was being white and a cisman relevant to the validity of someone’s perspective on sexual violence?

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  • 96
    Straighttalker says:

    GW74 quotes:

    “Rape is a man having sex without gaining permission from the woman,” says Eileen Calder, who has worked with rape victims for decades and is the co-founder of the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre. “How he does it and his relationship to the woman are insignificant. I have worked with rape victims for 26 years.”

    No. Pure sexist idiocy to define rape as only happening in one gender direction. Women also rape men. Women also rape women. Men also rape men. Wikipedia:

    “Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration initiated against one or more individuals without the consent of those individuals. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or against a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent.[1][2][3][4] The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.[5]”

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  • 98
    Mikaela says:

    This appears to be an exercise in intellectual back peddling. I’m unconvinced that a man of Dawkin’s brainpower would innocently use such emotive subjects as examples of logic. To have then chosen Twitter as the means to express his ‘innocuous’ hypothesis beggars belief. If I’m wrong then I stand corrected, because to admit that you’ve made an error of judgement is sometimes the most appropriate action to take.

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  • As always the inability of so many people to understand what a hypothetical proposition or statement is, is truly astounding. The point completely missed and instead the context of the hypothetical example is jumped upon by angry and argumentative types feeling they are making some sort of stand for the moral good.

    An unfortunate hypothetical example perhaps and, despite the frustration I share that people fail to apply logic and ‘get the point’, I can understand how such people may misinterpret the statement and jump on the outrage bandwagon.

    However, Richard, just be thankful you didn’t say “Darth Vader is bad. The Emperor is worse…” Imagine the Star Wars fan backlash….

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  • Just my take on things. It seems, having listened to and watched Richard over many years, that at times he says things that get him in trouble, probably because he didn’t know the thing he just said, could possibly upset anyone. The feminist thing. This exercise in pure logic, so grossly misunderstood. Richard probably can’t understand why people can’t understand what he was on about.

    I’ve come across this.. With my fingers firmly crossed as I type so I don’t upset anyone, could it be that Richard is at the very mild end of the autism spectrum, not unusual with high achieving minds. That is, he doesn’t have the highly tuned common knowledge that most people have, of what is likely or unlikely to upset people. Slightly down on the interpersonal skills.

    “It’s evidence. It makes sense. What’s the problem. ”

    The reason I’ve come across this is that I too, am a little this way. Can’t read people so well. Known to upset people but I don’t have a clue why.

    Just a thought.

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  • You may not agree with the article or its comments, but to patronisingly deride the intelligence of the writer over such a trivial error does nothing to convince us of your own.

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  • Question 1: Answer the question. We’ll take it from there.
    Question 2: what does “on the face of it” mean? how are these teachings, in fact, not good? give an example of Jesus’s teachings which you feel is morally repugnant.
    Question 3: Try again. Answer the actual question. It’s really not a difficult question.

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  • How was being white and a cisman relevant to the validity of someone’s perspective on sexual violence?

    It’s relevant in that other groups have to live with the fear of such to a much greater degree. Occasionally white hetcis men do get sexually assaulted, but there’s a fundamental difference between getting assaulted, and getting assaulted (sometimes multiple times) during the course of a lifetime spent living in fear of getting assaulted. The latter phenomenon is essentially terrorism carried out on an atomized, person-to-person basis.

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  • I have Asperger’s Syndrome. While I don’t know Richard any better than you do, I would be beyond surprised if he has it. In his autobiography he said that he had had a lot of friends growing up and sheepishly admitted that he was swayed by peer pressure. People with AS famously have a lot of trouble making friends and are generally not affected by peer pressure.

    I think the issue is that Richard simply used poor judgment here. You don’t have to be on the autism spectrum to do that. I think he has a blind spot for certain issues. I keep bringing up the parallel about my father saying that people who self-harm or attempt (and fail at) suicide do it to get attention. He has no clue why that sounds insulting and belittling to these people who are in genuine pain. Dad, on the other hand, is excellent at understanding issues that often affect women. And I suspect that Richard, in terms of someone self-harming or attempting suicide, would feel bad that someone would feel that they had to do something like that and respond in a kind and compassionate manner. Again, just speculation as I don’t know him any better than you do. But my point remains. Good understanding on some social issues, blind spots on others.

    That said, calling Richard out on this in a diplomatic manner is productive. Throwing around words like “misogynist” like they’re going out of style and painting him with broad strokes doesn’t help.

    And I’m glad my dad’s not on Twitter. He would have been labeled mentalillnessophobic or something to that effect for his comments about cutters and people who attempt suicide.

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  • Conversely, I’m embarrassed for you. You think that the reasoned and reasonable objections to Dawkins’ choice of words and examples are “frothing at the mouth”? You need to get out more.

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  • Well said mr. Allen! I fully agree with you. It’s a pity that autism (and ADHD as well) is so badly understood by outsiders. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations happen therefore too easily.

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  • 110
    bobomb says:

    Imagine this, your partner died in car crash. Not only that, the accident also took your two children. A terrible business. Later, at the wake, Richard sidles up to you,

    “of course, car accidents aren’t as bad as plane accidents”

    A logically correct statement? Yes. Upsetting? Yes. Broadcasting dispassionate statements like this on twitter fires them out to the whole world. You’re talking to rape victims. You’re talking to victims of child abuse. You’re talking to everyone.

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  • Shostakovich is bad. Prokofiev is worse. If you think this is an
    endorsement of Shostakovich, you are not thinking clearly.

    “It is not an endorsement of Shostakovich, but…

    … reveals a deep ignorance of erudite music.”

    … is factually wrong.”

    … is not an appropriate sentence to print in the cover of record of Prokofiev’s Classical Simphony.”

    … means your job as a musical critic for this newspaper is terminated.”

    … disqualifies you for the position of Russian Studies Professor in this University.”

    … is one of the worse examples that was ever given in a logic class.”

    … won’t make friends among either Shostakovich or Prokofiev fans.”

    … is going to provoke a bizarre Twitter storm.”

    Regardless of if I agree or disagree with any of the retorts above, I don’t think that any of them are examples of unclear thinking. Do you disagree?

    If you can’t realise that twitting a sentence like, for instance, “warm beer is bad, but the Holocaust is worse; if you think this is an endorsement of warm beer, your logical reasoning is faulty” won’t provoke a “Twitter storm”, you are not thinking clearly. If you know it is going to provoke a “Twitter storm”, then you probably shouldn’t be pretending to be an innocent victim, unless you have very good reasons to believe all of the rest of mankind has very faulty logical reasoning…

    And if you think statements like that can be reversed at will without serious consequences, try reversing the above example.

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  • 114
    Virgin Mary says:

    They’re neither reasoned nor reasonable objections; they’re irrational. The only reason anybody could possibly be offended is if they don’t understand syllogism.

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  • 115
    secularlyyours says:

    “although you might have trouble being a judge who is expected to give heavier sentences for worse versions of the same crime”

    I call bullshit on that. Rape, itself, is a legally defined term. Any ADDITIONAL violence is counted as a separate charge, eg: battery or murder etc. Judges don’t handout verdict for a “worse form of rape” but how many counts of crimes are presented in the court. I don’t think you have done your legal research. Most of the times I find myself agreeing with you but this time around, your “example” is way off the mark.

    Moreover, it is relatively more difficult for a “date” rape victim to find justice than a victim who was physically bruised in addition to the sexual assault. I love that you think about the issues concerning women but I would encourage you, in the name of logic and reason, to actively research and discuss the ideas your brain presents to you before tweeting a verdict to 7 billion people without the adequate reflection and analysis rational approach demands.

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  • 116
    Phillip says:

    There are aggravating circuntances for the same crime. The same charge may be give completely different sentences.

    “Judges don’t handout verdict for a “worse form of rape””
    Yes, they do.

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  • 117
    Phillip says:

    Most people taking issue reason that:
    – He shouldn’t use examples that trigger emotional response.
    – Paedophilia and rape are taboo, and have no place in an argument.
    – A privileged white man has no right to talk about rape.
    – People may be offended.

    I personally can’t think of better examples than rape and paedophilia. That’s the whole point “be objective, don’t deal in absolutes, even tough it’s abhorrent”

    Just read a terrible opinion piece in the Guardian, where Dawkins is portrayed as a senile, “islamophobic”, out of touch, pop scientistist… I think he should post this reply:
    “Rape is bad. But raping a woman, accusing her of adultery and then stoning her to death is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of rape, go away and learn how to think.”

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  • They do. But then they don’t rely on generic classes of worse and less bad rapes, they deal with the issues case by case. So it would be more precise to say they hand out veredicts for worse cases of rape, not worse “forms” of rape.

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  • Does anyone know the name of the logical fallacy “A is not as bad as B, therefore A is justified/legitimate/sanctioned/not bad/etc”? If not, does Dawkins care to name it?

    (The twitter storm is an illustration of another phenomenon: if you say “A implies B,” a million angry people will scream “how dare you claim A!”)

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  • 120
    Steve_M says:

    Thanks mods – I feel a bit silly for responding to the initial comment to be honest. Although in an indirect way this incipient exchange is relevant to the topic of the thread in that it is displaying the potential background/biases of certain people who clearly feel that they have something to gain by seeking to make the most noise about the issue.

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  • 121
    Phillip says:

    “But then they don’t rely on generic classes of worse and less bad rapes”

    Yes, they do. Not only do they try to “classify” the case with previous judgements, but the law may also specify “classes”/”forms”/aggravators for the same crime.
    And come on, you are just playing with words
    “So it would be more precise to say they hand out veredicts for worse cases of rape, in which the “form” is taken into account.”

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  • Fundamentalist religion is hell-bent on ruining the scientific
    education of countless thousands of innocent, well-meaning, eager
    young minds. Non-fundamentalist, “sensible” religion may not be doing
    that. But it is making the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching
    children, from their earliest years, that unquestioning faith is a

    So, is it wrong to say that fundamentalist religion is worse than non-fundamentalist religion?

    And isn’t casual discourse about rape perchance “making the world safe” for actual rape, by instilling the idea that some rapes are actually rape, but other rapes, not so much?

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  • 124
    Phillip says:

    I think you are talking about “The lesser of two evils principle”. But it is not a logical fallacy.

    The closest I can think of is “False dilema”. But that’t what the critics are using “How can you say this rape is worse than this one, they are all infinetely evil. It’s all black and white.”

    That’s the kind of thinking the gets two teenagers messaging each other genitalia, “fabrication and distribution of child pornography” and “registered sex offender pedophile”

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  • 125
    Phillip says:

    Does discussion of the gravity of different violent assaults “make the world safer” for violent crimes?
    If I argue that a 16 old boy having sex with a 18 old girl does not constitute rape or that it is not as bad as 40 year old man raping a 8 year old boy. Am I facilitating rape?

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  • It didn’t, and still doesn’t, occur to you that rape is an inappropriate example to illustrate a syllogism? The fact you chose that example suggests you didn;t give it much thought, and says a lot about how serious rape is to you. I assume the original point was responding to criticism about the snide joke at the expense of Rebecca Watson where you ridiculed her complaints of being sexually propositioned by a man in an elevator after she had given a talk about sexual objectification of women in the atheist movement and frustration at their exclusion and over-sexualisation. The connection between Rebecca Watson’s experience and patriarchal violence experienced by Muslim women is entirely lost on you, becuase you think the latter is purely a result of religion when in fact is it patriarchy justified with religion. You seem to be asserting that you were not saying Watson’s experience wasn’t bad, just that Muslim women have worse experiences – however since Watson never suggested they don’t, one would deduce you mean she shouldn’t complain becuase other experiences are worse. The Logic king is coming up rather short here. In any event, you compared her experience in another post to a man in an elevator chewing gum – she doesn’t like sexual advances in an elevator, especially after the topic of her talk, you dislike people chewing gum in an elevator, and there is no difference and it it ‘her privilege ‘if she ”chooses” to be offended. So you were in fact, saying her experience was not bad at all, not just less bad than those of some Muslim women. The fact that Watson was flooded with rape and homicide threats for daring to comment about the incident is one you remain silent on. So no, Dawkins, not persuasive. Your Male Privilege deludes you as much as any God.

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  • Why would you assume this has anything to do with Elevatorgate? That was another instance where Richard was wrong but, again, the aftermath was disproportionate to his mistake. The thing that’s most offensive about it is that three years later people haven’t moved on from it.

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  • They are not two separate things – they are degrees of the same thing, the same thinking. Calling a girl a slut and bullying her at school for a rape (common in the West) is less bad than stoning her to death for the rape.. however the underlying ideology is the same. Saying a woman was ”asking for it” if she had a short skirt on and dictating women must wear abbaya and veil to avoid rape is the same ideology. The dominant idea in the West us that if a woman wears nice clothes, she has no right to complain about being catcalled and sexually harassed in public -if you question that logic you are also challenging the logic saying women must wear a burqua and veil or they have no right to complain of rape. Patriarchal ideologies may be expressed to different extents in different countries, but it is the same ideology everywhere. The same set of underlying beliefs can be found in the most and least severe cases of patriarchal expression, so Feminist arguments are global in their purpose.

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  • 129
    Phillip says:

    I personally can’t think of better examples than rape and paedophilia. That’s the whole point “be objective, don’t deal in absolutes, even tough it’s abhorrent”

    “I assume the original point was responding to criticism about the snide joke at the expense of Rebecca Watson”
    And how can you see this tweet as a response to an unrelated discussion in 2011 is beyond my comprehension. No one said she didn’t have the right to complain.

    “The fact that Watson was flooded with rape and homicide threats for daring to comment about the incident is one you remain silent on.”
    I think Dawkins is pretty familiar with death, rape threats and “inappropriate” sexual propositions, not only via mail but face to face.

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  • 132
    Phillip says:

    “They are not two separate things – they are degrees of the same thing. Calling a girl a slut and bullying her at school for a rape (common in the West) is less bad than stoning her to death for the rape.. ”
    You’ve just made the exact same point as Dawkins tweet.

    “The dominant idea in the West us that if a woman wears nice clothes, she has no right to complain about being catcalled and sexually harassed in public”
    Please back this up. Even in a backwards third world country like mine this isn’t statically true (and the minority that blames the woman’s clothing and behavior, are more likely poor and religious).

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  • What prompted this supposed need to explain such a blindingly obvious concept?

    If the whole point was just to illustrate this simple, self-evident idea, what was the point of using such inflammatory hypotheticals?

    Why would anyone ever employ this rudimentary logic, except to minimize (NOTE: NOT ENDORSE) the less bad thing?

    If you’re a kid touched by an adult hand, the fact that you haven’t been penetrated by an adult penis IS ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT.

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  • To paraphrase: Some things are worse than other bad things, and pointing that out doesn’t mean I’m in favor of the less bad things.

    Uhhh… Okay. No one thinks that. But the only* reason to point out that some stuff is worse than a bad thing being discussed is to minimize the badness of the bad thing under discussion.

    *(The only exception being if someone claims that the bad thing under discussion is the worst thing.)

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  • Maybe not. Do we know it isn’t before investigating the issue?

    Is “moderate religion” “making the world safer” for fundamentalists? I doubt it is, but I am not going to ridicule the idea without giving it a lot of consideration. It is part of a respectable tradition in Western thought – that apparently moderate phenomena are a symptom of deeper, much more radical, issues. Or maybe of a tradition of systemic thought, to which one set of phenomena may have a functional relation to other apparently very different phenomena.

    What is strange is that we apply such line of reasoning to some subjects, but reject it as ridiculous when it comes to other subjects.

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  • Rape is bad. But raping a woman, accusing her of adultery and then
    stoning her to death is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of
    rape, go away and learn how to think.

    that also utterly fails as an example of the logic this clown Dawkins is trying and failing to illustrate (which is not a syllogism anyway because it contains no conclusion). your example just fails in a different way to his example (which failed because there are no degrees of rape judging by impact on victim, which is the most important consideration. Impact is equally bad whatever the circumstances/relationship between rapist and victim). The adultery accusation and stoning are separate further crimes on top of the rape, not part of the rape itself, so it is self-evidently worse.

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  • 137
    Kieran says:


    I’m curious though what you mean about someone having or lacking emotional intelligence being loaded? Maybe there’s some implication that phrase has that I’m not aware of, but I tend to think of it as applying to the many people who are incredibly intelligent in some ways, usually academically, but are not very good at interacting with people (or some aspects of interacting with people).

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  • 138
    Kieran says:

    Your points are based on a strawman of Dawkins’ position. You would know this if you had read his books. If you haven’t read his books, you aren’t qualified to make your assertions (wrapping an assertion up in Socratic questioning doesn’t stop it being an assertion).

    But I agree with the mods on this. You’re derailing my post by taking issue with something that’s not relevant to the central point. I’m happy to discuss that with you but somewhere more appropriate.

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  • 139
    Kieran says:

    To add, Richard, I’m deeply disappointed to read your tweets from today continuing to defend your choice of words.

    Your main defence seems to be that you were using quotation marks, as though this makes it OK because they mean the person isn’t expressing their own opinion. This misses the point. It’s obvious to all thinking people that you were expressing a position that’s probably not yours – and that your quotation marks added to that impression. But non-attributed quotation marks in the context you used them are generally assumed to be expressing a position that you have thought of yourself. It really doesn’t matter whether you hold the position laid out in the quotation marks or not. What matters, in this context, is that you chose that form of words.

    I am not generally someone to have heroes. I’m generally not someone to imagine what I’d do if I met public figures – I don’t care enough about about most of them. But you are one of my heroes, and I have often wondered how I’d react if I ever met you. And I have, almost without exception, disagreed with the people who criticise you both within the atheist community and outside it. But I’m really disappointed with how you’ve handled this completely unnecessary controversy.

    You’re now coming across as a cranky old man who goes off on rants and lacks the self-awareness to realise when he’s gone too far. You went too far here. For the love of Science, please apologise for your choice of words and either take more care in future or just don’t tweet about these controversial issues before you end up damaging all of your other good work.

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  • 140
    Kieran says:

    The need for apology, IMO, is his use of “mild date rape” and probably “mild paedophilia”. I don’t think he needs to apologise for anything else.

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  • 141
    Kieran says:

    Not at all. My only criticism – and that of others – was his use of the words “mild date rape”. That wasn’t syllogism, it was unnecessary and beyond insensitive.

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  • 142
    Sandra says:

    Great post, you’ve nailed the basis of my objection to the original tweets. Rape should not be taboo – I often talk quite openly about mine – but I find it odd when it is talked about casually as Richard did as it’s not a casual experience. It’s a searing, destroying experience. It causes psychological crisis sufficient to destroy for ever peace of mind. Pausing and thinking about what we victims go through should make anyone change their mind before using it as a trite example in a throw-away (and frankly rather patronising) tweet.

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  • 144
    Sandra says:

    I personally can’t think of better examples than rape and paedophilia. That’s the whole point “be objective, don’t deal in absolutes, even tough it’s abhorrent”

    But that’s the whole point. Having been raped, my feelings about it are ‘absolute’, and they’re my feelings, therefore probably not ‘objective’. That’s the nature of being raped. It’s a ridiculous subject for what Richard was trying to illustrate. It was of ‘how many angels can dance on a pin’ levels of absurdity.

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  • 146
    xrayspecs says:

    Because “pedophilia” is a broader term that can encompass a wide range of acts and therefore can be regarded in terms of mild and not mild, whereas rape is rape. There is no mild rape. If you were looking to compare phrases you would use “sexual assault” instead of “rape”. In that I think people can agree that there are varying degrees of sexual assault, and that one act can be worse than another while all are unacceptable.

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  • Then he was a fool to make such a hypothetical on a platform like Twitter. Either that or he takes pleasure from courting controversy. Either that or for all his academia he is naive in the ways of society. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes browsing Twitter would know better than to use such a sensitive topic as rape to prove a hypothetical. It is the type of ignorance and insensitivity prevalent in academic males (and many other males for that matter) who are unable to put themselves in the shoes of those who have gone through such a traumatic experience.

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  • It’s actually a shame that Dawkins would knowingly use such a provocative and sensitive subject to prove a hypothetical. I sense a bit of politics on his side too. I find it hard to believe he would be so ignorant to the controversy his hypothetical would cause. If so then the man is sorely out of touch with society.

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  • 149
    thefarewellparty says:

    “X being worse than Y is not an endorsement of Y” being true does not mean that the imbedded assumptions in the terms used in place of X and Y cannot possibly be problematic and worthy of criticism, or that anyone taking issue with the quote must be missing the point due to some sort of illogical emotionally-fueled blindness. If you don’t understand this, go away until you’ve learnt how to think.

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  • I agree – he got the response he wanted. He’s back trending and no doubt more people will sign up to his show, he might event sell a few books off the back of it.

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  • Richard —

    First, understand that, as a fellow atheist, my respect for you borders on reverence.

    But (and I may be making a point already made by others — I just didn’t take the time to traipse through the voluminous comments — that it isn’t true that you’re not ranking X and Y. “Worse” is clearly ranking. And the point that you seem to be missing when you say, rightly enough, that your second statement “is not an endorsement of X”, is that it does ACTUALLY (not just in COMPARISON) consider X tolerable in some circumstances. And with date rape and pedophilia, it is not.

    I do believe your statements are the moral equivalents of

    “Killing one person is bad. Killing ten people is worse. If you think the second statement is an endorsement of killing one person” you need to take a course in logic.

    and all these comparisons, while true, miss the point of the justifiable outrage.

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  • 153
    Kieran says:

    I disagree it has that insinuation – as I understand it, emotional intelligence is not the same as caring about others and much less broad a term than empathy – although it is part of what allows people to be empathetic.

    Emotional intelligence, AFAIK, is more about reading others’ emotions, and predicting how one’s behaviour, body language and words is likely to impact on others’ emotions. Of course this is an aspect of empathy, but one can also be empathetic to others’ plight without being very good at reading or predicting someone’s emotions. Similarly, one can be hugely selfless without being very good at reading body language or tone.

    And I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that he has zero emotional intelligence. “Lack” is “the state of being without or not having enough of something”. In this case, I don’t think he showed enough emotional intelligence.

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  • 154
    jemmybutton says:

    Richard, I just think some people are just brain dead to fully grasp logical concepts. I really pity these people – my heart weeps for them. Hopefully, one day, they will be mass-media-tabloid-newspaper free of their own securities, prejudices and down right knobheadness to truly grasp what you were, basically, saying.

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  • 155
    kirsten says:

    Dear Mr Dawkins. You are totally missing the point.

    Yes if x is bad and Y is worse, that doesn't make x ok but the point here is that there is not worse or less worse when it comes to rape or paedophilia. You would know this if either of these things had happened to you. Maybe you should educated yourself on what it's like to be a victim of these things, perhaps you could talk to people who have experienced it. […]

    I'm sure you will come back with some super amazing comment about how I'm letting my emotion cloud my view of the cold hard facts or sum such, but having been a victim of paedophilia I think I have far more expertise to talk on the subject than you. It doesn't matter if it was once or over years being abused by someone far stronger than you twists you up in ways that only 30 years later am I beginning to understand. […]

    Sections marked […] contained remarks in breach of our Terms of Use and have been removed by moderator. Would all users please argue their cases without rudeness towards other users who disagree with them. Our Terms of Use can be found at the foot of each page.

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  • 156
    rovert says:

    The writer of the article appeared to not understand the topic, also in my personal experience people who believe that worse and worst mean the same thing appear by their general words and actions to be less intelligent than people who don’t, hence this is a possible indicator of their intelligence.

    I hardly think it is a “trivial error” for a professional writer to believe that worst and worse mean the same thing. Saying possible indicator leaves room for it being a simple typo as opposed to their editor changing it before publication because the writer adamantly refused to.

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  • @’David R.

    My diagnosis for what it’s worth (that is, from words printed on a page by someone not qualified to say yay or nay) is that you’re definitely not on the autism spectrum. I correspond with someone who is so afflicted and there’s no comparison. At times you feel as if you’ve been slapped across the face after a response that is put so bluntly and lacking in sensitivity, that you feel mortally wounded. No, I think you’re a ‘people person’ who happens to have strong opinions. End of unauthorised diagnosis.

    Don’t know about Richard. Definitely would not be venturing an opinion!

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  • 😛 How the InYourFaceNewYorker moniker came about:

    One time, in 2006 or 2007, I was upset about something and was on the phone with my dad, cursing like a sailor.

    Dad said, “Jesus Christ! Turn off the New York! It’s like you’ve become an in-your-face New Yorker!”

    Anyway I’d think my name would just tell you that I’m an in-your-face New Yorker, just as many non-Aspie New Yorkers are. 😛

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  • . @iYFNY. >. Anyway I’d think my name would just tell you that I’m an in-your-face New Yorker, just as many non-Aspie New Yorkers are.

    See! That’s a typical aspi thing to say! 🙂

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  • Thank you, Wally, thank you! I can barely get to grips with the point Richard was trying to express because I keep tripping over his hopelessly incorrect use of the term ‘syllogism’. If we are going to talk logic, can we please try to adhere to the basics of the subject. Syllogism has a long history at the heart of Western culture and thought, and it’s not too hard to grasp the concept.

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