Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fools rush in....

Nothing else came to mind, and I liked this.  Otherwise, it has nothing to do with the post.

I had a rather elaborate post worked out about this; and then I realized Richard Dawkins was just being stupid:

On Tuesday, the English author got into it on Twitter when he tried to explain his position that “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.” And the way he did was by declaring authoritatively that “Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think,” and, “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

The stupidity is quite simple and entirely on the surface (and yes, you'd think he'd know to stay away from the subject of pedophilia).  What Mr. Dawkins implies here is that rape by a stranger is worse than rape by an acquaintance ("date rape").  The knife is the red herring, because an acquaintance wouldn't "need" a knife, and if he pulled one, he'd become a stranger, n'est pas?

So, you see, what Dawkins is really arguing is the definition of rape.  That is:  when is rape "legitimate rape"?

Now, this conclusion may not seem clear until you understand R (rape) is not the same crime as  R+V(Violence).  At that point, the knife being added to threaten the victim, you have two crimes:  rape plus assault with a deadly weapon.  Two crimes are objectively worse than one; that's why we have a felony murder rule.  If you commit a felony, say robbery, and in the course of the robbery kill someone, you've now committed felony murder, and your intent in the murder (maybe the death as inadvertent) is of less interest than it might be if you were merely negligent in the use of a firearm.  The commission of one crime makes the second crime worse.   So R+V is worse than R, but not because the R in one case is significantly different from the R in the other case; it's because you've added something else to the criminal acts.

But Mr. Dawkins' analysis implies there is a difference in the rape between R and R+V, and that difference is that the presence of the knife distinguishes acquaintance from stranger, and if you have to be raped, isn't it "better" coming from a friend?

I mean, it's bad; but is worse if it's a stranger, right?  The knife just distinguishes the stranger from the friend, if you discount the fact it makes two crimes instead of one.  Because unless you discount the additional crime there is no comparison; and if you do discount it, then date rape is a lesser sexual assault than rape by a stranger, which can only mean some rapes are more "legitimate" than others.

Which is utter bollocks; and makes me think the entry level requirements for Oxford dons aren't what they used to be.  Because knowing how to think no longer means what it used to mean.


  1. I think Dawkins is one of a number of celebrity atheists (not to mention others) who are addicted to publicity. I recently said he was the Gilderoy Lockheart of neo-atheism and even some atheists agreed with it. He is an ass. From what I read he more or less asked that the Simonyi Chair be given to him and since he was, in effect, appointed by Simonyi and not with the approval of the faculty he wasn't considered an Oxford prof. Though I don't know if that's the truth or just blog truth.

    Nice picture, by the way.

  2. More and more it seems (I'm not going to do the research) that Dawkins' reputation, like Carl Sagan's, rests on his popular works, not his scientific efforts.

    And now he's become a professional contrarian who needs to stir up pointless controversy in order to remain relevant. It was kind of amusing at Salon to see the comments of Dawkins' supporters who had to explain what the Oxford don meant, since apparently English is not Dawkins' primary means of communication.

  3. Gah. Wrong name.

    Rmj, you might like to read Eleanor Robertson's take on Dawkins in the Guardian.

    Remember when Dawkins was widely respected? When his biggest detractor was late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould? I don’t. Having grown up after Dawkins made the transition from lauded science communicator to old man who shouts at clouds, it’s hard for me to understand why anyone continues to listen to him about anything.

  4. Merci, Grandmere.

  5. Follow up: the saddest part is, the comments at the Guardian are no more intelligent or enlightening than the bog standard comments at Salon.

    Comments seem to provoke responses based on keywords rather than actual content or ideas. So Eleanor Robertson is engaging in a personal tirade, and Richard Dawkins never said that! (that line of response seems to be an internet favorite), and even if he did he didn't mean it! (or just ignore what he actually did say), and besides you're just a jealous poopy-head because he's so much smarter than you!

    I do not Robertson only cites Dawkins popular works, and I'm left wondering (here's where the research I'm too lazy to engage would come in): what truly scientific work has Dawkins done?

    Popular work like The Selfish Gene is not science. Sagan did the same thing: wrote lots of books that people loved to read, but did he do actual science? Gould wrote wonderful essays and books, like The Panda's Thumb and The Mismeasure of Man, but he came up with an actually cited to this day theory of "punctuated equilibrium" in evolutionary theory.

    Dawkins came up with "selfish genes" (which is crap) and "memes," which even he walked away from in the '90's (if my source is correct; as I say, no research, just the occasional read).

    And now he shouts at clouds and gets other know-nothings to laugh at theology with him (I followed the tweet Robertson linked).

    If ignorance is bliss, you'd think he'd be the happiest man in the world, but instead he's a crank who takes to Twitter because any real forum for discussion would apparently tax his abilities.

  6. Why Dawkins still has a prominent place in public forums is a mystery to me. But watch our TV, and read both mainstream and social media, and you quickly see that people who say stupid stuff and have been proved wrong time and again continue to be treated as very serious people to whom we should all pay attention.

  7. I know. Crazy, isn't it?