Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name

Adam Lee writes: I became an atheist on my own, but it was Richard Dawkins who strengthened and confirmed my decision. For a long time, I admired his insightful science writing, his fierce polemics, his uncompromising passion for the truth. When something I’d written got a (brief) mention in The God Delusion, it was one of the high points of my life.

So, I’m not saying this is easy, but I have to say it: Richard Dawkins, I’m just not that into you anymore.

The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it. Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement: parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership – and that’s before you get to the vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off, that’s designed to intimidate women into silence.

Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better – as with his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation. There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies.

But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment; he even apologized for the “Dear Muslima” letter. On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist and said that everyone else should be, too.

Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an “estrogen vibe” and was “to some degree intrinsically male”. And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over. [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name

  1. hquain

    The vagaries of the aging Dawkins and the repulsive Harris have nothing to do with atheism. I’m guessing that all this squawking about this or that ‘problem with X’ is just part of the 21st century internet culture, which operates at the level of high school social interactions.

    How about looking at some of the illuminating and even entertaining arguments out there? Steven Weinberg on why the collapse of the argument from design opens up full intellectual respectability for atheism, Sean Carroll on how if there were interactions between a divine realm and our world, we’d have found them by now at the energy levels explored by current particle accelerators! My favorite thrust of development is in the biological sciences, where the purest materialism is leading to the conclusion that we have a huge overlap with animals in emotion and cognition — when and where our brains work mechanically and chemically in the same ways — completely upsetting naive anti-anthropomorphism as pre-scientific balderdash.

    The physical world with its vast hierarchies of organization where new principles come into play is sufficiently astounding — and offers full-time employment for those who want to understand it (or even a small part of it). What else do we need?

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