“Mild Pedophilia” and Richard Dawkins’ Ethical Blind Spot

"Bobby, do you thinkthere's anything wrong with mild pedophilia?"

“Bobby, do you think there’s anything wrong with mild pedophilia?”

When you are a public intellectual and your primary mission is using reason and scholarship to enlighten the public, you have an obligation to guard scrupulously against making careless,  irresponsible or easily misunderstood statements that will be accepted as inspired wisdom by the less analytically able. Or to be more direct, if you are Richard Dawkins and because of some serious neural malfunction you really think that there is such a thing as “mild pedophilia,” you want to ever to be taken seriously again, shut up about it.

Dawkins, for reasons only known to himself, used a wide-ranging  interview to airily wax on about what he regards as his contact with a harmless child-molester.  Reminiscing about his  days at a boarding school,  he recounted how one of his schoolmasters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” Noting that other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher, he concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”
The world’s most famous atheist explained, “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

What (in the name of Holy Hell) is “mild pedophilia”? Dawkins went on to say that the most notorious cases of pedophilia involve rape and even murder and should not be bracketed with what he called “just mild touching up.”

“Mild pedophilia”?Just mild touching up’? This from one of the most respected minds in the cosmos?

Apparently, yes. The problem with that, of course, is that a man respected as philosopher, ethicist and public intellectual has just given ample justification for child predators to excuse their conduct as “harmless” and “no big deal,” thus placing targets on the genital areas of millions of helpless children. Nor has he applied his characteristic intellectual rigor to his ethically indefensible conclusions:

1. How does he know that none of the fellow students molested by this or other schoolmasters in his school were harmed? He doesn’t.

2. He doesn’t even know that he wasn’t harmed. If, in fact, his experience of being molested as a boy led, through coping with shame and guilt, for him to minimize the utter wrongness of what was done to him, then Dawkins was harmed, and significantly so. If Dawkins regards “just mild touching up” as a minor vice, like, say, passing wind in an elevator, does he indulge in it himself? Well, why not? After all, it isn’t all that wrong…nobody’s hurt by it.

3. His initial rationalization of the act is shockingly flawed. We should apply different standards to judging the character of those who engaged in acts long ago before the culture learned how wrong they were—the male chauvinist pigs of the Victorian age didn’t know, and couldn’t know, they were male chauvinist pigs—but if the conduct was the same, it was equally wrong whenever it was done. Vlad the Impaler thought that using live peasants as slowly dying scarecrows was a legitimate tactic of war. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children correctly said, in response to Dawkins’ remarks, “Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way. But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or yesterday.”

Dawkins inexplicably uses the need to not judge people of the past by today’s standards to rationalize, in the case of child molesting at least, their conduct—the acts themselves. Then he engages in the breath-taking bootstrapping exercise of arguing that since what was done wasn’t so bad then, it’s not so bad now.

4. Dawkins goes on to use other rationalizations like “there are worse things” and “no harm, no foul” to forgive the unforgivable.

Child molestation, be it “touching up”—talk about despicable euphemisms!—or outright rape, is not merely wrong, but terribly wrong. There is not and never was such a thing as “mild pedophilia.” An adult engaging in the sexual touching of a child is battery, it is abuse of power, and it is a betrayal of an adult’s obligation to protect and care for society’s young.

Dawkins’ statements on this subject undermine his credibility and authority on any matter, as far as I can see. He has forfeited society’s trust. He no longer can be trusted to be arguing on the basis of objective and rational analysis on any controversy, if he can not only come to such an outrageous conclusion on what should be, for anyone with half his intelligence and education, the easiest of topics, but also be so arrogant and full of hubris that he doesn’t realize the damage such an assertion from someone with his reputation can cause. He has just given the seal of approval to “mild pederasts” all over the world.

A smart and wise man would never do that.  Atheists need to find a new champion, one without such a gaping, ugly ethical blind spot, and who knows how many others.

Richard Dawkins has proved, one again, that one can be an intellectual and also a fool.


Sources: Atlantic, Huffington Post




46 thoughts on ““Mild Pedophilia” and Richard Dawkins’ Ethical Blind Spot

  1. Maybe Emilio Chavez should have used a phone book on Dylan Maho or maybe just given a series of semi-vigorous Indian burns (sorry if that isn’t PC) or a playgroud noogie; you know nothing that would have left permanent damage. Then he could have used “well, it was only mild assault” as a defense.

  2. “Bobby, do you like movies about gladiators?”

    I think the scene where Kareem Abdul Jabar finally loses his cool with Bobby is hilarious amongst ALL the other comic gold that is AIRPLANE!!!

    • I was a lot more impressed by Airplane before I saw “Zero Hour! ”

      Still a laugh a lot movie that probably would not get made today because of the all politically incorrect jokes (The Beaver’s mom talking Jive? HEHE)

  3. He needs to stick to physics.

    But you got one thing wrong Jack, sexual abuse arguably was WORSE in decades past, because victims didn’t have as many options, support groups, etc. I know we’re comparing different levels of Hell here, but Dawkins is wrong.

  4. When someone like Richard Dawkins speaks about mild child abuse not affecting him or his peers, can only think of 3 reasons:

    1. HE’s victimizing children and forgiving himself indirectly.
    2. His ego is so large, even as a child, that nothing can affect him.. He’s too smart to let a little child abuse lower his self esteem.
    3. He’s broken into some vintage Brandy and has no idea what he’s saying.

  5. i find it strange that you posted a picture from “Airplane”, which included the memorable scene where the 9 year old girl says that she likes her coffee the way she likes her men…strong and black, in a post about pedophilia .
    i agree that Dawkins can not know if his classmates or any other children were abused to a greater extent by the schoolmaster. But i can’t see attacking Dawkins because he doesn’t feel deeply impacted by his own victimization. Of course there are different levels of abuse, which does not excuse the predator.
    i read similar criticisms when one of Ariel Castro’s victims went to a music concert shortly after being saved….talking heads where saying “it’s too soon, she should be taking it slow” who are THEY to tell the victim how to deal with the trauma that they went through?

    • 1. Huh? There’s also a gag about having sex with an inflatable man, and a woman in bed with a horse. So what?
      2. He didn’t say only that he didn’t feel affected. He said that it wasn’t a big deal. Read the post.
      3. “i read similar criticisms when one of Ariel Castro’s victims went to a music concert shortly after being saved….talking heads where saying “it’s too soon, she should be taking it slow” who are THEY to tell the victim how to deal with the trauma that they went through?” I don’t know what you are talking about. They are not remotely the same thing, nor is this relevant.

    • Hank, what are you looking at? It’s the cockpit scene with the little kid, just like in the movie Zero Hour (original, serious version of Airplane).

  6. All I’ve ever known about Dawkins is that he’s an atheist and without God there would be no atheists, so all I know is this reaffirms the thoughts I’ve always had about this fellow. I never trusted him as a person or cared what he thought as an atheist.

  7. 1. “Dawkins’ statements on this subject undermine his credibility and authority on any matter, as far as I can see”
    this is my problem,. Dawkins was the victim and discussing the abuse….how can you say that he is he is minimizing his feelings, about HIS OWN abuse???
    2. i DO agree that Dawkins CAN NOT speak to any other victims.
    Every person is an individual and can react to differently to trauma, (even the same trauma).
    3. Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, called Dawkins’ remarks “a terrible slight” on those who have been abused and suffered the effects for decades.
    DAWKINS WAS THE VICTIM…i am sorry that MR.Watkins believes in absolutes, there is no one size gits all reaction to being abused and there are many different types of abuse. i do think it’s possible Dawkins meant :”mild abuse” when he was quoted as saying “mild pedophilia”. I think he was trying to get across the fact that he had been touched and not raped. Which might have changed his views on the subject.
    4 “He has just given the seal of approval to “mild pederasts” all over the world.”
    When did he do that?

    • What?

      1. Hank, I have no patience with commenters who can’t read. His own feelings about his abuse are not sufficient support for saying, as he does, that the kind of pederasty he survived is minor. That was the point of the post. If it was no big deal to HIM, that’s his business, and I’m not interested in questioning that. He reaches a generalization based on no legitimate evidence and a bunch of rationalizations.

      2. If you agree, then you are engaging in a dishonest argument. My comments about his experiences and their relevance to his conclusions are inseparable from the whole discussion in the post, which includes his unjustified presumptions.

      3. Like me, Watts is NOT discussing Dawkins’ comment about his own experience!!! He was criticizing the outrageous generalization Dawkins, supposedly a bright man, made on insufficient evidence and faulty logic.

      4. He gave his seal of approval by providing a rationalization for them and arguing that mild pedophilia is a minor offense at most. Obviously.

      I’m sorry, but this is a shockingly obtuse comment. If you can’t understand a post better than this, don’t comment on it. I mean it. It pollutes the site.

  8. Sometimes very smart people have no particular advantage when it comes to understanding human nature or emotions. Maybe that’s another generalization made on insufficient evidence, but it’s true of Dawkins at least.

  9. He was being interviewed and was asked a question pertaining to HIS experiences, He didn’t call a press conference to discuss child abuse or pedophilia in general.
    If he doesn’t believe that being touched was an earth shattering or life changing incident for HIM…i’ll take him at his word. Of course some abuse is “minor”….when compared to other cases. To say what he endured (being touched for ten seconds versus Ariel Castro’s victims being kidnapped and held as sex slaves for a decade…one of them is obviously worse. Both predators deserved to be punished for their actions after a conviction.
    I DO have a problem with him speaking for others, unless he has spoken with his former classmates regarding the incidents,

    “Dawkins’ statements on this subject undermine his credibility and authority on any matter, as far as I can see. He has forfeited society’s trust. He no longer can be trusted to be arguing on the basis of objective and rational analysis on any controversy”
    this is just an insane statement. i get the impression that you did not believe that Dawkins had much credibility prior to him granting this interview.

    • 1. The feeling you get is completely incorrect, much like your stubborn and inexplicable misinterpretation of the situation, the significance of Dawkins’ remarks, and what he actually said, and my criticism of it.
      2. My statement regarding his credibility is based on the fact that this public critic of the ideas and beliefs of other rests his credibility on his credentials and the widespread perception that his conclusions are based on valid, objective, unbiased and sound analysis, and that his public statement that a school teacher molesting him and others constituted a minor offense showed, as signature significance, that this belief in his credibility is false, and that he is capable of reaching ridiculous and biased conclusions on inadequate data and unwarranted assumption, employing rationalizations like any clod sitting around making pronouncements in the local pub. THAT follows from the evidence.
      3. Virtually everyone else, especially those who actually know something about child molestation, immediately recognized this, as did his allies in the atheist movement, who are profoundly embarrassed. You don’t, why, I can’t begin to say. My speculation would not be kind.
      4. Whether or not he held a press conference couldn’t be more irrelevant to the discussion.

      • Hey Jack, I was wondering what the reaction of the atheist community might be, especially from his “allies”. Do you have a specific source (link) for those allies that are “profoundly embarrassed”?

        • What’s your point? The most vocal and most quoted anti-religion spokesman—debater, profiled everywhere—- degrades his credibility and sounds like a callous and foolish jerk, and you think atheists don’t notice that their spokesman just shot himself in the mouth? Of course they’re embarrassed, or something’s the matter with them. You want proof that Democrats are embarrassed at the clown act over Syria engineered by the President and Sec. of State too? Just ask one who’s honest. If I say—hell, I will–the Unites States has been embarrassed by its President’s waffling, bluffing, and generally incompetent performance in the current Syria episode….you want documentation? OK, deny it. Look ridiculous too.

          When the standard bearer slips on the peel of his own banana, the parade looks bad.

          • I was simply asking a question because I am curious what the reaction you mentioned was. I thought that was pretty clearly worded as a question. For example, have Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett actually responded to this? Your third point made it sound as if you had special knowledge about Dawkins’ allies and their reactions when you made the statement: “Virtually everyone… immediate recognized this, as did his allies in the atheist movement, who are profoundly embarrassed.” They ARE profoundly embarrassed? It sounded like you had seen or heard something, and knew it to be a fact; it sounded like you had proof. However, now it sounds as if you’re making assumptions, which are probably fair and true assumptions, but assumptions nonetheless. I’m just someone asking for clarification and evidence.

            • And I’m saying it’s a trollish question. I don’t need to prove that assertion, which obviously follows from experience and what occurred. If you want to claim that something other than what a reasonable person would expect would happen when the #1 athiets in the world undermines his authority and credibility, the burden’s on you. If I say, “Red Sox fans were devastated by the play-off loss to the Yankees in 1978, I don’t have to prove it. It follows from the events. So does this. Go ahead, show me I’m wrong. Mine is the appropriate presumptive conclusion.

              • It was an honest question that you obviously misinterpreted. If you had made a generalization, the presumptive conclusion may have be on your side. However, you made a specific claim about Dawkins’ allies and their profound embarrassment. It was presumptive, yet stated as a fact.

                As someone keenly interested in the positions of the so-called neoatheists, I was curious to see what comments you may have read or uncovered regarding their supposed embarrassment. It would have marked an interesting crack in the alliance. That is why I asked the question.

                You could have simply added the word ‘presumably’ for clarity. As in, they are ‘presumably’ profoundly embarrassed. Then I would have seen it as a presumption on your part. But you stated it as a fact, and then accuse me of asking a trolling question, when I asked for the link. Ridiculous.

                • It may have been honest, but it is honestly obnoxious. In such a case, insisting on presumably is like saying that we have to say that Jack Ruby “allegedly” shot Oswald, because he was never convicted.

                  Yes, I am presuming, also asserting, and stating as fact. I explained why. When the spokesman whose authority is based on his cold rationality is per se irrational in a public statement, 1) his authority is damaged and 2) that embarrasses his constituency. If you can cite a single example in the history of mankind where that has not occurred, then you can say “ridiculous.”

                  • Also, note that one can be embarrassed and something can be profoundly embarrassing without the embarrassed party being aware of it or acknowledging it. The word means “to make (a person, group, government, etc.) look foolish in public.”

                  • Presumptions are not facts. Plain and simple. Cut and dry. A presumption is something not known for certain.

                    That aside, you’re arguing that his allies are embarrassed. Fine. I agree that they probably are. Probably. Presumably. Not known for certain.

                    Then again, one only needs to look as far as the commentary on a number of websites addressing the issue to see that many people have come out to defend what Dawkins has said. The fact that he has so many defenders, suggests that some of his ‘allies’ may not be one bit embarrassed by what Dawkins said. Indeed, it is very possible that his primary allies may defend Dawkins. No matter the outcome, you stated as a fact, something that was only probable. Just admit it and move on.

                    • To the contrary, the fact that they are trying to rehabilitate him shows that they were embarrassed. And they are now embarrassing themselves further by defending an ethically and intellectually indefensible statement. This also typical behavior.

        • You might call me an “ally” in as far as you would call fellow christians allies, since I’m an avowed atheist. But I cannot say that I’m embarrassed by his declaration. I am however greatly distressed that someone, whom I thought of as one of the great minds of our time, would spout something as chillingly deranged as this.
          The worst of all: As a public figure he must be aware of the kind of impact his words have. That makes it doubly condemnable in my eyes because his teachings do influence people. And someone not used to thinking for him/herself might even give some credit to that hideous, hideous statement.

  10. Wow. And with one sentence my whole regard for Dawkins just took a nosedive.
    I guess he did suffer “lasting harm” after all. Isn’t that one of child predators’ m.o.? Make the children think it’s okay.

    • Exactly, and like you, I have suspicions that the same thing is happening, or has happened, here.

      Now please explain this to Hank Moody for me, because my head already exploded once yesterday, and his obtuse comments are making what’s left tingle.

      And thank you, thank you, thank you for flagging my typos!

      • Actually, the thought that children might be in Hank’s immediate care makes me shudder…
        And you’re welcome – it’s hard not to correct typos even when away from my desk at work.

  11. Devil’s advocate position. As an atheist, Dawkins is free to create his own morality. With no preconceived authority to dictate a set of morals, he is free to view anything acceptable that he can rationalize.. Nothing is off the table, the fact that ‘traditional morality’ views it as wrong is meaningless. He has deemed this particular behavior not that damaging, not that egregious based on being a victim of it. This is his rational and objective decision on this. You don’t know that he HAS been harmed by this. Maybe he hasn’t. Maybe, if you view this as something that just happens sometimes, and not as a violation, you really AREN’T harmed by such an action. Surely, no physical harm has been done. Perhaps the harm is actually done by telling the child this action is a terrible and wrong thing. Without people with outdated, puritanical views TELLING the child he is a victim, perhaps he won’t feel he is a victim and it won’t be a big deal.

    Welcome to the world of moral relativism. I obviously had to sit through way too much of this in college.

    • I would like to suggest that not all atheists are moral relativists, nor do they automatically inherit the freedom to create their own morality simply because they do not God exists.

  12. I’m confused by all the atheist commentary here — what does that have to do with anything? Being atheist or religious has nothing to do with morality.

  13. “Dawkins’ statements on this subject undermine his credibility and authority on any matter, as far as I can see.” Well then you cannot see very well can you? Professor Dawkins’ explanation of his molesting experience have NO connection whatsoever to his decades of writing and teaching about evolutionary biology.

    • Foolish comment #1—an inauspicious debut. The issue is judgment. Dawkins’ authority in the natter of religion is based on it, as he is arguing from rationality, and is thus supposedly has sound analytical ability. The statements about child molesting show flawed judgment, seriously so. One cannot rely on the good sense of someone who has shown himself objectively and seriously lacking in it. i don’t know why this concept is hard for you—it’s pretty obvious.

  14. And your nonsense about religion being a ‘moral code’? This would be laughable if religious beliefs werent used to justify immoral behavior worldwide.

    • Silly Comment #2—and it’s even sillier than the first. By definition religions are based on moral codes (I didn’t say that religion WAS a moral code) and the fact that a religion is based on a moral code is irrelevant to whether one’s beliefs are used to justify immoral behavior.

      Want to go for a hat trick? I have faith in you!

  15. Man, I certainly don’t want to be seen as defending this but I do have a question. Is there a question in his nonsense that is legitimate? We do look upon past wrongs with current mores, but “forgive” behaviors based on time and era. A 50+ year old man marrying a 13 year old girl would be repugnant (and prosecuted) but would have been acceptable if not lauded in certain times. It doesn’t make it right, and that’s not my intent, but we hold men who married children, owned slaves etc.

    • Child sexual abuse has always been just as wrong, and was never tolerated. You can judge the offender differently, but Dawkins is giving a pass to the conduct, which is something else entirely. Because Thomas Jefferson thought having sex with his slaves wasn’t rape may let us think a little less badly of him, but it doesn’t allow us today to call it “Mild rape.”

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