Richard Dawkins has recently come under fire for minimizing his own experiences being molested. He apparently dismissed it as “mild touching up,” and insisted that we should not judge past events with modern standards. Dawkins associates this “mild pedophilia” with caning and racism, which were more common when he was growing up (apparently…I wasn’t there). To be fair, he did make a distinction between his experiences and  rape, murder, and more severe cases of human brutality.

While I’m not interested in evaluating his particular circumstances/experiences, I do feel the need to bring up some important points that Dawkins has evidently not considered. I feel the need to point out that this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he is an atheist.

English: Richard Dawkins at New York City's Co...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His statements are absolutely indefensible because his is a respected, public figure, and as such, people listen to him. By way of analogy, doctors everywhere cringe when some movie-star celebrity publicly spouts off medical nonsense that flies in the face of all evidence-based medicine and clinical experience. Why? Because misinformation can kill people, especially when it involves our health.

People respect public figures and don’t always have the critical skills to discern good and bad information. An ex-Playboy bunny spots off about the (now demonstrably false) dangers of vaccines, and children die from preventable diseases.

Dawkins has potentially made the same mistake, but with mental health. He doesn’t seem to understand that his unfortunate experience of being molested, while apparently not affecting him, can potentially destroy someone else’s childhood. His personal anecdote, essentially stating, “It wasn’t that bad, and I got over it,” stigmatizes sexual abuse victims – “After all, if Dawkins can get over it, why can’t I?”

What he said about sexual abuse is irresponsible. Our culture has made great strides in removing the stigma of sexual abuse, to give victims/survivors an environment in which they can heal. I’m fairly certain Dawkins doesn’t want to work against that, but I’m also pretty sure  he just did.

Dawkins…you’re a talented biologist (and a mediocre, at best, philosopher and theologian). Stick with what you’re good at.


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