Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Richard Dawkins' Defense of Mild Pedophilia is Seriously Flawed!

“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. . . I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”


So were the words of the most famous of the four "horsemen" of the “new” (popular) atheism, Richard Dawkins, in an interview with Katie Mcdonough.[1] Dawkins, known for his vitriolic and venomous evolutionary attacks toward those holding to intelligent design and biblical creation has recently pontificated on the issue of "mild pedophilia" creating a stir from many Christians and child protective agencies and advocate groups.

As wild as Dawkins' pronouncement appears, it also has those of us on the side of logic, reason, and embracing to a morally absolute framework, scratching our heads and asking how can any reasonable person believe such nonsense? And nonsense it is,
logically, ethically, and pragmatically.

This posting will engage the above quotation, in the context of the Ms. Mcdonough’s interview with Richard Dawkins. My hope is to point out a handful of flaws in the quote which will show that it is not only unreasonable, but also grounded on slippery sloping terrain.

Engaging the lack of logic and reason 

 The first flaw is one of a moral contradiction. By stating that we cannot “condemn people of an earlier period by the standards ours,” is a moral pronouncement.

Whenever someone says something like, “you cannot judge” or “stop judging me!”, they are making a judgmental statement. Dawkins’ statement is falls into a category of ethics and morality, and thus it is also a moral pronouncement. His statement essentially is a moral judgment upon not just current day moral standards, but also the standards of those from in the “18th and 19th centuries.

So logically his statement self destructs under the ever watchful eye of the law of non contradiction.[2] But there is another flaw with Dawkins’ logic here that cannot go unnoticed. 

While there are many who think spanking a child is considered abuse, not all cases are abusive. Taking the non abusive road here, it is clear that Dawkins does not like the idea of disciplinary action like caning only seeing the abusive side of it.

Looking through my list of fallacies from a course I took years ago, there is actually another fallacy that Richard is committing here. It is one where he makes a presumption that there is no real difference between two extremes (“caning” or “mild pedophilia”) on a continuum because in his mind the differences are small from one to the next.[3]  They are categorically different and he places them juxtaposed to one another. 

A moral dilemma that does not work with everybody

A second flaw is one that draws in his evolutionary underpinnings. His statement where he says, 

 “. . . 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.”

I think it is safe to assume that Dawkins is stating that just as he believes that biological evolution is true, so too ethics and morality follow a similar evolutionary “progression.”

There are two problems with this.  The first is that one has to justify how society is progressing ethically and morally when we see a rise in murder, theft, assaults and other vices, all over nation and all over the world. Why is it that as one makes the push for things to get better, we see things getting worse? If man is progressing in pursuing the brotherhood of man, “why do we see more ‘hoods‘ than brothers?

The second problematic flaw is found in Dawkins‘ atheistic worldview which rejects any absolute standard of morality, unless that absolute standard is himself. The problem lies in the fact that there are others under the banner of the “popular atheism” that embrace a similar standard, and being that there are many, not all may agree on particular moral issues.[4] 

We could go on and on with this issue all day long, however it is clear that Dawkins’ denial of an Absolute Moral Lawgiver places his moral framework on the slippery slope of moral relativism, where what is morally right for one, may not be for another. I wonder if Richard would like to live in a country where they love their neighbors or would he like to live in a place where perhaps they eat them.[5]

Pragmatically no matter how you look at it, it is ABUSE!

 Let me wrap this posting up with a third and final flaw. It is one that works itself out pragmatically.  Richard Dawkins recalls back to his childhood encounter where he was “fondled” by one of his former schoolmasters, and he states that he did not think it “did any of [them] lasting harm.” 

If find it fascinating that he equates mild pedophilia as problematic as caning. But to him, the action of his schoolmaster were/are not problematic? Which is it Richard? By stating that he did not think the action did any lasting harm. Does this mean that it was harmful in the beginning? 

Peter Watt,
from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has a concluding quote in Mcdonough’s article that is rather insightful. He states, “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.”


So to conclude this rant, my question to Richard Dawkins is as follows: Since you see a problem with caning today, under your moral starting points, do you have a problem with  mild pedophilia as well? 
Abuse is still abuse whether is with a rod or at the hands of a pervert. Just because Dawkins says that he does not think it had any lasting effects on him today, does not mean that it is not a ghost of the past that haunts him enough to put on a par with abusive caning. 


[1] Katie Mcdonough, “Richard Dawkins defends “mild pedophilia,” says it does not cause “lasting harm”, Salon Magazine, September 10, 2013

[2] The law of non contradiction simply states that a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time. Statements that are true correspond and cohere to reality.

[3] This is called the “Argument or Informal Fallacy of the Beard.”

[4] Please see my postings on this blog:  “Challenge from atheists: Can one be moral without God?” ( and “Open Forum Response: Can one use reason alone to make moral decisions?” (

[5] I wonder what Richard Dawkins would say to the terrorists and drug runners in Liberia that will often cannibalize their enemies with hopes of gaining more power, to conquer their enemies (  Are they acting immorally Richard? Why or why not?

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