Richard Dawkins logic lesson rape outrage

Last updated 09:06 30/07/2014
Richard Dawkins
ON THE OFFENSIVE: Richard Dawkins.

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Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins has tweeted himself into a storm of criticism, trying to explain a point of logic by suggesting one form of rape is worse than another.

"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," he tweeted.

He also said: "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."

Later in the debate he acknowledged that he could "imagine circumstances where rape by a friend is worse than by a stranger".

He then set out a longer explanation of his point on his website, appearing to accept he could have been clearer on Twitter. Being clearer seemed to require him to use the word "relatively", as in "relatively mild" pedophilia, and putting quote marks around hypothetical quotations such as "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse."

In the longer explanation, Dawkins also said he had not been saying it was right to rank one kind of rape as worse than another.

The lesson in logic may be related to a tweet from Dawkins - linked to YouTube footage of Christopher Hitchens talking about Israel and Zionism - in which Dawkins said it was reasonable to deplore both the original founding of the Jewish state of Israel and aspirations now to destroy it.

Some hours later Dawkins tweeted: "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."

The tweets about date rape and mild pedophilia followed soon after and Twitter was flooded with responses.

After acknowledging that whether X or Y was worse was a matter opinion, an apparently exasperated Dawkins mocked those finding fault with his argument.

"'Stealing 1 (pound) is bad. Stealing an old lady's life savings is worse.' How DARE you rank them? Stealing is stealing. You're vile, appalling," he tweeted.

Shortly after that he tweeted that there were people on Twitter who thought in absolutist terms, to an extent he would not have believed possible.

The response was swift and fierce.

End Violence Against Women Coalition co-director Holly Dustin told The Telegraph Dawkins comments were an insult to survivors of rape.

"Minimising abuse - what is mild rape after all? - is not a clever, philosophical discussion but has a real impact on the many, many survivors of rape, sexual violence and child sexual abuse who are coping and living with the legacy of their abuse."

East London Rape Crisis spokeswoman Jody Woodward told Huffington Post UK: "Rape itself is a violent act regardless of whether any physical force is used. For survivors there is no hierarchy as to what constitutes 'better' or 'worse' rape. Rape is rape; there is no such thing as mild rape."

- Stuff


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