Richard Dawkins sparks Twitter 'tsunami' with rape tweets

Campaigners accuse Dawkins of perpetuating 'dangerous' myths, but evolutionist says it was just a lesson in logic

Richard Dawkins
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Professor Richard Dawkins has caused what he calls a "bizarre Twitter tsunami" by using examples of rape and paedophilia to illustrate a point about logic.

The evolutionist began by explaining a syllogism – an argument based on logic, whereby comparing two ideas does not imply endorsement of either – to his followers by comparing 'X' and 'Y'. The controversy began when he later used examples of paedophilia and rape to prove his point.

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.— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 29, 2014

Dawkins was quickly inundated with criticism from activists and campaigners, who were outraged at his comparison of incidents of sexual abuse.

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I'm glad @RichardDawkins is here to tell us objectively & comparatively how bad our rapes were. Go away and learn compassion.— Sabine the NPC (@ThatSabineGirl) July 29, 2014

His supporters were quick to point out that critics "misunderstood" his point – and that he was not endorsing either, or saying that either statement is true or false.

@RichardDawkins People seem to be too caught up in the example used to see the logic behind them. It is simple and truthful logic.— Matt (@MUFC_MATT_95) July 29, 2014

But campaigning groups such as Everyday Victim Blaming which work to challenge common myths surrounding sexual abuse argued that they understood Dawkins logic, but questioned why he perpetuated "dangerous" myths about the existence of "varying degrees" of rape to explain it.

.@cobber_bobber @RichardDawkins We understand his point. We also know how damaging it is for victims of sexual violence when it is used >— Ending Victimisation (@EVB_Now) July 29, 2014

.@cobber_bobber@RichardDawkins to score political points. Rape is a serious crime - not fodder for debates on syllogism.— Ending Victimisation (@EVB_Now) July 29, 2014

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights organisation Liberty, told the Daily Telegraph that "even great minds need editing".

She also warned Dawkins: "People should sometimes put their smartphones down and count to 250 before entering into such important and sensitive topics on Twitter.".

Dawkins defended his tweets in a blog post saying what was meant as a lesson in logic resulted in "an immense amount of agony and vitriolic abuse" being directed towards him. "I was only talking logic, with no desire to make light of the seriousness of any kind of rape or any kind of paedophilia," he said.

He did admit that he should have included quotation mark to show that they were hypothetical quotations and not his own views.

But, Sian Norris argues in The Independent that the damage created by the comparison has already been done. She says a group of people will have witnessed Dawkins' lesson and walked away "feeling reassured that the crime they committed wasn’t that bad, wasn’t that violent, was only 'mild'", writes Sian Norris. "And those people are rapists."

Dawkins is no stranger to controversy and has been accused of disguising bigoted remarks as atheism. In the past, he has been accused of Islamophobia and downplaying sexual harassment.

Should I pay attention to Richard Dawkins? A handy guide:— Luke Lewis (@lukelewis) July 29, 2014

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