Dawkins’ dark cloud and silver lining (and Scalia’s death)

In my post of February 3, I mentioned that I was unhappy with the disinvite of Richard Dawkins from the NECSS conference. I lamented that it occurred the way it did and hoped for more information to shed light upon it. I’m pleased to hear that NECSS organizers sent a letter of apology with a re-invite to Dr. Dawkins. Sadly, later that evening, he had a minor stroke.

Dawkins at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. Photograph: Murdo Macleod.
Dawkins at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. Photograph: Murdo Macleod.

Please listen to Richard HERE as he describes what it’s like to have this particular kind of health issue and, for good reference, note how he had the wherewithal to execute a plan that possibly saved his life. It’s important information regardless of how you view his opinions or personality.

NECSS had not announced the re-invite publicly yet. But as Richard notes in his message, he can’t stay away from controversy, and he ended up releasing this info in perhaps controversial form. He revealed his deep upset with the backlash from his own community. Once again, let’s note that behaviors have consequences. On all sides.

With the likes of so-called “skeptical” blog Skepchick, Creationist Ken Ham and the Church of England making disingenuous (and what appears to me to be) opportunistic attempts to take digs at Dr. Dawkins in his moment of weakness, I’ve found that his own message, which displayed thoughtfulness, scientific interest in his own dilemma, and respect for peoples’ concern, was uplifting.

I would suggest that we value people based on the contribution they provide overall to the world, and not to give credence to those who provide momentary entertainment, fire up outrage without clarification, or who wave a flag to rally around – whether that be for Jesus or feminism. Even regarding Dawkins, I admire him in spite of his controversial opinions and sometimes ill-advised outspokenness. I’m very willing to overlook errors because NO ONE is without flaws. It’s hopeful to think that our momentary missteps will be forgotten in the long run. In exchange, consideration of the effort we put into our whole life’s work is taken into account. That life-effort is not always noted in today’s world of social media drama, money-driven self-promotion, and audience short attention spans but it is something to strive for.

I’m afraid Dr. Dawkins may not be able to make it to conferences in the near future, but this does appear to be a very instructive episode on many fronts.

Get Well Soon, Richard.

Addition: A minute after posting this, I saw the news that Justice Scalia had been confirmed dead. And I observed those who deplored his opinions (such as those on torture) say they were glad of it with some even noting they hoped it was a painful death. We see the vile behavior on the other side.

Take a look at this piece in the LA Times that shows how people with undoubted differing opinions about society, law, and morality can still be friends, even GOOD friends. I found this amazing and respectful.

What we feel about a person is based on our past experiences with them. Strong feelings can be hard to control. But do we have to broadcast our deliberately mean opinion? It does loudly declare your moral values to the world, but it also makes you look awful and hypocritical. I get mad at myself too and wish I would shut up about some things. What would happen if we think more, and say less? Saying less in public would have made Scalia less hated by the liberal community and Dawkins less by feminists. Would that have been better? I don’t know. It’s complicated.

UPDATE 14-Feb: NECSS has released a statement that acknowledges an apology and re-invite.

We wish to apologize to Professor Dawkins for our handling of his disinvitation to NECSS 2016. Our actions were not professional, and we should have contacted him directly to express our concerns before acting unilaterally. We have sent Professor Dawkins a private communication expressing this as well. This apology also extends to all NECSS speakers, our attendees, and to the broader skeptical movement.

We wish to use this incident as an opportunity to have a frank and open discussion of the deeper issues implicated here, which are causing conflict both within the skeptical community and within society as a whole. NECSS 2016 will therefore feature a panel discussion addressing these topics. There is room for a range of reasonable opinions on these issues and our conversation will reflect that diversity. We have asked Professor Dawkins to participate in this discussion at NECSS 2016 in addition to his prior scheduled talk, and we hope he will accept our invitation.

This statement and our discussions with Professor Dawkins were initiated prior to learning of his recent illness. All of NECSS wishes Professor Dawkins a speedy and full recovery.

I am very relieved! This is exactly what I hoped would result.

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7 thoughts on “Dawkins’ dark cloud and silver lining (and Scalia’s death)

  1. Just to touch on that last part a bit, here is Senator Sanders on Justice Scalia’s passing:

    http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/269387-sanders-scalia-a-brilliant-colorful-and-outspoken-member

    Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders late Saturday called conservative Justice Antonin Scalia a “brilliant, colorful and outspoken” member of the Supreme Court.

    “While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court,” the Vermont senator said in a brief statement.
    “My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing,” he added.

  2. It is indeed, “complicated” – and it gets more so when “the personal is political” which, I note in Wikpedia, was “rallying slogan of student movement and second-wave feminism from the late 1960s.” And even Dawkins’ own “tread softly, because you tread on my memes”, a chapter heading in his TGD, alludes to the same issue.

    But I think the problem is really compounded when it’s not just our own feelings that under (supposed) attack but, supposedly, those of our entire “tribes” – the whole issue of “my tribe, right or wrong” that vitiates much of the social justice movement.

  3. Richard Dawkins should turn down the offer of this reinvite, and no longer mince matters. The atheist-skeptics movement broke apart years ago, with one group now more associated with the newly emerged “social justice movement”. I have strong doubts that these postmodernists are “his people”. He and everyone else should no longer take them seriously, and mock them relentlessly. After everyone had a round of laughter, we might be able to treat them as unimportant fleas. A new Science Wars II would be great, too.

  4. Think that that would be kind of counter-productive, and more likely to “give aid and comfort to the enemy”. Far better to magnanimously accept the re-offer which would be likely to solidify his position as “the elder statesman” of the A/S movement. And, as an added bonus, it would probably piss off those SJWs who were gleefully supporting the disinvitation in the first place. Although that acceptance is likely to be somewhat contingent on his health which should, of course, be his primary concern.

    And while I haven’t listened to all of his podcast, I think he’s quite justified to be objecting to the “backlash from his own community”; don’t think that type of thing does “our” cause that much good, and think that it should be criticized whenever it occurs.

  5. Aneris, I think Dawkins should go if he is well enough. Novella said that they were split over the original disinvite and I believe that the invitation could be one or more people on the committee genuinely finding it was a bad decision.
    If Dawkins went, it would show that he supports the people who supported him and it would be mud in the eye of those people trying to dictate what we all should think.
    However, Richards first priority is to recover.

  6. Aneris: Think that that would be kind of counter-productive, and more likely to “give aid and comfort to the enemy”. Far better to magnanimously accept the offer which would be likely to solidify his position as “the elder statesman” of the A/S movement. And, as an added bonus, it would probably piss off those SJWs who were gleefully supporting the disinvitation in the first place. Although that acceptance is likely to be somewhat contingent on his health which should, of course, be his primary concern.

    And while I haven’t listened to all of his podcast, I think he’s quite justified in objecting to the “backlash from his own community” as I expect some it was seriously off the deep end; don’t think that type of thing does “our” cause any good at all, and think that it should be criticized whenever it occurs.

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