If you haven’t heard the news yet, Dr. Dawkins was scheduled to read from his new book, Science in the Soul, at a church (ironic, isn’t it?) in Berkeley, California. The event was sponsored by a local radio station, KPFA. However, the radio station got cold feet and cancelled the event. Why? According to the statement they sent to ticket holders:
We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier.
I am not sure why the people at the radio station think words that “offended and hurt” constitute “abusive speech.” It seems to me that a lot of statements can offend and hurt people but not be abusive. If I say, “Pedophilia is wrong and should be punished severely,” I am sure to offend some pedophiles out there. However, that statement can hardly be considered abusive. In the same way, Dr. Dawkins has said some terrible things about Islam, but I can’t remember reading anything of his that I thought was even remotely abusive to the people who follow Islam.
Sure, Dawkins has called Islam “one of the great evils in the world.” But is that abusive speech? I don’t think so. Now, of course, maybe I don’t think so because I don’t follow Islam. However, I have read and heard similar thoughts about some things that I hold dear. For example, Dr. Lawrence Krauss said:
Well, I’ve recently, in the United States, just stated that teaching creationism is child abuse and I think it is.
Such a statement clearly offends me, since I think a creationist education is the best science education a person can have (see here and here, for example). Indeed, since I write award-winning science texts designed to give children a creationist education, Dr. Krauss seems to be saying that I am facilitating child abuse. While I find such an idea incredibly offensive, I don’t consider it abusive. I just consider it ignorant.
While I obviously think both Dr. Krauss and Dr. Dawkins would be more persuasive if they moderated their tone, I don’t think they should be shut down because they make offensive statements. I am sure that some of my creationist ideas are offensive to certain people. I don’t think I should be shut down because of them. Indeed, the very Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to some people. After all, it states that everyone is a sinner and in need of a savior. For someone who is proud of his moral lifestyle, that can be very offensive. We shouldn’t stop preaching the Gospel simply because it offends some people!
So despite my initial reaction, I am not happy that KPFA shut down Dr. Dawkins. If we are to truly have open, honest exchanges of ideas, we are going to offend people. That’s just the way it is. I want open, honest exchanges, so I am willing to be offended.
What I find most interesting about this situation, however, is a statement Dr. Dawkins wrote after the event was cancelled. In it, he makes much the same argument that I do: offensive speech isn’t abusive speech. Then he writes:
I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?
That’s an excellent question. I personally don’t think Dr. Dawkins is very good with logic and reasoning. However, in this case, he spotted a deep inconsistency in KPFA’s actions. Somehow, KPFA has no problem with him denigrating Christianity. However, they do have a problem with him denigrating Islam.
When your inconsistency is big enough for Dr. Dawkins to notice, you’ve got a real problem!