When Richard Dawkins was 11 years old, his art teacher pulled him onto his lap, reached into his shorts, and fondled his genitals. When he told his schoolmates, he learned he wasn’t alone – the man had abused some of his friends, too. But 60 years later, the famed atheist author of The God Delusion can’t bring himself to condemn the teacher’s actions.
Dawkins told The Times magazine last week that abuse like he and his classmates suffered causes “no lasting harm,” and that “mild pedophilia” or “touching up” shouldn’t be judged as harshly as rape or other crimes.
“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours,” Dawkins said. “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.”
Victims’ rights groups reacted with outrage to Dawkins’ comments. Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said Dawkins’ remarks were “a terrible slight” to victims of childhood sexual abuse.