Sometimes, atheists can be downright religious. On Monday, the American Humanist Association (AHA), which advocates for a “nontheistic worldview,” turned on one of the most prominent atheists in the world, Richard Dawkins. The AHA rescinded an award it gave Dawkins back in 1996, apparently for the heresy of raising questions about transgender identity.
The AHA awarded Dawkins the Humanist of the Year Award in 1996, recognizing the atheist evolutionary biologist as “an exemplar of humanist values.” AHA cited the “communication of scientific concepts to the public” as a vital part of giving that award to Dawkins, who had published the influential atheist book The Blind Watchmaker in 1986. (He would go on to publish The God Delusion, helping to lead the New Atheist movement in 2006.)
Yet AHA announced that Dawkins had betrayed the organization’s values.
“Regrettably, Richard Dawkins has over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalized groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values,” the AHA board wrote in an announcement on Monday.
“His latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient. His subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity,” the board declared.
“Consequently, the AHA Board has concluded that Richard Dawkins is no longer deserving of being honored by the AHA, and has voted to withdraw, effective immediately, the 1996 Humanist of the Year award,” the board concluded.
On April 10, Dawkins had posed an interesting question about transgenderism.
“In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black,” he wrote. “Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.”
Two days after the tweet, Dawkins clarified his intentions.
“I do not intend to disparage trans people. I see that my academic ‘Discuss’ question has been misconstrued as such and I deplore this,” he wrote. “It was also not my intent to ally in any way with Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue .”
Dawkins isn’t exactly a right-wing transphobic bigot. Back in 2018, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science endorsed transgender identity, sharing a Scientific American article claiming that “the idea of two sexes is overly simplistic.” The foundation used the pro-transgender hashtags “#TransRightsAreHumanRights” and “#WontBeErased.”
— Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (@rdfrs) October 24, 2018
Yet the AHA was not alone in loudly condemning Dawkins’ recent tweet. Allison Gill, the vice president for legal and policy at American Atheists and a male who identifies as female, also condemned the prominent atheist’s tweet.
“We need science communicators like Richard Dawkins to put in the time to learn this information and then communicate it clearly and accurately to the public, not reinforce dangerous and harmful narratives put forward by the opponents of equality,” Gill wrote. “Trans people are under constant attack across our country. Implying that our identities are somehow fraudulent and questioning whether we even exist dehumanizes us and helps justify this violence. ”
Contrary to Gill’s claim, questioning transgender identity does not “justify” violence against people who identify as transgender. Americans are right to harbor reservations about allowing biological males to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms or to compete in women’s sports.
While gender dysphoria (the condition of identifying with the gender opposite one’s biological sex) is real and people with this condition deserve pity and support, that does not mean that society should kowtow to people whose identity contradicts their biology. There is no evidence that transgender surgery improves the mental health outcomes of gender dysphoric people. Men and women who formerly identified as transgender and underwent surgery have grown to reject transgender identity and lament the damage they did to their own bodies.
Even though Americans sympathize with gender dysphoric people, they are rightly skeptical about allowing men into women’s spaces and women’s sports. Gender dysphoric people likely do not seek to take advantage of transgender policies to get an edge on the competition or to invade women’s privacy, but pro-transgender policies open the door to abuse from people who falsely claim transgender identity — just as Dolezal abused her false black identity. This topic should not be beyond discussion.
Dawkins was not endorsing this skepticism, although he did suggest a parallel. Apparently, even just asking followers to “discuss” such an issue is beyond the pale for the AHA. An atheist group decided to “cancel” one of the world’s most prominent atheists just for asking a question. That’s how radical transgender activism has become.
The American Humanist Association lists three definitions of Humanism that include the terms “free inquiry” and “critical inquiry.” Yet the AHA is stifling free inquiry on the issue of transgenderism in the name of protecting a “marginalized group.” Questioning transgenderism is heresy, even if a prominent atheist does not actually endorse any attack on transgender identity.
The AHA board claimed that Dawkins’ “subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity.” In other words, his confession was inadequate — he requires more penance to reverse his excommunication.
Atheists may loudly denounce religion and the demands of a transcendent God, but they still uphold their own form of orthodoxy. Transgenderism mimics a religion in many ways, and it seems the transgender movement has a stranglehold on some of the bastions of “free inquiry.” How ironic.