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Famed atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ invitation to speak at the oldest student debate society in the world was canceled over what the society’s auditor deemed as his offensive views on Islam and sexual assault.
Bríd O’Donnell, the auditor of Trinity College Dublin's Historical Society (The Hist) in Ireland, announced on Instagram Sunday night that she was “unaware of Richard Dawkins’ opinions on Islam and sexual assault until this evening” and that the society “will not be moving ahead with his address as we value our members’ comfort above all else,” according to The University Times. Her post was made on her personal Instagram page and is not available for public viewing.
According to O’Donnell, Dawkins was invited by her predecessor and she had only researched him briefly and read his Wikipedia page. It was not until other people pointed out what Dawkins had said about Islam and sexual assault that she decided to disinvite him.
Dawkins compared Islam to cancer in 2019, calling it the world’s “most evil religion” because of its poor treatment of women and homosexuals. In numerous public appearances, he has made similarly disparaging statements about many religions.
He is well-known in Christian circles for his 2006 book, The God Delusion, in which he writes, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
However, O’Donnell made no reference to Dawkins’ views being offensive to Christians or Jews in her explanation of his cancelation.
On sexual assault, Dawkins said in a 2013 interview with The Times magazine that he personally experienced “mild pedophilia” as a child, but it did not cause “lasting harm” and that people shouldn’t judge the moral failings of past generations on sexual abuse with the same standards used today.
In 2014, he also said on Twitter that “If you want to be in a position to testify and jail a man [for rape,] don’t get drunk.” When a Twitter commenter asked him for an explanation, Dawkins said he meant it’s difficult to get a conviction for rape with only statements like “I was too drunk to remember.”
His cancelation from the progressive Society follows the club’s 2018 decision to rescind a gold medal award for controversial British pro-Brexit politician Nigel Farage.
The College Historical Society’s roots date back to 1747, when influential conservative philosopher Edmund Burke founded the club. Its original purpose was to meet twice weekly for “Speeching, reading, writing and arguing in Morality, History, Criticism, Politiks and all the useful branches of Philosophy,” according to the club’s records. Currently, the Society is the oldest collegiate student group in the world. Historical figures such as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have spoken at the Society.