Tag Archives: Dawkins

The Discussion We Need On Rape and Alcohol

No one seems, in their rush to condemn Dawkins as a sexist misogynist dinosaur that damages the atheist movement, to actually see what the law states regarding evidence of rape when alcohol has been consumed. Nor that about 40% of rape cases brought by the Crown and Prosecution Service end in no conviction. I am going to try and deal with all of this. Bear with me.

That was the basis of Dawkins’ discussion on twitter, and the high profile rebukes I saw made no attempt to discuss how this applies under law in the UK. If any lawyer followers have any additional input, or clarifications please feel free to comment on this post or via twitter so I may include.

An appeal court judgment in 2007 in the UK attempted to clarify rape law regarding alcohol consumption:

Sir Igor Judge, Lady Justice Hallett and Mrs Justice Gloster said the appeal had required them to “address the effect of voluntary heavy alcohol consumption as it applies to the law of rape”.

In making the ruling, Sir Igor said: “If, through drink – or for any other reason – the complainant has temporarily lost her capacity to choose whether to have intercourse on the relevant occasion, she is not consenting, and subject to questions about the defendant’s state of mind, if the intercourse takes place, this would be rape.

“However, where the complainant has voluntarily consumed even substantial quantities of alcohol, but nevertheless remains capable of choosing whether or not to have intercourse, and in drink agrees to do so this would not be rape.”

He added that the “capacity to consent may evaporate well before a complainant becomes unconscious”. [BBC News]

The ruling was based on the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (which when Dawkins previously talked about mild rape and mild pedophilia I referred to here).

It states in section 75 that I linked to above (emphasis my own on points Dawkins making on twitter):

75 Evidential presumptions about consent

(1)If in proceedings for an offence to which this section applies it is proved—
(a)that the defendant did the relevant act,

(b)that any of the circumstances specified in subsection (2) existed, and

(c)that the defendant knew that those circumstances existed,the complainant is to be taken not to have consented to the relevant act unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he consented, and the defendant is to be taken not to have reasonably believed that the complainant consented unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he reasonably believed it.

(2)The circumstances are that—

(a)any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, using violence against the complainant or causing the complainant to fear that immediate violence would be used against him;

(b)any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, causing the complainant to fear that violence was being used, or that immediate violence would be used, against another person;

(c)the complainant was, and the defendant was not, unlawfully detained at the time of the relevant act;

(d)the complainant was asleep or otherwise unconscious at the time of the relevant act;

(e)because of the complainant’s physical disability, the complainant would not have been able at the time of the relevant act to communicate to the defendant whether the complainant consented;

(f)any person had administered to or caused to be taken by the complainant, without the complainant’s consent, a substance which, having regard to when it was administered or taken, was capable of causing or enabling the complainant to be stupefied or overpowered at the time of the relevant act.

(3)In subsection (2)(a) and (b), the reference to the time immediately before the relevant act began is, in the case of an act which is one of a continuous series of sexual activities, a reference to the time immediately before the first sexual activity began.

The law stands that a person can be drunk but still voluntarily give consent, but where that capacity has been lost to consent due to a state of inebriation it would be rape. A court on the basis of evidence would attempt to clarify what happened.

Going back to the BBC news coverage of the Court of Appeal case in 2007:

It is the first time the Court of Appeal has looked at the issue since a legal definition of consent in rape cases was established by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The law says a person consents to sex if they agree by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Mr Bree had denied raping the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but was convicted by a jury at Bournemouth Crown Court and jailed for five years last year.

The student said she had not consented to sex after they had been out in Bournemouth drinking vodka and Red Bull and cider.

The quashing of his conviction related to “deficiencies” in the trial judge’s summing up, and Mr Bree was freed from prison on 13 March.

Dawkins tweets

The issue here is whether the complainant lacked capacity to consent to a sexual act – the tweet by Dawkins does not address that, but rather recollection. Other evidence might exist but Dawkins is dismissing that being the case. In the jargon, evidential presumption of consent cannot be proved a negative.

If it can be proved that alcohol had nullified her capacity to consent, but the defendant went against this, it would be rape. That would be crucial evidence in Dawkins hypothetical case for the prosecution and defence to examine. Especially Crown Prosecution in bringing the case to trial.

This is twitter, and lacks space, so what did Dawkins say regarding evidence?

It would be rather uncharitable to state Dawkins means here if you are unconscious and raped you cannot bring about an accusation. Again, this is twitter.

To see how ridiculous that interpretation, it would be like saying you cannot accuse someone of murder unless the corpse has a recollection. The point is evidence existing for a trial to be brought against someone.

To the charge that Dawkins is insensitive about rape:

You only have to think of recent rape victims of ISIS jumping to their deaths rather than living, to see the horrendous attitudes to rape victims that have to be overcome in the world.

The context

There have been accusations made against prominent people in the atheist movement of using their status to sleep with women. No prosecutions, but versions of events have played out in the blogosphere. Writers and bloggers, rather than prosecution and defense experts, have poured over testimony as amateur sleuths to make pronouncements.

I can only add that yes, I have seen celebrity status used in the hope of one night stands at conferences with female volunteers (not Dawkins but lips sealed as to who unless she makes public). It happens. This attitude to women needs challenging across many civil movements. Women are not there to provide sexual entertainment. They are delegates and advocates in their own right. More of them need to be given a platform to speak on atheist and secular issues.

In a rationalist community sex should be something dealt with by grown ups in social intercourse. Ideas of written consent forms, or fears that lots of men are being maliciously prosecuted are misplaced (see the graph by the Enliven Project here). A gentlemen does not ask a woman he has just met in an elevator for coffee in his hotel room at 4am. He knows which way that might be taken, whatever he says to mitigate. It is creepy, scary and not on. Neither would he ensure that a woman drinks more than himself in an attempt to make her more suggestible. Especially if he knows it would be a big “No” sober.

Was Dawkins weighing in on this last accusation doing the rounds for sometime, or perhaps wanted to discuss based on Cee Lo Green ‘People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!’ series of deleted tweets this month?

Yes when I read one of Dawkins tweets I hit the roof. What on earth was he getting at? So after I peeled myself from the ceiling realizing what a field day this will be for Dawkins’ opponents, I read his tweets.

The tweet that seems to have set off this latest episode:

A reply made Dawkins continue:

It was a discussion and Dawkins was looking to be challenged. Regarding his do not accuse if you have no recollection tweet, came this point:

This though was the kicker for me from Dawkins:

Until you see how he clarifies:

The issue of capacity to consent when intoxicated:

Now I can take any one of Dawkins’ tweets to say how horrible and disgusting his attitude is. When you go back through the timeline, it is a discussion on rape and alcohol. It would be wrong to take one tweet on its own then flesh out without reference to the others.

The Real World

The huge problem with such a conversation is it ends up being weighted against women imbibing rather than men raping. Their credibility as a witness means rapists may well get away with it.

On this subject do read this post:

I have one very clear memory that still haunts me two years later. I remember waking up during the night and seeing him on top of me, my trousers around my ankles and my shirt still on. I pulled away and heard him mutter “Oh no, it fell out” to himself, at which point I blacked out again. I assume he continued to rape me.

I told very few people at the time, but a friend came with me to the police station. The receptionist, on learning I was reporting a sex offence, insisted on me giving details in front of everybody in the waiting room before taking me somewhere private. Two officers then came to my house, where I was questioned further. One described rape as “just something that happens”, especially at university. The only advice I received was to drink less in future.

Appalling attitudes exist. A woman that has been drinking is considered to have been asking for it. Just as if she was not covered up. Dawkins was trying to discuss all this. On twitter how evidence and credibility is used in court. The idea that he wants rapists to get away with it or blames women for being raped is wrong. How the real world works, how court cases examine evidence, are valid points of discussion.

Yet it has been twisted into Dawkins saying “What if she is lying?” which he never said. Also “For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking.” when Dawkins was discussing how court of laws operate in a hypothetical case in the real world when no other evidence existed but testimony.

There will be plenty of things to disagree with Dawkins on. He discusses some things and I want to have a go at him because I think he is wrong, or I can see how it will play out in the public sphere. What really needs discussing is how we reduce incidences of rape and ensure rapists are convicted. When rape convictions are at around 60%  we need a public discourse whether the law is being correctly applied, if it needs changing, and that women who are raped have the confidence to come forward.

Dawkins tried to have a conversation about that. It has been turned instead to condemnation over things he was not saying. Still, people will not often follow links, and if one tweet is presented not look to see if it has a context that explains it differently from isolation.

As to demands that we denounce Dawkins, as if atheists could be put on a Salem court trial to pass a test whether we dance with the devil, my answer is this. When he is right I will stand with him. When he is wrong I will say so. No one is my leader in atheism. Do not try to make my views less by associating my none belief with other people.

I once thought it would be good for Dawkins to talk beyond religion, secularism and science.

I bet even he is beginning to wonder if it is worth the aggro.

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We Need Richard Dawkins And You


Despite having written “The God Delusion” which inspired me and others to be involved in the secular movement an argument goes that Richard Dawkins has had his day, a bit like a star footballer approaching retirement. His style of play is seen as ineffective and embarrassing as we are urged to move to civil engagement and reconciliation with believers. Turning keyboards into ploughshares will apparently herald a new age of reasonable reason.

Dawkins for me is the star defender of the team – he tackles hard. You do not want angels playing in that position; there will be times when the other side will shout for a booking let alone a sending off. But the game would be lost without that talent and determination regularly being employed on the pitch.

Watching Dawkins debate Deepak Chopra reminded me why I traveled thousands of miles to support the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Dawkins’ passion for not just calling out pseudo science but explaining what the science actually is, expressing real poetry in how things are without needing to imagine what we cannot know. Quite simply it is enthralling to hear complex subjects so beautifully explained by Dawkins.

I remember listening to a radio interview when a recovering drug addict phoned to say his new found Christian faith helped him and who was Dawkins to knock that? Richard replied that he had no desire to do so and wished him well. So much for the uncaring atheist bashing professor “The Guardian” article tried to paint to besmirch him recently.

Twitter does not do full justice to Dawkins, but his intellectual capacity to aid public understanding of science together with the resources he makes available to secular and atheist organisations makes a huge difference. Accusations of aloofness at someone who engages with the public on a social media platform, is the least of his worries in the hullabaloo.

For me this goes further than a culture war, or enjoying the argument on social media. People are suffering and dying because of attitudes which are defended as religious – or claimed simultaneously to be cultural yet still to be respected. For Dawkins this is no intellectual exercise but a moral imperative to speak out. How someone feels about a t-shirt really is not in the same league.

Though that did not stop Yvonne Ridley suggesting to me I must find the Jesus and Mo t-shirt as funny as the anti-semitic quenelle salute – because she said there is the empathy with how she feels about an image of the prophet. Religious cartoon satire worn at a student fair is the same as an inverse nazi salute on the railway tracks that led to a concentration camp where thousands were killed.


A t-shirt that says hi yet the image used (which do not forget means the cartoonist hides his identity for fear of reprisal) is somehow comparable emotionally with a disgusting gesture of fascism that killed millions. Sensibility is not sense when it comes to this view.

Religion needs challenging by one and all against apologists who misrepresent what religious freedom means as a way to reduce human rights. Sensibilities might be hurt, but bruised pride is the least of our worries in the grand scheme of things.

Debating tactics and strategy is all very well, and yes there will be times when free kicks might be awarded against Dawkins. It misses the nature of the game being played and the stakes involved. It’s not about winning player of the match, but calling out the harm done by religion and preventing it. Human rights, freedom of speech, contraception, to learn proper science at school and even men and women sitting or doing group work together. Even non religious institutions like University UK colluding with gender inequality unless challenged.

Dawkins with “The God Delusion” started a new wave of atheists. Not just to publicly declare there probably is no God, but to challenge the supernatural claims by which public policy is manipulated.

Secular activism needs you – it’s time to get off the bench. With a revamped OUT Campaign promised now is a good time to warm up. Join a secular society and get involved.

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Richard Dawkins Clarifies Child Abuse Comments


As a keen reader of Dawkins (see “From Jehovah to Dawkins” how his books helped me to reject creationism and be public about my atheism despite the rift that caused in my family) if I had a pound for every time I said “if only he said it like that earlier” or “why say it like that?” … Well, I would probably be employed as one of those hacks that Nick Cohen criticised.

Here is Dawkins latest clarification, having talked about the child abuse he and his school companions experienced:

I should have hoped that much was obvious. But I was perhaps presumptuous in the last sentence of the paragraph quoted above. I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been recurrent where mine was not. That’s why I said only “I don’t think he did any of us lasting damage”. We discussed it among ourselves on many occasions, especially after his suicide, and there was indeed general agreement that his gassing himself was far more upsetting than his sexual depredations had been. If I am wrong about any particular individual; if any of my companions really was traumatised by the abuse long after it happened; if, perhaps it happened many times and amounted to more than the single disagreeable but brief fondling that I endured, I apologise.

That certainly was one part of my criticism. He misses whether he thinks there should be a statute of limitation on being held accountable for abuse that may be many decades ago. Irrelevant in his personal case as the teacher committed suicide. That issue of applying today’s thinking on child welfare to past incidents when the culpable paedophile is still alive are not addressed.

The other was describing his experience as “mild paedophilia” is exactly where the criticism comes from as I discussed from various child charities.

Hemant Mehta puts it well:

What he’s guilty of is what he’s always been guilty of — being insensitive, inarticulate, and unsympathetic. He’s trivializing something others rightly take very seriously because he’s found a way to get past it. As someone who once held the title of “Chair for the Public Understanding of Science,” he’s doing an awful job of bringing people over to his side. Good educators know you have to meet people where they’re at before you can move them in your direction and, by basically downplaying his own abuse, he’s showing a callous disregard for how others might interpret the same situation.

This has been my criticism which I outlined in a post here covering those very incidents before this:

I admire the writer, that intellect, how Dawkins shows intelligent design to be a fraud, and his advocacy of public understanding of science. I despair of the tweets and sound bites Dawkins has used, which even by his own admission have been ill worded and needed an apology. He is better company, and a better man, than this suggests to a wider audience.

There is no contrition on having said “mild paedophilia” existed as a form of child abuse. The action is not mild – it is an unwarranted assault, the nature of which qualifies how horrific the abuse is. Context, situation and society’s views at the time may have a bearing on how traumatic the experience is for a child and later as an adult – in Dawkins’ case seems to be almost none existent. That argument is covered in Psychology Today:

This is indeed a delicate thing to talk about because, of course, it is a big deal when an adult abuses a child in any way—sexual or otherwise. But what this research suggests is that while urgency in detecting and stopping abuse of children is warranted, assumptions that all minors are traumatized by any sexual contact with someone over the age of consent are not scientifically supported. Perhaps more importantly, by sending the message that such experiences are by definition traumatic, we may sometimes be causing suffering even as we try to stop it.

How we help the victims of child abuse is something to consider carefully, as is detecting and stopping. However, Dawkins was not helping in this debate. He downplayed his abuse because he feared would be “to belittle and insult those many people” who had far worse experiences.

It missed that trauma is infinitely variable, even with a similar incident. His apology was not directed at anyone outside his school companion circle with that teacher. He was making a general intergenerational comment and suggesting a particular form of paedophilia was by it’s nature trauma free because it was “mild.”

As posted on the Male Surviver Forum:

Absolutely disgusting. Shows continued ignorance by some of the damage pedopholia causes.

There is no excuse for giving “mild pedophiles” a free pass no matter how much the culture tolerated it. And there is never ever a reason to minimize its effects.

Hence the clarification is lacking, and despite his best efforts it remains callous.

Third time lucky, maybe?

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Richard Dawkins “Mild Paedophila” and Racism


Richard Dawkins in a recent interview:

‘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 paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.’

Let us ignore comparing cultural attitudes to race nearly four hundred years ago with attitudes to child abuse that has happened within the lifetime of Richard Dawkins. An odd comparison by timeline and subject matter.

I would still condemn such people in the past whilst appreciating the moral zeitgeist has moved on. Anyone with an appreciation of history would see this judgment comes to pass with future generations. For example I may admire Hume’s part in the Scottish Enlightenment and contribution to humanism. Yet I can still be appalled and critical of him writing in the 18th century:

I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complection than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation.


More on Enlightenment thinking and race can be read here by Kenan Malik who quotes a lecture he gave on the subject:

What we see here are the first intimations of a contradiction that was to become a key motor of nineteenth century social and political thinking – a contradiction between the intellectual categories thrown up Enlightenment philosophy and the social relations of the emerging capitalist society, between an abstract belief in equality, on the one hand, and the concrete reality of an unequal society. It was out of this contradiction, as we shall see, that the idea of race emerges.


The point which Dawkins loses sight of is we should not judge the past solely by our own values, but that we should understand what the thinking, custom and culture was then; the meaning of words at the time. Malik goes into this in some detail, and his book Strange Fruit is on my reading list for more.


Going back fifty years I am conscious that both my parents as children witnessed such abuse happening. The culture at the time was that my Grandmother warned a teacher not to to try that with her daughter.

A different era entirely – yet the revulsion and outrage at the harm such abuse causes makes it difficult to just accept what Dawkins says. His own abuse, which he and other children experienced by a teacher in Salisbury, he reckons did no lasting harm on others.

Bully for him – but can he be so sure for others?

Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, called Dawkins’ remarks “a terrible slight” on those who have been abused and suffered the effects for decades.

“Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way,” Watt said. “But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or yesterday.”

Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood and himself a victim of abuse, told The Times that Dawkins’ comments were worrying and unhelpful, adding: “Abuse in all its forms has always been wrong. Evil is evil and we have to challenge it whenever and wherever it occurs.” [Huffington Post]


Dawkins used the example of reports in Yemen of a child bride being killed via sexual injuries to highlight differences in child abuse and deflecting moral relativism.


I fear this was probably the worst straw man argument being made by him. The criticism of his view is not that all forms of abuse are equal. Rather that if it happened to you as a child in the past decades ago it is different than if it happens to a child today.

Dawkins view is worse if the perpetrators of child abuse in the past are still alive and not brought to justice. Further, victims of child abuse may themselves take decades before eventually coming forward. What is Dawkins thinking towards Operation Yewtree – which in the wake of Jimmy Savile scandal is charging public figures with child abuse (and other sexual offences) going back to 1960s and 1970s? Is that a different era or can we rightly condemn that too with 21st century attitudes.



On a side note Dawkins autobiography is on sale today. So if the above was not controversial enough, then why not push gleefully when baited the Islam red button one more time to be noticed:


Yes that will do it. No such thing as bad publicity when you have a book to sale.

Follow Up Post: Dawkins Clarification On Child Abuse Comments

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Video: Two bible scholars with Dawkins

Conversation with Richard Dawkins and biblical scholar John Huddlestun (College of Charleston). The significance of historical evidence, and how to view texts is discussed – not to mention accuracy of the bible in the 30 odd minutes.


A quick ten minute segment featuring Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at my alma mater University of Exeter talking about bible fact. Dawkins is there as well.

The thing that comes out from both videos is how, even with archeological and academic evidence, people will partition how they feel about the text from what we actually know about its accuracy, and what we do not have evidence for. The fall back for the other two guests from what both academics are saying in the videos is this is the truth for me, or relying on outdated scholarship (as in no access to new evidence, new ways of researching, or vigorous peer review) to back their belief in biblical historical inerrancy.

No issue that you can find the biblical story of David moving and meaningful without concerning yourself whether he actually existed or did the things claimed. As long as you do not claim how you feel about the text makes it historically true or the scholarship of Stavrakopoulou is biased as “radical skepticism”.

Because them be fighting words my dear bishop.

Us lovers of scrutiny, inquiry and cats will pursue things as they are or can be known rather than wish them to be.


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Grieving Grandma is an idiot says Dawkins

Before an accidentally shot dead two year old has even had a funeral service, Richard Dawkins has no problem saying the Grandmother is an idiot:


I get that Richard Dawkins is angry, that a gun manufactured for children happens legally, a five year old can be given a weapon to fire legally. That another tragic death with a firearm will not help bring in further gun control.

Yet it is also an opportunity for Dawkins to do a bit of faith bashing. New tweet this second while blogging:


Again, as with the winged horse, time allows a more polite way of putting the case that would have been preferable if pursued earlier.

There is a serious case to be made for gun control, and for not excusing thoughtless beliefs that avoid real introspection and questioning of why an event happened.

I just hope people would draw a line at hurling personal insults at a grieving Grandmother. To put that in perspective, would Dawkins go up to the Grandma who is attending her granddaughters funeral service today and say that? Or expect us militant atheists to have his Grandma tweets on banners and placards marking the funeral procession to make the point?

I hope you would agree that would be in bad taste. Doing it publicly on twitter is not the mark of a charming man.

The Ghost of Peter Kay

You may recall that Dawkins was hooked by a sound bite once:

“I believe in a God of some kind, in some sort of higher being. Personally I find it very comforting.”

Unknown to Richard, that sound bite came from Peter Kay’s “The Sound of Laughter” which was in competition with “The God Delusion” for a literary award. Dawkins therefore gave his standard view on God as comfort:

“How can you take seriously someone who likes to believe something because he finds it ‘comforting’?”

“If evidence were found for a supreme being I would change my mind instantly -with pride and with great surprise. Would I find it comforting? What matters is what is true, and we discover truth by evidence, not what we would ‘like’.”

Richard realised that he was being manipulated for publicity for the award ceremony and books, and that Kay has a very different position than the quote suggested. He apologised.

Wonder if publicly calling a grieving Grandmother an idiot for taking solace in her beliefs, before her granddaughter is even buried, qualifies for an apology?

The real lesson, as with Sandy Hook, is to look at who you give guns too and how we can regulate effectively so the right to bear arms applies while still reducing gun related deaths. Then somehow get Congress to pass.

Let us do this in public discourse without agendas on God, the first amendment or the second, or letting the NRA veto any meaningful discussion needed in the formulation and implementation of public safety. To be fair Dawkins is calling for that on twitter.

Just leave personally insulting a grieving Grandma out of the equation while you do Richard.

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Lawrence Krauss on Incest

Be careful when being open minded in a debate; it will be used against you. In this case Krauss discussing incest at the recent Islam/Atheist debate in London (see previous blog on seating segregation)

Finally we have a video highlight of what Krauss actually said:

It was a bad start, as the audible shock from the audience reflects, though he does recover to explain that there is a factual physiological and therefore societal justified bias against incest. Krauss reflects on the thought experiment of a brother and sister (presumed consent age) having loving protected contraceptive sex which increases love for each other – is it immoral, having used contraception to avoid pregnancy? He admits he would be willing to listen to a rational argument to understand why the hypothetical situation may not be morally wrong.

Clearly though he was stressing, in answer to the question is incest immoral, that there are other reasons beyond a divine injunction which give a stronger incentive not to allow incest. Biological genetic reasons beyond an appeal to morality. Take those away (genetically weak offspring impossible) it may weaken the argument needing to rethink the rationale that justifies our intuitive taboo of incest.

The main debaters have taken to twitter over whether Krauss was actually saying nothing wrong with incest:


Dawkins has also emphasised what Krauss said:


Hamza, as any seasoned debater would have realised, was really asking Krauss that atheists without god lack absolute morality. Krauss answered the question as asked rather than seeing the purpose behind the question as a trap. Instead, an honest response has been twisted by Hamza into nothing wrong to sleep with your mother. On a helter-skelter of a slippery slope based on something Krauss does not think and did not say if you watch the clip.

Have a look at the above twitter accounts for the conversational blazer trail which is heating up on there.

It looks like iERA will be producing highlights, like the incest one, to produce publicity for the debate before the full video is made available.

UPDATE 8/4/2013: Video of Debate

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