Letter to the Hist at TCD about disinviting Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, Jane Donnelly, and Michael Nugent

The Historical Society at Trinity College Dublin has disinvited Richard Dawkins from addressing the Society. I have written the following letter to them asking them to reconsider.

Dear Hist Committee,

I have spoken several times as a guest at the Hist, and I have always enjoyed it as a place of intelligent debate where ideas are tested robustly, passionately, and rationally from all sides of an issue. That is what a good debating society does. You have a particular responsibility to protect this reputation as custodians of the world’s oldest student debating society.

I am writing to ask you to reverse your decision to unilaterally break your agreement to host Richard Dawkins as a speaker. Like Richard, I had a speaking event unilaterally cancelled, speaking about atheism to final year students in a Roman Catholic school. Thankfully, the school reconsidered, and honoured their agreement. I hope you are open to doing the same.

To some extent I understand how this happened, as there is a global cottage industry of misrepresenting Richard. However, you could have clarified the accuracy of your concerns by simply asking Richard. Here are two articles I have written about this phenomenon.

Your decision harms the credibility of the Hist as a debating society, and your stated reason misunderstands the nature of debate. The priority of a debating society is not ‘to value our members comfort above all else.’ Indeed, part of the purpose of good debate is precisely to cause some discomfort, by challenging people’s beliefs from all sides of an issue.

Your decision also harms the integrity of the Hist as a body that can be trusted to keep its word. There is a major distinction between a decision to not invite someone, and a decision to publicly disinvite someone after inviting them. Richard has done nothing so unpredictable to justify unilaterally breaking an agreement.

The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission advises democratic governments. In a report on the relationship between freedom of belief and freedom of expression, it concluded:

“The purpose of any restriction on freedom of expression must be to protect individuals holding specific beliefs or opinions, rather than to protect belief systems from criticism. The right to freedom of expression implies that it should be allowed to scrutinise, openly debate, and criticise, even harshly and unreasonably, belief systems, opinions, and institutions, as long as this does not amount to advocating hatred against an individual or groups.”

Richard has never advocated hatred against anybody. Whether or not you agree with him, he is an honourable man who pursues truth and promotes education and human rights. I ask you to please reverse your decision, and I look forward to your response.

Michael

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17 Comments

  1. The cancel cancer has arrived in the bastion of reason and embarrassed itself by this appalling decision.

    Please reconsider the decision to not listen to a dignified thinking man express his opinions.

  2. From a philisopical perspective, even if the reversed the reversal, and even if Dawkins reagreed to attend, well I will not, and I strongly advis other not to either, not even you Michael.

    The reason for this is as blatent as the nose on your face. This is now a society unsure of their position, unclear in thought and more afraid of offending people’s beliefs than questioning them.

    Far as I’m can see the Host has now run its course and is defunct… End of!

  3. I agree with ‘Mick’ above in comments section. The Hist. Soc. in TCD, one of the oldest debating societies in the world and its Auditor have just ‘de-platformed’, ‘cancelled’, ‘rescinded’ their invitation to Richard Dawkins to address the Society in 2021. The Auditors weak excuse “we will NOT be moving ahead with his address as we value our Members comfort above all else”. The Auditor has also admitted that she has limited knowledge of Richard Dawkins ( I wonder has she actually even heard of him), she has ‘read his wikipedia page and researched him briefly’. So, she has admitted in writing that she is totally and utterly ignorant of this man, Richard Dawkins, whom her ‘predecessor’ booked last year to give address. If I was Richard Dawkins, I would be quite relieved about a useless trip to Dublin at the behest of a Hist. Society that has lost all credibility. Society and its Auditor obviously made up of uneducated, ignorant snowflakes. BTW, last person they ‘de-platformed’ was Nigel Farage, did it make any difference to Farage, not a whit.

  4. Well said Michael. I was one of those Christians that prayed for the recovery of Richard Dawkins when he was ill. He comes across as a moral man. Debate is good for a rational society.

  5. Debates are not against people, it’s the concept being debated. So there is nothing to get offended if believers have a valid concept to present.
    Hope to see a good outcome.

  6. I giggled when I heard the person who “cancelled” Richard Dawkins had to go to Wikipedia to find out about him. How ignorant is that? It appears The Hist used to be a distinguished debating society, but alas, that reputation has gone down the drain. It will be interesting to be whether the “high bar” they have set for Dawkins will be applied to future speakers. Quite a few other societies have cancelled moderate liberals like Dawkins for fear of “offence”, only to then invite genuine extremists, hate preachers, or people once involved in terrorism, further down the line. We’ll be watching….

  7. Shocking, shocking, shocking that the Hist has rescinded Richard Dawkins’s invitation to speak. It is profoundly depressing to discover that freedom of expression, and in relation to one of the foremost intellectual commentators of our time, has been stifled in an Irish university. And for an alumnus, especially in Trinity. Fair play to David Quinn, with whom I have very little in agreement, and for whom Richard Dawkins must be something of a bête noire, for his condemnation of the cancellation in the Sunday Times (4th Oct 2020).

  8. They are free to invite and uninvite anyone they like. This demand to platforms, and the outraged hysteria about cancelled invitations is kind of hilarious. The apparently liberal want the right to force their speakers in all and any academic venue. I note the company they keep with this argument: the ‘free speech’ warriors who demand the right of fascists to speak at any university (now attempting legislation to that effect in the US).

    This is not liberal. And the self congratulatory, mocking tone of those commenting here should act as a warning. The establishment view will always come to the fore – and it really has done here.

    It would be great if those who self assuredly wade in to condemn this decision took a few minutes to try to understand the context. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to write this letter to try to persuade them to change their mind. But…

    But the comments? Well – the self assurance of those commenting here and all over the net in such a loud majority view, are at least as unintelligent as those who don’t want to hear from RD. When you’ve become the thing you condemn, it’s time for self reflection.

  9. S.Mason. The ‘Hysterical Society’, would have also cancelled most of the comments here if they had the power as these comments would ‘have discomforted most of their members’.

  10. @dave Kieran fairly clearly that really is not true. Writing this mystery group off as the ‘Hysterical Society’ is a great way for you to not engage with their ideas – the very thing you accuse them of. And your suggestion has zero basis in reality.

    Funny that.

  11. S.Mason : life is too short to engage with young adolescents who think ‘rescinding’ an invitation to a man like Richard Dawkins to avoid ‘discomforting their members/snowflakes’ is a good days work. I perfectly understand there is probably a major generation gap here of say at least 50 years, so most of these ‘snowflakes’ probably don’t know who Richard Dawkins is bar some whispered snippets that they received that ‘he is anti muslim, blady blay’. I have attended debates of the Hysterical Society in the past, some were good, some ok and the rest crap and the free wine afterwards just about made up for the mediocre and the crap. By the way, the Hysterical Society rescinded Nigel Farage couple of years ago, did he give a shit, NO. Judging from comment in the media about this affair, the Hysterical Society has lost all credibility and is now run by dumb ass adolescents who have probably been cocooned all their life away from the realities of the real world. I can imaging headline debate in December by the Hysterical Society “Is Santa Claus real”.

  12. @dave kiernan do you think insulting folks with sad right wing slogans like ‘snowflake’ and ‘dumb ass adolescents’ is intellectually or morally better than cancelling a visit from RD?

    Did you chew that Daily Mail or just swallow it down whole?

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