Richard Dawkins’ atheist charity sues former Dawkins disciple for fraud

The center-left UK Independent explains how one person who cannot ground morality rationally defrauded an organization of people who cannot ground morality rationally. (H/T Lex Communis)

Excerpt:

Josh Timonen was one of a small coterie of young protégés around Richard Dawkins, sharing his boss’s zealous atheism. But now he and the evolutionary theorist have fallen out spectacularly. Professor Dawkins’s charity has accused Mr Timonen of embezzling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The two atheists had become close in recent years, with Dawkins, the best-selling author and Emeritus Professor of Biology at Oxford University, even dedicating his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, to him. But Mr Timonen and the Dawkins foundation are now preparing for a legal wrangle.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, has filed four lawsuits in a Californian court alleging that Mr Timonen, who ran its online operation in America, stole $375,000 (£239,000) over three years. It is claiming $950,000 in damages, while Mr Dawkins is suing him for $14,000 owed to him personally. Mr Timonen strongly denies the allegations.

[…]In documents filed at the court, the foundation says it spotted the alleged embezzlement this year when books were found detailing $500 meals, trips to Malibu Beach Inn and $314,000 in salaries paid to Mr Timonen and his girlfriend.

Beside his work for Professor Dawkins, Mr Timonen has been employed by fellow atheist Christopher Hitchens and the British Humanist Foundation, according to his website.

I actually wrote an entire series of posts on how atheists cannot rationally ground objective moral standards, free will, moral accountability, moral obligations and moral significance. If it turns out that Timonen is guilty, it would be interesting to hear what he thinks about the question “Why should I be moral?” from his atheist perspective.

28 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins’ atheist charity sues former Dawkins disciple for fraud”

  1. You know, you’d have a point if atheists were the only people who committed fraud. But they aren’t, and you don’t. But logic isn’t your strong suit.

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    1. But fraud is rational on atheism – so long as you can avoid being caught, but it is irrational on Christian theism.

      There isn’t anything morally wrong with fraud on atheism, because there is no way we ought to be in an atheistic universe.

      Here’s Dawkins:

      In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

      Source:
      http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Articles/1995-05-10nomercy.shtml

      I have a million quotes like that from prominent atheists. In North Korea, it makes atheists feel good to execute political prisoners. In the United States, it makes atheists feel good to execute babies. What’s the difference? The rule is “do what makes you feel good, and don’t get caught, and work to undermine any moral standards that might cause people to judge you or punish you for the things that make you feel good, even if those things hurt others.”

      See? That’s atheist “morality”. Escaping from the obligations of morality by denying the Creator/Designer is the whole point of atheism. It’s about dismissing moral standards and moral obligations.

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  2. “But fraud is rational on atheism – so long as you can avoid being caught, but it is irrational on Christian theism.”

    No, it isn’t. That’s just another of your straw man arguments. Why do “Christians” commit fraud? I’ll predict the “No true Scotsman” fallacy.

    “See? That’s atheist “morality”. Escaping from the obligations of morality by denying the Creator/Designer is the whole point of atheism. It’s about dismissing moral standards and moral obligations.”

    Nope, atheism is just the absence of belief in gods. You’re just trying (unsuccessfully) to saddle atheism with your prejudicial stereotypes against it.

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    1. Brian, I think all WK is saying is that when one follows the logical implications of the atheistic worldview, there is no objective reason to be subscribe to any sort of subjective inclinations towards morale obligations. Since there is no objective reason to be an honest person on the atheistic worldview, one must find other reasons, such as:
      1) Because they like acting in ways which please others.
      2) So they won’t get in trouble.
      3) Because it feels good, etc.

      Thus, he didn’t make a straw man; he simply stated that there’s no obligation not to be a fraud on Atheism, and that there is an obligation not to be a fraud on Christian theism.

      Similarly, just because some Christians deny the morale law doesn’t mean suddenly atheism becomes rational. Atheists must borrow from the Christian worldview in order to make it through everyday life. No one is perfect! As dictated by their respective worldviews, however, Christians have an obligation to be good, and atheists do not.

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      1. Yes, I am not saying atheists are bad IN PRACTICE, (so long as the circumstances they live do not push them too hard to be selfish), I am saying that that concepts like objective moral standards, free will for making moral choices, objective moral obligations, and justice/moral accountability, are lacking on their view. I think that something else that is lacking is the dimension of good behavior being part of a vertical relationship with God where experiencing self-sacrifice is part of that relationship. Why on Earth would an atheist give up his happiness for anyone else during their brief lives? There is no reason on atheism. But on theism, there is. That’s why guys like William Wilberforce were against slavery when it was not popular to be against slavery. The idea that people were made to know God and should not be prevented from having peace and space to DO THAT is central to Christianity.

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    2. Brian, the Scotsman’s fallacy is not necessary to explain Christians creating fraud, although I would not expect fraud from a mature Christian. Although fraud is irrational on Christian theism, people do behave irrationally. This particularly makes sense if you believe in the depravity of man. This is not an excuse, but it is core to Christian theism.

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      1. Aw, thanks Retha. *blush, blush* ;-)

        Your argument looks good to me! I see that Wintery has used it for a new post too. Yay!

        I’d just add that Jesus says “By their fruit you shall know them.” If the fruit is not the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), it’s not Christian.

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    1. That’s right Retha. Atheism is the denial of the claim that God exists. It is logically equivalent to the claim that God does not exist. And as a claim to know something about objective reality, it requires logical arguments and/or evidence.

      The subjective claim “I have no belief in God” is of no interest to us, since it makes no objective claim. It is identical to the claim “I have no desire to eat broccoli”. The real question is – what is true? Belief or non-belief in God is based on a shared, objective reality. So the question is – what is real? Was there a being who created matter, space, energy and time at the Big Bang? Theists say yes, atheists say no, and agnostics just shake and stammer in ignorance, laziness and confusion.

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      1. No, atheist means “not a theist,” just like asymmetrical means “not symmetrical.” It’s possible to be an agnostic atheist, an agnostic theist, a gnostic theist, or even a gnostic atheist.

        It’s pretty useless to use the word “atheist” in a way that doesn’t match how atheists use it.

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        1. No. It is not useless to use a word in a way the users of the label don’t – if the label-users are wrong. (For example, people who support goverment charity label themselves as “more caring” than those who do not.)

          The labels does not reflect the true, traditional meaning of “atheist” or “caring”,so why should I accept their way of defining themselves?

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        2. Not quite. Just as asymmetrical leaves no possibility of symmetry, an atheist world view leaves no room for a god. Agnostic on the other hand is simply not theist and not atheist – i.e. they do not hold either the belief that a god exists or that it doesn’t.

          Atheists (such as Dawkins) typically use the word ‘atheist’ in this manner. You may not, and if so I suggest you relabel yourself an agnostic in order to fit in with standard word usage.

          Also, a gnostic is a very different beast from someone who is simply un-agnostic!

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  3. This post isn’t about who has morals. It’s about who has a BASIS for morals. It’s somewhat ironic that Dawkins, who has no basis for his moral objections to fraud, is duly suing someone else with no basis from which not to commit fraud. It just shows that atheists like Dawkins are incapable of living consistently with their philosophy.

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  4. I am unconvinced by the argument that we can only have morality when there is a god, especially the christian god.

    1. Moral principles have existed long before the christian or jewish god has ‘declared’ it in the bible. Look at the writings of Confucius for example.

    2. As an atheist my sense of morality is based on empathy, compassion, psychology, science and logic. It is a human (and dare I say evolved) trait to want to empathise – and when I see suffering I want it stopped because it makes me feel bad. I look at science and psychology and see how we are all extremely similar to each other in our make up, and should therefore logically be treated the same by each other. And I look towards how I would want to be treated in such a situation as well – because I do not want to be defrauded, I would want to protect other people being defrauded because after all, why should I get preferential treatment if we are all equally human? There are so many basis for morality!

    3. I personally find it a little odd that christians feel they are more moral because they can say that god tells them to be moral. Which would you rather prefer – someone to say to you “I love you because I do and you are amazing”, or “I love you because god tells me to”? Who would you rather be friends with, someone who says “I am not going to kill you because I find it repulsive to the core of my being”, or “I am not going to kill you because I believe god tells me not to, even though you deserve to die because of your sin”

    4. That leads me to my fourth point. Morality which is solely based on god has a loophole – which is this: everything god says is wrong is wrong, unless god commands otherwise. I say this specifically because whilst as an atheist I can unashamedly say that I believe the invasion and conquest of another country and the slaughtering of all that nation’s men, women and children is morally repulsive. Christians do not have that luxury, because their moral god commanded them to do exactly that in the bible and said it was ok. Or what about this morality: David and Bathsheba sins by committing adultery and murder. Rather than punishing them for it, god punishes the little baby of theirs by killing him. Or how the bible justifies slavery. Or how the bible commands women to obey their husband but not vice versa. Justice? I would not want to place my trust on that kind of morality.

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    1. 1. Either moral principles are 1) one person’s opinions, 2) conventions of a group of people existing in a certain time and place, or 3) objective prescriptions of how humans ought to act for all times and places. Non-theistic systems of ethics are necessarily 1 or 2 – they are just individual or collection opinions that refer to nothing objectively. The universe is an accident on atheism, and there is no way we ought to be. So there is no morality on atheism. Just words that people either accept or reject.

      2. What you just said there is that what you think people ought to do is based on your subjective feelings and opinions. You like apple pie and I like blueberry pie. You think I ought to like apple pie. But there is no objective truth on the matter – you just have preferences, on atheism. You have opinions. But that is not morality, it is just personal tastes and preferences that you invented arbitrarily for yourself. That’s not morality, that’s personal preferences. And when an atheist understands the laws or values of a culture, he understands that they are arbitrary conventions that vary by time and place and not really rooted in any objective standard of how we ought to be.

      3. Atheism has no objective moral standard because the universe, and humans, are ACCIDENTS, on atheism. There is no designer that prescribes behavior for humans on atheism. On theism, there is a designer who creates the universe and prescribes standards of behavior that are OUTSIDE opinions and preferences. You are talking about what you like and don’t like, and I am talking about what is objectively right and wrong. What you like and don’t like is based on your feelings, but on theism, right and wrong are based on the character of the person who creates the universe and is in a position to decide how free creatures ought to choose.

      4. As an atheist, every opinion you have on what other people can do is AS WARRANTED as some other opinion of the opposite. The warrant for a belief on your view is in your feelings and maybe in the arbitrary customs of the people group where you find yourself in this time and place – which is no better or worse morality than any other time or place, but only different. You think that slavery is right or wrong based on opinions. You think that genocide is right or wrong based on opinions. You think that rape is right or wrong based on opinions. You think that murder is right or wrong based on opinions. And your opinion on moral questions is AS WARRANTED, on atheism, as the opposite opinion – because there is no objective standard, only your personal opinions and the fashions of your culture in this time and place. There is nothing more to morality on YOUR view than feelings and opinions and conventions. If you think that murder is wrong as an atheist, then what you mean is that your opinion is that murder is wrong, and that someone else who thinks that murder is right is AS WARRANTED IN FORMING THAT VIEW AS YOU ARE IN FORMING YOURS. Both opinions are rooted in the same ontological ground – FEELINGS.

      Let me show you what atheists actually think about morality:

      The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

      In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Source: Richard Dawkins)

      The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory. (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

      Atheism is the complete ANTI-MORALITY point of view.

      For more links and debates, see this post:
      https://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/can-there-be-moral-accountability-if-there-is-no-life-after-death/

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  5. Joey:

    1. What makes “good” good? Or “evil” evil, in all times and in all places? Your statement, while true, does not disprove the Christian concept of God because moral principles would be grounded in the character of a good God who has existed outside time in eternity past and for eterntiy future.

    2. That concept of compassion is grounded in what Christopher Hitchens rightly calls “enlightened self-interest” and is far more similar to Confucius’ idea of karma than the Christian virtues of selflessness, humility and servanthood. Do you think we should give so that we may receive in return? Does intention not play a large role in whether something is moral or not?

    3. This is a mischaracterization of both God and Christians. If love was a mere feeling, God would not be able to command it, and the command would rightly come across as mean-spirited and pushy. However, love has deep ties in action, and therefore has deep ties in morality (tied to intention as well). If your father is just, kind, good, generous, and merciful, would you not want to share that with others, and tell them why?

    5. The entire teaching of the Bible stands against slavery, especially that which, as illustrated in the Old Testament, is self-chosen. Scripture also has guiding teaching on conduct through situations that are undesirable Regarding Sodom and Gomorrah (I think you’re alluding to the story), God gave them many, many chances before their destruction and they rejected Him: would God still be just if he never punished wrongdoing, including rape, murder, and molestation?

    6. It is simply false that the Bible commands women to obey their husbands but not vice versa. Read Ephesians 5: http://www.esvonline.org/search/ephesians+5%3A22-27/, which understands that in an argument between a man and woman, a man will tend to feel disrespected while a woman will feel unloved. No doubt some teaching in the Bible is hard to either hear or understand, but Christians don’t believe that Jesus rose from death because it makes them feel good, they believe it because it’s true.

    If there are truth claims that you think are incorrect, examine it – check out Greg Koukl’s http://www.str.org, resources from Dr. William Lane Craig (I suggest Reasonable Faith or On Guard), Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis or even The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, an atheist journalist who set out to disprove Christianity and ended up becoming a Christian because of the evidence that supports its claims.

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  6. @Brian: to be a Christian, you must admit that you’re a sinner. How is admitting your wrongdoing inconsistency?

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  7. @Joey

    “1. Moral principles have existed long before the christian or jewish god has ‘declared’ it in the bible. Look at the writings of Confucius for example.”

    (For the sake of this post, I’m going to be framing responses by way of the Moral Argument)

    The moral argument entails that it is God Himself that grounds morality, not the writings of the Bible. Taking into account even the writings of Confucius, those statements still need to be grounded by God Himself. He is the bar of morality by which we can measure such statements to be moral or virtuous or good. The argument does not even entail that we need to believe in God or that only the Bible has virtues in its text in all religious literature. The argument does not single out Christianity.

    “It is a human (and dare I say evolved) trait to want to empathise”

    To say that morality is a trait that you evolve means that morality is just something used to propagate the species. It’s not actually “good” in the end, just that specific interests or requirements are met in such a way as to preserve the species called “homo sapiens” and continue to pass on genes.

    Beyond that, what if we rewound the clock and let evolution play out again? We may have had a different set of moral rules where, say, rape is virtuous.

    Or try thinking of it this way: if aliens (who are personal and rational like ourselves) who evolved in some other star system came to Earth and started killing and raping people, would you try to appeal to your human morality? Why? These aliens have just evolved to have these morals, so you can’t say rape is wrong or planet take-over is wrong because you’d just be selfishly appealing to human morality (which again, would be for the sake of survival anyway). And to argue that we humans have the better morality than the aliens simply begs the question.

    “and when I see suffering I want it stopped because it makes me feel bad.”

    There are a lot of things that make us feel bad, but that isn’t an indicator of what is right and what is wrong. The soldier who nobly smothers a grenade with his body to save his comrades has that sense of dread and self-preservation about him, but to act against his feelings and his flight-or-fight responses, we can say, is a good moral sacrifice.

    Or to put it another way, it makes me feel bad when my girlfriend cheated on me, therefore it seems to me clear that beating her would be the right course of action. Hey, she cheated, not me. She broke the relationship, not me. She made me feel bad!

    “I look at science and psychology and see how we are all extremely similar to each other in our make up, and should therefore logically be treated the same by each other.”

    I really don’t understand how it follows logically that since we’re similar, we should treat each other the same way. If you look at the business executives that sit comfortably in their lap of luxury with no worry of recourse, they don’t have to follow the golden rule. They use and abuse others and make shady deals and cut corners, all within reasonable bounds to preserve their company and their name, and live off their profits and not have to worry about the poor soul across the street that struggles to make ends meet for his family. To say that he ought to help others and not be selfish would again seriously beg the question as to what grounds morality.

    In a cold, bleak universe where there is no God, and evolution reigns supreme, we’re no different than a pack of flies. We’re just a more complex collection of molecules with our brains wired for survival, self-preservation, and gene-propagation. I don’t see any reason on the atheist view to live for others or to even live a virtuous life.

    And on top of that, you have the problem of the fact that morality is abstract. There is no “morality-thing” that we attend to, it’s an abstract rule or concept. Why then should we follow one set of abstract rules (i.e. – don’t steal, be charitable) and not another set (i.e. – just make sure you don’t get caught; don’t help the weak; live for yourself)? If you say that we need to follow whatever our genes say, then what of conflicting matters such as “I shouldn’t kill him” vs “I can easily get away with it and pin the blame on this other guy”? Which genes should we follow? The apparently selfish ones or the apparently virtuous ones?

    “And I look towards how I would want to be treated in such a situation as well – because I do not want to be defrauded”

    So morality basically comes down to mutual deceit. You don’t kill me, and I don’t kill you. That really doesn’t explain a host of moral actions, moral situations, moral vices, immoral people, etc. Especially the heroic virtue of sacrifice.

    And would your statement work in reverse as well? If I gave you $20 out of my own wallet because I knew you were jobless and needed a meal to eat for lunch, would I then have moral permission to demand that you need to pay me back? I mean, I gave something up, and to be FAIR, that other person should pay me back too. Besides, I could’ve used that $20 for a “better” purpose relating to MY self-preservation and MY survival (or my family’s survival).

    “I personally find it a little odd that christians feel they are more moral because they can say that god tells them to be moral.”

    No, we are not more moral, you completely misrepresent Christian teachings. None of us are moral. None. No one. We are not good enough to meet God’s standards. We can only come to God as holy and righteous because people who place their faith in Christ are covered by Jesus’ righteousness. His holiness is imputed to our account; a free gift.

    “Which would you rather prefer – someone to say to you “I love you because I do and you are amazing”, or “I love you because god tells me to”?”

    If someone were to say the latter, then they wouldn’t be following God’s commands at all. Jesus said to love our neighbors as yourself, not “love your neighbors because I said so” This is such a gross misrepresentation and a false dichotomy of Christian virtue that a simple remedy of actually reading the New Testament would be a show stopper.

    We Christians are called to seek those who are not in Christ because we have the urge to share the good news and help save those and have compassion because God had compassion for us, willing to not let any perish. God’s forgiveness is open to EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE PLANET, and to refuse forgiveness pretty much means to refuse being saved. The phrase often goes, “God doesn’t send people to Hell, people send themselves quite fine on their own”

    Of course, if you want to insist on the position that God has given us some sort of, “love me or die” ultimatum, then you’re going to need to explain the biblical data where God selflessly gives His Son as the perfect sacrifice to cover all sins for all people, and that all we need to do on our part is to place our trust in Christ; no rituals required. You also would need to explain away the verses that say that God does not delight in the death of the wicked, or that He calls “judgment” His “strange work”. Or the verses where He pleads to Israel to turn back from their wicked ways and cries out, “Why will you die O Israel?”

    If you only focus on the verses about God’s judgment and wrath (which are expressions of His perfect Justice) and block out the verses about His sacrifices, His patience, His love, and His urgings to turn back, His compassion, etc. then you are not being truthful to the whole data set, and so your position holds no water.

    “everything god says is wrong is wrong, unless god commands otherwise.”

    Again, you misrepresent the Christian position. God’s commandments are an expression of His morality and goodness, but His NATURE is the bar of justice and morality and goodness. Let us be clear on this, it is His nature, not His commands, that things are deemed right and wrong. This is not a “God said so, therefore, it’s right”. It’s a, “God is so, therefore, it is right”.

    …And I’m not even going to get into the Old Testament because I could write 30+ pages on why you have a bad grasp on the culture of Israel and the Ancient Near East. I suppose I could copy and paste my thesis on “Does the Old Testament Sanction Slavery?”, but it’s roughly 10-11 pages, and this post is already long enough. Suffice to say here, at least in regards to slavery, no, slavery in the Bible and the Ancient Near East is NOTHING similar to the slavery that occurred in America because it didn’t involve forced labor, it didn’t involve outside field work for the most part, slaves/bond-servants had incredibly good health insurance, bond-servants were paid, God tells Israel to treat their servants with compassion and reminds them of their time as slaves in Egypt, slaves can rescind their contracts at any time, slaves can own property including land, slaves can choose to stay with their master if they wanted to when the contract expired, slaves could learn a trade and after their contract ended, their master was mandated to send them off with a monetary-gift, etc. Yeah, not looking like Colonial America at all.

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    1. Bah! Do not single out the business executives for shady deals! Rather, single out the government bureaucrats and unions! :)

      Having said that, your comment is really awesome! Thank you for writing that up for us!

      Like

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