The Richard Dawkins family slave business

Richard Dawkins’ ancestors were slave owners it seems and some of his inherited wealth came from them.

From here:

He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering”, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.

One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins, amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744.

The Dawkins family estate, consisting of 400 acres near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was bought at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership.

Over Norton Park, inherited by Richard Dawkins’s father, remains in the family, with the campaigner as a shareholder and director of the associated business.

Dawkins is a bit upset about this revelation and this was part of his exchange with the journalist who wrote the Telegraph article:

“Darwinian natural selection has a lot to do with genes, do you agree?” Of course I agreed. “Well, some people might suggest that you could have inherited a gene for supporting slavery from Henry Dawkins.”

“You obviously need a genetics lesson,” I replied. Henry Dawkins was my great great great great great grandfather, so approximately one in 128 of my genes are inherited from him (that’s the correct figure; in the heat of the moment on the phone, I got it wrong by a couple of powers of two).

Setting aside his scientific illiteracy and his frankly defamatory insinuation that I might condone slavery, the point about powers of two is interesting enough to warrant a digression.

Much as I enjoy witnessing any discomforting of Dawkins, this particular exercise seems rather silly, since with sufficient digging we would probably find that Mother Teresa had slaver ancestors and Christopher Hitchens was remotely related to Thomas Aquinas.

Nevertheless, Dawkins’ indignation is instructive since he obviously thinks his moral credentials have been called into question – yet he believes in no morality other than that derived from genetic accident. He has no way of proving that not owning slaves is morally “better” than owning them: by his lights, if a society is more likely to survive because of a thriving slave industry, it is a “better” society than one which perishes because of a lack of slaves. For Dawkins, survival is the only “good” there is.

Richard Dawkins believes that a gay gene exists even though there is no scientific evidence for it. Why could there not also be a slaver gene even though no scientific evidence exists for it? And why would Dawkins be upset to find he possessed it – after all, it’s only a gene?

2 thoughts on “The Richard Dawkins family slave business

  1. Surely, if pure materialism is true, and all that exists exists by chance/accident, and this present existence is all there is, it matters not a fig what anybody does or doesn’t do. Has anyone asked Richard Dawkins what the possible basis of his – or anyone’s – morality is, or the reason behind his righteous indignation? I think someone ought to. If man is just an animal, why shouldn’t people behave just like me cat does with the local mouse population?

  2. Just to dissect this argument and look at its validity or lack thereof, single genes, and how they do or do not function in any given human being, can most undoubtedly have an enormous affect. If, for instance, there is indeed a gene for homosexuality, I would say that Mr. Dawkins thinks the existence of that single gene in one’s make-up would have some pretty serious implications. It is not the ratio of “good” genes to “bad” genes that matters; there are many truly devastating human genetic disorders that are caused by as little as one single point mutation, which might be described as a one-letter spelling error in the DNA. So, if we actually going along with all of Mr. Dawkins’ other arguments, and he did have even 1 out of 128 genes inherited from this slave-owning ancestor of his, and a gene could confer a slave-owning type of morality, then………1 out of 128 could more than do it. He can’t wiggle out of such an argument on numbers.

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