Free Speech Icon Free Speech

Dawkins (Not) at Berkeley – The Best Irony

David Klinghoffer


On the story about evolutionary atheist Richard Dawkins getting disinvited as an event speaker by a progressive Berkeley radio station (see here and here), Discovery Institute chairman of the board Bruce Chapman points out the best irony. While Dawkins protests his “de-platforming” over past comments on Islam, in 2009 he helped get Ben Stein de-platformed as a commencement speaker at the University of Vermont over — you guessed it — Stein’s take on evolution and his role in the film Expelled.

The New York Times talked with Dawkins and got this complaint from him.

“Many people are saying this is a freedom of speech issue, and of course it is,” he said. “But it’s actually more of a freedom of listening issue. People bought tickets because they wanted to hear me.”

They give the larger context:

In recent months, the cancellation of speeches on college campuses has stirred debates over balancing free speech and security concerns.

Berkeley has been a particular focus.

The Center for Inquiry, which includes the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, echoed Dawkins, saying it was “stunned and deeply dismayed.”

The public radio station, KPFA, explained that it withdrew the invitation to speak after realizing Dawkins had expressed controversial views about the Muslim religion. In the incident with Stein, the University of Vermont’s then-president Daniel Fogel explained that they got cold feet after realizing Stein had expressed controversial views about the theory of evolution.

From President Fogel’s statement in a UVM press release:

As you may know, Mr. Stein delivered an excellent Kalkin lecture on our campus last year, focused primarily on economic issues, to which our students responded warmly and enthusiastically. It was on the basis of that experience that I extended him an invitation to be our Commencement speaker.

Mr. Stein has also expressed opinions on subjects unrelated to economics, most notably with respect to evolutionary theory, intelligent design, and the role of science in the Holocaust. Those views are highly controversial, to say the least. Following the announcement of Mr. Stein as Commencement speaker, profound concerns have been expressed to me by persons both internal and external to the University about his selection. Once I apprised Mr. Stein of these communications, he immediately and most graciously declined our Commencement invitation.

So they didn’t formally disinvite him, but Fogel obviously made clear that Stein wasn’t welcome. Speaking to the UVM student paper, he warmly singled out the influence of Dawkins: Apart from his own faculty, “I heard from very distinguished members of the scientific community like Richard Dawkins as well.”

Dawkins had sent an email to Fogel, saying he was “dismayed” by the invitation to Stein (though apparently not “deeply dismayed”). He asked among other things, “Was anybody in the Biology Department consulted before you issued an invitation to a notoriously mendacious propagandist for creationism?”

Ben Stein himself was blunt in the Burlington Free Press:

Stein called the university’s response to the furor “chicken sh**, and you can quote me on that.”

“I like Dr. Fogel,” Stein wrote, “and feel sorry he is caught in the meat grinder of political correctness. My heart goes out to him. He’s a great guy trying to do his best in difficult circumstances.”

Eight years later, at the center of the row it’s a different university community and a different set of “highly controversial” opinions. Other than that, the parallel is perfect. The shoe is now on the other foot, an audience’s “freedom of listening” has been set aside in deference to political correctness, and Dawkins, suddenly in the role of the silenced rather than the silencer, finds that he doesn’t much like it.

Photo: University of Vermont, by AlexiusHoratius (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



Ben SteinBruce ChapmancensorshipDaniel FogelDiscovery InstituteevolutionExpelledfree speechintelligent designIslamKPFARichard DawkinsUniversity of Vermont