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Richard Dawkins vs. Josh Timonen
October 25, 2010 6:24 AM   Subscribe

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 the 18-page complaint filed in a Los Angeles court, the foundation claims that Mr Timonen said the website he was running was just "squeaking by," making only $30,000 in three years, when in fact it was grossing 10 times that sum.

Timonen was previously the focus of controversy when the forum on RichardDawkins.net was closed down prompting strong criticism from forum moderators and members. At the time Dawkins defended Timonen and went on to dedicate his new book "The Greatest Show on Earth" to him.
Timonen responds to the allegations on his own blog, calling them the "ultimate betrayal." The text (pdf) of the full complaint against Timonen (via Pharyngula).
posted by peacheater (60 comments total)

 
Ah, business partners falling out. Like a soap opera drama, but with less plastic surgery. Only reason this is making the news is the Dawkins name.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:28 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


You see? No morality these people.
posted by three blind mice at 6:30 AM on October 25, 2010 [13 favorites]


I hear Timonen is skeptical about his lawyer's suggestion to go with an Act of God defense.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:33 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


My mind imagines an elaborate scheme to get Dawkins to sue someone so he'd have to take an oath on a Bible in public. Then someone snaps the picture and then...something. I'm pretty sure whoever did this didn't think the rest through.

At a million dollars plus legal fees, it hardly seems worth it.
posted by inturnaround at 6:35 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


The money was just resting in my account!
posted by Abiezer at 6:42 AM on October 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Good God! Holy Smokes! How Devilish!
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:43 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Con artists find easy prey in true believers.
posted by empath at 6:49 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


well, that seems really bright
posted by pyramid termite at 6:55 AM on October 25, 2010


So this will prove in a court of law that atheists are incapable of moral judgments?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:57 AM on October 25, 2010


I admire the Independent's religious use of zealous as an adjective to describe atheists. When combined with 'coterie' and 'protege' one can't help but be impressed with story authors slavish devotion to impartiality when covering the messianic machinations of the guru of organized atheism.
posted by srboisvert at 6:58 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


You missed 'disciple'. Surprised to see this approach from the Indie. The Telegraph or Mail, I'd have expected it, maybe.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:01 AM on October 25, 2010


inturnaround: "My mind imagines an elaborate scheme to get Dawkins to sue someone so he'd have to take an oath on a Bible in public."

Alas, he wouldn't have to take the oath on the Bible anyway. I was a witness in a case a few years back and asked for an alternative to the bible, and I just had to say a secular version thereof. I did wonder if it would lessen my authenticity in the eyes of the (very religious) jury though-- but since I was just talking over the technical elements of a security system, I doubt it mattered.

If I was an alibi in court for a friend accused of murder, I think I'd probably swallow my pride and hit the bible up, at least in this country.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:04 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always thought it was strange that Dawkins, a high-profile author with a very active forum on his site, seemed to have a single just-out-of-college webmaster-slash-site-designer-slash-forum-administrator running things. Surely he could afford to hire an entire firm of experts to design and run his site. You wouldn't hire a single, inexperienced person to edit your books or to do your accounting; why would choose to rely on just one guy to manage your official web presence?
posted by neushoorn at 7:11 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I always thought it was strange that Dawkins, a high-profile author with a very active forum on his site, seemed to have a single just-out-of-college webmaster-slash-site-designer-slash-forum-administrator running things.

Well, it was just scraping by on $30,000/yr.
posted by DU at 7:19 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I always thought it was strange that Dawkins, a high-profile author with a very active forum on his site, seemed to have a single just-out-of-college webmaster-slash-site-designer-slash-forum-administrator running things. Surely he could afford to hire an entire firm of experts to design and run his site

And one on $90,000 a year as well.

Also, Dawkins is a ridiculous character and I'm pleased that this money probably helped Timonen buy a fast car and lay dozens of beautiful women rather than whatever it was that RD would have used it for - complaining about people taking their kids to church on Sunday morning or the widespread use of jury trials, presumably.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 7:21 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


...why would choose to rely on just one guy to manage your official web presence?

Exactly, if the allegations are true.

I am in an intramural bowling league, and last year the bowling league treasurer apparantly skimmed some money off the top of the prize fund. The league president was supposed to be monitoring the activity in our league accounts, but he "fully trusted" the league secretary and didn't bother. No matter how many years of service a "trusted member" gives, life circumnstances can make access to this kind of unmonitored cash just too tempting.
posted by muddgirl at 7:22 AM on October 25, 2010


In his 18-page complaint, Dawkins describes himself as "the world's best known and most respected atheist."

Vintage Dawkins!
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 7:25 AM on October 25, 2010


Huh, an organization gets bilked for large sums by someone who had cultivated its trust, and whose bona fides had largely consisted of his philosophical alignment with the organization's mission. When does that ever happen? There must be a...oh, wait, I think I have it...

Congratulations, Professor Dawkins! Now you share an experience with Oral Roberts and Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II and countless other religionists. What was it my grandfather used to say? "Trust in God, but count your cards," I think. Turns out it works without the God part as well.

Seriously, I hope that the Dawkins Foundation finds a way to restructure and move on with its work.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:28 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I believe that atheism will survive this scandal, much as theism has survived much worse scandals. This incident is not exactly on par with the Inquisition.
posted by grizzled at 7:32 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, that might make my cope of The Greatest Show on Earth more valuable then, when the second printing comes out with a dedication reading simply "To Josh Timonen - you're a dick."
posted by caution live frogs at 7:45 AM on October 25, 2010


Where's your God accountant now, Dawkins?!?
posted by mikeh at 7:45 AM on October 25, 2010


"Never do business with a religious son of a bitch."
(William Burroughs)
posted by philip-random at 7:50 AM on October 25, 2010


So, is there anything to discuss here besides hurf durf atheism? No?
posted by IjonTichy at 7:56 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Irony, I think, IjonTichy. In both directions--it's ironic that religious organizations are so frequently the headline-grabbers in this kind of scandal, and now it's an atheist organization; and it's ironic that any organization, religious or atheist, that's about challenging people to do better gets taken to the cleaners because they fall for scams so easily when the scammer positions themselves as a True Believer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:03 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am so making a Richard Dawson Foundation for Reason and Science.
posted by mazola at 8:07 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Survey says--AWESOME, mazola!

Another irony is that Dawkins (whom I admire in many ways, so this is not Dawkins-bashing) has been such a tireless advocate for logic and reason and skepticism, and then he just handed this guy the keys to his store without so much as a written contract...

Humans! We are inconsistent sometimes! And one must laugh or never stop crying.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:11 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fun fact - the Finnish name 'Timo' (made into a surname with the typical -nen suffix) means 'cheat', 'swindle' or 'trick' in Spanish.

Oh, the fun I've had when booking restaurants, signing contracts or filing my taxes in Spain...
posted by slimepuppy at 8:13 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


calling them the "ultimate betrayal."

What about Judas?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:24 AM on October 25, 2010


I guess I don't see the irony, except inasmuch as Richard Dawkins is a smart person who did something stupid. People tend to trust their friends, and sometimes that trust is misplaced, and you don't have to be a True Believer or a Zealot or a Religious Son of a Bitch to have that happen to you.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:25 AM on October 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Congratulations, Professor Dawkins! Now you share an experience with Oral Roberts and Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II and countless other religionists.

And Leonard Cohen, Sting and Billy Joel and countless other recording artists. So I guess that makes Dawkins a musician.
posted by ninebelow at 8:27 AM on October 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


Gods, you know that both of these guys are probably assholes in real life.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:33 AM on October 25, 2010


Gods, you know that both of these guys are probably assholes in real life

Oh come on. Take it to MeFi Mail or MetaTalk if you have a problem with me, but keep that shit off of the Blue.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:44 AM on October 25, 2010


"Irony, I think, IjonTichy. In both directions--it's ironic that religious organizations are so frequently the headline-grabbers in this kind of scandal, and now it's an atheist organization; and it's ironic that any organization, religious or atheist, that's about challenging people to do better gets taken to the cleaners because they fall for scams so easily when the scammer positions themselves as a True Believer."

Or, you know, there's absolutely no irony at all, since Richard Dawkins isn't in the business of telling people that him and his colleagues are paragons of ultimate morality ordained by Sky Daddy himself.

But of course the separate magisteria crowd gets to have a big old Nelson Muntz moment anyway. Enjoy your schadenfraude [sic].
posted by unigolyn at 8:45 AM on October 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


Whoops, I think I misread that. Er. Mods, you can erase that if you want :/
posted by IjonTichy at 8:48 AM on October 25, 2010


Honestly I thought this post existed because it's an update on the goings-on of a website dedicated to a figure who is well-known and respected, and who is often discussed on Metafilter. It's also something of an interesting article because of all of the stupid puns. Aside from that pun thing, I'm not sure why atheism is even being discussed in this thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:50 AM on October 25, 2010


I believe that atheism will survive this scandal, much as theism has survived much worse scandals.

That's an interesting statement, both because it indicates the absence of something can 'survive', and because it also indicates Dawkins (or his organization) will have something to do with that survival.
posted by Mooski at 8:53 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Can someone who is knowledgeable in this area explain why there would be four separate lawsuits filed?
posted by jonnyploy at 9:01 AM on October 25, 2010


I don't know here -- Timonen says it nets $30 a year. Per TFA, Dawkins says it grosses "10 times that."

So, $300K gross, minus the 85ish in salary, minus the 30 they have, minus say, 40ish in other labor expenses, minus say, 24 in actual IT expenses. The argument is really over, what, $121k/year?

Not millions. More than I make, to be sure. but not such a staggering amount that I'm sure it didn't get burned by simple stupidity, and self-aggrandizement. Renting a small office space, and going to a few conferences could consume that instantly without outright theft.

So, it nay be just two annoying people going to war over what is really minutia.
posted by tyllwin at 9:05 AM on October 25, 2010


it [m]ay be just two annoying people going to war over what is really minutia

That is, just another ordinary day at the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

rimshot
posted by gimonca at 9:26 AM on October 25, 2010


And Leonard Cohen, Sting and Billy Joel and countless other recording artists. So I guess that makes Dawkins a musician.

Well, he is married to a glamorous actress, much like many famous recording artists. COINCIDENCE?
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:34 AM on October 25, 2010


Many school districts are also victims of embezzlement! Perhaps Dawkins is a school district?
posted by rtha at 9:38 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


You see the money isn't gone it's just been diluted. The bank account still has the essence of the original money.

It's called homeopathic financing.
posted by Bonzai at 9:45 AM on October 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


It's called homeopathic financing.

In that case wouldn't that mean they have more money than ever?

Wait, let me go check my balances.
posted by Talanvor at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2010


But you can't take it with you!
posted by not_on_display at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2010


Atheists To Settle Squabble In Court, Little Chance Situation Will Involve Others, Experts Say
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:10 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am going to reply to this comment: "I believe that atheism will survive this scandal, much as theism has survived much worse scandals.
That's an interesting statement, both because it indicates the absence of something can 'survive', and because it also indicates Dawkins (or his organization) will have something to do with that survival.
posted by Mooski"

Ultimately, if theism disappeared utterly from the world, so would atheism. Atheism is not really an absence. It is the presence of skepticism about religious assertions. Even so, in the absence of religion, there would be no need for skepticism about religion. When I say that atheism will survive, I don't mean until the end of time. The human race itself is unlikely to survive until the end of time, and I'm really not sure that the human race and its various opinnions and belief systems, or its skepticism, will survive until the 22nd century. The grand saga may be drawing to a close. But we shall see.

And yes, I do consider Richard Dawkins to be an influential atheist. Whether he is actually the most influential atheist in the world, as he immodestly claims, I can't say for certain, but he is at least among the top three. Of course, had he been aware that pride is a deadly sin, he would not have claimed to be the world's most influential atheist.
posted by grizzled at 10:14 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yes, I do consider Richard Dawkins to be an influential atheist. Whether he is actually the most influential atheist in the world, as he immodestly claims, I can't say for certain, but he is at least among the top three. Of course, had he been aware that pride is a deadly sin, he would not have claimed to be the world's most influential atheist.

Mark Zuckerberg is probably the most influential at this point. Or Warren Buffet. Maybe even Stephen Hawking.

Dawkins is the most prominent person who is single-mindedly outspoken about his atheism. (I don't mean that in a negative way. It's just that Christopher Hitchens and PZ Myers don't publicly focus on atheism to the exclusion of other topics.)
posted by zarq at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2010


Also, Dawkins is a ridiculous character

I've never read a Dawkins book in my life, but I'll reserve my ridicule for those who are buggering children, undergoing mock weddings with teenage boys, hiring rent-boys to 'carry their luggage' while on holiday, and generally wallowing in meth and man-ass, while condemning homosexuality from their bully pulpit.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:17 AM on October 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wait, Dawkins is the one arguing for rationality and science, while other people are saying we should pretend carbon dating and the fossil record are make believe, and he's the ridiculous character?
posted by MuppetNavy at 11:19 AM on October 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's just that Christopher Hitchens and PZ Myers don't publicly focus on atheism to the exclusion of other topics.

That's ridiculous. Perhaps you mean "to the exclusion of other topics in the 3 YouTube videos that comprise my entire exposure to him".

See if you can work out what fraction of this list is composed of The God Delusion.
posted by CaseyB at 11:20 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Browsing the complaint gives some interesting nuance. IANAL, but as this layman reads it:

Timonen's pay was $75k, and it was all 1099 income, not a salary. I.e. he was a "contractor" not an employee, and 100% responsible for his own health care and retirement. So, that $75k is a bit less than it sounds

They wanted to set up a web store front to sell merchandise. The interesting bit is that the foundation was completely in agreement with Timonen that Timonen would create his own personal shell corporation to run the money through to avoid legal restrictions that would be in play if the foundation opened a web store. "Off balance sheet," I think the phrase is. The shell corporation would then "donate" profits back to the foundation.

In brief the allegations are that the Timomen used the shell corporation's money to pay himself and his girlfriend (excessive) salaries as employees of the dummy corporation, (excessive) expenses and health care.
posted by tyllwin at 11:23 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


This thread is disgusting and I think I'm done here.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:34 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dawkins is the one arguing for rationality and science, while other people are saying we should pretend carbon dating and the fossil record are make believe, and he's the ridiculous character?

You can be right and still be ridiculous. I am agnostic. Agnostic on the question of whether Dawkins is or isn't ridiculous.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:36 PM on October 25, 2010


That's ridiculous. Perhaps you mean "to the exclusion of other topics in the 3 YouTube videos that comprise my entire exposure to him".See if you can work out what fraction of this list is composed of The God Delusion

I have little desire to go round and round the Richard Dawkins merry-go-round again on Metafilter. Once was quite enough.

If you don't understand the point I was making, that's fine. If you understood it and disagree, that's okay too. I'm done here.
posted by zarq at 2:47 PM on October 25, 2010


Or, you know, there's absolutely no irony at all, since Richard Dawkins isn't in the business of telling people that him and his colleagues are paragons of ultimate morality ordained by Sky Daddy himself.

Actually, I can recall quite a few threads on this very site that put forward the position that yes, in fact, Richard Dawkins and his fellow Ubermenschen... sorry, Brights... are, in fact, superior in terms of morality because they don't need "Sky Daddy" to watch over them.

But of course the separate magisteria crowd gets to have a big old Nelson Muntz moment anyway. Enjoy your schadenfraude [sic].

Steven Jay Gould was the guy who coined the idea of separate magisteria. As far as I know, he was an atheist, or at least an agnostic, himself. Guess that's not pure enough, though. Maybe the Four Horsemen can get together to issue a posthumous anathema upon him and his works, followed up by a bull from the Chair of St. Dawkins announcing the publication of an Index of Banned Books for Atheists.

I'll be perfectly honest - I'm not a big Dawkins fan, although it's more because of the Selfish Gene and his pseudoscientific idea of memes than anything else. I feel bad for him getting ripped off, if that's how it actually happened, but it does show that pride does goeth before a fall - he's just a garden variety egomaniac.
posted by jhandey at 5:42 PM on October 25, 2010


Oh, and yeah, Richard Dawkins does seem to believe that he is competent enough to say that not only is religion child abuse, but that the government should, therefore, prevent children from being exposed to said abuse, even by their own parents (his weaselly retraction notwithstanding).

So I'd say that counts as setting himself up as a paragon of ultimate morality.
posted by jhandey at 5:50 PM on October 25, 2010


Oh, and yeah, Richard Dawkins does seem to believe that he is competent enough to say that not only is religion child abuse, but that the government should, therefore, prevent children from being exposed to said abuse, even by their own parents (his weaselly retraction notwithstanding).

So I'd say that counts as setting himself up as a paragon of ultimate morality.
posted by jhandey 35 minutes ago [+]


If expressing an opinion on morality is the same as setting oneself up as a paragon of ultimate morality, then yes I suppose it does count. Then again, by that criterion, I have also set myself up as a paragon of ultimate morality (on many occasions) and it's likely that you have too.
posted by jonnyploy at 6:30 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


> This thread is disgusting and I think I'm done here.

Sorry things went astray here. I valued your contributions even though you're a dirty ol' heathen atheist. ;) I wish people would stick to factual discussions and stop trying to go for cheap rhetorical shots and weird equivalencies.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:25 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty? I know I'm not alone in hoping you come back.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:56 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This thread is disgusting and I think I'm done here.

The loss of your measured, insightful commentary would be difficult for any community to bear. On metafilter especially, your contributions will be difficult to replace. You leave a difficult set of shoes to fill.

Along with Blasedelb, I'll be hoping to once again benefit from your extensive knowledge sometime soon.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 9:51 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


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