Steven Carr has posted objections (on the Damaris discussion board @ www.damaris.org/navigation/?url=/discuss/wwwthreads.php) to my use of two quotes from Richard Dawkins in my paper Darwins Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism, which was posted on my ARN Authors Page (www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_dawkinsfallacies.htm#_edn40). This is the unedited version of a paper published by Philosophy Now Magazine and Stevens critique would cause me to make minor alterations to what I say there had the paper not already been submitted and proofed.
First, Id like to admit, up-front, that Steven has a valid point to make about my use of one of these two quotations from Dawkins, and I would like to thank him for bringing to my attention an original Dawkins source that I had failed to check which demonstrates this. Nevertheless, I will argue that Stevens valid criticism does not vitiate the overall validity of the point I was making with respect to Dawkins. Second, Id like to defend my use of a second Dawkins quote, and I will argue that Steven has made a mistake similar to the mistake he catches me making with respect to the first Dawkins quote. After both our mistakes are noted, I think my criticism of Dawkins, that he uses uncharitable, ad hominem attacks on people who doubt (various senses of the term) evolution, including proponents of intelligent design theory is left standing.
In the first of a thread of three postings entitled Double Standards?, Steven Carr writes:
Peter Williams makes an excellent point about equivocation in his article http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_dawkinsfallacies.htm
He quotes Dawkins as writing 'Dawkins has called ID theorists a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters, and claims: it is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I rather not consider that). On the contrary, as Dembski writes: one can be reasonably well-adjusted, remarkably well-educated (as many design theorists are), and still think Darwinism is a failed scientific paradigm.
Notice that Dembski swaps Dawkins' 'evolution', and substitutes 'Darwinism'.
In context, Dawkins was talking about the fact (which Dembski does believe) that there have been different creatures alive at different times on the planet.
Taking things out of context, swapping out words and substituing others to create straw men is the sort of creationist tactics known as 'Lying for God', and which reduce my respect for Williams and Dembski to zero.
There is a discussion of this at http://tinyurl.com/349au
In his follow up posting, Steven adds:
Here is what Dawkins originally wrote
'We are not talking about Darwin's particular theory of natural selection. It is still (just) possible for a biologist to doubt its importance, and a few claim to. No, we are here talking about the fact of evolution itself, a fact that is proved utterly beyond reasonable doubt. To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).
Notice that Dawkins explicitly states that he is NOT talking about Darwin's theory of natural selection , which he accepts that biologists can doubt.
Yet Dembski deliberately ignores what Dawkins wrote and twists it to mean the exact opposite of what he wrote, and Williams laps up what Dembski says.
Dawkins phrase about only ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked people doubting evolution comes, as Steven Carr helpfully points out, from his review of BLUEPRINTS Solving the Mystery of Evolution. By Maitland A. Edey and Donald C. Johanson (cf. www.world-of-dawkins.com/Dawkins/Work/Reviews/1989-04-09review_blueprint.shtml):
So to the books provocation, the statement that nearly half the people in the United States dont believe in evolution. Not just any people but powerful people, people who should know better, people with too much influence over educational policy. We are not talking about Darwin's particular theory of natural selection. It is still (just) possible for a biologist to doubt its importance, and a few claim to. No, we are here talking about the fact of evolution itself, a fact that is proved utterly beyond reasonable doubt. To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).
Of Americans who dont believe in evolution many would surely disagree not only with the fact of evolution itself but with the theory of natural selection (i.e. macroevolution by natural selection). In which case, why does Dawkins interject a distinction between the fact of evolution itself and the theory of natural selection, putting words into these peoples mouths?
What is the fact of evolution itself if not (macro)evolution by natural selection? Obviously, it must mean that: 1) simpler life forms were around before more complex life forms (and appear earlier in the fossil record) as Carr says: there have been different creatures alive at different times on the planet, or additionally that 2) life forms are all related via a common ancestor, or additionally that 3) the operation of natural forces alone explains this series of life forms and/or their relation via a common ancestor, and that additionally 4) this took millions of years to happen.
I dont know anyone creationist or not - who cares to take issue with sense 1 (although the time periods involved - cf. sense 4 - may be disputed), so I think it is doubtful that this is what Dawkins means (even a six literal-twenty-four-hour-day reading of Genesis would agree that simpler life forms existed before more complex ones, and even young-earth creationists accept the facts of the fossil record but interpret them according to flood-geology).
It must be senses 2 and/or 3 and/or 4 that constitute the fact of evolution for Dawkins (he certainly accepts all three assertions). As far as I know, young-earth creationists would dispute senses 2, 3 and 4, old-earth creationists would dispute senses 2 and 3 but not 4, while all ID advocates would dispute sense 3, some would dispute sense 2 and a few sense 4. Now, saying that anyone who disputes senses 2 and/or 3, and even sense 4, of the term evolution must be wicked, or insane, or stupid, or ignorant, does to my mind constitute a poisoning of the well. What about plain old mistaken (or even right!)?
As Dembski points out, there are people who are not wicked, or insane, or stupid, or ignorant (at least in terms of having good educational qualifications) who do indeed dispute senses 2 and/or 3 of the term evolution. (I would add that this also goes for sense 4.) Their arguments may be flawed (and Dawkins is welcome to point out these flaws), but their position should be heard and rationally debated, not dismissed out of hand with an attack on the character of the arguers and by guilt by association with belief in a flat-earth (I doubt the two beliefs are on a par).
Even when it comes to the issue of the age of the earth (sense 4), where young earth creationists disagree with everyone else, I would not dub those scientists who argue for a young earth as being ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked. . . Again, they might be simply mistaken. (They might even be right although I dont personally think that they are.) Dawkins may not be able to imagine how anyone could be honestly mistaken about the age of the earth, but as J.P. Moreland has pointed out, a lot of the debates around creationism hinge upon the various philosophical and theological commitments which people bring to the issue in addition to the scientific evidence, such that disagreements in this area are often disagreements about what should constitute the epistemic base brought to the question rather than being debates specifically about the scientific evidence itself. Such disagreements are philosophical and theological in nature, and they are rational disagreements that require rational engagement on the part of critics. Name-calling doesnt help matters; it just produced more heat than light.
Wouldnt a better educational approach, especially for a Professor for the Public Understanding of Science as Dawkins is, be to simply help people to understand the effect of the underlying philosophical assumptions that are made by all comers (including Dawkins) on their assessment of scientific evidence and theories, and to let people make up their own minds? Even if you think belief in a young earth is wrong, one should at least attempt to charitably understand why many scientifically educated people in the twenty-first century believe in a young-earth. At least approaching the issue in this way helps one to understand something about the philosophy of science.
Dembskis reference to Dawkins notorious phrase comes in his paper What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution, and Design:
As a post-doctoral instructor in philosophy of science at Northwestern University I taught an undergraduate course on the creation-evolution controversy. I began this course by having my students read Peter Bowler's Evolution: The History of an Idea (a generally sympathetic historical account of the concept of evolution as it plays itself out from ancient times to the present-day), and followed it with Michael Dentons Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Within three weeks no one in the class thought that the fundamental claim of Darwinism, namely common descent through selection and modification, was self-evident or particularly well supported. Nor would anyone in my class have agreed with Richard Dawkins that to deny this central thesis of Darwinism one has to be either stupid or wicked or insane. No, one can be reasonably well-adjusted, remarkably well-educated (as many design theorists are), and still think Darwinism is a failed scientific paradigm. Let me stress that my students represented quite a cross section of opinion. I had two or three who were conservative Christians actively involved in Campus Crusade. I also had a few who were staunch Darwinists and came to love Richard Dawkins when later in the term we read Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker. Yet none of my students left the course thinking that the debate over Darwinism was like arguing over whether the earth is flat. (What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution, and Design @ www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_theologn.htm)
Dembski interprets the fundamental claim of Darwinism (what Dawkins calls the fact of evolution itself) as being common descent through selection and modification, and he says that to doubt this doesnt automatically make one stupid or wicked or insane, and that: one can be reasonably well-adjusted, remarkably well-educated (as many design theorists are), [i.e. not ignorant] and still think Darwinism is a failed scientific paradigm. According to the same paper by Dembski:
The following problems have proven utterly intractable not only for the mutation-selection mechanism but also for any other undirected natural process proposed to date: the origin of life, the origin of the genetic code, the origin of multicellular life, the origin of sexuality, the scarcity of transitional forms in the fossil record, the biological big bang that occurred in the Cambrian era, the development of complex organ systems and the development of irreducibly complex molecular machines. These are just a few of the more serious difficulties that confront every theory of evolution that posits only undirected natural processes. It is thus sheer arrogance for Darwinists like Richard Dawkins. . . to charge design theorists with being ignorant or stupid or wicked or insane for denying the all-sufficiency of undirected natural processes in biology. . . (What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution, and Design @ www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_theologn.htm)
Here Dembski interprets Darwinism, or Dawkins fact of evolution, as being belief in evolution sense 3: the all-sufficiency of undirected natural processes in biology a belief that Dawkins certainly does hold and has expressed in his writings as a philosophical absolute. Although Dawkins does not explicitly affirm evolution in sense 3 in the quote from Dawkins review to which Dembski alludes, it is surely not an unfair interpretation of what Dawkins means here to suggest that it includes evolution in sense 3, given Dawkins commitment to evolution in this sense expressed elsewhere. Dawkins has this to say about Darwinism:
We can now assert with confidence that the theory that the Earth moves round the Sun not only is right for our time but will be right in all future times even if flat-Earthism happens to become revived and universally accepted in some new dark age of human history. We cannot quite say that Darwinism is in the same unassailable class. Respectable opposition to it can still be mounted, and it can be argued that the current high standing of Darwinism in educated minds may not last through all future generations. Darwin may be triumphant at the end of the twentieth century, but we must acknowledge the possibility that new facts may come to light which will force our successors of the twenty-first century to abandon Darwinism or modify it beyond recognition. (Darwin Triumphant, A Devils Chaplin, p. 81.)
Nevertheless, Dawkins has faith in the continued survival of what he calls Core Darwinism: the minimal theory that evolution is guided in adaptively non-random directions by the non-random survival of small random hereditary chances. (Darwin Triumphant, A Devils Chaplin). In other words, Dawkins isnt prepared to countenance any sense of evolution that admits design or purpose a foothold within biology (i.e. Dawkins affirms that Core Darwinism is a commitment to the fact of evolution itself in sense 3 as I have defined it).
I conclude that what Dembski calls the fundamental claim of Darwinism, and what Dawkins calls the fact of evolution itself, at the very least, overlap when it comes to the theory of common ancestry. And given Dawkins comments about Core Darwinism, these claims can at least be reasonably taken as overlapping when it comes to what Dembski calls a commitment to the all-sufficiency of undirected natural processes in biology (although Dawkins doesnt explicitly say this in the comments Dembski quotes, he does say it elsewhere). In which case, Dembskis response to Dawkins (and hence my response to Dawkins) holds good for this aspect/these aspects of Dawkins comments.
Nevertheless, it should be granted that Dembski incorrectly includes selection and modification within what Dawkins calls the fact of evolution itself (although this appears to fit with Dawkins Core Darwinism), because Dawkins clearly distinguishes between the fact of evolution itself and Darwins particular theory of natural selection (which he admits can be doubted by biologists, at least as regards its importance) in the immediate context of the quote Dembski references. In so far as my paper makes the same mistake as Dembski here, I admit that I was in error, having failed to chase up the context of the Dawkins source Dembski is referencing. In fact, my paper referenced that I obtained the Dawkins quote in question from page 9 of Phillip E. Johnsons book Darwin on Trial, where the phrase under question is quoted, but without its context. Hence I allowed myself to be misled by two secondary sources that didnt note the full context of Dawkins comment. Of course, its my own fault for not spending the time tracking down the original source material.
I would like to note that I didnt deliberately take anything out of context in order to make a point. I was not lying for God, and I do not advocate lying for God. I am guilty of being literally unscrupulous, of placing too much trust in two independent secondary sources that, at worst, partially misinterpret Dawkins comments (it would be uncharitable to suppose that my sources deliberately misrepresented Dawkins ironically, Johnsons next paragraph states that what evolution means is elastic and thus likely to mislead. Perhaps this discussion proves his point!). To discover that my mistake has reduced Steven Carrs respect for me to zero is rather disconcerting.
The fact remains that Dawkins commits the fallacy of poisoning the well (a form of ad hominem attack biasing the audience against the opponents side before he can present his case cf. www.tektonics.org/fallacies.html), calling anyone who doubts the fact of evolution itself (by which he at least means the theory of common ancestry, a theory that is doubted by creationists and by some ID theorists): ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked, and likening them to believers in a flat-earth. Why not just say their conclusions are based on philosophical assumptions X, Y and Z that he does not share; why not point out a philosophical or scientific flaw in their arguments?
In his final posting, Carr writes:
Williams writes 'Dawkins has called ID theorists a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters. and cites http://www.arn.org/docs2/news/missinglinkmystery102803.htm as proof.
When Dawkins spoke those words, he was not talking about ID theorists, he was talking about people who wanted to teach a 6,000 year old Earth in British schools.
Notice that Williams does not give a reference to Dawkins actual words so people can see the context.
Is Peter S. Williams a liar for God?
As Carr says, my paper noted Dawkins comment about ID theorists being
a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters. Steven objects
that: When Dawkins spoke those words, he was not talking about ID theorists,
he was talking about people who wanted to teach a 6,000 year old Earth in British
Notice that Williams does not give a reference to Dawkins actual words so people can see the context. (www.damaris.org/navigation/?url=/discuss/wwwthreads.php). However, the quote in question comes, as Stevens post notes, from Mary Wakefields article The Mystery of the Missing Links published in The Spectator, October 25 2003 (cf. www.lewrockwell.com/spectator/spec163.html), in which she observes how intimidating for scientific ignoramuses is the Discovery Institute's list of 100 scientists, including Nobel prize nominees, who doubt that random mutation and natural selection can account for the complexity of life before presenting Dawkins response:
Professor Richard Dawkins sent me his rather different opinion of the ID movement: Imagine, he wrote, that there is a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters, implacably convinced that the Roman Empire never existed. Hadrians Wall, Verulamium, Pompeii - Rome itself - are all planted fakes. The Latin language, for all its rich literature and its Romance language grandchildren, is a Victorian fabrication. The Rome deniers are, no doubt, harmless wingnuts, more harmless than the Holocaust deniers whom they resemble. Smile and be tolerant, just as we smile at the Flat Earth Society. But your tolerance might wear thin if you happen to be a lifelong scholar and teacher of Roman history, language or literature. You suddenly find yourself obliged to interrupt your magnum opus on the Odes of Horace in order to devote time and effort to rebutting a well-financed propaganda campaign claiming that the entire classical world that you love never existed. (www.arn.org/docs2/news/missinglinkmystery102803.htm)
As Wakenfield presents it, this quote appears to be: 1) a piece of personal correspondence from Dawkins: Dawkins sent me his rather different opinion of the ID movement, and 2) specifically about ID: Dawkins sent me his rather different opinion of the ID movement. There is nothing here to indicate that the context of Dawkins comments is anything about creationism in British schools. If Wakenfield has wrongly attributed or misrepresented Dawkins comments, I can only plead that I have been misled in good faith.
Further Google-driven research on the internet with reference to Dawkins, creationism and schools, turns up an opinion piece by Dawkins in the Guardian that I had not viewed before, which is indeed about the teaching of creationism in British schools, and which does call creationists nutters (A Scientists View):
The Rome-deniers, lets imagine, are a well-organised group of nutters, implacably convinced that the Roman empire never existed. The Latin language, for all its rich literature and its romance language grandchildren, is a Victorian fabrication. The Rome-deniers are, no doubt, harmless wingnuts, more harmless than the Holocaust-deniers whom they resemble. Smile and be tolerant. But your tolerance might wear thin if you are a scholar and teacher of Roman history or literature. And what if Rome-deniers manage to infiltrate the teaching staff of an otherwise reputable school, and energetically promote their inanities to a susceptible new generation? A normally tolerant person could be forgiven for wanting to see those teachers fired. Well, that's approximately where I stand with respect to the clique of Genesis creationists who have moved in on Emmanuel College, Gateshead. (www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4371166,00.html)
However, while comparison with Wakenfields article shows many similarities, it also shows many differences:
Dawkins sent me his rather different opinion of the ID movement: Imagine, he wrote, that there is a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters, implacably convinced that the Roman Empire never existed. Hadrians Wall, Verulamium, Pompeii - Rome itself - are all planted fakes. The Latin language, for all its rich literature and its Romance language grandchildren, is a Victorian fabrication. The Rome deniers are, no doubt, harmless wingnuts, more harmless than the Holocaust deniers whom they resemble. Smile and be tolerant, just as we smile at the Flat Earth Society. But your tolerance might wear thin if you happen to be a lifelong scholar and teacher of Roman history, language or literature. You suddenly find yourself obliged to interrupt your magnum opus on the Odes of Horace in order to devote time and effort to rebutting a well-financed propaganda campaign claiming that the entire classical world that you love never existed. (www.arn.org/docs2/news/missinglinkmystery102803.htm)
Together with the fact that Wakenfield explicitly says that Dawkins sent me his rather different opinion of the ID movement, the differences between these two quotes are, I suggest, convincing evidence that Wakenfield was not quoting Dawkins out of context from his Guardian comments about creationism in Britain (thereby leading me into the same error), but accurately reporting his comments to her about ID.
I can see why Steven Carr might make the honest mistake of thinking I was quoting Dawkins out of context from his comments about the teaching of creationism in Britain; and it would be churlish of me to criticise him too harshly for making a mistake that further internet investigation could have cleared up, having already had a similar mistake on my own part pointed out to me by him. After all, in the Guardian Dawkins does call Genesis creationists a well-organised group of nutters. However, I was quoting Dawkins not from the Guardian, but from Wakenfields article (which I referenced), and from that it would appear that Dawkins does think ID theorists are: a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters (my italics). The two reports are different, and need not be interpreted as contradictory. My hypothesis would be that Dawkins sees creationism and ID as essentially the same animal, and sent Wakenfield a re-worked version of his comments about creationism that appeared in the Guardian in reply to an inquiry from her about ID.
Even if one were to uncharitably decide that Wakenfield misled me, and her other readers, by massively re-wording Dawkins Guardian article and attributing it to Dawkins as his thoughts about ID (and I make no such suggestion myself), Dawkins would still be poisoning the well: when it comes to creationism. As one letter to the Guardian said:
I was amazed to read Richard Dawkinss ludicrous treatment of the creationist meeting I attended in Gates-head (A scientist's view, March 9). Creationism was upheld not by nutters, but by intelligent men including a lecturer in engineering design, and a professor of thermodynamics. Subjects ranged from the design of feathers to DNA. If evolution really was scientifically proven, Dawkins would not worry about this evidence being heard. IBP Dobson Grey College, Durham. (www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,3604,665237,00.html)
I think my charge that Dawkins engages in poisoning the well, and that he does so when it comes to ID, stands. Proponents of ID, like William A. Dembski and Phillip E. Johnson are not nutters. Like Steven and myself, they are fallible human beings who make mistakes (e.g. not paying sufficient attention to the content of Dawkins the fact of evolution itself in context, being too trusting of secondary sources and so failing to check up on a primary source, drawing a false conclusion that could have been avoided by further research); but if someone makes a mistake, their mistake should be countered with evidence and rational disagreement, not with uncharitable ad hominem character assassinations.
Copyright © 2004 Peter S. Williams. All rights reserved.
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File Date: 1.26.04