Misrepresented Again? Peter S. Williams

Peter S. Williams

In response to a mailing on the Yahoo ‘Christians In Science’ discussion board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/christians_in_science/) which noted my recent Philosophy Now article on Richard Dawkins (‘Darwin’s Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Science’), Steven Carr made the following posting:

Does Williams still misquote Dawkins famous phrase in


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).

Here Dawkins deliberately excludes Darwinism as one of the things you would have to be mad to doubt.  Does Peter Williams still conflate Dawkins claims that only the ignorant, stupid or insane to doubt that evolution has occurred with Dawkins saying that you would have to be ignorant, stupid or insane to doubt Darwinism?  Dawkins explicitly says ‘We are NOT talking about Darwin's particular theory of natural selection’.  Of course, one can't expect somebody like Peter (I believe in levitating lunatics) Williams [cf. www.bowness.demon.co.uk/deb.htm] to treat Dawkins writings with a modicum of respect.  Does Williams still have in his ‘Philosophy Now’ article the statement '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.  Even in http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_carrreply.htm, Peter Williams can not find anything by Dawkins where he calls ID theorists ‘a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters’  Even Williams concedes that Dawkins was referring to ‘.... to the clique of Genesis creationists who have moved in on Emmanuel College, Gateshead.’  Despite having to admit that he can find no quote of Dawkins calling ID theorists ‘nutters’, Williams repeats the accusation that Dawkins did so on the Internet. Astonishing!  Somebody makes accusations, while admitting that they have nothing to back up their accusations.  Does Williams continue with his campaign of misrepresentation in his ‘Philosophy Now’ article?  Steven Carr. (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/christians_in_science/message/535?threaded=1)

I consider ‘Is Peter S. Williams a Liar for God?’ (cf. www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_carrreply.htm), my reply to Carr’s critique of the original paper upon which my Philosophy Now paper was based, ‘Darwin’s Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism’ (www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_dawkinsfallacies.htm), to be a sufficient response to the criticisms Steven has repeated here.  In particular, I would point out that in ‘Is Peter S. Williams a Liar for God?’ I examine the various meanings and aspects of ‘evolution’ and ‘darwinism’ and concede that paying insufficient attention to these definitions did result in a partial misrepresentation of Dawkin’s comments (from www.world-of-dawkins.com/Dawkins/Work/Reviews/1989-04-09review_blueprint.shtmlin) quoted in ‘Darwin's Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism’.  However, I also argue that this partial (and non-deliberate) misrepresentation of Dawkins' views had no direct bearing on the substantive point that I was making with quotations from William A. Dembski about Dawkins' engaging in ‘poisoning the well’:

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 doesn’t explicitly say this in the comments Dembski quotes, he does say it elsewhere).  In which case, Dembski’s response to Dawkins (and hence my response to Dawkins) holds good for this aspect/these aspects of Dawkins’ comments. . .  The fact remains that Dawkins commits the fallacy of ‘poisoning the well’ (a form of ad hominem attack biasing the audience against the opponent’s 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. (www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_carrreply.htm)

Steven’s critique, I note, would have led me to make some minor adjustments to the edited version of my original ARN article which was published by Philosophy Now as ‘Darwin's Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Science’, were it not for the fact that it had already been submitted and edited: ‘Steven’s critique would cause me to make minor alterations to what I say there had the paper not already been submitted and proofed.’  (In fact, I think that my Philosophy Now article might be less open to the charge brought by Steven on this particular front than was my original ARN article.  Nevertheless, I would have checked it through in the light of Steven’s comments had this been possible.  It was not.)  It is therefore unfair of Steven to refer to my Philosophy Now article as if it may represent a deliberate continuation of any ‘campaign of misrepresentation’ (albeit a partial misrepresentation) of Dawkin’s views.  I am not engaged in any such ‘campaign of misrepresentation’, as shown by my publication of ‘Is Peter S. Williams a Liar for God?’ on my ARN Author’s Page (as well as on the Damaris discussion board, where Steven’s original critique appeared).  Moreover, I have made the necessary minor adjustment to my critique of Dawkins, along the lines I recognized as being necessary in ‘Is Peter S. Williams a Liar for God?’, to the text of my forthcoming book, I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning: A Response to Nihilism (Damaris, 2004), which contains an extended critique of Dawkins’ arguments.

So, I stand by my previous responses (both positive and negative) in ‘Is Peter S. Williams a Liar for God?’ to Steven Carr’s criticism; but I do want to reply to Steven’s latest comments about Dawkins calling ID theorists ‘nutters’:

In discussing my claim that Dawkins commits the ad hominem fallacy by calling I.D theorists ‘a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters’, Steven writes: ‘Williams concedes that Dawkins was referring to ‘“to the clique of Genesis creationists who have moved in on Emmanuel College, Gateshead.”’  What I actually conceded was that Dawkins passed similar but distinct comments about creationists at Emmanuel College (the words Carr places in quotation marks are not mine, but a quote from Dawkins).  Far from ‘having to admit that [I] can find no quote of Dawkins calling ID theorists “nutters”’, as Steven reports, I referenced a secondary source which quoted Dawkins as doing just that, an article by Mary Wakenfield (www.arn.org/docs2/news/missinglinkmystery102803.htm).  True, I don’t have a primary source ‘by Dawkins’ calling ID supporters ‘nutters’, but this is hardly grounds for skepticism!  A secondary report of someone’s comments is good enough for people who read newspapers.  We trust reporters to be accurate until and unless we have some grounds for doubting the accuracy of their journalism.  In ‘Is Peter S. Williams a Liar for God?’ I pointed out that my source was Wakenfield’s article and not Dawkins’ Guardian article (where Dawkins called creationists ‘a well-organised group of nutters’), and I gave the supporting argument - from a comparison of Wakenfield’s article and Dawkins comments about young earth creationists in Gateshead (www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4371166,00.html) - that it was unlikely Wakenfield had misrepresented (even unwittingly) Dawkin’s comments about creationists to make them appear as if they were comments about ID, and hence it was unlikely that I had been misled into making such a misrepresentation myself.  It appears to me that Steven simply jumped to the conclusion that since Dawkins made similar comments about creationists as Wakenfield reports that Dawkins made about ID theorists, I must be misrepresenting Dawkins comments about creationists as being comments about ID theorists.  Not so.  Thus, far from ‘admitting’ that I have ‘nothing to back up’ my accusation (that Dawkins called ID theorists ‘nutters’) as Steven claims, I actually backed up my accusation with a reference to Wakenfield’s article (in which Dawkins is quoted as doing just that), and in the face of Steven’s apparently being misled by the similarity of Wakenfield’s report of Dawkins’ comments about ID with Dawkin’s comments about creationists into accusing me (and, implicitly, Wakenfield) of misrepresenting Dawkins, I added a supporting argument (from a comparison of sources) to the effect that Carr had nothing to back up his accusation of misrepresentation.

I continue to stand by these original responses to Steven’s accusation of misrepresentation (it’s not even as if it is prima facie all that unlikely that Dawkins would lump ID together with young earth creationism, or that he would pass similar comments about both.)  However, as a final word on the question of whether Dawkins did in fact call ID theorists ‘a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters’, I would like to quote the following (unsolicited) e-mail which I received from Mary Wakenfield herself (on 01/03/04):

Hello Peter Williams, Surfing this morning, I found yr piece on the ARN.  So I thought I’d just write to say that this: ‘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.’ is bang on.  I didn’t even know about the Guardian quote.  It was a direct reply to an email. tootle pip mary wakefield.

Even supposing, purely for the sake of argument, that Dawkins did not call ID theorists ‘nutters’, Steven has to admit that Dawkins called young earth creationists ‘nutters’ - and as I pointed out in ‘Is Peter S. Williams a Liar for God?’, this is no less an example of ad homenim argumentation because it is directed at young earth creationists than it would be (as it in fact is) as a comment directed at ID theorists!  Either way, Richard Dawkins makes ad hominem attacks - case closed.

Copyright © 2004 Peter S. Williams. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 3.23.04