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Dawkins puts his foot in it

In my review of Dawkins’s book I have already insinuated that before we turn any attention at all to the man’s arrogance, his scholarship should be questioned. That is to say, we ought not consider his views on religion to be credible even in the slightest. An example to illustrate this surfaced that will run out of order for my reviews, so I am going to address it singly.

On page 133 we have Dawkins going after Behe saying, “Another of Behe’s favourite [sic] alleged examples of ‘irreducible complexity’ is the immune system. Let Judge Jones himself take up the story: ‘In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not ‘good enough.”

Even reading this passage the way that Dawkins presents it shows that not all cylinders are firing properly, here, not for Dawkins, nor for the ACLU, for in this passage the claim that ‘science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system’ is clearly distinct from the issue as to whether or not anyone has every talked about it! In other words, even as I read this passage from the ACLU, I detected that the accusation did not match up with what Behe was responding too. Examples like this make me pine for the good ol’ days when we could at least expect that the participants in such deep debates were literate.

Now, the literate reading this will now claim AHA! Guilty of the same thing! Dawkins says that this is Judge Jones but Sntjohnny has chalked it up to the ACLU. Twice! Yes, indeed. Here we have a priceless example of how Dawkins, the uberskeptic, is not skeptical enough, himself. As it happens, the Discovery Institute (probably in the straight-forward course of responding to fallacious arguments raised against ID in the Dover case), discovered that Judge Jones was not here making an argument at all. It turns out that Judge Jones borrowed, nearly word for word, but certainly concept for concept, for a large portion of his decision- from the ACLU’s own written arguments!  See the report, here.

Now, it was left to the Discovery Institute to actually go through the testimony in order to show what Behe really said, and in fact, it would appear that this is quite a bit different. At the very least, it confirms my intuition that Behe was responding to an entirely different pont. It so happens, though, that Dawkins, in quoting Judge Jones, is actually taking on, whole cloth, material offered nearly verbatim by the ACLU.  See this side by side evaluation: here. Scroll down to Table A, where you will see that Judge Jones co-opted the ACLU statement characterizing Behe’s statement along with what Behe actually said.

Now, I would love to opine for a bit on just what we can surmise from a judge borrowing an analysis word for word from one side or the other, but I’d like to stay on my point against Dawkins here and his scholarship. You’ll note that the chart I gave for the Discovery Institute cited the testimony in question. Does one think for a moment that Dawkins, before publishing a rabid assault on theism and supernaturalism, would be interested in making sure all his bases are covered? If it were me, I would have wanted to!

But this fit with Dawkins expectations… or, more accurately, what he read in Judge Jones was exactly within his interpretational framework, so he accepted it, more or less unquestioningly. In other words, ‘free-thinkers,’ ‘brights,’ ‘skeptics,’ etc, do exactly the same sort of things that they deplore in others. Skeptics are not skeptical enough, free-thinkers find their circle of like-minded thinkers and close in on themselves. Normal, yes. And perhaps it is not quite fair to pin Dawkins as being overly guillible, since even the Discovery Institute didn’t notice Jones’s plagiarism until recently.

But we may wonder how many other things Dawkins went on on faith, like for example his quotation of Augustine on the very same page that the Behe/Jones bit occurs. Here he quotes Augustine not from Augustine but from Freeman, 2002. The words put in Augustine’s mouth may or may not be what Augustine really said. Freeman said he said it. Jones said Behe said it. Dawkins put it in his book. It must be true.



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