‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Dawkins digs himself in deeper

Why was Richard Dawkins battering away at his keyboard before breakfast on Tuesday morning (16 Sept. 08), before his toast, marmalade and English tea were cold?

Posted on his blog at 8:55am is a statement that he wishes to get into the press, apparently with some urgency. “I’m working on getting a version of this published somewhere in the British press” he said at 8:55 am.[1]

The statement appeared in the New Scientist at 6:52 pm with the disclaimer “Before Michael Reiss stepped down as director of education for the Royal Society, Dawkins sent New Scientist his thoughts on the creationism row that blew up last week.”

Dawkins - New Scientist Statement

But at 9:22 am Dawkins states that the Royal Society has issued a press release with his own adage. ‘The Royal Society has just publicly announced that Michael Reiss has resigned from his position of Director of Education. I have refused to comment to the press, other than to refer to my comment, posted above, BEFORE the news of his resignation was announced.’[2]

So between 8:55 am and 9:22 am Dawkins gets his thoughts emailed to the New Scientist, just before the announcement. It might seem then that the reason Dawkins was writing furiously during breakfast time was because he knew that Reiss had been forced to resign and wanted to manage the news in his favour by getting his statement out first; although I think Dawkins only digs himself, and the Royal Society, in deeper.

Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, commented: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. "This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science - something that the Royal Society should applaud." Dr Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, said Professor Reiss's departure was a "real loss" and commented that the Royal Society should have ‘supported him’ to ‘further a reasoned debate.’

BBC 16-09-08 ‘Creationism biologist quits job

But what of Dawkins’ statement: Firstly, Dawkins does not think that Reiss’s actual statement is ‘inappropriate’ for the Royal Society, so his statement isn’t the reason Reiss should resign. Reiss was only asking for respectful discussions in the classroom reaffirming his own belief in evolution. Dawkins has himself also discussed creationism in the classroom with school children for his own television documentary.

Dawkins then divides scientists into two ‘camps,’ between the ‘accommodationists,’ who ‘‘respect’ creationists while disagreeing with them,’ and the ‘rest of us, who see no reason to respect ignorance and stupidity.’ Presumably though even the ‘accommodationists’ don’t respect what they perceive to be ‘ignorance and stupidity,’ but instead they are willing to show respect to those people they disagree with. Dawkins statement is vague and incoherent thus leaving room for interpretation, and the statement only makes sense if Dawkins was implying that it is ignorant and stupid people who should be disrespected. Therefore it would seem that he wants people to consider that it is acceptable to disrespect others on the basis of their beliefs. But Dawkins cannot say this openly because while he is insinuating incitement towards intolerant hatred and bullying behaviour he wants to keep his own hands clean in order to point the finger at religion as the source of intolerance and hatred. This rhetoric of his is dangerous because some will read it to imply that it is acceptable to disrespected people, not merely challenge their ideas. Dawkins is well practiced at writing such vague statements, and Christians have faced increasing personal disrespect and vilification for their beliefs because of this type of ‘couldn’t care less’ rhetoric that Dawkins engages in through much of his writing. This is also the basis for the attacks against Michael Reiss; it is prejudice.

Later in the statement Dawkins asserts that the respectful approach of ‘accommodationism’ is ‘on the brink of scientific dishonesty’ and ‘devious.’ Does Dawkins really believe that showing respect to people with whom one disagrees is dishonest and devious?

Dawkins comments further that to ask for Reiss’s removal on the grounds of his holy orders is ‘close to a witch hunt’ and he finds it a bit squeamish. However, he believes that a vicar cannot hold a position at the Royal Society as a spokesman; if the Royal Society is seeking to show respect to those they disagree with. How odd!

Dawkins states “Unfortunately for him [Reiss] as a would-be spokesman for the Royal Society, Michael Reiss is also an ordained minister. To call for his resignation on those grounds, as several Nobel-prizewinning Fellows are now doing, comes a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste. Nevertheless -- it's regrettable but true -- the fact that he is a priest undermines him as an effective spokesman for accommodationism.”

While Dawkins finds this ‘witch hunt’ a bit squeamish he believes that Reiss should have a choice over what position he should resign from, stating that ‘Perhaps, rather than resign his job with the Royal Society, Professor Reiss might consider resigning his Orders?’ So while Dawkins seems to want to distance himself from a perceived ‘witch hunt’ he is merely holding the coats of those throwing the stones because he believes that Reiss cannot hold the position while being an ordained minister. Dawkins cannot wash his hands of the intolerance that he is whipping up through his books and statements.

Dawkins would have been better off enjoying his breakfast - as the saying goes, when in a hole stop digging.

The Royal Society comments in its statement that “Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society's Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education, a part time post he held on secondment.”

So let us get this straight, misrepresentation of a statement damages the Royal Society? But Dawkins reveals the real reason why Reiss was forced out. It was because Reiss was an ordained minister in the Church of England, and Dawkins and friends consider this unacceptable. Many will conclude that the Royal Society has damaged its reputation by its own actions.

There is also some irony that this attack on a Church of England vicar by the Darwinistas took place at the same time as Rev Dr Michael Brown of the Church of England has suggested that it ought to apologise to Darwin.

[1]Dawkins 1
[2]Dawkins 2
Andrew S


Howard said...

"the fact that he is a priest undermines him as an effective spokesman for accommodation"

In other words, you can be a 'priest' for atheism, naturalism or Darwinist suppositions, but woe betide the learned soul who seeks to make any 'accommodation' for the possibility of the divine... and therein lies the proof of Dawkins mis-handling of Einstein.

Anonymous said...

Yes I agree Howard - it was because Dawkins didn't want a vicar bringing Christian values to science because that would undo Dawkins' central theme that religious influence is only negative. So they had to stab him in the back and engage in a witch hunt to prove the moral superiority of atheism.