Sunday, April 23, 2006

"Dawkins ... a bully ... does not write good science ... a genius from the wrist down"

It seems the whole world is turning against Dawkins:

Electric Universe, The Australian, David Bodanis has cracked the popular science formula, writes Helen Elliott, April 22, 2006 Electric Universe By David Bodanis Abacus, 298pp, $24.95. ... Yet no one has a patent on fundamentalism. Scientists are as susceptible as anyone else; Dawkins is believed to be writing a book that aims to demonstrate that people who believe in a god are less intelligent than non-believers. Bodanis is critical of those whom he sees as not up to scratch; he does not respect Dawkins. "He's a bully, and he does not write good science," he says flatly. "Remember what George Orwell said about Salvador Dali? 'He's a genius from the wrist down.' That's Dawkins." He acknowledges Dawkins's astonishing rhetoric but loathes his dismissal of anyone who has any belief in a higher spirituality as idiots. Bodanis grew up in an observant Jewish household and although he doesn't call himself traditional, he still observes Friday nights. If Dawkins is right about his views on religion, he adds, "then Einstein, who was quite religious, [was] an idiot". ...

Personally, I assume that Dawkins needs help, his extreme hatred of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, stemming from this sexual abuse incident in his childhood:

"Happily I was spared the misfortune of a Roman Catholic upbringing (Anglicanism is a significantly less noxious strain of the virus). Being fondled by the Latin master in the squash court was a disagreeable sensation for a nine-year-old, a mixture of embarrassment and skin-crawling revulsion, but it was certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire. As soon as I could wriggle off his knee, I ran to tell my friends and we had a good laugh, our fellowship enhanced by the shared experience of the same sad pedophile. I do not believe that I, or they, suffered lasting or even temporary damage from this disagreeable physical abuse of power. Given the Latin master's eventual suicide, maybe the damage was all on his side." (Dawkins R., "Religion's Real Child Abuse," Op-Ed, Free Inquiry, Fall, 2002, Vol. 22, No. 4)

I assume it is no coincidence that it was at the same young age ("a nine-year-old") this tragically happened, when Dawkins rejected the Christianity of his upbringing and "toyed with atheism":

"'I toyed with atheism from the age of about nine, originally because I worked out that, of all the hundreds of religions in the world, it was the sheerest accident that I was brought up Christian. They couldn't all be right, so maybe none of them was. I later reverted to a kind of pantheism when I realised the shattering complexity and beauty of the living world. Then, around the age of 16, I first understood that Darwinism provides an explanation big enough and elegant enough to replace gods. I have been an atheist ever since." (Dawkins R., "You Ask The Questions," Independent, 23 February 2003)

On a more pleasant topic, as for "Who Owns the Term Intelligent Design? No One", I hereby nominate Dawkins as the first person to actually use the term "intelligent Designer" in 1982:

"Biology is the study of the complex things in the Universe. Physics is the study of the simple ones. It is the complexity of life, coupled with the precision of its adaptation, that cries out for a special kind of explanation, and the hunger for such explanation has frequently driven people to believe in a supernatural Creator. Complexity means statistical improbability. The more statistically improbable a thing is, the less can we believe that it just happened by blind chance. Superficially the obvious alternative to chance is an intelligent Designer. But Charles Darwin showed how it is possible for blind physical forces to mimic the effects of conscious design, and, by operating as a cumulative filter of chance variations, to lead eventually to organised and adaptive complexity, to mosquitoes and mammoths, to humans and therefore, indirectly, to books and computers." (Dawkins R., "The Necessity of Darwinism," New Scientist, Vol. 94, 15 April 1982, pp.130-132, p.130. My emphasis)

That is two years before Thaxton et al.'s "The Mystery of Life's Origin" (1984), which is usually (and in my opinion rightly) accepted as marking the start of the modern ID movement (see next post).

Dawkins also used the term "intelligently designing" in this "transparently feeble argument" (by him) from his 1986 The Blind Watchmaker:

"So, cumulative selection can manufacture complexity while single-step selection cannot. But cumulative selection cannot work unless there is some minimal machinery of replication and replicator power, and the only machinery of replication that we know seems too complicated to have come into existence by means of anything less than many generations of cumulative selection! Some people see this as a fundamental flaw in the whole theory of the blind watchmaker. They see it as the ultimate proof that there must originally have been a designer, not a blind watchmaker but a far- sighted supernatural watchmaker. Maybe, it is argued, the Creator does not control the day-to-day succession of evolutionary events; maybe he did not frame the tiger and the lamb, maybe he did not make a tree, but he did set up the original machinery of replication and replicator power, the original machinery of DNA and protein that made cumulative selection, and hence all of evolution, possible. This is a transparently feeble argument, indeed it is obviously self-defeating. Organized complexity is the thing that we are having difficulty in explaining. Once we are allowed simply to postulate organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating engine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of yet more organized complexity. That, indeed, is what most of this book is about. But of course any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein replicating machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself. Far more so if we suppose him additionally capable of such advanced functions as listening to prayers and forgiving sins. To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like 'God was always there', and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say 'DNA was always there', or 'Life was always there', and be done with it. The more we can get away from miracles, major improbabilities, fantastic coincidences, large chance events, and the more thoroughly we can break large chance events up into a cumulative series of small chance events, the more satisfying to rational minds our explanations will be." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," W.W Norton & Co: New York NY, 1986, p.141. My emphasis)

I would therefore not be surprised if the term "intelligent design" was unconsciously picked up by early ID theorists from their reading of Dawkins? If so, then maybe that will in the long-run turn out to be Dawkins' only lasting achievement!

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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