27 April 2008

Dawkins Speaks For Himself

Richard Dawkins recently published an editorial in the LA Times, accusing the makers of Expelled of twisting his words regarding his apparent belief that life on earth was "seeded" by highly developed extraterrestrials. You can find the story here. He claims elsewhere that the question he was answering with this statement was "under what conditions would 'Intelligent Design' be a valid theory?"

Honestly, I can't imagine any other explanation for why Dawkins would say such a thing as he did, on film, with prepared questions. If this is so, the filmmakers are guilty of grave dishonesty. This sort of conduct is not helpful for the ongoing public conversation about these issues, which the film claims to desire. Given the producer's juvenile behavior towards PZ Myers in the past (he told reporters he wanted Myers to have to pay to see the movie), regardless of how arrogant and condescending the man can be (he certainly can), it does not justify these sorts of moves.

Apart from the moral component, there is a rhetorical one as well. This strategy is known as the "straw man" argument, in which one sets up a weak summary of a position in order to demolish it utterly with one's own more carefully formulated argument. This would seem to be an effective strategy to convince the untutored and unreflective, but we should keep in mind the example of St. Thomas, who strengthened his own arguments by doing his utmost to formulate his opponent's position before refuting it. If what Dawkins and Myers claim is true (even if we take their perspectives with a grain of salt), I would not support the makers of this film in their actions. Such attacks only give those who disagree a license to be dismissive and flippant, something all too common already.

If we're not prepared to fight fair on this issue, there isn't much point in fighting at all.

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