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An Educated Fool

Paul Taylor September 1st, 2011

Richard Dawkins is well-known for his lack of logic in his diatribes against Christians, and especially against creationists. One American politician has recently, famously, cast doubt on the theory of evolution. This made the retired Oxford professor’s blood boil. Writing in the Washington Post:

A politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all.1

Surely, an honest evolutionist would have to accept that this comment is untrue. Dawkins has even engaged in highly publicized debates with scientists who do not accept the theory of evolution. Dawkins is probably honest in believing evolution himself, but he knows for a fact that not every qualified scientist agrees with him. Therefore, for him to say that there is “no doubt at all” about evolution is clearly false, especially when Dawkins contrasts evolution with another theory, where he says “scientific opinion is genuinely divided.”

Part of the problem here must be to do with Dawkins’ definition of the word “genuinely.” You see, Dawkins subscribes to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy in his definition of biologists. The “No True Scotsman” fallacy goes like this:

Jock: No Scotsman ever puts sugar on his porridge.

Dougal: Hamish puts sugar on his porridge, and he is from Scotland!

Jock: No True Scotsman ever puts sugar on his porridge!

Jock’s implication is that you cannot be a true Scotsman if you put sugar on your porridge, thereby making his own prejudices the litmus test for national identity. This is what Dawkins does with science. His comments continue:

Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well.

A person who denies evolution is ignorant, according to Dawkins. Therefore, the evolution-denier cannot be a true scientist. No “true scientist” disbelieves evolution.

Notice Dawkins’ use of another logical fallacy known as “bait and switch” in his next comment:

Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.

These quotes by Dawkins are all from the same article. So he has just described someone who fails to believe in evolution as “ignorant.” He now describes such a person as “ignorant of evolution.” However, failing to believe in something does not make you ignorant of it. Indeed, I could easily argue that the many scientists who do not believe in evolution probably understand evolution far better than Dawkins himself, whose contributions to biology were criticized by other evolutionary biologists, such as the late Stephen J. Gould.2

Early in his article, Dawkins describes the politician as an “uneducated fool.” Dawkins has clearly had a long education, and risen to a professorship (the highest rank of teaching position in a British university) at the world’s greatest university — albeit in a post that was specially created for him.3 In his career, he has made much of the fact that he does not believe in God. The Bible has this to say about such a person:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)

Washington Phillips sure had it right!

Well, you can go to your college, you can go to your school
But if you ain’t got Jesus, you’re an Educated Fool.4

  1. This and all other quotes by Dawkins in this article are taken from < http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/attention-governor-perry-evolution-is-a-fact/2011/08/23/gIQAuIFUYJ_blog.html
  2. Sterelny, K. (2003), Dawkins Vs Gould: Survival of the Fittest, (Totem)
  3. Downey, R., in Eastsideweek, 11 December 1996
  4. Washington Phillips, The Denomination Blues, c. 1920