All Dawkins’s Straw Men

by James Barham

strawmanThe air was thick with flying chaff yesterday at the Reason Rally in Washington, DC, as one speaker after another thrashed and stomped every straw man in sight.

The star turn was provided by Richard Dawkins. After an initial paean to the evolutionary process—understood, needless to say, along strictly orthodox neo-Darwinian lines—Dawkins went on the attack.

Who was the object of his attack? The scientists who are currently threatening to upend his comfortable, if incredible, worldview which holds that organisms are nothing but the mechanical byproducts of the struggle for survival among the selfish genes?

Not a bit of it. The names of Walter Freeman, John Gerhart, Mae-Wan Ho, Eva Jablonka, Stuart Kauffman, Marc Kirschner, Alexei Kurakin, Stuart Newman, Gerald Pollack, James Shapiro, Jack Tuszynski, Giuseppe Vitiello, Mary Jane West-Eberhard, and F.E. Yates—to mention a few—were nowhere to be heard.

Instead, we were treated to a litany of platitudes, like this one:

The electromagnetic spectrum runs all the way from the extremely long-wave radio-wave end of the spectrum to gamma rays at the very short-wave end of the spectrum, and visible light—that which we can see—is a tiny little sliver in the middle of that electromagnetic spectrum. Science has broadened out our perception of that spectrum, to long-wave radio waves on the one hand, and gamma rays on the other. I take that to be symbolic of what science does generally. It takes our little vision—our little, parochial, small vision—and broadens it out. And that is a magnificent vision for what science can do. Science makes us see what we couldn’t see before. Religion does its best to snuff out even that light which we can see.

The crowd cheers.

So, we’re here to stand up for reason, to stand up for science, to stand up for logic, to stand up for the beauty of reality and the beauty of the fact that we can understand reality.

Dawkins then spends the rest of his time exhorting the atheists in the crowd to “come out”—to openly embrace their identity as atheists. Why? Here is what he says:

Religion is an important phenomenon. Forty percent at least of the American population, according to opinion polls, think that the universe is less than ten thousand years old. That’s not just an error, that’s a preposterous error. I’ve done the calculation before, and it’s equivalent to believing that the width of North America from Washington to San Francisco is equal to about eight yards.

The crowd eats it up.

Dawkins winds up by suggesting that most self-identified Christians are not really Christians at all…


All Dawkins’s Straw Men



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