Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why won't Dawkins debate?

Maybe i'm being closed-minded? Or maybe i'm just not thinking clearly? But it just seems so incredibly strange to me that Richard Dawkins, the best-selling author of books like The God Delusion, will not debate Creationists or Intelligent Design advocates. Here's the indisputable facts:

1. Richard Dawkins is today's leading atheist (in popularity, not necessarily in quality of arguments)

2. Richard Dawkins has impeccable credentials in his field

3. Richard Dawkins has been publishing books on evolution and atheism for over 3 decades

4. Richard Dawkins, with his University job aside, has made a career out of promoting his evolutionary and atheistic beliefs

5. Richard Dawkins writes entire books on subjects that he refuses to debate.

6. Richard Dawkins flies all over the world talking "smack" on major media outlets about the people that he refuses to debate

I'm sure I could name more. But given all of this, is Dawkins being a little inconsistent in how much time he devotes to criticizing ID'rs both on TV and in print, and yet refuses to interact with them?

The similar comparison would go as follows: I think the concept of a flat earth is at the height of absurdity. And its so absurd that I would find it a complete waste of time to write books on the subject or fly all over the world talking about it. But what if I spent three decades writing books, giving lectures, and appearing on major media outlets on the subject? Given such a "silly" subject, would I look equally as silly in refusing to interact with those whom I spent three decades criticizing?

To me, this is exactly what Dawkins is doing. If creationism and intelligent design is so silly, then stop writing books about it. If creationists and intelligent design advocates are just a bunch of nut-case "history deniers," then you should leave it alone just like i'd leave the flat earth "issue" alone.

Its one thing to write books promoting your position. But its another to write books and appear on TV against a perspective and then refusing to interact with them.


Brian said...

Your flat earth comparison is good analogy.

Chad said...


Well done; I agree with Brian.


Galactor said...

The flat earth analogy fails abjectly. There are indeed flat-earthers; and there are people delusional enough to believe in whatever god they're exposed to at a young enough age and that the instructions this god has left are to be followed regardless of any inate moral value.

However, flat-earthism doesn't lead people to fly planes into buildings, prevent biological research which could have prevented hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, brutal psychological abuse of children, etc., etc..

Flat-earthism doesn't need a Dawkins.

Theism, on the other hand, does.

The analogy fails.

Mike Felker said...

This proves my point. Because of the seriousness of religion, whether you believe in religion or not, it seems odd that Dawkins makes a career out of what he does, writing books on religion, flying all over the world for radio and tv interviews, yet he will not debate.

Like the flat earther example, it would be silly for one not to debate if there were indeed a multitude of advocates and it were a serious position to hold. Same goes for Dawkins and religion.

Galactor said...

What is so odd, that a scientist who lives by the idea that evidence is required to substantiate claims, should spend a lot of time drawing our attention to the lack of evidence for religion (which is silly) - which is a source of horror - and no time at all in drawing our attention to the lack of evidence for a flat earth (which is silly) - which is not a source of horror and has no malign impact on the planet at all?

The analogy is vacuous.

Mike Felker said...

The problem is, Dawkins is drawing our attention to "the lack of evidence for religion" in that he has spent over three decades writing books, flying all over the world giving lectures and appearing on TV and radio. So given how much time Dawkins spends on religion (something you perceive as silly and serious), it just seems very inconsistent for him to refuse to interact with them.

Galactor said...

Where is the thread or connection to the *good analogy* which Brian and Chad point to, of flat-earthism and theism?

Flat-earthism, is absurd (Dawkins would argue) but does not form a threat to mankind.

Theism (Dawkins would argue) is not analogous - it is a real threat and requires substantial evidence to make the horrors it can cause, acceptable.

One does not deserve scrutiny. The other does. They are hardly *analogous* as Brian suggested and Chad agrees.

To your other point, Dawkins does not write books *about* creationism and intelligent design. He has largely written books about evolution which contain references to people who are comparable to flat-earthers and deniers of the holocaust. In other words, people who deny evidence which is accepted by the vast majority of credentialed scientists.

Dawkins would not refuse to debate the content of these books with, for example, someone like Frans de Waal or Francis Collins or Craig Ventnor who accept the scientific consensus that prevails.

Furthermore, the contents of his books are supported by the findings of science - the content of, for example, the Ancestor's Tale, is not Richard Dawkins' opinion - it is his relation of the scientific consensus.

He refuses to debate his books with the equivalent in evolution of flat-earthers and holocaust deniers. They are the same insofar as they deny evidence.

Brian said...

Hi there Galactor. Nice to see you again. Hope you are having a good Sunday.

As for the "analogy" - All analogies are not the at same at all points, obviously. But it is where they are the same that is most important. And, in some, it is also where they are different... Read on...

You said:
Theism (Dawkins would argue) is not analogous - it is a real threat and requires substantial evidence to make the horrors it can cause, acceptable.

One does not deserve scrutiny. The other does. They are hardly *analogous* as Brian suggested and Chad agrees.

This is an a fortiori sort of argument. It uses an analogy which says, "if this, then how much more that!"

It is the difference in the analogy (one is a threat and the other is) that gives it the force.

You said: One does not deserve scrutiny. The other does. -- and that is the point... if someone writes things that go against flat-earthism (an absurd idea that is no real threat), then how much more should the person who writes things against religion (which Dawkins thinks is absurd AND a threat) be willing to debate the issue.

If Dawkins thinks religion is a threat, as you admit, then why won't he debate it? And keep in mind the whole argument that Mike is making; don't just quibble over where the analogy fails. It succeeds where it needs to support (in an admittedly hyperbolic way) the WHOLE of Mike's argument. And part of that is this: if Dawkins is going to assert, he should also be willing to defend.

I hope that helps clear up the intent of my comment, and why I thought it was a good comparison / analogy / a fortiori argument.

Take care, and I wish you well.

Galactor said...

I am afraid that I am unconvinced by your explanation as of what is clearly not an analogy that works but let us leave it at that. It is enough to say that what Dawkins writes about should be defended by him and I believe that, here, we are in agreement. I can only imagine that Dawkins would wholeheartedly agree that his arguments should be held to the same standards of scrutiny that the work of other scientists (and of other professions) are held.

Clearly, contradicting your question "why won't Dawkins debate it", Dawkins has debated various issues surrounding his book on religion. I don't recall many invitations for debates on his other books such as the Ancestor's Tale and the Blind Watchmaker - do you know of people who wish to debate him on these books? You are no doubt aware of the debate with Lennox. But Dawkins draws a line with those whom he will enter discussion and creationists of various guises fall out of contention.

I would also dispute any assertion that the debate arena is the best place to do science or philosophy. While it would have been entertaining to watch Einstein "destroy" Neils Bohr in a debate about what was emerging in the then disturbing field of quantum mechanics (and Einstein caused Bohr to suffer many black doubts), it would have no impact upon the outcome that is now accepted as fact, i.e., that Bohr was fundamentally right - quantum mechanics is reality - and that Einstein would now admit so.

Science is not decided by the loudest voice on the debate platform.

But even then, it doesn't absolutely require only Dawkins to debate his ideas. There are plenty of people educated enough to defend and attack Dawkins' ideas and what matters is that these discussions take place - and they do take place at all levels. There is of course, the scientific community where, for example, Dawkins' views on the genetic force on natural selection is scrutinised.

Mike's whole argument is something like "why won't he debate creationists or proponents of ID if he is so concerned at the damage they do?" Well, now I think we can actually draw on the flat earth analogy. Let's assume that flat-earthers were responsible in some way for people being against drilling for oil because a hole in the earth would lead to the earth tearing apart and all the while, an energy crisis is threatening mankind. Would a geologist really consider it worthwhile or helpful to engage in a proponent of the flat earth theory? Remember, in his time as a young geology lecturer at a geology university, the geologist has had debates in the past with flat-earthers. In his thirty years in the field of geology, he's seen them bypass the scientific method and produce information that clearly denies a scientific consensus that the earth is round. He watches as an organisation, let's call it for the sake of argument, the Geological Discovery Institute, committed to the flat earth model, publishes a document wherein a strategy to replace scientific naturalism with its doctrine that the earth is flat *even when reality demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that it is in fact round*. He observes how in a court of law, it is judged that intelligent flat-earthism, is nothing more of a re-branding of a forerunner. He discovers that the people who wish to debate him in flat-earthism are members of this institute and that others who have displayed similar levels of ignorance to the scientific consensus are associative fellows of this organisation.

We could hardly blame our geologist for not wanting anything to do with them.

Galactor said...

In the original post: "To me, this is exactly what Dawkins is doing. If creationism and intelligent design is so silly, then stop writing books about it"

Which books has Dawkins written about creationism and intelligent design?

Here is a list of his publications and their central subject matter:

The Selfish Gene (a genetic driven view of natural selection)
The Extended Phenotype (how genes can be viewed from the multicellular realm)
The Blind Watchmaker (how evolution explains complexity)
River Out of Eden (genetic flow)
Climbing Mount Improbable (how the arisal of complexity is accounted for within evolution)
Unweaving the Rainbow (how knowledge doesn't diminish wonder)
The Ancestor's Tale (common ancestry of humans back to the start of life)
The God Delusion (how people have been duped into believing that there is a sky-daddy who intervenes in world affairs)
The Greatest Show on Earth (why do scientists accept evolution)

Apart from this list there is A Devil's Chaplain (2003) and this book was written, in part, to tackle pseudo-science.

It's not quite really the case that Dawkins is "writing books about creationism and ID".

Galactor said...

By the way, if you are genuninely interested in the arguments as to why Dawkins doesn't enter the ring with people like Craig and Meyer, just visit Dawkins' website forum (the forum, not the front page of richarddawkins.net) (you will need an account) and either search or post a thread asking the question.

It may be unpleasant to read it, but then the truth owes us nothing.