Here’s The Times of London planting a big wet kiss on Richard Dawkins in one of their lead editorials:
Thomas Henry Huxley, the great contemporary populariser of Charles Darwin’s ideas, declared it his aim to “smite all humbugs, however big; to give a nobler tone to science; to set an example of abstinence from petty personal controversies, and of toleration for everything but lying”.
That is a fair summary of Richard Dawkins’s achievement in four decades of public advocacy of science and its methods. Professor Dawkins does not altogether avoid the use of invective in the controversies that he joins. But he would reasonably point out that the promotion of critical thinking and an appreciation of scientific discovery are far from merely personal obsessions. In his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, from which The Times is publishing extracts next week, he lucidly expounds evolution and its mechanism of natural selection.
Now that I have seen Inglourious Basterds, Dawkins’ new book is the next big thing for me to look forward to. (And then Stephen King’s forthcoming thousand-pager Under the Dome, due out in November, but that’s a different post.)
Sounds like the book is going to be a barn-burner:
In his book, Professor Dawkins compares the relation of Intelligent Design to science with that of Holocaust denial to history. The analogy is deliberately inflammatory and entirely correct. The objection to Holocaust denial is not, as many believe, that it is offensive and xenophobic (though it is, of course, both). It is, rather, that Holocaust denial is false. It is impossible to argue consistently that the Holocaust never happened except by ignoring or faking the historical evidence. Creationism and Intelligent Design are like that. They are not even wrong; they are just bad ideas.
Can you imagine an American newspaper publishing that? Heck, that’s even stronger than what I would say. Creationism and Holocaust denial may be at the same intellectual level. But Holocaut denial is so inextricably bound up with anti-semitism that many people are going to assume you are attributing anti-semitism to creationists as well. Creationists have many faults, but anti-semitism is not generally one of them. Really, it is best just to avoid talk of Nazi things unless you are actually discussing the Nazis.
Religious faith can be entirely compatible with science and reason. Professor Dawkins’s belief that “moderate religion makes the world safe for extremists” is mistaken and tactically disastrous.
Oops. Didn’t like that part. Let’s get back to the good stuff.
But the frequent criticism of Professor Dawkins that he is a scientific fundamentalist is wrong. (And the claim of one writer that by his militancy Professor Dawkins has become the “top pin-up” of the Intelligent Design lobby is patently absurd.) Evolution through natural selection is among the greatest discoveries of civilisation. As Theodosius Dobzhansky, the geneticist, wrote, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. And much in other fields is illuminated by it. Professor Dawkins combines the role of theorist, synthesist and explainer in that cause as no one else does.
Oh yeah. That’s what I’m talking about!