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December 19, 2005

A Self-Esteem Problem

Pharyngula watches Gregg Easterbrook attack Richard Dawkins:

Pharyngula : Easterbrook... is outraged at the arrogance of the damned atheist.

Don't take this personally, but if you are an American adult there is a one in two chance that Richard Dawkins, a renowned professor of science at Oxford, thinks you are "ignorant, stupid or insane," unless you are "wicked." These are the adjectives Dawkins chooses to describe the roughly 100 million Americans adults who, if public opinion polls are right, believe Homo sapiens was created directly by God, rather than gradually by evolution. Ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked. Not much to choose from there!

...The important point, of course, is that contrary to Easterbrook's claim that there isn't much to choose from, that list actually covers the whole wide range of possibilities. Dawkins himself goes on to explain that the stupid, insane or wicked are the minority possibilities, but let's be honest and face the facts: if you are a creationist, you are almost certainly deeply ignorant of biology. Easterbrook seems to have actually gotten the quote from Dawkins' defense of the statement, but doesn't seem to have comprehended any of the surrounding words.

The gist of Easterbrook's complaint is that Dawkins is "arrogant", which seems to mean that he forcefully and plainly states the facts and evidence and logic of his case, and that those facts don't leave much wiggle room for the evolution deniers....

Pharyngula goes on to write:

While Easterbrook is doing his rabble-rousing best to rile up his readers into hating that arrogant bastard Dawkins, he also doesn't bother to consider this revealing passage from the article he cites.

Not only is ignorance no crime, it is also, fortunately, remediable. In the same Times review, I went on to recount my experiences of going on radio phone-in talk shows around the United States. Opinion polls had led me to expect hostile cross-examination from creationist zealots. I encountered little of that kind. I got creationist opinions in plenty, but these were founded on honest ignorance, as was freely confessed. When I politely and patiently explained what Darwinism actually is, they listened not only with equal politeness, but with interest and even enthusiasm. "Gee, that's real neat, I never heard that before! Wow!" These people were not stupid (or insane, or wicked). They didn't believe in evolution, but this was because nobody had ever told them what evolution is. And because plenty of people had told them (wrongly, according to educated theologians) that evolution is against their cherished religion.

This is exactly right. We're all ignorant to different degrees about different things. Dawkins tends to be more right than wrong on the subject of evolution, but is probably more wrong than right on the subject of automobile repair. It's a strange attitude that some people have that pointing out their ignorance of certain subjects is a terrible insult, as if everyone is expected to be omniscient and infallible polymaths...

Posted by DeLong at December 19, 2005 12:43 PM