Monday, March 1, 2010

Does Dawkins model good science and scholarship?

Richard Dawkins is speaking in Brisbane this week. When The God Delusion was published I was asked to give a talk on it in Sydney. In preparation I read the book and wrote a review. Below I reproduce the first and last paragraph.

I found this a somewhat disappointing book to read, but not because it shook cherished beliefs. First, I found Dawkins' derisory language and attitude towards all those with whom he disagrees, rather tiresome. He does not just belittle religious believers, but also scientists and fellow atheists who are not as hostile as he is towards religion and God. Second, I found it rather disappointing that someone who is Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, writes a book which does not engage with primary material, but instead uses superficial characterisations, and mostly references material from websites. Furthermore, there is little acknowledgement of ranges of opinion, with subtleties in the philosophical interpretation of scientific knowledge. Everything is extremely black and white.....

[long discussion of details of the book]

I believe true scholarship, whether in science or the humanities,has certain characteristics: careful research of possible sources of information, a critical and balanced weighing of evidence, a respect for and engagement with alternative points of view, a willingness to be proven wrong, caution about jumping to conclusions, a commitment to peer review....
I regret that Richard Dawkins appears to have abandoned these scholarly disciplines. But, perhaps I should not be surprised since it appears from the ISI Web of Science that Dawkins has not published a scientific research paper of any significance (i.e., one in an international peer-reviewed scientific journal) since 1980.

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