Jan 19 2010
A major quibble? Clearly I am confused. But that is where I must start, though in future posts I will be sharing the many admirable things about Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. I feel forced into placing my single significant criticism up front, for that is where he, somewhat puzzlingly, places what I consider to be the most contentious point. Up front.
In the preface Dawkins writes:
“This book is my personal summary of the evidence that the ‘theory’ of evolution is actually a fact — as incontrovertible a fact as any in science.”
Wow. Incontrovertible means “absolutely certain and cannot be shown to be wrong.” As any in science. I’m jumping ahead of myself here, but it seems the argument — by those who should really know better — that evolution is indeed a fact is a rhetorical tactic. Evolution is a fact, case closed. If you can’t see the fact, you’re blind. I feel this kind of argument miseducates as much as it might, might, make a valid point. How does it miseducate? Two ways. 1) It stretches the definition of fact too far. 2) It places the emphasis on a conclusion and not on the essential and supremely solid scientific reasoning that gets us there.
Dawkins’ very first chapter is titled, “Only a Theory?” In it he argues that evolution should be considered a fact. Why not present the overwhelming evidence first, thus making the acceptance of the “fact” status more sensible? This ordering seemed illogical to me.
As for the meat to my major quibble, on page 8 Dawkins writes,
“Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact.”
I, for one, am sane and informed but would disagree. And it all hinges upon the definition of fact.