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Myth of Dawkins as an intolerant, atheist crusader is just that -- myth - Comments

Alan Canon's Avatar Comment 1 by Alan Canon

Nice article, though he hedges with his weird comment about "gaps," author seems at least a thorough convert to the notion of explaining the scope and breadth of the theory of Natural Selection. Where's his actual interview of Richard?

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:29:20 UTC | #636306

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 2 by Cartomancer

Moreover, he accepts that the division of species, when emerging species with the same ancestors and inhabiting the same ecological space can no longer successfully mate, has no adequate explanation within existing theories.

Is this actually true? I'm no expert, but I was under the impression that we knew an awful lot about speciation (indeed, that Richard's friend and colleague Jerry Coyne was a world expert on it). The description of the "problem" of speciation given in this piece sounds like an utterly trivial non-starter to me, but there might be something I am missing.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:30:51 UTC | #636307

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 3 by SomersetJohn

Nice to read a complimentary piece about Richard, but they still go for terrible pictures. When will we see his mischievous and somewhat impish smile in a newspaper?

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:34:17 UTC | #636310

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 4 by Jos Gibbons

Much as I welcome a journalist finally telling it like it is, I have to object to a few things he said here. (I also wonder why even this article due to Myers hasn’t used a photo of Dawkins in which he is smiling, of which I know many exist. I expect this is the editor’s handiwork.)

there are too many gaps and even Richard Dawkins -- as he admits himself -- cannot explain the beginnings of life.

Is abiogenesis, which has nothing to do with the question of adaptive evolution by Darwinian natural selection, one of the “gaps” to which Myers refers? Give his large acceptance of the Darwinian account, for what are there “too many” gaps? Too many for his entire persuasion? Too many to make him feel satisfied with the current state of our scientific knowledge of the history of life on Earth? Too many to bring creationism to extinction? I wish Myers would be clearer on this.

No honest secularist could, for there is no evidence about the biogenetic moment when life began -- only theory.

Boy, does this guy ever have less understanding of what “theory” means than is normal in an advocate of reading books by Richard Dawkins! Also, what does any of this have to do with secularism? Whether people admit to not yet knowing how abiogenesis happened is a matter of scientific honesty.

he accepts that the division of species has no adequate explanation within existing theories.

Let’s remind ourselves of what this article is about. Myers denies, on the basis of a recent meeting with Dawkins, the validity of a common characterisation of him. I am on this point in full agreement with Myers. But I am disappointed he didn’t show what he had learned by, for example, discussing what had happened, been talked about etc. in their meeting. Perhaps Professor Dawkins himself could better inform us on this? In particular, Myers really ought to provide some evidence if he wishes to claim Dawkins feels allopatric, peripatric, parapatric and sympatric models of speciation have so far proven inadequate. It pains me as someone who largely agrees with Myers that, while I welcome what he wanted to do with this article, its poorly written form has rendered it a missed opportunity.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:35:56 UTC | #636312

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 5 by SaganTheCat

It's an interesting article but alas I think the Dawkins Meme is too deeply embedded to be overturned so easily.

I was unfortnate enough to miss an interview with Richard on Radio Oxford a while ago. unfortunate for two reasons, one because it may have been interseting but secondly because two people very close to me did listen to it and because of their individual views I received two completely different reports.

One (which I'm inclined to believe) was that he expertly demolished the rantings of the religious callers and the other (which would cause a domestic if I openly admitted to being skeptical of) that Richard was exactly like they thought he'd be, screaming and shouting at people who just wanted to ask sensible questions.

It's a shame not everyone can like Mr Myers get time to know the real Richard because it might help people create their own opinion rather than join in the chorus of the populist views and drown out the softly spoken rationalist they condemn so easily

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:39:25 UTC | #636314

plasma-engineer's Avatar Comment 6 by plasma-engineer

It might not be a perfect article, but at least it demonstrates that there is a way for people - even journalists - to be brought round to a rational way of thinking. It does seem to describe the real not-so-strident Richard Dawkins in a way that I recognise from the brief discussions I have had with him face to face. I will be bringing this article to the attention of a LOT of my more critical friends.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:44:42 UTC | #636315

RDfan's Avatar Comment 7 by RDfan

Terribly written article. Good that it's positive on RD. The writer made a gallant attempt at grasping evolution, I will grant him that. Still, poor writing; it even had some typos in there. The photo editor needs to be...well...yes. It's as though publishers just cannot publish/write a straightforward article with a decent picture anymore.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:52:25 UTC | #636320

Munski's Avatar Comment 8 by Munski

I've emailed it to a friend of mine, who's an avid non-believer, but doesn't really believe in the accepted theory of evolution. Somewhat like a 'gap-worshipper', he tends to fill in the gaps with his own beliefs as well . . . some verging on the 'Dale Gribble' sort of Area 51 type. I've already borrowed him my copy of 'The God Delusion', so he'll still be a questioner, which is good, but perhaps less conspiratorial.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:57:22 UTC | #636323

The Plc's Avatar Comment 9 by The Plc

It's not the barely articulate lunatic right that perpetuate the 'Dawkins as cold and intolerant' lie. All they can muster up is just random abuse. It's liberal intellectuals that pass on the myth. Just think of all those articles by Eagleton, the entire staff at the Guardian, most of the New Statesman and so on.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 10:58:09 UTC | #636324

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 10 by drumdaddy

Richard Dawkins is a gentleman and a scholar who has an open invitation to dinner anytime he deigns to visit the State of New York.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:00:49 UTC | #636325

Agrajag's Avatar Comment 11 by Agrajag

Moreover, he accepts that the division of species, when emerging species with the same ancestors and inhabiting the same ecological space can no longer successfully mate, has no adequate explanation within existing theories.

What happened to "geographic isolation"?
Steve



EDIT: Is the author any (known) relation to PZ? :lol:

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:02:26 UTC | #636327

ghost of numf-el's Avatar Comment 12 by ghost of numf-el

Nice article.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:11:38 UTC | #636329

superbeanson's Avatar Comment 13 by superbeanson

I spent the two weeks before meeting him immersed in his works, before which I was a great sceptic of Darwinism. I am now largely -- but not entirely -- persuaded of its essential correctness.

Better start from the beginning again then. No one who has fully understood evolution can doubt that it is the best (and only) explanation of complex biology

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:19:03 UTC | #636331

peter mayhew's Avatar Comment 14 by peter mayhew

"he accepts that the division of species has no adequate explanation within existing theories."

As an evolutionary biologist myself, I feel that this is, at the very least, a gross understatement and simplification of the state of the field. We have excellent candidate explanations, and lots of evidence for them. Anyone wanting a good popular introductory text on this would do well to read Menno Schilthuizen's "Frogs, flies and dandelions: the making of species". http://www.amazon.com/Frogs-Flies-Dandelions-Menno-Schilthuizen/dp/019850392X

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:41:52 UTC | #636337

Mrkimbo's Avatar Comment 15 by Mrkimbo

The Plc's comment (9) is too spot on for me to wish to do more than draw renewed attention to it.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:42:06 UTC | #636338

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 16 by Peter Grant

I wonder who or what the Prof was looking at when that photo was taken.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:46:54 UTC | #636340

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 17 by wisnoskij

"Natural selection can only work across the extraordinary and liberating dimension of aeons"

Actually sometimes it happens quite fast, and of course it depends completely on the lifespan of the creatures involved.

And I am not exactly sure about this myth of Dawkins, anyone who wants to can see innumerable hours of him doing stuff online. So unless you are talking about the myth of Dawkins among fundamentalists religious types who refuse to ever look at a video/audio file in which Dawkins in is, then I am not sure how much of a false myth could of formed.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:53:31 UTC | #636343

skiles1's Avatar Comment 18 by skiles1

Moreover, he is quite clearly baffled by the extraordinary vituperation to which has been subjected, usually by the nameless thugs and religious skinheads who stalk the lightless slum-corners of that strange and troubled city, the internet.

I share that bemusement over the abuse outspoken atheism encounters. It seems that if one highlights for religious people the prejudices against atheists, one is then likely to encounter prejudice redoubled.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 11:58:58 UTC | #636346

sbooder's Avatar Comment 19 by sbooder

No honest secularist could, for there is no evidence about the biogenetic moment when life began -- only theory.

He has obviously not looked at the work of both George Church and Jack Szostak, I think these two guys are pretty close.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:01:32 UTC | #636349

Teg's Avatar Comment 20 by Teg

Ugh, I winced when I read the word "Darwinism" (and again at "only theory"). It's called the theory of evolution. "Darwinism" (usually "social Darwinism") is something else entirely!

Nice to see somebody defending Richard's reputation from creationist scum for a change.

(What does "boffinish" mean, anyway? Is that a Britishism I'm not aware of or something?)

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:06:28 UTC | #636350

Teg's Avatar Comment 21 by Teg

Comment 4 by Jos Gibbons :

Boy, does this guy ever have less understanding of what “theory” means than is normal in an advocate of reading books by Richard Dawkins! Also, what does any of this have to do with secularism? Whether people admit to not yet knowing how abiogenesis happened is a matter of scientific honesty.

Yeah, I wondered about that. Secularism is political (although it really shouldn't be considered an -ism by this late date; it should just be understood that this is the way any good government is run!).

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:13:58 UTC | #636351

reebus's Avatar Comment 22 by reebus

It is a complete and utter myth he's intolerant. List a place where Dawkins has recommended eternal or cyclical suffering to any human who doesn't agree with him. He's a pure gentleman (what I as a foreigner would call a real English gent), and wonderful human being. He explains patiently, gently, rationally and yet still manages to convey passion against the wastage of potential in the young and of society and the opportunities lost for developing a mature personal responsiblity. It is not his fault if the force of his argument is devestating, it is the problem of the receiver to acknowledge the vulnerable and brittle position they find themselves in. It very well could be his book 'The God Delusion' not to mention his continuing considerable efforts are a major saving grace of the future of humanity.

It just really annoys me when people say he is intolerant lol. The word hypocrisy comes to mind.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:23:43 UTC | #636356

Reckless Monkey's Avatar Comment 23 by Reckless Monkey

Moreover, he accepts that the division of species, when emerging species with the same ancestors and inhabiting the same ecological space can no longer successfully mate, has no adequate explanation within existing theories' Is this actually true? I'm no expert, but I was under the impression that we knew an awful lot about speciation (indeed, that Richard's friend and colleague Jerry Coyne was a world expert on it). The description of the "problem" of speciation given in this piece sounds like an utterly trivial non-starter to me, but there might be something I am missing.

I think he is getting confused by the ability of a species to seperate if it's surrounded by its own speices, so how does it shift? The answer is seperation of groups (islands). He's also not seeing that conditions can change wiping out some of the variety that might mute down certain characteristics. Like drought resistance genes would become almost exclusive in plants subjected to sustained drought. If most of your speices is dead the gene pools shrinks.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:24:23 UTC | #636357

stuhillman's Avatar Comment 24 by stuhillman

Time, time, time. For those with an engineering frame of mind, think about 3.5 billion years of research and development with an unlimited budget.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:26:35 UTC | #636358

frax71's Avatar Comment 25 by frax71

Comment 20 by Teg :

Ugh, I winced when I read the word "Darwinism" (and again at "only theory"). It's called the theory of evolution. "Darwinism" (usually "social Darwinism") is something else entirely!

Nice to see somebody defending Richard's reputation from creationist scum for a change.

(What does "boffinish" mean, anyway? Is that a Britishism I'm not aware of or something?)

"Boffin", a word used by lazy journalists, it simply means scientist, and yes it is British I am sorry to say

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:31:45 UTC | #636360

Tryphon Tournesol's Avatar Comment 26 by Tryphon Tournesol

After all the the criticism concerning the journalist..Yes it is true that he is beside the point at times. But by his own admission he just got into this stuff weeks ago. I don't think that one can expect him to be completely profound. At least the man is honest and open minded. So what if he still wonders about certain things? There are no stupid questions!

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:52:03 UTC | #636367

ColdThinker's Avatar Comment 27 by ColdThinker

Anybody who’s read any of his books or seen a few videos of his public appearances knows that RD is not the intolerant, strident bigot his opponents wish to portray him.

However, having a tough reputation is not such a bad thing. Where I work and live, it’s quite respectable to be cold, strident, austere and intolerant of lies, stupidity and misinformation. With the provision that you’re right about most things. As RD clearly is. It’s much better than being considered some smiling snake-oil salesman with cheap jokes.

Being in the media and entertainment business myself, I find it tiresome that every public figure is somehow expected to be happy, cuddly and humorous. A comedian is expected to be funny, a Sesame Street character lovable. A scientist doesn’t have to be either. Neither does a pundit, a lecturer nor a politician. Being a proponent of demonstrable facts, evidence-based truths and clear thinking against a sea of slimy religious liars and other deluded nutjobs is pretty serious business, and should be respected as such.

Humour and smiles are a bonus, not a necessity.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 12:53:11 UTC | #636369

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 28 by Alan4discussion

But there are too many gaps and even Richard Dawkins -- as he admits himself -- cannot explain the beginnings of life.

I thought Jack Szostak was doing quite well -the theist alternative "hypothesis" - ? abracadabra -god-did-it!!

No honest secularist could, for there is no evidence about the biogenetic moment when life began -- only theory.

Ah! a vernacular "only theoryist"! Can't tell secularists from scientists either! I thought the place on the time-line was reasonably accurate even if the fine details are yet to be worked out!

Moreover, he accepts that the division of species, when emerging species with the same ancestors and inhabiting the same ecological space can no longer successfully mate, has no adequate explanation within existing theories.

This kind of begs the question as to how the semantics of "same ecological space", are interpreted.

With plants a fertile new species polyploid hybrid [which has twice (or more)as many chromosomes as its parents so cannot back-cross] can live in the same ecosystem. Plants of the same species can be genetically isolated by flowering at different times of year, or using a different pollinator. (Hence the diversity in Orchids.) If these situations stabilise, the populations will diverge with time. I think we are looking at claims based on personal ignorance here.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 13:05:11 UTC | #636374

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 29 by God fearing Atheist

F*ck me! Could have knocked me down with a feather when I read that. The image of "shrill", "strident" Dawkins begining to crack, the split lead by one of his former enemies. Actually, I'm being hasty is characterising Kevin Myers as an "enemy". It was the implication of his own words in the article - hardly good evidence.

Myers mentioned there was not enough evidence for abiogenesis - fair enough. But he also states "he [RD] accepts that the division of species, when emerging species with the same ancestors and inhabiting the same ecological space can no longer successfully mate, has no adequate explanation within existing theories". Is this true? What are the examples of such species, and what are the perceived difficulties of their speciation?

Over the last few weeks a penny has dropped in my mind on abiogenesis. I had been rather beguiled by work such as this, and this. But then I thought, what is the point of a molecule that only duplicates itself? The background is this video of Jack Szostak's work. A useful molecule must help in the duplication of any RNA sequence. For instance, if there is an RNA sequence that catalyses cell membrane components it needs to be duplicated in a proto-cell. Similarly, for any other RNA sequence that helps the proto-cell "grow". There might be tens to hundreds of sequences in a proto-cell that help, all of which need duplication. So other sequences that do things like - unravel a RNA knot/enzyme, stick a complementary base on a single RNA strand to make a very partial double strand, or catalyse the polymerisation of two adjacent complementary bases on the nascent double strand will result in duplication of all the RNA strands that happen to be in the proto-cell. Hence tens to hundreds of RNA sequences would co-evolve, each sequence either doing a tiny part of the duplication of any strand that happens to be in the cell, or catalysing other biochemical pathways. There is no need for one sequence that can duplicate itself, in fact if it were too selective in duplicating itself it would be a parasite. Given the success of viruses (and genetic engineering) even a modern cell will just duplicate whatever DNA it happens to contain (given correct insertion by the virus/genetic engineer - certain refinements have evolved over 3.7 billion years)

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 13:10:30 UTC | #636382

Cormac's Avatar Comment 30 by Cormac

My fellow commenters should be aware of a bit of context here.

  1. The Independent is not really a journal of record. It is largely a tabloid masquerading as a broadsheet. It carries some news, LOTS of opinion columns from people who aren't the sharpest minds around, as well as lots and lots of "celeb" shite*.

  2. Myers has made a career of digging up controversy and making ludicrous statements. To have got as much as this out of him is probably an achievement. Mind you, he has probably adopted this position, as he might perceive RD as being a good source of a controversial position.

So, he may have fudged his acceptance of evolution deliberately.

Consider:

  1. He has annoyed those who accept evolution by his fudge.
  2. He has annoyed the fundies who detest RD and evolution.

This is an example of Myers eating his cake and having it. His normal service is continuing.

Thu, 09 Jun 2011 13:15:43 UTC | #636384