Midgley, Dawkins update and end

I don’t normally cross-post from the Guardian pieces here. But I finally stuck the Midgley/Dawkins story somewhere people might read it and now I know what it feels like to be Madeleine Bunting.

It also occurs to me, afterwards, that many of the commentators have no idea how serious an accusation it is that a scholar has not read the book that she is writing about. It is equivalent to accusing a scientist of faking his data or, in this instance, more bizarrely, of confessing to a third party (who denies the story) that the data was faked, the experiments never performed.

Here is the correspondence that preceded it:

Dear Richard,

I have posted on the thread my response, including the reasons I had for supposing that you believe that fundamentalist parents should not be allowed to transmit their religious beliefs to their children. These had nothing to do with the Observer article to which some sub linked. They were entirely derived from your approving quote in the God Delusion from Nick Humphrey’s Oxford Amnesty lecture. I’m delighted if you now think that the passage you quoted was far more dictatorial and illiberal than anyone should be.

But it is very hard to read it as meaning anything other than that teaching children that the bible is literally true should be a crime just as knocking their teeth out is and I could find nothing in the subsequent pages to suggest that you disagreed with him.

While we’re about this business of mutual clarification, could you apologise for repeating on your site a couple of weeks ago the absurd claim that Mary Midgley confessed to never reading the Selfish Gene?

I don’t know how to make hyperlinks in comments on the Guardian site either. I thought I did, but they got stripped out. Just pasting the plain text of the link in question seems to make it clickable, though. The whole thing is a horrible mess, and will be replaced in the radiant future by some technology that actually works.

Best wishes


Richard Dawkins wrote:
> Dear Andrew
> I have posted (Comment Number 874811) a reply to an error of fact that affects me, in your otherwise admirable piece on Swedish educational policy at
> http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/andrew_brown/2007/10/gods_honest_truth.html
> It suggests that you will probably want to apologise publicly for your error, and I certainly hope that you will, because I think the false suggestion about me is really quite damaging, since it suggests that I am far more dictatorial and illiberal than anybody should be.
> By the way, I don’t know how to do hyperlinks in such postings, which you obviously do. I’d quite like to abbreviate the url citations in my posting.
> Thanks and best wishes
> Richard

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4 Responses to Midgley, Dawkins update and end

  1. chris y says:

    Jesus fucking tapdancing Christ on a bike! I read about half the comments on your CiF piece and couldn’t bear any more. I wish I believed that IQ was a valid measure of anything, so I could take comfort in the fact that by definition half the population has one in two figures. These people are the people who read broadsheets, ffs!

    Anyway, Dawkins. Yes, I threw ‘The Extended Phenotype’ across the room because the introductory chapter consisted largely of a justification for claiming the right to define your own terms in debate while reserving the right to interpret your opponent’s terms as you like. This was not a cheap gesture, let me tell you: it was a borrowed copy and I threw it quite hard.

    Dawkins may well be a perfectly good practical biologist – I’m not qualified to comment; as an advocate he is a damned liability. I hope Simonyi is pleased with the work he has done.

  2. acb says:

    testing? Someone said they couldn’t post a comment here.

  3. Iorwerth Thomas says:

    Well, that comment thread pretty much killed what little remaining faith I had in the rationality and fair mindedness of human-kind…

  4. quinn says:


    Andrew, you’re my hero.

Comments are closed.