Thank you to those of you who have contacted me about the launch of PEDANTS. Please do be on the lookout for examples of people who don’t think sensibly (to give you the sorts of categories to spot, then read the Max Shulman story mentioned on 17th Jan. But to give you an example of the sort of thing we’re after, here is a classic, taken from James Sire’s recent but excellent book WHY GOOD ARGUMENTS OFTEN FAIL (which was, incidentally, the book that first put me onto the Shulman story). He describes a lecture he attended given by Richard Dawkins no less.
He had given a lecture on the nature of science, comparing his academic understanding with those of astrologers and the British tabloids. I was in the audience. In a formal question-and-answer session, i asked him why he did not compare his view of science to that of design scientist Michael Behe. Dawkins replied, “Well, Behe believes in God.”
He paused for a moment to let that sink in. Then he added, “And besides that, Michael Behe is lazy.” He went on to say that the ‘irreducibly complexities’ Behe finds in the biosphere are not necessarily irreducibly complex. He should be looking for the explanation for how these complex structures could have been formed by natural ‘evolutionary pathways’.
When i pointed out that this was argumentum ad hominem (argument against the man), Dawkins said ‘Yes’, but then went on to emphasize how lazy Behe is.
Another man in the audience then said, “Professor Dawkins, I wonder if you know the problem we have here in the US with people who want creation taught in the classroom.” The specific question i asked never did get answered. Behe was, of course, not present.
James Sire, Why Good Arguments Often Fail, IVP 2006, p63
This is a classic case of poisoning the well – so that the arguments presented get rejected before even being evaluated because of their proposer’s apparent inadequacies or even worse, political incorrectness. People do it all the time and that needs to be challenged – but at the same time, we’ve got to watch we don’t do it either.