Have you ever listened to your local TV News broadcast or read a story in your local paper that deals with a subject that you know about, and been amazed at the inaccuracy of the reporting? I have, which is why I mention it. In fact, more often that not, when I know something about the subject being reported, I will see how incredibly sloppy or just plain wrong the reported news is.
It makes me wonder, what are the chances that these 2 or 3 stories are the only ones being incorrectly reported? Considering that we have first-hand information on perhaps less than 1% of the reported news we listen to or read, couldn’t it be just coincidence that these were also the inaccurate stories? So, what is more probable: that our small, non-random sample of news reporting has coincidently found the handful of badly reported stories, or that our sample challenges the credibility of all news reporting? I am inclined to think that it is more probable to think that most, if not all, news stories are chock full of inaccuracies and just plain false information. At the very least, it challenges my credulity in the news media.
Now, let’s apply this same reasoning to some other non-fiction work, say, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I freely admit to not being a scientist and I can’t converse intelligently on the specifics of micro-biology or whatever. Dawkins and friends have occasionally accused people like Behe, Dembski and others of misleading non-scientists with their slick presentations. This is to imply, of course, that folks like Dawkins would never stoop to misleading anyone with bad logic or misinformation. But who (aside from other scientists) is to say that this is true? As I said, I’m a relative simpleton, who must decide who to believe based on who appears most credible. Isn’t this the case with most of us?
But, there are some things that I do know, so I can start there. Take dualism, for example, the belief that there is a difference between matter (your brain) and the mind, or between body and soul. I know something of dualism, as I’ve been a dualist my entire life. Most of my friends are dualists. (I also know some duelists, but that’s another matter.) Dawkins begins his discussion of dualism innocently enough, saying that a dualist recognizes a distinction between matter and mind. Then, he accuses dualists (all of them) of believing the mind is a disembodied spirit that could leave the body, that mental illness is demon possession, and that dualists “personify inanimate physical objects at the slightest opportunity, seeing spirits and demons even in waterfalls and clouds.”
If I were completely ignorant of the topic, I might conclude, “dualists are completely wacko,” which, of course, is what Dawkins wishes you to think. However, I personally know of no dualists who believe spirits reside in either waterfalls or clouds. I do believe in spirits, good and evil; however I do not assume that mental illness is necessarily demon possession. Many duallists do not believe in spirits (other than the human mind or spirit). Here, I have to believe that Dawkins is being intentionally inaccurate, as any high school student could easily research and understand the topic, and present a more accurate description.
Dawkins makes similar claims that tax-free money taken in by American churches is “polishing the heels of already well-heeled televangelists.” Having been on a few church boards, I can say without hesitation that none of these churches’ money has gone to any televangelist. Again, this is something quite easy to fact-check. Dawkins’ book is full of such broad brush strokes and inaccuracies. This appears to be typical Dawkins-style rhetoric, which only works if you are totally clueless about the subject matter being discussed; it only takes a bit of knowledge on the topics, and a rudimentary understanding of logic, to recognize them.
So, what do we make of Dawkins? Is he, perhaps, just ignorant of issues of dualism and the workings of American church finances? Is he incredibly sloppy on mundane issues, but suddenly painstakingly accurate when he is explaining the errant arguments of Intelligent Design or the certainty of evolution “by slow, gradual degrees?” Can we therefore excuse these lapses of accuracy and accept as credible his statement that “We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that – an illusion“?
Looking back to my original premise, does that fact that Dawkins is so, shall we say, “inaccurate” with regard to these mundane issues imply the probability that he is also “inaccurate” with regard to more crucial issues? Or, is it just coincidence that he seems to be “inaccurate” with just the issues with which I happen to be knowledgeable?
I cannot, of course, with any logical certainty claim that a few small, white “inaccuracies” prove that he is wrong on any other topic. That would, indeed, be illogical. However, I think the odds certainly place his credibility at risk.