Richard “Adolf” Dawkins?

You know, as tempting as it was to make the title of this post “Richard Dawkins hates Jews”… No, I will do no such thing.

Evolution News & Views is great, it really is. One minute they’re posting about the Problem of Evil and hormone receptor evolution, and the next they’re launching an attack on poor Richard Dawkins, claiming that he’s an anti-​​Semite. Yes, that’s right, you didn’t read incorrectly — anti-​​Semite. You know, a person who hates Jewish people. Yep, one of those types.

David Klinghoffer has it in his head that Dawkins has a “Jewish Problem”. And why does he think this way?

In his new book, currently the #22 best seller on Amazon, The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, Dawkins calls Darwin critics “history-​​deniers” and dwells on the comparison, even remarking that “The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust.”

Is that some sort of cruel joke? The evidence for Darwin’s account of evolution and, more so, its controversial mechanism of natural selection is a matter of inference, no matter how strong you think the inference is. The evidence for the Holocaust includes countless eye-​​witness accounts — a very different and superior order of evidence.

Now, I’m going to preface what I’m about to say very carefully: I think the Holocaust happened, and it happened in the way that sane (read: almost all) historians think it did. But David is simply wrong if he thinks that the Holocaust is something that should be intellectually-​​elevated above other claims.

The Holocaust and evolutionary theory are both supported by inference, how could they not be? Do you not infer from the evidence left by the Nazis at the various concentration camp locations? In a historian’s mind, they have to first form a hypothesis about what happened in history, and then see if the observations in the real world match that hypothesis. Do the predictions that the “Holocaust hypothesis” makes predict what is found? If so, you have strong evidence that such an event occurred. You have inferred from the data.

David is also raising eye-​​witness accounts to a level which they don’t belong. Of course, when you have thousands and thousands of testimonies about an event occurring, it does raise your suspicions, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t justify anything near an absolute belief that the event occurred. It may sound a little harsh when I say this, but the testimony of a lot of people is still anecdotal evidence — and such evidence is weak. Of course, the thousands of accounts of the Holocaust coupled with the hard physical evidence provides more than enough justification to say that it occurred, but to say that eye-​​witness testimony is “a very different and superior order of evidence” is just plain wrong.

No matter how emotional something is, no one is fully justified in saying that something is true because “someone said that they saw it”. If my father told me that he had seen my mother die, I’d probably believe him. However, his testimony would be nowhere near as strong as seeing her body for myself. With the hard evidence, I am more justified in my belief compared with the word of someone else. The Holocaust is emotional, sure, but the testimony of the victims does not instantly become “super evidence” just because they suffered horribly.

I think David’s attacks on Dawkins are a little bit forced. I heard you gasp when I said that, but hold with me for a minute. Why do I think so? Well, I’ll show you:

But if Rush Limbaugh, for example, used “outrageous, deeply offensive and inappropriate” Nazi comparisons to stigmatize sponsors and supporters of health-​​care reform, why is it no less outrageous to compare people (like the late Irving Kristol, for example) who doubt Darwinian evolution to the moral cretins who deny the Holocaust?

Forced? Definitely. Only someone who was looking for things to pin on Dawkins unfairly could come up with such a half-​​baked attack.

David, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Emotional and moral issues are just that — emotional and moral. They have no real objective basis, so when someone uses references to Nazis and the Holocaust to support a point in a moral debate, it is somewhat justified to complain that the two things being compared are in no way similar. However, when you start talking about objective knowledge, like whether or not evolution is correct, or whether or not the Holocaust happened, parallels can be drawn, and they can be drawn without offense.

The fact that the Holocaust happened is removed from the emotions surrounding it — as I explained before, no matter how bad something is, that does not count as evidence in favour of its existence. The Holocaust happened, and there is a large body of evidence supporting that it did. Evolutionary theory is also correct, and there is a large body of evidence supporting it as well. To drawn comparisions between the bodies of evidence is not something that anyone should get worked up over.

Dawkins isn’t bringing the emotions of the Holocaust into his comparison. If he had, eg. “The evangelicals that rail against evolution are just like the Nazis who killed Jews in World War Two,” then David would have some ground to argue on. But Dawkins is comparing the denial of the facts of evolution with the denial of the facts of the Holocaust, nothing more.

David also attacks Dawkins for what he said in The God Delusion and various interviews:

In his last book, The God Delusion, Dawkins used incredibly offensive language in characterizing the God of the Hebrew Bible, whom he called among other things, “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-​​freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Now in a Newsweek interview he repeats the insult, saying: “The God of the Old Testament is a monster. It’s very, very hard for anybody to deny that. He’s like a hyped-​​up Ayatollah Khomeini.” Asked by Newsweek’s Lisa Miller where this leaves the “90 percent of Americans [who] say they believe in God” and of whom “some portion…are intelligent people,” Dawkins replies, “But they wouldn’t disagree with what I said about the God of the Old Testament. They’d probably say something like, ‘Oh, that’s quite different. We believe in the God of the New Testament.’”

This places Jews among the portion of believing Americans who would have to be characterized as unintelligent. Miller calls Dawkins on this. He then says of Jews: “Well, sure enough. They’d say, ‘OK, we’ve moved on since that time.’ Thank goodness they have.”

In other words, you can be an intelligent Christian who takes his Bible at least somewhat seriously, but not an intelligent Jew who does the same. And this is a statement, from a very prominent public intellectual, a popular and respected scientist and author, that neither the ADL nor any other Jewish anti-​​defamation group I’m aware of sees fit to protest? I find this bewildering.

Ooh-​​kay. While it certainly superficially seems that Dawkins is implying that Jews are unintelligent, this is not the case. Dawkins knows, as a skeptic, that people can easily rationalise away problems with their beliefs, and intelligent people can rationalise even better than unintelligent people. So there’s bound to be some percentage of fundamentalist Christians and Jews that are intelligent, yet believe in the God of the Old Testament. This charge David is laying on Dawkins is dishonest — David surely knows his position on this, but is choosing to ignore it in order to drum up more discontent.

Bad form, David Klinghoffer, bad form. Any closing quotes you want to leave us with?

…where on earth is the ADL [Anti-​​Defamation League] when you need them?

Not wasting their precious time with someone who is only anti-​​Semitic in your mind.

[This was cross-​​posted on my own personal blog, Homologous Legs]