17 July 2013

Dawkin the walk

I'm going to stick my neck out here: I like Richard Dawkins. I like his writing, both the polemic tilts against religion and the more considered scientific writing. His contribution to the public understanding of science is profound, and if you ever doubt the scientific explanation of the universe can be poetic, I'd recommend you buy a copy of his "Unweaving the Rainbow". His refusal to kowtow to absurd woolly-mindedness because it happens to wear a dog collar, kippah or Qutwani is as necessary as it is un-English, and is, I am convinced, one of the reasons he is disliked by people who Don't Like To Make A Fuss. His desire to hold religious beliefs to the same burden of proof as any other belief systems often earns him the hilariously unoriginal sobriquet of "Atheist fundamentalist". You know, like one of those atheist fundamentalists you see all the time in England, barracking churches and blowing up vicars.

But he can be a terrible dick on twitter. Overbearing, Pooterish and, in accordance with bad twitter practice, retweeting others' praise of his work. This is particularly true when he steps outside the bounds of his usual academic interests and picks up something from current affairs or, even worse, sport. This week, he rather unwisely stepped into the debate about cricket and the morality of "walking". In a test match this week, an England player, Stuart Broad, was inexplicably not given out by the umpire, despite very evidently been caught after he hit the ball.

By way of background for the non-aficionado, in some quarters it is seen as being in the "spirit of the game" of cricket, that if you know you are out, you should walk off the pitch without waiting for the Umpire's signal, much less wait around on the off-chance that you might get away with it. As the debate over "walking" raged across the social networks, Prof D waded in with his size-10s:
So far, so Dawkins. But for an academic, he was playing remarkably fast and loose with some loaded terms. "Cheat", for example. So I asked Prof Dawkins:
To which he replied:
At this point, many people gently informed him that Australian cricketers have, historically, never walked in a test match (with a couple of notable exceptions). More interestingly, the perspicacious former England Rugby player Brian Moore chipped in the excellent observation that, if Broad declares himself out, despite the umpire declaring him not out, he is putting himself above the rules of the game, appealing to a higher morality. Which means, in the future, should he be given out by an umpire when he didn't hit it, by the same principle he would be entitled to refuse to leave the pitch, and declare himself still in. Clearly appealing to a higher power is sailing dangerously close to the wind for Professor Dawkins, so it was curious that at this point, he fell back onto the line of reasoning adopted by folksy preachers who can't cope with a contrary point of view:
This is like the populist firebrand claiming he doesn't need learning, evidence, strong arguments or thinking - he just knows what he knows, and has his faith to protect him against straw man arguments.
Which steered the conversation back towards something Professor Dawkins does know something about: competition, and its role in the evolution of life. Was not Stuart Broad's action natural in an environment that represents the pinnacle of competitive achievement? Was this not *whispers* Darwinism in action? Apparently not:
I couldn't resist it:
So far I have yet to receive a reply...

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