Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Dawkins' Style II

Previously I defined offensiveness as a major part of Dawkins' style. I believe I alluded to the possibility that this is what the more lauding (and therefore less laudible) reviewers may have been refering to when they said he was witty. One of the particularly noticeable parts of his "wit" include his analyses of passages he selected from various religious works or explications.l These are full of grand phrases and exaggerated criticisms. What these analyses almost invariably lack is, most surprisingly, analysis. That is, he doesn't exactly engage with the material, discuss it's points, or draw from it in any way. In the words of a professor, he doesn't explicate--in fact, if I were a TA grading this book as a paper, I would be forced to deduct significant marks because he refuses to explain his discussion of the passages he quotes. Therefore, I title this post as the second characteristic of Dawkins' style:

Lack of Explication

On page 17, Dawkins' presents a passage from a religious text (unfortunately, I returned the book and didn't write the passage down--foolish me). He then analyzes it in the following manner: "Every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice!" He then moves on. Now there's something very important to note here, and that is that, if given only his analysis, the reader can have absolutely no idea what Dawkins' is criticizing. He gives no reasons for how he came to this conclusion. Instead, he treats the matter as though he were pointing out a simple fact, as though the reader has likely come to that conclusion herself and will immediately concur. At the very least, he expects that the reader could detect the "intellectual and moral cowardice" upon going back to the passage.
Now, you might claim, that's not fair. You haven't given us the passage; maybe it is obvious. This is true, and this is why I said, "foolish me." I wish I could give you the passage, and you could see for yourself how less-than-obvious the yellow was. That is hardly the point, however; the point is that he doesn't explicate.

On page 64, he calls an arguement "This grotesque piece of reasoning." If I recall correctly, he was here refering to an explanation of suffering. Perhaps the author pushed the reasoning a little far, or articulated it in an insensitive way. However, it was hardly "grotesque," neither in the actual meaning or the newer one (ie. disgusting). More importantly, he doesn't actual discuss what he thinks is wrong with the passage; he simply calls it grotesque and then says it's "a typical piece of theological reasoning." So he 1) calls one example 'grotesque,' without explanation, and then 2) casts all theology in the same light, without explanation.

On the next page (65), Swinburg's quotation--"Too much evidence might not be good for us"--incenses Dawkins. He rages about it for a few lines, yet in all his upset he doesn't once tell us why it makes him angry. Now, I can guess at why, but that's the thing: it's only guessing. I can't actually deal with his argument, since he never articulates it.

Here I have primarily dealt with explication in the English-major sense--how he does not explain what the quotations he has chosen say. He doesn't pull apart the language and show how he gets his analysis. He gives a quotation, and then he gives a value-judgement. In all of the above cases--and more--he doesn't even remotely deal with the content or the style (and the adjectives he uses seem more style-related than content-related). As a reader, I am at a loss as to where he gets his conclusions. Now, Dawkins is a scientist. The principle of the scientific method is that hypotheses must be theoretically disprovable (this is the primary problem with M-theory). If Dawkins doesn't give explain his analyses, I have no way to disprove them, even theoretically. Therefore, in this book, Dawkins violates the very principles he so vehementally espouses.

I hope that was clear. If not, think of it this way. If you were to write a paper, you'd be asked to show your process. That way, readers could tell how you got there, and would be able to agree or disagree based on something other than your word. They'd therefore be more likely to believe you. Dawkins doesn't show his process. Where does that leave him?

In fact, this doesn't even begin to cover "lack of explication." He often makes assertions, not based on passage-analysis, that he utterly fails to support or explain. That, however, will show up in other posts--likely both Dawkins' Style III and assorted Disputing Dawkinses.

Go to the Dawkins Directory

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