Sleight of hand

Ch.1, §1: ‘Deserved Respect’ (pp.31–41), continued

Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God …, inviting misunderstanding by supernaturalists eager to misunderstand and claim so illustrious a thinker as their own (p.34).

Most of the time, Dawkins wants a good, clean fight, arguments bared. There is a strand running through the book, however, where he indulges himself in a little character assassination – building a picture, by explicit and implicit means, of his opponents (the ‘supernaturalists’) as weak-minded, argument-shy, and intellectually dishonest. We’ll see some more egregious examples later on, but a minor case appears here, in those words ‘eager to misunderstand’. Maybe Dawkins means ‘eager to claim Einstein as their own, which woud (as it turns out) be a misunderstanding’. It reads, however, as if the supernaturalists turn a blind eye to what they know or suspect, in order to claim a scalp to which they know themselves unentitled.

Of course, perhaps some supernaturalists really are ‘eager to misunderstand’. It is possible, and there may be times when, despite our best efforts to be charitable, it’s the only interpretation we can place on their behaviour.

Perhaps, though, some of them simply do misunderstand, despite their best intentions? That would be understandable, after all, if Einstein’s language really is as misleading as Dawkins says. (It would be even more understandable if I am right and even Dawkins has misunderstood Einstein.)

An insinuations of dishonesty is not itself an argument, even if it might in some circumstances be the conclusion to one.

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