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It’s interesting how a simple word, a name or a book title can cause twitching in the knee area. I predicted we would see a rash of this syndrome with the publication of Richard Dawkins new book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. We are going to see more of the syndrome as the book reviews and other publicity appear in our newspapers and magazines.

One of the most common symptoms of the knee jerking goes right back the Terry Eagleton’s early review of Dawkins’ previous book, The God Delusion. That is the charge that Dawkins had no right to produce that book because he is not a religious philosopher or theologian (see Do you believe in a god?).

I think this symptom also indicates laziness on the part of the sufferer. The delusion that a review of titles, or ones own prejudices, will suffice rather than a proper review of the book. The syndrome seems more common in individuals also suffering from other afflictions involving mystical beliefs, or conviction of the existence of gods who look out for them.

Even though Dawkins’ new book does not deal directly with these mystical beliefs those knees are still jerking – as readers will note from recent comments here (see Dawkins bashing season upon us?). I thought it would be interesting to reintroduce something written by PZ Myers, author of the science blog Pharyngula, three years ago -  The Courtier’s Reply. Many of you will have read it before but its a great piece of writing and deserves to be more widely known. So I repeat it below:

“I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed – how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry – but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.”

By the way. Myers is currently writing a book. I imagine we will see it some time next year. He certainly has great literary skill so I imagine it will be a best seller.
I look forward to it.


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