However, despite Sutherland’s inexplicable resort to Islamophobiawatch as a source, it was pleasing to see Daniel Dennett reply to Bunting and Brown. I replied to them myself here and here but I was just filling in the time until Dennett got around to it.

I find it amusing that two Brits – Madeleine Bunting and Michael Ruse – have fallen for a version of one of the most famous scams in American folklore. When Brer Rabbit gets caught by the fox, he pleads with him: “Oh, please, please, Brer Fox, whatever you do, don’t throw me in that awful briar patch!” – where he ends up safe and sound after the fox does just that. When the American propagandist William Dembski writes tauntingly to Richard Dawkins, telling him to keep up the good work on behalf of intelligent design, Bunting and Ruse fall for it!

Yes, well, Bunting isn’t famous for staying upright for these things – but what caused Ruse’s pratfall, is an interesting and puzzling question.

A few evolutionists, such as Ruse and Eugenie Scott, the director of the national centre for science education, favour the tactic of insisting that evolutionary biology doesn’t deny the existence of a divine creator…Many others, such as Dawkins and myself, fear that the evasiveness of this gambit fuels suspicion and so contributes to ongoing confusion in the US.

And anyway this whole notion that tactics and gambits and evasion are a good idea (or, in Ruse’s apparent view, more like mandatory) depends on the idea that whatever the tactic is supposed to further is more important than whatever the tactic puts second or last. But maybe it isn’t. Teaching science instead of religion in science class is very important, but it’s not automatically or self-evidently more important than, say, telling the truth, or resisting the general idea that atheism is shameful and something to be hidden or apologized for.

Bunting says: “All protagonists in a debate have a moral responsibility to ensure that the hot air they are expending generates light, not just heat.” I agree, but Bunting goes on: “It’s a point that escapes Dawkins” – and I wonder how she cannot see that it is not Dawkins but Ruse, whom she justly describes as reckless, whose hot air ought to be allowed to vent harmlessly in the shadows, not featured in a major newspaper. I tried to do just that with my private reply, “I doubt you mean all the things you say”, to Ruse’s email. Bunting calls this “an opaque one line”. Could she not see that I was trying to bring Michael to his senses in private, before he made an ass of himself in public?

No, clearly she couldn’t – because she was too busy making common cause with the brave atheist-challenger. She couldn’t be bothered to read carefully – hence the failure to remain upright. Splat. And note what Dennet said there, twice – ‘private’. You may remember (probably not, but you may) that I have always said ‘as far as I know’ he didn’t give Ruse permission to send their correspondence to Dembski – but that ‘in private’ seems like a pretty clear sign that he didn’t give permission and wouldn’t have if he’d been asked. Not that I had any doubt on the subject, but I didn’t want to claim to know when I didn’t.

It didn’t work, but I’m glad I tried. I wish she, and Andrew Brown (When evolutionists attack, March 6), had followed my example, but I suppose that once Ruse went public, the spectacle of him calling Dawkins and me names was irresistible. It is not just the protagonists who have a moral responsibility; those who report on them have a moral responsibility to direct the public’s attention to real issues, and to avoid being complicit in publicity stunts by the likes of Dembski. If Bunting and Brown get emails from Dembski saying “Keep up the good work!”, they should search their souls.

A hit, a very palpable hit.

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