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Richard Dawkins’ Law Delusion

The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins found happiness in science, and we are all the richer for his contributions to the field. But, judging by his memoirs, we are equally fortunate that he did not pursue a career in law.

AIX-EN-PROVENCE – Richard Dawkins is one of the great minds of our time; yet in his just-published memoir, Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science, he notes that great minds often err when they leave their field of expertise. He cites the great astronomer Fred Hoyle, whose book The Nature of the Universe was essential reading a half-century ago. When Hoyle turned to biology, he went astray. The same thing happens to Dawkins when he turns from science to law.

Dawkins sees law as a tug of war. One party, he says, makes the strongest arguments for a proposition “whether they believe it or not,” and the opposing party pays somebody to make the strongest counter-arguments. The outcome is just a question of who wins the tug of war. He thinks lawyers would be more “honest and humane” if they were just to “sit down together, look at the evidence, and try to work out what really happened here.”

Dawkins’ argument is marred by three common fallacies. The first might be called the Crime Fallacy. As is true of many people, what first springs to Dawkins’ mind when he thinks of law is criminal law. Criminal trials fill a large space in the public imagination, but – to borrow a metaphor from biology – they are but one cell of law’s complex corpus. Most lawyers and judges never enter a criminal court.

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