Arrogance, dogma and why science - not faith - is the new enemy of reason
By MELANIE PHILLIPS
Added: Sun, 05 Aug 2007 23:00:00 UTC
Our most celebrated atheist, the biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, has briefly turned his attention away from bashing people who believe in God.
Instead, he is about to bash people who subscribe to 'new age' therapies which he says are based on 'irrational superstition'.
In a TV programme to be shown later this month, Dawkins looks at a range of ludicrous therapies and gurus, including faith healers, psychic mediums, 'angel therapists', 'aura photographers', astrologers and others.
Not surprisingly, he is horrified by such widespread irrationality, not to mention an exploitative industry that fleeces people while encouraging them to run away from reality. He is right to be alarmed.
What previously belonged to the province of the quack and the charlatan has become mainstream. The NHS provides funding for shamans, while the NHS Directory For Alternative And Complementary Medicine promotes 'dowsers', 'flower therapists' and 'crystal healers'.
Indeed, such therapies aren't the half of it. Millions of us are now eager to believe that the world is controlled by conspiracies of covert forces, for which there is not one shred of evidence because such theories are simply bonkers.
Thus Press articles and TV documentaries seriously advance the belief that the 9/11 attacks on America were orchestrated by the U.S. government itself. Similarly, thousands believe that Princess Diana was murdered at the hands of a conspiracy composed of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and MI5.
Bestselling books by the former TV sports presenter David Icke, who has announced he is 'the son of God', argue that Britain will be devastated by tidal waves and earthquakes, and that the world is ruled by a secret group called the 'Global Elite' or 'Illuminati' which was responsible for the Holocaust, the Oklahoma city bombing and 9/11.
These trends are not just nutty but sinister. Thousands of cults now combine similar crazy beliefs with programmes to control people's minds and behaviour.
Their techniques include food and sleep deprivation; trance induction through hypnosis or prolonged rhythmical chanting; and 'love bombing', where cult members are bombarded with conditional love which is removed whenever there is a deviation from the dictates of the leader.
Disturbing indeed. But where Dawkins goes wrong is to assume this is all as irrational as believing in God. The truth is that it is the collapse of religious faith that has prompted the rise of such irrationality.
We are living in a scientific, largely post-religious age in which faith is presented as unscientific superstition. Yet paradoxically, we have replaced such faith by belief in demonstrable nonsense.
It was GK Chesterton who famously quipped that "when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything." So it has proved. But how did it happen?
The big mistake is to see religion and reason as polar opposites. They are not. In fact, reason is intrinsic to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The Bible provides a picture of a rational Creator and an orderly universe - which, accordingly, provided the template for the exercise of reason and the development of science.
Dawkins pours particular scorn on the Biblical miracles which don't correspond to scientific reality. But religious believers have different ways of regarding those events, with many seeing them as either metaphors or as natural occurrences which were invested with a greater significance.
The heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the belief in the concept of truth, which gives rise to reason. But our postreligious age has proclaimed that there is no such thing as objective truth, only what is "true for me".
That is because our society won't put up with anything which gets in the way of 'what I want'. How we feel about things has become all-important. So reason has been knocked off its perch by emotion, and thinking has been replaced by feelings.
This has meant our society can no longer distinguish between truth and lies by using evidence and logic. And this collapse of objective truth has, in turn, come to undermine science itself which is playing a role for which it is not fitted.
When science first developed in the West, it thought of itself merely as a tool to explore the natural world. It did not pour scorn upon religion; indeed, scientists were overwhelmingly religious believers (as many still are).
In modern times, however, science has given rise to 'scientism', the belief that science can answer all the questions of human existence. This is not so.
Science cannot explain the origin of the universe. Yet it now presumes to do so and as a result it has descended into irrationality.
The most conspicuous example of this is provided by Dawkins himself, who breaks the rules of scientific evidence by seeking to claim that Darwin's theory of evolution - which sought to explain how complex organisms evolved through random natural selection - also accounts for the origin of life itself.
There is no evidence for this whatever and no logic to it. After all, if people say God could not have created the universe because this gives rise to the question "Who created God?", it follows that if scientists say the universe started with a big bang, this prompts the further question "What created the bang?"
Indeed, if the origin of life were truly spontaneous, this would constitute what religious people would call a miracle. Accordingly, this claim in itself resembles not so much science as the superstition that Dawkins derides.
Moreover, since science essentially takes us wherever the evidence leads, the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research - which have revealed the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life - have thrown into doubt the theory that life emerged spontaneously in a random universe.
These findings have given rise to a school of scientists promoting the theory of Intelligent Design, which suggests that some force embodying purpose and foresight lay behind the origin of the universe.
While this theory is, of course, open to vigorous counter-argument, people such as Prof Dawkins and others have gone to great lengths to stop it being advanced at all, on the grounds that it denies scientific evidence such as the fossil record and is therefore worthless.
Yet distinguished scientists have been hounded and their careers jeopardised for arguing that the fossil record has got a giant hole in it. Some 570 million years ago, in a period known as the Cambrian Explosion, most forms of complex animal life emerged seemingly without any evolutionary trail.
These scientists argue that only 'rational agents' could have possessed the ability to design and organise such complex systems.
Whether or not they are right (and I don't know), their scientific argument about the absence of evidence to support the claim that life spontaneously created itself is being stifled - on the totally perverse grounds that this argument does not conform to the rules of science which require evidence to support a theory.
As a result of such arrogance, the West - the crucible of reason - is turning the clock back to a pre-modern age of obscurantism, dogma and secular witch-hunts.
Far from upholding reason, science itself has become unreasonable. So when Prof Dawkins fulminates against 'new age' irrationality, it is the image of pots and kettles that comes irresistibly to mind.
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