Richard Dawkins

Sunday 4 May 2008

I love Richard Dawkins. He has such a wonderful mind; God must have especially loved knitting that together in his mother's womb. Heh!

Just been watching the first episode of The Enemies of Reason. He went off tonight to New Age fairs and spiritualist meetings talking to dowsers and tarot card readers about their practices, performing a few experiments. The dowsers underwent a double-blind experiment to test their abilities. Bottles containing either water or sand were hidden inside plastic bins and the dowsers went about choosing which bins contained the water. They all only got as many right as you would estimate would happen according to chance. And yet afterwards, they all had reasons why they continued to believe that their dowsing abilities remained intact.

I must admit, it seemed like one of those human quirks that people would continue trusting their dowsing ablities after they had been proven false. But people say that about God, also. I know nothing about dowsing. Do I think it's possible that people can use funny little tine things to find water? I guess so. I know nothing about how water is found from above the ground but I guess this whole deal must have developed somehow. These people must have had success finding water with their methods in the past, or they wouldn't still be called dowsers, I guess. Why couldn't they perform under a clinical trial situation? Who the hell knows? Perhaps they're all whackoes who have been found out. Perhaps they really do have some as-yet-scientifically unverifiable ability to dowse for water, and it is an intuitive, sensitive thing which is much harder to tune into when you have a camera and a bunch of people waiting to watch you fail (in the same kind of strange way that you feel guilty when you see a policeman, even though you've done nothing wrong. Performance anxiety. Who knows?)

Richard Dawkins reveres truth. I admire his heartfelt admiration for the universe. He loves verifiable, experimental truth and bemoans the reduction of students studying scientific subjects in English universities in the last several years (as he should). Dawkins compared astrology with astronomy, wondered why it was that a patently stupid system fills the pages of newspapers, takes up more space than the reportage of regularly occurring scientific discoveries about our amazing universe that go on under our noses every day without us knowing. Dawkins waxed lyrical about the amazing time machine that is the night sky, viewed in the countryside on a moonless night, with the spectre of billions of stars passing before our gaze which began their journey when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

I adore Dawkins' mind and passion. I admire his revering of reason and understand his concern about the explosion of interest in subjective realities and the snake oil salesmen that come along with that territory, the vulnerabilities of grieving people exploited by the medium who is giving a word from their loved ones in spiritualist halls.

But there is a balance in everything. And so while I enjoyed and was agreeing with so much of what he had to say, laughing my way through the show (how lovely to be in a position where these days I don't feel the need to take a hardline stand for God and demonise the person who is dismissing his existence in the process), it was still a case of, "Yes, Richard, yes, Richard, yes, Richard ... oh, well, I don't know about that" (although, not very much in this show. The show where he was proclaiming belief in God as a delusion was much more hard-going than seeing him denounce tarot cards and astrological signs, despite my chakra adventurings). But it's easy to denounce tarot readers, but it's just as easy to denounce Christianity and God's existence and criticise those things as crutches. But life is 400 million times more stranger, mysterious, terrifying than we want it to be. We all take solace in certainties and safeties because if we don't we will go insane. For those of us who have ventured into more subjective internal spiritual unverifiable certainties, blessed are us who have not seen and yet believe. Of course, within that belief there is the concern that what if, what if we've got it wrong? What if? I think asking ourselves that reasonably regularly is evidence of a people who have their wits about them, rather than doubters of faith. The answering call always comes, however faint or small or subjective seeming, at least for me. And there is no way to prove it to the rest of the world. And there is no need to, I guess. But oh, gee, sometimes I wish we could :)

But then, practitioners of science always seem to me to be betraying the endeavour and enquiry of their own field when they dismiss out of hand something which is inherently unprovable. Especially when they look at those billions of stars in that countryside sky.


  1. sue: i really enjoyed this post. i love the spirit of it.

  2. Sue,
    Sorry to see you defending astrology and tarot cards. If it's tosh, let's call it tosh.

  3. Hey Rob - thanks dude

    Hiya GFN - nah, I'm not defending either of those things. I'll jump right in with you and call them tosh. Tosh :)

  4. I wish I had dragged myself away from the Logies and watched this! What can I say, Im an award show tragic!
    Must watch the second episode next week!

  5. Whose frock did you like the best Flange?

    (I was gonna indulgently watch some of the Logies too, and not tell anyone - even though now I've just told a whole lot of people - but I'm glad to say I did manage to see Bindi Irwin getting her award. That kid is such a little prat. Blergh.

    :) Yeah, I know. I need one of those "Bitch" stickers on the back of Olive, don't I?


Newer Older