New enemy of reason?

Melanie Phillips discusses Dawkin’s new series in the Daily Mail, today. She starts by agreeing with Dawkins about New Age woo, but, then, oddly argues that this has become popular because reason-based Christian faith (no, really) has declined. The title:

Arrogance, dogma and why science – not faith – is the new enemy of reason

If you’ve ever read the G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown books, this was a constant theme. Ironic, when the voice of reason was a fictional Catholic priest invented by an extreme right-winger. Bizarre when the voice of reason is a Daily Mail columnist.

Echoing my thoughts about where she got the idea from, Mel P refers to Father Brown:

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?

So, her argument here is believe in the biggest myth so you don’t believe in the little myths, like aromatherapy? In that case, so far, the little myths have much less blood on their hands. So, in soem ways, New Age nonsense might be a slight improvement – if equally as absurd and even more self-obsessed than traditional religions.

No, as it turns out, for Melanie Phillips, it’s non-believers who are irrational.

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

Ranting about Dawkin’s opposition to belief in miracles leads her down some wierd logically inconsistent alleyways.

E.g. The Judeo-Christian churches are based on truth. However, the Biblical miracles are just metaphor or misunderstanding…. Oh, so not actually truth, as such, then?

The culmination seems to be that science can’t tell us anything because it leads to “scientism” a dubious “ism” that may have been invented for the purpses of the column.

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.

OK, my level of science knowledge is rudimentary, at best, but I am pretty certain that the Big Bang doesn’t feature in any consideration of the theory of evolution.

The BBC’s fascinating new Atoms series mentioned last week that Fred Hoyle disliked the Big Bang Theory on the grounds that to him, as an atheist, the idea smacked too much of the Hand of God.

Dare I suggest that Mel P watched the same programme? And understood even less of the physics than I did? So the mention of atheism and Big Bang in the same sentence got them confused in her mind? So she assumed that physicist was approximately equal to biologist? And that Dawkins was somehow involved in promoting the Big Bang theory?

Wait, here’s the punchline. From the flawlessly logical mental processes of Mel P, here comes Intelligent Design, the REAL SCIENCE..

Moreover, since science essentially takes us wherever the evidence leads, {My intrusive comment= does anyone else get a whiff of CSI dialogue here?} 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.

And blimey, those brave truth-seekers are being hounded for their beliefs….

……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. …

Oh, this magical power of Dawkins to say who gets academic jobs everywhere …. There’s no point in discussing the ins and outs of this stuff in detail. Let me just say “Distinguished scientists stifled for speaking the truth, my arse” and leave it at that.

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{my emphasis} 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.

Irony laid upon irony, to form a pretty solid mattress of irony that even the most sensitive princess could get a good night’s sleep on.

Secular witch-hunts? As opposed to the real witch-hunts that ended up with people dead. And were definitely not secular. Hmm, what’s the opposite of secular?

Dogma? Hmm, if I could be bothered to look in a dictionary, I’m pretty certain it would define dogma as a set of prescribed beliefs that are part of a religion. Religion, please note.

OK, maybe she’s doing the metaphorical thing she talked about. She does say that believers don’t have to actually believe the stuff. They can treat metaphor as truth and it’s still true. But, isn’t that treating a Holy Book as just another work of fiction? Which makes perfect sense to me. Though, I somehow suspect that really isn’t what she wants to say.

All the same, it’s pretty priceless that the metaphors she has to use when she wants to talk about intolerance and blindness and stifling independent thought are all straight from the history of religion?

9 thoughts on “New enemy of reason?

  1. I have to admit know more or less nothing about him really, except I’ve read Father Brown and I sort of half- remember reading a stuff about him being a Tory Party stalwart and very enthusiastic Catholic adherent.
    I stand corrected.
    Will use the miracle of the internet to find out a bit more.

  2. Heather, this is pretty disgusting. Good deconstruction. I took on the “scientism” thing in this post. These people are getting desperate. It’s the same type of argument used by so-called “climate skeptics” who aren’t skeptics at all but cynical political manipulators. The apologists don’t have any other frame of reference, so they go with what they know.

  3. Re: G. K. Chesterton

    Chesterton wasn’t a right-winger; he just belonged to groups which have moved rightward consistently since his death, such as the Catholic church. A few salient points:

    Chesterton was an agrarian populist — if he lived today, chances are very good that he would be an environmentalist strictly on the grounds that the land must be preserved from harm.

    Chesterton was both anti-big business and anti-imperialist — read “Four Faultless Felons” (still in print) for some pretty strong stuff. (He was admittedly also racist, but find me a british mainstream author before 1960 who wasn’t)

    Chesterton protested the Boer War at the height of its popularity, which would be roughly the equivalent of picketing the Bush white house in 2002.

    Chesterton died in 1936 while on a tour to speak against the Nazis — the more he learned about them, the more dangerous he considered them, and so he continued his tour despite becoming increasingly ill.

    (It should also be remembered that Chesterton died before Pius XII became Pope and the Catholic church decided to cuddle up to the Nazis.)

    I’m not excusing his racism, or indeed his devotion to the Catholic church. I’m just saying: if Chesterton lived today, and had the same opinions, then (after his head finished exploding over the direction of the Catholic church) he would probably be left of center.

  4. Yes, I agree with Black Sun – good deconstruction. Wow.


    Heather said: “science can’t tell us anything because it leads to “scientism” a dubious “ism” that may have been invented for the purposes of the column.”

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t invented for this column as I’m guessing Black Sun gets into in his rebuttal (I’ll check the link later). I’ve been hearing it more and more the past couple of years from those who support Religionism (we can play that one too). I heard some guy from Templeton dropping the term several times when he spoke at the 2006 Beyond Belief Conference.

    Heather is quite right (although I’m no expert either) that Darwin never said anything about ultimate origins, just origins of species (once there WAS life, how it evolved into the various species that have lived and do live). Are Dawkins never has claimed otherwise. Origins of life is a different, albeit related, subject that is continually be worked on and there are some really interesting theories though none of them is yet as rock-solid as the Darwinian theory of species.

    That’s all side issue though. The point I get from your post is that there is a whole lot of Orwellian double speak going on here when we start claiming that religion = reason and science = dogma.

    Again – WOW.

  5. Oh, OK… then you can feel free to delete my second posting of basically the same comment. It makes me appear even more ignorant than I actually am!

    By the way, the link is for the entire 15 or so hours of the Beyond Belief Conference. I watched the entire thing – it was THAT GOOD. But I’ll find the part that was just about the Templeton guy and get it to you. He was actually fairly interesting though I totally disagreed with him as did nearly everyone at the conference, which you will see if you end up watching it. The link is nicely divided up into the various sections, in the order they occurred, so you need not slog through the whole thing but just pick and choose the speakers you’d like to see.

  6. The guys name is Charles Harper, senior vice-president of the John Templeton Foundation. You can see him tossing in his two cents during Q&A throughout the conference (a paritcularly interesting one of those is right after VS Ramachandran’s talk in Session 4, where he is set in his place nicely by a comment from mild-mannered Neil deGrasse Tyson). He gives his own talk in Session 8, immediately after Sir Harry Kroto. He has to leave the conference at that point, but he get roundly blasted during the Q&A by Dawkins among several others.

  7. I finally made it back to the link provided by Black Sun in comment number 3, taking you to his absolutely wonderful post. Talk about a great job of “deconstructing”! I have to recommend everyone to go check it out. It’s very, very poweful. GREAT JOB, Black Sun.

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