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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Have We Abandoned the Enlightenment?

The Guardian Science Experiment at the Hay Literature Festival put together Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones, and Martin Rees.

Dawkins kicked off by reminding us that although we live in a global village, we should not forget the presence of global village idiots. He said that the main question behind the assembly of the panel was to ascertain whether, as we dispose of religion, we are not replacing it with ley-lines, homeopathy, astrology, and phenomena like the psychic-sisters?

Steve Jones had a joke about homeopathy: concerning the story of the woman who forgot to take her medicine one day and died of an overdose. We did laugh.

Martin Rees thought that science should forge ties and alliances with the mainstream religions, if nothing else, for the sake of respectability.

The panel was ultimately disappointing, and mainly because these eminent scientists were too pleased with themselves and came to display a defence and belief in their disciplines which sounded little different to a declaration of faith.

In attacking people like the psychic-sisters and the mumbo-jumbo around astrology they seem to be picking on ridiculously small and soft targets, very similar to the countryside sport of shooting rabbits that have already been skinned and are cooking in a pot. Why not pick on the Pope or on the global representatives of the other religions? At least go for someone or something with a degree of power in the world. Stuffing a few astrologers or followers of ley-lines is not really going to change the mindset of many. We already know that these people are looking for a way of escaping reality, and we also know that, generally speaking, they don’t represent a threat to anyone.

Also, there are real questions which such a panel could have approached. In general, people don’t distrust science and scientists because they believe in psychic phenomena. They distrust science and scientists because many scientists seem to be easy to hire as apologists for corporate greed. Who do we believe when one scientist tells us that there is a problem with BSE (mad cow disease) and another tells us there is not? Who do we believe when one scientist tells us the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) immunisation is safe, and another scientist in the same field tells us it is not?

If their fight to promote the scientific method is to be successful, they would have to adopt a more humble guise and recognise their shortcomings in the market-place. The battle for rationality will not be won by arrogance.

4 Responses to “Have We Abandoned the Enlightenment?”

  1. Sue says:

    Thank you for your sane comments. These ‘enlightened’ thinkers are following money and throwing their knickers to the wind in pursuit of a good night out.

    The reason they are attacking homeopathy and all things ‘heretical’ is because the pharmaceutical companies do find us a threat. A very big threat. There is a recent report the WHO attempted to suppress, illustrating how homeopathy could save the NHS millions (yes millions). These ‘great minds’ represent the people who are attempting to ban homeopathy from the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormond Street (yes you did hear me correctly) because – well because the building is worth a great deal and they want it for ‘orthodoxy’ and they will resort to any tactic to get it. So they wheel out the ‘big guns’ and behave like the reincarnated inquisitors they really are.

  2. Pearl says:

    Hm, that’s too bad. It could have been a more nuanced humble exploration of ideas.

    jb says: Ah, Pearl, what could have been, eh?

  3. No Idea…

    Read this. This is quite easily the single worst “scientific” article I can remember ever reading. I really simply don’t……

  4. I don’t really trust science because the motivation is often negative or just plain ignorant. The area we need to develop is internally. Our problems are not so much outside as inside – negativae minds and views etc. I trust a science that develops the mind not the external world.

    jb says: Nice to hear from you, but the inner life doesn’t account for everything either. We live in the world, are it’s current custodians, and nothing ever gets better by setting things apart.