The Enemies of Reason

This two part series, presented by Richard Dawkins, was shown on British TV this month. The reviews have been very good. The chances of seeing it on New Zealand TV are probably very remote.

However, copies of both programmes are now available on the internet. Have a look below and give me some feedback.

Part 1: Slaves to Superstition

Part 2: The Irrational Health Service

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4 responses to “The Enemies of Reason

  1. I had a look at the documentary and have written up my thoughts on my own blog at http://deisidaimon.wordpress.com . Basically, I think that people who claim that Dawkins is strident in his attacks on superstitious people have failed to make a vital distinction – he is very much against superstition but he seems quite open, friendly and understanding towards those who are superstitious. Of course, this is only if he does not feel that they are con artists and that is 1) a different issue and 2) not what he usually thinks as most of the time he seems to conclude that people self-delude before deluding anyone else.

    What I am not so sure about is his evaluation of superstition as a very serious threat. I do not mean that I disagree with him – I just do not think we have clear evidence that superstition is an important causal factor.

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  2. On the basis that everyone deserves as many chances as they can to explain themselves, I have looked at the above from Richard Dawkins. Previously, I have been less than impressed with his ideological approach against religion per se. It is important to speak out against superstition. Richards expose is not as dangerous as stated by Baha’i leaders 100 years ago in which people lost their lives by following various superstitious practices. The Baha’i Faith was founded on strong messages of both reason and faith. Its members have put their lives on the line for reason. “God has endowed man with intelligence and reason whereby he is required to determine the verity of questions and propositions. If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith p. 240) It is up to anyone who commits to reason to unbiasedly investigate the prayerful life, the spiritual search, the life and teachings of Baha’u’llah. On the other hand, if the seeker begins with a preconceived answer to the question, then where is the search? The scientist who does the same, designs methodologies to give them their own answer. These scientists are sometimes found out and are defrocked, but not all questions are raised to all scientific issues when politics, status etc are involved. The characteristics at the basis of all seeking for truth are an honesty that can only be supported by a deeply reflective life.
    The evidence for this is definitely in the practice.

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  3. I agree with your comments on Dawkins, Konrad. I think those who call him “blind”, “arrogant”, “fundamentalist” etc., are really being defensive. He may often be “militant” but I think that has value.
    Enjoyed the postings on your blog (am going to get our local library to order Linden’s book as I would like to read it).
    I sometimes wonder if Dawkins and others underestimate the likely “holding power” of superstition and religion. It might be that our species has evolved to be comfortable with such approaches, and to find the rational, scientific approach uncomfortable. This is Dawkins’ point about our evolving in a “middle world” and therefore finding the modern scientific knowledge to be really not “common sense” – quantum mechanics being an example.
    Also, I understand that in our perceptions we are always trying to fit things into a preconceived model or map of reality. Consequently we often don’t see what is in front of us. Perhaps we have evolved to be more comfortable with superstitious or religious models? (While at the same time developing methodologies enabling us to really explore the real world).
    On the other side, I believe there is a widespread thirst for scientific knowledge and for rational explanations. But perhaps the way we have evolved means that superstition is not going to disappear for a very long time and that as a species we will continue to use both approaches to reality.

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  4. Owen, I agree with the comment “If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science they are mere superstitions and imaginations”. It reminds me of the Dalai Lama’s comment on science – that where Buddhist teachings are contradicted by scientific knowledge then Buddhism must change.
    However, it still seems to be the case that people with strong religious or superstitious convictions find difficulty in adjusting them to new knowledge. That’s probably understandable – as you say scientists can design methodologies to give them their own answer. The advantage that scientists have is that their social structure, the critical approach of colleagues and the peer review system, eventually undermines this resistance. Eventually scientists have to adjust to giving up their most cherished theories in the face of empirical evidence and reason. This does encourage a humility. On the other hand, I think, religion tends to work in the opposite direction, protecting cherished beliefs and desperately holding onto dogma. Even to the extent, sometimes, of denying established knowledge (as for example the adherents of intelligent design).

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