Richard Dawkins and the Mythology of Science
Yesterday I spend an hour or two watching 'Enemies of Reason' in which Richard Dawkins picked his way through alternative health fairs, water dowsing trials, and conversations with spiritual health gurus with remarkable good cheer only broken by asides to the camera in which he noted the downfall of science amongst the common man and reminded us that it is science that has given us the longevity to live for eighty years whilst imagining that chakras, invisible sky gods and laws of attraction are providing us with prosperity.
Throughout the documentary, Dawkins lamented repeatedly that we no longer regard scientists highly, that instead we regard them with mistrust. This mistrust of science is so deep seated that when a half baked magazine article announced some unproven alleged links between the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine and autism, parents began to not inoculate their children. Within a couple of years, Britain saw the first death from measles in over a decade. Oops.
Whilst I admire Dawkins, his journey has always seemed something like that of Atlas with his boulder. He decries myth and superstition and encourages us instead, to seek facts. Dawkins seems to believe that if only everyone could be educated, they would set aside superstition and embrace science. We would see a golden age of reason in which proof is paramount and evidence is key.
But Dawkins ignores the very nature of humanity. We are, by our very natures, silly, superstitious little twits. We are primed to see spirits in trees and rocks, we are primed to believe in ghosts (it is said that the same mechanism that allows us to understand the existence of real people who are not immediately in our presence can also be triggered to make us believe in ghosts,) we are primed to believe in what Dawkins so rightly calls 'mumbo jumbo.'
Your average human is not interested in discovering facts, which are usually fairly cold. Science does not affirm the importance of a single human being in a way that myth and religion do. In science, your death is a matter of statistical analysis, in religion, your death is a beautiful homecoming to the life force that bore you. Given a choice, most people will prefer to believe in the latter rather than the former, no matter how much evidence exists for the former.
Your average human is interested in weaving a rich tapestry of story and myth that justifies his or her existence and provides comfort at the end of life. Dawkins says that this is a dangerous tendency that must not be tolerated, and in many respects, he is right. People who pray for the health of the child in the diabetic coma rather than seek medical treatment for it, are, evolutionarily speaking, carriers of maladaptive religiosity traits. However, as Dawkins himself discovers, people who believe in supernatural phenomena do so honestly and wholeheartedly. When dowsers are presented with evidence that shows they do not possess the powers they believe they have, they are not so much angry as they are genuinely puzzled and confused.