Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Dawkin's Scientific Delusion

I commented in Andrew Brown's thread about the doctrine of New Atheism without realising that an unholy row was breaking out between Brown, Dawkins and Dennett about comments used on the back of a book of Brown's. Clearly the battle to sell more books was taking a precedent over the merits of New Atheism, but along the way Brown did establish that Dawkin's does identify himself as a New Atheist, and presumably Brown is one of the old types.

My own summary, 1 out of 6 - it must mean I'm just one of those natural, old-style fouled up atheists after all was of course a reference to Larkin's imagined biographer's comments in the High Windows verse Posterity. I didn't at the time realise that Brown was an atheist, imagining his six tests were a believers attempt at defining the current crop of headline atheists and their militant tendency. Knowing now that he is an atheist himself, his list either looks like a very poor parody, or failing that, an actual attempt to define a movement. Dawkins' eagerness to sign up for such a movement is a bit of a worry, egotism starting to kick in where rationalism has run its course.

Dawkins makes no bones about wanting to raise consciousness about atheism. As such the God Delusion is a great call to arms for atheists. But Dawkins seems to give the notion that god is a delusion very short shrift in his own work. I can find only one reference, on p41 of the paperback version where he mentions it in the context of the book's title. At least he acknowledges here that the book's title is what he believes, it doesn't appear to be actually described elsewhere.

If you believe that many people are in the grip of a collective delusion, what do you do next? Could you be encouraging that delusion by writing about it? If you are a respected scientist, which I understand Dawkins is, could you be lending the delusion scientific respectability?

Wikipedia furnished me with just one example of a collective delusion, the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic, but an instructive one none the less. In April 1954 residents in and around Seattle, Washington, USA began to notice more and more examples of car windshields being pitted or damaged. As the Wiki article concludes:
By April 15, close to 3,000 windshields had been reported as affected.

Finally, Sergeant Max Allison of the Seattle police crime laboratory stated that the pitting reports consisted of “5 per cent hoodlum-ism, and 95 per cent public hysteria.” By April 17, the pitting suddenly stopped.
So instead of books like Dawkins' that list the arguments for god and then knock them down again, like some sort of blended theological and scientific striptease act, maybe we just need, in the manner of Sgt Allison above, an unequivocal statement that god doesn't exist (which Dawkins actually baulks at), and a stab at killing off the rumour with a pithy jibe at the likely psychological cause.

Here's my go, but others are equally welcome to try:
God is 5 per cent do-good-ism, and 95 per cent comfort blanket.

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