And besides (she went on), what’s really irrational is to think that sentiment is irrational. It’s irrational because unrealistic, unobservant, extraterrestrial. It’s not irrational to have feelings of attachment or repugnance to things or places or people because of certain associations and memories, even if there is no possibility of material physical benefit or harm. It’s bizarrely literal-minded to think it is. The wedding ring example for instance: if it made any sense to think it’s irrational to want to keep the same one in preference to a duplicate, then nobody would ever want a wedding ring at all; the custom would never have gotten started. If it made sense to think that, then wedding rings wouldn’t mean anything, they’d just be bits of detritus like bottle caps and buttons and those plastic loops that hold sixpacks together, and nobody would bother with them. But people do bother with them, the custom did get started, wedding rings get inherited or buried with their owners, not thrown out with the tub the cottage cheese came in. Why? Because they stand for something. And valuing things because they stand for something is a common human habit, and not necessarily irrational (although in the case of flags, I have to say, it can go off the deep end). If signs and symbols are irrational then it’s irrational to value anything that’s not 100% utilitarian and necessary for survival; it’s irrational to look at sunsets, to listen to music, to read poetry, to tell jokes, to fly kites. But it’s not irrational to do any of those things. They’re extra, but extra is good. It’s irrational to think it isn’t. It’s also irrational to confuse feelings to which rationality is simply irrelevant with ones which are irrational.
And besides again, Hood has something else wrong. Even if humans tend to be irrational (which I wouldn’t dream of denying) it doesn’t follow that it’s hopeless or pointless to keep offering rational arguments about public questions, to keep saying what’s wrong with creationism (even though the Guardian said Hood said the ‘battle by scientists against “irrational” beliefs such as creationism is ultimately futile’), to keep pointing out evidence that creationism is wrong, and the like. To think it is is again unobservant and extraterrestrial. It’s not as if no one ever listens to anyone or learns anything. It’s not as if all arguments fall on deaf ears, as if all evidence gets ignored. People aren’t interchangeable units, after all (they’re like wedding rings that way); some of them listen better than others, and most of them listen better at one time than at another. Religion and superstition ebb and flow, and they vary greatly with geography, history, and culture, as do reason and science and thinking clearly. So it’s not futile to go on arguing against irrational beliefs, and doing so does not entail thinking everyone ought to abandon sentiment. So there.