More tiresome guff

This is getting to be an entire cottage industry, or maybe not even so cottage, this enterprise of saying ‘that Richard Dawkins and those other militant fundamentalist atheists are insulting and patronizing and rude and aggressive while the rest of us are tolerant and respectful and kind and good.’ Now it’s Robert Winston’s turn to take the same old guff out for a spin.

“I find the title of ‘The God Delusion’ rather insulting,” said Lord Winston, “I have a huge respect for Richard Dawkins but I think it is very patronising to call a serious book about other peoples’ views of the universe and everything a delusion. I don’t think that is helpful and I think it portrays science in a bad light.”

But if other people’s views of the universe and everything are in fact a delusion, is that really something that should never ever ever be pointed out on the grounds that it is insulting and patronizing? Should a mistake never be pointed out? Should a delusion never be called a delusion? Should all mistakes and delusions and illusions be sheltered from disagreement in that way? If so – why?

Lord Winston…will argue for a more conciliatory approach to religion in a public lecture at the University of Dundee tonight…”The reason I’ve called it the Science Delusion is because I think there is a body of scientific opinion from my scientific colleagues who seem to believe that science is the absolute truth and that religious and spiritual values are to be discounted,” said Lord Winston. “Some people, both scientists and religious people, deal with uncertainty by being certain. That is dangerous in the fundamentalists and it is dangerous in the fundamentalist scientists.”

But do they? Do they seem to believe that science is the absolute truth? Do they ever in fact say that, or anything that really resembles it? Not that I’ve seen – they tend to say the opposite: that one of the great things about science is that it’s not ‘absolute,’ that it is always subject to change if better evidence comes along.

People keep doing this – extrapolating from what Dawkins and others say in order to claim that they are saying something different and much sillier; but that is not a good thing to do (whatever your ‘religious and spiritual values’ are); it’s not legitimate; it’s not even helpful, not even to people who do think Dawkins is all wrong, because it addresses phantoms. Who is portraying what in a bad light? I’m not sure it’s Dawkins.

Lord Winston, who is a practising Jew, said the tone adopted by Prof Dawkins and others was counterproductive. “Unfortunately the neo-Darwinists, and I don’t just mean Dawkins, I mean [the philosopher] Daniel Dennett in particular and [neuroscientist] Steven Pinker are extremely arrogant. I think scientific arrogance really does give a great degree of distrust. I think people begin to think that scientists like to believe that they can run the universe.”

Right, that’s just what people begin to think; a trio of Darth Vaders trying to run the universe, that’s Dawkins and Dennett and Pinker. You bet.

The philosopher AC Grayling at Birkbeck College, London, dismissed Lord Winston’s arguments as “tiresome guff”. “Belief in supernatural entities in the universe … is false, and in the light of increasing scientific knowledge about nature has definitely come to be delusional,” he said.

Yes but we’re not allowed to say so.

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