The humorous side of Professor Richard Dawkins is tremendous fun – ipso facto his orbiting teapots, pink unicorns and spaghetti monsters.
He is the scourge of woolly thinkers, irrational believers and apoplectic proselytizers. Who better than a softly spoken professor to make the appropriate, judicious and erudite denunciations on our behalf in the name of civilization and progress?
In his program, ‘The Enemies of Reason’, (broadcast in August 2007 on Channel 4, which I have only recently seen on Youtube), we see another side of Dawkins in which he attempts to maintain the humour while shooting himself in the foot, repeatedly, and with excruciating intellectual hubris. Ignoring Einstein who said that condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance, Dawkins takes up the torch against the forces of darkness like an emissary of Pope Gregory IX. With a frown and a nod here and a sanctimonious smirk there, he hasn’t the slightest intention of investigating anything. Having no scientific basis, these superstitious beliefs fail to demand serious scrutiny from him. The case is closed. He is certain he is right and science is simply the winner.
In dealing with astrology Dawkins takes the obvious, cheap shot at popular sun sign horoscopes. Astrology has existed in this devolved form for centuries. On the way to the Coliseum, who should pop out from behind a pillar at patrician, Richardus Dawkinsus, tugging at the hem of his toga like a scene out of ‘The Life of Brian’? Why yes, it’s a street astrologer raving on about sun signs.
No, I’m afraid the sun sign straw man won’t do, yet this is the best Dawkins can offer.
No mention, of course, of those veritable Titans of science, Kepler, Copernicus and Newton, all of whom studied what they considered to be the science of astrology in great depth. An overview of their ideas might elevate the discussion somewhat, but would sacrifice the mildly derisive, light-hearted mood of the program. Pitting himself against these heavyweights would probably get a bit wordy, requiring defensive arguments about how science has progressed, evolved, matured. Such is the turf of your Sagan or your Burke, James Burke, and Dawkins stays off it. He would be wasting his breath because in Dawkins’ world the whole topic of astrology can be safely relegated to an after-dinner conversation about the aberrant minds of the credulous. One might ask Dawkins if a conversation about the selective advantage of credulity would not be more appropriate, given the incredibly long relationship of astrology with the human race.
Astrology remains elusive, part interpretive art, part science. That apparent contradiction is guaranteed to frustrate scientists, or worse – seriously piss them off. ‘Objections to Astrology’, published in 1975 by Lawrence Jerome and Bart Bok was signed by 186 eminent scientists and 19 Nobel Prize winners. This prompted philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend to write: ‘It shows the extent to which scientists are prepared to assert their authority even in areas in which they have no knowledge whatsoever.’
Scientists are no less prone to an ego-driven need to be right than anyone else. Not just egos but Ph.Ds, livelihoods, reputations, tenured positions, and years of work may be at stake, not to mention an entire worldview which is quite a big deal. ‘We believe,’ declared the 186, ‘that the time has come to challenge directly and forcefully the pretentious claims of astrological charlatans.’
Who knew that sitting on the toilet reading Sally Brompton was tantamount to an attack on western civilisation? Apparently we are in great peril of slipping back into the dark ages if we start following astrology. The whole premise of Dawkins’ program is to warn about the dangerous ‘epidemic of superstition’ which undermines our culture. What our educated elders overlook is that whenever we find authority being asserted by self-appointed Inquisitors General for Accepted Truths, it is usually an indication that the dark ages have already arrived. Many of our modern-day inquisitors can be found on The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, (CSICOP), the American sceptical organisation, which will debunk just about anything that challenges mainstream views of the world. Richard Dawkins is a proud and crusading member. (I use the original acronym of CSICOP although they dropped the ‘COP” and became the less authoritarian-sounding CSI.) With acolytes on every continent and an insidious access to global media, they may not burn people at the stake, their weaponry may not include such elements as a fanatical devotion to the pope or nice red uniforms, but they are certainly ruthlessly efficient in their campaigns to excommunicate, silence and smear heretics. They think nothing of committing academic fraud to preserve the established order and according to psychology professor Richard Kammann, are ‘guilty of the very pathological science they were set up to attack.’ Arguments must be decisively won, positions ruthlessly defended, for if one inch of ground is given, the fear is that floodgates will open, that an entire worldview will fall apart and take civilization with it. Clearly such an epic struggle can take no prisoners or pull its punches, but it can only seem hypocritical to claim a rational and dispassionate approach to science when the battle for ‘truth’ is so fraught with acrimony and deception. In such entrenched, emotionally charged warfare, objective truth can never easily prevail.
Kepler said that looking for scientific proof of astrology was like a hen pecking around in ‘evil smelling dung’ until a ‘good little grain’ was found. One such hen is Michel Gauquelin. Over several decades of dogged, painstaking work, he was able to prove what came to be known as the The Mars Effect. A statistician, Gauquelin accurately demonstrated a link between planetary alignments in the birth charts of certain individuals and their chosen professions, the strongest being a link between Mars and the birth charts of athletes. Despite what our guardians of truth might tell us, the proof of this is conclusive and incontrovertible. Gauquelin repeated the experiment many times, even allowing the conditions to be set for him by sceptical organisations in France and the United States. CSICOP found itself terribly shaken by Gauquelin’s results. It was unable to undermine them without resorting to outright fraud. This led to a hemorrhage of resignations and a flurry of whistle-blowing as the tawdry tale leaked out – but was not widely published – of how CSICOP fudged the results to save face, and presumably, the world.
Psychologist Professor S. Ertel of Göttingen University later verified Gauquelin’s work, settled any question of bias, and discovered that because Gauquelin had always been so conservative with his data that the planetary effects were actually even more pronounced.
Astrologer John Addey used Gauquelin’s data and found significant correspondences when he applied wave-form harmonics to them. It is Addey’s work which gives astrology its solid theoretical foundation.
Astronomer and astrophysicist Dr Percy Seymour explained how signals sent by the planets, sun and moon are picked up and magnified by the magnetosphere of the Earth and can affect human beings. He found astrology to be entirely plausible and attempted to explain its mechanism. Straying intolerably from the party line he was roundly condemned by the scientific press.
Actually there are many more scientists who have produced an enormous amount of research into celestial effects and this work accumulates into an impressive case for astrology. What we have, in effect, is an impressive brood of Keplerian cluckers pecking at the long, smug noses of self-appointed Inquisitors General like Dawkins, who touches upon none of the fascinating recent history of astrology in his program.
For his Principia, Newton is deified. His name is engraved into the grand portico of academia alongside Kepler’s for his Astronomia Nova. Yet both of these scientists languish in Tartarean banishment for their Pythagorean beliefs. If they could wax lyrical on the harmony of the spheres today, a wider discussion on the subtler resonances in our cosmic environment might be possible. Astrology, like music, is the product of space, resonance, frequency and vibration. The solar system is a vibrating, unified whole. It does not influence us – it is us. Astrology is the interpretation of its meaning and every human birth resonates with the harmony and meaning of the celestial moment.
When dowsing is subjected to a Dawkins debunking there is a ridiculous experiment in which dowsers are asked to divine which boxes contain litre bottles of water and which ones contain bottles of sand. One by one these poor dowsers fail the test and wonder why, which makes me wonder whether Dawkins held open auditions for the dumbest dowsers in the British Isles.
Wherever there is water, rock and sunlight, there is potential for telluric ground current which can cause a neurological response in the dowser. It is a phenomenon to do with the natural environment, with landscape, geology, underground aquifers – not plastic bottles of water in boxes set up in a tent. Evidence that human beings are sensitive to these natural effects is found in the location of ancient sites all over the world, which are invariably constructed upon geophysical discontinuities. This was clearly laid out by scientist John Burke in his recent book, ‘Seed of Knowledge, Stone of Plenty’. It is because few people are familiar with the work of Dr Hans Dieter Betz of Munich University or Romanian physicist, Andrei Apostol, both of whose peer reviewed research has appeared in the ‘Journal of Scientific Exploration’, that Dawkins can get away with such absurd and dishonest propaganda.
Carl Sagan’s standard was that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. However, that only applies to the claimants. In contrast, the debunkers’ standard seems to be that claims held to be ridiculous require only ridiculous standards of disproof. The fact that the experiment was carried out in a tent, as opposed to scientifically with field experiments, introduces a deliberate context, or what is known in propaganda as ‘transfer’. A tent has certain associations – with the fun fair, the freak show, snake oil, hocus-pocus. The deliberate loading with context influences us emotionally and does not seek to activate our rational minds. As such it is propaganda and something else is going on that has nothing to do with reason or science. We are being manipulated for our own good.
On seeing this blatantly fraudulent set-up masquerading as a scientific experiment, I immediately smelled a rat and suspected a CSICOP-type assault. This was proved correct when I discovered the experiment was conducted by Chis French of ‘The Skeptic’ magazine, the British version of America’s ‘Skeptical Inquirer’ – media wing of CSICOP. Dawkins has publicly joined the ranks of the ‘pseudoskeptics’. He has allied himself with the desperately dogmatic elements of the scientific community, and with an agenda-driven organization that has a disgraceful record of legitimate, scientific inquiry. Fraud and the omission of opposing arguments mean that declarations on behalf of reason fail utterly to convince. Surely this is self defeating. Why does he put his credibility at such risk? I assume the answer has something to do with desperation and with Dawkins’ egghead status which allows him to get away with it.
There is an anecdote that Christopher Hitchens tells in the documentary, ‘The Collision’. Hitchens postulated a scenario to Dawkins in which he had convinced every believer to become an atheist, except for one person. Hitchens said that if there was just one believer left whom he could turn atheist, he wouldn’t do it. He didn’t know why but he wouldn’t. Apparently Dawkins gave Hitchens a look that he has never forgotten. We can only imagine what kind of look it was but that it still haunts a tough old boot like Hitchens speaks for itself.
A countervailing organization like CSICOP serves the necessary function of opposing the parasites of the paranormal, the charlatans, the cold readers and scam artists, those who exploit the vulnerable. The trouble is that as custodians of scientific truths, CSICOP has a history of shoddy and corrupt practices. Richard Kammann who resigned from CSICOP in disgust over the Gauquelin affair wrote that the organisation had ‘descended into protecting orthodoxy and its own reputation as a goal more important than finding the truth.’ Science need not and should not be superstitious of the truth or of the immeasurable, of that which lies beyond the limits of understanding. Acknowledging the immeasurable requires a degree of humility. Einstein, a deist, wrote, ‘The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science.’ When scientists are superstitious of the mystical, there is a danger they will look in the mirror and see the rigid features of a fundamentalist staring back at them.