Thursday, August 09, 2007

Celebrating the real

Richard Dawkins is at it again. Fresh from the success of The God Delusion, which has sold a million copies worldwide, he now takes on a much broader array of superstitions. His television series The Enemies of Reason begins next week on Channel 4 in Britain. We can expect a book to follow.

Astrologers, channelers, fortune tellers, psychics, homeopaths, dowsers, faith healers, crystal therapists -- you name it. Dawkins is out to debunk. And more power to him, I say. I covered much of the same ground in Skeptics and True Believers. He does it with more smarts and wit than I could muster.

It is not the ordinary folks who believe these things who Dawkins pans; as he says, what consenting adults do in private is no concern of his. It is the practitioners who charge for their superstitious services that he accuses of fraud at worst, or self-delusion at best. He is deeply chagrined, for example, that the cash-strapped National Health Service spends millions on the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, when there is not a shred of scientific evidence that homeopathy works as other than a placebo. As Dawkins says: "Either there is no effect, in which case you shouldn't be charging people money, or there is an effect, in which case you should prove it and win the Nobel prize." I look forward to the book; it should be great fun.

I would not, however, be as militant about all this as is Dawkins. People spend their money on stupider things than homeopathic remedies -- such as gas-guzzling Hummers, AK-47s, hate-mongering televangelists, war-mongering politicians, violent video games, and slasher movies. As for myself, I find more to celebrate in the real biology of the tomato plant at my elbow than in all the pseudoscientific claptrap in the world. And it's free.