Richard Dawkins on Astronomy vs Astrology


In a story on Times Online (UK) Roland White  (in speaking of the various shows using the British countryside as a backdrop) talks about Richard Dawkins:

In one section, Dawkins said we should abandon astrology and take up astronomy instead. Clutching my O-level certificate in astronomy, I’m right behind him. But even gazing in wonder at the night sky has its drawbacks. The stars and the vastness of the universe always remind us how small, brief and insignificant are our lives. As far as I’m concerned, Dawkins is absolutely right; the evidence is with him all the way. The trouble is, nobody likes a smartarse.

I’d extend that a bit, nobody likes a smartass, especially when they’re absolutely right.  Not that I’m going to start singing the high praises of Dawkins anytime soon (I find him somewhat annoying), but the thing is, he’s a smart guy, and he’s absolutely correct in his criticisms of religion, pseudoscience and mysticism.

I confess a certain level of discomfort when I listen to Dawkins or P.Z. Myers skewer religion.  I’m not a very religious person, but I’m not an atheist either (I sometimes describe myself as an “areligious theist”).     However, the *fact* is that the critics of religion and other forms of mysticism are essentially correct.   There is no evidence for the claims of the supporters of religion and other forms of mysticism (including astrology, dowsing, ESP, my own beliefs, etc, etc, etc.)   I tend to read and agree with them, and then use their statements as an opportunity for self-examination and reflection. 

Vis a Vis Roland White’s comments above: Yes, astronomy can remind us how small, brief and insignificant our lives are, but it can also inspire and create a sense of profound awe and wonder that exceeds anything I ever felt when attending church services.

3 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins on Astronomy vs Astrology

  1. I’d extend that a bit, nobody likes a smartass, especially when they’re absolutely right.

    That’s the thing though isn’t it? That’s generally the definition of a “smartarse”: someone who dares to point out that a long-held belief that’s seen as being above criticism is actually a load of nonsense and, at best, wishful thinking (and, in some cases, worse than just wishful thinking).

    Point being: I don’t think it’s really the case that nobody likes a smartarse, I think it’s really the case that some people don’t like to have to actually defend a position that is generally seen as being protected by cloak of invincibility that has “but it’s a spiritual thing” written all over it.

  2. Oh, I don’t know. I’ve seen plenty of people with a good command of the facts, and boatloads of statistics at hand come to completely incorrect conclusions, and be pretty ‘smartass’ about it (I’m thinking specifically of people like Dembski, and others of the Intelligent Design movement here).

    I’m thinking the phrase “nobody likes a smartass” is true mostly when the smartass is stepping on your sacred cow’s hooves. It’s better when they’re stepping on someone *else’s* sacred cow’s hooves, and you agree with the smartass. In that case, the smartass is pretty much ok with you (or me).

    I think Dawkins and people like him (i.e., P.Z. Myers) take a very direct approach, kind of a ‘no holds barred’ debate style especially when it comes to religion. Thats OK with me on an intellectual level, but it makes me rather uncomfortable on a personal level (which is, I suppose, their point). To be fair, science, and most especially evolutionary biology, has suffered a lot at the hands of the creationists, and it’s time for a bit of turnabout. I suppose that if the religious had kept their noses out of his work, he may have kept his opinions about religion to himself (perhaps not).

    Regardless of how I feel about Dawkins otherwise, I *know* he’s right about the biology and I deeply respect him as a scientist, but I still *feel* uncomfortable with his approach to all religion. Not that he’d care. My only critique (and it’s a fairly weak one) is that the approach is not as effective (in my personal opinion) as that of someone like Neil deGrasee Tyson. Maybe thats only because Tyson doesn’t make me feel as uncomfortable. 🙂

  3. Yes, I’d have said that the “uncomfortable” thing is key. People tend to be happier with people who don’t go anywhere near “uncomfortable” issues. People will always like you more if you pet their sacred cow and say “nice cow” rather than say “err, have you noticed that your cow is actually plastic, and that it’s actually a plastic pig?”

    Personally I wouldn’t think of the ID crowd as being smartarses. I think of them as wrong, dishonest, deluded, deluding and a bunch of other stuff, but I doubt I’d put them under the smartarse heading.

    Uncomfortable is good. Uncomfortable is what tells us we might be sat in the wrong place.

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