Mr. Dawkins’ Neighborhood

UK residents are blessed with the opportunity to watch Mr. Dawkins’ Neighborhood, but Dawkins’ “reductive approach to humanity means he cannot seem to get beyond his rehearsed ‘these people are stupid’ outlook.”

Neil Davenport goes on to point out the obvious:

The real irony of Dawkins’ angry attack on the mystical masses is that his brand of thinking is actually not under threat; rather, its time has come. Why else would anyone give this charisma-free professor primetime TV slots? Last night’s programme was less a celebration of science than an elevation of scientism, the idea that ‘evidence-based calculations’ should be the organising principle for human society. This makes Dawkins less radical than he likes to think, because scientism is actually in the ascendant. . . .

Far from being a lone maverick, Dawkins’ emphasis on the importance of evidence-based calculations dovetails nicely with the political class’s narrow managerialism. . . .

Unfortunately, by championing scientism as a model for society, rather than hailing open-ended science as a tool for humanity, Dawkins has ended up contributing to today’s dead hand of instrumentalism, philistinism and presentism.

In a different essay Dolan Cummings reviews Dan Hind’s book The Threat to Reason: How the Enlightenment Was Hijacked and How We Can Reclaim It, which also castigates Dawkins:

Much of the book is a welcome corrective to some of the fevered jeremiads against religion that have emerged in the past couple of years. Typically these champion a one-dimensional version of Enlightenment values in counterposition to crude caricatures of religion. And following his eye-roll inducing book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins’ recent Channel 4 series The Enemies of Reason, with its largely pointless tilting against New Age windmills, comes across almost as a deliberate encapsulation of the crude approach Hind takes apart. Hind describes this unsophisticated counterposition of the rational to the irrational as ‘Folk Enlightenment’, noting that: ‘Enlightenment is normally invoked in the context of a conflict with its external enemies: reason is threatened by faith, science is threatened by superstition, and so on.’ Crucially, this casts Enlightenment as a kind of heritage to be defended against external threats rather than something to be developed in opposition to the conventional wisdom and established orthodoxies of our own time.

Cummings goes on to clarify the danger in the oversimplifications of the New Atheists:

In particular, Hind shows that although modern science is one of the great legacies of the Enlightenment, we should be wary of what has been described elsewhere as ‘scientism’, the elevation of science to the status of a pseudo-religion in itself. This is especially true at a time when science is often invoked as a source of authority that is beyond question, rather than an open-ended endeavour based on radical scepticism. ‘Science, not theology, has become the arena in which we must fight for the victory of Enlightenment, since it is through their claims to rationality and scientific understanding that our guardians bind us in obedience to the established order’, writes Hind.

This is further developed when Cummings quotes Hind to say:

‘Scientific research can give a spurious kind of cover to repressive policies. Powerful institutions exert considerable overt and covert influence over the objectives of research. The prestige of science can be used to suppress dissent.’

The response to this tends to be what liberals like to call “reactionary” movements, that is, populist polemics against heavy-handed intellectuals who insist that they are the exclusive guardians of reason.

Cummings ends his review with an anarchistic recommendation:

Perhaps best of all, Hind suggests that we should, like Francis Bacon, ‘reject established authority and our own inclinations, and be willing to pursue lines of enquiry associated with disreputable schools of thought’. It’s up to each of us to decide which disreputable schools of thought are worthwhile, and which are not.

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