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Back we go to the dark ages

August 14, 2007

Eons ago, some dude was put to death because he dared suggest that the earth orbits the sun (can you tell I gave up A Level History – in favour of Classic Civilisation no less?). People laughed at another bloke who was determined to prove that the earth was round and not flat.

For centuries – nay, millennia – the hoi polloi have ridiculed scientists for their un-yielding desire to prove their theories and ask valid questions. “Have faith” they argue. “Trust your instincts.” But thanks to those who ignored such arse crap, we now live in a society that doesn’t rely on leaches to cure us of our ailments, we can log on to the information super highway at the click of a button, and we can walk the streets safe in the knowledge that some bastard isn’t going to throw a bucket of crap over us (well, maybe not in Swansea yet).

How scientists must despair that there seems to be a shift towards the non-scientific. As a society, we’re more inclined to believe in horoscopes than we are to trust our GPs. That’s pretty scary stuff.

All this brings me, obviously, to last night’s Enemies Of Reason, Prof. Richard Dawkins’ latest wondrously smug dive into looking at stupid people in thw world, turning to the camera and tearing his hair out. Although he doesn’t go quite as mad as his last series, Root Of All Evil, he does get a little exasperated when some strange guru-type tells him that it is ‘rock-ness’ makes up a rock and not, as has been proven by FACT, molecules and particles.

There are far too many tit-bits of this documentary to call my fave, but a definite highlight was when Ol’ Rich went to a Spiritualist fair and asked a medium to read his fortune. The guy twittered on about an “old gentleman,” who was talking to him from beyond the grave, “He’s linked to the letter E and he’s in your family.” When questioned further by the prof, the crank stated, “I don’t think he’s in your family,” to which Dawkins replied with disbelief that he’d caught him out so easily, “But you just said he *was* in my family, so which is it?” Excellent stuff. He went on to describe cold reading which, although most will have a fairly rough knowledge of, was interesting to see in practice.

Of course, no debunking of mediumship, spiritualism and fairies would be without my fave Derron Browne who discusses this a lot in his very clever book. Derron used to be very religious and also dabbled in spiritualism, before his enlightenment to the world of proof and testing.

When readings went wrong it was fascinating to watch. The audience either “don’t understand” or “aren’t linking” properly. Of course, it’s all the audiences’ fault, not at all the disgusting, lying charlatans that do this crap. The dowsers that didn’t find the bottle of water argued that “well the water was hidden, so of course I didn’t find it.” Yeeeees. One wailed that she wasn’t allowed to walk over the hidden bottles as that is the method she usually uses to dowse. You have to question the sanity of these people.

But then the prof touched on the darker side of spiritualism and mediumship. The fact that most self-proclaimed heads of this (multi-million-pound-making) industry use and abuse those who are in a very fragile state to make money. We’ll leave that small minority who genuinely believe they have “a gift” – they clearly need as much help as those who seek to talk to a dead relative. I’ve seen a TV medium tell a hysterically sobbing couple that their son is fine and that he loves them. Yes, this might give them peace of mind, but it more than likely gets them hooked on this crack-pot belief system, and gets them spending their money on chatting to a steely-eyed, greased haired morals-of-a-gnat charlatan for ten minutes every week. It’s all very dangerous.

So all hail Prof Richard Dawkins and his attempt to drag us kicking and screaming (and still clutching our crystals) into the light and the realms of the real. I’m not holding out much hope though – I had the misfortune to watch a bit of Jeremy Kyle this morning and their on-set counsellor suggested that the wife of a gambler should go for (get this) psycho-hypno therapy as well as face to face conventional counselling. Dawkins, I despair with you, I really do…

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