Recently, during lunch with some friends, the conversation turned to health matters and to complementary therapies in particular. Several of those present had seen Richard Dawkins on TV. They were incensed at what they described as Dawkins’ arrogance and lack of understanding of the ideas he rubbished.
Listening to the discussion I came to the conclusion that Dawkins had, as so many scientists do, missed an important point about explanations.
I am a scientist by training. I like science and prefer scientific to non-scientific explanations. But I would never claim that what I prefer is in any way righter or better. In our modern society we have a choice of explanations, medical traditions, rationalisations etc and it is my contention that individuals follow the ones they like. Their choices have nothing to do with correct, proved, practical etc.
I know people, even confirmed anti-sciencers, who talk about evidence and cite so-called statistics in support of their views. In reality they are only supporting their personal preferences.
Personally, I don’t think this matters. Most of the human race has lived out most of its varied lives, as successfully as necessary, with a hodge-podge of odd and contradictory explanations for the way the world is.
The big advantage we in the modern world have is that these ideas are now all available to everyone via libraries and the internet, and, not surprisingly, people pick and mix them according to their individual taste – a bit like in a supermarket.
This is freedom of thought and speech: freedom of information and ideas. People have risked prison and even died to bring it about.
Anyone, be they scientist, religious fanatic, complementary therapist, whatever, who makes categorical statements about one set of ideas being right and others being wrong, is not making a reasoned, rational statement. They are making a political one – and a dangerous one at that.
So I’ll keep right on browsing through the Supermarket of Ideas and pick the ones I like off the shelves.