Olvlzl joins many pundits in falling flat on his face when trying to attack Dawkins’ book. He invokes the usual equivocation of scientific knowledge with theology, failing to note that the two are entirely inequivalent. He also proves my point about religion in the media, which his post partly inspired, in factlessly suggesting memetics could lead to restrictions on free speech.
Not making any apologies here: non-scientific knowledge doesn’t have and shouldn’t have the same respectability as scientific knowledge. Why should it? The most advanced social sciences, psychology and economics, are at about the same point physics was in 1650. Less advanced ones have barely, or not even, gotten to the acceptance of Copernican astronomy. Theology and critical theory aren’t even up to Roger Bacon’s standards, and probably never will be.
In 2007, I say that the rational layperson must accept scientific authority on issues such as physics, climatology, evolutionary biology, medicine, and chemistry. In 1707 or even 1807, I wouldn’t; I’d instead say that a rational person must educate himself in natural philosophy and form his own opinions.
Likewise, disciplines that are as intricate as the natural sciences were in the 18th century aren’t subject to the same tyranny of peer review. There’s a wide body of knowledge about economics today, just as there was a wide body of knowledge about biology in 1820. Many people recognized the fact of evolution, though they couldn’t adequately explain it. Linnean taxonomy had been standard for decades. Malthus had already published his essays on population, although they still hadn’t gained wide acceptance.
Paul Krugman wrote, “Economics is harder than physics; luckily it is not quite as hard as sociology.” I’d put biology somewhere between physics and economics, since its first serious overarching theory was developed in the 1830s (economics has never had anything so rigorous as Darwinism; at best, it’s where biology was just before Darwin).
Not coincidentally, a reasonably educated layperson can be completely up to date about the main ideas of economics and the evidence for and against them. It wouldn’t be enough knowledge for setting interest rates, but it would be enough for evaluating major proposals in fiscal policy or development economics.
And that’s one of the two most advanced social sciences. Economists and psychologists keep looking up to physicists, but they already sit fairly close to the academic tower’s top. In contrast, theologians, who have yet to produce even one non-trivial truth, sit in its basement.
What the people who attack Dawkins for not knowing about theology miss is that theology isn’t even non-science; it’s non-knowledge. It’s so detached from reality and so useless that it’s as relevant even to a debate about religion as is Pokémon mythology. Dismissing it out of hand is one of the few things Dawkins gets right.
Ironically, the best criticism of the book is the one that goes the other way: why does Dawkins spend so much time attacking intellectual gnats, instead of writing something intelligent about the politics of religion? The most annoying thing about people like Dawkins and Harris is their inability to get beyond totalizing religion. Dismissing theology is good, but the entire point of such a dismissal is to avoid having to spend time on unproductive discussions about religion.