Science, Delusions, and Christopher Hitchens

Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomèd mine—
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.
– Lamia, John Keats (1820)

“Someone has to stand up to experts!” – Don McLeroy, Dentist and Former President of the Texas State School Board


I like a good take-down piece – you’re forced to! Carlo Dellora lays into Curtis White for his book, The Science Delusion, excerpted on Salon.com last week:

Full disclosure: I haven’t finished The Science Delusion yet. I’m working on it, but my Day Job keeps getting in the way!

My initial impression is that Richard Dawkins answered this charge back in 1998 with his Unweaving the Rainbow. At times, I got the impression that White was channeling the inadvertent caricature and unintentionally comic Don McLeroy of the Texas State School Board, who once exclaimed that “Someone has to stand up to experts!”

But I want to talk about Christopher Hitchens…

Hitch was a lot of things, but intellectually lazy was never one of them. Toward the end, he veered too far into jingoism for my taste. I, like a lot of like-minded people, disagreed with him on the prescription, if not diagnosis, of international [$religion] fundamentalism. In the 2000’s his particular bugaboo was with the Islamic variant, but at its core his writing evinced a strong, forceful atheism that didn’t brook fools or apologists for fantasy and happenstance.

Incidentally, Maggie Koerth-Baker interviewed White over at BoingBoing and came away with the impression that he didn’t quite write the book he meant to write.

What do you do if, after your book is published, and the reviews start to come in, it slowly dawns on you that you’ve accidentally written the wrong book … a book which you would not actually agree with?

That’s how I felt after interviewing Curtis White, author of The Science Delusion — a book that has been widely reviewed as containing some good points, buried under a lot of angry rants and straw men. According to White, however, those reviews have all completely missed what he was trying to do and trying to say.

One wonders if White would have dared pen this piece of hackwork were Hitch still alive today. I can see him now, excoriating White over lunch to some editor, scotch in one hand and Rothmans in the other.

Let me conclude by sharing with you a spoken-word piece from Tim Minchin: “Storm.”

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