Alastair’s Place

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Richard K. Morgan on Superstition

I’ve just read a very interesting interview with Richard K. Morgan, in this month’s edition of Interzone. In it, Morgan decries the worrying rise of superstitious beliefs in recent years, noting that

…it’s not religion per se – you get the same kind of thing from otherwise apparently intelligent people who believe in rubbish like homeopathy, the power of crystals and the Gaia hypothesis (these people include the Prince of Wales and, apparently, John Gray, for f**k’s sake).

Incidentally, I think he’s talking here about John Gray, the U.K. academic, rather than John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or any other person of that name.

He then goes on to say

It’s one thing to be ignorant: that’s a circumstance that those who suffer are often powerless to change. But it’s quite another to emerge from ignorance, and then choose of your own free will to sink back into the slime. Why? Because enlightenment is just too complicated for your poor ickle head?

He’s right, of course. There seems to be mounting evidence that many members of the human race have an unshakeable desire to believe in fairy stories, no matter how obviously (or even how recently) they were constructed by the hand of man. Often it doesn’t even take much work to see the origins of these misguided beliefs, but there has been a worrying tendency amongst our political leaders to pander to them, seeking to put them on an equal platform with scientific theory under the pretence that doing so is somehow even-handed.

In some cases, things have gone even further, and now those with an officially recognised religion are granted rights over and above those afforded atheistic or agnostic citizens. In the United States, for instance, it is illegal to use, possess, manufacture or distribute (without a license, presumably) the drug dimethyltryptamine, except—under a ruling from the Supreme Court, no less—if you belong to the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, a church in New Mexico. They didn’t even need to provide evidence to back their case, which centred around a belief that drinking hoasca tea enhanced their understanding of God. This was, of course, the same Supreme Court that has ruled that it is illegal for people to possess cannabis, even for medicinal purposes, even if they believe that it is helping them.1 The only difference here is that one group claims to be religious; the other does not.

We have also seen the resurgence of the “creationist” movement, both in the United States and more recently here in the U.K., even attracting tacit support from no other than Tony Blair (further proof, if it were needed, that the man should never have been Prime Minister in the first place). As Morgan says,

What’s next? Re-instate prosecution for witchcraft? NHS checks to make sure your baby is not a faerie changeling?


1 I cannot take credit for this excellent example; I happened upon it in Richard Dawkins’s excellent book, The God Delusion.