Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dawkins & Chesterton

I was reading about Richard Dawkins' latest foray into Cluelessness and vaguely recalled a Chesterton quote on insanity and reason. So turning to Google, I found this:
Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic; I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.
I respect Chesterton a lot, but I'm no cult follower. And here he's at his most annoying. Poets don't go mad? Maybe if all you read is Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton. Modernist and Beat poets aside, G.K. certainly was not oblivious to the Romantics, was he? Onto the next Google search result:
The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.
OK, there's the Chesterton I know and love.
It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? Are they not both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?"
Somebody, please give Dawkins a Chesterton book!
If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgement. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.
Poor Dawkins. All the more so after watching him wet himself in Ben Stein's Expelled.