LETTER : astrology would provoke so much venom

mailbag on Richard Dawkins's attack on astrology (31 December) and the full page of responses published last week. To allow due space for other correspondence we have selected just two letters.

THE fact that so many readers of a quality newspaper are sympathetic to astrology, and are offended by Richard Dawkins's polemical dismissal of it ("The real romance in the stars", 31 December), lends some support to Dawkins's conjecture that something is wrong with the scientific and analytical capabilities of many educated people.

Of course, his article was written in a style guaranteed to raise hackles, but most of the replies (Letters, 7 January) are rhetorical, evasive or irrelevant. Indeed, many confirm Dawkins's anticipation of the irrational defence mechanisms his piece would provoke. The hoary old advice that you should not reject astrology until you can prove it is false (the same goes for Father Christmas); that it is closed-minded to take a firm negative stance (but open-minded to take an equally firm positive stance), or that it is rude and intolerant to take issue with people's convictions, however absurd - all these predictable, yet depressing, responses say something about the intellectual climate in which we live.

But the real problem may not be scientific ignorance so much as a pervasive indifference to critical thinking, which springs from a casual or even hostile attitude to truth. After moral relativism comes intellectual relativ- ism, all arising from a pseudo-tolerant unease with the thought that what many benign people take comfort in may be plain wrong, and that it may be in their interests to be politely told so.

Dr Piers Benn

Department of Philosophy

The University of Leeds