Writer Stephen Bond’s eloquent rejection of the skeptic movement is sure to ruffle a few feathers here. Is he overstating his case and condemning a large group of well-meaning people for the actions of a poorly behaved few? (I’m particularly intrigued by his own dismissive and somewhat patronizing generalization of people who hold minority beliefs as only doing so because they’re powerless and marginalized and need to reject whatever authority has dictated to be an acceptable belief system.)
What about his suggestion that many of his former colleagues prefer to spend their time reaching for low-hanging fruit instead of taking a swipe at thornier issues? It is important to emphasize that he isn’t rejecting the idea of skepticism, per se, and certainly not reason and science. His fight is what he perceives as dogma rather than the message itself.
“[The 'New Atheism'] is about taking a core set of principles that have proven themselves powerful and useful in the scientific world — you’ve probably noticed that many of these uppity atheists are coming out of a scientific background — and insisting that they also apply to everything else people do. These principles are a reliance on natural causes and demanding explanations in terms of the real world, with a documentary chain of evidence, that anyone can examine. The virtues are critical thinking, flexibility, openness, verification, and evidence. The sins are dogma, faith, tradition, revelation, superstition, and the supernatural. There is no holy writ, and a central idea is that everything must be open to rational, evidence-based criticism — it’s the opposite of fundamentalism.”
I’ve got a lot of time for Myers, but I can’t agree with his claim that dogma plays no role in skepticism. The skeptic dogma is, of course, the belief that “a core set of principles that have proven themselves powerful and useful in the scientific world also apply to everything else people do”. This belief is as simple and seductive as any of the claims that priests and mullahs and gurus have made over the millennia — and almost as wrong. While science in its material domain has worked miracles, in the social and emotional and political domains its achievements are highly questionable, to say the least.
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