‘The Last Taboo’

As long as we’re talking about religion and science, the futility or non-futility of scientists, atheists, rationalists, skeptics, and secularists arguing with believers, whether or not people can change their minds, what kind of influence religion has in the public realm, and related matters, we might as well add this famous New Republic article by Wendy Kaminer to the mix.

Obviously, people carry their faith in God, Satan, crystals or UFOs into town meetings, community organizations and voting booths. Obviously, a core belief in the supernatural is not severable from beliefs about the natural world and the social order. It is the inevitable effect of religion on public policy that makes it a matter of public concern. Advocates of religiosity extol the virtues or moral habits that religion is supposed to instill in us. But we should be equally concerned with the intellectual habits it discourages.

Exactly so. Most of us who read the words of Susan Greenfield or Wendy Kaminer live in democracies, after all. We live in places where majority opinion is, as de Tocqueville pointed out a long time ago, very powerful indeed. Is it not obvious that we all have good reason to want that opinion to be well-founded, to be based on evidence and reality rather than wishful thinking and the supernatural? Is it not self-evident that the intellectual habits of the electorate are very far from being a merely private matter?

Would a resurgence of skepticism and rationality make us smarter? Not exactly, but it would balance supernaturalism and the habit of belief with respect for empirical realities, which should influence the formulation of public policy more than faith. Rationalism would be an antidote to prejudice, which is, after all, a form of faith.

Again, exactly so. Far from being a waste of time, the defense of rationalism is our only defense against the theocrats.

Comments are closed.