Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

Skeptical Heresies #4

March 19th, 2011 Posted in Creationism, Education, General, Psychology, Religion

I’ve almost finished the sixth of my presentations – this one is on abiogenesis. But for now, here’s another skeptical heresy:

4. Some skeptics do not have education as their goal

Yes, you know who I’m talking about. And that’s my point.

The majority of skeptical communicators are interested in skepticism for educational purposes – they genuinely want people to understand what skepticism is all about, and to encourage others to think as they do. But it can’t be denied that some other prominent voices don’t seem to care if the other side changes their mind or not.

Which makes me wonder what their goal actually is. After all, what we really want is for everyone on Earth to approach life in a rational, evidence-based manner. Why bother getting angry at creationists and medical scams like homeopathy if there is no expected gain from it? Some prominent skeptics seem to be involved in the movement merely because they enjoy getting angry at people. We’ve already ascertained – in fact, it’s our main credo – that human beings think more emotionally than rationally – and then we assault people with exactly the kind of barbed, emotive attacks that are guaranteed to make them yet more determined to stick with their erroneous beliefs.

Prominent atheist author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens is on record as part of the famous “Four Horsemen” video series, which is available online for free, as saying that he hopes that his religious opponents don’t go away, because he rather enjoys arguing against them – for him it’s more of a sport than anything else. Richard Dawkins disagrees with this, wishing for the end of religious thought, but agreeing with Hitchens that the best way to go about doing it is through strongly-worded ridicule and academic force. Others, such as prominent American biologist and blogger PZ Myers, who is famously acerbic in his views.

I think part of this is through frustration. It can be enormously annoying to carefully and patiently explain to someone why they are wrong, to explain to them what the reality is, and why it makes sense to believe this. And then, after all this work, to have the truth rejected, ridiculed and insulted. This, then, leads us to increasingly angry responses which are definitely not going to win us many converts.

But are we making the problem worse? Denis Alexander from the Cambridge-based Faraday institute states in his public lectures that he believes there’s a good case for the rise of creationism in the UK being linked to the rise of extremist atheism like that developed by Hitchens, Dawkins et al. I don’t particularly believe his assertion – which he states without proof – but it’s definitely worth considering. Are we making the problem worse? Should we be asking ourselves the question whether we want to bring about the end of pseudoscience and superstition, or do we actually rather enjoy the fight?

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