The Community of Reason, a Self-Assessment and a Manifesto

Be-rational-get-realMassimo Pigliucci's critique of the skeptic, atheist, rationalist community, over at Rationally Speaking:

The problem is that my experience (anecdotal, yes, but ample and varied) has been that there is quite a bit of un-reason within the CoR. This takes the form of more or less widespread belief in scientific, philosophical and political notions that don’t make much more sense than the sort of notions we — within the community — are happy to harshly criticize in others. Yes, you might object, but that’s just part of being human, pretty much every group of human beings holds to unreasonable beliefs, why are you so surprised or worried? Well, because we think of ourselves — proudly! — as a community of reason, where reason and evidence are held as the ultimate arbiters of any meaningful dispute. To find out that too often this turns out not to be the case is a little bit like discovering that moral philosophers aren’t more ethical than the average guy (true).

What am I talking about? Here is a (surely incomplete, and I’m even more sure, somewhat debatable) list of bizarre beliefs I have encountered among fellow skeptics-atheists-humanists. No, I will not name names because this is about ideas, not individuals (but heck, you know who you are…). The list, incidentally, features topics in no particular order, and it would surely be nice if a sociology student were to conduct a systematic research on this for a thesis…

* Assorted nonsense about alternative medicine. Despite excellent efforts devoted to debunking “alternative” medicine claims, some atheists especially actually endorse all sorts of nonsense about “non-Western” remedies.

* Religion is not a proper area of application for skepticism, according to some skeptics. Why on earth not? It may not be a suitable area of inquiry for science, but skepticism — in the sense of generally applied critical thinking — draws on more than just science (think philosophy, logic and math).

* Philosophy is useless armchair speculation. So is math. And logic. And all theoretical science.

* The notion of anthropogenic global warming has not been scientifically established, something loudly proclaimed by people who — to the best of my knowledge — are not atmospheric physicists and do not understand anything about the complex data analysis and modeling that goes into climate change research.

* Science can answer moral questions. No, science can inform moral questions, but moral reasoning is a form of philosophical reasoning. The is/ought divide may not be absolute, but it is there nonetheless.