I have been an active member of the self-described Community of Reason since about 1997. By that term I mean the broad set encompassing skeptics, atheists and secular humanists (and all the assorted synonyms thereof: freethinkers, rationalists, and even brights). The date is easily explainable: in 1996 I had moved from Brown University — where I did my postdoc — to the University of Tennessee, were I was appointed assistant professor in the Departments of Botany and of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. A few months after my arrival in Knoxville, the extremely (to this day) unenlightened TN legislature began discussing a billthat would have allowed school boards to fire teachers who presented evolution as a fact rather than a theory (it is both, of course). The bill died in committee (though a more recent one did pass, go Volunteers!), in part because of the efforts of colleagues and graduate students throughout the State.
It was because of my local visibility during that episode (and then shortly thereafter because I began organizing Darwin Day events on campus, which are still going strong) that I was approached by some members of a group called “The Fellowship of Reason” (now the Rationalists of East Tennessee). They told me that we had much in common, and wouldn’t I want to join them in their efforts? My first thought was that an outlet with that name must be run by cuckoos, and at any rate I had a lab to take care of and tenure to think about, thank you very much.
But in fact it took only a couple more polite attempts on their part before I joined the group and, by proxy, the broader Community of Reason (henceforth, CoR). It has been one of the most meaningful and exhilarating decisions of my life, some consequences of which include four books on science and philosophy for the general public (counting the one coming out in September); columns and articles for Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, The Philosopher’s Magazine and Philosophy Now, among others; and of course this blog and its associated podcast. I made many friends within the CoR, beginning with Carl Ledendecker of Knoxville, TN (the guy who originally approached me about the Fellowship of Reason), and of course including the editor and writers of Rationally Speaking.
But… yes, there is a “but,” and it’s beginning to loom large in my consciousness, so I need to get it out there and discuss it (this blog is just as much a way for me to clarify my own ideas through writing and the feedback of others as it is a channel for outreach as an academic interested in making some difference in the world). 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.
He’s got a little list, he’s got a little list:
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…
Click this link and read the full list. You will find yourself in agreement with much of what he says. In fact, this observation that skeptics can believe weird things was even highlighted in the Wall Street Journal a while back, and I wrote about it.
Just look at some of the items:
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.
Science has established that there is no consciousness or free will (and therefore no moral responsibility). No, it hasn’t, as serious cognitive scientists freely admit.
Feminism is a form of unnecessary and oppressive liberal political correctness. Oh please, and yet, rather shockingly, I have heard this “opinion” from several fellow CoRers.
Feminists are right by default and every attempt to question them is the result of oppressive male chauvinism (even when done by women). These are people who clearly are not up on readings in actual feminism (did you know that there have been several waves of it? With which do you best connect?).
All religious education is child abuse, period. This is a really bizarre notion, I think. Not only does it turn 90% of the planet into child abusers, but people “thinking” (I use the term loosely) along these lines don’t seem to have considered exactly what religious education might mean (there is a huge variety of it), or — for that matter — why a secular education wouldn’t be open to the same charge, if done as indoctrination (and if it isn’t, are you really positive that there are no religious families out there who teach doubt? You’d be surprised!).
About the author:
Massimo Pigliucci (born January 16, 1964) is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at CUNY-Lehman College. He is also the editor in chief for the journal Philosophy & Theory in Biology. Pigliucci was born in Monrovia, Liberia, although he was raised in Rome, Italy. He has a doctorate in genetics from the University of Ferrara, Italy, a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Connecticut, and a Ph.D. in philosophy of science from the University of Tennessee. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
Massimo Pigliucci even debated William Lane Craig in 2001 at the University of Georgia:
Here’s the review of their previous 1998 debate from Common Sense Atheism:
Craig vs. Pigliucci
Another typical debate in which Craig’s skills totally smash his opponent. Atheists seem to think they need not prepare for a debate with Craig because he is just another wacko with an invisible friend who grants him magical wishes. I think they are all surprised by how plausible Craig can make such an absurd idea sound.
If you can’t see the video, read the debate transcript at Leadership University or download the MP3 from Apologetics 315 (where else?). I would love to have such an intelligent skeptic as my friend, and you will too after you read his post. This is a must-read. You MUST READ IT. It is a great joy to have skeptics like Dr. Pigliucci out there, and I think that we should respect them and pray for them. These are the ones like Anthony Flew who interact with us in debates, and they can be persuaded if we have the right evidence and arguments to convince them.