Our world is plagued with unreason. From left and right wing ideologues to extremist religious organizations, the enlightenment is under siege. As much as I enjoy talking to other like minded individuals about how wrong everyone else is in there fervent belief in unreasonable truth claims, I do not see what good that does in and of itself. I want to discuss how we excise the cancer of unreason from our societies, with the goal of building a better future for humanity. I am truly at a loss as to how this can be done. Not only do we face the unreasoned believers, but their defenders. These relativist fence sitters accuse us of being dogmatic, of treating science as a religion, of being just as fundamentalist as terrorists and the American Evangelists. So again I ask, how do we respond, how do we fight back and how do we win back civilization?

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Comment by Luara on August 17, 2014 at 11:24am

I wrote a book that teaches evolution to preschoolers

Very nice!

Comment by Luara on August 16, 2014 at 4:22am

how do we win back civilization?

I doubt unreason has been getting worse.  Literacy has increased in the USA, that helps.  There has always been a lot of irrationality.

Comment by Jonathan Tweet on August 15, 2014 at 9:58pm

I say, promote scientific thinking. I wrote a book that teaches evolution to preschoolers, for example. Steven Pinker documents how the US has been getting more reasonable, and people are getting smarter. The main force driving the rise in intelligence seems to be the rise of scientific thinking. So let's do more of that. 

Comment by Luara on August 15, 2014 at 10:17am

get them to admit it is their lust for cheap imports bringing parts of the job market down and not Satan in a business suit plotting the Illuminatis next vast conspiracy to send us all to hell.

The ironic thing is, a lot of what people complain about IS a societal problem - but they are blaming the wrong thing.

I think Jacques Ellul wrote about the inauthentic nature of protest in a technological society.  Also Herbert Marcuse. 

Comment by Bluegrass Skeptic on August 14, 2014 at 9:13pm
Escapism would be the drug of choice pandered by the pulpit and politicians. To get rid of x, you must believe in y. Oldest psychological problem around. Getting folks tonrecognize their own accountability instead of relegating it to a higher authority would be helpful. Basically, get them to admit it is their lust for cheap imports bringing parts of the job market down and not Satan in a business suit plotting the Illuminatis next vast conspiracy to send us all to hell.
Comment by jacques lauperr on August 14, 2014 at 12:42pm

That Carl Sagan passage is exactly what haunts me daily.  I think it is very dangerous indeed to assume that this fight is won.  Women's rights, gay rights and racial rights certainly were not won by allowing the passage of time to fix our problems.  Those groups also had the numbers and the unity.  Even then their struggle is not over.  I try to engage people at every opportunity, but I fear I am perceived as an irrational and prejudiced bore.  It is as if the more I try the more people are anesthetized.  I wonder every day if my unyielding commentary will one day prevent me from acquiring work as I may appear to be some kind of radical when all I ask is that any truth claim be backed with evidence.  Yet it seems perfectly correct to many that we fund Catholic schools that promulgate untruth.  Far be it for me to pretend to have any kind of grasp on what the truth is, but reason is the attempt to whittle away our vast wealth of ignorance.  I cannot imagine what it like for people in the U.S or other more religious countries where one could face open discrimination. Here in Canada I am simply ignored, which is frustrating in and of itself.  

I think whatever the solution is it must use the tried and true method of reaching children before they are indoctrinated.  Before they have been forced into a world view of untruth.  Whether this be individual engagement, media or somehow changing government policy.  If the religious can do it so can we.  However, Atheism in and of itself is not enough.  Atheism is a symptom of rational thought.  The key being the spreading of critical thinking throughout humanity.  All of that takes political clout and money, which can only be amassed if reason becomes political.  One of the biggest misconceptions about fighting fires is that it cannot be fought with fire, when in fact the biggest fires are fought with fire.  While I do not want to suggest that being an atheist should necessitate a single conforming world view, I think it is reasonable to suggest that reason must be prioritized over all else, lest we remain an insignificant, disorganized and disparate community of unbelievers that the powers that be can ignore.

That was a bit of a diatribe, but I hope at least some of it hits home with some of you.

Thanks again for the responses.

Comment by Future on August 14, 2014 at 8:38am
I think the answer is persistence and patience. Atheism is on a growing trajectory. Just keep pumping reason and rationality into every corner where it is lacking.
Comment by Luara on August 14, 2014 at 8:19am

That's a really good question.  A partial answer:Make science sexy and entertaining.  We had Carl Sagan.  Now we have Neil deGrasse Tyson with the excellent TV series Cosmos

A sexy woman scientist would really help, if she would spare the time to make a TV series.  Lisa Randall, say.

Comment by Bertold Brautigan on August 14, 2014 at 8:07am

Jacques, I think you may have posed the scariest question of all. An author I really like, Morris Berman, feels that we’re in grave danger of losing everything that was gained in the Enlightenment precisely because of unreason. I certainly have no answers, but here’s an excellent summation of the predicament:

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces . . .

I worry that . . . pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us – then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.

The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

[Carl Sagan, The Demon-haunted World—Science as a Candle in the Dark]

And this was 1995. Back then Sagan couldn’t have imagined the likes of Michelle Bachmann and her ilk occupying seats in Congress, a “creationist museum” with a dinosaur wearing a saddle, the U.S. launching a war based entirely on lies. Scot, we have made some strides and I would like to think the fight is already won, but when you think about dominionists trying to impose “biblical law” not all that different from sharia, I have to wonder whether the fight’s even begun. As Thomas Gray noted back in a more reasonable time,

“Where ignorance is bliss,

‘Tis folly to be wise.

Comment by Randall Smith on August 14, 2014 at 6:57am

I don't know what the answer is. I'm hoping it's patience. I look at slavery, women's rights, gay rights, etc., and think "in time".



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