Please let me digress a bit before launching into the main reason for this post. Science literally means "knowledge." The opposite of knowledge is ignorance, which ruled the planet until the beginning of the "Enlightenment" and the scientific revolution. Would anyone really want to live in the ignorance prior to this change? Then why let it creep back into society? Steven Pinker talks about the positive effects of enlightened and scientific thinking. Sam Harris challenges the claim that science is morally neutral. Following are points from Sam's ideas that everyone who thinks science only deals with "is" and not "should" needs to be aware of (Credit: Harriet Hall, the author of the article):
- Science can and should determine what is moral. In fact, it is a more reliable guide than any other option.
- Questions about values — about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose — are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. He says we know enough about the human brain and its relationship to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life.
- He defines an action as moral if it increases the well-being of humans and other conscious beings, and immoral if it decreases well-being. We all accept that a good life is preferable to a life of suffering and that things like kindness to children are desirable. We all accept the Golden Rule: it’s not that we accept it because religion so dictates, it’s that religions have adopted it because we all know that it is valid.
- Religion has long claimed that morality is its province, but this is clearly untenable. Different religions have different standards, religious commandments have encouraged immoral behaviors, non-religious societies are as moral as religious ones.
- If morality can be established as a science, it will facilitate rational progress.
Now, the reason for this post. The leaders of the atheist/skeptical/science communities seem to be focusing on conferences, individual blogs, and in general providing an echo chamber of group comfort. While all this is good in itself, we are mostly talking to ourselves and not really expanding out to those who need to hear the truth.
What about lobbying the educational establishment for truly science-based thinking? What about using social marketing and advertising in conjunction with other measures, as this shows such can be successful? I can't do it, those who have the bucks can. When was the last time you saw an ad on the network TV stations promoting science-based thinking and the need for evidence in support of claims? Ya, my point.
On a positive note, there are stand-out secular organizations that has consistently been working within the legal and mainstream media worlds to promote an acceptance of secular, science-based values. One organization is the Freedom From Religion Foundation. To highlight why I hold this organization in such high regard, there was an excellent talk by Susan Jacoby , based on her article in the NYT entitled "Sick and Tired of 'God Bless America", at the recent Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in Pittsburgh. Here is the podcast containing her talk (beginning at the "22:00" mark). It is simply must-listening!! Susan essentially nailed what I am trying to say on this post.
Another organization that deserves some mention is the Secular Coalition for America. It is dedicated to educate Federal politicians about secularism. I think they do a good job in that regard, however, I would also like to see more education of the general public through mass media from them.
I will continue to be a thorn in the side of anyone publishing religious or other pseudoscience articles, opinions or letters in the media. What do I mean by that?
- Commenting on religious and other pseudoscience blogs and websites. Examples of me doing such may be found here, here, and here.
- Sending "Letters to the Editor" to my local newspaper (which I have been doing regularly since college!!). Here are my latest efforts, to the Charlotte Observer:
I will also continue with the following:
- Attempting to speak at religious and other pseudoscience conferences. This, for example.
- Attempting to speak at religious clubs in my local high school and colleges.
- Offering myself as a speaker anyplace and any time.