Do we need one more blog about skepticism?
I can tell that you’re skeptical.
As the banner indicates, this blog is chiefly to do with secularism, critical thinking, and evolutionary psychology. There is already a glut of blogs and other web forums devoted to the first two if not each of these. Do we really need one more? Absolutely. The discourse on each of these three topics is frequently plagued by muddled thinking, political influences, and misinformation. The signal-to-noise ratio is abysmal.
For the purposes of my blog, I will comment mostly on secular activism, community, and atheism- areas in which I have experience. In America, the nonreligious demographic is transitioning from extreme minority status to the mainstream. Among young people, the growth is nothing short of astonishing. Like any progressive minority-rights movement, this growth naturally creates a few problems and some turbulence. There is great confusion about identity (are we humanists? skeptics? nonbelievers? atheists? agnostics?), disagreement over what the primary goal should be (ending religious power, securing social/political equality for nonbelievers, promoting science & reason? all of these?) and loads of in-fighting among coalescing factions of secularists with disparate agendas.
Most of this is perfectly normal under the circumstances. Nonetheless, it is clear that the voices in other progressive movements have sometimes been very beneficial to them and sometimes deleterious (consider the difference in influence between a Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Farrakhan). A reality check now and then is good for all of us, and for the movement.
Perhaps the single most vaunted activity in secularist circles, and the very foundation of the skeptical movement, is critical thinking. It, or a synonym like reason, is brandished in many a discussion around the web as insult or weapon. Many people I know think that critical thinking is something we can bestow on people with the proper educational guidelines. If only we taught it in high school or middle school or kindergarten! they say. Astonishingly though, almost everyone gets even some of the basics wrong, and often. This includes even the educated and professional scientists. The thing is, critical thinking is hard. Much harder than anyone really realizes. It is cognitively demanding, but worse than that it is emotionally demanding. Michael Shermer, for one, has regularly reported on the evidence that people are constantly mentally compromised by the biases created to protect their egos.
Critical thinking isn’t a mundane bumping of ideas against a laundry list of fallacies. Those ideas are parts of us, sometimes part of our identity. Casting them aside as rubbish when necessary is painful. It hurts. The most successful human endeavors, such as the scientific enterprise, have worked in part because they are systems where not-you is prompted to evaluate your ideas. This is good, because so few of us (if any) are willing and able to do it well and consistently. That should make us very reluctant declare discursive victory over others by reason of reason, by critical thoughts about their uncritical thinking. That would be true, even if people had a terrific grasp of the tools of critical thinking, and they don’t. These problems bear examination and I will be doing some of that.
Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is my own academic discipline. As a researcher and would-be expert I do a great deal of thinking about it. EP is to the political left what global warming is to the right (although both the right and left tend to dislike EP- which means it must have some virtue). An embattled science, EP is attacked by liberal elements who seem to hold mistaken beliefs that the findings of EP might undermine political and activist goals such as the political equality of women and minorities. The dismissals issued by global warming deniers regarding climate change look strikingly like the dismissals of EP. This is no coincidence, and that similarity will be examined in this space periodically (alongside informative and analytical essays on EP topics).
I’ve open a few cans of worms in this intro, and I’m sure you’re unconvinced on at least a point or two. Don’t worry, I’ll return to each in greater detail and when I do you’re invited to disagree.
Welcome to Incredulous. I’m Ed. Good to see you.