Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

“Skeptic”: A Sadly Abused Term

Political philosopher John Gray is, as our friend James Barham describes him,

impossible to classify according to our ordinary categories. He is obviously no believer. It is not even clear he is really a friend of traditional theistic religion. But he is even more opposed to the religious pretensions of science.

James points out this great passage from Gray’s 2007 book Straw Dogs:

[S]cience alone has the power to silence heretics. Today it is the only institution that can claim authority. Like the Church in the past, it has the power to destroy, or marginalise, independent thinkers….In fact, science does not yield any fixed picture of things, but by censoring thinkers who stray too far from current orthodoxies it preserves the comforting illusion of a single established worldview. From the standpoint of anyone who values freedom of thought, this may be unfortunate, but it is undoubtedly the chief source of science’s appeal. For us, science is a refuge from uncertainty, promising — and in some measure delivering — the miracle of freedom from thought; while churches have become sanctuaries for doubt. (p. 19)

Ain’t it true? This makes me think of how, in the hands of Darwinists and other enforcers, the word “skeptic” has come to be so widely abused lately, as to designate the exact opposite of what it should seem to mean: not people who doubt but people who insist on the absolute truth of their beliefs, mock the beliefs of others, and try to silence dissenters. If you ever visit the Why Evolution Is True blog, you may recall Jerry Coyne‘s shock to discover that Alex Tsakiris of Skeptico was not a lockstep orthodox believer in pseudo-skeptic Jerry Coyne’s litany of Darwinist beliefs.
What I hadn’t really recognized clearly is the extent to which, as Gray points out, “faith communities,” so called, in fact nurture today’s genuine skeptics. But now that he says it, it’s obvious really.