What will you do to oppose the dark?

David Colquhoun, author of DC’s Improbable Science page, has written a fine criticism of the New Credulity (I know, it’s no more “new” than the New Atheism) which he presents as a symptom of an age of endarkenment.

The past 30 years or so have been an age of endarkenment. It has been a period in which truth ceased to matter very much, and dogma and irrationality became once more respectable. This matters when people delude themselves into believing that we could be endangered at 45 minutes’ notice by non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

It matters when reputable accountants delude themselves into thinking that Enron-style accounting is acceptable. It matters when people are deluded into thinking that they will be rewarded in paradise for killing themselves and others. It matters when bishops attribute floods to a deity whose evident vengefulness and malevolence leave one reeling. And it matters when science teachers start to believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago.

And, of course, the indefensible has become the unquestionable. We live in a time when governments can use lies to justify foreign wars of opportunity, and the people who are punished are those who dared to question it; when religious kooks can sell 75 million copies of books that predict, and revel in, the imminent bloody obliteration of all non-christians, and the greatest outrage is reserved for the fact that a few atheists have books on the bestseller lists; when science funding is on the wane and science education is being corrupted, and those who struggle to keep biblical bullshit out of the classrooms are called intolerant and unamerican.

A few years ago Carl Sagan could write about lighting candles in the dark, and we all focused on that hopeful metaphor of the candle — we need to keep that flickering light alive. Maybe it’s past time that we recognized the encroaching darkness as the enemy, and that we need to stop looking inwards at our own individual antique light sources, and think about organizing a more powerful and more incandescent means of illumination to directly fight that wretched ignorance. Use those candles to light a fire. We need to blaze; we need to lase.


  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    August 15, 2007

    Apropos: the first part of Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason is ontube (970 views so far). It’s a good use of 48 minutes.

    The bit with the sociology professor at the end made me want to shake the man and scream, “You think the Internet is opening up new kinds of truth? Which kind of truth makes microchips possible, you bastard!?” But maybe that’s just me; I’m probably not suited for prime time.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 15, 2007

    An evidently flagging interest in science in US, UK and elsewhere doesn’t constitute a world wide “endarkment” as some seems to think of it as, the developing nations may well make up for this now. Who knows without means to measure?

    But Gapminder shows that the distribution of global health and wealth has gone from a multimodal distribution towards a single modal one. From where I sit it is lightening up as most developing nations are catching up on the former privileged group.

    That said there is no reason not to fight unreason directly. But we want something more illuminating and powerful than presentation laser pointers.

  3. #3 Sastra
    August 15, 2007

    All in all, I think the internet has been more valuable for the Forces of science, reason, humanism, and atheism than religion, spirituality, faith, and woo. Every community has and had churches where Believers could get together and do Bible Study, or the equivalent. The religious have never had a problem with isolation or lack of ability to get their message across.

    With the advent of the computer, the Lone Village Skeptic has a community, a library, a discussion group, and a formidable presence, for he has always had the better arguments. The screams on the other side are of rising panic. Given an open dialog, in the long run — if there is a long run and we don’t blow ourselves up — truth will eventually out.

    That’s not my “faith,” because I might be wrong and would be able to tell if I was wrong. But that’s my best guess, reasonable inference, and/or working theory. 😉

  4. #4 Gridman
    August 15, 2007

    CJO: I’m not really one to believe in the power of positive thinking (That’s “The Secret?” isn’t it?) but I’m positive of the outcome of negative thinking.

    PZ is right. People who value science and reason need to take a stand and fight, and recognize that it is a fight. I loathe using a war analogy but it is fitting if not particularly palatable to everyone’s sensibilities.

    It has always been a fight for science and reason to gain ground, and in some places at certain times the fight has been harder or easier.

    Like any campaign, we cannot rely on steady progress, nor allow ourselves to be defeated (or self-defeated) when not every situation goes in our favor.

    I’ve been giving much thought over the last few weeks to this very question: What can I do to oppose the dark?

    This question has been burning in my mind because it seems that the number of religion-inspired lunacies has been increasing at an alarming rate recently. That sets my blood to boil and that makes me want to fight.

    Then I thought, “What if the lunacy isn’t really increasing? What if what’s changing is the dynamic and the efficacy of the social network that gets the word out?”

    I see more, I’m outraged more and I want to fight more.

    I think that’s what’s happening. Despite all the analogies of herding cats, I think Dawkins’ calls to form a movement are working, even if indirectly. The information about the outrages that are happening are being brought to the attention of more people and that, ultimately, helps the fight.

    What can be done? Don’t just come blogs like this and be content just to read and comment. Spread the word. Build the network.

    I’m not talking about “preaching” atheism. I’m talking about informing people about the atrocities being commited in the names of superstition, psuedoscience and religion. That this things go on, unseen, fuels complacency.

  5. #5 vjack
    August 16, 2007

    I am thinking we should abandon Dawkins’ A and replace it with logo that simply says “Fuck the Skull of Jesus.”


  6. #6 John Ricks
    December 16, 2009

    If I’m being honest I find that losing weight is easier with exercise than with dieting. I always put weight back on when I go on a diet because the diet ends and I go back to eating unhealthy foods.

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