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.