George Pitcher, Religion Editor of the UK’s The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, recently wrote in his blog: ‘So much of human life is irrational, but a central tenet of the secularist faith is that if it’s irrational then it can’t be allowed to exist.’
An epic fail, and not only because of the reference to a secularist ‘faith’ (faithoholics employing terms from their own sphere to denigrate atheists always tickles me, as they unwittingly and laughably express suspicion and criticism of those very terms on which their own daft claims to veracity lie). But Pitcher’s repetition of the tired, trite and unfounded charge that secularists are hell-bent on eradicating irrationality in all its forms is a useful reminder of the moronically blinkered response theists often regurgitate in the face of any challenge from atheists to their unevidenced beliefs.
There is a sliding scale of irrationality, between benign and delightful unevidenced beliefs on the one, Santa Clausian hand and unevidenced, anti-human and murderous religions, topped by a huge margin by Islam, on the other. The tooth fairy story is an entirely irrational belief but is delimited in precisely the same way as are many children’s experiences of ‘imaginary friends.’ Kids simply grow up and are highly unlikely to take up dentally-invoked jihad as a consequence.
But there is a panoply of irrationality between these extremes, not only religious in nature, and it is with the crucial notion of harm, both physical and psychological, caused to others that Pitcher’s words can begin to shed their mendacious duplicity and take on a real point of substance with which any secularist and atheist should be happy to agree.
Witness, on what at first may seem a harmless enough part of this vast spectrum of unreason, the case of the distinguished science writer Simon Singh, sued by the British Chiropractic Association for exposing their spine-bashing ways as nigh-on useless pseudoscience. In his co-authored book, ‘Trick or Treatment’, he concluded that traditional physiotherapy worked just as well as gentler forms of chiropractic treatments and without any of the euphemistically termed ‘side-effects’ of the ‘fundamentalist’ chiropractors. The UK’s Private Eye reported: ‘As well as dizziness and headaches, there were 700 instances in the medical literature of patients suffering spinal compression fractures and other serious complications, and four reported deaths in Canada’.
Let’s add to this deadly mix of unreason the case of Jeremy Sherr, Fellow of the Society of Homeopaths, who recently embarked on a campaign to treat AIDS sufferers in Tanzania not with proven and effective anti-retroviral drugs but with… homeopathy. This pseudoscience has produced no definitive results in any clinical or double-blind trial it has ever undergone and that this pernicious purveyor of nothing more than the placebo effect is now preying on desperately ill people in Africa, keeping them away from traditional medicines which are proven to work, is a disgrace of the highest magnitude. Real people are dying because of this unproven ‘science’ and both secularist and theist alike should join in as vocal a condemnation as possible before more people die because of sheer wilful ignorance.
Irrationality, then, is not the sole preserve of the theists. But they can and certainly do rise to the challenge. Theists often try to castigate the scientific method as just another ‘faith’ or ‘belief system’, one which can make mistakes just as much as they claim religion can be misused for evil ends. I’ll play along just for a moment. The vital attention that global warming is receiving because of scientists’ buttoned-down findings is encouraging governments and individual citizens to re-think their stance on how to live on our one and only planet. But an equally devastating threat to the planet, which scientists have been slow to cotton on to, is ocean acidification, the so-called ‘other CO2 problem’. Left unresolved it will, according to some experts now speaking up, have catastrophic impact on Earth’s eco-systems in less than 60 years. As Jason Hall-Spencer, research lecturer at Plymouth University, stated on this: ‘The whole scientific community was caught with its pants down’. The newsflash is therefore that scientists can make mistakes just as much as anyone can. But, as absolutely distinct from the theistic and the pseudoscientific, the solution to scientific error or oversight is not less but MORE scientific inquiry. As unbending and unheeding as theism and pseudoscience remain when faced with evidence gainsaying their positions, the solution to their anti-human, destructive failings is, by contrast, not more but LESS ‘faith’ and unevidenced assertion. Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, for example, sees the solution to the problem of destructive and ‘extremist’ faith as the encouragement and promotion of…yet more faith (Terry Sanderson, of the National Secular Society, tersely and wittily said last year: “Mr Blair’s call for religion to play a bigger role in world affairs is like trying to douse a fire by showering it with petrol”). Until this no-brainer distinction is properly grasped, then the future looks pretty damn bleak.
The good Mr. Pitcher and those whom he is parroting should re-visit, then, their closed-minded thinking on this whole topic of secular attitudes to the irrational and realize that we are objecting properly and morally-soundly to irrationality being empowered and celebrated to such a degree that it disfigures and destroys other people’s lives, other human beings who are often at their most desperate and most vulnerable. Though he perversely and proudly says in his very same blog, albeit in no doubt ironic but inappropriately frivolous manner, that: ‘Christianity is mad. Madness is at the heart of our faith. It is a completely mad notion that an artisan from an unfashionable province of an oppressed nation could emerge with a message of the simplest self-sacrifice, get himself executed in humiliating failure, and then change the course of human history forever’, he and his ilk should surely be running to join all of us atheists and secularists in condemning the destruction of innocent lives at the hands of unreason, rather than gleefully and shamefully promoting irrationality as a virtue, as fast as their little theistic feet can carry them.