30 June 2009

Skepticism, thy name is Treason

Think of any question regarding a matter of fact. Will it rain tomorrow? Does light really travel at 186,282.39705122 miles per second (in a vacuum)? Does caffeine stunt your growth?

Normally, even in vehement disagreements over these matters, vitriol is minimal. But for some types of people, there are orthodox answers to certain questions. Deny the orthodox answers and boy are you in trouble. The least bit of skepticism (and I do mean even the least bit) regarding the theory of evolution -- a single theory -- is never treated like simple skepticism, never treated as simple difference of opinion. No, this skepticism regarding a single theory (never mind the reason for the skepticism) is sufficient to earn the skeptic the accusation of being anti-science. One is an opponent of all science (I am ussually subjected to harsher treatment because I deny the possibility of a properly scientific theory of origins at all, on the grounds that theories of origins are necessarily highly speculative and strictly untestable. It's so much fun being me sometimes.)

When it comes to scientific orthodoxy, there is no such thing as free speech, no such thing as free inquiry, no such thing as honest, heart-felt objection. Disagreement with scientific orthodoxy is a crime. Take for example the crime of Holocaust Denying. The Holocaust is a simple fact condition: it happened; or, it did not happen -- like the questions, "What happened to the colonists at Roanoke?" or "What caused the fall of the Roman Empire?" Several theories abound regarding both those questions. (As of 2003 there were no less than 210 theories about the latter.) Rejecting any of those explanations is not a crime. You could, more relevantly, deny that there were any colonists at Roanoke in the first place or even that there was a fall of the Empire, without being guilty of a crime for doing so. But deny the Holocaust (which, by the way, I do not) -- have an honest, but contrary, opinion about a matter of historical fact -- and you are guilty of a crime.

Guilty of a crime for refusing to assent to a proposition about an event in history -- it hardly seems possible; but it's true. You say, if you dare, the Holocaust did not happen; and it's off to jail with you. Heretic.

When I was young, it was fashionable for us god-deniers to point to the Roman Catholic Church's treatment of heretics, those who disagreed with orthodoxy as defined by the Church. This treatment of heretics was one of many reasons for denying the truth of the Christian faith. Heretics, as we know, were subjected by the Church to unspeakable tortures and modes of execution, such as burning at the stake. We could not understand this mistreatment. The only thing these people did was to have an opinion on certain matters which were at variance with orthodoxy as defined by the Church. We, naturally, are much better. We do not have orthodox beliefs. We believe in freedom of inquiry and debate. No more persecutions of Galileo and his like.

It wasn't until after I, myself, (and sort of to my own surprise) became a Christian that I realized just how much orthodoxy there really is outside of "religious" orthodoxy. And, as P. K. Feyerabend, argued, there are ways short of the rack and the stake, of persecuting heretics.

For example, you could call them traitors. That's what Paul Krugman does, accusing of treason -- against the planet, no less -- anyone who doesn't agree with his position on global warming. Do you suppose that, in their quest to save the planet, people like Herr Krugman will argue for the (summary?) execution of us traitors? We are, after all, talking about saving the planet...from traitors to the planet. And treason, as William Anderson points out, has traditionally been a crime punishable by death. Though I doubt they'll kill us. That would mean giving us an escape from their plantation -- I mean, planet.

These fundamentalists are just like the fundamentalists (of faiths other than their own) they despise. They never have to prove anything in order to compel belief. They want to control everything; and every crisis -- real, perceived or manufactured -- is an argument for their expanding purview. And when their prophets say it and they believe it, that settles it. The debate is over when they become convinced; and their opponents, not free to remain unconvinced, are transformed immediately from simple interlocutors into dangerous criminals.

H/T: William Anderson


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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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