Friday, August 31, 2012

Why Stephen Bond left the "skeptics"

WHY I AM NO LONGER A SKEPTIC by Stephen Bond, Stephensplatz blog, 28 Aug 2011

While I share the impetus toward derision of the skeptics movement, for most of the same reasons, this hyperbolic argument is deficient in certain respects.The author is more philosophically perspicacious than 98% of the people who could be counted as having some relation to the atheist/humanist/skeptics movement, but the downward pull of bourgeois thought, even left bourgeois thought, is difficult to resist. This fellow is on the right track, but his reasoning and philosophical-methodological perspective need tightening up.

(1) The overblown accusations of sexism & racism, both in the way specific examples are addressed and the phenomenon is generalized to the entire movement, detract from the argument.

 (2) Neoliberalism: the author is missing something here: the way neoliberalism impacts skepticism is not that they are all neoliberals, but that neoliberalism has also pulled the left to the right.

(3) Feminism, etc.: the author doesn't see that bourgeois feminism and diversity management are also deficient & affected by the neoliberal order.

(4) The treatment of metaphor in science & its improper (and proper?) uses is badly handled. What other sources of knowledge other than science could be more useful are not specified. Had the author moved to the question of social theory & ideology critique, he would have done better.

(5) Politics: while the author is correct about pseudoscience (such as racist pseudoscience) flourishing in liberal democracies, he is rather vague about the relation between science & politics, other than the assertion than science is necessarily political.

(6) The author does not adequately address the relationship between liberal abstract ideals & their realization or non-realization in actual societies.

(7) Skeptics issues: note comments on alternative medicine, sociobiology, linguistics, economics. Aside from linguistics, I'm inclined to agree with the author. He could have said more about economics, since Michael Shermer is one of the leading purveyors of pseudoscience in this area.

(8) Harmlessness of paranormal superstition: this was my position in the '70s, but no longer. As for ridiculing the disenfranchised, their superstitious mindset is ripe for the pickings by fascism.

(9) Skepticism as dogmatism? Of course.

(10) Positivism: this treatment needs treatment. Positivism (in a loose sense) really is a problem. The fawning over every statement by Dawkins, the scientism of Harris, or the authoritative pronouncements of Hawking on the death of philosophy, are all indicators of how deeply uncritical & positivist in tendency is the whole atheist movement. Science, scientific method, etc. repeatedly endlessly, along with the obliteration of social theory & philosophy: this is how they do.

(11) Author's disillusionment: he had illusions in the first place. His were not mine.


Fred said...

I would be interested in your understanding of J. Habermas' Religion and Rationality edited by E. Mendieta. The interview would be a good place to start. I would be particularly interested in whether you approach the justification of a skeptical or atheistic position in terms of reasons or consequences, e.g. empirical evidence. In your opinion, does skepticism lead to a theoretical criticism of all religious concepts or to a scientistic criticism of the consequences of either religious beliefs and concepts or the lack of a moral orientation. In whatever your understanding of the teleology or principles of skepticism, what are the implications for a normative life cycle as understood from a principled moral position?

Ralph Dumain said...

Thanks for the reference. I am not familiar with that work. I don't care much for Habermas after the early work. "Skepticism" of course has several meanings. The skeptical movement is defined not by philosophical but by scientific skepticism, i.e. the madate to test all knowledge claims. I think that "skepticism" is a terrible name for such a movement, and the fact that it was delineated in relattion to paranormal claims and fringe science, leaving normal obfuscation intact, is an indicator of its ideological limitations.