We Are Being Asked the Impossible

November 9, 2016


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.  

Scientists are scared

Stephen Law, provost of CFI–UK, asks for a discussion of who to blame:

Of course, the last place we’ll point the finger of blame is at ourselves, for we are always the heroes of our own narrative. So what’s your preferred story and villain?!

Sam Harris: “The irony: 81 percent of Evangelicals just elected our first atheist president.” (Hemant rebuts.) Trump performed better with evangelicals than Romney. 

Pope Fluffy: “May we make God’s merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation.” 

Adam Lee boils it down:

The Supreme Court will swing hard to the right for decades. The religious right will get everything they ever wanted. Climate change is never going to be stopped in time now. And all of that pales at the thought of a vindictive egomaniac with the nuclear launch codes. 

Hemant Mehta on what his immigrant mother learned from last night:

That we live in a country that doesn’t give a damn about people like her. That white supremacy is alive and well. That whatever progress we’ve made for various minority groups over the past several years can be taken away in an instant. That democracy is only as good as the people in it. That our state of Illinois might be a decent place, but the rest of the country is full of people who don’t care about anyone but themselves. 

Here’s how I explained it to my kids, and how they helped lift us up a little bit. 

Oklahoma’s State Question 790, which would amended the state constitution to allow for the public funding of religious institutions, goes down. Goes to show once again that newspaper endorsements don’t help. (And maybe op-eds from “radical secularists” do.)

Colorado legalizes physician-assisted suicide

Hemant also rounded up the winners and losers among secular/atheist candidates. I’ll just list the winners here:



Pew Research shows a huge divide in trust in science along partisan lines, and Faye Flam at Bloomberg looks to Daniel Kahan for perspective:

Kahan said he’s still struggling to fully understand these results. He doesn’t believe Americans are losing trust in science. In times of controversy, people rarely admit to being anti-science, he said. Instead, they find scientists who agree with them. Even creationists tried to appear to more scientific by creating the science-y sounding concept of “intelligent design” and recruiting a few Ph.D.-level biologists to defend it. 

Now’s probably a good time to get your digital subscription to Skeptical Inquirer while it’s still allowed to be published. Google Play and App Store

Quote of the Day:

Carl Sagan, from The Demon-Haunted World (as highlighted by Maria Popova):

When we are asked to swear in American courts of law — that we will tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” — we are being asked the impossible. It is simply beyond our powers. Our memories are fallible; even scientific truth is merely an approximation; and we are ignorant about nearly all of the Universe…


If it is to be applied consistently, science imposes, in exchange for its manifold gifts, a certain onerous burden: We are enjoined, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, to consider ourselves and our cultural institutions scientifically — not to accept uncritically whatever w
e’re told; to surmount as best we can our hopes, conceits, and unexamined beliefs; to view ourselves as we really are… Because its explanatory power is so great, once you get the hang of scientific reasoning you’re eager to apply it everywhere. However, in the course of looking deeply within ourselves, we may challenge notions that give comfort before the terrors of the world.


In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.


If we offer too much silent assent about [ignorance] — even when it seems to be doing a little good — we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.


The chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is in its polarization: Us vs. Them — the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, you’re beyond redemption. This is unconstructive… Whereas, a compassionate approach that from the beginning acknowledges the human roots of pseudoscience and superstition might be much more widely accepted. If we understand this, then of course we feel the uncertainty and pain of the abductees, or those who dare not leave home without consulting their horoscopes, or those who pin their hopes on crystals from Atlantis.


Both skepticism and wonder are skills that need honing and practice. Their harmonious marriage within the mind of every schoolchild ought to be a principal goal of public education. I’d love to see such a domestic felicity portrayed in the media, television especially: a community of people really working the mix — full of wonder, generously open to every notion, dismissing nothing except for good reason, but at the same time, and as second nature, demanding stringent standards of evidence — and these standards applied with at least as much rigor to what they hold dear as to what they are tempted to reject with impunity. 

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