In another news item -- I'll explain how these are related -- a petition was submitted last month to the British PM "to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16." Richard Dawkins signed the petition but later asked that his name be struck from the roll after he read a fuller description:
In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.Though Dawkins is quick with a mea culpa for not having read more carefully, his involvement has been jumped upon by critics in the ID community and self-designated paladins defending religion from rabid secularists. No surprise!
So, how are quack therapies like religious inculcation? Both problems require a solution in the form of cultural pressure instead of legal force.
If we are serious in our collective effort to expunge as much as possible the irrational from the public space, shame sure is a savvy tactic. Embarrassment is by far a more effective motivator than federal intervention or philosophical rigor:
"The final test of truth is ridicule. Very few religious dogmas have ever faced it and survived." -H. L. MenckenThough it is of course necessary to be both legally correct and philosophically sound! Dawkins identifies his campaign as one of consciousness-raising; Sam Harris in The End of Faith asked that we become "conversationally intolerant" of religious -- and by extension -- irrational beliefs. I think James Randi sounds a similar clarion call: that individuals find the courage to confront flim-flam, baloney, and the propagation of dangerous norms anywhere we see them. His weekly SWIFT newsletter is a handbook for identifying the enemy and his critical commentary is a training manual for dispatching it.
Whether our chief personal concern is with dogmatic religion, malfeasant drug-peddlers, wonky politicos, or any other threat to civic health, the fight against baloney might begin with a sense of humor. Wherever the absurd takes sanctuary, let us laugh in its face. It's difficult to take seriously what has been exposed as incredibly, indefensibly, mind-numbingly ridiculous. E.g. immaculate conception; intelligent design; natural cures; or political piety.
[This post is modified from a letter sent to James Randi]