I’d like to congratulate and thank Chris Mooney for a really excellent podcast. And the same to Tom Flynn, whose responses were among the most articulate and well-reasoned I’ve heard in a long time!
I’d like to add a point that was never really, certainly never sufficiently, addressed. While I think everything Tom said was absolutely correct, the inevitable association of the word “spiritual” (and to only a somewhat lesser extent, “sacred”), with invisible friends and the like is only one subset of the overall problem with that term. The big problem with “spiritual” is that it serves as a shield and sugar coating for all kinds of wacky credulity. And credulity is the root problem. “Spirituality” is used to justify all manner of “comforting” nonsense that is at best placebo-like and at worst really dangerous. See, for example, most of Brian Dunning’s work on Skeptoid. Other illustrations that come to mind are found on Roger Nygard’s dvd, “The Meaning of Existence,” such as when Roger visits a new-age restaurant in California.
Claims of “spirituality” are used to bolster the childish notion that anything that brings emotional ease need not be based in fact and evidence. To question one’s “spirituality” in many quarters is considered the epitome of rudeness and insult, much to the benefit of snake-oil and snake-thinking peddlers around the globe.
And as an individual’s mode of thinking is something of a zero sum game - one cannot be both credulous and critically inclined about the same thing at the same time - supporting credulity, in this case by using credulity-supporting language, diminishes the use of, and the spread of, wise critical thinking. This isn’t something in which Chris and Mr. Frank want to participate, is it?
Yes, a few scientists, who probably spend their lives in environments where there are few pathologically credulous people, use “spiritual” and other such freighted words in ways that actually do mean something and which actually do make sense. Maybe they, and Chris and Adam Frank, should get away from the computer keyboard and out of the lab and take a car trip through middle America, or South America, or Africa, all places where “spirituality” is rampant, and spend some time talking to people who haven’t had social and educational opportunities and other good fortune equivalent to their own.
And yes, Einstein and Hawking even used the “r” word and the “g” word. Hawking has come to rue his unfortunate metaphor, has he not? And does anyone really think Einstein would be using the same religion language were he alive today in this far less innocent age?
As Tom Flynn so eloquently stated, there are plenty of excellent and even more descriptive words available for use other than religiously freighted terms that act as subtext bullets in our feet.
To accommodate nonsense is to bolster nonsense by acquiescence. That doesn’t mean, as Tom also mentioned, we should publicly howl “you morons!” at those whose minds and experience have led them to credulous ideas, as PZ Myers sometimes does to all our detriment.
Accommodation vs. confrontation is, IMHO, a misleading and unnecessary dichotomy.
... We need to lead by example and work on changing our own language to be as consistent as possible. We should not mislead. ...
Those - leading by example and being careful not to mislead - are the keys! We can do those with ACCURATE language.
A couple of last thoughts:
Mr. Frank made much of “tradition” in which, presumably, terms such as spirituality and sacred were used in useful and healthy ways. Is “tradition,” without reference to current reality, ever an effective argument for anything? Why do we sometimes stop following traditions, anyway? There must be a reason…
Second, Mr. Frank (or was it Chris?) cited approvingly Karen Armstrong’s notion that myths which are no longer useful are discarded by society. The truth or falsity of that statement has a great deal to do with how “useful” is defined. For my part, I think Ms. Armstrong ought to accompany Chris and Mr. Frank on that car trip across the continents where regular people live. Maybe she could share the driving. Maybe Roger Nygard could make a “buddy trip” documentary out of the whole thing. It would be great!