The Course of Reason

A Case for Skepticism in the Student Freethought Movement: Part II

August 15, 2013

It’s strange how sometimes things seem to happen as if by design rather than by chance.  Now, I have long since learned that ‘fate’ is just an acknowledgement of confirmation bias and can be ignored as such; but sometimes a human element comes in seemingly just to test my ability to think rationally about fate.  I was celebrating my first posted submission to this blog (Part I of this series) by way of a few posts on my Facebook regarding some cases I am interested in investigating as a skeptic.  One of these cases was a story from my local Fox affiliate telling parents, getting ready for the new school year, to take their kids to a (gulp) CHIROPRACTOR! The ‘doctor’ then explained the importance of good nerve health for children and proceeded to wrench on the neck of a preteen. 

Putting aside the pseudoscientific nature of chiropractic for a moment, this poor kid’s neck is still growing! Chiropractic neck adjustments have been correlated to fatal strokes in adults; why would you let this be done to your children?! I posted the link on my Facebook and went back to other things. Only a few hours later, a young woman (who shall remain nameless) proceeded to comment on my post. This woman is a member of a campus freethought group, is an atheist, and one would assume an advocate of science-based medicine. My assumptions were dreadfully wrong. She shared with me how her chiropractic adjustments have done her a world of good, how she understands that some people don’t “believe” in chiropractic, and how she preferred the chiropractic adjustments REGARDLESS OF THE SCIENCE AGAINST THE PRACTICE!!!

I stared at the screen in shock.  How could this be? How could the avant-garde of freethought be openly rejecting science in favor of placebo and anecdotal evidence? How can someone who claims to reject the irrationality of religion be so blind to the irony of this situation?  One word: ATHEISM.  And not the atheism of most non-believers, oh no! But a hip, fresh, stylish new atheism sold on tumblr, twitter, facebook, pintrest, and in the pages of New York Times best selling polemics.  It’s the NEW New Atheism.  Ready made, vacuum packed, gulten-free, and guaranteed to shock, awe, and offend! Atheism clad in the latest styles and devoid of thought, inquiry, or skepticism.  Dogmatic, soundbite rich, and exactly what the opponents of secularism in this country need to attack us with.

Atheism without critical thinking is just a religion without the funny hats and hymns! It’s clear to me that there is some serious internal damage control to be done in the movement.  This little clash of mine, combined with the growing controversy surrounding the FFRF/AA Holocaust Memorial scandal is proof positive that atheism is growing faster than Humanism and Skepticism can keep up to balance it out.  Most of the founding thinkers in Secular Humanism have agreed that Atheism alone is insufficient to live a good life.  It is a stance on one question, and nothing more. 

If we allow ourselves to be so narrowly defined and to retreat from all the other questions that should be concerning us, how can we claim to be a group of people interested in humanity as a whole? What good is disproving gods and goddesses over and over again if we still have the specter of bunk alternative medicine, exploitative spirit mediums, divisive conspiracy theorists, and anti-science politicians to contend with? How can we claim to be objective inquirers if we all tow the same party line? How can we expect to be taken seriously if we advocate for science and reason and then turn around and belittle their importance in our own lives? I repeat my plea from my previous blog: We as student leaders need to push for better critical thinking, not only on our campuses and in our communities, but within our own organizations.  We need to encourage our members to utilize the tools of skepticism and critical inquiry to answer questions, not simply to follow the trends or the perceived authority of those around us.  Religion’s growth depends on uncritical believers; let us set a higher standard for ourselves and truly live up to the name FREETHINKERS.

Special Thanks to Eran Schertz, Mason Ocean, The CFI on Campus team, and all my fellow Skeptics worldwide. “Nullis in verba!”



About the Author: Jeffrey Elliott

Jeffrey Elliott's photo

Jeffrey Elliott is an undergraduate student of philosophy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.  He holds a degree in control systems technology from Ranken Technical College in St. Louis Missouri and is a licensed industrial radiographer.  His experience in blue-collar jobs combined with his pragmatic approach to philosophy has informed his work in skeptical inquiry and STEM outreach.  He is co-founder and president of the Freethought Society of SIUE, an associate member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.




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