There is one style of acronym that’s quite common in recent years, declaring people who profess a particular position, yet do not actually hold any of the characteristics of that position, to hold that position “in name only”. It happens with Republicans (RINO), Democrats (DINO) and all manner of other political and social causes. I think we need to add another to the mix: Skeptic in Name Only (SINO). This seems to be one that is unfortunately infesting the supposed skeptical community.
Now let me make it clear that I’ve used the terms “skeptic” and “skeptical” differently than a lot of people do, simply because I think there is a very important division that needs to be made here. I use the term “skeptical” as someone who questions the validity of a single belief or position. You can be skeptical of Bigfoot. You can be skeptical of alien abductions, conspiracy theories, anti-vacc nuts and honest politicians. Most atheists are outrightly skeptical of religion. I say most because there are an unfortunate few who, in the supposed interest of cooperation and peace, refuse to critically examine religion, they don’t care if anyone believes it so long as it makes them happy and I don’t buy into that kind of mindless accomodationism one bit.
Then you have “skeptic”. Where someone might be skeptical of specific things, maybe many, many things, a skeptic, in my view, is skeptical of *ALL* things. Every single thing in the world, without exception, is open to question, skeptical evaluation and critical review. Skeptics are people who are actually concerned with believing as many true things as possible, rejecting as many false things as possible and knowing how to tell the difference between the two. It’s a matter of applying critical methodology to every aspect of your life and the world around you. Being a skeptic means using logic, reason and evidence to check out everything and once you’ve done that, you continually revisit your positions and re-evaluate them in light of new data. That’s how science works. There are labs out there that test and retest the effect of gravity, who measure the speed of light, etc. to make sure things haven’t changed. Just because you have a position doesn’t mean that position will always be right, you have to keep testing your conclusions.
This scares some people and I suppose that’s not surprising. However, letting your emotions run away with you, to the point that you are unable to view reality with dispassionate eyes, is part of the problem. That’s not to say that emotion has no place in life, but to allow emotion to overrule intelligence, that is virtually always an issue, especially in positions you need to be thinking out. There is a certain cognitive dissonance in people who recognize the need to be skeptical in one part of life, yet are totally unskeptical in others. Take religious scientists for example. On the one hand, they have demonstrated that they can use the scientific method and rational tools to come to logically valid answers, they know that they are seeking answers and they know how to reach them using the best methods we currently have, yet when it comes to their religion, they throw that completely out the window and largely reject the same tool set that they use on a daily basis, just because it would, if used on their religion, totally invalidate it. They are allowing emotion to override reality.
Yet unfortunately, we see this exact same thing among atheists. Now to be sure, there are atheists who have come to their atheism for very bad reasons, but for those who were religious and took the time and effort and emotional discomfort to examine their beliefs rationally and rejected them for lack of corroboratory evidence, to see them turn around and use the same kind of religious thinking on other aspects of their lives is disheartening. Didn’t they learn their lesson with religion? Apparently not because it’s something that we run into over and over and over again.
Now yes, it may be true that some of these behaviors are ingrained in human evolution, they may have been useful and beneficial at an earlier point in our evolutionary path, but we’ve now developed these advanced mammalian brains with the ability to think and reason and override our more primitive impulses and instincts. Our advanced brains have allowed us to build societies, to build machines, to go into space and to the deepest reaches of the ocean, things that emotion could never do, yet why do so many people who understand these facts continue to allow emotion to hold sway over some portions of their lives, to the detriment of their supposed skeptical nature?
Sure, I understand that some things are difficult and some things are scary, but how are we ever to advance as a species if we’re not willing to do what needs to be done? After all, I’m sure the first astronauts were terrified climbing up on top of what was essentially a bomb and riding the tail of flame to the stars but their emotions didn’t get in the way of doing what needed to be done. Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a rational standard across the board? Why are we, as supposedly rational atheists, any less able to do that than the astronauts? Is it because we’re scared? Is it because we want to feel good? Is it because we don’t care? I fear it’s probably all three, plus a healthy dose of plain old ignorance. A lot of people just don’t see that they’re guilty of the same irrational mind-poison that is indicative of theistic thinking.
So I call on all atheists, if you see this in yourself, knock it off. Make a concerted effort to make a change. Take the 21 days that it takes to change a bad habit and improve your mental functioning. And if you don’t see this in yourself, and I’m talking to a certain percentage of atheists who are every bit as faithful as the most fundamentalist theist, take a long, hard look at yourself. Ask yourself if you can justify your beliefs and positions rationally, or if you’re just embracing ideas emotionally. If you get defensive, as I’m sure many will, recognize that you’re doing exactly what the theists do when people challenge their cherished beliefs.
Come on people, we can be better, we ought to be better. There need not be any SINOs in the atheist community, but that’s completely up to you.