Pseudoscience and the Atheist Community
During my elementary years, my older sibling and I attended a Montessori school that focused a great deal of its resources on creating scientifically minded students. We weren’t given extensive lectures on the importance of peer review, nor were we tutored in the more complex theorems surrounding modern science (those came much later). What we were provided with, which I plan on teaching my children, was a hands-on experience with dinosaurs, evolution, and astronomy. I have very fond memories of the Headmistress, Betty, utilizing homemade experiments for us to play with and explore. She once created a multi-layered cake and used each layer to represent a period of the geologic time-scale. I often attribute this lesson to my ability to recite, from memory, all of the periods leading up to the Precambrian era.
Though I have briefly discussed my transition from theist to atheist as a result of being skeptical of the supernatural, it’s actually much more complex than that. When people discuss reasons for choosing to believe something, there is almost always an intrinsically held bias at some level which justifies the belief. Human beings cannot be wholly objective, because we pepper our perceptions with personal experiences and learned information, often times in that order. That doesn’t mean, however, that we cannot come reasonably close to separating our emotional fallibility from the objective nature of factual data. In my case, the path led me down a winding road of deeply held beliefs to a fork that allowed me to either accept reality for what it was, or continue deluding myself into believing something that I could never hope to demonstrate. I carefully and thoroughly examined every single argument for the existence of the Hebrew deity and every supernatural claim, and when I stumbled upon Sagan’s Razor, I realized that any grandiose claim must have a substantial amount of corroborating evidence. Otherwise, there’s no valid reason in accepting it as true.
I had no idea that a community of nonbelievers existed when I became an atheist. I naively assumed that (upon finding this community) most other nonbelievers came to the same conclusion about god and the supernatural that I did; I assumed that they used the same or similar justifications for having no good reason to believe in the supernatural. I also, foolishly, believed that most nonbeliever minds weren’t as susceptible to gullibility, and that they had a profound respect and understanding of science. Needless to say, this has not entirely been the case.
Not believing in a god or gods doesn’t prevent someone from clutching tightly to other forms of tomfoolery. The atheist community has its own subculture of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccination proponents, anti-GMO advocates, climate-change deniers, homeopathy adherents, and any and every single brand of pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-scientific babble in between. Undoubtedly, this needs to be continuously addressed within the ranks of nonbelievers. I have spent a significant amount of time arguing with other atheists about vaccines and GMOs, and their appeals to “evidence” aren’t much different than what I hear from Creationists. In lieu of repeatable data, anecdotal experience, misrepresentations of peer review, disinformation for the purposes of financial gain, and personal interpretations of the evidence are almost always the go-to arguments. The “evidence” they do provide is often pilfered from the same 5-10 pseudoscience websites that ask for donations or inundate the viewer with ads hawking their “remedies” and books, but they never use any of that money to conduct actual research. When these organizations do bother doing the research, they rarely (if ever) hold up to scientific scrutiny.
There seems to exist a great deal of overlap with people who are against GMOs and believe vaccinations cause autism or don’t actually stop diseases (among many other unfounded claims). Similar, it seems, to how conspiracy theorists who believe in one nonsensical claim have a higher propensity to believe in others. Additionally, the similarity with Creationists who assert that scientists are involved in a lengthy conspiracy to disprove the existence of the Hebrew deity seems to apply to the pseudo-scientific realm of the supposed “naturalists”. Any evidence that refutes their contentions about vaccines, genetically modified organisms, or climate-change must be some sort of complex hoax perpetrated by large corporations and the government entities in cahoots with them. Large pharmaceutical companies are in congress with GMO manufacturers to keep people sick, so they can continue making money off of them (because there aren’t enough foreign and internal bodies that can kill us already).
While it is true that atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in a god or gods, the promotion of skepticism and scientific literacy are paramount in pushing more people from the throes of religious indoctrination and into the proverbial realm of a healthy relationship with reality. Not calling other nonbelievers on their deeply-held nonsense, however, will only poison the pool of science, reason, and evidence.