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Rational Inquiry -Volume 6 Number 2

Whither SDARI

By Keith R. Taylor

CSICOP has invited me to Buffalo for a conference on April 21-22nd. Iíd be glad to have your comments on things we might discuss. Where are we going? How should we get there? What are we (either SDARI or CSICOP) doing wrong? Let me know what you think by phone or e-mail (see Contact information).

In Buffalo I intend to seek greater cooperation between both the folks at SDARI and the folks at The Center for Inquiry, West, and us in San Diego. This meeting is designed to enhance just such things, and Iíll add our ideas. This could be an important meeting for all of us.

I often hear from local skeptical folks who know nothing about SDARI. Many are members of CSICOP and read the Skeptical Inquirer. Iím going to suggest that the magazine run a series of articles, one about each of the various outfits around the country. The article would tell what we are doing, where we meet, our plans and projects, and-most importantly-how people can join us.

Still, I am interested in the overall policy of both the national and local organizations. When allís said and done weíre mostly a hell raising outfit and hell raising isnít as easy as it sounds. All of us are outraged at something, no two of us are often outraged at the same things.

So it is with SDARI and, more than likely, with CSICOP itself. We all want to confront credulous thinking. Differing opinions are inevitable in any outfit that has a mission of challenging popular opinion. So is the frustration of not being able to decide which opinions should be challenged or how vehemently we should go after them.

In our last newsletter. (Vol. 6, Issue 1) I wrote that the world needs us more than ever because: ". . . Rational thought is being routed by credulous thinking all over the place. Here, on the edge of the 21st century, we had to choose between two presidential candidates who deliberately courted the wacko constituency."

Both parties were guilty, but I concentrated on the person who now occupies the White House because he is the person who will implement policy. My biggest concern about credulous thinking is folks who rely on faith rather than science in making their decisions.

When I wrote that in January, I believed that kowtowing to such pressure was wrong. Today, I think itís much more than wrong; itís dangerous. I think this is a proper matter for SDARI. What are your thoughts.

Still, I havenít spared the other party. I fairly well screamed my head off at Liebermanís outrageous comments on how religion was tantamount to morality. I also wrote that Goreís idea of using the silly saying, "what would Jesus do," to make decisions was a sop to the folks who would bypass scientific reasoning altogether.

Can a rational thinker come to any other conclusion? An earlier article suggested that Gore had not even read the book that had his name on the cover.

But neither Gore nor Lieberman will be making policy or making key appointments. Bush will and I do not see how we can ignore the fact that when he was told by the religious right organizations to jump, he fairly well leapt out of his skin.

Look at one of his first acts as president. He reinstated the so-called global gag rule which prohibits any country that receives family planning funds from the United States from even uttering the word abortion

That act is certainly within the purview of the chief executive. So is criticism of it, and thereís plenty of reason for criticism-even if we donít touch the question of "when life begins" itself. I insist that we must be free to criticize any act of the president that is not based on sound reason.

Was Bush actually responding to the wishes of the religious right? Consider what was said by its two leading members. Jerry Falwell was on the Larry King Show two days after the election reminding the president that 82% of them voted for him and they expected him to deliver.

About the same time Gary Bauer chimed in with his wish list of demands. Bush has not disappointed either of them yet. That would include his decisions on abortion and his reluctance to implement any policies helping the RU 486. It is being "studied" more. Anything having to do with abortion is a big part of our current administration.

And itís not an easy point to settle folks. Reasonable people often disagree. That is part of skepticism. Although reasonable people can agree that global warming is occurring, they disagree on how much is contributed by humans. And they agree that evolution is occurring, but may disagree on whether or not there is a non-random directional component involved in this process.

On the current question of abortion, some of our members make a strong case that it is disingenuous to draw an arbitrary line and say a human being doesnít exist until the fetus passes that point. Yet, our own Elie Shneour wrote in an article for the Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1989: "To call first trimester abortion murder, the taking of human life, is more an understandable emotion rather than rational response." (Full text available.)

Are any of these views anything but rational? Are we willing to sacrifice rational response to avoid upsetting those who disagree with it? Is placid acceptance rather than challenging emotional ideas to be our goal?

While the disagreements on abortion and on many other subjects run through our society, many of the arguments come from organized religion, and stop right there. Should our skepticism not only stop at the White House door, but also at the door of the church? We are constantly besieged with the mantra that goes something like "Itís my faith and you donít dare question it." Where does skepticism fit into that statement?

Still, Iím sympathetic to those who are leery of directly confronting religion with all its members and power. What if SDARI becomes stereotyped? We are starting to get some sympathetic coverage in the press. Iím being invited to speak at other civic organizations. How long would that continue if we were considered "that atheist outfit?"

One would guess we arenít alone in our trepidation. Look at the questioning of Ashcroft for Attorney General. Despite the pious blathering from the senators on the judiciary committee, many were Democrats by the way, that they would not ever question Ashcroftís beliefs, those questions might have been the most important. Ashcroft claims that the most important thing in his life is his religion, and that religion claims that the world was created a mere 6000 years ago. Yet, we saw some of the top people in the country proudly proclaiming they wouldnít touch that subject.

Is that rational? Is it prudent or irrational not to question a candidate for high position who shows such a dearth of knowledge. Can we excuse religion with the disingenuous idea that itís merely a belief and "wonít hurt anybody." Those beliefs donít stay behind stained glass windows. They find their way into law. They find their way into executive orders. They find their way into our childrenís textbooks. They find their way into the very framework of some of our states.

According to the constitutions of six of them (North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Maryland, and Texas) one must believe in god in order to hold office. I have read in various publications that 93% of the members of the Academy of Science do not believe in god.

Are we to say that SDARI thinks that the top brains in the country can be summarily excluded without protest? At what point would SDARI take a stand? Must a freethinking skeptic circumscribe his thinking so only some credulous ideas, but not the really important ones, are criticized?

Indeed can we avoid being stigmatized. Please remember that the recent case before the U. S. Supreme Court which eliminated organized prayer in Texas was not brought by atheists. It was brought by Mormons and Catholics in one of the few cases where they managed to agree on anything. Guess who most people think did it? The atheists! Sometimes it doesnít help even if you just sit on the sidelines. If we draw the lines too sharply and leave religion "over there" will SDARI will end up being merely an outfit where we meet once per month and tell each other we do not believe in ghosts? These arenít easy questions or theyíd have been answered by now. Please let me know your feelings, pro or con. I will include them in my ideas before CSICOP.

The author is the president of SDARI.

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