Sollten Skeptiker sich als Atheisten outen?

Nemo und der Oktopus (Public Domain)

Intellektuelle Redlichkeit ist ein „weites Feld“. Sie ist ein Grunderfordernis seriöser wissenschaftlicher Arbeit. Aber im gesellschaftlichen Umgang ist sie nicht unbedingt erwünscht und wohlgelitten.

Wer Karrierenachteile in Kauf nehmen müsste, äußerte er sich offen und unzweideutig zu gesellschaftlich umstrittenen Themen, der hält sich oft „klug“ oder „vornehm“ zurück. „Wir alle spielen Theater Die Selbstdarstellung im Alltag“ (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959)“ lautete der Titel eines soziologischen Klassikers von Erving Goffman. Image, Pietät und Lügen. So ist es nunmal.

Bedauerlicherweise zählt Atheismus noch immer zu den heiklen Themen. Umso notwendiger sind scharfsinnige, klärende Überlegungen, wie sie der US-Amerikaner PZ Myers in seinem ScienceBlog anstellt.

PZ Myers, Pharyngula Blog

Skeptic organizations often face a nagging dilemma: should they be openly skeptical about religion? There are a couple of very good reasons why they should make criticizing religious claims a secondary issue, and one extremely bad reason that represents intellectual cowardice and a betrayal of skeptical principles. I’m going to come down on the side of accepting that skeptics groups can make accommodations to religious individuals in general, but that they must not avoid confrontation with religious ideas in particular.

What are the good reasons for shying away from religious conflict? One is division of labor. There are endless weird claims of the paranormal and supernatural that are begging for the application of critical thinking, from astrology to dowsing to ESP to ghosts to telekinesis to zero point energy, and while religion is a gigantic sinkhole of ignorance and absurdity, there are atheist organizations that deal specifically with that subset of human folly — it’s entirely reasonable that a skeptics‘ group might decide to distinguish themselves from atheists‘ groups by focusing on a different set of phenomena. The James Randi Educational Foundation and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science are and ought to be differentiable. We’ve all also got limited time; I think tarot cards are complete bunk, but I haven’t spent any effort on ripping them up, just because I’ve got other targets I find more interesting. We need many people and many organizations to address the whole wide ecosystem of kookdom, and they can’t all do all of them.

Another good reason is operational: skeptical organizations tend to work on existing phenomena and individuals, with little effort spent on vague historical claims. They will argue that many psychic and supernatural claims are little more than cheap magic tricks, and they will track down and expose charlatans who are bilking people right now with claims about spoon-bending or talking to the dead; there are so many of those at work right now, that showing that some weird Jewish rabbi living 2000 years ago was just doing trivial sleight-of-hand and psychological manipulation is both less interesting and less directly testable, even if the skeptics are pretty darned sure Jesus was a con man. Nebulous assertions that Jesus loves us are untestable and uninvestigable, but you’ll notice that if there is specific claim of a weeping madonna statue, skeptic Joe Nickell isn’t shy about demolishing it.

These are eminently reasonable rationales for not pressuring skeptical organizations to join ranks with and become inseparable from atheist groups. There is also at least one awful reason I sometimes hear: that skeptics should avoid criticizing religion because it might alienate some of their fellow travelers. That’s unconscionable, and implies that they aren’t really interested in critical thinking, but in simply growing an organization without regard to its purpose. A couple of examples popped up recently.