What will you do to oppose the dark?

David Colquhoun, author of DC’s Improbable Science page, has written a fine criticism of the New Credulity (I know, it’s no more “new” than the New Atheism) which he presents as a symptom of an age of endarkenment.

The past 30 years or so have been an age of endarkenment. It has been a period in which truth ceased to matter very much, and dogma and irrationality became once more respectable. This matters when people delude themselves into believing that we could be endangered at 45 minutes’ notice by non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

It matters when reputable accountants delude themselves into thinking that Enron-style accounting is acceptable. It matters when people are deluded into thinking that they will be rewarded in paradise for killing themselves and others. It matters when bishops attribute floods to a deity whose evident vengefulness and malevolence leave one reeling. And it matters when science teachers start to believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago.

And, of course, the indefensible has become the unquestionable. We live in a time when governments can use lies to justify foreign wars of opportunity, and the people who are punished are those who dared to question it; when religious kooks can sell 75 million copies of books that predict, and revel in, the imminent bloody obliteration of all non-christians, and the greatest outrage is reserved for the fact that a few atheists have books on the bestseller lists; when science funding is on the wane and science education is being corrupted, and those who struggle to keep biblical bullshit out of the classrooms are called intolerant and unamerican.

A few years ago Carl Sagan could write about lighting candles in the dark, and we all focused on that hopeful metaphor of the candle — we need to keep that flickering light alive. Maybe it’s past time that we recognized the encroaching darkness as the enemy, and that we need to stop looking inwards at our own individual antique light sources, and think about organizing a more powerful and more incandescent means of illumination to directly fight that wretched ignorance. Use those candles to light a fire. We need to blaze; we need to lase.


  1. says

    We live in a time when governments can use lies to justify foreign wars

    It’s a minor point maybe, in the context of your post; but, when has this not been true?

  2. Ray S says

    It’s not so much that using lies to start wars is new, it’s more that we Americans thought that we couldn’t do that. Now we know we were wrong, but the path to correction is not obvious.

    Personally, i question the values of the values voters.

  3. says

    PZed: “We need to blaze; we need to lase.”

    So we get sharks with frikken laser beams AND falme throwers??

    Dude, count me in!

  4. says

    Apropos: the first part of Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason is ontube (970 views so far). It’s a good use of 48 minutes.

    The bit with the sociology professor at the end made me want to shake the man and scream, “You think the Internet is opening up new kinds of truth? Which kind of truth makes microchips possible, you bastard!?” But maybe that’s just me; I’m probably not suited for prime time.

  5. says

    Starting wars on false premises is nothing new. What I’m finding appalling is that, for instance, people are nibbling around the edges and trying to find ways to punish the Bush administration for compromising a secret agent, instead of saying the obvious: the man is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, bankrupting the economy, and compromising civil rights at home, and no one is going right for the heart of his criminality? What’s wrong with us?

  6. William says

    The core concept I try to keep in mind when facing all these things, to fight their common root, is: respect for truth. All of this happens when people elevate wish and spin above objective reality. To be honest regarding the war, I think the Prez was deluded, partially self-deluded and partially deluded by advisors with agendas, because he’s not an intelligent man and, being a person of significant faith, he lacks a real respect for truth.

    To face the endarkenment, I hammer on respect for truth. Encapsulated as well as I can, it means this:

    Reality exists.
    Its contents are independent of belief.
    They come in understandable patterns.
    These patterns can be acted upon.

    Thus, it is productive to cultivate a habit of seeking and understanding objective reality, making efforts to suppress interference from your own wishes and fears, organizing your facts systematically, and acting on the hard data.

    That’s the standing-on-one-foot version of my whole approach to life, right there.

  7. Josh says

    Well Jesus, PZ, it isn’t like we can impeach him…all he did was kill some people. He didn’t have sex or anything.

  8. Christian Burnham says

    I dunno. 37 years ago we had ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ by Hal Lindsey.

    At least we’ve got the internet now where we can find sites like this. I bet it’s much easier to be an atheist now than 30 years ago.

  9. CJO says

    I think it’s over. The flame is guttering. The upheavals of the coming century are going to put it out, probably for good, and our descendents a thousand years hence will live a Hobbesian existence pretty damn similar to the one our ancestors of a thousand years ago lived.

    To the few elites who manage to hold on to some recollection of history, the 20th Century will be the high-water mark, where everything could have gone differently –if we hadn’t squandered the the vast capital available for the human project on genocide, war, and gleeful, deliberate environmental destruction.

    Maybe I’m just depressed.

  10. Josh says

    I think part of the problem is that it has been time to blaze and laze for a while…but, speaking in broad generalities…’we’ are better at bitching than ‘we’ are at acting…and we have a hell of a time getting together enough on individual issues to decides what to do.

  11. says

    I’m not yet entirely convinced that this “age of endarkenment” is anything that new or startling. There have always been the credulous, the conspiracy theorists, quacks, folk remedies, charlatans, pushers of the paranormal, and credulity has long been a major thread in society. Is there really any good hard evidence that these are more common now than they were, for example, 50 or 100 years ago? It may well be that it seems that they are more common, thanks to the Internet and the mass media making it easy for any crank to spew his crankery to the entire world, as opposed to just his corner of it. That being said, it may well be that Professor Colquhoun is correct (and these days it certainly feels as though he’s correct), but that single peer-reviewed article from 2001 that he cites is relatively thin gruel on which to base such sweeping statements, as is the mention of bishops and floods. (When have religious leaders not blamed tragedies on the vengeance of God or gods on the sinfulness of man?)

    As for the whole “starting war on false premises thing,” come on. That was a non sequitur. Starting wars on false premises is certainly nothing new. It’s something that’s been happening since there were wars and isn’t really good evidence of a “new credulity.”

  12. says

    Bravo, PZ. Small candle flames can combine into a huge light. Just ask all those Christians letting their little lights shine. We need to follow the example from the children’s Sunday school song, and say, “Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m gonna let it shine.”

    I’m personally tired of hearing people whining that they are afriad their friends or family won’t talk to them if they come out as an atheist, or they will lose a job, or someone will throw eggs at their house. Well, I’ve had all of these things happen to me and guess what? Life goes on.

  13. other bill says

    the man is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, bankrupting the economy, and compromising civil rights at home, and no one is going right for the heart of his criminality?

    Would that be Kennedy, Johnson, or Nixon? Perhaps a history lesson is in order? Anybody out there remember Vietnam? This is not to downplay Bush, but really, what is new here?

  14. Albert says

    While magical belief may not be more popular now than in the past 50 or 100 years in general, I think it has become more popular with those in power. Since “postmodernism” has become popular in the universities (though it’s reach is often exaggerated) and conservative Christians have come to great political power, I think we do need to worry.

    This country was founded by Enlightenment thinkers who would certainly be at odds with many (if not most) of those in political office nowadays.

  15. says

    I must live in an atheist heaven. I’ve never had anything happen to my car, house, job, etc. because I’m an atheist, and I freely admit my bel… hmm.. whatever.

    But, even so, I don’t think we should be tolerant of the theistic hold on society.

    But the real question is: how? We can form as many groups as we want, but until we form a group that can be recognized as the authority of “atheist rights” or whatever we want to call it, we’re a forgotten, even annoying, part of society.

  16. Francis says

    First, the fact that we have always had liars and charlatans is no reason to excuse ongoing lying. Orac, why do you write so much about woo if the fight is pointless?

    Second, the stakes are higher. Since I’m 45, I expect that global warming will not inundate my Long Beach California house until after I’m dead. But global climate change is real, the destruction of many ocean fisheries is real, peak oil is likely real and the nuclear genie is out of the bottle. According to one terrorism analysis I read in the last few years, the Port of LA/Long Beach is considered one of the most likely targets for nuclear terrorism.

    Thanks, but I’d rather not end my days at the edge of a nuclear fireball.

  17. Dustin says

    It matters when reputable accountants delude themselves into thinking that Enron-style accounting is acceptable.

    I’m pretty sick of people talking about running scams and dealing junk-bonds and flipping real estate as though they’re some kind of clever embodiment of the American ideal. I see less of it now than I did in the ’90’s, but I’d like to see less yet. Also:

    The most merciful thin in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therin, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

  18. natural cynic says

    We live in a time when governments can use lies to justify foreign wars

    1971: The Pentagon Papers was published on material that was known in 1967.

    ~400 BCE: Socrates whines that Athenians are getting more irrational.

    With the exception of Dark Ages appearing in many cultures at various times, mankind has muddled along. The technological momentum built up may be too great to be overcome, especially if Europe and Japan retain rationality. The only problem, and it is a big one, is the disruptions that may occur due to oil depletion or large scale climate changes and wars that may ensue . These certainly could be exacerbated by some areas more endarkened by irrationality.

  19. Turd Ferguson says

    Maybe I’m just depressed.

    Nope. You just live in reality like I do. I don’t hold out much hope for humans. I think we really will end our existence with global warming and there is not a thing we can do to stop it. Maybe slow it down, but not stop it. And religion is just part of the greater problem of stupidity that allows us to ignore data and march our white hairless asses into oblivion. Humans are just smart enough to come up with neato technologies to make life easier and just fucking retarded enough to not know when enough is enough.

    Smiley unicorns and rainbow dreams!!!

  20. says

    First, the fact that we have always had liars and charlatans is no reason to excuse ongoing lying. Orac, why do you write so much about woo if the fight is pointless?

    I hope you don’t smoke, because you very well might set that straw man on fire by accident if you’re not careful.

    Did I say that we should “excuse ongoing lying”? I most definitely did not. I only expressed relatively mild skepticism that this “new credulity” is truly anything new and pointed out that lying politicians starting wars have always been with us. This in no way excuses lying politicians starting wars under false premises; my comment was merely meant to point out that using the example of starting wars under false premises is a very bad way to support an argument for an “age of endarkenment.” It does not support the case for rising credulity because there really isn’t any evidence that lying politicians are more common or more frequently believed now than they were 100 years ago. That may be the perception, and that perception might even be true; however, no one’s been able to show me any hard evidence that it is.

    As for why I write about woo so much, that should be obvious. It’s because I oppose pseudoscience and quackery, regardless of whether or not there is an increasing trend towards credulity, superstition, etc., or not. My blog is my way of opposing the dark in my own little way.

  21. Graculus says

    Well, to repurpose the lyrics to one of the most powerful songs of the 1980’s

    You can blow out a candle
    But you can’t blow out a fire
    Once the flames begin to catch
    The wind will blow it higher

    We need more gasoline.

  22. Sebastian says

    The indefensible has always been the unquestionable. That which is defensible can withstand questioning.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says

    An evidently flagging interest in science in US, UK and elsewhere doesn’t constitute a world wide “endarkment” as some seems to think of it as, the developing nations may well make up for this now. Who knows without means to measure?

    But Gapminder shows that the distribution of global health and wealth has gone from a multimodal distribution towards a single modal one. From where I sit it is lightening up as most developing nations are catching up on the former privileged group.

    That said there is no reason not to fight unreason directly. But we want something more illuminating and powerful than presentation laser pointers.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says

    An evidently flagging interest in science in US, UK and elsewhere doesn’t constitute a world wide “endarkment” as some seems to think of it as, the developing nations may well make up for this now. Who knows without means to measure?

    But Gapminder shows that the distribution of global health and wealth has gone from a multimodal distribution towards a single modal one. From where I sit it is lightening up as most developing nations are catching up on the former privileged group.

    That said there is no reason not to fight unreason directly. But we want something more illuminating and powerful than presentation laser pointers.

  25. other bill says

    We had a magic resurgence in the early 1900’s (the Golden Dawn, Alestair Crowley, the O.T.O and the A.A.), a small one in the ’50s, a big one in the late ’60s (Ceremonial and Kaballahistic (sp?) Magic, Tarot, I Ching, and Astrology) that petered out into Wicca and the current crystals and candles. The popularity of various forms of irrationality comes and goes. This time its the religious fundies.

  26. Turd Ferguson says

    Oh. I forgot to mention what a complete fucking shithead Kirk Cameron is. I just watched another video of him and remembered. I know it is a bit off topic, but it really needs to be mentioned.

  27. says


    Thanks for the video!

    I want to punch that astrology guy in the face. What a smug, self-important asshole. Testing his ideas scientifically is “mischief”? People like him make me so angry I want to gouge my own eyes out.

  28. says

    Nobody caught my parenthetical comment in the first sentence of this post? Hmmm.

    I agree that this stuff has always been around. It seems to be getting worse, though, and what I find particularly troubling is the way we’re all supposed to pussy-foot around it, not argue directly against it, and be so damned deferential to those promoting it.

  29. says

    DaveX @5:

    “Endarkenment”??? Heck, I’m skeptical this is even a proper word.

    I know this is a serious post, but I’m sorry, when I hear “endarken”, I can’t help but think of “embiggen”.

  30. Christian Burnham says

    P.Z.: Yes, but what’s the point of this post if things aren’t getting worse?

  31. RamblinDude says

    I don’t think that this current age of “endarkenment” :-P, is very remarkable, or irreversible. It was fairly predictable that superstition-religion was going to fight back and not go down without a fight. I tend to think things are cyclic and that life, itself, not just science, has self correcting mechanisms built in. The upcoming elections may be a very interesting reflection of this principle. (I hope)

    Modern technology has allowed ubiquitous communication devices to spew all sorts of nonsense about the place–but also truth. And it seems to me that the ratio of nonsense to truth is about the same as ever. We’re in the ‘nonsense heavy’ portion of the cycle at the moment, true, but these cycles aren’t going to stop just because science has produced some neat gadgets. (for the Lord!).

    The problem is we know have the technology to destroy the earth, and these cycles are getting ever more troubling and problematic. It is becoming ‘species-relevant’ to get rationality back in vogue.

    I remember getting a sinking feeling at Reagan’s funeral when someone, (his son, Michael?), said something to the effect of, “And now I would like to say a few words on how important it has been for me to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”

    When I reflect on how many people believe in the rapture, I can’t help but feel like we are on the beach watching the tide go WAY out…

    I hope we survive this cycle.

  32. Sam Nesvoy says

    The word endarken is in the OED, with cites from 1595, 1651 and 1755. The next edition will presumably have a cite from 2007.

  33. Carlie says

    A thousand points of rational light? Would be nice. My problem is that when I actually stop to think about the state of the world, I end up in a fetal position under the desk. That’s why I think the more people can be outspoken, the better. Gives a bit of glimmering hope to us all.

  34. r says

    eric alterman on his blog the other day had no problem with mike huckabee being a creationist and thought it had nothing to do with him being a good president or not. so its not just religious kooks.

  35. says

    I have serious doubts about whether we can educate them as fast as they breed. We’re trying to hold back the tide. Not that it isn’t a worthy goal, but…

  36. Piccamo says

    This is probably the best written article I’ve seen on here. It clearly outlines some of the problems with today’s pop culture in a clear and concise manner. I agree with the statements and am glad someone is putting to words what I had been thinking.

  37. Sastra says

    All in all, I think the internet has been more valuable for the Forces of science, reason, humanism, and atheism than religion, spirituality, faith, and woo. Every community has and had churches where Believers could get together and do Bible Study, or the equivalent. The religious have never had a problem with isolation or lack of ability to get their message across.

    With the advent of the computer, the Lone Village Skeptic has a community, a library, a discussion group, and a formidable presence, for he has always had the better arguments. The screams on the other side are of rising panic. Given an open dialog, in the long run — if there is a long run and we don’t blow ourselves up — truth will eventually out.

    That’s not my “faith,” because I might be wrong and would be able to tell if I was wrong. But that’s my best guess, reasonable inference, and/or working theory. ;)

  38. says

    CJO: I’m not really one to believe in the power of positive thinking (That’s “The Secret™” isn’t it?) but I’m positive of the outcome of negative thinking.

    PZ is right. People who value science and reason need to take a stand and fight, and recognize that it is a fight. I loathe using a war analogy but it is fitting if not particularly palatable to everyone’s sensibilities.

    It has always been a fight for science and reason to gain ground, and in some places at certain times the fight has been harder or easier.

    Like any campaign, we cannot rely on steady progress, nor allow ourselves to be defeated (or self-defeated) when not every situation goes in our favor.

    I’ve been giving much thought over the last few weeks to this very question: What can I do to oppose the dark?

    This question has been burning in my mind because it seems that the number of religion-inspired lunacies has been increasing at an alarming rate recently. That sets my blood to boil and that makes me want to fight.

    Then I thought, “What if the lunacy isn’t really increasing? What if what’s changing is the dynamic and the efficacy of the social network that gets the word out?”

    I see more, I’m outraged more and I want to fight more.

    I think that’s what’s happening. Despite all the analogies of herding cats, I think Dawkins’ calls to form a movement are working, even if indirectly. The information about the outrages that are happening are being brought to the attention of more people and that, ultimately, helps the fight.

    What can be done? Don’t just come blogs like this and be content just to read and comment. Spread the word. Build the network.

    I’m not talking about “preaching” atheism. I’m talking about informing people about the atrocities being commited in the names of superstition, psuedoscience and religion. That this things go on, unseen, fuels complacency.

  39. Bunjo says

    People have complained about the state of the world getting worse for at least a couple of thousand years. I suspect that it is no worse than it has ever been, but two things make it appear that it is getting worse:

    1) Rate of philosophical/religious/technological change. In the Middle Ages the price of a loaf of bread remained the same for a hundred years. Most people lived on the land and farmed the way that their forefathers did. Arguments about the finer points of philosophy and religion barely touched the lives of ordinary people. Now the spread of education and communications, even into quite undeveloped countries, means that far more people are aware of the changes going on around them. Most people don’t like changes.

    2) Mobility. Half the world’s population now live in urban areas, often in communities that flex and change frequently. A hundred years ago most people lived all their lives in stable communities (streets or villages) where they knew ‘everyone’ just as their fathers and mothers used to. This sense of community buffered people against the impact of change – all your neighbours could help or commiserate with you. That sense of community is now shattered.

    Newspapers, books, radio, TV and the internet have helped bring things to a point – many people can now choose to ‘roll their own’ politics, religious beliefs, social behaviour, and, yes, scientific beliefs. There is reduced respect for authority (because people can see that there is little chance of suffering for non-mainstream beliefs). This is probably not a bad thing overall, although we (as a species) may suffer horribly before we manage to handle change more effectively.

    What does this mean for us as individuals? I think we must be prepared to speak out against the worst excesses, and be prepared to moderate our own sense of personal entitlement. In other words social discipline applied from the individual up, rather than from the authorities down.

    May you live in interesting times…

  40. sailor says

    I agree with #13, and while PZ might feel it seems to be getting worse, he has not offered any hard evidence for it. It seems reasonable that as the population doubled in size we have twice as much of many things, including woo believers.
    Let us take one small thing – that universities in the UK now offer degrees in woo. Terrible, I agree, they did not do so back when I was young, but heck they did not offer degrees in half the the things you can now get degrees in. I would guess what we have evidence for here is diversification. Some of it is very bad and we should fight it, but endarkenment – nah, when I was a kid many more people seriously believed in religion in the UK.

  41. Sonja says

    Speaking from my own experience, I always thought I was alone in my beliefs. My family growing up was religious and, later in life, my south Minneapolis political friends were “wooey”.

    The internet has provided the platform for people like me to interact with the world in unprecedent ways. I discovered Alan Sokal on the internet in about 1997 and it was such a relief to find another person who was politically progressive and evidence-based. In 1998, I got to have an email argument with Scott Adams over his woo, an encounter that would have been highly unlikely before the internet. Salon.com got me through the 2000 election debacle.

    And, if I have not done this before, I really need to personally thank PZ Myers for his blog and the formation of this online community. Pharyngula is a shining beacon for those of us who are clinging to liferafts of reason in the dark seas of irrationality.

  42. Peterte says

    Talk, talk, talk…

    Stop talking, start standing for public office. Yeah, I
    know, atheists are the least trusted minority. Heck, if
    Bush can get elected (did he? I’m still not clear) then
    at least some atheists could get elected, if only due to
    hanging chads.

  43. G Barnett says

    I think I’ll just reflect on that uplifting song by the great bard Tom Lehrer — “We’ll All Go Together when We Go.”

    Yes, much cheered up now. :)

  44. Arnosium Upinarum says

    “We need to blaze; we need to lase.”

    ABSOLUTELY. As brightly as f@#$%^& possible.

    Anyone foolish enough to think we will be afforded another chance is not only foolish but a lunatic. Most of these have a superstition/religious predilection, of course. And these, unfortunately, dominate the planet.

    We should do everything we possibly can to BLIND ourselves out of our delusions, until we can’t see anything but the stark naked beauty of natural reality.

    To the surprising number of objections voiced here on the fact that none of this is new? Are you all really that comfortable with pointing out the bleeding obvious? Didn’t PZ SAY it ain’t new? His POINT was things have got to be stepped up, that’s all. Or, if you snobs insist, “continued”. Well, DO it.

    I’m thinking >10^50 watts-worth of pure, unadulterated radiant luminosity ought to get things started fairly smartly. That should not only reverse our insidious slide into the dingy hellhole of the endarkenment but allow us to return to our rightful course, to soar freely out and ever farther into the open air of actuality as attested by reason, skepticism and a strong respect for empirical evidence.

  45. Hairy Doctor Professor says

    You said it yourself, PZ:

    Reignite the enlightenment.

    I still think it makes a good bumper sticker, lapel pin, sig line, T-shirt, sound bite, talking point, whatever. Simple, punchy, gets the word out, might start a few conversations with the right people, likely to be inoffensive to the stupid.

  46. Arnosium Upinarum says

    sailor says, “…while PZ might feel it seems to be getting worse, he has not offered any hard evidence for it.”

    WTF??? Does PZ REALLY have to mention the obvious?

    We don’t HAVE to “feel” anything. All we have to do is pay f@#$%^& attention to what we should well bloody KNOW: that the future of humanity cannot continue to be described by a sophomoric attention to historical trends.

    Look up “exponential” in the dictionary for a clue.

  47. Barn Owl says

    37 years ago we had ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ by Hal Lindsey.

    Just when I thought I had ablated the teenaged memory of reading that inane cr*ppity cr*p from my hippocampus.

    The cheap paperback cover image…it burnsssessss.

    Thanks. Thanks A LOT.

  48. RamblinDude says

    “Reignite the enlightenment” Yeah, that is nice. Somebody got a bumper sticker maker machine?

  49. says

    I’d have to say it is both better and worse than it used to be. Better because there are so many more scientists, science-oriented philosophers, technologies with a moral sense, interested laypeople, activists, etc. Worse because the stakes are so much higher – environmental disasters, loose nukes, etc.

  50. John Scanlon says


    People have complained about the state of the world getting worse for at least a couple of thousand years. I suspect that it is no worse than it has ever been…

    Errm, yes and no. On the first assertion, you may be thinking of Cicero’s (Ist Century BC) ‘O tempora! O mores!’ or perhaps this rant from Tertullian (AD 337):

    Surely it is obvious enough, if one looks at the whole world that it is becoming daily better cultivated and more fully peopled. All places are now accessible, all are well known; most pleasant farms have obliterated all traces of what were once dreary and dangerous wastes; cultivated fields and subdued forests, flocks and herds have expelled wild beasts; sandy deserts are sown; rocks are planted; marshes are drained; and where once were hardly solitary cottages, there are now large cities. No longer are islands dreaded, nor their rocky shores feared; everywhere are houses and inhabitants. Our teeming population is the strongest evidence: our numbers are burdensome to the world which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In every deed, pestilence, and famine and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.

    What he said then clearly reflected the ‘local’ situation in his favourite places; and indeed, pestilence and famine and wars did manage to significantly reduce population in Europe on a few occasions not long after his time. But because of the mobility you DO mention, nobody can escape the fact that overpopulation is global and its impact cannot be reduced by moving further out; but you DON’T mention it. 6.5×10^9 is qualitatively different from world population in the 4th Century.

  51. Voting Present says

    I am genuinely optimistic. I think we will do great harm to the global climate in the short term, but I also believe that we will come out on the other end with a critical mass of people who understand how reality works, and how we can make it work for everyone (rather than just using the latest cool tech widget to beat up on each other).

    The more I get old and weak and grumpy, the more I become convinced that the best way to fight the “darkening emmerdement” is through education. Formal education is a part of that, but just any kind of education helps. Including reading grumpy old bloggers on the internet. But it’s got to reach out and touch everyone. We need critical mass. Including all those people who will never go to college.

    So talk to your neighbors. And be optimistic, dammit!

  52. J.A.H.S. says

    What will you do to oppose the dark?

    I think its time to get off my butt and start writing the science blog I’ve been planning for months now!

    Reignite the enlightenment

    I like that! PZ – you said it – its your phrase. You could have it printed on cafepress products.

  53. says

    I’m not sure what I can do, apart from a bumper sticker. As it is, I think things are far too chaotic to really make any predictions, but the next 10-15 years are going to be very, very tense.

    What I believe we’re seeing now is a backlash against the mid-20th century increase in rationality — first, the New Agers and Human Potential woomeisters, second the PR flacks in the pay of the hyperreligious and hypergreedy. I don’t think any situation can last forever, honestly, and I’m somewhat encouraged by the emergence of the “New” Atheism. But I wouldn’t be placing any bets just yet.

  54. Crudely Wrott says

    In this democratic republic the seat of power lies with the people. The general population, who, having informed themselves of the issues, needs and tasks facing the nation, elect individuals to represent their will in a legislative body. The purpose of this body is to make reasonable assurance that the voice of the entire population, not segments thereof, are heard by who are charged with enforcing the laws that the people’s representatives have written.

    As a result of my parents’ and my teachers’ instruction as well as the lessons of living and observing, I consider the rights and privileges enjoyed by Americans as fundamental to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these rights are not the foundation of freedom; the are the result of freedom.

    Freedom’s foundation is personal accountability. To be accountable in a political context is to be qualified to choose a candidate who truly represents the common will. In order to do this citizens must inform themselves of fact and reality and refrain from giving their personal, emotional preferences unearned weight in their decision making.

    Regardless of what kind of responsibility is involved in accomplishing a personal goal or maintaining a nation, the reward of rights (or any other reward) accrues to he who pays attention and chooses wisely. I say accrues intentionally. These rights are not given to a citizen by any authority. They are not earned in the sense of passing a test or satisfying a list of demands. They are simply the natural consequence of taking care of one’s civic, social and personal responsibilities. In other words, it happens automatically.

    Understand this principle is a large part of the genius of the founders. And they encoded it in the rules of our government. Amazing.

    Candidates who race to gushingly reassure us that they will pass laws to protect our rights are blowing smoke and displaying their total ignorance of one of our most fundamental principles.

    We already have our rights in direct proportion to discharging our responsibilities as individuals. Any legislation based on the ridiculous claim that it will protect someone’s rights will have the opposite affect. For it will be based on prohibition of some action or speech by everyone. Prohibitive laws are ethically problematic and effective only a great expense of time, money and man-hours.

    Trouble is, it is difficult and time consuming to keep informed, discuss issues dispassionately, consider other points of view and come to an informed and useful decision concerning civic and national issues. It really is.

    The tools needed here are basic: knowledge of broad range, interest in and attention to issues that seem unrelated to one’s own life, the willingness to invest a considerable amount of time studying boring subjects and suffering the poor speaking skills of talking heads and political aspirants, a steely grip on personal philosophy, and a large bottle of Ol’ Skeptic. Oh, yeah. You also must take personal responsibility for any mess you make and see to cleaning it up yourself.

    It’s a tall order. I’m not surprised that some just pack it in and watch Tee Vee. Or let their feelings guide them down a path that involves more ritual than responsibility. Not a reliable way to maintain freedom.

  55. says

    #21: I think we really will end our existence with global warming

    Global warming is real, and it’s a problem we’re not facing anywhere near quickly enough, but I think you need to recalibrate your gloom-meter.

    Massive population displacement yes, famines almost certainly, wars over same pretty likely… but even if everyone totally ignored the issue (which isn’t the case) the planet’s not going to be rendered uninhabitable by global warming induced climate change.

  56. MartinM says

    I’ve encountered the word ‘endarkenment’ before. That paragon of virtue, Jonathan Sarfati, uses it to refer to the period most sane people know as the enlightenment. While we light our candles, we need to bear in mind that some people are intentionally trying to put them out.

  57. says

    If I’m being honest I find that losing weight is easier with exercise than with dieting. I always put weight back on when I go on a diet because the diet ends and I go back to eating unhealthy foods.