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* SADE, Donatien-Alphonse-François de

* SAGAN, Carl and DRUYAN, Ann

* sceptic, skeptic

* scepticism or skepticism

* absolute scepticism

* SCHLAGEL, Robert H.

* science

* Science and Ethics ; KURTZ, Paul (editor)

* Science Versus Religion ; CLEMENTS, Tad S.

* sect

* secular

* The Secular Conscience ; DACEY, Austin

* secularism

* secularize

* SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe

* SHERMER, Michael

* Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast ; WOLPERT, Lewis

* soul

* State

* STENGER, Victor J.

* supernatural

* superstition

* Superstition and Other Essays ; INGERSOLL, Robert Green

* SWINBURNE, Richard

* SADE, Donatien-Alphonse-François de

See also:


* SAGAN, Carl and DRUYAN, Ann

See also:


* sceptic, skeptic (adj.)

The American spelling is "skeptic"

* scepticism or skepticism (n.)

The American spelling is "skepticism".

There exist in several countries a number of sceptical organizations which have taken on the task of promoting critical thinking by examining and criticizing a wide variety of fringe sciences, pseudosciences, paranormal and supernatural belief systems, etc. In other words, they keep a critical eye on theories, beliefs and movements which are dubious or, in many cases, outright nonsense. See Scepticism & Sceptics in the Links section of this site for a list of some of these organizations.

In North America, probably the most important such organization is the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly named the "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal"). One of its founders, philosopher Paul Kurtz, is also founder and chairman the Council for Secular Humanism. Despite a considerable overlap between the mandates of the two groups, Kurtz' apparent purpose in creating separate organizations was basically a matter of division of labour.

Perhaps because of this sort of division of labour, the attitude which several sceptical organizations have adopted towards religious belief remains ambiguous. An attitude of dogmatic agnosticism is widespread, leading to absolute scepticism in matters of religion (accompanied by a more reasonable scepticism on non-religious issues). Although their publications sometimes contain articles critical of religion, they also tend to consume a great deal of ink discussing the possibility or impossibility of reconciling religion and science, as if this were still an open question. Any well informed person with a modicum of intellectual integrity recognizes that the two domains are utterly incompatible, but intellectual integrity is a rare commodity indeed when the subject of religion enters the discussion. Nevertheless, open discussion of the relationship between religion and science has the merit of presenting the relevant issues to new readers who may not have had the occasion to consider them previously.

To maintain a fully consistent attitude towards religion, a sceptical organization would have to recognize that theism and deism are paranormal belief systems (arguably the most widespread paranormal beliefs) on a par with other baseless theories such as astrology, homeopathy, spiritism, etc. (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, etc. being sects like Raëlianism or the Solar Temple, only older, larger and more powerful). Failing this, a minimal measure would be to recognize the importance of secularism as a guarantee that such beliefs will not be allowed to perturb public institutions, especially public schools.

Unfortunately, even this modest measure is too much for some. In 2006, the Sceptiques du Québec decided to remove support for secularism ("laïcité") from their statement of principles. (It had been adopted the previous year.) This retrograde decision was shamefully supported, without credible explanation, by several individuals calling themselves humanists. Can we conclude that these individuals would not object to the dogmas of Scientology or the Raëlian Movement being taught in Quebec public schools?

Relevant Books:

Doubt, a History -- HECHT, Jennifer Michael

The Transcendental Temptation -- KURTZ, Paul

Relevant Articles:

Quotations: Lucia and Norman HALL

Quotations: Wendy KAMINER

Christianity is a Pseudoscience

Extraordinary Claim: God

Religion, Morality and Charlatanism

Relevant Links:

* absolute scepticism

Absolute scepticism is a dogmatic attitude which implies complete indecisiveness, never reaching any conclusion unless absolute proof is available. This is not a reasonable approach, because everyday life would become impossible without pragmatically drawing conclusions from less than perfect evidence. In scientific research as well, conclusions may legitimately be drawn based on good, convincing (but not necessarily absolute) evidence.

Absolute scepticism when applied to theism leads to dogmatic (or symmetric) agnosticism. This is not a rational attitude, because the arguments for theism are extremely weak—indeed, practically non-existent.

Philosopher Mario Bunge (see reference below) gives the example of virgin birth among humans, an hypothesis which is rejected by embryologists because "they know that the human egg does not start dividing unless it has captured a spermatozoon." An absolutely sceptical approach would imply that human virgin birth could never be either confirmed or denied. But embryologists, like all good scientists, generally practice moderate, reasonable scepticism and do not shy away from drawing conclusions by rejecting, at least tentatively, hypotheses which are very implausible because they are highly incompatible with previously acquired and well supported knowledge.


"Absolute Skepticism Equals Dogmatism", by Mario Bunge, in Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 24 No. 4, pages 34-36.

* SCHLAGEL, Robert H.


The Vanquished Gods

* science (n.)

Science is entirely incompatible with faith and religion. Religious beliefs are based on authority, revelation and unsubstantiated faith, while science is founded on observation, verification and falsification. Scientific knowledge must display an internal consistency, but religious dogmas are often deplorably incoherent and may be self-contradictory.

The NOMA principle of Stephen J. Gould constitutes a point of view completely different from the one expressed in the previous paragraph.

Relevant Books:

At Home in the Universe -- KAUFFMAN, Stuart

Consilience -- WILSON, Edward O.

The God Delusion -- DAWKINS, Richard

GOD: The Failed Hypothesis -- STENGER, Victor J.

The Greatest Show on Earth -- DAWKINS, Richard

A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom -- WHITE, Andrew D.

How We Believe -- SHERMER, Michael

An Illusion of Harmony -- EDIS, Taner

Irreligion -- PAULOS, John Allen

The Moral Landscape -- HARRIS, Sam

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind -- JAYNES, Julian

Science and Ethics -- KURTZ, Paul (editor)

Science Versus Religion -- CLEMENTS, Tad S.

The Transcendental Temptation -- KURTZ, Paul

The Vanquished Gods -- SCHLAGEL, Robert H.

What Evolution Is -- MAYR, Ernst

Relevant Articles:

Quotations: Mario Bunge

Quotations: Stephen W. HAWKING

Quotations: Henry Louis MENCKEN

The Poverty of Accommodationism

Quotations: Donatien-Alphonse-François de SADE

Quotations: Carl SAGAN and Ann DRUYAN

Quotations: Steven WEINBERG

Quotations: Miscellaneous

* Science and Ethics
Can Science Help Up Make Wise Moral Judgments?
KURTZ, Paul (editor)
Keywords: morality philosophy religion science
Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, USA
with the assistance of David Koepsell

This work is a collaborative effort directed by the celebrated philosopher Paul Kurtz, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) and by David Koepsell, executive director of the CSH. About 30 scientists and philosophers address a wide variety of subjects such as bio-genetic engineering, stem cell research, organ transplants, human enhancement, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, psychiatry, and psychotherapy. The overarching theme of ethics unifies the discussions, in particular the role which science should take, if any, in wise moral decisions. Is it possible to construct a naturalistic ethics?

It is widely held that moral principles are necessarily based on religion. But this preconceived notion must be rejected for several reasons, such as the absence of consensus among divergent religious traditions, and the fact that these traditions are ill prepared and lack the competence required to deal with the challenges of recent scientific and technological innovations. On the other hand science, many would argue, has nothing to do with ethics and may even threaten ethical principles. The general approach taken in this book, while recognizing the dangers of scientism, is to maintain nevertheless that science is relevant to moral questions. Accordingly, scientific knowledge has a major role to play in moral decision making, but without being normative.

In one article of this volume, Tom Flynn, editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry magazine, published by the CSH, summarizes and comments upon the classic essay by William Kingdon Clifford in The Ethics of Belief. Flynn concurs with Clifford's evidentialism, i.e. "the view that it is morally binding to assent only to propositions for which we have satisfactory evidence." But he adopts a more moderate attitude that Clifford towards unsubstantiated belief, allowing that such belief is inconsequential and harmless if it does not motivate the believer to act. However, Flynn agrees with Clifford in the case where such belief is "motivating", i.e. creating a predisposition toward action.

See the description of this book on the web site of Prometheus Books.

* Science Versus Religion
Keywords: religion science
Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, USA

Completely Incompatible

This book is a major contribution to the controversial question of the conflict between science and religion and essential reading for anyone interested in the debate. Clements demontrates convincingly and in great detail that science and religion are completely and utterly incompatible. He readily refutes the specious arguments of those who would, through naiveté, intellectual dishonesty or simply wishful thinking, attempt to gloss over the fundamentally different approaches of these two modes of thought. Clements illustrates the differences between science and religion through a careful and rigorous discussion of concepts, attitudes, cognitive methods, use of language and doctrine, and concludes with a discussion of the therapeutic possibilities of the two approaches.

Some quotations:

" I shall argue that religions and/or theologies are incompatible with science at much more fundamental levels than that involved in rival descriptions of reality, even though I do not deny incompatibility and conflict at the doctrinal level. "

page 10

" if far more than a fabric of doctrines. Science also consists of characteristic cognitive methods together with criteria of meaning, truth, and evidence. Religions also have their characteristic methodologies. This means that even for those whose religious liberalism permits the conclusions of science to be accepted, logical incompatibilities resulting from discordant epistemological positions and methodologies are still possible.
So, it is not enough to point to the cases in the past in which religious doctrines have undergone transformations resulting from dialectical interactions with the sciences. The claim that all differences between them can be transcended is dubious. Not only are there doctrinal disputes involving the fundamentalists where this has not occurred. Even in the case of religious liberalism there is a strong likelihood that, in terms of the deeper source these human pursuits--i.e. at the attitudinal and methodological levels--profound conflict still exists and may continue to exist. "

page 20

" In science, at least ideally, in the final analysis skepticism and open-minded provisionality are supreme; in religion, at least in connection with the articles of faith deemed to be essential, no revision is possible. In science there is orthodoxy, but it is conditional; in religion, the orthodoxy tends to be absolute. "

page 54

" A commonly held opinion (unfortunately not limited to the ignorant) holds that the cognitive credentials of religious beliefs are unimportant since, purportedly, such beliefs, and the grounds used to support then, are harmless as long as others are not coerced to accept them. The fact is, however, that no matter what people believe about religious questions and what grounds they accept for their religious beliefs, both the beliefs and their supposed justifications have real consequences. If belief in the absence of adequate evidence or rational support is encouraged, or even tolerated, it tends to undermine intellectual integrity and to have far-reaching injurious effects on humanity. Whenever we treat unsupported, vague and inconsistent opinions, based on rationally indefensible methods, as cognitively respectable, we tend to undermine any real distinction between opinion and knowledge. And such a distinction is important if we are to avoid intellectual suicide. Indeed, the consequences of sloppy intellectual requirements may be even more serious than the erosion of our intellectual life. The future quality of human existence, indeed perhaps our very survival as a species, may ultimately depend on our ability to cope effectively with various natural realities. If we undermine our ability to cope effectively with those realities by cultivating the habit of believing on insufficient grounds, simply because the beliefs are pleasant, we may be doing greater harm to humanity than we at first imagine. "

pages 190-191

* sect (n.)

* secular (adj.)

* The Secular Conscience
Why Beliefs Belong in Public Life
DACEY, Austin
Keywords: morality secularism
Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, USA
ISBN: 978-1-59102-604-4

Dacey argues that healthy secularism requires that beliefs and moral philosophies, including both religious and non-religious worldviews, should be subjects for public debate in an open and competitive marketplace of ideas.


* secularism (n.)

"As the old gods recede, a new sense of the unity of all humanity is taking hold."

— Carl Coon
Free Inquiry, Spring 2003.

Secularism is the principle of strict separation between church and state, i.e. between religion and government. Such separation is the precondition, the sine qua non, for freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

The approach adopted by the Living Without Religion website goes beyond that of secularism, extending to a critique of religion and religiosity per se. Nevertheless, the principle of secularism remains an essential foundation of the site's goals.


Relevant Book:

The Secular Conscience -- DACEY, Austin

Relevant Articles:

Secularism is an Expression of Humanism

A Practical Guide for Discussion of the Charter of Quebec Values

Does Secularism Imply Religious Neutrality?

The Charter, the Turban and the Monarchy

Quotations: Polly TOYNBEE

DiaHumanism Institute for Studies in Freethought

Relevant Links:

* secularize (v.)

* SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe

1792-1822. A major English Romantic poet and outspoken atheist. Author of the famous pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism


See also:


* SHERMER, Michael


How We Believe

* Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast
The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
Keywords: evolution religion
Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0-571-23168-3


* soul (n.)

* State (n.)

Relevant Articles:

Hate Propaganda and Canadian Legislation

* STENGER, Victor J.


GOD: The Failed Hypothesis

Stenger is a professor of philosophy, physics and astronomy, and author of several books which scientifically refute the pretentions of supernatural ideologies such as theism.

Consult the personal web page of Victor J. Stenger.

* supernatural (n. or adj.)

The supernatural is the foundation of religion as it is normally defined. But the very idea of the supernatural poses a serious conceptual and logical problem.

Either the supernatural exists or it does not. If it exists, it is either accessible or inaccessible from within the natural world. If it is absolutely inaccessible, having no interaction whatsoever with that world, then it is effectively non-existent. If on the other hand it is accessible, it can be considered part of an enlarged natural domain and hence so-called "supernatural" phenomena are thus part of the natural world and are observable, indirectly at least. One way or the other, there is no need to consider a supernatural domain separate and distinct from the natural domain.

We thus conclude that the concept of the supernatural is ultimately meaningless. Everything which we know and can possibly know is natural. If "God" exists, then he, she or it must necessarily be a part of the natural world and be observable.

The ideas expressed here are explored in a series of articles in Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 32, No. 3, May/June 2008.

* superstition (n.)

* Superstition and Other Essays
INGERSOLL, Robert Green
Keywords: morality paranormal religion
Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, USA

* SWINBURNE, Richard


The Existence of God