By Deepak Chopra, MD
When public perception is skewed and distorted, it’s important to push back. I’ve found myself doing this in the arena of skepticism. Without a doubt we live in a skeptical age, and it affects everyone. To doubt is a tool for finding truth, but like every positive value, there are pitfalls. Skepticism, of the kind advanced by characters as diverse as James “The Amazing” Randi, Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss, and Jerry Coyne, does far more harm than good.
We’re confronted with a strange mixture of bedfellows: an aging stage magician, an Oxford professor on the rampage against “the God delusion,” an astrophysicist, and a biology professor at the University of Chicago who sees himself as a gadfly against pseudoscience. Behind them marches a ragged band of atheists, scientists, blogosphere pests, mischievous troublemakers, and sincere doubters.
What makes this movement particularly strange is that there is no real need for it to exist. Secularism and science won the day long ago. Does anyone seriously believe that our current problems arise from too much reliance on faith in God? Church attendance has been in decline in the U.S. and every other developed country since the 1950s. Other than serving as an outlet for malcontents, the skeptical movement’s posture of holding back the tide of ignorance has little basis or utility. They aren’t converting the believers to atheism. In the face of actual harm done by religion (e.g., the rise of jihadist Islam, the pressure against stem-cell research, the prejudice against gay marriage on the religious right), skepticism has a very small, even insignificant role to play.