hic sunt dracones

About a month ago I forwarded here a call for « more agnostics » to answer a Web survey. Submissions are closed and Cheyne JA & Britton FW distributed yesterday a preliminary report (you can get the pdf here).

It’s just a pilot study with 2563 respondents :

We investigated, via an international1 sample using the world-wide web, a variety of beliefs, attitudes and values with a focus on individuals taking a critical stance on religion. The present report concerns 2563 respondents who classified themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and sceptics, by checking boxes corresponding to these labels. We used these labels because of their currency and, with the possible exception of agnostics, the existence of numerous publications, societies, organizations, and blogs employing these terms to identify their domain. These labels do not represent mutually exclusive positions and hence our survey made it possible for respondents to accept multiple labels, and many did.

The reading is interesting and I was pleased to see some of my intuitions supported by these preliminary data. Hopefully more complete surveys IRL will confirm some of the authors findings. Their closing paragraph evokes a particular problem:

Consistent with the role of epistemic values, several of the characteristics of our respondents are consistent with those of the new atheists that have been characterized as “scientistic.” Scientism is typically used as a term of abuse, applied to those who, in the view of one who uses the term, overextend the domain of science. The new atheists would argue, however, that the general tendency of science has ever been to extend its border and is, in the view of these same people, on the point of eliminating them altogether. The new atheism is founded on a scientism describable as naturalism without borders. NwB appears to aspire to do the equivalent of erasing from those old maps the words “hic sunt dracones.” The current, and perhaps last, dragon for the new atheists and, apparently, for many of our respondents, is religion.

I don’t like the parallel between dragons and religions. Dragons are imaginary creatures personifying unknown dangers in unexplored territories, while religions represent well documented threats to human societies bundling in the same moral packages common moral stances independent of revelations with specific to each creed ones, usually quite harmful and essentially intended to social control of their supporters and the memetic spreading of the creed. Nothing that could allow analogy.

OTOH, I very much like the vision of NwB erasing hic sunt dracones. But also battling against IPU and other likes.

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