Science & Reason, Faith & Superstition: A Self-Assessment

The main conclusion arrived at in this work, namely, that man is descended from some lowly-organized form will, I regret to think, be highly distasteful to many persons. But there can hardly be a doubt that we are descended from barbarians. 

Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1851


When Darwin penned this quote in his second book on evolution (following the 1859 magnum opus, On the Origin of Species), he evidently held a more favorable view of homo sapients than might have been warranted. He knew about the depredations of the Spartans, the Maoris, the Vikings, the Comanches, the Roman Empire and the Mongols. However, he did not anticipate such lowly-organized forms as would arise in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea and other settings in times to come. Contemporary barbarians, usually animated by religious fervor such as Islamic State, Al-qaed, Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Musra Front and the U.S. Christian Right, render the original barbarians ordinary mischief makers.

So we must recognize that aberrant actors - barbarians, if you like, are not distant descendants. We have some evolving to do before barbarians are associated only with ancient times or extinct predators. Plotinus said, mankind is poised midway between the gods and the beasts. Plotinus was an optimist - half-way seems too kind.


Please ask yourself a couple questions:

Am I mostly guided by reason, or am I more inclined toward a faith-based belief system?

Do I look to science and reason for answers, or do I have greater confidence in priests or other religious trusted sources for guidance about what is best, right, truth and moral?

Your answers signal a lot about your worldview, and how you manage your life.

A related question concerning the reason/faith dichotomy is this:

Are you comfortable thinking and exchanging views on such questions?

What do you think - comfortable or not? If comfortable, you should enjoy the rest of this piece.

For some folks, raising such matters seems too personal, off limits or over the line. To a devout person, a dichotomy between science/reason and faith/superstition probably seems unfair, unwarranted, presumptuous, sacrilegious, invasive or worse. On the other hand, it might lead others, like you, perhaps, to exclaim, Gee whiz, I wish Don would write a questionnaire to help me explore matters of reason and faith, and connect it all to REAL wellness."

What a coincidence that would be - because that's exactly what I have in mind.


I'm pleased to introduce my non-scientific, untested, subjective but  possibly useful assessment for assessing your leanings one way or the other on a reason/faith continuum. Place a check in the space after each sentence if the statement represents your position. If it does not, leave it blank. When done, count and make note of the total checkmarks - then  read the interpretation provided.

At that point, you can decide if the assessment seems to represent your orientation toward a reason or a faith-based orientation.

Ready? Please begin.

I favor or am predisposed to a belief that:

  1. Reason and science are the only ways to accurately understanding the universe and the best guides for the solution of human problems. _____
  2. It's best to enjoy life here and now, in this world, while nurturing developing my talents. _____
  3. Morality consists of respecting common moral decencies, proactive positive guides of desired human qualities such as altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness and responsibility -- far more so than any negative admonitions of things not to do found in ancient commandments or other rules attributed to revelations. _____
  4.  There is great value in the preservation of an open and pluralistic society wherein the expression of viewpoints, however unpopular, are protected. _____
  5. Democracy is the best guarantee of human rights against authoritarian elites and repressive majorities. _____
  6. Negotiation and compromise are preferred means for resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding. _____
  7. We should make every effort to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation or ethnicity. _____
  8. Freedom requires the absolute separation of church and state at every level. _____
  9. It is important that we have environmental protections and policies that prevent animal abuse, and that major reforms are needed in this regard in the cattle, dairy and other food industries. _____
  10. Resisting all attempts to denigrate human intelligence, to explain the world in magical, evidence-free terms that effectively look outside ourselves or nature for salvation or better circumstances. _____
  11. Safeguarding our rights to privacy. _____
  12. Protecting mature adults in their exercise of reproductive freedoms, open and unfettered access to comprehensive health care, expression of their choice of sexual preferences and right to die peacefully whenever they so choose. _____
  13. Scientific discoveries and technology are the likeliest paths to the betterment of human life. _____
  14. Ethics, moral principles and normative standards to live by are most likely to be discovered together, tested by their consequences.  _____
  15. Moral education of children is best nourished by reason and compassion, positive reinforcement in an atmosphere of acceptance free of fear, degradation, punishment or revenge. _____
  16. We are all citizens of the universe and that new discoveries about the cosmos are exciting and worth pursuing. _____
  17. Skepticism toward untested claims to knowledge with an openness toward novel ideas and new ways of thinking will guide wise decision-making. _____
  18. A disdain for philosophies/theologies of despair and ideologies of violence is merited and highly desirable. _____
  19. A preference for optimism over pessimism, hope over despair, learning instead of dogma, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness and reason over blind faith. _____
  20. The fullest realization possible of my best and noblest capacities as a human being is a desirable goal in life for everyone. _____ 


If you registered 15 or more checks on the twenty question assessment, you are on the far side of an orientation toward reason, science and critical thinking. You might consider yourself a humanist, freethinker, agnostic or hell-bound infidel. In any event, you are definitely not given to revealed truths, dogmas or ancient holy books as likely sources for guidance on contemporary moral, public policy or other matters of consequence. If you entered five or fewer checks, you might be the Pope, or at least a true believer deeply committed to a faith-based way of thinking. If your check mark total puts you somewhere between these extremes (i.e., fourteen to six checks), I have no idea what you might call yourself. Republican, perhaps.

But, no matter - the point of the assessment is to suggest the general nature of a purely secular, good without God approach to a moral life. My own (obvious) bias is toward a reason-based way of thinking, but I recognize that there are other paths to REAL wellness values and choices that support exceptional quality of life.

Several statements in this assessment are inspired by but not exactly the same as the qualities expressed in The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles set forth by the Center for Inquiry.  


What might REAL wellness enthusiasts do to advance human evolution in positive ways that are adaptive, wise and kind? What is the role for those who believe improving quality of people is part of boosting quality of life?

Our society is awash in superstitions and perilous misconceptions. Take one example - the health crisis in some states caused by parents who won't allow their children to be vaccinated. Here we have affluent, well educated people who reject the overwhelming scientific consensus of no linkage whatsoever between vaccinations and autism. When people do not respect science, society is endangered, as it is by big money interests and a dominant Right Wing Christian political party, among other dysfunctions.

A message for the anti-vaccine movement

 Now is the time for all REAL wellness seekers to come to the aide of their country - support reason and science. You personally might want to do all that you can to advance independent thought, skepticism and scientific literacy.

One element of REAL wellness, I believe, is a scientific worldview. Another is the free trade in ideas. Again borrowing on the standards put forward by the Center for Free Inquiry, consider the following possibilities of REAL wellness qualities that are surely worthy of your support.

  1. Including in the wellness educational agenda reason, happiness and personal freedoms - as primary criteria when proposing, delivering and assessing programs, policies and initiatives.
  2. Encouraging attitudes of kindness, compassion, tolerance and generosity in all human relationships and in the ways that other animals and forms of life are treated.
  3. Teaching, popularizing and advocating reason and critical thinking skills in order to empower people to challenge prejudice, superstition and irrationality in every area of life.
  4. Exalting the artistic and imaginative in varied expressions (e.g., music, literature, art, dance), celebrating these forms as the essence of what it means to be human.
  5. Exploring the bases for ethics and morality, within the context of happiness and human rights for all.  

Dr. Victor J. Stenger was a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. He authored a dozen widely acclaimed books on the interface between philosophy and physics, as well as religion and pseudoscience. His 2007 book God: The Failed Hypothesis - How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist was a New York Times bestseller. In the concluding remarks in his article entitled The Folly of Faith (in John W. Loftus' Christianity Is Not Great), Dr. Stenger addressed the dichotomy between faith and reason:

I have an urgent plea to scientists and all thinking people. We need to focus our attention on one goal, which will not be reached in the lifetime of the youngest among us but has to be achieved someday if humanity is to survive. That goal is the replacement of foolish faith and its vanities with something more sublime - knowledge and understanding that is securely based on observable reality.

Best wishes, be well, think clearly and always look on the bright side of life.