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4th Wave Skepticism – Foundations – Part 1

Posted by Don McLenaghen on September 4, 2012

There has been a lot of talk thrown around lately about atheism, skepticism, humanism, socialism….etc. There have been words attached like wave, plus…etc. Before moving forward we should first come to an understanding as to what these terms mean.  Some will disagree with my interpretation of these movements and that’s okay. The intent of this post is to ensure what it will be clear what I mean when I use these terms and the conversation can continue.

Atheism is a belief system about the existence or non-existence of supernatural divine entities. One can be an atheist simply because you have never been exposed to any ‘religion’. Equally you could be agnostic (weak atheism) because you think some questions are beyond certainty of knowledge and best left answered as “I don’t know”.

Some will be atheist because of a contradiction of theory and practice; I am sure a number of Catholics (for example) lost their faith because they could not reconcile a loving god/church and pedophilic priests…I think I would count Ayaan Hirsi Ali (one of our ‘Awful Atheist’ from an Episode #177) in this category.

And of course, there are those who look at the evidence and conclude that there is no scientific or ‘weight of evidence’ to believe. Now of course you could be an atheist for several or all of these reasons.

Skepticism is a theory of knowledge. It is not so much a belief system in itself but a mechanism for selecting ‘beliefs/truths/fact’. The original philosophical skeptics questioned if knowledgeable humans were capable of making truth claims – the matrix argument. Philosophical skepticism is based on strong logical foundations. Although the strongest argument against certainty, is also the least useful; in a pragmatic sense we must at some point bite the bullet and assert SOMETHING and build a picture of the world upon this.

From here you get what I would call theistic or rational skeptics; those are the people like Thomas Aquinas and Descartes who moved beyond the ancient skeptics. They accepted the logic of the ancients but acknowledged that a rejection of any knowledge seemed irrational. Choosing to take the pragmatic route; they needed to add to their world foundation a rational rock upon which to build knowledge. Aquinas and Descartes chose god as their foundation.

It was not really until Francis Bacon and the scientific revolution of the enlightenment, that scientific skepticism became possible.  Scientific skepticism has as its foundation the scientific method. When combined with logic and reason we get a powerful self-correcting tool to filter competing ideas about the world around us.


Humanism is a philosophy about how we should treat ourselves and our fellow humans. Its foundations are in Epicureanism; which essentially said humans are the best measure of ‘good’ and that through moderation and education we become the best judges of ‘good’.  There is the rejection of the supernatural or ‘other worldly’ as our masters. Humanism in the Renaissance could be compatible with religious beliefs; modern Secular Humanism seems to pre-supposed atheism (although belief in an impersonal deity may be possible).

Secular Humanism attempts to move beyond atheism and provide an ethical framework for a ‘post-religious’ society. In this context it tends to focus more on the Secular in an effort to remove religion from the public forum. In this form, Humanists often find themselves allied with Unitarians and other ‘secular’ religious movements who see faith as a personal and not a public exercise.

Socialism is the belief that strength and prosperity are more completely attained through social cooperation. Socialist to this day come from all points of the ‘religious’ spectrum. Unlike the other ‘isms’ we have discussed, Socialism is not individualistic…it re-supposes a ‘group-think’ attitude. One can be individualistically an atheist, skeptic and even humanist; one cannot be a singular and socialist (that would be libertarian).

Okay, but what about ‘waves’ and such?

Well, this post seemed too long, so I will continue my analysis in part 2 later this week.


One Response to “4th Wave Skepticism – Foundations – Part 1”

  1. […] 4th Wave Skepticism – Foundations […]

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