A program of the Center for Inquiry
Could terrorism end human civilization? Or is it a relative nuisance that’s being cynically exploited? Confronting the dangers posed by terrorism effectively requires a clear understanding of the scope of those dangers. In the latest issue of Free Inquiry magazine, two leading scholars and skeptics take opposing positions on whether we have more to fear than just fear itself.Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, Scientific American columnist, and author of The Moral Arc, takes the view that despite recent horrors wrought by violent radicals, terrorism does not actually represent an existential threat to Western civilization. Shermer notes that thus far terrorists have proven far too disorganized and incompetent to pull off anything so world-changing as a nuclear detonation. Nor are they sufficiently sophisticated to establish anything resembling a stable society of their own. “If your movement is based on violence,” writes Shermer, “you are necessarily going to be limiting yourself to mostly young, strong, violence-prone males who also have a propensity for boozing and brawling.”
On the other side is Phil Torres, who literally wrote the book on world-ending events with The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Apocalypse. Torres says that jihadists’ devaluation of life and sole focus on the afterlife make them uniquely dangerous. As global warming and biodiversity loss continue to upend life for the most vulnerable, apocalyptic thinking will increase among the dispossessed—even as the destructive potential of technology continues to increase. Torres cites the warnings of intelligence experts that terrorist attacks with unprecedented mass casualties are all but assured in the near future, warning, “It could take only a single individual or group under the spell of religious delusions to relocate humanity from the category of ‘extant’ to ‘extinct.’”
Also in this issue: Leah Mickens continues her exploration of humanists’ leading role in key social changes, focusing on the work of the Center for Inquiry, the skeptic and humanist institution founded by Paul Kurtz that publishes Free Inquiry. Mickens spotlights CFI’s efforts on the world stage as it combats blasphemy laws through its presence at the United Nations and fosters humanist organizations in African countries where dangerous superstition and witchcraft belief continue to destroy lives.
Plus: Russell Blackford looks for a language of terrorist atrocities that befits their impact on the human psyche; Ophelia Benson warns of an overreliance on “rationality” from public scientific figures such as Neal deGrasse Tyson; Tom Flynn highlights what has been a banner year for giving the Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, the place in history that he deserves; and much more.
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