## Skeptics, rationalists, atheists, freethinkers and other secular folk often encounter an annoying rhetorical device when discussing politics, ethics or history with religious people. If conversation turns to some atrocity or scandal committed by adherents of some religion, members of religion often deny that it has anything to do with their “real” religion. Pedophile priests are “not real Catholics,” suicide bombers are “not real Muslims,” and so on. For the faithful, the “real” religion is by definition right and good, thus anybody who commits an evil act cannot be acting in line with the genuine precepts of the religion. Religious people prefer to talk about what makes their religion admirable; they want to associate their religion with its most admirable adherents, not its criminals. Most religious people have also faced ridicule or discrimination for their beliefs, which makes them suspicious of outsiders who want to go over their dirty laundry. Decent people, whatever their religious convictions, will agree about the wickedness of high-profile atrocities. Nevertheless, religious people pondering those who have done atrocity in the name of their religion, it seems, have a blind spot about the possible religious motivations of the perpetrators. Muslims, for example, like to depict Islam as a religion of peace. Thus whatever may have inspired the 9/11 hijackers, or the Taliban, or the adherents of the Islamic State, that inspiration cannot possibly have come from “real” Islam: such organizations are dismissed e.g. as a “perversion of Islam.” And so on with Christian clergy supporting European imperialism or the slave trade, Hindu pandits instigating communal violence, or clerics of whatever faith responsible for whatever misdeed. Such distinctions between the “real religion” and the “perversion of religion” rarely convince anybody outside the religious tradition being defended. When devout Catholics deny that Catholicism has anything to do with pedophile priests, say, secular listeners, or indeed any non-Catholic listeners, are unlikely to be persuaded. Outsiders have no vested interest in defending “true Catholicism” from those who misrepresent it. They are more likely to take such arguments as an effort at whitewashing, an unwillingness to confront unpleasant truths, an inability to face reality. Skeptics, rationalists, and other secular folk, however, may have an equivalent blindness concerning “science.” Racist anthropology upheld imperialism and helped justify the holocaust. Sexist or ablest versions of psychiatry have also caused undeniable suffering. These harmful intellectual traditions, however, routinely invoked the rhetoric of “science.” Their advocates, furthermore, were often recognized as “scientific” by their contemporaries: several prominent figures worked as university researchers. Confronted with these unpleasant facts, secular types may respond that the intellectual traditions in question are “not real science.” I cannot exclude myself from this tendency. I am keen to deny the status of “science” to the scholarly tradition that typically went by the name of “racial science.” Indeed, while writing this piece I find myself unwilling to type the phrase “racial science” without putting the words in distancing quotation marks. Instead of denouncing racial pseudoscience, furthermore, I would much prefer to talk about the glorious history of astrophysics and quantum mechanics, about the great discoveries that make science admirable. I want to associate science with Newton, Einstein and Bohr, about its most admirable adherents, not the criminals who lent scholarly respectability to racial persecution. I should accept, however, that outsiders may not find such distinctions persuasive. The analogy has certain consequences for skeptics, rationalists, and other advocates of science. Defenders and proponents of science have to defend “real science” from the pretensions of “junk science”. Yet they will probably have to accept that for outsiders “science” has also had an unpalatable side. Alternatively, if skeptics are unwilling to shoulder any responsibility for harmful and/or discredited pseudosciences, perhaps they should have sympathy when the devout show unwillingness to take responsibility for the misdeeds of their co-religionists.

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