Sunday, July 13, 2008

Center For Inquiry’s Unique Mission

There are many institutions that engage in scientific research in specific fields of inquiry; there are fine schools, colleges, and universities that offer a large range of science programs and degrees; and there are numerous science journals and magazines. Many communities sponsor science museums and/or planetariums, for the public is often fascinated with the many exciting discoveries on the frontiers of science.

But until the Center for Inquiry, there were no institutions dedicated primarily to promote and defend science, reason, and free inquiry in all aspects of human interest.

The purpose of the Center for Inquiry is to contribute to the public understanding and appreciation of science and reason, and their applications to human conduct.

Unfortunately, the general public does not fully appreciate the nature of science and its methods of inquiry, nor are many willing to explore the broader philosophical implications of scientific discoveries for society.
Although there is undoubtedly widespread public support for scientific technology, and while vast investments in new products and industries have grown out of this (e.g., space technology, biogenetic engineering, medical research, and other fields on the frontiers of knowledge),
polls have shown that large sectors of the public remain scientifically illiterate, even regarding the most elementary scientific facts about our universe.
There is, in the public mind, a vast confusion between genuine science and fringe or pseudoscience.
Moreover, there is a large reservoir of antiscientific attitudes about the dangers of scientific research, and fear that scientists who tread in unknown domains are aping the work of Frankenstein.
The widespread apprehension about cloning research is reminiscent of the fear of nuclear physicists expressed only a generation ago, that in investigating elementary particles they have opened a Pandora's Box which will destroy humankind. Many even insist that there are areas of human life that scientific inquiry cannot or should not enter.

The scientific revolution, which is now four centuries old, has made great progress in expanding the frontiers of knowledge in the natural, biological, behavioral, and social sciences; and this has led to enormous contributions to human welfare. Witness, for example, the strides made in improving nutrition, health, and longevity, in enhanced travel and communication and the many goods and services available for human enjoyment and happiness.

Yet along with the advancement of the agenda of scientific inquiry, there persists a culture of mysticism and faith that resists it.

What would it mean to extend the scientific spirit to our most basic and cherished convictions? It would be to embrace a thoroughly scientific outlook (an outlook referred to in the scholarly literature as scientific naturalism or philosophical naturalism).
The naturalistic outlook is at once a method of inquiry, a cosmic world view, and a new form of ethical inquiry.

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