The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

The Moral Arc of Reason
Reason Rally, March 24, 2012, Washington D.C.

Three centuries ago, in a land 3,000 miles away, a revolution in reason began known as The Age of Enlightenment. Apropos our gathering here today, it is also called the Age of Reason, or in the descriptor of great German philosopher Immanuel Kant—Sapere Aude!—dare to know! “Have the courage to use your own understanding!” As Kant wrote: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.”

The Age of Reason, then, was the age when humanity was born again, not from original sin, but from original ignorance and dependence on authority. Never again shall we allow ourselves to be the intellectual slaves of those who would bind our minds with the chains of dogma and authority. In its stead we use reason and science as the arbiters of truth and knowledge.

This great Age of Reason came about because of a prior movement called The Scientific Revolution, when people began to look and think for themselves. Before science, truth about the world was the product of superstition and magical thinking, intuition and emotion, subjective feelings confirmed by selective perception. With science there is a method to get at the truth, an experimental method of checking with the world to see if your beliefs are true or not. Here are just a few of the benefits that reason has given us…

Instead of divining nature through the authority of an ancient book, through travel and exploration people examined the book of nature for themselves.

Instead of looking at illustrations in illuminated botanical books scholars went out into nature to see what was actually growing out of the ground.

Instead of relying on the woodcuts of dissected bodies in old medical texts, physicians opened bodies to see with their own eyes what was there.

Instead of burning witches after considering the spectral evidence as outlined in the Malleus Maleficarum—the authoritative book of witch hunting—jurists began to consider other forms of more reliable evidence.

Instead of human sacrifices to assuage the angry weather gods, naturalists made measurements of temperature, barometric pressure, and winds to create a science of climate.

Instead of enslaving people because they were a lesser species, we expanded our biological knowledge to include all humans as members of the species.

Instead of treating women as inferiors because a certain book says it is man’s right to do so, we discovered natural rights that dictate all people should be treated equally.

Instead of labeling homosexuality an abomination, or atheists and nonbelievers as immoral non-citizens, we are today engaged in a great legal struggle to make this final legal hurdle in the long rights revolution.

Instead of the supernatural belief in the divine right of kings, people employed a natural belief in the legal right of democracy, and this idea too is now spreading around the globe.

Democratic elections, in this sense, are like scientific experiments: every couple of years you carefully alter the variables with an election and observe the results.

Liberal democracy works better than any other form of government tested because democracy, like science, is a method, not an ideology. As the intellectual giant whose monument stands nearby as a tribute to all that is good and right about reason—Thomas Jefferson—wrote in 1804:

No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth.

But as Jefferson also warned, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

And so as we rally here today to celebrate reason, let us also remember that we must never let down our guard, for there are those still who would prefer to live in a Medieval world of superstition and dogma. There is no guarantee that reason will triumph over ignorance.

Still, let us celebrate what we have accomplished over the centuries and note the progress so well captured in the memorable observation by that other great freedom fighter, Martin Luther King, Jr., who proclaimed: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The force behind this moral arc is reason and science. To that end let us “Thank Reason” for our blessings of liberty.

Thank Reason for our democracy.

Thank Reason for our rights.

Thank Reason for our prosperity.

And Thank Reason for our freedom.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how Akismet processes your comment data. Comments are closed 45 days after an article is published.


Get eSkeptic

Be in the know!

Subscribe to eSkeptic: our free email newsletter and get great podcasts, videos, reviews and articles from Skeptic magazine, announcements, and more in your inbox twice a week. It’s free. We never share your address. Unsubscribe any time.

Sign me up!


Skeptic cover art by Pat Linse

Art of the Skeptic

In celebration of Skeptic magazine’s 100th issue, we present sage graphic art advice for skeptical groups and a gallery of art reflecting more than 47 years of skeptical activism from Skeptic’s long time Art Director, Pat Linse

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2021. All rights reserved. | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. The Skeptics Society is a non-profit, member-supported 501(c)(3) organization (ID # 95-4550781) whose mission is to promote science & reason. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Privacy Policy.