This is from an article (reference below) that I offered to send to readers, and many took me up on it. The quote is from pp. 99-100, and remember that for Atkins the “paranormal” includes religion.
True scientific revolutions are utterly distinct from the revolutions proposed by those who hanker for the paranormal. Real scientists have no time for the reports of such phenomena. Indeed, they scorn the reports and regard all practitioners as contemptible charlatans. Although such scornful attitudes are seen by some as politically incorrect, and at worse a conspiracy of the scientific establishment to trample underfoot the green shoots of unorthodoxy, there is good reason to believe that all claims of authentic paranormal observations are hogwash. First, there are no authenticated, reliable observations of phenomena that cannot be explained by the principles of conventional science. Second, whereas true scientific observations are like a canvas stretched over a frame of theory, purported paranormal phenomena are isolated pimples of whimsical speculation that are not grounded in a coherent corpus of knowledge. Third, were purported paranormal phenomena ever to be authenticated, they would devastate the whole structure of science, for most of them strike at two of its great foundations, the conservation of energy and causality. It is simply silly to assert in opposition to this remark that because there is a conspiracy among scientists to preserve these two pillars of rationality, intellectual police are sent to exterminate the first sign of the paranormal. If either foundation were overthrown by careful experiments on elementary particles, then there would be a Nobel prize for the overthrower; but to suppose that these two principles are best tested in the equivalent of the gambling halls of Las Vegas is frankly absurd.
One aspect of the paranormal versus real science should not go unremarked. As in other forms of obscurantist pursuit, such as religion, it is so easy to make time-wasting speculations. The paranormal is effectively unconstrained whimsicality. Original suggestions in real science emerge only after detailed study and the lengthy and often subtle process of testing whether current concepts are adequate. Only if all this hard work fails is a scientist justified in edging forward human understanding with a novel and possibly revolutionary idea. Real science is desperately hard work; the paranormal is almost entirely the fruit of armchair fantasizing. Real science is a regal application of the full power of human intellect; the paranormal is a prostitution of the brain. Worst of all, it wastes time and distorts the public’s vision of the scientific endeavour.
This is a man who is fed up with theology—as we all should be. I was talking to a famous secularist the other day, who will remain unnamed, who told me that theology was intellectually worthless because it had no real object of study: theologians simply analyze the thoughts of other theologians, immersed in a never-ending (and never progressing) stream of intellectual pablum.
I’ve read theology for a year now, and have to agree. Theology is the biggest waste of time in the history of human intellect. (I’m talking about academic thought here; if you count “all thought”, then replace “theology” with “religion.”) It makes no progress (except to discard the tenets that science disproves) and reaches no conclusions about either the existence or nature of gods.
Here is a serious question: has theology ever contributed anything to the progress of humanity?
Atkins, P. 1995. Science as truth. History of the human sciences 8:97-102.