I have heard from many people, and have been told what’s truly at the heart of the debate between Atheism and Skepticism is that talking about religion at skeptic conventions drives people away. It drives religious people away, people who might otherwise have stayed, learned about skepticism, and then gone on to become non-believers. The general point here is that if atheism will just back off of skepticism a little, skepticism will help fill the ranks of the atheist movement.
It’s a compelling argument, and I do think there should be skeptic forums for people who are religious. I certainly know people who didn’t start skepticism as atheists and ended up there. But they aren’t the majority of people that I know, by any stretch.
The other fear is that, not only do you drive away the religious, but you also marginalize the skeptic movement by letting it be too atheist. The point here being, I guess, that atheism is such a toxic subject that no one wants to be associated with it.
I don’t think that skepticism marginalizes itself by associating with atheism, for a couple reasons. One, I think that skepticism and non-belief are too closely intertwined for skepticism to not be associated with atheism regardless. Two, I think that the recent increase in interest in skepticism and the swelling of numbers at places like TAM and Skepticon comes from a new interest from “new” atheists.
I, for example, would never have heard of skepticism as a movement or known about things like homeopathy if I hadn’t first been an atheist. Dawkins (and others) involvement on both fronts has, in my opinion, meant that a lot of people who just didn’t like religion have discovered this entire community centered around rational thought. I wonder how many droves of people have found skepticism because they were confronting their religious beliefs. And I wonder why welcoming these people into the skepticism fold is less important than making the religious comfortable.
Maybe atheism isn’t as popular as religion, but I think that there’s a huge groundswell of atheism and backlash against the religious right that skepticism would be well-served to be a part of.