Nov 22 2010

Why atheism is the most skeptical position

Some people claim that I don’t know what “skepticism” is really about because I haven’t read the “fundamental” skeptical books. Which was shocking to me, since I thought the concept of skepticism was fairly simple – it’s just the application the scientific method. Of course, other people just claim I haven’t studied the philosophy of science enough to understand how science really works.

Hell, if a grad student in the sciences can’t discuss skepticism because she doesn’t have enough background, I guess those skeptical organizations will be waving goodbye to members who don’t have the proper skeptical credentials. Let’s leave it to the “professional” skeptics.

But while we’re on the topic of appealing to authority, let’s look at how Michael Shermer, co-founder of the Skeptics Society, defines skepticism in his “Skeptic’s Manifesto“:

Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions.

Huh, that’s exactly how I’ve always defined skepticism! I wonder if Michael Shermer knows he needs to go read some more books and brush up on his philosophy of science?

I previously thought this discussion about skepticism and atheism needed to die already. The horse hadn’t just been beaten to death – it has already decomposed and had its molecules reassembled into the surrounding flora and fauna. But some people continue to miss the point, so people keep talking about it. Yesterday I showed up to my first official meeting of the Seattle Atheists (which was awesome, by the way), and what was the panel discussion on? Yep, skepticism versus atheism.

What was curious about that discussion was how different it was since an atheist group was hosting it, rather than skeptics. The atheists freely admitted that not all atheists are skeptics. Some, at least initially, reach their decisions thanks to emotional or value-based arguments, and don’t skeptically examine religious beliefs until later (if ever).

But to those of us who came to atheism through skeptical analysis of religion, it was literally inconceivable how skeptics couldn’t be atheists. The only explanation the panelists could think of for this current debate was that it was based on public relations, not intellectual merit – that yes, skepticism leads to atheism, but please hush about it so we don’t scare away the religious members. Yet there’s another explanation often given – that you can’t directly test the God hypothesis, therefore please hush about it.

And that’s where I must call bullshit.

To understand why I call bullshit (oh my, crass language! I must not know what I’m talking about!), let’s review Wikipedia’s decent summary on the null hypothesis:

The null hypothesis typically proposes a general or default position, such as that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena,[1] or that a potential treatment has no effect.[2] [...] It is typically paired with a second hypothesis, the alternative hypothesis, which asserts a particular relationship between the phenomena.

[...]Hypothesis testing works by collecting data and measuring how probable the data are, assuming the null hypothesis is true. If the data are very improbable (usually defined as observed less than 5% of the time), then the experimenter concludes that the null hypothesis is false. If the data do not contradict the null hypothesis, then no conclusion is made. In this case, the null hypothesis could be true or false; the data give insufficient evidence to make any conclusion.

I’ve always viewed atheism as the null hypothesis. It is the general, default position that makes no claims. Now, there are many, many alternative hypotheses. Zeus exists. The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. The particular Judeo-Christian God worshiped by the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, VA exits. Atheists have come to the conclusion that these hypotheses are wrong, not only because they lack evidence (needed to reject the null hypothesis of atheism), but because they’re not even internally consistent claims (contradictions in the Bible, the inability for an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving being to exist, yadda yadda).

“But what about a deist God?” you ask. “What about a definition of God that’s wishy-washy and nebulous? God is love. God is in all of us. You can’t even test those!” Exactly. And since you can’t test them, you can’t gather any evidence for them. And since you can’t gather any evidence for them, you fail to reject the null hypothesis of atheism.

Am I 100% certain that no deity at all exists? No, but you’d be hard pressed to find an atheist who is – even Richard Dawkins wouldn’t claim to be. Technically we’re agnostic to some extent, and that’s a whole other debate that’s wriggling through an earth worm by now. But atheist vs. agnostic semantics aside, the point stands that the scientific method, when applied to belief in God, does not lead to deism or theism.

I guess this is an elaborate way of saying that the burden of proof lies on those making the claims. That seems to be fine when skeptics are dealing with psychics and Bigfoot, but not with God. If you want to avoid it for PR reasons, fine – I disagree with you, but you can run your organization however you like. But if you claim to avoid religious beliefs for skeptical reasons, then, I reiterate, you’re not being fucking skeptical.


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  1. 1
    Jon Voisey

    This same topic was one of the panels at Skepticon III this weekend. I feel quite sorry for the moderator who was forced to ask some very pedantic questions just to keep the discussion going since ALL OF THE PANELISTS AGREED!

  2. 2

    I agree that the argument seems like it ought to be a dead one. But there are still people who believe in Atlantis, FFS. This one is just getting started.It takes time for people to come to skepticism. When people are first getting their feet wet with skeptical thinking, there’s almost always one or two subjects that they consider to be off-limits (consciously or not). Most of us can’t just dive into the deep end and start swimming, after all.But, that’s not a reason to treat religion differently in the skeptical movement.

  3. 3

    Thank you, Jen. That’s much better said than what I’d have come up with, and I’ve been saying something along these lines for years.On a slightly different note…I’m willing to give the PR folks a bit of credit here, myself – inasmuch as their goal is to encourage more people to think skeptically (and, perhaps, in that way lead them to atheism), having “sceptical” groups that are not openly atheist could be a good way to interest currently religious people in scepticism and teach them skills and tools they can use to examine their own beliefs.That said… there’s no way that that approach isn’t at least mildly dishonest, and in a very real sense the core of scientific rationalism and scepticism is scrupulous honesty. As such, I’m not sure I can encourage such an “accommodationist” or “seductionist” approach even if I did believe it would be a more successful mode of outreach.

  4. 4

    Exactly. Conferences can feel free to avoid religion if they want to attract people who are, like breadbox said, “first getting their feet wet.” It’s mildly intellectually dishonest, but you get to choose what to focus on. What I can’t stand is people saying that religion or belief in any sort of God is except from skepticism, or that other skeptical conferences can’t call themselves skeptical because they happen to talk about or even focus on religion.

  5. 5
    Carlos Del Valle

    I began with atheism by watching on youtube the christmas lecture of Richard Dawkins and then thought: “wow, this is AMAZING, how does one gets to have that ability for thinking??” and then began with skepticisim. Then, I agree that one could for some time be an atheist and not consider oneself as a skeptic, but no the other way around. I agree it is just silly to give religion an special status on the skeptic world-view. At least, an skeptic should be willing to discuss about religion (and I’m being very forgiving here).

  6. 6

    I’m still waiting for any theist to give up some credible evidence for the existence of God. Been waiting for 50 years now…

  7. 7

    I don’t think it matters what the null hypothesis is: atheism, agnosticism, deism, or theism. All UNFALSIFIED evidence proves to us beyond a reasonable doubt that atheism is true and we should accept it. Notice that I capitalize the word “unfalsified”…, particularly for Christians. :-)

  8. 8
    Derek Bartholomaus

    I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about this myself, but let me just summarize my thoughts on this here for now.I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I think that I have done some pretty good things in, and for, the skeptical community. I began my introduction to the skeptical community with the Independent Investigations Group. That led to my research into the Billy Meier UFO Case. That led me to discussions with Phil Plait and James Randi. That led me to the Skeptics Guide To The Universe. That led me to create the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website.For my first few years of involvement with the IIG I was a believer. Not only was I a regular church-goer, but I was on the board of trustees at my church.If the IIG was introduced as being an atheist organization then I never would have joined it and I never would have done the work that I have come to do in, and for, the skeptical community. That’s not to say that those things would never have happened, but they certainly wouldn’t have been done by me and certainly not within the same timeline.If for no other reason, *this* is why it is important to not dismiss the views of a believer out of hand. How many people are out there who are like I was? How many of those could lead to do great and wonderful work promoting scientific thinking and skepticism? How many lost opportunities would there be if skepticism were to be equated with atheism?Thank you.

  9. 9
    Daniel Schealler

    Another option to consider:Those who self-identify as skeptics don’t have to be skeptical about everything, all the time, or risk losing their membership rights.I think this should include religion. The natural conclusion of applying skepticism to religion is atheism. But if an individual skeptic wants to compartmentalize their religious beliefs away from their skeptical side? It’s a bit of a let down, sure. But that’s fine – like Anthony Grayling and his leather shoes, I’m sure they’re doing their best.At skeptical events? Sure, I’ll talk about religion. If that individual doesn’t like it – well, tough cookies. It says skeptic on your name-tag – don’t go dishing it out if you can’t take it.But I don’t see that there is any form of One True Skeptic that MUST be an atheist either. For example, I don’t want to revoke Pamela Gay’s skeptic credentials just because she believes in the sky bully.

  10. 10

    The agnostic vs. atheist thing is a big argument between my boyfriend and me… I’m willing to commit to the term “atheist,” but he says there’s no way to prove a negative (i.e. that god does not exist), so he insists that we are “agnostics.” In my experience, I can’t demonstrate any credible evidence of a god, so I like the idea of accepting the null hypothesis in the absence of that necessary evidence. I don’t think that just because we can’t PROVE that there are no gods that we must stick to “agnosticism” just for accuracy’s sake.

  11. 11

    Being a skeptic means being a good scientist. Being a good scientist, however, does not entail being a good philosopher of science. As it turns out, there’s no scientific method, falsification as it is commonly presented is absurd, and there’s a great deal of subtlety which scientists get to ignore. Why do they ignore it? Because it gets in the way of doing good science. Don’t let some fuzziness around the edges of the demarcation problem lull you into thinking nothing is terra firma. But neither think that doing science gives a person a firm perspective on the philosophy of science without study.Can a person be a skeptic and a theist? Sure, but you first have to give a meaningful definition of god. I, as an atheist and skeptic, get all sorts of definitions thrown at me: “God is the feeling of connectedness people feel with others,” or “God is the first causer of all events.” I am relatively open to these definitions (but it would be a mistake to then extrapolate to some other properties, like an afterlife).

  12. 12
    Sven Rudloff

    Jen, I agree with you, until the last paragraph, because I know too many skeptical people who are not atheists.I consider myself skeptic, and I am an atheist as well, and yes, I find it odd that people can be skeptical and still not be atheists. However, all of us are not skeptical all the time, and I know people *who choose* not to apply their otherwise extensive skepticism to their religious belief. Yes, it is odd, and I wonder how they live with this massive cognitive dissonance, but they do. And naturally, they feel a bit awkward when atheism pops up in skeptical conferences.All this is no argument to “ban” atheist topics from skeptical conferences, be it for PR reasons or to appease individuals – that would be stupid. However, one can’t deny that there are theist skeptics around, some of them quite prominent.

  13. 13

    And I agree with you. I never said they’re not skeptics. I just said they’re not being skeptical. As in, not skeptical about this one topic.I’m human, I’m sure there are things I’m not very skeptical about. That doesn’t mean I’m not a skeptic most of the time… but people can feel free to say “Jen, you’re not being fucking skeptical” when I’m being irrational.

  14. 14
    Sven Rudloff

    Also, just to add another angle: As a German living in the UK, it struck me that U.S. skeptical conferences feature atheistic topic much more often than European ones. Sure, TAM London had P.Z. Myers talking, and a brilliant report from Adam Rutherford on the Alpha Course, but that’s it. Religious skepticism is just one of many skeptical topics, but it seems it is much more a “hot topic” in the U.S. than in Europe, where most of the time religion as such is more of a non-issue.

  15. 15

    sigh – do you believe in any god? if the answer is no you are an atheist. Silly boyfriend.

  16. 16
    Nick Andrew

    Yeah, Jen keeps saying “you’re not being fucking skeptical”. I prefer to read it as “you’re not being completely skeptical”. Some people have blind spots in their skepticism. Probably everybody is skeptical about something; it’s unlikely that somebody is skeptical about everything (except Descartes and nihilists).I could even invoke Godel and say that it’s logically impossible for a person to be skeptical of everything, as they’d have to be skeptical of their own skepticality and any conclusions drawn from their own skeptical process.That said, I have no problem if an individual has such a blind spot. I do think it is important for skeptical organisations however, to not avoid discussion of religion due to this blind spot. Religion is the Emperor’s new clothes and I don’t think skeptics should be saying “shut up” when somebody points out that he’s naked.

  17. 17
    Nick Andrew

    Tell your boyfriend about the Gnu atheists who vocally reject all gods and he can occupy the new middle ground of a-theism, which is “lack of a belief in gods”. You can be a-gnostic too if you want, but if your boyfriend rejects a-theism that would make him an a-gnostic theist.

  18. 18

    But Jen’s argument was somewhat influenced by the whole kerfluffle about Skepticon, claiming it’s not truly skeptic. That’s out and out BS.While it’s fine that people may apply their skepticism selectively, there’s no reason to *expect* a skeptic group or conference to be selective in it’s application of skepticism – as Jeff Wagg’s rant did…

  19. 19

    Hell, if a grad student in the sciences can’t discuss skepticism because she doesn’t have enough background, I guess those skeptical organizations will be waving goodbye to members who don’t have the proper skeptical credentials. Let’s leave it to the “professional” skeptics.

    More evidence that you don’t understand it, Jen.It’s not about “credentials”. Science doesn’t give a rat’s ass how many degrees you have, nor do I. I never said anything about your “lack of credentials”. I said that you do not appear to understand the field. Formal education does not always produce expertise and expertise can be gained in other ways. As Carl Sagan said, “In science, there are no authorities.” What matters is what you demonstrate.It is you who are appealing to authority by claiming that credentials matter (see above), not me.Nothing I have to say about the rest of your post matters to closed minds, so I will not waste my time addressing it other than to say that your treatment of this topic is a lot like your previous posts. It looks good from afar, but it’s just whitewash.

  20. 20
    Tea Cosy

    Agreed! I don’t see skepticism as a black-and-white thing. A person can be a skeptic in general, but avoid thinking sceptically about a particular topic. As long as they admit to not being a skeptic about a particular thing, then I don’t necessarily see the problem with their identifying as a skeptic generally. I always thought that one of the major points to skepticism was that people figure things out for themselves by looking at the evidence. People come to different topics in their own time, if at all. As long as their religiosity doesn’t go so far as to discriminate against people (hello, sexism and homophobia!), then I think it’s fine that they either haven’t gotten around to a skeptical analysis of religion, are avoiding it, or are still in the middle of what can be a hell of a long process.Also, as many people have said, a lot of people come to atheism through skepticism. If we insist that self-identified skeptics be atheists, aren’t we shooting ourselves in the foot?(None of this means that I think that religious claims should be immune to skeptical inquiry, by the way. Just that, jeez, isn’t it better to have people from a variety of backgrounds and points of view being welcomed as they embrace critical thinking?)

  21. 21
    Tea Cosy

    If I were you, I’d get him to look at the definitions of (a)theism and (a)gnosticism. One is a claim about belief, the other about knowledge. As an agnostic atheist (the claim that there is a god does not appear currently falsifiable, however I am entirely without belief in gods), you can absolutely have it both ways ;)

  22. 22
    Tea Cosy

    Agreed. I think it’s because religion seems to be so much more public in the US than Europe. Now, I’ve never lived in the US so I can’t compare directly. But here, religion has the feel of being a personal, private issue. Public use of religion feels weird and anachronistic.

  23. 23
    1000 Needles

    “…that’s a whole other debate that’s wriggling through an earth worm by now.”Quotable gold.

  24. 24


  25. 25

    http://media.photobucket.com/i…If you’d asked me earlier whether such a spectacular misreading was possible, I’d have had to say no. Thank you, badrescher, for causing my confidence in humanity to drop ever lower.

  26. 26

    You know it’s easy to focus on the complete lack of reading comprehension here, but I think we should also recognize that final paragraph for the wonderful mix of hand waving, poisoning the well, and all around dickishness that it is.

  27. 27
    Jennifer Shaw Hancock

    The difference is that skepticism is a process – atheism is a conclusion – while atheism is a logical conclusion of skepticism saying the two things are the same negates the difference. Process vs. conclusion. It is ok that skeptics want to focus on the process. If you are really interested in promoting atheism, promote atheism. If you are really interested in promoting a process of thinking, promote the process. It’s all compatible, so why all the arguing? What gets me annoyed is that organized Atheists seem to not be ok with any other related group not making atheism their primary goal and purpose. Not everyone is obsessed with religion. I’m not and I have been an atheist my entire life. I personal don’t care what other people believe, only that they are compassionate and responsible and ethical – that is why I am allied with the Humanist movement. I am fine with Atheists who make that their goal in life, but my goal is different and that should be ok with my fellow Atheists – that it isn’t is really annoying.

  28. 28
    Gus Snarp

    Ask any Christian, belief is an active thing. You have to really believe in God to be anything other than an atheist. If you don’t know whether God exists or not, then you choose whether, in the absence of knowledge, you should believe there is or not. If you don’t believe, you are an atheist, whether you want to admit it or not. Most people who call themselves agnostics are actually atheists, they’re just afraid to admit it, partly because of how atheists have been demonized by religion and the media, and partly because they aren’t quite willing to give up on Pascal’s Wager.

  29. 29
    Gus Snarp

    I find it to be the other way around. It is the “accomodationists” (I don’t like that term, but it conveys what I mean, I’m open to others) that are telling people what their goals should be, what they should and should not be doing. They are the ones telling people that being skeptical about religion is hurting the skeptical community or the advancement of science. The “new atheists” (I don’t like that term, but it conveys what I mean, I’m open to others) on the other hand are simply saying that they refuse to be dishonest about the conclusions that skepticism and science lead them to.

  30. 30

    The whole atheism/skepticism/whatever thing is easily resolvable with a simple genus-species distinction. But, a minor point: While I am an atheist, I am not a skeptic and it is not because of emotional reasons, per se. It’s because I’ve noticed a distinct lack of knowledge of the philosophy of science amongst skeptics. When countering idiots, like creationsts and what have you, this is totally acceptable. But there are more intellegent theists out there. Feel free to reject their claims — they’re not trying to convert you — but I think it important to realize that there are, if in a minority, functional scientists who are not being dishonest about their beliefs that both do science and believe in God.

  31. 31
    Gus Snarp

    Jen, I now see that it is you who are to blame for the false conflation of skepticism and science/scientific method. You are absolutely correct in your analysis of how applying the scientific method leads one toward atheism, which is the bulk of your post, but this: “I thought the concept of skepticism was fairly simple – it’s just the application the scientific method,” is wrong. Skepticism is not the application of the scientific method. Skepticism came first, it informs and enabled the creation of the scientific method, but they are not one and the same. Otherwise we have to abandon all skepticism with regards to historical claims. If you read closely, Shermer can be seen to agree with me (though it’s open to interpretation): “Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method”. Embodied in, not defined by. Skepticism is embodied in the scientific method because the scientific method was built on a preexisting foundation of skepticism.I’ll also post a definition of skepticism by Carl Sagan that Podblack seems to like, as she linked to a post including it: “A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.”There are a few keys here: “applies the methods of science AND REASON to all empirical claims.” And “A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence.”It’s not just the scientific method, it is also the use of reason and logic and “a thorough assessment of available evidence.” And that’s from a definition of “scientific skepticism”. It seems to me that, while this definition favors the scientific method, it does not suggest that reason, logic, and assessment of evidence must be ignored simply because the full scientific method cannot be brought to bear on the subject at hand.To me, this is why skepticism can and should be applied to religion, because skepticism really likes the scientific method, as any parent likes their child, but does not require it.But go ahead and make a scientific argument against religion, that’s valid too.Also, somebody tell me if I can use HTML tags here so I don’t have to emphasize quotes with ALL CAPS and can use block quotes…

  32. 32
    Bruce Coppola

    Or the bumper sticker version: “Skepticism and Atheism – they’re not just for scientists anymore”. :)Jen, if you put that on t-shirts & mugs I’ll expect my cut of the big bucks. :p(Yer basic lib arts type here.)

  33. 33

    Discus is fucked. It has some sort of restriction on HTML tags, and I’m not sure how (or even why) it’s different.But….”Jen, I now see that it is you who are to blame for the false conflation of skepticism and science/scientific method.”I Personally agree with jennifer shaw hancock abaove when she sees skepticism as a process more than a position, but I understand how Jen makes the connection between the two – it makes no sense to me either how one can claim to be a skeptic but not arrive at the conclusion of atheism. But I can’t see how you’re differentiating between the scientific method and reason/logic. They’re integral just as the schermer quote that states that skepticism is embodied in the scientific method. What happens when you detach reason and logic from the scientific method? Reason and logic are the reasons the scientific method exists. If you remove methodology from reason and logic, you spend a lot of time looking at a lot of things that don’t make sense. If you remove reason and logic from the methodology, you never get any answers. You can’t parse reason and logic from the scientific method.

  34. 34

    I do not consider myself less of a skeptic because of a belief in god. I consider myself skeptical in all aspects, except where skepticism does not help or aid me. In most cases, skepticism is good, but if all it’s going to do is give me theoligical doubts (which are a very big, life-changing deal) for no good reason other than a lack of evidence for God’s presence, then in that case I will keep my beliefs.And, at any rate, what would anyone honestly accept as evidence of God’s existence? Is there anything? Religious experiences are subjective experiences, completely unique to the person. There is no golden ticket. Belief in God is not a monolithic thing. Looking down on people because their belief in God isn’t logical isn’t exactly wise when dealing with animals who run almost entirely on emotion, instinct, and drives.

  35. 35
    Gus Snarp

    I obviously disagree with you, but I’m not even sure how to argue the point you’ve made. I guess because I just don’t see any basis for it. “Reason and logic are the reasons the scientific method exists.” Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean that logic and reason ARE the scientific method, or that they cannot exist without it. “If you remove methodology from reason and logic…” Here I agree that we can’t parse methodology from reason and logic. Reason and logic ARE methodologies, they just aren’t the scientific method, they are part of it, and precursors to it, but not synonymous with it.I will return to the example of history. Historians tend to be very skeptical. They look at stories from the past that are generally accepted on face value and ask if that’s really how things were. To find out they go back to original source documents: letters and other writings from the people involved, archival documentation such as the census or military or other records from the time, media archives of the time, etc. They then base conclusions on that evidence and a logical and reasoned assessment of it. These conclusions may very dramatically from the conventional wisdom or the “facts” we all learned in grade school, but historians assume that what they learned from the first hand sources is correct, then the conventional wisdom must be wrong. Sometimes they simply can’t confirm the conventional wisdom, even if they can’t directly contradict it. In which case they tend to assume that the conventional wisdom is unlikely to be true.Historians are still not scientists. They have no controls, no variables, no experiments, and while they may have a null hypothesis of a sort and certainly a conclusion, they don’t usually call it a null hypothesis, and they very rarely subject it to statistical analysis, at least in part because historical material doesn’t exist in large enough quantities to be statistically significant.Is there then, perhaps a disagreement in terms of what the scientific method entails? Isn’t it something like:1. Make an observation.2. Form a hypothesis.3. Formulate an experiment designed to disprove this hypothesis.4. Conduct the experiment using appropriate controls and variable.5. Statistically analyze the resulting data.6. Form a valid conclusion from the results.7. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  36. 36

    Bein an atheist myself, I’m tired of atheists who say they make no claims. I don’t understand why we can reasonably say there are no fairies but for some reason we can’t equally reasonably say there are no gods.

  37. 37
    Gus Snarp

    ” In most cases, skepticism is good, but if all it’s going to do is give me theoligical doubts (which are a very big, life-changing deal) for no good reason other than a lack of evidence for God’s presence, then in that case I will keep my beliefs.”Well, at least you’re honest about it. Me, I can’t fathom that way of thinking. It does make me curious as to what exactly your religious beliefs are though. Science and skepticism don’t just say there’s a lack of evidence for God’s presence, they say that there are large numbers of claims made by religious leaders and texts that can be falsified reasonably well.

  38. 38

    /agree. I’m personally interested in the process, and entirely bored with the talk of religion. I got interested in the skeptical movement because of the science-based activism. I really don’t care about the philosophical stuff, null hypothesis be damned. Really, I’d just prefer to promote critical thinking generally. And if that makes a bunch of people stop being religious, whatever. In the short term I’m far more concerned with things like the anti-vaccination movement, fraudulent products, and that intensely creepy psychic kids show.

  39. 39

    I think the difference here is that some of us that are purely involved in the skeptical movement feel like the atheists are trying to take over and redirect the mission, and it’s damn annoying.

  40. 40

    Agreed: once you open the door to one supernatural being, you get the rest for free.Yay! MUCH more interesting.

  41. 41

    Because it’s relevant to skepticism, and because it’s really funny, I offer you a song by Tim Minchin:http://www.youtube.com/watch?f… This is his explanation for the title, from a live version of the same song:”This religious friend of mine, arguments often end with him telling me I’m not very open minded. And because he’s my friend and I respect him I’ve written him a song. It’s called, “If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out.”"Many people here will probably like his other songs, such as “Ten Foot C*ck and A Few Hundred Virgins,” “The Pope Song,” and “White Wine in the Sun,” but since they’re somewhat NSFW, I’ll let you find them on your own.

  42. 42
    Adam Douglass

    “The particular Judeo-Christian God worshiped by the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, VA exits. “When I read that I saw something like this:http://overcompensating.com/po… orhttp://overcompensating.com/po

  43. 43

    For many of us, though, belief isn’t a choice. I might be able to pretend, or want to believe, that there is some “higher power” (whatever that means), but it would not make me actually believe it. Our beliefs stem from a lot of things, but I am not sure they are conscious choices we can make. That’s one (of many) reasons that arguments like Pascal’s Wager fail.

  44. 44

    Agree completely. And hopefully my friends will actually say “Aren’t you being hypocritical/non-skeptical/batshit insane for believing that? Where’s the evidence?” Then hopefully I can look at my own thoughts/ideas/beliefs and seriously evaluate them. I know we can’t be skeptical all the time (and here I make the distinction over things that matter, not the knicker-twisting skepticism straw man that says we have to doubt everything – skepticism isn’t doubt, really), but we have to depend on others to keep us honest when we slide.

  45. 45
    Ashley F. Miller

    I think you’ll find that a lot of these awful atheists who are trying to take over the movement are the ones who are also trying to promote critical thinking and speaking out over other problems that skepticism is interested in debunking. Just because we like to talk about religion, doesn’t mean we don’t still want to talk about other things. It’s just that religion is huge and has had a personal impact on a lot of people in a way that some other things that are blatantly false have not. I think a “purist” approach is almost always a mistake, from either perspective.

  46. 46

    No one is saying they are dishonest. They compartmentalize, they suffer from cognitive dissonance, they wear two hats…call it what you want, but they are being honest. They just do not apply the same thinking they use in the lab to things outside it. If they used the same standards, they might not be religious, or they might suck at being a scientist (if they rely on faith in science as they do in religion). That is speaking generally, and there are probably outliers in both directions, such as Martin Gardner, who admitted his deism was an irrational choice (IIRC).

  47. 47
    Gus Snarp

    Oh, absolutely. There are, however, those believers who say that it is a simple matter of choice…

  48. 48

    Like sexuality, of course. This all goes back to the free will arguments, but I have to honestly say the determinist position seems more likely given what we know of the world, so we can argue if it even makes sense to use words like “choice” in that context, but if it feels like that, it’s acceptable to me to shorthand it to “choice”. If that makes sense…

  49. 49
    Ashley F. Miller

    I know I gave a brief reply to your FB post, but I want to add something here.I think there is, and has to be, room for both. I think that there should be ways of being skeptical without having to be a part of an atheist organization, and the IIG is an excellent example of one such organization. Being a skeptic does not require skepticism towards all topics.That said, conventions are different from organizations and their focus is generally dictated by the interest of attendees because they want people to come. If everyone was interested primarily in UFOs and focusing on that drove up attendance, I’m sure there’d be a lot of UFO talks at conventions. I think what Jen, myself and others are protesting isn’t that all skeptic organizations and conferences should be avowedly atheist, but that if there are skeptical organizations and conferences that do focus on religious/theistic claims, they shouldn’t be excluded from skepticism for that. Many people in the skeptic movement came to it from atheism, or have a strong interest in talking about religion, they shouldn’t be excluded because people are uncomfortable talking about atheism just because they are just applying skepticism to a particular topic.I realize people are squeamish because atheism has such negative connotations, but I think that the solution to that is not to further ghettoize atheists by excluding them.

  50. 50

    I may be wrong, but it seemed like the argument was basically what you said – reason and logic are integral to the scientific method – you can’t be scientific without it. I am not sure but it looked like that was the focus of the statement. To me Zen was just pointing out the problem of a scientific method divorced from reason and logic, but not looking at reason and logic as separate things. You took the argument in the other direction, I think. Damn, not sure if that makes sense either. Zen just looked at one half of the whole issue?

  51. 51

    I’d like to know where I said a thing about atheists being awful. Annoying by implication, perhaps. I appreciate that religion has had a huge impact on the lives of some people. I hope that those people appreciate that there are those of us that just really don’t consider it a big deal (outside of immediately testable claims and human rights abuses).

  52. 52

    Everyone has different standards of what counts as evidence, and different levels that they will accept as “proof” of something. I don’t accept my feelings as evidence of anything more than my feelings since I know they can lack a relationship to actual reality (anyone ever in a one-sided relationship can relate, I think). For myself, I’d need evidence strong enough that the other possibilities are rendered less likely. What that could be, I am not sure. I’m definitely not sure what your point is in your last line. If you are saying that people run on emotion, instinct, and drives, and that produces the god-belief, then it also produces our reaction to it. Taken in one way, it sounds like a threat (or a warning) – the angry crowd with pitchforks chasing the scientist – hardly a flattering picture of theists. Taken another…maybe an argument for PR?

  53. 53
    Derek Bartholomaus

    Can you please provide an example of atheists being pushed out by believer skeptics? Because all I have seen so far is believer skeptics being pushed out by atheists.Can you also provide some data that corroborates your statement: “many people in the skeptic movement came to it from atheism”? Because I don’t know anyone who came to skepticism from atheism, but I do know many people, including myself, who came to atheism from skepticism.There may very well be examples, I just haven’t seen or read about them.Thanks.

  54. 54
    Gus Snarp

    I’ve found that many disagreements in life begin when one party projects a motivation onto another party’s actions that may not exist at all. As I see it, atheists who are also skeptics aren’t trying to take over a movement and redirect its mission, they’re just talking about the thing something that interests them and that they are skeptical about. It just so happens that right now those people and those talks happen to be popular. That popularity might be part of the reason people are angry about it. But lets face it, we want people to think critically and be skeptical, so we demonstrate that skepticism on belief in ghosts, psychics, homeopathy, etc., but how much does belief in ghosts, psychics, homeopathy, etc. affect the lives of most people? How many people seriously believe in these things? Homeopathy, psychic phenomena, and ghosts are still pretty fringe viewpoints. Religion is accepted by most of the world, and a handful of official religions have a dramatic effect on political decisions that affect us all. It could be that criticizing religion will piss people off. On the other hand, it also seems to be making people notice. And how much good is a skeptical movement that doesn’t offend anyone but the kooks, but that no one knows exists?Of course, I’m not really part of a skeptical movement, nor do I know of an official mission of said movement.

  55. 55
    J. J. Ramsey

    Wait a minute here. Judging from the Wikipedia article and a few other online sources, this is the way the null hypothesis is used:1) There is an alternative hypothesis that A and B have a statistical relationship.2) The null hypothesis, then, is that A and B are uncorrelated.3) If the data collected on A and B are improbable, for example, if there is a strong linear correlation between A and B that would be highly unlikely if A and B were unrelated, then the null hypothesis is disproved. (At this step, there are statistical measures that quantify the improbability of the data.)4) If the null hypothesis is disproved, this supports the alternative hypothesis. However, as noted in the Wikipedia article, “[i]f the data do not contradict the null hypothesis, then no conclusion is made. In this case, the null hypothesis could be true or false; the data give insufficient evidence to make any conclusion.”Some observations:* As far as I can tell, the null hypothesis formalism is designed for statistical hypothesis, not for probing the truth of arbitrary propositions that may not be expressible in terms of relationships among variables.* If we go on ahead and attempt to apply the null hypothesis formalism can be applied to the matter of atheism, and further assume that atheism is the null hypothesis, then we are presuming a scenario where someone (a hypothetical believer, perhaps) is attempting to show this null hypothesis of atheism to be false.* If the null hypothesis of atheism fails to be disproved, then, following the Wikipedia article, “no conclusion is made.” That doesn’t really support atheism at all, let alone support it as the “default position” or “the most skeptical position.”Offhand, it looks like “null hypothesis” and “default position” are being confused, and that the whole null hypothesis formalism isn’t really applicable, anyway.

  56. 56
    J. J. Ramsey

    Arrgh, “If we go on ahead and attempt to apply the null hypothesis formalism can be applied to the matter of atheism” should be “If we go on ahead and attempt to apply the null hypothesis formalism to the matter of atheism.” (Hope that’s the only editing mishap I made.)

  57. 57
    Georgia Sam

    Religious people sometimes make that same argument, that you can’t PROVE there’s no god, so you can’t be an atheist. I say that’s a non sequitur. It isn’t about what you can prove; it’s about what you believe. I’m with Penn Jillette on this point: No only do I not believe in god; I positively believe that there is no god. What could you call a person who believes that way, except an atheist?

  58. 58

    Is there a word for people who don’t get very worked up about what particular labels people choose to use?

  59. 59
    Tea Cosy

    Maybe it is a choice for theists? As an atheist whose lack of belief is mainly the result of sceptical thinking, I don’t see myself as having a choice in what to believe. The evidence is there, it’s convincing, and unless someone comes up with something truly extraordinary, that more or less settles it. I could pretend to believe but it just wouldn’t work- I’ve already been convinced.However, if I were a theist, things might be more fuzzy? Since theistic beliefs aren’t generally arrived at through a sceptical examination of the available evidence, there could be a lot more wiggle-room to believe what you wish was true. So maybe, for them, it really is a choice?

  60. 60

    I don’t mean to get too far into atheism v. agnostic semantics, but… I would have thought that agnostics are skeptics – that “I don’t know for sure” is the null hypothesis because we can’t prove anything. Because atheists aren’t saying I don’t know, but are instead expressing a definite technically speaking unprovable belief that there is no god (I know you can’t prove a negative, but I mean unprovable in that an alternative positive statement can’t be proven either). Hence – isn’t atheism a type or act of faith? where faith is defined as belief in something you can’t prove? Sorry if this comes across as being a blog troll – not my intention!

  61. 61
    Gus Snarp

    Well, that’s an interesting theological question you’ve got there. You’ll hear preaching in some churches about how God knows what’s in your heart and what you really believe and that you can’t fake it. You’ll also hear preaching that doubt is OK, as long as you truly believe. Somewhere buried in there is the notion that there’s some difference between really believing and faking belief. Seems to me that if you are choosing to believe, you’re faking belief on some level. But then that “doubt is OK” bit kicks in, and as long as you convince yourself by the end of the day, that nagging doubt you have that none of this makes any sense is not a big deal, which seems to enable faking it.

  62. 62

    way late to this party, and i haven’t read the comments yes, but:i take a different view, Jen. basically, i’m a militant atheist. esp in public. however, i’m also a science-based skeptic. i’m willing to entertain that the agnostic position may be more sound, from an intellectual perspective. just like all good scientific theory, my atheism is open to modification based on evidence. now, i’m about as sure as i can be that such will never happen, and in the duration of my life as well as that of everyone who comes after me, no such evidence will ever be discovered. and indeed, if anyone does discover a fact and reason-based cause to endorse a particular mythological or superstitious belief, it will be a skeptical, scientific mind. i don’t think i’m hedging my bets; i don’t believe in P’s Wager, nor do i have any fear or significant doubt about what is going to happen in this world wrt mythology, death, and all the other stuff religion likes to claim for itself. but if the FSM appeared to me right now, and touched me, and let me take a tissue sample of Its Noodly Appendage and take that to a lab for analysis, and it was discovered to break some law of physics or biology, and then it performed a miracle and taught my roommate how to make decent alfredo from scratch (a true miracle, i assure you)- then i would revamp my understanding of religious belief to match those testable facts.

  63. 63
    Gus Snarp

    Agnostic refers to what one knows or what can be knows, while atheist refers to what one believes. They are not mutually exclusive. One can be an agnostic atheist, a gnostic atheist, an agnostic theist, or a gnostic theist. So no, atheism is not a type or act of faith, it is a lack of faith or belief. An atheist might have an active belief that there is no god, or might simply lack a belief that there is a god. An atheist could even be agnostic and still have an active belief that there is no god. Just as a theist could be agnostic and still have an active belief that there is a god.Agnostic – I don’t or can’t know for sure.Gnostic – I know or it can be known for sure.Atheist – I don’t believe or I believe there is not.Theist – I believe.Agnostic atheist – I don’t know, but I don’t believe. or I don’t know but I believe not.Gnostic atheist – I know there is no god and I believe there is no god.Agnostic theist – I don’t know for sure, but I believe.Gnostic theist – I know and believe.Most atheists are at least a little bit agnostic. The popular use of agnostic to mean “I don’t know if I believe or not” is a cop out. You may not know if there are god(s), but you know if you believe or not. You either actively believe or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re an atheist; you’re just calling yourself agnostic to avoid the stigma.

  64. 64

    I think the difference between most people who call themselves atheists and most people who call themselves agnostics is that self-identified atheists believe the answer to “Do you believe in any god?” can only be “yes” or “no” while the self-identified agnostic believes it can be “yes,” “no,” or “neither.”The atheist would distinguish between “not believing in any god” and “believing there are no gods,” and might suggest that they are only the first kind. Even if they are the second kind as well (assuming “god” is well enough defined to form any belief about), that is still different from claiming that they know that there is no god, as you suggest. Almost all self-identified atheists claim that they don’t know.I think that “what should our null hypothesis be?” and “at what point can or should we provisionally believe the null hypothesis is true?” are valid questions, and if you want to work out different labels to sort out who answers those questions different ways that’s fine with me. I am of the opinion that you shouldn’t care to much about these labels because so many people assert that they mean so many different things that they aren’t really useful. Go ahead and use them, and explain what you mean by them, but don’t get too caught up in them having to mean that, and don’t be surprised if other people are using them differently.

  65. 65

    if by “everyone” you mean the difference between scientists and lawyers, then yes. there are different standards of evidence. one has to do with reality, the other has to do with opinion. in science, evidence must be testable. and repeatable, by anyone with the know how to test it. in not science “evidence” is defined by varying and convoluted interpretations, opinions, and historical precedent. they had “evidence” in witch trials proving people were witches, too. don’t get me started on what TV bobbleheads and politicians consider to be “valid evidence.”

  66. 66
    J. J. Ramsey

    “I would have thought that agnostics are skeptics – that “I don’t know for sure” is the null hypothesis because we can’t prove anything.”But that confuses a null hypothesis for a default position, which isn’t really true. A null hypothesis is more or less the opposite of what you are trying to prove. For example, if you are trying to show that smoking is a risk factor for respiratory disease, then your null hypothesis is that respiratory disease strikes both smokers and nonsmokers about equally. Oddly enough, if one assumes that atheism is the null hypothesis, that implies that one is trying to prove theism (presuming that it even makes sense to apply the whole null hypothesis formalism to non-statistical questions, that is).

  67. 67

    I was looking at it from the perspective on the scientific method. Certainly the use of reason or logic doesn’t necessitate the invocation of the scientific method, but it’s impossible to say something is “embodied” in the scientific method and then claim logic and reason aren’t integral and indivisible parts of it. Hence, Shermers claim that skepticism is embodied in the scientific method by definition necessitates logic and reason. I would suggest Shermer actually disagrees with Gus on that point. Therefore, in my opinion it isn’t conflating to synonymize skepticism and the scientific method _in_this_context. It’s important to remember context here. Certainly by Merriam_Websters definition of ‘skeptic’ a historian looking for accuracy could be considered skeptical, but Jens post as well as the the comments by shermer et al were in the context of the paranormal/supernatural. A historian should remain skeptical, but not necessarily would qualify as a skeptic in the context of this blog post and certainly not in the context of Skepticon. In that context, investigation of extraordinary claims must be met with skepticism and investigated per the scientific method. Follow-up to the results/conclusions requires the same process – “I’m skeptical of these data/results/parameters. I should attempt to repeat the experiment to repeat/falsify/verify.” – simply as part of peer review (remember cold fusion, anyone?)That said, I would say I was looking at the issue in a specific context, not that I was only looking at half of the issue.

  68. 68


  69. 69

    “The popular use of agnostic to mean “I don’t know if I believe or not” is a cop out.”Another forum I frequent uses a more blunt term – “chicken shit”.

  70. 70
    Gus Snarp

    Well then, I mostly agree with you. My point is that you can have skepticism, logic and reason without the scientific method, but not the other way round.As to the context, well, I think skepticism as a movement, if it is one, should include a broader view of skepticism than just using the scientific method strictly. After all, you’ll find skeptics weighing in on the issue of holocaust denial, purely a historical and not a scientific question. And don’t we also like to talk about critical thinking for its own sake? Critical thinking requires a skeptical approach, but not necessarily scientific formality.

  71. 71

    I appreciate that argument…however the reverse could easily also be true, meaning how many people would be driven away because they feel skeptics aren’t skeptical about religion. I don’t want to be dismissive but your argument is not valid.

  72. 72
    Daniel Schealler

    Some people don’t consider astrology, dowsing, tarot, ghost hunting, necromancy, conspiracy theories or UFO hunting to be big deals either.If religion isn’t your bag, don’t talk about it yourself. That’s fine.But what’s the big deal if those of us who do like to talk about religion in the context of skepticism (i.e. atheism) choose to do so?If it was true that atheists were trying to take over and make everything about religion then I think you might have a point. We shouldn’t harp on about religion to the exclusion of all else.But I don’t think that’s actually happening. For example, only 3 of the 15 talks at Skepticon were about religion. That seems like a pretty modest slice of the pie, all things considered.

  73. 73

    “all I have seen so far is believer skeptics being pushed out by atheists.”Do you have any examples of this? Details on what unreasonable behavior pushed them out?

  74. 74
    Daniel Schealler

    *GASP*You’re not part of my narrowly defined in-group!*clutches pearls*You’re harming the cause!*faints onto recliner – back of hand hand placed against forehead*

  75. 75

    That’s a little less specific than I was looking for.

  76. 76

    “(outside of immediately testable claims and human rights abuses).”Could you please link to where any gnu atheists attack believers over simply believing? I’m sure some might exist but I have not seen them. The vast majority (that Ive seen) seem to only talk about testable claims and human rights abuses.

  77. 77

    I find it ironic that you put this comment on a post where the blogmistress is ranting about the null hypothesis.

  78. 78
    Derek Bartholomaus

    Hal Bidlack and Pamela Gay are the two that most quickly come to mind.Pamela hasn’t been pushed out, per se, but she has been rather viciously attacked by the atheist community and she has lost out on employment opportunities because a potential employer viewed skepticism the same as atheism.

  79. 79

    Having not been at Skepticon, I can’t really say how much about it was on religion or not. However, I have read quite a few reports that say it was a lot more than three talks. So I don’t know. I do know that over the last several years of attending TAM, the “slice” of the pie that’s been given over to atheism has gotten progressively larger with each year. Now, if that’s what everyone wants to talk about, that’s fine. But I’m allowed my opinion that it’s a boring discussion and that I think it sucks that an event that I normally enjoy is providing more time to a boring discussion. At some point, it just won’t be worth going any more. Now, if that’s the way it’s all going, that’s the way it’s all going, and I’ll just be a humbug at home and save a lot of money I would have spent on travel.I will also note that I’m not complaining about atheist meetings, at all. Considering that they’re *supposed* to be about atheism, I could hardly do that. There’s just a reason that I don’t go to atheist meetings, because it’s really not something I’m interested in. I just think it’d be nice if skeptical meetings weren’t slowly turning in to atheist meetings.

  80. 80

    But lets face it, we want people to think critically and be skeptical, so we demonstrate that skepticism on belief in ghosts, psychics, homeopathy, etc., but how much does belief in ghosts, psychics, homeopathy, etc. affect the lives of most people? How many people seriously believe in these things? Homeopathy, psychic phenomena, and ghosts are still pretty fringe viewpoints.Well, considering that vaccination rates in the US are at an all time low, considering homeopathy is widely available in large retail chains, considering that fake psychics are still on TV and bilking people out of millions of dollars, I think that you’re very much downplaying the issue. There are some skeptics that are specifically wanting to avoid pissing off religious allies. My personal take on it is that anything testable is fair game, religious or no. And I do enjoy a good yarn about investigating a supposed religious thing. However, I also disagree with the lovely blogmistress about the null hypothesis issue. My opinion is that particularly the basic deist belief in god is untestable, which makes it uninteresting to me as a skeptic since I’m not in to philosophical arguments. Your mileage may vary.

  81. 81

    Oh is pamela the one who had the unknown atheist scream and spit in her face because shes a believer? I remember the story but no examples were actually given of the behavior that actually drove either of them out. Well other than “Atheists are big meanies!” Perhaps you know the details of what those means Atheists did to drive them out?

  82. 82
    Derek Bartholomaus

    If by “unknown atheist” you mean PZ Myers, then you are correct.It started with this post of his: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyn…And several of the comments became increasingly nasty.Pamela Gay is one of the best science advocates and educators that we currently have who routinely promotes scientific inquiry in multiple venues such as AstronomyCast and 365 Days of Astronomy. To say, as several have, that she should not be considered a skeptic or science advocate because she believes in God is a problem.I continue to see atheists demand that skeptics must become atheists in order to be considered “true skeptics”, but I’ve never seen skeptics demand that atheists must become skeptics in order to be considered “true atheists”.

  83. 83
    Deepak Shetty

    and bullshit applies to your terms. An ignostic merely states that God isnt sufficiently well defined to profess a belief or lack of belief in God. So if God is sky bully – no belief , if God is sum of laws of nature – belief. How then do you answer the question do you believe in God.

  84. 84
    Deepak Shetty

    If you don’t, you’re an atheist; you’re just calling yourself agnostic to avoid the stigma.

    Why dont you call yourself an agnostic then (or an agnostic atheist)? It must be because you want to avoid the stigma. What a cop out.

  85. 85

    Personally, I’d count myself as, because we all love puns, apatheist. I feel that while there is no proof of a god’s existence, the non-existence of said god is not proved by default. However! If there is no possibility of tangible proof of a god’s existence, then whether or not the god actually exists is completely irrelevant. You might as well ask whether there are little polkadot aliens shaped like sucepans living 28 billion light years away (given that we don’t have the technology to even travel one within a reasonable time frame).So, my belief is god’s existence is irrelevant, and live accordingly. Which essentially means living as if one didn’t exist. This may not be particularly skeptical, but there’s only so many things you can care about in life and I just don’t have time for things that don’t affect me in the slightest. And if some god did prove its existence, then I wouldn’t live any differently, unless it said that I would suffer otherwise. And if it did say such, I’d want to know why the hell it was being such a dick.Of course, religion is another matter. That clearly does have tangible effects on society, and rather large ones as well. I couldn’t give a damn about what someone believes, and if a bunch of like minded people wanted to get together and dance around the sacred golf club of The Eighteen then I hope they enjoy themselves. Just so long as they don’t then go out and beat people with it because their holy text says not to suffer those who don’t consistently score at least par on hole 7, as it displeases the spirit of the Sand Trap.

  86. 86

    So I guess my point is that even though I disagree with skeptics who still believe in God, I support them being in the movement as part of an effort to bring critical thinking to the public. Some people might not listen to me because I don’t believe in God, but they might listen to Pamela Gay, or Hal Bidlack.Harking back to my Leftist roots, I think of skeptical groups as united fronts, bringing people together for a common cause. In this case, critical thinking. If critical thinking take some of those people to atheism, that’s what the atheist groups are for.

  87. 87

    “But what about a deist God?” you ask. “What about a definition of God that’s wishy-washy and nebulous?”Two different questions. If a deist God is clearly defined, it can conceivably be disproved or supported by the evidence. Examples: (A) Define God as the non-personal state of the universe at the time of the big bang. (B) Define God as a the generally accepted abrahamic personal, living, thinking male being that created our predestined universe 6000 years ago after an eternity of existing in nothingness, who wants us all to tell him how special he is.(C) Define God as a living, thinking, mortal being in a universe currently beyond our powers of observation that created the known universe at the time of the big bang as a by-product when switching on a machine that collided two small (by his/her/its standard) particles together at very high speed. (D) Define God as the god defined by Justnowism, with the added specification of deism.The existence of a god defined by (A) certainly seems to be in agreement with all evidence to date. The existence of a god defined by (B) has been pretty much disproved. When I say “pretty much disproved”, I mean pretty much disproved in the same sense that the hypothesis of a flat earth has been pretty much disproved.The existence of a god defined by (C) is currently unfalsifiable, and may well remain so, but there is always the possibility that we might someday be able to overcome the current physical restraints that render such a being’s universe undetectable to us. The existence of a god defined by (D) is specific, but will always be unfalsifiable.Of course, the bottom line is that atheism is not contradicted by any deist argument, as deism is technically a form of atheism; a deist can never be a theist.As a rational thinker or skeptic, one might challenge certain specific deistic arguments, but the deist argument itself is actually conceded to once we accept the law of causality and understand that “God” is a very subjective term.Although the scenario described by (A) does not necessarily imply that described by (C), that described by (C) does imply that described by (A), and the only discrepancy between the two scenarios is the definition of the word “God”.The subjectivity of the “God” definition relates to the pantheistic “God” of Einstein, Hawking, etc., who does not play dice with the universe and whose mind we might glimpse through our increased understanding of the laws of physics. The god defined by (A) is closer to that “God” than any of the others listed above.

  88. 88

    “I’m going to come down on the side of accepting that skeptics groups can make accommodations to religious individuals in general, but that they must not avoid confrontation with religious ideas in particular.” P.Z. Myers So we can see it had nothing to do with PZ here.”And several of the comments became increasingly nasty.”Anonymous internet posters FTW!Really? Thats it? Someone on the internets was rude? How shocking. “I continue to see atheists demand that skeptics must become atheists in order to be considered “true skeptics”, but I’ve never seen skeptics demand that atheists must become skeptics in order to be considered “true atheists”"Who? I suppose if you really try you can twist what people say to mean that but really thats one helluva twist. I have read here and elsewhere many people saying they believe being a skeptic leads to atheism. But thats not demanding anything. But lets say your correct and all(some) of the atheists on all(some) skeptic/atheist blogs are demanding it and being rude and obnoxious. So what, its the internet people are rude and quite often wrong. Could you PLEASE show me any prominent gnu atheist who even hinted that she shouldn’t be a skeptic or science advocate. It never fucking happened and i’m getting pretty tired of the backhanded insinuations that it did. Oh and don’t come back with “joeblow random internet poster” quotes they really don;t count and to suggest they do is disingenuous.

  89. 89
    Daniel Schealler

    I’ve got to agree with katsudon there.Depending on your definition of ‘attack’… Do you mean ‘criticism’?If you meant criticism, then criticism of simple belief is a position taken by some gnus. I’m one of them. It’s not my first concern with religion, but it is a concern all the same.In simple form: The whole point in holding a belief about reality is that it should be about reality. If you’re not trying to make sure that your beliefs line up with reality (if your beliefs are not subservient to evidence and reason) then you’re just doing it wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jesus or dowsing, you’re still wrong for the same fundamental reason: You’re not thinking skeptically.Religious believers are wrong simply for believing, and you have my very brief critique to that effect.I also consider myself a Gnu.So there you go.That’s one.

  90. 90
    Daniel Schealler

    I’m going on my reports from Skepticon myself – so if I’m wrong about the slice of the pie thing, then by all means I’ll update my position to reflect the better data. ^_^I had the beginings of a reply, but I was just repeating myself.Simply put: If atheism is taking over skeptical meetings that you go to, to the point that other topics aren’t being covered? Then sure, I guess you have a point.But the criticism you have of this cuts both ways. Those atheists could say about you that “There’s these people there that only wanted to talk about dowsing and bigfoot and UFO’s – but that’s not the specific skeptical issues that I want to talk about. I was interested specifically in skepticism of religion.”Atheism should have a place at the skeptical table. How big a place? That’s open to criticism, surely. There should be an upper limit – and if you feel that limit has been reached, and this is the basis of your concern, then we’re not having the conversation that I thought we were having and I’ve been talking past you all this time – apologies if so.My chief concern was that it sounded like you don’t want atheism to be at the skeptical table in the first place, or that you wanted skeptics interested in religion to keep it amongst themselves for the whole time… But now I’m starting to think that I had you pegged wrong from the outset.Meh. I’m starting to ramble and second guess. Time to stop typing now. :p

  91. 91

    Fair. Still, I remain unconvinced that this explanation accounts for everyone. It just seems rather… convenient? The explanation perfectly supports the perspective of the atheist scientist, and seems to easily dismiss the entire set of scientists as a counter-example without actually investigating all of those scientists.EDIT: Well, maybe not ALL of those scientists would be needed. But attempting to chat up a representative sample of intelligent persons would be nice, in my view. I usually think scientific thought and religious thought are commensurable, if not necessarily so.

  92. 92
    Daniel Schealler

    In my personal experience (ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE WARNING), the more intelligent believers are just better at hiding the logical fallacies that they rely upon, even from themselves.The big one that I always seem to find is the fallacy of assuming your conclusion. This fallacy gets snuck into the discussion in various ways, usually as an unstated premise within an analogy.My knowledge is by no means exhaustive, so there could be exceptions to this rule.But if there is such an exception then I am yet to be presented with it.Where X is any individual or any argument: “X is clever” does not entail “X is correct”.

  93. 93
    Gus Snarp

    Vaccination rates are at an all time low, but the vast majority of children are still vaccinated, and outside of a few narrow areas if you say you aren’t vaccinating other people will, justifiably, look at you like you’re crazy.Homeopathy sells at least in part because people don’t actually know what they’re buying. I don’t know why it’s on the shelf next to real drugs without a warning label, but tell most people how that stuff is made and they’re going to laugh at it. Psychics make money from deluded people and always have, but nobody’s talking about believing in psychics in public in the Midwestern U.S. because they are afraid they’ll be laughed at. That goes for ghosts too. Sure these things matter, sure they’re harmful, but I guess now we’re back to Jen’s original point in the earlier post. While the numbers are growing on some of these issues, and television might make it look like ghost and psychic believer are everywhere, the vast majority of people are already a bit skeptical (in a general sense) about them, if not outright derisive. But the vast majority of people in the world believe in God. The vast majority in the U.S. believe specifically in a Judeo-Christian God. And they elect people who make decisions based on these beliefs. Pop over to Bad Astronomy and check out Phil’s recent post on the global warming denier in Congress who may be highly influential on energy policy. He cites the Bible to defend his views. Go read G.W. Bush’s major speeches and count the religious references. You can believe in homeopathy, not vaccinating (to a lesser extend, fortunately my kids are vaccinated already), ghosts, psychics, bigfoot, the loch ness monster, and that we never went to the moon and it doesn’t affect me in the least. But people’s religious beliefs affect when we go to war, our energy policy, a woman’s right to choose, and that’s just the beginning in the industrialized world. It gets even scarier. But again, the numbers don’t lie. Why are the events that discuss religion so heavily attended? Because more people care, because more people see its effects in their daily lives.

  94. 94

    “But if you claim to avoid religious beliefs for skeptical reasons, then, I reiterate, you’re not being fucking skeptical.”Judging from the context of this post and pretty much everything else you’ve ever posted on either subject (religious beliefs or skepticism), surely you mean:”But if you claim to avoid [discussing/analyzing/debating/debunking/etc.] religious beliefs for skeptical reasons, then, I reiterate, you’re not being fucking skeptical.”Avoiding religious beliefs themselves is a natural result of skepticism.

  95. 95
    Derek Bartholomaus

    You asked for examples of skeptics who are religious believers who have been pressured and accused of not being “real skeptics”. I provided two examples. If you choose to dismiss them then that is your problem, not mine.However, no one has yet answered my original questions to which you had replied to only one statement of without actually answering the relevant questions:”Can you please provide an example of atheists being pushed out by believer skeptics? Because all I have seen so far is believer skeptics being pushed out by atheists.Can you also provide some data that corroborates your statement: “many people in the skeptic movement came to it from atheism”? Because I don’t know anyone who came to skepticism from atheism, but I do know many people, including myself, who came to atheism from skepticism.There may very well be examples, I just haven’t seen or read about them.”Please answer the questions. If you do not have any examples to provide then what is your overall complaint about?Thanks.

  96. 96
    Jim Lippard

    “it was literally inconceivable how skeptics couldn’t be atheists” If you can’t conceive of how something could be that is actually the case, then that’s probably indicative of a failure of imagination.”I’ve always viewed atheism as the null hypothesis. It is the general, default position that makes no claims.” Atheism does make a claim, that gods don’t exist. Some try to redefine atheism as including weak atheism/implicit atheism/negative atheism, but this is either equivalent to agnosticism or logically incoherent.An argument for atheism is an argument to the conclusion that (it is likely that) gods don’t exist. The reason for arguing against those who claim that gods exist is that you think that they are mistaken in their claim that gods exist. If you reject the claim that gods exist, you accept the claim that gods don’t exist, or you reject bivalence, or you are agnostic, or you are simultaneously holding that “gods exist” is likely false but “gods don’t exist” is not likely true, which is a contradiction.

  97. 97

    I don’t generally have a problem with skeptics who are particularly interested in religion having a place at the table. Skepticism should be a big tent. If it’s a couple talks about religion, hey, I don’t have an issue with that. I can go refresh my soda if I get bored with it or something. ^^ But from my end, I’m starting to feel like there’s a push for more and more focus on religion. As of last year, it hadn’t quite hit my “when” point yet. But I’m going to wait to have a good looksee at what TAM will offer next year before I book my tickets. And of course, my tolerance is not necessarily that of other people.But anyway, the operative phrase here for me is also “big tent.” Reading your response to David below, I know that we’re likely to never agree on this particular subject, just as I’m not likely to ever agree with the blogmistress either. Once the “more skeptical than thou” card starts getting thrown on the table, I start getting cranky for several reasons:1) It often comes across as egotistical and preachy.2) I disagree on the null hypothesis philosophical point, so blah blah blah.3) It’s something that’s been used to belittle the contributions of skeptics who are not atheists, who have also done an incredible amount of good work for the cause. And please don’t read #3 as a disingenuous “shhhh, you’re going to hurt the poor little feelings of our allies and drive them away while we still need them!” Since I find that particular tactical take on it a little… icky. I just genuinely do not believe it’s right to crawl up the backside of a deist until such time that they make an actual testable claim. And that’s probably the main bone of contention that’s going to keep me opposite a lot of people.

  98. 98

    Call me jaded, but I tend to think that if those people didn’t believe in a god, they’d just find another justification to be shitty to the underprivileged, or to justify their pet wars, their sacred cows. Religion makes a great excuse for in-groups attack out-groups, but without religion I’m sure the assholes would all manage just fine.I would also suggest that much of the justification they’re using is testable, which does make it of interest to skeptics.

  99. 99

    “…I’m sure there are things I’m not very skeptical about.”I’m not sure I can believe that, Jen; it seems very unlikely. Can you provide an example? Either provide an example or admit that everything you post is a lie!

  100. 100

    I see most of your commenters are as confused as yourself.

    What I can’t stand is people saying that religion or belief in any sort of God is except from skepticism, or that other skeptical conferences can’t call themselves skeptical because they happen to talk about or even focus on religion.

    Please, just read what Jim said just before me, or what Barbara D pointed out to you on Podblack, or what I wrote just now, this stuff is really not that difficult.No evidence for or against the existence of gods is possible in the first place, and atheists are not the better sceptics, it does not require special sceptics skills to not believe in something.This is really embarrassing.

  101. 101

    You asked for examples of skeptics who are religious believers who have been pressured and accused of not being “real skeptics”.Actually, no. He asked for what you said, believer skeptics “being pushed out by atheists.” Being accused of not being “real skeptics” is not being “pushed out.” If it were, then all the atheists lumped in Jeff Wagg’s ‘not doing skepticism’ comment have also been pushed out, and every Catholic has been pushed out of Christianity (also, every Protestant). Being criticized, even harshly criticized, is not the same as being “pushed out.” Hell, just tonight I’ve been told that certain atheist skeptics need to “STFU” and ‘get out of the way,’ it seems to be a common refrain in these conversations. I don’t feel like I’ve been pushed out of the skeptical community because of it; they haven’t stopped my subscription to “Skeptic” or taken my JREF card. Theists are a minority in the skeptic movement. That’s unfortunate for them. But I think anyone involved in the skeptical movement should expect to have their beliefs and positions and claims questioned and challenged and criticized. It’s kind of the community’s raison d’ĂȘtre. And I don’t see why theists should expect any more or less criticism than any other position or belief within the movement, from AGW denial to the GMO controversy to libertarianism.

  102. 102

    “If the IIG was introduced as being an atheist organisation then I never would have joined it “Derek,Your journey toward scepticism has some similarities with mine, although with some minor differences: I was an atheist long before I knew what scepticism was. I came to realise that the reason for my atheism was basically sceptical in nature, and so I became interested in scepticism via atheism.You mentioned that you may never have become a sceptic if the group through which you initially became involved was an atheist group. I probably would never have become interested in scepticism if all the sceptical groups were pro-theistic or even neutral towards theism because it was the religious themes of scepticism that first got me interested.Scepticism covers a wide range of topics, and as such there are many ways to become interested in scepticism and, whether you like or not, religion is one of them. I don’t think it would be fair to close any area off from inquiry or discussion just because it might prevent certain people from opening themselves up to scepticism in other areas… just as I don’t think it would be fair to shun people for not being totally sceptical about every area.I don’t like being told that my particular area of interest is off limits to scepticism, which I would think is pretty similar to the feeling that theistic sceptics get when people tell them that scepticism toward theistic claims should (when properly applied) lead to atheism. So I think I understand the hurt feelings.But we don’t worry about the hurt feelings of moon hoaxers or homeopaths, do we? I’m doubtful that anyone here is doing much to encourage 9/11 truthers to join the sceptical community. Given that someone is going to get their feelings hurt no matter what we do, how do we decide who it should be? Should it be you, the person who would never have become a sceptic if you knew atheism was involved, or me, the person who would never have become a sceptic if I had to leave atheism out of it?Or would it be better if we leave all avenues of inquiry open and not act as though scepticism is just a social club whose sole purpose is to snag more members? To be honest, I’m find it distasteful that some people give unreasonable deference toward religious beliefs, not because the beliefs themselves hold any merit, but because they know someone who holds them. Although I think I’m mature enough to realise that I don’t have to choose between identifying as an atheist and a sceptic, and even as agnostic, in different contexts, I can foresee a time when I might not care enough about the sceptical “community” to bother with the “Skeptic” label, because my favourite topic somehow became taboo out of fear of scaring away theistic converts to scepticism.That’s not to say that I think people should start presenting scepticism as explicitly atheistic, but to pretend that atheism isn’t a subject within scepticism is just dishonest.Solution?: Don’t shun atheists or theists, whether they wish to loudly criticise religious claims or to avoid them altogether. Accept that it is an inherently sceptical topic, but also that many people have reasons for avoiding it. If people are uncomfortable with it, don’t push it on them – but at the same time, if people want to talk about it, don’t push them away either.Is that so hard? Oh fuck, I’m an accommodationist! Kill me.

  103. 103

    Suppose there was a person willing to critically investigate UFO claims, and yet at the same time was a practicing homeopath? Should a skeptic organisation maintain a respectful silence on homeopathy for his benefit? (After all, if someone had the temerity to criticise his beliefs, it could completely drive him away!) More generally, should a skeptic organisation “respect” other ill-evidenced beliefs, if such a policy has the effect of increasing membership?There’s a much better idea: Criticise everything. UFO accounts should be criticised, Heliocentrism should be criticised, evolution should be criticised, homeopathy should be criticised, two plus two equalling four should be criticised, the historical reality of the Holocaust should be criticised, 9/11 conspiracy theories should be criticised, atheism should be criticised, Ancient Greek paganism should be criticised, and yes YOUR beliefs should be criticised. That’s how skepticism works.I don’t think that holding any particular belief disqualifies a person from being a skeptic. However, the whinging insistence that certain pet beliefs must remain off-limits is ridiculous. Everyone should be welcome at skeptic meetings (including homeopaths, Christians and 9/11 truthers), but they certainly shouldn’t complain if their beliefs get criticised.

  104. 104

    “Atheism does make a claim, that gods don’t exist.”I know, right!?Also, abigfootists claim that bigfoot doesn’t exist. Although I’ve heard some abigfootists try to redefine it into weak abigfootism, meaning that they simply lack a belief in bigfoot due to lack of supporting evidence for the claim that bigfoot exists – but that’s just logically incoherent.High five!

  105. 105

    “Avoiding religious beliefs themselves is a natural result of skepticism.”Not really. I tend to think of avoiding something as a natural result of fear. Sceptics should ideally be fearless in confronting beliefs, and not just avoid them.Of course, once you’ve hashed it out with your beliefs you don’t have to keep picking at it if you’re not interested – but that’s not the same thing as avoiding it.edit: Man I’m dense. And tired. You should read this comment as basically just agreeing with you in a round about way. Semantics are fun.

  106. 106

    “No evidence for or against the existence of gods is possible in the first place”No evidence? Ever? How do you know that?I hope you’ll excuse my scepticism, but you do realise that agnosticism is a positive claim, right?[edited to remove (even more) brain-dead nonsense on my part]When you focus on scepticism as providing “provisional” conclusions you seem to assume that atheism is necessarily “final”. I reject that definition of atheism personally, and I would guess that most atheists would probably agree. Just as the claim that:”No evidence for or against the existence of gods is possible in the first place”Would, of course, be a provisional conclusion on your part?

  107. 107
    J. J. Ramsey

    I’ll add as well that Jen’s claim that a null hypothesis “makes no claims” is nonsense. If one is doing a drug study, the null hypothesis is something like “Both the placebo and the actual drug will have the same therapeutic effect,” which is most definitely a claim.Really, Jen’s whole argument is nonsensical. It’s basically a combination of an assertion about atheism as the default position and a misapplication of the term “null hypothesis.”

  108. 108
    Jim Lippard

    “No evidence for or against the existence of gods is possible in the first place” — I don’t agree with that.See Jeff Lowder’s “Is a sound argument for the nonexistence of God even possible”:http://www.infidels.org/librar

  109. 109
    Derek Bartholomaus

    Who ever said anything about not criticizing non-evidence-based beliefs?There is a very big difference between discussing non-evidence-based beliefs and pointing out the logical flaws in those beliefs and directly attacking the person for holding those beliefs. It is the attacking a person directly that is the problem, not criticizing the non-evidence-based belief.For example, throughout the years the Independent Investigations Group has had members who were religious believers, UFO believers, naturopaths, among other non-evidence-based believers. None of these topics were ever off limits for discussion, but the person holding the belief was never attacked personally for their beliefs.Some of those people stayed with the group and eventually applied more skepticism to their non-evidence-based belief, like myself, and others left the group because they couldn’t reconcile the cognitively dissonant beliefs.

  110. 110
    Gus Snarp

    True enough.

  111. 111
    Gus Snarp

    If you want to make up a definition of God that’s so fuzzy as to be basically meaningless, fine, but that’s not what most people mean when they say “God” and I think it’s reasonable in this case to be a bit pedantic about definitions. A god is an entity with a unified consciousness and will that either created or currently acts upon the world. It is not the sum of the laws of nature. The vast majority of people believe in such a God and every organized religion on earth with more than a handful of adherents means this kind of God. So yeah, Do I believe in a God that is synonymous with the sum of the laws of nature? No. I believe in the laws of nature and that they do not add up to a God.Here’s one for you: Human beings operate on the world in a conscious way that is unlike any other animal. We are capable of understanding the past going back thousands of years and of planning at least decades into the future and causing major changes on our planet that affect every living thing. We can eradicate diseases and wipe out entire species. We are gods. I would almost say I believe that. Except that, you know, we’re not magical.

  112. 112
    Gus Snarp

    I guess the truth hurts sometimes.I don’t call myself an agnostic because no one cares. No one asks me whether I think that I know for certain whether a god exists, they ask if I believe in God. The answer is no. If someone is actually interested in parsing the fine details, I’ll happily tell them that I’m a fairly agnostic atheist, although I’m pretty much as certain as I can be of anything that the specific god(s) described by any religious leaders and texts do not exist, there is a very slim chance that there is some supernatural, conscious entity out there with the power to create a universe or bend the laws of physics.

  113. 113

    Who ever said anything about not criticizing non-evidence-based beliefs?Pamela Gay is one example. Her “separation between scientific truth and belief” argument is no different to “separation between scientific truth and homeopathy”. It’s a shameless example of the “but my belief is special” gambit.She refers to a case of students receiving zero marks for answering cosmology questions with Jesus-babble, and makes them out to be tragic victims. If they had answered a question on the limits to chemical dilution with drivel about homeopathic potencies, and “succussion”, would she also have taken their side?

  114. 114

    So you’re only applying skepticism when it doesn’t make you uncomfortable. When you don’t like the conclusions your skeptics views lead you to, then you simply turn around and walk away from them. I think you pretty much illustrate the last sentence of Jen’s post.It would be very easy to prove God, since he is all powerful. All he has to do is showing up in all places at the same time and do some miraculous stuff, like opening a hole in the fabric of the universe and showing us heaven and hell. You know, just to have a glance at what it looks like over there.

  115. 115

    “It is the attacking a person directly that is the problem, not criticizing the non-evidence-based belief.”I really don’t think this is actually something that happens any more with religion than it does with any of the other “non-evidence based” beliefs.I think you’re exaggerating two things:1. How horrible all us atheists are to theists.2. How nice everyone else is to the other non-evidence based believers (UFO people, naturopaths etc)I think religious believers are just used to being in the privileged majority in this regard and cannot handle their bubbles being popped. They need to suck it up so we can all get on with scepticism and forget about this pretend controversy.

  116. 116
    Daniel Schealler

    Pedantic Quibble of the Day:There is no single scientific method. Use of the term ‘the’ in ‘the scientific method’ is a bit misleading.If we were going to summarize the scientific method, it would be more like this:1) Do whatever it takes not to fool yourself about nature.2) Remember at all times that you are the easiest person to fool.

  117. 117
    Daniel Schealler

    An extra complication is that many people find it hard to separate the idea of criticizing an ideology from the idea of criticizing those who hold that ideology.So it’s impossible to criticize Christianity without many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, interpreting that criticism as being aimed at Christians as a whole. Same for Islam and Muslims, and so on and so forth.

  118. 118

    “You can’t even test those!” Exactly. And since you can’t test them, you can’t gather any evidence for them. And since you can’t gather any evidence for them, you fail to reject the null hypothesis of atheism.”Y’know rather than rushing forward and announcing atheism as the “null hypothesis” (which leads to a lot of people getting confused about the distinction, or lack of one, between atheist and agnostic) I like to remind people how they think about other issues.What about unicorns? (Yeah, I know this gets a groan.) But think about what people think about that issue. We don’t see any sparkly white (or pink or whatever) horses with a singular large sparkly horn sticking out of their heads. As such, we presume there aren’t any until further evidence comes along.What people don’t tend to do is say “well there’s all those planets out there and one of them might have an actual real live sparkly prancing unicorn on it”. They just don’t. That’s not how our minds work when it comes to unicorns.No, about evidence, what happens if I say I’ve dreamt about unicorns? What if I have visions of unicorns? And what if I say that these dreams and visions are directly connected to real unicorns in some far-off world? What if I believe I’m “remote viewing” unicorns on a regular basis? The same people asking us to be open-minded about God and religious experiences would dismiss such “evidence” out of hand (and if they wouldn’t then things are even dodgier).As for the “but no one believes in unicorns argument”, I then like to bring up pixies. How does that make a difference? Well, there are actually people who still believe in pixies. I guess it’s because they are harder to disprove… :P(Of course, m0st people no longer believe in pixies these days, but inevitably some people do. Wikipedia has a number of bits of info showing evidence of a long-lasting belief in pixies in South-West England. In fact they reckon the belief in pixies dwindled as recently as the 19th Century.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P… )

  119. 119
    Svlad Cjelli

    I believe in unicorns. Well, one horned anomalies.

  120. 120
    Daniel Schealler

    No pauk – you’re clearly philosophically confused.You’re describing agnostofootism, not abifgootism.Tut tut. *shakes finger*

  121. 121

    It’s because I haven’t read enough of the fundamental agnostifootist literature.I can’t get this crazy idea out of my head that agnostifootism refers to knowledge about bigfoot whereas abigfootism refers to belief. And while I don’t know that bigfoot doesn’t exist, that’s defo my current belief.Agnostifootish Abigfeetist I guess.

  122. 122

    Yeah, it seems pretty clear to me that once defined, most gods are pretty easy to gather evidence for and against, and while maybe not to disprove in the mathematical sense, certainly to make a sound case against that is pretty tight.I think the “you can’t prove it” crowd are clinging to the fact that people constantly redefine their gods when their arguements are refuted, but I don’t see each successive god claim as the same god simply modified, but rather a completely new claim that might resemble the old claim in certain ways.I’ll take each claim as it is presented.

  123. 123
    Joshua Bennett

    Woooh shout-out to my hometown of Richmond, VA!Why did you choose to mention the 2nd Baptist in Richmond anyway? Did I miss something in the news?

  124. 124

    You’re not even wrong, badrescher.

  125. 125

    I’ve successfully used B, P, A, and BLOCKQUOTE tags in comments here.

  126. 126

    she has lost out on employment opportunities because a potential employer viewed skepticism the same as atheism.

    Sorry, but you can’t blame that one on atheists. Even if skepticism was the same as atheism, there should be nothing wrong with being an atheist. The potential employer just has an anti-atheist bias.

  127. 127
    Hilary Mark Nelson

    derekcbart said:

    I don’t know anyone who came to skepticism from atheism, but I do know many people, including myself, who came to atheism from skepticism.

    It’s not that black and white. I kicked religion at age 10 (1970) when I had to read parts of the bible for Sunday school. It was painfully clear that none of it made sense, so in a way you could say it was my innate proto-skepticism that brought me to atheism. I did not get there through membership in an organized skeptical movement. I’d just picked up enough logic to realize that what I was being told in church was utterly incoherent. I became a sort of apathetic deist. It took me a long time to get from rejecting religion to anything like real skepticism. I spent years happily reading books about astral projection, quantum woo, reincarnation, and other fantasies. I’d also absorbed the pervasive antipathy to “atheism,” and was not comfortable identifying myself as one, despite my disdain for organized religion.It wasn’t until I read a section in (oddly enough) Derren Brown’s “Tricks of the mind” in which he discusses his atheism that I was finally comfortable saying that I was an atheist. (Agnostic atheist, not dogmatic.)Derren’s book was my point of entry to both ‘out’ atheism and organized skepticism. From there I went to “The god delusion,” Skeptoid, SGU, Shermer’s books, CFI/CSI, Skeptic magazine, “The end of faith,” The Skeptic Zone, Jen’s blog, the Women Thinking Free Foundation, TAM, the JREF, and much more.The confluence of atheism and skepticism is precisely what drew me in. I’d reached the ‘destination’ of atheism early, but it was a sloppy sort of atheism, and I didn’t have the tools to avoid similarly unfounded belief systems. Skepticism gave me those tools, but I learned about the skeptical movement through Derren’s matter-of-fact declaration of atheism as rational proposition.My experience, and the apparent growth of both skepticism and atheism, lead me to think that the skeptical community has much more to gain by not muzzling examinations of religion than by looking the other way. To be clear: I’m not saying that religious believers can’t be skeptics, or that skeptics have to be atheists. We simply need to insist that we are free to apply skepticism to anything. If a few people are uncomfortable with that, so be it. There are a lot of people who aren’t.

  128. 128
    Steven in SA

    I think people spend too much consideration on splitting up agnostic and atheist as if agnostic were a noun not the adjective it was meant to be. With some “agnostics”, they seem to do it to avoid sounding like one of those “noisy atheists”, others seem to genuinely believe that atheist only describes someone who firmly believes that a god does not exist.I’ve tried to explain that agnostic and gnostic are adjectives that modify the description of the nouns atheist or theist (or particular religious believer – say Christian), that an agnostic atheist is a person that doesn’t believe in any gods, but doesn’t think it can be proven; where an gnostic atheist is one that claims it can be known that no gods exist (just like a gnostic Christian claims to know that the Christian God does exist).Now I suppose agnostic and gnostic have been made into nouns in the dictionaries, but personally I believe that was just the easy way out (like putting the word “Refudiate” in the dictionary was)

  129. 129
    Svlad Cjelli

    I take stances to specific ideas, assuming they catch my attention at all. As such, I arguably cover the full range, “Agnostic atheist – I don’t know, but I don’t believe. or I don’t know but I believe not.Gnostic atheist – I know there is no god and I believe there is no god.Agnostic theist – I don’t know for sure, but I believe.Gnostic theist – I know and believe.”I call myself theologically noncognitivistic for convenience, and atheist for teh lazy.

  130. 130
    Svlad Cjelli

    Quick note: Trying to find evidence against what you believe is a perfectly cromulent way to investigate your belief.

  131. 131
    Svlad Cjelli

    A what-fetishist, now!? ;P

  132. 132
    Svlad Cjelli

    Yay!(I think I’m feeling kind of drunk tonight.)

  133. 133
    Svlad Cjelli

    To explain the spammyness: I think I’ve used up my comment “likes” or something.

  134. 134
    Svlad Cjelli

    And of course there’s nothing wrong with theists using atheism as the null in the case it works the same as with smoking.

  135. 135
    Ashley F. Miller

    I came to skepticism from atheism, so that’s one, and I don’t think ghettoization of someone, atheist or believer, is the same as pushing them out. Based on how politely whacky people are treated at places like TAM, I highly doubt anyone is pushed out of the movement, as you frame it.

  136. 136
    Daniel Schealler

    It annoys the hell out of me too – but unfortunately, when a person self-identifies with a given label, the only definition that matters in that context is the one that the self-identifier has in mind.To me, agnosticism and atheism are orthogonal concepts. But to someone else? They may lack belief, but they will still retain a bit of reasonable doubt. To me, that doubt isn’t an issue. But to someone else? Maybe it is.If that doubt matters enough to someone that they therefore reject the label of ‘atheist’ in favor of ‘agnostic’, then, well, fuck it. It’s up to them what they call themselves. Sure, it puts my teeth on edge – but it’s not up to me to play the tut-tutting, knuckle-rapping grammarian.

  137. 137

    Blondie- I know, but I don’t know.

  138. 138

    I don’t have a constructive reply to your comment, I just wanted to congratulate you for spelling “led” correctly on the internet.

  139. 139

    PZ Myers screamed at her at spit at her? really?Or did he just write a blog post that criticized her opinions?

  140. 140

    Well since nobody has been attacking anybody directly, then we don’t have a disagreement.

  141. 141

    Except I am not aware of any atheists who are trying to make skeptical organizations focus on atheism. Do you have any examples?

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