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May 06 2013

A motionless movement?

Is skepticism a “movement” or is it not?

When I read PZ’s post saying goodbye to skepticism yesterday I first thought no, it isn’t, but then thought of all those conferences and events and thought well ok maybe it is. But – I’ve now reverted to “no, it isn’t,” not in the sense that a “movement” is usually understood.

Massimo Pigliucci and Michael DeDora exchanged some tweets about it just now, in the wake of Massimo’s post on PZ’s post and the larger subject. They compared the Civil Rights Movement and the specificity of its goals.

Michael De Dora‏ @mdedora

@mpigliucci Civil Rights Movement had specific and widely agreed upon social and political goals. Can same be said for skeptics?

Massimo Pigliucci‏ @mpigliucci

@mdedora How is that different from the Civil Rights movement? A community, local groups, national leaders…

True, and that’s why yesterday I thought “well, maybe.” But the Civil Rights movement is a good choice to illustrate why skepticism isn’t really “a movement” as we usually understand it – no sit ins, no marches, no voter registration drives, no firehoses, no mass arrests.

Skepticism just isn’t a good fit with that kind of thing. Atheism is much more so, I think – witness the Reason Rally. (But, you cry, the Reason Rally could be seen as a skeptical event more than an atheist one – it wasn’t the Atheist Rally after all! Well it kind of was, though.)

Then again I’m being nitpicky, or I’m ignoring Wittgenstein and family resemblances and all that. Do cricket and chess belong in the same category? If they do, then surely skepticism can be a movement too.

I guess, but it feels a bit off. I think maybe it’s too much like “brave hero” – it’s too much like wrapping oneself in the flag of real, hazardous struggles when in fact all one is doing is typing. I said the other day – correcting one of the many falsehoods about me out there – that I never call myself an “activist.” Well that’s why. Hey, writing is a fine thing to do – but it’s not the same kind of thing as activism. Skepticism isn’t a very movementy movement.

Whatcha think?

39 comments

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  1. 1
    SallyStrange

    I can envision a half a dozen ways in which skepticism could actually become a more movement-y kind of movement, but as it currently stands, no. I have to agree with you.

    Let me see if I can meet my own challenge:

    -civil disobedience to remove creationist textbooks (and other factually inaccurate things, like historical revisionism) from schools
    -joining the actual civil rights movement in fighting to end racial disparities in the educational system
    -street protests against religious displays/ceremonies/parades
    -lobbying Congress & state governments for total reform of educational system, including outlawing corporal punishment in all schools (ideally everywhere)
    -lobbying Congress for better consumer protection laws & similar protections against psychics, homeopaths, and other scam artists

    Well, that’s five things I could think of… Here’s how I see it: skepticism is really a revolutionary way of approaching knowledge, and it could conceivably transform the entire world, IF it were properly taught. In order to really promote it, we’d have to completely change the way education is done in this country. In order to do that, we’d have to challenge religious privilege HARDCORE, because that is where the bulk of the resistance would come from. Skeptics who claim to want a.) a truly egalitarian and effective educational system and b.) to not challenge religious privilege are fooling themselves. You can’t do both.

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    ^ Very interesting point.

  3. 3
    Neil Rickert

    I don’t know if it is a movement, or not. I’m not sure what that would mean.

    However:

    As a skeptic, I subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer for a number of years. I eventually gave it up. And the reason I gave it up, was that it was forever skeptical on a narrow range of topics (faith healing, astrology, etc), but seemed to ignore so many other issues that called for skepticism.

    On usenet, I subscribed to the group sci.skeptic. And then, after a while, I unsubscribed. That was repeated several times. The trouble was that sci.skeptic was a place where you might go to see a brawl, but there were rarely serious discussions there.

    I suspect that PZ is seeing the same kind of issues.

  4. 4
    Michael De Dora

    For what it’s worth, I have urged skeptics to embrace and engage in specific political advocacy, which — as Sally suggests with some of her points — could make them more closely resemble a “movement.”

    http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/12/why-skeptics-should-embrace-political.html

    In short: why is there a Secular Coalition but not a Skeptical Coalition?

    The response from the skeptic community has been, for the most part, silence.

  5. 5
    Raging Bee

    Why do we need a “skeptical movement” or even an “atheist movement?” IMO we should be supporting an overall “progressive movement,” simply because most (if not all) of our policy objectives (secular governance, equal rights, ending violence against women, protecting the environment, reducing wealth-inequality, etc.) are shared by huge numbers of people who don’t identify as either skeptics or atheists; and because those who benefit from such policies would benefit, and deserve to benefit, whether or not they call themselves skeptics or atheists. A skeptical or atheist movement would need lots of non-skeptical non-atheist support, and could easily get it anyway — so why bother with a separate movement or a separate label for another branch of the same movement?

    Also, if we support a progressive movement, then we won’t have to listen to a lot of anti-progressive assholes insisting we have to reach out to them just because they’re skeptics or atheists too.

  6. 6
    iainmartel

    Eugenie Scott is definitely an activist, fighting for specific social and political goals. I’m part of her movement.

    Lots of self-described skeptics are just interested in telling each other how smart they are. But some of us are trying to bring about actual change in the world, to have more of the decisions made by people, organizations, and government be based on evidence and critical thinking.

    I personally am happy to work on a skeptical project with someone who is religious, or a libertarian, or who has any number of beliefs I find silly. So long as they understand the issues in question, and are committed to advancing the skeptical perspective, that’s all that matters to me. PZ’s attitude reminds me a bit too much of the people I ran across all too often in leftist politics who were determined to exclude anyone who disagreed with them about anything – unless you toed the party line on everything from taxes to Palestine to abortion to nuclear power, you were a pariah. If you only ever want to hear that you are right about everything, that’s fine. But it is no way to build a movement.

  7. 7
    Simon

    Wikipedia is a good starting point for defining what a social movement is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_movement

  8. 8
    Kevin

    I think the issue is that the self-identified “skeptical movement” is nothing of the sort.

    There is no “skepticism” being applied to the issues that are important to the “skeptical movement”. In reality, they’re dismissive of those issues that they address. A skeptic by nature has to be agnostic. If not, then you’re dogmatic, not skeptical. The people who claim “skepticism” are really dogmatists about silly things like anal-probing aliens and the Loch Ness monster.

    And what would “winning” look like to the “skeptical movement”? It would look pretty much like every single day in every single household in America, except people wouldn’t watch TV shows about Bigfoot and haunted houses. And not buy expensive water as a cure for their migraine. Meh.

    The atheist “movement” (which really isn’t much of one — it’s a rather amorphous collection of individuals with disparate ideas) isn’t really all that “skeptical”, either. I’m not skeptical (aka, agnostic) about the lack of evidence for the existence of the supernatural. I’m dismissive of the idea. Don’t call me a “skeptic” when it comes to the god hypothesis. We’ve tested it — it doesn’t work. And not only that — we’ve proved that it can’t work without violating the laws of physics. (Note: the Higgs field proves that the supernatural does not exist. Don’t take my work for it: go ask Sean Carroll.)

    But by contrast, “winning” in the atheist movement looks very different with regard to social justice issues, human rights, politics, and a plethora of other topics. Heck, TAX policy. Can’t get more fundamental than that.

    If there’s a “movement” worth defending and husbanding, it’s the atheist movement. Skepticism — at least as it’s narrowly applied by those who self-identify as such — is quite honestly a crashing bore and ultimately trivial.

  9. 9
    Raging Bee

    A skeptic by nature has to be agnostic. If not, then you’re dogmatic, not skeptical.

    Pure fucking bullshit. A skeptic can admit that certain questions are settled and still be a skeptic.

    Skepticism =/= know-nothingism.

  10. 10
    michaeld

    I’m mostly fine calling it a movement. They have conferences, they have some protests and some letter writing campaigns but mostly they just focus on awareness and education. They’re a movement they’re just not really being as active, or forceful as other movements in trying to affect wider change. Actually writing this I’m reminded of how cranky my mom gets at all those pink ribbons…

  11. 11
    PZ Myers

    Well, what really prompted my rejection of the movement was a talk in which Swiss far too smugly appropriated the language of science, and then used it to advocate limiting skepticism to “consumer protection”. The first was awful; skeptics have this childish vision of science in which the Randi Challenge, with its simple protocols and binary results, is the be-all and end-all, and they reject New Atheism’s place in skepticism because, I’m sorry, but complex historical phenomena don’t fit into their all-or-nothing, do-it-right-now model of how science should be done (which shares a lot in common with Ken Ham’s “Were you there?” litmus test for science, I’m afraid).

    The second is one I’ve heard far too many times from skeptics, and it’s becoming an article of faith with them. Consumer protection is a a laudable purpose, and I think it’s good to do that. But it’s a utility, not a movement. It’s not aspirational in the slightest. Educating the public about critical thinking, science, and philosophy…that’s a great goal. Protecting people from scams…useful and important, but kinda mundane. It’s like subscribing to Consumer Reports, not something to go to conferences about or have a sense of identity over.

    But mainly it’s my first point that was the final straw. Listening to conjurers, who have their own respectable skill set, lecturing me about how science is supposed to be done, and it’s all this petty, over-simplified, instant-gratification crap, just blew my mind. Do they even realize that a lot of parapsychological research, not to mention a lot of legitimate research in evolutionary biology, wouldn’t fit into their models? In their zeal to find excuses to avoid confronting religion, they’ve abandoned a more thorough scientific methodology.

    And yeah, I agree with Michael De Dora. A movement has to recognize the broader social implications of its aims to qualify, and skepticism is racing downward to narrow its scope, rather than broadening it.

  12. 12
    Kevin

    Bee: You’ve bought into this bizarre definition of what a skeptic is and does. I’m here to challenge your comfortable thinking.

    A skeptic has to be agnostic. “I’m skeptical of that claim” means “I have yet to see compelling evidence of that claim”. Which must allow the corollary of “if you show me the evidence, I’ll be convinced.”

    Skepticism as defined by the “skeptical movement” is what you’re defining it as — laying out dogmatic statements with regard to various subjects. That’s not skepticism.

    The only true “skeptics” with regard to the existence of Bigfoot are cryptozoologists who are out there looking for Bigfoot. Everyone else is a dogmatist. They dismiss the evidence.

    The only way to apply skepticism to the issue of Bigfoot is to declare there is a possibility one is wrong. Nobody in the “skeptical movement” does that with regard to Bigfoot. They just pick the wings off flies in their little dogmatic world. It’s an easy target, like all the “important” targets in the “skeptical movement”. Because it doesn’t take much effort to come to a conclusion. It’s “I would be a skeptic, but there’s really no need to be because there’s no real evidence that needs to be sifted through — no critical thinking skills that need to be applied.”

    Sorry to burst your bubble on this. But skepticism = “I don’t know so let’s investigate fairly”. It does not = “settled so let’s laugh at those who still believe”.

    Except, of course, to those who self-identify as members of the crushingly boring “skeptical movement”. Of which I have very little time for these days.

  13. 13
    Argle Bargle

    There are several types of skepticism:

    -Being skeptical of everything or pretty much everything. These skeptics keep to heart Richard Feynman’s dictum: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    -The “I’m a skeptic and therefore smarter and better than non-skeptics” skeptics.

    -The “I’m skeptical about those things I feel comfortable about being skeptical about.” Many theist, libertarian and anti-progressive skeptics are found here.

    -Organized skepticism. James Randi and D.J. Grothe are personally atheists but JREF doesn’t whisper a word about applying skepticism to theism. A great deal of JREF’s support is from skeptics who refuse to be skeptical about their theism. Other skeptical organizations have similar blind spots for similar reasons.

    All too many skeptics are found in the three latter groups.

  14. 14
    screechymonkey

    From the OP:

    skepticism isn’t really “a movement” as we usually understand it – no sit ins, no marches, no voter registration drives, no firehoses, no mass arrests

    Well, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that skeptics aren’t really disempowered minorities on most of the issues they seem to talk about the most. Even when skeptics are in the minority on some given issue from a pure opinion-polling perspective, the majority view is usually not being imposed on them except in indirect ways. (Sure, I don’t like “my tax dollars” going to fund “alternative medicine” research, but there’s a lot of things I don’t like “my” tax dollars being spend on. And nobody’s forcing me to get acupuncture or take sugar pills.)

    As Kevin @7 puts it:

    And what would “winning” look like to the “skeptical movement”? It would look pretty much like every single day in every single household in America, except people wouldn’t watch TV shows about Bigfoot and haunted houses. And not buy expensive water as a cure for their migraine. Meh.

    michaeld @9:

    They’re a movement they’re just not really being as active, or forceful as other movements in trying to affect wider change

    Yeah, I don’t think that “movement” has to be defined by a particular set of tactics. Which is not to say that I have a good definition of “movement” at the moment.

  15. 15
    Raging Bee

    Bee: You’ve bought into this bizarre definition of what a skeptic is and does. I’m here to challenge your comfortable thinking.

    It’s your purpose in life to talk down to everyone who questions your misuse of words? Hey, at least you’re able to give yourself job-security…

    A skeptic has to be agnostic.

    We only have to be “agnostic” about things we don’t fully know about, like superstring theory. We can, however, still accept a preponderance of evidence on certain other questions, like the roundless of the Earth or whether the Holocaust really happened.

    The only true “skeptics” with regard to the existence of Bigfoot are cryptozoologists who are out there looking for Bigfoot. Everyone else is a dogmatist. They dismiss the evidence.

    Bullshit. There’s nothing “dogmatic” about accepting (tentatively at least) a conclusion based on the evidence we’ve been shown so far. When I conclude, based on what I’ve heard and read so far, that Bigfoot isn’t real, I’m not “dismissing” anything. I admit I could, in theory, be proven wrong in my lifetime, but I’m not dismissing any of the evidence I’ve seen so far.

    The only way to apply skepticism to the issue of Bigfoot is to declare there is a possibility one is wrong.

    …and when we go on to rule out the previously admitted possibility that we were wrong, that’s still applying skepticism to the issue. Once you’ve been proven right, you no longer have to admit the possibility that you’re wrong — because that possibility just got a lot smaller.

    Sorry to burst your bubble on this. But skepticism = “I don’t know so let’s investigate fairly”. It does not = “settled so let’s laugh at those who still believe”.

    It does when the question really is settled.

    Except, of course, to those who self-identify as members of the crushingly boring “skeptical movement”. Of which I have very little time for these days.

    I can see you don’t have time to actually learn anything about the movement.

  16. 16
    screechymonkey

    Kevin@11:

    The only true “skeptics” with regard to the existence of Bigfoot are cryptozoologists who are out there looking for Bigfoot. Everyone else is a dogmatist. They dismiss the evidence.

    The only way to apply skepticism to the issue of Bigfoot is to declare there is a possibility one is wrong. Nobody in the “skeptical movement” does that with regard to Bigfoot.

    How would you describe someone whose position is “I have evaluated all of the evidence for Bigfoot that has been offered to date. It is woefully insufficient and has failed to live up to the dramatic claims offered by its proponents. I am open to the possibility that the 1,001st Bigfoot-hunting expedition will be the one that turns up convincing evidence, but I think it’s such a vanishingly small possibility that it strikes me as a huge waste of time and money.” Is that “dogmatism”?

    It’s possible that the email I got last week really is from the widow of a deposed African monarch, and I really will receive millions of dollars if I just send her my bank account information and Social Security number. But I don’t think that possibility is worth even the time it would take me to investigate. Is that dogmatic of me?

    But skepticism = “I don’t know so let’s investigate fairly”. It does not = “settled so let’s laugh at those who still believe”.

    If skepticism = “I have to treat this as an open issue despite the mountain of evidence from past investigations,” then count me out. I reserve the right to laugh at Bigfoot-believers, just as I roll my eyes at anyone who wants to claim that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, or that evolution is going to be disproven any day now. At some point, insisting that “more research is needed!” just makes you look silly.

  17. 17
    SallyStrange

    I guess it kind of depends on what you think your goals are. To me, the goal of skepticism is to allow ALL people access to better education and information. That’s a transformative goal. Along the way, we’ll probably write new textbooks–which is not a transformative goal but still a worthy one to aim for. It’s just that if we just going around proclaiming how better textbooks are a hugely important goal for skepticism, people are going to get bored and go away, rightly perceiving that the movement has little to offer that will make their lives better.

    Making people’s lives more enjoyable, less full of injustice and struggling–this is an important goal for me, but I often see people in the skeptical movement expressing, well, skepticism that helping other people is something they even ought to worry about. This seems like a classic example of misapplying the skeptical method. Sure, whether or not helping people is worth it is a nice topic for a late-night stoned discussion amongst friends. But to put that question front and center is to reveal only that the people leading the movement are either sociopaths or super-duper privileged. There really isn’t any question, given our nature as an obligate gregarious social species, as to whether “helping each other out” is a worthwhile goal. The really interesting question is how.

  18. 18
    Argle Bargle

    But skepticism = “I don’t know so let’s investigate fairly”. It does not = “settled so let’s laugh at those who still believe”.

    I have never been on a Bigfoot hunt. However when all the credible evidence is that Bigfeet don’t exist I accept their non-existence to be a settled issue. When someone brings reasonable, rational, reliable evidence for Bigfoot then I’ll revise my opinion on existence. Until then the null hypothesis works just fine for me. That’s practical skepticism.

  19. 19
    Lou Doench

    I’m not as alarmed by the fact that the Skeptic Movement (TM) is not as “moving” a movement because I think that there is some value to certain amount of “stability” for people just entering the skeptic/atheist axis. And that’s because of the other factor that is always moving, and that is time, which Steve Miller taught us is always slipping slipping slipping into the future. Each year there are new converts, dropouts from religion and woo and superstition, and I think that there is a certain value to having a place like Skepticism (TM) for new people to take their first baby steps in.

    The problem seems to be a small group of people who seem unwilling to let the rest of us move beyond the baby steps and flex our skepticism in the wider world. Or people who feel threatened by others taking steps that they are afraid to take.

    I feel the same way about the Atheist movement as well, entry level atheist groups (Skeptics in the Pub, Atheist meetups, informal blogging) serve a much different purpose than large activist groups.

    None of which should be seen as excusing JI Swiss’ cliquish behavior in the least.

    Rambling as always… ;)

  20. 20
    hjhornbeck

    Just because the skeptical movement doesn’t resemble past movements, doesn’t mean it isn’t one. Online activism is still activism, it just doesn’t carry the same weight as waving around signs on the street. And I’ve had a look at the ‘pedia, as linked above, and the “skepical movement” does meet all of the qualifications to be considered a movement.

    But that page discusses “social movements,” or a group working collectively towards some goal. Here, I think, is where organized skepticism falls flat. They have no shortage of campaigns, but they’re generally organized, run, and attended by small groups of people. 10^23 is the only exception I can think of; the norm is groups running after way too many targets, which leads to fragmentation, little social cohesion, and not much impact. More work needs to be done to unify everyone towards a subset of those targets.

  21. 21
    Argle Bargle

    Interestingly Massimo’s post on PZ’s post no longer exists.

  22. 22
    hjhornbeck

    Ulysses (and also Benson), it’s been moved here.

  23. 23
    AndrewD

    To me, the goal of skepticism is to allow ALL people access to better education and information. That’s a transformative goal.

    It has been my impression, from Europe that one of the problems with the sceptical movement is that P.Z and Sally Strange are expecting it to do things it is not set up to do. This is because the aims of social justice, equality etc. require a Socialist movement with overt political aims. This is absent (or apparently absent) in the US. It would be an interesting historical-sociological study as to why. In Europe we have (or had) mass Socialist and overt Marxist parties coupled with strong Trades Unions which have pulled the political centre in the direction of equality.
    If this seems a simple observation, it is only a preliminary approach.

  24. 24
    Kevin

    Skepticism is not static. It’s dynamic. It must move either towards confirmation or disconfirmation of an hypothesis.

    Let’s look at it from another perspective. When the concept that the Earth’s continents might be moving, the hypothesis was greeted with dismissal and the evidence was greeted with skepticism. Scientists applied the principles of skepticism to evaluate the evidence — assuming that what they would find would legitimize their dismissal of the hypothesis. They found the opposite. Admittedly, this took a while, but eventually, the evidence built up so that the hypothesis that was initially dismissed was only looked at with skepticism — aka, agnosticism — “We’re no longer sure of our dogmatic position, therefore we’re going to continue to investigate”.

    And eventually, the hypothesis was proved. Tectonic plate theory was confirmed. So, the needle moved away from skepticism to acceptance. You can’t say that you’re a “tectonic plate skeptic” for a theory that has been proved. It’s settled. You also can’t be a Bigfoot skeptic for a hypothesis that has functionally been disproved (or truly, has never risen to the level where a true skeptical inquiry can begin.)

    Skepticism is the middle ground — it must either move towards dismissal, or towards acceptance. It can’t just hang there in the “I’m doubtful” stage.

    Now, again let me say that what the Bigfoot Skeptics (BSers, for short) are doing is notskepticism. Each and every issue in front of them that they declare to be important is settled science. The needle has moved definitively away from “I’m skeptical” to “No, that’s false”. BSers claim to be still in the skeptical middle ground, but they’re not.

    I understand that you’re uncomfortable with this observation. It still holds true whether or not you choose to accept it.

    Skepticism isn’t static. BSers are applying a static definition to a dynamic condition.

  25. 25
    Raging Bee

    I understand that you’re uncomfortable with this observation. It still holds true whether or not you choose to accept it.

    We’re not “uncomfortable” with anything. We’re just tired of your pompous ignorant blathering. Either you don’t know what words like “skepticism,” “dogmatism,” “dismissal” and “acceptance” mean, or you’re deliberately misusing them to make some “point” that isn’t aparrent in your nonsensical lectures.

  26. 26
    atheist

    Some smart guy on Facebook said: Atheism is primarily a mode of perception. The movement and the group and the lack of belief and the identity all come out of that. This works for skepticism too.

  27. 27
    SallyStrange

    @atheist –

    You could say the same about feminism. Or, for that matter, “black consciousness” as it relates to civil rights and the political position that people should be valued equally regardless of race. Or queerness, etc. There’s a mode of perception, and then there’s the things that follow on.

  28. 28
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Raging Bee:

    A skeptical or atheist movement would need lots of non-skeptical non-atheist support, and could easily get it anyway — so why bother with a separate movement or a separate label for another branch of the same movement?

    I get what you’re saying, but I think at some point those people in your hypothetical Large Tent Movement would be at odds with others. This tent would have progressive skeptic/atheist/secularists and progressive nonskeptic/theist/religious. Sure, in many areas, they would be able to work together. They may even be able to set aside their differences at times, but when you start talking about working to move society away from the influence of religion or working to emphasize critical thinking skills and skepticism in children, I worry that unstoppable force and immovable object would come to blows.

  29. 29
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Kevin:

    The only true “skeptics” with regard to the existence of Bigfoot are cryptozoologists who are out there looking for Bigfoot. Everyone else is a dogmatist. They dismiss the evidence.

    Who knew No True Scotman would come so far?
    All the evidence available points to there being no Bigfoot, yet cryptozoologists continue to search for said mythic creature.
    Why?
    I don’t know, but they can continue their delusional search for a mythical creature that we have zero reason to believe in. Those of us who accept the lack of evidence will sit over there doing our own thing. When/if credble evidence is discovered, then non belief can be re-assessed. Just like the God Hypothesis. Or the Tooth Fairy Hypothesis.
    Oh, and since when does asserting your strong opinion that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot count as dogma?

    A skeptic by nature has to be agnostic.

    I don’t believe the theory that Ancient Aliens visited Earth 4000 years ago. If sufficient evidence is presented to support such a theory, I will amend my non belief.

    is different from

    I don’t believe there is any way of knowing whether or not Ancient Aliens visited Earth 4000 years ago.

  30. 30
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Kevin:

    Each and every issue in front of them that they declare to be important is settled science. The needle has moved definitively away from “I’m skeptical” to “No, that’s false”. BSers claim to be still in the skeptical middle ground, but they’re not.

    I understand that you’re uncomfortable with this observation. It still holds true whether or not you choose to accept it.

    Skepticism isn’t static. BSers are applying a static definition to a dynamic condition.
    25

    I think I see where you’re going awry.

    It appears that you believe skepticism means the same thing as:

    Agnosticism is the view that the existence or non-existence of any deity is unknown and possibly unknowable. More specifically, agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, as well as other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable. Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a skeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that humanity does not currently possess the requisite knowledge and/or reason to provide sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

    scientific skepticism (also spelled scepticism) is the practice of questioning whether claims are supported by empirical research and have reproducibility, as part of a methodological norm pursuing “the extension of certified knowledge”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_skepticism

    The former states “Claim X can be neither proven nor disproven”.
    The latter states “There is insufficient evidence to support the truth of Claim X.”
    When many skeptics dismiss the idea of Bigfoot, they are approaching that idea with scientific skepticism. The claim “Bigfood exists” is not supported by empirical research.

  31. 31
    Aratina Cage

    @Tony

    I liked your response to Kevin, but I have to disagree with this:

    When/if credble evidence is discovered, then non belief can be re-assessed. Just like the God Hypothesis.

    Not going to happen. Any evidence of a wild giant forest ape living somewhere in North America will not have any connection to the mythic sasquatch. One is a myth and remains a myth even if by some weird coincidence an ape that somewhat matches the mythical creature’s numerous descriptions is found. I feel the same way about gods. Agnosticism is not necessary in either case.

  32. 32
    SallyStrange

    Agnosticism is, quite frankly, an impediment to getting anything worthwhile done. I’m sick of arguing with FELLOW ATHEISTS over whether it’s true that “god doesn’t exist” or “there is no evidence to support the claim of god’s existence.”

    Enough with the semantics and philosophical bibble-babbling! There are no gods, now let’s move on to considering the societal implications of that fact.

  33. 33
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Aratina:
    Initially I disagreed with you, but upon reflection, I agree.

  34. 34
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    SallyStrange:
    I was about to say much the same thing in my #30.
    I’m sick of agnosticism. “We can’t know either way” is paralytic and gets us exactly *nowhere*.

    Oh, and societal implications of there being no gods?
    Heavens to betsy, you cannot possibly mean that if there are no gods that maybe being gay isn’t sinful?
    Or that women should not have to defer to men in all things?
    Surely you don’t mean that we (humanity) must act as proper stewards of this planet since nothing is coming to elevate Teh Preeeeeecious Snowflakes to Heaven and leave the heathens to Hell?

  35. 35
    John Morales

    Tony agrees with SallyStrange:

    I’m sick of agnosticism. “We can’t know either way” is paralytic and gets us exactly *nowhere*.

    Historically, atheists could be spared the worst of anti-atheist prejudice by this disingenous stance; I’m pretty confident many famous agnostics of yesteryear weren’t.

    Kevin has a point: absent evidence, the sceptical stance is to be agnostic (and, if one is rigorous, one must ultimately admit to the epistemic limits of knowledge).

    That said, nobody is functionally agnostic about things that matter to them, but rather they go by their best inference according to warrant — in the case of goddism, the evidence is that it’s at best an otiose conceit and so there’s no warrant to accept it — and therefore a genuine agnostic must someone who either lacks the intellectual fortitude to go with the evidence or who is not fussed about the issue.

  36. 36
    rorschach

    Agnosticism is, quite frankly, an impediment to getting anything worthwhile done.

    +1

  37. 37
    notsont

    Now, again let me say that what the Bigfoot Skeptics (BSers, for short) are doing is notskepticism. Each and every issue in front of them that they declare to be important is settled science. The needle has moved definitively away from “I’m skeptical” to “No, that’s false”. BSers claim to be still in the skeptical middle ground, but they’re not.

    This is a good point and its always bugged me, once something reaches 0 probability there really is no point being “skeptical” of it, its done and its now time to dismiss it outright.

  38. 38
    Raging Bee

    They may even be able to set aside their differences at times, but when you start talking about working to move society away from the influence of religion or working to emphasize critical thinking skills and skepticism in children, I worry that unstoppable force and immovable object would come to blows.

    Yes, some such conflict is inevitable, but a lot depends on which battles atheists choose to fight, and on how they frame the issues. There are, for example, plenty of Christians who do indeed agree with atheists on all of the issues you mention above: they want their kids to be able to think, they want real religious freedom, and they don’t want their kids getting suckered and abused by other loony cults, or to have their lives constrained by other ministers less educated than their parents. Even the most religious people want, at least, to be free from the clutches of OTHER religions, and that desire can be appealed to in a divide-and-rule strategy.

  39. 39
    notsont

    Even the most religious people want, at least, to be free from the clutches of OTHER religions, and that desire can be appealed to in a divide-and-rule strategy.

    I have come to realize that many Christians in this country think most of the “other” Christians are just like they are, I think should ever one sect come to dominate and gain political power over the rest of us they will have a very rude awakening when they realize what Christians in power do to heretics. Me, I’ll pretend to convert.

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