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Atheism is an essential part of skepticism

Daniel Loxton is an annoying fellow. He does good work for the skeptic movement, and he’s got an excellent record of working for the cause, but he’s also prone to flop into simpering, pandering mode at the first sign someone disagrees with him (not in my case, though, but then I’m particularly annoying myself). This time, what prompts my mixed feelings is his summary of the diversity panel at TAM. This was a panel moderated by Desiree Schell, and containing a group of people who actually were diverse: D.J. Grothe, Debbie Goddard, Greta Christina, Jamila Bey, and Hemant Mehta. It’s a sign of good things in the skeptic movement that we did actually have some different backgrounds represented on a prominent panel, and not a collection of old white guys.

This has long been an issue with the skeptical movement. I used to subscribe to the Skeptical Inquirer, a very good magazine with well-written and substantive articles on skeptical issues, but I let my subscription lapse. It was a strange thing that prompted it; several years ago, there was an issue lauding the leaders of the skeptical movement, and it had a nice line drawing of four or five of these Big Names on the cover: and every one was white, male, and over 70 years old. I looked at it, and I wasn’t mad or outraged — every one of them was a smart guy who deserved recognition — but I saw it, sighed, and felt that not only was this incredibly boring, but that organized skepticism was dead if it was going to turn into a gerontocracy. I didn’t let my subscription lapse in protest, but out of lack of motivation.

So I attended that panel enthusiastically — it represented a growing, positive pattern of change where we would actually see young people, brown people, gay people, and female people identifying with this movement and expressing themselves. Daniel Loxton was not so enthused.

While billed as a discussion of “Diversity in Skepticism,” the panel—featuring D.J. Grothe, Debbie Goddard, Greta Christina, Jamila Bey, Hemant Mehta, and moderated by Desiree Schell—actually drew spokespeople from several related but distinct movements. For this reason, I’ll confess that my hopes were not high. There can be deep, serious, and sometimes poorly-articulated philosophical differences between activists for skepticism, atheism, secularism, and humanism, and these differences can badly derail conversations. (At the same time, all of the panelists were personally atheists of one stripe or another, raising the opposite specter: undue uniformity.)

Whenever I see one of the big voices in the skeptical establishment pontificating about “poorly-articulated philosophical differences”, I just know we’re about to get a load of rationalizations for not changing, remaining stodgy and conservative and boring, and repudiating progressive differences in opinion. Loxton is no exception. And when I hear them complaining about all these atheists, a refrain that has been very common in the last few years, my grumpiness gland starts secreting voluminous quantities of bile.

Jebus, Loxton, would you be complaining about uniformity if they were all skeptics? Hey, maybe we need a token psychic, or ufo nut, or climate change denier, or creationist on the panel. You’re on the wrong side of history if you’re going to start whining about the high frequency of atheists in the skeptical population, because that value is just going to go up and up. Just going by the odds, you’re going to find more panels filled to the brim with atheists, and the only ones that might include the odd theist will be panels that don’t actually demand a thorough commitment to, you know, skepticism. I don’t believe in excluding theists — and I’ve said so — but when we get down to putting our ideas on the table for discussion, virgin-born zombies who do magic tricks aren’t going to hold up very well.

That’s where the “poorly-articulated philosophical differences” come in. Old school skeptics have a suite of ludicrous arguments that they use to try and narrow the range of topics allowable under the umbrella of skepticism. We can be skeptical of bigfoot, but not that virgin-born zombie; we can quibble with psychics, but not the transfer of waves of electrochemical activity from your dead rotting brain to an eternal paradise in the sky; laugh at the flat-earthers, but the odious doctrine of original sin and salvation through sacrifice by proxy…why, no, don’t go there. There’s a theme in that: religion is a walled garden, within which skeptics are not supposed to tread, apparently because their skepto-rays will make the lovely imaginary foliage of faith wither and die. And then the religious public will stop looking so benignly on those people chasing the Loch Ness monster.

The usual argument for restricting the domain of inquiry is tiresome and arbitrary: we can’t think of a simple empirical test for many religious claims, therefore we can’t examine it. Everything is reduced to negative evidence on our side: all we can do is try to disprove the small subset of testable claims made by cranks, kooks, and true believers. But another important element is disregarded: we should be able to also address the positive claims made by the believers, and ask how they know that, where is their objective evidence, and can they make a logical argument in their defense? And when they can’t do any of that, it is reasonable to loudly doubt their claims. Instead, though, we get these strange attempts to partition what we’re allowed to question.

For decades, skepticism has very deliberately worked to stay close to what it does best: tackling empirical questions in the realm of pseudoscience and the paranormal, and (as the other side of this same coin) promoting scientific literacy.

There is a wonderful history of going beyond that narrow range in skepticism. Case in point: Randi’s debunking of Peter Popoff. Randi did not accumulate a pile of empirical data to show that Popoff’s faith-healing didn’t work; instead he went straight to the root of the con-artists claims, and showed that he was using radio transmitters to pass around information, rather than getting it delivered from a god. That was a religious claim made by a priest in a religious ceremony, made in the name of a god, and Randi went gunning right for it, without hesitation. There’s no difference between exposing the shoddy lies of a Peter Popoff, and the equally cheap mind-games of an established Catholic theologian or Muslim mullah. Strictly speaking, though, the ability of Popoff to magically heal people was not disproven at all; it wasn’t actually tested, and maybe there actually were cancers going into remission all over that room (in the good Christian people only, of course). What Randi did was undermine the credibility of a claimant, and show natural mechanisms for communication.

Loxton cites approvingly this exercise in garden-walling:

Finally, a word might be said about our exclusive concern with scientific investigation and empirical claims. The Committee takes no position regarding nonempirical or mystical claims. We accept a scientific viewpoint and will not argue for it in these pages. Those concerned with metaphysics and supernatural claims are directed to those journals of philosophy and religion dedicated to such matters.

Bullshit. I can understand turning away from purely philosophical abstractions that have no weight in the real world: skeptics will not be able to quantitatively resolve the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. But faith has real world consequences, and the metaphysical claim that a god is dispensing information by undetectable means to a chosen few on earth, which is certainly a common claim in Christianity, should have effects that could be measured, and that they don’t have such effects is not a reason to recuse the subject from inquiry, it’s a reason to reject it.

Furthermore, this skeptical narrowness intentionally marginalizes the movement and reduces it to irrelevance. It’s nice that they deal with the fringes of gullibility — investigating Bigfoot and weeping statues, running more tests with Zener cards, exposing the silliness of ghosthunters on television — but there’s also a deeper psychological swamp that lies at the heart of all of these issues, and the biggest manifestation of those problems is religion. How can you call yourself a brave hunter of pseudoscience and flim-flam when you run away from the gigantic resource-sucking, child-raping, lying, miseducating monster at the heart of our culture to chase the mice of goofy belief? Hunting the vermin is an important job and I wouldn’t belittle it, but it has to be part of a wider effort to bring critical thinking to every subject.

But Loxton simply capitulates on just about everything.

This empirical focus has allowed the skeptical community—old and white and bearded as it may have been—to enjoy other kinds of diversity. If political ideology is not a topic for our movement, then anarchists, libertarians, liberals, and conservatives can happily share the same big tent. If science-based skepticism is neutral about nonscientific moral values, then the community can embrace people who hold a wide range of perspectives on values issues—on the environment, on public schools, on nuclear power, on same-sex marriage, on taxation, gun control, the military, veganism, or so on. It’s a sort of paradox: the wider the scope of skepticism, the less diverse its community becomes. (Think of two groups: the “I Love Toast Club” and the “Association for the Consumption of Toast and Sausages.” It is much easier for the first group to be a welcoming place for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.)

Well, gosh, if we don’t question anything, and just open up our big tent to every wild idea on the planet, then everyone could join the skeptical movement! How dare Loxton limit our growth by questioning cryptozoology and astrology and homeopathy? Doesn’t he realize how much he antagonizes proponents of those dogmas?

How about if, instead, we stick to principles. We’re going to question everything, we’re going to argue, we’re going to ask for evidence. Liberals and conservatives can join, but only if they don’t demand that their beliefs be exempt from skepticism. You want to oppose same-sex marriage? Sure, let’s argue about it! You show me your evidence that homosexuality is bad, or that gay marriages will damage heterosexual marriages.

His analogy fails, too. We are not the “I Love Toast Club”; we are the “I Love Arguing About Food Club”. Loxton apparently wants to turn it into “We Only Get To Agree About Toast and Shut Up About Every Other Food Club”, which isn’t very interesting and not at all productive, but I’m sure the members will all be happy and smiling as they carefully avoid conflict.

Amanda Marcotte is also less than pleased with Loxton’s vision. We have to agree on something, or there’s no reason for us to get together. And that something should be the principle of critical examination of ideas, and diverse points of view should be welcomed, even when they start bringing in novel ideas that make some members uncomfortable.

In other words, the kind of “diversity” he supports is one where a bunch of well-off, older white men can enjoy talking about the silliness of Bigfoot without having to bother with those political concerns that are unavoidable when people who get the shit end of the stick—women, non-white people, poorer people, disabled people, gay people—get involved. There are many flavors of white-dude-whose-privilege-shields-him-from-having-to-be-politicals, but those darn diverse people are forever being political because they don’t have an option to ignore oppression that directly affects them. Personally, I’m far more concerned about a group that’s politically diverse only because they all live in the same bubble than one that’s got racial and gender diversity because everyone has a shared concern about religious power.

In other words, I support a diversity of viewpoints, not a diversity per se of views. A group of skeptics isn’t made stronger because some people diverge from the norm because they believe they have an army of small fairies to do their bidding, but it is strengthened by improving the number of women and people of color who can speak to communities who aren’t currently being reached.

I get the impression that the Old Guard wants more women and minorities because they see them as simply increasing their numbers, which is good. They don’t seem to realize that with these new members will come new concerns that the Old White Guys have always ignored, but are now going to have to face. Adapt or die. Recognize that these are valid topics under the Big Tent of Ideas that should be skepticism, or watch all those new people abandon you as irrelevant.

And ultimately, atheism is not an excluded part of skepticism. Atheism is a subset of skepticism, that part of it that has evaluated the claims of religion and found them deficient. Any skeptical movement that tries to exclude atheism and religion from its domain is diminishing itself in arbitrary and self-defeating ways. Suck it up, guys; atheism won’t be the whole of skepticism, but it should be recognized as a respectable and important part of the whole. You don’t tell me that atheism has no place in skepticism, and I won’t try to get those people who debunk Sylvia Browne or John Edward kicked out of the club.

Comments

  1. says

    Atheism is a subset of skepticism, that part of it that has evaluated the claims of religion and found them deficient.

    To take that one step further, I’d say that atheism is the most relevant, important aspect of scepticism in that it deals with claims that affect people’s daily lives. In comparison to that, the argument as to whether Bigfoot exists is about as important as 2 bald men fighting over a comb.

  2. Kevin says

    Well said. As an Old White Guy, I agree with everything you’ve just said contra Loxton.

    Frankly, the existence of Bigfoot or anal-probing aliens is the BORING part of skepticism. Who wants to rehash the same nonsense over and over again? It’s like listening to just one song to the exclusion of every other song in your music collection.

    Heck, I’m quite looking forward to October when we can make fun of Harold Camping all over again!

  3. Neil Rickert says

    I’ll disagree with PZ on this.

    Sure, skepticism of religion is an important part of skepticism. But what’s wrong with also being skeptical of atheism?

    I also once subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer, and allowed the subscription to lapse. What bothered me about SI seemed to be too much of a mechanistic skepticism. “Here’s what xxx says, but it’s wrong because here’s what science says.” That’s okay as far as it goes, but there should be room for skepticism about currently accepted science, and there should be room for skepticism about movement skepticism.

    It is not sufficient for the skeptic to question what he knows is wrong. The skeptic should also be questioning what he currently believes to be correct.

  4. says

    Well, I’ll disagree somewhat. As long as people are making serious claims about Bigfoot or aliens, they are legitimate topics for skepticism to tackle. And people like Sylvia Browne are making big money lying to people — I want them taken down.

  5. says

    Neil Rickert: I agree! That’s why I said this is a movement about arguing, not about accepting a particular conclusion. Nothing should be exempt from inquiry, including atheism.

    The thing is, though, that it’s awfully hard to argue for religion and against atheism. That evidence and reason stuff keeps getting in the way.

  6. Philip says

    serious claims about Bigfoot or aliens, they are legitimate topics for skepticism to tackle. And people like Sylvia Browne are making big money lying to people — I want them taken down.
    Add to that bogus CAM treatments, Oprah’s promotion of so many kinds of woo, and so much else. There’s a lot of good the skeptic movement can do. Religion is a big part of it, but not all.

  7. says

    as I’ve said on pandagon, this odd concern that bringing in non-whites, non-straights, non-dudes etc. will lead to political uniformity is a form of othering. It seems to say that “old and white and bearded” people can have a diversity of political opinions, minorities apparently can’t, and thus including them will lead to a narrowing of diversity of opinion about “the environment, on public schools, on nuclear power, on same-sex marriage, on taxation, gun control, the military, veganism, or so on”. Because people who aren’t old white and bearded apparently all agree on these things? Or is it that he thinks we’re a hivemind?

  8. Tiago Martins says

    @Neil

    First of all, you can’t be skeptical of atheism. Atheism, per se, doesn’t state anything other than “Religion, your full of bull!”. You can, however, be accepting of the religious arguments, for which there is atheism to ask why such acceptance.

    Second, I don’t actually see what are you disagreeing actually. In fact, your last paragraph is a “tl;dr” of his main point! Old school skeptics have to be skeptic about what skepticism actually involves!

  9. says

    o take that one step further, I’d say that atheism is the most relevant, important aspect of scepticism in that it deals with claims that affect people’s daily lives.

    well no, I’d put medical woo at the top; but religion is a close second.

    Sure, skepticism of religion is an important part of skepticism. But what’s wrong with also being skeptical of atheism?

    I… don’t understand the concept of being skeptical of a Null Hypothesis that hasn’t been falsified yet. It explains all the available evidence. What else is there to say about it? I mean sure, once you can show evidence that doesn’t and can’t fit the Null Hypothesis, we’ll have something to argue about. But until then…?

    hat’s okay as far as it goes, but there should be room for skepticism about currently accepted science

    you’re not a scientist, are you. if you were, you’d know that “skepticism in currently accepted science” is what scientists do for a living. And on that note, you need to read The Relativity of Wrong

  10. chigau () says

    Having a diversity of voices will cause uniformity?
    Don’t worry about trivial socio-political stuff because we must worry about Bigfoot?
    Am I misunderstanding?

  11. DavidP says

    What this made clear is that Loxton does not understand what scepticism is about. You don’t choose to apply it to only one or two things, it gets applied to everything. If you embrace scepticism you embrace making decision and forming your opinions based on evidence and reason. This goes for everything.

  12. says

    “Traditional” skepticism vs. “umbrella” skepticism. I vote umbrella. Sharing ideas about how to think, not what to think. Some skeptics focus on cryptozoology, some sCAM, some atheism, etc etc. I wouldn’t count myself a skeptic if there were an actual checklist of things I had to be interested in.

  13. Nerd of Redhead says

    but there should be room for skepticism about currently accepted science,

    Anybody who is a scientist understands the utter bullshit of this statement. Names are made in science by doing exactly that. Some folks confuse doing science with just doing speculation. Science is all about the evidence. And if new theories or speculations can’t explain the evidence equal to or better than the established theories, the newer ideas are appropriately ignored.

  14. says

    Skepticism is entirely rooted in exploring another’s claims of knowledge. Claims about ‘god’ are no different from claims about UFOs, bigfoot, or supply-side economics – you can’t be a skeptic about UFOs but a believer in ‘god’ because it shows that your ability to assess claims of knowledge is not very good.

  15. Neil Rickert says

    Tiago:

    First of all, you can’t be skeptical of atheism.

    I suspect there are some agnostics who would disagree with that.

    People don’t all mean the same thing when they use the word “atheism”, and you can be skeptical about some parts of that spectrum.

  16. says

    jadehawk:

    well no, I’d put medical woo at the top; but religion is a close second.

    It probably depends on the specific situation; in terms of pure numbers, I’d say that more harm has been done through religious beliefs than medical woo throughout our history, though there’s certainly an overlap, especially as you go further back in time.

  17. says

    Fantastic. Simply fantastic. When I was at TAM, I don’t think I met anyone who wasn’t an atheist as well as a skeptic. I think there is a lot of skeptics out there who’s skepticism actually start by thinking of religion as foolish. Then, they expand their skepticism to more things, and eventually recognize in science the systematic way of rooting out the weeds of bullshit. This is a two-way road. Asking skeptics-atheists to share the tent with believers maybe is not too much to ask, but asking them to shut up about it certainly is.

  18. BSnPapproved says

    I think it’s less about “being skeptical of the current science” and more about “being skeptical of the conclusions we draw from the current science.” The facts may not change upon further study, but our understanding of what they mean may change entirely. Look at Xiaotingia. Its discovery changed none of the known facts about Archaopteryx, but it did alter our undertanding of evolution. “Skepticism of current science” should really be “skepticism of people making absolute claims about what science can and cannot do.”

  19. mikerattlesnake says

    Medical woo is VERY much motivated by religion. The underlying thought processes are very similar, and a lot of it is basically faith-healing with a slightly different brand (much of it is also overtly christian, or based on christian ideas…. some is more “spiritual” but still relies on a creator who has made plants/animals/human anatomy for a specific purpose). Tackling religious misconceptions would do a lot of good as far as reducing sCAM treatments IMO.

  20. Wendell says

    Well said PZ. I am a member of the local Skeptics group and the organizer (an atheist by the way) is bound and determined to not let the scourge of Atheism raise it’s head. I have sent your article to her. I expect no coherent answer

    Neil, you state

    Certainly I agree and in fact I do not see that PZ or anyone else is disagreeing with you so what is your point?

  21. says

    There’s skepticism and skepticism – I suppose one could adopt a pyrrhonian stance and be skeptical that there are atheists. I.e.: perhaps I really am just a big perl script running in a simulation and these “atheists” are just figments of my programming. But it seems to me now that I am an “atheist” and, even if I am the only one and the rest of you are just phantasms, I’m convinced – perhaps wrongly – that I exist. I could be wrong about that latter point, but if you don’t exist either, it’ll be hard for you to show me I’m wrong.

    Stepping back from pyrrhonian skepticism, one might accuse atheists of being “dogmatic” – i.e: that they are asserting that there is no god. But it appears to me that atheists do not claim to have proven a negative; rather they are saying that those responsible for proving that god exists have failed.

    One can also argue, as Victor Stenger does, that there is good reason to believe there is no god, as each time a hypothetical thing that might show god exists is conceived, it fails – after enough failures, and some damn important ones, it’s rational – not dogmatic – to say “I am convinced to my satisfaction.” Note that that sort of atheist argument against belief can be made constructively. I.e.: “I do not believe in god because a) insufficient evidence plus b) evidence to the contrary including: no measurement or theory of ensoulment, no measurement or theory of prayer, no necessary role for god in the cosmos after the singularity, no measurement or theory of miracles, etc”

  22. says

    The key is: everyone is welcome, every topic is fair game for argument/discussion. The Xian homeopathic alien abductee is welcome; the anarchist smoker is welcome; the reincarnated reiki master is welcome — but if they aren’t willing to discuss “any of that,” they will be called out for it.

  23. mikerattlesnake says

    @BSnPapproved

    the point you are trying to make and the example you give are incongruous. Xiaotingia is a pretty mundane example of how science works and how the theory of evolution develops and changes (as it has a thousand times before). Do you have a better example of “skepticism of people making absolute claims about what science can and cannot do.”

  24. katiekins says

    I didn’t see him say women weren’t welcome. Although there were some qualifiers on it.

    1) Old. Well um…okay, plenty of old women about.

    2) White. Yep…plenty of white women about. Plenty of them are old too.

    3) Bearded. Okay, so I see a problem here. What brave soul is going to point out to any woman that “wow…that’s like a really long hair stickin’ out of your chin. Wanna measure it?” (Well, more than once.)

  25. says

    I think you’re absolutely right in the main thrust of your post – trying to artificially wall off religious claims from discussions which come under the umbrella of “skepticism” is absurd. Just as there is a tradition of skepticism from religious individuals there is a VERY long and proud tradition of skepticism OF religion – precisely the broader sort of not-purely-empirical skepticism he seems to think irrelevant.

    I particularly enjoyed this section: “How about if, instead, we stick to principles. We’re going to question everything, we’re going to argue, we’re going to ask for evidence.” I think that’s a great definition of “skepticism”, much better than Loxton’s emaciated conception.

    There’s one thing I did agree with in Loxton’s article. When he says “There can be deep, serious, and sometimes poorly-articulated philosophical differences between activists for skepticism, atheism, secularism, and humanism, and these differences can badly derail conversations”, I think he’s absolutely right, and has put his finger on an important issue that rarely is raised to the level of explicit discussion in our movement/movements.

    There is a very significant difference in emphasis (and even some differences in fundamental values, perhaps) between, for example, the skeptic and Humanist movements. I think it would be very valuable to recognize the differences which do exist and discuss them openly. The fact that Loxton found “a fascinating common thread about useful common ground” in the discussion suggests to me that he may have quite a good understanding of some of the fault-lines between different movements within the broader Secular coalition. I’d like to see him write more on that.

    Finally, i wonder if he uses his terms in the same way you do. When you say “And ultimately, atheism is not an excluded part of skepticism. Atheism is a subset of skepticism, that part of it that has evaluated the claims of religion and found them deficient”, I think Loxton would reply that he would consider that a part of what he calls “rationalism”, of which “skepticism”, as a movement, is a smaller subset. So this may actually be an issue with language and not a substantive disagreement at all.

  26. Wendell says

    ops Neil sorry about the screwed up post. Basically I was trying to completely agree with you but ask the question why you are even mentioning this. No one PZ or me or anyone is suggesting that we not be skeptical of everything. So since we agree what is your real point?

  27. says

    This empirical focus has allowed the skeptical community—old and white and bearded as it may have been—to enjoy other kinds of diversity. If political ideology is not a topic for our movement, then anarchists, libertarians, liberals, and conservatives can happily share the same big tent. If science-based skepticism is neutral about nonscientific moral values3, then the community can embrace people who hold a wide range of perspectives on values issues—on the environment, on public schools, on nuclear power, on same-sex marriage, on taxation, gun control, the military, veganism, or so on. It’s a sort of paradox: the wider the scope of skepticism, the less diverse its community becomes.

    [Emphasis mine]

    I don’t see how those topics he listed aren’t candidates for skeptical, empirical focus. There are a great many facets of those topics that can be empirically examined and a determination made about their positive or negative impact on an individual or community. I would much rather have people involved in the movement with diverse human experience that can help us see past our own privilege and world view than I would restrict the areas of discussion for the sole purpose of making people feel “comfortable”.

  28. Greg Peterson says

    If I see that a particular issue of Skeptical Inquirer or The Skeptic is devoted to, say, cryptozoology, I just don’t bother getting it. It’s only the tougher questions, the ones not so easily answered, that motivate me to buy the magazines at all. I happen to like a lot of what Loxton has done, but his comments reported here are simply off-base, and what he seems to be promoting is banal and pointless.

  29. madscientist says

    I remember Randi leaving the CFI years ago because of disagreements – Randi was too confrontational etc. Although the JREF will not consider claim of “proof of god” for the Million Dollar Challenge, Randi is clearly not shy about criticizing religion. However, many people seem to think that even Randi avoids confronting religion and that the rules of the MDC show that (talk about confirmation bias) and that the JREF should spend more time addressing religion. As far as the MDC goes, only claims which can be tested by experiment are considered (and no one has come up with an experiment even worth reading about to ‘prove god’). As for people calling to address religion more directly – well, the JREF promotes the tools while various other groups actually speak out against the voodoo. I see no reason for an organization like the JREF to waste time battling every religious nut on the planet – it’s a matter of the organization making the best use of its resources. As for the founder, he’s always great fun to listen to. Sadly, I’m not aware of any public figures in the JREF who come anything close to Randi’s ferocity and sharpness. Why aren’t there many people who can both be a nice and be tough on the bullshit?

  30. Copernico says

    In my opinion, someone who is sceptic and not atheist is someone who is smart enough to notice where bullshit is, but not strong enough to release him/herself from religious belief, out of fear.

  31. says

    I suspect there are some agnostics who would disagree with that.

    there’s also people who’d disagree that it doesn’t make sense to be skeptical of the nonexistence of dragons. Some people believing something doesn’t make it so.

    Also, agnosticism and atheism are not two different positions on the same spectrum, and are thus not mutually exclusive; I’m an agnostic atheist, for example.

    People don’t all mean the same thing when they use the word “atheism”, and you can be skeptical about some parts of that spectrum.

    like what, precisely?

    Tackling religious misconceptions would do a lot of good as far as reducing sCAM treatments IMO.

    I don’t think so: secular and largely non-religious European countries are drowning in medical woo

  32. Copernico says

    PZ: PLease ask your new bloglords to disallow video ads that turn on by default.

  33. Erulóra (formerly KOPD) says

    People don’t all mean the same thing when they use the word “atheism”

    Definitely true. The question is, what do the people who use it to describe themselves mean by it. You may find that the parts you’re being skeptical about don’t apply to very many people. So to avoid tilting at windmills, why not lay out there what you mean by the word, and see if anybody here agrees with you.

  34. Gnumann says

    But what’s wrong with also being skeptical of atheism?

    Skeptical towards the null hypothesis? Doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even if you should find out that ateism was ulikely, it’s still a large job to prove what theism is right.

    It only makes sense to be skeptical of positive claims. Ateism isn’t a positive claim. It’s the same as being skeptical towards a-gnomism and a-celestial tepotism.

  35. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    As an old¹, white haired², bearded³ atheist, I’m tired of Skeptics™ telling me that gods are disallowed as objects of skepticism. I don’t really care if Bigfeet are roaming around the wilds of suburban Atlanta or not. If some guy says he was anally probed by aliens from Uranus, I’ll think that’s appropriate. Sure, homeopathy and other alt-med are dangerous and need to be exposed as bogus. But a lot of traditional Skepticism™ spends its time and resources on fringe beliefs like psychic phenomena and ghosts. Why isn’t belief in gods on the skeptical table? Because some Skeptics™ are afraid to examine their own beliefs?

    I go out of my way to read books and web posts by economists I know I’ll disagree with. I do this for two reasons: (a) I want to know what the opposition is saying and (2) occasionally an opposing economist writes something that causes me to examine my economic positions. I’m trying to be skeptical about my professional thinking.

    Most if not all skeptics would approve of my skepticism about my own views. So why aren’t the religious views, including those of skeptics, subject to skepticism? Why is gawd sacrosanct?

    ¹63

    ²What there is of it.

    ³I don’t actually have a beard, my hair migrated to the bottom of my head.

  36. Noah the epistemic pinata says

    Neil Rickert says:

    Tiago: First of all, you can’t be skeptical of atheism.

    I suspect there are some agnostics who would disagree with that.

    I wonder if these agnostics who are “skeptical of atheism” are the same group that mistake the word agnostic as meaning some sort of middle-ground between atheism and theism. This mistake is fairly common and it is possible that “agnostics” who are “skeptical of atheism” are simply misinformed about what the two words mean.

    The theism-atheism spectrum is is belief-based and gnostic-agnostic spectrum is knowledge-based. Belief and epistemic knowledge are not the same thing and should not be confused. There may be people out there who don’t understand what this means, so I’ll try to explain as simply as possible:

    1. Do you believe in god(s)?
    Yes = theist
    Not yes = atheist

    Not yes includes I don’t know, I don’t care, and I choose to suspend judgement.

    2. Is the existence of god(s) a justified, true belief? [Or in layterms: Can a god hypothesis be proven/disproven by an empirical or rational argument? (ex: Kalam, TAG)]

    Yes = gnostic
    Not yes = agnostic

    Using these definitions, you can be an atheist, without a belief in any particular gods, and also be agnostic towards gods in general. In addition, you can hold a gnostic position towards specific, easily disprovable gods like Prince Philip the volcano god.

    Huxley, who coined the term agnostic, was an atheist: he did not believe in any gods. However, he articulated an agnostic position towards the Abrahamic god; he didn’t think it was possible to logically or scientifically prove or disprove it.

    Apologies for the long post!

  37. Random Excess says

    I would suggest that any skeptic that is not non-believer has not yet directed their skeptical eye toward religion, there can be no other explanation. And that is a sad fact, given how obsequious religion is, it is the elephant in the room.

  38. 'smee says

    Noah

    thanks for reminding us that we are more than 1-dimensional*. I am most definitely 4-D, at least!

    * (not snark! – I truly mean thanks!)

  39. Margaret says

    @Jadehawk

    Because people who aren’t old white and bearded apparently all agree on these things?

    I read it (perhaps incorrectly) more as saying that if they let in discriminated-against groups, then all the old white bearded bigots would leave, so the remaining old white bearded skeptics would only be non-bigots and hence liberals (who all agree with each other on everything, you know). Thinking about whether all the non-old/white/bearded people agree on everything would require thinking that non-old/white/bearded people have opinions worth considering.

  40. Clavd says

    Said Loxton:

    It’s a sort of paradox: the wider the scope of skepticism, the less diverse its community becomes. (Think of two groups: the “I Love Toast Club” and the “Association for the Consumption of Toast and Sausages.” It is much easier for the first group to be a welcoming place for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.)

    This is in no way a paradox; it is just true in a trivial way. It is how you get to the definition of any concept: the more characteristics you describe, the fewer objects correspond to your description until you’ve reached your desired subset of objects that all share one defining note.

    If for skepticism that note is its scope, then we’re all done here. But even Loxton admits that that’s not it, that skepticism is supposed to be about a way of thinking. And I can’t see how or why any traditionally “sensitive” fields (religion, politics etc.) should escape skepticism’s scope if it’s like that.

    Would including these subjects make the community less diverse*? I think that actually it would help make the world in general a little more tolerant. It is not about changing people’s beliefs. It’s about teaching them to make the difference between a statement of fact and what they believe. You don’t know that God exists, because you can’t. You can, however, if you so choose, believe s/he exists and we won’t do anything to harm you for your belief, as long as you don’t harm others in its name. (And no, pointing this out to you is not harming or persecuting you.)

    If you find statements of fact offensive and avoid all venues where you might meet them, then I’m sorry, but you are not a skeptic.

    *This is actually taking the charitable route and discussing Loxton’s argument as a valid concern. I think that he unconvincingly uses atheism to disguise his (initial) unease at the non-WASPnon-WASN/A people wanting to “tackle wider topics”, namely topics that are important to their actual well-being. But then again, can we expect a minority’s well-being to get in the way of a good skeptical man’s thrill at having debunked yet another Big Foot myth? What is this, one of those post-modernist feminist dystopias my Pa’s been warning me about?

  41. says

    I’d like a good come back for a comment made in our local newspaper. It was in response to a blogger thinking of leaving.

    You’ll be back. You wouldn’t have taken all the abuse, particularly from the psycho militant atheists, if you didn’t love doing this.

    .
    Of course, I like being a psycho militant atheist there every chance I get. Just look at what I last wrote in that regard just last week. It was in response to praying for rain:

    If praying doesn’t work if it’s not God’s will, why bother praying? Personally, I watered the lawn after I mowed yesterday.

    .

    So if people think like that, only retired people who don’t have to worry about keeping their job can safely “come out”.
    How do I do that before I’m retired?

  42. Brownian says

    If political ideology is not a topic for our movement, then anarchists, libertarians, liberals, and conservatives can happily share the same big tent. If science-based skepticism is neutral about nonscientific moral values, then the community can embrace people who hold a wide range of perspectives on values issues—on the environment, on public schools, on nuclear power, on same-sex marriage, on taxation, gun control, the military, veganism, or so on.

    Yes, that’s outstanding thinking! Let’s not bother to apply rationality to the meaningful questions in our lives, such as what sorts of health systems serve the health and interests of the most people, because there’s nothing more healthy than having the same fucking fact-free political discussions every election. Why, I’ll just bet the LGBT community loves the diversity of opinions on their mental, sexual, and social health, and would welcome nothing more than sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with people who think they’re abominations, all for the sake of ganging up on Ghosthunter Gary and make fun of the PKE meter he made out of tinfoil and take-out boxes as a community.

    By all means, let’s shut our mouths about the important stuff; it’ll only get in the way of being able to feel smug over people who phone psychic hotlines together.

    You wanna spend your days debunking orgone energy, Loxton? Be my guest. But leave me out of recruitment posters for the “Irrelevant Skeptics Club”.

  43. Sastra says

    Loxton:

    Finally, a word might be said about our exclusive concern with scientific investigation and empirical claims. The Committee takes no position regarding nonempirical or mystical claims. We accept a scientific viewpoint and will not argue for it in these pages. Those concerned with metaphysics and supernatural claims are directed to those journals of philosophy and religion dedicated to such matters.

    I too call shenanigans on this. So-called metaphysical and supernatural claims are indeed based on evidence, experience, and reason: poor evidence, unreliable interpretations of experience, and flawed reasoning. If you look at the basic concepts of God even the versions that insist they’re not “anthropomorphic” contain irreducible mind-like elements which involve mind/body dualism, essentialism, and psychic forces. Are we really unable to investigate those claims? Does the scientific undermining of these claims really have nothing whatsoever to say about God or other supernatural elements?

    When I’m asked what sort of evidence would convince me that God exists, I usually point out that there would have to be a cumulative case — and that strong scientific evidence for the paranormal would lay the most significant groundwork. It would undermine naturalism and provide a framework to at least start talking or dealing with the agency-causation and dualism at the heart of religious claims in general. We’re not talking about personal choices: there are wider implications. We’re dealing with the nature of reality — and there is no artificial dividing line separating the natural from “other realms.”

    I once asked Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine and presumed expert on human belief mechanisms, a question: what is the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural? After hedging around a bit, he finally admitted that there really wasn’t one. As you point out, what isn’t directly testable by experiment is still subject to the implications of empirical discoveries and scientific models. God uses ESP and PK. ESP and PK don’t just fail in experiment: they fail at the more basic level — that’s not how minds work. If ESP and PK go, then God goes. Bottom line.

    It’s one thing for skeptics to sheepishly admit they have a weak spot for something and would prefer not to get into arguments over it: it’s another thing for skeptics to take that weak spot and huffily declare that this personal belief is off limits to scientific analysis in principle. There is no such principle in science. That’s not how it works.

  44. says

    If science-based skepticism is neutral about nonscientific moral values, then the community can embrace people who hold a wide range of perspectives on values issues—on the environment, on public schools, on nuclear power, on same-sex marriage, on taxation, gun control, the military, veganism, or so on.

    How could anyone even begin to suggest that the environment and nuclear power are nonscientific issues?

    Probably the most important issue for skeptics to address is the corporate warping of, interference with, and spinning of science, especially with regard to the environment (but also, and relatedly, public health, food production,…). How someone could think ESP or homeopathy are more urgent than this is beyond me, and the “traditional” skeptical community hasn’t been exactly stellar in addressing it (see Randi’s remarks a little while ago or Shermer, who was an AGW denialist until 2006 and is still a propertarian).

  45. says

    This sounds as if it can be summed up by ‘if we let in anyone who’s not old, white and beardy, they won’t talk about the things I want to talk about, and I’ll be asked to examine my own prejudices, which is not on at all!’

  46. Sandiseattle says

    slightly OT: Bigfoot no. Yeti, maybe. Why? North America is extensively explored and mapped. The idea that a primate population could have remained undiscovered in North America seems unlikely. The Himalaya however does have some large poorly explored areas so it may be that a primate population has escaped discovery there. IMHO anyhow.

  47. says

    @Noah the epistemic pinata

    That’s beautifully clear. Mind if I borrow it? I’ve been running into that exact problem practically every time I tell someone I’m an atheist.

    Usually from the same people with firm belief in god. It’s rather odd for the same people who profess devout faith to leap immediately to “But you can’t KNOW!” as their first defense.

  48. Therrin says

    PZ hates toast, got it.

    Ps- That ad appearing as two large green buttons labeled Download and Play Now makes me think I’m at a different site.

  49. says

    Just a sampling of how/why this post is wrong;

    First, atheism absolutely isn’t, philosophically, necessary for skepticism. What PZ is saying is, in essence, that atheism is logically necessary for skepticism. Well, it simply isn’t, neither for modern “scientific skepticism,” nor for ancient philosophical skepticism.

    Myers’ post is stupid in many other ways.

    There are millions of beliefs that have bupkis to do with skepticism. Like whether the Phillies or the Rangers will win the World Series this year. Or whether Obama will be re-elected or not.

    Ditto is true for political beliefs, in many cases.

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/08/pzmyers-not-all-thought-is-equally-free.html

  50. Nerd of Redhead says

    Yawn, SG proves the obvious. Philosophy with evidence is sophistry. End of story.

  51. says

    Yeah, SocraticGadfly, I’ve run across many of your comments disagreeing with me, and always — ALWAYS — you get everything I said completely wrong. No exception here, either.

    That point about atheism being a subset of skepticism just sailed right over your head, didn’t it? Nowhere have I ever claimed that you must be an atheist to be a skeptic. Nor have I ever claimed that every single opinion in the world belongs in the domain of skepticism.

    But you’ll keep on wrestling with that imaginary me in your head. It wouldn’t be so embarrassing for you if you’d avoid the public play-by-play.

  52. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    So, a gadfly is a creature that derives sustenance from feeding on strawmen?

  53. Nerd of Redhead says

    Gack, didn’t preview. Post at 8:13 should read:
    Philosophy without evidence is sophistry.

  54. Nick says

    Is there a bigger pseudoscience than religion? A more destructive one? I honestly can’t think of any. Why would you make that immune from criticism on inquiry. The only reason I can think of is that you want to focus on other issues, as taking on religion can be a an all consuming battle.

    I know in skeptics meetings I’m going to disagree with other people there. I have had people present arguments and change my mind many times. And other people have changed their minds as well. If this did not happen I would stop going. It is completely healthy.

    The idea that someone could come to a skeptics meeting and say “I don’t want X challenged” is beyond me. I can respect that at other events where the purpose is not that kind of diuscussion, but the whole point of skepticism is to learn and be challenged.

  55. says

    Socratic Gadfly:

    First, atheism absolutely isn’t, philosophically, necessary for skepticism.

    The hell you say! Honestly, nowhere did PZ say differently.

    I see you still specialize in being wrong every single time, abruti petit gâteau. Run back to your own blog where you can soak in your delusion of being able to think.

  56. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I think this is a particularly healthy response on the part of PZ.

    I don’t think it’s the only healthy response, but I do think it’s a good one.

    There are people that are outraged by such things, and we need them, but even those outraged by something like the cover PZ described are often indifferent to other things, like the decades-long delaying tactics of the Department of the Interior in Cobell v. Babbitt (etc., etc., ad infinitum). We need outraged folk to have some willing to spend the energy necessary to bring attention to important issues, but the majority need not be so invested. PZ examined the cover, recognized that paying disproportionate attention (not merely paying attention, but disproportionate attnetion) based on qualities other than idea and argument is useful only in certain limited times, places, & manners. General gerontocracy is not one of those manners that would justify it: it excludes people who have historically been excluded anyway, so it acts to counter no past harm nor does it provide special benefit for the future. Thus, it’s a bad thing to do and those parts of the movement who cling to it should not be rewarded with our attention & money.

    PZ didn’t do anything radical and he deserves criticism for neither doing something radical nor for doing nothing radical. He acted rationally in the context of a movement for rationalism. What could be more apropos?

  57. seaside681 says

    This discussion seems to have implications for the accommodation-activism debate about theistic evolutionists. The relevant lines of reasoning appear somewhat parallel. Loxton is obviously correct that an explicitly atheism-friendly skepticism will lose some potential participants, at least in the short view. Similarly, in the short term, a more activist approach to atheism likely alienates some people who could otherwise have been persuaded by the evidence for evolution. In the longer term, though, I think an atheism that argues on its own behalf will likely win the larger number of adherents, due to many believers’ interest in the skeptical mode of thought and in open communication across lines of disagreement, not to mention various kinds of doubt about at least organized religion’s dogma. I retain some sympathy for an accommodationist view, and I think the situations within which one argues for atheism and the way one goes about it matter too, strategically and morally. But just as a general rather than compartmentalized skepticism is important to the pursuit of knowledge and to the resilience and coherence of a skeptical movement, so too the reasons that make us regard belief in God as mistaken ought to be part of public debate.

  58. Pierce R. Butler says

    Random Excess: … given how obsequious religion is…

    Ahh, if only.

    Maybe you meant ubiquitous? Or nefarious?

    OT: some software gremlin has given me a gravatar in Preview which I do not accept as a representation of inner or outer self, as it expresses a dignity and depth far beyond my reality or ambition. How, if it persists, can I kill it?

  59. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    wow…
    something really weird happened & I only saw the before the fold section of the OP & then was wondering why everyone was going on about Loxton and assuming more of the discussion was about the magazine anecdote than was actually about that story. After refresh b/c of posting a comment…there it was!

    Truly bizarre, I wonder if it’s a part of the bandwidth thing

    I suppose, in that light, my comment would seem to quite seriously miss the main center of the conversation. Sorry for any confusion, ppl. Carry on.

    –)->

  60. says

    Pierce:

    How, if it persists, can I kill it?

    It’s there because for some reason, PZ enabled placeholders. You aren’t the only one who isn’t happy about finding themselves with an unwanted avatar. To get rid of it, you’ll need to sign in to (or log in) to gravatar.com. (Clicking on your avatar placeholder will get you there). Then, you can either upload one of your choosing, or cancel its use.

    Your FtB login doesn’t always work with gravatar, many of us needed to sign up with wordpress.com, which has nothing to do with the FtB login. Just use the same email address you did with FtB.

  61. Pierce R. Butler says

    Caine – thanks for the tip.

    The same wonky gravatar showed up on posting – but after an offline interlude, as I scrolled, it morphed into a slightly less obnoxious (hey, is that the word Random Excess wanted?) abstract glyph, as did almost everyone else’s (gravatar.com abstainers, I s’poze).

    Gremlins never sleep!

    Another OT kvetch: the comments on FtB all show up in a size just below my reading-comfort level. Can that be fixed without having to tweak my browser every time I enter/leave a FtB tab?

  62. says

    but after an offline interlude, as I scrolled, it morphed into a slightly less obnoxious (hey, is that the word Random Excess wanted?) abstract glyph

    Looks like PZ has swapped out the goofy looking MonsterIDs for Identicon. A move I applaud, if default avatars must be present.

    I have yet to see a single “build-a-face” avatar system that doesn’t produce pictures that look like arse. And it wouldn’t be that hard either! (I’ve been tempted to build my own, but as it turns out, I just can’t be bothered.)

  63. says

    “There is a wonderful history of going beyond that narrow range in skepticism. Case in point: Randi’s debunking of Peter Popoff.”

    Actually, that was exactly in the wheelhouse of “scientific skepticism” that Loxton promotes. Randi demonstrated that Popoff was receiving a hot read from his wife, and not god. Religious hoaxes and certain religious claims, like the efficacy of intercessory prayer or faith healing can often be tested, as was the case with Popoff’s claim that it was god directing him to certain people in his audience/congregation. The same goes for weeping statues, the shroud of turin, and any number of testable claims. It’s not at all that sci-skepticism avoids religious claims, and Loxton has never said it does or that it shouldn’t. It’s that science can’t really test for god. If we come to atheism, we do it using methods that are not the purview of “scientific skepticism.”

    Randi didn’t have to prove that Popoff wasn’t a healer. What he set out to prove was that Popoff was a liar. And he succeeded using scientific methodology. In this case, with the use of a radio receiver, Randi gathered and delivered empirical evidence that Popoff was making a fraudulent claim.

  64. DLC says

    To me, skepticism an non-belief go hand in hand. You claim there’s a Bigfoot? show me one. better yet, bring me one alive to study. Barring that, how about bring me one to necropsy ?
    Yahweh, Kali , Odin or Flying Spaghetti Monster? As Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    Show me one. bring one over to my place for Tea and a Biopsy.
    Or at least show me some rational logical reason to hypothesize.
    And no, old books full of weird stories are not evidence.

  65. John Morales says

    This discussion seems to have implications for the accommodation-activism debate about theistic evolutionists. The relevant lines of reasoning appear somewhat parallel. Loxton is obviously correct that an explicitly atheism-friendly skepticism will lose some potential participants, at least in the short view.

    Similarly, in the short term, a more activist approach to atheism likely alienates some people who could otherwise have been persuaded by the evidence for evolution. In the longer term, though, I think an atheism that argues on its own behalf will likely win the larger number of adherents, due to many believers’ interest in the skeptical mode of thought and in open communication across lines of disagreement, not to mention various kinds of doubt about at least organized religion’s dogma.

    I retain some sympathy for an accommodationist view, and I think the situations within which one argues for atheism and the way one goes about it matter too, strategically and morally. But just as a general rather than compartmentalized skepticism is important to the pursuit of knowledge and to the resilience and coherence of a skeptical movement, so too the reasons that make us regard belief in God as mistaken ought to be part of public debate.

  66. John Morales says

    [Bah. Hit ‘Submit’ rather than ‘Preview’, which apparently isn’t working anyway. :| ]

    My last was a quote of the excellent comment by seaside681 @64 with paragraphs, as a suggestion for readability.

    (And noting it’s been well discussed in accommodationism threads already)

  67. Vicki says

    The other thing is, there’s a difference between saying “we don’t have a group position on $political_issue_X” and saying that we cannot discuss anything related to that issue.

    But if we’re prepared to discuss, for example, LGBT issues, at some point we’re going to be challenging people who can’t come up with a better argument than “it makes me uncomfortable to think about it” and therefore want us to stay closeted so they don’t have to think about it. Or who invoke what someone claims their god wants, and get upset when we point out that they can’t prove their imaginary friend exists, let alone agrees with them on this issue. Similarly, whether nuclear fission is an appropriate source of energy should be a factual question, with a lot of variables (including what the alternatives are, and plant design and location: Fukushima Daiichi clearly has lessons about both), not a matter of faith.

    One thing skeptics should do is think about what our axioms are, and why.

    [I got halfway through the registration process yesterday, and in theory should be receiving another email.]

  68. says

    Small correction:
    I keep seeing people saying “Zombie Jesus.”

    That doesn’t make any sense. Zombies are mindless – either ghoulish flesh-eaters or slaves to a bokor. Jesus reanimated was intelligent/sentient.

    “Lich Jesus” would make more sense.

    “Oh! But where is his phylactery?” I hear you ask.
    Have you never heard of the HOLY GRAIL!? [Synthesizer music outro!]

    But seriously. Zombie makes no sense. Would be like calling Squidward from Spongebob an Octopus. Oh wait. WTF? Is Squidward an octopus? Look at him! He doesn’t even look like a squid!

  69. Ing says

    @Doctor Atlantist

    If you want to be more technical I have separated the Viris Zombies as “Zombies” and the Bokor ones as “Zombis”

    Sentient zombie like undead are Revenants or Ghouls. See the movie Dead Snow for an example of the difference

  70. says

    Oh, one more thing:
    Both PZ’s article and Amanda Marcotte’s make a weird non-sequitur argument. Here’s PZ’s version:
    “I get the impression that the Old Guard wants more women and minorities because they see them as simply increasing their numbers, which is good. They don’t seem to realize that with these new members will come new concerns that the Old White Guys have always ignored, but are now going to have to face. Adapt or die.”

    Here’s Marcotte’s:
    “In other words, the kind of “diversity” he supports is one where a bunch of well-off, older white men can enjoy talking about the silliness of Bigfoot without having to bother with those political concerns that are unavoidable when people who get the shit end of the stick—women, non-white people, poorer people, disabled people, gay people—get involved.”

    I get the impression.
    In other words.

    Yet where did Loxton come down against any diversity other than the demarcation issue he’s been on about all along (and an issue which has been a part of the Skepticism scope debate for as long as there has been Skepticism)?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to argue about scope, and to pontificate about what is right or wrong to include. But to paint Loxton as somehow being against all kinds of diversity just because he wants a narrow scope of claims is a strange and untenable position.

  71. says

    It’s not a non sequitur.

    That whole post by Loxton was about his trepidation that a diversity panel would bring in a whole bunch of issues he’d rather not have brought in. He wants nominal diversity—brown faces and young faces and female faces—but he doesn’t want the substantive diversity of ideas that would shake skepticism out of that comfortable 50 year old rut.

    That “demarcation issue” is a dead porcupine that the guardians of skepticism have been using to flog the rank and file with for decades.

  72. says

    Thanks, dictionaryatheist for the link to my blog. Good to know that someone recognises that I teach how to think, not what to think. :) Do you create resources that I can use in my classroom?
    Yes, not only do I teach critical thinking – I have helped deliver professional development, write resources and aided with Philosophy Cafes and curriculum materials since the mid-2000s.
    You might have seen me present at TAM5, QEDCon, TAMOz, a number of Dragon*Cons and Aust skeptic conventions and you will see me return to the stage for a second time at the Global Atheist Convention in 2012. :) It’ll be great to be on the stage with PZ again, let alone Dawkins, et al.

    If you like, you can read the syllabus that guides the lessons I teach – it’s featured in the link I posted for my website.

    Required elements I teach include (in the final year course):
    3A unit:
    * various relationships between science and society
    * social dimension of religions and other world views
    * the scientific method and philosophical/ethical inquiry, including falsification, the role of thought-experiment and the problem of induction
    * the method of sceptical doubt in philosophical and ethical inquiry

    and in the 3B unit:
    * humanism, secular society, religion and ultimate values.
    * religion as an interpretation of religious and mystical experiences
    * comparison with scientific ‘experience’
    * the concept of theism and the various forms of theism e.g. monotheism, polytheism, animism, pantheism and panentheism
    * ideas of divinity e.g. personified, impersonal, transcendent and immanent
    * concepts of naturalism, materialism, atheism and agnosticism.
    * evolution and religion
    * Darwin’s theory of evolution as an example of scientific theorising.
    * religious and non-religious ideas of the meaning of life
    * ideas of faith, belief, knowledge, reason and meaning, and their interrelationships

    … as I said – you have anything I can use for my classes? Because I have plenty, but I’m sure people could always work to contribute something that is suitable if they put an effort into it. You can go to my site to comment. Cheers.

  73. Brownian says

    Yet where did Loxton come down against any diversity other than the demarcation issue he’s been on about all along (and an issue which has been a part of the Skepticism scope debate for as long as there has been Skepticism)?

    Whether you or Loxton see it or not, advocating we just ‘shut up’ about issues like religion or politics is against diversity—at least, against anything but tokenism.

    Because neither politics nor religion are silent on the status of minorities. Religions (most of them anyways) are distinctly anti-women and anti-LGBT. Political ideologies like conservatism and libertarianism are anti-minority in their effect. Telling skeptics we should just agree to disagree is telling female and LGBT skeptics that they should shut up about the issues that actually matter to them for the privilege of sitting next to old, white men to laugh at bigfoot hunters.

  74. says

    Daniel Loxton is an annoying fellow… he’s also prone to flop into simpering, pandering mode at the first sign someone disagrees with him

    You the pot or the kettle this time?

  75. Nerd of Redhead says

    I hope PZ’s policy of heavy censorship isn’t still in place here.

    PZ doesn’t have a policy of heavy censorship. He is against those who troll, godbot, and threadjack. See here.

  76. says

    Der Herr der Finsternis:

    Not at all. If you had a social group and the same guy came along week in, week out, talking about how he hates gays, thinks all ethnic minorities are criminals and that feminists are evil misandrists, you’d be well within your rights to kick him out of the group for being a pillock, if the group so decided (btw, this is just an example – I’m not suggesting that you hold those views). This is no different. Pharyngula is full of people disagreeing with each other all the time; it’s only once someone starts being bigoted towards any particular group or incredibly monotonous that PZ will “censor” you.

  77. Nerd of Redhead says

    viewpoints other than mine will be censored.

    It depends on how they behave. Folks can express opinions, but they can’t ram those opinions down our throats. Which means they need to rein in their rhetoric and frequency of posts. Those who can’t tend to be liberturds, MRAs, RWAs, racists and bigots, etc. One can see the pattern for the bad behavior.

  78. says

    I think the only merit to the proposal is to avoid simply wasting time by talking/writing about irrelevancies. However, that cuts both ways – from a “social health” perspective and such, analyzing whether policies, economic doctrines, religions, etc. have various intellectual and other merits (truth, justice, consilience, etc.) is far more useful. And also harder, in part because of the greater disagreements.

  79. says

    Where.

    This very thread, for starters.

    Look out how dumb that looks when I rephrase it:

    If I started trolling a right-wing blog/online community saying all of that over and over again, I’d expect to be banned after a while.

    You lot are incredibly sensitive for the macho image you project.

    Macho? Really?

  80. Nerd of Redhead says

    Censoring opposing views is intolerant. End of story.

    You don’t like PZ’s policies, set up your own blog. It is easy to criticize, hard to compete.

    As I said, opposing views can be presented. But, we have a long history here, particularly with liberturds, who can’t just let a thread die, or not get in the last word. That is why PZ allows for himself to close down theads, and give the banhammer to those who just can’t behave themselves. Otherwise, total chaos results, just as if there are no “rules of the road” for traffic.

    You lot are incredibly sensitive for the macho image you project.

    And you are totally both ignorant and arrogant for being a newbie. Mature up.

  81. says

    I don’t understand why Der Herr der Finsternis bothered to post his comment, knowing with absolute certainty that I would delete it and ban him as soon as I saw it. And then he goes on to make multiple comments along the same lines, despite knowing that my heavy moderation policies would end up forcing me to destroy them, and then to hunt him down and shoot his dog.

    It’s a wonder how Der Herr der Finsternis can just butt his head against reality so many times and not notice.

  82. Ewan Macdonald says

    I’ve thought for a long time that the earnest, po-faced, obsessive-compulsive re-debunking of dowsing rods was the preserve of people with little to do but protect their own industry. This just reinforces my position.

    Like most others I’m fine with sharing the “big tent” with theists but I’m not going to bite my tongue about ludicrous claims to protect a bunch of Bigfoot fetishists.

  83. Clavd says

    @Der Herr der Finsternis

    No, it’s telling them that no one quite agrees yet that claims to moral knowledge have the same epistemic standing as claims about Bigfoot.

    But here’s the thing: no one is talking about fundamental moral claims here.

    I agree, in principle, that there is a very small subset of fundamental assumptions (not only moral) where the skeptic is entitled to say “There cannot be any demonstrable evidence for this.” and no honest partisan of that view can disagree. (As it concerns the issue of God, this would be agnosticism.) After that, the skeptic can choose to consider that the thing for which there is no demonstrable evidence does not exist, for a variety of reasons, such as that it provides the simplest explanation or that it is more consistent with the general method of skepticism. (And this would be atheism.)

    Agnosticism belonging to the field of skepticism should be a clear cut case. Whether atheism does, it is a debate. PZ brought some good arguments for why it should belong there, others here in the comments did the same. Luxton did not. His only attempt to defend its exclusion was that that’s how it always was and that it allowed for a diverse community.

    But I think that this debate is and should be separate from the debate regarding political views and rights for the minorities – for a simple reason. In the case of the latter, most of the time we are not talking about fundamental claims. We are talking about claims that follow from a list of other claims (and on that list, an extremely small subset could be considered fundamental). The skeptic can and should examine their truth value.

    “Gay marriage is bad” is not a fundamental moral tenet. It always follows from other premises. In the mouth of its supporters, it is always “Gay marriage is bad because…” If the skeptic can show that the conclusion does not follow from those premises or that the premises are false or inconsistent to begin with, why should s/he refrain from doing so? (And again, let’s assume we leave the fundamental moral premises alone.) Once you chose your frame of reference, your particular moral claims are verifiable within that frame and it is fair game for the skeptic to do just that.

    More importantly, when it comes to political views, (almost) no one nowadays claims a complete divorce from reality. They all claim that their policies make the world better in a measurable way. Why not take them on their word and check their claims?

  84. says

    [W]hen we get down to putting our ideas on the table for discussion, virgin-born zombies who do magic tricks aren’t going to hold up very well.

    But Mary was a virgin. I mean, Rocky horror didn’t even come out for 1979 years after Jesus popped out.

  85. KG says

    simpleZ@105,

    Utter tosh, balderdash and bilge. The cosmological argument has been refuted numerous times. One of its premises is that everything that begins to exist has a cause*. This is known to be false – google “Casimir Effect” for one example. A video refuting a variant, the so-called “Kalam cosmological argument” is available here.

    *There are numerous other problems with the argument. For example, the claim that the universe “began to exist” is dubious. For x to begin to exist, there must have been a time at which it did not exist – but according to modern cosmology, if the Big Bang was indeed the earliest event, there was no time before it occurred, so the universe did not “begin to exist” in the same sense as things for which there was a time at which they did not exist. Again, supposing it could be established that the universe did begin to exist, and had a cause, there are no grounds for asserting that this cause was a person – indeed, in the modern understanding of causality, causes are always events.