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Aug 08 2012

Skeptics have the amazing superpower of being simultaneously fierce and timid

I like Jamy Ian Swiss, and he’s definitely a passionate speaker. I heard all kinds of raves about his talk at TAM 2012, so I was looking forward to hearing it myself, and now here it is:

Boy, was I disappointed. Well, I have mixed feelings: about 2/3 of it is excellent. I agree with him entirely that the methods of critical thinking and skepticism are essential, that beliefs in the paranormal and pseudoscience are dangerous and do great harm, I value the input of magicians and experts in spotting foolishness, and I can sort of agree with his emphasis on the ‘consumer protection’ role of skepticism (it’s an odd way to look at it for me, but OK, fine for others). He’s a good and ferocious skeptic — his story about a woman at a faith healing who was deeply worried about a lump in her breast, and who announced that she wouldn’t be going back to the doctor since Jesus had healed her, is an excellent example of why skepticism is important.

But the first half of this talk is scattered with sniping at atheists, and smug back-patting about how superior skeptics are to atheists. I would have been turning purple in my seat if I’d been there; he invites people to join him for a drink at the end, and I would have been there to chew his ear over the blinkered stupidity of these bits.

It was the fucking hypocrisy, which is getting to be one of the hallmarks of self-proclaimed skeptics. Check it out at the 28 minute mark:

We waste our valuable time and our limited resources not to mention damage our perception in the public eye when we treat fences between good neighbors as battle lines between combatants.

Oh, yeah? Then why, Mr Swiss, did you spend a good chunk of your talk caricaturing atheists and defining battle lines?

There’s a part at the 6 minute mark where he’s complaining that they’re getting distracted by the growth of the New Atheist movement, and then he pretends (despite being an atheist himself) that the problem is that atheists have a conclusion, that god doesn’t exist, while skepticism is only about a procedure. Then he goes on about how atheism does not give sufficient attention to how we arrive at our conclusions.

This is simply not true. Of course we do. Like I said, it’s mischaracterization: he’s trying to set the atheists apart as not truly skeptical. When you listen to that section, try substituting “UFOlogists” for “atheists”: would Jamy Ian Swiss single out any other subject for skeptical inquiry and announce that because they’ve made a strong and consistent case, for the nonexistence of little green men from Mars, that they therefore deserve setting apart from all other topics and that their subject of interest is a distraction?

The worst part begins at 11:30. This is where he starts reciting anecdotes. He declares that “the world is full of atheists who are not skeptics,” and gives us a few personal examples.

He was at an atheist meetup and found an atheist woman who believed in The Secret. At an atheist parenting group, he met someone who asked his wife about her astrological sign. He hates Bill Maher.

Yes? This is new? We’re supposed to be surprised that there are dumbass atheists? Of course there are.

I don’t believe in The Secret, or astrology, and I also detest Bill Maher. When Maher got nominated for the Richard Dawkins award for his movie Religulous, there were howls of protest from the atheist community, too. Portraying atheists by the stupid people in their midst is a game I can play, too — I’ve been to TAM several times.

Guess what? The world is full of skeptics who are not skeptics. I’ve met skeptics who are 9-11 truthers, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics who think ESP is reasonable and has been demonstrated, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics who believe in an afterlife and think ghosts can be detected by their electromagnetic emissions, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics whose idea of arguing with believers is to make cheesy martial arts videos of skeptics kicking woo-woo proponents in the crotch, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics who believe in goddamn Jesus, at TAM.

You want to start listing people who believe in idiotic things within the atheist movement? I can match them one for one with people in the skeptics movement. It is an utterly invalid kind of argument.

And then there’s all the backpatting. At 17 minutes, he argues that skeptics are familiar with atheism/humanism, but atheists may not have ever heard of Randi. Really? This is more of that pointless anecdote-flipping. I’m afraid he’s wrong on one thing: there are a lot of skeptics who are not at all familiar with atheism or humanism; I’ve met them too. There are also lots of atheists, as he knows, who came to our position by critical thought. We’re familiar with the tools of skepticism. Whether we’ve heard of Randi or not is irrelevant.

Next we get into the empirical part. Skeptics think evidence and testable claims are essential! Yes, no one is arguing with that. So do atheists.

I’d be happy with skeptics if they were consistent in prioritizing evidence…but then he goes on to make excuses for religion. He argues at 18:30 that religion is different, because believers say they have evidence. Maybe we don’t think it’s good evidence, but, he says, it’s still evidence…implying that skeptics are going to let religious belief slide. But you know what? People who believe in homeopathy, faith healing, and dowsing also claim to have evidence. Shall we make excuses for them, too? The double standard is incredible.

Here’s a final strawman at 26 minutes, and then I’ll give up in despair.

I believe that skeptics should unapologetically reaffirm our commitment to our strengths, and not be embarrassed by about these concerns, and not retreat from these concerns, and not dilute our priorities in the name of subjects or problems that are somehow supposed to be bigger or more important.

He specifically means that the opposition to religion is not part of skepticism. I’m fine with the skeptical movement encompassing a diversity of topics; you’ll never catch me telling people that critical thinking is unimportant, or that you have to pursue my bêtes noires of creationism and theism or you don’t belong in the skeptical movement, or are not truly skeptical. You definitely won’t find me telling the TAM organizers that they have to move their tent, and abandon criticism of ‘alternative’ medicine to tend to my concerns (well, actually, that is one of my concerns). But the modern skeptical movement is so chickenshit that even fierce activists like Swiss will take a talk that should be an enthusiastic celebration of all of skepticism (and was, in part) and turn it into an exercise in fence-building.

He wants skeptics to focus on pseudoscience and the paranormal, but apparently, religion, despite being the most common refuge of superstition and dangerous dogma, does not count, and atheists are to be made to feel unwelcome among skeptics. Even his concluding story about that poor woman with the lump was about a problem caused by religion…but no, let’s all pretend it’s only an issue of a lack of critical thinking, and not give any sign that maybe those obnoxious atheists have anything to contribute to this great problem.

It could have been a great talk. Ultimately, it just reaffirmed my regret that “skepticism” has become a label for the timid almost-skeptical, who like to reassure each other that they’re all truly the very best critical thinkers, now let the believers among us close their eyes and pray.

Give me a good hardcore New Atheist any day. Those are my people. They’re skeptical about everything, and don’t make special allowances for the benighted believers.

115 comments

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  1. 1
    PZ Myers

    Yeah, I’m beating up on everyone lately.

  2. 2
    hjhornbeck

    Yeah, I’m beating up on everyone lately.

    Only those that deserve it. So far…. <squints in suspicion>

  3. 3
    PZ Myers

    I’m looking at you, Hornbeck, all squinky-eyed and cranky. I could go on a rampage, so just you watch out!

  4. 4
    Inaji

    He declares that “the world is full of atheists who are not skeptics,”

    :Snort: Seems to me that a whole lot of self-declared skeptics suffer from severe selective skepticism. Also, as a good many skeptics have decided to use their mighty power of skepticism to utterly dismiss and handwave the concerns of women, I say a pox on ‘em.

  5. 5
    Glen Davidson

    I wonder what we’re supposed to do when wooists bring up religion/atheism specifically as an objection to science like evolution, as the IDiots do. Are we supposed to simply swallow the lie that IDiocy isn’t religion?

    Oh, I suppose then it’s okay to go after “that religion,” but, um, otherwise religion is off-limits to skeptical thought because… Yeah, I’d like to try to sell that hypocrisy to those who think the “other religions” are already beholden to atheists.

    Glen Davidson

  6. 6
    Pierce R. Butler

    Sooner or later, Sam Harris’s psychic speculations will come to the attention of Official Skeptics™, thus completing the circle.

    I prophesy that both fur and feathers shall fly; furniture will be broke, and lights put out!

  7. 7
    madscientist

    I’m disappointed as well; so many skeptics seem to be turning into Don Quixote and attacking imaginary dragons. DJ Grothe attacked all the wrong imaginary problems when people raised concerns about the harassment of women at TAM and now – I don’t know what monster Swiss is attacking. I suspect it has to do with a number of atheists in the JREF camp who jump up and down and say “why not subject your god to the same rational thought”? Randi had explained many times in the past why he doesn’t tackle religion in general (and after all there are other groups and individuals who do that) but there are still people who think the JREF should do a thousand other things in addition to what it currently does. Some religious folks in the JREF are uncomfortable (even I think some of them get hounded by some very single-minded and annoying atheists) and my guess is that Swiss is poo-pooing those single-minded atheists (and of course happens to attack all atheists in general). At any rate, the Swiss Rant doesn’t address any such social issues within the JREF. Look there Sancho and see those giants …

  8. 8
    lilandra

    No true Scotsman err…Skeptic fallacy. There can be only one!

  9. 9
    Martin Wagner

    On the whole I still like TAM. But in 2011 they had a workshop called “Spirituality for Skeptics.”

    The prosecution rests.

  10. 10
    Paul

    This just shows that Mooney was a harbinger of what was to come. This is just more of that good “build bridges with everyone, except those that I don’t like. Also, politeness is the most important thing. Damn that New Atheist Noise Machine.”

  11. 11
    michaeld

    What I really don’t understand about skeptics. They talk about critical thinking and promoting critical thinking but don’t want to have to deal with or try to apply it to anything difficult. Bring up morality or politics or religion where the inherent complications scream for more critical thinking and they don’t want to deal with it.

    If they want to keep TAM focused on more traditional topics thats fine with me in terms of filling a niche among all the conferences out there. But I’m really tired of all the stupid attacks on related efforts.

  12. 12
    simonsays

    Last year at TAM there was a gentleman who was telling Melody that since his ancestors in Hawaii drew pictures of a Bigfoot-like creature, there had to have been one then.

    I so wish I could have been there to make the same argument about ancient Greek statuettes that *my* ancestors made where the penis was as large as the rest of the body. Oh well.

  13. 13
    PZ Myers

    Spirituality…for…skeptics?

    OK, my gorge is rising, and it’s two years done.

  14. 14
    susaim

    I’ve never understood what the point of skepticism is if it isn’t applied universally. I won’t deny there’s a lot of important work being done (the alt med stuff is perhaps the most useful subject in the approved skeptic playbook), but with a lot of it I can’t help but feel I have bigger problems to worry about. There are also only so many “bigfoot really isn’t real!” discussions I can take before I just get bored. Rational thinking should be applied broadly, and definitely includes religion. In my view, you may call yourself a skeptic, but you’re a sloppy one if you subscribe to any religion except, maybe, the vaguest of deistic “I think there might be something” positions.

  15. 15
    PZ Myers

    But then you could just drop trou and demonstrate empirical evidence for your claim, right?

  16. 16
    feralboy12

    But then you could just drop trou and demonstrate empirical evidence for your claim, right?

    No, that only works as a rebuttal.

  17. 17
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Paul:

    This just shows that Mooney was a harbinger of what was to come. This is just more of that good “build bridges with everyone, except those that I don’t like. Also, politeness is the most important thing. Damn that New Atheist Noise Machine.”

    I wonder how much of this is simply the dynamic that happens when a movement gets big enough to pop up on most people’s radar. It organizes into factions, and inevitably the politicians start jockeying for position, both within the overall movement and to gain purchase in bigger and more-powerful organizations.

    I’m not excusing the accommodationists; I’m just saying that this is how groups of people operate.

  18. 18
    Anthony K

    No, that only works as a rebuttal.

    You’re facing the wrong way then.

  19. 19
    Chuck

    I feel the same way about most so-called agnostics. Grow a spine and call yourself atheist. There’s nothing wrong with the term except a PR problem, and that will never be solved so long as people who fit the label avoid it like the plague.

    Guess what, Swiss? Don’t believe in any gods? You’re an atheist.

  20. 20
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Being agnostic and atheist are not mutually exclusive states of being.

  21. 21
    One Thousand Needles, lumper-splitter

    Let’s continue this train of logic fail:

    I know atheists that are skeptics, therefore skepticism is invalid.

  22. 22
    Chuck

    Being agnostic and atheist are not mutually exclusive states of being.

    I’m well aware. I suppose it’s theoretically possible to be an agnostic on the grounds that such knowledge is not possible a la Huxley (and yet simultaneously believe in some sort of deity regardless), but far more common in my experience is the self-described agnostic who chooses the label specifically to avoid the label of “atheist” because atheists are bad, or they don’t want to tell their friends that they’re an atheist, or that “agnostic” seems so much more reasonable. Bleah.

  23. 23
    brianpansky

    So much this, PZ.

    I identify very strongly as a skeptic (and an atheist). It is one of my primary criticisms of religion. Religion is like refusing to give your children vaccinations. Except it is refusing to give your children coherent and much needed skepticism.

    This is bad for society as a whole. I would argue that things he cares about (pseudo science, etc) are simply the epidemics caused by this lack of vaccination.

    How can this guy ignore that?

  24. 24
    karmakin

    Quite frankly, I think that for progressive Gnu Atheists, self-identifying as and with skeptics is a MASSIVE mistake.

    There’s an inherent conservatism, a tendency to support the status quo within skepticism that means that it’s going to be an uneasy truce at best, and ugly at worst (which is what we see right now).

  25. 25
    JJ831

    @Chuck
    IMO – Skeptical Atheists should grow a spine and admit they are agnostic. If you arrive at atheism via rational skepticism, you should realize that you might be missing something. 99.999% of evidence may point to no God(s) but there is always room for that .001% error.

    And as Rev says, you very well can be agnostic and NOT an atheist. this is where the majority of my friends and family sit. They believe in the possibility of some “greater power” but feel to worry about it is a waste of time.

    As my father used to say “Only the deluded are positive”

    My 2¢

  26. 26
    PZ Myers

    Chuck: Swiss unambiguously calls himself an atheist. He just doesn’t want to be an atheist activist…and that’s fine. Just don’t throw the atheist activists under the boss in your rush to distance yourself from them.

  27. 27
    Menyambal

    It is possible for the most messed-up, muddled-thinking, faith-having, woo-soaked, gullible, religiously-brought-up, non-skeptical clotpoll in the world to decide, for some dumbass reason such as their pet bunny biting them, to start believing that there are no gods. That person is an atheist.

    I prefer to think that all atheists are clear-headed skeptics who have rationally examined the world and its religions, and have ceased believing that there are gods. Those people are atheists.

    There’s a heck of a difference, even though a lot of folks believe all atheists are the first kind. If this guy doesn’t know that both kinds exist, and the differences between them, he’s got some learning to do.

    And there’s a whole spectrum between my two extremes, of course, as we are all human.

  28. 28
    screechymonkey

    Glen Davidson@5:

    I wonder what we’re supposed to do when wooists bring up religion/atheism specifically as an objection to science like evolution, as the IDiots do. Are we supposed to simply swallow the lie that IDiocy isn’t religion?

    It’s a common tactic even in “standard” non-religious woo. I think it’s Sylvia Browne who likes to ask her critics: “well, do you believe in God?”

    If the answer is yes, then she can smile smugly and say, “so then, you believe in things you can’t prove, too!” And toss in accusations of bigotry and double-standards, too. (And she’d be right!)

    If the answer is no, then she resorts to the old ad hominem, insisting that the critic can’t be taken seriously because ZOMG, Atheist!!!!

  29. 29
    'Tis Himself

    After exposure to JREF and TAM, I’m coming to the conclusion that “skeptic” means “a misogynist libertarian who doesn’t believe in Bigfoot”.

  30. 30
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Any rational atheist who calls hirself agnostic about god, must admit agnosticism on a great many fronts.

    For example:
    I am more sure that the god of the bible doesn’t exist, for example, than I am that humans are contributing to global climate change, that my wife loves me, or that natural selection explains any part of human evolution. However, I would hardly call myself agnostic on the latter three propositions. It seems inconsistent to claim agnosticism toward theological propositions.

    Also, skepticism is the first step in thinking productively, not the last. I don’t need James Randi or Penn Gillette to debunk claims that are boldly nonsensical. I don’t need to be part of a movement of magicians.

  31. 31
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    JJ831:

    99.999% of evidence may point to no God(s) unicorn in my basement but there is always room for that .001% error.

  32. 32
    Paul

    Skeptical Atheists should grow a spine and admit they are agnostic.

    Should skeptical scientists need to footnote every single scientific paper with very clear disclaimers that their findings only apply if a deity doesn’t come along and change the laws of physics? I vehemently deny that refusing to very clearly speak based on available evidence is a sign of a (metaphorical, of course) spine. Quite the opposite. It would be one thing if people had Huxley in mind when they discussed atheism. If you talk to 100 people familiar with the term, maybe 1 of them define it as Huxley did. To most others, it means “I’m not religious, but I’m not one of those baby-eating atheists”.

    And as Rev says, you very well can be agnostic and NOT an atheist. this is where the majority of my friends and family sit. They believe in the possibility of some “greater power” but feel to worry about it is a waste of time.

    Congratulations, so do the vast majority of everyone that identifies as atheist? Don’t hurt yourself too badly patting yourself on the back. We just don’t feel the need to add caveats when we discuss that no good reason has been provided for belief if any particular (or any at all) deity.

  33. 33
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    IMO – Skeptical Atheists should grow a spine and admit they are agnostic. If you arrive at atheism via rational skepticism, you should realize that you might be missing something. 99.999% of evidence may point to no God(s) but there is always room for that .001% error.

    Most skeptical atheists go one step further. Since there is no evidence for deities, they make the Null Hypothesis (a very useful skeptical tool), non-existence. Then, to get out of the null hypothesis, conclusive positive evidence for deities must be shown. That way, non-existence can be stated, but also allowance for possible evidence is there if some ever appears.

    And it avoids your agnostic bullshit, which some godbot trolls make much of. Obnoxious sorts, who just don’t get that the burden of evidence is upon them making the claim for possibility to demonstrate it is a reality, otherwise the null hypothesis says non-existence, which leaves them with much gnashing of teeth…

  34. 34
    Paul

    It would be one thing if people had Huxley in mind when they discussed agnosticism

    FIFM.

  35. 35
    screechymonkey

    You know, I like James Randi and respect what he’s done, but what’s the deal with acting appalled that some atheists haven’t heard of him?

    I thought that our supposed worship of Atheist Popes was one of the things they don’t like about us Gnus?

    Or is it different when it’s the “Kings of Skepticism”?

  36. 36
    Inaji

    Team Rubin: Girls: Mallory, Angua, Zoe, Perdita X, Pearl, and Artemis. Boys: Carrot, Chas, Dexter, Percival, Merlin and Neville.

    *Phew*

  37. 37
    Inaji

    Oh hell, wrong thread. Sorry.

  38. 38
    Inaji

    PZ:

    Just don’t throw the atheist activists under the boss in your rush to distance yourself from them.

    Well, that gave me a very interesting visual.

  39. 39
    consciousness razor

    99.999% of evidence may point to no God(s) but there is always room for that .001% error.

    Some evidence is an “error”? Is it the same kind of error where you just pull numbers out of your ass?

  40. 40
    Charlie Foxtrot

    Although they don’t go at it hard, I have noticed that the podcasts “The Skeptic Zone” and “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe” seem to be mentioning atheism (positively) more often lately.
    And of course, George Hrab is all about the atheism – so we do have some strong proponents embedded in the skeptic camp, i feel.

  41. 41
    Chuck

    If a person is 99.999% certain of anything, it would be “perverse to withhold provisional assent.”

    *deeeeep breath* Regardless, it is a misunderstanding of atheism to claim that atheists “know for certain” there is no god, and it is a misunderstanding of agnosticism to claim that agnostics are “merely uncertain.” Atheism is a belief claim, and agnosticism is a knowledge claim. In its most simple formulation, atheism states that since there is no good evidence for god belief, the atheist does not believe in a god. If an agnostic does not believe in a god (and this is every “agnostic” I have ever come in contact with), s/he is an atheist.

    PZ — so Swiss is just angry at “New” Atheists? It sounded like he preferred the term “skeptic” over atheist but I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video. Let me change my rant, then. Hey Swiss: you build your fences with the unreasoned and unreasonable. I’ll be right behind you tearing them down. So long as the religious fight to pry their way into my kids’ science class, or deny civil rights to minorities, or prolong/maintain/justify the patriarchal system, this is a battle, not a circle-jerk. You should be thanking the New Atheists for everything they’ve done and continue to do instead of bemoaning the fact that they exist. Their existence and work over the last decade has furthered the cause of atheism, skepticism, and secular humanism more than anything else in recent memory. So keep on kumbaya-ing. Leave the hard work to those better suited for it.

  42. 42
    Pierce R. Butler

    Martin Wager @ # 9: … in 2011 they had a workshop called “Spirituality for Skeptics.”

    Conceivably a discussion of what “spirituality” means in the current woo environment; I find it easy to imagine “[mystico-legendary term of choice] for Skeptics” as a running program topic of total legitimacy for Team S & Team A alike.

    Or it could have been quantum blatherations lauding higher energy vibrations’ links to your epigenetic meridians, for crysake. Whatev, it should lie within the powers of the Net to find out, but I can’t muster enough raw appetite for knowledge to go hunting tonight.

  43. 43
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Here’s a question: what does JREF actually do, besides huge fundraisers/anti-Skepchick hate fests? They present themselves as some sort of be all end all of some movement or other, but they are completely invisible to me outside of TAM.

  44. 44
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    #43—Well, they think skeptically a lot. About leftover dinos in Scottish lakes. And bigfeet. And the Psychic Friends Network. Also they’re very skeptical.

    Is anyone else here starting to think that the urge to call yourself a Skeptic Inc. person indicates a kind of troubling disposition of mind? As in, having an urge to geek out and be a contrarian (though they’re right on the merits, of course) without as much interest in what you concentrate on and how much harm it does relative to other things? And a reflexive hostility to being asked to consider things outside the Skeptical Canon?

  45. 45
    Loqi

    Well, they think skeptically a lot.

    I’m skeptical of this.

  46. 46
    One Thousand Needles, lumper-splitter

    @ Josh:

    I regret to inform you that the Bounds of the Skeptical Canon are themselves outside the bounds of the Skeptical Canon.

    As Jamy Ian Swiss has astutely demonstrated.

  47. 47
    Jafafa Hots

    I’m starting to think that some people feel, once they’ve been invited on stage or had their book published, that their work on themselves is done. They are thereby affirmed as the complete skeptic or the complete atheist or the completed humanist.

  48. 48
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    If you’ll excuse me being timidly fierce for a second – I second-hand know the “kick in the crotch” skeptic and I don’t agree with his inclusion on that list.

    I don’t personally think the “in the crotch” videos are all that great (better ways to win people and all that) and I won’t defend them. I have been treated to some of his other videos and thought they were amusing and sometimes thought-provoking.

    Look I don’t have any great argument. I just know this guy but not that well and I like him as a person. He’s not some super-hero/villain of skepticism, just someone who is incredibly enthusiastic about skepticism/atheism as movement, occasionally empathetic towards the issues women have been facing in our community and generally your basic standard decent human.

    I read PZ’s blurb and could almost feel the shock. I empathize. He’s being compared to conspiracy theorists and other non-critical thinkers. That’s gotta sting.

    I don’t know. The whole thing just doesn’t feel right.

  49. 49
    PZ Myers

    That guy was one of the cretins who harassed Surly Amy at TAM. No sympathy.

  50. 50
    maxdevlin

    The problem Swiss’s talk illustrates is identical to the issue of MRAs believing that they are correct to “question” the “received wisdom” of feminism, I agree.

    Chuck said: “Regardless, it is a misunderstanding of atheism to claim that atheists ‘know for certain’ there is no god[...]”

    It seems to me that the can’t really be any greater certainty, can there? It doesn’t matter how little lack of evidence there is, it is still smaller than the lack of evidence we accept for everything else in the universe, isn’t it? I think it is a Courtier’s Response, in fact, to claim that atheists don’t know for certain. I think it is only possible if you extend the requirement for what qualifies as “knowing” so far beyond anything else that it simply stops meaning anything at all.

    I’ve mentioned this issue here before over the years. People who are not willing to say that they know for certain there is not any god are agnostics or deists, they are not atheists. Atheists are not willing to make a special case for what the word “know” means when it applies to gods.

    I will hasten to point out that we should be aware that that isn’t necessarily a logical premise, because if there are gods, then there WOULD be such a special case, for the word “know” as well as for every other word/concept we have. Since god can falsify its own existence and yet remain god, there isn’t any way to account for such a possibility. And that is why we have to deal with MRAs and skeptics who aren’t skeptical enough about skepticism.

    But as long as you’re going to call yourself an atheist, yes, you MUST (okay, ‘should in my opinion’) be able to claim positively that you KNOW there is no god. Or else you’re either fooling yourself, or trying to fool everyone else, in calling yourself an atheist. Any hedging of bets whatsoever slides you off the razor’s edge of atheism into the vast vague sea of agnosticism and undisciplined skepticism.

  51. 51
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    That guy was one of the cretins who harassed Surly Amy at TAM. No sympathy.

    Wait, what? Surly “Hey, I raised thousands of dollars for your favorite non-profit over the last batch of years. Is a ‘Thank you!’ out of the question?” Amy.

    Well, shit. That’s what I get for Pollyanna thinking. Please disregard the above. As any skeptic would agree, I should have reviewed all available information before making that post.

  52. 52
    maxdevlin

    “I regret to inform you that the Bounds of the Skeptical Canon are themselves outside the bounds of the Skeptical Canon. As Jamy Ian Swiss has astutely demonstrated.”

    I thought that was Gödel that demonstrated that, wasn’t it?

  53. 53
    hypatiasdaughter

    #26

    Just don’t throw the atheist activists under the boss bus in your rush to distance yourself from them.

    Yeah, what that PZ guy said.
    I am getting really pissy at how many people, while supposedly on our side, seem to be so willing to earn brownie points by slapping down, bad mouthing and all round dissing their fellow skeptics/atheists. And they are so into patting themselves on the back about how “nice” they are, that it’s a wonder they don’t walk around with perpetually broken arms.
    Look guys, when push comes to shove, being an agnostic means you don’t have real faith in god. According to the religious, that makes you’re as much a heretic as any atheist. When the fundies take over, you will end up in the heretic’s gulag. Then you will die and go to hell.
    And you won’t end up in the air conditioned part of xtian hell because you called yourself an agnostic, not an atheist.

  54. 54
    consciousness razor

    It seems to me that the can’t really be any greater certainty, can there?

    I’m more certain that I exist, and I don’t think it gets any more certain than that. I’m pretty sure, at least. Maybe it depends on what I mean by “exist,” and that’s not completely settled, to be honest.

    Any hedging of bets whatsoever slides you off the razor’s edge of atheism into the vast vague sea of agnosticism and undisciplined skepticism.

    I happen to like vast vague seas, but I suppose it does sound kind of ominous.

  55. 55
    Inaji

    occasionally empathetic towards the issues women have been facing in our community and generally your basic standard decent human.

    “Occasionally empathetic” towards issues women face does not a decent human being make.

  56. 56
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    be able to claim positively that you KNOW there is no god. Or else you’re either fooling yourself, or trying to fool everyone else, in calling yourself an atheist. Any hedging of bets whatsoever slides you off the razor’s edge of atheism into the vast vague sea of agnosticism and undisciplined skepticism.

    The statement used to justify the atheism title is that there is no evidence for deities. That makes it a conclusion based on lack of evidence, not a belief, and allows the null hypothesis to take care of potential new evidence. What part of that don’t you understand? Agnostic is a coward requiring absolute knowledge, which doesn’t exist. All knowledge is imperfect, and we do the best we can with what is available.

  57. 57
    Chuck

    It seems to me that the can’t really be any greater certainty, can there?

    Is that a trick question? Of course there can.

    There is no direct line between belief -> agnosticism -> atheism. There is either theism or atheism. Agnosticism has nothing to do with belief, but only knowledge. If you know that God doesn’t exist, I’d like to find out how.

  58. 58
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    And as Rev says, you very well can be agnostic and NOT an atheist.

    Is that what I said?

  59. 59
    maxdevlin

    Nerd: when you start using phrases like “justify the atheism title” instead of “is atheist”, I am unable to take your response seriously. It all just looks like pedantic quibbling.

    I believe a conclusion based on lack of evidence is a presumption, not knowledge. Atheism is knowledge of the lack of god, not simply lack of knowledge of god.

  60. 60
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Atheism is a belief claim, and agnosticism is a knowledge claim.

    I”ve read exactly this before and it has never sat well with me, because belief should be contingent on knowledge in a rational system. God as an ontological claim is just weird. Knowledge is inapplicable to the mainstream concept of god more or less by definition. How could one have belief in a concept that one couldn’t have knowledge of? I just think the term “agnostic” is not useful when describing one’s knowledge state about something that is by definition unknowable.

    The statement used to justify the atheism title is that there is no evidence for deities.

    I think his line of thinking is oversimplified. One can’t know what evidence to expect if an unknowable god exists, and therefore claims from evidence are not useful.

    A concept that can’t be known can’t rationally believed. One need not consider evidence to dismiss the whole idea as redonculous. Or unworthy of attention.

  61. 61
    joed

    @50 maxdevlin
    “But as long as you’re going to call yourself an atheist, yes, you MUST (okay, ‘should in my opinion’) be able to claim positively that you KNOW there is no god. Or else you’re either fooling yourself, or trying to fool everyone else, in calling yourself an atheist. Any hedging of bets whatsoever slides you off the razor’s edge of atheism into the vast vague sea of agnosticism and undisciplined skepticism.”
    max, I don’t think it works like that.
    It seems to me there are some things that can not exist. For example, there are no married bachelors, there are no square circles. that sort of thing. There are no universes where there is a married bachelor. ok!
    So, is it possible that a universe could exist that was created by a god? why not? Seems to me a god is possible for some universe.
    Now, if our universe was created by a god I would like to know about it. But, i need sufficient evidence that shows me that there is a god. evidence that would compel me to reexamine my thought about god.
    as it stands now I have not seen any evidence like that needed.
    So, when you say that I should claim positively that I KNOW there is no god, you are asking me to make a claim which i don’t know is true because a god could exist in some universe.
    What I am certain of is that I have no beliefs in any god because I have no reasons/evidence to believe or consider.
    So, maxdevlin Your ideas on atheism seem to be a bit raw. I can’t claim I KNOW there is no god because I don’t KNOW that. but if you have some adequate evidence I will be the first to look at it.

  62. 62
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    I just think the term “agnostic” is not useful when describing one’s knowledge state about something that is by definition unknowable.

    because, like, no one has knowledge of the unknowable. Else, it isn’t so unknowable.

  63. 63
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    Caine @55

    “Occasionally empathetic” towards issues women face does not a decent human being make.

    As it turns out, said skeptic has already cleared that up by harassing Amy.

    There’s a group of people in RL who overlap on this weird horrible axis of “My community has been fucking shitty to women lately.” Responses vary from “That’s awful and should be stopped! Now!” to “The internet is harsh! Bitches be all emotional! They set themselves up for it!”

    In between are those who are empathetic on a sliding scale. There are glimpses of some future-person who will get it, just not right now. I see them as decent humans who are still finding their way. (Having said and done a LOT of stupid privileged shit in the past, I can’t really throw stones.)

    I thought this person was one of those. He was cruel to Amy, I was proven wrong.

  64. 64
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    Blockquote fail. Apologies.

  65. 65
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I believe a conclusion based on lack of evidence is a presumption, not knowledge. Atheism is knowledge of the lack of god, not simply lack of knowledge of god.

    Sorry, you are wrong and a coward for not recognizing the types of knowledge. What you believe is required is “absolute knowledge, perfect, god given”. But human knowledge is not perfect and not absolute. For example, scientific knowledge is always tentative, even if 99.999% certain. Definitely good enough to draw a human conclusion, and you are a coward if you require “absolute knowledge”, which is a way of deferring a decision based on human knowledge.

    Ergo, your ideal decision is an absolute religious ideal of knowledge, not a human knowledge, which is imperfect. And by human knowledge, there is no conclusive physical evidence for deities. If there is, you either point to said physical evidence, or shut the fuck up about it. When you understand both “put up or shut the fuck up”, and conclusions are based on the best knowledge available, your religious ideal falls by the wayside, as they are false, unattainalbe ideals. Which is why your concept is fucked up. It is religious, not real and human.

  66. 66
    miller

    For what it’s worth, I’ve identified as a skeptic for years, and I don’t do it because I think I’m better. If “skeptic” just meant “good at critical thinking”, calling yourself a skeptic would be like calling yourself intelligent, just a worthless boast.

    It’s more like, I like talking about critical thinking at length. I like talking about and criticizing wrong beliefs of both religious and secular nature. And I like the skeptical community, because they like talking about it too.

    I’m not really sure where the whole “atheists are doing it wrong” attitude comes into that. I would be sad if this were canonized as a skeptical value, rather than just the view of some skeptics.

  67. 67
    karpad

    I have always found “well, you aren’t atheist, you’re agnostic, because you don’t KNOW” to be childish beyond belief.
    I am as certain of the non-existence of god, based on existing evidence (and/or lack thereof) as I am of literally anything else I “know.”
    I don’t “know” the sun will rise tomorrow.
    I think my laptop’s outer shell is charcoal black, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe my eyes have some visual defect.
    I think my mother is the woman who gave birth to me, and that I am the son of my father, to whom I bear quite a resemblance. But maybe my mother was set upon by Zeus in disguise, or maybe I was formed from clay taken from the banks of the moat of Castlevania.
    I think I see the world around me, but perhaps it is just a wicked genie tricking me.
    Denying certainty of the non-existence of god is polite on certain occasions, but it is tantamount to denying ontological reasoning is even a thing.
    At which point, meaningful philosophical discussion is over, as you’ve declared philosophy is impossible.

  68. 68
    consciousness razor

    Antiochus Epiphanes:

    I”ve read exactly this before and it has never sat well with me, because belief should be contingent on knowledge in a rational system.

    Sure, but I think the point should simply be that they shouldn’t be conflated with one another. I’m assuming you’d agree with that, so I’m a bit confused about what you mean.

    I just think the term “agnostic” is not useful when describing one’s knowledge state about something that is by definition unknowable.

    Some don’t define a god as unknowable, so that is contingent on which god it’s supposed to be about. We’re often too eager to think everyone believes in some kind of Sophisticated Theology™, but that isn’t the case. I don’t believe in some nondescript philosophers’ deity, but I also don’t believe in the Jesus that my neighbor thinks he really truly knows lots of things about because of their deep personal relationship.

    joed:

    So, is it possible that a universe could exist that was created by a god? why not? Seems to me a god is possible for some universe.

    Why not? I think the question should be “why?” What exactly would a god be, if you think it’s possible? Is it an immaterial mind or something to that effect? If so, is there any reason to think that’s possible? If it’s something else, then what is it?

  69. 69
    joed

    There is no capital T Truth that I know of.
    Knowledge is not 100% sure as far as I know.
    But there are many things you would be a fool
    to bet against!

  70. 70
    John Morales

    joed, you are treading over old, old ground long since well-ploughed.

    The only verities are logical, mathematical and analytic; and they all rely on specific axioms and rules of inference.

    You wrote:

    For example, there are no married bachelors, there are no square circles.

    For the same reason, there are no beings whose attributes include contradictions (e.g. Trinitarianism) — so those deities are right out.

    (Also, that something created existence is self-refuting for similar reasons; to create, something must exist)

  71. 71
    joed

    @68 consciousness razor
    Well, I just think the sort of god that christianity for example imagines or say the Hindu creator god Brahma. These types of creator beings could exist in some universe(that they have created), I think, I don’t know why not. These gods aren’t like the married bachelor or the square circle which would be impossible in any universe.
    But I wont make a case for other universes except to say that some things are not possible in any universe but a god-created universe seems possible to me. But I have to see the evidence don’t I!!
    as I stand now I have no beliefs, ideas about god (in this universe) because I have no evidence for such.

  72. 72
    John Morales

    joed:

    These types of creator beings could exist in some universe(that they have created), I think, I don’t know why not.

    <snicker>

    cf. my #70

  73. 73
    joed

    @70 John Morales
    Well, I am thinking about a non mysterious nonmystical nonmagical god, nothing like the god you have in mind.
    Maybe a god like Athena or even zeus or a god whose attributes do not include logical contradictions.
    Or maybe you are right, maybe it is impossible for some type of being to create a universe. Even a logical, critical thinking type being.
    “(Also, that something created existence is self-refuting for similar reasons; to create, something must exist)”
    Well existence is not exactly an attribute is it?
    Please excuse the treading over old ground–I am new at this and trying to learn but my eyes aren’t adjusted to the light.

  74. 74
    aleph squared

    joed: please read Carrier’s The God Impossible.

  75. 75
    consciousness razor

    Well, I just think the sort of god that christianity for example imagines or say the Hindu creator god Brahma. These types of creator beings could exist in some universe(that they have created), I think, I don’t know why not.

    Could you be specific, just a little bit? What sorts or types of gods are these supposed to be? They’d be creator gods, if they existed, so it’s understood that they’d create things. Other than that, I’ve got nothing. Is that all there is to say? I mean, I create things too, but I don’t usually go around calling myself a god.

  76. 76
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Sure, but I think the point should simply be that they shouldn’t be conflated with one another. I’m assuming you’d agree with that, so I’m a bit confused about what you mean.

    Maybe your confusion is due to my premise that influential god concepts are by design mysterious.

    Given that, sure. In general, belief and knowledge shouldn’t be conflated with each other. However, it doen’t mean that they aren’t logically related. Belief should be correlated with knowledge. If I have little knowledge about a thing, it makes little sense to claim much belief in it, because I can’t say much about what it is.

    I find that nearly all theists (however firey and brimstoney) will retreat to the unknowability of their deity when confronted with contrary evidence. When it comes right down to it, I don’t believe that many have a concept of god that is empirically testable. Since it is the concepts that people actually hold (as incoherent or slippery as they are) that are actually influential, these are the ones we have to deal with.

  77. 77
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Some don’t define a god as unknowable…

    I meant to blockquote this above. I think effectively, all define god as such in regard to aspects that are important to claims of existence. God is timeless, immaterial, non-local, etc. These are traits that generally describe things that don’t exist.

    Maybe my experience is limited.

  78. 78
    joed

    From, the God Impossible,
    “And that’s even if God is logically possible to begin with”

  79. 79
    John Morales

    Joed:

    Well, I am thinking about a non mysterious nonmystical nonmagical god, nothing like the god you have in mind.

    Why call it a god, then?

    Also, whence the linkage to mystical mysterious magical afterlife? :)

  80. 80
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Heh. And not for nothing, since the sum energy of the universe is zero (or so physicists claim)’ the question is not who created the universe so much as who unbalanced it.

  81. 81
    consciousness razor

    If I have little knowledge about a thing, it makes little sense to claim much belief in it, because I can’t say much about what it is.

    I agree. In fact, that’s exactly my issue with joed’s comments.

    When it comes right down to it, I don’t believe that many have a concept of god that is empirically testable.

    I would agree to that, generally, but to some extent some do have specific testable concepts about a god, which are simply false (for any I’ve ever encountered) rather than unknowable, undefined, absurd gibberish or whatever.

    God is timeless, immaterial, non-local, etc. These are traits that generally describe things that don’t exist.

    Well, that all applies to numbers too, but would you say those don’t exist?

    (Of course, they’re not anything like gods are usually supposed to be, but that’s not my point.)

  82. 82
    dictionaryatheist

    Whatever the errors in Swiss’s arguments it doesn’t help to respond by misrepresenting what he actually says.

    What’s happened to this blog? I think the signal-to-noise ratio of the posts used to be much better.

  83. 83
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Well, that all applies to numbers too, but would you say those don’t exist?

    Heh. Uncomfortable. Numbers don’t exist in a way that theists would feel comfortable in ascribing to god. I don’t know exactly what it means to discuss whether or not irrational numbers “exist”*…I could be wrong, but I don’t think that I could claim as much empirically. What could one do to falsify the existence of pi? It’s really just a definition with logical implications. I get the feeling that most concepts of god are even less concrete than this, because the implications aren’t so logical.

    I suppose that I could be convinced to agnosticism about a well defined numerical definition of god ;)

    *So much so that I put the word “exist” in quotes without even thinking about it.

  84. 84
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Whatever the errors in Swiss’s arguments it doesn’t help to respond by misrepresenting what he actually says.

    Then you explain them, and why they are misrepresented for those of us who don’t give a shit about the video. Do something constructive instead of whining, whinging, and complaining.

  85. 85
    John Morales

    [meta + OT]

    Of course numbers exist; thing is, they’re abstracta, not concreta.

    (Granted, ontologies are a philosophical discipline)

  86. 86
    consciousness razor

    I don’t know exactly what it means to discuss whether or not irrational numbers “exist”*

    Eh? Are you implying rational numbers do exist? (I’ll spare you the nightmare of complex numbers.)

    I suppose you could claim rationals exist as tangible objects in our experience (e.g., two cows, three-fourths of a liter of vodka); but I don’t think that would be a valid distinction, because then you’re not talking about the former in the same abstract sense as the latter.

  87. 87
    John Morales

    [OT]

    CR:

    I suppose you could claim rationals exist as tangible objects in our experience (e.g., two cows, three-fourths of a liter of vodka)

    No, cardinality/quantitativeness is also an abstractum; you’re confusing the map with the territory.

  88. 88
    consciousness razor

    Sorry, editing made that unclear: “the former” refers to the rational numbers, and “the latter” to the irrationals. The “abstract sense” refers to … basically, the assertion John Morales made.

  89. 89
    canadianchick

    Gah – I’m getting so friggin’ tired of the “omg they didn’t know who RANDI is” theme coming out of the JREF these days. The JREF is little more than Randi’s personal promotional engine, IMO, but honestly, I’ve met more atheists who DON’T know who he is than those who do.

    I know who he is, but mostly don’t care…

  90. 90
    consciousness razor

    No, cardinality/quantitativeness is also an abstractum; you’re confusing the map with the territory.

    I only meant that it was a possible claim, not that I agreed with it or that it wouldn’t be confused.

  91. 91
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    [the conversation has gotten way out of my comfort zone, and I expect to err]

    I think one could argue that integers are objective descriptors of sets of actual things*. One could argue that rational numbers are relationships between objective descriptors of sets of actual things.

    I don’t know of any general connection between irrationals and sets of actual things.

    Imaginary numbers are by definition not real.

    And complex numbers. Well. I’ll see your five dollars and raise you a unicorn.

    *actual things being phenomena, “objective” because if we use the same system, we should always agree on which descriptor is appropriate for a set, and sure, negatives are fine in that they represent deficits…this is all just for ledger keeping, and relates to phenomena in a very direct way.

  92. 92
    John Morales

    canadianchick, I was a skeptic long before I became aware of (truly the amazing) Randi.

    (He too stood on the shoulders of giants—not least Houdini—but his achievements are not to be discounted nor erased)

    I was also an atheist before the gnus were on the horizon.

    (It’s not so much that I agree with them, but that they agree with me yet do it better, and more formally, and (importantly) more accessibly)

  93. 93
    strange gods before me ॐ

    http://pharyngula.wikia.com/wiki/Skepticism

    +++++
    PS: of course numbers don’t exist. Even if they did, where would we put them all? There isn’t enough room.

  94. 94
    lpetrich

    Actually,when Jamy Ian Swiss stated at 18:30 that religious believers claim to have evidence, he was rebutting the common apologetic that the claims of religion are unverifiable.

    That makes their claims fair games for skeptics, because that means that their claims are not meaningless.

    Claiming that one’s claims are meaningless seems like a rather desperate move, and one that is contrary to a long apologetic tradition that states otherwise. A tradition that states that the existence of God and various other theological notions are provable.

    In fact, the Roman Catholic Church in the First Vatican Council of 1872 made it a dogma that the existence of God can be known by unaided reason: Decrees of the First Vatican Council

  95. 95
    lpetrich

    Oops, that’s 1870. In any case, that document has some fun stuff. Look under “Canons”. In the first one, it rejects:

    Atheism (of course!)
    Materialism
    Pantheism
    God creates by emanating
    God did not poof the Universe into existence from nothing
    God couldn’t help creating the Universe; he had no free will in doing so

    The unaided-reason bit is at the beginning of the second canon.

  96. 96
    John Morales

    lpetrich:

    Actually,when Jamy Ian Swiss stated at 18:30 that religious believers claim to have evidence, he was rebutting the common apologetic that the claims of religion are unverifiable.

    That makes their claims fair games for skeptics, because that means that their claims are not meaningless.

    So… why do not skeptics rebut (do you mean refute?) these claims, as atheists do?

    (Corollary: if they did, skeptics would all be atheists)

  97. 97
    aleph squared

    Imaginary numbers are by definition not real.

    And complex numbers.

    Well, sure, but if we are considering describing actual things to be an element of existence (as you were by consider integers to be descriptors of sets of things — though I wonder then, what set would -14 describe?), well, i and the complex numbers do describe actual physical things (like rotations in a plane.)

  98. 98
    fiendish

    @40 —
    “Charlie Foxtrot8 — Although they don’t go at it hard, I have noticed that the podcasts “The Skeptic Zone” seem to be mentioning atheism (positively) more often lately.”

    No, the Skeptic Zone is ANTI-atheist and with Travis Roy and Rachel Dunlop on the show with vocal anti-FTB views they’ve voiced online (see Facebook), they’re not becoming allies of atheism any time soon. They refused to support athiest cnventions, are anti-skepchicks and feminism in general too. The skepchicks have called them out on it a few times now.

  99. 99
    joed

    I just don’t know!
    Trying to read Richard Carrier, The God Impossible.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/510/
    Seems cognitive dissonance is got the best of me at this moment.
    Gotta’ finish reading Carrier, if possible.

  100. 100
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    So really JREF does more or less nothing, and yet they are convinced of the necessity of preaching at the rest of us that we’re somehow hurting their non-efforts to create positive change in the world by talking about things that hurt their feelings/fundraising? Fucking really?!

    Let them do what they want the way they want. However, at this point they are so deeply irrelevant that we should only laugh at them if/when they try to send out instruction outside of their sad little libertarian social club.

  101. 101
    JJ831

    @Dasiy,

    No argument here

  102. 102
    maxdevlin

    Antiochus: “One can’t know what evidence to expect if an unknowable god exists, and therefore claims from evidence are not useful.” If claims from evidence are not useful, claims from lack of evidence wouldn’t be, either, right? If we’re being as rigorously deductive as we’d like to pretend. Eventually, if a sufficient amount of rigor is applied, such deductive reasoning always ends the same place: “you cannot ‘know’ anything”. Perhaps true, but useless either way.

    So for anyone who’s trying to follow along, I would like to suggest that we decide whether we are going to assume that such a thing as “knowledge” is possible, and then consider whether “god” exists. Or else we’re going to assume that such a thing as “god” is possible, and then consider whether in light of that “knowledge” can also exist. The standard Internet Atheist Argument appears to come down to flipping back and forth between the two, and that’s why it never gets anywhere.

    Razor: “I’m more certain that I exist, and I don’t think it gets any more certain than that.”

    You can claim to be more certain, but until we get a falsifiable test to be sure (by double-checking your brain activity, I would expect) then it may be that you are just saying that. Do you see what I am saying? Unless we start with an assumption that such things as “certainty” or “knowledge” exist, there isn’t any way to get to the second term in the argument. You are certain of something, but is it that you exist, or is it that you are certain that you exist?
    So, yes, in short, it may very well get more certain than your belief in your own existence, despite Descartes’s unsupported claim to the contrary. Unless you define “certainty” otherwise, in which case it can no longer cover much more than that you exist: you might well be a butterfly dreaming you are a pharyngulite.

    Joed: “It seems to me there are some things that can not exist. For example, there are no married bachelors, there are no square circles. that sort of thing. There are no universes where there is a married bachelor. ok!”
    Well, I’m afraid I might be headed into the weeds a little here, because I know I use certain terms a bit differently than many other people. The way I would describe your conundrum is an “epistemological conflict”. Meaning there are no married bachelors only and solely because you have defined “married” and “bachelor” to be exclusive of each other. They aren’t, really, you know. There are and can be such things as “married bachelors”. Guys who live like bachelors but have wives. Or guys who aren’t married but have live-in girlfriends. Etc. Etc. All it takes for you to resolve your conundrum is to stop creating it. There isn’t any of what I would call an “ontological conflict” in your examples.
    When considering things like knowledge and god, you have to get passed all possible epistemological conflicts before you can even start. Which is why it hardly ever happens.

  103. 103
    Matt Dillahunty

    I actually agree with the overwhelming majority of what Jamy says here. Additionally, having sat at the same late-night table with him as he relentless – and beautifully – ripped religion to shreds in front of two young, religious, magicians, I can easily vouch for the fact that he’s an atheist with an attitude and has no problem going after religion.

    My problem is that I have a hard time figuring out exactly what Jamy’s objection is – or what his argument is.

    He notes that it’s a philosophical kluge to draw the line at testable claims (skepticism CAN address untestable claims – by noting that, as they’re untestable, you can’t have sufficient evidence to justify belief).

    He also notes that some religious claims are testable.

    He also notes that the ‘faith’ claim is a bit of a fiction.

    He also notes that he thinks it’s unlikely that we’d be accepting of people who claim their belief in ghosts is based on faith.

    And he’s clear that there are no sacred cows.

    Yet his complaint seems to be, perhaps, that some new atheists are demanding to move his skepticism tent to primarily focus on religion – because it’s a bigger issue.

    I don’t know who those people are. Just like I don’t know who the ‘dicks’ are.

    My complaint about TAM isn’t that I want it to focus more on religion, it’s that I want it to stop claiming that it isn’t a skeptic issue and stop misinforming skeptics that untestable claims are beyond consideration.

    It’s absolutely fine if the JREF and TAM don’t want to spend time on religion at their events. It’s perfectly fine for a group to not want to include that as part of their focus. But when that same group misinforms people that the subject is beyond the purview of skepticism, they’ve jumped the shark.

    For the record, Jamy didn’t do this and I think he was much more on target than pretty much any other TAM presenter who has broached this topic.

    Additionally, he also said that anyone was welcome as long as they understand that their beliefs can be challenged and even mocked.

    In the end, I agreed with him on most points, and I think he walked a fine line on some of the points of contention…but it’s just a shame that there’s any line to be walked. It should be simple:

    Not every atheist is a skeptic or a good skeptic.
    Not every skeptic is a good skeptic or an atheist.
    As skeptics, the goal is to believe things for good reasons and to reject those claims that do not withstand critical examination.
    As skeptics, we should be challenging EVERY claim – including and especially religion.

    Is religion a more important issue than any other issue? I certainly think so…but, at a minimum, I think it’s asinine to deny it a seat at the table.

    Homeopathy, “psychics” and other topics need to be continually hammered, as Jamy noted. They harm lots of people. So does religion.

    He talked about a conversation with a woman over “The Secret” and he said that this book was toxic pseudo-science, cover to cover, filled with ancient ideas that are wrong or bad.

    I agree. So is the Bible. So is the Koran. So are the holy books of many religions.

    I already know that Jamy knows this, I’ve heard him talk about it. And so, I’m left a little puzzled by this talk.

    I can’t be as hard on it as PZ was, but I also think that PZ’s comments about this, were mostly on target.

  104. 104
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    When considering things like knowledge and god, you have to get passed all possible epistemological conflicts before you can even start. Which is why it hardly ever happens.

    No, one has to get past the mental wankery that prevents a solid conclusion based on solid and conclusive physical evidence, and the null hypothesis of non-existence. Once that happens, atheism is a conclusion, its up to the godbot to provide evidence that they aren’t delusional. The mental wanking is meaningless sophistry about imaginary metaphysics, meaning nothing.

  105. 105
    maxdevlin

    Back to the Nerd, who seems to have his dancing shoes on:

    Sorry, you are wrong and a coward for not recognizing the types of knowledge.

    Sorry, you are mistaken, and an arrogant fool for thinking you have divine authority to define types of knowledge. There is only “knowledge”; any sub-categories you create are inevitably less than the comprehensive, deductively exclusive groupings you would want them to be.

    What you believe is required is “absolute knowledge, perfect, god given”.

    Just the opposite. I believe there is no such thing as ‘absolute knowledge’. Just “knowledge”, which I would generally define as beliefs that we can safely pretend are more than “just” beliefs because we aren’t likely to be contradicted. So “knowledge” is simply the normal day-to-day thing we talk about when we say “I know.” It isn’t anything that can be deductively proved or disproved, as Socrates himself demonstrated so well, so long ago. And ya’ll are still going over the same old ground. Let me show you:

    But human knowledge is not perfect and not absolute.

    A swing and a miss. “Knowledge” is not perfect and not absolute. And all knowledge is human knowledge, and only human knowledge qualifies as knowledge. So either give up the idea that ANYTHING is known, or accept that you know there is no god, and no quibbling is necessary to cover your ass against pedantic deductive nay-sayers. It ISN’T because of a deductively certain series of logical operations, though. That is not the way human knowledge works.

    For example, scientific knowledge is always tentative, even if 99.999% certain. Definitely good enough to draw a human conclusion, and you are a coward if you require “absolute knowledge”, which is a way of deferring a decision based on human knowledge.

    You are a coward if you require anything close to 99.999% certainty, that’s the point, Nerd. And a fool if you think that is good enough. You will defer the decision ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW until after you are dead, and can know nothing. Personally, I think such false humility is a little offensive.

    Ergo, your ideal decision is an absolute religious ideal of knowledge, not a human knowledge, which is imperfect.”

    Again, YOUR absolute idea of knowledge is perfect knowledge, because you are imagining there is some kind of knowledge other than human knowledge, just so you can do that. My idea of knowledge is less deductively pristine and more, well, useful. You are imagining there is something other than simply “knowledge”, and ‘human knowledge’ is left wanting in comparison. But there is no such Platonic “Knowledge” that you can (or, rather, need to) compare actual knowledge to.

    And by human knowledge, there is no conclusive physical evidence for deities.

    Your assumption that conclusive physical evidence of anything is possible is inaccurate. Your assumption that physical evidence results in human knowledge is dubious. There may be enough for some people to “conclude” and not others. What then?

    If there is, you either point to said physical evidence, or shut the fuck up about it. When you understand both “put up or shut the fuck up”, and conclusions are based on the best knowledge available, your religious ideal falls by the wayside, as they are false, unattainalbe ideals. Which is why your concept is fucked up.

    Where did you get the idea I had any religious ideals? I’m an atheist, remember? And as I’ve explained, you are the one who is demanding an unattainable level of certainty, not me.

    It is religious, not real and human.

    Of course, because humans can’t possible be both real and religious. Except they always are, aren’t they, darn it. Even the atheists need their assumed axioms.

  106. 106
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Gee, what a mental wanker, making no sense, but jerking off. One can’t prove a negative. Ergo, your imaginary deity can never be disproven, unless it is properly defined and can be falsified. Funny how godbots never do that. The null hypothesis gets around that problem, as by making the deity non-existent, and then positive evidence is needed to get out of the null hypothesis. Only delusional wankers think there is no way around making decisions. There are. Agnosticism is for those to cowardly to make the decision based on evidence, or for presuppositionsalists like Shiloh/SciFi who pre-defined everybody as agnostic. There are ways around presuppositionalism.

    I’m an atheist, remember?

    Then quit wanking like you’re a godbot. Think around the problem, not to the problem.

  107. 107
    maxdevlin

    “No, one has to get past the mental wankery that…”

    Okay, you’re done then. Thanks anyway.

  108. 108
    arbor

    Yuck.

    This is exactly that type of thread that I’d hoped I’d left behind when I walked away from the JREF forums.

    A few pearls buried by tons of manure.

    Prime numbers rule.

    The rest are merely filler.

  109. 109
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    A few pearls buried by tons of manure.

    Prime numbers rule.

    The rest are merely filler.

    And your post was filler. Why not post something you would like to see instead of complaining about others. Complaining is easy and requires no thought. Thoughtful posts, on the otherhand…

  110. 110
    arbor

    Oh, yeah…

    I forgot to say that I loath accommodationalists.

    Raging atheist here, and I don’t let the ignorant or nasty define my terms.

  111. 111
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    And your post was filler. Why not post something you would like to see instead of complaining about others. Complaining is easy and requires no thought. Thoughtful posts, on the otherhand…

    I wish I had a machine that ran on irony and produced beer.

  112. 112
    consciousness razor

    AE, I wanted to reply to the stuff about numbers, but I’m kind of tired and it doesn’t seem right here. Maybe I’ll get around to it on TZT or something.

    ——

    You are certain of something, but is it that you exist, or is it that you are certain that you exist?

    Both.

    So, yes, in short, it may very well get more certain than your belief in your own existence, despite Descartes’s unsupported claim to the contrary.

    If all you can do is assert that it “may” get more certain than that, you’ve lost the plot.

  113. 113
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    cr: no need. That was purely bullshit. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    If you have thoughts on it, I’d be happy to read them, but I feel like I have nothing to offer on this but a clear view of my tonsils.

  114. 114
    consciousness razor

    Heh, well you don’t need to offer that. I think. I’m not certain.

    For now, I’ll repeat Morales cryptically: the map isn’t the territory. A representation of a number (with a physical object) isn’t a number. How you go about finding a thing (assuming it could be found) isn’t what a thing is. You were just giving a procedure for observing things which represent numbers, not telling us what numbers themselves are (or aren’t, if they don’t exist). And that would apply to any kind of number, since as numbers they all exist or don’t exist in the same sense.

    Okay, maybe a counter-example too: write down some enormously large integer. (No, bigger than that. Keep going. Okay, that’s probably enough.) According to you, you should be able to find some instance of it in the world in a set of objects. That’s what makes integers exist, but (apparently) not non-integers. But if it’s an arbitrarily large integer, there is no set of objects in the observable universe which could represent it. Thus integers would only exist if they’re small enough that we could find them. That would be silly, and I have it on good authority that the universe is opposed to silliness.

  115. 115
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    I think my silly point was similar. A number isn’t a noun so much as an adjective with implications. It is only real insofar as it can be associated with some phenomenon, and then only as a property, not a thing in and of itself.

    I propose a category of integer…a “reasonable number”… Reasonable numbers are positive integers less than a bazillion that describe at least one set of phenomena. I have been unable to convince my daughter that any other kind of number is imaginable. If she hadn’t caught me fibbing about the whole Easter bunny business, she might not be so skeptical of these kinds of claims.

    It’s fun to go through the reasonable numbers as they apply to movie titles…
    It Happened One Night
    The Two Towers
    Three Amigos
    Four Weddings and a Funeral


    Etc…
    I can’t get to a bazillion minus one, but I’m working on it.

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