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A reply to Steven Novella

Steven Novella has written a post taking exception to some things I’ve said, specifically on the issue of the overlap of science, skepticism, and religion. I have to say, though, that what his post actually does is confirm my claim: that a lot of skeptics strain to delimit the scope of skepticism in ways that are not rational, but are entirely political and emotional.

But there’s also a lot I agree with. He has a lengthy introduction in which he lists many of the core elements of skepticism, including for example, promoting science and critical thinking, opposing pseudoscience, etc. (he also includes “methodological naturalism”, a claim I’ve grown disenchanted with…but that’s something for another day. Here’s something from Larry Moran for a contrary view.)

With that one exception, sure, these all sound like things I promote, too. I also agree with this, and have said so many times:

I have never endeavored to tell other people what to do with their own activism. If Penn and Teller want to have a skeptical/libertarian show, that’s their right. They can do what they want. The Skepchicks combine feminism and skepticism, and PZ combines (by his own account) skepticism, atheism, and liberal politics. My view – let a thousand lights shine. At the end of the day, we are all skeptics. Let’s celebrate that, and we can still argue about our differences but let’s not pretend that any skepticism-plus is the one-true-skepticism just because it’s our own.

So why is Novella complaining? Have I said anywhere that there is one-true-skepticism, and it is mine?

No. He objects to the fact that I pointed out that organized skepticism isn’t true to that principle, but has domains where it actively asserts that certain subjects are NOT-true-skepticism, and that many prominent activists are complicit in belittling certain topics…and I have to include Steven Novella among them. There is a skeptical dogma.

Let’s get to specifics.

With all of this as background, let me address some of what PZ wrote in his blog. In response to another blog complaining that many skeptics (specifically naming the SGU) avoid political or economic issues, PZ wrote:

Yes. Yes. Yes. The modern skeptical movement is built on a very narrow foundation; a lot of the Old Guard spend an incredible amount of effort restricting the range of allowed topics to a tiny set of staples, which means that too often we hear lots about the bogosity of Bigfoot, but almost nothing about the bogosity of an economic system that maintains gross social inequities. And which belief do you think does greater harm?

I love the opportunity to disagree with a fellow skeptic – it usually means we are getting to an interesting and complex area, and it tends to be more satisfying than shooting more fish in a barrel. So let me disagree with everything that PZ wrote above (sorry, PZ). First, I do not think that the modern skeptical movement has a narrow foundation. I outlined it above – that is a massive foundation. It is, in fact, overwhelming. We need more than one movement to tackle it. Science-based medicine itself needs its own movement.

Skepticism has a broad brief. The skeptical movement does not. There’s a difference there; there is a lot of bigotry against atheism, for instance, within the skeptical movement, and much contempt for atheists that gets expressed. I think Novella’s privilege is speaking here; skepticism focused on alternative medicine is part of the traditional package, and he’s not going to get any pushback against his skeptical specialty. Skepticism about religion, however, has been stigmatized and traditionally excluded from the scope of skepticism, so I get to see the ugly side of the skeptical movement far more often than he does.

Does he get a flood of email and twitter protestations every time he’s invited to participate at The Amazing Meeting, Skepticon, or NECSS (for that one, I should hope not)? Do people write to him and tell him he’s not a True Skeptic for combating quackery, or that his presence is inappropriate at a meeting of skeptics? I do.* And it’s not just me. How soon we forget the “scandal” when Richard Dawkins was invited to speak at TAM; why, he’s openly atheist. He might criticize religion, and there are religious people at these meetings!

We had people resigning from the JREF because there was too much of this atheism stuff goin’ around.

There was that bizarre episode where Daniel Loxton, one of the people Novella cites approvingly, was dismayed at a panel on diversity that included D.J. Grothe, Debbie Goddard, Greta Christina, Jamila Bey, Hemant Mehta, and was moderated by Desiree Schell…why, they were all atheists, so it wasn’t diverse at all. Yeah, and they were all skeptics, too, and every one of them also rejects quack medicine, but no one is going to complain about a panel of people who reject pseudoscience at a skeptics’ conference. But oh, all those people reject religious superstition, too? Too much. That’s a problem.

And about that same panel, Barbara Drescher weighed in to not only make the same complaint about diversity, but to go further and accuse Greta, Jamila, and Hemant of being mere atheists, not really skeptics at all.

The other three panelists are closely identified with atheism and, in my opinion, have contributed little, if anything, to skepticism itself.

So much for Novella’s massive foundation. There is pernicious boundary-setting and gatekeeping everywhere. Somehow, skepticism about religion isn’t true skepticism. Tell me again about letting a thousand lights shine; are you sure it isn’t more like 999, with a loud and prominent contingent trying to smash one of the bulbs every time it flickers on?

The atheist contingent sees this all the time. Again, the alt-med contingent has no worries. How about the Skepticon controversy? There were people who were actually irate that this conference called itself “Skepticon”, because, they said, it wasn’t actually a skeptical conference, it was an atheist conference. Say what? Within the skeptical movement, there are a lot of people who think those are entirely different things; that atheism, not even the New Atheism, isn’t about applying all those lovely principles Novella listed in his introduction to the claims of religion.

What made the argument even more absurd is that it was based on the claim that 3 out of 15 talks were openly about rejecting religion — rejecting it for its contradictions with history and science, I might add — and this was just too much atheism to qualify for skepticism.

Hoi polloi also assume that atheism and skepticism are entirely different. For example, here’s a stupid comment that parades that attitude well.

if you know of James Randi well, you would have guessed the last thing he would be doing would be speaking on atheism as such, since while he is an atheist, he largely sticks only to skepticism topics, and steers usually clear of talking about mainstream religions.

Oh. “Skepticism topics”, which apparently doesn’t include addressing the claims of mainstream religions. I’m sorry, Steven, but you live in a world where the mainstream of organized skepticism has a body of dogma about what constitutes skepticism, and you’re blind to it because it doesn’t affect you personally; these assumptions are used to narrow the allowed scope of skepticism exactly as I was saying.

And saving the worst for last, I cite the appalling atheism-bashing talk by Jamie Ian Swiss at TAM last year. While complaining about people drawing battle-lines and dividing the movement, he drew a battle line and divided the movement into True Skeptics and those goddamned atheists…and it was enthusiastically received by the audience. It was a declaration of war, that atheists who actively addressed religious claims as skeptics were not welcome, that they were moving his tent.

Oh, yeah. Those fucking thousand lights. Right.

There are no reasonable, rational grounds for excluding atheist arguments from being fully in the mainstream of skeptical thinking. But like I said, movement skeptics put a lot of effort into defining boundaries and gate-keeping. Here’s the dogma according to Novella:

The issue is not with religion or religious-based claims. We address them all the time (creationism, miracles, faith healing, separation of church and state, secular moral philosophy, etc.) Really – we are right there shoulder to shoulder with organized atheists taking on every such issue. It is NOT that religious claims are untestable (some are, some aren’t), it is only that when claims (religious or otherwise) are framed as untestable then they are matters of faith and not science.

Or a shorter (and viler) version from Barbara Drescher:

Political, moral, and social ideology are ‘outside the scope’ of skepticism because they remove objectivity. In addition, untestable claims (e.g., “Does God exist?”) are off-limits because they cannot be addressed scientifically.

I’m going to have to address these claims from a couple of different angles…and I’ll warn you, they look ludicrous from all of them.

  • Most charitably, there’s nothing there I don’t already know. I’ve been telling creationists for 20 years that all they have to do is say Noah’s Flood was a miracle executed by an omnipotent being as huge violation of all of the laws of Nature, and there ain’t nothin’ I can say to argue against the claim, other than that you’re pulling that one out of your ass. But “Magic!” is pretty much an admission that there’s no science involved.

    But they can’t do that. They all start babbling about “evidence” for the Great Flood, and start doing calculations for the size of Noah’s Ark, and claim that animal migrations (not magic poofery from god) explain the dispersal to other continents, and put the ball right back in science’s court. And it’s the same with other religious claims: they can never simply say it’s faith, it’s untestable, it’s a miracle that violates all the principles of science and reason…no, they have to say they have Proof of Life After Death! Jesus’ Tomb! An Instant of Ensoulment! And Here’s Why Our Government Must Be Christian!

    And those are the claims the atheists go after. It’s pure skepticism. It’s a legitimate scientific approach. Maybe more skeptics ought to actually listen to atheist arguments rather than recoiling in horror.

  • Here’s one for the critics of alt-med. Did you see what Dr Oz said recently?

    “Medicine is a very religious experience,” he said. “I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean.” All facts come with a point of view. But his spin on it—that one can simply choose those which make sense, rather than data that happen to be true—was chilling. “You find the arguments that support your data,” he said, “and it’s my fact versus your fact.”

    Uh-oh. It’s the faith argument. He even calls his version of medicine a religion. Sorry, guy, medical pseudoscience has now removed itself from the skeptical purview. Do you intend to announce your departure from skepticism?

    I can predict the reply: that’s just a rationalization. Medical pseudoscience also makes concrete claims that can be evaluated by science, and that’s a proper topic for skepticism.

    Yes, I agree. But exactly the same is true for other religious claims.

  • I agree that “Does God exist?” is a tediously vague claim. But what about the claim that there is a supernatural intelligence that has been shaping life on earth with the intent of creating human beings? Biologists can deal with that one using scientific evidence fairly effectively; we can assess known natural mechanisms and their ability to generate the range and kind of biological diversity we see, we can point to the lack of evidence for any kind of outside interference, we can show that the history of the planet shows no sign of any kind of direction in its evolution. What about the claim that the Christian deity created the world according to the plan in the book of Genesis? Even easier to refute. What about specific doctrines, such as the efficacy of prayer? There we even overlap with Novella’s detestation of medical quackery.

    And of course, I shouldn’t try to snuff out a light myself. “Does God exist?” is competently addressed by many atheists — and addressed scientifically. I’ll point to the work of Victor Stenger, who purely from the physical nature of the universe, can make a very strong scientific argument that it is not a product of an interventionist god. Why are skeptics rejecting scientific arguments a priori?

    It is simply false that these claims cannot be addressed scientifically. Case closed.

  • As for that awful, dishonest, destructive claim that “Political, moral, and social ideology are ‘outside the scope’ of skepticism because they remove objectivity” — I ask, OK, so would you claim that there is no rational, evidence-based argument against, say, slavery? That it is impossible to make an objective argument in any domain against treating people as property?

    If that’s the case, well then, fuck skepticism. It isn’t relevant or useful anymore. It has abstracted itself into the realm of a private academic circle-jerk, and we can stop arguing, because just maybe atheists, who apparently have more rational minds, can just leave the party voluntarily.

    That these fields have a value component to them is irrelevant; so does everything. Opposing alt-med, for instance, takes for granted that healing people is a good thing, and practices that interfere with healing are a bad thing…and then within that context scientifically supports their values.

    Same with political, moral, and social goals: we all operate with the values that truth is better than lies, that people have a right to live as they choose within practical limits, that we have concrete, real world goals that can be solved with natural, real world solutions. And then we can argue over the evidence to determine what path to our goals actually works. Skepticism and the scientific method work perfectly well within even fields that are routinely disparaged by skeptics, like sociology and economics. Critical thinking certainly can be applied to them!

    Except, oh, sorry, Movement Skeptics have declared them Ideological and Not Objective, and thus forbidden.

Now for the grand conclusion.

PZ finishes:

Unfortunately, opening up the skeptic community to actually discussing these topics would lead to Deep Rifts that make the one over religion look insignificant. We’re riddled with wacky libertarians and their worship of the capitalist status quo (or worse, demanding a greater reduction in government and compassion). A libertarian speaker who openly espoused the opinions of a loon like Ron Paul — and there are people in this community who regard him as a saint — would pretty much guarantee a kind of noisy riot in the audience, and lead to a big chunk of organized skepticism decamping in fury.

Which would probably be a good thing.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding what PZ is saying here, and if so please correct me, but this sounds an awful lot like a desire to purge the skeptical movement of those with a differing political outlook. I find it hard to see how this would be a good thing.

Yes, I apologize, I am being misunderstood. No, I’m not saying we should purge people with a particular political outlook. I am saying that the skeptical movement, just like the atheist movement, contains a largely irrational element that doesn’t really accept the principles Novella outlined. The real reason skeptics refuse to consider “political, moral, and social” issues to be subject to rational analysis is that there are a great number of ideologically committed people within the movement who react with emotional fury to any attempt to address significant issues that might actually force them to change their minds about something. There is a desire to maintain the political and social status quo.

The most prominent example right now is feminism, and I’m sure Steven Novella is fully acquainted with the furious backlash against that, since he regularly works with one of the prime targets of the haters, and has seen more than enough email demanding that a colleague be kicked off his team. I can also point to that response as another example of the way the skeptical movement tries to enforce a dogma (damn, that’s two lights they keep trying to flick off.)

And here, somehow, Novella has managed to rationalize those haters, by claiming political neutrality as a guiding principle of skepticism. This isn’t true; there’s no such thing as political neutrality. Silence is an argument in favor of the status quo. A refusal to address an inequity is a strategy for maintaining that inequity. Similarly, a refusal to address a demand to fire a friend is actually a political statement supporting them (and good for Steven Novella in refusing to bow to the shrieking mob).

The pretense that skepticism is politically neutral is a commonly promoted lie, an excuse that allows a lot of nonsense to fester unquestioned. There is also no virtue in being neutral in the face of the evidence. These subjects, political positions and the social agenda, are amenable to evidence-based inquiry; as Novella notes, there are a lot of questions within these fields that we can directly address with an evidence-based outlook. And when we do look at them, it does the movement no honor to look away and ignore the evidence, because of some strange idolatry for the middle ground.

So no, I’m not saying that all true skeptics have to adhere to my positions in all the things; I’m saying I have no respect for the denial we see in the skeptical movement for skeptical inquiry into questions that make many of the leaders of the movement uncomfortable. Ask the questions. Assess the responses. Don’t run away and pretend it doesn’t fit into your tent. Your ‘tent’ is a process that can be applied to a great many important and humanly relevant concerns, not just Bigfoot.

But I will say that I agree with his conclusion. If only this were true:

I am happy to find common cause with anyone who also wishes to promote scientific skepticism. I honestly don’t care if they also choose to promote skepticism plus some other agenda (as long as that agenda is not inherently anathema to skepticism). I understand that some skeptics wish to also promote atheism or feminism, or to argue for the virtues of their political ideology. Hey – I am an atheist and a feminist, and I support their promotion. I even see the need to promote feminism within the skeptical movement, if we wish to maximize our reach. I just don’t want them to be conflated with or confused for scientific skepticism.

Oh, great. The conflation argument. Gosh, I sure wish those anti-alt-med people would stop trying to conflate their agenda with scientific skepticism!

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. There are traditional topics within skepticism; no problem, no one claims that those proponents are trying to take over all of skepticism, or that they have somehow confused and muddled and diluted the skeptic brand. Talk about any of these ‘foreign’ topics like atheism or feminism, though, and whoops, here come all the dogmatists complaining that they are ‘conflating’ skepticism with their agenda.

Look, get the story straight. Science and skepticism are processes, tools we use to investigate phenomena. It is not conflation when you use that tool to investigate god-claims or sexist arguments or the Republican party platform, any more than it is when you use those tools to rip into the Burzynski clinic or take apart claims about diatoms in meteorites. They should be a “massive foundation” that we can use right now, right here for decision-making in all kinds of experiences. So why do skeptics continue to tell us that we’re breaking the rules if we apply that toolkit to anything but a circumscribed set of phenomena?

At least I agree entirely with the idea of allowing a broad range of topics within skepticism. Why, I even listen to SGU and read Neurologica and Science-Based Medicine, despite the fact that they constantly conflate mere medicine with scientific skepticism. I just wish the skeptical movement could similarly respect the applicability of scientific skepticism to other subjects that are also important, and recognize that we’re all applying that same toolkit to different aspects of our culture that engage us.


*What’s particularly ironic about those protesting my speaking at skeptical meetings is that at all of those — TAM, Skepticon, and NECSS — I have conformed to the expectations of the audience and not talked about atheism or religion at all, and all those talks were about science, evolution, biology. It doesn’t matter, I still get angry complaints about letting the filthy atheist (and now also, feminist!) on stage.

Comments

  1. Gnumann+, Radfem shotgunner of inhuman concepts says

    [qualifier snipped out]well then, fuck skepticism. It isn’t relevant or useful anymore. It has abstracted itself into the realm of a private academic circle-jerk, and we can stop arguing, because just maybe atheists, who apparently have more rational minds, can just leave the party voluntarily.

    I’m nearing the conclusion that this is a good summary. Not quite there yet, but moving towards it pretty fast.

  2. sawells says

    I think there are two unspoken arguments which people want to make and can’t (publicly).

    Argument 1: skepticism is fine if you point it at things which very few people really believe (bigfoot;alien abduction) because if they get angry we can laugh at them. Don’t point it at things which lots of people believe! There are lots of them and if they get angry that might be scary!

    Argument 2: skepticism is fine if you point it at other people who are wrong. Don’t point it at me! I’m not wrong!

    Hence the massive pushback against applying basic skepticism to things like mainstream religious claims and mainstream gender stereotypes.

  3. neutrinosarecool says

    The problem for religious believers in admitting that their beliefs are strictly metaphysical in nature, i.e. not subject to rational experimental tests, is that then their particular brand of mythology becomes no more valid than any other mythology, extinct or newly created.

    For example, who is to say that the Greek, Egyptian or Sumerian mythological pantheons are not as metaphysically valid as Christianity, Judaism or Islam, with their unitary supreme beings? All these mythologies really are equally valid from the metaphysical point of view, but pointing that out makes religious people angry, doesn’t it? They say it insults their faith, putting them on the same page with Santa Claus and Osiris and Apollo and blue pagan fairies and UFO worshipers, but what they’re really saying is that their particular faith is the right one, all others are the wrong ones, and from there they go on to have their nasty holy wars with each other, a common theme in history.

    They can’t have it both ways – if one particular set of beliefs is metaphysically valid, then any other set of beliefs is equally valid.

    The fact is, religion and theology are better described as fantasy literature and mythology – which are interesting topics, certainly. No reason to hate the whole genre, but no reason to view it as ‘scientifically valid’, either.

  4. says

    There’s a difference there; there is a lot of bigotry against atheism, for instance, within the skeptical movement, and much contempt for atheists that gets expressed. I think Novella’s privilege is speaking here; skepticism focused on alternative medicine is part of the traditional package, and he’s not going to get any pushback against his skeptical specialty. Skepticism about religion, however, has been stigmatized and traditionally excluded from the scope of skepticism, so I get to see the ugly side of the skeptical movement far more often than he does.

    Oh, you’d be surprised. There are actually self-proclaimed skeptics out there who go to TAM or other skeptic meetings, both local and national, and everything who buy into alternative medicine and, yes, even antivaccine quackery. I’ve encountered them. I’ve been criticized and attacked by them. I’ve gotten into arguments with them. I’ve tried (and often failed) to educate them. In fact, there are a depressing number of “skeptics” out there who give alt med a bit of a “pass.” In fact, from my perspective alt-med and science-based medicine are all too often the bastard stepchildren of the skeptical movement compared to creationism, for example.

  5. says

    But I’ve met creationists at TAM, too!

    But the point is I don’t think you’ll find a Barbara Drescher dismissing Novella or Orac on a skeptical panel because, for instance, they’re doctors rather than pure skeptics.

  6. says

    I’ve got a lot of respect for Steven Novella as a skeptic and activist but on this issue I’ve always found him confusing as hell. Surely, if skepticism is anything, it’s a commitment to high standards of evidence – standards that basic religious claims just don’t meet.

    Sawell @2:

    Argument 1: skepticism is fine if you point it at things which very few people really believe (bigfoot;alien abduction) because if they get angry we can laugh at them. Don’t point it at things which lots of people believe! There are lots of them and if they get angry that might be scary!”

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Now back to lurking for me…

  7. mnb0 says

    Sorry, PZ, alt-med also takes for granted that healing is a good thing and practices interfering with healing is a bad thing. That’s why it opposes allopathy. This doesn’t do anything to support your argument against academic skepticism.
    This fact actually confirms your statement that skepticism can’t be politically neutral.

  8. Nepenthe says

    Novella makes a lot of hay about being politically neutral, but so many of the topics on his nice list are rather partisan, not to mention overtly political.

    Church-state-separation… that’s a totally apolitical topic devoid of any value-based arguments, right? I’m sure that either side isn’t associated with any particular political parties either.

  9. says

    To me scientific skepticism (as Drescher et al like to describe it) shouldn’t be all of skepticism. Skepticism should fist and foremost be about critical thinking and questioning everything. Science and any limits on what can be tested are an important part of that but not the entire domain of skepticism/CT. Who cares if you can’t test Carl Sagan’s dragon in the garage does it make any sense to believe in it? I don’t see why skepticism (as the application of critical thinking) should have to stop because you have to move from a scientific discussion to a philosophical one (epistemology in this case). The fact that something is more difficult the farther it is from science should be a call for even more thought and discussion on the matter not less.

  10. neutrinosarecool says

    On this one:

    In addition, untestable claims (e.g., “Does God exist?”) are off-limits because they cannot be addressed scientifically.

    Some more untestable claims:

    Faith healing works because a supernatural being can intervene in the natural world to, for example, cure an individual’s cancer – and this cannot be detected by science, because it is a supernatural event, hence discussion of faith healing is off limits.

    The claim that the age of the universe is 6,000 years is untestable because a supernatural being could have created the universe 6,000 years ago, making it look exactly like a 14 billion year old universe, and hence the question is not open to scientific inquiry, and is off limits.

    In fact, all natural laws – theories, rather – could be broken by a supernatural being who really wanted to, while nobody was looking, and there’s no way of addressing such claims empirically, so all scientific questions are officially off limits.

    You can, however, still talk about mathematics, I think. Those who claim that 1 + 1 = 3 can be viewed with skepticism, under these rules. But wait – could a supreme being turn a 1 into a 2 when nobody was looking?

  11. says

    Little known fact: 1 + 1 equaled 1.893 in Babylon, but because they didn’t have scientific notation or a decimal point, they always had to round off.

    You can’t prove I’m wrong!

  12. iknklast says

    I have conformed to the expectations of the audience and not talked about atheism or religion at all, and all those talks were about science, evolution, biology

    My husband has gone to a few of these with me (Skepticon, for one) and is very disappointed. He was hoping to see PZ let loose, and all he got was evolutionary biology. He felt like he was in a classroom. Maybe you should have defaced a cracker? Then he might go back to Skepticon with me again…

    The idea that sexism, racism, libertarianism, and religion aren’t amenable to skepticism is just plain ridiculous. All of these make claims that can be tested, and in many cases, have been tested. That’s why people want them off limits. Because they have failed to pile up any impressive pile of data that would justify their irrational beliefs. Like the Bigfoot believers who are sure Bigfoot is real, these folks believe women are inferior, races have dramatic genetic differences, the free market really is a great equalizer when no regulations are in place (or people who are on the bottom simply deserve to be there) and that god causes good things to happen to good people. Skepticism rains on their parade.

  13. says

    These 2 of his “facets of skepticism” are particularly incompatible with religion and therefore not religiously neutral…
    1.

    Ideological Freedom/Free Inquiry – Science and reason can only flourish in a secular society in which no ideology (religious or otherwise) is imposed upon individuals or the process of science or free inquiry.

    The Scientific Method is accepted by all skeptics as atheist, without theism. But he included reason as a process that must have free inquiry without ideological constraints. But then he says here

    It is NOT that religious claims are untestable (some are, some aren’t), it is only that when claims (religious or otherwise) are framed as untestable then they are matters of faith and not science.

    Since he hasn’t restricted skepticism and free inquiry to simply science but also reason; untestable religious claims as well fall within the purview of skepticism.

    Furthermore while scientific investigations must be free from political and moral ideologies, not all investigations are scientific ones. Science is a tool and should not be conflated with skepticism.

    2.

    Psychological Humility – Being a functional skeptic requires knowledge of all the various ways in which we deceive ourselves, the limits and flaws in human perception and memory, the inherent biases and fallacies in cognition, and the methods that can help mitigate all these flaws and biases.

    Political, moral, and religious ideologies have inherent biases that should be skeptically examined. No sacred cow is above being skeptically examined for flaws and biases. Skepticism is not a neutral process.

  14. says

    Lately, I’ve been feeling pissed off that I get all this abuse without doing anything that they accuse me of, so maybe the next Skepticon will be treated to the spectacle of me breathing fire.

  15. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    There is no such thing as “allopathy.” It is called medicine And it excludes unsupported alt med. Which is not medicine.

  16. Denverly says

    Perry was the rogue who did the “5 ways religion poisons everything” bits back in the day on the SGU. They did fall in the “skeptical and atheist” camp when the show started, but now Novella has decided that’s not the purpose of skepticism. Am I missing something there? Why the change in application of critical thinking? Or am I just mis-remembering the early SGU? I stopped listening when religion became skeptisicm-non-grata on the show not long after Perry died. All those bits about religion just went away, if memory serves.

  17. says

    It is OK if SGU doesn’t do atheism. Everyone does not have to be all things, and what they do they do very well.

    It’s also entirely unsurprising that if they lose one person who has a particular interest, other people do not feel compelled to represent his interests anymore.

  18. Feats of Cats says

    It’s not that “there is no god” is untestable, it’s that the burden of proof is on the person saying that there IS a god. Which should be proved using testable claims. Which puts it back into skepticism, as I believe the whole “that which is presented without proof can be dismissed without proof” is a skeptical thing?

  19. Chuck says

    Carving out a specific exclusion for atheism from the skeptical movement is just cowardice.

  20. mildlymagnificent says

    And then the whole world will point at you and say, “See! Dragons are real.”

  21. says

    @ Lilandra,

    I tried getting a clearer view from Novella on his blog and if I’m reading his reply correctly (it went a little tangential to my question at times) he seems to accept that skepticism is more then science, though he does want to make clear the boundaries of philosophy and science as he sees them.

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/bigfoot-skeptics-new-atheists-politics-and-religion/#more-5238

    ctrl+F harker if anyone wants to read the brief exchange.

  22. says

    If that’s the case, well then, fuck skepticism. It isn’t relevant or useful anymore. It has abstracted itself into the realm of a private academic circle-jerk, and we can stop arguing, because just maybe atheists, who apparently have more rational minds, can just leave the party voluntarily.

    A-fucking-men! If all that skepticism is for is dismissing the same silly claims that have been dismissed for sometimes hundreds of years, and not for creating positive change in the world, then what goddamned use does it have? “Hey, let’s all get in a room once a week and talk about how homeopathy is still quackery, and that Bigfoot is a hoax! And then we can pat each other on the back for still not believing the same daffy shit we didn’t believe last week, and didn’t believe the week before either!” Wow, yeah, that’s really inspiring me to join a “movement” that seems to be fixated on not moving, not budging a single solitary inch, if in doing so it moves beyond smug self-congratulation.

    And you know, the SGU podcast isn’t really about skepticism is it? Every edition, they mostly talk about achievements and advances in science and technology… what does that have to do with skepticism? It isn’t debunking ghosts or multi-level marketing or anything!

  23. Denverly says

    @ PZ

    But they aren’t just “not representing” his interests any more, are they? From what Novella wrote, it’s more like he’s saying that they shouldn’t have ever addressed those interests if it’s really skepticism.

  24. sumdum says

    @sawells (reply #2) Couldn’t agree more. Like they say, question EVERYTHING, including the popular stuff that many adhere to.

  25. shawn says

    Yeah, Dr. Novella’s view on what skepticism can do has always baffled me as well. It’s been said a billion times before but nothing happens in a vacuum. For instance, the very choice to use science is a value judgement. Following the fundamentals he lists is a value judgement. What topics we chose to focus on is a value judgement. You can’t exclude value judgements because everything a person does is one.

  26. says

    @michaeld Yet there is that exception for scientifically untestable claims he makes for certain religious claims.

    I like James Randi. He ‘s a great guy, and he busted Peter Popoff. However, at the last TAM he said rather unconvincingly that his friend was a deist and it comforted him when he was dying. So, I think that is part of the reason JREF’s scope is limited to consumer fraud, homeopathy, and science education. Religious friends and JREF members may be the reason why they avoid questioning mainstream religion. They may also be of a mind to form a coalition with secular believers against woo. I don’t mind befriending believers, but if it is in the context of skepticism; my apologies but I don’t think people should withhold valid criticisms. They don’t mind criticizing atheists.

  27. squab says

    I thought this part was important:

    To each his own gods and rituals. For those of us who live wholly in the secular world, no religious doctrine is more or less credible, or worthy of ridicule, than any other.

    Also: this is the Norm Macdonald’s brother, so there’s that.

  28. kosk11348 says

    What is “scientific skepticism” and how does it differ from plain old science? Isn’t testing testable claims what science already does?

  29. great1american1satan says

    PZ @26, HaHA! Amusingly stated and patently true. I wonder if any sentence including “should” is a value judgement? I should be able to figure that out… No, I guess not. But many of them are. That one sure is. I should be doing something more constructive right now. Damn, I’m so subjective. Completely unskeptical.

  30. says

    This kind of skepticism he speaks of sound custom-made for a Discovery Channel reality series.
    “The Skeptics”
    Each week two teams of skeptics take on a bigfoot sighting claim, and the winning team is the one which comes up with the quickest and most effective rebuttal of that sighting, as judged by a panel of Bigfoot experts.

    Will the skeptics prevail, or the bigfoot experts? If skeptics prevail, which team of skeptics is judged to have the winning argument? Will Jack, the volatile leader of the “Monster Squad” team of skeptics continue to fly off the handle at Miriam? Will the team hold together, or will it fall apart?

    Tune in next week to find out!

    Tune in next week

  31. chrislawson says

    The very idea that skepticism is non-political is ridiculous. There are many, many political beliefs that are eminently testable and require serious debunking — the hypothesis that deregulating the market leads to economic benefits on a linear scale (i.e. more deregulation = more money) is not only demonstrably false, it has been the economic rationale of the last 25 years of US government policy and it has caused massively more harm than, say, spiritualists.

    I happen to think that psychics and other so-called “easy targets” are fair game for the skeptical movement. They do harm people, sometimes cruelly (read up on Sylvia Browne for an extreme example). But if anyone was to insist on drawing a line between debunking psychics and debunking irrational government policies, I’d be arguing that skeptics should do politics ahead of Bigfoot.

  32. shawn says

    @PZ 26. Haha, I value this comment.

    Ironically, I’ve always have had a lot of respect for Dr. Novella precisely because his area of expertise science-based medicine is a politically important issue.

  33. says

    @Lilandra

    Indeed I don’t claim to have all the answers to what Novella thinks (I still think his position is muddled) just trying to add to it.

  34. brive1987 says

    Glad you left the emotion to Dr Novella and his irrational absurd arguments. You didn’t actually address the core argument – Skepticism is a way of thinking and skeptical approaches can and are constantly used to evaluate religious claims. A polemic approach to religion can be informed by skeptical tools but ultimately is characterised by a values based position. These sort of positions are at base ideologies and that is why they are not universally embraced. There are many ideologues on FTB and there is a corresponding distinctive “tone” to the discussions that take place here and in similar agenda driven sites.

    And good on you.

    But see yourself as distinct and evolved from base skepticism and understand their perceived “intolerance” is really just a recognition you are running a separate, sometimes parallel race using tools and espousing opinions that go beyond claims based issues. A+ is most appropriately and best done in its own environment and under its own label. Similarly the sooner Skepchick invents F+ (feminism plus oh say atheism) the sooner their message can be communicated without ambiguity.

  35. brive1987 says

    Re slavery, we can demonstrate many bad outcomes using science. But the position that it is vile is a moral position informed by ethics. Are you saying slavey is objectively wrong based on consequentialism – that’s a dangerous slope!

  36. darwinharmless says

    Shit, PZ. I sure feel sorry for anybody who argues with you. You have such a clear way of disecting an issue and arguing logically with utter clarity for your position. You are a wunderkind of the intellect and I bow down before you. No, let’s make that I applaud you vigorously. I just hope you and I never disagree on anything because I sure hate losing an argument and being forced to change my mind. .

  37. darwinharmless says

    What happened to my “not sarcastic at all” tag? Damn. I just don’t understand how WordPress works.

  38. says

    @Brive

    “A polemic approach to religion can be informed by skeptical tools but ultimately is characterised by a values based position.”

    Religion can be looked at based on empirical evidence of its testable claims or using philosophy to examine the untestable ones. Why aren’t the philosophical tools part of the skeptical tool set. Especially as skepticism is often discussed in close relation with critical thinking which extends beyond the potential limits of science (as Novella, Drescher et al would define them).

    Ultimately any argument is based on values hopefully at least the value that you care about who is right in the argument.

  39. shawn says

    @Brive

    In a sense I agree with you. Freethought blogs doesn’t do “base skepticism”. It’s more like…I dunno…freethought. At the same time I would argue that a lot of so-called skeptical groups and organizations that “they” seem to give a free pass to as “skeptical” aren’t skeptical either. Science-based medicine for example is not skeptical in this exact same sense. It has a ethics based agenda just the same. Also, how is Dr. Novella’s belief in “promotion of science” to the public not an ethics based judgement? What does that have to do with “base skepticism”? We could just as well apply skepticism to a claim and say fuck everyone else.

  40. redhill says

    Why spend so much energy responding to someone you largely agree with? Is this the narcissism of small differences at work? Are you trying to make atheism a kind of shibboleth – something that must be done right to show one is a true skeptic? Why splinter a tiny movement over ideological purity tests when there is so much to be done?

  41. says

    redhill,

    Why don’t you ask the people responsible for the splintering? The people causing the problem are the ones saying “skepticism can only be THIS” and not the people saying “skepticism can be THIS and also THAT.”

  42. shawn says

    I think I figured it out. A true skeptic is one that applies skepticism to every possible empirical claim and then does nothing and everything possible with the truth.

    I think I hate the term skeptic.

  43. omnicrom says

    @45

    Thirded.

    Why are we spending energy on this? Because its worth spending energy on. Skepticism is something that’s worth applying evenly.

  44. hjhornbeck says

    Ugh, late to the party again. I’ll just cross-post what I said on Ace of Clades:

    Hmmm, I think I see a pattern here. Compare Novella:

    It is NOT that religious claims are untestable (some are, some aren’t), it is only that when claims (religious or otherwise) are framed as untestable then they are matters of faith and not science.

    and Myers:

    most commonly, we’re told that since the claims of religion are completely evidence-free and untestable, True Skeptics™ are not able to address them…and usually these gatekeepers are as bad as creationists in claiming that they have the mantle of science in so constraining their range. They disregard the fact that scientists tend to be extremely dismissive, and appropriately so, of extravagant claims made in the absence of substantive supportive evidence.

    The key difference is the application of Ockham’s Razor; it argues that any claim which is untestable is unworthy of belief, because it has no explanatory power and is thus a redundant premise within any model of the universe.

    Was that a bit wordy? Perhaps an example will help. I will claim that a god started the universe, but then stepped aside and did nothing more. That is an untestable claim; for every bit of evidence you dredge up in favour of a pure-physics start to the universe, I can simply say “my god’s influence was finished by that point.” Note that we’ve got another claim in play here, though: the universe started via pure physics. It says nothing about the existence of a god, and thus makes one less assumption than what I’ve been pushing.

    Myers would say that my claim is bunk, and should be discarded; the scientific method includes Ockham’s Razor, and any good scientist would apply it and dismiss my claim.

    Novella would shrug his shoulders at my claim; since it cannot be tested, it cannot be falsified. Science does not include Ockham’s Razor, and thus cannot dismiss my claim. At best, it can only be agnostic to it.

    This use of Ockham’s Razor, I think, is what drives the skeptic vs. atheist schism on an intellectual level.

  45. says

    The “it’s a matter of faith so we have to remain neutral” argument infuriates me. It goes profoundly and decidedly against Novella’s stated values, like respecting the truth. If a thing is abstracted to the point where it cannot be scientifically tested, then there can be no good evidence for it. That alone means that the skeptical position is and should be that there is no good reason to believe in it. Bring in the null hypothesi, and we can actually say that it does not exist until evidence shows otherwise. Bring in Occam’s Razor, and we can say that since the thing existing and the thing not existing are indistinguishable, the more likely scenario is that the thing does not exist.

    We have three good, solid, skeptical reasons to dismiss the various god-claims, and all the other matters of faith proffered by believers in all manner of woo. It’s only when the subject is god that movement skeptics put away Occam’s Razor and the like, lest someone get hurt.

    As to politics and morals and values, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and I’m glad that PZ said it too): skepticism is all about values, and activism is all about morals. If you didn’t value truth and reason and human welfare, you’d have no reason to out in the requisite effort to question the claims of the irrational. If you didn’t think it was so,e kind of moral or ethical imperative to combat misinformation and the harm of irrationality, there would be no reason to speak out against pseudoscience. Skeptical activism is value- and moral-laden. It is built upon moral foundations. It cannot be neutral. Especially where reality is not neutral.

    And reality (and science, and skepticism) can weigh in on morals and values in the same way. Skepticism cannot tell us whether we should value more strongly the freedom to own weapons or the lives of innocent children, but it can tell us what sorts of policies and regulations and actions have correlated to the safety if children. It can tell us whether or not the claims that more guns = more safety have merit. It can help us see the inconsistencies in people arguing for political positions to see if their positions have any kind of rational grounding. In order for skepticism to remain politically (or ideologically or morally) neutral, either the claims of politicians and moralists and ideologues must be completely abstracted from reality and reason-based examinations, or skepticism must turn a blind eye to a subject where it would be extremely useful.

  46. hawkbox says

    I was really thrown by the reaction of a lot of the skeptical community people around the time everyone proceeded to lose their shit about Rebecca Watson and for the longest time I just assumed I had misinterpreted what was said and done. It appears I was wrong and I’m really sad to realize that, I had looked forward to getting out of Alberta for a while to check some of these events out but I feel like I’d be better served by going to a pub.

  47. brive1987 says

    @michaeld. I agree but I note you refer to “claims” in both cases. Once you have tested the claims and progressed to assigning religion a place in society then you are in values land and atheism has progressed to something more than “mere” skeptisim. And then the arguments really begin. :-). I don’t think Steven is dissing atheism, rather he is saying it is far more than “just” claims based evaluation, it requires informed opinion and activism on top of skeptical thought processes. By its nature this is divisive and will sometimes unavoidably lead to and be surrounded by less than edifying discourse. Hence the desire by the “old guard” to firewall it in its own space. Agreed, from the sounds of it this may not always be done with sensitivity.

  48. brive1987 says

    @improbable Joe, I don’t want to strawman you, so could you pls explain how you read my post and drew that conclusion?

  49. davidwhitlock says

    Skepticism is always a solitary pursuit. It only happens inside of a single person’s brain.

    Politics is always done in a group.

    Religion is always done in groups. Feminism is about group interactions. The Patriarchy is about group interactions. Libertarians are concerned with property which only matters in groups. Bullying is always about more than one person, the perpetrator and the victim.

    You can’t force someone to be a skeptic because skepticism only happens voluntarily inside a person’s brain. Any group activity can be forced by threats of violence and death.

    If you are trying to turn skepticism into a group activity by threats of violence and death, you will fail. When ever someone accepts a position because they belong to a group and the group has that position, then that person is a non-skeptic.

    If someone is too caught up in their delusional world view to understand and adopt a skeptical world view voluntarily, there is nothing that can be done to force them to do so, and anyone trying to do so will not be successful and is wasting their time.

    Having a meeting to do skepticism is kind of an oxymoron. Meetings of multiple people are to do things that multiple people do together. People can share their versions of skepticism, but each person has their own individual tent. There isn’t a “big skepticism tent” because skepticism is a solitary pursuit.

    Being a skeptic is not about “questioning everything”. Being a skeptic is about only arguing from facts using valid logic. The reliability of “facts” is unknown, and the train of logic may be too complex to follow. This is where the more facts you have, and the better you can tie them all together, the better your conceptualization of reality can be.

    If you can’t tie an idea back to facts using valid logic, then you have adopted that idea as a non-skeptic. If you bring that idea to a meeting of skeptics, you need to be prepared to defend that idea with facts and valid logic. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t mention it at a skeptics meeting.

    Skepticism is not something that can be used to beat other people up with. Beating someone up doesn’t accomplish anything that has to do with skepticism. Beating people up is akin to war, and war is diplomacy by other means, which is back to politics.

    There are lots of people getting beaten up. They are not getting beaten up by skepticism. They are getting beaten up by people with agendas. They are getting beaten up by people practicing politics, not by people practicing skepticism. They are getting beat up by people who want to hurt them and are trying to hurt them and are succeeding in hurting them. Skepticism doesn’t provide reasons to want to hurt people. If hurting people is something you want to do, you have arrived at that idea through a non-skeptical thinking and/or feeling process.

  50. says

    … sociopaths who think that having goals and ideals are both invalid, and should be apart from skepticism. I guess using skepticism FOR SOMETHING is beyond the ideal inhuman skeptic that people like davidwhitlock and brive1987 have created in their imaginations.

  51. says

    @brive

    ” I don’t think Steven is dissing atheism, rather he is saying it is far more than “just” claims based evaluation, it requires informed opinion and activism on top of skeptical thought processes.”

    Replace atheism with science based medicine. All of skepticism requires more then an evaluation of the claims but informed opinion and activism. To me those are important parts of skepticism. I also don’t think that skepticism (as I define it as the application of critical thinking, questioning and discussion) is unable to discuss values. To me a clash of values calls for more critical thinking etc.

    If a group/conference etc wants to limit itself I don’t have a problem with that there can be a number of good reasons for doing so. I do have a problem with the idea that skepticism as a whole is anything less then an embracing of critical thinking applied to everything (from testable claims to issues conflicting values).

  52. John Morales says

    davidwhitlock:

    Skepticism is always a solitary pursuit. It only happens inside of a single person’s brain.

    No, it isn’t.

    (Science, for example, is applied skepticism using empiricism as its epistemology for the purpose of gaining knowledge about reality, and it is anything but a solitary pursuit)

    Being a skeptic is not about “questioning everything”.

    Yeah, it is — it means not accepting claims unless they are justified; that is, apportioning belief proportionally to its warrant.

  53. mildlymagnificent says

    Skepticism is always a solitary pursuit. It only happens inside of a single person’s brain.

    But skeptics always know that it’s very hard to detect inconsistencies or biases in your own thinking. That’s why we use peer review for science. Everyone involved in the process is susceptible to their personal biases and preconceptions and the hope of the review process is to identify glaring errors in process and analysis along with the numbers and the calculations. It doesn’t always succeed but it’s the best method we’ve come up with so far.

    The idea of the uber-sceptical mind working in isolation is, apart from the obvious comic level comparisons, just too damn hard for very many people to be able to succeed at this. Using a more relaxed and informal version of peer review – talking things over – is a good way for a sceptically minded person to have others point out the obvious and unavoidable flaws in their own thinking.

  54. shawn says

    @52 Brive

    I’ll say it again. The problem with this is that “they” aren’t doing “mere” sketpicism a lot of the time either.

    For example take testing psychics. First, let’s ignore the fact that there is an underlying agenda for choosing this as a subject to test. Now we test the psychics. They fail at their claims. They make up untestable claims as to why they failed. Now following the “mere” skeptic logic a skeptic can draw no conclusion other than the psychic failed at the claims tested. Fine. Show me one of “them” that does this? I haven’t seen it. Every “skeptic” has opinions about what psychic are and what we should do with them and are usually happy to share it.

  55. says

    These “claim X can not be addressed scientifically therefore it is outside the scope of skepticism” arguments make my irony meter explode every time I hear them.
    Because we have to picture the average movement skeptic as this scholary warrior of reason, burning the midnight oil in hir quest for scientific truth, armed with fast access to PLOS, Arxiv and PubMed, going over statistics and raw data with a fine comb, calculating p-values, probabilities and percentages, dismissing one claim while already evaluating the next with hir razor-sharp scalpel of rationality.

    Yeah right.

    Most skeptics are not scientists.They are not employing the scientific method to evaluate claims. They watch Youtube videos, read books and have discussions. Most skeptics also do not perform experiments. It is utterly laughable to make this argument that religion/social issues can not be part of skepticism because they can’t be addressed scientifically. For one, they bloody well can, since they make truth claims. And secondly, it is a mischaracterisation of what skepticism is and what skeptics do, to conflate their methods with the work of scientists.

  56. says

    “Skepticism is always a solitary pursuit. It only happens inside of a single person’s brain.

    Politics is always done in a group.

    Religion is always done in groups. Feminism is about group interactions. The Patriarchy is about group interactions. Libertarians are concerned with property which only matters in groups. Bullying is always about more than one person, the perpetrator and the victim.”

    This only works if you assume acting in way X is equivalent to believing in view Y. No one can force you to believe in the goals of a political group, or belief in a deity, or belief in equality between different sexes/genders, or the free market economics of libertarianism. In as much as you can force someone to work towards the goals of proposed by these groups you can force people to work towards the goals of various skeptics (addressing global warming, vaccinating everyone etc).

    The rest about beating people with skepticism is absurd. I don’t know anyone even suggesting that something like that should be done.

  57. brive1987 says

    #61 Shaw, a skeptical approach to psychics is to firstly evaluate using your skeptical toolkit the veracity of the claims. You could go further and use the scientific method to determine why they believe in something with no proven effect. ,you could even quantify and qualify the harm and benefit of the belief.

    Once you determine it is a bad thing for society you have applied a value judgement. When you as a consequence agressively campaign against and possibly even insult or attack the evil that is xxx you are in a values based activism mode.

    And there is nothing wrong with that at all.

    Activism, especially when it dovetails with my values is great. When it doesn’t it is still a valuable way to review what I do stand for.

    But it is not an imperative of the skeptical thought process which I think is where pz is coming from. And as it escalates it deviates often from the basic “pure” principles of skepticism – realpolitik does that to you.

    Dr Novella does stray into altmed activism at times and that is fine too but mostly he contrasts claims with evidence and identifies measurable impact.

  58. brive1987 says

    @michaeld 58. I completely agree that you have to stand for things and your position can be informed by a skeptical approach. Take for example “therapeutic touch can be shown not to work. We can measure the resources lost and the lives impacted by with-held proven treatments. On the other hand it makes people feel good for placebo reasons. However the harm outweighs the good and I don’t want to live in a society where libertarian views mean the uninformed are preyed upon. We should inform the public, no,wait we should ban the practice now. Actually fuck you Dr x and your mystical ways. In fact you may want to shut up shop before I visit some of the pain you cause back onto you.”. I’m sure you can see where this train of thought deviated from skeptical to values to activism to stident activism to militant activism. And yet it is all good (well maybe not the last bit!).

    Now if I focused on activism and told other skeptics that if they also didnt see Dr X as the jerk she/he obviously is and demanded time at conferences to decry the evil of TT and aggressively confronted opponents and courted controversy on occasion as a tactic then this would all be good for the cause …… But I may typecast myself out of the broader skeptical community. In fact I would do more good setting up my own focused chapter.

  59. mikee says

    If religious groups kept to themselves and didn’t try and impose their values on the rest of us I could probably (out of pragmatism) leave them be. But they DON’T.
    At the moment in New Zealand we have a marriage amendment bill (to allow same sex marraiges) before parliament and the religious groups are going nuts making all sorts of claims based on religion, but which a testable and clearly wrong.
    Am I supposed to say, well that’s a faith based argument so I can’t challenge it. Like Hell!
    Their religious views threaten the happiness of thousands of people. I have applied outspoken skepticism to every damn argument I have come across, and I will keep doing so.
    Every day religious people make claims about our world that are testable and obviously false. What sort of skeptic accepts that this is okay? that religion gets a “get out of jail free” card!

  60. mikee says

    The interesting thing is the vast majority of skeptics I know are atheists. At skeptic conventions in NZ the vast majority of people I have met are atheists, yet our convention talks tend to focus on more “traditional” subjects – alt medicine, alt archeology, diet myths, dealing with creationists etc.
    I don’t mind what religion someone belongs to, so long as they don’t make testable claims, particularly those which hurt other people. If they do then they get challenged by asking them skeptical questions.

  61. says

    As often happens with these things, I agree with both PZ Myers and his opponents, except for the parts where PZ says his opponents are wrong and the parts where his opponents say PZ is wrong. I’m trying to figure out if this is an internally consistent position, or if I’m just confused. In any case, thanks for writing!

  62. brive1987 says

    @joe 57. Thanks for your comment. Goals and ideals are not invalid (!). But they are values based. Skepticism will allow you to hold an informed view on a topic that is hopefully internally logical. But my skeptically based goal or ideal may be quite different to yours. A firm belief in objective “truths” is a scary first step to totalitarianism as it negates the diversity underpinning our morality. Values and morality constantly evolve. That’s why I got a red flag when PZ started down that track.

  63. Gnumann+, Radfem shotgunner of inhuman concepts says

    But it is not an imperative of the skeptical thought process which I think is where pz is coming from. And as it escalates it deviates often from the basic “pure” principles of skepticism – realpolitik does that to you.

    Congratulations, you’ve just argued the case that a sceptical process needs to be applied to political theory, ideology and practice.

    And skeptic inc is very much a place for political activism today. Mostly in the spirit of “fuck you, I got mine”.

  64. John Morales says

    brive1987:

    A firm belief in objective “truths” is a scary first step to totalitarianism as it negates the diversity underpinning our morality.

    Is this something that you firmly believe to be “true”?

  65. gijoel says

    I don’t know how you can be a skeptic in America and not be political. Your main conservative party has been white anted by Fundamentalist evangelical Protestants who are trying to turn the States into a theocratic government.

    I’m only an outside, Australian observer, but it seems every time creationism is introduced into the education system it is done by Republicans. Whenever someone denies global warming they appear to have very strong ties to the right. That’s not to say that there isn’t woo on the left, but it’s been the right who have been most vocal.

  66. says

    Dr Novella does stray into altmed activism at times

    No, see, he’s not straying. That’s exactly where he belongs. If he didn’t touch on what you call “altmed activism,” which I take to mean not remaining silent upon becoming aware of inaccurate medical information and harmful treatments being disseminated, from time to time, he wouldn’t be doing skepticism. Skepticism is based on a value: the value that truth is better than lies or fiction when it comes to figuring out the world. If you have that value, and act to promote it, congratulations! You’re an activist. And you’re not “straying” from skepticism. You might even want to apply those skeptical principles of critical inquiry into the question of why you think doing activism entails “straying” from doing skepticism. While you’re at it, you might want to ask yourself why such a simple act as speaking up to correct misinformation is classified as “activism” in this society.

    In the immortal words of Skin, Yes, it’s fucking political. Everything’s political.

  67. brive1987 says

    @john 71. No, it’s my subjective view from which I am prepared,to be moved :-) generally though objective morality is a lynchpin of WLC or SH’s Moral Landscape, not naturalistic humanism.

  68. bradleybetts says

    I find the claim that Atheism is not Skepticism to be a very wierd one. I’ve never come across it before, but it makes no sense. Sure, you can be skeptical about a specific subject, e.g. you can be skeptical of Alternative Medicine, or even more specifically you can be skeptical of Homeopathy. But to call yourself a Skeptic implies that you think skeptically, that you apply rational scientific thinking generally, across the board, to every subject. And anyone who has ever looked at religion through truly Skeptical eyes is an Atheist. You simply cannot apply a rational, scientific mindset to any religion and still come out the other side a believer. Atheism is a product of Skepticism. How anyone can call themself a Skeptic but not an Atheist is beyond me.

    Also, God isn’t testable scientifically? Sure He is! It doesn’t even require any particular expertise, simply a basic knowledge of scientific method. What do you do when a scientist comes up with an hypothesis? You ask them to prove it. They provide proof, the proof is peer-reviewed and, if it passes muster, hypothesis becomes theory and our understanding of the universe is advanced. If they cannot prove it or the evidence turns out to be rubbish, you revert to the null hypothesis, which is that their hypothesis is bullshit. So, some people have a strange hypothesis that there is some form of cosmic intelligence that made the world for our needs, then made us and put us on there, and now watches over us with a Fatherly eye rewarding us when we follow his non-sensical rules (which mostly seem to revolve around what you eat, what clothes you wear, and who you sleep with and under what circumstances you sleep with them) and punishing us when we fail to do so; who will bend the laws of physics and probability, which He created, in our favour providing we ask Him nicely enough. The sane ones among us have looked at each other, slightly bemused by all this, and said “Er… OK. Can you prove it?”. It turns out they can’t. So, we revert to the null hypothesis: they’re chatting bullshit. There, God scientifically tested. Simples.

  69. brive1987 says

    @SallyStrange #73. You are right, “straying” is a pejorative and I have tried to emphasise that I don’t find structured advocacy or “activism” a negative. Wrong word. Something like moves branches, shifts gear is better.

    Activism is a values infused agenda built out of a basis of skeptical analysis aimed at building a collective momentum to effect change. Dr. Novella does this on occasion but generally he is more interested in getting people to think logically to form their own judgements and reactively presenting findings on claims made in his area of specialty – altmed. This is very different to the A+ and F+ program.

  70. consciousness razor says

    A firm belief in objective “truths” is a scary first step to totalitarianism as it negates the diversity underpinning our morality. Values and morality constantly evolve. That’s why I got a red flag when PZ started down that track.

    Nope, pluralism doesn’t need to be at odds with moral realism. It’s not in any way opposed to “diversity,” or a step toward “totalitarianism.” To think it’s true someone should do something doesn’t imply everyone should always do the exact same thing. Realism is also not about whether or not values evolve, or why or how they come to exist; it’s just about claiming there really are values and some things really are good or bad.

    Just like scientists don’t need to deal in absolutist dogmas or prevent other scientists from making progress and exploring other valid theories or methods — yet if anything, we should at least agree science can be “objective” — so moral realism doesn’t need to be like that either.

    @john 71. No, it’s my subjective view from which I am prepared,to be moved :-) generally though objective morality is a lynchpin of WLC or SH’s Moral Landscape, not naturalistic humanism.

    W.L. Craig’s brand of “objective morality” is definitely totalitarian, with WLC as the real despot and his imaginary god running a puppet regime in his mind. Harris’ is more than a little whacky, but it even talks about “many peaks” in the landscape, which would be a fine metaphor for pluralism if Harris’ ulterior motive wasn’t trying to justify his Islamophobia.

  71. brucegorton says

    The whole thing reminds of something I read on an economic policy blog once – where they were talking about politics.

    The argument, if I remember correctly, was that there is no such thing as a fiscal conservative, social liberal.

    Fiscal conservativism has social consequences – for example if you don’t support say, universal healthcare that has consequences for abortion rights. If you don’t support spending on education that has consequences for equal access to education and marginalized students (because schools have less in the way of resources to deal with disciplinary issues.)

    On issues of politics – one first has to consider what politics as a subject is all about, and what it is about is the governing politics of a country.

    If one excludes policy from evidence based investigation then there is no real way to tell if they are working, and thus disastrous policies may remain in place for that much longer hurting the common good. There is no real way to assess proposed policies except through what evidence suggests their effects will be, and thus whether new policy works or not is left strictly to chance.

    Just consider the disaster that has resulted from a lack of proper skepticism on climate change (from people who, ironically, claim to be ‘climate skeptics’) has wrought on the global environment.

    Skepticism is pretty much a requirement of being a responsible voter so to exclude it from politics, or political issues from skepticism borders on being downright treasonous. Calling something politics shouldn’t remove it from skeptical examination, but increase the importance of subjecting it to skeptical investigation.

  72. brive1987 says

    Just to refocus would it be fair to say the debate could be paraphrased per below?

    PZ: If Skeptisism doesn’t make you an atheist and if atheism doesn’t make you a humanist and if humanism+skeptic analysis doesn’t make you a vocal and effective supporter of objective “rights” such as third wave femanism, liberalism, the Democrats et al then you are probably morally bankrupt and obviously spending too much time with Lake Monsters.

    SN: Umm, no, there’s room for a wide variety of moral and values based positions. You are being a bit strident and exclusive in expecting us to adopt your focus.

    PZ: You all hate me and want me out of the tent. You don’t think I am a real skeptic when I am the only one amongst the old guard trying to achieve a demonstrably better world.

  73. consciousness razor says

    Just to refocus would it be fair to say the debate could be paraphrased per below?

    It is fair to say that it could be paraphrased that way. In fact, you just did, which confirms it once and for all. However, the paraphrase itself isn’t fair.

  74. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    A firm belief in objective “truths” is a scary first step to totalitarianism – brieve1987

    What utter tripe. It is characteristic of totalitarianism that the state/party/junta/leader decides what is to count as true and good: Truth and Goodness is what serves the Party or the Race or the Glory of God.

  75. says

    Wow, brive1987, you took a post arguing for the universality of skepticism and its utility in more than just a few selected areas, and paraphrased it to be an argument for restricting skepticism to just a few predetermined answers. That degree of inversion requires genuine idiocy. Congratulations!

  76. brive1987 says

    @77 Agreed moral statements can be true or false. But be careful with the term objective as it implies any true third party observer must agree on the anwser to a moral question. In the absence of a WLC transcendent being or some other accepted imperical basis (SH) moral truths must be philosophically subjective even though they may seem objective to a given individual or society.

    Given this, any answer to a moral question is inherently value ridden and therefore it’s validation lies outside the realm of scientific/skeptical inquiry. So PZ I guess skeptisim and science in general can go “get fucked”.

    :-)

  77. says

    Steven Novella actually includes “Consumer Protection” in his list of the “intellectual core of skepticism”:

    Consumer Protection – Skeptics endeavor to protect themselves and others from fraud and deception by exposing fraud and educating the public and policy-makers to recognize deceptive or misleading claims or practices.

    This is not an ideologically neutral claim. I’m willing to ignore the fact that there is already a big value judgement involved to say that deception and fraud are bad, as I’m willing to concede that this is part of the common ground that most skeptics share. However, there are people who think consumers don’t need protection, that everyone is responsible for their own protection (and we’re not responsible for anyone else’s protection), and that the free market will sort it all out anyway. So even Novella’s own definition of the core of skepticism, as laid out in this blog post of his, isn’t ideologically neutral.

  78. consciousness razor says

    Agreed moral statements can be true or false.

    So I assume this doesn’t imply you’re a totalitarian, and that you will openly retract your previous claim because it is false.

    Agreed moral statements can be true or false. But be careful with the term objective as it implies any true third party observer must agree on the anwser to a moral question.

    They “must” agree in what sense? Is it the case that everyone is constrained logically or physically to agree on any given scientific fact which happens to be true (assuming they know about it), or is there a single person who disagrees about scientific facts?

    If you just now fell off the turnip truck of relativism, you’re going to find it’s pretty much all bullshit. In any case, you’re going to have to spell out exactly what you’re saying and why you’re saying it, because that’s how things should work if you want people to understand and possibly accept anything you’re saying.

    If “must” instead means they should agree, then this is a completely vacuous and uncontroversial claim, which isn’t an actual dilemma as you seem to present it.

    In the absence of a WLC transcendent being or some other accepted imperical [empirical] basis (SH) moral truths must be philosophically subjective even though they may seem objective to a given individual or society.

    What does it mean to say they “must be philosophically subjective”? What sort of “basis” are you talking about, and what is “philosophically subjective” even supposed to mean?

    Given this, any answer to a moral question is inherently value ridden and therefore it’s validation lies outside the realm of scientific/skeptical inquiry. So PZ I guess skeptisim and science in general can go “get fucked”.

    :-)

    This doesn’t follow from anything you’ve said, which is becoming a pattern.

  79. consciousness razor says

    Sorry, it should be obvious, but I missed a blockquote here:

    Given this, any answer to a moral question is inherently value ridden and therefore it’s validation lies outside the realm of scientific/skeptical inquiry. So PZ I guess skeptisim and science in general can go “get fucked”.

    :-)

    This doesn’t follow from anything you’ve said, which is becoming a pattern.

  80. brive1987 says

    Thanks PZ. There are two debates here – whether skeptisism can be applied to a plurality of topics and the other, which is the actual PZ expression of this philosophy in the creation of A+. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the conclusions you reach in your activism, I do disagree with the philosophical basis of applying an empirical tool set to subjects that are inherently value ridden.

    In paraphrasing I was commenting on the way in which you have achieved a single set of value-based world views from your skepticism and then put forward these answers as ” objectively true” under the banner of A+ and skepticism; meanwhile, SN argues that more than one value set can be derived from skeptical enquiry.

    And hey, nice ad hominem. :-)

  81. says

    @brive1987 in #64:

    #61 Shaw, a skeptical approach to psychics is to firstly evaluate using your skeptical toolkit the veracity of the claims.

    No, first you need to go back a few more steps. Why did you want to investigate the claims in the first place? What goal did you hope to achieve by doing so? Why did you choose to investigate these claims in particular, and not some other? Why investigate any claims at all? Why not just accept the claims of authorities? Answer these questions honestly, and you’ll see that skepticism itself comes with a whole load of implied and assumed values. You can’t separate skepticism from values, now matter how hard you try.

    And while you’re answering questions to yourself, ask yourself: why are you trying to separate skepticism from values?

  82. says

    In paraphrasing I was commenting on the way in which you have achieved a single set of value-based world views from your skepticism and then put forward these answers as ” objectively true” under the banner of A+ and skepticism;

    You haven’t actually demonstrated that this is what PZ has done…

    And hey, nice ad hominem. :-)

    No, that was an insult, not an ad hominem. Please learn the difference.

  83. brive1987 says

    @consciousness razor 86, I’m sorry if I wasnt clear enough before, but here goes: in saying moral statements can be true or false, all I mean is that they are truth-apt, or that moral realism is favourable over true cognitivism or nihilism. Nothing major, and too philosophical to refer to just any given statement. :-)

    Okay, when I say a third party “must” agree on a given answer for it to be objective, I mean that, yes, given the physical evidence, they should be logically compelled to the same conclusion. So scientific claims fit the bill. But without some hard wired/transcendental dictat, moral claims dont; the answer of a third party to a moral question must be “I don’t know” – regardless of any empirical facts of the matter, the jump to a moral judgement is value-based. This “I don’t know” is indicative of a topic science can’t touch. That’s all.

  84. consciousness razor says

    Okay, when I say a third party “must” agree on a given answer for it to be objective, I mean that, yes, given the physical evidence, they should be logically compelled to the same conclusion. So scientific claims fit the bill. But without some hard wired/transcendental dictat, moral claims dont; the answer of a third party to a moral question must be “I don’t know” – regardless of any empirical facts of the matter, the jump to a moral judgement is value-based. This “I don’t know” is indicative of a topic science can’t touch. That’s all.

    You leap from “logically compelled” to “hard wired.” We’re not wired to be especially logical, not even in regard to “scientific” claims.

    Even assuming that were the case, I have no idea why it would be different in any other subject area. Let’s assume that it is, just for the sake of argument. It would be like saying in some special sense we have “scientific brains,” but not historical or artistic or ethical brains. Even granting all of this, every last bit of it, this still wouldn’t tell us why science is “objective.” It would be a claim about our brains, not about whichever field of study is supposed to be special.

    It’s also very odd that you pair together “hard wired/transcendental dictat[e].” How are these supposed to be alike in any way? And why would they be necessary for something like objectivity?

    I get the feeling that you’ve heard of WLC’s nonsense and accept that he actually has something relevant to say about “objective morality,” so his faith in god* is in some way a valid (but false) alternative to logic and empirical evidence. That isn’t the case.

    *Who is definitionally a fucking subject, for fuck’s sake, not an object or an objective.

  85. mokkam says

    When I heard the comments of Jamie Ian Swiss at TAM via podcast I nearly pulled my ears off with my headphones, it made me so mad. I had not read any other response to it before PZ. Jamie is one of the in crowd at these events who present themselves off as the skeptic movements “celebrities”. While I am not very keen on the focus on celebrity at events like TAM, I am more repelled at those like Swiss who present themselves as the experts who are the only ones to be trusted with stewardship of the direction of the skeptic movement. We don’t want or need your stewardship and if the movement chooses to go in another direction you don’t like then too bad.

  86. brive1987 says

    @Razor, the pairing you have trouble with reflects the popular options for a basis for truly objective morality – WLC transcendent being or a naturalistic hard wired “truth” If you want to argue along these lines then pick one or provide an alternative.

    No I am not a fan of WLC or his arguments. It should be obvious by now I am not a believer in absolute objective moral truths.

    Your final Godwinesque paragraph suggests our capacity for civil discussion is over, but thanks for your input.

  87. Anri says

    I completely agree that you have to stand for things and your position can be informed by a skeptical approach. Take for example “1therapeutic touch can be shown not to work. We can measure the resources lost and the lives impacted by with-held proven treatments. On the other hand it makes people feel good for placebo reasons. 2However the harm outweighs the good and I don’t want to live in a society where libertarian views mean the uninformed are preyed upon. 3We should inform the public, no,wait we should ban the practice now. 4Actually fuck you Dr x and your mystical ways. 5In fact you may want to shut up shop before I visit some of the pain you cause back onto you.”. I’m sure you can see where this train of thought deviated from skeptical to values to activism to stident activism to militant activism.

    (snip – numbers added for reference purposes)
    Well, let’s take a look, shall we?
    1: Easily testable and demonstrable – I’m assuming you’re just fine with this.
    2: Pretty easy to demonstrate that a medical system devoted to and populated by quacks results in poorer overall health outcomes. Or do you consider a health system dedicated to improving health to be an ‘activist’ position?
    3: If merely informing the public about a harmful practice was sufficient, we wouldn’t have a skeptical movement, because everyone would already be in it. Or – just for an example – should a true skeptic be content to inform the public about the disadvantages of slavery, but not actually bother to eliminate it?
    4:DrX is willfully harming people for money, or is willfully refusing to inform themself well enough to stop harming people for money. Fuck them, they’re a bad person. Must a true skeptic be unable to render such a judgement? Do you believe that skepticism cannot add to an opinion about willfully harming people for money being bad?
    5: That comment would not fly here, and I suspect you know that.

    And yet it is all good (well maybe not the last bit!).

    Yes, see, you did know that.
    And yet you included that slimy little bit of dishonestly anyway, and just tried to walk it back with a rhetorical winky.
    My skepticism suggests to me – based on prior experience – that someone who is willing to be publicly dishonest in this manner once is pretty likely to do so in further discussion. Does yours?

  88. consciousness razor says

    @Razor, the pairing you have trouble with reflects the popular options for a basis for truly objective morality – WLC transcendent being or a naturalistic hard wired “truth” If you want to argue along these lines then pick one or provide an alternative.

    I don’t care about which are the “popular options,” and you still haven’t said what sort of “basis” you think it needs. I can’t give an answer with an alternative if I don’t understand the point of the question.

    No I am not a fan of WLC or his arguments. It should be obvious by now I am not a believer in absolute objective moral truths.

    Your final Godwinesque paragraph suggests our capacity for civil discussion is over, but thanks for your input.

    That’s why I said “valid (but false),” since I had assumed you thought it’s false. You weren’t arguing in favor of it, which is fantastic; but I won’t let it choke the rationality out of a completely different argument, because you don’t realize it’s completely irrelevant to everything except WLC’s own nonsense.

  89. says

    PZ expression of this philosophy in the creation of A+…put forward these answers as ” objectively true” under the banner of A+

    Uh, what? I did not create Atheism+. I did not mention Atheism+ here. I am not the Atheism+ puppetmaster.

    But you are clearly a moron.

  90. flex says

    brive1987 wrote @88,

    There are two debates here – whether skeptisism can be applied to a plurality of topics and the other, which is the actual PZ expression of this philosophy in the creation of A+.

    Reading over the thread, it looks to me like the person starting the argument about what you define as the second debate is you. While there is no law against thread creep, making a heating contention about a position which was not described in the opening post is pretty much guaranteed to generate irate responses. Possibly you are reading more into PZ’s exchange with Steve Novella than you should be.

    This next quote from you rather gives it away,

    In paraphrasing I was commenting on the way in which you have achieved a single set of value-based world views from your skepticism and then put forward these answers as ” objectively true” under the banner of A+ and skepticism; meanwhile, SN argues that more than one value set can be derived from skeptical enquiry.

    When what PZ actually wrote, was,

    I’m not saying that all true skeptics have to adhere to my positions in all the things;….

    This position was re-iterated a number of times in the OP. Your ability to draw a completely different conclusion suggests either very poor reading comprehension or that you read the OP from a viewpoint which had already reached the conclusion that PZ was arguing that organized skepticism should be re-defined to PZ’s standards. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen PZ make that argument, although I’ve seen critics of PZ pull out that strawman a number of times.

    PZ has argued that organized skepticism can be broadened and made more socially relevant. The tools developed for debunking the claims of psychics and bigfoot can also be used to debunk the claims of the laffer-curve and anarcho-capitalism. The methods of science and skepticism can evaluate what the results of moral or value-based ideas.

    For example, I can make the moral claim that abortion is wrong.

    The methods of science and skepticism can be used to say that in the current structure of our society:
    1. Abortions will happen anyway, either by accident or by choice.
    2. Criminalizing abortions will not stop them from happening.
    3. In some cases the life of another person, the mother, will be threatened by childbirth.
    4. In some cases caring for a child will severely impact the lives of the mother and other members of the extended family, condemning them to a life of poverty and privation.
    4.1 A poor family which has an increased burden on it’s resources is more likely to remain poor.
    5. Unwanted children are more likely to be abused.
    6. Unwanted children are more likely to need medical care
    etc.

    These are all objective results based on scientific inquiry using skeptical and scientific tools. The results of the moral statement ‘abortion is wrong’ can be shown to lead to increased suffering and hardship in the way our current society is structured and functions.

    Should this plethora of information be ignored when discussing the moral question of abortion?

    From your post @92, you say:

    regardless of any empirical facts of the matter, the jump to a moral judgement is value-based.

    I read this as saying, “since the question of abortion is a moral judgement, none of the empirical facts of the results of a ban on abortion can be used to reach a conclusion on the morality of a ban.”

    For the record, I don’t know, or care, what your stance is on the question of abortion. It is, however, an easy example to use because the results of prohibiting abortion are so clearly understood.

  91. Roberto Aguirre Maturana says

    My flavor of skepticism is the epistemological stand where claims are assumed false until proved true; it’s irrelevant if those claims are untestable or not. That’s the reason why I’m atheist, I’m skeptic about the existance of gods, either their existance is testable or not.

    But it seems that this so called “skeptic movement” follows some kind of “methodological skepticism”, which only applies to testable claims, so to them god is outside the scope of skepticism. That doesn’t make sense to me, it’s almost as if they are confusing skepticism with science.

  92. carbonbasedlifeform says

    The bit about skeptics not belonging to organizations reminds me of an on-line argument I once had with a libertarian. I quoted certain pieces from the Libertarian Party platform, and commented on them. He responded by saying that members of the Libertarian Party might call themselves libertarians, they really weren’t. When I started muttering about No True Scotsmen, he said that one of the marks of the true libertarian was that he did not join political parties. So, apparently, for Steven Novella, the true skeptic is like the libertarian. The response to both of these men is the same: What, then, is the libertarian/skeptic who belongs to a libertarian/skeptic organization?

    I will say that I agree with Steven on at least one thing: There are skeptics who are not atheists, there are skeptics who are politically conservative. His complaint that you seem to be reading some skeptics out of the movement, basically because they do not agree with you on certain topics has at least some merit. I am thinking specifically of a man who is a practicing Methodist, who did not support Romney because he felt that Romney was not a real conservative, and is adamantly opposed to alternative medicine. Would you see that man as a genuine skeptic, PZ?

  93. jtphil says

    Is it either useful or helpful to classify anyone as a “genuine skeptic”?

    Someone can exercise skepticism and critical thinking on some topics but not others, in fact, I think that’s what most folks do, whether they are aware of it or not.

    Better to just address a person’s arguments than to worry about classification schemes.

  94. says

    His complaint that you seem to be reading some skeptics out of the movement, basically because they do not agree with you on certain topics has at least some merit.

    Not really, because what we’ve been talking about is inclusion or exclusion of topics, not people.

    I am thinking specifically of a man who is a practicing Methodist, who did not support Romney because he felt that Romney was not a real conservative, and is adamantly opposed to alternative medicine. Would you see that man as a genuine skeptic, PZ?

    Can’t answer for PZ, but for me, you haven’t provided enough information to make that decision. You haven’t even defined what a “genuine skeptic” is, but I suppose you want PZ to tell you, so I’ll let that pass. However, have you considered that this guy might just be skeptical about some things, and not about others, like most people?

    Of course, from your description, we can’t even tell what bits he’s skeptical about, and which he isn’t. He might have been properly skeptical about Romney’s claim of being a “severe conservative”, based on things Romney has said elsewhere, but he might also have just blindly adopted his church leader’s positions on this. The same on alternative medicine. Does he reject it based on evidence that it doesn’t work, or does he reject it because he considers most of it witchcraft? Etc.

  95. jetboy says

    I can’t be skeptical of the words people say or write – the words plainly exist, and I and others have heard or read them. What I can be skeptical of is the person’s thought processes, motivations, or other beliefs. I absolutely can, I doubt what is hidden, and it must be brought to light to examine its nature. I can likewise doubt, without permission or sanction, test the claims made by the person. I can, must and will examine a thing skeptically. I was skeptical of claims in advertisements – and from there to religion, and from religion to finance, from finance to economics,economics to politics. Each one was a stepping-stone to the next. I accept no data without testing, evaluating, or verifying. I’ve found that, among other things, it’s made me a rather excellent baker and brewer.
    Atheism, for me at least, is part of a progressive skepticism – a step that opens an uncounted number of avenues for thought. If a person says to me, “No, you mustn’t apply your critical thought to my patch of belief! Even if I insist that it affect you or those you value!”, then I will be skeptical at them, and ruthlessly so. Especially if they are claiming to be “skeptical”. If you are requiring that I accept your claim as true, without examination, and that I must at least pretend that you are right in your presence, then my response to you will be to “get stuffed.” I don’t see what’s hard about this; insisting that claims are off-limits to inquiry IS power politics, in a raw and naked form.

  96. says

    I will say that I agree with Steven on at least one thing: There are skeptics who are not atheists, there are skeptics who are politically conservative. His complaint that you seem to be reading some skeptics out of the movement, basically because they do not agree with you on certain topics has at least some merit. I am thinking specifically of a man who is a practicing Methodist, who did not support Romney because he felt that Romney was not a real conservative, and is adamantly opposed to alternative medicine. Would you see that man as a genuine skeptic, PZ?

    I agree with Novella on most things.

    Your question is invalid, though. There’s no such thing as a pure skeptic; we arrive at it in bits and pieces. There are plenty of examples of individuals who are skeptical about alt-med, but not skeptical about Methodism. He’s a genuine skeptic in some things, but not in others…like all of us.

    Also, I’ve already answered the question at length.

  97. adriana says

    This is exactly the kind of article that keeps me coming back to Pharyngula. Perfectly reasoned. I may disagree with PZ’s style sometimes, but content-wise, this is fantastic. I’m bookmarking it.
    I confess to still being confused about what exactly skepticism is. Is it a methodology or a philosophical position or both. As a scientist, I suppose I’m a professional skeptic but I never use that label. I do proudly declare to be an atheist and I was totally unaware of the claim that skeptics leave “faith-based” claims out of their field. I commented about this on Neurologica but got no replies. This was my comment:

    “This post makes many good points about skepticism and what subjects are fair game for skepticism to approach. However, I disagree that political ideologies such as libertarianism or socialism or other -isms are out of bounds because they are about values. Yes, they are about values but they also make predictions about the world. Many of these _isms make very clear predictions about the economy, effects on society, etc. Science is in the business of making and testing predictions, therefore I think it is is fair game to use scientific methodology to investigate the validity of their claims, for example, that applying free market policies will reduce inequality is in principle, a testable claim. Unless of course, Steve is arguing that libertarianism should not be investigated using a scientific approach because it is a faith-based belief that can’t be proven wrong by science :-)”

    I simply don’t understand the claim that something that is “faith-based” should be outside the realm of critical examination using scientific methodologies. If someone says they have faith that St. Anthony is going to cure their disease, should I just accept this and not challenge it? I have the feeling that many in the skepticism movement simply worry about offending skeptic members who are also religious. As a scientist, I would not stop investigating something scientifically because it would offend the religious belief of a colleague.

  98. Sastra says

    I probably should go back and either re-watch or read a transcript of Jamie Ian Swiss’ talk at TAM, but as I recall he wasn’t bashing atheists or arguing that atheism wasn’t a proper topic for skepticism or TAM. Iirc, his point was that we-as-skeptics should welcome skeptics who believe in God into the community in the same sense and spirit that we ought to welcome skeptics who believe in Bigfoot, alt med, conspiracy theories, and psychic powers into the community: “Come in, glad to see you — now be prepared, we are all going to debate your claims!”

    And if they really ARE a skeptic, then they will respond with “oh, goody!” Let it rip.

    If that wasn’t what he meant, then I apologize for having applauded at the time. Somehow, that’s what I interpreted him as saying. And it’s a fair enough message, as I suspect PZ would agree.

    The problem lies in situations where people with controversial views want to be protected from debate. And, in religion, this usually translates into some form of “respect my faith because I’m admitting it isn’t rational.” From a skeptic? Is it irrational, but moral? Or non-rational, and moral? Or what?

    That’s a serious debate, even when we’re still in categories. And you can certainly decide to opt out from it as an individual, pleading weakness or embarrassment or some other personal failing (we all have flaws!) — but you better not demand that the topic be “off limits” to the field of skepticism in general, or TAM in particular. Advocating inconsistency is not going to work.

  99. satansparakeet says

    So what is left as the substantial matter of disagreement here then? Looks to me like it is two more or less major things:

    1. How widely should we define skepticism?

    PZ wants it to be anything and everything we can point a scientific or critical thinking eye at. Steve wants a more limited definition that he outlined in his blog.

    I agree with PZ in theory, but find the wide definition of skepticism difficult in practice. It’s hard to draw people into the movement if they don’t have a reasonable idea of what the movement is about. It’s also hard to take action and organize meetings as a group of skeptics when we’re all there for widely different reasons.

    2. Is the skeptical leadership discouraging certain varieties of skeptical topics.

    The answer to this is that there clearly is loud dissent from a lot of skeptics when topics outside of the usual bigfootery are addressed at skeptic events and websites. Some of that dissent is obnoxious, hurtful, and unfortunately some of it comes from various leaders of several skeptical organizations. Whether or not this is actually the “old guard” is irrelevant. More importantly, however, is whether or not it is coming from all of the organizations and whether or not these other topics still have a significant voice within skepticism as a whole.

    Clearly, these topics are still being addressed within skepticism and whether or not some of us are assholes in complaining about topics we don’t like at some of our conferences is largely irrelevant to the movement as a whole. PZ is obviously still being invited back, as is Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, Jen McCreight and others. Atheism and feminism are currently bearing the brunt of many of the naysayers within skepticism, but something always will be. The more topics you cover, the more people you’re going to find who disagree with the importance or relevance of one or the other of them. Call those people out and remind them they’re being stupid, but if they won’t listen there’s not a lot more you can do.

    Basically we’re dealing with freedom of speech hear and as long as we’re not forcibly silencing anyone or shutting down the conferences that we don’t think are really skeptical, then where is the problem?

  100. says

    From jetboy:

    I accept no data without testing, evaluating, or verifying.

    I’m not picking on jetboy or contesting this claim about one person’s behavior. I’m expanding on this idea that many skeptics have about the kinds of things they investigate and do, and I’m going to give an example of an entire group of skeptics actually NOT doing this even while they were actually telling me that’s what they did.

    I went to a local group meeting over the weekend (I don’t usually attend meetings there) that decided to discuss the upcoming Women in Secularism conference, and it turned into a two-parter (to be continued next month). Afterwards I got to talking to the president and asked why they were broaching the topic and how he thought it would continue next time, and he said that they were going to examine the claims of sexism within the skeptical movement and if they decided it existed they would take action within their own organization. I expressed disbelief that they were asking the question “if,” and he said that’s what skeptics do–they examined evidence before they accept the veracity of claims, and how could they call themselves skeptics if they didn’t treat everything like that.

    But they don’t! I looked at their list of past meeting topics and one of them was a speaker about protecting yourself from cybercrime. The summary of that meeting failed to mention the part where they looked at all the evidence for the claim that cybercrime existed before deciding whether or not it would be prudent to take measures to stop it. They just accepted that it was true because the person who was advocating solutions said it was. Scrolling back through lots of past meeting topics, they don’t appear to have examined the question of whether cybercrime really existed or not.

    And yet… it’s still what Good Skeptics do. Refuse to accept data without verifying, evaluating, or testing. Unless it’s about cybercrime I guess.

  101. says

    Point the second:

    I also don’t understand why people have latched on to this idea that Feminists are trying to wrestle Skepticism away from its Original Purpose in order to pursue their Specialized Agenda. Most of the women I have heard from within skepticism talking about feminist issues are not trying to redirect the movement so much as clean out the crap in the skepticism closet so that everyone can work together more effectively. It’s an internal issue, not an external issue. They are trying to FIX the movement, not redirect it. How this (extremely obvious) distinction is being (so blatantly) overlooked baffles me, and I’m not even a scientist.

    I’m not actually baffled about the struggle. I have some strong suspicions why there is resistance to fixing the movement’s internal dynamic, but I don’t understand how the conversation gets steered away so often from this point. To me, the concern about whether skepticism can be turned towards social justice is a personal preference and not really relevant to the concern about women’s diminished status within the skeptical and atheist culture. As has been argued extensively above by lots of people, skepticism has always been about justice and activism. Saying otherwise now and making long statements now about “what belongs” is just a derailment/distraction/avoidance technique to get out of cleaning house.

  102. says

    KarenX,

    Really? “If”? That right there is a sign of sexism, even if it is the thoughtless unconscious kind. The sort of thinking it takes to avoid simple realities when it suits people isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is when people do it while wearing their skeptic hats in the context of skeptical groups. Here’s the simple 30-second REAL thinking that puts his bullshit hyperskepticism in the trash where it belongs:

    1) People aren’t perfect.
    2) Groups of people are made up of imperfect individuals, and are also imperfect.
    3) Sexism is one of the problems that individuals and groups deal with.
    4) Skeptics are people, and the skeptical movement is made up of people.

    Therefore… dah dah DUUUUUMMM!… the skeptical movement has a sexism problem. The same way being part of a skeptic group doesn’t make you immune from cybercrime, or getting into a shitty relationship, or screwing up your taxes, or anything else.

  103. says

    I probably started being a Skeptic when I read Martin Gardner around 1990, and shortly thereafter discovered talk.origins. I became an atheist about 10 years later as I started applying the skeptical attitude more consistently (IOW: when I decided to be honest with myself). So for me, atheism is and always will be a consequence of skepticism, and inseparable therefrom. And I don’t agree that “matters of faith” constitute a distinct category. There are religious claims that can be investigated (logically or empirically), and religious claims that can’t be (often because they are deliberately gerrymandered to avoid falsifiability). The former should be investigated by skeptics (which has a tendency to show them to be false), and the latter should be dismissed as so much noise (or at best, treated as a literary genre). And this, to my mind, is the proper skeptical approach.

    Now, there is always a pragmatic argument to be made that a movement or organization should define its mandate narrowly, in order to attract a wider range of participants and bring a more concentrated effort to bear (there’s an obvious physics analogy in there, which I think is valid). This requires having to get along with people you disagree with on issues outside the mandate; ie. declaring that particular venue to be a ceasefire zone. But let’s be honest about the fact that this is a pragmatic, not a principled, stance. Feel free to concentrate on quack-med, or creationism, or faith healing as issues of concern because they do identifiable harm and you personally have an interest in them, and declare a truce with everyone else on all other issues if you like, but pure “matters of faith” are not magically exempt from skeptical inquiry, and it’s disingenuous to frame it that way.

  104. says

    @satansparakeet in #110:

    I agree with PZ in theory, but find the wide definition of skepticism difficult in practice. It’s hard to draw people into the movement if they don’t have a reasonable idea of what the movement is about.

    It’s also hard to draw in people if the skeptical movement isn’t addressing those issues they care about, or that are relevant to their lives.

    It’s also hard to take action and organize meetings as a group of skeptics when we’re all there for widely different reasons.

    It’s also hard to take action and organize meetings if we ignore it when we are, in actual fact, there for widely different reasons.

    Also, it reads as if you’re coming close to endorsing the idea of “let’s change our ideas of skepticism for the sake of the movement”. I’m not saying that’s what you believe, or meant to say, but that’s what it reads like, to me at least.

  105. freemage says

    I’m going to give Novella a marginally more forgiving read, here. I don’t think he’s giving all religious claims a pass (he specifically points to things like the Flood and creationism as valid targets for skeptical thought). Rather, he seems to want to give an exemption to what I’m going to call ‘root beliefs’–the core element of an ideology.

    So he would say skeptics can dispute the Flood (by pointing to scientific evidence and so on) but not the root claim of the Abrahamic religions that there is an omnipotent, omniscient being (I’m leaving off omnibenevolent, because at least some sects do actually acknowledge that their Invisible Sky Daddy doesn’t love ~everyone~) that routinely intervenes in the physical world.

    Similarly, while he’d be perfectly willing to apply skeptical thought to, say, a claim that women are not as good at science and mathematics as men are, he would not be willing to address the root beliefs of feminist theory–that women are as potentially valuable to society as men (and thus deserving of the same privileges and rights), and that there is a collection of systemic societal mechanisms and historic artifacts (commonly referred to as the Patriarchy) that prevent this equality of status from occurring.

    Of course, he’s wrong on both counts; these beliefs are testable, and one’s done considerably better at holding up under testing than the other (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which is which). But he’s not setting aside ALL claims of religious believers, nor (for instance) the claims of various MRAs and other opponents of feminism–instead, he simply wouldn’t analyze their root belief, apparently to pick off each bad argument one at a time.

    Clearly, PZ’s approach–attack the root belief, and if it fails, then all the subsequent beliefs become irrelevant–is considerably more efficient. (This is the point of the Courtier’s Reply–sophisticated ‘study’ or analysis of bullshit is still going to be talking about bullshit.)

  106. satansparakeet says

    @Deen in #115

    I’m just kind of waffling on those two points and trying to clarify or simplify what we’re really arguing about.

    I think skepticism should be a big tent and we can include all these topics as legitimate subjects of skepticism, but how do we define ourselves to others? Steve offered his attempt at a definition. I can’t recall if I’ve seen a similar attempt from PZ.

    In addition, I did talk briefly with Daniel Loxton at the TAM with the panel PZ mentions and I was unsatisfied with his opinion that skeptics ought to stick to more traditional topics. However, he did make a point that kind of stuck with me that Skeptics have a history and tradition of fighting pseudoscience and we’ve developed a certain skill sets to do that fairly effectively. I’m paraphrasing here, of course, but he was not sure that we have the expertise or impact necessary to effectively engage other topics. Unfortunately, I think there is some truth to that. Not that we shouldn’t explore those areas, but we should recognize that, for example, numerous political organizations exist to fight political battles and PZ can post liberal arguments to his numerous readers all day long, but is unlikely to have as much impact as organizations designed to affect political change.

    Honestly, I’d be happy if my doubts were shown to be incredibly misguided, but I haven’t seen examples of skepticism succeeding in addressing other topics yet. We’re often not even very effective at addressing the ones we usually focus on.

  107. quickmat says

    The reason I was drawn to skepticism, and then to atheism, is because I had interactions with skeptics who, like PZ, didn’t shy away from questioning mainstream religions or other ideas. Without them I’d likely still be an ignorant Christian.

    I just don’t understand when a True Skeptic limits the scope of their skepticism to bigfoot or ancient aliens or homeopathy. Aren’t the claims of politicians, social inequalities, and religion equally valid targets for skeptical examination?

    How could you rationally argue otherwise?

    P.S. This is my first comment here, I’ve lurked for some time but have never participated before. I felt it was time to join the community. Many of the regulars here are pretty bright, well informed, and very articulate so I find it’s a bit intimidating to jump in. I’m not sure I can maintain that standard, but I’ll give it a go.

  108. says

    @satansparakeet in #117:

    However, he did make a point that kind of stuck with me that Skeptics have a history and tradition of fighting pseudoscience and we’ve developed a certain skill sets to do that fairly effectively. I’m paraphrasing here, of course, but he was not sure that we have the expertise or impact necessary to effectively engage other topics.

    Maybe, but who is this “we” here? This expertise may easily exist in abundance elsewhere in the movement, or its peripheries, without people like Loxton being aware of it. Why would they be aware of it, if it’s not one of their personal priorities? Besides, even if he’s right and we don’t have the expertise, the answer to that problem isn’t to give up and retreat from those topics. Instead, we could decide to either develop that expertise ourselves, or attract it from elsewhere. We could probably learn a thing or two from the LGBT movement, for example.

    Not that we shouldn’t explore those areas, but we should recognize that, for example, numerous political organizations exist to fight political battles and PZ can post liberal arguments to his numerous readers all day long, but is unlikely to have as much impact as organizations designed to affect political change.

    Of course, not doing anything and staying quiet on these issues has even less impact. Just saying. Everyone has to start somewhere. Unless you’re defending the status quo, you’ll never have powerful interests at your back from the beginning.

  109. leonpeyre says

    (damn, that’s two lights they keep trying to flick off.)

    Right. Except it’s a lot more than that. I believe, PZ, that your picture of officially sanctioned skepticism addressing 998 or 999 of 1000 issues and shutting out 1 or 2 is horribly optimistic. I think the real figure would be closer to 600 issues shutting out 400. You mentioned atheism, feminism, economics, and politics–but there’s also other issues like racism that the movement works to shy away from.

  110. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I’m cross-posting from NeuroLogica Blog:

    I notice that yet to be addressed is the clear fact that atheists are singled out and maligned in the sceptic movement.

    Isn’t that an important part of this discussion?

    I don’t actually see anyone claiming that any given organisation shouldn’t have the focus that it does or that it should necessarily have to include certain topics. What actually is in evidence, however, is that prominent sceptics and some plurality of sceptics in general, have a problem with the inclusion of atheism under the sceptic umbrella. It clearly belongs there, as do many of the other things that intersect with scepticism as a tool, but for whatever reason, it is specifically singled out.

    Steve, you’re wondering what the hubub is and it’s that there is a segment of the sceptic community that has decided that certain topics are outside of scepticism, that atheists and feminists (to name only two categories) are trying to usurp scepticism.

    Jamy Ian Swiss even said, in an interview on your podcast, that he has a specific problem with people trying to move his tent. Well, he clearly thinks that he has and is entitled to a definition of scepticism that includes what the purview of scepticism can be. Apparently, the ‘tent’ isn’t actually big enough for all the people who self-identify as sceptics, especially with attitudes like Jamy Ian Swiss’s.

    To be very forward and to press quite hard: Can you acknowledge the point that has been made that atheists feel discriminated against? Can you acknowledge that there is a vocal component of the sceptic movement that evidently does not want scepticism to include certain topics?

  111. scienceavenger says

    Eamon Knight said:

    There are religious claims that can be investigated (logically or empirically), and religious claims that can’t be (often because they are deliberately gerrymandered to avoid falsifiability). The former should be investigated by skeptics (which has a tendency to show them to be false), and the latter should be dismissed as so much noise (or at best, treated as a literary genre).

    I am so stealing this. It is immensely annoying when people offer up a definition of God as nonfalsifiable that was created like some rhetorical Frankenstein, for the express purpose of defeating the evil skeptic, and which appears nowhere else in their musings. They deserve credit for their creativity, I’ll give them that, but it says nothing about what exists. It is not high philosophy, it is sophistry.

  112. Didgya says

    “fuck skepticism” sums up your view for a quite a long time it seems. I do not agree with these unfair labeling of people you know well and hopefully respect. When will it be “acceptable” to have a different opinion about where you focus skepticism? Why, to prove your point, is a character assassination necessary?

  113. Gnumann+, Radfem shotgunner of inhuman concepts says

    “fuck skepticism” sums up your view for a quite a long time it seems. I do not agree with these unfair labeling of people you know well and hopefully respect. When will it be “acceptable” to have a different opinion about where you focus skepticism? Why, to prove your point, is a character assassination necessary?

    You’re not really good at reading – are you?
    The whole goshdarned point is that the doodz of troo skepticxxx are trying to limit the subjects to which a sceptic method is applied and talked about. I have no problem with the He-Man fairy-stomper bigfootclub concentrating on stomping on people who claim to have fairies in their hair or people with bigfoots in their mouths. It’s only a fucking problem when they get in the way of people who are actually trying to accomplish something with their sceptism.

    Debunking homeopathy is useful by all means, but debunking the Vienna School of economics and their allies is far more crucial. Any sceptic should have huge fucking problems with an ideology that claims to be science while it is ideologically opposed to empiricism and builds on model a high-school level inquiry could debunk. They don’t because Penn Teller has monies and ideology. And they try to sanction others which tries. That is a big fucking problem.

  114. says

    Gnumann+

    You’re not really good at reading – are you?

    Yet somehow, every one of the anti-crowd fails at reading comprehension in the exact same way. It feels like they’re lying, tell you the truth, because it is hard to imagine a whole crowd of people being accidentally identically stupid and wrong.

  115. Gnumann+, Radfem shotgunner of inhuman concepts says

    I-Joe:
    Lying would almost be better in this case rather than what I suspect is the truth:
    Their blind faith and devotion to the idols of sKeptisism prevents them from seeing the truth, or read any critism for what it really is.

  116. Didgya says

    Ironic Gnumann – Who are these “skeptical oppressors” that stop you or anyone else from applying skepticism, where you deem fit? Why does/can Skepticism not have a spectrum of viewpoints. Each of us, that are skeptics, lie somewhere on that spectrum(and some many places) and focus as we wish to. Not every skeptic leaders need to rally around the ‘poor’ minority Atheist (me being one, an atheist,lower middle class and of mixed race,so keep the ‘privileged’ comments). Be leaders and or activist on your spectrum of skeptics but don’t expect everyone else to move to your marginal position.

  117. says

    Not that we shouldn’t explore those areas, but we should recognize that, for example, numerous political organizations exist to fight political battles and PZ can post liberal arguments to his numerous readers all day long, but is unlikely to have as much impact as organizations designed to affect political change.

    Honestly, I’d be happy if my doubts were shown to be incredibly misguided, but I haven’t seen examples of skepticism succeeding in addressing other topics yet. We’re often not even very effective at addressing the ones we usually focus on.

    @Satansparakeet So we shouldn’t try to effect political change in a political climate that is so rife with religious pandering that in New Mexico someone actually filed a bill to criminalize abortions for rape victims? Because we are skeptics and only effective with a myopic scope of topics? I posted about some religious based legislation on my blog and people went to that representative’s facebook as I asked them to, and gave that person a piece of their mind. That person was just getting hive fives before that. That bill may not make it to committee. Are you going to wilt at being pushed around or are you going to push back?

  118. catof many faces says

    Wow, so i went over to the thread over there and found that both steven AND orac don’t believe atheists are discriminated against… kinda sad.

    On the other hand it’s also sad that apparently Orac gets yelled at for not being atheist enough…

  119. txhoward says

    And my two-cents, reprinted from Sharon Hill’s Doubtful News:

    Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your belief, we don’t live in a vacuum so, from an ethical, and in some cases a survival perspective we will (skeptics) have to become socially and politically involved in the world.

    The Occupy Movement has been a spectacular let down because it, by in large, refuses to organize and comit to, boogie men of all bugaboos, an “agenda.”

    Union of Concerned Scientist understand that if you want to achieve binding, legal change that you have to have some “skin in the game.” In other words if you want changes in policy you can’t be apolitical, you have to organize and take a stand, make an affirmative statement, outline goals, etc.

    In politics you can’t just be against something you must also be about something productive. Milk (the movie) illustrates this fact very nicely.

    I do believe that the multiple organizations model is probably the best. If there is a skeptic-based political organization I think the underlying philosophy should be “evidence-based” rather than opinion based politics. Cognitive Policy Works seems to do a decent job of this.

    Rightly or wrongly, every time I hear a skeptic take the “softball” stance under the misguided guise of live and let live, I’m reminded of two things: 1) Live and let live only works in a world in which everyone agrees to practice that philosophy. We don’t live in that world. 2) It also reminds me of Letter From a Birmingham Jail when Dr. King reminds his fellow clergymen that being politically complacent i.e., waiting until the people are “ready” to talk about segregation, is morally equivalent to a tacit approval of segregation. In other words an unjust system is allowed to thrive, people are allowed to be oppressed, because the topic is too discomforting for the majority to address.

    I understand that atheists in western
    countries are not being oppressed, but the underlying ethics are still the same. To ignore, or downplay global warming, gun control, civil rights, adequate health care, poverty, or any other issue which requires our attention, and resources because it makes people uncomfortable, or offends their sensibilities is equally ethically bankrupt.

    So should skeptics engage in politics? It’s a moral obligation. Do we need a skeptic/evidence based organization staffed with dedicated people who understand the law and politics? Yes, definitely. Will every skeptic be inclined to participate? No, but they should, at that point, willingly forfeit their right to “piss and moan.”

  120. Gnumann+, Radfem shotgunner of inhuman concepts says

    Didgya:
    Firstly – regulars with whom I have a history are allowed to use my old nym, you are not. It’s Gnumann+ to the likes of you (and because of the likes of you).
    Secondly: I would (and probably I-Joe too) would like a honest answer – are you really this bad at reading, or do you think rank dishonesty would give you a point somewhere.

    The OP mentions several names that try to shut down discussions on religion. I mention Penn Teller and the “fuck you, I got mine”-school of economics.

    Should we continue? We could go over to gender relations, but the list would rather lengthy I fear.

    I’m not claiming they have a total success rate, but they are damn well trying.

    And all this time, you’re yelling at us while prentending to hold our position. “Each to his own” is exactly my point and PZs point in the OP. If JREF want to deal only with the mostly harmless marginalia of irrationality, they’d better put it clearly in their charter. Trying to sanction people for being interested in other things is not the way. Yelling at PZ for being an atheist at TAM (note: not speaking about atheism at TAM, merely being an atheist at TAM) is an example.

  121. erikthebassist says

    I stopped listening the SGU about 2 years ago, not because I didn’t like it, but because it always seemed to concentrate on the low hanging fruit. I was a progressive liberal atheist long before I heard about skepticism or the SGU, or PZ Meyers.

    I’m lucky to have been taught the tools of skepticism by folks like SN and JIS, and Randi. Those tools sharpened my world view and taught me how dangerous irrational thinking can be, but I’ll be damned if now that I have those tools, I’ll limit them to debunking the low hanging fruit.

    I think it’s useful to think about the old guard skeptics as sort of a boot camp for critical thinking, because they do that well, they bring people in to the fold and teach them how to think critically.

    If the SGU and the JREF are the boot camp, then PZ and A+ are the front frigin lines, and that’s just the way I see it. Who does more to quash the attempts of the religious right to move us from a secular nation to a theocratic one? Atheist groups, that’s who. The FFRF is constantly in court, on the front lines, and guess what? They don’t give a sasquatch about bigfoot or aliens, or alt med or psychics.

    Who does more to fight for equality? Feminists or skeptics? Who does more to fight injustice? Skeptics or humanists?

    Dictionary atheists and dictionary skeptics can do what they do if they want to limit themselves to that, but stop telling the rest of us that we need to stay in boot camp, otherwise the boot camp is fucking pointless.

    SN and the True Skeptics camp are useful for churning out skeptical thinkers, but the atheists and social justice warriors are where we want those skeptical thinkers to end up. Many of them won’t end up here and that’s fine, but a lot will, I know, I’m one of them.

  122. erikthebassist says

    by the way, I read all the comments at SN’s OP, and there’s some thinly veiled MRA’s and Liberturds throwing kudos SN’s direction. I think he might want to think about the carriage he’s hitching his horses to here.

  123. DLC says

    135
    erikthebassist

    1 February 2013 at 2:47 am (UTC -6)

    by the way, I read all the comments at SN’s OP, and there’s some thinly veiled MRA’s and Liberturds throwing kudos SN’s direction. I think he might want to think about the carriage he’s hitching his horses to here.

    Because Dr Novella is clearly responsible for every reply posted at his blog, Gotcha.
    PZ, Ban yourself for allowing Reap Paden to ever post here. And Mabus, and Kw*k, and all the other twits you didn’t dungeon 10s after they appeared, because clearly allowing someone to post here means you fully agree with them. Or maybe it means Someone around reply 135 was hitching his horse to a logical fallacy.

  124. DLC says

    you bunch of Bigfoot atheists need to stop tripping and falling into the Gnu skeptics peanut butter.

  125. Didgya says

    Ironic Gnumann – *yawn* is my response to your first few lines, let us continue. Some in the skeptic community have criticized those in the Atheist community… so what. It goes both ways, it happens from each side so grow up and realize other people have opinions. PZ was ‘made fun’ of at TAM, again, so what, all Atheist are not skeptics and it goes both ways. I have seen no evidence of any skeptics stopping or actively trying to suppress the Atheist conference and movements. A great many skeptics are Atheist greatest allies, but, in reality, not all will or do they need to support or include Atheism in their mission. Do Atheist conferences have to have non religious skeptic speakers? Many Atheist do not see the need or connection with the skeptical movement and I personally would not force them into skepticism. I respect PZ’s work against creationist but I also reject his treatment of fellow skeptics and Atheist, he insults, because he disagree’s with them. Also people can (and have) make their own decisions on what groups (Skeptical, Atheist or Both ) to choose from. These groups are free to criticize each other (no not suppress or attack) but they also have the power to agree with each other. I see no victims here, only choices.

  126. Sastra says

    Didgya #138 wrote:

    Also people can (and have) make their own decisions on what groups (Skeptical, Atheist or Both ) to choose from. These groups are free to criticize each other (no not suppress or attack) but they also have the power to agree with each other. I see no victims here, only choices.

    What if you identify as a skeptic and think your group should address the existence of God, religion, and faith as important topics? Or what if you identify as an atheist and think your community should address the critical importance of scientific skepticism? I think the problem with the “choice” model you present here is that you’re creating divides which don’t necessarily exist.

    The gnu atheists are ALL automatically members of the skeptic community. We came to atheism through the widespread application of scientific thinking. Those atheists-who-believe-in-woo don’t include any of us.

    The analogy PZ makes is a good one. Not everyone in the ‘skeptic movement’ thinks alternative medicine is bunk. There are people who are skeptical about UFOs, but they know homeopathy works ‘because they’ve experienced it for themselves.’ But there are no objections to regularly having a SBM arm in skeptic venues.

    Why not? Because proponents of alternative medicine know that if they object, then they will be expected to put up or shut up. You think there are good reasons to believe homeopathy works, then you’ve got your work cut out for you. Challenge the speakers, write a paper, and/or see if you can be allowed onto a debate panel. People at a convention or meeting would LOVE that. So, they keep silent out of fear: they’re skeptic enough to know what they’re up against. And other skeptics think this is how it ought to be. Skepticism is not safe: you’re welcome only with the stipulation that you recognize that.

    The same doesn’t seem to apply to the area of religion. There ARE objections to having a regular atheist presence at skeptic venues. Why? Because none of the religious people feel they ought to have to put up or shut up and argue their position in skeptic forums. Their faith is “outside” of what scientific skepticism should be applied to. The last thing they want is a debate panel. Even asking for a debate panel is offensive. Faith means you don’t have to defend an idea. Religion is a sacred cow. They shouldn’t have to be afraid to admit they are a skeptic who believes in God and face the bigoted idea that they’re now up against rebuttal. And too many skeptics agree that they’re right, this is wrong. They ought to be welcomed unconditionally.

    When people complain that there is “too much” atheism at conventions, they don’t insist that it’s wrong and thus we need balance. Atheism is balanced out not with arguments for theism, but with arguments that atheists need to draw back, shut up, become more tolerant, more accepting, more welcoming — and change the subject.

  127. Gnumann+,with no bloody irony at all (just a radfem with a shotgun) says

    Didgya:
    You’re not able to address anything that I wrote, you’re not able to answer a simple question and you’re not able to follow quite simple instructions on how to address me.

    Instead you bring some half-assed platitudes and false equivalences.

    Is there any reason at all to bother with you? At all?

    DLC:

    Because Dr Novella is clearly responsible for every reply posted at his blog, Gotcha.
    PZ, Ban yourself for allowing Reap Paden to ever post here. And Mabus, and Kw*k, and all the other twits you didn’t dungeon 10s after they appeared, because clearly allowing someone to post here means you fully agree with them. Or maybe it means Someone around reply 135 was hitching his horse to a logical fallacy.

    Erikthebassist might be slightly well-poisoning, but as logical fallacies go – your false equivalence far outweighs his well-poisoning. Saying “horrible people agree with you, that should make you think” isn’t a definitive argument – but it’s not in any way equivalent to PZ allowing RP to post (in the past). Neither is there anything in Erikthebassists post that holds Novella accountable for the diverse arseholes agreeing with him. It merely asking him to notice where the cheercrew comes from.

    If anything I write is ever featured on a voice for men I sure hope somebody calls my attention to it, and I will sure as hell evaluate my stance extremely carefully. This doesn’t mean it must be wrong, just that it needs a good looking-after when people with severe and extensive reality-distortions agree.

  128. DLC says

    140
    Gnumann+,with no bloody irony at all (just a radfem with a shotgun)

    The original post from erikthebassist :

    “by the way, I read all the comments at SN’s OP, and there’s some thinly veiled MRA’s and Liberturds throwing kudos SN’s direction. I think he might want to think about the carriage he’s hitching his horses to here.

    The implication is clearly that Novella somehow has to own responsibility for every post made at his site, regardless of author. It’s a thinly veiled guilt by association, and I do not approve of such, particularly in blog comments that anyone can have access to. You may as well blame the City of London for the random hate spewed by some regulars to Speaker’s Corner.

  129. Gnumann+,with no bloody irony at all (just a radfem with a shotgun) says

    The implication is clearly that Novella somehow has to own responsibility for every post made at his site, regardless of author

    No, it isn’t. I explained the implication in detail in my last post. There is no honest, intelligent reading of Erikthebassist that ends up in your conclusion.

    So are you yet another trooo skkepticcxx who’s yet to learn basic reading, or are you just another dishonest fuck?

  130. jackiepaper says

    DLC, there is no such implication. You’re making things up and generally looking like a moron while you do.

  131. alwayscurious says

    At some time & place, about 150 years ago some smart people looked at what the scientific method was doing to engineering and said “Gee, what if we applied the scientific method to medicine as well?”. What followed was a revolution of medicine into what we see today. What would happen if we asked, “Gee, what if we apply the scientific method to societal problems more generally?”

    We have collectively developed these wonderful, multipurpose tools for sorting through piles of data and cutting through walls of BS. Applying them to the simplest problems or continuously retracing through solved problems is wasting their potential.

  132. Didgya says

    Sastra- Thank you for your response, I think I understand your position and if you had written the initial article that started this conversation, it would have been a little more clear. I agree that my idea of a reasonable skeptic conference would be to have at least an Atheist themed panel or speaker. Yet I still give that decision over to the organizers of the conference, much like I would not blame anyone who did not go to the conference without the inclusion. I disagree with anyone who says that a conference is to “atheistic” or “religious” to go to and expect others to do the same. The divisions are unfortunately necessary to categorize and set a certain standard for the meeting. I know dividing people is unpopular and I run the risk of sounding like I want Atheist segregation (I would be there with you). We all still have the choice to go to a skeptic convention without Atheistic themes or with them or both really. We can not always have a ‘catch all’ conference without it becoming prohibitively complicated. I do agree that the stigma that some(and I would not say most) Skeptics have of Atheist-Skeptics is unproductive and wrongheaded. I really think that hybrid Skeptic-Atheist conferences and groups that exist will probable become a dominate, if not dominate form of skeptical conference. It seems to me that voices for this movement are well heard and prevalent but we can not expect to be accepted everywhere.

    Afterthought-
    To:
    Newman Salad dressing…Ohh didgya?

  133. The Stochastic Abductivist says

    Steven Novella makes a good used idea salesman. He should purchase a neuropsychological humility mirror so he can practice his sales pitch on himself.

    First, he fuses skepticism, science, reasoning, critical thinking, and ‘scientific skepticism,’ then fissions them by using the ‘faith’ razor that can make an Ockhamite cringe.

    Why any ‘freethinker’ considers ‘faith’ a valid notion or method is beyond me. It was invented by the religious expressly to do what Novella and others do with it. For shame!

  134. erikthebassist says

    Gnumann+,with no bloody irony at all (just a radfem with a shotgun),

    thanks for saying what I would have said had I seen DLC’s comments sooner, I have nothing to add =)

    And I can’t believe I spelled PZ’s name wrong! Dammit, *turns around and bears behind for the impending thrashing that I most certainly deserve*

    Sorry PZ!