This is the final section of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.
- Amazing news!
- Nobody loves a critic
- Why skepticism is healthy
- What about religion?
- Evaluating information in the internet age
- Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
- Some advice on community building
With all that in mind, I also want to say something about social awareness. Managing a group like the Secular Student Alliance is a big challenge. The Campus Crusade for Christ is a massive organization that represents one of the largest religions in the world. To many Christians, participating in a group like this can supposedly influence whether or not you will have eternal happiness. For clubs that promote skepticism and secularism, the rewards are much more abstract.
I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. I think the world would be a better place if everyone followed this principle, and skepticism is one of the best ways to achieve that goal.
But secular groups come and go. One of the biggest risks they run is that they can wind up with a small number of core members who are only talking to other people with the same perspectives and experiences. To be blunt, a lot atheist speakers look like me: middle class white guys.
Practicing skepticism is a good life skill for everybody to have. That’s why, as years go by and secular groups become more and more mainstream in schools like St. Charles Community College, I would love to see even bigger and more varied crowds, and a broader range of speakers. There are a wealth of people coming from different walks of life who talk about atheism: women and members of ethnic minorities; gay atheists and transgender atheists. There are a lot of skeptics from non-western backgrounds, people who used to be Muslim or Hindu. I would love to see more of those people in this auditorium in the future.
- Greta Christina, author: Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why
- Heina Dadabhoy, former Muslim
- David Tamayo, President of Hispanic American Freethinkers
- Jamila Bey, journalist and radio host
- Hemant Mehta, “The Friendly Atheist”
- Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief
- Debbie Goddard, director of African Americans for Humanism
The list of great speakers who are non-white and non-male is enormous.
(More sources available at:
This is important, because bringing in diverse speakers means bringing in a diverse membership; and the more members you have, the more different perspectives you will hear. A few minutes ago, I advocated listening to religious fundamentalists to make sure you cover all your bases; surely you can also take even more time to listen to the unique experiences of skeptics who have grown up in an environment different from your own.
A few times during this talk I’ve mentioned negative views of skepticism by people I disagree with. I have to say, though, nothing disappoints me more than hearing a prominent atheist like Sam Harris, who was recently asked in an interview why most atheist activists are male. He replied: “People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women. Atheism doesn’t have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”
This is incredibly frustrating to me, because I’ve personally seen a lot of intelligent and enthusiastic women sneered at and dismissed using flimsy justifications just like this one. Women who use the same arguments as men are told they’re too emotional to engage in serious discussion.
Sometimes an entrenched majority might think they’re being skeptical, when really they’re either dismissing or shouting down valid points by people from other backgrounds. When new members run into this, often they’ll conclude that their input isn’t welcome, and they’ll decide to be active in some other group instead. Then, sometime later, the remaining members look around and say “Hey, we’re still mostly a community of middle class white males. I wonder why that is? I guess that proves women and minorities just aren’t as good at logical thinking as we are.”
Skeptics ought to be smarter than that. Skepticism isn’t fostered in an intellectual echo chamber. People’s personal interactions are voluntary, and like many people, I don’t like spending time with anyone who is more interested in patting themselves on the back than listening to others. There is a certain amount of social intelligence that needs to be present along with pure math and science, because communication and mutual support is one of the things that helps people accomplish big projects in the real world.
We should go out of our way to seek involvement from many different types of people. That should be a primary goal for skeptical activists right now.
In conclusion, besides all the great reasons I‘ve already mention to practice skepticism in your everyday life, there’s one last reason to be a skeptic: It’s fun! It exercises the problem solving parts of your brain, it helps you think again about things you already thought were settled… and it turns every bad movie into a comedy goldmine of fuzzy logic. Give it a try, I think you’ll like it!
If you enjoyed this talk, please remember to support the Secular Student Alliance at St. Charles Community College.
Thanks for listening. Any questions?