Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 8.30

It’s almost 2am, and I am suffering from geek fatigue, but as your faithful servant, I will rein in my focus and write this post so you all will have something to ponder tomorrow afternoon (it is Saturday, right?).

At what point does advancing skeptical ideas become evangelization? Is this something we should be concerned about?

Or, alternatively, since I am in geek mode, Trek or Who?

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40 Comments

  1. I would say never to evangelization, as to me, it has a rather narrow meaning and rather broad connotations that I don’t think serve the question well.

    I think a better choice would be ‘proselytism’. As with any form of proselytism, to me, it is when the proselytizer, in this case the skeptic ceases to identify with humanity/society as a whole as a first priority, and instead identifies first as a skeptic.

  2. I don’t think it becomes evangelizing until you’re not prepared to adapt to new evidence. Once you’re absolutely sure that your wisdom is inviolable, you cross the line from teaching to preaching. IMHO.

    Oh yeah, and Doctor Who for me, please.

  3. Old Who beats Original Trek with a Galifrean Gland Crusher.
    New Who beats all other forms of Trek with the fist of an angry Doctor Donna.

    Crossing into evangelism:
    When you go from informing, and discussing in a non-judgmental way to forcing your view and dismissing all others.

  4. This is a question I was forced to deal with just yesterday, when a friend brought up that she has decided to try acupuncture, and asked if anyone had any recommendations for clinics to check out.

    I was disappointed. I like to think my friends are smarter than that. But I decided to keep my mouth shut. I could have stuck my skeptical nose in, but no good would have come of it. It was already too late. Her mind was made up.

    Now, if the question had been, say, “I’m thinking about trying acupuncture. Do you think I should?” then I would have cried havoc and let slip the dogs of skepticism.

    So, yeah. That’s the choice I made and why I made it. I’m still not convinced it was the right choice. But what’s done is done. At least for now.

    Also, Who.

  5. As it has been said already once you start trying to convice others of your point of view you’ve crossed the line.

    Oh and Star Trek Deep Space 9 I would put the first season episode “Duet” and the sixth season episode “In the Pale Moon Light” against anything else on television.

    The Doctors cool with me too.

  6. “At what point does advancing skeptical ideas become evangelization? Is this something we should be concerned about?”
    I hesitate to point this out, since writerdd became very defensive when we pointed out her incorrect use of the term “Intelligent Design”…
    However, “evangelization” or “evangelism” has a specific meaning: To preach the gospel, or to convert to Christianity.
    So advancing skeptical ideas can NEVER become evangelization.

  7. Religious evangelists want you to do things, or more accurately they want you to not do things. Lots of things. Don’t have sex with someone you’re not married to. Don’t have sex with someone of the same gender. Don’t masturbate. Don’t think about sex. (Seems to be something of a theme emerging here). Non-sex wise they often don’t want you to drink, watch certain television programmes, read certain books, say stuff that might be blasphemous or think stuff that might be blasphemous, or involve sex in some way. Of course religions vary. There are those content for you to turn up once a week at a happy clapping session and parrot out whatever dogma they subscribe to, others want your money in a big way. Then there are cults, who want your money in an even bigger way. They also don’t want you to talk to your unbelieving family and friends anymore and they definitely don’t want you to think anything.

    Skepticism wants you to do one thing: THINK. That’s all. There is no church of skepticism. There are no priests, no holy orders, no one telling you to fork over ten percent of your income or you’re going to hell and no scripture. There is only the imperative to use the remarkable neural cortex evolution has provided you with to THINK.

    If asking people to think is evangelism then move aside Jimmy Swaggert, I’m in. Coming soon to a cable channel near you: THE SKEPTICAL EVANGELIST.

    Trek or Who? The only Trek series I really liked was DS9 whilst Who has been consistently good for decades.

  8. Ssteppe was right. The question would be better asked as “At what point does advancing skeptical ideas go too far?”

    Simple answer: when it does more harm than good.

    Would I be wrong to quote Buddha on the subject? : ) “Consider whether it goes against your judgment, whether it could cause harm, whether it is condemned by wise people, and above all, whether put into practice it will bring about destruction and pain.”

    And I agree with others who have said that it goes too far when it fails to doubt itself. Yea, when skepticism doth refuses to shine its light on itself, it is no longer true skepticism, and will the practitioner no longer find himself at the foot of the beer volcano. Amen.

  9. Oh, I forgot the geek question!

    The correct answer, of course, is Firefly!

    Although I suppose if I had to pick, it would be the New Doctor. Not that Trek is bad, mind you. I just prefer the energy of Who.

  10. I wonder if “proselytize” mightt have been a more better choice. Perhaps we can forgive a certain imprecision in language, considering the time at which the entry was composed.

    Also, I think we all knew what the author was going for, yes?

    JRice: Firefly it is. Way to kick down the false dichotomy of fandom. =)

  11. I think that skepticism is an approach to a process. When there is too much focus on the result (religion vs. non-religion) or the process itself (logical vs. statistical), then it risks becoming “evangelical.”

    Skeptical thinking requires approaching the process (any process) with a cognitive need. The result of said process (thesis?) must be treated with modesty and generate a feeling of resentment to other results (rejected hypotheses?) that this process rejected to support the result (thesis?).

    Unfortunately, any time a system is based on the approach to the process you’re going to get some people who still like Star Trek over Who.

  12. I wrote a short paper recently that is somewhat related to this dealing with religion and skepticism. I’ll post it here and see what you folks think of this opinion piece:

    It seems to me that when it comes to religion and skepticism, there are 3 possibilities;
    1. Theism- The belief in a higher power (God) of any kind.
    2. Atheism- The conviction that there is no higher power, that what we can see, feel, hear, and smell is all there is.
    3. Agnosticism- These are the people that are not convinced either way. They are not sure a God exists and at the same time don’t reject the possibility that a God could exist.
    I have been reading the posts on this blog for quite a while now and posting very little because I wanted to sort out how I really feel about this controversial subject and get it clear in my head.
    See, I’ve been confused and unsure of myself for a long time. I don’t practice a religion of any kind because although I have looked into practically every western religion there is, I have never found one that made a bit of sense to me. At the same time, my intuition keeps nagging at me; there must be something else after this, some other existence. I don’t know what the hell to believe. I am skeptical that there is a God and an afterlife, I am also skeptical that there isn’t. Why? Because no one can prove there is or isn’t either way. And that my friends, is the whole point of this post.
    Theists believe in what cannot be proven. They have to suspend the rational real world and accept that there is a supreme being, a creator, and that there is a continued existence after death. The flavor of religion they practice determines the details of their belief systems. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Druid (I have a soft spot in my heart for this one) and all of their various sects have very different rules and practices. But all of them have in common that primary suspension of rationality. They believe in something they cannot see or hear.
    As much as it might rankle and cause disagreement, I see atheists as the opposite end of the spectrum. The way I see it, atheists deny the possibility of the existence of either a God or afterlife of any kind. They seem to believe that this one life is all there is and when you are dead, you’re worm food. However, we can no more prove that there ISN’T a God than we can prove there IS. Do you guys understand what I am trying to say here? Atheism is a belief system just like religion. And from my point of view, that belief system can be just as radical and unreasonable as the religious fundamentalists. I don’t say this to insult anyone or accuse the skeptical community of any kind of social ignorance. I am just trying to point out that from an objective position like mine, I see atheists being just as dogmatic as the fundamentalists.
    I have an alternative point of view to suggest. It seems to me more reasonable. Since creationism, even the non-fundamentalist kind, can’t be proven, and the total absence of a supreme power can’t be proven either, then it stands to reason that the true skeptic can only be an Agnostic. The way I see it, a skeptic only accepts what can be proven, what can be demonstrated as real in a lab or in the real world. And since what we are talking about here is the “supernatural” (I know, I hate that word too), something beyond the ability to experiment with one way or another, the only viable option is to accept that we just DON’T KNOW.

  13. I see skepticism as being reactive – we are presented with information and we evaluate it as best we can and respond. To be skeptical is to apply our analytic and critical skills to determine if what we are being told is possibly true. We don’t try to go out and talk people into becoming “skeptics”. Thus we skeptics are not like evangelicals who have a mandate to spread the gospel to all unbelievers.

  14. TNG and DS9 once they hit their stride-both took a fair amount of time for the writers to figure out they should actually tell good stories about hard problems. TOS was goofy, Voyager existed to sell action figures, and Enterprise was a dying gasp. And I do love the new Doctor’s quips.

    On the serious note-yes, there are evangelical skeptics. The elements that drive them across the line for proponent to asshat are the same as everyone else- convictions of their own superiority broadcast without humility, and emphasis of their points out of proportion to the evidence, and the importance of the issue at hand. The frequent overzealous association of far edge anarcho-libertarianism, not the best substantiated of political and ethical points, with skepticism come to mind.

    Now, do I think this is a problem? No. Spending time cultivating a worldview in accordance with the truth seems to me to be a surefire antidote to overreaching of all kinds. We just have to always be mindful of the fact that what we have to say is not always the top of the list of what they want to hear-and handle ourselves with the appropriate level of compassion.

  15. Ah, thanks for finally bringing this up – these up. Whenever my friends talk about CAM, horoscopes and blabla, something in me wants to cry out and start to – preach. Then, of course, all you get is aggressive hardening of their conviction (*homeopathic xy – well it has worked for me, hmmpf*) and they simply stop talking about it in your presence.
    It took me years to un-emotionalize these topics and to convince myself that the subtler you get, the more doubt you can create. But then again I sometimes get so frustrated by the never-ending new and old SHAMs and SCAMs that I need to think: why try to even articulate my thoughts on this? Who cares? I deal with grown-up, intelligent people, they have to make up their minds through experience and where is the differentiation between the expression about my way of thinking (i.e. simply never seize to ask questions) and trying to *force* others to do the same?
    I haven’t come up with a solution for me in this regard.
    But I tend to point people to Richard Dawkins, James Randi, SGU &c material by saying: and here is a little indoctrination I want to spread…

    As my first (and still persisting) love was Mr. Spock (oh, what a skeptic he was!), I’d have to say Trek – especially DS9, where not all of the main characters were flawless and family-suitable harmless.
    Farscape, on the other hand (and possibly present BSG) is way out of the league and really kicks mind.

  16. I have to disagree with Denver7M @ 20. To get to his/her answer, you have to define atheist in a manner that is not quite right, or at best, not the only or preferred definition.

    An atheist, presented with a claim for a god, asks for evidence, and when none is provided does not believe. This atheist is without (a) god (theos). Now don’t get me wrong. There are many atheists who deny the existence of gods, and perhaps a better term for that approach is negatheist (Latin neg = no).

    But first and foremost, an atheist meets the first definition.

    My problem with the agnostic stand is, they keep getting the whole no evidence thing confused. There is no evidence for gods. Period. End of argument. Ditto for afterlives, angles, demons, magic, chi, gnomes, and space aliens, to name just a few. When no evidence is given, or the attempted evidence is bad, then the only reasonable response is not to believe. Arguing that there is also no evidence for those things not existing is, first of all, asking for evidence for a negative (and we all know how that turns out) and second, is a waste of time. Show me your god or gods exist. Can’t do it? Fine. End of exchange. I have no rational grounds for saying, “gee, I can’t prove Casper isn’t real, therefore, I must withhold judgment.” If you can’t produce Casper or evidence of his existence (outside of comics) then you have nothing.

    Atheism is a stance one takes in relation to the evidence (or more to the point, the lack thereof) and is a valid and reasonable one.

  17. At what point does advancing skeptical ideas become evangelization?

    The point where you start saying “I’m right,” and stop saying “here’s the facts,” “how do you know that?” and “really? where can I see the data?”

    Trek or Who?

    Neither. There’s only ever been one sci-fi show on TV worth watching. I’ll give you a hint: No sound in space.

    …also, Zoe was the hottest chick on that boat. End of discussion.

  18. Who. Although it would have been better if the Doctor had killed off humanity at the end of Bad Wolf. That whole “power of the TARDIS” thing was pretty silly.

    Trek. Although it would have been better without the Holodeck.

    In other words, I’m punting on that one.

  19. The Doctor, forever.

    It’s okay, Amanda. I also love Eccleston’s Doctor.

    Skepticism becomes evangelical when “everyone has to think like me because I am the bestest and most skeptical thinker evar!” Something like that…

  20. One can be subtle about spreading the word of skepticism. In my cube at work, I have several pictures tacked to the wall, including the classics, “Behead those who say Islam is violent” and “Ring bell for psychic”.

  21. Trek, TOS. Always and forever, ramen.

    It becomes evangalism when real, clear, convincing evidence is ignored in favor of our preconcieved notions. I’m sure that if I were beter educated in the history of atheism/skepticism I could give examples of when that has happened. Right now all I can think of is cold fusion. I ran into someone a year or so back who still beleived in cold fusion.

  22. I’d like to think that telling people the truth about ridiculous claims could not possibly be “evangelism.”

    After all, giving people evidence that psychics are frauds, or that homeopaths are quacks, isn’t even remotely in the same league as telling some guy that he’ll go to Hell and suffer for eternity because he likes dudes instead of chicks.

    I’ve had people accuse me of “evangelism” for holding such opinions, but I always point out that Randi, Shermer, Plait, and the like weren’t born of a virgin.

    So, yeah, we’re pretty damn sure of what we say. But, no, we don’t get “dogma” from some nebulous “god.”

    And I’ll go with “Who.” I really liked the Trek movies (especially “First Contact”) but I can’t watch the shows. Even the one with Bakula (because he’s not Sam Beckett).

    You know what? Fuck it. I’ll be the space-monkey-wrench. I’ll vote “Quantum Leap.”

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