Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 9.10

Today’s Afternoon Inquisition was suggested by Skepchick Commenter JRice.

When did you first realize you were a skeptic?

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68 Comments

  1. Hmm, I can’t nail it down to a specific point. Probably sometime after Flim Flam and definitely before The Demon-Haunted World. It was a gradual transition: applying critical thinking to more and more things until it became second nature.

  2. I realized it rather late in life, which is sort of odd, since I was brought up by atheist parents and constantly questioned things as I grew up.

    It was sort of strange actually. Other kids believed there was some dude named “God” in the sky who apparently liked spying on them, and complained about how boring their Sunday mornings were. I couldn’t really understand why they didn’t just stop going to church if it was that boring, since my parents usually had pretty well thought out reasoning for anything they made us do.

    It was only after high school that it really started to sink in that there was something broken in the thought processes of the heavily religious, even those I was pretty good friends with. It’s like, because I was friends with someone, I didn’t want to see that they had poor critical thinking skills, since I tended to implicitly equate critical thinking with intelligence. So finding problems with my friends’ ability to evaluate evidence would be equivalent to calling them stupid.

    I ended up getting in a bunch of pointless and heated arguments with good friends trying to point out how stupid they were being so they’d start acting “smarter”, in the least tactful ways possible. I probably alienated a lot of people, because it was very difficult for me to understand that they would be offended by me pointing out something they had gotten “wrong”. ;)

  3. I’ve always had at least a small skeptical streak in me (even during my very religious childhood), but the very first time I heard the term “skeptic” was when, as a ten year old, I expressed doubt over the then-new urban legend that a “ghost” was visible in the background of a scene from Three Men and a Baby. It took a while for me to get heavily into skepticism (I still had my religion and woo-woo phases), but that was one of the first moments for me.

  4. I’m not sure. I can remember wondering how the bible stories could possibly be true and wondering what/who made god when I was 10 or 11 and even wondering if there was a god at the same time.

    What codified it for me into a way of living was the two volume Isaac Asimov autobiography. “In Memory Yet Green” and “In Joy Still Felt.” I can remember the wonderful sense of freedom I had when I read those in college and realized I wasn’t the only person like me in the world.

  5. If your question means “when did you started doubting stuff consistently and scientifically?” then I guess it was shortly after my first communion.

    As a kid I had read a lot of Greek and Roman mythology and after learning a lot more about Christianity I began to ask “What’s the difference?” and thus started my road straight to hell ;)

    But if you mean when did I figure out that what I was had the name “skeptic” then the blame lies solely on Martin Gardner’s “Did Adam and Eve have navels?” found it by chance in a bookstore and devoured it in less than a day. Five years later I’m a member of my local skeptics group and contribute to a weekly science and skepticism radio show in my country.

    So, thanks a lot Mr Gardner… owe you big time!

  6. No idea, I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic, always loved science, and even when I was willing to accept something as possible (i.e. Ghosts, Alien visitations, etc) I tended not to be willing to accept them without any evidence, and if I found sufficient reason to dump a belief, I do. I really didn’t start calling myself a skeptic til after probably getting into the Skeptics Guide, which I found as a suggestion through itunes because I was listening to Penn Jillette’s radio show that way. That, and I have a friend who has been reading Skeptical Inquirer since he got into college, and talking to him about skepticism help me in moving more towards that particular worldview (at least more completely towards).

  7. I used to read a lot of UFO literature. One day I was reading some Whitley Strieber book or something and something clicked “this is fucking stupid”.

    What’s interesting is that I’d read some of the opposition books sometimes like Philip J. Klass but I never found them particularly convincing.
    It wasn’t any argument on the skeptic side. It was the inability for the UFO sightings, roswell crashes, military cover ups exposed, and alien abductions to accumulate into anything over the decades.

    I still believe in mothman though.

  8. Sunday School, pre-Kindergarten.
    “Why haven’t I ever seen/felt an angel?” and “Garden of Eden? What about dinosaurs?”

    I still had to go through six years of catholic school (my siblings got eight years — I was kicked out) after that, questioning everything and doubting most of it the whole time.

  9. Well, I found out that I was skeptic right after me and my last psychology therapist parted. He said many things, and I only came to think about them after the therapy was all done. At the time I was still religious, and it took me a long time to decrypt many of the things he eluded to. Things about the origins of the life, about evolution, about the big bang and most of all, about the origins of the bible. He gave me only bits of information, because at the time my parents, who are still religious by the way, blew fire at him for making my doubt God’s existence. But he laid the foundations that I built on later.

  10. Was the dark of the moon, on the sixth of June
    In a Kenworth, pullin’ logs
    Cabover Pete with a reefer on
    And a Jimmy haulin’ hogs
    We ‘as headin’ fer bear on I-One-Oh
    ‘Bout a mile outta Shaky-Town
    I sez Pig-Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck
    An’ I’m about to put the hammer on down

    Wait . . . No, that’s when I realized we had a convoy.

    Umm . . . I actually have no idea when exactly I realized I was a skeptic. I’ve always tried to think critically about the world, but I didn’t hear the term skeptic used in the context we know it here until probably my 20s.

  11. When I was listening to Penn Jillette’s radio show. I kind of started getting the idea while watching Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, which, of course is why I wanted to listen to Penn Radio in the first place. When Penn Radio ended, I found the SGU through the PennFans.net forum and got here.

  12. 4 years old. I was woken up by my parents cursing at the bicycle they were trying to put together under the tree.
    No Santa, No Easter Bunny. It wasn’t long before I saw a sign on the outside of a christen scientist church and I can remember thinking, “Those two words don’t belong together.”

  13. I went from a hardcore religious person to a questioning religious person around freshman year in college. I became an atheist after taking a genetics course.

    I became a skeptic when I first saw a box of airborne and read the “developed by a teacher!” phrase.

    I didn’t know what to call “being a skeptic” until stumbling across this website (and consequently several others) about a year ago.

  14. By the way, today I will performing a little skeptical experiment of my own.
    In the book History Of Man, L. Ron Hubbard makes a peculiar claim. Human beings it seems are direct descendants of clams. In fact our jaw mechanism is evolved from the open/close hinge on a clam shell.
    Thus, by describing the plight of a dying clam while simultaneously making the universal hand gesture for “talky clam” you can induce jaw pain in an unitiated victim.
    So all day long I’ll be testing this on unsuspecting rubes. I’m doing this along with a friend of mine who was raised in the CoS. He says that all the teachings he’s received from them so far have rung true but this one seems suspect so he asked me to help him examine it’s veracity.

    It’s a win / win situation for me. If it turns out to be untrue then he’s one step closer to leaving this silliness behind. If it works then I’ll have grown a new super power.

  15. Always remember wanting some evidence and never accepting ideas at face value going back to my early teens in the mid 1970’s. The big exception to this was religion which avoided overall skeptical scrutiny for many years.

  16. When I was 5 I figured out that Santa Claus wasn’t real. I just asked my mom one day while we were driving around if it was just her and dad (I don’t think it was even Christmas time). She was really sad about it. Funny now that I think about it, I think I would be happy when my theoretical kids make the realization … Not sure I *ever* believed in the Easter bunny.

    And then in the 9th grade I took bio with just about my favorite teacher ever, and he explained the theory of evolution, which I thought was the coolest thing I had ever heard …

  17. The short(ish) version: Slowly, over time. I’d been non-religious for ages, first having dropped organized religion and then all forms of religion not long after. I was, admittedly, hesitant to use the label atheist for many years, but now I embrace it.

    The other stuff dropped slowly. I never believed in things like Astrology or TV Psychics, and I was never TOTALLY accepting of the rest, thinking most ghost/UFO/etc reports to be hoaxes or misidentifications. But I believed those things were obviously real, aside from the hoaxers, for quite a while.

    The fact that, despite the increasing number of cameras and satellites and what have you pointing at the world, we’ve never received credible, indisputable evidence of any of the things I wanted to believe…that was a big selling point in getting me to doubt more and more things.

    But what really pushed me over the edge was interacting with a co-worker a few years back. This coworker had taken a COLLEGE course in which he bent spoons, dowsed, and broke clouds with his mind (or so he said). He believed in so many patently, obviously impossible things that I often searched the web to find rebuttals and arguments against his beliefs. This led to Randi more often than not.

    Randi led to The Demon Haunted World, and after reading that I realized there was no way I could call myself anything other than a skeptic. And I’m sure being a fan of Dawkins, Douglas Adams, South Park, and Penn and Teller had primed me to be accepting of skepticism earlier along the way, even when I was still scared by UFO stories on Sightings or Unsolved Mysteries.

  18. I was always sort of on the fence about everything, so it didn’t really hit me until I was on a road trip to California and my boyfriend hooked his ipod to the car stereo and told me I had to listen to this podcast, and that I would love it. That podcast turned out to be SGU and during that two week road trip we listened to practically every episode we could and it really opened my eyes. So I guess I really have Rebecca to thank for that (and the other Rogues too).

  19. When *religion* fell apart for me was a little later. I’m also in the greek and roman mythology category. We started learning about that in the 11th grade and that’s when it all really fell apart, because we laughed at how ridiculous those stories were, and yet I couldn’t help but see the parallels between that and Christianity.

    Though I will *never* tell my parents ;-)

  20. Ooh! This is an easy one for me, with a pretty clear line of demarcation. I became a skeptic when I read James Randi’s “Flim Flam!” (Yay Randi!)

    I’d always been fascinated by UFOs and Bigfeets and the like. There’s a chapter in Flim Flam on the Bermuda Triangle that makes it pretty much impossible to believe for even a second that the reported phenomena is real.

    So I started thinking … if that’s nothing but b.s., what about all these other phenomena.

    Thanks again, Randi!

  21. For me, it was listening to Penn Radio. That was the first time I ever heard about skeptics, James Randi and (amazingly) Carl Sagan. After some researching, I started listening to the SGU podcast, and haven’t looked back since. So I suppose I realized I was a skeptic the moment I found out there was a word for it. I’ve more or less always been an atheist, and always thought that new-age medicine was just stupid hippie bullshit, I just never knew there was actually a community that agreed with me.

  22. It began, for me, around 10 or 12 years old:

    Step 1: Wonder how so many people (meaning: non-Christians) can be so wrong about religion. Ask: if Christianity is real, why isn’t it obvious?

    Step 2: Wonder, if so many people can be wrong, perhaps we can be wrong.

    Step 3: Wonder, can everyone be wrong?

    Step 4: Observe wackadoo religious friends. Make powerful negative associations with them.

    Step 5: Make atheist friends. Realize that not everyone is wrong: some people are just willing to change their minds in light of reason. Make positive associations with these discussions.

    Step 6: Read Waldrop’s Complexity. Discover Scientific Pantheism.

    Step 7: Fall in with wackadoo Scientific Pantheists.

    Step 8: Form powerful negative associations with “fellow” wackadoo SciPans. Stop associating with them.

    Step 9: Watch Bullsh!t.

    Step 10: Watch Mind Control With Derren Brown.

    Step 11: Read Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind. Develop total man-crush. Hear, for the first time, the term “skeptic” used to describe a subculture.

    Step 12: Subscribe to the Bad Astronomy blog. Hear references to “skeptics” often. In particular, the “Skepchicks”.

    Step 13: Develop healthy crushes on (all of) the Skepchicks. Especially one.

    Step 14: Change one’s website, Facebook page, and taglines to mention “and skeptic” among one’s traits.

    Voilá!

  23. As a teenager, I had always questioned things, but I didn’t realize there was a name for it until I was in college. My small, midwestern Catholic college library subscribed to, of all things, Skeptical Inquirer. (Looks like they still do. Rock on, Loras librarians.)

    That first one I picked up must have had a flying saucer on the cover. For a long time I had been interested in UFOs, but I had never quite been able to commit. My suspicions about the reliability of UFO tales were soon confirmed: bunk. In fact, it seemed like all of a sudden, a lot of vague doubts I’d had were cemented. I suppose I’m the poster boy for the “dangers” of skepticism, because I slipped rapidly down the slope and finally abandoned my already-perfunctory religious faith. It was as though I had just learned that I had the option not to believe everything I was told, and with that realization, let myself reject the ideas I had always felt queasy about.

    Thus began the period of lengthy debates with seminary students, arguing with my very Catholic mother, and alienating my religious friends. Not realizing, of course, that I was living into the cliche about the recent convert being the most ardent evangelist. (Seems to be a common experience in the comments here.)

    Fortunately, I’ve mellowed with time. Nowadays, I just try to warn people off going to the chiropractor.

  24. @writerdd:

    never (running & ducking for cover)

    […]

    stopped believing in the supernatural in my late 20s and early 30s

    If you don’t believe in the supernatural, why don’t you feel comfortable calling yourself a skeptic? Is there some aspect to scientific skepticism that you disagree with?

  25. When I was in first grade Catholic school I decided to test the existance of god by drinking the holy water ever morning in church, when nothing happened I started to realize that it’s all crap, then at Christmas the same year we were living in a crappy apartment in Encino California and I realized that for the first time we had no chimny so there was no was Santa couldn’t get in. So I had to be all crap.

  26. I don’t think I ever had an epiphany and suddenly realized I was this thing called a “skeptic.” My parents aren’t religious, and curiosity was encouraged in our household when I was growing up. They invested in a set of encyclopedias when I was about 7 and I’m sure I read nearly every article in there at one time or another.

    I will say that there have been various times in my life when I was struck with an urge to be part of the religious lifestyle. It seemed like a lot of my friends were very active in church life, and I felt like I was missing out on the social aspect. At one point in high school, I was dating a Mormon girl, and she tried to convince me to be baptized. But after attending church with her a few times, I realized that I just couldn’t do it. I guess you could say that was the point at which I decided once and for all that I was a skeptic for sure.

  27. The first time I remember “seeing through the ruse” was at age five realizing it took a lot of extra stuff to make a “complete breakfast.” I always considered myself to be rational and a critical thinker (hell, in high school and to this day if I get bored and have nothing else to do I run through the derivisions of mathmatical formulas that I know) but, looking back I see that I accepted a lot that I knew to be wrong, but wanted to be right.

    The turning point for me, and for many others here it seems, was being introduced to the SGU. Among other things, it gave me real inormation that I could use in coming to my own decisions and let me know that I wasn’t alone in my stance.

  28. Oh, it was a whole ordeal, but *I* believe the actual moment was when the first drop of goats’ blood splashed on my innocent nose during the fourth movement of the Sacred Rite of Skepbaptism performed by the Most High Skepriestess, as I recited the words “…and yummy babies shall I eat, from this day forth…”

    There was a bitchin’ potluck afterwards.

  29. Hi there!

    Like JRice, it was many steps for me.

    After having been told by my Crazy Aunt Nancy that playing Dungeons & Dragons was “Satanic”, I began to make the distinction between “Crazy Christians” and “Normal Christians”.

    Around that time, I read a book on Egyptian mythology, which said: “The Ancient Egyptians had a culture lasting for over 3,000 years”. My immediate thought was: “Wow, that’s almost as long as Christian culture!”.

    Then I did the math. Apparently, Christianity was “young” compared to the Gods of Ancient Egypt.

    By the time I had gotten to college, I had started to think of God as a kind of “energy”. Sure, Jesus was God, but so was Buddha, so was Mohammed, so were we all. Some of us were just more Godlike than others. I still had questions about the origin of the universe and life after death, which I believed to some kind of hippie amalgamation of all religions.

    But there was one time that I was watching Politically Incorrect, (Way back when it was on Comedy Central) and a feminist author (I forget who) was talking to a conservative christian. (I forget who. In the ensuing argument, she said to him:
    “Well maybe the God that *I* believe in doesn’t feel that way!”.
    To which he responded:
    “There’s only ONE God, little lady! You can’t CHOOSE to believe in whatever God agrees with your beliefs!”.

    And I realized: “He’s right!”.

    Assuming that there IS a God, He is either one way or the other. He might be flexible, but there’s little chance that he feels exactly the way that I do on all issues of faith and morality. This scared me. I thought: “What if God is exactly the type of God that conservative Christians say he is? What if the omnipotent creator of the universe is EXACTLY as intolerant as Fred Phelps, and completely agrees with Pat Robertson, and is going to send me to everlasting torment for every thought that I’ve ever had about Salma Hayek?”.

    Well, if that were true, then I’m AGAINST him. If God is the kind of jackass that the fundamentalists say that he is, then I’ll gladly go to Hell, and be tortured forever right next to my gay friends, my Pagan friends, and anyone who’s had sex before marriage. That kind of God can stuff it.

    Once I decided that God was either: A nice guy who would have a sense of humor about my doubt and irreverence or a total dick who’d already consigned me to Hell, I was able to relax and really examine religion from the outside. After all, if God was a laid back, loving deity, then he’s not going to care that I do a little research into alternative religions, Satanism, Atheism, etc. He’ll probably think it’s funny.

    Next thing I knew, I’d decided: “Well, since there’s no way for me to know HOW God thinks on any given issue, I might as well have NO religion, and just be nice to people.

    After that, even paying lip service to God just seemed a little silly.

    Somewhere along the lines, I realized that I was just trying to justify a pretty ridiculous idea.

    So … here I am! :D

  30. It seems like there two different directions to approach atheism from.

    One is where someone rejects a specific religious teaching (usually from their upbringing) which leads to confused agnosticism (not knowing what to think) leads to apatheism (indifference) which gradually leads to a belief vacuum that you can call atheism.

    I can sympathize but my own atheistic belief system is pretty different.

    I have never believed in gods (maybe when I was very young but that’s different) and consequently have been forced to develop a nontheistic world view embracing humanist ethics and materialism.

    It’s possible that atheism may actually be a more diverse category than theism. There may be more ways to not belief in something than there are too believe in it.

  31. I spent the the first 5 years of my life in hospital,
    essentially being raised by doctors and nurses, they question everything, and with kids being sponges, it rubs off.

    We used to get regular visits from the local priest.
    One day I asked him how I could be happy in heaven if my mom was burning in hell?
    He said god would let me visit her.

    The Charge nurse yelled from the desk
    “Stop feeding the boy nonsense, he’s sick enough as it is!”.
    And
    “He’s five, not bloody stupid”

    After that I took “nonsense” to mean that he was only pretending, no matter what he said.

    Fast forward two years…
    My teacher mentioned god in class. I said he was just like Santa Clause. My teacher said
    “No son, god is real”
    I said “I’m seven not bloody stupid”
    Mom was not pleased.

    But, the moment I realized I was a “Skeptic”
    was around age thirteen when I first read about Occam’s Razor and started applying it to everything.

  32. In just the past year, as the 50th anniversaries of various scientific events have rolled by in the news, I remember that my mother was telling me about them when I was 5. It’s been a stunning realization, because I always thought that my technical orientation came from my dad. There was also proffered a weak religion and other fairy tales, but I had been taught that scientists did really amazing things. I don’t know whether that stage-setting was a deciding factor or not, but by my early teens I was developing a strong skepticism, mainly about religion. That was at least 40-45 years ago.

    I wonder a lot about the nature/nurture question as it applies to skepticism. We can’t unwind one from the other, but I really feel that in some people there is a tendency toward it that can be overcome (or not) by indoctrination in youth. If the tendency is there then skepticism may eventually eat away at the indoctrination. If the indoctrination is weak, then it may not last a decade. In some individuals it may be a pitiful life-long struggle. [The thought of that is very sad.]

    I’m not sure that believing is subject to conscious will. I couldn’t believe in a god if I wanted to. Pascal’s Wager sounds empty to me, for instance, because I don’t think I could come to a logical conclusion that I *should* believe and then *do* so. No, once it was gone it became a “dead hypothesis” to me. Just as I don’t remember deciding to be straight, I don’t remember *deciding* whether to believe. Evidence may change belief, but again, the final “act” of accepting evidence may be deeper than conscious will.

    And apparently it’s the same with many of you. Through life you are exposed to evidence that you consider and take into your world view, which evolves within you from birth. It is in that process of taking in evidence and accepting or denying it that the roots of skepticism lie. Do you accept and consider all evidence and allow old hypotheses to die? Or do you lock in the hypotheses you’re given in youth and refuse to consider evidence that contradicts it? Is this an uncomfortable process, or do you revel in it? If I had to guess, most skeptics simply revel in it like I do. Show me something new to consider! If it’s good, maybe I can add it to my world view! And maybe it will kill off some old idea, maybe even something I held precious. Be that as it may, let’s run up to the edge of knowledge and watch it unfold!

    Everybody here has shown an *ability* to let old hypotheses die. [I actually wrote “willingness to let old hypotheses die,” but the death may not be a willful killing. I don’t know… ] May they not suffer… ;)

  33. Don’t know that I actually qualify as a skeptic. As I posted on another thread – I’m gullible. So I hear some wild or whacked-out claim like alien abductions, and I get excited and want to read everything there is about it. Doesn’t take long before I stumble across a website or book with a natural (as opposed to out of this world) explanation.

    I can pinpoint the moment when I started getting a better understanding of why the natural explanations were more likely to be right – that was the day I picked up The Flamingo’s Smile by Stephen J. Gould. That book stood my little universe on it’s right ear.

  34. Hello!

    I can remember it clearly… I was 13 and when the priest I was supposed to be confessing to asked me to go behind the screen – I asked him if God was all seeing then why did I have to hide beind that screen and if God was all knowing what purpose did confessing my sins to a priest actually serve.

    The priest sputtered at me, called my Dad – who was not very impressed with Catholicism to begin with – and that was that.

    Actually my Dad asked the priest why he was intimidated by a little girl asking questions. And then we went out for ice cream.

  35. I didn’t know there was a “skeptic” movement until I listened to SGU podcast. After listening to a bunch of episodes I realized I had more in common with this herd of people than with other herds. I know – and it thrills me – that we are not all alike, that our beliefs are not identical, that we are not a cult of single minded and blinded souls. Atheism is not a necessarily a requisite, but science, empirism, and critical thinking is. Conclusions reached are not based on mass hysteria, but data. We share our conclusions and we voice our questions. And man, do we have questions!

    When did critical thinking, science, and questioning the world and beyond become my methodology of living my life? Probably as I began college. I became intense about it , however, since grad school. Finally, med school and beyond was the icing on my logical cake. Voila – a skeptic … but with hopefully a very big heart and without any desire to stifle the personal beliefs of others, unless those personal beliefs (usually expressed by zealots, fundamentalists, or otherwise agenda driven, manipulative and dangerous elements of humanity ) are intended to stifle my own or harm the rational world as a whole.

  36. I vaguely remember this happening. It’s one of the stories my family tells. And yes, some of them are Young Earth 6-Day Creationists.

    When I was 4 so the story goes, I pulled Santa’s beard off. I had seen another Santa somewhere else that day. I concluded that one of those Santas had to be a false Santa. So, I pulled his beard.

    At about the same time, I was speculating about where God came from. Who made God? I imagined a long, long row of operating tables on which God was made by another God. My mother always liked General Hospital.

    I didn’t know that other people might think like I do until I was in college.

  37. It was during Catholic grammar school, probably about 7th or 8th grade. There wasn’t a nun to be found who could answer my pointed questions without slapping my knuckles with that ruler.

    In my college years I concealed from my Irish-Catholic Mom my lack of church attendance, sending her beautiful photos of the RC church diagonally opposite from where I lived. I later discovered she was concealing the same thing from me. It always bugged the crap out of me that she took a liking to astrology! She was otherwise so sensible. Besides, I think The Church frowned upon that sort of thing.

    On another front: ever notice the differences among UFOs through the decades? A 1953 UFO is vastly different from a 1963 or 1973 or 1983 or 1993 or 2003 UFO. These differences seem to follow the differences among Buicks of the same decades.

    You’d think the aliens, presumably a year or two ahead of us, might have settled on a final design which didn’t need new tail lights every year.

  38. I remember wanting to find out once and for all if there was ANY evidence that paranormal events ACTUALLY occurred in our day and age. If so, then, perhaps I could look into giving belief in God another go. It was a last ditch attempt to find God.

    Of course, with the help of Google and Wikipedia, I stumbled upon the right information, then found the JREF site, papers by Ray Hyman, the Skepchick website, and all the rest of it.

    But there was a point where I discovered this phrase ‘scientific skepticism’ and I loved what it stood for. I thought: this is for me! This is not wishy-washy at all. It was the opposite of everything I was tired of about religion and the bible.

    That was the beginning of the rest of my life.

  39. It’s weird. I remember the moment I let religion go. (It was a Friday night my junior year in high school.) That was pretty profound for me, living in a small city in the Bible Belt at an age where I was obsessed with the acceptance of my peers.

    But the rest of it just sort of quietly eroded away. Palm reading, Oujia boards, ghosts — I had bought into it, then I just sort of became aware that it wasn’t there anymore.

    The last to go was UFOs. I really wanted there to be UFOs. Still kinda do, honestly. But the evidence wasn’t there, and Sagan had told me already how vast the universe is, and that even if there were space-faring races, they probably weren’t aware of us, and weren’t likely to travel all that way for anal probes anyhow.

    So I was a full-fledged skeptic by the time I was in my mid-20s. I didn’t know what it was to practice applied skepticism until I read Randi’s The Mask of Nostradamas, which was also reinforced by the day-to-day skepticism and research at snopes.com.

    Now the only weird thing I fully accept is that Amateur Scientist’s girlfriend can make furniture with her hoo-ha. I really want that to be true, but for his sake.

  40. Well, I told my parents I was an atheist when I was 9. I went to school in a very multicultural area and it just suddenly dawned on me that my mum was telling me Christianity was the truth and yet all my friends believed in different truths. So, I started thinking ‘how can they all be true’ which inevitably led me to think that perhaps none of them were true!

    What then turned me into a sceptic was the fact the a sociology class was offered at my secondary school so I started that course when I was 13. I know sociology is often derided by science-y people, but the classes were great. Our teacher taught us about statistics and how experiments/research is carried out. He also encouraged us to look at different newspapers and take note of how right or left wing papers will report the same story differently etc. It just made me start to question everything.

    I think I drove my parents up the wall!

  41. I can’t help but think that very few of these answers (two so far) mention college. …College seems to be Teh Evil for all the Conservatives, and (at least, in the conversations I have had), gets blamed for “converting” so many people.

    I wonder if they realize most of us start changing our minds way ahead of college…

  42. I got a good smile out of Electro’s “not bloody stupid” story too. :)

    Me, skepticism, hard to say … I am being dragged kicking and screaming into skepticism, although anybody who’s read my blog will probably see more whimpering than actual screaming. Being brought up by two devoted Christian academics protected me from some of the nonsense that a lot of religious kids get forcefed since my parents had little tolerance for the more touchy-feely aspects of modern-day American Christianity. But in some ways their more thoughtful approach to it has made my adult journey more difficult, since my childhood belief system made a great deal of sense to me.

    I can’t say when it started, and I certainly can’t say I’m a full-fledged skeptic — I still believe in too much to be a true part of that community. But I know that one of the key turning points took place on a bitterly cold night in January of 2006, when I took a walk to clear my head after receiving news of the death of a beloved pagan friend. (I don’t use that derisively – she was a very serious pagan, and defined herself as such.) I stared up at the sky, tears freezing on my cheeks, and said, “Well, God, now you’ve got her. What are you going to do with her?”

    I think that was my last really heartfelt prayer. I was so angry at a belief system that had no room for Sharon that I was forced to back up and reconsider quite a lot of what I had always thought. It has not been a pretty journey, and I suspect it may yet end badly. But it is honest, at least.

  43. I had an war going on between my ears until my 30’s. I was raised Catholic, had lapsed and was searching. Meanwhile, I also had an extremely sharp mind that kept nudging me about all the inconsistencies in religious belief (specifically Christianity, but others, too). I also am a voracious reader and love science and hard science-fiction. This stew of conflicting thoughts just kept brewing and brewing…

    Eventually, I grew the stones to stand up and say “It’s all bullshit!” It takes a long time to fight one’s way free of brainwashing and thought control.

  44. To quote a fellow skeptic, it was “skepticism by attrition” in my early 20’s but it was hard to believe that I was “right” and so many older adults were “wrong” then along came James Randi and a (then) $25,000 challenge. Here was someone who investigated claims full-time and concluded them to be bunk, it was like a heavy load came off my shoulders and everything made sense- age 25

  45. Just like to add, there’s a lot of comments on atheism here and actually for me religion was one of the first things to go -age 8?- whereas UFOs and telepathy lasted longer. It was critical that Randi was also an atheist and I was relieved when I logged on to his site to find out that was indeed the case. He so eloquently debunked strange beliefs I don’t know what I would have thought if he had held on to his religion but he applied skepticism to all areas

  46. I was about 14 and talking to a nerdy-friend. I happened to mention that some particular kind of woo was obviously complete rubbish and he replied “yes, just like any religion”. Suddenly a lightbulb went on and I’ve never looked back.

  47. In a hotel room outside Yellowstone National Park, reading Why I Am Not a Christian, a collection of essays by Bertrand Russell. I realized there was absolutely no reason I should believe in an ethereal, eternal soul that survives the death of the body. I had been an evangelical Christian since a teenager, and poof, that was end of that. I had a bit of a relapse when, a few years later, I… *cough*joined the Mormon church*cough* … excuse me, nasty cough today! But thankfully I’m over that now, too, this time thanks to Carl Sagan. If I’m trying for some kind of religious faith, I really need to stop reading books.

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