Afternoon Inquisition

AI: My God I don’t care

Honestly, I’m extremely bored with the god/no god debate. I don’t care. Really, I don’t care. Believe whatever you want about god(s)(ess)(es). It doesn’t matter. Sure, I think it’s all a bit silly, and I don’t buy into it, but I know plenty of really smart people who do. And I know a few really smart skeptics who do… a couple who are even *gasp* Christians!

Unless you’re using your religion to spread evil – like killing your daughter for talking to the guy you didn’t choose as her husband or trying to pass blatantly bigoted laws denying groups of people their basic rights, or trying to teach my kid that dinosaurs were here just a few thousand years ago and that The Flintstones are based on a true story – really, just thinking that there might be a deity isn’t an intellectual crime in my mind.

Religion isn’t above scrutiny, but I don’t think it’s necessary to mock the religious and spew hatred at them for merely believing.

Michael Shermer just wrote a whiny article on not beating up the believers, but I really loved Brian Thompson’s article over at Amateur Scientist, and highly recommend you read it after answering today’s quest

What’s your take on the atheists vs religious “war”? Do you think we should be more tolerant? Do you think we should be less tolerant? Does it matter?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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294 Comments

  1. Jihaaaaaaad!!!

    Or something.

    Honestly, I’m mostly in the “don’t care what you believe” camp, but I generally keep that stuff to myself. Just like I did when I was a believer.

    Evangelism, even for atheism, can be tiresome. If someone asks me, I’ll tell them what I think and why, but otherwise it’s none of their business, and neither is their belief any of my business.

    The nice thing though, is that when I do find out that a friend is a fellow atheist (which is happening increasingly often), we just kind of nod at each other and move on to different topics. There really isn’t anything to discuss, so we talk about more interesting subjects.

  2. I refer to myself as either being an Asatruar with a lot of doubts, or an atheist with a large number of superstitions. I tend to get uncomfortable when my ex talks about whatever woo she’s into… but I can also use the language when I need to, and have a tendency to pray to a variety of deities at various moments.

    I’m more or less uninterested in the God question, except when someone gets in my face about it… especially customers at work… gah, I want to beat people who try to start a religious discussion with me at work. I want to say “Dude, I’m at work, and I work for the city. I can’t express my true thoughts and feelings on this, so kindly shut the fuck up.”

  3. Religion is a coping mechanism for Life. Many people use religion to focus and direct their good deeds; many use it to justify their bad deeds. Sometimes the same person does both at different times or at different phases of their lives.
    I focus on the deeds and not the motivation.
    A person who lives a “good life” and says it’s because God or religion gave them the strength to be principled is fine with me.

  4. Why should we be more tolerant? They certainly aren’t tolerant of us. If the zealots aren’t willing to keep their religious beliefs out of our secular nation’s laws, then fuck ’em, is all I have to say. It’d be one thing if they worshiped and did their thing without getting in my way, but they get in my way EVERY DAY. I live in Arizona, so I deal with this, “Bug god told me to do it!” shit every day, and I’m tired of it.

    I’m tired of Gov. Brewer using god as a reason to rid gays and non-married couples their domestic partnership benefits, a year after they were passed. I’m tired of Gov. Brewer using god as a reason to take away my right to make decisions about my body. I’m tired of Gov Brewer and every other zealot making it a-ok for a pharmacy to refuse to sell me birth control because of THEIR beliefs.

    Essentially, I DO care and we SHOULD care, because religion affects our lives and laws every day, which is 100% unacceptable.

    Once they stop trying to butt into my life with their god, then I will stop caring. Until then, it IS my business and I will not stop caring or fighting against it.

    Playing nicely has NEVER worked. You can’t fight the loud, angry zealots with silence.

    There is a big reason why the LGBT community has made so many strides in the last decade: By being loud. By not being nice. (Not being nice doesn’t mean being violent.) By not taking no for an answer.

    That said, audience and context matters. There’s need for PZ Myers — and there’s a need for The Friendly Atheist. And everything in between.

    But yeah, I do care. I really, really do care. Because it effects my life every.single.day.

  5. I was with you until your second paragraph, as you started mentioning reasons why we need to be concerned about the debate. I am inclined to think you were trying to imply that it doesn’t matter what people believe as long on they keep it to themselves and it doesn’t affect their thinking, decision making, or judgement. But aye, there’s the rub. How can it not? Issues like abortion, gay marriage, sexuality, evolution, drugs, medicine, global warming, and on all seem to be divided between rational and secular people on one side and people with religious leanings who base their reasonings on unfounded mythical paradigms irrelevant of the facts. Those people tend to be in the majority and therefore have a stronger influence on the rest of us.

    Skepticism is about critical thinking. Any concept that fails to stand up to critical thinking needs to be confronted, and religion tends to be a prime example of that, and definitely leads to an inability to embrace reason.

    In regards to the “war” thing, while there are some very militant atheists it seems to me (just my observation) that the War On Religion is akin to the War On Christmas – wholly made up defensively by Christians. It’s seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to any dissent or criticism as opposed to an actual outright crusade (forgive the pun) to obliterate religion from society altogether.

  6. Personally, I’m tolerant of most religions. I think most agnostics are, and also most atheists. I really don’t like it when people who claim to be rational lump moderate religious people in with the wingnuts and extremists. My mom’s religion and church plays a big part in her life, and it’s mostly good. I have no intention of trying to change her. She’s Christian, but she’s pro-choice, accepting of homosexuality, and fairly liberal in general. She occasionally falls for alt-med things, but mostly because she just doesn’t know enough about biology. She goes to her doctor for important things, she giggles along with me at my alt-med-loving aunt, and she doesn’t believe in horoscopes or astrology. She never forgoes treatment by saying that “God will take care of it”, because she, like nearly all other Christians I know, expect that “God will take care of it” through a doctor.

    A few atheists might say that my mom doesn’t really count as a Christian, but who are they to decide what counts? She counts just as much the extremists, who ignore as much of the Bible as moderates. If my mom takes the more sensible approach of considering biblical stories to be allegories, who is to say that she is less a “real” Christian than those who take everything literally?

    Most people in the United States are reasonably smart, yet most of them are also religious. I certainly think that we need better education in certain subjects, but when it comes to religion, it doesn’t seem to be ruining the majority of people. It’s a shame that extremists have the loudest voice, but they really don’t represent mainstream religion, no matter how much they claim to.

  7. There may be a “war” to keep religion out of our laws, but it’s not realistic to view it as religious vs. atheists. Most Christians that I know don’t want to push their religion onto everyone else. Even the ones that want to convert everyone often don’t want to do it through laws, because they think it doesn’t really “count” unless it’s voluntary. In this particular “war”, a lot of religious people would be on our side. It’s really important to distinguish between extremists and moderates, even though it’s tempting to lump them all together. It doesn’t help that extremists tend to be the loudest.

    Other than interfering with our laws, there really is no “war”, unless it’s important to you that everyone else be an atheist too.

  8. like the first commenter @Zapski: said, for me it comes down to respect. as long as someone doesn’t push any hidden agenda or force onto me their beliefs while cutting down what i believe, then i am cool with them. i have quite a few dear friends that are religious, and i love them dearly and also love that we can talk about science things or religious things without even a hint of bitterness or passive-aggressive judgement.

    but yes, people that try to evangelize (religious and non-religious alike) and look at people as nothing but mere “projects” for them to mold into exactly what they see fit….those people can kiss my fucking ass and get shot into a singularity in space.

  9. @Paradym: Yes, this.

    Also, I don’t think mocking or attacking folks for simply being of a different belief system is the way to go. Note that I said “simply.” Once someone’s belief system leads them to do or say something stupid, dangerous, or intolerant of others, they’re fair game. Or rather, their words or actions are fair game for the mocking.

  10. @catgirl: The problem I see is that the majority of self-proclaimed moderates really aren’t moderate — they vote against gay marriage. Every day. They vote against abortion. Every day.

    I really don’t know a whole lot of people who identify as Christian (and not just spiritual) who will vote pro-choice. Many won’t vote for gay marriage.

    They may identify as moderate, but their religious views are still getting in the way of my life.

    And that’s still not cool.

  11. This one is tough. I don’t have much of a stomach for conflicts.

    I don’t like to fight.

    One of the things I love about my job is their stance on religion. As best I can tell the parnters and all of the senior managment is conservative christian but it is never spoken of at work. Ever. It took me two years to get any kind of a feeling about their beliefs and I’m still not 100% certain. They are very old-fashioned and the workplace is considered to be a place where you do not talk about religion. It is impolite.

    My parents go to a very hippy church, the pastor and assistant pastor are both women. There is a strong suspicion that the pastor is a lesbian, she says that she isn’t. She also says it doesn’t matter. This church organizes a monthly distribution called Angel Food where a family can get enough food to feed for people for a month for $35. No prayers needed, no need to prove any faith or even need. If you want to get the food come and get it. They also preach that no one goes to hell.

    There are liberal religous people out there who should be our natural allies because they are as disturbed and frightened by the fundamentalists as we are. Yes they have an irrational blindspot but can any of us truthfully say we don’t have irrational blindspots? That we are totally rational and skeptical of everything?

    I see it much more as a fight against people who want to take their existing bigotries and then claim that their religous beliefs justify those bigotries. And then they try and get those bigotries written into the law.

  12. I’m an atheist and I care, though I would never have described it as a war myself. I think we should be having an open dialogue about the true nature of reality. Passionate debate and discussion is fine; war is unnecessary and ridiculous. Bill O’Reilly thinks there’s a “war on Christmas” any time someone says “Happy Holidays” — a phrase I grew up thinking meant “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” put together. Where’s the war?

    I also care because it’s a very short hop from “just thinking that there might be a deity” to “trying to pass blatantly bigoted laws denying groups of people their basic rights” etc. If you think there’s a supernatural being who tells you what to do and is always to be obeyed, what if you get the idea somehow that that being wants you to do something monstrous?

    I think an easy analogy can be made to the skeptical attitude more generally. I mean, I don’t really care if someone believes in Bigfoot. What harm does it do? None, unless they quit their job and devote their life to hiking around in the mountains and forests, neglecting their children and forgetting their friends. But living without critical thinking skills is dangerous, because who knows what idea a credulous person will end up believing next?

  13. My best friend is a woo woo loving hippy and I still love her to death regardless.

    The way I see it, there is a time and place for religion. Those places do not include science, government, institutions funded by the government, or statements that are fightin’ words. Other than that, I could give less of a shit if my neighbor is a raging Scientologist

  14. I’m too tired to fight about religion. I have friends who are religious, friends who aren’t religious, friends who are republicans, friends who are democrats, friends who are socialists… It’s one of those “just don’t talk about it” deals when it comes to who I hang out with. If I like someone as a person, it doesn’t matter if they have a Bible in their bedside table. Just don’t preach to me directly.

    Last weekend we had our baby showers, one of which was a family luncheon with both of our families coming together for the first time. As lunch was being served, my great uncle stood up and said grace in front of everyone. Did I storm out and make a fuss or get upset? Of course not! He is a sweet old man who adores my husband and me and is SO excited that we’re having a baby that he wanted to vocalize it the way he knows how: with prayer. And you know, it wasn’t awful. It was more of a giving thanks for (and to) our families than it was gratuitous Lord-naming. He also told me I looked beautiful “bearing the fruit of the spirit,” which cracked me the hell up and seemed more like a comic relief statement.

    If someone were to do something horrible in their name of their religion, as it happens so often, it’s worth it to fight for whomever is being victimized. Also, those who push their agendas on me are likely to end up with a 2nd asshole. Going out of my way to confront people who haven’t done anything except go to church seems more like hunting. Lots of people go to church and don’t say bunk about it to anyone who doesn’t go with them. It’s the extremists we need to watch out for.

    Yes I think religion is stupid. Yes I will continue to stand up for my (and everyone else’s) right to not believe in a higher power. And yes, if a friend was on the border between remaining faithful and losing their faith, I would guide them with rational logic. But I’m not going to go around trying to convert everyone I meet. That would make me just as bad as the evangelicals.

  15. When religion is kept somewhat private and personal I have no issue with it.

    When religion is use to provide you with a reasonable moral compass and makes you a better persion I have no issue with it.

    When religion is the reason you use to spread hate, start wars, deny science and exercise control over people I have a big problem with it.

  16. Also, I want to make it clear: I have no intentions of “converting” people to atheism. The only thing I care about is the fact that religion VERY HEAVILY influences our laws. And I really don’t see that changing anytime soon, especially if we just shut up and allow it to continue.

  17. @marilove:

    I guess I don’t see that as religion vs unreligion.

    I see it as assholes using their religion for power. And even if you’re not religious, you should be fighting against what they’re doing.

    Gay bashing isn’t about “I believe in God”… Gays can be Christians and Muslims and Jews and deists and pagans and Hindus. Using God as an excuse to hate and commit bigotry is reprehensible.

    Same thing with most other religious “crimes”. It’s not about God or no God… it’s about using God as a shield, and as a sword, and as a threat… but you know, there’s pro-life atheists and skeptics… and they’re anti woman ones, and anti-gay ones.

    I don’t say play nice when people are being hurt, but this isn’t about my next door neighbor getting his baby christened or midnight mass. I can still be tolerant of that guy, and my religious (maybe one day) co-workers and family members and hate what Bill Donohue and Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter and the Catholic Church are doing.

  18. @Chelsea: Did I storm out and make a fuss or get upset?

    ———-

    There’s definitely some ground between “caring” and “making a total ass out of yourself”.

    Where I fall out with Elyse in this one is in the world of skepticism: there are no skeptics who are Christians. Unless, of course, the evidence that a god-man worked a large number of miracles, was nailed to a tree, and now sits in heavenly judgement over all humanity has changed drastically since the last time I checked, in which case all skeptics will eventually become Christians.

    That’s not to say that all skeptics have the same viewpoints on every topic, but Christianity is a word with metaphysical implications on the scale of the heliocentric solar system, and I’m pretty sure that practically all skeptics are heliocentrists.

    Skeptic doesn’t mean “critical thinking when it’s convenient.” Skeptic means “critical thinker first. If you can’t or won’t examine your sacred cows critically, you just aren’t a skeptic.

    Doesn’t mean you can’t be a nice person, or be reality friendly… it just means that you aren’t reality based.

  19. Well said Elyse. Brian Thompson’s article was quite good and I thought Shermer also made some good points. And I’ll second what Sam said about your second paragraph.

    I think it matters when people are irrational and attack with out using reasonable and rational arguments or can’t have a civilized discussion. Being defensive and pompous never helps when it comes to the reasonable discussion part however. And certainly holding a religious belief can not be said to reflect on ones intelligence or education. My wife occasionally attends a Christian faculty group at the university where she teaches. Lots of bright PhD types there who know its wrong when someone calls them delusional, foolish or stupid. When I gave up my religious beliefs I took my horse out of the race so to speak. I have no desire to engage in the atheist vs. believer debate except to point out the harm done in the name of religion and I’ll do that at the drop of a hat as I did while I was a believer.

    @davew: I disagree that it’s a fight between believers and non-believers. I think you would find the majority of those professing a religious belief would agree with you on most ethical, moral and scientific issues. For me the fight is against the irrational and ignorant.

  20. @Elyse: I honestly think that’s a bit naive. The majority of the religious do not believe in gay marraige. The majority of the religious do not believe that abortion should be legal. This isn’t just the extremists, either. This is why I say those who claim they are moderate really aren’t. It’s just that they aren’t as vocal or jerkish about it.

    But they still vote. And they still vote with their religion.

  21. If you believe in god, something that is inherently illogical, then is makes sense you will be more likely to believe in other illogical things, like the power of prayer.

    If you believe in the power of prayer, you are less likely to work hard to fix problems, like global warming, and will instead try to pray the bad stuff away.

    If you rely on prayer instead of hard work, you can hurt yourself and others.

    Why should we be tolerant of stupidity, especially when stupid people in large numbers is a major threat to combating a lot of the problems facing the world today.

  22. I don’t fight, because it’s pointless. People who have made the decision to turn off part or all of their brains aren’t going to be swayed by MY arguments.

    However, I let it be known that there IS another viewpoint. In a lot of ways, I do the same thing with skepticism – the most important thing is not to let the woo exist unchallenged. Those who want to question need to know that there are others questioning too.

    However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say this – I lose respect for people who believe. I guess I’m really not so tolerant. I’ve thought about it and agonized over it, but there it is.

  23. @James Fox:

    I think you would find the majority of those professing a religious belief would agree with you on most ethical, moral and scientific issues.

    I really do not believe this.

    Yes, there are plenty of self-identified Christians who would agree with me on most ethical, moral, and scientific issues, but I DO NOT think they are the majority.

    If they were, gay marriage would be legal.

    If they were, we STILL wouldn’t be fighting for women’s rights, especially in regards to abortion and birth control.

    If they were, a “No God? You can still be a good person!” type of sign wouldn’t cause people to freak the fuck out and cry discrimination.

    If they were, Sarah Palin wouldn’t have almost become vice president.

    Sarah Palin is an extremist and she almost became vice president.

    That shit is scary.

  24. @Elyse: Do you think we should be more tolerant? Do you think we should be less tolerant?

    I may have misread the question. I took this to mean “more or less tolerant than they are”. It could as well mean “more or less tolerant than we are now.” I think this can change the answer.

    I think @Chelsea has a very apt scenario. I admire her forbearance. In that situation she was having a bit of religion pushed on her. I think she would have been well within the bounds of etiquette to push back. Politely. I was presented with a similar situation a few years back. Someone said, “Do you mind if I say grace?” I replied, “Only if you do it where I can hear.” People laughed and had a good time and I managed to make my point.

  25. @sethmanapio:

    I believe that’s called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

    God is not testable. There is no way of knowing whether there is one or isn’t one. I think I can reasonably assume there isn’t one… but if someone else decides that there is no proof either way and so they choose to believe, I can accept that.

    Why don’t you tell Pamela Gay that she’s not a skeptic?

  26. I’m actually one of those *gasp* Christians that doesn’t tend to agree with most other Christians about much of anything and tends to agree with my skeptical and atheist friends about the majority of things.
    Religion to me has become one of those things on which we can agree or disagree without it really affecting how we feel about each other. Its an opinion, like which flavor of ice cream is best. There will never be a solid “proof” one way or the other, so I don’t see why it so often become such an absolute (let alone, such a heated one).
    I can understand the vitriol when the religious right’s fervor spills over into social issues like gay marriage, teaching evolution, social spending, etc. What truly sucks about my position is that as soon as I say “Christian,” I see atheists and skeptics either shut-down or flare-up, regardless of how long we’ve talked and agreed about social issues, foreign policy, or whatever else.
    As someone who straddles the line between the two sides, I can tell you that the vitriol and irrationality, as ugly as it is, is not one-sided in the least.

  27. My take? I’m just not enough of an egotist to believe that my beliefs are fraught with metaphysical significance.

    As an atheist, I find it far more irreligious & even unchristian to be in bad taste to believe one’s beliefs have any world historical significance.

    Atheists who fulfill the pathetic stereotype of the angry atheist (I was one of those for several years in my twenties) need to detox from this pathetic self-importance. By angry atheist I mean someone who actively seeks to deprogram Christians.

    Wry amusement at taking oneself so seriously. Really atheist or not, someone who takes themselves so seriously really belongs in an absurdist comedy. When I read about the so-called war on Christians, I feel like I wandered into a Fry & Laurie skit.

  28. Its a never ending cycle. We call them fascist fundies, they call us commie heathens. We all look at the other guys, and say they believe in wrong crazy stuff. Our crazy stuff is right.

    The moderates chastize the extremes for being too out there, but rebuff the non-believers for not following their creed.

    Religion isn’t going anywhere. In 200 years, we will have missionaries on other planets, trying to save the souls of non-earthlings.

    My calendar for this year is Crabby Road, and Maxine is saying this month, “Have yourself a merry little christmas. Just don’t drag me in it.” I feel the same with religion. I don’t care what you belief, just keep it to yourself. If you come at me with your beliefs, then your about to get served.

  29. @marilove:
    What sucks about being in the philosophical minority is that there’s no way to wear it on your sleeve. I still haven’t found a “religious left” tshirt for sale anywhere. I guess it wouldn’t be a big seller.

  30. @Elyse: Why don’t you tell Pamela Gay that she’s not a skeptic?

    ——-

    I did. Then I took her to a party. She seemed to have a good time anyway. Words have meanings… I can’t be a Christian without believing in the divinity of Christ, and Christians can’t be skeptics if they do.

  31. The problem that bothers me about the debate is that I don’t think religion causes any of the issues that so many (of you) complain about, it’s just an excuse.

    People would still be trying to pass laws against all kinds of crap they don’t like. They’d be jamming their world view down our throats just as much, it would only have a different name.

    And by taking a militant stance against faith you alienate reasonable people that believe but otherwise are basically like us in every other way.

    I don’t like intolerance, whether it comes from a Muslim, Jew, Cristian or Atheist. No group has that market covered and no group is free of it.

  32. I used to be more tolerant but I’m now firmly in the “we should be a whole hell of a lot less tolerant of religion” camp. I think it’s practically our civic duty to mock religion (although not necessarily the religious) every chance we get.

    I guess I’m turning into a cranky old man.

  33. @marilove:

    But many people don’t vote their religion.

    Do you believe that California is just barely under 50% non-believers? Prop 8 was really damn close… and those weren’t all atheists. I don’t recall how close other states were… but Iowa certainly isn’t mostly non-religious, and gay marriage passed there in the WTF surprise of all history. And Maine I think was like 48%/52%.

    Again, I point out that there are skeptics and atheists who are anti-woman and anti-abortion… which I know you know because you’ve been around this blog for a long time, and you’re almost always there fighting the good fight.

  34. @James Fox: I disagree that it’s a fight between believers and non-believers. I think you would find the majority of those professing a religious belief would agree with you on most ethical, moral and scientific issues. For me the fight is against the irrational and ignorant.

    I agree with you mostly. The religious types I know are quite amiable. There is a subset of religious people, however, who want to push their religion into government and other organizations. They are self-identified as religious so that’s how I identify them. These are the people I oppose.

    I agree that skeptics can help other people see a more evidence-based way of thinking, but this is a different topic.

  35. @marilove: We’ve discussed this before and I think it boils down to what the politics of most Christians are where I live as opposed to where you live.

    @Rei Malebario: That can be a problem when you’re a skeptical non believing type who’s married to a very intellegent believing religious type.

  36. @Elyse: Well, we’re getting closer — and it’s by being vocal and not “tolerant” that’s doing it.

    But, yes, Christians are still the majority and it is still their majority vote that is bringing down civil and womens rights. Like in New York. 100% of those voting down gay marriage in NY identify as Christian, I am almost positive of it, and if not Christian, then another religion.

    I have a lot of religious friends that I grew up with. They all voted against gay marriage.

  37. @Elyse: I believe that’s called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

    ———-

    No, it isn’t. No Christian’s are Atheists, either, because the two things actually have something to do with each other and are actually mutually exclusive. No Honda is a Toyota, no Red Sox Fan roots for the Yankees. The “true scotsman” fallacy doesn’t apply to every possible division of things.

  38. @PrimevilKneivel: Perhaps, as you say, “They’d be jamming their world view down our throats just as much, it would only have a different name.” But what name would be as convincing as God? I think religion gives people an extremely effective cover to push people around, and that’s why the link is legitimate.

    I also don’t think that it’s “intolerant” to talk about whether a particular factual statement is true or false. It’s not any more “intolerant” to say that the earth is more than 6,000 years old than it is to say that chiropractic is bogus or that homeopathy makes no sense.

  39. @marilove: If you read Brian Thompson’s article you will find religion had little to do with the final vote in California and a same as marriage rights initiative did pass in my state recently.

    @sethmanapio: I think Elyse was referring to your statement that a true Skeptic can not be a Christian which would fit the fallacy.

  40. @James Fox: I think Elyse was referring to your statement that a true Skeptic can not be a Christian which would fit the fallacy.

    ——

    I know she was. She is wrong, and you are too. A Christian is someone who believes in the divinity of Christ, which is an evidence free claim about things that no human could possibly know. A Skeptic is someone who uses critical thinking and evidence to assess all truth claims.

    These groups simply do not overlap. This is not an example of that fallacy, anymore than saying that no Free Market Capitalist is a Communist is a fallacy. “No True Scotsman” doesn’t apply.

  41. If people keep their nonsense to themselves and out of politics I don’t care. Unfortunately this usually isn’t the case.

    If you want to vote a certain way, far be it from me to stop you. I expect you to have a well-reasoned argument that has nothing to do with religion to back it up though.

  42. @ marilove You’ve hit most of the important points, but since some people seem to be almost oblivious to what you’re saying, I’m going to hit some of them again.

    It’s painfully obvious to me that religious belief is being used as a hammer against same-sex couples all over the country. It doesn’t matter that California came CLOSE to not having a vile, inhumane law on its books. It matters that California DOES have a vile, inhumane law on its books, and religion is to blame for that.

    And as far as Iowa goes, you can be sure that won’t last. The current situation in Iowa is the result of a state supreme court ruling. It won’t be long before they wrangle up a constitutional amendment to overcome that little problem.

    I also have to amplify marilove’s point about the teaching of evolution. Despite the Dover ruling, the issue continues to fester all across the country, and opting out of the “war” we’re talking about here is tantamount to surrendering on this issue and a host of others.

    None of us chose this “war.” It has been forced upon us by the legions of religious idiots in America and elsewhere who think their beliefs should be encoded into the law and enforced by the state. That’s not a war I’m going to let them win.

  43. @thoughtcounts-Z: but it’s not effective to tell people they are stupid when you are trying to convince (teach) them your view is right.

    I find saying that chiropractic is false is just as useless an argument style. You immediately put people on the defensive. But when you say ‘I don’t believe in Chiropractic’ you force them to ask you why and then you can explain the lack of evidence or the general implausibility.

    When I say you believe something that is wrong I’m placing myself above you, when I say I believe something different I’m staying at the same level. If you want to win an argument start level with your opponent and use fact and reason to raise your boat while the holes in their argument sinks theirs.

  44. For those of you who are wondering, “No true Scotsman is a logical fallacy where the meaning of a term is ad hoc redefined to make a desired assertion about it true.” (wikipedia).

    I am not “ad hoc” redefining the term “Skeptic” or “Christian”. I admit these terms are not perfectly defined, but I don’t see anyone offering a competing definition that allows Christians but excludes people who believe in homeopathy, alien abduction, or a 5000 year old earth. So unless “skeptic” has basically no meaning, or you are willing to offer a new meaning that does what you want it to (thus engaging the no true scotsman fallacy yourself), I’m pretty sure you have no leg to stand on here.

  45. @sethmanapio:

    Knowing and believing are two different things. While I agree that it’s a silly thing to believe, believing in something where there is no proof either way is not unskeptical… so long as you make an agreement with yourself to change your mind should the evidence change.

    I don’t know if my dog loves me. I can’t know that one way or the other. I choose to believe that he does. If that means that I am not a skeptic, then I’ll resign from Skepchick and stop fighting against anti-vaxxers and homeopathy and Oprah. But guess what? Dog love does not disqualify me from the entire skeptical movement.

    There is no set of rules for what skeptics believe or don’t believe.

  46. @sethmanapio: Until about 20 years ago, there was no evidence of planets around other stars. Some scientists believed, some didn’t. Now, before this discovery, there was as much evidence for these exoplanets as we have for god. Were these scientists thinking critically? Were the scientists who doubted thinking critically?

    The answer is yes.

    Now, there is still no evidence for life on other planets. Some scientists believe, some don’t. Which is thinking critically? They both are.

    Can you present evidence of the non-divinity of Christ? The answer to that is “No”. At no point can science proof a negative. You can’t prove something didn’t/doesn’t happen. All you can say is there’s no evidence for this have occuring.

    As a skeptic, you should know that. Maybe you’re not a true skeptic.

  47. @Elyse: I don’t know if my dog loves me.

    ————-

    I have evidence that my dog, to the extent that dogs express or feel an emotion that is isomorphic to what I think of as “love”, loves me. For example, he accepts me as pack leader, expresses enthusiasm at my presence, etc.

    This is not even vaguely similar to believing that it is a fact of the universe that a super-being with vast powers is waiting to judge you when you die.

    And if there are no rules for the grounds on which skeptics accept truth claims, then the word “skeptic” has no meaning at all.

  48. @James Fox:

    Just to clarify a little bit, I don’t think the votes against marriage equality in California and elsewhere had little to do with religion. I actually think that all the arguments against marriage equality are based in religion. But my larger point was that many religious people voted in favor of marriage equality despite their religious beliefs. And as a general trend, reason has trumped religion throughout history, both in politics and science, even though the number of religious people hasn’t declined all that much. In other words, religious people adapt and change.

    @sethmanapio:

    This may be a nitpick, but you don’t have to believe in the divinity of Christ to be considered a Christian. There’s a Christian creed laid out in the New Testament that has little to do with anything supernatural and is really just a moral code. Not that there are many Christians that fall under that category, I’ll admit, but it’s incorrect that Christianity requires any belief in the divine.

    @marilove:

    It may be true that only religious people have voted against gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean all religious people have voted against gay marriage. As long as there are some who aren’t also fundamentalists, it’s a mistake to treat them all like fundamentalists. Many fundies are changing their beliefs about marriage equality and other issues, as the voting numbers prove. But they aren’t changing their self-identification as religious. I think this is a sign that blanket anti-religion messages aren’t nearly as effective as messages targeted to specific, harmful religious beliefs like the inequality of gay people.

  49. @infinitemonkey: Now, before this discovery, there was as much evidence for these exoplanets as we have for god. Were these scientists thinking critically? Were the scientists who doubted thinking critically?

    ——-

    Actually, this is not true. We had the evidence that there were planets around this star, the knowledge that there is a mechanism for planet creation, and the knowledge that physics is basically the same in other places. So any scientist who expressed the belief that there were no planets of any kind around any other stars would not be thinking clearly, rationally, or skeptically. A scientist who said is was likely, but that they were reserving final judgement, would be.

    Where’s your comparable data for god?

    You have none, because these cases are not similar.

  50. Were the religious people to keep their religion out of public policy, I’d say it doesn’t matter. Until we reach that point then I’m inclined to agree with Stephen Fry (yay!) and Christopher Hitchens (ugh!) and expand their claims to apply to organized religion as a whole.

  51. @sethmanapio: We have consiousness. We can’t explain how consiousness arose, nor can we define what consiousness is. Since we can’t define this consiousness, we can’t state what forms it takes. We also can’t define what a foreign consiousness can and can’t do. For all intents and purposes, we have a sample size of one. You can’t draw universal (literally) conclusions from a sample size of 1.

  52. I don’t have a problem with individual believers as long as they aren’t harming anyone or trying to push their beliefs on me. They are free to believe what they want, not that I won’t challenge or criticize them in a polite manner.

    However, when believers act as a group to push their beliefs on other, try to get them made into law, try to deny people rights, or deceive others about science/medicine/etc. I will come down on them hard. Being a religion or religious does not put you above scrutiny or criticism. I will also call out moderate and liberal religious folks for NOT condemning behavior by fundamentalists.

  53. @sethmanapio:

    If you’ve read the Gospels and can’t find any moral teachings that don’t require a belief in the divine, I would suggest reading the Beatitudes of Matthew again. There’s also Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, and Luke 10:25-38. There’s also John 8:7. It’s just as easy to separate the belief in divine mercy and the concept of Heaven from these teachings as it is to learn something about loyalty and friendship from “The Lord of the Rings” without literally believing the land of Mordor is where the shadows lie.

  54. @AmateurScientist: If you’ve read the Gospels and can’t find any moral teachings that don’t require a belief in the divine

    ————-

    Oh. Well, if you want to water the definition of Christian down to “someone who found a passage in the bible that expressed a sentiment they agreed with” I guess I’m a christian, a mormom, a muslim, a budhhist, a satanist, and a skeptic.

    On the other hand, I tend to think of a Christian as “a follower of Christ”, and Christ was explicit that belief in him was a requirement for membership.

  55. I think that we should be infinitely patient with religious people who do not urge their beliefs on others. However, we should be very critical of those who need to press their mythology on others. I will be infinitely critical of those who try to press their religious fantasies onto me or my family.

  56. @infinitemonkey: All you can say is there’s no evidence for this have occuring.

    ——-

    Right. And if you say “well, I believe it occurred anyway, in the absence of evidence and in direct contradiction to everything else that can be observed about things that do happen”, then you are not a Skeptic–that is, you do not access truth claims by evaluating the evidence in favor of those claims according to a single standard.

    If you admit special pleading for one truth claim but not another, that’s a skeptical fail.

  57. @infinitemonkey: Maybe you should have read the rest of the comment.

    ——–

    Well, naturally I read the whole comment the first time. I just read it again. I’m still not seeing a point there that is connected to this discussion in some way. Maybe you could clarify what you were trying to express?

  58. @sethmanapio:

    I’d consider myself a Trekkie, though I find most of “The Next Generation” boring. To some, that means I should turn in my comm badge. You can label yourself without adhering to every implication of that label. I’m also a Democrat, though I’m not a huge fan of every plank in the party platform. That may be difficult to accept, but it’s simply reality. And we’re all reality-based here.

    The definitions of words don’t bend simply because of what you tend to think they mean.

    Also, Christ had nothing to say about what it takes to be a Christian. He had some ideas about what you can do to enter Heaven. But even that doesn’t matter. If Jerry Garcia had said you have to eat a tub of ice cream every day to be a Deadhead, that wouldn’t make it true.

  59. @infinitemonkey: Have I ever said that there’s evidence for it not happening?

    ————

    Perhaps I was unclear: The gospel stories directly contradict all observation about the sorts of things that actually happen in the world. So believing in them, absent evidence, is not skeptical.

  60. @AmateurScientist: The definitions of words don’t bend simply because of what you tend to think they mean.

    ———-

    I know. That’s why I consider a Christian to be a follower of Christ. But hey, if you want to make a new, ad hoc definition of both “christian” and “skeptic” to mean “people who label themselves that way” then I guess you’re right, anyone who says they are a skeptic is a skeptic, regardless of what they believe, and everyone who says they are a Christian is a christian regardless of what they believe.

  61. @sethmanapio:

    I’m not making any definitions. Neither Unitarians nor all members of the United Church of Christ believe Jesus was divine, though many of them identify as Christian. There’s a large population of Christian Buddhists who mix secular interpretations of Christ’s teachings with Buddhist philosophy. Some Mormons and all Raelians believe Christ was an extraterrestrial, not a divine being. The Webster definition of “christian” has to do with following Christ’s teachings, with no reference to the necessity of accepting all of them equally or at all. Personally, I know of a couple of Catholic priests who don’t believe Jesus was divine.

    You obviously think it’s fun to troll for semantic arguments here, but even on a semantic level, you’re wrong about this.

  62. @sethmanapio: Ok, let me slow it in case I’m going to fast.

    We all have consiousness. Well, how do we describe consciousness? It can’t really be described in objective terms, its all subjective. Therefore, it can’t be define or described. Much like describing blue to a person who has never seen anything.

    Now, since we can’t define what consiousness is, we have no way of stating what is or isn’t consious. Is Elyse’s dog consious? We can’t say for sure, as it is subjective. Remember the guy in the coma for 23 years? Is he consious?

    Now, we have experienced interactions with people who we believe are consious. We believe that because they seem to have the same characteristics of consiousness as us. However, these are, for all intents and purposes, a sample size of 1. We have one kind of consiousness. Therefore, we cannot speculate on if this is or isn’t the only form of consiousness, nor what other forms would take.

    Are you with me so far.

    So, we have only experienced one kind of consiousness. It is subjective. We have not been able to define what is/isn’t consiousness.

    Therefore, we can’t state, with any form of certitude, that there is not another form of consiousness, one that may or may not exist in this universe, but has the capability to effect this universe.

    This is my best argument for the lack of evidence of the non-existance of god.

    Bear in mind that previously, in our discussion, we talked about the planets, and you brought up the idea of our theories of the origins of the solar system. What you failed to consider is that there are exosolar planets which, accorind to our theory of planetary development, should not be where they are. This leads to one of 2 conclusions. Either 1) The events which we believe occured is just one of several possible scenerios or 2) The planets which defy our theory used to fit our theory, but were knock out of their original orbit to one much closer. Both seem very unlikely, but my money is on the former.

    So, what is your argument against the lack of evidence for the nonexistance of god?

  63. @sethmanapio: Now, this is where things get hairy. If you take them as a literal interpretation, there really were angels singing, and demons really were cast out, and the devil really appeared to Jesus, then I could kinda see your argument, even though we have no evidence to the contrary, we just don’t have any evidence in the affirmation.

    What you aren’t considering is the general events were true, but the specifics were wrong. Shepheards did visit, but because he was in a manger, not because angels told him. Pigs did run off a cliff, but because they got spooked, not because a demon was cast in to them. Jesus was hungry and in the desert, for 40 days. I’d sure I’d be seeing crazy sht too.

    Most other stuff can be explained way without resorting to the supernatural. It still happened, but for other reasons.

  64. @AmateurScientist: You obviously think it’s fun to troll for semantic arguments here, but even on a semantic level, you’re wrong about this.

    ———–

    Okay, so the word “Christian” has no actual meaning beyond a desire to label oneself as such. Fine. In that case, Elsye’s main point is pointless. If the Christian Skeptics she describes don’t actually believe in god or christ (as you describe), I’m not sure how they belong in a discussion about believers versus non.

  65. I have many thought on much of what has been said that will have to wait until after the kids are fed.

    Until then I’d like to state one reason that we should be careful about how we debate people about issues they hold dear is we are clearly a group that likes to argue. Not everyone can do that without taking things personally, even some in this group.

  66. @infinitemonkey: Let me extend myself a moment on this topic.

    Planets are natural things. We know they exist. We have theories about how. Those theories may or may not be correct, but to say–with certitude–that such planets do not exist would not have been skeptical. However, to claim that against all evidence of known phenomena and in defiance of all known theories, a specific planet that cannot be detected exists (for example, Planet X) is not skeptical.

    When speaking of God, even Richard Dawkins agrees that other kinds of consciousness probably exist, and might appear godlike to us. A Christian, on the other hand, is like a person who believes that planet X will destroy the world in 2012. That is not a skeptical viewpoint.

    Of course, I need a new word for “a person who believes that Jesus of Nazareth was a divine being who was sent by God to die for our sins”, since apparently, I can’t use the word “Christian” in context to Christ, his divinity, his ultimate message of salvation, the resurrection, or anything else related to the supernatural on this board.

  67. @infinitemonkey: No, I think you just moved the goalpost on me.

    ——-

    I haven’t wavered. I’ve had one definition and one argument from moment one. You guys are the ones who have watered down your terms into total meaninglessness in order to shoehorn any concievable set of beliefs into both “Christian” and “Skeptic”.

    Seriously, you moved the goalpost from “believing that there is a god” to “believing that there could possibly be a god” without blinking an eye… and then you accuse me of moving the goalposts because now you’re farther away!

  68. @sethmanapio:

    The point is to highlight the commonalities between believers and non-believers rather than belaboring the boring and obvious differences.

    And, on a lesser level, to show the error “true skeptics” such as yourself make in speaking about Christians and the religious without acknowledging or even understanding the true breadth of the terminology.

    To obsess over what constitutes a “true skeptic” or a “true Christian” is silly, condescending, and useless. That kind of self-satisfied quibbling doesn’t contribute in any way toward the crux of this discussion, yet it’s all you’ve contributed so far. Why is that?

    Actually, I’d rather you not answer if it means you make a relevant point.

  69. @sethmanapio: Where I fall out with Elyse in this one is in the world of skepticism: there are no skeptics who are Christians. Unless, of course, the evidence that a god-man worked a large number of miracles, was nailed to a tree, and now sits in heavenly judgement over all humanity has changed drastically since the last time I checked, in which case all skeptics will eventually become Christians.
    ———————————————————-
    The only thins that we can actually “try” to prove is the who death thing. It is possible that he may have not been clinically dead, but perhaps in a state near death. He was pulled down just in time-coincidentally.

    The other miracles can possibly be explained away.

  70. @davew: I agree that it is a fight. It is one because the evangelical extremists continue to suck in the otherwise well-meaning with crappy logic, heaps of guilt and promises of a more stable, moral public life. We have to fight just to make sure that neutral things STAY neutral – science education, public policy, my front door step.

    That said, I have learned the hard way not to feed the trolls of any extreme thinking, including the American Indian Movement, in-my-face-and-not-in-the-good-way feminists, hatemongers of all stripes and people who think Wes Craven is a good director.

  71. Apparently, I’m a “new Atheist”.

    I believe religious fundamentalism should be met with ridicule and contempt.

    I believe Creationism and it’s poorly crafted mask, Intelligent Design, should be torn to bits and exposed for the collection of utter ignorance it is.

    I believe that individuals who have religious objections to the duties knowingly required by their employer should be reprimanded, and replaced if necessary.

    I believe that laws should be based in logic, not in the superstitious dictates of an ancient imaginary friend.

    Clearly, I also believe in my right to call your god an ancient imaginary friend. I am not required to respect the beliefs of the religious any more than I am required to respect the beliefs of those who claim to have been abducted by aliens.

    Lastly, while I do believe it is possible for a religious believer to be considered a skeptic, I do not believe it is possible for a fundamentalist religious believer to be considered a skeptic. If one believes the bible (or some other holy book) is the perfect and literal word of their god, one simply can’t expect anyone to take them seriously when they identify as a skeptic.

  72. @AmateurScientist: That kind of self-satisfied quibbling doesn’t contribute in any way toward the crux of this discussion, yet it’s all you’ve contributed so far. Why is that?

    ———

    Because I made a point, based on definitions not of “true skeptics” or anything, but just on the idea that these words might have meanings, and you all jumped on me. So I’m actually playing defense, rather than only making a certain kind of point. Perhaps if you had said, “Well, if you include people who are effectively atheists in your set of all Christians, your point wouldn’t hold” earlier, I would have agreed with that earlier.

  73. @infinitemonkey: The other miracles can possibly be explained away.

    ———–

    So what? My point was that if you believe he sits in judgement over the dead, you are not a skeptic. That’s it. That’s my point. That’s all I was trying to say: that if you believe that Christ was divine, magical, or supernatural in any way, you are not a Skeptic.

  74. @infinitemonkey: re consciousness: Insufficiently defined terms do not a good argument make. That is, it makes no sense to say there are different types of consciousness if you can’t give a reasonably precise definition of consciousness.

    Generally, I reccomend, “cognizance or recognition of one’s own existence, usually accompanied by sensation of things which are not oneself.”

    As well, lacking evidence that something doesn’t exist is neither proof that it does, nor is it generally considered a good reason for such a belief.

    I’ve yet to see any evidence which disproves the existence of purple swans, for example. But I don’t believe they’re out there, waiting to kneecap me if I come to close to their pond (Swans are bastards).

    It would be silly of me to believe that, because although there is no evidence that it is untrue, there is also no evidence that it is the case. And, as we should all acknowledge, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Also, as @sethmanapio noted, there is a significant difference between believing that something is possible and believing that something is true.

    I will gladly acknowledge the possibility of a god or gods, even in the Greek vein of superpowered people, partly because that would be kind of awesome. I will not, however, acknowledge such as true on the basis of any established evidence that I have yet seen.

  75. @sethmanapio: I’m sorry, could you find my exact quote where I advocate believing in god? My whole argument was that there is just enough doubt in the non-existance of god to justify belief.

    Now, you’re confusing argument from metaphor with exapmle by metaphor. These are designed to be examples of where factor X comes in to play.

    Now, you’re example by metaphor falls down when comparing a diety, which cannot be detected, to Planet X. If Planet X were made of darkmatter, I’d let you slide, as no metaphor is perfect.

    Now, if there is enough lack of evidence to not deny a diety, a half deity/half man, and an afterlife, then, by him being half deity, can we deny his ability to meet the requirements of being considered dead? Can we eliminate an afterlife?

    The only thing we have evidence for the lack of is prayer, which an ad hoc anyways, as that’s not what the Lord’s prayer is about anyways.

  76. I was a critic of organized religion long before I realized I was an atheist. I haven’t gotten much more militant about those views since I’ve come to understand I don’t believe in God. I guess I’m a “new atheist” but not a “New Atheist.”

    I’ve learned recently that people would view me as an “accommodationist” because I don’t take issue with my friends’ theism. Whatever. All I want to do is not believe in God and not scream at my friends if they say “I’m praying for you” or send me a Jesus-related Christmas card.

    I expect to get crap from theists about my beliefs concerning God and religion, but getting crap from other atheists is far more annoying. Isn’t railing at each other about how we don’t believe just as stupid as theists railing at each other about how they believe?

  77. I feel like I’m coming in late to the conversation but whatever.

    I think that a lot of people turn to religion because churches (and large organized religious groups) help their own.

    I work for a nonprofit and if I can’t find a ngo or a go to help someone I turn to the local churches and give them a suggestion of one or two pastors to call. And the pastors usually can help them, not a lot but enough.

    And if someone is sick and they go to a church? Everyone at the church is automatically praying for them. If I get sick? My mom worries.

    People like these functions and until these functions break from religion people won’t break from religion. (And anyone who says skeptics do this has never gone as an introvert to an already established skeptics group. HA!)

  78. @Elyse:

    o you think we should be more tolerant?

    *twitch*

    This always annoys the crap out of me.

    How is disagreement or satire intolerant? How is speaking frankly and critically about our views and the views of others intolerant?

    These things don’t fall under any definition of ‘intolerant’ that I’ve ever come across.

    When people call atheists ‘intolerant’, what does that even mean?

    The modern wave of atheism is strongly secular. Secularism is maximally tolerant – it is the only system by which there can be both genuine freedom of religion, as well as genuine freedom from religion.

    And secularism is built on a foundation of freedom of speech. Discussion and criticism are not forms of intolerance.

    If people don’t like hearing us, that’s fine. Don’t listen. Close the web-browser, put down the book, flick the channel if we come up on the telly.

    When contrasted against the constant attempts of religious organizations to pass blasphemy laws and other forms of theocracy at large in the world, I would say that the modern atheism movement is far and away more tolerant than those we criticize.

    That the atheist movement is intolerant is one of the most frequent and blatant lies to be repeated about us, and I’m deeply disappointed to see it repeated here.

    But then, perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps we ‘new’ atheists really are intolerant, and I’ve arrogantly failed to see it.

    If so, that’s fine. Show me the evidence.

    Firstly, define ‘tolerance’ in a meaningful way.

    Then, show me a specific case where the allegedly ‘new’ atheism is so damn intolerant.

    Let’s have a little critical review of our beliefs and opinions, shall we?

    In closing: I know I’m coming over as a bit angry and annoyed. Truth be told, I am, and I’m not sorry. I feel I’m justified in that.

  79. @infinitemonkey
    Hhmm… While I disagree with Sethmanpio that a Christian can’t be skeptic, I agree with him in that there is that there is enough doubt to justify the belief of god as there are enough doubt to justify the belief that green will mean stop in stoplights tomorrow.

    On consciousness, I think your analogy is pretty weak. While you can posit the existence of other types of consciousness, whatever that might mean, it still must fall within the realms of physical laws. The whole no limit thing creates nonsensical paradoxes.

    If there is a being, say, that created this universe by some lab experiment, that doesn’t make them divine. But there is no good reason yet to posit something that convoluted, much less that of an infinite god. It is as convoluted as saying that because bad things happen, it must be karma, or that an invisible chariot carries the sun through the sky. While I can see where these conclusions come from, there are better ways to explain things. If you can’t, then you just don’t know. So, if there are other types of consciousness, as you claim, it is really improbable they are god. As improbable as the possibility of a flying reindeer.

    But you see, what bothers me more is that people claim absolute certainty that god exists. I have never heard of a Christian say that there might be a god. Most say they know 100%, not even 99.9999999999999%. That’s all. ^_^

  80. @infinitemonkey: I’m sorry, could you find my exact quote where I advocate believing in god? My whole argument was that there is just enough doubt in the non-existance of god to justify belief.

    ———

    Sure. You can justify that belief. You just can’t justify it by any measure that would exclude any other belief, which is my point. So unless “skeptic” includes people who believe in ESP, Sasquatch, and honesty in politics, you can’t believe in God and be a skeptic.

  81. @Daniel Schealler:

    You’re reading a whole lot into that question that wasn’t in it. Like the whole part about me spreading lies about atheists… where I said that “atheists are intolerant”. You know, especially since I am an atheist and specifically said that I don’t care whether you believe in any sort of deity and linked to two other atheists who also said they don’t care.

    But thanks for your rant and your accusations.

  82. Ideally, we don’t need religion. But then, ideally, we also don’t need psychiatrists. I see them as symptoms of the same thing: people are crazy, some more than others.

    I’ve seen no proof of the existence of deities and plenty of arguments that even their potential existence would be irrelevant, but hey – if a dose of jesus juice gets you through the day, it’s no different in my opinion than tequila shots or cookies. Just don’t pretend like it’s rational or logical, and don’t expect me to partake.

  83. Yeah I’m bored too. I once considered myself a deist and even today as I’m an atheist I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    Even when I was a christian I knew there was nothing wrong with me. Being religious is not the problem. Being a prick about it is the problem.

    Everybody’s belief evolves over time. I used to become angry over this. Now I just wish everybody could relax.

  84. My rule is pretty simple. If it’s not testable, I might think you’re nuts but I won’t argue with that opinion. If from imaginative thinking you start making testable assertions, I’ll argue. Believe in god? Fine. Believe the world is only 10,000 years old because of it? That’s apart from religion, that’s an opinion in a realm of fact. I came from a fairly rational religious background that accepted science as science, and faith as faith, so it gets under my skin as both bad science, and bad theology.

    Oh, and just as a general rule, I don’t like people telling other people what their motives are. “You’re just an atheist because you don’t want to be accountable for your sins” is annoying, and so is “your religion is a coping mechanism.” Regardless of any truth to either, they’re about as useful as a crowbar in doing calculus.

  85. This discussion sort of went in a direction I wasn’t ready for, but I’m gonna take a chance and jump in anyway. No guts, no glory.

    What bugs me about religion is not the God part, at least not in itself. What bugs me is the tendancy towards a divisive “us versus them” mentality that occurs in religion, as well as in politics and even in popular culture (I’ve had people yell at me for liking certain musical genres).

    I think it’s important to try to avoid this sort of mentality, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t fight for what’s just. The reason we want evolution taught in schools isn’t because we want the creationists to look stupid, it’s because evolution is a scientifically sound theory (creationists looking stupid is incidental). The reason same-sex marriage should be legalized isn’t because gay people need to “win” in the war against straight people, it’s because marriage is a right that any two consenting individuals deserve.

    Our aim should be to confront and stop anyone spreading injustice or ignorance. And if the people spreading injustice or ignorance hide behind religion, then yes, perhaps their religion should be knocked down a peg.

  86. @BenjaminB:

    What bugs me about religion is not the God part, at least not in itself. What bugs me is the tendancy towards a divisive “us versus them” mentality that occurs in religion, as well as in politics and even in popular culture

    And that is exactly what is happening when we rally against a religion, we divide ourselves from a large group. A group that in fact only a small portion disagrees with us but is insulted in it’s entirety when we demean what they hold dear.

    @Daniel Schealler:

    Firstly, define ‘tolerance’ in a meaningful way.

    An ability to live with something that displeases us but does not harm us.

    Then, show me a specific case where the allegedly ‘new’ atheism is so damn intolerant.

    How about most of this thread.

    In closing: I know I’m coming over as a bit angry and annoyed. Truth be told, I am, and I’m not sorry. I feel I’m justified in that.

    That’s how intolerance works, by feeling justified.

    Tolerance doesn’t mean a lack of disagreement, quite the opposite you can’t tolerate something you agree with. But to provide a different example to how we could be more tolerant I give you the atheist bus campaign. Now I approved of the idea but I wasn’t thrilled with the execution and I didn’t really know why until I saw the ads in Halifax Nova Scotia. Rather than the usual line of “there probably is no god, so stop worrying and be good for goodness sake” it said “you can be good without god”. They both say essentially the same thing but the first one is an aggressive challenge.

    What the hell is the point of pissing people off when you are trying to make your case? What’s so rational and logical about that?

    And finally because as C.S.Strowbridge pointed out, every group has someone that is willing to justify prejudice towards people based on what they believe.

    If you believe in god, something that is inherently illogical, then is makes sense you will be more likely to believe in other illogical things, like the power of prayer.

    If you believe in the power of prayer, you are less likely to work hard to fix problems, like global warming, and will instead try to pray the bad stuff away.

    If you rely on prayer instead of hard work, you can hurt yourself and others.

    Why should we be tolerant of stupidity, especially when stupid people in large numbers is a major threat to combating a lot of the problems facing the world today.

    Because even we are capable of it CS, and the second we forget that we are all doomed.

  87. @C.S.Strowbridge:

    If you believe in the power of prayer, you are less likely to work hard to fix problems, like global warming, and will instead try to pray the bad stuff away.

    You’re more likely to try to pray away the problem than someone who doesn’t believe in prayer, yes… because someone who doesn’t believe doesn’t pray.

    But there’s a religious group working to fix every problem imaginable. From homelessness to disease to poverty and hunger to education. Religious groups are working just as hard as secular groups are to cure the world’s ills.

    Groups that believe prayer and prayer alone will cure problems are few and are generally fringe sects.

    Why should we be tolerant of stupidity, especially when stupid people in large numbers is a major threat to combating a lot of the problems facing the world today.

    We’re not two groups – one of smart skeptics and one of stupid everyone-else-who-believe-things. Intelligent people can believe bizarre things.

    Dismissing people who disagree with you as “stupid” is far more dangerous and ignorant than thinking there might be a divine hand guiding it all.

  88. Belief/disbelief in god doesn’t actually bother me much – what drives me nuts is belief in the soul. Use the word soul as a handy shortcut for the sum of your capacities and your experiences – I do from time to time – but belief in an immortal soul separate from your body is, IMO, a very dangerous idea that leads directly to harming others. And I do know at least one atheist who believes in the soul.

    But the topic at hand – not to start a fresh flame war, but we all have sacred cows. Michael Shermer thinks the ideas of libertarianism flow logically from his skepticism (I heard him interviewed somewhere where he said this, though I can’t remember where). I disagree. I think his political and economic beliefs border on a religion. But I still think he’s a skeptic. Just an imperfect one, like me.

    Even more on topic, I would think it would take some strenuous compartmentalisation to call yourself a Christian Skeptic, but as I said above we are all imperfect beings.

  89. I’m not strongly atheist (indeed, whether I even identify as either atheist or agnostic changes from day to day) but I really don’t see a good reason for atheists not to try to convince people.

    If you believe you are correct about something then you should try to correct people who are incorrect. Having everyone have discussions and argue strongly for their viewpoints makes us more likely to get to underlying truth. However, by the same token, one shouldn’t be annoyed by missionaries since they are the flip side.

    So yeah, everyone should just argue and discuss as much as they want. And may the best arguments win.

  90. @KristinMH: I disagree. I think his political and economic beliefs border on a religion.

    ————

    If nothing else, skepticism is about uniform standards for truth claims. Shermer doesn’t believe in the superiority of free market solutions over controlled market solutions in a vaccuum, compartmentalized from everything else. As far as I can tell, he applies the same criteria to that position that he does to all of his other positions.

    Someone who believes in a specific Divinity has broken this basic rule. They engage special pleading for one truth claim but not for all others–otherwise they would have to admit all divinity as true.

  91. @infinitemonkey: Now, if there is enough lack of evidence to not deny a diety, a half deity/half man, and an afterlife, then, by him being half deity, can we deny his ability to meet the requirements of being considered dead? Can we eliminate an afterlife?

    —————-

    We also can’t eliminate my magical 12 inch cock. You can only feel it if you believe in it, ladies. Only if you believe.

    Faith.

  92. I have never really cared about anyone’s beliefs. I have many friends and family who are religious and they know I don’t share those beliefs.

    As for whether or not the atheist community should be more tolerant of religion. It seems to me the only thing atheists are fighting against is the religious community imposing those beliefs on the whole of society. In these cases we should most definitely fight with all our combined strength. These issues affect us all.

    One further note. Since moving to the south I have learned something about the religious community. They do not believe in god. They believe they know the truth. To them god is as much a fact as is gravity. Their belief is that they have the right to enforce that fact on everyone. It is that belief which needs to be fought.

  93. @Joshua Zelinsky: Someone who is anti-vax is demonstrably wrong, that’s different from religion which is a personal belief that can vary in strength and ultimately only matters in what it means to them.

    If the goal is to help people to think rationally then attacking them for something harmless is not going to help. If their belief is harmful then fire away but aim for the part that’s actually harmful. Don’t attack Christianity because Rev. Phelps is a bigot, attack Phelps because he’s a bigot. Christians will understand that.

  94. @PrimevilKneivel: In many of the most public cases, it’s not usually just a very loud minority. When, for example, the Pope himself speaks out against using sexual protection, it’s no longer a harmless fringe movement.

    There shouldn’t be a war between atheists and religion, that would just be absurd and unproductive. But when a verifiably absurd or harmful idea comes along–and make no mistake, there are plenty of those around–people (not just people who call themselves skeptics, but all people) have a responsibility to challenge those ideas, whether they come from religion, politics, pseudoscience or culture (Note: I said “challenge the ideas,” not “attack the people”).

    (I tend to get a bit passionate about these things, I hope that hasn’t gotten in the way of my reasoning).

  95. @PrimevilKneivel:

    So religion is only a personal belief? So if someone is a Young Earth Creationist how is that demonstrably less wrong than the anti-vaxxer? (Indeed, they seem far more obviously wrong). Yet, YECism is a religious belief. A distinction made between religious and non-religious beliefs is unjustified.

    Moreover, your argument that doing so is a pragmatic argument. Whether calling people stupid is pragmatically useful (or true) is a completely different claim from whether it is intolerant.

  96. @BenjaminB: I agree, attack the idea.

    I don’t know a single Catholic that defends the Vatican. It frustrates me that they still consider themselves Catholics but what’s important is that they see the problem. But when you attack the idea of believing in Christ you offend those same people that agree with you on the important things.

  97. @PrimevilKneivel: But when you attack the idea of believing in Christ you offend those same people that agree with you on the important things.

    ————

    That may be true, but it is no more true of believers in Christ than it is of any other group. If you attack the idea of believing in the Loch Ness Monster you offend people who do, if you attack the idea of believing in chiropracty (or try to limit it’s practice and claims) you offend those who do.

    Why should god get a special out?

  98. @PrimevilKneivel: the inability to see the difference between a religious person, a young earth creationist and a YEC that want’s it taught in public school is intolerant.

    ——-

    That may be intolerant, but you don’t really address the question, which was: “If someone is a Young Earth Creationist how is that demonstrably less wrong than the anti-vaxxer?”

  99. I call myself an atheist. My wife calls herself a “I-just-don’t-give-a-shit-ist” I think that is about the size of it.

    I don’t generally debate Christians thought. I know some very smart ones and I wouldn’t want them to think that a victory in an argument was the same as something being true. I usually refer them to people like Carl Sagan.

  100. The only time I get worked up about religion is when religious people try to inflict their religious beliefs on other people and in doing so deny them their rights or stop them from obtaining an education. (Yes, anti-gay crusaders and creationists I am talking about you).

    Otherwise I have no problems with people practicing their religion and have been know to get quite angry about attempts to stop people worshiping in whatever manner they choose. I might not be religious or believe in any religion, but others do have the right to be able to do so without persecution. I feel very strongly about that.

  101. @Elyse:

    Again, pragmatism is a different claim. As is accuracy of the claim. It is likely not helpful nor accurate to label such people stupid. But how is calling them stupid intolerant?

    If it turned out hypothetically that atheists were say on average 20 IQ points higher than theists would it be intolerant to note that? (Note this isn’t the case. There’s some evidence that atheists do have higher IQ in general but the evidence isn’t very strong, the difference is much smaller and there’s the issue that IQ isn’t a terribly good way of measuring intelligence). 50 points higher? 100 points higher? What if someone made a similar observation about education? At what point is one able to say that the religious are stupid?

    I’m not claiming that religious individuals are in fact not as smart as atheists in general. Even if that were the case, one would have a serious causation v. correlation problem. You could for example have a situation where intelligent people are more likely to accept ideas from other intelligent people regardless of their validity. Moreover, statements about an average do little to say anything useful about the individual.

    But what worries me is that certain claims are being ruled out as unacceptable, not based on their truth values, but based on their perceived unpleasantness. That’s not something skeptics should do. If we’re going to reject claims about religious individuals being in general stupid then we should do so based on data and based on good reasoning not because of emotional issues.

    And just so I’m not a complete hypocrite, here’s a link to one of the larger scale studies on this matter: http://alturl.com/6wry

  102. @PrimevilKneivel:

    I may see a difference and you may see a difference. But if someone else says “nope. Their both believing in things despite evidence. No serious difference” how are they being intolerant? They’re wrong for failing to make a distinction. But that’s not the same as being intolerant. Moreover, are you saying (as it seems) that being intolerant is ok to the YEC?

    That’s fascinating, in that I don’t see being intolerant to anyone, regardless of the correctness or intelligence of their position as being acceptable. But I have trouble seeing someone calling someone stupid as being intolerant.

  103. @sethmanapio: Because it’s not the cause of the complaints, just the excuse.

    Religious people are no more likely to be bad people than artists are, should we denounce art because Jackson Pollack was an abusive bastard?

    When we use our worldview to denounce a group with a different one because we don’t like what some of them do that’s called bigotry. And thinking you’re right doesn’t make it anymore palatable.

    I know you’re hung up on this idea that they believe something that you don’t accept. I can’t help you with that, but more importantly I know why you care so much.

  104. Actually, I hate to say it, but I am a really lousy atheist. I am not an atheist because I am the most rational skeptical person on earth. I am an atheist because I have more positive feelings about peer reviewed evidence then anecdotal reports.

    If had different feelings I would be a deist. I think to a point, whether we admit it or not, we all have a very emotional stake in our cosmology, and our emotions about it DO matter.

    Thats not to say atheism doesn’t fit reality better then deism, but we would be foolish to rule out the part that things like emotional state and life experience plays in making some viewpoints seem more attractive then others.

  105. @PrimevilKneivel:

    [Tolerance is a]n ability to live with something that displeases us but does not harm us.

    At what point have I given you cause to think that I am unable to live with something that displeases me but does not harm me?

    I can get calmly, rationally, and justifiably angry about something, discuss that anger frankly and openly, and still live side by side with the very thing that made me angry.

    I don’t feel any need to destroy or ban anything. Specifically, I was angry with a comment made by Elyse in her post. It bothered me for what I felt were good reasons. I said so, and provided those reasons.

    Did I ask her to take her comment down? No.

    Did I brand her with a derisive label? No.

    Did I attack her with violence or attempt to pass laws banning her from making similar comments in the future? No.

    Did I ask, insist, or imply she shouldn’t say similar things in the future? No.

    Did I at any point indicate that I was unable to live with her having said the things that she said? No.

    Did I say that I hated her, or didn’t like her, or didn’t like her writing, or even so much as say that that I wouldn’t be her friend if she asked? No.

    I disagreed with Elyse about something I felt she implied in her post. I was moved I engaged her in discussion, and did so. Granted, I was heated and passionate and yes, a bit pissed off. I considered that anger carefully before posting, and on critical reflection at the time considered it to be justified. Just to be doubly sure, I asked for evidence that I was mistaken despite my reasons for thinking myself correct.

    Yet all this is perfectly compatible with living with what I felt Elyse said, and even living with people who say the new atheists are intolerant in general.

    I did not attempt to kill Elyse, assault her, censor her, dismiss her, ridicule her, or intimidate her into silence.

    By your own definition of ‘tolerant’, I am tolerant.

    Am I passionate? Yes.

    Assertive? Yes.

    Angry? At times, yes. I get angry about a great many things. There’s plenty in this world worth getting angry about.

    A jerk? Again: At times, yes. I don’t typically mean to be, but sure. Sometimes I can be a right —hole, particularly when I give a damn about something.

    But am I intolerant? No.

    So I think I’m justified in objecting to your attempt to brand me intolerant, PrimevilKneivel. And I’m justified in being annoyed about it.

    Because I am able to live with people who say things I don’t like.

    I just demand and exercise my right to say that I don’t like the things that some people say.

    And I demand the right to be pissed off occasionally. I’m not some slick PR guru, out to sell my talking points to to the media market. I’m a human being. A squishy, sloshy, fleshy, bleedy human being. So long as I don’t kill people or hit things or harm anyone, and so long as I back up my anger with sound reasons and not just bile, then I think I have a right to it, and a right to express it.

    You have every right to call me intolerant if you wish. But I have every right to be pissed with you if you do, disagree with you, and provide you with my reasons for disagreeing with you.

    Exercising that right does not make me intolerant.

    @Elyse

    Point taken – a better response than PrimevilKneivel’s. ^_^

    But still, I object a little.

    “… but I don’t think it’s necessary to mock the religious and spew hatred at them for merely believing.”

    “… Do you think we should be more tolerant?”

    “You’re reading a whole lot into that question that wasn’t in it.”

    Perhaps its true that I was reading something into the question that you didn’t intend to put there. Actually – scratch the ‘perhaps’. If you say you didn’t mean to put there what I thought you put there, then fair enough. I believe you. I didn’t mean to argue against you personally – I was angry with the sentiment, not the person – but given that this was how I obviously came across, I’m sorry. That wasn’t my intention at all.

    But my anger against the branding of confrontational atheists as intolerant still stands. All the more when it is done by our friends rather than our enemies. You may not have meant to do this, but PrimevilKneivel just did.

    And I think my interpretation that you were implied that confrontational atheists are intolerant was at least a bit justified. Wrong, I’ll grant you. But a bit justified. To see the words “don’t think it’s necessary to mock the religious and spew hatred at them for merely believing…” followed up a scant three sentences later with the question “Do you think we should be more tolerant?” does carry some nasty (if unintended) implications.

    But still – I’m ending on the wrong foot for what is supposed to be an apology: You didn’t mean what I thought you meant, so you have my sincere (and for all my bluster, my somewhat embarrassed ) apology.

  106. @PrimevilKneivel: I can’t help you with that, but more importantly I know why you care so much.
    ——–

    Oh, bullshit. You neither know how much I care or why I care, or even what I care about. On top of which, I never denounced anyone at all or suggested we should. And you never answered my question or addressed my point. Let me reiterate:

    I stated that while it is true to say that if we denounce the idea of believing in Christ as silly, we will offend Christians who might otherwise be political allies, it is also true to say that if we denounce the idea of believing in the loch ness monster as silly, we will offend Nessians who might otherwise be political allies.

    I then asked “Why should god get a special out?”

  107. @PrimevilKneivel: I actually don’t know any Catholics who defend the Vatican either (and I do know a few Catholics). Still, the fact that the Pope has any influence seems to indicate that there are a lot of people who do.

    I will agree that it’s important to pick your battles. I’d rather live in a world of Scientologists who accepted evolution and vaccines than a world of atheists who believed that the world was flat and homosexuality was evil. I don’t think it’s productive to argue with religious ideas that don’t affect me, like when someone prays to Jesus on their own time. When it does affect me, though–as when religious special interest groups try to influence legislation on same sex marriage or teaching creationism–it’s important to defend what’s right, regardless of whether it’s compatible with a religion’s teachings.

    (Sorry that I keep picking on religion. Many of my friends are Catholics, and I know that religions aren’t the only institutions that are guilty of these tactics, but they provide some of the best examples.)

  108. The surrealism of these threads never ceases to amuse. First, I was accused of a “no true scotsman” fallacy for asserting that Christians believe in god when responding to Elyse’s comment here

    Believe whatever you want about god(s)(ess)(es). It doesn’t matter. Sure, I think it’s all a bit silly, and I don’t buy into it, but I know plenty of really smart people who do. And I know a few really smart skeptics who do… a couple who are even *gasp* Christians!

    The people who so accused me changed Elyse’s definition (Christians as believers) to include non-believers… in an ad hoc fashion. Then they said I moved the goalposts as well, because my position remained in one place while they shifted the definition of believer out far enough to include Richard Dawkins.

    To top that, I got an earful of “you can’t prove it doesn’t exist, so it’s reasonable to believe it is true”, which is such a woo-flingers canard that we should put it on a t-shirt. Seriously… someone hit me with that. On a skeptical forum.

    It’s bizarre.

    Now I’m being told not only what I care about, but why, by a guy who doesn’t know me from Adam and seems unable to address a point.

    What is it with the God topic? Is there no possibility of rational discourse once our so-called immortal souls are put on the table for examination?

  109. @sethmanapio:

    If nothing else, skepticism is about uniform standards for truth claims. Shermer doesn’t believe in the superiority of free market solutions over controlled market /solutions in a vaccuum, compartmentalized from everything else. As far as I can tell, he applies the same criteria to that position that he does to all of his other positions.

    Yeah, wanna make a bet? As far as *I* can tell, Shermer is a paragon of rationality when he talks about Edgar Cayce and lousy with logical fallacies when he talks about libertarianism. Because he is a fallible human being like all of us.

    I am an atheist now but was once a very sincere Catholic. When I was still religious I was convinced I was right. I am convinced I’m right now. At both times I felt I had logical arguments to back me up. Obviously I think that I am right now and was wrong then, but looking at it subjectively, the feeling of rightness is much the same – just the content is different. So while I get what you’re saying – that there is a difference between beliefs arrived at through reason and those arrived at through faith or tradition – I’m not prepared to sign off on one human being’s logical processes as being foolproof.

    Because if I am honest with myself I conclude that I am not an atheist because it’s the most rational position. I’m an atheist because I simply don’t believe in god. The idea of god has become ridiculous to me. I did believe and now I don’t and that’s about it. So I try to retain some humility about my lack of belief in spite of my natural assholish tendencies.

  110. @KristinMH: Yeah, wanna make a bet?
    ————–
    Yes I do. Please point out the article or quote from Shermer that demonstrates his using a different standard to evaluate his economic ideas than he uses to evaluate other ideas.

    I am fallible, but “Fallible” does not equal “Has at least one area of serious woo belief that can’t be changed by evidence.” We do not all have one such area, at least, not demonstrably so.

    You’re attacking a strawman when you say that I have suggested you have faith in the perfection of someone’s logical processes. I implied no such thing.

    What I actually stated was that being a skeptic is, to me at least, a sort of mental discipline. It’s a willingness to have your mind changed, yes, but that requires a certain baseline evidentiary–not logical– requirement to compare things to. If you let that go with respect to some claims about the world, in my opinion you aren’t practicing the discipline and you aren’t a skeptic.

  111. I like Zapski’s “evangelism, even for atheism, can be tiresome”

    Amen I say.

    I not an atheist. I may not even be an agnostic. I am , I think, an apathetic.

    A zealot, religious or anti-religious, can not only be tiresome, but detrimental to the larger cause, especially when appealing to the less fanatical.

  112. @truthwalker: I think we’re talking about desserts.

    Let’s say I like cupcakes, and there’s a group of people who prefer cookies. Now, scientifically, it’s proven that cupcakes are objectively better than cookies, but I can generally get along with people who like cookies as long as they keep their cookies to themselves.

    But at the same time, if people who like cookies try to force me, or anyone else, to eat them, or try to place limits on how many cupcakes I can eat, then we have a problem, and it’s completely justified for me to defend myself and others against the cookie eaters, not because they eat cookies, but because they’re forcing their opinions on others.

    I’m aware that many cookie eaters aren’t like this, and I know that cupcake eaters can be just as forceful at times, but that doesn’t mean that the issue can just be dismissed.

  113. AH. Excellent synopsis. (I think, since I didn’t get it until you synopsized it.) This is one of those simply issues that gets blown totally out of proportion then.

    Text is a weak way to communicate.

    I’ll wager the tab that if Sethmanapio and the Kinevil and assorted other people discussing were discussing this in person with full body language and tone and voice and booze, this issue would be resolved already.

  114. I’m not a big fan of the “Yes Virginia, there is no God” bus boards I see around the city. To me, that’s just rude and unnecessary. It’s like some element in the god-free community got jealous of religious people having all the fun using religion to be shitty to people of another religion (a centuries-old tradition), and wanted a piece of the fun.

  115. @sethmanapio: I’ve stated it several times, you even pointed it out (to some degree) in the comment I’m replying to.

    It serves no purpose and harms our our struggle to be treated as equals.

    is that clear enough? I suppose I might be more inclined to be nice to crypto zoologists if I thought there was anything on the line as important as condoms in Africa or equality for homosexuals. But frankly I don’t care who is running around not taking pictures of animals that aren’t there.

    you’re right I don’t know what you care about but you seem to care a whole lot about people accepting that a belief in god is foolish. Some of us agree but don’t think it’s important enough to shove it down peoples throats. You may not have said that explicitly but somewhere in the eleventeen hundred posts about the definition of christian being absolutely and completely incompatible with skepticism just might have left an impression on me.

  116. As far as I know, no amount of scientific knowledge can refute the argument of infinite regression in favor of the existence of God (no matter how intellectually unsatisfactory that argument may be). If you further assume that the hypothesis “God” cannot be experimentally tested and that the absence of proof is not the proof of the absence, then it isn’t logically impossible to have religious beliefs in a coherent/rational way, as long as claims are circumscribed to a very light-weight, transcendentalist cosmology.

  117. @Sethmanapio:

    What I actually stated was that being a skeptic is, to me at least, a sort of mental discipline. It’s a willingness to have your mind changed, yes, but that requires a certain baseline evidentiary–not logical– requirement to compare things to. If you let that go with respect to some claims about the world, in my opinion you aren’t practicing the discipline and you aren’t a skeptic.

    I am going to claim that it is possible to be a “person of faith” without relaxing that discipline you describe. I mean why can’t one have faith in God while simultaneously admitting to themselves that there probably isn’t a scrap of credible scientific evidence to support that faith? That’s what I do.

    The mechanics of existence are the realm of science. The mystery of existence is the realm of metaphysics and faith.

    /BCT

  118. sethmanapio:
    I agree with you, but only in part. I think I have a less rigorous definition of a sceptic than you. We all have our sacred cows and none of us evaluate all our beliefs in a perfectly rational way. I’m with you on the notion that no one can view their religion with scepticism and retain it, but people hold contradictory views all the time. I think its possible for a Christian to be sceptical in a wide enough domain to be classified as a sceptic, even if they have a significant blindspot.

    I agree with you about the “god hasn’t been disproven” thing too. I’m a Bayesian rationalist so for me there is no proven and disproven, only estimated probabilities of propositions being true. And given the absence of evidence for gods (and yes, absence of evidence is evidence of absence, though the strength of that evidence depends on how hard and how efficiently you were looking) the range of reasonable probabilities for gods existing sits so close to zero that it is unreasonable to even contemplate that gods might exist, let only seriously consider that they might.

    I’m going to have to pick on BCT’s statement that “The mystery of existence is the realm of metaphysics and faith”. Mystery is not a state of being, it is a state of knowledge (or more accurately, lack of knowledge). If it were clear that there were such a thing as gods, there would be no mystery.

    As it is, whatever mystery there is about the universe is simply an indication of our lack of understanding of it, and lack of knowledge is not a license to believe whatever you wish. You can only get a god consistent with the observable universe by carefully designing that god to fit our current understanding (the god of the gaps is an example of this). That sort of over-fitting is generally frowned upon in disciplines that prize careful attention to data.

  119. If religion were – as PZ Myers put it in Expelled – a hobby much like knitting, then I would agree. That is not the case, and I’m amazed that so many in the skeptical community seem to be willing to give it a free pass.

  120. *sigh*

    Okay, if all you’re asking for is that we be tolerant of other people’s belief in gods… then sure. I’ll be tolerant to the point at which it becomes intolerable. Like pretty much all atheists I get along quite well with people who believe in a god on a day to day basis.

    But I’m not going to pretend that such a belief isn’t silly or that it is reasonable, just as I would not do the same for a belief in astrology or ghosts, and if someone who holds such beliefs makes a claim of being a skeptic… well, I’m sure as heck going to raise an eyebrow.

  121. > Religion isn’t above scrutiny, but I don’t think it’s
    > necessary to mock the religious and spew hatred
    > at them for merely believing.

    Mocking the religious has nothing to do with hatred. It’s a service to the public to help keeping reality in focus.

    If you have silly ideas and don’t keep them to yourself you pay the price of being told so.

  122. @James K:

    I’m going to have to pick on BCT’s statement that “The mystery of existence is the realm of metaphysics and faith”. Mystery is not a state of being, it is a state of knowledge (or more accurately, lack of knowledge). If it were clear that there were such a thing as gods, there would be no mystery.

    As it is, whatever mystery there is about the universe is simply an indication of our lack of understanding of it, and lack of knowledge is not a license to believe whatever you wish. You can only get a god consistent with the observable universe by carefully designing that god to fit our current understanding (the god of the gaps is an example of this). That sort of over-fitting is generally frowned upon in disciplines that prize careful attention to data.

    In my opinion you are confusing the gaps in our understanding of the mechanics of the universe with the “why” of the universe. Science can provide a narrative of the physical processes starting at the big bang moving forward. It can describe the “rules” of how sub-atomic particles can behave (what’s allowed to happen and what isn’t). It describes what part of my brain lights up when I think about god. But these are nothing more than observations of the physical universe.

    Going forward, science will no doubt continue to fill in the gaps. We will learn more about the mechanics of biology and surely if we don’t destroy ourselves (or get destroyed by some cataclysmic cosmic event) all kinds of diseases will be cured. Skepticism is just a tool for evaluating claims about what fits the observables and what doesn’t, but at the end of the day you are always going to be left with a huge mystery. The unanswerable question of why things are the way they are. Why are these the rules. I don’t think science can ever close that gap.

    /BCT
    OTOH, this

  123. @Mick:

    But I’m not going to pretend that such a belief isn’t silly or that it is reasonable, just as I would not do the same for a belief in astrology or ghosts, and if someone who holds such beliefs makes a claim of being a skeptic… well, I’m sure as heck going to raise an eyebrow.

    Yes, but Astrology claims to makes predictions about outcomes in the physical world. That can be tested. Likewise with ghosts. If you claim that a ghost is “physically present” then you have to show unassailable physical evidence that said ghost is present.

    My “faith” in god is just that – faith (belief in the abscence of evidence). Guilty as charged. Perhaps that is silly, but it gives me comfort. Its an emotional thing. It doesn’t make any predictions about the physical world such as whether I will live or die tomorrow.

    Maybe my faith is an emotional crutch. But are crutches silly? Not if you need them. If my leg is broken, I hope you wouldn’t say it is “silly” for me to use a crutch. I am an emotionally damaged person. My faith in god is the crutch I lean on while I heal. He helps me walk where I wouldn’t otherwise be able to walk. The world is full of emotionally damaged people. Give us all a break -:)

  124. @IBY: Ok, I’d like to point out that your anology with the stoplights fails as we have a record of green lights meaning go, and to change that would HAVE to change everything, literally, overnight. This fails as an anology as we predate the green light.

    Now, think of a goldfish inside a bowl. The water is the goldfish bowl is its universe. The goldfish may have been born there, there may have been several generations in that bowl. We exist outside of the goldfish bowl, yet have the capabilities to manipulate things inside the bowl. Before we allowed it, there was no goldfish bowl, and we called it into existance, by combining a bowl with water and putting a goldfish in there. By all definitions, we would be a god. We can allow times of plenty and times of famine. We can kill the any goldfish in the bowl we see fit.

    Now, the goldfish have very bad eye sight, so they can’t see us. It’s very possible they don’t know we exist. Their lack of knowledge of our existance doesn’t mean we don’t exist. They can’t prove we exist, nor can they prove we don’t exist.

    Now, my argument is not there is a god, its that there might be a god. I’m saying there’s a 0.00000000001% there may be a god. There’s just enough lack of evidence to rule out the existance of god.

    Make no mistake, I am a non-believer.

    @sethmanapio: You completely dodged my request. My request is to quote me advocating belief in a god. You can’t do that because you’ve created a false dichotomy. Either you believe in god, or you don’t. There are people who believe in the possiblity of there being a god, but we don’t/can’t know for certain. Realistically, that’s the BEST answer, since there is no evidence for, and no evidence against.

    (god being defined as a being which may or may not exist in this universe, but has the ability to manipulate elements in this universe. Has imbued all humanity with a spiritual energy which inhabits the body temporarily. Upon death of the body, the soul returns to its creator. It has sent a messenger is aware of this, and told others about it. Was capable of doing things which appear miraculous, although no scientific study was performed on these alleged actions.)

    Now, if you’ve got proof, just the tiniest little bit, please present it to us.

    Now, @sethmanapio: , what evidence do you have to support the existence of this 12″ wang of yours? Present it, and we will scrutinize it, and if there is any, we will present evidence against it. If you have no evidence its there, and we have no evidence its not there, then it does come down to faith.

  125. Freedom of religion is one of the cornerstones of democracy and I wholeheartedly support that. I don’t believe in God but I support my grandma and uncle’s right to believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If someone askes me what I believe then I’ll tell them. If I see or hear someone doing something nasty in God’s name then I’ll call them on it. What I don’t agree with is people (Dawkins included) being a complete ass to people who don’t suscribe to the same set of beliefs. It’s not my responsibility to go araound telling everyone that their God doesn’t exist. My responsibility is to speak up for my own beliefs when I have to.

    One of the most offensive films I have ever seen in my life was Bill Maher’s ‘Religiousity’. I thought that was verging on complete intolerance. Some christians, muslims, jews etc. are great people and their religion probably helped them get to this point. It’s a stupid and intolerant thing to say ‘religion flies you into buildings’. It quite simply doesn’t.

  126. See I still an argument about why it’s unreasonable to believe in god but that’s not the topic. The topic is should we be tolerant of those that do?

    When I say yes we should I’m not claiming that religion is off the table for discussion but we do need to be aware of two things.

    1. not everyone is as keen on discussing these issues in a dispassionate way as we are. They take this very seriously and just because we embrace the idea of challenging our beliefs doesn’t mean everyone else does or that they need to.

    2.We as skeptics are not immune from categorizing people unfairly. an example would be P.Z.’s post yesterday about the couple that lost all their savings in a scam. He took that opportunity to kick these people when they were down for something that I don’t feel was right. I understand his point that they were taught to believe nonsense but given the number of really smart religious people I don’t think that’s a fair call.

    I don’t care how smart you are or what you like to think about what’s going to happen when you die but we all have the capability to be wrong, mean, corrupt, stupid or prejudiced. And IMO every step we take away from remembering that is one step closer to being that way.

  127. I honestly don’t mind the God/No God debate, sometimes I really need to be reminded that I’m not alone, but I do understand why others feel it’s pointless or unwanted.

    This time of year drives me a little crazy, so if Shermer wants to rant, maybe he’s got christmas craziness too

  128. I am for tolerance and respect of other people’s religious/spiritual views, be they traditional/Christian or new age. If they’re not doing harm or trying to subvert science, I don’t care about their beliefs. I think that a diversity of opinions on religion–from the “great evil” view to the so-called accommodationist view–is a good thing. I have no problem with the new atheists’ books because they give a voice to other people who don’t believe in religion, but my belief is that the more militant, antireligious view paints religion into a rather blinkered, nasty little corner. I also think that militant atheism might be off-putting to many people (like me, for instance) who are born into a religion and might feel some pressure, intended or not, to turn against the religion and the God of their childhood. I am not a complete accommodationist. I think it’s fine to criticize religion and express unbelief, but in the scale between Dawkins/Myers and Gould/Scott, I am firmly in the Gould/Scott camp.

  129. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: “In my opinion you are confusing the gaps in our understanding of the mechanics of the universe with the “why” of the universe.”

    And that’s where you struggle. There is no “why”, it just is. You’ll run yourself in circles looking for an answer to “why”. Unless some deity manifests itself and clearly gives an answer to “why”, it’s pointless to ask.

    And then we’d have to problem of asking “why” the deity exists. Crazy spinning circles.

  130. Skepchick, I agree that people should be allowed to believe in any god or none. And I agree that “thinking that there might be a deity isn’t an intellectual crime…” But here in the shiny brass buckle of the bible belt, the vast majority of the theists take it a step or two (or fifty) farther.

    There are five houses within a block of my house that have the ten commandments posted in the yard. A state representative that lives down the street from me takes a firm, public stance on “marriage = man + woman”. About ten years ago, one of the student groups in the university near this town invited Duane Gish to speak—and he spoke to a full house that was overwhelmingly in his favor.

    Maybe it’s different where you live…?

  131. Just poured a second cup o’ tea and finished my crumpet, and here are my votes:

    @infinitemonkey: Very good engagement, but tangential and not very linear. You rat-holed a couple times.

    @PrimevilKneivel: Not your best performance. A few straw men, although well dressed.

    @Daniel Schealler: No quibbles with your positions, but one word for you: Sanka.

    @sethmanapio: The very hardest thing about debating well is staying on topic and you fought that fight very well. A few missteps, but you corrected that. Even the best fighter can be feigned, no loss of honor. Your post regarding how the discussion took a left (or right?) turn because of the whole god thing I thought was spot on. I have to concur that a Down To The Last Electron True Skeptic cannot be a Christian or even entertain accepting the existence of any deity without any evidence, but if we are to be so precisely provincial we would all be islands unto ourselves and have no community or consensus.

  132. Going to answer the AI then rad the comments.

    I think tolerance is a good thing. I think belief in a deity is a tool that can be used for good (providing comfort etc) or not good (dare I say evil?) like some of the things you listed. To me… belief is fine as long as it isn’t being used for evil.

    And I have no wish to be part of any sort of war on Christmas… it is both a religious and a secular holiday. Nuff said.

    Now to wade into the fray….

  133. @infinitemonkey: You can’t do that because you’ve created a false dichotomy. Either you believe in god, or you don’t. There are people who believe in the possiblity of there being a god, but we don’t/can’t know for certain.

    ————-

    Right. That last group would be people who don’t believe in god. If they DO believe in God, they aren’t Skeptics.

    I “dodged your request” because I never claimed that you had advocated a belief in god, or implied it, and I tend to ignore spurious distractions when I can.

  134. @infinitemonkey: Now, @sethmanapio: , what evidence do you have to support the existence of this 12″ wang of yours? Present it, and we will scrutinize it, and if there is any, we will present evidence against it.

    ———–

    Wait a minute… you get to have “god” as reasonable because I can’t prove that there is no such thing, but you won’t accept two invisible inches on my cock because there’s no evidence that they DO exist?

    This is exactly my point. Exactly. The “you can’t prove it doesn’t exist” argument is just not skeptical, as evidenced by your refusal to accept it when it was applied to something other than a deity. If the word “Skeptic” means something, philosophically, it can’t include people who use “you can’t prove it doesn’t exist” as a defense of their beliefs.

  135. @PrimevilKneivel: you’re right I don’t know what you care about but you seem to care a whole lot about people accepting that a belief in god is foolish. Some of us agree but don’t think it’s important enough to shove it down peoples throats. You may not have said that explicitly but somewhere in the eleventeen hundred posts about the definition of christian being absolutely and completely incompatible with skepticism just might have left an impression on me.

    ——-

    Wait… when did I say that belief in god was foolish? Do you really classify the whole world into skeptics and fools?

    I don’t.

    Word: applying your prejudices to people you don’t know and then using those prejudices to draw implicit conclusions from an argument that is explicitly about something completely different isn’t really a great way to figure out what they really think.

  136. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: I mean why can’t one have faith in God while simultaneously admitting to themselves that there probably isn’t a scrap of credible scientific evidence to support that faith?

    ————–

    You can. But if you do, you aren’t practicing the discipline as I described it. By stating that you believe something that is in principle untestable and unknowable, you have engaged in special pleading. If you recognize that but maintain the belief, you are not a skeptic–as I defined the term.

    As far as I can tell, any definition less rigorous then mine devolves to “a skeptic is someone who says they’re a skeptic”. I could be wrong, but certainly no one has provided an alternate definition that does not so devolve.

  137. I think people need to abstract this a bit.

    People are wrong. All the time, about all sorts of things. Most of the time, it doesn’t affect anyone else, so we (society) let it go without much of an issue.

    It’s only when someone else can be affected by a person being wrong that we usually step in and try to correct them, with the corrective effort generally proportional to the severity of the impact.

    And that’s where the fuzziness with religion comes in. What is the severity of the impact? With my mom, who’s generally a rational person but who has some minor insecurities that her religious practices help balance out, not much. She doesn’t go out preaching, or really even bring the topic up much.

    With the Ayatollah, that impact is huge: people are literally killed based on his religious interpretations or proclamations. So, the reaction is more severe.

    Of course, there’s a huge amount of variation in the middle. There’s also a lot of variation in how we interpret “severity” – to some, any “pro” discussion is seen as proselytizing and, thus, as intolerable.

    If we could come up with some objective criteria for the two main values – “severity of impact” and “degree of correction” – we could possibly form a standard for reasonable reaction. I don’t know that such criteria can be objective, however.

  138. Regarding being a christian and a skeptic. I think, by strict definitions of each word, one cannot be both. By looser definitions, one can.

    I’ll explain my reasoning. A christian, by strict (and popular, and historic) definition, probably believes in the divinity of Christ. Perhaps some don’t, but those at least still believe in god-the-father. Sure, there are people who call themselves christian who don’t believe these things, but they are not what most christians consider christian.

    Believing in divinity without evidence is not skeptical. And no, even charitable comparisons of exoplanets and divine beings don’t really work. That’s because of the rule: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Believing other stars have planets, or other planets have satellites, without evidence, is not unreasonable. Believing distant stars to burn chemically, or believing exoplanets to be carpeted would be unreasonable.

    Believing in an all powerful creator being, that by definition breaks many laws of the Universe, without evidence, is unreasonable.

    We know of nothing that can cause or experience events at FTL speeds (so, if god is aware of us, he cannot be aware of or influence events in other parts of the Universe, thus is not omnipotent or omniscient)

    We know of nothing that is not a life form to have awareness of itself or its surroundings.

    We know of no life form that can exist eternally, nor of a mechanism by which such an entity could evolve or exist.

    We know of no mechanism by which consciousness can continue to exist (or to “go somewhere else”) after death

    We know of no method by which evolution can be guided (thus, no “made in our image”), yet we know we evolved.

    Belief in a god that created, is aware of, and actively influences the Universe is unreasonable without any extraordinary evidence. (tortillas and shower curtains and weeping statues don’t cut it).

    Now, all that being said, I know skeptics that believe in god, and some that believe in Christ. I think they are wrong, and by strict definition, not skeptics. They think I am wrong for thinking that. Luckily for them, I am not in change of membership qualification standards, so we are all skeptics, and some of us believe things that some of us consider unreasonable.

  139. I am an atheist, a skeptic, and an asshole. So much of an asshole, that I was only the second person to receive the coveted Asshole Skeptic title by the Asshole Skeptic.

    However, my version of being an asshole involves not backing down from my beliefs, and being myself at all costs. What I try NOT to do is to attack people and call them stupid.

    There are far smarter people than me who believe in God, and people far less intelligent who are atheists.

    Yesterday at work, I reminded a client of mine, a man who was raising a baby that is not his, of Joseph, and how he raised Jesus. Now, do I believe that story? No. Did it help my client? Yes.

    Someone just sent me an email with this, and it seems appropriate.

    “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

  140. You can. But if you do, you aren’t practicing the discipline as I described it. By stating that you believe something that is in principle untestable and unknowable, you have engaged in special pleading. If you recognize that but maintain the belief, you are not a skeptic–as I defined the term.

    As far as I can tell, any definition less rigorous then mine devolves to “a skeptic is someone who says they’re a skeptic”. I could be wrong, but certainly no one has provided an alternate definition that does not so devolve.

    But I am not making any claims about the physical world, Seth. I am just stating that I believe in a god (i.e. a power greater than myself). IOW, it is a fact that I believe in this higher power. I am not making any claims about whether or not that higher power exists or not. As you point out, such a claim is untestable and unknowable. This relationship I have with the god of my understanding is something going on in my head and heart. It has nothing to do with the physical world. It is an emotional experience. The experience is as real as any emotional experience (being pissed off or falling in love, for instance). It has nothing to do with you or anyone else other than the fact you are in my human experience. In fact, I feel fortunate that you are in my life challenging me intellectually even though I am envious of your huge wang.

    In any case, I suppose my spiritualism disqualifies me from being in the Sethmanapio club of skeptics, but I still find rational thought a useful tool for sorting through the mounds of bullshit out there in the world. For that I am grateful (Carl Sagan hooked me with “Demon Haunted World”). Perhaps this makes me a “rational pragmatist”. Heck, my god doesn’t mind if I doubt his existence, since he is a very nice guy (sometimes he looks just like George Burns other times he looks like a table lamp). In fact, I think he would be disappointed if I didn’t doubt his existence.

    /BCT

  141. @sethmanapio: There you go with your strawman. If you’re going to quote me, try quoting everything that’s relevant, such as-

    “If you have no evidence its there, and we have no evidence its not there, then it does come down to faith.”

    Now, about this whole “request” thing:

    “Seriously, you moved the goalpost from “believing that there is a god” to “believing that there could possibly be a god” without blinking an eye… and then you accuse me of moving the goalposts because now you’re farther away!”

    You really can’t claim a moving goal post unless I’ve specifically stated that I advocate “believing in a god”.

    Now, let’s look at the inconsistancy of your argument. You say that its not skeptical to believe in the possibility of god because there’s no evidence, but you fully advocate not believing in a god when the same amount of evidence exists.

    Now before you can come back with your ESP , bigfoot, nessie, or whatever schlock, let’s look at the way a theory is formed, shall we?

    “If bigfoot exists, then we should expect to see…”

    “If Nessie exists, then we should expect to see…”

    “If ESP exists, then we should expect to see…”

    Now, what would you expect to see if you were trying to construct those sentences with a god who is consious and all powerful?

    Again, the only scientific studies that have been done successfully have been done on prayer for the sick. Possible sources of error range from the non-existance of god, which is possible, to those who prayed didn’t have enough faith, to those who were sick didn’t have enough faith, to god just didn’t feel like intervining.

    So, until you can account for all these variables, you can’t rule god out, just like I can’t rule out your 12″ wang without some evidence to the contrary. To do so wouldn’t be skeptical, it would be a denier.

  142. @infinitemonkey:

    You seem to be positing the existence of a non-falsifiable entity. I have a friend named Occam. He’s a barber. I think he’d be happy to give the hypothesis a shave.

    There seems to be a related issue of what you mean by “ruling out”. I can’t “rule out” ESP or Nessie or Bigfoot either. But I can assign very tiny approximate probabilities for their existence. Indeed, I can’t even “rule out” that 1+1=3, but it doesn’t seem very likely. That’s not an excuse to accept such beliefs. All claims are ultimately probabilistic.

    So, the question one must ask is what is a reasonable probability to assign to the existence of a God? It is then hard to see why it should be given anything remotely resembling a large probability.

  143. @Daniel Schealler:

    If you’re still out there reading this somewhere… Thank you.

    I understand the passion.

    But a tip: if you want to show people that being an atheist doesn’t mean you’re irrational or angry, flying off the handle at the suggestion of a discussion on tolerance is perhaps not the best way to prove your point. ;)

  144. @Billy Clyde Tuggle:
    Just for the sake of discussion….

    You stated about your belief in a higher power, “It is an emotional experience” akin to “being pissed off or falling in love, for instance”. Therein lies the point where, technically, you fall off the skeptical train. One could easily argue that being pissed off or falling in love is a (fairly) reasonable reaction to actual events in your life. Events that can be observed. Events that can be reproduced and your reactions reasonably agreed upon via consensus – although very loosely and given many parameters. I admit it’s a little shaky, but not out of the question.

    Continuing with this discussion, a belief in a higher power does not even have enough supporting objective and observable evidence to elicit something as individual as an emotional response. By that I mean to say, in general, there are actual, observable, objective, reproducible, perhaps falsifiable physical events (evidence) that can elicit specific emotional responses in the greater percentage of the population. Yet, there is no event or evidence like that at all regarding deities. Anything that can be attributed to a higher power can be explained by science or through skepticism, or at least fails by falling upon a logical fallacy.

    My wife, not so much the skeptic, has tried to use the “explain love” to support her position that science can’t explain everything and therefore there are forces in the universe we cannot explain. Once I reply with “biochemical reaction to stimulus” and “complex interactions that we may not know now – like television in the 1600s” she harumpfs and shuts up. And I don’t get sex for that day, but at least I kept things intellectually honest.

  145. @Paradym:

    You stated about your belief in a higher power, “It is an emotional experience” akin to “being pissed off or falling in love, for instance”. Therein lies the point where, technically, you fall off the skeptical train. One could easily argue that being pissed off or falling in love is a (fairly) reasonable reaction to actual events in your life. Events that can be observed. Events that can be reproduced and your reactions reasonably agreed upon via consensus – although very loosely and given many parameters. I admit it’s a little shaky, but not out of the question.

    Isn’t that kind of like saying only emotions that can be linked to external events are valid? Why would the emotional state ulicidated by belief in a higher power be any less valid than emotional state ulicidated by some asshole cutting me off on the freeway. Both emotional states are inner experiences that ultimately only I can fully know. Perhaps you are confusing the emtional experience with the rational interpretation of the experience. They are not the same thing. A rational explanation of how an emotional state comes about isn’t the same thing as the experience of the emtional state. That is probably what is irritating your wife when you give her the scientific explaination of love. Likewise, just because I can’t provide a rational explanation for why I experience the presence of a higher power in my life, doesn’t change the positive benefit of the emotional experience. That is very real (to me). Again I am not claiming that my higher power exists anywhere outside the confines of my head and heart.

    /BCT

  146. I think the war with religion matters in a very much and in a very broad way. What is true about the universe determines what we should or should not do.

    Very good, loving parents have prayed their children to death, not because they were evil or malicious, but because they were wrong about reality. Good intentions plus inaccurate ideas often produce evil actions. Sadly, we often only know this in retrospect. Moreover, we cannot criticize their actions without criticizing their beliefs (otherwise, their actions may make sense).

    There is no institution that so readily absolves people of their responsibility to have good reasons for what they believe than religion. It successfully promulgates the idea that it is not the reasonableness of our beliefs that justifies them, but merely that we believe them to be true. You echo this sentiment when you say:

    “Believe whatever you want about god(s)(ess)(es). It doesn’t matter.”

    I contend that it does matter, and it matters in a big way. It extends into literally every important moral area: into gay rights, abortion, womens’ rights, what wars we should fight, etc.

    We cannot get on the same page about what we should do morally until we’re on the same page about reality, and that cannot happen as long as we say that irrationality is ok. Whether or not a belief is harmless is not the measure of its truth, and we have to figure out what is true in order to agree on questions of ought (such as whether or not people should be feminists).

    It is not merely religion that is the enemy, but the laziness of thought that it promotes. Yes, it isn’t lethal in many people, but the notion that lazy thinking is alright is the poison that keeps our moral discourse static.

    JT

  147. @infinitemonkey: You really can’t claim a moving goal post unless I’ve specifically stated that I advocate “believing in a god”.

    ——-

    Yes, I can. I started with “believing in a god”, which you changed to “not ruling god out”. Thus moving the goalposts.

    So, sure, if you want to include Richard Dawkins (who doesn’t rule god completely out) in your set of all Christians, than as I have already said, my argument fails to hold.

    And frankly, the rest of that is just bullshit. There are things that I would expect to see if there really is a Christian God as described in the bible (such as spontaneous healing and other miracles) that I just don’t see. So it is exactly like bigfoot.

    Basically, you’re saying that a skeptic can believe in any kind of magic they want, so long as they simultaneously believe that this magic (while real) is completely undetectable by any means other than faith. So, again, fine. If you want to include people who believe in the supernatural, homeopathy, bigfoot, the loch ness monster, alien abduction, 911 conspiracy theories, the New Jersey Devil, and any other nonsense that can’t be 100%, absolutely, positively, with no imaginable source of error up to and including spot intervention in the experiment by the flying spaghetti monster into your set of all skeptics, than sure: skeptics can believe in God.

    But in either case, you’ve either removed all meaning from the definition of “Christian” of the definition of “Skeptic”, so that the term only means “Someone who identifies as such”.

    And as I’ve already said, if you want to use self-identification as the only criteria for determining whether someone is a skeptic or christian, regardless of what they do, think, or profess to believe, than yes, my point will not stand.

  148. @infinitemonkey: Please read through the comments to know exactly what’s going on, and hopefully you will understand why I’ve said what I’ve said.

    ————-

    I’ve been here the whole time, and he nailed you. Because what you have done the entire time is made a case of special pleading for god belief.

  149. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: I am just stating that I believe in a god (i.e. a power greater than myself). IOW, it is a fact that I believe in this higher power. I am not making any claims about whether or not that higher power exists or not.

    ————-

    Um. What? Perhaps you could explain how you can believe in something without believing it exists.

  150. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: Again I am not claiming that my higher power exists anywhere outside the confines of my head and heart.

    ———-

    If you make the claim “Prayer (of whatever kind) makes me feel happier”, that’s a perfectly valid claim that any skeptic could make. Hell, it scales, prayer and meditation DO have positive emotional effects.

    If you make the claim “A supernatural entity exists” than that isn’t a skeptical claim.

    If we change the definition of “belief in God” from the second claim to the first, than every Skeptic should believe in God, because that is an empirical, verified claim about the effects of a practice.

    But again, we run into this problem where “belief in God” is watered down and totally abstracted from any actual claims about the nature or reality of God, and becomes something like “I can alter my own internal state by thinking certain thoughts” or “Hey, you can’t rule it out with 100% certainty!”

    And I’m sorry, but I see this as an example of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy… where the idea of a “belief in God” is redefined and redefined until it covers the case you want it to cover… and in doing so, covers the most strident atheists of our generation.

  151. @James Fox: lol
    @sethmanapio: Which is why I never addressed your debate about Christians that might identify as skeptics. I thought it was vaguely off topic and a issue I don’t care about.

    I frankly don’t like your argument style where you play up one viewpoint but then proclaim to have a different view when you’re called on it. Maybe it’s time you explicitly stated your position rather than just prodding the rest of us like it’s your hobby.

    I’m really thinking Elyse titled this thread appropriately.

  152. @Billy Clyde Tuggle:

    Cool, I’ll get into this a little bit, and I hope you take this for what it is: A discussion or debate, and NOT an indictment of your beliefs.

    Please correct me if I misinterpreted, but I gathered from your post that what you are arguing is that the emotional response is what’s valid, not a rational interpretation of an event, or any event at all. But then aren’t you arguing for the validity of phobias? Or delusions?

    What I’m arguing is that, in general, “healthy” emotional responses are responses to external stimuli/us. More often than not, one’s response to certain stimili can be predicted. Handing you a flower would normally evoke a smile; slapping you in the face would evoke anger. The asshole cutting you off in traffic is external stimulus. There is no observable “god” to evoke an emotional response. That is the whole point. That one would have an emotional response or experience of an idea or entity that there is no objective evidence to support is eerily similar to delusion, phobia, psychosis. But since one evokes “god” one is given a pass.

    To argue that you have an emotional response to your belief in a higher power in no way gives any support to there being a higher power nor validity to your emotion(s), and only goes to argue against any sort of critical thinking. But, there is some objective and observational evidence for my love of my wife and vice versa. My stating that there is quite probably scientifically valid reasons for love based upon biochemistry only make her upset because she wants to believe in romance and mystery and I simply counter that we may know the actual processes someday. Plus, she actually exists, even though she may wish of me otherwise at moments.

  153. @PrimevilKneivel: Maybe it’s time you explicitly stated your position rather than just prodding the rest of us like it’s your hobby.

    ———-

    Well, let’s see: my position (one that I’ve stated at least 8 or 9 times now) is that no Christians can be Skeptics, because the two world views are mutually exclusive.

    I’ve been really, really, really clear about this. And I don’t think you can find a single case where I have, as you accuse played up one viewpoint and then ducked when called on it. That’s absolutely not a true statement about my debating behavior.

    You made up a position that I didn’t express and then tried to hang it on me because it reflected your worldview, which you assumed I shared. That’s not a failure of my debating style, that’s a failure of your reading skills.

  154. @infinitemonkey
    I never said you were a theist, and I didn’t think you were. So in many basic principles, we probably agree.

    But still, there is one part of your argument I still disagree with. You said the stoplight analogy was bad. But what you said was exactly my point. They would have to change everything, and so believing that something like that could happen would be convoluted and strange. God is equally convoluted. That was my point.

    The thing is, whenever we go on our daily life, we always make assumptions that certain things won’t change. We assume gravity will always go down. But if we worry about the possibility that gravity might go up, we would all kill ourselves with worry. So there are certain assumptions that is alright to make. Assuming otherwise would be convoluted, like assuming the stoplight will change. Why would it be convoluted? Because someone out there already set a standard and changing it would cause untold damages. That is why believing it would be strange.

    Similarly to the other consciousness. While some consciousness might be as great a difference as us to goldfish as they are to us, it would be convoluted to think they are divine in any sort of way. They are just a higher form of consciousness, then, probably also ruled by nature’s laws. Just becasue we have power over fish and amoebas, that doesn’t make us god. We are still limited by our biology and the natural laws.

    Besides, my problem overall with people who believe in certain religion is not that they believe there is a possibility of god. They believe they KNOW god exists, and that their brand of religion is right. They never claim speculation. I like speculations, allright? But believing that your speculation is 100% right is something altogether different. That is what I think.

  155. @sethmanapio:
    So, what are you trying to say? ;-)

    I’ve reread this a few times. There can be arguments about debate style or whatever, but I cannot find where you’ve wavered in your position or were ever not distinct in your position. I sense some emotion in the criticisms levied against you, or at least lapses in critical thought.

    Interesting, to me, how this particular forum has shed some light on the whole premise of this web site; that being the need for skeptical and critical thought. If the topic is homeopathy, everyone’s on board and lobbying the funny comments against homeopathists. But once you introduce The God Concept things go awry. Emotions flare and critical thinking goes dwindles. Humans are still extremely attached to the concept of something being “there”.

    Sorta blows Elyse’s original post to shreds – being bored of it is denial of the real issue that underlies human society and most of the world’s problems.

  156. @Billy Clyde Tuggle:

    Ah, so if I claim ghosts exist I have to show evidence for it but if I claim a god exists I don’t… no, I don’t follow that train of logic. Sorry.

    And yes, unless you’ve stumbled upon some sort of evidence I’ve never heard of your belief in god is silly. Whether it’s useful to you is another matter entirely. People hold all sorts of silly beliefs that they personally find useful (see the aforementioned belief in astrology).

  157. @sethmanapio: my position (one that I’ve stated at least 8 or 9 times now) is that no Christians can be Skeptics, because the two world views are mutually exclusive.

    ———-

    Oh, and by they way, I’m wrong. Not for any reason that anyone here has brought up, but wrong none-the-less. As my brother the antichrist pointed out to me this morning, Skepticism is a mental discipline and a mental journey. I was a Skeptic, he points out, before I became an atheist. Therefore, some Skeptics may be, however temporarily, Christians.

    The dividing line between skeptic and non, in this context, is whether someone has removed the question of Christianity from the table, or whether they just haven’t picked it up yet.

    The argument that “you can’t prove it isn’t true” disqualifies a person from the skeptics club. This is a person who doesn’t even grasp the basic, novice level concepts of proof, argument, and evidence. But the simple fact that a person hasn’t reached a certain point in their skeptical journey yet, provided they don’t reserve any beliefs from consideration, does not preclude their skepticism.

    So everyone thank the devil for settling this. And be thankful you aren’t debating him.

  158. @PrimevilKneivel: ut I’ve never challenged that, it’s not the topic at hand. If that is your only position what are you challenging me on?

    ———–

    Most recently? The bit where you claimed to know why I felt a way that I don’t actually feel, based on ideas that you attributed to me that I didn’t express and don’t agree with.

  159. Oi this is a hard one. I’m jumping in late but here are my two cents. It’s a stream of consciousness so bear with me:

    I started out a Catholic. Not because that’s what I believed but because my parents raised me that way and when you are that young you pretty much believe anything your parents tell you.

    I doubted the entire while, not knowing at the time that what I was doing was “doubting.” I asked a lot of questions. It didn’t make sense to me that, if god was loving, that my unbaptised Dad wouldn’t be placed into heaven when he died no matter how kind of a person he was. This was among many questions I asked.

    I have also been really into science and the world around me. I love the outdoors and nature. Paleontology, Geology and Biology were my favorites and I loved animals, etc. I remember getting a microscope and telescope as a kid and at one point counted over 800 dinosaur figurines I had collected over the years. All the while, I had this sense of love and spirituality for the world around me.

    Come high school, in my depressed loner days, I started identifying as a pagan. Paganism gave me the nature that catholicism didn’t. Nature was harsh and pagan gods could be harsh — not just “nice” but just as natural as anything else. They aren’t “good” they just were.

    This transition was a lot for me. It’s not easy to go against how you were told the world works. I went from Catholic to somewhat atheist to pagan.

    And now? Well — I am a fighting atheist. I say “fighting” because the word has a stigma in my mind from when I was catholic and it’s still hard to shake. I associate “atheist” with “cynic” which isn’t correct, but I know that.

    I think my pagan days were merely a way for me to cope with the strong emotional feeling I have for science and nature. I wasn’t comfortable at the time saying I didn’t believe in a god and it took me a long time to ever feel comfortable with it. It’s not the fact that I am uncomfortable not believing — it’s the connotation that just because you are atheist you have no “spirituality” for lack of a better word.

    I don’t mean belief in a spirit but a sense of strong, overwhelming love, joy and inspiration. Nature is that for me. The planet is that for me. The universe is as well but the universe is so big that it almost scares me. That’s why I feel more comfortable with biology and the planet. It’s more tangible and it’s my home.

    That being said, after I became familiar with Carl Sagan — this changed. It finally clicked that I could admit that I didn’t believe in deities or “the force” but still admit that science has a very “spiritualy” spot in my heart.

    That’s hard for theists to understand.

    Now that I have blabbed on about my back story:

    It is because of my own transition that I feel uncomfortable pointing out to religious people that what they believe is wrong. I know what it’s like to be on the other end and I don’t think being hostile will change much. A hostile atheist isn’t going to change a hostile fundamentalist.

    I remember a story someone told me about an experience they had. This person was vegan and happened to come across a bunch of “God Hates Fags” protesters. During the protest, said person was just chatting with one of the protesters and told them they respected the emotion behind their beliefs even though they strongly disagreed. Being a vegan, he said he knew what it was like to feel so strongly and wanting everyone to understand how you saw the world (logically you can’t compare the two because one was based on something tangible and the other wasn’t, but I appreciate the vegan’s ability to try and relate).

    Years later this person bumped into that protestor again who admitted to him that he was gay and that their conversation gave him the courage to listen to himself and to come out of the closet.

    Unfortunately not all circumstances are like this, but I like to think that by just being understanding people who would normally scoff off and take offence might give your world view a second thought (even if at first they still push away).

    It’s hard because on one hand, I don’t think religion is innately bad. I know quite a bit of people who are religious but very intellegent, understanding and genuinely good people. My first thought is to say that religion is perfectly fine unless it is involved with tangible issues and government.

    The only problem with that is what people believe strongly influences how they vote, etc. You can quiet religion as much as you want in a democracy that claims to keep religion out of politics however it is impossible to do so when the religion is already engrained in the people.

    In short – religion will always pay a large part in decision making, unfortunately. I think that we can attract more flies with agave nectar than vinegar though.

  160. @Paradym: Emotions flare and critical thinking goes dwindles. Humans are still extremely attached to the concept of something being “there”.

    ———-

    And to each other. We all love Dr. Pamela Gay (at least, I do) and she’s a valuable and tireless champion in the skeptical movement. She also believes in God. So if I say “Pamela Gay is not a Skeptic”, this is bound to cause some issues.

    Which, effectively, I’m saying. But what people may be hearing that I’m not saying is “and therefore she has nothing to contribute to the skeptical movement and is incapable of rational thought.”

    The idea that the world can be divided so neatly into Skeptics and Fools is the true false dichotomy. The fact that Skeptical Inquiry is not the bedrock on which a person constructs their entire belief system does not make that person a fool. Perhaps I am the fool for being so constrained.

  161. @Elyse: over semantics

    —————–

    “that’s just semantics” is a pernicious argument, dude. If you hired me to babysit Moose and I sat on him, you wouldn’t be impressed if I said “But that’s just semantics”.

    Words are symbols that stand for things. We can only share meaning insofar as we use the same words to stand for the same things.

    What has happened in this thread is that I stated that one thing was disjunct from another thing, and then everyone argued that the things I said were disjunct were not because they wanted the words I used to apply to other things. That is a semantic argument. But it also highlights an issue: what do we mean when we say skeptic? What does this word refer to? Is it like pornagraphy, and we know it when we see it? Is it just a meaningless catch all for “people on ‘our side'”? What side is that, anyway?

    Who is this “we” that you speak of in your post, and who should we be more or less tolerant of?

  162. @Elyse:

    I’m not normally one to do this but…

    Really?

    Too blase?

    Too cliche?

    Not hip enough?

    Are you so over this already?

    It didn’t bother you to type that?

    Couldn’t one make the same argument for gay rights? Women’s rights? Long list there.

    I think it has been pointed out by many that there is still an issue with religious thinking having an impact on the rest of society. You brought up the question of whether that should be tolerated or not.

    “Just a whole lot of dudes sitting around flexing nuts”
    Sexist much? That is a very insulting statement.

  163. @sethmanapio:

    It is semantics. You said that Pamela Gay does everything that skeptics do, in fact, she does more than most… but because she believes in one thing that you think is irrational, you say she’s not allowed in our club.

    That’s not the same as saying “Oh look this word has more than one definition!”

    I believe there’s life somewhere else in the universe. It’s not testable. I can’t know that. You can’t know that. No one can know that. There’s nothing either way to prove it or disprove it. I still believe it.

    But you know what? Fine. If you don’t want Christians in your Skeptics Club, so be it. Don’t let them in. For me, I’m fine with it. I don’t get it, but whatever. I think taking out anti-vaxers, teaching critical thought, promoting science, stopping dangerous medical claims, and protecting people from predatory psychics is more important than whether Jesus is the reason for the season.

  164. @heidiho: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

    Love this quote, and I try to live by it as best I can, tho I’ll admit being an asshole sometimes feels so damn good!

    Just to put in my 2 cents (since everyone who ever glanced at this blog seems to have done so already), I would agree with Elyse that as long as you don’t use your religion to spread evil, I’m okay. But, step over that line and the gloves are off, baby!

  165. @Paradym:

    Nothing new is being said. NOTHING NEW. Not a damn thing. And the argument has devolved into the definition of “skeptic” and who we should allowed to use that very prestigious title, and who is more right about what that word means.

    And it is a bunch of dudes… that’s not sexist, that’s who’s left. I shouldn’t have said “flexing nuts” that was insensitive. It’s a pissing match. A really boring pissing match.

    I asked the question because I thought it would make for an interesting discussion because the recent articles would be food for thought and add something to that discussion. I was wrong.

  166. @Elyse: I’ve been just now reading through everyone’s comments and I’d like to try and explain things a different way because by now I would wager a guess that some are starting to feel/emotionally wrapped up in the argument:

    My first inclination is to say that we should be tolerant, mainly because I associate “tolerance” with “being nice.” This isn’t necessarily so.

    I think it’s safe to say at this point that religion is very wrapped up into our society. We have a seperation of church and state, yes but you can’t seperate it completely because people are always going to vote based on their experiences and how they feel regarding certain topics. Religion plays a HUGE part on how these people view such topics. It’s unable to get around — religion will influence somebodies vote 9 times out of 10 whether most people admit it or not (most religious people anyway.)

    Now, should we tolerate this? I don’t think so.

    Should we be raging jerks about it? I don’t think so.

    I honestly think we can refuse to be tolerant but still act level headed and civil. I have no problem with religion and what people want to worship but it’s so sticky when it comes to matters of government/voting etc. and I don’t want somebodies blind faith to influence such logical and tangible issues.

  167. @Elyse: I really hate getting into this, but it does trigger something in me.

    By proclaiming something as boring really can imply many things. Is it not cool anymore? Are the others not as intellectual? It smacks of provincial and elitist to me.

    That debates usually end up being comprised of “dudes” could be argued not as a mark against testosterone-driven males but instead a mark against flighty emotion-driven females not having the foundation to engage. Whatever your terminology, it still reeks of sexism.

    You asked the question because you thought it would be interesting, yet it didn’t go the way you wanted so now it’s boring. I’m just baffled by all that.

  168. @Elyse: You said that Pamela Gay does everything that skeptics do, in fact, she does more than most… but because she believes in one thing that you think is irrational, you say she’s not allowed in our club.

    ——-

    No, I didn’t. I said that Pamela gay isn’t philosophically a skeptic. I have personally driven her to our clubhouse, and was happy to do so. She’s welcome, valued, even loved… but that doesn’t make her a Skeptic. And if you think it does, maybe instead of dismissing the discussion as semantics, you could enhance our understanding of your position by explaining why.

    At no time has this discussion ever centered on who is more right about the definition of Skeptic. It has only been those with a definition versus those without one. If you have an alternate definition to mine that is coherent, please, contribute. You’ll be the first in over 200 posts to do so.

    Either the word “skeptic” has a meaning in the context of someone “being” a skeptic, or it doesn’t. If it does, and you think it covers christians but not anti-vaxxers, I’m all about the justification for that.

    But to dismiss any discussion of what we mean by ‘skeptic’ as semantics, while still using the word yourself at your convenience and sneering at me for excluding someone you think belongs in “our” club, isn’t exactly fair play. It’s like you want to have a secret definition of skeptic that only the cool kids know.

    And “devolved”? From “Should we be more tolerant?” How exactly is it devolution to ask precisely what you mean by “we”? Are we all supposed to “just know” if we’re an us or a them in this context? Is “us” everybody who wants to be us, regardless of what they believe?

  169. @Paradym:

    By “boring” I mean that I find this uninteresting. And I am the only person on this entire thread who does not have the option of opting out of receiving and reading the comments.

    Just because I asked the question doesn’t mean I have to find every comment engrossing.

  170. I’m going to have to resolve this myself. Here goes: “Skeptic” can refer to a philosophical position, which is how Seth is using it. But it can also refer to a position of activism, which, based on her quote “taking out anti-vaxers, teaching critical thought, promoting science, stopping dangerous medical claims, and protecting people from predatory psychics” is how Elyse is using it. Or, at least, if she didn’t keep insisting that it was reasonable to believe in God, how I would think she was using it.

    And the question, one that comes up a lot, is this: there are activists in the skeptical movement who are not philosophical skeptics, that is, they have a cherished brand of woo that is important to them. Many of them cherish Jesus. To what extent should we be afraid of alienating them, and how should that fear affect our behavior?

  171. @sethmanapio:

    Okay, how about this – to wrap things up, and answer the question, I’ll just put you down in the “tolerant” column.

    Thanks for playing everyone! Let’s all shake hands and Christian Side Hug.

    Come back next week for a discussion on vegan feminist libertarians against circumcision!

  172. @Elyse: My apologies, then. I did not realize that you could not also opt out of posting comments on this thread either. I can imagine it being incredibly tedious to be subjected to a continuous barrage of blather between a bunch of men on a topic that’s so played out and uninteresting, because that’s what men seem to to all the time anyway. My god, if people can’t come up with something original to say then why can’t they just keep quiet?

    I imagine your job is pretty stressful at Skepchick. If you ever need a break, I’d be happy to trade. I’m unemployed, by the way, no stress in that.

  173. @Elyse: Thanks for playing everyone! Let’s all shake hands and Christian Side Hug.

    ———–

    By using the word “tolerant” right next to the reference of our gang-mocking of the Christian ‘side-hug’, you broke my irony meter.

    Thanks a lot.

    And after all that heated discussion all I get is a make-up side hug!?

    I has been robbed.

  174. Seth, I agree with you that semantic discussions do matter, and I’ve found that the foundation of many unnecessary arguments has been because two people are using the same word to mean two different things.

    But you don’t get to say what the one, true definition of something is. And acknowledging this isn’t tantamount to saying “well then anyone can be a skeptic or a christian because we’ve redefined them into meaninglessness.”

    This is where I agree [email protected]Elyse: that the discussion got really boring and useless.

    Words change meanings all the time. I think it’s safe to say nowadays the word Christian means a whole lot more than believing anything divine about Jesus. There are many christians who think jesus was a good dude but they don’t believe anything supernatural. People can define things however they want, so long as they state what their definitions mean. Just because somebody SAYS they’re a christian does not preclude them from being a skeptic.

    Similarly, I find this entire discussion to have been mostly useless a la Elyse. You guys clearly haven’t been trying to elucidate the definition of skeptic — you’ve been rigidly claiming who does or doesn’t fall into a group to no great merit.

  175. @Elyse: “I believe that’s called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. ”

    and if you, Elyse, don’t want to read a fight that lasts for several days, don’t accuse me (inaccurately) of using a logical fallacy and then accuse me (again, inaccurately) of being rude to a lady I respect.

    You could have stepped in and tried to moderate the tone or shift the focus at any time, but you’ve chosen to exacerbate the situation instead. You have only yourself to blame if this thread bored you.

  176. @sporefrog: But you don’t get to say what the one, true definition of something is

    ust because somebody SAYS they’re a christian does not preclude them from being a skeptic.
    ———-

    I know. That’s why I kept asking other people what their goddamn definitions even were. It isn’t my fault that no one was willing to provide one. And I totally agree that people can say that they are Christians and still be skeptics (as I said several times) but I don’t think they can believe in the divinity of Christ and be skeptics, (as I also said several times).

    This discussion has been useless, I agree. Because instead of offering any alternate definitions or refining their meanings, people (including Elyse) have been including anything that can’t be disproven as part of skeptical thought as long as it isn’t bigfoot or something that’s arbitrarily more wrong than belief in God.

    Seriously, people. I’d love to actually discuss something. But in order for me to actually discuss something with you, you’re going to have to actually say something. If all you bring to the table is “You’re wrong and rude” than all you’re going to get is the same lucid, clearly thought out point again and again until you respond in kind. That’s just how I roll.

  177. @sporefrog: Actually, I think the no true scotsman fallacy was pertinent.

    ——-

    And you are wrong. No true scotsman is an ad hoc redefinition of a word to mean what you want it to. I started with the same definition I’ve got now. Other people (including you) redefined Christian from Elyse’s original definition of people who believe in God “and are even (gasp) Christians” to encompass people who don’t believe in God in order to make it mean what they want it to. That’s the no true scotsman fallacy.

  178. @sethmanapio:
    “but I don’t think they can believe in the divinity of Christ and be skeptics, (as I also said several times). ”

    To me, it came across as you saying “the only tenable definition of christian is one who believes in the divinity of christ.”

    I think that reading of your statements is what bugged everyone.

    I agree some of the counterarguments about what cannot be disproven were pretty bad, however. There is, of course, a logically sound argument to be made that the scientific method is built on faith at its core and a very, very tenuous definition of “God” is consistent with rational thought, but let’s not go there. It’s turtles, all the way down.

  179. @sporefrog: Understanding the protectionist tendencies towards the Skepchicks, I will only say in my defense:

    I am a huge fan of this site and of all the Skepchick bloggers. And Elyse was one of my favorites, and I’m not intimating that she’ll lose any ground there because of this. We’re all human and we all make mistakes, and I am open to mine being pointed out here.

    I found one of her posts (not her, her post mind you) to be very sexist and also seemingly elitist, and I pointed that out. That she defended that sexist statement with another sexist statement is what it is. It seemed to me (and I could have misread) that she just didn’t like the direction of the conversation, even though some of us were, and proclaimed it boring and wanted to take her ball home and end the game. So, I responded with mock to point this out. Yet I never called anyone a name.

    So, now I’m an asshole by two accounts. Fair enough. I stand by my reason and logic.

  180. @sethmanapio:

    Stop. Seriously stop.

    I’ve explained how a Christian can be a skeptic. You’ve made your point. Everyone else has made theirs. At this point, no one is budging… let’s go back to drinking and talking about boobies.

    Please, for the love of Jesus or no Jesus or Randi or Pamela Gay or whoever else, PLEASE let this go.

  181. @sethmanapio:
    See, I think it’s the way that you say things.

    And you are wrong. No true scotsman is an ad hoc redefinition of a word to mean what you want it to. I started with the same definition I’ve got now. Other people (including you) redefined Christian from Elyse’s original definition of people who believe in God “and are even (gasp) Christians” to encompass people who don’t believe in God in order to make it mean what they want it to. That’s the no true scotsman fallacy.

    If you always say someone is wrong when you think they are wrong, realistically you’re going to be incorrect from time to time and it comes across as pretty arrogant.

    Let’s take Elyse’s actual quote, for instance. You said, “Other people (including you) redefined Christian from Elyse’s original definition of people who believe in God “and are even (gasp) Christians” to encompass people who don’t believe in God in order to make it mean what they want it to.”

    In fact, she only said “Really, I don’t care. Believe whatever you want about god(s)(ess)(es). It doesn’t matter. Sure, I think it’s all a bit silly, and I don’t buy into it, but I know plenty of really smart people who do. And I know a few really smart skeptics who do… a couple who are even *gasp* Christians!

    I think it’s easy to assume from her original statement that she included loose definitions of god (adding all the plurals and “esses” and such after it) and christian. Thus, in my opinion, you took her definitions (we’re going off of hers since she started the debate, after all) and redefined christians such that they are “No True Skeptic.”

    I’m not saying my reading is ipso facto correct, but it seems plausible enough. Certainly plausible enough so that you can’t say, “Elyse, you are wrong to invoke the true scotsman fallacy.”

  182. @Paradym:

    I’ll always be your favorite because I’m awesome… and I show my boobs.

    As for calling you dudes, you’re dudes. If you were all chicks, I’d call you chicks… I don’t know if your issue was with the word “dude” or not, but on a site called SkepCHICK, I think “dude” is a fair, equal and non-sexist. It’s a word that I really like.

    I didn’t like the direction the conversation was going… because it wasn’t going in any direction. It’s been going in circles forever now, and 200 comments in, no one wants to read people arguing in circles about something that’s only tangentially related to the original topic.

    I apologize for saying you were flexing your nuts. While it’s another term that I also use when discussing women, in context it was a poorly chosen phrase.

    I’m not taking my ball anywhere since I’m already at home, and I can’t stop you from continuing to discuss this… unless I get permission to shut down the comments.

    I’m just begging you guys to bring this back to the original question as we’ve lingered on this true skeptic thing for way too long. And really… it’s boring.

    Also, stop being a multiple-count asshole.

  183. @Elyse:

    I’m just begging you guys to bring this back to the original question as we’ve lingered on this true skeptic thing for way too long. And really… it’s boring.

    http://xkcd.com/386/

    @Elyse:

    I apologize for saying you were flexing your nuts. While it’s another term that I also use when discussing women, in context it was a poorly chosen phrase.

    I tend to use similar phrases, like comparing penis size, for both females and males, often with bad contextual results :P

    And with that, I’m outta here!

  184. @Elyse:
    I’m on the Truce side of the fence, but just to clarify, it wasn’t your use of “dudes”, it was “It’s a pissing match”. Women don’t have contests to see who can piss the farthest, unless that’s part of those Pillow Fights In Lingerie Parties you women have in secret. Subtly sexist, but nonetheless. Being an intelligent and independent woman would, one would think, make you very sensitive to the very thing you and your gender have been victims of for millennia and not want to perpetrate it upon others. I don’t sense ill intent, but the effect is the same – it diminishes the other.

    And I’ll also state that name calling (the “asshole” thing) should be beneath you. It diminishes your position, no matter how justified it may be. It just makes me want to call you Glue, etc. etc. And then I’ll never get to see your boobies. Hey, I live in Chicago too, so there is the slightest possibility.

  185. @Paradym:

    Sexist of you to think we don’t have pissing matches. We compete for accuracy, not distance. Of course no chauvinist would understand that!

    And if you think that calling people assholes is beneath me, you have me confused with someone else… unless you’re confused because I usually say “dickhole” or “douchebag”. But I think douchebag is losing it’s punch and needs to go on the DL for a while.

    *side hug*

    Okay, everyone cool now?

    How ’bout them Muslims!

  186. @sporefrog: There is, of course, a logically sound argument to be made that the scientific method is built on faith at its core

    —–

    Not as far as I’m aware, no, there aren’t. I’ve heard arguments that claim to be such, but I’ve never actually heard such an argument.

    And as I said maybe 7 or 8 or 9 times, YES, if you include atheists in the set of all Christrians, my point doesn’t hold. Yawn.

  187. @sporefrog: Certainly plausible enough so that you can’t say, “Elyse, you are wrong to invoke the true scotsman fallacy.”

    ———–

    No, it isn’t. It’s plausible enough that I can’t call her a fucking idiot for invoking the fallacy. She can be smart, perceptive, and wrong.

    People who believe in god, or goddesses, subset CHRISTIANS, that is, people who believe in god and go one further by believing in Christ. That’s the definition I used, and you’ll note that she hasn’t disputed it. You want her to have meant “People who don’t actually believe in God or Christ in any sort of divine sense”, but she isn’t backing you up.

    What she disputed (and still does) is the idea that said belief is ipso facto non-skeptical. Her reason for saying so is to invoke the idea that we can’t be absolutely sure that there is no God, which is a common argument in the ID camp for why ID is a scientific theory.

    I disagree with her, and that’s okay. People disagree. But I think the real barrier here is this: many of you are looking at this like Skepticism is a club. And you want the nice people you like to be in the club, even if they believe X,Y, or Z. I’m looking at “Skeptic” as “coming from a philosophical premise of skepticism”. A person who is skeptical about everything BUT their religion is coming from the philosophical premise of their religion.

    There’s no club to exclude them from. Not being skeptics doesn’t make them bad people. Doesn’t mean they can’t be on my side in 99.9% of all debates. Doesn’t denigrate or ignore their efforts.

    But I don’t think (to go back to the original point) that I should bend over backwards to include their brand of woo as acceptably skeptical, and exclude someone else who is not (as Kneval suggested) from a sufficiently powerful group of woo slingers. To me, that feels like hypocrisy.

    To what extent should we be “tolerant”. I don’t know. As I said above, there are activists, important activists, in the skeptical movement who are not philosophical skeptics, who have a cherished brand of woo that is important to them. Many of them cherish Jesus. To what extent should we be afraid of alienating them, and how should that fear affect our behavior?

    And I don’t know. We seem pretty relaxed about mocking the safe targets. The “side-hug” for example, which is a sincere outgrowth of the very religion that we would be tolerating. We’re pretty relaxed about mocking “the secret”, which is just as rational and evidence based as belief in any description of a deity that I’ve ever heard. Is there any reason beyond fear of reprisal and loss of allies that we should spare religion?

  188. @ Elyse:

    I asked the question because I thought it would make for an interesting discussion because the recent articles would be food for thought and add something to that discussion. I was wrong.

    Okay, let me try add something different and constructive to this discussion. What I see happening here is exactly what you describe – intellectual muscle flexing (and yes mostly from guys). There is nothing wrong with that as the intellectual combat tests ones ideas and reveals weaknesses in logic. Hell, I am black and blue from Sethmanapio beating me up. The thing about the intellectual bloodsport side of skepticism is that it doesn’t offer comfort. People flock to religion for comfort and community.

    The world can be a scary place. I’ve met people who were beaten every day as a child and told they were no good. People who were used as sex objects by the very parents who were supposed to protect them from that kind of sick shit. I myself suffer from a mental illness (not to mention the additional environmental impact being “raised” by mentally ill parents who were in the process of “flaming out” when I arrived on the scene).

    Expecting people like us (and trust me, the world is full of our kind) to be capable of Carl Sagan like clarity about their emotions and reality isn’t reasonable. This world of broken people flock to religion and “woo” oftentimes out of desparation. People are out their searching for a way to make the pain go away and to find clarity.

    When I started to see skepticism as a tool to sort through bullshit and find out what worked and what didn’t in my quest for healing rather than a collection of arrogant superbrains trying to show off how much smarter they were than unwashed masses of “idiots”, that is when I started to move away from all the woo and towards a more rational view of things (present debates about the higher power in my head non-withstanding). Sagan really hooked me with “Demon Haunted World”. It was a tough pill to swallow coming to terms with the fact that much of what I had put my faith in was utter bullshit and more importantly harmful.

    Changing the image of skepticism from that of a collection of reactionary religion bashers hell bent on intellectual bloodsport to that of a movement offering the world’s afflicted better tools for living and healing would add a dimension to this movement that I think is missing or at least underdeveloped. Having ad nauseum debates about the logical fallacies of belief in god is interesting and entertaining, but the real value of skepticism, its power to serve mankind if you will, is in its ability to innoculate people from dangerous ideas that can lead to suffering and to help the afflicted navigate through the minefield of dangerous ideas towards true healing.

  189. Um… the existence of Skittles(tm) pooping unicorns cannot be disproved by science (to the extent that the maybe-there-is-an-Abrahamic-or-slightly-less-defined-uber-god cannot be disproved). This does not mean that self-identified skeptics should believe in Skittles(tm) pooping unicorns or accept, as fellow travelers, others who may think that astrology and homeopothy, and McCarthy-esque anti-vaxy, believers are also skeptics (though they may have one or two un-skeptical views).

    Seriously, there is no non-evidence of “god” prior to about 1,000 BCE (biblical scholars please correct me) because there was, at that time no claim of a single omnipotent “god” with the qualities that the Western world associates with “god.” Good lord, this is a manufactured controversy. I challenge all of the “you skeptics can’t prove god exists” folks to defend with equal fervor the proposition that we can’t defend the proposition that Skittles(tm) pooping unicorns don’t exist. Both propositions are human inventions.

    J.C., Seth is like Horatio at the bridge, or better yet, a good Samurai flick. He stood firm through nearly 200 posts of BS, keeping to the same argument without overthrow.

    If the skeptic community (as I would like to think that Skepchick readers are skeptics) is fractured over whether not-scientifically-disprovable fairytales; fairytales that are related to other mythos that are not generally acknowledged as true (the epic of Gilgamesh, etch. ) should be respected as skeptically unassailable questions, we are in a sad state.

  190. @Finn McR:

    I’m going to have to disagree somewhat here. The skeptical movement is by nature amorphous and prone to arguing. That’s a good thing. We aren’t a bunch of monoliths. We’re going to disagree over where the boundaries are and we’ll argue over those sometimes quite vehemently. That’s healthy. What would be unhealthy is if we started say excommunicating people, not having people we disagree with speak at events, etc.

    Also, Skittles pooping unicorns exist. Unfortunately, mine only poops out green skittles. I’m hoping to find other Skittles pooping unicorns and breed them together to get the full rainbow. I’m hopeful that the alleles for colors aren’t all on the same gene.

  191. @Joshua Zelinsky: Now, see, mine poops Mike and Ike’s. My faith is shattered…

    I have no intention of re-igniting a shit-storm, so I will subscribe, provisionally, to Seth’s point and withdraw, except that I will leave the nugget that certain abstract philosophical points leave me unsatisfied (not necessarily evoking a, “NOT SKEPTIC!” alarm). For example: the Intellegent Design argument could be considered to be skeptically impenetrable (if this condition and that condition, and the existence of a supernatural, omnipotent “designer” is posited). What they do not explain is what forces. Specifically, what forces, electromagnetic, weak, etc. forces turned their designs into living organisms? I have similar questions for the people that believe that a singular entity created the universe, spoke to ancient people, and ceased to speak to people in a way consistent with their understanding of reality. Why are we not discussing the reality of Ganesha, the divinity of Buddha, the dichotomy of the demiurge vs. the true god, the reality of Old Man and Old Woman, the reality of the world being carried on the back of a turtle (or, on four elephants that ride on a turtle)? These are *stories* that people tell when they can’t explain the way reality works. How long is it going to take before people understand that??

  192. God must exist because I swear in his name that this is the last f#cking time I subscribe to a post.

    Go get a life, please.

    BTW: given that the language of science is mathematics and given the demonstration of the logical incompleteness of mathematics, it is completely logical to believe in what you want as far as the ultimate essence of the universe is concerned (e.g. there’s no formula accounting for the existence of prime numbers. Therefore their existence as a result of unicorn poo, a divinity’s joke, a mathematical axiom or a divinity’s mathematical poo, are all equally reasonable and equally empty hypotheses). Obviously, there only remains one and only one scientifically demonstrably valid way of e.g. making optimal popcorn, but as long as religious claims refer to the realm of divine/the origin of everything and not to making popcorn, there’s no problem with them and in any given conversation we can speculate as well and as friendly as skeptics as religious folks may do. Seth constitutes living proof of that, in his role of priest of skepticism.

    There are some things science can prove. For the rest, use MasterGod.

  193. Hi! Hello! I’d like to use my Goedel Inequality Theorem card to show that in your sufficiently powerful axiomatic system there are truths that are not provable…

    We will see if Skepthink posts in vain…

  194. @Skepthink:

    Incompleteness in the sense of Godel’s theorems has a very specific, technical meaning. Incomplete in that sense refers to a property of specific axiomatic systems. Essentially, given an axiomatic system powerful enough to encapsulate the integers, which is also consistent and has listable axioms and rules of inference then there exists a statement within the language of the system that cannot be proved or disproved from the axioms. (I’m glossing over the technical details here; as phrased this isn’t quite true.

    How you get from there to the idea that this somehow says something about what can logically believe about the “ultimate essence of the universe” is not at all clear to me.

    Statements like this make mathematicians into sad pandas. Please don’t make us sad. We have enough trouble as is. Pardon me while I go prepare to grade some more undergraduates exams now…

  195. @Joshua Zelinsky:

    How you get from there to the idea that this somehow says something about what can logically believe about the “ultimate essence of the universe” is not at all clear to me.

    Per usual, it’s at the beginning of my previous comment, where it says

    given that the language of science is mathematics

    Look, made easy:

    1. Science describes reality.
    2. The language of science is mathematics.
    3. Mathematics is incomplete.
    ERGO
    4. Reality is incomplete (?)
    OR
    4′. Science cannot describe reality completely.

    And I think it is reasonable to assume that 4′ leaves you in a comfortable position to argue in favor of God, pandas, unicorns, orcs, Budas, Sethmanapios or even the existence of doubt and the legitimacy of error. I know “true” skeptics like you, the same as true-believers, are never wrong and have never made mistakes, but for humans, who at some point ignored something and then learned, doubt is cognitively as real as certainty and allowing it (as well as the resulting possibility of error) in our belief system is closer to a description of realistic cognitive experience than not allowing it, which may describe a bunch of self-righteous skeptics like you, but virtually nobody statistically speaking.

    Allowing doubt on unsettled issues in no way makes you a poorer skeptic, and God is clearly an unsettled issue because its existence is not even testable, you cannot design a experiment which would falsify it, and it therefore constitutes no scientific claim, which does not mean that it is a claim against established science. Skepticism is simply inapplicable to the idea of God as such, and that you try probably means that you ignore both concepts.

    Complete the sentence: in order to refute homeopathy, one must simply take some homeopathic remedy and realize that there is no effect; in order to refute God, one must simply …

    If you can complete the sentence, you’ll be in a position to disprove God. Otherwise, please stop filling my mailbox with utter pseudophilosophical crap, Walmart wire and Performance Bike are already claiming too much junk in it.

    If I get 5 more emails on this, I will give all of you a special place in my spam filter.

  196. @Skepthink: And I think it is reasonable to assume that 4′ leaves you in a comfortable position to argue in favor of God

    ———–

    Oh. My. God (of the Gaps).

    You have to be fucking kidding me, right? What is this, skeptic kindergarten?

    No. No more. GAAHHH. I am done. I withdraw from the field. My engines, to quote scottie, canna take much more. The stupid burning me senseless.

    Elyse, what makes me happy about boobies is… wow.

    That’s a hard one.

    Get it? A hard one? Get it?? :)

  197. I feel we should be tolerant toward people who believe in their religion/gods,doesnt mean we are agreeing with them,but I thinks its good if we can all get along and live our life together,you cant change people,you can only change yourself so just embrace all that life has to offer,if you find it amusing,fascinating or it makes you mad that people believe in funny stuff,just stop and think how lucky you are that you live in reality in the real world and move on with your living.

  198. @ Choices:

    I agree that you can’t “make” people change. Recall that old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink”. That is another way of saying that you can influence people by challenging their ideas and showing them alternatives, but it is ultimately up to them whether or not they “drink the water” (or purple cool-aid as the case may be).

    Frustration comes about when you have expectations about what someone will do when you “lead them to the water”. Carl Sagan didn’t force me to change. He was just one of the people that lead me to the water. I am sure he knew that a large number of people would dismiss his message.

    As far as tolerance goes, there are limits. The higher power who lives in my head and heart is pretty innocous “woo”. It will drive logicians and other purists like Sethmanapio nuts, but it doesn’t threaten anyone (at least I can’t think of any way that is does) . There are screwy ideas out there, however, that are downright dangerous and need to be challenged. When and to what degree any given person choses to engage in that sort challenge is of course a personal choice. There are some who feel called to crusade on the national and international stage (Dr. Dean Adel, Dawkins, Shermer, et al). Others may limit the scope of their challenge to a much smaller audience (e.g. their friends and family).

    I feel lucky to live in a society where this sort of discourse is constitutionally protected. There are places in the world of course where professing this sort of thing could easily get you killed. That is horrifying, but true.

    /BCT

  199. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: It will drive logicians and other purists like Sethmanapio nuts

    ——–

    I think this exchange highlights a problem with the whole tolerance issue, if I may bring this back to the original point for a moment. People who have a position that they think of as religious are very quick to assume that skeptics are attacking their religion, regardless of what the skeptics are actually talking about, or in cases like BCT and me, what the skeptic actually says.

    You see this whenever the “religious” side in a debate with Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, or Harris speaks. They ascribe to the atheist, or skeptic, positions that the skeptics don’t hold. Sam Harris will be accused of denying the emotional value of religion or the place of prayer in generating a sense of well-being, despite his being a radical advocate of meditation. Dawkins is accused of denying the possibility of God when he explicitly does no such thing, and so on.

    Now, some of this is by design. A dickweed like Dinesh D’Souza is mostly interested in making his opponents out to be murderous followers of Hitler bent on the subversion of all morality and possibly the destruction of the earth, because his own moral standing is so incredibly low that he can’t appear good next to anything but pure evil. But some of it, like much of this thread, is just the result of poor application of basic rhetorical skills, or jumping to conclusions, or defensiveness, and so on.

    For example, in this thread, I’ve probably appeared intolerant. But the reason I have is that when I say that there is no skeptical reason to believe in the supernatural, several people have assumed I’m denying the very possibility of the supernatural or metaphorically spitting on the beliefs of those who do. But of course I’m doing neither, those who think I am are considering the classic argument from ignorance as a good skeptical argument and jumping to erroneous conclusions about how I feel about the set of all non-skeptics.

    Then BCT assumes that I’m intolerant of a fully internal higher power… even though I’ve already spoken to the contrary. I have no problem with Stuart Kaufmann or Spinoza or BCT’s “God”, but such a God doesn’t remotely resemble, in any way, Jehovah, Jesus, Kali, or Allah. But because the word is the same, the assumption is that abstract non-entity’s, stand-ins for mystery, are the same kind of philosophical constructs as anthropomorphic deities.

    So there’s a real problem here for the skeptic. You could use formal language all the time, and say “anthropomorphic, interventionist, deity” instead of “god”, but then you just come of sounding stuck up, which also implies intolerance to the American populist mindset. It feels like a no win situation to me, because the problem isn’t how tolerant skeptics are, it’s how tolerant skeptics are percieved to be.

  200. Last night Bill O’Reilly said that any owner of a company that told workers to say happy holidays instead of merry Christmas was fascist. He listed top companies that say happy holidays . I guess you are supposed to not shop there? He has been claiming there is an attack on Christmas/religion for years. Is saying happy holidays offensive? He claimed a few years ago that this was something new. I am pretty old and decades ago when I was in grade school we gave out cards with some wishing happy holidays. Happy holidays could merely mean merry Christmas and happy new year.

  201. @Skepthink:

    You know how physics people get unhappy when wooists try to hijack quantum mechanics? That’s how I feel right now.

    I’ll try this again: Godel’s theorem is not a statement about mathematics as a whole. It is a statement about the limits of suitably well-behaved axiomatic system. Incomplete here is a technical term with a very specific meaning. You can’t just throw it around like it means what you want it to mean.

    The closest one would get to reality from this is statements of the form “Given a universe with the following starting configuration and starting laws of phsyics will it eventually have property X?” Where X is something like a certain particle configuration or such. Then in the most general form of “universe” and “laws of physics” Godel’s theorems and related results would apply. So for example, if my universe was say a version game of Conway’s Game of Life ( http://alturl.com/5xyv ) we couldn’t necessarily a question of the form “will this universe grow without bound?”

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the existence or non-existence of God.

  202. @ Sethmanapio:

    Indeed I appear to be guilty of implying that you were intolerant of my beliefs. I apologize. You are correct that you were merely claiming that I wasn’t a skeptic in the strict sense. That is why I referred to you as a “purist”.

    My botched rhetorical point was to contrast our little innocuous back-and-forth with things that really matter in the life and death sense (e.g. people getting ozone pumped up their ass instead of chemotherapy or a teenager strapping a bomb to his chest for Allah).

    BCT

  203. @Joshua Zelinsky:

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the existence or non-existence of God.

    If you try to read my comment for a change, you’ll notice that I have at no point directly related the incompleteness of mathematics to the existence/non-existence of God, and this is so mainly for two reasons:

    a) I was talking about a formal property of mathematics as a language and its expressive power when describing reality. The fact that mathematics is incomplete means that there is knowledge it cannot express (whatever it may be). And since all science relies on mathematics as its means of expression, it necessarily follows that there will always be scientific hypotheses about reality that, due to an inherent hole in the expression of those hypotheses, cannot be proven (which does not mean they are true or false; they are simple untestable and trying to even argue about their correctness or incorrectness is not even “intolerant” as Sethmanapio would like to put it, but simply assholistic).

    b) Incompleteness does not mean that whatever “truths” (or falsities or uncertainties or indeterminacies, whatever you want to call them) may be left have to resemble any currently working/established notion of God. Even if I take God to be an untestable hypothesis (as it obviously is), that does not mean that I am agreeing or subscribing in any way to any depiction of God as conceived of by institutionalized religions, among other things because the variety of such depictions is so large that there is probably some idea I could agree with, and many I will disagree with, with no practical consequences in any case, however.

    The Arab philosophers who came up with the traditional Muslim notion of divinity (virtually the antithesis of the anthropomorphic painting you can find painted on the ceiling of the Vatican) came up with an idea which is closer to e.g. any mathematical concept logically derived from theorems, than to any actual Judeo-Christian sense of God as a large human-like Transformer who rains fire on homosexuals with an angry face while screaming orders and sending flying stone tablets to a white-bearded reactionary. That you, Sethmanapio and other caricatures of skepticism implied, as you did, that all conceptualizations of divinity are the same, merely neglects virtually as much diversity and is as much of an oversimplification as it is thinking that all countries are the same because they have borders and some amount of land.

    And the same Arab philosophers who had that idea of God also thought of the idea of zero even though they were obviously not skeptics, which according to Sethmanapio makes them unable to think rationally or, as a result, come up with the idea of zero, I assume.

    Which however they did, of course. So much for facts and data, I guess.

    May god have mercy on the facts, for Sethmanapio won’t.

  204. @Skepthink: hat you, Sethmanapio and other caricatures of skepticism implied, as you did, that all conceptualizations of divinity are the same,

    ———

    Wow! You really made my point from this post. Thanks!

    As you guys can see, following in the model of Dinesh D’Souza, Skepthink just makes up a bunch of stuff that he wants me to have said, in order to distract attention from the fact that he’s basically selling the argument from ignorance. It’s a classic move.

    And in front of a general audience, I might end up looking pedantic and intolerant if I engaged him. One great thing about flat out lying about what you opponent said is that in order to refute you he has to call you a liar. A smart debater in front of the right audience can use that. And really, the audience doesn’t want to hear about “arguments from ignorance” or whatever. They came for a debate, not a lesson in basic critical thinking skills.

    I think, really, that the whole idea of skepticism as intolerant is really fed by this phenomena. Maybe the real question isn’t “Should we be more tolerant”, but “How can we avoid being slandered by people like Skepthink?”

  205. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: You are correct that you were merely claiming that I wasn’t a skeptic in the strict sense.

    ———

    But that’s my point, BCT. I didn’t say that. I was clear in stating that there is a difference between your claim (you feel better when you pray) and the claim that you feel better when you pray because of an external force, which is a claim that you specifically stated that you weren’t making. One is a statement that we could, in theory, test, and the other is not. Since you only seem to be making the testable claim, that claim is compatible with a skeptical outlook as I define it.

  206. @sethmanapio:

    Why doesn’t it surprise me that Sethmanapio is now playing the victim? Poor him, he’s the only clairvoyant mind in the universe and, yet, other people seem to be unable to be illuminated by his infinite wisdom.

    Don’t worry Seth, no matter what I say people won’t be misled, you already made clear the definition of “skeptic” and that virtually only you fulfill it: if someone agrees with you 100% of the time and downloads movies and music illegally rationally thinking it’s legal in his mind, that’s a skeptic. Otherwise, they are slandering you.

    BTW, funny that you talk about anybody else’s slandering you after your trolling and smashing other people for over 200 messages. Did you really do that without really wanting to? Amazing. But no slandering, of course.

    BTW, as you probably know and simply neglect so that you can enjoy your own straw-man, my argument is not from ignorance; I have never claimed that “we don’t know why some stuff is the way it is, so God must have made it that way”, the only thing I claim is that “our knowledge formalisms cannot describe everything and, therefore, there may be things we cannot describe even though they may exist in some way we can’t think of”.

    It is funny, I think e.g. Steven Novella, one of the most balanced and objective minds I know, has said a number of times (if I remember well) that there should be no problem for scientists or skeptics with the notion of God because it’s personal stuff, not scientific in any meaningful sense, so that no conclusion can be drawn pro or against it simply because there’s no way to even word a hypothesis which may be tested.

    And yet you argue about it and virtually say that Steven Novella is not a skeptic because he does not feel like insulting religious people, and yet you’re still a critter compared to Steven Novella.

    I hope some day I will understand what makes you feel you have the right to troll and kidnap a blog thread for over 300 messages.

  207. @sethmanapio: “But of course I’m doing neither, those who think I am are considering the classic argument from ignorance as a good skeptical argument and jumping to erroneous conclusions about how I feel about the set of all non-skeptics. ”

    @Skepthink: “4′. Science cannot describe reality completely.

    And I think it is reasonable to assume that 4′ leaves you in a comfortable position to argue in favor of God”

    @Skepthink:
    “even though they were obviously not skeptics, which according to Sethmanapio makes them unable to think rationally”

    ———–

    I mean, really. If I were a social scientist I would be shouting Eureka right now. I called it, he did it. And now you’ll notice that, rather than attempt to support the lies he told about me before, Skepthink has moved on to listing a whole bunch of new positions that I never said or implied–even things that directly contradict what I did say–and then accuses me of being intolerant for holding those positions.

    How do you debate someone like that? How are skeptics supposed to appear “tolerant” when the opposition just makes stuff up?

    Now, I know that Skepthink is a pretty extreme case. He puts on a virtual clinic of ad hominem arguments, red herrings, strawmen, and a host of logical fails that really, I don’t have time to analyze.

    But I think that he really does represent a fairly common phenomena. Many believers are extremely defensive of their beliefs, and they want to keep them safe from scrutiny. This sort of seige defense, where boilerplate arguments are simply stacked up without regard to their accuracy, appropriateness, or even internal consistency represents a real problem for the skeptic. You can see Jenny McCarthy using this tactic any time she appears with a skeptic: she just starts throwing stuff out there and hopes that the chaff will distract people.

    In some cases, I’m sure that a patient skeptic could explain that no, they aren’t saying all the things that the other person says they are saying. But that would require, I think, an almost super-human detachment from the discussion at hand. And also, in order to defeat the slander, you have to repeat the slander. Studies show that this can reinforce the original statement. And finally, if the other side is only constrained by what they can imagine you saying, you’re never going to be able to correct all their misinformation. So it’s a real conundrum.

  208. I would tell you that “phenomena” is as plural as “data” and that the singular is “phenomenon”, but you would probably argue also that, so there is really no point.

    287 messages later, Sethmanapio’s still kicking. Thank God he doesn’t care about God.

  209. Some video that makes this point, with someone much gentler and slicker than Skepthink, can be found here: http://www.intelligencesquared.com/iq2-video/2009/atheism-is-the-new-fundamentalism

    Note the initial attack of the first speaker. None of the things he brings up, the “grand perhaps” and all that… none of it really addresses arguments or points that Dawkins, Dennet, and so forth ever make. But this is typical of examples of atheist or skeptical “intolerance”.

    Granted, he doesn’t reduce himself to pointing out typos, but it’s still basically the same approach.

  210. I’ve changed my position completely

    Fuck the notion of tolerance towards the religious, why should we bestow it upon them if we can’t amongst ourselves.

    BTW, I love boobies and the term “flexing your nuts”.

    Primevil out

  211. @Skepthink:

    Um what? So what do you mean by God? It seems that you are claiming that by God you mean something like “the possibility that there are statements about our universe which cannot be answered.” How that becomes God isn’t at all clear to me.

    Incidentally, you are still wrong in your claimed consequences of Godel’s theorems. You are in fact wrong at multiple levels. Nothing about Godel’s theorem says that mathematics is incomplete. It says that certain classes of axiomatic systems are formally incomplete. This doesn’t say anything else. It certainly doesn’t say that there is “knowledge it cannot express” (where I presume by “it” you mean mathematics). Moreover this says nothing at all about the limits of science. To use a very simple example, if our universe turns out to be finite and discrete then Godel’s theorem will be utterly irrelevant to what science can or cannot do.

    Primevil,

    That’s amusing. But seriously, I’m not seeing intolerance in this thread. A disturbing amount of flaming especially between Seth and Skepthink (why replies to comments by me seem to merit to Skep attacks on Seth aren’t clear to me). But that’s not intolerant. Moreover, passion in an argument isn’t intrinsically unhealthy.

    Tolerance in no way requires people not to be critical of each others opinions. Civility would be nice, but a lack of it isn’t inherently intolerant either.

  212. So what do you mean by God?

    Actually, following from my own remarks, nothing really. That’s the point, agnosticism is, as far as I understand, the only scientifically honest position regarding the idea of divinity (careful, not regarding claims according to which e.g. some god made a cheesecake -which is empirically testable by looking for the relevant divine cheescake-, but only regarding claims of the essence of divinity as such). Therefore, I could hardly give you a definition of God because I have already stated that, for me, it’s simply a virtually unthinkable concept which, as such, you cannot refute (nor meaningfully prove/state, either) because it lacks any practical observable correlate (e.g. as long as it is a purely personal matter of belief), at which point there is no issue to discuss.

    It seems that you are claiming that by God you mean something like “the possibility that there are statements about our universe which cannot be answered.”

    I suspect I didn’t claim that (or any other) to be my idea of god at any point, but only that that was the reason why I thought the idea of god could not be asserted/dismissed scientifically, at least assuming as the meaning of the word “god” not e.g. the bearded old man appearing on the Vatican’s painting but e.g. the Aristotelian notion of first engine (i.e. Arab philosophers’ idea of god, as far as I know), which in his physics was a purely and strictly logical deduction.

    Nothing about Godel’s theorem says that mathematics is incomplete.

    Wow. Really? So the fact that not all arithmetic truths can be proven has nothing to do with the incompleteness of mathematics? I would probably require your extensive knowledge on mathematics to be better able to grasp the full importance of the difference, but I think I will live.

    It says that certain classes of axiomatic systems are formally incomplete. (…) It certainly doesn’t say that there is “knowledge it cannot express”

    In my apartment block, when a formal system is shown to be incomplete, all tenants take that to mean that there are truths within that system (= knowledge) that cannot be proven formally (= expressed) within that system. Obviously, you would be right if you argued that formal incompleteness does not necessarily amount to objective incompleteness (with which I in fact agree). Mathematical knowledge needs not be able to account for all truths, which does not mean that truths scaping it even exist (nor that they don’t, however, in which case they may or may not be represented in some other way).

    However, as far as science in concerned, and insofar as science uses mathematics, it depends on mathematics in order to prove or disprove claims, and therefore has the limitations of mathematics in order to express truth. Even if it’s arithmetic truths (rather than “mathematics”) that which is incomplete, that’s something you are no longer able to prove or disprove. Were god an arithmetic entity, which on the other hand you cannot rule out beforehand because we have no clue as to what the nature of god may be (if any), it would not be scientifically/formally/mathematically expressable. Actually, it may be argued that, if we know nothing about god, is precisely because we cannot express it formally, which kind of proves the point in an utterly trivial way, and again without any actual consequences.

    (…). Moreover this says nothing at all about the limits of science. To use a very simple example, if our universe turns out to be finite and discrete then Godel’s theorem will be utterly irrelevant to what science can or cannot do.

    It would be precisely the fact that a) mathematics is one thing, b) reality has been showed to be a different thing and c) you’re trying to describe reality using mathematics, which would make the endevour ultimately impossible (where “ultimately” =/= “completely”). Again, that doesn’t imply there really is something which is going to be left unexplained, because even if that was the case, you would have no way to tell (your current formalisms would be unable to capture whatever may be missing). That you can’t tell, however, doesn’t imply either that there cannot be something you’re missing, something fundamental, which may be expressed in some other, non-scientific way.

    Whatever it is, there is no point in arguing, which Sethmanapio will do, however. And he will win, of course. Even before knowing what he’s arguing about (if other than semantics).

    A disturbing amount of flaming especially between Seth and Skepthink

    It’s just too much fun.

    why replies to comments by me seem to merit to Skep attacks on Seth aren’t clear to me

    Because you can throw anything you want to Seth, he just fights back whatever it is (even plurals he ignores are dismissed as typos, as if typos and ignorance were the same. If my standard of “English speaker” was like his standard of “skeptic”, he wouldn’t be an English speaker).

  213. @Skepthink: Because you can throw anything you want to Seth, he just fights back whatever it is (even plurals he ignores are dismissed as typos

    —————–

    Good point, skepthink. I amend my prior point to read “Granted, he doesn’t reduce himself to pointing out petty grammatical errors, but it’s still basically the same approach.”

  214. I’ve never been a big fan of the war against religion, partly because religious people here in New Zealand don’t really make a nuisance of themselves. They do their thing, we do ours and we all live together just fine.

    I became more concerned the whole dispute when I started seeing blog posts and forum threads with titles like “whiny Christians vs whiny athiests”. I’m worried that athiests are starting to get the same stigma as pushy Christians. I say leave ’em alone and just concentrate on promoting rational thinking rather than criticising other people’s belief systems.

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