Afternoon Inquisition 11.1

I haven’t always been a skeptic. I think it was in some ways inevitable that I’d become one, based on certain aspects of my personality, but I needed a nudge to get me really thinking about the things that would eventually lead me to where I am today. For me, that nudge came in the form of various books and television shows (Dawkins, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Doctor Who, Penn & Teller, to name a few).

Have you had a similar experience? What nudged you toward skepticism? Do you think you would be where you are today without these influences?

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  1. I read portions of Dr. Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” for a college class on the Scientific Method.

    While I was naturally inclined to skepticism, it was all downhill (or uphill, depending on your point of view) from there.

  2. Debate class in high school. We were required to be able to defend multiple opposing worldviews over the course of an evening if we were to win a competition.

  3. Strangely I think it was partly my love of watching shows like Unsolved Mysteries. Eventually I started going “um, wait…that can’t be right”. Also getting kicked out of catechism class a few times for asking questions. And back when TLC and Discovery had actual educational programming, I used to watch that a lot. Particularly the Understanding Festival on TLC. I’ve always been little contrary. I think that helped me be a little less gullible (although let’s be clear, I was extremely gullible for a long time, as most people are in their younger days — the Bermuda triangle in particular had me hooked).

  4. Me and my friends used to talk about time machines and space time etc. Then i started reading books to understand it, started listening the the SGU podcasts and then learnt all about sceptism, and one day someone started telling me how Water Dowsing was real and they had tried and tested it. And that was it, i knew from then i had to find out about everything sceptical.

  5. I think I’ve been a skeptic since I gave up religion in my late teens. I never really knew that the term ‘skeptic’ applied to me, though. When I first started thinking of myself as a skeptic was soon after I discovered SGU and several other skepticism-related podcasts and books. It was like I had found an entire culture of people who saw the world the same way I did.

  6. I know I would still be here but I think I would be a lot more quiet. I might still be attending church and hating myself for it. I can remember having serious doubts about the existence of god as far back as when I was 10 years old. This would be about a year after I was introduced to religion by my parents. The big one for me was Issac Asimov. I was a huge fan in high school and college and then I got ahold of his out of print biography. “In memory yet green” and “In joy still felt.” They gave me the courage to admit that I was an atheist. It also gave me a term for what I was. These were back in the old pre internet ’80’s and really early ’90’s. But finding websites like this one were the first time I felt a sense of community. A feeling like I wasn’t alone in the world and for that I can not thank you enough. All of you are great.

  7. actually, my experience was similar to carr2d2’s. i started reading some books and watching some shows that nudged me towards skepticism – namely douglas adams, penn & teller, etc – but i didn’t really consider myself a skeptic until i started listening to SGU and it really clicked…and it also helped my shake off my belief in ghosts, conspiracies, and other guilty pleasures (things that make me shudder now that i recall them) also, i’ve been questioning religion since my early teens, but i only started calling myself an atheist after reading dawkins – the god delusion basically converted me to atheism.

    granted, i am 17 and have had most of these grand revelations in the last year and a half, but that’s besides the point ^_^

    i’m just absolutely ecstatic to find that there is actually a group of people with a similar worldview. its easy to come to the conclusion that you are the only sane person in the world when you never meet anyone like yourself. and this is why you’ve gotta love the internet ^_^

  8. For me, it was lots of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit. I watched them as a formerly religious person, but was utterly unable to come up with any reason why their arguements were not valid. They, thankfully, introduced me to the Amazing Randi, and Michael Shermer, and Phil Plait, which led me to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

    From there, SGU, and the skeptic/atheist blogosphere (as a new deconvert). It was wonderful to wake up to reality.

  9. Back when I was 12-15 years old I was really into Erich Von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” and other nonsense. Then I got into Real Science, especially because of Nova on PBS (they REALLY blew Von Daniken clean out of the water). Once I learned about what science really is and how it really works, I began to take nothing for granted. Also, like Detroitus, I gave up on religion (The Catholic Church) when I was about 16. I just couldn’t see how most of the human race was eternally condemned to excruciating punishment because they don’t worship your god.

    But don’t most intelligent people eventually begin to think at least somewhat critically and become skeptical of quite a number of things? Or as my dad put it:

    “The young know everything.
    The middle aged suspect everything.
    And the old doubt everything.”

  10. @Kimbo Jones:

    Oh, also one quote from the original star trek really hit me hard. Specifically:

    “We’re the same. We share the same history, the same heritage, the same lives. We’re tied together beyond any untying. Man or woman, it makes no difference, we’re Human. We couldn’t escape from each other even if we wanted to. That’s how you do it, Lieutenant. By remembering who and what you are: a bit of flesh and blood afloat in a universe without end. And the only thing that’s truly yours is the rest of Humanity. That’s where our duty lies.” — Captain Kirk in ‘Who Mourns for Adonais”

  11. My dad’s a skeptic so I guess my first nudge came from there. I’ve developed an interest on my own over the last few years, mostly via the internet. I remember googling for something fun and subversive to do at Christmas, discovering humanism, and having one of those ‘hey, that’s what I think!’ moments. All those years of Star Trek probably didn’t hurt either.

    Today I’m studying for a philosophy exam, which I might well not be sitting without those influences. I’d probably be outside enjoying the sunshine instead. Oh well, it’s worth it. :-)

  12. I think that being a nerd always helps! :D
    I was arguing about the existence of God with my best friend’s mother when I was.. hmm.. seven? Eight?

    Oh yeah and when we got our first internet connection!! Which coincided with my first seeing Ghostbusters… subsequently googling it and occasionally discovering the odd site that debunked such sillyness! :)

    OH! Doctor Who! :D
    I’ve had an unhealthy obsession since I was a toddler.

  13. @Gabrielbrawley: Really. I guess everyone can get something different out of certain things. I discovered how interesting science was partly through science fiction and the secular and humanist messages therein. The wonder and awe of nature and science was much more appealing to me than the guilt and misery imposed upon me by Catholicism (the religion of my parents).

  14. Hmm. Tricky tricky. To be honest, I only grew to where I feel I could call myself a skeptic fairly recently. As recently as the whole Expelled debacle, I was still all up in magical thinking and other sorts of various things.

    But, Pharyngula led to Bad Astronomy, which led to Skepchick. Which led to Skeptigirl. But yeah. I suppose the introduction to Pharyngula sparked it all, and I just slowly grew into it.

    As for being where I am now… well, probably not. I’m actually doing things now. Working to fix things rather than hoping that they come to me without action.

  15. I think it was abuot halfway through high school when I started to think seriously. I was into general kiddie-pop-sci books already (Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, known for his loud shirts and radio show) and that led me to a science based internet forum.

    As internet forums do, this one attracted and still attracts trolls of all sorts, and I enojyed reading as religious trolls, over-unity trolls, conspiricy theorist trolls, etc, got torn down and smashed to pieces by Science and Logic. Being a kid still, I posted a few little stupid comments and thanks to the internet hiding the fact that I was a kid, the regulars tore them to shreds. Which made me stop and think “why are they disagreeing with me so?”, whereupon I realised that what I said was actually stupid.

    From there on, I became much more ofa ccritical thinker, and even got the nous to be able to tell my science teacher that she was flat out wrong about something. I didn’t convince her, but I did convince the rest of the class. :)

  16. I was totally convinced by John Edward’s show Crossing Over until i saw the South Park episode that explained how he did it. It was an instant thing for me. When the episode aired i was a believer, by the time it was over i wasn’t. That’s the last bit of woo that i remember holding on to.

    I imagine that when i got my iPod and started looking up science podcasts i’d eventually have realized it. But that was still a big help.

    Hm…Which makes me realize that getting an iPod has actually had a significant impact on my life. Without it i wouldn’t have begun listening to podcasts about science which have gone a long way towards shaping my current world view.


  17. Never underestimate the power of a Halloween costume. That guy who dressed up as the Flying Spaghetti Monster wasn’t the whole story, but he was definitely a part of it.

  18. I recall with fondness the CCD teacher we had just prior to Confirmation. It was extremely controversial at the time, but he had us read the Bible instead of the usual CCD activities of filling out coloring books where lions give flowers to sheep. I read the thing all the way through for the class, but I was dubious from Genesis on. I recall asking in class, “Is this a joke?” I was never “confirmed”.

    But it took a long time for atheism to lead to skepticism and a scientific worldview.

  19. One of my teachers in high school taught a “Current Events” class. It had very little to do with actual current events. He used it to sneak in other topics, like how to recognize advertising techniques and tricks. And he taught the logical fallacies.

  20. In college I met a beautiful young woman while I was the president of United Campus Ministries. We started going out, and I discovered that she was a pagan. We were quite a strange couple. I guess I already had quite an open mind even at that point.

    I had it in my mind to “convert” her at first. I was encouraged by family members and other members of the ministry. They really liked her but wanted her to be Christian. Eventually, I was successful in converting her, but not in the way I’d planned it. Because she converted me too. We both spent some time to take a close look at each of our belief systems. We came to the same conclusion that they were both bullshit.

    We’re now a happily married atheist couple.

  21. The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

    For me, it was the final nail in the coffin of “But what if astral projection/psychic powers/UFOs are really real after all?”.

  22. Always been one. I used to argue with the minister after church every Sunday. He told my parents that he was pleased someone was actually listening to his sermons.

    But if I had to name names, Deane Hutton and Rob Morrison of The Curiosity Show, which every Australian of a certain age knows and loves, is the biggie for me. That, and some Carl Sagan at an impressionable age.

  23. I wasn’t raised religious and I come from a very argumentative family, if you made a claim at our dinner table, you’d better be able to back it up, so I guess I’ve always been skeptical. Also I was taught science as biology, chemistry and physics from about age 9 onwards, and I don’t think that kind of broad scientific education can hurt skeptical thinking.

  24. @Detroitus:

    My experience was similar, I guess. I believed in UFOs and ghosts, and was lukewarm about the other stuff. But then I dropped the God thing in high school, which was pretty ingrained growing up in North Alabama.

    Once that went, I think it took it all the other stuff with it. Woke up one day and realized I didn’t believe any of it anymore.

    Then I read Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World” and that made it tough for any of it to sneak back in.

  25. Skepticism came to me after an extended and ill-advised period of time as a born again christian. However, all it took was one unanswerable question to get me thinking….The question: As christians we are meant to lead a christ-like existence. However, christ was simultaneously divine and human — son of god and all. So aren’t we leading our whole lives based on a goal that is by definition unattainable? That sounded exceptionally frustrating to me. The only answer I got was, “So keep trying. Try harder. But, no you can’t ever be truly christ-like cause you’re a human.” That started raising other questions with silly answers.
    Also, my love for the X-Files definitely influenced both my skepticism and belief in the silly.

  26. @Kimbo Jones: That’s really cool. That is so much more than I got out of it. I was just a thrilled giant high school nerd that there was finally another show. I didn’t get the deeper stuff at atll.

  27. In late 2006 (as I was leaving Wicca) I discovered Penn & Teller Bullshit through my then boyfriend. I began researching and reading books by people interviewed or mentioned on their show (Randi, Shermer, Dawkins, etc). Then a coworker introduced me to podcasts (SGU, Skeptoid, QuackCast, POI, Skepticality, etc). This year I saw P&T live and attended my first TAM. With minimal science training (my last science class, other than a couple intro psych courses in college, was biology in the tenth grade, over 20 years ago) and no critical thinking training whatsoever (28 years as a christian, 19 of those born again, then 12 years as a wiccan as well as minimal schooling), I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me!

  28. Been a long and winding road but it started with Tarzan – when I was 8 I asked mom if I could skip church and stay home and watch Tarzan movies. She said yes.
    – Greek Mythology – Mom found out I was sneaking peeks at the romance novels she hid under her bed. She replaced them with a book of Greek Mythology. I devoured it.
    – The Flamingo’s Smile – found in a used book bin. Still don’t remember what made me pick it up.
    – Skeptic Magazine and Skeptical Inquirer, then Skepticality, Quackcast and SGU, then Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, then Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens (Oh My!) and now this site.

  29. When my mom asks why I’m an atheist I tell her to blame Star Trek. I swear it was my lifelong exposure and love of science fiction and fantasy.

  30. Catholic School. Sunday School especially, back when there was no “jesus wants me for a sunbeam” and it was mainly “god is a mean ole b*stard who’s looking for an excuse to smite you, so grovel in fear”

  31. An atheist friend in high school. Dungeons and Dragons. Bulletin baords. Friends who agreed christianity is whackjobbery. College. Eventually, Derren Brown, which is where I first heard the term used to describe a community.

  32. A recurring theme here seems to be that religion can drive people to rational thought. What’s surprising is that so many people still vehemently subscribe to bronze age myths. But then again, by definition, half the population has an IQ < 100.

  33. Ah, but if you’re brought up with vehement belief, does it ever leave you, or do you just channel it into something else?

  34. For me it was Bulls*clap*hit! combined with the Scientology episode of South Park. BS! led me to Randi, and after reading Swift for a number of months, I started reading other blogs and taking a more hard-nosed stance.

  35. I grew up in a non-religious home. My father had stopped going to church when they wouldn’t allow his nephew to be buried in the church cemetery. He’d died shortly after birth, and hadn’t been baptised. My mom had been sent to catholic school from first grade to college, and was sick of it. Then we moved to the Navajo Rez, and most of my classmates were still fairly traditional.

    As a kid I believed in everything I heard, but one-by-one I started to see holes. About 15 I stopped believeing in god. Then one day I was looking at some occult books, and Flim Flam was in the middle of them, and that also led me to the Skeptical Inquirer. Togeher they started my life as a true skeptic, though it was only recently that I put a name to it. They also helped me develop a good BS detector, instead of just being a cynic.

    Last year I took my old copy of Flim Flam to TAM, and Randi was kind enough to give me a great autograph.

  36. Hm, I mostly gave up on Christianity at the age of somewhere between 7 and 9, when I realised that there were inconsistencies in the writings and no one wanting to explain why they were and how to resolve them.

    Then I spent a few years desperately wishing that there was SOMETHING supernatural, but eventually reached the conclusion that the world, as science knows it, is sufficiently full of wondrous things that no higher authority need apply.

  37. I might still be a Wiccan if a particular Pagan community had possessed more of a clue about Learning Disabilities…. As it worked out, I noted that not only were they unable to help out with my problems, but their beliefs and practices didn’t seem to be helping too much with their own!

  38. After 6-7 years of Catholic School (including mass 6 days a week during the school year), I started being skeptical on my own. It just didn’t make sense. As I entered high school, I stopped going to church and considered myself an agnostic.
    My evolution :) into a full-blown atheist came when I started reading James Randi’s writings at At first, I was surprised that he was treating religion as any other superstitious belief (along with psychics, ghosts, etc.) Then I realized he was right – there’s no more evidence of a god than there is a ghost. It’s all “supernatural”. That’s when I realized that I was indeed an atheist.
    I thank James Randi for truly opening my eyes.

  39. I read Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World. Step two was having a mother-in-law who tried to convince me that aliens built the pyramids. Hilarity and skepticism ensued.

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