Afternoon Inquisition 01.21.09

Today’s AI comes courtesy of Catherine, who submitted this very interesting question via the contact form:

Do you ever feel like an “outsider” to the skeptical community on a specific topic?

Like Catherine, I agree with the skeptics on most issues, but sometimes I have a different point of view. Of course, that’s what’s great about science – it’s a method, not a belief system.

But not all topics are black and white. Should the skeptical community ever take a position on a social issue, or any issue that relies not on evidence, but on opinion?

Any group of similar people is bound to agree on a number of issues, and I’m not opposed to skeptics sharing a core set of conclusions as long as they have objective merit. But what makes skepticism unique is its lack of dogma, and its openness to diverse ideas*. Are we as skeptics living up to that ideal? Or is acceptance by the skeptical community contingent on holding certain opinions or beliefs? If so, are they all evidence-based?

*…as long as they have merit. Ideas that lack objective merit are quickly discarded in the battle of ideas.

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  1. But not all topics are black and white. Should the skeptical community ever take a position on a social issue, or any issue that relies not on evidence, but on opinion?

    I’ve always looked at this question from the perspective that truth and opinion separable. If, for instance, someone thinks that climate change is a hoax or a conspiracy, then this is someone I don’t reallly know how to relate to, because they are simply denying the evidence.

    If, on the other hand, someone acknowledges the evidence that anthropogenic climate change is happening, but says that we shouldn’t try to change our way of life because it would be a huge inconvenience… Well, NOW we can have a proper disagreement. We’re out of the realm of facts and into the realm of opinions, which is where a lot of really cool discussions happen.

  2. Absolutely.

    Precisely because there is no attendant dogma in science or skepticism. As a community we may all share the same set of skills. We may all apply the same method. But we don’t always use the skills and apply the method in the same ways or for the same things.

    So where there are many topics I don’t, there are always going to be topics where I do feel like an outsider to the majority of the community.

  3. I tend to pretty libertarian, so I definitely feel like an outsider in the skeptical community. Maybe it’s just that those on the left have been rather emotional lately. Either way, I’m not entirely sure why so many assume that being on the left makes someone “smarter” or more “intellectual” than those on the right. For example, as much as people on the left have criticized the Bush administration’s stance on personal freedoms, I find an equal amount on the side of the left. While things like racism, homophobia, etc. are horrible, I find the left to be just as likely to limit personal freedom of thought. A crime is a crime, regardless of motive. Putting additional punishment is nothing more than thought control.

  4. I pretty much only hold opinions on questions of fact.

    Do I want spaghetti or pot roast for dinner? I don’t know!!! I’m not a dietician!

  5. @notreallyalice: Sweet, me too. Except that I find my skepticism makes me far more of an outsider in the hippie community then vice-versa. I worked on a student run, university organic farm in college, so many battles over biodynamic agriculture and growing herbs for homeopathy.

  6. As an educator I feel a bit bashed by many groups including skeptics. Everyone is an expert on how to fix the education system or how better teach kids. That frustrates me, in that we are working really hard, we know it isn’t perfect but we keep at it. It is the knee jerk reactions that make me most angry. I am always willing to discuss educational issues at a factual level.

  7. My tendency to preach can make me feel a little isolated even in skeptical circles. To me if you pick any one of global warming, finite resources, sloth-induced disease, unsustainable cities, air pollution, or the break down of community you have to accept that cars are not a necessary evil they are an unnecessary evil and are killing us in dozens of ways every day even those of us who choose not to use them. Harumph! What bugs me even more is even the vast majority of those who accept anthropogenic global warming as fact refuse to accept that personal responsibility has anything to do with the solution because by God they are not going to give up even a sliver of their high-carbon life style until the last rat in China is living off the grid in a tent. Double Harumph!! “Oh, no. I’m not part of the problem. I recycle, and besides I only go to Bali once a year.” Triple Harumph!!!

    (I think I’m getting better, though.)

  8. I’m surprised that there are so many parents in the skeptical community. When I was growing up, I decided that there was no way I could ethically put another human being through that – growing up in this country, and in this world.

    Given that becoming a parent seems to be one of those things that you’re just expected to do as part of your life process, yet no one ever explains why, I’m quite surprised that it hasn’t gotten more backlash among skeptics.

  9. I’ve tried being skeptical about poetry (“It’s pretty damn pointless, isn’t it?”), but popular opinion seems to be that I’ve missed the point.

    Of course, that’s an opinion generally pushed on me by people who insist that it’s wrong to give my unsolicited opinion on things, so there may be a general lack of logic all round.

  10. About the only time I feel like an outsider is when people get into a whole “I’m more skeptical than you are.” or “You’re not a real skeptic” or “All good skeptics should …”

  11. I’m a Christian and find theology fascinating. Every time a religious issue is presented on it’s usually a news item about some fundamentalist who has done/said something stupid. I usually want to jump in and explain where their coming from, why I (and others) think their wrong theologically, and show other religious interpretations of what they’re commenting on/doing. Since the readership is something like 70% atheist (some number I heard kicked around here), I understand that most of you couldn’t care less since through atheist eyes the fundamentalists interpretation, and the liberal Christians, are both equally meaningless.

    Otherwise I feel right at home.

  12. Many skeptics seem to think they have actual free will while concurrently holding that their existence is nothing more than an isolated series of complex biochemical reactions.

  13. It seems to me that there are two big political currents in the skeptical community.

    One is fairly liberal on the left and the other one is mostly libertarian with very prominent individuals like Schermer, Penn and Teller and so on.

    So, being a quite on the left, I might disagree with these individuals.

    Atheists and agnostic are also heavily represented and, I guess, it might make a religious person fell like an outsider at time.

    But, yeah, the skeptical community is not monolithic. Thankfully.

  14. @Bechamel: I really don’t understand that view, his world may not be perfect but it’s hardly so bad that it’s not worth procreating.

    skepticalhippie – I actually hate it when people suggest that you need to be an atheist to be a skeptic. I’ve been a skeptic for nearly thirty years, I’ve only been an atheist for a few of those. There is no reason a person can’t have faith and still maintain the ability to use logic and reason as long as you can separate what you believe from what you know and understand. Fundamentalists don’t have that humility in their belief. I do believe that skepticism has an atheistic effect but it’s not necessary to be in the club.

  15. @James Fox: For me free will is a pragmatic issue. I have to behave like I have free will wether I actually have it or not. It doesn’t do anything to advance well anything to behave as if I do not have free will.

  16. Politics. I don’t consider myself a part of any political party (no matter who you are, I will disagree with you), and I didn’t get the warm and fuzzies from any candidate this time around. It might just be that I don’t like choosing the lesser of two evils and looking for my perfect candidate.

    I am curious of how many full fledged Republicans are in the skeptical community, (the last 8 years definitely doesn’t represent the whole party).

  17. @Gabrielbrawley: I see it as this way: I don’t believe in free will, but I believe it’s important to our mental health (and maybe survival) that we believe it exists. Or at least act like it exists. I’m still working out the kinks in that thought.

    Since I was the one who suggested this AI, I think I’ll put my two cents in… I work in public health (tobacco harm reduction) and personally find that puritanical roots run deep, even among skeptics. I personally feel like an outsider when trying to have a frank discussion with someone about smoking (even skeptics) – i.e. why people start, and why they continue – without having to get past their initial dismissiveness (i.e., how many times have you heard smoking dismissed as simply “stupid”?). That attitude certainly doesn’t reflect, or encourage, a scientific exploration of the issue of smoking.

    Anyways, I wondered what else there was out there that I, myself, had been responding to in an automatic, or socially derived, way.

  18. @Gabrielbrawley: I totally agree. However what I was getting at was the nearly mystical sense that many skeptics seem to have about right thinking in conjunction with an absolute materialistic view of existence. How we live is more complex than that and notions of values, ethics and social propriety are arrived at in many dissimilar ways. “Right” (skeptical) thinking or logical thinking is often/usually quite preferable but I’m skeptical that its always best or inevitably leads to better or more correct answers to societies problems or those effecting social interactions.

  19. Seems to me that rationalism and skepticism has it limits. One of the limits is when considering what are euphemistically called “matters of the heart,” emotional matters, i.e. How someone feels about something.

    Realistically, it’s hard to be rational about love, for instance. One loves one’s child no matter the cost. It’s not logical or amenable to analysis. It simply is a fact. One may fall in love with another person, even though it is obvious even to you that it’s a bad idea.

    By the same token, we may dive into a lake to save a drowning child, even though we lack the expertise of a skilled lifeguard. We don’t rationally decide to save a life – we react to the emergency emotionally.

    Sometimes, the “needs of the one” DO outweigh the “needs of the many,” so to speak, though the decision is not obviously a logical one.

    Somehow, I don’t think I have been clear enough in this post. I’ll watch to see what the responses say.

  20. I know I’ve felt like an outsider in the skeptical community, only because I could never seem to find anyone who wasn’t online who I could talk to about it. It was definitely a depressing feeling, because as much fun as it is to talk to your skeptical buddies online and on skype, there’s something to be set for going to a meet-up and meeting a group of really cool people who are nice, easy-going, and love to discuss science, rational and critical thinking, but aren’t snobby and elitist about it either.

    Thankfully I have actually found a group of really neat (Neat? Who says neat anymore? Where am I, the 50’s?) people in the Edmonton Skeptical Society who have been more than welcoming. And that’s based off of one meet-up. It was especially important because I’m socially awkward at the best of times, and don’t really feel comfortable meeting new people, but I can say, it was awesome.

    And here ends the longest comment I have ever made. :P

  21. Scientology, Anti-Vacc, Evangelical Christianity and Sylvia Brown. All four simply aren’t on the radar in the UK (well, Evangelicals are sometimes on TV programmes under the catagory of “Look, aren’t Americans Crazy” along side people who weigh 500lbs).

    I’d never heard of Sylvia Brown until I started listening to the SGU (at first I assumed she was a crazy Republican politician). Scientology is virtually nothing in the UK and if it is mentioned in the media it’s in the “crazy americans” programming alongside “the Releans” and Kabala. Schools teach evolution, so that’s not an issue, and abortion rights aren’t under attack (as I understand it contraception is free on the NHS including abortions, but I may be wrong).
    In the interests of balance, the UK has a huge Homeopathy problem, probably much bigger than in the US, anti-GM, Biodynamics, Animal Rights and Climate change Skeptics are our big issues, which don’t seem to get much of a look in.

    Most things tend to be American issues which require a certain amount of reading around for non-americans, or at least on my part.
    @jreedgt: @Simon39759: I was a Marxist all the way through school and Uni, and like a lot of people on the far left held my views quasi-religiously. It was only when I became more interested in Skeptism (which I came to via philosophy which I came to via Maths) that I began to see the value in holding up everything to examination, that I moved from Marxism to Socialism (albeit with a strong Marxist leaning)

    I have noticed, and it worries me somewhat, that some ideas/concepts are held to be “unquestionable” and deemed to be treated with special status. My concern is that this is no different to the special status given to religious ideas and that the fundamental “mode of thinking” has remained the same while only the superstructure of a particular belief system has been exchanged one for the other.

    You can not say in one breath say that religious ideas do not deserve any special respect and then in the next say that your ideals do.

    Usually those critiques that are the most accurate and true raise the most hostility the quickest.

  22. @Jill: Oh yeah, there isnt a Skeptical Group anywhere in the North of England, it’d be nice to see one in Yorkshire

  23. @QuestionAuthority

    I think you’ve been clear enough. A person reaches some point and they decide “I’m no longer going to think about this topic skeptically.” I think you have to or you would be paralyzed in the real world. Each person picks this point for themselves and it varies from subject to subject. I for instance am very skeptical when it comes to medicine. I’m not going to swallow anything without understanding it six ways from Sunday. I’m less skeptical about love.

    “I love you, Dave”

    “Well let’s think about this for a second. You married me 18 years ago and you’ve said something similar most of the days we have been together. It is also true that you are currently naked and holding a chilled martini which I assume is for me. So, yes. I believe there is considerable factual evidence to support… Ouch! Where are you going?”

  24. To answer the original question: no.

    In practice, the people who identify themselves as skeptics spend most of their time debunking the easy stuff. As I write this the tagline showing in Skepchick’s header is “psychics, homeopathy, creationism, and loads more b.s.”. Every one of these controversies pits a well-informed and epistemically correct scientific majority against a crazy fringe group. Skeptics are people who focus on exposing these “controversies” for what they are and educating the ignorant.

    So, if you find the skeptical community pillorying your ideas, chances are that all the well-informed, epistemically correct people rejected those ideas a long time ago. (Of course, maybe you’re the next Galieo. Then again, maybe not.)

  25. @darwinfan: Interesting that you bring up smoking. It’s smoking that makes me feel I do have free will, if not I’d be sucking another back right now. It’s been way too hard to give those little suckers up. I know that it’s not that simple but I really want to light one up and I’m resisting with difficulty, though success so far.

  26. @Jacob Wintersmith: I agree, when it comes to black & white issues – issues that are easily resolved by proper review of the evidence.

    But skeptics sometimes take a position on issues that aren’t so black & white…like political issues, for example. When a majority of the skeptical community bands together on such a topic, I think outsiders are the inevitable result.

  27. I dunno. I can think of a few positions I’ve taken which other self-identified skeptics might pick a quarrel with, but whenever things like that happen, additional skeptics jump in on my side. Maybe we’re all “outsiders” on different days.

    If I wanted to alienate the largest possible number of self-identified skeptics with a single blow, I’d voice my lack of patience with the truly pathetic arguments for libertarianism spouted by some prominent capital-S Skeptics. You know, the ones who’ve had their PowerPoint privileges revoked. (The relevant material is in the introduction and the first comment of the aforelinked post.)

  28. ^^^ The comment you’re refering to calls Shermer a “randist”…

    surely the liberal skeptics and the libertarians skeptics can find a way to get along.

    It’s the hippie skeptics we should be ganging up on. phhh, if ever there were a contradiction.

  29. I also only differ on political issues. I cringe a little bit every time somebody says some quack should be sued because he sells worthless medicine.

    I’m a libertarian and I think that when you are old enough, you should be allowed to rape your body as hard as you desire. I was a smoker for some years, after all. It’s a different thing when parents do that to their kids.

    If you sell water and say it will cure cancer, you are a despicable person, but I don’t think you should go to jail for that. Everybody should make up their own mind and decide their own.

    Also imagine all the quack cures being outlawed – now they sell them like drugs on the street, and market them as “The secret cures THEY don’t ALLOW you to own”

  30. Oh, yes. I’ve committed a grave, unforgivable sin: I’m not an atheist.

    I don’t know whether to use the word “fundamentalist,” “militant,” or what have you, but there is a segment of the atheist community that, upon learning of my belief, take the time and effort to remind me that I am:

    A. Wrong
    B. Not a “true” critical thinker
    C. A lesser being

    I’m not really exaggerating, either, despite my snarky tone.

    It can really be quite alienating.

  31. @drockwood: Oh, I’m sure liberal and libertarian skeptics can get along. It would just help an awful lot if the most prominent voices of those contingents would stop using arguments so painfully bad that they merit all the appellations dumped on them. A skeptical libertarian shouldn’t enjoy seeing their positions defended through the use of logical fallacies, any more than a skeptical liberal should enjoy the company of Democratic woo-meisters like Deepak Chopra.

    @VerlorenesMetallgeld: All sorts of issues are mixed up in that, I think. If I buy some plant matter to smoke (never mind which specific plants we’re talking about), and I’m cognizant of the various risks involved, that’s one thing. If the people selling the plant matter are lying to me about the risks, then that’s something else. Informed consent, y’know?

    And yes, prohibition has failed spectacularly for some substances. Any legal measures taken against quack medicine must be coupled with educational programmes — knowledge is an instrument of public health.

  32. @Stacy: A potential problem, no doubt. But in the experience of this libertarian-leaning skeptic, the more common leftist skeptics have been quiet fair and reasonable during disagreements on not-so-black-and-white issues.

  33. Absolutely.

    I’m not an atheist. I THINK I’m an agnostic , but that too is merely a lebel. My beliefs are more complex than that but they are not easily pigeon holed for me.

    I’ve learned that many in the skeptical movement are not atheists either, but when the topics steer toward that direction – yes, I feel like an outsider.

    Great question!

  34. @ Jill – I sat “neat” as well. I also like “cool” and “peachy.” peachy REALLY disturbs people. :)


    I have really, really enjoyed the comments on this thread. I think what makes us, skeptics, strong, is that we truly do embrace diversity. The scientific method, an understanding of logical fallacies, and empiricism is at the center of our steering wheel, but the spokes are multifaceted. I like it that way.

  35. I always feel like an outsider in relation to any community I approach. If I ever felt like I really belonged, I’d get worried.

    With the skeptic community, one of the things that bothers me is the endemic classism. Skeptics tend to say terribly snarky things about working class people who’ve encountered something they can’t or don’t understand — generally that bizarre confluence of psychology, cognition, and environment that leads people to belief in ghosts or yetis or what-have-you. The skeptical community turns sour and vindictive and mean-spirited, and I’m the guy saying, “But it’s a great story. And you’re missing all the data here about how the brain works, and how it doesn’t work.”

    But these same reflexive skeptics who will heap scorn on working-class people who have had Fortean experiences will say shit like, “Christopher Hitchens has a really great post up,” or “Here’s Andrew Sullivan with something interesting to think about,” when Hitch and Sully — to name but two — regardless of their English-language skill and comfort with the intellectual classes (who, I must say, include me), are like stopped clocks; right twice a day, but otherwise useless.

    So, yeah, I feel like an outsider around skeptics, especially when they get shitty with working-class people but simultaneously embrace witty blowhards who are full of shit.

  36. I have a really great circle of skeptic friends where I live. Most of them are single or married with no intentions of having children. I have 2 small children and I do feel like a bit of an outsider at times. Not because of anything others do, but because my life and concerns are different. I also don’t drink and much of the skeptic community seems to be centered around going out and drinking. This bothers me because skeptics do so much more than party and I don’t want this to be how skeptics are identified. This “outsider” feeling I have is partly of my own making. I’m not very outgoing and I don’t come up with cute witty sayings.

  37. @Jacob Wintersmith:
    I happen to agree with you on this blog. I tend to stay on here and bad astronomy because I feel they are less politically polarized, then say Pharyngula. I personally have let political discourse drive me away from skeptical sites; mostly because I can never find a side I agree with or feel comfortable with.

  38. As a pimp, a fictitious soap opera character, a scientologists, and a doctor of homeopathic medicine who is an expert on remote viewing and spoon bending, I sometimes feel a sense of alienation when participating in this group, especially since my recent baptism as born again Christian. When this happens, I find satisfaction knowing that you will all burn in hell someday.


  39. Do we now have commenters whose specific purpose is to get COTW nominations? I am not saying that it is a bad thing.

  40. I’ve identified myself as a skeptic for only about 10 months and I can definitely say that I’ve felt like an outsider.

    For the most part, I’m really happy being around fellow skeptics. Actually, I fit in better with skeptics than any other group.

    However, I get an uneasy feeling when people start dogging on religion. I’ve actually been guilty of this myself and I always walk away feeling like crap for making fun of something I myself believed in less than a year ago. I used to be a Christian…I’m an atheist now…actually the better term may be “non-theist”.

    I don’t get why skeptics are so stuck on religion. I mean, if someone does something stupid in the name of God….that person should be judged for the stupid thing that they did…not because of believing in God.

    For example, if a parent refuses to give their child life saving medication because they think God will heal their child…it isn’t the belief in God that’s the problem. The problem is that they didn’t give the kid the medication without any evidence proving that God is against taking medication.

    There are many different ways to interpret the bible. I know plenty of Christians who quickly go to the doctor when necessary because they think that God uses doctors to heal the sick.

    Believing in God (by itself) doesn’t make someone inherently immoral any more than not believing in God makes someone immoral.

    Likewise, not believing in God doesn’t automatically make someone a critical thinker. I’ve had very close members of my family who were atheists who were extremely irrational and very immoral. I’d rather spend my time with an awesome theist like Cleon any day.

    The existence of God is not falsifiable. Therefore, the question of whether or not God exists is not a question of science….why do we talk about it so much?

  41. Blake Stacey:

    It would just help an awful lot if the most prominent voices of those contingents would stop using arguments so painfully bad that they merit all the appellations dumped on them.

    Oh absolutely, this libertarian (well, kind of libertarian) sceptic finds that sort of thing highly irritating. Why do the morons get so much mike time?

    I don’t think my political sentiments make me unwelcome here at all, you’re all good people. But I don’t pay much attention to Pharyngula because I find the arrogance of PZ Myers intolerable (at least his arrogance outside of biology, I have no doubt that within his field, his attitude reflects the confidence of knowledge).

    In any case I like to hang around with reasonable people who disagree with me, how else do you learn new things?

  42. The existence of God is not falsifiable. Therefore, the question of whether or not God exists is not a question of science….why do we talk about it so much?


    Well… because the POTUS mentioned his invisible friend about 40 times in his inaugural speech, I guess. And there are all these people yammering on about how god thinks this, or god thinks that, or god wants this, or whatever, and they try to pass laws in accordance to what God wants.

    Then someone like me says “God? What God?” and this big long discussion starts about the various “proofs” that god exists, and that therefore we should all wear blue bandanas around our privates or whatever, and at some point it just gets annoying.

    Because there are no good reasons to believe that God exists. There just aren’t. And it’s natural for people who believe that you should have good reasons to believe things to have issues with people who are incredibly confident about beliefs that they have no good reason to be confident of.

  43. @LadyMitris:
    I think the reason God comes up a lot is as a response to the fact that it is everywhere in our culture, laws, government and populace. I agree with you that being an atheist does not make one a critical thinker, there are plenty conspiracy theories and UFOlogists who are atheists. Also there are people who classify themselves as an atheist but still believe in an afterlife.

    I really don’t feel when a skeptic rants against “God” they are ranting against a person who has personal faith in a god, but doesn’t believe he intervenes in his life. The problem is, as we get further from that person, we start to see more and more things that we definitely don’t agree with.

    For a person not treat a sick child, because they believe their God tells them not to, they do not require any evidence that the treatments works, because they KNOW beyond any shadow of a doubt that their child will be damned for all eternity if they let it happen. They KNOW that temptation is the way to the devil and just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to GOD, then they must be willing to make the same sacrifice and hopefully GOD in his infinite wisdom will see fit to save their child, just as he saved Isaac.

    There aren’t just inward dangers, but outward ones also. We lost 8 years of Stem-Cell research because of a belief that life began at conception, and must be preserved, even though the embryos to be studied were destroyed anyway. Science standards are continually assaulted by the religious, because they will pollute the minds of the innocent, just as Eve polluted humanity by eating the Forbid Fruit from the Tree of KNOWLEDGE.

  44. I’m very interested in the Bible and biblical history (both “Old” and “New” Testament). I think that as a work of ancient literature (really an anthology of ancient literature, history, poetry and philosophy) the Bible is at least as interesting as, say, Homer. So I tend not to find myself in the “it’s just a bunch of genocidal Bronze Age myths” crowd. I mean it _is_ a bunch of genocidal Bronze Age myths, but it’s not _just_ that.

  45. The only times I don’t feel at home with skeptics is when someone gets rude about it without justification. A charlatan’s earned whatever they get, but a true believer usually doesn’t deserve anything more than an education to help clear the fog. This probably comes up most with religion and politics, like most controversies. I’m an atheist, but I don’t think that’s something that flows from such solid logic that everyone should be. However, I think being an agnostic is on pretty solid ground. This has lead to the silly situation of another atheist trying to convince me more thoroughly of my own atheism.

    Back to the outsider question, even when someone’s more aggressive than I’d like, it’s not that I don’t feel a part of the group, it’s that I don’t want that person to be seen as representative of all skeptics.

  46. @Howard: “With the skeptic community, one of the things that bothers me is the endemic classism. Skeptics tend to say terribly snarky things about working class people who’ve encountered something they can’t or don’t understand — generally that bizarre confluence of psychology, cognition, and environment that leads people to belief in ghosts or yetis or what-have-you. The skeptical community turns sour and vindictive and mean-spirited, and I’m the guy saying, “But it’s a great story. And you’re missing all the data here about how the brain works, and how it doesn’t work.” ”

    Interesting point, the biggest difference between the UK and the US is that in the UK woo peddling is done by and aimed at the middle and upper classes. A complete inversion of the US situation.

    The Saxe Coberg Goethe (Sorry, Windsor) Family are the greatest source of support for woo, Charlie Windsor is a massive fan of all things woo, because of their influence the NHS has a Homeopathy Hospital. But then he’s on the record as saying his “breeding” makes him a higher type of human being (although he doesn’t believe in evolution which shows how tiny his intellect is, he can’t decide which BS to follow completely) and his mum Betty Windsor is the head of her own religion and thinks she was choosen by god to be queen. Charlie even built a “model village” called Poundbury so he can indulge his haywain england fantasy-at public expense!

    I’d never met any Christians until I went to University and began mixing with middle class people, unless going to church for someone’s funeral every couple of years makes you a Christian.

    I suspect the charitable role of the churches in the US is what makes them popular with the working class there, whereas the churches in britain don’t do charity in britain (with the notable exception of the Salvation Army). The CofE is pretty much English Shinto, with pagan rituals equally as important as the jesus stuff, Harvest festival, Valentines day, May Day, Bonfire night, Remembrance Day (ok those last two aren’t ancient, but they will be in a 500 years) are on an equal footing with Easter (the Eggs and Chocoalate Festivial) and Christmas.

    If a working class person identifies themselves as Christian, they are identifying with Turkey and Presents (>50% of people think “The Christmas Story” is the one with Scrooge in it, and >70% say “White Christmas” is their favourite Christmas Charol”)

    Re Christopher Hitchens. He’s a Right-Wing Warmongering Drunk, he’s spot on with regards Atheism and Orwell, otherwise he’s a ass-hat.

  47. The reason I tend to identify as a secular humanist rather than an “atheist” is not because I have any doubt that god exists, but because atheists are more skeptical than I. I tend to find it compelling when science studies things like ESP and I’m hopeful for a greater understanding of how we might be able to someday use science to achieve things that are “woo” for now. I also tend to enjoy things like alien abduction biographies, not because I’m a whackjob believer, but because I find it to be a fascinating sociological phenomenon, whereas many of my skeptic friends don’t enjoy such things any more than the observation of born again christians or the like.

  48. Outsider, sure. Many of you can talk way over my head about things, but he at least it is interesting when I try to learn more about it.

    Oh yeah, I don’t use substances other than coffee which I read is hallucinogenic.

    “Don’t drink don’t smoke – what do you do?
    Don’t drink don’t smoke – what do you do?
    Subtle innuendos follow
    There must be something inside”


  49. One thing I feel like an outsider about — in addition to not being an atheist — is that I am somewhat skeptical about the degree to which man-made CO2 is contributing to global warming, and the amount of global warming we can expect. Not sure if this qualifies me as a “global warming skeptic” or not, but the Skeptic community does seem to take a very dim view of global warming skeptics.

  50. @russellsugden:
    Re Christopher Hitchens. He’s a Right-Wing Warmongering Drunk, he’s spot on with regards Atheism and Orwell, otherwise he’s a ass-hat.

    …Not to nitpick, but Hitchens is not Right-Wing, at least not in the contemporary sense of the word. He went from being a socialist (and Marxist) to a libertarian.

  51. @jeffreyellis: I think that’s because from a strictly science-based point of view, the evidence is very strong. I think the disagreements come from people debating exactly how much we are affecting the climate. I take the term “global warming skeptic” as someone that doesn’t think global warming exists or thinks that humans have no effect on climate. Again, this is just my take on it.

    Personally, I’m very concerned about it because I have taken several meteorology classes (up to 400 level) and was once an aviation weather observer. I still follow academic meteorology and climate science progress and have personally seen disquieting changes. Again, this is my “somewhat” informed opinion, as I do not have a doctorate in the appropriate sciences.

  52. @VerlorenesMetallgeld: “I cringe a little bit every time somebody says some quack should be sued because he sells worthless medicine.

    This is beyond illogical. Of course people can choose to buy whatever they want, but allowing the sellers of worthless (aka, potentially HARFMUL) medicine when these sellers make nutritious, untrue claims, is ridiculous and dangerous.

    The seller is responsible for telling the buyers what their product is. How, exactly, do you expect a buyer to make an INFORMED, EDUCATED decision if they are getting false, crackpot information? That’s ridiculous and completely, completely illogical.

  53. “nutritious, untrue claims, is ridiculous and dangerous.”

    nutritious? I have no idea where that came from! I must be hungry. i can’t even recall the word i was actually trying to use. weird.

  54. Do you ever feel like an “outsider” to the skeptical community on a specific topic?

    Yes indeed, at least in so far as the skeptical community is represented here. When issues involving certain soft sentimentalities come up I find that my occasionally more pragmatic, less youthfully idealistic outlook puts me in the dog house here at skepchick. And so yes I feel to be an outsider on those paticular instances.

    But perhaps, to be fair, such a feeling of outsiderness is really little more than the fact that we cannot all agree all the time — we’d be in deep doggy doodoo if we did — and when someone disagrees with you, you tend to feel an outsider.

    Heh, heh, so maybe it’s all just perspective and sentiment in the end anyway.


  55. @Protesilaus: “Do we now have commenters whose specific purpose is to get COTW nominations? I am not saying that it is a bad thing.”

    Far from a bad thing. A very good thing. The COTW encourages wittiness, pithiness, and a surprising observation. I think it’s one of the things that keeps Skepchick lively.

  56. Actually, on a more serious note, I find that, as something of a scholar and wordsmith, when issues of the bible come to hand I definitely feel like an outsider.

    I have been a rather militant athiest virtually all my life, certainly from as soon as I was able to make such a distinction and determination. Nonetheless, when I returned to college in 1995, in my 40’s, with the goal of expanding both my professional horizons and my knowledge of English and its many various uses, I decided to take a few bible study courses. Those courses were about analyzing the text of the bible, not interpreting theist/religious intent or dogma.

    What many people simply do not know or understand is that the bible is a compendium of stories and poetry written by hundreds of different people over a time span of approximately 2500 years.

    One very intesting example is the Book of Job, which close study shows to have been written by at least 3, and probably more people over a time span of perhaps a couple hundred years. And each author had very different goals in mind. One of the authors quite clearly intends the story to be a lampoon and satire of religious belief to in effect expose the nonsense that religious faith can be. Another writer clearly intends the story to reflect the (metaphorical) word and glory of god and to support the idea of faith.

    Such variance is of course one of the reasons scholars and lay persons have struggled over the meaning of such a seemingly hypocritical story for so many years.

    Most of the stories and poetry in the bible were written by and for small groups of elites who knew how to read them correctly. One must keep in mind that over the years that biblical stories were written, only a very, very small percentage of the population could read or write at all. And for the most part those individuals were the educated elite. Written works were not accessed by the common people. The skills in proper reading (and writing) of the stories include a deep literary awareness of metaphor, analogy, figurative language, parable, and many other aspects of “creative” reading and writing. Such skills were (and are) quite lacking in the general lay population.

    Now, one example of where I feel like an outsider in this issue is when I come across someone like PZ Meyers, who with a broad brush of astounding ignorance and boorishness simply dismisses the bible as trash and junk and implicity blames it for all the great sin of Chistendom.

    Well, that’s nothing short of plain stupid.

    Did rock and roll cause promiscuity, drug use, and abortions? Does choosing your favourite Krispy Kreme donut endorse abortion? Should we blame teechnology for the uses evil people put it to?

    So, the woeful philistinism of Meyers and folks like him who toady to such an ignorant and dismissive approach to amazing works of literature like the bible definitely make me feel like an outsider.

  57. @russellsugden: DFP (Damn fine post)

    Where I live in Washington State there is a very low level of religious participation and belief compared to the rest of the country. However the amount of other woo from mystical to CAM to uninformed organic raw food supplement gobbling more than makes up for the lack of religion.

  58. The seller is responsible for telling the buyers what their product is. How, exactly, do you expect a buyer to make an INFORMED, EDUCATED decision if they are getting false, crackpot information? That’s ridiculous and completely, completely illogical.
    Ok, maybe I didn’t make myself clear. Take homeopathy for example – the people who sell homeopathic “treatments” make no secret about what is their product. You have been informed, you chose not to listen to the “establishment” and “big pharma”. I say: enjoy your sugar pill.

    If somebody says “this is penicillin” but sells me led bonbons instead, I agree that it’s fraud and should be criminally punished.

    But it’s not the duty of the government to protect people from *themselves*, in my opinion. Because cigarettes and French fries will be next on the list, then.

  59. @SicPreFix: The well informed and intelligent can certainly be cranks about something’s. I would say the same goes for Dawkins when he equates the practice of a parent bringing up a child in a particular faith tantamount to child abuse. And the same goes for many in he skeptical community who think all Christians are uneducated ill-informed narrow-minded fundamentalists. And despite the low level of religious belief in western Washington the people doing the most for the homeless and needy in the community are acting out on their religious beliefs and are not pushing their beliefs on anyone. The skeptical discourse is not helped when whole segments of society are dismissed out of hand.

  60. @VerlorenesMetallgeld: Ah, except all of those lawsuits are generally brought about because the sellers are making false claims and saying that such-and-such cures cancer or AIDS when it does no such thing. The seller is now imposing on other people by making up lies, by saying their product cures some disease it does not cure.

    You cannot expect people to make educated decisions when they are being told out-right LIES.

  61. Regarding the question you posed, Stacey, here is an example of opinion. In response to the question of why we talk about god so much, @sethmanapio answers:

    Because there are no good reasons to believe that God exists. There just aren’t. And it’s natural for people who believe that you should have good reasons to believe things to have issues with people who are incredibly confident about beliefs that they have no good reason to be confident of.

    The opinion in this instance is what constitutes “good.” Without assuming what seth meant by use of this term, I personally do not necessarily define what is “good” by objective criteria. If I did, I would live a pretty boring life, and would, for the most part, be devoid of compassion.

    The reasons for believing in god are very likely psychological in nature, which means that those beliefs are not subject to being rebutted by the evidence. On the other side of the coin of causality, I believe that religion, on balance (setting aside the minority of people who blow themselves and others up over it), has a positive psychological influence on the people who believe.

    Psychology will trump rationality at times. However, despite the fact that different aspects of our own psychology cause all of us to behave irrationally from time to time, I’ve noticed in most instances on this site and other “skeptical” publications that any belief in a higher power is met with an element of unnecessary ridicule. It is one thing to point out the irrationality or lack of objective evidence. But the “skeptical community” tends to dismiss any belief in god as an intellectual defect and does not seem to be that interested in understanding, or having any discourse with regard to, why an individual might believe in god.

    The dogma: “True Skeptics don’t believe in god, dummy.”

  62. @marilove: I’m being told outright lies every day, and I still make my own decisions. Being lied to is part of everyday life, and no excuse for not thinking critically.

    If you start outlawing homeopathy and chiropractors, then you have to go after the churches and their claims about health and also mental health.

    Who is going to decide what is real science and what is quack science? You, or the government *for you*? Mind you that the last 8 years haven’t been the science-friendliest in your country.

  63. @VerlorenesMetallgeld: Oh, come on. A claim that says “this sugar pill cures cancer!” is completely, 100% false. There is NO scientific data to back up that claim. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. When it comes to medicine, if you can’t back your claims up scientifically/medically, then you should not be able to make the claim. Period.

  64. I’m a vegetarian so I am sure there are a few skeptics that disagree with me about eating meat…

  65. @cobaltG, Rebecca: Can’t really say that as a skeptic, I have any problem with vegetarianism, as long as the person involved isn’t trying to sell me a line of pseudoscience along with it.

    I’m an omnivore, myself. I like a well-prepared veggie meal as much as any other well-prepared meal. “Bring it on!” :-D

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