Reader Rants: STFU: a very special reader rant – SpiralArchitect

Today’s AI is the result of me telling my husband to STFU. He has a lot to say about how the skeptic community communicates. Mostly, he sits on the side of the skeptic community pool while I’m hanging out at the high dive. He finds the skeptic on skeptic nitpickiness and the pedantry off-putting and unwelcoming. But I’m tired of hearing about it. He rants and rants about it… so finally, I told him that if he has something to say to the community, he can write a rant and I’ll post it.

And I think it’s important to see why people aren’t here, getting involved, even when they are interested in what we’re doing.

Please note: Opinions stated in this post are those of Brian Anders. I totally let him have his own thoughts and sometimes have his own feelings.

Why I wasn’t a Skeptic

Brian Anders

On a recent car trip to see my in-laws, I was throwing out ideas to Elyse for the Saturday A.I.  After a brief exchange, she said, “You should write a reader rant.”  I started saying more, and she followed with, “write about it!”

So, here it is!

Within the last year, I have become involved in Skepticism.  On March 6, 2010, at the end of Skepchicamp in Chicago, I declared to DataJack, “Today, I consider myself a skeptic.”  In true DataJack fashion, he bought me a Jameson.

Although I now consider myself a skeptic, it took me a long time to actually declare myself one.

Why did it take a long time to declare myself a skeptic?  Mostly because of a small group of the Skeptical Community who really make it difficult to want to be a part of it.

First, there are the Atheists who proclaim no one with a religious belief should have anything to with Skepticism, because a believer is not a “True Skeptic”.  This was a running theme in the comments for Masala Skeptic’s post Faith and Fury.  I thought it then, and I will say it now, what a crock of horse shit!

The Atheists who are anti-believer are the other extreme in the spectrum.  They are no different than Christians who call Atheists evil.  How can you be a “True Skeptic” if you believe there is or could be a deity?

OMG!  I’m agnostic! I need to get out of this line to get vaccinated, clear out my medicine cabinet and go as fast as I can to Whole Foods!  I need herbal teas, ginseng and something with wort!  Oh good, I feel better now.  TYG!

Second, there are the Skeptics who seem to be afraid of a woman’s sexuality.  Blag Hag Jennifer McCreight attained more notoriety over Boobquake than anything in Skepticism.  People I work with who are not far removed from believing the Sun revolves around the Earth were aware of what she was doing.  And amidst this small burst of fame, I saw some nit-picking the premise and the validity of the “experiment”.  For fuck sake, she leaned over with a low cut shirt on; she didn’t produce fucking porn.

And then there is a notion that Skepchick is not doing anything positive for Skepticism.  Are you fucking kidding me?  Do people really think the Skepchicks just get together for martinis and pillow fights?  If so, it would not have taken me as long to get involved.  (I would have no problem with my wife getting into drunken pillow fights with other women.  In fact, I encourage it!)

Third, there is air of sexual harassment towards the female skeptics; the notion of only supporting and being actively involved in an event if there is the exchange of a sexual favor.  Really?  Sure, I will show up and speak for your cause if polish my knob.  Do we really need a Senator Bob Packwood fighting the cause?

So there are skeptics who are afraid of a woman’s sexuality?  And there are skeptics who try to take advantage of the sexuality for personal gain?

There is a lot of work to be done out there.  It is more important to make sure people are taking the correct medicine, seeing their doctor, teaching children evolution and getting vaccinated, than where someone spends their Saturday or Sunday afternoon or who is showing off some cleavage.  We need to stop nit-picking everything someone is doing and figure out a way to support it, help it, nourish it.

I believe we all are striving for similar results.  Let’s band together, work together and spread the word together.

In the end, I would like to finish with my rendition of Dr. Dennis Leary (from the comedy special No Cure for Cancer).

That person is a Christian, he can’t think critically.  SHUT THE FUCK UP! NEXT!

She is showing her cleavage and the boys are looking at her.  SHUT THE FUCK UP! NEXT!

Oh no, they are drinking and wearing short skirts.  SHUT THE FUCK UP! NEXT!

I’m not helping her; she won’t have sex with me.  SHUT THE FUCK UP!


Brian Anders is a Skepchick widower and (therefore single) dad to Moose and Delaney.  Once he joined the “skeptical movement”, he immediately got to work joining the Women Thinking Free Foundation‘s board of directors. To learn what life is like being married to a Skepchick and nonprofit slavedriver, follow him on Twitter: @spiral_archtct.

The Skepchick Reader Rants, posted every Wednesday at 3PM Eastern, is a feature where you, the Skepchick readers, get to tell the Skepchick community what you think about whatever you want! To be considered, please submit an original rant, preferably unpublished anywhere else, to skepchick(at)skepchick(dot)org with the subject: My Rant.


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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  1. Women in short skirts drinking: good or bad?

    What this lacks in clarity it makes up for in sheer rantiness. I swear I leaned back from the monitor a couple of times in fear of flying spittle.

  2. I think what we need are skeptic denominations and sacred texts.

    A: Oh, you’re a skeptic? Me too! Uhm… What kind of skeptic are you?

    B: I was brought up a knee-jerk, unthinking skeptic

    A: *starts to back away slowly*

    B: But I’ve recently begun to attend meetings at a mellow, thoughtful skeptics church.

    A: *stops backing away* I’m a thoughtful, deism apologist skeptic, myself. Thought we’d have a really awkward encounter there for a moment.

  3. Why does religion get a skeptical pass?

    If you do not look critically at what you believe then what right do you have to tell others that what they believe is wrong?

    Sure the religious can be skeptics and have a place in the community but they do not get a free pass. Their beliefs are fair game.

    Some people are assholes about it and can be dealt with individually.

    There are many good reasons to be against Theism.

    You need to stop confusing that with being against Theists.

    Much of what you complain about are societal problems not exclusive to skeptics or skepticism.

  4. Sure, you can be a skeptic if you have religious belief. You can label yourself however you want to. There are plenty of issues aside from religion that skeptics as a group combat—homeopathy, for instance.

    There’s sort of two issues being intertwined here. One is the question of who gets to call themselves a skeptic. As suggested above, I think that this is not the most important issue. If you are skeptical about X, Y, and Z and work to educate folks about those things, that’s absolutely terrific as far as I’m concerned.

    Then there’s the issue of religion. Now, if you’re a skeptic, and approach most claims from that perspective, and you believe in a god… you are guilty of special pleading. Sorry, but that’s true. There’s no evidence for the existence of any gods, and every argument ever offered for the existence of a god quickly crumbles under scrutiny. And you have no right to expect that your religious beliefs will be off-limits or treated with kid gloves by other skeptics.

    HOWEVER, note how I put that: other skeptics. For a skeptic who is an atheist to approach a theist skeptic by saying they’re not really a skeptic or that they’re totally incapable of thinking critically or calling them an idiot is the worst possible way to go about things, it’s a No True Scotsman fallacy as well as ad hominem and it gets you nowhere fast. Argue against their *beliefs* and against whatever reasons they give for their beliefs as passionately as you like, but saying that *person* “can’t be a skeptic” just because there’s a particular thing they’re not skeptical about has nothing to do with the validity of the beliefs you’re trying to combat and only serves to insult people needlessly and isolate folks who could be allies on other issues.

    On the other hand, theist skeptics have to be careful to realize that although their beliefs are very personal to them, attacking those beliefs—even doing so forcefully—isn’t inherently an ad hominem personal attack. And again, you have no right to expect that they won’t be attacked. I’m sure that since you’re writing this, you have experienced at least someone going beyond that and crying “No True Skeptic”, but personally I haven’t actually seen it and don’t perceive any kind of widespread problem to that effect that warrants being addressed. (I could be wrong though!) I *have* seen plenty of religious skeptics cry foul when another skeptic argues against their religion, and I have seen plenty of atheists who believe in superstitious nonsense other than gods cry foul when other atheists argue against their belief in ghosts or alien abductions or what have you. Those folks have no right to complain. But anyone out there who is making petty complaints about who gets to use the label “skeptic” is definitely full of crap.

  5. @spurge: Just because it isn’t exclusive to our little community doesn’t mean it isn’t a rampant problem. And it’s bad enough that the in-fighting causes people to stop wanting to be involved all together. Sure, it’s societal, but shouldn’t a group of such rational critical thinkers be able to get the eff over themselves and be nice to each other? Because we can’t seem to.

  6. @Chelsea

    The rant was about why he did not want to be a skeptic.

    I never said it was not a problem. It just seems a poor reason to not want to be a skeptic when almost any organized group is going to have these problems.

    You have to be in it to fix it.

  7. @Chelsea:

    Here in Boston I have not seen any animosity at our Boston Skeptics events. Some times we argue but it is all in good fun.

    If I am unaware of problems in our group I wish someone would enlighten me so I can help.

    I have not attended any big skeptical events yet so I have no idea what goes on there.

  8. @spurge: Yes, and I’m not saying that it’s only us. But he makes a good point in that it turns away people who might otherwise want to get involved. I happened to come into the “scene” at a good time. Everyone was buddy buddy as far as I could tell and the skeptic circle was the place to be. But if I were just coming around to it now, I would be turned off as well.

    In it to fix it is all well and good, but sometimes it takes the voice of an outsider to kick everyone squarely in the crotch to make the necessary changes.

  9. While I have to agree with you here, I think you are fighting a loosing battle. In your situation, not calling yourself a skeptic is the best idea.

    Skepticismn on the internet appears to me to be a defacto Athiest and liberal movement.

    While PZ meyers, and others like him, wont directly come out and say Pamela Gay isnt a skeptic, he will imply all faith (which would include hers) is a weakness to be conquered (i forget the direct quote.)

  10. Both Theism and Atheism have the same problem-infinite regression. With any type of religion, there’s the question “where did that god come from?” With Atheism and the Big Bang theory, you still have “Where did the singularity come from?” IMHO, no one has an advantage over the other. The only time you really can take religion to task is to make specific, testable claims. “My god can/will do X”. Well, let’s put that to the test.

    Now, even if you believe in a god that can and does actually change the universe, but you keep that as a personal belief and not something where soemone else has to believe, then I really don’t care.

  11. @spurge: I don’t think religion should get a skeptical pass… but I also don’t think it needs to be the stick up everyone’s ass.

    (Yeah! Poetry!)

    I am moderately religious. I shout Hail Thor in thunderstorms, have a Mjolnir on one arm, and want to get my second raven when I have that magical combination of time, money, and an available tatooist. I’ve been known to pray to the Roman goddess Fortune on a regular basis, and bitch out Odin, who a friend of mine believes in deeply, as if he were the author of her troubles.

    But deep down, I worry that it may all be a crock of shit… that I’m talking to myself, and that the skin-art is all just pretty pictures. But if I consider myself a bad skeptic, it’s not because I believe (somewhat) in a variety of Superfriends in the Sky… it’s mostly because I tend to get into what I read and take it at face value until others point out problems with it.

    Every human endeavor is going to have politics. These can be relatively simple, or hideously complex, depending entirely on the number and nature of individuals involved. When you’re talking the politics of memes… religion, science, truth, etc. … they get hideously complex, depending on who has been infected with what memes, and how bad the infection is. While science and skepticism can serve as an inoculation against harmful memes (letting you fight off the stupid), they do not make you immune to politics that come from differing points of view or rampant dickery. And while religion should not get a skeptical pass, the religious should not be subject to rampant dickery simply because they are religious. Save your rampant dickery for people who are being rampant dicks.

    I, apparently, like the phrase “rampant dickery.” I think its the word “rampant”, more than anything else.

    Religious people who are skeptics… even if they’ve got a bit where they’re willfully blind (or, in my case, blinking rapidly)… can be allies against stupidity and pseudo-science. Alienating them through trampant mickery doesn’t encourage them to hang out or listen to what you have to say. If they are attractive women, it does not encourage them to wear low-cut tops and come out with the rest of us for drinks (I will admit to a bit of ambivalence about attractive men wearing tight jeans and coming out with the rest of us for drinks; I tend to be against it, in fact, as I need little in the way of competition, much less competent competition that looks better than I do… but I freely admit my bias in this situation). Of course, being nice doesn’t mean they’re going to drop whatever bits of pseudo-science, mythology, or other woo they believe in… but it’s a lot easier to tolerate other people when you agree to no preemptive rampant dickery on days with vowels in them.

  12. Woah! My head asplode!

    You know, it took me a long time to go from a passive participant (listening to podcasts, reading blogs) to an active participant (going to meetings, commenting on blogs) because of one bad encounter. In retrospect, it seems silly that I let it get to me so much, but at the time I really felt put off. I used to be a physics teacher and now I’m pursuing further education in physics. But, at one point in my life, I stepped out of the field and went into aesthetics (I did facials in a spa). In order to get a state license, I had to learn about a whole crap-load of stuff, some of which really came off to me as woo-woo. I approached several skeptics both online and in-person looking for info on some of these practices (like accupressure, lymphatic massage, high frequency treatment for acne) and mostly got, “Well, what did you expect going into such a CAM-ridden field.” I couldn’t believe that someone seeking assistance from skeptics would receive this sort of response. (I have since met more approachable skeptics… haha.)

  13. @infinitemonkey:


    Theists have no evidence for god.

    Yours is just an argument from ignorance.

    God starting the universe is in fact a testable claim.

    That some questions are not and may never be answerable in no way allows someone to claim god did it.

    I think that this is getting off topic so I will refrain from responding to any replies I may get about this post.

  14. As an atheist, I’m getting really sick of the “all skeptics have to be atheists” meme and it’s making me pretty ranty at times. I recently bitched about it on my blog and the few comments I got make me think that I’m really not alone. But I think there’s also a big difference between skeptically reviewing a religious claim for which there is conclusive evidence (eg: the shroud of Turin) and telling people they’re not allowed to be deists or whatever. I also feel like, if I wanted to go to an atheist conference, I’d go to a freaking atheist conference.


  15. I was really put off by the anti-boobquakers. I thought the idea was great, and no, it wasn’t scientific, but it was a good way to gain publicity for a specific issue in skepticism.

    So, the next time I visit Chicago, can I drink martinis and have a pillow fight with your wife? I mean, for skepticism.

  16. @spurge:
    God starting the universe is in fact a testable claim.

    Color me ignorant but… how? I mean, yes, most explanations for it tend to fall to Occam’s Razor, but that’s not a “test”, so much as a “rule of thumb”.

    @lexicakes: Usually, I would say pics or it didn’t happen.

    This, however, would require video. ;-)

  17. @Mark Hall:

    “Religious people who are skeptics… even if they’ve got a bit where they’re willfully blind (or, in my case, blinking rapidly)… can be allies against stupidity and pseudo-science. ”

    I agree and never said otherwise.

    My main point is that no matter what you do some people are going to think you are being a dick. If we only let the least offensive people have a say we will not get very far.

  18. @Mark Hall:

    Why should it be up to me to tell you?

    All I am saying is that ignorance about how something happened does not allow you to plonk god down as an answer with no evidence.

  19. @phlebas:
    One is black and yellow, and one is green and yellow.

    I guess if you combined them, they would be the Oregon Ducks.

    Oh, and the Packers QB is not a sexual predator.

  20. Hi there!

    Well, what we seem to be describing here is a continuum, no? There all kinds of skeptics, no? On one extreme would be people who believe: that all religions are true, that unicorns, vampires, and leprechauns exist, that the US Government is secretly made up of lizard-people who arrived at Roswell and have been the motivating force behind the Liberal agenda and that homeopathic cures can block their subliminal transmissions, but … somehow think that Astrology is a bunch of hooey. Then on the other end of the line you have people who demand two forms of ID, a blood test, three notarized references and a retinal scan if you say to them: “Hi, I’m Brian!”.

    Most people on the Great Skeptic Continuum would probably fall on the “Anything in the New Age section and most of the religion section of Barnes & Noble’s is woo” middle range, yes? True, many skeptics are capital-a Atheists, but I’m sure that there are things that I’m skeptical about that others in this group believe heartily.

    For example: even though I’m an Atheist, and I don’t believe in any kind of New Age woo, you could argue that I’m not skeptical ENOUGH, because I don’t doubt the highly controversial theory that every one of the Skepchicks is secretly madly and passionately in love with me. Oh, I guess it COULD be untrue, but I simply haven’t seen enough evidence to cause me to doubt it, so therefore I believe it. [nods]

    So, I’m willing to accept skeptics of ALL shapes and sizes. :D

    — Craig

  21. @spurge: Because you are the one making the claim? A claim I have not seen before, instead seeing the variation I cited (i.e. that it’s not a testable claim, but falls to Occam’s Razor, and infinitemonkey’s noted infinite regression problem)?

  22. @Necrosynth: Maybe there is a direct quote somewhere, but I don’t think I’ve heard PZ or others that say faith is a “weakness to be conquered” (although it’s possible). Mostly what I hear from big-name atheist skeptics is that faith is an area where you choose not to apply skepticism, and that you shouldn’t expect others to compartmentalize like that. I heard DJ Groethe interview James Randi about Martin Gardner (man that’s a lot of names in one sentence!), where he talked about this very thing. Gardner was something of a deist, and according to Randi, was very open about the fact that he was aware that he had an area of his mind where he chose not to be skeptical because it made him feel good, and he was ok with that. I don’t know who among us would have the balls to say that Martin Gardner was not a skeptic.

    I imagine it must be really annoying , if you are a believer, to have people that you mostly agree with and identify with constantly calling you a hypocrite. I do think that some people tend to be pretty unnecessarily mean about it, and I think they should curb it a bit, especially when it’s not relevant to what’s being discussed. But it’s kind of unreasonable to expect that all other skeptics should never question or criticize or generally apply skepticism to your religious beliefs just because you’ve chosen not to. And if someone doesn’t see any more evidence for Jesus than they do for homeopathy, are they supposed to just keep their mouths shut about it just because it brings you comfort? If so, should I also keep my mouth shut about the Secret? Because that seems to bring my boyfriend’s mom a lot of comfort. Should I not point out that there is no evidence for it because she agrees with me on vaccinations and Scientology? Where do we draw the line for things we are allowed to be vocally skeptical about because someone else believes in them?

    If it’s important to you, stand and fight, or ignore it. Don’t just complain that atheism is outside of the realm of skepticism and that atheists are mean. That is seen as further evidence that you have no real rational arguments in your favor, and a basic admission that you aren’t being a skeptic. I have read Pharyngula. Crying “atheists hurt my feelings” just makes PZ mock you harder.

    *requisite disclaimer: please do not take my observation of the behavior and tactics of pharyngulites as a sign of my approval of them.

  23. @Garbledina: I think a lot of it comes back to the social politics of it (cue Rebecca’s “Don’t be a Dick” movies). If person you work with says “I’ll pray for you” about a difficulty you’re having, that doesn’t require you to bust out the pie charts and Power Points… they’re wishing you well, and if you think it primitive and backwards, you’re still a dick if you tell them that.

    If they start insisting that Catholics are the only group its acceptable to discriminate against (because they, as a Catholic, think they’re being discriminated against), it may be time to show some counter-examples (little things, like the law of the State of Arizona, or attempts to enshrine stupidity in the Texas constitution).

    If they start interrogating you about your faith… yeah, bust a skeptical move on them. Whip out your science dick and smack ’em with it.

    It is matching the level of aggressiveness with a like level of aggressiveness. That’s really the objection that most often comes up… it’s not that you’re WRONG, it’s that you’re launching the nukes because a fly is bothering you.

  24. Skepticism isn’t a club. It’s about how you see the world and how you evaluate ideas, claims & beliefs.

    And it’s not binary. There’s an axiom that’s often brought up in the “community” that none of us is – or can be – entirely skeptical about everything. This means that people who consider themselves skeptics won’t always agree on everything. This is especially going to be the case when it comes to subjects on which there is not an obvious scientific consensus or skeptical conclusion.

    Another important thing to remember is that in any “community”, there are going to be some of arseholes. In a large “community” in which the majority of individuals think they’re smart, there are going to be a lot of arseholes. Furthermore, the people who are most vocal are often going to be those who are the most self-assured and opinionated.

    I’m not a sociable person, so I don’t go to the meetings or anything, but I’m still a skeptic. I don’t need to be part of a club for that. Even if everyone else who identified with that label was a complete dick, it wouldn’t change the way I think; I think for myself, and that’s the whole point.

    Don’t assume that just because you have something in common with someone, you’ll get on; but if you don’t get on, don’t let that put you off the thing you have in common. It doesn’t define either of you, and neither of you define it.

  25. @Mark Hall: Yeah, I think that’s sort of what I’m trying to say. I just didn’t get to the point very well. I do see some degree of, “How can you debunk hauntings? You believe in Yahweh, stupid.,” which I think is wrong-headed and counter-productive. But I think it is appropriate sometimes when someone says, very specifically, “belief in evolution does not preclude belief in a creator,” to say, “while that is superficially true, there is no more evidence for a creator that created the genome than there is for one that made people out of dirt, when it comes down to it.” To point that out isn’t being shrill or mean. But some people seem to see those 2 scenarios as being equally dickish, and I don’t think that’s very inclusive or productive, either. There’s more than one way to be a skeptic, and there are just as many ways to be a dick.

    edit: I just followed your link and spit coffee all over myself. That was awesome!

  26. I think the rule should be “Don’t be a dick FIRST.” Like the Tit-for-Tat strategy in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, Remember the words of Red Green: “We’re all in this together.”

  27. @Edgar:

    I’m not a sociable person, so I don’t go to the meetings or anything, but I’m still a skeptic. I don’t need to be part of a club for that.

    Yes! I’ve been trying to find a good way to say this for months. Skepticism is a description of how you view the world, not which organizations you belong to or meetings you attend (or don’t).

  28. @spurge: This is completely relavent. And, you’re right, it is an argument from ingorance, but both sides have it. They both have the same number of unknowns to add, so they both pass/fail Occam’s razor by the same amount. We either have to find a way to add support to one argument, or detract from another. But, then, there are an infinite number of other things which could have caused it.

    In essance, the answer “I don’t know” leaves the door open to all possible explanations. It could have been a god, or the collision of two other universes, or a black hole from another universe, or etc. We can’t rule any one out. They all have the same problems, in the same amounts.

  29. @Mark Hall: I love that quote, and PZ was right, that essay was well worth the read. The above-mentioned boyfriend’s mom is very into Chopra-woo, and a lot of quantum-spirituality, Secret-style nonsense. She is well past the point of no return, we think. She is always pointing out, apropos of nothing, how science is wrong because it’s always changing its mind, and quantum physicists, etc. are just now re-discovering what “spiritual people have always known.” I asked her at Christmas, when I had one glass of wine too many and was being kind of a dick (something I am deeply ashamed of), if she thought thinking the earth was spherical was just as wrong as thinking it was flat, and she said, “Yes!” Things went downhill from there…

    Anyway, I see that you meant that as a chastisement for my comparison of creationism and intelligent design. However, I feel it’s a bad analogy. I don’t think a god-of-the-gaps argument based on retreating into the place where our scientific knowledge is weaker and there’s still room for fuzziness, is really comparable to refinement of a scientific theory based on further evidence. And I’m not advocating telling anyone who ever raises any notions of spirituality that there is no evidence for anything they think. I am saying that if someone wants to put forth an argument as to the validity of ANYTHING, that argument is open to criticism. That’s the nature of ideas. And that criticism is open to refutation.

  30. I went all stupid and pedantic, and almost forgot to say, thank you,@SpiralArchitect: , for seeing past how lame and unwelcoming we can be sometimes. I remember the first thing I ever read on Skepchick. It was an afternoon inquisition, a while ago now, about what silly, unsupportable thing you believed, even though you were skeptical about all kinds of other things. I thought about it long and hard at the time, but I never answered it. I will answer it now:

    I firmly believe, with all my heart, that food tastes better when you make it with love. Don’t ask me about the mechanism by which that works. I know there isn’t one. It’s a totally ridiculous claim. But you should taste my pumpkin pie!

    Now, who do I see about handing in my skeptic badge?

  31. When it comes to who can call themselves a skeptic – Dude! I swear I saw one of the guys on GhostHunters call himself a skeptic.
    I’m not sure that word means what you think it means…

  32. @infinitemonkey:
    “you’re right, it is an argument from ingorance, but both sides have it. “

    It really depends what brand of Religion and what brand of atheism you are talking about.
    I would say that a lot of Atheists can be classified under Bertrand Russell’s Atheism. That is they are actually Agnostics and use the label Atheist to signify that they find the existence of a deity unlikely.
    I would say that quite a number of Theists, Deists etc, are also agnostics, that is they don’t know, but they find it comforting, sensible or have some other reason o believe. And I guess that’s fine.

    There is still a difference between the Deistic and Atheistic opinion however. The Deist has to accept additional premises while the atheist does not. (note you do not even need a specific alternative as agnosticism about the beginning of reality is perfectly consistent) And the more premises you add without evidence the less likely it will be, that you will choose a set of premises that are consistent with reality. As long as there is an underlying agnosticism under these believes I don’t really have a problem, but the moment it becomes a Dogma whether its Religious or non religious its simply not a skeptically defendable position anymore.

    The least anyone in a skeptical community should do is at the very minimum concede a certain level of agnosticism about their own believes.

  33. @Garbledina:
    Thank you for the thank you.

    What I realized is the group of people who can be quite unwelcoming seem to only comprise a small portion of the skeptical community. What I found hard to overcome is, although they are a small portion, they have a very loud voice.

  34. @infinitemonkey: In essance, the answer “I don’t know” leaves the door open to all possible explanations. It could have been a god, or the collision of two other universes, or a black hole from another universe, or etc. We can’t rule any one out.

    I can’t think of many atheists who would disagree with you. I’ve only come across a few atheists who would say otherwise, and I think that they just traded one form of fundamentalism for another. The latter atheist is definitely in the minority. The former will freely admit that they don’t know.

    Agnostic atheists are agnostics because they do not know that there is a God, or think it may be impossible to know. They are atheists because the theistic arguments are unconvincing.

    The atheistic arguments themselves are not convincing in proving that there is no God (preventing atheists from claiming victory via philosophical arguments), but are effective in pointing out how particular God concepts are internally contradictory, incoherent, or fail to match up with reality. Some concepts can be dismissed (e.g. immaterial being that exists timelessly, is a perfect creator, omnimax attributes, perfect justice and mercy). The simpler ones (typically deistic concepts) may be ruled out via reason, but we still have no evidence for their existence.

    At some point in our investigation, something is going to have to exist by necessity; a brute fact, if you will. One side posits a being, a mind, if you will, as existing eternally and creating the universe. On the other, there are various natural models proposing that complexity arises out of simplicity, such as chaotic inflation theory. A quantum fluctuation is much simpler than a mind for a variety of reasons.

    I have good reasons to support the natural models over the supernatural. But, we don’t know. There’s much more for us to learn, and my mind remains open to reason and evidence provided by theists.

  35. Oops. In my 3rd paragraph, I meant to say: “The simpler ones (typically deistic concepts) may not be ruled out via reason, but we still have no evidence for their existence.

  36. “First, there are the Atheists who proclaim no one with a religious belief should have anything to with Skepticism, because a believer is not a “True Skeptic”.”

    Are there? Who are these atheists? I’ll gladly point out that someone who believes in a deity (or ghosts, or bigfoot, or ESP) and claims to be a skeptic is, unless they have some extraordinary evidence to which the rest of us are not yet privy, being selective in their application of skepticism. I treat religion like any other woo-woo belief, and for that I am not ashamed in any way. I’m sick of the tendency of many skeptics to walk on tip-toes around this particular subject, and worse, the expectation that others should as well. But it doesn’t mean I, or any other atheists that I’m aware of, think that religious people should be shunned by the skeptical movement.

  37. Ah yes, the “no true skeptic” argument.

    The thing that EVERY skeptic need to remember THERE IS SOMETHING THAT YOU ARE NOT A SKEPTIC ABOUT. Ghosts, conspiracies, sports team affiliation, folk remedies, etc.
    Atheism is just the one that everybody is getting their knickers in a twist over right now.

    Everyone has at least one. I have seen perfectly rational people being attacked as NOT A SKEPTIC because they express doubts about the finality of anthropogenic climate change (James Randi), argue from a libertarian point of view (Michael Shermer), think the “new atheists” should chill a bit (Massimo Pigliucci among others), and suggest that video games can’t be art (PZ Myers).

    These people are OBVIOUSLY not skeptics at all. They need to stop pretending.

  38. @SpiralArchitect:
    What I found hard to overcome is, although they are a small portion, they have a very loud voice.

    Try going to Bears game wearing your Packers jersey.
    Most Bears fans will give you all sort of shit and rib you for it, but you might want to be carrying something that can be used as a weapon for the small portion, they tend to have more that a loud voice. ;)

  39. Yowza! You were firing with both barrels on this one, Brian! Glad it was said, too.

    The ironic thing is that a major portion of what you wrote was that we should be guarding against getting bogged down in the minutiae (atheism/theism, which has been done to death), and come together and fight the causes we all agree on, and yet huge swaths of this very comment thread got bogged down in the atheism/theism issue.

    Sad, really.

    Still, good post, Brian.

  40. The Atheists who are anti-believer are the other extreme in the spectrum. They are no different than Christians who call Atheists evil.

    I have been a dedicated skeptic for years, I call myself agnostic, but deny being an atheist. In fact, I hate that word and want it thrown out of the English language. Why? Because in order to even be an atheist, rejecting belief in God, you must know something about God. To deny something with0ut knowing anything about it is as nonsensical as beleiving in it without question. You are born with no beliefs at all and you become a believer in something as a result of education. Including belief in ATHEISM! I have heard atheism defined as simply “lacking belief in God”. That is fucking nonsense, because then we would all be BORN atheist! You know what I call that idea? A DOGMA, just as irrational as any religious dogma you could name! The only atheism I will ever recognize is “the BELIEF that there is NO God”. If you are neutral about the issue, neither beleiving in nor denying the existence of God, you are agnostic like me. I can do this because, like Carl Sagan before me, I say that, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Religion require faith to have it, or it would not be religion. That includes theism. Those New Atheist fanatics who argue that because theism has never been proven to their satisfaction that it is “delusional” and “stupid” are being just as bigoted and arrogant as the religious fundamentalists. And I will fight against them, the New Atheists too.

  41. Atheism is to deism in skepticism as anti abortion is to pro life is to the populace at large:
    opinions and beliefs will be formed and influenced early and changed occasionally over a course of one’s lifetime.

    It will always POTENTIALLY be polarizing because no matter what the proponents believe it’s not about logic and reasoning ( though the process may have led one to their present belief ), it’s the emotional connection to the support of one’s belief that will cause conflict. Cognitive dissonance will always pull at the reigns whenever there is debate or discussion regarding the topics above.

    We are either an inclusive club, in which the only criteria is that we form our opinions based on evidence and critical thinking and whenever possible, the scientific method to the best of our abilities or we’e not. But that doesn’t mean we all must come to the same conclusions. We must agree on the process and we must conherently and non threateningly discuss our conclusions, ESPECIALLY when we disagree. Religion is something we will all never agree about.


    But skepticism is not about religion perse’. It’s about the process of how to think and problem solve; however, if policy or effects on our community are the result of religious dogma or religious misuse , or then we, as skeptics, MUST rely on OUR process to undo the danger, just as we should try to undo any danger to our world based on faulty logic or unproven facts.

    To each his own, I say, unless that ownership is a direct threat. Being religious is not a threat to me. Acting dangerously is, no matter what the acts are based upon.

  42. What if I don’t really care? I’d rather discuss the science about issues than whether it is important to not believe in the sky fairy or Thor.

  43. @Dale Husband:

    Atheism is the lack of belief in deities not the belief that there are no gods. You can disregard that if you like, but that’s the truth. Theism is the belief in deities and Atheism is the absence of that belief. That’s what the ‘a’ means. In the same way we use the ‘a’ in apolitical or asexual.

    Although I don’t think that you have to be an Atheist to be a Skeptic, I do think that skeptical thinking will lead to Atheism. Atheism is the skeptical position. It’s the null hypothesis. There is no evidence of deities yet, so we have yet to reject it. I agree with the above commenter who is sick of having to tiptoe around people’s sacred beliefs. If people’s theism is so logical and evidence based then they should defend it, not complain about the mean Atheists picking on them.

  44. I think it’s important to separate the epistemological from the social here. There are two separate issues here:

    1) Is religious faith as a mindset compatible with scepticism as a mindset. I’d argue it isn’t, the sceptically correct position toward a positive claim that lacks evidence is to reject it.

    2) How to deal with a fellow sceptic who disagrees? I don’t think insults, mockery or attempting them to ostracise them for movement scepticism is an appropriate response in most cases (now if they were an out-and-out fundie, it might be different). The louder members of the sceptical and atheist community have their place, but in one-on-one situations or in social gatherings I don’t think that approach is effective. I would make a good attempt to persuade my interlocutor that their epistemology is sub-optimal, but at the end of the day I’d like to be able to call them a fried afterward.

    Anger has its place, but that place isn’t everywhere.

  45. @Some Canadian Skeptic: I have a hard time ever believing something can be “done to death” and still be wreaking havoc on the world. :/ Religion is one of the most terrorizing forces in the world, and it’s basis is not rational. If skeptics won’t stare it down without restraint, who will?

    As for my two cents, I really dislike the “atheism is just another belief system” road of reasoning. Skeptical atheists don’t claim to have a belief in a supernatural power, because the evidence doesn’t point to that.

    Skeptics (and most atheists I’ve met/read) would change their beliefs if the evidence warranted.

    Dogmatists (and *true believers*) warp and bend any evidence to try to fit into preconceived notions.

  46. (for fun)

    I am beginning to doubt the need to doubt. Does anyone have any convincing evidence that evidence is actually convincing?

    For instance, in the Singh case it was clear that chiropractic evidence was actually anecdote. On reflection, this means that my entire experience of life is anecdote, and should be dismissed, as should everyone else’s.

    So if a scientist advises me that evidence is essential, surely their experience is anecdotal and therefore unreliable?

    More importantly, some recent studies (ref Bad Science) have shown that superstition improves fnord performance. We already know that the placebo effect is ‘real’, as is regression to the mean.

    So I’m coming to the conclusion that I should embrace some amusing superstition (possibly cake-based) and perhaps some harmless form of alternative therapy (again, perhaps involving cakes) – while still following the advice of my physician – and simply waiting for anything anomalous to regress itself away, meanwards.

    Or I could be a skeptic, I guess.

  47. @Amy: Aw, thanks. My first comment on Skepchick, as well! Don’t I feel special. :)

    The hats are a great idea, but I think we should get special sunglasses.

    I may be saying that because my sunglasses just broke.

    …and bright sunlight makes me sneeze. :(

  48. @Mark Hall and @Garbledina: I hadn’t read the whole essay before, and I love how Asimov comparably quantifies the wrongness of the flat Earth theory, the spherical Earth theory, and, very approximately and in passing, the oblate spheroid theory.

    I also love that Mark’s comment is the 42nd in this thread…

  49. @Mick: Not atheists- “New Atheist fanatics”. I’m happy for you if you honestly haven’t met one of these people. They can be utter *sshats. But they do exist. You don’t have to walk on tip toes around religion, you just have to respect other humans. Debate the beliefs, not the person. We all have our blind spots on skepticism- we’re human, not Borg.

    Note- I’m using the general “you” not the specific “you” in this comment.

  50. I am so happy for this post. It expressed how I have been feeling quite while.

    I am probably not a skeptic. I don’t know what the requirements are, but I know for sure I at least violate some of them.

    I am agnostic. In the “one who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God” definition. Worse, I would like to believe there is a god (but I can’t believe it, not with conviction). It’s a weird topic for me. I have theories. I think all faiths are kind of just theories. Something to help understand unfathomable things. People just need different degrees of help understanding. I also don’t always disbelieve the woo-woo in regards to supernatural things, but it doesn’t hurt anything else in my life.

    I go to a chiropractor. Shock! I know that it’s entirely possible a lot of it is crap, but I know that I feel better when I leave. I’m okay with placebo effects (mostly because there’s still no real treatment for the illness I have – another thing I’ve had the impression some people would deny is real).

    I am a libertarian, which is apparently a bad thing, although I still haven’t figured out why (I haven’t read the archives yet, but once I do, I’ll see if there is an answer there).

    But, I still read this blog. I have learned a lot, and some of my opinions have changed as a result of reading it (and some haven’t, but that’s just how it goes).

    I will probably never be a skeptic, but that’s mostly because the minority that overwhelms the majority with their cliquery is frankly just too high-school for me.

    And hey, who knows, maybe someday we’ll prove without doubt that there was never a god, and I’ll decide that feeling better isn’t worth the money for a placebo, and I’ll hear something that will completely skew my political compass.
    Maybe when that happens, I’ll fit the skeptic mold.

    Until then, I can learn without having a label on me.

  51. @Dale Husband:
    “I have heard atheism defined as simply “lacking belief in God”. That is fucking nonsense”

    lol, sure, just ignore all the dictionary definitions and all the different types of atheist and just insist that all people who label themselves as atheists conform to your narrow view. I would recommend you read a Wikipedia article before you throw a huge variety of views into one little box, because it seems to me that you as an Agnostic are being more ignorant and abusive in regard to Atheists, then even your fantasy Atheist majority is towards Theists.
    At least I don’t throw all people of any kind of believe into the same box..

  52. @Garbledina: That depends on what you mean by a belief in towels. I think it’s well established that they exist, and although I haven’t read any papers on rigorous scientific testings of them, the reasons given by Ford for a towel being the single most important item a hitch-hiker can keep with him, seem sound.

    On the other hand “unquestioning” and “dogmatic” don’t go well with other skeptics, so they may try to revoke your imaginary skeptic card.

  53. @BrieCS:

    Sorry, I just can’t let it go when someone says that they are libertarian. I won’t lay into you over it (I’m not trying to derail the thread!), but even cursory examination of libertarian ideals led me to see very quickly that those ideals are bad bad bad. I hope that you do look into it, and I hope that you take a hard look at what the detractors of libertarianism have to say- there are some very important facets to it that would lead to a very ugly place.

    As a caveat, I am referring to the current U.S. version of libertarianism.

  54. @Elizabeth: It’s been done to death because

    1) No progress has been made in settling the skepticism/atheism/theism divide. None.

    2) Atheism has its champions. Loud ones, powerful ones, and they’re a fantastic job. The onus is not on scientific skepticism to tell religious people that they’re being irrational.

    3) While skeptics fight over who is and who isn’t a legitimate skeptic because of their personal theism (Pamela Gay and Hal Bidlack come to mind), homeopathy, naturopathy, anti-vaccination don’t get the attention they deserve to be brought down.

    While people bitch and moan about “why does religion get a free pass?”, the irony is that they are the ones handing out free passes to homeopathy, naturopathy, anti-vaccination, creationism and other pseudo-scientific modalities.

  55. Late to the game but had to respond to all of this.

    @Necrosynth: Faith is a bad thing and should be “conquered”. Show me show scenarios where faith is a good thing without a high potential for negative consequences.

    @infinitemonkey: What does atheism have to do with the BB theory? That’s what creationists do when arguing with atheists; try and bring in evolution and BB theory. Atheism makes no claims and offers no answers to anything. Like not believing in bigfoot or the toothfairy not believing in gods is just that; a lack of belief. People don’t want to accept that for some reason (maybe because it takes away their strawman argument that atheists say there are no gods).
    The quick and dirty analogy is the courtroom. Objectively someone is either innocent or guilty but the court can’t know that (agnostic). They can only show evidence to believe beyond reasonable doubt that they are guilty (there is a god(s)) or that there isn’t enough evidence to accept their guilt (lack belief in god(s)). The latter isn’t the same as saying they didn’t do the crime (gods don’t exist) only that there isn’t sufficient evidence to say they did (god(s) exist)

    I’m sure their are a few atheist skeptics out there who say that you have to be an atheist to be a skeptic but I haven’t seen them. So if people would be kind enough to point me to those people I can get on board with this idea. But until then it really seems like people are complaining about a select few no name skeptics and not anybody prominent or influential.

    Note, this shouldn’t be confused with saying that someone isn’t being skeptical about their religious belief. Not skeptical about religious belief doesn’t equal not a skeptic.

    It’s comes down to who is correct really. Can’t both be and being the inquisitive skeptics that we are we should get to the bottom of it. You see other very rational people and see that they do/don’t accept something that you yourself do/don’t it should be in higher priority to figure out who’s correct. If you can show me reasons to believe I will. If you claim that you accept on faith then you’re admitting to not being skeptical. It would be the same as someone believing in the toothfairy or ghosts or the invisible dragon in my garage on faith. If that’s the case don’t whine that people aren’t “respecting” that.

    In conclusion I agree that one can believe in gods or religion and be a skeptic, just not when it comes to those particular beliefs. If you really feel that there are objective reasons to accept such things, you should be taking it upon yourself to enlighten your fellow skeptics (the readership here is 70 or 80% atheist; which *may* be indicative of the entire movement) And religious claims are just like any other claim. Don’t ask for special treatment or for more respect than you give when talking about homeopathy or creationism.

  56. @Some Canadian Skeptic: BS. I don’t give give free passes to alt. modalities just because I talk about this idiotic divide. You’re creating an odd false dichotomy where if one talks about one thing they can never address another. I mean hell, you’re talking about it right now! Why are you giving the homeopathy bastards a free ride?

    Did you ever think to answer the question why do we give religion a free pass instead of ignoring it and calling it a waste of time? It’s a real question. And the reason I ask it is because religion causes harm too and no one can seem to cogently explain why we don’t address it. But you’re right, why should I care about the reasons behind our actions or rather inactions?

  57. @Advocatus Diaboli: Precisely, Christians are atheists regarding all other gods that have ever been worshiped or postulated in history, except their one particular god. So an atheist has just added one more god to the list, and as others have said before, why should one more god on a list of those you don’t believe in result in obnoxious behavior, it’s beyond me.

    Great rant Brian.

  58. @infinitemonkey
    Yes, there is the problem of infinite regression. But unlike the God hypothesis, the big bang has tons of evidence behind it, including the microwave background radiation, the redshift of galaxies, the percentage of hydrogen and helium, and there are the particle colliders that are delving deeper and deeper into the big bang. While we may or may never know what was before the big bang, I would say that our knowledge of how our present day universe came into being is very established. Which is why I think the big bang tells us so much more about our universe than God does.

  59. @IBY: I think infinitemonkey was questioning what existed *before* the BB, not the BB itself. I.E. in the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded, or in the beginning, god created nothing, which exploded. (I am aware the universe didn’t actually explode, it inflated…) Or in the beginning, branes collided, which caused an 11 or 12-dimensional space-time singularity, which exploded, because the FSM reached out with his noodly appendage and created strings, aka spaghetti-os.

  60. Sad to see so many people saying that there’s too much emphasis on atheism in the skeptical community for several reasons:

    1) Most skeptics are fine with deists and the otherwise mildly religious (even PZ), but we will call out people if they try to make religious claims that are unsupported by reality. If you believe this is the wrong course to take, explain why religious claims should get a special pass, please.

    2) I live in a country where I couldn’t be honest about my lack of belief and run for pretty much any political office anywhere. I would probably be fired from many jobs in many parts of the country if it became known that I was an atheist. The fact that you feel that a disorganized “club” of rationalists would rather not give more priviledge to religion than it already has does not inspire a lot of empathy in me.

    3) Giving religion a pass makes people say stupid things like:

    “Both Theism and Atheism have the same problem-infinite regression. With any type of religion, there’s the question “where did that god come from?” With Atheism and the Big Bang theory, you still have “Where did the singularity come from?”*

    These things are frustrating to deal with when coming from the public at large, having to deal with this nonsense from within is downright maddening.

    4) Many complainers (including the above ranter) self-identify as agnostics (don’t know if there’s a god) even though they are, by all accounts, atheists (don’t believe in a god, don’t live as if they believe in a god), thus buying into anti-atheist predjudice while getting mad at those who have the gall not to. Atheist and agnostic are not two seperate camps, they refer to different things. Most atheists are, to some degree, agnostic: we don’t know with absolute certainty that there is no god, we just strongly suspect that there isn’t one and therefore don’t believe there is one. Elyse, I find it a bit distressing that you didn’t mention this to your husband.

    *The difference (obvious to most without religious blinders on), is that the atheist wouldn’t say “THE UNIVERSE CAME FROM THE BIG BANG. DO NOT QUESTION THE BIG BANG. THE BIG BANG IS UNKNOWABLE AND MYSTERIOUS AND ANYONE WHO SUGGESTS OTHER IDEAS IS A HERETIC.” More likely we would say “the best explanation that we have so far based on mathematical models, observations of objects in the universe, and what we know about physics is the big bang. Hopefully someday astrophysicists will come up with a more complete model when we find ways of collecting better evidence. What happened before the Big Bang? Well, there are some ideas that seem plausible but are as-of-yet unconfirmed by evidence, so basically we don’t know. Hopefully our research into particle physics will reveal new things about the behavior of matter in those conditions so that we can have a more complete picture” Atheists are generally (though not all) people who look to the scientific consensus for thruths about the universe. Unless you want to make the dunderheaded “science is a religion too” argument, you don’t have much of a leg to stand on here.

  61. @mikerattlesnake:

    I explained to my husband on many occasions that skeptic does not equal atheist. Based on what he saw coming out of the online skeptic community, he didn’t buy it. He also made the mistake of assuming that atheist = skeptic, which he now knows is not true.

    One of the things that kept him from getting actively involved in the skeptical community was the fact that he does not identify as an atheist, and doesn’t care at all about what to call himself, and didn’t think he had a place here.

    Now, he understands that. And he’s annoyed that the “skeptics must be atheists” message is keeping people out of the movement. And the reality is that whatever you want to believe about the origin of the universe is irrelevant so long as you’re not claiming it’s 6000 years old or some shit. There is real life-saving work to be done here… the anti-vax crowd is louder and more powerful than ever. Babies are dying in the to-be worst whooping cough outbreak in over 50 years. People are attempting to cure their cancer with herbs and The Secret. Preschoolers are getting chelation and being chemically castrated in an attempt to cure autism because of really bad information. Abstinence only education is leaving teens pregnant and riddled with STDs. Albinos are being hunted in Africa because their body parts are believed to cure AIDS.

    And instead we’re arguing over semantics and who gets to learn the secret handshake.

    I don’t think, and Brian doesn’t think, that religion is above scrutiny, but it’s more productive to pick our battles against it. If you believe a benevolent creator at some point created the universe, who cares?

    I’ll take Pamela Gay and Hal Bidlack anyday (except Sunday when they’re at church praying for my soul) over Bill Maher (who I won’t take any day because he doesn’t believe in germ theory and probably doesn’t wash his hands after wiping his butt with boogers.)

  62. @Alexrkr7:

    I mean hell, you’re talking about it right now! Why are you giving the homeopathy bastards a free ride?

    I was ultimately trying to pass on a compliment to Brian. But since you asked, here’s some of the stuff we’ve been doing to fight homeopathy and naturopathy. Many of these articles were also re-printed in our national mainstream media outlets. We’re doing our bit. While people were screaming at each other about whether or not “Popegate” was in scope for skepticism, we were fighting World Homeopathy Awareness Week.

    You say that you can spend your energies fighting both. Fine. Many do. Show your work.

    I choose not to rant on against religion because
    a) greater minds do it better than I do (Dawkins is worth a million of me)
    b) I have to consider the economy of my energies. Am I likely to get people to listen to my thoughts on homeopathy or vaccines while in the next breath I call them illogical? Doubtful.
    c) I find the derision and ridicule against anyone who identifies as a theist to be distasteful, and I want nothing to do with that kind of behavior.

  63. @mikerattlesnake:

    I second that.
    Only thing I would add is that there are of course some atheists who are complete dicks, but that is no reason to dismiss all atheists as dicks.
    I don’t dismiss all religious people as ignorant and delusional, because of Creationists and People who actually hear voices. Far, far from it.

    I can still have respect for people who have views that differ to me. But its not consistent with skepticism to believe in Prayer healing, talking snakes, speaking in tongues, Noah’s flood or even absolute knowledge of gods existence.
    No matter how you look at it its not skepticism.
    I don’t think we should give people shit for those things, but if you come to a skeptical event and bring these things up you cant expect people to just sit there and swallow it.
    Its exactly the same as if somebody decided to bring up Bigfoot at a skeptics event.

    I think the only logical position about God, (and bigfoot btw) is agnosticism although that is not inconsistent with either Atheism or Theism.

  64. @buzz parsec
    I wasn’t questioning infinitemonkey’s belief in the big bang. I was questioning the logic behind the idea that the big bang and the god idea are both equally correct or equally wrong. Just because one doesn’t know what happened before does not excuse covering the gap with a slight of hand. What I mean is, instead of just assuming there is a god, one should try to hold that thought until someone discovers a clue of what could be behind the big bang. So far, there is no clue, so the only thing we can conclude as for now is that the universe expanded from a small point. But is that small point a singularity? It is doubtful because physics as of now is unable to deal with cases when matter is super compressed.

    Now, I am not saying someone shouldn’t come up with a creative idea to explain it. But god hasn’t led to fruitful discoveries. As far as I can tell, it has only been used to cover for things that are astounding to the minds of people. There are phenomena so mindboggling that the only explanation is god, and that is a mentality which I don’t like. How many occasions had there been where things that were once used to be explained with god are now fully explainable? My guess is, a lot. Think about it, some thought the sun was a god, but after centuries of discoveries, we managed to find out more about stars than we could have ever imagined.

    That is my problem with the god hypothesis when compared to the I don’t know responses. Because “I don’t know” leaves room for exploration which doesn’t involve a highly improbable being that has no chance of being checked. So, when you see a ring of mushrooms, don’t just assume that a bunch of fairies did it. Firstly, it sounds silly, and secondly, fairies are extremely improbable beings which somehow escaped detection. If something is that easily able to escape detection despite them having cool powers, my guess is, they don’t exist.

  65. @agrunolocytosis
    I second that part where you say that even for bigfoot.

    I agree with you, although such things always manage to worm in into my head. :)

  66. @Alexrkr7: One scenario where faith was a good thing- art. The Sistine Chapel. Handel’s Messiah. Notre Dame Cathedral. Alumbra. Hindu and Buddhist temples. Klezzmer music. Where’s the negative in those things?

  67. @spurge:

    Whether or not he’s too stupid to understand what the word “atheist” means does not change the fact that he is, indeed, an atheist. One doesn’t become an atheist upon declaration.

    Either way… booger poo. I’d rather not have anything in common with him at all.

  68. @Elyse:

    You are wrong.

    “I’m not an atheist. There’s a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn’t believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don’t need. But I’m not an atheist, no. I believe there’s some force. If you want to call it God… I don’t believe God is a single parent who writes books.”

  69. @OneHandClapping:

    I’m not 100% sure if I fit into the standard US Libertarian definition. I know I don’t 100% agree with them, either. I agree with the Libertarian party’s statement:
    “We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”
    I know that most of them don’t actually follow that principle. I don’t like plenty of libertarians (big OR little L), but I don’t like a lot of Dems or Reps or Greens, either. I find myself in a strange place on the political spectrum.

    I am always trying to learn more. Libertarian is just kind of where I fell when it came to what they are supposed to be, but not necessarily what they are.

  70. Many of you are arguing against ridiculous strawmen and completely buying into mainstream anti-atheist bigotry (they’re militant, they’re angry, they hate everyone who is religious). Who are these atheists performing a skeptical inquisition, hunting down each and every skeptic and demanding to know their beliefs about god? I’ve never met them. Here’s what actually happens in skeptical communities:

    New person shows up. New person is pro-vax, anti-quackery, intelligent, and a good skeptic about most things. At some point, some religious belief comes up (perhaps ridiculed, perhaps debunked, often because there is a negative behavior associated with that belief*) and they defend it… or maybe they bring up a religious explanation for a phenomenon that is not supported by evidence in a non-religious discussion. The community rejects that idea and explains why they reject it, that person continues to insist that the community owes them some sort of priviledged consideration, and the community disagrees, demands some sort of non-supernatural evidence, the skeptics get called intolerant, and the person storm off.

    Now, that person can continue to call themselves a skeptic, they can join one of the many accomodationist skeptical groups, and they can continue to fight for good causes. We don’t have a bible, we don’t have a pope, and we don’t have any sort of charter for taking away skeptic badges. I understand that this may seem unfamiliar to the religious, but it doesn’t have any bearing on how we operate. I, for one, am ecstatic to have a community where religious thought is not the norm and I will never, in the context of skepticism treat religion with kid gloves.

    There are plenty of people in my life who are intelligent, thoughtful, kind, inspirational, and, yes, religious. I have learned a lot from them, and I have respect for them. That doesn’t give any belief they happen to have a free pass. They are welcome to be skeptical activists, but if they are offended by justified criticism of religion, they should find a group that is better suited to them. Heck, there’s nothing wrong with having a catholic pro-vax or evolution discussion group that meets at your church.

    *rarely is there a post on pharyngula that just says “religion sux” with a horde of people chortling afterwards. Usually it’s in the context of religion infiltrating science education, defiance of blasphemy laws and proclamations, reaction to creationism/young-earth/anti-evo nonsense being pushed in the mainstream media, etc. In other words it’s a response. We are rarely instigators. Most atheists believe in absolute freedom of religion for individuals and would never speak out if religion was not unduly infiltrating our lives.

    @elyse: I was actually referring to the atheist/agnostic false dichotomy, not the skeptic/atheist one.

  71. Atheism is the lack of belief in deities not the belief that there are no gods. You can disregard that if you like, but that’s the truth. Theism is the belief in deities and Atheism is the absence of that belief. That’s what the ‘a’ means. In the same way we use the ‘a’ in apolitical or asexual.

    Then what would you call outright denial of any god? Anti-theism? Then as a matter of Truth in Advertising, many of those who call themselves “atheists” should call themselves anti-theists and be done with it. And do you really believe that a baby is born atheist? Based on what evidence? If you have no evidence for that, it is indeed a dogma, so the claim that atheists are non-dogmatic is debunked. And do you deny the principle that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”? Why or why not?

    It’s just like those people who define agnosticism as simply not claiming to have knowledge of God’s existence or non-existence. But that would apply to nearly all people and thus there would be nothing special about agnosticism. Belief is not knowledge.

    What the New Atheists have done is try to make both atheism and agnosticism look more popular than they really are. But they shoot themselves in the foot when they do. And they will pay for that.

  72. The fact that there are regulars at pharyngula who consider themselves religious and are among the most respected of the commentors (I know there are several, I can only think of Calli(?… I’m bad with names) at the moment) pretty much destroys the whole “skeptics kick out religious people” meme. If someone chooses to leave because they can’t stand to see their sacred cows tipped now and again (and god forbid they defend those beliefs rationally), that’s not really our concern. If someone chooses to stay and debate on our terms, we’re all the better for it.

  73. @mikerattlesnake:

    Who are these atheists performing a skeptical inquisition, hunting down each and every skeptic and demanding to know their beliefs about god?

    You may have missed it, but just a few weeks ago many, many skeptics were jumping down the throat of Dr. Pamela Gay (including PZ Myers and frequent Skepchick commenter, Sethmanapio) for her theism, and her clarification.

    The hostility we show to our own friends is pretty apparent, and enough to turn anyone off.

  74. @Garbledina: I’m not persecuting anyone. I’m just the messenger. If you want to hang on to your “mysterious” skeptic card, fine. Mysterious skeptic cards aren’t real anyways, the real skeptic cards are the imaginary ones, and yours has been revoked. Or so I will be told if “they” look into your dogmatism and unquestioningism… unquestioningity?

  75. @Dale Husband: this is what religion can do to an otherwise skeptical mind. Atheists have simple definitions for atheism and agnosticism that make sense linguisticly and in practical application and you fall all over yourself trying to call us dogmatists, to prove to yourself that we are also a religion and therefore… terrible? And you end with a vague threat? Dang.

    As for your first paragraph, anti-theists do call themselves anti-theists. So, there you go. Nice use of bold btw.

  76. I’m going to play the Spiral Architect Reader Rant drinking game.

    Rule 1:
    -Drink every time a commenter misses the point
    Riulw @;
    -i;m tioo driunkl tp tupe

  77. @Some Canadian Skeptic: Did we read the same article? It started out saying that everybody was fine with her being a religious skeptic, and then took seth to task for demanding that we treat her with kid gloves. If she had brough up how awesome souls were on the show, would she have been called an asshole? No one on SGU was ridiculing her directly, nor were they bringing up souls specifically because she was on the show.

    PZ goes on to criticize some parts of her response that he is disappointed with. Nowhere does anyone “jump down her throat”. If she had come out and said “hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that I’m a christian.” It would have gotten no such response. PZ and others responded to particular parts of her blog post that struck them as irrational.

  78. @IBY:
    That is my problem with the god hypothesis when compared to the I don’t know responses. Because “I don’t know” leaves room for exploration which doesn’t involve a highly improbable being that has no chance of being checked.

    “God did it” is the “because I said so” of an imapient parent. It gives no real answer and discourages further inquiry.

  79. @Dale
    How can babies not be atheists when they haven’t exactly developed much of a thought for anything right after they are born? Recently born babies kind of are a-everything.

  80. @mikerattlesnake: The problem with the PZ article is that both PZ and Seth treated Dr. Gay like a special case. Even when she clarified her position that her theism is just a personal affair, the ridicule continued unabated. (“I’m going to come right out and say it: it was incredibly stupid. It’s a great example of how religious belief can poison science education.”).

    If a person acknowledges that their faith is a personal affair, then that’s game over. Pamela did this, and she was continued to be attacked by PZ and his comment thugs.

  81. @mrmisconception:
    Let me try that again.

    “God did it” is the “because I said so” of an impatient parent. It gives no real answers and discourages further inquiry.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy an invisible wallet for all of these imaginary cards I seem to keep acquiring.
    Oops, I dropped my Geek card in the toilet. eeewwww

    Guess I can’t watch Star Trek any more.
    And Torchwood, awww

  82. @Elyse: I love this game.

    @Dale Husband: Yes, as has been mentioned, they do call themselves anti-theists, or “strong atheists.” It’s weird that you feel so strongly about this. And I do identify as an atheist, and I 100% agree that you cannot prove a negative (the “evidence of absence” thing), and although I don’t think there is any reason to believe a higher being of any kind exists, in fact think the probability of it is pretty low, approaching zero, I have not closed myself to possible evidence to the contrary, and will not claim with certainty that there absolutely is no god.

    In fact, I have not heard anyone here make that claim. I am really confused at your assertion that I, and anyone like me, are somehow intellectually dishonest for feeling that “agnostic” connotes slightly less confidence than we really feel about the state of things.

    And how, exactly, are we going to pay?

  83. @Some Canadian Skeptic:
    First let me say that I did not wade all the way through that particular thread. I do find PZ and some of his Minions to be a bit overzealous when there is blood in the water, sort of like a school of pirhana. I don’t remember it being as contentious as you do, but I didn’t read it all.

    I actually have a similar response to Pharyngula as Brian does to the community as a whole. That is why I have yet to post there.

  84. @Garbledina:
    And how, exactly, are we going to pay?

    Hey, don’t worry about it, I’ve got it.

    I just got my new Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster card and I’m dying to try it out. I might as well before I commit blasphamy again his noodly one and have it revoked.

  85. My point in writing this was to get people involved in the winnable battles. There are winnable battles out there right now.

    I decided to get involved because I don’t want my kids or any kids to die from measles, whooping cough or small pox.

    I decided to get involved because I don’t want my son and daughter to buy some useless over the counter crap when they think they are sick. I want them to go see a doctor. Approximately 4 years ago, I used a homeopathic Pink Eye treatment thinking it would save me from going to the doctor and missing a day of work. It blew up into a serious eye infection.

    I decided to get involved because I want my son and daughter to seek help if they are suffering from depression or any mental problem, and not listen to some jag-off from a “psychic network”.

    Stop nit-picking and mudslinging. Find the common ground and common goals, and let’s work to achieve them.

  86. Have you guys ever thought that maybe it’s the religious skeptics who are being discriminatory? On one hand they are perfectly happy to align themselves a group that, in it’s central tennets and more so in it’s membership, loudly voices ideas that are antithetical to their rational mind, but the minute an atheist skeptic questions their religion it’s all “OH, I GUESS I CAN’T BE A PART OF THIS GROUP, THEY’RE ASSHOLES.” Can you guys imagine what it would be like if Orac got shit from a huge group of skeptics every time he posted about HIS area of interest. If he had to hear that his concerns “weren’t important enough” as often as we atheists do, I’m sure he’d be pretty pissed off at skeptics as a whole(likewise feminist skeptics), but we take it because we’re used to it. Atheists offend the religious by existing. We are accused of being militant no matter what as long as we make our presense known. Look at that post by PZ. Does he take Pamela to task? Yes. but he does it in a measured, thoughtful way with a limited use of rude language. Every assertion is backed up by a solid argument and he comes to reasonable conclusion. This is “jumping down her throat.”

    Sorry dudes, skeptical groups are one of the few places where religious thought is not the norm. We’re not going to give up the one place where we can openly discuss and criticize religion because it makes a few people uncomfortable. If you want to join the club you have to suck it up and accept that your views on religion, politics, sexuality, discrimination, morality, etc. will be challenged. If the way you respond to being challenged is to throw a fit and say “YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT THAT,” then you’re not gonna last long. Tough shit.

  87. @ShaunPhilly: His original post was a rant. It’s in the title. I guess he was mud-slinging a bit, but that’s the nature of a rant. And his rant was about not nit-picking about who’s the most skeptical and who’s not skeptical enough, and to focus on the problems that are killing and endangering people and not on insular problems of semantics.

  88. @Some Canadian Skeptic: “I’m going to come right out and say it: it was incredibly stupid. It’s a great example of how religious belief can poison science education.”

    This was not in response to her saying “I’m religious” it was in response to her criticism of atheists where she told that absolutely horrid story about the professor not giving credit for a religious answer in a science class. It was a critique of her blog post, in which she said some profoundly stupid things. He was not criticizing her “personal beliefs” he was criticizing the dumb things that those beliefs motivated her to say.

    But no, when the religious criticize atheists, that’s all fine and good… god forbid we should respond though!

  89. How can babies not be atheists when they haven’t exactly developed much of a thought for anything right after they are born? Recently born babies kind of are a-everything.

    Then there would be nothing either commendable or evil about being an atheist. I wouldn’t even call a newborn baby an agnostic either. If atheism is not an intellecual position, what good is it? You need a more credible argument.

    I have not closed myself to possible evidence to the contrary, and will not claim with certainty that there absolutely is no god.

    In fact, I have not heard anyone here make that claim.

    Perhaps not, but P Z Myers has. I’ve seen him do it on the Pharyngula blog.

    And why do atheists get so fired up about hating ALL religion, even it is harmless? I’ve seen them do that too.

    And I’m not the only one disappointed by the behavior of some of the New Atheists. I suspect a movement by skeptics to counter and limit New Atheist influence is soon to rise up!

  90. @SpiralArchitect: “Stop nit-picking and mudslinging. Find the common ground and common goals, and let’s work to achieve them.”

    yes, let’s all shut up and talk about the thing you want to talk about because the thing we want to talk about makes you uncomfortable. Do you know why I’m only addressing the religious complaints in your post, btw? Because the same skeptics who don’t put up with religious bullshit don’t put up with misogynistic and discriminatory bullshit either and I mostly post in those places. Here’s to consistency in skepticism.

  91. I’m done. *some* people in this thread have missed so many points so often and it’s exhausting. Don’t construe this as capitulation (or do, I don’t care). I’m just finished wasting my energy trying to correct people who conflate many or all shades of theism in order to make a point about atheism that, IMHO, has little-to-no place in a community *based* in science (not necessarily logic, but science).

    There are naturopaths trying to manipulate my provincial legislature, and quite frankly, that’s far more important, and I can’t do both.

    Keep being atheist, and I’ll be there with you. But keep in mind that there are others that do it as well, and we don’t all appreciate being lumped in with hostility (PZ), derision (Sethmanapio), or accusations of “accommodationism ”

    I wish you well, I really do. But I’m tired of this.

  92. @Dale Husband: Can you also cite where PZ Meyers said that he has claimed with certainty that there absolutely is no God? The strongest claim that comes to mind is when he posted about the Hawking/ABC interview where he agreed with Hawking’s statement about the size of the universe making a personal God implausible (or something to that effect).

    I don’t read everything PZ posts, and I learned long ago to avoid the comments. If he made such a statement, I would like to know.

  93. @Garbledina:
    I see. So mud-slinging is OK so long as one advertises that one is speaking rant-style. Well, assume that all people who mud-sling are ranting and problems solved, right?

    In that case, assume I’m always ranting. And all atheists who demand that skepticism should be consistent, (like mikerattlesnake has said above) are also all ranting. So, no more problems, right?

    No, that’s a cop-out.

    I’m an atheist. I was an atheist all of my life, and discovered skepticism more recently. I see some people in the skeptical community that believe things that would not survive skeptical inquiry. They might still be skeptics, but the fact is that they are not being consistent.

    In my opinion, theism is dangerous in many ways, and I think that skeptics should come together to oppose it, because the belief is not warranted, it has detrimental effects of society, and thus should be a cause for us to come together on.

    Atheism should be a common goal of skeptics, because skepticism applied to theism would lead to atheism.

  94. @Some Canadian Skeptic: You don’t have ti do it all, you should just recognize when people are not being rational. You can agree with the atheists who say that skepticism should lead to atheism and not DO anything about it (because you are worrying about other things).

    The hostility, as you see it, is the same hostility you may have for alt-med, psychics, etc (whatever you cause is). What if I told you I didn’t care about psychics, defended Sylvia Brown, and said that I’m more concerned with theism? You’d be annoyed, right?

    Well, fine then. I’m going to defend Sylvia Brown and call anyone hostile dicks for telling me I’m not being skeptical.

  95. @ShaunPhilly: I don’t understand this blind spot either. I see people saying things here about atheists that would get them torn apart if they said the same things about feminists and their relationship to skepticism. When it comes to atheism we’re all “fair and balanced” for some reason.

    I’m honestly sorry for getting so worked up, but the casual bigotry that gets a pass in here is a bit shocking.

  96. @mikerattlesnake: I think you make a valid point. One of my specific areas of interest is child abuse and maltreatment that has its basis in religion. And I’m more than willing to take on any misogyny, racism or any other vile stink that emanates from behind the closed doors of religion. However I spent many years in the religious camp, all the while being skeptical about everything except my beliefs. And while those beliefs are gone I have some sympathy and understanding for those who are believers and think finding common ground is important for many reasons. Religion does often preclude rational discourse but skeptics might be well served in demonstrating how rational can also be reasonable, especially when the weight of evidence and facts is typically with the skeptic.

  97. @spurge: So you’d rather have a world where all of the art that has been inspired by some form of religion to be gone? Sure, religion can be horribly misused. Anything can be. It has also created some astounding pieces of beauty. There’s positive and negative uses for everything.

  98. @Dale
    I wasn’t exactly debating with you the finer point of atheism. I just thought that part didn’t make sense.

    Now, is atheism good or evil? In itself, no. Is it commendable? It depends on how nuanced one’s thoughts are regarding it, I think.

    @Canadian skeptic
    I don’t think mikerattlesnake was trying to conflate all theism as bad. His (or her) point was that religion shouldn’t be given a free pass when it comes to criticism, and that PZ wasn’t saying what you thought he was saying, that PZ’s criticism was from a story Pamela told.

  99. @lkregula: he never said that. Also, it’s worth considering that many pieces of great religious art only exist as such because they were created in a totalitarian religious society in which all art was commissioned by the church or the state (which was also very religious) and making overtly atheistic art would have gotten one killed.

  100. @ShaunPhilly: I was simply pointing out the kinds of mudslinging occurring. If I pointed out that someone was bullying someone else, would I be mudslinging against the bully?

    I think much of this thread is missing the bigger picture. Stop focusing on 1 of my 3 points. Seriously.

    Organized religion has thousands of years of roots in our society. Although I agree we should address it, especially in the case of teaching Creationism and not teaching Evolution, it is deeply rooted. It will take thousands of years to make a dent.

    My intent is to focus on what we can change today.

  101. @SpiralArchitect
    I think different groups should focus on different things, you know? That way, one person doesn’t have to go against everything. Some people’s fight, I guess, are the irrationality of religion, especially fundamentalism. Anyways, in terms of making a dent in religion, I think it is being accomplished in many countries. If you look at statistics in Western Europe, lots of people consider themselves non religious. Not all of them are atheist, of course, but it means they don’t identify themselves with mainstream religion. Also, the number of nonreligious people in the US are increasing, so I think that is a dent. What do you think?

  102. @SpiralArchitect: Ok, stop the antivaxers today. Stop the psychic healers today. Stop the cancer quacks and the homeopaths today. I am preparing myself to be very impressed.

    Never mind the fact that atheism and agnosticism became the norm in many european countries over a fairly short period of time, or that we have a religious litmus test for elected officials in this country because religion is treated as the norm, or that people are killed and threatened all the time and it gets thoughtfully discussed instead of condemned because religion is the norm.

    Nope, lets talk about what you want to talk about and shut up about the stuff that makes you uncomfortable because it’s not a discussion you value, and if we don’t aquiesce to your demands, WE are the militant ones who make YOU uncomfortable calling yourself a skeptic.

  103. Look guys, misogyny has thousands of years of roots in our society. Although I agree we should address it, especially in the case of rape apologists and honor killings, it is deeply rooted. It will take thousands of years to make a dent.

    My intent is to focus on what we can change today.

  104. You know why people feel unwelcome in this community? BECAUSE THEY FUCKING DESERVE IT!


    *fist pump*

    Don’t fix it! Drive them further away! FUCK EM!

  105. @SpiralArchitect: then why don’t you ignore it, focus on the things that you like about skepticism, fight the fights you want to, and let us do the same. Don’t tell us how we need to change to make you more comfortable. It’s not about you.

    And yeah, elyse, if honesty and consistency and fighting against entrenched bigotry scares some people away, then fuck em.

  106. @Elyse: or…address there belief in a god the same way we would address their belief in psychics. Except nobody blinks when you challenge the psychic, while they get all flustered when you challenge someone’s faith in a god. It’s a double-standard.

    Would you accept a psychic-appealing skeptic in order to find common ground?

  107. Can you also cite where PZ Meyers said that he has claimed with certainty that there absolutely is no God?

    Here is one example:

    [“Playing God” is where you do absolutely nothing, take credit for other entities’ work, and don’t even exist — scientists don’t aspire to such a useless status.]

    This is another:

    [Senator Adley! There is no god. Pray all you want, it will avail you nothing. Instead of wasting your effort in making pleas to the nonexistent, go down to the beach with an eyedropper and a thimble, and pluck up a little globule of oil — and you will have accomplished more.]

    That should be enough. If atheists were not dogmatic, such statements wouldn’t be made, period. Since they often ARE dogmatic, they need to own up to that.

    {@Dale Husband: “And why do atheists get so fired up about hating ALL religion, even it is harmless? I’ve seen them do that too.”

    [citation needed]}

    This is not Wikipedia. Are you telling me all those attacks made against religion in general by atheists were not motivated by hatred and bigotry? That’s what I see from many of them, even if they deny it later when called out on it.

    [It wouldn’t matter if all religions behaved like the Society of Friends and the ELCA. It is still based on the premise that believing in things without evidence as a virtue. As long as it starts with that premise – and it always will, because if it didn’t it wouldn’t be religion -, it will always be evil. There’s just no getting around it – promoting irrationality as a virtue is bad for humanity. No matter how much you polish the turd, it will still be a turd.]

    Again, a clear statement of dogma and extremism. If a simple faith in God is harmless, then calling it evil is like calling birds evil just because they occationally poop on your car, which does no actual injury to you or damage to the car. That’s irrational. You can say rationally that you dislike the birds, but that’s it.

    There is a lot of bigotry and extremism in religion. Expressing bigotry and extremism in return makes atheists just as bad as the religious fanatics.

  108. @ShaunPhilly
    My thought is that while a psychic believing skeptic shouldn’t be shunned away, I think that if the conversation ever comes to the subject, then the right criticisms should be applied. That way, the person becomes involved in fighting certain irrationality, while he or she learns some stuff. I think we could all help each other that way. After all, no person is free of blind spots.

  109. @Dale
    Saying that something doesn’t exist isn’t dogmatic. There are many people who say that fairies don’t exist despite not being able to prove the negative, and I don’t think they are dogmatic. If people give really good explanations as of why certain things are unlikely to exist, and therefore not exist, then that is simply being rational, and I think atheists have given good explanations.

    So, why should the reasons given for the non existence of fairies be “they are silly” not be dogmatic, but when atheists give good long explanations of them (which PZ has done), they are the dogmatic ones? Or are the arguments given on the non existence of fairies “they are silly” are also dogmatic?

    I think that is unfortunate, but I can take it. :)

  110. Excerpt from a post of my own:

    within the skeptical community, isn’t skepticism the common ground? Isn’t the skeptical tool-set the basis for the community? Since when did not criticizing religious beliefs (specifically faith, IMO) become part of the common ground for so many in the community? I understand that what is meant here is to not cause divisions within the community, and this is important for SOME reasons, but should it trump skepticism itself?

  111. @Dale Husband: Thanks for the links. I don’t know PZ’s nuanced position. While he may be taking linguistic shortcuts in those two links, they certainly do help provide me with a better picture until he makes a more nuanced declaration. I hope that’s the case, because being absolutely certain on this subject isn’t very reasonable.

  112. @Dale
    Another point, there are cases where one could argue about a point whether something exist or not, and both sides be reasonable. Case in point, does intelligent life exist outside the Solar System? I think both sides make good arguments as to why they might or might not exist, but I don’t think any of them are dogmatic. (note that in this case, one instance of intelligent life able to build civilizations do exist)

  113. @mikerattlesnake: Because you still don’t get it. The idea is not about who is fighting which fight. It is that someone should not be allowed to fight the fight if they are not Atheist.

    @ShaunPhilly: It is a double-standard, it’s all a double-standard. Maybe I should go join the anti-vaxxers. They are successfully reviving almost eradicated diseases. I can be a part of the winning team!!

  114. @IBY
    Open a science book and see if fairies are mentioned within it, even to deny that they exist. I have never found one, and I don’t think one would deny the existence of gods either. What science books state are what can be affirmed empirically. Can the non-existence of either God or fairies be affirmed empirically? No. Since they cannot be affirmed empically, how can their existence be denied empirically? To deny something that has not been disproven is to take an additional step, using reason to conclude that fairies and gods do not exist.

    I need to clarify something here: I am NOT a rationalist, for I deny the ability of reason to provide knowledge. Instead, I am a hard-core empiricist, stating as FACT only what the physical evidence clearly leads to. If there is no compelling evidence for the existence of God, I never say, “There is no God,” because that is not an empirical statement, but a rational one. A strict empiricist merely says, “There is no known evidence for the existence of God,” and leaves it at that.

  115. @spiral
    I don’t think anyone has ever said in here that if you are not allowed to fight the fight if one is not atheist. What people are saying is, if we have blind spots, we should all criticize each other for it. And that aspect includes religion.

    Oh, know I understand where you come from. But I myself am not strictly empirical. If I were, it would drive me crazy. For me, if things are very unlikely, meaning not one example has been observed, it is safe to say that they don’t exist. For me, no examples of fairies have ever been observed, so I just say “they don’t exist.” If one day, one example is observed then I will change my mind. Until that day, I have to assume they don’t exist, just like the way I have to assume the my existence is not just a dream.

  116. Oops, typo! know -> now

    By the way, I have read PZ for years now, and he seems to have a more nuanced position than “God doesn’t exist because I say so!” His position is similar to mine. Dale, you have to realize that not everyone can be strictly empirical and one doing so does not make them dogmatic.

  117. @ShaunPhilly: Dude, thank you. You should write a condensed version of that blog post so I can print it out on little cards and hand to people who tell me they’re agnostic.

  118. @mikerattlesnake: I was asking a question because, frankly, his comment didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Does the religiosity of an artifact negate it’s beauty? Is the creed somehow a result of the artwork? And many great works of art were created because people were simply moved by their religion. The idea that nothing good ever came of religion (what originally got me started, see Alexrkr7 at comment 82) is bullsh*t. So does that origin in religion negate the fact that a piece is beautiful? The idea that religion has not a single positive aspect is crap, and just a part of the false dichotomy that science and religion can’t exist. They serve different purposes, and both have good and bad qualities. Remember all the horrible things that have been done in the name of science and rationalism? Dogma is dogma, whether it’s pro- or anti-religion. It’s this refusal to recognize that atheism has its own extremists and that many of them identify as skeptics that turns me off. Debate individual ideas, not broad sweeping generalities, and not people. Unfortunately, simple respect seems to be a lot more than some people can muster.

  119. @ikregula
    While I see that it is true that religion has produced good art, I don’t think atheists as a whole are really extreme. They write books, they write comments, and they try to change minds. They don’t force it to other people. If they do, it happens rarely, and they are admonished if they do so. In a way, I see that as more of a blind spot to the person’s reasoning ability than extremism. Not that such blind spots shouldn’t be pointed out.

  120. @mikerattlesnake & @ShaunPhilly:

    GREAT. Now I have 2 new man-crushes.

    Just don’t tell me if either of you are libertarians, I can’t take the heartbreak.

  121. Granted, I believe in no God, therefore, I am indeed atheist by the broader definition favored today by most atheists themselves. But I am also agnostic in that I do not claim to know whether or not a god exists. It is the intense hostility towards all religion that troubles me, not merely atheism itself. It is never good to paint all of a certain category with the same brush.

  122. @lkregula:
    Religion created (funded) a lot of great art and culture for a good reason. They had the money. Monarchs funded a lot of culture too but we need not embrace a king to appreciate the art it produced.

  123. @SpiralArchitect:
    My intent is to focus on what we can change today.

    Always a good idea, but we need to figure out how to do that.

    You have a point about the head start that religion has on secularism. We have a hard enough time convincing anti-vaxxes that they are acting irrationally and they have only been at it for around 15 years (this time) and we have well established FACTS on our side. How do we combat bronze age superstition that has been baked into society when all we can do is point out inconsistencies in their books, show the origins of their religions, and point out the unlikeliness of Great Sky Daddy existing. It is hard to PROVE a negative.

    The sexism issue is another whole can of worms involving hormones, societal norms, and in some cases people that are not used to dealing with the opposite sex (or used to dealing in a very different way). We need to deal with it, but how? Do we confront it directly? (You are a pig!) Do we wait for it to right itself? (more women in skepticism, more practice.) Or do we raise our daughters to be scientists and our sons to be gentlemen? I vote for all three.

    As far as Skepchicks not helping skepticism.
    WOW……….Just WOW
    They all are just jealous.

  124. @Dale Husband: so… as far as I can tell, we have similar world views, but you’re just way prouder to not know the stuff you don’t know. You get raging boners over not knowing things, whereas I just file them into either the “I don’t know this for sure, but I can make a reasonable assumption about it” and “man, I hope someone figures this out at some point, but I’m not going to waste too much time thinking about it” buckets. Can you quit bloviating about how that makes me horrible and dogmatic now?

    (also: am I to believe you’ve empirically observed atomic structure? Evolution? Could you ever serve on a jury? That must be a tough way to live, buddy)

  125. @SpiralArchitect: And who is stopping you, exactly? Is it really about this, or is it about not being able to be a part of a group where you might hear things you don’t want to hear? How, in any way, is anyone stopping you from being an active skeptic about the things you are passionate about?

  126. @Some Canadian Skeptic: I completely disagree with your assessment.

    1) There is no skepticism/atheism/theism divide? There are disagreements between people, but I reject this idea that all scientific skeptics have to stay in their little scientific skeptic boxes and not talk about theology (and its repercussions) when warranted because that’s something else over there, and we won’t talk about it. I feel the way I feel about things, I will discuss as I desire. Other skeptics are free to do as they like. I agree with most skeptics on some things (homeopathy) and disagree on others (diversified chiropractic). Same goes for the religion thing.

    2) Again you are referencing this weird Atheism club. You aren’t either in the Atheism camp or the Skepticism camp, you can be in both! Or neither! And trying to limit people is just stupid. Sometimes there are crossovers and it applies – this is how we learn, by stretching out of our comfort zone.

    3) BS. I have more than one conversation each day, and they are sometimes even about different things! This makes no sense.

    The one thing we can agree on, is ousting people because they subscribe to one or more things we don’t believe to be beneficial is counter productive.

    Picking and choosing which things we’ll go after is an individual choice, not something we should be preaching out – talk about this! Not about that!

    (it’s late, I apologize if this isn’t as clear as it could be)

  127. Considering you’re all self-avowed skeptics, there’s an embarrassing deficit of logic & reason in this thread.

    But more importantly:
    What is wrong with you people?
    Did you even read the post on which you are commenting?

    This is not the place to have this debate.

    Skepticism’s not just about being Right all the time. You need to temper that with being sensible and having the ability to accept that you might be wrong.

    In this case, I think you all need to take the sensible option and get over yourselves.

  128. “The Atheists who are anti-believer are the other extreme in the spectrum. They are no different than Christians who call Atheists evil.”

    Thanks for the implied “my way is right, everyone else is too off center in one way or another”

    Basic question. Is Faith a good reason for believing something. Is faith, believing for the sake of belief irregardless of evidence, skeptical.

    It also is interesting that no one is concerned about atheists who might be annoyed away from skepticism by the constant bombard of “You’re just as bad as them, dumbass” I’m seeing from the so-called middle.

  129. @Dale Husband: New born babies haven’t murdered anyone either. Does that mean theres no ethical difference between murdering and not murdering people? And to quote my 8 year old niece, gorillas don’t know anything about dinosaurs.

  130. I don’t think people acctually disagree that much about content, but rather about Semantics.

    @Dale Husband:

    I completely agree with you here.
    And I think a large percentage of Atheists would as well. My problem with your previous comments was that you essentially made all Atheists seem like people who refuse to change their mind, and refuse to change the topic.

    I think a lot of atheists are quite happy not banging on about religion 24 houres a day.
    And I think most skeptics even the religious ones would agree with my major problems in religions. Thinking about prayer healing etc.
    I do think we should make a slight additonal effort to accomodate moderatly religious people, by not activly attacking any and all religious views. But there clearly are religious positions that are skeptically on excatly the same level as UFO’s and Bigfoots.

  131. @ShaunPhilly:
    I read your post and it’s excellent.
    “the desire for common grounds and working together should not trump the unifying ground of these communities; skepticism. If people run away from skepticism because their beliefs are challenged, perhaps they aren’t ready for skepticism except where it does not really challenge them.”

    I absolutely couldn’t agree with you more here.
    Theism and skepticism are incompatible, and any skeptic who professes belief in a deity is admitting to a deficiency in his/her skepticism.
    I honestly can’t believe so many people on this site are trying to argue otherwise. Might be time for me to take a break from Skepchick for a while if this is the way things are headed…

  132. @halincoh:

    I think that there are a lot of things I need to learn before I really would qualify as a skeptic. But, I’m kind of happy on the sidelines for the moment – even when I don’t agree, it’s kind of a hilarious show, and I often end up seeing things in a different light. But that’s the point, right? To have fun while learning what is true and correct, and to think critically in the face of new ideas and theories.

  133. @thracian-filly: I disagree. Everyone has blind spots and religion can serve a purpose in a person’s life for sure. The problem comes when these folks can’t stand to even hear people criticize ideas similar to their own. The idea that one has a right to be a specific type of unreasonable and not hear criticism of that position is not a skeptical one. To be a skeptic you have to be able to hear things that you don’t agree with, argue when those people are wrong, listen when they are not wrong, and be open to changing your beliefs and ideas when they are overwhelmingly and verifiably not wrong. We don’t make progress by not challenging ideas.

    For some reason there are people who want to apply this standard to everything but religion and get offended when we don’t aquiesce to their demands. They hear people saying things that aren’t wrong, but make them uncomfortable, and they would rather tell those people to shut up than to change their beliefs. They rationalize their position by postulating that it is a virtue to not know things and to loudly let everyone know about the things they don’t know.

    The thing is, these agnostics don’t go on and on about how much they don’t know about evolution or vaccines or psychic energy, which all have varying levels of uncertainty attached to them. Life is full of uncertainty, and our “empirical observer” up above is being disingenuous. We all make inferences and predictions based on assumptions with a reasonable amount of plausibility. Every bit of information we take in is incomplete and if the agnostic who goes on and on about how great it is that he doesn’t know things applied the same standard to every aspect of his life that he does to the concept of a god, he wouldn’t get out the door in the morning.

    As skeptics, we should value those people that ask uncomfortable questions and do so incisively, defiantly, and with the weight of evidence and reason behind them. We also should point out when people are just saying bigoted things without any weight behind them. The thing is, the latter very rarely applies to people like PZ Myers and other vocal atheists, but as long as they are vocal atheists they are treated by the religious as intolerant bigots.

  134. Analogously, skeptics are overwhelmingly liberal and often say really rude, snarky, or funny things about conservatives/libertarians. Most of us would argue that our politics stem from our skeptical beliefs and that many aspects of liberal ideology are supported by our observations of the reality of the outside world as well as game theory, humanist morality, etc. but there is nothing stopping a conservative or libertarian from being a skeptic. The only rule is that they need to be able to hear criticism of their ideas and respond reasonably. Many do, and I rarely hear that we need to shut up about politics. What is it about the religious (and the self-hating non-believers) that makes them unable to do the same?

  135. I discovered the marvelous world of skepticism through a link to Skepchick–I read a few posts and comment threads and I was instantly hooked. I hope that there aren’t any potential skeptics out there reading this comment thread as their first introduction to the skeptical community. :(

  136. @AttorneyAdam: That’s been gnawing at the back of my mind, too. (I’ve been following Skepchick for a couple of months, looking for a broader range of skeptical topics than Bad Astronomy, which mostly concentrates on Bad Astronomy, Good Astronomy and Bad Science. (Even then Phil gets a lot of grief whenever he even mentions anything outside this range.)

    So while I am far from a newbie, I am a newbie here.

    This thread is far and away the longest I’ve encountered so far and by far the most vituperative. It also contains the most logical fallacies and strawmen. I tried to sit down and correct them (at least the ones that hadn’t already been corrected by others) because, as my boss once told me, I’m a pedantic twit, but after one comment, I gave up (sorry, Dale.)

    The truly bizarre thing is virtually everyone who has actually stopped and defined their terms has turned out to be saying almost the exact same thing. There just seems to be major disagreement over definitions. Maybe we need newer, more nuanced terms, such as “antitheist” (which I never heard before this thread, is that a real word?> Firefox’s spell checker doesn’t like it) We have some people saying “my reasoning is X and therefore I’m an agnostic, and I keep getting all that hate on me from the intolerant atheists who are really bigoted antitheists”, and the we get other people saying “my reasoning is X [exactly the same X] and so I’m an atheist, and anyone who claims to be an agnostic or undecided is just a namby-pamby, wishy-washy religion-coddling non-skeptic.” Or am I just completely missing the point and everybody is just trying to provide over the top examples of SpiralArchitect’s original point. (Remember SpiralArchitect? This is a post about SpiralArchitect.)

    Why can’t we all just get along?

  137. @Buzz Parsec: “we get other people saying “my reasoning is X [exactly the same X] and so I’m an atheist, and anyone who claims to be an agnostic or undecided is just a namby-pamby, wishy-washy religion-coddling non-skeptic.”

    [citation needed]

    Ok, let’s summarize for all you people who say this discussion has gotten off topic or pedantic, or that we argue too much (strange that issue never comes up unless it’s the atheists (or feminists) being too loud* about the things they believe):

    1) Dude has a skeptical wife, likes skeptical topics, but has a misconception about the role of atheism in skepticism. This misconception, as described, is based on a ridiculous parody of atheism viewed through the lens of mainstream bigotry.

    2) Dude goes to skeptical event, realizes misconception is unwarranted, likes skeptics (many of whom are probably atheists and probably the same people who he would complain about online).

    3) Dude blames atheists for his misconception for just being too darned uppity and implicitly suggests that if we just would shut up about religion, maybe we wouldn’t scare people like him away. Rather than analyze his own preconceptions about atheists that colored his view, he decided that we were to blame for the thing that was only happening in his imagination.

    This is offensive to me. It’s offensive because it was his own refusal to listen to what atheists were saying and how they treat people that caused his misconception. It’s offensive to be told that I shouldn’t discuss things that I want to talk about because somehow it prevents Dude from talking about the unrelated thing he wants to talk about. It offends be because Dude is comfortable sharing the umbrella term “skeptic” with all manner of people who voice contentious views EXCEPT atheists.

    All this is very much on topic, and if you don’t want to put up with us defending ourselves from this nonsense, then all I can say is fuck off to another thread where you can make homeopathy jokes (hint: it’s diluted, maybe you can make a joke about how, like, money or something can be diluted, or the efficacy of some hilarious non sequitor could be improved by dilution), while we discuss shit that affects us personally. Anti-atheist bigotry is real and scary, and to be told that we should suck up to religion so that people like us more is offensive.

    *which is to say, standing up for their beliefs at all.

  138. @mikerattlesnake:

    3) Dude blames atheists for his misconception for just being too darned uppity and implicitly suggests that if we just would shut up about religion, maybe we wouldn’t scare people like him away. Rather than analyze his own preconceptions about atheists that colored his view, he decided that we were to blame for the thing that was only happening in his imagination.

    You obviously are missing the point of what I was saying. I was not making a blanket statement against ALL Atheists, but pointing out a small group of Atheists who seem to think anyone who says Agnostic, Christian, Muslim, etc. is either not a “True Skeptic” or a “Good Skeptic.”

    I do not appreciate anyone on the other side of the spectrum. I dealt with the same crap as a historian from certain individuals in the philosophical community.

    My wife, Atheist. Some of my best friends, Atheists. My favorite college professor, Atheist.

    I would like to see more Atheists like Hemant, who encourages open dialogue, discussion and exchange of ideas. It is quite refreshing.

    Get it straight I am not anti-Atheist. Just as religious people can show bigotry towards Atheists so can Atheists towards Theists. In this situation, we all lose.

  139. @SpiralArchitect: “You obviously are missing the point of what I was saying. I was not making a blanket statement against ALL Atheists, but pointing out a small group of Atheists who seem to think anyone who says Agnostic, Christian, Muslim, etc. is either not a “True Skeptic” or a “Good Skeptic.””

    Ok, so you don’t like a small subset of atheist skeptics. You have yet to make a compelling case for why this would preclude anyone from calling themselves a skeptic, why it is you have let these people set “the rules”, or why running away from them is a better option than joining the discussion.

  140. I’m a bit late to this party, but:

    First, there are the Atheists who proclaim no one with a religious belief should have anything to with Skepticism, because a believer is not a “True Skeptic”.  This was a running theme in the comments for Masala Skeptic’s post Faith and Fury.  I thought it then, and I will say it now, what a crock of horse shit!

    Really?  No one with a religious belief should have anything to with Skepticism, and this was “a running theme in the comments” of that post?  Really?  You can back that up with citations, of course?  Not just one comment, but enough to show it was “a running theme.” Enough to show you didn’t just present a distorted, absurd and easily refutable version of your opponents’ arguments that you then proceeded to refute, without addressing their actual arguments.

    You are now going to back up that claim, right? 

  141. @mikerattlesnake:

    shorter version: if someone says you can’t be a skeptic because you are an agnostic or a deist, the correct answer is “fuck you”.

    Who has actually said, “you can’t be a skeptic because you are an agnostic or a deist”?

    Can you provide a single example?

    FFS, How many times does this question need to be asked before someone actually answers it?

  142. darrenc:

    Don’t you remember? It was a running theme in the comments for Masala Skeptic’s post Faith and Fury. We know that’s true because Brian Anders said so. Admittedly he can’t provide a single example from that thread, but he’s married to a Skepchick so it must be true.

  143. @Skeptico:

    Actually, there is one (yes, one) post I found out of those 190 comments which does claim you can not be a skeptic and a theist at the same time. See if you can find it!

    Yet, there were many posts whining about these nasty exclusionary atheists. Perhaps this is what Brian was referring to as the “running theme”?

  144. @darrenc:

    Yes, I think I know which comment you are referring to, and I remember I wasn’t sure if the writer was being  serious or sarcastic. Regardless, one comment out of 190 does not make “a running theme” (as you clearly know).

    From the rebuttals presented here, and the questions asked that Brian Anders won’t answer, we can conclude that Brian Anders’ post was nothing but a series of straw men – distorted and absurd versions of actual arguments that Brian Anders proceeded to complain about.  Brian Anders obviously prefers to ridicule the distorted and absurd versions of arguments, rather than address the real ones. Which is standard woo practice, but the question remains, why was this fallacy ridden post made in a skeptical blog in the first place?

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