Skepchick Quickies 9.11


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. Secularists are not atheists? That kinda sounds like a debate that happens only in the bubble of the skeptic blogosphere and ultimately doesn’t really matter outside of that bubble.

    Reading more Skeptic blogs, I’m becoming more confused about what the skeptic “movement” is all about and what it’s trying to achieve. Skepchick is awesome because one of its core focuses is on why feminism is needed even among STEM, liberal, and non-believing people who think that they’re immune to being sexist. But things like TAM and other skeptic conferences, I don’t really get the point of.

    Can anyone enlighten me on what the hell the skeptical movement actually is?

    1. Depends on who you ask. Some people like Barbara Drescher who I will use as an example say that skepticism should only apply to arguments or specific pieces of evidence and never make any conclusions. Generally not be atheistic cause that’s a philosophical issue and a conclusion. That skepticism can address specific claims like gays can’t be good parents but can never state a conclusion like gays should be able to adopt. With possible exceptions for conclusions on vaccination and global warming cause they are too important not to.

      (I hope I accurately represented her there http://icbseverywhere.com/blog/2012/05/mission_drift_conflation_and_food_for_thought/ in the comments under MichaelD you can see my conversation should you want the words from her)

      But then there are others who find that a kind of silly privileged position and that skepticism should be more then scientific skepticism and using critical thinking and philosophy epistemology etc should be applied more broadly then some people want it to be.

      But generally skepticism is about examining arguments and encouraging the spread of critical thinking skills.

    2. I can address part of the first question. Classically, “secular” was the idea that religion should have no place in government; it can also include the idea that government shouldn’t give preferred treatment to religion or religions.

      (“Secular” can also refer to organizations and other entities that don’t include religion. Church basketball league v. secular basketball league, for example.)

      For a good part of U.S. history, in some parts of the country, Catholics defended secularism because the Protestant majority might discriminate against them.

      Nowadays, if “secular” means “atheist” more and more, then 1) we lose the distinction between political or civic secularism and atheism, 2) some religious people/groups who would otherwise be pro-secularism won’t want to be involved, and 3) some religious groups would have antipathy towards “secularism” and secular ideas.

      One might conclude (as I think the article’s author does) that the Secular Coalition of America should not be limited to nontheist organizations. The secularism/atheism issue is actually not just a limited discussion in the skeptic blogosphere and does matter in the public discourse, the author would say.

      Skepticism is a different issue.

      (I wrote this before coffee and hope it makes sense…)

  2. It’s about time secularism and atheism were considered 2 different ideas. This isn’t particle physics. Words are not strictly defined here. If someone doesn’t believ in gods, they can use any number of terms.

    As I mentioned before I normally tell people that I am not religious and not interested in religion. Then I am labelled as an atheist. Although I respect many atheists as people, I have no interest in being called one. If anything I’m secular. And even that’s a label I’m still struggling with.

    The term skeptic should be done away with altogether. If someone supports science, they will not use labels to demonstrate that. Water molecules don’t demand skepticism, they simply demand good scientific method. Emotions and styles of thinking shall be left at the door when studying the properties of the universe.

    1. I agree! Although I am very interested in religion as a social phenomenon, I prefer being defined by the things I believe in rather than those I don’t believe in.

      I’m fine with “secularist” though, if you define it as a political stance on the ideal relationship between states and religions. In this respect, I’m definitely a secularist (as are most of my religious friends).

  3. On the distinction (and the intersections) between atheism, secularism and humanism, there is also this very nice lecture by A.C. Grayling: http://www.youtu.be/pXP05Nsr6wg

    On a different note (I know this is a random question): How do you add a picture to your account? I created mine right here on Skepchick, so it’s not a WordPress account or anything. Or is that just not possible without logging in via some other platform?

        1. No way on Skepchick itself?

          Luna, if you use your WordPress account, you can upload your picture there, I think.
          I could create one, too, but I’d also like to keep my nick, which is already taken on WordPress (but not by me, apparently). :-(

          1. I have the same problem with the name, plus I keep my blog fairly low key and would need to unlink the gravatar. But I assume anyone could start a new gravatar account?

  4. “But generally skepticism is about examining arguments and encouraging the spread of critical thinking skills.”

    I was about to write something on these lines but GideonBanner beat me to it. I would add, “Teaching people to apply facts, reason and the scientific method to evaluate beliefs and claims.”
    As an active skeptic since 1985 and co-founder of a local skeptics’ group I incline to the view that, while it is desirable that one should apply skepticism to one’s religious beliefs, it is not mandatory. If we were to exclude skeptics who, for their own reasons, go to church on Sunday, we would have a much smaller organization and a negligible outreach. (And if anyone mentions “accomodationism” I shall be annoyed.)
    Technically I am an atheist but the term has acquired so much baggage that I don’t use it if I can avoid it. I prefer “Laplacian” as in, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” I don’t see how my lack of interest in religion obligates any particular moral or political viewpoint.

  5. I work with at risk adolescents who are often brought in to talk with me by their parents for a number of reasons; and often it’s about their child smoking pot. Quite often I really badly want to tell the parents, after interviewing them and their teenager separately, is that if they had been my parents I’d have wanted to smoke pot all the time as well. On the other hand there have been many parents that I’d loved to have suggested that they light up, chill out, listen to their kids, and stop trying to be a control freak.

  6. I’ve looked at some population growth rates and, apparently, the people of Liberia are multiplying tremendously fast where the people of the Scandinavian countries can barely ba arsed to procreate at all. I therefore conclude that Liberians are maddeningly gorgeous while Scandinavians look like a cross between a slug and a pile of sick.

    Woo! Look at me! I can do Evolutionary Psychology! Now, where’s my fucking doctorate?

  7. Welp, Kanazawa has convinced me. I’ll stop trying to find compatible dates and focus on finding a Gothic mansion on some lonely moor where I can focus on silently resenting my mother and write never-to-be published novels about ghosts and loneliness.

      1. What is your love compared to the shackles of this too ancient structure, a mausoleum to house the shame of my lineage? Oh, would that it were possible to escape…to London! Laughter! Life!

        No, speak no more. It is not to be. The spiteful apparitions that yet inhabit this place would bid you no welcome, and me, no release!

  8. Amanda,

    If black men and Asian women are all so unattractive, why do those “racial” groups still exist?

  9. I’m not sure I even get the point of Naomi Wolf’s book. She talks about “performance utterances” that “alter material reality.” It’s apparently a social phenomenon, Wolf is supposedly trying to describe it as a neurobiological phenomenon, but the way she describe it, as such:

    “Studies have shown that verbal threats or verbal admiration or reassurances can directly affect the sexual functioning of the vagina. One suggests that a stressful environment can negatively affect vaginal tissue itself…”

    …sounds as if she’s trying to convince me to believe in magic. That’s preposterous, so I’m assuming her actual argument is that the vagina and clitoris are their own, sentient being.

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