Friday, August 10, 2012

Some much-needed discussion

There has been quite a bit of activity in the blogosphere and on Twitter and Facebook in recent weeks on two subjects that our regular reader(s) know have been topics of concern to Ardent Skeptic and me.

Defining skepticism

Jamy Ian Swiss's stirring talk on at The Amazing Meeting 2012 on Skepticism and what the skeptic movement is about has been posted on YouTube:

As Barbara Drescher mentions, Jamy hits on some excellent points. The emphasis on skepticism as a process, and the difference between promoting Skepticism, as opposed to promoting other causes that skeptics may also be interested in, are matters I discussed last year in my post on Skepticism and Values.


There have been quite a few blog posts in recent weeks on the subjects of courtesy, civility, and bullying from popular bloggers like Jerry Coyne, philosophers Massimo Pigliucci, Russell Blackford, Jean Kazez, and Daniel Fincke, and several others, such as Shane Brady and Notung . Many of these posts were spurred, at least in part, by the recognition that a handful of very popular bloggers in the skeptic, atheist, and freethought communities, along with some of their eager followers, have engaged in behavior ranging from mildly frustrating to ethically questionable.

This is a topic we've mentioned several times, going back to one of our very first posts, as well as our post last October describing the mythical Skeptic Illuminati.

So it's good to see others, particularly some prominent skeptics, discussing these topics publicly. Some may complain about navel gazing, but I think it's sorely needed.


  1. Sometimes you need to look inward and straighten some things out before you can look outward and start doing some good. Skeptics do good work, like with vaccinations, alternative medicine rip offs, psychics that fleece their clients, not wasting taxpayer money hunting for UFOs and aliens abducting people (it's come up more than you would think), protecting children from parental abuse based on ignorance, keeping religion out of our science education (and schools in general)...SO MUCH WORK that can make the world not only better, but also safer...
    It's not all about making our skeptic world "comfortable" for us. It's about the work we do, by ourselves and together, that is the goal of all this "gathering" and "meet ups". I remember Penn once calling out atheists, as statistically they are far better educated, far happier, far wealthier, less chance of divorce, and healthier than their religious (especially extreme evangelical) counterparts. Sometimes we have to look at how good we have it, rather than how bad.

  2. Skepticism, as a movement, failed to maintain focus. Most vocal members of the community deny the difference between skepticism and atheism. If a skeptic is not an atheist, then they really weren't a true skeptic. The few who attempted to establish the boundary between scientific skepticism and secular ideology, gave up trying. After all, they were atheists anyway. It was pitiful watching the poor straw man being repeatedly flogged. "Religion does not get a special pass!" Excuse me? Did anybody ever state that it should? Besides, it's so much more emotionally satisfying to attack "religion" as society's greatest ill. Bigfoot is just so 1970's.
    Now the gate is wide open to usher in any political ideology or social justice cause under the banner of skepticism. If done properly, you will come to the same position on a myriad issues that skepticism is not equipped to address.
    If RW had met Jesus in the elevator, would her vague recreation of events launch a civil war? Nope. She would be shunned from the atheist community. Would event organizers clamor to enact religious believer harassment policies and defined codes of conduct? No way!
    Skepticism is at a cross roads. History is littered with examples of movements that dissolved precisely because of adopting additional noble causes. The controversial nature of politics and religion (atheism in this case) divides members into bitter factions.
    The beauty of skepticism is due to it simplicity; not introducing extraneous and complicated factors that muddy the waters. Facts, evidence, suspending judgment until adequate good information can be evaluated, and setting aside bias and emotion. We've gone way off track.
    Good luck!


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