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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  05:51:52  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Pz has gone to the big bash for skeptics called Skepticon 3 (wish I could 'a gone). He is bemused and not a little disgusted with what he's found there -- a sloppy and unwarrented attack on atheists.

I had no idea I was stepping into a controversy

Category: Godlessness ē Skepticism

Posted on: November 19, 2010 11:47 PM, by PZ Myers

It's such a petty and trivial one, though, I can't be too concerned. I'm at Skepticon 3, and I just learned tonight that the convention has been a source of dissentÖand when I read the argument, I was stunned at how stupid it was. Apparently, Skepticon has too many atheists in it, and is ó wait for it ó "harming the cause".

I'm not joking. Jeff Wagg, formerly of the JREF, has a long lament deploring that 3 of the 15 talks are explicitly atheistic, and that JT Eberhard, the organizer, emphasizes the problem of religion too much for it to be True Skepticô conference. It's utterly batty. Some people have this grandiose notion that they have the only acceptable definition of skepticism, and somehow, in some way, religion is excluded from skeptical criticism.

As Reed points out in his IndieSkeptics article, atheists (and free thinkers and secularists and scientific naturalists, etc.) are fighting a cultural war in this country. It's a very important war, and I'm a combatant as well. Atheists have been bashed and had religion forced on them forever, and it's shameful to allow it to continue in a country purporting to be "free." But to conflate atheism with skepticism dilutes atheism and destroys skepticism.

And I fear the damage has already been done. I see a lot of good people leaving the skeptical community because they're uncomfortable with the tone and disappointed with, frankly, the lack of skepticism presented by many people.


Read on, it gets better.....

So ok, what exactly qualifies one to be a skeptic? Does the skeptic have to be an atheist? I say no. Can a believer in any sort of supernatural phenomena (gods, demons, guys rising from the dead and so forth) be a skeptic? Sure, why not?

I submit that anyone can be a skeptic, in one form or another. Indeed, I say that our Bill Scott, with his determined denial of AGW is demonstrating skepticism of sorts, however unfounded and blindly stubborn it might be -- not picking on you, Bill, just making a point. We're still friends, right? Right!

A population of hard skeptics, by it's very nature is going to have a fair to large percentage of atheists; it pretty much goes with the territory. Hard skeptics take nothing on faith; there must be firm, physical evidence to back the claim. If such evidence is faulty or lacking, the skeptic won't buy it. That shouldn't be taken to mean that the skeptic doesn't take a glance at it later on. New evidence might be brought forth to modify or even reverse the situation -- the Theory of Evolution demonstrates that ad infinitum.

I don't know who this Wagg fellow is, But I think he needs to go home, put the lime in the coconut, drink it all up and get a good night's sleep. We'll check on him in the morning.....



[Edited to fix quoting - Dave W.]

"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


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Dave W.
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Posted - 11/20/2010 :  07:23:06   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
See especially "A Response to Jeff Wagg" by JT Eberhard, one of the Skepticon organizers. The first comment is from Jeff Wagg, trying to justify his complaint, and (I think) failing.
However, based on all available evidence, itís an atheist conference, devoted to the ďproblem of religionĒ as you put it. And that is fine. Itís just not skepticism. You think itís silly to come to the conclusion that Skepticon is an atheist convention, I think itís just obvious. And a lot of people, like yourself and your co-organizers think that skepticism inevitably leads to the conclusion that thereís no god. In fact, it canít come to that conclusion as itís an untestable condition. Skepticism can only include ďthis is untestable.Ē
Wagg's obvious problem is that he wants to quarantine "untestable" conditions off as things that skeptics can't conclude anything about, but that's what is silly. Doing so would make all non-religious woo immune to skeptical investigation, simply due to the fact that people create all sorts of ad hoc excuses for why their particular brand of nonsense fails tests, and those excuses tend to deny testability. For example, Wagg would insist that we can't come to the conclusion that homeopathy is bunk because its proponents have claimed that it can't be tested through regular scientific means.

Wagg also seems to insist that the atheism being promoted is hard atheism, only:
When you hold forth a set of beliefs and say ďTHIS IS THE TRUTH,Ē youíre not doing skepticism, youíre creating religion.
But this is nonsense, because that's not what skepticism does and Wagg knows that perfectly well. I'm sure that the vast majority of the people at Skepticon would change their conclusions about their atheism if evidence were found showing those conclusions to be wrong. Until then, a "no god" conclusion based on the lack of evidence is justified, because as with untestable homeopathy, an untestable god can't have any effect on the world, and so may as well be absent. That's not a "belief," but a logically sound conclusion.

Jeff Wagg wrote, in his complaint:
I believe that if you equate skepticism with anything other than science, youíve missed the point.
To me, equating skepticism with science is also missing the point.
As for Christianity, skepticism has nothing to say except about testable claims associated therein. Bleeding statues? Yes, skepticism comes into play. Jesus rose and is in heaven? Seems unlikely, but thereís not a lot more to say.
But "seems unlikely" is a skeptical conclusion, so Wagg is simply being hypocritical.
The pro-atheist cause is an entirely different endeavor with a community that overlaps strongly with the skeptical community. Skepticism is about drawing conclusions that are proportioned to the available evidence. Thatís it. And I think keeping the two things separate if vitally important.
And the conclusion about religion that one can draw that's proportioned to the available evidence is that it "seems unlikely." Wagg doesn't seem to want to admit this, even though he said it himself.

Really, what Wagg's post boils down to seems to be a complaint that skepticism is being politicized in the "culture war" between atheists and theists. But in political fights, it's not only possible but quite likely that one side will be correct (as determined through skeptical methods). Global warming is a good example. If the correct skeptical conclusion is that the existence of God "seems unlikely," why shouldn't that be used and acknowledged by skeptics and atheists both in the battle against politically active theists?

Wagg says, "...to conflate atheism with skepticism dilutes atheism and destroys skepticism," but if atheism is the correct conclusion it can't possibly destroy skepticism, and it can only strengthen atheism. But what Wagg is worried about is losing the people who are theists and good skeptics on something other than religion. But even he admits that they are few in number. And if skeptical atheists hurt their feelings so much that they drop out of the skeptical "movement," I really don't see any difference between that and an alt-med skeptic who believes in Bigfoot dropping out. The difference between Bigfoot-believers and God-believers is only one of numbers, there's no reason to give theists a break just because there are a lot of them.

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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  08:14:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Good rebuttal. I too, picked up on the three speakers out of fifteen, and wondered whaddafork's the problem, here? Aren't 12 other speakers enough for him?

I guess it's true, that some people would bitch if you hanged them with a broken rope. But it reads like a racketty good meet-up with plenty of dissent all around. Again, wish I could be there.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

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and Crypto-Communist!

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Dave W.
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Posted - 11/20/2010 :  08:46:37   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by filthy

Good rebuttal.
Thanks.
I too, picked up on the three speakers out of fifteen, and wondered whaddafork's the problem, here? Aren't 12 other speakers enough for him?
From the comments at Pharyngula, it seems that upwards of half of the speakers may be directing their talks against religion, but the number itself is irrelevant. Again: if, as Wagg suggested, the proper skeptical conclusion is that religious claims "seem unlikely," then this should be promoted at skeptical conventions that touch on religion (as Skepticon III obviously does).

As someone else commented at Pharyngula, the idea that the skeptical movement should be a "big tent" that favors numbers over reality is itself a political argument that's antithetical to the core principles of skepticism.

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  11:23:02   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Look. There is an active debate going on in the skeptical community about demarkation lines for what is the promotion of scientific skepticism and what is the promotion of atheism. They are not one and the same, which I happen to agree with. Skepticism does not default to atheism. Even Myers has agreed with that in past postings. The problem with Skepticon stems from the original poster for the con that seems to indicate that this is a skeptics event for the purpose of promoting atheism.

Jeff is not saying that religion or things that can't be examined scientifically should not be viewed skeptically. He is an atheist after all and he knows why he became one. The problem stems from a blurring of the line. For example, Paul Kurtz knew that his CSICOP investigations and publication, Skeptical Inquirer was about testable claims, and his Free Inquiry magazine dealt with a more philosophical approach to dealing with skepticism toward matters of faith that are outside of the limits of what science can say much about.

Dave:
To me, equating skepticism with science is also missing the point.

Scientific skepticism has historically been joined at the hip with science. What these people are saying isn't that you shouldn't be skeptical of religion, or even that religion isn't fair game. What they are saying is that the wall between philosophical skepticism and scientific skepticism is being torn down and some see that as a detriment to advancing and promoting scientific skepticism as an method with boundary's that are necessary if it's to retain its integrity. What they are saying is there is a place for skepticism of those things that science can't deal with. And Dave. Bringing up homeopathy isn't one of those because it is in the realm of what is testable by science. Just because the proponents say science can't test it, because in reality it can and has been tested, is not the same thing as concluding that the existence of a god is at this time outside of what science can test for.

I don't see where Jeff is being hypocritical unless you see both philosophical skepticism and scientific skepticism as one and the same thing. Obviously Jeff doesn't and neither do many of the leaders of the skeptical movement.

I think the debate is legitimate. All Jeff was asking for was a change of name for the Con. Not that the topics are not worth talking about, or not having to do with critical thinking.

As for the 3 of 15 talks, when Jeff wrote that all of the talks were not announced yet. Here is a link to Jeff's original article on the Con:

Are Atheists Delusional? Thoughts on Skepticon3

In any case, it seems that the organizer of the Con absolutely believes skepticism = atheism.

In a reply to Jeff from JT Eberhard, Elberhard states:

JT to Jeff:

Jeff,

Skepticon touches on a myriad of skeptical issues, but focuses primarily on religion as we are in the Midwest where religion is thick and problematic. Whatís more, unlike some other organization, it is the opinion of most of our organizers that skepticism leads directly to some brand of atheism/metaphysical naturalism so the name ďSkepticonĒ fit in with precisely what we were wanting to do with the conference.

Hope that helps clear things up. :)

JT


Again, this is a conflation of philosophical and scientific skepticism.

I've been following this debate for a couple of weeks now. Maybe longer because it keeps coming up. Dj Grothe is less concerned about the brands of skepticism and thinks that Loxton and to a lesser extent Wagg (who is really a moderate on the subject, believe it or not), are doing too much hand wringing on the subject. On the other hand, Grothe is very much a "big tent" skeptic too.

I should also point out that the debate is happening at a very high level and one which I have followed with interest.

And for crying out loud, this is not about giving theists a break. It's about what is this and what is that. It's about definitions and demarkations. No one, and I mean no one, including Jeff is suggesting that we shouldn't question religion or whether God exists. The question is where should that question be placed without diluting the promotion of skepticism in general? How should it be presented?

Oh, and how shocking is it for PZ Myers to call Jeff Wagg's post stupid. Every single argument these people have made, Myers has called "stupid." As though he has cornered the market on what isn't stupid.

And Filthy. I do know Jeff Wagg. He's a good guy and he's level headed...


And now here it comes... I was hoping this wouldn't come up here because I'm pretty sure about what will come next. And it will be no picnic...




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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  12:13:03   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave:
From the comments at Pharyngula, it seems that upwards of half of the speakers may be directing their talks against religion, but the number itself is irrelevant. Again: if, as Wagg suggested, the proper skeptical conclusion is that religious claims "seem unlikely," then this should be promoted at skeptical conventions that touch on religion (as Skepticon III obviously does).

Every TAM has touched on religion. I was at the TAM that Myers spoke at. Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennet have been there more than once. (And by the way. Jeff played no small roll in organizing those events. It's not as though he's an arm chair critic.) The problem with this Con is it seemed to be focused mainly on religion which brought up the concern that the take away from this one will be that skepticism=atheism. That in order to be a skeptic you should default to atheism. And of course, that gets into the whole method vs conclusion area and what is skepticism and does it come in more than one flavor and so on.

I think those are legitimate concerns and a debate worth having, Myer's protestations not withstanding.

I wish I could plug you guys into the debate that's going on. But honestly, it's not about the good guys vs the bad guys. I wonder if Daniel would allow me to post the debate he had with DJ Grothe here. Hmmmm...

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  13:51:13   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave:
As someone else commented at Pharyngula, the idea that the skeptical movement should be a "big tent" that favors numbers over reality is itself a political argument that's antithetical to the core principles of skepticism.

I need to make one more point. Yeah, there are theists and deists who are skeptics too. We are free to question their faith, but we are not free to say that skepticism=atheism. Skepticism is a method and atheism is a conclusion. Are we looking for purity in skepticism or are we looking to bring people who are mostly reasonable and rational to the table? It was a deist who stopped several governments from buying a bomb sniffing dowsing device that would have almost surely killed many people. It was a Catholic who's devastating testimony at the Dover Pennsylvania evolution trial and who's own book was under attack there helped to convince the Judge that ID was about religion and not about science. Yeah. We do want a big tent, if those who hold beliefs that we don't agree with mostly bring reason to the table. And that's because skepticism covers a much broader area than atheism does in terms of topics of concern to us. Another "reality" is we need numbers and just about everyone is full of shit about something. How many times have we seen that here on these boards? Core principles indeed. Which ones?

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

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Posted - 11/20/2010 :  14:32:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

The problem with this Con is it seemed to be focused mainly on religion which brought up the concern that the take away from this one will be that skepticism=atheism.
The equals sign in there is nonsense, even if skepticism leads to atheism.
That in order to be a skeptic you should default to atheism.
More nonsense, even if skepticism leads to atheism. Atheism isn't a default, it's a conclusion. This is political big-tentism at the expense of encouraging all people to skeptically examine all of their own ideas.
And of course, that gets into the whole method vs conclusion area and what is skepticism and does it come in more than one flavor and so on.
Sure. I, for one, am not a "scientific skeptic." Criticial thinking, logic and reason apply outside of science, I cannot and will not limit their use to only scientific subjects. For example, the fact that "god" is untestable tells me, rationally, that it's a waste of time and effort to give that concept any credence whatsoever. That's not a scientifically skeptical conclusion, but it is a skeptical conclusion.
I think those are legitimate concerns and a debate worth having, Myer's protestations not withstanding.
Nobody is saying otherwise, since Myers' idea that the controversy is "petty and trivial" is belied by how much effort he puts into showing that Wagg is wrong.
I wish I could plug you guys into the debate that's going on.
Why can't you?
But honestly, it's not about the good guys vs the bad guys.
No, it's not. It's about someone who should know better building straw men and knocking 'em down. One can call another person's argument "stupid" (as Myers' does) without implying that that other person is a "bad guy."
I wonder if Daniel would allow me to post the debate he had with DJ Grothe here. Hmmmm...
Can't make a link? Oh, I bet it was on Facebook.

And in your post before that one:
The problem with Skepticon stems from the original poster for the con that seems to indicate that this is a skeptics event for the purpose of promoting atheism.
Why is that a "problem?" If there is a large overlap between the set of "skeptics" and the set of "atheists," why shouldn't there be a skeptics event for the promotion of atheism?
Jeff is not saying that religion or things that can't be examined scientifically should not be viewed skeptically.
He directly said that, when he constrasted such claims with how skepticism definitely applies to "bleeding statues."
He is an atheist after all and he knows why he became one.
I don't. And I don't really care.
The problem stems from a blurring of the line. For example, Paul Kurtz knew that his CSICOP investigations and publication, Skeptical Inquirer was about testable claims, and his Free Inquiry magazine that dealt with a more philosophical approach to dealing with skepticism toward matters of faith that are outside of the limits of what science can say much about.
That's fine for Paul Kurtz. Why must Skepticon follow the same model?
Scientific skepticism has historically been joined at the hip with science.
Yes, but skepticism predates modern science by thousands of years.
What these people are saying isn't that you shouldn't be skeptical of religion, or even that religion isn't fair game. What they are saying is that the wall between philosophical skepticism and scientific skepticism is being torn down and some see that as a detriment to advancing and promoting scientific skepticism as an method with boundary's that are necessary if it's to retain its integrity.
The "wall" between philosophical skepticism and scientific skepticism is the wall between epistemological nihilism and science, and that has nothing to do with anything that Wagg or I have said. Philosophical skepticism is the notion that knowledge itself is impossible, and I dismiss that philosophy outright as self-refuting.
What they are saying is there is a place for skepticism of those things that science can't deal with.
Why shouldn't that place be called "Skepticon III?"
And Dave. Bringing up homeopathy isn't one of those because it is in the realm of what is testable by science. Just because the proponents say science can't test it, because in reality it can and has been tested, is not the same thing as concluding that the existence of a god is at this time outside of what science can test for.
That's where you're wrong. Tests of God are impossible only because of how God's proponents define God. We have no objective definition of God because there's no evidence for any god, all we have is what the believers tell us. So if homeopathic proponents define homeopathy in such a way as to make it impossible to test, it should be treated exactly the same way (and homeopaths have, in real life, claimed that it works in a way that is undetectable via scientific means). There's no fundamental difference between untestable religious claims and the untestable claims of other sorts of woo. Suggesting otherwise is to give religion some sort of special status that it does not deserve.
I don't see where Jeff is being hypocritical unless you see both philosophical skepticism and scientific skepticism as one and the same thing. Obviously Jeff doesn't and neither do many of the leaders of the skeptical movement.
I don't, either. I don't see where philosophical skepticism applies to this at all. The question is whether or not we should - as skeptics - apply logic and reason to claims that lie outside of science. I say, "yes," while scientific skeptics seem to be saying, "no." Perhaps he's not hypocritical in that regard. He and they are free to limit their own use of critical thought, but they have no justification to even suggest that I should limit mine (because yes, I'm not engaging in "scientific skepticism" when doing so, but I'm still engaged in skepticism).
I think the debate is legitimate.
Nobody is saying otherwise.
All Jeff was asking for was a change of name for the Con.
Well, if what you're saying is correct, Kil, then Wagg is trying to own the word "skepticism" for strictly scientific skeptics. Screw that.
Not that the issues therein are not worth talking about, or not having to do with critical thinking.
But the name change complaint itself is dumb. Let's face it: there are relatively few dragons at Dragon*Con.
As for the 3 of 15 talks, when Jeff wrote that all of the talks were not announced yet. Here is a link to Jeff's original article on the Con:

Are Atheists Delusional? Thoughts on Skepticon3
Yes, I linked to it, also. Did you think I didn't read it?
In any case, it seems that the organizer of the Con absolutely believe skepticism = atheism.
No, they think that skepticism leads to atheism (JT's own words), and of a generally agnostic sort, too. The equals sign is a straw man.
Again, this is a conflation of philosophical and scientific skepticism.
No, it isn't. It is a rejection of the idea that the term "skepticism" equals only "scientific skepticism." But "skepticism" is the broadest term, so the science-only skeptics are going to need to use an adjective to distinguish themselves.
And for crying out loud, this is not about giving theists a break. It's about what is this and what is that. It's about definitions and demarkations. No one, and I mean no one, including Jeff is suggesting that we shouldn't question religion or whether God exists.
Wagg said, in no uncertain terms, that skepticism applies to "bleeding statues" and not to the question of Jesus rising to Heaven. According to you, what he really meant was "scientific skepticism," in which case he's right. But he's not right to assume or insist that everyone who uses the term "skepticism" must mean "scientific skepticism." That is what's stupid.
The question is where should that question be placed without diluting the promotion of skepticism in general? How should it be presented?
If the promotion of "skepticism in general" is paramount, then that will have to include those who apply skepticism outside of science, and the scientific skeptics are going to have to stop whining about it. If the "skeptical movement" has always contained more general skeptics than science-only skeptics, then it has always been "dilute" from your point-of-view, but that doesn't mean the movement as a whole isn't gaining strength.
Oh, and how shocking is it for PZ Myers to call Jeff Wagg's post stupid. Every single argument these people have made, Myers has called "stupid." Like he has cornered the market on what isn't stupid.
Wow, Kil, that's got to be the most petty thing I've ever seen you write.

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Dave W.
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Posted - 11/20/2010 :  14:58:23   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

I need to make one more point. Yeah, there are theists and deists who are skeptics too. We are free to question their faith, but we are not free to say that skepticism=atheism. Skepticism is a method and atheism is a conclusion.
See? Even you know that your equals sign is a straw man.
Are we looking for purity in skepticism or are we looking to bring people who are mostly reasonable and rational to the table?
You're asking the wrong question. Nobody is trying to close the skeptics' club to anyone, except people like Jeff Wagg who are saying that skepticism of religion isn't skepticism, but is instead itself a religion!
It was a deist who stopped several governments from buying a bomb sniffing dowsing device that would have almost surely killed many people.
And that doesn't mean that we shouldn't criticize his deism.
It was a Catholic who's devastating testimony at the Dover Pennsylvania evolution trial and who's own book was under attack there helped to convince the Judge that ID was about religion and not about science.
And it was that same Catholic who whined that he'd give up on promoting science if people didn't stop criticizing his religion.

Look, I'm not going to have my activism held for ransom by the sensitivities of a few people. None of them are so important individually that they cannot be replaced. Neither Bidlack's deism nor Miller's Catholicism were the primary reasons that they've done the good skeptical things they've done. In fact, they did the things they did due to a whole slew of wholly contingent events, and if we rewound time to their births we'd probably never hear of them again, and perhaps it would be atheists doing those things you're praising.
Yeah. We do want a big tent, if those who hold beliefs that we don't agree with mostly bring reason to the table.
So you're fine with having global-warming deniers in the "skeptics" camp so long as they bring reason to the table on other issues? Ditto for bigfoot, UFO, reiki, astrology, etc. believers? I think the time and effort spent by people compartmentalizing their own beliefs into cubbyholes untouchable by skepticism is a huge waste, and I wish they'd cut it all out.
And that's because skepticism covers a much broader area than atheism does in terms of topics of concern to us.
Yes, it does. Did someone say otherwise?
Another "reality" is we need numbers...
And Skepticon III, despite apparently prompting hostility from the scientific skeptics, is the biggest skeptical meeting to date.
...and just about everyone is full of shit about something. How many times have we seen that here on these boards?
And it's not like I tolerate it. I like to try to help people become less full of shit. I am not in favor of maintaining the status quo of being full of shit.
Core principles indeed. Which ones?
Question your own beliefs, for starters.

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
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Posted - 11/20/2010 :  14:58:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Fuck.

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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

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Posted - 11/20/2010 :  16:07:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Both Wagg and Kil have made the accusation that atheists are trying to "take over" skepticism and somehow "dilute" it by doing so. First, I don't see any evidence of this. Religion is one topic among many open to skeptical scrutiny. The latest Skepticon had several presentations which dealt with religion in a skeptical manner, but by no means were a majority on this subject. I haven't seen any evidence that these talks were overly aggressive or any more polemic than the talks on other subjects. I haven't heard that any of the content in the talks which specifically dealt with religion was untrue or inflammatory. I haven't heard of any that made it a point to say that believers weren't welcome or should be immediately escorted from the premises. Yet somehow these talks were characterized as needlessly provocative and dangerous to the skepticism movement.

The real complaint seems to be that topic of religion was broached at all. The fear is that by merely bringing up the topic of religion, certain believers will be made to feel uncomfortable. So? They don't have to attend those talks that deal with religion, then. I don't understand why Wagg or Kil think they have a right to dictate what other skeptics feel like discussing, though. As PZ said, the solution is to organize your own convention with your own lineup of speakers. If you think you can be a skeptic and a believer without contradiction, great! Feel free to set up a booth and pass out brochures advocating for your position. But just telling others that they should shut up isn't promoting "big tent" skepticism, it's actually doing the opposite. It's trying to censure a particular point of view. One that many people feel is actually true, I might add.

I'm not going to force anyone to renounce certain beliefs (as if I could) before granting them the status of "skeptic" (as if anyone is the bestower of that title), but neither am I going to pretend that I don't see a conflict between faith and skepticism. If someone wants to be skeptical about everything except a single topic, then I will see them as skeptics about everything except that single topic, whether it be UFOs, ghosts, ESP or gods. Skepticism isn't a club, it's a method for evaluating truth claims. And there's nothing wrong with pointing out when some people choose not to apply the method evenly. If "skeptical believers" are finding themselves conflicted and uncomfortable, then I'd argue that much of their discomfort stems from the fact that faith and skepticism really are in conflict and, being unable to logical defend this contradiction, they misinterpret their own frustration and discomfort as abuse coming from those who dared to make them think about it. So are atheist skeptics going out of their way to make believing skeptics feel unwelcome? Or are believing skeptics simply uncomfortable with the level of introspection that many feel proper skepticism demands? In any case, I think asking people to curtain off certain areas of skepticism as too controversial or unwelcoming or whatever is sending the wrong message. Skepticism is sometimes painful, and it's always difficult to give up a cherished belief. But I'm not going to treat one bit of woo preferentially over another, and I have not seen any convincing reasons for treating religious claims differently than we would any other spurious assertion.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 11/20/2010 16:10:15
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  16:45:29   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil
The problem with this Con is it seemed to be focused mainly on religion which brought up the concern that the take away from this one will be that skepticism=atheism.
Since I didn't attend, I would appreciate it if you could fill me in on about what was so different about this Con and how it crossed line. I understand it's Waggs' contention that this convention was hostile to religious skeptics, but he seemed to be basing this entirely on the fact that 3 talks out of 12 dealt with the topic of religion, which is something you yourself seem to take no issue with. So what exactly is the cause of all this concern?


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 11/20/2010 16:46:16
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  17:27:33   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Hey Humbert. I presented the argument. Yeah I defended Jeff because I know he is a thoughtful guy. And yeah, this debate is going on. But I also brought up DJ Grothe. I can't comment on the Con itself because I wasn't there. Please don't put words in my mouth. Also, why do you think that I think that religion shouldn't be discussed at a skeptics convention? Did you skip over the part about TAM? Fer crying out loud. Here's how it is. I see both sides of the argument and in general I have agreed with DJ Grothe. But these other people are in the debate, people I respect and admire. And the debate is worth having in my opinion. If for no other reason than to figure out where we as a skeptical community are going, where we need improvement, what mistakes are being made and etcetera.


Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  17:32:18   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave:
The equals sign in there is nonsense, even if skepticism leads to atheism.

Okay. Remove the equal sign and what you get is the idea that skepticism should lead to atheism. Thatís whatís implied. You can call that should a strawman, but you know as well as I do that the implication is there.
This is political big-tentism at the expense of encouraging all people to skeptically examine all of their own ideas.

Nonsense. Once again, no one has said that religion is out of bounds for skeptics to question, or that skeptics shouldnít question their own beliefs. What they are saying is that coming to what you and I would think of as the wrong conclusion does not mean that what they bring to the table isnít mostly reasonable and rational.
Sure. I, for one, am not a "scientific skeptic." Criticial thinking, logic and reason apply outside of science, I cannot and will not limit their use to only scientific subjects. For example, the fact that "god" is untestable tells me, rationally, that it's a waste of time and effort to give that concept any credence whatsoever. That's not a scientifically skeptical conclusion, but it is a skeptical conclusion.

True. Who is saying otherwise?
Why can't you?

You know I have a very long list of well known (at least in our community) skeptics who I am friends with on facebook. These subjects are debated often. But they are done in threads mostly. What can I do?
No, it's not. It's about someone who should know better building straw men and knocking 'em down. One can call another person's argument "stupid" (as Myers' does) without implying that that other person is a "bad guy."

Bad choice of words on my part.
Why is that a "problem?" If there is a large overlap between the set of "skeptics" and the set of "atheists," why shouldn't there be a skeptics event for the promotion of atheism?

Well, that is the question being debated, isnít it? Grothe sees no problem with it but several others do. Also, are we talking about the lack of evidence for a god or the promotion of atheism? There is a difference even if itís a subtle difference. I think itís the difference between promoting critical thinking and proselytizing. And before you accuse me of creating a strawman, Iím just responding to your choice of words. If thatís what they were doing at Skepticon, which is the concern of some, maybe it would be more precise to call it Atheistcon, eh?
He directly said that, when he constrasted such claims with how skepticism definitely applies to "bleeding statues."

He was speaking of scientific skepticism, obviously. He has made it clear that he is an atheist due to a lack of evidence for god. But since science says little about that other than ďwhereís the evidence?Ē there isnít much a skeptic can do with it but to conclude that ďthereís probably no god.Ē That may be a logical conclusion, but other than to become an atheist, which most of us are, what else is there from a skeptical perspective? And maybe I should repeat that TAM has had all but one of the leading activist atheists as speakers.

I have some history on this by the way. SFN exists because there was only so much we could say about agnosticism and atheism. At least for some of us, arguing with theists all the time got boring. Skepticism encompasses far more territory, including the god question.
That's fine for Paul Kurtz. Why must Skepticon follow the same model?

Obviously, they donít have toÖ
That's where you're wrong. Tests of God are impossible only because of how God's proponents define God. We have no objective definition of God because there's no evidence for any god, all we have is what the believers tell us. So if homeopathic proponents define homeopathy in such a way as to make it impossible to test, it should be treated exactly the same way (and homeopaths have, in real life, claimed that it works in a way that is undetectable via scientific means). There's no fundamental difference between untestable religious claims and the untestable claims of other sorts of woo. Suggesting otherwise is to give religion some sort of special status that it does not deserve.
Iíll grant you that some claims canít be ruled out by testing. As much as we would like to, we canít completely rule out the existence of Bigfoot. I just think you chose a bad analogy. Doesnít matter what the proponents say about homeopathy, if they link it to efficacy, which is exactly what they do. We know that it doesnít work any better than a placebo, no matter what other thing they claim about it. We know that because itís been tested. We can therefore dismiss any other claims make about ďhow it worksĒ because it doesnít.

And youíre right. Science canít say much about any claim that canít be tested. And I too am skeptical of claims that lack evidence. Religion isnít special that way.
Wagg said, in no uncertain terms, that skepticism applies to "bleeding statues" and not to the question of Jesus rising to Heaven. According to you, what he really meant was "scientific skepticism," in which case he's right. But he's not right to assume or insist that everyone who uses the term "skepticism" must mean "scientific skepticism." That is what's stupid.

Well, you can call it stupid. But there is a very long list of things that lack evidence that we doubt. I can make some up right now. And I think thatís the point. Sure, those things deserve our skepticism, but there isnít much we can do with it beyond pointing out that all of those claims lack evidence. We can even do it with vigor, as the atheists are doing. But beyond that, what else can we do about it? What can skepticism say beyond ďit ainít likely?Ē
Wow, Kil, that's got to be the most petty thing I've ever seen you write.

On no. Iím sure I have said other things that are pettier here on these forums. Beyond the science blogs Myers writes, which I do find interesting, I have no respect for the guy anymore. None.
So you're fine with having global-warming deniers in the "skeptics" camp so long as they bring reason to the table on other issues? Ditto for bigfoot, UFO, reiki, astrology, etc. believers? I think the time and effort spent by people compartmentalizing their own beliefs into cubbyholes untouchable by skepticism is a huge waste, and I wish they'd cut it all out.

I wish they would cut it out too. And I wish everyone were an atheist. And I wish Shermer and Penn didnít have to be convinced of AGW because their political beliefs prevented them from seeing the obvious. But yeah, if what they mostly bring to the table is reasonable and rational, Iím willing to overlook a thing or two. But Iím perfectly willing to argue any idea that I think is irrational and arrived at for the wrong reasons. Yup.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  17:51:08   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil
I can't comment on the Con itself because I wasn't there. Please don't put words in my mouth.
I didn't put words in your mouth. I quoted your words directly and asked you to clarify them. You said "The problem with this Con is it seemed to be focused mainly on religion," and I merely wondered on what grounds you came to that determination.

Also, why do you think that I think that religion shouldn't be discussed at a skeptics convention? Did you skip over the part about TAM?
No, Kil, it's just that you seem to be contradicting yourself. On the one hand, you absolutely insist that you have no problem with skeptics criticizing religion, yet you join Waggs in criticizing the latest Skepticon for doing nothing more than including talks which treated religion skeptically. So which is it? Was this latest Skepticon out of line or not? And if so, how? Please be specific.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 11/20/2010 17:52:13
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 11/20/2010 :  17:57:36   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Well, I started trying to Google up DJ Grothe's views on this, and haven't found anything yet. But Kylie Sturgess also conflates "skepticism" with "scientific skepticism" and inappropriately contrasts the latter with "philosophical skepticism."

Unless there's some new definition of "philosophical skepticism" of which I am unaware.

She quotes Daniel Loxton:
There are two proper areas of focus for skeptics. One is the promotion of science literacy and critical thinking (often using the paranormal as a pedagogical tool). The other is consumer protection in fringe science areas — in particular, as regards paranormal claims.
How horribly self-limiting.

Sturgess also quotes Desiree Schell on having to correct people about how skepticism isn't atheism, and she asks:
Where would they get that impression, if not from the public presentation of skepticism?
How about regular people who got it from creationists and others with a vested interest in painting skepticism in as evil a light as possible? Or maybe it's just people misunderstanding "my skepticism led to my atheism." There's a whole slew of possibilities, including the one she mentions.

So sad that she seems to find it onerous to have to educate the people she interviews.

But back to Sturgess:
To me, basically being skeptical means you investigate nature as if it is naturalistic or materialistic - following a methodology within that paradigm.
Well, then she can't be skeptical at all of religions which include a non-natural deity.

I'll have to continue my search later.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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