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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  10:08:48  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
So for a while now, there's been a debate about the "proper" scope of the "Skeptical Movement." (Scare-quotes apply, I think, because the lot of us are diverse enough that any movement we make will be in several directions at once.) Some people want to restrict what Barbara Drescher calls "Big-S Skepticism" (skeptical activism) to just scientific skepticism, in which claims are evaluated on a purely scientific, empirical basis, while others (like myself) see room for applications of skepticism to logical or philosophical claims.

Drescher, for example, would have most of us tossed out of the Skeptical Movement for failing to do empirical investigations of claims. For her, it seems that if you don't model your skepticism on Joe Nickell or Benjamin Radford (for examples), you're not a skeptic. So it's fine to say that this particular religious relic is probably not magical, or that a strange sight caught on video is probably a moth flying past the camera, but to go beyond that and say that the fundamental doctrines of known religions are garbage or that ghosts don't exist is verboten to those who hold to a scientific-skepticism-only view of how our activism should be expressed.

What the debate really boils down to is this: can skepticism "say" anything about claims which are untestable? Drescher's answer is "no," because she insists, basically, that skepticism and science are identical (in that all skepticism should be scientific). If science can't test something, then skepticism can't come to any conclusions about it, either. So, claims like "god exists" are outside the scope of skepticism for people like Drescher.

However, science is about evaluating evidence to provide us with the confidence to give provisional assent (to use Gould's term) to hypotheses. (Drescher knows this, as she asserts correctly that science cannot prove or disprove anything.) Scientifically, we cannot give provisional assent to any hypothesis that has no evidence in its favor, or has evidence that contradicts its truth.

It is my contention that any claim for which we cannot find favorable evidence (because the claim is untestable) needs to be viewed as not having evidence in its favor. Because it doesn't. Saying that a claim is untestable asserts that we will not have evidence upon which we can base provisional assent. Belief in a thing is a granting of provisional assent, so no skeptic should believe anything for which there can be no evidence.

Untestable claims are a dime-a-dozen. It is for that reason that we shouldn't grant them any amount of assent, however provisional, even to say, "well, you're entitled to your opinion." Because opinions, among skeptics, should still be based on observations and critical thought, even if they're less well-founded than better-evidenced beliefs.

(Also, it's easy to turn a failed empirical claim - like, "I have ESP" - into an untestable claim - like, "I have ESP which doesn't work when tested by skeptics." It should be easy to see that such claims are pathetic excuse-making, and that we should not give them a "shield" behind which they are untouchable. But that's precisely what insisting that skepticism applies to only testable claims does.)

Drescher's piece is mostly about atheism and/or liberalism "taking over" the skeptical movement. But if we can't grant provisional assent to the question of the existence of the divine (and due to its untestability, we really can't), then skeptics should be atheists. And if conservative policies can be empirically determined to backfire (see abstinence-only sex-ed, for one small example), then skeptics shouldn't be conservatives. This isn't equating skepticism with a "default" religious or political stance, but instead these are the reasoned conclusions we skeptics should reach, no different from the conclusions we regularly reach regarding Bigfoot or UFOs.

To summarize, if we shouldn't believe that for which there is no evidence, then we shouldn't believe that for which there can be no evidence.

(PZ Myers takes Drescher to task, too.)

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

USA
13462 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  11:39:40   [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
Gosh. I wish you had left Myers out of this. I hate to have to deal with his strawmen.

I suppose I'll have to weigh in now. But It might take me awhile.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  11:51:58   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.
(Also, it's easy to turn a failed empirical claim - like, "I have ESP" - into an untestable claim - like, "I have ESP which doesn't work when tested by skeptics." It should be easy to see that such claims are pathetic excuse-making, and that we should not give them a "shield" behind which they are untouchable. But that's precisely what insisting that skepticism applies to only testable claims does.)
Could not agree more. Any claim can be rendered "untestable" through ad hoc excuse making. The god hypothesis is not special in this regard. This was superbly illustrated by Carl Sagan's wonderful essay The Dragon In My Garage in which a person asserts the existence of an invisible, incorporeal dragon which breathes heatless fire. And here's how Sagan says we should handle such untestable claims:
Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

So Sagan himself states that an absence of evidence for an untestable claim doesn't mean skeptics must shrug their shoulders and make no comment, it means we should reject the hypothesis barring further evidence. Exactly so. If this were not the case, then skepticism could make no judgements, even tentative ones, about anything ever. If would render skepticism utterly toothless. A useless tool. Drescher wants to protect religious beliefs from skeptical scrutiny, but her reasons for doing so are questionable and specious. On her about page she gives a link to her religious beliefs.
I try to avoid talking about religion with students and acquaintances because the stereotype of an atheist is not pleasant; I do not want to offend or give the wrong impression. When someone I do not know well personally initiates a discussion, my first instinct is to keep it short and step lightly.
So says she tiptoes around other people's religious beliefs for fear of offending their deeply held sensibilities. Well, as others have pointed out, that's not really a good reason to avoid reaching conclusions on the probable truth value of religious mythology. If we believed personal feelings trump evidence, I doubt any of us would be skeptics.


"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 08/15/2011 11:57:25
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Ebone4rock
SFN Regular

USA
894 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  11:55:01   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Ebone4rock a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Gosh. I wish you had left Myers out of this. I hate to have to deal with his strawmen.

I suppose I'll have to weigh in now. But It might take me awhile.


Hmmm....just read Myers' whole spiel. I detected no strawmen. Are you the one strawmaning him?

Haole with heart, thats all I'll ever be. I'm not a part of the North Shore society. Stuck on the shoulder, that's where you'll find me. Digging for scraps with the kooks in line. -Offspring
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  11:55:02   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Gosh. I wish you had left Myers out of this. I hate to have to deal with his strawmen.
I didn't see any strawmen. Not saying they aren't there, but I found everything he had to say entirely reasonable. I'd be curious to see what you found to be a misrepresentation.


"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
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Ebone4rock
SFN Regular

USA
894 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  12:18:34   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Ebone4rock a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I think this whole attitude is more of a common social attitude than it is a problem with skepticism.

Ask an old biker what he thinks of the new generation of yuppie bikers and you will get " they are not real bikers".
Ask any old metalhead what he thinks of nu-metal you will get " That's not TRUE metal.

And the list goes on. Nothing truly profound is happening here.


Haole with heart, thats all I'll ever be. I'm not a part of the North Shore society. Stuck on the shoulder, that's where you'll find me. Digging for scraps with the kooks in line. -Offspring
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alienist
Skeptic Friend

USA
210 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  13:07:17   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send alienist a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I think Barbara Drescher is avoiding the elephant in the living room. Certainly in this country, religion is affecting science research, our education, our politics.

The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well! - Joe Ancis
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  14:57:52   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by H. Humbert

Could not agree more. Any claim can be rendered "untestable" through ad hoc excuse making. The god hypothesis is not special in this regard. This was superbly illustrated by Carl Sagan's wonderful essay The Dragon In My Garage in which a person asserts the existence of an invisible, incorporeal dragon which breathes heatless fire. And here's how Sagan says we should handle such untestable claims:
Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.
So Sagan himself states that an absence of evidence for an untestable claim doesn't mean skeptics must shrug their shoulders and make no comment, it means we should reject the hypothesis barring further evidence.
It seems that Drescher would disagree (mostly for semantic reasons?):
A good skeptic would not say there is no such thing as extrasensory perception. A good skeptic would say that we have no evidence to support precognition, telekinesis, etc.
A good skeptic, apparently, splits hairs. For all practical purposes to skeptics, "there is no such thing as..." and "we have no evidence to support..." and "we must reject the hypothesis that..." are all synonymous. We all grok the context of science, that is that it can neither prove nor disprove any hypothesis, only test evidence for or against them. We all really do understand that we must change our opinions based on new evidence. Drescher's complaint is about the words in a statement, and not the idea behind the statement. I'm not compelled by such form-over-substance arguments to think Drescher has a good handle on the ideas themselves.
Drescher wants to protect religious beliefs from skeptical scrutiny, but her reasons for doing so are questionable and specious.
In some cases, they are blatantly fallacious:
But Amanda would like to cast out Pamela Gay because Pamela believes in a personal God. Never mind the fact that she has never tried to sell that view to others, that she never claimed to support it with evidence, or that she is a very competent and knowledgeable Skeptic, scientist, science educator, and science communicator. Nevermind that Pamela Gay is a valued member of the Skeptical community who has done more to educate and excite young minds about science than all but a few others....

Pamela Gay is not being
irrational. Amanda Marcotte is.
And Drescher is just implying that kicking Pamela Gay out of Skepticism would be a bad thing. It's an obvious argument from consequences, and in no way a defense of Drescher's position or even of Gay's theism.

What makes it worse is that Amanda Marcotte only mentioned Pamela Gay by quoting Daniel Loxton. Loxton mentioned that Gay holds religious beliefs that make her want to avoid the anti-theists at skeptical events, Marcotte reacted to Loxton's words, but Drescher thinks that Marcotte wants to kick Pamela Gay out of the Skeptic's Club?!
On her about page she gives a link to her religious beliefs.
I try to avoid talking about religion with students and acquaintances because the stereotype of an atheist is not pleasant; I do not want to offend or give the wrong impression. When someone I do not know well personally initiates a discussion, my first instinct is to keep it short and step lightly.
So says she tiptoes around other people's religious beliefs for fear of offending their deeply held sensibilities.
You know, I make no secret of my atheism, but I don't go flaunting it at random people I encounter face-to-face, either. I suspect that Drescher and I probably act a lot alike in that regard, but that's a political decision informed by skepticism based on sociological data. Not wanting to offend people isn't itself a skeptical conclusion.
Well, as others have pointed out, that's not really a good reason to avoid reaching conclusions on the probable truth value of religious mythology.
Indeed!
If we believed personal feelings trump evidence, I doubt any of us would be skeptics.
That offends my deeply held personal belief about why I am a skeptic.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  15:29:52   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.
And Drescher is just implying that kicking Pamela Gay out of Skepticism would be a bad thing. It's an obvious argument from consequences, and in no way a defense of Drescher's position or even of Gay's theism.
And that's the issue. While many accommodationists want skeptics to lay off religion, none of them seem to be willing to actually defend theism. No new atheist, to my knowledge, has ever said theists can't be skeptics. What has been said is that theists should not expect their religious beliefs to be privileged in any way or to be exempt from skeptical scrutiny. Pamela Gay might feel uncomfortable whenever her religious beliefs are criticized, but so what? She's free to defend them if she chooses. Gay's discomfort seems to stem from the fact that she can't defend her beliefs and has no desire to try. So instead we get impassioned plaints about hurt feelings and "discrimination," when the reality is that theists want special protections.


"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 08/15/2011 15:32:23
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  16:19:10   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Ok, I couldn't resist positing a comment on Drescher's article.

This is my post, currently awaiting moderation:

Drescher said:
I am angry because an influx of people who have stumbled upon or been recruited to the work of Skepticism are making it much more difficult. We’re moving backwards. This is happening, in part, because some of these rookies insist that their understanding of that work is as good or better than the understanding of people who have studied and worked in the field for years. Many have little or no education in the basics of science or the scientific process. Some claim to follow the teachings of people whose works they have never read. Some believe that the ‘old guard’ have more to learn from them than the other way around.
I don’t know where you learned about skepticism, but I learned from Carl Sagan. I presume you will acknowledge he was part of the “old guard” and very familiar with how science works. In his essay The Dragon In My Garage, Sagan demonstrates that any claim can be made to be untestable with enough ad hoc excuses. He uses the example of an invisible, incorporeal dragon which breathes heatless fire and maddeningly never leaves behind any physical evidence of its existence. The parallels to other alleged supernatural agents are obvious. What position does Sagan suggest skeptics take when faced with such an unevidenced, untestable claim? Well, he says:
Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.
So he indicates we are to reject the hypothesis barring further evidence. Was he wrong to advocate reaching tentative conclusions? Was Sagan ignorant of science, skepticism and suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect as well?

"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
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13462 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  21:37:18   [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
You know what? I have been thinking about how to approach this all day. And what I have decided is to not try to defend Barbara's post. It's not that I don't think she's mostly correct, but I have my own thoughts about this and that's where I would like to go. I would also like a clean discussion about the scope of skepticism.

As for strawmen, maybe it's a misunderstanding, but there is this idea that Myers and others are arguing that the idea of differentiating between methods of inquiry, empiricism vs. rationalism, which is what the scope debate is really about, is a way to let religion off the hook or to tell atheists to get out of town. That’s not it at all. Modern skepticism, the model being scientific skepticism, is rife with claims evaluated when they in a realm that can be tested. (You know… The one we live in, which is likely the only realm there is.) There are many examples of religious claims being challenged by scientific skeptics. I'm not going to bother to list them. Everyone in this discussion knows about tests for the efficacy of intercessory prayer and weeping statues and healing's and such. I agree however that we can't rule the existence of god out (or in) that way, nor can we rule out psi. We can only rule out psi or god claims, as they far as they can be tested, which is pretty far. And of course, there's a very good chance that we will become skeptical of god or psi when all testable claims fail in test after test. Duh. Most of the people arguing that sci methodology is at the heart of skepticism are deeply skeptical of god and psi and ghosts and so on.

The problem that some of us see is the conflation of rationalism with empiricism. The conflation of distinctly different epistemologies. In modern times, empiricism has been the method that skeptics have used. Skepticism, the brand, has been science based. It’s not that skeptics aren’t rationalists also, but they kept the kinds of conclusions that can be made using those methods separate. For example, the CFI has, for almost as long as they have been in existence, published two magazines. One dealt in the area of science, and sought out and tested claims that seemed dubious at best and complete baloney at worst. Those were handled by CSICOP and published in the Skeptical Inquirer. The other magazine dealt with more philosophical issues, like the god question, and so on. That was the freethinking, humanist, atheist and agnostic, what have you magazine. There was no attempt to not deal with issues like religion, but there was an acknowledgement that conclusions from a rationalist perspective are methodologically different from the science based skeptical part of their mission. And by publishing both magazines there was and is an acknowledgment that both methods are useful, depending on the question being asked.

All too often, lately, I see people who self identify as skeptics, simply because they are atheists. I realize that I’m heading on to anecdotal turf, but I’m not blind to it and it just keeps happening, so bare with me awhile. Sure, it may be a rationalist approach, a logical conclusion that lead many of those people to atheism. But too often they subscribe to conspiracy theories, they are anti vaxxers, they think the moon landing was a hoax, and you know… Just about everything that scientific skepticism has looked at and debunked. I’m talking every day. My facebook friends list has grown to over a thousand, and most of those who friend me do it because I’m an atheist and a skeptic. My news feeds are full of bullshit. Honest! They call themselves skeptics and when I call them on their baloney, they say they are just being skeptical, and as a skeptic, I should be too. Way to miss the point! Way to not understand what skepticism is about! But how can they know when they haven’t learned the basics? That what makes skepticism different from other epistemologies is that it’s evidence (science) based. They wouldn’t know the scientific method if it hit them on the head. And they call themselves “skeptics.” And you know why? They honestly believe that their atheism, and the logic that brought them to it, demonstrates their bona fieds as skeptics.

Is this true of all atheists? Of course not. But there are enough of them to cause me and several other skeptics to worry about the future of skepticism. About what is this and what is that. It’s my view that science is at the heart of skepticism. That view is shared by just about every skeptical organization out there, and most of the professional skeptics who are doing the heavy lifting as well. The brand, Skepticism™, is becoming a muddle. Some of us, consequently, think those old school skeptics who started the modern skeptical movement weren’t so dumb after all by keeping the methods separate.

No one is saying there shouldn’t be atheist originations, or political opinions. And many of us wear more than one hat. I do. But we need to get it though to people that there is more than one method to cover all of our concerns, and that not all of us must wear both hats. What we must do, however, is to know the difference.


Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/15/2011 :  22:43:19   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Nononono, Kil. The atheists who are conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers, moon-landing hoaxers (etc.) are neither skeptics nor rationalists. They are contrarians. Your examples have nothing to do with a skeptic/rationalist separation of methodologies, because the contrarians subscribe to neither methodology.

And any movement popular enough to generate conferences with 1,000+ people is going to attract its share of raging lunatics who self-identify with the in-group for all the wrong reasons. Popularity denies purism. Ask any of the 1,500 Christian denominations in the US why they went through a schism to become what they are now. The trick, I think, is to allow the lunatics to schism themselves away simply by maintaining a steady course, and not calling them heretics like Drescher did.

And this still is about Dresher:
As for strawmen, maybe it's a misunderstanding, but there is this idea that Myers and others are arguing that the idea of differentiating between methods of inquiry, empiricism vs. rationalism, which is what the scope debate is really about, is a way to let religion off the hook or to tell atheists to get out of town. That’s not it at all.
Except that Drescher made it rather explicit that that's exactly what it's about. Big-S Skepticism is her way or the highway.

My point is that scientific inquiry is a method to ensure that those things we grant our provisional assent are likely to be true. And because of that, those things for which we cannot gather evidence in principle cannot be granted provisional assent in any scientifically skeptical way. This directly contradicts the idea that skepticism "can't say anything" about such subjects. We can. We can say that if it's impossible to scientifically collect supporting evidence for a hypothesis, then it's impossible to grant provisional assent.

In still other terms, a scientific skeptic shouldn't be in the business of saying that we can't reject hypotheses which could not possibly have any supporting evidence. But that's exactly what Drescher says. This isn't rationalism contra skepticism, this is scientific skepticism.

In yet other words, practicality (surely a scientific ideal) demands that we treat claims with no supporting evidence the same as claims for which there can be no supporting evidence. Drescher and those like her are pulling a bait-and-switch by first pointing to the beauty and utility of practical empiricism in skepticism and then denying its power not because some unevidenced claim might someday gain supporting evidence (like Wegener's Continental Drift at first), but because the unevidenced claim can never gain supporting evidence.

If we know a hypothesis can never find empirical support, why not file it with all the other claims that have no empirical support?

Actually, there's the rank hypocrisy: it's apparently okay for scientific skepticism to "say something" about claims which have been tested and failed, but it's not okay for it to "say something" about claims which cannot possibly - even in principle - be successful. While there are highly nuanced philosophical differences between the two, none of them matter when the context is empirical realism. A failure to start is as good as a failure to finish.

Hell, from a scientific standpoint, being "not even wrong" is worse than being wrong.

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

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 08/16/2011 :  21:48:30   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
From Drescher's article:
I am angry because an influx of people who have stumbled upon or been recruited to the work of Skepticism are making it much more difficult. We’re moving backwards. This is happening, in part, because some of these rookies insist that their understanding of that work is as good or better than the understanding of people who have studied and worked in the field for years. Many have little or no education in the basics of science or the scientific process.

Looks like you are out of the club Kil, and so are people like Randi, and anyone who has no formal science training. That means most of the people here are out of the club! Harsh!

A good skeptic would never state that there are no ghosts. A good skeptic would investigate specific claims of hauntings, searching for natural phenomenon which would explain the evidence. A good skeptic would not say there is no such thing as extrasensory perception. A good skeptic would say that we have no evidence to support precognition, telekinesis, etc.

Actually, a good skeptic would look at the massive body of work with regard to psi, ghosts, etc and say that there is no compelling evidence for any of those things being real in spite of the tremendous amount of time and effort spent investigating such claims, therefore the provisional conclusion is that things of this nature aren't real. I'll change my mind if new evidence presents itself.

Skepticism is not about pointing out the weaknesses of arguments. It is about evaluating the evidence. These are not even close to being the same. When a self-proclaimed psychic moves the bar and says, “If it failed the test, then the forces that give me these powers do not want to be seen,” they make their claim untestable. Skeptics then have nothing to say in response.

Sure we do Babs! We can point and laugh at the idiot.

Let me digress a moment about claims. Claims are the basis of everything we do. Evaluating them is, quite literally, the very first (and unavoidable) step. Babs here states that we can't say anything about untestable claims... to bad for her she just said something about them. When a person intentionally states a claim in an untestable format what we can say to them is this, that claim can't be tested. If it can't be tested then it isn't useful. Untestable claims are not useful. When it is a person stating a claim like this we can use our knowledge of human nature to empirically evaluate the reason they have done so. In Babs' example, the forces that don't want to be seen, wouldn't it be a massive oversight (unforgivable, in fact) to fail to think about why a person would want to state a claim in such a way? Seriously Babs, if a person is trying to sell you an untestable claim, what is the first thing that pops into your head? I'm betting its a word like "bullshit".

This is also what we do with religious claims. If someone claims that God created man as he is today, we can point to the evidence which support the theory of evolution. If they claim that God created the universe, we can point to the evidence for the Big Bang. If they claim that God created the universe and man by making these natural processes possible, well then, we can’t refute that.

Well, its a good thing that most religions make claims about gods that are interactive with humans at some level, isn't it? I'm pretty sure the last large group of people to believe in the clockwork universe were the Unitarians of the late 1700s?

The fact is that most claims made by religions can be stated in a testable format. All too often they are not, intentionally so, stated that way. It is good skepticism to question those claims even if Babs disagrees.

I will digress again, briefly, about claims. If a person presents you with one stated in untestable format, why isn't it ok to restate that claim in a testable format? Or ask a different question about the claim? Why would we limit ourselves in such a fashion? If you tell me that some forces don't want to be seen, why isn't it ok for me to ask you why that is the case and what conditions would make them willing to show themselves? Why should my response, as Babs says, be to "say nothing"? Scientific thinking would not limit itself in such a manner, so I really have no idea why she would say such a thing. Science is all about evaluating the logic of arguments. Your initial hypothesis is a statement about why you think a thing is true and how you would go about testing it. It is an argument, and it has to be properly formatted to include falsifiability. If you just ignored everything that seemed untestable because the claim (or hypothesis) was improperly stated you'd be doing it wrong. You look at it and see if you can state in a testable format before you get to the point of having nothing to say. Sorry Babs, you are wrong.

The behaviors which, in my opinion, are the most troublesome, are:

conflating atheism with skepticism. This goes beyond the old arguments about testability and method vs. conclusion. In recent years, I have see these terms used interchangeably far too often. More and more speakers at major conferences (like TAM) have little connection with Skepticism and more atheism-laden conferences are adopting names and promotional language which suggests that the meeting is about Skepticism. I suspect that the overlap of ‘members’ of the atheism and skepticism movements is at the root of this.

calling for social change related to political ideology or other values. Attempts by Michael Shermer and Sam Harris to promote their values were at least attempts to provide scientific support for those values. More recently Shermer publicly acknowledged (during the climate change panel at TAM8) that political values are outside the scope of Skepticism. However, there remain a large number of Skeptics who continue to argue for the promotion of ‘progressive values’ and Liberal ideology in the name of Skepticism.

insisting that offending and ridiculing believers is an effective means of outreach.

1. Many skeptics are atheists because of our skepticism. Not the other way around. We are not convinced by the arguments of religion. I suspect Babs is an atheist too.

2. Social and political change based on empirical evidence? Why is that a bad thing? When the evidence says we are cooking our planet and the politics have intentionally distorted the evidence for purely political reasons, I think skeptics are justified in calling for political change. Setting policies based on empirical evidence should be something all skeptics want to see happen, isn't it?

3. I disagree, but I call bullshit on the idea that being nice to believers is an effective means of outreach too. Support that shit with some evidence Babs! Oh, wait, there are decades of evidence that demonstrate being nice gets you nowhere with religious people who want to make laws and set policy based on their unsupported personal religious beliefs. Imagine me pointing a finger at US science education right now.... being nice got us that. I do agree that ridicule should be saved for the ones who are so willfully ignorant that they are immune to evidence and argument, but it can't be discarded from the toolbox just because Babs doesn't like it.



Kil said:
All too often, lately, I see people who self identify as skeptics, simply because they are atheists. I realize that I’m heading on to anecdotal turf, but I’m not blind to it and it just keeps happening, so bare with me awhile. Sure, it may be a rationalist approach, a logical conclusion that lead many of those people to atheism. But too often they subscribe to conspiracy theories, they are anti vaxxers, they think the moon landing was a hoax, and you know… Just about everything that scientific skepticism has looked at and debunked. I’m talking every day. My facebook friends list has grown to over a thousand, and most of those who friend me do it because I’m an atheist and a skeptic. My news feeds are full of bullshit. Honest!

I understand the frustration here. I know plenty of people who are smart, atheist or agnostic, but believe something so utterly stupid on some topic that you have to just pause and go WTF? Misinformation is the enemy, and I don't think we should discount this set of people unless they are unswayed by good argument and evidence. I try to respond to the stupid shit on FB when I see it in my newsfeeds, and sometimes I think I convince a few people.


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
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Posted - 08/17/2011 :  00:24:22   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Can someone explain to me what Drescher means by "scientific skepticism" and how it differs from plain old "science." Because as far as I can see, she's using the terms interchangeably.


"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
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
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Posted - 08/17/2011 :  01:05:59   [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
Originally posted by H. Humbert

Can someone explain to me what Drescher means by "scientific skepticism" and how it differs from plain old "science." Because as far as I can see, she's using the terms interchangeably.


Scientific skepticism


Scientific Skepticism, CSICOP, and the Local Groups


Scientific Skepticism: A Tutorial

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
13462 Posts

Posted - 08/17/2011 :  01:15:08   [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
Originally posted by Dude

From Drescher's article:
I am angry because an influx of people who have stumbled upon or been recruited to the work of Skepticism are making it much more difficult. We’re moving backwards. This is happening, in part, because some of these rookies insist that their understanding of that work is as good or better than the understanding of people who have studied and worked in the field for years. Many have little or no education in the basics of science or the scientific process.


Looks like you are out of the club Kil, and so are people like Randi, and anyone who has no formal science training. That means most of the people here are out of the club! Harsh!


Only if you add the word "formal," which you just did.

I'm sorry I don't have more time to respond to everything you guys have written so far. I will get to it. I've been busy the last few days, and tonight I crashed...

Oh, and Dude. So what parts of Barbara Dreschers article do you agree with? Because when I posted it on facebook you said you agreed with a lot of what she was saying and that we probably don't have many differences with regard to scope. So what parts do you agree with?

And is there any particular reason why you are calling her "Babs?" I didn't know that you knew her, if that's the reason.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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