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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  06:50:49  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Friendly Atheist just posted about a major blunder made by the Backyard Skeptics in Orange County (the same group that recently did the stunt of ripping up Bible verses in public). They put up a billboard with a quote from Thomas Jefferson that Jefferson never actually made.

Having helped to organize a billboard campaign before, I know how expensive it is and how much preparation is involved. It is pretty pathetic that a group that attaches the word "skeptic" to itself would get all the way to the point of erecting such a billboard without even checking to see if the quote is legit.

I went to their website and in addition to not acknowledging their mistake, they make at least one false statement right in the first paragraph about the billboard:
Some Christians think that our nation was based in Christianity. This quote by a President who authored the Constitution clearly states that our ‘heritage’ was not based in religion but the enlightenment.
The quote is a statement of personal opinion, not about the nation or government. And Jefferson was only one of many authors of the Constitution. So, no, the quote does not state that the heritage of the USA is the Enlightenment, much less state it clearly.

Also, as someone who lives in Philadelphia, a place of great historic significance for the founding of the United States, I can tell you that Jefferson is one of the most mis-quoted people in American history (if not the most mis-quoted). I recently found out that even the Philadelphia zoo has a quote from Jefferson as part of one of their displays which while technically accurate, is taken totally out of context so as to mean something quite different from what Jefferson intended.

Self-declared skeptics should be better than that.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  08:45:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
That's gonna leave a mark.

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  09:27:00   [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
This is one of the problems that Daniel Loxton is on about. Newer "skeptics" not getting that there is a responsibility to the facts, not doing their homework, and basically setting out with an agenda that is not particularly grounded in critical thinking and skepticism as a method. As our numbers swell, so does the misunderstanding of what skepticism is about. That's why he keeps bringing up SI and other skeptical publications (those older guys) as a guideline for how skepticism should be applied.

I think he has a point.

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  12:41:13   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

This is one of the problems that Daniel Loxton is on about. Newer "skeptics" not getting that there is a responsibility to the facts, not doing their homework, and basically setting out with an agenda that is not particularly grounded in critical thinking and skepticism as a method. As our numbers swell, so does the misunderstanding of what skepticism is about. That's why he keeps bringing up SI and other skeptical publications (those older guys) as a guideline for how skepticism should be applied.

I think he has a point.
But this failure wasn't due to someone not sticking to subjects amenable to strict "scientific skepticism." These guys weren't publishing the results of an investigation into whether Thomas Jefferson said the quote he didn't say, they were just trying to drum up a few more members, and they were sloppy about it.

If anything, it looks like we're going back to the old "don't call yourself a skeptic if you're just an atheist" thing from last year with Skepticon.

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podcat
Skeptic Friend

435 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  13:33:20   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send podcat a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Trick is, being an atheist doesn't protect you from error.

“In a modern...society, everybody has the absolute right to believe whatever they damn well please, but they don't have the same right to be taken seriously”.

-Barry Williams, co-founder, Australian Skeptics
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  14:29:27   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave wrote:
"don't call yourself a skeptic if you're just an atheist"
I agree with that. We don't have that problem in Philly since there is a prominent group that identifies as skeptic which does actually stick to the kind of strict scientific skepticism that Kil mentioned. So much so that they wouldn't join the Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason because it was too focused on religious skepticism for them. But north of here a "Drinking Skeptically" started that, from their FB page, seem to be really just an atheist group that likes to call themselves skeptics.

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Randy
SFN Regular

USA
1990 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  14:31:29   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Randy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by podcat

Trick is, being an atheist doesn't protect you from error.


Brings that recent train-wreck Officiant to mind.

"We are all connected; to each other biologically, to the earth chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically."

"So you're made of detritus [from exploded stars]. Get over it. Or better yet, celebrate it. After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?"
-Neil DeGrasse Tyson
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  21:45:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by marfknox

I agree with that.
The problem is, though, that it's just a label. There are a lot of "old school" skeptics who want to reserve the label "skeptic" for their specific brand of scientific skepticism, obviously for PR purposes, but in seeming ignorance of the fact that they cannot stop random people from also glomming onto the label.

For example, no matter how much we call them "deniers," anti-global warming people call themselves "climate skeptics." This has been a fact of life for years now, and doesn't really call for more than a roll-eyes within the skeptical movement anymore. But if a group of skeptics who aim their skepticism at religion call their convention "Skepticon"... well, the old-school skeptics have conniptions and write page after page about how they should have called it "Atheistcon."

So I find the whole thing about what these groups call themselves a huge waste of effort. I don't know enough about the Backyard Skeptics to say whether they're more atheist than skeptic (though what I do know suggests that's true), but I do know that getting all verklempt at them without writing daily diatribes against the climate "skeptics" is a bit uneven.

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 10/27/2011 :  23:23:39   [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:
...but I do know that getting all verklempt at them without writing daily diatribes against the climate "skeptics" is a bit uneven.

But when we encounter those who call themselves "climate skeptics" we don't let them get away with it. We do call them deniers and not skeptics. So what's the uneven part? I don't really care about what they think they can call themselves. I care about what I think they can call themselves if the word "skepticism" is to mean anything to us, as a community. If what they do fails to employ critical thinking, logic and science as the best way to evaluate the evidence for whatever it is they are focusing on, than I'm not willing to call them skeptics. This is The Skeptic Friends Network. The word "skeptic" has to mean something in that title. Even if we broaden the term to include atheism, and I don't really think we should, those atheists better damn well be skeptics too, as we have traditionally applied the term.

I understand that there is overlap. And I understand that many atheists became atheists by way of their skepticism which includes a requirement for evidence. But I also understand that there are people of faith who are very good skeptics, and people who are atheists who aren't skeptics at all. If what a person brings to the table is mostly reasonable, isn't that what we are promoting? I may not draw the line exactly where Daniel and Jeff do, but it's pretty darn close and I am drawing a line. So yeah. I think the label does mean something and it's not "just a label" and it does require some protection by us if it's to have any meaning.

And just to be clear, I have no idea who the Backyard Skeptics are or what they promote. But if they are going to call themselves skeptics, they had better be promoting skepticism even if their focus is on religion.


Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 10/28/2011 :  04:45:31   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

But when we encounter those who call themselves "climate skeptics" we don't let them get away with it. We do call them deniers and not skeptics. So what's the uneven part?
The amount of umbrage taken and the amount of effort expended trying to correct the situation.

I think that perhaps Skepticon caught so much flak from the stricter skeptics because they think the organizers of the conference should have known better. We know that climate skeptics and evolution skeptics call themselves that in an effort to make their unreasonable positions seem like healthy doubt, and that's to be expected from inherently dishonest people, but JT Eberhard has been around the block a few times and should know what the old-school skeptics think skepticism entails (not god questions), so Skepticon was like a slap in the face to them.
I think the label does mean something and it's not "just a label" and it does require some protection by us if it's to have any meaning.
The world seems to be ticking along just fine in spite of the lack of protection given to the word "football."

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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 10/28/2011 :  05:39:40   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave and Kil, you both make a lot of good points. I find myself so far unable to have a hard and fast opinion one way or the other.

One thing not mentioned is how often "skeptic" is used to mean someone having general doubt about everything, regardless of logic, reason, or critical thinking. I suppose they might more accurately be called postmodernists. They drive me about as nuts as climate or evolution skeptics.

Part of me likes the idea of labels that can't be pinned down outside of a specific context. I have definitely gotten some quizzical looks when I've told someone I'm a "skeptic" or "humanist", which is part of why I like those labels best. It gives me an opportunity to explain my worldview, and leaves less room to be misunderstood. The problem with many labels is that though they are often used many different ways, there is often one prevailing association, and so if someone applies just that label to themselves, there is gobs of room for misuse and misunderstanding. Labels are best when used as shorthand to save time in a context where they are clearly understood. Beyond that, they have a lot of shortcomings and limitations.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 10/28/2011 :  08:11:04   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by marfknox

Dave and Kil, you both make a lot of good points. I find myself so far unable to have a hard and fast opinion one way or the other.
Just to be clear, my opinion is that the strict scientific skeptics aren't doing themselves any favors by trying to own the word "skeptic." While I can see the utility of owning the word, it ain't gonna happen, no matter how many angry diatribes get written against fellow (but less strict) freethinkers.

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 10/28/2011 :  09:25:30   [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 Dave W.

Originally posted by marfknox

Dave and Kil, you both make a lot of good points. I find myself so far unable to have a hard and fast opinion one way or the other.
Just to be clear, my opinion is that the strict scientific skeptics aren't doing themselves any favors by trying to own the word "skeptic." While I can see the utility of owning the word, it ain't gonna happen, no matter how many angry diatribes get written against fellow (but less strict) freethinkers.
I have never suggested that we should eat our own. But we do have labels such as huminist, freethinkers as well as some less than successful labels like brights. It's fairly typical that humanist organizations have among there ranks, atheists, skeptics, agnostics, a smattering of believers and skeptics. And I am for umbrella organizations that cover all of those issues that we have in common. I see it as a coalition that boosts our numbers an gives us more political clout, hopefully. I'll also point out that skeptic conventions like TAM is inclusive, even though it's primarily a skeptic event. For example, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett as well as the the president of American Athiests have all been TAM speakers, and some, more than once. PZ Myers along with Jamala Bay were on the panel this year discussing the diversity in skepticism. And some common ground was found. TAM is a skeptics convention, and even though the focus at TAM is on traditional skepticism, it's not as though skeptics do not recognize the importance of the freethinking community in general.

But still, I also think that within that coalition are groups that focus on different areas of concern to freethinkers. And the labels are important identifiers.

I have no problem with umbrella organizations, and no one has said that skeptics should not associate with atheists or their organizations.

But I am against conflating the labels. Just like I don't want libertarianism to be the default political ideology of skeptics, I feel the same about atheism being conflated with skepticism to the point that one can announce that they are an atheist, and therefor a skeptic. Those are different things. For one thing, skepticism is a method that may lead to atheism, but just like with libertarianism, being one doesn't necessarily make you a skeptic. The important thing to remember is that skepticism is a method and not a conclusion. The only thing we as skeptics should automatically default to is our method, and not our conclusions.

What we promote is a set of tools that may lead us to some conclusions, but those conclusions are not skepticism. They are conclusions. And a skeptic can and should be able to explane how those conclusions were arrived at. Just like in science, it's the method that is the most important thing.

And yeah. I may not be able to control how people label themselves, but I'm willing to try. As a brand, I think skepticism should have a specific meaning for many reasons.

And by the way, everyone knows that American football, and what the rest of the world calls football are not the same thing. So there isn't much potential for confusion there. But when a journalist actually conflates skepticism with atheism, I think we may have a problem. And that did happen durring Skepticon.

Simply put, we should not be comfortable conflation the methods that we promote with our conclusions. And that's what some of us are objecting to. We can argue for our conclusions, but it means nothing if we don't have the method for arriving at them to back our conclusions up.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 10/28/2011 :  10:47:45   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

But when a journalist actually conflates skepticism with atheism, I think we may have a problem.
And I'll agree with you there, but the solution is to educate the journalists (and everyone else), and not petulantly demand that Skepticon change its name.
Simply put, we should not be comfortable conflation the methods that we promote with our conclusions. And that's what some of us are objecting to. We can argue for our conclusions, but it means nothing if we don't have the method for arriving at them to back our conclusions up.
And I don't know who has done that. I don't have a clue as to how many people actually call themselves skeptics just because they are atheists, so I don't know how pervasive that problem is. And I don't know of anyone but Officiant who is actually confusing his conclusion with his methods.

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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 10/28/2011 :  11:36:58   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
For what it's worth, I would have posted about this on here about this stupid billboard debacle even if the group that did it was called "Backyard Atheists".

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 10/28/2011 :  11:39:31   [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:
And I'll agree with you there, but the solution is to educate the journalists (and everyone else), and not petulantly demand that Skepticon change its name.

Well... I haven't much else to say on the subject. Yeah. Officiant is extreme. That's why I invited him here. But anecdotally, everyday I see varying degrees of his kind of thinking on facebook. And Christian bashing is a sport among my "friends." Those who friended me because I'm an atheist. I have become more choosy. I ignore about 80% of my "friends" now, because they are one trick pony's and can't distinguish between truly dangerous religious fundamentalism and those who just happen to have some faith based beliefe. There isn't even any dialog. It's just bashing. Maybe that's part of my frustration with many atheists. Being active on facebook has changed my perspective somewhat. I really do prefer hobnobbing with those who identify as skeptics first. And you know... Most of them are atheists. But I digress.

This post is the one that what I assume you are terming as "petulant". This was the one that got everyone going. But I dunno... Agree with it or not, I don't see Jeff coming off as being petulant about his disagreement with the name of Skepticon, regardless of the title, which he explains.

Are Atheists Delusional? Thoughts on Skepticon3

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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