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Why Skeptics Should be Atheists

Posted in Gotham Skeptic by Skepdude on December 10, 2009

Ah, so I’m not alone in the community. Others share my thoughts.


Editor’s note: this is a rebuttal to The Quixotic Man, about De Dora’s talk, “Skepticism Includes Atheism (So Deal With It),” at SkeptiCamp NYC 2009. TQM’s post can be found here.

Jacob, it was nice meeting you at SkeptiCamp NYC 2009, and thanks for inviting me to join this back-and-forth about skepticism and atheism. We  seem to agree on at least one thing, that the conversation is worth having. I tend to think we agree on more than just that, and that some of your “disagreements” with me, outlined in your post Monday, are actually due to poor communication work. I suppose the following will tell us if I’m correct. (On the topic of communication, I’d like to quickly thank Scott Stafiej, Michael Rosch, and Julia Galef for clearing up some of what I meant in their responses to your post. They did such a wonderful job I urge everyone to read their comments, because I can’t cover everything even in a 2,000-word essay).

Skepticism Includes Atheism (So Deal With It)

Let me briefly provide some background on my talk.

I gave the talk because I have reservations with the skeptic community for avoiding religion. One example would be the historical divide between my own organization’s (Center for Inquiry) Council for Secular Humanism and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. More recent examples would include the NYC Skeptics’ choice to not partake in the recent Big Apple Coalition of Reason “Good Without God” humanist ad campaign; and, in related efforts to coordinate the local rationalist community, the skeptic refusal to be identified under such words as “freethought” and “secular.” Of course, another example would be the negative response to my talk.

One unfortunate (or fortunate, it was on a Sunday) aspect of SkeptiCamp was that our talks were short — about 25 minutes — meaning speakers couldn’t cover all their bases. Fortunately, the SkeptiCamp format allowed for discussion after the day was over, so I was able to converse with some attendees and clear up misconceptions about my ideas. Allow me to briefly do the same here. In my talk, I argued that given their approach to the world, skeptics ought to be atheists, in the same way skeptics ought to be ahomoeopathists and non-astrologers. I argued that skeptics were avoiding atheism and discussion on religion, and might be compartmentalizing beliefs. I argued the avoidance is mistaken and hurting the general cause. I did not argue that people should be booted from the movement for being religious (more on that later), and I did not argue skeptics should redefine themselves or their organizations as atheist. In fact, I do not think “atheism” is something we should huddle under (I’ve said in prior talks that I prefer words like reason, science, evidence, humanism, and skepticism).


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The Paranoids Will Get You If You Don’t Watch Out

Posted in Gotham Skeptic by Skepdude on August 5, 2009


Last week, I happened upon the 2002 video clip of Buzz Aldrin punching a moon-landing conspiracy theorist in the face–a joyous artifact that had never before come to my attention. The punchee was filmmaker Bart Sibrel, who confronted Aldrin (then 72) and his stepdaughter outside a Beverly Hills hotel, screaming ”You’re the one who said you walked on the moon and you didn’t!” Aldrin warned him to back off, at which point Sibrel called him a “thief, a liar and a coward.” When Sibrel initiated physical contact (as attested to by several witnesses), Aldrin hauled off and clocked him one.

As skeptics, we’re supposed to be elegant in our arguments, relying on the power of sweet reason and airtight logic to flummox the opposition. But I don’t think I’m alone in tipping my hat to old Buzz. Even for those of us who fight our battles with words — maybe especially for us — there’s a primal, meaty satisfaction in watching a judiciously wielded fist interact with an eminently deserving face.

In the vast panoply of hoo-hah merchants, conspiracy theorists are simultaneously the most infuriating and the most difficult to dismiss. Infuriating because their theories come cloaked in righteous wrath; point out the holes in their reasoning and they hurl thunderbolts of moral indignation. Difficult to dismiss because, unlike proponents of homeopathy, for example, they are not trafficking in physical impossibilities. There is nothing intrinsically irrational about the notion of a conspiracy, though the use of the word by paranoid extremists has given it a certain wild-eyed, arm-waving taint. A conspiracy, after all, is merely a scheme — a plot by two or more people to do something nefarious. It happens all the time.


Skepdude says-What a coincidence. Less than 5 min ago I remembered that I had wanted to watch the clip and went to see it on YouTube. Then I fired up Google Reader and here goes this post. Does that make me psychic?