Can You Be a Skeptic Without Being an Atheist?

One of these days, I want to start a blogosphere flame war. Maybe I’ll accuse PZ Myers of being a secret evangelical or something.

Until then, I’ll watch this one from a distance. JT Eberhard is organizing Skepticon 3 this weekend in Springfield, Missouri. (If it wasn’t for the big Speech Team tournament this weekend, I’d be there in a heartbeat.) Of the speakers, a small handful will be talking about religion.

Jeff Wagg (formerly of JREF) says that the name Skepticon — instead of, say, Atheistcon — is a misnomer:

The e-mail is an admission that the organizers of Skepticon believe that Skepticism = Atheism and that the event is designed to combat religion, specifically Christianity. I believe that if you equate skepticism with anything other than science, you’ve missed 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 there’s not a lot more to say.

JT responded to Jeff’s points, defending the event and name:

Three out of the fifteen speakers, and suddenly we’re a purely atheist convention. Any love for D.J. Grothe who will surely speak about skepticism in general? How about James Randi, who will also be speaking? Rebecca Watson will be speaking about feminism and Joe Nickell will be speaking about critical thinking. John Corvino’s talk is titled Coming Out Skeptical. So I would have no problem if Jeff said that we include religion or even if he had said that we focus on religion: we do, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. But he’s saying “it’s an atheist convention”, which is just plain silly.

There is even a panel discussion on whether or not skepticism leads to atheism. In the comments of his post someone apprises Jeff to this fact. Jeff responds by saying…

Does he have any believers on the panel? I hope so.

What I do have are skeptics who have taken the position that skepticism does not produce atheism. Is this good enough for you, Jeff?

For what it’s worth, there are far more than 3/15 talks about atheism, but so what?

This discussion has happened before: Can you be a skeptic without being an atheist? I don’t see how.

We would dismiss anyone who said “I’m a Skeptic but I believe in homeopathy.”

I don’t see why we should take someone any more seriously if they say, “I’m a Skeptic but I believe in a supernatural deity who answers my prayers.”

There are religious people starting on the path to skepticism who may not have reached the “Religion” juncture yet. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But how can you call yourself a “True Skeptic” when you still believe in a god?

Jen McCreight has the right idea (emphasis hers):

Look, there are certainly religious beliefs that are benign enough and don’t end in the Crusades. And there are certainly instances of beliefs in psychics, astrology, and ghosts that do harm people. But to suggest that religious belief isn’t at least as harmful as important topics like homeopathy, chiropracty, or alternative medicine is frankly delusional.

Arguments against religion must be included in any real discussion regarding skepticism. In America — certainly in Missouri — religion is the most prevalent form of superstitious nonsense we come across. I’m surprised Skepticon 3 doesn’t have more talks about it.

Then again, talks about psychics and homeopathy and astrology bore me because they’re so easy to discredit. Why waste our time on low-hanging fruit like that? I know, I know, because a lot of people still believe in it. Fine. We should add those to the mix. But faith in the supernatural is at the core of what skeptics ought to address. So why not tackle religion with everything we’ve got?

  • Richard Wade

    I’m a skeptic first. My atheism is merely a by-product of my skepticism. My default setting is to withhold belief in anything in the absence of acceptable evidence. I’ll make some temporary assumptions to try something out, but no evidence means pretty soon the assumptions are in the trash. The persuasive power of the evidence has to be in proportion to the importance of the claim’s assertion. (Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.)

    If some skeptic finds that whatever “evidence” for gods is acceptable and proportional as far as he’s concerned, then I suppose he’s going to be a skeptic who’s a theist. I’d more likely say he’s not being very thorough or conscientious in his skepticism. The same would go for all sorts of stuff that otherwise skeptical people believe.

    The ability of the human mind to compartmentalize like cubbyholes in a post office never ceases to amaze me. I’ve worked diligently to make my mind like a large open room. There’s stuff in it, but nothing is hidden from any vantage point. No separate compartments, no cognitive dissonance. If some assumption doesn’t fit with the rest of it, I toss it out.

    Show me, show me, show me.

  • http://www.davehodgkinson.com/ Dave Hodgkinson

    Amen.

    Oh, wait, bad word :)

    I don’t think the two are separable at all. Being a skeptic implies not accepting hearsay.

    I think I could just about handle someone who still had a nagging feeling of “there’s something out there” but still questioned it.

    Aside from reading you lot and becoming more hardened in my atheism, I’ve read a lot of mid-pop cog. sci. books recently and having more of an insight into how the wetware works has helped a lot. Yes, we’re mostly meat robots.

  • Nikki

    I think it is very possible, albeit difficult. I am a strong atheist when it comes to the judeo-christian-islamic version of god. I am a weak atheist when it comes to the statement, “there are absolutely no deities of any form in existence.” I don’t think a skeptic HAS to take the position, “show me or it doesn’t exist.” I think the position, “I haven’t seen enough evidence for OR against to draw a conclusion” is more valid.

    A deist could very well be a skeptic. A fundamentalist christian? I don’t think so.

  • http://theradula.blogspot.com Kate

    I consider myself a skeptic. I know of absolutely no reason homeopathy should work. I know of no reason to believe in a god.

    BUT, I have had a friend who has suffered tremendous chronic physical pain as a result of her medical condition, and has found relief and is able to sleep with acupuncture. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It defies any rational explanation. But this woman, who can’t lay on a flat surface and sleep because of the twisting of her spine COULD at her acupuncturist.

    There are things I see that I still can’t explain. I’m not going to have needles stuck in me, because, despite seeing it myself, I still don’t believe… not really.

    But I’m open to the possibility.

    As far as religion goes, I’m sure that there are those who can be skeptical theists. I think it’s absolutely possible to have some sort of vague feeling or personal experience that leads to the belief in a god, even if it’s just the mere desire to do so, while at the same time KNOWING that there is no empirical evidence, and that such belief is not adequately founded.

    I think it’s the recognition of the deficit in knowledge and the continued search for knowledge that makes one a skeptic.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    What I do have are skeptics who have taken the position that skepticism does not produce atheism. Is this good enough for you, Jeff?

    If that’s actually their position, then I think they’re badly mistaken.

  • Hitch

    Any skeptic who isn’t at least agnostic is doing the skepticism wrong.

    Sure they may want the label skeptic, but how do they justify selective abandon of their skepticism.

    In fact “I am skeptical of things that I do not want to be true” isn’t skepticism. It’s the linguistic use of the word. But that’s the kind of “skepticism” I tend to get from theists who claim to be skeptics.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    This discussion has happened before: Can you be a skeptic without being an atheist? I don’t see how.

    We would dismiss anyone who said “I’m a Skeptic but I believe in homeopathy.”

    Too bad Martin Gardner, one of the most prolific and widely read skeptical authors of the 20th century, who described himself as a “philosophical theist,” died last May and is not around to answer this question for you.

    As for your second paragraph, if someone believed in homeopathy, but took the skeptical view of psychic powers, dowsing, UFOs, bigfoot, etc. would you really dismiss everything that person had to say? Will your elite club include only the most skeptical of skeptics? Would you prefer to practice the politics of exclusion?

    In short: get a load of yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s humanly possible to be 100% skeptical all the time. We all have our blind spots, we all go on “instinct” now and again. If we stopped before acting each and every time on every little fucking thing to come our way, we’d be fucking crippled to act. We’d have to consider everything from every angle first.

    It’s just not freaking possible and we’d go batshit crazy if we tried. Humans have a mental/emotional need to just let go and enjoy at least a little bit most every day (I’ll allow for exceptions such as illness and tragedy when we’re too mired down in shit to have a happy moment for a day or two). They have a term for it when we don’t. It’s called depression. Of course, the reverse (this is too often overlooked if you ask me) is also true. It’s also not freaking normal or well to be happy all the time. Even in the most fortunate life, there’s a need for solemn dealing with the shit that happens.

    In other words, this was my long way of saying yes, it’s possible to be a believer and still be a skeptic. There’s a reason there’s separate terms.

  • Paul E

    I think the position, “I haven’t seen enough evidence for OR against to draw a conclusion” is more valid.

    Nikki, please present us with the evidence you have that proves the existence of a higher being. Real proof (the Bible does not count).

    Please do not say, “Show me the proof one doesn’t exist.” The onus of proof is on the one making the claim.

  • MH

    I think it is possible if someone follows the original Greek line of thinking about skepticism. When challenged by Stoics or Epicurians, the skeptics stated they were skeptical of claims of ultimate knowledge about the way things are, but not of claims about how things appeared to be. So they would accept a claim that falling appears to hurt, but not a claim about Plato’s forms. But they wouldn’t state Plato was wrong either, only that they suspended judgement.

    Their line of think eventually got incorporated into the Scientific method’s use of methodological naturalism.

  • Jonas

    As for Christianity, skepticism has nothing to say except about testable claims associated therein.

    For me personally I was an atheist first, sometime before my first TAM that is. But I also grew up without God belief as part of my ‘religious’ upbringing. See Jewish vs. Christian view of God etc.

    I certainly know several atheist skeptics, as well as at least deist skeptics. Randi, atheist, Hal Bidlack Deist.

    But there are also types of Christian beliefs I would consider completely unprovable, if not harmful — Anything relying on Young Earth Creationism for example. — Without literal Adam, there can’t be Sin. — Again no Catholic Background for me, but they’ve been ok without a literal Adam for years.

    The “All are Sinners” belief of the street preachers. – Sort of “All Crimes are equal” in the eyes of God. – Borrow a pencil from work, and you might as well have committed murder. Yes it’s a completely unprovable claim, it’s also an example of Faith being bad for us. — If you’re screwed anyway, why be moral? or God forgives you, so you can get away with anything.

    Jesus died for our sins, dare we dishonor him, by not committing them.

  • http://www.deliberatepixel.com Jen

    I grew up completely without religion, at least as much as one can in American society. I wasn’t “taught” to be atheist. In an absence of belief, I learned to think for myself.

    That’s why as a skeptic I don’t give a damn about atheism. Atheism is a result of learning to think critically about the world. I only care about supporting and educating people to think for themselves. I’m tired of atheists and skeptics condescending to other people because they aren’t at the same point in the process as we are.

    I’m also sick of many atheists condescending to me because I don’t feel like attacking people for not being one. It’s a large, complicated process and I’d rather fight the fight by living a positive example of a good life. You know, like I’ve done my entire life as an atheist. I don’t need the de-converted lecturing me on how to live too.

  • Jelena

    This is an interesting issue. Here in Czech Republic we have a skeptic organization called Sisyphos (Czech Sceptics’ Club) – it’s focused on pointing on people using nonsense technologies (e.g. healing by Stonehenge) to get money from naive people. However, the main representatives of the group are believing christians (though they are also brilliant scientists, which seems to me very strange). I still think, that a “real skeptic” should be an atheist.

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell
  • Rose

    If you are already religious, you can’t become atheist without first being skeptical. It’s not like something magical happens and you go from being a believer in something supernatural and then suddenly you are atheist.

    This kind of line drawing is what prevents people from being skeptical and therefore leaving religion. It sounds eerily similar to someone saying that if you leave Christianity you “weren’t really a Christian”.

    It only makes a difference in your own mind anyway.

    Definitely. Skeptics can be religious to any degree. Let’s encourage it.

  • Josh

    Skepticism certainly implies atheism with respect to fundamental or orthodox religions. However, as you move closer to more liberal or lazy religious formulation, there are less factual claims for one’s skepticism to find purchase. Once you get to something like Unitarian Universalism or Morally Therapeutic Deism (see Damon Linker’s writing) there are almost no factual claims to contest. At that point, whether no you agree is not a function of epistemological skepticism but rather personal judgment and one’s attitude towards agnosticism.

  • Claudia

    What muggle said and then…

    The question appears to be whether you have to be 100% skeptical in order to be a skeptic. Is the term “skeptic” only applicable to people who those who apply it to every aspect of their lives or are people allowed to have “blind spots”? If 100% purity is not needed what is the limit, who decides how much irrationality is “too much” to be considered a skeptic? It’s not an easy question.

    All of us here can certainly agree that being religious is not a skeptical position. That’s an easy one. But how about an atheist who is gung-ho pro-science but is a hard-core libertarian? How about the same but a hard-core communist? Fascist? No matter who reads this, at least one of the last three options will seem irrational to you. Would you call someone a skeptic who held patently impractical and irrational political beliefs? How far does the purity test go?

    As far as I’m concerned yes, you can believe in god and be a skeptic. You can even go beyond deism into soft theism and be a skeptic, as long as you always defer on scientiifc matters to the scientific world. If there is someone at JREF working each and every day to stop woo, to take down charlatans and educate the public about them, that person is a skeptic, even if they go to their local UU Church on Sundays and pray to some “life force”.

    Most people who are skeptical about some matters are likely to be skeptical about others. I most certainly do think that a true adherence to skepticism neccesarily leads to atheism, but I also think that most people follow schools of thought in an incomplete manner and that they don’t neccesarily deserve to be castigated for it.

  • Stephen P

    As some commenters have already indicated, it’s not realistic to restrict the term “skeptic” to people who systematically apply critical thinking to every subject. I think you can apply the term “skeptic” to anyone who values critical thinking, who applies it more often than the average person and who is prepared to listen seriously if one of their pet ideas is challenged.

    This being the case, skepticism doesn’t necessarily lead to atheism. But, given time, it ought to.

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com/ Gretchen

    I’m at Skepticon right now (well, technically I’m in my hotel room, just waking up, but…). Yesterday, religion was pretty much the only thing I heard anyone, speakers or attendees, being skeptical about– well, except that Amanda Marcotte did, after criticizing religion, spend about ten minutes of her talk on sexism being skeptical about evolutionary psychology.

    The two named talks scheduled for today, by Greta Christina and Richard Carrier, are both explicitly anti-religion. Also scheduled to speak today are D.J. Grothe, James Randi, Rebecca Watson, Joe Nickell, Dan Barker, and P.Z. Myers. Of those, I expect D.J., Randi, and Nickell to not spend most of their time talking about religion. Tomorrow, two out of three talks are specifically critical of religion.

    Is this conference more about being skeptical about religion than anything else? I think it’s pretty easy to see how a person could get that impression. I can also see how a theist attending this conference would be feeling pretty defensive right now, if he/she bothered to attend at all which is not likely. I’ve seen several people on Twitter being critical of the two panels last night discussing accommodation vs. confrontation and the relationship of atheism to skepticism because they found them superfluous, but to me they were the highlight of the day– these are topics that people who call themselves skeptics need to discuss. And it’s good to do it face to face, because on the internet it’s to easy to simply ban someone, dismiss them as a “concern troll,” etc.

    It was nice to hear Randi last night bring up Martin Gardner a couple of times as someone who does not match the model of a “perfect skeptic” (whatever that might be) but was no less worthy of respect and no less of a contributor. When I talked to JT Eberhard yesterday, he explained that the conference was intended to be more of a party atmosphere, a place where people could relax and discuss what they had in common, and could be expected to curse a lot. That much is in evidence, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s just that it’s very hard to prevent an echo chamber from emerging in such an environment– assuming you even try. So far, the panels were the best sign of trying.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Gretchen: Yesterday, religion was pretty much the only thing I heard anyone, speakers or attendees, being skeptical about…

    My concern would be not about atheism putting off potential skeptics, but about a conference being boring because it is so monotonic. A conference that alleges to be about skepticism, rather than specifically about atheism, ought to have a little variety in what it is skeptical about.

  • Claudia

    A problem I see is that in the current climate, it makes sense for organized skepticism to be concentrated on religion. Of the many non-skeptical opinions in the world, it’s religion that is far and away the most common and the most harmful. Homeopathy is crap and I applaud efforts to fight it. Psychics are likewise craps and I applaud efforts against them. However all the homeopaths and psychics in the world can’t hold a candle to the harm comitted by even one of the larger religions. The exception to this to me is the anti-vaxxers, who have to be frontally opposed and defeated, because they are a clear and present danger to children. However they are also tiny in numbers compared to the religious.

    How to transmit the message that it’s the irrational claims and harm caused by religion that is the enemy and not a skeptic that wants to keep a pet belief in “something” I have no idea.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    I am pretty skeptical of claims that as a believer in a deity I can’t be skeptical.

    I also, for a nice change, agree completely with Muggle.

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com/ Gretchen

    A few more thoughts, since the comment editor doesn’t seem to like me today:

    1. Much has been made of the fact that Skepticon, now in its third year, takes place in a not-very-large town in the Bible belt. It provides an opportunity for people– primarily college students, from what I can see– to get together and celebrate not being religious. I think it’s safe to say that most of these people are “young atheists,” not just literally but also in the sense of having decided that religion isn’t their thing recently, which tends to bring with it a kind of “fuck you” attitude toward anything smacking of faith for quite a while.

    2. D.J. made the important point yesterday that skepticism is not simply being willing to say “I don’t believe in that nonsense” to a list of things made by…someone who is more skeptical than you, I guess. So, for example, skepticism isn’t about saying “No” to homeopathy, telekinesis, acupuncture, creationism, Bigfoot, etc. In fact, if you don’t actually know anything about those things, that’s not actually skeptical at all. That’s just being a member of the We Can’t Believe You Believe That Stuff club. Many people profess to believe in evolution who cannot, when pressed, explain what evolution is. I think there’s a lot of pseudo-skepticism going around because people know what they ought to believe (or doubt) in order to fit in with the right people, but they don’t know exactly why. Sounds a lot like faith, actually.

    3. Reginald Selkirk says that a conference which purports to be about skepticism but is mostly about atheism is boring. I agree. It would be like going to a Star Trek convention only to find that all of the exhibits and talk sessions are about Spock, and no one and nothing else. Unless you’re really super into Spock, that’s going to be a disappointment. However, I think many if not most of these people are really super into Spock. It could be a Spock convention, and they wouldn’t care in the slightest and don’t see why the distinction matters. Somebody from the conference recently tweeted (hashtag: #sk3) “I don’t get the skeptic/atheist debate: ‘skeptic’ is a common Christian term for nonbeliever. To theists the two terms are synonymous.”

    I see a difference. A lot of people here do, most obviously D.J. Grothe and James Randi so far. I’m eager to see what today brings.

  • Revyloution

    They way I see it, the only way skepticism can be compatible with any type of religion it if the god can fit inside the gaps in our knowledge. If someone can replace the word ‘I don’t know’ with ‘god’, and be willing to fill that void with real knowledge when it presents itself, then their religion would be mostly compatible with skepticism in general.

    That religion would be a very weak religion. It wouldn’t be able to make any moral claims, or authority claims. It would probably just be a weak form of spirituality, similar to westernized Buddhism.

  • dglas

    Mostly this has to do with definitions – of course. The rising understanding of atheism is a lack of belief, rather than a belief in lack, and makes atheism skepticism with regards to a particular claim. Apologists and accommodationists don’t like that, and some prominent skeptics, who get financial support from apologists and accommodationists don’t like it either, but that’s too bad. Atheists are, more and more, defining themselves this way now.

    The effort by some “scientific skeptics,” spearheaded by Shermer, to redefine skepticism with a limited scope of inquiry is thoroughly dishonest. They aren’t happy creating a subset of skepticism for this purpose. They must then seek to assault skeptics who maintain a broader scope of inquiry. Absolutely unacceptable by any rational standard and directly contradictory to the spirit of inquiry. Shermer, and those who use his definition are trying to turn skepticism into an ideology, a dogma, and that’s precisely not what critical inquiry is about.

    Legitimate work can be done within the limited scope of scientific skeptical inquiry, but that, by no stretch of the imagination, means skeptical inquiry without that limited scope is in any way illegitimate. Skepticism is doubt (which is not the same as denial) with regards to claims. Science is skepticism with regards to particular kinds of claims. Atheism is skepticism with regards to a particular claim. The latter two may not overlap, because the claim to which atheism applies is not a scientific one, but they are both legitimate skepticism.

    Pure skepticism is not “sterile and unproductive.” What a sham! Of course, what would one expect from someone whose sole purpose in creating the definition is to push, critique-free, a radical political and economic moral imperative. Shermer is a blight on skepticism and skeptical inquiry as is his hobbled and dogma-enabling definition.

    If people want to hold events to promote scientific skepticism specifically, then power to them. But do not dare proclaim, as Shermer and his ilk (including Jeff Wagg) do, that all other scopes of skepticism are illegitimate. That misses, indeed defeats, the point of critical inquiry and permits material to pass unexamined. An honest and thoroughgoing skeptic does not permit this.

    Skepticism as a cult of denial is a profound, and patently absurd, perhaps deliberate misunderstanding of skepticism, whether it is the religious promoting it, or the agenda-motivated, moral imperative driven Shermers of the world.

    To claim to be a skeptic, but not an atheist, is to cherry-pick one’s application of skeptical inquiry. That is all.

  • Kyle Marquis

    I wonder if skepticism has changed because bunk has changed. I remember, when I was a kid, the big issues in skepticism were astrology, UFOs, Bigfoot, psychic powers, faith healing, and “Illuminati”-style conspiracies, because that’s what people believed. Does anyone have any hard data about the popularity of those beliefs then compared to now? Because that spoon-bending stuff just doesn’t seem to be a big deal anymore.

    Maybe my assessment is wrong, but have we, perhaps, just moved past skeptics having to dissect every episode of the X-Files? Nowadays I only see two main types of bunk: (1) fake medicine, and (2) religion. Reptoids, Elvis, and tarot cards just don’t seem to have the cultural cachet they used to, so it’s no wonder skeptics don’t focus on them.

  • Brice Gilbert

    We can argue all day long about what degree of theism is reasonable for a skeptic, and that is fine. However, these people who act like we should stop even having these discussions can screw off.

  • Robert W.

    Paul

    Nikki, please present us with the evidence you have that proves the existence of a higher being. Real proof (the Bible does not count).

    I won’t jump into your discussion with Nikki except to say that tell her she can’t use the Bible to present you with some evidence of God is like her telling you to prove how a rocket works but don’t use science.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Sure, you can be a skeptic and a believer. You don’t have to be the Platonic ideal of a skeptic to be a skeptic. But you shouldn’t be surprised if people do question whatever thing it is you believe on a less critical basis.

    Oh, and Steve Cornell, consider contributing to the discussion, rather than drive-by trolling. I’ve seen you do this on several blogs now. And when you’re told that you’re utterly wrong about why atheists became atheists, don’t dismiss the atheists telling you that and then say you know better than us.

  • http://www.bluefrogdesignstudios.com/thebluefrogsays/ The Big Blue Frog

    This has always confused me a little. I do believe that anyone who claims belief in or fealty to any supernatural being can’t call him or herself a skeptic. If you apply critical thinking to every part of your life except religious faith, then you’re just being intellectually dishonest. It’s compartmentalization, and nothing more.

  • Eddie

    Barack Obama’s mother was classed as a religious skeptic as well as being Christian.
    She introduced all the texts and ideas to her children, I dunno if she “taught” atheism but I’m sure Obama’s dad handled the Atheism side of things. Barack’s sister ended up Buddhist this way.

    I think it means she was moderate and could accept there were other religions. She was skeptic of her religion in its dogmatic sense. Maybe is like a lot of European Christians are today.

  • gwen

    Does Jeff Wagg think we should have a few homeopaths and psychics speaking…you know, for BALANCE! What horse shit!

  • gwen

    I was planning to go to TAM next year, but I do believe I will be happier at Skepticon4!

  • J. J. Ramsey

    gwen:

    Does Jeff Wagg think we should have a few homeopaths and psychics speaking…you know, for BALANCE!

    No.

    What horse shit!

    Well, using a rhetorical question to put words in Wagg’s mouth could be construed as that, yes.

  • http://krissthesexyatheist.blogspot.com krissthesexyatheist

    Is it statistics. An independent event is being either male or female, mutually exclusive is being age 30 while you are male or female. Can you be a skeptic without being atheist, you can but only up till you examine religion, then ya half-ta be atheist. Or something like that. Awesomeness.

    K

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com/ Gretchen

    I was too hard on Amanda Marcotte. I didn’t keep time, but she probably spent at least twenty minutes or so out of her hour-long talk discussing her skepticism of evolutionary psychology. That was the only talk on which I’ve taken notes so far, which is not to say that it was the only good one. It’s just that most of them have addressed what people should believe and whether they should believe it, rather than the mechanisms and underpinnings of those beliefs.

    D.J. Grothe gave an excellent talk this morning addressing the subject of skepticism vs. atheism dead-on. I agreed with most of what he said, but thought he was a little too generous in assuming that the majority of attendees share his even-handedness and prioritizing skepticism over slapping down theism.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    A good part of Skepticon devoted to atheism, you say? It was bound to happen since Plait’s “Don’t be a Dick speech!”. It lanced a deep, festering wound & the pus is oozing out.
    Listen to his speech. You think by “Dick” he means the people who say “Fuck Off, concern troll!”. Nope. His speech was really about some skeptics (atheists) offending other skeptics (theists). And making them cry.
    I am a pretty hard-nosed realist (especially for someone who gets described as an ‘earth-mother’!), but I still get my butt kicked by the skeptic movement – I squirm when my nose gets shoved into my biases and I am forced to realize I am holding onto cherished beliefs that I don’t really want to give up.
    Does anyone really think giving up the tales you learned at your mother’s knee, the religious indoctrination that started at age 3, or being reviled by the majority of your fellow citizens is going to be easy for any kind of skeptic? Why should it be made easier for theist skeptics?

    I support some forms of accommodation. When the NCSE goes into small communities with one Baptist church and tries to defray a conflict between teachers, parents & school boards to keep science in the schools, I expect them to kiss some Xtian butt.
    But when the NCSE has a policy of stating “There is no conflict between religion & evolution”, they are lying. Those people don’t care what the Catholic Church or Collins believe; they KNOW that evolution is agin’ what their Bible says. And they probably don’t appreciate big city slickers coming in and telling them otherwise.

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  • J. J. Ramsey

    Hypatia’s Daughter:

    But when the NCSE has a policy of stating “There is no conflict between religion & evolution”, they are lying.

    Given that the NCSE’s Director of Religious Community Outreach has written, “The Bible reflects the specific pre-scientific world-view of the ancient Hebrew people,” and pointed out that the cosmology of the Hebrews was a flat earth, it’s pretty obvious that the official views of the NCSE are not as simple as “There is no conflict between religion & evolution.” Maybe you should be more, ahem, skeptical of the NCSE’s detractors.

  • Heidi

    You can certainly be skeptical about some things, and not about others. But if you’re going to define yourself as A Skeptic, I feel like you shouldn’t devote a significant amount of your life to espousing an idea that has absolutely no empirical evidence whatsoever supporting it.

    (No, “the book is true because it says it is” is not evidence. Neither is, “I see trees.”)

  • Aj

    They’re two opposing forces, skepticism and theism. People talk about science and religion being compatible as long as it’s not contradicting observation, but science is about what we do know, which also says something about what we don’t know. Speculation is fine, people who speculate deism can be skeptics, as people who speculate a multiverse. Religion is the enterprise of claiming ignorance is knowledge, skepticism is the enterprise of claiming ignorance in the absence of knowledge.

  • Nordog

    Religion is the enterprise of claiming ignorance is knowledge, skepticism is the enterprise of claiming ignorance in the absence of knowledge.

    I would say that religion is an application of faith.

    Not all things known require physical demonstration.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jalyth Tizzle

    I have always been a skeptic. I didn’t realize it was an Identity until I started reading atheist blogs.

    Infighting is a part of every single marginalized movement. Whining about infighting is the next step. Slowly, movements move forward anyway.

    Perhaps not slowly…I was reading a novel about the ’50s when miscegenation was still the law. We have actually come a long way in a short time. Stands to reason (my reasoning anyway) that since evolution takes a long time in humans, that we aren’t prepared for this kind of thing, biologically. But I don’t want to be too evo-psych.

    Bickering probably does drive some people away. But so does the backlash from the majority (Christians in this case). I think there are more people afraid to call themselves feminists because of perceived notions of what the word means than because pro-porn and anti-porn women fight a lot.

    The way my brain works is to think: oh, the Blacks argued among themselves whether non-violence was the way to go? Women argued about which fight to begin with? This is all growing pains of a movement. From here on the sidelines of the big Atheist/Skeptic Schism (sorry), it’s marginally entertaining, but I think ultimately optimistic.

  • Roger3

    I think sceptics have to be mindful about how devastatingly difficult it is to leave religion behind, especially the various judeo-christian ones. Nobody would think that either Gardner or Pamela Gay of astronomy cast aren’t great assets to scepticism. Gardner was a deist, pam’s a Christian.

    Again, leaving religion is HARD. Cut ‘em some slack.

  • Claudia

    Nikki, please present us with the evidence you have that proves the existence of a higher being. Real proof (the Bible does not count).

    I think it’s completely absurd to demand proof of a deity from someone who has explicitly said none exists. Her position, in fact, is perfectly reasonable: there is evidence theist gods (like the Christian god) does not exist, but no evidence in favor or against a deist god, and therefore she chooses nobelief as the default setting in the absence of evidence.
    Her position, so far as I can tell, is a majority position on this blog. I think you must have read her comment incorrectly or incompletely.

  • Aj

    Nordog,

    I would say that religion is an application of faith.

    Not all things known require physical demonstration.

    Faith = ignorance. It doesn’t sound as nice, so people don’t go around saying “what a nice expression of ignorance” or “I have a deep ignorance”.

    Physical demonstration? No. Reliable evidence? Yes.

  • Nordog

    Aj,

    Must all reliable evidence be physical?

  • Aj

    Nordog,

    Must all reliable evidence be physical?

    Can you give me an example of what non-physical evidence might be?

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    I’m also sick of many atheists condescending to me because I don’t feel like attacking people for not being one.

    Jen, how many people have actually done that?

    Not that I am representative of the entire world, but I have never seen that happen once, either on the internet or in real life.

    I have seen plenty of people saying that skeptics should not be prohibited from criticizing religion (including criticizing religious believers who call themselves “skeptics”).

    Do you see the difference? If someone says that a religious believer has by definition flunked the skepticism test, that doesn’t mean they want to force everyone else in the skeptic movement to be a vocal critic of religion. It just means they want the freedom to be a vocal critic without catching a lot of flak for stepping outside the bounds of “true skepticism.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Must all reliable evidence be physical?

    No. It could be logical. for example, if you provided evidence by way of a proof that it is impossible to square the circle, and I checked it out step by step and looked into the definitions involved, I would accept that as reliable evidence that the circle cannot be squared.

    So yes, physical evidence is not the only evidence that is reliable.

    Next up: are the types of evidence used in religion reliable? Reliance on ancient documents, reliance on authority, reliance on “inner experience” which cannot be demonstrated – no, these are not reliable. In fact they are known to be unreliable. We know of a great many instances in which people relied in these sources of evidence and were wrong.

    Just because science isn’t the only reliable source of evidence does not automatically qualify religion as being a reliable source of evidence.
    False dichotomy fails.

    Now think harder and come up with a better argument. Or change your position.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    J.J. Ramsey Actually, I’d rather read myself it on the NCSE website: http://ncse.com/religion/god-evolution.

    In fact, the “creation or evolution” dichotomy is needless and false, based upon a category mistake…… Can someone accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Many religious people do.

    And many religious people don’t think it is a “category mistake”.
    The role of the NCSE should be to support science education, not lecture people about what their religious beliefs should be.

  • Nordog

    Aj,

    Should I take that as a “yes”?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Can someone accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Many religious people do.

    Can one accept science in technology and medicine, but still believe in astrology, or homeopathy? Many people do.

    People can hold inconsistent and contradictory views. Therefore, that people exist who hold two ideas in their head does not establish that those two ideas are compatible.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The role of the NCSE should be to support science education, not lecture people about what their religious beliefs should be.

    But inescapably, telling people that religion is compatible with evolutionary science is “lecturing people about what their religious beliefs should be.” If you think NCSE should stay of the topic of religion, then they should get off the acommodationist bandwagon and ignore the subject of religion altogether.

  • Nordog

    Just because science isn’t the only reliable source of evidence does not automatically qualify religion as being a reliable source of evidence.
    False dichotomy fails.

    Now think harder and come up with a better argument. Or change your position.

    Reginald,

    FTR I did not make the argument you seem to be attributing to me. In fact, I didn’t make any argument at all.

    I made two somewhat unrelated claims in two sentences, and asked a question.

    But yes, the square circle is a good example of reasoning from definition I guess you could call it. What I had in mind was Euclid’s Geometry, specifically his proof for the Pythagorean theorem.

    An interesting thing happens frequently on this blog. I’ll make a statement or ask a question and I’ll get replies that want to argue against something I didn’t write (and don’t hold).

    It’s as if some think I’m trying to set up some great rhetorical flourish or something, so they jump ahead to cut me off at the pass.

  • Aj

    Nordog,

    Should I take that as a “yes”?

    I’ll leave answering meaningless questions to the religious.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    This is awful.

    “We would dismiss anyone who said “I’m a Skeptic but I believe in homeopathy.”

    So then all that talk about Skepticism being a *process* rather than a set of beliefs is bunk. Essentially then, you’ve boiled down skepticism to nothing more than “the set of beliefs A…b…c…d…e…f…and g.” Anyone who holds beliefs beyond those or lacks one of these isn’t a skeptic.

    Essentially then, what you’re saying is that such luminaries of thought as Descartes, Kant, Locke, Berkeley, and Leibniz weren’t part of the “skeptic” club because they believed in *gasp*…a God. Even if the philosophical systems they developed were and continue to be the foundations upon much of science, it doesn’t matter, because they’re not in our little club.

    It also doesn’t matter *how* they arrived at their belief does it? What is important to “skeptics” is *what* the belief in question is, not *how* it was arrived at. Thus, anyone who comes to belief in God via, say, the modal ontological argument, one of the most technical and frankly, closest to a “proof” of God’s existence I’ve ever seen, they’re automagically not a skeptic. It doesn’t matter that they used the same exact process that we demand “real” skeptics to use when arriving at a belief, that being careful consideration of the logic behind the argument. No, that doesn’t matter, even if most of the people who read this blog can’t even understand the Modal Ontological argument, let alone show where it goes wrong, they know that just because it leads to a conclusion they don’t want, that being “A maximally great being exists”, the person who arrived at said belief via said argument can’t possibly be rational enough to be inducted into the more-rational-than-though club of “skeptics”.

    Seriously, the gig is up. So called modern day skepticism isn’t about promoting careful rational and evidence based thinking. It is about promoting naturalism, with the pressumption being that “rationality” automatically logically necessitates ontological naturalism.

    So sad.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    @Hypatia’s Daughter: First, what you quoted from the NCSE’s web site is nowhere near as simplistic as the position that you attributed to the NCSE: “There is no conflict between religion & evolution.”

    “The role of the NCSE should be to support science education, not lecture people about what their religious beliefs should be.”

    So if some people’s take on Christianity leads them to push for creationism in public schools, then you don’t want the NCSE to discourage those people and/or their supporters by pointing out that they can take on other forms of Christianity that don’t require creationism? You really want the NCSE to tie one hand behind its back?

  • Nordog

    “I’ll leave answering meaningless questions to the religious.”

    Should I take that as a “I don’t know?”

  • Aj

    Nordog,

    Should I take that as a “I don’t know?”

    No. Take it as “I don’t answer meaningless questions”.

  • Nordog

    Okay, cool.

    I guess I should take some solace that you’ve answered some of mine.

    Thanks.

  • Aj

    Andres,

    So then all that talk about Skepticism being a *process* rather than a set of beliefs is bunk.

    Skepticism isn’t about not passing judgement. You assume that the process hasn’t been applied to homeopathy, that double blind trials haven’t been performed, that it doesn’t contradict known physics, that there is a plausible mechanism, that it is logically coherent, or that it doesn’t make completely unsupported metaphysical claims.

    It doesn’t matter that they used the same exact process that we demand “real” skeptics to use when arriving at a belief, that being careful consideration of the logic behind the argument.

    I don’t remember the rule of thumb “extraordinary claims require that you accept a premise then use a logically consistent argument that could be used to show anything you want exists”. There is a significant difference between this mode of thought “we can believe in anything” and skepticism’s “show me the evidence”.

    A being that has maximal smelliness if it has maximal pungency in all possible worlds. It is possible that there be a being that exists in all possible worlds. Maximal pungency is possibly exemplified. That is, it is possible that there be a being that has maximal pungency. (Premise) Therefore, possibly it is necessarily true that a being of perfect smelliness exists. Therefore, it is necessarily true that a being of perfect smelliness exists. (By S5) Therefore, a being of perfect smelliness exists.

    It is about promoting naturalism, with the pressumption being that “rationality” automatically logically necessitates ontological naturalism.

    You spelt methodological incorrectly.

  • J. D. Mack

    “Can you be a skeptic without being an atheist? I don’t see how.”

    What if I said “can you be a high school graduate if you ever got a C in one of your classes? I don’t see how.” Most people would recognize statement this as ridiculous. But if you want to define “skeptic” to mean “perfect skeptic,” and if be implication you want to assert that deist Martin Gardner was not a skeptic, then that too would be ridiculous.

  • Bryan Elliott

    “Can You Be a Skeptic Without Being an Atheist?”
    The short answer: “If you’re honest, not for very long.”

  • Nikki

    @Claudia, thank you. I can not figure out where Paul got the idea that I in any way believe in a deity of any sort from my comment, since I explicitly said that I am an atheist.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    “is, it is possible that there be a being that has maximal pungency. (Premise) Therefore, possibly it is necessarily true that a being of perfect smelliness exists. Therefore, it is necessarily true that a being of perfect smelliness exists. (By S5) Therefore, a being of perfect smelliness exists.”

    No. It does not follow that a being with maximal smelliness exists if we allow the possibility of said being existing because when you expose “maximal smelliness” to conceptual analysis the only things that you can “unpack” from the concept are very few, that being “a being who possesses the maximum amount of smelliness”. From “maximally smelling being” you cannot get other properties like “maximally good, maximally strong, omniscient, etc.”

    Again, this is my frustration with most village atheists today, specially the type that like to hang out in blogs like these, they simply don’t know enough philosophy to actually understand these arguments so they think said arguments are easily refuted by these layman’s objections that wouldn’t survive an intro to Phil. 101 class

    As for methodological naturalism, no, I spelled what I meant correctly. Ontological naturalism is what “skepticism” is out to promote, not merely methodological naturalism. Besides, this whole methodological naturalism thing is a farce. The way most atheists use it today goes something along the lines of:

    1) Define “science” as “that which only deals with the natural world and natural phenomena”

    2) Define God as “that which is, by definition, outside of the natural world and natural phenomena”

    Therefore:
    3) There is no “scientific” evidence of God.

    Well of course, because if you define things that carefully you can get any result you want.

    No, I completely restate what I meant in my first post, most “skepticism” today is cheaply purchased schoolyard village atheism.

  • trixr4kids

    When I checked in, there were over 60 comments, and I’m not gonna read them all, so forgive me if my points have already been made.

    1) Martin Gardner was a theist. Res ipsa loquitur.

    2) Atheism is a conclusion. Skepticism is a process. Yes, the one usually leads to the other, but so what? Every now and then it doesn’t. Other times, it takes a while. I don’t think we should exclude (or, in Hemant’s words, “dismiss”) those who haven’t arrived at the atheist conclusion. I’d rather see everyone thinking critically (and critical thinking is hard. Nobody does it perfectly. The trick is to learn the skills, practice them, and keep at it).

    Having said all that, no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with atheism topics at a Skepticon. I can see wanting to distinguish skepticism and atheism, but I think Wagg is confused here.

  • trixr4kids

    @Hemant:

    “Maybe I’ll accuse PZ Myers of being a secret evangelical or something”

    This made me chuckle. Hemant, I think you should try it, just for the lulz. ;)

  • Anonymous

    Congratulations to Skepticon for great local coverage – KY3 TV

    Atheists, agnostics gather for convention in Springfield MO
    ‘Skepticon’ is one of the largest events of its kind in the nation
    http://www.ky3.com/news/ky3-story-skeptics112010,0,7672094.story

  • Aj

    Andres,

    So what you’re saying is the amount of things you can “unpack” from a concept is congruous to its existence, and that properties like “maximally good, maximally strong, omniscient, etc.” are required for existence in all possible worlds. I’d like to see you try to justify that, but you won’t.

    The skeptics I read don’t use the argument, sounds like you’ve been reading accommodationists. I’m embarrassed for you if you think that by defining God as inside the natural world suddenly the conclusion changes.

    I’d like a good laugh, justify your ontological claims with special pleading and then present us with your “scientific” evidence for God.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    I’m not out to provide evidence for God, I’m an agnostic. I realize that to most of the people here the concept of someone not believing in God yet sticking up for the other side when their arguments are fragrantly misrepresented is a crazy one, but believe me, I have no theistic agenda to grind.

    And I’m not out to start a thread discussing the ins and outs of the argument. Read Plantinga’s books for that.

    The key premises are these:

    1) Either it is not possible that a maximally great entity exists or it is necessary that a maximally great entity exists.

    2) It is (logically) possible that a maximally great entity exists.

    I should say, the only real premise in the argument is #2. It is interesting to note that most atheists concede 2 in their every day talks about God. Most say “sure, it’s possible God exists, I just don’t see evidence of one.” without realizing that just by saying that they’re logically committed to his existence, if only they understood the argument. Even Richard Dawkins makes an argument against God based on probability, not impossibility.
    Even Graham Oppy, arguably the best living atheist philosopher says: “Under suitable assumptions about the nature of accessibility relations between possible worlds, this argument is valid: from it is possible that it is necessary that p, one can infer that it is necessary that p.”

    So the only thing you can attack is premise 2. Unless you and most of the people here can provide arguments as to the non-existence of God that show why such a being necessarily does not exist, then it would seem rather clear that premise 2 actually works.

    But none of this matters, because my original post was not about this argument. It was about the fact that it is certainly possible that some philosophically minded individuals become convinced of this argument’s soundness upon careful consideration of its premises. When it comes to you, it is clear that you don’t understand the argument, but you know nevertheless that anyone who becomes convinced by it is not reasoning properly, even if you yourself are unable to point out the flaws in the argument, your “skepticism” prevents you from allowing fellow rational individuals from being accepted into the camp for no other reason than that they used the same tools of logic that you folks claim to treasure and arrived at a conclusion other than naturalism.

    That’s pretty damn clear the case around here. To which then I wonder, why on Earth would a person who understands these arguments and becomes convinced by them really *care* about being accepted into this silly scientific skepticism club?

  • dmmaxwell

    Of course you have to be an Atheist to be a skeptic! No “True” skeptic could ever believe in a god!

    Sound familiar, folks?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Andres, premise 1 as you have stated it, “Either it is not possible that a maximally great entity exists or it is necessary that a maximally great entity exists,” is a false dichotomy. One can have three cases:

    1) It is not logically possible that a maximally great entity exists.

    2) It is logically possible but not necessary that a maximally great entity exists.

    3) It is both logically possible and necessary that a maximally great entity exists.

    An atheist can buy either claims #1 or #2, easily.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    We would dismiss anyone who said “I’m a Skeptic but I believe in homeopathy.”

    why, Hemant? why? homeopathy is not a religious belief. if you think it is, you don’t really understand it. you may not accept that for some people it works. you may believe all the most critical western scientific research that “disproves” it, and i will never say anything to you about that but “ok. that’s your right in a free society.” but dammit, why do you have to keep including insults about “alternative” medicine on an atheist blog? they just aren’t the same thing. it really pisses me off, and i tend to agree with your writings 90% of the rest of the time. i don’t want to be pissed at you.

    it would be like if you made a list of religious horrors in the world that went, “human sacrifice, slavery, patriarchy, incest, and… the eating of cow meat.” most of us would do that Sesame Street thingee while scratching our heads: “which one of these is not like the other.” sure, there are some hardcore atheists who are also hard core vegans, and i respect that! but i don’t confuse the two mostly separate points and i wish you wouldn’t either.

    go to all the MDs you want, take all the Big Pharma product your poorly educated doctor tells you to, never worry about paying the ever increasing cost of drugs you “need” to be “healthy.” that’s your choice. but i beg you, please stop insulting us who have, using the methods of western science even, determined that for ourselves, there is more than what i can buy in Rite Aid that works for me.

  • Aj

    Andres,

    You are committing the fallacy of equivocation. Firstly, epistemic possibility is not the same as logical possibility. The “necessarily possible” part of Plantinga’s argument does not mean “possible” in common parlance, so even if they meant logically possible, the skeptic does not mean “necessarily possible” in modal logic. Finally not all God concepts are the same, some are not logically possible, one might be the very same used in Plantinga’s argument, as the omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent God does not seem to be coherent, the theodicy enterprise has failed and stagnated.

    There’s no reason for anyone to accept the premises of the argument through skeptical processes.

    Of course you’re not interested in defending ontological arguments, you’d rather just pontificate and accuse others of ignorance because you’re will undoubtably fail at logical argument.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    and on topic: while i am strong, militant strong, in my atheism in public, the scientist in me requires that i leave the door just a tiny bit ajar. which is to say: the theory of evolution could be added to, modified in some way, changed in a way that would seem profound to scientists today. that’s its greatest strength and the same thing is true in physics and astrophysics and chemistry. everybody “knew” Newton was perfect truth… until he wasn’t. keeping an open mind is what i consider skepticism to be all about, even as one can be %99.99999 confident that no one and nothing will ever change a particular theorem or replace it. i am %99.999999 sure that i am correct in my atheism. but i have a friend, and he’s much smarter than i am, and he calls himself an agnostic. “i can’t know, you can’t either with total certainty, and because of the magnitude or potential magnitude of the question, i leave my door open for… whatever.” he embraces no religious tradition, he is politically and socially an effective atheist. but if Ganesh appeared before him one day and said “i will make you all-knowing and immortally young and happy” he wouldn’t turn it down.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    links are always helpful, Aj. i have scientific research training, so don’t send me to some “alternative medicine is Stoopid cause i say so!” sites. and you better know who, specifically, funded each and every one of the scientific studies you’ll be easily (cause it will be so easy for you, won’t it?) linking to, and what the researchers who produced them have also produced for their corporate masters with a financial stake in keeping people with health insurance paying thousands every year for drugs they don’t really need and can live without superiors.

  • Aj

    chicago dyke,

    Why are you goading me into a response? If you’re smart enough to have scientific research training your smart enough to find and read the studies yourself, and smart enough to find out that homeopathy is complete bunk. That might interfere with your wish-thinking. The last time you tried to justify your foolish and irrational beliefs with conspiracy theories and anecdotes. That distinct lack of evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy should be enough not to believe it, but if you’re fine with your irrationality then I’m not going to be able to persuade you with reason.

    …but i beg you, please stop insulting us who have, using the methods of western science even, determined that for ourselves, there is more than what i can buy in Rite Aid that works for me.

    Don’t do that. Don’t claim that your belief in homeopathy and other nonsense is in anyway based on science. I didn’t see Hemant insult you, he only suggested that homeopathy is obviously bullshit, and it is.. Hemant writes a lot of posts that aren’t about religion, right-wingers get upset when he writes about politics, sometimes he even writes about himself, and he’s a skeptic.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Nordog in whine mode: FTR I did not make the argument you seem to be attributing to me. In fact, I didn’t make any argument at all.

    I made two somewhat unrelated claims in two sentences, and asked a question.

    An interesting thing happens frequently on this blog. I’ll make a statement or ask a question and I’ll get replies that want to argue against something I didn’t write (and don’t hold).

    It’s as if some think I’m trying to set up some great rhetorical flourish or something, so they jump ahead to cut me off at the pass.

    That’s right, I cut you off at the pass. I forestalled the follow-up that, after years on Teh Internet, I know almost inevitably follows the “science isn’t the only way of knowing” argument. Boo hoo for you.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    “2) It is logically possible but not necessary that a maximally great entity exists.”

    No. This is a contradiction because by the very definition of what a maximally great being is, one of its essential properties must be necessary existence. What your proposition really says is “It is logically possible but not necessary that a necessarily existing being exists.”

    You’re saying “This necessarily existing being exists contingently.”

    That’s a contradiction.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    “Finally not all God concepts are the same, some are not logically possible, one might be the very same used in Plantinga’s argument, as the omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent God does not seem to be coherent, the theodicy enterprise has failed and stagnated.”

    And every theist, certainly Plantinga as well, would be perfectly happy to grant this. The question is however, *is* this conception of a maximally great being incoherent? If the atheist claims it is, then she must demonstrate it. Problem is, most philosophers have completely given up on arguments from incoherence, even Richard Carrier doesn’t think using them is a very promising route towards convincing someone of atheism.

    And sure, I *am* accusing quite a few folks here of ignorance, because a) Calling someone ignorant is not always an insult, it is a statement of fact, as in “you don’t understand how this argument works, ergo, you are ignorant as to this topic.” That’s not an insult, more a call to get people off their fat intellectual asses and stop attacking strawmen and using outdated “refutations” of theistic arguments and actually get cracking on studying the arguments rather than getting condensed Wikipedia versions of them.

    That’s not too much to ask for is it?

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    “You are committing the fallacy of equivocation. Firstly, epistemic possibility is not the same as logical possibility. The “necessarily possible” part of Plantinga’s argument does not mean “possible” in common parlance, so even if they meant logically possible, the skeptic does not mean “necessarily possible” in modal logic. ”

    You are absolutely correct, but most atheists don’t seem to realize the difference. It is true that when skeptics say “God probably doesn’t exist” they mean to say something along the lines of “so far as I know, God probably doesn’t exist”. But this type of ontological argument forces them to commit to a much stronger claim, the belief that the concept of God is internally logically incoherent. That’s a far-cry from the type of “God doesn’t exist because I don’t see evidence for him.” type of atheism. This is a claim that itself forces the atheist to share his burden of proof and show us how the concept of a maximally great being is incoherent.

    What this amounts to is a proof for God’s non-existence. If you have one, by all means get yourself published and settle the issue once and for all.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    so in other words, Aj: you don’t have anything other than your own opinion to offer me? in refutation or support of your claims? i asked you for your oh so precious western research lab based peer-reviewed scientific evidence not funded by a large corporate interest “study,” and you only have that in response?

    color me not impressed. i don’t make any claims about “alternative” medicine beyond what i know, from personal experience (on my own self and that of several peers and friends, including those with a PhD in science) to back up my opinion. you have an opinion too. Hemant seems to; he hasn’t responded so i won’t claim to know what he means.

    i asked you for just one of these really important, totally independent, widespread-accepted by the scientific community, “studies” you claim to have, about why homeopathy is “like a false religion.” i’m still waiting. for all you who diss yoga, TCM, acupuncture, and even chiropractic method (and more, but i won’t go into that) i ask you to do the same. and again: some website you really like? not good enough. chapter, study, verse, method, bibliography. evidence, testable. i have what i know. i, unlike those who reject “alternative” practice, don’t try to push its efficacy on the rest of you. but i WILL reject those of you who try to put all that into the category of myth, just because you don’t understand them, or just because you’re ignorant of how some of those “alternative” practices have actually helped some of us who have been sick or in need. it worked for me. to my mind, it’s clearly a case of “believe some dood on a website, or what worked for me and several friends of mine who couldn’t afford western medicine because we couldn’t afford western style “health care.” i’m alive today because of yoga. i’m sure some of you are alive today because of Pfizer. we shouldn’t be arguing about who is “better.”

    there is a valid critique of rhetoric like yours, which has to do with racism and ignorance of the long, scientifically established practice of science outside the west, as well. it’s what hurts me most to see Hemant support people like you. he should know better. forgive me for being so blunt, but white western types have rejected science that comes from brown and black people for centuries. despite the fact that “science” pretty much exists in the west today, because of brown and black people outside of western europe, those who kept it alive while white people were burning witches and cats to “end the Plague.”

    like i said, white guys in white coats? not automatically always correct, “scientific,” honest, or incorrupt. the same is true for brown people in brown robes, but i can admit that. you people who think that rich white guys from Harvard & Hopkins invented medicine all by themselves? you don’t. that is my main point.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Andres:

    This is a contradiction because by the very definition of what a maximally great being is, one of its essential properties must be necessary existence.

    Okay, I see where you’re going with this. You were not clear before in how you defined “maximally great being.” The problem is that you can’t declare by fiat that something is necessary. If you define a “foobar” as something with properties X, Y, and Z, then whether a “foobar” is necessary depends on those properties X, Y, and Z. If I further define a “foobaz” as a “necessary foobar,” then my definition is either redundant (in the case that a foobar is already necessary), or contradictory (in the case that a foobar, well, isn’t necessary).

    I should then note that you are incorrect when you say,

    It is interesting to note that most atheists concede 2 in their every day talks about God. Most say “sure, it’s possible God exists, I just don’t see evidence of one.” without realizing that just by saying that they’re logically committed to his existence, if only they understood the argument.

    Most atheists, when they say that it’s logically possible that God may exist, are not using “God” to mean the sort of “maximally great” being that you (belatedly) defined, but rather of some presumably omniscient and omnipotent spiritual being — a being that is hardly logically necessary.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    When you break down what “maximally great being” means or what a “greatest possible being” entails you get necessary existence:

    - It is possible that there is a greatest possible being.
    -Therefore, there is a possible being that in some world W1 or other has a maximum degree of greatness- a degree of greatness that is nowhere exceeded.
    - A being B has the maximum degree of greatness in a possible world W only if B *exists in every possible world.*

    It isn’t as simple as just “defining” things into existence. The argument begins with the strong intuitive plausibility that a maximally great being exists. From there we can “squeeze out” what properties such a thing entails.

    But for the millionth time, this is not the point of my post. I just used the modal ontological argument as an example, but I could have just as easily used the Leibnizian Cosmological argument as an example.

    The point is, these arguments get *really* technical, and people who are much more intelligent than you or I, and probably more than both you and I combined, disagree on these arguments. You and I are not the ones at the forefront of academic journals debating these arguments and debating the logical implications and formulations of each, they are. But under the “logic” of idiots like PZ Myers, anyone who believes in God, *no matter how they arrived at their belief*, is an idiot and not worthy of being called a Skeptic.

    It doesn’t matter that PZ Myers has no way in hell of ever actually understanding these arguments, the guy isn’t trained in logic or metaphysics. It doesn’t matter that he has absolutely no idea what the arguments are actually about, to him, if you’re persuaded by any of the arguments, you’re an idiot and automatically not fit to be included into the “skeptic” camp. To him, skepticism is about the conclusion, not the process.

    The difference between the homeopathy example and the God example should be obvious. We have a method by which we can conclusively show homeopathy not to work. Every study thus far has shown that it simply doesn’t do more than a mere placebo.

    So in this example, a skeptic can talk to a “believer” and point out that the *process* quite clearly points to the result that homeopathy just doesn’t do much.

    But with the God question, the arguments are so mind-boggedly complex and the training it requires to understand some of these arguments that use modal logic is astounding, that it is just silly and childish to call someone out for being an idiot for having been persuaded by one of the arguments. In the God question, the *process* that skeptics promote (the use of logic and careful reasoning to arrive at beliefs) leads many of the people who are best trained in it (philosophers) to radically different conclusions.

    It is pressumptious and arrogant to think that only *you* are qualified to say what the conclusion to these arguments should be, and that anyone who has the balls to disagree with you and arrive at another conclusion, no matter how carefully they did so, is obviously not functioning properly and not “really” a skeptic.

    Seriously, this idiocy must stop.

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    “some presumably omniscient and omnipotent spiritual being — a being that is hardly logically necessary.”

    It would be odd for an omniscient and omnipotent being to exist accidentally.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Andres:

    The point is, these arguments get *really* technical

    Which is why I replied on a technical level. I myself am not particularly fond of substituting snark for actual argument (unless I’m dealing with trolls and want to dismiss them without feeding them too much).

    But with the God question, the arguments are so mind-boggedly complex and the training it requires to understand some of these arguments that use modal logic is astounding, that it is just silly and childish to call someone out for being an idiot for having been persuaded by one of the arguments.

    Fair enough, although in practice, theistic skeptics appear to openly acknowledge their beliefs to be a matter of faith rather than a conclusion from philosophical argument. (Martin Gardner is an example of such a theistic skeptic.)

  • Aj

    chicago dyke,

    I’m not an encyclopedia, I do not have photographic memory, I have not devoted my life to reading and absorbing the literature on alternative medicine, specifically homeopathy, so that I can then attempt to educate you in vain. I seem to remember people responding to you here quite a bit, and you ignoring them. Don’t worry, the placebo effect works even if you don’t believe the treatment works, as long as you believe the placebo effect works.

    There are multiple elephants in the room:
    No plausible mechanism.
    Incompatibility with modern physics.
    Incoherent metaphysical claims.

    Even if my arguments and evidence do not persuade you, the burden of proof is still on you. You have anecdotes and arguments from authority (I don’t care how intelligent your friends are, anecdotes are anecdotes, the placebo still works on them).

    You can’t obviously prove a negative, but when controlled for publisher bias, placebo, and double-blinded the results of homeopathy trials look more and more like noise.

    Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G. Clinical trials of homoeopathy. BMJ 1991; 302: 316–23.

    Linde K, Melchart D. Randomized controlled rials of individualized homeopathy: a tate-of-the-art review. J Alter Complement Med 1998; 4: 371–88.

    Cucherat M, Haugh MC, Gooch M, Boissel JP. Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 2000; 56: 27–33.

    Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 2005; 366: 726–32. [pdf]

    Homeopathy – Failing Randomized Controlled Trials Since 1835 @ Science Based Medicine links to RCTs.

    p.s. You should really read the sites I linked to before, they’re written by people who read and cite the literature.

    p.p.s. It’s true that the Muslim Caliphates retained much philosophy and maths from the Greeks (edit:to be fair to them they added an incredible amount themselves), and that it was interaction between Europe and the Middle East (the exact opposite of how you describe Europeans, Europeans actually went to the Arab world to learn and bring back knowledge) that was one of the sparks of the Renaissance that led to the Enlightenment that was where what is known as science was born as a movement, the beginnings of the Scientific Method that would be recognisable and distinguishable from the arts and philosophy. There were Arab proponents of of empiricism in the Islamic world hundreds of years before, but sadly the ideas didn’t take hold.

    p.p.p.s Acupuncture doesn’t work, sticking needles in people works. The metaphysical chi bollocks isn’t helpful. Chiropractic as first invented is also nonsense that posits a unscientific philosophy of “innate intelligence”, but mobilisation and manipulation work, and is practiced by chiropractors, osteopaths, physio-therapists, physiologists, and many medical discplines. They’re different to homeopathy, that’s just water and perhaps a hug. Chiropractic, Homeopathy, and Magnetic Healing were invented by people of European ancestry.

  • DanDare

    It is true that people are not 100% sceptical. People are true to themselves not scepticism. That does not support the argument that Skepticon should be renamed Atheistcon.

    This is the logic of that argument.

    People may be sceptical but have a blind spot about believing in a god. Therefore a convention that is predominantly sceptical about theism should really be called atheistcon.

    If that is true it then follows that people may be sceptical but have a blind spot about believing in UFOs as interdimensional aliens. Therefore a convention that is predominantly sceptical about such UFOs should really be called aUFOcon.

    And so on with homeopathy, crop circles, water divining, ESP, precognition, psychokenisis and on and on.

    Therefore no convention purely about scepticism can exist and must be a convention about the subjects of scepticism that are emphasised at that particular meeting.

    That is absurd and refutes the argument QED.

  • Aj

    Andres,

    And every theist, certainly Plantinga as well, would be perfectly happy to grant this. The question is however, *is* this conception of a maximally great being incoherent? If the atheist claims it is, then she must demonstrate it. Problem is, most philosophers have completely given up on arguments from incoherence, even Richard Carrier doesn’t think using them is a very promising route towards convincing someone of atheism.

    I don’t know and it doesn’t matter, if they mean a being that by definition must necessarily exist then that’s begging the question as accepting the premise is only justified by knowledge of said maximally great being. If you define anything that way this argument concludes its existence.

    You are absolutely correct, but most atheists don’t seem to realize the difference. It is true that when skeptics say “God probably doesn’t exist” they mean to say something along the lines of “so far as I know, God probably doesn’t exist”. But this type of ontological argument forces them to commit to a much stronger claim, the belief that the concept of God is internally logically incoherent. That’s a far-cry from the type of “God doesn’t exist because I don’t see evidence for him.” type of atheism. This is a claim that itself forces the atheist to share his burden of proof and show us how the concept of a maximally great being is incoherent.

    I don’t think that’s correct at all. I don’t think the atheist needs to make that claim, they can remain agnostic on the premise (the possiblity), as they remain agnostic on the existence of God. The atheist does not share the burden, they’re not the ones making the claim of existence. Also, by including existence in the definition of maximally great, it seems to me to be making the rather obvious statement (although in a complex way) that things that exist necessarily exist.

    It shouldn’t be considered a “proof” of God’s existence. That’s why those that are compelled to believe by it (probably zero people) have not arrived at their position by the same means and processes of skeptics.

  • http://findingmyfeminism.blogspot.com/ Not Guilty

    Maybe we can think of skepticism as the path to atheism? My boyfriend despises organized religion, laughs at creationists and in all honesty, accepts that God is highly unlikely. He is a skeptic, but he is not an atheist/agnostic. He’s toyed with it in the past, but he feels like the world wouldn’t be interesting without God. He was raised Catholic and I really just think he is having a hard time letting go. So I think you can be a skeptic and not be an atheist; I think it it simply part of the continuum.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj:

    it seems to me to be making the rather obvious statement (although in a complex way) that things that exist necessarily exist.

    Um, Aj, to say that something necessarily exists means that it is logically impossible for that something to not exist. Anyway, if you want to know what Andres is going on about, start here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/ont-arg/#H4

    (For reasons stated in an earlier post of mine, I would say that incorporating necessary existence into the concept of “maximal greatness” is still incoherent.)

  • http://philosophiadeus.blogspot.com/ Andres

    “Fair enough, although in practice, theistic skeptics appear to openly acknowledge their beliefs to be a matter of faith rather than a conclusion from philosophical argument. (Martin Gardner is an example of such a theistic skeptic.)”

    Shouldn’t this question just be settled once and for all by just finding a definition of “Skeptic”?

    If I take myself as an example, I continue to toy with the idea of God. I find His existence to not be nearly as implausible as most “typical” atheists (the types you run across in the blogosphere) do. There are times when I’ve read arguments such as the modal ontological argument and the leibnizian cosmological argument (quite honestly the only two arguments that really do anything for me) and have pondered whether in fact I do believe their conclusions given how plausible I find the premises to be.

    I continue to be an agnostic because, upon close reflection and introspection, I still find myself lacking that “hmphhh” necessary to jump in with the theist camp. I lack belief in God. However, by no means do I think theism is irrational, and this is where William Rowe’s “Friendly atheism” (an ironic name, given that this blog author almost certainly has probably never even heard of what it’s about) comes in.

    You and I may have differing beliefs that cannot be true at the same time. Yet perhaps there is no clear cut way of deciding which of us is correct (an analogy would be the difficulty in deciding which interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct). It is clear that both of us cannot be right, but the criteria for deciding who of us is right is simply not available to us. So what do we do? Do we call each other names and accuse each other of irrationality for holding a different belief? No, of course not. I can accuse the typical theist down the street who only believes in God because his entire family believes in Him and so he inherited irrational, but I cannot for the life of me ever call someone like Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, Richard Swinburne, or Alexander Pruss irrational because they’re theists. They’re on a completely different league than the typical Christian down the street. So what do we do? We agree that both of us cannot be right, but we do not therefore conclude that one of us is *irrational* because of this. One can hold a false belief without being irrational, so I argue that some theists are rational in their belief in God and so are some atheists also rational in their lack of belief in God.

    But going back to myself as an example, were I ever to “convert” to theism. Were I to suddenly find that these arguments finally provide that “hmphhh” necessary for me to become a theist, am I therefore abandoning all rights to be called a “skeptic”?

    See, PZ Myers and his band of looney idiot followers think that by allowing someone to be called a skeptic while being a theist means accepting the proposition that “religion ought not to be held up to critical scrutiny.” That’s nonsense. In the case of a Plantinga or Swinburne or myself, we *fully* welcome the critical scrutiny of religious beliefs and ideas. The difference is that we may believe a certain religion can withstand said scrutiny.

    Were I to believe in God tomorrow, I would still not believe in Homeopathy because the standard tools to test their claims have been used and have conclusively shown how bunk it is. I would continue to not believe in extra terrestials because I wouldn’t believe the available data warrants such a conclusion. I would continue not to believe in Creationism because I do not believe the Geological evidence supports a global flood. I would continue to attack psychics because the tools of their trade are well known and easily replicated by magicians.

    So on and so forth I continue to put each of these topics up to critical scrutiny and if they pass the test, I’ll incorporate them into my web of beliefs. If not, then I’ll be skeptical of them.
    Same too for certain arguments for God’s existence. If I do my best to read all the arguments for and against say, the Argument from Contingency, and after weighing them I come to conclude that the argument is sound, why have I suddenly abandoned my “right” to be called a skeptic?

    Where am I going wrong here?

  • Aj

    J. J. Ramsey,

    Um, Aj, to say that something necessarily exists means that it is logically impossible for that something to not exist. Anyway, if you want to know what Andres is going on about, start here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/ont-arg/#H4

    Yeah, you’re right. I meant “things that necessarily exist exist”.

  • Aj

    Andres,

    The problem with these arguments is that they exist to satiate theists not compel atheists to believe. The modal ontological argument begs the question, and the Leibnizian cosmological argument is special pleading. There’s also the problem that as long as you apply the same essential definitions to the subject of the premise, they can be used as “proof” of existence for anything. The essential definitions such as necessarily existent or uncaused cause, aren’t connected to an intelligent conscious powerful being that created the universe, the basic definition of a God. Further, even by adding on these irrelevant attributes, you’re only left with deism not theism, and further still you have many different versions of the theistic god, but also gods.

  • Pseudonym

    You can’t be a skeptic and religious, for an appropriately narrow definition of “religious”. Or, to put it another way, if you have to ask, you don’t really get what either religion or skepticism actually is.

    If Martin Gardner wasn’t a skeptic, then nobody is.

  • John-Henry Beck

    “See, PZ Myers and his band of looney idiot followers think that by allowing someone to be called a skeptic while being a theist means accepting the proposition that “religion ought not to be held up to critical scrutiny.” That’s nonsense.”

    Well, my experience with PZ is far from loony. But to address that particular point I will note that at Skepticon 3 he did not take that stand. I understood him to say that we can welcome people in who are skeptical about some things and not others. But we won’t leave anyone’s pet beliefs on god alone just because because we agree on bigfoot and homeopathy. We can say that someone is not being skeptical on a particular topic but admit they are skeptical on others. Most people probably have something they haven’t or won’t put to proper skeptical scrutiny, and that’s not cause to kick them out the door.

  • StinkySocks1964

    1. Descartes, anybody?
    2. Atheism and religion are not mutually exclusive or opposite. There are religious atheists and non-religious theists.

    3. Before we can even determine the difference between theism and atheism, we have to settle which conception of God we’re talking about. One or many? Personal or impersonal? Transcendent or immanent? Creator or demiurge or merely the First Thing? Good, evil or indifferent? Unitarian, Trinitarian, avataristic? All-knowing? All-powerful? Metaphorical? It’s not as if “God” is a well-defined concept, although those with an agenda tend to act as if it were, because it makes it easier to frame arguments this way.
    4. Atheism and theism are not the only possible choices. Solipsism, idealism, pantheism, panentheism, transcendentalism, etc. etc.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke
  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    &snort

    “accupunture doesn’t work”

    &snort.

    whatever, western guy. go to china, you’ll learn a lot.

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  • J. J. Ramsey

    “whatever, western guy. go to china, you’ll learn a lot.”

    There’s a series on the establishment of acupuncture anesthesia in Communist China on the Science-Based Medicine blog: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=131

    Acupuncture is far from being all it’s cracked up to be.

  • Brian Macker

    You can certainly be an atheist without being a skeptic and the article titled “I’m a Non-White Atheist; Hear Me Roar” proves that. White privilege theory, please, what a load of postmodernist PC illogical intellectually dishonest garbage.

  • Aj

    chicago dyke,

    Geography doesn’t dictate what works and what does not, going to China will not change reality. There are bizarre and pseudoscientific “medicine” practiced on every continent.

    If you go to certain parts of Africa they believe that demons cause disease, a common belief for much of history. In a documentary I watched a medical doctor forbidden from giving a man medicine (I think it was antibiotics) for an easily treatable condition that was making him delirious and he was in agony, because the witch doctor said the spirits did not want him to have it, after smearing about entrails of a chicken.

    Is acupuncture any less batshit insane? Acupuncture is based on a pseudo-scientific philosophy that involves “qi” (or chi) that flow along “meridian lines”, that are manipulated at “acupoints”. It’s very similar to the notion of “ley lines” that flow through geology and is the metaphysical basis for dowsing. They both involve a mystical “energy”, although it’s a meaningless term, it has nothing to do with energy. I don’t suppose you think tigers eyes, shark fins, rhinos horn, or lions testes are legitimate medicines. Should I go to China so I can learn about how they work?

    Acupuncture is very difficult to study, up until recently there wasn’t a good placebo treatment and as far as I know so far it has been impossible to double blind. However, what can be studied is pain relief between sham acupuncture and acupuncture, and studies show that placement of needles on “acupoints” doesn’t matter. As long as patients think they’re getting acupuncture, they get the benefits of acupuncture, I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you.

    Madsen, M. V.; Gotzsche, P. C.; Hrobjartsson, A. (2009). “Acupuncture treatment for pain: systematic review of randomised clinical trials with acupuncture, placebo acupuncture, and no acupuncture groups“. BMJ 338: a3115. doi:10.1136/bmj.a3115. PMID 19174438

    Kaptchuk TJ, Stason WB, Davis RB, Legedza ATR, Schnyer RS, Kerr CE, et al. Sham device v inert pill: randomised controlled trial of two placebo treatments. BMJ 2006;332:391-7.

    Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Avins AL, Erro JH, Ichikawa L, Barlow WE, Delaney K, Hawkes R, Hamilton L, Pressman A, Khalsa PS, Deyo RA. A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 11;169(9):858-66.

    Bausell RB, Lao L, Bergman S, Lee WL, Berman BM. Is acupuncture analgesia an expectancy effect? Preliminary evidence based on participants’ perceived assignments in two placebo-controlled trials. Eval Health Prof. 2005 Mar;28(1):9-26.

  • Mike

    @ AJ & Chicago Dyke.

    Acupuncture doesn’t work, sticking needles in people works. The metaphysical chi bollocks isn’t helpful. Chiropractic as first invented is also nonsense that posits a unscientific philosophy of “innate intelligence”, but mobilisation and manipulation work, and is practiced by chiropractors, osteopaths, physio-therapists, physiologists, and many medical discplines.

    Aye, and there’s the rub. When one creates a blanket statement such as “XYZ” doesn’t work, there will always be someone who says, “Wait a minute. It’s worked wonders for me!”

    These arguments always stem from an incongruent understanding of what the “XYZ is. For example, my understanding of acupuncture is the act of sticking needles in people. So you, A.J., and I both believe that sticking needles in people works, it’s just that you call it “Sticking needles in people” and I call it “Acupuncture.” So when you say “Acupuncture doesn’t work,” my interpretation of what you are attempting to say is as incorrect as your assumptions of what my beliefs are regarding acupuncture.

    I don’t really care if some include the metaphysical part as a requirement for the definition. To me, strategically placing needles is accupunture. If you choose to define it differently, fine. But that’s my definition and I’m sticking to it.

    Reminds me of the Southern Baptist who decided that he owns the definition of Yoga (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101007/ap_on_re/us_rel_southern_baptists_yoga). If they’re not doing Yoga, then what are they doing?

    Anyway, I hope you and CD are not clashing because you have different ideas of what homeopathy is, and that you can come to some mutual understanding. It pains me to see you guys arguing over something, when you may not even be talking about the same thing.

  • Tuomo Hämäläinen

    I think this question is hard one. Scepticism is not about what opnions you have, it is more about methodology.
    1: You can think critical but fail in doing that. (accidentally) Therefore you can believe in religion after critical thinking. I tend to do mistakes once a while, and I hope I am not only one.
    2: Sceptics are more about science. If you think that religion is about curing cancer by prayer it is just like homeopathy. So skeptic and believing something like that is not going to last longer (or guy is stupid.) Perhaps homeopathy’s and prayers method is supernatural and over our senses, but the “sick-well” -status is observable, so we can joint comic water tablets/pray and sick people and watch. But skeptics don’t hate poetry or art. Can I have tendency to like surreal art (like I do) and still be sceptic? If I say I am religion and admit that this one is nonscientific and fun part of my life.

    Of course these alternatives are not most fun for christians and other religious fellows.

    PS. I am not theistic person at all. In finland, where I live, many religious people think that I am an “angry infidel”. Our land is so “undebating” that almost anything is “insulting”. Not illegal to say things, but you are still “looked long” big time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WyrdestGeek Isaac Comer-Wyrd

    “Can you be a skeptic without being an atheist? ”
    Well, I’m definitely a skeptic, and I’m usually an atheist.  I certainly don’t think I’m a theist.  Whether I’m an atheist or some other similar term depends on who’s in control of the labeling.  I’m pretty certain that all of the specific supernatural claims of all the major religions are fables/bunk/etc.  I don’t see any good evidence for any sort of big-smiley creator being nor big-angry creator being up in the sky that has any personal stake in our lives.  After that, it seems to get a bit vague.

    The example you chose 
    “I’m a Skeptic but I believe in a supernatural deity who answers my prayers.” 
    seems strawman-ish to me.  If there’s someone out there that’s weird enough to be both a skeptic and a theist, it’s likely and plausible that their brand of theism is not the run-of-the-mill Christ-died-for-my-sins-and-rose-again variety.  There have been those that believed that the Universe itself is god (Pantheism).  There have been those that believed that some sort of creator being originally created the Universe and set it in motion, but now the Universe runs on its own without outside intervention.

    See?  Basically, what I mean is the claims get further and further removed from the physical reality of things you can actually test.  

    Anyway, while the notion of being both skeptic and believer doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me, I would not want to shut out anyone that actually wants in to the skeptic camp.  Our numbers are small enough as it is.

    – 
    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  • Brennaconger

    if i belive that there could be a god but i do not clam any religion does that mean i am atheist. people tell me yes but i dont say so.


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