Friday, November 19, 2010

Two more cents on skepticism and atheism

Honestly, I'm getting sick of the whole skepticism vs. atheism debate. But I'm an opinionated blogger, so I have to give my thoughts on the latest issue between the two movements.

Skepticon 3 is currently underway in Missouri. While I'm very jealous that I'm not there, Jeff Wagg is very butt-hurt because it looks too much like an "atheist conference." What makes it so godless? The fact that 3 out of 15 talks explicitly discuss religion.

I know. Such godlessness.

Wagg continues the typical whining that such "emphasis" on atheism will only hurt the skeptical movement, even though skeptical events continue to grow. JT Eberhard, organizer of Skepticon and all-around badass, artfully replies to Wagg's critiques of the conference:
"What I do think is that Jeff is not playing fair (see earlier bit about speakers giving non-religion talks that would take any equitable onlooker a whole ten seconds to look up) by not presenting the full picture of our event either intentionally or from a lack of sufficiently digging into it to see what we’re about. Either way, bad form. I also think he’s relying too much on his personal anecdote and not on the evidence around him (see the rising numbers of both Skepticon and TAM). I don’t have an issue with Jeff because he’s being pedantic or critical. I have an issue because he’s wrong."
And PZ replies to the nonsensical idea that religion is somehow off-limits to skepticism:
"Skepticon does have a strong anti-religion emphasis. So? This is a subject open to criticism, and it's perfectly fair to apply skepticism to religion as much as we would to dowsing or Bigfoot. If someone had organized a skeptics' conference with an emphasis on, for instance, quack medicine, I doubt that anyone would have squawked that "it's harming the cause!", "it'll make skeptics who believe in homeopathy uncomfortable", or "it's diluting medicine and destroying skepticism"."
But I'm going to take it one step further. Religion shouldn't just be included in skepticism. Religion is one of, if not the most important issue people should be skeptical about.

Seriously, what affects people the most? Believing in dowsing? Giggling at a horoscope? Perpetuating ghost stories? Searching for Big Foot? Or superstitious religious beliefs that are held by the majority of the population, and not only irrationally alter your behavior in almost all aspects of your life and affect the lives of those around you, but result in the suffering and death of millions of people?

Sticking to talking about psychics and UFOs because we want to artificially inflate our numbers is ridiculous.

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.

I got interested in the skeptical movement because I liked having a term that implied I didn't limit my skepticism to religion. You don't get to ban that type of skepticism because you're worried about the PR problem. And if you don't think you should be skeptical about religion, then you're not being fucking skeptical.

Now, can we stop with the hand holding and move on?

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