So this is hitting the rounds again since DJ Grothe posted a Swift Blog about Atheism and the JREF. I’ve been involved in some of the debate and conversation online about this issue and I thought I should blog about it.
First let me say that I’m doing this as a personal post. Granite State Skeptics’ official stance is that while specific religious claims that are testable are up for scrutiny, the idea of “god” is generally avoided. That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss it at our meetings, just that as a group we don’t take an official stance.
Because of that you may be able to figure out where I’m going with this post. I think there’s a number of issues with this debate that are missed, or misunderstood and that nobody fully grasps everything involved, including myself. But lets look at a few things.
First is what we are talking about exactly, so lets look at some terms and try to define them.
Skepticism is not a belief system, it’s a process of using critical thinking to come to a conclusion.
Atheism is the rejection in a belief in god. I know a lot of people add on that thing about evidence and how they’d change their mind.. More on this later.
Agnosticism is the idea that the existence of god is unknown or can not be known.
I think Agnostics get a bad wrap in the skeptical community, that they are wishy-washy. I find their stance to be more skeptical than that of an atheist, and I say that as an atheist… Well, because of all the battles going on now I don’t even like to use that term anymore to describe myself. I heard Jeff Wagg use the term “Scientific Naturalist” once and I really like it and try to use that to explain my beliefs (or lack there of).
Atheist also seem to have a problem with identity due to the spectrum. Most that I’ve met at TAM and other skeptical events explain themselves as being able to change their mind, that they’ve come to this conclusion based on evidence (or lack of evidence). But then you have popular skeptics like Penn Jillette who will come out and say that they don’t -believe- in a god, that’s something quiet different.
Then there’s the religious, and I think this is where things get REALLY muddy. An individual’s beliefs can be a huge range. From the Catholic who goes to church every Sunday to the guy who thinks that there was “something” they call god that set things in motion and caused the big bang. To pigeon hole everybody that believes in god into one area is just crazy in my opinion.
Then there’s the idea that skepticism = atheism. This is just an insane argument and I don’t see how anybody can actually claim this with a straight face. There are many skeptics that believe in some kind of god and there are may atheists that are into a lot of crazy woo-related ideas. Is Kitty Mervine of BadAlien and our Director of Investigations a “bad” skeptic because she’s a Deist? Is Bill Maher a “bad” atheist because it’s sucked into anti-vax nuttyness? I don’t think so in both cases.
Then I saw some tweets going around about if somebody can be an Astrologer and skeptic. I say why not, only because that also is a wide ranging question. I’ve talked to many people that believe in astrology, including a couple that would do readings and have studied astrology that didn’t know about thinks like wobble and how our signs don’t match up anymore. How can somebody that doesn’t have all the information make an informed decision? How many people have you met that think Homeopathy is something herbal and had no idea that it was just water. If they think it’s herbal, of course they’re going to think it could have an effect, because a lot of herbal medicine does. This doesn’t make them bad skeptics, it makes them uninformed.
In closing I just want to say that we shouldn’t close out anybody to the community or set conditions on it. We all have our “sacred cows” and I know I’ve learned things and changed my minds a lot over the past few years being an active skeptic. To set conditions on being a skeptic is silly, it turns us into something we shouldn’t be. There is disagreement, debate, discussion in the community and that’s what makes it good. What makes it great is we do it with respect and tolerance for each other and we help each other learn. We don’t call people stupid or say they’re delusional, we give them the tools and information they need to reach their own conclusion based on the facts at hand, and because we’re all individuals with different life experience they may come to a different conclusion. In doing so they may even change our minds by seeing things from another point of view.
So please comment, I want this to be a discussion.