Just a quick rant

I’ve got some posts percolating, but I need a moment to vent about something that’s been bugging me recently. I can’t really remember the last time I actually had a decent online argument with a believer of one form or another. I’ve had one or two exchanges that looked promising, and some that went around in frustrating circles, but mostly my recent arguments have been with other skeptics.

And it’s getting tiresome.

It’d be different if there were some other topic, but it’s always the same damn point: outspoken atheists are hurting the skeptical cause/making skeptics look bad/tearing the skeptical movement apart/overstepping the bounds of science and skepticism.

Suffice it to say, I disagree. But in my disagreement, I’m not chastising other skeptics for being too soft on religion. I’m not telling other skeptics that I think the future of skepticism lies in hardcore affirmative atheism. I’m not crafting bizarre strawmen about how accomodationist skeptics want to kick out all the outspoken atheists so they can purify the party. I’m not trying to redefine science to say that it must weigh in negatively on all god hypotheses. I’m not attaching “-gate” to every minor disagreement on message boards or blogs or Twitter. I’m not suggesting that the only way to combat woo is through ridicule and derision. I’m not arrogantly asserting that my way of approaching skepticism and atheism is the right way or the only way–or even that there is some single better way–to do so. And I’m certainly not telling other people in the movement that they’re going to tear the movement apart by being insufficiently outspoken about their godlessness.

See, I can disagree without thinking that everyone else should share my opinion or methods. Why the hell does this seem to be such a rare position?

Look, skeptics come from a bunch of different backgrounds. We have a bunch of different beliefs and personalities and philosophies. We ought to embrace that, not try to shove everyone into one pigeonhole or another. And the last thing we should do is set aside the beliefs or ideas of one group of people as beyond the reach of critical questioning, whether for reasons of politisse or apparent impossibility. I think we should be as willing to question Hal Bidlack’s faith as we are Penn Jillette’s climate change “agnosticism” or Bill Maher’s anti-medicine stance or Michael Shermer’s libertarianism. In fact, I’d say that most aspects of libertarianism (and politics in general) are much farther outside the range of science than, say, religious belief or assertion of a deity’s existence, and yet I think we should apply the same skeptical approach to it as we would to any other worldview.

But other people disagree, and that’s okay. Just don’t tell me I’m doing it wrong because my priorities and philosophies differ from yours. Don’t tell me that science and skepticism have some magical invisible boundaries that you’ve dreamed up (and that the vast majority of scientists and skeptics would disagree with). Don’t tell me that certain methods–such as ridicule, parody, and the occasional angry rant–are counterproductive when those methods are among the most visible and popular (even outside the movement). Don’t tell me that I’m tearing apart the movement when my philosophy is “everyone should be able to do their own thing, but nothing should be exempt from questioning.” Don’t tell me–in any variation of terms or degree of subtlety–that your way is the one right way to do things.

And if you want to tell me any of those things, then I’ve got one demand: present the data, or shut the fuck up. Because the one thing I haven’t seen from any of these self-proclaimed etiquette cops and method masters is evidence. Strange that people who want to define skepticism and set the stage for the next phases of the movement would omit such a key component of any skeptical argument.

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5 Responses to Just a quick rant

  1. Jimmy Blue says:

    Don't tell me that science and skepticism have some magical invisible boundaries that you've dreamed up I couldn't agree more, but saying we should apply our critical thinking and skepticism to gun ownership and what we consider to be rights certainly brought a shit storm down on me. Apparently science and the modes of thought it encourages have their little niche and should stay there, especially when they might challenge our own cherished views.

  2. Vaklam says:

    This post sums up a lot of what I've been thinking lately and you said it better than I would have.I think the human brain (even the skeptical one) falls easily into dogma it's just that each of us has his own triggers and thresholds. When a discussion gets close to a person's buttons and the internet is mixed in you get the nonsense you've had to deal with.Keep up the great work.

  3. Doubting Tom says:

    I think things like politics, morals, and ethics are different from science in that they don't deal with purely objective facts (although they must be rooted in such facts to be worthwhile), and so we should expect to have more disagreement and individual differences and discussion in those spheres than we might in science. The processes are messier, but I think we progress forward in a slow, shambling fashion. That being said, where they're all the same–and where skepticism comes into play–is that they all require logic and are prone to the same fallacious arguments. And that's where skepticism is useful: cutting through the bullshit. You can call it whatever you want, but "exposing logical fallacies to knock down bad arguments" is about 90% of what the skeptical movement does on a day-to-day basis, and so I think the term "skepticism" is appropriate. I missed out on the shitstorm over there; I'll remedy that when I have a bit more time.

  4. Ryan says:

    As someone who enjoys delivering a skeptical Asiatic thrust to the throat rather than a pussy-footed diatribe followed by a reach-around, I've been subjected to many sympathetic nice guys who feel it necessary to condemn my method of sharing information or my thoughts in general. I usually tell them to go fornicate with an iron rod.

  5. Rabbitpirate says:

    I completely agree, you sum up my own feelings very well. Great post.

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