In which I provide my two cents regarding the current discussion between PZ Myers, Pamela Gay, and others.

The relevant posts and threads:

Should skeptic organizations be atheist organizations? by PZ Myers.
Why are we lying to Pamela Gay? by Seth Manapio
Separation between Scientific Truth & Belief by Pamela Gay.

I’m going to assume that you’ve read these, or are at least familiar with the main points of the argument.

I know Pamela Gay well enough to know that she is a smart person, a nice person, a well meaning person, an important member of the science education community, an effective skeptic, and a Catholic. Or something, maybe Protestant. Whatever.

I have faith that Pam will some day cast aside her religion and become an atheist like the rest of us1, but until then, a) I don’t care that she’s religious and b) I assume she would not mind if I mocked her religion now and then. After all, if you’ve ever observed or been part of a conversation between, say, a Protestant and a Catholic or a Catholic and a Jew who happen to be respectful friends, you will often see quite a bit of mocking when the conversation comes around to religion.

“Do you know why I’m smarter than you, Laden?” I remember my old school buddy Miles asking me.

“Huh?” I replied.

“Because my ancestors took the smartest young men, made them Rabbi, married them to the smartest young women, made sure the Rabbi’s family was well fed and protected from the randomness of the Bronze Age world in which they lived, and above all, made sure they had lots of children,” he stated

“Eh, what?” I replied.

“Your ancestors, on the other hand, took the smartest young men and made sure they had no children. Darwin, Laden. Self imposed Darwinian Selection,” he continued.

“Huh?” I replied.

You get the point. Unless you are an extremist or a fundamentalist, you can mock and get mocked and it can be part of your conversation and it only sometimes gets tense. And this applies to conversations among religious people, between religious people and atheists, and among atheists.

And, indeed, among Skeptics. I will, in fact, be doing some skeptics-mocking at the upcoming Convergence, and some of that may happen at the same panel attended by PZ and Pam Gay.

In a comment on Seth’s post, Gay notes:

I’ve been having dialogues with several prominent skeptics about how if skeptics are going to be inclusive (which many moderates want), than the language needs to change.

Pam, I respectfully disagree. (With the part in parentheses.) I’m not a moderate, but I want inclusiveness. I am happy and proud to be on a panel with you at a place like Convergence, and I value your inputs and your products. Even if you do believe in some weird shit that I know is wrong1. More specifically, I object to the linkage between inclusiveness and “moderate” vs “extreme” or by some nomenclatures, “new” (as in “new atheist”). That seems to represent a false scale that coordinates a certain approach to the atheism/religion discussion and one’s ability or tendency to be inclusive in a discussion. I am sure that a lot of people make that link, but it is a false one. We non-moderates are not exclusionary.

Which, probably, is the point of PZ’s post: It makes no sense to act differently in the discussion of religion if someone who is religious is part of that discussion (or not). Nor does it make sense to exclude people from the conversation depending on their beliefs. Unless, of course, those particular beliefs drive said individuals to be exclusionary themselves, and that could apply to many religious people as well as a number of non-religious people.

Also, as PZ noted, “The Second Coming of Christ” is a bad answer in a physics class no matter how the question is worded. In my classes I note in the beginning and remind the students now and then what the topic of the class is, and that their conversations in class and section, and writings in essays, and answers to exams should reflect that they are aware of this.

________________

1That was mocking. That was not serious. And, I’m rather annoyed that I have to explain humor and parody to some people. But whatever.

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    June 26, 2010

    I repeat my comment on PZ’s blog:

    My take on PZ’s option #3:

    If we skeptics can accept Penn Jilette into our ranks while vocally criticizing and even mocking many of his loopy Libertarian beliefs, why can’t we do the same for Pamela Gay and her loopy Christian beliefs?

  2. #2 Oedipus
    June 26, 2010

    I would hope that skepticism is understood as a method of evaluating claims which does not assume any conclusions such as atheism.

    A skeptic is allowed to scoff at a given belief but then he must follow it with, “Well what is the evidence?” An atheist can scoff and move on.

    Being a Christian entails a whole set of claims, and we can wonder if Pamela Gay has given skeptical treatment to them. If she has then I would love to hear about her investigation. If she has not then we can still call her a skeptic, though perhaps an unenthusiastic one.

    There is no need to make grandiose philosophical claims. Why not just ask religious scientists, on a case-by-case basis, what they’ve done to try to disprove their beliefs? I make this case at my blog.

  3. #3 Abdul Alhazred
    June 26, 2010

    Though I’m an atheist myself, one of my all time favorite skeptics was not an atheist.

    I refer to Martin Gardner.

  4. #4 Ed
    June 26, 2010

    “Your ancestors … made sure they had no children”

    I enjoyed that.

  5. #5 Pamela Gay
    June 27, 2010

    Hi Greg: I need to clarify what I wrote on Seth’s post. The discussions I’ve had (ironically) have been on how we need to be be more specific in our language, not on how we need to never tease each other. Here’s where I’m coming from: If we’re deriding the damage Young Earth Creationists are doing by removing evolution from schools, we need to say “Young Earth Creationists” and not “Christians” generically (Catholic’s are exemplary in teaching science and producing researchers). We also need to remember the forums we’re speaking in. On SGU, I expect to get mocked. But when I’m on a panel on science education and the scientific method at a Con, I don’t expect my other panelists to start saying the first step is getting people to stop believing in God. That’s never the first step in science ed.

    Mocking happens. Slips of the tongue happen. But as leaders in our fields, we more than anyone need to be careful in how we say what we say in public forums. We want to grow our community. That can’t be done if we start by alienating people we lazy language usage (which I exhibited on Seth’s blog) that leads to more time being spent arguing than educating, hurt feelings more than learning. The way you and I can talk is different from how either of us would talk to someone never given the opportunity to be educated who is in small steps now trying to learn science.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    Pam,

    Well put.

    (Catholic’s are exemplary in teaching science and producing researchers)

    e.g. Georges Lemaître!

    Looking forward to seeing you in a few days.

  7. #7 Seth Manapio
    June 27, 2010

    If someone said that economic theories were out of bounds for skepticism, what grounds would they have for mocking Penn Jillette other than pure prejudice? If you think that claims about fair distribution of wealth are immune to empirical enquiry, why on earth would you mock a libertarian? From what possible position of reason would you be acting, with what justification?

    When the hosts of the Skeptics Guide talk about religion–in general–they always say that religious claims about the afterlife are out of bounds for skepticism. So what reason, other than simple prejudice, could they give for mocking belief in a soul… even a bacterial soul?

  8. #8 Tulse
    June 27, 2010

    Catholic’s are exemplary in teaching science and producing researchers

    But Catholics also explicitly believe in miracles — is such a belief compatible with science?

  9. #9 Left_Wing_Fox
    June 27, 2010

    I don’t expect my other panelists to start saying the first step is getting people to stop believing in God.

    I have to ask, how often does that actually happen?

    Maybe I’m not seeing this from the perspective of someone in the trenches here, but shouldn’t the primary point always be educating about the scientific method? Here’s how the system works, here’s why it works, and this is how we come up with the theories that have been independently corroborated by people of different faiths and different disciplines.

    It the big sticking point is when we try and reconcile that with religion. Unfortunately a lot fo the framing wars has been along the line of “Atheists believe Science and religion are incompatible. Fundamentalists believe at science and religion are incompatible. Therefore, atheists are acting like fundamentalists”. Any attempt therefore to try and paint the two is compatible is going to fail, being under attack from both sides.

    Shouldn’t we instead be saying “The scientific method works, regardless of your personal religious beliefs. While we’re all going to disagree vigorously over whether that can be applied to god or not, we’re all smart enough to accept a system that’s proven to work for understanding our world.”

    Disagreements over the compatibility of science and religion are inevitable, but open debate, even rude debate, is part of living in an open society, and a big part of what makes science successful. That we disagree on whether science has a say on god does not invalidate science as a method for understanding our world, nor does it make the does it make the denialist tactics of biblical literalists anymore acceptable.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    In answer to several of the comments: I look at it this way. Religious belief could be similar to someone’s tinkering with a certain class of fiction. A person who reads those complex lengthy multi-volumed fantasy books such as Gormenghast and the Lord of the Rings thinks about what they are reading, fantasizes alternatives to what was written, perhaps even considers how she or he would have written it, wonders about the missing details from the story, etc. etc.

    They don’t place their thinking and appreciation of that literature to a scientific test. If someone came along and said “Gandolf doesn’t exist!!! You can’t prove that elvan medicine works!” etc, people would look at that person and wonder if they were sane. Those are matters of fiction, not subject to skeptical analysis.

    (Warning: Yes, yes, one can come up with ways that skeptical analysis can relate to fiction, but that would be so far off the point you will invoke my ire if you try it.)

    To me, the best place for religion, if it exists at all in someone’s life, is there … in that place where the enjoyment and appreciation of fiction is for many people. There, the religion is safe from criticism, and the rest of us are safe from the religion.

    I assume that that is where many people’s religion exists, and I’m quite certain for some individuals that I know, that this is exactly where it is.

    If someone wants their religion to exist outside of that area, and to dictate beliefs that impinge on an understanding of the real world, then I want them to keep that to themselves, or among others of similar belief. Keep it out of the schools, off the skeptics panel; bottle it up when you are making decisions about grant proposals or publications, or judging art work or grading exams; when everyone else is talking about real stuff, and do not share your tendency to let religion seep into your day to day thinking, then just zip it.

    Same with your crazy beliefs in homeopathy or libertarianism. If you want to bring those issues, or miracles such as transubstantiation or loaves and fishes into the conversation then they are subject to polite but firm examination and discussion.

    All the people that I tend to hang out with who are religious pretty much know how to manage this thing they have, either easily because it is in fact a privately appreciated part of their lives or because they just know better. I wish I could say the same for everybody I know who refuses to think rationally and scientifically about day to day matters.

    Then, this: I’ve been starting to think that over the last few months, the usual topics of skeptical inquiry have largely dried up. Because that is the best explanation I can think of, provisionally, for the fact that so many skeptics have stopped being active skeptics and are instead spending most of their time beating each other up.

  11. #11 Seth Manapio
    June 27, 2010

    Greg, you seem to basically be saying that as long as someone doesn’t think that their religion is true or that God actually exists, that’s still skeptical.

    Which is so totally obvious as to not need saying.

    The fact is, people do believe that there is a god in a very real sense, and it is those people that we’re talking about.

    And as for the ‘crazy belief in libertarianism’, this is a red herring. The fact is, some libertarian ideas may work in practice and some may not, but either way the difference between a skeptical libertarian and a non-skeptical libertarian would be whether they accept that some ideas may not work in practice and accept solid reasoning or evidence that this is the case.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    Greg, you seem to basically be saying that as long as someone doesn’t think that their religion is true or that God actually exists, that’s still skeptical.

    No, that is not what I meant. I don’t think that fantasy/fiction is “skeptical” and I was describing a rough equivalence to low-level involvement in religion and that sort of activity.

    And as for the ‘crazy belief in libertarianism’, this is a red herring.

    More of a prodding because I think maybe you are a closet libertarian and are just discovering that about yourself.

    Strictly speaking, a true skeptic can’t be a partisan or affiliate with any political philosophy. Which is one of the reasons that although I consider myself a skeptic and I’m active in skepticism, I am not certain that I want to call myself a skeptic. I think the skeptic community is largely dysfunctional socially and politically, although that does not apply to very many of the actual skeptics I personally hang with.

    Yes, I know about the religious people.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    In fact, riffing off this:

    http://sethmanapio.blogspot.com/2010/06/waste.html

    Skeptics should not be “skeptics”

  14. #14 Jack
    June 27, 2010

    I’m 80% certain I’ve read the smart rabbi conversation before. Is it from a novel?

  15. #15 Ewan
    June 27, 2010

    What people like Pamela don’t get is that chuckling and saying, “Oh, we’re not like those Young Earth Creationists – we’re just Christians!” is to completely miss the point. It’s not the conclusions that are up for debate here but the method. If you feel that faith in (say) divine revelation is adequate reason to believe in something then you don’t differ at all from the YECs in any meaningful sense. *That* is why “lazy language” is used – because the method is the same regardless of the outcome. In this sense all Christians – all Christians who trust in faith and revelation, at least – should absolutely be tarred with the same brush, as should people of all other religions who act in the same way: because they are doing the exact same thing.

    Oh, and three cheers for the Catholic church, Pam, in its condescending to enable scientific advancements. We should all be vewy vewy grateful.

  16. #16 Miles
    June 27, 2010

    Getting people to stop believing in god / faith may not be the first step to science education, but it is an important step. Religions are just faith machines, encouraging belief without evidence and churning out the meme that science doesn’t know everything and can be wrong. Both of which are true, but are often misused to claim something without evidence and set it equal to scientific claims or outside the purview of science.

  17. #17 Seth Manapio
    June 27, 2010

    Greg, you are a patronizing jackass. I’ve been refining my economic and political stances for decades, and I’m extremely clear about what they are.

    But more to the point, why don’t you consider fiction skeptical? What kind of dry, useless philosophy are you trying to paint as skepticism, if exploring the human condition through metaphor, myth, and poetry are excluded?

  18. #18 Left_Wing_Fox
    June 27, 2010

    What kind of dry, useless philosophy are you trying to paint as skepticism, if exploring the human condition through metaphor, myth, and poetry are excluded?

    Why conflate the two at all? Fiction by definition is not bound by reality, while skepticism is all about understanding the nature of reality. To enjoy a turn of phrase, an artful metaphor or an engaging myth is unrelated to skepticism. Only when those metaphors, myths and rhetoric are used in service of defining the nature of our universe does the skeptic mindset kick in, and try to judge those claims based on the wider body of evidence.

  19. #19 DuWayne
    June 27, 2010

    I would totally suggest that folks check out the post that Greg linked to, a couple of comments up. I posted this response there, but it applies just as well here so I am dropping it here as well…

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t buy into some black and white sort of bullshit here. It is more complicated than you are making this out to be and ultimately it seems to me that you are the one being patronizing.

    Little more than a year and a half ago, I was still a Christian. It is only in the last several months that I finally realized that I have been a skeptic, far longer than I have been an atheist.

    Skepticism doesn’t magically make a person immune to the irrational, it just makes it harder for a person to hold onto irrational ideas. The reasons I had such a hard time letting go of religion have nothing to do with skeptical thinking and everything to do with psychosocial conditioning. I didn’t want to believe, I needed to believe.

    That didn’t prevent me from being quite rational about my life and the world around me. Aside from the religious bullshit that I was conditioned into as a child – aside from my nearly lifelong abusive relationship with religion, I approached most everything with a skeptical – “I will believe it when I see it,” attitude.

    I will admit that my religious beliefs prevented me from rejecting strange ideas outright. But they did not prevent me from requiring evidence that said ideas were true. They most certainly didn’t prevent me from rejecting all sorts of insane bullshit, for a lack of reasonable evidence.

    It also isn’t as though I didn’t apply reason and skepticism to my religious beliefs. The problem wasn’t a failure to consider my faith in that context, the problem was the conditioning that prevented me from applying the same standards of reason to my faith, that I applied to other outrageous claims. In a sense, Christianity was grandfathered in – firmly entrenched, by the time my brain had developed the ability for abstract reasoning.

    I mock religious bullshit, because I think it is important to do so, for many reasons. I also mock, sometimes with a great deal more passion, medical woo and political/economic ideologies that are patently fucking ridiculous and/or dangerous. That doesn’t mean that I don’t also consider many people who hold beliefs that I believe are silly and/or dangerous, skeptics – or at least friends.

    Some of my friends and/or fellow skeptics, think that things that are important to me are silly too. Sometimes they even mock those ideas or me for my interest in them. There is nothing patronizing, condescending or wrong with that. Indeed, that sort of shit was part of what pushed me past my struggles with religion.

    That said, I do agree with you, that holding that some ideas are out of bounds and then mocking them, is pretty fucking obnoxious.

  20. #20 Stephanie Z
    June 27, 2010

    When the hosts of the Skeptics Guide talk about religion–in general–they always say that religious claims about the afterlife are out of bounds for skepticism. So what reason, other than simple prejudice, could they give for mocking belief in a soul… even a bacterial soul?

    Since when do the SGU hosts not mock everything? How do you do a show with Rebecca Watson and not produce broad mockery? Beyond that, how long must someone look at unfounded claims for the soul before you, Seth, allow them to graduate to postjudice?

    But more to the point, why don’t you consider fiction skeptical? What kind of dry, useless philosophy are you trying to paint as skepticism, if exploring the human condition through metaphor, myth, and poetry are excluded?

    WTF? What do you think skepticism is? It isn’t some kind of religion-equivalent, supposed to pervade and explain all aspects of your life while driving out every other kind of thought. In all of the little battles over the proper role of skepticism, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone assign it an exclusionary role.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    Jack, the experience I relate here actually happened to me back in seventh grade or so, and the other person in the conversation is currently my facebook friend, Miles Kurland. But who knows, maybe he stole it from a novel! But really, it’s not unlikely for this sort of thing to get thought up more than once (one of the great falsehoods: If Wikipedia contradicts you, you’re wrong …. not that this is a Wikipedia situation, but still)

    It’s also possible that I’ve told that story before. In face, I’m pretty sure I have.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    Greg, you are a patronizing jackass. I’ve been refining my economic and political stances for decades, and I’m extremely clear about what they are.

    Then you’re lying to Pamela Gay and the rest of us!!!11!! Your “Well, maybe Libertarian values are right after all, nobody’s given evidence to the contrary, bla bla bla” is not “refined political stances” worked on over decades. It is you changing your mind or you not wanting to admit that what you really want to do is live your life heavily armed in a cabin in Idaho on public assistance, just you and your goats.

    Noticing this about you does not make me a patronizing jackass. In fact, I’m pretty sure you don’t know what those words mean. I may be wrong in my assessment of the particular political soup you’ve got sloshing around in your head. And if you think I’m wrong tell me that, and tell me why. Don’t call me names.

    What kind of dry, useless philosophy are you trying to paint as skepticism, if exploring the human condition through metaphor, myth, and poetry are excluded?

    That is interesting, tell me more, give me links and references. That is not an area of skepticism with which I’m familiar.

    I’m not painting anything. I’m just walking in the room and noticing the wallpaper.

  23. #23 Daniel J. Andrews
    June 27, 2010

    The big problem I see with mocking is that too often the people doing the mocking are mocking strawmen. They think religion is idiotic (it may well be) so don’t bother to learn the first thing about it. Thus their opinions, their viewpoints, their criticisms are, for the most part, far wide of the mark. All you end up doing is exposing your own ignorance. We rightly jump all over those University of Google scholars in the sciences (e.g. McCarthy, Huffington Post authors) and make fun of the commenters who think these people know so much and must be right, but when it comes to religion, too many skeptics are no different than Google scholars or their commenters.

    If you’re going to criticize something, at least take the time to get it right, or learn enough to avoid Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Dawkins’ God Delusion is an excellent example of NOT getting it right…he managed to critique Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence by 1) misinterpreting what they actually said (as did B. Russell in Why I Am Not a Christian), and 2) not realizing that Aquinas had already refuted these misinterpretations as others had also misinterpreted what Aquinas said so Aquinas set the record straight. Plus Aquinas had already raised real objections to his own “proofs” much earlier.

    Getting it right takes effort to learn the material (you have centuries of religious philosophy to cover, theological debates etc), and even someone as sharp as Dawkins is going to make schoolboy howlers when they attempt to write about something they’re not familiar with.

    The only real criticisms of religion to pay attention to are those used by philosophers. If you want to use children arguments, fine, read Dawkins’ book, but if you ever run into someone (atheist or otherwise) who knows their stuff , you may be made to feel like an errant schoolchild at best, a fool at worst.

    btw, this mini-rant wasn’t aimed at you, Greg. You’re not guilty of the level of ignorance that PZ manages to display (compared to his views, even Dawkins is a veritable scholar on the subject).

    And in an attempt to ward off Dawkin admirers, this isn’t a blanket slam on Dawkins either–his other books, including his latest Greatest Show on Earth, are fantastic (I loved his deconstruction of Paley’s arguments in the Blind Watchmaker, which is why his God Delusion was so hair-pullingly disappointing). My respect and admiration for Dawkins though does not include me closing my eyes when he writes whole chapters that “aren’t even wrong”.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    DuWayne, I have a theory: When in someone’s developmental trajectory they went from religious to none has a strong influence on how they perceive skepticism.

  25. #25 Tony Sidaway
    June 27, 2010

    I don’t see why the question of the existence of an afterlife should be out of bounds for skepticism. On what grounds do people calling themselves skeptics say such a thing?

  26. #26 Neill Raper
    June 27, 2010

    I realize the conversation has moved on a bit but I just need to touch on something from seth’s post.
    We are not just talking about mocking the generic idea of the soul. We are talking about mocking the type of soul which would be coded for in junk DNA! This is the type of weird that I would imagine many fundamentalists chuckling, never mind an eminently levelheaded moderate such as Dr. Gay. I could be wrong about this (in which case I’m sorry) but I would not imagine that she would take the idea of a cellular soul coded for in junk DNA all that seriously herself. What exactly is the suggestion here? Some magically screwy set of proteins imbues you with a soul?

    What they did on the SGU was not so much mock the concept of a soul, but mock the idea that a soul would manifest in such a silly way.

  27. #27 RLJ
    June 27, 2010

    What was there before there was something?

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    Timeless dimensionless vastness (Pre big bang). Could have been some kind of cosmic coffee ground or something. But then it became the universe.

  29. #29 Tony Sidaway
    June 27, 2010

    Wait a minute, now as skeptics we’re expected not to mock the notion of the soul? Some self-declared skeptics seem to have a weirdly selective idea about which screwy ideas are worthy of questioning or outright mockery. This all sounds very self-serving.

  30. #30 Seth Manapio
    June 27, 2010

    “What do you think skepticism is? ”

    A philosophy with a 2300 year history. WTF do YOU think skepticism is?

  31. #31 Seth Manapio
    June 27, 2010

    “Your “Well, maybe Libertarian values are right after all, nobody’s given evidence to the contrary, bla bla bla” is not “refined political stances” worked on over decades. ”

    And if I had said that, you might have a point. But since I didn’t, you don’t. Among other things, you can’t substitute the word ‘values’ for ‘ideas’ and maintain the meaning of the original statement.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    Seth, what is your point?

  33. #33 Seth Manapio
    June 27, 2010

    1. When mocking ideas, if you don’t have solid reasons for thinking that they are bullshit, you are just being dogmatic.
    2. If you believe that skepticism has no perspective on life after death or the existence of a soul, you have no solid reasons for thinking that the soul is bullshit.
    3. Therefore, if you believe 2, then mocking the soul is dogmatic.
    4. If my memory serves, the SGU hosts have stated that they support position 2.
    5. The SGU hosts have mocked the idea of a soul.
    6. Either the SGU hosts are dogmatists or they do not actually support position 2.

    Of course, I was using this as an example, possibly a weak one, of a larger problem concerning the definition of the word skepticism and the use of the word “skeptic” to describe people.

  34. #34 Seth Manapio
    June 27, 2010

    Oh, and my other point is that the thing you thought you noticed about me was a story you made up by substituting words that you wished I had written for words I actually wrote, and that this does, in fact, make you a patronizing jackass.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    Seth, you are very funny.

    But, not funny haha. Funny annoying.

    Yesterday, I had never heard of you. Today, I learned that you exist and that you are an unmitigagted ass. You wouldn’t know a civil word if it bit you in your stupid ass.

    Someday I hope to discover the reason that people who want to call themselves skeptics … and take on the job of telling other people if they qualify as skeptic or not … so often get where they think they need to be by being absolute shits. I would ask YOU to explain that to me but your head is so far up your ass, and your view of how things work in real life is so abysmally flawed, that I know you can’t even conceive of the question let alone the answer.

    I was also amused to discover (assuming that your blog profile is correct) that you are a pseudo. YA pseudo who uses his anonymity instead of his neurons. Pity.

    Seth, you need to take it down a notch if you want to be taken seriously. Seriously.

    (Whining quiver lipped demands for apology in three … two … one … )

  36. #36 Neill Raper
    June 27, 2010

    Seth:
    As I said above at 26 they were not mocking the idea of any possible soul that could exist. They were mocking the idea of a soul which finds its origin in large chunks of junk DNA. There seems to be a difference here that you are not addressing (sorry if you have).

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    June 27, 2010

    I certainly hope that every person involved in this conversation is aware of the Green Beard effect. Which would be a soul hiding in the DNA. Sort of.

  38. #38 Janus
    June 28, 2010

    “To me, the best place for religion, if it exists at all in someone’s life, is there … in that place where the enjoyment and appreciation of fiction is for many people. There, the religion is safe from criticism, and the rest of us are safe from the religion.

    I assume that that is where many people’s religion exists, and I’m quite certain for some individuals that I know, that this is exactly where it is.”

    Greg, that you want to believe that your religious acquaintances are rational doesn’t mean they are. A person cannot think of their religion as fiction, because if they think of a religion as fiction, they don’t believe in that religion.

    You’re guilty of the worst wishful thinking I’ve seen from an atheist in a long while, and that’s saying something.

  39. #39 Seth Manapio
    June 28, 2010

    “Yesterday, I had never heard of you. Today, I learned that you exist and that you are an unmitigagted ass. You wouldn’t know a civil word if it bit you in your stupid ass.”

    Like I said, Greg, you’re a patronizing jackass. I’m not sure why you think that making a whole new slew of assumptions about my position is somehow a counterpoint to this. It isn’t. It’s really more of a proof.

    In case you are wondering about this, the definition of patronizing that is relevant here is “to treat with condescension”. Your behavior is condescending: you assume that you know where I stand, and that you stand in a superior intellectual position. You are a jackass because the position that you are describing me as holding is not actually connected to any words that I actually used or position I actually espoused.

    Of course, you’re welcome to be a patronizing jackass if you want to be, and I don’t think you owe me an apology for that.

    I do find it amusing that you seek to school me on the topic of being a shit by being a shit, but I’m not sure that making me laugh was the effect you were going for.

  40. #40 Seth Manapio
    June 28, 2010

    “As I said above at 26 they were not mocking the idea of any possible soul that could exist. They were mocking the idea of a soul which finds its origin in large chunks of junk DNA. There seems to be a difference here that you are not addressing (sorry if you have).”

    I think this is open to interpretation to some degree. I think that the joke starts with that concept, but then it goes further with the follow up of “a soulless bacteria.” I agree that I’m interpreting here, but my point in bringing this exchange up was more to illustrate an issue than to condemn a specific act.

  41. None of us is totally rational all the time, and I find that reading scientific analyses, well-sourced articles, and skeptical blogs is useful in helping me deeply examine my own beliefs. It seems to me that skepticism can be a big tent if everyone arrives with a mind open to credible evidence and we leave the logical fallacies outside.

    I’m neither religious nor a dualist, and I’m having a little trouble understanding how “soulless bacteria” crossed a line. Does Xianity teach that bacteria have souls, and that’s why this was offensive? If religious skeptics are offended by joking around about a soul in junk DNA or in a bacterium or whatever, why not respond by brining credible evidence supporting their belief?

    It is possible to apply science and skepticism to the question of the existence of a soul, as Steve Novella has demonstrated in various exchanges with Michael Egnor.

  42. #42 Seth Manapio
    June 28, 2010

    “It seems to me that skepticism can be a big tent if everyone arrives with a mind open to credible evidence and we leave the logical fallacies outside.”

    I agree with you. But this excludes people with religious faith who are critical thinkers in other areas. Because they don’t have an assumption that credible evidence is a precondition of a truth claim.

    Now, when I say “excludes” I’m only talking about the application of a word to describe someone, as in “so-and-so is a skeptic.” I don’t mean that some sort of committee should require a statement of non-faith from participants at TAM or anything like that. In fact, what I’m really talking about is just what is meant when the word “skepticism” is used to describe a point of view rather than a social movement.

    The particular exchange that I highlighted from SGU may be a weak example. As I said, I was using it as illustrative of a larger phenomena that we’ve all seen: Skeptics mocking the idea that Jesus died for their sins, or mocking the idea of a god, or anything like that. I’m just trying to point out that this sort of behavior–and this particular instance may not be a strong example of that behavior–is fundamentally inconsistent with the position that Christians can also be skeptics and that skepticism can’t really address religion.

    That latter position is one I hear a lot.

    As to the question of perfect rationality, I don’t see why skepticism should suggest perfect, or even constant, rationality at all. I discuss that here in what I can only describe as mind-numbing detail.

  43. #43 Seth Manapio
    June 28, 2010

    “That is interesting, tell me more, give me links and references. That is not an area of skepticism with which I’m familiar.”

    It took me some time to find something pithy enough to put in a comment. Perhaps this will suffice: “Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

    Also there’s this paper, and of course the work of Jennifer Michael Hecht. This is tip of the iceburg stuff, but it’s a start.

  44. #44 Stephanie Z
    June 28, 2010

    Seth, starting from “Why would they do this except prejudice?” and ending with “Well, maybe not really there, but you know we’ve seen it” does not give me confidence that you’d recognize what you claim to have seen if it bit you. I’ve seen lots of skeptics who say some basic tenets of religion are beyond the scope of skepticism mocking truth claims made from a religious motivation. I’ve seen a fair number of atheists who claim religion is within the scope of skepticism mocking religion in general. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen what you claim.

    Time to go find some good examples or stop claiming that this is a problem.

  45. #45 Ewan
    June 28, 2010

    @23 Daniel J. Andrews: If someone is representing a specific argument wrongly then of course that is unacceptable, but the idea that every critic of religion must be a seasoned theologian is ridiculous. Any skeptic is perfectly equipped to deal with any religious claim: simply ask, where is the evidence?

  46. #46 Greg Laden
    June 28, 2010

    I do find it amusing that you seek to school me on the topic of being a shit by being a shit, but I’m not sure that making me laugh was the effect you were going for.

    Well, actually, it was. Some advice for you, young man: Know to whom you speak and of the others in the conversation before you make too many embarrassing assumptions.

    Now, I shall endeavor to school you in skepticism. If you don’t mind. (You don’t mind, right?)

    This is you from your blog post:

    Skepticism is a philosophical school that developed as a response to various dogmatic schools of philosophy in ancient Greece.

    My restatement and expansion of what you say: Skepticism has been around for thousands of years, that we know of, as part of “western civ” but maybe even in other societies as well. Check out China for instance. Check out the Inca. The Inca explicitly changed their own language to make it a language of skeptics.

    There are many different schools of this philosophy.

    My restatement: many … different … Uh huh.

    What they all have in common is a recognition of the fallibility of the human mind. This fallibility can, in the most extreme case, be taken to mean that we can know nothing, and in the less extreme schools, it is taken to mean that truth can only be know to some probability.

    My restatement of your point: And the many and different vary even in the way the core feature of the philosophy is manefest.

    When I use the word “skeptic”, I mean someone who operates with the assumption that the human mind is fallible and knowledge is contingent. I use the word this way because this is the common ground between all schools of Skepticism.

    Restated: Despite the large variation across skepticism, there is a common feature that can be used as a marker to identify the diverse practitioners of the field.

    If you operate with those assumptions, you’re a skeptic. If you don’t, you aren’t.

    Translation: I, Seth, shall determine if a person is a skeptic or not based on my own interpretations of the above, and this involves a litmus test by which I CLAZZIFIEZ YOUUU!!!!!!! Elenenty!!1!!

    Have I got that all right then?

  47. #47 DuWayne
    June 28, 2010

    Greg -

    You wouldn’t get any argument from me, that my experience with religion influenced my thinking about skepticism. It also influenced my thinking about being an atheist and how I might, as an atheist, approach religion and the religious.

    Seth -

    Who the hell shat in your cereal?

    For someone who goes on about not treating skepticism like a cult, you certainly seem very keen on “protecting” it, much like cultists protect their belief systems. What is interesting to me, is that for someone who seems to think he’s awfully clever, you enthusiastically express remarkable ignorance. You seem to have the inane notion that there is no room for discussing your “philosophy with a 2300 year history,” because it just is exactly what you think it is. You also seem to be stuck on the inane notion that language is static and that the meaning you attach to a given word is the only reasonable definition.

    Why don’t we start with philosophy, as I am slightly less fond of philosophy, than I am of language. This will apparently come as a great shock to you, but many people who adopt a given philosophical position actually debate what that position actually entails. This would be because people aren’t mindless automata and thus we don’t tend to fit neatly into pretty little boxes – no matter what some random dude on the internet says about it.

    When it comes to skepticism, this is rather a good thing, because the origins of the skeptic school were actually pretty fucking absurd. The rejection of belief in the external world, while interesting (especially on huge doses of acid) is also completely fucking useless. The problem with your position, is that rather than narrowing over the centuries, philosophical positions – or more accurately, “schools,” expand. As people subscribe to some general aspect, but differ from the original in some way, that school takes on sometimes very subtly different variants.

    The bottom line is that “Skepticism” describes many subtly different ways of thinking.

    Then lets look at language. When you use the term “skeptic,” the odds are you mean something different than the other people in a given conversation. Indeed if in a conversation four or five people are using that term, there are probably at least as many definitions in play. This is how language works, especially the English language. Words often mean different things to different people, because they have both a different contextual and a different cultural experience with various words. The differences grow exponentially as we cross time, into even greater cultural differences.

    Just who the fuck do you think you are, to define terms for the rest of us as though they are the gold standard? You are an arrogant, condescending fucking prick. Not that I’m not, but I don’t go around pretending I’m not, while accusing others of it. You act like a petulant child, so smug and superior, epitomizing all of the shit you accuse others of.

    The problem is that you aren’t all fucking superior. Indeed you are kind of an ignorant fucking windbag. Even if we accept that your notion of skepticism as a philosophical position, you’re an ignorant windbag, as there is a great deal of diversity within that philosophical position – including a position that, depending on the nature of that religious belief, would not preclude someone who is a theist.

    But we don’t really have any reason to accept your bullshit. More than a philosophical position (or more accurately, positions), skepticism is a cultural movement/phenomena. This means that there are a lot of people who adopt the label, because they are rather attracted to important aspects of said movement. And like any cultural movement, this means that there are even more definitions – definitions that different people who take that label will sometimes disagree with. That is the nature of cultural movements.

    To be clear, skepticism as a cultural movement, doesn’t preclude skepticism as philosophical positions. Indeed it builds upon that, because like many (most?) cultural movements, the philosophical positions are the foundation. Cultural movements are often largely just practical applications of philosophy. But cultural movements transcend even the range of philosophical positions that underpin them, because then you have increasing numbers of people involved in deciding what defines that cultural movement.

    But please, feel free to carry on whining. Just keep in mind that you are behaving in a manner that would fucking embarrass my two year old.

  48. “Because they don’t have an assumption that credible evidence is a precondition of a truth claim.”

    Do you mean that religion is the one exception to their requirement for credible evidence? It sounds like special pleading. How is skeptical treatment of any topic off-limits, and what religious beliefs are off-limits? All of them? Voodoo? Witchcraft? That one guy in his mom’s basement who is training to become a Jedi master?

    One of my own sacred cows is organic dairy. Despite all credible evidence that it is probably a waste of money, has no health benefits, and farming practices aren’t significantly better for the environment, I can’t stop buying it. I can come up with all kinds of ways to justify this to myself, but I fully expect skeptics to easily shoot holes in them. I don’t expect my dairy eccentricity to be off-limits, or for no one to ridicule organic foods in general just because I’m an organic dairyist.

  49. #49 DuWayne
    June 28, 2010

    AU -

    Hey now, you best not be messing about with Jedi fucking Masters. You should be aware that when I am fully trained,* I will be able to reach through the internets with my mind and selectively choke off the oxygen to certain parts of your brain. When I am done, you will believe that a witch turned you into a chicken. A Christian chicken. A christian chicken with delusions of grandeur. You will think you are a Christian chicken, who is the messiah. Or at least you will think you are a chicken.

    I have no doubt that you will be “skeptical” of this claim. Just wait and see motherfucker, just wait and see…

    * Just give me about fifteen to twenty-odd years.

  50. DuWyane: Dangit… now I have to come up with some sort of tinfoil hat to deflect your Jedi powers…

  51. #51 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Have I got that all right then?”

    Up until the last part. That last part was just stupid.

  52. #52 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, the way you are coming off, the last part is what you are doing. I may be misunderstanding you, but that’s the look and feel you’ve got going here, IMHO (in my humble opinion).

  53. #53 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Despite all credible evidence that it is probably a waste of money, has no health benefits, and farming practices aren’t significantly better for the environment, I can’t stop buying it.”

    Where exactly do you think you’re not being skeptical here? I mean, I see where you personally don’t see this behavior as particularly rational, but not where you think it is not skeptical.

  54. #54 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Time to go find some good examples or stop claiming that this is a problem.”

    Well, Stephanie, I think that Pam Gay has pointed out at least one better example further up this thread. Perhaps you didn’t read PZ’s post linked above, where he maintained strongly that he could engage in exactly this behavior?

  55. #55 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “I may be misunderstanding you, but that’s the look and feel you’ve got going here, IMHO (in my humble opinion).”

    You are misunderstanding me. To quote from my blog: I do not think that my viewpoint should be imposed on anyone who doesn’t want to take it voluntarily. I do not suffer from the conceit that I own any word in the English language.

    And to further explain: “It is patronizing to tell Christians that Skepticism and Christianity are compatible from one side of your mouths and mock their beliefs out of the other. Either these magisteria overlap or they do not.”

    What seems odd to me about these discussions is that all of the participants have a definition of skepticism and a personal measure that they use to determine if a person is a skeptic. For example, PZ Meyers does not consider Ken Ham a skeptic, despite the fact that Ken Ham considers himself more skeptical than PZ Meyers. Cleary, standards are being applied.

    Since standards are obviously being applied, what is it about the standard that I am suggesting–a standard that is objective and not personal to or originating with myself–that gets you so upset? Why is it that when I suggest that Cicero might be a good reference for understanding the term “skeptic” when speaking of a philosophical stance that people like DuWayne start frothing at the mouth?

  56. #56 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, one thing I should point out is that I’ve not really said anything directly (or indirectly) regarding the issue of the podcast/radio show in question. I have absolutely no opinion on that.

    Regarding the issue of compatibility vs mocking (and the exclusivity off the two) I think we may disagree there. In fact, that was one of the points of the OP. Religion and skepticism are at this time incompatible (although I’ve noticed everyone seems to be ignoring my Green Beard remark, above). But that does not mean that people acting sketpically can’t include those who happen to be religious. I do think that the argument has to become too semantic to bother with at some point. But I do see your overall point.

    And thank you for the polite and clearly written comment.

  57. #57 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “But that does not mean that people acting sketpically can’t include those who happen to be religious.”

    And I absolutely agree with you. I hope I was clear about that: I’m not suggesting that there should be some sort of philosophical test to determine if a person is fit to speak at some skeptical event. That would be silly.

    Where we disagree is on whether this is a purely semantic issue. The reason I care about this at all is that I think there is a substantive reason to care about it.

    In a nutshell, I don’t think very many people care about homeopathy, bigfoot, and various other “core” issues. And I think that there is a barrier to moving beyond those fringe topics in the skeptics movement if skepticism is barred from the realms of politics and religion as some (notably Daniel Loxton) have suggested that it should be. But in order to discuss politics without being partisan, there has to be some other foundation to discuss those politics from, and I see skepticism as a philosophical position as the best platform.

    That last paragraph may not make sense. Allow me to sum up: my opinion (and this is just an opinion) is that if skepticism is going to go past bigfoot and start talking about things that really matter to people like morals and children and politics, skepticism must be more coherent. Philosophical traditions of skepticism are a place to look for ideas to cohere around.

  58. #58 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    I agree. Skepticism is a great parlor trick but that is not what it should be limited to.

    My particular interest is actually in how within skepticism a lot of skeptical activity is not really skeptical. People who consider themselves skeptics are often really going along with the crown. And, although that sounds bad, it actually is perfectly OK since no one person can actually evaluate and command all the data, models, background, etc. on all issues and still have a real job.

    This does lead to people “getting it wrong” now an then, however.

  59. #59 DuWayne
    June 29, 2010

    Why is it that when I suggest that Cicero might be a good reference for understanding the term “skeptic” when speaking of a philosophical stance that people like DuWayne start frothing at the mouth?

    First, I have not been “frothing at the mouth,” I just get a little annoyed with condescension – especially when the condescension is born of ignorance. Second, you were not suggesting one understand “skepticism” as a philosophical stance, you were claiming that is what skepticism is and defining it to suit your position. That makes me cranky because as a philosophical position, skepticism is not limited by a running theme of implies atheism and because skepticism is more of a cultural movement, than it is a philosophical position. Either way you cut it, skepticism isn’t as exclusionary as you seem to think it is.

    Oi, and I especially get annoyed when people are patronizing, while hypocritically complaining about patronization from others.

  60. #60 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, I don’t think you can read. Pamela did not say anything about specific things that specific people had done. She said she didn’t expect to see something, not that it had happened. And PZ made a specific comparison between discussion of religion being off limits and discussion of the claims of dowsers being off limits. He has consistently said that to the extent religion makes claims about the world, those claims are fair game.

    Got any other examples of what you think you see?

  61. #61 Ewan
    June 29, 2010

    If one was to summarise this thread in a bullet point, would it be that religion’s special pleading has worked?

  62. #62 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    I have yet to see any statement in any of the blogs or podcass that would beck up Seth’s assertion about policy (I’m not saying it is there, I just have not seen any of it). However, if it is there, are we sure that the meaning is being interpreted correctly?

    Here in Minnesota there was a revision of K-12 science standards recently. Before the process started, the Secretary of Education picked out a statement from the previous revision that would relate to Evo/Creo. She said “this part of the standards will not be discussed or considered.”

    The Sec of Ed is a creationist and the Gov certainly claims to be. (But he lies.) The old standards were crafted under an openly stupid (and famously so) sec of Ed who was a creationist, with the current Sec having been on her staff.

    So, no discussion of creationism/evolution by the panel drafting the new standards. What does that mean?

    Well, actually, it means this: Last time around we spent the entire time discussing this one point. Crazy phscho people took the floor and talked about when Giants Roamed the Earth and similar topics for most of the public hearing. It was a fiasco. But at the end this one element to the standard was created that is not good enough, but we are not going to go back to it becasue the rest of our standards were ignored last time, and we have to deal with them.

    It is quite possible that these “hands off” policies are programming related, pragmatic considerations that have nothing to do with how various individuals are framing or defining “sketpic”.

    That’s my hypothesis. Can it be falsified? I can’t falsify it because when I look at the relevant web sites, I don’t see the policy statements that have been referred to.

    (Nor did I look very hard. Not being lazy … being baby watcher.)

  63. #63 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Got any other examples of what you think you see?”

    Stephanie, calling someone a ‘water-witch’ is not a discussion about a claim they made. It’s mocking the concept of witchcraft and the possibility of dowsing. Which wouldn’t be a problem unless PZ had also said (which he hasn’t) that believing in dowsing and being a skeptic were compatible.

  64. #64 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    DuWayne:

    You: (post 59) “Second, you were not suggesting one understand “skepticism” as a philosophical stance, you were claiming that is what skepticism is and defining it to suit your position.”

    Me: (post 42) “In fact, what I’m really talking about is just what is meant when the word “skepticism” is used to describe a point of view rather than a social movement.”

    You have no idea what I’m suggesting or not.

  65. #65 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, rephrase “I am a dowser” without using “dowser” and without making claims about what you expect to do. The claim is built into the word. You’re plucking at very, very tiny straws here. Do you have any that can be seen with the naked eye?

  66. #66 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    ” I can’t falsify it because when I look at the relevant web sites, I don’t see the policy statements that have been referred to.”

    That’s why I called them “unofficial”. You won’t see them. Where you see them is in comment threads and blog posts like this one. I’m sensitive to it because I’ve been told to shut the hell up about atheism enough times to notice a pattern. And yes, I’ve noticed other, nicer people also being told to shut the hell up, so it isn’t just me.

    I absolutely agree that this is a pragmatic consideration. I think your hypothesis is spot on. That is in fact the issue I’m trying to raise: I think that it is dishonest of PZ Meyers to say that he thinks Pamela Gay is a skeptic. I don’t believe he actually believes it, because that belief is inconsistent with his behavior… unless he has a deeply personal definition of skeptic like “Person PZ Meyers respects.”

  67. #67 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Do you have any that can be seen with the naked eye?”

    Not by yours, no. I agree, you can in fact “prove” that any joke about a metaphysical claim is really a joke about something else. I could also “prove” that “heritage, not hate” is not a racist message.

    I can’t find the picture anymore, but there was a twitpic cartoon that Rebecca Watson posted a couple of months ago with an obese Jesus biting a fish head off and saying “Moar Feesh”. What’s your spin on that one?

  68. #68 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    You mean Rebecca’s illustration of a specific claim about Jesus? What was it mocking?

    Seth, your claim is not that skeptics are mocking religion. Your claim is that skeptics–and particular skeptics at that–who say that the core claims of religion are not testable by science while many of the specific claims surrounding them are are being hypocritical by mocking not just those specific, testable claims but the core claims they acknowledge they can’t touch. You’re claiming this is a larger phenomenon.

    Yet your examples stink. SGU was mocking a specific claim about the nature of the soul that relies upon real-world knowledge. PZ called a dowser a water-witch (dowsing being a claim that consists of its testable parts) but didn’t do anything like mock Pamela for her beliefs.

    This is not nit-picking. This is getting at the core of your claim about hypocrisy. You say it’s a problem we should do something about, but we can’t do anything, or even figure out what should be done, if you can’t point to what you mean.

  69. #69 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    Stephanie, it isn’t a testable claim whether the soul exists in junk DNA. That hypothesis doesn’t rely on real world knowledge… it’s untestable and unprovable by its very nature. So why is it ridiculous?

    I didn’t claim that PZ mocked Pamela. I claimed that PZ mocks the idea that God exists, that there is a soul, that a cracker is the Body of Christ. None of these claims are testable. You can’t test whether a communion wafer is transubstantiated. PZ mocked that idea.

    And you didn’t touch the fish thing.

  70. #70 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    There is indeed a fine line between pragmatic consideration and appeasement. I’m sure if we looked closely enough, we can find statements made by, say PZ and some appeaser or another (at different times and places) that are essentially the same, for this reason.

  71. #71 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    Wait, my bad.

    “You mean Rebecca’s illustration of a specific claim about Jesus? What was it mocking?”

    It was mocking Jesus.

    You’re reminding me of every conversation I’ve ever read about racism or sexism. The people making the jokes always deny that they are making a mean joke. Seriously… you can’t see why a Christian would find that picture offensive? Do you think that a faithful Christian would draw that picture?

    And here’s the thing… if you don’t think a Christian would draw the picture themselves, why would you think it was acceptable for a skeptic to draw the picture? You don’t see an inconsistency between the position “Believing Christians can be good skeptics” and the position “Christianity is a fantasy that should be mocked?”

    Maybe I’m reading in. This is possible. But have you considered the possibility that you’re making excuses?

  72. #72 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    Or how about Rebecca’s characterization of people whose faith moves them to erect giant statues as “crazy freaks”. Maybe she meant: “crazy freaks who may very well be good skeptics”, but somehow, I doubt it.

    The statement “God doesn’t want us to seek medical attention for our children” is not a testable claim. But when this story broke, skeptics thought it was worth commenting on. They had no problem condemning these people for wanting to protect the soul of an infant more than the body.

    On what grounds do they make this condemnation? How do they know that the baby doesn’t have an eternal soul that would be condemned by the intervention of modern medicine? Why is this belief worth okay to mock or condemn?

    Yes, I agree that it is difficult to come up with hard, clear examples of exactly what I’m talking about. But that really isn’t uncommon. NBC, as a network, is pretty clearly regionalist. But you could argue that one sketch about Pollen Count reports in Atlanta doesn’t “prove” that. And you’re right, it doesn’t. It’s an entire body of work, stretching back from the description of Stone Mountain, GA as a hillbilly community (Stone Mountain is part of the Atlanta Metro, not an isolated town) to the Midwest Bashing of Phil Hartman’s character on “News Radio” and so on. I can’t paint that entire picture in a comment to a blog post.

  73. #73 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, what you don’t seem to get is that when claims are made that impinge on real-world phenomena, they have real-world implications. We explore what a soul based in junk DNA would look like. We laugh at it because it’s so wildly outside everything else people have tried to tell us about the soul. Determining whether claims are consistent is well within the classic realm of skepticism.

    Drawing the Jesus of a sect who claims that Jesus was fat specifically because he had access to all the loaves and fishes that he wants isn’t disrespecting that sect or their claims. It’s absurd, yes, but only because you’ve absorbed the claim that Jesus was the scrawny ascetic seen in religious paintings. It wouldn’t have been any less ridiculous if Jesus had been saying, “Mmm, I’d like another tasty fish. Oh, wait. I can make one,” and why wouldn’t a believer draw that? That picture is only mocking Jesus if Jesus can reasonably be defined as some skinny dude who didn’t enjoy food, for which there is no evidence. Yes, it undermines the majority religion a little bit, but it’s doing it by illustrating that there is a competing claim.

    Looking at the competing claims of religion isn’t any less skeptical than pointing out that people can’t agree how many lights there were in the sky that night that everyone claims they saw alien spacecraft. We can’t go back and test how many lights there were, but we can look critically at the evidence we have. It’s not something that UFO believers would do, but it’s a legitimate skeptical activity. And yes, it’s mean. Many of those people really want to cling to the belief in aliens.

    As for PZ, what he mocked is the idea that someone else’s belief in Jesus’s existence in a cracker should have any sway over how we treat someone who doesn’t believe that–over their safety, their freedom or their ability to fully participate in society. If people kept their crackers to themselves, he’d ignore them, except, perhaps, as a curiosity. That’s the distinction you’re not bothering to make.

  74. #74 Brian Thompson
    June 29, 2010

    As the originator of the Fat Jesus Art Contest for which Rebecca created the Jesus picture in question, I feel I should point out that Seth’s interpretation is wrong.

    That picture and all the other pictures created for the contest weren’t mocking Jesus at all. They were mocking a made-up theory that the historical Jesus was much fatter than traditional religious art has maintained.

    But even if it had been mocking Jesus, so what? It’s possible to simultaneously mock something and respect it. I make fun of my brother all the time (his head looks like a pencil eraser), but I still love and respect him. I make fun of “Star Trek”, but I like the show.

    It’s condescending to assume people can’t stand to have their beliefs lampooned. And in this case specifically, it’s insulting, since Pamela has eloquently defended her beliefs elsewhere. She’s more than capable of putting up with a little ribbing.

    That said, there is also a big difference between mocking and insulting. Parody is fair game, but every time P.Z. Myers calls someone a drooling idiot for expressing a religious belief, I want to vomit. It’s just childish name calling. There’s no wit, no respect, and no humanity. In that regard, I agree with Pamela’s blog post. Why should a theist skeptic want to speak at the same conference where another speaker called people like her mindless morons?

    But in the end, only people’s actions matter. Beliefs are harmless. And for emotionally mature adults, so is mocking them.

  75. #75 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, the statements people were commenting on are in the article. “God doesn’t want us to…” was not among them. “In their defence, the parents said they believed healing came from God, and that they had not expected their daughter to die as they prayed for her.” was, as was “My client sees spiritual treatment as the proper medicine.” Those are concrete claims.

    Do you have any evidence that Rebecca doesn’t refer to people who make other giant statues as “crazy freaks”? Having talked to her for a while, I’m quite willing to bet she does. And did you want to put the quote in context?

  76. #76 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    “Cosmic coffee grounds” is still something. What was there before there was something?

  77. #77 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    RLJ, what makes you think that such a time existed?

  78. #78 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “”In their defence, the parents said they believed healing came from God, and that they had not expected their daughter to die as they prayed for her.” was, as was “My client sees spiritual treatment as the proper medicine.” Those are concrete claims.”

    Really? How are these claims concrete?

    The parents have a belief that God makes all decisions about healing. This is not a concrete claim. It’s not a concrete claim because it is utterly immune to falsification: no matter what healing outcome occurs, and what methods are used in that outcome, God could be the source.

    These parents have an out: God did not want their child to live for some ineffable reason. You can’t show that this isn’t the case. If the core claim that a god like the one they describe exists is not in the bounds of skepticism, you have no skeptical reason to condemn them.

    Furthermore, you have no skeptical reason to think anything about Fat Jesus or not. And a believer would probably not illustrate a Jesus who is stupid as well as fat. That went a step further.

    It’s the little things.

    Have you bothered to ask yourself why a skeptic would concern themselves at all with what a sect of Christians thinks?

    And you are completely wrong about PZ Meyers and crackergate. Here’s an original quote from the post “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker”: “This isn’t the stupid part yet. He walked off with a cracker that was put in his mouth, and people in the church fought with him to get it back. It is just a cracker!”

    PZ takes the position that the cracker was not transubstantiated to the body of christ, and that people who think that it was are stupid. But that isn’t a testable claim about reality. It’s just as likely (if we’re only concerned with testable claims) that the cracker is the body of Christ than that it isn’t. And if it is, than their reaction was completely reasonable. The later death threats not so much, but the act of trying to prevent him from desecrating the body of the son of the creator of the universe not so much.

    Unless, of course, you think that the very claim that a cracker can be the body of the son of the creator of the universe is itself a claim in the bounds of skepticism. And if you think that, you probably think that the claim that the universe even has a creator is in the bounds of skepticism, because these claims are equivalent in a testable hypothesis sort of way.

    And where, in Rebecca’s blog post, were all the other statues or examples of crazy freakiness? What makes one person a crazy freak and another an artist? Is there a distinction?

    I’m not making any assumptions about what people can or cannot take. I’m not assuming that no one can have a sense of humor about themselves or anything else. What I’m trying to point out is that, unlike the jokes you make about your brother, these jokes are not inclusive, in-group, egalitarian jokes. They are exclusive, out-group mocking jokes.

    If you think I’m being condescending or insulting to Pamela Gay, by the way, you’ll have to explain why she wrote “Hi Seth: Thanks for writing this. I’ve been having dialogues with several prominent skeptics about how if skeptics are going to be inclusive (which many moderates want), than the language needs to change. You’re right, it is unfair that it’s alright to openly mock religions while asking theists to be speakers.”

    Is she making this up as well?

  79. #79 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “It’s condescending to assume people can’t stand to have their beliefs lampooned. And in this case specifically, it’s insulting, since Pamela has eloquently defended her beliefs elsewhere. She’s more than capable of putting up with a little ribbing.”

    And she’s a human being with feelings, and those feelings can be hurt. I haven’t argued, here or elsewhere, that she’s going to run crying from the room. That’s an assumption that you are making up, not an assumption that I have. But if you listen to Token Skeptic #27 around 14:40, you’ll find out that, in fact, PZ’s commentary did hurt.

    Just because a person is capable of putting up with your shit doesn’t mean that your shit is acceptable or that it’s not degrading for them to have to put up with your shit. To take an extreme example, Jackie Robinson was capable of putting up with extraordinary abuse from fans and players. It was still abuse.

    And frankly, I don’t think that PZ is obligated in some way to stop the abuse. I just think he should admit that he doesn’t consider Dr. Gay an intellectual peer.

  80. #80 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, the question of whether prayer leads to healing has been tested several times. The results don’t favor prayer. Are you saying we should ignore the science on this, or are you saying that the phrases used by the parents are somehow different from that claim? Psychics have a post hoc out too, in those negative vibes from unbelievers. Do we treat them differently?

    As for fat Jesus, or any Jesus, or any god, I have a very practical reason for paying attention to them. They won’t stop paying attention to me. Religion is pervasive, and the vast majority of it doesn’t leave well enough alone. It takes no prejudice to turn my attention to a bit of it here and a piece of it there. And you’ll have to ask Rebecca whether fat Jesus is meant to be stupid as well as fat. I don’t assume the use of LOL speak is an indication of someone’s intelligence. That’s your prejudice.

    Once again, you make me question your reading skills. The people who fought with someone over the cracker are being called stupid. I don’t see the difference between that and “As for PZ, what he mocked is the idea that someone else’s belief in Jesus’s existence in a cracker should have any sway over how we treat someone who doesn’t believe that–over their safety, their freedom or their ability to fully participate in society.” Are you saying that assaulting someone over an untestable claim is unmockable behavior?

    As for the rest, I don’t know what blog post you’re talking about, since you didn’t link to it even after I asked for a source, but the fact that someone didn’t say something in one particular post doesn’t mean they don’t think it. And I suggest you look at Pamela’s clarification of what she said in this comment thread. I certainly agree with her that we can all pick our words more carefully, but that doesn’t support your allegations of hypocrisy.

  81. #81 Scholar
    June 29, 2010

    Seth Manappio, why do you insist on spelling Dr. PZ Myerrs name incorretly?

    Its PX Mayers, not PZ Meyers

  82. #82 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Seth Manappio, why do you insist on spelling Dr. PZ Myerrs name incorretly?”

    Sloppy spell checking. I don’t actually insist on it, but thank you for pointing this out. I’ll correct it.

    Interestingly, most people don’t seem to think this matters very much. Dr. Myers didn’t even bring it up when I called him a fucking moron.

  83. #83 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Are you saying that assaulting someone over an untestable claim is unmockable behavior?”

    Not at all. I’m saying that if you think that untestable claims are outside of the realm of skepticism, you have no standard by which to mock people’s belief in untestable claims or their behavior. But more to the point, PZ wouldn’t have mocked them if they had tried to stop the student from stealing, say, a gold-plated cross. He is mocking their value system, their belief that the cracker is important.

    PZ also mocked the diocese for saying that they were going to have to make an act of reparation. “Gonzalez said intentionally abusing the Eucharist is classified as a mortal sin in the Catholic church, the most severe possible. If it’s not returned, the community of faith will have to ask for forgiveness.

    “We have to make acts of reparation,” Gonzalez said. “The whole community is going to turn to prayer. We’ll ask the Lord for pardon, forgiveness, peace, not only for the whole community affected by it, but also for [Cook], we offer prayers for him as well.””

    He said “Get some perspective, man. IT’S A CRACKER.”

    So for PZ, it’s not only ridiculous that they took action against a non-believer. It’s ridiculous that they are going to pray because this non-believer interfered in their ritual. This is all about their own behavior, and has nothing to do with trying to get someone else to do something.

    The fat jesus people weren’t paying attention to skeptics. Skeptics went out of their way to mock them.

    “The results don’t favor prayer”… I agree. They don’t. So what? Maybe testing him made God angry, and he refused to show up. Who are you to question his ways?

    Again… not a testable claim. It just isn’t.

    I don’t think that we should treat the psychics differently. That’s exactly my point. We shouldn’t have a standard for ‘skeptic’ that excludes psychics and speakers to the dead and homeopaths and includes Christians. The standard isn’t supportable.

  84. #84 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, I have to go pick up house guests, but did you really just argue for the acceptance of any post hoc explanation?

  85. #85 Scholar
    June 29, 2010

    Seth Manapple we actually agree with you. The more nuts the better.

    Dowsers, Rastafarians, Pastafarians, Psychics, Homeopaths, Flat Earthers, Moon Landers, Mormons, Scientologists, Wiccans, Creationists, Concerned Catholics, Antivaxers, and Voo-doo doctors all should have booths at the skeptics convention.

    (BTW, to the casual observer, it IS just a Frackin’ Cracker.)

  86. #86 Brian Thompson
    June 29, 2010

    “But if you listen to Token Skeptic #27 around 14:40, you’ll find out that, in fact, PZ’s commentary did hurt.”

    Hey, Seth, if you actually read my comment, you’d see that I specifically mentioned P.Z.’s as the type of criticism that isn’t acceptable.

    This is why people are jumping all over you. You miss the details.

  87. #87 Stu
    June 29, 2010

    Seth, you’d be taken a bit more seriously if you didn’t exhibit the colossal kook red flag of consistently misspelling PZ’s last name.

  88. #88 Brian Thompson
    June 29, 2010

    Another thing that seems to be getting lost in this discussion: I made up the Fat Jesus Cult. It was in reference to a news story about tracking the history of portion sizes through paintings of the Last Supper. No actual people were being mocked.

    Again, Seth, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  89. #89 Scholar
    June 29, 2010

    “I specifically mentioned P.Z.’s as the type of criticism that isn’t acceptable”

    When people act like idiots, it is fair game to call them idiots. (Notwithstanding Brian’s nausea.)

    PZ’s type of criticism in *that specific incident* was warranted, therefore it was indeed quite acceptable.

  90. #90 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    Stephanie: Fair enough, but if “something” is infinite, that is if there was no “time” before there was something — if something (matter, energy, or “cosmic coffee grounds”) always has been and always will be — ungenerated from anything else — then that meets for many of us skeptical people of faith the definition of the divine. Or as someone has said, “God enough.” By “God” I am not speaking of the Judeo-Christian God or one who brings meaning or purpose to creation — just a force or entity that is uncreated by any other force, entity, or stuff. But I still think it’s legitimate to ask, in a world of matter and energy, “What was there before?”

  91. #91 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    I have to go pick up house guests

    The real question is, why were they knocked over in the first place?

  92. #92 Stu
    June 29, 2010

    RLJ, that’s a mighty small gap you’re having to shove your God into.

  93. #93 Scholar
    June 29, 2010

    “The Gift of Knowledge”

    (Dedicated to Seth Manapple and Brian Thompson)

    I do believe that a belief in god is crazy, but that doesn’t mean that the people who believe in it are crazy. Those are two different things. Ideas can be stupid and crazy and the people who hold those ideas are not necessarily stupid and crazy . . . I’m sure they’re not lying. Their belief may be genuine. But it’s like arguing that fairies are coming out of my toaster in the middle of the night. You can’t prove to me that there aren’t fairies in my toaster, but that doesn’t mean you should take me seriously. What I have a problem with is not so much religion or god, but faith. When you say you believe something in your heart and therefore you can act on it, you have completely justified the 9/11 bombers. You have justified Charlie Manson. If it’s true for you, why isn’t it true for them? Why are you different? If you say “I believe there’s an all-powerful force of love in the universe that connects us all, and I have no evidence of that but I believe it in my heart,” then it’s perfectly okay to believe in your heart that Sharon Tate deserves to die. It’s perfectly okay to believe in your heart that you need to fly planes into buildings for Allah.

    -Jillette

  94. #94 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    RLJ, I’m perfectly happy to recognize that there may be a god of some sort that isn’t relevant in any way to the world in which I live. I just don’t find it relevant. If it means something to you, knock yourself out. I’m glad to know Pamela too.

  95. #95 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    Greg, been through airport security lately?

    Seth, the value of a gold-plated cross isn’t testable? Dude, your precious markets are calling and they miss you.

    More to the point, you are now arguing something entirely different than you started with. The people you are accusing hold a very small number of things to be nontestable. These are not among them. It matters not a whit whether you think a claim is testable. If you’re calling them hypocrites because you disagree with what one of their positions should be instead of what it actually is, you’ve got some apologizing to do.

    If you want to call them mean, go right ahead. That’s a value judgment with plenty of room for disagreement. If you want to call them hypocrites, find something to back that up.

  96. #96 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    Stu: I get the “gap” reference, but I plead not guilty. Gap is a fall-back measure to defend God at all costs, and my approach is one of trying to reason things out (however faultily). I think you and I are looking through different ends of the telescope. Another way to put what I’m trying to say is that the burden of proof regarding the “Is there a god” question is exactly even between the god and no-god positions: The two statements: “In the beginning God said…” and “In the beginning there was nothing and then it exploded…” are equally incredible. Again I say that concepts like Jesus, Bible, faith, evolution, and meaning are all irrelevant to this question. My issue has only to do with the question, “What was there before there was something?” If the answer, like Stephanie’s, is that there has never been such a time, that seems — from the point of logic — to be as materially unproveable as positing an uncreated non-material force, (or “god.”) By the way, I am not arguing for creationism here. I fully buy evolution and big bang cosmology. It’s just that neither of them have to do with ultimate creation (evolution being the science of organic development). “What was there before there was something.” Your answer, Stu?

  97. #97 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    Stephanie, I mean this more respectfully than it sounds, but if there is “a god of some sorts,” as you are willing to recognize, how relevant you think that is is irrelevant, and it may be more relevant than you think. This issue is important to me because I find sloppy thinking on both sides of the fence. Goddies and non-goddies alike confuse the possible existence of God with things like religion and evolution. (Christian non-thinkers agree with atheists that evolution proves there is no God, which is why they devote so much energy arguing against it. But evolution has nothing to do with whether or not there is a God.) I’m sure present company is excepted, but I find many who argue against the existence of god are really just angry at the church, or the pope, or “religion.” All of which I’m angry at, too.

  98. #98 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    Greg, been through airport security lately?

    My name is Laden. I have special issues. (But at least I’m not Canadian.)

  99. #99 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    But evolution has nothing to do with whether or not there is a God.

    That should probably be the party line, but it is not true. Christianity is a major religion and for several centuries the primary proofs of god were faith (which doesn’t count), miracles (which don’t happen) and nature. Nature is pretty fucking good evidence of god.

    But it turns out there is an alternative explanation.

    So yea, Evolution is very relevant to disproving a whopping huge pile of hypotheses that god exists, and regarding numerous specific details of god. The study of nature which ultimately gave rise to evolutionary theory was explicitly, and actively, a matter of humans peering into the mind of god.

  100. #100 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    Greg: Of course evolution is relevant to a discussion of religion, Christian history, biblical theology, etc., but nothing in your comment contradicts my statement: “Evolution has nothing to do with whether or not there is a god.”

  101. #101 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    RLJ, sorry, but you’re just wrong on this.

    God has bee proposed. Evidence for god has been proffered. A huge corpus of material explicitly and repeatedly proffered to evince god comprises vast studies, collection, depictions, etc on nature. The diversity, beauty, complexity, and so on and so forth was proposed as evidence of a divine creator.

    Evolution really is an alternative explanation for all that stuff that formerly “proved” god back in the old Natural Philosophy days, and today, Intelligent Design is once again using the complexity of nature to prove the existence of god. In both cases Evolution is the proposed alternative explanation, and does quite well to falsify those original idea.

    How is this not abundantly clear?

    The Christian god that evades this evidence is known as the God of the Gaps. there are other proposed gods that do not rely on the wonders of nature as proof of their existence. But I don’t think it is fair to require contradictory evidence of some kind to contradict all proposals or be invalid.

  102. #102 Dan J
    June 29, 2010

    “What was there before there was something?”

    I would say that it is likely that there was nothing. Check out this short article by Victor Stenger: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?.

  103. #103 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    Greg: I will stop short of saying “You’re wrong on this,” but your arguments continue to be beside the point. Your argument seems to be with Christian theology and biblical interpretation — much of which, I grant, has been primitive (early on) or reactionary (today). And wrong. The question, “Is there a God?” hovers tangentially over the discussion.

    The bishops’ over-reaction to Darwin is still wreaking havoc. If they had, instead, said (as they should have), what John Calvin said 350 years earlier, we’d not be in this muddle. Here’s what Calvin said:

    “Genesis described in popular style what all ordinary men without training perceive with their ordinary senses. Scientists, on the other hand, investigate with great labor whatever the keenness of man’s intellect is able to discover. Such study is certainly not to be disapproved, nor science condemned with the insolence of some fanatics who habitually reject whatever is unknown to them.”

    My skepticism (especially with religion, the church, and ignorance) may not meet your definition, but it would probably make yours fit into a thimble by comparison. It’s just that I come down — for some (genetic?) reason — on the side of some kind of faith. My faith is based more on science and philosophy than on “the good book.” If a skeptic could give me a cogent science-based material answer to the question “What was there before there was something?” (an answer, that is, that isn’t just “stuff always was”), I’d probably lose my faith. So have at it.

  104. #104 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    RJL, at first I thought you were moving the goal post, then I realized you didn’t have a goal post.

    The existence of god has been proposed numerous times. In one instance, proof was offered: The beauty, diversity, and complexity of nature, because these things could only exist if God did it.

    Evolutionary biology is an alternative and it turns out much better explanation.

    Hypotheses (sloppily) proposed. Hypotheses (stunningly) falsified.

  105. #105 Stu
    June 29, 2010

    The two statements: “In the beginning God said…” and “In the beginning there was nothing and then it exploded…” are equally incredible.

    No, not at all. You can do the math all the way back to the explosion. God’s got nothing. It seems like you are arguing for a god that set the machine in motion billions of years ago and has been on Miller time ever since, correct?

    “What was there before there was something.” Your answer, Stu?

    We don’t know for certain. Yet. Odds are the term “something” does not apply though. Anyway, why does “I don’t know” = “God”?

    “Evolution has nothing to do with whether or not there is a god.”

    Millions of religious folk would disagree. Anyway, if god has nothing to do with evolution, what does he do? What does he matter? Sounds like a pretty inconsequential entity to me. That needn’t exist at all, and gets sliced and diced by Occham’s Razor pretty badly.

  106. #106 Tom S.
    June 29, 2010

    Anyway, if god has nothing to do with evolution, what does he do?

    Blows shit up.

  107. #107 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    RLJ: By the way, are you in Minnesota these days? We should get a beer some time.

  108. #108 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Seth, I have to go pick up house guests, but did you really just argue for the acceptance of any post hoc explanation?”

    No.

    I argued that any standard that accepts Christians and denies psychics accepts on post hoc explanation at the exclusion of others.

  109. #109 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “Seth, the value of a gold-plated cross isn’t testable? Dude, your precious markets are calling and they miss you.”

    A cute aside, Steph, but not really on point.

  110. #110 Seth Manapio
    June 29, 2010

    “f you’re calling them hypocrites because you disagree with what one of their positions should be instead of what it actually is, you’ve got some apologizing to do.”

    No, I’m not. You’re denying that a particular behavior takes place: Mocking people for their core beliefs. I’m showing that it does, from someone who claims to consider Christians and even Catholics “good skeptics”.

  111. #111 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    Greg, there certainly has been some goalpost-moving in this chain. One “skeptic” allows that there may be a god, but that god is irrelevant; another that “we don’t know for certain.” How presumptuous and, actually, rather innocent to acknowledge either that one doesn’t know or that there may be some kind of god, and then to presume to assign relevance or attributes to this unknowable god based on, what?… anthropomorphism? One’s own personal observations? One’s own psychology? (I’m not speaking of your arguments here.)

    As to your arguments: 1) The fact that historically the existence of god has been posited on the beauty, etc. of nature, and that modern science punctures that naive argument means only that that argument is naive. It never has been the chief argument for the existence of God. No contemporary theologian (may I say “evolutionary theologian”) would use that in a debate with you.

    2) You keep referring to evolutionary biology. Evolution = the development of organic stuff. Biology = organic stuff. I believe in evolution. I believe in biology. I believe in evolutionary biology. True, it is a better description of organic development than Genesis (which is only poetry, after all), but it has nothing to do with ultimate creation or whether there is a god.

    I am in Minnesota some of these days. How did you know? I thought my identity was hidden in the vastness of the worldwide interweb. I think I’m about as far south of the Twin Cities as you are north. A beer sounds good.

  112. #112 Greg Laden
    June 29, 2010

    It never has been the chief argument for the existence of God.

    What if it was the second most important piece of evidence, or the third? Would that invalidate that it was proffered as evidence and disproven? Also, the fact that it was a major piece of the evidence for god in the 18th and 19the Century western world and remains today key in the ID debate, is not insignificant.

    God is one of those things … it is defined as something that one can never really disprove. But, when evidence is proffered, and every single time it is disproved, the existence of god starts to become less and less likely.

    On your second point, evolutionary biology certainly does deal with the origin of life.

    How did I know? I clicked on your name! Yeah, we’ll get a beer some time in the middle. Which I’m guessing could be, for instance, the CC Club.

  113. #113 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    Stu:
    “You can do the math all the way back to the explosion.” Of course you can do the math all the way back to the explosion. I’m talking about before the explosion — and the stuff or energy that was exploded — before that. I’m with Stephen Jay Gould: Beyond the boundary of the physical, science, by definition, has nothing to say.

    “We don’t know for certain.” Oh, really?! (Pardon the sarcasm.)

    I’m not saying that “I don’t know = God.” I’m saying that “I don’t know = 50/50 god or no-god.” Anything beyond that — either way — is faith.

    It sounds to me as though your argument is with religion.

  114. #114 RLJ
    June 29, 2010

    The astronomer has even gone to bed;
    The stars and distances grow dim inside his head.
    And just like me, he doesn’t care too much;
    He’s tired of looking at those stars he cannot touch.
    And so good-night everybody,
    Excuse me while my brain is growing numb.
    And so good-night everybody,
    I’ll see you in the morning if it comes.

    (Mary McCaslin)

  115. #115 Stephanie Z
    June 29, 2010

    No, Seth, I’m denying that you’ve shown that skeptics are mocking people for what the skeptics say are untestable claims. That’s why you were arguing with me over what is and what is not testable, rather than what is and what is not a core belief. You might want to refer to comment 33, in which you respond to the question “What’s your point?”

  116. #116 Ed
    June 30, 2010

    “But, when evidence is proffered, and every single time it is disproved, the existence of god starts to become less and less likely.”

    Simply not true. Do you understand how probability works? I could offer a thousand evidences for gravity and once every single one of those has been disproven it makes not one jot of difference to the likelihood that gravity exists. The same goes for Strings, unicorns and v = ma

  117. #117 Stu
    June 30, 2010

    I’m not saying that “I don’t know = God.” I’m saying that “I don’t know = 50/50 god or no-god.” Anything beyond that — either way — is faith.

    Bullpuckey. Substitute “great green Arkleseizure” for “god” and see how it sounds. Jeez, one would think with this amount of cowardly special pleading you’d do better than this weak-sauce fake agnosticism.

  118. #118 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Ed, you are going with the “you can’t disprove a negative” argument, which I acknowledged above. But that narrowly defined approach to inference is not the only one we have available, and it is certainly not how we really come to conclusions most of the time. If it was, we humans would believe all kinds of crazy randoms stuff.

    Which we do, of course, but not as much as we did if, say, every time a concept came out of fiction we assumed it could be true unless we could prove it wrong. We would then have a very long list of things that we knew could be true because they were thought of but that cold not be disproved because their existence does not require a tangible physical reality according to the belief itself.

    And in the end, that ends up being the case with god much of the time. But not all of the time. And, in the case of the present conversation, not at all. Not even a little.

    The “god” that is believed in by many mainstream 18th and 19th century Christians and by fundamentalists today has specific physical properties with specific testable implications. This has been stated in the literature zillions of times and we are starting to approach it being stated on this thread far more times that I would have thought necessary.

    If you want to define god as a thing that has physical properties that can be observe and tested until the tests show that those properties are better explained by something else, then you have done a very good job of defining philosophical snake oil. But that is not what we are talking about here.

  119. #119 DuWayne
    June 30, 2010

    Seth @ 62 -

    So a social movement somehow doesn’t equal a point of view? Seriously? What the fuck do you think social movements are?

    I am not going to actually wait for a response, because the response is simple. Cultural movements are collective, loosely connected, individual points of view. Like I said, they are the practical application of philosophical schools of thought. Schools of thought that are also collective, loosely connected, individual points of view. The only significant difference, is that cultural movements tend to wander even further afield than philosophical schools of thought, because they are adopted by far more people.

    And unsurprisingly, you ignore the argument that skepticism as a philosophical view doesn’t imply atheism. The running thread through the philos of skepticism is rejection of dogmatism, not a rejection of belief in itself.

    Of course that is completely irrelevant to any discussion about the topic that originated this whole debacle. Arguing that that situation was about a philosophical position, rather than a cultural position would be rather absurd.

    RJL -

    “What was there before?”

    This assumes that there was a “before,” for something to be. I think it is a rather large stretch to assume that our understanding of time is particularly accurate. I mean it is a rather useful abstraction for describing our movement through space, but that doesn’t mean it is particularly useful for describing the universe.

    That aside, given the number of theories about what was before, will be after, exists concurrently, there is no reason to assume a supreme being of any sort. I mean even if you want to assume something capable of actions humans might attribute to “god,” is there really any reason to assume that such a something is not merely a life form rather more advanced than we? Assuming that something from “before” produced the big bang, why wouldn’t we just as easily assume that it was a life form fucking around in a lab – possibly with a particle accelerator (see Gregory Benford’s COSM). Ultimately it is just as likely that there is a physicist somewhere “outside,” running around with our universe, trying to prevent it’s government from destroying it, as it is that some god made it happen.

    To me it even seems slightly more likely, though admittedly that is only because I think that would totally fucking rock.

  120. #120 DuWayne
    June 30, 2010

    Oi – in case I wasn’t clear enough, RJL, that was not intended to be mocking…

  121. #121 Robert
    July 13, 2011

    Wow mocking a person – religion is a no no