A response to Jeff Wagg
Jeff Wagg thinks Skepticon is a purely atheist convention and is somewhat put out that we’re branding ourselves ‘skeptics.’ My first response is that even if we were a purely atheist convention, so what? Skepticism leads to certain conclusions like homeopathy doesn’t work or that psychics are frauds. Just as certain as it leads to those conclusions, it also leads to the conclusion that god doesn’t exist (or that anybody claiming to have good reason to believe that god exists has done so in error). And just like the previous conclusions, people who fail to grasp the godlessness of the universe often hamstring society. So even if we were to be skeptics who, at this conference, were focusing on the godlessness of the universe, I don’t see much of a difference between us and TAM, which focuses on other conclusions acquired through skeptical thinking. More power to us.
But Skepticon is not a purely atheist convention. This conclusion is obvious after just a cursory glance at the facts. For instance, one way in which Jeff attempts to justify his claim is to cart out the talks concerning religion.
- David Fitzgerald: The Ten Thousand Christs and the Evaporating Jesus
- Victor Stenger: The Abuse of Physics by Theists and Spiritualists
- J.T. Eberhard: Dear Christian
Three out of the fifteen speakers, and suddenly we’re a purely atheist convention. Any love for D.J. Grothe who will surely speak about skepticism in general? How about James Randi, who will also be speaking? Rebecca Watson will be speaking about feminism and Joe Nickell will be speaking about critical thinking. John Corvino’s talk is titled Coming Out Skeptical. So I would have no problem if Jeff said that we include religion or even if he had said that we focus on religion: we do, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. But he’s saying “it’s an atheist convention”, which is just plain silly.
There is even a panel discussion on whether or not skepticism leads to atheism. In the comments of his post someone apprises Jeff to this fact. Jeff responds by saying…
Does he have any believers on the panel? I hope so.
What I do have are skeptics who have taken the position that skepticism does not produce atheism. Is this good enough for you, Jeff? This could have been clarified to Jeff had he proceeded, after his brief email to me, to ask a question like, “Do you have any other skeptic topics represented other than atheism?” (Once again, so what if we didn’t?) As he was delinquent in mentioning the other speakers in the line up, Jeff neglected to mention this panel or to inquire deeper into it.
Then we get this from Jeff…
…to conflate atheism with skepticism dilutes atheism and destroys skepticism.And I fear the damage has already been done. I see a lot of good people leaving the skeptical community because they’re uncomfortable with the tone and disappointed with, frankly, the lack of skepticism presented by many people.
Horseshit. To say that skepticism applies to some truth claims but not to others, that dilutes skepticism.
And damage is being done to the movement? Oh, please. The skeptic/atheist movement is stronger today than it’s ever been and all reliable polling confirms this. Jeff’s own blog post shoots himself in the foot on this point.
My hat is off to JT and the other organizers for putting on what will be the largest event of its type ever. With 1800 people, it’s larger than any skeptics conference I’ve been to, including TAM and CFI’s World Congress.
If people are leaving the movement on account of what we’re doing, how have we managed to have a bigger turnout than any conference ever (in our third year, no less, and without anything close to the resources of the other conventions)? This could only happen if most people, at the very least, don’t mind the conflation of skepticism and atheism. However, it seems to me they support it. Or if people were leaving the no-religion branch of the skeptic movement, we would expect to see TAM’s numbers declining even as ours rose. But TAM8 was the biggest one to date and TAM’s numbers continue to rise (w00t!), though not as rapidly as ours. So sure, there may be a couple people like Jeff who are pissy about it (there always will be), but it’s hard for me to buy the idea that skeptics are leaving the movement in droves. In fact, contrary to Jeff’s claim that we’re hurting the movement, it seems transpicuously clear that we’re helping it.
Even if I grant Jeff’s premise that the inclusion of religion pushes people away from skepticism (which I don’t), does Jeff think that those people will stop being ‘skeptics’ (as he defines them), or that they won’t find organizations to be a part of like the JREF, which leave religion untouched? Of course not.
On top of all that, I don’t look at it as my job to tell people what they want to hear just to keep them around. My moral and personal obligation is to do my best to acquire a sound world view, to hold others to doing the same, and to tell the truth regardless of who it offends, and I think that skepticism leads to atheism if you’re doing it right (and I’m willing to go to bat on that position). Let people like Jeff Wagg play politician. Meanwhile, I’ll be busy saying what needs to be said rather than concerning myself with what people (or a particular demographic of people) want to hear. If my message doesn’t resonate, people won’t listen and both my endeavors and myself will be lost to obscurity. But people are listening.
And don’t tell me I’m pushing people away. Even if I was, I’m not out to win a popularity contest. Tell me why I’m wrong. That’s what skepticism, in my eyes, is largely about.
Toward the end, Jeff says…
I’ve been shouted at and lost friends over this issue. I’ve been told that I’m being pedantic and that I’m “harming the cause” with my navel gazing.
I don’t think Jeff is harming the cause. I think anytime honest discussion is had with accountability in place for being unreasonable the ’cause’ is advanced, and Jeff is certainly being honest. What I do think is that Jeff is not playing fair (see earlier bit about speakers giving non-religion talks that would take any equitable onlooker a whole ten seconds to look up) by not presenting the full picture of our event either intentionally or from a lack of sufficiently digging into it to see what we’re about. Either way, bad form. I also think he’s relying too much on his personal anecdote and not on the evidence around him (see the rising numbers of both Skepticon and TAM). I don’t have an issue with Jeff because he’s being pedantic or critical. I have an issue because he’s wrong.
Jeff finishes his critique this way…
To conclude, I want to reiterate: Bravo to JT and crew. I hope your event is successful and continues to grow. It’s an important event, and it could do a lot of good towards promoting a secular world. But again, I urge you… please change the name to AtheistCon or something more accurate.
Thanks for the props, they are accepted sincerely and with much gratitude. As for changing the name; absolutely not.