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.

  • http://www.indieskeptics.com Jeff Wagg

    I've spent the last day or so trying to clarify my position, but it seems I'm not able to. I'm not willing to put much more effort into it.

    What I've seen on the site, what I've heard from past attendees, and what JT has told me himself shows pretty clearly that SkeptiCon is an atheist convention. He asks "So what?" And I say what I've been saying all along… that's fine, but it's not a skeptic convention and the name implies that it is.

    As for the panel being made up of skeptics who disagree with you, that's a fine start, but no, I'm afraid it's not good enough. Why don't you have skeptics who are believers on there? There are a minority, to be sure, and it's difficult to find believers willing to represent themselves as such when they're being told "YOU'RE WRONG" all the time, but I don't think the panel can be balanced without them.

    You have mentioned that I didn't bring up the 12 speakers who weren't talking on atheism. Well, the schedule wasn't complete when I wrote the article, and I don't know specifically what Rebecca, Randi, DJ, or the others are talking about. Many of them are outspoken atheists, and they speak at other atheist conferences. I've only heard Joe Nickell talk about skeptical investigations, so I think it's quite likely he'll do so at your event.

    However, based on all available evidence, it's an atheist conference, devoted to the "problem of religion" as you put it. And that is fine. It's just not skepticism. You think it's silly to come to the conclusion that Skepticon is an atheist convention, I think it's just obvious. And a lot of people, like yourself and your co-organizers think that skepticism inevitably leads to the conclusion that there's no god. In fact, it can't come to that conclusion as it's an untestable condition. Skepticism can only include "this is untestable."

    And then you say "So what if it is?" Then I say… call it what it is.

    When you hold forth a set of beliefs and say "THIS IS THE TRUTH," you're not doing skepticism, you're creating religion.

    You've said that I"m playing politics. Actually, I'm not. I'm telling the truth as I see it. I'm not giving religious claims a pass. I'm just trying to be the best skeptic I know how to be, and that includes applying critical thought to people "on our side."

    It's just my $.02. It's how I see things, and I felt obligated to share that. Though there are people who agree with me, including some people I respect deeply, it appears that your point of view is winning the day.

  • Adam

    Jeff, while I can appreciate your point of view and I have heard a few others say similar things… you seem to be the only person I've heard from that cares. Yes, the convention is nearly all atheists. But, again, like JT mentioned, those speaking and those attending will naturally be more atheistic than religious. It's the nature of skepticism. Smart people tend to be agnostic atheists. That's why 99% of all Nobel Prize winners, and the vast majority of credible scientists on earth, don't believe in any sort of god. Because, to do so is ignorant and requires faith… which is the suspension of critical thinking (and the opposite of being a good skeptic).

    I do find it funny that you blast JT for saying "THIS IS TRUTH" and then in your next sentence write, "I’m telling the truth as I see it". Truth is self-evident. There can be differing opinions on it, but in the end, there is only one truth on any subject. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not their own facts. The facts are pretty clear here. Skeptics are generally smart people. Smart people tend to be atheists. therefore, most skeptics WILL BE atheists. No need to change the name… just the attitudes about the terminology. It's ok to be an atheist. But, I'm not sure how it's ok to be a Christian AND a Skeptic and be true to both titles!

  • Kitz

    Well, yeah, a lot of people care. It's been said it's like Viagra emails. Point is people that would probably talk to you aren't people that might come out of curiousity or skeptic newbies that are still defining the word for themselves.

    Care should be taken to keep the purpose of Skepticon in mind. Good time with people that think alike and enjoy being able to really relax and be themselves (I always say skeptic meetings are the opposite of THanksgiving with the relatives, where your mom tells you "fake saying grace or grandmother will probably have a stroke and DIE. You owe me, I breast fed you for an entire YEAR"…oh we have ALL been there).

    But newbies might get the feeling that skepticism is dogmaticism (and all skeptic meetings are guilty of this to a degree, it just feels so GOOD to all be together and be in the majority for a change!). There is a slant on atheism at Skepticon, you don't have to stress that, but I think if there was a meeting with say a big slant on UFO skeptic stuff and they were "SKEPTITRON! The meeting for skeptics" I might go "wait wait, where's the beef? This is all about crop circles and abductions." I think anyone reading the speaker list and such can make up their own minds. But it's always important to do so if you plan on attending an event.

    To me, the far more dangerous trend is that of people in the paranormal community that have started calling themselves the REAL skeptics. I've been called "close minded". I've been accused publically at various events where I have represented the skeptical viewpoint of being a "liar" because I call myself a skeptic. Real skeptics keep an "open mind" (which seems to mean being open to vast government conspiracy).

    The saddest example of this is at a recent skeptic meeting on Halloween. A couple showed up, and said they were skeptics. They said they became skeptics after watching that great skeptic movie "Loose Change". GULP.

    So if people are very protective of the word "Skepticism" and "Skeptic" I don't blame them.

    "Words like weapons have no power until used by men. Their use or misuse can topple governments and change the world. Thus great care and respect is always called for when using both" Julian Bell

  • brian

    First, I enjoy reading on these topics, so please forgive my ignorance… but who the hell is Jeff Wagg?

    Second, I've been to a lot of technology conferences – lately, they seem to focus very heavily on cloud computing. Does that mean they need to change their name to Cloudacon and Cloudorama, or its not an accurate name for the gathering? Call it what you want, talk about appropriate topics (and religion is certainly appropriate to toss heavily into the mix), and don't go overboard stroking this guy's ego by caring what he thinks about the name or your panel… but what do I know

  • Adam

    Great comments guys… thanks.

  • Reed Esau

    So if you're going to the trouble of hosting an event that is on balance focused on atheist goals, why equivocate on the name?

    Other atheist events, such as AAI conference I attended in Burbank last year, are arguably hybrids as well, featuring several prominent science talks (Carolyn Porco on science and culture, PZ Myers on Design vs Chance, Eugenie Scott on evolution in schools, Richard Dawkins reading from TGSOE, Lawrence Krauss on cosmology, etc.) but the organizers nevertheless pull no punches in calling their event atheist.

    For those of us who have spent considerable effort to encourage every one of us to be open about our atheism, it's disappointing to see this return to euphemism.

  • John-Henry Beck

    As someone who has some familiarity with the planning of Skepticon, attended the last one, and is attending Skepticon 3 in the morning, I had a few comments to make.

    My understanding of the stance of the event would be that skepticism is a tool and atheism is a conclusion. There are a lot of forms of woo out there to be skeptical about. And there are a lot of issues that affect skeptics, freethinkers, critical thinkers, and atheists. And religion is, at least in the U.S., the largest elephant in the room when it comes to woo and bad thinking. You would have to make an effort to avoid targeting it. So some of the speakers will be discussing religion or related topics. And then some won't.

    Personally, I just don't see how belief in alien visitations or crop circles or homeopathy is nearly as much of a problem in need of discussion as religion is.

    I fail to understand the claim that it's not skepticism because it targets atheism.

    If it's just based on the idea that theism is untestable, I have to say I think that is just flat wrong. Short of the deist god that no longer affects anything, or a god that just doesn't bother to affect anything, or one so sneaky as to only affect things in ways it can cover up…any effect a god would have on reality would be at least theoretically testable. For example, if prayer is supposed to be a way to get your god to change reality on your behalf, we should be able to see evidence of someone's prayers working effectively. If Zeus lives on Olympus, we should be able to see some signs of it when we visit the top of Olympus. If god (and there were a few of them asserted to have done so) flooded the world to wipe out humanity, there should be signs of drowned cities and a layer of sediment and so on.

    I don't disagree that you can be skeptical and still religious. Just like you can be skeptical and a homeopath. It is quite possible for humans to block away certain things from critical scrutiny while applying it in other ways.

    But if you call yourself a skeptic and also clearly block away a topic from skeptical scrutiny, why should you expect others not to point it out? Why would someone who chooses to block out their religion deserve any more consideration than one who does so with crop circles, ghosts, homeopathy, or whatever else?

    To sum up, the name seems quite accurate to me.

  • Brian

    JT, I checked, and nearly everybody who spoke at Skepticon III believes in Anthropogenic Global Warming. If that's the way it's going to be, then I feel that honesty should compel you to rename the conference AGWcon, to reflect its real focus.

  • Michael Kingsford Gr

    A question for Mr. Wagg:

    Are you an atheist?

    A simple "Yes" or "No" would be sufficient.

    I ask as it may well defuse this volatile situation.

    My guess is that you are not an atheist.

  • http://woodpigeon01.wordpress.com Colm Ryan

    Here's what Carl Sagan, has to say about religion in his seminal work, "The Demon Haunted World".

    "Science, Ann Druyan notes, is forever whispering in our ears 'Remember, you're very new at this. You might be mistaken. You've been wrong before.' Despite all the talk about humility, show me something comparable in religion. Scripture is said to be divinely inspired – a phrase with many meanings. But what if it is simply made up by fallible humans? .. The fact that so little of the findings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration".

    I guess, with such inflammatory writing, Carl wouldn't have been welcome to speak at a Skeptics conference then, Jeff?

  • tsig

    Now we see why Jeff is a former JREF employee.

    Jeff, did you ever score with Anita?

  • Steven Mading

    Jeff, the reason you're getting such flak is that you are phrasing your complaint as if atheism isn't a subset of skepticism but is rather mutually exclusive of skepticism. That's where you're getting the argument. Many atheists are atheists specifically because they took a skeptical approach to religion and atheism is where that led. To tell them atheism is disjoint from skepticism is what's pissing them off. You're treating these two things like mutually exclusive topics, and in doing so you are wrong.

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  • DataJack

    I respect Jeff, and his opinions, but he has fallen into a couple of logical inconsistencies on this.

    1) He said the panel on "does skepticism lead to atheism" should have believers to be credible. Does a panel on evolution v. creation have to have creationists? Does a panel explaining how psychic "tests" always fail have to have psychics? Folks who believe in things without evidence are all the same to folks who don't. They aren't required to participate in discussions on how there beliefs are illogical (provided the discussions are honest).

    2) He said we cannot hold a position "there are no gods", but rather, "that assertion is untestable". This is a classic failure in critical thinking, and needs to be put to rest. Does this imply we cannot hold the position that unicorns don't exist? Or leprechauns? or fairies? Or Zeus? Or vampires?

    When there is a complete, utter lack of evidence for a being; when every, single phenomenon that has been attributed to that being in the past has been shown to have a different, natural cause, it is safe and LOGICAL to conclude that being does not exists.

    To say that some evidence free creatures don't exist, but others might, is not a critical thinking position, it is an accommodationist position, and it is unnecessary.

  • http://grahamshevlin.com/current Graham Shevlin

    Why don’t you have skeptics who are believers on there?

    Something about that sentence is causing my brain to have some cognitive dissonanc, and my irony meter is wrapped around the end stop..

  • http://quichemoraine.com Mike Haubrich

    If there are religious people who are also skeptics, I would think that their whole "faith" thing would help them be strong and immune from attacks by skeptics who are atheist. After all, don't they have the most powerful entity in the universe on their side?

    Expecting those of us without supernatural supports for our belief systems, no prayerful support during our doubting times while the religious are to be left alone with their Big Guy intact would make it seem as though religion were to be given some sort of privilege. At a skeptic's conference.

    I have a friend who is an atheist. He also believes that chiropractic is a scientifically proven alternative to modern medicine, and that electrical acupuncture can heal. If he were to head up to Skepticon would there be a place for him to hide out where his acceptance of such things weren't attacked?

    If people want to retain their religion even if they are skeptical, then by all means, go ahead. Just be prepared to defend your beliefs. After all, you have God on your side. And if God is for you, who can be against?

  • http://thetimchannel.wordpress.com The Tim Channel

    Shorter Jeff Wagg: We could have gotten civil rights in this country much earlier if the movement hadn't associated itself with all those colored people.

    Enjoy.

  • Ambidexter

    I fail to understand why skeptics should criticize all flavors of woo yet religion should be sacrosanct. In the US, where Skepticon is taking place, there are more believers of religion than homeopaths, psychics, and anti-vaxers. This tells me religion is a greater source of woo than any other (probably greater than all others combined). Yet according to Wagg skeptics should concentrate their efforts towards phrenology or reflexology and give religion a ride.

    Sorry, I don't buy it. I'm sure Wagg is sincere, it's just that there's more to skepticism than sincerity.

  • Kate`

    …and now Jeff has shown everyone why he can no longer work at the JREF. You're not a skeptic, Jeff, you're an apologist for mumbo-jumbo BS.

    Want your fuzzy-wuzzy fee-fees exempt from criticism? Then you're going to have to excuse homeopathy, crystal-woo, ESP, Indigo Children… You don't get a free pass on being a woo-addled ignoramus just because you once worked for a skeptical organization.

    Want your ideas and only your ideas presented at a conference attended by 1800 people? Stop being a lazy bastard looking for a ride to fame on the coattails of others and organize your own conference. (I'm guessing though, that after your ridiculous pronouncements you'd be hard pressed to find 1800 skeptics who would want to shell out money to listen to utter crap.)

    It's easy Jeff: You want respect, you have to earn it. You can't demand it. Start earning it.

  • Ewan Macdonald

    <q cite="JeffWagg">As for the panel being made up of skeptics who disagree with you, that’s a fine start, but no, I’m afraid it’s not good enough. Why don’t you have skeptics who are believers in homeopathy on there? There are a minority, to be sure, and it’s difficult to find believers willing to represent themselves as such when they’re being told “YOU’RE WRONG” all the time, but I don’t think the panel can be balanced without them.</q>

    See how quickly two additional words can completely demolish your argument, Jeff? The point of skepticism isn't to balance panels or make everyone welcome. It's to be skeptical – regardless of the topic at hand, and regardless of any perceived lack of support. You're trying to squeeze atheism out of skepticism simply because you think that popularity is more important than principle – this isn't a massive problem in and of itself, but the dishonest way in which you're framing it certainly is.

    You wouldn't dare make an exception seeking "balance" for clairvoyance or homeopathy so why are you doing it for theism, with a straight face no less? Because you're dishonest.

    Sadly due to work commitments I was unable to attend Skepticon this weekend, but I'm delighted to see it growing year on year, and I think that it'll only be strengthened by wanting for your particular brand of "balance" in years to come.

  • Jonn Mero

    How is it possible to be a skeptic without being an atheist?

    The first thing to go by the wayside when applying scepticism is the most obvious target for scepticism, RELIGION.

    And, practically no religion stands a chance. Some will hang in a bit longer, but in the end they are a mix of wishful thinking and superstition. And if they are not, then it is because they are really a form of philosophy.

    As to catering for the believers, what for? Are they sort of 80% members of the sceptical societies? Or should the be graded even closer, like if someone is a member of the RCC, max degree of scepticism is say 50%?

    Nah, to be a 100% true skeptic you are automatically an atheist!

    (Variant spelling is intentional)

  • Marc Whitaker

    Graham Shevlin beat me to it:

    <blockquote cite="Why don’t you have skeptics who are believers on there?">

    I understand the words, but isn't a self-contradictory proposition a bad thing?

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  • Patrick

    I have to say that all these clever comments have made my work day much nicer.

    But TheTimChannel's comment about colored people made me laugh out loud while I was talking to a client on the phone.

  • jose

    The content of the talks reflects what skeptics are up to nowadays. It will be useful historically to document this trend in the skeptic movement. Undoubtedly religion has become the major issue among skeptics, outweighing pseudoscience.

    @Ewan Macdonald: your search and replace is a little bit unfair. You can test homeopathy. You can't test God. That's Jeff's point.

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  • Kate`

    @Jose: – #24

    "You can test homeopathy. You can’t test God. That’s Jeff’s point."

    …and it's an incredibly poor point which relies on suspension of disbelief. That's not skepticism, that's just plain BS.

    Look, you can't test for invisible monsters under your bed, either. Does this mean we have to pander to children's fears about the boogey-man?

    No, it certainly doesn't.

    Jeff is asking for a particular brand of woo to remain exempt from criticism simply because it gives him a warm, fuzzy feeling to do so. It's silly, childish and makes him seem like a very, very stupid man.

    Jeff, of all people, ought to have a good grasp of the way skeptical inquiry works. He wants skeptics and scientists to soft-pedal on his pet ideas and that just won't wash, thank you very much.

    Like I said before, if he wants a conference that's all about how his particular brand of woo ought to be excused, he's more than welcome to do the leg work and find the funding and set up his own conference.

    For now, though, Jeff needs to stop referring to himself as a skeptic and instead assume the mantle of Woo-meister and BS'er.

  • Ewan Macdonald

    @jose 24: Not much I can add to Kate's post above except to say that we can test many individual religious claims readily, and that this will lead to the same levels of discomfort that Jeff's clutching his pearls about. OK, fine, we can't test for God. We can test for the efficacy of prayer; for the bleeding statues; for all manner of things. These, too, will lead to some peoples' feeling unwelcome. Does that mean that we should stop?

    In any case if you recall Jeff's post he said that there's "not much more to say" after you say that the resurrection story was "unlikely." Well, there is quite a bit more to say – if some of the founding tenets of a religion are "unlikely" then surely it casts some doubt on the whole? But again, we can't talk about that – we just need to sit down and shut up, as is the atheist's duty.

  • jose

    @Kate,

    according to Jeff, untestable claims does not belong in skepticism. God is untestable. Thus, God does not belong in skepticism. You can disagree with the premise, of course. I do.

    Personally, I think religious beliefs can be researched in the same way psychologists deal with people who claim to have seen UFOs. That is how I look at it. I also think religion is to be studied from a historical/sociological perspective. Just in case you were feeling the need to attack me.

    About the aggresive and insulting language, I don't have much to say, except that I don't find it neccesary or useful to express clearly one's point. Instead, it just makes your comment longer.

    @Ewan Macdonald,

    Jeff isn't asking people to shut up about religion. He is asking to call that critique what he thinks it is. He doesn't ask people to shut up about right-wing economics either, for example. His point is that it doesn't belong in a skeptic talk.

    I disagree with him, but misrepresenting his point does not help you. In fact, it makes you look bad.

  • Ewan Macdonald

    @jose

    I can live with looking bad in your eyes, given that you're siding with someone who's accused people like me of "creating a religion." Were I not causing you to clutch your pearls and gasp I'd feel I was doing something wrong.

    Let's get this absolutely straight. His complaint does not begin and end with the title of Skepticon and it is dishonest of you to say that it does. Jeff is a tone troll. His various laments – about the ludricrous claims of false advertising in the title of the con, about "good people" being driven away (names?) by strident atheists (names?), about atheists "creating a religion", about religious claims being subject to no further examination by atheist skeptics than a bark of "YOU'RE WRONG" – are mendacious and juvenile.

    You can claim to disagree with him if you like but the haste with which you started tone trolling suggests that the pair of you could well be soulmates.

  • Ewan Macdonald

    Oh, while we're at it – did Jeff manage to get through strident atheist PZ Myers' talk today without resorting to the smelling salts? Why, the number of "good people" lost during Myers' rhetoric surely numbered in the thousands!

  • eNeMeE

    God is untestable

    Only in the case of a deity that does not act, or have any defined attributes, is this the case. Otherwise, as is the case for pretty much every deity that people actually believe in, there are all sorts of things that can be tested.

  • Jason

    If all (true) skeptics are atheists, and they have a convention about skepticism in general (criticizing things like homeopathic medicine and tarot cards along with religion), then they will call it a SKEPTIC convention. This is a no brainer.

  • Harry Palmer

    Jeff Wagg said:

    "You have mentioned that I didn’t bring up the 12 speakers who weren’t talking on atheism. Well, the schedule wasn’t complete when I wrote the article, and I don’t know specifically what Rebecca, Randi, DJ, or the others are talking about. "

    So, if you didn't know what 80% of the speakers were going to talk about, why did you call Skepticon an atheist conference? How is your explanation not a tacit admission that your essay was evidence of your own personal preoccupation with atheism?

  • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Just Al

    Jeff Wagg at #1 said:

    You have mentioned that I didn’t bring up the 12 speakers who weren’t talking on atheism. Well, the schedule wasn’t complete when I wrote the article, and I don’t know specifically what Rebecca, Randi, DJ, or the others are talking about. Many of them are outspoken atheists, and they speak at other atheist conferences.

    Um, isn't that a Chris Mooney? Proceed without evidence, find out your assumptions were wrong, then dismiss this without apologizing for your blatant error? Yeah, thanks for the tips on skepticism, there.

    And a lot of people, like yourself and your co-organizers think that skepticism inevitably leads to the conclusion that there’s no god. In fact, it can’t come to that conclusion as it’s an untestable condition.

    Who says? No, seriously. The whole point of the term "supernatural" is to specifically exempt it from empirical evidence, and this only came about because science had destroyed all of the locales for gods to reside within. They had physical existences before, above the vault of the heavens, on tops of mountains, and so on. Remember that the tower of babel was intended to reach god's home without even leaving out atmosphere.

    As PZ Myers has pointed out, "supernatural" is a corrupt concept that isn't supportable. Accepting such a proposition is far from being skeptical. As far as I'm concerned, a conference that specifically made room for it not only shouldn't even use the word "skeptical" in any way, I'd be totally disinterested in it because it would be a farce.

    I agree – skepticism is more than about atheism. But you're doing more damage to "the cause" by not recognizing the parts of the conference that didn't address atheism than JT did by including those that did.

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  • Jinx McHue

    Silly Jeff! Didn't you know that the only thing that is ever excluded from skepticism is evolution?

  • Jinx McHue

    And atheism. Atheism is excluded, too.

  • Paul Murray

    "So if you’re going to the trouble of hosting an event that is on balance focused on atheist goals, why equivocate on the name?"

    Skepticon likes to deal with – for instance – quack medicine. If it was called Athecon, the talks on quack medicine would be out of place. It's better to use the more general term.

  • Torbjörn Larsso

    And a lot of people, like yourself and your co-organizers think that skepticism inevitably leads to the conclusion that there’s no god. In fact, it can’t come to that conclusion as it’s an untestable condition. Skepticism can only include “this is untestable.”

    That is silly. What you want to test is a _natural_ theory following from observations, like "the world is all materialistic". Tell you what, it is easy to test beyond reasonable doubt (i.e. 3 sigma for theories) because of the mass of tested natural hypotheses published.

    The truth is that theology like "this is untestable" could be reasonably put forward in the 50's, together with philosophical proposals like "any sufficiently advanced civilization will look like gods to the non-advanced". But today history has sprung away from that sorry state of affairs, we have enough observation _to know_, and it is unreasonable doubt to say otherwise.

    What people with a theological bent need to do is to show undoubted observation of non-natural processes implying breaking of the observed monism of nature, say breaking energy conservation in classical systems and showing a dualism in effect. Nothing else will suffice to allay cases of modern skepticism on religion.

  • Peggy R. Henderson

    "What's in a name? That which we call a rose

    By any other name would smell as sweet."

    Ok, so I stole it, but why reinvent the wheel?

  • Adam

    First of all, Skepticon 3 turned out to be an amazing event and included people like Joe Nickell and James Randi who speak more to skepticism in general than to atheism (although they are both atheist). It was widely discussed at the 3 day conference if skpeticism leads to atheism. The conclusion by most was, "YES IT DOES".

    You can't be a true Christian and a true Skeptic or you are doing a disservice to one of those titles!

    We may not be able to test "God" but we can certainly test the things that are claimed god does… like create the earth, heal the sick through intercessory prayer, and send his son to earth to die for our since. We have ample evidence AGAINST all of that, which is why several of the speakers didn't just say, "I am an agnostic atheist because there isn't sufficient evidence to support a belief in god." They (PZ Myers, John Corvino, and James Randi said, "We HAVE sufficient evidence to say that the God of the Bible DOESN'T EXIST".

    Look at it this way, if a woman claims to be a ballerina, but you can PROVE that she doesn't own a leotard, is missing both legs, and isn't really a woman… can you still accept the claim that she "might" be a ballerina. That's the point. If we can prove that most of the claims that make god all-powerful aren't true… then what's left to test? We can't a negative. But, we can certainly disprove nearly every positive claim made for "Him".

  • Bill

    I am an atheist that was in attendance at Skepticon. It was the first one I have been to, so I can't speak for other years. I had a fantastic time but I was hoping for more general skepticism. I think Jeff Wagg is right to point out the heavy focus on atheism and religion.

    I attended the conference for several reasons. Primarily I wanted to be around like-minded people for a little while. I also wanted to add to my toolbox of arguments and knowledge about religion, pseudo-science, paranormal activity, and basically all things skeptic.

    Convincing a person their religion is wrong is a very tough sell. I think for most people it take a lot of internal deliberation and mounting volumes of suspicions and evidence. The other aspects of skepticism are a bit easier for people to swallow if you have sufficient evidence to refute their beliefs. Preventing a person from treating serious illness with non-medical remedies or being financially devastated by frauds and con-men is within our power. I know you can say that atheism will lead you to these conclusions as well, but you can't always start from the top down. I think treating the symptoms with skepticism will eventually work their way up into their larger belief system.

    • Adam

      @ Bill: Glad you came to Skepticon. We are already working on #4 and it will be incredible. I wanted to tell you and everyone else why we focus so much skepticism on religion. I asked DJ Grothe from JREF about this at the convention and he agreed with me. When you look at all the topics that skepticism approaches (bigfoot, aliens, esp, holistic medicine, faith healers, etc.) you see that some are easy to debunk and have a small following, whiles other do not. Many of us, including this site, use the "HARMS litmus test". In other words, whatever irrational belief hurts the most people should be triaged higher on our list. Holistic medicine hurts people, but not as much as the church. Religion harms human rights, female equality, gay rights, science education, medicine, and so much more. Religion NEEDS the focus of the world's skeptics more than other topics. All of them (topics) should be looked at… but we'll continue to focus where the most harms are.

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  • Donnie

    What I do have are skeptics who have taken the position that skepticism does not produce atheism

    Probably Offtopic, but I would like to listen to the recording of this talk. I am currently going through this mental exercise, and working on my critical thinking skills. I would like to hear what others are saying.

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  • Adam

    The people at Skepticon are working on getting every single lecture and debate on YouTube in the next couple of weeks. I will make sure to post them on our site so you can hear these discussions and see whether you agree or not.

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