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I have a significant amount of difficulty communicating. You would think that, as someone who writes sort-of-not-really-professionally, this would not be an issue since, from time to time, I can string together a group of words into something poignant, pithy or just outright pretentious. I am discovering over and over again that this is not the case when actual peopling is involved; the instance that pops into my mind is my less-than-coherent introduction to my favorite author at WisCon earlier this year. There occurred a sputtering of tearful “thank you for what you do”s and other adjectives that poured from my pie hole well before I could regain some sort of composure to tell her what was my name. More on that later. I’m not quite ready to flush out that embarrassing tale just yet. Also, that’s not why I’m blogging today.

I wanted to talk about communication, specifically the lack thereof, and particularly within the Skepticism and Atheism movements when it comes to conflating the two. Just so you understand from where I’m coming, I am a Skeptic. I am also an Atheist. This is not the standard model for most human beings within either of these movements, and I’m getting really sick and tired of people acting like it is.

I never know who is going to read this blog, but for the sake of convenience [and most people’s unwillingness to Google], I’m going to throw down a couple of definitions:

From Dr. Steven Novella
Skeptic – from the Greek skeptikos (“thoughtful”) – A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.

From Merriam-Webster
Atheist – from the Greek atheos (“godless”) – a disbelief in the existence of deity; the doctrine that there is no deity

Go on and take your time absorbing the definition of each label. I can wait.

Can I continue? Good. *Sigh* Really? OK, fine. You get to ask this question just this once.

But why are you so angry about this? What’s the big deal?

Let’s start with attribution. The Skeptical movement is an fierce advocate for the spread of science education and evidence-based knowledge. It has contributed to the repudiation of the vaccination/autism myths, assisted in the debunking [and thus the defrauding] of paranormal claims and those who would stand to benefit from them, and provided a plethora of explanations as to why we are saddled with the misinterpretation of GMOs and an idea of a “natural” lifestyle that isn’t truly possible in this WEIRD world in which we live.

Atheism is built on the foundation of disbelief in a deity/deities and his/her/its/their doctrines. That’s it. Atheism is not built on a foundation of using scientific principles and methods to spread evidence-based knowledge that exists outside of the religious diaspora. In other words, Atheism is not nearly as complex or complicated as Skepticism, despite the claim that atheists come in all different subsets. This concentration on religious dogma leaves Atheists open to the susceptibility of many, if not all, of the naturalistic fallacies against which many Skeptic activists try to fight. So when the potential to conflate, connect, or in any way place in the same ball park evidence-based community works with the egotistic, self-serving and often fallacious rants of, say, this guy, you can understand why I might get a little…

Beckett Desk Flipping

…unsettled.

Which leads me to my next issue with those who conflate Skepticism and Atheism: they have a penchant for making really bad arguments in the name of the Equivocation fallacy. Here is the most recent example from my personal repertoire.

For the Skeptics group to which I belong, we have a commenting policy for our Facebook group. In the interest of dropping pretenses, I am disclosing that I am one of the moderators for this group and borrowed [with permission] the policy language from a friend who moderates a different group to which I belong, and modified it to fit the need for my Skeptics group. Here is the content of the first rule of our commenting policy:

1) WE ARE NOT AN ATHEIST/ANTI-THEIST GROUP. While we recognize that there is an overlap between Atheists and Skeptics, we at [name withdrawn] Skeptics do not see nor treat these terms as interchangeable. Just because you are a Skeptic, that does not mean that you are an Atheist. The reverse also holds true. We are not saying that you cannot post links to atheistic content; we are simply asking that you (1) make sure that your atheist post is skeptically related/relevant [emphasis added]; and (2) be mindful that some members of the Facebook group may be theists. If you do decide to post atheist content on the [name withdrawn] Skeptics page, please do not introduce your posts with Ad Homenim attacks on theists. Anyone caught doing so will run the risk of being banned from the group.

Pretty simple rule anyone who is an Atheist to comprehend, right? Especially since there are atheists who love to claim [incorrectly] that they are so much smarter than theists? I would have thought so except that things like this keep popping up:

Um, How Is This Skeptically Relevant?

Um, How Is This Skeptically Relevant?

Fortunately, the first response to this post was the reiteration of our commenting policy. Unfortunately, later comments decided to descend further down the Equivocation rabbit hole.

From commenter:

While I see examples of atheists who are not skeptical and completely agree that rejecting a single form of magical thinking doesn’t make you a skeptic, I do question if you can truly be a skeptic while holding a belief that has absolutely no evidence to support such belief. This is not to say that all skeptics should take up the banner of atheism (whatever that is anyway) but I am of the opinion that if you are willing to hold a belief in the absence of compelling evidence, (or even in the case of deities, in contradiction to evidence) you are not really a skeptic. [emphasis added]

Really? Then how do you explain Agnostic Skeptics?

From same commenter:

“Hmmm, what would you say to me if I told you I was agnostic about Bigfoot? After all, you can’t prove that Bigfoot doesn’t exists, it’s possible that Bigfoot exists. Can I be a good skeptic and be agnostic about Bigfoot?

And I do think that formal logic is violated if your definition of agnostic includes not having accepted a claim without reasonable evidence.”

My response:

Prepare To Lose Argument!

Prepare To Lose Argument!

My actual response:

Was that a mic drop?

So how did this end? Technically, the thread is still progressing on Facebook, but for the purposes of the necessary circle back for blog entries, here is an excerpt from that same commenter after he considered what me and a couple of other members had said:

…thanks for your comments. I am not trying to be oboxious [sic] or obtuse, I truly have a hard time understanding how people seem to be able to treat the claims of gods differently than any other claims lacking plausibility and evidence…

Ladies, Gentlemen, Both And Neither, there lies the breakdown in our communication. For this particular commenter, his need for observation, questioning and analysis of tangible, testable evidence, in other words, his skepticism, appears to be integral to his atheism. I get this! I really do. My atheism works the same way…but it is my atheism of which I speak. Let’s take another look at the Merriam-Webster definition:

Atheist – from the Greek atheos (“godless”) – a disbelief in the existence of deity; the doctrine that there is no deity

There’s no mention of tangible evidence, no implications toward empirical claims. There is just the disbelief, and that can come about for a human being in an infinite number of ways. Skepticism, on the other hand, comes about in a finite number of ways, and it comes with the ability to differentiate between simple disbelief and developed deduction.

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One Comment

  1. Sorry, I still don’t quite get it…

    Yes, it’s HIS atheism. Yes, that implies (correctly) that there can be other forms of atheism. Yes, you can be an atheist and still be as unskeptical as you want. You can be an atheist and believe that little fairies clean your drains at night, if you want to.

    But I don’t think that this was the question. What about the other way round? Does Skepticism imply Atheism? And here, if you ask me, it can, in a certain way. Not the “I am sure that there is no god” atheism. That doesn’t work, you would have to be skeptic about that claim – since it claims to be able to disprove a hypothesis that isn’t falsifiable
    But Atheism as “I don’t believe in any gods” seems to be a pretty skeptic attitude, doesn’t it? You don’t believe in them, because there is no evidence for them. And as long as something has no evidence in favor of it, not accepting it seems reasonable (while claiming it to be impossible isn’t).

    So, personally, I think it hard to claim being skeptic while saying “BUT I DO believe in a god for whom I only have the same evidence as the homeopathy guys – personal anecdotes, personal feelings, etc.”.


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