It’s All Semantics – That Doesn’t Mean We Shouldn’t Argue It

You can handle one more article on this before it blows up all over again at Skepticamp, right?

Once again that membrane which has been pierced so many times on this blog, has been broken, allowing us to once again wade hip-deep into the demarcation between skepticism and atheism.  Joy of joys.  On the bright side, I think I can safely say that this time it wasn’t my fault, but that the lance wielder du jour has been my dear Mr. Rosch.

There’s this funny thing that happens whenever we start talking about where skepticism ends and atheism begins.  Someone brings up the word “agnosticism” and all of a sudden people pounce on that person shouting that they don’t want to get embroiled in an argument of semantics.  I have unfortunate news for those people: the discussion on atheism and skepticism already IS an argument about semantics.  The confusion people have, however – and trust me, I’ve had this one wrong in the past – is that the discussion isn’t really about the definition of atheism.

The definition of atheism is one that atheists have fought for a good long time about.  That definition, that atheism is a lack of belief in god(s), has been whittled into this sort of perfect non-positive statement.  By definition, an atheist doesn’t have to prove anything and believers are, by default, on the defensive side of the argument.  Any believer foolish enough to say “well why don’t you believe in God?” has broken the rules of argument, that the one with the claim is the one with something to defend, and can be summarily told so.  Well done, atheists. … continue reading this entry.

Skepticism = Skepticism, X = X

Michael Rosch posted an article on GS on Tuesday about another article by Jeff Wagg. The following was originally a comment I was posting to his piece, but it got so involved I decided to just submit it as it’s own piece. Please to enjoy.

I read the Wagg article, and I think you’re misunderstanding it (or perhaps I did, maybe), but I don’t think anyone is suggesting that atheists don’t belong involved in skeptical movements. A large proportion of skeptics seem to be atheists (I have data to support). But I think there’s an important distinction between atheism and skepticism.

I’m a lot of things: a feminist, an atheist, a liberal, a Joss Whedon fan, a grad student, a bisexual, a nerd, a gamer, a woman…a skeptic. And yes, I’d say there is significant overlap in the various things I am. For example, my experience as a woman might have made me more likely to self-identify as a feminist. My skepticism might led me to the sort of examination resulting in the conclusion that I’m an atheist. My general nerdom might have led me straight into the Whedonverse. However, if I found that a majority of feminists were Joss Whedon fans (he does favor strong, female characters), could I say that being a Joss Whedon fan and being a feminist are the same thing? I certainly couldn’t. Because even if the experiences and characteristics I had that led me to Buffy also inspired my strong feelings about the equality of men and women in society, they are still two different parts of who I am. … continue reading this entry.

Extraordinary [religious] claims require extraordinary evidence

Beware of dragon

“George Bush says he speaks to god every day, and Christians love him for it. If George Bush said he spoke to god through his hair dryer, they would think he was mad. I fail to see how the addition of a hair dryer makes it any more absurd.”

- Sam Harris

If you replaced the phrase “Christians love him for it” with “skeptics must shut up” in the above quote, Sam Harris could be describing the current state of the skeptical movement.

Recently, one of my least favorite issues has resurfaced, what role, if any, atheism has within the skeptical movement. The controversy seems to have begun with Jeff Wagg writing a blog singling out a flyer and four scheduled talks at Skepticon3 focused on atheism or more accurately religious criticism, one of which with a heavy emphasis on physics. Though Wagg hadn’t seen the talks yet, he expressed more than mild disapproval of them based on their titles and his opinions of the speakers themselves. In fact, he suggested these topics have no right being discussed at a skeptical conference at all. According to Wagg, this doesn’t look like a skeptics conference at all, but rather something entirely different, “an atheist conference”…or worse “an anti-Christian conference.”

BUT DON’T PANIC!!! … continue reading this entry.

The God of Creationism

Believe it or not, as an atheist I don't see this as an irrefutable text.

As far as atheists are concerned, I think I come off being rather tame.  I have never suggested that religion is some horrible institution that should be burned to the ground and I have been quite outspoken with my fellow skeptics about my belief that there are forms of belief which cannot ever be debunked through skepticism.  That said, creationism bothers me on multiple levels.  Last week, I wound up spending an inordinate amount of time arguing with a creationist on this very blog and I came to the conclusion that reactive defense of evolution was not going to win an argument with someone who refuses to look at evidence.  So I’ve decided to go on the attack on this one.  My reason is simple: whether there is a god or not, the specific God of Christian Creationism is logically impossible. … continue reading this entry.

Hey Phil! I wasn’t a dick!

On Friday I did something that was fairly new for me.  I’ve been online writing about my opinions for… years.  I’ve been getting into random arguments with strangers for… years.  What I’d never done before was get up in front of a room full of Christians and try to represent an atheistic and highly skeptical viewpoint.  And now I have!  The people that ran the event say they’ll have it up online by the end of the week, when it is I’ll give everybody the link and if you want to see me with my ratty blond beard being told that I’m representing the New York City Skeptics (I told them that I wasn’t a representative of NYCS, but just a member, but they didn’t always listen) and saying why I don’t believe in God, you can check it out to your hearts content.  For today, I’m going to do what I can to tell you about the event, say what I took from it, where I think I could have done better.  Basically, I’m going to use this blog that I hope you tend to enjoy as my diary.  Aren’t you lucky? … continue reading this entry.

Does not wanting to shout make me an Accomdationist?

On Tuesday, Lisa published an article about a recent atheist/secular humanist event in LA.  Both Lisa’s article and the NYTimes piece she linked to crystalized some things I’ve been thinking about regarding atheism and the skeptical movement over the past couple years.  The rhetoric surrounding the separation between skeptics and new atheists has become, in my mind, fairly ridiculous.  I am probably, I will admit, not going to help matters in this article, but honestly, when do I ever?

If someone wanted to place me into one of what seems to be the only two categories available, it wouldn’t be hard to make the case that I was an accomodationist.  I’ve been writing for the Gotham Skeptic for over a year now and in that time I have hardly shied away from stating my problems with the atheist movement.  I have been and continue to be an advocate for big tent skepticism.  I would, however, argue with the label “accomodationist.”  I don’t believe it is an accurate description of my views.  I also have no interest in being what was described in the times as a confrontationist.  There has got to be some middle ground in the midst of this dichotomy. … continue reading this entry.

On Death and Being a Dick

I don’t consider myself a dick.

Sure, I’m an active skeptic and as typical in this population I don’t shy away from contentious and/or conflictual discussion. I’m ready to note a logical fallacy or some flawed reasoning wherever it pops up. But I do consider myself caring, compassionate even, on the right occasion thoughtful. I don’t get involved in so-called “flame wars”. I try to phrase my positions, when they are combative in nature, to be accommodating and open. I like discussion and I love debate, but I love more than all else, people. Even at times the rather ignorant ones. … continue reading this entry.

Holidays, Miracles, and Describing God as a Non-Theist

I think I deserve to be at this table

I think I deserve to be at this table

Author’s note: This post is probably about two weeks later than it should have been.  It took me a little while to get to write it.  What can I say?  I’m a busy man.  In the article, I mention God a lot, and when I use pronouns to describe that particular deity, I capitalize them.  Please don’t have a cow over it, it’s what I’m used to and I think it helps make the pronouns distinct from others.

Passover is, without a doubt, my favorite Jewish Holiday.  Well… let’s clarify that.  Since I started keeping Kosher to feel a cultural connection to the only roots I really have, the first two days of Passover are my favorite Jewish Holiday, the lack of beer in the following six days is annoying.  But going back to the original point, Passover is my favorite Jewish Holiday, bar none.  Chanukah, to be frank, is a bit of a bullshit holiday.  It’s only gotten as big as it has due to its proximity to Christmas.  There are interesting things about it, what most people don’t know is that it’s actually the celebration of a military victory, the Maccabees over the remnants of the Greek Empire in the second or first century BCE, but because Jews didn’t like celebrating a military victory, we decided to go for oil burning longer than it was supposed to.  The big Jewish gift giving/party holiday is Purim, but my family never celebrated that.  Rosh Hashanah was never a big family affair for us.  It was a day when we’d go to Shul, listen to Torah and the Shofar (big smelly rams horn hollowed out into a crude brass instrument – well, it’s not brass, but it is played the same way).  Sometimes, we’d get together with another family afterward, but it was never the affair that Passover is.  And Yom Kipor?  The whole holiday I spend waiting for the holiday to be over, and though I do generally enjoy the meal that follows, I don’t think I can give Yom Kipor the credit that as soon as the day is done I have a good time.  Passover, on the other hand, is pretty fun.  It’s like a big Jewish Thanksgiving.  It’s a ceremonial meal where you sit around, get tipsy, tell a big story, and then have a good dinner.  You ask me, it’s everything a holiday should be. … continue reading this entry.

Rationally Speaking Podcast Eps 4: The Great Atheist Debate Over the Limits of Science


The latest episode of Rationally Speaking is now available on the website or on iTunes! … continue reading this entry.

The Temptation of Misrepresenting the Past

Old_books_-_Stories_From_The_PastAs some of you may have seen, one of Lisa’s posts and one of mine have been nominated for inclusion into The Young Australian Skeptics Blog Anthology. I’d like to congratulate my fellow nominee, and say I’m very happy the two of us got noticed. I’ve been a writer for a while, but I’ve never been published in a real like… Book, so this is pretty cool. I’m really happy about it, and I imagine Lisa is too.  The closest I’ve ever come to this is when, instead of writing his own article about Elliott Spitzer, a Boston Globe reporter decided to quote mine. There’s only one slight caveat… I’m not crazy about the article that’s been chosen. … continue reading this entry.

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