Stephen Bond: ‘Why I Am No Longer a Skeptic’

strawman2Writer Stephen Bond’s eloquent rejection of  the skeptic movement is sure to ruffle a few feathers here.  Is he overstating his case and condemning a large group of well-meaning people for the actions of a poorly behaved few? (I’m particularly intrigued by his own dismissive and somewhat patronizing generalization of people who hold minority beliefs as only doing so because they’re powerless and marginalized and need to reject whatever authority has dictated to be an acceptable  belief system.)

What about his suggestion that many of his former colleagues prefer to spend their time reaching for low-hanging fruit instead of taking a swipe at thornier issues? It is important to emphasize that he isn’t rejecting the idea of skepticism, per se, and certainly not reason and science. His fight is what he perceives as dogma rather than the message itself.

Excerpt:

Our political system, education and culture leave a lot of people marginalised, lost, impotent, irrelevant, and made to feel so daily. But these people are not complete idiots. They know something is wrong (though they’re not sure what), they know they have been denied knowledge and power (though they’re not sure by whom), they know that official life has left them on the scrapheap (though they’re not sure why). They look at the reality that has been dealt to them and ask, can this be all there is? Is this as good as it gets? And so, quite justifiably, they invent an alternative. An alternative reality where the people who marginalised them are reduced to easily-identifiable comic-book villians, plotting in underground hideouts. An alternative reality where, more often than not, they and their people are the heroes: the rebels, the fearless investigators, the pioneers of science, the true keepers of knowledge.

And the same is true of almost all bunk, from cryptozoology to Christianity: it’s an alternative reality for the disenfranchised, a wonderland where the losers are promised triumph, and The Man holds no sway. The masters of bunk — the bishops and wizards and cult sages — can wield considerable power in objective reality, but their greatest power is always over the downtrodden and the cast aside.

To convert their followers to skepticism, there’s no use in preaching, like Dawkins and Phil Plait, about the wonders of objective reality, however eloquently they may do it. Objective reality in a liberal democracy might well be wonderful if you’re a media personality or a tenured professor in a leafy college town. But for most people, reality sucks. And if they choose to reject it, I can’t blame them. Proselytising skeptics certainly offer them no incentive to change their minds. Skeptics ask society’s castaways to leave a reality in which they are good and valued people, and enter one in which they are pieces of warm garbage. Little wonder that so few take up the offer.

But as much as hocus-pocus is a comforter for the disenfranchised, skepticism is a comforter for nerds. Even the privileged need to be reassured in their ways; no one is too old or too grand to be tucked in at night with a conscience soother. For nerds, skepticism is the perfect self-justifying schema: a personal theology that validates their interests, their deeds, their prejudices and their politics. In this sense it’s markedly similar to one of skepticism’s favourite targets.

That skepticism is a religion is a idea frequently ridiculed and debunked on skeptic forums. As so often in the skeptic world, PZ Myers says it best (and here, by “the New Atheism”, he means more or less exactly what I understand by “skepticism”):

“[The ‘New Atheism’] is about taking a core set of principles that have proven themselves powerful and useful in the scientific world — you’ve probably noticed that many of these uppity atheists are coming out of a scientific background — and insisting that they also apply to everything else people do. These principles are a reliance on natural causes and demanding explanations in terms of the real world, with a documentary chain of evidence, that anyone can examine. The virtues are critical thinking, flexibility, openness, verification, and evidence. The sins are dogma, faith, tradition, revelation, superstition, and the supernatural. There is no holy writ, and a central idea is that everything must be open to rational, evidence-based criticism — it’s the opposite of fundamentalism.”
I’ve got a lot of time for Myers, but I can’t agree with his claim that dogma plays no role in skepticism. The skeptic dogma is, of course, the belief that “a core set of principles that have proven themselves powerful and useful in the scientific world also apply to everything else people do”. This belief is as simple and seductive as any of the claims that priests and mullahs and gurus have made over the millennia — and almost as wrong. While science in its material domain has worked miracles, in the social and emotional and political domains its achievements are highly questionable, to say the least.

But if the skeptic dogma sustains you through the day, I can’t blame you: most of us here are just trying to get by, with as much comfort and dignity as we can scrape together. And indeed, skepticism was once a faith I found comfort in myself. And as long as it does no harm to them and others, I wouldn’t want to disabuse anyone of their faith, or deprive them of their warming blanket. While ultimately I believe the world would be better without religions of any kind, faith can still motivate people for good. Skeptics follow a faith with fundamentally well-meaning principles; not all of them are kneejerk science fans; some of them make a decent and positive contribution to the world through their skepticism. I’m not going to dismiss them personally just because their creed is even more discredited than Christianity.

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  • http://politicalfilm.wordpress.com/ polfilmblog

    My only interactions with an organized “skeptic” movement was when they un-skeptically believed the Bush regimes lies about the 9/11 attacks. As the Bushites were known liars of the first order, and had received numerous warnings of an impending attack over that summer, and had covered up the attacks, redacted 28 pages of Saudi and other “foreign government” support for the actual hijackers, and called up the Democratic leaders personally to tell them not to investigate the attacks…

    The organized “skeptics” proved themselves to be rather thin hypocrites of the lowest order. I’m a skeptic. I don’t need a bullshit organization or an accolade to prove it. Skeptics keep up on current events including the near countless lies of the government.

    • Tchoutoye

      Unless skepticism is all-inclusive and unrelenting it’s merely prejudice in disguise.

      • HCE

        That is beautifully quotable quote. I want it on a t-shirt. Hell, I want it on billboards everywhere.

      • http://2012diaries.blogspot.com/ tristan eldritch

        Yes, exactly. Being unskeptical about beliefs you like, and skeptical about everything else is just the way most people are. Creationists are profoundly skeptical people – only, of things which are contrary to the doctrine of creationism. The modern skeptical movement are scientific positivists, which is fine, but calling themselves skeptics is a complete misnomer.

        • Haystack

          You’re confusing skepticism with contrariness. Taking a view which disagrees with the mainstream doesn’t make you skeptical if that position is founded upon logical fallacies.

          • http://2012diaries.blogspot.com/ tristan eldritch

            I would disagree – to be skeptical in the most general sense is to be doubtful about the validity of a given proposition. Everybody is very skeptical about certain things, and less skeptical about others. To be skeptical in a philosophical sense goes back to classical Pyrrhonic skepticism which was a position of general skepticism regarding all claims to knowledge. Wikipedia defines skepticism (well, I think) as generally “any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.” A thorough-going skeptic would find as much to be doubtful about, as much opinion stated as fact, and as many claims taken for granted within the current scientific mainstream and the “skeptical” movement itself as elsewhere. But the contemporary skeptical movement are scientific positivists, and are interested primarily in attacking religion and cultural marginalia like ufos and crytozology, rather than exercising any kind of general and rigorous skepticism. Richard Dawkins, for example, despite making numerous dubious historical and cultural arguments, and various bogus philosophical ones, was regarded more or less as a skeptical hero, until he attacked fellow skeptics by implying that being politely propositioned in an elevator wasn’t a particularly serious thing.

          • Haystack

            In my mind skepticism is an essential component of scientific positivism. In science, every claim is questioned–that is, submitted to experimental validation–before it is accepted. In this sense, to be skeptical of science is kind of a redundancy. If a scientist is taking too much for granted, then to say that s/he isn’t being skeptical enough is exactly the same as saying that s/he isn’t being scientific enough.

            To a large extent it seems like our disagreement is really over semantics; I think my definition is skepticism is somewhat more narrow than yours. I think of skepticism as not merely questioning, but rather evaluating evidence according to a rigorous logical standard. Since creationist arguments are based upon very obvious logical fallacies (I’d actually describe them less as “arguments” than “sound bites), I think of them as being contrary, but not skeptical.

            You can define skepticism so broadly as to include any type of questioning, however irrational or poorly-reasoned, but it seems to me that this waters down the term to the point that it’s not very useful.

          • http://2012diaries.blogspot.com/ tristan eldritch

            Yes, I agree that it’s a difference of semantics, but I’m using the extreme example of creationism to make the point that most people are very skeptical of things which are not philosophically agreeable to them, and much less skeptical of things which are philosophically agreeable to them – and this does not make them skeptics in any general sense. For example, a creationist suddenly becomes hyper-empirical regarding the proposition that human beings evolved from primates (demanding to SEE the process unfold in real time), and yet remains infinitely less empirically demanding regarding god’s existence; and, to give a contrary example, a Richard Dawkins might be hyper-empirical regarding the proposition that an infinite or near-infinitely intelligent entity might exist, and yet happy enough to appeal to the possibility of an infinite or near infinite ensemble of different universes existing, even though neither proposition is more testable or verifiable at present than the other; we demand more evidence for propositions which are unappealing to us, and less for those that appeal, and this again is not skepticism in any general sense.

            “In this sense, to be skeptical of science is kind of a redundancy”
            To be skeptical of the scientific method is perhaps a redundancy, but this isn’t what I was suggesting. The scientific method requires demonstration, testing, prediction, and proofs. Any kind of philosophy, however, inferred from the findings of the scientific method, but in no way demonstrable, testable, or provable according to the scientific method, is an entirely different matter. Atheism, metaphysical naturalism, and scientism are interrelated philosophical positions which underlie much if not all of contemporary “skepticism”; but as these make assertions which go beyond what can be demonstrated, tested, or proven by the scientific method per se, they are more worthy to be the subject of skepticism than the underpinnings of a putative “skepticism”.

    • Cocomaan

      Yeah, it seems to me that it is a club or identifier for assholes.

      Any kind of groupthink should be discouraged.

      • Microhero

        To discourage groupthink is to discourage group. that might be tricky with nearly 7 billion of us arround.

        Groupthink brought you worderfull things as.. everything humans ever did.

        What you should discourage is really groupnonthink :)

  • Elenchus

    I didn’t read it all so I could be way off, but what I’ve got from what I did read is that blind adherence to one dogma isn’t inherently better than the other so… he’s no longer solely choosing a side because both have faults.

    Seems like such an obvious idea, but the rhetoric these days is so markedly polarizing and confusing that I see more and more people just picking a camp because parsing all sides of any idea or issue is overwhelming.

    But yeah…no issue, person, or idea is ever just ‘one’ thing.

    • VaudeVillain

      “Seems like such an obvious idea”

      And therein lies the conundrum: it is frankly impossible to view all things without choosing a perspective and a frame of reference. One can certainly find a new frame of reference and get a new perspective, but you cannot simply unhinge yourself from context and view the sum of reality for its full meaning.

      What you can, and really should, do is to examine your frame of reference to better understand how and why it informs your perspective, and try to understand why those with different perspectives might see the same reality in a very different way.

  • BuzzCoastin

    any point of view
    trutherism to cryptozoology to Christianity to skepticism
    is a limit on the insight & understanding that can be obtained
    by not having a point of view

  • emperorreagan

    I’m an absurdist.

  • Haystack

    It comes across as patronizing the way he puts it, but I wholly agree with his point about marginalization and supernatural beliefs–note that I say “supernatural beliefs,” and not “minority beliefs,” because the truth is that pure skeptics/positivists are actually the ones in the minority. It’s extremely hard to sustain a belief in a universe that is fundamentally devoid of meaning, and those who do are the aberrant ones.

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is that science has become an ivory tower, where only a small class of highly trained specialists have the requisite knowledge to chart out the nature of the universe; something that all human beings have a natural impulse to do for themselves. Academics don’t usually feel that it’s part of their job to share their ideas with the public, or much less to open their projects to wider participation. On the other hand, your Graham Hancocks and Rupert Sheldrakes are always available, and frankly a lot more likable than your average ivy league professor.The so-called “fringe” or “alternative” offers a way for people to participate, as equals, in investigating reality; one that they don’t usually get from the scientific priesthood.

    I personally think that most alt science/history is bunk, but I respect what’s behind it–the drive to think for oneself, to insist that one’s life is, after all, meaningful. The skeptical movement mostly focuses on making crushing arguments for why people are wrong to hold supernatural beliefs, but it doesn’t address what is behind those beliefs; on the contrary, it tends to foster resentment by solidifying science as a fundamentally elitist activity.

    In other words, I agree that marginalization fuels a lot of supernatural belief, but I don’t blame people for holding these beliefs as much as I blame science for making them feel marginalized to begin with.

    • Matt Staggs

      I chose “minority” in preference to supernatural because I felt that it better represented my thought that what is or is not considered a supernatural belief is dependent upon one’s culture.

  • btwforever

    Who the hell is Stephen Bond and why should I care what he thinks? This is a silly argument which amounts to “I don’t like some arguments skeptics make; they don’t agree with me, so I’m taking my ball and going home….” Truly dumb….

    • Matt Staggs

      In light of your comment, I think the best follow-up question here would be “Why *do* you care what he thinks?”

      • btwforever

        No, that’s a silly question. This article dissing a tool of thought several millennia in the making and the basis of modern science and technology by “some random guy”, and who could be a member of the aluminum hat brigade, was given a voice by this website. Essentially, this website is trolling the public with trash. Not that I’m opposed to trolling but if I wanted to hear ignorant opinions on important and serious matters I’d watch Fox News or go to Drudge.

        • Matt Staggs

          I don’t think it’s a silly question, but thanks for answering it. What I gather is that your rejection is at least partly based upon your perception of the author’s lack of authority or expertise. It offends you that Disinfo gave him a voice, and you’re concerned about its effect on the public. I respect your opinions, but don’t share your interpretation.

          Mine is that this is no rejection of skepticism as a tool. The author, instead, is rejecting the appropriation of the term by a community that *he* feels is far more interested in swatting low-hanging fruit and ganging up on people for the easy ego boost rather than turning their critical thinking on thornier matters.

          It’s interesting that you’re offended at this piece, when you’re already browsing a website full of articles about aliens, Bigfoot and magic, among other outré topics. I’m glad you’re here though, nonetheless. There’s lots of other interesting stuff here, too, and you – like hopefully most of our other readers – probably find other things here that you enjoy. I hope that you continue to do so.

          In the meantime, I’d love for you to contribute your own work. I’ve not had much luck getting contributors from skeptical corners despite offering frequent invitations. You could – if you want – start with a retort to this piece. Feel free to drop me a line at matt@disinfo.com. I’d love to give you a voice here.

          • btwforever

            Back to the beginning: it is a silly question. 1.) Unless this site is your dropbox you accidentally made public you *want* me to come to your site and to engage. From the articles it is clear that some will be humorous, some will enrage, and some will kick off a week of study. I’m assuming that you expect the visitors to surf with the understanding that in the broad range of ideas presented some may not be to our liking but worth stepping out of our comfort zone to read. In short *you want me to care* and to care emotionally and intelligently. And keep coming back.

            2.) As to Bond’s argument, well, actually let’s analyse a sentence or two: “Objective reality in a liberal democracy might well be wonderful if you’re a media personality or a tenured professor in a leafy college town. But for most people, reality sucks.”

            This sentence is stereotypical nonsense. Yeah, having money is better than not. Duh. But that is not reality. The $55K average salaries around here for a tenured professor is not exactly nirvana. And media personalities rise and fall. How many can be seen on late night TV hawking all manner of dubious shit for a paycheck? How wonderful, really, is that? And how do we know what their reality is?

            But maybe I’m confused. Maybe Mr. Bond is making the argument that these narrowly defined “elites” are trying to sell “objective reality”.

            I live in an area with at least 8 “leafy” religious schools with all sorts of tenured professors whose job every single day is to deny “objective reality.” Add to that the number of professors in large public and private “secular” universities that seem to end up in the paper for doing or saying things that fly in the face of “objective reality” and you have a total refutation of this part of his declaration.

            And as for “media personalities”: do you think Richard Dawkins holds more sway than Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn? Dr. Oz? Or Jenny McCarthy? Or, for that matter, Oprah herself. I really can’t tell how many “media personalities” have embraced this sweet, sweet “objective reality” but I’m pretty sure those that have are probably in the minority.

            Worse, as far as I’m concerned, is the final portion of the quote: “But for most people, reality sucks.” Yes it does but without skepticism it sucks far worse. Imagine the person without health insurance that has an enlarged prostate. He sees the endless commercials for “urine flow” tablets hawked by “real” doctors and purchases them with his debit card. He is about to get a dose of objective reality via scam. The pills do no good, they won’t honor the guarantee and they continue to send more pills and charge his card every month. By the time he is finished with this charade he could have easily gone to the doctor and got a generic prescription for a medicine that would have worked! And it’s cheaper!

            But who teaches the pitfalls of falling prey to late night infomercials? Not the History, Science, Discovery or National Geographic Channels – they depend on scam advertising. Not “media personalities”: they might have a chance for Joe Thiesman’s gig! Science? Hell, late night infomercials feature “real” doctors and scientists!

            A deeper analysis is that the power structure, both political and economic, is engaged constantly in getting the masses to abandon “objective reality.” “Objective reality” kept telling the world that Iraq had no WMDs but the political structure of the US kept encouraging “most people” to engage in their most fantastical and maniacal fears. YELLOW CAKE FROM NIGER! GERM LABS ON WHEELS! It all turned out to be false – and the power structure was hardly surprised. But for “most the people” the resulting deaths, unstable middle east, and the trillion dollar (and counting) price tag is the resulting nightmarish “objective reality” for not using a good dose of skepticism.

            So saying “reality bites” is not an argument for “skepticism bites” nor is saying “being financially well off is better” a particularly bright insight. But that is the unfortunate tone this nonsensical essay sets and maintains. People want fantasy (I love science fiction) but we should learn to discern “objective reality” from “Star Wars.”

            And who is tasked to teach us how to discern objective reality? Well, I guess it won’t be Stephen Bond. But did he ever try? I don’t know, your website just presented his essay as if he were an expert on the subject. But this is more than Disinformation suckering me into reading about Bigfoot (that’s fun and harmless.) Nope, this guy says if you don’t like the tone of those teaching skepticism then ignore them! Don’t be a skeptic. Wallow in the supernatural. Have those acupuncture treatments. Just pray that suspicious lump away. Don’t get your kids vaccinated. Drink the koolaid! Go ahead, try a “free” bottle of Enzyte. What harm could it cause?

            And don’t let those skeptic meanies marginalize your beliefs just because you haven’t really thought through everything! Your common sense is all you need. You’re sick and tired of them forcing you to think about…things. Anyway, it can’t really harm me, can it? Surely not…

            (No, really, try Enzyte. Let me know how much it enhances your maleness…)

          • Matt Staggs

            Excellent work, and I’m glad we both agree that this is a site where you can find plenty of amusing stuff even if the occasional article sticks in the craw. Perhaps I may not have done a good enough job in expressing that. I’m glad you visit and I’m glad you’re here. I’m not sure that I agree with you on everything you’ve said here, but I agree with more than you might imagine. I think that when it comes to people like Dawkins and Randi I’ll have to quote the Big Lebowski: “[They’re] not wrong. [They’re] just assholes.”

          • btwforever

            But that’s my point – they aren’t assholes. My example really gives away my age: my parents used to grouse about the Beatles because they were “hard rock” which worried me a bit as a young teenager for fear they’d overhear my Rolling Stones 45s. I told that to my daughter and she didn’t believe me; she wasn’t even sure if the Beatles were rock music at all!

            The problem is that the Beatles totally skewed my parent’s Dean-Martin-loving world. For them the Beatles were wild and in your face with screaming, loud drum beats and suggestive lyrics. In short they were confrontational, not by threatening them with change, but in actually embracing the change. And that is scary. Contrast that with today where their music seems…ahem…eminently approachable.

            For many, Dawkins and Randi seem confrontational when they publicly state their positions. These are positions that many Americans consider blasphemous and uncomfortable because it calls one of the other “institutional acceptable” groups – churches, psychics, medical scam artists etc. – to task. Even now it rankles millions when an atheist dares to speak about their beliefs publicly.

            The thing that rankles many (and is obviously Mr. Bond’s problem and, I take it, yours as well) is that these people have a *following* as “media personalities” and as college professors. (I’d started reading Dawkins entertaining books on evolution long before I knew that he was an atheist.) Their public following sharpens the stakes in the confrontation and threatens your sense of polity. They might have even made you reevaluate one of your core beliefs which, of course, is very uncomfortable. Right now, the group that feels threatened is in the majority. They seek solace in attacking Dawkins, Harris, Randi, et al, because it feels *really good* to lob missiles of hate on minorities you feel might you might have to accommodate. Even when those missiles are simply a stupid retort like “those guys are mean!” Which, of course, was Mr. Bond’s article in a nutshell.

            If the Beatles had never “broken out” of German clubs and Liverpool bars my parents would never have to face the lyrics of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” Then maybe someday, years later they could read about them in the HuffPost as “The 10 Best Bands Nobody Ever Heard Of” and download the song they recommended (“Eleanor Rigby”). They would then feel ever so smug for “branching out” without ever having to weather any discomfort at all.

            Ironically, if Dawkins or Randi had never had a wide following they would probably be the darlings of such websites like Disinformation!

            And my Lil’Wayne loving son thinks the Rolling Stones are *hilarious*.

  • BrianApocalypse

    I think there are some very good points made here, though I don’t agree with all of it.

    In particular, the point about ‘skepticism’ as a form of identity valid only for 1st world privileged ‘nerds’. I’ve been involved in several social incidents where I’ve met people with beliefs that I knew were nonsense, but I decided to remain silent on because I could see that those beliefs were like bandages holding together the fragments of a broken personality. Shattering their beliefs would have served no positive function, and probably been destructive.

    If those individuals had been stable, reasonably well-rounded people with comfortable lives, then maybe it would have been a different story.

    I’m reminded of that scene in The Matrix when the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar are sitting around eating tasteless paste for sustenance. Yeah, they’re enlightened, they know the truth about their reality, but such a life would offer no reward for most people, and even the awakened ones themselves are pretty sick of it.

    • Matt Staggs

      (Please read this in the congenial, friendly tone I intend. I’m interested in conversation and this isn’t an attack on you.)

      “Awakened” and “enlightened” are troublesome words, though, aren’t they?

      Does holding beliefs that deviate from the accepted wisdom of society – or some enlightened minority living in what they believe to the the “real” real world (and most people do think that no matter what they believe, I’ve found) – necessarily mean that someone is “broken” and requires bandages? If so, who gets to decide this and what standard will it be based upon?

      Do you think that you have the power to shatter the beliefs of other people so easily? To continue that “Matrix” analogy, do you consider yourself their Neo, possessing, and burdened by the responsibility of, ultimate truth – a truth so undeniable that it might shatter those made of weaker stuff than yourself?

      • BrianApocalypse

        I was aware of the vague whiff of superiority in what I wrote, but it was difficult to avoid when discussing the matter at hand.

        The people I wrote about above who I described as “broken” were individuals who had experienced traumatic events and turned to some belief system in order to heal. The thin level of stability they enjoyed would have been destroyed if the veil of those beliefs had been pulled away, exposing the man behind the curtain. Hardcore skeptics of the kind described in the linked article might bulldoze ahead and shatter those beliefs, but I don’t think it’s always right to do so (and perhaps those that DO are motivated by the kind of semi-religious skeptical dogmatism being discussed?).

        Having beliefs that deviate from the norm doesn’t make someone ‘broken’, that wasn’t at all what I meant. I was only referencing very particular types of individuals I’ve encountered.

        In these particular cases, I know I could have destroyed those people’s belief systems as they were based upon very flimsy ground, and they never sought to test or question those beliefs. But they would have been left with very little after that process, and honestly I was afraid some of them might just kill themselves rather than face reality ‘unfiltered’ (in fact one of them had already had a failed suicide attempt and his subsequent recovery and stability was almost entirely thanks to adopting these beliefs). Again, I’m only talking about these particular individuals. Knocking down belief systems among “normal” people is far, far more difficult.

        It’s an extremely dichotomous position to be in, knowing the truth behind another person’s beliefs and yet being unsure if you should reveal it. The “religion” of skepticism, in this case, could be just as destructive as any other religion.

        • Matt Staggs

          Well put.

        • btwforever

          The is no religion of skepticism. Skepticism is merely a tool that undergirds all of modern science and technology. It has branched out to include history and economics which has greatly improved the reliability of modern texts. *And this happened 300 years ago.* But back then it was pretty much confined to a small intellectual elite. Today it has gone mainstream and many are very, very uncomfortable with it’s implications.

          • emperorreagan

            Skepticism is a philosophical position.

            What most people refer to as skepticism is just a sub-school of empiricism (not the philosophical school of skepticism as understood through most of history).

            Once such a philosophical position because dogmatic, differentiating it from a religious position is just a game of semantics. Scientific skepticism shares some aspects of a religion such as a narrative, a rigid set of rules, or a cultural system. Some people, dabbling deeper into the philosophical waters, seek to define a morality and ethics based in scientific skepticism, sharing that with religion as well. The only aspect it lacks is a means of orienting to the supernatural (which it obviously lacks, as it denies the existence of the supernatural).

          • btwforever

            Philosophical skepticism is a philosophy. Google “skepticism” then Google “Philosophical skepticism”.

            Skepticism is simply a toolbox of questions and procedures for discerning truth of a claim. Nothing more.

            Skepticism does not have a “rigid set of rules” because part of the procedure is to ask whether the set of rules they are operating under are right for the job! “Narrative”, “rigid rules” or “cultural system” are, to my knowledge, too broad to use as any distinct descriptor for religion. If you used those to define something as a religion then playing a video game is a religion!

            I think religion is usually defined as a set of beliefs which have unprovable and untestable assertions upholding and explaining supernatural claims. All the rest of the trappings, i.e. ceremonies, cosmologies, orthodoxy, etc. can occur spontaneously through human interaction and without any need for approach to the divine or supernatural. Morality plays no essential part in religion – it occurs naturally when people gather in groups to organize and secure society. (The religious almost always wants to be the group that decides morality but they almost never get to!)

            Philosophies and religions can seem to be interrelated but they are distinct because most philosophies eschew “belief” over the search for truth through some specialized reasoning. Also, most philosophies assume self-annihilation if the reasoning fails while religion assume a bedrock of divine guarantee. Therefore, not even philosophical skepticism is a religion!

            But the bottom line is that a person involved in a religious pursuit knows it is a religion. Somebody involved in skepticism knows they are not. Only the “pox on both your houses” folks are confused….

          • emperorreagan

            Philosophical skepticism is a school, indeed, as I pointed out. Scientific skepticism is a philosophical school, too. To argue otherwise is to ignore the origins of modern science in British Empiricism. It’s an orientation of thought with its own set of premises and suppositions. Scientists themselves may have little use for the philosophical underpinnings of modern organized science, but that doesn’t erase them.

            And as the author notes, the piece isn’t even about that, or skepticism as a tool as you prefer to think of it – it’s more specifically about “skeptic” as an identity. The realm of the new atheists, as they’re frequently referenced today, though you could call it the new skeptic movement or several other names as well.

            Religion is defined as you describe in the dictionary. But most serious critique isn’t talking about the dictionary definition of religion when they’re drawing parallels between religion and scientific skepticism. Religion is defined more broadly in anthropological & sociological examinations thereof, because the dictionary definition fails to describe what religion is and what role it plays in both society and the lives of individuals. That is where parallels are drawn.

            Somebody who identifies with the dominant philosophy of the day and can’t perceive and critique its trappings is less aware than the religious person who recognizes theirs.

          • btwforever

            In the late 60’s in the south it wasn’t unusual to hear “I want Negroes to have free education and all but this Martin Luther King has gone too far! The NAACP is just like the KKK!”

            That’s what your reply sounds like. There is *no* serious or academic discourse anywhere that draws parallels between skepticism and religion. Sure, there is a lot of religious folk trying to defend themselves by engaging in phony “academic sounding” discussions about how uncouth, rigid, pedantic and dogmatic skeptics are but that not surprising. They see the writing on wall; their world is crumbling. This kind of reaction is normal; just like my neighbors in the south in the 60’s.

            Mr. Bond, the author of the article, makes a surprisingly transparent admission that that is precisely what he’s trying to accomplish: kill the messengers while not attacking the message. He knows he loses if he takes on skepticism. So he goes after “media personalities” and college professors. And since we don’t know if he was ever a skeptic we have no way to measure his “change” to a non-skeptic skeptic(?) He could simply be some religious guy in sheep’s clothing or, hell, some troll raised to ridiculous heights by Disinformation!

          • BrianApocalypse

            Calling Skepticism a “religion” may be misleading, I used the term earlier to denote a kind of ironic cultural/philosophical bias that *some* skeptics suffer from.

            I think you’re giving away a little bit that bias yourself in the last paragraph you wrote. Stephen Bond makes it pretty clear that he is essentially still in accordance with most of the core concepts of ‘skepticism’ but has rejected it as a form of identity. That’s the essence of what’s being discussed here. Your reaction of speculating he may be a kind of religious troll in disguise for expressing these opinions is similar to how religious people (or anyone with extremely devoted belief systems) react when confronted by a heretic. Rather than accept that the heretic’s rejection of the beliefs in question could be the result of internal thoughts/reason, they often invoke some external force as the only possible rationale. A heretic is more dangerous to an established order than someone who opposes the order, but was never a part of it.

            When someone rejects Christianity, their former friends may say they’re influenced by Satan. In Islam, the punishment for apostasy is death. In conspiracy theory “Truther” culture, if a person comes to reject their former beliefs, they’re often labelled a shill or government agent.

            They are plenty of people who are not religious, but have issues with the culture of Skepticism.

          • btwforever

            I’d really not like to be in the business about speculating about Mr. Bond at all! I’d rather have Disinformation have more information about him posted before I read his article – which is really a poorly reasoned attack on people like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris.

            And that brings me to the point: trying to group everyone who’s a skeptic under some global banner is just an attempt at marginalization. Then instead of attacking skepticism you attack the so-called “leaders” in hope that the whole is rejected. That is *precisely* what Bond does in his article. He uses a lot of specious “this is equal to that because I say so” sort of reasoning. He makes outrageous claims he never gets around to proving (“all skeptics are neoliberals”) and never defines his terms.

          • emperorreagan

            Comte argued the humanity was following an evolutionary path from theology to metaphysics to positivism. Hegel argued down a similar path, as did Herbert Spencer and many others. Today, people like Nigel Barber make arguments about atheism replacing religion.

            Inherent in such arguments is a comparison. Its pretty direct – noting trappings of modern society that have supplanted functions previously held by religion and aspects of religion that are no longer necessary with the increase in security we have seen in the west.

            And this new orientation to the world carries the same cultural bias that those in the past have in many cases – just as the monotheist thinkers of the past carried in their writings.

            Pointing out the limits, biases, cults of personality, or other aspects within a cultural shift/new era of human thought is hardly the KKK versus the NAACP…though lumping everyone who has a critique into one group (supporters of a defeated religion) stinks of white supremacists’ tendency to label any white opposed to their ideology as a race traitor.

            Pointing out that some of these issues are the same issues that exist within the old paradigm (religion & specifically monotheism) that the new is seeking to supplant should hardly be troubling, if skepticism is nothing but a tool for orienting towards the world that changes its rule set to fit the circumstances. Things will adapt to address the critiques.

            And as for your final comment about the author’s “change” or never being a true skeptic, just a religious guy in sheep’s clothing: you might as well be a Muslim seeking to stone someone for converting to Christianity. The change the author describes (disliking the aesthetics and not wanting to be associated with that particular label) is about on par with the difference between the two big Abrahamic religions.

  • scepticwithoutdogma

    You need to be sceptical about the position of authority as well in order to be a true sceptic. Many so called sceptics today are nothing more than pseudosceptics, as Marcello Truzzi has stated. Career sceptics, like snake oil salesmen and neoconservative religionists, make good money and get some fame from their encores.
    Look at Shermer for example (who is clearly a neoliberal), for he had consistently denied manmade global warming. Though he had changed his position on that issue, this still goes to show you that biases and cognitive dissonance really do clearly play roles in how we view reality, and many self-proclaimed sceptics are no different than the people they criticize. Susan Blackmore’s book “The Elusive Open Mind” is devoted exclusively to the things I’d mentioned in this paragraph.
    ‘Rational’ Wiki (RW) is another example of bias of the highest order, and in fact I don’t know where to start here so I’ll have to cherry pick some examples. I’ll use the issue of determinism and freewill as one example. Both determinism and freewill proponents make strong arguments in my opinion, and there’s no clear evidence that either is more factual over the other, but yet RW clearly makes it obvious that the position of determinism is much more rational than freewill. It’s the same thing with feminism vs mens’ rights organizations. Mens’ rights organizations have very legitimate concerns, and not all MRA’s are conservative or filled with anti feminist traditionalists. It’s very clear where RW stands on that topic as well. RW has even wrote a very negative article about Sam Harris, whom I have a great deal of respect for. Harris gets bashed by RW simply for being open to some paranormal phenomenon, for which there’s some data (if one looks hard enough) to rationally support this position.
    I could go on, but I feel I’ve made a strong point here concerning the religious mindset of many career sceptics, sceptical organizations and their cult following. All of these phony sceptics today are in the end are not only hurting their cause, but they’re helping to strengthen the positions of religious extremists and far right conservatives. In fact many open minded religious or spiritual people, who happen to share the views of many sceptics politically, and who oppose religious dogma, are being led into the arms of religious extremists. These extreme religionists are fighting back through the use of school vouchers, voting for far right wing candidates and through other means.
    Concerning the unquestioning support of feminist dogma, I see the same things occuring here. While I do blame conservative anti feminist types for the very high rigid masculine standards that men are expected to adhere to, and for some oppression against women, the fact is (especially when you read many feminist articles looking at what they expect from men and look at the legislation they push for) that many feminists still hold men to the same old gender standards, while wanting to eliminate them for women. The feminist tenant is the belief that both men and women are equal, but yet if your actions demonstrate otherwise that phrase becomes nothing more than a misnomer. I’m aware there are some decent feminists out there, and some decent MRA’s too, but this rigid stance of mainstream scepticism condemning the male sex is even driving many liberal and non traditionalist men away, again into the arms of right wing extremist posing as mens’ rights advocates.
    Many former sceptics (such as Bond and others) have also rightfully stated that science, like politics, is funded by special interests, and is more interested in being politically correct. There are many people and organizations in science that rely on funding. Keeping certain pardigms intact is detrimental to the survival of many career obscurants. I’m a member of several websites where I have regular email contact with many intelligent scientists and other intellectuals, and they have repeatedly told me of the problems they’ve faced for merely criticizing mainstream positions on many different issues within their own fields.
    I would find it funny that some ‘sceptics’ would classify any other sceptic criticizing the movement as a whole as being a wolf in sheep’s clothing considering several facts. One of them being how so many sceptical entities have defended many neoconservative positions in the past, such as the denial of overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy to not only use 911 as an excuse to justify an illegal war of aggression in Iraq, but the fact that plans to invade Iraq were on the table long before 911, and I could also use the Gulf of Tonkin incidents prior to Vietnam too, so it does make me wonder if these mainstream sceptics today aren’t the ones we need to worry about.
    Hardcore religionists like to resort to name calling and using strawmans when their positions are criticized, so I’m waiting for the religionists on the other side of the fence calling themselves ‘free thinkers’ to accuse me of being a religionist, creationist, conspiracy theorist, new ager or far right wing conservative, neither of which I’m not by a longshot. In fact I’m very liberal politically. I would hope that the so called rational free thinkers calling themselves sceptics could give a counter argument based upon facts and detailed arguments, not ad hominems and strawmans. Though we all have some biases, including myself, I would still have to admit that true free thinkers are a rare breed today.

  • Cocomaan

    “There is no data that contradicts science”

    What…?

  • http://politicalfilm.wordpress.com/ polfilmblog

    Is this hit and run 5th grade gibberish supposed to correlate to some sort of meaning?

  • Matt Staggs

    Good work. I can’t agree with *everything* you say here (although you might be surprised to know how much of it I do), but you make some excellent points in a persuasive, well-written manner. I like it. Should you ever be interested in contributing here I’d love to have more. Drop me a line at matt@disinfo.com if the mood ever strikes.

  • http://2012diaries.blogspot.com/ tristan eldritch

    “Don’t be weak. As long as we are promised our rewards in heaven, we’ll endure the humiliations and abuses by the powerful as if they were god’s plan.” The tendency to seek escape or distraction from the material facts of one’s existence is a universal characteristic of human beings, and the tendency of ideologies and power structures to exploit this for the purposes of social control is just as common in the secular world as the religious; you are confusing correlation and causation. In the same way that religion offered a transcendent utopia in the New Jerusalem, the secular world offered the pipe-dream of an immanent utopia perfected by “the universal language of rationality”; in the same way a religion might offer the dream of a better life in heaven, capitalism offers the day-dream of the day you will be in the mansion of the hill, you will win the lottery, you will become famous, ect. The material secular world distracts people from the facts of their real existence with addictive media technologies, celebrity gossip, dreams of physical transformation/desirability, wealth, the culture industry, and so on. It’s the same fucking thing. You are pointing out deep-rooted problems of human nature, not problems of religion or of people who do not share your conception of that notoriously slippery and variable term “rationalism”.

    But you seem to be claiming that the so-called “skeptics” are politically active, and the irrationalists passive. To what extent is the contemporary “skeptical” movement involved in radical, world-transforming politics? None whatever, or certainly none that I’m aware of. The majority of skeptics come in two political stripes: “I like my money” libertarians like Shermer and Jillete, and basically apolitical liberals or “progressives” who devote their political energies to fighting cliqueish battles of exaggerated political correctness in the fishbowl of their own internet communities. I would take your claim seriously if modern “skeptics” devoted EVEN a fraction of the time they devote to marginal distractions like ufos and crytozoology to, I dunno, real issues like economics, banking, political corruption, and so forth. And as far as I can see, modern skeptics are just as prone to distraction and fantasy as anyone else: “Come on, lets fight the power and alter the material conditions of our existence for the better!” “Sure, just as soon as I finish up this steampunk Sex Positive Princess Leia cosplay I’m working on…..and once I finish humiliating these Bigfoot clowns on this forum that nobody reads except a handful of Bigfoot enthusiasts and Skeptics ….”

  • http://2012diaries.blogspot.com/ tristan eldritch

    (Continued) And what’s more, do you really take self-serving elitists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to be more politically radical figures than the Gandhi’s and Martin Luther Kings of the world? (I’m aware as you point out in your critique of “straw-maning”, that to disagree with Dawkins is to disagree with the laws of physics, but still.) Hitchens who in his latter years could only take the neocon cock out of his mouth long enough to drink a bottle of scotch and hypocritically preach that “religious comfort was as bad as drugs”? Dawkins who inherited wealth that goes back to slavery, and who has never once used his public podium to address issues of wealth or class-based inequality? Again to dare to differ with the laws of physics, the Great Randi who has said that drug addicts should be shown no compassion and left to die because they’re stupid, but HEAVEN FORBID a stupid person might hand over money to a psychic!?! The majority of politically and culturally transformative movements have come from irratationalist sources rather than rationalist ones: the Romantic and visionary William Blake railing against the exploitation and injustice of the Industrial Age; the spiritualist movement supporting the abolition of slavery whereas the Darwinists supported racial eugenics; the anti-war and environmental movements (and much else besides) emerging from the occult melting pot of the 60s counterculture. I will not be holding my breath waiting for the so-called “skeptical” movement to align itself to genuinely radical political activities and causes. John Gray: “If belief in human rationality were a scientific theory, it would long since have been falsified and abandoned.”

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