The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Podblack Cat’

Thoughts on Skepticon 3.0 and the “Skepticism Equals Atheism?” Discussion

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 23, 2010

Okay, for days now I’ve been trying to avoid getting sucked into the insanity that seems to have become the whole “skepticism equals (or doesn’t) atheism” can of worms which got opened (or re-opened) recently as a result of Skepticon 3.0 this past weekend.  I’ve already spoken my mind on this particular topic before, but for the sake of having my voice & point-of-view heard I want to just make a few quick points which I may have neglected in my earlier post…

First, I admit that I wasn’t at Skepticon 3.0, so I am going on secondhand reports when forming these opinions – so please bear that in mind.  Second, in the spirit of being fair to all of those involved, here are some views being expressed by those with a favorable or unfavorable (or perhaps ambivalent) view of how Skepticon 3.0 went down:

Jeff Wagg provides his criticism of the branding of Skepticon 3.0: Are Atheists Delusional? Thoughts on Skepticon3

JT Eberhard, organizer of Skepticon 3.0, responds to Jeff Wagg: A response to Jeff Wagg

PZ Myers jumps into the fray: I had no idea I was stepping into a controversy

Here’s an active thread on the JREF Forums about the issue.

And there are other active blogs whose authors are sharing their views on the matter, such as Blag Hag and PodBlack Cat. I’m more than certain that with the highly viral & mutagenic nature of modern Internet discussions, there are plenty of other blogs out there going on about the same thing, but I fear that if I have to read anymore on this particular topic then I’ll end up stabbing my eyes out with a rusty spoon.  So, rather than read more I will share my own thoughts…

1. Skepticism does not equal atheism: I think it makes no sense to make this assertion, for the simple reason that there are people who are both religious and excellent skeptics on many scientific subjects (for example, astronomer Pamela Gay) as well as atheists who are absolutely lousy skeptics on some very important subjects (for example, comedian Bill Maher).  Are a great many skeptics also atheists?  Yes, but it is not a requirement – allow me to explain further in #2…

2. We are not all equally skeptical of every topic – we all compartmentalize: Or, as I think magician & skeptic Penn Jillette so eloquently put it – “Everybody got a gris-gris”.  There are some topics about which we are more skeptical (or, perhaps, better at applying our critical thinking skills) than other topics.  This is basic human nature, folks; it is known in more academic circles as a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.  That is why we need a community of skepticism, to spread out all of that dissonance so that it doesn’t concentrate too much in any one area and thus blind all of us.  We all come to the table with our own biases & preconceptions – for some it is political, others religious, others some form of pseudoscience.  The sooner we acknowledge this basic fact of ourselves & our fellow skeptics, that fundamentally we are really no different from “believers”, the better.

3. Of course religion should be open to free inquiry – duh: I’ve said it before and will say it again… religion should not be “off limits” from critical analysis and skeptical thought.  Every topic should be on the table, including potential logical fallacies involved in some forms of atheist argumentation.  And no, I’m not conflating atheism with religious belief, I am simply stating that a bad argument is a bad argument, regardless of the source.

4. Disagreement & debate is healthy, but trash-talking isn’t: With the growth of the skeptical movement over the last couple of decades, we are seeing a natural consequence of that growth – the fact that we’ve grown so large that we are seeing healthy debate & dissent from within the movement itself on some key questions (say, on the question of religion).  Folks, this is a good thing!  I say this is good because it is a sign of the success we’ve had – we are no longer a movement of old, white, bald academic men who sit around in college classrooms rehashing the same ol’ same ol’.  We are spreading out, reaching deeper into society, getting our message out there, and running into the inevitable controversies which will confront any growing social movement.  I’m not sure why anyone is actually surprised that this sort of thing has happened – again, we skeptics are not fundamentally different than anyone else.

In short, we should and we must have these (and other) discussions.  I don’t mind the discussion & debate, but what does bother me is the tone taken by – in my opinion – too many skeptics.  Charges of “you aren’t a real skeptic”, “you’re just being a dick and alienating people”, and similar silly & immature sputterings have come lately from far too many people in the movement whom I have grown to know and respect over the years.  Seriously, folks, we are better than that; or, at least, we should be.  On some things, we simply have to agree to disagree, lest we eat our own.

5. To be broad based, the skeptical community should avoid myopia: Is the question of religion an important one?  Yes, it is.  Is it the only question upon which we should focus?  No, it isn’t.  I acknowledge that for some people addressing the flaws in religion is the most important thing, while for others it isn’t, and while for still others they’d rather not discuss it at all.  Personally, I am a fan of many of the prominent atheistic critics of religion who have written so prominently in the last few years, but my particular skeptical focus is different.  I am personally committed to simply getting as many people as I can to simply think more critically, no matter what the particular subject matter.  And the avenue I have chosen to follow is that of the formal educational system in the United States.

My concern is that the conversation of “skepticism equals atheism?” could potentially be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room, with the risk of snuffing out other aspects & issues within the skeptical movement.  If some people want to focus upon this particular subject, fine by me (remember #3 above) and more power to you; but if it isn’t my particular cup of tea to focus specifically upon this topic, don’t diss me for it.

Lastly, let’s not spend too much time & energy focusing upon the issues that divide us; I would much rather see a more constructive conversation on the things that we can agree upon than some of the nasty bickering I’ve seen of late from my skeptical colleagues.

Okay, there are my thoughts on the matter.  For what it’s worth.

Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Skeptic’s Class Now in Session: The 135th Skeptic’s Circle!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 23, 2010

Welcome students!  Now that we’re all gathered we can start this biweekly lesson on all things skeptical, paranormal, pseudoscientific, and just plain nutty.  I want to thank you all for allowing me, the Skeptical Teacher, to present these lessons on behalf of my skeptical colleagues.  It’s quite a long class, and I know there are other demands upon your time (the weekend is coming, after all), so let’s get started… notebooks & pencils out, please.  Pay careful attention, because you never know when or where what you learn in Skeptic’s Class will turn out to be useful 🙂

First off, since I am a teacher & I’m into all that education stuff, I want to let everyone know about a new organization dedicated to providing skeptical outreach & education to women, the Women Thinking Free Foundation (or WTF Foundation 😉 ).  I’m totally promoting this new organization not just because I’m a professional science educator who is interested in seeing more young women become interested in science & skepticism, but also because I happen to be on the WTFF board of directors (so promotion is, like, part of the job description).  Here’s more info about the WTFF…

Our goal as an organization is to bring science, skepticism and critical thinking to the women of the Midwest. We’re planning some great events, campaigns and outreach programs to help provide women with the tools to fight pseudoscience.

Our next lesson comes from Phil over at Skeptic Money, where he puts a new, modern twist on The Last Supper – he calls it Last Supper With Scientists, where rather than revering various religious figures from Christianity one can bask in the imagery of famous scientists both past & present who have made arguably greater contributions to humanity than most religious figures.  Can you guess who they are without peeking at Phil’s blog for the answers?…

Our next lesson comes from Down Under… Kylie at the well-known Podblack Cat blog has decided to share a few tidbits with us.  First, there’s her list of skeptical Podblack Finds For 18th April 2010 – which include, among other things, a controversy over something called “Clitoraid” (sounds sexy), a tutorial on scientific skepticism, and superstitions about the money spider.  Her second post is a very interesting take on a subject I’ve never seen addressed before – the issue of Deafness and Skepticism. Check it out!

The 360 Degree Skeptic then follows with a lesson that is of interest to many a skeptic, the question of Biblical fallibility, which is outlined in his post on Biblical Claims and Science. In a post that examines a more contemporary issue, he then goes on to explore the question of self-esteem as related to race and how “we would be wise to heed the quiet” of the neglected null in various forms of psychology research.

Next, Dr. Martin Rundkvist publishes a book review for us on how a U.S. sociologist travels to Denmark to study the Scandinavian view on religion and discovers that they pretty much don’t care about it, displaying a marked contrast to how the issue is often addressed (by both the religious & non-religious) in other parts of the world.  The book is by Phil Zuckerman and is titled “Society Without God”, and Dr. Rundkvist’s comments can be read here.

Following that we have a few posts addressing a variety of medical woo, specifically a pair of posts on that skeptics’ favorite – homeopathy (one from Skeptics North and another from Science-Based Pharmacy).  The folks at Skeptics North take on a popular homeopathic “remedy” called Traumeel while over at SBP they address the question of Homeopathy and Consumer Protection. In addition, the SBP takes some time to examine some… interesting claims regarding whether or not green tea & chili peppers can burn fat.

Our next guest is new to both blogging and the Skeptic’s Circle!  Please welcome the librarian from the Labyrinthine Library, who is talking today about how recent earthquakes, volcanoes, and other assorted natural disasters are not evidence for The End of the World. In addition to referencing some nice earth science, the librarian also does a cool historical analysis on the topic and concludes – surprise! – there is nothing to fear.

Last, but not least, over at the Stuff and Nonsense blog we have a very informative post regarding how some doctors are continuing to push various forms of anti-vaccination woo.  Some of these woo-ish arguments are new to me, so if battling anti-vax is something that interests you, head on over to read all about it.

Well, that’s all for now, thanks for attending.  I hope you took good notes, because there’s going to be a quiz!  Yes, I know I didn’t tell you that ahead of time, but you – as a dedicated student of skepticism – should be prepared to stand up for science & rationality at any time, announced or not.

See you in a couple of weeks, on May 6th, for the next class over at 360 Degree Skeptic! 🙂

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Skeptical Teacher on Skeptic Zone Podcast!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 1, 2010

This past Labor Day weekend, I attended Dragon*Con 2009 in Atlanta, where there was a really groovy skeptic track. One of the panels in which I participated was “Psychology and Skepticism in the Classroom” – participating were me, Kylie Sturgess (author of the Podblack Cat blog), D.J. Grothe (new president of the JREF), Prof. Barbara Drescher, and Dr. Martin Bridgstock. During the panel we discussed a variety of topics related to skepticism, critical thinking, and education, and our panel discussion was followed up by a lively Q&A session.

The fine folks over at the Skeptic Zone Podcast have now hosted the audio of the discussion.  Go on over and check it out…

Posted in education, psychology, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Textbook stickers for all your educational needs

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2009

If you’ve kept track of various creationist-related nonsense over the years, then you no doubt have heard about their attempts to insert “disclaimer stickers” into biology textbooks.  For example, in the case of the infamous Cobb County debacle, here’s what the sticker looked like…

Of course, this is just another variation on the tired, old creationist tactic where they say schools should “teach the controversy” or “teach all views” and “let the kid’s make up their minds”.

In response to this idiocy, some skeptics & educators have decided to fight fire with fire: by providing textbook stickers for all manner of subjects.  This is done partly as a joke, but the serious side is to illustrate just how stupid & intellectually vacuous this creationist argument really is – here’s a link to the stickers (image below)…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Skeptic Zone Podcast: “Darwin’s Bulldogs” Panel from Dragon*Con

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 2, 2009

I wanted to pass along the audio of a panel discussion I moderated at Dragon*Con this past Labor Day weekend – the title of the panel was “Darwin’s Bulldogs: Teachers on the Front Lines” and it was about creationism & how to deal with it in public schools.  I proposed the panel, and I was joined by Kylie Sturgess of the Podblack Cat blog, C. Kevin Barrett (a writer and biological anthropologist), Martin Bridgstock of Griffith University and author of the forthcoming book ‘Beyond Belief: Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal‘, Barbara Drescher, a cognitive psychologist and lecturer at California State University, Northridge, and our guest of honor, Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

The audio file is available at the Skeptic Zone podcast website; it’s their October 30th recording.  Hat tip to Kylie Sturgess at Podblack Cat for passing this along to me 🙂

Click here or on the image below to download the podcast…

Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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