So if you’re a skeptic, you’ve probably heard by now about how PZ Myers celebrated Cinco De Mayo by “officially” divorcing himself from the “skeptic movement.” The discussion leading up to this, like all attempts to rigidly define skepticism (that includes ad hominem wrangling by true believers of various stripes, the ol’, “that doesn’t sound very skeptical!” debate technique), has been annoying the piss out of me for some time.
Apparently it’s annoying Myers too, because yesterday he reached the point of pretending to shuck off skepticism as if it’s some kind of dirty robe. He then proceeded to point at the robe and denigrate it by calling skepticism a mere subset of science. Indeed, almost implying that it’s not just a subcategory of scientific acumen, but an inferior version, almost like a pseudoscientific discipline, to be treated with disdain.
[...] I will no longer consider myself a “skeptic”. I am a scientist [...]
Not that he’s making obvious anger motivated attempts to push anyone’s buttons or anything. ( <— this is sarcasm )
What is Myers so angry about? Like any word or name that has accumulated some power, there is considerable debate over what exactly Skepticism is and what it means. What are the goals of the skeptical movement? Specifically, in this case, should Skepticism include atheism, i.e. the opposition of religion, whether or not that religion steps on scientific toes as creationism and other aspects of religion do?
I think it’s a discussion worth having. I don’t think it’s worth bickering over. We have to remember that though Skepticism has its various institutions that make up our “thousand lights” as Steven Novella called them (and I thought it was kind of a nice turn of phrase but PZ made fun of him for it, like a callous teenager), what it does not have is an official governing body, a set of tenets or rules, or an official roster.
This can be both problematic and beneficial for a large group of opinionated people of generally above average intelligence, who value independence and free thought but also might struggle with more ambiguous concepts–or at least find them less tasteful. Incidentally, if this group I’m describing also had a taste for debate and had been honing their skills at it for some time, its members might get tired of shouting at chess-board-crappers and savor a real challenge, an argument with another skeptic once in a while. Shocking, I know.
So there are people who might still be religious in some way who are still perfectly good Skeptics when attacking other problems. There are people who are interested in debunking Bigfoot claims, and there are people who want to stop homeopaths. There are people who specifically want to fight religion, even where it doesn’t intrude on established scientific knowledge. Some people will blur these lines, and some will still have some cognitive dissonance operating on them when they look at some topics. At the end of the day, we are only human, and I don’t see the problem with any of this, nor do I see a reason why we should exclude any of it from the “label” Skepticism.
By the same token, I don’t think there’s a Skeptical portfolio that every good Skeptic must follow. “Here we tread. Here we don’t.” No. Maybe some of our organizations do that. And good for them. I don’t see a problem with that either, and I would hope those organizations are all smart enough to recognize that none of them in themselves encompass the entire breadth of what Skepticism is or represents.
Is atheism a form of Skepticism? I would define atheism by breaking it up: “a” as in “no”, “not”, “a lack of”, and “theism” as in “belief in a god or gods”. Atheism is a refutation of claims made without evidence. Is that skepticism? Yes. I think so. Is it necessary that we’re all atheists? Or that we all tackle religion in order to get our Skeptic Card? No. I don’t think so. Does a lot of this debate boil down to a metaphorical dick measuring contest (and I hope those of you in “atheism plus” will forgive my genitocentric slurs)? Probably.
So, how about we stop being children and recognize that some things aren’t as clearly defined and quantifiable as we wish they were, and that opinions are like assholes, and there are a lot of assholes in Skepticism (even if they’re my kind of assholes)?