1. This is a good presentation by Jamy, and I agree with almost all of his positions. All I would add is that whereas not all atheists are agnostics, all agnostics are atheists. Just as I stick to methodological naturalism over the straw man dogmatic naturalism that the believers try to use against us, I try to stick to scientific skepticism with Jamy and the idea that teaching how to think is better than trying to teach what to think.

  2. Yes, Q, a heartfelt and persuasive plea.

    It is frustrating to see some come along and to try and leverage “another’s brand”. Richard’s recent success as thinker of the year demonstrates the power of the the Atheist brand with which he has become synonymous in the media. That is too tasty not to have someone come along and add a few things of their own. Not that a person may own such a brand but the simple, successful, clearly expressed idea may be imagined to deserve and be further empowered by its clear singular identity..

    Where the clarity of the Skeptical brand runs into a little potential trouble though is when the tent flap is opened to the faithful, religious and political others. True skepticism really does sit uncomfortably with labels that connote swathes of possible dogma, so Libertarian Skeptic bodes as ill as a Libran Atheist. The label Libertarian cannot stand in this conjunction even if you claim to be (and are) the one true Libertarian. The label will become a source of mis-thinking and misuse in others.

    The saving grace of Skepticism though here is the greater degree to which we are all failed skeptics, much more so than being failed Atheists (if we claim such) or Humanists (ditto). Every minute of our lives we have an irrational thought or hope. The battle against the just good enough wiring of our brains is endless and necessarily collective.

    I see a great similarity between a Skeptics meeting and that of Alcoholics Anonymous. Come in, Brother. Sit down. Is that Ayn Rand I can smell on your breath?

    Finally, it is wrong to argue that these things (political/religious identities) are simply personal values beyond rational access if someone insists on using and promoting such a label. I am some sort of liberal by inclination but almost never admit to it or use it any longer. Currently I’m working with “anarcho-pragmatist with a strong tendency to democratic and consensus delivery”….but I’m starting to feel a bit hemmed in again.

  3. Oh, I also think a skeptic has every right to say at the moment, “Fuck Bill Maher”

    But we live in hope. The signs are promising on his other iffy front

  4. In reply to #4 by Quine:

    I don’t resent Bill M., just some of his misguided ideas.

    Coming from this month’s free will discussion “misguided” makes an interesting comment. Jamy would possibly agree and add his “insufficiently process-guided thinking”. is the failure.

    Skepticism it could be argued is entirely about enhancing “free will” …well…autonomous decision making.

  5. What part of Humanist on the Vin diagram would not fit in either Atheist or Skeptic, as I can’t think of any. Maybe I need to view the video again. Also, as a skeptic, I prefer to concentrate on the Atheist cause because that is where most individuals need to become enlightened. Once they get past “god did it”, they can then start to trust science in other areas that they used to cast out routinely because of their imaginary friend. BTW, I still like Bill Mahr even if he is wrong in some other areas. His Atheist/Progressive views overlap that Vin diagram a lot and makes him a valuable asset to all three categories. His own advice was to concentrate on that which we have in common and not fight on the fringes, so his comment doesn’t quite jive with his advice.

  6. The process versus conclusion argument was interesting.

    I disagree with Jamy’s point that this necessarily leads to people being able to conclude – without censure from sceptics – that there is some supernatural entity.

    Despite Jamy’s plea that sceptics do not give religion a special pass – the argument regarding different methods of thinking can come to different conclusions – seemed to me to be no more than a re-hash of the trope ‘there are different ways to find truth’ so oft repeated by theists.

    By and large it is also, surely, a given that theists arrive at their conclusions by using thought experiments – in which they use creative language. Don’t get me wrong, Jamy is right to say that creativity is a good starting point for discovery. Nevertheless, it is also important to point out, as Richard Feynman did, “The first rule is not to fool yourself.”

    This, it seems to me, goes to the very heart of scepticism. If, as Jamy claims, questioning the process is at the heart of scepticism, then we should be questioning that thinking. In addition, the idea that any argument for a supernatural entity is an un-testable claim, is only true up to a point. It falls down at least three ways:

    • A supernatural claim can be tested in the same way it is founded – by and through the application of philosophy. In particular logic is indispensable to the sceptic here.

    • Theists almost never claim knowledge of the supernatural without reference to the Real World. By definition this lays them open to challenges of Real Evidence.

    • Inevitably, as supernatural claims are derived from thought experiments – or more straightforward forms of charlatanism (as Jamy notes, citing Houdini) – they rely on faith (pretending to know or, through delusion, believing things that the Supernaturalist does not, actually, know – just what they think). As Hitchens said: “What can be claimed without evidence can just as easily be dismissed without evidence.” Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence.

    That said, Jamy makes a good presentation – we do need to accept that sceptics, atheists and humanists have overlapping rather than wholly coincident agenda.


  7. In reply to #9 by AfraidToDie:

    Hi AfraidToDie,

    What part of Humanist on the [Venn] diagram would not fit in either Atheist or Skeptic, as I can’t think of any.

    If you were an Atheist who embraces absurdity you would be the antithesis of a Humanist – though you wouldn’t agree with that description.

    Likewise an Atheist-Nihilist would find it possible to reject Humanism in all forms.

    It is possible to be an Atheist-Anti-Theist or an Atheist-Humanist or even an Anti-Theist-Humanist. But the Atheist-Anti-Theist and the Anti-Theist-Humanist would find plenty to argue over.

    If this is beginning to sound like I’m picking at straws that’s because I am. Jamy’s diagram was not meant to be taken literally. He was merely trying to illustrate that if you call yourself Sceptic, Humanist, or Atheist you will find lots in common with the others – but there is no equivalence Atheist ≠ Humanist ≠ Sceptic ≠ Atheist etc..

    The reality is probably that the areas of disagreement are tiny. The number of Atheist-Nihilists for instance is vanishingly small.

    Also, as a skeptic, I prefer to concentrate on the Atheist cause because that is where most individuals need to become enlightened.

    I agree. One of the things that stopped a good presentation being a great presentation was a lack of understanding of the outside influences on Humanism, atheists and skeptics. People are pushing for the amalgamation of effort because all three groups are feeling the rise of their political influence. I also agree with Jamy, that it is important to keep the three approaches separate where possible as it broadens our demographic catchment.

    For me, Jamy could have laid out a clearer picture on political priorities – and your response seems to bear that out. However, I’m prepared to admit that his rhetoric may have been more productive with some people.

    BTW, I still like Bill Maher even if he is wrong in some other areas.

    Me too. Jamy has had a go at Bill Maher before over vaccines, but judged on what Bill Maher has said since he slipped up on vaccines he has changed his mind and it seems to me that Jamy is being a tad mean-spirited here.

    His own advice was to concentrate on that which we have in common and not fight on the fringes, so his comment doesn’t quite jive with his advice.

    Agreed. Also, Bill has a huge following – it’s counter-productive to simply insult the guy.


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