Are Atheists Delusional? Thoughts on Skepticon3
Yes, a provocative title. When I see a question like that, I presume that the author has already concluded in the affirmative and is about to explain why I should believe as s/he does. However, I only put that title there for a reaction. I don’t believe “atheists are delusional” and I think the question is rather silly.
However, there’s a talk scheduled for Skepticon3 entitled “Are Christians Delusional?” and while I don’t know what presenter Richard Carrier will present there, I do know that he’s an outspoken atheist and critic of Christianity. I have no problem with Richard or his work. In fact, what little I know of it leads me to believe that we agree on most things. But the name of the event is Skepticon, and I’m unsure about that topic’s relationship to skepticism.
No matter, let’s look at some of the other topics being presented:
- David Fitzgerald: The Ten Thousand Christs and the Evaporating Jesus
- Victor Stenger: The Abuse of Physics by Theists and Spiritualists
- J.T. Eberhard: Dear Christian
Well, wait a moment. I obviously haven’t seen these talks, and I can see how Vic Stenger’s talk could be appropriate for a skeptics conference, but this really looks like an atheist conference to me. In fact, take a look at this flyer. Again, looks like an atheist conference. In fact, it looks like an anti-Christian conference.
But then look at THIS flyer. That looks much more like a skeptics conference to me, despite the overwhelmingly atheist line up. A few weeks ago when I first learned of Skepticon, I wrote to organizer JT Eberhard about my confusion. Here’s our correspondence:
Jeff to JT:
Hello.. I just moved to the Midwest and was looking for things to visit, and I came across Skepticon. As a skeptic, it sounded like something I should definitely attend, but when I looked at the schedule and listened to your video (posted on Hemant’s site) I learned that it was actually an atheist convention.
I have no problem with that at all, I’m just curious why you named the event “Skepticon” rather than “Atheistcon” or something that would better describe the content.
JT to Jeff:
Skepticon touches on a myriad of skeptical issues, but focuses primarily on religion as we are in the Midwest where religion is thick and problematic. What’s more, unlike some other organization, it is the opinion of most of our organizers that skepticism leads directly to some brand of atheism/metaphysical naturalism, so the name “Skepticon” fit in with precisely what we were wanting to do with the conference.
Hope that helps clear things up. :)
And I find this reply very, very disheartening. I don’t believe the schedule shows “a myriad of skeptical issues.” The e-mail is an admission that the organizers of Skepticon believe that Skepticism = Atheism and that the event is designed to combat religion, specifically Christianity. I believe that if you equate skepticism with anything other than science, you’ve missed the point. As for Christianity, skepticism has nothing to say except about testable claims associated therein. Bleeding statues? Yes, skepticism comes into play. Jesus rose and is in heaven? Seems unlikely, but there’s not a lot more to say.
I want to be very clear on this following point. My hat is off to JT and the other organizers for putting on what will be the largest event of its type ever. With 1800 people, it’s larger than any skeptics conference I’ve been to, including TAM and CFI’s World Congress. To have such numbers in only three years is a truly remarkable accomplishment. They have a stellar line up of speakers, and I’m sure much good work will be done towards fostering the atheist community. The politically-active religious right in this country need to be opposed, and Skepticon3 looks to do that in spades.
But it’s not skepticism.
The pro-atheist cause is an entirely different endeavor with a community that overlaps strongly with the skeptical community. Skepticism is about drawing conclusions that are proportioned to the available evidence. That’s it. And I think keeping the two things separate if vitally important.
As Reed points out in his IndieSkeptics article, atheists (and free thinkers and secularists and scientific naturalists, etc.) are fighting a cultural war in this country. It’s a very important war, and I’m a combatant as well. Atheists have been bashed and had religion forced on them forever, and it’s shameful to allow it to continue in a country purporting to be “free.” But to conflate atheism with skepticism dilutes atheism and destroys skepticism.
And I fear the damage has already been done. I see a lot of good people leaving the skeptical community because they’re uncomfortable with the tone and disappointed with, frankly, the lack of skepticism presented by many people.
I’ve been shouted at and lost friends over this issue. I’ve been told that I’m being pedantic and that I’m “harming the cause” with my navel gazing. That could be, but I have no choice. I’m a skeptic, and I don’t see that skepticism must lead to atheism. I’m convinced that a litmus test over who’s a skeptic and who isn’t based on religious belief is harmful to both movements.
To conclude, I want to reiterate: Bravo to JT and crew. I hope your event is successful and continues to grow. It’s an important event, and it could do a lot of good towards promoting a secular world. But again, I urge you… please change the name to AtheistCon or something more accurate.
Reader, your thoughts are always welcome in the comments below.