Posted: My atheism talk on skepticism

I’m off to NECSS! The Northeast Conference of Science and Skepticism this weekend to talk about “Sounds Sciencey“. Should be an interesting time.

Just yesterday, PA Nonbelievers released a video of my talk from last September at their conference. Now, I was hesitant to speak at an atheist event because promotion of atheism is NOT what I do. I do skepticism. But Brian graciously allowed me to talk about whatever I wanted so I talked about skepticism in the crossover – the skepto-atheism conflation that was happening. It’s still happening. Just this past weekend, Matt Dillahunty gave a talk about skepticism and atheism. He is a great speaker, but the message, I felt, was flawed and weak. While it sounded fantastic, if it was written out, it would not stand up the same.

Skepticism is NOT atheism. He pooh-poohed the Media Guide to Skepticism. He even got the name of the website wrong. But I didn’t expect to see an uptick in downloads regardless because he told people what he thought about it so it was not an encouraging promotion of the document.

But THAT’S the thing. SKEPTICISM IS NOT ATHEISM. Atheists are going to possibly have an issue with it because it’s not written for them. This was a community document, an ideal, for skepticism. 

So, I really don’t care much that the atheists (or at least one) thought it gave religion a free pass. But if you want a document that shows you what skepticism is about, I think it’s a decent start. It is available here.

Here is my talk linked below – I mention Bigfoot, with Matt Moneymaker sounding sort of religious in his pronouncements about Bigfoot knowledge. I also mention indirectly the disagreements and animosity going on the skepti-sphere. Things have calmed down a little bit. But divisions are deep now. Camps are entrenched. I talk about coalitions (JREF coalition workshop) and a strong community to move forward and do things. I still think that’s important.

So this weekend at NECSS, one of my goals is to strengthen my network. That’s never a useless activity.

Let me know what you think about whatever I say. I do try to listen.

5 thoughts on “Posted: My atheism talk on skepticism

  1. As this was being recorded, I’d never heard of Sharon Hill, had had no contact with anyone in the Skeptical “Community” and was hugely tempted to unplug from the Internet and go back to my simple life of reading and gardening. It’s odd, but many of the phrases and ideas you relate in your speech, I’d thought of on my own, some time ago, or more recently. We are clearly on a very similar “Wave Length”, so to speak. You’re an exceptionally good public speaker, Ms. Hill, and anyone who would seek to displace you from a position of leadership in Skepticism and/or Atheism, as a speaker, as a leader, obviously either doesn’t really care about enlightening Humanity, or is seriously deluded in regard to tactics. You should be granted a place on the stage based on your skills and intellect and your powers of reason. Very little else should ever be a factor. You put your best players into the game, so to speak. And you are one of the best, Sharon. Quite clearly.

  2. Sharon that was a great talk. Refreshingly clear headed.

    I totally agree with your views that Atheism and Skepticism are simply overlapping venn diagrams and not to be conflated. This first became clear to me a year of so back while at one of Mick Nugent’s Atheists in the Pub meetups in Dublin. I was chatting to a lady about something and I verged off into a drunken monologue about Homeopathy, to which she replied that she thought it worked and that she was not a skeptic (in the “movement” sense). And of course, why should she be? Atheism is simply that – a-theism – and does not necessarily denote other beliefs or political orientations.

    On the other end of the spectrum, logic as practiced by some skeptics is only as good as the axioms it is based on. If something is taken as a given, for instance “the patriarchy”* for the Social Justice Warriors, it becomes a gravity well around which all other truths orbit. We all have these of course, and they are insidious precisely because they represent invisible assumptions that if you examine, often have flimsy foundations.

    Marshall Mcluhan once said that “if you asked a fish to describe its environment, the last thing he’d mention would be the water”. In the same sense, I think there is a great deal of complacency in skeptic circles regarding certain political philosophical assumptions we harbour, particularly relating to consciousness, that banjax any meaningful discussions with believers. But, as online discussion has become a points-scoring memetic mini-game, meaningful dialogue is rare. I’ve witnessed skeptics moving goalposts when discussing religion or spirituality just so the “other team” can’t score any points. I can only imagine how that looks to outsiders.

    Not all religious people are cartoon buffoons like Ray Comfort, or snake oil businessmen like Hal Lindsay. Some of the deepest and most interesting conversations about philosophy I’ve had have been with friends who are Catholic and Muslim. In fact, despite me remaining staunchly atheist, we’ve come to agree on a number of topics in principle, albeit things I’d explain in terms of neurology or complexity theory rather than divine agency. This is why I cannot get behind the message of Richard Carrier’s recent Atheism+ talk, where he discussed “making more Atheists”. Really?

    The “you’re a dumbass” approach that the Atheist community is taking was always going to be a disaster. The Cut and Paste warriors that pick on the most ignorant believers they can find and mock them as cruel sport, simply makes us look like a shower of arseholes. Much of the chaos and bad feeling of the last few years in the Skeptic / Atheist communities, are the result of this nasty approach of engagement turned inwards to catastrophic effect.

    As such, I delighted to hear you say in your talk that skepticism should be about “telling people not what to think but how to think”. This is precisely the approach that must be taken lest we fall into the tar-pit of groupthink.

    Anyway, I look forward to your further talks / blogs!

    *Truly patriarchal societies *do* exist in places, and I’d say exist in a vestigial form in the West to greater and lesser extents. But like many other useful academic phrases, it has been rendered meaningless by blunderbuss pejorative application to all and every situation.

  3. Skepticism is Not atheism like sugar is Not kool aid 🙂

    atheism, besides a pointless bigot infested word, is nothing more than an irrelevant label attached to a skeptic turned non believer in the supernatural

    The non belief in leprechauns has no A-leprechaunist label.

    The non belief in Unicorns is Not A-unicornist 🙂

    The non belief in a god, is atheist. Wow, a non belief in the supernatural that gets such a divisive a word 🙂

  4. I watched the video and I agree with RDW. I was interested in the yet further realms of these types of communities. After listening to your presentation, I realized the people at Coast-to-Coast-AM would just love you.

    Thank you for posting this, makes me wonder about developing presentations for myself; who knows, maybe I’ll end up at PA conference. Good Luck to You

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