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Is There New Atheism at the JREF? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by D.J. Grothe   

The other day, I was sent a thoughtful email from a former supporter of the James Randi Educational Foundation who expressed concern that under my leadership the JREF has taken "on a very pointed role as an atheist organization." It seemed to him as if I appear to insist that "that skepticism *must* lead one to atheism." He stated he would no longer be financially supporting the Foundation, which is troubling, considering the JREF's increased need for support as we continue to expand our programs. I want to publicly address some of his concerns here, in case others share his views.

 

It is certainly true that I am an outspoken and enthusiastic atheist, and that I often criticize extreme religion in talks and articles for its harmful effects on believers and on society. But have I made the JREF into an atheist organization? (That some have argued I have also somehow turned it into a homosexual organization will remain unaddressed.)

 

While theism — belief in god — is a supernatural claim, it is not our primary focus at the JREF. Instead, we focus on advancing critical thinking in general and skepticism about pseudoscience, the paranormal, and the supernatural in particular, especially when the supernatural beliefs are testable. We do this in a number of ways, including:

 

  • digital outreach (such as e-publishing, supporting podcasts such as Skeptics Guide to the Universe and For Good Reason, and distributing top-notch video programming online for free)
  • regional skeptics workshops (in cities such as St. Louis, Chicago and Louisville, so far -- these three were on dowsing, I might add -- not on religion/atheism)
  • the JREF speakers bureau (we sent our speakers to events in dozens of cities this year throughout New Hampshire, Florida, Nebraska, Georgia, California, Florida, New York, Missouri, Illinois and British Columbia, with not one of them once speaking on religion or atheism. In addition, Randi recently did a speaking tour of European cities; his topic was not atheism)

 

The JREF also works to advance our mission by providing resources to a growing network of local skeptics groups, and to teachers through our new grants for educators program and through scholarships to academics who advance skepticism in their work.

 

In addition, as announced this last July in Las Vegas at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, we are expanding our famous Million Dollar Challenge, our chief means of raising awareness about irresponsible paranormal claims in society and their harmfulness, with plans to take live Million Dollar Challenge demonstrations on the road, and to increase MDC video content online.

 

I should reiterate that all of these new programs we launched since I have become president of the Foundation in no sense focus on atheism. (Not that atheism is something we are ashamed of or try to hide, mind you; it is just that atheism is largely beside the point of our organization).

 

But are we actually an atheist organization in another important sense? Since I apply skepticism equally to belief in ghosts and to belief in the Holy Ghost, I am a skeptic of the claim that God exists. I am an atheist. And James Randi has been an outspoken atheist for years. Does this therefore mean that the JREF is an atheist organization by default, and that therefore there is no room at the JREF for religious believers who would like to partner with us to advance critical thinking about pseudoscience and the paranormal?

 

At the most recent TAM, we increased the number of theists and non-atheists on the TAM program to the highest number yet, and invited some to blog on the relationship of skepticism to religious belief on randi.org. As an example, check out Pamela Gay's thought-provoking piece on the topic.

 

Yes we are atheists at the JREF, most of us. But as individuals, not as an organization. In this sense, the JREF is no more an atheist organization than the U.S. is a Christian nation merely because the majority of folks in this country are Christian.

 

The email from our supporter mentioned a couple other topics I think merit attention, including the on-stage discussion I had with Richard Dawkins at TAM 8. Richard Dawkins is one of the world's leading public intellectuals, and easily the world's most influential and important atheist. He is a good friend to the JREF. Some have argued that inviting him to TAM 8 automatically turned it into an atheist conference. That seems like sloppy thinking to me; not only had he spoken at TAM years before, but the religious beliefs of a speaker do not solely determine the focus of a conference.

 

In the nearly 250 interviews I have done over the years on Point of Inquiry and For Good Reason, I have often been characterized as something of a "devil's advocate," and many listeners seem to like my approach. In the on-stage discussion with Dawkins at TAM 8, which he requested we do, I argued that skepticism and atheism are not identical, nor even necessarily continuous, citing as examples Bill Maher and Joe Rogan. Bill Maher is an atheist, but in my view he is not sufficiently skeptical since he peddles a kind of undue credulity in complementary and alternative medicine while fomenting suspicion of "Western medicine"; Joe Rogan is an atheist, but denies the moon landing as a hoax.

 

To me, being atheist is not enough. I suggested in the Dawkins discussion that being a mere atheist is less a worthwhile goal than being a skeptic more broadly. In no sense was I trying to argue that if you are a skeptic you will necessarily be an atheist, although I do personally favor a consistently applied sort of skepticism where no questions or claims, not even personal religious ones, are protected from scrutiny.

 

(I spoke about why atheism may result from skepticism but that it is not a sufficient condition for skepticism, and therefore why a more broadly applied skepticism is more important to me than mere atheism, in my keynote address at NECSS earlier this year.)

 

In his email, our thoughtful and concerned donor also argued that skepticism — both as a movement and a way of looking at the world — ought not to become an ideology, nor merely something like a "statement of non-bleliefs." I completely agree, and spoke about this exact topic last weekend at the Skeptics Track at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia. I believe skepticism is best when it is a method of inquiry, and not a doctrinaire set of conclusions. As such, the JREF has begun working harder to reach out to thought-leaders who are not necessarily identified with skepticism nor the JREF but who advance critical thinking and the method of skepticism in their work. This is one of the reasons there were a number of new faces on the program at TAM this last year.

 

I hope that addressing this again on randi.org helps clear up any possible misunderstandings about whether I am turning the JREF into an atheist organization.  I hope that skeptics, whether religious or not, can see why the work we are doing is worth much wider support. I am happy to say that both religious people and atheists alike currently support the Foundation, all united in a shared commitment to help foster critical thinking and bring about a saner world when it comes to widespread belief in harmful nonsense. And as something of a professional skeptic, that is something I can believe in.

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The JREF is NOT an atheist organization.
written by mlanger, September 11, 2010
I never thought of the JREF as an atheist organization. The Million Dollar Challenge, which I've always seen as the hallmark of the JREF, has nothing to do with belief (or non-belief) in God.

Frankly, with the funding issues that several of the skeptical organizations are going through right now -- and you know what I mean -- it seems to me that donors are grasping at straws for reasons not to continue support. Either that, or they're trying to push certain individuals in or out of the organization for their own controlling purposes. It's all a lot of bull.

Religion has long been the sacred cow (pun intended) of skepticism. The rise of the Religious Right in this country has put everyone on edge. People, in general, are leery about being involved with any organization that can be seen, even remotely, as questioning religion. It's a shame that people who are supposedly in support of reason and free thought can let pressure from a group of notoriously closed-minded and misinformed people guide their actions.

Your donor is either not paying attention to what the JREF is really doing or he's looking for an excuse to save a few bucks and make other friends happy. Either way, he should be ashamed of himself.

The JREF will continue to get my donations.
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written by jhuger, September 11, 2010
The JREF is anti-superstition, anti-gullibility and anti-stupidity. If someone thinks that makes JREF anti-theism then I'd say that says more about their form of theism than it does about the JREF.
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JREF isn't anti anything except dorkishness
written by WendyH, September 11, 2010
If skepticism must lead one to atheism, then that must have been true before you, DJ, took the helm at JREF. All skepticism is, is a way of thinking, isn't it? A reliance on evidence instead of faith. So --- even recently, when I am in the process of discussing certain issues with my mom that include whether or not she believes in life after death (she's nearly 90 and having some mild symptoms of cognitive problems, I figure I'd better ask her now if I want to know what she thinks about these things) -- and she said, "Well, nobody's come back to let us know." The conversation has been amazing and revealing. So... my sweet Jewish mother is an atheist. I told her that I am used to being a minority, that I don't deny being Jewish, I just don't believe in a supernatural being who answers prayers and runs things.

I suppose all skeptics have a blind spot... I guess this is mine. Even though I am not having a belief in a supernatural entity... I have divided the human race into those who have a history in which some of us have been systematically persecuted... and those whose ancestors have not, and the consequent clannishness is inevitable, and probably not admirable.

That's my blind spot... is it as bad as a skeptic who still uses homeopathic remedies? Shrug!
I'll send JREF a donation. I'm already saving for TAM9.
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"digital outreach"
written by CasaRojo, September 11, 2010
Is this like an extreme digital exam? I thought that was a 'digital inreach'. smilies/cheesy.gif

I dunno, it's difficult for me to suffer the religious these days unless they are willing to question their beliefs. I'll be happy to question mine if they'll do likewise but that just doesn't seem to happen. The JREF is what it is and I like it!
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DBAD
written by ticktock, September 11, 2010
Phil's Plait TAM 8 "DBAD" speech stated that some of the messages of skepticism are "no magic, no afterlife, no higher moral authoritative father figure, no security, and no happily ever after. This is a tough sell."

Either religion is within the bounds of skepticism, or it isn't. We should ask ourselves why religion is being discussed at skeptic's conferences if it's out of bounds. And if religion is within the bounds of skepticism, we should ask ourselves why we are shying away from the topic. If my logic is correct, we're either being inconsistent or hypocritical.

I question the reasoning behind JREF suppressing it's atheism based on a fear of losing a source of funding. Would we be equally concerned about losing funds if an acupuncturist complained that we were attacking his thousand year old tradition that is practiced worldwide?

I guess I'm confused. Maybe I don't understand the term "critical thinking". It doesn't make sense to suspend the message of critical thinking because a plurality of individuals believe in a deity. Am I misinformed about the meaning of critical thinking?
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written by Skeptic Doug, September 11, 2010
JREF has certainly moved into a MUCH stronger role in atheism. Most who post here will find that good, or at least acceptable. Some JREF participants will wish for even more atheistic content. Denying the current JREF atheism trend in a long article like this is posturing. Certainly it is happening. Even those who like it must acknowledge it. Of course JREF still covers non-theistic issues. Just not as much as before, and the atheism content has increased. It does not bother me that the atheism content is increasing. Using a full article to deny it is annoying though. (For no good reason, the enthusiastic atheists will now vote this post "down" en masse, providing tangential but unconvincing anecdotal evidence that my argument has some merit). This forum would be much more interesting if the effort it took to mount this defence has been used for a post either on atheism or some other JREF topic. Self-referential articles don't add much. And I have no idea why I would take so much time to respond. Must be a slow day, smilies/smiley.gif
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written by lippard, September 11, 2010
ticktock wrote: "Either religion is within the bounds of skepticism, or it isn't."

That's a false dilemma. Some religious claims are empirically testable, and some aren't. Religion itself as a natural phenomenon is something that can be scientifically studied, but not all aspects of religion involve intellectual claims at all, and some of the claims made are not testable.
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@lippard wrote "That's a false dilemma"
written by ticktock, September 11, 2010
I would make the same argument about my beliefs in the "flying spaghetti monster". Isn't that the point of FSM? To say that claims made in favor of any invisible all-powerful entity should be taken just as seriously as any other? There's no inherent reason that I should treat one claim with seriousness and the other with mockery. Both are in opposition to critical thinking. Skepticism is equally about critical thinking and things we can empirically test. The two are not always equated.
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Suppressing atheism?
written by pique, September 11, 2010
@tiktock: JREF aren't suppressing atheism, in fact DJ says that, "Not that atheism is something we are ashamed of or try to hide, mind you; it is just that atheism is largely beside the point of our organization" and that they like the kind of skepticism "where no questions or claims, not even personal religious ones, are protected from scrutiny." Just that atheism is not the main goal. Crystal clear to me.

@SkepticDoug: spending time to bitch and moan about a blog post being irrelevant and annoying is really annoying. The topic is really relevant as the skeptics movement grows, I am glad it was addressed.
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This article demonstrates to me the dire financial straits JREF is in.
written by rrivers, September 11, 2010
I disagree with the implications of this article. To suggest that theism is consistent with the goals of JREF is quite simply dishonest. With respect for the need to placate the Religious Right in order to function as a foundation, and with respect for the need to receive funding from "moderate religious" dupes who otherwise wouldn't donate if they felt out of place, surely there is a more honest way to run JREF than to falsely state that it is open to all. JREF is no more compatible with theism than it is compatible with astrology. Would it ever occur that a believer in astrology would come to run (or even be highly placed in) JREF? I imagine Randi's response to that would be something along the lines of "over my dead body".

JREF is inherently hostile to nonsense, and God is nonsense. There's not even any reasonable question about it anymore. The entities described in the various religious dogmas of the world are provably false. Any other "entity" you care to propose to replace them must necessarily be indistinguishable from the laws of physics to be the least bit credible. That would put you in Spinoza's camp, which was in fact atheist in the sense the word is understood in the modern world: Spinoza rejected the idea of a sentient deity who knew, cared about, or had something to say about the sex habits of, any living thing. Proposing such an "entity" would be drawing a distinction from the natural world, without there being an actual difference. This is nothing more than reifying (and indeed deifying) causality, the Pauli exclusion principle, space-time, etc. Therefore an interlocutor deity is ruled out. Which leaves a demiurge. A god who created the universe and then walked away. About this, science (particularly Stenger) also has much to say. A miraculous creation is, in principle, knowable. If the universe began with a miracle, we could identify that fact. However, it didn't. In fact, the Big Bang didn't even violate the known laws of physics, which is perhaps unexpected to the non-physicist. The universe is a vacuum fluctuation, of the sort which occurs within the quantum foam of a given region of space a literally uncountable number of times every second. The total energy of the universe is zero. The universe began as disordered as it possibly could have been, and has been increasing in disorder ever since, though the maximum possible disorder is increasing much faster than the actual disorder. Through all of this, there is absolutely no reason to suppose a deity, even a demiurge, was involved with the Big Bang. The balance of probabilities is quite on the side of no deity. Further, humanity has accrued enough knowledge about our universe at this point that I (and certainly others) consider it quite warranted to say that there isn't even a reasonable doubt anymore. Any doubt on the matter is unreasonable, provided the one who might doubt exercises due diligence and learns the relevant facts.

In short, one who professes belief in deity is in the very same boat as one who professes belief in dowsing. They're both relics of a more ignorant era, and upon further inspection are wrong and have no place in respectable thought. The intellectual tools JREF seeks to make more ubiquitous apply just as easily to God as to Sylvia Browne, and a Pentecostal preacher who tells his congregation to handle poisonous snakes to show their faith is qualitatively no different from an Ayurvedic "healer" who tells his patients to drink methanol to cure their cough.
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Oh yeah, before I forget:
written by rrivers, September 11, 2010
"In the on-stage discussion with Dawkins at TAM 8, which he requested we do, I argued that skepticism and atheism are not identical, nor even necessarily continuous, citing as examples Bill Maher and Joe Rogan. Bill Maher is an atheist, but in my view he is not sufficiently skeptical since he peddles a kind of undue credulity in complementary and alternative medicine while fomenting suspicion of "Western medicine"; Joe Rogan is an atheist, but denies the moon landing as a hoax."

This is completely besides the point. It only shows that one can be an atheist without being a skeptic, by virtue of being stupid. It says nothing about whether one can be a skeptic without being an atheist, to which I would say the answer is "no". It behooves the skeptic to acknowledge no rational basis for religious sentiment. If it has a rational basis, it's not religion.
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written by DataJack, September 11, 2010
I am torn on this one. I DO believe that critical thinking should be applied to any and all testable beliefs. And I believe that skepticism, when honestly applied, DOES lead to atheism.

The fact of the matter is, in my mind, religion, homeopathy, and astrology are all equally valid: that is, not at all. There is no evidence to support any of them. And yet, I would not have a friend who was a homeopath or an astrologer. However, I do have friends, some who are skeptics, some who aren't, who are theists. I have friends who I meet every year at TAM who are theists.

I guess the only difference is that there are a lot of theists, a lot of people we know are theists, and theism has been around for a long time.
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written by a Ghost in the Machine, September 11, 2010
I've always consider JREF a mostly a-paranormal organization, and perhaps more recently a-CAM. (Which isn't to say I don't recognize they address other topics; it's just my perception of JREF.)
Calling JREF an atheist organization is a bit like calling a knitting-club a pacifist organization, it's probably consistent with their goals, but not really a focus of their activity.
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written by SPACKlick, September 11, 2010
@rrivers

It's not beside the point. The point being made at that moment in the article is that no element of skepticism is more important that skepticism as a whole. Atheism, SBM and other skeptical positions are worth less if the believer doesn't also use skeptical principles.

And I agree with that point, the ability to engage with the world skeptically is much more important than drawing the skeptics conclusion.

That said, The JREF must choose to either be a broadly skeptical organisation and an atheist one or not be either. There is no middle ground here. And I think we all know which way the JREF leans, pure skepticism, pure atheism.
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written by MadScientist, September 11, 2010
Someone must have a very sensitive lack of godliness radar - I didn't see any godlessness.

So, I shouldn't believe the rumors of plans to change the name to GayRef?
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written by MadScientist, September 11, 2010
@rrivers: But you're only admitting to some absolute ideal of a skeptic - or else not a skeptic. The reality is that many people think about some things and easily spot many kinds of scams but have been trained not to question superstition. So they're skeptical allright - except when it comes to superstition. So it wouldn't be surprising that many people involved in the JREF don't believe in gods, and that alone might make the people who believe in various deities uncomfortable. Some people have been advocating that the JREF dispel god myths as well, but I have always disagreed with that; there are numerous other brands of generally more dangerous woo to fight. So I wouldn't be preaching to members about there not really being any gods and I'm always disappointed to hear that someone's been wasting time hounding folks like Hal Bidlack again rather than spending time looking at the latest fashion in woo. There are other organizations dedicated to helping people with a god problem.

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written by Tressa, September 11, 2010
Thanks DJ.
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written by sailor, September 11, 2010
I agree with the JREF taking its neutral position with regard to atheism. In cases of specific testable religious claims (weeping statues of the Virgin Mary, the testable efficacy of prayer) of course this should within the framework of JREF. However, since religious views are usually very strongly held and mainly untestable, it does not make any sense to take a stance on religion in general.
If JREF became an atheist organization, its good work would be considerably hindered by its label, in terms of loosing the trust of religious people who have an interest in skepticism.
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I don't know the exact reasons, but I kinda agree with the donor.
written by danieljref, September 11, 2010
I must say that I don't know if it's due to a particular administration or if it's something else.

But I used to regard JREF as a good place to learn. In the last years (can't pinpoint it), it just went off track. The atheist motto seems pretty "out there".

I could talk for hours about this but, summing up, the feeling I get from "recent" JREF is the one expressed in rrivers words:
To suggest that theism is consistent with the goals of JREF is quite simply dishonest.


I would only add that JREF does this, but try to "sugar coat" (which, for me, only makes it worse).
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Your core point is well made, but seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
written by Darth Rotor, September 11, 2010
In his email, our thoughtful and concerned donor also argued that skepticism — both as a movement and a way of looking at the world — ought not to become an ideology, nor merely something like a "statement of non-bleliefs." I completely agree, and spoke about this exact topic last weekend at the Skeptics Track at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia. I believe skepticism is best when it is a method of inquiry, and not a doctrinaire set of conclusions.

The responses to your article, D.J. suggest to me that people often seek a banner under which to camp, march, and fight. I've noticed this during participation in discussions on the JREF forums for the past four years.

I agree with your sentiments, and that of your donor, but am afraid that no matter how much you may hope for the JREF's purpose, promoting skepticism and criticial thinkig, to be seen or acted upon as you envision it, skepticism as a cause will attract the collateral effects, good and ill, of the gathering of people under your banner.

Make the best of it, and good luck.
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Atheist and Gay Australia
written by Jim in Australia, September 11, 2010
It is interesting to note that while being an atheist or gay in America seems to be a political barrier to high offices in the land, there is no such problem in Australia.
Our new Prime Minister Ms Julia Gillard is a declared atheist and has just formed a minority government with support from the Greens party in the Senate led by Dr Bob Brown, a declared gay.

No hell and damnation has been wreaked upon our country as a result.

I am quite happy for JREF to be non-apologetic on these issues, and I don't think the quality of its membership will suffer as a result.
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written by halincoh, September 11, 2010
I have spoken with you in person several times DJ and considered you a friend. I'm PROUD that you are a leader in the skeptical community. YOU represent me well as both a thought leader and visible presence. Thank you.

But I am heterosexual, not gay. I'm culturally Jewish and spiritually agnostic ,not an atheist. Wow! We don't agree on everything. So how can I state the above?

Oh ... that right ... we don't HAVE to be clones. We are a community. We are a community bonded by critical thinking, the scientific method, and humanism. And as a human, we all have quirks, and foibles, and idiosyncracies. Some apply critical thinking to every aspect of their world and some pick and choose. As Michael Shermer so elegantly states in his book THE SCIENCE OF GOOD AND EVIL there is rarely black and white on any issue, but rather we live in a world that is gray.

We are a community, and no you do not speak for me on all issues, but I too have a voice, and if we can't use our voices within our community for intelligent discourse, without being offensive, on issues that are difficult, then how can we as a community ever be effective on communicating concepts to others outside of our community.

Thank you, DJ, for being who you are and for not being afraid to present topics that are difficult or controversial, and for representing me so very well, identical or not.
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written by Torlack, September 11, 2010
I've wanted to write about this for a while...

I have found it frustrating how we try to use skeptic/skepticism as a label for our cause. We sometimes even deny the meaning of the word when people we don't agree with come to conclusions different from ours.

I would say, the vast majority of us support science and critical thinking. That isn't skepticism, it is critical rationalism. By its very nature, critical rationalism will lead to skeptical positions when people claim knowledge that can't be justified or shown to be true. The things Mr. Grothe lists fall in line perfectly with that notion.

Aside from our abuse of the term skeptic, I also find it odd that many people seem to think that in order to wear the emblem; they must have a certain opinions on critical subjects. Given my background in math, I long ago abandoned the silly notion that a group of perfectly rational people will always come to the same logical conclusions. Our belief structures just aren't that black and white.

I really don't care if members of the skeptical community might hold some irrational beliefs or beliefs that might not fall totally within the realm of critical rationalism. If someone wants to be skeptical of widely held scientific beliefs, it is fine with me to. I just want them to be able to reasonably defend those beliefs and be open to other opinions. The idea that any one of us is 100% rational on all subjects is just silly. I would find it more interesting to talk to someone with some rigid passionate beliefs than someone whose beliefs are no stronger than a wet noodle.

Borrowing from Bertrand Russell's definition of agnostic, skepticism is the belief that we can not know what is true or at this time are unable to. I am a skeptic, not because of what I believe, but because the fallible nature of critical rationalism makes me uneasy. However, I still FIRMLY believe that critical rationalism by far the best method we have to gather knowledge.

LONG LIVE SCIENCE!!!!

If you want to be a skeptic, act like one. Don’t be dogmatic. (I’m using the word without the religious overtones that have become associated with the word)

P.S. Don’t get me started on the notion that skepticism and critical thought go hand in hand. I can be skeptical without a shred of critical thought. However, like I mentioned earlier, critical thought will result in skeptical positions.
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written by bleodler, September 11, 2010
As a member of the JREF I'm a bit disappointed atheism has to be downplayed as much as it is in the organization. It seems like an attempt to get donations from those unwilling to give up their theistic beliefs. Perhaps it is a good strategy financially but it doesn't seem to fit well with a mission of promoting reason and science. I have respect for deist beliefs, even though I am an atheist, but I see no more evidence for the foundational claims of the main theistic religions than other paranormal claims the JREF actively works in educating against.
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written by Mark P, September 11, 2010
I don't find the JREF, or most contributors of articles here, to be steering JREF as an atheistic organisation.

I do think too many comments on this forum take an unnecessarily aggressive line in their atheism. I'm not offended, because I'm atheist myself, but many risk alienating others. In my view it is one of two topics where posters consistently are rude as a matter of principle.

I think much of the problem is that too many posters only see religion through US lenses. They live in areas where religion does tend to go with particularly non-sceptical ways of thinking. Religion is very much a political issue in the US, which inflames passions further.

But those of us from outside the US don't have your issues. Religion is not a political matter in New Zealand. I can't even tell you the religion of most political figures: I have no idea of the religious leanings of our Prime Minister, leader of the opposition or Governor-General. Like Australia, it's no big deal if they are atheist. Nor is religion particularly well correlated with sceptical thinking here: the non-religious buy into woo in a big way, while the religious offend are aware of the lack of proof underlying their belief.

As the religious right in the US goes further off the deep end, we see the irreligious left start to match them in intensity.

I think the JREF is in a bind. It is primarily a US organisation, and Americans are not capable of holding reasoned discussion about religion or irreligion.
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written by RobWills, September 11, 2010
This is a timely discussion.

I've observed the uptick in the atheist flavor. Perhaps part of this is due to focusing more on the skeptic community, rather than the former Randi blog style of describing particular items of woo.

I was a Christian when I joined the skeptic community. Even then, Randi made his comments about religious beliefs, which I didn't like, but took in stride, as he took much time to explain the hollowness of woo claims.

I found the explanations of various forms of woo helped develop my critical thinking skills. However, if this site had been totally "atheist" in its approach, I would have never been engaged.

It was the scientific methodology that engaged me. The philosophical approach would never have convinced me.

All that, to say, this site being more analytical was most helpful to me.
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History lesson :)
written by ianmacm, September 11, 2010
JREF can trace its roots back to the 1970s, when certain individuals were claiming to be able to bend spoons by stroking them lightly, reproduce drawings hidden in envelopes etc. This type of claim can be tested under strict conditions and does not involve atheism. While many JREF members have an active atheist stance (to which they are entitled), it is important not to muddy the message with the public or the media by making a direct link between scepticism and atheism. As discussed on JREF before, religious claims (God, afterlife etc) are not testable and cannot be examined within a scientific framework.
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written by Otara, September 11, 2010
Saying you're not an atheist organisation is probably about as useful PRwise as saying you're not a child molesting organisation.

Even if its true, its unlikely to have the effect you're hoping for.

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written by mangumd, September 12, 2010
Thank you DJ for this thoughtful article. While the organization will always have members coming and going, a greater diversity of beliefs within the membership would seem to make the JREF stronger and more likely better help spread the importance of critical thinking. I hope your open letter persuades this member to reconsider the withdrawal of support.

Dan
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Investigation of "Woo Woo" leads Naturally To Investigation of Religion
written by StarTrekLivz, September 12, 2010
Victor Stenger's book, "The New Atheism" makes an argument that sometimes absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. When one proposes a deity such as the Judeo-Christian god who notably causes history to happen and then interferes with it regularly (prophets, incarnation, saints, miracles, setting up and then deposing kings and kingdoms), there should be evidence of that interference. But we cannot find it.

The claims of religion should not be exempt from investigation any more than we exempt Syvlia Brown, Jonathon Edward, Kent Hovind, the latest dowser, or other purveyors of nonsense.
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written by popsaw, September 12, 2010
Neither God nor spontaneous life are demonstrable/ testable/ provable using the scientific method. for this reason, I welcome any movement away from
discussing belief in God (a supernatural claim) and belief in spontaneous life ( a miracle).
I welcome also the assertion that one can believe in God but also be a skeptic, a position some have formerly believed untenable and contradictory
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written by wemmons@hot.rr.com, September 12, 2010
I, for one, will NOT be withholding my donation. Well said, DJ, and thanks for all the work you, Randi and the Foundation do.
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"Spontaneous Life"
written by DataJack, September 12, 2010
Popsaw: Atheists don't believe in "Spontaneous Life", and they don't consider life "a miracle". Aboigenesis is not perfectly understood, yet, but no part of it demands magic. Organic materials are everywhere throughout the Universe, and carbon loves to bond with other elements (and itself). Over time, that probably will give rise to self-replication at the cost of external resources. From that point onward, evolution takes over and voila, diversity and complexity ensue.

The most important thing to remember in science is this:

Just because we don't fully understand a process, that doesn't give us the right to make up an untestable explanation for it. It is far better to say, "We don't (yet) know".

Calling the origin of life "a miracle" just because we don't yet understand it is wrong.

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Oops
written by DataJack, September 12, 2010
I didn't mean to derail the thread with that last comment, I just wanted to clear up what I considered to be sloppy thinking.

Back on topic: We do not have the right to define who is and who isn't a skeptic. If a theist considers herself a skeptic, then she is one. We aren't a club; we are a loosely affiliated group of people* who use a set of intellectual tools to help us explore and understand the world.

* And killer robots. Don't try to deny it, DJ!
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Atheism's Role in the JREF
written by feldesq, September 12, 2010
We are primarily discussing three issues:

Is the JREF an atheist organization?
Must a rational analysis of religion (or religious claims) lead to an atheistic conclusion?
Should the JREF be labeled (or label itself) an atheist organization?

To a significant extent (with notable exceptions of course) the JREF is an organization of atheists. The reason for this is the same as the reason the vast majority of scientists are atheists. But as DJ accurately posits, being mostly comprised of atheists is not equivalent to being an atheist organization. The JREF does not actively promote atheism. It promotes critical thinking: See the JREF mission statement under “About the JREF,” and see also “About James Randi” – in particular the “Detailed Biography” – wherein no references appear about atheism or to the fact that Randi is an atheist.

Religion makes assertions based upon faith and asks that we suspend reason. Science and skeptical inquiry require that we suspend faith-based assertions and follow the evidence – wherever it may lead. The essential problem with a scientific conclusion supporting atheism is one of semantics (more politely, of definition). Atheists are usually demanded to prove that no god exists. That is not what atheism (or critical thinking) is about. Atheists say, I do not accept the reality of god until there is evidence to support such a reality. Critical thinkers go one more step in the process however, we state that there may be evidence of god, but until it is produced (or discovered) we cannot accept god, even provisionally. We can (and must) accept its possibility. Of course, the possibility that any magical notion may be proven true (the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, fairies, et al) is not a basis for the adoption of any such notion by reasonable folks. More profound magical thinking – religion – due to its pervasiveness and its self-perpetuating meme, is clearly as much open to critical analysis and scientific investigation as are other forms of woo, yet the very nature of religious thinking and the vast enterprise that it constitutes make it difficult for any organization to mount an effective attack against its irrationality (I say difficult, not impossible). In many ways it’s easier to investigate Sylvia Browne, dowsing and astrology. Once we enter the religious realm, we are fighting a far more formidable enemy. Nonetheless, religion should not be off limits to the JREF or to critical inquiry generally. The issue is one of effectiveness.

The JREF is an educational organization. Education within the JREF’s framework means teaching people how to think not what to think. The JREF has enemies (there are foes of reason everywhere). We hand our foes a victory when we allow the JREF to lose its effectiveness. This brings us to the third question, should the JREF be labeled (or label itself) an atheist organization?

There are many of us who want the focus of attention of the skeptical community to be the bringing of critical thinking skills to the masses, starting of course with children. We decry the notion of “debunking” (as does Randi) because of its self-limiting and primarily negative approach to the skeptical process. As Phil Plait so eloquently enunciated at TAM 8, we do not persuade by “in-your-face” tactics. We do not educate by frontal attacks on cherished beliefs. We become less effective at best. Many of us have experienced our own personal journey from magical thinking to critical thinking. We went from fearful doubt to joyful discovery – ultimately perceiving that our uncertainty was okay and, ultimately, healthy and rewarding in ways religious thinking cannot hope to approach. Many of us are still in the process of evolving from magical thinker to critical thinker (particularly young people). If we must be labeled atheists, we face the likelihood that these precious people who are or are ready to be part of our camp will be turned away and lost. Can we afford to take this risk? Should we? The question is not merely one of raising funds for the JREF. It is one which goes to the very essence of the JREF’s effectiveness.

We can be atheists as we please, but atheism should not be part of the JREF’s mission or vision.
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"Spontaneous Life" redux
written by DataJack, September 12, 2010
popsaw: Avoiding "Spontaneous Life theories" in skepticism should be done not because they "defy science" but rather because they are a strawman that you created.

"Intelligent design" should be looked at skeptically, has been looked at skeptically, and has been found to be rubbish. Also, it is not, in any way, a theory.

People who study the origin of life do not believe in "Spontaneous Life". No one does (well, except some theists). Abiogenesis can and should be looked at skeptically, just like every other legitimate field of science.
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@feldesq
written by popsaw, September 12, 2010
Once we enter the religious realm, we are fighting a far more formidable enemy.
Surely the point of the article is that religion is not the enemy and that the religious and non religious can be skeptics? A house divided against itself cannot stand, neither can an organization who's enemy includes a large number of its own ranks!
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Religious Skeptics
written by DataJack, September 12, 2010
And here, right in this very thread, we see what may be the heart of the issue. I am comfortable with theists in skepticism, provided they do not assert unsupportable claims as true.

If you want to have a personal relationship with an untestable deity in your heart - fine, I cannot disprove that you two telepathically communicate.

However, once you make a claim like popsaw's "Intelligent design as a concept has more basis in science than Abiogenesis. We observe intelligent design on a daily basis via human accomplishments and inventions. We have never observed or demonstrated life from non life." There is a problem. This mode of thinking comes directly from the Discovery Institute and its pack of liars.

Intelligent Design can be tested. It has been, and it has failed. There is no provable NEED for an intelligence in order to explain biology or cosmology. There is no evidence that complexity requires intelligence. There is lots of evidence that it doesn't.

(I can break a stick in half and compare it to a snowflake. Which was intelligently designed? Which is more complex?)

True to DI tactics, popsaw says "We have never observed or demonstrated life from non life." This is a loaded statement. "Never" should be replaced with "not yet". No research to date has concluded that Abiogenesis is not possible. If fact, we get closer to it each year.

So, yeah, I agree deists can be skeptics. But I would disagree that a creationist, or an ID proponent, can be a skeptic. Almost by definition, creationists/ID proponents have to be either abysmally sloppy thinkers, or dishonest. Those modes of thought are not really compatible with skepticism. That is just my opinion, though.

They can pay to go to TAM. They can attend the talks. While there, the can ridicule homeopathy or tarot. But if they start spouting nonsense like "intelligent design has a basis in science" they are going to get challenged. Skepticism is not a place for opinion, it is a place for that which is supported by evidence.
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written by RichVR, September 12, 2010
JREF may not be an atheist organization, but if you are a theist and belong to it your cognitive dissonance must be astounding. God is just another form of ghost. If one does not exist either does the other. Anything else is delusion.
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written by GeekGoddess, September 12, 2010
I asked my employer to make a contribution to JREF, to help with some specific programs. My boss has been going to TAM and other JREF events for several years, and happens to also be an atheist. He declined, because he said if you google the JREF, it primarily appears to be an atheist organization, and the other executives and board would not be happy seeing us make a donation to a atheist outfit.

It doesn't matter what you say, it matters what you do.
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written by feldesq, September 12, 2010
written by popsaw, September 12, 2010
Once we enter the religious realm, we are fighting a far more formidable enemy.
Surely the point of the article is that religion is not the enemy and that the religious and non religious can be skeptics? A house divided against itself cannot stand, neither can an organization who's enemy includes a large number of its own ranks!

Religion is an "enemy" to the extent that it resides in unreason and utilizes woo to sustain itself. It then becomes fair game like any other form of woo, but as I wrote, it is more insidious woo "due to its pervasiveness and its self-perpetuating meme" (borrowing the term form Richard Dawkins). No, the point of my article is not that "religious people" (but this term remains to be defined) can be skeptics and many are - to varying degrees. Most are not to any significant degree. And that's my point: there are degrees of skepticism, and to state that religious people cannot be skeptics is counter-productive to our goal (of an enlightened skeptically-oriented society). I am arguing tactics and not speaking in terms of skeptical "purity of essence." (see Doctor Strangelove)
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written by pique, September 12, 2010
@Geekgoddless: I just googled jref and nowhere was there a mention of atheism on any of the google search pages.

http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=jref&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Theres mentions of 9/11 conspiracy theories, the one million challenge, Japan reference, a company called JREF which gives money to new businesses, a japanese friendship site, homeopathy, and the like.

But it does not mention atheism anywhere on the first four or five pages of links. Maybe your boss searched on google a long time ago when atheism would come up, idk.
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written by MJG, September 12, 2010
Look, there's always going to be a large crossover between the realms of skepticism and atheism. Many skeptics are atheists. And many, but not all, atheists are skeptics. That's just a fact. The reason for that being a fact may be an interesting topic to explore but it's really not the mission of the JREF (speaking as an mere observer, fan and member of the community). When religion makes a claim (ie. any kind of "miracle" or "visitation") the JREF should hit it for all it's worth. But the biggest claim... "God exists"... how do you test that? I personally think anyone with intelligence, critical thinking skills, and the courage to apply those tools rigorously and with objective detachment to the "does God exist?" question will inevitably emerge from that process an atheist. But the point is... that's not the fish that the JREF was set up to fry.

To me the more pressing question is how, for lack of a better word, "unessential" this website has become. Randi is my hero, and I LOVE this website. But fully a third to a half of the posts on this site nowadays are just links to other sites (great sites... I love sciencebasedmedicine.org and all the others.. but still...) This site has gone from a staple of my "recruiting technique" to a site that I barely feel the need to check in on once a month. Not because I don't like the content, just because it's so derivative and there nothing HAPPENING! There's no VOICE without Randi, and there's nothing particularly interesting.
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written by MJG, September 12, 2010
I regret the previous post already. I meant to say it "feels like" half to a third of the articles here are just links to other sites. I dunno, I guess I just miss the more engaged and entertainingly assertive tone this site used to have... IMO. Nevermind, I'll shut up now.
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Atheism vs. Agnosticism
written by GrahamZ, September 12, 2010
Personally, I consider myself more of an agnostic, although some religious friends of mine would probably consider me an atheist. My point of view is that I must base my belief or disbelief on a very specific definition of a God or a deity, and since those definitions vary from belief system to belief system, I can only state a belief or disbelief based on the specific definitions that I actually comprehend. And so far I have not seen evidence to support the existence of any deity that is based on any belief system that I currently understand. That is not to say that a deity of any kind cannot possibly exist. Just that the current definitions that I am aware of seem to not be supported by any evidence.

I don't know exactly how atheists view agnostics, but from an agnostic point of view, atheism seems to me slightly at odds with skepticism. I may be wrong, but it was my understanding that the difference between an atheist and an agnostic is that an atheist says that there is no god, whereas an agnostic states that he isn't sure? And isn't being undecided in the absence of evidence, an inherent quality of skepticism? As a skeptic, I go with the evidence; but in the absence of conclusive evidence, while I may have an opinion, the correct answer is still, 'I don't know'.

I'm not sure if any religious belief system must be antithetical to skepticism; but if you hold any specific belief in spite of contradictory evidence, then that certainly seems to be a problem.
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written by William, September 13, 2010
I don't think the JREF is becoming any more of an atheist organization than in the past. However, as the comments on Pamela Gay's thought-provoking piece http://www.randi.org/site/inde...tions.html revealed, Swift bloggers tend to be very critical of theist skeptics.
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Atheism vs. Agnosticism
written by Gaius Cornelius, September 13, 2010
GrahamZ: As far as I know, most atheists do not insist that gods *cannot* exist; they only maintain that there is no evidence of any gods. Consequently, an atheist can "not believe in God" while observing that there is a theoretical possiblity that God exists. I think that many people who call themselves agnostics would be happy with this variety of atheism.

You may find "Negative and positive atheism" on Wikipedia helpful.
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It's very simple
written by edgraham, September 13, 2010
Just one shread of evidence that proc=ves that magic, miracles, God, or any other supernatural force exists - - and skeptics will no longer exist.

It's that easy. I don't see that coming about.
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Spelling
written by edgraham, September 13, 2010
"Just one shread of evidence that proc=ves"

Mind over matter didn't change "proc=ves" into "proves" for me. That should proc=ve something.
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Provable Claims
written by ClareZ, September 13, 2010
The reason that DJ says we are not putting atheism in a subset of things that skepticism had shown to be correct is that the existence or absence of god is not a testable claim. Not true. It is a hard and complicated claim to test - and beyond the instruments available at the JREF office. But we are one step closer. Per Stephen Hawkings we now know that god was not 'needed' to create life. That still does not say that he didn't, just that he was not needed. So, what have we here? The something from nothing people have already been proven wrong. They need a new argument.

This still doesn't say there is no god. But one more fact comes down on the side of atheism. I do not believe in god any more than I believe in Zeus, but I make an effort to not lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery or kill. And I am pretty big on not coveting. If there is something I want, I just work my way towards it above board. So god is dead, long live ethical living.

Even if proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no god, JREF would still not be an "Atheist Organization" any more than it would be a "Anti-Spoon Bending Organization". It would simply add that to things that many claim but can be proven false via scientific method and critical thinking. And until that happens, we can only choose our philosophies based on the best evidence we have to date, albeit incomplete.
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written by ClareZ, September 13, 2010
And I might add that my 80+ y/o father is one of the clearest and most thoughtful critical thinkers I have ever known, and a devoted Catholic. And I respect his choices on every level. And I even understand them.

Right now the choice of believing in god or not is a philosophical one. That may change one day, but I doubt it. We are not a philosophical organization, as pointed out earlier, we are an educational one and one hopes we would attract critical thinkers of many philosophical stripes.
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written by lytrigian, September 13, 2010
The JREF is no more and no less an atheist organization than it ever was.

That is to say, it is. I have never seen evidence to the contrary. It does no good to protest that it is not, when the message is otherwise as clearly atheist as can be.

More fool that former supporter for not noticing sooner.
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A New Example of Skepticism applied to Religion
written by StarTrekLivz, September 13, 2010
Pope Benedict has scheduled a visit to Great Britain, where he plans on beatifying John Henry Newman. To achieve beatification typically requires martyrdom (not applicable in these circumstances) or 2 miracles, which these days are generally medical healings.

This immediately becomes an area where one may apply skepticism and the scientific method:

Who were the objects of these miracles?
What was cured?
What was the nature of their ailments?
Are those ailments subject to psychiatric/psychological/psychosomatic diagnosis & treatment?
Were these people under treatment?
Could they have responded to treatment?
Could they have experienced a spontaneous remission? (for example, you never hear of amputated limbs being regenerated, nor excised tissues being restored, but cancers, which can go into remission, may be offered as evidence).
Who did the investigation?
If it was a supernatural intervention, How do they know it was John Henry Newman who provided the healing?
If it was a supernatural intervention, can they prove conclusively it was not the result of the activities of another Catholic saint, or of another divinity, such as Thor, Apollo, Ghanesh, etc.?

I believe these are all legitimate questions.

And do NOT get me started on the impropriety of a religious authority who is demonstrably part of a pedophile cover-up having the moral authority to pronounce another homind as a "saint."

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@StarTrekLivz
written by Caller X, September 13, 2010
You clearly don't understand what beatification means or requires, or the distinction between beatification and canonization. It behooves a skeptic to have his facts right, don't you think?

Suffer the little children to come unto Pope Benedict II, just don't let him make any inappropriate telephone recordings.
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Stuff and nonsense
written by stevekelner, September 14, 2010
The JREF should certainly not be an "atheist organization," if by that you mean it is an active promoter of atheism. Skepticism is what it is, and many skeptics are atheists, but many are not. The two are not identical. (Methinks that agnosticism could stake a higher claim to skepticism than "committed" atheism!)
Having said that, it is patently obvious that Grothe, despite claims otherwise, DOES appear to believe that any form of religious belief is incompatible with atheism, in that he thinks "theism — belief in god — is a supernatural claim." No, it isn't. Beliefs in and of themselves do not rise to the level of a supernatural claim until they interact with the physical universe we know, which is one element underpinning the "testable" requirement for scientific theory.
Thus, for example, you can believe in a deity who is outside the universe and has no impact on it once created (a common form of early deism). You can believe the universe is made up of superstrings, something that is currently no more proven (and perhaps no more provable) than the existence of a deity, but I submit is also not a topic for the JREF to test.
I respect that Grothe feels skepticism is more important than mere atheism, and that he is committed to the JREF being a skeptical organization and not inherently an atheist one, but it is quite clear that he feels atheism is ultimately the inevitable result of "a consistently applied sort of skepticism where no questions or claims, not even personal religious ones, are protected from scrutiny."
I rather think the late, great Martin Gardner would disagree.
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written by Brucealmighty kitty, September 14, 2010
I'm a beginner skeptic, so try not to skewer me. Perhaps the reason why you are doing more religion/atheist talks is simply because this is the current US climate. Religions are trying to infiltrate the gov't, the groups have become louder, more vocal. Feels like it's being shoved down the throat sometimes. I want you to question religion. Why not? Your personal beliefs should have little impact on the questioning part. Prove the stories are true, prove your position. Or at least back it up with scripture. This doesn't strike me as an atheist site. And I'm sure that there are skeptics who still hold hope for some unprovable thing and they know how to laugh at themselves for it. Skeptic doesn't equate atheist, you just don't take yourself too seriously.
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Skepticism?
written by warreno, September 14, 2010
Hey, if God wants to show up to claim the $1,000,000 prize, I say let him. Otherwise, arguing for his existence is spewing acephalic drivel.

I don't see how anyone could claim to find psychic powers, UFOs, or Bigfoot nonsense - yet start concern-trolling about belief in some all-seeing sky daddy. With big feet.

I'm not skeptical about God; I'm certain. There isn't one. That is not "new atheism"; it is "ancient ratiocination".
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@ Caller X -- No Need to Be Rude (and Wrong)
written by StarTrekLivz, September 14, 2010
I used to be a Benedictine monk, I'm more familiar with the process and implications than you give credit -- though I did make an error, it only requires 1 "miraculous event" to be considered eligible for beatification; and these days medical healings are far and away the most common "miracle." See the Catholic Encycolpedia on line:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02364b.htm

Otherwise, however, I stand by my post: persons are making claims that a divinity has interfered with the perceived laws of nature, and this is a testable claim.
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@StarTrekLivz
written by Caller X, September 14, 2010
Yeah, and I used to be the Easter Bunny, but I had to give that up when I became a Jesuit. As a skeptic, I don't believe your claim. And yes, your error is why I don't give you credit.

"Otherwise, however, I stand by my post: persons are making claims that a divinity has interfered with the perceived laws of nature, and this is a testable claim."

How would you propose to go about testing it? Don't you Benedictines have to go to school?

I do enjoy a little Benedictine in the evening, before bedtime.
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@Warreno
written by popsaw, September 15, 2010
Hey, if God wants to show up to claim the $1,000,000 prize, I say let him. Otherwise, arguing for his existence is spewing acephalic drivel.

Nobody is arguing or contesting belief in God or attempting to prove his existence. The issue is whether belief in God and skepticism can exist in harmony in the JREF.
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written by William, September 15, 2010
popsaw- Based on a discussion I was in on another thread, the answer to your question is a flat "no".
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Wrong
written by DataJack, September 15, 2010
William, you wrote: "popsaw- Based on a discussion I was in on another thread, the answer to your question is a flat "no"."

Fortunately for all of us, the JREF policies are not set by users on forum threads. They are in fact set by DJ (and others who work here), and DJ has said that theists are welcome. That means they are, regardless of what those of us in the forums think or say.

And that's the way it should be.
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written by MadScientist, September 15, 2010
@GeekGoddess: I don't think it has anything to do with what people do. Randi, DJ, and others don't make any secret about not believing in gods; that alone would be taken by many religious people as some sort of insult. So no one has to actually preach that there is no god and people will say they're offended simply because they know you don't believe in any. I do find it strange that some people seem to want to purge those who aren't True Unbelievers. Next thing you know they'll be harassing Adam Savage about not doing a Mythbusters episode on the god myth.
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written by lytrigian, September 15, 2010
@MadScientist -- No, not at all. The issue isn't mere disbelief, it's the positive hostility. Theists are stupid -- that's the credo preached here, and it comes from all quarters, from Randi on down. Very odd behavior for the leadership of an organization that's supposed to be officially neutral on the issue.
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written by Sc00ter, September 15, 2010
DJ posted a link to the Friendly Atheist article about this post on Facebook and I put this comment there. I figured I would share it here as well.

I think there are two problems. 1. Atheists that think that skepticism = atheism don't seem to understand the extremely wide spectrum that exists for people that believe in some kind of god. There are very religious people, and there are some that just believe that there could be something out there. And 2. Some atheists seem to be more along the mindset of an agnostic, but use the term atheist because for whatever reason they don't like the term agnostic.

I don't even like to use the term Atheist anymore to describe myself, despite being one.

But I'm with Graeme.. They are clearly two different things. You tell me that Bill Maher is a skeptic with a straight face, or that people like Pamela Gay or Kitty Mervine are not good skeptics.

But more to the point of DJ's post.. If people are getting confused that the JREF is an Atheist organization, perhaps they should look at WHY people are thinking that? Could it be that TAM8 was a bit heavy with anti-religious stuff compared to previous years? Could it be that both DJ and Randi are talking at atheist conventions more regularly, or going to thinks like Skeptocon3 that is clearly a atheist and not skeptical convention (not that there's anything wrong with an atheist convention, but with talks like "The Twelve Basic Arguments for God and Why They Suck" it makes you wonder).

More to the point of Skepticon3, the unprofessional way that the website seems to be (head of security's bio says "Ryan is in charge of security and flirting with all the female attendees and speakers") and the childish names for the talks makes me disappointed that DJ and Randi are a part of it.
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Atheist Trend
written by pkohlmil, September 16, 2010
I think it was at TAM 4 that Michael Shermer took a poll of the audience and found 15% were not atheist. I think that is a pretty strong number when some people were probably to shy to admit being non-atheist and TAM brings the most committed members. Now that was just 4 years ago. What has happened since?
I missed TAM 8 but I heard non-atheist Hal Bidlack was no longer on the JREF Board of Directors (I can't seem to get a curent list of the directors). I know that some of the performers at TAM are more comfortable celebrating atheism and this has to make non-atheists uncomfortable. So, while I'm certainly an atheist, I think at JREF we should turn down the atheism volume - just a bit. The statements trying to make skepticism=atheism sound too religious. That said, next month I go to a conference that is more atheistic than TAM.
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Atheism? Fine. Rudeness? Not.
written by stifenlaso, September 16, 2010
@Mark P: you nail it!

"I do think too many comments on this forum take an unnecessarily aggressive line in their atheism. I'm not offended, because I'm atheist myself, but many risk alienating others. In my view it is one of two topics where posters consistently are rude as a matter of principle. "

Yes indeed. Most people here seem to think "theist = moron". Or even worse, "not atheist = moron". Now, I'm OK with atheism (or theism, for that matter) but I loathe rudeness.

Right on. There was a time (ten, even five years ago) I used to visit the JREF site at least twice a week. Not anymore. I check it out every two months at most. Randi's rants were fun, sarcastic and witty; now, three out of five post are just links to other sites -and the remaining two are more rude and rowdy than clever and witty. Some comments are so self-righteous they seem religious: "I'm a Bright© Skeptic!"

"As the religious right in the US goes further off the deep end, we see the irreligious left start to match them in intensity.
I think the JREF is in a bind. It is primarily a US organisation, and Americans are not capable of holding reasoned discussion about religion".

My thoughts exactly.
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Newsworthiness of JREF
written by StarTrekLivz, September 17, 2010
Since this forum is semi-moderated, I've gotten used to receiving flames, from Fundamentalists who don't understand why an atheist sings in a church choir (I like the music and it makes my family happy -- my church does a lot of beautiful classical music, and has a 41 rank Schantz pipe organ, recently restored) and recently a Jesuit who thinks that an ex-Benedictine (me) has an insufficient grasp of Catholic theology, and the numerous atheists who believe I'm a sell-out for participating in liturgical worship services. Oh well. As Popeye says, I am what I am.

However, one of the strands lost in this thread is the newsworthiness of JREF. I used to log in several times a week for the commentary from Mr. Randi, and other contributors. I'm finding that's less satisfactory now -- there just isn't as much here as there used to be. Even though the various flim-flam artists haven't gone away .... just my thoughts this Friday night as the Kol Nidrei (Yom Kippur evening) services begin.
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...
written by laursaurus, September 17, 2010
I don't see how anyone could claim to find psychic powers, UFOs, or Bigfoot nonsense - yet start concern-trolling about belief in some all-seeing sky daddy. With big feet.

I'm not skeptical about God; I'm certain. There isn't one. That is not "new atheism"; it is "ancient ratiocination".


Wow! Way to really beat the crap out of that straw man!
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@StarTrekLivz
written by Caller X, September 20, 2010
"I've gotten used to receiving flames, from Fundamentalists who don't understand why an atheist sings in a church choir... and recently a Jesuit who thinks that an ex-Benedictine (me) has an insufficient grasp of Catholic theology"

Don't forget that before I was a Jesuit I was the Easter Bunny, just like you were a Benedictine. I don't know about your grasp of Catholic theology, I simply pointed out your mistake about beatification, which falls under Canon Law, which a Benedictine would probably know. Bazinga.
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Myths
written by bernardo, September 23, 2010
I wonder how many jref memebers believe in the myth of monogamy.

We all have our own wishful thinkingdelusions. The point is not that it is an all or nothing deal if it were so the membership would be zero.
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spelling
written by bernardo, September 23, 2010
that's 'members' and 'wishfull thinkingdelusions' smilies/angry.gif
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TAM 8
written by RSLSBH, September 24, 2010
I have a need to state my point of view about TAM 8, and why I understand how someone, a lot of someones, has/have the notion that Atheism is playing a much more prominant role in the JREF recently.

My husband has attended every TAM since TAM 4. I came with him to all but TAM 5, but I usually come for the social activities, or to support him as he gives talks or accepts an award. I usually visit family while my husband attends the conference. I know that talks quite often lean toward atheism at this annual (and one semiannual) event because I walk in on them when I come to meet my husband for lunch or just before his talk and I hear it. TAM 8, however, was much more blatantly atheist than all the other TAMs I've witnessed.

And it started right off that way, before the "conference" part began. First of all, a "reception" should be a time for folks who haven't seen each other since the last event to get together, laugh, have conversation. At TAM 8 there was a panel discussion going on during the reception which set the tone for the conference: atheism is good, belief in God is bad, if not stupid, and everyone in attendance needed to shoosh and listen to what the panel was saying. I am a Christian. I was with some people who are also "believers," though they may not believe exactly as I do. We were surprised, if not shocked, by what transpired during that reception.

I'm sorry I missed Phil Plait's speech. I would have cheered him more loudly than anyone else there. What he said (I saw the youtube video) about being a skeptic goes for the atheists in the crowd. Tolerance, respect and controlled temper must be the order of the day if any MEANINGFUL discussion about ANYTHING of importance is to take place.

Every time I came in to meet my husband, every JREF-sponsored activity I attended at TAM 8, I heard intolerance of "believers." What made me even more upset was that we were introducing some "believers" to the organization who had never attended before. If you don't become more tolerant of people who believe that science does not have all the answers you will never be able to get your points of view across, nor convince us that your belief is better than ours.

DJ, I agree with your statement that religion or lack-of should not be the focus of the JREF. Judging by TAM 8, however, it very surely is.

Does this mean I will not support the JREF, not continue to attend the social functions, that I throw my hands up and give up on the forums or the Wonderful and Amazing James Randi? Absolutely not! You need to hear my voice. Even if it's calling from a distance. I believe in the "education" aspect of the organization and want to help it continue. And I love many of the people associated with this organization (including that incredible hugger, James Randi). No, I'm not going away. I will do what I can to help the focus get to where it needs to be: on EDUCATION, not believer-bashing.
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@ RSLSBH
written by laursaurus, September 25, 2010
You need to hear my voice. Even if it's calling from a distance. I believe in the "education" aspect of the organization and want to help it continue. And I love many of the people associated with this organization (including that incredible hugger, James Randi). No, I'm not going away. I will do what I can to help the focus get to where it needs to be: on EDUCATION, not believer-bashing.


Thank you for speaking up! I'm not sure if you deliberately wish to be anonymous or if the regulars that frequent this blog recognize your username. Either way, it definitely takes courage to come out as a Christian to the JREF. Phil Plaits speech also took guts. Given the context you provided really helps to explain why his message wasn't clear to so many skeptics. If the overall theme of the rest of TAM was anti-theist rhetoric, the approach was far too subtle. I don't think he realized that the way it was worded set the same tone he was criticizing.People got stuck wondering who Phil was calling a "dick." If the public education is truly the primary goal of the JREF, they have to walk the walk to achieve success. Keep religion, even atheism, out of science education.
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@laursaurus
written by RSLSBH, September 25, 2010
It was not my intent to be anonymous. I should have put my name to my comment but just didn't think about it. I am Susan Lancaster. My husband is Robert Lancaster, webmaster of StopSylvia.com, where he debunks the celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne. I am known on the Forums as RSL's Better Half, but could not use that screen name here so shortened it to an acronym. Most Forumites know I am a Christian. My husband is agnostic.

I thought Phil's speech was great. I'm sorry to hear that it was not fully understood by all the people it was meant to reach. For the record, I don't think he was calling anyone in particular a "dick." He was saying, "Don't be" one. Respect for others goes a long way when you are trying to make a point of view understood. Yes, I know there are plenty on my side of the fence who should follow the same advice.
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Living in an evidence-based world
written by Michieux, October 01, 2010
It's no coincidence that the wave of atheism that appears to be far from cresting any time soon is reflected at the JREF. How could it not be so? To me it seems disingenuous to call oneself a critical thinker or skeptic and yet entertain notions of gods or other magical beings. I think that the former supporter of the JREF may be feeling somewhat embattled, given the pervasiveness of the aforementioned wave. He is not alone, as witnessed by the rapidity with which accommodationists are putting fingers on keyboards, trying to rush science and religion to the altar. (Now there's a relationship definitely not made in heaven!)
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Wave of Atheism?
written by RSLSBH, October 01, 2010
It is not a coincidence that I disagree with Michieux. Critical thinking is not exclusive to atheism. I, however, will not insult any critical thinker with a "No True Scotsman" fallacy. I will simply say that I believe the assumption that "believing" somehow precludes one from being a critical thinker is incorrect, and detremental to the "critical thinking movement", which is a more "sellable product" for the JREF to peddle than atheism.
Susan
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...
written by William, October 04, 2010
Thank you, Susan.

Only an atheist calls God "magical". I prefer "supernatural".
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