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Diversity at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Brian Thompson   

Earlier this week, Christian Walters of the Atlanta Skeptics posted an article entitled "Spelling Diversityjf without JREF" on his blog The Man Version.  Don't worry, the spelling of that headline is intentional, since Christian is a hilarious writer.  In fact, the whole blog is funny, insightful, and worth a read.

In this article, Christian raises some thoughtful points about diversity in the skeptics community.  His main thesis is that diversity is the responsibility more of local skeptical organizations than national and international ones like the JREF.  It's a point well taken.  Many people are first exposed to associating with like-minded skeptics by attending Skeptics in the Pub meetings or group discussions at their local science centers or schools.  If someone is made to feel unwelcome by a lack of diversity at the local level, it makes sense that she or he would think twice about traveling to a big event like TAM for fear of encountering the same kind of homogeneous atmosphere.

But regardless, we at the JREF do take diversity seriously, and it's something we strive to achieve at our events.  If the skeptics community is going to thrive and grow, it's essential that no one feel unwelcome or excluded due to race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.  And we think our programs are better if they draw on the talents of everyone, not just one segment of the population or another. There is always room for improvement, but here are some recent statistics to show the progress we've been making:

This year, 1,672 people attended TAM 9. Of the 1,593 who pre-registered, only 26 were Las Vegas locals.  We had attendees from every U.S. state save Wyoming, Delaware, and Rhode Island. 13% of our attendees were from outside the U.S., and 4% were from outside North America. A whopping 52% were first-time attendees, which demonstrates TAM's phenomenal growth. We had almost doubled the attendees this year from just two years before.

Just over 40% of our registrants and half of our speakers were women.  In fact, there was higher gender and racial diversity on our program than at any previous TAM. The high number of female participants seems to indicate that women feel welcome at TAM.  And the diversity in our program isn't the result of any sort of quota system.  We simply feel our program was the best we could assemble and reflects the diversity inherent in our community.

One other point Christian raises is that atheism and skepticism are often conflated, making religious people feel uncomfortable at TAM and other skeptical events.  This is a controversial issue within the skeptical community, and there are many facets to the discussion that are beyond the scope of this post.  But one fact is certain: the JREF is not an atheist organization.  To be sure, we count many atheists among our allies, but our focus is on science advocacy and education.  We regularly work with religious believers of many different stripes to further that cause as well.

If you have any thoughts about how the JREF and the skeptical community as a whole can work toward greater diversity, we would love to hear about it.  Drop us a note in the comments below, or email me directly at brian@randi.org. We will be posting video of our diversity panel from TAM 9 soon, and I predict our president D.J. Grothe will blog about the topic in the days ahead.

And remember: despite what Christian would have you believe in his article, I have never been called "El Boomboom".

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Responding to Popsaw's poppycock
written by feldesq, September 18, 2011
The assertion that skeptics have closed their minds to intelligent design theorists is already an aged canard. As has been explained ad nauseum, I.D. has both a substantive problem and a political problem. Substantively, it is a faith-based posit, and the faith element derives from a number of religions. Politically, it is a Trojan horse for creationism (as the Kitzmiller decision so eloquently explained), also a religion-based concept. Were it the case that I.D. was merely aimed at “filing in gaps” in our knowledge, its science perfidy would not be diminished; however, it is used to try and discredit well established science (e.g., evolution theory). I.D. may have its place in parochial school curricula (though such curricula further the meme of religion and themselves undermine quality science education); however, we as skeptics are fully justified in questioning (and attacking) all faith-based, anti-science assertions and their corollary pseudo-science), such as I.D. just as we have a right (and similar duty) to attack homeopathy, acupuncture, and all other forms of flim flam.

Our minds remain “open” to the possibility that some supernatural entity has set all of the natural cosmos in motion, but in the absence of evidence, the theory must remain stored away with all the other yet-unfounded “possibilities.” To maintain an inquisitive and open mind is not to accept whatever faith-based ideas may be floated our way.
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written by daveg703, September 18, 2011
smilies/angry.gif@feldesq:
Substantively, it is a faith-based posit


I see that as a generalization that is both unjustified and inaccurate, for it denies the possibility that someone who subscribes to no faith or religion, and who acknowledges no extant deity (such as myself) can come to the conclusion that there is intelligent design- spelled lowercase deliberately.
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written by Caller X, September 18, 2011
Have to agree with Popsaw. While I think intelligent design is nonsense, the excessive use of the term "woo woo" makes the user seem small and weak, as well as probably picked on in school and desperate to get back at someone for it. Perhaps creationists should start calling skeptics "fussy-pants." I think I will.

Popsaw makes another good point. Evolution is by no means "proven" although it seems the best explanation for the observed facts.

Stop being fussy-pantses.

On a more positive note, I know that non-profits make a huge portion of their income from annual or semiannual meetings, so good for the JREF on doubling attendance. Creationist money is green, too, and spends as well as any. A tip o' the carny hat to the JREF!

And congratulations on all the coloreds. Does one check a box when registering? How's the diversity among salaried employees of the Foundation going? Do tell.
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written by phlebas, September 18, 2011
Thanks, Brian! And thanks for the stats. Very interesting. (What the hell is wrong with people in Wyoming?)

You said the gender and racial diversity was better for TAM 9 that it had been previously. Do you have the racial demographics for the last two TAMs? I'm sure they were better, but it would be interesting to see how much.

My point on my blog was simply that the numbers at TAM are not going to go up much quicker until the pool of skeptics becomes more diverse. Judging by my own experience with the Atlanta Skeptics and what I've heard from other skeptics groups, we're still a very white bunch. I feel that will only change when we can actually demonstrate some value in these other communities. I talked about vaccine clinics since they have been fresh on my mind thanks to Dragon*Con, but vaccine clinics may not be feasible everywhere. (We're spoiled in Atlanta with the CDC right here.) The local groups would be better able to determine something achievable that would make a difference to other ethnic groups in that area.

(I believe the same can be said of the economically disadvantaged. We will probably never get a huge representation from there, although the JREF scholarships certainly help. But they can come to local group meetings if they know about them and care about what they're doing.)

I certainly didn't mean to imply that the JREF was doing a bad job at promoting diversity. Quite the opposite. But if we're going to make any meaningful changes, it's going to take more than the rest of us sitting back and hoping we have more non-white speakers at the next TAM. The racial makeup at TAM is important to know and to track, but it's at best a reflection of what's happening across skepticism as a whole. If I know there is a growing community of Hispanic or Asian or African-American skeptics here in Atlanta, I am less concerned if there aren't many at TAM.

But few of them are going to come to us unless we reach out into their communities and show them the benefits of what we're on about.

All my opinions, of course. I'll let you know how it goes.

- Christian
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@daveg703, Caller X
written by Nuckpang, September 19, 2011
I think the distinction between something being "Faith-based" and someone's individual faith is an important point. I would argue that I.D. is faith-based, not because it requires a belief in a deity, but because it's not necessarily an evidence-based belief. Evolution is supported by 150 years of accumulated evidence, from Darwin's initial observations to modern genetics, and we have a pretty solid understanding of it at this stage. It's observable, testable and can be used to make predictions, so although "proof" is something which only really exists in maths, evolution is pretty much as sure a "fact" as gravity is at this stage. On the other hand, despite various attempts in court, Intelligent Design has not produced any convincing scientific evidence to support its claims.

Just to avoid any confusion, because this is something that crops up a lot in arguments, my understanding is that "Intelligent Design" is not the same as "Theistic Evolution", which is the idea that God might have guided evolution, but not interfered, while Intelligent Design implies that God (or another agent) directly intervened, creating the bacterial flagellum, etc.

I completely agree that religion and scepticism can coexist and work together, and that we should remain agnostic about issues like the beginnings of the universe until we have a plausible hypothesis, but I'm afraid Intelligent Design just doesn't fit into that category of issues. Sorry for being a fussy-pants smilies/wink.gif
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written by Baloney, September 19, 2011
@phlebas (Christian Walters) said:
My point on my blog was simply that the numbers at TAM are not going to go up much quicker until the pool of skeptics becomes more diverse.


From "James Randi" on Facebook:
(30 June 2011, 1:17pm) "Unfortunately folks, TAM Vegas 2011 registration is now sold out. Please email TAM@randi.org if you want to be put on a waiting list."


...or until they start offering more tickets. That tends to also limit the number of attendees. smilies/wink.gif
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written by phlebas, September 19, 2011
Heh.

When I said "numbers," I really meant "percentage of minority attendees." As things stand, if we get a room for TAM that can hold 500 more people, we're probably looking at 490+ more white people.

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@phlebas
written by FledgelingSkeptic, September 19, 2011
Do me a favor and let me know how the vaccine clinic idea goes over in the real world. Someone in the Orlando area just started a new skeptic's group a couple months ago and if the idea goes over well where you are, I'd like to propose we start doing them down here.
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written by lytrigian, September 19, 2011
Unless the skeptic community as a whole becomes less openly hostile to religious believers, I'm afraid it's not so easy to take the "not an atheist organization" disclaimer seriously. Certainly, one cannot profess any sort of religious belief and still feel welcome, regardless of what any organization's mission statement might say. Most do not seem as sensible on the subject as Nuckpang, above.

That is -- is an organization better characterized by what it says it is, or how its members (and very often, its founder) actually behave?
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FledgelingSkeptic
written by phlebas, September 19, 2011
I definitely will. In fact, I'll be writing about every step in the process. We have done these before (well, not me, but others in the Atlanta group) at Dragon*Con. I'm also curious to see how it'll work out in a much different setting.
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written by latsot, September 19, 2011
@popsaw:
I believe the origin of matter, the Universe and life should be quarantine subjects since they are unreconcilable and cannot be subjected to the scientific method.


I believe the existence of fairies, unicorns and vampires should be quarantine subjects since they are unreconcilable and cannot be subjected to the scientific method.

Skeptics dislike intelligent design for precisely one reason: there is not the slightest evidence for it. It's completely made up from start to finish. Therefore, there is absolutely no good reason at all to suspect it's any more true than the existence of fairies or unicorns.

When skeptics come across a proposition with no evidence whatever in support of it - despite a lot of looking - the correct response is to conclude, provisionally, that there's no good reason to believe it and that it's probably not true. It is incorrect to assume that it's as likely to be true as an alternative explanation for which we have vast amounts of unassailable evidence.
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written by latsot, September 19, 2011
@CallerX
Stop being fussy-pantses.


I'm struggling to understand why it's any more 'fussy' to demonstrate that something like ID is untrue than to demonstrate that something like homoeopathy is untrue.

ID doesn't even come close to being a valid explanation of the facts. It's the very opposite of an explanation because it deliberately ignores some facts, cherry-picks others, makes no testable predictions and - most importantly of all - is not supported by a single piece of evidence.

For what reason then are we supposed to refrain from telling people that it's not only a wrong idea but a bad idea? For what reason should we avoid calling it "woo"?

I'll grant that if *all* we did was dismiss ID as woo without explaining WHY it's woo, then we'd have a weak argument. But that plainly isn't the case. Many of us are sick and tired of explaining why evolution is true and ID is not.
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written by latsot, September 19, 2011
CallerX
I think the distinction between something being "Faith-based" and someone's individual faith is an important point. I would argue that I.D. is faith-based, not because it requires a belief in a deity, but because it's not necessarily an evidence-based belief.


I agree with this, but it's also important to recognise that the people pushing for ID to be taught alongside evolution in schools are almost exclusively religious and are doing so with religious motives. While it's certainly possible to believe in ID without being religious, that's not a particularly important point because ID simply wouldn't be an issue if it wasn't a big part of religious lobbies.
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written by latsot, September 19, 2011
Unless the skeptic community as a whole becomes less openly hostile to religious believers, I'm afraid it's not so easy to take the "not an atheist organization" disclaimer seriously. Certainly, one cannot profess any sort of religious belief and still feel welcome, regardless of what any organization's mission statement might say. Most do not seem as sensible on the subject as Nuckpang, above.


There are several important issues here and I don't want to get too bogged down in things that have been said many times before.

First, there's something wrong with this sentence:

If the skeptics community is going to thrive and grow, it's essential that no one feel unwelcome or excluded due to race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.


which is that one of the things on that list is not like the others. Religion is about ideas and ideas - for skeptics - should always be open to question. The problem is that many religious people feel that simply questioning their belief is a hostile act. We wouldn't think of adding 'politics' to that list, for example, or 'preferred economic theory'. We expect that these stances will be questioned by others and we don't usually get particularly upset if other people think we're wrong.

Religion is no different except that we've become used to its enjoying a special status which protects it from criticism by social convention. Why aren't we saying we don't want people to feel unwelcome on the basis of their beliefs about dowsing, for example? It's because religion gets a special status by convention. There's no rational reason for it.

I think it would be great if religious people felt welcome at skeptic meetings, but only if they accept that their beliefs and ideas - just like everyone else's beliefs and ideas - are open to scrutiny. They don't have to like it when people question their religion, but they really don't have any grounds to complain about it.
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written by popsaw, September 19, 2011
"Skeptics dislike intelligent design for precisely one reason: there is not the slightest evidence for it. It's completely made up from start to finish. Therefore, there is absolutely no good reason at all to suspect it's any more true than the existence of fairies or unicorns."

Of course the evidence is there. It is the same evidence that evolutionists use to support their predispositions. Since there is not the slightest bit of evidence for the atheistic view that the Universe arose from nothing. Atheism should be subject to the same contempt.
Since nobody has proved that Unicorns and fairies exist, the skeptical position that they do not is safe. However, since nobody has proved or demonstrated how matter can appear from nothing, this claim belongs with the Unicorns and fairies claim. You may counter that the same applies to ID. And on it goes, never resolved, which is my point.
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written by latsot, September 20, 2011
Of course the evidence is there. It is the same evidence that evolutionists use to support their predispositions.


If that's the case, perhaps you can explain how the fossil record supports ID? Or molecular data, exactly how does that support ID? You see, evidence works this way: you construct a hypothesis then you see whether data supports that hypothesis. If it does, then it's evidence for that hypothesis.

Perhaps you can tell me what hypotheses ID makes, other than the overarching claim that a fictional being did it all? Let me give you a hint: irreducible complexity. It's not really a proper hypothesis, but I'll let that go if you can tell me of any evidence that supports it.

So you see, the claim that ID uses the same evidence as evolution isn't just wrong, it is incoherent. It doesn't have any meaning because ID doesn't have any hypotheses or testable claims. There's nothing for data to be evidence *for*.

Since there is not the slightest bit of evidence for the atheistic view that the Universe arose from nothing. Atheism should be subject to the same contempt.


First, it's not contempt to say something is wrong because it is not supported by evidence. It's just the truth. If you don't happen to like the truth, that's your problem. Second, the scientific (not specifically atheist) view is not that the universe 'came from nothing'. Big Bang theory says that the universe was formed by the expansion of a singularity. There's lots of evidence for this. Where the singularity came from is a different problem and nobody knows for sure. There are various hypotheses though, some with some evidence. It's certainly the case that the evidence - to date - is far from conclusive. However, Third, the fact that we don't know everything about the origins of the universe shouldn't lead us to suspect that a god did it. That's just plain faulty reasoning, grabbing at an explanation from thin air. It's not at all the same as forming valid hypotheses and then looking for data. It's just claiming something is true because you want it to be.

You may counter that the same applies to ID. And on it goes, never resolved, which is my point.


It is resolved perfectly. ID isn't a scientific theory so there is no possible way we can distinguish it from pure fantasy. Evolution is a scientific theory so we can test to see whether it's true. We've done that and it turns out that it is true. And we can explain why. None of this is the case for ID.

You can't counter that by saying we don't know how something came from nothing, partly because neither ID nor evolution have anything to do with the origins of the universe; partly because it's not a claim mainstream science makes in the first place; and partly because gaps in knowledge don't entitle people to just plain make stuff up to fill them.
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@latsot
written by Caller X, September 20, 2011
Typing a lot is not helping your position, which is generally reasonable except for the category error of comparing the existence of unicorns etc. with the origins of matter, the existence of which no one except solipsists would dispute. You do accept the existence of matter, do you not?

Drinking a lot today? Maybe take a walk. Cool off. Go back and look at what I said about how using the word "woo" makes you sound.
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written by latsot, September 20, 2011
...the category error of comparing the existence of unicorns etc. with the origins of matter, the existence of which no one except solipsists would dispute.


I'm not comparing origins with existence. I'm comparing one proposition that can't technically be disproved with another. I was demonstrating that popsaw was indulging in some special pleading.

Perhaps while I'm out for my walk, presumably buying more booze, you could examine your own tone and ask yourself how it makes you look.
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written by popsaw, September 20, 2011
Evolution is a scientific theory so we can test to see whether it's true. We've done that and it turns out that it is true.

This is an absurd claim. Evolution is not established fact and is defined a biological theory. Even if it were, Darwin himself conceded that "all existing terrestial life must have descended from some primitive life form that was brought into existence by the creatorbeen bought into existence by a creator"
So the atheistic claim that matter arose from nothing has absolutely no evidential support and is merely a miraculous,faith based claim.
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written by phlebas, September 20, 2011
These are all excellent examples of the kinds of things I will totally not be talking about when trying to create inroads into new communities.
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written by latsot, September 20, 2011
@phlebas:
These are all excellent examples of the kinds of things I will totally not be talking about when trying to create inroads into new communities.


I don't know what particular inroads you're making into which communities and for what purpose, but I have a question:

What about once you've made those inroads? Do we forever agree not to discuss things that make some people uncomfortable? Do we agree to disagree? Or do we all enjoy ourselves by rolling up our sleeves for a damn good argument?
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written by rayfowler, September 20, 2011
" But one fact is certain: the JREF is not an atheist organization. "

Since there is no organizaed religion that does not rely on supernatural beliefs, then a skeptical organization is necessarily an atheist one.

Ergo, per your statement, JREF is not a skeptical organization.

I guess that means my dollars targeted the resist the encroachment of the supernatural in our society will have to go to some other organization.
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written by djgrothe, September 20, 2011
Hi Ray -- I think you must misunderstand. The JREF is not an atheist organization in the sense that we do not push atheism. But we are a secular organization, in that we do not push religion. We focus on educating the public about the paranormal and pseudoscience. Many religious people join us in this effort, even as we argue that even religion should not be immune from such skeptical inquiry. Our take on JREF and atheism is explained at: http://www.randi.org/site/inde...jref.html. From that post:

"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. "

I hope this clarifies the issue about our limited mission. Current staff happen to all be atheists, but atheism is not the focus of our organization's mission.
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written by rayfowler, September 20, 2011
"While theism — belief in god — is a supernatural claim, it is not our primary focus at the JREF."

From a skeptic's viewpoint, I do not understand the need to carve out a special exemption for the supernatural beliefs of religions.

"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."

The supernatural components of mainstream religions whose proponents you wish to include are indeed testable.

You could spend two solid weeks at a TAM conference just debunking various mainstream Christian supernatural beliefs and still be unfinished.

Frankly, this may very well be a watershed moment for JREF. You guys are not the only skeptics in town. If you want to be inclusive of religions because you choose to not "focus" on them, then you will likely lose a lot of your atheist supporters in favor of those skeptical organizations that recognize religious beliefs as antithetical to skepticism and reason.

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written by truthspeaker, September 20, 2011
I imagine people who believe in astrology are also sometimes uncomfortable at skeptic meetings. In the name of diversity, we should make sure to be more welcoming of them, and make sure any diversity panels include at least one person who believes in astrology, one person who believes in remote viewing or other psychic phenomena, one person who believes in Bigfoot or other cryptids, and one person who believes in alien abductions.

Have I missed anyone? I don't want anyone to feel unwelcome.
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written by popsaw, September 20, 2011
I think that the frequent inclusion of anti religious 'Your Skeptic stories' has perpetuated the belief that JREF is a skeptics organization in spirit if not in reality.
From the Green Frog story
Holly Campbell was born into an evangelical christian home and was "saved" at the ripe age of 5.

Robert Ramon Bouchers Skeptic Story

As I continued to question these expensive and probably harmful practices, they all dropped away: acupuncture, Homeopathy, yoga, belief in god(s), fear of Big-(fill in the blank), etc.

Kevin's Skeptic Story 27th Aug
It was not until I was almost 20 that I applied this logic to god. I never had much trouble letting go of the belief in god

Jay's Skeptic story 20th Aug
I saw that Islam was no different that any other religion I’d studied; just myths and dogma created by men.

Mason's Skeptic Story 13th Aug

What I learned in those two classes certainly made more sense to me than being taught that the biblical stories are inerrant.

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@latsot
written by phlebas, September 20, 2011
If I do an event like a vax clinic, I am not doing it to recruit new skeptics. This is especially true if I do it at a church.

If I am fortunate enough to generate some interest in my particular group or in skepticism in general, I am definitely not going to just slap the hymnal out of their hands and start screaming about how they can't join unless they're atheists. I would tell them about promoting critical thinking, such as looking at the evidence of the efficacy of vaccines compared to the lack of evidence of anything Jenny McCarthy is peddling. I am talking about people who may have never heard the word "skepticism" used the way we use it. People who do not know what critical thinking really is. Given the opportunity, I would work to lube their minds up to the ideas and possibilities it holds.

I am not going to take a single conclusion that I have reached and ram that down their throats. I'm not a teacher, but I have a feeling that's not a good way to learn. If they can get to the point where they critically examine available evidence, then we all win, even if we occasionally reach different conclusions.

Having once been a religious person, I remember the steps I took to get where I am now. If I had asked someone about skepticism and they immediately starting getting in my face about my beliefs at the time, I probably wouldn't have been able to back anything up. But I would have walked away thinking that skeptics are jerks.

If it's a goal of yours to shout down Christians, then I hope you have fun. I believe skepticism can be much more than that, if we can be just a little patient and a little understanding. I'm not sure we have enough of those qualities in our own community yet.
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written by truthspeaker, September 20, 2011
phlebas - who is trying to shout down Christians? Who is advocating shouting down Christians or defending such a practice?

Subjecting Christian supernatural claims to the same scrutiny as any other supernatural claim is not shouting anyone down.
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@truthspeaker
written by popsaw, September 20, 2011
Have I missed anyone? I don't want anyone to feel unwelcome.

You missed out those that believe that matter arose from nothing. I don't know the name of this mircale/faith based group but such persons do exist! smilies/wink.gif
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written by djgrothe, September 20, 2011
Ray, you raise some good points, but I have to emphasize the mission of the JREF: "to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today."

There are a number of worthwhile organizations that focus solely on diminishing religion in our society and on advancing atheism. The JREF is not one of them — just as those organizations do not focus on much else than pushing atheism (they aren't investigating faith healers, testing psychics on national television, launching nation-wide public awareness campaigns on the dangers of homeopathy, etc. etc. like the James Randi Educational Foundation is).

Randi's work over decades has been to expose harmful paranormal and pseudoscientific charlatans in society, not just to criticize belief in God, even as he (and I) are outspoken and enthusiastic atheists. To the extent that religious claims are testable, they become our organization's focus (indeed, it was the topic of one of Randi's books, The Faith Healers). And many religious folks even support us in these efforts, which we welcome.

As I say above, even religion should not be immune from such skeptical inquiry, and at TAM and on our website, religious claims are often treated. But to support the JREF's efforts to promote critical thinking about harmful paranormal, pseudoscientific and supernatural claims, you don't need to be an atheist. Indeed, many notable skeptics and a number of longstanding JREF volunteers are not atheists (Martin Gardner and Pamela Gay come to mind, in addition to the longtime emcee of TAM, Hal Bidlack).

Lastly, the skepticism/atheism relationship, long debated in our movements over the last 30+ years, is an important discussion (and we have been having it with our supporters and at TAM and on our website). But it is slightly peripheral to the main point of Brian's post which was mostly on ethnic and gender diversity within the skeptics movement, and which is another important discussion that merits concrete action.

Thanks Ray for engaging on the atheism issue, and I hope that you better understand our take on the various aspects of the topic.

Cheers,

D.J.
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@truthspeaker
written by phlebas, September 20, 2011
Remember that we're talking about outreach. (Or at least I am talking about outreach. Others seem to be dragging out that tedious ideological purity test crap.) If you're talking to a religious person about skepticism for the first time, then attacking their beliefs is stupid -- unless all you want is a punching bag so you can demonstrate to yourself how smart you are.

I am more interested in slowly opening the doors than immediately kicking in the windows. If I can keep them interested and willing to talk to me, there will be plenty of time to explain later why I'm an atheist.

Why do you people insist on instantly charging after what is likely their oldest and most deeply held set of beliefs?
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written by truthspeaker, September 20, 2011
"Why do you people insist on instantly charging after what is likely their oldest and most deeply held set of beliefs? "

We don't. We insist on treating their beliefs exactly the same as all other supernatural beliefs. That's it. I don't understand why any skeptic, religious or otherwise, would have an objection to that.

I don't expect or want JREF to be an atheist organization. I expect JREF not to give religious beliefs special treatment.
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written by truthspeaker, September 20, 2011
And I ask again - who is advocating shouting down Christians?
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written by phlebas, September 20, 2011
Sorry, truthspeaker. Not gonna play here or on my own blog.
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written by truthspeaker, September 20, 2011
So you admit that nobody in the skeptic community is advocating shouting down Christians?
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written by Caller X, September 20, 2011
written by truthspeaker, September 20, 2011
I imagine people who believe in astrology are also sometimes uncomfortable at skeptic meetings. In the name of diversity, we should make sure to be more welcoming of them, and make sure any diversity panels include at least one person who believes in astrology, one person who believes in remote viewing or other psychic phenomena, one person who believes in Bigfoot or other cryptids, and one person who believes in alien abductions.

Have I missed anyone? I don't want anyone to feel unwelcome.


All of the people you mention are already welcome, as long as they can pony up the attendance fee.

blackpeopleloveus.com
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written by truthspeaker, September 20, 2011
@CallerX - exactly my point!
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written by Kagehi, September 20, 2011
I'm struggling to understand why it's any more 'fussy' to demonstrate that something like ID is untrue than to demonstrate that something like homoeopathy is untrue.


Because homeopaths are a minority, and no one runs on the basis of being one for political campaigns. That is **all** the difference. If there was suddenly a majority of people that thought space aliens where real, the whole branch of skepticism that involve UFOs would become instantly, "do not touch", for some people too.

This is an absurd claim. Evolution is not established fact and is defined a biological theory.


Uh.. Sentence is slightly confusing, but I think what you are suggesting is that there is some sort of difference between a well established "theory" and "fact". That is nonsense.

Even if it were, Darwin himself conceded that "all existing terrestial life must have descended from some primitive life form that was brought into existence by the creator been bought into existence by a creator"


I just read his book. I can't seem to remember him saying anything of the sort, at least about it being "created". And it wouldn't be relevant anyway. I should also note that if more than one sort of "life" had existed, which ever one was chemically more efficient would have eventually won, probably well before life got past the single cell form. The reason it isn't happening now, is because the "simple" chemistry needed would be swallowed up by microbes. There literally isn't any place where life "could" start, that isn't already full of them. Its like looking for new apples in an orchard, the day *after* the farmer picked all of them.

So the atheistic claim that matter arose from nothing has absolutely no evidential support and is merely a miraculous,faith based claim.


Go complain to a physicist, or a chemist, not a biologist. Evolution = biology, Abiogenesis = Chemistry, at least for the time being. Big bang = Physics.

Biologists are not physicists, and Evolution is not about "physics" *at all*. The closest you get to the two being even remotely connected is a) how long the universe has existed, and even most ID people don't complain about that one much, mostly, and b) the general assumption that there is probably a way for chemical processes, in the absence of life, to form it. And that only comes from the recognition that life is basically complex chemistry, which "temporarily" creates some localize organization. Please, explain to me why the heck a) the big bang has anything at all to do with life developing, *after* it already exists (i.e., evolution), or b) why, other than it makes god even less relevant to the process, the big bang is seen as some attack on religion? I mean, besides the argument that there is no evidence at all to suggest that something "outside" the universe can effect it, pretty much by definition.

ID's major claims seem to be:
1. Irreducible complexity - Wrong, there is no such thing. If there where, you couldn't build a bridge, never mind a cell.
2. Creation of some "initial" life form, instead of arising out of chemical processes - Who knows, but it doesn't help anything else.
3. Front/Pre loading - At least some argue this, as an option to explain away the tinkering god. Its absolute nonsense, with no evidence, and plenty of negative evidence. It presumes that all the data for every animal that ever would exist in the most simple cell. In reality, the complexity of the genetics in a cell, and even how much, if any "junk" it contains, is predicated *entirely* on the energy costs of maintaining all that extra stuff. It, after all, costs energy to replicate, and if you can't afford to do so, like some single cells organisms, it gets rapidly wiped away. In other cases, where there is plentiful resources, it multiplies, since it doesn't "cost" anything to keep it.
4. Skepticism of things that physics study, and the conflation of those things with evolution - These things are not part of, or necessary for, nor have ever been part of, evolution.
5. You can't get from one "kind" to another "kind" - This is patently absurd, even Darwin himself argued, over and over, that what you are likely to find, if you got bloody lucky enough, where "gradients", like you find in ring species. He stated that we would unlikely to even "recognize" new species, and had a bloody hard time figuring out what where "variants" instead, already, in his time. With DNA this is a bit clearer, but the problem still exists. Seems, even among some species, you get weird things, like with plants, where they breed better with there near cousins than themselves, in some cases (from his book).
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written by Willy K, September 20, 2011
But one fact is certain: the JREF is not an atheist organization
I don't think there is any doubt that JREF is a secular organization!

I mention this because a few minutes ago ABC World News did a piece on the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. They spotlighted Jenifer Lopez and Denzel Washington as two of many "success" stories of disadvantaged kids rising to great heights.

Well... I had a questions about this organization and some others as well.
From those organizations websites....

The Boys & Girls Club Code
"I believe in God and the right to worship according to my own faith and religion.
I believe in America and the American way of life…in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I believe in fair play, honesty and sportsmanship.
I believe in my Boys & Girls Club, which stands for these things."

The (Boy) Scout Oath
"On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

The Girl Scout Promise
"On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law."

The Hitler Youth Oath
"In the presence of this blood banner which represents our Führer, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me God."

How dare I compare these fine American institutions the the Hitler Youth! smilies/shocked.gif

To me, pledging yourself to a supernatural Führer is worse than to a human Führer! At least the human Führer was defeated! smilies/tongue.gif
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@Popsaw
written by mariamyrback, September 20, 2011
I think you may misunderstand the purpose behind the "Your Skeptic Stories" series. These are personal anecdotes that come from their lives. These stories are a way to relate to each other and share our experiences as we learn about critical thinking and skepticism. The people who have contributed come from all backgrounds and all types of different experiences. Their stories may or may not include a start in religion. Not all of them do.

BUT simply because those members have come to their on conclusion in regards to a god or gods, that doesn't mean that the organization to which they belong is an atheist organization. The JREF and its board members have chosen to focus their energies on pseudoscience and the paranormal. There are other organizations out there that tackle religious issues. I think DJ explained that all rather well in his replies to Ray.

I hope this clears up any confusion or misunderstanding.
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written by BillyJoe, September 21, 2011
"I hope this clears up any confusion or misunderstanding"

First explain to me how religion does not come under the pseudoscience and paranormal category.
It's just a cop out to exclude religion.
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Religion and skepticism
written by GrandEloquence, September 21, 2011
BillyJoe, since when is he saying it doesnt? In fact he says the opposite is often the case a number of times above. Your obviously just hearing what you want to hear, or being willfully ignorant. See mention of Faith Healing! It is all about what type of claim you are making and whether it can be tested, IMHO. Some organizations are oriented just to fight religion, while it is obvious that Randi's organization cares about testable claims of a psuedoscientific or paranormal nature. Does this automatically exclude religion? Certainly not since Hello! Randi even wrote a book on Faith Healing. But it certainly is not a cop out for a fine organization like the JREF to have its focus on this when there are already other organizations that only focus on the God issue while ignoring all the other pseudoscience and paranormal problems, and for the JREF not to be dogmatic atheists in carrying out their vision.
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what the WHAT now?
written by latsot, September 21, 2011
@phlebas

You've come very close to making some accusations about me which are neither true nor fair. Your post could be seen as an implication that I hold some of the idiotic views and positions you mention when I obviously do not.

I have never written anything here or elsewhere which suggests I hold any such positions, but someone reading your post might easily and understandably get the impression that I do.

Please be more careful about how you address strawman arguments to specific people.
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written by phlebas, September 21, 2011
@latsot

Sorry to offend, but I don't see what you're talking about.

You asked what I was going to do if I made some inroads into some communities and encountered religious people there. At something like a vaccine clinic at a Hispanic church, I would have no inclination to mention religion at all. Instead, I would talk about critical thinking and examining evidence.

I took this to ask if I am going to try to hide the atheists from them if any of them come to skeptics meetings:

What about once you've made those inroads? Do we forever agree not to discuss things that make some people uncomfortable? Do we agree to disagree? Or do we all enjoy ourselves by rolling up our sleeves for a damn good argument?


Of course I am not. I couldn't if I wanted to.

What I don't understand (and maybe this is where our lines got crossed, because I am actually talking about several people in this thread, not you specifically) is why it is so damned important to trot out atheism the very first time we encounter people who don't know what skepticism is. While supernatural religious claims do not deserve to be treated than any other supernatural claim, attacking someone's most cherished beliefs seems to me to be a poor persuasive technique. I've seen it happen time and time again -- they shut down, mutter something about praying for our souls, and wander away unhappy with no new information about how to look at data objectively.

Far better, I think, to gradually introduce them to skepticism and critical thinking and let them get acclimatized. If we can do THAT, don't we all win?
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written by latsot, September 21, 2011
@phlebas

Sorry to offend, but I don't see what you're talking about.


Perhaps it was something to do with your setting the subject of your post to "@latsot" as though you were replying to specific points I had made when I obviously made no such points.

You asked what I was going to do if I made some inroads into some communities and encountered religious people there.


No I didn't. I didn't say anything at all like that. You know perfectly well I didn't, because you quoted my exact words a couple of lines later and as you can plainly see, I didn't say anything of the sort.

For the record, I don't necessarily insist on trotting out atheism the first time I encounter someone who doesn't know what skepticism is. I don't even know how such an encounter would arise. This is yet another strawman. Has anyone on this thread really advocated any such thing? I certainly haven't.

As I've said many times, I welcome people with different views, including religious ones, providing they don't insist that their beliefs are above criticism.

Your special pleading is wearisome. You're not arguing that we should approach groups with a cherished belief in dowsing or reiki and downplay the wrongness of their views in order to swell our ranks or whatever it is you're trying to do. You're talking about religion and you're saying that religion deserves special treatment.

It doesn't. It really doesn't.

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written by phlebas, September 21, 2011
@latsot

Oh, FFS. Here's your whole post. If I misinterpreted your point, I prostrate myself and beseech your forgiveness.


I don't know what particular inroads you're making into which communities and for what purpose, but I have a question:

What about once you've made those inroads? Do we forever agree not to discuss things that make some people uncomfortable? Do we agree to disagree? Or do we all enjoy ourselves by rolling up our sleeves for a damn good argument?


Accuse me of special pleading all you like. I'm saying that attacking someone's cherished beliefs is a poor way to begin a discussion. If you disagree, then I wish you luck if you ever do any outreach.

If I met someone who was into dowsing or reiki, I would do exactly the same thing -- talk to them about critical thinking, try to show them the advantages of it, and trust that following those principles will eventually get them to look at reiki or dowsing. If they ask me specifically about something like that, I'll be honest and tell them the evidence I've seen indicates that reiki and dowsing don't work as advertised. I'd do the same if they asked me about religion -- explain that I don't believe in it and explain why.

But I'm not going to lead with that.

Maybe there's a better way to do it. Maybe my approach is wrong. If so, perhaps someone here can explain how. Until then, I think I'll keep doing it my way.
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written by Caller X, September 21, 2011
@phlebas

You've come very close to making some accusations about me which are neither true nor fair.


phlebas, please stop picking on latsot. Sensitive flower, picked on at school, all those things. You can imagine how hard it must be.

Allahu akbar.
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written by Willy K, September 22, 2011
Hey phlebas and latsot. Have you seen Phil Plait talking about how to deal with the woo believers?

http://vimeo.com/13704095

The talk is entitled "Don't be A Dick." Please watch it before your next round. smilies/tongue.gif
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written by Caller X, September 22, 2011
Calling them "woo believers" is kind of being a dick.
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"Woo" has not wooed me
written by susmart, September 22, 2011
I can see why the skeptic community would like "woo" as an all-encompassing (and fun) term. From a media/marketing standpoint, it's probably even a smart idea.

But to me it's imprecise and confusing. I have heard "woo" used to dismiss- casually, and often in the same sentence: power bracelets, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, global warming, veganism and yoga.

Two of these things are so silly that even I never tried them. But at least two of the others I have benefitted from.

I miss the term "bunk." Nonsense = nonsense, no explanation required.
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