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Bigfoot Skeptics, New Atheists, Politics and Religion PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Steven Novella   

The skeptical movement is having some (charitably characterized) growing pains. It’s nothing new, actually. Ever since I have been involved in organized skepticism (about 17 years) we have been struggling with the exact same identity crisis, and from speaking with older skeptics it seems much longer than that.

What is the skeptical community all about? What are the limits, if any, of skeptical analysis? What should be our goals, and our main focus of attention? There is also an even deeper question – are we, in fact, a movement at all?

These are all interesting and important questions. Recently PZ Myers wrote a brief but provocative blog post addressing some of these questions, which in turn was a response to a longer blog post at Grime and Reason. These posts reflect some common themes that crop up in this discussion, namely that skeptics should address more political, social, and religious issues. This position is nothing new – Paul Kurtz wrote about this years ago, arguing for “free inquiry in every area of human interest.”

At the other end of the spectrum are those like Daniel Loxton who feel that the skeptical movement is best served if we focus on the basics that have defined us as a movement – the scientific analysis of fringe claims.

Before I specifically address some of PZ’s points, let me just lay out my own position. I do think, first of all, that the skeptical movement is a movement. We have organizations, outlets, meetings, activists, and our own subculture. However, we are a movement of people who generally do not like labels, are very protective of their intellectual independence, and do not like, ironically, belonging to movements. Further, skeptics represent a wide diversity of backgrounds and opinions on many topics.

What we are discussing now (and always have) is – what is the intellectual core of skepticism?

I believe that skepticism has several facets, each of which could be an article unto itself, but I will try to briefly summarize. This is what I consider to be the common ground of most if not all self-identified skeptics.

Respect for knowledge and truth – Skeptics value reality and what is true. We therefore endeavor to be as reality-based as possible in our beliefs and opinions. This means subjecting all claims to a valid process of evaluation.

Methodological Naturalism – Skeptics believe that the world is knowable because it follows certain rules, or laws of nature. The only legitimate methods for knowing anything empirical about the universe follows this naturalistic assumption. In other words – within the realm of the empirical, you don’t get to invoke magic or the supernatural.

Promotion of Science - Science is the only set of methods for investigating and understanding the natural world. Science is therefore a powerful tool, and one of the best developments of human civilization. We therefore endeavor to promote the role of science in our society, public understanding of the findings and methods of science, and high quality science education. This includes protecting the integrity of science and education from ideological intrusion or anti-scientific attacks. This also includes promoting high quality science, which requires examining the process, culture, and institutions of science for flaws, biases, weaknesses, and fraud.

Promotion of Reason and Critical Thinking – Science works hand-in-hand with logic and philosophy, and therefore skeptics also promote understanding of these fields and the promotion of critical thinking skills.

Science vs Pseudoscience – Skeptics seek to identify and elucidate the borders between legitimate science and pseudoscience, to expose pseudoscience for what it is, and to promote knowledge of how to tell the difference.

Ideological Freedom/Free Inquiry – Science and reason can only flourish in a secular society in which no ideology (religious or otherwise) is imposed upon individuals or the process of science or free inquiry.

Neuropsychological Humility – Being a functional skeptic requires knowledge of all the various ways in which we deceive ourselves, the limits and flaws in human perception and memory, the inherent biases and fallacies in cognition, and the methods that can help mitigate all these flaws and biases.

Consumer Protection – Skeptics endeavor to protect themselves and others from fraud and deception by exposing fraud and educating the public and policy-makers to recognize deceptive or misleading claims or practices.

The above outline is what I have found to be the common goals shared by most skeptics. It is also my personal list of what I think the skeptical movement does best. I did not include a list of the various mechanisms by which we pursue these goals (like dealing with the media vs direct public outreach). You will also notice the distinct absence of any particular belief or position. A skeptic is not someone who doubts the existence of alien visitors specifically, but rather someone who follows certain methods in assessing any claim.

As we discuss disagreements over what the skeptical movement is or should be, I do think it would be invaluable to also discuss (and remind ourselves) what we consider to be our common ground. If there is something missing from the above list, or you think should be removed, let me know. Perhaps there are hidden assumptions that should be explored. But let’s focus as much, if not more, on what we share rather than focus mostly on what divides us.

Within the above framework there are many different opinions, backgrounds, areas of expertise, and even ideologies. People have different interests and goals. There are also many allied intellectual areas that overlap significantly with skepticism as I have defined it. There are those who promote atheism, feminism, progressivism, libertarianism, and other isms as skeptics.

My position has always been that this is all good. I have never endeavored to tell other people what to do with their own activism. If Penn and Teller want to have a skeptical/libertarian show, that’s their right. They can do what they want. The Skepchicks combine feminism and skepticism, and PZ combines (by his own account) skepticism, atheism, and liberal politics. My view – let a thousand lights shine. At the end of the day, we are all skeptics. Let’s celebrate that, and we can still argue about our differences but let’s not pretend that any skepticism-plus is the one-true-skepticism just because it’s our own.

There are also many differences in background. Some skeptics choose to focus on the application of skepticism to societal problems, or the incursion of ideologies into science education, or religious forms of pseudoscience, or philosophical issues. I don’t expect everyone to be a science-geek like me, or to think that medical pseudoscience is the most important (even though it is Laughing ).

While I think it is useful to talk about strategy, I would be very careful before claiming that one strategy is the right strategy. We are fighting a complex cultural and social problem (pseudoscience, anti-science, and mysticism) and this will take a complex multifarious approach. So let’s let our fellow skeptics follow their skills and inclinations, and see what happens. I don’t pretend that anything I have done is the right way – it’s just the way I have chosen because it fits me.

With all of this as background, let me address some of what PZ wrote in his blog. In response to another blog complaining that many skeptics (specifically naming the SGU) avoid political or economic issues, PZ wrote:

 

Yes. Yes. Yes. The modern skeptical movement is built on a very narrow foundation; a lot of the Old Guard spend an incredible amount of effort restricting the range of allowed topics to a tiny set of staples, which means that too often we hear lots about the bogosity of Bigfoot, but almost nothing about the bogosity of an economic system that maintains gross social inequities. And which belief do you think does greater harm?

 

I love the opportunity to disagree with a fellow skeptic – it usually means we are getting to an interesting and complex area, and it tends to be more satisfying than shooting more fish in a barrel. So let me disagree with everything that PZ wrote above (sorry, PZ). First, I do not think that the modern skeptical movement has a narrow foundation. I outlined it above – that is a massive foundation. It is, in fact, overwhelming. We need more than one movement to tackle it. Science-based medicine itself needs its own movement.

I am also left wondering who PZ thinks is the “old guard?” The oldest modern skeptical organization I know is CSI, and as I mentioned above its founder, Paul Kurtz, spent the last couple of decades arguing for a broadening of its mission in precisely the way PZ is arguing for.

Even within the more narrow scope of science and pseudoscience (in other words, not including overtly social or political issues) traditional skepticism addresses a very broad range of topics – all of alternative medicine, parapsychology, cryptozoology, conspiracy theories, scams, post-modernism, self-help, education, science and the media, neuroscience and self-deception, fringe science, and a long list of topics that do have political, religious, or social implications – genetically modified foods, organic farming, free energy and other energy issues, climate change, creationism, miracle claims, faith-healing, prophesy, channeling – the list is massive.

The term “bigfoot skeptic” which is now catching on in the comments to PZ’s post, is a dismissive straw man. I know it’s not meant to be literal, but just for fun I looked through my posts and in 1,284 posts there are 2 on Bigfoot, both a response to a major news item.

Further, as I have argued before, for skeptical outreach the impact of the specific topic is not the only legitimate concern. We cover topics that are of interest to the public, are in the news, and are fun to talk about. The purpose is to teach the deeper lessons about science and pseudoscience and to teach critical thinking skills – skills that can then be applied broadly.

I have to also disagree that anyone (old guard or not) is spending an “incredible amount of effort restricting the range of allowed topics.” Allowed how? I am aware mostly of skeptical activists justifying their own personal choices of scope and approach, not trying to impose that approach on others. Journal editors and conference organizers are gate-keepers only for their own outlets and events. I see, if anything, more atheist conferences than scientific skeptical conferences. As a conference organizer myself, I can tell you we consider and include a very broad range of topics, but we also have a certain editorial focus. We’re not trying to tell anyone else what to include in their conference.

Ironically I find that it is those who are complaining about the scope of skepticism that are trying to tell others what to do – not the people they are complaining about.

PZ continues:

 

We’ve been struggling for years just to get the established skeptics to recognize that religion, that citadel of lies, is a legitimate target for public criticism. The arguments to exclude that topic have been strained and absurd; most commonly, we’re told that since the claims of religion are completely evidence-free and untestable, True Skeptics™ are not able to address them…and usually these gatekeepers are as bad as creationists in claiming that they have the mantle of science in so constraining their range. They disregard the fact that scientists tend to be extremely dismissive, and appropriately so, of extravagant claims made in the absence of substantive supportive evidence.

 

This one will simply not go away. No matter how many times I clarify and re-clarify my position on religion and skepticism the framing of the issue by those who think skepticism should address matters of faith does not change, which implies to me that they are not really listening. I know PZ is not specifically addressing me here, and there are true accommodationists out there (those who think religious thinking and scientific thinking are compatible and should be integrated), but since he is talking about prominent skeptics he should at least address what every prominent skeptic I know (Eugenie Scott, Massimo Pigliucci, Michael Shermer, Joe Nickel, and others) who shares my position has to say on this matter.

Here it is (again) – The issue is not with religion or religious-based claims. We address them all the time (creationism, miracles, faith healing, separation of church and state, secular moral philosophy, etc.) Really – we are right there shoulder to shoulder with organized atheists taking on every such issue. It is NOT that religious claims are untestable (some are, some aren’t), it is only that when claims (religious or otherwise) are framed as untestable then they are matters of faith and not science.

If you believe in the floating, invisible, heatless dragon then you do so as a matter of faith, because you have insulated that belief from every possible empirical test. You have ejected your own belief from the arena of science. As skeptics we can now say – that belief is not science-based. It is faith. Now the rules of faith apply – which means, in a secular society (see above) you don’t get to teach such belief in the public school classroom, and you don’t get funding for scientific research, you can’t impose your beliefs on others without violating their religious freedom, you cannot claim that insurance companies should cover your therapy, etc. It becomes a matter of personal faith only.

Further, no one is saying that it is outside the realm of skepticism or reason to argue that arbitrary faith-based beliefs are counter-productive, difficult to justify philosophically, or to point out when they defy logic (by being, for example, self-contradictory). The only restraint I would argue for is one not imposed by me but by philosophy (in my opinion) – I don’t think it is legitimate to say that a faith-based belief can be proven wrong by science. I would, in fact, condemn it with the far harsher criticism of being – not even wrong. It’s not even in the scientific arena.

When PZ writes: “They disregard the fact that scientists tend to be extremely dismissive, and appropriately so, of extravagant claims made in the absence of substantive supportive evidence,” he shows that he does not understand our position. His statement about scientists is correct, but irrelevant. It applies to scientific claims (anything testable), but not the untestable, to that scientists say – that is not even science.

On to the even thornier issue of politics, PZ writes:

 

Similarly, I can predict that skeptics will now struggle to exclude politics and economics from any debate; economics is notoriously fuzzy, and politics is wracked with extremes of opinion. But of course both fields do have hard evidence that can be addressed. Does the American political and economic system cause great hardship for many people? Does it promote stability and international cooperation? Are some of our expenditures unnecessary and others insufficient? Are there evidence-based alternative strategies that work better? Can we compare economies in different countries and assess their relative performance?

 

And most importantly, should rational skeptics take a stand on these issues, discuss and debate them, and come to reasonable conclusions? I don’t think it’s true that they are unresolvable.

 

Let me clarify my position with respect to political issues (and again, having discussed this many times with many skeptics I find this to be a common sentiment). Science and skepticism can absolutely inform political and social discussions. The list I gave above includes many political issues – GM food, farming practices, and energy policy. I would even include certain economic issues, gun control, abortion issues, gender equality, gay rights, and other similar issues. All of these issues incorporate empirical claims at some level. Can a woman’s body “shut down” pregnancy from rape? No. What does the evidence have to say about the relationship between specific gun control policies and gun violence? What are the risks posed by GM crops? What is the cost-benefit of recycling paper? Should we outlaw the hunting and shooting of Bigfoot? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

However, I do personally feel that it is important to tread carefully on such issues – at least for me, because I choose to cultivate a politically neutral skeptical approach. Others choose to do the same. This is partly strategic (maximizing outreach) and partly just personal style. Still others choose to promote skepticism alongside liberalism or libertarianism – good for them. That’s their choice.

If one’s goal is to be politically neutral, then when dealing with such issues it is important to thoughtfully distinguish between empirical claims and value judgments. It is one thing to talk about the medical effects of circumcision, another to advocate or condemn the practice based upon whether or not the balance of effects are worth it. The former is an empirical claim, the latter is a value judgment.

Issues of freedom vs security, individualism vs collectivism, meritocracy vs egalitarianism are all value judgments. It is not just counterproductive, it is simply wrong to frame these issues as empirical questions objectively resolvable with skeptical analysis.

This is what we mean when we say we don’t deal with purely political issues. We will deal with the empirical aspects of these issues, and try very hard to distinguish them from the inherent value judgments, while trying to avoid blurring the lines between science and personal choice.

By doing this we can have a broad skeptical movement with an important world view that we share as common ground. At the same time we can recognize that skeptics also have differing political views and cultural backgrounds, but we can all exist within the same activist movement. For me our common ground is more important than our differences. I also think our differences strengthen us because they help keep us honest – if we confuse our ideology with skepticism there are other skeptics with a different ideology who are likely to point it out.

PZ finishes:

 

Unfortunately, opening up the skeptic community to actually discussing these topics would lead to Deep Rifts that make the one over religion look insignificant. We’re riddled with wacky libertarians and their worship of the capitalist status quo (or worse, demanding a greater reduction in government and compassion). A libertarian speaker who openly espoused the opinions of a loon like Ron Paul — and there are people in this community who regard him as a saint — would pretty much guarantee a kind of noisy riot in the audience, and lead to a big chunk of organized skepticism decamping in fury.

 

Which would probably be a good thing.

 

Perhaps I am misunderstanding what PZ is saying here, and if so please correct me, but this sounds an awful lot like a desire to purge the skeptical movement of those with a differing political outlook. I find it hard to see how this would be a good thing.

Conclusion

The intellectual space filled by scientific skepticism, as I outlined above, is both huge and vastly important to our society. I choose to focus my efforts on promoting scientific skepticism (with a personal emphasis, of course, on my specialty of science-based medicine).

I am happy to find common cause with anyone who also wishes to promote scientific skepticism. I honestly don’t care if they also choose to promote skepticism plus some other agenda (as long as that agenda is not inherently anathema to skepticism). I understand that some skeptics wish to also promote atheism or feminism, or to argue for the virtues of their political ideology. Hey – I am an atheist and a feminist, and I support their promotion. I even see the need to promote feminism within the skeptical movement, if we wish to maximize our reach. I just don’t want them to be conflated with or confused for scientific skepticism.

I do object to others telling me what I should care about and promote. I am not telling anyone else what to do, and they have no right to tell me what to do. I am only defining how I spend my own efforts.

I will object if someone makes an illogical argument about what skepticism is, or blurs the lines between scientific skepticism and some other issue. These kinds of discussion are worth having – philosophical and logical arguments about the nature of science and knowledge, and how that informs our movement.

I am also happy to discuss strategy. We have goals (a more rational and scientifically literate world), and it’s perfectly reasonable to discuss how best to expend our resources to achieve those goals.

All movements have internal divisions, and these divisions grow as the movement grows. There is a natural tendency for movements to splinter over time into sub-groups based upon these divisions. I think that would be disastrous for us, given that we are still a relatively small movement with a monumental task before us, including highly motivated (and often well-funded) opponents who wish our failure.

In the end I hope this post helps us understand each other better so that we can be a more effective activist movement. I think we can survive intact if we recognize our vast and important common ground and keep that as our shared focus. Those skeptics who wish to also pursue other issues are welcome and have plenty of outlets to do so. Demands for skeptical purity on issues outside our shared common ground, however, are likely to be counterproductive.

This essay was originally published on Steven Novella's blog, Neurologica.

Steven Novella, M.D. is the JREF's Senior Fellow and Director of the JREF’s Science-Based Medicine project.

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written by lilandra, January 29, 2013
A small point about your bone of contention with PZ. 1. His quote identified a very specific type of libertarian that espoused the ideas of Ron Paul. As you probably already know many of Paul's ideas are in opposition to core skeptical values. He is a creationist who supports the government only funding specifically Christian based charities. I know that there are several flavors of libertarians even ones who support some form of limited government. However, mainstream libertarians as defined by their political party's platform assign agency to the free market to correct society's inequities without regulation. These sorts of claims are skeptical fair game because they are making some sort of truth claim.

I didn't read his comment as a call to purge Paulites. He said that the discussion itself particularly is you challenge a prominent Paulite speaker would result in a backlash from their supporters that would result in them decamping from the movement. I don't necessarily agree about that being a good thing. I do however wish that these differences could be discussed and debated openly and rationally within our movement.
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Movement or Silo
written by denver, January 29, 2013
To the issue of whether or not skepticism is a movement, I'd have to say it is not, or at most not yet. I see these things as movements or silos. Movements are very much ecological, and spread to and are adopted by a large population, and the voice and actions of the population equal or outshine any one person. They have many unofficial events, all of which are recognized as part of the movement. Silos have a few main people who seem to be the stars and speak for the professed adherents, and the population is seen by the public like a big club, to be joined or not, but not to be adopted as a layer of one's life. And they have a few organized events seen as the center of the thing, rather than many ad hoc ones.

And while some within skepticism may refer to it as a movement, I don't believe in general they really believe it, or walk that walk. Probably one of the most important elements that could fire up skepticism more into a movement, are the Skepticamp gatherings. Yet it wasn't even mentioned in the above article. I think until something occurs to enable a sea change here, skepticism will remain a silo, a big club, and not much more.

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written by Coutinho, January 29, 2013
Overall the idea is good, but I cannot agree on the science cannot tell the truth when something is untestable. It is, for all I can see, not true. If it were not, science would not be able to exclude the eter, qi's, miasmas, etc. Science can prove negatives. And phylosophicaly its the same: at least if you keep close to critical thinking principles. Affirmations about reality must conform to certain virtues or else they are weak. If its not testable, not falsifieble, if it doesnt have nothing that can distinguishe it from any random affirmation at all, and most noticeably its own negation, then its value its the same of any random afirmation you can make about whatever. The probability of it being true, is infinitly small. Truth is allways in a minority of the infinite affirmations and entitys we can produce,

Unless you can find a empirical bridge somewere, you cannot claim something as truth or close to it. You can believe it. But belief and knowledge are different things. Philosophers dont desagree. Unless they are solipsists or filosofical skepctics. But you should be skeptic about those.
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Science is nice, but...
written by denver, January 29, 2013
I'd like to make another comment (I'm not picking on Steven, but this article make a good opportunity for discussion). It sounded like it was stating that the main core and facets of skepticism revolved around logic, and reason, and science. It sounds like a very intellectual pursuit. As long as this is the thrust of things, and how Skepticism is explained and highlighted and seen, I do not believe it will thrive.

The core, and how it is explained and propagated, should be about the anger and outrage we feel when we see a scam, or people being cheated, or being made unjustifiable afraid. Of being coaxed to try medicine that is not medicine, or waste time, or money or lives on things that no one has shown has any benefit: or that have been shown to have none. All the fields that traditionally fall under skepticism (Bigfoot, religion, etc), are just rocks that our concern leads us to look under. There are no fields OF skepticism.

I think for skepticism to spread and become a bona fide movement, people need to see more of this outrage, and understand it is what informs skepticism. Science and critical thing are the tools we use to pry up the rocks. and expose the frauds. But its the outrage that really makes us, or at least me, a skeptic.
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written by MichaelD67, January 29, 2013
I mostly agree but here's the part that bugs me:

PZ "Unfortunately, opening up the skeptic community to actually discussing these topics would lead to Deep Rifts that make the one over religion look insignificant. We’re riddled with wacky libertarians and their worship of the capitalist status quo (or worse, demanding a greater reduction in government and compassion). A libertarian speaker who openly espoused the opinions of a loon like Ron Paul — and there are people in this community who regard him as a saint — would pretty much guarantee a kind of noisy riot in the audience, and lead to a big chunk of organized skepticism decamping in fury.


Which would probably be a good thing."



Novella "Perhaps I am misunderstanding what PZ is saying here, and if so please correct me, but this sounds an awful lot like a desire to purge the skeptical movement of those with a differing political outlook. I find it hard to see how this would be a good thing."

To me that describes people not being able to handle criticism of their pet topic. Being able to have your beliefs criticized and either backing them up with evidence/logical argument or changing those beliefs is an important part of critical thinking. If having your pet topic criticized is enough to make you leave I have serious doubts to their interest in critical thinking and examining claims (kind of a very core concept of skepticism). I have no idea if that is how these people would react but it would not speak well of them if they did.

Also please don't throw around the word purge. People leaving a group because they had their ideas challenged is in no way similar to imprisonment, exiling, executions etc that have occurred under historical purges (the great purge under Stalin for example).
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written by Steven Novella, January 29, 2013
Denver - you are talking strategies for outreach, not core principles.
Coutino - your logic is not valid. You cannot use empirical methods to determine the truth of a claim insulated from empirical methods. Science cannot tell if an untestable claim is true or false, by definition. Your argument is a philosophical one, which I acknowledged is a valid way to assess untestable claims. Your reasons for rejecting such claims is reasonable - it's just not science.
Michael - I am willing to listen to PZ clarify what he meant. Still - I don't think language that talks about political ideology in terms of who is desired in the skeptical movement is productive.
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written by lilandra, January 29, 2013
I do understand that people are tired of having this rehashed and they have good reason to be. This is why I think an open live forum discussion with the best proponents from each side would be more effective at putting this to rest. It would be skepticism at it finest to debate these ideas publicly. People are smart enough in our community to discern who is what ideas have greater validity if they are given good information.
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written by MichaelD67, January 29, 2013
@Novella

Out of curiosity where do you stand on the role of philosophy in skepticism? I've had conversations with skeptics (Barbara Drescher for example) who think skepticism should be limited to empirical claims and what science can test.

To me however skepticism is at its core about critical thinking and examining everything (roughly aspects 1 and 4 above). Science and scientific skepticism are a big part of that but to me skepticism is a larger umbrella that should include challenging and examining philosophical problems (untestable claims for example). That they are harder to examine and form consensus on is only a call for more thought on the matter.

Do you think the philosophical examination/discussion of untestable claims or values etc is a part of skepticism?
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written by Coutinho, January 30, 2013
@Dr. Novella:

" your logic is not valid. You cannot use empirical methods to determine the truth of a claim insulated from empirical methods. Science cannot tell if an untestable claim is true or false, by definition. Your argument is a philosophical one, which I acknowledged is a valid way to assess untestable claims. Your reasons for rejecting such claims is reasonable - it's just not science. "

When you say E=MC^2, your not assuming E + (all thats untestable and a few elfs, gods or fairys) equals MC^2 (plus the same amount of untestable entitys). You say that all there is to know about that relation is: E=mc^2. Effectively science cuts out untestable entitys or processes if they are unecessary - simplicity IS a rule in science, be it ontological or sintactical. So its just not a problem of not being science, it is a problem of being rejected as being possibly truth. Its just not true that you can paste anything untestable to a formula and that the formula assumes that it is doing just that. Its rejected by scientific and phylosofical principles, like Occam, Laplace, etc.

Given this, what it seems that you are saying is that although science rejects unfalsifieble claims as being possibly truth, you can allways say, "science is not all there is, so you can construct another epistemological-cognitive system were it may (at least) be true. So lets just say we believe in science but we accept that what science rejects is plausible anyway if we say its beyond science when science rejects it. I never liked this thinking and it calls for a proof of such a system even if this is not a valid argument. I don’t pretend it to be. Not all arguments need to be valid. Inductive arguemts are never valid. And this is what this is. We learned things need to be proven or else are imagined only, conceptual, etc.
Science says that if you claim something you got to justify your claims and the weirder the claim the stronger the justification. And that simplicity rules. Science is the study of what we can know its real. So if there is another system and if you believe in science it calls for that system being consistent and predicted by science. Because until now, its proven the best. If you say it doenst have to be consistent with science, then anything goes from then on.
And I say there is no such sistem. Inductively, you learn that you have never done better then science, (Occam, Laplace, methodology, logics, and so on).
There is knowledge beyond science but its the a weak kind of knowlwdege wich is called anedotal. It may or may not be truth, but it is weak. And can ever go against science.
No phylosopher as ever proved a way to show that a concept is real just by thinking of it, Kant inclusive as shown it to be otherwise.
IF you came up with a claim that there are things that are by nature untestable, than what you are saying is that you made it up or picked it up, by no epistemological reason – for you cant have a proven way to know . It is a claim that science explains much better trought human psicology. And again, this is not a valid argument. Its a inductive based one. Scientific.
So, I don't pretend it to be valid as in a deductive argument validity. I pretend it to be a strong argument against considering ramdom-like affirmations (from a epistemic point of view) to be knowledge, specialy scientific, and not because science does not say anything about those claims. It does say. Say there are not if you test them not – and so science makes mistakes. Again, I point out that if you have no test it must mean you have no empirical bridge, as indirect as it might be. If you have no empirical bridge, then how do you justify your claim that there may be untestable things?

Now imagine there are untesteble things. This means they don’t exist for all effects imaginable and possible. Not only they will never be proven to be true, disproving science, neither will they make any diference. Yes- I assume that If they have any effect in this world, even indirect, they must be testable at leat in principle.
Finally, science may got it wrong. But its the best we can do. We must chose the best justificated affirmation. Choosing the worse is worse.

Like this, trying to mix imagination with science in the same epistemological bucket it just sounds like a political move. You are entitled to one, but not to say that science does not reject superfluous and weird claims. Most philosophy does too.
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written by jschwarz, January 30, 2013
I generally agree with this post, but for reasons that don't seem to be widely shared. I am a long time member of skeptic organizations and in the camp that wants them to focus on pseudo science and to ignore religion, politics, feminism, etc. Note that I carefully wrote "organizations" and not "movement". When people talk about the "skeptic movement" instead of "skeptic organizations" I think they are talking about something much broader. Namely a group of people with whom they can agree with about everything. Thinking that this is possible is attractive, but the reality (and as a skeptic I feel deeply about the importance of reality smilies/smiley.gif ) is that there probably are no two people in the world who hold identical positions on everything. So I belong to a variety of organizations that specialize on a variety of issues I think are important. I don't expect skeptic organizations (which I support) to address feminism any more than I expect NOW (which I also support) to address alternative medicine. I apply my energy to things I consider important. I'm an atheist, but I don't join atheist organizations. I recently asked Richard Dawkins in a public forum why he decided to focus on atheism. I did that with the idea that he might say something that would be relevant to me. But what he replied was that as an evolutionary biologist he had been fighting religious creationists and so when he retired from biology he decided to devote his energy to that. But while that was a good answer, it obviously didn't apply to me. When I'm working in an organization with a particular concern I frequently have conversations that are about topics that aren't of organizational concern. And when that happens I frequently "agree to disagree". It seems that some people want to be members of organizations where they never have to do that.
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Don't wave it off as "Outreach"
written by denver, January 30, 2013
@Steven I think it is a very big mistake to wave off what I said as just "Outreach". You ask in the article "What is the skeptical community all about? What are the limits, if any, of skeptical analysis? What should be our goals, and our main focus of attention? There is also an even deeper question – are we, in fact, a movement at all?". I tried to answer that.

And even so, outreach is used to try to transform the silo into a movement, and means teaching what skepticism is all about, and the common ground among skeptics. When this is presented as just a kind of science and critical thinking police, do you wonder why it is not more strongly adopted by more people? Instead, speaking of skepticism, and even defining skepticism, as the tools and communities available to address the outrage people feel at the lies and dangers of false claims, would go a much longer way to garnering interest, and even focusing, more people's efforts on what is important.
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