Saturday, February 09, 2013

Not All Atheists Are Skeptics

PZ Myers posted an article last week that was part of an ongoing discussion about the role of atheism in the skepticism movement. The title of his post was: Atheists are skeptics. I covered that debate in an earlier post [Skeptics Must Be Atheists].

Now I want to discuss whether all atheists must be skeptics.

The answer is "no." Atheists are people who don't believe in any god(s). There are millions of atheists all around the world who have grown up without any belief in god(s). Their parents didn't believe, their grandparents didn't believe, and they live in a secular culture. Many of these atheists are taken in my homeopathy, fear of GMOs, and various conspiracy theories. They aren't critical thinkers and they aren't skeptics.

Let's not fall into the trap of assuming that all atheists have grown up as believers and have recently lost their faith. That's just not accurate.


  1. Not to restart the debate of a few posts ago (which was pretty much resolved to the satisfaction of most), but it is incorrect to lump fear of GMOs with belief in homeopathy. It is easy to imagine mechanisms by which GMO food crops that make internal pesticides could affect human health. Their safety must be carefully investigated on a case-by-case basis.

  2. I may be mistaken, but isn't this one of those discussions where one side argues "atheists are" and the other (PZ) argues "atheists should be"?

  3. Is it possible to refer to oneself as a skeptic, and identify oneself with the 'skeptic movement', and yet not be very good at critical thinking?
    Yes, it is very possible.

    1. an excellent example of the above can be found from this site's recent postings. Larry wrote a post about attaining five million pageviews. In that post he talked about his five top posts and wrote that, 'four of them are science posts!' He went on to refer to the fifth one as 'the non-science post'.

      Larry has written earlier that in his critical thinking course, he instructs students that it is important to define ones terms. I completely agree with him about this.

      He also has defined science as a way of knowing that applies reason, healthy skepticism and critical thinking to address questions about the universe.
      He ALSO states that the existence of god(s) IS a question that can be addressed by science.

      So, what was the 'non-science post' that Larry referred to? It was a post that challenged theists and their 'accomodationist friends' to 'post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God.'
      In other words, by Larry's own definition of science, and his own declaration of what can be considered using the scientific method, his 'non-science post' was not non-scientific at all. It was very much a, as he defines the term, science post.
      So, is that a good example of critical thinking from a self-described skeptic?

    2. I think your reading comprehension could use a little work. Looking at your post of his words clearly indicates that matters relating to the existence of god(s) CAN be addressed by science. Note the just because something can be addressed by science doesn't mean that any mention of said subject necessarily makes it a scientific topic.

    3. Michael, when someone 'issues a challenge', it is correct to presume that they will give a response to whatever is presented, correct? In other words, if I say to you, 'I challenge you to demonstrate that my reading comprehension could use a little work', you would assume that I would consider your case and defend myself against it, right?
      If not, please feel free to explain to me how I have misunderstood the definition of 'challenge'.

      Now, please explain to me how Larry, or anyone, would be able to dispute/refute anything that a theist or 'accomodationist' would present as evidence for god(s) WITHOUT using reason, healthy skepticism and critical thinking. Just throwing out insults, which Larry excels at, does NOT count as refutation, by the way.

      If you can explain that to me, then you will have caused me to see how Larry wasn't merely, and sloppily, abandoning his own definition of 'science' in the case I have cited.