However, that doesn't mean that belief in god(s), or belief in the grandiose claims of chiropractors, is compatible with skepticism. They aren't.
PZ Myers and Steve Novella are debating this issue. The latest round is from last week on Pharyngula: Atheists are skeptics. (His title is wrong ... more about that in another post.¹) Novella is one of those skeptics who think that skepticism requires scientific thinking [Bigfoot Skeptics, New Atheists, Politics and Religion] but he also believes that the scientific way of knowing has limits and that belief in god(s) falls outside of those limits. The "limit" is, as we all know, methodological naturalism. (Novella's main interest is quack medicine.) Here's how he describes one of the attributes of a skeptic ...
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.If you accept that limitation, then it's possible to be a true skeptic and still believe in supernatural beings. Here's how Steve Novella explains it ...
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.This is very confusing. Of course you can't prove that belief in god is wrong, just as you can't prove that belief in the tooth fairy is wrong. But surely skepticism is more that just proving things wrong? There are criteria for believing that something is right and one of those criteria is EVIDENCE. You can't be a skeptic if you just willy-nilly believe that something is true knowledge just because you want to. Skepticism and belief in god(s) are fundamentally incompatible unless you abandon the idea that claims require evidence and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
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.
This point is different than the emphasis on methodological naturalism but I don't think Novella understands the distinction. In his reply to the first post by PZ Myers, Novella says [PZ Replies] ..
Where we differ is on the attitude and behavior of the skeptical movement, or organized skepticism. Here I think we can agree partly on the facts, but not the narrative.I believe that many philosophers accept and promote this limitation of science. It's certainly the main defense of accommodationism. However, there are many who disagree with the distinction between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. These people think that you can use the scientific way of knowing to investigate ANY claim, including the claim that supernatural beings actually exist. Since science requires that truth claims be based on evidence and since there are no other ways of discovering truth that we know of, it follows that belief in god cannot be accepted as true if you are a skeptic.
We seem to disagree on the underlying philosophy. I have essentially taken the position that scientific skepticism (like science) requires methodological naturalism, while atheism is a belief in philosophical naturalism. These are compatible but distinct positions. Methodological naturalism is more narrow. It is my understanding that this is the consensus of opinion among philosophers (feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong).
You can catch up on this debate by reading: John Wilkins Defends Methodological Naturalism. My impression is that more and more scientists and philosophers are beginning to see the problems with self-imposed limitations on science. I'm not sure what the "consensus" is today but whatever it is doesn't make it correct just because it's the consensus.