Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I ran into this comment on Wikipedia this morning which I couldn't help ripping apart:

Atheism as pseudo-skeptic

This seems like a pretty obvious part of the subject - atheism (or a-supernatural, if you wish - Buddhists sometimes claim to be atheistic without the "skeptic" label) relies on claiming the negative, and when they commonly claim that they are skeptics, they are following this topic to the letter. Is there really no sources commenting on this, or is it just being removed every time it's mentioned?

I mean, I know that I can't put it in here myself, because no matter how obvious it is, it would be OR [Original Research]. But surely some scholar somewhere has noticed that this pretty much applies to any atheist, right?KrytenKoro 08:11, 26 June 2007 (UTC)

You know, it's been a long time since I mocked anyone's grammar. So before further ado, let's laugh at "Atheism as pseudo-skeptic." Anyways, I left a reply to it there, but I'll expand on it a bit in this post. First, what I said in reply:

In order to be a pseudoskeptic, you have to deny something even when there's significant evidence for it (and of course, claim to be a skeptic). This is different from simply assuming the null hypothesis until otherwise is shown to be true. Almost all atheistic skeptics fall into the latter category, as they haven't seen sufficient evidence for any religion, so they simply proceed on with their lives as if no god exists.

As a parallel, let's say I come up to you and talk about Slood, a miraculous substance on the importance level of fire or water, which has gone previously undiscovered by humanity. However, I never actually show you any slood or give you evidence that it exists, instead asking you to believe it on faith. If, after you're sufficiently frustrated with me, you give up on me ever showing you evidence for slood and go on with your life as if slood doesn't exist, are you any less of a skeptic? Replace "slood" with "God" and you have your typical atheist. --Infophile (Talk) (Contribs) 12:19, 26 June 2007 (UTC)

Of course, that's a gross oversimplification of what it's like to be an atheist. To get that feeling, you'd have to add in years being brought up by parents telling you about the existence of slood, preachers claiming they see slood regularly but never showing it to you, and others promising to show you slood sometime in the future but never following through. If you express any doubt in the existance of slood, you'll either simply be executed as a slood-heretic or (if you're in a somewhat more civilized society) be read a random sampling of ten or so Doggerel.

If you ask people why you should believe in slood, you're told stories about all the great things slood is useful for, and why believing in slood makes you a better person. And then there are appeals to how bleak life would be if slood didn't exist. All this actually goes to show is that it might be nice if slood did exist, but it does nothing to show that this is actually the case.

You could try to get people to pin down what they believe slood actually does, but you'll end up with conflicting accounts. In the past, it seems that people believed slood was responsible for everything they didn't understand, from gravity to genetic transfer. When physical mechanisms for those were discovered, slood was no longer appealed to as an explanation for those, but was still used to fill in any other gaps in human knowledge. As more and more gaps closed, the definition of slood became fuzzier and fuzzier, until it was just some nice thing that helped out people somehow.

Almost by accident, a few testable claims about slood were actually made over the years. A few enterprising people then went and actually tested these claims to see if they would find evidence for slood. When tested, no evidence ever showed up. If slood existed one would have expected to find evidence for it, but since none showed up, isn't it logical to assume the non-existence of slood? Or at least, isn't it reasonable to go on with life as if slood doesn't exist?

Nope. If you assume slood doesn't exist, then you're a slood-denier. In the sloodist's world, there's no difference between not believing something and denying it. Especially since, to them, there actually is good "evidence" for the existence of slood (based on slood-faith, spurious "slood proofs," and poorly-controlled experiments). If you deny slood exists after all of that "proof," then there's just no helping you. And you claim to be skeptical on top of that? Oh, so you're a pseudoskeptic too.

* * * * *

You can see how crazy things get if you accept just any claim that's made without evidence for it. Go back up into that post and replace "slood" with virtually any ridiculous claim. It makes just as much sense to believe in the existence of slood without evidence for it as it does for God, fairies, or invisible pink unicorns. Just because you go on with your life as if they didn't exist doesn't make you a "pseudoskeptic."


Grant said...

This is brilliant.

Thursday said...

Like the post.

Just wanted to note that I keep hearing from people who are atheists that they grew up being told to believe in God from various and sundry dominant figures. I have to feel blessed (heh) because I was brought up by atheists, as was my wife: no pressure was ever brought to bear on either of us to conform to the beliefs of others.

Excuse me: gotta call my mom now. 8)

Anonymous said...

"Just because you go on with your life as if they didn't exist doesn't make you a "pseudoskeptic.""

...you're thinking agnostic, not "atheist". Atheism is defined as claiming the negative - it's a pretty clear-cut definition.

"a·the·ism (ā'thē-ĭz'əm) Pronunciation Key

1. Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.
2. The doctrine that there is no God or gods.

"Truzzi attributed the following characteristics to pseudoskeptics:
Use of ridicule or ad hominem attacks in lieu of arguments"

As the article still defines pseudo-skepticism, as well as the dictionary defining atheism, atheism would fall under pseudoskepticism.

As then, I don't see how you proved me wrong in the slightest - you pretty much just claimed that Atheists were agnostic (despite the difference in definitions).