I’m fairly new to the skeptical movement. While I’ve long been a fan of critical thinking and the scientific method, it’s only been in the last year or two that I’ve been actively seeking out the skeptical community through online forums, SkeptiCamp, and podcasts. I’m enjoying being a member of this community, and the longer I hang around, the more I learn, and the more I sharpen my critical thinking skills.
However, there’s one thing that bothers me about our community, and that’s the inherent assumption that someone who self-identifies as a skeptic is automatically assumed to also be an atheist. This first came to my attention during last year’s Colorado SkeptiCamp 2, where many of the speakers made the assumption that the audience was predominantly atheist.
Subsequent research revealed a perception of the skeptical movement where atheism always equaled skepticism, and vice versa. This bothers me.
I think making this association, and allowing it to go unchallenged in mainstream media, hurts the skeptical movement. While there are clearly a large number of skeptics who also consider themselves atheists, the designations are not necessarily mutually inclusive. By insinuating they are, the skeptical movement essentially excludes the majority of humanity from even joining the conversation.
I know many people who would be considered critical thinkers by any reasonable standard and would be a fine addition to the ranks of the skeptics. But to a greater or lesser degree, they’re people of faith, and feel their personal beliefs preclude them from engaging with us. This assumption that being a person of faith and being a skeptic are mutually exclusive roles keeps them from adding their voice to the discussion, and we’re the poorer for it. Since they believe their faith will be mocked and ridiculed, they choose not to address areas of mutual concern, such as Intelligent Design in public schools, alternative medicine, the anti-vaccination movement and many more.
I’m not talking about inviting Young Earth Creationists or the Westboro Baptist Church to the table to discuss separation of church and state, but including liberal, progressive people of faith to join us in discussing areas of mutual interest. To do so is to everyone’s benefit. Promoting critical thought, science-based medicine, and the protection of the innocent from the purveyors of woo is an agenda where atheists, agnostics and people of faith can all agree on the common good.
Let’s not inadvertently exclude potential allies by being unnecessarily exclusive.
Janiece Murphy is, in no particular order, a Navy veteran, a systems engineer, an amateur skeptic, a fan-girl of science, a student, a dirty, dirty liberal, and a blogger. This entry has been cross-posted at Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men.