DAoS: Skeptics who pretend they’re professional lobbyists

“We need you to stop doing that!”

“That’s politically naive. We won’t win hearts like that!”

“Don’t criticise religion! We may want some religious people to join our cause!”

“Whaa! Whaa! Whaa!”

Who the hell put these people in charge? How can these people be put in charge?

Answer me this – what is the skeptic equivalent of Pope?

So your skeptical organisation may have an appointed leader. So what? What makes any given skeptical organisation the authority on all skepticism? What makes a skeptical organisation the skeptic equivalent of The Vatican?

Excommunicate a skeptic from your ranks and they’ll still be a skeptic.

There’s no grand Poo-Bah of skepticism because there can’t be one.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with disagreement in good faith about tactics – it’s healthy and rather obviously necessary.

But… There’s a difference between simple disagreement, and authoritarian finger waving.

Ultimately, no skeptic is the boss of another’s skepticism. Sure, there can be temporary arangements, such as employment contracts. But when these arangements end, it still doesn’t disqualify someone from being a skeptic.

Which makes all the talking-down-to obscenely presumptuous.

And oh, the barracking! Yeah, there’s nothing more that I like to watch than some non-scientist, non-philosopher, non-academic who’s insufficiently familiar with the views of say PZ Myers and Massimo Pigliucci, picking a side and pretending it’s a considered opinion.

Why do they chose? Group mentality. Political convenience. Ego. PZ’s pwning power or Massimo’s politik, seem often to be deciding factors capable of overriding decisions based on actual philosophical skepticism.

I can think of an analogy – alternative medicine products. If you didn’t know how to be skeptical of the being made claims, and you were having a shopping spree, which would you buy; a bottle of ‘MAN FUEL 5000!!!!!’ or ‘Shaman-La-La-Twee Tincture’?


‘B-b-bu… Haven’t you heard of NOMA?’

‘Yeah, I have thankyou. Please leave me alone.”

‘Philosophical materialist!’

A religious statement: The Earth is 6,000 years old.

A scientific statement: It is not.

Science can’t test every religious claim, but that’s not because they’re religious. Some religious claims can be tested empirically. There is overlap. Not all religious claims are supernatural (even if some of of them – not all of them – are still untestable because of adjoining supernatural claims).

As science moves into other areas traditionally occupied variously by various religions, this overlap is going to increase, as it has for some time now. Conflict will occur.

Pretending there is no conflict is not only dishonest to begin with, but perilous as well.

Consider religious claims about human sexuality and associated behaviours. NOMA that for me will you thanks.

Lifestyle choice…?

No you’re not a homophobe. You’re a homophobe enabler and further to that and more relevant to skepticism – you’re an enabler of quacks.


No, not you, YOU! The one with the Colgate Twins t-shirt.

And don’t get me stated on Francis Collins’ appointment to the NIH. Key words – psychopathy, criminology, mental health, stem-cell research.

NOMA is not an authoritative statement. NOMA is an unsigned, unbinding treaty based on a false demarcation, cited by mountebanks.

If there were authority in skepticism, it should consider NOMA dye-bombed currency and treat the crooks using it accordingly.

Then there’s the politics and the arseholes…

I just love when someone pulls the ‘politically naive’ card.

‘Yes, what you’re saying is true, but you won’t get through to them if you let them in on it all in one hit. That’s politically naive.’

You want politically naive?

Take Malcolm Turnbull – former leader in opposition and now retiring member of Australia’s predominant conservative party. (Update 5/05/2010: Turnbull has pulled a Ross Perot and has decided not to quit politics).

He has an overarching political philosophy that would have done his party a world of good, but he caved in to what the party wanted on a short-term basis – cheap points.  Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t the greatest political operator and whatever his other merits were (and they were many) it was pretty obvious from the start that he wasn’t going to cut it.

It was all too obvious when Turnbull was bullshitting people, if only because it was all so obvious when he wasn’t. The contrast was huge. You can’t expect people with an inclination towards being sensible, and truth-telling, to also be good at spinning a story. They can try, sure – try and fail.

Compare straight-talking ex ALP leader Mark Latham (popular Mark Latham), with ‘reformed’, clean, goody-two-shoes Mark Latham. The perceived need for him to clean up his image is what undid him.

He pretended he was what he wasn’t. He curbed some of his supposedly more extreme political views. Then he tanked. People couldn’t buy his story or his book – tainted as it was with the same neurotic need for self-revision.

The ‘hush-hush’ skeptics so often demonstrate the very same political impotence, which makes their accusations of ‘political ineptitude’ laughable. Aside from not being able to deal effectively this way with interlocutors who don’t want to play ball, there’s the other problem…


The arsehole has tightly bundled nerve endings – hence people tend to notice when you try to crawl up it. And think PZ Myers is insensitive. At least learn to use some lube people!

When you pretend to be who you aren’t, when you tell people things that you don’t believe, you give off tell-tale signs. People don’t need to know the ins and outs of the topic at hand to pick up on these signs.

Some snake-oil salepersons, and psychopaths may be able to say something they don’t believe without giving off warning signs. But do skeptics really want to aspire to this?

My objective is not to make creationists like me. Or indeed, religious people in general like me.

I don’t care if creationists get angry over court cases kicking creationism out of public school classes as long as court cases kick creationism out of classes. I don’t care so much if religious people don’t like me for not liking Francis Collins’ appointment to the NIH.

What I’d want is for them to know my view in as far as my view is worthy of being known, and that I’m not trying to bullshit them when putting my point across. What I’d want them to go away with is the notion that skeptics aren’t trying to mislead them.

I couldn’t do this by peddling NOMA, or the idea that science categorically has nothing to say about religious claims. I couldn’t do this by muting their fears with vague assurances. I couldn’t do this admitting that Casper the ghost is fair territory for skepticism, but that the Holy Ghost isn’t, and that this is somehow consistent.

If I were a skeptic, I’d rather be disliked but respected as an honest guy, than liked and seen as a convenient, dishonest wanker.

Of course, I’m hardly the boss of skepticism. You may be okay with what I’m not, and fine, go do what you want. I won’t even call you a fake skeptic for it.

But for pity’s sake, please be aware of what you look like, and how you’re likely to be treated, when you pretend to be a political guru with a sense of entitlement to skeptical loyalty.

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Jeremy Kemp)

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