I’m not sure why this is, but there seems to be a faction of Skeptics, not all of whom are religious, who have a problem with Skeptics who like to talk about Atheism. They are concerned that people conflate Atheism and Skepticism. I’m not sure who these theoretical people are, but let’s assume that this is a real concern and not one just made up.
Skepticism is just a way of thinking, sort of a “Well, then prove it” attitude towards life and knowledge. There have been people who claimed to be skeptics who believed in God, and who believed that global warming wasn’t real for that matter, so there’s no litmus test for being a Skeptic, it’s a goal to strive for. Most people don’t actually achieve Skepticism towards everything in their lives.
Why, just the other day I refused to click on a link because it was going to disprove some something or other, some story that I preferred to believe was true because it was a really nice story. Now, I don’t remember what it even was, so undoubtedly I’ll continue believing it was true. That would be a SkepticFail on my part.
Some people will claim that God is not a testable hypothesis, and these people are sort of right. The deistic god that doesn’t do anything so might as well not be there, that god is an untestable claim — the Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Whatever Religion’s God is a testable claim because those religions claim that their God can *do* things. A skeptical approach to religion leads you directly to the conclusion that no religion has a god that exists as they describe it. This is agnosticism if not atheism.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be a skeptic and also believe in God, you absolutely can. You can be a skeptic and believe in homeopathy, or UFOs, or be a Birther, or a 9/11 Truther, or any number of things. It just means that you aren’t applying good thinking to one or another of your worldviews. I believe people are fundamentally good, that’s probably also a testable claim that I’d just as soon not see the results on.
Here’s what I don’t understand: how is saying “skeptics should be skeptical of religion” is the same as saying “skepticism and atheism are the same thing”? Who are these mysterious people who assume that skepticism and atheism are the same thing? It’s not the people who want to talk about atheism at skeptic conferences, they think that skepticism should lead to agnosticism. In case that isn’t clear, that’s not the same as saying “Skeptic = Atheist”.
I don’t know that anyone is arguing that deism or agnosticism is a bad thing, but there are many bad things that religions do. Perhaps the thing that ought not be conflated is belief in a god and belief in a religion. Atheists who speak at Skeptic conventions want to encourage Skeptical thought towards religion and towards religious beliefs that hurt people. How many lives have been ruined by believers in UFOs? How many lives have been ruined by believers in religion? Or, to be even less confrontational, how many people believe in UFOs and how many believe in religion? Is it really unreasonable to spend some time throwing Skeptical thinking at such a large and pervasive target?
If you had a skeptic conference that focused on disproving homeopathy rather than disproving religion, would calling it a “Skeptic Conference” be wrong? Are we only arguing about this because some people are afraid that offending the religious is going to scare people off? Are we so concerned with religious people’s sensitivities that we’d compromise our own willingness to tell the truth and ask questions?
I will say that I’m highly skeptical of this claim that Atheism is not an important part of the Skeptic movement.