Baby you can drive my car…
Skepticism is a method, atheism is a conclusion. Or, if you will allow me to employ a metaphor, skepticism is a car, atheism is a destination.
This skepti-car can take you to a lot of places. No-Ghost Town, Homeopathy-is-bunk-ville, Horoscopes-are-silly-burgh. Some people may end up some weird places (like Moon-landing-was-fake-ville), but not everyone is going to end up at all the same spots. Atheism-opolis is not on everyone’s Must See list. Some may not want to go there at all. Some may visit briefly, but decide it’s too scary, too difficult to navigate or they may drive through it on the main road and miss it because they don’t know their way around the side streets. And don’t get me started on some of the crazy locals that already live there.
Skeptical activists should think of themselves as car salesmen, or perhaps driving instructors. We are not travel agents. If we just send people straight to the destination without teaching them how to get there, or how to get back, they will be just as lost as before. They could end up just as badly off. (I think I’m starting to stretch this metaphor a bit thin.) My point is, there’s nothing wrong with giving someone a map and telling them how you got there and of course, if there is danger at certain destinations, I think it’s fine to hang up warning signs on the road. But trying to just pile as many people onto the bus to Atheism-opolis or Homeopathy-is-bunk-ville without showing them the way and getting them into their own car isn’t going to get more drivers on the road. Personally, I’d rather have more drivers on the road than tourist clogging up the hotspots for the wrong reasons.
Also, if we’re going to start policing people, we’d be better off being the Highway Patrol rather than Road Warriors. It’s one thing to hand out tickets for bad driving (using skepticism to promote bad science), but running people off the road because we don’t like where they’re going is not conducive to making better drivers.
(I think I’d better abandon this metaphor already.)
Not everyone who is using skepticism is going to become an atheist, and similarly, we shouldn’t assume that every atheist is a skeptic. There is a lot of overlap, but we can’t conflate the two because of that overlap.
Life is about the journey, not the destinations. Skepticism should be the same way.