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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.

  1. 24/11/2010 3:38 pm

    Marry me?

    • 24/11/2010 6:01 pm

      Me, I am just sick of the people talking about their trips.

      • noblecaboose permalink*
        24/11/2010 7:13 pm

        Yeah, and nobody likes to look at your holiday snaps. “See? Here’s a picture of me with one of the locals! And he’s famous, don’t you know?”

  2. 24/11/2010 8:47 pm

    The problem with skepticism as a car and atheism as a destination are the back-seat passengers who keep asking, “are we there yet?”.

  3. Shelley permalink
    25/11/2010 2:24 am

    Does this work for any uncritical belief? Say a person just doesn’t want to give up belief in the efficacy of iridology. She’s spent a lot of money on it, has invested a lot of time and told all her friends how awesome it is, and honestly takes comfort from believing that it helps her with some condition, whether it be stress or headaches or corns or whatever. What exactly are you saying is okay for her skeptical, scientific friends to do in this circumstance? Should they try to give her maps to non-iridology land? What do those maps look like? Scientific critiques of iridology’s claims and methodology? What is different about religious beliefs?

    I mean, obviously not everyone is going to be anything; I know atheists who believe in other stupid things. What I don’t get is why applying the skeptical maps to religious claims should be different, or should be construed as trying to force atheism on people for its own sake somehow, when applying those same maps to Bigfoot claims would be construed as performing proper skepticism, not trying to push people into aBigfootism.

    I have never met a person who gave up any strong belief in a flash of insight. The maps take time to work through and follow, which is why skeptics keep hammering at the basic ideas and publicly applying skepticism to uncritical beliefs, including religious beliefs, so that people will keep thinking about their ideas and go look things up on their own and often, eventually, come to the skeptical conclusions. I admit that this often feels more shocking when applied to religious claims because most of us have grown up in a culture that holds those beliefs outside criticism, but there is no rational reason for doing that; in fact, it makes religions very, very dangerous. It’s important for skeptics to address this openly. Not all skeptics–some have other specialty areas–but we absolutely need the atheists in the movement and we should never try to silence or hamstring them. Thanks!

    • noblecaboose permalink*
      25/11/2010 10:04 am

      I don’t think it should be different, I never said religion should be given any special treatment. But telling someone they aren’t a skeptic because they have one area they’re not critical about is unfair. Everybody has blind spots. I also think it’s unfair to lump all religious beliefs together. Creationists with deists and so on. I know quite a few people who have thought a great deal about their beliefs, and it bothers me when other atheists attack them as being ‘uncritical’ instead of maybe, you know, asking them what exactly they believe and why they believe it. Socratic questioning can be a great tool to understanding and perhaps both sides can learn something about themselves.

  4. 25/11/2010 4:12 am

    False advertising! I came here expecting an hilarious photo of a baby driving a car. Alas, all I was rewarded with was an excellent post. At least that’s something, I guess.

  5. 27/11/2010 7:23 am

    Very good article noblecaboose.
    A good analogy about scepticism.
    The trouble is some times the car crashes and goes up in flames.

  6. 01/12/2010 2:54 am

    Good post – I like the metaphore and your point.



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