Skeptics in the Pub

Considerations of religious issues in general

Skeptics in the Pub

Postby Gavin » 13 Oct 2012, 11:10

Back in 2008 thought I would get out and about, try to meet some like-minded people and become a involved in some of the things in which I believed. At the time I was concerned about the rise of Islam (I still am) and in favour of a rational approach to such matters. I heard of Skeptics in the Pub and went to a few of their meetings.

Around this time I also went to a few Humanist and National Secular Society meetings. It slowly dawned on me that many of the people involved in such movements were not just (ostensibly) against irrationality, but were also pro other things: leftism, liberalism, feminism, promotion of gays, socialism. I saw no necessary link between the two mindsets (perhaps even a contradiction), and when it became increasingly obvious that I was politically completely out of kilter with these people, I left. My main concern was the rise of Islam, but of course they were relatively quiet about this matter, given the various conflicts it presents inside the liberal mind.

One meeting of Skeptics in the Pub was very interesting - an expert on Mars gave a presentation all about that planet. But one was particularly unpleasant. So much so that I wrote a review of it that same night. I repost it below:

I wrote:This evening I managed to get to a Skeptics in the Pub presentation bravely given by a Young Earth Creationist. The man was not an expert in any area of science, and admitted that. Nonetheless, he made many valid points mainly regarding the healthy skepticism we should all maintain regarding all scientific theories, and I found his talk interesting.

The main problem with his position was that he failed to apply Occam's Razor: postulating a being as complex and unlikely as God requires far more assumptions of the unlikely than does accepting evolution as a working theory. He also didn't explain why he chose the Christian account of creation above that of any other religion. These failings, along with his limited scientific knowledge, are what made him made him ultimately unconvincing.

I don't want to write much about him though. What really concerned me (as has repeatedly been the case, sadly) was the conduct of my "fellow" atheists at this event.

I expected this to happen. Many who spoke at the event were rude, abrasive, jeering and unpleasant. It was possible to detect the likelihood of this from their countenances alone before they even spoke, but when they opened their mouths it was unfortunately confirmed. Even the crowd here felt that some individual members occasionally overstepped the mark, and they booed and hissed at their rudeness. But other times they laughed along and encouraged vulgarity.

It is possible to make points without being arrogant, conceited and rude, as many of the people were. All points should have been made politely, especially considering how easy the man was to refute, and how outnumbered he was. Some did make points respectably, but they were in a minority.

What also strikes me about these meetings is how many out-right weirdos they tend to attract. There are clearly some "regulars": uncouth middle-aged men, devoid of any style or social finesse, and yet apparently with very high opinions of themselves. These are always the ones who want the mic, and who proceed to ask long meandering questions that are just plain weird - never succinct or well considered, and never courteously or humbly posed.

If it wasn't these oddball types it was other rugby-shirted arrogant types again asking idiotic questions which were really more statements, intended merely to boost their own egos, to try to get a laugh (and sometimes, simply to insult the speaker). There were these, and cackling, juvenile types shrieking with laughter at inopportune moments.

These are the types of supposed rationalist who gather at such meetings - not all are like this, but a worrying number are. (I use the term "rationalist" here not in its strict philosophical sense but informally as one who appreciates both reason and the use of empirical evidence.) They are the kind of atheist who must embarrass the likes of Pat Condell and Richard Dawkins too. Freaks, oddballs, social inadequates who flock to the meetings in just the same way as religious people club together, and who are in a sense just as bigoted and dismissive (one suspects some are more cynics than skeptics and would never believe in anything). Such people bring shame to the name of rationalism. One of them even said through the mic, and not ironically enough, that being an atheist he would teach any lie as if it were truth for financial reward. We don't need these types.

I believe that, because of the crowd, this man even managed to come out on top tonight, overall - and that should not have been the case.

What is the answer? A greater amount of decent, intelligent people need to speak up in the name of rationalism, and turn up at events like this, so that these types are firmly outnumbered and put on the fringes where they belong. And we all need to insist on decent and dignified behaviour from rational people. It is of the utmost importance that we outshine the religious people not only intellectually but also morally, so that they have no high ground, so that we can demonstrate that religion and morality are entirely separate, but also because it is simply the right way to behave.

I have written before that there are two kinds of atheist. Atheism is not nihilism, though many religious people like to portray it as such. It need not be cynicism either. It should be life-affirming and positive, and atheists should be setting the moral example. For a long time Sam Harris did not even identify himself as an atheist, because of the negative connotations of the word. I entirely understand his concerns, and when he speaks of a "cranky subculture", that's the subculture I'm writing of here. But, actually, being atheist means you do believe in reason and evidence. Humanism (even better) means you believe in decent conduct towards your fellow human beings too.

It was a pitiful sight this evening, to be sure, but not only at the front of the crowd, as should have been the case. Silent majority of rational people who are not weird and do not have some strange ulterior motive: we currently have enemies even within our own side. If you care about your own future and about the future of free speech and civilisation, please stand up and be counted - you were never more needed than now.

Please be aware that I have reposted this verbatim from 2008 and you can see that I was at a point in my life where I hadn't yet begun to read Dalrymple. I later softened my views towards religious types somewhat. But even here I was beginning to notice the trend of how very unpleasant many atheists seem to be. They were gloating and rude to this poor man, who was up on his own in front of a beer-filled audience. (See also this account of my visit to a church in Florida).

On another occasion I went to Skeptics in the Pub at which Guardianista doctor Ben Goldacre was speaking. He is a darling of the left and was recently taken to task in BBC Radio 4's Feedback over his insensitive remarks regarding a man who died of a hemorrhagic fever. You can hear his happy comments at the link. Needless to say, the Radio 4 presenter did nothing to stop him or question him.

Even as I approached that particular meeting I could hear Dr Goldacre in very informal mode, using the F word liberally. It was particularly busy that evening, the place filled presumably with many left-wing admirers, so I had two reasons to leave, which I immediately did. I don't suppose I missed much aside from self-promotion.

So anyway, I began to see this pattern that many atheists were of this type. I didn't like them, they weren't my kind of people and I don't want to associate with them again. They may be rational, to a degree, but all too often they don't seem to be very moral.
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Re: Skeptics in the Pub

Postby Elliott » 13 Oct 2012, 15:11

I'd never heard of Skeptics in the Pub before now, Gavin. It sounds like something I'd have to take part in before I could judge it fairly (I'm actually struggling to picture the types of people you describe).

If the issue is, can Atheism encourage a boorish (yet smug and superior) attitude, then I think it certainly can.

I think that, for most people who are not religious, Atheism is just a de facto label they use to describe themselves because it's convenient. (Personally I call myself "Agnostic", because I think it is more accurate since I have no views one way or the other.)

But for other people, "Atheism" is a way of life, and in that case it can be poisonous, leading to a kind of nihilistic contempt for, not just religious people, but people in general. I'm talking about the kind of person who might say "I don't believe in God, why should I believe in fidelity/morality/charity/manners/politeness?" And such people are increasingly numerous. I think that, for such people, the belief in science is critical because they have not only "disqualified" any other beliefs, but defiled them.
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Re: Skeptics in the Pub

Postby Rachel » 13 Oct 2012, 18:14

Elliott says what I think, particularly his last paragraph.

I'm just posting to thank you for letting me know of Skeptics in the Pub. I never heard of it either and I see there's a chapter near me. It looks interesting.
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Re: Skeptics in the Pub

Postby Michael » 13 Oct 2012, 23:36

But for other people, "Atheism" is a way of life, and in that case it can be poisonous, leading to a kind of nihilistic contempt for, not just religious people, but people in general. I'm talking about the kind of person who might say "I don't believe in God, why should I believe in fidelity/morality/charity/manners/politeness?" And such people are increasingly numerous. I think that, for such people, the belief in science is critical because they have not only "disqualified" any other beliefs, but defiled them.

I agree with Rachel, Elliott speaks for much of my experience of atheists. Not all people without religious belief, mind you, but those who feel the need to label themselves as "atheists." In particular I think of a young engineering student who was a member of the Philosophy Students Assocation at my undergraduate university. He was a bright young man, but something changed in him from the year I left. Now he is one of the most prominent New Atheists in that city, regularly speaking and taking part in debates against Creationists.

He came from a religious background, being raised Baha'i, and I think that losing his faith had a very negative effect on his personality. Now he is just as proselytizing as any Evangelical Christian I have ever met, though in the cause of non-belief, even to the point of setting up this forum (which so far does not show much activity). He also became very evangelical about his own social causes, mostly feminism and veganism. I began to find him unbearable and dropped him from all my social network contacts.
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Re: Skeptics in the Pub

Postby Podori » 15 Oct 2012, 00:42

Similar groups existed in Canada when I was living there.

You're better off finding people who don't advertise themselves as "rationalists," in my opinion. When anyone needs to declare what a rational (but not necessarily reasonable) person he is, it is the same kind of crass self-display we see from other marginal nobodies who have no achievements but who keep a full CV of their personal qualities.
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