Dragon*Con: Day 3

Posted By Pamela on Sep 1, 2008 | 7 comments

I seem to be spending a ton of time hanging out with Skeptics at this conference. It is fun. But before getting into the serious, I’m going to be silly (thus the image at left).

I’ve been hanging out with (left to right) Richard Saunders and Phil Plait a lot, and here we are showing a little leg. Silly enough? (In general, this place is filled with people with truly killer shoes. We aren’t among those with awesome shoes, but mine are at least cute 😉 )

So, I was saying I’ve been sitting in on Skeptics sessions most of the weekend. Currently I’m sitting in on one that is about Dogma versus Skepticism. A very good point was just made by the speaker: He pointed out that someone who holds on to the Belief that God can not exist is just as dogmatic as someone who has no doubt that God does not exist. He went onto explain that it is possible for someone to be both a theist and a scientist. I’m so glad he said that, because it’s true.

As a scientist and a skeptic, I’m more than willing to say that I can’t prove that God exists (I’m much more skilled at proving the Big Bang existed), but I also can’t disprove God, and so I choose to believe (see link under About if you want to read more about my belief system). I also know from earlier discussions that I am not the only skeptic in the room who is some species of Christian (although I won’t out anyone).

This is the first time I’ve been in a large population of Skeptics and not experienced a ton of Christian slamming. Instead, what I’ve seen is specifics slamming. In dealing with people with non-logical world views based on no evidence or fake evidence or imaginary evidence, we can’t simply walk up to them and say “Your belief in God is false.” We can’t prove that. What we can do, however, is walk up to them and say, “The Earth is more than 6000 years old, let me prove it.” I can walk up to someone and say, “Let me show you ways to test if psychics are real so you know if you’re being fooled.” I can take on ghosts, aliens, Big Foot, and little green men with science and come out showing them with logic how their worldview is broken and offer them some experimental truth without taking away their God.

What we need to do as skeptics is teach reasoning and show people how understanding the world around them can keep them safer. We need to rebuild how they look at the world from the ground up and help them build a strong foundation of curiosity and the scientific method. We live in a wonderfully fantastic universe, and with science, what we understand can be seen as far cooler than what our limited imaginations can falsify when we step into the world of woo-woo insanity.


  1. For quite awhile now I have had considerable interest in all things scientific, especially astronomy and I’ve been voraciously reading everything I can find on the subject. If I were 30 years younger I have no doubt I would have pursued a career as a cosmologist. I discovered the Astronomy Cast site about 4 days ago and from that, the bautforum.com site. I was so taken with Astronomy Cast that like others, I have downloaded every podcast from it and am savoring my way through them. But when I visited those forums and saw all the maliciousness and downright hatred, particularly those threads which talked about christianity, I was so disgusted and turned off that I couldn’t decide if I was more angry at the claims science makes about God or the fact that those who call themselves scientists destroyed nearly all of my interest in science through their hate and insistence on their own beliefs. Indeed they are just as guilty as any christian who refuses to open their eyes and consider that there is more to heaven and earth than what is considered in our philosophies.
    But I had read the blog you made about your belief system and I have read about your scientific accomplishments and pursuits and I have listened to a few of those Astronomy Cast podcasts that you made with Fraser Cain and I can in all honesty say that it is your true intelligence, passion for science, willingness to remain open to all possibilities, refusal to slam the door shut on any hope for new understanding and your insatiable thirst for science that has kept my own fire for it alive. You are an inspiration to me in something that for the first time in my life I have found great interest in, science, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping that interest alive through the hope that there just might be a few scientists in this world that still find wonder and mystery in it and don’t feel the need to condemn all that mystery may encompass, especially a mystery so great as faith.

  2. wow nice feedback Anatai, all of us starstryder fans would like to welome you to the world of science and to ASTRONOMY Yipee!
    i say Doc win them one fan at a time.
    And boy Richard Saunders has some smooth leg, and i see Phil Plat had prudently worn longer socks hehe. (Yeah you guessed it i got nothing better to do at 4 in the morning heh.)
    Nice shoes Doc and you all look pretty well dressed to me, and Phil gave me the idea to get a purple shirt next time, he carries it of quite well in the pic -imagine that Purple!

    5.00 am
    Calcutta , India

  3. If your style of belief was the rule, rather, than the exception, among religious people, I dare say there wouldn’t be such an antithetical reaction by the other camp.
    What we, as enlightened people have to tackle right now, no matter what our beliefs, is the willful ignorance to, or worse, intentional co-opting of, science by anyone, no matter what THEIR beliefs.
    I think if we can meet in this middle ground, where we remain respectful, or at least indifferent to, each other’s personal religious beliefs, but team up to tackle ignorance and pseudoscience.

    Personally, as a person raised with an atheist viewpoint, I think the thing I have most difficulty reconciling with you, specifically, Pamela, is that you know more about the natural world than ever will, yet you still accept that supernatural events not only have happened, but they are the fundamental underpinning of humanity.
    But you clearly show that well meaning people can disagree, yet still delight in the wonders of the universe.

  4. When someone asks me seriously about religion, I tell them I am an Agnostic theist. I believe God may exist, and actually hope for it, but, I cannot prove it AND am undecided as to the doctrine. Atheist, to me, seems the most arrogant. It pre-supposes you “know” ( i.e. can prove). As much as I know about skepticism and science, I have had personal experience that contradicts these things. I hold an idea that the ‘supernatural’ is just a form of science we have not learned to test for or quantify yet.

  5. Dean, I think a more accurate way to characterize the atheistic viewpoint would be: “I believe it is implausible that there is a god” or “There is not enough evidence for me to establish a belief in god.”
    Once you stop presupposing that there is a god, it isn’t necessary to disprove him.

  6. Been enjoying Astronomy Cast for over a year now, and I’ve lurked at many skeptical sites and forums for even longer, but you have inspired me to post for the first time.
    I appreciate what you say here, as well as your Belief System post. Especially with politics lately, it seems anger and the hate of difference have trumped fact, reason and respect in all manner of discourse. I’ve had enough for awhile. But thank you, Dr Pamela, for this post and helping to keep my chronic misanthropy in check.

  7. Very nice, Pamela. As usual, your sensible and calm reasoning is refreshing. Science is powerful because it restricts itself to objective evidence. It can only address specific elements of a religious claim or believe that are objective enough for the scrutiny of science — as you mentioned, the age of the Earth is one great example of this. The subjective elements of religion or philosophy are beyond the purview of science, though many ignore this limitation for self-serving reasons.


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