PZ Myers has already replied to this idiotic and destructive post by Jeff Wagg, who puts the boot into a recent skeptics convention - Skepticon 3. [Edit: And Ophelia Benson has her say over here at Butterflies and Wheels.]
To be fair to Wagg, he also offers some (rather faint, insincere-sounding) praise to the organisers. But according to his line of argument, the program contained too many topics that were devoted to skepticism about religious claims. Oh noes! They're being skeptical about the truth claims of religion at a skeptics convention!
For Cthulhu's sake, what extraordinary claims can it possibly be more important to express skepticism about than those of religion?
The pro-atheist cause is an entirely different endeavor with a community that overlaps strongly with the skeptical community. Skepticism is about drawing conclusions that are proportioned to the available evidence. That’s it. And I think keeping the two things separate i[s] vitally important.
What rubbish! First, skepticism has an honorable pedigree going back to ancient Greece, and the concept is far broader than this definition.
But even if you want to define "skepticism" very narrowly, part of what the "pro-atheist cause" does is subject claims about deities to rational examination, seeing what evidence exists for or against the existence of these entities. Conceptually, that is exactly the same thing as examining what evidence there is for or against the existence of Bigfoot or the efficacy of astrology. Of course, it's not as safe and comfortable, socially and politically, to get stuck into the evidence relating to deities as it is with that relating to Bigfoot, but that's all the more reason why people who wish to do so should be made welcome at skeptics conferences - and invited to present on atheism-related topics. The kind of unwelcoming stance that Wagg has taken to the atheist speakers is the last thing we need from people like him, who have some influence on the movement.
If anything, the skeptics movement should be moving to a wider definition, so that it embraces not just skepticism about religion but also skepticism about other extraordinary-but-popular claims that are difficult to square with the scentific picture of the world: such claims as those relating to the existence of libertarian free will. Let's have a genuine equal opportunity skeptic movement that goes well beyond relatively trivial claims about New Age woo, cryptozoology and the like - much as I love me some cryptozoology - and subjects claims that really matter to skeptical scrutiny.
Wagg's attitude conveys the implication that religion should, unlike astrology or claims related to Bigfoot, be protected from skeptical scrutiny. But such scrutiny is far more important in the case of religion, which wields enormous social and political power - unlike clubs for Bigfoot aficianados or Nessie spotters. Right now, we live in a time when it's crucially important to challenge the epistemic and moral credentials of religious leaders and organisations, and Wagg has placed himself on the side of frustrating that effort. Among other things, he is forcing people like me to waste our time replying to him.
What really annoys me is the way people like this, people who are attacking their own allies in public, behave as if they are the nice, reasonable, softly-softly ones. Talk about hypocrisy!
Cheers for Skepticon for dealing with an important issue in the depth that it deserves. As for Wagg, he deserves all the flak he's currently getting. He says, near the end of his diatribe:
And I fear the damage has already been done. I see a lot of good people leaving the skeptical community because they’re uncomfortable with the tone and disappointed with, frankly, the lack of skepticism presented by many people.
If people are leaving because they see skeptical scrutiny of claims about supernatural beings, then I wonder how "skeptical" they were in the first place. Good riddance to them, I say, joining in chorus with PZ on this occasion. And good riddance to Wagg, as well, if he leaves with them, as he's welcome to do. Hopefully he'll never again be seen in the skeptic movement, if publicly expressed skepticism about religion makes him so uncomfortable. It's his choice, of course - no one should be forced out. But the option is there for him to take.
The EXIT sign is right over there ...