Article 1574 of sci.skeptic: Subject: Skeptics and Religion Date: 27 Oct 89 20:39:43 GMT A

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Article 1574 of sci.skeptic: Path: ncsuvx!mcnc!uvaarpa!haven!udel!wuarchive!wugate!uunet!unisoft!hoptoad!fidogate!Rick.Moen From: Rick.Moen@fidogate.FIDONET.ORG (Rick Moen) Newsgroups: sci.skeptic Subject: Skeptics and Religion Message-ID: <1550.2548ED1A@fidogate.FIDONET.ORG> Date: 27 Oct 89 20:39:43 GMT Article-I.D.: fidogate.1550.2548ED1A Posted: Fri Oct 27 16:39:43 1989 Organization: KKSF, San Francisco CA (415) 391-2657 Lines: 132 Following is an article from the May 1986 "BASIS", an issue devoted to the Bay Area Skeptics' expose, with magician James Randi, of "faith-healer" Peter Popoff. (I participated.) The entire Popoff story was told on April 22, 1986 on the Tonight Show (and can frequently be seen in reruns). BAY AREA SKEPTICS AND RELIGION by Mark Hodes Bay Area Skeptics is a diverse organization. Our Board of Directors, consultants, and subscribers include men and women of differing religious and non-religious persuasions, persons affiliated with religious institutions and persons not so affiliated. The position of Bay Area Skeptics on religion is, simply, that we have no position. The claims and attitudes of religious organizations and individuals, with few exceptions, are neither offered nor taken to lie in the domains in which scientific inquiry is effective or applicable. Therefore such claims generally do not engage our attention. Exceptions, however, do occur, and they fall into two overlapping categories: I. Religious claims whose proponents assert scientific justification for their truth. II. Religious claims that, if unchallenged, exact grievous societal costs. This is a touchy subject involving, at the least, highly subjective judgment, if not downright prejudice. Allow me to illustrate these categories with three specific examples: 1. The Shroud of Turin is a paradigm for Category I. The Shroud is a linen wrap that surfaced in France in the 1350s, and carries an image supposed to have been scorched into the fabric by radiative emission from the crucified body of Jesus. In 1978 a team of dozens of American and European scientists subjected the Shroud to an impressive battery of sophisticated tests, and were widely reported to have proclaimed the Shroud authentic! Once the question of the Shroud's authenticity had entered the scientific literature, that question and earlier work on it became fair game for the critical evaluation that attends all surprising and and significant results in science. The more surprising the outcome, the more meticulous and compulsive the scrutiny it receives. This is the conservative side of science, but note that this same scrutiny leads sometimes to the astonishingly rapid acceptance of those rare revolutionary ideas that stand up to it. As the purpose of this essay is not to review the Shroud literature, I refer you to the notes for further information. 2. A topic that spans categories I and II is creationism, so- called Creation Science. Creationists offer what they profess to regard as empirical justification for their beliefs. This places them in Category I. However, they misrepresent the nature of their beliefs, seek to promulgate their dogma in public school classes, and pursue political means to effect this goal. The costs to society of weakening the science curriculum are manifold and manifest. In a broader context, the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state is as crucial a safeguard as freedom of speech, and is a foundation of academic freedom. The case against creationism has been made elsewhere, and so I refer you again to the notes. 3. The sensitive subject of faith healers falls squarely in Category II. Faith healers' numbers are legion, and their annual "take" is exceeded only by the extravagance of their claims. Peter Popoff, the subject of other articles in this issue, is not exceptional either in his apparently cynical exploitation of those who place their faith in him, nor in his apparent lack of regard for the unnecessary health risks to which his followers may be exposed. Here the connection with religion is wholly incidental. The substance of our criticism is not against anyone's religious beliefs, but what may be the use of state magic of the mentalist genre, clothed as a religious service, to perpetrate possible medical fraud. Again, religion PER SE is not the issue. Certainly situations will arise in which our intuitions will differ as to whether to become involved. Ambiguity is among the usual costs of dealing with complex issues. My point is that Bay Area Skeptics is neither antagonistic toward nor supportive of religion in general, or the religious beliefs of individuals in general. We do take interest in controversial subjects that enter the scientific literature, and in areas where the penalties for uncritically holding beliefs are unconscionably severe. ---------- Notes: 1. A good place to start reading about the Shroud of Turin is "The Skeptical Inquirer", vol. VI, #3, Spring, 1982. This issue contains carefully researched articles by Maavin M. Mueller and Steven D. Schafersman, each including a large bibliography. 2. For the case against creationism I suggest Godfrey, Laurie R. (ed.), "Scientists Confront Creationism", W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1983. This volume, introduced by Richard C. Lewontin, contains essays by 15 distinguished scientists, including Stephen Jay Gould. The essays carry individual bibliographies, and the collection includes a detailed cumulative index. [article ends] With the passage of three years, the references to the Shroud of Turin have become dated. However, I am uploading this article to sci.skeptic because of the religious issues I have seen debated here. The folly of discussing, under the rubric of skepticism, the merits of Joshua 10:12's alleged cosmology, or of generalising from Scientology to theism as a whole, should by now be apparent. I would suggest that skeptics' legitimate concern lies with testable claims of fact, not with matters of faith. Accordingly, religious issues, per se, are NOT on our agenda. Further, the less-fair critics of the skeptics' movement (e.g., Robert Anton Wilson) commonly attempt to undermine its credibility by attributing to any of various ideological agendas. "Skepticism = atheism" is one of them. So, I would like both to dissociate the skeptics' movement from the anti-religion crowd and to make certain this criticism is not justified. Sincerely, Rick Moen, Secretary Bay Area Skeptics -- Rick Moen - via FidoNet node 1:125/406 UUCP: ...!sun!hoptoad!fidogate!Rick.Moen INTERNET: Rick.Moen@fidogate.FIDONET.ORG


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