:Date: 20 Dec 90 08:14:26 PST :From: Rick_Moen@f207.n914.z8.RBBS-NET.ORG (The Skeptic's Bo

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:Date: 20 Dec 90 08:14:26 PST :From: Rick_Moen@f207.n914.z8.RBBS-NET.ORG (The Skeptic's Board BBS) :To: SKEPTIC@YORKVM1.BITNET :Subj: Skeptics and Humanists ------------------------------------------------ The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things: Of ships, and shoes, and sealing wax, of skeptics and humanists. Some history is in order: The skeptics' movement, as an organised affair, started abruptly, between the covers of _The Humanist_, a magazine published by the American Humanist Association to promote that philosophy. The movement's genesis was an article (or perhaps manifesto) in the 9/75 issue called "Objections to Astrology: A Statement by 186 [later 192] Leading Scientists". Reactions pro and con were _so strong_ that a number of the article's backers, including James Randi, Martin Gardner, Paul Kurtz, and Ray Hyman, decided in May 1976 to form a committee to critically examine fringe-science claims. This was (and is) CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Claims of the Paranormal, run from Buffalo, NY, by its chairman, SUNY Buffalo professor of philosophy Paul Kurtz, on a tight budget but with a dedicated professional staff. CSICOP began to accumulate as Fellows and consultants an impressive array of magicians, scientists, and academics, apparently quite diverse as to philosophical and religious inclinations. It has published a quarterly journal, _The Skeptical Inquirer_, since 1976. At nearly the same time, some sort of parting of the ways transpired at the AHA. Kurtz, who was then _The Humanist's_ editor, left the AHA and founded a similar organisation, CODESH, the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism. (Lest the jest be lost on most people, "codesh" means "holy" in Hebrew.) It's the group that puts out _Free Inquiry_ magazine. CODESH was and is run out of the _same_ small building on Bailey Avenue as CSICOP, but its affairs were kept separate. (Note the word "were" -- more on this later.) There are also a number of related enterprises, such as the Academy of Humanism, Prometheus Books, the Biblical Criticism Research Project, and the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (the group that exposed "faith-healers" Peter Popoff, W.V. Grant, etc.) The substantive difference between the AHA and CODESH is subtle. Even having read both journals for many years, and supported both groups, I find it difficult to nail down. Both seek to advance systems of ethics not rooted in mysticism, but differ in emphasis and tone. Neither group seems to ever refer to the other. One difference can be seen in the names of their locally-based offshoots. The AHA-inspired local groups all seem to be called "Humanist Community of [location]", while CODESH-type groups are called "Secular Humanists of [location]". CODESH also seem to be associated (if I remember correctly) with the "Secular Organizations for Sobriety", which run AA-type programs devoid of AA's generic deity, the "Higher Power". Both outfits are _effectively_ quite secular, but the CODESH-type groups make a special point of it. There is also the curious matter of the AHA's tax-exempt non-profit status. It's registered as exempt under U.S. Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), as a _religious_ organisation, which has caused some dissention among AHA supporters. This is _particularly_ odd since the same Code section also covers cultural, scientific, and educational groups, any one of which categories might equally apply, instead. Back to the skeptics: About a year ago, the folks in Buffalo unveiled a venture called "The Voice of Inquiry", a series of radio and television programmes mixing skeptics' and humanists' topics. Thus, we get "African-Americans and Humanism" chockablock with "Spontaneous Human Combustion". "Euthanasia" rubs shoulders with "Out-of-Body Experiences", and "Can Reason Alone Make Us Moral?" with "Why Astrology Won't Go Away", all on tapes available from something called the "Center for Inquiry", which appears to be a new umbrella group for CSICOP and CODESH. More recently, we've heard that, according to glossy mailings and appeals for donations in _Skeptical Inquirer_ and _Free Inquiry_, a new, two-million-dollar "Center for Inquiry" _facility_ is being built. CODESH and CSICOP are to be incorporated into this Center, which will also house a "Center for Inquiry Institute" (to run seminars, workshops, etc.). Now, both the humanist and skeptics' movements strike me, personally, as extremely valuable causes. I support both, strongly. However, this blithe mixing of the two tends to create problems. Part of the strength of the skeptics' movement lies in its broad appeal: Critical examination of fringe-science claims requires no creed, no investment in any ideology, just the curiosity to look into extraordinary claims. Thus, my group, Bay Area Skeptics, can include parapsychologists, Protestant fundamentalists, Catholic nuns, Wiccans, and militant atheists, and _all_ can feel equally welcome. For this reason (among others), we've carefully stayed away from philosophical, ethical, and religious-belief claims, to avoid alienating our natural allies for no good reason. If this point is unclear, consider an analogy: I'm also a feminist and an environmentalist. Now, I'd _like_ to see my fellow NOW members arrive at meetings by bicycle, and my fellow Greenpeace supporters lobby for "comparable worth". However, I don't want to _drive male chauvinists away_ from Greenpeace, or gas-guzzlers away from NOW. The fact that both these causes aim to improve our condition does not mean that _combining them_ is wise. The fact that humanism and skepticism both involve "inquiry" and "critical thinking" does not make their combination a good idea, either. Further, one of the traditional ad hominem appeals against the skeptics' movement has always been that its inquiry is (allegedly) not objective, but has a hidden ideological agenda, variously called "scientific realism", "fundamentalist materialism", and the like. I've been at some pains, over the years, to refute this mud-slinging charge, by pointing out the tremendous variety of viewpoints in skeptics' journals, and their _lack_ of endorsement of particular ideologies. I always invite our critics to submit articles for our newsletter and to speak at our monthly public meetings (which almost invariably disarms the criticism and makes for us a friend). Now, when confronted with the "Center for Inquiry" as contrary evidence, I find myself tempted to reply, "CSICOP is _not_ the skeptics' movement". I would prefer not to need this last-resort argument. I shouldn't overlook the potential harm to the _humanist_ movement. I've met plenty of astral travelers, tarot readers, Bigfoot groupies, and assorted cranks who make fine humanists. What's the point of alienating them? (They no doubt say "Moen is an OK humanist, just a bit nutty on fringe-science topics". We get along fine.) Accordingly, I think both skeptics and humanists have a bit of a problem, and this concern is broadly shared by skeptics I've spoken with here in California. What I don't know -- yet -- is how skeptics elsewhere feel. I'm quite curious. Best Regards, Rick Moen, Secretary Bay Area Skeptics (but speaking for himself alone) :Date: 23 Dec 90 02:18:58 EST :From: 72777.1553@CompuServe.COM (EMORY KIMBROUGH) :To: SKEPTIC@YORKVM1.BITNET :Subj: Skeptics and Humanists ------------------------------------------------ I am generally in agreement with Rick Moen's comments on keeping humanism and skepticism separate. When we challenge a particular pseudoscience, our strongest argument is that virtually all scientists, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist, agree that the pseudoscience in question is flawed. If we allow our opponents to claim that our opinion is only that of atheist liberal humanists who happen to be scientists, then our position is much weakened. I wrote to Barry Karr at CSICOP about this about a year ago. In particular, I was concerned by how various local groups publish plugs for the humanist or freethought groups in their area. Since the local skeptics' groups are autonomous, CSICOP could not insist that this practice be stopped, but I think that they should suggest that newsletters of local skeptics' groups not publish ads for freethought groups. I am less concerned than Mr. Moen about the reverse practice of humanist groups supporting skepticism. If one looks at The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles and Values, which often appears on the back of _Free Inquiry_, one will find several statements about reason, science, and the supernatural that are really the defining statements of scientific skepticism. Thus, I don't see any problem with humanist/freethought groups supporting skeptics' groups, even though I fully agree with Mr. Moen that skeptics' groups should be very careful about supporting humanist/freethought groups. :Date: Thu, 27 Dec 90 10:41:00 CST :From: llnl!Tom LeCompte-Northwestern University :To: SKEPTIC@YORKVM1.BITNET :Subj: Skeptics and Humanists ------------------------------------------------ Fermilab, 27-DEC-1990 Rick Moen brings up some interesting points, and I agree with most of them. However, I don't see exactly the problem here. It seems that CODESH and CSICOP were in the same building before, and after the "Center For Inquiry" is built, they will still be in the same building. Now, if money from one group were to be funneled to another, I would object. But this seems harmless enough. Tom :Date: 29 Dec 90 10:18:34 PST :From: Rick_Moen@f207.n914.z8.RBBS-NET.ORG (The Skeptic's Board BBS) :To: SKEPTIC@YORKVM1.BITNET :Subj: Skeptics and Humanists ------------------------------------------------ Tom LeCompte at Fermilab writes as follows: > Rick Moen brings up some interesting points, and I agree with > most of them. However, I don't see exactly the problem here. It > seems that CODESH and CSICOP were in the same building before, > and after the "Center For Inquiry" is built, they will still be > in the same building. If Tom is correct that they're merely moving from a small building on Bailey Avenue to a larger one on Sweet Home Road, then there is no problem (not counting financial strain). However, is this really the sum and substance of the "Center for Inquiry", and of the "Voice of Inquiry" radio and television facilities? All of CSICOP's recent efforts have been under the "Center for Inquiry" umbrella. The Center "will offer noncredit graduate-level courses in skepticism and humanism" (per Center fund drive flyer, Dec. 1990). The "Voice of Inquiry" radio programmes ("loosely based on the successful National Public Radio program `All Things Considered'") freely mix, and even juxtapose, skeptics' and humanists' topics in a somewhat bizarre fashion, as I documented in my prior posting. There is clearly considerable momentum behind all this, especially given the capital outlay behind the video/audio production facilities entailed: "We have installed complete audio and video duplicating systems, equipment for audio mixing and editing, a high-quality system for recording telephone interviews for air, four-track audio production capability, and other basics at minimal expense" (Center Director Tom Flynn, in _SI_, Vol. 15, No. 1 -- Fall 1990, p. 35). Let's back up a bit. The first peep about all this was in _Skeptical Briefs_, the four-page irregular publication CSICOP sends out to the local skeptics' groups, in the Dec. 1989 issue (Vol. 5, No. 2), in a short piece by Barry Karr, CSICOP Executive Director. It mentions the "Center for Inquiry" for the first time, as a "media production facility" to produce audio/video programmes for CSICOP. The first _public_ notice was tucked way in the back of _SI_, in a sidebar on p. 428 of the Summer 1990 issue (Vol. 14, No. 4), again describing the Center as a video/audio production facility. It lists several skeptics' topics as examples of the programming then recorded, while omitting completely the humanist topics then already on the same tapes. The only oblique clue is a statement that the programmes will cover "topics of interest to skeptics and _other proponents of critical thinking_" (emphasis added). The next reference was the aforementioned larger sidebar by Tom Flynn in the following issue. Again, the skeptics' topics on the then-recorded radio programmes are listed in detail, while the humanist topics are omitted completely. This time, the only reference is that programmes will concern "science, skepticism, and _related themes_" (emphasis added). Four pages further on, we see a debut announcement of the "Center for Inquiry Institute Seminar Series". It describes topics of the then-recent "first skeptics workshop" in Buffalo and the impending second one, in Tucson. There is no further explanation of the "Center for Inquiry" or the "Institute", and no mention of humanism. Finally, about the same time, CSICOP mailed out sharp-looking fund-solicitation brochures, announcing construction of the two-million-doller "Center" buildings on Sweet Home Road. Here we see mention of the collaboration with CODESH, and the "graduate-level courses in skepticism and humanism". The "Center for Inquiry" has now been transformed from an electronic production organisation to an umbrella name for CODESH and CSICOP, under which all new efforts so far are being carried out. The most recent issue of _SI_, Winter 1991 (Vol. 15, No. 2), _does_ give a full listing of the "Voice of Inquiry" topics, for the very first time (p. 197), creating the bizarre juxtaposition of skeptics' and humanists' topics I referred to earlier. Once again, the Center is described as a "media production facility". However, the next two pages have a scaled-down version of the "Center" fund-solicitation brochure, omitting mention of the Institute's "graduate-level courses in skepticism and humanism" (though it does mention the Institute itself). Is this a picture of CSICOP and CODESH just moving to a larger building? I don't think so. Probably, CSICOP's intentions have been evolving over time (I would guess). However, it's clear to me that there has been an ongoing move in Buffalo to intermix the skeptics' and humanist movements, and that the full story of this has been only slowly coming out in print. Is everyone but Emory Kimbrough and me (and several hundred skeptics on the West Coast) comfortable with this? > Now, if money from one group were to be funneled to another, I > would object. But this seems harmless enough. The "Center" donations, like many prior ones, will no doubt go towards common facilities. In that limited sense, there's been a long history of mixing of funds. However, it seems to me this is the least of the problems. Next time I'm told that the skeptics' movement is just a front for humanism and "the philosophy of scientific realism" and is therefore inherently biased, what am I supposed to say besides "CSICOP is _not_ the skeptics' movement"? In a related posting, Emory Kimbrough of Alabama Skeptics (72777.1553@CompuServe.COM) writes as follows: > I am less concerned than Mr. Moen about the reverse practice of > humanist groups supporting skepticism. If one looks at The > Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles and Values, > which often appears on the back of _Free Inquiry_, one will find > several statements about reason, science, and the supernatural > that are really the defining statements of scientific skepticism. > Thus, I don't see any problem with humanist/freethought groups > supporting skeptics' groups, even though I fully agree with Mr. > Moen that skeptics' groups should be very careful about supporting > humanist/freethought groups. I actually wasn't too worried about the humanists, who have no problem generally deciding what they're all about. However, I still imagine that humanist groups slightly limit their appeal by effectively discouraging mystics and paranormalists from supporting them. (CODESH does, but many others don't, by the way.) My primary concern, though, is with the effect on the skeptics' movement, and that concern has been, if anything, becoming more acute over time. Best Regards, Rick Moen, Secretary Bay Area Skeptics (but speaking for himself alone) :Date: Mon, 31 Dec 90 10:57:00 CST :From: llnl!Tom LeCompte-Northwestern University :To: SKEPTIC@YORKVM1.BITNET :Subj: Skeptics and Humanists ------------------------------------------------ Fermilab, 31-DEC-1990 I wholeheartedly agree that being a "skeptic" does not necessarily make one a "humanist", and certainly not a "secular humanist". Perhaps skepticism logically follows from secular humanism, but the reverse is not true. If the founder of CSICOP happens also to be a humanist, that's a connection we're stuck with. One of the inventors of the transitor happened to be a racist - I disagree with that philosophy, but it doesn't stop me from using transistors. However, this connection should stop there. I'm not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that any funny business is going on, but will admit that it looks awfully fishy. Telling different things to different people is not a good sign. Tom LeCompte Dept. of Physics and Astronomy Northwestern University (All opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Northwestern or Fermilab.)

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