Letter to the Editor: Strawmen, James Randi, and the Skeptic Religion

Letter to the Editor: Strawmen, James Randi, and the Skeptic Religion

Editor’s Note: this post was sent “letter to the editor” style to WF by one of our favorite regular contributors. The letter comes in response to several lengthy twitter exchanges that began over a month ago, beginning with this tweet, the aftermath of which resulted in numerous semi-angry blogs written by skeptics and paranormalists alike. The argument on twitter continued after skeptic godfather James Randi outed himself as a “Social Darwinist” in Will Storr’s new book Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, prompting merciless ribbing from believers, and a lot of hand wringing from disappointed skeptics.


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As many of you have probably noticed by now, there’s a twitter feed, a veritable window in the play by play actions in our corner of the paranormal community, on the right side of the Who Forted homepage. Doubtless, some of you who also have no life and work at a soul sucking office job often read the messages there and have noticed lately that our brave editor has been trying to talk to the skeptic community about maybe trying to tone down the high and mighty rhetoric that they spew at those of us who don’t accept that “science” (and James Randi) knows all. I’m overly familiar with the skeptic community and I haven’t even been active in this part of the “anomalous” world for that long. The hypocrisy and dogma that seems to be inherent in that particular group sickens me.


I grew up in rural West Virginia, and thanks to the colorful country churches with their self-appointed pastors, I quickly came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a demographic quite as full of hate and blind hypocrisy as Christians. I became an apostate from the religion I was raised in when I decided that no loving god would ever create something as sadistic and childish as an everlasting place of torment. I was nine and my life has been a long career of irreverence and heresy ever since. Eventually I started joking to friends that I was an occultist and one morning I woke up and it happened to be true. Throughout college I was still quite positive that religion was the biggest threat to the freedom of the individual. I disliked the internet and had as little to do with it at the time, so I didn’t realize how noisy atheists, materialists, and skeptics really were.

SAGANLOLOLOLWhen I joined the Who Forted writing staff I considered myself a skeptic. I didn’t believe anything at face value and enjoyed the tongue in cheek tone of the website. Although I was never a big fan of bathroom humo (I never could appreciate the bean eating scene in Blazing Saddles even as a young child) the title of the website assured me that these people knew where it was at. I still believe this about my editor and some of my fellow writers to this day. It’s just that I quickly realized that I wasn’t a skeptic, or more properly, that I’d never fit in with the types that call themselves skeptics on the web.

Firstly I’m not an atheist and I don’t view science as an the infallible method of arriving at the truth. Secondly, I certainly don’t take reality at face value and stopped believing that it was possible for humans to know everything a long time ago. Thirdly, I’m not some arrogant horse’s ass who believes I have a god (or Randi) given right to troll around scolding people for speculating about strange things in the woods or sonic booms. In fact, I could care less what people believe as long as they don’t go around preaching it. When one writes about aliens, ghosts, or various other strange happenings on a website dedicated to those things, that isn’t preaching. However, when one devotes their time and efforts to tear into others for believing anything that diverges from the status quo, that is preaching. I generally think that pulpit pounding and evangelism are bad things, or at the very least they’re obnoxious.

So “skeptics”, who are avowed missionaries of science, spend their time insulting people who believe in Bigfoot (because you could trip over a log while searching for it, you know. What’s the harm folks?!?!?! THIS IS THE HARM!!!!) instead of using their immense “scientific” knowledge by trying to do something useful. When you say you love science, and then summarily can’t find anything better to do with your time than bitch about people believing in wolfmen, your intelligence is not very impressive. In fact, you sound more like a whiny Christian complaining about the gay couple down the street than you do a scientist (but they could get AIDS and burn in Hell!!! WHAT’S THE HARM?!?!??!!?!).

What’s the harm?

Cross out "demonic possession" and replace it with "unscientific thinking" or "woo woo." Sound familiar?

Cross out “demonic possession” and replace it with “unscientific thinking” or “woo woo.” Sound familiar?

Isn’t that a great question? Luckily the skeptic community has provided us with an excellent and well researched site that has cataloged every bad or unfortunate occurrence that has ever happened with the words like “witchcraft” attached to it. Having had this particular website offered as evidence against my position in my last post (where I suggested that, on some matters, that it’s best to just fuck off and let people think for themselves) I investigated it. The laughable premise and the meager collection of data on that site overlook two very important facts:

Fact one? Life is dangerous. One would be able to set up a website about the danger of riding in cars or travelling by plane with a much more impressive record than the deadly mistake of believing in faeries.

Fact two? Humanity is, historically, not the brightest species and do a lot to hurt ourselves no matter what we’re working with. Families turn against each other. Governments start wars. Science can be used to create atom bombs and biological weaponry as well as vaccines and adding on the the body of human knowledge.

Everything has two sides. The argument that something is dangerous ergo one shouldn’t be allowed to think freely is disgusting, and moreover, cowardly. I’d also like to point out that in the category concerning magic, something near and dear to my heart, most of the “horrible consequences” concern people killing others for supposedly practicing said magic. So, may I humbly suggest that, instead of continuing to vilify the subject and merely adding to the superstition and hate surrounding it, we encourage others to, once again, mind their own fucking business and let their fellow humans believe what they want?

I’m just saying. 🙂

FSM_and_Raptor_JesusSo how should we, those of us who sit anywhere on the left side to the middle, look at these skeptics? Well, let’s start in one of the best places to begin with any concept; at the etymology of the word “skeptic.” What it originally meant was “member of an ancient Greek school that doubted the possibility of real knowledge,” or an attitude that was inquiring and reflective. Does this sound like the skeptic community? Well.. no. They all seem to believe consensus reality is the definite answer. Some of them even follow the advice of such clown-hat organizations as the American Medical Association just because it comes from a place of authority. In fact it would seem most skeptics and their supporters are members of the growing religion of atheism.

“But S,” you say with that endearing slack jawed attempt at incredulity, “atheism isn’t a religion!”

Wrong again, asshole! Back to the dictionary!

Religion comes from the word ‘religare’, meaning “to bind fast” or to be “bound together in one belief.” It shares the same roots as the words ‘ligature’ and ‘ligament’. Atheism therefore is undeniably a religion in this form, as is “skepticism”  insofar as these good people believe in it, and they really seem to want you to believe in it too. They very fervently believe in their superstitious and unquestionable form of “science” that they assert what they are doing is justified and moral. Some even raise their children to believe the same system that they do. Christian, Islamic, Atheist, Raelian, whatever, it’s spiritual or mental rape to tell your child what to believe or disbelieve. That should be a choice every person gets to make for themselves.

If it looks like a religion, talks like a religion, walks like a religion… well, it’s not very skeptical to belong to a religion, guys.. c’mon!

Some skeptics are so sure of themselves that they do not allow dissenting opinions on their website or decide to pick and choose which objections they will listen to. That’s certainly in keeping with being inquisitive, right? Cutting out opinions and voices just because you don’t like them or they don’t sound enough like you is certainly a testament to the scientific method. I mean, I don’t appreciate most of the comments that appear on my articles, but I’m happy that Greg lets them through. It would be ridiculous not to open my writings to public scrutiny. I’m sure I’ll regret this position as I peruse some on the lovely messages that may be left for me in response to this particular writing, but hey, I’m human and fallible and don’t think I should be able to tell anyone what they should believe. I do, however, think that we have the right to tell people to piss off when we’ve heard enough and they won’t stop talking in our ear.

Burning the Skeptic Strawman


Another term which these skeptics keep bringing up is the infamous “strawman”. You’ve heard it before.  They really want to protect strawmen because they are terrified as hell that someone is going to burn them. The strawman is the go-to complaint whenever a skeptic is being criticized, especially if that skeptic is being called “mean”. I’m sure I’ll get at least one accusation myself.

The strawman argument in regards to the skeptic movement is that they are a nasty and obnoxious group of people that won’t mind their own business. Hm, sure seems that way a lot of times. In fact one of the tenents of the “New Atheism” movement that scientists such as Dawkins, Dennett, and, it would seem, Randi exemplify is a widely outspoken criticism of religion. That’s fine, to a point. We all need to be reminded of our flaws and shortcomings, occasionally. It makes us better people. The flip side of that is knowing when people have heard you, and just don’t care. That’s what we call a social cue. It means it’s time to move on.

To that point, I’m sure no “skeptic” is going to enjoy this piece of writing. You see, just like any other religion, atheists and “skeptics” don’t enjoy being scrutinized themselves, even when it’s perfectly warranted.  If you want to be seen as the more enlightened alternative to religion, then don’t carry on the odious tradition of browbeating others for not belonging to your school of thought.

In one of the aforementioned twitter conversations, the goodly skeptics refused to back off of Bigfoot hunters because “WHAT’S THE HARM!!?!!?!” or something ridiculous along those lines. Again, it’s really none of your business either way. If you really care that much, if you really have to take time out of your day to pester others with your incessant moaning and atheistic preaching, please move to Texas and fight to do something useful, like removing their new Creationist textbooks. Bigfoot hunters aren’t ruining this country, they’re not going to drag us into the dark ages, and they’re no more a danger to themselves or others than most hunters or people for that matter. In fact, they’re pretty entertaining to watch and read about, which might be why there’s a multimillion dollar television series dedicated to them with more on the way.

While listening to an episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage, one of the hosts, Brian Cox, made a joke about setting up the rationalist tent at a pagan festival in Glastonbury U.K.. The other host responded with a quip that the tent would be shaped like a giant wicker man.

Good evening. Have you ever given any thought to the dangers of ghost hunting?

Good evening. Have you ever given any thought to the dangers of ghost hunting?

Maybe that’s the stawman they’re afraid we’re going to burn. But, my question was, why does there need to be a rationalist tent at Glastonbury? The short answer is there really doesn’t. It’s there purely to stir up irritation.

Again, let me repeat my mantra. Mind your own business. It’s okay to have a laugh or two, object if you want, but don’t devote your whole life to pissing on others. Add your two cents and move on. You’re not changing any minds; all you’re doing is proving that there is a new form of priestcraft on the rise. If you don’t, then you’re no different from a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon going door to door offering to share the “good word”.

For the most part, the paranormal community can take care of itself. There’s plenty of writers and researchers who like to have a laugh at their material and are more than willing to raise an eyebrow. Case in point: Who Forted. Let them regulate their work. We don’t need a community that is totally reliant on refuting every one of our beliefs and claims. In fact, when your whole purpose in life is to counter someone else’s interests doesn’t that make you kinda parasitic? Ew.

Are reality shows about ghost hunting exploitative and full of lies? Yes. But so are Jersey Shore and America’s Next Top Model. Undercover Boss is syndicated propaganda for corporations. That’s showbiz, and again, we have people who actually have enough interest in the original material to separate the wheat from the chaff. The entertainment industry is fraught with a ridiculous departure from the truth and overblown theatrics. I’d like to think that many paranormalists know the difference between Ancient Aliens and decent material. And the ones who don’t? They most definitely aren’t hurting anyone.

James Randi: The Golden Calf of Skepticism

obeySo, let’s return to the man of the hour, the hero of skeptics and the enemy of “grubby” paranomalists everywhere: James Randi. The guru of the truth and righteous crusader for the sorry people who don’t know The Truth as well as he does. I may swoon just thinking about him. A much better skeptic, insofar that he didn’t accept any dogma and realised the limit of his human knowledge, Robert Anton Wilson once wrote an article after seeing the “Amazing” Randi in action. Although it was authored in the late seventies it would seem that the ex-magician has done little to change his tactics.

“Finally, the high point of the morning arrived, in the form of The Amazing Randi, as he styles himself. Randi looks like Santa Claus and talks like the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (Rep.-Wis.) Randi is not a Liberal by any definition but a real, old-fashioned, honest-to-Cthulhu Conservative, fire-breathing variety. He wants to hit the heretics on the head with a blunt instrument.”

You see, The Amazing Randi is of the school of thought which holds that he and his friends have the only ‘real’ reality-labyrinth on the planet. All proponents of alternative reality-labyrinths are therefore, by definition, a bunch of sneaks, cheats, and liars. This is the best rhetorical stance for a heresy-hunter, since it is rooted deeply in the primate psychology… Hitler pointed this out in Mein Kampf, every demagogue knows it, and Randi, an old showman, plays it to the hilt.

Randi’s presentation consisted of saying five different ways that the heretics are a bunch of dishonest bastards who lie morning, noon and night, and lie in their sleep just to keep in practice.  Then, in case there were any dullards in the audience who hadn’t gotten his message, Randi said it again, five more ways. The Journalist [Wilson refers to himself in different ways throughout the piece to show where his mindset was at] hadn’t heard such oratory since Jim Garrison way in his heyday, finding new Kennedy assassins every second newsbreak. It was a smashing performance, and the Sociobiologist was convinced that most of the audience were breathing harder and starting to tense their muscles before it was half over. Primate mode psychology at its most primitive.”

That quote is just a small part of Wilson’s account which can be found in his book of essays Right Where You Are Sitting Now. The essay is titled “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.” I’m sure it can be found online for free for those more tech savvy than myself.

To “skeptics” I’d like to say this: until you learn to be polite and respect others instead of forcing your view of reality on them, don’t call yourself a skeptic. You are not. You are a dogmatist and the proponent of a religion. I’m sure the congregation will show up to ridicule me, accuse me of burning strawmen, but I’d like to invite anyone else to join A.S.S.: The Actual Skeptics Society, where we don’t take ourselves too seriously, don’t think we’re on a god (or Randi) given mission to enlighten the world, and are actually skeptical about ourselves. True skepticism begins at home.

We’re finally seeing Christianity and other organized religions exit stage left. It will be awhile longer but we’re in the process of throwing off the yoke. Let’s not let another religion, another mental tyranny, take it’s place. You are free to believe what you want and wonder about what you please. It is your choice. Don’t let some firebrand pseudo-skeptic tell you otherwise. Stop talking about strawmen and feeling self pity until you learn to behave yourselves and actually fulfill the requirements to be a skeptic. Or don’t. Whatever. I’m not in charge.

Neither are you.


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