Jamy Ian Swiss, a prominent member of the skeptical community and magician, was interviewed recently for premium content for The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast. The conversation moved to several topics in its fifty minutes. Much of it was focused on the skeptical movement as a whole and its past, present, and especially future. Some great, high-minded ideas on what the movement lacks and where it needs to focus its efforts were brought up and played with, like the need to form permanent resources, and organizations that are respected and known enough to be called upon by government or outside of skepticism.
One subject that bubbled underneath the conversation was whether the meaning of “skepticism” should be broadened or kept narrow. For example, should the definition of a “good skeptic” include the requirement of atheism? Swiss says no, in order to broaden the tent of people allied against the real enemies: pseudoscience, mysticism, conspiracy theory, misinformation, and all manner of bad thinking. To require nonbelief would exclude otherwise helpful individuals.
I’ll acknowledge that Swiss has been in this movement for quite some time, and so he likely has a long-term perspective on this that I don’t. It doesn’t make sense to me to embrace skeptics who don’t exercise their skepticism on all areas of their life, since that’s one of the core aspects of the promotion of critical thinking, but I won’t pursue that point right now. It’s not only not the point of this post, but it’s also me deferring to a person who might know a thing or two about what works and doesn’t in capital-S Skepticism.
Still, like me, he is someone who does not have mastery of all perspectives. And this is where I think he’s truly mistaken.