I was pleased recently to speak with Kylie Sturgess for her Token Skeptic podcast (audio available here) about my research into the history of skepticism—in particular, my recent two-chapter piece “Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?” (PDF) and Junior Skeptic issues 45 and 46.
I found it a very useful conversation about the many skeptics who have lived, worked, and left the stage before us; their legacy; and the foundational principles of the movement they inspired. For that reason, I’m delighted that Sturgess has now provided a transcript, posted at her Patheos blog Token Skeptic. Here’s an excerpt:
Daniel: Well, it’s quite a big discussion in my piece. I must give something like 15,000 words of discussion in there, so I do hope people will look at it. I think there are some strong arguments that bear on this. Part of it, I would say to anybody, is that if you’re going to talk about changing the foundation of a field, of taking it in a new direction, I think it’s really important that first you understand where it has been and why it was there to start with. What it grew out of, what it was intended to accomplish. Those are some of the things that I wanted to address in [Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?].
When I got into skepticism 20 years ago, there was an established subculture of skeptics. At that time, they weren’t called scientific skeptics. They were just called skeptics, and those were synonyms. They were empirical in scope, they were tolerant to religion, they were interested in solving paranormal mysteries. That was it. For a long time, that stayed true, through the ’90s, I think, right up until the very end of the 90′s.
There started to be a little bit of agitation to expand that, first into general science questions and then eventually into these larger philosophical questions about metaphysics and ethics and religion and politics. Much messier questions, questions which are really much harder to answer and, in many cases, are just outside of the ability of science to answer.
Particularly after 9/11, things started to really change! Like many people who were religious nonbelievers, and like billions of religious believers as well, 9/11 was just so viscerally horrifying that people really cried out to turn critical attention to religion. They wanted to rein in the excesses, the dangers of religion. This was the rise of the new atheism. It was a very powerful moment in history. A lot of people were swept along by this. I was, to some extent. Most people of conscience were to some extent swept along by this.
Read the rest of the transcript at the Token Skeptic blog.