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“Because It Happened to Me”

The first post written for the Woo Fighters website was written by Barbara Drescher, and it was titled “My Inspiration for Woo Fighters“. What it was is just that, an explanation from start to finish of how she became interested in skepticism. What was described was a very deliberate path of events which led to the current day. Now, alongside with ICBS Everywhere and many panel appearances, she has brought together the Woo Fighters, a collection of approximately half a dozen students interested in skepticism.

A good exercise in life, not just for skepticism but for anything, is to take great interest in people’s motivations. Not just what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it. What’s of particular interest to me is the “why” of why people become involved with skepticism. I’m assuming most of us are trying to spread the tenets of skepticism, and realizing why people get involved in the first place is to the advantage of all of us. I had a friend who began to participate in a lot of cancer research fundraising, and when I asked him why, he told me that his mother had recently gotten cancer. Most people involved in any type of activity have a strong connection to whatever they’re doing, in one way or another.

So I started looking at people who are “doing good” for skepticism. It was interesting to read in Why People Believe Weird Things that popular author Michael Shermer was a fundamentalist Christian long before he arrived at where he is today. A lot of people would see fundamental Christianity as incompatible with skepticism, and it would only seem as if Dr. Shermer did as well. Brian Dunning describes his earlier days on the internet attempting (unsuccessfully) to start intelligent discourse on various message boards. It’s a little harder to dig up the origin stories for people like Phil Plait or Steven Novella, but it seems clear that at some point everyone was pushed in the direction of skepticism, and for it has contributed very much.

So what makes them, and you, different from everyone else? When you see a video on something like The Sprinkler Rainbow Conspiracy, what makes some of us laugh, some of us sweat in terror of Barack Obama, and some of us “head to the blogs” to try to teach people that this isn’t right? Is skepticism a “get ‘em while they’re young” kind of deal, something inherent in our personalities, or what? The good people involved are here “because it happened to me”, now for people to reach this point I need to know exactly what “it” is.

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6 Responses to ““Because It Happened to Me””

  • Crazy Sprinkler Lady was afraid of George W. Bush. I wonder what she’s thinking now? :)

    Michael McRae leans toward the conclusions that we fully form our epistemology early in life. What we (activists) do when we gain a follower is simply make them aware and perhaps teach them the finer points.

    I think there is some truth to that, but these people in the middle – those who are rational (or mostly rational), whose lives will change then they are given enough of the right information – are numerous. It is important to reach them.

    “It”, I think, is simply a realization that there is a right way to think. That’s not a moral judgment; I am not talking about values, but rather how we decide what is true.

  • Mike McRae:

    Thanks for the nod, Barb. :)

    It’s true that I believe in the vast majority of cases, epistemology is pretty concrete by adolescence. There’s reason to think it’s increasingly difficult to change a person’s core knowledge evaluation skills past their teenage years.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t people who appear to be blatant fundamentalists or smitten with ‘woo’ who are devoid of any critical thinking values. Epistemology is not definitively tied with the beliefs we outwardly present, I feel, meaning a person can claim to be a creationist and still possess good scientific thinking skills. It might not be common, but there are plenty of examples of those whose thinking values caused them to struggle with their socially inherited beliefs for a time.

    That means every person who we insult or deride for being an ‘idiot’ might not necessarily be incapable of changing their position at some point. Sure, they might not nod in agreement at your sagely words of wisdom in front of you, but at some point – under the right circumstances – it might all click for them.

    • Erin McMichael:

      Anecdotal, of course, but I was quite religious during my formative years and would like to think of myself as a critical thinker now. I abandoned Western religion when I was 18 and often find myself arguing against the very people that I rallied with as a child. I do remember, quite vividly, when my critical thinking skills started to matter. I was barely in high school and I wanted answers that my pastors just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give me. It was at that point when I started to see the error of their ways and started thinking for myself.

  • “It” seems to me to be an awareness and an understanding that there are multiple positions and motives regarding a topic, theory, concept, etc., and that these underlying components need to be investigated. I also believe one must realize their freedom and responsibility of choice – that they have the ability to evaluate claims and support a position, but simultaneously that they are responsible for all the positive and negative results from being a proponent of the chosen perspective.

    I will always be a supporter of teaching critical thinking beginning in middle school because I feel a large component of becoming skeptical is being exposed to the fact that asking “why?” and withholding judgment is ALWAYS an option. The sooner this realization takes place, the earlier people can start practicing it.

  • I am not an educated man. Please excuse me if my communication skills are not up to par.
    Being raised simultaneously in two cultures (Lebanese-Shia Muslim and American-Catholic) by parents who were definitely not fundamentalists allowed me to approach religion with a bit of skepticism from an early age but for whatever reason, that sense was never fully developed in me.
    After a stint in the military, I had difficulty adjusting to the world after my tour was over and I craved the discipline and structure of the military life. I found a comforting “black-and-white” sureness in the fundamentalist Churches of Christ. They had all the answers and I didn’t need to think.
    I eventually left them, however, because of their insistence on teaching young earth Creationism. Still, I remained a “believer” of sorts for many years.
    What eventually pushed me to question my beliefs and to embrace free thought was not something I read in a book or heard in a lecture, however. In fact, it wasn’t my intellect at all.
    I began to question my work as a private military contractor after a few incidents in which innocent people were hurt because of U.S. support for a backwards monarchy that rules through religion and fear. In one case in particular, I was indirectly responsible for the arrest and beating of an old date farmer and his son. I didn’t know it was going to happen, but I felt responsible, just the same.
    I started to think about Islam and about religion in general and how it was all based on control and fear.
    I questioned my own morals and values for being involved in the oppression of people by helping to prop up their government. I questioned the morals and sanity of the al Qaeda men who killed the guy I had replaced. I thought back to 20 years before that when so many guys lost their lives in the barracks at the airport in Beirut, 1983. I knew some of those boys. Religion contributed in no small part to their deaths. It was all starting to sink in.
    Shortly afterward, I received notice from my wife that she was leaving me. The morning after receiving the news, I had what I thought was a spiritual experience out in the desert and clung on to that for a short time as proof of someone looking out for me in my time of emotional need. But it was just a short time.
    No matter what happened after that, I still couldn’t get the faces out of my head. What kind of god would let these things happen to people and what kind of man was I for supporting this type of thing?
    For me, it was my conscience. Before I could think, I needed to feel.
    I was an agnostic for about two years before eventually becoming a full-fledged atheist. I’ve spent the better part of the last 5 years educating myself in critical thinking skills, evolution and skepticism. It has been difficult for me to do this, but I finally understood after many years, that bad things happen when people do not think clearly.
    It’s more to me than winning an argument about religion or science. It can also be about preventing bad things from happening to people. For me, it’s about saving lives and protecting people.