Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

Is Pamela Gay’s christianity pertinent to a discussion of Skepticisim?

In Responses to the media, Science on June 27, 2010 at 11:16 PM

Pamela Gay is a terrific skeptic for anyone who does not know her and has featured on such podcasts as the Skeptic Zone (#9),Skepticality and the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, possibly a few times over the years, as well as being the co-host of the ever popular Astronomy Cast podcast with Fraser Cain. As well as this Pamela is an astronomer, professor, educator, writer and science activist. Oh and apparently Pamela is Christian, although I hadn’t been aware of that fact previously.

For those that haven’t followed the topic at hand (I’m just now catching up myself), in response to this Blog post on “Whiskey Before Breakfast” :

Pamela wrote the following post here:

Both were in turn responded to by PZ Myers here:

While I really enjoyed reading PZ state:

“Pamela Gay is an astronomer and a reputable and credible skeptic, and a well-known science educator. She’s not a skeptic in all things, though: she’s also a Christian. This is not a problem, because there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ skeptic who applies critical thinking to every single aspect of their lives, so of course she can be a member in good standing of the skeptical community — but let’s not pretend that she’s applying skeptical values consistently. Again, this is not a problem for her, shouldn’t be a problem for us, but it does become a huge problem when people start demanding special exemptions from criticism for religious thought.”

As for the criticisms he goes on to make, I think Pamela answers them sufficiently here:

The following is Pamela’s response from 26 June 2010 at 6:49 pm.

“You guys are making a ton of assumptions; none of them correct.
First it was assumed that it was a cosmology class, rather then a cosmology lesson in an intro class for humanities majors. Then it was assumed it was an extra credit question, rather then a major part of their real grade. Then it was assumed that I must have told the students their prof was wrong instead of doing what I actually did, which was tell the girls they really should have asked for clarification during the exam, because while I agree they shouldn’t lie, writing about the 2nd coming of Christ on an astro 101 exam really doesn’t demonstrate they learned something. Now it’s being assumed they came to me because I was a Christian. No, they came to me because I was teaching the observational astronomy class they had co-enrolled in to get lab credit, and they figured if one prof wouldn’t fix their grade, maybe a different one would.

Stop making assumptions.

The point I was trying to make was simple: The culture war is effecting learning. If you insult someone’s religion with the classic “Anyone who believes in God is stupid” retort (or any of a million mocking comments), they will stop listening to you unless they are self-hating. (I appear to be self-hating.) If you want someone to learn, start with observable facts. Homeopathy can be tested. Vaccines can be tested. The moon hoax can be tested. Start with observation based facts and the scientific method, not with insults and a desire to remove their religious foundation prior to actually teaching them anything.

Could you enjoy learning history from someone who started from the premise that anyone who was an atheist was stupid and incapable living a moral life – someone who failed a student who when asked “Discuss your favorite philosopher” discussed Nietsche articulately even though the class had only covered Decartes, Locke, Pascal, and Butler? I’ve answered questions on chem exams using quantum mechanics, and expected to get the answer marked right (and I did). If a prof writes a vague question (and all of us do this sometimes), we need to be prepared to take random answers or to throw out the question.

As instructors, it is our job to guide our students in learning, and we make our jobs harder when we bring into the science classroom words like “belief” and we don’t leave the door open for students to actually have beliefs. Every time a student – these are teenagers who are often looking for reasons to hate authority – gets alienated, they stop learning. I don’t want an ignorant society, so I honestly feel we need to keep religion out of the science classroom, and let people fight the culture wars elsewhere (philosophy and religion classrooms, for instance).”

So before this blows up to become the next atheistism/skepticism “something-gate”, lets all take a moment to calm down and reflect shall we?

Jayson D Cooke

  1. His name is Fraser Cain. Probably often gets confused with a TV character.

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