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Skeptic Blog response

(I’m posting here, because I can’t post on skepticblog from work thanks to our proxy… I’ll probably go post this there when I can)
Brian Dunning has posted a piece on the Skeptic Blog about the Mythbusters. He disclaimers that he enjoys and appreciates the show for what it is, but also wishes it was a bit “more.”

Somebody in the comments makes the statement that:

“That being said I kind of disagree with Brian here, because I think the Mythbusters have done more for skepticism by *not* focusing on deeply cherished beliefs. They have pulled thousands into the idea of testing beliefs. Had they challenged deeply held beliefs (like P&T’s Bullshit), I doubt they would have gotten the audience they have now, and so they wouldn’t have had the positive effect they have.

I think skepticism needs to be injected in the harmless areas in order to get people thinking skeptically. They need to bring that around to their sacred cows on their own.”

What I wanted to say in response is:

This brings up a point I think I’ve made on a couple of other comment threads, something that I learned from my days before giving up my Christian beliefs. There was some conference thing that I was dragged to (it was towards the end of my time with church, but I went) and in one of their sessions on ‘how to convert people’ (or “How to Bring People to the Lord!”) somebody made a point that I wish the skeptical community could get… the number line.

Picture a number-line from 0-10, with 0 being woo-woo land, and 10 being “pure skepticism” (their version of this has a cross at the “10″ end of it… my version has an image of Carl Sagan & Randi hanging out at “10″ the end). Your/My job isn’t necessarily to bring somebody all the way from 0-10… from woo-woo land to “pure” skepticism. Sometimes, and for some people, our job is simply to move them from 0-1, or 1-3, or whatever. I also suspect that the person/method/thing with the skill-set best suited to moving a person from 2-3 isn’t likely to be the same person/situation/information that would also move them from 8-9.

For me, the book that moved me from 2-3 was actually Francis Collins’s The Language of God, which was approachable as somebody raised YEC (and went to all church run schools) and flipped my brain into “you’re 30 and a bit of an autodidact… maybe it’s time to fill out some of that science knowledge you missed out on when you dropped out of college instead of just the literature/arts stuff” mode. Between that, and how anti-convincing Lee Strobel’s Case for anything was, I started a path that went through Sagan, Shubin, DS Wilson, Shermer, Dawkins, Coyne, Dennett… all the way to becoming an Agnostic Atheist Skeptic now. Though, for the first two years it still involved Christian counters to the works, it wasn’t until I realized how rarely I was agreeing with anything the x-tian authors came up with as defense that I fully owned the “I’m a Skeptic” and “I’m an atheist” badges. Dawkins wasn’t convincing to me when I was still at 3 or 4, but he was useful and interesting when I had gotten up to 6 or 7 on the skeptic scale.

The point, and I do have one, is that (though it was obviously not his goal) Collins moved me further along the skeptic line, and as Brian points out, that’s what Mythbusters is doing for a lot of people. Could they “do more”? yes… But I’d hate to risk losing what they’re doing now by pushing it too far into people’s discomfort realm and losing the viewers. What I think would be better, is for somebody else to pick up the torch at #3-4, where the Mythbusters have left a few people, and move them to #6 or 7 (where maybe Dawkins & PZ can pick them up).

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