Question of the Week: What Brings You Here?

Having recently joined the cast of the Righteous Indignation podcast, this weekend I found myself speaking to Rebecca Watson of (that clang noise you just heard was the sound of names dropping).  We were recording an interview for an upcoming show, and generally chatting about this-and-that when it suddenly struck me – this was THE Rebecca Watson, of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe fame.  Surreal.

One of the questions that came up was how Rebecca found her way into skepticism, and her response was quite telling – initially working through college as a magician, she found herself reading books from Penn & Teller.  Guided by their constant references to James Randi, she found herself on the JREF forum and things took off from there.  What interested me about her response was the familiarity of it – I got into skepticism from watching Penn and Teller’s Bullshit, and from there I began listening to the SGU simply to hear what Teller’s voice sounded like in an interview he gave with them.  From the SGU, Randi and the JREF was the next logical step.  But that’s just my story – I want to hear yours.

So, with that in mind, I ask you all:  What brings you here?  What path to skepticism did you take, and who were the inspirations and guides along the way?


  1. #1 by ZenMonkey on August 5, 2009 - 00:07

    Michael Shermer’s book “Why People Believe Weird Things” started it all for me. It didn’t debunk my previously held ideas, but rather made me understand was skepticism was and wasn’t, and that I was a skeptic. After that I joined the Skeptics Society, and it snowballed from there.

    This whole process eventually led me also to understand that I’m an atheist, which frankly was a big relief from having to shoehorn a belief in God into my worldview. Turned out there was a good reason why that wasn’t working!

  2. #2 by Daniel Loxton on August 5, 2009 - 00:10

    I’ve written about it in detail, here.

    Short version: when I was in Junior High, a little more than 20 years ago, I heard CSICOP’s late great Barry Beyerstein speak at a local science fiction convention. I walked in to that panel with my brain crammed full of paranormal nonsense; I walked out with a lot of questions, and a whole new direction in life…

  3. #3 by Colin H on August 5, 2009 - 22:21

    My entry route into Skepticism is one which I suspect might be more common than imagined. Basically, I used to be very credulous. I had a wide-ranging interest in everything from religion to UFOs and was open-minded in a very even-handed way, to the extent that I believed (or at least believed in the possibility of) a lot of bullshit. But for me, something never quite satisfied. Although I found something incredibly romantic about researching obscure interests that lie on the sidelines, such as UFOs, I always felt that something was wrong. So I did my own research, and came across Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast on the Roswell ‘Incident’, and that was it. Here was what I wanted. It was research into the same things that I was interested in, but it was done dispassionately, thoroughly, and without any prior assumptions or sloppy thinking. I had had wide-ranging interests; what I had been lacking was depth, which was what I had really wanted deep down. I love wacky ideas, but I also want to see them tested properly.

    I think it might be the same for a lot of people. You start off casting your net wide, but at some point you’re going to have to really study those fish.

  4. #4 by Barbara on August 5, 2009 - 23:55

    I was studying the 3 sciences at A level but went to church and could square my belief in god with my knowledge of science. Then we had a meeting where simple souls from the church showed a video … oops must have been a filmstrip in those days, ridiculing evolution. Their attitude made me think a bit more and I’ve never looked back. Well I did try very hard to believe when making school choices for my kids and I threw myself into church life, I did the whole stuff of Sunday School teacher and member of PCC. I earned their places at the church school and in my daughter’s words “That was the worst thing you ever did, sending me to that school.”

    Other people: Don’t be persuaded by your parents and upbringing… do what you believe.
    from a dick head.

  5. #5 by Mike on August 6, 2009 - 09:47

    When I was little (8-12 ish) I was a believer in ghosts, UFOs, the paranormal, etc. I had many books on the subject, including “Mysteries of the Unknown”, which I loved.

    Although my interests in those topics never went away, the emphasis slowly changed from believer to skeptic as I learned more about science and read more about the topics.

    More recently, a trip to the Isle of Man for work meant I needed something to do on the plane. “The God Delusion” had just been published and, since I had been identifying as atheist since I was 10, I figured I’d find it interesting. That lead to me perusing the Internet for more atheist material, where I found Freethought Radio, the Non-Prophets and, later, the Atheist Experience. When I ran out of episodes of those to listen to, I went looking for more and found Skepticality and the SGU.

    Until that point, I had no idea there was such a thing as a “skeptic” or any sort of organised skepticism or skeptics movement. I realised that I wasn’t the only person who thought like this. Fantastic!

  6. #6 by Andy on August 11, 2009 - 00:27

    I’ve never believed in God or a God. Couldn’t get my head round it. Credulous and “open minded” otherwise but sceptical as I got older.

    My business life led me to become more demanding of facts and descriptions and I found this seeping over into private life. I’m 43 now.

    So I was wide open. Anyway, when I was very young I read that two trains will pass each other at their cumulative speed but that this did not happen with light. It has been on my mind as long as I can remember almost. I decided beginning of last year to do something about it and went looking for information, discovering various podcasts and the astronomy cast in particular. That led to SGU and the rest is history.

    Finally met the fine upstanding Skeptics of MSS and I am undergoing a bit of a renaissance as I become emboldened in my Skeptical ways and confront more and tolerate less. Doing a good job of frightening my wife and pissing off a couple of friends.

    I’ve also started to become competitive about coming up with Homeopathic numbers. I’d like to arrive at the number with the most zeros while stating a homeopathic fact. Marsh has had a go with about half a page of zeros but I’m confident I can top this! Do I need help?

  7. #7 by Colonel Molerat on August 20, 2009 - 17:26

    ‘What brings you here?’ seems an odd question for me. I actually dislike the noun ‘sceptic’ as an identifier – I’ve always taken it for granted that not accepting nonsense is simply common sense, so calling oneself a sceptic seems redundant (it’s similar to my dislike of names like ‘brights’ instead of atheist – it feels almost like a tautology, shoehorning a new word into use when it is not neeeded).
    I guess this attitude comes from having a sceptical, science-interested father and a mother who occupies EVERY SINGLE bit of territory between liberal sceptic and liberal believer. In a good mood she’s atheist, bad mood Catholic, ambivalent mood Buddhist, for example.

    She sent me to a Catholic school (it was near her work, and parents, it seems, often rediscover religion when their children hit school age), but the religion seemed very silly to me, the most I had was an uncertain belief in god because I was told he existed by some – and my father, I assume, never really brought it up because he knew that, with a decent interest in science, I could work out the god question on my own.

    Since then and since I realised (with no small amount of shock) that some people actually BELIEVE in gods weirder than liberal-gods-of-the-gaps, I found the situation so ridiculous that it was too interesting not to stay away from. The God Delusion and the Pharyngula blog started my in interest in the atheist media, which led to me discovering, and engaging with, the sceptical movement.

    There you go. That was longer than it was meant to be…

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