The topic on the link of atheism and skepticism comes up all the time in skeptic circles. The general questions tend to hover around the topics of whether skeptics should be atheists, should skeptics cover atheistic topics and fights, can theists be skeptics, is theism a subject we should make taboo or not, and recently whether atheism is in fact skepticism as well.
For starters, atheism isn’t necessarily the skeptical stance when it comes to theism. You see, there’s generally two paths that lead to atheism. One being the Acharya S and Zeitgeist path which is full of conspiracy theories. It claims that christianity stole most if not all of its aspects from other religions etc. The evidence put forward is full of examples where prior religions had similar traditions, symbols and mythology therefore christianity stole it.
Pagans for example celebrated winter solstice at or around the end of December, christians have christmas then, therefore christians stole that from pagans and/or used it to crush paganism. The problem here is that it confuses correlation for causation. Just because two things are similar does not mean one caused the other. This is a logical fallacy often argued against by sceptics in all manner of topics. This form of atheism is in no way shape or form sceptical.
The other path is little more than the lack of positive evidence to support religion. When I refer to atheism in this post, I am referring to the latter version. In this form of atheism one simply applies the same rules to religious historical figure places and events as they would non-religious historical figures places and events.
A good example of this is Robin Hood. There are many stories of his life, where he lived, people he interacted with and it was believed he must have been a real historical figure for a very long time. However, every time an archaeologist or historian looks further in to it they are not able to locate any physical traces of his existence. There are no direct references to him in historical records, no confirmations of when he lived. No eye witness testimonies, no direct references to him by record keepers. All the tales are second, third and fourth hand accounts at best.
Jesus of Nazareth suffers from the exact same lack of evidence. None of the gospel writers would have been around at the same time. The closest, Mark, would have to have been 100 at the time his gospel was released if he had been a witness to Jesus’ birth. Other record keepers at the time were either highly and poorly redacted (Pliny), or just referred to followers of the religion. Without looking at the evidence through gospel coloured glasses, Jesus shares the exact same lack of evidence as Robin Hood whom is now considered a fictitious character due to it. I would argue this form of atheism is skeptical as it is nothing more than applying the same set of rules across the board, not giving out free passes.
So does being an atheist make one a skeptic as well? No, of course it doesn’t. In my experience the majority of sceptics are atheists, but atheism is just one small niche of skepticism. Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in theism due to lack of positive evidence for theism. 911 being a conspiracy, the moon landing being a hoax, the existence of ghosts, yowies, bootfoot, nessie, extra-terrestrial visitors, homeopathy, alternative medicine are all things sceptics do not generally believe in due to the exact same lack of positive evidence for them. Atheism is just one small niche of skepticism.
Just as being an atheist does not make one a skeptic, being a skeptic does not mean one needs to be an atheist. Skepticism in my mind is all about following the logic, evidence and most importantly the science to where ever it may lead across all areas of life. However, we are mere mortals. We are not omnipotent. We have limits on just how much we can do, know and learn. We cannot possibly know or do everything, therefore no one person can possibly be perfectly skeptical on every topic under the sun. This is why it is said we all have our golden calves. We all have our own different areas where we do not do the research or follow it properly, leaving us with beliefs that are just plain wrong yet we still stick to them despite the evidence. If one follows the skeptical stance in most areas of their lives that should really be enough.
Bill Maher is pro alt-med. That is his golden calf. In all other areas (that I have observed) he is skeptical. He takes the skeptic stance on theism for the right reasons, global warming, 911, aliens, the list goes on. We should welcome and accept him as a skeptic. This does not mean we should just respect his views on alt-med. Quite the contrary, we should argue this topic with him and try to make him see the evidence. Bill Prady is often accused of being sexist. That is his golden calf. In all other areas (that I have observed), he too is skeptical. He too should be respected as a skeptic while at the same time trying to make him see the evidence for his allegedly incorrect views on sexism.