A Letter to an Atheist Community
To get straight to the point, this letter is regarding the apparent battlefield between Skeptic Magazine and the 9/11 Truth movement. Largely highlighted by Chris Mohr’s September, 2011 article.
Before I begin, a little about me. I’m an atheist, and have been for most of my life, and I’ve studied theology independently ever since I was old enough to read the bible as a Pentacostal Christian. I’m a computer programmer, system architect, and R&D specialist by trade (not a journalist or writer). I’ve long been a fan of Skeptic magazine and Michael Shermer’s work in particular. But I also consider myself a proponent of the 9/11 Truth movement. Before you start firing up your engines preparing a rebuttal, I ask that you shut off your defense mechanisms for a moment (a stand down if you will) and hear me out, as I care passionately about the well-being of the skeptic community. I’ve been a member of the skeptic community longer than I’ve been a member of the 9/11 Truth movement and I think that the fight on the religious front is more important than the 9/11 front in the grand scheme of things, so when I say ‘we’ in the context of this writing, I mean ‘we skeptics’, not ‘we truthers’. Also, I’m an atheist, and I realize not all skeptics are, but when I address something from the stance of atheists, it’s because that’s the only perspective I can reasonably represent, it’s not meant to be exclusionary.
I know this is long, but please bear with me, it could be crucial to many of the objectives of our community.
Notably, Mohr’s rebuttals of Gage’s arguments represents a much more respectful stance than I’ve seen previously from members of the community, but in the end it still comes off as a long series of thinly-veiled attacks. When you’re debating someone and you make statements that act to make the other side sound ridiculous right after announcing how much respect you have for them, it brings to question your sincerity. When you include statements referring to the “game these conspiracy theorists play”, it acts to undermine your contention that you respect your opponent. Ending with “the truth is out there and we know what it is” is arrogant and final. Not a stance that should represent a magazine promoting skepticism.
I’ve read the debate from both sides. I like Mohr, and I like Gage. I’m open and scientifically minded. I have a solid understanding of math and physics, but I’m not a physicist. And neither are either of them (although Gage’s expertise in architecture is a bit more relevant to the argument at hand). In fact, they’re both appealing to authority. They both quote research from experts who disagree with each other. And they both draw conclusions based on that. Mohr admits that Gage’s arguments “seem” compelling, but then acts as if he’s summarily removed all doubt by the time he’s done because he’s provided alternate theories. This isn’t skepticism. He’s acting as if there can be no rebuttal to what he’s stated. When in fact AE911 did rebut his arguments.
What am I getting at here? Skepticism is supposed to be about being completely open and letting the evidence lead us into places, but not to end there and do no further research. Providing a rebuttal and acting as if it’s authoritative comes off as trying to end the debate. Why should that ever be encouraged by someone who calls themselves skeptical? Debate is healthy, debate should be encouraged, we can make confident movements based on probabilities, but acting as if “this is how it is, and there’s nothing more to it” puts you on a very dubious perch. Doubly so when the person making these claims is appealing to authority in the first place. And I up-voted many of Mohr’s YouTube videos, but I don’t agree that either side has all the answers. I am, after all, a skeptic. But so far, I do find Gage’s arguments more compelling, which isn’t to say that they’re correct, just that the evidence in his claims makes more logical sense to me personally.
The phrase “conspiracy theory” has been demonized and misunderstood in our society, and has been used as a weapon to condemn all sorts of skepticism. In fact as atheists, the core of our very beliefs is “that which we’ve been told for much of our history was false” and most of us would likely recognize organized religion as concocted by people in power to push an agenda.
If anyone introduces anything radically different than the government or media introduces as information, the people in power utilize this buzz-phrase as a tool to shut down all questions. This was demonstrated by Bush right after the attacks, who immediately condemned any entertaining of “conspiracy theories”, which should have set off alarms in the heads of every skeptic in the country. Because anyone asking people not to put thought into something might have good reason not to want you to think about it (Genesis anyone?). What’s the danger in entertaining a conspiracy theory? If we haven’t entertained a conspiracy theory, then we’re not considering all possibilities. How can we make claims of being skeptics?
In America, it makes even less sense to dismiss conspiracy theorists outright as we have such a deep history of revealed conspiracies (and even False-Flag operations in particular). We have black box organizations like the CIA that we know lie for a living, but we just hope wouldn’t lie to us; despite their history for doing exactly that. As to the illusion that we’d know if they did, we’re talking about people trained to withstand torture, I hardly think they’ll be shaken by a couple internet videos. Daniel Ellsberg warned: “secrets of the greatest import … can be kept reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders”.
The largest problem that I have with the skeptical community on this is what I see as a double standard of skepticism. We’re fully willing to apply our skeptical minds to refuting conspiracy theories, but not only are we not putting the same energy into investigating the official story, we aren’t even recognizing that it is a conspiracy theory as well. Bin Laden supposedly denied involvement in 9/11 repeatedly right after the attacks. Most of the evidence presented against him has not been analyzed skeptically (in fact even the FBI admits they have no hard evidence linking Bin Laden to 9/11, they recognize none of this would hold up in court), and we have every reason to be skeptical when it’s presented to us by people with a known agenda.
One conspiracy theory blames Bin Laden, and there is a lot of evidence that indicates that he was actually as bad of a person as the administration paints. The other theory is that PNAC and Bush were behind it or at the very least allowed it to happen. And there is also an overwhelming amount of evidence that paints these people to be as bad as Truthers portray them as. Judging based on the number of times I’ve seen government sources quoted as refutations against the truth movement by “skeptics”, I can only suppose that skepticism has been suspended when it comes to the administration.
It also must be noted that these theories are not mutually exclusive. It can be both Al-Qae’da and PNAC. We know Al-Qae’da at one point acted as our agents, we know that we have some number of CIA agents and informants inside their organization, yet we have no way to determine who or how many there are. Every wire tap, every document, every confession, could theoretically come from a CIA agent who has infiltrated Al-Qae’da. We also can’t rule out the possibility that someone in the administration could have instigated the attacks to further their goals. Complicity has a wide scope, and the full field of possibilities should be considered.
I’ve also heard dismissals of conspiracy based on results of research by various commissions and investigations that were funded and organized by the administration that is being investigated. If you don’t question the results of those findings, please, do not ever attempt to bear the title “skeptic”. This is akin to asking us to blindly support a scientific conclusion that “proves the existence of God” done by a Christian research firm, funded by Templeton.
Which isn’t to say that the researchers aren’t being honest. It’s just that they went into the research with the conclusions already drawn, which skews the science. This parallels with the NIST investigation. Not only were they commissioned by the government, they almost certainly were largely supporters of the official story before they ever started investigating. They admitted they didn’t look into a lot of alternative theories, and they found ways to make the research fit the conclusions they started with. This isn’t to say they don’t believe their findings or they consciously sought to mislead anyone. It’s simply that they were just as sure the government wasn’t lying to them before they started as a Christian researcher is sure the bible isn’t lying to him when he starts his research.
And lastly, I must note that the Bush administration has not been forthcoming. They’ve shown every sign that they’re hiding something(s). It’s indisputable that they had at least some incentive to make a war happen. And they have benefited immensely from these events. They have fought against investigation at every turn, refused to release so much information for no justifiable reason, and completely abused the information classification and “State Secrets Privelege” systems. I think at least on many allegations we’re moving steadily from the realm of “conspiracy theory” to “conspiracy”, and until the end of time (if there is such a thing), we won’t know how far down that spectrum this will lead.
I find myself in a troubling position in this debate, because the overwhelming majority of people I consider peers are on the other side. I find myself questioning whether a Mormon physicist is more open minded than an atheist physicist (and I am highly skeptical of his findings as well, but that makes an even stronger case for keeping the debate open). The most prominent member of the movement I’ve attached myself to is an eminent theologian. There are numerous religious leaders within the movement. The leading debater is a Reaganite who voted for Bush. There are a lot of “God Bless this” and “God Bless that” rolling around, and I’m fighting for a proper intellectual trial for a group of Islamic Fundamentalists. I have every reason to be biased against the Truth movement, as it’s seemingly made up entirely of people who I would normally be debating against. But this is where the evidence has led me, and I’ve researched the topic for over 10 years now.
Being in this position, I can understand how easy it is to attack this movement. I see 9/11 being used by atheists in debates to show the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. I can sympathize with wanting Islamic theocracies to fall. I can see battle lines being drawn with religious fanatics on one side, and rational atheists on the other. But I don’t feel the realities are this black and white.
I’ve heard some musings on various atheist forums about the 9/11 truth movement being in decline, but we all know how the Mark Twain quote goes. The truth of the matter is that it’s bigger than ever. And I’ve watched it since it’s inception, so I have my finger on the pulse. Every year polls indicate that the percentage of people who think the government allowed it to happen is increasing, and every year the percentage of people who think it was an inside job is increasing.
There is notable growth in all of the 9/11 Truth professional groups as more and more people sign onto these organizations putting their professional reputations on the line, despite the risk of being called crackpots, and even despite cases in the news of people losing their jobs for supporting these theories.
Numerous whistle-blowers have come out now, and the nature of whistle-blowing indicates that this will continue on a fairly steady basis. And the evidence and testimony that’s coming out is almost exclusively indicating that the Bush administration took an active role to cover up “something”.
The Jersey Girls (who forced the original 9/11 commission) created an open letter of support for Gage. The Truth community contains many of the family members, first responders, and soldiers that have been the victims of these attacks.
Overwhelmingly, my (anecdotal) observations of the battle of YouTube reveal clear indications of the popularity and a higher percentage of “thumbs up” on Truther videos. There are vast numbers of well-made and (mostly) well-researched documentaries being distributed, numerous books are being written, and awareness of the Truther perspectives among the general populace is increasing.
The credibility of Truth supporters is increasing. It’s gone from mostly armchair theorists to former Intelligence agents, whistle-blowers, military or former military members (many high ranking and/or highly decorated), even former congress members, parliamentary leaders, and at least one Nobel Prize winner.
The FBI has made a public response that Gage’s theories are interesting and recognize that he has done thorough research and analysis.
Probably most importantly, people like Daniel Ellsberg, who can easily point out the dangers of not giving conspiracy theories the light of day (having revealed illicit government actions himself) have shown support. Ellsberg points out that whistle-blower Sibel Edmond’s case is “far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers”.
My point is that any real skeptic, no matter how probable they feel their stance is, would recognize that they could be wrong, and the tables might turn, and truths could come out that severely compromise their position.
In our debates, we often cite things like the Inquisition. These events demonstrate that someone’s beliefs on religion led them to do horrible things. When countered with Stalin, we can easily state that his reasons behind that were not based on his atheism. But I’ve heard prominent members of our community commending the goals of the Bush administration in removing theocracies like those of the Taliban. Disregarding the hatred amongst Islamic countries this has created. Disregarding the immense loss of civilian lives the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused. We constantly note that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed theocracy, and yet we’re condoning actions that serve to ignite them into potentially using that particular lever to attempt to lift an otherwise unbearable load weighing on their people.
If we want to remove an Islamic theocracy, and we’re willing to promote the use of violence to do it, we’re literally letting our beliefs on religion motivate our promotion of activities that lead to the deaths of thousands. A death count which in fact dwarfs 9/11. It seems that some of us are in fact demonstrating that our beliefs on religion will in fact allow us to condone evil actions after all.
We have a lot in common with the Truth movement. Both groups are full of skeptics. Both groups are considered fringe groups by the majority of the population. Both groups have been ridiculed and considered crazy for their beliefs. Both groups seek truth. And in fact they’re largely fighting their battles the same way we do, through the use of the internet, videos, books, presentations, debates, and grassroots movements.
Whether or not we agree with all (or any) of their conclusions. As skeptics; I feel we have a duty to help them meet their universal goal; which is to open up an unbiased, transparent, and open investigation by a group with authority to declassify documents and issue subpoenas (that will actually utilize these capabilities). The truth movement is trying to increase awareness that there are two sides to this story and thus far only one has been widely distributed (at least without the prefix “crazy people think…”). And that it should be debated in the public eye. If there are questions of physics, then as many physicists as we can interest should be involved in that debate. If there is an issue of structural engineering, than as many engineers as possible should debate that. The bias against what is or isn’t crazy should be tossed out, and all possibilities looked at with an open mind. This is exactly the fight we; as challengers of religion; have been fighting for decades.
Many of these people are courageous, persistent, and intelligent. They know how to get their message out. They’re shifting opinions against overwhelming odds. This is exactly the type of people we need on our side. Do we want to build an adversarial relationship with these people?
I think we all need to ask this question: “What happens if I’m wrong?”. Me personally, I have no problem with this question. If I’m wrong, at least I know I sought the truth. But for those of you acting to rebuke the 9/11 Truth movement, even going so far as to publicly discredit them while wearing the banner Skeptic. I ask what the repercussions are if you’re wrong.
I recently watched a debate on Iranian PressTV with Wendy Grossman, who (at least according to the audience poll) was overwhelmingly defeated in a debate by 9/11 Truthers. Whether this was a setup or not I couldn’t be certain, but I certainly did find that the quality and quantity of evidence was provided on the Truther side. And this is seen not only on the internet, but obviously in Iran, a potentially volatile Islamic country. So now our public image in Iran could be “Skeptics (atheists) oppose Truth”.
If it turns out 9/11 was exactly as it appears to be, that’s not a big deal. But what if it’s not? What if the pentagon cameras are leaked and they show a missile? What if a money trail is discovered that links the administration to a demolitions team just before 9/11? However improbable you think this is, consider the repercussions. We will in fact appear as the enemies of truth, we’ll appear as the people who tried to shut down inquiry, and protected conspirators.
This could severely damage the skeptic movement; as one of our biggest strengths is being seen as supporters of science and evidence. If it’s shown that we’re only skeptical of things that we don’t agree with, then how will the Iranian people take us seriously when we try to convince them of the dangers of Islam. How can we show them scientific truth, when we’ve actually tried to actively impede investigations into truth in the past?
A recent study demonstrated that there isn’t an Islamic population in the world where even 30% believe the official story of 9/11. What hope do we have of bringing science to the debate against them if we actually tried to discredit attempts to start an investigation and it turns out an investigation was very much warranted?
I care about the skeptic cause. I am deeply concerned that if the skeptic community takes a definitive stance on this issue other than “we need more facts, and we need a deeper investigation so that we can actually make educated decisions”, then we will in fact cripple future attempts to bring rationality to the masses.