Your skeptic tales

By Phil Plait | December 31, 2010 7:00 am

Earlier this week, inspired by an essay by my friend Nicole, I asked readers here and on Twitter to tweet their journey to skepticism. How did you get from there to here? Was it a single, momentous event, or a long, gradual realization? I’d take the best, I said, and post them here.

As an example, I tweeted my own:

UFOs. Telepathy. Clairvoyance. I believed them all… until my life got a little Randi.

When I got this idea, it seemed like a pretty good one. I was curious about everyone’s story, and thought this would be fun and very interesting. I was right, but as an example of a skeptic not thinking ahead too clearly, I was somewhat overwhelmed when I got 500 responses.

OK then. Change of plan. Instead of picking and choosing, I decided to go ahead and collate them all into very rough groups and post them in one ginormous article. They follow below. I’ll note that in the cutting and pasting I may have missed a few, and I apologize (you can find them yourself by searching Twitter for the #SkepticTale hashtag). Some tweets violate my "no cursing" rule; in some cases a slight edit was all it took to fix that, so I have taken that privilege. Others needed editing to format them for the blog, and so on. I tried very hard not to change the tenor or content, and they are presented in no particular order.

Some of these stories are intensely personal; no two are precisely the same, because each comes from an individual with different perspectives, different opinions. Some are very similar, of course, due to the topic and the short format, but it’s still noteworthy how fiercely individual these are. I experienced a wide range of emotions reading these tales, especially from the ones that are so different than my own experience. It was simultaneously humbling and inspiring… and also fascinating to see people speaking out on a topic clearly so important in their lives, allowing everyone else to peek into their minds.

For that reason, let me sincerely and gratefully thank everyone who took the time to do this.

So here you go. 500 skeptical journeys, each unique in its own way, and yet together combining into an overarching message that critical thinking has made people happier, made their lives fuller, and made them appreciate the world around them more than they might have previously imagined.

Happy new year. Let’s make it one we can appreciate.


Skeptics of note

These tweets are all from people who were influenced by other skeptics. You’ll see a lot of familiar names here, I imagine, including a few podcasts. Reading these, there is one overriding impression I get: we could use more Carl Sagans in this world. A lot more.

VeritasKnight: I always asked questions about people who said silly things; Shermer, Plait, and Randi taught me how to ask those questions.

smarinab1013: Jesus-freak creationist who believed in ghosts, angels, demons, aliens etc. Read Darwin, Dawkins & Sagan. Woo-free for 10 yrs.

veilsandsmoke: I read Hitchens & Harris early 2010 and realized that Faith is overrated.

mactoesful: Icke,Jones,Hancock etc blew my mind a few years ago.Shermer,Sagan & Co put it back 2gether,then taught me 2 think for myself.

lunacatd: I still believe in potential but I question & learn, if it doesn’t make sense it can’t be. I thank Carl Sagan & Cosmos.

oihorse: As a lad I wanted to believe in ghosts and woo, but as a man I found the SGU. It organized my mind and gave me the tools to separate reality from all the shysters and fools.

notasenator: Came to Bad Astronomy for the pretty pictures, stayed for the scientific thinking that lets us photograph the stars

coherent_light: Van Daniken suggested and I followed, until essays by Asimov on astros unraveled.

victorminimal: There was a book on my shelf that my mom (a doctor) bought sometime in the 80’s. It said “Cosmos”. One day I started reading…

blauereiter: Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World is my candle in the dark

wildmonky: Now I love learning everyday how amazing the physics of the universe really are. [Note: wildmonky wrote quite a bit on this; you can read all of those tweets here.]

BBgeeky: My thanks to John Edward & Sylvia Browne for introducing me to JREF and Derren Brown, making me the skeptic I am today.

gebo007: Used to believe in UFOs, astrology, ghosts, psychics, ancient astronauts until I discoverd the SGU and other skeptic podcasts

mikeyguitar: Started watching “Cosmos” dvds every night before we fell asleep last year. Don’t need superstition anymore. Love Sagan’s way

isensmith: 26 yrs of devout faith, till @TimMinchin asked me “Do you really think so?” in a song. I said ‘Actually…. no.’

primortia: Grew up Christian & evangelised on 3 continents. Met good ‘hellbound’ people. Discovered Sagan: life made sense.

jdmack01: Met Phil Plait. Heard him on podcasts. Discovered skepticism this way. Liked what I heard. Learned more and got involved.

arensb: Martin Gardner’s mathematical recreations in Scientific American. Everything else is corollary.

narcodia: Can the garden not be beautiful without fairies at the bottom of it – Douglas Adams

PJenx: Always loved science, but hung on to D Chopra/Karma type beliefs. Found Skept Inquirer Mag then #SGU podcast. Lightswitch on.

glowdark: After so many lost arguments, I decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, you should probably join ‘em. Then I subscribed to SGU.

Leofwine1: Raised xian couldn’t reconcile with reality, dormant skepticism. Woken in college by @BadAstronomer and others

thebrawnyman: 3 words: The Demon-Haunted World

abneyc: Is it ironic that Carl Sagan spoke to me from beyond the grave, teaching skepticism? (Through his books, of course.)

jourdemayne: Read Richard Cavendish’s ‘Black Arts’ and realised it wasn’t about the demons, it was about us

Protocollie: Browsing iTunes podcasts, stumbled across Skeptoid – wound up listening to the entire archive. Never looked back.

SamuelJEdwards: Was new-age fundamentalist & acupuncturist. Enter Carl Sagan. Skepticism sprouts slowly but exponentially. Now a med student.

carlosgdelvalle: Richard Dawkin’s “Growing up in the universe” christmas lecture at the Royal Institution. It was the beginning of the snowball.

Daniel_Loxton: Teen paranormal enthusiast at 1991 sci-fi con walked into Barry Beyerstein talk—and learned I was missing half the literature.

wa11a: a HRABbi PENNed in GOLD – ACREs of gRANDIose, NOVELL Approaches, SINGHed to SAVAGE crowds. Think critically, s’il vous PLAIT

GeorgeHrab: Sagan, Randi, & Shermer let me know that the catholic mass I had in my brain was benign.

LucasRandall: I believed in mystical forces, alt-med & ghosts – love of Astronomy led me 2 skepticism via @AstronomyCast

LarianLeQuella: Sage named Sagan opened my eyes to wonder of REAL world, not pleasant delusions. Now I share billions and billions of facts.

medtek: Lutheran, Baptist, Mormon, newage, Randi, Atheist. RichardLeis: I felt especially guilty one night for having valued Richard Hoagland over Carl Sagan. By morning I was an atheist and skeptic.

swubbabbuws: Cant really say i was really skeptical until i found @SkepticsGuide, 3 years ago! before that some far out thougts!

DerAmann: Asimov. Heinlein. Clarke. Rodenberry. I wanted it all to become reality and true. Belief wasn’t/isn’t enough to make it so.

JoshRosenau: David Attenborough fan at 3, still plan to grow up just like him. Science and nature always more interesting than pseudoscience

ZenMonkey: “Doesn’t exist” I would plea/My friends=angry at me/Uncomfortable squirmer/Until I read Shermer/& learned that a skeptic is me!

MagneticPsycho: I read an @Mythbusters forum and @donttrythis linked to Randi, Sagan, etc. I no longer wanted to be a spiritualist OR a lawyer

switchtech: Mix James Randi on Tonight Show w/Johnny Carson, Carl Sagan on Cosmos and a Marionist university education; let sit; makes one

SkepticRN: Dad, Sagan & Randi were always much more fantastic than ghosts, UFO’s and monsters. It just took me a wee while to realise it.

tomrhoads: I began to be skeptical reading “The Anthropic Puddle” by Douglas Adams. Then Skepticality, SGU and more – still learning.

RichCarlsen: I watched the Mr. Rogers special behind the scenes of Sesame Street. I vowed, never again.

sliddelow: Im a 15 yo teen from West Aust who was converted to science and reason when I took up reading the SGU and BA Blog. Its awesome

JenniferLaPorta: Bad Astronomy. P&T. Bill Maher. To name a few who helped me realize I was a skeptic.

joel_birch: Discovered the skeptical toolkit while researching the case against my lifelong woo beliefs. House of cards soon crashed down.

the_pizza_girl: d/l SGU cos I thought “skeptical” meant believing in paranormal. Thank FSM I saw the light. Whew, glad that’s off my chest.

kill3rTcell: Science Science Science, then heard SGU.

jailawrites: Crystals, New Age, rituals, realized I liked having friends more than I believed. So I got honest. P&T BS helped a lot too.

evildex: youtubers AronRa, C0nc0rdance,Thunderf00t helped me transition into skepticism. Evid3nc3, QualiaSoup & TheraminTrees sealed it

Jvskept: ufos and ghosts were my thing then read sagan demon haunted world an became skeptic

jpwalker1960: Catholic to Christian to New Age to Muslim, was disillusioned, but found @SurlyAmy & Skepchicks, now I blog skeptically daily.

azamk: Born Muslim.Read Parallel Myths and The Crusades by Terry Jones @age 24.Abandoned Monty Python styled logic and took up science

Justin_Ogleby: Gradual process that started with finding out about Santa. I didnt know skepticism had a name until I discovered @SkepticsGuide

timbarclay: I read @DerrenBrown ‘s Tricks of the Mind age 21. Read it for the magic stuff, but the skeptical messages really hit me

jtmahony: Demon Haunted World rocked my world in ’96; BadAstronomy.com in ’02; SGU & God Delusion in ’08; thx Carl, Phil, Steve & Richard & of course Feynman: “The pleasure of finding things out” “Surely you’re joking..” Question, question, question!

irjia: August 2005 – Mars and a lot of BadAstronomy changed the world for me. Thank you Phil!

KmunityOfEquals: Quietly and with head half-bowed I doubted, until Dawkins et al showed me it was OK to stand up and shout

AbinSurly: In 2000, Discover Magazine tells me about Bad Astronomy, which tells me about Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. That did it.

skeptygal: Followed my bliss with Mr Campbell and found cathedrals built on fairy floss and lies, and now by Hitchens I am free!

sereniteit: Four years ago I “met” R. Carroll. In 2010, as co-author, I published the 512 pages Dutch version of his Skepdic’s Dictionary

TurboFool: Alt med, ancient mysteries, and things “everyone knew” slowly gave way to Snopes, BS, SGU, IIG, TAM and reality.

bgarnerphoto: I used to believe comets could be balls of plasma arcing between the sun and Jupiter until I found badastronomy.com

GearHeadSkeptic: COSMOS gave me love for science as a lad, world’s best physics teacher in H.school, Skeptic Mag, went to TAM6 never looked back

xfreelancerx: JFK/grassy knoll CTs & Scientific ignorance obliterated by Sagan, Candles in the Dark. Randi, plait and others soon followed.

ghique: It came upon me gradually, but it started when I was 12 with ‘Cosmos’ and the great Carl Sagan.

nicolakm: Bought iPhone. Discovered podcasts. Subscribed to Skeptoid. Became a skeptic.

skorpigeist: Faith in young me. Questions came. Heard and saw the beauty of the cosmic fugue. Sagan, Randi, Plait. All candles in the dark.

gigi_chester: Watched Dawkins’ Xmas lectures as a child then started paying attention to the man behind the curtain. Never looked back

cmikeyfri: Take christian boy from Cold War. Add Star Trek, Stranger in a Strange Land, sex. Bake years. Glaze with Cosmos. Chill. Serve.

meta_ed: Bible? Gamow. Berlitz? Einstein. Velikovsky? Asimov. Book of Mormon? Gardner. Tarot? Sagan. Atheist long before I noticed.

EliasSaltzCSI: I never believed in zombies until I started listening to the SGU.

MatthewVGreene: The King James Bible, The Tarot, Wiccanism, Spirits. All were real for me. Then, P&T. Finally Dawkins. I had emerged.

nibudd: (questioning-ghosts-religion-telepathy+BSc+skepticality+BadA)/RDawkins = a new skeptic

mandydax: Friend say”@wilw is cool!” @wilw say”@BadAstronomer is cool!” @BadAstronomer say “skepicism is cool!” I find all these true.

Scream13: i discovered J Randi in my early teens,taught me it was ok to demand proof for ridiculous claims. changed my life

buffalodavid: one night I heard Randi on KPFK in L.A. After that, I was a skeptical druid. Gave myself that lable.

theCICSguy: Martin Gardner’s “Fads and Fallacies” was my intro to skepticism, but Penn and Teller helped me most to avoid stepping into BS.

colm_ryan: I was innoculated from Tales of the Unexplained by a small reality jab from Martin Gardner

wickedlibrarian: I was a New Agey-twit; I was into Wicca and “paganism”. I wanted magic. Then I heard the true magic of @timminchin!

TerilynnS: Alternative medicine seemed reasonable to me; until a little girl named Emily used real science to debunk therapeutic touch.

Richard_Tingley: In so much woo did I believe until the day that SGU rescued me.

CarrieP: I was big into Astrology. 2 things cured me: spent $50 on a reading & it was crap & saw Randi on PBS debunking.

NateHevens: God. Heaven. JFK Conspiracy. Kurt Cobain murdered. Ancient Aliens. Ghosts. Bermuda Triangle. Loch Ness. Then Dawkins & Randi.

girl_noir: Hyperreligious conservative Catholic, driven crazy by OCD-powered scrupulosity. Then I started reading @BadAstronomer!

LVI56: Christian then atheist then conspiracy theorist, now agnostic and skeptic. Turned by Physics, Astronomy and @MythBusters

notasenator: Abandoned by churches, looking for someone to give me the answers. Sagan taught me that I can find them myself.

masalaskeptic: Heard @carolynporco speak at #TAM. Remembered how freaking cool the universe is. Became a science groupie. Never looked back.

tkingdoll: I was a convert to the Graham Hancock Face on Mars/Alien Pyramids conspiracy theories, and was looking for similar books in a store. I saw Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World and mistakenly bought it. 2 days later, a skeptic.

Nancy_A: Read Sagan’s Cosmos & Demon Haunted World; expanded my horizons & cleared fog of misdirected beliefs, leading me where I am 2day

Tcsgrv: The Baloney Detection Kit from Sagan’s book “The Demon Haunted World: Science as a candle in the Dark” saved me time and money

joanvw09: Two words, one name: Carl Sagan.

coryballs: Wanting a deeper insight into the grander mysteries of life and our world’s origin, I read Sagan’s Cosmos; skeptical ever since

SkepticZone: Once I watched the skies for an alien ship, then Sagan showed me science was a much better trip.


Religion

The tales people wrote reflect their personal journeys and what matters to them. For me it was my own path from pseudoscience to science, but of course religion looms large in many skeptics’ lives. Here are those stories.

Tanstaafl77043: believed until i read ‘pascals quandary’ why believe for the sake of it?

arthwollipot: I was a member of a Pentecostal church when I was younger. Spoke in tongues and everything. I got better.

andybud_o: I believed in God until a college combo of banter & beer with Bob (@Robert_henzel). Thanks to him I’m going to hell.

reasonable_hank: As a kid always wondered what the hell the priest was talking about. As an adult, wondered how water can cure cellulitis.

nowoo: Was raised Xian. Saw inconsistencies. Read about evolution. Faith=gullibility? Learned to proportion my belief to the evidence.

zurairi: I used to hate @pzmyers bcos he was offensive to my beliefs. I still don’t love him much, but now I understand him.

Rocketboy_X: For some reason, even with church & Sunday school, I never believed in religion. Too stubborn I guess.

ChrisPerriman: xmas eve, 3 years old. saw my dad come into my room to deliver presents. thought “well, that makes a lot more sense than santa”

georgecook: for me it was evolution that shed some light on the fairytales of religion, became a skeptic, never looked back since

MorgannaLeFey: Believed the god of the bible was good until I studied the whole bible and found I wouldn’t even invite him over for dinner

mhollick1: Went to a Christian school ’till Gr.5, was an atheist by Gr.3-4 when teachers couldn’t answer curiosity about dinos, planets…

yunmen: Fundamentalist kid, spoke in tongues, thought earth was 6,000 years old – but my mom let me get science books from the library.

AgShortee: 45 yrs in xtian bubble. Brainwashed 4 kids. No joy. Began investigating doubts & inconsistencies, now faith free and happier.

Galactic1950: In 1970, I reasoned that if all the ancient gods didn’t actually exist, ALL gods are imaginary, created by us and don’t exist.

jaymatteo: Raised Catholic, led to Wicca/Astrology, ghosts, ‘psi’ powers. Not sure if ever REALLY believed. Reality won

janchambers: My lesbian aunt was always a strong woman, I couldn’t believe in a book (the bible) that told her to be meek and quiet.

arensb: Saw a leaky radiator in church one Sunday. Wondered why God couldn’t fix his house before having company over.

kurtehnle: I was raised by my nun aunt & I loved Budd Hopkins books. Then I started asking questions.

cuervoinvisible: I believed in god when I was a kid, until I read about Charles Darwin. And the astrologypsychics until I tried them myself

davewmartens: Golden rule of Sunday school was never doubt a miracle, my knowledge grew and what held true is a life far more empirical

BunnyHugCat: My introduction to reason and truth came through my good friend forcing me to admit that I had been lying to myself about god.

sarielthrawn: Only ever wanted the truth. Began with Xtianity. Then woo-woo. Then finally landed in reality. Bible class was the last straw.

shellity: My Dad said “question everything!” and “read two points of view!” I gave a nod, then gave up God, and now I’m one of you.

oneoveralpha: God did it all in six days versus accretion of planetesimals over millions of years. Accretion just made more sense.

IanRobinson: Born an atheist. Read lots of science books. Found a system that works in them. Still an atheist. Happy as a result.

zergle: Preacher Son. Fire & Brimstone. Fear of my mind. Devil makes u skeptic. / Wife showed me my own brain. Now lots of brainjoy.

verawishes: SDA creationist now believes that evolution is true. Secretly, since I’m surrounded by other SDAs.

frozensummers: Got to uni, became Evangelical, preached with Campus Crusade, lost that job, studied theology and saw it was all bollocks

bethkatzPA: My faith in God grew exploring scientific intricacies of universe He created. Debunked junk. Kept faith but not religion.

swami: Me=Christian; wife=pagan. Tried to convert each other. Both eventually realized it’s all BS; became atheists.

rocza: Raised Catholic – Jesuits turned me on to science! Told me not to confuse faith w/logic, reason, or religion

PopeRichard: Discovered Heavy Metal, killed God, discovered God didn’t exist in the first place, replaced blind hate with focused logic.

whisperelmwood: Started Agnostic-Deist, tried on Paganism for size, got sick of new-age woo, found Randi & Dawkins, now anti-theism-Atheist

lindawg: Anti-sci fundy, patient ‘net folk taught me 2 question (so don’t be a dick!) Still lerning 2 thnk skeptikly, LOVE my new world!

AllisonAN: Looked around at the men whose authority I was to meekly submit to, and knew I was smarter than any of them.

bastardsheep: “god did it” is an answer, but not a reason.

cookpa: “What does God need with a starship?” – replace starship with anything

RatbagsDotCom: 5 10 15 20 Sunday School. Science. No to YEC. Atheist. All the BS thrown off the bus.

molleeewrites: Mission work at 16 and praying, “God, why am I doing this in your name?” 25 and still no answer. #StillMoral

why_a_duck: In science class the kindly nun told us to question everything. But in religion class that got you a rap on the knuckles.

aimeeouellette: Raised as agnostic in a religious town. Grew up, moved, found that truth is always more comforting & beautiful than fiction.

gargolito: junior yr catholic HS, intro to philosophy, used Kant’s reason on religion, got detention. I became an atheist on the spot.

mahavastu: Was too old for god long before I was too old for Trick-or-Treating.

evildex: Prayer exhausts & prepares you to accept “the Lord’s will,” (i.e. your current situation). My mind reeled at the implications.

greggadeg: Forever seems like a really long time. An eternal heaven? I could do everything there is to do and then not be done? No thanks.

neonkitten: When I was a child, my parent’s treated the bible like a EULA, scrolled to the bottom and clicked ‘I Agree’ for me.

CaricatureClub: Derren Brown fan rants about religion, finds Dawkins, Dennett, the sheer joy of science, is forever changed

jodieaitken: I thought everyone had a religion, I didn’t, looked for one, couldn’t find one, found skepticism, I became me. Actually me.

Aliandre_D: I started to become a skeptic/athiest when my Dad told me that I wouldn’t have my pets in heaven because they don’t have souls.

SomeCndnSkeptic: Was told to ‘fear god’ when I was 17. Thought it silly. Feared fearing mysticism more than anything else. Learned.

JenLucPiquant: child of fundamentalist Xns, grew up w/glossalalia, exorcisms, book burnings. Voracious reading ruined me. But still a fan of myth, metaphor, and powerful symbolism of, eg, tarot. Not supernatural or “magic,” just beautiful. Like science.

speljamr: I once believed with religious fervor, but books inoculated me against ignorance.

Nuno_SM: Never believed in catholic stuff, but loved pagan religion. Then I thought “this is as possible as the Christian God”.

vaclassicallib: Once believed that, thanks to Adam, men had one less rib than women do. Then got an encyclopedia and counted them. Age ~10.

DarkSapiens: I used to believe all those bible stories they told me at school, until I realised they didn’t make any sense. At age 7 or so.

cthulhubert: At some point I was told to equate Santa and Jesus. Realizing Santa wasn’t real made the syllogism obvious.

JonKinarthy: Was never quite comfy in temple, but saw sunsets etc. as evidence of god. Read The God Delusion. My conversion took 374 pages.

NinjaML: I believed in god until my dog and one friend died, all the people around praying for a miracle and nothing happened

zurairi: I didn’t think that evolution was possible. Now I’m sure that creationism is much more wacky.

teambanzai: noticed all three religions I was exposed to contradicted each other at 8 years old. So I found them all to be invalid

homfrog: Why does Jesus have a Mexican name? Did he even exist? Stop lying to me, mom.

blue_bec: If one or more religion was wrong, then surely other forms of unsubstantiated and unproven belief were also likely wrong.

lylemckeany: I wasn’t skeptical of religion; already knew it was rubbish. Had no idea there was so much more to skepticism until recently.

lib4tech: brought up Catholic but as grew older realised Science/critical thinking leads to more interesting thought than religion

Galactic1950: An “almighty god” emailed “he’s” following my tweets. A skeptical free thinker since my teens as a galactic citizen.

CarlosNZ: God was always the answer growing up. Until I learned to start asking better questions.

messiasnonest: After my aunt said I’d go to hell for reading a book, I became skeptic/atheist. Soon after, I also stopped believing in Santa.

ErnestValdemar: Third grade, girl shows me Homo erectus in a book. I say, you can’t believe everything you read. Go home, look at Bible. Huh.

Lila_Mae: Never ?’d a damn thing lk a good lil Catholic girl. SGU planted seed of skepticism. Blossomd in2 passionate defender of reason.

RichardDrumm: I don’t recall when I started to become a skeptic. Probably as a kid in church after hearing some tall tale or other.

acdf: Christianity didn’t have enough dragons. Other religions didn’t either. Read atheist blogs and realized I fit in there.

jkhollis: Raised pentecostal happy-clapper catholic. Questioning actions of hypo-christians led to looking for reason & logic everywhere

Kiancillin: Born in a household where “God works in mysterious ways” was never an answer. Earning my B.Sc in Human Biology in a year

SenseOfTruth: Preteen I was told all answers were in the Bible. I searched, but didn’t find. Biology class provided the REAL answers needed.

mostraum: found christianity scary as child, checked out new age and found it silly, became a atheist, read Dawkins e.a.. -became vocal

allegras: Not baptized, raised atheist, taught to be respectful of people’s religious beliefs in public. Still fond of some kinds of woo.

pzmyers: Born questioning, raised on science, confirmed in skepticism, watched gods die, graduated anti-religious.

RuthEllison: Born into fundamental christian cult. Gradually realised that it’s ok to question. Life more amazing w/ science & crit thinking

M1k303: I missed the rapture in 1984. Then again in 1988. Then again in 2000. Then again in….

ickle_tayto: Went from complete catholic to hippy pagan to atheist over the course of about 12 years. Cancer scare confirmed my atheism!

Ramshambo2001: Religion never giving satisfying answers growing up -> God Delusion -> Cosmos series->Astronomy class->Skeptoid->Profit!?!

tommyspoon: my skeptical journey began very early when I was kicked out of Sunday school for asking too many questions

RedKrieg: Angels bowling? Sounds more like something exploding. Mom, can we go to the library?

zurairi: They told me that Jews & Zionist hands are behind everything, they wanna ruin me, but that is just too far-fetched.

ryukochan: Raised between faiths, couldn’t reconcile one of my parents being flat wrong. Studied like a madwoman, faith went poof.

SpiderJerome: I went to church every week. Lost my faith after learning about other religions in Social Studies.

joemcken: I once believed in God. Then I moved onto fate, karma and The Secret. Finally, I settled on atheism. Been satisfied ever since.

IrishSITP: Believed in aliens, ghosts, psychics, bigfoot, the lot. Then I discovered creationism: the straw that broke the camel’s brain.

CupcakeKarate: I was very religious until I got to grad school. Logic and reason hit me like a brick wall & I never looked back

wickedzen: Ex-Baptist, Mormon, New Age woo. Found 1 day my head hurt less when not believing the unbelievable. Now, happy Zen Atheist.

buffalodavid: I remember wondering as a small kid, why Mythology was wrong and Bibles stories were right. To me they looked way too alike.

zurairi: I used to believe that women were made of Adam’s rib, then I found out that men & women hv the same number of rib bones.

RichardHesketh1: a shivery, pleasurable fear of transubstantiation and terrifying guardian angels until a priest threatened me with hell at 15!

abelundercity: Early morning walks home from work gave me time to pick apart my beliefs in my early 20’s after a devout childhood. Woke up.

BradleyCMeek: Was a pious fundamentalist Christian until I decided to challenge my beliefs by reading Hitchens. My beliefs lost.

burgerpocket: When I was 8, I took my first flight. When the plane reached the clouds, I wondered why I couldn’t see heaven.

RosieRedfield: Ordinary Sunday, attending mass, aged 12: “Hey! This is even more far-fetched than the science fiction I’ve been reading!”

bethkatzPA: My faith-based belief in God is steadfast. Ancient astronauts vanquished by known handiwork of ancient people. Occam’s Razor.

danialexis: Got crippling chronic pain condition at age 3. Asked God why. 25 years, still no answer.

zedism: Was catholic, believed UFO, Atlantis, etc, ’til I figured out that God was insecure for an all powerful being. Learnt to think.


Self-discovery and Science!

Many people found their own way to critical thinking, and a lot of the time it was a fascination with science that helped illuminate their path. My own love of all things science certainly helped me! What follows are folks who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and/or had science guide them.

JerryStanford: I used to believe in everything and couldn’t sleep at night. Now I don’t accept nonsense and sleep like a baby

HenstridgeSJ: I believed what I was told until old enough to apply logic & reason, starting with Santa Claus.

Swoopy: Spent a little too much time and $ on Wiccan paraphernalia in my early 20’s. Couldn’t turn anyone into a newt. I got better

sineof1: I became a skeptic when I realized that “seeing” is truly believing. Believing without “seeing” is just makin’ s@#t up.e

underpope: I also realized that ancient astronaut theories were insulting to our own history and ancient peoples.

saikodelia: i want to know

davedandelion: The library’s “non-fiction” section filled my young mind with ideas of woo. The library took back those ideas 25 years later.

freethoughtKE: Crossed 2 continents and 1 ocean and discovered beliefs different from mine and kind people who never prayed but still loved

caligatia: I used to practice magick (with a k!) but then I started taking anti-psychotics. Skepticism 1, schizophrenia 0.

NoisyAstronomer: UFOs, contact w/ spirits, and anyone’s sob story. Had to slowly unravel the fallacies. Took years, still in progress

ElBueno: In the shower, thinking about physics and cause and effect, when I thought, “Oh… Our existence doesn’t need gods… Huh…”

kelleytastic: I think more than anything else I just wanted it to be true. I’ve let go of that fear. What I have is enough. Luckily my nerdery is endless and my love of learning eventually led my belief in science and reason to rebound.

Crispian_Jago: A gypsy once stopped me in the street and said I sense the letters C & J in your name. I was wearing my work ID name badge.

tbeauchamp: As a child alchemist, I experimented with time travel machines using magnets. It worked, I wasted a lot of time.

morganlowri: What I’ve seen w/ science has been more beautiful & reassuring about my place in the world than feelings of faith ever gave me

lucaslago: I prayed, made promises, had UFO pics, until I heard about the scientific method…

cosmicwandere05: When I was a kid, I believed that time traveling to the past was possible…until my Physics professor told us that it is not.

skepticalguy: Went back to college at 32 & discovered the scientific method supported my suspicions about many woo claims. Never looked back.

abiodork: In AP Biology I realized how little I knew about everything. Thank you, Ms. Simon, for showing me how much there was to learn.

Hipstermama7: believed in a bunch of woo and religion, ended up with mental illness…cured by science and medication- now a sceptic

darwinsbulldog: Jurassic Park awed me, led to reading paleontology books, then evolution & thus biographies of Darwin – ‘so simple a beginning’

ieatgravel: I wanted to believe them all. I THOUGHT I believed them all. But when I came to terms that I couldn’t, I realized I didn’t

badrescher: Why hasn’t anyone claimed the cash? (More at: WooFighters)

dunesen: Early interest in the unexplained made me aware of how many fraudsters were out there, what the simpler explanations were

neonkitten: When I got old enough, I read what had been agreed to for me, chose ‘I Disagree’, and uninstalled.

brainwagon: At 10, Von Daniken thrilled with ancient astronauts. By 14, I saw it was ridiculous. The Maya are amazing w/o invoking UFOs

Coleslaw587: I was asked, “How do you know?”

Boz23: Believed it all, grew up, got old, now a C.O.B. – Cynical Old Biddy!

MiggyEvans: Life spent serving Man unseen. Driven to edge, saw knowledge was my net. Always been a Skeptic, just never knew.

dELYSEious: Tried every kind of woo… couldn’t figure out why none of it worked. Then, at 26, I found out – it’s because none of it works.

smashleyhamer: Found best friend was using ozone & chelation therapy. I never convinced her, but I convinced myself. (Thx,@ScienceBasedMed !)

hagus: I used to be captivated by the idea of “mystery”, until I discovered they were even more fun with “evidence”!

hayleystevens: I was investigating a haunted pub and we found the landlord hiding behind the door after having thrown a glass across a room

Nuno_SM: I once believed in magic and tried to explain it; then I realized that we must explain before accept, and not the inverse.

Mrs_Skwirl42: I used to believe in all the juicy woo. Then I met my husband.

AmandaNuchols: I had searched for years for something to believe in, until I realized I could just believe in me. I am worthy and real.

menneskedyr: I used to ‘believe’ in UFOs after seeing something weird in the sky as a kid. Then I learned some astronomy. Yes, it was Venus.

Kelly_OConnor: Dad taught me from a young age – trust no one who is selling something. And almost everyone is selling something.

Skeptic_Scott: When I was a boy of eleven I tested myself with home-made Zener cards & found I could not do better than chance. No ESP for me.

DarthAqueous: Always interested in science and sci-fi. Read pseudoscience, thought it was real. Then read ACTUAL science…

cyberlizard: I used to argue ad nauseum with a girl in high school about crystals and such. I couldn’t buy it. But I did end up marrying her

SenorPeligro: Took my dog to a vet who prescribed herbs and chi therapy. Real vet medicated his allergies. Now he’s better.

DisraeliEars: Didn’t believe in much woo – apathetically thought, “What does it hurt?” Realized that ignoring ignorance allows it to spread.

cheatonus: Is it possible to be skeptical and hopeful at the same time? Optimistically skeptical? If so, that’s me.

charleenhenn: Being rejected by drama school and studying psychology instead made me realize science is the best kind of magic.

steve_cosmo: 12 years catholic school, Berkeley,woo,conspiracies,Sagan,Randi,back to school,now astrophysicist happy skeptic

JAJSounds: I was 6 – standing in my school playground – epiphany – there was no god – it just seemed so obvious to me – but big my secret

eagle0877: Aliens visitors used to make me wonder, now the people they “visit” do.

orsakverkan: X-files, ufos & ghosts made me uneasy. Then I started debating creationists and grasping the scientific method. Ghosts no more.

Jewelisms: Used to believe all manner of nonsense. Ghosts, UFO’s, homeopathy..reading Sagan set me on the path to skepticism.

realaphex: liberalism, libertarianism, globalization, i believed them all. listened dylan’s backpages, read dostoyevsky. i doubt em all

Joreth: astrology, palm reading, psychic powers, reincarnation, alt. med, I was into all newage. Then I asked ?s

ashleyfmiller: I was 8 and found my mom had kept my teeth – no tooth fairy, easter bunny, santa, jesus or gods. And no trust for authority…

danielsolis: I was a believer until I got hang out with a bunch of believers.

alertareligion: Blind belief first I found nonsensical, then boring, then it made me angry. I left belief and peace ensued.

zzamboni: 16 years ago, a homeopath failed to diagnose my case of hepatitis. A real doctor diagnosed me the moment I walked in his office

brianggeorge: Voracious reader. Started reading science books. Then podcasts. RadioLab was the gateway drug, then I found everyone else.

Kaizerin: Nine years ago I challenged myself to live without superstition for one month & have never gone back. I love the freedom.

Tcsgrv: Early on: religion paled compared to Sci Fi, D&D and Monty Python. Later on: Science, reason, philosophy and education opened up a wealth of new learning. Recently: seen too much of the damaged caused by woo, faith, and other such uncritical thinking

kkisser: Witchcraft, tarot, UFOs and all that made up the beliefs of my youth, until I read RAW and learned how to think critically.

Astronasty: Sci:Incest bad, CCD: Adam and Eve, Recheck Sci: Incest still bad, recheck relig, dead end. HURRRM!? Ta Da! Born again skeptic!

endlessbabe: I believed in the supernatural until this: if you can take a picture of a ghost,wouldn’t ghosts be in every picture ever taken?

jubydoo: My parents raised me to be a critical thinker. I dabbled w/woo when I was a teen, but that nature eventually reasserted itself.

RuneSpider: The history of the world is much more personal and amazing than aliens, with powerful achievements and heartbreaking losses.

Merchickety: Mom believes in aliens, ghosts, and Sylvia Browne. I believed all of it too until my dad got me to think critically.

beer_guy: First came tales of ancient astronauts. Then came star-gazing and discovering the REAL Universe is literally made of awesome.

lkristick: In high school I was fascinated by Von Danikan, but picked up “Crash Go The Chariots” first

dougpasnak: Wanted to believe in UFOs and EBEs. High school physics/math and Chemistry teachers set me on the path to critical thought.

Enter_Skitarii: Jesus->von Daniken ->The Secret, via a bit of quasi-mysticist agnosticism. Then my eyes were opened by (real) science.

Najville: Always thought religion was BS but not god, then my curiosity/doubt gave me the sense of wonder. I search for the truth.

astroengine: I used to be fascinated by UFOs, alien probings and conspiracies… until I realized my only “facts” came from X-Files.

halfastro: I took up magic. I learned how easy it is to fool people. Therefore, I better be on my toes so they don’t fool me with nonsense.

HarryWeseman: I was fascinated by von Däniken’s “Were the gods astronauts” and then read a book that debunked it all. I never looked back.

laraemeadows: My grandma told me there was no Santa.

bisexcellent: I believed John Edward, but not in life after death and I knew cold reading. Wow. I can’t remember how I stopped believing him.

georgewiman: Even earned degree studying for ministry, but love of science won out.

Melancthe: My dad taught me to question everything, then gave me Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies and Science: Good, Bad and Bogus.

Koskonaw: Life seemed more interesting and meaningful with woo. Carl Sagan showed me the natural beauty of the cosmos.

frozenfred: I used to believe in most of it. I still want to believe in some of it. I just can’t believe any of it.

joeldey: Raised a believer. Loved science. Loved truth. One day someone asked me why I believed. I had no answer.

reedes: In stumbling across an exposé of Uri Geller, I learned of a world far more wonderful than “psychics” like him could ever offer.

rjblaskiewicz: A science enthusiast since I could pronounce Stegasaurus. Realized I was a skeptic when P&T showed people believing that stuff!

bastardsheep: Reasons were always more satisfying than answers.

Lee_Symes: I found that I could not, and cannot believe things for which there is no evidence

DerAmann: Belief seemed to b nutritious and enjoyable. Didn’t go well together with fact & logic though. As shrimp and strawberry pudding

WanderinWeeta: Question: How do you know that? If answer “They” told me so, how did they know that? Infinite regression no answer

leftnode: When I hid on my top bunk after losing a tooth to prove my father was the tooth fairy. I was 6.

ErnestValdemar: Three little words: “Is it true?”

merr1dew: As I grew up & learned about the world I couldn’t see how my stories were any more true than those I’d been raised to deride

Ari0ck: In 1990 I read Flim-Flam. It’s hard to direct the light of logic/reason at one’s own cherished beliefs, but since then I try.

bnroberts: At age 6, argued w/ parents about how Santa’s sleigh couldn’t just fly, would require gas or really long extension cord

MykDowling: Flirted with astrology for a while, but then did every sign’s “are you a typical…?” test in book and matched most of em.

lockwooddewitt: Always loved fantasy tales and mythology, but accepted most as fiction. Started to wonder, “What makes MY religion different?”

Johncarllos: I believed most of it until I realized Unsolved Mysteries is a show for bored housewives who believe anything,like magic knives.

evildex: as a writer, i understood how faith gave meaning to pain; i needed more than “meaning.” faith would henceforth NOT be enough

DolgoNogee: Spent a long time looking at the stars. I’m made from stardust, and so are you, how cool is that? ID? Pfft, give me Science!

HappySinger: Met a psychic, heard myself saying ‘Hello, I’m a skeptic’. Wondered if I was right.

pjskeptic: I used to shop at an organic food store until I realized they had a huge section of vitamins and supplements.

PLouie3: Aliens, paranormal, prayer…all until I realized I only WANTED it to be real…not because I had good reasons. Then SCIENCE.

christian67: 3 day meditation workshop. Was to show me enlightenment in one session. Instead in showed me how we sooth ourselves with lies

skywyld: At age six, saw Lucy & dinosaurs, couldn’t reconcile that with the bible, all downhill from there.

Analanalyzer: Got tired of April fools day’s wild goose chases, and decided to start giving stuff a second thought

swesley_perth: Dabbled in a bit of prayer when I was a teenager, felt silly talking to myself. Then I started questioning everything

Najville: Once believed in reincarnation, ghost/ then I knew the term agnostic, atheist & all of those/ now I no longer believe I suppose

hpsillymom: Raised believing in the power of crystals, spirit guides,etc;my husband awakened me to skepticism. I no longer fear the unknown

1337whiteknight: Ghosts, UFOs, Monsters under the bed: All phases I went through before discovering how far a “True Believer” will go for proof.

CDisillusion: I’d realized: to be truly creative, I must be aware of where reality ends, fantasy begins and how they relate to each other.

MShades01: I wanted to believe, but those beliefs never stood up to scrutiny.

ecsalomon: Raised secular, with respect for learning, mathematics, reading, science. An atheist as soon as I knew the word.

postymcp: At first I did, but then I didn’t. Much better as a “didn’t.”

caravantea: When I was in the ‘why’ phase as a little girl, my mom always said, “I don’t know, let’s go to the library and find out.”

ChrisXW: I must have been born skeptical and immune to woo. Even the Santa conspiracy freaked me out. Sagan probably helped.

gfish3000: I’m a skeptic because my parents taught me to ask questions and experiment, not to believe what I wanted to hear.

MatthewCurrie: I didn’t believe in #astrology until I sat down, understood it, watched it work, and tested it.

sean_t_ellis: I was introduced to woo via Lyall Watson’s “Supernature”, and led out again by BBC’s “Horizon” on Erich von Daniken.

reallyrae: Used to think it was fine for others, until sis tried to treat MS using gibberish. Now, tolerance for pseudo-science=zero.

NotTheOnlyRosan: Roman Cath schoolgirl, K-12. Took Critical Thinking &Reasoning in college w/smart (& hot) prof. Found out logic’s pretty sexy!

smaagaard: Looked up at the stars as a kid. Started wondering about them. Then started reading about them. Never looked back.

OperaSmorg: Absorbed everything > studied chem w great college prof who don’t know it all > question everything > no longer a sucker. Yey!

lylemckeany: Head between their knees Learned about evolution Now they see the light #SkepticHaiku

PluperfectNemo: Believed everything, but asked myself “why is this possible?”/”why is this not possible?” Sifted beliefs, attempt rationality.

CantWearHats: Never pushed to believe anything, told to make my own choice, I went for what made sense. And it still works.

NicAckerman: I used to close my eyes & run against every supernatural wall, but I missed every time. Then I paid attention to my eyes.

eeesh: Smart, funny, levelheaded friends are the cause of my continuing journey.

echoexist: The connection to nature is more intense using science to enter it’s kingdom rather than dealing with Saint Peter at the gates.

kristamaesmith: I found more comfort in living for this life than living for the next life. Atheism and science soon followed.

dogsgomoo: Two 8th graders giggling about the Big Bang model. “What was before?” “I don’t know.” Figured out that is the start of inquiry.

fiainros: I was a woo-Mommy, anti-vax and all. Now I am a PhD p-chemist and skeptic raising vaccinated critical thinkers.

hateplug: In ’92 Buchanan ran for Pres. Heard him speak about “jobs”. Thought I liked him. Said so at dinner. Learned to ask questions.


This next one is in a category by itself, and made me smile wryly.

lythandebs: @BadAstronomer How about a vice-versa tale? Didn’t believe in clairvoyance until I experienced it first-hand. #NotSoSkeptic

Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.


But we can win some. I’ll leave you with this one, because it really hit home for me.

DePaulDIBS: I believed most everything till I started reading Phil Plait’s blog. Now I know everything is worth examining.

Yes! Perfect! That makes me want to be a better skeptic. All of these tales do.

Thank you again, my friends, and have a happy, skeptical, and real new year.


Thanks to George Hrab for the shout out on his podcast. I bet Geo is responsible for a lot of skeptical tales himself. If you’re a skeptic, you should subscribe to Geo’s podcast… and if you’re not a skeptic then you really should.

Comments (55)

  1. Your ability to unite many people on the internet together and have a response instantly is impressive Phil. Kudos for that.

    I’m still skeptical in the whole skepticism movement though. I’m young enough that I will be able to see if anything ever really comes of it over the next 50 years or whether it was just some fad that peaked with Dawkins et al…

    Happy New Years!

  2. Captn Tommy

    4 years old. Nursery/Kindergarten with the NUNS. They told us don’t cross your legs or you’ll go to Hell. We also only went to Lavatory once in the half day. sesstion. Fear was rife in our class room (These were Old School Nuns, Those who were alive and Catholic then will know what I mean) Had to hold it… I crossed my legs… I did not go to Hell. Yet 1954

  3. Gary Ansorge

    I expect those 500 people represent an audience of about 50,000 people, since typically only one percent will respond to such a poll. Which is why politicians will heed a write-in of 50,000 people.
    (Five million can swing the vote.)

    Good-on-ya matey!

    Gary 7

  4. It was fun trying to come up with something that was only 140 characters that still conveyed what I wanted to say. I tend to be very lugubrious, so it was quite a challenge to me. :) And skepticism is something that I sincerely enjoy sharing and talking about.

    You are right, we need more Carl Sagans in the world. Neil de Grasse Tyson is a good guy! Even Alan Alda has a great appeal, but the tenor of Sagan’s voice was just something that was so soothing.

  5. Alex Dalton

    Atheist, until I got skeptical of close-minded skepticism and picked up Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Paul Davies, John Leslie, etc.

  6. Amazing list. So many interesting people in the world!

    One thing: shouldn’t Swoopy be in the ‘skeptics of note’ section?

  7. John Sandlin

    Perhaps we can cultivate more Carl Sagans somehow. So far, however, his combination of wit, voice, grammar, and imagination seem wholly unique.

    Side note – I wrote my tweet so that the hash tag was actually part of the message (SwitchTech: … makes one skeptic’s tale).

  8. Jesper

    I’ve been a fan of science since I was a small kid. Never really believed in any god, but when I was around 18 believed in “fate”. Realized a few years later that that was nonsense. Went to a homeo doctor, she performed strange things and made me realize that alt med is all fake nonsense. Discovered SGU and Skepticality podcasts and realized that there is a name for what I am: a skeptic!

  9. I’m not a Tweeter but the 140 character challenge was interesting. So … here goes:

    at 10/11 wz dbl teamed by a minstr &2 decns wntg to knw “do ya feel em in ya?” found religion=intimidatn&protectn rakt

    The trip from religion to skepticism to atheism was … a trip! Now, in my mid-60s, its all a very distant memory and something to look back on with amusement. Its a one way ticket. Glad I took the ride.

  10. Kathy

    I can’t believe I forgot to tweet, when it came to me so quickly:

    I was always the kid who asked “why?” But I was an adult before I realized only science ever gave me satisfactory answers.

  11. I just edited the page a bit; I realized it may not be more than 500 responses. There were 11+ pages of results when I searched the hashtag, with 50 per page. But some of those were retweets, and some multiple tweet responses. I think 500 is probably close enough, without actually counting them! :)

  12. Maria

    I love some of the responses. I can’t help but wonder about one thing. Is there a danger for skeptics to be trapped by the language and there for the concepts of the past? Analyzing the topics of the present and future with the vocabulary of the past is a tricky proposition. There seems to be a trend of turning natural skepticism into solidified and non-evidence based declarations of “that is not possible” simply because something new kicks up a linguistic dust bunny of woo. This dust bunny, instead of being noted as such and used as an invitation for further scrutiny is aggressively skinned alive, and then used as evidence that the concept itself is woo.

    Take for example the concept of transmutation. We had all that alchemical transmutation, all the fascinating and impassioned drives to transform elements into gold and to find the secret of immortality. Skeptical of their goals, of the methods and, of the reasoning. Time passed, knowledge increased, art turned to science. Then we got to nuclear transmutation and the synthesis of gold and platinum. Impractical, costly, but directly feasible with current technologies. So, nuclear transmutation is definitely not woo, but skin cream that is sold claiming to transmute cancer cells thanks to colloidal silver, on the other hand, is.

    Another example, since it was mentioned someplace above. In my skeptic nature I don’t believe in “clairvoyance.” I have found no evidence for it. I don’t believe in “Gypsy fortune tellers” or that my life line can tell me how old and fat I’ll be when I die. All I can know, as a layperson, as an arm chair skeptic is this, if future scientific inquiry where to refine our understanding of the natures of time and space and echoes of matter, I will not be surprised. But, and this is the important bit, I understand that it has no effect on my life right now. As a skeptic I know where to draw the line between wonder and reality.

    So, my point isn’t to declare that clairvoyance itself is possible or that Madame ZaZa can really, honestly, truly see your future for $19.99 and a few sly questions. My point is that we should be aware of the “it is not possible” trap simply because a concept flushes out certain words from our brains that have most often been associated (and abused by) the woo. We operate with a limited (yet always expanding) vocabulary and not everyone is a brilliant Saganesque painter when wielding their words.

  13. Woot! I’m famous (in my own mind).

  14. Missed out on this because I can’t abide Twitter. Very interesting set of replies. An awful lot of them seem to be the “sudden flash of rationality” sort, with one of the skeptical authors as a trigger.

    I wasn’t raised skeptical, but my parents had no interest in religion or woo, and my choices of reading material (Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, Asimov, et al) helped keep me from developing any interest in mummery. Reading through the replies you received makes me realize how lucky I was.

  15. Thank you for putting this together, Dr Plait. It’s a nice feeling to see my tweet included in your list but it’s an even better feeling to know I’m free to question what I see without a religious box trying to constrain my thoughts.

  16. AstroChick

    Somehow I missed this. Here’s my tweet (a bit late):

    Loved questioning & science as a child, esp. astronomy. Asked why & how too much in church. Thrown out. Told never to return. Bye religion!

  17. ThirtyFiveUp

    Muslims helped me to come out of the closet. Peeked out after 9/11; burst out after the Mohammad cartoons.

    Now start conversations about faith/atheism at any old time. A barrel of fun am I.

  18. What a fantastic read! It’s lovely to see everyone’s stories all in one place. Thanks for the idea, Phil!

  19. joeldey

    Thanks for doing this.

    My tweets are echoed on my Facebook page. Many of numerous FB friends are from an earlier time in my life when I was part of a religious community, and many of these people are unaware of my departure from their faith. Your little exercise was a catalyst for a coming out of sorts, and generated quite a bit of (mostly healthy) discussion.

    Happy new year!

  20. ErnestValdemar

    Reading through the list compiled in categories, I just added this:

    Addicted to the uncanny. Developed resistance. Now I need stronger stuff. #SkepticTale

    Consider how many skeptics started out with UFOs, ghosts, astrology, etc., etc., all looking for that little frisson of the uncanny. Eventually, it gets harder and harder to get that thrill. It’s been ages since I’ve read a “true ghost story” that I couldn’t dismiss out of hand as the result of well-known psychological phenomena, but all these years later I still get chills from Sagan’s “pale blue dot.”

  21. blf

    Archvillian(@14), are you my evil twin? That’s almost identical to my story! And I also can’t stand Twitter.

    One difference is one parent was fairly religious, but the other one wasn’t(ever, as far as I now know). In addition to the reading list (Asimov, Clarke, etc.), presents included things like microscopes, telescopes, electronic kits, and the like. (One of my cousins remarked on this recently, pointing out that whilst they tended to get play-toys, I tended to get books and games and kits and things.) And no TV(until the Apollo 11 landing), by which time I was old enough to neither acquire the watching habit(indeed, I’ve never owned a TV) nor tended to believe everything what I saw/heard.

  22. This is really inspiring and wonderful to read :-)

    @Scopes, I think “Skeptics of Note” means the tweet gave credit to notable skeptics. But, yes, Swoopy deserves not only note, but a pretty tiara of skepticism!

  23. noah

    NPR blew the lid off the tooth fairy when I was five because of a story on how some kids got $50 per tooth while others got $1. It was immediately obvious that either the tooth fairy hated me or didn’t exist and I think it was easier just to assume it wasn’t my fault. If the tooth fairy didn’t exist, that threw santa claus into question and then it was a quick dominoe effect all the way back to God. Over the course of a week, NPR turned me from a believer into a skeptic.

  24. Bummer. My tweet didn’t make the cut (and paste). Ah well. Interesting reading, nonetheless!

  25. Floyd

    My leap to skepticism was more of a religious kind.

    I’ve always had a scientific bent to my thought process, but when younger I went to a Catholic Church on Sundays.

    After believing I was a Catholic for 14 years of my life (8 of which were under the nuns), I went to an Ash Wednesday service (the start of the penitential period of Lent for those who don’t know) at a Catholic chapel near my college.

    I came out of the service with a smudge of charcoal on my head, and suddenly realized that the charcoal (and the contents of the Baltimore Catechism) didn’t mean anything to me.

    The only semi-religious thoughts I’ve had since then were at weddings and funerals.

  26. Hammill

    I’m overwhelmed at the number of “conversions” that have occurred as a result of positive encouragement or fascination, whether self-motivated or by others, versus direct confrontation or negative personal attacks. Kind of runs upstream to what we’re increasingly being told about how to best reach others, no? DBAD, indeed!

  27. Can’t believe I just read every single one! Great idea Phil, and happy I recognized so many Twitter names, but happier still this serves as a ready-made list of like-minded folk to follow and interact with!

    I think BastardSheep got in there twice, and one person seemed to be telling their tale of how they tested astrology and “it worked”. Intriguing!

  28. Michael Swanson

    It’s a funny thing, becoming a skeptic. Despite spending the first 28 of my 39 years believing in all sorts of mystical nonsense, and having all kinds of arguments and “evidence” (i.e., things with no explanation other than the magical one I assigned, exacerbated by confusing coincidence/correlation/causation) to support my beliefs, it’s so hard, so damned hard to not wave your arms in the air, screaming, “God? Alien abductions? Bigfoot videos? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!”

    There without the grace of reason went I.

  29. I believed most everything till I started reading Phil Plait’s blog. Now I know everything is worth examining.

    SKEPTIC FAIL.

    And, while we’re at it, kiss butt much?

    Authority is not a source of knowledge, not gods, not holy books, not celebrities . . . not Phil Plait.

  30. Tressa

    Todd W – you are not alone, mine didn’t make the cut (and paste) either!

    Mr. H’s (George Hrab) is the funniest.

  31. Bobby Stefanov

    Reading so many stories really makes one feel good about the world.
    Sadly I missed the deadline, so I couldn’t participate. But my story would go something like this: Having read encyclopedias as a kid, instead of comics, it became natural for me when presented with a fact to ask why it is a fact.
    Later I read and heard a lot of stuff that was pretty sketchy with its details, so now I’m always ready to go “Wait. That can’t be right…” And I must note, up until a year ago I only knew Carl Sagan by name. But later he strengthened my desire to learn and embrace science and skepticism even more.

  32. raceface

    gonna have to agree w/ joshua fisher. we’re all just humans, with the same flaws as all the ignorant faithfuls and religious types. im actually quite dismayed by the skeptics’ haste to ridicule any concept that doesn’t directly agree w/ established science. I’m pretty sure it was this exact kind of narrow thinking that forced copernicus to publish his heliocentric model anonymously and put galileo under house arrest for promoting it. einstein said “if at first an idea does not sound absurb, then there is no hope for it.” I’m not saying we should all acknowledge ‘energy bracelets’ and ‘alien manipulation’ as cold hard fact… but I’m skeptical of the skeptics’ claims of having the entire universe under their thumbs. If science is so perfect as describing everything under the sun, then why is prediction of things like earthquakes and volcanoes so hopelessly non-existant? why is something as simple as predicting what the weather will be like tommorow so untrustworthy? maybe science isn’t the all-knowing god-like entity skeptics make it out to be. maybe like socrates said: “true knowledge exists in knowing you know nothing”. we’re really all just feeling around in the dark here, so for skeptics to claim that religious beliefs are ignorant is an ignorant claim in itself.

  33. Chris N

    Phil, apologies for leaving your name out of my tweet. I’ve been following you since 2002 and you too have been one of the main contributors to my shedding of the woo and embracing the wonder of science, the power of critical thinking and recognising the majesty of the world I live in. Along the way I picked up a couple of wee ones, my girls Sadie and Zoë and have real hope that they will grow up without the same misconceptions I held for so many, many years and inherit both the mother and mine’s zeal for how the universe and more locally our planet works and evolves.

    You have hooked me onto so many different things in the last 8 years it’s difficult to know where to start thanking you. Well I’ll start by wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year. You’ve done great things recently and I don’t doubt we’ll see greater things from you in 2011.

    Gushingly,

    Chris (Skeptic RN)

  34. Mark X

    Raceface,

    “maybe science isn’t the all-knowing god-like entity skeptics make it out to be”

    There’s your problem. Skeptics know that science isn’t an entity at all. It’s a method. We may all be feeling around in the dark, but not all ways of feeling around in the dark are equal. Sprinting head first until you hit something is a less reliable way of getting a good sense of what’s in the darkness than a careful and methodical exploration of your surroundings. Guess which method relates to science in this analogy.

  35. Garry-former astrology believer

    Does the planet Mercury influence our radio waves and cell phone communications?
    The first person I met this year was a master’s student at a New York City university (Columbia) who told me that without Mercury we could not have our cell phone communications.

    He even told me that his Professor thinks astrology is nonsense, but this has not changed the student’s mind.

    Specifically what can anyone tell me about the planet Mercury affecting our cell phone technology?
    Is it a myth spread by astrologers desperate to justify their ancient and unscientific beliefs?

    Needless to say I am completely sketpical because I just found this information about Mercruy:
    The distance from Mercury to the Earth varies greatly as both planets orbit the Sun. At its closest approach, Mercury is about 77 million kilometers (48 million miles) from Earth*. At its farthest, about 222 million kilometers (138 million miles).
    Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_far_away_is_the_planet_Mercury_from_Earth#ixzz19o01w3cz

  36. Joshua Fischer (#30): You have exactly missed the entire point of that tweet, the other 500, and this blog.

    It’s not arguing from authority. It’s arguing authority.

    Sometimes, one word makes a lot of difference.

  37. Gary Ansorge

    38. Phil Plait

    ,,,or, as my Granny used to say, “Don’t trust nobody.”

    She WAS something of an iconoclast.

    ,,,or, as Dr. Leary used to say, “CHALLENGE Authority.” Which I always interpreted as “Show me the evidence.”

    Gary 7

  38. @38

    My name is not spelled with a “c.”

    I didn’t miss the point of that tweet, I read a lot of the other submissions, and I’m an avid follower of this blog.

    What HAS happened is that you have gathered together some pluck and disagreed (again) with someone who is a fellow skeptic, publicly. And that’s cool.

    Don’t know if it makes much sense, but whatever. At least we’re past the sucking up phase. For the time being. It will come back.

    But I, as a skeptic, am constantly uncomfortable with unconditional approval. Your highlighting such an approval was noteworthy; that is all.

    You’re a doctor. Got it. I as a plebe can still disagree.

    And that’s okay.

  39. By the way, thanks to @34 for agreeing with me (however so), but I should like to place some significant distance between myself and that comment. Don’t agree.

    And I have no idea what @38’s “arguing authority” is, unless it’s just “I have more skeptic credibility than you,” which I reject.

    Even though I don’t know their names or what their made of or how far they are from us or what star their orbiting, I still see the same dead rocks as you do.

  40. Lol, I misspelled skepticism in mine! XD

  41. John Sandlin

    Joshua,

    I don’t understand where you’re coming from. Even skeptics need role models, even if we don’t take everything they say as gospel. If you accept no source of knowledge outside yourself, you’ll have an extremely limited repertoire of knowledge. The trick is to challenge and fact check your sources. While authority isn’t always right, they aren’t always wrong, either.

    jbs

  42. Point taken.

    There’s obviously nothing wrong with being inspired by someone to question authority. It at first seems like a contradiction. But I suppose it isn’t.

  43. Michael

    A little late, but for what it is worth, I give a tip of the hat to Rudis Muiznieks, founder of Cectic.com, for putting the adrenalin rush to my skeptical journey.

  44. As a kid fascinated by Uri Geller, then Randi showed how (Story in more than 150 char here http://bit.ly/cKTpCn )

  45. Brindle

    Don’t tweet, but for me: James Randi on Johnny Carson show.

  46. Cthandhs

    Not a tweeter, but love this project. Great job Dr. Plait! For me: Cthulhu cultist by 12, noticed HPL’s heroes were always scientists, and monsters always left evidence. Became a capital “S” Skeptic when a friend’s mom died of cancer, no help from shark cartilage. Still a Cultist ;)

  47. Lorena

    I had an encounter with a ghost. until someone provides a satisfactory scientific explanation proving that it wasn’t a ghost and it was something else, I’ll believe in ghosts.

  48. Fantastic idea, fantastic post. Thanks for honoring all our stories.

    Also, Vibraphone.

  49. Evil Eye

    :-( My post didn’t make it. Whahhhh..

    Great stories!

  50. this was an awesome coming out thread, sorry to have missed the party.

    i have always had affection for woo of all forms. it’s such a lovely idea. but i could never make any of it work, and so i realized that it’s mostly about hope, fear, the human mind’s ability to fool itself… still, i will argue with those who say that the fun part about science is that it is often changed, and never loses the capacity to surprise. my man Dr. E isn’t wrong, “absurd” is always the starting point for the breakthru stuff. it’s actually really, really hard to be a true Skeptic. thanks for this thread, it rocked.

  51. Floyd

    At the age of 19 on Ash Wednesday, I suddenly realized Catholicism was rubbish, and literally gave it up for Lent.

  52. twiens

    I would have loved to have participated, but I only discovered BA a few weeks ago. Here’s what mine would have been:

    twiens: Grew up, properly educated, seeing science as a process and taught to think critically. Realized that critical thinking extended far beyond the classroom. Raised atheist/agnostic, extended the same premises refuting religion to everything without evidence gradually. As a young child I used to listen to woo and take some of it seriously as I naively assumed (being raised with a grounding of pure science) that there was, there had to be, a real scientific explanation behind it that they just weren’t telling us right off. Matured, learned about the nefarious motives of swindlers and deliberate fraud, shook off the last vestiges of any respect for nonsense.

    Oh, yeah. Sagan.

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