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What it means to be a Skeptic

Posted in Rodibidably by Rodibidably on February 20, 2009

[Originally posted at: Rodibidably]

I meant to post this on the 18th, in honor of Yoko Ono’s birthday, but I was unable to finish the post until now, so I apologize for being late (sorry Yoko).

To get us started on this short (well, we’ll see how short it ends up, I tend to ramble at times) journey, I’d like to first define what I mean by Skeptic.

Many people have an image in their head of an older white male (usually with a beard) who sits in an arm chair and dismisses anything that goes against their preconceived notions. While this image may or may not be of a “skeptic”, it seems to be the general understanding in society today. But as with many ideas held by the general public, it’s not really an accurate picture of what it means to be a skeptic.

So let’s define skeptic, with a bit of help from Wikipedia:

In ordinary usage, skepticism or scepticism refers to:

  • (a) an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
  • (b) the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
  • (c) the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics (Merriam–Webster).

In philosophy, skepticism refers more specifically to any one of several propositions. These include propositions about:

  • (a) an inquiry,
  • (b) a method of obtaining knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing,
  • (c) the arbitrariness, relativity, or subjectivity of moral values,
  • (d) the limitations of knowledge,
  • (e) a method of intellectual caution and suspended judgment.

The word skepticism can characterize a position on a single claim, but in scholastic circles more frequently describes a lasting mind-set and an approach to accepting or rejecting new information. Individuals who proclaim to have a skeptical outlook are frequently called skeptics, often without regard to whether it is philosophical skepticism or empirical skepticism that they profess.

These definitions are nice, and quite accurate, but they seem a bit unwieldy to me, let’s keep looking for a simple one line type of description if we can:

A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation.

In my view if you replace the phrase “certain kinds of claims” with “virtually all claims“, you’d have what I consider a solid definition of what I mean when I use the term Skeptic.

As a skeptic myself (or at least somebody who attempts to be skeptical in their life) there are a number of philosophies or ideals I attempt to use to guide myself through life. Some of these are well known skeptical quotes or ideas, while some are more vague ideas.

[Read the rest of this post at: Rodibidably]

The Fuzzy, Superficial World of Balance

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 20, 2009

[Originally posted at: Alibi.com]

Balance. Everybody wants it. Tires and tightrope walkers need it.

It’s a very popular concept in the New Age and holistic healing circles, but what is it? It’s a buzzword that, like natural, is universally desirable but poorly defined. Pills offer emotional balance, books offer spiritual balance, alternative medical therapies offer chi or vibrational balance. The idea, of course, is that in a perfect world, everything is balanced or in equilibrium. People seek innumerable physical and metaphysical methods to bring “balance” to their lives. Balance suggests an even, equitable, harmonious or natural division between substances, states or conditions.

Humans seek and love simplicity. We like dualism and dichotomies. We like good and bad, male and female, East and West, heaven and earth, reality and fantasy, skeptics and believers, balance and imbalance. These categories are convenient, but they are also profoundly vague, superficial and misleading. The world simply isn’t divided into two polar opposites. Yes, there are men and women; there are also homosexuals, transvestites, transsexuals and the intersexed. Yes, there is good and bad, but what is good under some circumstances may be bad in others. It’s simply not true that “you’re either with us or against us.” Binary, dualistic thinking can be dangerous.

[Read the rest of this post at: Alibi.com]

What’s the difference between a Christian and an Atheist?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 20, 2009

I don’t know, but I can tell you that they have much in common with each other, as Rook’s Rant easily shows us. Go there to see the full table.

Gods that Christians don’t believe in Gods that atheists don’t believe in
Aesir
Agasaya
Agdistis
Ah chuy kak
Ah cun can
Ah hulneb
Ah puch
Ahulane
Ahura mazda
Aine
Airmid
Aizen-myoo
Aji-suki-taka-hi-kone
Akea
Aesir
Agasaya
Agdistis
Ah chuy kak
Ah cun can
Ah hulneb
Ah puch
Ahulane
Ahura mazda
Aine
Airmid
Aizen-myoo
Aji-suki-taka-hi-kone
Akea

Dr. Jay Gordon: Will you please stop claiming you’re not an antivaccinationist?

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on February 20, 2009

I knew it. I just knew it.

I just knew that when I finally decided to come back from my absence from this blog that something very unpleasant and sad would be waiting for me. True, there had actually been one very nasty thing that I simply had to deal with a few days ago, but that was a particularly vile and despicable human being who, believe it or not, was not John Best. That is not the case here, although the misinformation being pushed is truly disturbing.

Not surprisingly, what awaited me upon my decision to come back was posted earlier this week on that repository of antivaccine propaganda, The Huffington Post. Also, not surprisingly, what awaited me had been penned by everybody’s favorite pediatrician to the stars’ children (especially antivaccine activist Jenny McCarthy’s son Evan), namely Dr. Jay “Whatever You Do, Don’t Call Me Antivaccine” Gordon, the man who’s been known to parrot the worst antivaccine canards, who penned the foreword to Jenny McCarthy’s latest paean to antivaccinationism and autism quackery, and, who, most recently, invaded my alma mater with a kinder, gentler version of his nonsense.

I know, I know, Dr. Jay is “not antivaccine.” How do I know? He tells us so ad nauseam whenever it is pointed out that he is the chief physician apologist for the antivaccine movement, of course! Usually he tells us either with outrage or with a hurt, puppy dog demeanor at the perceived injustice of being called out for spewing his nonsense. I’ve even bent over backwards to try to give Dr. Jay the benefit of the doubt at every opportunity. Indeed, I do believe that Dr. Jay believes he is not antivaccine. Unfortunately, what he believes and reality are related only by coincidence. That includes vaccines, and that also includes his self-delusion that he is not “antivaccine.” If you don’t believe me, get a load of Dr. Gordon’s reaction to the recent decision in the Autism Omnibus, in which the special masters roundly and utterly rejected the arguments of the plaintiffs in the first three test cases (more about that on Monday, unless something more current demands my attention by then). I’m tellin’ ya, the dude is closer to sounding unhinged than I’ve ever seen him, and that anger shatters for me any claim by him that he is not antivaccine. If you think I’m being too harsh, then check out his two posts on HuffPo, “There Is No Proof that Cigarettes Cause Cancer” and The Vaccine Court Was Wrong.

Even I never would have expected something so unscientific and just plain dumb from Dr. Jay. As much as I think Dr. Gordon is probably a nice guy who cares about his patients, being nice does not excuse one from being taken to task for advocating dangerous pseudoscientific nonsense. Unfortunately, he managed to live down to my expectations and then start digging. With a backhoe. Let’s take a look at his first bit of idiocy:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RESPECTFUL INSOLENCE”

Court saves Jehovah’s Witness girl’s life

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 20, 2009

A 12-year-old Jehovah’s Witness girl has received a life-saving blood transfusion that she did not want after a Johannesburg High Court order gave doctors the go-ahead.

The girl, who suffers from leukaemia, was admitted to Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital on Tuesday. Despite being told that a blood transfusion was needed to save her life, the girl and her parents refused to consent to the procedure.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that it’s against God’s will to take other people’s blood, or one’s own blood that has been stored, into one’s body.

The official website of Watchtower, a Jehovah’s Witness organisation to which The Star was referred by the Jehovah’s Witnesses of South Africa, says: “True Christians will not accept a blood transfusion. They want to live, but they will not try to save their life by breaking God’s laws.”

The Gauteng Department of Health said doctors consulted the girl’s parents and church elders to explain the need for the transfusion. When their explanations were rejected, they brought an urgent application before the High Court on Wednesday.

The court order was issued on the same day, and the girl was given a transfusion immediately.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “THE STAR”

If Prayer Worked…

Posted in Atheist Revolution by Skepdude on February 20, 2009

The question can be phrased a variety of ways:

  • If you believe in prayer, why do you have insurance?
  • If you believe in prayer, why do you invest?
  • If you believe in prayer, why do you have a burglar alarm?
  • If you believe in prayer, why do you see a doctor?

The crux of the question is simple: If you truly believe that prayer works – works in the sense that your god intervenes in your life – why do you not behave as if you believed it?

If “prayer works” means nothing other than the act of praying makes me feel better, I do not disagree. But if it means anything more than that, then those advocating the wonders of prayer should have no need for the reality-based alternatives to which they cling. And if it does not always work, work completely, or only works on the small matters, then what does this say about your god?

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “ATHEIST REVOLUTION”

New Comments feature at WordPress

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 20, 2009

WordPress has just released a new comment feature which is available for use here at Skepfeeds, threading. You can easily reply to a specific comment simply by clicking Reply at the bottom of that comment. You can go here for more details.

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on February 20, 2009

Freedom of speech has limits, it has to in order for it to work. The point is though, that any limits need to be kept to a minimum, and it can usually be kept to just one, namely, any speech that incites people to commit crimes. You can say you dislike  someone, or that you hate them for whatever reason, but as soon as you encourage people to harm them, or kill them, or commit crimes against them, you are stepping out of the boundaries of freedom of speech. It is for these reasons that I do not support banning the Bible or the Qur’an for their content, but rather make sure that the content can be critised in every medium available, and why I support the right of the WBC to say what they do about homosexuals, atheists, muslims, etc. As long as I have my right to say what I think in return, then we have no problems. It is when you suppress freedom of speech, as the UK government has done in the cases of Geert Wilders and the WBC, that the entire system becomes worthless. We might as well not have freedom of speech in this country if our government can decide what is and what is not acceptable on the fly as it appears they currently think they can do.

The Atheist Blogger

Tyranny of the Majority

Posted in Rodibidably by Rodibidably on February 20, 2009

[Originally posted at: Rodibidably]

I have wanted to write this since the moment the numbers came back on Proposition 8 in California, but I wanted to keep my happy mood over the Presidential election alive for a few extra days (which turned into weeks, and then a couple of months) before I ranted on some of the negatives of Tuesday’s voting.

While walking my dog one morning not too long ago, I was listening to the most recent episode of one of many podcasts I am a fan of, The Good Atheist. During this episode one of the two hosts, Jacob Fortin, where he talked about one of his most recent blog posts, When Democracy isn’t Democratic, which just so happened to be about the very subject I had been going over in my mind. I had been thinking about how I wanted to cover this specific topic, and hearing this take on the subject gave me a few ideas of what I agreed with, and what I disagreed with (or at least felt I could covey different). I should say here, that overall I agree with Jacob’s take on the subject, even though I’m not a huge fan of his “pie” analogy, and I am quite thankful for the phrase he used in his blog post (and on the podcast) which has become the title of this entry as well as thankful for the motivation to get this post done now instead of continuing to put it off even longer.

So with that intro out of the way, I’d like to continue on with the purpose of this entry. This is how Wikipedia describes the phrase, “Tyranny of the Majority”:

The phrase tyranny of the majority, used in discussing systems of democracy and majority rule, is a criticism of the scenario in which decisions made by a majority under that system would place that majority’s interests so far above a minority’s interest as to be comparable to “tyrannical” despots.

[Read the rest of this post at: Rodibidably]

The Biology of Belief

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 20, 2009

[Originally posted at: Time.com]

Most folks probably couldn’t locate their parietal lobe with a map and a compass. For the record, it’s at the top of your head — aft of the frontal lobe, fore of the occipital lobe, north of the temporal lobe. What makes the parietal lobe special is not where it lives but what it does — particularly concerning matters of faith.

If you’ve ever prayed so hard that you’ve lost all sense of a larger world outside yourself, that’s your parietal lobe at work. If you’ve ever meditated so deeply that you’d swear the very boundaries of your body had dissolved, that’s your parietal too. There are other regions responsible for making your brain the spiritual amusement park it can be: your thalamus plays a role, as do your frontal lobes. But it’s your parietal lobe — a central mass of tissue that processes sensory input — that may have the most transporting effect. (Read “Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs”.)

Needy creatures that we are, we put the brain’s spiritual centers to use all the time. We pray for peace; we meditate for serenity; we chant for wealth. We travel to Lourdes in search of a miracle; we go to Mecca to show our devotion; we eat hallucinogenic mushrooms to attain transcendent vision and gather in church basements to achieve its sober opposite. But there is nothing we pray — or chant or meditate — for more than health.

[Originally posted at: Time.com]