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Skeptics and God – Where do we stand?

Posted in Religion, Skepdude, Skepticism by Skepdude on October 24, 2008

Skepticism is about evaluating the veracity of a claim based on the evidence for or against said claim. There are many skeptics that are atheists, and there are many that are deists. I’ve yet to run across a skeptic that is a theist. There are various schools of thought on the relationship between skepticism and atheism. Some skeptics think that skepticism must not necessarily lead to atheism. Others believe that skepticism should be applied equally to every area in life including religious belief and as such skepticism should, but it doesn’t always, lead one to atheism, or agnosticism. I generally tend to prescribe to the latter school of thought. But that is besides the point I am interested in making here.

James Randi, uber-skeptic of our times, many times tells how he asks believers in woo the following question : ” What evidence would make you change your mind about your belief?”. Many times he gets an answer in the lines of : “None, I know this is true”. Needless to say that is not a very bright or enlightened answer, and this person seriously needs some remedial classes in critical thinking and logic.

I think we can view the question of God, at least the theistic God, with a skeptical eye. The God of the major monotheistic religions is well within the realm of science and skepticism. Which means that we, the skeptics, should be able to answer our own question:

What sort of evidence will convince you of the existence of the theistic God as described in the 3 major monotheistic religions?

Part of being a skeptic, is the ability to be skeptical about your own beliefs and what you hold dear. It is dangerously easy to become dogmatic in your skepticism, to become dogmatic in your lack of belief in the theistic God. As such any good skeptic must be able to offer an answer to the above question. Here is what I offer.

The great Carl Sagan said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. God is probably the most extraordinary claim humans have come up with, as such the kind and amount of evidence must be on par with this claim. The sort of evidence that would convince me would have to be huge in scope and magnitude to the point that all living human beings experience it. Every  single one of them, so that to avoid frauds, hallucinations and delusions. It must be predicted and announced before it happens to the smallest details, none of the crappy retrofitting or vague psychic claims that we are used to. It must be so spectacular that a hoax would simply be out of the question.  That is the basic theoretical underpinning on what such evidence should look like. Practically it could go something like this:

On November 1st 2008, at exactly 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, every human being will gain the ability to teleport themselves anywhere in the world. Such ability will last for 1 hour until 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, at which time it will go away. Please make sure to teleport back before 4:00 PM.

Or something like :

On November 1st 2008, at exactly 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, all water in the world, inlcuding oceans, seas, rivers, streams, tap water, bottled water, rain etc etc will turn into chocolate milk. This will last for one full hour until 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time at which time the chocolate milk will go back to being whatever it was before the transformation.

So there you have it. It would take something of that magnitude and specificity to happen in order for me as a skeptic to say that yes, the evidence presented supports the claim that the theistic God exists. Until this happens, I have no other choice but to conclude that the evidence presented so far does  not support the hypothesis of the theistic God’s existence.

Jesus loves you! And he’ll show you just how much he loves you by lowering gas prices!

Posted in Religion, Religious Idiocy, Respectful Insolence, Skepticism by Skepdude on August 18, 2008

Back in the spring, when gas prices shot up to well over $4 a gallon in many markets, a level from which they’ve fallen back somewhat over the last month or so, there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. Never before in U.S. history had gasoline cost so much, and we were starting to get a taste of what our European friends have had to put up with for a very long time. But just a taste. After all, I remember from my trip to the U.K. last August that gas was around £1 per liter, which at the time translated to over $7.50 a gallon. For those who lived in isolated areas or had low incomes, this spike in gas prices was a disaster, especially for truckers, cab drivers, and others whose jobs involved driving. On the other hand, I had little sympathy at all for all the yuppies who had bought enormous SUVs during the years when gasoline was cheap.

Naturally, when faced with a disaster of such proportions, some Americans, being the highly religious people that they are, had the perfect response. Indeed, to them it was the only response possible. No, it wasn’t to purchase more fuel-efficient cars (although some did start to drive less). No, it wasn’t to lobby the government to support the development of alternative fuels and to increase the CAFE standard. No, it was to Pray at the Pump for lower gas prices. And now that gas prices have come down around 20-30 cents from their historic highs, perish forbid that the fall in prices at the pump or the recent fall in price for a barrel of crude oil had anything to do with the economic principle of supply and demand or the recent strengthening of the dollar. Oh, no, it was clearly Jesus at work:


Meet the Flat Brainers!

When it comes to science, the rule of thumb is that we should always challenge everything, in order to make new discoveries and advance our knowledge. After all, if we were to sit around content with the knowledge we have, there would be no drive towards the unknown. Nevertheless, there are certain scientific facts that are so well established, that they just can’t be challenged, unless by a brilliant genius who sees what everyone else misses. Read this carefully : An average Joe, with no training in the field he’s seeking to reinvent has just as much chance of succeeding as an ID proponent has to make sense. And those are pretty slim odds.

One of those well established facts in science is that the Earth is round, not flat. That was established eons ago. There are countless photos, videos and what have you to demonstrate that. Anyone who’s ever set foot on a plane has seen with their very own eyes the slight curvature of the earth’s surface. Yet, as unbelievable as it may sound, there are still people out there who think this whole round Earth thing to be nothing but a vast, world-wide conspiracy. They still believe the eart is flat, infinite and 9,000 kilometres deep (about 5,600 miles) and get this, it stretches infinitely horizontally! You can’t make this stuff up. You can only whole-heartedly believe it.

Flat earth theory is still around. On the internet and in small meeting rooms in Britain and the US, flat earth believers get together to challenge the “conspiracy” that the Earth is round.

“People are definitely prejudiced against flat-earthers,” says John Davis, a flat earth theorist based in Tennessee, reacting to the new Microsoft commercial.

Why are people so fascinated with the idea of a “conspiracy”? How many of these so-called conspiracies can the world governments have going at the same time anyway? The UFO proponents cry conspiracy. The flat earthers cry conspiracy. Almost any thing can be imagined and the lack of evidence blamed on a governmental conspiracy. These folks believe in their weird hypothesis precisely because they can’t find any evidence to back it up. Talk about weird! String theory has got nothing on these nuts!

Prejudiced? Of course I am prejudiced against flat earthers. They are,at the worst complete idiots, and at the best, self deluded, hallucinating, mentally ill people. There is a certain egotistic trend with all such people. They seem to think to be in on something that the general public doesn’t see. They seem to think they’re smart because they have “uncovered” these hidden secrets that “normal” people were never meant (and thus they are better than normal people) to uncover. To me they are like little boys pretending to be superheroes and getting that instantaneous gratification.  All the guys out there know what I’m talking about.

“Many use the term ‘flat-earther’ as a term of abuse, and with connotations that imply blind faith, ignorance or even anti-intellectualism.”

Blind faith…check! Ignorance…check! Anti-intellectualism…Double check!  The fascinating thing however, is that they blame us, the sane ones, of blind faith, ignorance and anti-intellectualism, because you see we aren’t smart enough to see through the veil that the world governments have woven over our eyes. But they can! And they have no evidence to back it up. And that is precisely how they know they’re right. You get the (il)logic there?

“I came to realise how much we take at face value,” he says. “We humans seem to be pleased with just accepting what we are told, no matter how much it goes against our senses.”

And he offers a perfect example of accepting what we are told at face value…himself!

Mr Davis now believes “the Earth is flat and horizontally infinite – it stretches horizontally forever”.

“And it is at least 9,000 kilometres deep”, he adds.

And here’s another, slightly different take:

James McIntyre, a British-based moderator of a Flat Earth Society discussion website, has a slightly different take. “The Earth is, more or less, a disc,” he states. “Obviously it isn’t perfectly flat thanks to geological phenomena like hills and valleys. It is around 24,900 miles in diameter.”

I see it’s either infinite or 24,900 mile disc. I guess they both think the other is part of a conspiracy to hide the true “truth” about our beloved planet.

What about all the photos from space that show, beyond a shadow of doubt, that the Earth is round?  The space agencies of the world are involved in an international conspiracy to dupe the public for vast profit,says Mr McIntyre.

John Davis also says “these photos are fake”.

Of course, the folks at NASA are all millionaires and getting richer by the day.

And what about the fact that no one has ever fallen off the edge of our supposedly disc-shaped world?

Mr McIntyre laughs. “This is perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions,” he says. “A cursory examination of a flat earth map fairly well explains the reason – the North Pole is central, and Antarctica comprises the entire circumference of the Earth. Circumnavigation is a case of travelling in a very broad circle across the surface of the Earth.”

Oh the humanity! The poor, poor humanity!

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Too skeptical yet not skeptical enough

Posted in Skepbitch, Skepticism by Skepdude on July 22, 2008


Last week I chatted with a stranger and the topic turned to skepticism, “I don’t like that skeptic guy on TV. He’s a snob. All he says is ‘No. I disagree. You’re wrong. It isn’t true. I don’t believe in that’.”

Sound bites, editing with an agenda, and yes/no questions can portray a skeptic as a naysayer.

However, we don’t want to be gratuitous skeptics either.

That doesn’t help our objectives, or our profile.

It seems that skeptics can be too skeptical, or not skeptical enough.

How can we find a happy (non-paranormal) medium of skepticism?

Not that I claim to be the perfect skeptic. I don’t think there is such a thing. I can’t cast the first stone of skepticism, I’m still learning all the time, but I know when a skeptic has descended into leniency, or dickheadism…

And there will always be someone who’ll label you as a dogmatist or a cynic. Meanwhile, someone else will accuse you of being irresolute and wishy-washy – for saying the same bloody thing…

Since we’re talking cliches and catchphrases, here’s a skeptical motto or mantra to remind us that we’re aiming for logic, rationale and reason, rather than high-functioning autism.

Effective skepticism is about educating others, and educating ourselves.

When we educate others we teach critical thinking, dispel myths and explain how the world works.

This is NOT Proselytizing. This is NOT preaching. This is NOT converting. This is NOT dogma.

It’s simplistic to frame skepticism as a kind of religion; or atheism as another form of theism.

A gathering of atheists is not a church congregation. James Randi and Richard Dawkins aren’t messiahs. The similarities might make it easier for us to understand one thing in terms of another, but the differences make the meaning.

Educating ourselves is about research, knowledge, reassessment, re-evaluation and keeping an open mind. This is our skeptical maintenance, to be skeptical of ourselves. But this also requires an understanding of the beliefs and practices that exist. This is not a rote, aggressive, obnoxious dismissal and premature ejaculation rejection of, say, the opinions of Christians or psychics.

Now you know why no one will have sex with you but yourself…

It’s kinda obvious to me that a skeptic should be an amateur anthropologist, and an amateur psychologist.

Unless they just want to be a fucking snob.

Sometimes, skeptics make the very worst skeptics…