It’s All Semantics – That Doesn’t Mean We Shouldn’t Argue It

You can handle one more article on this before it blows up all over again at Skepticamp, right?

Once again that membrane which has been pierced so many times on this blog, has been broken, allowing us to once again wade hip-deep into the demarcation between skepticism and atheism.  Joy of joys.  On the bright side, I think I can safely say that this time it wasn’t my fault, but that the lance wielder du jour has been my dear Mr. Rosch.

There’s this funny thing that happens whenever we start talking about where skepticism ends and atheism begins.  Someone brings up the word “agnosticism” and all of a sudden people pounce on that person shouting that they don’t want to get embroiled in an argument of semantics.  I have unfortunate news for those people: the discussion on atheism and skepticism already IS an argument about semantics.  The confusion people have, however – and trust me, I’ve had this one wrong in the past – is that the discussion isn’t really about the definition of atheism.

The definition of atheism is one that atheists have fought for a good long time about.  That definition, that atheism is a lack of belief in god(s), has been whittled into this sort of perfect non-positive statement.  By definition, an atheist doesn’t have to prove anything and believers are, by default, on the defensive side of the argument.  Any believer foolish enough to say “well why don’t you believe in God?” has broken the rules of argument, that the one with the claim is the one with something to defend, and can be summarily told so.  Well done, atheists. … continue reading this entry.

Ugh… I read something by Deepak Chopra

If homeopaths were correct, looking at this man would cure my headache every time.

I made a mistake.  I read an article by Deepak Chopra.  Now I have to talk about it in order to exorcise the stupid.

The article is about Stephen Hawking’s statement that God is not necessary to explain the universe.  As most commentators have already done, Deepak decided to say that Hawking was saying there was no God, making a metaphysical statement.  Chopra goes on to rail about how Hawking has pointed a way to abolishing metaphysics all together.  I would personally say that abolishing a purely speculative and totally unprovable discipline wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but that’s not what Hawking was doing.  Hawking was making the statement that science always makes: whether there is a god or not is irrelevant.  The universe is explainable without one.

Deepak seems to suggest that science is being unfair in terms of its discussion with religion.

The modern world is willing to throw out any number of beliefs about God if the facts don’t fit. Science isn’t willing to throw out a single piece of data, however, to satisfy an article of faith. The net result is that science has become bolder. … continue reading this entry.

Skepticism and Cynicism

Apparently, cynics wear robes made of stone. No wonder they think everything's going down the crapper. The last time they bought new clothing, their robes kept them from moving for millennia...

When I first told my friend Charlie that I was going off to my first drinking skeptically, he asked me if we were just going to sit around “thinking about nothing.”  I had to point out to Charlie at that point that he was confusing skepticism with nihilism, which is weird, especially when you think about the fact that everyone else confuses skepticism with cynicism.  Which is also not correct.  As you probably know though, most folks out there don’t really understand what skepticism is.  I’m sure you’ve had to explain it to them when telling them what your views are, I know I have.  It’s a hard thing to grasp at first, and I’m going to put this out there right now, I think the knee-jerk confusion of skepticism and cynicism is there for a reason.  It’s been discussed on the JREF, it’s been talked about on Yahoo! Answers, it’s even been picked up by certain newspapers, the delineation between skepticism and cynicism is fraught for a reason.  I think that as skeptics, we are constantly in danger of becoming cynics. … continue reading this entry.

New Age and the paradox of paradise

When I first became an active religious critic, I thought I’d found the biggest taboo there was. I began to regularly receive some of the most venomous hate mail from hypocritical religious people on behalf of their omni-benevolent deities. It wasn’t all that different from the hate mail Richard Dawkins reads here.

But ever since I’ve gotten involved in the skeptical movement, I’ve found that the religious aren’t the only ones who can dish out nasty insults to those who don’t agree with them. Paranormalists, alternative “medicine” practitioners and customers, conspiracy theorists, and pseudo-scientists of all kinds have been responsible for some of the most vitriolic hate mail I’ve ever received. And ironically, one thing they all seem to have in common is a massive overlap with the New Age Movement, a group often associated with touchy-feely, infinite open-minded, post-modernism. … continue reading this entry.

Why Health Freedom and Anti-Vaccine don’t mix

Can your kid get measles so I can pretend I didn't give mine autism?

"Can your kid get measles so I can feel like I'm fighting the phantom I'm blaming for my child's autism?"

The recent AutismOne conference in Chicago is something I’d like to consider a new low in the American health system.  I’d like to consider it a new low because it would mean that this autism/vaccine nonsense hadn’t been going on now for over a decade.  Unfortunately, it has, and why AutismOne hasn’t faded against the blaring horn of stupidity constantly playing at us from sources like Generation Rescue, Autism Speaks, and the omni-dreadful Age of Autism is inconceivable.  It would have missed my radar completely – I tend to avoid the autism people thanks to a family history of high blood pressure – had the most recent AutismOne conference not attracted the attention of a completely separate group of health ingrates, the “Health Freedom” movement. … continue reading this entry.

America is a Judeo-Christian nation. (And Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist….)

Title page from Thomas Jefferson's cut-and-paste version of the New Testament.

Title page from Thomas Jefferson's cut-and-paste version of the New Testament.

On the one hand, I find it hard to truly hate Sarah Palin. She has been a bottomless source of entertainment for comedy aficionados and connoisseurs of the obscene. Politics aside, I can’t help but feel a perverse affection for someone who has added so much unalloyed mirth to my life.

On the other hand, once I stop laughing, I generally start gnashing my teeth. This rictus-grinned, addlepated Stepford wife has spewed forth more platitudinous balloon juice than any politico on the contemporary scene, and has done so with the kind of smug certainty which distinguishes the truly stupid. It’s as difficult to imagine Sarah Palin having an introspective or self-questioning moment as it is to imagine a spaniel solving Fermat’s Last Theorem. … continue reading this entry.

The Birth of Skeptical Culture

Believe it or not, I believe in cultures more important than this.  Though this ones pretty good...

Believe it or not, I believe in cultures more important than this. Though this one's pretty good...

Scott Stafiej (actually pronounced “Staffey”) has a project that I insist has an end-goal that he disagrees with.  He calls this project “Skeptuality,” and the idea (this is my paraphrasing) is that, although he is a staunch proponent of the rationally based thinking that comes from his skepticism, there are times that he wants to embrace some aspects of spirituality.  Thus, Scott has spent the past few months experimenting with different pseudo-religious activities, just to see if any scratch his meta-itch.  Whenever we talk about it I tell Scott that he’s laying the groundwork for a skeptical religion.  Though he often laughs when I say it, I have a feeling that Scott takes a slight amount of umbrage at these conversations.  My last post encouraged a reader to comment the following:

[Y]ou guys should really think about how your tone affects status.  I think this is a good group, but you won’t convince anybody by making fun of ‘the enemy.’  How about adopting a more intellectual focus? … continue reading this entry.

On PZ and Michael

This is your skeptical movement on Muhammed Ali.

This is your skeptical movement on the Sweet Science.

My first reaction to PZ Myer’s post lambasting Michael De Dora was that PZ was an evil bastard who no longer had a place in polite society.  I’ve since calmed down.  It’s here where I place the obligatory statement that I indeed have a personal relationship with Michael, which is what I think this all comes down to. Since NECSS, I’ve been trying to be a bit more skeptical in my day-to-day life, and part of that is thinking in terms of evidence.  One of the speakers at NECSS and I spoke about the PZ/Michael rigmarole at dinner, and he had some things to say about it.  “The reason you feel that way,” he told me, “ is because Michael is a friend of yours. He is my friend, too, and that was my initial reaction, as well. But the more I thought about it, I realized that if PZ Myers were on the radio, no one would bat an eye.  No one gets shocked when Howard Stern is Howard Stern. PZ’s is a polemicist, and his blog is a persona, to great effect. I generally agree with his point against Michael, but don’t like the way he said it, and generally favor the way Michael makes his points, even if I disagree with some of his points themselves. In the end, I don’t think we skeptics and secularists should scold others for having a different style than we have.” … continue reading this entry.

The Other “Skeptics”

Im not saying hes not necessarily a dick, but that doesnt mean hes wrong.

I'm not saying he's not necessarily a jerk, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.

Our self-professed title has been popping up in the news, have you seen it?  There are skeptics going against Brits and skeptics going against the USA.  There are skeptics all over the place!  And they’re going around… denying science.  Hmmm… Maybe these guys aren’t us?  You know, there was a time when the word “skeptic” was full of negative connotations.  Skeptics were doubters, people who just wouldn’t try things because they didn’t believe in them.  And then something happened.  Do you happen to know what that thing was?  Oh yeah, it was us.  We happened.  We’d tinkered with words like “rationalist” and “bright” and figured out that painting ourselves in a way that painted everyone who wasn’t us in a negative context was probably a bad idea.  So we claimed the word “skeptic.”  We doubt.  We admit that.  Without evidence, we don’t accept claims about the world that we can test.  And it’s probably to our credit that a group of folks who want to ignore the reality of anthropogenic global warming want to claim the moniker of “skeptic” as well, now that we’ve gussied the term up.  It’s flattering!  But it’s also incredibly annoying.  So called “climate skeptics” are not using the term in the same way that we do.  They are holding onto their claims against a theory no scientifically recognized organization on the planet is going against anymore.  They’re making our name look bad all over again. … continue reading this entry.

The Role of Empirical Evidence and Skepticism in the Same Sex Marriage Debate

I teach a course in experimental psychology and research methods. Being a skeptic as well as a psychological science enthusiast, I try to imbue my lessons with the importance of rational inquiry whenever or wherever possible. As my students are often interested in working in fields of social welfare and mental health they want me to emphasize practical applications. As such, there often arise examples where empirical knowledge does not seem to apply, or at least go far enough. To demonstrate this, and hopefully get the students thinking of ways to be logical and rational even where there are no directly testable hypotheses, I facilitate a discussion in each course examining the role and limits of science in the development of social policy. Last semester, the social policy we examined was the stance many hold regarding same sex marriage.

But, before I elaborate on this discussion, let me tell you a story about a cab driver I met a few weeks ago. … continue reading this entry.

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