31 Flavors Of Skeptic

Just like Baskin-Robbins, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. As a whole skepticism can be described as making a judgement about a claim based on the evidence presented. That evidence must be testable. Those results must also be repeatable within a specific margin of error ala statistics. In other words it is a logical fallacy to claim that just because one test yielded a specific result, that result proves the claim conclusively. (For new readers please see previous entries concerning the various types of logical fallacies.)

For instance I read on a science forum that some people are able to see into the near infra-red spectrum. This could explain the claim of being able to see auras. I have not had an opportunity to investigate this claim. There may be evidence to support this. There may not be. In the mean time I am keeping an open mind.

There is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism. A cynic dismisses claims out of hand because they may sound far-fetched like seeing “auras” in the above example. A skeptic, on the other hand, does the research and examines the data looking for credible sources to either verify or refute a claim. It can be really difficult not to be dismissive of a claim that you have already dismissed or accepted. That’s part of being a good skeptic though; learning how to put aside what you think you know and investigating the data even if it is personally uncomfortable or even painful.

I use to believe in all manner of things that do not have supporting testable scientific data. UFOs, magic, Reiki, crystal healing, psychics…name the woo and most of it I believed. Thanks to Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” on Showtime I was introduced to the reality of psychics, auras and many other things. I was also introduced to logical thinking and skepticism. Their shows are a great place to start out. So is George Hrab’s Geologic Podcast http://www.geologicpodcast.com/

As I mentioned in the title of this post, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. James “The Amazing” Randi, a personal hero of mine, has spent his life debunking psychics and those who cause harm with that practice. Other skeptics “debunk” ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, and Nessie.

Other skeptics work on educating the public. At http://www.whatstheharm.net there is information on the kind of harm caused by medical quackery like homeopathy. There are case studies and articles about people who have been permanently harmed or killed by colloidal silver, homeopathy and more.

There are those like the Skepchicks http://skepchick.org/blog that covers a wide array of feminine-related skepticism.

There are skeptics that deal solely with religion. They try to educate people about the fallacies in organized religion. As I said, sometimes being a skeptic can be painful. This is one of those sore points with many people, Here on Fledgeling Skeptic I generally try to avoid mentioning religion since it IS such a sore point.

Then there’s skeptics like me. I try to educate those who are new to the skeptic movement. I talk about what logical fallacies are, how to evaluate evidence, how to use skepticism in daily life and in between I talk about my own experiences and thoughts as a Fledgeling Skeptic.

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The Error of My Ways

Last night I got a call from my youngest son’s ex-girlfriend. He mother wanted to talk to me. She knows that at one time I was a Wiccan High Priestess. She asked her daughter to call me because she wanted to know if I knew how to bind someone.

No we’re not talking kinky S&M stuff. A binding is a long-term spell. It’s purpose is to keep the bound person from causing harm.

After being involved in Wicca for a few years I came to a realize about spellcasting. Even though I still believed in duotheism, rarely did a spell work for me. At that time I decided that it wasn’t working because I was trying to manipulate the world in ways that were contrary to the will of the god and goddess. Spellcasting was manipulation in my view.

When I told other Wiccans how I felt, they explained that, in their mind, spellcasting was the same as prayer. To them, the various rituals were ways of asking for what they wanted.

Why not just ask for it then? Why all the circles, pentacles, wands, etc?

I liked the people so I kept hanging out with them but eventually I realized that wicca wasn’t working for me. So I came up with the notion that all gods are one god. Later I discovered that this is a Buddhist idea.

After years of being free of religion, I’ve come to realize that spellcasting is even more egocentric than prayer. With prayer you believe that a being as important as god has the time to listen to you and only you when he/she/it has the entire world to look after.

With spellcasting you believe you have the power to manipulate “Universal energy” to affect change in your life or the lives of other people. Spellcasting can also be used for various situations. For instance if you want a specific job, a spellcaster would do a ritual to create a situation in which they would be offered the job over other more qualified people.

It is egocentric and manipulative to think that by doing certain ritualistic actions in a prescribed manner that those action will bring the desired result.

I called this post “The Error of My Ways” for two reasons. First, I now see that not only is spellcasting manipulative, it also doesn’t work except by pure chance and coincidence. Second, since I have previously told people about my past, it is coming back to bite me in the ass.

I now have to find a way to gently tell this woman that I don’t do spellcasting anymore because I believe it to be another form of manipulation. I’ve also got to figure out a way to explain that it doesn’t really work and she would just be doing it to make herself feel better without actually doing anything to fix the problem.

Prelude to Rational Thought

I have always been a skeptic. I just didn’t know it.

When I was 12 I wrote an essay about why December 25th is not the anniversary of the Christian savior’s birth. Unfortunately i was raised in a home where magical thinking was encouraged. My mother, an artist, believes in psychics, astrology, influencing outcomes with positive thought and other standard woo. My Dad is in radio and had quite a few characters he portrayed on air. Needless to say, playing pretend played a huge role in my family life.

While my parents are Christian, we very rarely went to church. Sunday was my Dad’s only day off. So I was never really indoctrinated formally. Although there were a couple summers when I was sent to Bible camp. I think I ticked a few people off with some of the questions I asked. Many of the teachings just didn’t make sense to me.

When I was 16, I had a very emotional experience at a church get together for teens and I became a believer. I still didn’t go to church and I still had questions that had no answer. Finally I accepted the “God works in mysterious ways” reasoning. I got beaten over the head enough times with it so eventually I capitulated.

When I was 17, I spent the night at my Mom’s friend’s house and she played a tape that I just fell in love with. I didn’t understand at that moment but that was my first introduction to Wicca. The Old Ways made more sense to me. In that religion god was both male and female and there were many gods to choose from. If you didn’t like one, you could choose another. It was a taste of free thought.

The more I investigated, the more I really liked the precepts that Wicca followed. “If it harms none do what thou wilt”. Short, sweet and to the point. “Whatever you do, be it good or ill, comes back to you three fold”. Fantastic. A religion that taught that you were capable of policing yourself without fear of some Mighty Smiter coming along and condemning you to Hell.

For about 10 years I followed Wicca. Eventually I became a High Priestess, though I was mostly a solitary practitioner. I even cast spells and did ceremonies. Eventually though I began to realize that the spells I was casting weren’t working. They weren’t making a difference in my life. I had also never looked very deeply into Wicca and it’s foundations.

When my Christian boyfriend asked me “Why do you worship the Creation and not the Creator” I genuinely didn’t have an answer. So, back to Christianity I went. And it got pretty bad for a while. I got sucked in deeply this time. I started going to his church, a Church of God (aka Holy Rollers). I even started speaking in tongues and giving the translation during the weekly tongues and interpretation segment.

After a year or so, my logical thinking abilities REALLY went south. I went to visit my best friend in California. We were on a road trip to see another friend of ours. While she was in a convenience store I started having a flashback to the time I was anally raped by my first husband. She came out to find me curled up on the front seat, sobbing.

Her solution was to hand me two crystals and have me place them at either temple.

To this day I still do not understand what happened. It felt like a bolt of electricity went from temple to temple and I was momentarily blinded. When the darkness cleared it was like a veil had been removed. The world seemed clearer. Color were brighter and everything was thrown into sharp focus. I was enthralled by the bark of trees and the texture of brick. It was like the world was brand new.

This is getting a little long so I’ll continue this in my next post.