Belief

I understand that belief in a capital-h higher power is a relatively complex thing. People believe for a number of reasons. I have to wonder though… How much of belief is a coping mechanism for helplessness.

For instance, a loved one is in the hospital with a severe illness. Someone who feels an overwhelming sense of being able to do nothing might turn to something larger than themselves in hopes THAT being can make it better. Perhaps praying, thus perceived as doing something, is better than doing nothing.

Would that then make belief a coping mechanism?

I understand that belief has been a way to make sense of the world. Can it be diluted down to that? Is belief in a higher power just a different form of homeopathy?

What do you think? Is belief a coping mechanism? A form of comfort? A way of making sense of the world?

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Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor “Atheists Not Fully Human”

Many previously thought that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was a little off his rocker. Earlier this week in an interview he stated that “atheists are not fully human” because we do not “search for transcendent meaning”. In other words, because atheists do not seek the answers to larger questions such as “why are we here?”, “Where do we come from?” and “Is this all that there is?”, atheists have not fully developed their humanity.

This is, from my perspective, a huge presumption on the Cardinal’s part. As an atheist, asking the bigger questions is one of the major reasons many people become atheists. Rather than reaching the conclusion that there is a higher power or grand designer involved, we choose to listen to science and let logic and fact answer those bigger questions. Skeptics weigh the information at hand, weed out the fact from the fiction and use the scientific method to evaluate the facts.

When Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor says things like this, he is speaking out of ignorance. I say ignorance and not stupidity because ignorance can be educated. He seems to be a cognizant man capable of clear thought. He is simply misinformed.

Yes, I understand that what I just said sounds like I’m delusional and living in a candy-coated world. I would just prefer to give the Cardinal the benefit if the doubt. Because if I don’t and he really did know what he was saying, that implies a number of horrifying thoughts.

If atheists and other non-believers are not fully human, or less than human then we can be treated the same way African-Americans were. They were once thought of as less than human and summarily treated like animals. Dictators through the ages have used that “logic” to commit genocide. If the Cardinal truly believes that we are less than human, to what lengths will he go to assure our “humanity”? Are we in for a  modern Inquisition? The ramifications of the Cardinal’s comments are horrifying.

The insult is secondary. I am fairly certain if he was sincere in his statement that it was meant to insult the atheist community as a whole. Perhaps he feels it is justified. After all, high profile individuals in the atheist and skeptical community have said some unkind things about the Catholic Church. Apparently it’s okay to stoop to petty vengeance. Again, that is IF he understands the ramifications of what he said.

I may want to live in a candy-coated world but I’m not naive. I believe that the Cardinal knew full well what he was saying and what it implied. And to that I reply, “Fuck you, you sonofabitch”.

Sorry, dear readers. Sometimes I just can’t be a good skeptic.

***Unfortunately YouTube removed the video of the interview for violations. Please google “Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor “Atheists Not Fully Human” for other perspectives on this interview.

I’m Skeptical About That

Yesterday I talked about what skepticism is versus cynicism. Today I want to talk more in depth about why cynicism is damaging and why skepticism can be a difficult approach to maintain. Granted I am still new to skepticism. These are just my observations and I am always happy to have people kindly correct my mistaken presumptions.

Cynics tend to have a hardline approach to subjects that they are convinced qualify as Woo. (see woo def here: http://bit.ly/crSgm). Once a cynic is convinced, they seem to be just as hard core as True Believers. (see TB def here: http://bit.ly/39ygEg). Of course this is damaging to the use of scientific analysis and equates to bad science. A hardline approach to a topic doesn’t, quite obviously, allow flexibility in one’s viewpoint. It squelches the possibility of new observations because a hardline cynic will automatically, if not consciously at least unconsciously, filter out new observable data in favor of the perceived Woo.

I try to remain open-minded while still being analytical of what is presented to me. For instance, I was on a forum discussing quantum physics and  the topic of observable auras came up. Now a cynic would have the automatic knee jerk reaction that auras are Woo. I used to believe in auras and at one point had convinced myself that I could actually see them. I know that auras, as the New Age community presents them, are most likely not real. At some point science may find out otherwise but until then, I’m sticking with what science says.

HOWEVER, someone on the forum mentioned that there have actually been a few humans found that can actually see into the low IR (infrared) spectrum. This would explain at least a few people seeing “auras”. Here is what I found on a physics forum: http://bit.ly/6YiRfU

I would LOVE to get some knowledgeable opinions about this so PLEASE leave feedback.

My point here is that if I were a cynic I would simply dismiss this out of hand instead of investigating as much as I did. THAT, dear reader, is what a good skeptic does. Investigate. If you don’t know, keep looking until you find the answer. It may not be the answer YOU want but that’s the point here. Be open to results you don’t expect. Don’t dismiss it just because it doesn’t fit with your view of the topic. Investigate, seek, question. It’s how we differentiated from cynics and True Beleivers.

Skeptical Theists

There is, in the skeptical community, an overwhelming number of skeptics who think that it is not possible to be a skeptic and a theist at the same time. The fine folks at www.nonprophetsradio.com have voiced the opinion that while a theist can say they are skeptical about something such as homeopathy or astrology, they cannot call themselves skeptics. According to their statements, if someone still believes in a god, they can only refer to themselves as skeptical.

On the other hand there is Per Johan Rasmark at Skeptic Report (http://skepticreport.com/sr/?p=200) who thinks that it “should not be necessary to explain how it is possible to believe in a God and still be a skeptic, my point of view is that the two things do not overlap…”

My experience with the skeptical community is that a skeptic is a person who has examined their own beliefs and rejected those that have been found to lack a scientific consensus of truth. In other words, if you once believed that homeopathy worked and rejected it on the basis of the evidence then you call yourself a skeptic in regards to homeopathy. Many skeptics think that ALL beliefs should be thoroughly examined and those that do not stand up to scientific scrutiny should be rejected. Unfortunately those who do not reject their religious beliefs have “lost skeptical street cred” according to the Non-Prophets.

I have heard that sentiment echoed throughout the skeptical community. People who still hold a belief in a higher being or beings are scoffed at and not considered skeptics. It has been said that those who maintain a belief can call themselves skeptical but cannot own the title of Skeptic because of that belief.

This sort of bias is damaging. It is one of the reasons that skeptics have such a bad image. We come off as superior and snooty. It seems that if you have a belief in the intangible you can’t come in our clubhouse. This sort of exclusivity has GOT to stop. We ought to be working on growing our community. There are a good number of people out there looking for a skeptical home but because they still hold a belief in a divine being, they are either rejected out of hand or treated as less intelligent. At least until they “come to their senses”.

It is my opinion that someone can maintain a belief in a higher power and still be a skeptic. Analytical thinking is a skill that can be learned by anyone willing to use logic, deductive reasoning and the scientific method. The title of skeptic should not be withheld from those willing to learn and use these new skills.

Every skeptic has started somewhere. Not all of us were born knowing how to be skeptical. Most people have had to overcome their upbringing or self-imposed magical thinking. For those like me, it was an uphill battle and friends were lost along the way. It takes time to become a skeptic and as far as I’m concerned it’s not like earning a boy scout merit badge. If you are learning to be more skeptical, then by damn you ARE a skeptic. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Appeal to Ridicule

Unfortunately I have seen this logical fallacy used on both sides of the skeptic/believer debate. It occurs when ridicule or mockery is used in place of evidence in an “argument”.

As usual I will substitute the X’s for something cute and fuzzy.

The Appeal to Ridicule has the following format where X equals puppies:

1) Puppies (X), as some form of mockery, is aimed at the claim (C).

2) Therefor Claim (C) is false.

This sort of “argument” is fallacious because ridiculing a claim is not provable evidence that said claim is actually false. An obvious example would look like this “1+1=2?? That’s the most patently ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!”

This argument is of course based in the idea that we are working with a Base 10 system of counting.

I have heard this fallacy used as an argument so many times even in my own household. A real world example looks like this:

“Evolution is absurd! I’ve never heard of a monkey giving birth to a human!”

The ridicule here occurs in both the use of the word ‘absurd’ and the dismissiveness of the concept of human evolution as a whole.  Usually that argument is made by Creationists who simply have not educated themselves or have chosen not to be educated on the current theory of evolution.

Another form of this argument is “reductio ad absurdum” or “reducing to absurdity”. This site http://bit.ly/2x6CEY has an excellent example of it. I’ll quote it here:

One form of this line of reasoning is known as a “reductio ad absurdum” (“reducing to absurdity”). In this sort of argument, the idea is to show that a contradiction (a statement that must be false) or an absurd result follows from a claim. For example: “Bill claims that a member of a minority group cannot be a racist. However, this is absurd. Think about this: white males are a minority in the world. Given Bill’s claim, it would follow that no white males could be racists. Hence, the Klan, Nazis, and white supremists are not racist organizations.”

Since the claim that the Klan, Nazis, and white supremists are not racist organizations is clearly absurd, it can be concluded that the claim that a member of a minority cannot be a racist is false.

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.

Billboards

Driving through the rural areas in the South I find myself noticing billboards just out of boredom. Most of them are your standard advertisements. You know…hotels, restaurants, fruit stands. And then there are the religious billboards. These are the ones that say something vaguely snarky followed by the signature ” -God”.

“Don’t make me come down there.”. – God

From what I understand of the Christian religion, don’t they WANT the Second Coming? So why would they NOT want God to come down? As a former Christian I had looked forward to that. I also lived in terror of it. After all when you don’t know if you’re “good enough” and not being judged so means roasting and torture for all eternity the idea of being judged inadequate the idea of a Second Coming is a terrifying thing. It just doesn’t make sense to me to keep living in fear.

I have seen lots of those billboards. What I HAVEN’T seen are billboards for skeptical thinking. I’d love to see some that say simply “Think About It” and then some skeptic website. Maybe one like mine that introduces the basic premise of skepticism and the ideas behind logical thought.

Christians have billboards, TV and pint media. Atheists have busses. It’s about time skeptics have some kind of media exposure. I’m thinking about possibly starting a foundation for just such a purpose. Anyone interested in helping me organize this should email me.

Welcome to my new readers from NaNoBloMo! I hope you enjoy what you read here.

Execution

I went back and read over this before publishing and realized it is a bit of a rant. I’ll ask your indulgence in that regard. Please bear with me while I make my point though.

This is something I have been pondering for a very long time. Being the analytical person I am, I’ve noticed that since around the age of 39, I have less and less tolerance for what I see as idiocy. There are times when I tend to be much quicker to be dismissive of something.

For instance, last night there was a candle light vigil for a local man who was beaten into a coma. He never woke up from that and died last week. It’s great that so many people came to the vigil. I understand the desire for the prayers and the singing and support for the loved ones left behind. Personally, *I* want to rip off the genitals of the people who did the beating and then take a baseball bat to them until they stop moving. Or, to quote Richard form my favorite web comic, “Looking For Group”….Shoot them in the face until it stops being funny.

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for people who commit violence against others because of their sexuality, ethnicity, gender or even appearance. Some days I feel that they should be treated in the exact same way that they treated their victim.

Several years back there was an instance where a few guys chained another man to the back of a pick up truck and drug him to death. I can’t imagine a more inhuman way to treat someone. And yet the perpetrators sit in a cozy jail cell, get fed three means a day, watch TV, read and continue to waste perfectly good oxygen.

Why don’t we chain these bastards up to a truck and drag THEM to death? Because it’s inhuman. We’re “better” than that.

I have to ask myself…are we REALLY? Lethal injection is cruel because most of the time the first injection, the anesthetic, isn’t properly monitored. So the criminal to be executed is not anesthetized when the second injection, the Pancuronium bromide to induce paralysis, is administered.

Our humane lethal injection is then administered to someone who is awake and paralyzed when the potassium chloride is injected to stop his or her heart. This person who was supposed to be executed humanely is actually awake and in excruciating pain according to research done back in 2005. You can read the article here: http://bit.ly/2wPsCM

So are we REALLY more humane here in the West?

As many things as I disagree with in Sharia law, there IS one thing that I think they have right. Beheading, when done properly, is more humane. It is quick. It is painless since the spinal cord is severed. Yes, I know it sounds barbaric. Consider the options. Think about it. Do some research.

What do YOU think?

Wishin’ And Hopin’

Today’s Logical Fallacy is known as Wishful Thinking. It is related to one I wrote about a few days ago: Appeal to Consequences of a Belief. Wishful thinking also comes in the guise of “positive thought” and “creative visualization”.

Since the X’s  seem to scare some of my readers, I will be substituting the word “bunnies” in place of the X. This is supposed to be fun and educational. It’s not supposed to be Big Scary Math time here folks.

With bunnies acting as the stand in for X our format looks something like this:

1) I wish that bunnies were true, therefore bunnies is true.

Is that less threatening without the X? I hope so.

A real world example would look like this for 1) If I chant my mantra every day, my true love will come into my life.

Wishful Thinking is an emotion-based argument with the premise that the positive outcome will come to pass simply because you want it really, really badly. Unfortunately Wishful Thinking can also lead to ignoring the evidence against a deeply held belief. In that case it becomes one-sidedness.

From what i”ve garnered from my reading, wishful thinking/positive thought is a great deal like spellcasting when I was a Wiccan. The wisher is trying to bend the world to their will simply by wanting their end goal very, very much.

Obama: Part 2

I went back and read last night’s post. In parts of it, I was not being skeptical. I was being emotional. I’m still learning how to create skeptical arguments and that wasn’t what I did.

What I DID was to look for evidence to support my argument without looking around to see if Obama had actually accomplished something to warrant the award of a Nobel Peace Prize.

My only source that he did NOT deserve it was one article from a British newspaper where in the head of the committee talked about Obama’s potential to bring peace to the world.

That is hardly the skeptical thing to do. I SHOULD have investigated further instead of letting my emotions get the best of me. I will be returning to this topic and REALLY investigating it soon.

See? This is why I call myself a Fledgeling Skeptic. I’m still learning.

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