Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed

This morning I saw the last 10 minutes of Ben Stein’s documentary ‘Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed”. I had heard nothing about this until now and I have plans to record a showing on the morning of the 20th so that I can review it in full.

In the few minutes I saw, Stein uses the imagery of the Berlin Wall as being the barrier between scientists and intelligent design. He proposes that more be done to investigate the notion that if not some kind of god, then some sort of greater intelligence is responsible for the beginnings of life on this planet and the Universe as a whole. Of course this has been done with an additional emotional appeal to the ideals of freedom.

He even interviews Richard Dawkins. You can see that Mr. Dawkins is trying very hard to be kind and patient with Mr. Stein in answering his questions. I do wish that Dawkins would have explained that his lack of belief in a god has to do with a lack of testable evidence.

At one point Stein brought up the quote about the god of the old testament. Dawkins read the complete quote about that god being a blood thirsty misogynistic ethnic cleanser, etc. Then Stein asked if he believed in a kind, loving, gentle god. That would be the god of the new testament if I’m not mistaken.

Isn’t Ben Stein Jewish? My understanding, and please kindly correct me if I’m wrong, is that the Jewish people follow the old testament and the Torah, a book I am not familiar with. My reading of the old testament shows precisely what Mr. Dawkins says.

I’m looking forward to watching the entire documentary and I’ll post a review soon.

Just For Spite

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called The Appeal to Spite. This is another emotion-based fallacy wherein spite is used in place of actual evidence.

Since some of you are still skittish about X’s, today’s X will be portrayed by Tribbles. Yes, I’m a Star Trek geek but they ARE cute, fuzzy and non-threatening. Unless you’re a Romulan. If you ARE Romulan then you have my sincere apologies for the offense.

Appeal to Spite has the following format:

1) Claim Tribbles (x) is presented with the goal of generating spite

2) Therefor Claim C is true (or false dependent on the desired result of Tribbles)

Again, an emotion is not evidence. Evidence must be testable and the same result must be shown within the statistical  limits of the experiment. This is generally plus or minus a fraction of one percent if I am remembering correctly from my psychological statistics course.

A real world example would look something like this:

Boss: “Dave has been doing an excellent job lately. We’re talking about promoting him”.

Person Who Wants The Promotion (Presenting Claim Tribbles): Wow. A promotion? After Dave flubbed that presentation a few months back and cost you a multi-million dollar contract?”

Boss: Well, I guess we shouldn’t promote Dave after all.

In this example The Claimant Presenting Tribbles (x) is inspiring spite in order to undermine Dave’s promotion so he can have it for himself. Dave may or may not have flubbed a presentation and the client may or may not have declined the contract because of it There is no definitive evidence to support Claim Tribbles. The Claimant is simply throwing something out to undermine Dave.

Pat Robertson Persists

This morning Pat Robertson continued to insist that the reason for Haiti’s troubles is the supposed pact with the Devil that we discussed yesterday. He claims here http://bit.ly/5XeL7L that since the Dominican Republic is prosperous that this supposed “pact” MUST be the reason that Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the world.

Obviously Mr. Robertson’s research team failed to mention to him that, although there are resorts, the Dominican Republic is still a third world country. There is also a difference ing governmental styles. Haiti is a socialist nation run by a dictator. The Dominican Republic stopped being a dictatorship in 1961.

Because of the governmental style, Reagan levied heavy import tariffs against Haiti. That also contributed to the impoverished state of the country. Add to that the weather-related issues and the drug issues and it’s no wonder Haiti has problems.

And yet, Robertson continues to attribute these troubles to a being that no one has been able to prove even exists. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence because a story cannot be tested repeatedly to get the same results. An anecdote is the result of human observation. Personal biases color those observations. When someone like Pat Robertson observes the world, he sees demons and the Devil as the reason for worldly woes. A scientific, skeptical approach shows us that weather and politics are largely contributing factors.

Not the Boogeyman.

Pat Robertsons on Haiti

This morning on the Christian Broadcast Network Pat Robertson made a claim about the reason Haiti has had so many troubles. He states it is because they made a deal with the Devil in the 19th century for their freedom from France.

It’s times like this when it is very hard not to be a cynic. A cynic would have followed that claim up with something like “WTF Pat? Are you stupid?? What kind of crack are you smokin’??”

Haiti should be very proud of its history. In 1791, their ancestors started the only successful slave revolt in human history. It was the first black-run country. They have a rich heritage that deserves to be celebrated. Their revolution is considered a defining moment in African history in the New World.

Pat Robertson isn’t necessarily full of crap though. At least not from certain perspectives. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Haitian revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Revolution), “Historians traditionally identify the catalyst to revolution as a particular Vodou ceremony in August 1791 performed at Bois Caïman by Dutty Boukman, a priest.”.”

At one point in my life I was a Fundamentalist Christian so I understand the “logic” behind Pat Robertson’s claim. From his perspective Vodou is devil worship. The priest, Dutty Boukman, called on demons and the Devil, by fundamentalist reasoning, to free his country. When an entire country is given over into the hands of the Devil, no good can ever come of it.

This is, of course, no longer my perspective. This is an observation and explanation on Robertson’s reasoning. It in no way is meant to support his argument by Appeal To Widespread Belief.

This logical fallacy states that because something is widely believed, that makes it factual evidence. This reasoning is fallacious. We used to believe the world was flat. We know better now because evidence has shown otherwise. A belief is not necessarily factual. In this case, there is no scientific, testable evidence of a Devil. There is no scientific, testable evidence that Vodou has been effective.

Haiti has simply had to deal with unfortunate circumstances.  The recent earthquake is one more instance in a string of natural occurrences. There is nothing paranormal about it. This country has simply been victim to a host of natural disasters ranging from flooding and hurricanes to disease and drug trafficking. These, along with a public that lacks education, are the things that keep Haiti impoverished.

I would urge you to go to redcross.com and contribute to the Haitian relief effort if you haven’t already.

The Amazing Adventure 5

The JREF’s Amazing Adventure 5: Skeptics of the Caribbean is fast approaching. The cruise leaves Fort Lauderdale March 6 and returns on the 14th. So far there are 85 skeptics set to sail. Provided his health allows, the Amazing One himself, James Randi, will be joining us on the cruise!

Here is a link to the itinerary and information about the cruise http://bit.ly/EZb4I During the lovely sun-filled, rum-sodden days, talks will be offered on a myriad of topics. I’m scheduled to give one on skepticism in daily life. As if going to the Caribbean, hanging out with like minded people and spending time with The Amazing One wasn’t enough of a thrill…you get ME!

What I would like to know is this: What would you like to hear about in a talk/discussion about skepticism in daily life? Leave a comment here or email me at fledgelingskeptic@atheist.com

Pity Party

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called Appeal to Pity or Ad Misericordiam

There’s no Scary X in this formula so we don’t have puppies or duckies guest starring today. It’s a pretty straightforward fallacy whose structure looks like this:

1) P is presented with the intention of evoking pity

2) Therefore claim C is true

The use of pity as “evidence” is a fallacy because emotion cannot be substituted for real evidence. Evidence is testable while emotion is far to erratic to be used as evidence.

Please note that there are times when an claim that serves as evidence can also evoke pity. For instance:

Claimant P calls in to work: Boss I can’t come in today.

Boss: You know this is your second time this month calling in.

Claimant P: I know but I got hit on the way home last night. I’m in the hospital with a broken shoulder that needs to be repaired surgically and my car is wrecked

See? Instant pity. But there is also evidence to support the claim:A broken shoulder and a totalled car. So while this IS a logical fallacy, it is sometimes a fact.

An example of the actual logical fallacy would look something like this:

Claimant P:  I really need this job

Interviewer: You’re underqualified according to your resume

Claimant P: I’m a single Mom. I have three children and my ex won’t pay child support. Our electricity is going to get shut off if I don’t get this job and it’s the middle of winter.

Interviewer: I suppose we can make an exception in your case.

Again, instant pity. But the fallacy comes in at the point where she’ll get the job because the interviewer feels bad for her. She isn’t qualified and the evidence, her resume, shows that she isn’t. BUT because of her situation, the interviewer feels pity and capitulates on the company policy of not hiring the under qualified.

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.

Skepticism vs Cynicism

As skeptics we walk a fine line. We use logic and science to look at and assess the information available on a wide variety of topics.  Skeptics don’t just “debunk” ghosts or point out why homeopathy is just a placebo. It’s our job to critically examine our world. If we are open to evidence and yet still maintain a critical eye, then we can avoid the pitfall of cynicism.

A cynic is one who, for example, watches an ad for a new weight loss tool on TV and automatically dismisses it out of hand. Perhaps it looks like a gimmick. Perhaps the cynic has seen something similar previously and dismisses it out of hand because of the similarity.

Remember the “Balloon Boy” incident late last year? When it was revealed to be a hoax, so many people became instant cynics. Be it the size of the container below the jiffy pop balloon or the way it spun on it’s axis, thousands of people suddenly “knew” after the fact that there was no kid in the balloon. That’s where cynicism and skepticism split.

A cynic “knows” it’s BS because . A skeptic examines the information at hand but still retains an open mind until all of the data has been examined and a conclusion has been reached. This is also one of the things that makes being skeptical so difficult. We can reach conclusions about a topic BUT we must constantly be reexamining those conclusions with the appearance of new data. That’s how any good scientist approaches a theory. Examine the data, posit the theory and be willing to revise that theory as new data surfaces.

Beware the cynical pitfall, dear Alice.  It doesn’t lead down the Rabbit Hole.

It’s Brand New!

Today’s Logical Fallacy is known as Appeal To Popularity. Since some of my readers are intimidated by X’s, today’s X will be played by baby ducks. The format of Appeal to Popularity looks like this:

1) Baby Ducks (X) are new.

2)Therefore Baby Ducks (X) are correct or better.

This type of reasoning is false because a new item or idea is not always, by default, better than something older. It should also not be presumed that old things are better than new things (see Appeal to Tradition).

A real world example might look something like this: Marketing approach Baby Ducks is new, therefor, because it is new, it will automatically work better.

This approach is fallacious because there is no evidence to support the claim that Baby Ducks is the best marketing approach over the previous marketing agenda.  Beyond that,  “This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for many reasons. First, “western culture” includes a very powerful comittment to the notion that new things must be better than old things. Second, the notion of progress (which seems to have come, in part, from the notion of evolution) implies that newer things will be superior to older things. Third, media advertising often sends the message that newer must be better. Because of these three factors (and others) people often accept that a new thing (idea, product, concept, etc.) must be better because it is new. Hence, Novelty is a somewhat common fallacy, especially in advertising.”, according to http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-novelty.html

For some things age *does* have a bearing on the context. Fresh food is better for human consumption than food that has rotted. To follow that line of reasoning someone would, obviously, not be committing the flawed appeal to popularity “reasoning”.  So as you can see, even though they are cute and fuzzy, Baby Ducks are not automatically better that Grown Up Ducks.

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.

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