Thursday, September 27, 2007

Skeptic's Circle #70 + Submission Guidelines

The latest edition of the Skeptic's Circle is now up, courtesy of the Factician.

Two weeks from now, the Skeptic's Circle will be circling right back here to Infophilia. No big clues to the theme this time, except to promise to do my best to make you think. You can send your best skepticism-related posts to TheInfophile {at} gmail {that punctuation mark which is like a comma but without the tail} com. If you're unsure what might be appropriate, check out the submission guidelines.

Now, I'll warn you guys in advance that there may be something coming up with me around the time the circle is scheduled (probably not, but it's a possibility), so I might have to put it up a day early or late. So, in case it's early, I'm going to make the tentative deadline for submissions Tuesday at midnight GMT. I'll know by next weekend if there will be a conflict, so I'll be able to confirm a deadline then.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Atheist Connection

Well, it's been a while since I've had an on-theme post, so I eventually decided to stop waiting for some new inspiration and check out my notes in the past for something to talk about. And so we come to this topic: exploring the question of why so many skeptics are atheists.

First of all, let's define terms here. Skepticism is a particular method of finding the truth about reality utilizing the scientific method along with critical thinking and a working knowledge of many logical fallacies and biases people are likely to fall into. Atheism is, in general, a lack of belief in any god or gods. This is in general based off of one of the following conclusions:

1. There is insufficient evidence to justify belief in any god(s).

2. Whereas we'd expect evidence of gods if the claims of their religions were true and this evidence doesn't exist or contradictory evidence is present, we have in essence evidence against the existence of god(s).

3. No gods exist, with absolute certainty. Note that I've never actually met anyone who believes this way, and it seems to be more of a strawman position used to color atheism as another religion (but only when it's convenient to so color it). Nevertheless, someone who came to this conclusion would be an atheist (and possibly a nihilist as well).

Okay, so to answer our question: Why are so many skeptics atheists? Well, the obvious answer is that skepticism, given our current understanding of the world, leads to one of the above conclusions.

This post is looking to be a bit short and uninteresting, to be honest. Let's try to spice things up, shall we? How about we address the question of why a skeptic might not be an atheist (using an actual skeptic here, not a "zetetic" or pseudoskeptic). This could be a bit more interesting. Let's go over possible explanations as I think of them:

1. The obvious counter-explanation to why so many skeptics are atheists: Skepticism leads to a conclusion that some religion is correct. Now, the problem is that both of these possibilities can't be true, so if this is true we'd have to find some other reason for the many atheists, and if the alternative were true, we'll have to find another explanation for the religious people. In this case, it seems most likely that skepticism leads to an atheistic conclusion, if we take into account how much more prevalent atheists are among skeptics than among the lay population. It seems that if you add skepticism to a person, you're more likely to lead them to atheism than to lead them to religion. So, given that, let's come up with other explanations for why some skeptics aren't atheists.

2. They haven't gotten around to examining their religion skeptically yet. Quite simply, we can't expect someone to come to a skeptical conclusion on an issue if they haven't yet thought about it skeptically. No one has infinite time on their hands, and we can't fault them for not applying skepticism to everything they ever believed all at once.

3. They don't want to examine their religion skeptically. This one might come about for a number of reasons. Maybe their religion gives them comfort, and they fear giving it up. Maybe they fear societal rejection if they give it up. Or maybe it's been so ingrained into them by their religion that it shouldn't be examined critically that they refuse to do so.

4. They actually have examined their religion skeptically, but they came to the conclusion it was true. Perhaps this is because the religion ingrained sufficient biases in them to skew their perception of the data. Maybe proponents of the religion have access to secret evidence the rest of us don't. Or maybe it is true and the rest of us are just fooling ourselves.

5. They actually have examined their religion skeptically and come to the conclusion that atheism is true, but they're afraid to admit it. Given how harshly atheists are treated in some places, this can be understandable. Over on this side of the world, though, it's about time we started coming out (though that's a post for another day).

That's about all I can think of for now. Note that I've left out any possibilities that relate to them not really being a skeptic; those are a bit too obvious and lead to endless variations on what it is that makes them not a skeptic. We're assuming for the sake of this argument that they actually are a skeptic. If you have other possibilities, feel free to post them in the comments (and if you are a religious skeptic, I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on this).

Proceed with your information binge...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Skeptic's Circle #69

The 69th edition of the Skeptic's Circle has now been posted at Unscrewing the Inscrutable. I'll have to give Brent props for not going the obvious way with the theme for this one, or even the slightly-less-obvious-but-works-when-you-think-about-it way.

Open thread as usual, but discussion of the "obvious way" is FORBIDDEN. Speculation as to the less-obvious way is grudgingly permitted as I'm only allowed to FORBID one thing.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Retroskeptic: 9/11

I started blogging in the summer of last year, so I had a chance then to do something on the 5 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. However, I didn't think of anything good at the time, and made some other random post. This year, however, I've decided to look back on the day of the attacks and describe my experiences through it, using the benefit of hindsight to add a little perspective.

Being a normal Tuesday in the beginning, I went to my high school as normal. The first news I heard was sometime during gym class, when another student mentioned that planes had been flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After gym class, we normally had some time to mill around before the bell rang to start passing period, and at this time I noticed that the school TVs (normally used just for morning announcements and special occasions) were all on and turned to the news.

At this time, no one really knew whether it was an accident or an attack for sure, but given the near-simultaneity of the crashes, an attack was assumed. We speculated for a while about who it could have been, but being mere high school students with only a passing interest in international politics (and not having received a memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside US), our guesses were all off.

It was at this point that I started to think about the causes of terrorism in general. In this case, it turned out to be a mix of hatred for the US for meddling in Middle Eastern politics and religious insanity. To me, the solution to preventing attacks like this was to attack the root causes of them so people wouldn't be lead down this road in the first place.

A metaphor I use for this is to a disease and its symptons. If you just treat the symptons, the underlying disease still exists and the symptoms will return. The best method is to attack the disease itself, and then the symptoms will go away. Similarly, with terrorism, if you just attack the terrorists who attacked you, you're doing nothing to stop further terrorism. To stop the phenomenon, you have to get at the underlying issues that cause it.

However, even back then I knew how this perspective would be perceived: as giving "sympathy" to the terrorists, and it was being attack by pundits the first day in advance of anyone even talking about it. I did, however, underestimate the ferocity of their attacks, accusing people with such thoughts as being "traitors" and "aiding America's enemies."

You might have noticed that in my story so far, I've seemed quite dispassonate, likely in quite a contrast to other stories people have told of this day. The simple reason is that at the time I was dispassionate. It's not that I'm uncaring, it's just that I had a bit too much perspective for age. I knew at the time of all the other ongoing causes of death in the world, from current wars and genocides to extreme poverty resulting in starvation. Thinking about that enough in the past forced me to become hard to the prospect of death abroad. Nothing would be served by being constantly morose about it; life had to go on.

One of the results of this was that I kept my wits about me throughout the day. Since my sense of humor in high school could most accurately be described as "relentless," it often ended with me making some "Too Soon" jokes. Fortunately, it didn't get that bad this day, though when the fire alarm went off in class while we were watching the burning tower I couldn't resist cracking "How fitting."

The rest of the day was mostly normal, with a few teachers choosing to put the news on in class. I learned during lunch that Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility, though some other groups had as well and we weren't sure who to trust.

I didn't think much then about how much the political climate could change. At that point, I saw Bush as simply a buffoon and typical Republican President I could trust to be wrong on most controversial issues to come his way (and an election thief, but this wasn't a part of a larger pattern yet). After it, he used this as the excuse for virtually everything he did and started to transform the US into a police state. A few months after, when I noticed all the changes in effect, particularly in airports, I realized that Bush had played right into their hands and let the terrorists win by turning the country into a state of fear.

Proceed with your information binge...