20 September 2009

The "New" Atheism: Real Progress or Trendy Political Fad?

Mrs. A.S. and I will be going to the AAI 2009 convention at the beginning of October. We have never been to an atheists convention before, and after our experience with some local atheists, we've been somewhat apprehensive about what we'll find there. So to prepare ourselves, we bought a DVD of the AAI 2007 convention to watch.

30 July 2009

Prominent Skeptics: People, Not Heroes

Michael Shermer has blogged about politics again, triggering another raft of comments on whether that's an appropriate topic for skeptics. A comment from Jason Loxton warned about the damage that can be done to one's reputation as a skeptic by associating oneself with a particular political view. Jason was concerned about the fact that he was now skeptical of Shermer and Penn Jillette on certain topics because of their politics, whereas he once considered them "intellectual heroes." My first thought on reading that was, "So what?"

20 July 2009

Half-Smart

During a panel discussion on Skepticism and Magic at TAM7, the often-asked question came up yet again: should skeptics learn something about magic to help them in investigating paranormal claims? The response was the one I've heard many times before about how dangerous that can be: someone learns one way to do a particular trick, goes charging off to a psychic (or whatever) armed with this limited knowledge, then gets caught off-guard because there are other ways to do it that they don't know about. The term magicians use for this is "half-smart."

10 July 2009

Nostalgia

Ah, the good old days. Remember those? That's the time when just about everything was better than it is today: music, movies, food, the environment, people, culture, life generally. We didn't have the imminent destruction of the planet looming over our heads, caused by the excesses of modern living. We didn't have to worry about greedy corporations poisoning our food supply, hoarding all our wealth, and dumbing down our culture. Government was kinder and gentler, with leaders that we respected and admired. Family values weren't under constant threat, as they are today. People led happier lives, untainted by the decay brought on by today's societal ills.

28 June 2009

Politics, Economics, and Social Issues

Skeptics are generally united when it comes to applying critical thinking to questions about physical reality. Ask a group of skeptics about ESP, dowsing, or chi, and you'll typically find that they all agree that there is no plausible scientific explanation, and no reasonable evidence, to support the claims made about these subjects. Even when it comes to religion, any dispute among skeptics stems mainly from whether or not science can be used to investigate claims about gods. When it comes to political, economic, and social issues, however, skeptics are all over the map.

17 June 2009

Morality, Ethics, and Religion

One of the common arguments in favor of religion is that people need religion to be moral; without it, "anything goes." Of course, this is rubbish. There have been studies that show that there is little correlation between religious belief and ethical behavior. And there is some research that shows that ethical behavior has an evolutionary origin, with "reciprocal altruism" being a survival characteristic.

14 June 2009

Why I Am Not An Atheist

When I was a kid, I never really thought much about the existence or non-existence of supernatural things: gods, ghosts, aliens, etc. I wasn't skeptical, but I wasn't exactly a believer, either. My family wasn't overly religious; after my parents were divorced, my mom would occasionally try to find a church that she was comfortable going to, and would drag us kids along. But she would eventually find something about the church she didn't like, and we'd go back to sleeping in on Sundays. When I was a senior in high school, and Mom was into churchgoing again, it finally sunk in that I just couldn't believe in a god.