The purpose

This is my first entry for this blog. I don't really expect anyone to read it, but the reason I am writing is more for self therapy, so that's OK. Beliefs, personal convictions and ideas change a lot in ones lifetime. I feel the need to explore where I am going with mine. As well, as the title would suggest, I hope this will help keep me thinking, and therefore existing. Though as Thomas Kida has shown, Don't Believe Everything You Think.
I find myself drawn more and more to what I would call a skeptical, or reason based outlook, with the scientific method being the authority. In a post-modern setting there are reasons to say this might not be a perfect way of looking at the world, but it is one that has been very good at building trust. Everything demands some sort of trust, there is an incredibly small amount of things in our lives that we don't take on authority. We just can't experience everything empirically. That means, whatever type of authority we put our trust in matters. I might challenge that authority eventually, but at the moment I trust the scientific method.
I started out my life with a evangelical Christian based world view. That got shaken up every now and then, but was always the core. It reached it's most intense around 2003, and has since been fading away for various reasons. I can safely say that it is at its lowest point ever, and I like to think for very good reasons. I guess it's those reasons that will most likely be the subject of most of my entries.
This was a little scattered, but hopefully I will be a little better with pulling my thoughts together over time. To end, I would like to lay out Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit, as a little guidance for myself.
  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").
  • Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
  • Quantify, wherever possible.
  • If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
  • "Occam's razor" - if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.
  • Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?
Additional issues are
  • Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.
  • Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.
Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric
  • Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.
  • Argument from "authority".
  • Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavourable" decision).
  • Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
  • Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).
  • Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
  • Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).
  • Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
  • Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)
  • Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").
  • Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.
  • Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.
  • Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
  • Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the "other side" look worse than it really is).
  • Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").
  • Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).
  • Confusion of correlation and causation.
  • Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack..
  • Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
  • Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public"
This was taken from The Demon-Haunted World, and I would highly suggest it.
PS - If anyone does read, comments are welcome. I just ask they be thought out.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Scott,
    your test at the bottom of the post put me in mind of this one. And yes, I am blatantly ripping off of someone else :) Ray Comfort is his name. Enjoyed your post, and keep thinking,
    Den :)

    The Atheist Starter Kit

    If you are a beginner atheist, there's a belief system you should embrace and a language you should learn, or you will find yourself in trouble. Here are ten suggestions for the novice:

    1. Whenever you are presented with credible evidence for God's existence, call it a "straw man argument," or "circular reasoning." If something is quoted from somewhere, label it "quote mining."

    2. When a Christian says that creation proves that there is a Creator, dismiss such common sense by saying "That's just the old watchmaker argument."

    3. When you hear that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose (the pleasures of Heaven, and the endurance of Hell) by obeying the Gospel, say "That's just the old 'Pascal wager.'"

    4. You can also deal with the "whoever looks on a woman to lust for her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart," by saying that there is no evidence that Jesus existed. None.

    5. Believe that the Bible is full of mistakes, and actually says things like the world is flat. Do not read it for yourself. That is a big mistake. Instead, read, believe, and imitate Richard Dawkins. Learn and practice the use of big words. "Megalo-maniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" is a good phrase to learn.

    6. Say that you were once a genuine Christian, and that you found it to be false. (The cool thing about being an atheist is that you can lie through your teeth, because you believe that are no moral absolutes.) Additionally, if a Christian points out that this is impossible (simply due to the very definition of Christianity as one who knows the Lord), just reply "That's the 'no true Scotsman fallacy.'" PLEASE NOTE: It cannot be overly emphasized how learning and using these little phrases can help you feel secure in dismissing common sense.

    7. Believe that nothing is 100% certain, except the theory of Darwinian evolution. Do not question it. Believe with all of your heart that there is credible scientific evidence for species-to-species transitional forms. When you make any argument, pat yourself on the back by concluding with "Man, are you busted!" That will make you feel good about yourself.

    8. Deal with the threat of eternal punishment by saying that you don't believe in the existence of Hell. Then convince yourself that because you don't believe in something, it therefore doesn't exist. Don't follow that logic onto a railway line and an oncoming train.

    9. Blame Christianity for the atrocities of the Roman Catholic church--when it tortured Christians through the Spanish Inquisition, imprisoned Galileo for his beliefs, or when it murdered Moslems in the Crusades.

    10. Finally, keep in fellowship with other like-minded atheists who believe as you believe, and encourage each other in your beliefs. Build up your faith. Never doubt for a moment. Remember, the key to atheism is to be unreasonable. Fall back on that when you feel threatened. Think shallow, and keep telling yourself that you are intelligent. Remember, an atheist is someone who pretends there is no God.