My old man used to label us kids as “fair-weather sailors” when we bitched about working outside during bad weather.
That phrase comes to my mind sometimes when I come across people who claim to be “sceptics ” (“Skeptics”) behaving very unsceptically when confronted with a claim outside their area of interest. For example, someone who can be quite objective about scientific claims but reacts quite unobjectively to political claims.
Perhaps politics is a bit like religion to some people – they line up instinctively on one side or another. However, I think a true sceptic should still be able to consider political claims according to the facts available and not just rely on instincts.
So, I am all for this image. Yes it is hard. But when you think about it what use are one’s ingrained prejudices if they do not stand up to sceptical consideration.
I have seen so much of this lately:
And in so many cases when we challenge this cherry-picking and confirmation bias we get this:
I was sad to read that Victor Stenger died during the week at the age of 79.
Victor was a prolific author, writing on science, religion and philosophy. He often dealt with difficult issues coming out of the religion-science debates and was always able to explain complex subjects very effectively for the layperson.
In his retirement, after a career in particle physics research, Stenger took to writing popular books in science, religion and philosophy and participating in the public discussion and debate of these issues. Although not as prominent as the people usually called the “New Atheists” he was one of that group. In fact he wrote a book titled The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. (See my review of this book at Defending science and reason).
Victor was also well-known for public debates with religious apologists like William Lane Craig and Hugh Ross. I believe his role in these were important because of his ability to explain particle and cosmological physics and thereby show how these apologists had been distorting the science. Readers interested in watching some of these debates will be able to find them on YouTube.
I suppose it is fitting that Victor Stenger was writing till the end. He died with one book waiting to be published – God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos.
Victor will be missed not only by his family and people who knew him, but also by many readers.
I urge interested readers to read one or more of his popular science book. Wikipedia lists the following – all published by Prometheus Books:
Victor Stenger, Physicist and Prolific Atheist Author, is Dead at 79
Victor Stenger has died.
The links below are to my own reviews of a few of Victor Stenger’s books:
We all suffer more or less from confirmation bias – it is just human. So it’s natural for people to be selective, and to indulge in some cherry-picking and biased interpretation, when quoting scientific literature to support an idea they promote.
In the scientific community peer review and continual submission of ideas to scrutiny by colleagues helps keep this under control. But it can really get out of hand when used political activists use the literature to support their claims.
I have got used to anti-fluoride commenters on social media simply citing a paper or even providing a bare link, without comment, as if this somehow makes their claims irrefutable. Perhaps, in truth, they have not even read the paper they cite, or understood it, so do not feel confident discussing it.
But this tactic is particularly lazy – and stupid. To simply give a Google Scholar search as proof. Lately I have been presented with links to such searches to argue that fluoridation is toxic. Just a search for “fluoride toxicity.”
This is what that search produces – 234,000 hits:
Sounds good to the uninitiated, I guess. It does seem to produce a large number. But does that mean anything?
What about searching for water toxicity. This produces over 2 million hits. Are we to assume from this that water is toxic, seemingly 10 times more toxic than fluoride?
Yes, I know some social media do not offer much space for commenting but that should not be an excuse for such silly citations.
Apparently the above quote “You can safely ignore any sentence that includes the phrase’ according to quantum mechanics” is used by Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharf in their upcoming book The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty.
Here is another of the 4 animated videos produced by the British Humanist Association. They are all narrated by Stephen Fry.
This one deals with aspects of morality – an important subject where the voice of non-theists is often ignored.
“What makes something right or wrong?” Narrated by Stephen Fry
See: That’s Humanism: Four animated videos about Humanism narrated by Stephen Fry
The British Humanist Association has produced 4 animated videos explaining humanist ideas. They are all narrated by Stephen Fry
Here is one that particularly appealed to me – “How do we know what is true?.
See: That’s Humanism: Four animated videos about Humanism narrated by Stephen Fry
Apparently Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig went head to head this weekend on the question of “the existence of God in light of contemporary cosmology.”
Usually I think these sort of debates are a waste of time but am keen to see the video of this one – it will be on Youtube eventually. In previous debates Craig attempts to use cosmology to “prove” the existence of his god (I use the word “use” as meaning very opportunist use of motivated reasoning). In most debates his opponents are usually not completely familiar with modern cosmology and he gets away with murder in his misrepresentation of the science.
But Sean Carroll is a different proposition. Not only is Sean a researcher and teacher in cosmology he is also an excellent communicator of science. His recent book, The Particle at the End of the Universe, won last year’s Royal Society Winton Prize for best science book (see The particle at the end of the universe’ wins Winton Prize).
Nor is he intimidated by Craig’s acknowledged debating skills. He says in a blog post before the debate:
“You can find some of WLC’s thoughts on the upcoming event at his Reasonable Faith website. One important correction I would make to what you will read there: Craig and his interlocutor Kevin Harris interpret my statement that “my goal here is not to win the debate” as a strategy to avoid dealing with WLC’s arguments, or as “a way to lower expectations.” Neither is remotely true. I want to make the case for naturalism, and to do that it’s obviously necessary to counter any objections that get raised. Moreover, I think that expectations (for me) should be set ridiculously high. The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.”
I think his tongue was in his cheek with the last sentence.
His suggestion for viewers:
“Feel free to organize viewing parties, celebrations, discussion groups, what have you. There should definitely be a drinking game involved (it’ll be happy hour on the West Coast, you lightweights), but I’ll leave the details to you. Suggested starting points: drink every time WLC uses a syllogism, or every time I show an equation. But be sure to have something to eat, first.”
Thanks to God and Cosmology Debate with W.L. Craig
I enjoyed this video.
It is a full lecture but well worth watching – especially if you are interested in the science-religion debates.
Sean Carroll presents these cosmological arguments well – and his analysis is far more up to date – and “with it” than those theologians who venture into the area. Just compare this with the rubbish W. L. Craig comes out with.
This lecture really puts the theological argument that God is a “better explanation” of life than the multiverse into perspective.
Thanks to Your Thanksgiving viewing « Why Evolution Is True.
Posted in atheism, Christianity, diversity, philosophy, religion, SciBlogs, science
Tagged cosmology, god, SciBlogs, Science and Religion, Sean Carroll