Is Neil deGrasse Tyson Confused About Objective Truths?

Posted in Science, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 1 minute | 21 Comments →

From Twitter:

You don’t need to be a scientist to know Earth’s age or that life evolved. You just need be one who embraces objective truths.

When I read stuff like this, my heart sinks, especially when it comes from a scientist. Isn’t it sad? Despite the fact that the official age of the Earth and practically every scientific “fact” has bowed to new discoveries, here we have a scientist implying that *NOW* we can be sure. The problem is, Neil’s comment suggests he is unaware of the most elementary observation a scientific-minded critical thinker can make: How many “objective” truths of the past are in the scientific dustbin of the present?

I’m with Neil, in a sense: I embrace objective truths. I just think it’s unscientific and irresponsible to imply that today’s “age of the Earth” is among them. Haven’t we learned from the past?

Think critically, people. Question all self-proclaimed experts.

A Message To The Uber-Rationalist

Posted in Epistemology, Quickies, Self-Improvement, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 2 minutes | 22 Comments →

I’ve noticed this thing where uber-rational people judge others as “irrational” based exclusively on whether or not the belief in question has **unassailable scientific evidence. When the uber-rationalist makes that move, they misapply a legitimate but isolated truth-criterion without consideration for the full context in which the “irrational” person holds their belief. I say “misapply” because I generally disfavor a myopic approach to reality and I believe truth is best demonstrated through multiple criteria.

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Science Works (When It’s Not Failing)

Posted in Medicine, Science, Skepticism on  | 7 minutes | 9 Comments →

DISCLAIMER—to say a claim is “inaccurate” is not the same as saying the claim is “false.” I fear that if I don’t include this disclaimer, those prone to twisting things around will show up in droves, accusing me of denigrating science. Should you be tempted to respond, please keep things in scope and pay attention to what I actually say, not your reaction to what I actually say!


The inaccurate polemic that “science works” has reared it’s ugly, cherrypicked head again, this time, in a most expected place. As one might reasonably infer whenever somebody uses the pejorative “bitch” in their argument, I feel fairly safe in my assumption that the juvenile maker of this remark hasn’t seen this article from Scientific American, or any other pertinent articles for that matter.

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The James Randi Foundation On Eusapia Palladino: Can Standards Get Any Lower?

Posted in Parapsychology, Skepticism on  | 3 minutes | 2 Comments →

I often chuckle at the lengths some skeptics stoop to in order to preserve their confirmation bias. On Eusapia Palladino, the James Randi Foundation writes:

Born in southern Italy, spirit medium Palladino was accepted by many scientists, particularly those like Charles Richet and Schrenck-Notzing, who were devout believers in all spiritualistic claims. She specialized in levitation of tables.

A cantankerous, vain, difficult person, she became an international celebrity, and sometimes sat for tests, though she was often caught cheating on these occasions and on other non-controlled sittings as well. The prominent investigator Hereward Carrington (né Hubert Lavington, 1880-1958) brought her to America, became her manager, and took her on tour. In America she continued to be caught cheating, and Carrington came to the conclusion that she sometimes cheated (when she was caught), but that the rest of her performance (when she was not caught) was genuine.

Part of her success was probably due to her petulant attitude, which she used to discourage proper examination of her performances. As with others in her trade, she needed to control the circumstances around her and managed to do so very effectively, throwing temper tantrums and walking out of tests when things were not to her liking. She was also noted among investigators for her seeming lack of acquaintance with soap-and-water, being the source of a heavy variety of unpleasant body odors, especially in the closed séance room. She provided her examiners with plentiful reasons to regret having taken on such a formidable woman.

In spite of all this, and her repeated exposures, Carrington remained thoroughly convinced for the rest of his life that Palladino was genuinely in touch with Summerland.

Really? Really?? The article lists no author, only a link to Randi’s book, so I’m going to presume Randi wrote the article. If I’m wrong, let me know and I’ll correct this.

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What Is Evidence? Proof Of God’s Existence, 7

Posted in Epistemology, Logic, Philosophy, Responses, RVA Dialog, Skepticism on  | 6 minutes | No Comments →

I’ve fallen behind in my responses to jim’s series Proof of God’s Existence, but that’s okay. In fact, I’d say it’s even preferred. After all, his series is a thought experiment, which means the more we think about it, the more mental heavy lifting we’re doing. Mental heavy lifting is a good thing.

Although Scene 4: The Newspaper is pretty short, volumes could be written in response to it, especially the opening paragraph:

What is evidence? What does someone mean when they say there’s ‘no evidence’ for any particular claim? Is a claim, itself, evidence all on it’s own? Can something be rightly called evidence one day, and not the next? Is evidence automatically strengthened on the basis of multiple claimants?
jim, Reason vs. Apologetics

Those are definitely meaningful questions, but I must confess to a certain sense of mixed emotion when I hear jim ask them. On the one hand, I believe (a)theists should ask them. In fact, I’d say if (a)theists want to get anywhere in their discussions, they’re obligated to start from common ground. Otherwise, without firmly cemented goalposts that clarify what is and is not acceptable as evidence, (a)theist discussion often descends into an unproductive shell game.

On the other hand, both jim and other atheists have sharply criticized me for similar inquiry, which makes this newfound interest in it seem a little backhanded. After all, I’ve asked jim and countless other atheists these same exact questions, only to be met with accusations of sophistry and insult!

All the while the questions remain: what is evidence? What do people mean when they say there’s no evidence for any given claim? Is a claim evidence all on its own?

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When Is Belief Justified, Redux? Proof Of God’s Existence, 4

Posted in Blogosphere, Epistemology, Logic, Philosophy, Religion, Responses, RVA Dialog, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 5 minutes | No Comments →

We left off promising a more in-depth discussion of jim's post. I understand that jim offers his series Proof Of God's Existence as a thought experiment, and that he's simply asking what our initial judgments would be, perhaps to help define the parameters of this "common sense inquiry" he alluded to in the introduction. Personally, I'm all for it, and as a writer I've always enjoyed reading jim, even his vitriolic tirades against me which were often colorful and creative (I even recall some limericks).

After setting up an odd series of events between Mary the neighborhood realtor and Carol the neighborhood skeptic, jim closes with the following set of questions:

Are Carol's [suspicion and uneasiness] justified at this point, slight though they be, or can they be summarily dismissed? Is this early foreboding of suspicion rational? Irrational? Pre-rational?

My short answer was that Carol's initial and ongoing uneasiness were justified, but any ongoing suspicion less so. Likewise, I answered that Carol's initial and ongoing uneasiness would also seem rational, but again, any ongoing suspicion less so. Tonight I'd like to address those questions in more detail, in hopes of churning out at least a provisional definition of justified belief.

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Why Is That? Proof Of God’s Existence, 3

Posted in Atheism, Epistemology, Responses, RVA Dialog, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 4 minutes | No Comments →

Happy MLK Day, all. I encourage you to read jim's third installment of his series Proof of God's Existence for yourself before reading mine.

After setting up an odd series of events between Mary the neighborhood realtor and Carol the neighborhood skeptic, jim closes with the following set of questions:

Are Carol's [suspicion and uneasiness] justified at this point, slight though they be, or can they be summarily dismissed? Is this early foreboding of suspicion rational? Irrational? Pre-rational?

As far as justification goes, my first thoughts were that suspicion and uneasiness are ontologically distinct from beliefs. I'd say what we call uneasiness is pure feeling that may or may not be rooted in some observation or experience. On the other hand, suspicion seems to be a little bit of both feeling and belief. To me, a suspicion is basically a provisional hypothesis cast in response to some (often anomalous) observation or experience. As such we should evaluate each according to their own merits.

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When Is Belief Justified? Proof Of God’s Existence, 2

Posted in Atheism, Epistemology, Religion, Responses, RVA Dialog, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 9 minutes | No Comments →

jim has written the second installment of his series titled Proof of God's Existence. The post introduces four fictional characters that jim uses in an intentionally loosely-framed thought experiment:

Bob Smith Bob is a somewhat elderly man, retired, whose wife and friends find innocent and trusting to the point of being gullible.

Carol Smith Bob’s wife is the counterpoint to Bob’s trusting nature, skeptical to a fault, and always on the lookout for a scam. (note: both Bob and Carol always try to be scrupulously honest with each other).

Mary Jones The Smiths’ nextdoor neighbor, as well as the local real estate agent. She’s a recent move-in, and neither of the Smiths know her very well.

Mr. Garcia The mysterious man across the street.

So far, everything sounds good to me.

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A Trip To The Hypothetical Fish Farm: Proof of God’s Existence, I

Posted in Atheism, Epistemology, Religion, Responses, RVA Dialog, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 6 minutes | 16 Comments →

jim at RvA has blessed us with a new series titled Proof of God’s Existence, and I intend to respond to each installment of his series, which seems designed to corral the believer’s claims into the confines of what jim calls “common sense inquiry.” I suppose we’ll see just what that means as time unfolds.

He begins with words likely all too familiar to veterans in this game, centered around the question of what constitutes adequate proof of God’s existence:

It’s a common question on the tip of many a Christian’s tongue when confronted with skepticism regarding their theistic worldview, yes? Responses from skeptics generally revolve around some kind of convincing display(s) of ‘miraculous’ interventions, or other manifestations i.e. events beyond the generally accepted, deterministic norms of the most current naturalistic paradigm, and supported by scientific methodology such as observation, controlled testing, repeatability and the like.jim, reason vs. apologetics

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Veridical Dreaming: Anomalous Mental Phenomena, IV

Posted in Anomaly, Atheism, Consciousness, Parapsychology, Psychology, Science, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 4 minutes | 9 Comments →

In Pt. III, we introduced Marianne George (Cultural Anthropologist, Ph.D, University of Virginia).

The context of that discussion was simultaneous dreaming, and it ended with Marianne deciding that republishing her paper in its entirety would be the best approach. She added that if I were to do so, she’d be happy to receive criticism, answer questions, and/or discuss the paper. Well! I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly glad she’s given us this opportunity, as it’s not everyday we get to talk to the scientists who actually publish the papers we read and cite in our discussions of (a)theism.

Although Marianne saved me the work of having to relay her words to you, which also nicely eliminated the possibility of me getting any of her words wrong, I’d still like to address the relevance of Sleepdream #3 to our ongoing discussion on consciousness. For those who’d like to skip my thoughts and go straight to the source first, please do: you’ll find links to Marianne’s paper (in its entirety) at the end of this post.

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