Friday, June 24, 2011

"Skeptics" who act like skeptics!

They do exist! A refreshing example courtesy of a commenter at Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog:
First let me say that climate change is absolutely real, that’s not what I’m ranting about.

I get a little annoyed at the so called skepticism of organized skeptics. Most of the people that post here are skeptical only about religion, an area that is easy to be skeptical about and that really doesn’t matter much. It is pretty much immune to the skepticism of others, as are most of it’s adherents. As for all the attacks on the anti-vax clowns, that’s not skepticism, that’s just common sense attacking idiots for fun. Ranting about that here does nothing as none of them are reading this, or really any other intelligent blog.

Let’s apply skepticism where it belongs. Science. Science is skepticism, or at least it’s supposed to be. In the case of this report, like everything in science, it should be looked at skeptically. Certainly the global climate is changing, and certainly it is in some large part driven by human activity. there’s really no doubt about that. However, there is still a lot of room for skepticism.
He then goes on to apply this principle to the topic of discussion, namely global warming/climate change, by pointing out how the uncertainties of climate science should leave us room for pause as opposed to the hyper-active panic promoted by our sound-bite media culture. Instead of automatically painting the entire "denier" side as a bunch of jibber-jibber right-wing nuts, maybe you should consider that actual scientists have also been having doubts about the "consensus" for some time now.

It's easy to say that you're skeptical about this or that thing that you've concluded is wrong, but how did you come to that conclusion in the first place? Did you actually thinking it over or did you come to that position from social pressure? The most important kind of skepticism, I believe, is self-skepticism, is asking yourself "Am I really right or did I make a mistake somewhere?" Humility, unfortunately, is a hard virtue to cultivate especially if you happen to be even moderately intellectual. As another commenter notes:
I’ve been beating that drum for years WRT ideology, Vince. You won’t get far. I’m one of the few people I know who also applies skepticism to politics. It’s why I don’t hang with many other skeptics. Too many of them have gobbled up one ideology or another to the point of nearly cultist-like responses if you dare question them.
And so it is with many so-called "skeptics" or "free-thinkers", who supposedly adhere only to their own reason but in reality use these as cover to unabashedly advocate highly partisan positions, or make fun of religion (often times both). That's not skepticism; that's not even reason. That's just tribalism with a lab coat.

Of course, these two guys are pretty much ignored for the rest of the thread. Sad, but expected.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Not busy anymore, so...

Time for some more blogging! This time, a blurb on a scientist who's stirred up trouble lately:
What [E.O.] Wilson is trying to do, late in his influential career, is nothing less than overturn a central plank of established evolutionary theory: the origins of altruism. His position is provoking ferocious criticism from other scientists. Last month, the leading scientific journal Nature published five strongly worded letters saying, more or less, that Wilson has misunderstood the theory of evolution and generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. One of these carried the signatures of an eye-popping 137 scientists, including two of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard.
Personally I'm rather open to the idea that at least a small portion of human altruism might be driven towards gene preservation. After all, humans are, at the very least, biological. Of course, if dubious mathematics was the only issue here I doubt this topic would be generating as much controversy as it is.

Something I have always suspected is that much of the objection has an ideological rather than a scientific basis, that evolutionary theory must, in the eyes of some, remain a certain way so that it can best uphold, beneath a thin veneer of scientific prestige, their personal beliefs on the nature of the human person. Kin selection theory, if one is not careful (and many aren't!), can easily lead to the implication that human free will is illusory, that human decisions are driven primarily by unconscious biological impulse rather than a deliberate desire to conform to some normative standard.

And Wilson doesn't even seem to be trying to get rid of biological explanations of altruism altogether, since he's trying to promote group selection as an alternative to kin selection. Of course, that doesn't seem to matter to some people. The orthodoxy must be defended, lest their personal beliefs (horrors!) be forced to change with the science. Some scientists they are!

Meanwhile, there's this whole idea of sociobiology trying to explain social structure through wholly natural explanations, as if human culture was somehow a by-product of selection, but I'll talk about that next time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A small victory

Some good news:
The House got an agreement out of Harry Reid and the White House to prohibit taxpayer funding for abortions in the District of Columbia, and to allow a vote in the Senate over Planned Parenthood funding (and Obamacare).
Meanwhile, in Canada:
63. Abortion Legislation

A Conservative Government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Those darn pro-lifers

So I was reading this week's issue of the BC Catholic when-
Father Rosica said a study of Catholic blogs involving non-Catholics and non-Christians looking at Catholic blogs found they were filled with "filth, hate, conjecture, and innuendo." He added some blogs attempt to claim they are official, using the Vatican crest or a picture of the Pope.

Many of these blogs often have "vitriolic, vindictive messages," he said, citing the LifeSite News blog as a major culprit.

"The LifeSite blog is not a Catholic blog. It is not an authoritative blog," he said. "It has caused huge problems in the North American church, not just in Canada."

Wait, what?

Did a (semi) notable priest just rip into LifeSiteNews, one of the most prominent news resources of the pro-life movement?

On the face of it, this seems ridiculous. Having actually read some articles from LifeSiteNews, I don't see what Fr. Rosica's problem is supposed to be. The very business of the pro-life movement is to be controversial and argumentative, since we are essentially saying that a highly common medical practice is state-sanctioned murder. Furthermore, its highly disingenuous given that Fr. Rosica's own Salt and Light TV has been at the forefront of pro-life media work.

I dug a bit further and found out what all the hub-bub was about:
However, the war of words has escalated to new heights with the latest blogpost of Fr. Thomas Rosica, the President and CEO of Canada's Salt & Light TV network. Fr. Rosica took a swing at pro-life activists generally, and his US counterpart specifically for daring to criticize Cardinal O'Malley's decision to participate in and allow the Kennedy funeral extravaganza.

And ever since then, Fr. Rosica had made it a point to attack LifeSiteNews (and by extension much of the pro-life movement, including the vast 100-million viewer Eternal Word Television Network) for...for criticizing two bishops who wanted to do the politically convenient thing, rather than the right thing.

What utter nonsense.

Bonus link: Fr. Rosica continues to lay it thick.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A good sign

Royal Astronomer and President of the Royal Society Martin Rees has been awarded the 2011 Templeton Prize. Story here.

Naturally, the usual suspects are complaining:

The award has drawn criticism from some scientists, including the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who claim that the Templeton Foundation – which funds the prize – blurs the boundary between science and religion and makes a virtue of belief without evidence.
In fact, Dawkins has gone so far as to call Rees, arguably the most accomplished scientist in Britain, a "compliant Quisling" for his efforts to converse with religious thinkers. This, of course, dovetails with Dawkins' other statements about the evil of religion and the peril it provides to civilized society.

Personally I feel that's a load of hot air, but precisely why is something for another post. Needless to say that Dawkins' constant antagonizing of the faithful has not attracted much respectable attention from within his own scientific peers, if Rees is any indication. Sadly, I assume that his shrill pontifications on the badness of religious belief (a subject about which he knows quite little) will continue to attract the same sort of boors that presently infect the "skeptical" community and will continue to prevent religious people from walking away from Creationism (yes, I believe that he's partly to blame for that).

But I digress. Rees attitude towards religious thought, and the continued engagement between the scientific and religious communities which that represents, is a positive sign for a growth in amity between two very distinct groups who nevertheless share a common concern: what is the place of mankind in the universe?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Here we go again

Okay, attempt #2 at starting a blog. The old one is gone because I was dumb and pretentious back then. Well, more than I am now.

Trying to figure out what I'm gonna have on here. Politics? Catholic stuff? Maybe I can become some kind of Malcolm Gladwell imitator and post long, insightful tracts about whatever topic comes to mind! Or not.

Let's see how this turns out.