Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Starting today, I'm taking a brief vacation from writing on Skeptophilia.  So I'll just take this opportunity to wish you a fun New Year's Eve (along with an exhortation not to drink and drive), and a hope that you have a lovely 2014.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank you.  I truly value all of my readers -- even the ones who disagree with me.  This blog recently passed three quarters of a million lifetime hits, a number that I find very nearly incomprehensible.  But your feedback, support, and suggestions for topics are what keep me writing, and for that I thank all of you.

My next scheduled post will be on Monday, January 6, 2014.

Until then, there are a few things you can do to keep your appetite for critical thinking sated.  First, you can buy my book, if you haven't already done so.  It has the creative title Skeptophilia, is a bargain at only $3.99, and is a collection of 120 of my essays on science, skepticism, critical thinking, and woo-woo-ism.  You can get it for Kindle (here) or Nook (here).   If you do decide to buy it, many thanks -- and please leave a review.

This is also a chance for you to check out some other skeptical blogs and webpages, so here are a few of my favorites:
James Randi Educational Foundation
Doubtful News
The Skeptic's Dictionary
The Call of Troythulu
The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason
Friendly Atheist
Bad Archaeology
Bad Astronomy
Skeptic subreddit
Science, Reason, and Critical Thinking

If you, too, would like to take a break from thinking about all of the crazy things people believe, there's always fiction to be read.  Mine.  Yes, this is a moment of shameless self-promotion.  Besides the books linked on the sidebar, there are over a dozen other titles to choose from, which you can peruse on my Amazon author's page.  You will note that almost all of them have to do with the paranormal, an irony that my wife thinks is amusing.  Me, I just think that this is why they're filed under the heading "Fiction."  But you should still read them, because they're awesome.

If I do say so myself.

That should be enough to keep you occupied while I'm gone, don't you think?  I encourage you to continue sending me topics -- I'll be ready to sit down and write again when I get back from vacation, and would love to have some ideas of what you'd like me to write about.  Until then, keep hoisting the banner of logic!


  1. "The idea that scientific advance pushes metaphysics out of the picture is mistaken. Metaphysics simply reappears in the form of concealed assumptions."
    - Frederick Copleston

    Being a skeptic essentially means taking a "logical positivist" view of the universe. The logical positivist argues that sensory experience is our only reliable source of information. But this viewpoint is pretty debatable in philosophical circles.

    I think in order to seriously contend that an atheistic worldview is more logical than a Christian one you have to realize that atheism, despite claims to the contrary, makes blatant metaphysical assumptions; these assumptions need to be defended. I think you also have to figure out a way to "deal with" the problem of abstract entities - love, justice, beauty, and their opposites. Do they exist? In what sense? What is their chemical structure?

    You also have to deal with the problem of morality - why, if we are just bags of atoms, is it wrong to murder someone? Isn't it just one bag of atoms making another one inanimate? As Dosteovsky wrote, "Without God, everything is permitted".

    And then there's also the problem of free will. A strictly materialist/atheistic view of the universe doesn't seem to permit humans to have free will. But common sense argues otherwise.

    1. Hmm.

      Well, I'm not a philosopher -- I'm an evolutionary biologist by training, a high school science teacher by profession -- but I do question a couple of your assumptions.

      Skepticism doesn't require you to be a logical positivist; it just requires that you base your knowledge on evidence and rational argument. As I've said many times, I'm happy to consider belief in a deity (or aliens or ghosts or what-have-you), but you better have some evidence to back you up.

      So I do tend to be an objectivist; I think that the external world, and the evidence thereof, is the best basis we have for knowledge. This doesn't exclude such abstractions as love, justice, beauty, and so on, but it does make them seem rather fluid and insubstantial to me. Beauty, for example, is a definable concept, but it is hardly a thing with a "chemical structure," given the differences in standards of beauty from one person to another. Those things seem to me more as neurochemical phenomena in the brain.

      As far as ethics and morality, that one is more easily explainable -- we're social primates. We've evolved to do what it takes to make the social structure cohere, because that gives our kids the best chance of survival. If we'd evolved from asocial animals -- leopards, say -- you can bet we'd have an entirely different sense of what constitutes right and wrong. As far as Dostoevsky, I simply think he's wrong. If he were right, there would be a higher crime rate amongst atheists, or in societies (like Sweden) with a high rate of atheism -- which is not true.

      Interesting, too, that you ask me to defend my stance from philosophical grounds, and then say that I'm to accept free will because of "common sense." To me, the free will question has always turned on an undecidable proposition, but like I said: I'm not a philosopher. But I can, at least, see that if accepting free will took nothing more than common sense, the issue would have been settled centuries ago.

    2. Interesting points. The debate, of course could go on forever, and has over much of the course of human existence.

      I am glad you are ready to consider believing in a deity, if there is evidence to back it up. Of course, one could argue that there IS evidence of various kinds for God, and for Christianity. The book "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis presents some of the most common arguments.

      If agree that love, justice, and beauty are "neurochemical phenomena in the brain." If that's ALL they are though, what am I living for? What are my values? Just patterns of neurons firing in my brain? That's a disturbing idea, although I'm not saying it's wrong.

      In regards to morality, it is certainly possible that we've "evolved" a moral code out of our need to survive, and also certainly true that godless people and civilizations can and do behave admirably. The problem is, how does an atheist express moral outrage, over say, the use of chemical weapons in Syria? It might make you feel bad for the people killed, but is it wrong? If so, why?

      I agree that free will should not just be "accepted" based on common sense; I was just pointing out that it's hard to account for it if you're an atheist.

      Overall, my point is that religious people are not all crazy or irrational. Humans, the universe, the self - investigating any of these leads to immense mysteries of every sort. Many of these mysteries simply cannot be investigated with science. Faced with such mystery, some people take a risk and make a leap of faith based on personal experiences, philosophical investigation, historical evidence, and testimony from people they trust. I think that's a reasonable approach, midway between the extremes of atheism on the one side, and superstition/credulity on the other.