Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 6: Is Skepticism Right For YOU?

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

I’ve pitched the value of skepticism for a lot of reasons: Being skeptical keeps you from being conned, it can be a safety issue, it prevents wasting taxpayer money on bad ideas, it protects you from jumping to unwarranted conclusions. But in a time where there are all these people and web sites and fake news sources who are actively trying to lie to you, how do you figure out what’s true and what’s not?

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Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 5: Evaluating information in the internet age

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

To discover a solid truth, you need careful investigation and analysis. Believing something just because of blind trust takes no time at all. Mark Twain once said: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Urban legends and rumors appeal to people. Claims that speak to our secret prejudices, that confirm things we want to be true, spread quickly and efficiently through gossip, and at any given time there are thousands of things that “everybody knows” which aren’t actually true.

We live in an interesting time. It’s only since I was a computer science undergraduate that the internet stopped being a weird hobby for mega nerds, and started being used by everyone everywhere, to transmit information as fast as we can think about it. We all carry magic boxes in our pockets that we can use to immediately tap into the largest repository of knowledge in human history.

But a lot of it is lies.

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Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 4: What about religion?

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

That reminds me… I’m already halfway through this talk for the Secular Student Alliance and I haven’t really mentioned religion yet. Now, I understand that there are probably a number of Christians here today — in fact I hope there are. Let me be clear that when I say I’m skeptical of religious explanations and stories, I don’t mean they’re definitely not true. Just like it’s possible that there could be $15 million sitting in a bank account for me to claim, and it’s possible that Sylvia Browne might have had secret information about missing children, I would never say that I’ve ruled out religious explanations completely. But the explanations they offer do often seem just a little bit too neat and convenient, and not adaptable to new information that comes up.

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Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 3: Why skepticism is healthy

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

Needless to say, making wild, unprovable claims is not a new trick. People have claimed they could talk to the dead for thousands of years. Here’s one of my favorite Shakespeare quotes, from King Henry the Fourth:

Hotspur (left) and Glendower

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

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Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 2: Nobody loves a critic

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

Being gullible is a problem that affects everybody. If you think you’re not capable of falling for something, that’s exactly the time when you’re most vulnerable. The world is full of people trying to take advantage of you in some way. It doesn’t even have to be a life or death situation. Any time there is a motivation for significant personal gain, you’re going to find someone willing to delude themselves or lie to others in order to rake in a profit.

With that in mind, you would think it’s just common sense to be careful of how easily you accept what you are told. But you’d be surprised at how many people are opposed to skepticism itself, attacking the very idea that you should be critical of new information.

Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra is a new age guru who promotes alternative medicine, and tells people that you can directly manipulate the nature of reality using only the power of your mind. Deepak says:

“I’ve debated skeptics, and am amazed that they mistake self-righteousness for happiness. A sort of bitter satisfaction is what they reap. No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others. Typically they sit by the side of the road with a sign that reads ‘You’re Wrong’ so that every passerby, whether an Einstein, Gandhi, Newton, or Darwin, can gain the benefit of their illuminated skepticism.”

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Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 1: Amazing News!

I gave a talk yesterday for the Secular Student Alliance Group at St. Charles Community College in Missouri. The group was wonderful to me, and the turnout was very impressive. With about 80 people in the audience, it is probably the largest live lecture I have done so far. There was an experienced audio/video guy on hand, and I am confident that I will be able to make a high quality video available fairly soon. In the meantime, I’m going to be transcribing the seven sections of my talk, aiming for one post a day for the next week. The title of the talk was “Embrace Your Inner Skeptic!”

The Secular Student Alliance of St. Charles Community College


 

Welcome, everyone! My name is Russell Glasser. I’ve been invited to talk about skepticism by the local chapter of the Secular Student Alliance here at St. Charles Community College.

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Want to be an excellent skeptic? Learn computer programming

Next week's lesson: Proving that all horses have an infinite number of legs

How To Logic

I don’t go into a lot of detail about my work on the show, because it doesn’t necessarily interest everyone. But I do occasionally mention that I’m a software engineer, and work it into my discussions here and there. I had to take a break from the show for a year or so while I finished my Master’s Degree at UT in 2008. I have a second blog for writing thoughts about my profession; it’s called Castles of Air.

Occasionally people ask a question like the following: “I like your show. I’m a young skeptical atheist and I’m trying to decide what to do with my life. What should I study in school?” Some common answers are: Go into science. You will learn how to study the world in a naturalistic way and be better equipped to answer questions without resorting to supernatural answers. Or: Try politics. You can work to reinforce separation of church and state, and use your influence to advance causes you care about. Or: How about religious studies? You can get a real handle on how major world religions developed, and promote skepticism from the inside.

Those are all good answers, but I’d like to take a minute to speak in praise of the career track I picked.

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Grumpy old man moment: There is satire, and there is really dumb satire

It’s funny because it’s like Superman, but his logo looks weird! DON’T YOU GET THE JOKE?

This isn’t about atheism, but it is about skepticism in general, and some of the annoyances of the internet.

I loves me some fake news. Been reading The Onion for well over a decade now. The Daily Show is my favorite thing on TV, and most weeks I never miss an episode. But even with all that in mind, I really want to say that there are just way too many websites devoted to publishing “satirical news”, and most of them are not that funny.

The thing that bugs me the most about these sites is that, much like those terrible Seltzer and Friedberg movies, they don’t really do satire. Those movies just imitate better, more successful movies, and expect you to laugh. These sites post stories that could be true, but aren’t.

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Why are so many theology schools asking their students to pass out questionnaires?

Just now I rejected three identical comments to three different blog posts from the same person. The text read as follows:

Hello and to all atheists concerned:

I am currently pursuing a masters in theology and this week’s class project requires that I interview 3 middle/high school candidates concerning a particular set of questions (If you are in your twenties that’s okay even if the requirement is middle school or high school age-this class is about youth ministry). Candidates must be “unsaved” (Their words-not mine) but preferably they once attended church and had some idea as to the concept of “God” and what that means.

This is not a troll, a trick, or some sneaky method to get unsuspecting atheist youths in my spider’s web of church deceit. I just have several questions that need to be answered by 3 candidates that match the aforementioned profile. NO CONVERSION ATTEMPTS! I just need these questions answered that are enumerated below:
a. How do you describe your religious background and church involvement if any (past and present)?
b. To you, what is God like? Describe God or at least the concept of God if you believe this entity to be a myth.
[…]

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Review: “Freethought Resource Guide”

“A Directory of Information, Literature, Art, Organizations, & Internet Sites Related to Secular Humanism, Skepticism, Atheism & Agnosticism”

—by Mark Vandebrake
Website: http://freethoughtguide.comAvailable now on Amazon.com

 

Mark Vandebrake has clearly put in a lot of hours and energy sorting through countless resources for the freethought community in this recently released book. Despite the fact that he calls this compilation “not an exhaustive collection,” it represents more than enough to cover the areas of freethought that are most commonly discussed, and some areas I had not actually even considered.

The general structure of the volume consists of sections that begin with introductory essays, in which the author expresses his perspectives, interweaving passages from the writings of famous and historic freethinkers, relevant to the subject matter. These introductory essays are then followed by a breakdown of resources that cover the topics under consideration, often broken down further into subcategories. These resources take the form of annotated bibliographies, and occasionally simple lists. Vandebrake has inserted personal notes and recommendations in areas where he felt further information or clarification might be useful to the reader. [Read more…]