There's a recurring debate in the skeptical community about what the skeptical position should be about religion. I've talked about this issue before, but as I've had more discussions on the topic and thought more about it, I've found that I have more to say on the topic.
The basic question, it seems to me, is one of how does skepticism relate to belief. Should all our beliefs be based in evidence? What should we think about beliefs that have no evidence to back them up? Certainly if people claim evidence that doesn't hold up to scrutiny science and skepticism are prime tools for pointing that out. But what about when there's no claim to evidence, when people just believe something while acknowledging that they have no evidence and they make no claims.
For example, what about deists? What should we think about them? What does skepticism say about these kinds of beliefs? Many people have argued that people simply shouldn't hold beliefs that are not based in evidence. But is that a skeptical position?
CFI Canada has been watching the actions of Peter Popoff, who came to Toronto recently in order to peddle his healing schtick, and now he provides financial miracles as well - what a deal!
As a member of CASS (the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism), I had the privilege of being able to Skype into the meeting with James Randi where they discussed this issue, and I've been waiting for the news on how it turned out. Well, the wait's over! CFI has released a video of the results of the investigation into what Mr Popoff has been up to:
Perhaps it's my prejudice, knowing that this man is a complete fraud, but when I watch him speak, I can't help but feel that he just looks deceitful and conniving. I can almost feel the oily, oozing miasma of nefariousness emanating from his every glance.
For those of us who consider ourselves skeptics, rationalists, or critical thinkers, there's a question about how we should handle religion and religious people. The question has been brought up on several podcasts, blogs, and online forums that I frequent, so it's been on my mind.
How should we deal with religion? What part should skepticism play in the discussion? Can religious people really be critical thinkers?
There's a school of thought that says that we should oppose religion and religious thought completely. That religion stands as completely opposed to critical thought, and that religious people cannot really be in "our camp".
This way of thinking makes me uncomfortable, and I want to explore it a little more in this post.
I often see predictions in the media attempting to predict the future. Usually, these predictions are given out by the experts in a particular field, and we're lead to believe that they've actually got some sort of valuable insight into what the future holds.
What makes me crazy is that people seem to believe that these predictions have any kind of validity to them. Some of them may be reliable, such as if the prediction is short term, or if it's based on unambiguous data whose properties are not generally subjected to random changes.
But this isn't the case for most predictions. Randomness and uncertainty rule our lives, and to think that we can predict the long term future based on short term trends is to ignore this basic fact. It's tempting to think that we can accurately predict the far future
based on what we observe happening today. Unfortunately, predicting
the future remains a very uncertain art.
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