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Skeptics of Tucson Message Board › New Subjects to Discuss

New Subjects to Discuss

A former member
Post #: 7
I have noticed that there is a tendency to discuss subjects in the hard sciences, physics, astronomy, cosmology, etc. I think that is due partially to the fact that there is a large number of people who are scientists or engineers. Given this, we are skeptical of subjects such as ESP, paranormal events, astrology etc. In my opinion it is relatively easy to apply critical thinking. There is data easily available, experiments can be run, and our thinking is not compromised by emotions.

It think it is more difficult to apply critical thinking to the soft sciences (psychology, economics) and subjects such as politics, art, and philosophy. But since it is more difficult, it presents a bigger challenge.

I think there are many ideas that we should be skeptical of such as: Roosevelt saved capitalism, there are conspiracies, we live in a free country, democracy is good etc.

It is easy to claim that one is a critical thinker if we stick to easy subjects. But if we enter other areas, it might not be that easy. Most skeptics, freethinkers and atheists claim that they critical thinkers. But I have an example where that might not be the case.

Many skeptics, freethinkers and atheists hold the following idea;

“There are no absolutes.”

But that statement is self contradictory since it it is an absolute. Thus we either have to discard that idea or admit that we do not want to abide by the laws of logic. If we dispose of logic, how can we claim to be critical thinkers?

So let’s try something different.

Saul
Don L.
AZAtheist
Group Organizer
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 99
Saul,

There is a saying that you shouldn't discuss certain things in polite company, among those things are politics and religion. Since we're basically on the same side on the religion question, that subject may be OK for our group. However, politics won't be discussed in any meeting that I run. Why?

First off, it's a waste of time. No one will change their mind about a political position based on a discussion in a Denny's. Political positions are not based on rational clear reasoning. Biases rule in political discussions and as I tried to point out, one of the things a skeptic has to watch for in rational discussions is bias. Secondly, there is no way to get to the basic facts because there are none.

For example, "Roosevelt saved capitalism?". The answer to that question is ALL in your point of view. The person who believes that Roosevelt created socialism in America may have valid points. However, the person that states that his programs pulled the United States, a failing country, from the brink of collapse might also have valid points. There is no way to get to the truth of the issue because the truth is 1) in the middle somewhere and 2) the truth is highly subjective and depends on the point of view of the observer.

Currently, we're building our strength as skeptics. Knowing logic and recognizing the common logical fallacies along with the common biases is a good first step. Perhaps you can use the same tools when discussing the subjects you suggest but our enjoyable meetings will soon become less enjoyable if it is perceived that an individual with an agenda is driving the discussions. To be clear, I have an agenda but it's only to keep the group running and facilitate the meetings. The presentations are meant to be educational and I try and use examples that are fairly generic.

In addition, there is another thing that you mentioned that we must be careful of and that is hard sciences where our education is deficient. Way too often there are lay people who for some reason believe that they can find answers to very difficult questions that stump people that have dedicated their life to science. It is fair to question results but it is counter productive to claim to know what you really don't know. I for one am uncomfortable arguing about things that are beyond my comprehension or outside my experience.

Hang in there, Saul. If everything goes according to my grand plan, we'll get through the introduction to skepticism sessions and on to meetings that have a central skeptical debate on a subject chosen by the membership.

Don
A former member
Post #: 4
Saul,

I wanted to discuss Conspiracies more with you. I am sorry that we weren't able to go into greater detail the other night. I wanted to hear more about your interactions with Conspiratorial thinkers (Paranoids maybe irrational to the point of senselessness, but they're almost always entertaining). Conspiratorial thinking has its own rhythms, biases, and particular concentrations of fallacies. Conspiracy Theorists are a different subset of the Credulous as a whole. They tend to focus their irrational energies around a pernicious and seemingly addictive set of logical fallacies and twisted rhetoric. Their intertwined nests of interlocking conclusions are, among the things you mentioned, the most interesting topic to me.

I think Conspiracy Theories are a good way to span the gap between the kinds of meeting you propose, and the kind of meetings I think Don has in mind in his reply. Conspiracies are certainly an excellent way of illustrating logical fallacies. In fact, I think conspiracy theories are sort of the "low hanging fruit" of the world of logical fallacies... Conspiratorial Thinkers tend to lay their fallacies right on the line in a very open and trusting way.
Don L.
AZAtheist
Group Organizer
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 101
Well said Ron,

The conspiracies are indeed furtile ground to root out logical fallacies and biases and I know we have people on both sides of some of them.

Don
A former member
Post #: 9
Given, as stated by Don, that we have people on both sides of some conspiracies, I think it would be interesting to discuss it in our meetings.

We could have some proponent of a specific conspiracy present their case, and we would attempt to evaluate the subject, hopefully, critically. Notice I did not claim that we can rule out a conspiracy theory out off hand as, I believe, we can with most paranormal and supernatural phenomenum.

Also of interest might be to have a discussion on Conspiracy Theories in general. Subjects could be: What makes a certain position a conspiracy? What are the effects on the person holding conspiratorial views? Are there general principles that could be used to argue that Conspiracy Theories are invalid?

Saul
A former member
Post #: 10
Ron,

In your post of September 6, you present many good points regarding conspiracies. I agree that it would be interesting to delve into this subject more deeply.

I’m not so sure that conspiracies are a “low hanging fruit” if by that you mean that they would be easy to debunk. The main problem is that there is a question of what actually happened. The Conspiracy Theorists usually present many facts, data and information that is difficult to confirm or deny. An example: One of the tenants of some Conspiracy theorist in regards to 09/11, is that the two buildings could not have gone down as quickly as they did if not for some other factors. To show that there are problems with that view requires knowledge of Mechanical Engineering, Building Design and many other engineering principles that we may not have the expertise.

Still given that, I think it would be interesting to see what could be done especially in noting falacies..

Saul
Jim L.
user 4873956
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 130
I think conspiratorial thinking tends to follow the same methods of reasoning used by young-earth creationists and Holocaust denialists. That is, to claim that the mainstream view of something that is supported by a wide variety of types of evidence across multiple disciplines is false by digging for inconsistencies, and claiming that any inconsistency found is a refutation of the whole. In the process, they also ignore most of the evidence in their own offered competing explanations.

If instead, you applied the standard of what theory better explains *all* of the evidence, you'd hit on something very close to the mainstream view.

What makes conspiratorial thinking wrong is the methodology it uses--there are, in fact, genuine cases of conspiracy, but they're demonstrated by collecting all of the best available evidence, not by constructing towers of speculation upon pinheads of evidence in the form of anomalies or inconsistencies in the mainstream view. The mainstream view (in the examples I've given) are ones that result from convergence of evidence across disciplines (or E.O. Wilson's term, "consilience").

JFK assassination conspiracy theorists pick at many of the same anomalies and inconsistencies in the Warren Commission report (which contained genuine errors), but they come to all sorts of different contrary explanations, and they don't agree with each other about who's in the conspiracy, what happened, why, how it was done, etc.

Similarly, creationists claim all hominids are 100% human or 100% ape, but they disagree with each other about which is which:

http://www.talkorigin...­
A former member
Post #: 7
By "low hanging fruit" I meant that it is within Conpiracy Theories that many logical fallacies are easiest to see. I meant it in terms of illustrating logical fallacies. This is because Conspiracy Theorists want to be taken seriously as theorists and go to great lengths to make their cases as plain as possible (at times). If by debunk we mean convince the theorist that they are wrong, Conspiracy Theories are probably the most pernicious. But what can be done. They are also entertaining, unless of course, the person straining under the load of the "tower of speculation built on a pinhead of evidence" is someone you care about...

The fallacies that Conspiracists can't see (in themselves, they spot these fallacies in other people like eagles spot squirrels!) are contradictory premises and burden of proof. By contradictory premises I mean conspiracies that depend on someone like Bill Clinton being... simultaneously... a complete bumbling moron, and the most sinister, devious, conniving genius in history... (ie: willing to murder 2,000 Arkansas State Troopers in 1985 and cover it up... all while snorting cocaine and stealing money from the CIA, yet unable to bust into a Georgetown apartment and steal a dress in 1995). And by Burden of Proof, well... they truly want the world to come to their doorstep with charts, diagrams, etc...
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