Tag Archives: skeptic

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is here!!!

23 Feb

A few years ago I ran across this site. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible by Steve Wells is an amazing resource.  Steve took the time to go through and annotate the entire bible from a skeptic’s point of view. Ever wish you could instantly find instances of injustice, cruelty/violence, contradictions, misogyny, etc in the “good” book? Well Steve’s tagged every single verse in the entire bible with a searchable tag and commentary. It was not long after finding that site that I e-mailed Steve and asked if there was a physical copy of the book that I could by. At the time there wasn’t, but a few months ago he e-mailed me again to say that one was in the works. Well guess what, I finally got my copy this weekend! Steve even went ahead and signed it too! This thing is amazing! It has quick reference verses of interest in the front and back, along with commentary the whole way through. Man I wish I had this thing in my comparative religion’s class back in college!

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It’s all a conspiracy!

7 Jan

One of my coworkers is really big into conspiracy theories and recently shared a video with another coworker who was much taken with it, and in turn shared it with me. The video “Our history is not what we think!” is packed so densely full of bullshit, pseudo-science, and woo that it instantly gave me a migraine. The entire thing is a long crazy conspiracy theory about how the “official” story of human history is a lie and that the “truth” lies in ancient mystical tablets, 6th dimensional beings, vortexes of energy, and aliens.

The creators of the video use the machine-gun technique of spraying out so many bullshit claims so quickly that it is impossible to adequately address each individual claim.

In another time I would have written down a list of each individual claim made over the course of the hour long video and addressed each one. This process would take days and is ultimately pointless. You see, when it comes to people who believe this kind of stuff and make these elaborate conspiracy videos, it’s not about the facts. They might claim that that is all they care about, but really there are strong emotional and mental factors at work.

People who often feel out of control in their own lives develop grandiose explanations as a way of coping with this lack of control. Making connections, even though those connections might never really be there, and drawing conclusions allows some measure of control that they desperately crave. Arguing over what the “facts” are and what evidence exists in an attempt to change the believer’s mind is a colossal waste of time. It’s never been about the truth, as much as it seems, it’s about the conspiracy theorist’s lack of self control. Michael Shermer grave a great TED Talk here titled “The pattern behind self-deception.” In the talk he discusses our pattern seeking nature as human beings and how we’re prone to conspiracy theories.

That’s not to say that all conspiracy theories are false. Sometimes conspiracies do exist. Example: The plot to assassinate president Lincoln was a conspiracy. The trick is discerning the real conspiracies from the false ones. To that end, Shermer has a great “bullshit conspiracy theory detection list” here.

As much of a pointless time suck as debunking each individual claim in that video might be, I can see how such a long rebuttal  might be useful for showing those on the fence how much bullshit is in that video. Since I don’t have the time/energy/ or care to spend that much time creating  such a rebuttal, I just decided to show my coworker two videos.

Both of the videos were by the youtube user Qualia Soup. He makes excellent, well thought out videos on a range of topics, but the two I gave my coworker were on open-mindedness and critical thinking. I figured this was the best possible response because, armed with these tools, they could then easily see the video for the mountain of bullshit it was. Furthermore, they would be able to see the red flags the next time someone starts talking about “spiritual energy”, secret undiscovered knowledge, mystical tablets, spiritual pureness, and all other manner of woo.

Atheism and Ghosts

16 Oct

With Halloween fast approaching I thought it would be fun to do a post on ghosts and how it relates to atheism. Occasionally someone might bring up ghosts/spirits/poltergeists however you want to arbitrarily define it) in an attempt to prove the existence of an afterlife and by extension negate atheism. I must admit, after I deconverted, ghosts were something I struggled with for a while. My main line of thinking was “Well so many people claim to see them and have proof, and it spans all cultures, so there must be something to it!” I didn’t take me long to realize this was just another form of the ad populum fallacy. After all, lots of people believe in invisible men in the sky, and that spans all cultures, doesn’t mean they’re right.

At the heart of the concept of ghosts/spirits/etc is the idea that your consciousness somehow can survive your bodily death. It could be in the form of an imprint on an area or place, or even an autonomous, thinking, disembodied force able to interact with the physical world. This is also related to the religious concept of a soul, the idea that you as a consciousness will survive your physical death and be able to experience either the joy of heaven or the torture of hell. It goes without saying that god(s) created the spiritual world and thus the souls of people just like they created the physical world. Ghost stories have always been popular, but have really taken off with the advent of photography, the internet, and television shows like “Ghost Hunters.”  There are scores of people who are adamant that they’ve had personal experiences with ghosts or “the other side.”

So here’s where it all breaks down. To the best of our scientific understanding, consciousness is a by product of your brain. It is the result of the physical workings of your mind, the chemicals, the neurons, etc. Everything that makes up you as an entity exists because of the grey matter between your ears. When you die, and that grey matter turns to mush, everything that makes you “you”, turns to mush as well. Your personality, your thoughts, your emotions, everything is gone forever. There is nothing spiritual or supernatural about your body. Your thoughts and emotions, the result of chemicals in your head, cannot “imprint” themselves on anything outside of your body, no matter how intense they may be. I know that doesn’t sound as fun or exciting as a world filled with spirits, but to the best of our knowledge, that’s reality.

Another way to look at it is this: To the best of our current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence to support the existence of supernatural entities. “Oh, GP, but they’re supernatural, that’s why you can’t detect them!” Well if they interacted with the physical world, they would fall within the purview of science, but since they don’t, their possible existence is a mute point. Without any evidence to support the existence of god(s), we can assume they don’t exist. Without gods there is no “spirit realm”, no spirit realm, no spirits. This combinded with the above mentioned facts of consciousness lead me to conclude that ghosts/spirits/etc do not exist.

Fun side story: I actually put this to a test of sorts a few summers back. I took a friend and we went out to the local cemetery at midnight. The cemetery was a few hundred years old and supposedly was haunted. I was really nervous at first, my body was instinctivly looking for anything that could be interpreted as an other worldly spirit; however, I kept reminding myself of the above mentioned facts. After a while I regained complete control over my nerves and I wasn’t bothered one bit walking amongst rows and rows of dead. I could have been anywhere for what it was worth; I only wish I could see a little better. My friend on the other hand was scared out of her mind. She kept thinking there was something around the corner, or behind the tombstone. She was really surprised by my calm and marked indifference. She said something to me that really stuck with me: “You’re a proper atheist aren’t you?” A proper atheist? I guess. I don’t really know how to take that. Does she mean a rational atheist, confident in my reasoning ability, as opposed to an irrational atheist? (And yes, there are irrational atheists)

“So GP, what about all the eye witness accounts people have, claiming they’ve interacted with ghosts? How do you explain away that?” While it might appear at first that there is a mountain of evidence supporting people’s interactions with ghosts, if you look closer it’s all superficial. Do I doubt that a person had an experience they couldn’t explain? Of course not. I do, however, doubt that it was a disembodied consciousness of some kind. I think social conditioning has a lot to do with people reporting experiences they can’t explain as encounters with ghosts. When you don’t know what something is, your brain starts searching for possible explanations. If your culture has the concept of ghosts, it’s easy for your brain to latch onto that as the easiest possible explanation. I think this is further supported by the fact that the concept of ghosts varies from culture to culture. A person in Japan might report different characteristics of a ghost when compared to a person in the US.  The whole thing is really a non sequitur. “I can’t explain X, therefore I can explain it! It was a ghost!”

What’s really fascinating is that as we are learning more and more about how the human brain works, scientists are able to manipulate it with magnets! This video is a little dated, but the research is on going. Watch how scientists can recreate out of body experiences, feelings of other presences, or even being transported to hell, simply by bombarding parts of the brain with magnetic waves!

There is no doubt that people all around the world have genuine experiences that are extremely real to them, but they aren’t experiences with disembodied spirits. So what are some real world implications I take away from this? Well besides the fact that the human brain is an amazing and complex organism; claims that some place is haunted doesn’t phase me. Just like back in that cemetery, I know nothing is there. When you’re aware of this in a situation like walking down a dark street, you’re less likely to jump to rash conclusions about the noise you just heard. This is not to say that one need not be careful walking around shady places at night. Ghosts may not exist, but other people do. At least you can take comfort in the fact that, unlike ghosts, other people bleed just like you.