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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In God We Trust........Why?

O.k., I know that these are coming out erratically, but between home life and work, I work on the blog as I'm able, but seeing as not many people are reading these, eh it's alright.  I kid.  Everyone that reads these is important, especially if it opens them up to the skeptical community.  I do realize that for the most part, I'll be preaching to the choir, pun intended, but if one person is on the fence and I'm able to help them step away from relying on superstitions and rituals when making decisions, then effort is worth it. I know right now, It is a poor shadow of some of the other bloggers out there, but I hope that as I become more comfortable with the medium (or large) I'll come into my own.  It is easier for me to stand up in front of a group of 200 people I've never seen and deliver a speech or answer questions than to type what's in my head. 

Todays topics range from fungi to baboons (always a good subject) to the Oklahoma legislative body.  It's a more laid back post and hopefully a chance for some fun and a bit of a rant about the seperation of church and state (literally the state). And I hope it stimulates some discussions, especially the one about baboons.  (Notice I didn't say which baboons)

Several items caught my eye this week, the first one is that Oklahoma is one step closer to having a state motto.  Anyone care to guess what it is?  You in the front..., yeah you with the I love Picard shirt...nice try and  I thought it was "Oklahoma is ok" too, but I guess not.  No, they are trying to adopt "In God we Trust"  Seriously people.  Why the hell do we need a state motto?  And how much time has our state legislature wasted on this?  And what about followers of Buddha, or Allah, or Gilgamesh, or Odin, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster (my personal favorite)?  Which god do they mean?  What about those of us that follow no god, but use our own common sense and code of ethics to do what is right?  Also, isn't that phrase already in use by the U.S. Treasury, which, by the way, did not put that on paper money until 1957.  Between that, the attempted work around of international law concerning Islamic sharia law, and a few tirades by a certain state rep, who shall remain nameless (her initials are S.K. and rhymes with alley burn) it seems that Oklahoma doesn't want you here unless you are white, christian, straight (or at least so far in the closet, you run the risk of ending up in Narnia) and preferably wealthy.  I love this state, but sometimes the governing body makes me want to slam my head into a wall until my personal reality matches theirs.  I don't think the wall will hold up that long. 

Another cool item I heard was that a company in New York, I think, is developing a way to use mushrooms as packing material.  And they are basically mycelium, a type of fungus.  The link is http://www.ted.com/talks/eben_bayer_are_mushrooms_the_new_plastic.html  It's about 9 minutes, but still interesting, plus the TED site has a lot of other interesting videos of innovative ideas, mostly environmental and energy based.

And that last item that I found this week comes to us courtesy of Penn's Sunday School and I found the video on Youtube. The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I7-SADai3Y   Basically, a tribe, pride, caucus (whats the term for a herd of baboons?) or whatever you want to call it, of baboons living in a dump in Saudi Arabia are stealing feral pups from the packs of feral dogs also living there.  They then domesticate them and accept them into their cliche.  The dogs watch over the baboons at night like guard dogs and will even protect it's simian foster family from other dogs.  Pretty frickin wild, and brings a couple of questions to mind that I found out today, can upset fundamentalists.  If apes can domesticate other animals for their use, and chimps have been known to fashion and use weapons, how long until they have their own Starbucks and Gap?

Started reading Richard Dawkins "The Greatest Show on Earth", and I will let people know what I think of it.  Also, a couple of lovely people let me know that my initial posts contained several grammatical errors and I had omitted a letter in the "about" section.  I hopefully have those fixed, but more than likely, this one added to to overall total # of errors, and for that I'm truly sorry, but I have a tendency to write like I speak, including forgetting the occasional parenthesis.  But the language so far hasn't been as salty as I usually get when I'm emotional involved in something, but doing this blog for me is kinda like meeting someone in person.  I don't just drop F-bombs right off the bat.  I usually wait until the second sentence before that happens. Until next time, be reasonable, be fair, and be good.

The Skeptical Okie
James

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What is a skeptic? A brief introduction.

I know I said I would have these out on the weekends, but insomnia is a bitch at times.  Like I promised, here are a few terms for everyone to know.  As we go down the rocky road of being a skeptic in the bible belt, I will be listing more terms and fallacies that we should be on the look out for, not just in discussions, but in everyday life as well.

A skeptic is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
1: an adherent or advocate of skepticism
2: a person disposed to skepticism especially regarding religion or religious principles.
Basically, a skeptic is someone that doesn't automatically accept common ideas without using critical thinking to come to a conclusion.  This definition is fairly close to cynical also.  the main difference is that a skeptic will change their opinion, given a sufficient amount of proof.
Debating the followers of WOO can be difficult due to their using logical fallacies in their argument.  As well, skeptics also have to be careful to avoid using the same fallacies in order to defend their position.  There are dozens of logical fallacies, so the current plan is to list a couple of them at a time, with a brief example, starting with 2 of the most common that you might hear used.  The first is called Ad Hominem.  Basically this is where they attack the person instead of the argument.  An example would be " Of course you would say there is no god, you're an atheist!"  It is an attempt to appeal to the audiences emotions rather than their rational side, and if used properly, can be quite effective at garnering a favorable response.  Another common logical fallacy, especially when dealing with homeopathy or holistic medicine is called Argument from Antiquity or Appeal to Tradition.  This is saying that this is right because it has always been done like this.  An example is "Acupuncture works because the Chinese have been doing it for thousands of years."  Both of this are often used in debates, but an Ad Hominem attack is harder to recover from, primarily because it has a more emotional draw for the person using it, while as skeptics, we try to use a more cerebral approach.  When either fallacy is used, rather than becoming indignant and using personal attacks, remain calm and collected and press the facts until their argument begins to fall apart on its own.
Some material that would be handy to be at least passingly familiar with in order to strengthen your own arguments, outside of basic high school science books, would be almost anything written by Christopher Hitchens, James Randi, Charles Darwin, and it doesn't hurt to be knowledgeable about the bible.  The main reason for the bible is that when they state that homosexuality is wrong, you can point out it also states that wearing linen and cotton are wrong, eating shrimp is wrong, etc...   If you just say, you have no proof, so you can't be right, but fail to offer any proof of your own, your statements are just as weak as theirs.
I hope that these help everyone in their "discussions" with their friends, family, or that really loud guy down the street.  You know, the one that refuses to wear a shirt, but really should, while mowing the lawn and it's kinda like a car wreck and you just can't look away, and is always offering you a cold one that he just pulled out of the kiddie pool.  Yeah,.... him.  And here is a question for anyone that reads this.  Why is it when you tell someone that you're colorblind when they ask you a question that involves color distinction, they either look at you like you're broken or they talk very slowly and really damn loud?  If you have an idea, leave it in the comments section.  This has been driving me nuts for years and I have a hard time not telling them I'm not developmentally challenged, just have problems with colors.  Also, to anyone new to the blog, just as a bit of forewarning, I do tend to occasionally go off on a tangent, and there will more than likely be profanity, but in a good way. 
Also, Oklahoma Skeptics Society is now on Facebook, so feel free to come over, join us, and hopefully soon, we'll be having our first meeting in OKC and I hope to have a website up and going as soon as I can. 
See everyone soon.

The Skeptical Okie

Monday, March 19, 2012

An introduction to the blog and The Skeptical Okie

Hello kiddos.   
     Nothing serious or too in depth today, especially seeing as this is blog post #1.  Hopefully I'll have a podcast up and going soon, and when that happens I'll let you know.  Mostly this blog will be the introduction to me, myself, and what I hope we can accomplish.  I live in a relatively rural part of Oklahoma, and for the longest time, I was the only skeptic/atheist that I knew.  Most of my friends and family are either southern baptist or Methodist.  I am in the process of starting a skeptical group in Oklahoma, and hopefully have at least a loose affiliation with the James Randi Educational Foundation and the Grassroots Skeptics.  Through this blog, I'll be talking about various logical fallacies that we may encounter everyday, and how best to argue against them.  Maybe debate would be a better word.  Argue just seems too argumentative.  Anyway, I'll also be mentioning and discussing any odd or interesting scientific research that grabs my attention for longer than 5 seconds.  If it's an article that says "Pork fat may cause obesity"  I probably won't mention it.  If it says "Pork fat may prevent cancer."  I'll probably talk about it, and evaluate it with a skeptical mind.  I know that there are lots of blogs out there that are going to be similar to this one, including the 4,296 new ones that have probably gone up while I was writing this one, but I hope to keep it a little unique and fresh by not getting too bogged down in a technical discussion and trying to keep it some what humorous.  I'll also have personal observations, and more than likely, a few meandering rants before returning to the topic.  Speaking of which, I went to the Science Museum Oklahoma (us old folks still call it the Omniplex) today with my wife and son.  Granted it was pouring outside, with a hell of a lightning show on top of it, and most of the people there may have originally been going to the OKC zoo next door (literally next door, they share parking spaces.) but the building was packed.  On previous trips, the place was pretty much empty.  You know when you walk into someones house and they get that surprised look on their face that says "What are you doing here?"  That's normally the look we would get from the employees.  Today however, it was packed!  Adults and kids running from exhibit to exhibit working buttons, reading the info cards, sometimes the parents were explaining the exhibit to their kids, sometimes the kids were doing the explaining.  For those that don't know, SMO (as they abbreviate Science Museum Oklahoma (and I don't usually like acronyms) is a very hands on type of museum, with most of the exhibits geared towards the youngish set.  Think 4 to about 15.  But it is still a lot of fun for adults too, and if you get a chance, check it out.  But anyway, the point is, I was ecstatic to see so many people at least appearing to be interested in what the SMO was about.  It gives me hope for the state.  Like I said, this is the first of probably many posts I'm going to do, I just figured to keep this one short and more or less to the point, not because I've run out of things to say, trust me, give me a topic and some time to research, and I can go on.  I'll try to put these out on Saturday or Sunday night, and if you like it, let me know.  Also, like I said, I'm working on starting a skeptical group , and yes I know that there is the Oklahoma Atheists and a group in Tulsa, but I'm doing this because 1) I prefer a broader mindset than just atheism, and 2) Tulsa is awful far to drive from here.  Not lazy, just I'd be spending more in gas than I do on the mortgage.  So, hope to hear from people soon, and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, a politician probably said it!