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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

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