We would not be alive today if not for skeptics. So what is one?

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Although my writings are largely political, the other subject I’m passionate about is science and skepticism—the value of logical thought cannot be overstated. It seems that all too often people will believe what they’re told by a single media source, a politician, a political party, a professor, etc. But as the brilliant fictional “philosopher” Dr. Gregory House always said, “Everybody lies.”

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House M.D.
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House M.D.

Yet when I tell people I’m a skeptic, I get looks of confusion and apprehension. It’s as if I just told them I’m about to profess we never landed on the moon, that Bush was the impetus behind 9/11, that aliens are here among us, or that I’m part of some religious cult. So as a result, I wanted to put some of these myths to bed, but let me address the issues above before I go any further.

  • I believe anyone who believes we didn’t put a man on the moon is ignorant. Click here to see the Mythbusters dismantle these issues on the faked moon landing.
  • I believe anyone who thinks George W. Bush spearheaded 9/11 is disgusting, hateful, and ignorant. This has been thoroughly debunked by many members of the scientific community. National Geographic addressed the 9/11 conspiracy here involving several universities conducting independent studies—please watch. I’m not going to elaborate, they’ve covered it well enough. This nonsense is insulting to the military who would never follow such an unlawful order, even if it were given to them. Our military are far more thoughtful than these hateful idiots ever care to give them credit for.
  • What I know about odds and probabilities leads me to believe there is life in our universe outside of Earth. What I know about physics tells me it would have almost no way of getting here in tact. So yes I believe there is alien life, no I do not believe it has ever inhabited Earth.
  • I’m an agnostic/atheist. I do not believe in any supernatural or spiritual beings. The burden of proof is not on science, as such claims are not falsifiable. The burden lies with the people claiming such phenomena exist. I’m open to the possibility, provided there is any scientific evidence presented to support it—such evidence has yet to be presented.

So if it is not a cult and we don’t have meetings with strange customs like a secret handshake, wrapping our heads in tin foil, or creepy Gregorian chants, what is a skeptic?Tin_foil_hat_2[1]

Saying you are skeptic just means that you question everything (not doubt, just question), and apply the scientific method to answer any questions you might have. Here are a few statements I feel would accurately tell the tale of being a skeptic and some simple rules of thumb to bear in mind.

  • Rule #1 – Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Skeptics will have an evidentiary based belief system. The greater the claim one makes, the greater the evidence required to support it.
  • While we will often admit a creator is possible, skeptics are often non-religious. This is due to the overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence and the underwhelming lack of scientific evidence.
  • A skeptic will start from a null hypothesis—the idea that nothing is true until reasonably confirmed with evidence. If you tell me that magnetic wrist band will cure my headaches and increase my sperm count, you’d better have more than a testimonial, which of course are discredited by the placebo effect. Nothing less than a proper peer-reviewed study will do.
  • If we read some random meme on Facebook or Twitter which makes a provable claim, yet seems dubious in any way, we’ll usually assume it’s bunk and not even bother sharing it. If we’re curious, we might check it out on Snopes or other reputable sites, then share if we can confirm it to be true.070e54aedcf606e53698b9f0f2528a9e3f9ecd80b3cf90cd9ca6deb7f0eac351[1]
  • We place our trust in the science. Almost everything we enjoy in life, from gadgets to health care, we have because this method works—it has for centuries.
  • Skeptics are not conspiracy theorists. We don’t invent fantastic tales for shock value or ideology, we present logical arguments, we separate facts from opinions, and we let the chips fall where they may.
  • A skeptic would rarely believe in alternative medicines. If they really do work, proper scientific studies will confirm as much. At which point they’ll cease being alternative medicine and just be actual medicine.
  • A skeptic wants both sides of the argument. In politics, if a Democrat makes a claim, I want to hear a Republican’s or Libertarian’s rebuttal and vice-versa. If a scientist presents an idea, I want a similarly qualified scientist to challenge their findings. One side of a story is rarely accurate and you should be wary of anyone making a claim of absolutes in this manner.
  • We largely will often point out that shows about cryptozoology, astrology, alien abductions, ghost hunting, etc. belong on the The Sci-Fi Channel, not The Science Channel. While presented as science, they’re all largely full of utter nonsense. One cannot make scientific claims about Bigfoot if one does not have a living or dead Bigfoot standard to test.

So why is it important to be a skeptic? If you like being duped, skepticism isn’t for you—ignorance is bliss, right? But as Steve Jobs proved in 2003 when he opted for a homeopathic solution to his cancer instead of what his doctors recommended, being a skeptic can save your life. Jobs’ had been advised that his cancer was treatable and survivable if he were to undergo proper science-based medical treatment. By the time he realized his homeopathic option was bunk however, it was too late.

Steve Jobs - Apple Founder
Steve Jobs – Apple Founder

For those not familiar with homeopathy and why it is junk science, here’s a phenomenal article from Donald Prothero from skepticblog.com. As are all articles on their site, it is worth a read.

But let me go back further into history and explain why I believe mankind owes its very existence to skepticism.

When the black plague was running rampant, many had believed that this was God punishing humanity as he did during the flooding in the tale of Noah’s ark. As such, they felt that there was no way to intervene and stop this deadly scourge, and potentially that it was blasphemy to even try. While they may not have understood the scientific method or the concept of modern skepticism as we do today, it was indeed skeptics who decided that the plague might simply be a biological process with a cure instead of the will of God, applied scientific-like methods to the problem, and proceeded to eventually quash this most devastating of diseases.

While faith gives people comfort, and I would never try to take that away from them, when you start feeling the onset of a heart attack, a stroke, or any other medical emergency arise, who will you call first? 911 or your priest? If you answered 911, you’re already a bit of a skeptic. The next time you hear a claim that seems too fantastic to be true, grab your computer and do some research. I think you’ll find the scientific method quite rewarding once you get the hang of it.

*Please look to the left. You will find a header with a list of sites dedicated to science and skepticism. I encourage you to read as much as you can. While I’m an amateur who is just priming your skeptical pump, these are professionals who do this for a living. Learning is addictive, I hope you’ll check them out.

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I’m rather Blue over Sharia Law

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

In 2010, a legal decision in New Jersey incited national debate when Judge Joseph Charles decided not to grant a restraining order to a Moroccan woman who had been raped, according to legal standards in the United States, by her ex-husband. The reason given was that the judge accepted the Muslim man’s argument that under Sharia Law, he had done nothing wrong, and that ruling against him would violate his religious rights as enumerated in the 1st amendment.

As a result of this ruling and the potential for others like it, several states across the U.S. enacted anti-Sharia law statutes, including Oklahoma. However, after Oklahoma’s “Save Our State Amendment” passed, it was overturned by a higher court due to its targeting of one specific religion, specifically Sharia law, again citing that such a law violates the 1st amendment.

Judge Charles was wrong in his decision, but Oklahoma legislators reacted wrongly as well, and the higher courts were charged with making it all right. Many conservatives were upset the Save Our State Amendment was overturned, but they shouldn’t have been. If a statute can lawfully target the Muslim faith, one could lawfully draft laws targeting Christian faith as well.shariah-law[1]

American legislators define American law in their respective jurisdictions. There should not be a need to specifically exclude Sharia law, because unless Sharia law verbiage happens to be on that jurisdiction’s register, it should never be considered in the first place. The exception being in civil court where Sharia law may have been part of a contract.

Rape is not excusable under U.S. law because of religious views, so Judge Charles simply made an improper ruling that needed overturned—no additional legislation needed. If the man had killed his wife in an honor-killing, would the judge still have come to the same conclusion?

While I applaud Oklahoma and other such states attempting to take measures to prevent this in the future, the higher courts are there to reverse such decisions, and there are mechanisms in place to remove judges who go afoul of the law they are charged with adjudicating. Oklahoma didn’t need to amend their state constitution, they merely needed to deal with a judge violating his oath to uphold it.

If they truly felt it was necessary to elaborate, the Oklahoma legislature could have simply wrote something to the effect of the following:

The criminal court of Oklahoma may not consider laws which are not specifically on the United States Federal Register, Oklahoma State Register, or any applicable local registers as an argument for innocence or guilt.

It is succinct, and doesn’t target any single religion.

However, there’s a deep hypocrisy here with many conservatives. A majority of them are Christian, and they were the ones most vocal about prohibiting Sharia law, yet they often have no qualms about legislation such as blue laws or the proposed Defense Of Marriage Act.

Blue laws have curiously stood up to constitutional challenges because proponents have argued that while they were enacted as a way to force people to conform to a religious doctrine of the Sabbath, it can also be viewed as merely the government in question, ordering a day of rest, and does not necessarily have a religious component, making it okay.

Somehow the Supreme Court agreed—but how? It’s not a day of rest, it’s a day of not being able to buy alcohol. If they closed down all business on Sundays, then and only then would it be a forced day of rest.

SundayAlcohol[1]

More important, what business does government have telling you when to rest  in the first place? Why not tell me when I have to go to bed then? Maybe force me to take a nap too, while we’re at it.

As for the Defense of Marriage act, it is entirely contrary to the purpose of the Constitution. It was never intended to be a dictionary to define something such as marriage, nor was it intended to tell the people, in this case the gay community, what rights they have. One look at the Bill of Rights and it’s clear that it was written to define limits to the federal government, not the people. The Volstead Act (Prohibition) was the first attempt at perverting the Constitution in such a manner, also largely based on religious doctrine, and that was rightfully repealed a short time later. All such acts imply the government has the power, not the people.

As for blue laws, the supreme court did something in declaring these laws constitutional that I think violates their oath of office.

The Supreme Court Of The United States
The Supreme Court Of The United States

The Supreme Court Justices are sworn to uphold the Constitution, not the will of the majority. If we were a democracy, a system where only the majority opinion mattered, instead of a republic with a Constitution, we would have no need for them.

But we have a Constitution, and it exists to protect the rights of the minority from the majority. The Supreme Court is charged with interpreting it as written. What the SCOTUS did was find away to allow the majority to deny rights to the minority (atheists like myself), instead of judging these laws on their merits against the Constitution.

In so doing, they undermined the purpose of them being appointed, not elected, so that they don’t act on popular opinion. They behaved like legislators instead of guarantors of our rights.

Christians upset about Sharia Law arguments being allowed in criminal courts are absolutely right to be upset. But they must cease to endeavor to make American laws congruent with Christian doctrine also, or they are no better than the cause they are fighting against—hypocrisy destroys credibility.