The South—Parishioners of Pastor Theo Leobald’s First Congregational Church of Holy Christ In Heaven will not meet next Sunday… The reason for the cancellation? Simply the fact that, according to Leobald, God does not now, has never, and will never exist.
When pressed, however, [Leobald] explained that thousands of years ago, tribes of nomadic desert peoples made up God because, being incapable of scientific reasoning due to caveman-like existences, they had no other way of making sense of things like sunshine, rocks and pork-transmitted trichinosis.
“They made it all up, and they were ignorant, unwashed, half-naked pre-historic barbarians,” Leobald said. “So who are you gonna believe: Carl Sagan, and the pantheon of the world’s greatest scientific and intellectual minds, or some guy who measured wealth by how many goats he had?”
It’s an old article from The Onion, but a classic.
One of the most ambitious and exciting theories ever proposed—one that may be the long-sought “theory of everything,” which eluded even Einstein—gets a masterful, lavishly computer-animated explanation from bestselling author-physicist Brian Greene, when NOVA presents a three-part series on the nuts, bolts, and sometimes outright nuttiness of string theory.
I remember watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series in 1980, fascinated by his telling of this mythical-like place that was real. I bought the DVDs of it last year and fell asleep trying to watch it.
What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and — especially important — to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion that emerges out of a train follows from the premise of starting point and whether that premise is true.
He then provides a list of fallacies often used by baloney makers:
In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions.
A couple of things to look out for:
ad hominem — Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g. The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)
weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration of Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”).