Skepticism, Skeptical Investigations, and Critical Thinking
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Where is the Virgin Mary Today? Pareidolia: Seeing Religious Faces Everywhere
Sometimes it seems that every other week, someone is claiming to see images of religious figures (Mary and Jesus are the most common) on walls, in windows, or in their breakfast foods. What prompts these visions? Why would Jesus or Mary wish to make an appearance on someone's toast some morning? There's a curious disconnect with such incidents...
Skepticism & Mystery: Do Skeptics Have Trouble Accepting Mystery?
There is a popular perception that skeptics are all just cynics and are unable to tolerate the existence of mysteries while believers in the paranormal are more open minded and willing to embraces the mysteries of life. This is false - it's the True Believers who insist that there is a clear answer for everything that occurs while skeptics are the ones more willing to say "We don't know."
How the Media Hypes Numbers, Statistics
Media reports on social issues are commonly accompanied by statistics about the issue - but to what extent can those statistics be trusted? Sometimes, numbers can be used to lie worse than words, perhaps because people implicitly trust numbers more. Instead, people need to exercise greater skepticism.
CRITIC: Learning to Evaluate Claims
Critical thinking is very important - every day we are confronted with a host of claims which we need to be able to evaluate. Is there any way people can learn to do a better and more consistent job?
Gullibility 101: What is Gullibility? What Sorts of Beliefs are Produced?
Gullibility is an affliction which is no respecter of class, religion, gender, or race. Gullibility is a widespread product of people's failure to properly apply reason, logic, and skepticism to a claim or idea. Unfortunately, the worse a person is at doing this, the less likely they are to realize it; indeed, they can be among those who think...
Mismeasure of Man: Rorschach Inkblot Tests
The Rorschach Inkblot Test has been used by psychologists for more than half a century. Some regard it as one of their most important diagnostic tools; the truth is that there isn't even a hint of genuine scientific validity to them. Yes, even people trained in science can be fooled.
Lie Detectors Don't Lie... or Do They?
People have faith in the ability of polygraph machines (more commonly known as lie detectors) to help police find the truth in criminal investigations. In reality, most polygraph tests are done for government security screenings, even though this has been outlawed in the private sector. According to a report from National Academy of Sciences, that's the most unreliable use for them.
Why Randi Rejects Religion
Skepticism of the paranormal and skepticism of religious and theistic claims are often treated separately - but not so for James Randi. Although his work focuses primarily upon the paranormal, he is just as skeptical and even dismissive of fantastic religious ideas which he finds to be without basis in fact or reason.
Why Does Superstition Persist?
Superstition and magical thinking have continued to retain a strong hold on humanity despite the advances of science. It seems that people just don't want to let go of paranormal and supernatural explanations for things, regardless of what the evidence might indicate. Why is this and why does such thinking continue to be popular?
Myths and History: Using Fiction to Create Pleasing Beliefs
What happens when reality isn't comforting enough? Some people change themselves or their circumstances in order to do better; others, however, prefer to pretend that reality is different than it actually is. Sometimes, it's simply easier to deny reality than it is to deal with it.
Where is the Virign Mary Today? Seeing Religious Faces Everywhere
Sometimes it seems that every other week, someone is claiming to see images of religious figures (Mary and Jesus are the most common) on walls, in windows, or in their breakfast. What prompts these visions? Why would Jesus or Mary wish to make an appearance on someone's toast some morning?
Critical Thinking is Bad For You
This site promotes critical thinking as an important intellectual values. One might assume that everyone would agree that it is an important skill - but that's evidently not the case. Critical Thinking is a threat to traditions and established authorities because it calls into question many common assumptions and beliefs. That, of course, is exactly what some would like to prevent.
Is Skepticism an Inhuman Position?
Skepticism can be a difficult principle to uphold - it's easier and simpler, usually, to simply believe what we are told and not try to critique the claims being made. Critical thinking is a skill that takes time to learn and effort to apply. Is it perhaps the case that being skeptical is inhuman and inappropriate?
American Fundamentalism, Satanic Cults, and False Memories
For a number of years, American law and religion were heavily involved with reports about satanic cults kidnapping and ritually abusing children, memories of which were repressed and only later recovered by researchers using special methods of interrogation. The truth is that none of this happened and it was all a fraud, but belief hasn't quite died off.
Children, Suggestibility, and False Memories
Good interrogation is a difficult skill. It's easy to 'lead' witnesses without even realizing it; sometimes, it's possible to lead witnesses deliberately. This is especially problematic when it comes to children, who are more suggestible than adults. A failure to appreciate this can have horrible consequences.
Equipose: Balancing Skepticism and Objectivity
Being skeptical means engaging claims critically and with doubts. Being objective means not pre-judging a claim and allowing for the possibility of coming to accept it as true, if good enough reasons are provided. People should be both skeptical and objective, but it's possible for them to come into conflict if one isn't careful.
Hypnosis, Recovered Memories, and False Memories
A popular belief about hypnosis is that it can be used to access memories which have been repressed and buried very deeply. It's even believe that hypnosis can be used to access memories of past lives. These beliefs are all false %u2014 there is no basis for thinking such things to be true. It's little more than a myth popularized by the gullible.
Miracles and Survival: Public Perception vs. Reality
Most people have a very poor understanding of statistics %u2014 they simply don't realize what is genuinely unlikely and what is actually very likely. Indeed, those who have paranormal beliefs tend to have the weakest comprehension of statistics. As a consequence, they label events as 'miracles' which are nothing of the sort.
Belief and Faith: Believing Even when Evidence Says You Shouldn't
It's been said that 'faith is believing what you know ain't true.' Faithful believers typically deny that faith is anything like that, arguing that 'faith' can somehow be reasonable. Occasionally, though, we witness breathtaking examples of faith being held in direct contradiction to evidence.
Miraculous Survival from Plane Crashes
Whenever there is a disaster and people survive, apparently against all odds, the events tend to be labeled a miracle. The fact that some didn't survive almost isn't noticed - why didn't the miracle help them? Did they have insufficient faith? And what about the actions of human beings to help the victims? Why is God thanked but not other humans?
Skepticism: Philosophical Considerations
Usually, skeptics who address paranormal or supernatural claims tend to focus on the sorts of evidence which are or can be offered on behalf of the claim. This is certainly a valid and necessary approach, but it's not the only one. Before we even consider the possibility of evidence, we might legitimately ask what the claims are supposed to mean in the first place.
Science, Religion, and Dogma
There are many conversations over the conflicts between science and religion, but if we examine them closely we should find that the real conflicts are between more fundamental concepts: dogma and reason. One opposes the other, and insofar as religion remains dogmatic, it will always come into conflict with science.
Polygraph Testing: The Lies of Lie Detectors
Lie detectors generally have a very positive image among people - there's a common perception that they are accurate and reliable. Actually, it would be better to describe it as a misperception because lie detectors are neither accurate nor reliable.
Possible, Impossible, and Science (Book Notes: Genetic Destines)
Everyone knows, or at least should know, that scientists often use words in slightly different ways from how they are used by the general public. The words 'evolution' and 'theory' are two obvious examples, but perhaps even more important are the words 'possible' and 'impossible.'
Probability and Miracles: What is Likely? What is Unlikely?
If you were playing a card game and were dealt a 'perfect' hand - for example, a royal flush in poker - you'd probably find it amazing. You might even consider it a miracle and wonder if a supernatural power were assisting you. You'd be wrong, though, because such a hand is no more or less likely than any other possible combination of cards.
Rationality vs. Rationalization in the Brain
We like to think of ourselves as rational animals, but perhaps it would be more accurate to describe ourselves as rationalizing animals. However reasonable a view may be, it's possible that we have acquired it for wholly irrational reasons and are now simply rationalizing it in order to maintain our self-image as consistent, rational, and moral...
What is Cold Reading?
It seems amazing how astrologers, psychics, etc. are able to tell people things about their lives and problems that they otherwise shouldn't know. Such experiences are often offered as proof positive that people like this have powers that cannot be explained by natural science and/or that a spiritual or supernatural realm really must exist - otherwise, how could these people know so much?
New Age FAQ
The label "New Age" is a vague, catch-all term applied all manner of modern spiritual, paranormal and religious beliefs. Just about the only thing they all have in common is that they do not derive from biblical traditions, which of course leads those who belong to the orthodox or fundamentalist wings of those biblical traditions to treat anything New Age as satanic and evil.
Repressed Memories FAQs
One category of irrationality which has delivered more than its fair share of problems has been the "recovered memory" phenomenon, a troubling celebration of "victimization, hostility towards reason and absurdly expansive notions of addiction and abuse."
Secularism vs. Superstition (Book Notes: Humanism: An Introduction)
The widest cause of secularization may be the steady change of thinking so that there is the expectation that reason and a consideration of cause and effect will help with explanations. Supernatural power began to be removed from explanations of the process of life or society in the seventeenth century...
Distinguishing Science & Pseudoscience
The substitution of fantasy and nonsense for fact leaves behind many different clues that almost anyone can readily detect. Below are listed some of the most common characteristics of pseudoscience.
Why Should Atheists Be More Skeptical? Why is Skepticism Relevant to Atheism?
Atheism is only the absence of belief in gods, which means that there is nothing self-contradictory about atheists who believe in astrology, alien abductions, Bigfoot, psychic powers, and a host of other mystical, supernatural, and paranormal things. Being an atheist doesn't mean being a skeptic, and vice-versa. However, paranormal beliefs...
Top Books on Skepticism, Critical Thinking, Logic
Society today requires science more than at any time in the past. Unfortunately, people today are often scientifically illiterate - they don't understand science and they don't understand the sort of skeptical, critical thinking which lies at the heart of science. There are plenty of books on skepticism, but collected here are some of the best...