A Manifesto

I am a skeptic. This is because skepticism is what I do, it’s the tool set I use to evaluate reality. My default position in regard to any claim is disbelief and the provisional acceptance of the null hypothesis, a position which can be revised based on quality evidence (or, in the case of subjective issues, sound arguments). I use this basic approach to most aspects of my life, from science to politics to ethics.

I am a scientific skeptic. This is because science is my passion, and centuries of progress and improving knowledge have demonstrated that science is the most reliable method we have of learning true things about reality.

I am an atheist. This is a position I hold regarding belief in gods. Disbelief is the default position, and so far I have seen no evidence to overturn the null hypothesis for any but the most trivial definitions of “god.” Consequently, I lack belief in gods.

I am a “strong atheist” or “antitheist” regarding some definitions of god. In short, for some gods, I am willing to make the claim that those gods do not exist. I feel that this claim is justified (depending on the god claim) by specific evidence against those gods’ existence or lack of evidence when evidence would be expected. I do not hold this (or any position) with absolute certainty, and I am willing to revise it based on new evidence.

I am a materialist. I reject the supernatural, mostly on the basis of the null hypothesis and Occam’s Razor. I see no reason to invent a category of “things that exist but do not interact with reality”–as far as I’m concerned, “interacting with reality” is a major component of the definition of “exist.” I am willing to revise this position, but I suspect that any phenomenon currently described as “supernatural” were actually discovered, it would have to be incorporated into the natural universe. So far, though, I have yet to hear of any supposedly supernatural phenomenon which was not easily explained by natural causes.

I am an advocate of open, vocal, harsh criticism of just about everything. I don’t think organizations or people or claims or ideas should get any kind of free pass or special kid-glove treatment by virtue of their prestige or popularity or other such considerations. I would like to see a society where people expected their claims, beliefs, and actions to receive widespread reasoned criticism, and didn’t find such a thing impolite or inappropriate or unconventional. I certainly think one should pick his or her battles wisely, but I also think people shouldn’t be thin-skinned scrota when challenged on their bullshit.

I suppose I am a member of the “skeptical movement.” I am a skeptic, I’m a blogger and apparently a public speaker, and I’m actively involved in some skeptical outreach events. I started blogging here because I wanted to talk about politics and religion; I found blogs by like-minded people who I enjoyed reading, and we formed a moderate little online community. I didn’t join any big skeptical organizations until fairly recently in this game, and I certainly haven’t agreed to make anyone into an authority over my conduct or content here. Any “movement” I’m part of is the emergent property of a large number of different people working with some similar methods towards some similar goals. It’s nice, and I hope it grows, but I have a hard time accepting it as some sort of monolithic, unified thing that can be harmed by differences in opinion over tact and tactics among its members. If being part of the movement means omitting certain topics from my skeptical purview, focusing my efforts on one subject, eliminating useful or entertaining methods from my arsenal, or treating certain groups of people with vaguely dishonest condescension out of fear of hurting or alienating them, then I’ll move on my own, thanks.

I am, I’m sure, often wrong, often stubborn, often overly verbose, and often an asshole. And I am dead tired of arguing against other skeptics over what they think I should and shouldn’t do for the good of the group.

I am going to continue doing this, writing about whatever I feel like, and doing it all from a skeptical, scientific point of view, until I decide otherwise. If you don’t like it, the little red X is in the corner.

What the fuck, Discovery Channel?

You know, I realize that the Discovery Channel isn’t exactly a bastion of critical thinking and good science. It’s pretty much “Mythbusters” and the occasional special, and then everything goes downhill. Much like the History Channel, which seems to be about ghosts, Nostradamus, UFOs, “Bible history,” and conspiracies any time it’s not Nazis.

But “A Haunting”? Really? I’m watching their notoriously unreliable Urban Legends show, which is bad enough (interviewing “self-proclaimed Psychic Twins” about mistaken identity? Really?), but then this dreck comes on. Now, I’ve heard about “A Haunting” before–it’s the show that tells hour-long “paranormal” anecdotes entirely through voiceover, dramatization, and interviews with the anecdote presenters–and I knew it was terrible, but I had no idea.

And this is speaking as someone who grew up on “Unsolved Mysteries;” at least they told multiple stories per episode, some of which may have had some element of truth. This? This is ridiculous. It has an opening segment that would be better suited for “The Outer Limits” (or better yet, “Tales from the Darkside”) and sound cues stolen directly from “Torchwood.” A kid gets scared at night in the woods surrounding his house, and he’s “a very logical person,” so it can’t possibly be something normal. Gosh, strange noises and sights in a house surrounded by forest? I would never have expected such a thing. They hire a priest, a “paranormal investigator” who goes on about gravity and vortices and “impossible,” and then a “respected psychic” who tells them that their house was the site of several murders, where bodies were kept in the crawlspace until they could be buried. It seems to me what they need is an exterminator, a babysitter, and a psychiatrist. The “logical” kid is our token skeptic, but if the reenactment is any indication, he’s jumpy and dumb. Oh, and he saw “orbs of light in the trees.” Fucking fantastic.

I came into this episode in the middle (I was on the phone for the beginning), so I can’t say much about it, but it’s pretty clearly written by someone who’s seen “Poltergeist” and “The Amityville Horror” a few too many times. Oh noes, things stackeded in middle of room! I must haz a ghosts!

Sigh…it’s a trainwreck, and I can’t look away. If it’s on again tomorrow, I think I may liveblog it. Because, you know, I’m a glutton for punishment.

On an unrelated note, why is Discovery Channel using “Gimme Shelter” to advertise their show about going into space? Specifically the line “war, children, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away”? I mean, it’s catchy and upbeat, but you really ought to listen to the lyrics before you use the song.

I’ve been playing a lot of “Rock Band” lately with some friends, and let me tell you, it’s weird as fuck to sing that song. It’s a little hard to belt out Mick Jagger’s upbeat “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away” several times in a row.

Edit: Another episode of this crap showed up while I was doing dishes. Not even a token skeptic in this bunch. We have a family who hired the Nick and Nora of paranormal investigators–a “religious demonologist” and his ancient clairvoyant wife–and their student, a worthless fucking tool who claims to believe in ghosts “the way most people believe they’re breathing air. It’s not even a question.” The family is beset by the most mundane of hauntings, with strange creaking noises and a “loud crash” that “couldn’t be natural.” I suppose “falling branches” are now an impossibility. Daddy has a bad dream where he’s covered in bugs, and it “felt so real,” therefore ghosts. Gosh, if I’m stressed and easily scared, I can’t possibly expect to have (ridiculously common) nightmares. When the five-year-old started choking, our worthless tool decided that the proper course of action would be prayer and salt and threatening the ghosts with Jesus; I don’t know, I think my first inclination would be the goddamn Heimlich Maneuver.

But the best bit is when Nick and Nora decide that they need to do an exorcism, but first they have to get permission from the Vatican. Oh great, not only is there an imaginary threat, but there’s imaginary bureaucracy. The whole bit reminded me of this example of imaginary protocol:

I think two hours W.O.O. would be appropriate punishment for these dipshits too.