Author Topic: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims  (Read 629 times)

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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« on: March 08, 2017, 06:50:50 PM »
From Spreading Skepticism:

"However, the goal of the skeptical movement was never—or not for me—to debunk specific beliefs. Instead, it should be to spread critical thinking on whatever subject is shoved in front of us."

Do you agree or not? I agree. Do you think anyone would disagree?
"Large skepticism leads to large understanding. Small skepticism leads to small understanding. No skepticism leads to no understanding." - Xi Zhi

Offline teethering

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2017, 06:53:32 PM »
You can have more than one goal and these aren't mutually exclusive.

Online Harry Black

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2017, 06:56:33 PM »
I think the goal should be both.
Some beliefs are worth debunking just on their own merit.
Even if thats all the skeptical movement did, it would still be valuable.

Offline stands2reason

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2017, 08:10:58 PM »
I think the goal should be both.
Some beliefs are worth debunking just on their own merit.
Even if thats all the skeptical movement did, it would still be valuable.

The problem is that this line of thinking ends up creating skeptical dogma. It doesn't look good as a movement to simply have a laundry list of stuff you aren't supposed to believe. The skeptical movement is only unique insofar as it teaches you how to think, not what to think.

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Offline Boßel

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2017, 08:19:50 PM »
Debunking something is usually the consequence of critical thinking, intentionally or not.

Offline arthwollipot

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2017, 03:18:49 AM »
Spreading critical thinking is all very well, but there is an awful lot of bunk in the world.

Online The Latinist

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2017, 03:22:23 AM »
It's all well and good to teach people proper oral hygiene; but if their tooth is rotten, it's got to be pulled.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2017, 09:20:37 AM »
Both, and debunking specific nonsense can help illustrate critical thinking generally. 

Offline Johnny Slick

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2017, 01:16:15 PM »
Yeah, I think that critical thinking *has* to be the first step. Skepticism is not and just plain cannot be about how Bigfoot isn't real or UFOs are just swamp gas or whatever. For one thing, there's always the possibility that we could be wrong on a lot of those things. That to me is not the interesting argument to make there because in many cases the chances are vanishingly small that we're wrong, but I do feel like the proper science-oriented perspective is to always be aware of even the smallest piece of doubt when it exists.

The bigger issue is that, yeah, skepticism absolutely fails as a persuasive tool when you start with the idea to debunk first and critical thinking second. One of the things that I do like about the Reverend Doctor Emeritus Novella is that he usually tries to err on the side of critical thinking. When he speaks to someone about a potentially wacky belief, he asks them what their proof is and gets them to explain themselves before he goes about talking about how their beliefs don't match up with current science. Or even when he reads a paper or a news article he does at least try to present the other side before quashing it. A *lot* of people in the skeptical movement just plain do not do that.

I think that for me the other issue is that debunking is results-oriented. We shouldn't be results-oriented. We should be process-oriented. This may sound like I'm just repeating myself when I said that critical thinking was the #1 priority but the process is also about more than critical thinking. It's also about empathy and compassion - it's not enough to just hear the words that are coming out of the other side's mouth and formulate the proper response, it's about really and truly understanding not just *what* the "other side" believes, but *why*.

The thing that comes to the forefront for me right now is religion. The choir that I'm singing in right now is technically secular and open to the public but it's very religious in that particular non-denominational Christian way that public choirs can get (and that's fine by me; I enjoy a lot of choral music and let's just say that if you decided not to sing sacred classical choral music, your available repertoire would be greatly reduced). On the other hand, yes, I get that a lot of people in the skeptics' movement feel that the contradictions inherent in most religions but Christianity in particular are such that skepticism is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. Okay, but here's the thing that I see: the people in this group, they may be Christians and they may very well believe a lot of the stuff that we feel that they shouldn't believe, but I'm pretty positive that the #1 reason why a lot of these people are Christians has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they think those beliefs are logically sound. A lot of these people are Christians because their community nearly demands it. Church means a lot more to some folks than just a place to hear about God. It's *the* place where you interact with your local community. It means an easy venue to reach out and help others if you feel the urge to volunteer and change the world. It means an easy excuse to talk with your cousin with whom you have little to nothing else in common with and, absent church, you'd probably talk to at reunions and little else, but are nonetheless still fond of. It means a place that you can turn to when you need help.

Given all of that, can't we as skeptics (or atheists for that matter - I know I conflate the two a *lot* but I do see this kind of negative activism by atheist skeptics when I see it) see that, for example, standing outside of church and offering to debate churchgoers does absolutely nothing for our cause? Maybe we should be thinking harder about how to foster that sense of community within our own movement, but whether we do so or not we at the *very least* need to understand that this stuff means more to people than facts and evidence, and that in turn a fact and evidence based argument is not going to flip them. My opinion is that in the case of a lot of these folks we punt on the issue of religion and try to engage them skeptically in other ways (and FWIW I find a lot of Christians to be just as open to the ideas of skepticism as anyone in the movement is once you make that tacit agreement).

That's maybe the biggest example of skeptics behaving badly that I can think of but it's far from the only one. I do wonder, too, how much we're actually "helping" our cause by indulging schizophrenics who pop in on this board from time to time by arguing with them. Yes, very good. Their worldview is incomplete. They're mentally ill; that is a thing that happens. And I wonder... well, I wonder a lot of things. The bottom line is, like 60% of the issues I see with what we do, easily, have to do with being pre-occupied with results-based skepticism.
Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Online Harry Black

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2017, 01:23:02 PM »
I think it ought to be uncontroversial that skepticism without critical thought is not skepticism.

Regarding skepticism as a movement or activity though, I would say that both debunking AND spreading critical thought are important.
In changing HOW someone thinks is actually extreemly difficult. If Im talking to my sister about whether or not to vaccinate my niblings, its far more important to me that she actually just fucking vaccinates them than walks away with a life lesson.
If both happen then thats awesome.

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2017, 01:45:46 PM »
I think it ought to be uncontroversial that skepticism without critical thought is not skepticism.

Regarding skepticism as a movement or activity though, I would say that both debunking AND spreading critical thought are important.
In changing HOW someone thinks is actually extreemly difficult. If Im talking to my sister about whether or not to vaccinate my niblings, its far more important to me that she actually just fucking vaccinates them than walks away with a life lesson.
If both happen then thats awesome.
I pretty much agree 100% with this and with most of of Johny wrote. 

The question really is, "How much should we emphasize debunking if at all?"  I would 70/30 critical thinking to debunking. 

Online Harry Black

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2017, 02:12:03 PM »
I dont think we need to have a policy on that.
Debunking is a great way to engage people on critical thought and without it, Im not sure on what grounds we would be having such discussions at all?


Online The Latinist

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2017, 05:04:29 PM »
Religion always comes up in these debates.  But there are very few things that I, atheist that I am, care less about debunking than religion.  That my mom takes comfort in thinking that she'll someday be reunited with her dead loved ones in heaven is far less iIf concern to me than that she thinks her coworker can cure my dog's anxiety by performing therapeutic touch on her over the phone.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2017, 05:52:30 PM »
I think it ought to be uncontroversial that skepticism without critical thought is not skepticism.

Regarding skepticism as a movement or activity though, I would say that both debunking AND spreading critical thought are important.
In changing HOW someone thinks is actually extreemly difficult. If Im talking to my sister about whether or not to vaccinate my niblings, its far more important to me that she actually just fucking vaccinates them than walks away with a life lesson.
If both happen then thats awesome.

I agree that both should be goals. I just meant that spreading critical thinking should be the primary priority. But I can see that in the situation you describe, getting her to just vaccinate is the most important thing.
"Large skepticism leads to large understanding. Small skepticism leads to small understanding. No skepticism leads to no understanding." - Xi Zhi

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: General critical thinking and debunking specific claims
« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2017, 06:15:04 PM »
Religion always comes up in these debates.  But there are very few things that I, atheist that I am, care less about debunking than religion.  That my mom takes comfort in thinking that she'll someday be reunited with her dead loved ones in heaven is far less iIf concern to me than that she thinks her coworker can cure my dog's anxiety by performing therapeutic touch on her over the phone.

A quote from the article in the OP: "Internationally, skepticism looks very different than in the United States, where the religious right has built huge controversies about evolution and reproductive rights, which are practically politically dead elsewhere. We “foreigners” can maintain our distance from matters of faith in ways that the U.S. “mother ship” cannot."

I think there is something to that.
"Large skepticism leads to large understanding. Small skepticism leads to small understanding. No skepticism leads to no understanding." - Xi Zhi