The Well-Rounded Skeptic

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Saturday, February 20, 2010 | Published in

Thanks to my super generous wife yesterday I received an Amazon Kindle for Valentine's Day (and birthday and anniversary and Father's day and...) So far I'm loving it, but I'll have to get used to reading everything in grey-scale. As my first major purchase I selected Chris Rodda's "Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History" because 1) It's been on my wish list for a ridiculous amount of time 2) I don't have enough rage in my diet 3) the Kindle edition is about half the price of the paper edition and 4) I've been meaning to dive into the debate about the social studies standards in Texas and Chris's book is perfect ammunition for it.

I haven't even begun to read the book so I can't even begin to give a review but it did get me thinking about something I find interesting. Do you realize how many different branches of knowledge you have to touch to even start to be a well-rounded skeptic? Ok, here's partial list I came up with off the top of my head:

Obviously, to go against theocratic revisionists like David Barton you have to know about early American history, Enlightenment philosophy plus quite a bit about Constitutional law.

To be a Nazi Killer going up against Holocaust Deniers you have to know World War II like the back of your hand. Being fluent in German doesn't hurt either.

If you are up against anti-vaxxers, homeopaths, and various other "natural medicine" woosters you have to know about medicine, immunology, and virology. (It's usually very easy to beat them with basic chemistry though.)

If you want to kick a psychic or medium in the balls you have to know cold reading, psychology and sleight of hand tricks. It's often handy to know all the neat camera tricks too.

Because Creationists are typically very very confused about everything you have to have basic knowledge in biology, genetics, geology, paleontology, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, physics, astrophysics, cosmology, theology, psychology, and, if they are feeling really adventurous, neuroscience.

For cryptozoology you have to know real zoology.

If you want to wade into the climate change debate you have to know the difference between climatology and meteorology. (Basic chemistry helps here too.)

For dowsers... well, you just need your eyes for that one. (Dude, I totally just saw him move his elbow!!1!)

And on top of all of that, you have to memorize the entire list of logical fallacies, know how to do your own research plus know your opponent's arguments, your arguments, and your opponent's counter-arguments. Meanwhile, all they have to do is know how to make shit up on the spot. Doesn't really seem fair now, does it?

(3) Comments

  1. Jay said...

    I devoted north of 5000 words a while back over three articles to explaining why the peculiar, long tongue of a woodpecker isn't a problem for evolution to explain. Set that against the creationist argument, which is basically "it's really freaky and couldn't have come about by chance!"

    We really do have our work cut out for us. The upside is that we get to learn a lot of very interesting material that we might not otherwise be exposed to.

    March 4, 2010 at 7:55 AM
  2. Rev. Ouabache said...

    Yeah, that's something I meant to add to the end but forgot. The fact that they can make things up (or flat-out lie) means that they can make a dozen false claims in the time it takes us to refute one of them. Creationists know this which is why they often resort to the Gish Gallop in live debates. They know that it automatically puts the other person on their heels playing defense with no fast way to recover. I really wish there was someway to turn the tables on them just once.

    March 4, 2010 at 12:55 PM
  3. Jay said...

    It's a tough nut. The big-name characters often stick to a more-or-less well-defined script, so it's possible, in theory, to get a little ahead of them.

    It's better in the written world, since you've got time to lay things out more carefully, but even then we find ourselves having to go back and address a lot of fundamental misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.

    Often it's like having a discussion with a tree stump.

    March 5, 2010 at 9:16 AM

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