Thursday, 30 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Cogito

It is with a certain irony that we can for certain be confident in our own mind's existence, but cannot take that certainty to what a mind requires. The problem is further exacerbated by not being able to see the internal states of others, leaving us without the ability to know whether other creatures have minds too. Yet despite the talk of a Cartesian self or philosophical zombies I don't see many people having their brain removed; even if brains are only a theory...

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Memes

The idea of memes is intuitively valid, the lateral transmission of cultural ideas from mind to mind has a Darwinian appeal. For memes the brains of individuals are the environment by which they're selected, the ability to spread between minds their fitness. But without digital transmission, the notion of a meme might be little more than a metaphor and not really a solid foundation for adequately describing cultural evolution. Yet even as a metaphor it is a useful way of thinking about culture, to explain differences and commonalities among similar lines of thought in different cultures.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Blame

In the desire to find something to blame, sometimes the wrong target is vilified. For vaccines, it represents a public threat because of the misapplied outrage over autism. So while there is the imperative from a societal perspective to quash this falsehood, from the perspective of the victim is it really worth blaming something even if it isn't the right thing to blame? Surely it matters in finding what causes autism instead of blaming something that doesn't, irrespective of all other health concerns that come from the lack of vaccination.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: UFOs

There are a large group of people who are dedicated to looking into the night sky, with anything from binoculars to good sized telescopes. These amateur astronomers are dedicated star gazers, who know quite a bit about what to expect to see in the sky. Yet UFO sightings are seldom seen by amateur astronomers, but by people who don't know much about what to look for. How are we to conclude that alien sightings are anything but an expression of ignorance in the face of the unknown?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Falsifiability

What's the difference between how a successful but falsifiable theory and how a theory that's unfalsifiable look? To the casual observer both would be able to explain all data that came in, so decrying a successful theory as being falsifiable is dismissing it for being right. When it comes to evolution, it's often asked how it could be falsified - the contention that evolution falls into the unfalsifiable category and therefore not science. Yet there are many ways to falsify evolution, from mammals in the precambrian to genetic analysis showing that cockatoos are our nearest relative, there are any number of ways to falsify evolution. The reason it hasn't been falsified is that the theory is good, not unfalsifiable.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Service

I really feel sorry for people in customer service. In most circumstances they're nothing but an interface to policies and practices they have no control over, essentially powerless to have any direct influence except over the most trivial circumstances. It's no wonder they cop such abuse, the human mind hasn't evolved with large corporations, nor has it being able to distinguish between a puppet and a person.

Friday, 24 September 2010


"It is a liberal hope that all religions might be viewed as worshipping the same deity, only in different ways; but this woolly-minded expedient is untenable, as shown by the most cursory comparison of teachings, interpretations, moral requirements, creation myths and eschatologies, in all of which the major religions differ and frequently contradict each other" - A. C. Grayling

Morning Scepticism: Dualism

While one can pontificate abstractly about whether materialism is reconcilable with the experience of qualia, or the problem of the interface between the material and immaterial, one only has to wonder just how a dualist resolves drugs. People take a chemical stimulant and it alters mental states and experience. How can a dualist seriously account for this? It's not just the signal that is altered but experience itself!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Humane

Animals are often euthanised, we claim it's the humane thing to do. When it's suffering and there's nothing else that can be done for it the animal is put down. Yet when it comes to our species, the humane thing is apparently to let people degenerate and suffer beyond comprehension because euthanasia destroys the sanctity of life. It does seem somewhat ironic that we call what we do to animals humane yet deny even the opportunity for humans to take that same course of action - even on their own volition.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

More Objections To Vocal Atheism

Because the objections I raised would always be an incomplete list, here are some more.

"How would you respond to one who proclaims God is dead?"
Ontology: God by definition has to be the greater than great, so God has to be alive for being alive is greater than being dead.

Transcendental argument: If God was dead, then what stops 2+2 from equalling 5?

Induction: The science used to argue for the death of God relies on induction, and induction is unjustified. Remember: all swans are white...

Bible code: The Bible predicts events like 9/11, the words are hidden in the text. This can have no explanation if God is dead.

Jet streams: The Bible contains scientific ideas like jet streams that could not have been known to the ancients. This must be the work of a living God.

Prophecy: Many prophecys in the Old Testament are filled in the New Testament, this could only be so if there exists a living God.

Sacrifice: Why would those who knew the living God personally lay down their lives for Him if He were dead?

Contingency: If evolution weren't directed by a living God, then our existence is nothing but a product of chance and contingency.

Altruism: We should be selfish creatures without a living God.

Faith: I have faith in the living God so no matter the arguments my faith won't be shaken.

Experience: I have experienced God personally, so that's proof that God is not dead.

Miracles: A close relative was diagnosed with terminal cancer that went away, a dead God cannot heal cancer.

Other miracles: A Virgin Mary statue is weeping, this shows God is alive and upset at us.

Disasters: The 2004 tsunami killed hundreds of thousands, could this be any doubt that it was because they didn't believe in the living God?

Near death: I was involved in a car accident where I was nearly killed. If God was dead then why aren't I?

Revelation: God came to me in a dream and revealed to me the secrets of the universe, thus God isn't dead.

Prayer: My prayers were answered, are you writing off my experience as just coincidence?

Afterlife: By saying God is dead it's the denial of anything beyond. And how can this world be enough?

NOMA: Science and religion are but different ways of knowing, so science can't be used to pronounce the death of God.

Suicide: If you truly believed that God was dead, then why don't you kill yourself?

Optimism: By claiming God is dead there is nothing left to base optimism on.

Justice: If God is dead, then those who do truly evil things could never be properly brought to justice.

Solipsism: A very powerful demon could be tricking you into thinking God is dead.

Intellectual superiority: Those who claim God is dead aren't truly informed on the matter.

Society: No matter what you do God will never be seen to be dead, so just get used to it.

Sheep: "God is dead" has just become another religion, with "Pope" Dawkins leading his flock.

Fatwa envy: The only reason you say God is dead instead of Allah is that you're afraid of being killed.

Morning Scepticism: Tofu

Take the arguments against climate change and apply them to obesity. Imagine if someone refused to acknowledge they were even obese to begin with, but conceded if they were it was probably due to natural causes. And in any case it certainly wasn't a result of lifestyle and eating habits. But the idea of obesity is just a left-wing conspiracy perpetrated by vegan tree-huggers who want to marry cows and make everyone eat tofu. So why should they cut back on steak and chocolate when there's no evidence that obesity even exists, let alone that diet has anything to do with it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Desire For Autonomy

Recently I saw the Finnish film Forbidden Fruit, a movie about two girls from a conservative Lutheran sect who leave the confines of their family and community and explore the wider world. While one girl wants to break taboos such as no make-up, alcohol, television, and sex, the other is there to make sure her friend doesn't go too out of control.

While some of the religious talk I found downright laughable, like a priest describing desires as the devil trying to tempt you (when you're going to personalise nature to that extent, it becomes very silly), my main objection about that way of life was that it was the suppression of autonomy for the sake of doctrine.

There's no introspection, no reflection, just "thou shalt not" as the behavioural framework behind which failure to do so means eternal hellfire. To not even permit a freedom of conscience, at the same time as laying down mental trappings to prevent one from doing so, is something I find unconscinable.

This is not to dismiss why such trappings are laid down, it's hard to think that the reason is anything other than for the perceived best intentions. The consequence of hellfire, if true, is reason enough to bring people into line with what will prevent that horrible outcome. As well as ostracising those who have rejected it for they could lead to the damnation of others.

No matter the intent, the outcome produces a failure of choice, a triumph against the will. It's not giving people the opportunity to choose, it's making the choice for them as to how they should live their life. When it gets to the extreme where the shift away from the heteronomy means being ostracised then the system itself represents a threat to the notion of liberty and autonomy.

I don't want this to be taken as autonomy at all costs, or that anyone can be (or ought to wish to be) truly autonomous, or that someone can't be religious and still have more autonomy than someone who isn't. The problem is that totalitarian practice, the triumph over thought and behaviour, that is something that ought to be rallied against.

The difference can be illustrated with the notion of vegetarianism. Consider two different people who are vegetarians. One is vegetarian because she thought about the consequences of eating meat; for the animal, for her body, for the environment, and came to the decision that she should be vegetarian. The other is vegetarian because he was brought up being told that it was evil to eat meat, that if he ate meat it would come back on him in the next life, etc. The difference between the circumstances should be obvious, the woman who was vegetarian was so by choice, while the man didn't get to make a choice in the matter.

And that is the key. Because while both have the theoretical ability to go to a restaurant and order a steak and both have the moral concern that eating meat is wrong, only the woman can be said to have made a choice. For me as an observer, I can respect the woman's moral position but not the man's, because while I personally disagree with that moral dictum I know that the woman is doing it out of self-determination while the man cannot do so in any reasonable sense of the word choice.

Likewise I don't see a problem of someone being a believer for the quality of having belief. Again while genes and upbringing mean that there's no true autonomy, there must be a recognisable difference between a critical evaluation of one's beliefs and learning how to defend one's beliefs from critical evaluation. The difference between losing the faith and losing the faithful, the difference between choice and enforced conformity.

The current outcry against religion is in-part for me rooted in Enlightenment values. While some wax poetically in almost Utopian fashion about the joy of a society without religion, the main thrust is that threat of the destruction of autonomy. It's the removal of one's right to be able to choose that to me embodies the outrage and the need to be vocal. It's to defend those basic rights in the face of an opposition who wishes to take those away.

Morning Scepticism: Burden

When it comes to particular claims, much of arguing is over the position on who has the burden of proof. While it's a bit more complicated in most situations, the basic form of burden should be on the one making positive claims - not the negative position. The reason for this is the negative case is indistinguishable from the lack of a positive case. The burden of proof is on those claiming bigfoot exists, not to those who claim otherwise. Why? Because the lack of evidence for bigfoot looks the same as the evidence for bigfoot's non-existence. It's complicated by notions such as biological plausibility but the general principle holds.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Skyhooked Morality

When I first was asked questions about morality, I didn't really think it required an explanation. What was right was right, what was wrong was wrong, and that's as far as anyone needed to go. Of course when trying that out on others it doesn't really go so well. If they have a different conception of right and wrong, then it's not just a matter of right conduct. It's having to justify right and wrong and that seeks some sort of explanation.

The context I was arguing in was one of education, that individuals knew right and wrong because that's what they were educated to believe. In that sense, I saw morality much the same way I saw law. Only that law was an explicit construct while morality implicit. This kind of explanation made sense to me as different cultures around the world had different conducts of behaviour. As the saying goes "when in Rome..."

This explanation was further solidified when I did ethics at university. Subjectivism had to be wrong because it made the conception useless. If I took your ice cream because that were permissible in my morality, it would make the action right even if you felt it wrong. So there had to be something that would transcend the individual, and it was something that wasn't absolute. So that attribution of an implicit code of conduct was something that sounded right and to my mind could explain differences.

However, I had made the same mistake as those who say altruism is for the good of the species. In seeking a crane, I had inadvertently put in a skyhook.

There were a number of problems with the logic. First was going from IS to OUGHT, that one OUGHT to follow the conventions of a society because it IS how that society operates. There's nothing to suggest that just because that's how a society does it that it makes it right.

The second problem was defining just how a group decides upon that morality. A majority of people? The leadership? The dogma that is proclaimed to be the moral fabric of the community? There's no way to solidify the concept at all.

The third problem was how these change. If morals really were culturally defined, then there has to be some mechanism by which they change. Is something immoral until it becomes the norm? Again this seems to make intuitive sense, like smoking while pregnant is something as a society is now deemed immoral where before there were no problems, but again this at best describes as IS rather than an OUGHT.

That was probably the biggest problem with my conception, there was no OUGHT, only an IS. This was back to moral subjectivism, only as the culture as the individual. It is easy to excuse Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves because that was standard in his time, but if I did that then in what sense did I have to condemn what happened in Nazi Germany?

So for a number of reasons I simply find my old view untenable to hold. It was wrong, both logically and empirically, and worst of all it wasn't useful. It put me into a spot of hypocrisy, on the one hand refusing to condemn or praise on the grounds of culture yet holding some values as beyond it. For a while I referred to my position as moral pluralism, but I was so obsessed with finding an explanation that described how we do behave than how we OUGHT to behave that the position I advocated was inconsistent.

I'm not sure whether or not I have any clearer understanding now, but I'll elaborate on where I currently sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Morning Scepticism: Militants

In order for vaccines to be effective, a significant portion of the population need to be inoculated. It's not enough to just get vaccinated yourself, the promotion of vaccines has to be to as many people as possible. But by doing so this is nothing short of having to be evangelical, to push ones beliefs onto others. Yet we don't label vaccine advocates as being militant or complain that they are just as bad as those anti-vaccinationists...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Role Models

The problems that come with drugs and binge drinking in our society demands an explanation, and plenty of explanations are offered. One convenient target is that of the role model, those athletes and celebrities who are constantly in the public eye and are looked up to by many. But I wonder how this correlates, does someone do cocaine because Ben Cousins did? Or perhaps drink to excess because David Boon did? The most reasonable explanation to me is that the reason that people use drugs or binge drink is the same reason as those celebrates, they are both effects of the same cause - not causal to effect.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: False Equivalence

If someone wants to argue that the use of animals is exploitation no matter what the circumstances, then they stand to argue that the corporate use of people is exploitation no matter the circumstances. That there's no difference between someone working in a sweatshop than someone working for in a good job with decent benefits because both of them are being exploited for the profits of another. There are days I don't want to go to work yet have to because otherwise I'd lose my job, but I don't think that's in any way comparable to someone who works long hours in shitty conditions for a pittance because they would otherwise starve. There's a huge difference between factory farming and other farming practices, even if the end product is that in both cases the farmer uses the animal for its own ends.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Objections To Vocal Atheism

Perhaps it's a symptom of the news cycle, but apart from Michaed Dowd there seems to be no defenders of what is referred to as the new atheism. In fact, the reaction from many is aggression casting out those who speak out against the concept of God by casting them as militant, fundamentalist, and even some (such as the Pope) comparing them to Nazis. With all the vitriol directed at the likes of Richard Dawkins, it's like he's a child-raping mass-murderer who dines on puppies and bathes in the tears of weeping slave-girls.

Yet I don't feel that actually goes far enough to adequately describe what is essentially shooting the messenger. The contention is the cessation of religious privilege in a secular society, which upon even the merest reflection should be desirable whether religious or not, and the charge that in addition to being wrong the concept of a deity and supporting dogma can have negative consequences. This is hardly rounding up people into the gas chambers...

Akin to my unsinkable rubber ducks post, here are many objections levelled against those who publicly argue their heretical views. From different views to different arguments, taking Nietzsche's statement: "God is dead" as a metaphor for the arguments and attitudes against theism and religion and capturing what those objections are. If I've missed any, feel free to add to the list.

"How do you respond to the atheist's charge that God is dead?"
Literalist theist: If anyone claims God is dead then they haven't read The Bible properly.

Fundamentalist theist: If God was really dead then why did blasphemer Christopher Hitchens get cancer?

Liberal theist: That conception of God takes the concept too literally.

Sophisticated theist: Indeed the conception of what they say is God is dead, but that's because they are describing God in a way that doesn't adequately respond to the majesty of the concept.

Pantheist: God is dead represents a personal failing to respect the grandeur of nature.

Weak agnostic: You can't prove that God is dead, so keep an open mind about it.

Strong agnostic: To say God is dead assumes that you can know what God is.

Accomodationist: If you think God is dead then keep that to yourself because we want believers to embrace science.

Philosophy undergrad: By saying God is dead in that way, you're engaging in scientism.

"How would you respond to one who proclaims God is dead?"
The Grandma gambit: Before you say God is dead, think of how your dear sweet grandmother would take it.

Charity: To pronounce God is dead is to forget the good people do in its name.

Fear: If you pronounce God is dead, then they'll behave as if no-one is watching.

Trilemma: Saying God is dead is calling Jesus a liar or a lunatic. Could someone so wise be taken as either?

History: The gospels are a clear testimonial to the living God.

Meaning: Anyone who claims God is dead should be sad that all meaning has been destroyed in the world.

Morality: The recognition of good requires a standard by which good is set, and for Natural Law you need a Natural Law giver.

Teleology: How can you say God is dead when the perfection of the eye is testament to His craftsmanship?

First cause: If God is dead then who brought something from nothing?

Fine-tuning: The size of the carbon atom needs to be so precise to allow for our existence that it attests that God isn't dead.

Nazism: Do you know who else claimed God is dead? Hitler!

Stalinism: Russia codified the notion that God is dead and look what happened.

Beauty: There is just too much beauty in the world to entertain the notion that God is dead.

Consciousness: By saying God is dead, it's claiming that matter can think.

Free will: If God is dead then humans would be bound to physical law, thus all actions are beyond their control.

Certainty: Without the revelation from an infallible deity, you can't be certain of anything including that God is dead.

Being a dick: It's not so much that you say God is dead, it's the way you say it. The best way to say it is not saying anything at all.


"Be quiet, unhappy man, and consider that pleasure pulled you out of nothingness" - Denis Diderot

Morning Scepticism: Obesity

When I look at the kinds of books on sale in book-stores I can deduce two things about obesity. First, the number of titles suggests that there is a great desire to lose weight. Second, the content of almost every book is nonsense. If diet books actually worked then there wouldn't be much of a market for it, let alone the need for a market.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Induction

Because empirical knowledge about the world relies on induction, we can't be certain about anything. Just because every white swan has been observed thus far, it doesn't mean all swans are white. This is a limit of knowledge, not a problem. Those who highlight the problem of induction curiously enough don't put their doubts over the validity of scientific knowledge to the test and see whether they'll fly if they jump off a tall building. After all, they can't be certain they'll fall to their deaths...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Greedy Reductionism

When it comes to human consciousness, there's one argument that leads to two contradicting conclusions. Since we are made of atoms and we are conscious, this must be explained in terms of atomic structure. A reductive regress either leads to atomic consciousness, or to dualism. It's like saying that since computers just manipulate the flow of electrons, either an electron is a web-page or a web-page is external to the physical computation. Computers at the core are electron flow, but a web-page is something more than reducing it to its parts.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Ignorance

It's amazing that creationists still use the same debunked arguments despite there being plenty of information available showing exactly how and why the arguments are bad. The same misunderstandings of evolutionary theory could be remedied through readily available information: websites; lectures and courses put online in both audio and video format; podcasts; books; magazines; etc. It's all there and yet creationists still ask whether a cat can give birth to a dog as if that proves God made it all 6000 years ago.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Necessity

One repeated claim I hear from vegans is that eating meat and using animal produce is not necessary, therefore the cruelty to animals since it can be avoided is wrong. Now as someone who lives in the modern day, pretty much my entire life has elements of the superfluous to it. With eating meat at least there's nutritional value to it, yet there's little in the way of necessity I can argue for the scotch shipped halfway across the world in my glass. If I were to cull the superfluous from my life, meat would be one of the last things because it does serve a purpose beyond the pleasure.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Monotheism

Earlier today I posted this on twitter:
Every time I see Christians complaining about Islam as a violent religion, I hear the sounds of heretics being tortured and witches burning!
The rationale behind this was not to defend Islam or have a(nother) shot at Christianity, but to make a point about religious hypocrisy. It's easy in this modern day to forget about the horrors done in the name of Christianity in the context of a fight against the Enlightenment of the last 500 years, and that there should be anything other than a radicalising when an absolutist monotheism is being threatened culturally.

This is not to say that radicalising is justified or that it shouldn't be opposed, but to put it in a wider context. Those who write Islam off as an inherently violent religion neglect this, partaking in the demonising of an entire group. That religion is a motivator doesn't mean that motivation itself is wrapped up in dogma. Searching for violent phrases in The Koran or pointing to the frequency of suicide attacks involving Muslims isn't sufficient unless it is put in a wider context.

From the rise of Christianity to the present there has been a struggle over the dominion of others mind. Destruction and censorship of antithetical works, wars, inquisitions, schisms, reinterpretations, etc. From the absolute rule of the Catholic Church to now arguing over what domain religion occupies, this is a huge shift; and even now there are those who wish for theocracy and even an implementation of Levitician law.

I don't think this is exclusively a problem of monotheism, but I do find it ironic when adherents to one monotheism are quick to label another as entailing some negative connotation. Is Islam is inherently violent because of violent verses and the actions of its followers, then so is Christianity. Both historically and scripturally the evidence is clear. The difference in the two cases is that the modern form of Christianity we see is one that has been shaped through conflict and cultural change.

I feel a lot of this problem would go away with the recognition that people aren't just the embodiment of ideas, that there is such thing as the human condition, and that those who hold different beliefs still share much of what we consider "good". By trying to define a group by a dogma it dehumanises them, and while people can and do act on dogma and for the protection thereof it doesn't make that a fair characterisation. To do so is to hijack what it means to be human.

Morning Scepticism: Abstinence

Abstinence-only education seems to come down to two underlying principles. 1. Teens shouldn't have sex. 2. Knowledge about sex will encourage it. While the first principle is a moral issue, the second principle is evidentially false to the point of being dangerous. It's as if hormones are taken as some minor pesky irritant but largely inconsequential to the decision making process involving sex... are abstinence proponents eunuchs?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Papal Morality

Why the Pope is still being treated with deference is beyond me, the man protected child rapists for the good of The Church. Even without playing on the myth that there's some link between morality and religion, I wonder at what point people would be outraged. So a few different scenarios...

The leader of a large country was found to have covered up the actions of a member of his political party who engaged in sexual activity with teenage volunteers working on his campaign. The teenagers were under-age, and the leader who was then a senior member of the party covered it up because such a scandal would hurt the image of the party and damage its election chances.

The head of a chain of well-respected private schools was found to have covered up the actions of teachers at several different schools who engaged in sexual activity with the students in both primary and secondary education. The students were all under-age, and the head who was then a senior official of the schools covered it up because it would damage the reputation of the schools meaning enrollment would decrease and other teachers would be out of a job.

The CEO of a childcare corporation was found to cover up the actions of carers at many schools who engaged in sexual activity with children. The CEO was a senior official of the company at the time, and covered it up because it would destroy the corporation which would have drastic effects on teachers, shareholders and parents who needed a childcare service.

What should we think of each of these scenarios? In each case the individual involved protected child-rapists because of the damage it would cause for the greater good. What good is destroying a political party's chances when it can do a better job than the opposition? What about a series of schools that give good education to students and a leg up in life? What about childcare centres that provide a vital service to the community? This is not to mention the costs to those innocent people who did nothing wrong, those teachers, childcare workers, political party members all of whom are being punished because of the actions of a few sick perverted individuals.

It's unfortunate we live in a time where the association of an individual with a corporate image. The actions of an individual affect the lives of others, and that's hardly fair. For a childcare worker especially, their image will be tainted with the actions of the child-rapists. Does this warrant reticence on the part of those in power to protect the good?

Yet how should we feel about the person in that position? If they didn't fire the child-rapists, but were the ones who hushed it up. So those child-rapists escaped punishment and were still in a position to rape children. Only that they weren't kept with the same group of children but moved to a new area with children who had no knowledge of the child-rapists child-raping tendencies. Should the person be treated as anything other than a moral monster? It's hard to see how we can think of anything but.

Because while there are complicating factors and innocents thrown into the cross-fire, people realise that the rape of a child is one of the most heinous actions an individual can do, and to cover it up without taking action is not only failing to act, it's passive condoning. It makes child rape another indiscretion, an abstract not to be taken seriously unless it causes harm for the image. That children have been violated by an adult is neglected, the horrific nature of the act not even considered let alone the potential harm to other children from not taking an appropriate stand.

The sad thing about the likes of Richard Dawkins campaigning against the Pope is that it can be spun into vilification of the religious by atheists, again the reasons forgotten as to why people might feel aggrieved at the Pope to begin with. It's not the actions of the Church with the help of spreading AIDS in Africa or its condemnation of homosexuality, but of the Pope protecting and enabling child-rapists.

What I wonder is why there isn't moral outrage? Why aren't political leaders rushing to condemn the Pope's actions? Why aren't Catholic priests along with other religious leaders in the community echoing that same outrage? Where are the celebrities, the public intellectuals, social advocates for justice, and even the general public? Surely if anything people can get behind it's the protection of children.

And no doubt there are at least some voices speaking up, yet what good are those voices when they don't fit into the juicy narrative of the rise of militant atheism? Take the focus away from the horrors of enabling child-rape and make it as issue of religious freedom. It works wonders. That way people can pat themselves on the back how tolerant they are, for they have defended a child-rapist enabler.

Morning Scepticism: Literacy

Being illiterate in this modern world is a huge disadvantage, and given how much information is transmitted through written language it becomes vital to have the ability to read. Yet we live in a world that has been built by science, yet scientific understanding even on a basic level eludes an alarmingly large percentage of the population. Beyond the problems that stem from scientific ignorance (such as AIDS denial or mind control conspiracies), it does seem a tenuous situation to live in an artificial environment without sufficient knowledge of how that is achieved or how to preserve it. It just creates unrealistic expectations and flocking to magic.

Friday, 10 September 2010

What Do You Mean "Open-Minded"?

When I was a child I was led to believe that someone could bend spoons just with their mind. In fact I was led to believe that psychic powers such as mind-reading and telekenesis were real. For a time I was worried about others reading my thoughts and even strove to see if I could learn others.

At the same time I remember other kids claiming they could do so, with the amazing feat of knowing what the person would say next. It was apparent though that far from being able to read minds it relied on intuitive psychology by asking leading questions. Those worked some of the time, yet all attempts to actually read thoughts proved fruitless.

I don't know when I fully gave up on dualism or even when I first started doubting it. But at some point I for practicality gave up on it, then as I got older and read more I gave up on it. This is not an account of why belief in psychic powers is silly, but what it means to have an open mind.

It seems there are two different things meant when someone brings up open-mindedness, and while irreconcilable they are often equivocated. The first is a basic principle of sceptical inquiry:
Don't dismiss out of hand the possibility of an idea.
This should be reasonable enough, it would be a shame if an idea was dismissed with no possibility for acceptance without a proper examination. Otherwise it would be arguing out of ignorance. Yet this basic principle is bastardised with what many mean when they ask about an open mind.
Don't use science and reason to deny my experience.
The problem with the way people use open mind is wanting to suspend what we know to place a narrative in its place that sits outside it.

This is not to say that science and the application of reason are infallible endeavours, but that the suspension of them at the first sign of a conflicting narrative isn't really a good way of going about things. To take on board without consideration would be just as bad as dismissing without consideration, at both points the idea has gone unexamined beyond the reflexive.

The difference between the different forms is the difference between examination of the evidence and contemplation of the interpretation. If someone says they saw Bigfoot, it's not their good word the case rests on but what the evidence says. It might be that they actually saw it, that's a possibility however remote but we can't take that account on board as being either truth or lies.

The first kind is a recognition of fallibility while the second kind is putting interpretation above all else. To use an analogy of Dan Dennett, the first kind is seeking the grounding of cranes while the latter is begging for a skyhook. The skyhook may ultimately lead to other cranes that we can't yet comprehend but whether there are cranes or not is incidental to the acceptance of the skyhook.

I wasn't aware of the Skeptic movement until about 5 years ago, one of my old house-mates introduced me to Bullshit! and from there reading the likes of Michael Shermer then getting more involved both online and offline. But that didn't turn me into a sceptic, I was one for years without even knowing the label let alone the movement.

It's that first kind of open-mindedness that distinguishes a sceptic from a non-sceptic. No-one is downright credulous, and indeed it would be hard to put ideas like conspiracy theories into anything other than misapplied scepticism. The difference between the two kinds of open-mindedness is the desire to ground the beliefs as much as possible; to show the cranes from the ground up rather than to grasp at skyhooks.

Perhaps one day someone will come along that can really bend spoons with their minds. I doubt this in the telekenetic sense, but there's always the possibility. But until such time as can be demonstrated that it can work and how that fits into a well-grounded epistemology, then there's every reason to be sceptical of those claims. The danger is the equivocation between the grounded sense of an open mind (that it might be possible) and the other sense where seeing someone bend a spoon means he did it through telekenesis.

As is so often said, open your mind but not so much that your brain falls out.


"Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going." - Michael Shermer

Morning Scepticism: Hard Problems

Consider the eye. If evolution holds true then at one stage our ancestors didn't have eyes, yet now we do. And what good is half an eye? Checkmate evolutionists! The hard problem of the eye is solved not by ancestors with half an eye, but a more basic eye, and this goes all the way back to the barest patch of skin that is reactive to light. The lesson should be that when it comes to biology, we should be wary of the hard problem of anything. To talk in terms of the hard problem of consciousness should be as absurd as talking about the hard problem of the eye.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Free Market

What the GFC showed is that the idealised model of the free market doesn't work, it turns out that large corporations don't exist in a vacuum, the interconnected nature of businesses with people and jobs made bailouts a necessity. That they ought to have been allowed to go under would be of little comfort when many are put out of work and flow-on effects harm other businesses depending on the business of those who derive such an income.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Digital

Infrastructure doesn't go in overnight, it takes time, energy and most of all money. Keeping telecommunications infrastructure at the bare minimum for what is necessary might seem like a sound idea, but it makes as much sense as building 2 lane highways even though congestion on that road in 2 years time means extra upkeep. One advantage we as conscious agents have over natural selection is future planning, it's not a waste if it's for an almost certain inevitability.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Collective Knowledge

Recently I put together an entertainment unit. It was quite an easy job, all I needed was a screwdriver because the wood was cut and all the joiners came with it. By doing this way I was sacrificing a tailor-made solution to fit my needs, instead putting together a pre-made design whether that was right and wrong for me. It was mostly right, looked good enough, and all I had to do was just assemble it.

But what if I wanted to do it myself? While I'm no expert, I think I would have been able to design something that would have suited my needs. And if I had the time and effort I probably could have built something quite nice. I could have taken into account what I would use it for, my space limitations, my limited carpentry abilities, and been able to design what I wanted.

This this design wouldn't start with me forging my own tools, cutting down a tree and making the bonding agents whether they be metal or chemicals. Instead I would go to the hardware store and buy the materials and equipment to make it. In fact my design is dependant on those tools and materials being in those ready-made states. Even if I had knowledge on how to make those materials and tools, the amount of time and effort it would take would make it not worth doing.

From our ancestors over 3 million years ago who first fashioned rudimentary cutting tools, there has been a gradual increase in exploration of design space, something rapidly increased in modern times. The success of modern technology is because certain advances meant opening up new opportunities. Could a mobile phone exist without the invention of the integrated circuit, which in turn was dependant upon the transistor, which in turn ... back deep in time?

Just think of what a great invention the harnessing of fire was. Not only did it mean the ability to cook food and provide warmth but it opened up new design opportunities. Forging metal and making pottery need fire, so better tools could be made which could open up even further opportunities.

Fast-forward to the present. When I go to buy timber for my hypothetical entertainment unit, the tree has been cut into usable timber by advanced tools, something I could not have done myself from scratch. The screws like the drill made by machines working to a plan, again what I could not have done myself.

Yet therein lies the advantage for the handyman. All I need to be able to drill is to know how to use one. I don't need to know how its designed, how to build one, or even how it works beyond the functional sense. I can just go and buy a drill at a hardware store, charge up the batteries and then drill away. I can do a lot with the drill, build things I couldn't without, without needing to bother with the fine details that come with the drill. In short, the tools allow me to search through a previously inaccessible design space.

And this is the way with all things designed. I don't need to be able to build a computer, an operating system or a programming language from scratch, but because all this is done for me I can build software on top of all that. My area of (relative) expertise a job that wasn't even dreamed of 50 years ago, yet is a vital part of modern society. How far our species has come!

It's not just in the practical sense, think of what job a story-teller has today. Only a few thousands years ago a story-teller was confined to oral tradition. Then with the invention of writing came the ability to write down stories so they could be passed on. And this has been further enhanced over time; just think of what movies mean for and open up to story-tellers.

There are two points I could tie all this together into. The first is one about the contingent nature of our knowledge, where what we know isn't something gained for free but a cumulation over time. The second is one of practicality, where knowledge can build on knowledge and it isn't sufficient for us to know much about anything really because what matters is the functional aspect of what we need.

Both points are interlocking, important for an understanding of what is knowledge. While we can decry the increasing rate of those who lack "basic" skills like cooking, this shouldn't be any more an issue than the lack of self-grown food. The farmer who grows my food means I can live in an urban environment where I can specialise in something else yet still have that necessary aspect of my life taken care of. I can and do like to cook, and I do have the time. But someone who is very busy in their specialisation can use specialist cooks to provide them meals.

We can devote specialists to study what we consume and determine what's safe and what's not. It opens up new exploratory paths that us as individuals wouldn't be able to do ourselves, again a good thing. Before specialisation in studies, it would have been left to anecdotes and personal experience to determine anything. Those specialists build on the collective knowledge, with the individual benefiting with only a scraping of that.

Back to my hypothetical entertainment unit and the need for those two points becomes apparent. I'm able to build the unit because of all those who came before me, being an intelligent agent isn't enough. Even the design is a result of historical contingency, genes and memes shaping how I could make one. Yet at the same time I don't need to know anything more about the process than what is functionally relevant, I only would need a tiny subset of all that collective and cumulative knowledge in order to achieve my goal. But without it I wouldn't even be able to contemplate building something like that let alone do it.

Morning Scepticism: Negative

Being negative is easy, it's what sceptics do best. Take a claim and dissect it through critical analysis and empirical validity. Of course to do this one needs some positive understanding, and that is often forgotten. It's not just through examination ex nihilo that homoeopathy is found to be lacking, but it conflicts with what is known about physics and biology. To focus on the negative only makes sense in light of what positive knowledge we already have, so perhaps one needs to make a positive case for how we can know before stating why claim X doesn't work.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Evolving Complexity

One problem in a creationist understanding of evolution is the problem of gradients. Terms like irreducible complexity are part of the description of the general idea that it either works or it doesn't, framed with such questions like "what use is half an eye?" Where this line of reasoning fails is the distinction between having something and nothing at all, and improvements on having something.

To take the eye, for example, the creationist looks at the eye as it is now. Multiple interlocking parts, where removal or modification means severely-reduced function or even no function at all. The Darwinian is left seeming to defend the absurdity that the eye so intricately complex as being able to come about through random mutation.

While the creationist intuition that it either works or it doesn't is correct, what they fail to grasp is the historical contingency of the matter. That is to say the modern eye (no matter what species) is a product of gradual improvements on simpler working eyes, that the jump from no sight to sight was to the bare minimum that it could be. It's not from a bare patch of skin to the human eye, but to photosensitive cells. From there, the Darwinian process could improve on the eye, all the while having working sight but getting better and better over time.

This is the danger of the post hoc reasoning that creationists often employ. By looking back on structures with function that Darwinian evolution posits has been modified over millions of years then asking about intermediates from an ex nihilo state, the process is misrepresented and the creationist making the argument has inadvertently attacked a straw-man.

The end result is looking at structures like wings and asking how they came about as if the structure is useless unless it's a fully formed wing. In wing evolution, the Darwinian account posits that wings are modified limbs, which in turn were modified fins. Even if the creationist is willing to concede this account, it still posits an irreversible divide between the limb / wing distinction on the same grounds - either it flies or it doesn't and a modified limb ceases to be useful as a limb and as a wing.

In the case of the wing we can look to the animal kingdom to see such an intermediate: gliding. Many creatures independently have developed the ability to glide in some capacity. Yet even if we didn't know of an intermediate, it doesn't mean that it wasn't there. In cases like eyes or wings we do have a good ability to reconstruct an evolutionary history through many different converging lines of inquiry, so a case where there isn't an obvious intermediate isn't reason to abandon all that we know for the sake of an unexplained history.

The absurdity is actualised when this logic is used to justify anomaly-hunting; the search for the clinching evidence that conscious and intelligent input is at the heart of nature. Why else would structure on a bacteria matter for someone looking for a proof of God? It's just one more unexplained structure in the long battle of wanting the breakdown of the Darwinian algorithm.

Yet there are always going to be anomalies because our knowledge is incomplete. Perhaps some of those anomalies will be sufficient to modify or overthrow some scientific conceptions but finding an anomaly is never going to mean that all the times when the explanation does work can be discarded.

The problem would go away if properly applied to the Darwinian evolutionary algorithm. That the binary approach of either it works or it doesn't has to be the very first step in a cumulative process, not applied to structures that have been crafted cumulatively over millions of years. The eye either sees or it does not, but a fly eye and a human eye both see, as do the eyes of much more simple creatures.

To illustrate this concept, consider a synthetic material that no life-form has the ability to break down. This is an untapped resource. So a mutation in a particular bacteria comes along that allows for the bacteria to "feed" on this synthetic material. It doesn't matter how rudimentary this is, since it's able to do something no other organism has. Then subsequent mutations aren't about whether it can or can't break down this synthetic material, but how well it can. It could break down the material from the first valid mutation, all subsequent mutation thereafter builds on that.

Morning Scepticism: Carrot

One metaphor that is often used is that of a boy dangling a carrot in front of a donkey, the donkey sees the carrot and moves towards it but it remains out of reach. So the donkey keeps moving and in the process transports the boy. The boy is using a fake reward that the donkey doesn't realise can't be gained. This sounds just like the afterlife, chasing a carrot that has been dangled in front of you for the ends of another.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Dawkins' Ultimate 747

Richard Dawkins gets a lot of criticism for the way he portrayed the arguments around God in The God Delusion. While I hear mixed things from philosophers about his reasoning, and it probably didn't help that he took a sarcastic approach to responses, it's the argument from improbability which his case rests on. Many have embraced this argument on the atheist side, while many theists and critics of The God Delusion write it off as missing what God is. Of course theists don't believe that God is a hyper-evolved superhuman, Dawkins misses what God is. He's basing his atheism on a straw-man!

The argument is taken as an absurdity because the notion of complexity only applies to material complexity, and since God is immaterial it doesn't apply. God is of necessity, not of chance. An immaterial abstract infinite necessity that cannot be constrained by the finite contingent limited minds that we possess.

Then there's the problem of a scientific exploration of the God Hypothesis; it fails because the question of God is not a scientific issue but a philosophical one. He assumes naturalism, so of course God is going to look like a silly concept in a naturalistic construct of reality. Dawkins by taking naturalistic suppositions into the construct is misrepresenting the issue.

Yet I wonder just how we can talk of God at all when our language and conceptions are shaped by naturalism. For us to have thoughts, we now understand that the material construct of the brain underlies our mental world. So what would it mean to talk about God as "all-knowing", let alone "knowing", in a supernatural sense? For us the only way of obtaining the possibility of thought has been billions of years of evolution, gradually building complex brains capable of abstract thought.

In this sense Dawkins' argument should be clear. It's not taking the classical conception of God and dismissing it through science, rather it's taking the classical conception of God and claiming based on what we know about the world and saying what God must be. It's no wonder Dawkins says: "God wants to have his free lunch and be it too", those who describe God attach labels and phenomena that are products of the evolutionary process and then claim it's a philosophical necessity.

Raising consciousness
After laying out the Ultimate 747 Gambit, the next section is Natural Selection as a Consciousness-raiser. Because unconsciously people are wired for the design stance, natural selection is a means to make us aware of such biases. But it does more than that too, in natural selection's ability to explain us it's not only putting our mental states into a naturalistic perspective but throwing down the challenge of explaining just how a supernatural entity can possess those traits.

The problem with writing it all off to philosophy is the same reason for mind-body dualism. While one could argue there are philosophical problems with the notion of something immaterial interacting with a material, the observed relationship between the mental and brain activity is what really settles the issue. Alter the brain and you alter the mind, damage the brain and you damage the mind. While ultimately there are philosophical underpinnings on which the hypothesis rests, it would be not only absurd but intellectual poverty to ignore all empirical evidence for the sake of maintaining dualism.

It's in that sense that natural selection, indeed all scientific advancement, should raise our consciousness to what we ascribe to entities such as gods. If we know the link between neural activity and abstract though, how can we say that the supernatural can have that without having the organised complexity that comes with our naturally-selected brains? Yet this is what theists are arguing for, a super-human without the material burden that confines and defines us.

To me, Dawkins' argument succeeds because he takes what we know about the world and then applies it to what theists say about God. It's not an argument against the God Hypothesis as theists frame God, but an argument for what God must be to resemble how theists frame it. By calling it supernatural it's trying to get away with getting those attributes built over billions of years through the evolutionary process then claiming them as necessary for the existence of the universe, and therefore eternal life for us! (the good or bad kind of eternal life depends on whether you recognise that fact; failure to do so results in the bad kind)

The problem, it seems to me, is that it's framed as an argument against God, he's built a straw-god then knocked it down. He's missed what God actually means, hence the claims of not addressing the sophistsophisticated conception of God because of a lack of theological study. If only Dawkins could have spent time addressing the sophisticated arguments, then he could have made the same argument but without the charge of arguing out of ignorance.

Morning Scepticism: Boost

One thing I often hear about herbal and vitamin supplements is that they "boost" the immune system. Though I'm not really sure what that actually means. Do they facilitate the increased production of cells? Do they help in the formation of the right antibodies? While I applaud the marketing technique, I can't help but think it's about as useful to "boost" the immune system as it is to "cleanse" the ear canal by listening to some Mozart every once in a while.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Morning Scepticism: Worship

The concept of atheism should be really simple to grasp. It's not-theism, that's it. The negative position on the question of interventionist deities. That whole idea of supernatural beings manipulating world affairs? An atheist doesn't do that. And that's all there is to it! So when I hear something like "atheists are devil-worshippers", I can't help but feel that someone has missed the point very badly.

Friday, 3 September 2010


"When creationists start to argue that the dating methods used in geology are unreliable, you do not see scientists getting huffy about "scientism," nor do they start evoking flabby analogies to believing that they love their mother. They run at them with empirical rebuttal." - Sastra (Pharyngula commenter)

Morning Scepticism: Hand Washing

It's quite amazing to consider that with all the advances of modern medicine that washing your hands regularly with soap is still the best way of stopping the spread of many diseases and reducing the risk of getting sick yourself. What's amazing about this is that it was discovered before there was germ theory! It's plausibility is wrapped up in the germ theory of disease now, but it goes to show that it's not necessarily necessary to need an underlying explanation to see that something works.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Interpreting The Bible

On a recent episode of Point Of Inquiry, it featured a talk by Robert Price on how atheists should view The Bible. His argument, in a nutshell, was that just because fundamentalists take a literal interpretation of the Bible it doesn't mean that we as atheists should accept that. The analogy he used was if people did that for the Homeric literature, it would be a mistake to be dismissive of The Iliad just because some people took it as being inerrant truth.

Unlike Robert Price, I don't have any particular desire to protect The Bible any more than The Iliad or The Koran or any other book of mythology. And for that reason I am guilty of being one of those who was overly dismissive, taking the fundamentalists at their supposition and not actually challenging them beyond making the obvious point that a talking snake is a strong indicator that something is myth and not inerrant truth.

Let's suppose the Inerrant Word Of GodTM...
Presuppositional apologists use this literal interpretation as a means to defend their world-view. Does a talking snake really matter to the question of salvation through vicarious atonement? Not really, but if the talking snake becomes a metaphor then what's to stop the resurrection being seen as one too? Make it the inerrant word of God from start to finish and such pesky questions can be avoided. It's then the heretic's word against God's, and if God says there was a talking snake then there was a talking snake.

The problem with this type of reasoning is that it's there not because there's value in it truth-wise, but that there's value in using it as a shield. In doing so real knowledge is relegated to the musings of mere mortals, and as mere mortals they take their beliefs as the divine.

This doesn't tell us anything about the world and at times even be misleading. It's forsaking what is known for the ability to push a moral and existential agenda. It's not even the possibility of revealed knowledge rather the actuality of possessing it. It doesn't take much to see how this can be problematic, people going to faith healers instead of seeking real treatment or the persecution of others who for whatever reason happen to go against what is considered Revealed TruthTM.

A popular falsehood
To get back to what Robert Price was trying to illustrate, by taking believers at their word of what The Bible means I miss what the book is meant to be. The sad fact, however, is that while I've frequently fall into discussions with those who believe The Bible is inerrant (or at the very least divinely inspired), I don't see many believers defending the book as a socially-constructed human-edited mythic narrative.

While this isn't an excuse, it is at least a reason as to why there's a focus on the book in that manner. It's vocally defended as such, talking snake and all. Those contradictions that are on the Skeptics Annotated Bible are relevant when The Bible is defended as being inerrant, and while this is not engaging in serious biblical criticism it is taking on a popular view. And that's okay.

To illustrate this, consider the arguments against homoeopathy that there's nothing in it. A homoeopath could just say that they are aware that homoeopathy contains no active ingredient, but there are many who defend homoeopathy as a form of herbalism where ingredients are listed on the packaging. Arguing against homoeopathy in the pure form would miss a lot of people who take the "remedy", but to argue against the conceptions that are popularly-held addresses what is being proposed.

Setting the record straight
As a non-believer I'm in a very awkward position when I point out that someone is interpreting The Bible incorrectly. It's me telling them how to define their beliefs and their dogma. At the end of the day my beliefs remain the same irrespective of how believers interpret The Bible, or any other text for that matter.

The best I can really do is talk about the logical implications and point to absurdities that arise from what position is taken. For example what it means in the context of all other cultural myths, what science and archaeology have to say, or point to documentaries or books by experts in the field. Beyond that I simply don't have the expertise, let alone the desire to obtain it.

Yet from my perspective there really isn't such thing as a right or wrong way to make dogma out of a holy book, or any book for that matter. It's a problem of authority, not of interpretation. It's taking a perceived authority in authorship and interpretation as justification of the belief, and that only works if others play along. In that respect it's important to at least make the case for the absurdity of biblical inerrancy because it's giving undue authority to a book that doesn't have it. It privileges a belief beyond what it's entitled to, and for that reason Robert Price has a point. There's nothing holy about any holy book unless we grant it that, or allow others to do so without protest.

Morning Scepticism: Soul

For those who believe in the soul as a separate entity from the body, just how does a soul come about in the first place? Is it created ex nihilo at the time of conception? Did it always exist, waiting for an attachment to a physical body? Is it something that grows and changes with experience? Because the more I try to think about what a soul could possibly entail, the more confusing the concept becomes.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Unsinkable Rubber Ducks

In terms of building up a robust world-view, it's understandable that one would want to make it as durable as possible. If an idea is internally incoherent or easy to dismiss then it's not going to survive very long in the marketplace of ideas, not to mention it's incredibly unsatisfying to hold such a frail belief. In other words, we want to make our ducks as unsinkable as possible.

Once someone forms a belief, they seek to justify it. There are plenty of ways to do this, some better than others. No-one wants to see their precious duck in the bottom of the bath, so through the use of the metaphor of a rubber duck here are a list of different arguments and concepts that people use to justify why they hold their duck as being unsinkable.

Presupposition rubber duck - For you to even test whether my duck is unsinkable, you first need to have an unsinkable duck. Since you can't demonstrate that your duck is unsinkable, then you don't have grounds to see whether mine sinks.

Revealed rubber duck - The great duck in the sky has revealed to me that this rubber duck is unsinkable. And who are you to call the great duck in the sky a liar?!?

Last rubber duck standing - All other rubber ducks I tried appeared to sink, all suffering from fatal design flaws. Since there must be an unsinkable rubber duck, it follows that my duck is unsinkable because all other ducks have sunk.

Faith rubber duck - I have faith that my duck is unsinkable. Even if you show it to be sinkable and even demonstrate that it has sunk, I won't stop believing that my duck is unsinkable.

Comfort rubber duck - Believing this duck is unsinkable gives me great comfort, so why would I want to abandon it?

Anecdotal rubber duck - I heard from Bob that Jill is in the possession of a duck that, get this, is unsinkable. Bob's usually pretty reliable when it comes to these matters, if Bob says Jill has one then Jill has one.

Conspiracy rubber duck - All signs point to my duck floating, that evidence you presented of my duck sinking is proof that my duck floats. Just think of who gains to profit by my duck's demise!

Ancient rubber duck - This rubber duck has been part of our culture for thousands of years. If it were sinkable then why would our ancestors have kept it for so long? By even claiming that the duck is sinkable is belittling my culture, why are you so intolerant?

Alt-med rubber duck - Why should we pollute our bodies with the artificial toxins your duck offers when my duck is natural? Big Pharma uses your duck to keep us sick and handing over our money when my duck only seeks to heal.

Psychic rubber duck - My duck is unsinkable, I've seen it float. It doesn't matter that it doesn't float all the time, when it floats or not is at the whims of powers well beyond our comprehension. Suffice to say that when it floats it is unsinkable.

Secret Rubber Duck - The only reason my duck seems sinkable is because you didn't want it badly enough. If you had truly wanted my duck to be unsinkable then it would have been so.

Post-modern rubber duck - The construct of a rubber duck is a cultural phenomenon, the subjective point of reference defeats the inference that there can be a quality such as sinkability nor can it articulate the desirability for said construct to achieve such a state, whereby the imperialist tendencies to impose the masculine notion of rubber ducks without consideration for the quantum efficacy of articulating through fluidity a thought supposing fascism of the mind forced onto those unsuspecting and without any need to value the construct of a rubber duck.

Freudian rubber duck - What an interesting duck you have, of course your duck can be explained in terms of my duck. How do you feel about your mother? My duck explains that too. In fact everything can be explained by my duck.

Sceptic rubber duck - I can't be certain this duck even exists. While I'll live my life as if the duck is unsinkable, I can't ever know that it's real let alone unsinkable. Sufficient introspective analysis should show the same about yours.

Empirical rubber duck - This duck is the culmination of thousands of failed designs that have come before, we have learnt from our mistakes and subjected it to rigorous testing. But go ahead and try to sink it, I'll take on board that failure and come up with a better design.

Agnostic rubber duck - (Weak) I don't know whether those claiming their duck is unsinkable really have an unsinkable duck. (Strong) Those who claim their duck is unsinkable cannot know and therefore aren't justified in saying so.

Atheist rubber duck - (Weak) I'm not going to believe you have an unsinkable duck until you show sufficient information to make that case. (Strong) That duck has definitely sunk, look it's at the bottom of the bath with a huge rip in the side.

Morning Scepticism: Eyewitness

If eyewitness accounts are the only available evidence for a particular phenomena, then it's only fair to analyse those claims in the context of what we know about the mind. False memories, interpretation, pareidolia, hallucinations, lying, etc. These are phenomena that we know exist. So the next time you're abducted by aliens at least try to smuggle back the probe they used, otherwise the account has little chance of being plausible.