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Obstacles to Critical Thinking

I don’t really mean to, but I find myself debating people a lot. Imagine me as some sort of super geek who pushes her glasses against her nose, raises an index finger, and says “Umm, actually…” in a nasally voice. Except I don’t wear glasses. But it’s a usefully tool of illustration, so just pretend that I do. Anyway, in my many debates, I’ve found that I encounter the same stumbling blocks to critical thinking repeatedly. They’re the same ones that I dealt with during my journey from credulous Christian to skeptic, and they are as follows:

Emotional Thinking

Recently I was debating Chiropractic with an intelligent person. I presented her with evidence against the efficacy of Chiropractic and evidence that neck manipulation can and does cause strokes. I tempered that by saying that Chiropractic has been found to be helpful for certain kinds of lower back injuries, but no more helpful than massage and physical therapy, which don’t put you at risk of a stroke. I could tell she was considering what I had to say, and I was hoping that maybe, if nothing else, she’d think again before she let a Chiropractor twist her neck. She didn’t argue or challenge any of my points, and even admitted they were “interesting” but she told me that she was going to continue to visit her Chiropractor. Why? Because “he’s a close friend of the family and is trusted by us.”

Now I’m sure that her Chiropractor is a good person, and I’d bet with certainty that he’s never caused a stroke, but the fact that someone is a friend doesn’t make them right, and just because a friend is a Chiropractor doesn’t lend Chiropractic any actual validity. That’s emotional thinking…

Continue Reading September 17, 2008 at 12:11 am 57 comments

Fear: A justifiable foundation for belief?

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can completely change the way our brain functions. When an animal is running for its life from a predator, it’s sympathetic nervous system takes over and changes the functioning of its body. The brain hopped up on fear shuts down regular functions such as digestion. It raises the heartbeat, dilates the pupils, and directs blood flow away from other organs and tissues and toward the lungs and limbs. Suffice it to say, it’s difficult to think clearly during fearful situations, let alone rationalize.

When we experience fear, we lean toward automatic reactions. That’s been programmed into our brains thanks to our instinct of self-preservation. Our brains tell us “Don’t think! Just be safe!” and that is why making decisions based on fear is not always a good idea. If your being chased by a mountain lion, then by all means, don’t think–just run away. But what if the thing causing your fear is less concrete, empirically speaking, than a charging cougar? In those instances we have to tell our sympathetic nerves to shut up for a second while we asses the situation. We have to examine the basis for fear before we give in to it.

Many of the arguments for putting faith in God are based on fear. Pascal’s Wager takes advantage of fear by claiming it is better to believe in God just in case, so that we can avoid the punishment of hell if, by some chance it exists…

Continue Reading September 6, 2008 at 11:18 pm 125 comments

Success without my emotional crutch (aka God)

Do you remember that climatic scene at the end of Dumbo? It’s time for his big performance. He’s poised on a ledge, clutching the magic feather that gives him the ability to fly in his trunk. He jumps and WOOSH, the magic feather flies out of his grip! He’s plummeting toward the ground when his little mouse friend says to him, “Dumbo! Open dem ears!” Dumbo opens his ears and WOOSH, takes off like a hang glider. He learns that it wasn’t the magic feather that gave him the power to fly, but rather his special ears. The power to do extraordinary things was within him all along.

Much like Dumbo, all of my life I have been plagued by low self-confidence, but I too had a magic weapon: I called mine God. Dumbo was told that the magic feather would make him fly. I was told “with God all things are possible.” I believed that God had a plan for my life. Not only that, but I was told that God wanted me to be happy and successful, that he had “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I was sure that I was special to God, that I was one of his children, and that my status granted me privileges that I could not earn on my own. I was sure that where others failed, I would succeed, because I had God on my side and he would help me accomplish anything I set my mind to…

Continue Reading August 21, 2008 at 12:01 am 102 comments

My de-conversion: A discovery of deliberate lies

I was born into a very religious Christian family. My maternal grandfather was a former Baptist pastor and leading elder of his church, which he also founded. He and my grandmother had been heavily involved in Campus Crusade, especially during the 1960s. My aunt worked for Campus Crusade the majority of her life, and after that taught Bible studies. When my grandfather would meet a new person, the first question he would ask them is, “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart as your personal savior?” My first memory of anything religious is of him asking me that very question.

I don’t know how old I was when it started, but I can remember being no older than 5 and being dogged by that question every time I was in his presence. I remember being perplexed by the question. I didn’t really know who Jesus was, or what it meant to ask him into my heart, but I knew it was something I had to do. I was told that prayer would make it happen, but I had no concept of what prayer was either. I remember laying in bed, again no older than 5, and in a quiet whisper asking Jesus to come into my heart. I was plagued by the fear that I hadn’t asked loud enough, that Jesus hadn’t heard my request. I ask him several times over to come into my heart, with increasing loudness. To finally make sure Jesus could hear, I went into my parent’s large walk-in closet, crawled underneath some hanging clothes, and shouted, “JESUS! Come into my heart!” Surely that did it, I thought…

Continue Reading August 12, 2008 at 5:28 pm 95 comments

Answered prayer vs. random chance or human intervention

The entire problem with answered or unanswered prayers is the vagueness. You can be the sort of person who asserts that every good thing in your life, including your daily meals, is an answered prayer. However, at that point you move into a hazy area where anything, from your father’s work ethic to the happenings of the universe, could be attributed to prayer.

In the world of scientific studies, for finding to have significance, they must rise above the statistical noise. This means that these findings must have a positive percentage above what you would expect from random variation. Unless you go the above mentioned route where ever little thing is a round-about answered prayer, then god never rises above the statistical noise. In other words, 500 people have stage III cancer. The average survival rate is 30%, which means in order for answered prayers of the 500 cancer patients to rise above the statistical noise, god would have to save around 40-50% of them…

Continue Reading July 1, 2008 at 11:40 am 91 comments

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.



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