Paul Kurtz - Science and the Limits of the New Skepticism
Posted: 29 May 2009 11:53 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Paul Kurtz is founder and chair of the Center for Inquiry and a number of other organizations. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of the Committee for the Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books. He is the author or editor of almost fifty books, including The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge. Throughout the last four decades, Kurtz has been a leading defender of science and reason against the prevailing cults of irrationality in our society, and has been interviewed widely in the media on subjects ranging from alternative medicine and communication with the dead, to the historicity of Jesus and parapsychology.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz discusses the rationale for changing the name of CSICOP to the Committee of Skeptical Inquiry. He argues that the organized skeptical movement should apply the methods of scientific and skeptical inquiry to religion, and not just to paranormal claims, and he contrasts this approach with a direct atheistic assault on belief in God. He argues that while skepticism is essential to science, that the skeptical movement should promote the application of the methods of scientific inquiry into politics and economics, and talks about how divisive this may be within the skeptical movement. He considers whether political and economic questions are as amenable to critical thinking and skeptical inquiry as are paranormal claims. He talks about global warming and the extent to which the scientific community should be attentive to “global warming skeptics.” He explains why he is cautious of certainty, contrasting certain knowledge with reliable knowledge, and recounts examples in the history of science when widely believed scientific theories were overturned by a small minority of new theorists. He talks about political and economic views he once held that he no longer holds. He contrasts skeptical inquiry with the classical skepticism of ancient Greece and Rome. And he argues that the new skepticism is not negative nor nay-saying, but rather is an affirmative and constructive philosophical worldview.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/paul_kurtz_science_and_the_limits_of_the_new_skepticism

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Posted: 30 May 2009 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I have strong reservations about abandoning the earlier division of labor. I’m an atheist, but for several reasons, I don’t want to devote my time and resources to criticising religion the way I do New Age, junk science, and junk nutrition, for example. And I’d rather have Septical Inquirer reserve its pages for my interests. Otherwise I would subscribe to Free Inquiry. When I do criticize religion, I want to do it on my own terms rather than merge in to some institutional approach. For example, I do Creation-Evolution debates, but I have personal respect for fundamentalist Christians and I want to work them them politically.
    I fear the skeptical movement is becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of political liberalism. Liberals, statists, coercive utopians, call them what you want. This is a sellout - morally and intellectually. Liberalism will immediately corrupt and ultimately destroy skepticism, given the opportunity, as it does everythying else it touches.

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Posted: 31 May 2009 08:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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rg21 - 30 May 2009 12:35 PM

I have strong reservations about abandoning the earlier division of labor. I’m an atheist, but for several reasons, I don’t want to devote my time and resources to criticising religion the way I do New Age, junk science, and junk nutrition, for example. And I’d rather have Septical Inquirer reserve its pages for my interests. Otherwise I would subscribe to Free Inquiry. When I do criticize religion, I want to do it on my own terms rather than merge in to some institutional approach. For example, I do Creation-Evolution debates, but I have personal respect for fundamentalist Christians and I want to work them them politically.
    I fear the skeptical movement is becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of political liberalism. Liberals, statists, coercive utopians, call them what you want. This is a sellout - morally and intellectually. Liberalism will immediately corrupt and ultimately destroy skepticism, given the opportunity, as it does everythying else it touches.

In your posting I find 15 personal pronouns. Any magazine/podcast/newsletter/radio or TV show that is going to be economically viable, cannot cater to an audience of ONE. I am not sure why, since you have such specific and narrowly delineated demands, you do not start your OWN magazine/podcast etc. In that way, you can show the rest of the world the proper way to do almost everything.

You last paragraph is simply a thorough ad hominum attack.

[ Edited: 31 May 2009 09:10 PM by Thomas Donnelly ]
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Posted: 01 June 2009 10:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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There was nothing free market or libertarian about the Bush administration.  It was corporatist and statist, and representing it as being the free market ideal completely misrepresents what that ideal is.  Neither major party represents it.

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Posted: 01 June 2009 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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rg:
I have personal respect for fundamentalist Christians and I want to work them them politically.

Uh.. why and why? These are the folks that want to gut biology class and get flat-earth type thinking passed off as education. There is no middle ground for either respect or cooperation with extremist nutjobs.

  I fear the skeptical movement is becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of political liberalism. Liberals, statists, coercive utopians, call them what you want. This is a sellout - morally and intellectually. Liberalism will immediately corrupt and ultimately destroy skepticism, given the opportunity, as it does everythying else it touches.

Skepticism is not and can not be a political category. It is an approach to knowledge and understanding; one can apply skeptical consideration to any “liberal” idea. You may be right though that association-wise skeptics tend to be liberals. This is probably because conservatives have largely made a war on science part of their identity. There is no one to blame for that but them. Liberalism can not destroy skepticism.. nothing can.. its just an approach.

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Posted: 01 June 2009 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’m surprised that DJ kept going after Paul about the “problem” with applying skepticism to economics. Yes, intelligent people can use the same tools of reason and critical thinking and arrive at different conclusions. We start from differing premises and give different weight to various arguments. What is wrong with that? There’s nothing magical about skeptical inquiry that it should inevitably lead everyone to The One Truth™ in every field. Isn’t it enough to know that the conversations will inevitably be more productive than the current mishmash of conflicting opinions, with little or no real evidence to back them up?

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Posted: 01 June 2009 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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sate - 01 June 2009 11:39 AM

rg:
I have personal respect for fundamentalist Christians and I want to work them them politically.

Uh.. why and why? These are the folks that want to gut biology class and get flat-earth type thinking passed off as education. There is no middle ground for either respect or cooperation with extremist nutjobs.

  I fear the skeptical movement is becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of political liberalism. Liberals, statists, coercive utopians, call them what you want. This is a sellout - morally and intellectually. Liberalism will immediately corrupt and ultimately destroy skepticism, given the opportunity, as it does everythying else it touches.

Skepticism is not and can not be a political category. It is an approach to knowledge and understanding; one can apply skeptical consideration to any “liberal” idea. You may be right though that association-wise skeptics tend to be liberals. This is probably because conservatives have largely made a war on science part of their identity. There is no one to blame for that but them. Liberalism can not destroy skepticism.. nothing can.. its just an approach.

I’ll tell you why he wants to work with them. Their pliable. That’s the bottom $*&@$ line!!! Obviously rg is a conservative, and most likely a hyper-capitalist. What better group of “people” to work with for the Conservative/capitalist agenda. A nation of pliable, gullible, automatons who revel in just one thing: having the right to choose who lives and who dies.
Rg is a little bit “unattentive” however. This is primarily a Humanist Group, and humanists by default are “liberals” in the current contextual balance. Hello??!!?

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Posted: 01 June 2009 04:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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VYAZMA - 01 June 2009 04:43 PM

I’ll tell you why he wants to work with them. Their pliable. That’s the bottom $*&@$ line!!! Obviously rg is a conservative, and most likely a hyper-capitalist. What better group of “people” to work with for the Conservative/capitalist agenda. A nation of pliable, gullible, automatons who revel in just one thing: having the right to choose who lives and who dies.

You think fundies are pliable about evolution? Have you ever talked to these people? These are the people who will refuse to condemn the latest act of Christian domestic terrorism, the murder in Wichita.

Rg is a little bit “unattentive” however. This is primarily a Humanist Group, and humanists by default are “liberals” in the current contextual balance. Hello??!!?

Perhaps I am “unattentive” as well.. my political views tend to fall into the libertarian or conservative territory. I am frequently annoyed by the PCness, anti-science po-mo intellectuals and social activist “researchers” pimping their agenda via study grants.. all of this is common around here.

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Posted: 01 June 2009 05:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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rg21 - 30 May 2009 12:35 PM

I have strong reservations about abandoning the earlier division of labor. I’m an atheist, but for several reasons, I don’t want to devote my time and resources to criticising religion the way I do New Age, junk science, and junk nutrition, for example. And I’d rather have Septical Inquirer reserve its pages for my interests. Otherwise I would subscribe to Free Inquiry. When I do criticize religion, I want to do it on my own terms rather than merge in to some institutional approach. For example, I do Creation-Evolution debates, but I have personal respect for fundamentalist Christians and I want to work them them politically.
    I fear the skeptical movement is becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of political liberalism. Liberals, statists, coercive utopians, call them what you want. This is a sellout - morally and intellectually. Liberalism will immediately corrupt and ultimately destroy skepticism, given the opportunity, as it does everythying else it touches.


Yeah, great point rg21!! Great opportunities exposing the falsehoods of “junk nutrition, UFO’s and Complimentary Meds”. That’s a whole lot to be skeptical about!!! Whew! What an undertaking.
Great, so after all that Fru-Fru DUNG, what else is there to be skeptical about???!?? How about the complete Right Wing Conservative Agenda, and it’s Holding up of the progress of Humankind. In a nutshell: 99.9 percent of the Worlds population doesn’t approve of WAR.
I suppose your skeptical about the Environmental Awareness Movements too? I suppose your skeptical about raising the standard of living for poor people right?
You keep working on the UFO crowd and the New Agers and the Majority of Us will continue advancing Humanist Causes, which are Liberal(as you call it).

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Posted: 01 June 2009 05:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Sate-

Perhaps I am “unattentive” as well.. my political views tend to fall into the libertarian or conservative territory. I am frequently annoyed by the PCness, anti-science po-mo intellectuals and social activist “researchers” pimping their agenda via study grants.. all of this is common around here.

Their pliable in this sense Sate. A conservative, with an agenda of their own, would have a wonderful time placating the whims of the Fundamentals on issues such as homosexuality, birth control, proper marriage, gun rights, and all that other wedge issue hokum, and in doing so would have an army of willing consumer robots who know better than to ask questions. The kind of questions that Skepticism should really address. Social-economic questions!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s the oldest game in the World.

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Posted: 01 June 2009 08:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I felt as if I was listening to an older and wiser version of myself when Kurtz was discussing the provisional nature of knowledge, how we can know some things with near certainty but remain open to any countering data.
Thank you Paul Kurtz for being a long standing champion of rational thought.

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Posted: 02 June 2009 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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+1 to what Hawkfan said.

Martin Lambert - 01 June 2009 02:49 PM

Isn’t it enough to know that the conversations will inevitably be more productive than the current mishmash of conflicting opinions, with little or no real evidence to back them up?

And exactimundo to what Martin Lambert said, too!

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Brad

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Posted: 02 June 2009 04:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Martin Lambert - 01 June 2009 02:49 PM

I’m surprised that DJ kept going after Paul about the “problem” with applying skepticism to economics. Yes, intelligent people can use the same tools of reason and critical thinking and arrive at different conclusions. We start from differing premises and give different weight to various arguments. What is wrong with that? There’s nothing magical about skeptical inquiry that it should inevitably lead everyone to The One Truth™ in every field. Isn’t it enough to know that the conversations will inevitably be more productive than the current mishmash of conflicting opinions, with little or no real evidence to back them up?

I think DJ was simply being a good interviewer.  Sometimes questions need to be asked simply to stimulate the discussion in a particular direction, or for the interviewee to flesh out his thoughts. 
But, I completely agree with you that the idea of a One Truth(acknowledgments to your TM grin ) doesn’t hold water in many cases.  For us relativists, it is not so simple to call something “good” or “bad”.  Take economics.  I don’t assume there is a good/bad/right/wrong system.  But, for whatever your goals are there will be some ways that are better than others.  That’s where the argument is.  Once you state your premise, now you can argue the best way to get there. 
For the advancement of knowledge in the natural world some of us have the system of scientific inquiry.  Others, say at the Discovery Institute, have biblical interpretation.  We can both make are argument about which way makes most sense cool smile .

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Posted: 02 June 2009 06:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I can’t think of anything more utopian than the belief in free market capitalism to solve every problem. Some people despite talent and effort can’t amount wealth? Markets aren’t free enough! People are needlessly dying from preventable illness? Markets aren’t free enough! Banks and stock markets don’t even understand the complicated investments they inventned? Markets aren’t free enough! I don’t respect people who are so ideological blinkered that they can’t admit faults with their pet experiments. I can respect and understand that libertarians value certain freedoms over wealth and have strong views on the nature of government. I can also accept that free markets develop in certain ways without keynesian intervention that is very efficient in generating growth. I apply skepticism to libertarian claims and positions. Is it just a coincidence that they lagged behind on climate change? First denying it, then saying its too late to do anything about it, all conveniently positions that mean no action should logical follow, especially government action, involving taxation. I think its a bit like accepting evolution while still believing that the enviroment was specifically designed for us in mind.

[ Edited: 03 June 2009 05:47 AM by Aj ]
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Posted: 03 June 2009 06:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Aj - 02 June 2009 06:06 PM

I can’t think of anything more utopian than the belief in free market capitalism to solve every problem. Some people despite talent and effort can’t amount wealth? Markets aren’t free enough! People are needlessly dying from preventable illness? Markets aren’t free enough! Banks and stock markets don’t even understand the complicated investments they inventned? Markets aren’t free enough! I don’t respect people who are so ideological blinkered that they can’t admit faults with their pet experiments. I can respect and understand that libertarians value certain freedoms over wealth and have strong views on the nature of government. I can also accept that free markets develop in certain ways without keynesian intervention that is very efficient in generating growth. I apply skepticism to libertarian claims and positions. Is it just a coincidence that they lagged behind on climate change? First denying it, then saying its too late to do anything about it, all conveniently positions that mean no action should logical follow, especially government action, involving taxation. I think its a bit like accepting evolution while still believing that the enviroment was specifically designed for us in mind.

Excellent points Aj!! Markets aren’t free enough, and the people who control those markets, through “Capitalisation” of the political/regulatory sytem are a main reason why it isn’t a “Free Market”.

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Posted: 03 June 2009 10:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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meuserj - 01 June 2009 10:04 AM

There was nothing free market or libertarian about the Bush administration.  It was corporatist and statist, and representing it as being the free market ideal completely misrepresents what that ideal is.  Neither major party represents it.

This is true. Classical liberalism and libertarianism are both pretty marginal ideals. Often misunderstood. Actually I find the whole concept of free markets pretty abstract. People tend to find different meanings for it.

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