Ever heard a question like this?
Question: What has four legs, two horns, gives milk and barks?
Answer: Obviously, a cow. (I threw in the “barks part” just to make the question harder.)
Is that exchange irritating? I’ve seen these types of questions on tests where the instructions include “choose the most correct answer.” I’ve always found them irritating. They hurt my brain! Many Atheists have given up religion because they CARE about truth. I want my beliefs to be true not just mostly true. Perhaps there is a creature that has four legs, two horns, gives milk, and barks but it’s NOT a cow. As far as I know, a cow doesn’t bark. The correct answer is “I don’t know.” Or “I know of no such animal.” There is nothing wrong with “I don’t know.” Apparently, that’s not a universally held belief. However, lack of knowledge is NOT a sign of weakness. Not every question has a simple answer and our heroes are not always right. Sometimes, there is more than one right answer. Some of the most interesting experiences come from challenges to what we believe to be true. Fellow Atheists that have been raised religious should know this more than anyone but, believe it or not, they don’t. It’s tempting to slip into the “No true Scotsman” fallacy here, but people that leave religion then hook their wagon up to the next charismatic freethinker to come along are not critical thinkers.
Last year, on another blog, I published my opinion on Sam Harris’s position on the word Atheist. I believe that Sam Harris is very important to Atheism in general, as I stated in the article. However, I believe he’s wrong in telling us not to use the word Atheist as an identifying label. We need recognizable, unambiguous labels to identify and support others that agree with our world view. The Democratic Underground reprinted my blog entry and it generated 8 replies. Half seemed to accept or at least understand the point I was attempting to make while the other half replied with knee jerk reactions that did more to attack me than address the contents of the article. They were attacking me for attacking Sam Harris when, in fact, I never attacked him. I was simply disagreeing with his premise that we should avoid all labels and “go under the radar.” In the most irritating replies there were claims of knowledge about my character that couldn’t possibly be gleaned from a 500 word blog article on why we shouldn’t shy away from using the word Atheist. The illogic! It burns. Additionally, I wasn’t aware that my blog was reprinted in the Democratic Underground forums, so I couldn’t provide a timely response. Had it not been for a “vanity search” on Google, I wouldn’t have known about any of this. Never-the-less I don’t like people taking pot shots at my character, even if it did happen a year ago. People should concentrate on points actually contained in my writing, not assumptions about my character.
In developing this blog entry I found Characteristics of Critical and Uncritical Thinkers. Since I’m going to my Skeptics of Tucson Meeting tonight, it might make a nice handout. It might go well with our mission:
Mission Statement of the Skeptics of Tucson
We are a social support group of diverse individuals who share a common interest in promoting the understanding and application of critical thinking skills and scientific methodology in the explanation of human experience — from the ordinary to the unusual.
“We don’t advocate WHAT to think, just to THINK CRITICALLY”