Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Faithlessness and Faithfulness

I am now halfway through a month-long separation from my wife and children, and I find myself thinking about what it means to be "faithful", especially for someone who, as a skeptic, might be described as "faithless".

As an aside, that's one of the things that amused me most about the Universists. They proudly take on a label - "the faithless" - that could easily be construed as pejorative: "those who do not keep faith, and who are thus unworthy of trust."

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Tragedies and Miracles

I am increasingly annoyed by the widespread misuse of two words, generally in media accounts of dramatic events - or in dramatic accounts of media events: "tragedy" and "miracle".

In the most precise sense, a miracle is an event so extraordinary as to actually violate a law of nature. If a large building were to levitate in the air before a crowd of reliable and otherwise sane witnesses, that would be a miracle. As a skeptic, I would want to know a lot about those witnesses: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and all that. But I still respect the word, and want to reserve it for its original use.

Strategic Skepticism and Climate Change

The New York Times is reporting today that "a White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming." The official in question, Philip A. Cooney, made the changes in order to emphasize, even exaggerate the uncertainty of current climate science.

This hardly comes as a surprise.

Friday, June 3, 2005

It Was an Accident

I guess the truth of the matter is that I came to think of myself as a skeptic by way of an accident.

I was working on the manuscript for my book, in which I critique the speculative pretentions of the conventional approach to environmental ethics. Since I consider myself an environmental philosopher, I wanted the title of the manuscript to convey that I am an environmentalist who entertains some serious doubts about a particular way of arguing for environmentalists' values rather than some kind of rabid anti-environmentalist.

"Skeptical Environmentalism" seemed to fit the bill.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

A Skeptic's Creed

The whole idea is ridiculous, of course.

I mean, skeptics aren't supposed to believe anything, and a creed is a statement of belief, so there can't really be any such thing as "A Skeptic's Creed", can there?

I'm not so sure - and I don't just mean that as a play on words.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Two More Thoughts about Universism

What disappoints me most about Universism is the near-total absence of modesty on the part of its founders.

As I understand it, skepticism is really just a kind of modesty, a willingness always to question our own most cherished assumptions and (to use Sextus' words), to continue the inquiry. Serious and enduring doubts about all claims regarding transcendence or the divine seem to come with the territory.