A happy non-denominational and politically correct holiday greeting

Please accept with no obligation, expressed or implied, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the inter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasions of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2009, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make Earth great and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:

a. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal.

b. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting.

c. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself/himself or others, is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.

d. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

So, enjoy your holidays... or not!

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Lewis' trilemma

C. S. Lewis. From Wikipedia

I recently wrote in my blog in spanish (El Chapín Escéptico) about the stupidity of creationism against evolutionism. I expected a lot of hate mail which (unfortunately?) did not materialize. I did get a comment from a christian reader recommending me to read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

I did research the author and found this argument of his which does not make much sense to me. It is called "Lewis' Trilemma" although Lewis wasn't really the first to postulate it. It is often summarized as "Lunatic, Liar, Lord" and here is an early version:

"Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable." ("Rabbi" John Duncan, 1796-1870).

The logical structure is as follows:

(P) Jesus claimed to be God

(Q) One of the following must be true:

Lunatic: Jesus was not God but believed he was

Liar: Jesus did not believe he was God but spoke as if he did

Lord: Jesus was God

(C) From these premises it is argued that: if Jesus was not God, he was either not great or not moral.

(Just for fun, a fourth L has been proposed, Legend, by, amongst others, my favorite bible geed, Bart Ehrman).

So far so good. Although it may be argued that there is a straw man or a false premise embedded in this argument (did Jesus really claim to be God? Did he exist at all?) the argument looks good so far.

What I utterly fail to see is where this proves that Jesus was divine, which seems to be Lewis' point. In his words:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God." (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56).

There is a "leap of faith" that does not come from logic in this argument and there is not a shred of evidence. If this is the kind of apology for religion that I am being directed to read, I think I will be quite safe if I skip it and read Richard Dawkins' latest book instead!

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Nacho Libre

Image from Amazon

My friend Arc does movie reviews. He is the expert on this topic but I am taking a page from his book today to comment on Nacho Libre.

Nacho Libre is one of those movies you either have or love. Fans of Jack Black love it, others just despise it. Whatever the reason, if you like it because it made you laugh or hate it because of the slapstick comedic style, this movie will cause a reaction on you.

However, my reflection today deals with the prevalent mood of the movie. Nacho is a monk who has always been under the boot (or, rather, sandal) of the superiors in his monastery. Cruelty can be perceived in the lack of will of the monks and padres to improve the living conditions of the children (and monks and nuns) living under their care.

Nacho is the unlikely hero, the underdog, who through living his dream of becoming a luchador manages to bring some joy (and food) to the orphans, who prove to be his strong allies.

Nacho's love interest, the lovely nun played by Ana de la Reguera is another victim of this cruel system; she seems to be interested in a life outside of her little cell but is too afraid to try. In the end, Nacho does not get the girl which seems to have pissed everyone off (the viewers, of course) but just goes on to show the stronghold and fear the church can muster.

Fear of what I would ask? Nacho is always afraid his secret identity will be revealed and when it is discovered, he leaves before risking the consequences.

Nacho's sidekick, Esqueleto, is both providing the comic realief and the food for thought. When asked if he is a believer he responds "I only believe in science!"

Which is very ironic because obviously Esqueleto is uneducated. Which makes you wonder if the intention was to show how even uneducated, simple minds like Esqueleto's should reject the charade being played by organized religion. Nacho and sister Encarnación have no choice, they were indoctrinated from an early age but Esqueleto is a free agent and has a mind of his own.

As we all should have.

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More reader comments: problems with the pope

Very often, people do not leave comments on my blog but rather post the comments to Facebook or e-mail them to me.

That is what happened a few days ago, when my posting trying to show what an ad-hominem fallacy was attracted the attention (and disagreement) of my FB friend Robert.

I find Robert's comments intriguing and engaging. His argument is that it may be impossible to separate the man from the ideas:

About the pope: "...He's led a campaign to maintain poverty in South America, spreads fatal diseases to millions by teaching them to have unprotected sex, and was one of the key people who arranged for paedophiles to be protected and witnesses (mostly raped children) to be intimidated into silence, which led to further child rape and the rapists themselves escaping justice. How can anyone /not/ have a problem with the pope?"

To which I (maybe naively) responded: "...I was discussing ad hominem fallacies so it is the ideas we have to go after... for all we know the guy's intentions may be good, as twisted as that may seem..."

Robert's reasoning was implacable. "By that logic we'd be letting Hitler and a whole bunch of other villains off the hook. It's not just the intention that matters, it's knowledge and awareness about what harm you are doing, as well as how you go about doing it. He opposed the anti-poverty campaign in South America because living in a wealthier environment would make them less ... Read More religious. Now it's well-known that being wealthy is no barrier to being religious, as America has shown, so instead of trying to guide them down that route he instead chose to keep them living in conditions that made them poorer, less healthy and unhappier. When it came to contraception in Africa, he could have told the truth about condoms and distributed them from churches, increasing attendence and saving lives at the same time. When a system-wide level of corruption was found in the church he could have led the charge to have them excommunicated and brought them to justice, placing the feelings of the innocent and justice above the church's power. However, in every instance where he could have done things differently that led to the church remaining strong and done a lot of good for the world he chose the option that led to an enormous amount of suffering, just so that the catholic church could get stronger. Because of his evil ways at least 4 continents have suffered, just for the sake of making the vatican more powerful."

I understand what he is talking about and tend to agree. Maybe we should be more careful of where we may place sympathies... I have indeed reflected on how pope Ratzinger, being such an erudite, must know the things I know about the bible and the history of the church and yet continues to preach strict adherence to catholic dogma... A true contradiction, in my book.

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Reader's comments - WWJD

My friend Francisco wanted to comment but his comment was too long, so he e-mailed it to me. Here is his comment.

In reading the blog “WWJD or Shakespeare”, I found it certainly amusing –as the blogger said it -, interesting, and maybe worth it to write about it; not with the purpose to oppose those ideas; but to expose and brainstorm other ones that shed some light toward the ultimate goal of a common agreement to the Truth. Please note that my native language is not the English; so, please accept my sincere apologies for not using the adequate terms as my inner self understands it. In the “physical world” we are situated in, the reality we perceive, the events, at least according to the Newtonian description of the universe, and later the Theory of Relativity, – another completely different story would be according to the Quantum Mechanics - is a succession, a series, of individual events that takes you to a particular one that usually is the result of a n-variables. To gain understanding of a situation or a problem, one should assign values to one variable while leaving the other variables constant. So, refering to the passage in the gospel of Matthew 15: 21 and on, the woman from Canaan, it should be analyzed from different points of view; then, decide if “it is not good behavior”; or maybe that is not the issue at hand; or maybe the teaching is a different matter. To understand what really was going on in this part, we could analyze it from the social, political, economic, spiritual, moral, philosofical, teological, religious, even personal – what means to me –, etc. point of view. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church teaches one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual. The spiritual is even further divided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The moral sense should lead us to act justly; hence, the related passage was written for our instruction as well. The anagogical sense can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, so it is its applicability (1). One thing the reader of the gospel according to Matthew should know is that Matthew – or whoever did it - wrote the gospel for the Jewish people of that time, centering the attention on the elite, in terms they could relate and understand the proper way of the “good news”. In other words, the audience was very well verse in the Scriptures, customs, and values fostered throughout many centuries; and the things familiar to the Jewish people were challenged and radically changed. Politically, they were subjugated and slaved by the Roman imperial power that imposed the corrupt government authorities; they wanted a change. Religiously, they were guided by an authority sect that believed to be the cleanest one and “maestros” with strict adherence to Torah, God’s laws, and Moses’ rules to the point they regarded the rest – outside of the Pharisee sect – unclean people and punish them for their transgression; thus, forgetting the true meaning and intention of the Law and rules. Spiritually, the Jewish people, in general, in the region of Canaan were dead. They knew about the Scriptures, the expected Messiah, etc; nevertheless, they were still influenced by years of slavery and captivity from Babylonia. They’ve had physically returned to the land, but remained spiritually slave. In the other hand, the Canaanites were counted among the gentiles whom failed to recognize the Only One and True God as opposed to the Israelites acknowledgement of this key principle; hence, the favor of God’s will. Without this understanding there is a risk of missing the point and can prompt the reaction such as the blogger’s, especially taking in consideration the mind set of our western culture of our epoch. The passage of the Canaanite’s woman faith set the stage, as it is in many other opportunities of Jesus’s ministry, and anticipates the mission to the Gentiles: The Plan is not exclusive for the Jews, but it is extended to all the humanity. The Canaanite woman obtained the healing for her daughter by becoming a believer and by the virtue of her strong faith. Maybe the teaching is that we may have relaxed what God expect from us in our lives - and from the entire humankind - by contrasting the view on the dead-letter of the Law and the New Covenant. The instruction is to have faith and it is valid now and then. Indeed the Shakespeare’s sonnet is beautiful, but I’m still asking myself as to why the reference or comparison to the theme. Is it because ii is more likeable than the other literature? I can see that Shakespeare has the ability to exalt and compare the beauty of the Creation with words that comes from its inner self. And, I’m pretty sure the priest failed to convey the proper message to some of the audience that left the feeling of having to endure the mass; but this is different subject. Nonetheless, the Word did not go empty since we are still blogging about it. That’s good!

(1) Catechism of the Catholic Church

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Who, me? I don't have a problem with the pope!

Some days ago I was told (she said he said, that kind of stuff) that a friend thought that I had an issue with the pope.

The comment made me laugh but, thinking it over, it is a serious matter.

Probably this friend saw my blog post titled "Condones para el papa" (Condoms for the pope) in which I criticized the pope's statements during that recent, infamous trip to Africa. And this will show the difference between debating a person's ideas and attacking the person.

When ideas are debated, arguments must be used to show the falsehood or impropriety of someone's statetements. Using personal attacks (ad hominem) is not proof that said ideas are wrong.

For instance, if someone comented on this note saying that I am a hard core atheist and that is why I don't like the pope, he would be mounting a personal attack and not debating the correctness of my ideas. I always try to make clear, when criticizing someone's ideas, that it is the ideas I debate, not the person.

In the case of pope Ratzinger, I really sympathize with him. Joseph Ratzinger is a man who has found himself in a difficult situation for which he was not the best equipped person. While the previous pope, Karol Wojtyla better known as John Paul II, had the opportunity to polish his diplomatic skills fighting communism in his native Poland, pope Ratzinger is an academic, who would be content teaching at a university or writing theological treatises on the catholic church doctrine, which is his specialty. Being the head of the church has put him on the spotlight and his tendency to openly speak his mind on catholic dogma issues has gotten him into problems like the one that caused my criticism.

So, trying to prove an idea wrong by using personal attacks is what is called an ad hominem fallacy.

I don't have a problem with pope Ratzinger. I have a problem with his ideas.

This is a free translation of my post yesterday at El Chapín Escéptico (in spanish). I thought it fit well with The Chapin Skeptic.

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WWJD or Shakespeare??

Blogging is a funny thing. Sometimes what you first think of is not what you eventually post. Sometimes the topic takes you elsewhere. And sometimes you change your mind before you even post.

And then sometimes you just can't make up your mind.

Today I had to endure mass. No need to explain why, I tried to get in late but was actually on time and it took 50 minutes, which was long for a weekday mass. The priest's homily upset me. He was commenting on the gospel reading (Matthew 15 - 21 and on, the woman from Canaan) and of course he embellished the story by making it appear as a lesson on perseverance. For some reason that I cannot fathom, You Must Persevere When Asking Things Of God.

That is not what the gospel says. If anything, those people asking themselves all the time what would Jesus do (WWJD) should realize this is not good behavior.

Jesus did not want to help the canaanite woman because she was not jew. (No, I am not going to quote scripture here - read the passage elsewhere as I have placed a link to it above). Of course, in light of the mindset of jewish Jesus and his jewish disciples, he was not doing anything wrong - the gospel was to be preached to the jew people, not to the outsiders, who were not "worthy".

That was OK for the jews at that time in that place. It would be bigotry today. So if you are asking yourself WWJD, he would show you how to be racist and intolerant.

Anyway, on the way home my daughter asked me for help doing homework, she had to paraphrase one of Shakespeare's sonnets. I never studied english literature (didn't have to... I studied spanish and latin american literature...) so I have never really read Shakespeare in the original english.

And it made up for my 50 minutes at church. And I will quote Shakespeare here for your enjoyment. What a beautiful little poem of love!

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee

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2012 and the end of the world

This morning I was listening to the NPR news and they mentioned the Mayas and 2012 and the end of the world

I do have a comment to make about that:


...Sorry, where was I?

Mr. Deity is back...! and He is watching me!

I have made a momentous decision today: I am officially shifting my allegiance from the mighty Flying Spaghetti Monster to Mr. Deity.

After all, he is the Deity...

Mr. Deity came upon us via the glorious service that we mortals denominate YouTube. His Word spread far and wide about two years ago with a series of memorable and wise short Videos each containing about 5 minutes of His Allmightiness. I learned much of the world we live in and how we came to be by watching His Performances. That was Season One.

Illumination came upon Crackle, a service owned by Sony, whereupon they were bestowed the opportunity to collaborate with the production of 10 more short Stories. Hence, Season Two of Mr. Deity came to pass.

Alas, Crackle has abandoned the Path and Mr. Deity is now requesting our help by donating via PayPal to his Noble Cause. I wonder, if Mormons tithe 10% of their earnings, how come we of other Non-Faiths cannot come with some help for our very own Deity?

In answer to our prayers and counting on our good Intentions, Mr. Deity is back in all His Allmightiness and Wit on Season Three. He comes to us with all of his good Allies that we have come to know and love: Larry, his faithful assistant, Jesse (or Jesus, depending on the time of the day) and the always beautiful Lucy(fer).

As a member of His Flock, I vow to watch his Videos as they come out, PayPal some monies but not much, and never leave Him any voice mail by never praying to Him. I am very happy he will not turn on his Omniscience and leave me alone and never worry about me!

So, come see the light. Check out Mr. Deity, donate and purchase His Merchandise. I never did like all that old pirate stuff and the global warming and all so I am much more comfortable with Mr. Deity. And I know He Will Read my blog since he is now following it in Facebook's Networked Blogs... Could I be more Honored?

After all, he is the Deity... and he is on iTunes as well. What more can you pray for?

A reluctant atheist?

I recently went to the cinema to watch Angels and demons. I enjoyed reading the book, which was a fantastic thriller, and enjoyed the movie, which is no less of a thriller than the book.

Cinematic emotions aside, I found it intriguing when Tom Hanks' character, Robert Langdon, gets asked by a priest "Do you believe in God, Mr. Langdon?"

His very diplomatic answer was "I am an academic... My mind tells me that I will never understand God." The priest then asks "And what does your heart say?" to which Langdon responds "My heart tells me I am not meant to...

In these days of personal domestic turmoil, my Angels and demons is stashed in a box out of reach so I could not inmmediately reference the dialog. But it seems that Langdon never uttered those words. Rather, it was CERN's scientist Vittoria Vetra who has a similar dialog in the book as you can see in this link. According to this article, Dan Brown is a believer which may be the reason his "atheist" characters are so reluctant to admit their lack of belief.

What Brown and the author of the article I am linking do not realize is that non-believers are many and are everywhere. As Richard Dawkins indicates in his http://www.outcampaign.org/ site "... atheists come in all shapes, sizes, colours and personalities. We are labourers and professionals. We are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and grandparents. We are human (we are primates) and we are good friends and good citizens. We are good people who have no need to cling to the supernatural."

Given the current state of affairs, I can understand why so many atheists can be so reluctant to admit their non-belief. We are demonized every week in church by the priesthoood and are, very unjustly, blamed for the crime and evil in our world.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, religion may be the real culprit.

I place a strong emphasis on good friends, good citizens and good people. And it looks like popular media is now begining to portrait atheists in a more favorable manner - check the popular TV series House and Bones, where the main characters are very strong atheists.

Like the Gay movement did many years ago, non-believers need to begin working on our image to change the perception that we eat babies for breakfast. We are good people. And we are many.

Join the Out Campaign. Or, if you are a believer, don't hold it against us.

Star Trek Rocks!

Although I am very aware that many of my friends in Guatemala are engaged with other concerns, I could not delay posting my thoughts on this latest installment of the Star Trek franchise, which I finally got to watch last night.

And it was AWESOME!

During the week I read Phil Plait's review of the movie and, after watching the movie, I do see Phil's points. Being a skeptic by nature it is sometimes difficult to suspend disbelief but this movie made it easy: it was so engaging it was difficult not to follow...

And (spoiler alert!) the "parallel timeline" premise in the movie was, I think, a stroke of genius by the writers! Not only it allowed the movie to break away from established canon in an unprecedented and fully trekkie-acceptable manner but it also left the door open for more non-canon trek movies where further exploits of Kirk, Spock and the gang can be explored in a whole new universe.

The full 126 minutos of this movie are trekkie-candy. I got to see (more spoilers ahead!) how Kirk beat the infamous Kobayashi Maru test, which as I told my wife during the movie, every trekkie knows he passed by cheating... And, yes! there is a bikini-clad green girl!

Go see the movie! And check this fun review!

New look for the Chapin Skeptic

Thanks to my good friends Adelou and Guillermo I have changed today the look of The Chapin Skeptic. The new layout allows for wider images and videos and (I think) looks cool as well. The picture above was sourced from the Wikipedia Commons and depicts, among other things, the Horse Head Nebula, which features prominently in one of good doctor Asimov's Foundation books.
Hope you like it.

Another one bites the dust!

Father Alberto Cutié from Hispanic on line
It was inevitable. Young, dashing, handsome father Alberto Cutié became a celebrity hosting his talk shows on Telemundo and EWTN, where he intelligently discussed everyday issues and gave catholic advice. He is perhaps the best known priest in Latin America and many tourists, myself included, have attended mass in Miami Beach at his charming little church. Newsweek dubbed him "father Oprah" which he preferred to "father Springer" and "father Cristino" (after Cristina Saralegui, another well known latin talk show hostess).

Just two days ago, pictures surfaced showing father Alberto kissing and getting his hand under the lower backside of his female companion's bathing suit. Bid scandal ensued. The paparazzi who took the pictures shopped them around, apparently asking as much as US$700,000, which apparently no one gave him. Finally he sold them to the mexican magazine TVNotas, which apparently is publishing them tomorrow, Thursday.

Unlike so many other priests involved in scandal, Father Alberto is too high profile not to punish. He has been removed from his parish and taken out of his church-sponsored media activities in radio and TV, as well as print.

His website http://www.padrealberto.net/ is featuring a public apology to all his fans. All other content has been removed.

I always liked father Alberto even if I did not agree with his catholic views. It is hard not to sympathize now, as so many of his parishioners have indicated. After all, he is just a man.

The point is, who is the culprit? Dogmatic catholics will indicate the man is the culprit. I submit that, with so many examples and cases of priest-related scandals, what is at fault is the system.

Celibacy is too much to ask of a young, healthy, personable and good looking celebrity priest. As I discussed with a friend today, a man like that does not find it difficult to get female companionship. I guess being a priest doesn't make it much harder.

Is obedience more important than chastity?

Picture from the Telegraph. Follow this link to read the article.

Is obedience more important than chastity? Ask Fernando Lugo, former priest and catholic bishop and, now, president of Paraguay.

Father Lugo has caused quite a stir, both in Paraguay and elsewhere, when in the last two weeks three women came forward claiming he had fathered their children. First one was Viviana Carrillo, 26, who got father Lugo to acknowledge the claim. Apparently she was 16 when the relationship started. Her son is two. (There are unconfirmed reports that she has moved in with the president). Then it was the turn for Benigna Leguizamón, who was 17 when she started working at the bishop's house and allegedly gave birth to Lugo's child, who is now 6. I can't help but notice that, because of their ages, father Lugo was carrying on with Benigna and Viviana at the same time. Both Benigna and Viviana requested parental support for their children.

As if that was not enough, just this week another woman showed up with a child. This time it was Damiana Morán. Unlike the other two, Damiana was not father Lugo's parishioner but a church activist and she was claims to have been dazzled by the bishop's personality and charm. Her son is a year and half old. Also, unlike the other two, she has no monetary claims on the president.

While the whole bruhaha does not seem to be harming father Lugo politically, since Paraguay is a very conservative and macho country, his opposition is latching on to the scandal to try to get some mileage for their cause. Even one of the cabinet ministers, Mrs. Gloria Rubin, who is the minister for women (an interesting title) is claiming she and her ministry will stand behind any other women who has any further paternity claims.

And rumour is, there will be more. This week, bishop Rogelio Livieres indicated that, as early as 2004, the church was aware of father Lugo's dalliances as two women presented written complaints to Monsignor Antonio Lucibello, the papal Nuncio in Paraguay. Apparently, this complaint prompted father Lugo's resignation from his post. As is usual in these cases, the priesthood quickly swept the trash under the rug and kept mum about the whole deal, as the offender was safely out of the way.

The Roman and Apostholic Catholic Church does not need any more scandals. Unfortunately for them, none from Pope Ratzinger down seems to notice or care. And father Lugo could easily have avoided this ordeal had he chosen to break both his obedience and chastity vows. It turns out that he was only delinquent on the chastity, as he obeyed his superior, the Pope, while committing the deed: he did not use a condom.

What is man?

Picture from SFbook.com. Posted under fair use policy. No rights implied or assumed.

The three laws of robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Isaac Asimov. Runaround (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1942)

In Bicentennial Man (the story, not the Robin Williams movie which is a poor adaptation of the good doctor's work), Dr. Asimov tells the story of Andrew, an NDR series robot who struggles to become human and finally accomplishes it. Bicentennial Man is yet another fantastic tour de force by Dr. Asimov, a fantastic insight into what means to be human... even though the story is about a robot.

I found today another robot story that explores the meaning of being a man. Article of faith, by Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe, october 2008 and EP193 of Escape pod) goes into the tricky question of whether a robot has a soul. (Article of faith, by the way, is a 2009 Hugo Nominee. If you don't know what an Hugo award is, there is always Google...)

Regardless of whether a soul is an attribute of either man or machine, both Dr. Asimov and Mr. Resnick have hit the nail on the head: being man is not about shape or origin but about the ability to think and reason. Both Andrew (Bicentennial Man) and Jackson (Article of faith) while made of metal and with plenty of bolts and nuts, thought like a man and struggled to find their place in the universe; in both cases, that quest ultimately meant their demise: by choice, in the case of Andrew and by violence, in the case of Jackson.

Who knows if we will ever be able to generate artificial intelligence so capable that it may struggle with these deep questions. But science fiction is always at hand, to prod us into thinking and speculating on the possibilities.

And I just heard someone saying that impossible just means I don't know how to do it...

We are in good company

I got a link to the list of the 50 most brilliant atheists of all time. I recommend to read the list, it is a fascinating read. And interesting to know that we share our non belief with such distinguished people like
  • Stephen Hawkins
  • Steve Wozniak
  • Warren Buffet
  • Katherine Hepburn
  • Jodie Foster
  • PZ Myers
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Richard Leaky
  • Sigmund Freud
  • ... and 41 others

Years ago, I used to think that if almost everyone believed in God, God's existence must be real. Now that I know better I realize that this line of thought is an argument "ad populom" or, in other words, a generalization.

Truth is not a popularity contest but the concordance between our judgement and the facts; actually, as we all know, truth can be very painful and unconfortable...

Rick Wagoner leaves GM and everyone beats on a dead horse

Image found at Poynography

After several years at the helm of GM, Rick Wagoner has resigned. Under duress.

Of course, who can say no to the US president?

I remember when Wagoner was appointed to the top job at GM. All my favorite car magazine's writers were excited that he apointed a "car guy", Bob Lutz, to be his second in command and he would have GM build some exciting new products instead of just hulking SUVs and pick-ups.

(We car guys don't like SUVs... got it? But we don't hate them like infamous green eco-histerical Arianna Huffington).

Unfortunately, after that, GM missed all the market trends - cross-overs, hybrids... forgot about cars... A car company that does not make cars? Hum... funny.

Car guys or not, we have all known about GM's woes for a long time. The pensions were choking the company, the UAW was strangling it and it's dependence (same as Ford's and Chrysler's) on SUVs and pick-up trucks was a big sword dangling over poor Rick's head. Tough decisions had to be taken which were never really addressed and this latest crisis is nothing else than the chronicle of an announced death.

Yes, there was poor product planning but I get really upset when I read opinions like this . GM's downfall was in the making for more than 20 years and it might not have happened if there had been no crisis. This lady, Maureen Dowd is taking Huffington's side by proclaiming that SUVs are the reason for this latest tragedy at GM.

In her words "...Wagoner stuck to gas-guzzling pickups and S.U.V.’s long after it was clear that higher gas prices meant he should vary the fleet with more fuel-efficient vehicles..."

Dear Maureen, it takes years to develop new cars. It only took one year for gasoline to skyrocket and fall again. The reason GM failed was lack of foresight, if you will. But GM built what the american public wanted: large trucks and SUVs. Now that gasoline is cheap again, you yourself admit that small car inventories are piling up.

Ariana and Maureen should develop some critical thinking skills in addition to getting a nice new shining crystal ball. Rick Wagoner's ball malfunctioned and now he is out of a job.

To add insult to injury, Rick is stepping down and Fritz Henderson will be appointed to be the new CEO. Funny. Fritz was always Rick's choice and will continue to do more of the same.

Yes, everyone agrees that Rick's tenure was a huge failure. But one thing he did as asked: SUVs and pick-up trucks.

Give people what they want. You will be punished. And everyone will beat on your old, dead carcass.

The road is more important than the destination

I love TED. It is one of the more intellectualy stimulating sites I have ever seen and I would love to attend one of their conferences. Anyone has a couple of thousands dollars, sitting somewhere unused and idle...?

Anyway, today I was cleaning my Gmail account, which is an exercise in futility and I remembered wanting to watch this talk. Of course, I am biased due to the fact that I do love watching the Mythbusters and Adam Savage is in this talk.

And the good thing about TED is that anything in there makes you think. Adam's performance reminded me that the road may be more important than the destination. Don't you sometimes feel like "what now" when you finally achieve something? Wasn't it fun just to keep on trying or working to achieve that?

A good lesson for life. If like me you are skeptical of after-life myths, then life is the road and there is really no destination. Poor religious people who waste their lives in their kantian search for duty and virtue, not enjoying everything the world has to offer just because there will be a reward at the end... and at the end they never knew they were wrong and there was nothing...

But... listen to Adam talk. And enjoy his quest! In this case, the quest is definitely funnier and more entertaining than the goal!

It is not easy to fool a skeptic

A few months ago I got an e-mail about this new product: genpets.

Below the usual mass of e-mail addresses for all the people this message had come from and forwarded to (why is it that people don't clean up their spam to protect their friends' privacy?) was this text from the (possible) first person to send the message (freely translated from said message):

"Just when we thought we had seen it all this news come in. One more company playing God and playing with lives at their will. PLEASE!!! DO NOT BUY THEM OR WE WILL BE ENCOURAGING THEIR MASS PRODUCTION... AND TAKING AWAY FROM OUR CHILDREN THE VALUE OF LIFE. Out there there are enough fully natural pets waiting to be adopted and capable of transmiting love and encouraging real emotions."

I don't know what's God got to do with all this or how buying an "artificial pet" takes from children the "value of life" (whatever that means) neither do I understand what is that issue with "real emotions". But the main issue here is that this lady (yes, it was a woman) took the ad and website at face value.

For me, getting this message was like reading in the newspaper that we had landed on Pluto... it does not make sense that we get to Pluto when we haven't even reached Mars, which is closer. Genetic engineering has not reached the point where a new species can be "created". Even though there is a website of the company that allegedly manufactures this pets, the whole thing seemd to me like a hoax; a very elaborate one, at that, but a hoax nonetheless. However, the long chain of forwards and the comments tells me that many people took this joke seriously.

Last week I remembered this incident and I googled "genpets". And it was not really a hoax. Everything relates to an artistic creation. It turns out that genpets are a creation of canadian artist Adam Brandejs. Although Mr. Brandejs indicates in his website that he is certainly concerned about the direction genetic engineering might take, he is also clear to point out that genpets are painted silicon sculptures, with electronic circuitry added that mimic breathing and movement.

This e-mail came in my inbox on December 1st, 2008 and at that time the genpets issue was completely debunked. The New York Times made a mention about them on June 24th, 2006 with a link to the "Museum of Hoaxes".

So... artwork or hoax, the truth is that genpets do not exist as anything else than an anymated sculpture. The reaction they caused reminds me of the mass panic caused by Orson Welles' radio broadcast of "The war of the worlds" in the 30s. Even though several times during the broadcast an announcement was made indicating that the transmission was only a play, many people were really convinced that a martian invasion was in progress. More recently, the famous crop circles have feed the fantasy of many UFO aficionados, in spite of the fact that in several instances, the authors of the circles have come forward and demonstrated the techniques used to fool the town while they were sleeping.

When people wants to believe nonsense and quit thinking and analyzing it is imposible to reason with them. Doubt does not represent anything else than the process of thinking and weighing the evidence that is presented. As Carl Sagan used to say "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". An e-mail message does not qualify as extraordinary evidence.

Nor does a professionaly developed website.

Note: this is a first! This post is being published today in english AND spanish in both my blogs, www.thechapinskeptic.info and www.elchapinesceptico.info. Hopefully there will be more simultaneous postings!

Deepak Chopra is full of crap

Deepak Chopra. Picture from Wikipedia Commons

"To say that Nature displays intelligence doesn't make you a Christian fundamentalist. Einstein said as much, and a fascinating theory called the anthropic principle has been seriously considered by Stephen Hawking, among others."
Deepak Chopra.

"The anthropic principle is NOT about nature displaying intelligence. Don't use straw man arguments on me!"
The Chapin Skeptic.

I didn't say it first. In her fantastic 2006 monologue Letting go of God , Julia Sweeney explains her disappointment when she first goes after Chopra's ramblings about conciousness and quantum mechanics and later, after studying quantum mechanics she realizes that Chopra's elucubrations are highly improbable and she yells "Deepak Chopra is full of shit!"

And I have to agree. Reading Chopra's Wikipedia entry, he is an advocate, among other things, of something he calls quantum healing which somehow relates to healing through positive thoughts and quantum mechanics is thrown into the mix for good measure... I sure understand why miss Sweeney was so disappointed...

I tried to listen to an audio version of one of his books. No, scratch that, I listened to the full fracking thing! At that time I was halfway between agnosticism and supersticion so I was interested and even then, it seemed like a lot of nonsense. Basically, he was saying that in order to achieve something you somehow have to wait for it to show up or materialize or something. There wasn't any piece of usable advice I could find. It was all about sitting back, waiting and having faith.

Well, faith just doesn't work for me. Never has, never will. I believe in the results of hard work and knowledge plus training intelligently applied.

So, I concur, Julia. He is indeed full of crap.

Crap makes you money though... I may be missing some important source of revenue. Hmmm...

Listen to Julia. She is fantastic in that monologue!

Blogging is hard work but is not purgatory

Dante's Purgatory, by Dore
Image from Wikipedia Commons

Last week my friend MY challenged me to write a blog post on the abolishment of purgatory by the Catholic Church. The group where we were in was all but convinced that the new catholic doctrine does not include purgatory anymore.
I never believed in purgatory anyway, not even when I still was a practicing catholic but I did think that it was a good opportunity for some fun research and a nice write up on how old square Pope Ratzinger had, incredibly, shown some good sense abolishing a doctrine that is antiquated, to say the least.
Alas, blogging is hard work. For me it usually involves research as I do not believe in just writing from what I heard. And, frack! Purgatory is still on!
There seems to have been a misinterpretation of the news by (no surprises here!) overzealous reporters looking for a catchy headline. In April 2007, the Catholic Church International Theological Comission revealed its findings on "limbo" and Pope Ratzinger gave his blessing on them. As per prevailing catholic doctrine, unbaptized babies who die cannot go to heaven but instead stay in "limbo", which is a "place" where they can enjoy happiness and contentment but without the direct presence of God.
Later Pope Ratzinger indicated that this limbo thing was a "theological hypothesis" (???) and not catholic dogma. Reporters then capitalized on a perceived relationship between "limbo" and "purgatory" and this is where confusion seems to have arisen.
Pope Ratzinger later indicated in many words that I really do not want to reproduce here, that Purgatory is actually the experience of meeting Jesuschrist and being absolved of all sins by this experience. He agrees, then, with Pope John Paul II in that Purgatory is not a metaphysical place but "a condition of existence".
In short MY, no warranty and no money back! Sorry about that!

Susie Neunmalklug explains evolution

One of my Facebook friends posted this wonderful video. I am looking for more videos of this adorable little girl - her name Neunmalklug means nine times smart and she says it's not an exaggeration! I agree! Enjoy!

It is hard to be a skeptic

For 40-something years, I lived in the clutches of religion and supersticion. Some of the members of my family are extremely religious/supersticious and I was under that influence; for instance, I would not walk under a ladder or between a light pole and its tensioning wire because the ladder, wall and floor or the pole, floor and wire form a triangle... and you are not supposed to walk through a triangle, it somehow "distorts" your aura or something. I actually felt my aura "around me" and would feel extremely uneasy if I accidentally walked through any such triangle.

But the worst part of all was THE BOOK: dog-eared, stained, its pages almost loose, we had read it over and over. THE BOOK was "Self-Mastery and Fate With the Cycles of Life", one of the essential books of the rosicrucian's library. This book was written by H. Spencer Lewis, ostensibly the founder of the Rosicrucian order in San Jose, CA, and our family lived by it.

Very succintly, THE BOOK states that there are several time cycles in our lives: daily, yearly and an overarching one that goes in seven year intervals over your whole life. For instance, in the daily cycle there are seven periods in the day, each one aproximately 3 hours and 26 minutes (frack, I forget so many things and not this one!); the first one starts at midnight and lasts until 3:26 am; second one ending at 6:52, etc. These seven periods, each identified with a letter from A to G would alternate during the week, so that, for instance, Monday morning it would be E (6:52 to 10:17 am) and Tuesday, E would be at night (from 8:34 pm to midnight) and so on. (Again, I forget many things but those seem to be etched in my memory). The yearly cycle had 42 days and started on your birthday... I never really got around to the life-cycle, I think it was seven years long. So complicated.

All these timeframes had definite properties and there were things you should not do and things that were bound to be successful if started at the right time.

We lived our lives by this schedule. I got marrried in April (it was difficult to figure out the right month, what with my girlfriend and I having different yearly cycles since we did not share the same birthday) and on a Saturday evening (because it was B, a good time to get married - don't do it on E!). I tried to schedule my customer appointments according to these rules and it was a nightmare.

A good example of confirmation bias. Now that I look back on the whole thing I can remember things that went bad because they were started "at a bad time" as we used to say but so many things we tried to get well done and we did them at "a good time" never came to fruition. Of course, I remember the bad ones and not the good ones that never happened.

I got accepted into the rosicrucian order. I was told it was an accomplishment as I had been "spiritually" examined and found worthy.

I also got into the Self Realization Fellowship. I still have my credential somewhere.

This was part of the baggage that I got rid of when I convinced myself (or rather, gave myself permission) to stop believing in the supernatural. And this is one of the reasons why I say becoming an agnostic has been such a liberating experience. Not only am I guilt free (I am only human after all) but I am also freer with my time... now I have time to do many things at any moment I please.

Anyway, it is hard to be skeptic. It was difficult to convince myself that it was OK to meet people on Friday evening or Sunday afternoon. It was so difficult to stop my "aura" from tangling on those damn light poles! It took me a while and I may still not be "baggage free" as I sometimes catch myself exclaiming the G word or wondering if I should get out of the sidewalk to avoid that triangular configuration ahead.

But... practice makes perfect, they say. And I am happier now than I ever was before. Being a skeptic is hard but is worth it. Try it.

Physics of the impossible

"Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine. "
Sir Arthur Eddington, English astronomer (1882 - 1944)

Dr. Michio Kaku - Image from Wikipedia Commons

I recently finished listening to the audiobook version of Dr. Michio Kaku's fantastic "Physics of the impossible" and I was fascinated by Dr. Kaku's lucid embrace of possibilities. Practically anything we have seen in our beloved science fiction universe may be possible.

Dr. Kaku's book is an excelent reminder that skeptics should not be dogmatic. Although many of the things discussed in the book seem extremely far-fetched (teleportation and time travel come to mind), Dr. Kaku actually shows how, given the right knowledge, technology and access to the right quantity of energy we could achieve these feats.

Dr. Kaku classifies all these current impossible dreams into a three level hierarchy (please note I am paraphrasing the author and I hope I get it right):
  • Class I Impossibilities: Technologies that may become possible in the near future, meaning some decades to a century. We understand the physics involved but further technological development and experimentation are required before these achievements are practical. Examples are invisibility, anti-matter engines (Star Trek anyone?) and even some forms of telepathy or mind reading.
  • Class II Impossibilites: These are technologies that may take some centuries to millenia to achieve. They are perceived by physicists as possible but require additional knowledge/breakthroughs in fundamental physics or vast amounts of energy, the kind we currently do not have access to or really know how to harness. Examples of this category are faster-than-light travel, time travel and entering parallel universes.
  • Class III Impossibilities: These are the "true impossibilities": the things that violate currently known laws of physics. As per Dr. Kaku's thinking, they either are really impossible or we have to fully re-write our textbooks with new discoveries in order to make them possible. Amazingly enough, Dr. Kaku only finds two of these "impossibilities": perpetual motion and precognition.

Michio Kaku is a brilliant and amazing man: he built an atom smasher in his garage as a teenager for a high school science project. I fully respect his opinions and all this discussion convinces me that a dogmatic stance is not proper for a skeptic.

As I mentioned in my other blog (spanish required) being a skeptic does not mean complete disbelief in everything or just being stubborn. Being skeptic means that critical thinking is being applied to the evidence on hand. No evidence, no acceptance. A skeptic does not accept "faith" as evidence, since "faith" only really means someone else told us to believe something. And, not being dogmatic, a skeptic is perfectly willing to change his/her mind if new evidence surfaces which may corroborate, enhance or contradict previous knowledge.

Reading "Physics of the impossible" was a powerful reminder that the universe is a much stranger place than we usually perceive and that there is still much to learn. I highly recommend you read the book and check Dr. Kaku's work, especially the article referenced above.

A few thoughts on free will

My mind ran away last Sunday morning, again, while trying NOT to listen to the priest during his weekly rambling-paraphrasing-scolding which may take all of 20 minutes during mass. And my thoughts were revolving around free will.

The concept of free will is very dear to us and I have already written about it here in regards to religion. This Sunday morning, my musings were a little deeper: I am convinced that, as many of my atheist friends contend, an omniscient all-powerful and benevolent God is fully incompatible with human free will.

Consider this: I am free to "sin" or not to "sin". God has no power over my free will (or chooses not to exert it? not really clear). So, leaving aside that probable breach of God's all-mightiness, God allows me to sin all I want.

However, this presents me with two conclusions that are incompatible with all of God's usual attributes. If I am "free to sin" and God will not interfere with my choices either a) he is not omniscient and did not know I would sin or b) he is not benevolent at all, since he knows I will sind and be condemned but did not create me in such a I way that I would choose not to sin.

This is the kind of internal logical inconsistencies religious dogmas are full of. Maybe I am too simplistic but I just don't buy these illogical beliefs.

I would love to hear a religious apologist try to refute my argument. My feeling is that they would choose the cheap and easy way out: God's purposes are beyond human comprehension.

And that may be true for I do not understand. I am only human.

Does my cat really want to kill me?

Is your cat plotting to kill you?

According to this test I ran, my cat is figuring out ways to get me to meet my maker (whoever or whatever that is...) Being the egocentrical foolish cat lover I am I had interpreted all those signs of cat-plotting as genuine signs of affection or at least, acceptance of a helpful human who dutifully feeds and pets a deserving feline.

This got me thinking into these conspiracy theorists. You can have all these little, sometimes meaningless signs that, as a whole, can lead you down a completely wrong path.

A friend of mine believes in the Iluminati. He says that there is a global hidden government that, in true puppet master fashion, "manipulates" elections, orchestrates wars and directs world economy. If asked why Obama was elected or why we are currently in the beginning of a serious recession, he will answer that it serves the Illuminatti's purposes. Of course, those "purposes" being as sinister as can be expected from such a secret society, are not easily understood by us, common people.

I wish there were a global government. It would make life so much more easier, without the Castros, the Chavezes and the Ahmadinejads... or at least keeping them in line.

There is more than a little paranoia in the conspiracy theory mindset. It may be a result of our evolutionary path: more intelligence begets more mental instability. In any case, many of the conspiracy theorists see the same things we critical thinkers see and interpret them on a completely different light.

My cat is not plotting to kill me. In her small, limited conscience, there is room for dreams of rodent-catching, eating and my obligation to pet her as often as she wants to. After that is off to sleeping it off on the hood of my car (it is warm and cozy, isn't it?) and not much else... Killing me is definitely not in her agenda. Believing that would make me one of these crazy conspiracy theorists.

Now, that cat over there at my friend's house... he may be subject to the Illuminati's cat-mind control...

And... more about Coffee?

Yesterday when I was doing a little bit of research on my coffee piece, I came accross an interesting tidbit: Coffee was banned until...

Let's back up.

Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, after shepherds noticed their goats and sheep getting all wired up after eating these red berries... After that, it spread rapidly through the arabic world.

Coffee was introduced in Europe through the venetian trade; the venetians had a lot of contact with the north of Africa and they brought coffee up north. But, apparently, coffee failed to gain traction with the europeans until after Pope Clement VIII declared it "a christian beverage" in 1600, taking away the blemish of being a "heretic muslim" concoction.

Isn't it amazing?

Thinking critically about... coffee?

Picture from Wikipedia Commons. Follow links below to see the article on Coffee.

This morning I resisted being rushed. For one reason or other we were late for church and I just stayed behind, finishing my freshly brewed cup of coffee. And enjoying it a lot more than listening to the priest paraphrase the current gospell reading.

Coffee cannot be rushed. It is to be savored and enjoyed. You can't leave it aside and keep on drinking: it has to be hot. All this got me thinking...

Coffee is a vice and an addiction. I find it helps me awaken in the morning, not being a morning person, and also keeps me productive in the early hours of the afternoon, when sleepiness creeps in after lunch. According to Wikipedia caffeine content in my cup of java may be in the range of 200-230 mg, which is enough for me to have addiction and withdrawal symptons. (Granted, these are only anecdotically recorded but...)

Coffee is an acquired taste. I drink coffee since I was very young (less than 5 probably) and I cannot get rid of it... On the other hand, my children were not accustomed to coffee when they were growing up and now that they are teenagers, they have little or no affection for my favorite concoction. Many of my friends who are not coffee drinkers (actually one of then is a coffee-t-totaler) did not get used to it when they were young and they find it distasteful.

Coffee is a social ritual. It is customary to offer coffee to visitors and talk about having a cup of coffee with friends in order to get together and socialize. In fact, I have used just that excuse to meet some fellow bloggers.

Coffee must be drunk hot. I keep remembering how Arthur C. Clarke used to have his space-faring characters complain about "tepid coffee". It makes perfect sense to me. As a result of my work, I know that 60-65 °C is about as hot as can be handled with your bare hands; above that, you tend to get first degree burns. However, for whatever reason, my mouth is able to handle higher temperatures, probably as high as 75°C and I have my coffee usually at a warm 60-65°C, which (I know) my hands cannot handle. In a spaceship you do not need the whole 15.6 psi of atmospheric pressure (sorry, I have never learned the kg per square centimeter units) since 80% of that is contributed by nitrogen and you can get by with 7-8 psi of an oxygen-rich atmosphere. At that low pressure you would not be able to heat coffee to the full 70-75°C without boiling it and you would have to drink it at 40°C or so... distastefully tepid. That is why in a normal atmosphere you should not neglect your cup of steaming java for long.

And coffee is such an important part of the world economy. The ups and downs of the market affect the livelihood of millions of people accross the world, especially in developing countries like mine, which is one of the top ten producers in the world (again, according to Wikipedia).
So coffee is a very important part of my life and that of many others.

A good subject to think about, in critical terms.

25 random things about me

I got tagged by one of my Facebook friends and tasked with writing this list. I thought I might just as well post it here - it is an interesting exercise in introspection and critical (self) thinking. I recommend you do the same - it is not as difficult as it sounds. Here they go:

1. I like cats since I was a small kid. I have "quality time" with my cat every day I am not traveling.

2. To my knowledge I am the first person from Latin America to have passed the STLE Certified Lubrication Specialist. That was in 1997.

3. I like to play the guitar. Not that I still play it... but I like it. I have an Applause which is a poor man's Ovation - sweet!

4. I snore. My wife pokes me on occasion to stop me when I am snoring too loud.

5. I am a Cancer. Not that it means anything... but I am a Cancer. I kind of like the little crab.

6. My first dog was a chihuahua. I don't own dogs anymore but my wife does.

7. My wife is a Leo. My mother is a Cancer and my father was a Leo. Is that a coincidence?

8. I don't drink because after the third or fourth drink I look drunk. I am not drunk but I look every bit the part.

9. When I was a small kid my hero was Captain James T. Kirk. I was in love with Yeoman Janice. She was cute.

10. Before having brothers I had an imaginary friend.

11. My earliest memory is from before I was 3. Look at the picture in my father's blog elsewhere on my profile.

12. I miss my father every day since he died.

13. A very close relative of mine is gay so I have been to all-men-gay parties. They are, well, gay!

14. I sell lubricants. Few of my customers know I am an electrical engineer! I've never worked as an electrical engineer!

15. My mother wanted me to be a doctor (MD). Fortunately, one of my brothers did become a doctor!

16. The first car I wanted to own was a 1965 nightmist blue Mustang Convertible. I was 4.

17. My first car was a 1966 nightmist blue Mustang Coupe, with a 289 V8 engine. I was 22. That car was a pain in the butt but I loved every minute of owning it.

18. I changed my Mustang for a Toyota Corolla. My girlfriend (now my wife) never got over it. She liked the 'stang.

19. I speak german. Or at least I used to...

20. Few of my skeptically minded Facebook friends in the US, UK and Australia realize my native tongue is spanish. Surprise!

21. I learned english by listening to the Beatles and learning EVERY song. Try me!

22. My daughter loves the Beatles' music. She has hijacked my CDs. Luckily, they were ripped before and now reside in my Ipod.

23. I don't listen to music in my Ipod. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I do have a lot of music in it though.

24. I used to be very catholic. My wife still is. That is why I go to church every Sunday.

25. The prettiest woman I have seen on screen (and in Playboy) is Stella Stevens. I am a big fan. She doesn't know...

(And this is to show that these are random thoughts as Stella comes after the church thing - no relationship!)

Skeptics should not be dogmatic

I have been listening to this wonderful Podcast "Escape Pod" (www.escapepod.org) which features a short science fiction story every week or so. They also have "flash" episodes which are even shorter stories, typically 5 to 7 minutes in length. It is a must listen for us, Sci-Fi geek/trekkies/fans.

One of the latest "flash" episodes, "Standards" by the (recently) late Richard K. Lyon gives us skeptics a tongue-in-cheek lesson in healthy skepticism. I suggest you listen to the episode but, without spoiling the fun, it deals with rejection of a scientific paper due to its implausibility even though the author is out there (and can be seen through the windows) demonstrating the very facts that the paper is about!

To listen to this short story is, as I mentioned, hilarious, but it brings home a very serious lesson: We, as skeptics, shoud not be dogmatic and must keep an open mind. Everything may be possible and we should, at least, examine the evidence before declaring a fraud. But we cannot just deny what we think is impossible adopting this very dogmatic posture we so strongly criticize in the fundies (as regards to religion) and the Stanton Friedmans (as regards to UFOs) and so on and so forth.

Skepticism means applying critical thinking to the evidence and weighing the pros and cons in order to reach a conclusion. Skeptics have to be inquisitive, curious and open-minded. Applying the scientific method is the way to the truth for a real skeptic and evidence (or lack of it) will determine whether a given phenomenom exists or not.

Skepticism is not disbelief. In reality, skepticism is not related to belief. The concept of belief implies acceptance of facts based on faith and faith has no place in the scientific method. Acceptance of facts, basis the evidence, is what substitutes belief for a skeptic. And this acceptance (or lack of it) will be subject to change as new evidence surfaces.

And this is the whole point of this posting. A dogmatic posture is not amenable to change; by definition it is fixed and cannot be changed. And a true skeptic will always be willing to change his/her mind as long as the evidence is there.

A fallacious appeal to authority

Our esteemed James Randi is said to always answer when someone introduces himself as an skeptic "I doubt that". I was reminded of that answer a couple of days ago when Facebook indicated the birthday of a new skeptic friend, who writes an interesting blog, in spanish. I wrote on his wall saying "Although I doubt it is your birthday, given the lack of evidence (I haven't seen your birth certificate) congratulations are not wasted so happy birthday!".

I didn't really expect a direct reply but he wrote back thanking me and asking me to forgo evidence and accept his falacious authority.

It was good and clean fun between skeptics but it illustrates what critical thinking is. Why should I believe it was Antonio's birthday? Because he says so? Granted, you might say that the biggest authority on all things Antonio is himself. However, people have been known to lie about their birthday and it really does not prove that such and such a day is my birthday just because I say so. (Especially if I am proven to celebrate my birthday more than once a year or on different dates every year).

This is the "appeal to authority" fallacy - just because someone says it, it does not mean it is true. There most be independent proof or corroboration.Especially when the person stating the fact is talking about something outside of their normal field of expertise - being an authority in comedy or nudism (Jenny McCarthy?) does not make you an expert on public health (vaccination and autism?)

So, don't believe everything you hear and say. Even if it is in the Bible, it does not mean it is true because it is written in the Bible. (Hear that Corny?) There must be a way to independently prove the point or we will be no better than those who believe vaccination is bad because Jenny McCarthy says so.

And everyone is always trying to have us believe claims basis an appeal to authority - just watch informmercials or Larry King Live and have fun debunking all those claims!

Happy new year to all!