Posts Tagged “critical thinking fail”

'Hannah the Mermaid' in the Mermaid Lagoon exhibit at Sydney Aquarium. Real or not real? The U.S. government says not real. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP/GettyImages / December 19, 2008, via the L.A. Times)It’s the 21st century, fercryinoutloud. One would think we’ve learned a thing or two by now. After all, physicists just a few days ago announced the heretofore-elusive Higgs boson exists. That was a major advancement in a scientific field which hadn’t even existed, a little over a century ago. Yet, for all of our advancements, people still love to launch themselves into a dozen different kinds of desperate wingnuttery, over mere broadcasts (as they did back when Orson Welles kicked off a panic back in 1938).

Sadly, despite all of our progress over the course of the 20th century and extending into this one, apparently Americans are just as gullible — and stupid — as they were some 74 years ago. The Los Angeles Times reports that a science-fiction show about mermaids has apparently forced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to have to tell people that mermaids don’t exist (WebCite cached article):

In one of its more head-turning posts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced — wait for it — that there is no evidence that mermaids are real. …

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this post is why NOAA, a U.S. scientific agency, would want to weigh in [cached] on these mythical creatures any more than they’d want to expound on the potential atmospheric perturbations caused by Santa Claus’ countless Christmas Eve flights around the globe. …

The inspiration for this posting, says Discovery News [cached], likely comes from the Discovery branch “Animal Planet,” which used a documentary-style format for its science-fiction TV show titled “Mermaids: The Body Found.”

Really, people? For real? A science-fiction show convinced you that mermaids exist? How can you be that fucking stupid? Seriously!? I have to file this one under “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

Photo credit: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/GettyImages, via the L.A. Times.

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NEW YORK LOTTERYHere’s a stunning example of how not to do critical thinking, and why amateurs and idiots should never attempt it on their own. A (believing) woman won the New York lottery recently, as a result of a mock prayer by her (atheist) son, and he’s now a “true believer.” WNBC-TV in New York City reports on this irrationality (WebCite cached article):

A mother and son’s prayers were both answered with one scratch of a lottery ticket.

Gloria Bentivegna of West Babylon won $1 million in the New York Lottery’s Sweet Million game one day after her son had called on God to give his mom the money. …

But Sal Bentivegna, 26, never saw eye to eye with his mom’s beliefs, describing himself as somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. …

Last month, mother and son’s ongoing debate over religion came to a head as they played the slots in Atlantic City.

Sal Bentivegna challenged God to prove he exists.

“I said, if he wants me to believe, he’ll give you a million dollars.”

The answer came within twenty-four hours. …

A few days later, Sal joined his mom at Ss. Cyril and Methodius church in Deer Park. It was his first church visit in some twenty years.

“I don’t think one can ask for more proof than something like that short of God or Jesus appearing physically in front of you,” said Sal.

Unfortunately — in the eyes of strict logic — this “challenge prayer” is proof of absolutely nothing whatsoever. First, there is no direct, causal link between the “prayer” and the lottery win. It’s possible that the mother would have won the lottery without the prayer being said. There is such a thing as a coincidence, you know … even if religionists conveniently refuse to accept that coincidences happen.

Second, a lottery win is too wild, statistically, for one such event to tell us anything. What would be needed is something bigger and more meticulous; a larger sample size, i.e. many more lottery tickets than just one, and controls, i.e. some of them which are not prayed for. In other words, demonstrating a connection between prayer and lottery winnings would require a large, well-designed, tightly-structured study.

One challenge prayer and one lottery win do not meet this standard.

In fact, given the nature of the supernatural, it’s ultimately impossible to design any such thing, since one can never exclude elements of the supernatural, which — by definition — lie outside the control of anyone operating such a study, as R.T. Carroll of the Skeptic’s Dictionary points out. In other words, even the best-structured study could, conceivably, be mucked around with, if God chooses not to cooperate with it or purposely muddles its results. No study can possibly be set up so as to work around or isolate out the supposed omnipotence of God.

As one would expect, fierce Christians are jumping for joy at this news, e.g. this story from the Christian Post (cached):

Realizing that the odds of his mother winning were so farfetched, Sal has now become a firm believer.

He testified, “I can’t shrug off that Jesus had a hand in it.”

“No pun intended, but it was a Godsend,” he said.

Gloria Bentivegna, reflecting on what had happened, is thankful to God for her winnings, but even more thankful for her son’s conversion. She said: “’God performed two miracles, a true miracle.”

What these jubilant Christians forget is that their religion is not supposed to be based upon challenges to God and real-world events. This is what their scripture explicitly tells them, e.g.:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Converting to Christianity as a result of a financial boon doled out (supposedly) by God, is precisely the kind of “boast” that this epistle condemns. Thus, any Christians rejoicing over this, are actually being anti-scriptural!

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds.

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