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Why am I a skeptic?

People often ask me why I spend my time with this web site and with skeptical people like Australian Skeptics and the James Randi Educational Foundation. The passage below is the first draft of the introductory chapter to my planned book about woowoo and weird thinking. Perhaps it offers some sort of explanation for what I do and why I do it.

I can remember two times in my life when I experienced an epiphany.

I suppose I have always been skeptical and too ready to ask difficult questions. I tried to take religion seriously when I was young (my parents only ever attended church for weddings, funerals and baptisms, which, in retrospect, I realise moulded my thinking), but I was always being told things in Sunday School and from the pulpit which didn't sound quite right. I remember being taken to the museum when I was in primary school, and we were encouraged to think about such topics as evolution and the evidence for it. I can remember getting up early in the morning to watch school science shows from a local university where famous scientists talked about science. Professor Julius Sumner MillerI have what the psychologists call a flashbulb memory of Professor Julius Sumner Miller asking Professor Herman Bondi if a tube was empty. Bondi, whom nobody has ever thought was not smart, replied "Yes". Miller said "Wrong. It is full of air", and then went on to make it into an organ pipe using a Bunsen burner. I even remember "why it is so".

Professor Julius Sumner MillerFor some reason, scepticism is often equated with atheism in the minds of the public. Certainly, the existence of a supernatural god is something to be sceptical about, but most of the time such a belief does no harm. One of the epiphanies that I had was the realisation that I did not need a personal god. It was at my grandmotherís funeral, and the priest was desperately trying to explain how, in a just world, a person who had led an unblemished and charitable life should have been stricken with a disease which caused her to spend the last years of her life in increasing pain. I realised that a god who could do that was not the sort of god that I needed to believe in. I have no problem with other people who want to believe in a personal god, unless that belief leads to harm to others.

Fads & FallaciesThe second epiphany took place in a coffee shop in Glebe Point Road in Sydney. I had gone out for lunch and spent some time in a book shop where I found a copy of Martin Gardnerís book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which I had wanted to read for some time. I stopped for a coffee on the way back to work, and I didnít get up from the table until I had finished the book. The tragedy of this book is that it was written over almost sixty years ago, but it reads like it was written yesterday. It told me that there is a permanent need for people to educate the public about mad, bad and just plain weird thinking.


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