Before anyone else says it, yes, I know the title over-promises. Snappy comebacks aren’t exactly my thing, because they are typically simple-minded and reductionist responses to issues that are, to borrow Dr. Ben Goldacre’s line, “more complicated than that”. Continue reading “6 snappy comebacks to “6 snappy comebacks for sugar sceptics””
Yesterday, a strange collection of people received an unusual email. It was a suicide note from a man we knew to varying degrees, sent to people with whom he’d formed a connection over the years, whether via secular humanist activism (as in my case) or badminton, or something more intimate, like being family or close friends.
It was scheduled to be sent hours after he had taken his life, and included instructions regarding memorial services, burial and the like.
I didn’t know him well, so I’m not sad at his death in any personal fashion. I am however sad at how he had to die – alone, and with no certainty that his suffering would be alleviated, given that the medical support that should be available at times like these cannot be provided unless you can find a physician who is willing to break the law. Continue reading “Dying with dignity”
I took part in a very interesting radio debate this morning, on the topic of whether or not God exists. As I said in one of my first remarks, the first question we’d need to resolve is “which God?”, because that question is perhaps one that separates many heathens and believers.
By which I mean simply this: the debate around the existence of god(s) allows for vast amounts of embedded assumptions, implied premises, special pleading, confirmation bias and the like. I’m not a fan of Richard Dawkins’ approach to the religion debate at all, but he had it completely right in saying (paraphrased) that everyone knows what it’s like to be an atheist – I just go one god further than you. Continue reading “#GodDebate: Mahlatse Winston Mashua, Eusebius and I talk God”
As anyone who reads Synapses would know, I’m a proponent of scientific skepticism. What that means is something along the lines of “the practice or project of studying paranormal and pseudoscientific claims through the lens of science and critical scholarship, and then sharing the results with the public“ (from Daniel Loxton’s 2013 essay, “Why is there a skeptical movement?).
Skepticism should not be conflated with hyperskepticism, as Caleb Lack and I argue in our book on critical thinking. So, it doesn’t (necessarily) mean believing in chemtrails, or Big Pharma deliberately poisoning you, or your cellphone making you infertile (it’s a bit of a pity that that one isn’t true, actually). Continue reading “Vaccines and false balance”
There’s an interesting – and important – discussion going on in South African professional philosophy at the moment. You can read about it on the Mail&Guardian, but the nutshell summary is that tensions regarding the “apparent supremacy of European philosophy over African philosophy” have resulted in the president and “several black philosophers” resigning from the Philosophical Society of Southern Africa (PSSA). Continue reading “The (unbearable?) whiteness of philosophy”
A journalist friend recently asked me for comment on the issue of gender reassignment, and as usual, I went overboard. Given that only a few sentences of what I provided will make it into her piece, here’s a longer version of my take on some of the ethical issues involved with hormone treatment or gender reassignment surgery for under-18s.
First published on GroundUp.
Objectivity is impossible to achieve. We all have our biases, and on top of that, we all have brains that work to confirm those biases, and to undermine the impact of information that could change our minds.
We are of course not helpless in the face of misinformation – we can remind ourselves to read and think about dissenting views, we can debate issues with friends from different parts of the political spectrum, and most importantly perhaps, we can remind ourselves that discovering our own errors is an essential component of triangulating on the truth. Continue reading “Fake news isn’t the same as lying”
The racial debate attracting the most opinion and anger in South Africa right now was sparked by this photograph:
Some folk on social media are desperately reaching for an analysis of this that eliminates race and structural power imbalances from the situation. Others are focusing on the cage (it’s a sheep pen) as the primary problem. They are both wrong.
This post isn’t about “fake news“, a term which has gone from useful to meaningless in a record time. It’s about nonsense published as if it’s news, and about the willingness on the part of some publications (okay, one in this case) to take a published piece of nonsense and then make it even worse in order to get you to visit their website. Continue reading “The Huffington Post and your masturbatory co-workers”
Last year, I disagreed with Malusi Gigaba’s decision to bar the homophobic preacher Steven Anderson from entering the country. One of the arguments I made was that it’s good to be able to identify and expose bigots like him and his supporters, and that we can use occasions like this to demonstrate the weakness of their positions. Continue reading “Two more homophobic churches for South Africa!”