Planting The Seed Of Scepticism With Peter Answers

First off, I’d like to apologise for the break in posting. It does have a reason, but now that the week is drawing to an end, it should wind down a bit and give me time to write some more.

The other day a friend showed me an interesting prank website, Peter Answers. At the risk of spoiling it for most of the readers, I’m just going to point out how it works:

Peter is a self-described oracle. The person at the keyboard types in a petition for an answer, then a question with a specific answer and Peter churns out eerily accurate answers. Only the trick lies with the person who’s at the keyboard – he has to press a key combination, and then writes the answer to the question he’s going to ask next. The person sitting next to him won’t see anything because the cursor will have been hidden by the small text field. The question then magically produces the ‘answer’ the typist wrote in before, leaving the other person utterly amazed.

I tricked my 14 year old brother with Peter Answers. We spent perhaps a good 10 to 15 minutes asking questions, and all the time the oracle got it right. Now, he’s a smart kid, and he tried to figure it out. Is it listening to the microphone? Is it chance? Generic answers? I debunked all of his scepticisms by blocking the iBook microphone and writing the next question in silence, by asking specific questions (that gave horrendously specific answers), I did a little ‘fortune telling’. By the 10th question his scepticism was relegated to a lower priority than it should have been.

Then came the grand finale. He’s a rebellious kid, and we’ve never been religious, so he’s never believed in God, although probably more out of rebelliousness towards some of his classmates than out of reasoned out scepticism.

So I asked: “Are you God?”. The answer came back “No”. I asked: “Is there a God?”. The answer came back “No”. By now my brother was seriously confused. I asked: “So how on Earth does this work?”. The answer came back: “The dude at the keyboard is typing it all out”. Slowly it hit home. I took the chance his mental processes were giving me to say:

“See how scepticism is the only truly correct position? When someone tells you something stupendously radical and possibly unbelievable your first reaction has got to be one of questioning. Whether someone tells you that the Solar System decides your fate, that God exists, that humans are warming the Earth or that this website is a real oracle, your first reaction has got to be one of question. Short and simple. Look at the evidence. Find the truth. Question. Some claims will be true, others won’t be. But you won’t know if you take it all for granted.”

I watched the look of realisation on my brother’s face, and it was beautiful – I planted the seed of scepticism in my brother and I honestly think he’s much the better for it.

So thank you, Peter Answers.

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17 Responses

  1. This probably sounds silly, but I can’t figure out how Peter Answers works. I read your description and the instructions, but it won’t churn out the answer. Which text field are you talking about?

    (BTW, I am an atheist, and linked to here from Planet Atheism. I’m not a member, but I do check out some blogs occasionally. This is a good post you’ve written, and a very nice and clean-looking blog. 😉 )

  2. Heh, OK, fair enough:

    You go onto PeterAnswers.com; You write a ‘petition’, of sorts, kind of like the Greeks would to an oracle, but the trick is to press ‘.’ once the cursor is hidden from sight and then write the answer to the question you’re going to write next.

  3. With luck he’ll begin to be skeptical about atheism 😉

    Thanks for the link to the website, we’ve had quite a bit of fun with it in the office.

  4. But atheism…. is scepticism.

  5. No, skepticism is “A doubting or questioning attitude or state of mind; dubiety”. Atheism is most definitely not skepticism, because an atheist is not skeptical of his beliefs. Atheists believe there is no God, a platform for which there is no proof.

    Atheists, much like Christians, can adopt skepticism and challenge their beliefs, but do not delude yourself into thinking that atheism is the default state of a true skeptic.

    You hold to your dogma as hard as any Roman Catholic. Perhaps even harder.

  6. i never got it to work either. it scared me so i stopped using it, lol! I was trying to get it to work, and then it gave me an answer about someone waiting for me outside. Just at that moment a repairman knocked at our door! I nearly peed my pants! LOL! I know it was just a coincidence, but i still didn’t really want to use it anymore… was kind of mad that i let it scare me like that!!! 🙂 Having a good laugh about it now though…

  7. You’re very misled on your interpretation of Atheism, Angry Midwesterner. An atheist doesn’t read a holy book and then decide “There is no God just because”. An atheist has no ‘dogma’, mostly because there is no central dogmatic authority, unlike the Catholic Church which dictates the minds of millions from one place on Earth.

    Atheism is the result of a sceptic train of thought, which is the following:

    Establish negative hypothesis: “There is no God”. Bring up evidence, situations, etc. Is this evidence likely to have occurred under the conditions of the negative hypothesis (origin of species, creation of the universe, daily life, etc.)? Yes. Therefore you accept it until further evidence forces you to reconsider.

    That is scepticism. Demand evidence. Examine the evidence. Refine models. Currently, the model which can best describe our universe and our world is an atheistic one.

    The only thing that could remotely seem like dogma from my bucket of points of view is that I’m a hard headed sceptic – not that it takes a lot for me to believe in anything, but that it takes something for me to believe anything. I need evidence to believe.

    Atheism is not a firm statement of denial. It’s a reasoned out conclusion which science inevitably leads to. That atheists say “There is no God” is just a shortcut to saying “Theres not enough evidence for God” – and frankly, if you’re going to be demanding this clarification, then you need it also for the Tooth Fairy and for Thor, Odin and Zeus as well.

  8. No, Agnosticism is the result of a skeptical train of thought. There is no evidence that there is no God, there is no evidence that there is a God.

    Atheism is the result of a dogmatic need to believe that no supreme being exists, one that has grown out of arrogance in our own intellectual ability. We’ve forgotten how little we know, and declaring ourselves wise have become fools.

    Atheists, much like Christians, are not skeptics, they are dogmatic believers who may occasionally employ skepticism.

    What you are describing is an Agnostic, one who says “I see no evidence for or against God”, not an atheist.

  9. Ah, I think I see your problem. You don’t seem to understand how to do hypothesis testing.

    If we are attempting to prove the existance of God, our hypothesis is “God is exists”, and our null hypothesis is H0 = “God does not exist”.

    Using hypothesis testing we attempt to reject H0, and find that we fail to reject. The end result is not to accept H0, but to “fail to reject”, we have failed to disprove that God does not exist, but this is not the same thing as proving he doesn’t exist.

    A skeptic continues further, he sets his hypothesis then as “God does not exist”, giving us the null hypothesis H0 = “God does exist”.

    Using hypothesis testing we attempt to reject H0, and find that we fail to reject. The end result is not to accept H0, but to “fail to reject”, we have failed to disprove that God does exist, once again not the same thing as proving that he exists.

    This leaves us with a situation where we have insufficent evidence to reject either hypothesis. In the absence of a falsifiable theory, we cannot draw a conclusion about one or the other with out faith and a reduction in skepticism in the favor of one theory or another.

  10. “Ah, I think I see your problem. You don’t seem to understand how to do hypothesis testing.”

    We both do but you pervert it a bit with “A skeptic continues further, he sets his hypothesis then as “God does not exist”, giving us the null hypothesis H0 = “God does exist”.”.

    And you still stick with the ominous need for clarification. I insist I’m an agnostic scientific atheist. But saying “There is no God” is a pragmatic decision which shortcuts the need to say “Given current evidence I strongly believe there is no God”.

    “we cannot draw a conclusion about one or the other”

    Yes you can. The possibility for God’s existence is so small you might as well say he doesn’t exist. This is not a closed door. It’s a pragmatic stance. If tomorrow God descended from the heavens, we’d have to reevaluate our assumptions and conclusions. As things stand, atheistic scientific models explain the universe far better than any theistic explanation (all of which are overly hopeful and answer no questions anyway).

    What you’re doing is not scepticism. It’s fence sitting. Scepticism is not fence sitting, scepticism is the demand of evidence. Fence-sitting is just cowardice.

  11. Oh how tightly you cling to your dogmatic beliefs on pure faith!

    One cannot be an agnostic atheist, just as one cannot be an agnostic theist. A theist believes God exists. An atheist believes God does not exist. An agnostic says “I have no proof one way or another”.

    You claim the possibility for God’s existence is small, but don’t recognize this dogmatic irrational belief. There is no way to calculate the possibility of God’s existence. P(God exists) is simply unknown.

    Another dogmatic belief which you cling to is that your “atheist scientific models” explain the universe far better than my models. Your belief is false. My “theistic scientific models” are the same models as yours.

    How did life come about? My “theistic scientific model” says it was “evolution”. In fact, the majority of Christians agree with me.

    How does the Universe work? My model says “physics”, and the majority of Christians agree with me.

    The models are neither theistic nor atheistic, they are simply scientific model. The only difference is the question of the first mover.

    Theists say “God is the reason the laws of physics, biology, and what not are they way they are”.

    Atheists say “There is no God, everything just existed… DON’T ASK ME HOW, THERE IS NO HOW!” (no I don’t actually believe they are angry fools, I am parroting your favorite logical fallacy here to make a point)

    Scientists say “We have no way of knowing”.

    Like it or not, true agnostics who refuse to take a position are the only true skeptics when it comes to religion.

    I used to be an atheist myself, until I became a skeptic. Then becoming an agnostic, I saw enough proof and became a theist.

  12. “Atheists say “There is no God, everything just existed… DON’T ASK ME HOW, THERE IS NO HOW!” (no I don’t actually believe they are angry fools, I am parroting your favorite logical fallacy here to make a point)”

    Again you are misled and wrong. And you can make a serious estimation of the probability of there being a God, given current scientific models which describe the world without the need for one (God).

    “I used to be an atheist myself, until I became a skeptic. Then becoming an agnostic, I saw enough proof and became a theist.”

    You, sir, are a coward.

  13. It isn’t cowardly to stand here and point out your own ignorance. You are a fool.

    If you can make an estimate of the probability of God’s existence, then please, provide the mathematics instead of the bluster. You obviously fail to understand basic mathematics if you make such a statement.

  14. Oh, and by the by, I am not fence sitting. Since you are ignorant in mathematics and science, I will supply you with the definition of the term fence sitting, as it likely does not mean what you think it means:

    “One who takes a position of neutrality or indecision, as in a controversial matter.”

    I absolutely do not take a position of neutrality or indecision. I believe God exists, and have absolutely no doubt in that matter, which is far from a position of neutrality.

    As much as you might like to believe this would force me into certain beliefs, you are wrong because you are ignorant. I do not even believe you will necessarily end up in damnation for all eternity. Lucky for you Romans 2:11-16 means that God has left an out for those of you who continue in their ignorance.

  15. As I have said before, personal attacks give me an air of false importance, so I thank you for your elucidation.

    I cannot hope to provide you with the mathematics of God’s existence. I can hope to make you appreciate scientific models which explain the world and the universe best and have no need whatsoever for a God – hence doing away with a lot of the probability for God’s existence.

    Perhaps, as you have succinctly suggested, fence-sitting is not an appropriate term. Cowardice (in taking the step to admitting science does away with much of the probability of God) is probably more appropriate.

  16. I cannot hope to provide you with the mathematics of God’s existence.

    Because they don’t exist. Here is me being the skeptic to your false dogma. You want so badly to believe that they must exist, but you know deep down there is no way for you to justify your beliefs with reason.

    This isn’t the Gospel of “Reason”, your page is just another dogmatic person clinging to his unfounded beliefs. I normally respect this, but not when those people, like you, blather on ignorantly about the beliefs of others, which they don’t understand.

    I can hope to make you appreciate scientific models which explain the world and the universe best

    I am a mathematician and a scientist, thank you very much. I understand scientific models far better than you do, because I work with a lot of them every day as part of my job.

    Do they have no need for God? Such a statement is utterly silly. They neither have a need for, nor no need for God. They are about something else entirely. The theory of electricity and all of the models based on it have no need for gravity, but they do not preclude the existence of gravity, they are merely parallel to them. Neither says anything about the other because they are in different domains.

    You conflate religion and science just as badly, if not worse than, as the fools who follow Pat Robertson. You want, or need, so badly to believe that God does not exist that you confuse spirituality and science, and drive yourself into a dogmatic fervor.

    Talking about a probability which cannot be quantified is, as all scientists, mathematicians, and men or women of logic and reason know, utterly devoid of meaning and rational thought. You sir, are the coward, you are so afraid of the belief that others have, so fearful that God might exist, that you spend your time fretting about it and concocting various crank theories for which you can provide nothing but bluster.

    If you really were honest about standing for truth, reason, and rational thought, you would back up your statements with the relevant mathematics and facts.

    As it is you stand as a horrible stain on the reputation of atheists everywhere. On behalf of my wife, my brother, my father, and many of my friends (all of whom are atheist), I denounce you for painting as foolish all of those who share your beliefs. Not all atheists are are foolish and cowardly as you, and I urge all of my brother and sisters in Christ not to judge other atheists by your behavior.

  17. I humbly apologise for trying to come off as more scientific than thou.

    “You sir, are the coward, you are so afraid of the belief that others have, so fearful that God might exist, that you spend your time fretting about it and concocting various crank theories for which you can provide nothing but bluster.”

    No, I’m afraid not. I insist that the concept of a supernatural God is something that is not up to the atheist to quantify. An atheist such as myself will profess no belief given the current complete inability of the believer to provide any basis for his beliefs.

    When we’re dealing with science, I’m not referring to ideas such as gravity (although I will venture to suggest that Ancient Greeks proposed an idea of intelligent falling whereby objects ‘wanted’ to return to their resting place). I’m referring to big questions. Previously, the Sun was a winged chariot of fire. Proof for God/s, perhaps. Now, it is clear that this is not the case, rolling back the presence of the supernatural. Science and religion are diametrically opposite in than science demands facts and evidence to support statements whereas religion demands the complete surrender of reason. This opposition provides a lot of grounds for professing non-belief. That previously people imagined that God created the world is a concept completely done away by current scientific models which do away with the idea of God.

    Saying that “you cannot prove either way” and clinging onto that by your fingernails is a step of breathtaking inanity. You cannot prove ‘either way’ that the tooth fairy does not exist, that there are no invisible pink unicorns or that there is not a magic teapot orbiting the Sun. You’re merging the demand for facts with the complete absence of facts in the supernatural – you don’t really need to prove there is no magic teapot orbiting the Sun, and I’m certainly not going to try, but I’m going to take a pragmatic step and say “For all intents and purposes of how I wish to lead my life, I’m going to assume there is not a teapot orbiting the Sun, given current absence of evidence in one”.

    I invite you to stand true to your beliefs and spread your version of scepticism to more situations with unproveable facets – you have magic teapots, tooth fairies, unicorns and goblins to look forward to.

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