De omnibus dubitandum

Archive for the ‘adamus’ Category

My Skeptic’s Motto

The journey of my perspective on life has been a long one. As a baby I was baptised, which made me officially catholic until that church’s depraved teachings and endeavours disgusted me too much and I had myself stricken from the catholic register a few years ago.

I’d become an atheist long before then, though not after trying to find spiritual truth in a range of different areas, including christianity and what are termed ‘New Age’ beliefs.

None of those attempts at spiritual fulfilment stuck, because they all depend in large part on a suspension of disbelief that I was simply incapable of making. They all required me to abandon evidence and simply believe in something, despite a total and utter lack of proof.

I call myself a skeptic nowadays, and that moniker will likely stick for a while. I realise though that not everyone understands what a skeptical perspective on life actually means – or, specifically, what I take it to mean.

For me, to be a skeptic is to always be critical of any assumption. This applies mostly to spiritual beliefs, but extends to pretty much everything in life. As the motto goes, ‘de omnibus dubitandum‘ – everything is to be doubted.

This means that when a preacher appeals to God, when an energy healer describes auras and chants, or when a homeopath argues that water has memory, these claims should be scrutinised. Does it make sense? Is there any proof? If so, is that proof verifiable? Does the proof originate from a reliable source?

Of course, there are limits to how you can express your skepticism. In extremis, skepticism leads to solipsism, which is a rather untenable philosophy. At some level we have to accept a source’s claim and trust in their legitimacy and authority.

For me, that source is the scientific method. Science is seen by many as this big monolithic entity delivering grand truths from high above (not unlikely dogmatic religion, come to think of it), often accompanied by visualisations of high-tech laboratories and grey-haired bespectacled men in white lab coats.

But science is, at its core, a state of mind. Science is about enquiry and exploration. We all practice science almost every single day, whenever we seek evidence for something and want proof instead of accepting someone’s claim at face value.

More than that, we reap the rewards of scientific progress every single moment of our lives. Things as basic as electricity, running water, medicine and the food we eat, are all the results of science. Our modern lives would be utterly impossible were it not for science.

Science is not a novel invention. Humankind has been doing scientific research at its most basic level for as long as we’ve been using tools. Science – i.e. discovery through experiment and reason – truly is the driving force of human progress.

Also, most importantly, science is anti-dogmatic. Science does not claim absolute truths. The results of science are theories, and they’re called theories for a very good reason. Science doesn’t provide definitive answers, it merely argues the most likely answer, and that answer can – and does – change depending on the evidence.

Science goes where the evidence leads. There are no uncontested truths in science. For example we currently think the universe is 13.7 billion years old because that’s what the evidence suggests. Should there be strong evidence to contradict that, then we’ll change our minds and consider different ages for the universe.

For me, science is the authority in which I place my trust. Science is the most accurate description of reality we have, and has brought progress and enlightenment to the human condition. I trust in the critical evidence-driven approach of modern science to deliver the best answers we can currently acquire.

Science alone is not enough, of course. Science is an uncaring discipline centred on logic and evidence. The human condition is so much more, which is why my skeptic’s motto includes another element: empathy.

We all know what empathy is, so I won’t elaborate much on it. Suffice to say that empathy is what makes us care about others and fuels our altruistic efforts.

For me, empathy provides the emotional ingredient of my skeptical outlook on life. I care about what happens to other people, therefore I strive to contribute – however modestly – to the welfare of others.

So, to summarise, my skeptic’s motto is founded on three pillars: critical thinking, science, and empathy.

I strive to implement these concepts in my every day life, and I hope the wider world similarly embraces these concepts as I truly believe they will help make this an increasingly better world.

Skeptic armbands

  • Filed under: adamus
  • A decade of righteous anger

    I recently realised I’ve been blogging for over a decade. After a few haphazard attempts at blogging using the chosen platforms of the day – Diaryland and LiveJournal – in 2002 a friend gifted me the domain name and a hosting package to go with it.

    Initially I ran the blog on Moveable Type, but migrated it to WordPress after less than a year because it was much more versatile. I haven’t looked back since.

    Updates on this blog have never followed a fixed regimen. As a space for my personal rants, I blog here whenever the mood strikes me. Sometimes that’s almost every day, and sometimes it’s just once every few months.

    This blog has been great to me. It helped me vent frustrations, express admiration, and functioned as a general channel for things that interest me. I’m looking forward to the next ten years.

    Here’s a small selection of some of my personal favourite blog posts of the past 10 years:

    Dope Me Up – 25 Aug 2005
    Back in 2005 I was one of the scarce few who strongly suspected Lance Armstrong was using doping. Now I can finally say “I told you so”.

    I hate flying – 4 Sep 2006
    And I still do.

    The end is nigh! Again! – 18 Oct 2006
    Six years on, the PC era has still not come to an end. Though maybe with the dawn of the tablet era, it’s time to get worried?

    PeerDrive – 26 Apr 2007
    My idea for a satnav variant of p2p filesharing. Nothing ever came of this, unfortunately.

    The power of the subconscious mind – 16 Aug 2008
    It’s easily one of the most influential books I’ve ever read, and radically changed the way I thought about thinking.

    Movie Critics Just Don’t Get It – 01 Jul 2009
    Here I admit I basically have no taste. I also admit I don’t give a damn.

    More reasons to love Christoper Hitchens – 07 Jan 2010
    Unfortunately the great man is no longer among us.

    Why homeopaths are either thieves or imbeciles – 20 Jan 2010
    Another one of my frequent rants against ignorance and pseudoscience, this time aimed at the pervasive homeopathy scam.

    The unbearable schizophrenia of the UK’s national identity – 24 Jun 2010
    Having moved to the UK in 2009, I struggled coming to terms with the complexities of the British state of mind.

    Modern copyright law makes no sense – 19 Aug 2011
    One of my frequent laments of the inadequacies of the current legal system.

    Philosophy of the gaps – 30 Apr 2012
    As a skeptic and adherent to rational thought, I find the mind-curves philosophers wring themselves in to are becoming fairly unpalatable.

    Bright does not make right – 14 Jun 2012
    Being smart does not make one immune to the pitfalls of human thought. Something we should all keep in mind.

    This anniversary post is the 343rd post I’ve published on When I hit 1000, I’ll throw a massive blog party.

  • Filed under: adamus, my sites
  • Forsaking my democratic duty

    Tomorrow’s parliament elections in the Netherlands will be the first Dutch national elections that I won’t have voted in since I became eligible to vote at age 18.

    I used to be one of those shrill democracy-thumpers proclaiming that if you didn’t vote, you had no right to complain about politics. Arrogant with conviction, I figured that the Dutch multi-party system always gave someone the chance to vote for a political party they mostly agreed with, and that every citizen had a duty to exercise their democratic right.

    So I’m slightly surprised at myself that in this case, I genuinely don’t think I should vote in these elections. And I’m trying to understand why I feel that way.

    First of all, I don’t live in the Netherlands any more, and I have no intention of returning to my homeland any time soon as anything other than a temporary visitor. It’s not that I hated living in the Netherlands – quite the contrary, I loved my life there and the country has given me much.

    It’s just that I don’t miss it. I miss my family and my friends – I miss them tremendously and I really should keep in touch with them much more often than I actually do – but I don’t miss the country. There are some rather unpalatable aspects of the Dutch national identity that have become much clearer now that I have the luxury of an external perspective. I won’t go in to specifics here – maybe at some stage I’ll write about it in a separate post – but suffice to say that I no longer wholeheartedly embrace my Dutchness.

    Combined with the fact that I don’t have a significant personal stake in the outcomes of Dutch elections, and much of my reluctance to vote is explained.

    Secondly, the direction the Dutch political debate is heading towards is one that I vehemently disagree with. In years past, it seemed that Dutch politics was more or less a rather stately affair. Politics wasn’t vicious, debates weren’t full of personal attacks, and parties were not personality cults.

    None of that is true any more. And I think that’s a Very Bad Thing. The Americanisation of Dutch politics is, frankly, revolting. And worst of all, on the whole people think this is a commendable trend. ‘It makes politics more accessible‘, they say, ‘it encourages public participation‘.

    It probably does, and that’s the problem. For public participation in politics to be commendable, it requires an informed public. A public that understands the issues and uses reason and empathy to guide its electoral decisions.

    Unfortunately, the Dutch public is, on the whole, dreadfully misinformed. And that means that, as a people, the Dutch make horrendously bad decisions when it comes to electing politicians.

    Additionally, I don’t think wild-eyed propagandists are necessarily the right type of people to govern the country. Foamy-mouthed critics are fine on the sidelines, but that’s where they should stay. You just shouldn’t give any real power to someone whose raison d’etre is finding the nastiest populist sentiments – racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia – and capitalising on them. That’s a recipe for national disaster.

    As a counter-argument, I can think of one reason why I should vote in the Dutch elections: my family and friends live there, and I care a great deal about what happens to them. I want nothing but the best for them, and I should vote for a party whose policies I feel would benefit them most.

    But, thanks to my indecisive musings, the election ballot is still sitting on my kitchen table, 30 hours before it should be at the international electoral offices in The Hague. Barring a very expedient (and expensive) FedEx courier, it’s simply going to be too late to be counted.

  • Filed under: adamus, politics
  • Bright Does Not Make Right

    Last night I came across a great article explaining how smart people are just as susceptible to bias and false beliefs as anyone – and, in fact, how smart people are more adept at justifying these false beliefs:

    “Smart people will usually be able to brush off criticism since they are convinced they are right and, due to their thinking abilities, can probably out-argue most criticism even if the criticism is right.”
    The Dangers of Being Smart

    This fits perfectly with my own thoughts on members of Mensa, where I found many people with astounding IQs clinging to horrendously stupid beliefs:

    I was appalled at how many Mensans are in to what we collectively term ‘New Age’ spirituality. From astrologers to energy healers, from psychics to homeopaths, Mensa boasts a frightening abundance of people who have thrown every last remnant of rationality and common sense overboard and have committed themselves entirely to plainly ridiculous ideas.

    Not only that, I got the distinct impression that these people felt that their membership of Mensa – their high IQ – was a vindication of their beliefs. “I’m smart,” they seem to argue, “so what I believe is right.”

    Now I am of course keenly aware that I’m not immune to this conceit either, and that there’s a strong possibility my own beliefs are equally flawed and that I use my own intellect to justify them, even when faced with valid criticism.

    Unfortunately, being aware of bias and prejudice does not make you immune to it. That’s something we’d all do well to keep in mind, I reckon.

  • 1 Comment
  • Filed under: adamus, life, propaganda
  • In no particular order:

    1. Because I don’t want to turn in to a douchebag that says things like “well you’re not a parent so you wouldn’t understand…

    2. Because the world is crowded enough as it is.

    3. Because I’d make a lousy parent.
    – “Dad, can I play videogames until 2 AM?
    – “Sure thing son, let’s fire up that Xbox and do some co-op!

    4. Because they don’t know what to do with just one of me.

    5. Because the wife doesn’t have any maternal instinct in her. At all.

    6. Because not becoming a parent is a victory of reason and logic over the crude biological impulses embedded within me by evolution.

    7. Because I’ll never have an excuse not to go to the pub.

    8. Because of stuff like this.

    9. Because eventually Skynet will win and the human race will be made extinct.

  • 1 Comment
  • Filed under: adamus, life
  • I Believe in Angels

    Sometimes you walk past a place you’ve walked past a hundred times before and suddenly notice something special about that place, and find yourself wondering why you’d never noticed it before. Ever had that?

    I had that yesterday when I was walking towards my bus stop on my way home. I saw this mural in the Cathedral quarter in Belfast, and for the first time I really saw the mural.

    tammy faulkner
    click for large version

    The mural’s boundaries are made up of countless of small tiles, each inscribed with a drawing or a message. One tile in particular jumped out at me. It said, “I believe in angels”.

    tammy faulkner missing
    click for large version

    My first thought when I read that was, so do I.

    Now that probably needs some explanation. As you most likely know, I’m an atheist. I consider myself to be a sceptic, and my atheism is a result of my scepticism. So as an atheist I naturally don’t believe in angels of the spiritual kind.

    I do however believe in a different type of angel, one that I’ve had the immense honour and privilege of having known for almost as long as I’ve been alive.

    I am of course talking about mentally handicapped people, specifically people with Down’s syndrome.


    My younger sister Monica has Down’s syndrome, and through her I’ve come to be a volunteer at an annual summercamp for mentally handicapped youth.

    Now I have to be honest here and admit that I didn’t always like going on that camp. A part of me felt obliged to do it, for my family. The camp was hard work and could be quite challenging at times.

    But it was immensely rewarding. Every smile on every participant’s face made it worthwhile. And now that I’ve stopped doing it since I moved to Northern Ireland, I miss it. I miss the kids. I miss their smiles.

    Because these people, often considered ‘inferior’, are actually the brightest, happiest, and most intensely alive humans I’ve ever met.

    And every time I went on that camp with them, I came back changed. I came back with new knowledge and a fresh perspective on things. A fresh perspective on what’s really important, and what really isn’t important.

    From these people I’ve learned more about life and the things that really matter than I’ve learned from any school or any number of books. These mentally handicapped kids have been my greatest teachers. They’ve been my angels.

    So yes, I believe in angels.

  • Filed under: adamus, life
  • Mensa: A Critical Review

    MensaI’ve been a member of Mensa now for about two years, both Mensa NL and British Mensa. That’s not a very long time, nor have I been a particularly active member, so you can take what I have to say about Mensa as seriously as you’re inclined to.

    Mensa, in case you weren’t aware of this organisation – which is entirely plausible so don’t feel bad about it – is the self-described ‘High IQ Society’. There is only one prerequisite for membership in Mensa: your IQ has to fall in the top 2% of the world’s population.

    This effectively means one in fifty people can become Mensa members. Not many actually do become members. In a country such as the Netherlands, with 16 million inhabitants, the potential membership number of Mensa is over 300,000. Last time I checked Mensa NL boasts only around 6,000 members.

    I joined Mensa for a purely egotistic reason: I wanted to know if I was really as smart as I thought I was. The answer was ambiguous. Yes I passed the Mensa test and can call myself a ‘high IQ person’, but the margin was narrow and I barely made the cut.

    Of course I had preconceived notions about Mensa before I signed up to do the test. I bought in to Mensa’s promotional slogans and envisioned it as a society of intellectuals sharing and debating ideas and coming up with notions for the betterment of all mankind.

    This was, after all, the concept on which the society was founded.

    It didn’t quite turn out that way. The first thing I noticed when I joined Mensa, and orientated myself on its online discussion forums, was that many Mensa members perceived themselves as victims.

    Apparently these high IQ people felt persecuted in some way. Misunderstood from a young age onwards, many Mensans saw themselves as left out of ‘normal’ society, unable to connect with their peers and struggling to conform to society’s norms. They felt themselves as being ‘different’ and often bullied because of that.

    Now I’ve seen this type of self-victimisation too often to simply accept it at face value. Everyone from teenagers to Christians, from civil servants to top-level executives, are eagerly casting themselves in the roles of victims.

    This is readily amplified by humanity’s innate tribal attitudes (‘us’ against ‘them’) and you realise how easily people form social groups centred around (often vaguely defined) characteristics that help separate them, in their own perception, from the ‘rest of the world’.

    It was disappointing to see this self-victimisation and tribalism in Mensa. I thought that as a consequence of a high IQ, Mensans would be less likely to succumb to such base urges and dangerous social patterns.

    Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that Mensans aren’t at all different from the masses of humanity – aside from that high IQ of course.

    That high IQ is actually part of the problem. You see, I believe it serves as a shield for people’s convictions, a vindication for their beliefs no matter how strange and deluded.

    For example, I was appalled at how many Mensans are in to what we collectively term ‘New Age’ spirituality. From astrologers to energy healers, from psychics to homeopaths, Mensa boasts a frightening abundance of people who have thrown every last remnant of rationality and common sense overboard and have committed themselves entirely to plainly ridiculous ideas.

    Not only that, I got the distinct impression that these people felt that their membership of Mensa – their high IQ – was a vindication of their beliefs. “I’m smart,” they seem to argue, “so what I believe is right.”

    This extends all across the spectrum of beliefs, from spirituality to ideologies and political convictions. Climate change deniers on the Mensa forums are as ferociously delusional as anywhere I’ve seen, as are blatant Islamophobic racists (more commonly referred to as PVV/BNP voters). And they see their high IQ as validation, a protective shield that allows them to ignore or discard any criticism.

    Rational thought and skepticism (real skepticism – i.e. not taking any proclamation at face value), which I’ve always associated with intelligence, is no more common on Mensa’s discussion forums than it is on a tabloid site’s comment section.

    So I’m fairly disillusioned. I thought Mensa would bring me great joy, that membership of this high IQ society would help me grow as a person and enlighten me.

    Unfortunately Mensa does no such thing. If anything it allows its members to dig themselves deeper in to their own personal convictions, warding off any challenge with the protective blanket of a high IQ.

    I’d renounce my Mensa membership today, if only it didn’t look so damn good on my CV….



    Adamus is the online identity of Barry Adams. A Dutchman living in Northern Ireland, Barry / Adamus is an internet fanatic, skeptic, technophile, gamer, and geek.

    On this personal blog he provides his unpolished view of the world and its insanities.

    Identity 2.0

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