Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Penn Jillette, Genius; Also, Faith

Nice article here on Slate about the intellectualism of Penn Jillette. I've long loved Penn & Teller, and their promotion of skepticism really fits my worldview and my teaching philosophy, even if I do have faith in some things that they don't. But it's faith, and I think it's ok to have it, as long as you know what it is... and isn't.

For example, in BullShit, their genius show, they claim that there's no evidence that secondhand smoke is unhealthy. Well, as much as I trust numbers, I think their assessment of the data was a bit limited, so I keep faith that they're wrong. Not that I'm certain that they're wrong, but I believe they're wrong. I'm still skeptical, and willing to be corrected.

As I tell my students, the scientific approach is the best way to know something, but that doesn't mean we have to abandon our beliefs. We just have to acknowledge that they're beliefs. To claim positivity in things unproven is troublesome because it doesn't allow for potential disconfirmation. I don't know that anyone's religious beliefs are *definitely* wrong, but they don't know that they're *definitely* right either.

Anyway, read the Penn thing.

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