Category Archives: Religion
Just yesterday, PA Nonbelievers released a video of my talk from last September at their conference. Now, I was hesitant to speak at an atheist event because promotion of atheism is NOT what I do. I do skepticism. But Brian graciously allowed me to talk about whatever I wanted so I talked about skepticism in the crossover – the skepto-atheism conflation that was happening. It’s still happening. Just this past weekend, Matt Dillahunty gave a talk about skepticism and atheism. He is a great speaker, but the message, I felt, was flawed and weak. While it sounded fantastic, if it was written out, it would not stand up the same.
Skepticism is NOT atheism. He pooh-poohed the Media Guide to Skepticism. He even got the name of the website wrong. But I didn’t expect to see an uptick in downloads regardless because he told people what he thought about it so it was not an encouraging promotion of the document.
But THAT’S the thing. SKEPTICISM IS NOT ATHEISM. Atheists are going to possibly have an issue with it because it’s not written for them. This was a community document, an ideal, for skepticism. Read the rest of this entry
Last year at TAM2012, I did a workshop on Coalition Building for the Skeptical Activist. Yes, that sounds a touch boring. I lobbied for changing the title, to no avail. The focus was to bring members into a coalition that were NOT self-identified skeptics but can help your cause. It turned out not to be boring but really successful.
But, coalition building could be seen another way. It could be internal. In this case, it was a bit of that. The panel included three prominent leaders of the atheist community who differ entirely across the spectrum. From what I have perceived, Chris Stedman and Dave Silverman are on opposite ends and David Niose is in the middle. I’m happy to have cordial relationships with them all despite differences and, in one case, outright disagreement. But I don’t find the need to get nasty over disagreements. I just choose not to participate in that circle. No big deal.
As I wrote right after the event:
You may go away thinking so-and-so is a real jerk but the goal is not to have the most blog hits or twitter followers, it’s to Get r’ done. That means stop getting personal and start being respectable.
Earth magazine has an intriguing and disturbing article by Steven Newton describing how geologists, who actually represent the Institute for Creation Research, the Discovery Institute and Christian universities, subtly promote the view that Noah’s flood was responsible for geological observations in the American West. Their new strategy is to give talks, posters and guide field trips at a premier geologic conference.
How can this be? Well, if you’ve ever been on one of these field trips, you know they can be a jargony nightmare. Even as a professional, when it comes to very specialized terms and labeling used in petrology and sedimentology, vocabulary is wicked tough to learn and remember. If this is your introduction to a particular feature or region, you look to the expert guiding the trip to provide you with information. You likely do not have enough background yet to form good questions or recognize some dubious interpretation.
Throughout the day, I’m reading books and news stories and listening to podcasts. This week, I saw a recurring theme in my media selections: values and the entrenched position.
I guess I was predisposed to thinking about it. I spent last week preparing a lecture on ethics for a professional licensure exam review. I included a bit on bias in science and the ooze of politics into the scientific endeavor.
I came across an article about last week’s EPA hearing on regulating greenhouse gases where opposing sides (which happened to be along party lines…surprise!) brought their scientific experts to argue their points. Read the rest of this entry
Last month, my Grandma died. She was 94. We were very close. Even in her 80s, she would travel with my Dad to our house for visits and events. When she was in a nursing home, we visited her when we were in town and my young daughter, aged 6, would cavort around the nursing home saying ‘Hi’ to everyone and decorating Great-Grandmas room with pictures and decorations.
When she died, it was not a question between my husband and I that the kids would attend the funeral. It was their first funeral – the first time someone they were close to (their Great-Grandmother) had died. My older daughter, aged 11, expressed some nervousness. The little one had a nervous tummy on the trip there – always a sign she is apprehensive.
I prepared them for what they would see at the funeral home – telling them where the casket would be, that it would be open and that Great-Grandma would likely not look like they were used to seeing her. They didn’t have to go up to see if they didn’t want to. I went through what we would do there, how long we would stay and how they should act. I reminded them that this is a quiet place but they should be prepared to be greeted by relatives they didn’t remember and so they should try to be polite. There would be no running or playing.
Funerals and weddings are the way our spread-out families get together these days so the evening was a family reunion of sorts. My parents were thrilled to see their precious grandkids, dressed all pretty. Big hugs all around. The kids, surprisingly, did not hesitate to go to the casket. They were not disturbed. Then they sat down with us. It must have been boring for them but they paid attention and were cordial with visitors. The elder smiled at those amazed at how grown-up she was, the younger tolerated with a smile Aunt Sarah pinching her cheeks. To pass the time, they discovered mints in my purse, made a trip to the water cooler and drew pictures in a notebook. All the time, being quiet and respectful.
I was amazed that none of my other cousins with small children brought theirs along but chose to leave them with babysitters. This felt wrong on many levels. Mostly, it seemed disrespectful to Grandma. One remarked that her son was more interested in doing something with his friends. The point about this occasion was lost. Unknown to them, we are a nonreligious family. The kids don’t go to church. But, I could not imagine them missing this event, regardless of the religious tone. There are some things you are obligated to do.
The next day, they went to the church, the cemetery and then the dinner afterward. The younger was Miss Social Butterfly (and got pinched out of sheer cuteness again by Aunt Sarah). From my parents to my second cousins, I received compliments about how wonderful they looked and behaved. It seems as if good behavior from children shocked people. I was extraordinarily proud as they tried to follow along with the church service and did not fidget once.
It’s not that hard to model good behavior for children. You have to start early, keep firm rules and reward them. Rewards of praise and hugs are typically enough. They understand that.
My children now know what it’s like to attend a funeral and a church service. They were also exposed to the religious-themed language and ritual that in which we are rarely involved. I would say this was a critical learning event in their lives that they will remember for MANY reasons. Also, I learned how valuable this was as a social ritual for our immediate and extended families. Even though we are nonreligious, I felt no qualms that I decided to include my children in this important cultural event. It also meant a lot to others who were there to see respectful children who said a dignified goodbye to someone they loved.
I prepared a presentation with narration for a graduate class. It’s about antiscience – a rather complex social topic, actually. This is about 31 minutes long with my narration. You can also skip slides with the forward button and the narration will still sync with the slide you are on. Questions are welcome!
In February 2009, I organized Harrisburg’s outlet for Drinking Skeptically – a casual, social meetup for those who value science and critical thinking. Drinking Skeptically has meetups all over the country (including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) with the numbers growing every month. Originally begun in the UK as Skeptics in the Pub, it served as a new way to get like-minded individuals together in a comfortable setting. It’s been a great success as part of what I view as a growing skeptical movement.
There has been a concerted effort to package creationist views in such a way as to sound so convincing and correct (at least politically) in order to gain public support and demonize evolution. Read the rest of this entry
Playing Pretend Science
In order to be technical, like science, pseudoscientists engage in a method of data gathering that is not haphazard or lazy. Intricate collection and analysis is often a part of pseudoscientific activity. They may produce enormous bodies of work. Commitment to a cause can prompt “energetic intellectual effort” . The motives and ‘sciencey’ feel of the whole endeavor wins over those nonscientists who can’t recognize that it simply fails to meet scientific standards. Yet, for all the diligent work, the accumulated evidence can still amount to nothing of substance.
The public is happy to admire science as long as they don’t have to understand it deeply. Sham inquiry plays to the admiration of science by the public. A lack of familiarity with how science is supposed to work is a major reason why the public has trouble recognizing counterfeit science. Add an ‘-ology’ to the end of whatever you study and it acts like a toupe of credibility – to hide the lack of substance. The public is vulnerable to pseudoscience that resembles real inquiry and genuine knowledge.
The following are three examples of current pseudosciences. They all don the accoutrements of science without delivering the substance . The field of cryptozoology is the likeliest of the three to hold the interest of real scientists these days because it is associated with the genuine fields of zoology, anthropology and wildlife biology and chock-full of amateur scientists. Ghost hunting is predominantly nonscientists who enjoy using technology and the new view that it gives them on the world. Creationism is a entirely different beast grown completely from religious ideology and dressed in a cheap and transparent scientific costume. This sham does not even fool courts of law but it continues to exert tremendous ideological force on the public.
 Haack, S. (1995). “Concern for Truth and Why it Matters”. The Flight from Science and Reason (1996). P. R. Gross, N. Levitt, M.W. Lewis, New York Academy of Sciences, p. 58.
 Bunge, M. (1995).“In Praise of Tolerance To Charlatanism in Academia”. The Flight from Science and Reason (1996). P. R. Gross, N. Levitt, M.W. Lewis, New York Academy of Sciences, p. 104.
Back to Sham Inquiry contents page.