The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘2012’

Is Secularism Making a Comeback?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 22, 2013

As I’ve written before, it seems that there is a growing secular and non-religious demographic in the United States that is starting to speak up.  This topic is the subject of a recent opinion piece that I read on the Washington Post’s Guest Voices blog, and I found the analysis by the author, Jacques Berlinerblau, to be worth noting…

Is secularism making a comeback?

By Jacques Berlinerblau

 When it comes to not making optimistic, pie-in-the-sky pronouncements about American secularism I have almost unparalleled street cred. For years I have rued and bemoaned and lamented the fate of this poor mangled –ism.

But in the past few months there have been some positive and unexpected developments both here and abroad as well.The first is far less obvious than it might seem. By far, the best thing that has happened to American secularism in about half a century was that the reactionary 2012 iteration of the Republican party, while not McGovernized, was pretty thoroughly thrashed. To the long list of those in this country who were perplexed and repulsed by this aberrant version of the GOP (e.g., Latinos, African-Americans, gays, women) let us add secular Americans. …

… I want to stress that Republicans, historically, have not been anti-secular nor should the same be said about many of their core convictions. The shift occurred with the synergies that developed between Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the  late 1970s. In fits and starts the relation between the Christian Right and the Republicans has grown for three decades. Did it crest in 2012? Will a humbled GOP shuck the divisive God-botherers in its midst? That is the question that secularists are eagerly—nay, gleefully—posing. …

Indeed, I can be counted among those secularists who are hoping quite strongly that the Republican party can finally free itself from the stranglehold of the religious right.  Unfortunately, the religious right is dug so deeply into the GOP that they will not go quietly nor easily; methinks the Republican party is in for a long and nasty internal fight.

However, there is a note of caution to be heard…

… I am a pessimist by nature so let me raise a few caveats about the political potency of the nones. The first is that their Election Day turnout was somewhat underwhelming (they were 12 percent of the electorate though they are nearly 20 percent of the population). They actually gave less of their ballot to Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008 (70 percent down from 75 percent).

Most crucially, they are not an organized, disciplined, well-funded political juggernaut like the Christian Right, but a category on a demographer’s clipboard. The Democrats will need to organize and mobilize them (and perhaps this is why Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast gave them a shout out when he referred to “those of no faith that they can name”).

This is why I want to note, buzzkillingly, that 2012 was more a victory for secularism than a victory by secularism. But a victory nonetheless! Moreover, secularists can’t help but wonder if the pope’s recent resignation signals, at the very least, a set back for the global anti-secular platform.

So, long story short, the “nones” should be happy to celebrate this victory, but we should not be so naive as to think that progress on those secular issues important to us will simply march along all by itself.  The moment that we take our eye off the political ball, I think the religious right – which is more well-funded and organized than the secular movement – will swoop in and attempt to drag us all back to the Dark Ages.

Rather than rest on our laurels, this moment should serve to motivate us to become more involved in secular issues.  We need to make sure to defend church-state separation, stand up for strong science education, and seek to curb the influence of sectarian religious groups upon our government.  My suggestion is that you take some time to learn more about groups like the Secular Coalition for America and consider signing up with them.  Get involved, get active, and we can make a more secular nation a reality! :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Non-Religious on the Rise… In Congress!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2013

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, then you know that I’ve touched on the topic of a rising secular and non-religious demographic in the United States; in fact, now 1-in-5 Americans label themselves as non-religious.  I also wrote about Kyrsten Sinema, a newly elected Congresswoman who has openly identified herself as atheist.  Well, it seems that there is now a convergence between these two things emerging, because this new Congress now contains the highest number of openly non-religious members in history!

US-Congress

It’s not just for religious fundamentalists anymore :)

This Politico story has more details:

Non-believers on rise in Congress

By CHARLES MAHTESIAN | 1/5/13 2:34 PM EST

The number of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion is on the rise, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

In the 96th Congress (1979-80), not a single member of the House or Senate said they didn’t belong to any particular faith, didn’t know or refused to disclose their religion. But in the new 113th Congress, 10 members fall under that category.

That’s twice as many as in the 111th Congress (2009-10).

Pew notes there’s still a great disparity between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion. …

… The numbers here caught my eye, not because of the disparity between non-believers in the general population and in Congress, but because I was surprised so many members actually admitted to it. … [emphasis added]

Exactly.  I, and many others, have long suspected that there are a good number of closeted “nones” in our Congress, but up until now they’ve been cautious about self-identifying as non-religious for fear of electoral backlash.  However, it seems that, slowly but surely, those days are drawing to a close :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

New Years Psychic Prediction Failures: 2012 Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 2, 2013

Well, here we are once again, and it’s time for that time-honored tradition of checking the accuracy of famous psychic predictions of the past year.  As you’ll see, when subjected to scrutiny, the vast majority of these predictions fail pretty badly.  However, there are all too many faithful followers of psychic woo who want to believe that it works.  One of the primary ways in which believers fool themselves is to cherry-pick the predictions and results; in skeptic-speak, we call this “counting the hits and ignoring the misses”.

psychic fair cancelled

Ummm… yeah.  It’s kind of like that.  Image source

And there are a LOT more misses than hits, folks.  In addition, many of these psychics tend to make very vague and ambiguous predictions which can be twisted and interpreted in a number of ways.  This creative interpretation of misses or vague predictions after-the-fact as hits is well documented in the history of psychic woo.  Let’s see how well those predictions for 2012 worked out by referencing this About.com article from one year ago…

A LOT OF people are looking at 2012 with a mixture of dread and hope. The last few years have been tough financially for many people, and there’s been all of that apocalyptic talk about Mayan calendars and doom and gloom. What will really happen in 2012 I’m sure will surprise all of us. Recently, readers like you made your predictions for 2012, but we always seem to be curious about what the professional psychics foresee. Here are selected predictions for 2012 from some of the most well-known and sought-after psychics, seers, and mentalists from around the world.

Let’s just begin this exercise by examining the first psychic on the list:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skeptical Teacher Blog: 2012 in review

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 220,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 4 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

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So Much for The End of the World, Mayan Style!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2012

Well, it seems that yet another end-of-the-world prophecy has bitten the dust.  Dec. 21st, 2012 – dreaded day of “the end” as supposedly fortold by the Mayan Calendar - has come and gone just like every other doomsday.  Beyond citing the obvious fact that we’re still here, I cannot help but poke fun by passing along this humorous photo of arch-skeptic James Randi while he was in Cozumel, Mexico just last week :)

Randi Mayan calendar

Posted in doomsday, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

NASA Debunks Mayan Doomsday Prophecies… AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 10, 2012

*Sigh* I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again…

The World is NOT Going to End on December 21st!!!

[In case you know anyone who thinks it will, please refer them to willtheworldendin2012.com :) ]

Incidentally, if common sense isn’t enough, and you happen to have some poor deluded family member or friend convinced they cannot come out of the basement until after the planet has been turned into a mutant-populated, radioactive hell, you could consider sharing this well-written article with them:

NASA says world won’t end in 2012 despite Mayan  calendar

mayan calendar

We’re less than a month away from the so-called end of the world, but NASA  says you don’t have anything to worry about.

Earlier this month, NASA posted a list of frequently asked questions about  why the world won’t end in 2012, like some believe the Mayans calendar  indicates.

The post explained that Earth has been getting along fine for the last 4  billion years and there is no threat to our planet this year. …

But how can those egghead geeks at NASA be so sure?  Well, there are these things called “logic” and “reason” which tend to give validity to arguments such as this:

… But just as your desk calendar ends on Dec. 31 and world keeps going on, the  same goes for the Mayan calendar, NASA explained. Just before you run out of  pages doesn’t mean life as we know it will cease to exist. …

Personally, I cannot wait until December 22nd.  Because then there are going to be a LOT of people with a LOT of egg on their faces, just like all the other times the world was predicted to end and it didn’t.

In fact, regarding all the doomsday predictions ever made in the past, there is one thing they all have in common: They were all dead wrong.

Posted in astrology, doomsday, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Carl Sagan Day 2012 in Chicago – Audio Recording

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2012

This past Carl Sagan Day celebration in Chicago was a wonderful experience: the room was packed, the speakers were quite inspiring, and I left the evening with my enthusiasm for science and reason elevated!  The audio of the entire event was recorded, and I wanted to share that with you below.  Enjoy :D

Carl Sagan Day – Chicago 2012

Image Source

“We wait for light, but behold darkness.” Isaiah 59:9

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Adage

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Demise of the Religious Right?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2012

In a recent post, I outlined how secular Americans are starting to make inroads into the political process, partly due to the rise of a non-religious demographic in the United States.  On a related note, I find it worth pointing out the fact that the power and influence of the socially and religiously conservative movement known as the “religious right” seems to be on the decline.  Evidence for this can be found by looking at the results of the 2012 elections.  The following article from The Atlantic magazine goes into more detail; I shall share my thoughts on a few excerpts…

An ‘Evangelical Disaster’: What Happened to the Religious Vote?

… “I think this [election] was an evangelical disaster,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told NPR. He’s right, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The late Falwell’s Liberty University gave former Gov. Mitt Romney its keynote spot at its 2012 commencement and backed off previous language calling Mormonism a “cult.” Billy Graham uncharacteristically threw his support behind the Republican candidate, and his evangelistic association bought full-page newspaper ads all but endorsing Romney. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition spent tens of millions in battleground states to get out the religious vote.

As a result, 79 percent of white evangelicals voted for Romney on Tuesday. That’s the same percentage that Bush received in 2004, and more than Sen. John McCain received in 2008. The evangelical vote was 27 percent of the overall electorate — the highest it’s ever been for an election.

Their support wasn’t enough. Not only did President Obama win soundly, but four states voted to allow same-sex marriage. …

So why is it that the religiously conservative vote didn’t win out?  Here are some reasons:

… First, the size of the evangelicals’ base is a limitation. While white evangelicals comprised a quarter of the electorate, other religious groups that lean Democratic have grown substantially. Hispanic-American Catholics, African-American Protestants, and Jewish-Americans voted Democratic in overwhelming numbers. Additionally, the “nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation — are now the fastest growing “religious” group, comprising one-fifth of the population and a third of adults under 30. Seven out of 10 “nones” voted for Obama.

Second, evangelicals’ influence is waning. Conservative Christian ideas are failing to shape the broader culture. More than 3,500 churches close their doors every year, and while Americans are still overwhelmingly spiritual, the institutional church no longer holds the sway over their lives it once did. The sweeping impact of globalization and the digital age has marginalized the church and its leaders. …

… Third, evangelical leadership is wanting. A quarter-century ago, Christian mobilization efforts were rising, Christian advocacy groups were sprouting, and charismatic Christian leaders were popping up in every corner of the country. This is no longer the case.

Politically influential pastors like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have died, James Dobson retired, and Pat Robertson has been relegated to the fringes of his own community. By any reckoning, few charismatic figures are able or willing to fill these voids.

The leadership vacuum became painfully obvious during the Republican primaries, when 150 “high-powered” evangelical leaders, including Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer, met behind closed doors in Texas to determine which candidate should receive their endorsement. They chose Rick Santorum, but in the South Carolina primaries a week later, Newt Gingrich and Romney split two-thirds of the state’s evangelical vote.

Additionally, organizations like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are either defunct or defunded, while Focus on the Family has made clear its intention to move in a less political direction. The number and influence of evangelical organizations shaping the public square is greatly diminished. …

Will the religious right end up dying off?  I’m not sure, but whether or not you view this as a good thing (personally, I see it as a positive development that fundamentalist religion is having less influence on our modern society), I think it is safe to say that things are changing in the United States.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Dealing With Different Views: An Interview on the Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 10, 2012

While at Dragon*Con 2012 this past Labor Day weekend, I did many things (check them out here and here) but one of the things of which I was most proud was an interview I did with Ted Meissner, who runs the Secular Buddhist website and podcast.  In the interview with me and Ted was Melissa Kaercher and Melissa “Missy” Lee, and we had a wide-ranging and fruitful discussion of how skeptics can have productive and civil conversations with believers in woo and the paranormal.  Whether you call yourself a skeptic, a believer, or something else entirely, I think this podcast is well worth a listen…

Episode 142 :: Melissa Lee, Matt Lowry, Melissa Kaercher :: Dealing with Different Views

| November 10, 2012

How often do we have conversations where all participants agree, completely, on all points? Just shy of never. Every day, we are going to run into an expected variety of thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. Some of these will be held quite strongly, others not so much. It gets difficult when the passion about ideas is fierce, and the divergence between ideas is wide.

When we do find ourselves in situations where the discussion is going to happen, how can we engage in ways that not only leave doors open, but actively create bridges? Today’s episode is based on a situation that occured at DragonCon, during the science track in a panel discussion about evolution and creationism. It was recorded in a crowded bar, so I thank you for your patience with the background sounds and ask for your understanding that we don’t always have the benefits of quiet, Skype based conversations.

Matt Lowry

Matt Lowry is a high school physics teacher with a strong interest in promoting science education & critical thinking among his students and the population in general. He is a self-described skeptic, someone who believes in Carl Sagan’s adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” His blog The Skeptical Teacher is to allow Matt to expound upon various topics related to skepticism, science, and education.

Melissa Kaercher

Melissa Kaercher is a professional colorist, letterer, and web designer from Minneapolis. She is an active part of the skeptic community, participating in Mad Art Lab events, and is a frequent panelist in conventions across the country. Melissa is also co-host of The Geek Life podcast.

Melissa Lee

Melissa (“Missy”) Lee is the head of Minnesota Skeptics, and is what you might call a “convert” skeptic: once a true believer in all kinds of assorted woo. She values critical thinking skills, and hosts the MN Skeptics Newbie Nights and monthly Drinking Skeptically get togethers in Minneapolis.

Posted in creationism, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Kyrsten Sinema: First Open Non-Theist Elected to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 8, 2012

Wow… this was one hell of an election!  I just want to point out a couple of notable races.  In this post, I want to focus on Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District who looks to be the first openly non-theistic (atheistic?) person elected to Congress!  I say “looks to be” because 1) the race hasn’t officially been concluded (votes are still being counted, but Sinema has a lead which only seems to be growing), and 2) Pete Stark, Congressman from California, is openly non-theistic, but he didn’t originally run as an out-of-the-closet non-theist.  Here’s more on Kyrsten Sinema:

Kyrsten Sinema: ‘We’re Optimistic’ in Arizona

… Election for Sinema would be no small feat in the state that produced U.S. senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer, whose exceptionally conservative immigration policies have regularly made national news. In many ways, Sinema, who is also an open nontheist and was raised Mormon and attended Brigham Young University, is an anomaly in Arizona politics. But she’s ahead in some polls in the final stages of her race against Parker, though it’s one of Congress’s tightest races. …

As I’ve stated before, this is the wave of the future, folks.  With the rise of a more openly secular demographic in the United States, coupled with the inevitable decline (read: dying off) of the most religious demographic, the good ol’ U.S. of A. will move towards more diversity in both popular culture and political representation.  And that includes non-theists :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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