The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘reason’

The “Season of Reason” Returns!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 27, 2013

This time of year it seems that just about everyone celebrates some kind of holiday.  Some are explicitly religious in nature, such as Christmas or Hanukkah, while some secular holidays are being celebrated at about the same time.  It is in the spirit (pardon the pun) of furthering critical thinking & skepticism among the population at large that I share with you the JREF’s annual Season of Reason initiative. Whether you are religious or not, I think we can all agree that reason is something we need more of in our society, so I hope that you consider donating to this worthy cause…

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The James Randi Educational Foundation invites you to give during our annual Season of Reason fundraising campaign. Over half of our annual support comes during this critical year-end period and we couldn’t continue fighting charlatans and promoting critical thinking without it.

This year, we’re asking you to help us raise a total of $200,000 to support our unique educational mission in 2014. Such support helps the JREF to continue to extend the important work of James Randi, influential skeptic and social critic who has for decades stood against the prevailing cults of nonsense and supernatural charlatans of every stripe.

Every dollar counts! Your Season of Reason 2013 contribution will help us equip more educators to teach students skepticism, support more grassroots campaigns to fight charlatanry, and take on more public figures and celebrities who promote dangerous nonsense. To make a tax-deductible donation to the JREF right now, please fill out and submit the form below.

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

We Shouldn’t Be Unreasonable About the Reason Rally

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 19, 2012

**Update (3-20-12): In the spirit of promoting unity, as opposed to divisiveness, among our community in regards to the Reason Rally, its organization and promotion, etc. I would like to give my friend Phil at Skeptic Money a shout out.  That’s because Phil has really put his money where his mouth is, because his company – Polaris Financial – is the first corporate sponsor of the Reason Rally!  I think we could take a lesson from Phil on a few things…

*************

So I just read a fantastic post by my skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist about the upcoming Reason Rally in Washington, DC this coming weekend (Saturday, March 24th).  Hemant is one of the organizers of the Reason Rally, and he and a lot of other people have basically been working themselves like crazy to get this thing together.  Indeed, it promises to be a historic event: the largest gathering of secular/atheist/non-religious/skeptical folk ever in our nation’s capitol.  Check out the Reason Rally’s website if you haven’t yet…

This brings me to Hemant’s post.  It seems there is a LOT of complaining going on in our community about some of the speakers at the Rally.  Here are some points from Hemant’s post…

So there’s a week to go before the Reason Rally and the complaining is already in full stride. As if all the organizers and volunteers don’t give a damn about reason and are just letting anyone with a pulse onstage…

… Look, the organizers spent a long time listening to the suggestions of dozens of people (representing tens of thousands of atheists) regarding who should speak at the Rally. They did everything in their power to contact all the “big names” that people said they wanted to hear at the Rally. They rustled up and managed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding needed to put on an event of this magnitude. They got every major organization in our movement to work together to make this work — and that’s not an easy thing to do. They had to deal with the speakers complaining about their prominence on our website (yep, it happened).

Just about everyone believes in something irrational. Including atheists. So, yes, you’re going to hear people at the Rally who hold ideas we think are completely unreasonable. Maybe even harmful.

If we got rid of every speaker who held an irrational belief, there would be no one left on that stage.

… You can argue that the Rally needs higher “standards,” but you’re missing the point. This isn’t just about us. This isn’t just about spreading science and atheism. This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention. This is about getting all those people not attending the rally (or who don’t even know there are so many other atheists out there) to notice us and maybe — just maybe — get the courage to come out of the closet or attend a local atheist gathering. … [emphasis added]

There are many more good points that Hemant made in his post, and I generally applaud him for sticking to his guns.  I, for one, think that he and the other organizers have done a damn fine job of putting this whole thing together (despite the fact that I have my own criticisms, which I shall keep to myself, thank you.)  And I say that not just as an onlooker, but also as someone who, like Hemant, helped to organize a major conference (though nothing on this scale!) in Chicago back in 2004.  As such, I can appreciate the headache that Hemant and his colleagues are dealing with now. It was enough of a pain that I don’t think I ever want to do it again, so bully for the Reason Rally organizers!

All that said, folks, I think all of this complaining and infighting is in many ways a good problem for our movement to have. It shows that our skeptical/atheist/reason-based/anti-woo/whatever movement has grown so large that it is getting to the point of divisions showing.  That’s called growing pains, folks; and note the important word in that description: growing 🙂

Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Support the JREF’s “Season of Reason”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 19, 2011

I just wanted to take a few minutes to pass along to you a fundraising campaign from the James Randi Educational Foundation’s “Season of Reason 2011”.  The poster boy for this campaign is none other than James Randi himself, because do you know any other skeptic who looks more like Santa?  See for yourself…

  Is Santa really James Randi?  Hmmm, I’m skeptical, but the resemblance is uncanny… (Images from Wikipedia and the JREF) 😉

All humor aside, I can say that the JREF is one of the most active of all the skeptical organizations out there, and they indeed serve the purpose of promoting reason quite effectively.  If you have a few spare dollars you’re willing to donate, please consider making an end-of-the-year tax deductible donation to the JREF – here is James Randi’s letter seeking donations for this worthy cause…

Friends,

As we near the end of 2011, I’m pleased to say that this has been the JREF’s most productive and effective year on record.

We’ve made some major strides this year in standing up for rational thinking in a world of widespread belief in the paranormal and other harmful claims — our media work including our appearance on Primetime Nightline, our nationwide challenge to proponents of homeopathy and the pharmaceutical chains that peddle it, our zombie horde that made headlines at James Van Praagh’s “Spirit Circle,” our new free educational materials, the grants and scholarships we’ve awarded, our support for local grassroots activism, our new ebooks and mobile apps, the ever-increasing success of TAM, and much more!

None of that would have happened if not for the support we received from concerned and dedicated skeptics and science advocates like you during last year’s Season of Reason. Like most other nonprofits, the majority of our annual donations come in during this critical year-end period, and that largely keeps us going for the following year.

Now we at the JREF are focused squarely on 2012… and it’s beginning to look a lot like reason.

We’re gearing up to enter 2012 with some momentum – and thanks to the hard work and dedication of the JREF staff, we’re preparing exciting new initiatives for coming months, as well as expanding several current projects. But I must tell you that it is only with your generous support that we can possibly do this.

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9/11 and “How the World Changed”: My Thoughts Ten Years Later

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 11, 2011

Here I sit on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I find myself reflecting on the last ten years since that day.  I wanted to write down some of my thoughts in this blog post, because when it comes to the issue of 9/11 specifically and the broader issue of terrorism in general, I think there is much need for skepticism and critical thinking.  This is most especially true because of the high level of emotion and passion the whole issue of 9/11 invokes, and when our emotions are stirred so strongly we must make sure to temper our passion with reason.  So, here goes…

After ten years, what has become glaringly apparent to me is that the events of 9/11 changed things, but in my opinion it was not really in the way that many people think.  First, I have to say that every time I hear someone say or read that “On Sept. 11th the world changed” or something similar, I just have to shake my head because I think this kind of statement shows an interesting bias.  I say this because, fundamentally, nothing about the world around us really changed on that day – both before and after 9/11, the Earth turns on its axis, the sun rises and sets, and the universe trundles merrily along.  What did change on that day is the perspective which many people, mostly those of us within the United States, view the world around us.  It is unfortunate, I think, that many of us conflate these two things in our minds: we equate how they view the world with how the world actually works.  And this is, I think, the cause of much irrationality and muddled thinking.

Many of us were shaken to our core at the horrors we witnessed as not one, but two, planes slammed into the World Trade Center buildings, and as we heard the news of the attack on the Pentagon.  The sight of the Twin Towers collapsing further sent a shudder down our collective spines, and we lamented the seemingly senseless loss of life in such magnitude.  In some ways, we were brutally and startlingly shaken out of our complacency, which for some consisted of a belief that we in the United States were somehow – magically – immune to such devastation.  And when evidence to the contrary was presented to us, in a most horrific fashion, the reaction of many was precisely what one would expect: fear and anger.

There have been a lot of things written about 9/11 and its aftermath, but one thing I want to note is the manner in which many different people have reacted to the fear and anger brought to the surface due to 9/11: by seeking out some kind of evil “Other” to use as a boogeyman.  Now, don’t misinterpret me here – it is obvious that the attacks of 9/11 were planned and carried out by Al Qaeda, and the concern about groups such as Al Qaeda and the terrorism they perpetuate is a legitimate subject of concern that should be addressed.  What I am talking about goes beyond pointing out the very real threat posed by groups such as Al Qaeda; I am instead speaking of a broader pattern which has become apparent to me over the years.

For example, there are some people who have chosen the “Other” to be all Muslims, equating them with terrorists.  They point to the religion of Islam and its followers and make erroneous statements that we are now in some kind of cultural (or, more disturbingly, “holy”) war between the Western world and the Islamic world.

There are also those who choose the nefarious “Other” to be atheists and godless liberals.  These people tend towards the view espoused by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that the Sept. 11th attacks were somehow a punishment from God against the United States for our nation tolerating atheism and homosexuality in our population.  Many people who cater to this view of the “Other” also seem to view all Muslims as the enemy, as stated above.

Then some people take a look at 9/11 and see the “Other” as the United States government or some portion of it.  These tend to be the people who buy into various 9/11 conspiracy theories, and they are in complete denial about the mountain of facts and evidence that show the September 11th attacks were the result of terrorism at the hands of Al Qaeda.  Many of these people also have a talent for blatantly denying physics in an attempt to justify their worldview, and some even try to work in versions of anti-Semitism by implying that 9/11 was some kind of Jewish plot (thus making Jews the “Other” as well).

Last, but not least, there are those – many of whom are in the skeptical movement – who blame all religion as the evil “Other”.  This includes many of the so-called New Atheist writers (many of whose writings I have read and, in many ways, admire) who seem to think there is something inherently dangerous about any kind of religious belief.  I think it is worth noting that many who call themselves skeptics should be a bit skeptical of making such a sweeping generalization without a more rigorous analysis of the available data.  For reference on this particular point, I suggest the reader listen to a recent, excellent interview of Scott Atran on the Point of Inquiry podcast.

There are numerous variations on this theme of paranoia, fear, and the desire to find an “Other” to blame for the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent repercussions throughout society since that day, but one thing that unites them all is an irrational desire to categorize the situation into a simplistic, black and white, us versus them kind of worldview.  This is perfectly understandable once you know that humans are basically tribalistic in the manner in which they form societies and groups within those societies.  We are, in many ways, hard wired to engage in this kind of simplistic tribal thinking, and we carry it out in our everyday lives all the time.

Our tribal tendencies manifest themselves in myriad ways: in what religion/God/gods we worship, in what political beliefs/parties we adhere to, in our choice of sports team that we support, and even among those of us who call ourselves skeptics.  Sometimes these tribal tendencies are relatively harmless, but in other situations they can be downright dangerous.

Of course, the problem is that in reality the world isn’t always so simplistic.  And this goes back to my original point about our perspective of the world is not the same thing as how the world actually works, which forms the core of this particular blog post.  Most especially when we are frightened and our passions are inflamed by events such as Sept. 11th, it is critical that we not make the fundamental mistake of buying into this mode of thinking because it is the very root of how so much thinking can go terribly wrong.

In closing, allow me to finish with this thought: September 11th, 2001 was an awful enough day as it was… we shouldn’t add insult to injury by allowing our darker natures to overwhelm our ability to reason.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Pat Robertson is an Asshole

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 14, 2010

I’m taking a bit of a departure from my usual routine to state something which should be patently obvious to anyone with even a shred of common, human decency: Pat Robertson is an asshole. Actually, to say as much would be an insult to assholes, but I cannot think of any other way to put it.

Of course, I’m referring to his recent comments regarding how the people of Haiti somehow deserved the earthquake which has killed & maimed so many because it is a punishment from God for Haitian slaves practicing voodoo (and swearing “a pact with the devil”) hundreds of years ago when they revolted against the French.  But don’t take it from me, take it from the Big Asshole himself…

Wow… I… am… speechless… well, not quite.  But these comments are truly shocking in their insensitivity, immorality, and intellectual vacuity.  They are insensitive for obvious reasons.  I contend that they are immoral because Robertson is using this tragedy to push his own narrow, fundamentalist version of Christianity – while neglecting the fact that roughly 85% of the population of Haiti is Catholic!  Of course, some jerks like Robertson will rationalize the argument by saying something like “Catholics aren’t real Christians” (which is a version of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy) while conveniently ignoring the fact that Catholics (with the exception of Eastern Orthodox Christians) were the only Christians for about 1500 years of history!  Arrgh!

**Aside: not that it should matter what the victims’ religious, or lack thereof, beliefs are; basic human decency should sway us to help them in their hour of need.

The comments are intellectually vacuous because they display the logical extension of a worldview rooted in superstition instead of science, reason, and rationality.  In Robertson’s worldview, there is absolute good and absolute evil (personified in his versions of God and Satan), and he creates a false dichotomy of a pure black-and-white world where those who share his beliefs are on the side of good (God) while those who disagree with him are on the side of evil (Satan) – recall how he made similar comments right after 9/11 about how the U.S. “deserved” to be attacked. Of course, his ignores the reality of how the world is rarely so simplistic, and there are complexities & shades of gray that pop up in many aspects of life.

Another aspect of Robertson’s commentary is disturbing: it views the world through the lens of supernatural forces beyond the understanding of humanity.  There isn’t a natural world which can be examined and understood through a reasoned analysis of natural causes (i.e. the scientific method); rather, the world is governed by good and evil spirits.  It’s all about God & angels versus Satan & demons – a view which, more than anything, propagates fear, ignorance, division, and humanity’s most negative tribal tendencies.

Alas, now that I’ve vented my spleen about Robertson’s stupidity, I shall cease cursing the darkness by lighting a candle (to use Carl Sagan’s analogy)… perhaps the best way to deal with assholes like Pat Robertson is to stay rooted in the real, natural world and actually deal with problems using reason & rationality as opposed to moaning about ghosts, goblins, fairies, and other vestiges of superstitious nonsense.  In other words, we are empowered and can actually do something because we realize that we live in the real world and can change it for the better – we are not slaves to supernatural powers beyond our control and/or comprehension.

If you want to help the people of Haiti (and I sincerely hope you do), a good start is to consider making an immediate cash donation to a reputable international relief agency, such as the Red Cross.

Go forth and light candles.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Blasphemy Day, Bill Maher, and Free Inquiry

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 30, 2009

Happy Blasphemy Day, everyone!  For the last 5 years, to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of the now infamous Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, on Sept. 30th the Center For Inquiry has celebrated International Blasphemy Day.

**Aside: Even if you’re religious, read this article all the way to the end.  There’s an interesting twist at the bottom – and a very important message for my fellow skeptics/atheists.

International Blasphemy Day isn’t about the non-religious thumbing their noses at the religious so much as it is about defending free inquiry and demanding that the free & unfettered exchange of ideas be respected.  More specifically, in CFI’s own words…

Free speech is the foundation on which all other liberties rest. Without having the right to express our opinions, however unpopular, those willing to use political clout, violence, and threats will stifle dissent, and we must all suffer the consequences of this. As George Bernard Shaw quipped, “Every great truth begins as a blasphemy.”

Blasphemy Day International is a campaign seeking to establish September 30th as a day to promote free speech and to stand up in a show of solidarity for the freedom to challenge, criticize, and satirize religion without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal. The event was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirize and criticize a particular set of beliefs that have been given a privileged status over other beliefs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in free inquiry, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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