What we're about

"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall." —Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American revolutionary, pamphleteer, and atheist, "The Age of Reason"

Had enough of astrologers, psychics, homeopaths, and spirit channelers? Yearning to talk with someone rational for awhile? Meet up with other local skeptics for some refreshing and sane conversation.

If you've got some kind of event or opportunity that's commensurate with what we're about (as described below), we'd love to hear about it and publicize it to our 1000+ members. E-mail your idea to RichardSRussell@tds.net and we'll either schedule it or explain why not.

What is a skeptic, anyway? It's someone who lives by the Missouri state motto: "Show me!". Does some claim seem too good (or amazing) to be true? Well, that's because it's probably not. Having an open mind isn't the same as having holes in your head.

OTOH, doubting everything makes you a cynic, and suspecting everybody makes you a conspiracy theorist. Skeptics who ARE shown something are willing to accept it. A couple of cases in point:

(1) Even little kids notice that the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa look like jigsaw-puzzle pieces that should fit together. DID they, at one time? In the early 20th Century, skeptics scoffed at the idea. "Just coincidence", they said. And rightly so. There was no known mechanism for how anything that big could be moved. Then Alfred Wegener showed evidence that continental drift had definitely happened, and later Arthur Holmes explained how plate tectonics was the mechanism behind it. With those in hand, skeptics were convinced.

(2) For most of human existence, people believed the Earth was only a few tens of thousands of years old. Skeptics concurred. If the Sun were made of wood or coal or petroleum, it couldn't possibly keep burning for much longer than that. But there was all this other geological evidence that indicated the planet was millions, if not billions of years old. What to believe? Skeptics openly admitted they didn't have the answers. But as soon as we discovered the amazing amounts of energy that could be produced by nuclear fusion, the source of the Sun's longevity was revealed, and skeptics settled in on the proper scientific answer.

We skeptics take our cues from people like the Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who pointed out: "I have argued flying saucers with lots of people. I was interested in this: they keep arguing that it is possible. And that's true. It IS possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it's possible or not, but whether it's going on or not."

In other words, "show me".

Upcoming events (4+)

How To Discriminate

Online event

Last month we looked at Supreme Court decisions affecting separation of church and state, but this month we’ll delve more deeply into a recent trend in such decisions — those in which religious believers contend that they should be able to ignore laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “protected characteristics” (such as race, sex, sexual preference, etc.) if their religion can be plausibly interpreted to justify it.

In particular, their objection in Fulton v. Philadelphia (decided 2021 June 17) was that the City of Philadelphia was trying to force Catholic Social Services to adopt a government-specified definition of what constituted a “family” for purposes of being able to adopt a child, and that definition (which specifically included gay people) flouted the agency’s freedom to define a family according to Catholic dogma.

So is just saying “my religion won’t let me do that” basically just a “get out of jail free” card, a blanket license not only to discriminate against gay people but also to ignore any other laws they might not like? And, if so, is the solution as simple as the government not entering into contracts with religious organizations? Or does it go deeper than that?

A link to this meetup will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to all who’ve RSVPed “yes”.

Ridiculing Religion Take 2

Online event

Our first stab at this topic, back in June, got derailed pretty quickly, so we’re going to try again, this time making more of an effort to stay on track.

“People who don’t want their beliefs laffed at shouldn’t believe such funny things!”

And you’ve gotta admit that Christians in particular believe a whole lot of funny things. In the Old Testament they’ve got talking snakes, a boat big enuf to hold two of every species on Earth, the sun standing still, and a guy living for 3 days in the belly of a whale. The New Testament brings us a migrating star, a pregnant virgin, an empire-wide census that nobody else seemed to notice, water-walking, a mountaintop from which all 4 corners of the Earth are visible, people arising from the dead, and the zombie apocalypse in Jerusalem (also unremarked by any contemporary observers). Since then, its followers have treated us to speaking in tongues, magic relics and shrines, sincere and fervent predictions of exactly when the world will end, bleeding statues, and solemn assurances that Donald J. Trump was fingered by God himself as his chosen agent on Earth. Also some gorgeous artwork, pretty damn impressive architecture, and really good music, but nobody’s laffing at those.

Y’know, we’d be tempted to say “You can’t make this kind of stuff up” if it weren’t for the obvious fact that somebody so clearly did!

But, if THEY aren’t laffing, should WE be? Are we better off calling a spade a spade and pointing out how ridiculous all that blather is? Or does that just alienate believers and make them tune out whatever else we may be saying? Is there a “backfire effect” in which being demonstrably, reproducibly, and repeatedly proven wrong wrong wrong just causes them to retreat further into their cocoons of pious assurance? But, even if there is, should we let that spoil our fun? Chances are we’ll never get thru to these people anyway, but isn’t there some value in reminding them that sane people think THEY’RE the ones who should be stifling themselves?

To draw a different analogy, if you saw someone about to swallow a can of oven cleaner, would it be considered impolite to point out that their desire to be cleansed in the Lord’s sight may not be all that solidly grounded in the real world?

We’ll start the night’s proceedings with a reading of a short story about a seriously delusional guy in a bar and then thrash thru how to deal with people we all actually know (and quite probably like) who think that maybe HE’S the one who’s really onto something.

This will be a virtual meeting conducted via Zoom. A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to people who’ve RSVPed.

Final 5 Voting

Online event

Perhaps you’ve heard of instant-runoff voting (IRV), also known as preferential balloting or ranked-choice voting (RCV). It has long been advocated by the non-profit organization Fair Vote (fairvote.org), and it gained a fair amount of attention in June of 2021 when New York City used it for its Democratic mayoral primary election.

There’s a variant of it working its way thru the legislative process in Wisconsin, with bipartisan support. It’s called “Final 5 Voting”, and our March discussion will look at how it’s supposed to work if adopted. Also why it would be an excellent idea to do so. We’ll save the details for then, but for now let’s just leave it at saying that it’s not pure IRV, because it still allows for primary elections, but it’s also not pure “plurality wins”, which has been the norm since the state was founded.

This will be a virtual meeting conducted via Zoom. A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to people who’ve RSVPed.

Sure As Hell

Online event

“I’m an Army brat. I was a captain in the Army and my brother was a jet pilot in the Navy. So I support our troops; I identify with them. But I sure as hell don’t identify with the bastards who sent them over there.” —Kris Kristofferson

Kris says what we all understand “sure as hell” to mean: “definitely”, “without a doubt”, “unquestionably”, “certainly”, “positively”, and so on. But why? Why is hell the gold standard of certainty? It’s supposed to be place, but nobody knows where it is or has ever been there (surely never come back from it) or even seen it at a distance. Or gotten a selfie from Cousin Osama standing on the shores of the Lake of Fire.

In fact, given the extremely dubious nature of hell, wouldn’t it make more sense if “sure as hell” meant the exact reverse, identifying something as so improbable as to be laffable? “UFOs are space aliens in their go-karts, sure as hell.” “Yup, Clorox cures coronavirus, sure as hell.” “Sure as hell that election was rigged!”

Yeah, you betcha that’s gonna happen. Sure as hell.

But, except for sarcasm, should those of us who ridicule the very notion of hell be perpetuating this figure of speech by using it unthinkingly? Aren’t there better alternatives, like the adverbs mentioned above? Or some other figure of speech, like “sure as shootin’”? That probably made sense back in colonial times, when 96% of Americans lived in the country and knew how to put venison on the dinner table. Or even the Old West, when lots of folks wore their shootin’ irons on their hips and knew what to do with ’em. But these days it’s more likely to refer to racist cops reacting to a Black man chewing gum, not really a trope we’d like to reinforce.

And how about the other places where English, which came of age in an era saturated with Christianity, easily adopted Christian contexts. What do you say when somebody sneezes? Do you think you’ve asserted your freethinking nature by leaving off the “God”? Think again. What’s the assumption behind the word “bless”?

English has a wealth of cuss words and imprecations to draw from, but “God damn it”, “Jesus H. Christ”, and “go to hell” are regulars in the lexicons of all but the prissiest Americans. Maybe we could start a trend away from reminding people of the 3rd Commandment by going with more clever expletives like “oh, fornication” (or one recently spotted on the Internet: “Ever since someone told my mom that ‘WTF’ means ‘Wow, that’s fantastic’ it’s been much more fun reading her text messages.”).

Or should we just follow the lead of the US Supreme Court, which declared Christmas to be a secular holiday with no significant religious overtones, and roll with the fact that rampant overuse has leached most of the sectarianism out of these phrases?

This will be a virtual meeting conducted via Zoom. A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to people who’ve RSVPed. Sure as hell.

Past events (579)

Dueling Clauses

Online event

Photos (294)

Find us also at