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 (5)

Ridiculing Religion

Online event

“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.

My Haiku

Online event

THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then.

Haiku is a poetic form that originated in Japan. It features 3 lines of respectively 5, 7, and 5 syllables, originally expected to have a theme about nature. We’ll begin with an overview of why it’s syllables rather than rhymes that matter for haiku, and then everyone will have a chance to present one haiku of her or his own composition. You can send them in advance to [masked] for projection on screen as you present them. Here are a few to prime your pump:

Can we walk out side?
Yes, we can, but not too close.
Please main tain dis tance.

Car bon in creas es.
Air warms thru cen tu ry past.
More hea vy rains fall.

The discussion that follows, tho, will be more about why it’s timely to think about Japanese culture and will get into serious philosophical questions about morality, utilitarianism, and how to make decisions on the basis of incomplete or erroneous information.

The Ethics of Euthanasia

Online event

THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then.

The term “euthanasia” is derived from the Greek “eu” (good) and “thanatos” (death). When someone else delivers it, the practice is frequently referred to as “medical aid in dying”, “mercy killing”, and “murder”. As you may guess from these terms, there’s some difference of opinion about the practice.

At one time, Dr. Jack Kevorkian [masked]) was widely known as both “Dr. Death” and “the most hated man in America”. His “offense” was that he recognized that many people of perfectly sound mind would rather die than face a life of dwindling quality and increasing pain; they wanted a sound, clean medical procedure to help them commit suicide, and Dr. Kevorkian, a pathologist by training, not only knew how to do it, he actively advocated for the widespread use of the practice. And he personally assisted 130 people in taking their own lives.

His advocacy of assisted suicide, of course, ran head-on into the opposition of various religious groups — notably the Roman Catholic Church — which held that life was sacred and should never, ever, under any circumstances be terminated before its natural end. From Wikipedia: “John Finn, medical director of palliative care at the Catholic St. John’s Hospital, said Kevorkian’s methods were unorthodox and inappropriate. He added that many of Kevorkian’s patients were isolated, lonely, and potentially depressed, and therefore in no state to mindfully choose whether to live or die.... The Catholic Church in Detroit said Kevorkian left behind a ‘deadly legacy’ that denied scores of people their right to humane deaths.”

Even people who agreed with Kevorkian in principle had problems with his tactics. Again from Wikipedia: “Journalist Jack Lessenberry said Kevorkian ‘got a national debate going, which I think he then helped stifle by his own outrageous actions’.” And “Derek Humphry, author of the suicide handbook Final Exit [1991], said Kevorkian was ‘too obsessed, too fanatical, in his interest in death and suicide to offer direction for the nation’.”

Kevorkian strongly objected to legal prohibitions against assisted suicide, contending “Dying is not a crime.” Many state legislatures disagreed, and assisting in another person’s suicide became criminalized in many states in reaction to his efforts. But thru the persistent advocacy of groups like Exit International, Dignity in Dying, and Compassion and Choices, those laws started getting rolled back, beginning with Oregon in 1994 and now including California, Colorado, DC, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington.

Dr. Kevorkian’s epitaph reads “He sacrificed himself for everyone’s rights.”

There are many more issues, viewpoints, and concerns surrounding the concept of euthanasia, both self-performed and assisted, and we’ll wrangle a bunch of them during this month’s discussion.

Voodoo Science

Online event

THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then.

The March / April edition of Skeptical Inquirer (skepticalinquirer.org) delivered the sad news of the passing, on 2020 April 29, of Robert L. Park at the age of 89. Dr. Park was for many years the public-information director of the American Physical Society in Washington DC. As the magazine noted, “Park was best known and respected in scientific and skeptical circles for the well-informed and often pungent critiques of all manner of pseudoscience. His main forum for years was his popular ‘What’s New’ weekly email newsletters [which] carried short items of timely scientific news and succinct critiques and pithily written personal comments on various pseudoscientific fads, claims, and beliefs.” Each edition ended with the disclaimer “Opinions are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the APS, but they should be.”

In 2000, Park published Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, in which he cast the umbrella term “voodoo science” over all of the 4 flavors of it he identified: pathological science, junk science, pseudoscience, and fraudulent science.

For this month’s session, we’ll review what each of those categories covers and look at some salient examples of each, some drawn from Dr. Park’s book but others that have sprung up in the 20 years since it was published. It wouldn’t hurt to read the book before the discussion, but it’s not necessary.

“The greatest discoveries of science have always been those that forced us to rethink our beliefs about the universe and our place in it.” —Prof. Robert L. Park [masked]) American physicist and science educator

Past events (567)

The Pronoun Problem

Online event

Photos (271)

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