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)

The God Quiz

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. How likely are you to NOT believe in God? It turns out that there’s a short quiz that provides a fairly reliable idea of that. We’ll begin the evening’s proceedings by all taking that quiz,* then discussing the results and their implications. To learn any more, you’ll have to show up for the event. ––––– *Nobody will be graded on the quiz.

An Abecedarium of Mass Delusions

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. “If all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?” For all too many humans, the answer is “yes”, because social conformity is more important than rationality. For tonight’s discussion, we will discuss the ABCDs of mass delusions. This is not an exhaustive list (it doesn’t cover superstitions, quackery, or conspiracy theories, for example), but it gives us a good start. The one thing all these delusions have in common — besides a large number of people who subscribe to them — is that none of them stands up to careful, rational scrutiny. (A) ADULT ABSURDITIES. Adults know (or certainly should know) that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy don’t exist, yet they still lie to their kids about it. And the kids, genetically programmed to trust adults, fall for it. (In their defense, they’ve got actual evidence that materializes in support of the existence hypothesis, which is more than anyone can say about the next category.) (B) BIBLICAL BULLSHIT. Creationism, species invariance (anti-evolutionism), geocentrism and flat-Earth belief, heaven and hell, the Great Flood, racial and gender superiority, spirit beings, miracle healings, efficacy of prayer, condign death for witches, atheists, heretics, etc., Dominionism, and many more absurd and/or dangerous beliefs flow endlessly from Christianity’s Big Book of Horrors and are accepted without question as articles of faith by a huge proportion of the populace. (C) CORPORATE CONFUSIFICATION. In the heyday of mainframe computing, salesmen from market dominator IBM would spread the “FUD Factor” — that is, fear, uncertainty, and doubt that if you went with anybody other than IBM, you’d be settling for 2nd best and possibly find yourself committed to a technology or company that was doomed to fail. But they never resorted to outright lying. Not so the purveyors of tobacco, perfluorinated chemicals, fossil fuels, leaded paint and gasoline, and pesticides, all of whom were perfectly happy to commission academic “studies”, hire tame “experts”, use every persuasive tactic Madison Avenue could dream up, and essentially buy public policy via campaign contributions and high-powered lobbyists to cast doubt on whether (1) their products were harmful at all, (2) they were as harmful as claimed, (3) anything could be done about it if they were, or (4) the cure would be affordable, especially if the corp just declared bankruptcy and walked away. Many of the myths they promulgated are still circulating today. (D) DOPEY DENIALISM. In reaction to corporate confusification, many people have become suspicious of anything promoted by corporations, which has led to backlashes against certain technologies, such as nuclear power, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), firearms, bovine growth hormone (BGH), and radiation from cell phones and utility meters (all of which are bête noires of the left); fluoridated drinking water and violence being caused by rock music and video games (decried by the right); and vaccinations (opposition to which seems to be most prevalent among educated, well-to-do people regardless of political leanings).

O Ye of Little Faith

Online event

This will be an on-line event using Zoom. A link will be sent out at noon to people who have RSVPed for it. Christians fall all over themselves proclaiming the glories of faith. Lutherans name their churches after it. Musicians write hymns of praise to it. Proud parents name their baby girls after it. It’s entered the popular lexicon in phrases like “Keep the faith, baby!” and “Ya gotta have faith.” (tho nobody ever explains exactly WHY). Perhaps the most widely quoted such phrase is “Faith can move mountains.”. This cliche is always intoned with great solemnity, and everyone in the vicinity is expected, as a matter of social convention, to nod knowingly, as if some great and profound truth has just been uttered. It’s considered unutterably rude to ask “Oh yeah? Name one!”. Having hard reality intrude into the socially approved delusional circle jerk of mountain-moving faith is something that is Not Done In Polite Society. How did it come to this? Centuries ago, Christian leaders must have realized that they had an uphill struggle to get people to believe the enormous whoppers they were trying to sell. So they decided to back the process up a step and, instead of touting the CONCLUSIONS they were pushing, speak glowingly of the PROCESS by which you could arrive at those conclusions. That is, nobody in her or his right mind was likely to believe, from a standing start, that anyone would be able to bring a corpse back to life. But, soften them up ahead of time by conning them into thinking that faith is a wonderful thing, then the whole resurrection thing becomes an exercise in faith, “… and didn’t you already say you were one of the faithful?”. So they set out to create a wholly undeserved good reputation for faith, and — with aid from the rack, the thumbscrew, and the stake — they’ve been largely successful in their efforts. What, then, about those of us WITHOUT that particular mindblight — we the faithless, the heretics, the unbelievers, the infidels (from the Latin words for “not” and “faithful”)? We’re “stuck” with one of the 7 superior methods of arriving at decisions. They are, in order of decreasing reliability, (1) logic, (2) reason, (3) confidence (in things), (4) trust (in people), (5) chance (coin flips, dice rolls, card draws), (6) obedience (your lunch or your face), and (7) hope. We’ll spend some time talking about how each and every one of these is superior to faith as a tool for making decisions, then get into a discussion of how faith also crops up not only as the poisonous basis for religion but also for such other irrationalities as homeopathy, astrology, objectivism, ufology, conspiracy theories, climate-change denial, false accusations of ritual satanic child abuse, numerology, anti-vax movements, a host of superstitions, personality cults, dowsing, jingoism, imperialism, racism, psi phenomena, quackery, Chinese traditional “medicine”, feng shui, and the insidious brain parasite that leads people to endlessly obsess over anyone named Kardashian. Illustration: Contemporary woodcut of the execution of convicted heretic Edward Wightman, the last person to be put to death in England by burning at the stake, Lichfield, 1612 April 11.

Donate Life Month

Online event

Probably almost everyone is aware that February is National Black History Month, and certainly in Wisconsin we know that June is Dairy Month, but have you ever heard of Donate Life Month? It’s a relatively new thing, dating back to 2003. The month, in case you’re wondering, is April, and this year April 17 is National Blue & Green Day, in honor of the colors of the Donate Life logo and flag. They also have suggested that people refer to February 14 as National Donor Day, tho that one faces an uphill climb versus Valentine’s Day. The sponsoring organization, Donate Life America (donatelife.net), was founded in 1992. It launched the National Donate Life Registry (RegisterMe.org) in 2015 with the goal of making donor registration an easy, secure, and mobile-friendly process across the nation. Having a national registry allows DLA to work with national partners like Apple and Walgreens to make registration available to people through commonly-used phone apps. Registration ensures that donor info travels with individuals wherever they are. What is it that they’re looking for people to donate, Igor? Body parts, master! Organs (mainly kidneys and livers), corneas, tissue (skin, bone, and heart valves), blood, platelets, and marrow. No, Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (youtu.be/Sp-pU8TFsg0) to the contrary notwithstanding, they will not take your liver while you’re still using it. Same deal with your corneas or heart valves. But you might be able to spare 1 of your 2 kidneys or a hunk o’lung, and you can give whole blood every 8 weeks and platelets even more often than that. Another person needing a donation is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. 20 people die each day because the organ they need is not donated in time. One organ, eye, and tissue donor can save and heal more than 75 lives. Pediatric transplants differ slightly from other organ donations. Since organ size is critical to a successful transplant, children often respond better to child-sized organs. There are currently 2,000 children under the age of 18 — nearly 25% of them under 5 — waiting for a variety of organs. Tonight we will discuss the ethical implications of organ donation, including squeamishness over the “ick” factor and whether the practice (banned in the United States) of paying for needed organs creates a market for obtaining them thru, um, methods other than voluntary donation. (Here insert urban legend about the guy waking up in a bathtub full of ice with a raging backache: snopes.com/fact-check/youve-got-to-be-kidneying/) This will be a virtual event conducted over Zoom. A link will be sent out to everyone who has RSVPed before noon on the day of the program.

Past events (561)

A Natural End on a Natural Path

Online event

Photos (264)

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