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)

Religious Joke Night

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Q: Is nothing sacred?
A: Bingo!

A never-ending source of humor is deflating sacred cows, which, as Mark Twain observed, “make the best hamburger.” And, since nothing is more sacred than religion, it’s a rich source of lampoonable material, despite the outraged protestations of its devotees. Examples:

W. C. Fields, a lifetime agnostic, was discovered reading a Bible on his deathbed. “I’m looking for a loophole,” he explained.

“I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up; they have no holidays.” —Henny Youngman

“It’s fair to say that the Bible contains equal amounts of fact, history, and pizza.” —Penn Jillette

“When I was young, I prayed for a bicycle. Then I learned that God doesn’t work that way. So I stole one and prayed for forgiveness.” —Emo Philips

Tonight everyone gets to be a comedian. Show up with at least one religiously based joke and we’ll go around the room giving everyone a chance to tickle our funny bones. After we’ve gone around once, we’ll ask if anyone’s got second helpings. Don’t be shy!

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.

The Future of Nonery

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“Nones” (as opposed to “nuns”) are people who respond “none” when asked what religion they are. They aren’t necessarily atheists, but they’re not active in any organized religion. And there are more and more of them every year. That growth comes largely at the expense of Christianity, with projections from the Pew Research Center suggesting that Christians will probably be a minority in America by 2050 and overtaken as the dominant “religious” group by the nones sometime thereafter.

This trend is discussed in more detail by Hemant Mehta in a “Friendly Atheist” essay. As he writes, “If you’re wondering why religious switching is happening at all, well, hire a sociologist. But some explanations include a push for secularization, anti-women/anti-LGBTQ views held by conservative religious zealots, child sex abuse scandals, religious intermarriage, and the ability for religious doubters to find helpful resources and forums online for their new beliefs.”

But the nones are no more a coherent, unified (let alone organized) group than are religionists in general or Christians in particular. So what will they do once they’re in a position to exert a powerful influence on society and politics? Well, there’s no clear-cut direction, but there’s starting to be some speculation, including in the recent books Secularism: The Basics, from Georgetown University professor Jacques Berlinerblau; Secular Surge, by political scientists John C. Green of the University of Akron and David E. Campbell and Geoffrey C. Layman, both of the University of Notre Dame; and The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They’re Going, by Ryan P. Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University. There’s an overview of what they have to say in this article by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post.

It won’t be necessary to read all these books to participate in the discussion, but you can get some food for thot from the article. One thing we’ll for sure want to deal with is whether the nones will be as cocky and domineering with their numeric superiority as the Christians have been with theirs.

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.

2-Minute Christianity

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Bob Seidensticker is a long-time atheist blogger, first at the Christian website apologetics.com, then Galileo Unchained, then with Cross Examined on Patheos, and now under his own byline on OnlySky: onlysky.media/bob-seidensticker/. And he’s taken the highlights of those many years of blogging and boiled them down into an intentionally slim hundred-page book called 2-Minute Christianity: 50 Big Ideas Every Christian Should Understand. Each of its 50 chapters deals with a particular issue in Christianity, on 2 facing pages, intended to be read in about 2 minutes. The book’s unusual layout — with little notes, definitions, cross-references, and quotations off to the side of each page — is part of its appeal.

Here’s how Bob explains the book:

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It’s aimed at open-minded Christians who think that, if Christianity is true, it can stand a little critique. Here are some of the big ideas explored in it:
• #30: God gave Moses two very different versions of the Ten Commandments.
• #14: God defined the rules for indentured servitude and chattel slavery, the same two forms of slavery found in the early United States.
• #35: The Bible documents its own evolution from polytheism to monotheism.
• #36: The “virgin-birth prophecy” referred to in Matthew wasn’t about Jesus and wasn’t even about a virgin birth.
• #46: The God of the Bible was once defeated by another Canaanite god.

The ideas are significant; they aren’t trivial Bible contradictions or copying errors. Each is a fundamental puzzle that questions Christian claims, and each can be read in a few minutes.

The book is in the middle of a slow-motion release. The book and ebook are available now ...
... and I’m giving away the content, one chapter per week for 50 weeks, through the book’s blog ...
... podcast ...
... and YouTube channel ...

You can sign up for email notification of each new chapter’s posting on the blog, which also answers common questions in the FAQ.

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What do we Madison Skeptics think? Successful approach? Or just another attempt to reason with the unreasonable, therefore doomed to failure?

Don’t Think That!

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The 2022 book The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun is by Noah Rothman, an unabashed conservative (associate editor of Commentary magazine), so it’s not surprising that he gives many examples of the current trend toward denigrating and ultimately cancelling people’s freely expressed opinions and then ascribing such behavior to “progressives” (which seems to be the euphemism du jour from the left end of the political spectrum for themselves, since they’ve apparently worn out the welcome of “liberals” and “socialists”, let alone “Commies”, “pinkos”, ”leftists”, “permissivists”, “Demonrats”, etc.).

But don’t judge too quickly. Rothman demonstrates his intellectual integrity in noting that modern censorial tactics were pioneered by conservatives — specifically Puritans — and he devotes about half of his book to reaming them out as well.

He is unsparing in his analysis that “don’t do that” leads to “don’t say that” and ultimately to “don’t think that”. And he has no time for the idea that the ultimate objective of society is complete homogenization of all attitude, expression, and action into bland, inoffensive uniformity. In particular, he thinks that modern bluenoses are much like their 17th Century forebears in heartily disapproving of anything resembling fun.

Examples: A college professor was denounced to his dean for referring to a cheapskate as “niggardly”. Another one, an art-history professor, got fired for showing an image of Mohammed painted by a 16th Century Muslim artist who did not consider it blasphemous, making the point that not all Islamic sects hold that view. Calls for the abolition of American football because it’s too violent. An environmental organization saying it’s time to end meat-eating. Saying “all lives matter” really means that you don’t think Black lives matter. The very existence of rape means all men dominate all women. White women making Mexican food are engaging in the horror of cultural appropriation. Baseball-card collecting is racist because Black and Hispanic players were historically under-represented.

And all of these bad things must be stamped out, not only in practice but in the very idea that there might ever have been anything OK with them.

Rothman does soft-pedal the right’s comparable objections to things like teaching evolution in schools or fair treatment for transgender people, tho he’s forthright in recognizing inappropriate police violence, while still asserting that it doesn’t mean all minorities should feel persecuted because they’re its most frequent targets.

A recurring refrain is his irritation at the attitude that nothing anybody can do to address the concerns of the offended is ever good enuf. “There’s always more that could be done, because we haven’t yet reached nirvana, so how dare you be self-satisfied with your wishy-washy half-efforts?” Yes, he notes, it does get wearying trying to live up to those expectations.

The book is organized into sections based on half a dozen principles that Puritanism supposedly stood for: piety, prudence, austerity, fear of God, temperance, and order. And, even tho modern social-justice warriors don’t hold themselves out as a religion, as the Puritans did, they nonetheless seek perfection on Earth by having EVERYBODY DO WHAT’S RIGHT! (By their own — varying — definitions, of course.)

So read the book if you can, but there’ll be plenty to discuss even if you haven’t.

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.

Past events (596)

How Would We Know?

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