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+)

The Flat Tire and the Gospels

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Dan Barker, former fundamentalist child preacher and now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has a simple challenge for Bible believers: “Tell me what happened on the original Easter Sunday. Just a simple chronology. Who went where and did what and said what and saw what? And in what order? Be sure to include everything mentioned in any of the gospels.”

Nobody can meet this challenge, because the gospels are horribly contradictory. (Don’t take it on faith, read them yourself: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also Acts 1:3-12 and Paul’s tiny version of the story in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.)

What should we conclude from this? That 1 apostle got it right and the rest differed in a few of the minor details? No. This is the most important story in all of Christianity, and if the gospels were divinely inspired — as true believers invariably assert they were — then their ultimate author was God, who’s supposed to be omniscient, so the 4 stories should be entirely consistent.

We’ll open with a little story about college drinking buddies and the flat tire on their car — something we can all understand from everyday life — and see how it’s parallel to the situation in the gospels.

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.

Effective Debunking

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Mick West made his fortune in the 1990s as a whiz-bang techie programming video games, enabling him to retire early and devote his time to his passion for promoting rationality. He founded, and still runs, the websites metabunk.org and contrailscience.com. He’s the author of the 2018 book “Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect”, which focuses on his special interest in “chemtrails” to illustrate how people get gradually sucked into odd, irrational beliefs. And he exhibits kindness in showing how to extend a hand to help them out of the rabbit holes they’ve fallen down.

Recently named a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, West debuted as a regular columnist in the September/October 2021 issue of “Skeptical Inquirer” with “UFOs: Beliefs, Conspiracies, and Aliens” (skepticalinquirer.org/2021/08/ufos-beliefs-conspiracies-and-aliens/).

In it, he is at pains to point out that there are different degrees of belief in various superstitions and conspiracy theories, as he indicated on a 0-10 scale. For instance, it’s perfectly consistent with rational skepticism to ask “Sure, hijacked jetliners undoubtedly caused the collapse of World Trade Center Towers 1 and 2, but how do you explain Tower 7?”

Similarly, with respect to UFOs, “Is the government lying to us?” would rate a 0 on his scale. Take a single step into Fabuland, however, and that interrogative gets transformed into a declarative: “The government IS lying to us.” This may still be fairly benign, however, because it’s perfectly plausible that those mysterious lights in the sky are state-secret stealth aircraft that the government won’t admit to for national-security reasons.

But anyone who takes 8 more steps in that same direction might get to “The government is riddled with lizard people from Arcturus disguised as humans in order to rot our brains, enslave us, and eat our babies.” Just 1 final step and they’d add “... and YOU might be one of them!”

West’s point is that you can’t approach people who are at 3 on this spectrum the same way you would somebody at a 7. The very first thing we rationalists need to do is assess how far down the rabbit hole somebody has fallen, lest we alienate them in our attempts to draw them politely back to reality.

He concludes his article with this observation about the US government’s July 2021 UFO report: “It contains no evidence of aliens, and that absence will be taken by many as evidence of conspiracy. To have a useful conversation about this, you need to understand WHICH conspiracy.”

We’ll spend some time at tonight’s Atheist Lounge trying to figure out where various aspects of Christianity fall on this spectrum and how to gently reach people at each depth of that particular rabbit hole.

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.

Whom To Cancel

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Imagine that this letter about YOU was sent to your descendants in 2121:

= = = = = =

“In response to your application to display the image of your ancestor in the National Portrait Gallery, you must know that we have very high standards for who can be honored this way. While we appreciate that your ancestor cured cancer; negotiated a lasting peace in the Middle East; discovered anti-gravity; and won the Nobel Prize, 7 Oscars, 2 Pulitzer Prizes, and the Fields Medal, we must balance that against other aspects of per’s life, and here we are horrified.

“Per was known to wear leather, eat meat, and consume dairy products forcibly extracted from captive bovine Americans. Per not only condoned the auto-torture of neckties and high heels but actively engaged in them. Per consigned wood and petroleum to the flames. Per treated the forerunners of our cybercitizens as if they were mere tools, to be used and discarded. Per supported the sugar trade. Per performed ritual cannibalism at ‘religious’ services. Per engaged in ‘marriage’ to a single other person at a time. Per regularly used sexisms like ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘man’, and ‘woman’. (Pardon our coarseness, but we must face the ugly reality.) Per consumed paper. Paper!

“Worse, on multiple occasions per deplored violence in all its forms rather than proudly promoting good violence. Worst of all, per stood for vulgar democracy instead of the benign rule of our wise Council of Elder Philosophers.

“Since it is universally recognized that the entire measure of a person’s character is the worst thing that per has ever done, you will understand why your ancestor will never be the 3rd image in our Gallery.”

= = = = = =

Well, is it true that you should be known only for your worst qualities? If so, what are your own, those which would disqualify you from any form of respect from future generations?

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.

Atheism’s Secret Advantage

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Every Sunday morning in a Christian household, the alarm clock goes off early, and everybody gets hustled out of bed, cleaned and polished, fed and juiced, and primped up in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ finest togs before heading out the door for another couple hours of sheer boredom, listening to the same old guy droning on with the same old stories from the same old lectern in front of the same old room, where never is heard a discouraging word, let alone a (gasp) QUESTION invited from the audience.

Meanwhile, in an atheist household, if the alarm goes off at all, it’s an easy matter to turn it off and roll over for another couple of hours of relaxing sack time before getting up and lounging around in your PJs, maybe reading the Sunday paper, then turning on the TV to see if there’s anything entertaining available.

This is atheism’s secret advantage, and it’s no wonder that fewer and fewer religious families bother going to church any more, even if they still claim to subscribe to everything the church stands for. It’s possible that, after having drifted away long enuf, they’ll start to question why they ever bothered attending church to begin with, since they’re clearly no worse off now, only better rested and more relaxed.

That’s not atheism’s only advantage, of course. There are also the cost savings, the absence of externally induced guilt over perfectly normal human behavior, and the opportunity to celebrate the holidays of all sorts of other religions without being shamed about blasphemy or apostasy.

Tonight’s Atheist Lounge will be mainly a free-form discussion of what the participants think are the advantages that atheism has provided in their own lives, along with expressions of sympathy for the poor folks who are still locked into particular superstitious habits that atheists never have to fret over.

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 (583)

Sure As Hell

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Photos (299)

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