Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 4: What about religion?

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

That reminds me… I’m already halfway through this talk for the Secular Student Alliance and I haven’t really mentioned religion yet. Now, I understand that there are probably a number of Christians here today — in fact I hope there are. Let me be clear that when I say I’m skeptical of religious explanations and stories, I don’t mean they’re definitely not true. Just like it’s possible that there could be $15 million sitting in a bank account for me to claim, and it’s possible that Sylvia Browne might have had secret information about missing children, I would never say that I’ve ruled out religious explanations completely. But the explanations they offer do often seem just a little bit too neat and convenient, and not adaptable to new information that comes up.

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Open thread on AXP #827, with guest, Rob Poole, MB BS, FRCPsych

I’ve embedded a number of links below, and I would urge you to explore them. I initially had included far more quoted material, but the post became too long, and I finally decided that links and brevity were best. However, the linked information is highly relevant. Most of the links are to summaries or small items I think you can investigate without too much time lost—so please review them if this topic interests you.

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Climate change “skeptics” in the creationist role

We received an email from a relatively new atheist who is still coming to grips with various science-related issues now that he’s shed his theism.  He wrote:

After de-converting I’ve started reassessing some long held political beliefs that were based on my old religious beliefs. I’ve found that when I look at things from a skeptical point-of-view it is much easier to come to a rational political position than if I just accept things on faith or along party lines. Unfortunately I might be looking at things a little too skeptically. Here’s my current dilemma:

I’ve been studying the merits of accepting the concept of global warming. I am not a scientist, so I have to base my decision on the information that is available to me, which is usually dumbed down for mass consumption. I have done quite a bit of research outside of news articles, but I couldn’t really get far without hitting the political side of things. Unfortunately, I see way too many logical loopholes in the presentation; especially the Al Gore/liberal democrat presentation, which to be honest, sounds like it’s based on religious indoctrination.

It’s taken me quite a while to compose a reply, but the response touched on quite a lot of useful concepts about scientific claims, peer review, how laymen learn about complex scientific issues, and the political tactics of creationists.  While this isn’t always directly related to atheism, it’s one of those issues that comes up from time to time from atheist viewers, and it’s worth a discussion.

The rest of his letter, as well as my response, is below.

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The structure of social revolutions, part 1

As I see it, atheism as a movement is about two things.  First, it’s about skepticism and the advancement of knowledge free of dogma.  Second, it’s about achieving social change.  We want to remove the stigma of atheism, allowing atheists to be open and honest about their non-belief while minimizing fear of prejudice and hostility against them.

Speaking as someone actively involved with atheist visibility, I know that it can be really frustrating when it seems like progress is not happening.  In fact, people commonly write us to ask, “Why do you bother?  It’s not like you’re going to turn Christians into atheists.”

Social progress always happens slowly, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the possibility of long term change, and even reasons to believe that you might have a small part to play as an instrument of that change.  In this post and the planned follow-up, I want to talk a bit about taking a big picture perspective on social change.


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Science interview with Dr. Alan Glasser on Transmit-Receive

Casey Doran has done an outstanding interview with Dr. Alan Glasser, one of the most brilliant minds working in the field of computational nuclear physics today.

…The fact that Dr. Glasser happens to be my father does not in any way prejudice me in making that claim.  :)  Go here to listen to the episode!

In the interview, the two of them have a fascinating discussion about the state of nuclear fusion research, the future of energy, and the politics of support for the sciences in general.

You may remember Casey as the former producer of the Tacoma-based show Ask An Atheist, who also interviewed me after I appeared on the show in 2010.  He is apparently hard at work launching a new audio podcast which focuses on interviews and discussions about science and public policy.  Show him some support, will you?