Ethan Zuckerman - Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is an inspiring thinker whom we've wanted to get on the show for a long, long time: Ethan Zuckerman.
He's the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and works at MIT's Media Lab. He's also the co-founder of Global Voices, a community of global bloggers—and has worked in the past at Geekcorps and Tripod.
We're here to discuss his new book Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection—which among other things argues that the technological ability to communicate with someone does not inevitably lead to increased human connection. In other words, it's about nothing less than how to use the Internet to open, rather than close, your mind.…
Mario Livio - Brilliant Blunders From Darwin to Einstein
Host: Chris Mooney
One thing we often forget about great scientists, especially as they are lionized and mythologized: they made mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Sometimes, even, brilliant ones.
Charles Darwin, for instance, didn't understand genetics. He and Gregor Mendel were as ships passing in the night. Granted, Darwin eventually realized that he needed a better theory of heredity in order for his idea of natural selection to work—so he came up with "pangenesis," a completely wrong idea that... well, the less said about it the better.
But Darwin isn't the only one. From Linus Pauling to Albert Einstein, many of history's greatest thinkers have blundered badly on occasion. They've made major mistakes—sometimes outright embarrassing ones. And now, acclaimed scientist and science writer Mario Livio has compiled these cases together into an intriguing narrative that helps us understand the importance of mistakes to science itself, and to how we think about it.
Mario Livio is a senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute, and the author of more than 400 scientific papers. On top of that, he's also a popular science writer, author of books including The Golden Ratio, The Equation that Couldn't Be Solved, and Is God a Mathematician? His latest book, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein, Colossal Mistakes By Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe, is the subject of our interview.…
Daniel Dennett - Tools for Thinking
Host: Indre Viskontas
Having spent 50 years as an influential thinker, Daniel Dennett has earned the right to tell us how to think. His latest book is a collection of 77 tools for thinking, which every self-respecting critical thinker should consider, if not actively use.
American philosopher and author Daniel C. Dennett is perhaps best known in cognitive science for his multiple drafts (or "fame in the brain") model of human consciousness and he is among the most influential philosophers of our day. He is the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, and the author of 16 books including Elbow Room; The Intentional Stance; Consciousness Explained; Darwin's Dangerous Idea and most recently, Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking. Prof Dennett has also published more than 300 scholarly articles and was awarded the Erasmus Prize for his contributions to society in 2012.…
Stephan Lewandowsky - The Mind of the Conspiracy Theorist
Host: Chris Mooney
From 9-11, to the death of Osama bin Laden, to the Boston Bombings, there's been a consistently bizarre and troubling reaction by some members of the public.
We're referring to the people—a minority, to be sure, but a surprisingly large one—who always seem to think there's some kind of cover up. The U.S. government, they feel, was really behind the attacks on, uh, itself. And as for Bin Laden—well, he isn't really dead.
These people are called conspiracy theorists, and, their particular form of irrationality is uniquely befuddling. It has been often denounced, but rarely understood. That's too bad, because conspiratorial thinking clearly plays an important role in science denial, on matters ranging from the connection between HIV and AIDS, to the safety of vaccines, to global warming.
Fortunately, conspiracy mongers are now becoming the subject of research and study—and our latest guest is helping to lead this inquiry.
His name is Stephan Lewandowsky, and he's a professor at the school of psychology at the University of Western Australia, and at the University of Bristol in the UK. And he's the author of a recent study with the delicious title "NASA Faked the Moon Landings, Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science (PDF)"—which drew some small amount of attention, especially when it was followed by a second study of the conspiracy theorists who rejected the first study for, yes, conspiratorial reasons.…
Katha Pollitt - Is Religion Inherently Sexist?
Host: Chris Mooney
Over the weekend, the Center for Inquiry's Women in Secularism II conference unfolded in Washington, D.C.—and we caught up with one of the event's most distinguished speakers, the feminist poet and author Katha Pollitt.
You probably know her "Subject to Debate" column in the Nation—always both insightful and also hilarious to read. It has been called, by the Washington Post, the "best place to go for original thinking on the left." The column won the National Magazine Award in 2003.
Pollitt is also the author of four essay collections—most recently, Learning to Drive and Other Stories—and two books of poetry, the latest being The Mind Body Problem. In this interview, she discusses her talk at "Women in Secularism II" on the subject: "Sexism and Religion: Can the Knot Be Untied?"…
Michael Levi - Fracking, Pipelines, and Science
Host: Chris Mooney
A few months back on this show, we heard from Bill McKibben, the celebrated environmental writer and, more recently, leader of a mass movement around preventing climate change that has focused on blocking the Keystone XL pipeline.
McKibben makes a compelling case that our climate system is at dire risk. But many thinkers who fully accept the science of climate change nonetheless take a very different approach to climate and energy policy. And as someone who personally sees strengths on both sides of this question, today I want to feature one of them.
So today we feature one of the smartest and most thoughtful of these environmental moderates: Michael Levi. He's author of the new book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future—in which he talks favorably about natural gas drilling through "fracking" and even, yes, the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Michael Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and director of the CFR program on energy security and climate change. He holds an MA in physics from Princeton University, where he studied string theory and cosmology, and a PhD in war studies from the University of London (King's College).…
Jared Diamond - The World Until Yesterday
Note: You can watch this episode on Youtube.
In this special episode of Point of Inquiry, Chris and Indre speak with the Pulitzer Prize winning Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Dr. Diamond is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles and has traveled extensively to New Guinea for his research. His observations there form the foundation of his new book, The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn from Traditional Societies, which is the subject of this interview.
Afterwards, Chris and Indre debate aspects of Diamond's new book that they found both surprising and, on occasion, frustrating.…
Mary Roach - Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Host: Indre Viskontas
In the science section at your local bookstore, you'll find plenty of books on everything from the brain, to the climate, to the cosmos.
But how many books will you find that take you on a tour of the digestive tract—from our mouths, to our stomachs, to our intestines? Popular science writer Mary Roach's new book, Gulp, does just that.
Decoding the science of taboo topics like vaginal weight-lifting, amputee bowling leagues, and how much food it takes to burst a human stomach has become the signature style of Roach, who has been described by the Washington Post as "America's funniest science writer."
Mary Roach writes about human bodies in unusual circumstances and does not shy away from things that are gross. Her previous best-selling books include: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void but today we’ll be discussing Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.…
Scott Atran - What Makes a Terrorist?
Host: Chris Mooney
Back in the summer of 2011—just before the 10 year anniversary of 9/11—this show welcomed on Scott Atran, an anthropologist who is a leading expert on terrorism and violent extremism.
Now, in the wake of the Boston bombings and the dramatic capture of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we called Atran back to discuss the first large scale U.S. terrorist bombing since 9/11.
As Atran's research shows, the Tsarnaev brothers share many parallels with other young, disaffected men who opt for extremist violence around the world.
But Atran's broader conclusion from the past week may be an unsettling one: When we devote such massive societal attention to a few homegrown terrorists, we may not ultimately be doing ourselves any favors.
Scott Atran is an anthropologist and an expert on terrorism with appointments at John Jay College, the University of Michigan, and Oxford. He is author of the book Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (un)Making of Terrorists, and in his research has personally interviewed mujahidin, Hamas, and the plotters behind the Bali bombing.…
Neil Gross - Why Are Professors (and Scientists) So Liberal?
Host: Chris Mooney
We've all heard the claim: Academia is liberal. And it indoctrinates students.
It kills their religious faith and basically—or at least, so the allegation goes—transforms them into unkempt, pot-smoking hippies.
As it turns out, this claim is precisely half true. Yes, academia is really liberal. But no, this has virtually nothing at all to do with ideological brainwashing.
That's the provocative claim of a new book by Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia. It's entitled Why Are Professors Liberal? And Why Do Conservatives Care? And basically, it's a powerful data analysis to bandy about whenever Ted Cruz, or Rick Santorum, start talking about liberal academic indoctrination mills.
Neil Gross taught at the University of Southern California and Harvard University before joining the University of British Columbia faculty in 2008. Trained at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Ph.D., 2002), and holding a BA in Legal Studies from the University of California, Berkeley (1992), Gross has special interests in sociological theory, politics, the sociology of ideas and academic life, and the sociology of culture. He is the editor of Sociological Theory, a quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association.…
A.C. Grayling - The God Argument
Host: Chris Mooney
Remember all the greatest hits of religious apologists—the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments for God's existence?
You may have learned how to refute them in college—but not, perhaps, with the zest and humor shown by renowned philosopher A.C. Grayling in his new book The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism.
But Grayling isn't just making a negative case—his book is about how to live, and flourish, without religion in your life. It's about how to be good—and in the end about why, to find meaning, it's important most of all to think.
A.C. Grayling is master of New College of the Humanities, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. He has written and edited over thirty books on philosophy and other topics—including The Good Book, Ideas That Matter, Liberty in the Age of Terror, and To Set Prometheus Free.…
Frans de Waal - The Bonobo and the Atheist
Host: Chris Mooney
You hear it a lot from religious believers: Faith is about doing good works, bringing about good in the world, and showing compassion.
In fact, some go further and argue that you can't really be moral without religion.
Well, says primatologist Frans de Waal, they really ought to take a look at our close cousin the bonobo—in his new book The Bonobo and the Atheist.
For that matter, De Waal continues, those defending a faith-only version of morality ought to look at any number of moral, empathetic behaviors throughout the animal kingdom, in species ranging from dogs to elephants.
De Waal's conclusions from all of this, for atheists, though, are controversial. He wants a more secular morality, but also thinks you can't just wipe religion away, because it is too closely wrapped up with our evolved morality and our group allegiances.
So we wanted to interview De Waal about the latest science on morality—and about what it means for those who want the world to try running a more secular operating system.
Frans de Waal is a celebrated primatologist who directs the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and is the C.W. Candler professor of psychology at Emory University. He has written widely about our primate relatives, in books that include Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape and The Age of Empathy.…
Carol Tavris - The Science of Sex and Gender
Host: Indre Viskontas
Back in February, Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer made a decision that pushed gender issues and the work/life balance back into the headlines: she mandated that her employees can no longer work from home. It's a decision that impacts families with children in a big way—and puts a focus on women in the workplace.
Are decisions like Mayer's related to a broader cultural bias against women? Do biological differences between men and women account for the gender disparity in leadership positions in many industries? What do we even know about gender differences? Does science have answers to any of these questions yet? To find out, we invited Carol Tavris, a noted social psychologist and a pioneer of gender studies, to join us in this week's episode.
Carol Tavris received a PhD in social psychology from the University of Michigan, and has taught psychology at UCLA and the New School for Social Research. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science and the Center for Inquiry. Her articles, book reviews and op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. The themes of Tavris' work include critical thinking, feminism, and criticism of pseudoscience. Her books include four psychology textbooks, The Mismeasure of Woman, and Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), co-authored with Elliot Aronson.…
Amanda Marcotte - Skepticism Needs Feminism
Host: Chris Mooney
Later this year, May 17 to 19 in Washington, D.C., the Center for Inquiry will convene its second "Women in Secularism" conference.
There are a host of great speakers, many of whom we've had on this show before, like Susan Jacoby, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Greta Christina, and Rebecca Watson.
And we're going to be there covering it.
But in the meantime, to get you ready, we've invited on one of the featured speakers ahead of time—Amanda Marcotte.
Marcotte writes for and manages the blog Pandagon, blogs for Slate's Double X, and has two books out: It's A Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments and Get Opinionated: A Progressive's Guide to Finding Your Voice (and Taking a Little Action).
She's written about politics, pop culture, and feminism for outlets such as Slate, Salon, the LA Times, the Guardian, and the American Prospect.…
Mark Lynas - Science and the Left
Host: Chris Mooney
I'm a big defender of the proposition that when it comes to abusing science, the political left and the political right are very different beasts.
But that doesn't make the left innocent of science abuses—and one man who knows that very well is Mark Lynas.
He's a British environmentalist and author, and he recently gained dramatic attention for his public conversion on the issue GM crops—denouncing his prior allies, and also his prior self, on the issue.
Lynas had been an anti-GM activist and even a destroyer of crops. Now, he thinks science leads to a very different conclusion. He's also a defender of science on other issues where one can make a pretty serious case that the Left gets it wrong—like nuclear power.
So I wanted to bring Mark on to discuss anti-science on the left—and finally, to weigh the irrationality of the political poles and see if the scales are really balanced... or not.
Mark Lynas is a British journalist and environmental activist. He is the author of three books, most recently The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans.…
Matthew Hutson - The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking
Host: Indre Viskontas
Even the hard-core skeptics believe in magic, says Matthew Hutson in his new book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep us Happy, Healthy and Sane which has just been released in paperback.
Most of us have some sentimental objects that would seem to lose their importance if replaced by an exact copy. We imbue our pets with human personality traits. We are disgusted at the thought of eating a cake that looks like fecal matter. We expect that what goes around comes around. All of these are examples of magical thinking, Hutson argues. A skeptic and an atheist, Hutson claims that ‘our ongoing flirtation with supernaturalism is a relationship that we depend on for survival.' I'm not convinced. In a lively discussion, we delve into magical thinking, its pitfalls and potential benefits.
Matthew Hutson is a former editor at Psychology Today, and has a B.Sc. in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and an M.S. in science writing from MIT. His work has appeared in Wired, Discover, Scientific American Mind, Popular Mechanics, The Boston Globe, The New York Times and the New York Times Magazine.…
Point of Inquiry Live | Steven Pinker - The Decline of Violence
Note: You can watch this episode on Youtube.
Since the horrendous massacre of children and teachers in Newtown, CT last year, gun control and the second amendment have been frequent topics of the national conversation. Point of Inquiry would be remiss if we didn't add our signature long-form interview style to the discussion. To that end, we interviewed Steven Pinker whose recent book suggests that we are, contrary to popular belief, living in the most peaceful time in humanity's existence.
Steven Pinker is professor of psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of eight books, including How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Language Instinct and most recently The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. He is a two-time Pulitzer-prize finalist, one of Time's 100 Most Influential People and one of Foreign Policy's top 100 Global Thinkers.
Also featured is an interview with Tom Di Liberto, meteorologist at NOAA and winner of the 2013 America's Science Idol contest.
This episode was recorded live at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston and was produced by Adam Isaak. The event was sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and the National Science Foundation.…
Susan Jacoby - Freethoughtâ€™s Forgotten Hero
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Susan Jacoby.
She's the bestselling author of a number of books about secularism and American culture, including Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and The Age of American Unreason.
Jacoby started her career at the Washington Post, and her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Newsday, Harper's, The Nation, Vogue, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the AARP Magazine, among other publications.
Her latest book, just published and the subject of our interview, is The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought.…
Carl Zimmer - Viruses and Other Little Things
This year's flu season has been dubbed the worst in recent history, despite the fact that the flu vaccine is fairly effective and readily available. But of course, not everyone experiencing flu-like symptoms actually has the flu—with so many cold viruses and bacterial infections being passed around, it seems that everyone has been sick this January. Long nights, low humidity, holiday parties all combine to create the perfect breeding ground for the tiny organisms that make us miserable.
Singers like myself are particularly sensitive to illnesses that make it impossible for us to do our jobs and so, as I traveled to Raleigh last week for a conference of science writers, journalists, bloggers and broadcasters, I couldn't help but think about bugs and viruses in between hand washings. It's no surprise then, that when I had the opportunity to chat with one of the most prolific and popular science writers in the world—Carl Zimmer—we climbed through the looking glass and into the microscopic realm of germs.
Carl Zimmer is an award-winning science writer whose work is often published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Scientific American, and other outlets.
His books include a history of neuroscience called Soul Made Flesh, Parasite Rex, and Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.
He is also a co-author of 3 critically-acclaimed textbooks on evolution and his popular blog The Loom is now hosted by National Geographic. A popular public speaker and a frequent guest on Radiolab and This American Life, Zimmer is also the only science writer after whom a species of tapeworm has been named.…
Paul Krugman - Science and Pseudoscience in Economics
Host: Chris Mooney
We are thrilled by our guest this week, who is not only one of the world's most famous economists and economics commentators, but also a Nobel Laureate in his field: Paul Krugman.
In case he needs any introduction: He is a professor of economics at Princeton and a columnist for the New York Times, as well of the author of the blog on its website entitled "The Conscience of a Liberal."
The occasion for our interview is the release of his latest book, End this Depression Now, in paperback. It is just out and, besides being a very lucid explanation of our current economic predicament, it is also a work that goes straight at the heart of a central concern of this show—what is science, and what isn't, in a field that is perhaps even more political than other aspects of science... economics.…
Sean Carroll - The Particle at the End of the Universe
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Sean Carroll—theoretical physicist at CalTech, and skilled science communicator.
I've known Sean and his work for almost a decade, and I've invited him on to talk about his latest book: The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.
Sean Carroll is a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. His research focuses on theoretical physics and cosmology, especially the origin and constituents of the universe. He has contributed to models of interactions between dark matter, dark energy, and ordinary matter; alternative theories of gravity; and violations of fundamental symmetries. Carroll is also the author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. He has appeared on TV shows such as The Colbert Report and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and frequently serves as a science consultant for film and television. He blogs at Preposterous Universe.…
Maria Konnikova - How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Maria Konnikova, who is the author of a simply fascinating new book about training your mind so you're as sharp as the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
It's entitled Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.
In addition to her new book, Konnikova writes the "Literally Psyched" column for Scientific American, and is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Columbia University.
She's also written for The Atlantic, Slate, The New York Times, and other publications. Mastermind is her first book.…
Phil Plait - #Notpocalypse!
Host: Chris Mooney
This is our first show of 2013, and notably, we're still here.
A lot of people actually thought the world was going to end at the end of last year, which, presumably, means that now it's rejoicing time.
And also reflection time. Time for reflection on all the things that people are capable of believing, as well as the things that might really lead to global catastrophe someday.
To help us in that process, we've invited back our expert on all things related to the world ending and not ending: Phil Plait.
He needs no introduction, except to say that he's the Bad Astronomer. He's the Bad Astronomer at Slate, on Twitter, and on every other platform you can imagine.
Phil Plait is an astronomer, lecturer, and author. After ten years working on Hubble Space Telescope data and six more working on astronomy education, he struck out on his own as a writer. His two books are Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" and Death from the Skies! These Are the Ways the Universe Will End.…
Scott Sigler - Encouraging Critical Thinking Through Science Fiction
Host: Indre Viskontas
It's become almost a truism that in their spare time, skeptics tend to gravitate towards TV shows, novels and games that portray the very monsters, myths and conspiracies that they work so hard to debunk. A great story is just as entertaining to the most hardened skeptics as it is to the rest of the population. And because they are often more knowledgeable about the history of a particular monster or myth, skeptics might even enjoy fictional depictions of pet topics more than the uninitiated general public.
A case in point is author and podcaster Scott Sigler, whose fascination with monsters led him not only to read and watch stories about monsters, but even to invest all of his creative energy and talent into writing horrifying and thrilling science fiction novels. But is there a risk of propagating myths through storytelling? Does science fiction help or hurt critical thinking? To get some insights into these questions, we talked to Scott about his writing process, his characters and what truths we can learn about ourselves through fiction.
New York Times best-selling novelist Scott Sigler is the author of Nocturnal, Ancestor, Infected, and Contagious, hardcover thrillers from Crown Publishing, and the co-founder of Dark Øverlord Media, which publishes his Galactic Football League series. Before he was published, Scott built a large online following by giving away his self-recorded audiobooks as free, serialized podcasts. His loyal fans, who call themselves "Junkies," have downloaded over fifteen million individual episodes of his stories and interact daily with Scott and each other in the social media space. Scott reinvented book publishing when he released Earthcore as the world's first "podcast-only" novel, harkening back to the days of serialized radio fiction. He's been covered in Time magazine, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, and The Huffington Post, among others. He still records his own audiobooks and gives away every story-for free-to his Junkies at ScottSigler.com.…
Ronald A. Lindsay and Michael De Dora - Mr. Science Goes to Washington
Host: Chris Mooney
We usually record Point of Inquiry at a distance. Over the phone. Skyping.
But for this show, I packed up my gear and hailed a cab—to the Center for Inquiry's brand new Office of Public Policy in downtown, Washington, D.C.
The Center for Inquiry is here to literally make this country listen to reason... and science. It's a sensibility that is simply in far too short of a supply in this town.
So I sat down with Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI's president, and Michael De Dora, head of the Office of Public Policy, to talk about their plans to make our legislators and leaders just a little more rational and science based.
Ronald A. Lindsay is president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry and its affiliates, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has led the organization since 2008.
Michael De Dora is director of the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy and its representative to the United Nations.…
David Brin - Uplifting Existence
Host: Chris Mooney
It's rare that I can say about a guest that, I read his books when I was a kid.
But David Brin is just such a guest. He's the celebrated science fiction author of the Uplift novels, The Postman, and many other books—most recently, Existence. I read the Uplift books when I was tearing through sci-fi as a teenager.
But on top of that, Brin is also a trained scientist and public policy commentator. And in his commentary, as in his novels, he's concerned with the same themes that motivate this show: How can we protect science from the forces that want to do it in? And, can people really be rational?
So, we're excited to have him on the show.…
Bill McKibben - Do the Math
Host: Chris Mooney
When we last had Bill McKibben on this show in 2010, I was mainly treating him as another bestselling science author—one who happens to focus on climate change.
Something kinda big happened in the intervening years, and McKibben has become, simply put, the country's leading environmental spokesman and advocate through his organization 350.org.
From protests against the Keystone XL pipeline to, most recently, his "Do the Math" tour, rallying of college students to call for their universities to divest from fossil fuel companies... McKibben now speaks for a stunning mass movement of concerned people.
Many of them are young. And many of them are terrified at what is happening to the planet that, in his last book, McKibben renamed "Eaarth," because, he said, the old name just didn't really capture it any longer.
So, we are simply thrilled to welcome him back on the show.…
Samuel Arbesman - The Half-Life of Facts
Host: Indre Viskontas
Because we live in an uncertain world, we arm ourselves with facts to gain a sense of control and therefore some modicum of comfort. We know that the sun will rise tomorrow even though it disappears tonight. But what happens when facts, those bits of information that we believed captured some fundamental truth about our world, are shown to be no longer true? With the exponential rise in our knowledge about our universe comes a tsunami of data overturning what we once thought we knew with complete certainty. Are there patterns that emerge from this wasteland of myths that once were accepted facts.
One tried and true solution is to apply math to the problem, and network scientist and author Samuel Arbesman has done just that in his recently published book on the Half-life of Facts.
Samuel Arbesman is an applied mathematician and network scientist. He is a Senior Scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. In addition, he blogs at Wired.com, and his essays about math and science have appeared in such places as the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Ideas section of the Boston Globe. Prior to joining the Kauffman Foundation, Arbesman was a research fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, where he used network science and applied mathematics to study innovation, scientific discovery, and prosocial behavior. He completed a PhD in computational biology at Cornell University in 2008, and earned a BA in computer science and biology at Brandeis University in 2004. He has also coined a new word, named an asteroid, and created an eponymous constant and the Milky Way Transit Authority subway map.…
Steven Novella - Exposing Medical Nonsense
Host: Chris Mooney
One of the first people I ever got to know in skepticism was Steven Novella.
He was a professor at Yale, just starting out as an organized skeptic—I was a student, just getting fired up about the same stuff.
Since then, Steve has become hugely successful as a skeptic leader and as a communicator of skeptical ideas, particularly when it comes to his area of specialty, alternative medicine.
And one thing I've always noticed about him over the years is his unending capacity to consider what really works to promote skepticism and critical thinking, and what doesn't—and to adjust accordingly.
So I asked Steve on the show to discuss this process, and to talk about grappling with one of the toughest issues in skepticism and the issue that is his personal specialty—dealing with false claims about medical cures, or what is sometimes called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Steven Novella is a neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He's also the host of the podcast Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, and the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptics' Society. He writes the blog Neurologica, and contributes to a number of other blogs including Science-Based Medicine.…
Michael Gordin - The Pseudoscience Wars
Host: Chris Mooney
Before the "complementary and alternative medicine" fad, and before UFO craze, lived a man whom you might call the first modern pseudoscientist.
His name was Immanuel Velikovsky. He had a strange theory about a comet—that turned out to be Venus—shaping the course of human history.
He tangled with Carl Sagan about it—and with the scientific community about it. And then, he was mostly forgotten.
But no longer, because Princeton historian of science Michael Gordin has tracked down Velikovsky's personal papers. In his book The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe, Gordin uses Velikovsky's example to show how he laid the groundwork for other pseudosciences-it's kind of like they followed in his footsteps.
Michael Gordin is professor of history at Princeton University and director of the program in Russian and Eurasian Studies. He has written widely in the history of science with a focus on the Soviet Union and the early nuclear age. The Pseudoscience Wars is his fourth book.…
Jacques Berlinerblau - How to Be Secular
Host: Chris Mooney
On this show, we often debate the state of American secularism—covering topics like the rise of the so-called "nones," or the unending battle to rescue the country from the pernicious influence of Christian right.
Our guest this week, Jacques Berlinerblau, has a provocative thesis about all this. He says that American secularism has clearly and distinctly lost major ground. And to recover from that loss, well... he's got some suggestions that might not go down well—but it's important to hear them.
Even if, you know, you're not quite ready for a political allegiance with religious moderates.
Jacques Berlinerblau is author of the new book How to be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. He's an associate professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, where he directs the Program for Jewish Civilization.…
Oliver Sacks - Hallucinations
Host: Indre Viskotnas
Despite our individual differences, highlighted especially during an election, much of what we see, hear, smell or feel is shareable: that is, when standing in front of an object, we can more or less agree that it has a particular color, shape, texture, size and so on. But what if I tell you that I see an object clearly which you do not? Or hear a voice that doesn't have a physical source? Now we enter the world of hallucinations.
Hallucinations, or perceptions of objects without an external reality, are not confined to the minds of people with schizophrenia or those who take hallucinogenic drugs. In many cultures, visions are considered a privileged state of consciousness; the trait of a special person chosen by some supernatural force to pass along an important message. But in our western worldview, hallucinations are often associated with a malfunctioning brain. What causes the startling, unbidden perception of something that seems very real, but has no material existence outside of our own minds?
With reference to his own mind-altering experiences, the 'poet-laureate of medicine', Dr. Oliver Sacks, takes us through the looking glass and into the fascinating world of hallucinations.
Oliver Sacks, M.D. is a physician, a best-selling author, and a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine.
He is best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1985), Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007) and The Mind's Eye (2010). Awakenings (1973), his book about a group of patients who had survived the great encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early twentieth century, inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.
Dr. Sacks is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His new book, Hallucinations (2012), has just been released.…
Special Double Episode: Jon Ronson and Richard Wiseman, with Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney
Hosts: Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney
At the 2012 CSICON conference in Nashville, Tennessee, your Point of Inquiry hosts Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney finally actually found themselves in the same place. The result was a show that features both of them covering current events—the 2012 election, the passing of CFI founder Paul Kurtz—and each also conducting an interview!
Jon Ronson (interviewed by Chris Mooney) is a journalist, filmmaker, radio personality and humorist-author of books you have heard of like The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test. You may have heard him on This American Life, or read him in the Guardian—or, if you are a very strange and odd person, or maybe a psychopath, you may have been interviewed by him! Because that would put you right in his wheelhouse, as he explains in this interview.
Richard Wiseman (interviewed by Indre Viskontas) holds Britain's only Professorship in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. His research on an eclectic range of topics including luck, self-help, illusion and persuasion has been published in some of the world's leading academic journals and cited in over 20 introductory textbooks. He has also written several best-selling books that have been translated into over 30 languages, including The Luck Factor, Quirkology, and 59 Seconds. His psychology-based YouTube videos have received over 45 million views and he has given keynote addresses to organisations across the world, including The Royal Society, The Swiss Economic Forum, and Google. Richard is the most followed British psychologist on Twitter and was recently listed in the Independent On Sunday's top 100 people who make Britain a better place to live. Over 2 million people have taken part in his mass participation experiments and he has acted as a creative consultant to Derren Brown, The MythBusters, CBS's The Mentalist, Heston Blumenthal, Nick Cave and Jeremy Deller. He began his working life as a professional magician and is a member of The Inner Magic Circle.…
Bruce Hood - Superstitions in Baseball
Host: Indre Viskontas
The month of October is associated with falling leaves, autumn winds and hallowe'en. But for sports fans in the US, it also signals a high point in America's national pastime: baseball's postseason. After a long run of 162 games, the last weeks of October are ripe with matchups in which legends are made and broken. Any skeptic worth his or her salt, however, can't help but marvel at the diversity and frequency of ritualistic behaviors on display amongst these world class athletes. What is it about baseball that cause intelligent, highly-motivated, elite athletes to refrain from washing their underwear, to eat fried chicken or crunchy taco supremes, to put pennies in their supporters after every win, or chew the same piece of gum night after night, saving it under a baseball cap? The repertoire of routines that batters engage in while stepping into the box is often as choreographed as a ballet: with commentators going so far as calling Mike Hargrove the human rain delay because of his extended dance.
To navigate this swamp of superstition, we talked to Bruce Hood, a Canadian-born experimental psychologist, whose popular book SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable, has shed light on our tendency towards irrational behaviors. Professor Hood is the director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre at the University of Bristol, where he studies the origins of supernatural beliefs, intuitive theory formation, inhibitory control and general cognitive development. He has been awarded a Sloan Fellowship among other honors, and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Science society. In 2011, he delivered the Royal Institution Christmas lectures broadcast by the BBC to over 4 million viewers. His most recent book is the Self Illusion, which calls into question our view of ourselves as coherent, integrated individuals.…
Science and the 2012 Election - Shawn Otto and Matthew Chapman
Host: Chris Mooney
In this show, we talk to two founders of ScienceDebate, a nonprofit organization that in the last two election cycles has pushed to get the presidential candidates to talk about and debate science policy.
So far, there has been no actual presidential science debate. But this year, ScienceDebate got Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to answer 14 top science policy questions, leading to some revealing results. And with the election less than a month away—an election whose winner will guide science policy at a time when international research competitiveness, climate change, and other science based issues demand attention... it's hard to think of many things more important for voters to pay attention to.
The media feel otherwise, unfortunately. The first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate have ignored science almost entirely. But that's precisely why we're here, and why ScienceDebate is here—to try to shine some light on the issues that matter critically, but aren't getting their due.
Matthew Chapman is a screenwriter, author, and great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. When not working on ScienceDebate, he recently wrote and directed The Ledge, a thriller whose central character is an atheist.
Shawn Otto is also a screenwriter and author, most recently of the book Fool me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America. Among other accolades, he also wrote and co-produced the Oscar nominated film A House of Sand and Fog.…
Lisa Randall - Knocking on Heavenâ€™s Door
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Lisa Randall, the Harvard theoretical physicist and one of the most heavily cited and influential researchers in her field. She's a member of a number of distinguished scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences—but she's also a very popular science author, behind the bestselling Warped Passages: Unraveling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions, and more recently Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, which is just out in paperback.
Between the hardback and paperback release of Knocking on Heaven's Door, a subject much discussed in the book—the quest for the discovery of the Higgs boson—was actually completed. Or at least, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider found a particle that sure looks like the Higgs.
Randall has a new e-book about this entitled Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space. So we were thrilled to speak with her about the Higgs, and what the discovery means about the ability of physics to continually peel back new layers of the universe.…
Massimo Pigliucci - Living Philosophically
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is a return guest of the show, Massimo Pigliucci.
We last heard about his book Nonsense on Stilts, which was about how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. But his newest effort is in some ways even more ambitious.
It's called Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life. And in it, Pigliucci lays out an approach that he calls "sci-phi." It involves assessing the science of an issue—like, say, the biology of romance—and then also weighing an array of philosophical considerations, before figuring out how to negotiate this life domain.
It's quite the heady undertaking—but, well, that never stopped us here before....
Massimo Pigliucci is a professor in the Philosophy Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and was formerly a biology professor at Stony Brook University. He is the author or editor of eight previous books, most recently Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. He lives in New York City.…
Dan Ariely - The Honest Truth about Dishonesty
Host: Indre Viskontas
There is no doubt that our world is populated with cheats and liars. Most of us, slaves to the availability heuristic, think of major cheaters like Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, and Barry Bonds as inflicting the most damage onto society. But just how honest are we, with others and with ourselves? The surprising finding from several studies conducted by Dan Ariely and his collaborators is that we all cheat. What's worse, the consequences of these little everyday deceptions can sometimes far outweigh the ill effects of even the biggest lies. Following up on his previous books demonstrating our irrationality, this week on Point of Inquiry Dan walks us through his account of the irrational forces that determine whether or not we behave ethically.
Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, with appointments at the Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Department of Economics, and the School of Medicine. Dan earned one PhD in cognitive psychology and another PhD in business administration. He is the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. His work has been featured in many outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and others. His two previous New York Times best-selling books are Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality.…
Phil Zuckerman - The Sociology of Irreligion
Host: Chris Mooney
How many atheists are there in the world? Where do they live? What kind of people are they, and how do they get that way?
Are they happy? Are they prosperous? Do they drag their societies down into a cesspool of immortality—as is often alleged—or, is it precisely the opposite?
All of these questions are amenable to scientific study. With, like, data. It's just that people didn't much bother—until now.
One pioneer in the sociological study of atheists is Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology at Pitzer College. He's the author of Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, and Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion. And we're excited to have him on this week to reveal what we actually know about secularity—on a global scale.…
Rick Hayes-Roth - TruthMarket
Host: Chris Mooney
Wouldn't it be nice if there were a way to make American politics just a little more rational, just a little more evidence based?
Wouldn't it be even nicer if there was a website, or an app, that helped that process along?
Maybe, just maybe, a promising innovation called TruthMarket can help with the problem. It's a site where people who care about the truth crowd-fund campaigns dedicated to either proving the veracity of true claims, or the falsity of wrong ones... where, in essence, you make money by showing definitively that you're right.
The goal, of course, is to use market forces to vanquish truthiness... and, well, here's hoping that it works.
To talk about this new site, we've invited on its founder, Rick Hayes-Roth.
Rick Hayes-Roth is the chairman and CEO of Truth Seal Corporation, and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. In the past he has served as Chief Technology Officer for Software at Hewlett Packard, and program director for research in information processing at the Rand Corporation. He is currently the founder and chief executive of TruthMarket.…
Peter Ditto - Morals, Facts, and Libertarians
Host: Chris Mooney
Several times on this show, we've discussed the topic of ideological asymmetry. In other words, are people of all political persuasions equally biased, equally prone to reasoning based on their emotions to support prior commitments?
A new scientific paper (PDF) has recently come out that reopens this question, so naturally, we had to invite on one of its authors. His name is Peter Ditto, and he's a social psychologist at the University of California-Irvine who has been a leader in the study of emotional, or motivated, reasoning.
At the same time, Ditto also studies the psychological foundations of political ideology more broadly. And in another recent paper, he and colleagues including Jonathan Haidt, provide a wealth of data on the personalities and motivations of people who choose to be libertarian. So we wanted to talk about that as well.
Peter Ditto is department chair and professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California-Irvine. His research focuses on motivated reasoning and how our differing moral emotions tend to impel it—and how it is involved in partisan political biases.
The scientific papers discussed in this episode are the following:Liu, B., & Ditto, P. H. (in press). "What dilemma? Moral evaluation shapes factual belief." Social Psychological and Personality Science. Iyer, R., Koleva, S., Graham, J., Ditto, P. H., & Haidt, J. (in press). "Understanding libertarian morality: The psychological dispositions of self-identified libertarians." PLoS ONE.
Temple Grandin - The Science of Livestock Animal Welfare
Host: Indre Viskontas
According to the USDA, Americans produce and consume more beef, veal, and chicken than any other nation in the world. As a result, the status of animal welfare in the meat production industry should be of some concern to all Americans, regardless of dietary habits. One of the world's leading experts in livestock handling practices is Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University.
In addition to gaining international recognition for her research on animal behavior and designs of feed yards and slaughterhouses, Dr. Grandin is also arguably the most famous high-functioning autistic adult. Her story has inspired countless individuals and families who have been touched by autism spectrum disorders, as well as other conditions that cause sensory hypersensitivity. In 2010, Clare Danes won both Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her portrayal of Temple in the critically-acclaimed HBO biopic Temple Grandin.
This week on Point of Inquiry, we talk to Grandin about science, animal behavior, autism, ethics, and much more.
Temple Grandin teaches courses on livestock behavior and facility design at Colorado State University and consults with the livestock industry on facility design, livestock handling, and animal welfare. She has appeared on television shows such as 20/20, 48 Hours, CNN Larry King Live, PrimeTime Live, the Today Show, and many shows in other countries. She has been featured in People Magazine, the New York Times, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Time Magazine, the New York Times book review, and Discover magazine. In 2010, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people. She has also authored over 400 articles in both scientific journals and livestock periodicals on animal handling, welfare, and facility design. She is the author of Thinking in Pictures, Livestock Handling and Transport, Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals, and Humane Livestock Handling. Her books Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human were both on the New York Times best seller list.…
Arie Kruglanski - The Science of Closed-Mindedness
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Arie Kruglanski. He's a Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland College Park, and has been a pioneer in the study of closed-mindedness-or, the "need for closure"—including how it drives fundamentalist belief systems and violent extremism.
Dr. Kruglanski has served on National Academy of Sciences panels related to counterterrorism, and is a founding co-principal investigator at the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism, or START, at the University of Maryland.
In addition, Kruglanski is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and has edited a variety of prominent journals, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Donald Campbell Award for Outstanding Contributions to Social Psychology. For more about his research, you can visit his website.…
Joe Romm - Language Intelligence
Host: Chris Mooney
This week's guest is Joe Romm. You may know him as a top blogger on global warming and energy—but that's not why we're having him on.
In an impressive show of versatility, Romm the scientist has written a book about how to persuade people. It's entitled Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga. In essence, it's a treatise on the neglected art of rhetoric, the technique mastered by Shakespeare and the writers of the King James Bible.
In it, Romm delves deeply into figures of speech, and how they make orators persuasive by allowing them to activate people's emotions. Indeed, as Romm writes, modern neuroscience now confirms what the poets always knew about getting to people's heads through their hearts (that's a metaphor, by the way—one of the chief techniques that Romm discusses).
If you ever want to understand why scientists—and people devoted to reason and critical thinking—fare so poorly getting their message across, you are going to want to listen to this show.
Joe Romm is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and oversees the blog ClimateProgress.org, which was named one of Time Magazine's Fifteen Favorite Websites for the Environment in 2007. He is also the author of several books, including Hell and High Water: Global Warming—The Solution and The Politics. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT, and served as acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during 1997 and principal deputy assistant secretary from 1995 through 1998.…
Peter Montgomery - 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Peter Montgomery, senior fellow with People for the American Way and author of a new report entitled Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, released last week with a new introduction by Bill Moyers.
Point of Inquiry invited Montgomery on the show to discuss these very useful rules of the road, but also to ask a key question: Will the religious right ever consent to follow them?
Peter Montgomery oversees the People For the American Way Foundation's research and writing on the Religious Right. Before joining the group in 1994, he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause, and also wrote and edited for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.…
Christopher diCarlo - How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass
Host: Indre Viskontas
In an election year, it is especially important that our critical thinking skills be sharply honed. We have to sift through facts, fiction, and hyperbole in order to decide who it is that should lead us for the next four years.
To remind us what the right questions to ask are and how to ask them, we invited on the show Dr. Christopher diCarlo, noted philosopher of science and ethics, whose research focuses on how and why humans reason, think, and act the way they do.
diCarlo is a Philosopher of Science and Ethics whose interests in cognitive evolution have taken him into the natural and social sciences. He is interested in how and why the human brain has evolved to its current state and what cross-cultural and cross-species behavior can provide insight into universally common modes of reasoning. He is also interested in the application of neuroscience (specifically fMRI work), in an effort to better understand psychoneuroendocrine feedback looping in problem solving. His most recent book is How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Asking the Right Questions.
In 2008, he was honored with the Canadian Humanist of the Year Award from the Humanist Association of Canada.…
Kerry Emanuel - Conservative for Climate Science
Host: Chris Mooney
Kerry Emanuel is a leading atmospheric scientist and a self-described conservative. As a result, lately he's been at the forefront of trying to convince his ideological brethren that the science behind global warming is real.
We invited Emanuel on to talk about whether global warming is indeed influencing the extreme weather that is afflicting the United States—and also for the unique vantage point that he brings to environmental and energy issues.
Kerry Emanuel is professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He is an expert on global warming and on tropical cyclones—aka, hurricanes. In addition to his large volume of scientific papers, he is also author of two popular books: Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes, and What We Know About Climate Change.…
David Niose - Nonbeliever Nation
Host: Chris Mooney
Can people who care about secularism take America back from the religious right?
Of all the questions that concern us on this show, this is perhaps the most important, the most central, of all.
And David Niose has an answer to it. Simply put, he thinks we can.
In his new book, Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans, Niose outlines the damage the religious right has done, and how the growing forces of secularity stand poised to finally effectively counter them.
Central to the strategy? Embracing the atheist, or at any rate, the secular identity, and wearing it proudly on one's sleeve.
David Niose is an attorney and president of the Washington-based American Humanist Association. He has appeared widely in national and international media advocating for secularism and humanism, and serves as vice president of the Secular Coalition for America.…
Tina Dupuy - Skepticism Meets Comedy
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest is Tina Dupuy—the reporter, comedian, skeptic, and editor-in-chief of the startup publication SoapBlox.
Dupuy appears frequently on MSNBC, Current TV, RT and the BBC and on numerous radio shows. She has written for Mother Jones, the Atlantic, Skeptic, and many other publications.
Her weekly oped is syndicated nationally by Cagle Cartoons.…
Special In Studio Episode: Jamie Kilstein, Ed Brayton, and More
Host: Chris Mooney
For this episode of Point of Inquiry, we tried something a little different. At Center for Inquiry headquarters in Amherst, NY, we filmed a special hour long program with multiple in-studio guests, including the famed atheist comedian Jamie Kilstein. As usual, the program is also available as an audio-only podcast.
In either format, here's what it contains:
When Doubt is a Crime: Michael De Dora, director of the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C., discusses the disturbing case of an Indonesian man who was recently sentenced to two and a half years in prison, just for questioning whether God exists.
Fox News Bashing, Redux: Chris Mooney responds to recent listener comments, some of them complimentary, some... not so much.
From the Culture Wars to... Chuck Norris: We talk with Ed Brayton, the blogger behind Dispatches from the Culture Wars and owner of the FreethoughtBlogs network, about recent church state issues—and his steady monitoring of everyone's favorite right wing karate menace.
Gotta Keep ‘em Separated: We interview Jessica Ahlquist, the high school freethought activist who was recently victorious in her Rhode Island church-state lawsuit over a prayer banner displayed in her high school auditorium.
Jamie Kilstein: The hilarious atheist comedian and host of Citizen Radio discusses how he became an atheist, the future of the 99 percent, mixed martial arts, and his fighting challenge to conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg.…
Stuart Firestein - How Ignorance Drives Science
Host: Indre Viskontas
The idea that science moves forward by carefully peeling back layers of the onion of truth, one by one, in a deliberate fashion, is so prevalent that it borders on cliche. But the truth is that running scientific experiments often feels more akin to dipping a cup into a bottomless well of information: each new study simply raises more questions than it answers. Although scientific knowledge is vast, ignorance, or what's left to learn, dwarfs what we think we know. Exploring this boundless frontier, neurobiologist Stuart Firestein explains how ignorance, rather than facts, drives science.
Stuart Firestein is the Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences where he studies the vertebrate olfactory system, possibly the best chemical detector on the face of the planet. Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience Firestein serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's program for the Public Understanding of Science. His popular course at Columbia University served as the basis of his new book Ignorance: How it Drives Science published by Oxford University Press.…
Chris Hayes - Twilight of the Elites
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's Up With Chris Hayes and editor at large of The Nation.
Hayes has come out with a much anticipated new book that makes a surprising argument. It's called Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, and in it, he attributes the stunning loss of trust in American institutions to, well, the system by which we chose who runs them.
That system is a meritocracy—and it's supposed to be a fair one in which people get ahead or fall behind based on their own inherent abilities. But in reality, Hayes says, inequality in, inequality out.
It's an intriguing and unexpected thesis, and after reading it, we wanted to ask Hayes about what this means for science in particular—which is, after all, a meritocracy. We also wanted to ask Hayes why people at the top of the totem pole—supposedly so smart, supposedly so well-trained and cultured—are in fact so poor at reasoning about those below them.…
Cara Santa Maria - Talk Nerdy to Us
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Cara Santa Maria, the senior science correspondent for the Huffington Post and the personage behind its "Talk Nerdy to Me" video series. Recent topics range from cannibalism, to the non-power of positive thinking, to the strange sex lives of animals, to the, well, bizarreness of creationism.
Cara has appeared previously on shows ranging from Larry King Live to Geraldo at Large, and has co-hosted an episode of Star Talk Radio with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. She was also recently seen hosting several episodes of The Young Turks' popular web spinoff series The Point. She tweets at @CaraSantaMaria, and you can find her videos at the Huffington Post's Talk Nerdy To Me.…
Will Gervais - This is Your Brain on Religion
Host: Chris Mooney
In late April, a study came out in Science that really got the secular blogosphere hopping.
It was a paper showing that something we've long suspected may be true—less critical thinking is associated with more religiosity. In fact, having a cognitive style where you're less analytic, and more intuitive, promotes faith.
And vice versa.
It turns out this paper is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we're learning about the religious mind. So to get deeper into the topic, we invited on Will Gervais, lead author of the current paper and of much other work besides.
Will Gervais is a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Next year he will be an associate professor in psychology at the University of Kentucky.
His research studies the cognitive, evolutionary, and cultural reasons why people entertain in supernatural beliefs—or, why they don't, which is perhaps equally interesting.…
Christof Koch - Consciousness and Free Will
Host: Indre Viskontas
Recently, there has been a flurry of neuroscientists declaring that free will is an illusion in the popular press. But before we can assess the extent to which we are zombies, we need to first tackle the question of what, exactly, is consciousness. To get up to speed on the state of the art, we talked to Christof Koch, a colorful pioneer in the application of scientific tools to delineate the neural correlates of consciousness, whose famous 18-year collaboration with Francis Crick helped legitimize the field. Koch has never shied away from controversy, commenting on sentience in machines and dogs without skipping a beat.
Christof Koch is Professor of Biology and of Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and Chief Scientific Office of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. He is the author of Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist and The Quest for Consciousness, among other books.…
Johan Braeckman - The Rise of Islamic Creationism
Host: Chris Mooney
Over the weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2012 World Skeptics Conference in Berlin.
It's important to keep tabs on our skeptical and freethinking colleagues around the world, and the challenges they're facing. And in this case, perhaps the most disturbing story out of the conference involved the spread of a new form of creationism—namely, Islamic creationism—in Europe.
It's a topic I've wanted to explore on the show for some time. So in Berlin, I stopped to speak with Johan Braeckman, who has been tracking the subject closely.
Johan Braeckman is a professor of philosophy of science at Ghent University in Belgium, and his research focuses on philosophical issues in the life sciences, particularly evolution and neuroscience. He's the author of a number of books and papers, including, most recently, Doubting Thomas Has a Point: A Guide to Critical Thinking, coauthored with Maarten Boudry.…
Greta Christina - Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
Our guest this week is Greta Christina, a leading atheist blogger, speaker, and commentator, and a regular contributor to AlterNet.org.
Christina is author of the new ebook Why Are You Atheists So Angry?: 99 Things that Piss Off the Godless, which grows out of a 2007 blog post on the same topic. The book will also be out in print in June.
Greta Christina blogs at FreeThoughtBlogs.com, and her writing has appeared, among other places, in Ms., Penthouse, Chicago Sun-Times, On Our Backs, and Skeptical Inquirer. She is editor of the "Best Erotic Comics" anthology series, and of "Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients."…
M.G. Lord - The Accidental Feminist
Host: Indre Viskontas
In developed countries at least, the status of women has improved considerably in the last century. But in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), they remain underrepresented in all but one field, according to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Often, femininity can seem incompatible with STEM and other male-dominated careers—but can young women today find an unlikely role model in Elizabeth Taylor, an actress dogged by the Catholic Church because of her sex appeal and promotion of secular ideas, including gay and lesbian rights?
Cultural critic and acclaimed author M.G. Lord explores the contributions of Elizabeth Taylor to feminism—and her struggles against the Church—in her latest book, The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted By Her Beauty to Notice.…
Naomi Oreskes - Neoliberalism and the Denial of Global Warming
Host: Chris Mooney
This week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a conference convened entitled "Science Writing in the Age of Denial." The keynote speaker was a former Point of Inquiry guest and a very popular one—Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the influential book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.
Point of Inquiry caught up with Dr. Oreskes at the conference and interviewed her about her lecture there, entitled "Neoliberalism and the Denial of Global Warming."
Naomi Oreskes is professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, written with Eric Conway, described how a small group of scientists sought to undermine a large body of research on issues like global warming, the health risks of smoking, and ozone depletion. She is the author of the famed 2004 essay for the journal Science entitled "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change," which was cited in the Academy Award winning film An Inconvenient Truth.…
Austin Dacey - The Future of Blasphemy
Host: Chris Mooney
This week, our guest is a return one: Austin Dacey. He's a philosopher, a writer, and a human rights activist, and the creator of the Impossible Music Sessions, which we featured in a past show.
Austin's books include The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life and, just out, The Future of Blasphemy: Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights.
This show focused on Austin's new book on blasphemy. But he helped enhance the discussion with a few pieces of music that have been called blasphemous—which is why we wanted to distribute them as widely as possible.…
Chris Mooney - The Republican Brain
Guest Host: John Shook
In this special episode of Point of Inquiry, we interview our host himself—about his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.
From climate change to evolution, the rejection of mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is the denial of expert consensus on the economy, American history, foreign policy and much more. Why won't Republicans accept things that most experts agree on? Why are they constantly fighting against the facts?
Science writer and host of Point of Inquiry Chris Mooney explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear more likely than Democrats to oppose new ideas and less likely to change their beliefs in the face of new facts; and sometimes respond to compelling evidence by doubling down on their current beliefs.…
Neil deGrasse Tyson - Space Chronicles
Host: Chris Mooney
This week, Point of Inquiry is thrilled to welcome back one of our most popular guests: Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famed astrophysicist and Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
Last time we had him on, Dr. Tyson engaged in a wide ranging discussion about science communication and the place of science in America.
This time, we focus in on his new book—Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier—and his call for revitalizing NASA and letting it play a central role in reconnecting America and science.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's most pre-eminent science communicator. In addition to his work at the Hayden Planetarium and his books and television appearances, he is also the host of Star Talk Radio.…
David Morrison - Cosmic Impact Hazard
Host: Indre Viskontas
The end is nigh. 2012 is a banner year for doomsday prophecies, though there still seems to be debate concerning precisely how life as we know it will be snuffed out. Hollywood seems to prefer the 'death from the skies' scenario, with Lars von Trier's latest film Melancholia exploring the psychological consequences of believing that another planet is on a collision course with ours. But would we know? How much warning would we receive if such a catastrophe were to occur?
There is no better source for this information than Dr. David Morrison, the founder of the field of astrobiology, or the study of life in the universe. Once the Director of Space at NASA Ames, he is best known for his work on assessing the risk of near earth objects such as asteroids and comets. As the mind behind the popular 'Ask an Astrobiologist' blog on NASA's website, Dr. Morrison has all the answers.
David Morrison is the senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, where he participates in a variety of research programs in astrobiology—the study of the living universe. Dr. Morrison obtained his doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University. He is the author of more than 155 technical papers and has published a dozen books. He has been a science investigator on NASA's Mariner, Voyager and Galileo space missions. Morrison is recipient of the Dryden Medal for research of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Sagan Medal of the American Astronomical Society for public communication, and the Klumpke-Roberts award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for contributions to science education. He has received two NASA Outstanding Leadership medals and he was awarded the Presidential Meritorious Rank for his work as director of space at NASA Ames. Morrison is perhaps best known for his leadership since 1991 in defining the hazard of asteroid impacts and seeking ways to mitigate this risk. Asteroid 2410 Morrison is named in his honor.…
Jonathan Haidt - The Righteous Mind
Host: Chris Mooney
Why is it that some of us are religious, some of us not... some of us liberal, some of us not?
If you've been paying attention, then by now you might have noticed that this doesn't really have a lot to do with the intellectual validity of religious, or irreligious, or liberal, or conservative ideas.
So what causes it? And why can't we all get along?
To get at this, Point of Inquiry invited on a scholar and thinker who has become famous for his scientific approach to this question—Jonathan Haidt, author of the new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Jonathan Haidt is a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia, and a visiting professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business. Haidt's research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and he and his collaborators conduct research at the website YourMorals.org.
Ari Rabin-Havt - The Fox Effect
Host: Chris Mooney
If there's one thing Point of Inquiry is concerned about, it's ensuring a rational, sensible conversation in politics, in public life. And you simply can't have such a conversation if the culture is awash in political, and politicized, misinformation.
What do we mean by "misinformation"? The denial of global warming. Claims about "death panels." Assertions that the President of the United States wasn't actually born here.
One thing all these falsehoods have in common is that if you watch Fox News, you're more likely to believe them. Fox increases your risk, so to speak, of believing factually wrong things to support a political agenda. With other networks, this "Fox effect" just isn't there.
How did it get this way? How did one leading network become a fount of misinformation?
For that, we turn to the most dedicated Fox monitors of them all—Media Matters. They've got a new book out on Fox, and I've invited their Executive Vice President, Ari Rabin-Havt, on to talk about it.
Ari Rabin-Havt is Executive Vice President at Media Matters. He is co-author, with David Brock, of The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine.…
Sean Faircloth - Attack of the Theocrats
Host: Chris Mooney
A common goal of freethinkers, humanists, skeptics, and atheists is to preserve Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state. But we haven't always been successful in this area—help from the courts notwithstanding—or at beating back the steady advances of the religious right.
How can we do better? Our guest this week has a new book on the topic, and just as important, a new way of thinking.
His name is Sean Faircloth, the director of strategy and policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Before that, Faircloth served five terms in the Maine Legislature and went on to serve as executive director for the Secular Coalition for America. He's author of the newly released book Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What to Do About It.…
Gerald Woerlee and Susan Blackmore - Near-Death Experiences and Consciousness
Host: Indre Viskontas
One of the costs of being conscious is that, once in a while, we are forced to contemplate the fact that we are mortal. Ironically, a close brush with the grim reaper leaves many people more convinced than ever that our minds are not tethered to our bodies, and therefore can survive physical death. What can these near-death experiences tell us about how well we understand our own consciousness?
To explore this topic, we first talked to anesthesiologist Gerald Woerlee, author of Mortal Minds: The Biology of NDEs to get a sense of what makes NDEs so compelling to people looking for evidence of an afterlife. Then, we sought the expertise of Susan Blackmore, psychologist and author, whose book Consciousness: An Introduction breaks down the complex theories of consciousness into digestible chunks. Dodging the sandtraps of dualism along the way, we speculate on implications of NDEs for meta-consciousness while keeping the mind strictly within the confines of the body.…
Michael Mann - The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Michael Mann, the prominent climatologist and, above all, leading defender of his field—and himself—against political attacks.
Mann is out with a new book this month, which details his ten year battle against political attacks and misrepresentations. It's called The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From the Front Lines.
And already, people are attacking it on Amazon.com without having even read it.
Michael Mann is an American climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. He's a co-founder and contributor to the blog RealClimate.org, and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. He has over 150 peer reviewed publications to his name, and The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars is his second book.…
Dan Kahan - The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate
Host: Chris Mooney
So who's right, factually, about politics and science? Who speaks truth, and who's just spinning?
It's kind of the million dollar question. If we could actually answer it, we'd have turned political debate itself into a... well, a science.
And is such an answer possible? What does the scientific evidence suggest?
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Chris Mooney brought back a popular guest from last year, Yale's Dan Kahan, to discuss this very question-one that they've been emailing about pretty much continually ever since Kahan appeared on the show.
In the episode, Kahan and Mooney not only review but debate the evidence on whether "motivated" ideological biases are the same on both sides of the political aisle—or alternatively, whether they're actually "asymmetrical."
Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at the Yale Law School. He's also the Eli Goldston Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. His research focuses on "cultural cognition"-how our social and political group affiliations affect our views of what's true in contested areas like global warming and nuclear power-and motivated reasoning. Before then, he served as a law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, of the U.S. Supreme Court (1990-91) and to Judge Harry Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1989-90).…
Lawrence Krauss - A Universe from Nothing
Host: Chris Mooney
We had Lawrence Krauss on Point of Inquiry less than a year ago, to discuss his recent book on the scientific works of Richard Feynman.
But in order to keep up with him, we had to have him on again. Already.
You see, Krauss has a new book out that's causing quite a stir right now—A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing.
Here's a hint as to why: Krauss's answer to this age-old question isn't God. In fact, as discussed on the program, Krauss has arguably written the book that "kicks God out of physics."
And along the way, he also manages to explain a heck of a lot of science.
Lawrence Krauss is an the internationally known theoretical physicist and popular author. He has published hundreds of scientific papers, as well as acclaimed books like the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek and Fear of Physics. He's director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University.…
Brian Malow - The Science Comedian
Host: Chris Mooney
Earlier this month, Point of Inquiry host Chris Mooney attended Science Online, the premiere science blogging conference, in the research triangle area.
There were many science aficionados, communicators, and wonks present, but Chris found himself hanging out a lot with Brian Malow—aka, the Science Comedian.
And get this—Malow lived up to his name. He was pretty funny. Chris decided he had to get him on air.
Now, obviously, we couldn't have Malow do stand up for this program. Instead, Chris had to try to... draw humor out of him. And in the process, however inadvertently, he may have even told a joke himself.
Brian Malow describes himself as Earth's Premier Science Comedian. He makes science videos for Time Magazine's website and contributes to Neil deGrasse Tyson's radio show—and performs widely. He's been featured on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and in Nature, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.…
Eugenie Scott - Defending Climate Education
Host: Chris Mooney
Eugenie Scott is no stranger to Point of Inquiry, or to the secular community. Her endless travails to defend the teaching of evolution have won her immense respect.
And that's why, when Scott and her National Center for Science Education take on a new initiative, everybody listens. So for this Point of Inquiry episode, we invited Eugenie to break some news about why she is venturing into a very new and very challenging area—defending the teaching of accurate climate change science in schools from a mounting ideological assault—and how you can help her out.…
Brian Greene - The Fabric of the Cosmos
Host: Chris Mooney
It's the beginning of a new year here at Point of Inquiry, and we've got a pretty good guest to kick it off.
He needs no introduction. He's Brian Greene—celebrity physicist, bestselling author, television star and all around science communication maestro.
Officially: Greene is co-founder and director of Columbia University's Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics, author of the bestselling books The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, and co-founder of the World Science Festival.
We caught up with Greene to discuss the recently aired four part NOVA special based on The Fabric of the Cosmos, as well as, well, sciency things in general.…
Stuart Robbins - The End of the World as We Know It
Host: Karen Stollznow
Dr. Stuart Robbins is a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His work focuses on planetary geophysics, and he’s currently researching craters on Mars, and on the moon. Stuart received his PhD in Astrophysics through the Geophysics program from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Stuart has a special interest in astronomy education, especially correcting myths and misconceptions about astronomy. To that end, he has a blog entitled Exposing PseudoAstronomy, and a podcast by the same name. Since 2012 is supposed to be our last year on earth, again, Stuart dispels some claims about the Mayan Prophecy.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Stuart provides a rundown on the Mayan Long Calendar, and discusses the different calculations and end dates. He talks about the link, or lack thereof, between the calendar and the end of the world. Stuart talks about the many ways in which the world is supposed to end in 2012, via planetary lineups, galactic alignments, pole shifts, crustal displacement, solar flares, or the mysterious Planet X.
Stuart delves into metaphysical claims that 2012 isn’t the catastrophic end of the world, but represents some kind of beginning, or new age of transformation. Finally he tells us, when December 21, 2012 has come and gone, when is the next Armageddon?…
John Cook - The Debunking Handbook
Host: Chris Mooney
How do you successfully debunk misinformation?
The question is a deceptively simple one—which is precisely the problem.
Debunking is easy—just refute false claims, and provide corrective information.
Debunking successfully is something else again-you have to change minds, and make the corrective information stick. And how does that work?
Well, as it turns out, we actually don't know very much about the process. But what we do know was recently compiled into a brilliant short document, the Debunking Handbook, available free for download from the website Skeptical Science.
Point of Inquiry recently caught up with one of its authors, John Cook, in San Francisco at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
John Cook is the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia. He studied physics, and maintains the popular global warming website "Skeptical Science," which refutes misinformation by explaining, in user friendly fashion, the findings of the peer reviewed literature.…
Daniel Dennett - The Scientific Study of Religion
Guest Host: John Shook
Recently, the Center for Inquiry held a conference titled "Daniel Dennett and the Scientific Study of Religion: A Celebration of the Fifth Anniversary of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon". During that conference, John Shook, CFI's Director of Education, sat down with Dennett for this interview.…
Robert McCauley - Why Religion is Natural (And Science is Not)
Host: Chris Mooney
Over the last decade, there have been many calls in the secular community for increased criticism of religion, and increased activism to help loosen its grip on the public.
But what if the human brain itself is aligned against that endeavor?
That's the argument made by cognitive scientist Robert McCauley in his new book, Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not.
In it, he lays out a cognitive theory about why our minds, from a very early state of development, seem predisposed toward religious belief—and not predisposed towards the difficult explanations and understandings that science offers.
If McCauley is right, spreading secularism and critical thinking may always be a difficult battle—although one no less worthy of undertaking.
Dr. McCauley is University Professor and Director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University. He is also the author of Rethinking Religion and Bringing Ritual to Mind.…
Scott Gavura - Dispensing Skepticism
Host: Karen Stollznow
Scott Gavura is a registered pharmacist in Ontario with a personal and professional interest in improving the way we use medication. Scott started the Science-Based Pharmacy blog in 2009 to scrutinize pharmacy practices, and to begin a discussion within the industry about its obligations as a health profession.
Scott has a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and a Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of Toronto, and has completed an Accredited Canadian Hospital Pharmacy Residency Program. His professional background includes pharmacy work in community, hospital and government settings. Scott is also a contributor to the Skeptic North blog and the Science-Based Medicine blog.
In this interview with host Karen Stollznow, Scott talks about the changing scene of the pharmaceutical industry. They discuss the pseudoscientific products and services to be found in compounding pharmacies, integrative pharmacies, and general pharmacies. Scott explains his position on taking supplements, fortified foods and placebo prescriptions, and answers a few practical questions about generic drugs vs. brand name drugs, expiry dates, and storing and disposing of medication. Scott speaks about the new applications of old drugs, and answers the all-time question: How does a pharmacist learn to read a doctor's handwriting?…
Jonathan Weiler - Authoritarians Versus Reality
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist and director of global studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Weiler is co-author, with Marc Hetherington of Vanderbilt, of the book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.
In it, they describes this strange and troubling creature called an authoritarian—usually conservative, usually a religious fundamentalist, and very closed minded.
Authoritarians are identified in surveys by asking people some very simple questions about the qualities that children should have: Whether they should be "independent," for instance, rather than showing respect for their elders. (See here.)
Based on this measure, Weiler and Hetherington show not only that the U.S. is full of authoritarians—but also how people with this psychological profile are driving our political polarization, as well as the divide over factual reality in the U.S
Weiler also writes regularly for the Huffington Post.…
Tom Flynn - The Trouble With Christmas
Host: Robert Price
Ebenezer Scrooge once called Christmas "a false and commercial holiday." Is it? Should Humanists refuse to observe it? Should they wage war on it? Should they celebrate "Sanka" versions of it like Solstice and "HumanLight"? Christians complain that the holiday has become secularized—so should Secular Humanists just say "Thanks!" and enjoy listening to "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland"? As always, Tom Flynn brings new and well-informed perspectives to a difficult issue!
Tom Flynn is the Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism and the editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He is the author of the science-fiction novels Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred, which involve the lore of Mormonism, on which Tom is an authority. He is also a historian of the Freethought movement and a frequent speaker in humanist circles. You would be well advised to mortgage your home and purchase a copy of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, which Tom edited. Perhaps his most notorious book, though, is The Trouble with Christmas, which has a lot to do with this episode.…
Bill Nye - In Praise of Reason (and Skepticism)
Host: Chris Mooney
Recently in New Orleans, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry held the very first CSICON—the conference dedicated to scientific inquiry and critical thinking.
The main honoree: Bill Nye the Science Guy, who was given CSI's premiere "In Praise of Reason" award.
The next day, Point of Inquiry caught up with Nye, a guest who really needs no introduction... at least not to the thousands upon thousands of kids who saw a little show called Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Since then, Nye has has been involved in many other endeavors and television programs to improve science teaching and understanding in our country, including his latest show on Planet Green, "Stuff Happens".
Nye is an engineer, inventor, author, comedian—a supporter of clean energy, and above all a skeptic.…
Seth Shostak - ET, Call SETI
Host: Karen Stollznow
Dr. Seth Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI). Seth is the author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and is well known as one of the hosts of the popular radio show Big Picture Science. (Formerly known as Are We Alone?)
Seth is a science communicator who performs public outreach; especially to young people, about science in general, and astrobiology in particular. He has published hundreds of popular articles on science, and gives dozens of talks annually. He is also a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
In this Point of Inquiry interview with host Karen Stollznow, Seth discusses the "three-pronged effort" to find extraterrestrial life. He believes that while no one can be certain, there is a chance of success within one or two decades, and he explains how this prediction can be made. Seth then explains why, if we find that life, we would need to tread carefully.
Seth talks about SETI's past and present projects, critics and the Fermi paradox, and whether the organization spends more time searching for funding than ETs. He discusses current findings in astronomy, and how these discoveries may affect the SETI search. Lastly, Seth talks about outreach and education, and tells us exactly what the public knows (and doesn't know) about astronomy.…
Jonathan Moreno - Our New Biopolitics
Host: Chris Mooney
Human cloning. Synthetic biology. Mood (and mind) altering drugs. Personalized medicine.
Such topics are rarely at the top of the political agenda. Yet the changes they're causing, often below the radar, are monumental. Issues of personhood, identity, ethics, are at play. The human future may be very different from the human past as these changes are negotiated and assimilated.
And so may human politics.
To help us prepare for this radical future is Jonathan Moreno, author of the new book The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America, which underscores the strange bedfellow allegiances that may occur in what has been called our "biological century."
Jonathan Moreno is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is one of 13 Penn Integrates Knowledge university professors.
He is a historian, medical ethicist, and philosopher, and was part of Barack Obama's transition team.…
Richard C. Johnson - Religion: The Failed Narrative
Host: Robert Price
Richard C. Johnson Ph.D. is a retired chemist and serves as Treasurer for Freethought Arizona.
For some 25 years, the company he founded worked with scientists and researchers in chemical analysis. Through family ties, Richard had long been a kind of participant observer of religion and learned well its social bonding functions, though always remaining suspicious of its metaphysical claims. He observed just too many contradictions in theory and practice to take the beliefs seriously. Here he saw the roots of the terrible present-day conflicts between religions as well as between particular faiths and the rest of the world.
Dr. Johnson is the author of Religion: The Failed Narrative, in which he urges readers to scrutinize religious claims with the simple rational methods of science. Listen to his interview with host Robert M. Price who trivializes the issues with gratuitous references to Uncle Fester and other absurdities.…
Shawn Otto - The Assault on Science
Host: Chris Mooney
In recent months, political attacks on science have been back in the news.
Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman even famously tweeted, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."
So it's very timely that Shawn Lawrence Otto, co-founder of a nonpartisan organization called Science Debate, has got a new book out about this very problem.
It's called Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, and it covers the grand role of science in our country's history, as well as the leading battles of the present. It also tells the story of Science Debate, and how it is trying to inject some reality into the 2012 election.
In addition to being an author and a co-founder of Science Debate, Otto is also a screenwriter, who wrote and co-produced The House of Sand and Fog.…
CSICon - The Conference Dedicated To Scientific Inquiry And Critical Thinking
Host: Adam Isaak
This October-on Halloween weekend-the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is holding a conference: CSICon. It's the latest in a line of CSI skeptics' conferences going back to what is likely the first skeptics' conference ever held, a CSICOP (CSI) conference back in 1983.
This episode of Point of Inquiry revolves around CSICon. It features interviews with Barry Karr, Jim Underdown, and Debbie Goddard.
Barry Karr is the Executive Director of CSI and Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He was at that first conference in 1983 and he's the driving force behind upcoming CSICon. Barry talks about how trends in skepticism have changed throughout the years, what skeptics talked (and worried) about then, what they focus on now, and where they should go from here.
Jim Underdown is Executive Director of CFI LA, Chair and Founder of the Independent Investigations Group (IIG), and lead singer and songwriter for The Heathens, an "all-star, all-atheist, all-skeptic, band from Los Angeles." Jim explains how the band got started, what their music is all about, and where we can hear them play. He also talks about the IIG, their work, and what they're planning to do at CSICon.
Debbie Goddard is Coordinator of the CFI On Campus program and Director of African Americans for Humanism—and more importantly she does the date stamp at the beginning of Point of Inquiry episodes. Debbie is speaking on a panel at CSICon called "Grassroots Outreach and Activism". She talks about skeptical outreach and activism—and why it's important, diversity in the skeptical movement, and how you can get involved.…
Indre Viskontas - The Miracle Detective
Host: Karen Stollznow
Indre Viskontas is a neuroscientist, a soprano, and a skeptic. She is a host of the television show The Miracle Detectives that recently aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Indre appeared as the scientific investigator pitted against "believer" Randall Sullivan, author of the book The Miracle Detective. The show investigates claims of "miracles"; from supposedly miraculous dirt believed to cure cancer, through to a beam of light in a hospital alleged to be an angel of mercy.
In this interview with host Karen Stollznow, Indre talks about her experiences on the show. She tells us which skeptical messages were communicated to the public, and which ended up on the cutting room floor. She discusses how the audience responded to the show; the fact she has influenced viewers in a positive way, but that people are still very reluctant to relinquish their beliefs. Indre also ponders the dangers of these beliefs.
Lastly, Indre explains how to convince people to think more critically, and how to capture a large audience without sacrificing skeptical principles.
Indre Viskontas will be speaking at this year's CSICon in New Orleans, October 27-30.…
Austin Dacey - Rock the Theocrats
Host: Chris Mooney
This coming October, in Kabul, Afghanistan—on a date, and in a location, that remain undisclosed—there will be a rock concert that's billed as the world's "first stealth music festival."
It will feature rock, heavy metal, and funk from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Iran.
Why "stealth"? In some of these countries, music is equivalent to political and religious subversion. Which is precisely why those of us who care about liberal democracy and secularism need to also care, deeply indeed, about music—and ensuring it gets out.
This week, Point of Inquiry spoke to an organizer of the Kabul event, as well as a longtime freethinker, and musician—Austin Dacey. He's head of the Impossible Music Sessions, which describes itself as featuring "the artists who cannot appear and the music that is banned in their homelands."
The purpose of the organization is to bring together musicians, producers, and audiences across cultures, space, and genres to share musical expression-and, enlarge its political potential.
Austin also happens to be a philosopher, author, and human rights activist. His books include The Secular Conscience and, due out next year, The Future of Blasphemy.…
Lee Salisbury - From Faith to Critical Thinking
Host: Robert Price
Lee Salisbury was at one time an up-and-coming Charismatic Christian pastor, even a healer! Then how did he wind up actively involved in the ranks of Minnesota Atheists?
Often successful Christian activists simply cannot allow themselves to entertain doubts as to the worthiness of their enterprise, but Lee had a dangerous yearning for critical thought. It caused him to look back on all he had said and done and to wonder if perhaps he had been kidding himself and others. He left it all behind and turned instead to a new gospel, that of intellectual honesty and responsibility for one's own beliefs.
He is the founder of a number of Critical Thinking Clubs in the Minneapolis area in addition to his involvement in the work of Minnesota Atheists. Listen to his remarkable story as Robert Price puts him on the spot in another exciting installment of Point of Inquiry.…
Rachel Tabachnick - Exposing Dominionism
Host: Chris Mooney
We've heard a lot in the news lately about Dominionists—Christians who believe, basically, that they ought to be running this country.
Dominionism has different strains. But one is embodied in a group called the New Apostolic Reformation, which helped organize a recent prayer rally for Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry.
How seriously should we take this group, and its goals?
To answer that question, Point of Inquiry turned to Rachel Tabachnik, a researcher and writer who focuses on monitoring the Religious Right. She's a contributor to Talk2Action.org, and recently wrote about the New Apostolic Reformation on Alternet.org.…
John Dodes - The Tooth About Dentistry
Host: Karen Stollznow
John Dodes is a dentist with a special interest in dentistry and pseudoscience. He is one of the founding fellows of the Institute for Science in Medicine, a former President and Chairperson of the National Council Against Health Fraud, and a member of the Health Fraud Advisory Council. He is also a member of the American Council on Science and Health, and the Dental Consultant to Quackwatch.org.
John has written about alternative therapies and myths about dentistry for Skeptical Inquirer magazine and many other publications. He is the author of the books The Whole Tooth and Healthy Teeth - A User's Manual. In this interview with Karen Stollznow, John talks about evidence-based dentistry and the inadequate teaching of the scientific method to students of dentistry. He reveals some of the hazardous practices of "Holistic Dentistry", and the integrative use of chiropractic, kinesiology and homeopathy.
John clears up some classic dental myths and misconceptions—is the fluoridation of our water supplies safe? Are we being poisoned by our amalgam fillings? He also discusses some paranormal dental claims; that psychic dentists can fix cavities, and that God can turn fillings into gold.
Lastly, John explains how to avoid dangerous practitioners and treatments and provides advice for consumers to make the best choices about dental healthcare.…
Scott Atran - Violent Extremism and Sacred Values
Host: Chris Mooney
In less than two weeks, the ten year anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil—9/11—will be upon us.
In the past decade, there has been much debate and discussion about the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism. There has also been considerable scientific study of the matter.
Fortunately, Point of Inquiry recently caught up with the anthropologist Scott Atran, a world leader in this research. Atran has met with terrorists face to face. He has interviewed mujahedin, met with Hamas, talked to the plotters of the Bali bombing-and sometimes found his life at risk by doing so.
There's probably nobody better if you want to talk about terrorism, what motivates it, and how these extremes fit within the broad tapestry of human nature.
Scott Atran is a research director in anthropology at the French National Center for Scientific Research, and holds a variety of appointments at other academic institutions. He's also the author of several books including In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion and Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists. He has published frequent op-eds in the New York Times and his research has been published in Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and other leading publications.…
Dan Barker - U-Turn on the Road to Damascus
Host: Robert Price
Host Robert M. Price felt uncannily as if he were talking to himself when he interviewed Dan Barker, the two share so much in common. But then their story is not so unusual, come to think of it. The same sort of thing seems to be happening to more and more Evangelicals these days!
For you see, Dan used to be an Evangelical preacher and a Christian musician. One day he started having second thoughts about the path he once imagined God had chosen for him. Whoever had urged him to pursue the ministry had no idea he was creating a Frankenstein monster—at lease from the fundamentalst viewpoint, for Dan has become a frequent and effective debater against Christian opponents.
With his wife Annie-Laurie Gaylor, Dan is one of the executives of The Freedom from Religion Foundation. His books include Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, and Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists.…
Did Reason Evolve For Arguing? - Hugo Mercier
Host: Chris Mooney
Why are human beings simultaneously capable of reasoning, and yet so bad at it? Why do we have such faulty mechanisms as the "confirmation bias" embedded in our brains, and yet at the same time, find ourselves capable of brilliant rhetoric and complex mathematical calculations?
According to Hugo Mercier, we've been reasoning about reason all wrong. Reasoning is very good at what it probably evolved to let us do—argue in favor of what we believe and try to convince others that we're right.
In a recent and much discussed paper in the journal Behavioral and Brain Research, Mercier and his colleague Dan Sperber proposed what they call an "argumentative theory of reason." "A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis," they write.
Given the discussion this proposal has prompted, Point of Inquiry wanted to hear from Mercier to get more elaboration on his ideas.
Hugo Mercier is a postdoc in the Philosophy, Policy, and Economics program at the University of Pennsylvania. He blogs for Psychology Today.…
Donald Prothero - The Psychology of Cryptozoologists
My guest this week is Donald Prothero, Professor of Geology at Occidental College, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. Don is a distinguished academic; a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Paleontological Society, he has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation.
Don contributes to the SkepticBlog and he has been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Prehistoric Monsters Revealed and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. He has edited and written numerous scientific papers, textbooks and books, including Evolution of the Earth, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, and his most recent title, Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters.
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Karen Stollznow speaks with Don about one of his pet interests, cryptozoology and the psychology of cryptozoologists. He answers the questions, why do people believe in monsters and what do they believe? Is cryptozoology all pseudoscience or are any scientists involved in the field? What would allow cryptozoology to be taken seriously as a true science?
They discuss the language, culture and characters of the "cryptozoological subculture". Lastly, Don reveals why creationists are now exploring cryptozoology, and the reasons why we shouldn't dismiss the study as an "innocent hobby".…
David Frum and Kenneth Silber - Conservatives and Science
Host: Chris Mooney
When it comes to the U.S. political right, it often appears that the opposition to science-and reason in general-is everywhere. From climate change denial to anti-evolutionism; from debt ceiling denial to, that's right, incandescent light bulb availability denial; conservatives today have plenty to answer for.
Fortunately, some conservatives know it. And given how much he has blasted the "Republican War on Science" in the past, on this show Chris Mooney wanted to hear their take.
So he invited on David Frum. Frum is the editor of the group blog Frum Forum, a former speechwriter for the George W. Bush White House, and a widely published author, most recently of Comeback: Conservatism that Can Win Again. In recent years, Frum has become a leading critic of today's GOP and its allegiance with the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
Joining Frum is Kenneth Silber, a frequent contributor to Frum Forum. Silber is a science writer based in New Jersey who contributes to Research Magazine, Scientific American, and other outlets. He calls himself a "center-right dissenter, a deviationist apostle of the Frumian Heresy" and these days, a RINO (Republican in Name Only).…
Jaco Gericke - Confessions of a Died-Again Christian
Host: Robert Price
A couple of student hecklers once reproved Marlowe's Dr. Faustus: "Faustus! Plumb the depths of that which you profess!" Many evangelical Christians have buckled down to study apologetics or biblical studies in just that spirit—and wound up not professing any more! Their stories are often eerily similar yet always fascinating!
And such a delver was Jaco Gericke. First he read the "safe" stuff, then the books they warned him not to read, and then everything else! Today Dr. Gericke is on the faculty of Humanities at North-West University in South Africa. He holds the Doctor of Letters degree in Semitic Languages and a Ph.D. in Old Testament with a specialization in Philosophy of Religion.
He is the author of dozens of published papers and conference presentations. One of his essays, "Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?" appears in the new John W. Loftus anthology, The End of Christianity from Prometheus Books. His quest is strikingly similar to that of Point of Inquiry host Robert M. Price, who interviews him here. You're welcome to come and compare notes.…
Rebecca Watson - Skepticism and Feminism
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Rebecca Watson, the founder of the Skepchick blog. Recently, she's been at the center of an explosive controversy over the relationship between feminism and the skeptic/atheist movement.
It all started when Watson made a relatively casual remark in a video to her followers. She was discussing her travels and a talk she'd given in Ireland about sexism in the atheist/skeptic community. Overall, Watson said, the response to her remarks had been great—but then she added something else. After the talk, she said, she'd received an advance from a man in an elevator—a man who apparently didn't get the message.
"Guys, don't do that," said Watson. "I was a single woman in a foreign country at 4 am in a hotel elevator with you. Just you. Don't invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner."
In one way or another—and with many other debate participants involved-this story led to thousands upon thousands of blog comments, and an outpouring of support-and criticism. So Point of Inquiry asked Watson to address the controversy, and to talk more generally about atheism and feminism.
Rebecca Watson is the founder of the Skepchick blog, a co-host of the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast, and a prominent speaker and commenter on skepticism, feminism, freethought, and the religious right.…
Richard Wiseman - Paranormality
Host: Karen Stollznow
Richard Wiseman is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England. Richard began his career as a professional magician before pursuing a career in psychology, and developing a reputation for research into luck, deception, the paranormal, humor, and the science of self-help.
Richard is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Skeptical Inquirer consulting editor. He is the author of many books, including The Luck Factor, Quirkology and 59 Seconds.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Richard talks about his latest book, Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There. Instead of examining paranormal phenomena, he discusses why it's more worthwhile to investigate the insights paranormal phenomena tell us about our brains, behavior and beliefs. Richard explains why we're "wired for weird", demonstrates how skeptics can perform "miracles", and reveals the real secrets of the supernatural.…
Matthew Chapman - The Ledge
Host: Chris Mooney
It's not often that Hollywood takes up the subject of atheism directly—much less sympathetically.
Even rarer is finding this in a film starring major names like Liv Tyler and Terence Howard.
But that's what Matthew Chapman has achieved in The Ledge—which also stars Patrick Wilson and Charlie Hunnan.
Besides being a screenwriter and author, Chapman himself is an atheist, freethinker, science advocate, and great-great grandson of Charles Darwin.
Without giving away the plot of The Ledge—which opens on July 8 in New York and Los Angeles—suffice it to say that it is a gutsy defense of freethinking and unbelief, framed as a star-studded romantic thriller. And perhaps even more than any work of nonfiction, it may have a unique potential to drive a national conversation about atheism.
So recently, Chris Mooney caught up with Matthew Chapman for lunch in New York City to interview him about the film, what inspired it, and what he hopes its impact will be.…
D.M. Murdock - The Christ Conspiracy
Host: Robert Price
D.M. Murdock, who also goes by the pen name "Acharya S.," is the author of The Christ Conspiracy, the most controversial of modern treatments of the Christ Myth theory. She has had to field flack from both apologists and atheists.
An independent scholar of comparative religion and mythology, Murdock was educated in Classics and Greek Civilization, at Franklin & Marshall College and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. She has traveled extensively around Greece, participating in the archaeological excavation at Corinth, in addition, probably, to eating loads of squid.
Her other books include Suns of God, Who Was Jesus? and Christ in Egypt. Her articles and books can be found at her websites TruthBeKnown.com, StellarHousePublishing.com and FreethoughtNation.com. Point of Inquiry is happy to feature an interview with Acharya by fellow Jesus Mythicist Robert M. Price (assuming, of course, that both of them exist!).…
Rick Perlstein - Is There a Republican War on History?
Host: Chris Mooney
Recently, we've seen a spate of news stories—and news incidents—involving conservative politicians and activists getting details wrong about American history.
There was, most infamously, Sarah Palin saying that Paul Revere, on his famous midnight ride, rang bells and "warned the British."
There was Michele Bachman, claiming that the founding fathers "worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." Actually, the constitution explicitly treated slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning representatives to different states.
And then was David Barton, conservatives' go-to guy on history, suggesting that Tom Paine was, basically, a supporter of creationism.
To try to figure out what's going on lately with conservatives and history, we turn to a historian, Rick Perlstein. Perlstein is the author of several books including Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of American Consensus, and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. He's also a regular contributor to a variety of publications including The American Prospect and Mother Jones.…
Jean Mercer - Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings
Host: Karen Stollznow
This week’s guest is Jean Mercer, a Developmental Psychologist and Professor Emerita at Richard Stockton College. She is the author of the new book Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings.
Jean writes the blog "Child Myths", and along with Penn Jillette and Richard Dawkins, she is a co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. Jean is also a contributor and Consulting Editor to the Center for Inquiry’s journal, the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Jean talks about the developing field of developmental psychology. Jean jokes that "studying child development isn’t rocket science…it’s a lot more complicated than that!" This is an area that is fraught with myths, mistakes and misconceptions; Jean explains how these develop and the often serious repercussions.
Jean discusses the importance of critical thinking about child development. Pseudoscientific therapies often have the semblance of science, so what information can we trust? Jean talks about the emphasis on evidence-based practice in developmental psychology, and why we have to think critically about that too.…
Michael Shermer - The Believing Brain
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine and head of the Skeptics Society, and a longtime commentator on issues relating to science, critical thinking, and the paranormal.
Chris asked Michael on to discuss his new book, which is entitled The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies, How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths.
Clearly, much of what Shermer has to say here will be of great relevance to skeptics and freethinkers—and along the way, Shermer also discusses his views on global warming (real, but not such a big deal) and how to promote evolution in a religious America.
In addition to publishing Skeptic, Michael Shermer is a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. His other books include Why People Believe in Weird Things and Why Darwin Matters.…
Scott Lohman - Star Trek and Humanism
Host: Robert Price
Do you often wish you lived in the far future? Or on a different planet? Do your friends and family think you belong there, too?
Cheer up! This may not be just because you're a science fiction nerd! It may be because you espouse a worldview that is in the distinct minority in our time and place—Secular Humanism! It is a vision of a better future. And that is no doubt why many of us feel such an affinity for SF, and of course for Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. It is a vision of a future when scientific Humanism has prevailed.
Join Robert Price, himself a notorious Sci-Fi/Fantasy geek, as he interviews the far more respectable Scott Lohman, a lifelong Trekker and a prominent leader and broadcaster for Humanists of Minnesota.
And by the way, did you know Captain Kirk never once said the words "Beam me up, Scottie"?…
Jonathan Kay - Among the Truthers
Host: Chris Mooney
From Birthers, to Truthers, to Deathers—to occasional Liars—America seems to be crawling right now with fevered conspiracy mongers. What's up with that?
To find out, Point of Inquiry turns in this episode to Jonathan Kay, author of the new book Among the Truthers: A Journey into America's Growing Conspiracist Underground. In it, Kay provides a fascinating look at some of our indigenous kooks, and why they seem to be thriving right now.
Jonathan Kay is the managing editor of Canada's National Post newspaper and a weekly columnist for its op-ed page.
Kay's writing covers a diversity of subjects, and he's been published in a variety of outlets including Commentary, the New York Post, Reader's Digest, and the New Yorker. In 2002, he was awarded Canada's National Newspaper Award for Critical Writing, and in 2004 he won a National Newspaper Award for Editorial Writing.…
Robert Sheaffer - It's a Conspiracy
Host: Karen Stollznow
Robert Sheaffer is a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry fellow and author of the "Psychic Vibrations" column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He writes the "Bad UFO" blog and "The Debunker's Domain" website, and is the author of The UFO Verdict: Examining the Evidence, UFO Sightings - The Evidence and The Making of the Messiah: Christianity and Resentment.
A prolific researcher of supernatural claims, Robert specializes in UFOs and conspiracy theories. Many favor the term "investigator", but he doesn't shy away from the label "debunker".
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Robert talks about his observations of pseudoscience and the paranormal over the 30-year course of his column. He presents us with a potted history of UFOs, and discusses the trends over time in both belief and skepticism. The evidence is as poor (or non-existent) as ever, but the fascination is stronger than ever.
Robert delves into the themes of conspiracy theories; what are the things "they" don't want us to know? He speaks about how and why they emerge and how we can tackle them. He answers the question, "Have any conspiracy theories ever turned out to be correct, or is a "true conspiracy theory" really something else?"…
Chris Mooney - Accommodationism and the Psychology of Belief
Special Guest Host: Ronald A. Lindsay
In this special episode, Chris Mooney changes places and becomes the interviewee—and then finds himself facing some probing questions from CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay. This frank interview is all substance and no fluff as Mooney is asked to defend accommodationism and his Templeton Foundation fellowship. The tough questions elicit vigorous replies as Mooney restates his belief that some of the New Atheists are adopting the wrong tactics in criticizing religion.
In the second part of the interview, Mooney discusses his recent work on the psychology of belief in general, emphasizing how our commitments and our values shape our reasoning and our processing of information.
Ronald A. Lindsay is a bioethicist, lawyer, and President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. For many years he practiced law in Washington, DC, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University, where he taught jurisprudence and philosophy courses.
As well as a usual host of Point of Inquiry, Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.
Note: This episode was recorded on board the 2011 CFI Greek Islands Cruise on which Mooney was a speaker.…
Bo Bennett - Christian Nontheism
Host: Robert Price
Robert "Bo" Bennett wears many hats (author, motivational speaker, black belt Karate master, businessman, etc.) but manages not to have a swelled head to accommodate them! His latest book is called The Concept: Introduction to Christian Nontheism, an accessible and engaging presentation of the case for maintaining one's Christian identity once one has outgrown belief in biblical inspiration, miracles, even God. True, if anyone else in your church found out, they might kick you out, but you wouldn't have a guilty conscience! How to manage this? Is it a mere mind-game? Why bother? What makes Christianity still attractive once the beliefs are gone? This is one interview certain to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable!…
George Lakoff - Enlightenments, Old and New
Host: Chris Mooney
George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist at the University of California at Berkeley. But unlike many of his scientific peers, he's known as much for his work on politics as for his research.
Lakoff the famed author of many books on why the left and right disagree about politics, including Moral Politics, Don't Think of an Elephant, Thinking Points, and most recently, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain.
Throughout these works Lakoff has applied cognitive and linguistic analysis to our political rifts, and his ideas about "framing," "metaphor," and the different moral systems of liberals and conservatives have become very widely known and influential.…
Josh Rosenau - The Evolution Revolution
Host: Karen Stollznow
Our guest this week is Josh Rosenau, the Programs and Policy Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and writer of the blog "Thoughts from Kansas" at ScienceBlogs.
Josh has pursued a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas, studying the ways ecological competition shapes the ecological niche and geographical ranges of species. In his role at the NCSE, he works with grassroots groups, testifies before school boards, meets with legislators, works with scientists to be more effective communicators and the public to increase science literacy globally.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Josh presents the "Three Pillars of Creationism", the beliefs and claims of creationists. He describes their rhetoric and propaganda, and the setbacks they cause for science, from legal cases to creationist theme parks.
Josh also talks about some recent successes for science. The NCSE works tirelessly to battle creationists and improve the public understanding of evolution. But this is an organization that aims to "go out of business", and where the staff members ultimately aim to be out of their jobs.…
Nuclear Risk and Reason - David Brenner and David Ropeik
Host: Chris Mooney
When the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan last month, it left behind not only mass destruction, but also a nuclear crisis that was covered 24-7 by the international media.
Since then, we've been embroiled in a huge debate about nuclear policy—should there be a "Nuclear Renaissance" in the United States, or should we put it on hold?
A central issue underlying all this is the scientific question of risk. How dangerous is radiation, anyway? Do we overreact to reactors?
To tackle that question, we turned to two different guests. One is one of the world's foremost experts on radiation exposure and its health consequences; the other is a journalist who's done a new book about why we often misperceive risk, to our own detriment.
David Brenner is the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University. His research focuses on understanding the effects of radiation, at both high and low doses, on living systems, and he has published more than 200 papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Dr. Brenner was the recipient of the 1991 Radiation Research Society Annual Research Award, and the 1992 National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements Award for Radiation Protection in Medicine.
David Ropeik is an author, consultant, and speaker on risk communication and risk perception, and an instructor in the Harvard University School of Education, Environmental Management program. He's the author of the 2010 book How Risky is it Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts.…
August Berkshire - Minnesota Atheist
Host: Robert Price
One of the outstanding leaders of organized atheism in our day is a man named August Berkshire. He is a non-believer of broad sympathies, having served as an officer and/or board member of organizations as diverse as Minnesota Atheists, Atheist Alliance International, Humanists of Minnesota, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and others.
He is also a community activist at the forefront of church-state separation issues. August brings a winning charm and personal openness to numerous speaking engagements throughout the numerous college and high school classrooms in the Minneapolis area every year. He is a prolific author of thought-provoking anti-theological pamphlets and the caretaker of a website, AugustBerkshire.com.
In this wide-ranging conversation with Robert Price, Berkshire discusses his history as an atheist activist. He explains his approach to talking about atheism to the public and why it works. He talks about what atheist activists can learn from the LGBTQ movement, why we need to come out as atheists, when we should work with religious groups and when we shouldn't, and much more.…
Lawrence Krauss - Quantum Man
Host: Chris Mooney
Physicist Lawrence Krauss has written numerous popular books about science, including the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek.
But now he's tried something different—penning a scientific biography of the famed Nobel Prize winning physicist (and infamous bon vivant) Richard Feynman.
The resulting book, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science, is a fascinating look at the scientific innovations of this larger-than-life figure—a man who also revolutionized physics teaching at Caltech, played a central role in investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and was notorious for hanging out in strip clubs and playing the bongos.
So Point of Inquiry reached Krauss to learn what writing this book was like, and what he learned about Feynman, and about physics at the very highest level, in the process.
Lawrence Krauss is an internationally known theoretical physicist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. He's published hundreds of scientific papers as well as numerous popular books, including The Physics of Star Trek, Fear of Physics, and The Fifth Essence.…
Cheryl Russell - Society, Statistics and Skepticism
Host: Karen Stollznow
My guest this week is Cheryl Russell, a recognized authority on statistics and demographics.
Cheryl is the editorial director of New Strategist Publications and the former editor-in-chief of American Demographics magazine. She is the author of the "Demo Memo" blog and the books The Master Trend, 100 Predictions for the Baby Boom and Bet You Didn't Know: Hundreds of Intriguing Facts about Living in the USA.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Cheryl reveals that demographic information challenges deeply embedded beliefs about society and explains why there is such a gap between belief and reality. She shows that statistics and demography are not so dull, but instead they afford us a fascinating glimpse into society.
Cheryl explains that typically, the more economically developed the country, the lower the religiosity. Paradoxically, the United States is one of the world's most religious countries. Cheryl discusses some statistics about belief. What percentage of Americans believe in god without a doubt? Do Americans think it is necessary to believe in God to be moral? How many people believe in religious miracles? How many believe in evolution? How reliable are these statistics anyway?…
Spirituality: Friend or Foe? - Adam Frank and Tom Flynn
Host: Chris Mooney
Recently, it has come to light that many scientists—scientists who don't believe in God--nevertheless claim to be "spiritual but not religious." Some in the secular movement have responded favorably to this new trend-one unfolding against the backdrop of an increasingly secular America, and a millennial generation that is also discarding traditional religion while extolling spiritual meaning.
Yet others are sharply opposed, calling secular "spirituality" little more than a semantic gambit, a misappropriation of misleading, faith-infused language.
In this week's show, we present two different takes on whether we should embrace, or discard, the concept of godless spirituality.
Our first guest, Adam Frank, is a nonbeliever with a deep respect for the domains of human spiritual endeavor who represents the pro-spirituality view. Frank is an assistant professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, where he studies the formation and evolution of stars. He's also a freelance writer for Discover and Astronomy magazines, a blogger at NPR's 13.7, and author of the book The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate.
Our second guest, Tom Flynn, is a non-believer represents the anti-spirituality view. He's the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, director of Inquiry Media Productions, and director of the Robert G. Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, among many other accomplishments. He has written numerous books, both fictional and non fictional, including 1993's famed (and in-famed) The Trouble with Christmas.…
Frank Zindler - The Christ Myth
Host: Robert Price
One of the most effective (not to mention hilarious) speakers for atheism and secular humanism today is Frank Zindler, author, linguist, translator, Bible scholar, and scientist—truly a Renaissance Man.
He is an advocate as well for the much-despised but increasingly hard to ignore Christ Myth hypothesis, which he has ably defended in books such as The Jesus the Jews Never Knew and articles like "Where Jesus Never Walked."
He was acting President of American Atheists in 2008 and is editor of both The American Atheist Magazine and American Atheist Press. Frank has also been on the ground floor of The Jesus Project and the Secular Criticism of the Bible group of the Society of Biblical Literature. Though a veteran in the rationalist field, Frank Zindler always manages to supply new and unique insights even on the most familiar questions.
He has debated William Lane Craig and many others. Come and see if he'll be just as tough on Point of Inquiry host Robert M. Price!…
Neil deGrasse Tyson - Communicating Science
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week needs little introduction—he may be our most famous public communicator of science.
He's Neil DeGrasse Tyson, renowned American astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and the host of PBS's NOVA ScienceNow, which just completed a new six part season.
Tyson is also the author of 9 books, most recently Death By Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries, which was a New York Times bestseller, and The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet.
In this double length episode, Tyson discusses a wide range of topics: the just finished 2011 season of ScienceNow; how to restore a science "Zeitgeist" in our culture; Bill O'Reilly's recent foot-in-mouth comments about how the world works; this million-view YouTube clip of Tyson and Richard Dawkins; and much more.…
Michael Cicchini - Myths, Misconceptions, and the Law
Host: Karen Stollznow
Michael Cicchini is a criminal defense attorney and a skeptic.
Through extensive research and writing in the field of criminal law he has advocated for defendants' rights. Super Lawyers and Milwaukee Magazine have named him among "The Top Young Lawyers" for four consecutive years.
Michael is the author of the book But They Didn't Read Me My Rights: Myths, Oddities, and Lies about our Legal System, that debunks assumptions and misconceptions about the American Legal System. He is also author of the blog "The Legal Watchdog" where he employs critical thinking to critique case decisions and report on other legal issues.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Michael shares some urban legends and absurdities to be found about the United States justice system. He talks about the effect of popular culture on the public perception of the law, and reveals that when it comes to the law, fact is often stranger than fiction.
Michael discusses critical thinking in the courtroom, reason in legal reasoning, logic in the law, and the role of evidence in a trial. He also speaks about the influence of religious belief on laws that are passed in this country and why old laws rarely ever go away.…
Dan Kahan - The American Culture War of Fact
Host: Chris Mooney
Why do Americans claim to love science, but then selectively reject its findings when they're inconvenient? And why do some cultural groups reject certain types of scientific findings (about, say, harm to the environment), whereas others reject others?
Yale law professor Dan Kahan is doing some of the most cutting edge work right now when it comes to figuring this out. Kahan is trying to resolve what he has called the "American Culture War of Fact," by determining how it is that our core values-whether we are "individualists" or "communitarians," "hierarchs" or "egalitarians"—can sometimes interfere with our perceptions of reality.
Most intriguingly—or, if you prefer, disturbingly—Kahan has found that deep-seated values even determine who we consider to be a scientific expert in the first place.
His results have very large implications for how to depolarize an array of scientific issues-and how to communicate about controversial science in general.
Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law at Yale Law School. In addition to risk perception, his areas of research include criminal law and evidence. He has served as a law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court (1990-91) and to Judge Harry Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1989-90).…
Don Webb - Devil's Advocate
Host: Robert Price
The nineties witnessed an outbreak of "Satanic Panic," with psychologists dredging up false memories of "Satanic ritual abuse" which landed innocent parents in jail and banked the fires of hysteria. It seemed the Salem Witch Trials had returned! But what is Satanism? Are there actually murderous, nihilistic cults sacrificing human lives? Were there?
Actual Satanism seems to be much more innocent, despite a name which invites negative publicity. In this respect Satanism is not unlike atheism. A "dirty word," it seeks to be a positive force. But how can that be if Satanists worship the devil? The Church of Satan, founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey, was a hedonistic and theatrical form of religious humanism, a cult of campy schtick. But from it emerged, in 1975, the Temple of Set, founded by Michael Aquino. This new sect describes itself as Neo-Platonic and reveres Set, an ancient deity understood as a force of will, challenge, and self-development. This religion defies most stereotypes, and thus ought to be of special interest to rationalists, skeptics, and humanists who are weary of debating standard-brand Christian theism.
Don Webb, weird fiction author and High Priest of the Temple of Set, is our guest this week. Join host Robert Price as he interrogates this remarkable figure. How do you play Devil's Advocate with a guy who has been an active practitioner of the Left Handed Path of magic for three decades? Some of Don's fiction is available in the collection When They Came. Nonfiction books include Seven Faces of Darkness and Uncle Setnakt's Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path. Don't miss an unparalleled opportunity to learn the inside story of real Satanism, as opposed to tabloid hysteria.…
Art Caplan - Bioethics Comes of Age
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Arthur Caplan, sometimes called the country's "most quoted bioethicist" and director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. In this wide ranging episode, Caplan discusses not only the latest issues and problems in his field, but also how those issues have changed over time.
Fresh from the ideological fights of the Bush administration-over culture war issues like stem cells, cloning, and Terri Schiavo-bioethicists like Caplan are now more focused on practical matters like access to healthcare. And so is the country as a whole.
However, the religious right remains active-encouraging pharmacists to claim a right of "conscience" and refuse to give patients the "morning after pill." Meanwhile, as an excuse to restrict abortion, some are now also making the dubious assertion that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation.
So in this interview, Caplan surveys the leading problems in bioethics today-and those we'll be facing in the very near future.
Arthur Caplan is the Emmanuel and Robert Hart Director of the Center for Bioethics, and the Sydney D Caplan Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He's the author or editor of twenty-nine books-most recently Smart Mice Not So Smart People (Rowman Littlefield, 2006) and the Penn Guide to Bioethics (Springer, 2009)—and over 500 papers in refereed journals. He writes a regular column on bioethics for MSNBC.com.…
Joe Nickell - The Other Side
Host: Karen Stollznow
Joe Nickell is one of the world's most prominent skeptical investigators of the paranormal. He has researched numerous historical, paranormal, and forensic mysteries, myths and hoaxes, including hauntings, crop circles, UFOs, psychic claims, the Shroud of Turin, and the purported diary of Jack the Ripper.
Joe is a Senior Research Fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and writes the Investigative Files column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He is the author of many books, such as Real-Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal, Secrets of the Sideshows and Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Joe discusses his areas of expertise, and why investigation is an important and necessary part of skepticism. He talks about whether anyone can investigate the paranormal, and shares some of the mistakes made by investigators; not only paranormal investigators, but also skeptical paranormal investigators. Joe mentions some advances in the area of investigation, and the pros and cons of recreating paranormal claims versus trying to capture paranormal phenomena.
Most people know Joe as an investigator, however, there are many surprising sides to him. He speaks about his many careers, and how he infuses skepticism into all of his roles.…
The Irrationality Vaccine - Seth Mnookin
Host: Chris Mooney
Recently the British Medical Journal dealt yet another blow to 1998 scientific study that first terrified the public about the possibility that vaccines might cause autism. The paper, the Journal alleged, was nothing less than "fraudulent." (http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c7452.full)
Amazingly, however, no one expects anti-vaccine advocates to retract, change their minds, or cease their activities. Which raises the question: How did they grow so strongly and doggedly convinced to begin with?
That's where Seth Mnookin's new book The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear comes in. It tells the page turning story behind the thoroughly refuted-but still devoutly believed—claim of a link between vaccines and autism. The book explores not only the science, but also the parents involved, the autism advocacy and support community, and the crucial role of the media, the Internet, and celebrities like Jenny McCarthy in spreading misinformation about vaccines.
Seth Mnookin is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and was previously a senior writer at Newsweek. He's the author of two previous books: Hard News: The Scandals at the New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media and the bestselling Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top, about the Boston Red Sox. The Panic Virus is his third book.…
Hector Avalos - The End of Biblical Studies
Host: Robert Price
Robert Price interviews fellow Bible Geek and secular Bible scholar Hector Avalos on a wide range of topics, from the increasingly devotional character of the Society of Biblical Literature to law enforcement in the Bible and whether Ezekiel was seeing a flying saucer.
Did Abraham exist? How about Moses? David? Solomon? Jesus? Is there a future for Biblical Studied as we relegate it to the same level as the Iliad and the Odyssey?
Hector Avalos serves as professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. Once upon a time, he was a Pentecostal preacher and a child evangelist. Since then he has earned a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1982, a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 1985, and a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University in 1991. His many books include Illness and Healthcare in the Ancient Near East, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, and The End of Biblical Studies.…
Barry Kosmin - One Nation, Losing God
Host: Chris Mooney
By now you've probably heard the finding-the United States is growing less godly. More precisely, more and more Americans in surveys report that they lack a religious identity.
These are the so-called "nones," and they already comprise 15 percent of the total population. But there are estimates that their numbers will continue to grow and could someday even surpass major denominations like Catholicism (currently 24 % of the country). Being a "none" is particularly popular among those aged 18-29.
Barry Kosmin is the nation's leading expert on the "nones," a group that he studies through the ARIS, or American Religious Identification Survey. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, he discusses where America is heading with respect to its religious identity, why this change is occurring, and what the implications will be for secular advocacy in the future.
Barry Kosmin is a sociologist and research professor in the Public Policy & Law Program at Trinity College, and founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. Dr. Kosmin has been a principal investigator of the American Religious Identification Survey series since its inception in 1990 as well as national social surveys in Europe, Africa, and Asia. His publications include One Nation under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society (1993) and Religion in a Free Market (2006).…
Reed Esau - SkeptiCamp: The Unconference
Host: Karen Stollznow
Reed Esau is a skeptical activist and one of the founders of SkeptiCamp. Also known as Open Events, these are informal, community-organized conference where speakers tackle issues regarding science and skepticism. SkeptiCamp encourages participation as well as observation.
A software architect by trade, Reed is author of the blog "An Illustrative Account", and he writes for the James Randi Educational Foundation's blog Swift. Reed is also a contributor to Skeptical Inquirer magazine for which he wrote the article "Reinventing the Skeptical Conference".
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Reed discusses the unique model of SkeptiCamp, which he calls an "unconference". He explains how these differ to traditional conferences that feature "celebrity skeptics" over local and regional speakers. He speaks about how these Open Events aim to distribute knowledge within the community, and reach people beyond the community.
Must every skeptic contribute to skepticism? Does calling oneself a "skeptic" imply that one is active? Reed addresses these questions, and talks about what he calls the "Long Tail" of skepticism, and how skeptics can move from a more passive role in the movement to become participants. A self-confessed "Armchair Skeptic" for twenty years, Reed speaks about how he got out of the armchair to become involved in the community.…
Why Facts Fail - Brendan Nyhan
Ever been in an argument with someone and felt massively frustrated, because nothing you can say seems to change the person's mind?
Maybe that's what you should expect to happen. Maybe you should get used to it.
According to University of Michigan political scientist Brendan Nyhan, that's how our minds work-and it's not just that. When it comes to politics, people who believe incorrect things tend to be strongly convinced that they're right, and moreover, often become stronger in that conviction when they're refuted.
It's a pretty alarming aspect of human nature-but in this interview, Nyhan explains how we know what we do about people's intransigent clinging to misperceptions, and how we can work to change that.
Brendan Nyhan is a political scientist and Robert Wood Johnson scholar in health policy research at the University of Michigan. He was previously a co-author of the political debunking website Spinsanity.com, and co-author of the New York Times bestselling book All The President's Spin. He blogs at www.brendan-nyhan.com.…
Roger Nygard - The Nature of Existence
Host: Robert Price
Roger Nygard recently produced and directed a feature documentary called The Nature of Existence. In it, he asks some of the biggest of questions to "the widest cross-section of humanity possible." Why do we exist? What is our purpose? What is truth? He asked these and many other substantial questions to individuals with a wide range of worldviews—from Richard Dawkins, to 24th generation Chinese Taoist Master Zhang Chengda, to the founder of Ultimate Christian Wrestling, Rob Adonis.
In this wide-ranging conversation with Robert Price, Nygard discusses whether or not it's worthwhile to distinguish between "normal" religions and "weird" fringe belief systems. He talks about some common themes and huge differences in the worldviews he explored, and whether or not he found any of the worldviews to be helpful or genuinely harmful.
He talks about the conflict between science and religion, and even shares his own best guess at the meaning of existence.
Roger Nygard has directed, produced, written, and edited for film and television. He directed and edited Trekkies (1999), Trekkies 2 (2004), and Six Days in Roswell (2000), a docu-comedy about UFO enthusiasts.
For television, he has directed and edited episodes of the HBO series, The Mind of the Married Man, edited episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and directed episodes of the FOX series The Bernie Mac Show and The Loop, the NBC series The Office, the DisneyXD series Zeke & Luther, and many others.
The Nature of Existence is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.…
The Future of Atheism: Beyond the Question of God
Host: Chris Mooney
Recently at Pomona College in California, three atheists—one of them a Point of Inquiry host—got together to debate the future of the movement.
And some sparks flew.
Topics raised included the rise of the so-called "nones" (those professing "no religion" in surveys), the lack of representation for atheists in the U.S. Congress, and the debate between moderate or "live-and-let-live" atheism as opposed to a louder and more aggressive version.
Despite their disagreement, it was clear that it’s an exciting time for the movement, as atheism becomes more visible in American life. Where do we go from here?
The students in the packed audience have that in their hands.
Panel participants were:
David Silverman, president of American Atheists. Mr. Silverman attended Brandeis University and specialized in computer science; he worked as an inventor at Bell Labs for 8 years. He then served at American Atheists as national spokesperson, vice president, and finally president, a post he assumed this year.
Hemant Mehta writes the "Friendly Atheist" blog and serves on the board of directors of the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Secular Student Alliance. He has also appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and is author of the book I Sold My Soul on eBay, released in 2007.
Chris Mooney is a host of Point of Inquiry.…
James Randi and D.J. Grothe - Amaz!ng Skepticism
Host: Karen Stollznow
This week is a special episode featuring interviews with two guests, James Randi and D.J. Grothe.
James Randi is a world-renowned magician and the modern-day Houdini of skepticism. He is the author of numerous books, including Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions and the forthcoming A Magician in the Laboratory. He is the founder and Chairman of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). This interview was recorded live at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 in Las Vegas, 2010.
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Randi reflects on his life's work. He speaks about his organization and his role as a central figure in skepticism. He also talks about the JREF's One Million Dollar Challenge, claims he'd like to test, and Sylvia Browne's infamous reluctance to be tested, despite accepting the challenge.
More recently, Karen spoke with D.J. Grothe, President of the JREF and Host of the podcast For Good Reason. Grothe is the former Vice President for Outreach at the Center for Inquiry, and of course, the former Host of Point of Inquiry.
Grothe speaks about the JREF’s mission, and the greatest successes and challenges of the organization. He discusses his plans to "put the 'E' into the JREF" by focusing on education, and talks about his tireless work in skeptical outreach and activism.…
John Abraham and Scott Mandia - Climate Science Strikes Back
Host: Chris Mooney
For the community of scientists who study the Earth’s climate, these are bewildering times.
They've seen wave upon wave of political attacks. They're getting accustomed to a public that grows more skeptical of their conclusions even as scientists grow more confident in them.
No wonder there’s much frustration out there in the climate science world—and now, a group of researchers have organized to do something about it. Their initiative is called the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, and it pledges to organize dozens of researchers to help set the record straight.
But can scientists really maintain a war room? What would that look like? How far can they go in fighting back against misinformation, without leaving themselves politically exposed?
To answer these questions, Point of Inquiry called up two of the initiative's founders: John Abraham and Scott Mandia.
John Abraham is an associate professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has some 80 published papers, conference papers, and patents to his name.
Scott Mandia is a professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, New York. He runs the “Global Warming Fact of the Day” group on Facebook, and is known as @AGW_Prof on Twitter.…
Ronald A. Lindsay - Observations on Ethics, Law, and CFI
Host: Robert Price
How did his studies at Catholic Georgetown University set CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay on the primrose path to atheism? Does he now count himself a lawyer or a philosopher, neither, or both? Point of Inquiry asks Ron about the basis for ethics for atheists and secularists. Are atheists nihilists, as is often said? Would that necessarily be bad? Host Robert Price and Lindsay carry on a brisk, illuminating discussion of Aquinas, Kant, and Hume, applying their insights to ethics and public policy.
One often hears secularists complaining that religious believers are voting the theological party line of their church, e.g., in the case of abortion. But does it matter where their moral convictions come from? Is it the genetic fallacy for us to say they are trying to "impose their theology on the rest of us"? Ron also comments on the problem with posting the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. Finally, he provides his privileged perspective on the direction and approach of CFI since the departure of founder Paul Kurtz.…
Massimo Pigliucci - Nonsense on Stilts
Host: Chris Mooney
It’s a longstanding debate in the philosophy of science: Is "demarcation" possible? Can we really draw firm lines between science and pseudoscience?
Massimo Pigliucci thinks so. In his new book Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, Pigliucci attempts to rescue the notion that there are claims we can rule out, and claims we can rule in—a real means of determining what’s science and what isn’t.
Along the way, Pigliucci touches on howlers like creationism and astrology, and borderland areas of research like SETI—and weighs whether science can ever hope to test claims about the supernatural.
Massimo Pigliucci is chair of the philosophy department at CUNY-Lehman College. He was formerly a professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook. He’s a prolific blogger and commentator on issues concerning science and skepticism and a prominent battler of creationists and other nonsense peddlers. You can find him online at rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com.…
Warren Bonett - Down Under Reason
Host: Karen Stollznow
Warren Bonett is a skeptic, author and an independent bookseller. Warren wanted to become actively involved in critical thinking without joining an organization or becoming an –ism, so he opened "Embiggen Books". This is a unique store specializing in skeptical and science titles... right in the middle of a New Age township. He has been told that his store has "great feng shui."
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Warren recommends books for those who are new to skepticism, and suggests titles to introduce children to science and critical thinking.
Warren is also a bookseller who has edited a book. He is editor and contributor to The Australian Book of Atheism. This project includes 32 essays about religion and secularism written by pre-eminent Australian atheist, rationalist, humanist, and skeptic thinkers, including Russell Blackford, Tim Minchin, Graham Oppy, Robyn Williams, and Martin Bridgstock.
Its blurb states that the book "showcases the unique character of Australian atheism." Warren tells us exactly what is unique about atheism in Australia, and discusses the issues that are specific to Australian society.…
Carl Zimmer - This is Your Brain on iPad
Host: Chris Mooney
On the show this week, Point of Inquiry features one of our most distinguished science writers—Carl Zimmer. He's the author of many acclaimed books, including Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, and now he’s taken on an experiment: Publishing his next book, Brain Cuttings, as an e-book, digital only.
The book collects Carl’s many writings about the brain—including essays about why we zone out, whether Google is making us stupid, and perhaps most memorable of all, the Singularity folks who think our brains will soon be downloadable. Needless to say, Zimmer isn’t quite so sure.
In a wide ranging conversation, Zimmer also discussed why science’s biggest undiscovered continent is inside our heads—and what our growing understanding of the brain means for the future of religion.
Carl Zimmer has been called "as fine a science essayist as we have" by the New York Times Book Review. He contributes regularly the New York Times science section, as well as numerous other publications, and blogs for Discover magazine’s Discover Blogs site. In addition, he’s the author of seven books, including Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life, and teaches science and environmental writing at Yale University.…
John Shook - The God Debates
Host: Robert Price
Our guest is philosopher and author John Shook, discussing his experiences debating religious believers and whether such debates are a good idea.
Some say no, that such spectacles merely serve believers by making it look like atheists take them more seriously than they deserve. Others say yes, because debates provide a precious opportunity to introduce believers to atheistic arguments they might otherwise never hear.
Price and Shook compare notes about debating superstar apologist William Lane Craig, discuss interesting insights on Presuppositionalism and Postmodernism, and talk about Dr. Shook's new book, The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between), an introduction to major issues in the philosophy of religion, as well as debate topics old and new.…
PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Chris Mooney - New Atheism or Accommodation?
Recently at the 30th anniversary conference of the Council for Secular Humanism in Los Angeles, leading science blogger PZ Myers and Point of Inquiry host Chris Mooney appeared together on a panel to discuss the questions, "How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? If we champion science, must we oppose faith? How best to approach flashpoints like evolution education?"
It's a subject about which they are known to... er, differ.
The moderator was Jennifer Michael Hecht, the author of Doubt: A History. The next day, the three reprised their public debate for a special episode of Point of Inquiry, with Hecht sitting in as a guest host in Mooney's stead.
This is the unedited cut of their three way conversation.
PZ Myers is a biologist at the University of Minnesota-Morris who, in addition to his duties as a teacher of biology and especially of development and evolution, likes to spend his spare time poking at the follies of creationists, Christians, crystal-gazers, Muslims, right-wing politicians, apologists for religion, and anyone who doesn't appreciate how much the beauty of reality exceeds that of ignorant myth.
Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry, including: Doubt: A History (HarperCollins, 2003); The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology (Columbia University Press, 2003); and The Happiness Myth, (HarperCollins in 2007). Her work appears in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. Hecht earned her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in 1995 and now teaches in the graduate writing program of The New School University.…
Steve Spangler - Hands-on Science
Host: Karen Stollznow
Steve Spangler is a science educator, inventor, and an Emmy Award winning TV personality. He is the author of Fizz Factor: 50 Amazing Experiments With Soda Pop, Secret Science: 25 Science Experiments Your Teacher Doesn't Know About and his latest title Naked Eggs And Flying Potatoes.
Steve’s inquiry-based learning approaches to science education are highly successful. With his innovative "hands-on" approach to teaching he is the "fun science guy" who shoots potatoes, makes toilet paper fly and mixes batches of slime; but he is best known for his erupting soda geyser experiment.
Behind all of this fun is a very serious mission: to improve science literacy for both children, and adults.
In this episode with Karen Stollznow, Steve tackles the "science is boring" stereotype, and explains how science education can be exciting, accessible and fun. Steve talks about using the Internet for effective science education, citing his famous viral video, the “Mentos and Diet Coke geyser experiment” that has had millions of views and inspired thousands of imitations.
Steve not only teaches students, but he also teaches teachers. He talks about becoming a great science teacher by creating unforgettable learning experiences. With Steve’s interactive methods, science has suddenly gone from "Don’t try this at home!" to "Try this for yourself and see how it works!"
In closing, Steve discusses the state of science literacy today, and tells us what we can do to nurture scientific curiosity, build critical thinking skills and instill healthy skepticism.…
Jennifer Ouellette - Calculus, Las Vegas, and the Zombie Apocalypse
Host: Chris Mooney
Ever wonder about the mathematical basis for battling a zombie infestation? Jennifer Ouellette has. In her new book The Calculus Diaries, the English major turned science journalist goes on an odyssey to relearn the branch of math that so intimidated her in high school.
Along the way, she finds calculus in activities ranging from surfing, to catching fly balls, to playing craps in Vegas.
Naturally, calculus can also tell us how to stop the marauding zombies before they take over the human population for good.
At a time when the U.S. lags in science and math education, a book like Ouellette's—making math intriguing and accessible—is more than a good read. It’s an educational necessity.
Jennifer Ouellette is the author of three books: Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics, The Physics of the Buffyverse, and most recently, The Calculus Diaries. She has also written widely, blogs at "Cocktail Party Physics," and until recently was director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a National Academy of Sciences project to bridge the gap between the research community and Hollywood.…
Jen Roth - Atheist Against Abortion
Host: Robert Price
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Robert Price interviews Jen Roth, co-founder of All Our Lives, a secular organization committed to advocating for women's right to exercise freedom of conscience in making voluntary, nonviolent, sexual and reproductive decisions.
Jen is an atheist who seeks no grounds for human rights in God or religion, but also one who happens to oppose abortion. Not an advocate for outlawing abortion, though, she believes there is much to be done by way of clarifying and defending the sexual autonomy of women.
Jen Roth has written for the Secular Web and the online political magazine Shared Sacrifice. She was formerly on the board of Consistent Life, an organization which opposes war, abortion, and the death penalty. In spring 2010, she co-founded All Our Lives.…
S. Jay Olshansky - Can Science Extend Human Life?
Host: Chris Mooney
At a recent conference in Lake Tahoe, demographer S. Jay Olshansky presented a roomful of technologists with an exciting prospect. Through a concerted scientific attack on the problem of aging, he suggested, we might be able to extend human life by as much as 7 years on average.
Olshansky's strategy is not simply to keep battling individual diseases, like cancer, in isolation. Rather, it’s to go after the underlying process that brings on those diseases to begin with.
The field of aging has long been beset by questionable claims—by hucksters try to sell us the fountain of youth. By contrast, Olshansky suggests there may be a modest, but scientifically attainable, version of human life extension that would benefit us all. On this episode of Point of Inquiry, he discusses how it might be possible, and what a world in which we all live significantly longer would look like.
S. Jay Olshansky is a Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His work focuses on estimating the upper limits to human longevity and pursuing the scientific means to slow aging in people. Dr. Olshansky is the author, with Bruce Carnes, of The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging.…
Brian Brushwood - Scams, Swindles and Skepticism
Host: Karen Stollznow
Brian Brushwood began his career in magic "To get free drinks at bars and impress friends," but ended up becoming a science communicator and skeptic.
The author of Cheats, Cons, Swindles & Tricks: 57 Ways to Scam a Free Drink and The Professional's Guide to Fire Eating, Brian is a "Bizarre Magician". Making side show tricks cool again, Brian hammers nails into his head and eats fire in his "Bizarre Magic Show", "America’s Number One College Magic Show". He also communicates critical thinking to the college market in his lecture "Scams, Sasquatch and the Supernatural"
In this episode with host Karen Stollznow, Brian discusses outreach to this important yet often overlooked demographic. They discuss tertiary-level courses in skepticism and the paranormal, and whether there is "age appropriate skepticism"
Brian explains the stereotypes associated with magic and magicians, and how the "m-word" (magic) has stigmatized. He also discusses the negative connotations associated with the "s-word" (skeptic), and how to combat the image problems with guerilla skepticism, hidden beneath comedy and magic.
Brian is a prolific personality on various internet shows including the Brian Brushwood Live Show, the Weird Things podcast, and NSFW on This Week in Tech TV. But he is best known for his show Scam School. Usually the ones who expose scams, Brian tells us when the skeptics should be the scammers. In this “Mythbusters” for the pool shark crowd, Brian pulls street cons, swindles and scams in the name of skepticism.…
Richard Wrangham - Rediscovering Fire
This is a show about evolution—but not, for once, about the evolution wars. Instead, it concerns one of the most intriguing ideas to emerge in quite some time about the evolution of humans.
In his much discussed book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham argues that we’ve been ignoring a critical catalyst in the creation of our species—a little technology called cooking.
Cooking was the game changer, says Wrangham. It upended everything. It altered how we obtained energy, which in turn morphed our anatomy and cranial capacity. Cooking even changed how we came to spend our days, and divide labor between the sexes.
According to Wrangham, learning to cook therefore ranks among the most important things that ever happened to our ancestors. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, he discusses why cooking was so pivotal—and why its role has so long been overlooked.
Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, and the author, with Dale Peterson, of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. His new book is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.…
Robert M. Price - Is the Bible Mein Kampf?
Robert Price being off for the week, today we present a lecture given by Dr. Price at the Center for Inquiry's annual Student Leadership Conferece titled "Is the Bible Mein Kampf?"
In his talk, Price suggests the Bible has much to offer even the most secular and non-religious of us. He discusses the value he sees in the Bible, and what we can learn from the mistakes and contradictions found within it. He explains that because he sees the Christian Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible as so wrong, a hated of this straw man Bible might also make little sense. Price explains that critical examination of Biblical texts is what makes a true friend of the Bible—even if you're an atheist.
Along with being a usual host of this show, Robert M. Price is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. He is a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. Dr. Price is the author of a number of books, including The Reason Driven Life, Deconstructing Jesus, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, and The Da Vinci Fraud. He has appeared widely in the media, and was featured prominently in the movie The God Who Wasn't There. His latest book is Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms.…
Alexander Zaitchik - Glenn Beckâ€™s War on Reason
This week, the scope of Point of Inquiry expands to include politics and more particularly, the fount of misinformation that is Glenn Beck of Fox News. This TV and radio personality is ushering in a new reign of ignorance in our national discourse—and even has the gall to liken his efforts to those of Martin Luther King, Jr.
But investigative journalist Alexander Zaitchick has pinned Beck to a wall with his new book Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance. He’s even provoked Beck into denouncing him for practicing "despicable, yellow journalism." Coming from Beck, that’s a compliment.
So tune in to learn more about how Beck has become a new icon of American irrationality—and just general cluelessness.
Alex Zaitchik is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. He’s contributed to Salon.com, The Nation, Wired, and many other distinguished publications. In the course of his career he has reported from locations ranging from Miami to Moscow, from Prague to Mexico City—and Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance is his first book.…
Andrew Mayne - Magic, Mischief and Mayhem
Andrew Mayne is a magician, paranormal illusionist, inventor, TV producer and skeptic.
One of the most creative and innovative minds in magic, Andrew has written and produced over 40 books and DVDs. Both creator and consultant, he has worked with a number of artists including David Blaine, and Penn & Teller.
Andrew’s performance material ranges from close-up and stage, to mentalism and illusion, and he is infamous for his brand of tricks, effects and stunts known as "shock magic". Far from pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Andrew’s shock magic is described as "disturbing", "evil", "frightening" and "deadly".
In this conversation with Karen Stollznow, Andrew speaks about being a Magician’s Magician, making multimedia magic, and not only inventing illusions but reinventing classic illusions. He explains the link between magic and skepticism, and how magic offers practical insight to protect us from charlatans, con-artists, and ourselves.
Andrew shares stories of his paranormal investigations for the Weird Things TV show and podcast, and his experiences as lead investigator for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge.
The author of the article Think Skeptically, Act Locally: 50 Things You Can Do To Encourage Critical Thinking, Andrew is one of the original activists in the skepticism movement. He talks about teaching science education and critical thinking, and presents his “elevator pitch” for becoming a skeptical activist.…
Francesca Grifo - Science Under Obama
When President Obama was inaugurated in January of 2009, he pledged to “restore science to its rightful place” in the U.S. government. And true to his word, the president promptly staffed his cabinet with distinguished scientific leaders, liberated embryonic stem cell research from the Bush era restrictions, and released a memorandum on “scientific integrity” intended to reverse the kinds of problems seen in the Bush years.
Since those days, however, the "scientific integrity" agenda does not seem to have filtered through the federal government as hoped. And according to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, some scientists are having problems in this administration when it comes to speaking with the media, or having their research results properly handled by their superiors.
To put these developments in context, Point of Inquiry called upon Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. As Grifo explains, claims that the Obama administration is behaving like the Bush administration did on science are absurd. However, the administration must do more to deliver on President Obama’s pledge to restore science to its "rightful place"—and move swiftly to address reports of scientific discontentment.
Francesca Grifo is a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and an expert in biodiversity conservation, and heads up UCS’s Scientific Integrity Project. She has testified before Congress about scientific integrity and is widely quoted in the press on the topic. Prior to joining UCS, she was at Columbia University where she ran the Science Teachers Environmental Education Program.…
Tom Quinn - O Sweet Jesus
Tom Quinn has spent the past 15 years as a documentary TV writer and producer for Discovery Channel, History Channel, National Geographic and others. He has traveled the world producing programs that explore and deconstruct urban legends, psychic claims, religious myths and conspiracy theories, and has worked with the likes of James Randi and Michael Shermer.
He's a graduate of the American Film Institute, he's been a film critic, a story analyst for Universal Studios and HBO, and, in 2005, he received two Emmy nominations for his History Channel special, Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He has subsequently done programs for Discovery Shark Week and on the book, Angels and Demons.
Tom is the author of a new book, What Do You Do with a Chocolate Jesus? An Irreverent History of Christianity. He also gives humors lectures on all of these subjects, and blogs at choco-jesus.blogspot.com.
In this conversation with Robert Price, Tom talks about his new book and how satire can be an effective education tool. He discusses his views on the history of Christianity and how to best approach the books of the Bible. He explains why those who couple religion with morality are wrong to do so, responds to the claim that one must be religious to have an ethical worldview, and much more.…
Phil Plait - Death from the Skies
Our guest this week needs no introduction for those in the skeptical and secular world. After all, he has a frakkin' asteroid named after him.
He’s Phil Plait—science blogger extraordinaire for Discover Blogs, where he authors “Bad Astronomy.” Recently, Plait joined Point of Inquiry for a wide ranging conversation about standing eggs on end, Apollo moon landing deniers, wacky yet endearing Hollywood bad science, something called “spaghettification”….and the end of the world.
Phil Plait is a skeptic and an astronomer, and former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He lectures widely across the country and is the author of two books, most recently Death from the Skies: These Are the Ways the World Will End.…
Adam Savage - Skeptic (Confirmed)
Adam Savage is an artist, actor, educator, special effects designer and co-host of the Discovery Channel's TV show Mythbusters. Adam has a diverse background in animation and design, and for almost two decades he has concentrated on the special effects industry for film, theater and television. A prominent skeptic and atheist, Adam lectures in science education and is a strong promoter of critical thinking. Karen Stollznow spoke with Adam in Las Vegas at The Amaz!ng Meeting, the annual conference of the James Randi Educational Foundation. In this conversation, Adam spoke about his identification as a skeptic and atheist, and his work to promote science and skepticism to the public. He talked about his experiences on Mythbusters; why the show appeals to skeptics, and how he applies skepticism to his experiments. Adam talks about testing pseudoscience and the paranormal, how myths and legends develop, and how the public reacts when their cherished myths are busted.…
Robert Price & Chris Mooney - Must Atheists Also Be Liberals?
Recently in Amherst, New York, two of Point of Inquiry’s hosts sat down for a special in-studio episode of the show. One was a conservative (Robert Price), one a liberal (Chris Mooney)—and both were atheists.
The topic they tackled: Is there any necessary correlation between one’s disbelief in God and one’s place on the political spectrum?
The result was a fascinating—and notably civil, and frequently entertaining—conversation ranging across foreign policy, abortion, stem cell research, animal rights, and many other topics. In the end, the discussants actually found not only much disagreement, but also some common ground.
Robert M. Price is Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute as well as the editor of The Journal of Higher Criticism and a host of Point of Inquiry. His books include Beyond Born Again, The Widow Traditions in Luke-Acts: A Feminist-Critical Scrutiny, Deconstructing Jesus, andThe Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.
Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write “The Intersection” blog together for Discover blogs. In the past, Chris has also been visiting associate in the Center for Collaborative History at Princeton University and a 2009-2010 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. He is also a host of Point of Inquiry.
Tom Flynn - In Like Flynn
Tom Flynn is Executive Director of The Council for Secular Humanism, Editor of Free Inquiry magazine, Director of Inquiry Media Productions, and Director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum.
A journalist, novelist, entertainer, and freethought historian, Flynn is the author of numerous articles and editorials for Free Inquiry magazine. In addition to The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, his books include two black comedy science fiction novels, Nothing Sacred, its prequel Galactic Rapture, and The Trouble With Christmas, a secularist critique of the holiday. He has made hundreds of radio and TV appearances in his role as the curmudgeonly "anti-Claus."
In this conversation with Robert Price, Tom explains how he transitioned from his conservative Catholic youth Secular Humanist he is today. He talks about the part Mormonism played in his transition to non-belief. Perhaps one of the most consistent secularists around today, Tom elaborates on the problems he has with rites of passage ceremonies and marriage. He talks about what he sees as problems with some secular charity programs and the parts of life he believes should be off-limits to a secular community. Finally, he and Price discuss radical Islam and how we should approach talking about it.…
Bill McKibben - Our Strange New Eaarth
Global warming, we're often told, is an issue we must address for the sake of our grandchildren. We need to cut carbon because of our moral obligation to future generations.
But according to Bill McKibben, that's a 1980s view. As McKibben writes
in his new book Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, the
increasingly open secret is that global warming happened already. We've
passed the threshold, and the planet isnâ€™t at all the same. It's less
climatically stable. Its weather is haywire. It has less ice, more
drought, higher seas, heavier storms. It even appears different from
And thatâ€™s just the beginning of the earth-shattering changes in storeâ€”a
small sampling of what itâ€™s like to trade a familiar planet (Earth) for
one that's new and strange (Eaarth). We'll survive on this sci-fi
world, this terra incognitaâ€”but we may not like it very much. And we may
have to change some fundamental habits along the way.
Eaarth, argues McKibben, is our greatest failure.
Bill McKibben is a former staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, and author of the famous 1989 book The End of Nature, as well as over a dozen other works. He is currently a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont, and founder of the global warming grassroots organization 350.org, which lobbies for tougher climate policies. In 2009, the group conducted what CNN later called â€œthe most widespread day of political action in the planetâ€™s history.â€…
Tim Farley - Whatâ€™s the Harm?
Tim Farley is a computer software engineer, skeptic, and creator of the popular website Whatâ€™s the Harm? His site answers this salient question with over 670,000 stories of people who have indeed been harmed, damaged, injured, or even killed by pseudoscience and the paranormal
Whatâ€™s the Harmâ€™s catchphrase is: â€œ368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages.â€ However, these statistics are calculated from randomly-caught, modern cases documented in English-speaking countries. Many stories are left untold. How much bigger could the problem be?
In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Tim reveals the real-life dangers, and the hidden dangers, of these beliefs and practices. He treats the lack of regulatory bodies for these industries, and what recourse can be taken when harm is done. Tim talks about the question â€œWhatâ€™s the Harm?â€ as used in defense of pseudoscience and the paranormal, and why this is wielded as a â€œcheckmateâ€ argument. He discusses the power of anecdotal evidence, and whether people are influenced by cautionary tales, or more persuaded by their own personal experiences.
Tim is a prominent activist and a frequent speaker at events including Skeptics in the Pub, Skepticamp, and the James Randi Educational Foundationâ€™s Amazing Meetings. An expert in computer security and reverse engineering, he is at the forefront of the Skepticism 2.0 movement. He talks about finding your own â€œnicheâ€ as an online activist, how you donâ€™t need to be a magician or have a PhD to be a skeptic, and how we all have our own expertise to bring to the skeptical movement.…
Naomi Oreskes - Merchants of Doubt
This weekâ€™s guest is Naomi Oreskes, co-author with historian Eric Conway of the new book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.
Through extensive archival research, Oreskes and Conway have managed to connect the dots between a large number of seemingly separate anti-science campaigns that have unfolded over the years. It all began with Big Tobacco, and the famous internal memo declaring, â€œDoubt is our Product.â€
Then came the attacks on the science of acid rain and ozone depletion, and the flimsy defenses of Ronald Reaganâ€™s â€œStar Warsâ€ program. And the same strategies have continued up to the present, with the battle over climate change.
Throughout this saga, several key scientific actors appear repeatedlyâ€”leaping across issues, fighting against the facts again and again. Now, Oreskes and Conway have given us a new and unprecedented glimpse behind the anti-science curtain.
Naomi Oreskes (Ph.D., Stanford, 1990) is Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her research focuses on the historical development of scientific knowledge, methods, and practices in the earth and environmental sciences, and on understanding scientific consensus and dissent. She is the author of numerous noted books and papers, including a 2004 essay in Science entitled â€œThe Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,â€ which was widely cited, debated, and referenced in Al Goreâ€™s â€œAn Inconvenient Truth.â€…
S.T. Joshi - Fright and Freethought
S. T. Joshi is a leading authority on H. P. Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, H. L. Mencken, and other writers, mostly in the realms of supernatural and fantasy fiction. He has edited corrected editions of the works of Lovecraft, several annotated editions of Bierce and Mencken, and has written such critical studies as The Weird Tale and The Modern Weird Tale. His award-winning biography, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, has already become a collector's item.
But critical, biographical, and editorial work on weird fiction is only
one aspect of Joshi's multifaceted output. A prominent atheist, Joshi
has published the anthology Atheism: A Reader and the
anti-religious polemic, God's Defenders: What They Believe and Why
They Are Wrong. He has also compiled an important anthology on race
relations, Documents of American Prejudice.
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Robert M. Price talks with Joshi about Lovecraft and how his writings were an impetus toward Joshi's atheism. Along with discussing Lovecraft's views on religion, Joshi shares his own views on the subject. He reveals his thoughts on religious writers as well as the "new atheism." He explains what horror and fantasy literature have to offer the non-religious, and how it can in some ways take the place of religious writings.…
Michael Specter - The Menace of Denialism
This week, we learned that J. Craig Venter has at long last created a synthetic organism—a simple life form constructed, for the first time, by man. Let the controversy begin—and if New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter is correct, the denial of science will be riding hard alongside it.
In his recent book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, Specter charts how our resistance to vaccination and genetically modified foods, and our wild embrace of questionable health remedies, are the latest hallmarks of an all-too-trendy form of fuzzy thinking--one that exists just as much on the political left as on the right.
And it’s not just on current science-based issues that denialism occurs. The phenomenon also threatens our ability to handle emerging science policy problems—over the development of personalized medicine, for instance, or of synthetic biology. How can we make good decisions when again and again, much of the public resists inconvenient facts, statistical thinking, and the sensible balancing of risks?
Michael Specter has been a New Yorker staff writer since 1998. Before that, he was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and the national science reporter for the Washington Post.
At the New Yorker, Specter has covered the global AIDS epidemic, avian flu, malaria, the world’s diminishing freshwater resources, synthetic biology and the debate over our carbon footprint. He has also published many profiles of subjects including Lance Armstrong, ethicist Peter Singer, and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. In 2002, Specter received the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science Journalism Award for his article “Rethinking the Brain,” about the scientific basis of how we learn.
George Hrab - Soundtrack to Skepticism
George Hrab is a composer, professional musician, singer, songwriter, podcaster, and skeptic. George is the Host and Producer of the Geologic Podcast, a popular weekly show about music, comedy, science, and skepticism. The drummer in the band Philadelphia Funk Authority, he is a successful multi-instrumentalist musician who has performed on-stage with Elton John, and given a performance in the White House for Bill Clinton. For the past fifteen years he has also been a solo artist, releasing his music independently. George’s songs tackle science, the paranormal and pseudoscience, from the Occasional Songs for the Periodic Table in which he sings to each element, to an ode to the coelacanth. George’s latest album Trebuchet includes the songs God is Not Great, Everything Alive will Die Someday, and Death From the Skies, featuring “Bad Astronomer” Dr. Phil Plait. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Karen Stollznow speaks with George about the “intersection” of music and skepticism, and how music fits into critical thinking. With eclectic influences from Frank Zappa to Carl Sagan, George describes how he infuses skepticism into his own music. A successful activist in the skeptical community, George not only speaks-out against a lack of critical thinking in society, but he also “sings-out” against this issue, promoting skepticism through song. This “nice guy of skepticism” discusses the image of the skeptical movement, and what we can do to popularize skepticism. He explains that he reaches people “through their funny bones and dance shoes” as an effective way to communicate skepticism to the public, and tells us how music and comedy can make converts to critical thinking. George’s music brings a new audience to skepticism, and provides theme songs for skeptics. In many ways, George’s music has become the soundtrack to skepticism.…
Elaine Howard Ecklund - How Religious Are Scientists?
It’s hard to think of an issue more contentious these days than the relationship between faith and science. If you have any doubt, just flip over to the science blogosphere: You’ll see the argument everywhere.
In the scholarly arena, meanwhile, the topic has been approached from a number of angles: by historians of science, for example, and philosophers. However, relatively little data from the social sciences has been available concerning what today’s scientists actually think about faith.
Today’s Point of Inquiry guest, sociologist Dr. Elaine Ecklund of Rice University, is changing that. Over the past four years, she has undertaken a massive survey of the religious beliefs of elite American scientists at 21 top universities. It’s all reported in her new book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think.
Ecklund’s findings are pretty surprising. The scientists in her survey are much less religious than the American public, of course—but they’re also much more religious, and more “spiritual,” than you might expect. For those interested in debating the relationship between science and religion, it seems safe to say that her new data will be hard to ignore.
Elaine Howard Ecklund is a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University, where she is also Director of the Program on Religion and Public Life at the Institute for Urban Research. Her research centrally focuses on the ways science and religion intersect with other life spheres, and it has been prominently covered in USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and other prominent news media outlets. Ecklund is also the author of two books published by Oxford University Press: Korean American Evangelicals: New Models for Civic Life (2008), and more recently the new book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (2010).…
Lois Schadewald - The Schadewald Legacy: Nemesis of Pseudo-Science
Lois Schadewald's interest in both science and pseudoscience rubbed off on her from her brilliant brother Robert J. Schadewald, a prolific author and debater. When Bob died a decade ago he left behind a legacy of published essays and book chapters, as well as much unpublished material including a complete manuscript on the history of the Flat Earth movement. Lois has seen to the publication of many of these pieces in the collection Worlds of their Own: A Brief History of Misguided Ideas; Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams, and the Velikovsky Affair. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Robert M. Price asks Lois to outline some of her brother's research in Flat Earth and Hollow Earth "science" as well as to relate some stories of his association with important "alternative science" figures like catastrophist Immanuel Velikovsky. Schadewald talks about her brother's unique approach to dealing with promoters of pseudoscience, and what he gained from it. She discusses the timeline of Bob's research interests and how he eventually made his way to studying creationism.
Lois Schadewald is Professor of Chemistry at Normandale Community College in Minnesota, where she is also active with the Minnesota Atheists.
Robert J. Schadewald (1943-2000) was a widely published science writer. His articles dealing with unorthodoxies of science and scholarship appeared in Science 80, Smithsonian, Technology Illustrated, and Skeptical Inquirer among others. He was a contributing author to six books, including The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopedia (Garland Publishing, 2000). From 1986 until the mid-1990s, he served on the board of directors of the National Center for Science Education, including two years as president. He attended seven national creationism conferences, interviewed Immanuel Velikovsky, investigated perpetual motion machines, and was thrown out of the Flat Earth Society for having spherical tendencies. Bob was nationally recognized as an expert on creationism, perpetual motion, and flat Earthism.…
Deborah Blum - Murder and Chemistry in Jazz Age New York
For many of us, chemistry is something we remember with groans from high school. Periodic Table of the Elements—what a pain to memorize, and what was the point, anyway?
So how do you take a subject like chemistry and make it exciting, intriguing, and compelling?
With her new book The Poisoner’s Handbook, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Deb Blum has done just that. Blum takes a page from the "CSI" franchise, and moves that familiar narrative of crime, intrigue, and high tech bad-guy catching back into the early days of the 20th century. There, in jazz age New York, she chronicles the birth of forensic chemistry at the hands of two scientific and public health pioneers—the city’s chief medical examiner Charles Norris, and his chemistry whiz side-kick Alexander Gettler.
And while chronicling their poison-sleuthing careers, Blum also teaches quite a bit of science. Her book is a case study in science popularization, and one we should all be paying close attention to.
Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer and has been a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1997. Prior to that, she spent over a decade working as a science writer for the Sacramento Bee, where her series on ethical issues in primate research, “The Monkey Wars,” won the 1992 Pulitzer.
The Monkey Wars also became a book, and since then Blum has written numerous others: A Field Guide for Science Writers, Sex on the Brain, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, and Ghost Hunters: William James and the Scientific Search for Life After Death.
Blum has also written for numerous publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times. She was president of the National Association of Science Writers from 2002-2004, and currently serves on advisory boards to the Council for Advancement of Science Writing and the World Federation of Science Journalists.…
Bob Carroll - Defining Skepticism
Dr. Robert Todd Carroll is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and author of The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. He is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Sacramento City College, where he taught Logic and Critical Reasoning, Critical Thinking about the Paranormal, Law, Justice and Punishment, and World Religions. He is also author of the textbook Becoming a Critical Thinker.
Bob is the creator of the popular website Skepdic.com, which features numerous essays and book reviews, and the Skeptimedia blog where he provides a commentary of media coverage of pseudoscience and the paranormal. But the focus of the site is the original online version of the Skepticâ€™s Dictionary, containing hundreds of entries on topics ranging from â€œabracadabra to zombiesâ€. This is the resource for defining skepticism.
In this episode, Karen Stollznow talks with Bob about the importance of defining the topics of which we are skeptical. They discuss the inadequacies of existing definitions of paranormal and pseudoscientific subjects, and why it is necessary to counter uncritical bias with explanations that are skeptical. However, the damning evidence (or lack-thereof) usually speaks for itself.
Bob reveals the top searches to his site, uncovering the themes that should be of particular concern to skeptics. He explains that his online book is reader-driven, and that user feedback and assistance has molded the shape of this dynamic resource. Even with 600 current entries in this encyclopedia-like dictionary, this is a work-in-progress that will never be finished.
Bob discusses skeptical activism, becoming a skeptic, and how to invent your own pseudoscience to learn critical thinking. As a life-long teacher of this topic, Bob explains that critical thinking needs to be taught, but also needs to be learned critically. We discuss how much critical thinking can or should be taught, and how much is a process of self-learning.…
Eli Kintisch - Is Planet-Hacking Inevitable?
For two decades now, we’ve failed to seriously address climate change. So the planet just keeps warming—and it could get very bad. Picture major droughts, calving of gigantic ice sheets, increasingly dramatic sea level rise, and much more.
Against this backdrop, the idea of a technological fix to solve the problem—like seeding the stratosphere with reflective sulfur particles, so as to reduce sunlight—starts to sound pretty attractive. Interest in so-called “geoengineering” is growing, and so is media attention to the idea. There are even conspiracy theorists who think a secret government plan to geoengineer the planet is already afoot.
Leading scientists, meanwhile, have begun to seriously study our geoengineering options—not necessarily because they want to, but because they fear there may be no other choice.
This week's episode of Point of Inquiry with host Chris Mooney features Eli Kintisch, who has followed these scientists’ endeavors—and their ethical quandaries—like perhaps no other journalist. He has broken stories about Bill Gates’ funding of geoengineering research, DARPA’s exploration of the idea, and recently attended the historic scientific meeting in Asilomar, California, where researchers gathered to discuss how to establish guidelines for geoengineering research.
And now, the full story is related in Kintisch’s new book Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe.
Eli Kintisch is a staff writer for Science magazine, and has also written for Slate, Discover, Technology Review, and The New Republic. He has worked as a Washington correspondent for the Forward and a science reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 2005 he won the Space Journalism prize for a series of articles on private spaceflight. He lives in Washington, D.C.…
Thomas J.J. Altizer - The Death of God
Thomas J.J. Altizer burst onto the religious scene in the 1960s with his book The Gospel of Christian Atheism. He was one of the "Death of God" theologians discussed in the famous TIME cover story, "Is God Dead?" Altzier holds an M.A. in theology and Ph.D. in History of Religions from the Universeity of Chicago. Now 83 years of age, Altizer remains a Young Turk among radical theologians, insisting that only Christians can be true atheists and must proclaim the death of God.
In this conversation with Robert Price, Altizer delves into Death of God theology. He explains the difference between saying "There is no God" and "God is Dead." He discusses his interactions with other theologians and what they thought of his work. Altizer gives his opinion of contemporary public atheists and what he likes and dislikes about them. He relates stories from his career involving other thinkers such as Paul Tillich and Mircea Eliade—including a personal "initiation" experience. He explains how he formerly debated evangelical Christians and how Death of God theology can be used when doing so.…
Paul Kurtz - John Dewey and the Real Point of Inquiry
Paul Kurtz is founder and chair emeritus of the Center for Inquiry and founder of a number of other organizations. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of the Committee for the Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books. He is the author or editor of almost fifty books, including his new title Exuberant Skepticism. Throughout the last four decades, Kurtz has been a leading defender of science and reason against the prevailing cults of irrationality in our society, and has been interviewed widely in the media on a wide range of subjects, including alternative medicine and communication with the dead, to the historicity of Jesus and parapsychology.
In this, the third of three special-edition epsiodes featuring D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz discusses American philosopher John Dewey, and explains how his views undergird much of what the Center for Inquiry stands for. He talks about the American school of philosophy called pragmatism, and its central value of testing ideas by their consequences. He explains how active inquiry, even into controversial claims, is key for the educated mind, and why learning how to think is more important than being instructed what to think. He explores Dewey's humanism, and how nature and science should be servants of the human good. He talks about Dewey's optimism and his faith in democracy, in the common person, and in social progress. He explores how for Dewey moral values are objective, but are not absolute, static and unchanging, but that they should be modified in the light of new evidence and situations. And he explains the real value of inquiry and how it may enrich people's lives.…
Scott Lilienfeld - Real Self-Help
Dr. Scott Lilienfeld is Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta. Scott is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a Consulting Editor for Skeptical Inquirer and the Founder and Editor of the CSI journal Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. He’s a regular contributor to Scientific American Mind, and is Psychology Today's Skeptical Psychologist, where he investigates questionable, controversial, and novel claims in psychology. His principal areas of research include evidence-based practices in psychology and the challenges posed by pseudoscience to clinical psychology.
In this conversation with Karen Stollznow, Scott discusses his latest book, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions About Human Behavior, co-written with Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and the late Barry Beyerstein. The book treats a staggering 300 urban legends, myths and misconceptions; this is the “Mythbusters” of psychology.
Scott explains the difference between psychology and “pop psychology”, which is fraught with what he calls “psychomythology”. He discusses how myths develop and disseminate, and he reports that even the experts can be deceived by these commonly-held beliefs. These myths are unpredictable blends of fact and (mostly) fiction, but as we find out, fact is sometimes even stranger than fiction.
Scott busts some surprising myths, and argues for the importance of myth busting. When we believe in these myths there are often real-world consequences, but debunking itself carries risks. He discusses how to counter these myths and the “unsinkable ducks”, and how to critically evaluate future claims as we’re presented with them.
Aiming to “demystify psychology”, Scott is an advocate for the effective communication of psychology to the public, and also for science-based psychology. He considers the unreliability of our intuition, gut-feelings and our (not-so) common sense, and how science is “uncommon sense”.
Scott admits that human experience makes us all armchair psychologists, and we are all susceptible to Dr. Phil-psychology and self-help books. But self-help is more often hindrance than help. Backed up by science, this book is the real self-help.…
Victor Stenger - Taking a Stand for Science and Reason
Victor Stenger is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is also founder of Colorado Citizens for Science. He’s held visiting faculty positions at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and at Oxford in the United Kingdom, and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy. Stenger’s search career has spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model. He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, quarks, gluons, and neutrinos and has also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last project before retiring, Vic collaborated on the experiment in Japan which showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. He is the author of many books, including Comprehensible Cosmos, The Unconscious Quantum, Not by Design, Has Science Found God, The New York Times best-seller God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist, and The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason.
In this, the second of three special-edition epsiodes featuring D.J. Grothe, Vic Stenger discusses who the New Atheists oppose: not just anti-science activists, but even those who have faith in God even if they support science to some extent. He explores if science is itself based on faith. He describes ways in which faith may appear to be based on evidence. He compares evidence supporting God's existence coming from the appearance of design in nature with evidence from the sciences suggesting a total lack of design in the universe. He debates which should have priority: science or atheism, and whether learning science will lead to atheism, or if being an atheist will lead to an natural acceptance of the scientific worldview. He defends causing offense to believers in the name of truth, and explores to what extent such an approach may be counter-productive at times. He explores the best ways to "frame" atheism so as to have the most impact. He recounts his appearance on Christian radio, and what it illustrates about communicating atheism and rationalism. He explains why natural explanations for events are better than supernatural explanations. He reveals who the real audience of the New Atheists is. He talks about the growing student freethought and skeptics movement, and why young people are one the target audiences of the New Atheists. He explains why he thinks within mere generations religion will fade away. And he talks about the righteous indignation of the New Atheists, and the moral imperative of atheists to speak out because of the harm resulting from religion.…
Andrew Revkin - The Death of Science Writing, and the Future of Catastrophe
We live in a science centered age—a time of private spaceflight and personalized medicine, amid path-breaking advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology. And we face science centered risks: climate and energy crises, biological and nuclear terror threats, mega-disasters and global pandemics.
So you would think science journalism would be booming—yet nothing could be further from the case. If you watch 5 hours of cable news today, expect to see just 1 minute devoted to science and technology. From 1989-2005, meanwhile, the number of major newspapers featuring weekly science sections shrank from 95 to 34.
Epitomizing the current decline is longtime New York Times science writer Andrew Revkin, who recently left the paper for a career in academia.
In this conversation with host Chris Mooney, Revkin discusses the uncertain future of his field, the perils of the science blogosphere, his battles with climate blogger Joe Romm, and what it’s like (no joke) to have Rush Limbaugh suggest that you kill yourself. Moving on to the topics he’s covered for over a decade, Revkin also addresses the problem of population growth, the long-range risks that our minds just aren’t trained to think about, and the likely worsening of earthquake and other catastrophes as more people pack into vulnerable places.
Andrew Revkin was the science and environment reporter for the New York Times from 1995 through 2009. During the 2000s, he broke numerous front page stories about how the Bush administration was suppressing science, and launched the highly popular blog Dot Earth. But last year, Revkin announced he was leaving the Times. He accepted a post as a senior fellow of environmental understanding at Pace University in White Plains, New York, where he will focus on teaching and two new book projects—complementing existing works like The North Pole Was Here, a book about the vanishing Arctic aimed at middle and high schoolers. In his new life, Andy will also have much more time to play with what he dubs his “rustic-rootsy” band, Uncle Wade.…
Robert J. Miller - The Jesus Seminar
Robert J. Miller is Rosenberger Chair of Christian and Religious Studies at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. A Fellow of the Jesus Seminar since 1986, he was Scholar-in-Residence at Westar Institute in 2001. He is the of author numerous books, including Born Divine: The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God, The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics, and editor of The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate and The Complete Gospels.
In this conversation with host Robert Price, Miller discusses his work as a Jesus Seminar scholar. He reveals the unique methods of the Seminar that attracted him to it in the first place and the benefits that he sees in them. He explains the goals of the Jesus Seminar and whether or not they have changed since its beginnings. Miller lists why there has been public confusion regarding the Seminar and how it has affected public opinion of Jesus and the Bible. Miller elaborates on his own research, explaining how religious fundamentalism gets in the way of understanding how early Christians viewed some writings and shows how some New Testament authors altered Old Testament prophecies to fit their needs. He explains why the view of Jesus as an End-Times Prophet is faulty and the implications of that. He also voices his concern for debating fundamentalist scholars and suggests that it might end up lending undue legitimacy.…
Michael Mann - Unprecedented Attacks on Climate Research
For the scientists who study global warming, now is the winter of their despair.
In the news, it has been climate scandal after alleged climate scandal. First came “ClimateGate,” then “GlacierGate,” “Amazon Gate,” and so on. In public opinion polls, meanwhile, Americans’ acceptance of the science of global warming appears to be declining. Even a freak snowstorm now seems to sow added doubt about this rigorous body of research.
In response to growing public skepticism—and a wave of dramatic attacks on individual researchers—the scientific community is now bucking up to more strongly defend its knowledge. Leading the charge is one of the most frequently attacked researchers of them all—Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann.
In this interview with host Chris Mooney, Mann pulls no punches. He defends the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, and explains why those who attack it consistently miss the target. He also answers critics of his “hockey stick” study, and explains why the charges that have arisen in “ClimateGate” seem much more smoke than fire.
Dr. Michael E. Mann is a member of the Pennsylvania State University faculty, and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. His research focuses on the application of statistical techniques to understanding climate variability and change, and he was a Lead Author on the “Observed Climate Variability and Change” chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report. Among many other distinguished scientific activities, editorships, and awards, Mann is author of more than 120 peer-reviewed and edited publications. That includes, most famously, the 1998 study that introduced the so called “hockey stick,” a graph showing that modern temperatures appear to be much higher than anything seen in at least the last thousand years. With his colleague Lee Kump, Mann also recently authored the book Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. Finally, he is one of the founders and contributors to the prominent global warming blog, RealClimate.org.
Victor Stenger - The New Atheists
Victor Stenger is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is also founder of Colorado Citizens for Science. He's held visiting faculty positions at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and at Oxford in the United Kingdom, and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy. Stenger’s research career has spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model. He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, quarks, gluons, and neutrinos and has also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last project before retiring, Vic collaborated on the experiment in Japan which showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. He is the author of many books, including Comprehensible Cosmos, The Unconscious Quantum, Not by Design, Has Science Found God, the New York times best-seller God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist, and The New Atheists: Standing Up for Science and Reason.
In this, the first of three special-edition epsiodes featuring D.J. Grothe, Vic Stenger discusses The New Atheism, contrasting it with the old atheism, in that it is more uncompromising in its critique of religion and God-belief. He defends the view that a soft stand on religion for the sake of science education is unacceptable, because the evils resulting from religion demand a vocal response. He describes his own history as an author critical of the paranormal and how this further fueled his atheism, contending that skepticism of the paranormal may lead to skepticism of religion. He talks about Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould, and their reluctance to criticize theism, and argues that sometimes, contra Sagan's famous line, "absence of evidence is evidence of absence." He defends making a positive statement that God does not exist -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- as opposed to merely stating that one lacks belief in God. He wonders if authors Susan Jacoby and Jennifer Michael Hecht should also be considered New Atheists. He describes lines of positive evidence from cosmology, physics, biology and neuroscience that he says necessary leads to a conclusion of atheism. He tells why he doesn't think the battle over evolution education should take priority over the New Atheist's larger war on faith, and why rationalists should not unduly seek the support of religious moderates and religious supporters of science. And he shares his optimism about the growing popularity of vocal, uncompromising atheism, especially among young people.…
Ian Rowland - The Cold Hard Facts of Cold Reading
Ian Rowland is a Mentalist and Mind Reader living near London, UK. The world’s foremost authority on cold reading, he is the author of the Full Facts Book of Cold Reading. In this book, Rowland has defined and categorized the different types of psychic readings, and created a taxonomy of cold reading techniques. Rowland was the first person to lecture on cold reading to the Magic Circle and his book has been described as “the definitive work” on the subject by Derren Brown, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Teller, and Banachek.
Rowland is a prolific writer and a charismatic lecturer and entertainer who has appeared on television numerous times and performed in many countries around the world. Rowland performs better than the psychics. He convinced an audience he was a psychic medium for ABC’s Primetime, and during a BBC documentary one of his psychic readings was rated as 99.9% accurate.
In this conversation with host Karen Stollznow, Rowland explains the history and meaning of cold reading, and how and why it works. He demonstrates how cold reading is a “Win-Win Game” and psychics are “right” even when they’re wrong. He claims that he can replicate any psychic ability. Rowland recounts some of his performances as a psychic, tarot reader, astrologer, and medium, and his “miracles” of spoon bending, psychic surgery, and hammering a nail into his head.
Rowland also discusses the practical, non-New Age applications for cold reading, and how these strategies can be used for law enforcement and business, but why they probably shouldn’t be used for romance. A qualified yet reluctant spokesperson for skepticism, Rowland presents his “off-message skepticism”, and shares his opinion of what he thinks the movement is doing right, and what he thinks we are doing wrong.…
Paul Offit - The Costs of Vaccine Denialism
Recently, there was another nail in the coffin for vaccine skeptics. The British medical journal The Lancet took the dramatic step of retracting a 1998 paper that lies at the root of modern vaccine denialism. Authored by a doctor named Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues, it was heavily touted as having uncovered a new cause of autism—the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, or, the MMR vaccine.
Not so fast. Twelve years later, there are more problems with the paper than you can count—and yet somehow, it managed to spawn a movement.
In this conversation with host Chris Mooney, Dr. Paul Offit— author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure—discusses the state of the vaccine skeptic movement in light of this latest news. In particular, Offit explores why the tides may be turning on the movement—as well as the grave public health consequences of ongoing vaccine avoidance.
Paul A. Offit, MD is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition, Dr. Offit is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. Offit has published more than 130 papers in medical and scientific journals in the areas of rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety. He is also the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, recommended for universal use in infants by the CDC. Dr Offit was a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a founding advisory board member of the Autism Science Foundation, and is the author of five books, the latest of which is Autism’s False Prophets.…
Banachek - Mentalism and Skepticism
Banachek is an American mentalist and skeptic. He has written numerous books and invented various magic and mentalism effects, and is often sought out by top entertainers such as David Blaine, Lance Burton, James Randi and Criss Angel. He has been the recipient of a number of awards and recognitions, including the Dave Lederman Memorial Award (Awarded for Creativity in Mentalism) and the Dunninger Memorial Award (Awarded for Distinguished Professionalism in the Performance of Mentalism), both awarded by the Psychic Entertainers Association, as well as the College Campus Novelty Act of the Year, and the Entertainer of the Year on two occasions, all awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. He is renowned for fooling scientists at Washington University into believing that his supposed psychic abilities were genuine during the Project Alpha hoax in the early 1980s. In 2009, he conducted a preliminary test of psychic claimant Connie Sonne's dowsing ability for the James Randi Educational Foundation's Million Dollar Challenge that was witnessed by hundreds in person at The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas, NV.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Banachek recounts his origins as a mentalist in South Africa, including how James Randi's books influenced the development of his worldview. He talks about his involvement helping develop Penn and Teller's bullet catch, the current finale to their Las Vegas show. He describes his role in Project Alpha, and explores to what extent he thinks the researchers involved were aware of his and his colleague's deceptions. He details the role that magicians and mentalists may play in informing the public about psychic and other paranormal claims, and describes the virtues of being an open-minded skeptic as opposed to a "debunker." He talks about his role n the James Randi Educational Foundation's Million Dollar Challenge, and recounts his preliminary testing of Connie Sonne's dowsing ability in front of a live audience at The Amazing Meeting 7, in Las Vegas in 2009.Link of interest: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html…
Frank Schaeffer - Crazy for God
Frank Schaeffer is New York Times best selling author whose books include three semi-biographical novels about life in a strict, fundamentalist household: Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma, and also the memoir Crazy For God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, which is now out in paper back. His latest book is Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism).
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Frank Schaeffer discusses Crazy for God, describing how he grew up in fundamentalist Christianity with his famous father, Francis Schaeffer, a leading founder of the Religious Right, and recounts his role in his father's career. He details how his relationships were affected by his leaving the movement. He explains exactly how fundamentalist Christianity took over the Republican Party. He describes the anti-democratic and anti-American elements within Evangelical Christianity. He draws a direct line from the worldview promoted by the Religious Right to the Tea Party movement, the rise of Glen Beck and Sarah Palin, the recent murder or Dr. George Tiller, and the use of biblical passages calling for the assassination of President Obama.
He shows how the Religious Right actively wants America to fail, in order to prove that it has taken the wrong path in adopting secular, democratic and humanist values. He explores how evangelical "foot soldiers" are often used by secular neoconservatives to advance political aims seemingly unrelated to Christianity, such as energy deregulation and public policies in support of the insurance lobby. He defines secular humanism, and tells how his father at once opposed humanism in his writings such as The Christian Manifesto, even while living a complex, and sometimes deeply humanistic life. Finally, he contrasts and compares the New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, to leaders of the Religious Right, arguing that they are both not only extreme in their views, but also absolutist in their views of fundamental truth.…
The 13th Annual CFI Houdini Seance
Harry Houdini, the world-famous magician and debunker of mediums, earnestly explored the religion of spiritualism and communication with the dead after his beloved motherâ€™s death in 1913. In this episode for Halloween 2009, skeptics and former professional magicians Joe Nickell and D.J. Grothe discuss how Houdini's background in magic motivated his debunking of spiritualism. They discuss his religious beliefs. They explore the fraudulent methods of the mediums, including slate writing, the Sprit Trumpet, spirit photography and the use of "ectoplasm." And they conclude their conversation by conducting the Center for Inquiryâ€™s 13th Annual Houdini Seance.…
Randy Olson - Dont Be Such a Scientist
Randy Olson is a marine biologist and filmmaker who holds a PhD in biology from Harvard University. A graduate of the U.S.C. Cinema School in 1997, he wrote and directed the movies Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus, and Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy. His new book is Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Randy Olson discusses his background as a Harvard-trained scientist and tenured professor and why he changed careers to become a filmmaker. He explains the differences between science education and science communication. He recounts the social changes, beginning in the 1980's, that have harmed science education and the communication of science to the public. He describes the ways that filmmaking is ideal for public science advocacy, and how his films, such as Flock of Dodos, have unexpectedly led to further public engagement with the scientific community. He emphasizes the role of storytelling as the means to best communicate science to the public, and describes how scientific papers are like screenplays.
He talks about the Daily Show and the Colbert Report as examples of how serious issues, including scientific controversies, can be communicated to the public in entertaining and engaging ways. He talks about how Stephen J. Gould and Carl Sagan exemplified ways to avoid being "such a scientist," by arousing interest and by being likable. He addresses the stereotypes of scientists as being humorless, stuffy and too literal. He describes the reaction his book has received from the science community. He criticizes the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science for their disinterest in science activism. He contrasts the community of scientists with other professional learned societies, such as within law or medicine. He examines the responsibility of the public to learn science even despite how effective scientists are at communicating it. And he explores the role of increasingly mainstream anti-science movements in the public's misunderstanding of climate research, evolution, and vaccinations.…
Darrel Ray - The God Virus
Dr. Darrel W. Ray is author of three books, two on organizational psychology. He has been a psychologist for over 30 years. After practicing counseling and clinical psychology for 10 years, his focus shifted to organizational psychology and consulting. A longtime student of religion, his latest book is The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Darrel Ray talks about religion being like a virus, elaborating on Richard Dawkins' concept of the meme. He explains why the metaphor of God belief being like a virus of the mind is so useful. He details how religion is communicable, and propagated through vectors, just like biological pathogens, and why the rational "immune system" of children makes them more susceptible to the contagion. He explores why some people are immune to the God virus, and how to inoculate children from it, such as through exposure to many strains of the virus early in life. He describes the role that guilt over sex has in the success of the God virus. He discusses whether there is a skepticism virus, and why he feels atheism is a poor organizing principle, but why humanism is not. And he talks about the New Atheist agenda, and the best ways to engage in "public health measures" to protect people from the God virus.…
Chris Mooney - Unscientific America
Chris Mooney is a 2009-2010 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science, Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Chris Mooney talks about the growing divide between science and society. He contrasts the issues addressed in The Republican War on Science with the current problems facing society as outlined in Unscientific America. He argues for the unique public policy significance of science for society, and why scientific literacy matters more than other kinds of cultural or historical literacy. He discusses the policy relevance of scientific illiteracy in terms of global warming and biotechnology. He talks about the need for scientists to become better communicators to the public. He shares his criticisms of the New Atheists and explains why their attacks against religious moderates works counter to the goal of scientific literacy. He recounts his experiences as an atheist activist while in college, and how his views have changed about campus forethought activism since that time. He explores other underlying causes of scientific illiteracy, including our educational system, the media's dysfunctional treatment of science, and growing anti-science movements such as the climate deniers and vaccine skeptics. And he details concrete actions that science advocates can take in order to increase scientific literacy.…
Russell Blackford - 50 Voices of Disbelief
Russell Blackford is an Australian writer, philosopher, and critic, and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology. His new book, edited with Udo Schuklenk, is 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Russell Blackford explains the need for 50 Voices of Disbelief. He argues that there can be no more important question than whether religion and faith deliver on their promises. He explores whether religion will persist. He contends that religious leaders are not our society's moral leaders. He discusses a number of contributed essays in the 50 Voices collection, such as James Randi's, entitled "A Magician Looks at Religion," which explores how a background in magic may inform one's understanding of religion, and Peter Adegoke's essay, which argues that religion is impeding Nigeria's social, economic and scientific progress. He talks about how the book includes contributions from people all over the world and from every continent, except Antarctica. He discusses essays by Sumitra Padmanabhan and Prabir Ghosh that explore the harms that religion cause in India, and alternatives to religion, such as humanism. He talks about how the diversity of views in the essay collection show that there is "no party-line of atheism."Â He comments on essays by psychologist and parapsychologist Susan Blackmore ("Giving Up Ghosts and Gods"), and philosopher Philip Kitcher ("Beyond Disbelief"). He discusses recent controversies over CFI's International Blasphemy Day, and opposing views of Paul Kurtz and Ron Lindsay regarding criticism of religion, and whether "moderate religion" should be criticized or viewed as an ally to advance secular, pro-science values. He talks about the relationship between atheism and progressive social values. And he argues that religion should not be allowed to remain private, and therefore beyond public scrutiny and critique.…
Ben Radford - Skepticism 2.0
Ben Radford is is one of the world's few science-based paranormal investigators, and has done first-hand research into psychics, ghosts and haunted houses, exorcisms, Bigfoot, lake monsters, UFO sightings, crop circles, and other topics. He is managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and author of Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us, and Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures (with Joe Nickell). He also writes online at LiveScience.com, MediaMythmakers.com and Monsterscience.com. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Ben Radford surveys the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, which is focused on "Skepticism 2.0" and the future of the skeptical movement. He describes various articles by contributors to the issue such as Daniel Loxton, Jeff Wagg, Karen Stollznow, Blake Smith, Heidi Anderson, Reed Esau, Tim Farley and others. He talks about blogging, podcasts and youtube and the opportunities they present for new skeptical outreach. He explores ways national skeptical organizations can collaborate. He talks about why it is important to build on the important work of skeptical luminaries such as Carl Sagan, Ray Hyman, James Randi, Martin Gardner and Joe Nickel, and how to do so. And he also talks about his sacrilegious board game Playing Gods.…
Greg Craven - What is the Worst That Could Happen?
Greg Craven is a high school science teacher and climate change activist from Oregon. His new book is What's the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Greg Craven discusses the youtube video on global warming he created that now has nearly 8 million views. He talks about applying game theory to the "decision paralysis" people have surrounding the global warming debate, using a "decision grid." He explores misunderstandings most people have about the nature of science, and whether or not science can provide certainty about important questions facing society. He emphasizes as a starting point the acknowledgement, whether one is a skeptic of global warming or a "panicked activist," that one could be wrong about global warming. He argues that the evidence is not what is most important in the climate change debate, because each side has "evidence" to support its conclusions. He talks about "confirmation bias," and how it makes it difficult to find out the truth about global warming. He explains why it is less important to personally live "green," and why others kinds of social environmentalist activism is more important. He details why America's mobilization in World War II and also modern social networking on the internet are the only two things that give him hope regarding responsibly responding to climate change.…
J.D. Trout - The Science of the Good Society
J.D. Trout is a professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, and an adjunct professor at the Parmly Sensory Sciences Institute. He writes on the nature of scientific and intellectual progress, as well as on the contribution that social science can make to human well-being. He is the author of Measuring the Intentional World, and co-author of Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. His most recent book is The Empathy Gap: Building Bridges to the Good Life and the Good Society.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, J. D. Trout argues for using science to engineer society in ways that help people overcome their natural cognitive biases. He notes that whether or not we know it, we are always participants in the social experiments, often experiments conducted by unqualified elected officials. He details a number of small experiments that have public policy implications, such as using social science to trick people into keeping hospitals more germ-free, public bathrooms cleaner, and prescriptions from being filled erroneously. He explores the tensions between the unfettered free market and governmental regulation in this regard, and argues that in many cases it is an empirical question as to whether the free market can solve a particular problem. He discusses the anti-vax movement, and the best strategies to adopt in order to overcome suspicions public health measures such as widespread vaccination programs. He argues that the evidence is overwhelming that the general public lacks the cognitive resources to consistently make good decisions about its well-being, and he defends this view from charges that it is "Big Brother." He makes a distinction between the public making good decisions about what priorities to pursue, and good decisions about the means to pursue them. He tells why he thinks the U.S. Government should create something like a House Committee on Social Science, and how such a Committee would offer an alternative to failed "Blue Ribbon" panels such as the Meese Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. He contends that the United States Government should have tax-payer funded "well being programs," similar to countries in Europe, as a public health measure (because happy people are healthier people). He he explains how the Obama Administration is allied with such proposals to use science to better engineer society, because Obama is an "Enlightenment President," who believes in the power of science to transform society for the better. And he describes what science activists can do to advance such an agenda.…
J.D. Trout - The Empathy Gap
J.D. Trout is a professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, and an adjunct professor at the Parmly Sensory Sciences Institute. He writes on the nature of scientific and intellectual progress, as well as on the contribution that social science can make to human well-being. He is the author of Measuring the Intentional World, and co-author of Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. His most recent book is The Empathy Gap: Building Bridges to the Good Life and the Good Society.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, J. D Trout draws distinctions between empathy and sympathy. He talks about the "empathy gap," which is a set of natural, evolved limits on empathy, and how these limits negatively affect society, such as difficulties people experience when trying to empathize with others who are religiously, culturally or psychologically different from themselves. He talks about how the results of empathy can actually be crippling for an individual. He talks about how we should use new research in the social sciences to overcome the empathy gap. He explores if new social science questions basic capitalistic assumptions of the American Dream and also philosophical concepts, such as free-will. He explains how new social science research supports the Enlightenment outlook. He details a number of well-researched cognitive biases that lead people to make bad decisions, such as the base-rate effect, overconfidence bias, the omission bias, the hindsight bias, and the availability bias, among others. He shares his skepticism that education about cognitive biases, or the adoption of "inside strategies," can diminish the negative effect of such biases. He proposes that society adopt "outside strategies," which is the government or institutions adopting policies and strategies to help the public overcome their cognitive biases, because he argues individuals will not be very successful on their own in counteracting them. And he explores to what extent these kind of institutional or governmental strategies and policies are "social engineering."…
Jeff Sharlet - The Family
Jeff Sharlet is a contributing editor for Harper's and Rolling Stone, and a visiting research scholar at New York University's Center for Religion and Media, where he has taught journalism and religious studies. He is the coauther, with Peter Manseau, of Killing the Buddha, and editor of TheRevealer.org. His latest book, a New York Times bestseller, is The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. In this in-depth interview with D.J. Grothe, Jeff Sharlet explains why secularists should not assume that just because there is a Democrat in the White House it follows that the religious fundamentalists' power has waned. He talks about how a secretive Christian political organization called The Family is founded in a doctrine of "Biblical Capitalism" and the "totalitarianism of Christ" that draws no distinction between religion, economics and politics and he recounts its origins in a supposed revelation from God that attacked organized labor and stated that Christianity has historically been overly focused on the poor, the weak and the suffering. He draws distinctions between the "pulpit pounders and the Bible thumpers" and "the fundamentalist elite," which is exemplified by The Family, which is comprised almost entirely of well-educated, affluent political and business leaders. He describes how The Family organizes Congressman into "private prayer cells," and runs the C Street House, which was made famous through the political sex scandals of Senator John Ensign and Governor Mark Sanford. He contrasts organizations like the Heritage Foundation and Christian leaders such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson with The Family, arguing that at least they are open with their agenda, as opposed to the Family, which unapologetically encourages secrecy by working to be "an invisible organization." He describes how The Family's relationship with the powerful is different than groups like Focus on the Family, and explains how their lack of rigid partisan or religious orthodoxy allows them to be more effective. He argues that The Family literally works to subvert democracy, and how the organization celebrates Hitler, Mao and Stalin as being among the few men the 20th Century who actually "understood the New Testament." He reports that The Family acts consistently as an intermediary between US Politicians and military leaders and businessman on the one hand, and overseas dictators such as the Somali dictator Siyad Barre, Ugandan dictator Museveni, and Indonesia dictator Suharto on the other hand, often with disastrous consequences. He details the history and importance of the National Prayer Breakfast to The Family's agenda. He describes ways that writing his expose has resulted in a backlash against him. He lists ways that secularists and progressives can work to reduce the influence of The Family in government. And he reveals a number of elected officials in high office who have ties to The Family, including Republican United States Senators Chuck Grassley, John Ensign, Jim DeMint, James Inhofe, Sam Brownback, and Lindsey Graham; Democratic United States Senator Mark Pryor; South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Former United States Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Ed Meese; and Democratic Congressmen Mike McIntyre and Bart Stupak, among others.…
William Little - The Psychic Tourist
William Little is a freelance journalist based in London, England. He has written for the Saturday Telegraph magazine, Weekend Telegraph, the Guardian, The Times and the Financial Times. He has also worked for Arena, Esquire and Cosmopolitan, and contributed articles to the Independent, the Daily Express and the Big Issue, among many others. His recent book is The Psychic Tourist: A Voyage into the Curious World of Predicting the Future. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, William Little recounts his experiences researching The Psychic Tourist, including his seminar with Sylvia Browne, meetings with UK mentalist Derren Brown, scientists Richard Dawkins and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Jospehson, attending a psychic college, and his sister's star chart predicting her death. He reveals his motivations writing the book, and talks about how his journalistic approach is different than the approach of some academic skeptics who write for more of an already skeptical audience. He explores what it might say about society if there is such widespread belief in psychics when there is so little evidence to support psychic claims. He contrasts the harm psychics do with how they may help people. He explains why he thinks of psychic belief as "disorganized religion." And he talks about the skeptics he met who weren't cold-hearted, but instead were interested in helping people. Also in this episode, Jim Underdown recounts his experiences with famous psychics making bad guesses, including John Edward and James Van Praagh.…
Paul Kurtz - A Kinder, Gentler Secularism
Paul Kurtz is founder and chair emeritus of the Center for Inquiry and founder of a number of other organizations. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of the Committee for the Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books. He is the author or editor of almost fifty books, including The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge. Throughout the last four decades, Kurtz has been a leading defender of science and reason against the prevailing cults of irrationality in our society, and has been interviewed widely in the media on a wide range of subjects, including alternative medicine and communication with the dead, to the historicity of Jesus and parapsychology. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz argues against associating secular humanism with atheism and explains whether or not he himself is an atheist. He reviews the history of the word "agnostic," and shows how it "is not a creed but a method." He explains why he is skeptical of the claims of theism. He denies that atheism is a necessary condition of secular humanism. He describes what he considers as the third "categorical imperative." He explains why he considers some atheist activists to be "fundamentalist atheists," arguing that their anti-religious stance stems from "being bruised" by religion. He talks about why he is against CFI's support of the International Blasphemy Day, and why it is "blasphemous to the whole humanist outlook" and is contrary to the "civic virtues of democracy."…
Benjamin Wiker - The Darwin Myth
Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is also a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. His books include Answering the New Atheism and Ten Books That Screwed Up The World. His Newest is The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Benjamin Wiker talks about his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. He argues that Darwinism is a distortion of evolution, and based on the secular and atheistic influence of the "radical Enlightenment." He shares his skepticism of other historians' accounts of Darwin's anguish over the implications of his views for religious belief. He contends that Darwin was a third-generation religious skeptic, and that he had an atheistic agenda from early in his life. He relates Alfred Russell Wallace's critiques of Darwin's atheistic account of evolution by natural selection, and defends Wallace from the charges of Spiritualism. He compares evolutionists who accept natural selection with neurologists who think neuroscience may or will entirely account for the human self (without a soul), and suggests both views are based on ideology. He explains his motivations to criticize Darwin based on what he argues are the immoral effects of Darwinism in society. He links Nazism, Social Darwinism and eugenics to Darwinism. He talks about abortion in the context of the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. He discusses the "is-ought problem" in philosophy, and the "naturalistic fallacy." He criticizes Darwin's accounts of how human morality may have evolved. And he argues against creationists who reject evolution, even while he himself attacks "evolution by natural selection."…
Ron Lindsay - International Blasphemy Day
Ronald A. Lindsay is a bioethicist, lawyer, and chief executive officer of the Center for Inquiry. For many years he practiced law in Washington, DC, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University, where he taught jurisprudence and philosophy courses. His new book is Future Bioethics: Overcoming Taboos, Myths, and Dogmas. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Ron Lindsay describes CFI's Campaign for Free Expression, and its goals to defend free speech and oppose even self-censorship. He details the pleaseblock.us website, which is a component of the campaign, along with announcing a cartoon contest in honor of the Danish Muslim cartoon controversy of a few years back. He explores the relationship between free expression and free inquiry. He examines the recent controversy surrounding the Yale-published book on the Muslim Cartoon issue, and why the book's editors chose not to include the cartoons in the book. He talks about CFI's sponsorship of International Blasphemy Day, and its aims, which include highlighting blasphemy laws around the world, some of which carry life-sentences or the death penalty. He argues against recent United Nations resolutions against the defamation of religions. He shares details of CFI's "Blasphemy Contest." He defends the strategic utility of organizing people to blaspheme, despite the fact that it may be offensive. And he lists some of the ways listeners can get involved celebrating Blasphemy Day at various Centers for Inquiry throughout North America and around the world.…
Mark Blumberg - Freaks of Nature
Mark S. Blumberg is Professor and Starch Faculty Fellow at the University of Iowa. His books include The Oxford Handbook of Developmental Behavioral Neuroscience, Body Heat: Temperature and Life on Earth, and Basic Instinct: The Genesis of Behavior. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, and President of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology. His newest book is Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Mark Blumberg describes how he became interested in "freaks of nature" as a way to question prevailing concepts within biology regarding genes, instincts, and pre-formed abilities. He talks about why he sees genetic determinism as "action at a distance thinking," and why he thinks it is similar to creationist views, and describes both as "magical ways of thinking about nature." He explains epigenetics. He describes how certain non-genetic factors that shape behavior may be inherited from one generation to the next. He discusses "sexual freaks" and sexual ambiguity in nature, and shows how in many ways, it is the norm in nature. He predicts the extinction of creationist thinking, and talks about how freaks of nature are a missed opportunity for those science advocates battling intelligent design and creationism, even as he also criticizes belief in "evolution's design" and "magical genes." He contrasts his views with those of evolutionary psychology as regards brain development. And he responds to notable critics of his views, such as Jerry Coyne.…
Zachary Shore - Blunder
Zachary Shore is Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He previously served on the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State. He is the author of What Hitler Knew: The Battle for Information in Nazi Foreign Policy, and Breeding Bin Ladens: America, Islam, and the Future of Europe. His most recent book is Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Zachary Shore talks about decision making, both at the personal and international level, and shares reasons even smart people make bad decisions. He describes what the field of history uniquely reveals about the tools needed to avoid decision-making blunders. He details the many ways that people fall into "cognition traps," including "exposure anxiety," "causefusion," "flatview," and "static cling," drawing from examples from individuals, international politics and statecraft, and corporate America. He identifies the various rigid mindsets that cause the cognition traps. And he suggests solutions to avoid blunders in thinking, including increasing one's empathy, imagination, and flexibility.…
James Randi - The Faith Healers
James "The Amazing" Randi is a world-renowned magician, skeptic and investigator of paranormal claims and is a central figure in the founding of the world-wide skeptical movement. Perhaps best known for the One Million Dollar Challenge, in which his educational foundation awards $1,000,000 to anyone who is able to show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. Randi has appeared widely in the media, including on Johnny Carsonâ€™s Tonight Show at least 22 times and he is also a regular on Penn and Tellerâ€™s Showtime series, Bullshit! Â He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the MacArthur Genius Grant, and the American Physical Society's Forum Award for Promoting Public Understanding of the Relation of Physics to Society. He is the author of many books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, Flim-Flam! and The Faith Healers. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, James Randi talks about the future of The Amazing Meeting, his annual popular critical thinking convention in Las Vegas. He also discusses various faith healers he has investigated, and his real motivations in doing so. He talks about the first faith healer he exposed in Toronto as a teenager. He explores reasons why faith healers he has debunked still persist in their TV empires. He shares his views of Ernest Angley. He recounts his expose of Peter Popoff, including Popoff's use of an earpiece to receive information about his congregants that they believed was revealed by the Holy Spirit. Â He explains why people believe in faith healers despite evidence to the contrary. Other faith healers he criticizes include Pat Robertson and his "Words of Knowledge," V.A. Grant, Oral Roberts, and Filipino psychic surgeons, recounting some of their deceptive methods they use to beguile believers. He talks about the special place "psychic surgery" has in the Pentecostal Church. He compares faith healers' methods to the methods of psychics and "cold readers" such as John Edward, and explores whether faith healers are deliberately deceptive or are merely self-deceptive. He also debates whether faith healing might actually work on occasion, due to psychological phenomena such as the placebo effect. And he talks about the role that magicians should play in exposing frauds in the public interest. Also in this interview, James Underdown, scientific paranormal investigator and executive director of CFI's Hollywood branch, recounts his experiences with Benny Hinn's healing crusades, and talks about how Benny Hinn may or may not be like Adolph Hitler.…
Ayaan Hirsi Ali - The Caged Virgin
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, was raised Muslim, and spent her childhood and young adulthood in Africa and Saudi Arabia. In 1992, Hirsi Ali came to the Netherlands as a refugee. She earned her M.A. in political science and worked for the Dutch Labor party. She has served as a Dutch parliamentarian, fighting for the rights of Muslim women in Europe, the enlightenment of Islam, and security in the West. She was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and by Reader's DigestÂ as "European of the Year." She is the author of The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, and the acclaimed Infidel.Â In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Ayaan Hirsi Ali recounts opportunities that have allowed her to become emancipated from Islam, emphasizing that every woman in Islamic societies can likewise work against oppression and "have faith in reason." She talks about how 9-11 was a turning point in her "gradual process of enlightenment" to renounce Islam. She explains why she rejects Islam and all religions, even while recognizing that religion has some positive characteristics. She draws distinctions between favorable concepts of God in Judaism or Christianity versus destructive concepts of God within Islam. She argues that Islam, unlike Christianity and Judaism, is not a just a religion, but is a political ideology at its core, and that it is fundamentally incompatible with liberal democracies. She contends that anyone who cares about the freedom of individuals should work to "defeat Islam." She recounts how gay rights figured prominently in her initial decision to speak out and write as a Muslim apostate. She explores why Islam needs its own Voltaire, and why it has been so difficult for Islam to have its own Reformation or Enlightenment. She shares examples from the Koran that demand from Muslims complete submission, even at the expense of one's empathy and conscience. She talks about reform movements within Islam, including BahÃ¡'Ã, the followers of Ä€gÄ KhÄn, and Ahmadiyya, and why they have failed to moderate the core political ideology of the Muslim faith. She talks about every individual Muslim is commanded in the Koran both to do good and to punish evil, and the implications of this doctrine for the rule of law in society. She talks about why liberal reinterpretation of religious texts is easier in Christianity and Judaism than within Islam. She discusses her own experience of female genital mutilation, and how the practice is used to enforce the dogma of virginity. She compares and contrasts female genital mutilation with male circumcision, and argues that both practices -- cutting into the bodies of children based on religious belief -- should be stopped. She talks about her involvement in slain director Theo van Gogh's movie Submission, which focused on how Islam harms women. She defends 17-year old Rifqa Bary's decision to convert from Islam to Christianity, even though in Ayaan Hirsi Ali's view it is just going "from one superstition to another." She expresses outrage at the death threats and other reactions from the Muslim community to Bary's decision. And she explains how situations like Bary's and Van Gogh's murder, along with the death threats that she has received, only motivate her to speak out more, because "it is a worse kind of death to be alive but to be silenced."…
Tom Flynn - Secular Humanism versus . . . Atheism?
Tom Flynn is Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Editor of Free Inquiry magazine. A journalist, novelist, entertainer, and folklorist, Flynn is the author of numerous articles for Free Inquiry, many addressing church-state issues, as well as the best-selling The Trouble With Christmas, about which he has made hundreds of radio and TV appearances in his role as the curmudgeonly â€œanti-Claus.â€ He is also the author of the critically acclaimed anti-religious black comedy science fiction novels, Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred. His latest work, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, is a comprehensive reference work on the history, beliefs, and thinking of Americaâ€™s fastest growing minority: those who live without religion. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Tom Flynn talks about his new role as Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, and the relationship of that organization with the Center for Inquiry, including contrasting the Council's grassroots network of secular humanist and freethought societies with the growing network of Centers for Inquiry throughout North America. He describes the Council's and CFI's new jointly sponsored Campaign for Free Expression. He explores the philosophical underpinnings of the Council for Secular Humanism, which includes advocating for and defending a nonreligious life stance rooted in science, naturalistic philosophy and humanist ethics. He criticizes the impulse among some secularist activists to avoid the term "atheism," because secular humanism presumes atheism, and he argues that secular humanists should "come out" as atheists. He explains why secularist or science activists in the political arena who strategically avoid the term "atheist" may appear to be disingenuous. But then he contrasts secular humanism with atheism, arguing that "atheism is just the beginning." He details new survey results showing that the fastest growing cognitive minority group and the only life-stance minority group that has grown over the last eight years in all fifty States is the nonreligious, and argues that between 8-10% of the U.S. population are "hard seculars," those who are explicitly atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, as opposed to people who are merely "unchurched." He explores the possibility of more elected officials "coming out" as atheists and secular humanists, and more atheists and secular humanists getting elected to public office. And he details some factors he thinks will indicate in the near future that secular humanism and atheism have become more widely acceptable in our society.…
Peter Singer - The Life You Can Save
Peter Singer has been called "the worldâ€™s most influential living philosopher," by The New Yorker and Time Magazine listed him in â€œThe Time 100,â€ their annual listing of the worldâ€™s 100 most influential people. He is DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne. He writes a regular column for Free Inquiry magazine, and is the author of dozens of books, including Practical Ethics, Rethinking Life and Death, and Animal Liberation (which has sold more than a half million copies), Writings on an Ethical Life, One World: Ethics and Globalization, The President of Good and Evil (about George W. Bush), and The Way We Eat. His most recent book is The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Peter Singer details how twenty-six thousand children die each day of preventable diseases and poverty worldwide, and contrasts this toll with the public's moral outrage over the blackest days in our history, such as 9/11/2001. He talks about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth regarding the poor, and questions why most Christians today have seemed not to make ending world poverty a priority, instead focusing on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which are not mentioned by Jesus. Singer argues that when people in affluent societies value even small luxuries more highly than saving the lives of the world's poor, that it is morally equivalent to standing by when one could easily save someone from drowning. He says that "if you're not doing something serious to end world poverty, that you're not living an ethical life." He suggests that much philanthropy, such as charitable giving to the arts, should be less of a priority than fighting world poverty. He recommends various aid organizations that merit financial support, such as Oxfam International, and highlights GiveWell, whose purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of other aid organizations. He suggests that it is often more efficient for private organizations to administer aid than it is for governments to provide poverty relief. He argues against various challenges to his position: that giving to the poor may foster their dependence, that charity should begin at home, that the poor deserve their lot, and that our lack of concern about the world's poor may be a natural function of our evolved human nature to care primarily about our own kin. He argues that while his ethics is informed by the worldview based in the sciences and Darwinism, that it is not derived from Darwinism, and he argues against "Social Darwinism," and "the survival of the fittest." He explores the strategic implications that the demanding nature of his ethics has for its more widespread adoption in society. He talks about the meaning and sense of purpose that fighting to end world poverty may create in one's life. And he expresses the hope that skeptical and nonreligious people will become more motivated to fight world poverty, even without religious incentives, and that they will become part of a new culture of giving.…
Tom Clark - Scientific Naturalism and the Illusion of Free Will
Tom Clark is director of the non-profit Center for Naturalism and author of Encountering Naturalism: A Worldview and Its Uses. He writes on science, free will, consciousness, addiction and other topics, and maintains Naturalism.org, an extensive resource on worldview naturalism. He is also moderator for the monthly philosophy cafÃ© at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Tom Clark discusses the implications of a thorough-going scientific naturalism for the concepts of the self and of free will. He contrasts "contra-causal free will" with kinds of political or social freedom, and argues that the former is a vestige of outmoded religious or dualistic thinking. He talks about compatibilism, and how he can be a skeptic of free will while also prizing personal freedom, how determinism can be compatible with certain kinds of free will. He explores what these implications of scientific naturalism might actually mean for criminal justice, and how rejecting concepts of free-will may empower society to be more humanistic and to solve social ills more effectively. And he talks about the growth of skepticism about free will, both in the academic scientific communities and in the skeptic and freethought world.…
Ray Hyman - The Elusive Quarry
Ray Hyman is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon and one of the leading figures of modern skepticism. He was a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP). He has been a consultant with the U.S. Department of Defense, helping investigate parapsychology for the government and is the author of many books, such as The Elusive Quarry, and many articles in the scholarly literature, such as his popular manuscript that teaches people how to appear to have psychic powers by using "cold reading." A former magician and mentalist, he has been featured on the cover of The Linking Ring, the magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Hyman was a co-recipient of the 2005 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, and also CSI's In Praise of Reason Award. For almost 20 years, he has run the popular Skeptics Toolbox, which trains rationalists in the best methods of advancing skepticism in our society.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Ray Hyman recounts the history of his many critiques of the various Ganzfeld Experiments, which are scientific tests of psychic ability. He details his assessments of the later "Auto Ganzfeld experiments." He shares his evaluations of other various research projects in parapsychology, and levels criticism against some skeptics who have too hastily dismissed parapsychology's findings. He talks about his beginnings as a magician-debunker, and as a mentalist, and how he got involved in applying magic to his skeptical investigation of parapsychological claims. He explores whether or not the government should make fortune-telling illegal. He explains how leading scientists can believe in the claims of parapsychology, even without sufficient evidence. He describes some of his experiences with Uri Geller. He talks about the ethical implications of teaching non-magicians the art of cold-reading. He reveals ethical problems he has had with the Psychic Entertainers Association, and how giving psychic readings may cause real harm to clients. And he talks about how he may disagree with James Randi as regards the usefulness of magicians in conducting psychic research.…
Susan Sackett - The Secular Humanism of Star Trek
Susan Sackett began an association with Gene Roddenberry, creator of the television legend â€œStar Trek,â€ serving as his personal executive assistant for over 17 years until his death in October 1991. She also served as his production assistant on the first Star Trek film and worked closely with him on the next five Star Trek movies. Â In addition, she served as Production Associate during the first five seasons of the television series, â€œStar Trek: The Next Generation.â€ Â She is the author of 10 books about the film and television industry. In 1994, Susan left California and relocated to Arizona, where she got involved with the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, for which she has been president since 2000. Since 2005, she has been on the Board of Directors of the American Humanist Association, and currently serves on the Executive Committee as Secretary. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Susan Sackett recounts her history with Gene Roddenberry and the influence he had on her, especially regarding the development of her secular humanist worldview. She talks about Roddenberry's unshakable optimism about humanity's future, and how that was expressed in his creative efforts. She discusses social justice and political messages written into the original 1960's Star Trek series, such as racial and gender equality, and allegories about the United States' involvement in Vietnam. She talks about explicitly secular humanist themes throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation, specifically in episodes like Who Watches the Watchers. She debates other topics addressed within the various Star Trek series, such as distribution of wealth, overpopulation, and the end of the nation-state, and whether or not there was a Marxist bias in the shows. And she reveals her favorite Star Trek episode, and why it is her favorite.…
Michael Shermer - Science, Skepticism and Libertarianism
Michael Shermer is one of the most well-known skeptics in America, working for decades to advance the scientific outlook in society. He is a contributing editor and monthly columnist for Scientific American, and is the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech.Â Since his founding of the Skeptics Society in Southern California and Skeptic magazine, he has appeared widely on TV and radio on shows such as 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Oprah, Unsolved Mysteries, and many more.Â He is the author of many books, including Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, and Why People Believe Weird Things.Â Â His most recent book is The Mind of the Market:Â Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Michael Shermer discusses skepticism and its possible relationship to libertarianism. He argues that what some organizations define as "humanism" are actually positions that have nothing to do with humanism, but with Marxism and social democracy. He talks about why he has begun speaking out more about libertarianism as a leader in the skeptical movement. He admits that he may be more of a moderate libertarian than some others who defend that political and economic perspective. He talks about tensions within libertarianism as regards national defense, and what he sees as the need for national armies after 9-11. He explains which came first for him: libertarianism or skepticism, and talks about the influence of Ayn Rand on his intellectual development. He argues that Ayn Rand is still relevant even if her view of human nature (that people are basically selfish and that there is no such thing as altruism) upon which her economic theories are based is not born out by recent developments in cognitive and evolutionary psychology.Â He talks about Adam Smith, and how this year is the 250th anniversary of Â his first book, A Theory of Moral Sentiments, which presents his views regarding people's natural propensity for empathy and sympathy. Â He defends free market capitalism despite what some consider recent wholesale failures of the market, and criticizes Alan Greenspan's betrayal of free market ideals. He attacks the current economic system which engages in corporate welfare and "economic tribalism" for being "capitalist in profits but socialist in losses." Other topics he touches on include the gold standard, tax revolt anarchism, income redistribution, and how he would prefer religion and the private sector to help the poor as opposed the government providing for the welfare of the economically disadvantaged. He defends the growing disparity between the super rich and the very poor, and the position that most poor people in the West deserve their lot in life due to their own bad decisions. He talks about his book The Mind of the Market and why people believe weird things about money. He explores the implications of the burgeoning fields of behavioral economics and neuroeconomics for his libertarian position. He describes the basic elements of evolutionary economics, a field he has pioneered. And he defends the position that skepticism should not remain apolitical â€” instead, he argues that skeptics should apply their skepticism to religion and God, pseudoscience and the paranormal, and also economics and politics.Â …
Dale McGowan - Raising Freethinkers
Dale McGowan has edited and co-authored Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, the first comprehensive resources for nonreligious parents. He writes the secular parenting blog The Meming of Life, teaches nonreligious parenting seminars across the United States, and serves as executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a 501(c)(3) humanist charitable and educational foundation based in Atlanta. In September 2008 he was named Harvard Humanist of the Year by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Dale McGowan talks about raising freethinking children who are steeped in the values of science and humanism. He confronts some of reasons why some nonreligious parents may continue to raise their children in a religion, including moral education, identity and community. He describes trends within the scientific rationalist and humanist movements to provide secular community, which he argues are being driven by freethinking families. He talks about ways that church is increasingly becoming replaced by secular communities, and how churches are increasingly becoming more like secular community centers, as opposed to worship centers. He argues that raising freethinkers is the opposite of indoctrinating children in atheism, secular humanism or skepticism, emphasizing that "freethinking" is an approach to knowledge as opposed to a worldview. He also argues that parenting should not be focused on the value of inquiry and scientific skepticism, but on wonder, mystery and awe. He talks about the dangers of inculcating elitism among freethinking children. He explains why teaching about religion to freethinking children is important. He addresses ways of confronting death and the meaning of life with freethinking children, including how highly unlikely it is that any of us even exist. He talks about alternatives to lying to children about heaven, including facts from physics about the atoms in our bodies having existed since the beginning of the universe, and how such scientific truths may take on mystical pantheistic meanings. He talks about new social science research on happiness, and how it relates to and informs secular parenting. And he cautions that applying the best social science to parenting shouldn't mean that we make our children our next science project.
Also in this episode, Michael Blanford, founder of the Skeptical Society of St. Louis and coordinator for the Life Science Lab for the St. Louis Science Center, shares an audio essay about the awe of science for children and why freethinkers should be more emotionally engaged when celebrating evolution as the story of life.…
David Koepsell - Who Owns You?
David Koepsell is an author, philosopher, and attorney whose recent research focuses on the nexus of science, technology, ethics, and public policy. He is Assistant Professor, Philosophy Section, Faculty of Technology, Policy, and Management at the Technology University of Delft, in The Netherlands, andSenior Fellow, 3TU Centre for Ethics and Technology, The Netherlands. He is also the author of The Ontology of Cyberspace: Philosophy, Law, and the Future of Intellectual Property, as well as numerous scholarly articles on law, philosophy, science, and ethics. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, David Koepsell discusses the implications of corporations patenting parts of the human genome, and how current patent practices negatively impact basic scientific research in genetics. He reviews the history of the practice of patenting genes and contrasts private ownership of gene sequences found in nature with that of the public ownership of the work of the Human Genome Project. He contrasts discovery with invention, and argues that patents should apply only to the latter. He details the relationship of human genes being patented with the practices of big agribusiness owning engineered crops, such as Monsanto's "terminator corn." He discusses the ACLU's recent lawsuit against Myriad Genetics on behalf of scientists and cancer patients, and how it may lead to one of the most important legal battles in the history of biotechnology. He talks about "upstream" and "downstream" patents, and how this impacts genetic research. And he discusses various solutions currently proposed for the problems resulting from private ownership of naturally occurring gene sequences.…
Jeff Schweitzer - Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World
Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer is an author, scientist and public speaker who has traveled widely speaking to varied groups about the application of the scientific worldview to public policy and ethical questions. He has published more than one hundred articles in an eclectic range of fields, including neurobiology, marine science, international development, environmental protection, and even aviation. He formerly served as assistant director for international affairs in the Clinton White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He is a featured blogger on Huffington Post. His new book is Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer argues that adopting the scientific view of human origins has implications for understanding that morality is a consequence of our biology. He argues that religion puts humanity on a pedestal, and why that is dangerous. He contends that religion has failed to morally guide humanity, and he attacks religion for impeding the moral development of humanity and for causing much human suffering. He explains that religion results from fear of death, an attempt to understand the universe, achieve social cohesion and political power, and an attempt to control our fate by appealing to gods. But he argues that in the age of science, these reasons are no longer compelling. He denies that science has become a religion in itself. He explores if and how religion and science ask different questions, and if science can answer the existential questions that religion attempts to answer. He argues that life has no ultimate meaning, and that he derives this fact from science, while denying that this leads to nihilism. He discusses existentialism and contrasts it with his scientific worldview. He argues against the concept of free will as a false concept of religion, and discusses the implications this has for moral responsibility. He talks about the biological component to human morality, and defends his position from the charge of moral relativism, while admitting a kind of cultural relativism. He discusses Social Darwinism, and distinguishes core values from social values that progress over time. He explains components of his moral view, and compares his view with scientific or secular humanism. And he suggests that humanity is at a crossroads where our continued survival is uncertain, and describes the kind of behaviors consistent with a natural ethic that may be key to humanity's surviving the future.…
Paul Kurtz - Science and the Limits of the New Skepticism
Paul Kurtz is founder and chair of the Center for Inquiry and a number of other organizations. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of the Committee for the Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books. He is the author or editor of almost fifty books, including The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge. Throughout the last four decades, Kurtz has been a leading defender of science and reason against the prevailing cults of irrationality in our society, and has been interviewed widely in the media on subjects ranging from alternative medicine and communication with the dead, to the historicity of Jesus and parapsychology.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz discusses the rationale for changing the name of CSICOP to the Committee of Skeptical Inquiry. He argues that the organized skeptical movement should apply the methods of scientific and skeptical inquiry to religion, and not just to paranormal claims, and he contrasts this approach with a direct atheistic assault on belief in God. He argues that while skepticism is essential to science, that the skeptical movement should promote the application of the methods of scientific inquiry into politics and economics, and talks about how divisive this may be within the skeptical movement. He considers whether political and economic questions are as amenable to critical thinking and skeptical inquiry as are paranormal claims. He talks about global warming and the extent to which the scientific community should be attentive to "global warming skeptics." He explains why he is cautious of certainty, contrasting certain knowledge with reliable knowledge, and recounts examples in the history of science when widely believed scientific theories were overturned by a small minority of new theorists. He talks about political and economic views he once held that he no longer holds. He contrasts skeptical inquiry with the classical skepticism of ancient Greece and Rome. And he argues that the new skepticism is not negative nor nay-saying, but rather is an affirmative and constructive philosophical worldview.…
Bruce M. Hood - Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable
Bruce M. Hood is chair of the Cognitive Development Center in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol. He was a research fellow at Cambridge and has been a visiting scientist at MIT and professor at Harvard. Hood has received many awards for his work in child development and cognitive neuroscience. His newest book is Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Bruce M. Hood explains how his agenda is different than the common skeptical agenda to disprove supernatural claims, and instead is an attempt to explain why people believe hold such beliefs in the first place. He argues that everyone is born with a "supersense," an instinct to believe in unseen forces and to recognize patterns and infer their causation, citing examples such as seeing Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich, or the case of the "haunted scrotum." He explains how this supersense is universal, and that even skeptics and rationalists often exhibit it in their lives through rituals and the owning certain valued possessions, such as Richard Dawkins' prizing of objects once owned by Charles Darwin or MIT growing saplings from the tree under which Newton first discovered the laws of gravity. He details how rituals give a perceived sense of control to believers, and how they may actually affect a believer's performance. He talks about the "secular supernatural," contrasting it with the "religious supernatural." He argues against Daniel Dennett's and Richard Dawkins's thesis that religious belief results primarily from indoctrination in childhood. And he defends the position that unbelievable beliefs serve important social functions.…
Mary Roach - Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, National Geographic, New Scientist, and the New York Times Magazine. Her latest book is Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Mary Roach reveals why she looks to science rather than to religion for answers about death and sex, and why she is interested in such topics in the first place. She talks about the history of sex research, including Leonardo Da Vinci's anatomical explorations of coitus, as well as 19th century sex research connected to fertility and STDs. She talks about religious opposition to scientific research of human sexuality, and how it affects funding. She describes some on Alfred Kinsey's research that showed the diversity of sexual activity in the United States. She details various scientific attempts to improve human sexuality, including grafting additional testicles on men, or surgically relocating women's clitorises. She explores the role of the placebo effect in certain sexual cures, such as for impotence or increased arousal. And she talks about the link between sexual satisfaction and overall happiness.…
Dacher Keltner - Born to Be Good
Dacher Keltner is professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, director of the Greater Good Science Center, and coeditor of Greater Good magazine. His researchÂ focuses on the prosocial emotions, such as love, sympathy and gratitude, and processes such as teasing and flirtation that enhance bonds. He has conducted empirical studies in three areas of inquiry: the determinants and effects of power, hierarchy and social class; the morality of everyday life, and how we negotiate moral truths in teasing, gossip, and other reputational matters; and the biological and evolutionary basis of the benevolent affects, including compassion, awe, love, gratitude, and laughter and modesty. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Dacher Keltner explores the evolutionary origins of human goodness, challenging the view that humans are hardwired to pursue self-interest and to compete. Based on his studies of human emotion, he argues instead that survival is not a matter of who is the fittest, but perhaps who is the kindest -- that people may have compassion built into their brains, nervous systems, and genes. He talks about the influence of Charles Darwin on his work studying human emotions. He elaborates on Darwin's position that sympathy is our strongest evolved instinct, and what everyday behaviors such as smiling, shrugging, and hand-shakes tell us about the conditions of our deep evolution as primates. He talks about how he is taking the Darwinian approach of looking at moment by moment expressions of emotion and asking how these emotions shape a meaningful life. He explains why he looks to science, as well as to secular Eastern philosophy such as Confucianism, for answers about a meaningful life, rather than to Western religions. He describes his concept of the Jen ratio, and how it relates to the neuroscience of happiness. And he explains what the scientific study of positive emotions and activities such as smiling, laughter, teasing, touching, love, gratitude and awe may suggest about happy marriages, well-adapted children, and healthy communities.…
Austin Dacey - The U.N. and Defamation of Religions
Austin Dacey serves as a respresentative to the United Nations for CFI, and is also on the editorial staff of Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry magazines. His writings have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times and USA Today. His new book is The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Austin Dacey details his trip to Geneva, Switzerland on behalf of the Center for Inquiry's UN mission. He describes the UN lobbying efforts of the Center and its response to the United Nations Human Rights Council's resolution "Combatting the Defamation of Religions." He explains that despite legitimate concerns about stereotyping Muslims or racial profiling, this resolution equates any criticism or satire of religious beliefs with bigotry. He contrasts Europe's position on free speech with the United States' and how it is used by Islamic countries to justify their blasphemy laws, which often carry mandatory sentences of death or life in prison. He talks about how the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the United Nations aims to build into international human rights such legal standards that actually outlaw offensive speech against religions. And he argues that what should be protected under international human rights laws are individuals, and not ideas â€” that persons should be protected from harm and discrimination, as opposed to ideologies being protected from being criticized or satirized.…
Neil deGrasse Tyson - The Pluto Files
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, director of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, a monthly columnist for Natural History, and an award-winning author. Tyson is also the host of NOVA ScienceNOW and a frequent guest on The Daily Show and Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and television documentaries on the universe. His latest book is The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Neil deGrasse Tyson recounts recent discoveries in astronomy, including methane on Mars and its possible implications, and questions regarding dark matter and dark energy. He explains how ignorance is seductive for the scientist. He details his involvement in the controversy regarding the status of Pluto, and the role of the Hayden Planetarium in the international debate over solar system nomenclature. He describes wether teaching the controversy over Pluto's status is helpful in teaching astronomy, and how this compares to the "teaching the controversy" argument regarding evolution versus intelligent design creationism. And he shares his views about the best ways to teach the solar system to students, by comparing and contrasting objects in the solar system and how they relate to each other.…
Angie McQuaig - Camp Inquiry
Angie McQuaig is a distinguished educator whose PhD is in educational leadership. Dr. McQuaig has served for nineteen years in public education as a teacher and administrator both in the US and abroad. She is currently chief academic officer in a professional development company that trains teachers on exemplary pedagogy. Dr. McQuaig is the education advisor on the steering committee of Science Debate Inc. and Director of Camp Inquiry, an educational program for youth emphasizing humanistic, scientific, and critical thinking.Â In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Angie McQuaig talks about Camp Inquiry, the Center for Inquiry's summer youth camp. She explains the camp's mission, and how it aims to encourage humanistic, scientific and critical thinking among young people. She contrasts the mission of Camp Inquiry with religious summer camps like Jesus Camp. She explains the process of critical inquiry that is emphasized at Camp Inquiry, and argues against "secularist indoctrination." She recounts how campers at Camp Inquiry come from many different backgrounds, including religious backgrounds. And she details the various kinds of activities teacher-counselors and children engage in at Camp Inquiry, including magic, games, science experiments, workshops, skeptical investigations and secular ethical inquiry.…
Eric Maisel - The Atheists Way
Eric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction. His nonfiction titles include Coaching the Artist Within, Fearless Creating, The Van Gogh Blues, The Creativity Book, Performance Anxiety, Ten Zen Seconds, A Writerâ€™s San Francisco, and A Writerâ€™s Paris. A columnist for Art Calendar magazine, Maisel is a creativity coach and creativity coach trainer who presents keynote addresses and workshops nationally and internationally. His new book is The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Eric Maisel addresses atheists who don't always find it easy to live as atheists, as well as religious believers who have doubts. He describes how the atheistic scientific worldview offers more advantages than the religious perspective. He encourages an understanding of the "tradition of atheism," and explains how to derive inspiration from it. He talks about how new atheists may cope with the loss of their church communities, even when they satisfy important human needs. He details the "main problem" for atheists, which he argues is making meaning in an indifferent universe. He talks about the importance of the atheist actively self-creating, being the hero of her own story, defending a radical individualism. He talks about existential depression that atheists may experience, and ways to respond to this nihilism and ultimate meaninglessness in the universe. And he defends the position that each atheist should be an "active moral philosopher," and "make his own ethics."…
Jerry A. Coyne - Why Evolution Is True
Jerry A. Coyne has been a professor at the University of Chicago in the department of ecology and evolution for twenty years. He specializes in evolutionary genetics and works predominantly on the origin of new species. He is a regular contributor to The New Republic, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. His most recent book is Why Evolution Is True.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Jerry Coyne talks about extent and breadth of the evidence for evolution and how the reasons for believing in evolution are not as clearly argued in today's textbooks as they were fifty years ago. He contends that professional evolutionists may take evolution on faith, or on the authority of their intellectual forerunners. He explains how evolution is both a theory and a fact. He details the various kinds of evidence for evolution, including evidence from the fossil record, molecular biology, embryology, the existence of vestigial organs, biogeography, and from bad design. He explores how Darwin discovered evolution by natural selection without the evidence from the fossil record. He explains how sexual reproduction is the key to evolution, and talks about sexual selection. He discusses the Intelligent Design movement and exactly how many scientists are actually proponents of ID. He lists some genuine controversies within evolution, and states that they are indeed taught in the schools. He discusses the relationship of belief in evolution to disbelief in God. And he explains why he feels the need, as a scientist, to publicly speak out in defense of Darwinism.…
Norm Allen - Skepticism and Black History
Norm Allen is executive director of African Americans for Humanism, an educational organization primarily concerned with fostering critical thinking, ethical conduct, church-state separation, and skepticism toward untested claims to knowledge among African Americans.Â He is the editor of the ground-breaking book African-American Humanism: An Anthology, AAH Examiner, and Deputy Editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He has traveled and lectured widely throughout North America, Europe, and Africa and his writings have been published in scores of newspapers throughout the U.S. He has spoken on numerous radio and television programs and his writings have appeared in such books as Culture Wars and the National Center for Science Educationâ€™s Voices for Evolution. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Norm Allen discusses black history in the context of science and secularism. He talks about the Senegalese physicist Cheikh Anta Diop, and his humanistic views which were coupled with his science advocacy. He talks about Charles Drew, and his influence on setting up the first blood banks, as well as urban legends that have developed around him. He talks about the pseudoscience of supposed alternative medicine cures for AIDS, and their prominence in the black community. He talks about other black scientists and freethought figures, and defends the argument for the need for a "Black History Month." He describes the need for skepticism in the black community, focusing on how the black media covers psychics and belief in prophecy, citing examples of Tony Brown and Montel Williams. He also details some of the current black leaders in the skeptical movement, recounting the first African skeptical conference that he attended last year in Senegal.…
Ronald A. Lindsay - The Future of The Center for Inquiry
Ronald A. Lindsay is a bioethicist, lawyer, and chief executive officer and senior research fellow of the Center for Inquiry. For many years he practiced law in Washington, DC, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University, where he taught jurisprudence and philosophy courses. His new book is Future Bioethics: Overcoming Taboos, Myths, and Dogmas. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Ron Lindsay recounts his nearly thirty year history with the organization, including his role in a landmark legal case in Alabama regarding the question of whether or not secular humanism is a religion, elaborating on how the argument has been used since by the religious right. He describes the relationship of the "family of organizations" at the Center for Inquiry, including the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), giving their histories. He talks about Paul Kurtz' inspiring and foundational role in all of these organizations and in the worldwide movements that they support. And he talks about why it is more important now than ever to get involved at the grassroots to advance the scientific and secular values of the Center for Inquiry, even with President Obama in the White House, highlighting concerns he has with Obama's positions on a number of issues.…
David J Linden - The Accidental Mind
David J. Linden, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His laboratory has worked for many years on the cellular substrates of memory storage in the brain, among other topics. He has a longstanding interest in scientific communication and serves as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology.
In this broad discussion with D.J. Grothe, David Linden challenges widespread beliefs about the brain, such as that people only use ten percent of it and that it is amazingly designed, arguing instead that the brain is "accidental." He talks about why, as a brain scientist, he writes about topics such as love, God and sexual orientation. He describes the downsides of how the brain has evolved by including systems from previous brain "models," and how this has given rise to those qualities that most profoundly shape our human experience. He discusses the neuron, and how it is a "lousy processor of information," describing how evolution has nonetheless used it to build "clever us." He talks about how our brains have constrained us, and may have physically led to the necessity of marriage, family and long childhoods. He surveys various claims regarding the enhancement of our cognitive capacities, such as playing Mozart to babies in utero, vitamins, smart drugs, mental exercises, and physical exercise. He talks about the brain science of homosexuality. And he argues that the brain has evolved to make everyone a "believer," describing the similarities between belief in science and in religion, that both are similar "branches of the same cognitive stream."…
John W. Loftus - Why I Became an Atheist
John W. Loftus earned M.A. and M.Div. degrees in theology and philosophy from Lincoln Christian Seminary under the guidance of Dr. James D. Strauss. He then attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he studied under Dr. William Lane Craig and received a Th.M. degree in philosophy of religion. Before leaving the church, he had ministries in Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, and taught at several Christian colleges. Today he still teaches as an adjunct instructor in philosophy at Kellogg Community College and has an online blog devoted to "debunking Christianity." His new book is Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, John Loftus discusses his background as an Evangelical Christian preacher and apologist and what led to his rejection of the faith, including both emotional loss and "lovelessness in the church," and also philosophical arguments and historical evidence that caused him to doubt. He critiques the Christian illusion of moral superiority. He challenges religion with what he calls the "outsider test." He explores whether logic and reason led to his atheism, or followed only after he adopted an atheistic point of view for emotional reasons. And he explains what he does believe in now that he no longer believes in Christianity or God, and the benefits he thinks this new worldview brings him.…
Kendrick Frazier - The Skeptical Inquirer
Kendrick Frazier has been the editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine for over 30 years. He is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the American Geophysical Union. In 2005, Frazier was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for "distinguished contributions to the public understanding of science through writing for and editing popular science magazines that emphasize science news and scientific reasoning and methods." He is the author of a number of books, including The Hundredth Monkey: And Other Paradigms of the Paranormal, Encounters With the Paranormal: Science, Knowledge, and Belief, and Paranormal Borderlands of Science. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Kendrick Frazier discusses his long association with CSI (formerly CSICOP) and with Skeptical Inquirer magazine and explores the meanings of skeptical inquiry, both as ordinary common sense and as being continuous with science. He contrasts the paranormal with science, and explains why the paranormal was the initial focus of CSICOP. He explores debates within the skeptical community, such as whether or not belief in the paranormal is diminishing, and to what extent the movement has been successful. He talks about the breadth of claims currently dealt with at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, including both popular paranormal claims and more controversial scientific and scholarly subjects. He talks about three recent issues of Skeptical Inquirer focused on "deniers" and explains how deniers are different than skeptics. He explains paranormal or pseudoscientific claims that he has changed his mind about over the years, such as extraordinary human perception, and the mind-body connection as it relates to healing. He talks about how the magazine has dealt with religion over the years. And he talks about the future of skepticism and the need for new ways of outreach, especially to younger skeptics.…
Christopher Burns- Deadly Decisions
Christopher Burns is one of the country's leading minds on modern information management. He has been a news executive and consultant to government and the private sector for thirty years, advising clients on emerging information management technologies and the evolution of the information economy. His previous positions include vice president of the Washington Post Company, senior vice president of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, and executive editor of United Press International. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Christopher Burns talks about the biology of the brain, the behavior of groups, and the structure of organizations and how each can lead to people making bad decisions. He discusses the paradox that in the age of information, it may be more difficult to make good decisions. He describes "false knowledge" and how to choose the right information to pay attention to. He emphasizes the value of skepticism in making good decisions, and of trusting ambiguity and uncertainty. He uses the example of the sinking of the Titanic to explain the concept of "information errors." He discusses how groups naturally discourage dissent, and how this harms the information system, citing examples from operating room and airline cockpit. He details ways of organizing that lead to better decision-making. And he talks about the political domain, and how to address challenges to good collective decision-making in a democracy, contrasting the Bush and Obama administrations.…
Ginger Campbell - Podcasting Neuroscience
Ginger Campbell, M.D., is an emergency physician whose long-standing interest in philosophy and science motivated her to begin podcasting in 2006. While her Brain Science Podcast focuses on neuroscience, her other show, Books and Ideas, often explores the intersection between science and religion. She is also the founder of sciencepodcasters.org, which is a site devoted to promoting science through podcasting. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Ginger Campbell recounts how she first got involved in science podcasting, and why she focuses on neuroscience as her topic. She discusses the impact of Jennifer Michael Hecht's work on both her intellectual pursuits and her views about atheism and religion. She talks about the trends in neuroscience that may suggest the brain can be "trained" with products such as Brain Age on Nintendo's DS Lite, or that one's diet can increase one's intelligence. She describes "neuroplasticity," and how new brain imaging technologies, such as advanced fMRIs, show that our daily actions can impact specific parts of the brain. She explores the implications of neuroscience for religious belief, and why she has at times resisted the idea of atheism. She shares her reactions to the "New Atheists." And she discusses the increasing attacks on neuroscience from Creationist activists because of what it implies about consciousness, free-will and the existence of the soul.…
Simon Singh - Trick or Treatment
Simon Singh is an author focusing on science and mathematics for the general public. His books include Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem, The Code Book, and Big Bang. He has produced a number of documentaries for television on science topics, and is a trustee of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, and the National Museum of Science and Industry, both in the United Kingdom. He is currently being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for comments he wrote in a column in The Guardian. His newest book, co-authored with Dr. Edzard Ernst, is Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Simon Singh talks about being an open-minded skeptic regarding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). He discusses the efficacy of various CAM treatments, such as detox programs, homeopathy, and acupuncture. He examines the origins and claims of chiropractic, whether it works, and how it may be dangerous. He talks about the limits of scientific inquiry, and when a CAM claim might justifiably be dismissed. He discusses the funding of research into CAM versus the funding of its marketing. He explores the reasons why people continue using such treatments despite the lack of scientific data showing that it works. He explains the placebo effect and its legitimate therapeutic uses, and details the harm that some CAM treatments can cause even if they do work. He shares his opinions about why passions among skeptics and believers regarding CAM are so heated, giving advice to both the CAM and scientific communities. And he gives reasons for speaking out regarding CAM despite the possible negative repercussions from various quarters of the CAM community.…
Tom Flynn - Science Fiction and Atheism
Tom Flynn is the Editor of Free Inquiry magazine. A journalist, novelist, entertainer, and folklorist, Flynn is the author of numerous articles for Free Inquiry, many addressing church-state issues, as well as the best-selling The Trouble With Christmas, about which he has made hundreds of radio and TV appearances in his role as the curmudgeonly â€œanti-Claus.â€ He is also the author of the critically acclaimed anti-religious black comedy science fiction novels, Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred. His latest work, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, is a comprehensive reference work on the history, beliefs, and thinking of Americaâ€™s fastest growing minority: those who live without religion. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Tom Flynn discusses the trouble he has with Christmas. He also explores the relationship of atheism and skepticism with science fiction. He talks about the connection that many of the leading figures in science fiction have had with the Center for Inquiry over the years. He surveys influential atheist and humanistic writers in science fiction including H.G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Phillip Pullman, and Kurt Vonnegut, among many others. He discusses the secular humanism in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek franchise, and an interesting connection an episode had with Scientology. He details Orson Scott Card's relationship with secular humanism. He talks about the influence of Robert Heinlein's earlier works on the development of his own religious skepticism. He discusses the similarities of Scientology and Mormonism with science fiction. He examines the intersection of sci fi and religious satire, as in the works of James Morrow and Bo Fowler. And he explains his own foray into science fiction, with his critically acclaimed books Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred.…
Paul Kurtz - Forbidden Fruit
Paul Kurtz is the leading figure in the humanist and skeptical movements over the last four decades. He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As chair of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books, and as editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry Magazine, he has advanced a critical, humanistic inquiry into many of the most cherished beliefs of society for decades. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has been featured widely in the media on topics as diverse as reincarnation, UFO abduction, secular versus religious ethics, communication with the dead, and the historicity of Jesus. During this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz discusses the importance of creativity in terms of outreach for the skeptical and secular humanist movements. He talks about the his book Forbidden Fruit, which focuses on the application of science and reason to the Good Life and to normative ethics. He argues that ethics need not have religious foundations, and that ethics should instead have purely secular and humanist sources. He explores the secular meanings of stories about the mythical Garden of Eden, and actually celebrates the eating of the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and of the fruit of the Tree of Life. He argues that the universalistic ethics within the world's religions in fact stem from secular humanism. He details what it is to live a life of excellence and defends against the charge that his ethics is self-centered and self-absorbed, arguing for good will in a secular context, and that the common good is not alien to enlightened self-interest. He touches on the secular position on controversial social issues, such as abortion and sexual ethics, including gay rights and gay marriage. He expounds on what he calls the "common moral decencies," which he argues are a product of evolution. He finishes by discussing the myth of Sisyphus and what it portends for the scientific secularist today, arguing against nihilistic atheism.…
Solomon Schimmel - Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth
Solomon Schimmel is professor of Jewish education and psychology at Hebrew College. He is the author of a number of books, including The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology, and numerous articles and book chapters on Jewish thought, psychology of religion and Jewish education. His newest book is The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Solomon Schimmel reveals whether he is an atheist and explains why he lives an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle without theism. He explores differences between his religiosity and that of fundamentalists, especially in terms of truth claims, and the values of honesty and knowledge. He describes the response he has received in the Orthodox Jewish community as a result of his views. He describes the psychology of the fundamentalist, and mechanisms such as confirmation bias, selective interpretation, and ad hominem attacks of critics. He explores various views of truth, including that the value of religion is not necessarily in the truth value of its claims. And he debates the value of reason versus emotion, and the role of authority when evaluating truth claims. He explores ways that rationalists can challenge fundamentalism, both in terms of argumentation and community, and in terms of focusing on the harms of fundamentalism.…
Solomon Schimmel - The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs
Solomon Schimmel is professor of Jewish education and psychology at Hebrew College. He is the author of a number of books, including The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology, and numerous articles and book chapters on Jewish thought, psychology of religion and Jewish education. His newest book isÂ The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Schimmel discusses how and why, even as a complete skeptic of theological claims, he still practices Orthodox Judaism. He talks about the benefits that religion,Â including fundamentalism,Â may bring a believer, such as caring and supportive communities, ethical codes, means of coping with stress and loss, celebrations of rites of passage, and a hope for life after death. He explores ways that people can experience these benefits while rejecting the unreasonable claims of religion, which he argues are especially pronounced in fundamentalism. He challenges Sam Harris's view regarding moderate religionists making room for fundamentalism. He examines many of the ways that Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism harms society, and argues that it should be challenged in public and in private, for the sake of democracy, scientific progress and the welfare of society. And he details some strategies to encourage people to give up their harmful and false beliefs and fundamentalist commitments.…
Jennifer Michael Hecht - Doubt
Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry, includingÂ The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology;Â Doubt: A History;Â The Happiness Myth,Â and her book of poetry,Â Funny, which Publisherâ€™s WeeklyÂ called one of the most original and entertaining books of the year.Â Â In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Hecht talks about the relationship of her bookÂ Doubt: A HistoryÂ to the books of the New Atheists, if media reception of the New Atheists was "gendered," and in what sense her book is "less evangelical" than theirs. She explains what she means by the kind of doubt she believes in, how it is broader and deeper than mere disbelief, and the ways in which doubt can feed belief. She explores the implications of doubt for scientific inquiry, and how doubt should be applied to the questions and the certitude that some scientists and skeptics express. She talks about the importance of art, poetry and psychoanalysis for doubting, and how such forms of introspection and expression increase the benefits of doubt. And she reveals some her favorite doubters in history, and what she learns from them.…
James McGaha - Lights in the Sky
James McGaha is a retired USAF pilot, astronomer and director of the Grasslands Observatory. He held a TOP SECRET compartmented security clearance and was involved in numerous classified operations including operations in the so-called "Area 51."Â His current work includes astrometry and photometry of asteroids and supernovae. He has discovered 15 Asteroids and 52 CometsÂ and has over 1700 M.P.E.C. publications on Near Earth Asteroids.Â He is the winner of the 2002 Shoemaker NEO Grant. HeÂ has appeared widely in the media, having actively promoted science and debunked pseudoscience for over 35 years, focusing on belief in UFOs and astrology. He is the founder and chairman of the Tucson Skeptics and a Scientific Consultant to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, James McGaha talks about his astronomer- beginnings as a skeptic of UFOs, and the limitations of the term "UFO." He answers how open-minded he is about the possibility that extraterrestrial beings are visiting the earth today. He talks about the origins of UFO belief with the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, along with Fate, a magazine promoting paranormal belief. He talks about the history of Project Bluebook and the Condon Report. He details qualities of human perception that may explain UFO accounts, and explores some of the reasons people may adhere to UFO belief. He explains the famous Phoenix Lights sightings. He explores how to respond to those who have unshakable belief in unsupportable UFO claims. He compares qualities of contemporary UFO mythology with certain aspects of religious belief, including views of apocalypticism and salvation. And he talks about the dangers that belief in UFOs pose to a civil society.…
Peter Singer - Vegetarianism and the Scientific Outlook
One of the most controversial and influential philosophers alive today, Peter Singer is DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne. He writes a regular column for Free Inquiry magazine, and is the author of dozens of books, including Practical Ethics, Rethinking Life and Death, Animal Liberation, and Writings on an Ethical Life. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Peter Singer defends vegetarianism, arguing that we should give equal consideration to all "beings who have interests." He draws ethical distinctions between human fetuses and animals, such as dogs and cats. He argues against "dominionism," which is the idea that humanity is special, and that other animals were made by God for humanity's benefit. He attacks "speciesism," and explains why he did not sign the Humanist Manifesto 2000. He describes factory farming, and the commercial imperatives that he says cause animals to be treated as mere property. He talks about the decision to become a vegetarian, and what keeps secularists and scientists from making the decision, in terms of the question he posed to Richard Dawkins at a recent Center for Inquiry conference. And he considers how working with the religious may advance vegetarianism in society.…
Peter Singer - Ethics in an Age of Darwin
One of the most controversial and influential philosophers alive today, Peter Singer is DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne. He writes a regular column for Free Inquiry magazine, and is the author of dozens of books, including Practical Ethics, Rethinking Life and Death, Animal Liberation, and Writings on an Ethical Life. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Peter Singer explores how controversial or compatible his views are with religious thought and in what sense his ethics is informed by a naturalistic or Darwinian understanding of the origins of life. He discusses the value of human life as regards end-of-life questions such as doctor-assisted suicide, and offers justification for the involuntary euthanasia of severely disabled infants. He details what it means to be genuinely "pro-life." And he shares his views on stem cell research and abortion, arguing how that even though abortion is killing a human life, it is not unethical. He also explains what qualities of life would make killing it unethical.…
The 12th Annual CFI Houdini Seance
Harry Houdini, the world-famous magician and skeptic, sincerely explored the religion of spiritualism and communication with the dead after his beloved motherâ€™s death in 1913. In this episode for Halloween 2008, Joe Nickell, the worldâ€™s leading paranormal investigator and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiryâ€™s senior research fellow, and D.J. Grothe (both of whom are former professional magicians) conduct the Center for Inquiryâ€™s 12th Annual Houdini Seance, using artifacts of the magician's art to entice Houdini's spirit to appear. They recount the history of the original Houdini Seance, and explore Houdini's views on the spirit world, and to what extent he was a "debunker," as opposed to an investigator. They talk about his skeptical methods, such as going undercover, and how he used his background in magic to aid his investigations. And as commemoration, Joe Nickell reads from Houdini's famous book on skeptical investigations, A Magician Among the Spirits.…
Todd C. Riniolo - When Good Thinking Goes Bad
Todd C. Riniolo is an associate professor of psychology at Medaille College. He has written many peer-reviewed articles in the psychological literature. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Todd Riniolo discusses his book When Good Thinking Goes Bad: How Your Brain Can Have a Mind of Its Own, exploring ways that critical thinking should be applied to people's cherished and most certainly felt convictions. He discusses common cognitive, social and emotional biases people have when arriving at conclusions about the supernatural and paranormal, politics and economics, and how critical thinking is often applied inconsistently in these areas. He also focuses his skepticism on issues such as global warming and multiculturalism.…
Edward Tabash - The U.S. Presidential Election and Secular Values Voters
Edward Tabash is a constitutional and civil rights lawyer in Beverly Hills, California. He has chaired the National Legal Committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State since 1995, and has argued and won before the California Supreme Court. He also sits as a part-time judge for the Los Angeles County Superior Court system. He has successfully represented the scientific outlook and secular humanism in public debates against the leading Christian philosophers around the world. In addition to serving on the Board of the Center for Inquiry and chairing the Council for Secular Humanismâ€™s First Amendment Task Force, he chairs the Center for Inquiry's Los Angeles branch. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Edward Tabash explores issues valued by secularists and why they hang in the balance in this U.S. Presidential Election. Â He talks about gay marriage and abortion, and how both of these rights depend on a government neutrality in matters of religion. He details ways that pseudoscience and junk science are used to advance religiously derived public policy arguments against gay marriage and abortion. And he talks about global warming skepticism, and the need for scientific integrity in public policy. He emphasizes how the next U.S. President will reshape the Supreme Court, and what that portends for science and secular values. He also explains his role in gay rights victory with the Supreme Court of California earlier in 2008, and why he opposes Proposition 8, a proposed ballot measure in California that would amend the State Constitution to deny marriage rights to homosexuals.…
Lawrence M. Krauss - The Fear of Physics
Lawrence M. Krauss is Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Director of the new Origins Initiative at Arizona State University. He is an internationally famous theoretical physicist who focuses on the early universe, the nature of dark matter, general relativity and neutrino astrophysics. He has investigated questions ranging from the nature of exploding stars to issues of the origin of all mass in the universe. He is the author of seven best-selling books, including the international bestseller, The Physics of Star Trek and Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions from Plato to String Theory and Beyond. Dr. Krauss is one of North America's leading activists for the public understanding of science and has been particularly involved in issues at the intersection of science and society, leading efforts by scientists to defend the teaching of science in public schools, and he has been a strong proponent of scientific integrity in government. His essay in the New York Times about evolution and Intelligent Design in May 2005 helped spur a controversy that ultimately caused the Catholic Church to refine its position on Darwinian evolution. Most recently he has led the call for a Presidential Debate on Science and Technology as a member of the steering committee for ScienceDebate2008.org. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Lawrence Krauss explores the fear of physics, noting that some of it stems from the fact that physics contradicts basic beliefs that many people have about their place in the universe. He also addresses how others are afraid of physics because of its potential to destroy civilization, such as with atomic and nuclear weapons, and the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. He explains some of the science behind the LHC. And he talks about the misuse of quantum physics in the New Age movement, and Rhonda Byrne's The Secret and the documentary What The Bleep Do We Know.…
Michael Lackey - Science, Postmodernism, and the Varieties of Black Humanism
Michael Lackey teaches courses in twentieth-century American and African American literature at the University of Minnesota, Morris. A recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, he has published articles in many journals, including Philosophy and Literature, Journal of the History of Ideas, and the Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History. University Press of Florida has recently published his book, African American Atheists and Political Liberation: A Study of the Socio-Cultural Dynamics of Faith, which was named a â€œChoice Outstanding Academic Titleâ€ for 2007. He is currently working on his second book, which is tentatively titled: Modernist God States: A Literary Study of the Theological Origins of Totalitarianism. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Michael Lackey talks about black liberation atheism, and the view among certain black intellectuals that belief in God results in racial inequality. He explores the black intellectual critique of the Enlightenment and of humanism, and how this has played out in post-modernist skepticism of science and reason in the academy. Focusing on Richard Wright, he explains the view that the real value of science is how it is democratic, not necessarily that it leads to "the truth". And he talks about the correspondence theory of truth and why he rejects it.…
Greg Long - The Making of Bigfoot
Greg Long is a professional writer, investigative journalist, and editor who lives in Washington state. He has been researching and writing about "mysteries" and unexplained phenomena of the Pacific Northwest for twenty-five years. His work has been featured on radio and television, including the Discovery Channel. His most recent book is The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Greg Long discusses the famous Roger Patterson Bigfoot film from 1967, and why he says it is a hoax. Â He details his argument about Patterson's motivations, evidence from the costumer's perspective on why the creature in the film is almost certainly a man dressed in an ape suit, and the confession obtained from the person who wore it. He offers theories about why belief in the creature is so widely held, and what role the media plays in the public's belief in Bigfoot. He examines the recent reports of Bigfoot in the Atlanta area. And he explores the psychological reasons people may believe in Bigfoot, including how it may symbolize certain truths about humanity's evolutionary origins. He also argues why such skeptical inquiry into possibly trivial matters like Bigfoot is so important in our society.…
Justin Trottier - The Fight for Science and Reason on the Campuses
Justin Trottier is Executive Director of the Centre for InquiryÂ in Ontario, the first venue dedicated to secular humanists and freethinkers in Canada, and helps oversees CFI Communities in Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver. Â A former freethought campus activist, Justin co-hosts the student oriented Course of Reason podcast and supports over 30 campus groups across Canada. He has had appeared on numerous television networks, including CBC, CTS, OMNI, CH and CityTV, as well as dozens of radio appearances and coverage in campus, city and national newspapers. Â He is also a regular panelist for the Globe and Mail and the Michael Coren Show and has contributed to Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer and Humanist Perspectives magazines. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Justin Trottier talks about how he got involved with science and secularist activism while in college, and why he focuses much of his attention as an organizer now on colleges and universities. He also explains why the Center for Inquiry devotes so many resources to reaching the college students. He details current threats to the university from both the Right and the Left, and what CFI is doing to counter these trends of unreason, sharing ways that listeners can get involved in this effort.…
Andrew Fraknoi - The Cosmic History of Your Body
Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Program at Foothill College near San Francisco. In 2007, he was selected as Professor of the Year for the state of California by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education. For 14 years, Fraknoi served as the Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and was editor of its popular level magazine, Mercury, and its newsletter for teachers, The Universe in the Classroom. He has edited two collections of science articles and science fiction stories for Bantam Books, and is the lead author of Voyages through the Universe, one of the leading astronomy textbooks in the world, and also the children's book Disney's Wonderful World of Space.Â Fraknoi serves on the Board of Trustees of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, and is also a Fellow of the Committee for the Skeptical Inquiry, specializing in debunking astrology. He has received the Annenberg Foundation Prize of the American Astronomical Society (the highest honor in the field of astronomy education), as well as the Klumpke-Roberts Prize of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (given for a lifetime of contributions to popularizing astronomy) and the Gemant Prize of the American Institute of Physics. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Andrew Fraknoi explains the history of the atoms in our bodies, and how we are literally made of "star stuff." He details how scientists know the history of these atoms, and explores the implications of this "simple but profound fact," and how some people derive mystical meaning from it, while others find it humbling. He talks about the compatibility of religion with astronomy, and the proper role of skepticism in the science classroom. He describes current threats to science education. And he makes a case for popularizing science and astronomy, and how this benefits society.Â …
Barbara Oakley - Social Psychology, Genes and Human Evil
Barbara Oakley, PhD, has been dubbed a female Indiana Jones â€” her writing combines worldwide adventure with solid research expertise. Among other adventures, she has worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea, served as radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and risen from private to regular army captain in the U.S. Army. Currently an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, Oakley is a recent vice president of the worldâ€™s largest bioengineering society and holds a doctorate in the integrative discipline of systems engineering. Her new book is Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hilter Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Motherâ€™s Boyfriend. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Barbara Oakley shares her criticisms of the research of influential social scientists such as Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram, and explains why the biological sciences should be brought to bear on research about human evil. She addresses how her thesis in Evil Genes might be used as an excuse by some people in our society to do bad things, and details specifics from the life of her sister that serve as a window into her exploration of human evil. She also addresses the implications of her thesis for organized religion, arguing contra Christopher Hitchens that religion is not evil per se but that it might attract evil people to its institutions.Â …
Ronald A. Lindsay - Future Bioethics
Ronald A. Lindsay is a bioethicist, lawyer, and chief executive officer and senior research fellow of the Center for Inquiry. He is also executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism. For many years he practiced law in Washington, DC, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University, where he taught jurisprudence and philosophy courses. His new book is Future Bioethics: Overcoming Taboos, Myths, and Dogmas. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Ronald Lindsay reframes the debates surrounding current controversies in bioethics. Carefully examining and dissecting claims made by many policy makers and ethicists on topics such as assistance in dying, genetic engineering, and embryonic stem cell research, bioethicist, Lindsay shows that all too often these claims are based on instinctive reactions, beliefs that lack factual support, and religious or ideological dogma. Through his insightful analysis, Lindsay demonstrates how to achieve pragmatic, progressive solutions to these controversies.…
Rev. Michael Dowd - The Marriage of Science and Religion
The Reverend Michael Dowd, along with his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have lived permanently on the road for years, sharing a "sacred view of evolution" with religious and secular audiences of all ages. His new book is Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Michael Dowd reveals how his kind of Christianity is different from most others who would call themselves Christian, and argues that all religions are evolving in the direction of naturalism. He argues that evolution must be mythologized in order to save our species. He explains how he reinterprets orthodox Christian doctrines such as "personal salvation," "the centrality of the cross," and "original sin" in ways that are compatible with scientific ways of thinking, and recounts how understanding evolutionary brain science helps reinterpret certain notions of sexual "sin." He addresses the criticism that that there is no good reason to use religious language to speak about science and evolution. And he expresses why his evolution evangelism is so important: that evolution be embraced and that it would be able to "do its magic," listing the seven reasons how evolution can transform lives and change the world.…
Rev. Michael Dowd - Thank God For Evolution
The Reverend Michael Dowd, along with his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have lived permanently on the road for years, sharing a "sacred view of evolution" with religious and secular audiences of all ages. His new book is Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Michael Dowd discusses his new book Thank God for Evolution, which is a religious defense of the central organizing theory of modern biology. He reveals the agenda of the book, and the reception it has received from both the scientific and the religious communities. He explains his religious background, and how he has adopted a thoroughly "naturalized" religion that he calls "Religion 2.0," compatible with and integrated with evolution, and which rejects the supernatural or the "unnatural." He details why he has become an "evangelist for evolution" and why the "gospel of evolution" has been so popular for both the religious and the secular audiences he has spoken to over the last six and a half years. He expounds his "evolution theology," and how the traditionally religious can embrace the facts of evolution, which he considers the most important religious act they can commit.…
Allan Mazur - Implausible Beliefs
Allan Mazur, a sociologist and an engineer, is professor of public affairs in the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Previously a member of the social science faculties of MIT and Stanford University, he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has published over 150 articles in the social science literature and is especially interested in biosociology; research methods; and in controversies over science, technology, and the environment. Among his books are Biosociology of Dominance & Deference, True Warnings and False Alarms about Technology, 1948-1971, and Global Social Problems. His new book is Implausible Beliefs: In the Bible, Astrology, and UFOs. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Allan Mazur discusses his interest in skepticism, and lists various criteria for disbelief, defending "closed-mindedness" about various implausibilities. He explores similarities in the credulity throughout the United States versus Europe and Asia. He details the implausibility of various beliefs about the inerrancy of the Bible, UFOs, and astrology, and explains how there is nothing unique about religious beliefs that make them more implausible than other unsupportable claims. He examines the origins of implausible beliefs, including social influence, and how one's social milieu may be a stronger factor in determining one's beliefs than evidence or one's education. He also examines personality characteristics and emotional comfort that certain implausible beliefs may bring the believer as further explanations for the roots of implausible beliefs.…
Guy P. Harrison - 50 Reasons People Give For Believing In A God
Guy P. Harrison is a graduate of the University of South Florida with degrees in history and anthropology. he currently lives in the Cayman Islands, where he is a columnist and travel writer for a national newspaper. He has won several international awards for his writing and photography. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Guy P. Harrison talks about his new book 50 Reasons People Give For Believing In A God, and details such reasons for god-belief as the obviousness of God, "playing it safe," the fear of hell, that belief in gods brings genuine happiness and comforts, and the fact that so many people are religious. He explores similarities between the reasons people give for their belief in Western gods and Eastern gods, and also similarities between the reasons people give for belief in gods and in the paranormal.Â He calls for a wider understanding of religion in general as an important first step in inculcating skepticism about religion. He argues that the reasons people proffer are often very different than the reasons theologians argue that people should believe. And he offers advice for what he thinks is the best approach for engaging believers on these matters of belief.…
Lewis Wolpert - The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London, focusing his research on the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the Royal Society of Literature. He has presented science on both radio and TV for years, and was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science in the UK. Among his books are Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression (the basis for the BBC documentary entitled 'A Living Hell") The Triumph of the Embryo, and A Passion for Science (with Alison Richards). His most recent book is Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief. In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Lewis Wolpert explores the evolutionary origins of belief, and argues that atheism is unnatural while belief in gods is not. He details the relationship between tool-making and belief in God, and shows how human primates are unique in this regard. He explains why he thinks it is so hard for people to give up their unbelievable beliefs. He shares his views on organized religion, including how it benefits believers, and examines if the same tools of science and reason can equally be applied to beliefs about the paranormal. He also debates the usefulness of argumentation with believers.…
Joe Nickell - Humanistic Skepticism
The worldâ€™s leading paranormal investigator, Joe Nickell is a regular
contributor to Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. He is the author or
editor of more than twenty books, including Looking for a Miracle, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, and most recently The Relics of the Christ.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Joe Nickell expounds on his unique kind of paranormal investigating, which is neither "mystery mongering," nor "debunking." He emphasizes how his humanist values carry over into his skeptical work, and how his notion of "doing good" is applied to skepticism as a movement. He criticizes many in the skeptical movement who seem not to care to honor claimants with on-the-ground investigations, instead dismissing from the "armchair" that a supernatural claim is impossible. He also challenges those with the "ghost hunter" mentality, who lack effective training in investigation and instead just promote belief in unsupportable paranormal claims, even while engaging in important field investigations. Nickell ends discussing the future of the skeptical movement and the odds he thinks it has to adopt the kind of "humanistic skepticism" he promotes. …
Maggie Jackson - Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age
Maggie Jackson is an award-winning author and journalist who writes the popular â€œBalancing Actsâ€ column in the Boston Globe. Her work also has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio, among other national publications. Her acclaimed first book, Whatâ€™s Happening to Home? Balancing Work, Life and Refuge in the Information Age, examined the loss of home as a refuge. Her newest book is Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Maggie Jackson discusses her controversial thesis about the downsides of the information age, and how the distractions from modern technologies lead to less critical thinking and less fulfilled lives. She explores the causes and effects of the erosion of attention, including media culture, the internet and personal communication devices, and even our fast-food culture, and how these impact relationships, work and personal identity. She details some advances in "attention science," a field in cognitive neuroscience, and what they tell us about how people can overcome their distractions. And she shares what listeners can do to stop the erosion of attention in their lives.…
Ben Radford - Paranormal Investigation
Ben Radford is is one of the world's few science-based paranormal investigators, and has done first-hand research into psychics, ghosts and haunted houses, exorcisms, Bigfoot, lake monsters, UFO sightings, crop circles, and other topics. He is managing editors of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and editor-in-chief of the Spanish-language magazine Pensar, published in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The author of many books, including Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us, and Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures (with Joe Nickell), he also writes online at LiveScience.com and MediaMythmakers.com.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Radford recounts some of his experiences as a paranormal investigator, drawing a contrast between his work and that of the "ghost hunters." He talks about his attempts at "steath skepticism" and also about his new board-game, Playing Gods.
Also in this episode, philosopher and Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz shares a special message for rationalists on Independence Day, about the Influence of the Enlightenment on America.…
PZ Myers - Expelled from Expelled
PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris and the author of Pharyngula, the most heavily-trafficked science blog online.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, P.Z. Myers details his expulsion from a screening of Expelled, Ben Stein's documentary which claims that the scientific community is limiting academic freedom by not allowing Intelligent Design to be taught or discussed in the schools. He explains the background of how he and other scientists were invited to appear in the film under false pretenses, and what his response has been. He addresses "focus groups"; and other marketing methods for finding the best way to communicate science to the public. Calling himself part of the "radical fringe," he elaborates on his view that leading science organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement for Science and the National Academies of Science are "playing a shell game" on the public when it comes to teaching the compatibility of science with religion, arguing that there is a direct link between science education and religious skepticism. And he also shares his thoughts about the future of the atheist and rationalist movement in the United States.…
PZ Myers - Science and Atheism in the Blogosphere
PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris and the author of <i>Pharyngula</i>, the most heavily-trafficked science blog online.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, P.Z. Myers explains the purpose and impact of his blog, and whether his priority is to advance science education or atheism. He talks about what he sees as his roles in the scientific community and the atheist movement, and how related these roles are. He explores the relationship between science and atheism, and argues that the more a public learns science, the likelier it is that they will become atheistic. And he talks about where a science educator's atheism fits in the classroom. He also addresses the position of leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academies of Science regarding evolution being compatible with religious belief, and their use of religious scientists as spokespeople, and he assesses their motivations and strategies to advance science to a largely religious American public.…
Susan Jacoby - The Age of American Unreason
Susan Jacoby is the author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. A prominent public intellectual, she frequently appears in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Free Inquiry. Her latest best selling book is The Age of American Unreason. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Susan Jacoby explores recent trends that she argues have led to the "Age of American Unreason," including religious fundamentalism, mass media consumption and "video culture," and multiculturalism. She addresses how fundamentalism feeds anti-intellectualism in America, and how not only fundamentalism can be blamed for it. She details both the upside and the downside of the internet, the perils of too much TV viewing, and the effect of such over-consumtion on the cultural literacy of average Americans. She addresses criticism that she is merely "elitist" or a "luddite," and ends with specifics on how people can work to challenge the Age of American Unreason.…
Taner Edis - Science and Nonbelief
Taner Edis, born and raised in Turkey, is associate professor of physics at Truman State University and the author of The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science and Science and Non-belief, among other publications. His latest book is An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Taner Edis explains reasons he thinks religion persists, and explores the complex relationship between science and nonbelief, detailing how the institutional interests of science may prevent some in the science community from working to diminish religion, the New Atheists excepted. He talks about how scientific theories are often misused by paranormalists or supernaturalists to advance their cultural position, focusing on the New Age movement's use of quantum physics and on the intelligent design movement. He examines differences between science and pseudoscience, arguing that often it is not possible to demarcate what is uniquely science. And he surveys various scientific approaches of examining religion, such as rational choice theory, the secularization hypothesis, and various evolutionary approaches, such as group selection theory, the byproduct theory of religion, and memetic approaches (that religion is a "virus of the mind").…
Robert M. Price - Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today's Pop Mysticisms
Robert M. Price is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. Heâ€™s a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. Dr. Price is the author of a number of books such as The Reason Driven Life, Deconstructing Jesus, Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, and The Da Vinci Fraud. He has appeared widely in the media, and was featured prominently in the movie The God Who Wasnâ€™t There. His latest book is Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today's Pop Mysticisms. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Robert Price explores the origins, doctrines and dangers of various strands of contemporary "pop mysticism," including Rhonda Byrne's The Secret and other "New Thought" proponents, the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, and The Course in Miracles. He contends that there is some truth to many of these mystical worldviews, especially the emphasis on introspection and self-improvement, and details how to take what is of value while rejecting the unsupportable claims. He also addresses the popularity and influence of Christian televangelist Joel Olsteen, whom he argues is in fact a promoter of New Thought in Christian trappings. He also explores what the secular humanist and skeptic movements might learn from both the Christian Mega-churches and the New Age movements, and how they can work together as freethinkers against fundamentalist dogmatic religious-political movements.…
Jamy Ian Swiss - Skepticism and the Art and Philosophy of Magic
Jamy Ian Swiss is universally considered one of the worldâ€™s top sleight of hand performers, famous to magicians for his subtlety, skill and depth of understanding of magicâ€™s history. He has appeared on a number of television programs in the United States, Europe, and Japan, including on The Today Show, CBSâ€™s 48 Hours, Comedy Central, CNN, PBS Nova and the PBS documentary, The Art of Magic. Heâ€™s performed internationally for corporate clients, lectured to magicians in over a dozen countries, and is a co-producer of New York Cityâ€™s longest-running Off-Broadway magic show, Monday Night Magic. He is also a co-founder of the National Capital Area Skeptics and the New York City Skeptics, and a long-time contributor to the skeptical movement and its magazines. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Jamy Ian Swiss talks about his skeptical beginnings, and argues that magic done well is an "entertaining form of skepticism, rather than a debased form of mysticism" (as described by Adam Gopnik in the recent profile of Jamy in "The New Yorker"). He explores some of the philosophy of why and how magic works, and examines ethical and artistic issues related to the performance of contemporary magic and mentalism, as reflected n the work of a spectrum of performers ranging from Derren Brown to Marc Salem to Uri Geller. He also wonders about the effectiveness of the skeptical movement overall, and the value of getting involved in the skeptical community.…
Paul Kurtz - The Transnational Center for Inquiry
Paul Kurtz, considered by many the father of the secular humanist movement, is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As chair of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books, and as editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry Magazine, he has advanced a critical, humanistic inquiry into many of the most cherished beliefs of society for the last forty years. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has been featured very widely in the media, on topics as diverse as reincarnation, UFO abduction, secular versus religious ethics, communication with the dead, and the historicity of Jesus. In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz describes the Center for Inquiry's transnational efforts, detailing its activities to advance science and secular values in the Netherlands, Romania, Germany, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, Canada and various countries in Africa, the Middle East and South America. He shares some of the history of the worldwide skeptical and humanist movements, and shows how the recent worldwide expansion of the Center for Inquiry is a result of its commitment to what he calls "planetary humanism."…