Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Skeptics Guide 215, Richard Dawkins, Reasonable Doubts

I have been away for a few days, so I am going to do a quick treatment of a few topics in this post.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe interview with Adam Savage.

I just wonder when the Rogues interview a real mass appeal celebrity such as Adam Savage (or President Carter to say the least) if Dr. Novella and the Rogues sit around after the show asking themselves "how on Earth did we ever get ourselves into a position to talk with people like that?" Obviously the answer is by building up a consistently excellent reputation. (The show is always on time without fail that Saturday afternoon a new show is released. How do they do it? The worst they have ever done is either release a show a day early, or a day late. Big deal, Mark Crislip is lucky to get a show out once per month. This not a knock against Crislip, but more a comparison just how dedicated the SGU gang is to their brand.)

I always enjoy hearing Savage interviewed. He seems like a generally nice and approachable guy. My only quibble during the interview is that I do not think Skepticism is having as large an impact on the general culture as he believes. Yes, I think the internet, web 2.0, or "the tubes" makes it far more efficient to marshall the forces of science and rational thought to combat a problem. However, the flip side is that the believers in big foot, anti-vacination folks, creationists, the Secret, etc. have just as much access to the web, and they have Oprah, money for infomercials, and book kiosks at the front of the bookstore. We have Mythbusters, and occasionally a program on the Science Channel, and hum-m-m did I mention Mythbusters? Most of the time when our local PBS station is schilling for donations they have some "special" programing with some self help guru. I also fear that the skeptical community has increased the size of the echo chamber for itself. While on the surface it may seem we are making an impact, we may really just convincing each other across not at the local meeting hall, but now across national boarders. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying the skeptical community should pack it in, or that we are not having any effect. It is just that I thought Savage was being a bit overly optimistic. (I'll be honest. We need that optimism., but sometimes too much optimism clouds realism.)

Reasonable Doubts 51 -Don't Fear the Reaper

I liked the topic of the show a lot. It's not that I have a death wish, but I have always leaned toward the idea that religion's existence is first to explain what happens when we die, followed by how the Earth was created, the set of morality rules, and the future of the world second. The show discussed studies which indicate that when death is brought up people are more likely to dig their heels on their predisposed political ideology. I am continually intrigued by the notion that early Judaism did not have a heaven, hell, or much of an afterlife at all or biblical scholars discuss that the early Isrealites worshipped only one god, but they did not consider him the only god is endlessly fascinating to me. All of the above was discussed on the episode, and I found it wonderful dog walking listening.

All the above good topics show be noted, I thought bringing these topics up on the backdrop of the ongoing health care debate in the United States was a bit heavy handed. The show got into the reason for the highly charged debates in the hall of congress and the town hall meeting in that the talk of death and alleged death boards caused people to dig in their heels ideologically bring the health care debate to its current state. That might be true to a point, but I think has as much to do with the electorat's general dislike for change at all, and the big fear of increased taxes. The show's topic of death was highly interesting, but I can see a lot of listeners who are more libertarian or conservative just shutting down after the initial politically charged barrage that opened the show.

Richard Dawkins

I am vering off the podcast topic for a moment to discuss Dr. David Gorski's blog post on Science Based Medicine "Oh, Come on Superman! Bill Maher vs. Western Medicine."

I will refrain from going into detail on Gorski's post. Suffice it to say it dealt with Bill Maher, comic, political, television, motion picture, anti-religion, and anti-"western medicine" commentator and personality, and his winning the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance International (AAI) mainly for his motion picture "Religulous." Maher winning an award for his activism against religion does not bother me, what does bother me is that Dawkins does not have a problem with him winning an award with his name on it. Yes, Dawkins is not connected to the award or the AAI, but that does not excuse him from pleading ignorance to Maher's anti-scientific medical thoughts, or once learning of them not making strong statement against Maher's irrational, unscientific, and down right dangerous thoughts on medicine. People can argue why religion is good, bad, or both to society in the fields of morals, rationality, and its relationship with science, etc. Yet, the science is clear that Maher's views on medicine are an immediate danger to people who would be foolish enough to follow his advice. I truly hope that I am wrong, and that Dawkins has issued a statement refuting Maher's thoughts on medicine. If so, I take most of the above back. If he has not, then Dawkins a person for whom I have had great respect for in the past, clearly puts ridding the world of religion above the promotion of science. I find that disheartening.


  1. Reasonable Doubts was good, once they stepped down from their political soap box, that is.If they actually had a diverse set of political opinions, I might be more inclined to listen. If I wanted to hear heavy-handed liberal politics, though, I'd turn on Olbermann.

    These guys should just stick to biblical criticism and counter-apologetics, because that's what they're good at. I'm tired of listening to their political lecturing.

    Still, it wasn't NEARLY as bad as "Stewards Of The Earth". That was just obnoxious from beginning to end.

  2. I finally got around to listening to "Stewards of the Earth." Actually, I thought I was listening to the latest one with Michael Shermer, but I digress. Wow! It was off the chart. It's not that I disagreed with them completely. It is not that I agreed them completely. It just seemed to me that they, knowingly or not, had an agenda and bye gumbo they were going to stick it to Christianity. (It is what they do, but this time it was really charged.) It almost seemed to be a primer for the support of the most egregious Christians to follow. I also think there happens to be a legitimate argument that pushing too far too fast to "green" everything will harm the poor more than the rich. It has to be balanced. Anyway, sorry it took me seven weeks to reply. thanks for reading.