Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Skeptics Guide 223, The Skeptic Zone 54

Great Scott!

The Skeptic Zone featured a recording of a panel discussion from Dragon Con called "Darwin's Bulldogs, teachers on the front lines."  One of the panelist was Dr. Eugenie Scott, an physical anthropologist, Director for the National Center for Science education and general superstar of evolution defense.

Dr. Scott made a number of observations which I would like to touch upon.  The first observation is that science is the study of the natural world, and only the natural world.  It can neither prove or disprove the existence of god or greater intelligence.  I agree.  (It's difficult to disagree with Dr. Scott.  I mean she is Dr. Eugenie Scott.)  However, at the same time Dr. Scott is making these observations which she thinks ought to be expressed to those who oppose evolution, there are other superstars of science, namely Dr. Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers who take the opposite view.   Both men agree that science describes the natural world and its processes, but that science also reveals that either god is not necessary, or likely does not exist.  This is the message that those who are deathly opposed to evolution as the gateway to hell hear, as pointed out by the panel, and not the more moderate voices of science such as Dr. Scott.  On the other hand, I am not sure telling Drs. Myers and Dawkins to shut their yap is the most intellectually honest stance, but it is politically smart.

Dr. Scott also suggested that scientist and science advocates not use the term "believe in evolution," and instead say "accept evolution."  I think words can make a difference, but in this case I am not sure this is of much help.  What I think by Dr. Scott means by "accept evolution"  is really "accept the evidence for evolution."  I think for those who are religious, the word accept is at least as loaded as "believe."  Devout friends I have had over the years profess to accept Jesus into their hearts, and accept things that they have no power over but god does.  Also, to my ear, "accept" sounds as if there is some reluctance to believe, or that you are not convinced that evolution is how speciation has worked over the eons.  I can't say I have a better suggestion, but I do not think Dr. Scott's terminology is all that helpful.

If Dr. Scott ever jumps ships and decides to join the Discovery Institute, watch out because Dr. Scott played devil's advocate very well in arguing for "Intelligent Design" to be taught in school, and to me, she basically stumped everyone on the panel.  Now, not stumped in that they would never have an answer, but stumped in that if this was a debate, it would be a point for the ID'ers.  I will not do her argument justice, but the point of it was that ID is another way of explaining evolution, it may have religious implications, as does evolution as noted by none other than Richard Dawkins, so ID should be taught as well with its religious implications.  That ID is not taught in schools is because of a conspiracy by the scientist to stifle the new line of thought.  (When Dr. Scott makes the argument, it sound rather stunning.  It is worth the listen.)

I would also note that the sound quality for the talk was quite good, and far better than most of the podcasts recorded at Dragon Con.  Whoever our Australian friends used as a sound engineer, should be contacted by all the other podcasters for next year's event.

On the radio

A clip from Richard Saunders and Dr. Rachel Dunlop on an Australia radio talk show was played at the end of this week's show.  Saunders performed the Uri Geller spoon bending trick for the host of the radio show, Glenn Wheeler.  Saunders showed how the trick is really not all that hard to perform, and he absolutely stunned Wheeler by not only bending the spoon but by breaking it in two.  It was an excellent example of why psychics such as Geller are so ridiculous.   Their powers are not all that impressive.  What struck me was that Wheeler seemed to have never seen the trick performed.  He had obviously heard of it, but boy did he sound stunned.  I am certain Saunders performed the trick expertly in the studio.  I think I, and perhaps most skeptics, take for granted what are the easy tricks.  Others who are not plugged into the world of psychics and conmen are still impressed by such simple tricks.

Skype and Dr. Gay to the rescue

This week on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, it was guys only, as Rebecca was returning to London from her journey to the Far East.  The brothers Novella along with Evan were clearing enjoying the Halloween banter.  It is the easy banter the host and rogues have on the show that makes SGU probably the leading Skeptical Podcast of our time.  It almost never seems forced.  It's not that other shows are forced, but the charisma is undeniable.  The discussion on the listener question on "if they were a mad scientist, how would they use their knowledge to take over the world" is classic.

Then another viewer question that seemed to flummox the rogues was a question regarding how large the known universe is compared to the age of the universe.  Next thing you know Dr. Novella remarks that Dr. Pamela Gay, astronomer of the Southern Illinois University (and podcaster) was on skype.  He contacted Dr. Gay and then next thing you know instant expert knowledge.  This started me thinking on just how impressive  Dr. Novella's skype list must be to have Dr. Gay, and probably the likes of Randi, Phil Plait, Richard Saunders, Dr. Rachel Dunlop, Banachek, and much much more.  It is good to be connected.

Finally, they reminded their listeners that in one year they are flying to Australia and asked for listeners to donate to defray the costs of the trip.  I think it is a very worthy cause, and I urge my readership to take some time a give a few dollars to ensure that SGU down under becomes a reality.  (I thought about giving some relatives a card that noted that a donation had been made in their name to get the SGU to Australia.  Alas, as popular as the SGU is, I think actual material gifts would go over better in my crowd.)

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