Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Points of Inquiry, Unlucky Dip #6, Token Skeptic, Reasonable Doubts, and why Q.E.D. is a must attend

Righteous Indignation did not release a brand new episode due to Trystan and Marsh's attendance at TAM London.  Instead it was volume 6 of their catch all "Unlucky Dip" clip show featuring various bits that failed to make it to regularly scheduled episodes.

One part had me laughing so much I nearly missed my turn off onto my street on the drive home.  Somehow or other a discussion on the initials of a crop circle group that are B.L.T. (insert sandwich joke) turned into a discussion of Torontonian Karl Mamer's height, his pining for Ms. Stevens, and what is the etymology of his given name "Mamer."  Also discussed was the location of the Appalachian Mountains.  I live in a valley of those very same mountains and the Appalachian trail is about fifty miles from my house.  To answer the Indignates question, the Appalachian mountains are right here.

Also discussed was an interesting discussion/interview by Trystan with Ronan Coghlan, folklorist on the holy grail.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but Coghlan sounds a lot like a professor I wish I had at Gettysburg.  While he came across as wonderfully eccentric, he did know his grail lore.  He clearly did not seem to think the grail even existed or was to be found but was more of a sleuth trying to determine where the tale took shape.

The last interview was more bits of the interview with Tina Wilkins, clairvoyant and psychic medium,  from episode 65.  What I found most fascinating about this bit saved from the cutting room floor was how skillful Marsh is at explaining what science does and why reality is not just what we all wish to make of it.  Wilkins' defense of placing "For Entertainment Purposes Only" on her website seems a bit evasive to me.  This was the only time that I thought during any of her released interviews that Wilkins may have been less than candid.

The Point of Inquiry released on October 8, 2010 featured a discussion between journalist Chris Mooney and Dr. P.Z. Myers which was moderated by Jennifer Michael Hecht.  Mooney made a point of handing over the moderating duties to Hecht, but in practice Hecht was more in a debating mood than Mooney.  There were no surprises in this nearly hour-long discussion which was a continuation of a discussion that occurred while the three were attending a Council for Secular Humanism meeting in Los Angeles.  Dr. Myers defended his "take no prisoners, leave no religious pretense unchallenged" approach to Mooney and Hecht's more nuanced 'let's find some common ground' and respect each other style.

The one point that did strike me as odd was it seemed to me that in the turmoil of the discussion they all seemed to agree that at times it is okay to be arrogant when one knows they are correct.  I looked up arrogant on dictionary.com, and it means to be insolently proud and overbearing.  While I can easily understand why a skeptic/rationalist/atheist might get hopped up and come across as arrogant in the throws of a discussion with say a young Earth creationist who is homeschooling their kids that Noah's Arc is "for reals," I do not know if it is acceptable.  The woo side will likely not enjoy one arguing against their world view, and even think the skeptic a "dick."  Coming across as arrogant, especially without effort to check such a presentation, is likely to do more harm than good.

What I am coming to understand about Dr. Myers is while I respect him a great deal, he would much rather just be correct, and project that he knows he is correct, than be bothered how he comes across.  If his demeanor and tone is doing more harm than good in convincing fence sitters and those of faith, then screw'em.  I am still not quite sure what Hecht was trying to get at with her view of others see the world with some deeper sense.  Mooney really was turned into a third wheel on his own show.

The Point of Inquiry released on October 15, 2010 featured an interview of John Shook, author of "The God Debates," and he was interviewed by Robert Price.  The discussion centered on what is the value and who should engage in debating believers.  Price, as always, dropped in the names of 19th and early 20th century philosophers in the same manner as if he were discussing musicians and dropping in the names Ringo and Keith Moon as if everyone already knows their backstory.  I was a history major, and therefore, my reaction is always a bit of "huh?"

Shook and Price traded some debating war stories.  They ponder who should engage in debating the pro-religious and seem to agree it probably should not be working scientists, but a more a group of advocates for reason who take the time to learn the other sides' tricks.  Interestingly was Shook's take that while theology itself might be seen as empty as there is no god, the discussion of theology is not empty as it is believed and followed by billions of people.  Shook posits that you should not dismiss theology as one is not studying about god, but you are learning about people who believe.

I had a listen this morning of the Token Skeptic episode 37 with Andy Wilson of the Merseyside Skeptics and a founding organizer of the 10:23 Campaign.  The long and the short of it is that 10:23 was far more successful than any of the organizers hoped, receiving nationwide coverage in the U.K. and with sister events occurring around the globe.  A "stunt" is planned for the QED conference this February and an even bigger international event for this coming February 23, 2011.  Wilson's goal is not to convert those who practice homeopathy, but rather to raise awareness with the general public as to what homeopathy actually is (or rather is not.)

Sturgess and Wilson briefly discussed the upcoming Q.E.D. conference.  Kylie shall be attending.  I took some time to review the speakers at this conference, and I must say I am quite impressed by the roster: Dr. Steven Novella, ultra cool Dr. Eugenie Scott, Bruce Hood (who apparently was smashingly good at TAM ), Jon Ronson, homeopath defeating Simon Singh, and Pennsylvania's own favorite skeptical son George Hrab among others.  All this and at half or so the price of TAM London.  While TAM London has more speakers, I suspect there is something to be said for less number of speakers over the same amount of time.  This is not to say TAM London is bad, but Q.E.D. seems to be a smashingly good deal for the skeptic on a budget.  Best of all, Hayley Stevens along with Marsh and Trystan will be in attendance.  I'd go, but well Florida in February is much warmer and I have a free place to mooch so I am really just a big talker.  If Kylie Sturgess can fly to the other side of the world to attend then anyone in the British Island ought to make a effort.

Finally, a special episode of Reasonable Doubts has been released with Jeremy Beahan debating Cliff Richard  Knechtle, which occurred on October 7, 2010 at Michigan State University on "Is Christianity Rational."  Typically, these type of things in my limited experience are car wrecks for the skeptic/atheist as the skeptic does not have as good a speaking presence (unless you happened to be named Christopher Hitchens) nor as good a knowledge of the bible and theology as the pro-religion speaker.  I will say as a speaker, Knechtle was quite domineering and spoke in debate pulpit-y tones.  However, Jeremy more than held his own and stayed far calmer and clear reasoning which as the debate showcased just how much of Knechtle's appeal was emotional and sometimes downright rote.  I would not say Beahan cleaned Knechtle's clock, but he did a darn fine job and I would wager he won on points.  It is over 90 minutes long, but worth the listen.


  1. A couple of things. Minor, Noah's Ark not Arc.
    Major P. K. (from my state) but you know what you get. You don't mention what the arrogant other side says and how they do it. I agree that scientists should not debate unless they are as informed as P.K. Maybe you should listen to some of the comments that come from the otherside and see if they are as arrogant. Thanks for the reviews, I read them always.

  2. Shame you can't make it to QED!

  3. It's tempting but the airfare is pricey. Perhaps QED 2 or 3.

  4. I get to see SNOW for the first time!! I think it's just an urban legend though. :p


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