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LoR – Episode 30

[I realize that I have been remiss in putting what is essentially an audio blog of a podcast on this website. I don’t blog anymore, preferring to voice my opposition to magical thinking and the harm it does to individuals and society as a whole. I will hereafter update this page as we continue our journey at The Legion of Reason.]

In this installment we present another one of Kris’ fantastic interviews from the American Humanist Association conference in New Orleans earlier this year. Kris discussed humanism with the Harvard Humanists. Participating in the discussion were Sarah Chandonnet, James Croft, Chris Stedman and Greg Epstein.

The Centre for Inquiry here in Calgary is organizing SkeptiFest, a one-day music & comedy festival happening on September 8 at Ten Nightclub. It will be featuring Australian singing sensation Shelley Segal who performed at the historic Reason Rally earlier this year in Washington, DC. Check out her opus entitled “Saved” on website. Also appearing is Albertan comic Derek Sweet and Calgarian songster Dean Morisson, whose song “Non Believer” we featured here on the Legion of Reason a while back. It’ll be a rocking good time! Tickets are available through Eventbrite, and prices are $20 the general public, $15 for students with valid student ID, and members of the Centre for Inquiry and Freethinkers Society get ‘em for $10.

To listen to more from the Legion, please visit our website at www.legionofreason.com!

I haven’t posted in some time. It hasn’t been because I haven’t anything to say, but because I have starte actually saying it. My brother B and I had been wanting to start up a podcast for some time, but with the arrival of my niece and nephew things got put on the back burner. I didn’t want to start things up on my own, but when a new homeopathy store opened up and started advertising on Facebook, I could no longer wait.

It was at this time that I put out a cattle all to my Center for Inquiry friends and was pleasantly surprised to receive numerous requests to be involved. We made our first recording a little after Xmas and we’re getting set to record our eighth episode tomorrow evening.

So what’s the podcast about? Well, the vision I have is quite broad. Essentially, it involves discussing topics anywhere that evidence-based thinking can be applied. This can involve public policy, woo woo, religion, science, education, etc. There are many great podcasts out there about atheism (The Non-Prophets, for example) or applied skepticism which exclude religious claims (e.g., The Skeptics Guide to the Universe), but almost none that make no distinction where critical thinking gets applied. (The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Skeptics with a K.)

As I like to say, I am an atheist for the same reason that I am a-reiki, a-homeopathic, a-yeti, or a-quantum healing. I see no difference in any of these claims or the requirements they need to meet before acceptance is justified. However, religion is a big component of the podcast for the simple reason that it pervades so much of society. I wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn about it except for one thing: Beliefs inform actions and believing in things without the requisite evidence often lead to harm, not to mention that it is an impoverished way of living. The universe is amazing enough without diminishing it by making up far less interesting stuff about it.

A case in point (which I would like to make into a podcast topic): a recent crime bill passed here in Canada increases prison time and takes funding away from programs which may help make inmates productive members of society when released. There is not one shred of evidence that increasing prison time makes society any safer or better off. Quite the opposite, in fact. But such thinking arises from and panders to an electorate with a religious conservative point of view that is demonstrably false. This is not how public policy should be created and does real harm to society.

The topics we discuss are as relevant to the Canadian prairies as possible (or at least nationally). There are already podcasts out there which ably cover the tribulations south of the 49th parallel. But topics which are of interst to everyone are covered as well, though we give them a decidedly local flavor.

In the first seven episodes we have talked about Xerion Homoeopathie (a Calgary purveyor of magic sugar pills) and their dissemination of anti-vaccination nonsense, the effectiveness so-called ‘liberation’ therapy as a proposed treatment of multiple sclerosis (which has a very high incidence in the prairie provinces), the absence of secular education in the town of Morinville (just north of Edmonton), and in the episode we are recording tomorrow we have an interview with rock star cosmologist Lawrence Krauss about science education and why the non-religious are labeled “strident” (or worse) just for daring to question religious claims. His new book A Universe From Nothing (which I guiltlessly plug here) is a great companion to the viral YouTube video of the same name.

Come visit us at the Legion of Reason and give us a listen, or you can find us on iTunes.

Last night I was a panelist on the monthly FDA podcast (link to follow once it is on iTunes) discussing the question of whether or not political parties based on religious principles should be allowed to form in democratic countries. Besides me, there were a couple of representatives from the Party of Concerned Christians (Artur and Jim) that do indeed base their platform directly on the Bible, one very excitable member of FDA (Dan) and the moderator and founder of FDA (Stephen).

An interesting topic, but I think the question is ill-formed. I have no problem with the formation of any political party regardless of platform (within the limits set out on free speech). I think placing any unreasonable limitations on what a political party can stand for (again, with the same caveats) is fundamentally and fatally antidemocratic. Dan was the only dissenter on this, and I think he’s plain wrong. What he’s afraid of is theocracy. No argument there, particularly if one uses the Bible as the basis of political platforms. The two Christian members of the panel disagreed, of course, but offered absolutely no substance in rebuttal. Let’s face it – the Old Testament is strong evidence of a patently evil god and if that god were to exist there is no way I would possibly even consider worshiping it. Read More »

I have just finished reading Paul Tobin’s excellent book The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager (who of us godless Sodomites isn’t sick and tired of all its different flavors by now?). I have a fairly substantial library on biblical criticism, including books by Ehrman, Helms and Callaghan. But I especially like this one as it gets into how scholars have come to the conclusions more than most, and in a manner not as dry as a turkey cooked two hours too long (like say Burton L. Mack’s Who Wrote the New Testament?). Read More »

On the weekend of September 9, I and a fellow member of the Center for Inquiry attended a creationism “conference” (I’d have called it a lecture series, but hey, whatever). My overall impression is that if this is all that creationists have, evolutionary theory is not at all in jeopardy. Of course, I never thought it was. I just wanted to experience what people who believe the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs co-existed with humans had to say. The whole thing could only be accepted by those who have drunk the Kool Aid. There was nothing convincing in anything I saw, and some stretched my credulity well past the breaking point. Read More »

It’s getting tougher and tougher to find the time to blog, and I really wanted to get this one out. A while ago I was part of a discussion course entitled “God, Atheism and Morality” that used Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape as a back-drop, as well as Richard Holloway’s Godless Morality. Though Holloway still has some religious baggage to unload that keeps his goal of a morality that encompasses humanity out of reach, he’s a Christian (an Anglican bishop) who largely gets it. There are problems with Harris’ book as well, but as Matt Dillahunty notes he provides us with a language for discussing these issues.

I wish I had kept up with the class in my blog. Throughout the coarse my view of Harris’ book changed significantly. For instance, I agree with Massimo Pigliucci’s view that Science can not determine the values we should hold, but I think Massimo undervalues Science in evaluating the effects of values we do hold. Harris bizarrely never mentions the application of the social sciences to this evaluation, and I have a hard time seeing how a reduction of morality to the neurosciences can have anywhere near as much value as some of the work that Gregory Paul has done. But while I have mixed feelings about the contents of The Moral Landscape, Harris opened up a dialog that needed opening.

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Hi folks! I haven’t written in some time, but I thought perhaps this might be of interest. To keep those who might balk at the length of this diatribe interested enough to read further, I’ll just say that a situation has arisen in a town called Morinville, Alta, where it is not possible for parents to select a secular education for their children. For those that want to skip the history lesson, scroll thine eyes down five paragraphs. But the history lesson itself will surprise many people. I met someone who recently moved to here from British Columbia who had no idea that Alberta has a faith-based publicly-funded school system.

Canada does not have an explicit church-state separation. I wish it did. Had the Canadian Constitution been drawn up now rather than 30 years ago, I think it would. Religiopolitics in the US scares the bejesus out of us. Well, most of us. The current constitution relies very heavily on a previous act of British Parliament passed in 1867, the so-called British North America (BNA) Act. In it, it allows for religion-based school systems to remain publicly funded. This was a historical reality at the time, but has long since become an anachronism. Regions were settled by people of a single predominant faith and built public institutions before they entered Confederation and became provinces. These were predominantly Catholic, with a bit of Anglican thrown into the mix. The BNA Act provided for publicly-funded separate school systems for schools of religious faiths that existed prior to their entering into Confederation. (This led to an interesting situation when about 30 years after Manitoba entered into Confederation the provincial government decided to cease funding the Catholic school system, causing Pope Leo XIII to write a papal encyclical condemning the whole action. Fortunately, no one listened….) Read More »

Yesterday the Government of Canada lost a vote of confidence over the new budget, necessitating an election on May 2.

While I don’t know yet who will be getting my vote, I most certainly know which party I will not be voting for, putting me squarely in the ABC (Anybody But Conservative) camp. The current regime is the most undemocratic group I have ever seen in Canada. The sheer contempt this Prime Minister has shown parliament and the citizens of Canada is appalling in the extreme:

  • The ill-fated attempt to end party funding (the obvious result of which would have been that party policy would be dictated by those “donating” the most money to a party and not about doing what is best for the electorate);
  • Not once, but twice prorogued parliament not for what proroguing is supposed to be used for (end the session when the business of the house is finished early), but to cynically avoid a non-confidence vote in the House in 2008 and again in 2009 to avoid answering tough questions about the Afghan detainee affair. In both cases legislation was still waiting to be dealt with by Parliament, thus shutting down the House violated the spirit of prorogation entirely and abrogated the rights of Canadians to ask questions and demand answers of the government.;
  • Witholding information asked for by the House on costs associated with crime bills and thus were found in contempt of Parliament;
  • Ending of mandatory submission of the long census for those that receive it. (Any statistician will tell you just how skewed data critical for developing public policy will now be….);
  • illegally financed campaigns in the last election through money shuffles, a scandal called the “in and out” scheme;
  • Maintaining a cabinet minister who, while leader of the Conservative Party, as condition to garnering support for his leadership promised never to merge with the Alliance Party (headed by Stephen Harper). He got what I think is his own just desserts when his girlfirend and fellow caucus member crossed the floor to the Liberal camp without telling him of this action beforehand. Delicious!
  • Was admonished by Hillary Clinton for not including funding abortion in foreign aid packages…. The United States lecturing another country on family planning! Abortion is considered a necessary medical service legal in Canada, but apparently not for other countries where access is also needed. This action by Harper clearly shows his religious beliefs affect his policies, and relgion has no place in politics. Not now, not ever!
  • The pièce de résistance, Harper shows his respect for science by appointing to the office of the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology a chiroptractor. You read that right- a fucking chiropractor! Anyone with an ounce of scientific knowledge wouldn’t be a chiropractor.

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Well, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged on anything of substance. Busy, busy, busy. Last month, my wife pointed out to me a new class being offered through the Continuing Education program at the local university called God, Atheism and Morality. It’s a discussion class using Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape as the backdrop and led by an ex-Lutheran pastor. A nice fellow, but maybe too nice for the things likely to come…

There are nine of us, from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. There’s a non-believing Teacher who wants to return to university, perhaps to get a PhD in the philosophy of science; a Lawyer who deals with immigrants and who made an excellent point on refugee claimants that I have suspected for some time that I will get to later on; another who grew up in a Secular household and does not understand faith (I do – I just don’t understand why anyone in their right mind discards reason and evidence in favor of wishful thinking); the Spiritual woman that made the claim that most atheists are really agnostics (which underscores a problem of definitions that might produce some trouble); another that wants to see if there are reasons to discard her Faith (burden of proof shift, anyone?) and “dragged” her husband along (well, according to him, anyway…); a retiree with a Physics background who didn’t really say much about himself; a believing Moral Relativist (!) who knows too much about philosophy, an intellectual pursuit that I have little patience for (and who actually told me that string theory is not testable, that I should Google it! Ah, the University of Google, where you can get a degree in 9/11 truthing! Michio Kaku, where are you when I need you?); and yours truly, who described himself as “the most unspiritual person that you will ever meet”. Quite a wide spectrum of beliefs which is a good start.
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Oh, happy day! No, possums… I am not having a religious experience. I am not finally seeing the light (I think I already have, thanks). But president and CEO of the Calgary Flames Ken King finally has. Hey, Ken! What the hell took you so long?

I was at our local pub with my wife last night playing NTN when I happened to notice a splash screen on TSN that showed Darryl Sutter’s resume as GM (the first point on it, the only positive one, had more to do with his coaching than GM duties – the amazing run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004). But there was no sound, so could not confirm my hopes and dreams had indeed come true till later.

Darryl’s head had been removed. The boom has fallen. The king is dead. Well, his position as GM is over, anyway. But for a die-hard Flames fan, this is big.

I’ve been calling for his head for years. I consider him to be one of the worst GMs in hockey history, and in recent years has made some of the most ridiculous trade decisions I have ever seen. To be fair, he’s made some good ones. He was responsible for acquiring Mikka Kiprusoff from San Jose, who is now as much a Flames icon as team captain Jerome Iginla (who has a street named after him in Las Vegas, but that’s another story). Indeed, I have always thought that the Kipper is the only player on the Flames who’s game is on night after night.

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