Episode 80: Near-Death Experiences

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Donna Harris and Greg Christensen discuss near-death experiences (NDEs) and some of the possible psychological, physiological, and transcendental explanations for them.

Note: Shortly after this episode was recorded, we learned that Steven Novella and Sean Carroll would be participating in an Intelligence Squared debate on the resolution “Death Is Not Final”. Arguing for the resolution was Eben Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven, who was mentioned in this episode. We link to a video of the debate in the show notes.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Death Is Not Final (Intelligence Squared Debate) | Near-death Experiences (Wikipedia) | Heaven Is for Real | Eben Alexander | Francis Collins | Pim van Lommel | Sam Parnia | The God Helmet | International Association for Near-death Studies | Impact Factor (Wikipedia)

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Episode 79: The Historicity of Jesus

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Ian Macaulay, and Gem Newman discuss whether the character of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Christian Bible is actually based on an historical figure, and Greg gives us a review of Bill O’Reilly’s new book along the way.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Historicity of Jesus (Wikipedia) | Christ myth theory (Wikipedia) | Carrier and Ehrman disagree on the historicity of Jesus | David Fitzgerald responds to criticism of Nailed | LUEE Episode 72: The War on Christmas (A Brief History) | Irreligiosophy: The One True Podcast (Website, iTunes) | The Bible Geek Show (Website, iTunes) | Josephus on Jesus | Tacitus on Christ | Criterion of Embarrassment | Acharya S (Wikipedia)

Books: Killing Jesus, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard | Nailed, by David Fitzgerald | Proving History, by Richard Carrier | The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, by Robert Price | Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, by Bart Ehrman

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Episode 73: Hopes and Fears for the Future

Episode 73: Hopes and Fears for the Future

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Donna Harris, Pat Morrow, Ashlyn Noble, and Lauren Bailey discuss HAAM’s participation in an interfaith panel hosted by Ravi Zacharias Ministries, and their greatest hopes and greatest fears for the future.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Ravi Zacharias International | Gary Goodyear on Evolution (CBC, Skeptic North) | Jim Inhofe on Global Warming | Texas Adolescent Reproductive Health Facts (PolitiFact, Department of Health and Human Services) | A Manual for Creating Atheists | Brian Pallister on “Infidel Atheists” Who “Celebrate Nothing” | Awra Amba (PRI, Wikipedia) | Mars One

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“Infidel Atheists” Who “Celebrate Nothing”

I wasn’t going to bother commenting on this story, because it seemed so boring and trivial: conservative political figure makes off-the-cuff remark that betrays ignorance of minority group. My friend Donna Harris of the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba has already commented on the matter, and well, and I was content to leave it at that. But I got a call this afternoon from a Winnipeg Sun reporter seeking comment, and it served to solidify my thoughts on the matter, so I figured that I might as well share them.

For context, here’s what provincial Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said:

I want to wish everyone a really, really merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, all the holidays… all you infidel atheists out there, I want to wish you the very best also. I don’t know what you celebrate during the holiday season, I myself celebrate the birth of Christ, but it’s your choice, and I respect your choice. If you want to celebrate nothing, and just get together with friends, that’s good, too. All the best.

First of all, personally, I don’t think that this is a big deal. Pallister seemed to be speaking extemporaneously, and he appeared to be expressing honest goodwill to everyone.

Most of the outcry seems to centre on his use of the word “infidel”, which Pallister claims is simply another innocent word for “nonbeliever”. Although I would argue that “faithless” is probably a closer match etymologically, I’m content to let that pass without wasting too much time pointing out that the term is generally considered derogatory and pejorative.

What does cause me a bit of concern, on the other hand, is that Pallister seems to believe that atheists “celebrate nothing”. I’m not sure quite how to make sense of this comment, for of course any given atheist might celebrate any number of things during the holidays: family, friends, the turning of the seasons, and the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton come most readily to mind. But atheism isn’t a religion: there are no tenets or dogma, and atheists are not a homogenous lot.

Atheists believe and celebrate in all sorts of disparate things. An atheist might believe in Keynesian economics, or might be of the Austrian school. An atheist might follow Kant’s categorical imperative, or have a more utilitarian ethic. An atheist might be a humanist, or even an Objectivist.

Atheism isn’t a belief system. Asking what atheists believe or what atheists celebrate is like asking what people who don’t believe in faeries or ghosts believe or celebrate. Any number of things, certainly. Not all the same things, naturally. But probably not “nothing”.


Update (2 December 2013): That was quick. The new article is now available on the Sun’s website. It is brief, as is to be expected, and makes a minor error or two (although I started the group, Ashlyn has been the organiser of the Winnipeg Skeptics for almost a year), but it’s fine.

Episode 68: Atheist Myths

Episode 68: Atheist Myths

Is atheism a religion? In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Donna Harris, Greg Christensen, Pat Morrow, and Jeffrey Olsson take on a few of the myths and misconceptions about atheists.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Atheist vs. Agnostic | Atheism starts its megachurch: Is it a religion now? | Calgary Secular Church | Michael Enright: Could Atheists please stop complaining? | Elizabeth Renzetti: Heavens, we atheists have become a smug, dreary lot | Betty Bowers Explains Traditional Marriage to Everyone Else

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Episode 67: An Evening with Ray Comfort

Episode 67: An Evening with Ray Comfort

It’s time for another movie review show! In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Richelle McCullough, and Robert Shindler discuss Ray Comfort’s most recent YouTube “documentaries”: Evolution vs. God and 180.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Evolution vs. God | Ray Comfort | The Atheist’s Worst Nightmare (The “Banana Fallacy”) | Crocoduck | PZ Myers on Ray Comfort (I Met Ray Comfort Tonight, Ray Comfort Confesses, Ray Comfort Sinks to New Depths of Pathos) | Jaclyn Glenn’s Rebuttal of Atheism vs. God | Rick Mercer’s Talking to American’s Special (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) | Bilateria (Animals with Bilateral Symmetry) | “Your Argument Is Invalid” | Biblical Contradictions | “180” | Godwin’s Law

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Episode 64: Angry Atheists and Equality with Greta Christina

Episode 64: Angry Atheists and Equality with Greta Christina

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman discusses atheist activism and the skeptical community’s problems with equality with Greta Christina. Also on this episode, a new instalment of Where’s My Jetpack? This week Old Man Newman asks, “Where’s my lab-grown meat?”

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Greta Christina’s Blog | Greta’s Books (Why Are You Atheists So Angry?, Bending) | Julia Galef: The Straw Vulcan | Harassment, Rape, and the Difference Between Skepticism and Denialism | Sexual Harassment Accusations in the Skeptical and Secular Communities: a Timeline of Major Events

Where’s My Jetpack? Links: Environmental Impact (Worldwatch Institute, United Nations FCCC) | Cultured Meat in the News (The Telegraph, CBC, Scientific American, The Australian) | PETA’s Cultured Chicken Meat Contest | To Fight Global Warming, Eat Bugs

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Episode 62: Star Trek’s Humanism (and Lack Thereof), Part 2

Episode 62: Star Trek’s Humanism (and Lack Thereof), Part 2

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Richelle McCullough, Robert Shindler, and Gem Newman continue their discussion of Star Trek’s long history of humanism, and some of the places the franchise has stumbled along the way.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Episodes Discussed: The Next Generation (The Measure of a Man, Who Watches the Watchers) | Deep Space Nine (Family Business, In the Pale Moonlight) | Voyager (Author, Author) | Enterprise (Dear Doctor)

Other Links: Riker Sits Down | Gem’s Rant on the Subject of “Dear Doctor” | Mansplainer #3: I’m Sick of Television (and Real Life) | That Mitchell and Webb Look: English Civil War

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Episode 61: Star Trek’s Humanism (and Lack Thereof), Part 1

Episode 61: Star Trek’s Humanism (and Lack Thereof), Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Richelle McCullough, Robert Shindler, and Gem Newman discuss Star Trek’s long history of humanism, and some of the places the franchise has stumbled along the way.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

News Items: An Open Letter to Exodus International’s Super-remorseful Alan Chambers | Vaccine Against HPV Has Cut Infections In Teenage Girls | ‘Racist’ Licence Plates Recalled in New Brunswick | Licence Plate Standards (Manitoba, Alberta, New Brunswick)

Episodes Discussed: The Original Series (Who Mourns for Adonais?) | Star Trek V: The Final Frontier | The Next Generation (The Child)

Other Links: Riker Sits Down | ‘Star Trek’ Franchise an Homage to Humanist Philosophy | Gene Roddenberry | Michael Piller | CBS/Paramount and Michael Piller’s “Fade In” | D.C. Fontana | The “Mind Rape” Trope

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Episode 58: Ghosts and Apparitions, Part 2

Episode 58: Ghosts and Apparitions, Part 2

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman talks about the evidence (or lack thereof) for ghosts with Greg Christensen, Ian Leung, and Mark Forkheim. Also on this episode, Gem chats with Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Warning: In the first few minutes of the podcast, Greg asks Gem to give a primer on Bayes’ Theorem and conditional probability (and why this is at all relevant to ghosts). It involves a little bit of math, so brace yourself.

Links: Solstice Party (22 June 2013) | Drinking Skeptically (11 June 2013) | Bayes’ Theorem | Sleep Paralysis | Apophenia | Pareidolia | Friendly Atheist | Steinbach Pastor Voices Opposition to Bill 18 | I Sold My Soul on eBay | The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide

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Bayes’ Theorem
P(A|B) = P(B|A) • P(A) / P(B)

The probability that it is raining, given the fact that it is cloudy:
P(Raining|Cloudy) = P(Cloudy|Raining) • P(Raining) / P(Cloudy)

The probability that ghosts exist, given the fact that you heard a weird noise:
P(Ghosts|Noise) = P(Noise|Ghosts) • P(Ghosts) / P(Noise)

In this instance, P(Noise|Ghosts) is the probability that you’d hear a weird noise, assuming ghosts exist, P(Ghosts) is the prior probability that ghosts exist, and P(Noise) is the probability that you’ll hear weird noises (generally speaking).

The example numbers plugged in during the podcast:
P(Ghosts|Noise) = 0.95 • 0.05 / 0.60 = 0.08

So in this case, hearing a strange noise might increase your belief in ghosts from 5% to 8%; definitely not a smoking gun.