Episode 75: News Update

Episode 75: News Update

This episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a classic news update show! Greg Christensen and Gem Newman discuss the #HamOnNye debate, the (latest) snake-handling preacher to die of a snake bite, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s upcoming visit to Winnipeg, and much more!

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: The Creation of Debate: Should we engage anti-science? | Nye/Ham Postmortem: The Apologists for Religion | Answers for Creationists (Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, Steven Novella’s Neurologica) | I Don’t Debate Science | Reality Show Snake Handler Dies from Snakebite | Snake Handling | Neil deGrasse Tyson “The Sky Is Not the Limit” in Winnipeg | Cosmos Trailer | Astronomers Discover Oldest Star | Denmark Bans Kosher and Halal Slaughter as Minister Says ‘Animal Rights Come Before Religion’ | Copenhagen Zoo Kills ‘Surplus’ Young Giraffe Marius Despite Online Petition

What Are You Reading? Bad Pharma, by Ben Goldacre | Half Empty, by David Rakoff

What Are You Listening to? Common Sense | Hardcore History | Quackcast

Correction: According to Bishop James Ussher, the universe was created on 23 October 4004 BC, which would make it approximately 6017 years, 8 months old, not the figure of 6016 mentioned by Gem. We apologise for this error. But when you’re already off by 13.7 billion years, who’s counting?

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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 55: Day at the Museum (Rawr!)

Episode 55: Day at the Museum (Rawr!)

On this road trip edition of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Richelle McCullough, and Robert Shindler visit Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum and spend the afternoon with research scientist Dr. David Eberth, who takes them on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the museum. The entire LUEE crew would like to extend heartfelt thanks to the Tyrrell Museum and especially to Dr. Eberth for this wonderful opportunity.

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: The Royal Tyrrell Museum | Dr. David Eberth | Dr. Eberth at Imagine No Religion 2: “Evolution vs. Creationism: Why won’t it go away?” | Dr. Ian Plimer Debates Dr. Duane Gish

Clarification: Explanation of the Global Temperature “800 Year Lag” (Potholer on YouTube, Skeptical Science)

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Episode 52: The Movie Review Show

Episode 52: The Movie Review Show

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman, Ashlyn Noble, Robert Shindler, and Laura Creek Newman review several recent films from a skeptical perspective.

Warning! We discuss plot points in Life of Pi, Source Code, Wreck-It Ralph, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, Prometheus, Contagion, Looper, and the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise in some detail. There are several spoilers large and small, so proceed at your own risk. Also, this episode makes copious use of “air quotes” for some reason. So, there’s that.

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.

Star Trek
Science Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Spoiler Level: Medium

Source Code
Science Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Spoiler Level: Maximum (All the spoilers!)

Life of Pi
Science Rating: ★★★☆☆
Spoiler Level: High

Wreck-It Ralph
Science Rating: ★★★★☆
Spoiler Level: Low

Contagion
Science Rating: ★★★★★
Spoiler Level: Low

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
Science Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Spoiler Level: None

Looper
Science Rating: ★★★☆☆
Spoiler Level: Medium

Prometheus
Science Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Spoiler Level: High (But who cares?)

Other Links: Sir Ian McKellen to Marry Sir Patrick Stewart | Bad Astronomy Review: Star Trek | Rasplex.com | Ridley Scott Says Jesus Was a Space Alien, or Something Like That

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What Does Creationism Say About Our Culture?

Cross-posted from Skeptic North.

According to a 2007 Angus-Reid poll, 59% of Canadians accept evolution and common descent, while 22% are convinced that God created human beings within the last 10,000 years (with acceptance of evolution being correlated with youth and with higher levels of education, and belief in special creation being more prevalent on the prairies). While it can be tempting to dismiss those who claim that evolution is a religion or that there are no transitional fossils as backward or fringe, the truth is that the prevalence of these beliefs (even in high places) is actually an interesting phenomenon.

As any skeptic can tell you, simply correcting misinformation—supplying the relevant facts, highlighting a logical fallacy, whatever—is nearly never enough to dissuade a believer. Why? Because beliefs don’t stand and fall simply on their own merits. Understanding why people believe things that are sometimes downright odd can provide us with important insight. It seems to me that this sort of context can not only tell us how we might go about winning the argument, but it can give us insight into what the argument is really about.

Look, it can be great fun playing whack-a-mole with creationist claims (I’ve done it many times myself)—we can say that evolution is the cornerstone of modern biological sciences until we’re blue in the face—but when you get right down to it, belief in creationism seems relatively benign when compared to (for example) the conviction that lemongrass makes a good cure for pancreatic cancer. But it’s important to understand that pseudoscientific beliefs do not exist in a vacuum, that they are instead part of a larger cultural context: and that context should be of great interest to skeptics.

I’m sure that many of our readers remember that in a 2009 Globe & Mail interview Gary Goodyear (our Minister of State for Science & Technology, for those of you who were about to check Wikipedia) refused to answer a question about his stance on evolution, stating “I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.”

While many people were justifiably appalled that Canada’s Minister of State for Science & Technology confused a question about his position on an important scientific issue with a question about his religion, I’m inclined to think that Goodyear may have simply been engaging in a rather artless attempt to dodge a question that he may have considered politically awkward (recognizing that his position is probably not in line with the overwhelming scientific consensus). Regardless, countless people swarmed to Goodyear’s defence, with National Post columnist Jonathan Kay characterizing the Globe & Mail article as a “witch hunt”.

So what does the prevalence of creationism (or at the very least, the hesitation to accept the strong scientific consensus) say about our culture?

When a person finds that an opinion (even if said opinion is a deeply held religious opinion) is contradicted by the scientific evidence, most reasonable people would probably agree that this person has two real options: to impugn the evidence or to change the opinion. The choice that an individual makes may be in some sense mediated by the answer to this question: Does this person think that the evidence is contradicting the belief, or do they think that the belief is contradicting the evidence?

However, there is a hidden third option: to blithely ignore the conflict. Whether it takes the form of treating science as just another social construct, no more valid than any other, or of simply denying the necessity of basing one’s beliefs on evidence, this seems to be an increasingly popular tactic for coping with cognitive dissonance.

The fact remains that we now live in a culture in which personal opinion and scientific evidence are, in the eyes of many, given equal weight. We live in a culture in which it is commonplace for a person, upon finding that established science contradicts their personal opinion, to say, “All the worse for science!” This is troubling.

It seems that many people treat their opinions about science (or politics, for that matter) in the same way they treat their preferred sports teams. These opinions are strongly influenced by social and geographical factors, but that doesn’t prevent anyone from strongly and cheerfully proclaiming the superiority of their side of the argument—and in both cases, people are unlikely to be swayed by the evidence (sorry, Maple Leafs fans).

In fact, for people who hold strong opinions on any subject, evidence that contravenes the opinion is actually likely to strengthen the opinion, rather than erode it. This phenomenon is known as the “backfire effect“. A widely reported study on the subject (as it relates to factual claims in politics) was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgia State University in 2006, and it concluded that “corrections fail to reduce misperceptions for the most committed participants. Even worse, they actually strengthen misperceptions among ideological subgroups in several cases.”

No one can be completely immune to the backfire effect (or to any other cognitive bias). But if your primary conviction is to the method rather than to the conclusion, then perhaps you will be better equipped to recognise that it is your opinion that is in need of correction.

So what does creationism say about our culture? That, at the very least, we must remain vigilant.

Episode 36: Common Creationist Claims, Part 2

Episode 36: Common Creationist Claims, Part 2

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman, Ashlyn Noble, Greg Christensen, and Ian Leung provide more evidence for evolution, and discuss some of their favourite silly creationist arguments.

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: On the Origin of Species | Index to Creationist Claims (Full Index, Giraffe’s Circulatory System, Paluxy Footprints, Fossil Sea Creatures on Mountaintops) | Evidence for Common Descent (Talk Origins, Wikipedia) | Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve | The Problem of Induction | Dear Emma B | Species Distribution via Plant Rafts and Tree Bridges | Point of Inquiry: The Debunking Handbook | Feakes’ Pamphlets | Neo-Darwinian Synthesis | The Lapine: Atheist Suicide Bomber Kills Eighteen Agnostics | John Scalzi Visits the Creation Museum (Part 1: The Photographic Tour, Part 2: On the Creation Museum)

What Are You Reading? The Wheel of Time Series | A Memory of Light, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson | Have a Nice Day!, by Mick Foley | Foley Is Good: And the Real World Is Faker Than Wrestling, by Mick Foley | Chronicles of the Shadow War | Shadow Moon, by Chris Claremont | On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin | Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein | Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

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Episode 34: Common Creationist Claims, Part 1

Episode 34: Common Creationist Claims, Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman discusses and rebuts common creationist arguments with the help of Ashlyn Noble, Greg Christensen, and Ian Leung.

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: On the Origin of Species | In the Beginning | TalkOrigins.org | An Index to Creationist Claims | Neo-Darwinian Synthesis | Debating Creationists | The Evolution of the Eye (Wikipedia, Dawkins Explains Here, and Here, and Here) | Irreducible Complexity (Iron Chariots, Wikipedia) | Examples of Transitional Fossils (Tiktaalik, Archaeopteryx, Eohippus/Hyracotherium, Ambulocetus)

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