Episode 41: News Update

Episode 41: News Update

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Jeffrey Olsson, Donna Harris, and Greg Christensen discuss local and international news of interest to skeptics, including blasphemy cases in Pakistan and India and reproductive health issues abroad, and Greg reviews some exoplanet-related news items from the last few years.

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: Sanal Edamaruku | Pakistani Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy May Appeal | High Court Rejects Case Against Girl in Pakistan | Astronomers Spot “Super Jupiter” | Astronomers Directly Image Massive Star’s “Super-Jupiter” | Oprah Tweets Her Love For Microsoft Surface Using An iPad | Exoplanet Gliese 581g Makes the Top 5 | United Nations Declares Access to Contraception a “Universal Human Right” | What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortions? | The UCSF Global Turnaway Study | Record Nine-Planet Star System Discovered? | Saudi Arabian Women Tracked with System That Texts Their Husbands | Puffy Planet Poses Pretty Puzzle | World Toilet Day

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Episode 39: News Update

Episode 39: News Update

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble, Donna Harris, and Mark Forkheim discuss local and international news of interest to skeptics, including the canonization of a new aboriginal Catholic saint, a scientific study claiming men and women can’t be friends, the conviction of Italian seismologists for manslaughter, Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, and more.

(Gem here with a brief note. Because we’re all busy preparing for our trip down to Missouri for Skepticon, we recorded this episode in advance of the American presidential election, so obviously we didn’t know how it would turn out—although we had our suspicions. While I didn’t have the opportunity to comment on the Lucasfilm story, allow me to just say this: I cannot wait until Episode I goes back into the Disney Vault.)

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: Apocalypse 2012: The End of the World Party (Facebook Event, Meetup Event) | Kateri Tekakwitha (CBC, Wikipedia) | Men and Women Can’t Be “Just Friends” | Sandy Death Toll Rises | If the Rest of the World Elected the American President, Obama Would Win in a Landslide | Italian Quake Ruling Rattles Global Science Community | Disney Buying Star Wars Maker Lucasfilm

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Episode 37: News Update

Episode 37: News Update

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble, Donna Harris, Mark Forkheim, and Laura Creek Newman discuss local and international news of interest to skeptics, including PMS, supposed sex-selective abortions, Winnipeg’s pious new police chief, and 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: Ussher Chronology | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg | “Religious Freedom” Sends the Wrong Message to the Wrong People | Mark Warawa’s Motion 408 Aimed At Condemning Sex-Selective Abortion | MP Defends Giving Queen’s Jubilee Medal to Jailed Woman: Anti-Abortionists Honoured by Conservative MP | Vitamin C and Lysine Proven to Keep Arteries Healthy | PMS Moodiness May be a Myth: Study | Winnipeg Police Chief Touts Prayer to Help Combat Crime | Non-Christian Prison Chaplains Chopped by Ottawa

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Episode 27: The Benefits of Religion

Episode 27: The Benefits of Religion

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Leslie Saunders discusses the purported benefits of religion with Greg Christensen and Robert Shindler.

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: Drinking Skeptically | Microsoft Adds “Big Boobs” to Linux Kernel | 10 Benefits of Religion | Will the Earth Survive the Sun’s Death? (National Geographic News, New Scientist) | The Nonbelievers’ Beliefs | The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by Robert Crumb | Unwin Formula

Also on this episode, the third instalment of Where’s My Jetpack? This week Old Man Newman asks, “Where’s my cure for cancer?”

Where’s My Jetpack? Links: Cancer Fact Sheets (World Health Organization, National Cancer Institue) | Cancer Statistics | Dichloroacetate (Dr. Steven Novella, Orac) | Genetically Modified T Cell Therapy | Thioridazine Cancer Treatment

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Episode 23: Justice and Hate Crimes

Episode 23: Justice and Hate Crimes

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Ali Ashtari, and Jeffrey Olsson talk about Canadian hate crime legislation and freedom of thought, conscience, and expression.

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: Bill C-10 & Minimum Sentences | Iranian Rapper Facing Death Threats | Atheist Murdered in Texas | Ernst Zundel | David Ahenakew | Summary of Hate Crime Definition | Criminal Code of Canada | Statistics on Canadian Hate Crimes | Effect of Hate Crime on Victims | References to Notable Canadian Hate Crime Convictions | Hate Crime in Canada: An Overview of Issues and Data Sources

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Mothers Day

Mothers Day can be a hard day for anyone who has lost a mother. It can be doubly hard for those of us who have lost both a child and a mother, but these things are multiplied if one is also a non believer.

Myself, I have some prep going into the mother’s day weekend, as my mom died weeks before mother’s day 2 years ago. May 2nd (the anniversary of her death)  I had a flood of Emails and Facebook posts telling me that mom was “in heaven” or that mom was “watching over me”.

I am always torn about how to respond to, or take these comments. I try my hardest to take the comments in the spirit that they are given in. I truly think that those who say such things (who should know me well enough to know that I don’t believe in heaven or that someone is capable of ‘watching over me’ after they die) still only tell me these things in an effort to try to comfort me. But on days where I feel isolated and alone most often, these comments make me feel worse.

I hate to sound selfish, but sometimes (especially when someone is trying to make ME feel better) I wish that people could put aside their own beliefs and try to make ME feel better.

Here is how I look at ‘life after death’:

Well… maybe I should back up. I think that we are all what the matter that makes us up lets us be. The matter that makes up my brain, my organs, my limbs…. If I lose use of an arm or a lung or a part of my brain I will act differently…. to varying degrees depending on how serious the injury is and what part it is.

I think that a large part of who I am is the neural pathways in my brain. And a not insignificant part of those neural pathways are make up my memory. For example: memory’s of my mom.

Lessons she has taught me, Skills she has taught me, Story’s she has told me, and the Morals she taught me; all woven in to my neural pathways and I couldn’t get rid of them even if I wanted to.

Not to mention the fact that I look so much like my mother (physical traits wise) that people mistake pictures of mom for pictures of me all the time.

The funny part of that is people mistook pictures of grandma for pictures of mom as well as pictures of great grandma for pictures of grandma. So anyone who wants to have an approximate of what I’m going to look like when I’m 70 needs only to meet my grandma.

But back to my original point. If all we are, is what we are…. if we are only what our minds and DNA says we are…. well…. I kind of get to decide how much of our mothers gets to live on.

The DNA; That me & my brother have already, it’s going to be my kids and it’s already my nieces… CHECK.

What I’m more concerned about for this mothers day is my moms memory. I mean that in an honest way. I have started making a flower bed the way she taught me to when I was about 5…. and who knows… maybe when we sell our house the new owners will keep it and that flower bed (& part of my mom) will be around for another 50 years. I am, myself, going to make an effort to learn from the lessons my mother taught me and the example she set for me. Also I am going to try to learn from her mistakes.

Most importantly (from my frame of mind right now) I’m going to try to talk about my mom and share the knowledge she has given me. If she was neural pathway pathways and created neural pathway pathways in me, and I pass on knowledge from those pathways that create new pathways in someone else… well… that’s the kind of living on I have no problem believing in.

What I would love for people to say to me instead of “your mom is in a better place” or “god needed an angel” or the thousand other cliches we have all heard already; is something personal, something unique. Tell me why I look or act like mom… Tell me a story about her… Even better, tell your kids a story about.

I may be wrong, but even if you are religious I can’t imagine anyone getting more comfort out of a trite saying than a personal story. And if you are religious and are reading this… well… try to keep in mind that your comments may be having the exact opposite effect that you intend. If you care enough about a person to send a thought to them when you know they are going through a tough time, try to care enough to not say something that will only serve to make you feel better, but them feel worse.

My Grandma, My Mom And Myself

 

Prayer at City Hall

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

On Tuesday, I was contacted by a producer with Radio-Canada (the French division of CBC) for an interview. They were putting together a téléjournal (television news) piece about prayer in Winnipeg City Council meetings, and were hoping for comment from the Winnipeg Skeptics. I agreed to speak with them, and also attempted to put them in contact with Jeff Olsson of the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba and Robert McGregor of the Winnipeg Secularists (who, I informed them, had put together a petition on precisely this subject).

Robert McGregor speaks to Catherine Dulude. Image from CBC. Used under fair dealing.

Winnipeg City Council generally starts the day with a prayer—see, for example, the minutes from the City Council meeting on 25 April 2012. (The minutes of all City Council meetings can be found here.)

There were several points that I stressed in the interview, which I’ll summarize here.

First of all, while the Winnipeg Skeptics has no official position with regard to any particular religious claim (except for those that relate to science, such as creationism), the organisation is supportive of secular government over sectarian government.

It is true that Canada doesn’t have a constitutional separation of church and state; indeed, while we have no official religion, our head of state is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. That said, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion.

I have no problem with members of City Council praying privately. I would never ask a politician to “check their religion at the door”. But when religious observance is carried out by an elected body that is meant to represent the people, that religious observance is effectively being carried out on behalf of the people. Canada’s government is committed (nominally, at least) to multiculturalism and religious pluralism. It seems to me that, in such a nation, governmental entanglement with religious practice (such as prayer) should be minimized.

Even the most benign, vague, and seemingly inoffensive prayers can be divisive. A simple prayer to “God” may be offensive to a deist, who may not believe in an interventionist god, or to a Hindu, who may believe in many. Members of minority religious or cultural groups may see governmental prayer as another way in which they are marginalized.

As is to be expected, the five-minute discussion that I had with the journalist was cut down to a single soundbite—but one that accurately represented my position—while Robert McGregor was (appropriately) given a more extensive interview. I thought that the finished piece (which is a distinctly Manitoban combination of French and English) was very good, and you can view it here.

Image from CBC. Used under fair dealing.

Less good was the online article summarizing the téléjournal piece, which identified me as the organiser of the Winnipeg Secularists and seemed generally convinced that Robert and I were the same person. This has since been corrected, but until about an hour ago still listed my name as “Greg”.

If you don’t read French, feel free to have Google translate the article for you. Alternatively, there is a similar article (bereft of any reference to yours truly) on CBC. The usual caveats against reading the comments section apply, of course.

Episode 17: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 2

Episode 17: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 2

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Jeffrey Olsson continues his discussion with Ali Ashtari (a former Shia Muslim), Scott Carnegie (a former Mormon), and Greg Christensen (who dabbled in Christianity), talking about how leaving their faiths behind has changed their lives for the better.

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: Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown | Quebec Kids Cannot Opt Out of Religion Course (Redux) | Expelled Exposed | NOVA | Neil deGrasse Tyson | The Atheist Experience | Timetree | Shia Islam | Anglicanism | Mormonism | Leaving Faith Behind (Blog, Book)

Also on this episode, the second instalment of Where’s My Jetpack? This week Old Man Newman asks, “Where’s my pet dinosaur?”

Where’s My Jetpack? Links: Jack Horner: How to Hatch a Dinosaur (Wired, TED Talk, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe) | Woolly Mammoth to be Cloned (Discovery News, BBC, Discoblog) | Dinosaur Taxonomy

Programming Note: In the coming weeks we start releasing an episode every second Sunday. We are making the switch to a bi-weekly release model to allow our team more time to research topics and edit podcasts. This will ultimately serve to provide you, our listeners, with a higher quality listening experience!

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Episode 16: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 1

Episode 16: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Jeffrey Olsson sits down with Ali Ashtari (a former Shia Muslim), Scott Carnegie (a former Mormon), and Greg Christensen (a former Protestant Christian) to discuss their journeys away from faith.

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: Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown | Mormon Baptism Targets Anne Frank – Again | Afganistan Koran Protests Claim More Lives | All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay | Shia Islam | Anglicanism | Mormonism

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Episode 11: Alternative Marriage

Episode 11: Alternative Marriage

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Laura Targownik discusses some secular and skeptical perspectives on non-traditional marriage with Ashlyn Noble, Jeff Olsson, and Anlina Sheng.

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: Winnipeg Sun “Editorial: Rainbow conniption over ‘queer’ pledge” | Winnipeg Free Press “Three’s Company: Polyamory in Winnipeg” | Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha | The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Fundamentalism in Canada by Marci McDonald | Leaving Faith Behind by Jeffery Olsson

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