Society for Secular Humanists in Calgary
The Amazing Meeting 2 Day 2
The next morning the opening speaker was none other than the esteemed Dr. Michael Shermer. Dr. Shermer is regarded as a heavyweight in the skeptical world. He has many books and articles to his name as well as being the editor of Skeptic magazine. His book, "Why People Believe Weird Things" is regarded as required reading by most skeptics. The book that followed was "How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God". Now he is publishing "The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Share, Gossip, and Follow the Golden Rule" the third book in the series.
Here is an excellent picture of Dr. Shermer with Pat. Dr. Shermer managed to give Pat his "sleight of hand" when this pic was taken. You could say that she got her Xmas goose early. Of course I called him on it. He then attempted to assure me of his integrity. "I'm skeptical of that.", I replied rolling my sleeves up. At which point Dr. Shermer agreed to autograph the book I bought from him.
Well, okay. Maybe it didn't happen exactly like that. But he did sign the book I bought from him. His lecture was an overview of his book. In it, he explains morality, ethics, and not-so-ethical behaviour from an evolutionary viewpoint. For example, ritual including religious ritual serves as a social identifier, marking those that belong to your group from those who do not.
Next up was Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. She has been defending the teaching of evolution in school science classes and has been preventing the teaching of creation myths in the same venues. She was a very light-hearted and humourous speaker who was more than willing to laugh at her opponent's descriptions of her "nefarious" activities.
In particular I loved a story she told of how creationists will get a vaguely worded petition signed by 100 scientists who have some doubts about evolution. They will then present this petition to the public in such a way as to imply that the scientific community as a whole has serious doubts about evolution. To combat this tactic, the Center has a petition which reads as follows:
Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.
As of Xmas of last year, there were over 400 signatures from scientists with PhD's... all named "Steve". That's right! Every signature is a Steve, or a Stephen, or a Stephanie, etc. Considering that this group represents less than 1% of all scientists, it implies that there are over 40,000 scientists who support evolution.
Then we were graced by Ms. Hervey Peoples who discussed her new book "THE HUMAN QUESTION: What People Believe About Evolution, Human Origins, and the Beginning of Life". In it, she debunks, among other things, some common misconceptions regarding belief in human origins in the States today. Many creationist groups try to imply that there are two camps: The atheist scientists and the god fearing creationists. However, as Ms. Peoples pointed out, both these groups are in the minority in the States today. The majority of people believe that evolution occurred exactly as the scientists describe it, but that it was guided by an all powerful deity.
Peter Bowditch of the Australian Skeptics Society then took to the podium. He explained the frustrating mess that Australia is in with regards to alternative medicine. In spite of legislation designed to protect people from snake oil salesmen, they are flourishing in Australia due to government indifference. His group has been lobbying the industry and government to enforce legislation. The industry is, of course, dragging it's heels (the pharmaceutical industry makes obscene amounts of money from the sale of "snake oil"). They make claims that they can't be expected to provide medical products to the public AND make sure that they work.
Amusingly enough, some of his opponents have actually accused him of being a member of and conspiring with... ***The Illuminati***. That's right, I kid you not. Perhaps I've been to skeptical for too long or maybe I'm just naive, but I believe that a claim like that says very little about the person being accused but speaks volumes about the accuser.
Banachek a.k.a. Steve Shaw then proceeded to wow us with his amazing mentalist act. At one point, he got two volunteers. One in the audience, the other on stage with him. Banachek then took a phone book and had the audience volunteer randomly choose a page number, column number, entry, etc. The stage volunteer acted as a referee to ensure no cheating on Banachek's part. After announcing the randomly chosen phone number, Banachek walked 20 ft. to the back of the stage (an area he did not approach during the trick) and picked up a paper with the number clearly written on it. I freely admit to bafflement once again.
We were also allowed to view a video of Banachek from his "Alpha kid" days. It was remarkable to see allegedly impartial scientists bending the stringent rules of experimentation in order to accommodate their adolescent "psychics". They were bending spoons just like Geller, psychically "interrupting" electrical current to video cameras, etc. All the while that the experiments were going on James Randi was writing to the scientists, giving them advice on how to properly test these subjects. His advice fell on deaf ears.
Heavy weights in both the entertainment world and the skeptic world can only be Penn & Teller. The picture shows them in the middle of cutting and restoring a scarf onstage. Of course, magic is only part of what they do. Comedy or rather SHOCK comedy plays a large role as well. For instance, during this trick Penn proclaimed that Teller was performing divine magic and that we would all leave Las Vegas preaching the gospel of Teller. Teller is the cute little guy who never talks, Penn is the large loud cussing sasquatch-like man on the far right. In all fairness though, Penn did apologize for swearing and for taking the Lord's name in vain (although he said that he didn't know how else one could take the Lord's name).
Teller went on to do his famous needle trick. He appears to swallow several dozen needles (with some difficulty), swallows a length of thread, swallows some water, and then pulls a string of threaded needles out of his mouth. Penn did some fire eating and more stand up comedy.
Later that night we caught their act at the Rio. Very entertaining! They did some amazing tricks involving catching bullets in their teeth. They played a funny trick on a girl from the audience. They convinced her to throw knives at Penn while she was blindfolded. Unknown to her, but obvious to the audience, Teller changed the knife after she was blindfolded with a knife attached to a fishing rod. She'd throw the knife, Teller would whisk it away and Penn would stab a knife into the wood behind him... except for the last knife which I suppose was a stage knife with fake blood which he stabbed into himself. Plenty of laughs, comedy, juggling, magic, etc.
And so ended our second day...
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