Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Author: LarryinDurango (Page 1 of 2)

Why People Believe in Miracles and Other Kinds of Magic?

Link contributed by Marc Masor

Why do so many Christians believe in miracles? …

One obvious answer is that Christians believe because our ancestors did. Handed-down religious beliefs are remarkably powerful and change-resistant, and Christian belief in miracles dates all the way back to the beginnings of Jesus worship. In fact, it dates back even further, back into the beginnings of the Hebrew religion and the earlier religions of the Ancient Near East from which the Hebrew stories and beliefs emerged.

Read the entire article by Valerie Tarico, Ph.D. here, it’s part 1 of a 7-part series!  

Miracles are Magic by Another Name

Silverton Students Visit with Durango Atheists!

by Larry Bollinger

On September 25, 2018 Kathleen O’Conner, Lindsay Baxendale
and I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of high school students from
Silverton. The dozen or so students, ranging from 9th through 12th
grade, were members of Mr. Jordan Bierma’s humanities class. They were in the
process of visiting various ‘faith’ communities in the Four Corners vicinity to
acquaint themselves with their neighbors’ differing religious perspectives. We
were delighted that Mr. Bierma thought to include Durango Skeptics and Atheists
in their inquiry!

Being the ‘angry’ Atheist in our delegation (Kathleen is the ‘voice of reason/maternal/comforting’ Atheist and Lindsay representing the ‘next generation’ Atheists), I was conscious of my obligation not to be argumentative or appear to want to de-convert our guests. (Always a struggle for me!) Kathleen led off with the bottom line of Atheism: “We don’t believe in God. Period. Full stop.” In fact, she explained further, we try to purge all superstitions from our daily lives. We don’t ‘believe’ or have ‘faith’ in anything that can’t be supported by Evidence.

Our position thus staked out with an epic economy of words,
we were left with approximately 59 minutes of our allotted hour to be filled
with student questions. They asked how each of us came to our Atheism. For my
part, it was a gradual dawning (after enduring 8 years of indoctrination at the
hands of the good nuns of Our Lady of Grace Elementary School) that Roman Catholicism
was riddled with bizarre voodoo-like beliefs that were relentlessly anti-human,
arbitrary and cruel. Added to that, I realized that there was no evidence
whatsoever to convince me that there was a loving Father/Creator God driving
the bus. Quite the opposite, in fact. Author Jim Holt* put it best: “God is 100%
malevolent, but only 80% effective”. And that describes the observable world perfectly,
IMHO!

Kathleen brought out the Dawkins Scale and we each explained where we rate ourselves; Both Kathleen and Lindsay are high 6’s out of 7, leaving a bit of wiggle room as to whether any god exists. I don’t believe in hedging my bets…I am a full-blown 7, convinced that there are no gods, end of story. BUT, we all said, confront us with incontrovertible evidence of a loving God and we will change our minds in a heartbeat. (Really, a loving God should WANT to reveal him/herself to humankind in an unambiguous way. If God willed it, we could all be presented with indisputable proof of his/her existence. Boom. But there’s just radio silence beyond the ‘word of God’ as portrayed in the Bible. Don’t get me started on the Bible).

The take-away nugget we tried to emphasize was the difference between ‘faith’ and Atheism: Faith is a knowledge statement – an assertion of factdespite the absence of evidence.  Atheists, on the other hand, try to form a world view based on the model of scientific inquiry: observe, hypothesize, form a theory that fits the observed facts. Then we stand by those facts, ever mindful that we must change even our most fundamental beliefs if presented with contradictory facts and evidence.

We were asked if ‘religion’ (small ‘r’ intentional) should be taught in school. Our answer was an enthusiastic ‘YES!’ but only if it’s an objective, comparative study and not devotional instruction. I think that may have surprised some who probably expected overt hostility from us towards all religious thought. But a comparative study of religious practices just equips a person with understanding that may lead to compassion and empathy for others’ perspectives and cultures. Exactly what the Silverton students were accomplishing in their quest visiting temples, mosques and churches. And visiting the Durango Library to meet with The Atheists!

Lindsay asked a great question as we were about to break up
the meeting. “Did any of you change your opinion about Atheists as a result of
this discussion?” I would very much like to report that every single one of
them renounced their birth religions and signed up to be members of DS&A. But
Reality is never as tidy or accommodating as that! The fact is that most of the
students had no opinion of Atheists one way or the other going into our meeting…and
what they took away in their heads, remained in their heads. We provided our
guests with a suggested reading list and our ‘What is Durango Skeptics and
Atheists’ FAQ sheet, hoping to plant a few seeds that might persuade the
students to use the lens of Rationality to make good decisions in their lives. Kathleen
adds: “I found the experience to be very positive! I thought the students were
inquisitive, polite and genuinely curious about atheism. I enjoyed their
thought-provoking questions, and I hope they all left with a positive
impression of atheists and atheism in general.”

The kids sent a nice ‘thank-you’ card!

We are very grateful to Mr. Bierma for providing us an
opportunity to meet his class! Call on us anytime!

Thanks, guys…we had fun too!

  • *NYT Best-seller Why Does the World Exist?

In the Line of Fire

by Shandra McClanahan

What does home mean to you?

 I admit, I did not think about this until I was at risk of losing mine.

On June 1st, 2018, after having been home from vacation for less than 36 hours, the 416 fire began just over a mile from our home.  My boyfriend of 5 years called me at work to let me know, but I dismissed it. There had been several small fires in the area over the past few years, they were typically quickly dealt with.  But driving home directly into a smoke stack that I can only describe as volcanic changed my outlook. Victor and I watched as the pre evacuation lines moved further and further south. Our neighbors packed what things they could and I walked my dog through a ghost town everyday.  Until finally, it was our turn.

I had always heard of pre evacuation and thought, “Those people must be so glad that they can stay.”  And I was. But it is a much more insidious process than I could have ever realized. The task was simple enough, be ready to leave at a moments notice.  But how can a person live over weeks, or months even (we are still on pre evacuation) while being ready to leave? We packed up what things would be worth saving (houseplants, art and the video game consoles) and sent them away with the still surprising number of truly quality people we have managed to accumulate in our lives.  We prepared pet carriers, filled buckets with water for around the house, set out the hoses for quick access, and backed into our carport for a quick get away. And then we waited. And waited.

I was new to the idea of background stress.  For almost a decade I had worked a highly stressful corporate job complete with restless hotel stays and 14 hour shifts.  But now I had found my dream job, no stress, just fair work for a company I loved and people that felt like family. Despite this life altering good fortune, I was terrified to leave my house in the morning.  I kept the truck loaded with my necessities, but what if they evacuated us and I couldn’t get back in to get the animals? What if we couldn’t find a place to stay with them? How long would we have to be gone?  My work days were harried, constantly checking updates from reliable sources, and most days I left in a near state of panic. Everyday I drove home the smoke column was bigger. That is, when we could see.

The smoke was relentless.  Many mornings we couldn’t see the neighbors house.  We registered a 519 on the purple air scale that goes from 1-500.  The idea of allergies now seemed laughable as we all suffered from respiratory problems and could not exert ourselves in any way.  Our water kept getting shut off for repairs, my garden straight up refused to grow, and to wrap it all up, we had sent away the things I filled my “real life” with.  

Victor and I spent our evening hours sitting on the roof, sharing video clips of the flames easily visible from the house, towers of smoke and the only thing that rained was ash.  A charred caterpillar landed on my porch one evening. Helicopters flew low over our home, shaking the windows and terrifying my poor border collie, from sunup to sundown. We plastered the outside of our home with gratitude to firefighters.  No I don’t believe in miracles, but I do believe in firefighters. Not a single home was harmed by the 416 fire.

Unfortunately though, they were not trained to help with my mental health.  Horrible arguments erupted in an otherwise peaceful and happy relationship, featuring such fun topics as “are we allowed to open the windows?” “can the cats go outside?” and “Does the AC push in more smoke?”  I turned down invites that I am sure would have done me good for little more reason than the absolute fear of leaving unnecessarily, to say nothing of the unfathomable consequences of a hangover in these circumstances.  But don’t worry, we survived. And we learned about the need for sanctuary, stability, and home.

On July 31st, after burning 54,000 acres, the fire was 100% contained.  And then the flooding began.

As a person who lives for mountain thunderstorms, I have gone through another unasked for attitude adjustment.  Despite having been robbed of an official monsoon season, we live in constant fear of the isolated thunderstorm.  In less than 10 minutes of decent rain, our irrigation ditches fill with smokey black mostly-mud and it begins to spill over our roads and down into our yards.  Victor and I don our raincoats, grab our shovels and run out to help our neighbors try to divert the flood waters from vulnerable homes and landscapes. Our home is at less risk, being surrounded by a brick wall and sitting on blocks.  Kids, never let them tell you there is no advantage to living in a trailer.

In the end, as we purchase sandbags and prepare our landscaping for what may in fact be years of flood damage to come, we find that our home has always been the sanctuary we needed.  Especially as we head further into the murky dark of a political system that seems content to let everyone feel the hate, home is sacred. I have taken up guitar (again) on my patio, we can once again host game nights and barbecues, and my home can once again be the place there will always be plenty of food for everyone. The damage to our wilderness will take years to recover as we have seen with the missionary ridge burn area, but as most of us understand, fire is important.  It cleanses, balances and invigorates. Sound like a solution to some other things? I think so too.

Maxing Out the Wilderness

IMG_4297One sunny (slightly smoky) Sunday in August of 2018, a grumble of Atheists* set out to explore the howling wilderness that surrounds Mancos State Park. OK, it’s not an actually ‘howling’…nor is it an actual HIKE START‘wilderness’ per se, but there are many trees, it’s pretty and it’s full of interesting things to see and learn about. Towards that end, our little group made sure to pack along our own Max Macpherson…a man who seems to know each rock and plant in the forest, personally, and by name. I was first introduced to Max’s formidable and encyclopedic knowledge of Southwest flora when he, Wray Boswell and I were teamed up to de-clutter our stretch of Coal Bank Pass during one of DS&A annual road cleanups. road clean upWe’d pick up a piece of trash and then, before moving on, Max would exclaim over a bedraggled bush, or a gaudy red berry or small blue flower, telling us the various medicinal uses for the plants by Native Americans or how the berry is vital to the subsistence of bears but not palatable to humans. It was a fascinating and dizzying display of outdoor lore which made the experience very enjoyable and memorable. Since then, I’ve been anxious to have Max share his deep understanding of folk wisdom with the rest of the group.  GROUP ON TRAIL

So, Carolyn and I were delighted when Max agreed to head a party of hikers on a jaunt around his home stomping grounds on the west side of the La Platas. We departed on a trail near the Transfer camp ground and soon were dropping 300’ down a rocky slope…we stopped every 10 yards or so to enthuse over a cluster of stems or a browned flower (it was well-past the prime wild flower season), marveling as Max delivered a master’s course in local flora and fauna. GROUP EXAMINES PLANTSEven if you took notes, you couldn’t keep up with Max’s output! We all agreed that if we could retain just one or two of the facts that zinged past us at a dizzying clip we’d be satisfied.

MAX SHOWS FLOWERMax pointed out ‘osha’, formerly known to us as ‘that raggedy-assed sort of fern-y looking plant’. Well, it turns out that osha (Ligusticum porteri for you purists) is useful as a treatment for flu, bronchitis and sore throat! Who knew? (As it turns out, the Native Americans did)! See those pretty red berries? They are chokecherries, aka ‘bitter berries. Aptly named, I am told; I abstained from trying them myself. But apparently bears love ‘em…and how do we know that? Because of the piles of bear scat on the trail heaped with chokecherry pits, that’s how. Those little blue berries growing in abundance all around us on the trail are ‘serviceberries’…sweet and beloved by humans and bears alike. Those big gouges on the aspen trees are signs of elk rasping their lower teeth on the bark (did you know that elk don’t have upper teeth in the front?). The smaller scratches on many of the aspens along the trail BEAR CLAW MARKS ON ASPENturn out to be claw marks from young bears who climb up the trees to avoid interactions with nosy Atheists and other clueless humans ambling through the bears’ home…you can see the indentations made by the ‘thumb’ and other ‘fingers’ as the cubs clawed their way up out of harm’s way. Have you ever sniffed a Ponderosa Pine? Next time you see one in the bright sunshine, go ahead and take a deep whiff. Is that vanilla you smell? Or is it butterscotch? Our group was divided on the issue, but united in our amazement of this odd quirk of Nature. That yellow flower? That’s cinquefoil (pronounced SINK-eh-foil), useful as an astringent or, if you mix it with honey, use it as a cough medicine. We couldn’t walk ten feet without encountering a new wonder. But until Max pointed them out, we walked heedlessly right past all these natural curiosities.CINQUEFOIL FG

The outing lasted about three hours, covering 2.2 miles of trail out-and-back. Outbound, we lost 300’ and gained 200’; we reversed that on the return. All agree that Max is a treasure – an affable amalgamation of Mark Trail/Smoky the Bear/Marlin Perkins (that last is a reference for the over-60 crowd – remember Wild Kingdom?).

MAX

If you missed out this time, we can hope to persuade Max to reprise his role as nature guide next year when the wild flowers are in season. Carolyn and I want to RSVP for that future expedition right now. Thanks for sharing, Max!

 

*A ‘grumble’ is the term given (by me) to any gathering of more than three Atheists. Also known as a ‘grouse’ or ‘challenge’ of Atheists. If you have a nomination for the noun that describes a gathering of Atheists, I’d like to hear it…this is not a settled issue.

 

The above photos were taken by me and Beth Jones…here are some more of Beth’s photos from our day in the wilderness!

 

A rare sighting….a Grumble of Atheists on the hoof!

Fir or pine? It’s all in the needles…soft needles = fir

No climbing bear cubs in sight

Sammy the Neurotic Semi-Wonder Dog, Carolyn and Max

Time out to enjoy the view

The View

Amazing Offer for DS&A Members Only!

You are a critical thinker…your synapses are firing and your thoughts are constantly bubbling up. Within you, dear member, are stories that only you can tell. Well, here’s your chance!

Now you, too, can join the few, the proud – The DS&A Bloggers! Yes, the prestige, the prominence and exalted status of being an Atheist Blogger can be yours at no cost, save for an hour or two of your time bathed in the comforting, healthy glow of your computer screen! Imagine how proud your extended family will be when you tell them that you are an Atheist Person of Influence!

  • Do you think global climate change is a liberal hoax? Or is it an existential threat?
  • Did you enjoy an awesome vacation, or can you recommend a beautiful sight-seeing drive?
  • Do you have a favorite restaurant? Or recipe? Or kitchen gadget?
  • Do you think the free press really IS ‘the enemy of the people’?
  • How would you defend your love of baby-back ribs to a passionate Vegan?
  • What was it like to march in the Durango Pride Parade?
  • Do you have a pet-peeve, a life-hack, or an anecdote about raising your three-year-old?
  • What is it like to run for public office in LaPlata County?
  • What’s up with the Humane Society and what was it like there during the recent fires?
  • Do you have an idea for a DS&A float for next year’s Snowdown Parade?
  • Maybe you’ve had an interesting career. Or are looking for a new one. Or have started on your third. Do tell.
  • Do you think Alex Jones is a menace to society or the victim of a vast, left-wing conspiracy?
  • What’s up with the Durango dating scene?
  • Tell us the secret of your green thumb (we won’t tell).
  • What led you to become an ‘out’ Atheist? How has this affected your life?
  • Review a book you’ve enjoyed. Comment on a movie or entertainment trend
  • Tell the world how you can be both Atheist and a Moral Person
  • Do you want to try street epistemology?

Let it – anything and everything – all out on our blog*!

Whether you are:

  • leaning left or leaning right, politically,
  • grandparents or are currently trying to raise your family or are an independent single,
  • hard at work or basking in retirement,
  • a scientist, a full-time mom/dad, a researcher, a teacher, in the medical field, an artist, an entrepreneur, lawyer, doctor, butcher, baker, candlestick maker…

…whether you consider yourself a ‘writer’ or not, why not share some of your Life experience, opinions and observations with the rest of the group? Our “Member’s Blog” is the perfect place to share knowledge and exchange thoughts and ideas with other open minded people who, like you, are eager to learn new things great and small.

If members will share some of their personal insights and experiences, our website will become a great place to learn about each other, helping to create bonds between members and strengthening DS&A. It will also display the wide diversity of our membership to visitors and invite them to join up and take part in the on-going conversation. At least, that’s the hope. But it will only work if you participate! Literally anything that’s important to you is important to the rest of us!

Send your contribution, of any length and on any topic*, to:

durangoskepticsandatheists@gmail.com.

Your essay will be posted exactly as submitted barring any of the usual no-noes of civilized discourse.

Of course, please feel free to comment on existing blog posts too! Thank you, in advance, for sharing with the rest of us and for helping us grow Durango Skeptics and Atheists!

 

*To clarify an apparent confusion: Atheists are humans and any human activity is an ‘atheist’ activity…any topic is an ‘atheist’ topic

Bringing Home the Bacon (and Onions): A Politics-Free Monograph From Our Kitchen

Carolyn and I have a symbiotic relationship, perfected over decades of wedded bliss, when it comes to chores like grocery shopping, cooking and house cleaning. She hates shopping/cooking and I am an inveterate slob who can’t seem to keep his area neat. But I don’t mind shopping for groceries because I can buy whatever catches my eye, including the occasional (forbidden) bag of jelly beans or a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies. So, happily for Carolyn, I enjoy projects and hobbies that follow a step-by-step process which takes something raw and transforms it into something useful, interesting or edible. Back in the day, I built a full-blown color darkroom to support my insatiable photography habit. I also like to build models to display on my train layouts which are under perpetual construction having taken over our garage. (Who says, “Only God can make a tree”? I’ve made dozens and dozens!) And then there’s cooking. I enjoy cooking. It’s especially fun if I have an appreciative audience like my wife of 45 years (although, honestly, she’d applaud if I served dry breakfast cereal for dinner…Carolyn REALLY hates meal preparation!). And (this is the best part), I can walk away after creating an epic disaster in the kitchen and Carolyn cleans it all up! What could be better?

So, instead of serving up another political dish today, I thought I would put a few observations about cooking on the table…specifically, how to prepare two ingredients which can be prepared in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and added to recipes for great effect. I am talking lardons and caramelized onions. These are two very versatile flavor enhancers that I’ve come to rely upon.

Lardons (prep time 30 – 45 minutes). If you are like most carnivores, bacon is a prized taste-treat. But it’s a prize that comes at a cost: it’s a terrible mess to cook and the outcomes are sometimes less than stellar (I’m looking at you, flabby bacon slices!).  I am a big fan of crockpot cooking and I found a recipe for beef bourguignon (full recipe follows in another blog post) which, in turn, led me to discover ‘lardons’. Lardons (which is pronounced ‘LARD-ns’…so forget any unflattering puns you were working on)IMG_4280 are crispy, tasty bits of bacon that have more character than bacon bits, which are too dry for my taste. Cooking lardons en masse guarantees perfect bacon taste/texture and is a breeze if you take the time.  I’ve started using these little match stick sized tidbits of thick-cut bacon on all sorts of things. They top salads and pizza or can be added to vegetable dishes like steamed green beans and are essential for crab-stuffed mushrooms or dropped into scrambled eggs…there is no end to their tasty applications! I store them in the ‘fridge and just dole them out as the opportunity arises…and it arises often! Make them on a day when you are going to be puttering in the kitchen anyway and then enjoy them with no preparation fuss.

Cooking lardons is easy, but it takes some time and patience. It helps to have something else to do at the same time because there are many pauses between stirring the pot. Start with at least a pound of thick-cut bacon from the grocer’s case. It shrinks up in the process, so a pound of raw bacon produces a dismayingly small pile of cooked lardons which disappear much too quickly. IMG_4276So yesterday I worked with 3 pounds of raw bacon which produced a Mason jar’s worth of tasty bacon morsels. Begin by placing the bacon package in your freezer for 30 minutes or so. This firms the bacon up so that you can cut it into ¼” x 1” matchstick shapes. If the bacon is too soft, it’s a misery to attempt to cut. I use a large butcher knife sharpened to a razor edge, cutting through multiple pieces at a time. Transfer the pile of raw cut bacon into a large stew pot with a lid. Using a large pot instead of a fry pan contains the spatter of the cooking bacon which the clean up crew greatly appreciates. The pot’s lid is useful to direct the potent bacon fumes towards our stove’s vent. Start off with a high heat to get the cooking underway and to heat the bottom of the pot…then turn the heat down to low and let nature take its course. I set a timer for 5-minute intervals to remind me to stir the cooking bacon bits…it goes very slowly at first, but the cooking pace picks up as the bacon begins to brown. When the cooking process is nearly finished, you’ll notice that the grease startsIMG_4282 to foam and eventually the foam obscures the cooking lardons. This is your cue to watch the bacon carefully – you don’t want to overcook it, or they will become disappointingly dry bacon bits. The magic of lardons is that they have a texture of juicy/crunch, so pull them from the grease with a slotted spoon when they are brown and crispy, but before they are rendered into bits of bacon flavored charcoal. Blot with paper towels and allow them to rest for five minutes. I store mine (those that we don’t eat on the spot) in a vacuum-sealed Mason jar which then goes in the ‘fridge.

 

Caramelized Onions (prep time 45 min +/-)  Even if you don’t especially like onions, you may make an exception for the sweet, mellow, subtle flavor of caramelized onions. And not just any onions…I am talking Vidalias or Walla Walla sweets! I think you are more likely to encounter Vidalias here in Durango, Walla Wallas are common in the NW. Both are fleeting seasonal treats, so cherish them when they are available. Otherwise, use whatever generic sweet onions you can find. Standard issue onions will also work, but GIGO*.

Like the lardons, you must start with a lot of raw material to end up with a satisfying quantity of caramelized onions. I use them in every recipe that calls for cooked onions and in many recipes that don’t call for onions at all. Meatloaf, tacos, spaghetti sauce, veggie lasagna, fajitas, any stir fry, hamburgers…the list is endless. Begin with at least 6 onions and a large fry pan (or you can use the big pot trick, but the onions don’t spatter nearly as much as the bacon). Depending on the aesthetics of your recipe, dice the onions or cut them into strips – any shape will do. Melt a few TBLS of butter in the pan and add the onions in a big heap. Stir to mix with the butter. (If I am making a vegan dish I use oil instead of butter, but straight oil doesn’t seem to work quite as well. I’ve also heard of using a combination of oil and butter, but I’ve never done that). As with the lardons, start with a medium or high heat but turn it to very low as soon as the pan heats up. Stir every few minutes, don’t allow any sticking…add more butter if necessary. There is no way I know of to speed this process up…if the heat is too high, the onions will just burn. It can take the better part of an hour to complete the transformation. The trick here is to provide enough heat to caramelize the sugar in the onions without burning them. SO, a low heat, a long cooking time and frequent stirring are the keys. Eventually, the huge pile of raw onions transforms into a much smaller clump of sweet, brown, caramelized onion. Store it in the refrigerator and enjoy.

Vacuum Packing. I use our FoodSaver vacuum sealer for almost everything. The primary use is to seal prepared meals for the freezer; I always make a double recipe (or more!) when I cook and store the extra in freezer bags or in Mason jars (read on). These quickly-defrosted entrees are a gift to your future self! Or you can seal all the raw ingredients for a crockpot recipe in bags for freezer storage. I assemble multiple meals for the crockpot in an afternoon by portioning out raw ingredients into vacuum bags, freezing them for future use.  When you want to use it, just open a bag and drop the contents into the crockpot. My FoodSaver also has an adaptor that creates a vacuum in Mason jars. You’d be amazed at how things stay fresh in a vacuum-sealed Mason jar! Left over fruit salad stays fresh for days and days. Before I fire up the grill, I put raw chicken into Mason jars with marinades and vacuum seal it…the vacuum causes the chicken to absorb the marinade in just 15 minutes. The vacuum seal appliance is one of the most valued tools in our kitchen! It pays for itself quickly by preserving food which would otherwise end up unused.

Do you have a kitchen hack or favorite recipe you’d like to share? Please do! Send to  durangoskepticsandatheists@gmail.com

 

 

*Garbage In, Garbage Out

DURANGO SKEPTICS AND ATHEIST NEWSLETTER JANUARY 2017

 

Next general meeting:

WEDNESDAY JANUARY 18

Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main St. Durango

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.

Discussion starts at 6:30

 

The discussion topic for this month:

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Computerized ‘personal assistants’, androids, machines that learn to play chess and Go, IBM’s Watson, Microsoft’s Tay, self-driving cars and trucks…like it or not, AI is no longer something in the realm of science fiction. AI is here, now. What are the implications? In what ways does AI mirror society’s achievements and its flaws? What happens when interactions with humans turn a machine intelligence ‘racist’? Are machines that are capable of learning autonomously a danger to humanity? ai-004Would the flesh-and-blood robotic ‘hosts’, as depicted in HBO’s futuristic West World, deserve human rights?  What happens when a self-driving vehicle must choose between two bad outcomes? Will future intelligent machines be able to design new and improved versions of itself? The mind reels.

Kathleen O’Conner and Lionel D Giacomo will lead the group discussion to lead off the next general meeting. Ask Siri if you have time to attend!

 

Here are some links to background with some comments by Lionel:

Current state of general purpose AI: I’m very interested in Google’s Deepmind, and although the following video is long, I think he gets across some of the depth and technical aspects of cutting edge AI in a clear way. The first bit mostly focuses on AI in games and AlphaGo, their go-playing AI. The last 15 or so minutes has a lot of the other applications of the general AI they’re developing.
Demis Hassabis, the founder of Deepmind, Nov. 2016 (~45m): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0NuW1j9RPA

Trusting machines with our lives: Self-driving cars is going to be the first time where most people will find themselves consciously trusting themselves to a machine capable of killing them, in the theory that they are actually both safer than human operators and will safe us time. Here’s a great technical TED talk on the most extreme version of that, where humans are no longer even permitted to drive:
Chris Urmson, head of Googles driverless car program June 2015 (~15m): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiwVMrTLUWg

AI, automation, and the economy: I’m very interested in how the promise of automation and AI has often been to free up humans, but the result is usually just even richer capitalists. For instance, Uber sees driverless cars as a way to no longer have to pay human drivers. Here’s an article about basic income (Elon Musk has talked about this too, but I can’t find a good video):

Singularity Hub, Dec 2016: https://singularityhub.com/2016/12/13/if-robots-steal-our-jobs-a-universal-basic-income-could-help/

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

AI, WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT WORKS  https://futurism.com/1-evergreen-making-sense-of-terms-deep-learning-machine-learning-and-ai/

AI IS EVERYWHERE (BUT IT’S NOT UP TO WRITING A MOVIE SCRIPT YET  https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/25/ai-was-everywhere-in-2016/

ON AI AND RACIST ROBOTS    https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/24/microsoft-silences-its-new-a-i-bot-tay-after-twitter-users-teach-it-racism/

MACHINE LEARNING: SIRI GROWS UP https://backchannel.com/an-exclusive-look-at-how-ai-and-machine-learning-work-at-apple-8dbfb131932b#.9vxdggc19

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING  https://ethnographymatters.net/blog/2016/06/20/the-human-side-of-artificial-intelligence-and-machine-learning/

HOW AI TO TRANSFORMED GOOGLE TRANSLATE http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/14/magazine/the-great-ai-awakening.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NOVEMBER 2016 NEWSLETTER

 

Next general meeting:

WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 16

Meetings are at Irish Embassy,

900 Main Street Durango

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.

Discussion starts at 6:30

 

The discussion topic for this month:

Group Co-Founder Kathleen O’Conner will make a presentation regarding the First Amendment and the separation of church and state…when it’s followed and when it’s not. Kathleen says: “Some members expressed an interest in becoming more politically active, so we thought this topic would be a good segue way into discussing the possibilities for promoting secularism here in Durango”

 

Interview with Bart Erhman RE: the source of the Gospels

I ran across this brief interview with Bart Erhman and I thought it might interest the group.

An Interview With Author Bart D. Ehrman

Q: What is it that drives your fascination with how Jesus has been “remembered” and “misremembered”?

A: When most people today read the Gospels of the New Testament, they nearly always assume that these accounts were written soon after Jesus’ death by people who knew him and his disciples: these are transcripts of the things Jesus said and did, down to the minute detail. What people tend not to realize is that these accounts were written 40–60 years after Jesus had died, by people who did not know him, who did not live in his same country, who did not speak his same language.

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Reflections on the Recent Member Talk Regarding Global Climate Change (GCC)

We owe Sebastian and Jackie a big ‘thank you’ for their presentation last Thursday night. The turnout was impressive and the food was great, as usual. And it was a pleasure to meet the new members to our group: Clint and Susan, Barry and Roz, and Nate who just moved to Durango within the month! The discussion following Sebastian’s remarks was very engrossing, as members offered many different observations. As usual, members of the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango displayed a wide range of opinion!

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