Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Category: Skepticism (Page 1 of 2)

I recently had the opportunity to do something I would have never done on my own: Visit a Hindu temple to participate in a full moon fire ceremony.

Our group arrived early to Haidakhandi Universal Ashram in the midst of a crisp, cheery morning. A friendly woman with fair skin and light hair, who looked to be in her mid to late twenties, greeted us outside in front of the temple. She smiled warmly as she welcomed us to the ashram. In her hands were three items, one of which was a small container of rice. The other two items, paste-like substances, were a bright yellow and a bright red. She dabbed a bit of each on our foreheads and then stuck a few rice grains there. I believe these three items were meant to represent the qualities of clarity, beauty and abundance (but I could be remembering it wrong…..).

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An Evening With Richard Dawkins

Thanks to Member Robyn Baxendale for sharing this awesome experience with us.

An Evening with Richard Dawkins (aka the best night of my life!)

by Robyn Baxendale

It all started with some random guy handing me his parking pass, score! My daughter Lindsay and I then proceeded to walk along Pearl Street Mall in Boulder looking for a unique place to eat lupper (lunch + supper). On our way we stopped by the Boulder Theater to make sure we knew where to go later that evening (yep, I’m getting old) and I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Lindsay in front of the marquee.

Baxendale 01

The breakfast place Snooze tickled our fancy but they had just closed. We went back to the van and perused my phone for restaurant reviews and decided on the French bistro Brasserie Ten Ten known for their generous happy hour menu. It surely lived up to all the fuss, how could it not with cream filled mozzarella? We still had time before Dawkins so we decided to get our nails done. I’ve only had three manicures in my life, all for weddings (including my own!), Dawkins surely deserved the same attention to detail.

It was then time to head over to the theater. The line was long, snaking into the alley, and it was raining but lucky for me my jacket and pants were water resistant. Lindsay was not so fortunate (what a cruel mother I am!) The seating was general admission so we were a little apprehensive about our place in line. Should we have skipped the nail pampering and waited in line for an extra hour to guarantee choice seating?

As we entered the theater I overheard an employee telling some people that the balcony had a great view of the entire theater.  We headed up the stairs and low and behold found seats in the front row!Baxendale 02

Choosing the seats next to us were a pair of recent college grads and one of them offered to buy us drinks. “Umm, this is my 13 year old daughter and I’m her Mom, so no, she will not be having any Jameson in her Coke!” While he was getting our drinks we learned from his friend that an anthropology degree will get you a job as a beer line tech, good to know. Our drinks were delivered just as Dawkins was taking the stage.

Now was the moment we had all been waiting for! Dawkins was questioned for about hour by Annabelle Gurwitch of whom I was previously unaware but am now a fan. This was followed by a half hour of audience questions. I’m just going to list what Lindsay and I can recall from that time (quotes are paraphrased):

On the topic of new age hippie types Dawkins remarked, “They are pernicious but I don’t believe they are viciously pernicious.” In contrast to pernicious conservatives. Pernicious seemed to be his word of the night.

When asked by an audience member why teeth haven’t evolved to be cavity resistant Dawkins replied that he once asked his own dentist, Dr. Sharp, the same question. Dr. Sharp retired so he started seeing Dr. Tack. Dr. Tack asked Dawkins who his previous dentist was and he told him it was Dr. Sharp. Dr. Tack replied, “This couldn’t possibly be the work of Dr. Sharp. I know his work and this is not it!” But why haven’t our teeth evolved to resist cavities? We eat too much sugar! Dawkins wonders why Americans put sugar in everything, even beef stew!

People were asking Dawkins a plethora of political questions. He is an evolutionary biologist and an outspoken atheist so he was a bit perturbed that he was being asked so many questions outside of his expertise and lamented that he didn’t want to, “sit up here and be the wise old man.” That being said, when one audience member used his question time to make a political statement about the importance of getting involved in politics Dawkins chose to emphasize the point instead of brushing him off. Bravo! Dawkins then added that the squeaky wheel usually gets their way.

Dawkins believes that the arc of history bends towards justice but it’s like a saw tooth and we are on a downturn right now. Wah-wah.

He sees climate change as the most important problem we are facing right now. Not that we should ignore other problems but this is the most pressing.

Dawkins noted that our human tribes are more global now because of the internet rather than geographic as in the past. Gurwitch said that her next book was going to be about tribes versus tribalism.

A recovering Southern Baptist thanked Dawkins for opening his mind and changing his life. Dawkins said, “So many people have said that to me and I can’t tell you how much it means to me.” Applause!

Dawkins is tickled that gay marriage and marijuana were legalized around the same time in Colorado. After all, the Bible says that when a man lies with another man he shall be stoned.

Lastly, he was asked about finding meaning in life, ala Viktor Frankl. Dawkins replied that for genes it is simply about survival and propagation. As people, we create our own meaning.

It was now time for book signings. No selfies and have your book open to the title page, assembly line style. Dang. We were told to stay in our seats and we would be called up by rows. Well, seems they forgot about us lowly balcony dwellers so we just waited until we could see the end of the line. While in line we met Chauncey from Secular Hub in Denver. They have their own building and serve as a hot spot for all things secular. Check them out at: www.secularhub.org  Also while in line I was given a photo of Dawkins from CFI (Center for Inquiry) to be signed.

With these happy distractions my turn to hit the stage came as a shock. Equipped with a smile from ear to ear and a brain on auto pilot I somehow managed to get my book signed. And then this happened…Baxendale 03.jpg

Me: “Can I have a high five?” Dawkins: “What’s that? Like this?” Did he not know what a high five was or was he asking what I had said?! Either way, yay for me! I then proceeded to introduce Lindsay in the fashion of a spokes model, “Up next, the youngest member of our audience, my 13 year old daughter Lindsay!” Annabelle Gurwitch (apparently amused by my shenanigans) told Dawkins to give Lindsay a high five so that she could take a picture to post on social media. Lindsay high fived Dawkins several times and even got to hold the pose for this once in a lifetime photo op (good thing we got our nails done)!Baxendale 04

On our walk back to the car I was an ecstatic mess. I agreed that I would need to calm down before attempting to drive. After some convulsing, steering wheel shaking, and profusely praising Lindsay for having the foresight to take a video of my Dawkins high five encounter we were off.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to my husband or kids to name this the best night of my life but…this is one squeaky wheel still grinning from ear to ear. Creating my own meaning with my daughter by my side, it doesn’t get much better than this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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”

 

“You Will Never Change My Decision.”

ON FAITH……..

faith1

 

The topic of faith among those who are religious has always been an interesting subject to me- one that I would welcome further exploration and discussion of but for now, I just had to share the words of a good friend who so accurately identified the myriad of problems with faith.

Thanks to Tony D. for these thoughts on the matter:

It is not that I dislike faith (I do, but that is irrelevant), it is just that in years of discussions I have never heard even a half-serious defense of faith as a valid epistemological method; only emotional appeals, and stories of personal experience are offered when the question arises. 

There simply is no reason to believe anything uncritically, none, under any circumstances. This is obvious to a normal person; or to a faithful person in any normal realm of life, like buying a house, signing a contract etc; but when it comes to religion, the weirdest things are presented as “reasonable”, and your complete, uncritical and wholehearted belief is turned into a virtue. It is not; uncritical belief is gullibility, and it renders a reasonable discussion of human rights impossible because faith and dogmas are discussion dead ends; there is no appeal. This is so because, in these matters, the source of these “absolute rules” is always portrayed as a mysterious and invisible entity that can never be checked or expected to answer; only the priests are always ready to tell you the Truth. I find it ironic that absolutes, moral or otherwise, are so appealing to so many in one of the countries that most bravely fought absolutist kings and inflexible rulers.

Discrimination and violence against homosexuals is but one of the many terrible consequences of the faith virus. Some good comes from it too, there are generous charities, truth be told; but we can have the charities without the fear mongering, the child indoctrination, the lies, distortions, living for death, constant and absurd guilt, the delusion that the Universe was created for our use only, that nature is at our service and has no other purpose … and all the other negative consequences of inflexible world views that are sanctioned by god as unquestionable.

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Follow-up Links from Alternative Medicine Member Talk

For those of you whom attended our most recent Member’s Talk on alternative medicine and for those who didn’t attend but really, really wanted to, here are the links Joyce mentioned during her most excellent presentation. Also included are some of her book recommendations.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC
MEMBER TALK
REFERNCES AND INTERESTING SITES

(THE FIRST ONE IS HILARIOUS. A MUST-SEE YOUTUBE VIDEO)
http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/06/watch-epic-takedown-dr-oz-supplement-industry.htm
http://doctorskeptic.blogspot.com.au/
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/
http://www.quackwatch.org/index.html
http://www.skepdic.com/
http://info@NCCAM.NIH.GOV
http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/index.html
http://naturaldatabaseconsumer.therapeuticresearch.com/home.aspx?cs=&s=NDC l
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/31190909/ns/health-alternative_medicine/t/billion-spent-no-alternative-cures-found/#.VATMlblATmK
http://www.consultant360.com/exclusives/liver-injuries-tied-dietary-supplements-doubled-over-last-decade

BOOKS:
R.B. Bausell, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Oxford University Press, New York, N Y. 2007
P. A. Offit, Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Non-sense of Alternative Medicine. HarperCollins.

Psychic Predictions-2013

 

So I thought it would be interesting to make note of some of the predictions that a few psychics made for this coming year. Of course, at the end of the year, we will return to the list and see how well said psychics did.

gi-psychic-crystal-ball

Here are some of the 2013 predictions (cue eerie music……….)

From Lamont Hamilton- ordained Minister and Reiki Master healing Practitioner:

  • A mind-to-mind telepathic telecommunication device will be developed for the mentally ill to help people communicate better.
  • A truce is seen in the Middle East before late summer after one or more spiritual leaders emerge in the region to bring stability to several countries now in conflict.
  • Prince William and Kate will have a baby girl, whom many will believe is the reincarnation of Princess Diana. (well, he’s got a 50/50 chance on the sex of the baby).

From Maine-based Psychic Vicki Monroe:

  • It is going to be a milder-than-usual winter, although we will get more of a mixed precipitation.
  • Tom Cruise will leave the church of Scientology. It has something to do with his daughter and recent divorce.
  • Expect an upset at the Academy Awards: Bradley Cooper for best actor over Daniel Day Lewis. Sally Field for best actress. Lincoln for best picture and Quentin Tarantino for best director.

“Nikki”- Psychic to the Stars:

  • Nuclear attack on New York.
  • Experimental monkeys escape from a lab causing a pandemic. (Apparently she’s a fan of the movie “28 Days  Later”).
  • An earthquake of great magnitude wiping out Mexico City.
  • The map of the world will change due to catastrophic events happening around the globe.
  • Giant prehistoric sea monsters under the sea.
  • A possible landing of a spaceship.

Blair Robertson:

  • Another very large earthquake for Japan and subsequent tsunami within 60 days.
  • It will be revealed that Vice President Joe Biden has been under medical care for senile dementia. I predicted his ailment back in 2012.
  • Watch for news of mine disaster in China within 3 months. Many deaths.
  • Rihanna and Chris Brown will get engaged.

So there you have it. It looks like 2013 is going to be full of some crazy stuff going down. Sea monsters? Spaceships landing?? Hold on to your seats- we may be in for a bumpy ride.

Or not.

“Alien Apocalypse 2012”

Well, it was only a matter of time.

Seems some believers  in Mayan End of the World Doomsday predictions  have gone ahead and added a sprinkle of “alien” into the mix.

Apparently, a mountain in Bugarach, France has long been thought by some to be a safehouse for alien visitors. New Agers are now claiming that this location at the mountain will be the only place left standing after the world’s destruction, scheduled for December 21, 2012. On that day, aliens will emerge from the mountain and take only the humans that are already there with them to another world….or something like that:

“For years, Internet users have speculated that the mountain is inhabited by extraterrestrials that will emerge on the December 21, 2012 and take followers with them as human civilization comes to an end.

Since the beginning of the year, over 20,000 people have climbed to the top of the mountain to stake out the site and perform rituals, according to the town’s mayor Jean-Pierre Delord.”

(via HuffingtonPost)

Not convinced?

Well then, check this out, Doubters:  Video documentation of a UFO over Mountain Pic de Bugarach. HA!

(Tip: Fortean Times)

After reading about this alien- mayan end of the world connection, my first thought was, “how are people connecting the mayans with aliens?”

Silly, silly me……..

 

 

Recap From the Reason Rally

Here is a wonderful recap from the Reason Rally created by The Thinking Atheist.  If you haven’t checked out his website or YouTube page, I highly suggest doing so.

Also, a shout out to DSA member, UnusedGreyMatter for his posts on this amazing event (that I am extremely bummed about missing, damnit!).

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