Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Tag: Durango Skeptics

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,

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?



Next general meeting:


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/


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

Well, according to the doomsayers, we have approximately 24 days to go until the Mayan calendar runs out and life on Earth changes forever….or so they say.

Lucky for you guys, I’ve got your back. After much extensive, googling   in-depth research, I have found the key to protecting yourself and loved ones on the fateful day.  If you want to survive it,  I highly suggest you check this out.

You’re welcome.

For those of you who read our story on the doomsday alien/mayan end of the world  cult out of France, here is a follow-up.

I’m curious. If you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that your life force would cease to exist in a few short weeks, what would you get busy doing?

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with the  two YouTube Videos below from an excellent podcast, called Reasonable Doubt. One of the hosts of the podcast gave a talk at his local Unitarian Church on the subject of atheism. His eloquence and kindness shine through as he describes a wonderous universe, most likely, absent of a supernatural god. My favorite part is when he discusses the  human chapter in the history of this universe.

Trust me, it’s well worth the 26 minutes.

Part 2:

Our Sign Is Up!

Great news! Our Durango Skeptics and Atheists “Adopt a Highway” sign is finally up.  We are very excited about this and hope that if you are driving up to Coal Bank Pass, you will check it out and let us know how it looks (or if it’s still intact….).

Thanks to Adam for organizing this group effort.

Skepticism 101

I’d like to start by sharing a  portion of the definition for “skeptic” that is included in each  issue of Skeptic Magazine:

“What is a Skeptic? Some people believe that skepticism is rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse ‘skeptic’ with ‘cynic’ and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong.  Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas- no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position……when we say we are ‘skeptical’, we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe. Skeptics are from Missouri- the *show me* state. When we hear a fantastic claim we say,  ‘That’s nice, prove it.’ …….The key to skepticism is to continuously and vigorously apply the methods of science to navigate the treacherous straits between ‘know nothing’ skepticism and ‘anything goes’ credulity.”

I really like that last sentence- and that’s the trick, isn’t?  Discerning the differences between valuable information and misinformation is not always clear-cut. As Junior Skeptic editor and author Daniel Loxton puts it, Our internal equalizer bars of gullible and shrewd,  foolish and wise, willful and humble are in constant flux. We all try our best. We all get the balance wrong”.

Yes, we’re  all prone to human error from time to time. It’s really inescapable.

So here are a couple of  links to help us out in this endeavor:

Also, here’s a great video that emphasizes the importance of getting to the truth, rather than just winning an argument. And truth is the ultimate objective, right??

Last but not least, I’d like to share a video of a “UFO” spotted in Toronto, Canada earlier this month. What do you guys think it is? Let me know in the comments.

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