As part of the NI Science Festival Belfast Skeptics are proud to present Michael Marshall.
Lifting The Lid: Ongoing adventures in the world of pseudoscience
It’s easy to think of pseudoscience existing in a glass case at a museum – something to be examined and critiqued from a safe distance, but not something to touch and to play with. Using examples taken from his own personal experiences in skepticism, Michael Marshall will show what happens when you begin to crack the surface of the pseudosciences that surround us – revealing the surprising, sometimes-shocking and often-comic adventures that lie beneath.
Michael Marshall is the Project Director of the Good Thinking Society and the Vice President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. He regularly speaks with proponents of pseudoscience for the Be Reasonable podcast. His work has seen him organising international homeopathy protests and co-founding the popularQED conference. He has written for the Guardian, The Times and New Statesman.
Date : 24th February 2015
Venue: Sunflower Bar (map)
Tickets: £5 Available at the link below
Belfast shows support for the victims of the Paris shooting. Whilst some of the cartoons may be of dubious taste, and in my view not a particularly worthwhile piece of satire, nobody deserves to die for expressing their views. To quote James O’Malley (@psythor)
Ultimately every other right – whether it is to “bear arms”, own property or have religious beliefs of our choosing (and so on) stem from the right to speak freely, and express new ideas. Which is why, on balance, free speech deserves our priority over everything else.
Read his full piece here.
Chris Steadman also has an interesting piece here where he explores the idea that you don’t have to support Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to support free expression.
This months talk is by Dr Nick McCaffrey
Dr Nick McCaffrey will look at the relationship between Native American religiosity and the appropriative aspect of New Age spirituality. Drawing upon his own anthropological research at Hopi he will present examples of the ways in which indigenous culture has been idolized by contemporary spiritual seekers, and explore the reasons why the majority of Hopis, like many other contemporary Native American communities, are opposed to the appropriation and commodification of their culture.
Where : Sunflower Bar Belfast
When: Monday March 3rd
What Time: Doors at 8pm Talk starts at 8.30pm
Today is the inaugural meeting of The Sunday Assembly in Belfast (Yes I know it’s a Monday). The Sunday Assembly is often referred to as an “AtheistChurch” or “Godless Congregation” much to the chagrin of some fellow non-believers who seem reluctant to acknowledge anything remotely positive about the idea of a church regardless of what is being discussed (or preached) inside. The fear is that if people attend “AtheistChurch” then this will give ammunition to Theists who want to paint Atheism as a religion or a competing belief system. It should be made very clear that Atheism is not a belief system, it is a specific answer to a specific question : Does God exist ? There is no dogma or commandments to adhere to and no obligation to get up early on a Sunday morning. And it could be argued that if you are looking for an alternative world view then humanism already ticks that box. So why the need for The Sunday Assembly? Yes, there may be issues in the way it presents Atheism but the idea of community and getting together with people who share common values with you shouldn’t be under valued. We are social creatures and just because we have a problem with religion doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge any of the positive aspects, and that is what I think The Sunday Assembly is trying to do with its goals to celebrate life and help others. I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Steadman give his “Faithiest” talk at the black box a few weeks back and he believes we should be involved in multi-faith initiatives when it involves subjects of mutual concern to believers and non-believers alike, such as global poverty. If people value being part of a community why would we want to take that away from them? Acknowledging that one is a an Atheist can be very liberating for people but it can also leave them distanced from close knit church communities and all the social support that comes with that, so if people see worth in these projects who are we to say that there is none? I for one will be attending and singing from the same hymn sheet, especially as that hymn is likely to be don’t stop me now by Queen.
Our speaker this month will be Matthew Collins. Matthew may be familiar to some of you as the resident geek on BBC Northern Ireland’s Great Unanswered Questions, where he inhabits the famous wicker chair with his trusty lap-top interjecting pearls of wisdom from the world wide web. Matthew is also a stand up and we are very lucky to see him preview some of the material he will be performing at this years’ Edinburgh Festival. An academic with a love of science, puzzles, beards, big words and the game of thrones. I think you’ll agree a perfect match for an audience of skeptics.
The Sunflower Bar (Map)
Wednesday 24th August 2013
Our speaker for this month will be Matthew Collins.
Matthew may be familiar to some of you as the resident geek on BBC Northern Ireland’s Great Unanswered Questions, where he inhabits the famous wicker chair with his trusty lap-top interjecting pearls of wisdom from the world wide web.
Matthew is also a stand up and we are very lucky to see him preview some of the material he will be performing at this years’ Edinburgh Festival. An academic with a love of science, puzzles, beards, big words and the game of thrones. I think you’ll agree a perfect match for an audience of skeptics.
On Tuesday 12th March a proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, described as ‘entirely inappropriate’, ‘tacked on’ and ‘ill-thought out’, fell when it failed to gain cross-party support. This amendment was pushed by the unlikely partnership of the DUP and SDLP, and while I wouldn’t usually go out of my way to attack such surprising unity, in this case I and many others felt we had to. This amendment aimed to further curtail the rights of women in Northern Ireland by making abortion illegal outside of NHS premises.
Now what does this have to do with atheism, agnosticism, scepticism, secularism, etc.? At first it would seem not a lot as the vast majority of labels which the irreligious community tend to use describe only that, we lack a belief in the existence of deities. In many cases (though not all and it is in no way part of the definition) this extends to lacking a religion or any belief in the supernatural, and embracing the scientific method, as well as the vast majority of scientific knowledge. This is where I find the link.
In watching the debate I was appalled at the utter disregard many of the MLAs had for scientific understanding, not to mention their inability to grasp basic human biology. At one point an SDLP MLA was corrected on his spewing of nonsense, had it broken down and explained for him; his response, “Ah, well I don’t accept that.” That was seen as a win for the SDLP MLA. At various points MLAs even broke out into Christian sermons, quoting the bible and calling each other’s religiosity into question as a way to win an argument.
Even if we just look at this rejection and wilful ignorance of logical reasoning and evidence, there are grounds enough for sceptics (whether they prefer the C or the K) to be annoyed by this and pursue a course of activism. Likewise, secularists should be cringing and banging their heads upon tables in unison at the idea of not only religious groups having power over legislation, but that our political leaders personally and willingly bring it into this debate; turning a medical matter which they want to twist into a criminal one, somehow into a holy crusade.
Then I suppose the question remains, why call on the wider atheist community (by which I mean ‘a-theist’, lack of a belief in the existence of deities) to become involved? One argument I have heard against this is that anti-choice, so called ‘pro-life’, atheists do exist and that the atheist community must embrace them as well, unless we want to drive them away and reduce our numbers. Well likewise I’m sure that there are racist, homophobic and more widely sexist atheists too, but most atheist groups will have standards enough to say ‘change or leave’.
What I am suggesting is not a redefining of the word ‘atheist’, the religious do that enough for us, but rather that we use our numbers to affect positive change which would seem to fit the ideals of secularism and scepticism. If anything, this positive activism would attract more people and allow them to come out of the atheist closet than it would drive away. Plus, they’d likely be individuals you would rather spend time with over the bigots. If you want to see an example of a movement like this I’d suggest Atheism Plus.
I’d like to ask all atheist groups, no matter their focus, to support women in this effort to extend free, safe and legal abortion to Northern Ireland (I’d also love to see those in the south get involved as well). In doing so you’d be standing alongside the vast majority of medical and scientific evidence, that the limit should be set at 24 weeks and that women do not need to be ‘protected’, but should instead be trusted with their own bodies. I’m sure this argument could be extended to other causes as well and I warmly welcome that.
Well, it’s finally here – the apocalypse, came round quickly didn’t it? Do people really believe that the world is going to end today? Did the Mayans even believe that the world would end today?
A quick perusal of The Mayans on Google reveals a certain amount of conjecture on the subject, as you’d imagine.
It seems that the Mayans tracked cycles of time within greater cycles of time, based on their observations of the heavens over a prolonged period. The 21st December 2012 was significant in that it marked the end of one of these cycles with the intersecting of the central point of the milky way and the plane of the ecliptic creating a “sacred tree”. So using this tree analogy, a lot of “spiritual” folk are not claiming that this will signal the end of the universe, but rather the dawning of a new era of spiritual enlightenment — the age of Aquarius.
As you’d expect the astronomers see it slightly differently, responding to the claim that the sun will be aligned with the centre of the milky way for the first time in 26,000 years Dr Strous states:
“The Milky Way has no clear central line, so there is uncertainty about when the solstitial point crosses that central line. Different groups of people can each use reasonable definitions for the central line that yet deviate from one another. If we estimate (for example) that the uncertainty about the “best” central line of the Milky Way is half a degree (which is only a small fraction of the width of the Milky Way), then the corresponding uncertainty in the date at which the solstitial point crosses the central line is 0.5°/360°*26000 = about 36 years.”
Some wishy washy notion about the dawning of the age of Aquarius may be essentially harmless, but the sad point to all this is that some apocalyptic beliefs can have devastating consequences. The brilliant ‘what’s the harm?’ lists numerous cases of suicide and mass murder associated with predictions about the coming apocalypse.
People have really short memories; there have been numerous end times predictions since the turn of the millennium. Last year it was Harold Camping managing to convince some of his more gullible followers to get rid of all their earthly possessions in preparation for the rapture, this year it’s the Mayans turn, next year there will be someone else.
Just remember folks, all these “end times predictions” have one thing in common — NONE OF THEM EVER HAPPENED!
See you tomorrow.