PhACT Meeting - November 18th - Science Askew
Our editor, Ray Haupt just put out another great issue of Phactum. If you don't already subscribe of have fallen behind,, send him 15$ made out to him at: 639 W Ellet Str Philadelphia PA 19119
Our last event with Michael Shermer went really well and had a great turn out (my write up on it follows)
The speaker for this Saturday is Professor Don Simanek of Lock Haven:
He will speak on the topic of "Science Askew", a compendium of interesting areas where people commonly have it wrong.
Consider a way you can help PhACT, we can use things like donations, articles for Phactum, publicity, speaker ideas, help with a major mailing coming up, web assistance, investigating paranormal claims, etc.
Our annual Solstice party will again be at Dec 22 at Bonnie's - email me for directions. We have an ACLU speaker talking about defending freedom of expression Jan 20th. Then we will learn about the controversial subject of global warming Feb 17th.
A few other local events by kindred groups of interest are:
Wed Nov 15 a lecture on the transition species, Tiktaalik. 5:30 to 7 at the Wagner Free Institute of Science.
There is currently a Darwin exhibit at the Frankline Institute www2.fi.edu
The Penn Science Cafe is hosted by Phact member, Greg Lester on the last Monday of every month 6pm at the MarBar 40th & Walnut.
I close with a reprint of my recent review of Shermer's talk as printed in PhACTUM:
Mike Shermer tells us "Why Darwin is important" On Friday the 13th of October, PhACT was proud to host a lecture by leading international skeptic, Mike Shermer at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square. The local Free Thought society had gotten him for a book signing at their same night anti-superstition bash and were nice enough to allow us to extend the venue with an early lecture.
A standing room only audience of over 200 people were in rapt attention to Michael Shermer.
I felt honored to do a quick plug for PhACT and introduce Shermer to the standing room only audience. Mike who was on a nationwide book promotion tour disappointed no one with his unique fast pace of promoting science and reason. Shermer is a renowned science writer and founder of the international Skeptics Society. He did some reading from his new book he's promoting "Why Darwin Matters" He talked about his and
Darwin's excursions to the Galapagos Island chain. Many people weren't aware that Darwin likely delayed and limited promotion of his ideas out of concern for his own and his families religion. Shermer doesn't just limit himself to the general skeptical position on evolution . . . explaining it and deflating creationist attacks against it. He goes on and covers deeper topics like how evolution is part of greater effect where emergent order can arise from random processes (like a free market economy). He proposes a means where religionists can embrace evolution without necessarily having to give up religion. This is a pragmatic response to the nearly half of American's who presently reject evolution and who are unlikely to question sacrosanct religious beliefs and culture.
During the Q&A portion at the end of reading, many of the questions were along the line of "How do we make them believe?” Shermer reminded us that it is not enough to be against something - we have to be for something . . . . science, reason, understanding, solving mysteries, advancing the cause of humanity. To do that, we must avoid the temptation to
refer to peoples' most valued beliefs as "silly superstitions". If we take such an adversarial approach, we lock ourselves out before we ever even start a dialogue. He told us, it would probably be prudent to come up with more sound-bite friendly statements that easily fit on a t-shirt or bumper stickers, because honestly, there is nothing brief about books like Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". Shermer took on fears of evolution that lead close to half of our population to reject it. There is a common but little spoken deep fear in the minds of masses to the effect of "if the masses didn't have religious convictions - the remaining unfettered animal nature would lead to social destruction. Shermer noted that "if people really did not have any moral values without religion, then the least religious people of all—the scientific community should be out running amuck, committing senseless crimes. Though the general audience loved this sarcastic syllogism - I did hear an interesting response from one young student who attended, "Most members of the freethinking scientific community were at one time religious and have already voluntary or involuntary had moral values instilled in their minds. "
Shermer gave many excellent defenses for evolution, but his purpose was more than to merely debunk creationist misinformation. He went on to explain how a good bit of negative human behavior is a atavistic result of evolution supporting characteristics like hoarding, putting on excess weight, slaughtering competing groups and philandering. Even people's natural difficulty grasping the infinitesimal, eons of times or the vastness of space would be explained from our 10's of thousands of years developing as simple tribal people having no need for such visualizations. Some have posited the deep irony that proclivity for religious belief could its self have evolutionary advantage. But, he went to describe the utility of evolution explaining emergent properties like market economies or altruism. As someone sharing Shermer's fundamentalist roots in teenage years, I found it fascinating when Shermer talked about how it should be possible to pitch evolution to the fundy Christians (the only religion to really reject evolution). The nascent science of "Evolutionary psychology" offers great support for the fundamentalist tenet, "we are born with a sinful nature" - Shermer reaching out to believers offers he doesn't claim to know how the universe sprung into being and that aspects of it are truly inspirational and wondrous. He challenges that a God capable of a single creation/intervention that would play out using fixed physical laws to give rise to us would be way more powerful than a God having to resort to a long string of interfering miracles along the way. In further declaring no necessity for a fight between religion and science, Shermer reminds us that science has shown us that all of creation is far longer, far greater and far more infimintessimal , and far more complex than any original deity promoter dreamed of.