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CSICOP and Skeptic society . . making up?

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  • Eric Krieg
    People, for years, there s been tension and many rumors of backbiting between the two major skeptics groups. It s been the older more refined East Coast
    Message 1 of 1 , May 26, 2000
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      People,

      for years, there's been tension and many rumors of backbiting between the
      two major skeptics groups. It's been the older more refined East Coast
      Skeptics competing with the Californian upstart. Many skeptics have
      had mixed feelings on this - on one hand it may have forced CSICOP to improve
      their publication - but also there's been a fear we'd end up having a East
      Coast and West Coast group both claiming to be the world skeptic group. CSICOP has had a tighter link to the local groups, but Randi seems to have appeared more in Shermer's mag than CSICOP's. I feel that there is plenty of nonsense for us all to attack. But, anyhow - below we have Mike Shermer speaking
      at a CSICOP Center For Inquiry:

      E-SKEPTIC FOR MAY 25
      Copyright Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer
      ------------------------------
      This edition of e-Skeptic includes:

      SHERMER TO SPEAK AT AHA CONFERENCE + CSICOP/CENTER FOR INQUIRY
      RICHARD DAWKINS LETTER TO PRINCE CHARLES ABOUT SCIENCE
      NEW TESTS ON THE SHROUD OF TURIN
      -------------------------------------------
      SHERMER TO SPEAK AT AHA + CSICOP/CENTER FOR INQUIRY
      On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I will be attending the American Humanist
      Association annual conference at the Hilton Hotel in Hasbrouck Heights, New
      Jersey (very close to New York, also being sponsored by the American Ethical
      Union.

      On Friday morning, June 2, I will be presenting a lecture on Holocaust Denial
      based on my latest book, DENYING HISTORY (to be released in a couple of weeks
      by the University of California Press). I've just put together a 140-slide
      show that is very visually powerful and not only debunks the deniers, but
      shows how we prove that the Holocaust happened, or how any historical event

      happened.

      On Saturday morning, June 3, I will be presenting a lecture on Why People
      Believe in God based on my last book, HOW WE BELIEVE, as well as showing some
      episodes from my television series Exploring the Unknown.

      Saturday evening, June 3, I will be presented with the first annual Carl
      Sagan Award (by Ann Druyan, Carl's widow, no less), following by a short
      lecture I developed for a CSPAN show on the life of Sagan, in which I do a
      quantitative analysis of his life like a social scientist would analyze a
      subject. That was the subject of my last essay in Skeptic, "The Measure of a
      Life: Carl Sagan and the Science of Biography."

      On Sunday evening, June 4, 7pm I will be speaking at the Buffalo, NY
      headquarters on WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE IN GOD.
      For directions to or further information call 716/636-1425 or e-mail Barry
      Karr at skeptinq@... or go to their web page at http://www.csicop.org We
      will also be discussing ways for our organizations to cooperate in our mutual
      fight against pseudoscience.

      I know there are many of you on the east coast whom I have not had a chance
      to meet so if you can make it next week I'll see you there.
      -------------------------------------------
      RICHARD DAWKINS LETTER TO PRINCE CHARLES ABOUT SCIENCE
      I thought you would all enjoy this beautifully written statement on the value
      of science by Richard Dawkins to Prince Charles, in response to a speech he
      gave (web connections below) that was less than rational.

      Reith Lectures 2000: RESPECT FOR THE EARTH - Can Sustainable Development be
      made to work in the real world?
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/events/reith_2000/

      Lecture by Prince Charles followed by a discussion
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/events/reith_2000/lecture6.stm

      An open letter from Richard Dawkins to Prince Charles
      http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4020558,00.html

      Prince courts controversy as he places the nature of God above the god of
      science by James Meek
      http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4019026,00.html

      Angry Charles warns scientists of disaster
      http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4019033,00.html

      Guardian Unlimited Special reports: GM debate
      http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/gmdebate/

      "Don't turn your back on science"
      An open letter from biologist Richard Dawkins to Prince Charles
      Sunday May 21, 2000 THE OBSERVER

      Your Royal Highness,

      Your Reith lecture saddened me. I have deep sympathy for your aims, and
      admiration for your sincerity. But your hostility to science will not serve
      those aims; and your embracing of an ill-assorted jumble of mutually
      contradictory alternatives will lose you the respect that I think you
      deserve. I forget who it was who remarked: 'Of course we must be
      open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.'

      Let's look at some of the alternative philosophies which you seem to prefer
      over scientific reason. First, intuition, the heart's wisdom 'rustling like
      a breeze through the leaves'. Unfortunately, it depends whose intuition you
      choose. Where aims (if not methods) are concerned, your own intuitions
      coincide with mine. I wholeheartedly share your aim of long-term
      stewardship of our planet, with its diverse and complex biosphere.

      But what about the instinctive wisdom in Saddam Hussein's black heart?
      What price the Wagnerian wind that rustled Hitler's twisted leaves? The
      Yorkshire Ripper heard religious voices in his head urging him to kill. How
      do we decide which intuitive inner voices to heed?

      This, it is important to say, is not a dilemma that science can solve. My
      own passionate concern for world stewardship is as emotional as yours. But
      where I allow feelings to influence my aims, when it comes to deciding the
      best method of achieving them I'd rather think than feel. And thinking,
      here, means scientific thinking. No more effective method exists. If it
      did, science would incorporate it.

      Next, Sir, I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the naturalness of
      'traditional' or 'organic' agriculture. Agriculture has always been
      unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer
      lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago - too short to measure on the
      evolutionary timescale.

      Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for
      Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of
      our food is genetically modified - admittedly by artificial selection not
      artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a
      genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically
      modified wolf. Playing God? We've been playing God for centuries!

      The large, anonymous crowds in which we now teem began with the
      agricultural revolution, and without agriculture we could survive in only a
      tiny fraction of our current numbers. Our high population is an
      agricultural (and technological and medical) artifact. It is far more
      unnatural than the population-limiting methods condemned as unnatural by
      the Pope. Like it or not, we are stuck with agriculture, and agriculture -
      all agriculture - is unnatural. We sold that pass 10,000 years ago.

      Does that mean there's nothing to choose between different kinds of
      agriculture when it comes to sustainable planetary welfare? Certainly not.
      Some are much more damaging than others, but it's no use appealing to
      'nature', or to 'instinct' in order to decide which ones. You have to study
      the evidence, soberly and reasonably - scientifically. Slashing and burning
      (incidentally, no agricultural system is closer to being 'traditional')
      destroys our ancient forests. Overgrazing (again, widely practiced by
      'traditional' cultures) causes soil erosion and turns fertile pasture into
      desert. Moving to our own modern tribe, monoculture, fed by powdered
      fertilizers and poisons, is bad for the future; indiscriminate use of
      antibiotics to promote livestock growth is worse.

      Incidentally, one worrying aspect of the hysterical opposition to the
      possible risks from GM crops is that it diverts attention from definite
      dangers which are already well understood but largely ignored. The
      evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria is something that a
      Darwinian might have foreseen from the day antibiotics were discovered.
      Unfortunately the warning voices have been rather quiet, and now they are
      drowned by the baying cacophony: 'GM GM GM GM GM GM!'

      Moreover if, as I expect, the dire prophecies of GM doom fail to
      materialize, the feeling of let-down may spill over into complacency about
      real risks. Has it occurred to you that our present GM brouhaha may be a
      terrible case of crying wolf?

      Even if agriculture could be natural, and even if we could develop some
      sort of instinctive rapport with the ways of nature, would nature be a good
      role model? Here, we must think carefully. There really is a sense in which
      ecosystems are balanced and harmonious, with some of their constituent
      species becoming mutually dependent. This is one reason the corporate
      thuggery that is destroying the rainforests is so criminal.

      On the other hand, we must beware of a very common misunderstanding of
      Darwinism. Tennyson was writing before Darwin but he got it right. Nature
      really is red in tooth and claw. Much as we might like to believe
      otherwise, natural selection, working within each species, does not favor
      long-term stewardship. It favors short-term gain. Loggers, whalers, and
      other profiteers who squander the future for present greed, are only doing
      what all wild creatures have done for three billion years.

      No wonder T.H. Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, founded his ethics on a
      repudiation of Darwinism. Not a repudiation of Darwinism as science, of
      course, for you cannot repudiate truth. But the very fact that Darwinism is
      true makes it even more important for us to fight against the naturally
      selfish and exploitative tendencies of nature. We can do it. Probably no
      other species of animal or plant can. We can do it because our brains
      (admittedly given to us by natural selection for reasons of short-term
      Darwinian gain) are big enough to see into the future and plot long-term
      consequences. Natural selection is like a robot that can only climb uphill,
      even if this leaves it stuck on top of a measly hillock. There is no
      mechanism for going downhill, for crossing the valley to the lower slopes
      of the high mountain on the other side. There is no natural foresight, no
      mechanism for warning that present selfish gains are leading to species
      extinction - and indeed, 99 per cent of all species that have ever lived
      are extinct.

      The human brain, probably uniquely in the whole of evolutionary history,
      can see across the valley and can plot a course away from extinction and
      towards distant uplands. Long-term planning - and hence the very
      possibility of stewardship - is something utterly new on the planet, even
      alien. It exists only in human brains. The future is a new invention in
      evolution. It is precious. And fragile. We must use all our scientific
      artifice to protect it.

      It may sound paradoxical, but if we want to sustain the planet into the
      future, the first thing we must do is stop taking advice from nature.
      Nature is a short-term Darwinian profiteer. Darwin himself said it: 'What a
      book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering,
      low, and horridly cruel works of nature.'

      Of course that's bleak, but there's no law saying the truth has to be
      cheerful; no point shooting the messenger - science - and no sense in
      preferring an alternative world view just because it feels more
      comfortable. In any case, science isn't all bleak. Nor, by the way, is
      science an arrogant know-all. Any scientist worthy of the name will warm to
      your quotation from Socrates: 'Wisdom is knowing that you don't know.' What
      else drives us to find out?

      What saddens me most, Sir, is how much you will be missing if you turn your
      back on science. I have tried to write about the poetic wonder of science
      myself, but may I take the liberty of presenting you with a book by another
      author? It is The Demon-Haunted World by the lamented Carl Sagan. I'd call
      your attention especially to the subtitle: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

      Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public
      Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His latest book is
      'Unweaving the Rainbow' .
      ------------------------------

      For those of your not familiar with the Skeptics Society or have not seen
      Skeptic magazine, see our web page: http://www.skeptic.com

      =========================================== end of cross post

      I think Dawkins made a great tactful response to Prince Charles, my response
      would have been something along the lines of "Listen here you inbreed,
      Dumbo-eared, anachronistic flake. Maybe you should go back to screwing
      up marriages rather that bite the scientific hand that feeds us all".
      --


      Eric Krieg eric@...

      http://www.phact.org/e/sketpic
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