Skeptic » eSkeptic » January 19, 2006

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Time Out New York Interviews Shermer

Darren D‘Addario of Time Out New York asks Michael Shermer three questions.

READ the short interview >


Happy New Year 2006 Skeptics!

Welcome to a new season of lectures and conferences sponsored by the Skeptics Society. We have an incredible lineup this year that features some of the biggest names in all of science, including Jared Diamond, Lisa Randall, Daniel Dennett, Walter Goldschmidt, Tim Flannery, Robert Trivers, and many others at our annual conference in June, as well as at James Randi’s conference in Las Vegas coming up at the end of January. I have also included a listing of my college and university lectures around the country. For those of you who can’t make it to Caltech or to Las Vegas, if I’m in your area please come by and introduce yourselves.

Intelligent Design Arrives in California

I would like to thank those of you who have already made a donation to our annual fundraising drive, this year to be applied toward the problem of Intelligent Design. If you think ID will go away after our victory in Dover, Pennsylvania, think again. In my own home state of California, a group of parents filed suit against the local high school in Lebec, just an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles (we don’t use miles in L.A., only time intervals in a car).

The IDers have once again “evolved” a new strategy, this time offering the same course curriculum, but calling it philosophy instead of science. But the course syllabus still says that students will learn about the gaps in evolution, how evolution is only a theory, and that Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution. To wit:

The class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid. The class will discuss intelligent design as an alternative response to evolution. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions.

This course, called “The Philosophy of Design,” began on January 3rd and is taught by a teacher who, according to the lawsuit, “has no training or certification in the teaching of science, religion or philosophy,” and is “the wife of the minister for the local Assembly of God Church, a Christian fundamentalist church, and a proponent of a creationist world view.” The school superintendent, John W. Wight, said that he had consulted the school district’s attorneys and that they “had told him that as long as the course was called ‘philosophy,’” it could pass legal muster.

It may pass legal muster, but it doesn’t pass skeptical scrutiny. We’re on it. I’ll be going there and reporting on the trial for Skeptic, eSkeptic, skeptic.com, and Scientific American.

Stay tuned!

Michael Shermer
Executive Director & Publisher
Skeptics Society


Jared Diamond photo

Crisis Management
by People & Nations
How Individuals & Societies in Crisis
Do (or Don’t) Reappraise Core Values

with Dr. Jared Diamond

Sunday, January 22nd, 2pm
Beckman Auditorium, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

How do we as individuals respond when precipitated into a crisis by the break-up of a relationship, a job loss or setback, or just growing dissatisfaction with ourselves? Experience shows that we can tolerate putting our failed old ways up for grabs for about six weeks, within which time we either work out new coping skills or else revert to our old ways. Similar issues arise on a slower time scale for societies or groups responding to a crisis. Meiji Japan, the modern Navajo, and post-World-War-2 western Europe did set about to recast themselves, while the Greenland Norse didn’t, and it remains to be seen if the U.S. of today will. What can we learn from individuals and societies that did embrace new values?

Dr. Diamond is a professor of geography at UCLA and the author of The Third Chimpanzee, Why Sex is Fun, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a National Geographic documentary. His latest book is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, which was a New York Times bestseller.


Lisa Randall photo by Jack R. Lindholm

Warped Passages
Unraveling the Mysteries of
the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions

with Dr. Lisa Randall

Sunday, February 12th, 2pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

The concept of additional spatial dimensions is as far from intuitive as any idea can be. In this lecture based on her new book, Dr. Randall employs creative analogies to explain how our universe may have many unseen dimensions. Randall works hard to make her astoundingly complex material understandable, providing a great deal of background for recent advances in string and supersymmetry theory. As coauthor of the two most important scientific papers on this topic, she’s ideally suited to explain these ideas. Although physicists do not yet know if there are extra dimensions a fraction of a millimeter in size, dimensions of infinite size, or only the dimensions we see, Randall shows how these theories will be tested in coming years.

Dr. Randall is a professor of physics at Harvard University and one of the leading theoretical physicists in the world today who works on string theory, particle physics, and cosmology.


detail from Breaking the Spell book cover

Breaking the Spell
Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

with Dr. Daniel Dennett

Sunday, February 26th, 2pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

One of the greatest thinkers of our age tackles one of the most important questions of our time: why people believe in God and how religion shapes our lives and our future. In this lecture, based on his new book of the same title, Dr. Dennett shows that for the vast majority of people there is nothing more important than religion. It is an integral part of their marriage, child rearing, and community. Dennett takes a hard look at this phenomenon and asks: Where does our devotion to God come from and what purpose does it serve? Is religion a blind evolutionary compulsion or a rational choice? In a spirited investigation that ranges widely through history, philosophy, and psychology, Dennett explores how organized religion evolved from folk beliefs and why it is such a potent force today. Deftly and lucidly, he contends that the “belief in belief” has fogged any attempt to rationally consider the existence of God and the relationship between divinity and human need.

Dr. Dennett is a professor and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, and the author of the highly acclaimed Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Consciousness Explained, and Freedom Evolves.


followed by…

The Bridge to Humanity
How Affect Hunger Trumps the Selfish Gene

with Dr. Walter Goldschmidt

Sunday, March 12th, 2pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

The Weather Makers
How Humans are Changing the Climate
& What it Means for Life on Earth

with Dr. Tim Flannery

Sunday, April 9th, 2pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

Genes in Conflict
The Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements

with Dr. Robert Trivers

Sunday, May 7th, 2pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

READ DETAILS of our Lectures at Caltech >


Michael Shermer touring lectures

The Soul of Science
January 27th, 2006, 9:30 am  |  Las Vegas, NV
The Science of Good & Evil
February 2nd, 2:00 pm  |  Pasadena, CA
Evolution and Intelligent Design
February 11th, 2:30 pm  |  Los Angeles, CA
Technology, Entertainment & Design (TED) Conference
February 22nd–25th  |  Monterey, CA
The Great Debate: Evolution v. Intelligent Design
March 23rd, 8:00pm  |  University of Kentucky
Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
March 26th, 2:00 pm  |  California State University, Fullerton CA
The Great Debate: Evolution v. Intelligent Design
April 5th, 8:00 pm  |  Pennsylvania State University, Scranton
The Science of Good & Evil
April 6th, 7:00 pm  |  Nova Southern University, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
The Science of Good & Evil
April 7th, 8:00 pm  |  Fermi Lab, Chicago IL
Why Darwin Matters:
Evolution, Intelligent Design & the Conflict of Science & Religion
April 14th, 2:00 pm  |  San Antonio, Texas
Why People Believe Weird Things
April 27th, 8:00 pm  |  Palm Springs, CA
Evolution v. Intelligent Design
April 28th, 7:00 pm  |  San Luis Obispo, CA
Evonomics: Natural Selection, the Invisible Hand
& the New Science of Evolutionary Economics
May 8th, 12:00 pm  |  UCLA Center for Behavior, Evolution & Culture
Science, Spirituality & the Search for Meaning
August 11th–13th  |  Big Sur, CA

READ DETAILS of Michael’s touring lectures >

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