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SCIENCE SALON # 46

Zac Sechler interviews Michael Shermer about Why People Believe in God

In this unusual Science Salon we bring you an interview of Dr. Shermer by Zac Sechler, a high school senior at Grace Prep High School in State College, PA. Zac is interested in studying areas such as religion, science, and history. He plans on studying history in college and hopes to work in the education field. This interview was for his Senior Project, on studying different worldviews that people hold on religion, and why they believe what they believe. Dr. Shermer’s contribution was as an atheist and skeptic, although as he points out to Zac, atheism and skepticism are not worldviews. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in God, full stop. Skepticism is just a scientific way of exploring the world and confronting claims about it.

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This Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on October 10, 2018.

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Psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Lewis answers the following question for religious believers facing adversity: “You’re an atheist?! How do you find meaning and morality in life if there is no God?” This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 23.1 (2012).

Answering the Hard Question
“You’re an Atheist?! How Do You Find Meaning and Morality in Life if There Is No God?”

As a psychiatrist working with people facing many kinds of adversity, sometimes people ask about my own religious beliefs. In those cases where it is appropriate for me to provide a frank and direct answer to this question, it is not uncommon for some, especially religious believers, to respond with the question “You’re an atheist?! How do you find meaning and morality in life if there is no God?” What follows is my answer, addressed to a religious believer.

The age-old assumption that there must be some sort of higher purpose to life fits with an intuitive human tendency to think that “everything happens for a reason” (and it’s all about us). This assumption has powerful potential to affect motivation— positively or negatively. The belief that life has inherent purpose is a double-edged sword: It can be reassuring and comforting, but can also lead to bitter anguish and feelings of abandonment when suffering cruel adversity (“Why me?!”). In contrast, the realization that life is fundamentally random is anxiety provoking, but liberates people from destructive unfounded self-blame, and the realization that meaning is something we make for ourselves can be empowering.

I see how the human tendency to think that events have inherent purpose and to think that such purpose refers to oneself (“everything happens for a reason and it’s all about me!”) becomes magnified ad absurdum in psychiatric disorders: as paranoid delusions in psychosis, grandiosity in mania, and irrational magical thinking in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many aspects of human nature, and our many cognitive biases, are writ large in mental disorders, exposing the flaws in these intuitions more plainly. Interestingly, there are evolutionary reasons why we all have this tendency to mistakenly overidentify pattern and purpose.

To be an atheist is to consciously override these intuitions. Atheists do not believe that life is inherently purposeful or meaningful, and following from this they do not believe that morality is an intrinsic property of the universe. Atheists see the universe as indifferent to the living creatures that have evolved within it. […]

Continue reading this article

MONSTERTALK EPISODE 178

The Bunyip Seal of Approval

In this episode, we go down to the billabong to look for a monster indigenous to Australian folklore and myth — but perhaps with a foot (-er flipper?) in the real world: The Bunyip. We are joined by cultural history professional Paul-Michael Donovan for a fascinating look at the legend (and a possible non-monstrous explanation) for this famous chimeric creek critter.

Listen to MonsterTalk via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, TuneIn, and Stitcher. Get the MonsterTalk Podcast App for iOS, Android, and Windows.

Listen to episode 178

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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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