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Holy Relics, Holy Places, Wholly Fiction

Holy relics like the Ark of the Covenant, Moses’s Ten Commandment stone tablets, the Holy Grail, the chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, The Spear of Destiny, and the like, are the stuff of myth, legend, Hollywood movies, and even Nazi villains, but what is the real story behind the myths? In this insightful analysis Skeptic magazine religion editor Tim Callahan reveals what we know and don’t know about these legendary icons.

Marian Tupy & Gale Pooley — Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet

Shermer, Tupy, and Pooley discuss: why we long for the “good ol’ days” • the Malthusian trap • Ehrlich’s predictions on overpopulation • the birth dearth • the Simon Abundance Index • compound interest • What does it mean for the economy to grow 2–3% a year? • accumulating wealth • what poorer countries need to do to become richer countries • running out of fossil fuels • Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech • inflation • electric vehicles • How many people can the Earth sustain? • post-scarcity trekonomics • the future of religion and other social institutions in a superabundant world.

Bobby Azarian — Life, the Universe, and Cosmic Complexity

Shermer and Azarian discuss: laws of thermodynamics and directionality • how complexity formed after the Big Bang • laws of nature: discovered or created or both? • Stephen Jay Gould and contingency vs. necessitating laws of nature • convergent evolution and directionality in evolution • the left wall of simplicity • leading theories for the origin of life • complexity theory and emergence • consciousness, the self, and other minds • free will, determinism, compatibilism, panpsychism • Is there purpose in the cosmos?

Yoram Hazony on Traditional Conservatism vs. Enlightenment Liberalism

Political theorist Yoram Hazony argues that the best hope for Western democracy is a return to the empiricist, religious, and nationalist traditions of America and Britain. Shermer makes the case for Enlightenment liberalism, with its focus on science and reason, as the primary driver of moral progress over the centuries.

Michael Strevens — The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

Shermer and Strevens discuss: irrationality and how it drives science • the knowledge machine • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it • verification vs. falsification • the iron rule of explanation • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification • climate/evolution skeptics • model dependent realism • humanism • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns • how to evaluate media sources of science.

Nature’s God: Why Christians Should Accept the Theory of Evolution

If you give Christians a choice between Jesus and Darwin by telling them that the theory of evolution means you have to be an atheist, they’re going to pick Jesus every time. In this article, Larry Arnhart argues that Christians should accept the theory of evolution not only because it’s true but also that it does not mean they have to give up their religion.

Stuart Vyse — The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational

Michael Shermer speaks with psychologist and behavioral scientist, Stuart Vyse, about aspects of human nature that are not altogether rational but, nonetheless, help us achieve our social and personal goals. In his book, and in this conversation, Vyse presents an accessible exploration of the psychological concepts behind useful delusions, fleshing out how delusional thinking may play a role in love and relationships, illness and loss, and personality and behavior.

Richard Nisbett on Thinking & Reason

In a wide-ranging conversation Shermer and Richard Nisbett discuss Nisbett’s research showing how people reason, how people should reason, why errors in reasoning occur, and how much you can improve reasoning.

eSkeptic for November 16, 2021

Michael Shermer is now writing on Substack with a new, weekly column called Skeptic: Examining the World Through a Scientific Lens. PLUS in a wide-ranging conversation Shermer and Richard Nisbett discuss Nisbett’s research showing how people reason, how people should reason, why errors in reasoning occur, and how much you can improve reasoning.

Paul Bloom on the Pleasures of Suffering and the Meaning of Life

Why do we so often seek out physical pain and emotional turmoil? In episode 223, Michael Shermer speaks with professor of psychology Paul Bloom about the pleasures of suffering and the meaning of life, based on his book The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning.

eSkeptic for November 2, 2021

Why do we so often seek out physical pain and emotional turmoil? In episode 223, Michael Shermer speaks with professor of psychology Paul Bloom about the pleasures of suffering and the meaning of life, based on his book The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning.

eSkeptic for October 5, 2021

In episode 215, Michael Shermer speaks with Mary Eberstadt about the decline of religion in which Eberstadt presents her alternative theory for the “secularization thesis” (that the undermining of the family has undermined Christianity itself). In the second half, they discuss the rise of identity politics and how identitarians track and expose the ideologically impure, as people face the consequences of their rancor.

Mary Eberstadt on God, Religion, Politics, and Sex, based on her books How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization and Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

In episode 215, Michael Shermer speaks with Mary Eberstadt about the decline of religion in which Eberstadt presents her alternative theory for the “secularization thesis” (that the undermining of the family has undermined Christianity itself). In the second half, they discuss the rise of identity politics and how identitarians track and expose the ideologically impure, as people face the consequences of their rancor.

Mike Rothschild on how QAnon became a movement, cult, and conspiracy theory of everything, based on his book The Storm Is Upon Us

Its messaging can seem cryptic, even nonsensical, yet for tens of thousands of people, it explains everything: What is QAnon, where did it come from, and is the Capitol insurgency a sign of where it’s going next? Mike Rothschild is a journalist specializing in conspiracy theories. He has been collecting stories for years through interviews with QAnon converts, apostates, and victims, as well as psychologists, sociologists, and academics. He is uniquely equipped to explain the movement and its followers.

eSkeptic for September 28, 2021

In episode 213, Michael Shermer speaks with Mike Rothschild, a journalist specializing in conspiracy theories, about QAnon and its followers, based on his book The Storm Is upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything. PLUS, we present as a free PDF download the Memorial Tribute to Skeptic’s Art Director and Co-Founder, Pat Linse, which appeared in Skeptic 26.3 (2021).

Nichola Raihani — The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World

Michael Shermer and Nichola Raihani discuss: Darwin’s Dictum • the origins of empathy and altruism • why we don’t need “divine command” theory • philosophical ethical systems • evolutionary origins of cooperation • self-domestication • bonobos vs. chimpanzees vs. humans • evolution of religion • collective action problems and how they are solved • the nature of human nature • individual selection vs. group selection.

eSkeptic for September 4, 2021

In episode 206, Michael Shermer speaks with Nichola Raihani about where and how collaborative behavior emerges throughout the animal kingdom, and what problems it solves, based on her book The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World.

eSkeptic for July 5, 2021

Jennifer Michael Hecht celebrates doubt as an engine of creativity and as an alternative to the political and intellectual dangers of certainty. This lecture from our archives was recorded in July 2005 as part of The Skeptics Society’s Distinguished Science Lecture Series.

eSkeptic for March 27, 2021

In this eSkeptic, we present a tribute to Richard Dawkins by Michael Shermer, plus a short film spoof on the creation of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The Skeptic’s Chaplain: Richard Dawkins as a Fountainhead of Skepticism

A tribute to Richard Dawkins by Michael Shermer. The following essay was commissioned by Oxford University Press to be included in a volume entitled Richard Dawkins. How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think: Reflections by Scientists, Writers, and Philosophers, edited by Alan Grafen and Mark Ridley (biologists and former graduate students of Dawkins) and published in 2006 to mark the 30th anniversary of the publication in 1976 of Dawkins’ influential book, The Selfish Gene.

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