Links For Monthly Meeting- January 2015

Thanks to all who made it out to our monthly meeting last Wednesday. What a lively discussion!

Here are some links I thought relevant to the discussions that night:

Here is a link discussing the Pew Research Center survey titled “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society 

I believe the above survey was mentioned during our Charlie Hebdo discussion.

If there are any other links you would like to share, please feel free to post them in comments section.


“Knowing that one may be subject to bias is one thing; being able to correct it is another.”

Jon Elster— Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, p. 7, 2007

“You Will Never Change My Decision.”

Originally posted on Space Cadet Glow:

Those were the words I read from a “thinking MOM’s”  blog who has decided that she will not be vaccinating her five children. Ever.


I always knew there was an “anti-vaccination” presence out there on the “Internets”. I honestly never bothered with them. That is, until a link showed up on my Facebook page, placed there by a friend. I was curious. I checked it out. I read from some of her links and several of her pages. I read some of the articles she recommended by other Moms that, like her, have decided not to vaccinate their children.

And then I got depressed.

The misinformation presented on these websites is voluminous. It would be somewhat humorous if it wasn’t also so dangerous. Statements are made as “fact” without any corroborating data to back them up.  Assertions are presented that are just plain false.

Here’s just one example from an anti-vaccine…

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Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NEWSLETTER January 21, 2014

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango        January 21, 2015

“If Atheism is a Religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby”.

– David Eller, Anthropologist


All meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango.    Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.  Meeting at 6:00-ish.

This month, Kathleen (with a K) will be moderating a discussion of cognitive bias.  As ‘K’ cheerfully observed, “Cognitive Biases, we’ve all got ‘em.”  What are they?  What are yours? What to do about them?  This should be a great discussion!

Project Merry Christmas was a huge success.  Gifts were delivered, kids had a great Xmas day and all who participated are to be thanked for their kindness and generosity.  K will have more details at the general meeting.

Hint: Be sure to scroll to the very end of every newsletter and you’ll be rewarded with a new “Tom the Dancing Bug’ cartoon by Ruben Bolling wherein a Hindu baby is born to a Christian mother.


CURRENT BOOK CLUB BOOK:  The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (recommended by Kathleen)    Present day Earth receives signals from an extra-terrestrial source… missionaries are dispatched to make first contact. With God leading the Jesuit mission what could go wrong?   This Friday, January 23rd 2015 (6:30PM).    To be held at Kathleen and Adam’s home.    Limited seating!  PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM



Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris Mon, Feb 23, 2015

Nietzhe: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist   March 13, 2015


Did Cognitive Bias Play a Role in the Charlie Hebdo Murders?  There is no excuse for murder.  The cold-blooded slaughter at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris has left us with the dismal feeling of déjà vu (all over again!).  While there is no excuse, there may be explanations that might help us understand and/or avoid similar tragedies in the future.  Are Western cognitive biases keeping us from seeing the Big Picture?  This link will take you to a blog written by Katie Miranda, a political cartoonist who lives in Portland, OR.  Hers is a contrarian perspective.           Below are several of her cartoons.


Dyab Abou Jahjah @Aboujahjah          I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed          Re-Tweeted 40,000+ times

Among many interesting points she makes: the murdered cop, Ahmed Merabet, was also a Muslim and he died defending the right of Charlie Hebdo to insult Islam.  His religion did not turn him into a terrorist, so maybe religion itself isn’t the prime motivation for these criminal acts.  Miranda points to the past decade of bloody conflicts in the mid-east, drone strikes in Yemen, etc. which are largely viewed there as a continuation of the Crusades of Christians vs. Muslims.  She points to the various wars fought by, or on behalf of, The West in the Muslim world as a potent source of anger and frustration.  (Don’t forget that G.W. Bush actually called his war of choice in Iraq a ‘crusade’…words matter, it turns out).  Noting that Muslims are a minority in France, she writes, “The Islamophobic cartoons in Charlie Hebdo are the American equivalent of white people drawing cartoons of African Americans as monkeys or Germans drawing cartoons mocking Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.”  She also speculates that the cultural and cognitive biases of The West blind us to the effects of our political policies of the past decades.  Consider her cartoon:

Muslim cartoon re cognitive bias- See more at:

PERSONAL ASIDE:  Nobody is asking, but I am going to contribute my personal $0.02 worth on the topic of Free Speech and Charlie Hebdo anyway.  I feel strongly about the importance of Freedom of Speech, but I wonder if the fact that you CAN say something means that you SHOULD?  In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, the outrage that has spread throughout the Muslim world now makes the likelihood of reaching a mutual understanding between East and West that much more improbable.  The West had its laugh at the silly cartoons, but at the cost of making communications about things that really matter (the way Islam marginalizes women, as just one example) impossible for the foreseeable future.  And it isn’t hard to conjure up probable unintended consequence of this exercise of Free Speech.  It may cost free-thinker blogger Raif Badawi his life (see item below: “Horrific Punishment…”) because religious hard-liners are going to be less lenient when granting free speech rights in their own countries if that freedom is used to ridicule their heart-felt beliefs.  This is a re-play, with different actors, of the crucifix-in-a-glass-of-piss saga which amped-up the  Religious Right’s animosity for public funding for the arts.

Actions and speech have consequences…was it worth it?  I’d argue, ‘NO’.  In kindergarten, we all learned not to be rude and to avoid fighting for fighting’s sake.  We were taught that unnecessary conflicts were to be avoided.  It may be time for some of  us to go back for some refresher courses.

The above is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other members  Skeptics and Atheists of Durango.  What are your thoughts?  Post comments below!


Pope Francis on Charlie Hebdo: Free Speech Has Limits            Forget turning the other cheek, if you insult Pope Francis’ Mom you’re liable to get punched in the nose.  And ridiculing another person’s religion should be off-limits too, says the Pope.  Yes you are free to speak, but don’t be surprised when there is blow-back.


Charlie Hebdo Played a ‘Dangerous Game’ Says the Magazine’s Founder     A founding editor of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Henri Roussel, penned an editorial about slain CH editor Stephane Charbonnier and his “stubborn” management style.  Roussel wonders why Charbonnier continued to push his staff despite multiple threats and attacks, suggesting that his “block head” behavior led the rest of the team to their deaths.  “I really hold it against you,” he wrote to Charbonnier.   Charbonnier was unable to respond. 


Horrific Punishment Inflicted on Free Speech Blogger by U.S. Ally…What To Do?            Item submitted by Kathleen O’Conner        Free Speech isn’t free in Saudi Arabia.  In May 2014, the government of Saudi Arabia sentenced Raif Badawi, father of three, to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He was convicted of insulting Islam through his writings and on his website, which was set up to encourage public debate.   He is being publically beaten, fifty lashes at a time, every Friday and this will continue for the next 19 weeks.  After last Friday’s beating, the crowd chanted “God is Great”.  God, as usual, accepted the praise and worship of The Faithful but had no comment.  This should offend every Free Thinker, everywhere.  The above link suggests ways that we can help.  Kathleen has more information about this hideous miscarriage of Justice on her Durango Skeptics and Atheist blog:


Cognitive Bias: The Dunning – Kruger Effect

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” – Bertrand Russell

Back in The Day, Carolyn and I always told our kids: “Only competent people suffer from performance anxiety…it never occurs to incompetent people to doubt themselves.”  This gem of parental wisdom was usually hauled out (from where, I won’t say) when our children were stressed about an upcoming test, worried about giving a public speech and the like.  Well, it turns out that this notion has a name (who knew?): the Dunning – Kruger Effect.  “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.”  Read more about it here:–net-22227

In a related story, our American Democracy may be endangered by apathy and the Dunning – Kruger effect.  An article in the Durango Herald  reports that a growing number of Americans, especially those under 30, don’t feel a duty to keep informed of current events and policy debates, don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to report a crime they’ve witnessed, don’t feel it’s their responsibility to perform jury duty or to vote and so on.  While the vast majority of Americans still feel that these issues are at least ‘somewhat important’, the numbers are trending the wrong way.


U.S. Vaccinations Lag, Disease Advances.  Duh.          Froma Harrop reports in her recent article, Pondering the Rich and Their Anti-Vaccine Quacks, that ‘personal belief exemptions’ from vaccinations have doubled in the past seven years, especially in the wealthy cities of the US coasts and mountains.  This is the direct cause of the current whooping cough epidemic in California….in 2015!  “These prosperous communities are heavily influenced by the organic/natural foods culture — about which there is much good to say. However, the alternative-lifestyle package often includes a hostility to mainstream science based largely on myth, lies and susceptibility to hucksters exploiting fear of modernity.”

And Marc Masor contributed this link which details the results of a 12-year study of the measles vaccine conducted by Kaiser Permanente.   Executive Summary: 12 years of testing = perfectly safe, no adverse effects. 


The GMO Debate Rages Endlessly On

Members ‘Little D’ and Dave S. exchanged information on our MeetUp website this month concerning the public’s fear of GMOs.  Two diametrically opposed websites came up in the conversation.  First was Earth-We Are One which appears to be an ‘earth friendly’, organic and natural lifestyle website which was chock-full of nuggets like ’10 Ways We Are Killing the Earth’, ‘Thyme Oil Discovered to Kill 90% of Breast Cancer Cells’ and numerous offerings on the subject of GMOs, all negative.  Earth We Are One appears to be a website with an unapologetic anti-science Agenda…which always makes the skeptic in me a bit more skeptical.  The specific article under discussion was written by Thierry Vrain, a former researcher in Canada’s Department of Ag.   Dr. Vrain is very much opposed to GMOs and Monsanto, but does not offer convincing support for his emotional arguments.  A quick Google Search netted only three entries for Dr. Vrain: ‘Thierry Vrain’; ‘Thierry Vrain debunked’; and ‘Thierry Vrain quack’.

Dave S. commented that Earth We Are One is only marginally trustworthy.  (To that I would add that any website which solicits content by posting “Can you write an article like this?  We are looking for writers who have an interest…” adjacent to their stories seems a little dodgy).   Instead, Dave pointed to this:  a website which has as its motto “Where Science Trumps Ideology”.  We can only wish.  This article confronts the ‘myths’ surrounding GMOs and has many references to actual data.

I also found a blog  written by Dr. Kevin Folta who is a professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Gainesville.  He describes himself as “… a scientist in a scientifically illiterate nation at a time when we need science the most.”  In his blog, he laments that after a journalist interviewed him recently about GMOs she went to get ‘the opposing viewpoint’ from….yes, from Thierry Vrain!  So, instead of being informative, the final article ended up equating the pro- and anti-GMO arguments using the old ‘we report all facts as being equal and you can decide’ gambit.  (The present state of journalism is deplorable).  The article simply stirred the pot and caused even more confusion in the public mind.  Dr. Folta points out that in the case of GMOs, there are ‘…not two sides…there is only one side and that is Science’s side’.  BTW, if you Google Kevin Folta, you’ll get numerous entries that accuse him of being a ‘shill’ for Monsanto and running a university department that is funded by Monsanto.  This may be my cognitive bias speaking, but I rationalize the conflict by acknowledging that Monsanto is the leader in GMO technology (regardless of how you may feel about them) and the University of Florida has done a lot of research on GMOs.  But a working relationship does not necessarily mean the university is in the pocket of the Evil Empire…I’d need to see evidence of malfeasance before I’d credit gossip or innuendo.  Evidence is key.

Can’t get enough GMO myth-busting?  Marc Masor contributed this:

Eat Hearty!


Anti-Science Fallacies Make It Difficult For the Public to Get Accurate Information            As Dr. Folta laments in the above item, false equivalence is the curse of modern journalism.  Today’s journalist is fixated on presenting two opposing sides of the issues they cover, without regard to the possibility that there may not be two legitimate sides to every story.  The result is a confusing welter of facts, myths, hypotheses, rumor, gossip and propaganda which makes the quest of a Truth Seeker almost impossible.  No wonder we rely on our pre-conceived cognitive biases!  Above is an interesting link to a discussion of the 8 most serious anti-science fallacies which distort our public discussions.


HERE, AT LAST, IS SOME HELP FOR A CONFUSED PUBLIC: THE RED FLAGS OF QUACKERY     (Thanks to Kathleen O’Conner and Marc Masor for bringing this to our attention!)




Discovery Channel: No More Pseudo-Science Programming–213623    This should help clear up at least some of the confusion referenced in the above items.  No more bullshit fake documentaries about ghosts, haunted houses, mermaids and other denizens of the human imagination. 


Pope Watch      Pope Francis has done many admirable things since taking office from former Pope Benedict.  He champions the underprivileged, speaks out against environmental damage, and torments the wealthy by criticizing Capitalism.  But he has been a disappointment on issues such as equality for gays and, now, on birth control.  Here’s the link:


Ryan Bell, Ends His ‘One Year Without God’ Experiment…    Ryan Bell, ex-pastor and atheist-for-a-year, is now officially an ex-Christian.  If you are not familiar with this fascinating and courageous story, click the above link for a summary by CNN.  If you’d like to read more from Ryan himself, there are copious blog notes available at   … read for yourself Ryan’s day-by-day musings as he goes through the process of re-imagining his personal world view.


 News for the Smart:

For a variety of reasons, winter is the best time to test your home for radon.  If your home hasn’t been tested for radon, the second greatest cause of lung cancer after cigarettes, there really is no excuse because this winter test kits are available for FREE.  .  Here is a link that describes the issues and tells you how to get your free test kit.

Good ol’ Durango Herald.


News of the Stupid:         poop in skull

Conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke: RC Church ‘Too Feminized’

No stinky girls allowed…you’re wrecking the clubhouse, I mean, The Church!  Burke, a liturgical traditionalist as well as a doctrinal conservative who is renowned for wearing elaborate silk and lace vestments while celebrating Mass thinks that having ‘altar girls’ in addition to ‘altar boys’ is messing up a good thing.  Burke, a vocal critic of Pope Francis, was recently demoted as part of the Francis’ initiative to reform Vatican finances.

Cardinal Burke   Cardinal Raymond Burke

Raymond Leo Burke Clockwise from top left:        *Cardinal Burke blessing his way up the church aisle while the train of his silk gown is carried by manly attendants.    *Cardinal Burke wearing a manly hat, the newest member of The Red Hat Society   *Cardinal Burke gives a fellow Cardinal a manly, but chaste, hug.

News of the Stupid      poop in skull

Michelle Bachmann’s Conversations with God Almighty        She regularly converses with God about the weather, about running for office and about repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Watch the video if you feel strong enough and you have nothing better to do…

Bachmann Goodbye, Michelle!

News of the Stupid     poop in skull

Pat Robertson Wants You to Know…

Pat Robetson This item was mentioned on the Politics and Religion Facebook page…the poster, Bill Miessner, dryly notes: “To think that 1,000,000 Republicans voted for this [charlatan] for US President!  See Dunning – Kruger Effect, above.

News of the Stupid     poop in skull

Do Creationists Run the Wall St. Journal?       Speaking of adding more disinformation to the public debate over science, several members (including Joyce F. and Adrian T.) were incensed by an editorial in the WSJ by Eric Metaxas.  The editorial tried to bend recent scientific discoveries into ‘proof’ for the Biblical story of creation.  Oh, my head.


The Final Word from Marc Masor:

This comes from 2 math teachers with a combined total of 70 yrs. experience.  It has an indisputable mathematical logic:

What Makes 100%?

What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?
Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?

We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.
How about achieving 103%?
What makes up 100% in life?

Here’s a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:
If: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z    is represented as:          1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26…

H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K    8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%   and …

K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E   11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%  but …

A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E    1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%    while…

B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T   2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%

and look how far ass kissing will take you:

A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G 1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 127% 

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty, that while Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, it’s Attitude that will get you there.
It’s the Bullshit and Ass Kissing that will put you over the top.
Now you know why some people are where they are!

Thank you, Marc, for clarifying this little-understood fact of Life!


Tom the Dancing Bug

Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango Newsletter with the permission of the cartoonist, Ruben Bolling.

See more TtDB at

Are there any announcements, activities, opinions or other news items you’d like your fellow Skeptics and Atheists to know about?

Drop an email to with your information so that it can be included in the next newsletter!

Thanks to Kathleen, Adrian, Joyce, Marc, Dave and ‘Little D’ for contributing to this month’s newsletter!

Free Raif Badawi- How You Can Help

raif-badawi While Saudi Arabia’s ruling family condemns the Charlie Hebdo attacks from one side of their mouth, the other side keeps silent on the imprisonment and barbaric flogging of  Saudi free speech  blogger, Raif Badawi. Raif was sentenced to 10 years in prison and exactly 1,000 lashes for the crime of insulting Islam via writings found on his website- a website he established to encourage free thought and the exchange of ideas.  Raif is scheduled to receive 50 lashes every Friday for the next 20 weeks. His second round of lashings  was postponed due to the fact that his wounds from the previous first round had not adequately healed. Meanwhile, Raif’s wife and three small children, now living in Quebec, hope for good news.

It’s difficult to believe that something as archaic and cruel as this is still happening in the 21st century. Human progress requires us all. Here is how you can help: #freeraifbadawi

Let’s Be Reasonable

Atheists are reasonable people.  I mean that literally: we try to employ Reason when we make decisions, especially about something as central to our beings as our personal World View.  Reasoned decisions require valid evidence because belief, absent evidence, is just a Wish.  Evidence is the key.  As a rational man, I would be the first to drop to my knees if God Almighty manifested His existence to us in a rational, unambiguous manner.  (None of this ‘God is in the beauty of a sunset’ crap).  No, I am talking about clear demonstration of undisputed Godly Power.  Something like restoring limbs to amputees, rescuing Steven Hawking from his wheelchair, rolling back a raging Tsunami so that the Innocent might survive, intervening when Boko Haram massacres thousands of people in His name, etc..  And, no, I will not accept that rescuing a single child while killing everyone else in a plane crash constitutes a ‘miracle’ or proof of God’s infinite Goodness.

And please don’t bring up Free Will.  I will also not tolerant of the usual ‘free will’ argument: innocents don’t choose to be victims of evils such as gun violence, natural disasters or illness.  In this world, innocents are obviously not protected whether they ‘believe on the Lord’ or not.  As it stands, if Person A decides to be Evil, it is usually Person B who unwillingly suffers the consequences.   If God is waiting for every, single, individual on Earth to accept Jesus as the Christ before He finally makes a move to end Evil, we are truly screwed.

This is what seems reasonable to me: If God wanted us to follow Him, He wouldn’t play hide and seek.  He’d satisfy our rational minds (which were supposed to be created by Him) by communicating the same, unifying, message clearly and intelligibly to every one of the 8,000,000,000+ people presently crowding His creation.  Each person could then make an informed decision about what Life Path to follow.  But instead He is absent and silent.  There is no sign of God in the real world…Earth looks exactly like you would expect if there was no God at all.  Each individual is left to struggle in isolation leading to conflicts of ideology and religious war.  In our world, Good People suffer equally with Bad People.  Disease, crime, illness affect us all – Believers and Non-Believers alike.

To say that humans are responsible for the abysmal conditions of this existence was simply a way for the rulers in antiquity to keep the ignorant masses on their knees, groveling for forgiveness for their imagined sins.  It worked in an age when superstition was all humans had to combat disease and natural disasters…but it won’t work in the modern age.  The evidence for God’s existence is, itself, non-existent.  And belief in something that has no basis in fact – no evidence – is unreasonable.


A World Without Gods

So much death in the news these days. My heart aches for those families who lost people they love in this latest round of Boko Haram killings in Baga. Boko Haram’s goal? To establish an Islamic State in Nigeria. I can’t help but wonder how people can believe in an all-powerful and influential God amidst the atrocities we see in the world around us.  If you  are a believer, isn’t everything that happens supposed to be part of God’s perfect plan?

I’m reminded of words from Voltaire’s Candide:

“If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?”

If this is what a God-created and supervised world looks like, then what would a world not managed by a supposedly all-loving and all-powerful God look like? What would you expect to observe in such a world? Clearly, if there’s a god looking out for us, he’s pretty inept at his job.

Some  may bring up the fact that according to Christian theology, this is a fallen world and therefore, evil exists. But what of diseases that target the weakest- children and the elderly? Why would this god create such a creature as a virus or a bacterium that inflicts suffering on the innocent? This is exactly what one would expect to see in a world that was not created and supervised by a benevolent god. It’s difficult to rationalize the existence of a god amid a sea of suffering. Suffering we hear about every day, if you are one that happens to check out the news.


I read an article recently that I think states the problem and solution succinctly:

“But it has often been said, if we don’t play God, then who will? Such was the central takeaway of the European Enlightenment and the rise of secular humanism. Working under the assumption that God does not exist (or at the very least, does not intervene in our affairs), a popular opinion emerged stating that humanity has an obligation to take matters into its own hands if it is to truly understand the world and make it a better place. And by applying reason and the scientific method, humanity stands a much better chance of success than idly waiting for a supernatural force that doesn’t appear to exist or care one whit about us.”

Human progress will march on. And with it, hopefully, will come less and less need for religion. Sure, humans will always find justification for doing bad things. But we will always find justification for doing good things as well. We don’t need religion for that either. As former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell, who now considers himself an atheist put it: “Why do I need religion to love?”

You don’t.


“When it was over, the crowd shouted, “Allah-hu Akbar! Allah-hu Akbar!”

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

LiveWire has an eyewitness account of the flogging in Saudi Arabia of Raif Badawi, a 30-year-old with three children who was arrested for apostasy, insulting Islam, and his real crime—running a discussion website called “Free Saudi Liberals.” While the apostasy charges (which could bring a death sentence) remain in limbo, Badawi was convicted on other charges and fined $267,000, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and ordered to be given 1000 lashes. That’s a harsh punishment, but, as the Guardian reports, “Rights activists say Saudi authorities are using Badawi’s case as a warning to others who think to criticise the kingdom’s powerful religious establishment from which the ruling family partly derives its authority.”

His wife divorced him and his family moved to Canada.

Yesterday Badawi received the first 50 of his lashes. An anonymous witness gave a report:

“When the worshippers saw the police van outside the mosque, they knew someone would…

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