September 2015 Newsletter

Discussion Topic for This Month: “Why Is There Something, Rather Than Nothing?”
presented by Mat Robbins

Baby boy (3-6 months) looking at camera, portrait

Mat explains: “We will look at several possible angles of inquiry, paying special attention to religious explanations, the anthropic principle, the axiarchic principle, and the explanatory framework offered by ‘possible worlds’ theory. I will present arguments regarding some of these, discuss their shortcomings, and welcome whatever further lines of discussion we choose to pursue. Hope to see you there!”

why is there something rather than nothing 002 why is there something rather than nothing 003

Cartoons for this Month: Tom the Dancing Bug by Reuben Bolling at the very end of this month’s newsletter! In fact I’m posting TWO TtDB cartoons this month to make up for missing August!  I just can’t resist re-printing an episode that features Hollingsworth Hound (a millionaire tycoon who was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple) vs. Lucky Ducky (a down-and-out duck who always manages to scrape together a little something for himself despite H.H.’s best efforts to keep him down). Reuben Bolling also managed to find something funny in the tragic killing of Cecil the Lion…I hope you enjoy them both!


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters At The End by Atul Gawande  (Recommended & Hosted by Joyce and Lou Fontana)Being MortalJoyce n Lou bookclup datesBook Summary: In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.


Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway (Recommended by Ernie O’Toole)

merchants of doubtMerchants of Doubt time-location

Book Summary: Merchants of Doubt was one of the most talked-about climate change books of recent years, for reasons easy to understand: It tells the controversial story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. The same individuals who claim the science of global warming is “not settled” have also denied the truth about studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it. 

Do you have a favorite book to recommend to the group? Attend a book club meeting or two and then nominate your favorite ‘read’!

Member Talk by Sebastian Pivnicka Well-Attended

Sebastian gave a presentation on the topic of global climate change to a group of about 20 members at Himalayan Kitchen on Thursday, 8/27.  His effort (and that of his wife, Jacqueline Teasley-Pivnicka, who operated the Power Point presentation as her dinner, ignored and unattended, congealed at her place) was much appreciated by the attendees.  Global climate change (GCC) is a complex and vexing issue…many attendees urged action to address humankind’s dependence on fossil fuels irrespective of its effect on GCC which would ameliorate problems like air pollution, depletion of finite resources, acid rain, etc.  Topics discussed included:  the effects of environmental actions to combat GCC on the ‘poor’ and on developing nations; geologic records of historic climate change; positive aspects of global warming; hidden agendas behind the controversy.

Global WarmingSebastian's comments

I wrote my own (Larry B.) personal response to the presentation which is posted at

Personally, I feel that the evidence and the preponderance of scientific opinion points to human activity as the main ‘force’ behind the rapidly changing global climate. To me, the issue seems as settled as the issue of evolution by natural selection…but evidence to the contrary would certainly cause me to reconsider this position.

climate selfishnessAre You a Climate Skeptic? Read On….                                                    If you are undecided about the anthropogenic root of global climate change, a member of the Durango Skeptics and Atheists has recommended as a website that provides links to ‘both sides of the argument’.  The site does provide a welter of essays and opinions, both climate-alarmist and climate dissenter, in an unfiltered barrage of purported facts and uncompromising opinion. I found it difficult to assess the validity of much of this avalanche of information both in terms of authorship and veracity/relevance of the data.  (Do the tree ring samples taken from the Himalaya really show that the earth warmed in the 14th century when there was a lower concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere? I don’t know). My Inner Skeptic wonders about the motives behind this website. Is it generating the kind of smoke-screen of pseudo-science that the Book Club will be reading about for November’s selection (See the book review for Merchants of Doubt, above)? If we know who is funding, it might shed some light as to its ultimate purpose.  See footnote below*.

As an alternative to searching the web, I recommend an offering from Intelligence2 U.S. It is an interesting and well-moderated debate, conducted by actual scientists (for the most part) discussing the actual issues (for the most part) of global climate change.  All sides of this debate are well represented and vigorously defended.  The running time is 1:43:00, but is well-worth the investment of your time. Here’s the link:

*FOOTNOTE: is underwritten by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) which touts itself as the ‘conservative answer’ to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (ie, U.S. PIRG, NYPIRG, et al). CFACT co-organized the Copenhagen Climate Challenge (with the help of the producer of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program), a counter-conference for climate change skeptics timed to coincide with the 2009 COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen.

CFACT is a private entity which is not required to reveal the sources of its funding. However, a little digging reveals that partial funding in the past has been provided by ExxonMobil in the amount of $542,000. In the middle of the last decade, Exxon cut funding to CFACT and other climate-denier front groups because their positions had become too extreme saying, “ …[these groups have] positions on climate change that could divert attention from the important discussion [ about the world’s energy future]”.  CFACT has also gotten significant underwriting from the far-right Sarah Scaife Foundation and from the Carthage Foundation ($1,280,000). Scaife/Carthage Foundation(s) also underwrite the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Foundation on War.

CFACT’s President David Rothbard, who is a longtime political operative for the oil industry, has direct links to The Cornwall Alliance. The Cornwall Alliance, in turn, is responsible for a campaign called “Resisting the Green Dragon” which is billed as a “…Biblical response to one of the greatest deceptions of our day…”. The Cornwall Alliance claims that the entire climate change movement is a “false religion” and a nefarious conspiracy to empower eugenicists and create a “global government”.  Read articles authored by CFACT President David Rothbard here:  Sample essays by Rothbard written in the past three months include: “EPA’s Next Wave of Job-Killing CO2 Regulations” , “The Doha Wealth Redistribution Process Moves On”, “Saving the Planet – Or Protecting Power Grabs and Cash Cows?”.

climate denier cartoon chicken littleSkeptics: Know your sources!


General Mills Commits to Reducing Its Ecological Footprint to Fight Global Warming                                  The food giant, General Mills has made an ambitious commitment to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce their energy and fuel use. From the General Mills website: “General Mills has long been committed to being part of the solution on climate change. Since 2005, we have reduced our absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent within our direct operations. Furthering this commitment, we announced a new goal in August 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our entire value chain – from farm to fork to landfill – over the next 10 years. Our goal, developed using science-based methodology, is an ambitious one: a 28% absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025Additionally, our long term aspiration is to achieve sustainable emission levels in line with scientific consensus by 2050.” 

general mills

See this link for more facts and figures: 

and this:


On Another Contentious, Old Topic: Genetically Modified Foods….                                                       It’s another Intelligence2 debate, this time about GMOs, their safety and efficacy.  It took place last December in NYC. It’s a good debate and well worth watching…the audience was polled before the debate and again after the debate to judge which side ‘won’.  SPOILER ALERT: The following paragraphs reveal the answer to the audience poll…you’ve been warned!

But first, here is a summary of the debate (from Huffington Post and Popular Science), including comments from Bill Nye (The Science Guy) who was in the audience: Last night, about 450 people packed into New York City’s Kaufman Center to hear a genetics professor and Monsanto’s chief technology officer debate against researchers who are against the use of any genetic engineering technology. Among the audience members were writers for environmental magazines, a well-known biologist who had invented major genetic techniques, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. It was a sold-out show.

iq2-gmo-debateOn Stage at the Debate   © Samuel Lahoz Photography

The “for” side argued there’s strong scientific consensus, including statements from organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the U.S.’ National Academy of Sciences, that genetically engineered plants are safe to eat. Society can’t afford to toss out this important technical tool. “GM is sometimes uniquely able to deliver a useful trait, like crops that are more resilient to climate change,” said Alison Van Eenennaam, a geneticist at the University of California at Davis who accompanied Fraley on the “for” side. “The benefits of GM are too great to vote anything but yes for GM tonight.”

The “against” side argued there haven’t been enough long-term studies of GMOs’ food safety. “I’ve read essentially all of the statements by various bodies,” said Charles Benbrook, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Washington State University who argued against GM crops. “Most of the recommendations for better science, more careful risk assessment, and post-market surveillance that have been made for more than 15 years, in these reports, have not been acted upon.”

In addition, Benbrook’s partner on the “against” side, Margaret Mellon, argued that over the past 30 years, genetic engineers haven’t made that many useful crops, except pesticide-resistant ones, which now suffer from resistant weeds. (Here at Popular Science, we think GM technology has created many beneficial plants.) “We need to be clear about what genetic engineering can’t do,” said Mellon, a founding scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program. “We’ve got other technologies out there. They’re far more powerful than genetic engineering.”

The Vote: At this debate, and others put on by host Intelligence Squared U.S., the most fun part is that before the debate, and again after, audience members vote whether they’re for or against the debate topic. Whichever side gains the most support wins. This time, one side had an unusually large win.

Before the debate, 30 percent of the audience said they were against genetically engineering crops, 32 percent said they were for it, and 38 percent were undecided. In the end, 31 percent were against—and 60 percent were for, a gain of 28 percentage points. The average winning margin in the last ten Intelligence Squared U.S. debates was around 18 percentage points. The final vote also contrasts with what national polls say about how American feel about GM foods.

bill-nye-robert-fraleyBill Nye with Robert Fraley     © Samuel Lahoz Photography                                  Science show host Bill Nye talked with Monsanto chief technology officer Robert Fraley.

“The ‘for’ people were just so much more on point than the ‘against’ people,” Nye told Popular Science after the show. Nye himself worries that genetically modified crops aren’t studied for a long enough time for their environmental effects before they’re planted on farms. Crops get about five years of testing before they’re sold in the U.S., Monsanto CTO Robert Fraley says.

“I’m still not satisfied, as a scientist, as a voter, that five years is enough,” Nye says. Still, in terms of the debate itself: “The GMO people were much better spoken.” If Nye were in charge of drawing the line, he would draw it at combining ova and sperm in a lab, not at engineering pieces of genetic material into plant embryos.


Next Member Talk: Marc Masor, September 20    6PM     at Himalayan Kitchen   Mark has an interesting story to show-and-tell!  Marc says: “In June I testified on behalf of the Canadian Broadcasting Company to defend them against charges of libel and invasion of privacy brought against them by Dr. Ranjit Chandra, a researcher at Memorial University of Newfoundland, for the investigative report they aired in 2006, The Secret Life of Dr. Chandra, which revealed a pattern of fraudulent research.  I was interviewed in that program as I had been in charge of a study that Ross Laboratories that I did with Chandra when I worked as a research scientist there, and had become suspicious of his research during the course of the study.  The trial concluded on July 24th when the jury delivered their verdict that the CBC was truthful and had not invaded his privacy.” 

Dr. Chandra 003 Dr. Chandra 002 Dr. Chandra 001

Marc continues: “I will show the 3-part series, The Secret Life of Dr. Chandra, and then lead a discussion about what questions this case raises about the accuracy of studies published in scientific journals, and the responsibilities of peer reviewers for scientific journals, universities whose faculty researchers publish, and pharmaceutical companies who set up studies with researchers outside the company”. 


We Ain’t Comin’ Back: Catholics Who’ve Left the Church Won’t Return    From the Durango Herald a story from the Pew Research Center that surveyed active and former Catholics about reconciliation with The Church, Pope Francis, birth control, priests marrying and other fun stuff.

recovering catholic 04 recovering catholic 03


wordplay 03

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:

1.         Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially
impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2.         Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
3.         Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your
money to start with.
4.         Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5.         Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from
penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the
near future.
6.         Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7.         Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
8.         Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9.         Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10.       Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11.       Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right?
And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
12.       Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that
are good for you.
13.       Glibido: All talk and no action.
14.       Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at
you rapidly.
15.       Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked
through a spider web.
16.       Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in
the morning and cannot be cast out.
17.       Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.


Even more…wordplay

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1.         Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.
2.         Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
3.         Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4.         Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.
5.         Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.
6.         Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
7.         Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.
8.         Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.
9.         Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by
a steamroller.
10.       Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.
11.       Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.
12.       Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13.       Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.
14.       Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15.       Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets
stuck there.
16.       Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.


Backroads and Sights to See

I wondered aloud, in the June Newsletter, if any of our members had favorite places that they like to take out-of-towners…backroads, favorite destinations, that sort of thing.  Since no one responded, I’ll post another weekend adventure that Carolyn and I had last week. But seriously, my dear atheists, if you have any favorite drives or haunts that you’d be willing to share with the group, please send a description of the drive and a few photos to for inclusion in a future newsletter.

Carolyn and I have been meaning for some time to take Old Lime Creek Road which travels the original road/trail that led from Animas City and Durango to Silverton in the 1800’s. We finally did it in late August!OldLimeCreekRoad mapThe road follows the gorge and main drainage of Lime Creek. Back in the day, it was used by the Utes for hunting and by prospectors as they searched for gold and silver. To get there: exit Hwy. 550 about 28 miles north of Durango at the bottom of the hill leading to Coal Bank Pass. Look for the brown forest road sign (FS 591) on the right.  About 12 miles (and 2 hours later) you will re-join Hwy. 550 south of Silverton. As 4X4 roads go, it’s an ‘Easy’, but there are some big rocks, deep ruts and very narrow two-way portions with steep drop-offs that, at points, would be difficult to navigate unless you have a high-clearance 4X4 vehicle. We did it in a Honda Pilot. This would not be a good road to drive when muddy or snow-covered. Lime Creek provides some spectacular  world-class kayaking for EXPERT boaters…most of upper Lime Creek offers Class V+ rapids with some waterfalls thrown in for an extra adrenaline rush (see photo below). ORVs and mountain bikes also share this little road. You can hike, fish or snap a picture while enjoying a staycation a half hour from home.

Here are a couple of photos we took and a few I stole from that new-fangled interwebs thing that all the young people are talking about:

Old Lime Creek Road NarrowsREALLY!?!!?!  It’s already too narrow for two bicycles to pass comfortably. We found the other drivers sharing this tiny road were very courteous and friendly…be prepared to pull over to let the other guy pass safely. Happily, no one was coming around the corner as we inched our way around the bend…

Old Lime Creek Road Panorama1Where the rocks in the road come from….

lime creek  06 lime creek  05 Spud Lake

lime creek  04Adrenaline Falls

lime creekLime Creek


Kentucky Clerk Who Won’t Issue Marriage Licenses to Gay Couple Has Divorced Three times and Married Four Times.   The Bible-thumping county clerk who is defying the US Supreme Court by ‘following God’s law’ knows a little something about marriage herself. Like many who proclaim that they believe in the ‘sanctity’ of marriage, she has been divorced and remarried a number of times, ignoring the New Testament’s injunctions against such wanton behavior:

  • ”And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9.
  • “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. Luke 16:8
  • “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32
  • Also Mark, John, Letter to the Ephesians, Letter to the Corinthians, Acts, Revelation, etc.

The Old Testament also contains a trove of admonitions to avoid divorce:

  • ”For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.” Romans 7:2
  • “Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.”
  • Also Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Genesis, Proverbs, Exodus, etc.

More on this developing story:

Conservative Churches Confront New Reality of Gay Marriage

Kentucky state bill: Catch trans student in the wrong bathroom and win $2,500

GOP lawmakers in South Carolina and Texas threated to punish pro-gay public officials who recognize gay marriages


New research finds a way to reverse children’s racial stereotyping    Babies acquire unconscious racial bias at a very, very young age. Researchers at the University of Delaware have found that a simple exercise can undo these racial biases by exposing babies to photos of faces which represent the spectrum of ‘racial’ features.

Paul Quinn, professor of psychological and brain sciences, researches how infants form ideas about objects and process visual information. Pictured here in his Wolf Hall lab, professor Quinn is investigating how early in their development infants begin to perceive differences in race. Professor Quinn is being assisted in his research by Laurie Yarzab (Research Associate I) and undergraduate students Kate Cramer and Jennie Lowe. - (Evan Krape / University of Delaware)
Paul Quinn, professor of psychological and brain sciences, researches how infants form ideas about objects and process visual information. Pictured here in his Wolf Hall lab, professor Quinn is investigating how early in their development infants begin to perceive differences in race. Professor Quinn is being assisted in his research by Laurie Yarzab (Research Associate I) and undergraduate students Kate Cramer and Jennie Lowe. – (Evan Krape / University of Delaware)


Arkansas Legislature OK’s 10 Commandment Monument on State Capital Grounds…Atheists Join Hindus in Asking For Their Own Monuments             The Arkansas legislature passed a bill this year to permit a privately funded monument to the 10 Commandments to be built on the state capitol grounds. Now, Hindus, Satan worshippers, Vegans and Atheists want in on the deal.  In a letter, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor tell Arkansas governor Asa Hutchison that “most freethinkers find the Ten Commandments to epitomize the childishness, the vindictiveness, the sexism, the inflexibility and the inadequacies of the bible as a book of morals.” They then request that they be allowed to fund their own statue at the capitol, which would display the following text:


There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Freedom depends on freethinkers


Presented (add date) to the State of Arkansas on behalf of the membership of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in honor of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This is a link to the full letter written to Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas by the Freedom From Religion Foundation: 

And here are photos of some of the other proposed monuments:Satanic Monument Vegan monumentSatanic Monument                                      Vegan Monument

Hanuman of India
Hanuman of India           Hindu Monument


And now, your moment of double bug!

Tom the Dancing Bug 948 lucky ducky - baseball stadium

Tom the Dancing Bug 1250 cecil the lion

Tom the Dancing Bug is reproduced in our monthly Newsletter courtesy of the artist, Ruben Bolling.    Visit the archive of years of TtDB cartoons 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!