Skepchick Quickies – Weekend Edition, 6.14

And here’s the trailer for Bill Maher’s new film about organized religion, Religulous:


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. Slightly OT but today is Cubic Day in the world outside the US. 14 June 2008 (140608) = 52^3 so it’s obvious that something horrible must happen today (or not!). Happy Cubic Day!

  2. re Bill Maher: The man’s in no way a skeptic, and spouts off all sorts of silly and dangerous woo. He dislikes religion because he’s a contrarian, not because he has any critical reasoning ability.

  3. Personally, Cain, I agree. I think Maher is a sexist asshole who has basically one trick he does over and over. But the points he makes sometimes are right, regardless (or perhaps in spite of) the fact he’s the one making them. It remains to be seen whether or not this film will have any such points.

  4. As far as the Sheldrake/Dog thing, I think Jay Novella said it best on the SGU when he said that on it’s face, this is a ridiculous idea….they’re talking about psychic dogs! When I heard that people were resurecting this project long after Richard Wiseman’s re-creation makes me wonder why these people can demand public funding with a straight face.

    As for Mahar, I certainly agree that he’s not a skeptic. For me, a skeptic has some respect for the scientific method/community. Mahar has never shown such respect (at least, not from what I’ve seen, which is considerable). I think he’s a secular humanist, a related, but distinct line of thought from scientific skepticism. The Humanists and Skeptics can get along on a lot of issues, and at least on this religion idea, I tend to agree….mostly (while I do identify myself as an atheist, I’m not a militant-jerk-face about it like Mahar can be).

    But certainly, he is a contrarian….which is, in this HIGHLY complacent society, a vital role which I’m glad a thoughtful, if boorish, person like Mahar takes up. I remember a while ago when he was on Larry King (one of the last episodes of that show I’ve ever watched) he told what the working title of the film was: “Religion is Stupid”. Good luck getting a title like THAT into theatres.

    If Mahar would open his eyes to the domestic terrorism, rampant sexism and yes, exploitation of animals that PETA engages in, I’d gain a lot more respect for him. I always want to gag when he kisses Ingrid Newkirk’s tofu whenever she’s on his show.

    I’m off on a road trip now. It’s a good thing that gas is the low-low price of $1.50/litre today….ugh.

    Stevecrest, out.

  5. Regarding the “considering the human cost of food production” item: Is she arguing that going vegan is not an important ethical decision, as long as there are suffering humans in the food supply chain? Her last couple of paragraphs, where she uses terms like “prioritize” and “more important”, make it sound that way.

    She would have a good point, if it were the case that large scale vegan food production caused MORE human suffering than non-vegan food production. But that’s going to be a difficult argument to make, considering the lousy conditions in slaughterhouses and factory farms, and considering that on the order of 9 times as much vegetation has to be processed when it’s filtered through animals, than if we eat it directly.

  6. Isn’t being a contrarian not that far away from being a sceptic? When I stopped going to church with my family as a child, I didn’t have completly formed athiest philosophy, I just realised the wine doesn’t turn into blood, it’s all BS and was contary enough to kick up a stink until my mum said i could stay home (she still thinks “this phase” will pass…30 years in)

    As for being a veggy, let me tell you there is nothing better than growing your own, they’re essentially almost free, they taste delicious and everytime you eat them you’re sticking it to “The Man”. Every tasty mouthful of Courchette is like saying “F*ck You Tesco”

  7. I think that being a contrarian is not at all the same as being a skeptic. All those woo-hawkers are fueled by the concept, for example. The second quickie above (Greta Christina’s) touches on that. And contrarians aren’t employing critical thinking. Just because something is popular (like vaccines or pasturizing your milk or thinking that female genital mutilation is bad) doesn’tmean it’s wrong. In fact, it looks like contrarianism is just as stupid as non-consideration-ism.

  8. I would seem that $1000 prize being offered in the dog psychic experiments will do nothing more than encourage a lot of fake claims by people who are trying to gain a quick buck. I hope proper controls will be in place to prevent cheating.

    Does your dog seem to know when you’re coming home? Do other people in your house tell you they knew you were on the way home based on how your dog was acting? If so, your dog might be a good candidate for our experiment, and may earn a $1,000 prize offered to successfully participants.

    Wow, the grammar is as bad as the interpretation of the initial experiment!

  9. I think Mayer’s film is going towards the cheap shots and cynical view of religion. Just wants to make people look like idiots on film to make himself look smart. He just seems to come off as a jerk.

    Bible Camp worked because it was less smartass commentary with more frightening reality.

  10. Wow, great comments. I have a lot of sympathy for the contrarian position, and I think it has a purpose. I love that sometimes Maher says something unpopular that needs to be said, even if he’s just doing it to piss people off. That can be useful. But I think it’s also just a starting point.

  11. I’m vegetarian, and I have thought about the farm workers… I get into arguments with my father regularly about “those damned IA’s” (he lives in New Mexico, very close to the border… IA stands for Illegal Alien, and I think it’s his way of de-humanizing them.)

    Anyway, I try to eat as much as I can locally, from farms that seem to treat their workers well. I aim for organic, too, and I try not to eat processed foods unless they are made by smaller companies that seem to care about their workforce. But we are so far away from the origin of our food that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to figure out how farm workers are treated. Especially since smaller companies often buy things produced for larger companies to save money. It’s frustrating…

    I don’t eat meat because I am uncomfortable with the idea of killing something that has had a horrid life just so that I can eat it. (Especially since there are alternatives.) But I am aware of the plight of farmworkers, too. I wish that information about this was easily accessible so that we could make informed decisions about what we eat and how it affects all living things.

    Although, this brings up another point… that thinking this way is harder, takes more time, and is way more expensive than just eating whatever is there and cheap. To two broke college students, or poor parents, or busy professionals, or most of Americans – well, it’s almost impossible to spend the time and money on considering what you eat.

    I suggest reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. It’s mostly about the food, itself, but it brings up a lot of good points.

  12. The way I see a contrarian like Mahar is that he’s a form of a broken clock. As the saying goes, a broken clock is right twice a day. Here it’s assuming that “broken” simply means it’s stopped, but there are many ways a clock can be off, just as there are many ways one can go about trying to determine reality.

    A contrarian’s take on reality is that they take a position that’s the opposite of what the majority believes. In clock terms, this would be a clock that shows a time 12 hours off from the watch of whoever’s looking at it. If the person has their watch set correctly (society is right about something, like conventional medicine), the clock will give the wrong time (Mahar is an altie). However, if the person got the AM/PM on their watch set incorrectly (society is wrong about religion), this clock will be correct (Mahar is an atheist).

    But maybe a person’s position is that the Bible is always right. Their thoughts are static, like a clock that’s stopped running: it always gives the same answer, regardless of what reality says. Every once in a while, the Bible actually is right about something, just as the stopped clock is right twice a day (once if it has an AM/PM dial). But most of the time it’s wrong.

    Finally, there’s the skeptic, whose position is that reality is right, and your answers should reflect your best guess at reality. This would be your typical clock, which is tuned to run at the best rate and reset to the correct time. Its owner pays attention to the day/night cycle to make sure the clock is set correctly and is going at the right pace, and adjusts as necessary. This is just like the skeptic uses the scientific method to measure reality, and constantly adjusts their understanding of it based on the evidence.

    And I believe I have officially gone off the metaphorical metaphorical deep-end, because this is just making too much sense to me.

  13. “Regarding the “considering the human cost of food production” item: Is she arguing that going vegan is not an important ethical decision, as long as there are suffering humans in the food supply chain?”

    Not to my reading. It appears the vegan position being argued is whether it’s as “cruelty-free” as frequently advertised.

    “But that’s going to be a difficult argument to make, considering the lousy conditions in slaughterhouses and factory farms, and considering that on the order of 9 times as much vegetation has to be processed when it’s filtered through animals, than if we eat it directly.”

    Given that much animal feed is by-product (repurposed or leftover vegetable matter), I suspect this is actually much less of an issue than you suggest.

    Even so, how prepared are you to eat some of the vegetable byproduct that gets fed to pigs?

  14. The dog psychic thing does look pretty lame.

    >>”The first step to joining the experiment is to self-test your dog to see whether they know when you’re on the way home. The easiest way to do is to have someone at home with your dog while you’re away running errands. Have the person watching your dog call you on your cell phone and tell you to come home. You might observe your dog spending more time at the door or window when you ’re on your way.”

    So the person at home knows when the owner is coming home, and can be both giving off subtle signals *and* having their assessment of the dog’s activity biased by their knowledge.
    The dog knows a phone call has happened, and may even hear the owner’s voice on the other end.

    Even the advice to watch out for distractions could just as easily be used by a knowing observer as a way to explain away ‘incorrect’ activity by a dog as to actually properly correct for distractions.

    Even for a first round, it looks badly designed. It wouldn’t be any harder to do an experiment where the observer was in the dark as to the return time, and had to try and guess from the dog’s reaction when the owner was about to return (or had started to return).

    Looks to me more like a way of sucking in believers than a serious attempt at getting worthwhile possible competitors.

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