This last Sunday, I appeared on Skeptically Yours, a relatively new show hosted by Emery Emery and Heather Henderson. My fellow guests were podcaster Ross Blocher and comedian and YouTuber John Rael.
The freewheeling discussion was fun, and explored the proper scope of skepticism, and recent debates online on the topic between JREF Senior Fellow Steven Novella and atheist blogger PZ Myers. We discussed why JREF is not an atheist organization, even though many of us who work and volunteer here just happen to be atheists. We talked about whether skepticism “majors in the minors,” as opposed to focusing on more important issues than just “Bigfoot skepticism.” We explored the best ways to engage those who hold unwarranted beliefs. We distinguished between the method of skepticism and the conclusions of atheism, and how atheism is not necessarily continuous with skepticism. We talked a lot about celebrating religious, political and ideological diversity, as well as other important kinds of diversity, within skepticism. And we explored whether or not scientific skepticism is overtly hostile to atheism or social justice issues.
The following is a contribution to the JREF’s ongoing blog series on skepticism and education. If you are an educator and would like to contribute to this series, please contact Bob Blaskiewicz.
In a recent article for Skeptical Inquirer, I wrote about the ways some Young Earth Creationists distort, misinterpret and mistranslate Beowulf and use it to support their discredited worldview. Briefly, the argument is as follows: Beowulf is a true story; all the monsters in the poem are really dinosaurs or similar reptiles; since the story is true and features dinosaurs, dinosaurs and men must have co-existed relatively recently; therefore, the theory of evolution is wrong. At the end of the article, I noted that this idiosyncratic interpretation of Beowulf has found its way into works intended for homeschooled children. In this post, I want to elaborate on the ways Christian homeschooling families approach Beowulf and English literature more generally.
As the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) gets underway in South Africa, it is pertinent to critically examine the role of witchcraft in African football. In sub Saharan Africa, it is widely believed that magic can affect the performance of players, that juju, charms or muti can influence the outcome of matches. Though many Africans acknowledge the importance of coaching and technical skills, talent, training and team spirit etc in football, they also believe these are not enough, and that some ‘magical abracadabra’ by a witchdoctor or marabou, is needed to compliment a team’s effort to secure a victory. Before embarking on major tournaments, some players and team officials consult witchdoctors and spiritualists. The witchdoctors subject them to some rituals or supply them with charms or muti which they rub on their bodies, carry with them or bury on the pitch. At the 2002 AFCON, the former goalkeeper of Cameroun, Thomas Nkono, was caught:
“burying bones under the turf and spraying a strange elixir, in order to cast a spell on the playing field’ before a crucial semi final match with Zambia. He was arrested and detained by the police.