Our friends over at csicop.org have posted online a collection of essays by and about Carl Sagan.
One thing that stands out in them is how skepticism was for Carl Sagan a deeply ethical enterprise, not just a debunking hobby, or a way to show how smart we are compared to the numbskulls who believe nonsense. For Sagan, as for so many other leaders in skepticism — though it is not often framed like this — his skepticism came out of a kind of deep moral imperative. Because undue credulity causes so much measurable harm, it follows that there is an ethical obligation to work to mitigate it through speaking out and educating our neighbors. Whether you believe that space aliens are coming to Earth to solve all our problems so we don't have to do any work to fix them ourselves, or you believe that going to a faith healer or New Age huckster rather than relying on medical science to heal you is the right course of medical care, believing in things uncritically can be bad for you and bad for society. Sagan felt that it was the right thing — the morally conscientious thing — to work against those trends.
In the video below, Mark Edward, skeptic/mentalist/magician/activist, along with several of his friends, attends a Sylvia Browne performance on December 29th to commit activism, performance art, or sabotage, depending upon your view of such things. When given a chance to grab the microphone, Edward complains to Sylvia of being plagued by “spirits,” the names of whom are Opal Jo Jennings, Farrell —
“These are all your guides you’re thinking of,” croaks Sylvia.
“No, they’re not guides,” he says.
“Yes they are,” croaketh Sylvia.
And that’s true. They are dead. Opal and Terrence Farrell are just two of the skeletons rattling around Sylvia Browne’s crowded closet, and she knows it. The way she responds to Edward’s mentioning their names says a lot about the lady’s mindset when she’s onstage. Take a look at the whole confrontation, and stick around for a quick analysis after the jump.
Happy New Year, and greetings from St. Louis! It is an absolute honor to be joining the JREF team, and to work with Randi, who has been a hero of mine since I was a young magician.
First, I want to report that the time I had in Ft. Lauderdale last month, spending time with Randi and the staff, excited me even more than I already was about making the move to the JREF. The place is bursting at the seams with creative ideas for how to better advance critical thinking in our society. And spending time with Randi talking tricks, like demonstrating our own versions of the Linking Rings to each other (the magical version of "Dueling Banjos"?), and talking magic history, was also very memorable. Yes, Randi is the leading skeptic spokesperson in the world today, but my time with him last month emphasized to me that he will always be first and foremost a magician. My first calling was as a magician as well, and so working with him to advance the Foundation's mission is an exciting prospect.
With little fanfare, the Irish law prohibiting blasphemy — defined as language or material “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion” and “intended, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage” — went into effect yesterday. Thanks largely to Atheist Ireland, the immediate consequence was a palpable increase in the amount of Irish blasphemy whizzing through the Interwebs