Tag Archives: skeptic

Lifestyle Opinion

Despite (Or to Spite?) You Moderates: Against Tolerance

I am a rather intolerant person and I think you should be too. Unfortunately, we’ve created a society in which I can’t say that, without qualification, and retain a serious audience. So allow to explain what I’m not saying. I do not think schools should be segregated, that the holocaust was exaggerated, or that marriage is legally different for homosexual couples. Additionally; I do not think violence is acceptable in almost any society, and I do think we should listen, to the best of our abilities, to any opinion.* Yet I still think the implied axiom of toleration is the slow death of any intellectual movement, especially in one as progressive as secularism.

What does toleration mean? It seems to demand that we accept the existence of things we hate, regardless of our reasons for hating it. The toleration I refer to is the kind of thing defended by people saying “well that’s your opinion.” Not only does it add nothing to any conversation I’ve ever had, it also suggests that we should accept an opinion’s existence simply because it is an opinion. Such statements ignore the obvious truth that opinions shape decisions. Jim Jones could never have convinced anyone to move with him to Guyana if opinions had no effect on decisions. Since it is something unstated, yet typically accepted, we jump to the obvious supporting factors: it means not being racist, homophobic, or what have you.

 But then how should we respond to a member of the Westboro Baptist Church? By tolerating their opinions? Insisting that we respect their hideous views? Naturally not, we should exercise our free speech to its fullest extent, and show all those who may be in doubt how destructive and pernicious these liars really are. This is justifiable intolerance. If we were to alter the object of our verbal attacks from these charlatan chaplains to, for example, black people, we would again be charged with intolerance. But now it would be unjustifiable. The question of tolerance is meaningless, the arguments behind the intolerance are the only salient details, for it is impossible to create a system of tolerance that both allows us to speak freely and critically while suppressing morally poor sentiments.

Therefore we should not tolerate religion. We should employ our free speech to the best of our abilities against it. In the very least, religion motivates people to think about reality fallaciously, and that alone is enough reason to challenge it. Whatever comfort it provides does not justify the lives lost and bunk believed. When we do tolerate religion we challenge the foundation on which all of secularism rests. We make secularism just another alternative on a long list of faiths, rather than the only rational conclusion one can come to after understanding just a few of the faiths. This is because if all of these views are above mockery and questioning, then we imply that they all have, at some level, a semblance of respectability and validity. But this is ridiculous, if we can’t laugh at those who believe the world is flat, what belief can we laugh at?

Some will object to my use of “tolerance”. They will, doubtless, insist that tolerance does not mean we must respect all opinions, only that we will not do violence on those who hold them. Ecclesiastes insists that there is a time and place for everything and I tend to agree. There is a time and place for toleration; for the respect of the disgusting. But it is not in the discussions of the skeptical. We must question everything, and we should not allow anything to go unscrutinized because of anyone’s insistence on tolerance.


* Once.

Opinion

News release basics: distributing a press release

So now that you’ve learned how to write a press release, you need to know how to properly distribute it so your release gets noticed by media outlets. This is easier said than done. While a well written press release will undoubtedly garner more attention than a poorly written one, there are also a few things that you can keep in mind to help yourself out.

1) Think about when you send your release. Too early in the morning (5 am) and it’s likely to be so far down in people’s inboxes that they’ll never get to it. Send it too late in the day (noon) and it gets lost in the shuffle. While this isn’t an exact science, I personally get the best response from releases sent out in the 7-9 am time frame.

2) Regardless of when you send your release, follow up. I mentioned this in my last post, but it bears repeating. Give your contact a call around mid-day to make sure they don’t have any lingering questions, or need further information. Don’t be pushy, be helpful.

3) Establish a personal media list, not a generic one. This takes time, but is incredibly beneficial. Instead of just compiling a list of media contacts based on what info is on their website, reach out and network. As you meet journalists and make personal contacts, add them to their list. Send a few emails to a media group and determine who is really interested in helping your group get the word out. Then add them to your list instead of a generic email. While building a contact list is hard work, it’s also one of the most prized possessions of a PR professional, or anyone looking to get media attention.

4) Make sure you allow enough time. Don’t send your press release out weeks before an event, but don’t send it out days before, either. Make sure you give a journalist enough time to pick up the story, and contact you if needed.

Basically, getting your press release out there is a matter of using common sense and thinking realistically. Journalism is fast paced, so make sure your release has an edge, is current, and includes quotes and pictures.

As always, if you have questions, comments or suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Email me at jessicaswider35@gmail.com.

 

Opinion

News release basics: how to get your event noticed

Unless you have a member of your group who’s well versed in public relations practices, most campus organizations are fairly clueless when it comes to publicizing an event. Building a media list, properly distributing a news release and handling press are all skills that have to be learned. However, before any of those things happen, you have to know HOW to write a press release. Perhaps the most basic, yet one of the most important skills, a PR practitioner needs is the ability to write an efficient news release. While everyone has their own method for writing a release, there are a few basics that can be helpful when you’re just starting out.

-Include contact info, the words ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE’ and what organization you’re from. This info should all appear at the top of the release. It’s important to not forget these basics so journalists know what they’re dealing with.

-Headline, subhead, boiler plate, date line. Not sure what these terms mean? Google them. You’ll need to include each in your news release, and put them in the proper place. The headline comes first, then subhead. The dateline comes immediately before the text begins and the boiler plate appears at the bottom of the news release, as they very last section.

-Lead, text, recap. Your lead needs to be catchy and unique. Journalists get hundreds of news releases each day, so make sure yours stands out! The text includes all the details, and further information about your event. The recap comes last, and is fairly self explanatory.

-Timing is, as always, everything. Don’t put out your release late in the day, right before a weekend, or right before you go out of town. Keep in mind when you release is most likely to get seen in a journalist’s inbox.

-Follow up! Just because you sent your press release over email doesn’t mean that’s the only contact medium you can use. Call people! Later in the day, after you’ve sent your release, give your contact a call to see if they have any further questions, or needs interview information. Don’t be pushy, be helpful.

-EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. Make sure you double and triple check your release, and have someone else look it over before you send it out. If you have even one error, it not only reduces your credibility but can leave journalists with potentially incorrect information. Edit until you’re blue in the face!

News releases take practice, but being able to write a good one is an invaluable skill that you’ll need if you want anyone to know about, or attend, your event or speaker.

Science

Why some people don’t accept evolution: a layperson’s perspective

I’ll come right out and say that I am not especially well-educated in science.  I studied the liberal arts in college and never took a course beyond Intro to Biology.  I do think that I gained a fundamental literacy of the science through my minimal classroom study (and copious independent reading as a child), to the point that I can understand what science journalists and bloggers are talking about even without being able to make sense of the raw data myself.

Image credit: Ethan Hein

I do understand, at the most basic level, how evolution works and why it works, even if I can’t wrap my head around the intricate processes that drive it.  I’d be out of my league attempting to teach it to someone or to debate a creationist on it (a position in which we atheists too often find ourselves, as if we’re all PhD biologists in the minds of creationists).

Even as a layperson (especially as a layperson?) I feel that scientific literacy is a vital part of being an informed citizen.  I’m troubled by the widening knowledge gap I see between scientists and everybody else, and particularly by the anti-intellectual sentiment that is rising alongside populism.

Denial in favor of design

To many atheists (and even theists who are skeptics about most everything but gods), it may seem shocking and frustrating that so many people in the United States dismiss evolution as wild conjecture.

When we see the notion of “intelligent design” being taught alongside actual science in biology class as if the two had equal weight, our first reaction may leave a palm-shaped depression in our foreheads (or a forehead-shaped indentation in our desks).

Sure, there are a number of people so hopelessly dedicated to ancient origin stories that they don’t want evolution to be true. It would turn their entire world upside down were they to accept that they are part of a 3 billion year old solar-powered chemical reaction rather than a unique, purposeful creation apart from nature.  It would mean to them that they are no better than their animal kin and take away all incentive for civilized behavior in their minds.

The threat of such a crisis of conscience has been used as an argument against evolution since Darwin first proposed it.  It was used by the prosecution in the infamous John Scopes trial, and even today is rehashed and regurgitated by creationist groups like Answers in Genesis.

I’m not so sure that there’s a way around this roadblock. How does one persuade a person to step over a ledge if said person is utterly convinced that they’ll tread onto a slippery slope?

Framing it like a religion instead of science

There are others still who are taken in by deceitful rhetoric like “evolution is just a theory”, people who don’t believe the science because they don’t understand it.

I suspect that a major reason why people don’t “get” evolution is that they try to understand the theory as something that it’s not: an infallible history that’s conveniently spelled out for them.  Unfortunately, science doesn’t offer the romance or clarity of religious mythology, no matter how badly our human minds want it to (not to say it can’t be exciting in its own right if you embrace your inner nerd, but most don’t).

The narrative of Darwin on his epic odyssey through the harsh environment of the Galapagos, suddenly experiencing a “eureka!” moment as the idea of natural selection dawns on him, is false.  It is nevertheless taught that way to schoolchildren to make the subject more fun (the same goes for the myth of Newton and the falling apple revealing to him the concept of gravity).

On the Origin of Species was a breakthrough 150 years ago, but it isn’t a sacred text.  A century and a half of new discoveries have rendered it obsolete, and the biologists of the 2160s will likely say the same about our most cutting-edge scientific literature today.

Unfortunately, people don’t seem to want an amendable explanation that says “We can’t know for sure, but this is what most probably happened based on what we’ve found so far.”  It doesn’t satisfy that desire for certainty that nags at all of us.  It leaves room for doubt, and makes many people uncomfortable.  No, people want an ironclad explanation that says “We know that this is what happened, for these irrefutable reasons.”

Science can’t offer that.  It’s driven by uncertainty – that’s what leads to new discoveries and new questions to be answered.  Until the American public learns to accept that, how can we expect them to accept evolution?

Opinion

The Path to Non-Belief

The freethought community is full of extremely diverse opinions on a wide range of subjects. Some members of my local student group are socialists, feminists, anarchists, libertarians, and yes, even a few conservatives. Collectively, this diversity is one of our major strengths.

Having such widely varied opinions, we tend to find common ground most readily in our skepticism of religious claims.  In fact, my student group emphasizes that while the Kent State Freethinkers is not expressly an “atheist group,” it is a group that contains many atheists, agnostics, religious skeptics and secularists. Simply put, we don’t exempt religious claims from our bologna detection kit.

But being in a group of skeptics, it is easy to forget that many of us come to our non-belief from very different backgrounds. Some of us have never been religious, while some of us consciously decided to leave religion. While non-theists of all stripes are of course welcome at meetings, it is important to remember that we all took very different paths to get there…and sometimes picked up very different types of emotional and philosophical baggage along the way.

For example, many atheists who have never been religious tend to view religious ideas with the same sense of anthropological bewilderment usually applied to the exotic customs of foreign tribes. It is sometimes difficult for them to comprehend how otherwise intelligent adults can so fervently believe such blatant hogwash. These never-believers tend to have trouble debating religious people because some religious concepts are so cloaked in a veil of transcendental mumbo-jumbo that it requires real effort to even begin talking. Starting conversations with the devout sometimes requires a suspension of critical faculties that these non-believers have never experienced. Their thought process might look something like, “Okay, so Jesus died for our sins, but then rose from the dead? So basically, he is alive. How exactly is this a sacrifice again?”

Conversely, non-theists who have made the difficult decision to leave the comfort and familiarity of their religion are usually better able to put themselves in the shoes of believers. People leave religion for many different reasons, but I’ve found that the circumstances of their departure can have a huge impact on how they continue to view religion, especially their former faith.

Many people leave religion after a nasty falling out, such as institutionalized abuse or conflict with religious leaders. I know of at least one student who left the Catholic Church after her grandfather was denied last rites (the last blessings before death), because he neglected to include the church in his will. Other, more serious examples abound, such as instances of rape, corruption, and violence. While most religious members are not direct victims, many leave after seeing such deplorable behavior from a group they had thought was a paragon of morality. Being so burned by faith often ignites a deep seated hatred of all things religious, and while this allows them to be extremely passionate proponents of freethought and secularist ideals, these anti-theists often become extremely emotionally entangled in arguments.  They may be prone to making hyperbolic statements about the evils of the church, which may end up hurting their credibility. Other anti-theists may still have very raw feelings about religious groups, and may prefer avoiding the discussion altogether.

In contrast, many non-believers left the church simply because religion has faded away into the realm of irrelevance, often times due to apathy or in response to a better understanding of how science explains the natural world. They find the claims and promises of religion to be lacking when examined in the harsh light of day – a light that shines from scientific literacy. They may begin calling themselves an atheist or agnostic after many years of being a non-practicing (or rarely practicing) religious member. In many ways, this type of non-believer is more similar to the never-theist than the anti-theist.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and many non-believers have had a very arduous ascent into freethought, and retain very complex emotions and opinions about religious faith. Many people that attend meetings may still be making that climb toward enlightenment. They may still be overcoming obstacles to unbelief that most of us have already cleared, or they may be dealing with obstacles that many of us have never had to clear. Then again, there are some atheists are so anti-religious that they see freethought groups as an underhanded attempt to create a secular church.

My point is, as current and future freethought leaders, it is important to recognize and appreciate the various perspectives, talents, and biases that your members bring to the discussion table. If a diplomat and a firebrand are arguing over the tone of your group’s advertisements, or debating which speaker you want to bring to campus, it is often helpful to recognize that those differences stem not just from the side of the table they are sitting on, but also the path they took to get there.  I’ve found that some of the most helpful and enjoyable meetings have been where we take turns describing where we stand philosophically in relation to religion, and talk about the often convoluted paths that led us there. I highly recommend dedicating some time to this discussion at one of your early meetings this upcoming semester. It will definitely help you understand the perspective of someone that you may disagree with.

General

Want to make your life as a campus group leader a whole lot easier? Read this.

You have a great event idea– you have the funds needed, picked the perfect date and have started writing a press release. Everything is just freaking awesome! Until your university finds out.

Suddenly you have miles beyond miles of red tape to work through. Those assholes! How dare they make your life infinitely more difficult with all their silly rules and regulations?!

We’ve all been there. While we all get that paperwork and the likes are in place for a reason, dealing with university authorities can be a hassle, to say the least. However, it’s important to maintain a good relationship with these people, no matter how stupid you think the hoops they make you jump through are.

It is inevitable that at some point during your school year, as a group leader, you will have to interact with these people, be it in person or over email. Below are a few tips to keep in mind while doing so, to make your life easier and to make the people who grant you permission, happier.

1. Know how your university works. For example, at my school, you need several forms filled out and signed by officers for fundraising, to spend money, to hold an event, to travel somewhere, or to breath (practically). While it can get annoying, I’ve made myself knowledgeable about each and every form so whenever I need to do something, I know where to start.

2. They’re busy too. While it can be incredibly annoying to have to run around getting a bazillion different forms signed in between classes and a job, keep in mind that whatever university officials you’re dealing with manage this process everyday- with hundreds of students orgs. It’s stressful for EVERYONE.

3. Kiss up. Hello! Being the teachers pet works. Each university handles things differently– maybe you’re lucky enough to only need a single signature, or maybe your every move is monitored. Either way, try to kiss a little you-know-what. Do they need to find a certain phone number, or get a form faxed over to your speaker? Offer to do it for them. By going above and beyond during the legwork of your event, or even just being willing to do so, your group will be remembered as incredibly helpful, which will benefit you at some point- I guarantee it.

4. Give everyone enough time. As soon as you know details, fill out whatever paperwork you need to. Don’t wait! Give any university office plenty of time to process things. Not only will this cut down on stress levels for everyone, but they’ll be grateful, meaning next time, when you DO wait until the last minute (on accident, of course) they’ll be more willing to cut you some slack.

Every school is different, which means only you know what works best for your group during the beginning processes of an event, but by being responsible and doing things the right way no matter what those things are, you’re likely to build bridges, and not burn them.

Opinion

Keeping your group from fading away with the summer sun

We’ve passed the halfway point of summer. Class schedules are arranged, textbooks are ordered, summer internships are wrapping up and students ware savoring the last weeks of vacation. The end is near. While this news may be good or bad, now is a crucial time to establish some building blocks for your campus group to work off of come fall. Below are a few important tips to keep in mind as you start packing your backpack:

1) Gonna be busy this fall? So is everyone else. Now is the perfect time to start pre-planning some events. Maybe you have a routine social event at the start of every school year, or you know you want to bring in a big speaker this semester. No matter your situation, book a room, start brainstorming fundraiser ideas and work on making community contacts NOW. Why wait?

2) What happened to your social media presence? I get it, updating your group’s Facebook page isn’t the first priority on your summer bucket list. It’s time to remind your fans and followers that you exist! Ease into your normal updating schedule by previewing a fun event or asking for community input. Don’t forget to engage your audience. Don’t just inform them, interact with them! Make a social media contest- once you reach a certain number of fans, 1 will be picked at random to win a t-shirt, or have followers guess who your big speaker will be by posting clues on Twitter- winner gets a copy of the speaker’s most popular book! These sorts of fun activities are easy to implement, and create a loyal following.

3) Start building your binders early. One of the best pieces of advice I hear at CFI’s Leadership Conference this summer was to create binders with all the group information, contact info, passwords and documents you could possibly ever need to make passing the torch easy as pie. Start making yours now! You’re starting to plan events, so include who you need to get approval from and what needs to be done in a step by step guide. Got a great fundraiser idea? Write it in the binder! The more information you include in these, the easier it will be for new officers and executive boards to continue your group’s great work for years to come.

These are just some basic things to keep in mind as cool weather approaches. Got problems, or questions, about managing your campus group? I wanna hear about them! Email me at jessicaswider35@gmail.com.

Lifestyle Religion

Allow myself to introduce… myself.

Hello all!

You don’t know me; my name is Dave Muscato, I’m an atheist, and I’m one of the new writers for Skeptic Freethought.

First off, I want to thank Ellen and the other writers for giving me the chance to contribute here.

Let’s get to it: I’ve been racking my brain for a few days trying to think of a great topic for my first post, and I finally decided that the most appropriate topic would be… an introduction. I think that if I’m going to write for you, it’s only appropriate that you know where I’m coming from and why you should bother reading what I contribute.

So, this is ol’ atheist me:

Just kidding, of course. There are some atheists who make that face, but I’m not one of them. Actually, I’m a vegetarian, I have two kittens, I love to read, and I play classical guitar music and jazz bass. I like yoga, running, hiking, biking, road trips, ancient languages, and hugs. I’m a student, a feminist, and an LGBTQ ally & activist. I do fundraising consulting for non-profits, and I volunteer at a local animal shelter.

Actually me

I’d like you to think of me as your neighbor, you know, the guy who lives in the apartment down the hall and dog-sits when you go away for the weekend. If you see me while you’re out & about, say hi!

I recently wrote an article on my own group’s blog with ideas to help other atheist group leaders. In it, I stressed the importance of a getting personal during and outside of meetings, of opening up to each other and bonding as friends. I’m vice-president of my school’s atheist group, and I also study anthropology – the study of people. One area in which the atheist community simply does not compete with religion is… well, community. If you guys are anything like me, we spend a lot of time looking at cartoons, watching YouTube videos, and reading science books & journals. This is all great; we should strive to expand our knowledge and amuse ourselves. But something is missing.

Just a few short years ago, I was a professional Christian praise & worship musician. I breathed Christ Jesus. I prayed regularly, I studied my Bible, I lead others in worship. I truly believed that laying on hands had healing power. I worried about the souls of my deist parents and my two apathetic brothers. I became obsessed with the Bible, which I knew was God’s Word, and I studied it intensively.

I’ll save my “deconversion testimony” for a future article, but when I started to open my eyes to atheism, I didn’t leave the church right away. In fact, I kept my atheism to myself and continued as a professional P&W musician, leading others in worship, participating in small groups, and performing for an entire year.

I did this because there is more than one reason people go to church, and the “other” reason was strong enough to keep me going, despite the obvious flaws in the rest of it. As I wrote in the article linked above, aside from getting (ultimately incorrect) answers to The Big Questions, people go to church because they want fellowship. It’s a foundational part of being human, and as social animals, we must embrace this. During that year, I was no longer impressed with my pastor’s ideas about the origin of the universe, the meaning of life, what constitutes moral behavior, or what happens to us after we die, but I did – still do – love the music, the sympathetic ears, the encouragement, and the feeling of being among friends.

As an out-of-the-closet atheist and now group officer, although it’s not part of my official charter, I consider it my duty to be available as a resource for other skeptics, especially those still on the fence or still in the closet. Not just for information about evolution, secular ethics, science, and skepticism in general, but as a friend, someone who wants to listen, someone who wants to help them free themselves from the clutches of delusion and welcome them to the real world.

A few people from my group at Skepticon last year :)

If you are out of the closet, I encourage you to make an effort to reach out to people you know. Invite them to your group meetings. Invite them to have coffee with you one-on-one. Invite them to the bar with you and your friends, and don’t talk about religion at all. Invite them to lectures and skeptic’s conferences. If you have friends or know people who are religious, make them a deal: You’ll go with them to church, if they’ll come with you to your skeptics’ group meeting. (It nearly goes without saying that if you’re not already part of a local skeptics’ group, join or start one!). If you need help finding a local group, please let me know and I’ll help you locate one. If you have never been to a skeptics’ conference, find one near you and go!

I look forward to hearing from you all. Have a wonderful week, and take care!

Dave :)

Opinion

Freethought and the media- how to effectively market your campus group

Hi all! My name is Jessica, and I really like public relations and the mass media. So what does that have to do with the free thought movement? Well, I’ve found that many campus group leaders, like yourselves, aren’t quite sure how to effectively manage the media and certain PR strategies to benefit their groups. Or maybe you’re not sure what kind of Facebook page is best, or if your group needs a Twitter.

That’s where I come in. I’m here to answer all your questions, and give you the best advice possible, on how to use all these tools, and more, to your utmost advantage.

By now you’re probably wondering why you should bother listing to me. In my going-on-4 years at Boise State University, I’ve held many positions involving print media and PR. I’m actively involved in BSU’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America as their VP, and I manage the website and various social media sites for our independent campus media group. I’m also involved in a business and marketing organization, and of course, my campus secular group.

I’ve had plenty of experience in public relations and media management, which means I can offer you, as a campus group leader, insight on how to work the system to your advantage! In the coming weeks I’ll cover everything from how to distribute a press release so it actually gets noticed to how to track who views your website to when it’s best to post on Facebook! If you have a specific issue or question, you can email me at jessicaswider35@gmail.com and I’ll answer it in my following post. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to help other group leaders get noticed and manage their media relations more effectively!

Uncategorized

Ghost Hunters Get Pwnd!!!

I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the next episode of your favorite group of nut kicking skeptics, well here it is:

I’m sure you are all familiar with the TAPS/Ghost Hunters group of douche bags who run around scaring themselves in the dark. They have electrical equipment and use words like “evidence” and “investigation,” but really do nothing that could be mistaken for actual science. Well this is our contribution to the field.
This is part one of a two part video with a commercial break. Hope you enjoy!

You may recognize one of my Ghost Hunters from another episode of Skeptically Pwnd. Matt David was our John Edward and helped film BigFoot. He is our co-producer and has also produced a kick ass show of his own by the name of MetaGame about a group of wacky DnD players. Check it out This webseries also includes our Ghost Hunter, Leeman.

The Commercial Break:

Our store:
http://www.cafepress.com/skepticallypwnd

PS. I think the Sci-Fi channel changing its name to “SyFy” is fuckin’ stupid…