Last night I went to the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia's annual Friday the thirteenth Anti-Superstition Party. Preceding the party was a lecture (sponsored by the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking) from none other than Mr. Skeptic himself, Michael Shermer. Unfortunately, I missed the begining of his talk as I was getting into my costume (yes, I volunteered). But I was able to catch most of it and he was quite good. I also bought a copy of his latest book Why Darwin Matters. Here's a few highlights from the speech.
1. He told the story of how his transition from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism began at Pepperdine University. He enrolled with the intention of studying Theology, but decided to study science instead because he was pretty good with numbers methodology. Then he started to slowly take a critical look at his own beliefs.
2. He laments that the word skeptic has the negative connotation of being against something rather than being for anything. In fact, skepticism is not a philosophy but a methodology, and should properly be interchangable with the word science.
3. He stressed the importance of approach when dealing with fundamentalists. If you start off by telling someone that their beliefs are ridiculous and nonsensical, you're going to lose that person. It is irrational to alienate someone you're trying to woo over to your side.
4. He spoke about how Intelligent Design is essentially like giving up on the search for knowledge.
5. When he spoke about the grandeur of the Universe, he quoted extensively from the late Carl Sagan. This was especially moving as I consider Sagan to be one of the greatest Poets of Reason.
6. After the lecture, at the party, Dr. Shermer told me that despite his busy schedule, he still gets in about ten hours of bicycling per week. One more reason for me to be skeptical of all you who say "I'm too busy to exercise."
Someone should tell the guy in the Leprechaun costume that you're supposed to cross your suspenders in the back. No wonder they kept slipping off. Doh!