eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society
In this week’s eSkeptic:
Skeptics Mix Tape 2009
the best skepticism is the kind you can rock to? We’re pleased to offer you a
unique collection of songs of science and skepticism — completely free!
Assembled by Junior
Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton, these free MP3s are available for download from
Skeptic.com. All songs are G-rated (or close to it) and free for
non-commercial personal or classroom use.
We’re immensely grateful
to all of the artists who contributed songs for this project, from Jonathan
Coulton, to Artichoke, to George Hrab, to Hard ‘n Phirm. Of special note, the
offering from bluegrass trio Dirty Dishes was recorded especially for the
Skeptics Society. Even more exciting is Coco Love Alcorn’s brand new song
“Thinking Cap” — written specifically for the Skeptics Mix Tape 2009, and never
available anywhere until today!
Also included are Public
Service Announcements for use on radio or podcasts. We’ll be expanding this
section soon, so check back often.
Like this project? Tell
people about it! Link to the Skeptics Mix Tape at www.skeptic.com/mixtape09,
the page on Facebook.
from the “The Jenny McCarthy
Body Count” website
Jenny McCarthy Body Count?
Though the celebrated and
the famous have long used the glare of the spotlight to highlight personal
causes, rarely has fame been used to such staggering effect as by Jenny
McCarthy. Since 2007, this former Playboy model now turned autism
activist has advocated for parents to stop vaccinating their children against
This week on Skepticality,
Swoopy talks with Derek Bartholomaus, creator of “The Jenny McCarthy Body Count”
website. This chilling and controversial site utilizes data from the Centers
for Disease Control (CDC) to keep a running tally of illnesses and deaths from
vaccine preventable diseases — a sobering reminder of the human cost of
On a lighter note, Derek
& Swoopy also talk with Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton about
the launch of the “Skeptics Mix Tape” project. This eclectic collection of
songs of science and skepticism are available as free MP3s from Skeptic.com.
In this week’s eSkeptic, Darren Iammarino reviews Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action,
by Philip Clayton (Fortress Press, 2008)
Darren Iammarino is a Ph.D. candidate in his final semester of
coursework at Claremont Graduate University. His areas of specialization are
comparative religious studies and philosophy of religion. Iammarino is
currently working on his own constructive theology known as Cosmosyntheism,
as well as publishing a novel self-cultivation system in a forthcoming book: The
of details from Adventures in the Spirit cover
The Emergence of God
In his recent book, Adventures in the Spirit: God,
World, and Divine Action, Philip Clayton presents a constructive theology that
endeavors to reconcile insights from the sciences with the wisdom derived from
two thousand years of Christian tradition. The task is daunting, but through a
methodical and lucid point-by-point progression, Clayton succeeds in providing
the reader with a truly novel way of understanding God and the God-world
relationship for the 21st Century.
The book is separated into
five sections: The Methods of Philosophy and Theology, Emergence, Panentheism,
Divine Action, and the Theological Adventure Applied. Section one sets the
stage by explaining the numerous challenges that theology faces today given the
major advances in the fields of biology and physics. An informative discussion
of the differences between religious truth and scientific truth, plus a succinct
account of the contemporary religion-science debate comprises the remainder of
the first section.
item of interest…
Great God Debate: Frank Tipler versus Lawrence Krauss: Can Physics Prove
God & Christianity?
ORDER this lecture
Section two shifts gears
and moves into the field of evolutionary biology, in particular the current
debate over emergent theories of evolution. Clayton explains that emergence, in
contrast to scientific reductionism, is characterized by the fact that
higher-order phenomena cannot be fully comprehended by merely applying the laws
of lower-order disciplines. In other words, science isn’t or should not be,
just about reducing life to the realm of physics and chemistry. Clayton further
shows that emergence draws a healthy middle ground between reductionism on one
end and dualist theories on the other end. Dualistic theories refuse to accept
that certain phenomena, such as mind or spirit, can have any relation to a
material substrate or lower type of order. The purpose of the lengthy
discussion of emergence is to lead us to an understanding of mind and spirit
which, according to emergence theories, require a new conceptual framework in
order to be properly understood.
One possible conceptual
framework for elucidating the nature and function of mind, spirit and God is
put forth by Clayton in section three. The philosophical position known as
panentheism or, all things within God, is employed to highlight the workings of
mind and spirit. Clayton presents us with an extended and in-depth look at
different versions of panentheism, ranging from German Idealists, to 20th
century Process Theology thinkers. Clayton writes, “The strength of the
panentheistic analogy is that it takes the highest level of emergence known to
us and uses it as the model for the divine reality. The highest level we know
is the level of human personhood” (131). The question for Clayton is did the
universe require a transcendent Source or Ground for all that is, or is the universe
merely in a natural, yet meaningless process of emergence from simplicity to
The concept of emergence
seems to point in the direction of a “deising” universe evolving from extreme
simplicity, but Clayton argues that the logic of emergence need not be taken in
this nearly atheistic way. Clayton believes that the universe requires a
transcendent agent to act as the Ground and initiator of the process of
emergence. It is at this point that two traditional, yet confusing, doctrines
of the Christian faith are invoked: Trinity and kenosis. First, the
inner-trinitarian relations represent a divine community. This is important for
Clayton, because the interactions within the immanent Trinity provide a crucial
metaphor for comprehending the God-World relationship. Unlike classical
trinitarian doctrine, trinitarian panentheism suggests that the created world
is within God and is therefore, a key contributor and participant within the
Kenosis or self-emptying
is central to the author’s vision because it explains how the process of
creation began, while simultaneously affirming the centrality of God as love.
Frequent biblical references are made for support of kenosis, in the sense of
overflowing goodness and self-giving, or self-emptying, such as Phil 2:5–9:
this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and
was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient
unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above
item of interest…
4 of our 2008 annual conference: Origins & The Big Questions. This DVD
includes: The Great God Debate: Does Science Support Belief in a Deity?
with Dr. Hugh Ross v. Dr. Victor Stenger. This debate wwas moderated by Dr. Philip
ORDER this DVD
ORDER the 5-part set
It was this kenosis that
allowed for the world to be created ex nihilo. However, immediately
following the act of creation via God’s self-limitation of power, God’s experience
from that moment onward evolves along with the world’s choices. At this point,
Clayton is in agreement with Process Theology that God and the World interact
via their dipolar natures. Nonetheless, God and the creatures of the world are
quite different. “Human agents differ from the divine in their nature: finite,
not infinite; existing contingently rather than existing in all possible
worlds; sometimes placing their own limited interests above the divine rather
than being by nature perfectly good” (180).
An explanation of divine
action according to emergence follows and comprises the bulk of section four.
Clayton suggests, in line with process thought, that God guides the process of
evolution by providing possibilities and lures for further development, but
does not coerce any creatures to make specific decisions. This creaturely
freedom is due to God’s free self-limitation of power at the moment of
creation. The book concludes with an appeal to Christians and scientists for
the importance of “the many faces of integration” within a globalized world.
Summarizing the main
points, we find that emergence implies theism, but not any form of classical
Christianity. Both scientists and Christians must be willing to seek a new
synthesis that does justice to the truths of both disciplines. One new way of
conceiving God that overcomes problems in classical theology, such as the
paradox of God being love, yet somehow wholly transcendent, immutable and
separate, is to understand God panentheistically. Clayton suggests a biblical
basis for panentheism, as in Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have
our being.” As for the scientist, emergence theories have shown that new levels
require new explanations. The realm of the mind and spirit have been dealt with
by theologians for millennia, so perhaps these religious insights may help to
explain persistent ambiguities within strictly scientific understandings of
evolution and emergence.
The first eight chapters
of Dr. Clayton’s book are a lucid explanation of the science of emergence and
complexity. The following three chapters, transition to Dr. Clayton’s own
constructive theology, which incorporates the concepts introduced throughout
the first part of the book. However, Clayton’s “open kenotic panentheism” leaves
one asking a few questions. The first problem hinges on what is known as the
immanent Trinity, or the Trinity before the creation of the world. How can the
Trinity, if it is already a much higher emergent level of reality, precede the
quantum, chemical and biological levels? This seems to go against the whole
argument for emergent complexity proposed in the previous chapters.
The other major points of
confusion from chapter 9 revolve around the notions of genuine otherness in the
world and the problems of evil and freedom. The doctrine of kenosis or
self-emptying means that God is the ground of all that is and this leaves
Clayton’s system open to the standard criticisms from neo-atheists. Ultimately,
it is challenging to understand how Clayton’s conception of God can be
exonerated from culpability for the many evils present in the world. One can
also object that if God emptied him or herself of power in order to create
other beings, then in theory, why can’t God decide to reverse this decision
some day? This is a problem for genuine freedom and for the apparent reality
that there are genuine others co-existing within this world. In other words,
how are the “other subjects genuine others to Godself” if God is the Source of
Chapter 10 presents the
reader with two further paradoxes. If the Ground within God is not conscious
(170), how can God make primordial selections? Also, one learns that, “God
could have existed with no less perfection without us” (173). It is bizarre to
imagine that God would have created a world, if God gained nothing from it. For
process thought, which Clayton is attempting to incorporate, God lacks
experiential knowledge, but gains this experience through a reciprocal
interaction with the world. The final problem, which is revealed in chapter 11,
is how to make sense of the functions of the members of a Trinity before
creation. The roles of the Son and the Holy Spirit do not seem to make any
sense if there is not already a world with which God interacts.
Creationism in 3-D
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Who Was Punked? The Skeptics or the
In this week’s SkepticBlog,
Michael Shermer blogs about his experience getting punked while testing
psychics for a Showtime series called “Versus.”
eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society
In this week’s eSkeptic:
NEW ON MICHAELSHERMER.COM
Shermer on Larry King Live with the UFOlogists
A couple times a year, in
between his celebfest of stars, Larry King hosts the UFOlogists who regale the
talk show king with an endless parade of blurry photographs, grainy videos, and
breathless tales of government coverups and conspiracies. Enter Michael Shermer
to set things straight…
the video •
NEW ON SKEPTICBLOG.ORG
Toward a Type I Civilization
In this week’s Skepticblog
post, Michael suggests that the solution to our energy problems requires more
than new technologies —�it requires a new type of civilization.
the blog post •
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FREE AUDIO DOWNLOAD
a chapter from The
Science of Good & Evil
the sample MP3 (17MB)
ORDER the CD
In his book The Science of Good
and Evil, Dr. Michael Shermer tackles the question of why we are
moral? That is, what is the basis for morality, how do we know the difference
between right and wrong, and from whence did good and evil come, god or
evolution? In this free audio download of the first chapter, Dr. Shermer
considers whether moral principles are sound because they come from God, or
that God approves certain moral principles because they are sound on their own,
and if therefore moral principles stand alone — separate from whether or not
there is a god. That is, can morality transcend religion and human convention?
Can we get past the binary choice of morals being either absolute (always right
or wrong) or relative (anything goes)? Here Dr. Shermer outlines his theory of
morality based on evolutionary principles and the fact that we are a social
primate species who evolved moral tendencies toward altruism, cooperation, and
pro-sociality, and that we really are moral animals. DOWNLOAD
the sample MP3 (17MB)
Is it Worth Paying Attention to
Yes, it absolutely is.
This is a shining opportunity for the skeptical movement. Wikipedia is among
the most important public sources for almost any scientific, pseudoscientific,
or paranormal topic. A Wikipedia article is almost always the number one Google
hit for that subject.
grassroots skeptic can make responsible improvements to that source at any
time, easily and for free.
As you learn the ropes, move slowly & cautiously. Start small. Be
bold, but edit carefully. Make a meaningful contribution to science &
You can personally correct any Wikipedia article. As long
as you can cite references, you can add the best available skeptical
information to any article that needs it. When you add footnote references, you
can even link directly to skeptical websites. You don’t need anyone’s
permission. For simple text edits, you don’t even need web coding skills. Best
of all, it’s rewarding and fun to use your skeptical knowledge to enhance an
essential public resource.
Furthermore, we know from our internal traffic
statistics that people really do follow up on the skeptical resources cited in
Wikipedia articles. (More people find Skeptic.com through Wikipedia than
For an in-depth primer, see “Why
Skeptics Should Pay Close Attention to Wikipedia,” by Tim Farley.
How to Get Started
As a free encyclopedia
anyone can edit, Wikipedia is an almost-utopian project — but it works. Why?
Wikipedia has a culture
of rules, and a vast community of editors who care about those rules. It’s
easy for beginners to make mistakes, but (luckily!) the culture of Wikipedia is
also easy to learn.
The key is that Wikipedia is
an encyclopedia. It’s not a soapbox for you personally, for the skeptical
movement, or for any other interest group. The standard for Wikipedia articles
is therefore a “Neutral Point of View” or NPoV. (Wikipedia does have a special policy
for pseudoscience that relaxes this NPoV standard, but Wiki editors should
always strive for the highest degree of objectivity and rigor.)
To help maintain this,
Wikipedia requires reliable third-party citations for opinions and statements
of fact. It also requires that notable
criticism of any group or concept be described (with citations), and that
topics be accurately placed in context against the prevailing current of expert
opinion. (Wikipedia’s NPoV policy requires
that articles not give “undue weight” to fringe positions.)
These responsible policies
open great opportunities for skeptics to contribute. When paranormal assertions
are made without support from reliable references, these statements can be flagged
for citation — or, where appropriate, removed. Where a paranormal article
fails to acknowledge scientific criticism, or fails to place a fringe position
in its proper context, this criticism or context can be added. Furthermore,
citations can link to relevant skeptical resources.
Before getting started,
please familiarize yourself Wikipedia’s formatting rules and Manual of Style.
Then, just go to the
Wikipedia article for your favorite paranormal topic and see what needs fixing!
Edit Boldly—But Be Careful!
Wikipedia has a policy
called Be Bold! If
you see something wrong, fix it! Your corrections are not an imposition — they
are the engine that drives Wikipedia.
But editing Wikipedia is
still editing. By its nature, editing other people's hard work calls
for extreme care. As you learn the ropes, move slowly and cautiously. Start
Stick to the NPoV wherever
possible. When a topic is “generally considered pseudoscience by the scientific
community,” Wikipedia’s policy
on pseudoscience allows the article to state that scientific verdict and
label the topic as “pseudoscience.” Nevertheless, you should strive to remain
objective and to avoid loaded statements. Avoid statements like “Astrology is
fraudulent nonsense.” Instead, find relevant sources and cite them, as in this
Astrology is generally
considered a pseudoscience by the scientific community. Skeptics argue that the
concept is implausible,1,2 unintelligible,3 and
unsupported by evidence.4,5 Notably, large scale tests such as
(describe one) have failed to reveal any astrological effect.6 There
is also strong disagreement within the community of astrologers. Some proponents
contend that X,7 while others believe Y8 or Z.9
See a typo? Don’t even
hesitate: hit the “edit” or “edit this page” buttons and make the change.
Likewise, if you find vandalism (such as random obscenities) or obvious
nonsense (“Uri Geller is a pterodactyl”) remove these immediately.
As you get the hang of it,
you may wish to start adding
“citation needed” flags, adding relevant references
for disputed or unsupported assertions, or inserting new material. Take your
time, and remember that Wikipedia has an error-correction mechanism: if you
make a mistake (or push too hard) another editor is liable to reverse your
You may eventually work
your way up to more ambitious efforts, such as adding new articles. In the
meantime, you have an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to science
and skepticism — right now, today. Wikipedia is only a click away, so get started!
Why Haven’t Skeptics Acted on this
Actually, many skeptics
are already working to ensure that skeptical subject matter is discussed
responsibly on Wikipedia. In addition to the thousands of individual skeptics
who make an occasional edit, there are also organized efforts underway.
One effort you may wish to
join is the Wikiproject
Rational Skepticism, a voluntary association of skeptical Wikipedia
editors. These editors keep a watchlist of articles of interest, cooperating to
keep an eye on those for improvement and ongoing maintenance.
This sort of vigilance is
very important. Like you, paranormal proponents (or even deliberate con men)
can change anything they like at any moment. An article that was fine yesterday
might be crazy today — and it will stay crazy until an editor like you checks
it and fixes it.
You may also be interested
in a lower-traffic project external to Wikipedia, called Skepticwiki. This is a
standalone, explicitly skeptical encyclopedia project that shares the
format of Wikipedia.
Topics to Tackle—or Avoid
Many skeptical Wiki
editors tackle topics about skepticism: pages for various skeptical
organizations and publications, or for prominent skeptics. Those efforts are
very useful, but you may wish to concentrate on the areas where a skeptical eye
is really needed — articles for paranormal topics.
When people turn to
Wikipedia for information on iridology or “reptoids” or chiropractic, that
article may often be the only source they consult. Or, if they do
consult further sources, these may often be the sources cited in the Wikipedia
article. Either way, paranormal proponents have been quick to load Wikipedia
with content and citations that are friendly to their own claims. Sometimes,
these articles are virtual commercials for paranormal industries. In those
cases, skeptics can perform a valuable public service by bringing paranormal
articles up to the NPoV standard with descriptions of skeptical criticism and
references to relevant skeptical sources.
Oddly, the best Wikipedia
topics for beginners are the most obscure. High-profile topics (like “CSICOP,”
or “homeopathy”) attract lots of attention and edits from proponents and
critics alike, leading to relatively neutral articles. That’s Wikipedia’s error
correction mechanism in action: lots of critical eyes. Often, those topics
stabilize to a tense compromise, watched like a hawk by opposed editors, with
long arguments over small changes.
On lesser-known subjects,
paranormal proponents have the freedom to make sweeping, biased, and wildly
unsupported claims. These low-quality articles stand unchallenged until a
skeptic eventually happens to review them. Finding and fixing these is fun and
satisfying for skeptical editors. Because those articles are so bad, they are
easy to improve — and edits will tend to stand for a longer time.