Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Is Pamela Gay’s christianity pertinent to a discussion of Skepticisim?

In Responses to the media, Science on June 27, 2010 at 11:16 PM

Pamela Gay is a terrific skeptic for anyone who does not know her and has featured on such podcasts as the Skeptic Zone (#9),Skepticality and the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, possibly a few times over the years, as well as being the co-host of the ever popular Astronomy Cast podcast with Fraser Cain. As well as this Pamela is an astronomer, professor, educator, writer and science activist. Oh and apparently Pamela is Christian, although I hadn’t been aware of that fact previously.

For those that haven’t followed the topic at hand (I’m just now catching up myself), in response to this Blog post on “Whiskey Before Breakfast” :

Pamela wrote the following post here:

Both were in turn responded to by PZ Myers here:

While I really enjoyed reading PZ state:

“Pamela Gay is an astronomer and a reputable and credible skeptic, and a well-known science educator. She’s not a skeptic in all things, though: she’s also a Christian. This is not a problem, because there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ skeptic who applies critical thinking to every single aspect of their lives, so of course she can be a member in good standing of the skeptical community — but let’s not pretend that she’s applying skeptical values consistently. Again, this is not a problem for her, shouldn’t be a problem for us, but it does become a huge problem when people start demanding special exemptions from criticism for religious thought.”

As for the criticisms he goes on to make, I think Pamela answers them sufficiently here:

The following is Pamela’s response from 26 June 2010 at 6:49 pm.

“You guys are making a ton of assumptions; none of them correct.
First it was assumed that it was a cosmology class, rather then a cosmology lesson in an intro class for humanities majors. Then it was assumed it was an extra credit question, rather then a major part of their real grade. Then it was assumed that I must have told the students their prof was wrong instead of doing what I actually did, which was tell the girls they really should have asked for clarification during the exam, because while I agree they shouldn’t lie, writing about the 2nd coming of Christ on an astro 101 exam really doesn’t demonstrate they learned something. Now it’s being assumed they came to me because I was a Christian. No, they came to me because I was teaching the observational astronomy class they had co-enrolled in to get lab credit, and they figured if one prof wouldn’t fix their grade, maybe a different one would.

Stop making assumptions.

The point I was trying to make was simple: The culture war is effecting learning. If you insult someone’s religion with the classic “Anyone who believes in God is stupid” retort (or any of a million mocking comments), they will stop listening to you unless they are self-hating. (I appear to be self-hating.) If you want someone to learn, start with observable facts. Homeopathy can be tested. Vaccines can be tested. The moon hoax can be tested. Start with observation based facts and the scientific method, not with insults and a desire to remove their religious foundation prior to actually teaching them anything.

Could you enjoy learning history from someone who started from the premise that anyone who was an atheist was stupid and incapable living a moral life – someone who failed a student who when asked “Discuss your favorite philosopher” discussed Nietsche articulately even though the class had only covered Decartes, Locke, Pascal, and Butler? I’ve answered questions on chem exams using quantum mechanics, and expected to get the answer marked right (and I did). If a prof writes a vague question (and all of us do this sometimes), we need to be prepared to take random answers or to throw out the question.

As instructors, it is our job to guide our students in learning, and we make our jobs harder when we bring into the science classroom words like “belief” and we don’t leave the door open for students to actually have beliefs. Every time a student – these are teenagers who are often looking for reasons to hate authority – gets alienated, they stop learning. I don’t want an ignorant society, so I honestly feel we need to keep religion out of the science classroom, and let people fight the culture wars elsewhere (philosophy and religion classrooms, for instance).”

So before this blows up to become the next atheistism/skepticism “something-gate”, lets all take a moment to calm down and reflect shall we?

Jayson D Cooke


Believe or “burn in hell”.

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, Ethics in Schools, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science on June 27, 2010 at 5:27 PM

This message is delivered to young children in public schools. Research by Macquarie University has found extreme approaches to religion education by untrained scripture volunteers.

The survey of attitudes and expectations was conducted in 13 NSW schools from the northern rivers to Western Sydney. It included responses from 121 parents, teachers, scripture volunteers and principals. It found that children in one school were told if they ‘didn’t believe in Jesus they would burn in hell’. The Department of Education considers such comments as child abuse.

The survey also found that scripture (Special Religious Education – SRE) teachers tend to discourage questioning, emphasize submission to authority and exclude different beliefs. The survey revealed stark differences between what parents want and what is happening in the classroom.

PhD scholar Cathy Byrne, from Macquarie’s Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, found: ‘Most parents and trained teachers want critical thinking about religion, individual responsibility for moral decisions and empathy towards others’. In contrast, 70 percent of scripture teachers think children should be taught the Bible as historical fact and should not be given a choice whether to believe in God. 80 percent of Christian scripture teachers think children should not be exposed to non-Christian beliefs.

Like most Australian states, NSW public schools are required to offer access to religious groups to teach children (from kindergarten to year 10) for up to an hour each week. There is no requirement for professional training of volunteers, nor any control of content. Ms Byrne claims that ‘the policy does not respect the privilege of teaching and leads to some negative outcomes’.

In one school, teachers were refused entry to the SRE classes and parents were unsure what was being taught. One group of scripture volunteers distributes a ‘Creation For Kids’ kit to dozens of regional public schools. The kit includes colouring books, calendars and DVDs with the message that ‘Genesis is neither a fairy story, nor poetry, nor a parable … it’s a reliable record of what actually happened’. The kit derides Darwinian evolution, states that the universe is only 6000 years old and uses Bible references to claim that ‘man and dinosaurs once lived together’. Ms Byrne claims parents would be shocked to find ‘young earth’ creationism in public schools. She argues for more accountability over what volunteers are teaching.

‘Several parents also expressed concerns that pressure is being put on children to become full church members’, Ms Byrne said. ‘Parents and trained educators disagree with SRE volunteers over the approach to religion in public schools’ she said.

The research found that 69 percent of parents and trained educators want world beliefs and religions taught rather than segregated, single-faith instruction. Australia has a very different model for religion in public schools than most other western democracies. Ms Byrne said that using volunteers can be inclusive of minority faiths, but problems with the policy should be addressed.

‘Segregation is an outdated approach in religion education’ she said. While more than half of those surveyed felt that scripture classes offer important lessons in values, 12 percent of parents felt pressure to enroll in a religious option. Despite the policy requirement for a non-scripture class, one school did not offer this to parents. ‘It appears that SRE practice varies significantly between schools’ said Ms Byrne.

‘Internationally, governments are highly involved with religion education because of its implications for social tolerance’, said Ms Byrne. ‘Australia needs to review its hands-off approach’, she said. Ms Byrne will present her results at the Australian Association for Studies of Religion conference in Brisbane, next week (July 2nd – 4th).

Australian Association of Studies of Religion – Annual Conference –
2nd – 4th July 2010Griffith University Multi-Faith Centre QLD
Nathan campus, Griffith University
170 Kessels Road, Nathan, QLD, 4111

Is it possible that we as Skeptics should encourage the teaching of Creationism and ID in QLD classrooms?

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science on June 10, 2010 at 12:29 PM

My mind is not entirely made up on this issue, and looking around the internet, it seems everyone else is very certain this is the worst thing imaginable, but do you think that there is a chance we’re potentially overlooking an opportunity here?

For starters, I’m of the opinion that the only people aware of Creationism and ID are those either fighting against it and those fighting for it, or those who think it’s hilarious.

Is it not possible that if students are made aware (as we are) of the fallaciousness of Creationism and ID, say in a history class as a topic of controversy, that the students will be (like us) better equipped to deal with it in future?

There is quite allot of compelling evidence that teaching science alone does not aid in the development of critical thinking skills, let alone the abandonment of unscientific beliefs.
The up side of this is the growing body of evidence suggesting that teaching critical thought using paranormal, pseudoscientific and other anomalous phenomena as examples, does significantly decrease students belief in such things and increases their ability to apply critical thinking in other areas of their lives.
This is new ground for us and we should be really, really vigilant that this curriculum is taught as intended and not manipulated by those we know will attempt it. We also need to make sure that the teachers have adequate resources to be able to give accurate and evidence based teaching and answers to students.

However to dismiss this as another attack on our schools by the ‘enemy’ could mean we lose credibility as followers of the evidence and marginalise ourselves as merely one side of an issue. I hope I don’t put anyone off side, I just think the issue may be worthy of further consideration.

Sorry I was in a hurry so my references are in no particular order:

Ede, Andrew. “Has Science Education Become an Enemy of Scientific Rationality?” Skeptical Inquirer 24.4 (2000): 48. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 10 Jun. 2010.

Broch, Henri. 2000 Save our science: The struggle for reason at the university. SKEPTICAL INQUIRER 24(3):34-39.

Goode, Erich. “Education, scientific knowledge, and belief in the paranormal.” Skeptical Inquirer 26.1 (2002): 24+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 10 Jun. 2010

Rodney J Vogl. Skeptic. Altadena: 2002. Vol. 9, Iss. 3; pg. 24,

Michael Shermer. Skeptic. Altadena: 2003. Vol. 10, Iss. 2; pg. 62

Michael J Dougherty. Skeptic. Altadena: 2004. Vol. 10, Iss. 4; pg. 31,

Howard Gabennesch. The Skeptical Inquirer. Buffalo: Mar/Apr 2006. Vol. 30, Iss. 2; pg. 36,

Phil Molé. Skeptic. Altadena: 2006. Vol. 12, Iss. 3; pg. 62,

Massimo Pigliucci. McGill Journal of Education (Online). Montreal: Spring 2007. Vol. 42, Iss. 2; pg. 285,

Raymond A Eve. Skeptic. Altadena: 2007. Vol. 13, Iss. 3; pg. 14,

Jayson D Cooke

Russell Blackford’s recent talk at Embiggen Books!

In Embiggen Books on June 8, 2010 at 12:20 PM

A couple of weeks ago Anita and I were fortunate enough to attend Russell Blackford’s excellent talk at Embiggen Books in Noosa, but for those of you that missed out you can now view the talk here!

Russell is an author,philosopher and literary critic. He is editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology, and… co-editor (with Udo Schuklenk) of 50 Voices of Disbelief:Why We Are Atheists. He blogs at Metamagician and the Hellfire Club, where he can be regularly engaged.

Jayson D Cooke

Please help the Center for Inquiry, you’re our only hope.

In Helping our community. on June 3, 2010 at 11:28 AM

It’s difficult for me to imagine that today’s movement of humanists, skeptics, freethinkers, and atheists would exist at all were it not for the Center for Inquiry and I am deeply saddened by the news that this vital institution is threatened by severe financial difficulties.

From the terrific Point of Inquiry Podcast, Free Inquiry Magazine, Skeptical Inquirer Magazine to secular representation at the United Nations, it’s really difficult to exaggerate the impact the CFI and it’s affiliates the Center for Skeptical Inquiry (formally known as CSICOP) and the Council for Secular Humanism have had and hopefully will continue to have, with our help.

I wish I had the time to explain the magnitude of CFI’S impact but rather I would encourage you to explore the following and see for yourself;

The Center for Inquiry was literally the first Skeptical and Humanist organisation in the world to offer support in the formation of the Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers. They have provided the guidance, support and encouragement we needed to get started, not to mention regular parcels of magazines, stickers and merchandise free of charge. Our story is but one of many as you can see looking at the list of student groups internationally that are affiliated with (supported by) CFI, many of which would not exist without said support.

We would hate to see this wonderful organisation disappear and are pledging to do everything we can to keep this vital institution alive and I encourage our entire community to do the same.

Jayson D Cooke
Friend of the Center for Inquiry
Founder and President of the Griffith University Society of Skeptics and Freethinkers