Cork Skeptics

Promoting Reason, Science & Critical Thinking in Cork City & Beyond


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References from Saturday’s meeting

The meeting on Saturday was particularly good with over 40 attendees. Our speaker, who had been with the Jehovah’s Witnesses from birth and spent over 50 years in the organisation, spoke about the origins of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their core beliefs, the consequences of being disfellowshipped and how he came to doubt the organisations core tenets. It was a fascinating talk with loads of questions afterwards. Many thanks to everyone who attended.

Our speaker (who prefers not to be named) referred to a number of books in his talk which we provide links to below:

The Demon Haunted World (Carl Sagan)

Demon-Haunted World.jpg

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Demon-haunted-World-Science-Candle/dp/1439505284/

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (Donald Prothero)

Evolution (book cover)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Evolution-What-Fossils-Say-Matters/dp/0231139624/

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. (Bart Ehrman)

Cover of 'God's Problem' by Bart Ehrman http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gods-Problem-Answer-Important-Question–Why/dp/0061173924/

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Christopher Hitchens)

God is not great
http://www.amazon.co.uk/God-Not-Great-Religion-Everything/dp/1843545748/

In addition, the speaker mentioned the Silent Lambs website that is helping to document child welfare issues within the JW church:
http://www.silentlambs.org


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Academic Freedom: A Talk by Dr. Tom Moore

Academic Freedom, In theory and In Practice: A Talk by Dr. Tom Moore

Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 22nd September, at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by Dr. Tom Moore, a senior lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at UCC, and will examine the topic of academic freedom.

Academic freedom encapsulates the idea that academics must be able to freely research and discuss controversial or politically unpopular ideas without suffering repression, job loss, or imprisonment. There is an extensive history of repression of academics for expressing unpopular ideas, for example in the former Soviet Union. In contrast, in the United States, freedom of speech is to some extent guaranteed under the First Amendment. The breadth of academic freedom may be subject to various constraints where it intersects with employment law, commercialisation, religious freedom, and social responsibility. In Ireland, the 1997 Universities Act provides a robust statement of academic freedom.

This talk will outline some key historical cases and discuss how the Irish approach to academic freedom performs in practice.

Dr. Tom Moore teaches and researches the genetics and physiology of embryonic development and human pregnancy. A veterinary surgeon by training, he did his PhD studies at the University of London and postdoctoral research in Cambridge, UK. He is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, UCC.

This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!


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CRUISE CONTROL: Ex-Scientologist John Duignan Recounts His 22 Years in the “Cult to the Stars”

Our next meeting will take place on Friday 25th May, at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by John Duignan, ex-Scientologist and author of The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology.

About The Speaker: John Duignan (born 1963) grew up in both Stirling in Scotland and in Carrigaline County Cork. He had a difficult and troubled childhood thanks in part to a mentally ill father, an ill and abused mother and the chaotic home life that resulted.

Following the untimely death of his parents in 1974, he and his siblings were fostered by family members on his mother’s side in both County Cork and Wicklow. He left school at the age of 17 and joined an American Christian Evangelical drama group and spent three years traveling Europe and North America forwarding this unique brand of Christian ministry. In 1983, he was operating a branch of this ministry in Vancouver Canada and came to see that much of the Christian message simply did not add up. He moved to Halifax Nova Scotia to live with a group of atheist humanists and to work on an old North German built schooner. About a year later, he found himself in Stuttgart, Germany and during a period of dark depression was recruited by The Church of Scientology.

In 2008 he wrote and published The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology. In this non-fiction book he describes his 22 years in the organization and his eventual awaking partly as a result of attending an event where actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise was given the award of “Most Dedicated Follower”. Duignan began to examine the organization more closely and had doubts about remaining. He left the organization in 2006, after taking measures to avoid investigation by Scientology’s intelligence agency the Office of Special Affairs.

The Church of Scientology responded to the publication of The Complex by sending legal letters to several bookstore retailers that were selling the book, claiming the book contains libelous statements about a member of the organization. His publisher Merlin Publishing, “emphatically denied” these allegations, and an editorial director at the publishing company called Scientology’s claim “vexatious”. The United Kingdom branch of Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, stopped selling copies of the book after receiving legal letters from the Church of Scientology through internationally feared libel firm, Carter Ruck; booksellers Waterstone’s and W H Smith and Borders Books were “warned off” selling the book as well. However the book remained in broad publication here in Ireland and has been stocked in all Irish retailers for a number of years.

Following the publishing of The Complex, John returned to education completing a BA in English and Italian Literature and Italian language at University College Cork.

John counts Christopher Hitchens, Bertrand Russell and A.S. Byatt among his most important intellectual influences. He no longer considers himself to be a religious person.

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This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!


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Skepticism – the wider issue

In a few years time, there may well be no rhinos left alive. And when I say no rhinos, I do not mean “none left in the wild”. I mean none in the zoos either. The captive animals will have been killed too. The reason for this is an insatiable desire among some people for rhinoceros horn – a material thought by some to possess magical healing powers. It’s really just a mass of keratin – the same substance that your hair and fingernails is made from. There is good money to be made from this trade. International criminals have stopped at nothing: butchering animals all across Asia and Africa, even breaking into museums to steal horns for the black-market. Some say it’s worth more per gram than cocaine. In pursuit of an odious delusion, we are witnessing the imminent extinction in our lifetime, of an animal, variants of which have existed on this planet for 33 million years.

This is what you get when critical thinking is left to one side and blind belief trumps patient scientific inquiry. Where unsupported and uncontested beliefs thrive, dreadful scenarios can play themselves out, right down to the last animal standing.

We don’t have to go as far as the traditional medicine markets of China or Vietnam to find such strange and destructive beliefs. There is a woeful lack of rational thinking all around us. Every day, uncritical and pseudo-critical thinking sends people down fruitless, and sometimes dangerous cul-de-sacs. It has lead to poor decisions, bad investments, unfair treatment of others and unquestioning acceptance of leaders who should never have been given the whiff of power.

Skepticism is often dismissed by critics as an obsession with the weird and outlandish, or a cynical repudiation of personal beliefs that are comforting to many and threatening to no-one. This is missing the point. While individual issues might easily be dismissed in this manner, the wider issue is a lack of critical thinking and an almost systematic undermining of the role of science and the value of evidence throughout society.

As people who value rational thinking, we get exasperated by the alternative medicine industry, not just because the products they advertise are usually useless, but because they have made a virtue out of ignorance. They are more interested in marketing and subjective hearsay than they are in standards of evidence. Their passionately held rationalisations have damaged any kind of sensible discourse on the subject, making it difficult to distinguish valuable therapies from the nonsensical ones, of which there are a great many examples.

We get frustrated by religionists because, while they seek to shine a critical light on everyone and everything, their own beliefs are beyond the pale of honest inquiry. They make a virtue out of unquestioning acceptance of dogma, pretending to all the world that this is a good thing, when it most certainly isn’t.

We despair of elements within the media, who forsake information dissemination for controversy. In their attempts to create debate where the balance of evidence is overwhelmingly on one side, people are lead to the conclusion that all science is simply a matter of opinion. Propaganda, forcefully and passionately delivered, stands in the ascendant while reality based content seems to survive on the margins.

We should also question our current education system, that, while often rigorous with the accuracy of its curriculums, seems to fail in providing so many students a basic underpinning in how to distinguish fact from fantasy, or how to critically assess new information. The products of this failure are all around us.

Of greatest concern are the politicians, who are happy to distort science in order to appeal to their power base. Rather than lead, they follow; allowing popularity to take precedence over scientific discovery. The results can be catastrophic, as much needed legislation from the environment, to healthcare, to basic human rights, are held up, buried, obfuscated and condemned in equal measure. They have done much to trivialise science and make a virtue out of ignorance.

We live in a world where many people are manifestly ill-informed about all sorts of issues. A large section of society is happy to spend their incomes and savings on spurious magical therapies, as if we were still living in the Dark Ages. Others allow unsupported stories to inform their moral philosophy, leading in turn to tacit support for prejudicial and discriminatory actions. Thousands of people believe in wild conspiracy theories, preferring to believe that astronauts didn’t land on the moon, or that the 9/11 bombings were concocted by an elite cabal within the US Government. There is an appetite for denial, whereby tortured analyses, intellectual bottlenecks and special pleadings are expected to be equated with a cool-headed understanding of the evidence. Many others are simply content to allow arguments from authority or other such logical fallacies to inform all their important decisions.

In the light of such a fog of make believe and dissimulation, there is a need for people to fly the flag for rational thinking. Science and scientific thinking needs to be elevated, both as a means to understand the world and also as our best tool to solve the problems of the present and the future. People need to appreciate the value of evidence – correctly gathered and analysed evidence – in making claims about reality. Fantasy and make-believe have their place in society, but not when it comes to policy making and critical decisions about our future.


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Skeptics In The Castle Returns! Mike Garde of Dialogue Ireland Talks Cults, Sects and the Religious Tapestry of Ireland.

We’re back after the summer break, and will host our first talk of the new season on Friday 16th September, at Blackrock Castle Observatory.

This talk is by Mike Garde of Dialogue Ireland, and is concerned with cults, sects and religion in modern Ireland. Mike will describe how he got involved in this area, and will recount his first-hand experiences with Scientology, the House of Prayer and Tony Quinn, among other topics.

The talk will start at 8.00pm, is free to attend, and all are welcome. For directions to Blackrock Castle, see our Skeptics In The Castle information page.

We hope to see you there!