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Tomorrow: The Michigan Skeptics Get Together!

Conzilla; the Mascot of ConClave
Conzilla; the Mascot of ConClave

This month we had to delay our regular monthly meeting by one week due to MISkeptics was requested to host two panels for the ConClave SciFi/Fantasy convention. Which was a huge success. Special thanks to Bria Crutchfield, Chris Clayton and Howard Scrimgour for their help speaking on the panels. We had lots of fun, and many new members joined. As an added bonus, we have been tapped to provide skeptic content to the up and coming North American Science Fiction Convention next year. The entire weekend was amazing. Thanks to everyone that came out for the convention and also those who came out for the SitP afterwards.

Kumare Poster
Winner of South by Southwest’s Audience Award, Kumare is an insightful look at faith and belief.

For tomorrow, Saturday October 19th at 1:00 PM we are going to watch Kumaré.

A provocative social experiment-turned-documentary, Kumaré follows American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi as he transforms himself into a wise Indian guru, hoping to prove the absurdity of blind faith. Instead, he finds himself forging profound connections with people from all walks of life — and wondering if and when to reveal his true self. Will his followers accept his final teaching? Can this illusion reveal a greater spiritual truth? Winner of South by Southwest’s Audience Award, Kumare is an insightful look at faith and belief.

Kumaré received fair reviews upon release. Many movie reviewers criticized Gandhi’s deception as immoral, but partially forgave Gandhi for realizing that the experiment had grown out of his control. Many compared the character of Kumaré and the deception by Gandhi to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character and film. Those who liked the movie, like Stephen Holden of the New York Times and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, praised the film’s message of “finding the guru within.”

Come and join us for lively discussion, drinks, dinner and debate! This is a good event for Skeptics of Michigan to come together and discuss local, national, worldwide items affecting skeptics. All are welcome to listen and participate.

Admission is free. Donations are helpful. You are responsible for your drinks and food.

Please be sure to RSVP so I know how many are coming. You can RSVP via our Meetup Page or our Facebook Page.

I Look forward to seeing you all there!

Skeptics in the Pub: Conclave!

This artwork by Jael has been the official logo of ConClave since 1996.
This artwork by Jael has been the official logo of ConClave since 1996.

We are moving our normal second Saturday Get Together back in a week to host a special event. This Saturday come join us for a special Skeptics in the Pub at ConClave!

Last month, we were contacted by the ConClave Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention to host discussion panels about skepticism. After a lot of work and back and forth with the Organizer, it has finally come time to host our panels! This Saturday, October 12th at 3:00 and 4:00 PM Michigan Skeptics will host two panels.

The first is “DON’T PANIC!”

There is a great deal of alarming and some down-right scary stories in the media these day. Many of them directly conflicting with each other. How can we sort through the pseudo-science, the snake oil and the media myths? This panel will give you some suggestions so you can figure out for yourself what is really worth its weight.

During this panel we will be teaching the audience about sensationalism, scams, snake-oil, media hype and scare tactics and most of all, arming them with the tools they need to figure out for themselves what is real and what is not.

The second panel is “The Skeptics Movement.”

The Skeptics are a group that entreats us to use critical thinking and evidence when dealing with every day life. They use these tools when dealing with Conspiracy Theories like the supposed faking of the moon landing or with the likelihood of psychics and mind-readers. What are their positions, and how does one join?

Here is where we get to shine and talk about us. Our goal is to well, talk about the skeptics movement. Who we are, what we do, and what makes us so great. And why we think more people need to be skeptics.

I know, it’s an uphill battle, right? It’s tough for people to change their way of life. It’s even harder to convince someone to do it. I think the important thing is to talk to people and tell them there is something they can do about the world around them. This is the way to do it.

If you have never been to a SciFi/Fantasy Convention before then you are definitely missing out. You will find a bit of everything there. From cosplay to  Con-Suites. There are all kinds of people there and all kinds of Woo. Which makes it a great place to talk skepticism.

Lyle of our sister group Yooper Skeptics. (he even looks like a yooper, doesn't he?)
Lyle of our sister group Yooper Skeptics. (he even looks like a yooper, doesn’t he?)

We would love for you to come and join us during the panels and help support skepticism in the community. A Saturday only day pass will run you $35, while a full three-day pass will cost $50. If you can make it we would love to see you there. If you can’t, we are hosting an event that evening where you don’t have to pay an admission fee.

We are hosting one last event for the Convention. We’re having a Skeptics in the Pub in the hotel bar at 7:00 PM! This event is open to the public so come on out and support skepticism! We will even have a special guest. Nathan Lyle of our sister group Yooper Skeptics, (and his son, mini-guest Ray) from all the way up in Marquette, Michigan will be in town and joining us for drinks and fun conversations.

Tickets for ConClave, both the Saturday only ticket and the full three-day pass are available at the door. Remember you don’t need to purchase a ticket for Skeptics in the Pub. You only need to pay for your food and drinks.

You can register for Skeptics in the Pub: Conclave at our Meetup site or on our Facebook page.

I look forward to seeing you all there!

Shelley Segal To Perform Free Concert Thursday Night

Segal’s latest release, ‘An Atheist Album,’ embodies her thoughts on religion and has quickly made her “a new pin-up girl for the international atheist movement.” (Barny Zwartz -The Age)
Segal’s latest release, ‘An Atheist Album,’ embodies her thoughts on religion and has quickly made her “a new pin-up girl for the international atheist movement.” (Barny Zwartz -The Age)

This Thursday night at 7:00 PM, CFI Michigan is hosting Australian Singer/Songwriter Shelley Segal for a free concert at Cafe Habana in Ann Arbor, MI.

The Melbourne based singer-songwriter became involved in secular activism over two years ago, despite her father being the president of a local synagogue. Her songs are a passionate response to dogmatic belief, inequality, religious oppression and the idea that only the devout can be grateful and good. She enjoys bringing this usually controversial topic to the public discourse and finds music to be a effective medium for expression and raising awareness. ‘I can say what I think for three minutes without anybody interrupting me.” (Melbourne Times City Weekly)

An Atheist Album gives a voice to the often underrepresented views of non-religious people, the fastest growing minority in many countries. As one youtube fan wrote, “I can always come home and listen to Shelley remind us all that we have a voice and a movement of our own, and that there is hope for the future.” After performing this year at the ‘Reason Rally’ to a crowd of 25,000 in Washington DC, Segal’s music video for her single Saved has gone global.

You can find more about Shelley on her website. Don’t forget to RSVP for the event on CFI’s Facebook Event Page.

Energy Is Not a Solved Problem: The MISkeptics Get Together

This month we are looking at energy storage and production.

Ludington Pumped Storage
The Pumped Storage Facility in Ludington Michigan Stores water in an elevated pond and releases it through turbines when there is heightened need for electricity.

Several months ago, Peter Sinclair joined us to talk about climate change, future energy production and energy storage. One of the energy storage solutions he referenced was the Ludington Pumped Storage facility on the West side of the state.

This inspired our very own John Dreystadt to research energy storage and he is presenting his findings to us.

The presentation will have three parts, why is storage important for the grid, why is it hard, and what the future may hold.

Come and join us for lively discussion, drinks, dinner and debate! This is a good event for Skeptics of Michigan to come together and discuss local, national, worldwide items affecting skeptics. All are welcome to listen and participate.

Please be sure to RSVP so I know how many are coming. That way I can modify the reservation if necessary. You can RSVP via Meetup, Facebook or by Google Plus.

I hope to see you all there!

The Michigan Skeptics Association Third Anniversary

Jo Randall
Jo Randall is an amazing singer/songwriter and member of the group.

It’s our third birthday!

It’s hard to believe we’ve been going strong for three long years. It’s even harder to believe that we have such a great and diverse group of members as you.

This month we celebrate!

We will look back at the accomplishments of the past year and look forward to plans for the next.

As a special bonus, Jo Randall is coming back to perform for us! This amazing lady has a wonderful voice and a repertoire of her own music. Her first live performance in front of an audience was for us two years ago. She now has more songs and is looking forward to seeing us again.

So come on out and join the party!

Who knows… There may be cake…

Please be sure to RSVP so I know how many are coming. That way I can modify the reservation if necessary. You can RSVP via Meetup, Facebook,or Google Plus.

I hope to see you all there!

What You Don’t Know About Jehovah’s Witnesses And Pedophiles

Candace Conti
Candace Conti.

Everyone in the United States knows that the Catholic Church has a major issue with pedophiles, but hardly anyone knows that Jehovah’s Witnesses have similar problems. Many cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society have been reported to the public (a search string using “Jehovah’s Witness pedophile” will yield pages of results, including video of various newscasts) but most of these stories have failed to sink into the public psyche. Even Candace Conti, who was awarded millions of the Watchtower Society’s dollars, is mostly known by former Witnesses like me and few others. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses have yet to hear the name of Candace Conti and are blissfully unaware that child abuse is a real issue within the organization on any level.

The Watchtower Society may not be as big as the Catholic church, but officially, there are nearly eight-million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Even if there are only eight-million people who believe in the Society’s “truth” (there could be as many as nineteen-million who believe the Society has “the truth” if you go by Memorial attendance) that’s still a lot of people. I’m not suggesting that there are millions of cases of pedophilia here, but I do think the public should know more about pedophilia among Jehovah’s Witnesses and how the Society’s policies have done more harm than good. Especially Bible studies (or students) of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have children. It’s a big enough issue that several organizations like Silent Lambs and JW Survivors were formed specifically to oppose pedophilia within the Watchtower Society’s Kingdom Halls.

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This Saturday, May 25th: The Second Annual Scientists Fair

Participants talking with physicists Dr. Sean Tulin and Dr. Brian Nord. (Including my daughter and I)

Ann Arbor Science & Skeptics is hosting their second annual “Scientists Fair” this Saturday, May 25th from 1:00-3:00pm at the downtown library. This event will feature scientists and researchers in a variety of fields including cosmology, evolution, human cloning, geology, climate change, and nuclear power – all available to answer questions or provide explanations. It is open to the public.

Located in the Multi-Purpose room (in the lower level of the main branch of the Ann Arbor Library), there will be several professors and researchers from the University of Michigan and other institutions with expertise in general fields of knowledge, available to answer your questions. Some of the topics will include particle physics, human cloning, climate change, the Big Bang, and more.

You can watch a short video about the Scientists Fair here (video).

The purpose of this event is to not only acquaint people to scientific knowledge, but also to how that knowledge is obtained. We want people to ask these experts how theories are supported with experimentation, what hypotheses were tested and confirmed or falsified, and to what extent is there consensus amongst their colleagues about a given theory.

Notre Dame Professor Debunks Christian Myth of Persecution


Professor Candida Moss Portrait
Professor Candida Moss teaches early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

Candida Moss, a Professor at Notre Dame University and practicing Catholic, has written a book that tackles the “myth of martyrdom in the Christian faith.”

Sunday school tales of early Christians being rounded up at their secret catacomb meetings and thrown to the lions by evil Romans are mere fairy tales, Moss writes in a new book. In fact, in the first 250 years of Christianity, Romans mostly regarded the religion’s practitioners as meddlesome members of a superstitious cult.

The government actively persecuted Christians for only about 10 years, Moss suggests, and even then intermittently. And, she says, many of the best known early stories of brave Christian martyrs were entirely fabricated.

In Professor Moss’ new book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, she maintains that the Catholic Church and historians have known for centuries that most early Christian martyr stories were exaggerated or invented.

[W]hen Christians were executed, it was often not because of their religious beliefs but because they wouldn’t follow Roman rules. Many laws that led to early Christians’ execution were not specifically targeted at them—such as a law requiring all Roman citizens to engage in a public sacrifice to the gods—but their refusal to observe those laws and other mores of Roman society led to their deaths.

Moss calls early Christians “rude, subversive and disrespectful,” noting that they refused to swear oaths, join the military or participate in any other part of Roman society.

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Shunning: How Jehovah’s Witnesses Discipline Their Own

ShunWhen one of Jehovah’s Witnesses does something that his local elders deem a serious offense against God and Watchtower, he will probably be disfellowshipped and therefore shunned by other Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I say that he’ll be shunned, I don’t mean he won’t get any presents on his birthday or that he won’t be invited over for Christmas. I mean that he is dead to them. In most cases, the Witnesses will simply pretend he’s invisible (like that episode from the Twilight Zone) and many will simply wander off if he attempts to communicate with them in any way. Either that, or they’ll get angry and blast him for it.

They call it “congregation discipline.” When they speak of it, they make it sound like it’s a punishment from Jehovah God himself. In reality, the decision to disfellowship is made during a closed-door session with three local elders. It’s how they keep their followers in line.

So how does it work and how far does it go? Technically, people living in the same household aren’t required to shun one another or expel the wrongdoer. But I know of many cases where the local elders did pressure parents to kick out their adult (18 years old+) children even if those children had no where else to go. Since good Jehovah’s Witnesses are supposed to obey their elders, this can put the parents of the disfellowshipped person in a tight spot. So while the elders can make it hard for the family, at least they do have the right to say no to the elders. That’s mostly because the Society hasn’t made expelling family members from the home mandatory, even though shunning in every other respect is mandatory.

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