Jimmy Kimmel, GMOs, and the art of knowing what you’re talking about

Jimmy Kimmel had his staff interview average people on the street who opposed Genetically Modified Organisms. He asked two very basic questions; why do you oppose GMOs and what do the letters G-M-O stand for? Sounds kind of similar to the two basic questions everybody should be able to answer about their own beliefs, and about the beliefs of those they disagree with, as I describe in Arguing with Friends. How well do these anti-GMO folks do in answering these two questions?


Free book giveaway

It’s not Arguing with Friends but it sounds similar. I have not read Questioning your way to Faith so I am not explicitly endorsing it, but the basic premise sounds intriguing; like Arguing with Friends as a piece of fiction. And the subtitle, “Learning to disagree without being disagreeable” is spot on.


If anybody reads it let me know what you think of it. The book giveaway draw ends on Sept 21 so this is a limited time deal. Act now!

By the way the author, Peter Kazmaier, sounds like kind of a cool guy. Take a read through his bio.

John Loftus debate

I had the pleasure of attending a debate last night between John Loftus and Randall Rauser, co-authors of the book “God or Godless?” During the debate Loftus had all the passion of a fundamentalist preacher and you could almost smell the fire and brimstone. Except, he was the Atheist! Rauser was the calm, cool and collected presenter. Loftus was also remarkably condescending about religious believers in general, calling all of us “delusional” on multiple occasions. All-in-all I was very unimpressed with his aggressive tone, his condescension and his general lack of etiquette.

But I had a chance to chat with him one-on-one after the event. He was a different man! He was relaxed, he was calm, and the insults were (mostly) gone. We didn’t talk for long, but he was definitely willing to have a gentle dialogue on these issues without resorting to name-calling and condescension. He was willing to explore the issues instead of pounding his opinions into whoever would listen.

What happened? I have a theory. The major difference between the formal event and our one-on-one chat was the venue. In the debate he had an audience. He had a reputation to uphold. At public speaking events adrenaline can get pumping and one can take on a different persona. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I could never possibly say that I know Loftus well enough to really comment on the reason for the difference, but I would wager a guess that the reason lies somewhere between adrenaline and an audience.

Most of us will never do a public debate where we have to defend our views (unfortunately – it would probably be a good learning opportunity) but sometimes we do have “public” discussions online. If you get into lively discussions at Facebook, or on discussion forums or what have you, there is a known audience. When you know other people are listening in, does your persona change? I suspect mine might change a little. In some ways this is unavoidable; it’s only human. We get nervous. We don’t want to “lose.”

I need to re-iterate my opinion (and yes, it is merely an opinion; I could be wrong) that most people should avoid online discussions of major life issues for this reason. Instead, go for coffee with people where you are face-to-face with them and nobody is listening. If you do engage in online discussions try to make them private; just email. If you end up having public discussions be very careful how you behave yourself. I’ve poked around briefly at Loftus’ blog and, unfortunately, the fundamentalist preacher mode is alive and well there too. Case in point.

The Loftus during the debate was a man who I would have been glad to personally escort from our city if somebody gave me the authority to do so. The Loftus I chatted with post-debate was a man I would have loved to go for coffee with and chat for hours. Be the second kind of Loftus in all your conversations, even public ones.

Of Theatre and Reason

I love action movies. Give me some good stunts, big guns and some fiery explosions and I’m in my element. I soak it up, enjoy a small boost of testosterone and feel like I’m just about ready to charge out of the theatre and take on the bad guys myself.

But, when I walk out of the theatre I don’t actually take on the bad guys. I don’t buy a small cache of guns and grenades and embark on some vigilante mission to save the world. I understand that drama may inspire some kind of emotional response within me, but practical considerations sometimes keeps me from acting on that response. Sometimes it is the other way around; practical considerations may inspire some action I don’t particularly feel like doing (hitting the gym instead of the couch). But what if some people had a tougher time making that distinction? Or, a more frightening prospect; what if some people were so good at theatre that they could conjure up a strong emotional response and inspire their audience to forego ever questioning their emotional response? What if you are their audience? Continue reading

Religion is offensive?

Some of you may have read about the lady in Nova Scotia who was not allowed to have a personalized license plate because it had a religious theme and therefore may be offensive. This story points to a reality that serves as the foundation for Arguing with Friends; the belief that conversations about life’s biggest questions must, necessarily, be offensive.The interesting twist in this story is that offense might be had before the conversation even starts! Continue reading

The thrill of sensationalism

Imagine yourself standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and you see two newspapers. The headline on one newspaper reads, “Presidential infidelity and abuse scandal: shocking details inside!” The other headline reads, “President a faithful husband, caring father.” Be honest with yourself now, which are you more likely to reach for? I know I would tend to want to read the story about the president’s fling and his malicious behavior toward his kids. Not because I celebrate mistresses or child abuse but because that story is interesting. That headline has shock value. It has sex appeal. “What bleeds, leads” in the journalism industry and that’s because readers will pay for blood and guts, even metaphorically.

The thrill of sensationalism is what inspires people to accept, or at least seriously entertain, all kinds of conspiracy theories as well. Consider the following. Continue reading