Point of Inquiry is the Center for Inquiry's flagship podcast, where the brightest minds of our time sound off on all the things you're not supposed to talk about at the dinner table: science, religion, and politics. Guests have included Brian Greene, Susan Jacoby, Richard Dawkins, Ann Druyan, Neil…
Listeners of Point of Inquiry that love the show mention: point of inquiry, chris mooney, skeptics' guide to the universe, karen stollznow, secular humanist, human evolution, robert price, preaching to the choir, weekly listening, behe, intelligent design, cfi, richard dawkins, humanism, atheism, brilliant guests, becker, always thought provoking, skepticism, intellectuals.
What does it mean to be alive? Does life have a clear definition? On this week's episode, Carl Zimmer joins host Jim Underdown to discuss his new book, Life's Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive to help answer those questions. Can we clearly define what it means to be alive? Scientists have been struggling with this question for centuries. For every rule or idea that's brought to the table, it seems a new species of plant or animal comes along that turns the whole thing on its head. For example, tardigrades, everyone's favorite microorganisms, are able to put themselves into a kind of suspended animation that stops their metabolization. Are they alive or dead at that point? Zimmer speaks about tardigrades and their special cryptobiosis, the intelligence of slime molds, and where viruses fit in the question of life. Carl Zimmer is an award-winning New York Times columnist and the author of fourteen books about science. His newest book is Life's Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive (hardcover, Kindle, or audio.) You can find Zimmer on twitter @carlzimmer.
Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God who walked the Earth as a human being. Some Atheists believe none of the God bits but that there was a man named Jesus who did exist. There is also an ever growing community who believe Jesus did not exist at all. Not as the son of God nor as a man. On today's episode we speak to someone with evidence to support the claim of Jesus never existing. Duke Mertz joins host Jim Underdown to speak about his work on the subject of Jesus namely his Free Inquiry article, The Quest for the Mythical Jesus. They speak about what led Duke to undergo his research into this controversial topic as they dive into the substance of Mertz's claims. Core to these claims is the story of Christ fundamentally serves as a passion drama for the time. Mertz also provides details on the inaccuracies found throughout the holy text. Mertz has also provided Point of Inquiry listeners with a PDF of his book, The Quest for the Mythical Jesus, as a companion piece to this podcast. Read the book and learn more about this fascinating subject. Eugene “Duke” Mertz is a columnist for Free Inquiry and author. Duke Mertz took an early retirement from a career in finance to work with nonprofit organizations and to write. He is currently vice president of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation Board of Trustees in Chandler, Arizona.
On today's episode we introduce the show's new guest host, Julia Sweeney and her interview with author David G. McAfee on his new book, Hi, I'm an Atheist!: What That Means and How to Talk About It with Others. McAfee and Sweeney speak about the new book, how it helped Sweeney get back in touch with her atheism roots, his journey being raised in a religious household and becoming a non-believer, his challenges as an atheist in a Religious Studies program, what he sees in the bible from a literary perspective rather than from the perspective of a devout christian, and the role religion has in society. David G. McAfee is a journalist, religious studies scholar, and author of Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings, as well as a contributor to American Atheist magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with a dual-degree in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions. He lives in California. Julia Sweeney is known for her work on Saturday Night Live and as a pioneer for atheism. Her inspiring one-person stage show, Letting Go of God, chronicles her personal journey from Catholicism to atheism. In addition to being an actress Sweeney is a new addition to the Center for Inquiry board.
Throughout the modern world trust in science has continued to erode at dangerous speeds. From anti-vaxxers to climate change deniers, there is an ever growing movement of people that deny science at the peril of us all. The shift towards a public with increasing lack of scientific literacy and critical-thinking skills combined with the proliferation of online misinformation and disinformation and social media algorithms that reinforce ingrained worldviews has caused a situation that is out of control. On this episode of Point of Inquiry we speak with Gale Sinatra and Barbara Hofer on their new book, Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It. Sinatra and Hofer speak about their decades of research and work on science, scientific literacy, and how humans think and acquire knowledge, how "doing your own research" is explicitly not simply conducting a Google search. They also go into some of the psychological explanations for why people deny science and what everyone can do to help stem the tide. Gale M. Sinatra is the Stephen H. Crocker Professor of Education and Psychology at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, where she directs the Motivated Change Research Lab. She received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has been recognized by the American Educational Research Association for career achievements in research with the Sylvia Scribner Award. She resides in Altadena, California. Barbara K. Hofer is a Professor of Psychology Emerita at Middlebury College and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She received her Ph.D. in psychology and education from the University of Michigan and an Ed.M. in human development from Harvard University. She is the recipient of national awards for both research and teaching, from the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association. She lives in Middlebury, Vermont.
It's a rare person indeed who can trick and amaze people on one hand while reassuring them that what they are experiencing is not real. Meet Banacek. He's not only an illusionist, magician, mentalist extraordinaire, he's a skeptic's skeptic who for decades has been instrumental in exposing fraud and deception. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Jim talks to Banacek about his life as a performer, investigator, and man on a mission. Banchek talks about what led him into magic and mentalism, his relationship with James Randi, his new show at the Stratosphere, and more. For more information about Banacek, or to get tickets to his mentalism show at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, visit Banacek.com This Week's Music “Bon Journée” by Chad Crouch / CC BY-NC 3.0 “Idle Ways” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
Have you ever been curious about what other people believe in or how they navigate the ethical challenges of life? Ancient philosophy was partly used as a way to better understand the best way to live life. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Jim Underdown talks to two of the editors of How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy. The book is a collection of essays by fifteen philosophers describing what it means to live according to a philosophy of life. These philosophies range from Eastern traditions like Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, Western beliefs like Stoicism, and contemporary philosophies such as existentialism and effective altruism. Massimo Pigliucci and Skye Cleary, who also wrote chapters for the book, discuss the book, what led to its creation, their specialties of Stoicism and Existentialism (respectively.), and how they incorporate their philosophical beliefs in their day to day lives. The book and this interview provide a beginner's guide on choosing a philosophy and ways to live those beliefs out in the real world. Massimo Pigliucci is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York and was formerly a biology professor at Stony Brook University. His research interests include the philosophy of biology, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism. Skye C. Cleary PhD MBA is a philosopher and author of Existentialism and Romantic Love (Palgrave Macmillan 2015). She teaches at Columbia University, Barnard College, the City University of New York, and previously at ThinkOlio, the New York Public Library, and in a prison.
A question on the minds of many theists and non-theists alike is why are so many Americans leaving religion and becoming religiously unaffiliated? What are the underlying factors causing this shift? In today's episode we dive into what the data shows about this movement with Ryan Burge, author of the new book The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, And Where They Are Going (Fortress Press, 2021). Ryan speaks about how the field of social science is changing with the improvements made to surveying, the underlying causes moving people to become less religiously affiliated, unpacking why America has been so historically religious compared to other countries, how religious economy theory fits into this the rise of the nones, and the role the internet has played in shifting people away from religion. Ryan Burge is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University and a pastor in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
In the June/July issue of Free Inquiry, today's guest Greg Paul makes the case that a loving God cannot possibly exist next to all the suffering and death, children have had to endure throughout human history. In his piece, he claims this fact has the, "...potential to accelerate the already rapid decline of the illusion that is theism." On today's episode we speak with Greg Paul on what lead him to start looking into this idea, some of the various factors causing the decline of religion throughout the world, what happened after he published his findings in the Philosophy & Theology journal, and the link he sees between the religious right's stance against abortion and their hypocrisy. Greg Paul is a researcher, author, and paleoartist. His articles and artwork have appeared in Time, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Science, Nature, National Geographic, Discover, Scientific American, Natural History and Smithsonian.
The Center for Inquiry Investigations Group tests extraordinary claims from anyone who believes they have paranormal or supernatural abilities like telekinesis, mind reading, and many otherworldly talents. The group offers a $250,000 prize for anyone able to prove a paranormal ability under mutually agreed upon test conditions. The group then reports on each of these investigations including the details of the claims, the parameters of the tests, and findings or lack thereof. The Center for Inquiry Investigations Group combines the principles of skepticism and practical science to debunk and disprove the existence of psychic powers, hauntings, and various paranormal claims. In this episode, co-host and Chair of the Investigations Group Jim Underdown speaks with members of the group to explore why they joined the group, details of past investigations, and the importance of the work.Inside the Group Putting Paranormal and Supernatural Claims to the Test
Annabelle Gurwitch is an award-winning actress, comedian, and writer. She's also a secular humanist and a skeptic, though that hasn't always been the case -- at least not the skeptic part. On this episode Annabelle speaks with host, Jim Underdown about her beliefs, her new book, life as a performer, new age religions and cults, and dealing with adversity. Annabelle's latest book, You're Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility (Counterpoint Press, 2021) is an insightful trip through trying times as experienced by a funny woman with a flair for living.
David Javerbaum is the guest on this week's episode of Point of Inquiry. David discusses his early writing career and his current gig as God. David discusses starting out with The Onion and what it was like working with David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. As former head writer and producer on the Daily Show, David gives his insights into what it was like working on the show and its cultural impact. David is also the mastermind behind the popular TheTweetOfGod Twitter account and host of the related podcast, Godcast. What began as the book, The Last Testament: A Memoir has since moved on to become a successful Broadway play and was the impetus behind creating the Twitter account. David goes into how it all started and what the journey has been like.
Have you wondered what it's like to get caught up in a conspiracy theory? QAnon, the 9/11 truth movement, lizard people who want to take over the world. What does it take for rational humans to believe such outstandingly irrational beliefs? In this week's episode, Leighann Lord speaks to Stephanie Kemmerer about her personal journey falling in and eventually coming out of being a conspiracy theorist. She began as a 9/11 Truther, believing that 9/11 was an inside job, and eventually came out of that movement as she discovered people she knew were personally affected by Sandy Hook. Kemmerer speaks about the psychology and mindset that led her and others down the rabbit hole, what she sees in QAnon believers, the huge role that social media and YouTube play in moving people into conspiracy theories, the dopamine hit when digging for the supposed truth, and how you can help others find their way out. Stephanie Kemmerer is a researcher and writer for the podcast, Even the Podcast Is Afraid and an occasional contributor for the Southern Oddities podcast. She is a contributing author to Skeptical Inquirer. You can reach her by email: email@example.com or Twitter @mcpasteface
An Atheist and a Christian Walk Into a Bar | Overcoming Differences America is as polarized as it's been in decades as our citizenry draws lines in the sand over a variety of issues. Friends and family who hold different political or religious persuasions may find it hard to impossible to hold civil conversation together. One friendship hasn't suffered because of all this divisiveness. Jim speaks to Christian Pastor Joe Manno of the Revelation Church in Florida. Joe and Jim have been friends since they met on the set of Cagney and Lacey in the mid-80s. Their conversations touches on how they've stayed friends and how they believe others can look past differences; by making the problem simple and only taking people for people. Manno recounts to Underdown his many experiences that have solidified his faith in a higher power, how miraculously not a single person in Manno's congregation would have anything negative to say to an atheist, and the importance of looking past a person's beliefs to their experiences in order to understand them even when their beliefs counter your own humanity.
Christmas in 2020 will be unlike any other in recent history due to COVID 19. Nevertheless, Christians around the world will be finding ways to celebrate the birth of Christ. On this episode of Point of Inquiry, Jim speaks to Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine and author of The Trouble With Christmas. Affectionately known as the Anti-Claus, Tom gives some insight to when Jesus may actually have been born, the origins of the Christmas holiday, how traditions have changed over the centuries, modern day customs surrounding the event, and the alleged "War on Christmas", real and imagined. Happy just another day everyone! We are proud to announce that this episode of Point of Inquiry was sponsored by the Wadsworth-Sheng Fund. Our friends, Spike Wadsworth and Sherry Sheng, are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to thought-provoking content that addresses the big questions in science, religion, politics, and culture. We are grateful for their support. If you would like to learn more about how to support Point of Inquiry or the work of its umbrella organization, the Center for Inquiry, please contact our Director of Development, Connie Skingel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1997 Jim produced and directed a short documentary called “A Day in the Life of Frank Sinatra” that was an exploration of what it was like to be a homeless man with a famous name. Twenty three years later, Frank Sinatra is recently off the streets, lives in a government-funded camper in Los Angeles, and is trying to live a normal life. In this episode, Jim sits down with Frank and asks him about being a cab driver, a one-time contestant on the “Gong Show”, about homelessness in Los Angeles for the last 28 years, the troubles and lasting damage addiction can cause, how Frank believes that no one is immune to turning to drugs, and his hopes for the future. This episode of Point of Inquiry does contain explicit language.
What does the Puritan founder of both the state of Rhode Island and the Baptist Church have to say about modern evangelicals? Roger Williams had certain ideas that didn't fit into 17th century England or its American colonies. Freedom of conscience, separation of church and crown, fair treatment of indigenous peoples, and supporting the rights of women were all a tough sell in the 1600s. But sell he did, and though Roger Williams is far from a household name in 2020, some of his ideas still reverberate through our country and our world. In this episode, Jim Underdown speaks to Roger Williams' 12th great-granddaughter, Becky Garrison, about her book, Roger Williams's Little Book of Virtues. They speak about and his legacy, dive into his beliefs and their context in the 1600s, and how much of Williams' legacy impacts us today.
Author J.R. Becker joins Leighann Lord in this episode of Point of Inquiry to speak about his book series, Annabelle & Aiden. The series is a pro-science children's book series that explores science, philosophy, and critical thinking. Their conversation dives into: What inspired Becker to write the series How the books teach critical thinking and a skeptical outlook to children and why that's important The push back the series has had from various religious groups How adults can enjoy and learn from these books as well What's in store in Annabelle & Aiden's future You can learn more about the Annabelle & Aiden series on annabelleandaiden.com
Screenwriter and author Chris Matheson joins Jim in this episode which touches on the recently released Bill & Ted Face the Music, then dives deeply into Matheson's two comedic books on the Bible and the Buddha. In his The Story of God, Chris gets into the mind of what must be an insane and sadistic deity by using the Bible itself to retell the story. In The Buddha's Story, he points his rapier wit at the “Awakened One” -- also through scripture -- and unveils a religious icon most would find rather reprehensible. Both books find a way to raise incisive questions about key religious figures in a very humorous way. Chris Matheson is one of those rare people who can get people to laugh and learn at the same time. You can find both of Matheson's books, The Story of God: A Biblical Comedy about Love (and Hate) and The Buddha's Story on Amazon We are proud to announce that this episode of Point of Inquiry was sponsored by the Wadsworth-Sheng Fund. Our friends, Spike Wadsworth and Sherry Sheng, are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to thought-provoking content that addresses the big questions in science, religion, politics, and culture. We are grateful for their support. If you would like to learn more about how to support Point of Inquiry or the work of its umbrella organization, the Center for Inquiry, please contact our Director of Development, Connie Skingel, at email@example.com. Point of Inquiry has a listener survey available that we are asking you to complete! Visit the survey at bit.ly/poisurvey. Filling out the survey will help the show grow and improve as we understand the fine folks who listen. Thank you.
The recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left many shaken. A few weeks prior to her passing, Leighann Lord had the opportunity to speak with Rev. Barry Lynn, former executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Constitution’s religious liberty provisions. Rev. Lynn has spent much of his career working between religion, government, and fighting for the rights of marginalized communities. He and Lord discuss his new retirement and how it was not what he was anticipating, stories from his new book, “You Don’t Know Me - But You Might Have Heard of Some of the People I’ve Met”, the importance of the separation of church and state, the hyper-politicization of US politics, how we've moved away from finding creative compromises, and how this has bred a new kind of evil in men like Tucker Carlson. Finally, Rev. Lynn speaks his views on the Supreme Court and what needs to change for anything meaningful to happen and how even before Justice Ginsburg's passing, the difficultly and unlikelihood that certain policies, like The Green New Deal or Medicare for All, would be passed. You can find out what Rev. Lynn is up to by visiting his website or twitter. We are proud to announce that this episode of Point of Inquiry was sponsored by the Wadsworth-Sheng Fund. Our friends, Spike Wadsworth and Sherry Sheng, are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to thought-provoking content that addresses the big questions in science, religion, politics, and culture. We are grateful for their support. If you would like to learn more about how to support Point of Inquiry or the work of its umbrella organization, the Center for Inquiry, please contact our Director of Development, Connie Skingel, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Point of Inquiry has a listener survey available that we are asking you to complete! Visit the survey at bit.ly/poisurvey. Filling out the survey will help the show grow and improve as we understand the fine folks who listen. Thank you.
One professor is using social media to remind us that physics is the real magic of the universe. Through showing off his massive collection of science gadgets and physics toys, Dr. Raymond Hall is teaching many, young and old, the wonderful world of physics and how everyday phenomena is just science in action. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Dr. Raymond Hall joins Jim Underdown as Hall explains how his physicsfun Instagram was started and how it launched into popularity, the power of social media to spread awareness of science, physics, and complex topics, Professor Hall's research into why people believe in pseudoscience and magical thinking, and his quest to answer this question: does simply teaching science or methodology innoculate folks from believing misinformation and pseudoscience or do you need to do more? Dr. Raymond Hall is a professor of Physics at California State University-Fresno. His work has involved working with a team that discovered the top quark, a fundamental particle of nature. You can see more of his great physicsfun experiments on Instagram and Youtube. This Week's Music “Idle Ways” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 “Cold” by Pictures of the Floating World / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 “Teahouse and Bamboo Trees” by springtide / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Would you rather have your children looking at QAnon conspiracy Youtubers or porn online? That's a question author Erin Louis has had to confront with her teenage son. How do you employ critical thinking, media literacy, and a skeptical mindset in the every day world to make a real impact. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Erin Louis joins Leighann Lord as they discuss her journey through the freethought movement, countering conspiracists with critical thinking, why she wrote Expose Yourself, stories from her life as a stripper, and how to get over our unconscious or implicit biases. Erin Louis, also known as the Brazen Atheist, has authored the books EXPOSE YOURSELF: How To Take Risks, Question Everything and Find Yourself - Humor and Insights From My Life As a Stripper, Dirty Money: Memoirs of a Stripper, and Think You Want To Be A Stripper? Her goal is to facilitate and foster self acceptance and critical thinking. You can follow Erin on her website erinlouis.com and on twitter @ErinLouis666
The names Jim Jones, L.Ron Hubbard, David Koresh, and Sun Myung Moon might come to mind when someone uses the term cult leader. Many have suggested that Donald Trump falls into the category. But does Trump himself truly qualify as a cult leader? Can Trump's followers be correctly described as a cult? In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Steven Hassan joins Jim Underdown as they dive into persuasive reasoning, the work of BJ Fogg's persuasive marketing technology used widely on social media platforms, why cults are successful, the processes involved that lead people into joining a cult, and why the President of the United States can accurately be described as a cult leader. Steven Hassan, is an expert on Undue Influence, brainwashing and unethical hypnosis and author of the best-selling book, Combating Cult Mind Control. He is a licensed mental health professional and cult expert. Steven helps people leave destructive cults after he was deprogrammed and left Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. He is the founding director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center. He developed the BITE and Influence Continuum models to assess what control methods an individual or group uses and where they fall on a continuum from not harmful to extremely harmful.
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, co-host Leighann Lord talks with professor, writer, and humanist Dr. Anthony Pinn. Lord and Pinn discuss the power and persistence of magical thinking as we face the current pandemic, the role of the church at a time when science is so important, Black Lives Matter and Pinn's opinion on struggle and progress, how women of color deal with oppression based on race, gender, and class, and the issue with respectability politics. Pinn also proposes the question, "What does our nontheistic perspective offer folks at this moment? What do we offer them beyond the critique of religion?" as we face the pandemic and the ever growing need for honest discussions and action on the issues of race. Anthony Pinn received his Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University, and is currently the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University. He is also the Founding Director of The Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice University, and Director of Research at The Institute for Humanist Studies. Among his many books are Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist and When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race.
Looming over the sidewalk of Hollywood, California are tens of millions of dollars of buildings owned by the Church of Scientology. This beleaguered religion may have had a decade of bad PR, but they still own a substantial amount of real estate in California and Florida. In this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, Jim Underdown decided to ride his bike to six major Scientology facilities in Hollywood. Activist Tory Christman, who spent 30 years in the "Church" of Scientology, spoke with Jim the following day to sit down and walk listeners through what happens in these buildings. You can follow along below with the pictures that Jim took while on his bike.
A short drive south of Cincinnati, OH, lie two well-funded, well-executed museums dedicated to the telling of biblical "history." The Creation Museum and the Ark Experience came about through Answers in Genesis, a Christian Apologetics organization, and its founder and CEO, Ken Ham. While the modern science-based community always found fault in these propaganda factories' notions about the age of the earth (6000 years), and the theory of evolution (it's wrong) -- among myriad other beliefs -- the Ark Encounter brought a new layer of controversy to the table when it was granted land, cash, and tax kickbacks by local government and the state of Kentucky at taxpayers expense. A documentary called We Believe in Dinosaurs looks at some of the issues surrounding these facilities through the eyes of both believers and skeptics. Joining Jim Underdown on this episode of Point of Inquiry are Rob Boston, Communications Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Dan Phelps, President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, and Monica Long Ross, one of the co-directors of We Believe in Dinosaurs.
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, cohost Leighann Lord talks with famous skeptic and Assistant Professor of Neurology, Steven Novella, MD. Novella is also the founder and current Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine which explores issues and controversies between science and medicine and works to expose dangerous medical scams and practices. He is also the host of the popular weekly podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. Novella also has a series of insightful courses on critical thinking that he has published through Great Courses. In this week's interview, Lord and Novella speak about the ongoing battle to fight scientific ignorance especially during the current Covid-19 outbreak, how Novella's Science-Based Medicine has stepped up to counter vast amounts of misinformation about the disease, the relationship between doctors and patients when there's hard news to deliver, how we all have blind spots in our thinking that hinder our curiosity and skepticism, and the importance of not being too comfortable with information that confirm our biases. You can follow Leighann on twitter @LeighannLord.
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, cohost Leighann Lord talks with fellow comic Ian Harris. Besides being a comedian, Harris is a voice actor, writer, director, and MMA trainer. He is also an outspoken atheist and skeptic who confronts magical thinking and religion in his comedy. In 2019, Leighann Lord and Harris joined forces and performed their mainstage show at Dragon Con. That show, dubbed “The Science and Fiction Comedy Show,” blended nerdom (it's Drgaon Con after all!), atheism, skepticism, and science. In this engaging interview with Lord, Harris tells us about what it's like to perform skeptical comedy for audiences and lets us in on the type of audience that gives the best laughs. Harris explains how he effectively uses his comedy to teach people skeptical and critical thinking. He's seen certain topics, such as climate change, become politicized and divorced from science. It’s his hope to rectify that with his comedy. Lord and Harris also dive into the observation that even within the atheist community, many hold onto their own "religious" beliefs and not everyone in the community is a critical thinker or skeptic. They then discuss the resulting schism or gap that's been created. You can follow Leighann on twitter @LeighannLord. You can follow Ian on twitter @comediocre and check out his YouTube channel, IanHarrisComedian, where you can enjoy videos from his stand-up specials, "Critical & Thinking" and “ExtraOrdinary”, his Reason Rally performances, interviews, and more.
On this week's episode, Leighann Lord speaks with Mandisa Thomas, president of Black Nonbelievers. Black Nonbelievers connect with other Black folks and allies who have chosen to live without religion. They serve as a community for those who have been otherwise shunned by family and friends. From the Black Nonbelievers' website, "Instead of accepting dogma, we seek to determine truth and morality through reason and evidence." Leighann and Mandisa have a frank and honest discussion about their shared experience of what it's like to exist in the atheist community as women of color and how things they've seen and witnessed may be holding the atheist community back from growing. They also discuss the importance of critical thinking and introspection and how growing up as a New Yorker has helped Mandisa navigate a world as an atheist women of color running a national organization. You can follow what Mandisa and Black Nonbelievers are up to on twitter @mandy0904 and @BNonbelievers. You can follow Leighann on twitter @LeighannLord
Kurt Andersen is the author of the novels Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History (2017), True Believers (2012), Heyday (2007), and Turn of the Century (1999). He's also written for film, television, and the stage and is the former host and co-creator of the Peabody Award winning Studio 360, a weekly radio show about arts and culture. He regularly appears as a commentator on MSNBC, CNN, PBS, and the BBC. He is also the former editor of New York Magazine and co-creator of Spy magazine. On this week's episode Andersen speaks with Point of Inquiry's new host, Leighann Lord, to discuss his book, Fantasyland and if the United State's "fantasyland" thinking helped create the current predicament the country finds itself dealing with. Andersen and Lord offer context on Fantasyland to better understand what happens when the departure from empirical reality-based thought plays out during a global pandemic. You can also watch Andersen's CSICon talk where he goes into riveting detail about Fantasyland and how he came to write it.
Coronavirus continues to infect more and more people around the world. As the number of infected grows so does the misinformation surrounding the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. From fake and explicitly dangerous cures, like drinking bleach to folklorish myths and conspiracies on the origins of the virus, institutions like the CDC and the World Health Organization are doing what they can to not only battle the virus itself but also the overwhelming amount of misleading information on social media and the web. In this week's episode, Jim Underdown speaks with Ben Radford to debunk the most common myths and pieces of misinformation surrounding the coronavirus. How did it really begin? What can be done to prevent it? How has racism and xenophobia contributed to the spreading of various myths? Radford has also recently published an article on CFI where he goes into more detail on the virus's myths and conspiracies. Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a Research Fellow with the non-profit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has written thousands of articles on a wide variety of topics, including urban legends, the paranormal, critical thinking, and media literacy.
Can our memories be trusted if they are easily manipulated by suggestions? Where is the line between repressed memories that bubble up to the surface and false memories that never existed? In this week's episode, Jim Underdown speaks to Professor Elizabeth Loftus on what happens in the courtroom when a person's memory of events are a result of suggestion or coercion. Loftus recounts various legal cases she's been involved with where wrongful convictions resulted from false memories implanted in the mind of a witness by family members, prosecutors, or persons of authority. Work done by Harvard professor, Richard McNally has looked into the likelihood for someone to truly have a repressed or recovered memory in relation to past traumas. Loftus is a professor of psychology and law at the University of California, Irvine. She has given a TED talk on the manipulation of memories, has published numerous articles and books, and has served as an expert witness or consultant in hundreds of cases including the McMartin preschool molestation case and the trial of Oliver North.
Where does the separation of church and state stand with a conservative majority in the Supreme Court? The short answer: not great. In this week's episode, Jim Underdown speaks to CFI board member, lawyer, atheist, and human rights activist, Eddie Tabash on how the Founding Fathers viewed religion and law, the religious ties of the newest Supreme Court justices, and where we go from here.
James Sterba is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, USA. His book, Is a Good God Logically Possible? deals with the Argument from Evil and whether a God who is all good and all powerful is logically compatible in a world where moral and natural evil exists. Sterba sits down with Underdown to discuss the arguments for and against the existence of God, how Sterba's history as a member of a religious order and later Professor of Philosophy led him to write his book, and the finer points of the argument.
Ian Ruskin is a producer, writer, actor and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He has starred in theatre, television, and film in both the UK and the US. He has written and performed in various one man plays, From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks which details the life of Australian-born American union leader, Harry Bridges and To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine. To learn more about or contact Ian Ruskin visit: www.ianruskin.org In this week's interview, Jim Underdown and Ruskin discuss the life of Thomas Paine, his influence on politics and religion, and what Ian learned about Paine in his work preparing for The Life of Thomas Paine. In 1775, a man who had lived 37 remarkably unremarkable years in England arrived in Philadelphia. He then proceeded to change the world. His pen ignited the American Revolution, defined the French Revolution and articulated the concept of Reason. For this he was nearly hanged in England, nearly guillotined in France and, by the end of his life, more hated than loved in America. He was one of the world’s greatest propagandists and worst politicians, a nearly fatal combination, and he is one of the most misunderstood men in American history. Yet his vision of true justice and equality for all human beings continues to inspire millions of people and his ideas, revolutionary in 1776, continue to be as revolutionary today.
Richard Dawkins is the recipient of a number of awards for his writing on science, including the Royal Society of Literature Award and the LA Times Literary Prize, he has also been awarded the Royal Society Michael Faraday Award for the furtherance of the public understanding of science. He is the author of a number of critically acclaimed books, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Devil’s Chaplain, and The Ancestor’s Tale. In this week's interview with Jim Underdown, Dawkins discusses his newest book, Outgrowing God, designed for young people. It is Dawkin's attempt to address the cyclical nature of growing up religious.
Chris French is a British psychologist and prominent skeptic focusing on the psychology of paranormal beliefs and experiences. He is currently Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, is head of their Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit which he founded in 2000, and former Editor-in-Chief of The Skeptic (UK) magazine. Jim talks with Chris on the trajectory of the skeptics movement in the UK and US and how they both became involved, what it's like to run Skeptics in the Pub, and how skeptics have widened their focus from the paranormal to fake news and political conspiracy theories.
Richard Wiseman is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England. Richard began his career as a professional magician before pursuing a career in psychology, and developing a reputation for research into luck, deception, the paranormal, humor, and the science of self-help. Wiseman joins Jim Underdown in London where they both attended the presentation of the Richard Dawkins Award to Ricky Gervais. Wiseman was the interviewer of Dawkins and Gervais on stage at the event. Jim talks with Wiseman on his history in the skeptics movement and how he got started, his work performing psychology experiments on the people of Britain, debunking the myths of misconceptions around positive psychology, and why he continues to be involved in the movement.
The European Council of Skeptical Organisations (ECSO) is an umbrella of skeptical organizations throughout the EU that investigate claims of pseudoscience, and defend scientific integrity and practice in research, education, medicine, and public policy. Point of Inquiry co-host Kavin Senapathy attended the 2019 European Skeptics Congress in Ghent, Belgium, where she presented during the session on "Green Skepticism." While there, Senapathy had the opportunity to put her head together with some of the most respected skeptics in the world, including ECSO president Claire Klingenberg. In this episode, Kavin and Claire dive into the current state of the skeptics movement around the world, and what the future of skepticism may look like. Claire explains what she sees as the ideological difference between the American skeptical movement and the European skeptical movement and the interplay between politics and skepticism. They also break down how the social sciences fit into skepticism, how we define what it means to be a skeptic, and the dangers of following personalities deemed "logical" without scrutiny.
In the second part of this two-part series on the prison system reform, Jim Underdown speaks with Andrew Glazier, president of Defy Ventures, on the high recidivism rates in prisons, how Glazier and Defy Ventures are improving prison inmate rehabilitation, and what happens to communities when people are kept locked up indefinitely. Defy Ventures is a nonprofit organization that helps current and formerly incarcerated adults with career-readiness and entrepreneurial training programs. You can learn more about the work Defy Ventures is doing by visiting their website or follow them on Twitter.
How humane are prisons in the U.S.? And what is their purpose – to punish or to rehabilitate? This is part one of a two-part series that dives into the prison system, what it looks like from the inside, how it destroys the lives of black and brown folks who have been overpoliced and tossed into the prison system for decades, and the work being done to counteract that system. After a field trip to a California state prison, Jim Underdown spoke to Steve Hill about his frank experiences as a prison security guard and what he thinks about the future of the prison system. Steve Hill is an atheist activist, Comedian politician, a former marine, and former prison security guard who worked in the California penal system as a prison guard for ten years.
Even though there’s growing awareness that race is a social construct — it defies biological definition — it’s really hard to let go of a concept that feels so real. There’s also a temptation for progressive, more or less decent human beings, who wouldn’t consider themselves racist, to define racism as something that happens on the far right, among Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and people sporting MAGA hats. Turns out that’s not the case. At all. One of the most pervasive issues when it comes to race is the science. What does the history of race science have to do with today’s science on human variation? Why do modern scientists need to grapple with the legacy of racial definition and oppression? How does the centuries-old mythology of race impact the practice of medicine well into the 21st century? On this episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with author Angela Saini about her book Superior: The Return of Race Science. The Telegraph advises “philosophically and historically uneducated scientists” along with those with “more murky motivations” to read this “brilliant and devastating” book. While you’re here, we’d like to give a shout-out to the Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia. While Kavin was researching the episode, she realized that Superior didn’t have a page on Wikipedia. She alerted GSoW’s Rob Palmer and their team had a page up within 48 hours! The Scientific American blog post mentioned in the episode, “The Internet Is a Cesspool of Racist Pseudoscience,” can be found here.
Point of Inquiry co-host Kavin Senapathy has covered food and agriculture for years, and if she’s learned one thing, it’s that people’s views on farming are rife with misconceptions. The conversation around food is complex, and involves a slew of gray areas and mountains of data. Enter Dr. Sarah Taber. She’s the host of the Farm to Taber Podcast, a farm and food systems strategist, and one of Twitter’s most prolific and eye-opening agriculture myth-busters. Taber’s work has included food safety, regulatory compliance, crop care, and making work flows as efficient as possible in farms and facilities. On this episode, Kavin speaks with Dr. Taber on agriculture and the myth of the destruction of family farms. Part of this myth involves tackling whether big agribusiness destroyed these farms, and what sharecropping has to do with it. Topics also include how racism against various ethnicities displaced our country's farmworkers, what really separates family and corporate farming, and the current narrative around field automation.
This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes actor, comedian, and former Jehovah's Witness, Jerry Minor. Minor has been a cast member and writer on Saturday Night Live and appeared on HBO's Mr. Show and various other television and film spots throughout his career. He joins Jim Underdown to dive into his life during and after being a Jehovah’s Witness. They also get into how the Jehovah's Witness religion drove Minor to attempt suicide, the different Christianity sects and how Minor views them as cults, and how his past faith has shaped his career as a comedian and entertainer. Together with friend, Tony Ortega, Underdown and Minor host their own podcast, The Cult Awareness Podcast, where they explore the latest in cult news. Please share this episode either through a tweet, email, facebook, postcard, or letter with friends and family. Your support helps the show and we appreciate it.
How well do you think you can assess risk? The evidence is clear that humans are innately poor at assessing risk in our personal lives, in part due to how our brains are wired, and that can make it challenging to make informed decisions about everything from vaccines and medicines to diet and children’s safety. Errors in risk perception can be a problem when we worry more than the evidence says we need to, or less than the evidence says we should. On this week’s episode, Kavin Senapathy speaks with neuroscientist Alison Bernstein and biologist Iida Ruishalme, who teamed up to write a series of articles titled “Risk In Perspective.” The interview takes listeners through key concepts in risk and risk perception, including the difference between hazard and risk, and whether zero risk is ever really possible. How can putting risk into perspective inform regulatory actions? How does environmental justice tie into health and risk perception? How are marketers taking advantage of our inability to accurately assess risk? One thing is clear—you won’t want to risk missing out on this conversation. ison's piece on how "Safety" is defined in a regulatory setting. What was that great music you heard? "Wahre" by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 “Building the Sled” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 “Vittoro” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes comedian, monologist, and atheist, Julia Sweeney. Many may know Sweeney from her time on Saturday Night Live, her appearances on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, and from her current roles on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Hulu's Shrill. Jim Underdown sat down with Sweeney at CFI West to discuss her time working on SNL, dealing with her catholic faith after the passing of her brother to cancer, how Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, and CFI helped her become an atheist, her experiences navigating Hollywood as a non-believer, and her conflicting opinions surrounding the Me Too movement after her good friend, Al Franken was accused of misconduct. If you've never seen it before, Sweeney's, "Letting Go of God" talk is highly recommended for those who became atheists after living with a religious point of view. You can find Sweeney on twitter: @JIsbackintown.
Why do people love the taste of Umami but avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is the purest form of Umami on Earth? In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with experts on MSG— which was first isolated by Japanese chemist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda— to explore this culinary and scientific disconnect. Tia Rains, PhD, is currently Senior Director of Public Relations at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition (Ajinomoto was founded in 1907 to manufacture and sell Ikeda’s MSG). She has over 20 years of experience in the fields of food and nutrition. Mary Lee Chin MS, RD, has been involved in dietetics for over 40 years. She consults with food industry and commodity groups; including Monsanto, Ajinomoto, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In 1968, a letter was published in the New England Journal of Medicine about “numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, and general weakness and palpitation” after eating food from Chinese restaurants. The letter spurred decades of research into the so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” What does the science say about MSG, what roles do marketing and branding play, and what do mice have to do with all of this? Links Mentioned in this Episode The Truth About MSG and Your Health - Written by Kavin Senapathy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERVRjAYBOp0 Accent Flavor Enhancer - https://www.accentflavor.com/product/flavor-enhancer Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache? : a systematic review of human studies - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4870486/
The Center for Inquiry has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for deceiving its customers with marketing, labeling, and product placement that present homeopathic medicines as equivalent and effective alternatives to science-based medicines with tested active ingredients. The lawsuit argues that this is not only consumer fraud, but also endangers the health of the people who purchase homeopathic remedies thinking that they contain actual medicine. The suit against Walmarts comes just a few months after the Center for Inquiry filed a similar lawsuit against CVS for fraud over the sale of fake homeopathic drugs. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with Nick Little, Center for Inquiry's legal director and general counsel, on the history of homeopathy and how it differs from other kinds of alternative medicines, and why CFI is bringing a suit against the nation's largest retailer. They also discuss the responsibility retailers have to provide truthful information to their consumers, and what exactly is in the homeopathic flu remedy Oscillococcinum. Continue below to find the links mentioned in this episode. Links Mentioned in this Episode McGill Homeopathy Study Fast Company profiling the Center for Inquiry's suit against Walmart NPR interview with Nick Little New music heard on this episode "Wahre" by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 “Building the Sled” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
Science for the People began as a group in 1969 that grew out of the anti-war movement and lasted until 1989. SftP has been rebirthed for a new generation of SftP members to explore the history of radical science and to rebuild the movement for today. In this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with two SftP members, biologist, Ben Allen and neuroscientist, Katherine Bryant. If science is a form of knowledge production and the knowledge being produced only focuses on a particular set of people, that knowledge can then tend to become skewed towards those groups and lead to reinforcing biases. This is only one of the topics explored on this week's episode as these two representatives from the radical science organization, Science for the People explore the problems with science, why there needs to be more inclusivity in the field, and why the people who support pseudoscientific beliefs like genetic determinism and climate denial are much more harmful to us all than flat earthers and those who believe in healing crystals. Learn more about Science for the People by visiting their website: scienceforthepeople.org If this work interests you and you'd like to read more you can purchase one of the books mentioned on the show, Science for the People: Documents from America's Movement of Radical Scientists or visit Science for the People's new magazine that's full of informative articles and news at magazine.scienceforthepeople.org You can find Science for the People on Twitter: @sftporg
On this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, Jim Underdown speaks with longtime friend, actor, writer, and comedian Matt Walsh. This episode may be different from what you're used to as we take a break from examining science, culture, and religion and instead give you the chance to get to know one of Point of Inquiry's new hosts. Underdown has been close friends with Matt Walsh for over 30 years. Many may know Walsh from his role as Mike McLintock on the show Veep, which recently aired its series finale. The two grew up in Chicago where they both performed improv comedy before Walsh went on to form the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York City along with members Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, and Ian Roberts. Walsh has appeared in numerous films, television shows, and has toured the country performing. He also is involved with various charities and socially impactful causes like The Awesome Foundation and Defy Ventures, which aims to end mass incarceration and the recidivism rate. You can find Walsh on Twitter: @mrmattwalsh
On this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, Dr. Jenny Yip discusses OCD and anxiety and the widespread impact these can have on our lives as well as how they're exhibited in different people. Kavin Senapathy and Dr. Yip share their own experiences with OCD and anxiety disorders and Dr. Yip shares her insight into effective and ineffective treatments for OCD and anxiety. You can find out more about Dr. Yip's work by listening to her podcast, The Stress-Less Life. You can also follow her on Twitter: @DrJennyYip
This week’s episode of Point of Inquiry Jim Underdown speaks with Carol Tavris, social psychologist and author of Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) and Avrum Bluming, hematologist, medical oncologist, and emeritus clinical professor at USC about the common myth in the medical field surrounding the link between breast cancer and estrogen. The talk centers around their recent book, Estrogen Matters which examines the practice of administering estrogen to women suffering from symptoms of menopause and the push back they received due to a long-held misconception that estrogen leads to an increased chance of contracting breast cancer. Tavris and Bluming's work illustrates the important need for critical thinking, especially in the area of health where people's well-being is constantly at stake and how people will often times not accept information when it is in their best interest to do so.