the email newsletter
of the Skeptics Society
Wednesday, March 5th, 2008
To view this newsletter with graphics and formatting,
visit the permanent url:
In this week's eSkeptic:
- Skepticality: Doubting Dave!
- feature article: Scientology, Anonymous
- our next lecturer: Dr. Michio Kaku
: this week's additions
SKEPTICALITY: DOUBTING DAVE!
Can a kids' science and critical thinking television program be both
entertaining and informative? The award-winning Mystery Hunters,
beginning its fourth season, is proving that it can. On this week's
Skepticality, Swoopy talks with David Acer -- known to fans of
Mystery Hunters as "Doubting Dave," the skeptical scientist who
helps the junior members of his team (Araya Mengesha and Christina
Broccolini) investigate paranormal mysteries.
David is a close up magician, comedian, and actor and writer for
children's educational programs including Popular Mechanics for Kids
and Prank Patrol. David shares his thoughts about how to make
debunking myths entertaining, and explains why it's difficult to get
quality kids' science programs on TV in today's climate.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
David Acer's website:
Mystery Hunters: Beastly Beings and Monstrous Mysteries:
(a three-episode DVD currently only available at Amazon.ca)
SUBSCRIBE to Skepticality
DOWNLOAD Episode #72 (37MB MP3):
SUBSCRIBE to the Skeptic RSS feed:
In this week's eSkeptic, we present Michael Shermer's Los Angeles
Times opinion editorial on Scientology, followed by several Letters
to the Editor that ran in response. And then, we present, in part,
Jean E. Rosenfeld's Los Angeles Times op-ed rebuttal to Michael's
an LA Times op-ed by Michael Shermer
Imagine reading the following press release:
Hello, Jews. We are anonymous. Over the years, we have been
watching you. Your campaigns of misinformation; suppression of
dissent; your litigious nature, all of these things have caught
our eye ... Anonymous has therefore decided that your
organization should be destroyed. For the good of your
followers, for the good of mankind -- for the laughs -- we shall
expel you ... and systematically dismantle Judaism in its
The rantings of crazed neo-Nazis, right? No. Substitute "Jews" and
"Judaism" with "Scientologists" and "Church of Scientology" and you
are reading from a statement issued by a group of
anti-Scientologists calling themselves "Anonymous." This statement
was released Jan. 21 (read in a YouTube video by a Stephen
Hawking-like computerized voice). It was followed by another on
Sunday Feb. 10 that coincided with demonstrations at Scientology
centers around the world at which protesters donned masks (the Guy
Fawkes variety from the movie "V for Vendetta") and waved posters
that read, among other things, "Honk if you hate Scientology."
Again, imagine if that sign read "Honk if you hate Jews." How
innocuous would such a protest be in that case?
And yet this latest turn against the organization founded in 1954 by
science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard has an air of farcical comedy
to it. Why? Why aren't civil-rights organizations and
antihate-speech activists pouncing on these protesters? The reason,
I suspect, is that most of us do not consider Scientology a
religion, at least not a religion that resembles in the slightest
the world's major faiths.
One clue to this interpretation can be seen in other protesters'
signs: "Religion is Free, Scientology is Not" and "Trade Secrets are
for Business, Not Religion." I'm a scientist who studies belief
systems for a living, so take it from me: Scientology is unlike any
other religion in history. Although the Church of Scientology is
recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt religion (despite years of
litigation by the IRS to collect taxes on its income), no other
religion I know of considers theological doctrines and core
religious tenets to be intellectual property accessible only for a
Envision converting to Judaism but having to pay to learn the story
of Abraham and Isaac, Noah and the flood, or Moses and the Ten
Commandments. Or imagine joining the Catholic Church but not being
told about the crucifixion and the resurrection until you have
reached Operating Theological Level III, which takes many years and
many tens of thousands of dollars.
That is, in essence, how the Church of Scientology dispenses its
theology, leading ex-members, critics and journalists to divulge
Scientology's sacred myth all over the internet, and in such
national publications as the New York Times and Rolling Stone
magazine, and even on the animated TV series "South Park." The story
centers on Xenu the galactic warlord, who 75 million years ago was
in charge of 76 overpopulated planets. Xenu brought trillions of
these alien beings to Earth (called Teegeeack) on spaceships that
resembled DC-9 planes, and placed them in select volcanoes. He then
vaporized them with hydrogen bombs, scattering to the winds their
souls, called thetans, which were then rounded up in electronic
traps and implanted with false ideas. These corrupted thetans attach
themselves to people today, leading to drug and alcohol abuse,
addiction, depression and other psychological and social ailments
that only Scientology classes and "auditing" employing "e-meters"
can cure. Paying customers, by the way, do not get to hear this
story until they reach Operating Thetan Level III.
This peculiar story helps explain, in part, the often inexplicable
Tom Cruise, whom we've all seen renouncing the evils of psychiatry
and the drug industry on the "Today" show and more recently in a
viral YouTube video. There's nothing wrong with being skeptical of
psychiatry -- I publish Skeptic magazine, which recently included an
article by a psychiatrist who took his colleagues to task for
overmedication and for overlabeling as diseases what may just be
unusual behavior. As well, self-help gurus such as Anthony Robbins
have developed techniques that may very well surpass psychiatry in
helping people. But psychiatrists, drug companies and motivational
speakers pay taxes on their products and services; they do not
masquerade as religious leaders. This is yet another aspect of
Scientology that provokes the type of animosity we are seeing in
these recent attacks.
Humans are by nature tribal and xenophobic. We evolved a natural
tendency to look askance at those who are different from us, and
especially to be suspicious of activities beyond our purview.
Transparency and fairness are the key to trust, and trust is the
social glue that binds a diverse society such as ours. This is why
we insist on so many checks and balances in government, so many
rules and regulations in markets, and equal treatment under the law.
The reason people are suspicious of Scientology is because of its
cult-like secrecy, its overly aggressive response to and legal
attacks against critics, and especially the hypocrisy of comporting
itself as a faux religion in a society willing to reward corporate
success but not religious greed.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
When I was 17, I left the Church of Scientology. When I was 22,
my parents and all members of my immediate family were pressured
by the church to "disconnect" from me. When I heard of the
protests by Anonymous on behalf of all those who have lost their
families, homes and savings accounts to Scientology, I thanked
God that someone was finally willing to listen. Reading Michael
Shermer's op-ed article, I was surprised to find myself
frustrated and misty-eyed. Why is it that journalists repeatedly
and insistently focus on the sensationalist aspect of the Xenu
story when reporting about Scientology, ignoring child labor,
physical assault, psychological abuse and other travesties that
go on every day behind those walls?
--Kendra Wiseman, Los Angeles
Shermer says that the recent protest of Scientology by the group
calling itself Anonymous had the air of a comical farce. He's
dead on there, but other than that, his reasoning is dead wrong.
How can a man of science who studies belief systems for a living
make evaluations about a religion he hasn't studied? The basic
books and lectures on which the religion is based are available
to anyone who cares to read and listen to them. These books and
lectures can be purchased not only in Scientology churches but
in bookstores and over the Web, and they are available for
borrowing in libraries all over the world. I highly recommend
that he take the time to read up on his subject before he makes
a farce of himself again.
--Karen Morrissett, Tujunga
I appreciated Shermer's article. It provided an objective view
on the criticism of the Church of Scientology. As an avid fan of
science fiction, I have to admit that I enjoyed L. Ron Hubbard's
novel, Battlefield Earth. Nevertheless, I consider the church to
fall into the same category -- space opera. Many countries do
not consider the church a tax-exempt religious organization.
Furthermore, some in the German government consider this faux
religion an example of evil totalitarianism. I trust their
judgment when it comes to determining that. Criticism and hatred
of the church is nothing new. But if it will voluntarily start
to treat itself as a financially transparent (and legally
responsible) for-profit organization, then it nevertheless
deserves the right to exist.
--Joseph Emerson, Torrance
Shermer argues that because Scientology is a new religion, its
members are not entitled to the rights afforded other religions,
and that different beliefs justify the hate crimes of the
cyber-terrorist group Anonymous. Every new religion has had to
fight ignorance and intolerance, and Scientology is no
exception. The allegations raised by Shermer have long since
been disproved and the church vindicated. In the U.S., documents
obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed these
charges to be false, leading the Internal Revenue Service to
recognize all churches of Scientology as tax-exempt. After years
of discrimination in Australia, the Charity Commission uses
Scientology as the benchmark for the definition of religion.
Italy's Supreme Court found that Scientology's fundraising
system is fairer than that of the Catholic Church. In little
more than half a century, Scientology has been acknowledged as a
religion by courts, government agencies and religious scholars
the world over. No matter one's personal beliefs, hate crimes
should never be condoned against any religion.
President, Church of
COMMENT on the article on MichaelShermer.com
SCIENTOLOGY STANDS A CHANCE
an LA Times op-ed rebuttal by Jean E. Rosenfeld
Skeptic Michael Shermer exposes hate speech against the Church of
Scientology and strangely concludes that its "cult-like secrecy" and
"hypocrisy" merit suspicion. He also calls it a "faux religion."
Speaking as a scholar who has analyzed new religions for over 20
years, I deplore critics who pose as experts. Scientology is a new
religion, and unlike most, it may become an established religion
whether the rest of us like it or not.
All religions have origin myths, and all religions keep secrets from
the uninitiated. If a nonbeliever were to tell the origin myth of
Christianity, it would sound no less fantastic than the Thetan myth
of L. Ron Hubbard: A spirit present as God before the creation of
the universe splits off from Godhead after billions of years of
Earth time and is born again as a flesh-and-blood person to a Jewish
woman. The son gathers adherents, casts out demons from afflicted
people, works miracles and finally confronts the evil king in the
Jewish capital city. The evil empire's soldiers try, convict and
kill him in a public execution. He then is resurrected before his
disciples and tells them to spread his kingdom throughout the world.
He promises to appear again and save those who believe in his
message and condemn to eternal punishment those who do not. All of
his followers will be resurrected after our Earth is destroyed by
seven years of heaven-sent catastrophes that kill off most of the
READ the full op-ed rebuttal:
the next lecture in our Spring season...
PHYSICS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
with Dr. Michio Kaku
SPECIAL EVENT DATE: Thursday, March 27, 2008 at 7 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech
One hundred years ago, scientists would have said that lasers,
televisions, and the atomic bomb were beyond the realm of physical
possibility. In his new book, Physics of the Impossible, the
renowned physicist Michio Kaku explores to what extent technologies
and devices deemed equally impossible today might become commonplace
in the future...
READ MORE about this lecture:
READ MORE about other upcoming lectures:
IMPORTANT TICKET INFORMATION
Tickets are first come first served at the door. Sorry, no advance
ticket sales. Seating is limited. $8 Skeptics Society members &
Caltech/JPL Community; $10 General Public.
NEW THIS WEEK ON MICHAELSHERMER.COM
Every week, we'll be adding new content to MichaelShermer.com
we'll announce those additions here. You can also stay up-to-date by
subscribing to the RSS feed.
Scientific American column: The Really Hard Science:
essay: Not Intelligent & Surely Not Science:
SUBSCRIBE to Skeptic magazine and become a member of the Skeptics
eSkeptic is the free, electronic companion to Skeptic magazine,
published weekly by the Skeptics Society. Browse,
search, and read the eSkeptic archives