Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘Events’

Imagine No Religion 3 – May 17 to 19 2013

Posted by Ethan Clow on January 9, 2013

Hey all, just a heads up that the Imagine No Religion 3 Conference is coming up on May 17th in Kamloops!

INR3 is put on by the good folks at the Kamloops Centre for Inquiry. I went to the first INR conference and I had a great time. You might have heard some of our awesome interviews we recorded while at the conference. This year they have an impressive line up of speakers including: Dan Dennett, Victor Stenger, Louise Antony and Cristina Rad among others.

Check out this promotional video they put out for the conference:

You can register here, and I’d recommend doing it soon so you take advantage of the early bird rates! Hope to see you there!

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Hey Look! I’m on the Secular Student Alliance’s Speaker Bureau!

Posted by Ethan Clow on September 16, 2011

Yes, this is pretty awesome and exciting all at the same time. I’m honoured to be on the Secular Student Alliance’s speaker bureau and I’m looking forward to helping the cause!

For those who don’t know, the Secular Student Alliance a non-profit that helps organize, advise, and assist skeptic and free-thought student groups all across North America. From their website:

“The mission of the Secular Student Alliance is to organize, unite, educate, and serve students and student communities that promote the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human-based ethics. We envision a future in which nontheistic students are respected voices in public discourse and vital partners in the secular movement’s charge against irrationality and dogma.

The Secular Student Alliance is a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit. We work to organize and empower nonreligious students around the country. Our primary goal is to foster successful grassroots campus groups which provide a welcoming community for secular students to discuss their views and promote their secular values. Though our office is based in Columbus, Ohio and our affiliated campus groups are predominantly in the United States, we do support affiliates around the world.”

The SSA has many resources for student groups like guides and advice and group starting packages but also speakers. Many folks have agreed to help out the SSA and its affiliates by waving or having reduced speaking fees. The SSA also offers up $300.00 to help cover transportation fees of the speaker! When you think about all the organizational effort needed to co-ordinate such events, especially for student groups who already have limited resources and time, the value of the SSA really becomes clear.

I suggest that you check out their speaker bureau, including me, and have me (or someone) come to your campus and do a talk or event.

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The Christmas Tug-of-war between Big Business and Big Religion

Posted by Ethan Clow on December 13, 2010

Is Christmas getting too commercial?

That’s a question that many, many, people will ask themselves as they do battle over the last tickle-me Elmo and Xbox Kinect between now and Christmas eve at their local mall and super store. The question will get asked so much and let’s face it, it’s been asked every year; probably since the modern Christmas began.

To me, the question has become so devoid of meaning it hardly seems worth asking anymore.

Last Thursday I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Vancouver public library after a showing of the documentary “What would Jesus Buy?”

The film follows a charismatic fellow dedicated to stopping Americans from shopping till they drop during the holiday season. His shtick is to dress up like a revivalist preacher and give public sermons outside malls and Time Square shouting “Stop Shopping!”

"Stop Shopping!"


It’s funny the first time you see it. However it quickly loses its charm for the other 90 minutes.

I figured that I would be asked questions related to the secularization of the holiday and whether has led to a more commercial Christmas. Or something.

Far from it, I got on stage with two other speakers, a writer on the subject of commercialization and a former Anglican priest. I got asked one question about advertising but the organizers seemed more intent in polling the confused audience. There were a few questions that audience members tried to ask but never made it to our equally confused panel of “experts.”

Frankly I’m still a bit baffled at the invitation but nonetheless I did get to tell people about the Extraordinary Claims Campaign.

On the actual topic though, commercialization of Christmas and all that, I have this to say: so what?

Like everything else in western civilization Christmas has slowly become more secular over the years. This has resulted in less control of the holiday from religion and more given to the free market of ideas. Nowadays, Christmas is more associated with Charlie Brown specials, Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola than Christianity or any of the dogma the Christian faith attaches to December 25th.

And I’m certainly not going to suggest that’s a bad thing. I think the great thing about secular holidays is the freedom people have to celebrate any way they want. If you want to go to midnight mass or hold a nativity scene on your front lawn, go for it. If you want to send yourself into debt buying your kids Xboxes and doo-dads, it’s your money. If all you want is to stuff yourself with pizza and beer and play drunken poker…heck, enjoy yourself!

The one thing I don’t want to see is people telling other people they’re “doing it wrong.” Beyond dangerous or criminal things, it’s not really fair to claim to have some sort of holiday authority to degree what is and what isn’t Christmas. Which is to say, that Christmas isn’t above skeptical inquiry. I do think we are often far too quick to silence any criticism of Christmas because, well, it’s just so sacred.  It really isn’t. But that won’t stop people and pundits from shouting SCROUGE when someone voices distaste for the overly festive season. And it won’t stop claims that there is an atheist “war on Christmas” every time a non-believer questions the Christian dogma that goes along with the holiday.

But surely, I would admit, people getting trampled in malls by throngs of people trying to save 20% on sweaters isn’t a good thing? Yah I agree. I think people spend way too much on material things over Christmas. And sure I think the world would be a better place if instead of getting that extra blu-ray box set of the Simpsons people donated their time in a soup kitchen or something.

But, it comes as no surprise to me, that people aren’t entirely prone to critical thinking.

Making rational decisions about how much to spend on gifts is difficult not because of super-subliminal advertising by Wal-Mart but rather because of the simple reality that people don’t associate skepticism with shopping. How else can we explain the confounding sale of ear-candles?

What’s interesting to me is the notion that the answer to over commercialization of Christmas is returning it to its roots of Christian dogma. I don’t really understand that logic. Despite Jesus’ known distaste for money in the church, Christianity is rolling in affluence. Consider the Catholic Church, its headquaters are in a palace in its own state.

Jesus gets pissed

Not to mention that there are few more ardent defenders of capitalism than Christianity. During the Cold War, Christianity became a shining example of all the good in the world compared to the dirty godless Communists. They were all too happy to encourage the rise of consumerism during its holidays because that was the democratic way.

Equally interesting about the whole “return Christmas to its roots” is that Christmas isn’t Christian at its roots. Not only does the holiday not even fit well with its own mythology, Jesus’ birthday is disputed among theologians, in addition the nativity scene is described in the bible in two different and sometimes contradictory way.

Feasting and celebrating in the middle of winter is common across cultures, as is sun worship. Many scholars suggest that the winter solstice as a celebration has contributed the most to our current winter celebration. There are also a number of Roman holidays that occurred around the same time as well as several pagan celebrations that have been assimilated and appropriated into the current tradition we now have.

It’s very difficult to seperate the supernatural from the holiday, if not impossible simply because so much of the holiday is a mash up of different belief systems and cultural meme’s from across the world.

Likewise, as our society has continued to evolve and change, we’ve added more to our holiday including a large chunk of modern consumerism. Is it too much? We may think so but in reality what we’re dealing with here is a very fluid and mutable occasion. Without an organized religion to tie us down to celebrating Christmas one way and one way only, we’re free to experiment and do whatever we want to enjoy it or ignore it as we see fit. Some people will want to use Christmas as an excuse to buy big screen TV’s and shower their family with expensive gifts. This particular way of celebrating no more validates or devalues other forms of celebration. It’s simply a choice to focus on one particular area.

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Lecture: The Lying Brain

Posted by Rob Teszka on April 14, 2010

I’m giving a lecture to the public next week!  It’s sponsored by CFI Vancouver, thanks to Radio Freethinker co-host Ethan being the director of CFI Vancouver and all.  Anyways, I’m going to talk about cognitive psychology: specifically, some research that suggests that our own senses and thoughts aren’t always reliable.  Come have a look!

Here’s the info:


Thursday, April 22nd 2010 at 7:30 pm

Location SFU Harbour Centre (Room TBA)

CFI is proud to present a talk by Radio Freethinker co-host Rob Teszka. Rob is a cognitive psychologist, science promoter, co-host of Radio Freethinker, and self-professed geek.  Currently working at the Brain and Attention Research Lab at UBC, Rob is interested in how people’s perceptions, beliefs, and decisions can be influenced by their environment and unconscious biases.  He worries that people tend not to be aware of these influences, and that our society is based on the incorrect assumption that we cannot fool ourselves.  Through radio, social media, blogging, and research, he hopes to show that most everything is not always as it seems.

How the Brian Lies: We live under the assumption that we are aware of everything around us and that the way we think is reasonable.  However, research in cognitive and social psychology reveals that our eyes lie, our brains make up stories, and our decisions are far more influenced by the environment than we’d care to admit.  This talk (and the lively discussion following) will show the results of some surprising studies into the nature of the mind, and our awareness of its capabilities.

Cost: $5 ($4 for students) Free for Members.

EDIT: There’s now a Facebook event.  See you there!

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Limits of Free Speech

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 1, 2010

Below is the talk i gave at UBC Feb 24 on the limits of free speech.


Free Speech Lecture

Welcome and thank you for coming out, this discussion is about the limits of Free Speech and the first limit is I get to speak and no one else does. (dramatic pause) No, that was a joke. I hope to start things off by giving context to our discussion then open the floor up to for questions and comments.

Let’s start by asking what is free speech and why is there such a reverence for it. On the surface free speech is the ability of one to transmit their ideas to the public. Free speech does not, in a modern ‘western’ context, refer to private speech between individuals. However what qualifies as ‘ideas’ can be everything from political ideology, commercial advertisements, comedy…etc. It is in the transmission of ideas, and often the more controversial questioning of ideas, that lie at the heart at what we see as the value of free speech. John Stuart Mill said “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race [for] If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error”[1]. We live in a culture of constant change, where stagnation is seen as detrimental to progress and only through the improvement of thought that society can evolve. Radio Free Thinker, as a skeptic show, is predicated on the idea that dogma should be challenged everywhere and that only through this free exchange of ideas that a healthy society can exist.

That said; it is also dogma (hmmm…) that free speech is the first among rights and should be complete and absolute. Therefore we shall focus on the need to limit speech, where those limits might be and how such limits might be enforced while preserving the spirit of and medicinal nature of free speech.

In the Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms, we find section 2b which states that a fundamental freedom is that of thought, belief, opinion and expression. However, section 1 states that such rights have “reasonable limits” and can be limited when “demonstrably justified” to protect a “free and democratic society”. This arrangement or priorities shows a fundamental difference between Canada and the USA, in the US constitution (if not in practice) the individual is supreme and as such the only function of government is to protect the individual’s liberty. Canada, by contrast, has always been a more ‘communal’ nation and this “one for all and all for one” Victorian spirit can be seen in our founding anthem “Peace, order and good governance”. The legal opinion in Canada is that only through a healthy society can an individual prosper; turning the US idea on its head.

No, this is not a discussion about the merits of communalism vs. individualism, nor about the historical developments of nation states. We are concerned with free speech here and now; in the context of what is. There are limitations on free speech and these are manifest in three areas – legal, economic and social. In Canada, freedom of expression can be limited provided it is justifiable, that said limitation of proportional and ‘rationally connected to their aims’. For those who have taken any Canadian law, you will know this as the “Oaks test” after the case of the same name.

What is “Justifiable”? The principle here is that, given a specific manifestation of speech, the harm done to a ‘free and democratic society’ would be greater if the freedom were allowed unlimited than if it were limited. A classic example of this is violent pornography. The courts acknowledge that pornography is a protected form of expression however it also upholds legislation the limits violent porn because, in the opinion of the justices, there is a ‘reasonable apprehension of harm’.

What is ‘rationally connected to their aims’? This simply means that if I wanted to prevent the sale of violent porn, any limitation of freedom must be connected to that aim. I could not revoke the drivers licence of those who sell violent porn – it may be punitive but has no rational connection to the aim of ‘preventing the sale of violent porn’.

What is proportional? This means that any freedom must be limited as minimally as possible to achieve its state aims. So a ban on the sale of all porn, so as to prevent the sale of violent porn, is a larger restriction of freedom than is needed to prevent the stated aim when a simple ban on violent porn would be sufficient.

Now this limitation is important when it comes to Canada’s hate speech laws. Canada is a multicultural nation; as such ‘identity’ groups are a fundamental aspect of our cultural landscape. Even those, notably libertarians and Marxists, who do not believe in identity groups, are forced to acknowledge that both victims and victimisers believe in these groups and are willing to use them to perpetrate hatred and violence. Now, in the case of holocaust denial, overt racism or homophobic violence, it is a general consensus that these forms of speech should be limited.

However, there are issues with this; such as at what point does my discussion of genetic distinctions between races cross over into racism? There are other issues, where do we draw the line about what is hate speech? Does Leviticus constitute hate speech? Do comments about the Israeli occupation of Palestine constitute anti-Semitism? The courts have given four exceptions or guides to distinguish ‘hate’ from non-hate speech even when such comments might be construed as hate. These defences are ‘it’s true’, ‘good faith opinion on a religious matter’, ‘in the public interest’ and ‘good faith attempts to point out hate speech’. So Leviticus is off the hook because we have a, in my opinion a destructive, special place for religion…comments on Israel MAY be okay IF true…

Okay, so that’s the law. There are two other ways that our freedom of speech is limited. Economically; this means that someone like Jim Shaw (who own Shaw Cable and just purchase CanWest/Global) who has both money and access can have more speech than I have. However, this leads into the difference between positive and negative rights. Legally, and ideologically, our society tend to side with negative rights over positive rights. This means a right is simply the absence of hindrance…i.e. no one is preventing me from running an ad on CBC. Positive rights means the presence of opportunity…i.e. I am given free time on CBC to speak. For those who are aware of the resent Supreme Court decision in the US will know this a huge topic south of boarder (and maybe one that should be bigger here as well).

The other limitation is that preached by people like Foucault. This is the ability for society, or ourselves, to censor what is obsessively legal speech. A great example of this was during the Olympics. There was reported that the head of RCMP security for the Olympics said that there would be “free speech” zones, and then the VPD said people could demonstrate anywhere but there would be designated areas for “safe”[2] protesting. Other talk about prosecution for ‘anti-Olympic’ posters and unprecedented enhanced security in the GVRD lead to a form of social self-censorship; where a great number of people just did not want to chance a run-in with the authorities. As a radio personality, I acknowledge that there have been a number of times I have thought twice about saying a thing for fear of legal or social outrage that may hinder Radio Free Thinker or cause personal suffering.

This social censorship also related to our earlier discussion of positive rights. Currently there is a legal debate going on about the loss of ‘club status’ of an anti-abortion group at the University of Victoria, of another club at the University of Western Ontario that has been ‘decertified’ for its apparent pro-Palestinian or anti-Semitic stance, depending on who you are speaking to. The UVic case is not so much  a question of free speech, for the club is allowed to organize if it wish, but a question of equality because is being treated differently than other ‘groups’ by being denied club status.

The heart of this case shines a light also on where or how we define hate speech. Opponents to the club point out that its (or similar groups) posters can be graphically obscene and the fundamental stance of the group is to imply the women who have or even advocate abortion are “bad” people who should be shunned. Pro-choice groups point out that anti-abortionist groups have violently harassed and harmed those who advocate, seek and/or provide abortions. The anti-abortion club claims its posters are tasteful; that it has not directly been involved in harassment and that it merely represents a difference of opinion on an issue that they should have much freedom to express as those who are pro-choice.

One last thought before we open the floor. Do universities, and by extension its students and faculty, have a great ‘right’ to free speech than those ‘off campus’? Do universities have a special and protected role in society to be a ‘bastion’ of speech irrespective of its content, impact or perspective provided it is done to forward academic education/research/growth?

ON that note…I will open the floor to thoughts, questions and comments….

[1] p. 24, Mill, J.S., Three Essays: On Liberty; Representative Government; The Subjection of Women. Oxford University Press, 1975, ISBN 0-19-283013-9

[2] Staff Sgt. Mike Cote, “Olympic protest zones don’t exist VPD says” (

Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

News and Announcements

Posted by Ethan Clow on February 21, 2010

Hello all, so its been a busy few weeks for Radio Freethinker and I just wanted to take the opportunity to make sure everyone is caught up to speed.

First, I’m very pleased to announce that Radio Freethinker will now be an hour long show! CiTR has decided to expand the show and give us more time to promote skepticism and critical thinking. Obviously we are thrilled. Doing the show on CiTR gave us a built in audience and now with an new hour long time slot, we can start addressing topics and themes in far greater detail and with more content our listeners have come to expect. It goes without saying that if our listeners have suggestions or comments for the show or ideas that you want us to cover, please contact us and let us know!

The second big announcement is that episode 51 of Radio Freethinker will not be aired live on CiTR. The station is pre-empting regular scheduled programs for a very worthy cause, CiTR and CJSF along with Co-op Radio will be presenting the Homelessness Marathon, please check out the facebook group for more information and info on how you can help out this worthy cause.

Since we will not be going on air live, Radio Freethinker will do a special pre-recorded episode that will debute here on our website later this week! Remember to check by to listen or download it. Episode 51 is shaping up to be a great one, the topic will be populationdo we need to fear over population?

And finally I have another awesome announcement. On Wednesday February 24th, Radio Freethinker’s Don McLenaghen will be giving a talk hosted by CFI Vancouver on Free Speech! The location is at UBC in Buchanan room B215 and takes place from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. The discussion will begin with a short talk by Don, after which, people will be encouraged to ask questions, debate, and get involved in the conversation. There is no cost for this event but donations are welcome.

You can check out the event details at the Facebook event here there is also a meet up event for those of you who don’t use facebook.

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