What to do tonight: Join the Skeptics
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You gotta believe in a group called Steel City Skeptics.
If not, perhaps you don't know about the work they do, organizing social events and lectures while challenging people to ask questions and then to think about the answers.
"They are one of two or three informal secular groups that blog and hold various meet-ups, discussion groups, and social events," said Stephen Hirtle, a professor of information sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "They try to bring nonreligious, atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers together."
The Skeptics will be joined by nationally known demographer Barry Kosmin and others tonight at 6:30 at Clapp Hall on Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland for a symposium on Secularism on Campus. The event was organized by the Center for Inquiry, based in Buffalo, N.Y., and is open to the public.
"This is the first national symposium from this group looking at the growth of secularism on campus," said Mr. Hirtle, who works with the center.
"They picked Pittsburgh because there's a very active group at Carnegie Mellon University, and a very active group at the University of Pittsburgh," he said. "Some students at Duquesne tried to form a group, but it was declined because it was not in line with their mission."
The symposium will address a number of related topics including secular campus groups and the campuses that discourage them.
"Secular students who are nonreligious find it very useful to meet with other secular students to express their concerns and meet people of common background. That's part of social groups on campus," Mr. Hirtle said. "In the same way that there are religious groups and special interest groups on campus to bring people together."
The Pitt group is soon going to sponsor another Ask the Atheist Day, at which people who have never talked with an atheist can ask questions.
"It's a very friendly event," Mr. Hirtle said. "They had it before, last year, and it was a great event. It really was nonconfrontational."
Some people, of course, are critical of such things. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, for example, while campaigning for president has said that 60 percent of students go to college and leave without religion.
"That is so totally false," Mr. Hirtle said. "No one can find where he came up with that. He just pulled that out of his rear end. There is no data on that at all.
"There is a fear that colleges are taking away religion. But there is no evidence to suggest that that is the case. I think it's important to support students where they are. It's not a matter of indoctrination or getting them to change their minds.
"There are some who become more religious, there are some who become less religious."
Such is one of the points Mr. Hirtle hopes Mr. Kosmin will make tonight.
"Barry Kosmin conducts The American Religious Identification Survey, the most-noted religious survey in the country. Last conducted in 2008, it's a detailed survey asking religious beliefs, church attendance, the belief in evolution. He knows more about people's religious beliefs right now than anyone else in the country. It's highly respected and well-cited.
"I hope people come away with a better understanding that secular students exist, and I hope they get some understanding of the issues and impact these students have."
The public is welcome to attend. Nonmembers must pay $20, but it's free for students.
Meanwhile, at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg tonight is author John E. Abraham, appearing as part of the Dr. Bernard Cobetto Lecture Series on Contemporary Ethical Issues. It starts at 7 p.m. in Ferguson Theater in Smith Hall.
Mr. Abraham will be speaking on the topic: "Madmen, Educrats & Demagogues: Confessions of a Recovering Politician."
"I talk about the challenges of public education," he said today, while visiting DeLallo's Grocery in the Strip District. "The funding. Kids learn differently than we did, and it's basically because of technology.
"As much as you think you know what you're talking about, you're always amazed at the lack of interdependency. We're not educating sharecroppers' kids anymore. We're educating children whose parents are very educated and talented, and there are opportunities for parents to help teachers.
"I think we need to do more interactive development. There's so much talent. Local schools should be the focal point of a community. But so many people don't have children in the schools, so they're not engaged. And they're not asked to be engaged. We need to transform from being independent to interdependent."
Mr. Abraham also will discuss his book, "From Ballpark to Boardroom: Lessons for CEOs from a Little League Coach."
"It was a great book to write," he said. "I was working at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and I became a youth baseball coach. For 15 years I watched kids play a game and learned how not to do things as a supervisor."
After leaving the CDC, Mr. Abraham ran for office in Cobb County, Ga., and served four years on the school board.
"I talk about my experiences and what I learned," he said. "I have and eclectic mix of training and experience. It's tough for scientists who think they know it all. But you can't operate in a vacuum."
Get a preview of tonight's events!
Barry Kosmin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vgc5COQ3xF8
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at email@example.com or 412-263-1456.
First Published April 3, 2012 4:03 pm