Thursday, November 3, 2011

Atheist Ear Candy

In situations where I'm caught without anything else to do, like driving to work or walking to a club meeting, I like to listen to one of several skepticism-related podcasts. I want to give a quick summary of them here.

Not to be confused with a
certain other guide.
The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe is hosted by a panel of skeptics (Steven, Bob and Jay Novella, Rebecca Watson and Evan Bernstein) who discuss primarily science-related topics. Each week they talk about new scientific advances, and developments in the realm of superstition and pseudoscience. Their "Science or Fiction" segment has the panel guessing which of three surprising scientific findings is a fake created by Steven. They also often interview a guest skeptic—sometimes prominent ones like Eugenie Scott or James Randi.

The Atheist Experience and The Non-Prophets are produced by the Atheist Community of Austin, and while the cast varies, Matt Dillahunty is the linchpin of both shows. They discuss current events and issues related to atheism and religion, and also conduct the occasional interview of a non-believer. The Atheist Experience prominently features viewer calls from Christians and atheists alike. While Matt and the others can sometimes be a bit aggressive when addressing callers, they're always logical and reasonably civil. Their attitude is understandable given the repetitive (and sometimes borderline Poe-like) arguments that the religious callers tend to offer.

The Thinking Atheist is hosted by Seth, an atheist and former Christian radio broadcaster who has the commanding voice to match. Each show is dedicated to a different atheism- or religion-related topic such as cults, creationism or raising a freethinking child. Seth discusses them on his own in a thoughtful opening segment, then later invites listeners to call in. He's quite polite and reasonable, and the callers generally don't get too obnoxious either. The tone of the show is more intimate and relaxed due to the one-man format, which can be a nice break from the others.

Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot is a philosophy podcast in which atheist and rationalist Luke Muehlhauser interviews a prominent thinker, often in a field related to philosophy of religion. The series includes such topics as the resurrection of Jesus, the neuroscience of free will, Alvin Plantinga's reformed epistemology, desire utilitarianism, the explanatory power of theism, and overcoming bias. There's some pretty heavy-duty thinking required for this one and it can get a bit dry at times, but it challenges me in a way the other podcasts don't.

I'm a sucker for pretty logos.
Radiolab is a unique little show that I've just started listening to. Each episode is dedicated to a scientific or philosophical subject like the self, the placebo effect, time, evolution or artificial intelligence. Commentary by hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich is integrated seamlessly with interviews and recordings of experts on the topic at hand, as well as some soothing ambient music. It may be cliché to say this podcast makes learning fun, but that's really the greatest compliment I can bestow. It consistently pursues deep truths while maintaining an offbeat yet accessible feel.

These podcasts are a great source of relaxing entertainment. I don't always have other atheists and skeptics around to talk to, so it's nice to be able to tune in and hear some familiar people discussing the things I care about. It's just one more way that technology allows free expression and a broadening of the marketplace of ideas.

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