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Reason Rally Rocks

by Michael Shermer, Mar 27 2012
Shermer leading the Reason Rally Cheer (photo by John Welte)

Yours truly, leading the Reason Rally Cheer (photo by John Welte)

March 24, 2012 marked the largest gathering of skeptics, atheists, humanists, nonbelievers, and “nones” (those who tick the “no religion” box on surveys) of all stripes on the Mall in Washington, D.C., across from the original Smithsonian museum. Crowd estimates vary from 15,000 to 25,000. However many it was, it was one rockin’ huge crowd that voiced its support for reason, science, and skepticism louder than any I have ever heard. Anywhere. Any time. Any place. It started raining just as the festivities gathered steam late morning, but the weather seemed to have no effect whatsoever on the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd…or the speakers and performers. The organizer and host David Silverman and his posse of tireless staff and volunteers pulled it off without a hitch. Organizing big events can be an organizational nightmare, but they did it, marking what I hope is the first of many consciousness raising events in the civil rights movement for equal treatment for us nonbelievers and skeptics.

James Randi and I arrived well before our scheduled talk time and mingled among the crowds, swamped with well-wishers and camera-hounds and feeling the love from so many people that makes fighting the good fight for science and reason well worth it when you know there are people out there who care. Hanging out behind the stage and in the wings was an especially nice treat for me as I got to watch the speakers and performers and the audience together. Someone snapped this pic:

Shermer hang in out backstage

I think I was watching Tim Minchin, whom I have never met or seen perform live. It was clear from the start that he was a major headliner as the audience exploded in energy for him, cajoling him to remove his boots and perform barefoot, one of his trademark features, along with distinct eyeliner highlighting his radiant blue eyes (he says he uses make-up in order to highlight facial expressions for audiences because his hands are usually both busy on the keyboard). Here we are hanging out after his remarkable performance. He was brilliant, funny, witty, insightful, clever, and most of all inspirational. Minchin is a genius.

Michael Shermer and Tim Minchin

No less a showman in humor and poignancy was Mr. MythBuster Adam Savage, who quickly moved off his scripted comments to do stand-up commentary on why science is the coolest thing one can possibly do. Even though Adam said “I’m not a scientist, but I play one on TV,” I disagree. I think the MythBusters are doing science, at least provisionally in testing hypotheses by running experiments over and over and over until they get some result, often not the one they were expecting. The fact that they have fun doing it, and usually blow up the experiment at the end, should not distract us from the fact that the core principle behind MythBusters is testing hypotheses, which is the core principle behind science. Adam was absolutely loved by the crowd. Here we are back stage after his talk.

Michael Shermer and Adam Savage
God Hates Bags

One observation: there were rumors that the Westboro Baptist Church protestors were going to be there with their now-infamous signs declaring “God Hates Fags”, and in anticipation of this people decided to fight hatred and bigotry with humor and wit, pace signs that read “God Hates Figs” and this one (right) plastered on bags carried around: “God Hates Bags.”

I had 5 minutes to speak. It doesn’t sound like much, but consider the fact that the greatest speech ever given in American history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech, was only 17 minutes long, and most of his other famous speeches, such as his “How Long, Not Long” speech, were even shorter. I began my talk by inveigling the crowd to, on the count of three, yell out “Skeptics Rule,” then “Science Rules” then “Reason Rules.” I couldn’t resist filming it with my iPhone camera. Here it is, the loudest cheer I’ve ever heard for skeptics, science, and reason.

Michael Shermer next to Thomas Jefferson statue

Here I am with my hero, TJ.

I veered away from my written speech here and there depending on the response from the crowd, and I added this line, which was picked up by the press and published in many places:

“America was not founded on God and religion. America was founded on reason.”

I was especially motivated to make that comment because the day before I visited Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, which is a monument to reason. In point of fact, the Declaration of Independence is a monument to reason, along with the country it created.

READ MY SPEECH AT SKEPTIC.COM

Recommended Reading

42 Responses to “Reason Rally Rocks”

  1. BJ says:

    Glad to see that the link between libertarianism and skepticism remains strong!

  2. MB says:

    “Glad to see that the link between libertarianism and skepticism remains strong!”

    It reminds us that no one is immune from cultish thinking.

    • BJ says:

      nope! libertarianism is not a cult!

      • littlejohn says:

        You were programmed to deny it. Of course it’s a cult. You worship Ayn Rand, who was a typical cult leader with her insistence of sexual access to whatever men caught her fancy. You even have your holy books, “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” two of the worst books ever written. History has shown over and over your system doesn’t work: The just get richer at the expense of everyone else. Yet you continue to beleive. You’re no different fron Scientologists, and is diaappoints me to no end that Shermer and Penn Gillette subscribe to such bullshit.

      • Max says:

        Shermer said he became a Libertarian in part because of “Atlas Shrugged.”
        http://www.skepticblog.org/2009/05/05/how-i-became-a-libertarian/

        But later Shermer called the cult of Ayn Rand as “The Unlikeliest Cult in History.”
        http://www.2think.org/02_2_she.shtml

        “The cultic flaw in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is not in the use of reason, or in the emphasis on individuality, or in the belief that humans are self motivated, or in the conviction that capitalism is the ideal system. The fallacy in Objectivism is the belief that absolute knowledge and final Truths are attainable through reason, and therefore there can be absolute right and wrong knowledge, and absolute moral and immoral thought and action.”

      • Canman says:

        There certianly are some weird devotees of Ayn Rand and Shermer describes them in his book “Why People Beleive Weird Things”. They don’t represent most libertarians.

        This is the best commentary I have ever seen on Ayn Rand:

        http://reason.com/archives/2009/11/10/will-everyone-please-stop-frea

    • Canman says:

      Any cult or religion has to have some kind of faith in something. As a libertarian leaning person, I do have faith in something: Whenever individuals or groups engage in some sort of enterprise, some of them will fail.

      My liberal, progressive counterparts seem to have faith that government will be effective at whatever it tries.

      • Alan Macphail says:

        …and believing in the “Invisible Hand” isn’t magical thinking?

      • Canman says:

        There’s nothing magical about the concept of the “invisable hand”. It has a theory and mechanism, just like biological evolution.

      • Phea says:

        “My liberal, progressive counterparts seem to have faith that government will be effective at whatever it tries”

        Uh… let’s see, Prohibition, more wars and police actions I care to list, failure to stop lobbyists, bankers, insurance and big pharma companies from ripping us off, poison peanut butter. I can think of quite a few things the government has failed at. I guess my problem is I really don’t see things being less corrupt with LESS government.

        It’s all good though, this is the good old U.S.A. and by god we have the best politicians/government money can buy. (Sorry if I’m just a tad cynical).

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acLW1vFO-2Q

  3. Insightful Ape says:

    This was just gorgeous. I came with a broken arm and stood in the drizzle-rain for 7 hours. And it was one of the happiest days of my life.

  4. Janet Camp says:

    Sounds like fun, but I have no more tolerance for Libertarianism than for Religion.

  5. Max says:

    Funny
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_Reason#France
    The Age of Reason, despite having been written for the French, made very little, if any, impact on revolutionary France. Paine wrote that ‘the people of France were running headlong into atheism and I had the work translated into their own language, to stop them in that career, and fix them to the first article… of every man’s creed who has any creed at all -– I believe in God.’ (emphasis Paine’s).”

    Meanwhile, France was going through the Cult of Reason.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_reason
    “Numerous political factions, anti-clerical groups and events only loosely connected to the cult have come to be amalgamated with its name. The earliest atheistic public demonstrations ranged from ‘wild masquerades’ redolent of earlier spring festivals to outright persecutions, including ransackings of churches and synagogues in which religious and royal images were defaced.”

  6. Insightful Ape says:

    Paine is one of my heros, buy he can be excused for not knowing about evolution. He died decades before publication of Darwin’s work. In “the Age of Reason”, he makes it clear that the reason he believed in god was that through his creation, the Nature, god spoke to everyone. He got that one thing wrong. The rest of the book was criticism of organized religion, which abounded at our Rally.

  7. Nicole says:

    Hahaha I’m so happy I can see myself in the “science rules!” portion of the cheer. It makes me laugh because I was a horrible science student in high school, though I got a bit better with Bio in college. It’s been through discovering Skeptic and podcasts like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe that have awakened something in me and have given me a better understanding of science and even a passion. You were great at the rally, and a true inspiration!

  8. innaiah narisetti says:

    Michael Shermer did a great job in reason rally. I admire the speeches of Richard Dawkins, Taslima Nasrin, James Randi.very inspiring rally which can be organised throughout USA amd world.

  9. laursaurus says:

    I’m skeptical about the estimated number of attendees.
    Well I am shocked…SHOCKED I tell you, that the WBC stood everyone up! After all, it has to be the first time they were ever INVITED to an event. Both the invitation and Megan Phelps’ RSVP acceptance were via Twitter. Maybe it was the weather.
    Or maybe we’re on to something, here. When one of our soldiers is killed in battle, his/her grieving family has a lot on their plate. The possibility of the WBC protesting the funeral probably won’t occur to them. As an act of loving support, take it upon yourself to invite the WBC. Now we know that they don’t show up if you’re expecting them. It’s all about pissing people off to get attention. Not that David Silverman is above this tactic, which is probably why he or his assistant invited the Phelps ladies to the rally.

    • Ubi Dubium says:

      WBC didn’t stand us up. But they were not standing with the other godbots, but at a location a good distance away, and back behind the stage, so they weren’t as visible as they might have been. Nate also mentioned that they were there.

  10. GS says:

    Just wanted to say- I didn’t know Shermer was in such great shape. In the picture next with the Jefferson statue looks like a night club bouncer next to TJ!

  11. Judy Saint says:

    The article says the event was “pulled off without a hitch.” That made me sad. I’d have loved having Hitch present, but, alas….

  12. Joshua Z says:

    “The organizer and host David Silverman and his posse of tireless staff and volunteers pulled it off without a hitch.”
    Is there a pun intended here? The video tribute to Christopher Hitchens failed to play. So I’d say that was a major hitch that left us without a Hitch.

  13. Alan Macphail says:

    ….without a hitch.

    Sadly

  14. bobco85 says:

    I must admit, I am still in a stupor about having attended the Reason Rally! It’s one of those, “Did that really happen?” sort of memories. I was in awe at the vast number of people there who were being so open about their skepticism, atheism, and rationalism.

    Michael, I only heard the last part of your speech (got caught in the food court at the American History museum), but I did read the transcript. Great speech!

  15. RandiWatch says:

    Michael, you arrived with James Randi? Did you ask him what he knew about the crimes Dayvi Pena was recently convicted for in Federal court and when he knew about them? Did you ask if Pena ever drew a salary or remuneration of any kind from the JREF when Randi was aware that his documentation was illegal?

    How did Randi go from hiring Dayvi Pena from Venezuela in 1986 to telling everyone for several years he was Jose Alvarez from the Bronx, most recently in his Carlos hoax video? Did you ever hire Pena/Alavarez for any reason? Did you ask Randi if he’s been contacted by Jose Alvarez’s attorney’s yet vis a vis a civil suit?

    Did you ask him how the JREF can present itself as a fraudbuster when one of its primary figures was involved in a quarter-century fraud and it happened under Randi’s watch?

    More importantly, when will you speak about any of this anywhere? I know you have the courage and integrity to post these questions on the blog.

  16. Marcus says:

    “America was not founded on God and religion. America was founded on reason.”

    7/4/1776 – We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are CREATED equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    Perhaps Mr. Shermer forgot this important little line in the Declaration of Independence. Of course, the founding fathers were men of reason and employed it in the founding of this country, but atheism, no matter how far you stretch, bend, pull, CANNOT be logically tied to this statement.

    • Max says:

      Shermer says, “equality, liberty, prosperity, and trust arose well ahead of religious doctrines.”
      But calling truths “self-evident” still smacks of faith rather than reason.

    • Terry says:

      Marcus, you confuse a creator with your Creator-person. To create means to bring into existence, as in Shermer created his speech. The Founders were devoted to reason and you can find many quotes from Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, etc decrying religion and god(s). Most of them were what we would call today agnostics, highly unconvinced by religious arguments, but open-minded enough to know they didn’t know everything, unlike the religious.

    • Phea says:

      Here are three quotes from our founding fathers that tend to disagree:

      “Lighthouses are more useful than churches” – Benjamin Franklin

      “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it” – John Adams

      “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone upon man” – Thomas Jefferson

  17. RandiWatch says:

    Michael, you arrived with James Randi? Did you ask him what he knew about the crimes Dayvi Pena was recently convicted for in Federal court and when he knew about them? Did you ask if Pena ever drew a salary or remuneration of any kind from the JREF when Randi was aware that his documentation was illegal?

    How did Randi go from hiring Dayvi Pena from Venezuela in 1986 to telling everyone for several years he was Jose Alvarez from the Bronx, most recently in his Carlos hoax video? Did you ever hire Pena/Alavarez for any reason? Did you ask Randi if he’s been contacted by Jose Alvarez’s attorney’s yet vis a vis a civil suit?

    Did you ask him how the JREF can present itself as a fraudbuster when one of its primary figures was involved in a quarter-century fraud and it happened under Randi’s watch?

    More importantly, when will you speak about any of this anywhere? I know you have the courage and integrity to post these questions on the blog.

  18. Francisco says:

    We should avoid “isms” of any kind

  19. Francisco says:

    “equality, liberty prosperity and trust” are necessary for human self development in any society. This is common sense, not truth. Also, these concepts imply “action” while faith always implies “passiveness” (hope for…) Read Spinoza he explains it much better than I.

  20. Greg says:

    The only “hitch” during the rally was during the video memorial for Christopher Hitchens… A Hitch hitch…

  21. Marianas Trench says:

    Fantastic footage of Dawkins getting the ‘rockstar’ treatment:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9UKTuuTHEg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Can’t believe the numbers at this rally. Truly inspirational.

  22. Jan Luiten says:

    Well skepticism is the new religion. This time a materialistic religion. But the skeptics should not think this religion is the same as science. Therefore the skeptic rules are too prejudiced.
    I think this materialistic religion or superstition will attrack many people, unfortunately. How long will it take before skeptic dogmatism will totally dominate our culture?

  23. LEE SALEN-GA says:

    ***FTL NEUTRINOS FAILS TO DETHRONE EINSTEIN’ S SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY***
    [ http://www.io9.com/5917018/its-official-neutrinos-cant-go-faster-than-the-speed-of-light-after-all ]

    EINSTEIN MY IDOL, TOYED WITH THE COMPASS IN HIS YOUTH, BUT HE FAILED TO BEAT ME IN THE DISCOVERY WHICH WAS CENSORED BY THE ILLUMINATI CONTROLLED MEDIA, TO ALLOW THE SCIENCE COMMUNITY TO SAVE FACE: THE NORTH POLE IS SOUTH MAGNETIC GAY.
    LUCKY FOR ME, HE ALSO REFUSED TO BELIEVE IN QUANTUM MECHANICS, HE FAILED TO DISCOVER MY DISCOVERY IN GEOMETRY; THAT ***A LOCALLY EUCLIDIAN STRAIGHT LINE IS GLOBALLY NON-EUCLIDIAN CURVED***.
    HE CLAIMED SPACE IS CURVED BUT LINES REMAINED UNIVERSALLY STRAIGHT. HE WAS QUANTUM MECHANICALLY WRONG.
    I ANNOUNCED MY DISCOVERY OF THE [SALEN-GA QUANTUM TANGENT THEOREM] IN GEOMETRY: “THE POINT OF TANGENCY OF A STRAIGHT LINE TO A CIRCLE, DUE TO QUANTUM RELATIVITY EFFECTS ACQUIRES A DIAMETER IN SPACE-TIME THAT IS EQUAL TO 2% OF THE CIRCLE”.
    IT ENABLED ME TO CREATE A SUBSTITUTE TO THE SCHRODINGER CAT PARADOX IN QUANTUM MECHANICS CALLED THE [SALEN-GA GLOBALLY ROUND/LOCALLY FLAT, TWO STATE, SIMULTANEITY PARADOX].
    I AM LEE SALEN-GA OF THE PHILIPPINES(QUANTUM PHYSICIST).