Monday, March 15, 2021

Shadow of a Doubt - March 2021


Alan Levinovitz, PhD
Author / Associate Professor of Religious Studies, James Madison University

Saturday, March 13, 1:30pm US/Eastern (UTC-05:00)

NCASVideo YouTube Channel:

For more information, call the NCAS Skeptic Line at 240-670-NCAS (6227).

Appeals to the wisdom of nature are among the most powerful arguments in the history of human thought. Yet Nature (with a capital N) and natural goodness are not objective or scientific. Author Alan Levinovitz will discuss how modern Western culture has divinized nature, and will highlight the many dangers of substituting simple myths for complicated realities.


Alan Levinovitz is associate professor of religious studies at James Madison University, where he teaches and researches a wide range of topics: classical Chinese philosophy, religion and science, and even toy design.  After studying religion and philosophy at Stanford, he taught English in China for two years before returning to the University of Chicago and earning a PhD in Religion and Literature. Now he lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, daughter, cat, hermit crabs, and an extensive collection of strange plants and unusual minerals.​

In addition to his academic work on everything from the meaning of capital letters to the meaning of nonsense, his writing on religion, philosophy, and science has been featured in Aeon, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Slate, Wired, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vox, NPR and elsewhere.  He is also the author of The Gluten Lie and Other Myths About What You Eat.

There will be an online question-and-answer segment after the talk.

How to Watch and Participate in this Online Event:

1) Use a supported browser...

2) Use the link .

3) The live stream begins shortly before 1:30pm US/Eastern (UTC-05:00) on Saturday, March 13, 2021.

4) To post questions, you must be signed in to a Google account.

5) Post your questions in the chat window to the right of the video player when the live stream is active.

6) Click into where it says "Say something..." and begin typing (up to 200 characters). Then click the send icon .

Along with your question, please post what city or town you're in.

Exclusive Opportunity for NCAS Members!

Following the talk and the question-and-answer segment, the YouTube presentation will end, and an online "reception" with our speaker and NCAS members will begin on Zoom.  Check your email inbox during the last few minutes of the Q and A. All NCAS members will receive information for joining the Zoom meeting with our speaker.  The "Zoom Client for Meetings" can be downloaded for free at  To join, just enter the Zoom Meeting ID number and Passcode provided in the Zoom account is needed.

Message to Current and Prospective NCAS Members

In response to the economic hardship and other uncertainties that our members may be facing, NCAS has automatically extended by one year all memberships that expire in 2020 or later.  Payment will be accepted for new memberships as well as renewals for 2019 and before: new and renewed will have a bonus year added.  Each life member may sponsor a new one-year membership at no charge.  (Double life memberships may sponsor two.)  Send your sponsored member's name and contact information to This offer will continue until further notice.

December 2020 NCAS Speaker to Appear on ABC-TV's "The Con"

Bob Nygaard, a private detective who specializes in the investigation of confidence crimes, most notably psychic fraud, will appear on an upcoming episode of "The Con," a weekly TV series narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.  "The Psychic Con" episode will air on ABC-TV on Wednesday, March 17 at 10 PM ET.

March PhACT Lecture

Our skeptical neighbors to the north, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT), will host their next online event on Saturday, March 20 at 2 PM ET.  Speaker Ian Bryce of Australian Skeptics, Inc will present "Adventures of an Australian Skeptic."  As ASI's "Challenge Coordinator," Dr. Bryce administers the A$100,000 Challenge for anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal or psychic ability or powers unknown to science. Event details at

April NCAS Lecture
Christopher French, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, will present "Twenty Years of Weird Science at Goldsmiths: Some Reflections," discussing the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) that he founded in 2000.  Saturday, April 10 at 1:30 PM ET, live on the NCASVideo YouTube channel.

NCAS Board Elections: Call for Candidates

Are you an NCAS member who wants to take a leadership role in the skeptics movement?  The NCAS annual board of directors election is fast approaching.  As a board member, you can channel (non-psychically) your talent and energy (the non-woo kind) into educating the public, and pick up some fun skills along the way.  Send an email to by March 31 for more information.

NCAS and the Reckoning of Time
There are many ways to reckon the passage of time...the orbital period of Earth around the Sun and the orbital period of the Moon around Earth are part of the common standard.  For longer periods of time, there are alternative "clocks" available.  Using the orbital periods of other planets around the Sun (Jupiter ≈ 12 years, Saturn ≈ 29.5 years) is a fun way of making someone feel younger when their birthday rolls around.  For example, I (Scott Snell) am still 4, in "Jupiter years."  Are there any other "fun" clocks out there, you may ask?  Why yes, and NCAS is "synced" perfectly with one of them!  NCAS was born in Spring 1987.  Several weeks after the first NCAS public meeting on March 29, Brood X ("ten") periodical cicadas emerged en masse (as they always do, every 17 years) from underground, eventually taking flight and <ahem> fulfilling the reproductive phase of their lifecycle.  That happened in 1987, in 2004, and will again in 2021 (probably starting in early May).  For a month or more, some Mid-Atlantic and Midwest states will be indundated with billions of these noisy insects.  So, while you're enjoying (or "enjoying") this wonder of nature around us, you can wish NCAS a happy 2nd birthday using your Magicicada septendecim clock!

Torn From Today's (Yesterday's) Headlines
By Scott Snell
Coincidence Anniversaries

This month marks the anniversaries of two coincidences involving TV entertainment programs:


TV: It's the 20th anniversary (March 4, 2001) of the premiere of "The Lone Gunmen," a short-lived spinoff of "The X-Files."  The episode's villains hack into the controls of a commercial airliner, setting it on course to collide with the World Trade Center's South Tower.  Fortunately our heroes are able to restore control to the crew at the last possible moment, and the pilot steers the plane clear of the tower.

Reality: Six months later, commercial airliners were hijacked and collided with the World Trade Center towers.

The episode:

(Note that the current Wikipedia page incorrectly states that the episode's flight originated in Boston, as did the two September 11 flights that destroyed the World Trade Center.  In fact, the flight was bound for Boston.)


TV: It's the 40th anniversary (March 18, 1981) of the premiere of "The Greatest American Hero."  The episode's villains plan to assassinate the President of the United States.  Fortunately our hero, a schoolteacher named Ralph Hinkley, thwarts their plan.

Reality: Twelve days later,  an attempted assassination of the President of the United States nearly succeeds.  The would-be assassin's name?  John Hinckley, Jr.'s_surname

As I wrote in other Shadow columns about coincidences (the January 2013 and November 2015 editions), "We're surrounded by an incredible number of occurrences and details, only some of which we even notice, so we should expect some random 'alignments' of two to happen now and then. We never notice the many misalignments, so when an alignment occurs, it seems remarkable, and could be quite affecting."

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!

When holiday shopping at, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that a portion of the purchase price (0.5%) goes to NCAS! It's simple and automatic, and it doesn't cost you anything!

AmazonSmile's disbursements to NCAS in the fourth quarter of 2020 came to $34.53, meaning that $6900 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's enough to cover more than 100 minutes of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

Thanks again to our members who have chosen to support NCAS!

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