One of my only celebrity thank yous that I will post this month and today is dedicated to Penn Jillette and James Randi and all of the atheistic celebrities that have helped and will help the image of atheists.
I’m sure most of you know him from Penn & Teller and their magic routines, but I must admit my first encounter with him was from the series Bulls**t.
This show was one of the first things that taught me about critical thinking outside of school. He would confront topics like PETA, circumcision, the bible, astrology, etc and would point out things that most people don’t know about those topics. It was not a straightforward documentary show Penn and Teller combined the facts with comedy to ensure emotions didn’t run so high as to keep people from listening to the information given. Sadly I never watched the show while it was on HBO, it was already ended by the time I heard of it so all of my viewings have been on YouTube.
Penn also has a podcast called Sunday School (because they record it on Sunday mornings) that I have gotten into. He has guests on and they talk about the news and current events and upcoming events for them and of course the comedy is always included. I think the reason I enjoy this show so much is that it has taught me that a group of people can get together (atheist and religious) and not have the topic revolve completely around religion. I like to think that it has been one of the items that has smoothed over my edges.
James ‘The Amazing’ Randi is a magician that has used his training in magic to assist his life as a skeptic. He too had a television series that I missed out on, but that series was devoted to allowing people with supernatural powers to show off their power and have it tested live. To this day he has a prize of $1,000,000.00 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of a supernatural power or event under test conditions agreed upon by both parties. No one has even come close to claiming the prize.
James Randi is one of the best people to teach critical thinking. He is able to relate the process of belief to believing a magic trick but then encourages critical thinking to figure out how the trick was done. Randi’s television shows featured people showing off their powers but then he would explain how he thought the trick had been done or more usually why the trick hadn’t worked on the stage. His largest feat to date has been his most thorough debunking of the famed Uri Geller. If you don’t know about this and you still believe Uri has some kind of power you should look it up.
No amount of belief makes something a fact.
Many young people are growing up seeing these celebrities and are finding out that it is ok to not believe. The stigma still exists but has been significantly lessened and we work everyday to rid ourselves of it entirely. The image of the atheist has changed over the past decades and it is a direct result of the actions of people like Penn Jillette and James Randi.