The Surrey/Langley Skeptics in the Pub meet twice a month to discuss critical thinking and science. From left are Jeff Vickers

A healthy dose of skepticism

Shouldn't these folks be at church on Sunday morning? God, no.

On a Sunday morning at a local pub in Fleetwood, several people gather at a table and order breakfast: Sandwiches, veggie egg whites, an eight-ounce sirloin and something called a “cloak and dagger.”

Plus lots of gravy and extra ketchup.

Although the waitress has just walked away with their order, the mental plates are already full.

“Everything is on the table for discussion,” says Marina Sedai, a member of the Surrey/Langley Skeptics in the Pub.

The year-old offshoot of the Vancouver Skeptics has 42 members in its Facebook group, and meets twice a month in Surrey to discuss, disclaim and dispute any number of topics they deem worthy of skepticism or scientific examination.

Alien abductions? Check. Distrust of vaccines? Check. The origins of the universe? Why not.

The Skeptics are not to be confused with conspiracy theorists – 9/11 “truthers” and those who peddle myths about alien visits and “faked” moon landings.

Those are common targets of the Skeptics, as are model/actress Jenny McCarthy and those providing unscientific and anecdotal “proof” that measles vaccines cause autism – claims that have been debunked in many scientific studies since the 1990s.

The Skeptics follow the idea that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” a phrase made popular by the late astronomer Carl Sagan.

Jeff Vickers brings up subject of homeopathy, a pseudoscience with no measurable effect in curing diseases.

He describes homeopathic surgery as “Nurse, hand me the nothing.”

“There are so many big topics that a lot of people talk about,” says group organizer Bob Brennert. “We don’t stick to one thing, but religion does show up a lot. There’s a large overlap between skeptics and atheists.”

The Skeptics understand that not everybody appreciates their views.

“For me, the big difference between coming to the Skeptic group and having a conversation, and being outside in the rest of the world and having a polite-society conversation is that when somebody takes a position and says ‘I have a belief,’ very often, it’s very difficult even in the most polite and neutral manner to say ‘why?’ and challenge them with respect,” explains Sedai, who was once a Jehovah’s Witness. “Offence is quickly taken from that.”

“We’re more critical of the religion than the one who believes,” adds Vickers. “That line between the religion and the believer is very difficult to walk.”

He says that any query, no matter how polite, is immediately taken as a personal attack.

Brennert describes the Skeptics group as a safe place to talk.

“I don’t think anybody in the group would be offended by being challenged.”

Indeed, the Skeptics themselves have differences in opinions on any number of topics brought up, including the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which a man now is trying to make a “mainstream” religion in Germany.

(Brennert’s view is that no, the satire of religion in general shouldn’t give the “Pastafarian” movement a tax-exempt status. But he does agree that wearing religious headgear on one’s head is a freedom of choice).

The discussions around the table are whimsical, logical and snappy, even if they might bite outsiders unready or unwilling to have their beliefs challenged.

“There’s not the dislike or hatred (from skeptics) that people impose on our community,” says Sedai. “It’s huge misconception. Atheists are not angry, they’re curious.”

“If someone were to believe in a supernatural being, they would not be excluded (from the group),” adds Brennert. “They think we’re threatening them. We would welcome them and have really great conversations.”

Brennert says he doesn’t hate religion, he just doesn’t understand it.

“I don’t understand why people believe there is a god. There are scientific fundamentals that can explain that what you believe is not true.”

He admits there’s no denying that one’s religious community brings a sense of comfort.

“We nitpick about what it is you choose to believe.”

The same sentiment is shared by Vickers, who grew up in a small town in Ontario as part of the only family that didn’t go to church on Sundays.

He’s now got someplace else to be on the occasional Sunday.

They skewer dogma and they serve an eight-ounce sirloin.

The Surrey/Langley Skeptics in the Pub meet on the first Sunday of the month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Edith + Arthur Public House, 8410 160 St. and on the third Thursday from 7-10 p.m. at Central City Brewing Co., 13450 102 Ave.

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