My Talk from the Reason Rally – March 24, 2012

The Reason Rally's intent is to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society… and having a damn good time doing it!

I got a chance to speak at last weekend’s Reason Rally. (It’s a shaky-cam, but I’ll update it when there’s a better source.) The full transcript is on the next page.

The bold/unbold technique makes it easier for me to read onstage.

I’ve been racking my brain these past few weeks trying to think of positive ways of talking about reason, and being reasonable, and it turns out; it’s not a simple subject. I’m a pretty non-confrontational person, I am, most of the time, the very definition of a reasonable man.

I don’t like telling people things they don’t want to hear. I want people to get along. I want people to like me. I want to find good things in people. I want to understand viewpoints that differ from mine. I want my tombstone to say: ” He was easy to work with”. I empathize.

I have children. I want to raise them in a world they can add value to, that has value for them. I want for them to feel entitled only to working hard at doing what they love, in order to be excellent at it, and to share their lives and the rewards with those that they love.

Of course, I think this is all anyone wants for their kids (or themselves). I try and inculcate them with a sense of logic about the world. Which much of the time means pointing out to them things that are absurd and ridiculous as a counterpoint, and right now there is much to point at.

I console myself with the thought that for anyone truly paying attention, for at least the last 300 years, the world has always been chock full of absurd contradictions, and has always seemed to be going down hill, and fast. I get this when I read Jefferson. Camus. Vonnegut.

I console myself with the remarkable advances in all of the sciences.

I play a scientist on tv, and I’m in awe of those that actually do it for a living.

Testable, provable, phenomena, and the predictions they allow, big and small, brought me here in front of you today. And will take me back to my family when I’m done.

They allowed me to drive to DC on a bus, type my speech on a screen, and ride to this rally on a car. Walk on shoes that support and protect me, in clothes and sunscreen that shield my pale skin from the sun. To fly on a plane home.

That plane I’ll get on only exists and stays in the air because of a million, million large and tiny tested predictions about lift, drag, material performance, physics, electricity, radio waves, wear, tear, shear, checklists, human error, machine error and redundancy. It is a miracle of engineering. It is the result of an ancient, and very human drive. A drive that makes us what we are, in all of our unique specialization.

A drive to solve problems.

Many tens of thousands of people combined their collective genius to make an impossibly fast and efficient thin inflated bubble of aluminum so stable and secure that right now you’d have to fly for several thousand years before the odds gave you an even chance of being in an accident.

Everything that we have that makes our lives possible exists because humans tested the things they found in their surroundings, made predictions based on those tests, and then improved upon them.

This is Reason: the human capacity to make sense of the world.

Here are some other things, that, like the components of that airplane, that have been tested and proven. I’m going to call them facts.


Force equals mass times acceleration.

The earth is not the center of the universe.

Man landed on the moon in 1969 and a few times thereafter.

Burning airplane fuel caused a tragic, catastrophic collapse of the twin towers in New York in 2001.

The earth is spherical . Well, not precisely round round, turns out it’s ever so slightly pear shaped.

Human industry is focusing a significant rise in the earth’s overall temperature.

The earth is over 4 billion years old.

Evolution is, quite literally, a fact of life.

Now, Those are facts. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, facts are true whether or not you believe them.

Here are some of my beliefs. They are true for me BECAUSE I believe them.

I believe that you can’t teach kids about sex by telling them not to have it.

I believe that making drugs illegal is stupid and damaging to us as a people.

I believe that If we take care of our surroundings, they will take care of us.

I believe that in every tool, there is a hammer.

I believe that People have an inalienable right to choose what to do with their own bodies.

I believe that in a community, it is our duty that we should take care of each other in times of need.

I believe that if you tell people the truth, and let them make decisions based on that, much of the time they’ll make pretty good decisions, but not all.

I believe that that which is detestable to you, you should not do to another.

I believe that while not all people are essentially good, most are trying.

I believe that rules don’t make us moral, loving each other makes us moral.

Finally, I’ve concluded, through careful empirical analysis, and much thought, that someone is looking out for me. Keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I might feel capable of. I believe they know everything that I do (and think) and still love me. I’ve concluded after careful consideration, that this person keeping score…

Is me.

Comments (67)

67 thoughts on “My Talk from the Reason Rally – March 24, 2012

  1. They aren’t “cheering for 9/11” they are cheering for the notion of reasonable and rational thought overcoming the desire to buy in to crackpot conspiracy theories

  2. It’s troubling to me that a rally like this even needs to exist. These are things everyone should rally for – not just “secular” people. Also, I think people lump anyone who believes in God to not believe these things – it’s not true.

    I believe in both.

  3. Queue religious insanity… Not that I think there are a ton of people with allergies to atheism around there.. But if there are.. They’ll speak up right about now..

    Great job though, Adam 🙂 Always love your speeches.

  4. That was a great speech. I LOVE Secular Humanism! It makes me feel great about myself. I guess my problem is that Adam lists a bunch facts,
    then he talks about global climate change. If I were to refute his claims with science, I
    would be told I don’t know and/or understand science. I would be an outcast for being a skeptic. If I were to refute Times article about being
    born gay, using science, I would have my account banned.

    The truth is, science has become a religion. If you don’t believe
    in the consensus, you are labeled a fool, and your skepticism is thrown out. The truly sad part is as they throw out your scientism,
    they throw out the scientific method that so many had to give their lives for.

    So, I’ll smile, die a little, and hope that maybe someday,
    reason will be a virtue that used for political purposes.

  5. Love this speech. I’ve listened to it a couple times now. Very thought provoking both for those who agree w/the sentiments and those who do not.

    For the past few years (and perhaps the rest of my life), I have been testing a working theory that belief is broken, and that anything currently called a belief by any human being can better be described as an opinion that may or may not be reinforced by empirical evidence. For some people (not all), calling something a belief raises the perception of said opinion as higher than even a fact, due to some unnamed unnatural and unproved force to be determined by the listener (provided the listener shares said beliefs). Having this theory in mind while listening to the latter part of Mr. Savage’s speech is an entertaining mental exercise that I leave to the reader to consider. Why call something a belief, when there are better ways to describe what one’s beliefs actually are? Are we not playing into the hands of people who believe without evidence, when we continue to use the same concept they do, as if has not become absurd to utilize belief?

    Like trying to make a hammer out of wet noodles. Even if you are successful, there’s better ways to hammer. As one example, Mr. Savage says “I believe inside every tool there is a hammer.” He chooses to believe this, but is it not a fact? Can it not be empirically proven? Wet noodles are not a good hammer. Dry noodles are too brittle, but noodles aren’t tools. They are food. A roll of duct tape is a hammer. I’ve tried it myself. Arguably the first tool man used was a rock, as a hammer. Bones can be hammers. As can screwdrivers, pliers, crowbars, etc. Even a chainsaw that’s out of juice can still be a cumbersome but functional hammer. I doubt there is a tool that cannot double as a hammer. I would like to see someone test that theory scientifically. What tool is there that can’t also be a hammer? If one is found, would Mr. Savage STILL steadfastly “believe” this, given new evidence that proves it wrong? If you can prove a statement is true, why believe it? You KNOW it’s true. If you can’t prove a statement to be true, why believe it? You can call it a hunch or a feeling or an idea. Why call it a belief if you can’t prove it? Why must we go there at all?

    Belief may not have started out this way, but it has become the philosophical equivalent of a hammer. If you can’t prove an idea to be fact, call it a belief and you may still be able to hammer it home in the minds of some people. Reality be damned.

    So it is my opinion, and not a belief, that belief is broken, and should either be fixed or discarded like any broken tool. I welcome anyone to empirically prove my opinion wrong. Thanks for reading.

  6. I have to say, I never thought this site change would lead to Tested putting religious beliefs on its front page.

  7. Is there a way to get a Youtube video to loop, cause I could listen to that speech all day? Be proud of yourself, Adam that speech was awesome.

  8. Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding by the general public concerning weather vs. climate is to cite extreme weather events as evidence that something is up with the climate. For example: the debate about global warming seems to get more attention during a prolonged summer heat wave; or after a disasterous severe weather event such as a tornado outbreak or a strong hurricane, you get people saying that the climate is becoming more hostile (possibly due to the evil actions of people). We need to realize that a particular extreme weather event by itself tells us nothing about climate change. Extreme weather events have been noted all through human history and will continue to occur into the future. Changes in climate take place over many years, thus for climate change, there would have to be a measurable change in the frequency of extreme events over a prolonged period.

    Something else that you need to understand is that climate change is a normal and natural part of Earth’s history. We know that climate change has occurred throughout the history of the Earth. We tend to think of today’s climate as “the way things have always been” or “the way things ought to be”, but this is incorrect. There is overwhelming evidence that climates on Earth are always changing.

    We can explain some of the reasons for past climate changes (for example, ice age cycles are probably related to slight variaitions in the Earth’s orbit about the Sun), but we certainly cannot explain everything because the climate system is so complex. We also know that past climate changes have had a significant impact on the distribution and evolution of the various forms of life on the planet. This works both ways though because life itself also helps to determine climate.

    Climate changes have also had a significant influence on the spread and developement of human civilizations. For example, in the 13th century the Vikings established agricultural settlements on Greenland, which were based on farming and sheep herding. After 100 years or so, the climate of the region became colder, sea ice and glaciers spread over the area, and the settlers died or abandoned the area.

    Many people blame the perceived global climate change on other human beings consumption of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. While our consumption of carbon dioxide has increased, the majority of carbon dioxide (97%) comes from forest fires, decaying plants, and volcanoes.

  9. This is why I am no longer a part of the Tested community. I like technology, but technology and religion do not mix. I gave the new site a chance, and was rather pleased at first, but I am done. Time for a new tech site.

  10. This speech literally made my day. If only the vast majority of people thought like this, our planet would be a lot better off.

  11. A beautiful speech and some well-made points about life in general. And thanks Tested community for not being insane 🙂 The fact that an article about a speech at an atheist rally hasn’t devolved into the ridiculous hundreds-post-long brawl it usually does on the internet makes me happy.

  12. When Tested relaunched recently, I had no idea who Adam Savage was. Now I do and it seems he’s an alright guy.

    Welcome to Tested sir.

  13. Hm, feels a little weird. Mr. Savage has the right to say and believe whatever he wants, and attend the events he wishes. But I hope Tested isn’t going to go politics & religion…

  14. That, sir, will NOT alienate a significant portion of your readership. That’s scientifically proven…

  15. Strongly agree with most of it, slightly disagree with some of it, and strongly disagree with even less. Great speech.

  16. I guess my biggest point is that we don’t know. WE honestly just do know enough to tell what should be done, if anything.

    To say global climate change is a fact is correct. It’s sly and misleading, but it is technically correct. The climate does change. How much of a role humanity plays is the real debate.

    I personally believe it’s about money and power. I’m convinced the global warming issue is being used as a spearhead for political agendas supporting global governance. Redistribution of wealth has been a phrase commonly used with environmentalist. A news story from 18 November 2010 stated that Ottmar Edenhofer said, “climate policy is redistributing the world’s wealth,” and “it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization.”

    It comes down to the question of how does one take control of a county whose population is ingrained on idea liberty? Consensus science holds the key. Through mass media global warming supporters relay their ‘scientific’ message of global warming as a fact rather than one of the theories. Their message in one of hate, fear, and danger; not a message of dispassionate reason and logic which considers all the evidence. Scientists who question their wisdom is removed and mocked. Global warming supporters have settled the facts and have come to a consensus, but they forget consensus is not science.

    Here are some links. Pro / Con Global warming.

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Summary for Policymakers (pdf file). Summary document for the full IPCC 4th assessment on climate change, which is meant for politicians and the general public.

    IPCC home page General information about the IPCC including links to all scientific reports on climate change.

    Global Cimate Change Impacts in the United States (pdf file). Draft report from the US Climate Change Program (USCCP), July 2008.

    Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate. An international coalition of scientists provide an independent examination of the evidence available on the causes and consequences of climate change. This group provides an alternative view for some of the claims made in the IPCC 2007 reports.

    “Is the Western Climate Establishment Corrupt?” PDF document by Dr. David Evans former employee of the Australian Department of Climate Change now a “skeptic.”

    Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI). Non-profit institute for sound public policy. Provides alternative views on the global warming issue.

  17. This speech is lovely, and even brought a tear to my eye.

    Adam. If you are ever running for president of the world… You’ve got my vote.

  18. Because pro-logic, pro-science, pro-critical-thought is a political and religious stance. *sigh*

    Since Tested is about science, intelligence, exploration, rational thought, reason, it stands that it would also necessitate a certain degree of the same. (Also, one post in two weeks about anything remotely like it is hardly the site turning into anything).

    We both read Tested; we’re both at least reasonably intelligent adults here. Give me some credit as such, and let’s not pretend about what the rally is supposed to be.

    And I didn’t say the site was turning into anything. Just expressing my hope that it doesn’t.

  19. It was great to see Adam in person at the Rally. A great speech and a fantastic event. Very excited about the direction all this is going!

  20. A really great speach Adam. I like how you focus on the positives of reason as opposed to the negatives of the denial of reason.

    Vaya con razón!

  21. It’s funny because I seem to not recall religion being brought up in that particular speech, merely reason, and the use of reason, as well as the difference between someone’s beliefs (not necessarily religious beliefs) and observable fact.

    Perhaps, and this may be a long shot, you were instead watching another video?

  22. I actually liked the speech a lot, and I probably agree with a lot of the sentiments in it. Gave me a chance to know Adam Savage a lot better as I don’t watch mythbusters, and I like him. I’d just prefer getting to know Adam through the stuff he posts and/or through the podcast, not through a speech. Great speech anyway though.

  23. It’s cool Drunkenmaster – I didn’t know about this site until now so you leave, I arrive – tested evened out in its audience base 🙂

  24. Wow, do you live in the Southern USA?

    I’ve never felt like I’ve had to hide the fact I’m atheist ever.

    And I do understand that perhaps the meaning of the rally is Atheist/Secular, but, that speech, and others like it, are not exclusively about Religion, it’s about applying reason to all things.

    I actually know someone who believes we should apply reason to everything, except religion, any talk about applying reason to that ends in a heated and utterly incoherent argument.

    People get touchy when applying reason to something they believe / want to believe in.

  25. For me as a german scientist in biophysics, how believes in God, I still do not really know what your societies problem is. Despite living there for a while in 2004/2005.

  26. It’s troubling to me that a rally like this even needs to exist. These are things everyone should rally for – not just “secular” people. Also, I think people lump anyone who believes in God to not believe these things – it’s not true.

    I believe in both.

    My sentiments exactly

  27. Nothing wrong with believing in God, But passing off fairy tales like the Earth was created in 7 days, Woman were created from Adams rib and Jesus Christ was resurected is complete baloney and you are speaking nonsense.

  28. The greatest T-Shirt i saw protesting the Reason rally was. OBAMA DONT TEACH MY CHILDREN THAN DINOSAURS WERE JESUS HORSES

  29. It’s troubling to me that a rally like this even needs to exist. These are things everyone should rally for – not just “secular” people. Also, I think people lump anyone who believes in God to not believe these things – it’s not true.

    I believe in both.

    My sentiments exactly

    I as well

    I concur.

    I was going to respond to someone else, but seeing this, I realized it’s probably better for the tenor of the site to simply post that, if anything.

    Lectures and arguments are a big part of what I was dreading.

  30. Ah shucks, Tested is getting all political and ideological now. And judging from this video…surely there will be no bias.

  31. You know at some point when we talk about science, or skepticism, or any of the other fields that involves facts or knowledge we need to talk about how we apply them. What it means to us as thinking, feeling human beings. Sitting around and talking about the facts of the universe, and where one stands on the possibility of a God is intellectually interesting, but help us determine what kind of world we wan’t to live in. So yeah we do have to talk about “beliefs”. We have to talk about values. Values and beliefs that I should point out are based on reason and facts.

    You seem oblivious to one of the oldest and persistent philosophical quandaries; one which, I should point out, has never been decisively solved this or that way.

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