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From climate change to religious belief: Next cabaret to tackle doubt

Climate talks

UB geologist Jason Briner will address what organizers call “the gigantic and existential” topic of climate change as part of “Skepticism, Doubt, Denial,” the next Science & Art Cabaret.

Published April 8, 2016

"We have taken it as a given that intellectual pursuits that appear distinct — intellectual, scientific, artistic — actually cross paths far more often than we presume and share spheres of interest and meaning.”
John Massier, co-organizer
Sciene & Art Cabaret

Since its founding in 2009, Buffalo’s Science & Art Cabaret has gained a reputation for assembling eclectic groups of speakers to tackle a common theme.

Past presenters have ranged from academics to magicians, and the series’ next event, taking place this month, is gearing up to be no less extraordinary.

On April 13, an atheist, a former Anglican pastor and a geologist will headline the cabaret, convening in a basement club in Buffalo to offer insight on a topic we struggle with every day: doubt.

The speakers will cover religion. They will dive into climate change. They will discuss the roots and purpose of skepticism. They will share their ideas in a series of entertaining and intellectually provocative presentations, as is the cabaret’s modus operandi.

The event — free and open to the public — will take place at 7 p.m. at The Ninth Ward @ Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.

There will be a cash bar.

The lineup:

  • Bruce Adams, an artist, atheist, writer, former high school art teacher and (further back) a former working magician, will speak on “How I Became A Skeptic (and learned to annoy people).”
  • Jason Briner, UB associate professor of geology, will address what organizers call “the gigantic and existential” topic of climate change.
  • David Persons, a former Anglican minister, will talk about doubt and disbelief in religion. As he explains, “Throughout my life's journey, doubt and disbelief often cost me friends, but the hunger for peace and freedom was worth it. Doubt is essential for true religion and all perceptions of life. In the end, we walk by faith and not sight."

The April cabaret, titled “Skepticism, Doubt, Denial,” grew from the organizers’ recognition of their own sin of omission. Over the course of 21 cabaret events since the fall of 2009, innumerable topics of varied concern have been discussed with contexts as varied as space, nothingness, sound, the brain, the man machine, relativity, time, data mining, hysteresis, failure and nanotechnology.

Yet, none addressed the pressing topic of climate change. Accordingly, the organizers sought to plan a cabaret that folded the topic of climate change into a broader consideration of skepticism and belief systems: How does belief conflict with fact and with observations about the world? Do facts always alter belief? How and why does belief resist or question facts?

Quirky, intellectual and fun, the cabaret is an ongoing collaborative program between Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, UB and the Buffalo Museum of Science. Individual “cabarets” are held several times a year, with each bringing together an unusual mishmash of speakers from divergent fields to talk about a common theme. The series is supported by the Technē Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.

“An important part of the Science & Art Cabaret from its inception has been a free-roaming and spontaneous search for meaning from all directions,” says co-organizer John Massier, visual arts curator for Hallwalls. “We have taken it as a given that intellectual pursuits that appear distinct — intellectual, scientific, artistic — actually cross paths far more often than we presume and share spheres of interest and meaning.

“We have found this to be true again and again,” he says, “as we have mashed together unexpected speakers and watch them reveal, over the course of an evening, the commonalities in our collective search for knowledge.”