We live in an amazing time. Today, most private citizens in first-world countries – heck, anyone with their own computers or a local public library – have access to podcasts about logic, reason, rationality, critical thinking, science, and scholarship of all kinds. Yale's free online course catalog, via podcasts, by itself constitutes a revolutionary new epoch in universal access to higher education.
What would have gotten us burned at the stake or shunned by our community in years past –and critical thinking is still rare in the mainstream media – is now, at last, part of the free marketplace of ideas.
These inventive presentations can strengthen our human abilities, evolve our shared human culture, and teach us to wisely manage our world.
Scott and Emery (audio)
My favorite podcast. Scott is a pastor and a Christian with a genial style, compassionate heart, and endless curiosity. Emery is an Atheist with a genial style, compassionate heart, and endless curiosity. Their genuine and touching friendship allows them to do something unique among all podcasts: examine systematically, from all perspectives, the claims and tenets of both faith and non-belief.
They draw from the apologetics literature, and from the common arguments for and against faith. They weave through it their day-to-day realities, and how each grapples with ethics, with small congregations, with our shared secular space and culture, and with having young families.
But don't mistake this for kumbaya. They are currently at their 93rd hour+ episode. They spent 14 episodes on the Norm Geisler bestseller, "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist", and systematically went through that book's pro-faith positions. They never claim expertise they don't have, and keep each other honest about overly-complex logic and intellectual posturing.
Somehow they manage to translate very tough philosophical material into ordinary terms. And they know how to do something almost no one on the internet knows how to do: to disagree with firmness of mind, to argue with clarity of thought, and to keep up good will that never fails.
Sex, free will, God's role in disasters, the reliability of the Gospels, homosexuality, prayer –– they go over it all with fine-tooth combs.
They sometimes have guests, and occasionally stand-ins for their positions. It is awe-inspiring to hear their guests try to muster the forbearance, good humor, and mental discipline that Scott and Emory display so naturally.
(Their show tagline says it: "Because we're all wrong sometimes".)
Harry Shearer (audio)
As you would expect from one of Spinal Tap's founders, this show has satire and music galorum. But he regularly provides two kinds of theme shows: fantastic music, live in his studio, and interviews that inevitably have critical thinking as a subtext.
Shearer lives in New Orleans part of the year and considers it home, so his interviews with experts about the failures of the Army Corps of Engineers and other NO re-building issues are more in-depth and penetrating than almost anything ever done in the mainstream media.
His interview with the "F***ing Boom" expert after the BP spill is one of the ten best programs in internet history (more background on this). He has regular comedy bits, most long-running, and all of them skewed toward rationality and critical thinking, without tedious explicit shaping around those ideas. These include "Tales of Airport Security", "Dick Cheney -- Confidential", and "Apologies of the Week". This last segment has immediate laughs but long-term impact, making us think about what is a "real" apology (and related issues of dignity, shame, and reparations) –– and how extraordinarily rare genuine remorse is, in our public language.
Shearer was on SNL, is a familiar voice on the Simpsons, and has made several great movies, like "Best of Show" –– but few know that his Le Show radio program is in effect the longest running comedy show franchise in American history.
Steven Novella, Robert Novella, Jay Novella, Rebecca Watson, Evan Bernstein, & Perry deAngelis
The best all-around "classic" pro-science critical thinking show. In both shows they use a roundtable discussion format. They are all qualified writers, scientists, and doctors, but bring a young, snappy, and at times snarky attitude that's a joy to listen to – because they invoke hard science for and apply logic to each question. This show exemplifies better than any other the actual process of critical thinking, and how its adherents sort things out.
The longer version tackles issues in depth. Both shows are up-to-the-minute on both science and anti-science issues.
"Skeptic's Guide..." is the show that launched the brilliant and engaging "SkepChick", Rebecca Watson, who built a fantastic media mini-empire based on her smart, incisive, and very funny on-air persona. In a room full of witty scientists ("Skeptic's Guide..."), she proved the quickest and most entertaining, so she "spun herself off". SkepChick is now a group identity for a growing list of degree'd, articulate, and brilliant young women who weigh in on science and all things empirical (and anti-empirical). Rebecca also appears often on the Podcast "Curiosity Aroused".
Dr. Mark Crislip
We live in a time of rampant anti-science aimed at the medical profession. "Quackcast" is an entertaining and useful examination of the endless pseudo-scientific attacks on our health and well-being. Mark Crislip, MD, makes it work, with his take-no-prisoners rationality and experienced medical perspective.
I like his voice: a little raspy, and he's comfortable in his own skin. It's gratifying to hear him debunk.
"Quackcast" won the Winner of the The People's Choice Podcast Awards 2009, and the 2010 Best Podcast, Health and Medicine. He tackles one issue per podcast, so the length averages about an hour.
Annie Laurie Galor and Dan Barker
(podcast show version; see FR Radio station link at end)
Annie and Dan are hosts of one of the most entertaining and wide-ranging of the non-belief podcasts. Dan, a former minister, is also Annie's husband. Annie was a co-founder in 1978 of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The FFRF has been involved in many high-profile lawsuits that seek to preserve the wall of separation between church and state, so their podcast often has recent-history and ongoing-legal-battles segments.
Surprisingly, for folks so willing to make legal cases, they are not acrimonious or combative on the air. Charming and personable, they are unstoppable critics of theocracy, and will make you care about the issues even if you sometimes disagree. It's rare to find a podcast on any topic where the hosts are both relentless about their subject, and avoid being strident or tiresome. They mix music, interviews, and special reports in an hour+ that goes by too fast. Both are notable authors, and make being an on-air personality sound easy.
This podcast's format makes it one of my favorites. The host, David Driscoll, has a soothing, professional radio voice, and he starts most episodes by reading a selection from a book or article.
This is a great format, as it allows us to consider the source material first. He often follows up by interviewing the author, and continues with an examination of the material. In itself this format exemplifies the rational approach. Never strident or sarcastic, this is a distilled, content-rich podcast.
There's no one else like him. A world class bible scholar and experienced public speaker, he can be found on his own podcast, "The Bible Geek Show" and as one of the hosts on the long-running podcast "Point of Inquiry".
But he's appeared regularly on other podcasts, notably on many episodes of Reginald Findley's ground-breaking, first-ever non-belief podcast "The Infidel Guy Show".
Whenever Price is a guest, the show is about the bible, it's history, errancy, edited versions, inner consistency and characters. Price is erudite, with an encyclopedic knowledge and deep/wide understanding of biblical scholarship. But he regularly runs into gray areas, and unflinchingly shifts to open speculation or demurral. To hear him do this is a lesson to all would be critical thinkers: never be afraid to say " I don't know". The result is authoritative knowledge without arrogance.
Price is personally interesting to me. He is agnostic, but attends Episcopal services regularly. He loves the beauty of the ritual and the music, and appreciates the continuity of his congregation, the good it does for its members. This makes it hard for the faithful to refuse him, for he combines fearless, rigorous scholarship with affection for, participation in, the ongoing communion of a church. He is not a sarcastic "new atheist", which makes his systematic parsing of the stories and myths of the Torah and the New Testament all the more devastating.
He's authored 15 books and counting (see also Bart Ehrman, another agnostic biblical scholar/author who relentlessly examines the ancient wisdom texts, and who also shows up on podcasts).
This is the formal podcast of the Center of inquiry, and has great prestige in the wider scientific community. Luminaries like Lawrence Krauss, Adam Savage (Mythbusters), Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn are typical guests. The professionalism and diverse guests make this a must-include in my podcast "mix".
If my article here is a shopping mall, "Point of Inquiry" would be one of the "anchor stores" like Macy's or Bergdorf's. They are a gold standard: solid, reliable information, with a variable "entertainment" rating depending on the guest.
Another of the venerable freethinking podcasts, AF is big on complex topics and solid thinking, but not for faint-of-heart believers. Like "Irreligiosophy" (but not quite as in-your-face irreverent as those guys), these are smart, fierce thinkers who suffer no fools. If you want un-self-conscious non-belief, with compelling content in a professional presentation, this is a great podcast.
A recent episode (#121) had segments on the pagan origins of Easter (or "Eostre", the goddess it is derived from), an early review of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" movie, and a piece about how Iran is consdiering banning dogs as "western" and un-Islamic.
This became the official podcast of Skeptic Magazine, and features Derek and Swoopy as hosts. They are accessible, friendly rationalists, who tackle even the toughest material with energy and clarity.
Notable for its coherency, it's not as fast and ferocious as other podcasts, but they also cover more traditional science topics than most, so it is a good way for even believers to learn about and appreciate how the scientific method is carefully applied, and the useful information such discipline can produce. It appears regularly on my mix list.
It must be mentioned: Freethought Radio, the internet Radio station.
This 24/7 radio channel in iTunes (and via other streaming methods) includes many of the podcasts mentioned here, presented as scheduled shows. A great way to browse the shows, or to set it and forget it, for all day listening.
This article first appeared on Does This Make Sense?, the critical thinking site (http://www.doesthismakesense.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=464:critical-thinking-podcasts&catid=48:greg-correll&Itemid=159)