Episode 49: Critical Thinking Can Save The World
In this episode we look at critical thinking. What does it include and how do we not misuse it. Then we take a look at another church and state issue at a local school during election day. Was it on purpose?
00:45 Critical Thinking Can Save The World
19:37 Bible Quotes At A Public School On Election Day
“I will practice good judgment by asking questions and thinking for myself.”
As we are each bombarded with a constant stream of information, it can become challenging to decide what is accurate and true. Thinking critically allows us to make sense of all this information and reason our way to good judgments and effective solutions to the problems we face while rigorously avoiding pitfalls like rationalization, conformity, and stereotyping. This process forms the basis of the scientific method, which opens the door for new discoveries through hypothesizing and experimenting. Critical thinking is a skill that requires continued attention, practice, and reflection. Exercising our minds to build these skills enables us to challenge biases in ourselves and in others, paving the way for a fair, open-minded, and autonomous perspective that fosters a multicultural worldview.
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[0:02] This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values by a humanist. Here is your host, Douglas Berger. In this episode, we look at critical thinking. What does it include and how do we not misuse it? Then we take a look at another church and state issue at a local school during Election Day. Was it on purpose? Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the secular humanists of Western Lake Erie building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.
[0:45] Our humanist group adheres to. As I’ve talked to you about many times, about the Ten Commandments. It’s living humanist values. It’s something that was developed in the past couple of years that has different different beliefs or things that that we reach, with a consensus on in humanism. It’s not 100% required that you follow the Ten Commandments, but it kind of gives you an overview of our beliefs. And one of those beliefs is critical thinking, and it’s an important belief, a important value that we have.
[1:26] Critical thinking means exercising our minds to build strong, critical thinking skills is the best way to make good judgments and decisions. Keeping our personal biases and check.
[1:40] So if you want to think about it, critical thinking is gathering information.
[1:46] On whatever topic it is that you’re looking into, whether it be social justice issues or science issues or political issues or things like that. And so critical thinking, the way I like to do it is somebody says something and you kind of say, well, why should I believe you?
[2:08] And that gives you the opportunity to find out this information and evaluate it and decide if it makes sense, if it’s rational, if you can back it up from other sources, you know that that’s the whole process of finding finding truth in our world and critical thinking is an important part. One of the things that that happens from time to time, though, is when people use critical thinking to back up or to prove their bigotry. For example, somebody might say, well, their critical thinking, their critical thinking skills determine that the COVID vaccines were implanting tracking devices by Bill Gates. And so their critical thinking found this information and gave them the information that they needed to reject these vaccines. You see that a lot. Another place where you see critical thinking misused or the concept misused is from people who call themselves skeptics and don’t believe in trans rights or that trans people exist. And so, again, they’ll throw out critical thinking that they looked up this information and they found that that trans people don’t exist. And you’re like, what? That is wrong.
[3:35] And so the important thing is don’t confuse critical thinking with confirmation bias.
[3:42] Confirmation bias is when you find information that that backs up your already preconceived notion of something, and you ignore the information that could contradict that, that notion. So let’s say you don’t believe that climate change is a thing and some Facebook group you follow shares a link to an article that claims climate change is not a thing. So now you have your proof of your belief and you go to share that with everybody. And the other thing about that article is the article that you shared was written by a guy whose day job he’s a stockbroker.
[4:22] You know, there’s red flags all over that situation. You know, it’s an example. That particular example I just gave is an example confirmation bias. And that’s the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypothesis. Confirmation bias happens when a person gives more weight to evidence that confirms their beliefs and undervalues evidence that could disprove it.
[4:51] With critical thinking. You ask questions, you gather relevant information, you think through solutions and conclusions. And you consider alternative systems of thought. If you have a certain belief in something that is covered by a branch of science, then information given by those in that field of science would be more accurate in describing the thing, than information from someone who doesn’t work in that field. And you’ll see a lot you’ll see this in climate change debates. You’ll see a lot of people who don’t believe in climate change and you’ll see a lot of the information written by scientists. Quotation marks, air quotes. And here somebody might be a biologist or somebody might be an orthodontist or somebody might be a proctologist.
[5:46] You know. And so, yeah, they have their opinions, their scientists, they, they, they have a degree, but they don’t have a degree and they don’t have expertise in the field of climate change. You know, that’s the difference between expertise and having an opinion, is whether or not that that’s the field of study that you’re in. So if you want to get information about climate change, you would read information by people who are trained climatologists, people who work in the the weather field, meteorologists. They also can speak about climate change. And so, again, you wouldn’t necessarily for example, you wouldn’t necessarily have someone rebuild your car engine if all they did what you watch a YouTube video on how to rebuild engines. You know, you have an actual mechanic, somebody who’s been trained and who’s a professional do that job.
[6:50] And so the important thing to remember about critical thinking is it’s knowing that you could be wrong. And you actively try to prove your beliefs wrong. And that’s something that I do all the time because I. I peruse Internet websites. I have a history going back to what they used to call the Usenet groups. And these these were email list, email chat forums. And back in the days when we didn’t have super high speed Internet. And you’d have debates with people. And so some of those some of those skills that I learn in those those forums I’ve applied, currently, and that’s basically if I read something and and I get outraged by it or it ticks me off or it might even just interest me. I will go look for additional information about that. I’ll go look for other information channels that talk about that to see if what I just read is actually true. Maybe it’s blown out of proportion. It could be actually wrong.
[8:09] Some of the some of the places you’ll see this happen. Is on local news. News stations, when they when they talk about the latest scientific finding about something, health health, things like like people who eat cheese, gain weight or things like that, That’s I know that’s a bad example because I don’t have an actual example on hand. But basically what that means is that they’ve taken a, the people that write these stories have taken a nugget of truth that this study happened and these results happen, but they’ve either misconstrued it or they hyped it or, sensationalized it in a way that makes the the conclusion false. And that’s something you have to wade in. You have to wade through using critical thinking.
[9:06] And it’s also important when you are attempting to use critical thinking, is to evaluate the information sources themselves. As I as I explain, if a guy wants to fix your car engine and he watched YouTube videos. Well, what you want to do is you want to evaluate for for the first thing is what videos was he watching? Was it also somebody else who watched the videos? Because that kind of perpetrates itself. So you kind of want to avoid people that get their information from YouTube because that’s not that’s not information that has been vetted.
[9:47] That’s the big thing when you’re taught about the scientific method, is that, when scientists come up with hypothesis and people try to disprove that hypothesis, there’s a certain procedure and things that they go through to do that, like blind studies or surveys with a large number of people, because you get this sometimes where you have, people surveyed, said they hate cheese, and then then they’ll have the methodology, usually the methodology at the end of the article and they’ll say, done with a poll of 400 people. Well, that that isn’t necessarily going to be true. Then. If you only polled 400 people, you’d have to figure out what the breakdown was. Another example of being careful with the information was this We just had a recent midterm election in this country. And one of the things that people.
[10:51] Rely on? Well, I wouldn’t say rely, but one thing that plays a part in people’s decisions is the polling. They do a lot of polling during the election season, you know, especially for some of the big, bigger races like the Ohio. We had the Senate race, Governor, that we had the governors and things like that. Well, one of the things that happened this this past election season was that you have these poll aggregators like the website 538.
[11:22] And some of the news organizations like CNN and MSNBC aggregate polls, That means that they they look at all these different polls and they weight the results and then they come up with like a composite. So if they say, you know, how’s Joe Biden, job performance, a job approval, and then they’ll look at maybe five different polls. And an average that out or. Well, I’m not a statistician, so I don’t know how exactly they work it out, but they they aggregate it together and they come up with a figure and they say, well, you know, most people say Joe Biden does this.
[12:03] Well. What happened in this most recent election season is that there was a flood. The terminology that was used was a flood of biased polls. Now, anybody can do a poll. If you have the money, you can pay somebody to do a poll for you. And a lot of these campaigns and candidates, that’s one of the things they spend money on, is they they do their own polls. It’s called internal polling.
[12:31] And a lot of times they do that because they want to know the information before anybody else does. And so this will be a private company that will will develop this poll and and they’ll use what’s called push questions. And and they’ll say, you know, candidate A beats his wife. How do you feel about that? You know, it’s a very biased a very slanted depending on who the candidate is and what their purpose is.
[13:01] So then they release that publicly. They release those results publicly, and these poll aggregators sop it up. And what it does is it ends up doing is skewing the results, the the the average of the polls. And so it gives you a not a false narrative, but a misleading narrative of how the populace is looking at the election. And that’s what happened because the the Republican side flooded the polling with biased Republican polling that skewed the overall look at it. And so people thought there was going to be a red wave that that the Democrats are going to take massive losses. And it and there was going to be a huge majority in the House and the Republicans are going to take back the Senate and they are going to be able to do their agenda.
[14:04] And it turned out that the polling was not it wasn’t totally wrong because the Republicans did take the House. It overstated the performance of the Republican Party. And that’s how you do that with by by kind of skewing the polls is it gives a wrong impression of what’s going to happen. So when you’re using critical thinking, you have to look at your sources.
[14:34] Why did they why is this information out there? Who will benefit from this information? Then you try to find information that backs up that information. For example, if somebody somebody posts on Facebook and says Joe Biden was caught with a prostitute. Well, then what I would do is I would try to go back and find an article or something from a legitimate source that said that that happened, you know, because something like that that happens if a president of the United States gets arrested, that’s going to be major news. It’s going to be major news. It’s going to be it’s going to be on every channel, everything. So you try it. So basically, I know that’s an extreme example I use, but but basically, you just try to find other outlets that are reporting the same thing. Now, what you have to be careful of when you do that, though, is that you don’t have an echo effect. Yahoo News is similar. And that they will Yahoo News when they do their news thing, their news articles.
[15:46] It’ll look like that its original reporting, but most likely usually it’s not because they don’t have a new staff. What they’re doing is they are copy and pasting articles from other websites. And you can tell that because if you go to the page and up in the left corner of the article will it will be an icon with the website that they got it from. And so if something is heavily skewed conservative in intent, usually you can find a conservative website in that little thing like Fox News or the Hill or or Politico. And so it’s not saying you can just dismiss it entirely depending on how you work. But again, if you’re going for something, if you’re looking for the truth and you’re using using critical thinking, you know, and and I’ll restate, it is critical thinking is knowing that you could be wrong and you actively try to prove your beliefs wrong. Right. And so you’ve looked at the you’ve looked at the sources you’ve looked at who would benefit from this information. And then you try to disprove the information or find alternatives to that information.
[17:07] And then you can also use your your kind of your logic things like add homonyms and strawman. Poisoning the well, these logical fallacies. And you just try to try to determine and you’re not going to be 100% perfect.
[17:27] That’s one of the one of the things to remember is you’re going to miss it sometimes, even if you do your due diligence, and you look at all this information and you try to decide if it’s true, it might turn out not to be true or misstated and you totally missed it. And that’s okay. You know, nobody’s going to come and take away your your critical thinking card because you got something wrong once. You know, Now, if if you’ve been proven wrong many, many times and you refuse to acknowledge that you’ve been wrong, then we have a problem. And that’s kind of what happens in some of this with some of the people who call themselves skeptics is they just hate being proven wrong. And so they’ll hold on to their their bias as long as possible in the face of overwhelming evidence against their their bias. And they’ll say, Well, I could. We need to use critical thinking or it’d be one of my conservative friends posted a meme. It’s from Dazed and Confused is like, You want to use critical thinking. It’d be great if you did. And and I’m like, What does that even mean?
[18:43] So one of the like I said, one of the commitments, one of the Ten Commandments that we humanists by consensus live in our values, is critical thinking. And I think it’s one of the most important values to have, especially in a in a highly, highly volatile political situation that we see ourselves in currently.
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[19:37] One of the issues that we work on in humanism very often is we support the separation of church and state. And that has been a pillar of American jurisprudence. Only since the 1940s. Prior to the 1940s, it was mixing of church and state was permissive. It’s still kind of permissive, but a lot of rights have been carved out and helped by court cases in the past. It’s kind of the pendulum. It’s kind of swung the other way now, where a lot of Christian nationalism is, is evangelical nationalism is being privileged by certain core actions. For example, when we had the pandemic and Lucas County, closed all the schools and a couple of Catholic, a Catholic school and a Christian school went to court and went and it went all the way to the federal appeals court. And they ruled that that.
[20:50] They couldn’t be closed because it was a violation of the First Amendment. Even though the school was being closed to protect the public health. You saw a lot of this during the pandemic, especially when the US Supreme Court got involved. So one of the things the American Humanist Association and secular humanists, the western Lake Erie, what we watch out for is church and state issues locally. And and we try to respond to those either normally sending a new email or or we might post a letter to the editor. We had recently one of these fake school assemblies in the Bedford district. A Christian religious group gave a was while they were going. Yeah, they did it once. They gave a program during the school day about character building. And then invited the kids to a church service at the same location after school, which is technically legally permissible. But the fact that they’re using a fake fake type of school assembly to funnel kids into religious church service. I think it’s ethically wrong.
[22:10] And luckily the Bedford School district found out about it or got enough pushback about it that they let them do one program and then they were supposed to do more than one more than one that week, and they only did one. And then they were told they couldn’t do any more. And because and look for I have look for another episode where I talk about this, about the fake school assemblies. So we do that.
[22:39] We had one another issue that came up that I was made aware of while reading the Sunday paper, there was a letter to the editor and the title of it was Keep Religion Out of Public Schools. And so I’m very interested in that. And what had happened was, we just had recently a general election on November the eighth, and a person was in line at an elementary school, a Toledo public school, public elementary school. On the south side and was standing in line. And he noticed when he looked down the short hallway where they were standing that there was a plaque with some Bible quotes on it. And a logo for a partner at the school. That was one of the local churches. And he was concerned about that. And he wrote a letter to the editor. And come to find out that this person that wrote the letter was a the son of one of our members. So our member said, Hey, Doug, did you see this letter? And of course, I had already seen the letter.
[23:46] But let me read the letter. I want to read the letter. And this is from Norman Perlmutter. And he says, As I waited in line today at Hawkins Elementary, I was displeased to notice three endorsements of religion by the school in a short corridor where I was waiting in line to vote, including a memorial plaque with a Bible verse quoting Jesus. A poem by Mother Teresa titled God is the Friend of Silence and a logo endorsing their community partner, Epworth United Methodist Church. These displays are inappropriate for a public school which should be promoting a science based education, not belief in God, and certainly not endorsement of a particular Christian church or display of Bible verses. These these displays create a hostile learning environment for children from non-Christian families. I hope that Toledo School Board will see to it that these displays are taken down as quickly as possible and will put in place stronger measures to ensure that religion in general, and especially advocacy of a, particular religion such as Christianity, is kept out of public education. And that’s a good letter, good summary of what he experienced, what Norman experienced, and and pretty much he’s 99% correct in in his point of view on this, both legally and and ethically.
[25:14] And so I took a look at it and I asked I asked our member to find out if he had contacted the school district, and I guess he had not personally contacted it. So I did. I sent an email to the superintendent about it. And then one of the things that I do before I do this is, is if you listen to our previous segment about critical thinking is I took that information and I looked for to prove it. Now, I didn’t actually see these plaques. All right. So I’m taking Norman’s word for it that they are displayed as they are displayed. And he has I have no reason to believe he he’s not telling the truth.
[25:57] He said that one of them was a memorial plaque with a Bible verse that could be somebody that died or maybe a teacher or something. A poem by Mother Teresa titled God is a Friend of Silence, and then a logo endorsing their community partner now.
[26:13] Previously I had I had some contact with the Toledo Public Schools because I had heard that there were many churches that were working with with elementary schools, giving them books and things like that. But they were like getting books and pens and backpacks and lunches and things like that. And and many of these public schools in urban areas need additional support, especially because some of the families need the support. And, you know, churches want to do that. That’s great as long as they’re not proselytizing and proselytizing is promoting your your religion or trying to convert. It’s not just trying to convert people, but it’s also promoting your religion. And so as long as that’s not happening to these kids, then then churches can work with schools. And so, like I said, I had contact with the Toledo Public Schools a couple of years ago. When we first got started, my local group got started and I had heard that churches were working with schools and I’m like, Hey, that’s a good idea. I wonder if they’ll let a humanist group do it because we’re technically not religious.
[27:30] We’re for non believers and and believers who don’t believe that that church and state should be that ought to church and state shouldn’t be together and. You know, they included they welcomed our inquiry and included us. It ended up working out that we just weren’t big enough. We didn’t have enough people and didn’t have the time to do a decent job at doing it. So we ended up not not participating. But the fact that they were going to let us participate was good news because I was I was not going to be happy if if we got.
[28:08] Not asked. Not asked.
[28:12] I would not be happy if we had not been allowed to participate, but they were going to let us. So that was good. Anyway, getting back to this this voting day plaque and and things like that.
[28:29] So what I did was I investigated to see what using my critical thinking skills. First of all, what I did was I checked out what the school board policy is on religion. A lot of these school districts, they have set policies on what’s allowed, what’s not allowed. I would think that the staff would get training. But I also understand that a couple of things. One. Christianity is a majority religion, at least in our area. So there’s going to be a lot of people who are Christian. And there’s going to be a lot of people who are fervently Christian and they go to church more than once a day. They’re the type of people when you say when you interact with them, they’ll say, have a blessed day, or, you know, they got their Bible with them all the time and and they’re really into it.
[29:27] You know, And when you get that, you’re going to have sometimes people do these things and they’re not realizing that they’re possibly violating federal federal law. Federal legal precedent. You know, they’re just trying to do a good deal. Deal. So I that’s the thing. When when I was dealing with this or checking into it, I was going about it. I wasn’t assuming malice. Right. I wasn’t assuming that they were doing this on purpose.
[29:57] All right. So give people the benefit of the doubt. A lot of times we don’t do that currently. For example, when Christian nationalists complain about, drag queen story time at local libraries, you know they are going there not giving the benefit of the doubt there, assuming that wrongly that that these drag queens are grooming children. Dun dun dun duh. I have to do that whenever I say that, because that’s a ridiculous argument. But anyway, so I didn’t want to do that. I’m not I am not personally anti religion. I know. It’s just there. It helps people. Okay. My problem is when religious people or religious groups overstep and get into my boundary when they try to force themselves on people. You know, if you choose to be a Christian. More power to you. If you choose to go to church. More power to you. But if you choose not to do any of those things, you shouldn’t have somebody saying you need to do it. And that’s what happens. That’s particularly why we have strict regulation on church and state issues in public schools. Because children don’t have a choice whether or not to be their.
[31:25] And so like adults praying at a city council meeting. Yeah, that I don’t agree with that. But I can see the point where the adults can leave the room. You know, at public school, kids can’t leave. They can’t opt out of it. So if they have a coach or a teacher spouting religious quotes, they can’t say, Oh, I don’t want to hear that. Or if somebody’s schools have them do the Pledge of Allegiance and they opt not to do the Pledge of Allegiance, they get ostracized or they get sent out of the room. So you know that the public school sphere is different than the public forums that people are used to.
[32:16] All right. So what I did was I went back and I looked at some of the Toledo school board policies, and the one I found was Section I instruction teaching about religion. And one part of it said schools must be neutral and matters of religion. The district must show no preference for one religion over another and must refrain from the promotion of any religion. And that’s a reasonable rule to have, because as far as I’m concerned, the religious education of a kid is up to the family, up to the parents. It’s not up to the school. It’s not up to the teacher. It’s not up to the principal or the school superintendent. It doesn’t matter if they’re Christian. It doesn’t matter that they think Christianity is is the best thing in the world.
[33:14] It. It all depends on what the parents want to do for their child. All right. So that’s a reasonable thing. And this must refrain from the promotion of any religion is proselytizing. They’re not allowed to proselytize. So what I did was I composed a letter and sent it to Superintendent Durant. And I just want to read some of this, probably because I restated that that board policy.
[33:45] Says Dr. Durant, I am writing to you today to express a concern I have about a report that one of the schools in the district has a Bible, quote and other religious text on a wall. I’m sure you may have seen a letter to the editor in the Toledo Blade on Sunday, November 13, where a person mentioned they were voting at a school and saw the religious text. And then I quote partially from Norman’s letter. It says, The letter writer is the son of one of our members. And before they brought it to my attention, I also noticed the letter with concern. Public schools have strict regulations in the area of church and state separation because the children must attend school each day so they aren’t allowed to opt out if a school or staff member attempts to proselytize to them. The situation is described in Mr. Pearl Motors letter is proselytizing. The display also seems to violate one of Tpg’s board policies, and I restate the policy.
[34:44] I understand the intent was probably to be inspirational, but there are ways of expressing that without using Bible quotes or poems from religious leaders that don’t use religious words like God. Now, again, that’s me giving them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they weren’t doing this maliciously, that I’m putting religion back in the school. They’re just saying this is something that we want to give people to be inspirational, to help them through the day, because it helps us through the day. And then finally, I ended the letter with I also understand that the district partners with faith communities, and as long as the churches are not proselytizing to the children, then there isn’t an issue with showing a logo for a church to note that it is a partner. And then I added, I hope that you take a look at this matter and comply with current law and board policies. And I sent that shortly after those letters by Monday or Tuesday. That’s another thing. When you’re responding to potential violations of church and state, you really have to respond quickly as quickly as you can once you find out about it.
[35:58] Because sometimes you have a chance of maybe changing minds and maybe fixing the violation before it goes any further.
[36:13] And we have some groups in in the country that that can help you respond. The ACLU is one. But they’re they really work on issues that. And this sounds a little bit callous, but they work on issues that they can win. So, you know, like.
[36:36] It could be something minor that they won’t work on because it doesn’t mean going to court. Maybe. Maybe they just need to send a letter of reminder. We also have FRF, which is the Freedom from Religion Foundation. They’re really good at sending letters. In fact, I used them several years ago before the secular humanists of western Lake Erie was formed, to send a letter to a local school district where I noticed that they had a plaque on their wall, they had a religious terminology on it. It was the principal of a high school was giving a TV interview and in the background was an inspirational, quote, plaque. And and it had things like be kind, speak truth, love others, show grace, work hard, be grateful. And then finally it said, Follow Christ. And so they sent a letter to the school school district saying that that they need to remove the follow Christ part because that’s a violation. You know, because Christ is a particular deity or not deity, but prophet in a particular religion. So it’s not inclusive.
[37:55] And so they asked them to remove that. And it created a whole firestorm, as these things do. That’s the other thing I need to point out. When you’re addressing church and state separation issues publicly, you have to be ready for the blowtorch to come back at you, because a lot of these Christian nationalists, these people that are extreme militant religious people, they don’t like you pushing them. They they claim you’re persecuting them. They want to be able to try to convert as many kids as they can. And if you get in the way, you know, it’s possible that you’re going to get death threats.
[38:43] That’s the big thing. If you have a business, sometimes they’ll try to make you either get lose customers or they may find out where you work and call your boss and what you get fired and and claim all kinds of nasty stuff on the Internet. They call they call it doxing, where they find out personal information about you and publish it publicly. You know, it doesn’t always happen. But generally for people that go against the religious, the religious majority in this country, the Christian majority in this country.
[39:25] It can be problem. There can be a lot of problems. So you have to be willing to take the firestorm. When you take this on and it’s important to take on, it’s important to try to protect the separation of church and state. Even if in the face of it, you’re losing friends and family and and somebody tries to ruin your business or somebody.
[39:56] Now, on the other hand, if you’re a Christian nationalist and you’re a bigot and you discriminate against people and you try to hurt other people. I don’t have to use your business. I don’t have to support your causes. Some people will say, Well, people on the left, they boycott business. That’s like I said, that’s totally different because you are going against somebody who’s being a bigot and trying to support separation of church and state, trying to be inclusive of people who from all different religions and people who have no religion is not bigotry. It’s not persecution of Christians. It’s being a decent person. And and as I had a topic in another post or another episode, religious freedom is not pie. If you give everybody else religious freedom, it doesn’t take your religious freedom away from you.
[40:58] It just prevents you from being a bigot.
[41:02] Thank you for listening.
[41:06] For more information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at Glass City Humanist Show.
[41:17] Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the secular humanists of western Lake Erie. Scholey can be reached at humanists. W-League org Glass City Humanist is hosted, written and produced by Douglas Berger and he is solely responsible for the content.
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Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley
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