Claire Klingenberg on Heroes and Scooby-Doo

Image Credit: Claire Klingenberg.

Claire has a background in law and psychology, and is currently working on her degree in Religious Studies. She has been involved in the skeptic movement since 2013 as co-organizer of the Czech Paranormal Challenge. Since then, she has consulted on various projects, where woo and belief meet science. Claire has spoken at multiple science and skepticism conferences and events. She also organized the European Skeptics Congress in 2017, and both years of the Czech March for Science.

Her current activities include chairing the European Council of Skeptical Organisations, running the “Don’t Be Fooled” project (which provides free critical thinking seminars to interested high schools), contributing to the Czech Religious Studies journal Dingir, as well as to their news in religion website. In her free time, Claire visits various religious movements to understand better what draws people to certain beliefs.

Claire lives in Prague, Czech Republic, with her partner and dog.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Who are your heroes?

Claire Klingenberg: In a broad sense, it is my mom [Laughing]. It is not very original, I know [Laughing]. In the atheist movement, it is Maryam Namazie.

Jacobsen: Why Maryam Namazie?

Klingenberg: Because of the unyielding pursuit of her message and of the work that she does, and how she manages to push her message, and be heard. Not being afraid too.

Jacobsen: Who else?

Klingenberg: Taslima Nasreen, she is an activist from Bangladesh. She left her home country for a couple of years because of the death threats that she was receiving, but she wants to return to work on her activism there.

She wants to spread activism there. She is one of the few women from that area who left her faith and country, even inspite threats to her safety. She is incredible.

Another incredible woman is Nina Sankari. She founded one of the Polish atheist groups. I got to know her quite well, personally.

She is a very, very tough and unyielding person. I love the way that she does not allow anyone to get away with anything, and how she is always on top of things — as well as her approach and dedication to her message.

Jacobsen: Even if you look at not only the secular moment in particular, who are some of the brighter lights who provided a basis in logic and science to bolster a secular worldview?

Klingenberg: The first one is not academic. It is Scooby-Doo [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Klingenberg: [Laughing] I remember watching Scooby-Doo as a child. I think that bolsters critical thinking. You find out the monsters are not real. You find out there is always someone behind the mask.

Jacobsen: That is such a good point. That is so not trivial.

Klingenberg: It has shaped me a lot. Not much later, I started reading Nancy Drew. These detective stories were the first introduction to logic and analytical thinking. I found them crucial. It taught me to ask questions, especially to ask questions, be inquisitive, and be curious.

That later translated to other passions and studies. People would expect me to be saying Carl Sagan.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Klingenberg: But Scooby-Doo [Laughing] was one of my most forming experiences. That formed me for the rest of my life [Laughing].

Jacobsen: I find that interesting, if I may. If I look at the presentation of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Amn Druyan, Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll, and others, the main emphasis amounts to explicit science, technology, and, sometimes, logic and, sometimes, emotional appeal as the basis for argumentation.

The examples you gave are not trivial. Even though, we laughed. I find a seriousness there. The Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew, it makes for a nice rhyme. At the same time, it makes for an indirect presentation of critical thinking.

Things may seem mysterious, but, at the end of the day, for the most part, are natural. If something is amiss, it is probably someone behind it. For a generation or two behind us, I would suspect Sherlock Holmes.

Klingenberg: I was going to mention him. When I was older, I read Sherlock Holmes. Of course, I read Hercule Poirot as well.

Later, when I started reading philosophers, my thinking was influenced by Charles Pierce, William James, and Chauncey Wright. Also, reading John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, but that was later on.

Jacobsen: I love that transition from Scooby-Doo, Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes to that implicit appreciation for methodological analysis of a situation into the explicit process of discovery through science and the methodology of critical thinking through these other authors. It makes sense.

It is pretty close to ideal, probably.

Klingenberg: Yes, the whole field of Philosophy for Children, I found out about this field 4 or 5 years ago, works pretty much based on that. It shows how you can teach even kindergarten children critical thinking by reading to them and having them question what they hear.

When they ask questions, do not provide answers, just ask back and help them figure it out. I think that is a good way to get people skeptical from a young age. I think that the main focus of the skeptical movement is on adults and trying to change their, already established, thinking patterns. I believe we should focus more on approachable material for younger age groups.

I, personally, am working with teenagers. That is a challenge [Laughing] in and of itself. They already have patterns and trails of thinking, which already are difficult to deal with.

Reading to kids and having them actively participate in receiving information is crucial to make them into critical thinkers. However, television shows can be an effective way to spread tools of skeptical and critical thinking, too.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Claire.