Monday, January 31, 2011

More proof that Creationists are idiots.

Until recently the common agreement among scientists was that Dinosaurs had been completely wiped out between 65.5 and 66 million years ago.  However researchers from University of Alberta have recently dated a dinosaur fossil to be only 64.8 million years old.  Of course given the complexity of the dating process they may eventually find this initial dating to be erroneous.  However, further study may also bear out the date, effectively rewriting the paleontological history books.

This made me think of something that comes up very often in the creationists propaganda.  Very often creationists and intelligent design proponents claim that scientists are being intentionally duplicitous, or at the very least are so wrapped up in their own biases as to have no idea how to do science properly.

In the area of fossil examination they often claim that the dating methods used are wildly inaccurate and unreliable, that scientists rely only on circular dating methods, and merely walk lock step with each other pretending that what amounts to wild speculation is fact.  Answers in Genesis for instance believes the earth to be less than 10,000 years old and that radiometric dating is completely unable to produce consistent results without insisting on an old earth age bias at the start of the process.

The reason I bring this up, is that discoveries like this directly contradict the claims of creationists.  If the dating process is as false as creationists claim then discoveries like this, which fall outside the bounds of the dates scientists have previously found, should never exist.  Moreover, there is no conspiracy to keep these researchers findings from being published, or to hide these findings because they might embarrass the scientific community.  The scientists who made the discovery do not seem phased by the inaccuracies of their previous dates, but in fact, seem excited by this new revelation.

Peer pressure.

Finally caved to it and created a Twitter account.  My user name is SkeptimusPrime.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Site Layout

I have been working on improving the layout of the site, everyone let me know what you think of the new look and if there is anything I should do that would improve it.

Questions that don't need to be asked.

                I ran across this article yesterday.  Apparently the writer of the article believes that “crystals can be an effective way to change the energy within the mind to facilitate weight loss.”  

The author even goes on to list different type of crystals and their effects on the body.  I thought about writing a long article proving this to be the ridiculous nonsense that it is, but some stuff is just too absurd to spend time refuting.

Can crystals help you lose weight?  Apparently the old adage that there are no stupid questions is false.  I do, however, have a very non-stupid answer for the author.  No.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Atheists are all a bunch of angry jerks.

                I ran across this article today, but what I want to talk about is not so much the article as the comments on it.  I saw some things I wanted to comment on so I signed up and made a couple of rather innocuous comments, or so I thought.  I thought I was rather polite about the whole thing, I disagreed with a couple of people, but that is par for the course, you would think that people would be used to people disagreeing with them on the internet.  One guy posted back and I responded to it, I thought nothing of it until he posted back hours later ripping into me, attacking me, and questioning my ethics and honesty.  

               I tried to recover, and open some conversation with him but was shut down and insulted at every turn, along with the poster using some of the poorest reasoning skills I have ever seen outside of fundamentalist religious believers or homeopaths.  You are welcome to read them all yourselves and reach your own conclusions, but I was shocked by the amount of vitriol this guy seemed to have for atheists.  I did try to remain composed but for shame I did let my emotions get the best of me for all of about ten or fifteen minutes during the exchange.  

                I was struck during the exchange with a problem that seems to come up in these exchanges.  With people like the one I was speaking with it is impossible to win.  When one attempts to be civil they use it as an excuse to walk all over you, your points get drowned by a sea of insults and shoddy logic, and none of their posts even attempt to address your points.  If you dare to respond with the slightest bit of anger, not because you hate them personally mind you, but because you are tired of being disrespected and insulted, they declare victory, in some cases, like this one, quite literally.  This is, of course, because such people are not really interested in truth or expanding their knowledge.  They seem to believe they have won the debate once they bring the other guy down to their level.  

The thing I find interesting is that all of these people tend to say that all the atheists they ever speak with are rude or obnoxious.  I find this an odd statement, because I have rarely met the atheists they seem to meet, and though I am far from perfect, most people I know think I am a pretty good guy, reasonable, good sense of humor etc.  So I thought of an example when I was talking to this guy.  If you were hiring for a job and interviewed a guy who had been fired from 10 jobs in the last few years would you find it likely that he just had difficult bosses or is it more likely he is just a bad employee?  I can imagine if you took a random sampling of such people you would find a statistically significant portion were just bad at their jobs in some way.  What I mean to suggest is this, if every atheist these guys meet seem like jerks, is it more likely that every atheist he meets is just typically mean, or is it more likely that he is doing something to provoke these reactions?  My money is on the latter. 

Another thing this guy did late in the conversation , which I also often see, is to claim that he knows all of these people who are atheists that he gets along fine with.  I call this the “Canadian girlfriend argument,” You know, the guy who always says, “I have a girlfriend, she lives in Canada,” but no one ever sees her.  Of course the guy may actually know some atheists, but after pages of posts showing he knows little about what most atheists think it is a little hard to believe.

Like most of these faux debates it ended with him declaring a victory because I decided to get on with my real life rather than arguing with someone who seems to have about an 8th grade education, and the writing skills to match. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Let's convert Muslims at the point of the sword...hey it worked for them right?

                Ok, anyone who has been around the interwebs for a while knows that World Net Daily isn’t so much a news organization as a large mill for pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, and blatant bigotry against anyone who thinks differently than them, I.E. not members of  the extremely religious right.
                I have typically stayed away from such “news organizations,” but thanks to my blog I have had to change my reading habits so that I can have things to write about.  Having said this, you should all thank me for being willing to wade through this "wretched hive of scum and villainy."  

                In any case, while perusing the site today I ran across an article published on January, 22 in which the author, Ellis Washington, is arguing that the United States should quite literally begin another crusade against Muslim nations.  Ellis, from what I gather, seems to be a dominionist.  Politically these Christians believe that the United States is a Christian country and that we should implement Old Testament laws into our legal system.

                His article starts off by making the following assertion:
          "America must use its military to go to every Muslim nation in the world and convert them to Christianity; it is the only way to end the Muslim jihad against the West, against Christianity and against civilization.”
Apparently he is too ignorant of history to know that this has been tried before, and it failed quite miserably.  Furthermore, this entire line of thinking is hypocritical, while I would actually agree with his assessment of radical Islam, what makes them so dangerous is their belief that they must convert or kill all every other human on the planet.  

His advice for combating them is essentially to engage in the same behavior that makes radical Islam such an immoral set of teachings.  He then asks the question of what the world would look like under Shariah law.   I can assure you it wouldn’t be pretty, but a world under Old Testament law would not look any better.  If anyone doubts this simply look at countries like Uganda which are fairly close to this reality, witch burnings are common and they are trying to make a law making Homosexuality punishable with life imprisonment.

He then makes the absurdly false claim that when people are allowed to freely choose their religion most people choose Christianity before descending into a conspiratorial rant. He continues:
“It is that sublime, voluntary choice of people choosing Christianity that makes the Democratic Party and the legions of progressives, socialists and humanist academics that populate the federal government literally apoplectic. This explains the radical policies directed toward undermining the military:”
            These statements are rather laughable considering that most Democrats are actually Christians, and unlike me would encourage people to believe in said religion, and even they were hardened atheists I very much doubt they would be “literally” apoplectic.  Ellis goes on to give three examples of things the Democrats are doing to destroy the military.
“Repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy”
Is anyone surprised by this one?  There is no reason, beyond bigotry against homosexuals, to think that gay people are any less capable of fighting wars that straight people.
"Military chaplains can no longer mention the name "Jesus" or "Christ" in a prayer, causing Christian chaplains to resign while the numbers of Muslim chaplains have increased in record numbers;"
This, while not an obvious lie, is misleading.  It seems to suggest that chaplains cannot mention Christianity but can speak about Islam.  This is false; the military is asking chaplains to refrain from ANY sectarian religious statements in an effort to avoid a violation of the church state separation clause.  Though, personally, I think the position of military chaplain is a violation of church state separation, in itself, and should be eliminated entirely. 
"The Obama administration plans to allow women to fight on the front lines. This concession to the feminist movement will only further erode military readiness, cohesion and morale."
It is not enough to say homosexuals can’t wage war, now women can’t either.  The ignorance of this man is staggering.  Can he provide one bit of evidence for this bald assertion?  People made the same claims when women were allowed to serve in other capacities in the military and yet women have served in these other areas without issue.  Why should this be any different? 

If male soldiers are seriously going to have a drop in morale because the soldiers next to them don't have a penis I respectfully suggest that the problem is with them, not the women they are serving with.

He goes on to quote a YouTube video where it is submitted that six million Muslims convert to Christianity every year, he says this as if it is certainly true, though the quote is not backed up by any real data, so I very much doubt the figures are exact, and they may well be made up entirely. 

He ends by saying:
"We must invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. PC (perversity correctness) means keeping Christianity, America and the West on the road to dhimmitude."
Ellis' beliefs are scary to me, and they should be scary to anyone.  In Ellis Washington’s America I would one of the first against the wall for my blasphemous beliefs right along with, Muslims, homosexuals, and those women who have the gall to demand equality.  While I disagree with much of the Islamic belief system I support their right to believe it and practice it provided it does not interfere with the freedom of others.  Ellis, however, seems to believe that he has a right, nay a duty to force others to conform at the point of a sword, and that the U.S. military should be that sword.  What is really disturbing about Ellis’ views is that he thinks he is in the right, that he is better than the Muslims, and that he is a moral crusader fighting against the evils of Islam when he is, in fact, not better in the slightest.

 He is exactly the same as Muslim terrorists in all the important ways, save one.  He lacks the power and backing of the government in this country makes it happen.  I say this because we cannot be complacent; it is not enough to say these people are a minority in our country.  It is often noted that radical Muslims make up a minority in many Islamic countries, yet they wield almost absolute power over people there.  The religious and social freedoms that our country gives us could and would be taken away if people like Ellis had the chance, we have to work to make sure they never get that chance.

Monday, January 24, 2011

God's Press Conference

          The guys over at SMBC Comics put up a video that I thought fellow atheists might appreciate.  I'll try to get a post up tomorrow, in the mean time enjoy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Waaahhh!!! I'm being persicuted, the goverment stopped protecting my right to be a bigot.


                For those who don’t know, Gordon Klingenschmitt, was a Navy Chaplin who was discharged for misconduct more than four years ago.  He wore his uniform to a rally hosted by the religious right which criticized the government’s policy on religious inclusion in the military, despite direct orders against this.  I recently ran across this video of Gordon Klingenschmitt talking about doing a “gay exorcism” while he was in service in the military.  He is now threatening to sue the navy.  I see this attitude often from fundamentalist Christians when they are told they do not have the right to foist their beliefs onto others without limit, particularly when they use their job as a means for this and end up getting fired.

                Now, some might say, “hey skeptimus I thought we had free speech,” and while this is true, free speech is not a license to interfere with people’s lives or create a captive audience for your beliefs.  Consider the KKK as an example, every one of their members has a right to be a racist asshole.  I would not impinge upon their right as long as they do not impinge upon my right to think they are horrid people, and to refuse to associate with them.  They even have the right to speak about their beliefs publicly.  However, they do not have the right to burn crosses in people’s front yards, or other things which may interfere with other people’s civil rights.
Make no mistake, this man is a bigot, and his use of his job in the military as a podium from which to put forward his religious beliefs, even if he was a chaplain, was an overstep of his authority.  Things like “gay exorcisms” or just exorcism in general have no place in modern society.  His ideas are both crazy and offensive even by the standards of many Christians, and I would say count as psychological abuse. 

Of course none of this has stopped the religious right from making him the next poster child for their campaign to claim that they are victims of prejudice because these days they only have most of the power instead of all of it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Revelation of Wakefield's fraudulent Autism study is unlikely to convince the anti-vaxers.

          This morning I ran across an article on USA Today speaking about the recent revelation that Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study on the link between autism and the MMR vaccine was not only inaccurate but fraudulent.  Some seemed to think this would put this whole debate to bed, but I wasn't surprised when a quick examination of the comments for this article revealed many unconvinced posters.  People with a conspiracy theory will usually interpret evidence against the conspiracy as a cover up, and therefore even more proof that they conspiracy is true.  I very much doubt anti-vax proponents like Jenny McCarthy or even
Wakefield himself will even slow down, I even predict they will
continue to quote this study.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Precognitive Porn

Dr. Daryl J. Bem, a well-known professor of psychology at Cornell, has managed to prove that people have ESP, at least in regards to where nude pictures are stashed.  This of course begs the question of why my parents had so much trouble finding my “stash” while I was a teenager, but that is beside the point.  Actually I am a bit skeptical of the findings in this study.  Big surprise I know, but the only figures I can find are listed as part of the New York Times article which only showed 53 percent accuracy, barely enough to be
statically significant since the people in the study
were picking from one of two hidden pictures.

            Dr. Bern seemed unfazed by this and according to the New York Times article says, “What I showed was that unselected subjects could sense the erotic photos, but my guess is that if you use more talented people, who are better at this, they could find any of the photos.”  I find this a curious statement to make given the underwhelming results in his study and wonder where his certainty comes from.  Especially since the results have been unrepeatable in at least three studies since his initial one completed.

Of course the interesting part of this story is not so much the study as it is the resulting response to it by scientists, and of course the response to that response.  Many scientists were quite offended that such a study even made it into the journal in the first place since there is no known mechanism for ESP and the issue has already been sufficiently debunked.  

I actually might surprise some of you by saying I don't really have a problem with the journal publishing the study.  I am open to correction on this if I am wrong, but it does not seem to me that it is the job of scientific journals to decide what qualifies as a study with correct findings, that is the job of the peer review process that begins after the study is published.  The job of journal is generally just to make sure that the research was done properly, which, according to the editors, it was.  It is, perhaps, strange that a well known journal would publish a study on an idea as thoroughly discredited as ESP, but being published in a journal does not make the findings true.

The curious thing I have found is some of the rather anti-science responses to criticism of the article, even from people who should know better.  One I noticed in particular was an article from Dr. Arri Eisen, a biologist who wrote an article about this for  Dr. Eisen writes about the decline effect in scientific studies.  The decline effect is essentially an observation that many published studies start out with positive effects that are observed which cannot be found when the experiment is repeated.  Pseudo-scientists have often excused the lack of repeatability in their findings by claiming certain things like ESP have a decline in efficacy when tested repeatedly.  However, Dr. Eisen points out that the decline effect is observed all the time in science, and then goes on to argue as if this shows a basic weakness in the scientific method.  Then he builds from that an argument that many scientists reject claims such as ESP or the effects of Prayer based on a bias instead of a failure to produce evidence.  After all, they argue, if we can observe the decline effect in both real science and pseudo-science then we only reject the pseudo-science because of a bias not a lack of evidence.

However, in my opinion, Dr. Eisen seems to miss some basic points, which seems odd to me given his background in science.  First, the decline effect is not a weakness of the scientific method, but rather a strength.  It is good science at work.  Consider this, a scientist observes a fact, then proceeds to come with a hypothesis to explain that fact.  The scientist will then proceed to design an experiment to test his hypothesis.  There are only two possibilities, either the experiment falsifies the hypothesis or it does not.  If it falsifies it, the scientist is not likely to publish anything, there is no point is having the peer review process examine a hypothesis that has already been proven false.  If it does not fail then the scientist may publish his findings so that others in his field may examine his findings.  This by no means suggests at such an early stage that the hypothesis is correct.  Indeed the whole point of peer review is so that scientists may further attempt to create experiments that may falsify it.  The principal of empirical falsification and the process of peer review are pretty much set up to guarantee that once a study is published it can only decline; it is only those that do not decline which become accepted scientific theories.  

Pseudo-science claims are rejected for much the same reason that many hypothesis' in real science are rejected, lack of repeatability.  What makes the proponents of a claim pseudo-scientists is the continued insistence by the proponents that the hypothesis is true despite repeated failures to demonstrate this using the scientific method.  

I am not saying that scientists never have any bias, or that their biases never cause failures in the scientific process.  However, this is not a failure of the scientific method as Dr. Eisen seems to think, but a failure of people to properly apply the scientific method, and any revisions therein should be directed at making the process better at weeding out said biases.  Moreover, it does not seem to me that the bias preventing a proper examination of ESP claims is coming from scientists who refuse to believe, but from ESP proponents who refuse to admit that there is simply no significant evidence to suggest ESP works.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Japanese Scientists to "un-extinct" the mighty mammoth

        In the news recently, a Japanese scientist, professor Akira Iritani, professor emeritus at Kyoto University, is planing on using cloning technology to bring the mammoth back from extinction. When asked why they are doing this Akira replied, "sugoi desu yo"  which roughly translates into, "because it's fucking awesome."

         ....OK, he didn't really say that, and my translation is questionable, but I really can't think of any practical application for this.  It is, however, fucking awesome. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Homosexuals, the perfect scape goat for...well everything apperently.

                While I am no fan of the modeling industry, this guy is just ridiculous.  Molotov Mitchell, a commentator for World Net Daily, posted this video recently.  According to him gay men are responsible for the high rate of anorexia in models.  He claims this by asserting that every fashion designer is a gay male.  Then he proceeds to assert the reason they make all these women become super skinny is to make them all look like small boys, and by implication that being gay automatically makes you a pedophile as well. It's actually more than implication; he directly asserts this at the end of the video. Then he goes on to assert what all “real,” meaning straight, males like in their women.  

None of this should come as a surprise since last year Mitchell defended the Ugandan bill that has proposed to make homosexuality a capital offense.  Article here.

                To be clear not all fashion designers are gay, that is a stereo type, and there is no correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia.  With this in mind I suggest we rise up and make fun of this man for his both his stupidity and his total lack of ethics.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

God needs to take a speech class.

           I read Blag Hag today and saw post which I could not resist commenting on.  Cindy Jabobs, self-styled prophet and founder of the organization “GeneralsInternational,” apparently has a penchant for making grandiose claims.  One of her most grandiose and, one might even suggest, bat shit crazy claims can be found in the video below.

For those of you who cannot make it through these two minutes of stupidity.   Her argument basically consists of a few key points.

1.      The bible says homosexuality is wrong
2.      Whenever we as a country do something against god’s law he responds by turning nature against us, by causing storms, flooding, etc.
3.      Shortly after Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed a large flock of birds died in Beebe, Arkansas.
4.      The current governor of Arkansas is named Beebe, and, Bill Clinton, the man who instituted DADT was previously a governor of Arkansas.
5.      Conclusion, the death of these birds is clearly a sign from god that he is displeased with ending DADT.

There is so much wrong with this argument I don’t even know where to begin.  I won’t even address point one, as everyone knows my thoughts on the reliability of scripture, and I could write multiple blog posts about the moral bankruptcy of taking ones ethics from it.  The rest is simply a mess of logical fallacies including ad hoc rationalization, and causation fallacy, as well as a need for a basic lesson in statistics.   Her entire argument reminds me of the argument found in this comedic website I found a few years ago, David Hasselhoff is the AntiChrist.

However, let us assume for the sake of argument that she is right.  That she is correct in her assertions that there is a god, that he is displeased with the revocation of DADT, and the freedom homosexuals now have to serve in the armed forces openly.  Further she is also correct that in trying to show his displeasure the best that god could come up with killing a flock of birds in Beebe, Arkansas.   

Of course birds die all the time, and having been to Beebe, Arkansas I can honestly believe that any birds there might have committed suicide just to get away from it.  (Flying wouldn’t be fast enough)  However, I do have to ask, is this really the best God can come up with?  The all-powerful creator of the universe wants to let us know that we messed up, but the best idea he can come up with is some harebrained biological equivalent of the Rube Goldberg contraption?  This is why I submit that God clearly needs to take a speech class.  I often think those speech teachers are going to throttle the students who say “um” constantly, how would they handle God as a student?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pakistan, land of the not so free.

            Currently Pakistan is dealing with tens of thousands of protesters.  What are they protesting for, freedom, for women to be given equal rights?  Not at all, they are protesting against a suggestion that Pakistan amend its very strict blasphemy laws to be only slightly less strict.  

This is only the tip of the iceberg.  Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated on January 4th for spearheading this effort, shot by one of his own bodyguards.

            Taseer certainly did not deserve this, but he was not even advocating getting rid of the blasphemy laws, merely softening the punishment to something less than the current punishment, death.  That’s right, suggesting that people not be killed for blasphemy is enough to get you killed in Pakistan. 

            Groups within Pakistan who dare to take a more moderate stance have been quiet since the assassination, no doubt because they are all afraid of being killed themselves.  Many religious leaders have stated that anyone interfering with the protesters or continuing the fight for amending the blasphemy laws will be killed.  

            There is a lesson to be learned here, if the only way to maintain belief in your religion is to threaten death of anyone who questions even the smallest aspect of it, then get a new religion….or preferably none at all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tides go in, Tides go out, and religion as a scam

            American Atheists recently put up this billboard, as an advertisement for the southeast regional atheist meet.  As a result David Silverman, current head of American Atheists was asked to speak on the O’Reilly Factor.  I didn’t catch the interview on Fox News, but I did watch it later on YouTube.

I have found that this billboard and the subsequent interview have once again raised an issue within the atheist community that refuses to die. The issue being, are atheists all a bunch of pitiless jerks who say mean things to believers.  Like the Hydra of Greek mythology every few months this issue is revived within the crucible of some event in which atheists are judged by some group of people, or individual who managed to get his own show.  Some of these are obviously trumped up issues, for instance, the so called “War on Christmas” is almost entirely within the heads of religious conservatives.

I would like to point out a mistake I often see atheists making here.  I’ll call this the “let’s make nice” fallacy.  Often people seem to think that if we could just re-brand or be a bit better at P.R. that Christians would like us better.  Personally I am not convinced it would make much difference except, perhaps, with more liberal believers.  It almost certainly wouldn’t make much difference with most of the Christians who watch Fox News regularly.  I see it as the classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t problem.  The only way to be nice enough for most Christians to have no problem with atheism would be to simply shut up and never speak, and almost any open disagreement will certainly make some dislike us, accuse us of being shrill, etc.  Now don’t get me wrong I am not advocating being a jerk just for its own sake, but we need to admit that as long we are willing to speak up about things many theists will have a problem with it.  If we are willing to sacrifice anything for the goal of being well liked then we might as well give up ever telling people they are wrong.  I am not saying that it is not possible for us to go too far at times; only that we cannot use the outrage of people like O’Reilly as meter to decide if we have

Meanwhile, O’Reilly is still the same idiot he has always been.  Apparently he doesn’t know how the tides work and that proves there is a god.  Very deep, right?  It seems O’Reilly has never heard of the moon, yet he believes his knowledge is so exhaustive that if he doesn’t know how it works god must have done it.   Does this give me the right to call O’Reilly a pinhead or would that be too insulting?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Skepticism and Atheism

          I have in recent months seen what appears to be a gulf growing between the atheist movement and the skeptic movement.  Now, let me clarify a bit by offering that I do not think that the two groups are somehow about to become enemies.  However, it does seem to me that some skeptics are trying to distance themselves from being associated with atheism.

            I was acutely reminded of this when I ran into a recent forum discussion on a site for skeptics, and as I had just decided to start a blog dealing with these two topics it seemed a good idea for my first post to speak about this issue.  The discussion was started by a well-meaning theist, a Christian to be exact, who expressed his interest in being a skeptic, and in his appreciation of skeptical thinking, yet wondered if the skeptics thought he could, as a religious person, really be a skeptic and wanted to hear their thoughts. (I have left out a link to this conversation since it was on Facebook and people were using their real names)  Invariably most, if not all, of the posters took a very soft approach, none of them said outright that there was no incompatibility with religious thinking and skepticism, but they were careful not to say there was such a discrepancy either.  Though, some did point out that he would need to compartmentalize his beliefs in order to do this.  This is hardly the first time I have seen this particular scene play out. 
Now to some extent can understand the impetus to for many skeptics to behave this way from a P.R. standpoint.  That is to say, that skepticism deals with many issues in which religion does not play even an incidental part.  Furthermore considering that a major concern for those in the skeptical movement is the garnering of public support for their causes it seems quite reasonable that many would temper their speech in order to maximize support for other issues.   If, for instance, a theist felt strongly about speaking against the anti-vaccination movement there is no reason we should prevent them from adding their voice to the issue. 

There is another reason why we may not want atheism and skepticism too closely associated.  Quite frankly, not all atheists are skeptics, nor are they rational.  I see no reason to name names here, but it is possible that if the two become synonymous many people from outside the movement will invariably associate the actions and ideas of some of the crazier atheists out there, with skeptical thinking.  So it may be best if the view presented to the public is that these are related but still separate movements.

Of course I could argue that this tactic is could alienate fellow atheist allies, but truthfully I doubt this is the case.  For one, most of the best known people in the skeptical movement are not very religious themselves, and while I cannot speak for every atheist out there I am not about to withhold my opinions or support on other topics like pseudo-science in some pointless feud.  Secondly, as I said, I am forced to admit that being an atheist is not a guarantee of a person’s ability to reason or think skeptically.

Our prefrontal lobes are too small
while our adrenal glands are too big.
Still we are left with the question the theist posed.  Can a person believe in a religion and still be a skeptic?  In part the answer to this question depends on how one defines the word “skeptic.”  We could conservatively suggest that the only people who count as skeptics are those who are always reasonable, never biased, and never hold any beliefs unless they are justified by a reasonable amount of evidence.  However, if we did that it would almost certainly be impossible to call anyone a skeptic.  As Christopher Hitchens has said “Our prefrontal lobes are too small while our adrenal glands are too big.”  The higher brain functions that allow us to think skeptically evolved rather late in the process and it still requires quite a bit of work to think rationally.  In fact, science itself is designed the way it is because of this, the concept of empirical falsification, the peer review process, this is all designed to weed out the personal bias and poor reasoning that seeps into every one of us as individuals.  

The most I can personally say is that I do my best think rationally and skeptically about my beliefs, and that I try to be open to changing them when evidence dictates that I do so.  However, this is arguably not exactly what the theist in question was doing, or what I see most theists doing in the skeptical movement.  Ironically, in a way I could get along better on this issue with a fundamentalist believer.  To most fundamentalists their religion is not only true, but can and HAS been demonstrated to be true in scientific terms.  Of course I think they are quite wrong on this count, but the point is that they believe this to be important.  The theist who posed this question and many others seem to want to remove their beliefs from open discourse all together.  They openly admit that none of their beliefs can be justified using reason, skepticism, or science, and seem to want their core beliefs to simply be exempt from questions.  They want others to be ok with the fact that they do not question their own most cherished beliefs, and sometimes ask that even we refrain from questioning them as well, yet by claiming to be a skeptic they must be willing to questioning others beliefs.  This, I believe, will eventually result in the theist either abandoning their religious beliefs, or they will invariably end up acting hypocritical.

To explain, let us look at the anti-vaccination movement.  I think most reading this will agree that the scientific claims behind anti-vax are quite bad, and the movement has caused damage to our society in several ways, but this does not negate that many people involved in the movement are there for reasons that are quite emotional and personal.  It is a fact that many of the people involved in anti-vax have autistic children and have latched on to it because no scientific explanation for autism has been found yet.  Yet, as skeptics, we believe we must correct their ideas despite the emotional appeal of them, and the potential hurt these people might feel as a result of our criticism.  

Now, the theist I mentioned would seemingly be willing to take part in this criticism but refuse to turn those same tools of criticism on their own ideas.  This is something that I must take issue with, as many of these same theists seem to take offense when their own beliefs are criticized because of the of personal nature of their beliefs, while assuming that because another persons views are not religious in nature they do not deserve the same respect.  Whether the theists in question want to admit it or not they are engaging in behavior that is both hypocritical and morally suspect.  Furthermore, I personally think that every skeptic needs to start at home.  The beliefs that one ought to criticize most harshly should be their own.  Can anyone claim to be a skeptic if they are entirely unwilling to allow their own ideas to be questioned?  Does such a person sound particularly skeptical to you? 

Skeptical cat doesn't think so, and neither do I

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Deepak Chopra Guests on the Dr. Oz show

I had the opportunity to catch part of The Dr. Oz show today, because I knew that he was planning on having Deepak Chopra on his show.   Mr. Chopra plugged some stress relief methods, which is not particularly bad by itself, but ultimately full of the typical pseudo-science for which Deepak Chopra is known for.   See the video below.

What turned it into the typical pseudo –science  that Mr. Chopra is so well loved for pushing is the way the treatment was sold.  He was selling it as a way to reverse aging.   Yes, that right folks you can become younger by just eliminating stress, isn’t that great?

However, the fact is that his argument is complex enough and based upon just enough science that it will likely convince most of Dr. Oz’s viewers.  It starts out with a discussion of telomeres.  For those who do not know, telomeres are a section of repetitive DNA that appears on the end of chromosomes.  Telomeres act as a kind of buffer that keeps all of the rest of your DNA safe from degradation.  According to current science the breakdown of the telomeres is the main cause of aging.

The argument that Chopra presents is that stress is one of the main caused of telomere break down, and if people reduce stress they can reverse the effects of aging.  Now there are some real studies that have been done showing a correlation between high stress and faster break down of telomeres, but Chopra’s argument fails on several counts.   One, correlation does not necessarily equal causation, and there does not seem to be any direct proof that the stress is actually causing the faster breakdown of telomeres.  Two, telomere break down naturally occurs throughout our life as genes are copied, reducing stress may be able to slow down telomere break down, but it cannot stop it, much less reverse it, so the notion that his program can REVERSE aging is completely made up.  As is often done with pseudo –science claims people take actual science and then exaggerate or distort the nature of the claim.

I was, of course, doubly disturbed that Dr. Oz, seemed to eat up Mr. Chopra’s pseudo-science; in the entire segment I watched I never saw him even once question the efficacy of Chopra’s treatments nor did he question the science behind his claims.  I am in no way a doctor or a scientist and I knew that there is currently no known way to reverse telomere break down, indeed this is one the main focuses of research by scientists who are researching ways to reverse aging.  I am sure they would be ecstatic to hear that instead of spending billions of dollars and years of their life on research we can achieve the same effect with a few simply stress relief exercises.  Dr. Oz should have known this, and should have called him on it.