Thursday, July 31, 2008

Maybe you're confused...

A good friend of mine likes to argue evolution can't possibly happen because mating between two different species is impossible. He learned this through high school biology, and I'm almost certain what we were taught in high school isn't the entire case.

Here's a little bit of evidence for the contrary.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ok, I'll admit it

I have a best friend who looks just like Jesus (or what people think he looks like.)
So why ins't he on the news? Why is it this pussy instead? Or this potato chip?

Shouldn't Christians, especially the ones which think Jesus is coming back, be more excited about Jesus look alikes?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Detoxing at is a rather reputable site which offers information on given subjects from 'experts.' Sounds good, right? Well apparently even if you're an expert on bullshit, you can get a spot on About. Today we'll be going through their articles on detox diets and see just exactly how high they plan to bury us in their bullshit.

First, it would be good to get to know the author of this mess, Cathy Wong. At first she seems like the nice, typical, cute Asian woman who you would expect to see as an author for and the like. However, her experience is a little questionable: 10 years of research in CAM and features in magazines such as Natural Health and Body + Soul (sounds like a crappy Christian rock band). Her education sounds great at first; she has a BS... But her profile fails to describe in what discipline. So for now, we'll assume it's in basket weaving. She holds a diploma in acupuncture, and apparently is certified in mind/body medicine; which is funny because I'm pretty sure that would mostly be comprised of the placebo effect.

According to Wong:

The Internet is a rich source of information on alternative medicine, but it's important to be fully informed about the pros and cons of an alternative therapy or remedy before trying it. This site will help you become well-informed about the many options available to you and keep you up-to-date about the latest developments in the field of alternative medicine.
Developments, eh? In that case, the site should be filled with bad news for alt. medicine, right? Well no, not quite.

Wong offers 16 steps for detoxifying your body - yea! Unfortunately, we won't have time for all of them - boo!

Step 1: The Detox Quiz

The quiz actually catches me by surprise with a disclaimer which warns that "... this quiz is not meant to replace a diagnosis or assessment by your doctor." Probably because there isn't anything to assess. Still, it's good to see them covering themselves.

The first questions asks if you often feel tired. I'm assuming this is one of the symptoms the quiz claims to identify. That would lead to believe this quiz is already full of bullwoo. It is widely known that many Americans have trouble sleeping or do not get enough sleep as it is; that seems to be a more plausible explanation of sleepiness. Later in the quiz, we're also asked if we have dark circles under our eyes. Repetitive? We'll click 'True' on this one. Third question: I catch colds easily. What would give someone the expertise to say they catch colds easily? How would they know? How many colds per year qualifies as 'being easy'? 'True' click! Ha, and then that is followed by "I have bad breath." Are these toxins now actually the bacteria colonies in our mouths? And here's a kicker, "I have unpleasant body odors when I'm not using deodorant or perfume." Isn't the purpose of deodorant to cover up body odor? Doesn't everybody at some point smell? More good symptoms: "I have allergies," or, "I have acne." It seems that most of the symptoms of needed for detox are very common and general symptoms. What does this mean? Well, it doesn't mean Wong is just trying to scare us into thinking we're in trouble; it actually means everybody needs to detox. Now.

After answering 16 questions, I score a 94%. Uh-oh. It's time to...


A majority of the steps offer the usual woo from detox advocates: we have toxins from today's food, technology, pollution. Never mind the fact people are now living longer, despite today's pollutants. You're going to suffer if you don't get rid of all these toxins in your body. A list of foods to eat is provided, and can be summed up with fruit, lentils, some nuts, and water. Also, Wong recommends taking your time chewing your food. Foods to avoid include sugar and wheat (where is meat in all of this??) One claim that Wong makes though, is that the benefits of detox include improved energy, increased concentration, and the usual hubbub.

The Final Challenge!

The last useful step (step that doesn't talk about what to eat) is step 10, "Do you have positive or negative energy?" This isn't the type of energy you usually here woo about though, such as 'qi' in acupuncture. What the word 'energy' refers to in step ten is your disposition - do you tend to be a positive person or a negative person. However, using the word 'energy' here can be considered woo itself. The word energy is used to much in all of this alt. med woo that Wong threw it in their to sound a bit more credible.

If you score low on the quiz, or score anything below 100%, you're directed towards some tips to become a more positive person (which is actually a plug for a book). Though, I should say, the book seems to disguise techniques to think positively with the energy woo usually associated with acupuncture etc.

Could it be that this, and not the detox, is the reason for the benefits Wong claims? Thinking positively leads to better moods with more energy and concentration? That sounds more likely than robbing your body of an essential diet in the name of detox.


It seems even somewhat reputable sites such as About even fall for alt med woo, but that is to be expected when there's money and ratings involved, I'm sure.

The steps Wong gives actually entail more than just the usual detox, but also thinking more positively. This would make for a bad study/trial since this would make for too many variables.

The interesting point (at least I think so) I would like to make though is the claim that these toxins from today's technology are harmful to our bodies. Yet, people are living longer without the use of detox diets. Even the average life expectancy in a society filled with pollution and crap diets has nearly doubled (in some cases tripled) that of our ancestors, who got along without all of our harmful technologies.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Self Defense! In that warm Christian kind of way :-D

I had a conversation with a friend and it started off on the whole prayer/divine plan paradox. The dialogue went a little something like this:

Me: What's the point of praying if God has a divine plan for everything?
[pretty common question]
Him: God is always willing to listen to you, and he'll always answers prayers! It's all about having a relationship.
[pretty common response which hardly answers the question]
Me: Wait, God doesn't always answer prayers... What about a cancer patient in the hospital who eventually dies?
Him: God's answer would be 'No' in that case.

Haha! Ok! So, ignoring the prayer/divine plan problem, we have a new one: God amounts to nothing. My friend's argument is that God answers all prayers regardless of what they are. However, the catch is, his answer isn't always what you want it to be. This is a nifty little self-defense mechanism my friend has fallen for. Normally a person would have reason to doubt god if their prayer hadn't been answered favorably, but now God has the option of declining to answer the prayer (similar to the 'God's will is mysterious' response). Now both possible outcomes are covered, so whatever happens can be credited to god. Pray to God or do nothing, the outcome is the same. However, my friend fails to see here that the same two outcomes exist even if god doesn't exist. I'm sad to say that his belief only reinforces his delusion.

Another little defense I've seen is popular among my peers: your best friends should be your Christian friends (and in some cases you should get rid of any other friends). And the reasoning given for this is that you can have better relationships, get closer to Jesus, etc. by having your closest friends as Christians. The real motive though is to keep doubters from straying too far from any idealogy. Obviously, if your closest/only friends are believers, then whenever you begin to doubt anything, you'll be brought back down to... uh... well you'll just get redeluded by your friends.

So far these are the only self-defense mechanisms I've really seen coming from Christianity (next to 'God is mysterious!') It irks me quite much to know that my peers can't seem to see past these little tricks to keep them in line and quiet. It must take a very seriously deluded person to not be able to see past these decptive devices.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Humans aren't naturally skeptical? Well, not very surprising... But perhaps this means.... SKEPTICS ARE THE NEXT STEP IN HUMAN EVOLUTION!?!??!?!?!??!?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pew pew pew pew pew!

Recently, the Pew Forum conducted their Religious Landscape Survey and have posted the results along with a report on them. The full report is 268 pages, so they kindly gave a brief summary of the key points.

One of the most interesting key points deals with the fact that nearly 70% of all the people surveyed agreed that "there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion." Now this seems a little absurd.

Many fundies, evangelicals and other religions claim that their holy books contain some sort of monopoly on the truth or that their book is the infallible word of god. Obviously, this would mean that many different interpretations of their texts would be impossible. But let's give them a break, and assume that those surveyed don't subscribe to the fundie mentality (even though the results say they are.) Let's assume that they are at least a little bit more 'casual' in their beliefs (though still very religious.) Even if this were true of them, the statement that there is more than one true way to interpret their teachings would be impossible. This would be because of the law of noncontradiction.

So if I were to interpret a teaching a certain way, I would, supposedly, gain some bit of knowledge concerning truth. This bit of truth I have just obtained claims certain things about what is absolutely true. If another person came along, read the same teaching I did, and interpreted it differently, their bit of knowledge would claim different things than my own. Considering that our own 'bits of knowledge' are different, but regard the same thing, they contradict each other - or can't be true!

But still, let's ignore that! We have been looking at teachings within a single religion after all, so maybe there's a little wiggle room there. Even then though:

Most Americans agree with the statement that many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those who are affiliated with a religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions
So now we have people claiming that different religions can lead to eternal life? How can that be? These many religions have many different teachings; most of which definitely contradict one another! Many religions can't even agree on the basics, such as the name of god, the number of gods, the prophet's name, major events, etc. So this statement is even crazier than the last one!

Clearly, if one is going to have faith in a religion, there can't be room for interpretations. It's a black and white situation. Of course, since it is a black and white thing, then the fact that teachings of nearly all religions disagree with the discoveries of science gives us good reason to never believe in the first place. After all, the Earth can't be flat and spherical at the same time, can it?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Being Open-Minded

Here's a little problem most skeptics are accused of having in most debates - being open minded. Often believers in 'x' will usually end up claiming that a skeptic has a closed mind in dealing with 'x'. I have even heard a believer in the paranormal say that skeptics are constrained to the 'limited views of science.' Clearly, if a person wants to make sense of their life and this world, then they need to do so with an open mind, but what just exactly is an open mind?

It seems that to the general public, accepting all ideas, theories, and hypothesis, without putting forth many questions is sufficient for having an open mind. This is evident with the respect religion claims, making it (until recently) almost impervious from any sort of scrutiny (at least at the cost of the scrutinizer,) the persistence of alternative medicines, theories of the paranormal, all the usual.

Most skeptics already know though, that being open minded isn't about a lack of inquiry into any system of beliefs or accepting all theories for what they are. Being open minded, actually, has more to do with coming closer to any form of truth by creating an open forum for debate. What being open minded really means is, that in order to arrive at the truth, every theory and hypothesis must be treated equally with skepticism and ridicule, all the while holding no prejudices against new claims until they too are examined. It also helps to leave our emotions at the door. In other words, being a skeptic is sufficient for having an open mind.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Scutinizing Scruton (Oh I am SO clever)!

Recently I came across an article from Roger Scruton. I looked him up and apparently he's big time in the philosophical and academic communities. Despite that though, I still find some of what he says in his article as setting my bullwoo meter off the charts! So let's take a look.

The article, titled 'The Return of Religon', goes after what Scruton calls the 'evangelical atheists', such as Dawkins and Harris. In it he offers some criticism of them and their like and offers a few reasons why someone might turn to religion. He starts his argument with:

There are two reasons why people start shouting at their opponents: one is that they think the opponent is so strong that every weapon must be used against him; the other is that they think their own case so weak that it has to be fortified by noise. Both these motives can be observed in the evangelical atheists.
Well, yeah, Dawkins is angry, but Scruton may have it wrong here. Sorry to say, but this appears to be a fallacy - clearly there is more than two reasons why someone would yell. In the case of the atheists, I would say it's not because they're afraid their argument sucks, but because the other side isn't willing to listen when they need to. So Scruton did a nice little number there, trying to already make the atheist's position look worse than it actually is. He then follows this with:

They seriously believe that religion is a danger, leading people into excesses of enthusiasm which, precisely because they are inspired by irrational beliefs, cannot be countered by rational argument.
He makes it sound as if this is some sort of absurd and ungrounded belief, but this seems to be the actual case. How many times have YouTube and Internet debates proven this claim to be true? Scruton then attempts to undermine such a belief by bringing the point that not all religious believers are dangerous, and in fact some go to religion in search of peace. Of course, this is true, there are different 'types' of believers. I don't think this completely debunks the belief though: religion can be considered dangerous in several ways.

There is violence of course, and most recently the Islamic extremists and abortion clinic bombers are great evidence for this. But this is what Scruton was trying to argue: not everyone is like that. There is another type of danger in religion though, and that's a lack of skeptical and scientific thinking. As Sagan always used to say, "...
that kind of skeptical questioning, don't accept what authority tells you -attitude of science- is also nearly identical to the attitude of mind necessary for a functioning democracy. Science and democracy have very consonant values and approaches, and I don't think you can have one without the other." Basing beliefs on faith makes people more vulnerable to following leaders of any sort blindly, and in a democracy (or any type of government almost), things can turn badly when that happens. And THAT is dangerous (take Iraq for example).

Ignoring that type of danger though, Scruton continues with his argument by posing the question "... What exactly does modern science tell us, and just where does it conflict with the premises of religious belief?" Well, most holy books of any religion for starters, but Scruton continues.

He then gives the example of genetics and how all humans are 'survival machines' and goes into some detail about this and how life possibly started. So here he says that science has been able to tell us about our origins (and will soon finish filling in the details); obviously this conflicts with most religious premises. Scruton follows that with astrophysics and cosmology and the 'general picture' the theories and facts from these studies have produced.

Only ignorance would cause us to deny that general picture, and the evangelical atheists assume that religion must deny that picture and therefore must, at some level, commit itself to the propagation of ignorance or at any rate the prevention of knowledge.
Well, that certainly seems to be the case - especially with fundamentalists who wish to deny major fields of science (such as evolutionary biology), so the atheists seem to have good reason to assume!

Yet, I do not know a religious person among my friends and acquaintances who does deny that picture...
Uh... Insufficient data? Helloooo!? I have friends who deny that 'general picture', obviously very many religious people do also!

Scruton then claims that there is a subliminal argument going on between the atheists and theists: atheists say that any sort of enquiry into the metaphysical should stop - especially regarding meaning - and theists disagree.

... Brings enquiry to a stop. And the religious person will feel that this stop is premature: that reason has more questions to ask... So who, in this subliminal contest, is the truly reasonable one? The atheists beg the question in their own favor, by assuming that science has all the answers, but science can have all the answers only if it has all the questions; and that assumption is false.

We get a few things here: 1) there is a subliminal contest going here; 2) science claims it has all the answers so there can be no metaphysical meaning; 3) this is a false assumption; 4) atheists are unreasonable.

I'm not sure why this 'contest' is subliminal, but ok. However, I'm not sure science has ever said it has all the answers... And many great scientists admit that even the best scientific theories will never get us to absolute truth. So for false assumptions, it seems Scruton made one by claiming "2". And somehow, atheists are unreasonable. I should make it clear that earlier in the quoted paragraph, Scruton makes it clear he is talking about meaning. So I'm expecting some sort of discussion on why atheists should be open to enquiry on meaning. You are too, right?

Well... Instead, we get an example of what one of the metaphysical questions beyond science is besides meaning.

One of these is the question of consciousness. This strange universe of black holes and time warps, of event horizons and non-localities, somehow becomes conscious of itself.
Very Sagan-esque, eh? Perhaps what Scruton is saying here is that consciousness is good enough reason to look for meaning in the universe. That it certainly is odd the universe is conscious (through us) and the rest of the universe seems to be nothing but stars, dust, holes, etc. Let's continue with that assumption.

Scruton dives deeper into what consciousness is, explaining how difficult it is to grasp it. But then Scruton seems to make a slightly absurd claim.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the thought of consciousness gives rise to peculiar metaphysical anxieties, which we try to allay with images of the soul, the mind, the self... But these traditional 'solutions' merely duplicate the problem. We cast no light on the consciousness of a human being simply by redescribing it as the consciousness of some inner homunculus - be it a soul, a mind, or a self. On the contrary, by placing that homunculus in some private, inaccessible and possibly immaterial realm, we merely compound the mystery.
Maybe I am misunderstanding this, but it seems to me as if Scruton is saying all theories of mind claim mental states to be the 'ghost in the machine'! That certainly isn't the case, there are plenty of theories of mind which are materialistic and which attempt to reduce the mind to something else (or even claim it doesn't exist - eliminative materialism). So where does Scruton take this?

It is this mystery which brings people back to religion.


Modern people are drawn to religion by their consciousness of consciousness, by their awareness of a light shining in the centre of their being.

Right, that may be true, but that doesn't make it right or ok. First of all, I don't think that's the only reason people flock to religion. Secondly, it would make far more sense to instead guide people towards the philosophy of the mind/body problem. Why don't we encourage others to educate themselves in these theories and enlighten themselves with science behind it? I would venture to say that if we were to do this instead, many more great philosophical minds would pop up into the community and help enlighten the rest of us as to what theory of mind may be most correct.

After venturing into why religion isn't such a bad thing, Scruton goes back to bashing those evangelical atheists.

These characters have a violent and untidy air: it is very obvious that something is missing from their lives, something which would bring order and completeness in the place of random disgust.

Eh? What? Something missing? Oh, could you possibly be hinting at... RELIGION!? Or could it be that they long for a world which operates rationally and hope for a global culture which values skepticism and science and realizes that it too may be spiritual - just not in the yuppy lame let's-all-go-to-heaven way?

Scruton is pissed. And I can agree somewhat, maybe Dawkins and the others could tone down their 'anger'... I'm sure believers would be more willing to listen then (or are they yelling because the believers wouldn't listen in the first place?) But, given the fact that Dawkins and the others are only human, it makes sense that they would be fed up with the ridiculousness that is blind faith and the rejection of theories enlightened by facts (which we call science) and this faith's pervasiveness in the world.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ahh, why so blue?

Oh! Because you don't think! Or at least, you don't think skeptically, Mr. Karason. As the news article says, Karason believes that colloidal silver can cure anything if you drink it! He even denies the fact that the supplement is what has caused his skin to turn blue.

Clearly, the supplement is nothing more than a scam. Before buying such a product, any person should ask the obvious questions, such as, "Are they any actual studies which give reason to believe this 'supplement' is legit?"

After a quick search on Wikipedia and a few journal databases, the answer appears to be no. In fact, all of the information I found says quite the contrary. Especially in the article "Severe generalized argyria secondary to ingestion of colloidal silver protein" (from Clinical & Experimental Dermatology, Volume 28, Number 3.) Here's a bit of the abstract:

Argyria is a rare cause of cutaneous discolouration caused by silver deposition. We report a case of dramatic and diffuse argyria secondary to ingestion of colloidal silver protein over a 1-year period. Stained electron microscopy with spectral analysis was used to confirm the clinical diagnosis. Silver–protein complexes are deposited in the skin and reduced to inert silver salts by sunlight in a process similar to that harnessed in photography. Our patient had obtained the silver for consumption via mail order. It had been advertised as a cure for a variety of diseases...

Basically, this supplement turns you into a walking photograph.

So it's not that I expect Karason to research every single supplement he plans to use (at least try Wikipedia though), it's that he should concede the fact that he's wrong in saying his colloidal silver isn't the cause of his blueness. Defending a supplement simply because you have some attachment to it despite evidence saying you should do otherwise seems a little silly.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ken Miller

Back in the day, I had stumbled upon a YouTube video of Ken Miller lecturing on Intelligent Design. It was a pretty good lecture and devastated the ID argument rather well. Of course, this is all old news, but I want to comment on something from Miller's book (Finding Darwin's God) which he mentioned in the video.

I picked up the book expecting a pretty good argument for being a scientist AND believing in god at the same time. For the first half of the book, Miller totally kicked the arse of ID, I thoroughly enjoyed that half. The second half, however, I didn't enjoy. That half was the entire reason I bought the book; I was genuinely interested in Miller's argument for god. His argument sucked.

Basically, Miller's argument was the argument from free will. God gave us free will, he exists! Woo woo! Right? No, not right. His reasoning was that free will isn't compatible with determinism. Lucky for us, God made happenings on the quantum level indeterminant. And with out ever clearly explaining the correlation, Miller claimed the inderterminism displayed at the quantum level is translated to free will at the human level.

And that's bullwoo. So an action of ours is predetermined by our genetics, experiences, etc? Instead, apparently, our actions are indertiminant! But if something isn't caused, it's random. And if our actions are random, then how are we in control of them?

I think what may have happened is that Miller confused quantum inderterminism with libertarian indeterminism. Libertarians reject hard determinism and say that new causal chains are enacted each time a rational agent acts ("A stone is moved by a stick, a stick is moved by a hand.") Their reasoning is that the universe is indeterminant because we have some mysterious free will which is untethered by the need for cause and effect. I've heard fellow philosophy majors who subscribe to this say that free will "is simply mysterious!" That's no explanation.

So all in all, the book was a good read. Now I need to check out Miller's new book, which I think I may actually buy.

Also, I just had a thought. Emotional appeals tend to really suck because they aren't necessarily based on any good evidence. When creationists say, "And you think the universe/humans/the avian flu came about from an ACCIDENT!!?!?" one thing they may be saying is that such a claim would take away their meaning of life, and that makes them feel sad. Really, the universe isn't meant to adhere to our need for meaning... So even if everything is 'an accident', I don't see the big deal.

God and Other Minds

Recently, I ran into a book from the late 60's which had the thesis that a belief in god is similar to believing in other minds. You can never directly observe god and other minds (you can never experience someone else's experiences), get it? So of course it would be a little crazy to claim that other minds don't exist because then you would be the only mind (solipsism)!!! If you won't deny the existence of other minds, then supposedly it would make more sense to say that arguments for god aren't so bad...

But there's a difference here: other minds have evidence in their favor - the debate is still out on god.

No one has ever directly observed an electron, but we know they exist because we see the effect they have on nature. If you know that you have a mind and can recognize your own complex behaviors, then witnessing another being produce similar behaviors should give you good reason to believe in other minds... In other words, you have an indirect observation of other minds.

This is a pretty big bit of evidence, much more than it seems god has going for himself. The contents of the book mentioned the cosmological argument, so I'm guessing the author was going to say that complex behaviors of other beings is similar to the universe... As the universe is the indirect evidence/observation for the proposed hypothesis. In other words:

  1. I know I have a mind.
  2. I display complex behaviors.
  3. I know we each display complex behaviors.
  4. Therefore, I have good reason to believe we all have minds.

  1. God's only action, at the very least, is creating the universe.
  2. We see the universe,
  3. The universe is a result of the behavior of god,
  4. Therefore, God exists.

But then you're arguing the cosmological argument with a few extra premises, and that's nothing new!

Of course, I didn't read the book, but that's where I see it going after looking over the table of contents. Not very cool, if you ask me.


to my new blog.

Right, so, onto business.

We all know that classic movie, "What the Bleep..." and it's main thesis that we create the universe (with one of the opening lines "why do we always recreate the same reality?")

A lot of people take this at face value, a sad sign of the times. Somehow, the movie was able to convince people that since a 'probability wave' collapses to a single point when a particle is observed along with other characteristics (such as spin) that this obviously means we create reality by looking at it. Of course, if anyone were to actually stop to think about this idea they would hopefully run into some kinks with the theory.

One of the first questions I'm sure would be what if there are no minds around to do the observing? What exactly created reality then? If you accept Bleep's thesis, it seems right to say that you think reality began with some form of conscious life which could observe (otherwise nothing could exist since nothing was 'creating reality'). Of course, this runs into major problems such as being incompatible with nearly every theory of the universe (ex. Big Bang didn't happen apparently). Also, evolution is a little shaky now, since the first life forms would have to be conscious. Basically everything popped into existence relatively recently!

Also, the way the movie presents this idea seems to be that we have some sort of say in how reality works. This is apparent with, again, the line "Why do we recreate..." assuming we can do otherwise if we wished, with their example that writing on yourself will suddenly make you healthy, or maybe even with the 'experiment' Bleep showed in which words were written and crystals formed (the idea was that we can alter reality by trying to communicate a certain idea... and the universe 'feels' it). Let's give the thesis a little bit a ground to work though. Let's assume that reality is somehow shaped when it is observed (as this article suggests). This still doesn't mean that we can impose our will on reality, and that's what the Bleep was going for. We still have no control over what reality is like, it is out of our hands. The mistake Bleep made, was to assume we had some say. Damn false assumptions.