Skip navigation

Category Archives: Skepticism

I haven’t posted in some time. It hasn’t been because I haven’t anything to say, but because I have starte actually saying it. My brother B and I had been wanting to start up a podcast for some time, but with the arrival of my niece and nephew things got put on the back burner. I didn’t want to start things up on my own, but when a new homeopathy store opened up and started advertising on Facebook, I could no longer wait.

It was at this time that I put out a cattle all to my Center for Inquiry friends and was pleasantly surprised to receive numerous requests to be involved. We made our first recording a little after Xmas and we’re getting set to record our eighth episode tomorrow evening.

So what’s the podcast about? Well, the vision I have is quite broad. Essentially, it involves discussing topics anywhere that evidence-based thinking can be applied. This can involve public policy, woo woo, religion, science, education, etc. There are many great podcasts out there about atheism (The Non-Prophets, for example) or applied skepticism which exclude religious claims (e.g., The Skeptics Guide to the Universe), but almost none that make no distinction where critical thinking gets applied. (The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Skeptics with a K.)

As I like to say, I am an atheist for the same reason that I am a-reiki, a-homeopathic, a-yeti, or a-quantum healing. I see no difference in any of these claims or the requirements they need to meet before acceptance is justified. However, religion is a big component of the podcast for the simple reason that it pervades so much of society. I wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn about it except for one thing: Beliefs inform actions and believing in things without the requisite evidence often lead to harm, not to mention that it is an impoverished way of living. The universe is amazing enough without diminishing it by making up far less interesting stuff about it.

A case in point (which I would like to make into a podcast topic): a recent crime bill passed here in Canada increases prison time and takes funding away from programs which may help make inmates productive members of society when released. There is not one shred of evidence that increasing prison time makes society any safer or better off. Quite the opposite, in fact. But such thinking arises from and panders to an electorate with a religious conservative point of view that is demonstrably false. This is not how public policy should be created and does real harm to society.

The topics we discuss are as relevant to the Canadian prairies as possible (or at least nationally). There are already podcasts out there which ably cover the tribulations south of the 49th parallel. But topics which are of interst to everyone are covered as well, though we give them a decidedly local flavor.

In the first seven episodes we have talked about Xerion Homoeopathie (a Calgary purveyor of magic sugar pills) and their dissemination of anti-vaccination nonsense, the effectiveness so-called ‘liberation’ therapy as a proposed treatment of multiple sclerosis (which has a very high incidence in the prairie provinces), the absence of secular education in the town of Morinville (just north of Edmonton), and in the episode we are recording tomorrow we have an interview with rock star cosmologist Lawrence Krauss about science education and why the non-religious are labeled “strident” (or worse) just for daring to question religious claims. His new book A Universe From Nothing (which I guiltlessly plug here) is a great companion to the viral YouTube video of the same name.

Come visit us at the Legion of Reason and give us a listen, or you can find us on iTunes.

Advertisements

I have just finished reading Paul Tobin’s excellent book The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager (who of us godless Sodomites isn’t sick and tired of all its different flavors by now?). I have a fairly substantial library on biblical criticism, including books by Ehrman, Helms and Callaghan. But I especially like this one as it gets into how scholars have come to the conclusions more than most, and in a manner not as dry as a turkey cooked two hours too long (like say Burton L. Mack’s Who Wrote the New Testament?). Read More »

Brother Andre, a Holy Cross Brother in Quebec and whose personage is said to have healed thousands, will be canonized a saint tomorrow, October 17.

Color me skeptical. As part of the process for beatification on the road to canonization, the Vatican must verify that two (it is now one) miracles involving the subject has occurred. Two? A measely two? I would think that the Law of Large Numbers mixed with human nature will produce quite a few ‘miracles’. The association of a human figure up for canonization with a large sampling in which statistically unlikely events will always occur, especially when the sample size is increased by weird associations, like the oil from a lamp that Brother Andre used. Here’s one of the so-called ‘miracles’ as described in the Montreal Gazette:

The second phenomenon involved a 9-year-old who was cycling when he was struck by a car in 1998, said Father Claude Grou, rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory. The boy suffered severe head injuries and his parents were told there was no hope of recovery. Friends of the family prayed at St. Joseph’s Oratory, bringing a bottle of “St. Joseph’s oil,” a medal and a prayer card back to the parents, Grou said.

The oratory distributes more than 100,000 bottles of the oil annually. In his day, Brother Andre offered a bit of oil to the sick from a lamp that was burning in front of a statue of St. Joseph. He would tell them to rub it on their bodies and pray to St. Joseph to heal them.

Soon after the parents of the boy started praying to Brother Andre, “the healing started to come,” Grou said. “In a few days, he was no longer in danger of death, and in a few days more, they found he was recovering his faculties; he started to talk.”

Read More »

This Calgary local news story is somewhat disturbing. Not disturbing in the same way that CTV Calgary News presented a homeopathic remedy as a viable method of treating food allergies (which the ‘patient’ – read: son-who-has-a-sucker-for-a-mother – was unlikely to have had in the first place) without any input from the evidence-based medical community whatsoever to explain why this ‘treatment’ can not be differentiated from quackery. That was one of the most irresponsible and unethical pieces of journalism (I use the term very loosely) I have ever witnessed. You can read more about that debacle here.

No. This story carried by Global TV Calgary News was actually quite good and I give full marks to Shane Jones for his professional journalistic skills. Some people might see this and only see the weight loss and not listen to what sound science has to say on the matter, but there’s only so far we can go before personal responsibility for actions kicks in.

The subject of the segue was the so-called hCG diet (it can be viewed here, and begins at the 33′ 40″ mark). hCG – short for human chorionic gonadotropin – is a glycoprotein hormone released during pregnancy that prevents the disintegration of the corpus luteum of the ovary, thereby maintaining progesterone production. This is critical since progesterone is involved in the menstrual cycle and maintaining its production extends the luteal phase of the cycle. In other words, it’s what stops menstruation during pregnancy.
Read More »

Berfore I really got down and dirty with the history of the New Testament books, I knew that the situation was bad for believing in its veracity. But I was never prepared for just how bad the situation really is, all the while people taking the New Testament as – well, gospel. This is a transcript of part of episode 8.18 of the Non-Prophets podcast (aired in December) in which Matt Dillahunty responds to a letter from a listener who has a friend claiming that the evidence for miracle claims in the bible is irrefutable. I have to say I always enjoy listening to Matt on subjects biblical.

The facts are these – there are no contemporary extrabiblical accounts of any events specific to the life of Jesus. That means no independent sources from any eyewitnesses with regard to his birth, life, miracles, ministry, death or proposed resurrection. The gospels are anonymous; we have no original manuscripts; they do not agree on details; they do not agree with recorded history; and the consensus of New Testament scholarship is that none of them were written by eyewitnesses. The bible has stories about eyewitnesses, but we don’t have a single comment from anyone claiming to be an eyewitness.

The process of canonization included books that doctrinally agreed with those in power, and eliminated and attempted to destroy books that were considered heretical by those in power. Yet those same books were considered inspired by other sects. Books like Revelations barely made it into the bible as many considered them uninspired. Books like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocolypse of Peter which have traditionally been considered divinely inspired were excluded. Paul’s epistles, some of which are of questionable authorship, were the first books of the New Testament to be written, and that was decades after the purported life of Jesus. The gospels were written many years later – perhaps even decades later – by unknown authors. Historians from the late first and second century do mention Christians and some refer to Jesus, but none of these were eyewitnesses, and most of them couldn’t even have spoken to someone who claimed to be an eyewitness.

So we have the bible, a collection of stories by largely unknown authors who were unlikely to be eyewitnesses and we don’t have originals of their work. We have copies of copies of copies of translations of copies of copies of anonymous books reporting an oral tradition passed down for decades or centuries after the purported events in a time when myths, superstitions and god-men claims were plentiful; during a time when fact-checking and literacy were rare; and when doctrinal wars prompted forged documents (Paul even mentions this in the bible) in order to prop up competing theologies as orthodox or heretical. And for my money, that means none of it is believable.

Contrast this with, for example, claims of alien abductions. You can – if you like – actually speak to people who claim to have actually been abducted by aliens. If you look around, you’ll find groups of people who tell consistent stories, and might even claim to have been abducted together. There are countless reports of UFO sightings, often by groups of people or, in rare cases, dozens or even hundreds of people in a particular town or area. These reports have been ongoing for decades, reported by countless news sources in addition to specialized periodicals. Many of these people sincerely believe their story. Do you? Does you’re friend?

I don’t, because there isn’t sufficient evidence. Yet the quantity and quality of evidence for these claims is vastly superior to any miracle claims reported in the bible. We have more evidence, and we’re not 2000 years removed from events, and we still don’t believe, and find the most fervent believers to be a little crazy. Yet somehow, millions of largely ignorant, well-meaning, nice people sincerely believe third-hand reports of miracles from thousands of years ago. And they don’t just believe – they strongly believe. They not only consider it not only absurd to disbelieve, but also their sacred duty to convince others – at a minimum – and legislate their beliefs on others – or worse. And yet we do not somehow don’t consider these people a little crazy.

Here endeth the lesson. Amen.

ABSTRACT. Facilitated communication was regailed as a major breakthrough in 1990 in communicating with people who have autism. The claim was that 90% of children suffering from nonverbal autism could communicate with the aid of a keyboard and a facilitator guiding their hands to make the keystrokes. Scientific examination of the claims made by facilitated communication proponents showed a different story. When facilitated communication was performed under controlled conditions, the majority of studies showed no effect. Those few controlled studies which did show benefit suffered from severe methodological problems. It has been found that the authorship can not be attributed to the autistic subject. Rather, it is the facilitator unconsciously doing the typing via the ideomotor effect. The illusion of subject authorship is very strong, as is made clear by the belief in its efficacy by both its practitioners and parents of autistic children making use of facilitated communication. Coupling this with a parent’s desire to interact with their autistic child makes it even more so. But facilitators have on many occasions accused a parent of sexual abuse through their subject, and at times a child’s testimony via facilitated communication has been accepted as evidence despite its failure to pass the Frye test. Facilitated communication has been discredited in the scientific community, yet it continues to be applied. The harm it causes is clear. It has destroyed lives with false allegations of sexual abuse and may prevent the special needs of autistic and sufferers of similar nonverbal disorders from being met on the basis of what a facilitator says via the subject.

Read More »