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Tag 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.

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.

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In our species, this offshoot desire to answer the Burning Questions has resulted in what Daniel Dennett calls ‘premature curiosity satisfaction’. Like other premature events, it is actually undesirable. The more philosophically minded believers realized the need to create arguments to buttress their presupposition that God exists. This is not an admirable methodology. Certainly, in my vocation, such a procedure where the conclusion is the starting point rather than the end point is more than just frowned upon. It leads to rationalization, which becomes quite apparent in the many philosophical arguments.

I am a metaphysical naturalist. I used to consider myself a methodological naturalist, but I came to realize that admitting the possibility of something outside of a naturalist universe in the utter absence of any indication that such is the case is intellectually dishonest. So I have taken the plunge and gone all the way. This does not mean that if extraordinary evidence that there is some phenomena which can only be explained outside of naturalism that I would not change my position. But in the complete paucity of extraordinary evidence to the contrary, to consider anything outside of naturalism in order to explain phenomena is a complete waste of time.

As such, I am no fan of philosophical arguments unsupported by empirical evidence. Science has a habit of squashing them like grapes in a winery. Nicholas Everitt, when writing a book on arguments for the existence of God, gave up and just titled the book The Non-existence of God. As he describes, there are simply no good philosophical arguments for the existence of deities.

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