Aggregating Skeptical Thought

Overcoming evolution

Paul H. Rubin writes over at about Evolution, Immigration and Trade. The article makes the point that seeing larger “moral” groups is difficult because it goes against our evolutionary programming and the traditional “small-group societies” that most of humanity is brought up in. He goes on to say,

As products of evolution, humans cannot help but be born with certain biases. But we are not condemned to this evolutionary programming; we can identify the biases and recognize when they lead us astray in the modern world.

and an excellent analogy

A useful analogy is between speech and reading. All humans growing up in a normal environment learn to speak, but reading must be taught because it does not come naturally.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution

Autism and Mercury

The autism-vaccine connection is going to the U.S. Federal Claims court in which 4800 parents are claiming that they governments vaccination program caused their childrens autism. Read about it further at Slate, Thimerosal on Trial.

Here is some further reading from Steven Novella, MD of the New England Skeptics Society and Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe fame, the article is Fear Not: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.

Here is another article, Thimerasol is not responsible for Autism, from James R. Laidler, MD of AutismWatch and is brought to you by the same group that does Quackwatch.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Health, Law, Science

Slate’s Green Challenge

Are you ready to take the Green Challenge from Signup for the quiz if you aren’t already a member of Slate.

Here are also 7 weeks worth of tips for reducing your carbon footprint

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Environment

A Pessimist Nation

Not to keep hammering on Oprah but here is an article, Pessimist Nation, from Slate detailing the results of their Think Negative campaign. This email campaign was started after the following,

Not too long ago, one of your viewers—a woman named Kim—wrote you to announce that she had decided to halt her breast-cancer treatments and heal herself with her mind. Kim had just seen your two shows dedicated to The Secret, the self-help phenomenon that says we shape the world with our thoughts, and she was inspired to bet her life on it.

Some of the emails they have received are great and definitely worth the read. I have sent mine in, have you?

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Religion, Skeptic

Oprah’s Secret to child abuse

I stumbled across this extraordinarily sad example of damage that can be done to someone from believing that “The Secret” and the Laws of Attraction are anything but a load of psychobabble and lies. This stuff just enrages me, especially when it comes to child abuse. Oh and guess who is promoting this stuff, Oprah!!!

The “author” of this post on youtube has forbidden embedding (in the interest of spreading the “word”, no doubt). But here is the link This is an excerpt of an interview with Esther Hicks (channeling Abraham or some crap like that) on Oprah’s XM channel.

Oprah at one point asks the question, “how an innocent child attracts being raped, an innocent child attracts being abused, an innocent child attracts being kidnapped and butchered”. Esther (or Abraham or whatever) answers that just because they don’t have language doesn’t mean they aren’t “attracting”. Or maybe this is a little cynical and I am paraphrasing but it sounds like just because a 2-year-old can’t speak it doesn’t mean that they aren’t “vibrating” and “attracting” molestation (or “asking for it”).

Oprah like all rational people says, “huh?, that didn’t make sense that a child vibrates to be raped”. Just kidding (and I wish I weren’t). She accepts this non-answer without condition and moves on. Start at the 4:00 minute mark.

This is ridiculous!!! If this isn’t Blame-The-Victim and opens the door for some wicked justification, I don’t know what is. And just to hammer the point home, here are comments from a sadly deluded person named jaguarnoelle

I thought myself about the question of how a child could attract abuse. Personally I feel that on some level before I came to this body I chose to undergo abuse in order to make me stronger and more compassionate. I know though that beyond that, as a child I believed myself subject to the will of my parents.

It was my parents that allowed such abuse. I was not protected from it. Not knowing that it was me who could protect me meant that I was unable to for many years until I changed that belief.

Here is a person that claims to have been abused and has found a way (like many abused children) to blame themselves but now they have quantum physics and Oprah to back up this position.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Psychics, Religion

Throwing Nica Lalli to the wolves

bug_girl over at Skepchick gave their faithful audience a heads up that Nica Lalli, author of the book Nothing: Something to believe in,  would be facing off with Kenneth Ham (of Creation Nauseum fame) on Fox & Friends. I made a point to tune in and was very fortunate to only have to sit through 5 minutes of the inane banter. Nica is a brave person for going against someone like Ham who is clearly in his element. These 6 minute interview/debates are perfectly geared towards someone with no substance and only wants to hammer a particular point and launch ad hominem attacks.  I think Nica did as good a job as possible given the format, the only thing Ham wanted to do was “discredit” Nica by claiming she was irrational, and by claiming I mean nearly screaming. You know the scream that isn’t quite a scream. Where the phrase, “You are just irrational” has the word irrational spoken about an octave higher than the rest of the sentence. If I see this posted to youtube or something I will re-edit the post to include the clip

Here’s a post from “Aces Full of Links” about the interview as well.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Religion

Creation Museum Roundup

Pharyngula has a huge round up of 75+ posts from the blogosphere and news sites detailing the travesty that is known as the Creation Museum. A huge kudos to PZ Meyers for all the time and effort he has put into this. Make sure you Digg the article when you get there.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution

Bible Blogger

David Plotz has been “Blogging the Bible” since September of 2006. Plotz is “a proud Jew, but never a terribly observant one”. His commentary is sometimes hilarious and sometime enlightening and always interesting. Interesting because here’s someone of Jewish descent who is reading the Torah (Christan Old Testament) for the first time, ever.  His introduction tells of him sitting through a bat mitzvah bored out of his mind (because it’s in Hebrew and he can’t understand anything going on) and he picks up the Torah and reads of the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah (Genesis 34) and then comments that the ensuing hilarity shows that  

“…the founding fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel lie, breach a contract, encourage pagans to convert to Judaism only in order to incapacitate them for slaughter, murder some innocents and enslave others, pillage and profiteer, and then justify it all with an appeal to their sister’s defiled honor. “

I had been following for sometime but lost track around Joshua. He’s now up to Nehemiah and you can spend hours reading his commentary. The commentary is separated by book and is not a complete analysis but simply gets at the gist of each book.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Religion

Fins and Fingers and Fossils and Frauds

SciAm article, How Fins Became Fingers, I wonder if the Tiktaalik fossil (half-fish, half-tetrapod) mentioned at the end of the article would qualify for Ray ‘Banana-man’ Comfort’s $10,000 transitionary fossil prize.
Here’s the $10,000 offer as quoted from the website

The $10,000 Offer

A transitional form (or missing link) is an example of one species “evolving” into another species. Excited scientists thought they had found one when they discovered “Archaeopteryx.” The fossil led to the theory that the dinosaurs did not become extinct, but rather all turned into birds. The Field Museum in Chicago displayed what was believed to be an archaeopteryx fossil on October 4-19, 1997. It was hailed as “Archaeopteryx: The Bird That Rocked the World.” However, Dr. Alan Feduccia (evolutionary biologist at the University of North Carolina), said, “Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleo-babble’ is going to change that.” [Science, February 5, 1993]. So here’s my challenge: I will give $10,000 to the first person who can prove to me that they have found a genuine living transitional form (a lizard that produced a bird, or a dog that produced kittens, or a sheep that produced a chicken, or even as Archaeopteryx—a dinosaur that produced a bird). Species do not cross, no matter how long you leave them. The whole of creation is proof that evolution is truly “a fairytale for grownups.”

But I’m going to guess not from his apparent fundamental lack of understanding on evolution. By the way, any reason Dr. Feduccia is being quoted from 1993 (4 years before the Field Museum’s display that it’s implied that Feduccia is commenting on)?

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution

Al Sharpton vs. Christopher Hitchens has the complete debate about religion between Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens at the New York Public Library. This is the debate in which Al Sharpton said of Mitt Romney “…those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway”. The whole thing lasts about an hour and a half so make sure you can dedicate some time to it.

I know it’s very easy to critique comments made by participants in this style of debate because the debaters are asked to come up with rebuttals to arguments on-the-fly while we have all the time in the world to review and dissect every word spoken I do want to make some comments about the debate. I don’t believe that I am making too much out of minor statements or reinterpreting them out of their context.

#1) Al Sharpton makes the excellent point that the misuse of god’s name or texts that purport to reveal god’s word and/or intentions is not an indication that there is or is not a god. In fact, Sharpton much to my surprise (and the moderator’s) does not go to any lengths to defend at a minimum the Bible or anything that purports to be The Revealed Word of God. I think Hitchens has a hard time making his points against that kind of argument since his book is primarily based on the absurdity of the Bible and it’s use. In fact, much of Hitchens’ arguments go to the idea that god as revealed by scriptures (Bible, Koran, Hadith, Book of Mormon) is a tyrannical god who is aware and interferes in the affairs of all men and that this view of god necessarily breeds religion that is also tyrannical and should be aware of and interferes in the affairs of all men. Although I will talk about this in #3 Sharpton’s version of god seems to be one of experience and not scripture. He’s says something in the Q&A period that he believes in god through his experience and that god reveals himself through the apparent order of the universe, I am paraphrasing but I don’t believe I’m missing the point. Sharpton’s deistic approach seems just as prone to moral relativism as Sharpton himself accuses atheists/humanists of being. Without a scripture what is Sharpton basing his moral philosophy on? What he (Al Sharpton) believes to be true? Al Sharpton believes that slavery is wrong. Based on what? Certainly not scripture. Sharpton believes what he believes because that’s what he believes. Hitchens book is an attack on the god that religion has setup and that that god is not great. I’m afraid this debate suffered primarily because each participant does not represent opposite viewpoints. They seem to be somewhat lateral never quite butting heads nor agreeing with each other for that matter.

#2) I do have to disagree with Hitchens characterization of Martin Luther King as anything other than a Christian minister. Hitchens is safe in pointing out that many of MLK’s beliefs come from a more humanist position and that MLK’s arguments for the equality of all men is not strictly biblical. Or more appropriately the case for the equality of man can be made from the Bible but so can the case for slavery and segregation to be upheld. I think there is a dishonest attempt particularly in secular circles of claiming MLK as their own. Sharpton is quite correct to counter Hitchens assertion.

#3) Hitchens makes some great points regarding the fact that what passes for the morals of today or at any given point in history has always been dictated by mankind and that whatever religious texts that are in fashion are used to support it. Just as the Bible was used to support slavery it is now used to condemn it (although it takes a special kind of reading for that). He futher makes an excellent (and humorous) point that it seems unlikely that up until the time that Moses came down from Mt. Sinai the Israelites thought that murder, adultery, stealing, lying and so forth were ok. Mankind had already figured out that these were bad ideas to the individual and societies/communities as a whole and should be regulated against. As as side, Karen Armstrong I believe argues in her book, A History of God,  that the giving of the Ten Commandments was more significant because of the “thou shalt not have any gods before me” type commandments than the almost unnecessary thou shalt not kill commandments, this is a great book and well worth the read but slightly off the topic. On the flip-side of this coin, Hitchens further argues that the social advances of today are a direct result of the Enlightenment, scientific advances and more specifically evolutionary theory. And that you are more often to find ridiculously backwards ideas (such as genital mutilation, subjugation of women, think burkas) in religious societies not more secular societies particularly those in Europe.

#4) The Q&A time is hilarious so stick around to about the 50 minute mark.

I leave with this quote by Steven Weinberg,

“With or without religion good people will do good things and evil people will do evil things….but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Religion


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