Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yes, The Secret DOES blame the victim

OK, this is getting to get a little foamy.

I know I only just posted about this, but I found myself over at Ryan's place and followed a link to a Slate article about The Secret, which led me to a Daily Mail article about it, which was surprisingly good for a Daily Mail article.

Anyway, the Daily Mail article makes explicit what I have always argued The Secret and the LOA say, and what most Secret followers deny they do - that the victim is to blame. And this is confirmed by both Rhonda Byrne and Bob Proctor.

It's straight from the horses mouth people.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Secret? It's drivel

The other day at work I found myself in my first real skeptical argument with some friends. There I was innocently reading The Onion when someone started to talk about this great new philosophy book they were reading. A book that talks about how you can get the Universe to align with your thoughts and give you what you want by thinking positively and optimistically. The Secret.

Inwardly I groaned because I knew this wasn't going to end well. So everyone else in the room starts to talk about positive thinking, how it's awesome, how they know people who think positively and not negatively and how they never get parking tickets as a result etc. Finally I could take it no longer.

"If you ask me it's a crock of shit. What does it mean for rape victims? It says they bring it on themselves, that they are to blame for being raped."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blogging the Bible part 4

OK, part 4. And you don't have to tell me that this is already taking a while.

Hopefully later books in the Bible won't take this long to examine - but given the central role that Genesis plays in Christian mythology I think it's worth the effort examining each chapter one at a time.

So, chapter 4, Cain and Abel. Adam lays with his wife and she becomes pregnant and gives birth to Cain. She makes the strange pronouncement:

With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man. (GEN 4:1)

So, God can also include midwifery on his resume alongside creator of the Universe. Now, taken literally what does this mean exactly? That Cain was born an adult and not a child? For that matter, how old were Adam and Eve when they were created? Were they created as children? Teenagers? Adults? Or is Eve saying that without the Lord's help she would have given birth to a woman (or girl, which is it literalists?) - and that this is not as worthy of celebration? I'm starting to get that patriarchal vibe again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Intelligent Design evidence?

OK. So, supporters of Intelligent Design and Creationism are (at least in their own minds) chock full of reasons why they think evolution by natural selection doesn't explain the possible origins and the subsequent development of life on Earth. If you've spent any time at all reading skeptical, scientific or atheist blogs you will have no doubt heard all sorts of tripe from ID proponents and Creationists about the missing link, transitional fossils, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, geological folding, evolution not being able to create information, natural selection being random, natural selection not explaining X (when usually it does, and very well), the eye can't have evolved, irreducible complexity, ID is not Creationism, ID is not religion but science, objects being designed if they look like they could have been designed, evolution is a faith, there is no evidence for evolution, the Big Bang and evolution are the same theory. And that's just a small dose of the usual canards that they roll out.

What you almost certainly will not hear from your average Intelligent Design proponent or Creationist is what the evidence for Intelligent Design or Creationism is.

You'll hear that real peer reviewed science for ID is just around the corner. You'll hear that mainstream science is repressing and covering up the science behind ID. You'll hear assertions that only ID can explain certain things that evolution cannot. You'll hear lots of poorly argued examples of what evolution allegedly can't explain (most of which rely heavily on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of evolution anyway), you'll have a whole host of quote mines thrown your way to make it look like some famous person or another disagreed with evolution or thought it wrong. Amongst other things.

So, here's a challenge for any ID proponent or Creationist who runs across this blog:

Cite the evidence for your theory. Arguments against evolution do not count as arguments for your theory. I want clearly explained evidence and conclusions. I want to know what your theory explains that cannot be explained by another alternative theory. I want to know what predictions your theory makes. I want to know how your theory can be falsified. I want to know what evidence would convince you that your theory was wrong. I want to know what your theory tells us about life. I want to know how your theory can be applied in medicine or biology. Where your theory contradicts known evidence or current theories I want to know why and how your theory trumps these things.

Here's a list of arguments or rhetorical techniques that you should avoid using or assuming, as well as some things you should avoid doing if you want to be taken seriously:
  1. Evolution does not equal Big Bang theory - don't conflate the two.
  2. EDITED 29th June 2010 to add: Abiogenesis and the Theory of Evolution are not the same thing, don't confuse them. 
  3. Assertions are not evidence, don't pretend they are.
  4. If evolution does not explain X the only alternative is not automatically your theory - there could be many alternatives that we aren't even aware of yet.
  5. Evidence against one theory is not automatically evidence for another.
  6. Biblical citations are not evidence for a scientific theory.
  7. Quote mining is the same as lying - that's a sin, remember?
  8. Don't misrepresent evolutionary theory - you should understand what you are talking about.
  9. Avoid logical fallacies.
  10. Threatening me with damnation is not evidence for your theory.
  11. Well known hoaxes or fakes cited as evidence will get you laughed at and mocked - don't use them.

Put your money where your mouth is - if I shouldn't accept evolutionary theory why should I accept Intelligent Design or Creationism?

What's your evidence?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blogging the Bible part 3

Sorry for the late arrival of this week's installment, real life got in the way!

As a taster for what we have in store this week, take some time to watch this first:

Genesis according to Ricky Gervais.

So, chapter 3: The Fall of Man.

So we're introduced to the villain of the piece - the Serpent. More crafty than any other wild animal apparently. Given what is about to happen, that does seem an oversight on God's part. Like the man said, if God knows he is going to be trouble (and he must do, right?) then why did he make the serpent crafty in the first place? Why not make serpents the animal equivalent of the village idiot instead? But then I suppose God would have had to find a new role for sheep. So along comes the serpent and he asks Eve what God said about the tree of knowledge of good and evil (he doesn't start that way, but you know what he is getting at). Which is strange, because she wasn't there when God told Adam not to eat it. I mean, why not go straight to the source? Why it's almost like some male dominated society was trying to invent a mythology that justifies their mistreatment of women.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No, the government isn't watching you

When writing about conspiracy theories a few weeks ago I mentioned that one of the characteristics of conspiracy theorists and their proponents is that they often rely on or assume the existence of technology that is far in excess of current capabilities or they get their ideas of the capabilities of available technology from television or cinema - in other words, they are way off the mark.

One thing in particular they often take as granted is the government's ability to track personal movements or individuals by remote sensing - usually via the all seeing eye in the sky. This form of surveillance is well entrenched in popular culture now, from novels, television and movies to crap annoying songs ("There are Cameras in the sky, Lasers in our Living rooms").

This post is my two pence worth of poking a hole in the myth perpetuated by popular culture that the government can use satellites, aircraft mounted cameras or CCTV to keep track of individuals on a daily or regular basis.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blogging the Bible part 2

OK, part 2 of what will hopefully be a series that sees me blog about the Bible, from cover to cover.

This does not purport to be an in depth scholarly study. It is merely my own response to Biblical Literalism, as I pointed out in part 1.

I also want to point out that no, I won't be going back to the original Greek or Hebrew or whatever other languages the earliest surviving manuscripts happen to be written in. The reason why is simple - the average Christian (and certainly your average Biblical literalist) doesn't. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that most Christians don't and can't read these languages either. They read the translations. So that is what I will do.

So, objecting that there may be a wrong translation of a particular Hebrew or Greek word is not a problem for my criticism - it's a problem for the Biblical literalist. If the Bible is inerrant, then there can't be a mistranslation or ambiguity about words and meaning, right?

So, if the NIV Bible I am using is wrong, it isn't my problem. I don't think it is the inerrant word of a god.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Compulsory Vaccination

Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy put up an interesting post on Wednesday about compulsory vaccinations. What interested me more than the question was the pattern of responses to it in the comments. The responses interested me more because the question is not that exciting or controversial to me and I agree completely with Phil - yes, vaccines should probably be mandatory. I can't believe people would actually find the idea controversial, and you'll see why as this post goes on (and on and on probably).

First, some preempting of some potential and probable responses:
  • Yes, I do have children.
  • Yes, they are fully vaccinated for their age.
  • No, they have not suffered any side effects other than mild fever shortly after the vaccinations.
  • No, they are not autistic.
  • Yes, I do know an autistic child.
  • No, the autism was not caused by vaccines.
  • No, I do not work for any government, Big Pharma organisation, health insurance provider or health care provider.
  • Yes, my wife does work as a medical assistant at an obstetrics clinic.
  • No, vaccines do not cause autism.
  • No, mercury does not cause autism.
  • No, Thimerasol does not cause autism.
  • No, the vaccine schedule does not cause autism.
  • Yes, if you don't vaccinate your child you are an idiot (unless there's a medical reason).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On conspiracy theories

The problem with being late to the blogosphere is that almost everywhere I tread someone has been before and no matter what I post it is likely that someone posted something similar already, hopefully once I get into a groove I'll be able to tread some new ground - so bear with me if any of this is familiar and apologies to those whose material or ideas I may have read and inadvertently included. Feel free to add an "I made this" in the comments! For instance, Tom Foss has already covered some of this ground.

Anyway - I've long been interested in conspiracy theories, first (unfortunately) as a believer - JFK and UFOs at least - and now as a skeptic and critical thinker. I've spent more time than I care to debunking conspiracies from the fairly well argued to the piss poor nonsensical (Debra at The Bronze Blog being a good example of the latter). I've run into more people than I would have thought likely who believe this stuff - many intelligent and well read, not just fringe nutters as we would often expect - just the other day I heard a colleague at work talking about how the government was behind 9/11 and the swine flu outbreak (something about every sample having the exact same DNA and no mutations proving it was from one source distributed with purpose)!

So I've been thinking about conspiracy theories for the last few days and wanted to put some thoughts into writing on the subject so that you know what to expect and what to look for (not that most of you reading this won't already know).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Questions for astrologers

Just in case you thought this was going to turn solely into a rabid anti-religion blog I'm going to throw in some questions about astrology that I have never really seen satisfactorily answered by the astrologers or astrology believers that I have come into contact with, in the hope that some might stop by.

  1. Define what you believe astrology to be and what uses you think it has.
  2. Whether you believe that celestial bodies directly influence and affect events or personalities, or whether you believe that they merely correspond to the occurrence of events, what mechanism connects life on Earth with these celestial bodies to the extent you believe?
  3. Which event is more important astrologically - a person's birth or a person's conception? Why?
  4. At what point are you considered 'born' in your system of astrology? Why?
  5. Does your system of astrology take into account precession? Why or why not?
  6. Do you use tropical or sidereal forms of astrology? Why?
  7. Was your system affected by the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar? Why or why not?
  8. If you believe in horoscopes, do you believe that the only worthwhile horoscopes are prepared for individuals or do you believe generic ones (such as the daily overviews given in newspapers, magazines and on astrology.com) serve a useful purpose? Why or why not?
  9. Does astrology only work on the Earth, or would it work for an alien life form standing on another planet across the galaxy? Would it be exactly the same?
  10. How have you discounted cognitive bias from your conclusion that astrology works?
  11. What would it take to persuade you that astrology does not work as claimed?
  12. The astrology challenge: If I provide you with the time and place of my birth, could you write an astrological prediction for me for the year 2006 as if you were writing it on January 1st of that year? If not, why not?

This last one is very important. As yet I have issued this challenge to some half a dozen astrologers (mostly over at Skeptico's blog) who were absolutely convinced of the power of astrology. The only one who accepted was one who practised astrology as a hobby, and the results were pretty poor. The others all, without fail, simply never responded again. Funny how these people often don't have courage in their convictions when faced with a challenge that might actually result in failure.

Astrology is bunk. Horoscopes are bunk. I submit that many professional astrologers know this and are simply liars, cheats and frauds. The rest are simply deluded.

If you're an astrologer, why don't you prove us skeptics wrong? Answer the questions, take the challenge.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Silence is the enemy

Just doing my bit:

I don't have anything to add that hasn't been said elsewhere.