When it became handy to avoid legitimate criticism by calling those who dare do so ‘racists’!
It’s all about cost.
There is a compatibility problem between science and religion that isn’t going to go away no matter how often many earnest people assure us is no problem at all. There is, in fact, a very real problem of compatibility. This compatibility problem has everything to do with how we arrive at conclusions, what method we use to get there, and whether or not the two methods are indeed compatible. This is where the method of science and the method of religion come into conflict. These different methods are contrary to each other.
In Victor Stenger’s new book, he writes
“Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies–the separate assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world.”
This is just it, opposing – and not compatible – epistemologies.
So knowing the tremendous benefits and reward granted to us by trusting the method of science, how is it that so many of these same people continue to hold religious beliefs?
The religious believer must temporarily suspend trust and confidence in the methodology of science that s/he knows works for everyone everywhere all the time when conflict arises between on the one hand these trustworthy conclusions and on the other hand those from religious belief that compete and contrast with them. It is here – in this temporary suspension of what we do trust – where we have to wonder how anyone can do this and still consider one’s self intellectually honest and respectful of a method of inquiry that has produced so much practical and reliable knowledge… knowledge the believer will still trust his or her life to.
Martie G. Haselton of UCLA (and David Buss) along with and Daniel Nettle of the University of Newcastle have come up with what they think works at explaining just this. They call it Error Management Theory, which seems to offer a very convincing explanation described here in Part I of Psychology Today and Part II here):
Their theory begins with the observation that decision making under uncertainty often results in erroneous inference, but some errors are more costly in their consequences than others. Evolution should therefore favor an inference system that minimizes, not the total number of errors, but their total costs.
Among engineers, this is known as the “smoke detector principle.” Just like evolution, engineers build smoke detectors in order to minimize, not the total number of errors, but their total costs. The consequence of a false-positive error of a smoke detector is that you’re woken up at three o’clock in the morning by a loud alarm when there is no fire. The consequence of a false-negative error is that you and your entire family are dead when the alarm fails to go off when there is a fire. As unpleasant as being woken up in the middle of the night for no reason may be, it’s nothing compared to being dead. So the engineers deliberately make smoke detectors to be extremely sensitive, so that it will give a lot of false-positive alarms but no false-negative silence. Haselton and Nettle argue that evolution, as the engineer of life, has designed men’s inference system similarly.
Different theorists call this innate human tendency to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors (and as a consequence be a bit paranoid) “animistic bias” or “the agency-detector mechanism.” These theorists argue that the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs in supernatural forces may have come from such an innate cognitive bias to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors, and thus overinfer personal, intentional, and animate forces behind otherwise perfectly natural phenomena.
Religiosity (the human capacity for belief in supernatural beings) is not an evolved tendency per se; after all, religion in itself is not adaptive. It is instead a byproduct of animistic bias or the agency-detector mechanism, the tendency to be paranoid, which is adaptive because it can save your life. Humans did not evolve to be religious; they evolved to be paranoid. And humans are religious because they are paranoid.
This explanation makes good sense to me. It helps to explain to me how otherwise rational and reasonable people – even some very accomplished scientists – believe in absurd religious notions incompatible with the world we know and the natural processes it contains. They believe because it appeals to a part of their reptilian brain… to which they must then spend considerable time and effort attempting to justify (to make compatible with) with their rational and reasonable faculties! Hence, we immediately see why the incompatibility in religious methodology to that of science is really based on nothing more than a feeling that the belief might be true. This explains the need of the religious to then cherry pick whatever seems to fit the belief while ignoring or belittling strong evidence of what doesn’t. Evidence doesn’t matter to a feeling. The cost of rejecting the feeling might be too high.
One might think it rational and reasonable for people dedicated to science to stop undermining public trust and confidence in its methodology to support beliefs that are almost certainly not true, but the personal cost of rejecting the impulse to believe seems to be too high; this feeling – this emotional urge – to err on the side of reducing potential cost, too often wins the day in the compatibility battle while transferring the actual cost of widespread but inaccurate belief – the very real cost of not allowing reality (like recognizing anthropomorphic global warming) to arbitrate what is true about it – on to all of us.
Michael Geist is a well known Canadian blogger, law professor, and Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-Commerce at the university of Ottawa. He explains why we should all protest this US anti-piracy legislation in this post that I’ve copied in its entirety from his site. I too will protest for a day, Wednesday, January 18, but I suspect my poor efforts will not affect this site (I’m quite the dullard when it comes to properly administering a blog). I’m posting this just in case my efforts fail to help explain why it’s so important that this legislation yield a united front from all internet users:
Some of the Internet’s leading websites, including Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, and BoingBoing, will go dark tomorrow to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The U.S. bills have generated massive public protest over proposed provisions that could cause enormous harm to the Internet and freedom of speech. My blog will join the protest by going dark tomorrow. While there is little that Canadians can do to influence U.S. legislation, there are many reasons why I think it is important for Canadians to participate.
First, the SOPA provisions are designed to have an extra-territorial effect that manifests itself particularly strongly in Canada. As I discussed in a column last year, SOPA treats all dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org domain as domestic domain names for U.S. law purposes. Moreover, it defines “domestic Internet protocol addresses” – the numeric strings that constitute the actual address of a website or Internet connection – as “an Internet Protocol address for which the corresponding Internet Protocol allocation entity is located within a judicial district of the United States.” Yet IP addresses are allocated by regional organizations, not national ones. The allocation entity located in the U.S. is called ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers. Its territory includes the U.S., Canada, and 20 Caribbean nations. This bill treats all IP addresses in this region as domestic for U.S. law purposes. To put this is context, every Canadian Internet provider relies on ARIN for its block of IP addresses. In fact, ARIN even allocates the block of IP addresses used by federal and provincial governments. The U.S. bill would treat them all as domestic for U.S. law purposes.
Second, Canadian businesses and websites could easily find themselves targeted by SOPA. The bill grants the U.S. “in rem” jurisdiction over any website that does not have a domestic jurisdictional connection. For those sites, the U.S. grants jurisdiction over the property of the site and opens the door to court orders requiring Internet providers to block the site and Internet search engines to stop linking to it. Should a Canadian website owner wish to challenge the court order, U.S. law asserts itself in another way, since in order for an owner to file a challenge (described as a “counter notification”), the owner must first consent to the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.
Third, millions of Canadians rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation. Whether creating a Wikipedia entry, posting a comment on Reddit, running a WordPress blog, participating in an open source software project, or reading a posting on BoingBoing, the lifeblood of the Internet is a direct target of SOPA. If Canadians remain silent, they may ultimately find the sites and services they rely upon silenced by this legislation. Fourth, the U.S. intellectual property strategy has long been premised on exporting its rules to other countries, including Canada. Spain’s recent anti-piracy legislation that bears similarities to SOPA is the direct result of U.S. threats of retaliation if it did not pass U.S.-backed laws. Canada has a history of similar experiences. The same forces that have lobbied for SOPA and PIPA in the United States are the primary lobbyists behind the digital lock provisions in Bill C-11 and the recent submission to the U.S. government arguing that Canada should not be admitted to the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations until it complies with U.S. copyright demands. Moreover, the Wikileaks cables documented relentless U.S. pressure in Canada including revelations that former Industry Minister Maxime Bernier raised the possibility of leaking the copyright bill to U.S. officials before it was to be tabled it in the House of Commons, former Industry Minister Tony Clement’s director of policy Zoe Addington encouraged the U.S. to pressure Canada by elevating it on a piracy watch list, Privy Council Office official Ailish Johnson disclosed the content of ministerial mandate letters, and former RCMP national coordinator for intellectual property crime Andris Zarins advised the U.S. that the government was working on a separate intellectual property enforcement bill. SOPA virtually guarantees that this will continue. Not only is it likely that the U.S. will begin to incorporate SOPA-like provisions into its IP demands, but SOPA makes it a matter of U.S. law to ensure that intellectual property protection is a significant component of U.S. foreign policy and grants more resources to U.S. embassies around the world to increase their involvement in foreign legal reform. The SOPA/PIPA protest tomorrow offers people around the world the opportunity to add their voice against dangerous legislative proposals that could eventually make its way into international trade agreements and domestic lobbying pressures. For Canadians participating in the protest, consider this three step process:
- If you have a website or blog, turn it dark for the day with information on SOPA, Bill C-11 and why this issue matters. If not, consider adding Stop Sopa to your Twitter or Facebook image.
- Write to your Member of Parliament to register one more objection to the digital lock rules in Bill C-11. The digital lock rules are the Canadian version of SOPA – overbroad, ineffective legislation that targets technology and that is widely opposed by most stakeholders. While many are frustrated by the sense the government simply ignores these objections, the SOPA protests are attracting attention and it is important to remind Canadian politicians of the similar concerns here.
- Speak out against the copyright provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership, particularly the plans for copyright term extension and the digital lock rules. The government consultation is open until February 14, 2012. All it takes a single email with your name, address, and comments on the issue. The email can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, submissions can be sent by fax (613-944-3489) or mail (Trade Negotiations Consultations (TPP), Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Trade Policy and Negotiations Division II (TPW), Lester B. Pearson Building, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2).
Please make the effort using whatever national organizations are available to help you help yourself to make a difference.
In 2002, the World Health Organization declared measles eradicated from the Americas. In 2011, 763 cases were reported in Canada’s province of Quebec – including 30 children and adults who had been previously vaccinated against the disease – with 89 requiring hospitalization. The cluster was centered in particular schools in Drummondville, with a student population of about 11,000. Some adults were incapacitated for over four months during their recovery and others recovered but with hearing loss. And all of this was preventible.
About 4% of the infected students who had been vaccinated in the outbreak schools contracted measles. Of those children who had not been vaccinated, about 82% contracted the disease which can disfigure and even kill. Of all the students, about 85% had been vaccinated but as we can see, once the vaccination rate falls below about 95% of all children, we start to lose the ‘herd’ immunity (where isolated cases of highly infectious disease do not spread) and all of us – vaccinated and not vaccinated – become endangered.
Why do parents opt their children out from receiving vaccinations? Well, because they would prefer to not run the risk of exposing their children to unnecessary harm from vaccinations. What is this risk? Fevers from the MMR shot (measles, mumps, and rubella) run about 1 in 168 that result in a hospital visit. About one in a million will develop encephalitis (a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain). About one in a thousand with measles will develop encephalitis. The means that the risk for this potentially deadly result is thousand times greater for children exposed to highly contagious diseases whose parents decided vaccinations were too risky.
Let’s look for a moment at the numbers of children who contracted highly contagious and common childhood diseases PER PEAK YEAR before and after vaccinations became standardized prior to 2011 (from the Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion):
Rubella: 69,000 cases compared to 9
Polio: 20,000 cases compared to 0
Mumps: 52,000 cases compared to 32
Measles: 300,000 cases compared to 7
Diptheria: 9,000 cases compared to 1
Obviously, parents who decide the risk is too high from vaccinations are not balancing that risk with what’s true in reality, that the risk from getting these common diseases is not only vastly greater but far more deadly once contracted.
So which parents aren’t vaccinating their children? The poor? The uneducated? Those from broken homes? Those from minorities?
Today’s non vaccinated kids are most likely from white, affluent, with a married mother and father with a college education. These fine upstanding folk are more likely to seek alternative healthcare and use the internet more as an information source. They also tend to live closer together with like-minded people, usually drawn together by some alternative school, church, or politician. This is why outbreaks of preventable diseases usually occurs in geographical pockets (New England journal of Medicine, 2009).
Now let us consider Tajikistan in 2010, previously declared polio free in 2002, with a vaccination rate for polio at about 87%. Now they have a polio outbreak that has no cure, causes paralysis, and often ends in death. In an editorial from the Canadian Medical Association Journal about the similar risk we face in Canada, it tells us:
“We are only one asymptomatic infected traveller away from an outbreak because of low vaccination rates.”
We know vaccination rates are too low. We know that we put EVERYBODY at greater risk for these highly contagious diseases when the rate falls below a minimum of 90% (current estimates put the rate in Canada at about 62% for two-years-olds up to date for all standard vaccinations). We also know outbreaks can and do happen and these risks of not vaccinating everybody are vastly greater than complications from the vaccines themselves. So what is stopping responsible parents from not only protecting their children but doing their civic duty to the rest of the nation?
In the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick (health care is a provincial matter), children must be vaccinated to attend public school. But parents are allowed to (and do) opt out based on medical concerns. Unfortunately, parents can also opt out for religious beliefs as well as matters of conscience! So although there is a legitimate reason for medical considerations backed up by excellent evidence of harm, there is no equivalent evidence on which to base religious or conscience matters.
Matters of conscience are based on a belief that the correlation of childhood health problems stemming from autism, learning disabilities, asthma, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, allergic and anaphylactic disorders, neuroimmune and autoimmune disorders and other chronic diseases indicates causation with vaccinations.
This belief is wrong. It is dangerous. It is woo. There is no good evidence to back up these claims but exhaustive evidence that they are not causally linked. The conclusion is clear:
There is no excuse for maintaining such willful ignorance and blind stupidity for not vaccinating children today (with an exemption for medical reasons) except by elevating a trust in faith over and in conflict with evidence from reality… which is yet another in a long list of examples of private faith being exercised in the public domain that causes very real harm to very real people.
I have been remiss in not posting on the pope’s year end message but I continue to hope that the man and his organization will simply disappear after every supporter justly walks away from it.
I can dream, can’t I?
Christopher Hitchens once described the entire career of this current pope, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Palpatine, aka The Rat, as having “the stench of evil about it.” He was writing specifically about the depth of responsibility carried by this man towards creating and maintaining the catholic church’s ongoing child abuse scandal and protecting those criminals who participated in the raping of children. Clearly, Ratzinger’s concern has been and continues to be focused on insulating the hierarchy of the catholic church from its deeds by sidestepping responsible accountability rather than instituting meaningful change to protect the health and welfare of children in its care.
It is richly hypocritical then to read pope Palpatine’s latest attempt to try to deny gays and lesbians equality in civil law and social policies, in what The Rat calls settings… all in the name of protecting the family regarding child welfare! This is the evil Hitch describes, a pernicious and malevolent intent to harm others in the name of bigoted piousness and religious doctrine:
Among these (settings for teaching children), pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life…
In this context of openness to life, I note with satisfaction the recent sentence of the Court of Justice of the European Union forbidding patenting processes relative to human embryonic stem cells…the European Court of Human Rights upholding the presence of the crucifix in Italian schoolrooms… I am convinced that legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity. There is a need to implement educational policies which ensure that schooling is available to everyone and which, in addition to promoting the cognitive development of the individual, show concern for a balanced personal growth, including openness to the Transcendent. The Catholic Church calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensions…Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation….
And so on, and so on. It positively reeks of duplicity and dishonesty.
For example, note carefully how insidiously this vile man circumscribes his way completely around the gay marriage bush without coming right out and saying it and how pleasing it is to him when public institutions kowtow to the Catholic church’s ignorant anti-life and bigoted positions. As Macdonald describes so well,
No, the pope doesn’t mention gay marriage at all, but he does speak about “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” in a context where the heterosexual family — as the place where education for the future is to take place – that is, the restriction of marriage to a man and a woman (and the issue of that relationship), is the issue, and we know, from what the bishops in New York were up to recently (as the most salient recent case that I can think of), that when Roman Catholics say this, what they’re saying is that the very idea of gay marriage undermines the family, threatens human dignity, and the places the future of humanity itself in danger.
In other words, please stop whinging and complaining about nothing meaningful being done about the global scandal that is the Roman Catholic Church. It’s the fault of everyone but us. Now get to work incorporating our bigoted anti-enlightenment, anti-knowledge death cult doctrine into your secular institutions, your secular legislatures, your secular laws and into your secular schools. We who are Roman Catholic don’t just want to screw with our own children; we want to screw with yours, too!
I like the Catholic Encyclopedia definition of ignorance in the sense I am using here, namely, a lack of knowledge about a thing in a being capable of knowing rather than the standard notion of it meaning merely a lack of knowledge, education, or awareness… for which one may not be responsible. Creationists here in the West have no such similar excuse; instead, they are perfectly capable of knowing why genetics and the geologic time scale and evolution are not just true in some theoretical sense but true in the fact that they inform our technologies and practices that work consistently and reliably well for everyone everywhere all the time. We are populated by large numbers of people who doubt specific scientific inquires in order to maintain a belief in some kind of religiously motivated ‘creative’ agency… something I call divine POOF!ism. This is intellectually bankrupt and teaching it is as if it were compatible and supportive of science is simply not true. It is religious selfishness in action.
What excuse beyond selfishness do we find for so many Protestant pastors from this Southern Baptist Convention survey? Consider the following:
America’s Protestant pastors overwhelmingly reject the theory of evolution and are evenly split on whether the earth is 6,000 years old, according to a survey released Monday by the Southern Baptist Convention.
When asked if “God used evolution to create people,” 73% of pastors disagreed – 64% said they strongly disagreed – compared to 12% who said they agree.
Asked whether the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, 46% agreed, compared to 43% who disagreed.
A movement called Young Earth creationism promotes the 6,000-year-old figure, arguing that it is rooted in the Bible. Scientists say the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.
The Southern Baptist Convention survey, which queried 1,000 American Protestant pastors, also found that 74% believe the biblical Adam and Eve were literal people.
“Recently discussions have pointed to doubts about a literal Adam and Eve, the age of the earth and other origin issues,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a report on LifeWay’s site. “But Protestant pastors are overwhelmingly Creationists and believe in a literal Adam and Eve.”
Not only do so many of these people not keep their bizarre beliefs private but actually promote them through congregational teachings. And what many are teaching, even though they are beings quite capable of knowing differently, is if not factually wrong then grossly misleading because it is incompatible with what we do know based on what works consistently and reliably for everyone everywhere all the time. In addition, these teaching are pernicious in that they cause intended harm through the promotion of willful ignorance contrary to the teaching of knowledge.
How can I say such things?
Well, consider the incompatibility of belief in an historical and literal Adam and Eve. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of genetics. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about how genetics work in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand heritable diseases and crop sciences, as but two examples. In fact, this belief is in direct and uncompromising conflict with our understanding of genetics that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong genetic evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that the smallest human population from whom we come was no smaller than about ~10,000. To believe in a literal and historical Adam and Eve means that believers really do reject this part of science we call genetics.
Consider the incompatibility of belief that the world is fewer than ~10,000 years old. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of geology. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about the age and formation of rock strata and the forces that have affected them over time that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand resource exploration and extraction and erosion and tectonics, as but four examples. In fact this belief in young earth creationism is in conflict with our understanding of geology (and radioactive decay) that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong geological evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that we live on planet that has undergone significant change over a great deal of time. To believe in a created earth means that believers really do reject this part of science we call geology (and, by extension, the age of other planets).
Consider the incompatibility of belief that our biological heritage is from divine creation by an interventionist agency. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understand of evolution. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about biological development and change over time by what is known as natural selection (it would not be ‘natural’ if traits were selected by some interventionist agency) that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand biology and medicine, to name but two. There is very strong evolutionary evidence unaccounted for by such a creationist belief that life on earth is related yet differentiated by natural selection over a great deal of time. To believe in creationism means that believers really do reject this part of science we call biology.
So what’s the harm maintaining such a dismissive belief? After all, we are assured repeatedly by many earnest religious believers and apologetic accommodationists that ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are actually compatible… and even mutually supportive! So my question is – as always – Is this claim true?
I need to divert for a moment and look at ‘science’ in the larger sense and understand why this argument about creationists respecting science – but not these specific scientific avenues – is just not true. Science, let us recall, is a METHOD of inquiry and not the results of an inquiry. In other words, exactly the same METHOD is used to investigate, say, genetics as it is germs, aerodynamics as it is astronomy. It makes no sense to suggest that it is somehow compatible and supportive to reject that METHOD here but not there in order to privilege some prior religious belief. It’s actually dishonest. It is neither compatible nor supportive to suggest that the belief in geocentrism does not stand in contrast and competition with heliocentrism when the two notions are incompatible – they are necessarily in conflict – any more than it does to suggest biblical inerrancy should be granted to the story of Adam and Eve but not biblical inerrancy to the sixty some odd reference to the earth as the center of the universe. To reject the specific science that informs genetics and geology and evolution to privilege religious beliefs incompatible with them is contrary to being supportive of the METHOD of science used to inform all other scientific inquiries. It is that identical METHOD that shows us that the geocentric model fails where the heliocentric model succeeds for everyone everywhere all the time. It is that METHOD that informs all these practical applications and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time derived from the specific scientific inquiries so vilified by supporters of creationism. By rejecting genetics and geology and evolution to favour and prejudice some holy scripture, creationists are rejecting the METHOD of science used to inform not just these specific scientific inquiries but ALL OF THEM.
This has a pernicious effect… especially in medicine.
Evolutionary theories are critical for understanding human disease. They are used to understand the origins of cancer and to better design therapies, which directly help our understanding through evolutionary history to explain modern health problems (such as type-II diabetes and obesity). It is upon these evolutionary theories that we have learned to appreciate viral evolution, which is used to design safe and effective vaccination strategies that work. For example, an evolutionary viewpoint is the only way to understand the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and to develop effective methods for stopping or slowing it. Defining the evolutionary process of cancers is leading to new, more targeted approaches in cancer treatment. How we incorporate these evolutionary ideas into medical education enhances the education of health professionals, which is in stark conflict with creationist belief (that usually blames sin for our earned deaths… such a cheerful and optimistic bunch). Our biomedical science gains from understanding human evolution and allows us to design and implement solutions to our vulnerability to disease. The evolutionary approach to medicine and public health is enormous, informing areas of research and providing predictions and guidance for novel interventions.
All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific quest to know.
It isn’t. At all.
Now consider the incompatibility creationism presents as an alternative to the benefits from informed medicine and how many future doctors and medical researchers are turned away from this pursuit in the name of honouring the religious beliefs of their parents and pastors about creationism. Think of how many students are affected when creationists in all their various lying for Jesus and Allah guises try to insert this theology into science classrooms or religious students who do everything they can to remove specific scientific inquiries like evolution from their educational curriculum.
All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific METHOD. It’s simply not true.
Creationism – and its gaggle of handmaidens of other necessary beliefs contrary to specific scientific inquiries – is in direct conflict with the METHOD of science that produces what works for everyone everywhere all the time. This is why such belief that sidelines legitimate and honest inquiry into reality is not a ‘different way of knowing’ or some separate but equivalent Magesterium. Creationism is a turning away from honest scientific methodology (methodological naturalism) and insisting on a return to ignorance. Ignorance is the real alternative people are choosing when they reject and ignore knowledge we have that works for everyone everywhere all the time, knowledge upon which companies invest trillions of dollars, knowledge that has the effrontery to work consistently and reliably well in reality over time. By staying faithful to beliefs that are wholly inadequate to reveal what works in reality by comparison, people are choosing ignorance over knowledge to maintain their religious belief. The sacrifice costs. Yet still many are teaching creationism to their kids and want it taught to the general public. They want respect for this ignorance established in law and want to base public policies on extensions of it in areas like research and human reproduction and foreign aid. It’s ignorance in action, what we atheists like to call ‘turtles all the way down’. It’s a ruse, a lie, an intentional deception, a willful disregard for what is true in reality to pretend creationism is an equivalent and respectable alternative to specific scientific inquiries rather than the ignorance in action it honestly is.
It’s high time more of us reminded creationists determined to insert their beliefs into the public domain of this brute fact, that being an ignorant creationist is in fact and deed redundant.
As the slang term indicates, the more one drinks in claims of complementary and alternative medical efficacy through the ‘power’ of placebo, the less inhibition and discretion one seems to exercise in critical thinking, making the blurred claims of alternative ‘therapies’ seem all the more attractive.
We describe this power of placebo by a common term: the placebo effect. So let’s take a moment and review what that effect actually is:
changes in how pain or subjective symptoms are perceived, not any physiological change that concretely affects the course of a disease.
Does this mean we can control health outcomes with our minds through belief? No. Placebo effects do not shrink tumors or change the underlying pathophysiology of disease. To be clear, there is no good evidence for any objective responses due to placebo; the placebo effect is the change of a patient’s subjective perception to his or her symptoms. Note the emphasis on perception and not on any change to symptoms themselves. This is the repeated mistake people make about understanding the placebo effect: all we are talking about when we talk about the placebo effect is the change to perceptions.
The CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) schtick is to pretend that the substances and treatments being sold cause symptomatic changes through the placebo effect. There is no good evidence to back that up and much good evidence contrary to it. To be clear, the efficacy of CAM rests not in the treatments but in the beliefs of its patients.
In medicine, when a treatment performs no better than placebo, it means that treatment doesn’t work.
Got that? Placebo means it doesn’t work.
Believers and practitioners of CAM, however, forget – and often intentionally – that placebo treatments are physiologically inert and present them to patients as if they were real efficacious medicine. But they know it’s not. And yet we in the public continue to be inundated with messages that they do. Obviously, something here is out of whack, and it rests with the CAM crowd.
The underlying assumption associated with CAM products and treatments that the use of placebo causes no harm is just as risky as my pathetic little beer goggle analogy; one may think one is going home with a fox (of both genders, let me be clear) but wake up to a coyote ugly morning. The same is true with CAM: that patients are going home with a placebo but wake up to a nocebo ugly morning. By this I mean that promoting belief in placebo efficacy also means promoting belief in nocebo efficacy, which refers to harmful, unpleasant, or undesirable effects a subject can also manifest through perception.
The sum total of the medical efficacy complementary and alternative treatments and many nostrums pretends to have (with the exception of herbal substances that possess chemical properties that can interact with our biology in both positive and negative ways), rests not on the treatments themselves but on the double edged sword contained within the beliefs of its patients. Seeing the world through such faith-based beliefs is not an inherently good, positive, or even neutral perspective but an inherently dangerous one.
Well, the very real side effects of investing faith in such subjectively sensitive beliefs and acting on them as if they were true in reality can be life-altering when a negative drug interaction occurs because a patient forgets to tell a doctor about some CAM herbal nostrum, or postpones (like Steve Jobs) real medical intervention in favour of trying out some naturopathic treatment first, mistakenly hoping that wishful thinking through investing in faith-based belief will cause symptomatic changes, or that not vaccinating children will protect them from a perceived inoculation danger far smaller in reality than the very real and larger danger of an actual and highly contagious disease. These are some of the very real dangers faith-belief in CAM promotes. We need to take off our belief-based beer goggles before we do something stupid based on misunderstanding what placebo effect really means.
I have written many times about this push by Islamic states at the United Nations to outlaw blasphemy through the UN Human Rights Council, to make it a ‘human rights’ violation to dare to criticize this odious religion. They have now succeeded. Resolution 16/18 is all about combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.
The problem here is that some religious beliefs like Islam are themselves intolerant and discriminating against universal human rights and are in desperate need of sustained reasonable and rational criticism. The irony of fooling western secular democratic representatives at the UN into supporting this obscene piece of tripe by those whose sole intention is to undermine human rights and put all of us under the yoke of their assumed religious authority is rank and shows just how colossal is our collective stupidity in thinking that tolerating intolerance under the guise of respecting religion magically enhances human rights. It doesn’t. It enslaves us by undermining our human rights and replacing them with religious authority.
All those who voted in favour of this Resolution are a menace to all people everywhere and every single western secular democracy should denounce this Resolution in the strongest possible terms. Our governments need to fire those who dared to use their democratic vote representing us at the UN to undermine our basic democratic right to freedom of speech. Such decisions as this Resolution are incompatible with showing support and respect for human rights. This Resolution is a travesty, an abuse of democracy at the UN to reduce human rights in order to protect vile religious sensibilities from criticism.
But perhaps the most disturbing part of this disgusting Resolution is the notion of resorting to use ‘combat’ against those who dare to criticize anti-human, anti-life authoritarian religious belief. This open door to combat justified intolerance, justified discrimination, justified condemnation of religious authority, now needs to be closed firmly in the face of these religious stormtroopers who have a Resolution from the UN Human Rights Council to intrude into your home, your head, your thoughts, your opinions and cartoons and editorials and blogs and commentary, and subject you by threat of force to paying homage to their religious beliefs that reduce your human rights.
For shame, people. For shame.