Questionable Motives

April 9, 2011

Excluding religion, what are some of the modern expressions of faith-based beliefs?

Filed under: Bad Science,belief,Bias,Science — tildeb @ 9:26 am

Although I’m late to the party, this short by Tim Minchin deals with many of today’s expressions of faith-based beliefs and why they are so lacking in intellectual honesty. Enjoy.


February 1, 2010

How can the United States become a loser in a competitive world?

It’s easy: just follow and implement the Texas State Republican Platform!

With its clearly laid out plan that says one thing that seems a step in the right direction only to advocate guidelines that will achieve its opposite, this is a timely and important document to turn a great state into a laughing stock, a proud state into a righteously pious theocracy, an able state to alter intelligent and capable children into idiots.

Well done,  Texas!

January 28, 2010

Is atheism fundamentally a Straw Man argument?

There is a reprehensible opinion piece posted online at the New York Times by Ross Douthat that supposedly offers us an “illustration of militant atheism’s symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism.”

Specifically, Douthat criticizes Dawkins for using Pat Roberston and his diatribe of god-sanctioned blame for the devastation suffered by Haiti as an example of a ‘real’ christian (read my previous comment on Dawkins’ article and why he argues as much). This is a failure of critical thinking by Douthat. By asserting that atheism requires a Straw Man approach, Douthat fails to comprehend Dawkins’ central argument: that a willingness by today’s theological apologists to grant any credence to a religious interpretation of some holy text that focuses on what is meek and mild without accounting for the parts that are vicious and genocidal is intellectually dishonest.

Douthat’s counter argument that quotes New Testament passages to negate Robertson’s interpretation is exactly Dawkins’ point: one biblical reference is not any closer to being true or accurate than the other. The only difference is that Robertson’s interpretation takes into account the capriciousness and violence of the christian god, making such an opinion based on biblical interpretation more ‘real’ in a christian vein than one like Douthat’s which simply ignores the Old Testament’s accounts of a god that is unconscionably cruel and immoral in favour of specific passages that casts Jesus as benevolent and forgiving. Let us all remember, however, that it is from Jesus we first gain a biblical account for eternal damnation… hardly one that enhances the CV of hope and love people so often attribute to Jesus’ message.

I have read repeated criticisms of Dawkins and other New Atheists as creating a Straw Man religious argument, that is to say, that these atheists create a Robertson-ian god as the one that defines the christian god and then tear it down by revealing its obvious malevolence. But the god worshiped by most christians, this argument points out,  is not this god – the one believed in by some fringe and/or extreme fundamentalists as the one so vehemently opposed by ‘militant’ and ‘strident’ atheists – but one that is actually benevolent and wise and compassionate. The faulty conclusion then held by so many moderate religious apologists is that Dawkins and his cohorts aren’t criticizing their religious beliefs but merely the ones held by hard core fundamentalists.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

New Atheists care about what is true. They care about knowledge – about what’s probably accurate, probably correct, probably true. They care about coming to a better understanding of the natural world, of promoting honest intellectual and scientific inquiry. They also respect the rights and freedoms and dignity of individuals within a secular society. They are concerned about any influence that intentionally impedes any of these cares, and there is no greater single impediment than the false certainty of religious belief. But rather than criticize specific people’s beliefs, the New Atheists’ approach is to enter the public forum and expose unjustified beliefs – regardless whether the unjustified belief is religious, superstitious, supernatural, or just poor thinking. To do this, New Atheists point out why the unjustified foundational belief of a Robertson is no different in quality of belief than someone who insists on holding a Jesus is Love assumption. Nor is there any difference in the unjustified foundational beliefs upon which the complimentary and alternative medicine industry has been built. Belief in the supernatural, whether it be god or evil spirits or the memory of water, cannot be honest knowledge: because such ideas are beyond our ability to be examined in the natural world under natural conditions subject to natural forces and natural efficacy all which can be naturally measured, supernatural belief cannot be justified by any other measure other than more assumption and assertion. Assumption and assertion that cannot by definition undergo natural testing and rational criticism because it is supernatural is immune from honest critical inquiry. Asserted beliefs are assumed to be true because they are believed to be true. That is not a justification for the truth value of the belief but an excuse, an allowance, a willingness to suspend critical inquiry. So it doesn’t matter whether or not it is a Pat Robertson’s unjustified belief or an Ayatollah’s unjustified belief or a Pope Benedict XVI’s unjustified belief or a Sarah Palin’s unjustified belief – the common denominator pointed out by New Atheists like Dawkins is that supernatural beliefs in their entirety are equally unjustified.

When a Pat Robertson makes another disparaging public statement about suffering people deserving their suffering and backs it up with theology, it is an opportunity and not a requirement for atheists to once again point out that if not for the acceptance of the moderately religious, then the foundation of unjustified religious beliefs would be treated with the same scorn and disgust aimed at Robertson for his outrageous truth claims. Robertson and his ilk have an audience because there is widespread acceptance by religious apologists to excuse, allow, and suspend legitimate criticism in matters of religious belief. That’s a public problem and it requires a public solution.

Is unjustified belief in the supernatural and all its various promotions in the public domain in need of public criticism? My answer is an unequivocal Yes. The New Atheists like Dawkins don’t just say a meek and mild yes to this question in the privacy of their own minds; they DO something about it by bringing their arguments and expertise into the public domain to tackle the problem of a Robertson, an Ayatollah, a Pope, a Palin, head on.

So the answer to the title is No, atheism is not fundamentally a Straw Man argument but a call to action, a growing movement that will continue to challenge anyone who doesn’t care about what is true but what is unjustifiably believed to be true, and who would allow unjustified beliefs the right to take a place at any table in the public domain.

January 25, 2010

What is Canada’s mental health strategy? Combat Satan!

The new Canadian Mental Health Commission is “a wonderful opportunity” for Christians to be involved in dealing with one of the most pressing issues in our society, according to one of its members.

Chris Summerville is one of 11 non-government members of the new Commission’s board of directors.

Summerville said he hopes to bring a holistic approach to the issue that addresses body, mind, soul and spirit. Summerville said one of his goals is to “bring the presence of Christ” into the different perspectives that will be present in the Commission.

There has been a “prejudice against religion” on the part of some mental health professionals, he said, and “historically clinicians have been reluctant to discuss religion with their clients.”

Satan will use any opportunity to attack, including mental illness, said Summerville, but mental illness and spiritual should not be equated. Summerville said churches often don’t do a good job of dealing with mental illness because they tend to “treat it as a spiritual problem exclusively.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the formation of the commission on August 31. It grew out of a study by a Senate committee chaired by Senator Michael Kirby, who will chair the new Commission. The Commission’s board of directors includes 11 non-government experts and six government representatives. The Commission will receive $10 million in start-up funds until mid-2009 and then $15 million a year after that.

From Canadianchristianity’s website here.

January 24, 2010

What does CAM ‘freedom of choice’ look like as an autism supplement?

Filed under: Autism,Bad Science,belief,CAM,Medicine,regulation,Science — tildeb @ 3:45 pm

It looks like OSR#1, a drug that was developed as an industrial chelator – a compound that binds heavy metals to clean them from soil or industrial spills. It is now being marketed as a “supplement”  with claims that it is an antioxidant. But it is being used by parents in the autism community as a chelator, to treat presumed mercury toxicity as a cause of autism (a disproven hypothesis).

There is another terrific article from the Chicago Tribune revealing how the alternative supplement industry can avoid regulation and safety scrutinies and bring to market drugs and compounds relying on the desperation of parents of children with autism to buy their products without having to first prove safety and efficacy.

Steve Novella over at Neurologica points out why the current belief that CAM is a matter of consumer choice is not only false but dangerously so. He points out quite rightly that the policies now in place under the false misnomer of ‘freedom of choice’ for CAM products and practices actually means an absence of responsible guidelines for safety and efficacy:

So in essence the regulations that we have now allow for a company to take an industrial chemical, market it as a “supplement” with trumped up antioxidant claims (the latest buzz word), and yet the market for the drug is children with a serious illness, and the effect of the drug is a powerful pharmacological effect (chelation) that is normally only done under a doctor’s supervision because of the inherent risks. This is all done without providing any evidence for safety or efficacy.

This is a scandal.

Where is the science?

Filed under: Bad Science,belief,CAM,Medicine,Science,vaccination — tildeb @ 3:08 pm

First, there was this was this reward offer by Natural News for conditional proof of H1N1 vaccine safety here:

In conjunction with NaturalNews, the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center ( has publicly offered a $10,000 reward for any person, company or institution who can provide trusted, scientific evidence proving that any of the FDA-approved H1N1 vaccines being offered to Americans right now are both safe and effective.

Vaccine promoters keep citing their “science” in claiming that H1N1 vaccines are safe and effective. NaturalNews and the CWC ask one simple question: Where is this science?

This seems reasonable… until one actually reads the criteria of what is acceptable.

So Mark Crisplin over at Science-Based Medicine flips it around and offers a satirical retort of a non-reward of $10,000 for:

any person, company or institution who can provide trusted, scientific evidence proving that any of the supplements or alternative medical therapies being offered to Americans right now are both safe and effective.

Supplement or alternative medical therapies promoters keep citing their “science” in claiming that supplements or alternative medical therapies are safe and effective. UnNaturalNews asks one simple question: Where is this science?

The point being made is that the same criteria used to show that the ‘lack’ of science suggested by Natural News for the H1N1 vaccine is just as lacking as any claims made by Big Placebo/Big Herba for any CAM ( Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) efficacy.

Now compare this stupid prize with a real one offered by the  James Randi Educational Foundation: a one million dollar prize “to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event reward.”

Natural News insist that its request for the vaccine safety ‘science’ “…is not a satire story or a parody.” I agreed. Nevertheless, it is still a joke.

December 25, 2009

Why continue to post about unjustified beliefs and criticize them?

I have often been asked why I bother to post every day, why I take the time and effort to expose unjustified beliefs as stories and articles about them hit the media. Why cannot I leave them and their unjustified beliefs well enough alone?

The short answer is that I can’t because it is wrong to do nothing. Because I can do something, I feel that I must do my small part at the very least… hence my posting. Ignorance must be challenged and brought into the light of critical thinking to expose it for what is usually is: an expression of cancerous fear that is not worthy to be held respectable but owed our justified and published contempt.

The longer version of the answer I will borrow from a poster with whom I have the greatest respect: Calilasseia, who writes here

To those like myself who have followed a scientific academic career, such are the things of beauty that fill our intellectual realms; such are the fragrant blossoms of our requisite enchanted gardens. They speak of the way the world works, they allow us not only to marvel at that world, but to work within it and build upon it. From the world of biology, the butterfly that forms my avatar, Morpho rhetenor from Peru, is another scintillating marvel about which I can wax lyrical – did you know that its wing scales, when viewed under the electron microscope, possess structural features allowing them to act as light amplifiers for specific regions of the visible spectrum via constructive interference? Breathtaking as the butterfly is in life, and one day I hope to see it for myself in its natural habitat and experience the wonder of its flashes of blue iridescence as it flies upon those jewelled wings, the thought that its scintillating beauty has an explanation that can be deduced by the mind of Man should also be something we pause for a moment to gasp at.

But there are those whose eyes and whose minds are closed to such things. Not for them the joys of inquiry, of discovery, of learning: rather, they seek their sustenance not in the bright sunshine of free thought, but in the perennial darkness of doctrine. Worse still, these persons are not content with inhabiting those catacombs themselves – they seek to cage others within the darkness, shut them out from the light, deny them forever the fragrant blossoms of the enchanted gardens I have just described. To do so, they will resort to subterfuge and intrigue, eating away at the wonderful edifice of learning that, if they paused for a moment to consider, gives them too gifts in their lives for which they appear to show not one atom of gratitude.

They must be stopped.

It is indeed an imperative that they are, for if that magnificent, hard-won product of the Enlightenment is lost to us, the consequences will be disastrous. From an era in which we can sit at home, and at the touch of a button be connected with manned spaceflight in real time, or with thousands upon thousands of other people on different continents in media such as this forum, living lives free from the perils of famine and pestilence, we shall descend into a new Dark Age, in which those vanquished spectres will emerge wraith-like to claim more, and those who are left will be subject to arbitrary, Inquisitional terror.

If some, like myself, are inclined to be polemical about this, it because we know precisely what is at stake if the purveyors of ignorance and bigotry win – we know how much of a calamity it will be for our very species. We know intimately how precious those gifts of the Enlightenment are, and what will befall us if they are wrested from our hands. We know also that to perpetuate those gifts is something we cannot leave to chance, it must be worked for, the price that the rational man must pay for the wonders of free thought is eternal vigilance in the face of those forces that would destroy it. That is why I, for one, am not only prepared to launch polemically into the fray, but consider it my moral duty so to do, because the consequences of indolence, were they to result in the victory of the forces of ignorance and bigotry, would be worse than calamitous, they would be truly apocalyptic. And make no mistake, those who would replace the glories of free thought with the concentration camp of mysticism seek not only to destroy those glories, but from their own words have given a chilling insight into the pleasure they would derive from that destruction, and the pleasure they would derive from having people like us at their mercy.

What we have is far more beautiful, inspiring, and worthy of defending than any doctrine. Let the hordes come – my sword is at the ready.

December 21, 2009

What are the tell-tale signs of someone promoting a conspiracy theory?

Many of us, of course, are not believers but simply find ourselves confronted at a dinner party by the man who just knows the “real story,” and has arrived armed with his killer facts and certainty. You on the other hand, have nothing but your instinct for nonsense. So, for everyone who has been, or will be, in that woeful position, I offer this short guide to how conspiracy theories work, the better to rebut them. (From the article here, I summarize the following)

These are the characteristics that help conspiracy theorists convince otherwise intelligent people of deeply unintelligent things.

1) Appeal to precedence… it’s happened before so it can happen again!

2) Self-heroization… part of a brave insurgency against a corrupt elite or a stifling orthodoxy

3) Contempt for the foolish masses… unlike the majority who are ‘robots’ and ‘sheep’, the conspiracy buff is individually in possession of an unusual and perceptive way of looking at things.

4) A willingness to ask questions… in which the theorist is “only asking questions” about the official version of the truth.

5) Respecting the experts… notably inflating the status and expertise of anyone who agrees with the conspiratorialists.

6) Death by footnote… the use of apparently scholarly ways of laying out arguments while cross-citing other conspiracy advocates.

7) techno-jargon… liberal use of strange words that give the appearance of recent contact of spies, generals or scientists in the know.

8) circularity in logic… embarrassing and obvious problems in the theory may be ascribed to deliberate disinformation originating with the imagined plotters designed to throw activists off the scent.

9) the hydra factor… if one tackles one particular claim, it simply doesn’t count: another claim is immediately brought to the fore in an endless chain of ‘mounting’ evidence.

10) the danger of telling the ‘truth’… shadowy powers threaten the bold conspiracy supporters without ever actually harming them.

December 17, 2009

Is the universe conscious?

The impulse to see human life as central to the existence of the universe is manifested in the mystical traditions of practically all cultures. It is so fundamental to the way pre-scientific people viewed reality that it may be, to a certain extent, ingrained in the way our psyche has evolved, like the need for meaning and the idea of a supernatural God. As science and reason dismantle the idea of the centrality of human life in the functioning of the objective universe, the emotional impulse has been to resort to finer and finer misinterpretations of the science involved. Mystical thinkers use these misrepresentations of science to paint over the gaps in our scientific understanding of the universe, belittling, in the process, science and its greatest heroes.

In their recent article in The Huffington Post, biologist Robert Lanza and mystic Deepak Chopra put forward their idea that the universe is itself a product of our consciousness, and not the other way around as scientists have been telling us. In essence, these authors are re-inventing idealism, an ancient philosophical concept that fell out of favour with the advent of the scientific revolution. According to the idealists, the mind creates all of reality. Many ancient Eastern and Western philosophical schools subscribe to this idealistic notion of the nature of reality. In the modern context, idealism has been supplemented with a brand of quantum mysticism and relabeled as biocentrism. According to Chopra and Lanza, this idea makes Darwin’s theory of the biological evolution and diversification of life insignificant. Both these men, although they come from different backgrounds, have independently expressed these ideas before with some popular success. In the article under discussion their different styles converge to present a uniquely mystical and bizarre worldview, which we wish to debunk here.

A long but fascinating deconstruction of biocentrism by Ajita Kamal and Vinod Wadhawan, well worth reading and understanding.

December 4, 2009

How worried should we be: the leaked ‘Climategate’ emails and what they mean

AGW means anthropogenic global warming as the theory that best describes how human activity drives climate change. But is the theory sound? There seems to be scientific consensus that it is sound, and this the central platform from the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that will be presented to the heads of states in Copenhagen.

So how do these ‘leaked’ emails affect the IPCC position?

The emails suggest the authors co-operated covertly to ensure that only papers favorable to CO2-forced AGW were published, and that editors and journals publishing contrary papers were punished. They also attempted to “discipline” scientists and journalists who published skeptical information.

The emails suggest that the authors manipulated and “massaged” the data to strengthen the case in favor of unprecedented CO2-forced AGW, and to suppress their own data if it called AGW into question.

The emails suggest that the authors co-operated (perhaps the word is “conspired”) to prevent data from being made available to other researchers through either data archiving requests or through the Freedom of Information Acts of both the U.S. and the UK.

A good summary here.

I don’t think the high risk to affecting climate by greenhouse gas emissions has been undermined; I think these emails draws into question whether the AGW theory is sound enough science to conclude that human activity drives climate change. Dissenting evidence may have been purposefully ignored and buried, which has changed the data upon which the IPCC depends for its conclusions. Check out what the fudged numbers look like on the right side of the graph. That kind of misrepresentation is serious.

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