Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's no surprise that I (people like me) know more about your religion than you do

A recent Pew study has been released that shows atheists/agnostics are more knowledgeable about religion than those who hold religious beliefs.  That's not a surprise.  The next news story is going to be "Water is wet", I bet!

I spent many years of my life as a Catholic of sorts.  I went to a Catholic school, I attended a Catholic church, was baptized, received first communion, was confirmed, was an altar boy and basically did as most Catholics do - went through the motions and never really paid attention.

As we encounter social injustices, some of us look at them and consider how we can help make them right - correct them or even avert them in the future.  When the social injustices are being caused by the very beliefs you have, you can look for reasons that you hold such beliefs - to justify why you do something or why you allow something.  If you can't find support for those beliefs, you try to change them or drop them.  My move from a "whatever" Catholic to an outspoken atheist came about as a result of that sort of process.

Since many atheists/agnostics were once religious - they've had to examine the doctrines of their faith and the claims made by their priests/pastors, etc.  Many of us have read the literature, have tried to side with apologetics and have tried to justify our faith without resorting to "simply because that's what my faith demands". 

For me, being surrounded by people who held beliefs in god and were very religious, it meant that I had to be fairly certain of my position and willing to defend it logically before I could finally toss out the bath water.  I had to ask the questions of others that would be asked of me.  The more that I looked for justification of my faith or redeeming qualities in the doctrines, the less I could bring myself to believe.

I've read the bible, I've participated in bible study (more in-depth as a non-believer) and I've had lengthy discussions with people who hold firm beliefs in a god and the bible.  I know much about the history of the Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, the Pope, the Catholic Doctrine and countless other elements of Christian faith. 

I, like most atheists, am an atheist because I have educated myself about the faith I was supposed to hold.  We are not atheists because we didn't "know" our religion - we are atheists because we know and that knowledge is what made us non-believers.

It appears from the Pew study that people may simply hold their faith because they either don't know much about it (as the study shows) or that they have simply made up their own set of beliefs and have called them "Christian", "Jewish" or "Muslim".  It makes me wonder if we'd have fewer religious people if they tried, first, to learn more about their religion. 

The LA Times has an article on the study as well.

Update: Other blogs about this subject:
Friendly Atheist - How Ignorant About Religion Are Religious Americans?
PZ Myers - Want to know about religion? Go to your local atheist, not your priest.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Larry Moran on Naturopathy

Larry Moran has his own blog, Sandwalk, and it is one that I often forget to glance at.  Larry Moran is kind of like our very own (Canada's, I mean) PZ Myers.  As a side note, PZ and Larry are friends - I actually got to spend some time with Larry and PZ during one of PZ's talks in Toronto that Larry helped organize.  (I also shared a table with Larry at a CFI Conference in Washington, D.C. - so I am sure that his blog is not just a "persona" - it is the very real Larry Moran).

I was altered to Larry's blog when I checked my Twitter account (yeah, I'm on twitter - I thought it was for twits, so I signed up.  It turns out that it is for tweets but how was I to know?).  I don't often check Twitter so if you include me in one of your tweets, I apologize now for not quickly responding.

Naturopathy has received some press recently in Ontario (We went crazy stupid and allowed Naturopaths to do something they should never be allowed to do.) and it seemed fitting with my references in the past couple of days (ear candling, acupuncture) that Larry Moran would give his nice and gentle explanation of what Naturopathy is.  I just wish Larry wouldn't hold back - he needs to call it as he sees it :)

Having read that, you might be interested in an article on CFI's site.  Naturopathy, it seems, is like Chiropractic and god - as a commenter on this site pointed out - neither are sensible propositions and any clear definition is easily dismissed with simple argument.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Mark Crislip

If you have not YET started following http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/, you must take the leap today.

The title of the blog will be familiar to people who happen to follow any of Mark Crislip's sites/offerings.  He is a podcaster (QuackCast, Gobbet o' Pus) and a blogger (at ScienceBasedMedicine.org, MedScape, etc.) among other things.  He often states that the world needs more Mark Crislip (I tend to agree) and "More Mark Crislip" is the name of his main website (http://moremark.squarespace.com/).

He has a recent entry on SBM (ScienceBasedMedicine) that he calls "Short Attention Span SBM" that includes an update and some information on vitamin D, influenza and (as copied below) acupuncture:


“Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to. –Mark Twain

Acupuncture is all placebo effect, what ever that is. This was re-confirmed in “A randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee: Effects of patient-provider communication“.

In this trial, patients had real acupuncture or sham acupuncture (as if there is a difference) and they had neutral or enthusiastic acupuncturists.

Those that had an enthusiastic acupuncturist had a better decrease in reported pain, whether the acupuncture was real or sham.
TCA was not superior to sham acupuncture. However, acupuncturists’ styles had significant effects on pain reduction and satisfaction, suggesting that the analgesic benefits of acupuncture can be partially mediated through placebo effects related to the acupuncturist’s behavior.
This result is of no surprise. Expectations will often color peoples perceptions. More expensive wine is rated higher than the same vintage labeled as cheaper. An expensive placebo is more effective than an cheap placebo.

But does perception of reality mean reality was altered?

I play golf with my kids almost every night in the summer and towards the end of the season I get right elbow tendinitis. As I make my downswing the pain fibers fire and can mess up my swing if I am not focused on hitting through the pain. If I take 400 milligrams of ibuprofen before I play, I have less pain and my swing is unchanged. Not enough to beat my son, but that is another matter.

Decreasing pain leads to improved function when pain limits function. If you have a musculoskeletal problem, you usually have a reproducible limit to your function due to the pain. If the pain is decreased, the function should improve.

As I have discussed at length, I do not think there is really a placebo effect. Certainly for objective endpoints, there is no placebo effect. Buried in the acupuncture paper were two objective end points: range of motion and the Timed Up and Go Test. For objective endpoints there were no changes in any of the groups. So it makes me wonder just what improvement these patients ‘really’ had. Subjectively better, objectively no change.

Is the placebo effect no more than a patient convincing themselves they are better when in fact nothing has changed? That is my interpretation. If function is not improved, if they are still limited by pain, is the pain really gone? Is this response a milder example of the same cognitive processes that can lead to hysterical blindness or not seeing tumors the size of a large mushroom? Man is the only animal with the ability to convince themselves that the tangible is unreal or that the unreal is tangible.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ear Candling: Is it illegal?

I was alerted to a local site that advertises a whole bunch of woo-woo but I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw "Ear Candling" listed as a service they offered. 

I thought "isn't ear candling illegal?"  It was something I was almost certain I had researched before. 

Sure enough, it is illegal.

A quick search showed local businesses advertising the service:

Treat Yourself Wellness Centre
Sarnia Holistic Healing Centre
Acupuncture and Natural Healing Centre

Health Canada (for those that didn't click on the link) clearly states:
The practice of ear candling has recently become popular as an alternative therapy. Some promoters say it is an ancient treatment that can cure a number of medical problems. Don't listen: ear candling is dangerous, and has no proven medical benefits.

A little further down the page:
Health Canada's Medical Devices Regulations state that certain types of medical devices, including ear candles, require a licence from Health Canada before anyone can sell them for therapeutic purposes.

Health Canada has not issued any licences for ear candles. Therefore, the sale of this product for therapeutic purposes in Canada is illegal. As well, both Canada and the United States have issued directives that ban the importing of ear candles.

For more information on ear candling, see CBC Marketplace's report or check out Quackwatch.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Whatever Hitler was, he wasn't an atheist

So often people bring up the claim that Hitler was an atheist and he followed Darwin and, as a result... whatever.  It's plain bullshit.  Utter nonsense.

"I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator."

[Adolph Hitler, _Mein Kampf_, pp. 46]

PZ Myers has a recent post with quotes from Hitler and some "discussion".  It's well worth reading... over at Pharyngula.

Wait a minute.. Jerry Coyne, at Why Evolution is True, has uncovered complete stupidity over at the Catholic League.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

May "god" bless you

First of all, if you listen to podcasts, add Geologic Podcast to your list of favourites.  George Hrab is a witty and intelligent musician and podcaster and his insights are quite amusing.  He mixes nifty production with a wacky and fun series of little segments ranging from "Not the Bible", "Ask George" to "Religious Moron of the Week". 

During one of his recent podcasts he tells of a story about when he was younger and he was going to see (forgive me for butchering his story - I'm just recalling it because of a recent email I received) a baseball game on a particular day if it didn't rain.  He remembers incessantly praying that it wouldn't rain so he could go see the game.  It dawned on him, at some point, that, what if, somewhere else there was another young boy who was going to be forced to attend a family reunion was, like George, praying the opposite - that it would rain so he wouldn't have to attend the family reunion.  At that point, George, points out, that he couldn't reconcile faith in the Judeo-Christian god.

The recent email that prompted my recalling of this story included a link to a local classified site that had the following ad:
Wanted: Need

Please Help. I am a single dad and don't have much money and need a Van and I need it for work so I humbly ask if anyone knows who has a Van sitting around still works and doesn't need it and just wants to get rid of it. With getting a safety and insured is going to hard enough for right now. I can do all minor things to fix it but all in all its got to work and road worthy medium or small car would be preferred good on gas.

Thank you so very much.

May God Bless you in the same way you have Blessed me.
The emailer suggested that maybe I'd take interest in this ad because of the final line - and I took it the same way they did.  One could question why it is that "god" isn't blessing this single dad directly - if there is any value in "may god bless you" then it would make sense that the "god" could bless the dad.  I'd argue that there is no such thing as a "blessing" from "god" as there is little (no?) reason to believe in the positive assertion that there actually is a "god" that exists.

It reminds me of times when I walk past people who are begging on the street who will say "god bless you" to passers-by.  I can't help but think that if these people surely believe that "god" has "blessed" them, that I don't want to be "blessed" by that "god".  (Clearly I'm not referring to your god.)

What would atheists do?

Well, Anson Cameron covers it in "Book-Burning Shelved, It's Time to Commit Atheists To Flames"

The Texan pastor's moved on from the Koran to a pyre of The God Delusion.

IN SCENES of calm bemusement not seen in the lower United States since John Scopes taught innocent schoolchildren evolution, it was reported yesterday that Pastor Terry Jones had given up on his plans to burn 200 Korans and was instead planning to incite atheists by soaking a gross of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion in moonshine and putting a match to them.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jeffrey Needham - Chiropractor - Featured in a Book!

One of Sarnia's very own, chiropractor Jeffrey Needham, is featured in a book!

Spin Doctors: The Chiropractic Industry Under Examination

Unfortunately for Jeffrey Needham, the information doesn't put him in a favourable light.  Much of what Jeffrey Needham had on his website (http://www.needhamfamilychiro.com/) was blatantly false.  To this day, there is still substantial amounts of "suspect" information.

Following the "Chiropractic Information" link, in the very first paragraph on Jeffrey's website you will come across:
People who suffered from migraine headaches profess "Chiropractic is for headaches". People with low back pain may tell you "chiropractic is for low back pain" The same applies for those who suffer from digestive problems, asthma, back and neck pain, sciatica, colds and colic.
Jeffrey is attempting to avoid further complaints about his false advertising.  Jeffrey (and all chiropractors) can't claim that chiropractic is for colds, colic, asthma, digestive problems, migraines or the like - because it isn't.  If the science supported such claims, Jeffrey wouldn't be making such veiled suggestions - he would be referring to the evidence to support the claim.

There are studies that show there is no evidence to support the use of chiropractic in the treatment of asthma, colic1, allergies, digestive problems and a myriad of other 'illnesses'. 

Following the first paragraph, Jeffrey Needham quickly jumps to subluxations - something that a group of chiropractors could not consistently identify (because they don't exist?) but which has also been denounced by chiropractic organizations.

What is more troubling, however, is Jeffrey Needham's goal in treating children.  The science doesn't support the activity and the potential harm is real.

Congratulations Jeffrey!  We look forward to future books/articles about you.  You make Sarnia proud.

1 You will have to register with the BMJ to get the full article.  The clinical bottom line is stated as: The evidence suggests that chiropractic has no benefit over placebo in the treatment of infantile colic. However, there is good evidence that taking a colicky infant to a chiropractor will result in fewer reported hours of colic by the parents.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Learn to be Psychic in 10 easy lessons: Skeptic.com

If you haven't been by Skeptic.com or are not a regular subscriber to their magazine, you may have missed this little gem.

From http://www.skeptic.com/ - (http://www.skeptic.com/downloads/10_Easy_Psychic_Lessons.pdf)

(Psychic powers almost certainly do not exist.  Robbie Thomas is not psychic and we hope that you will support our effort to Stop Robbie Thomas.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Francis Collins does not support your beliefs

Yes, I've read Francis' book and yes, I've read George Cunningham's book (Decoding the Language of God) and no, Francis Collins does not agree with you.  (You should read both books! George's book is well written and does a wonderful job of deconstructing Collins' arguments.)

This is not a review of Francis Collins' book, The Language of God.  In short and simple terms, the book does not make a lucid argument for the belief in god.  The god it describes is definitely not the Christian god of any Christian I know.

Almost every time that I discuss god belief with someone who _thinks_ they're prepared for the discussion, they refer to C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins (ie. "Francis Collins is a great scientist, he decoded the human genome and he believes in god... " - never mind the FACT that he didn't decode the human genome - he does have scientific credentials). 

To be sure I don't miss the point: 
If you believe any of the following...
  1. that the earth is less than 10,000 (100,000 or 1,000,000 or 4,000,000,000) years old
  2. humans were created in their present form
  3. the theory of evolution by natural selection is false
  4. that man and dinosaurs walked on earth at the same time
  5. that you're not related to my petunia
  6. the story of Noah is historical fact
... then do not suggest that I could be wrong because Francis Collins wrote a (hardly lucid) polemic about his reasons for belief in a creator god. 

The usage of Francis' book in arguments is reminding me of people referring to another book to support their beliefs - the name of the book eludes me.  It is blatantly clear to me that MOST people who refer to such books as being the definitive answer to all arguments against theism have never read the actual books.

Oh, right, the other book is the Bible.  Read it before you argue on behalf of it.  It doesn't say what many think it does.  Now get back to shunning people who eat shrimp.