Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Michael Shoesmith: Should atheists be asked to leave Canada?

A follower of my blog has suggested that The Sarnia Observer has an internal bet going on about how long it will take for me to respond to some of the rubbish they publish.  Sadly, if they're entertaining themselves, it comes at the expense of perpetuating the ignorance that is rooted in religion. 

Michael Shoesmith had written a letter to the editor with the title of my blog as the headline - asking if atheists should be asked to leave Canada.  Before you read the letter to the editor, let us answer the question based on how religion has asked in the past - No, True Christians(tm) wouldn't ask, they'd murder them(us).

I don't have much time to completely respond to his letter but I have highlighted a few of his words/phrases with links.  The truth isn't what Michael wishes it were, you'll quickly see.

Here is the letter to the editor (yes, it really was published - see it here):
Sir: The United Nations has released their best and worst list of places to live. Norway has made the number one spot this time and Zimbabwe has hit rock bottom.
Here's the reality. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Norway is 90% Christian while Zimbabwe is 75% Syncretic. While you're all dusting off your dictionaries consider this question: Should atheists be asked to leave Canada? Well, according to our national anthem, the answer is yes. Since part of the anthem is an actual prayer to the transcendental creator of the universe, atheists aren't even a factor in our most important representative symbol.
In case you're wondering which God the anthem is referring to, keep in mind that the french version makes direct mention of the "cross."
It should come as no surprise then that countries which promote atheistic tenets have the highest rates of suicide (China, et al). Therefore, the less atheism that exists in a culture, the happier the people will be.
Perhaps the non-atheist country of Zimbabwe could learn something from Quebec which has included the cross in its symbolic expression of the national anthem. Because blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.
Mike Shoesmith Sarnia
To sum it up - Norway is among the most secular nations in the world.  China is hardly non-religious (it's one of the most religious) and Quebec is possibly the most secular province in Canada.  I agree, maybe we could learn something from them.

If Norway is among the most secular nations in the world and it is the best place to live, then the premise of Michael's letter is completely backwards.  Norway IS among the most secular nations in the world (Society Without God) and it IS the best place in the world to live (as Michael has stated) so asking atheists to leave would make Canada a worse place to live (following Michael's logic).

It turns out, too, that "our" national anthem was based on a version from 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir:
O Canada! Our home and native land.

True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
And stand on guard, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, glorious and free,
We stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
The link (according to our national anthem) above states "The official English version now in use incorporates changes recommended in 1968 by a joint committee of MPs and senators that added the lines "from far and wide" and "God keep our land glorious and free!"" That's hardly in agreement with the idea that Mike is trying to put forward - the "god" part was added 60 years after the original was written and 101 years after we were (Canada was) given autonomy.

Arguing that mention of the "cross" in the French version implies that it is the Christian god makes little sense, too, when you consider that the cross symbol, itself, is of pagan origin.  Come on Michael, is this the best you can do?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Robbie Thomas Supporter Responds

I logged in to my blogspot account to find a bunch of comments requiring "moderation".  After an article has been posted for a certain length of time, any comments added are automatically set for moderation.  If you post a comment shortly after the article appears, the comments will automatically appear.  (I have since approved all but two of the comments awaiting moderation - one of them is why I'm writing this entry.)

The comment that I thought deserved some attention was the following from an anonymous person that was recently posted:

You know, I have had dealings with Robbie Thomas, and he "saw" something that I had in my house that had belonged to my parents. There was no way that he could have known that these things even existed. Why do you people have to be so hateful and jealous. Do you have nothing better to do with your time than to try to bad mouth other people. Give me a break. Just because he made the mistake by going "public" with his gifts just opened the door to people like you. I think that you just have nothing better to do with your time than smash other people. If you people were responsible for low ticket sales at his shows, then I dont blame him for cancelling the rest of his tour. You people seem to know it all dont you.....well you know what, from what I can see you are all nothing but some small town people that arent happy unless you are bad mouthing someone or other, and he, because of his talents, is a good target for you.
I must start off by saying "No, I didn't know.  I'm not psychic, just like Robbie."  Thanks for the anecdote (void of any real content, mind you) about what Robbie "saw" and how that suggests he is "psychic". 

"Hateful and jealous"
I don't hate Robbie Thomas and I'm certainly not jealous of him.  What Robbie does, however, is deserving of substantial amounts of hate - he is destroying the memories of lost loved ones, preying on already victimized people and lying about his abilities. 

"Nothing better to do with my time than to bad mouth other people"
To be completely honest, no.  I think spending time to out liars and frauds is an important and necessary duty that we should all be involved in.  More appropriately, however, is that I'm not "bad mouth"ing other people - the truth can be painful to those it exposes and I offer no apologies. 

"Just because he made the mistake by going 'public' with his gifts"
Though you fail to mention what such "gifts" Robbie has, I must assume you are referring to his claims that he is "psychic".  If that happens to be the case, let me say this: Robbie Thomas is not psychic.  If he was, he'd go collect the million dollars from the JREF.  Better yet, have Robbie actually find a missing person using such "gifts".  In 20 years he has failed to do so and I'm fairly certain that the next 20 will be just as fruitless.

"If you people were responsible for low ticket sales at his shows, then I don't blame him for cancelling the rest of his tour"
First off, I hope we were responsible (or partly so) for his low ticket sales but I doubt that is the case.  All of his shows had very few attendees so I'm doubtful that we played any part in it.  Being a commercial failure is likely why he cancelled his tour (though his former "manager" might suggest different reasons for the shows failure).  Since most people who would have went to his "shows" would have been fairly credulous (and already believers), they wouldn't have sought out dissenting opinions.

"You people seem to know it all don't you"
Yes. Great point. :)  No, we don't know it all but it isn't necessary to know everything to see a fraud.  If someone claims that they have solved crimes using psychic powers but can not (or will not) present the supporting evidence, we should have no reason to accept such a claim.  If we have evidence that is counter to specific claims that the person has made, we have reason to suggest that they are lying or are being fraudulent.  Specifically, Robbie Thomas did not solve the Victoria Stafford case nor did Robbie Thomas solve the Cezar Cano case.  He has also not solved the Natalie Holloway case.  One could assume, then, that he is lying if he claims otherwise.

"Because of his talents, is a good target for you"
Robbie Thomas is a valid target because of his claims.  He doesn't have any supernatural talents.  He makes testable claims that are blatantly false.  Until such time as he stops victimizing people, he, and those like him, will continue to be "targets". site is dedicated to stopping the abuse by psychics.  Much more on Robbie Thomas (who is not psychic) is available there. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Joan Hall: Jesus Offers Hope for Today's Teens

Joan Hall, a resident of Sarnia, wrote a letter to the editor of The Sarnia Observer about Jesus and, in fine Observer form, they published it. (I swear they do this simply to entertain me.)


Sir: The Oct. 30 Observer article "Finding the Light," concerning "a spate of recent suicides," reminded me that back in 1963 (47 years ago) prayer (and God) was removed from the public schools.

Point made - only youth in public schools (and none in Catholic of Christian schools) commit suicide.  Oh? Maybe not?

Before 1963, chief problems with kids included talking, chewing gum, making noise, getting out of line, etc. After 1963, things escalated to the problems becoming rape, robbery, assault, murder, suicide, etc.

The absurdity of that statement is amazing.  No murders, assaults, robberies, rapes and suicides before 1963?  Shake your head.  And next are you going to tell us that before "god" came down to Moses, people didn't know not to kill and rape?  And how many people have committed suicide because of the oppression and subjugation brought on by people who believe in "god"?  Homophobia, oppression of women and out-group hostility are victimless crimes?

Did you know that when public schools were founded, the Bible was the main textbook? Also, Harvard, Yale and Princeton were all founded as Christian colleges for the purpose of teaching the Bible.

You talk about kids behaving badly and then mention the bible?  Time to stone the kids!  (Joan, please read your bible, it obviously doesn't say what you think it does.)  And who cares what Yale, Princeton, etc. were founded with/to do(never mind that you have your facts wrong)? Over 300 years ago, we didn't have "modern science".  The Universities have grown up - you should too.

There is an answer to the "light" that today's children/ teens are looking for. It is Jesus Christ.

And here I thought they didn't want light - I was thinking they wanted to be recognized as equal and valuable members of society.  Maybe people do yearn for people to call them sinners and sick and abominations and they simply also need Jesus Christ to be invoked when all that happens (as if that isn't the reason for a good portion of it already).  Thank you, Joan.  Your logic is perfect.

Do you wonder why young and old alike are lost, confused, depressed with no reason to live? They have no hope.

I wonder if that is because they've prayed and prayed and prayed and have never had a prayer answered?  They've been lied to all their lives about the existence of some sky-fairy who will look after them when they need help and now, in times when they need help, he's not there (and never has been).

Jesus is the answer. He will enter into your life -just ask Him.

Jesus?  Still nothing.

Jesus offers and gives hope. But you have to go to Him. He's always waiting.
-- Joan Hall

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

God will save us from climate change...

When the headline of a major Canadian newspaper is "God will save us from climate change: US Representative", I can't help but laugh - at first.

John Shimkus really is a member of the house in the US.  He really does believe that man cannot destroy what "god" has created.  That's funny in the sense of "that's fucking stupid." It's not funny in the sense of "wholly fuck - he's actually an elected member of the house who can affect policy change".

You see, no matter what your beliefs/ideas are about global climate change, the idea that ONLY "god" can end the existence of humans is wrong and the implications of such an idea could be horrible.  Humans do have the ability to end humanity.

The most religious nations on earth have stockpiles of nuclear (and other) weapons.  So maybe John is right - "god" may save us from climate change - by having "his" followers, on earth, continue the war over who has the best imaginary friend.  Total destruction of humanity in the short term would save us from extinction in the long run.

God belief is stupid: Confrontation works!

I'm a dick but I think that being a dick has value.  Many argue that confronting the beliefs of others only makes them retreat to their side and never results in a change of their beliefs.  I've said (and will continue to say) that different things work for different people and we need to take a number of different approaches.

To the people, however, who suggest that the likes of "The Four Horsemen" are not changing people's minds, check out this story:

The claim that the only people that Dawkins (Hitchens, Dennett and Harris) convince are the "fence sitters" is a bit silly when you consider that "Adam (one of the ministers in the story) said his initial doubts about God came as he read the work of the so-called New Atheists -- popular authors like the prominent scientist Richard Dawkins. He said the research was intended to help him defend his faith."

Though I disagree with the claims that people like Dawkins are "strident" and "shrill", I will say that they are not apologetic and they have no problems with pointing out absurd positions.  I think that is a valuable approach.

Now, there is a difference between saying someone is stupid and saying that some one's beliefs are stupid.  There is also a difference between tolerance and respect - and Penn Jillette says it well:
“There’s a big difference between tolerance and respect. Tolerance is you saying something crazy and me smiling and saying ‘that’s nice.’ Respect is when you say something crazy and I say ‘you’re out of your f---ing mind.’ Direct confrontation, direct conversation is real respect. And it’s amazing how many people get that.” The Toronto Star, "Penn Jillette and the gospel of disbelief"
So, yes, the beliefs that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, that dinosaurs lived alongside humans and that we don't share common ancestors with all living species are stupid beliefs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Amanda Brown and the Power of Nothing

I have to say Amanda Brown's information about Homeopathic Flu "Vaccines" was among the most disturbing things I've seen since I started blogging.  As a result, I have this real urge to continue to point out the stupidity of homeopathy - so...

After writing the last blog entry about Amanda Brown "CHom", I sent her an email to see if she had anything to add.  She has yet to respond.  I'm doubtful that she ever will.

A comment on my blog referred to a Science Based Medicine article on Homeopathic Vaccines that appeared shortly after I posted my blog entry.  I happen to be a big fan of Mark Crislip's writings and his podcast ( so I was happy to see him cover the topic.  It is well worth reading.

Below is a video with Ben Goldacre ( explaining Homeopathy.  It is about a year old but does a good job of quickly explaining how it is supposed to work and the ethical question surrounding the use of Homeopathy.

Often people argue about the value of Homeopathy - since there is supposed to be absolutely nothing in it, the risk of Homeopathy, it is said, is none.  'If there is no risk but people can "feel better" by taking it, what is the harm?'  Assuming that this statement were accurate (Homeopathic 'medicines' have been known to be adulterated or have been contaminated so the risk isn't "none".), however, REAL medicine isn't about making people "feel better", it is about actually making people "better".  Feeling better is not the same as being better.

The argument of "what's the harm?", I would suggest, is a horrible one for a number of reasons but, without getting into that (yet anyway), when you consider the "replacement" of a vaccine with a homeopathic "treatment", the risks are real.  The flu is real - it costs thousands of lives every year (in North America alone).  Not everyone who comes in contact with the flu virus gets the flu and not everyone who gets the flu dies from it.  Not getting the flu shot, however, means that you are at an increased risk of becoming infected and, as a result, falling ill.  Taking "nothing" (replace "Homeopathic Remedy" with "nothing") can be harmful.

There are risks to Homeopathic "treatments" as well.  If a person with a cold takes a Homeopathic Remedy and shortly after gets "better" it is possible that they will attribute the "healing" to the Homeopathic "treatment".  It is often said that if you have a common cold, taking an over-the-counter cold remedy will result in the cold lasting only 7 days.  Without taking the over-the-counter remedy, it would last about a week.  The natural progression of the common cold is, generally, not altered by treating it with most over-the-counter products.  The natural progression of the common cold is not altered by treating it with a Homeopathic remedy so the person giving credit to the Homeopathic "treatment" is wrongly associating the "remedy" with causing them to get better.  This is where it can become a problem.

The next time the person feels ill then, as a result of what they might feel was a "successful" treatment of their cold, they may attend a Homeopathic practitioner instead of seeing someone who actually might be able to help.  Delaying the treatment of, what could be, a serious illness can have real harmful effects.  Also, taking a homeopathic treatment and "feeling better" while the disease continues to run rampant can further delay the real treatment. 

Homeopaths should never be diagnosing a person - they, almost without exception, have very little (if any) scientific training and often no real-world clinical experience.  The "school" that Amanda Brown claims to have "attended" offers clinical experience via DVD.  Her "certificate" (whatever) is something that is achieved with only 20 weekends of study (500 hours total).  (Oh, and over $9000!)

On browsing Amanda's website (she has since moved her website:, you will come across her form for an "Initial Consultation" (her form is no longer online) - it is no wonder that most people who have seen a Homeopath will not talk openly about them.  It's like Scientology - "tell us all of your dark secrets, it will only help you" and then when you try to leave the cult, "ummm, you do remember that form you filled out with all of your dirty secrets? WE wouldn't want anyone to find out about that, would we?" :) 

I'm not saying that is what Homeopaths do but are you really going to tell some unregulated (and, in so many ways, uneducated) person about your medical history?  The form asks you to list "medical conditions" that you have had in the past or that you currently have, including, "HIV/AIDS, Gonnerrhea, Syphilis, Parasites, Drug Abuse, Alcoholism, Cirrhosis, Miscarriage, Herpes (gentalia)" (and, yes, the spelling is how it is found on Amanda's form).  Ready to sign up yet?

Update: See "A Bitter Pill to Swallow" by Edzard Ernst. (Posted today - November 8, 2010)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Michael Shoesmith - Need I say more?

Michael Shoesmith (formerly known as "The Internet Pastor") has written another letter to the editor of the local newspaper (The Sarnia Observer).  The main point of the message, it seemed, was about parents being aware of what their children are doing on-line.  Wow, I thought, something sensible from possibly the least sensible person I know.

Sadly, that wasn't really all he had to say.  He suggested that TV is really really bad and should be removed from homes with children and that letting your child use the Internet unsupervised is like knowingly leaving your child with a serial child molester.

Near the end of the article, however, he states the following:
Finally, while modern scientific enlightenment has come a long way to make our lives easier and more exciting, the term "science" has been hijacked by agenda-driven atheistic groups and Darwinian evolution plays a large role in promoting the attitudes of these groups. Evolution has become a religious tenet in the main stream scientific community, even though real science is happily performed without it.
Parents must realize that there is a battle going on for the hearts and minds of their young ones. Neither you nor your children are animals. Real science makes no such claim. Intra-genus micro adaptation is an obvious reality, but gametic isolation restricts any extreme extra-genus variance and none has ever been observed. Remind your children that they are special, unique creations and there is a God in heaven who loves them.
Starting from the first paragraph, let me say that science has done more than make life "more exciting" - it has made our lives, on average, twice as long.  It has brought about some of the greatest and most awe inspiring discoveries of all time and it has (and continues to) provided us with a greater knowledge of the universe.  In turn, one could argue, it has removed the necessity for belief in sky-fairies.  The scientific method is self-correcting and, because of that, can't be hijacked.

The statistics tell us that the higher level of education a person has, the less likely they are to hold beliefs in a god.  They also show that an overwhelming percentage of scientists do not hold on to supernatural beliefs.  The agenda, if any, is to find the truth.  Science is about following the evidence and building comprehensive theories that successfully explain the evidence.  From there we are able to make valid predictions and, in turn, create new medicines, new technology and much more.  As a result we have been able to increase crop yields, decrease childhood mortality, extend life, generate electricity, improve quality of life - the list is almost endless.

Evolution is, in many ways, the central unifying theory of biology.  Without evolution, biologists can make little (no?) predictions and have little to explain life.  Without an understanding of evolution, little (if any) modern medicines would exist and germ theory doesn't make sense.  To suggest that "real science is happily performed without it" is ignorant (at best), but (more likely) blatantly misleading and false.

Michael - you, like all other humans, are an animal.  We are all animals and every living thing on this earth is related.  We share a common ancestor with apes, aardvarks and apples.  Simply wishing that were not the case does not change that fact.  Get over your self-importance. 

And, people, remind your children that they are special - imagine how many chance occurrences had to have taken place for them to have ever lived.  Billions of possible sperm, thousands of possible eggs - for each generation before them, billions of possible pairings of couples - and, in all that, the statistical improbability still resulted in them having the fortunate (and nearly improbable) ability to ever experience life.  That is pretty special.

As Richard Dawkins said in his 1998 book, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

Homeopathic Medical Council of Canada Website: Just like Homeopathy

The Homeopathic Medical Council of Canada website (which was launched in 2008) is, as the title suggests, just like Homeopathy.

How, you ask?

1.) For the most part, it has nothing in it.  Most of the links have no content (ie. "Work in progress. Please visit again to view these details.")
2.) There is nothing helpful in the site.
3.) It is completely useless.
4.) It can distract you from going to something that might actually be worthwhile.

See for yourself:

(This was going to be a blog entry about a Woo-woo homeopathic practitioner in Watford - YAY WATFORD!! - named Amanda Brown but after I had written the entry, I looked for some links to include about Homeopathy and came across this one.  The link talks about what is found on the Society of Homeopath's website about Homeopathy - something I didn't think they'd really admit to.  As a result I wanted to see what Canada's own "group" had to say about Homeopathy... apparently not much.)

But I can't let Amanda Brown off so easily.  Amanda has a flyer about "Homeopathic Flu Prophylaxis".  What is amazing about Homeopathic Flu Protection, as Amanda states it, is that it "has been proposed as safe and effective way to protect against childhood and other epidemic diseases including influenza."  Seriously!  She is claiming that a non-existent amount of the flu virus contained in a highly-dilute liquid can protect against more than just the flu!

"This remedy is a homeopathic preparation of the flu virus.  It is produced by Dolisos Pharmacy, using the flu virus strain recommended by the World Health Organization vaccine production."  (Interestingly, the World Health Organization doesn't produce vaccines.)

She then claims "the remedies used for homeopathic protection are prepared according to safe homeopathic principles.  They are free of harmful components... " (Hmmm, it contains the ACTUAL flu virus (which vaccines don't, by the way) and thus the statement is not true or it doesn't contain the flu virus and the former statement isn't true.)  It continues "...and capable of stimulating a strong protective response from the body, increasing its resistance to disease."  Really? You have the nerve to state that when there isn't a single scientific study to support your claims? 

Here's my favourite part... "Homeopathic flu protection is safe for all ages.  It can be used with babies through to the elderly and even during pregnancy.  There are no adverse reactions or side effects associated with these vaccines."  Right.  Except if the person who is simply using the Homeopathic protection actually encounters the virus it is supposed to protect against.  The fact of the matter is this:  If there is no potential for harm from ingesting a "medicine", there can be NO method of action therefore it is not possible for it to provide any benefit.  (Misusing real medicine doesn't have the same effect.)

If you didn't read the article I referenced above, I suggest that you read it now

Monday, November 1, 2010

The End Goal Isn't Acceptance of Evolution

First of all, the "accommodationists" that suggest we need to work with the religious who accept evolution fail to realize that the "evolution" they accept is not evolution as it occurs.  (Most fail to accept common ancestry!)

On to the point of this entry.

I've blogged, in the past, about many of the "flock" not knowing what their official church doctrines are - they don't.  Surveys and studies often show that many Catholics do not know that the official stance of the church is acceptance of evolution - and though that is on the topic of this entry, I don't suggest it is the only spot where followers are unaware of official doctrine. 

So we need to get more Catholics to accept the official church doctrine, right?  Wrong. 

Many "accommodationists" will suggest to others that they will have a better chance of convincing others to accept evolution if they can point to other believers who also accept evolution.  Many argue that you can keep your faith and accept evolution - "Look at Francis Collins" or "Take Kenneth Miller for example" or "Even the Catholic church officially recognizes evolution". 

The first point I want to make is that we're appealing to authority - ie. you are to throw out that dogmatic belief because someone in a higher position in the church has done so OR someone seemingly smarter than you says you should/can OR someone closer to "god" says you now should/can.  Not only has it failed to work, it is the wrong approach.  We want people to think, to follow the evidence and to accept things on their own validity - not to simply believe/accept things because others say it is okay to accept them.  If the argument is not valid, it matters not who is making it. 

The second point that needs to be made is that it isn't only the topic of evolution that we need to tackle - people who don't think for themselves and don't demand adequate evidence before accepting a life-affecting (their life or the lives of others) proposition have not moved much further ahead if they simply accept evolution as a scientific fact.  (As an aside, evolution is occuring (fact) and the theory of evolution by means of natural selection is one of the most tested and supported theories in science.)  We need people to consider the evidence and understand what is necessary for a "theory" to be generally accepted - it has to account for all of the evidence, it needs to make predictions and it needs to be falsifiable. 

I'm not going to argue that we should all take the confrontational approach or that people are wrong for trying to partner with believers to keep evolution in the school curriculum (NCSE, etc.).  That is an important temporary measure but the need goes away when we get people to respect science and trust the scientific process.  Sadly, many accommodationists are willing to sacrifice what is "true" to achieve a single (and short-sighted) goal. 

Though I realize different people respond to different methods of criticism or argument, don't sacrifice the truth.  Use a different approach, sure, but keep in mind that we should be arguing against appeals to authority (or arguments from authority) and other methods of coercion.  We're arguing for a skeptical and scientific evaluation of the evidence before accepting a proposition.  Saying "well, Mr. Famous accepts it so you should too" is the wrong direction.  And sacrificing honesty with the goal of getting (keeping) evolution in the science curriculum also does not help achieve the real objective.