Saturday, February 19, 2011

Indoctrination is not choice

Discussing reasons for belief with people of faith is a touchy subject - not only because we are questioning the core beliefs of people but because it often isn't clear what their argument (or basis for argument) is (or even the definition of their god).  I have tried to address this topic in other blog entries and, I'm sure, it will be a topic that we face for years to come.  One point that is often neglected is not why someone believes but what made them believe in a particular god.

We (atheists) have a number of different arguments to make regarding belief in a god but I don't think we argue (often) enough about the method used for "making" believers - indoctrination.

It is almost always unfair for an atheist to ask what it was that brought a believer to believing in their "god" just as it is generally wrong for a believer to suggest that they "chose" to believe in the particular "god" that they follow.  Religion relies heavily on indoctrination - teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically. 

For the majority of believers, they follow the "god" that their parents followed - they stick to the religion that their family was a part of.  Though some move to different denominations of churches, very few actually change the "god" that they worship. 

To suggest "choice" it would have to be clear that one was given.  Most families don't teach their growing children comparative religions and fewer families, I submit, consider leaving discussions/information about religion until the child is old enough to reason his or her way through the claims.  In societies/religions where children were excluded from the religious rituals, practices and "instruction" until adulthood, Christianity and other religions were able to take hold and (almost) completely replace the previous/traditional faiths of those regions.

Indoctrination is not a choice.  It is the circumvention or avoidance of choice.

Richard Dawkins and others have argued that it is a form of child abuse (and with good reason).  Even ignoring the idea that children are being threatened with eternal damnation and hellfire - the abuse of a developing child's mind when it comes to reasoning and questioning is reason enough to see it as harmful.  Though some religions are (or claim to be) in favour of science, one of the greatest potential harms to a future scientific career would be to teach someone to simply accept something without evidence - this is the core point of religious faith.  To circumvent the skeptical view or to push the argument from authority before a child is even old enough to understand reason and logic is not the path we should be taking.  But I digress...

When discussing beliefs with a believer, are we naive, then, when we try to make the "how do you know your "god" is the true "god"?" point?  They didn't choose their "god" so the reasoning was never there to be questioned.  As is often said, you can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves in to.  This is made even more difficult because of the destruction of reason and logic in the indoctrination process.

The argument, although completely hypothetical, that we may really need to make is this: 
Suppose you were not indoctrinated into your particular religion.  When presented with the information and books for the different religions at this point in your life, would you have selected your current religion/"god"?  Would you be able to accept the primary claims made by any of the major religions?

Since most people were not given the choice, the "what if" scenario might be a difficult one to get across or for them to imagine.  Some will counter with the idea that they didn't really "believe" any of it until later in life when they were "born again".  I would argue that if the child had not received the original indoctrination they wouldn't have had any pre-planted idea of it being true for them to return to later in life. 

I seriously doubt that many adults could be reasoned into accepting some of the "amazing" stories presented in the Koran, Bible, Torah and other religious books without the predilection to "believing" miraculous claims without evidence - a penchant that was created during their indoctrination as a child. 

I don't doubt, however, that people will suggest on this blog and elsewhere that they were 1.) raised as a non-believer, were not indoctrinated and 2.) reasoned themselves into accepting their "god".  (I doubt that the claims are complete and accurate but I don't doubt that people will make them.)

If you believe in "god", is it the same one that your parents believed in?  If you claim to have "chosen" your "god", what actually brought you to believing in that "god"?  Had you researched the other religions/gods? (Over 2800 of them?)  Why did you dismiss the others?  I am, honestly, interested in the answers to these questions.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Robbie Thomas: Old Predictions Still Wrong (Crosspost)

Take a look at this link we just received from a follower of the blog:
Psychic story questioned

Posted 3 years ago

Sir: Re: The article "Putting killers behind bars" (The Observer, Dec. 31, 2007)

I see that local, self-described psychic Robbie Thomas has again been allowed free advertising in your paper. With the exception of two paragraphs, this article becomes nothing more.

In these paragraphs, Mr. Thomas claims he provided Louisville, Ky., police with key information regarding the abduction, on June 29, 2007, of a four-year-old boy, with no result given. Together, with the headline of this article, the implication seems to be that his tip led to solving the case, but a visit to his website further elaborates to show his disappointment with police for not investigating his information. (The boy's body was discovered by trash collectors on July 6 and a suspect was arrested on Dec. 6.)

I don't see any evidence of his assistance in solving the case.

He may well possess the powers he claims, but perhaps he could publish some verifiable details of cases that he has helped solve, as inferred by the headline.

Mr. Thomas also states in the article that his predictions "have never been proven wrong," yet in an article from June 1, 2005, regarding his investigation of the (still) unsolved Karen Caughlin murder, he predicts "the case will come to a close in six months."

Could it be that some "psychics" are using well-documented methods to take advantage of people at their most vulnerable? Does a fee of $200 per half hour sound reasonable? Caveat emptor.
It has been almost 6 years since Robbie Thomas claimed that a case would be closed within six months (see what the Caughlin family has to say about Robbie Thomas). The case, still, remains open and unsolved. The other case that this letter writer was referring to was that of Cezar Cano.

For those who've read this blog for a while, this will come as no surprise to you. Robbie Thomas is not psychic - just a liar and a huckster.

No publicity is bad publicity? Robbie Thomas must be proud

If the commonly used saying of "no publicity is bad publicity" is true, Robbie Thomas scored a major victory last week.  When I contacted the company that we advertised with about extending the ad for (see it here), I asked them how many views the ad had as well as how many clicks it got, they told me it was "by far the most popular ad of the week".  They sent me their standard "you should consider display advertising" email and I think we're going to do that. 

Does anyone have any suggestions for what the banner ad should have? We can put pictures and have multiple "slides" in an animated banner.  Send me your thoughts ( or email them to at

I know that received donations from a couple individuals as a result of the Robbie Thomas/Crime Stoppers claims but they can always use assistance in other ways.  If you are interested in helping out, don't send me money - contact for information.  The group, as I see it, is more interested in promotion and assistance in getting the message out and, unless a big media campaign is the direction the group wants to take, we have enough money to sustain the site related expenses and current advertising for a couple of years.  (The domains have been paid up for 10 years already as well.)

Robbie Thomas or, legally, Robbie Poulton of Sarnia is not psychic - if he claims otherwise he is lying. 

And, Robbie, continue to contact my family, friends and associates - I love the comic relief.  (Keep in mind that since many of the people you are talking to actually know the truth, you are only proving to them that you are indeed as big of douche bag as I've told them you are.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chiropractic Revisited

Just recently I received emails from fervent supporters of Chiropractors - oddly, it is never people who support the possibly beneficial components of Chiropractic.  They are almost always the dogmatic followers of the century old failed idea of innate intelligence. 

An email in my inbox on Monday morning was from a lady who claimed that she "wouldn't dare let a doctor inject her child with toxins", has "never had the flu shot and never got the flu", is "the healthiest (she's) ever been" and has "taken my(her) kid to a chiropractor since he was 12 weeks old". 

Without getting into the "fear mongering" that is attempted when someone says "toxins" as it relates to things like vaccines, I thought it appropriate for me to respond to her specific statements.  To the not vaccinating statements, I said, "You owe me and a great percentage of the population a lot of thanks.  Without us, you'd be putting your child at much greater risk.  Choosing not to educate yourself does not allow you to abdicate your responsibility for your children.

Sadly I had to address the vaccination point because many Chiropractors advise their patients to avoid vaccines - and that probably made sense when Chiropractic was invented (prior to effective vaccines).  Chiropractors, I sometimes must restate, are not Doctors.  They are definitely not trained in infectious disease and they should not be (I know, many do) making diagnoses.

Chiropractic may be bad for your life (insurance)
On Monday night, only about 12 hours after reading the obnoxious rant from an, obviously, ignorant woman, I get a call from my insurance company - I'm changing my life insurance so they start the process with a phone interview about previous medical history, high risk behaviour and the like.

One of the questions that I was asked went something like this:
"Do you use the services of a chiropractor or alternative health practitioner?"

Based on the majority of emails I get to my account, I thought the correct answer was "Yes, Yes, I use an alternative health practitioner - science based medicine."  Like most of the questions asked during my phone call, I was able to answer "No".  I paused for a second and then asked (and I paraphrase because I was definitely not expecting a question like that!), "If I did, would that affect my insurability?" to which she answered "Do you use an alternative health practitioner?"  I reassured her that I did not to which she explained that it would not make me uninsurable but it could affect my premiums.  With further questioning she told me that she does not think that seeing a chiropractor has ever lowered insurance premiums. 

I'm certain that some will argue/suggest the insurance companies are simply conspiring to destroy chiropractic and that there is no basis for them changing insurance premiums based on someone seeing an alternative health practitioner.  Get over it, there is no conspiracy.

Life insurance is based on a calculated risk as much as it can be.  The only reason that life insurance could justify raising or lowering premiums is if the risk was real or if the potential risk was reduced.  Following that, logically, there must be reason for insurance underwriters to consider chiropractic patients (and other users of alternative health practitioners) at higher risk of dying (or dying sooner - since, we are all going to die).

Chiropractic has very little science to support their services and, where they do, the services they provide are often available from other (licenced, regulated and OHIP covered in some instances) service providers (ie. Physiotherapists).  If you see a Chiropractor, you owe it to yourself to be informed; see a Chiropractor that works hand-in-hand with your Orthopaedist and avoid any Chiropractor who suggests that they can cure anything (thick wallet syndrome excepted).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Surprise surprise - Priests accused of sex abuse

I apologize for the quick/short blog - much on the go and no time to blog.

A recent article on CNN tells of three priests who sexually abused boys and the cover-up of it by the Archdiocese. This doesn't come as a surprise - it is something that seems to happen on a regular basis. The problem with teaching people to not question things is that enables priests and others to get away with such abuses of power.

Religion is not a force for good.

Oh, and fuck the pope.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wow - Stop Robbie Thomas Activity!

I just got an email from a contributor to - he has posted a new entry about Robbie Thomas, Psychics and Why it Matters!  Head over there to read it.

I have just scanned through it - quite a bit to read but I did pick up a couple of things!

First of all, I love his Penn Jillette quotes.  It is hard to beat what Penn says and the way he says it.

Secondly, I can't help but laugh when I read one of the links he included.  Back in April of 2010, Robbie's ex-manager exposed him as a liar, a cheater and a fraud and I posted the manager's complete "release" on the blog.  In an attempt to be fair, I offered Robbie the opportunity to respond.  His response was priceless and is even funnier today. 

And finally, the "advertisements" that he is referring to include some signage that is being made for as well as some posters and other ads.  (And... this.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Having fun at the Walmart Pharmacy - Homeopathy awareness

My wife and I ran in to Walmart to get a few things earlier today and, while we were there, my wife asked if I needed anything (she probably regrets that now). I told her I had to go to the pharmacy - the cold medicine aisle. It was full of people but I was able to squeeze in to see the nonsense on the top shelf (homeopathic flu treatment). I grabbed a few of them (I had to reach above a couple that was squatted down looking at other medicines) and it got the attention of a few people around me. The couple that was squatted down asked if what I grabbed was 'good stuff'. I told them, no, that it was pure stupid. It is homeopathy and there is nothing in it. Completely stupid.

The lady responded and said that it was made from herbs and natural stuff. I corrected her - I told her that it is not herbal medicine or anything like that, homeopathy dilutes the active ingredient to the point when there is (literally) nothing in it. I pointed out that the particular crap that I grabbed was made from duck liver and that it is diluted "a million million million million million etc etc times. There is nothing in it.".

When she responded with the word "holistic", I knew I was dealing with an ill-informed person. Her comment was "I think that holistic medicines combining alternative medicine with western medicine..." and I interrupted her and said "what do you call alternative medicine that works? Medicine." while I put the crap back on the shelf and said "at least it is on the top shelf where most people won't be able to reach it". I left the aisle and my wife and I went to check out.

My wife suggested that I make life interesting but I'm not sure she meant it as a compliment.

Update Feb 7, 2011 9:39AM:

PS.  If you think it is stupid that Walmart carries a few Homeopathic "medicines", consider Hogan Pharmacy - they have a Homeopath on staff!  (A few points about the picture below - it was scanned out of "Business Trends" "magazine", contains a bunch of stupid - anyone who mentions "allopathic" or "allopathy" deserves to be heckled and because something is "old" doesn't make it right.  If we're going to mention "the turn of the century" (forgetting that we've actually "turned" another century in case Lynn hadn't noticed - she's referring to the 19th - 20th century not the 20th - 21st), we should also mention that life expectancy was decades shorter than it is today.  Homeopathy may have appeared less stupid then but we've grown up and we KNOW that it is stupid today.) (Click the image for a larger version.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Come on Bill, don't beat around the bush - Is there a vaccine/autism link?

Bill Gates was interviewed by Sanjay Gupta about his recent annual letter.  Sanjay asked him about the link between Autism and vaccines...

This is definitely worth a read (or watch the video):

This might be it...

Tomorrow, I will join with my fellow skeptics in an overdose.  Unfortunately that might mean that this will be my final blog entry. (Ha!)

February 5th will be the world-wide demonstration to show that Homeopathy couldn't possibly be more dumb.