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Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking’

Revisiting Pascal’s Wager

June 6, 2010 Comments off

A while ago I covered Pascal’s Wager, the logical fallacy used by some religious people to ‘reason’ non-believers into believing ‘just in case’ their particular god story is true. And then along comes a single image to cover it simply and succinctly:

 

 

When you then consider the likelihood that this is the only life we get — that there’s nothing once we pop our clogs — all of that suffering, brutality and ignorance becomes tragic.

Of course if there is a god of some kind, then he/she/it/them will appreciate the person who used the brains they were given, rather than hitching their horse to the wagon they were born next to.

 

Hat tip: LOLgod

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Happy Zombie Jesus Day 2010

April 4, 2010 Comments off

Why reinvent the wheel when I can recycle last year’s seasons greeting?

Well, it’s that time of year again — the long-weekend that a number of Western nations observe as a national holiday: the pagan festival of Eostre, better known as Easter, where millions of people gleefully glorify in the brutal killing of their god, who was the son of their god sent by their god to cleanse the world from sins stipulated by their god, for the appeasement of their god.

I have a computer wallpaper that describes it succinctly:

Christianity, n.: Sending telepathic messages to a Jewish ghost letting him know that you will accept him as your master and to ask him to remove a magical curse that was passed down to you because an old woman that was made from the rib of her partner ate a piece of magical fruit from a magical tree because a talking snake told her to.

Ask me again why I’m an Atheist?

Those who recognise that monotheism is one god too many, know it as:

Zombie Jesus Day!

 

The Parody
According to popular culture and today’s political-religious voices, this holiday all began with…

Christianity Defined

…the death of a Jewish martyr named Eashoa or Yashua (depending upon which etymology you follow) — who most people know by his translated name of Jesus or Isa — around 2,000 years ago. And then a few days later, it ended with…

The Resurrection

…the apparent resurrection of the martyr to the least objective audience possible: Mary Magdalene, sometimes considered to be a love interest or equal leader. Major opposition to this last point is usually from the same people who naïvely think Jesus’s mother died a virgin. (All of this accepts, for the sake of argument, that the people in the story actually lived at that time, that Jesus was born to Mary, that he had a group of followers, etc).

Then some time afterwards, this strange and little-known sect was chosen to replace the polytheistic Roman pantheon as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic Church was born, complete with its equally absurd Doctrine of the Trinity (one god is three gods but is really just one god — presumably to keep the polytheistic migrants from pantheism happy).

Protestants, particularly ones from modern fundamentalist sects, don’t like this fact but: Catholicism is Christianity. There was no distinction and, with the exception of the schism over the power of the Pope which lead to the formation of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it remained that way until the 16th century Reformation.

For those who haven’t yet completely signed over their rational and critical faculties, here’s the official story for those looking to join the club…

The rules are simple...

…and is only sanctified by you joining in the cannibalistic ritual of eating the god/man/father/son’s body and drinking his blood. No brains required. Brains…


The Reality
The festival of the Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess Eostre (or Ôstarâ) celebrates the rebirth of life after the long cold winter by marking the coming of spring, and observes the lunar calendar (as seasonal events have done throughout much of civilisation). Most people know it as Easter, and have bought into the claim that it originated with the death of a religious fanatic around 2,000 years ago.

Easter did not originate with the death of Jesus any more than Christmas originated with his birth. As with most Christian holidays, it was piggy-backed onto pre-existing holidays of the culture in which it spread, and then was later enforced and rewritten by the Church as if the original never existed. Hence the Eostre/spring symbolism and timing for Easter, and the Yule/winter solstice symbolism and timing for Christmas. Easter is timed to mark the end of Passover — a national & religious celebration of the story of a brutal god murdering thousands of innocent infants — making them follow a lunar, seasonal calendar. Hence the fact that both occur at seemingly random times between late March and late April, matching the Jewish month of Nisan (also called Aviv, or spring), marking the timing of the barley harvest. And don’t forget the Easter egg and its symbolism of new birth/life.

Rebirth, new life, resurrection… recognising an ongoing theme?

 

The Incredulity
I’ve clearly parodied the stories surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, basing them in a more Catholic setting than Protestant as the former has been around the longest and the latter is cherry-picked from the former, but they serve to outline the outlandish beliefs surrounding the holiday being celebrated. I say celebrated, but the facts are that only a tiny percentage of the Christian population actually observe (or even know) all the requirements of this holiday, and the number of people who actually know the popularised Easter story is dwindling yearly. For most of the Western world, Easter is simply a 4-day long-weekend where we may have some nice meals and catch up with family, get away for a few days to the coast or snow, or do some DIY around the house to wash away the winter and prepare the house and garden for the coming spring and summer.

The latter is really what Easter is all about. We’ve come through the harsh winter, those of us left alive and healthy will now rebuild what winter has damaged, and life will begin again for the year — as can be seen all around with plant growth, spring lambs and the returned warmth of the Sun.

It’s a shame that some people voluntarily hang on to Bronze Age superstitions, from a time when humanity wasn’t enlightened enough to realise the reality of the annual wonders occurring around us this time
of year. I understand why church and political leaders encourage and propagate such absurdities as it ensures their unrivalled power — particularly when you can threaten disobedience with eternal torture in a place that the threatened cannot be certain whether such an evil torment exists or not (enter the fallacy of Pascal’s Wager) — but for otherwise intelligent lay-people to do the same thing feels like collusion or appeasement. Something similar to knowing that you don’t need to outrun the lion chasing you to stay alive, merely that you have to outrun the person next to you. It’s a sick rationale from a sick system borne of sick minds.

Despite what believers reading this may think or say: I do not hate people of religion. I can respect the person while despising the belief, whether religious or political. Beliefs do not stop a person from being human, nor from being worthy of treatment as such. That’s the nature of secular humanism.

Humanity is more important than invisible friends.

Creationism is… still a lie

March 7, 2010 Comments off

My love for the game of Portal is well documented along with my love for Still Alive, Jonathan Coulton‘s fantastic ending song to that game.

Now imagine my surprise and delight to discover that someone has taken Still Alive and turned it into a brilliant science education and anti-Creationism video:

Still a Lie (Portal, Still Alive parody)

How cool is that? It made me laugh, I can tell you. My congratulations to the mixer/masher from whose mind this sprung.

Fortunately, the video shouldn’t be taken down anytime soon, as JoCo releases his works under the Creative Commons BY-NC 3.0 licence (as stated on his downloads page).

Ben Goldacre on the Placebo Effect

February 14, 2010 Comments off

One of my personal heroes, and author of the mind-blowingly brilliant and easily understandable Bad Science, explains what exactly is the placebo effect:

Ben Goldacre – The placebo effect

If you are not familiar with Ben Goldacre and/or are interested in finding out more about his work, here are some good places to start:

Ben is a magnificent communicator of science, health and logic-related concepts in a manner than can be understood by anyone, and he’s very active in the skeptical scene — including speaking at the inaugural TAM London last October and a recent appearance on Robert Llewellyn‘s often fascinating CarPool video podcast — though seems loathe to label himself as such. (Perhaps he’d prefer we consider that our realms of interest often coincide).

Hat tip to the always awesome PodBlack Cat.

Meddling kids – mankind’s last hope

February 2, 2010 Comments off

This is so good it deserves a post all to itself: Scooby Doo (the ultimate skeptic show that we’ve seen since we were kids) versus the zombie apocalypse!

Looks like Shaggy, Fred and Daphne didn’t make it… Velma and Scooby are going to have to clear up the mess themselves.

Homeopathic overdoses are homeopathically dangerous

January 30, 2010 Comments off

Today is the day of the worldwide homeopathic overdose that originally started with groups of skeptics throughout the UK — the 1023 Campaign — planning a protest (or a demonstration, in the literal sense of the word) in front of a high street pharmacy chain against their insistence on selling homeopathic products, despite repeated scientific analysis and practical demonstrations proving they are no better than the placebo effect.

I had arranged to attend the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub event due to take place near Radcliffe Camera, but — despite getting everything prepared last night, including programming my satnav for a carpark near the event — I forgot to set my alarm. I admit it: I am an idiot.

So I dropped an email apology to the organiser and prepared to ‘overdose’ at home… without the homeopathic protection of homeopathic medical services against this homeopathic act of homeopathic self harm. Homeopathically dangerous, I’m sure you’ll agree.

At precisely 10:23 this morning, I broke the seal and emptied the contents of my pre-purchased container of “30c Homeopathic potency of Sepia officinalis” — as it says in bold red lettering on the label — into my camera’s lens cap and then swallowed it all (minus the lens cap) in one sugary, children’s sweets-like gulp, washed down with a few mouthfuls of water. It’s now some time later and I’m feeling homeopathically ill, the world is homeopathically spinning around me, and I think I may homeopathically pass out anytime soon. Or put another way: I’m typing this blog post while drinking a nice cup of tea, and considering making myself a late breakfast. I am, by all accounts, homeopathically dead.

And while I couldn’t quite work out how to take photos while in the process of swallowing the sugar pills, I did take some. Behold! The mighty power of the sugar pill!

Pics 1 & 2: Note the therapeutic indications line in the second image.

 

Pic 3: Every pillule emptied into my camera’s lens cap.

 

Pic 4: Oh look, it’s 10:23! We know what that time means…

 

Pic 5: All gone! Sweet sugary goodness… and utter pseudoscientific bollocks.

 

You only have my word to go on that I committed homeopathic harakiri today (although my cat witnessed it, I’m not sure she’d be suitable to give testimony), but in this article alone I have provided orders of magnitude more evidence of me swallowing these pills than exists for the efficacy of homeopathy. I did indeed swallow them all in one gulp, and it’s over 90 minutes since I did so and the world (or my world, at least) has not ended. And I paid £4.99 for the privilege.

If you think that homeopathy has helped someone you know, then neither of you understand the importance of the placebo effect. Please learn about it — it’s a very real effect with measurable positive results. Ultimately there is no direct harm in taking homeopathic products (as all 1023 campaigners have proven today), but there is harm in taking these products instead of seeking medical advice. Particularly if they have an ailment where earlier diagnosis can make the difference, or affect long-term health or even life. They may feel better taking these pills for a little while, but eventually even they’ll stop working as the problem gets worse and by then it may well be too late.

But I’m not trying to convince you of anything that’s not provable or measurable. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions — even if a thousand or more skeptics around the world ‘overdosing’ on homeopathic products isn’t enough to convince you (for some Twilight Zone reason). Perhaps pick up a book by an actual scientist and medical doctor, and examine what research they’ve done to research their conclusions. I’d highly recommend Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (Amazon or Amazon UK), as it’s very readable, full of information (including this topic), and it’s all supportable by evidence.

 

Update: Thanks to Antony, we have some video footage of the the Oxford event:

1023 Homeopathic Overdose – Oxford

Update 2: Courtesy of Science, Reason and Critical Thinking, we have some video footage of the Southampton event:

1023 Southampton

Update 3: Richard Saunders, Skeptic Zone ringleader, and Sydney skeptics have some footage of the event in Sydney, Australia:

ten23 Homeopathy Protest – Sydney 2010

Update 4: Courtesy of Kylie Sturgess, footage from my home town’s skeptical group, Perth Skeptics:

The 1023 Event with the Perth Skeptics

Update 5: And now the walls begin to fall. The New Zealand Council of Homeopaths has just admitted that… Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It! It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the homeopathy industry worldwide admit the same or begin circling the wagons. Either way, the truth is now public knowledge and we should see less of this:

Homeopathy: There’s nothing in it (Oxford)

January 25, 2010 Comments off

Many news outlets of the less credulous persuasion are talking about the upcoming national (UK) protest against the household name of Boots the chemists who happily sell homeopathic products even though they are aware there’s no proof they work.

As the Director of Professional Standards for Boots himself said:

There is certainly a consumer demand for these products. I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious. It is about consumer choice…

On one level I can understand the free market, capitalist ideal of “There’s a market for it and people are willing to buy, so what’s the problem?” The problem, of course, is that some people who are seriously ill will turn to expensive tap water instead of seeking actual medical advice or treatment.

‘Natural selection,’ you may cynically retort… but now imagine that person is your grandmother.

As the legendary Tim Minchin says in his excellent beat poem, Storm:

You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.

It’s as simple as that. Unless you’re some kind of conspiracy nut (“they are hiding the truth”), a deluded fool who thinks reading a few pseudo-scientific layman blogs qualifies you to know more than proven, peer-reviewed science (particularly meta-analyses of methodologically-reliable scientific studies), or think you have an open channel to some kind of supernatural force.

If you’re not familiar with the ‘theory’ of homeopathy, it consists of finding an agent that, when swallowed, generates symptoms that resemble the patient’s symptoms (e.g. food poisoning and Ipecac Syrup both induce nausea), dilute it to the point where there’s statistically no chance of a single molecule of the agent remaining, banging it a specified number of times to shake it up, and then believing that such super-dilution magnifies the healing properties, because it somehow remembers the life force (or something) of the original agent. Again, I refer to Storm:

Water has memory! And while its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite, it somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

Homeopathy is magical thinking based on poor science, logical flaws and unsupported assumptions. It’s water. I suspect the two main reasons that homeopathy is so popular is because its methodology sounds similar to the principle behind vaccination (a small amount of an antigen is given, allowing the body to generate antibodies) and because major, trusted retailers sell it alongside actual medical treatments.

And this last point is what the 1023 Campaign in the UK is addressing:

At 10:23am on January 30th, more than 300 homeopathy sceptics nationwide will be taking part in a mass homeopathic ‘overdose’.

The closest protest to me is taking place in Oxford, and is being run by Skeptics in the Pub (Oxford). If you’re nearby and interested in attending, please visit the event’s page:

Skeptics In The Pub: Oxford ‘mass overdose’

More importantly, please contact Rosie (on the above page) to let her know you’ll be attending. You’ll also need to bring along your own Boots brand 30C homeopathic remedy pills.

Let me make this perfectly clear: this is a peaceful, harmless protest against a company that has a business practice that some of us consider unethical or harmful, it is not against government or other authority. Leave your politics and Guy Fawkes masks at home.

Why 1023? How’s your middle/lower school science memory? Avogadro’s Constant! A fitting use for it, I think.

Update: It appears this campaign has gained some momentum, with various skeptical groups worldwide planning their own ‘homeopathic mass overdoses’ this coming Saturday. Check with your local skeptics group, the 1023 Campaign website, the #ten23 hashtag on Twitter, Facebook or forums such as the JREF for more information.