Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Why can’t American media be more like the British?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 16, 2009

Well, at least on this occasion I guess. Take a listen at what the anchor man says right after Ben Goldacre does his little great bit on the anti-vaccers in Britain. I wonder, what would Bill O’Reilly have said?

How to spot a hidden religious agenda

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 16, 2009

[Originally posted at: Sign Of The Times]

As a book reviews editor at New Scientist, I often come across so-called science books which after a few pages reveal themselves to be harbouring ulterior motives. I have learned to recognise clues that the author is pushing a religious agenda. As creationists in the US continue to lose court battles over attempts to have intelligent design taught as science in federally funded schools, their strategy has been forced to… well, evolve. That means ensuring that references to pseudoscientific concepts like ID are more heavily veiled. So I thought I’d share a few tips for spotting what may be religion in science’s clothing.

Red flag number one: the term “scientific materialism”. “Materialism” is most often used in contrast to something else – something non-material, or supernatural. Proponents of ID frequently lament the scientific claim that humans are the product of purely material forces. At the same time, they never define how non-material forces might work. I have yet to find a definition that characterises non-materialism by what it is, rather than by what it is not.

The invocation of Cartesian dualism – where the brain and mind are viewed as two distinct entities, one material and the other immaterial – is also a red flag. And if an author describes the mind, or any biological system for that matter, as “irreducibly complex”, let the alarm bells ring.

[Read the rest of this post at: Sign Of The Times]

A critical examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 16, 2009

[Originally posted at: Digital Bits Skeptic]

The Kalam Cosmological Argument was popularized by the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, and it has become the most widely discussed argument for God’s existence in contemporary philosophy[1]. These three points make up the Kalam:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

 

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.

On first glance we might object that the cause of the universe doesn’t have to be anything like a person. But Craig has thoroughly demolished this objection: If there were a mechanical, impersonal cause which created time, it must have existed eternally. But if it had existed eternally, it would have been creating universes from eternity past. This would lead to the conclusion that there were an infinite number of universes, which Craig argues is absurd (more on this later). Therefore, the cause of the universe must have been a free agent who could choose to create only one universe. I find that I agree: If Craig’s premises are true, then his conclusion that a personal being caused the universe makes sense[2].

“Everything that begins to exist has a cause”

The problem is that the premises of his argument are not true. His first premise, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause” collapses in light of our understanding of quantum mechanics. For example, scientists have found that particles of energy may come into existence, completely uncaused, in empty space[3]. Another exception to the Law of Cause and Effect is found in the decay of Carbon-14 atoms: After every interval of 5730 years, half of the Carbon-14 present in a given measurement will have decayed into Nitrogen-14. All of these carbon atoms are identical, yet they decay at different times. Why is this? If all the atoms are exactly the same, shouldn’t they decay at precisely the same time? Since they do not, most scientists have come to believe that atomic decay is spontaneous (and therefore uncaused)[4].

[Read the rest of this post at: Digital Bits Skeptic]

Evolution Witnessed by Scientists

Posted in Unreasonable Faith by Rodibidably on March 16, 2009

[Originally posted at: Unreasonable Faith]

Brothers! The evilution conspiracy continues, this time by GODLESS SCIENTISTS participating in a massive CONSPIRACY to claim evolution has been witnessed! The audacity! They are spitting in our Savior’s face! They are wrong, brethren and sisthren, for they DENY THE BIBLE and WORSHIP THE DEVIL! Praise be to JESUS’ holy name they’ll be burning in hell for all eternity!!!

Er, sorry. What I meant to say is scientists have witnessed evolution firsthand in a controlled study:

Observing the mechanisms of evolution in order to understand how a species adapts to another under different ecological conditions was the goal of researchers at the Laboratoire Écologie et Évolution…. They studied two bacteria — a predator and a prey — over 300 generations in a controlled environment.

For the first time, these scientists were able to demonstrate that the coevolutionary process is dependent on ecological conditions. Indeed, under certain conditions, the prey becomes resistant to the predator, which itself evolves so that it can attack this new prey. In addition, the scientists issued a warning against the previously envisaged use of this predator (Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus) as a “living antibiotic” because, like other antibiotics, this could lead to the selection of resistant pathogenic bacteria.

It seems we find more evidence for evolution each day. Yet when have you ever heard of evidence for creationism being discovered even once?

[Originally posted at: Unreasonable Faith]

Hyperbaric Oxygen for Autism

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on March 16, 2009

A new study looks at the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in autism. The study is the first double-blind placebo controlled study of such therapy in autism and found a significant improvement in those children in the treatment group.

However, the treatment is very controversial and remains so, even after this study.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves placing patients in a chamber with pressure increased above atmospheric pressure with an enriched oxygen content.  It has many legitimate medical applications, such as treating certain kinds of infection, but also has become popular among some as an unscientific treatment. It is offered by practitioners and chambers are even sometimes purchased by private individuals for their own family’s use.

The problem, of course, is that some claims for hyperbaric oxygen go way past the evidence, or exist in the utter absence of evidence. This includes autism – there are no compelling studies showing any benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy in autism. The few studies that do exist are uncontrolled, which means they are mostly worthless.

This current study is at least a double-blind controlled trial. But it still has significant weaknesses. The primary weakness, in my opinion, is that the parents of the children being studied were allowed in the chamber with their children. The two groups in the study either received 24% oxygen in 1.3 atmospheres, or 21% oxygen in 1.03 atmospheres. It’s probable that many of the parents knew if they were getting increased pressure or not, and this therefore could have unblinded the study.

Tight blinding is critical for these type of studies because the assessment of the effect on the autistic children is highly subjective. For example, the assessment includes how much eye contact the children make.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “NEUROLOGICA”

Why we do what we do

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 16, 2009

What motivates us to be skeptics?

This is probably one of the most important entries I have ever posted, at least on a personal level.

Many times I am asked the following question: Why do you do this? Why do you waste your time with this skepticism stuff? Some people think it is a waste of time; some think it’s nothing more than a hobby; some people think I’m a pessimist; some think I am just a naysayer.

It is hard to explain to people why I do what I do. It really is hard to put in words. But then Evolved and Rational came to my rescue, making what had once been so hard for me to explain, very self evident by posting a video that goes to the heart of why I am a skeptic. Watching this video it became clear to me that I can boil the answer down to 2 words:  Knowledge and Hope!

Knowledge that this stuff can and does happen, that the potential for evil lies within us, human beings, and that potential is easily exploited by superstition and lack of critical thinking. And then there is Hope, the hope that the little we do over her can have some effect in deterring the corrupting power that ignorance wields, the hope that somehow my words can have an influence, any influence whatsoever, to avoid the pain and suffering that superstition, of any kind religious, supernatural, pseudoscientific, inflicts upon people.

***WARNING***-THE MATERIAL BELOW IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR TO BE ACCESSED WHEN CHILDREN ARE AROUND OR FOR THE WEAK OF HEART. PLEASE MAKE SURE TO BE IN A COMFORTABLE (PREFERABLY PRIVATE) SETTING WHEN ACCESING  THE VIDEO BELOW.

This is why I am a skeptic!

Win Ben Stein’s mind

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 16, 2009

I know this is a an older post, and by now most of you may have read it, but somehow I stumbled on it again today, and felt it was worth re-posting…

I’d never been a huge fan of Roger Ebert before I read this review, but honestly, this review is so well thought out, so scathing, so well written, so articulate, so damning of Expelled, that it made me respect Ebert’s ability with the English language in a way I had never before (having only seen him on TV as a kid reviewing movies).

[Originally posted at: Chicago Sun Times]

By: Roger Ebert

I’ve been accused of refusing to review Ben Stein’s documentary “Expelled,” a defense of Creationism, because of my belief in the theory of evolution. Here is my response.

Ben Stein, you hosted a TV show on which you gave away money. Imagine that I have created a special edition of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” just for you. Ben, you’ve answered all the earlier questions correctly, and now you’re up for the $1 million prize. It involves an explanation for the evolution of life on this planet. You have already exercised your option to throw away two of the wrong answers. Now you are faced with two choices: (A) Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, or (B) Intelligent Design.

Because this is a special edition of the program, you can use a Hotline to telephone every scientist on Earth who has an opinion on this question. You discover that 99.975 of them agree on the answer (A). A million bucks hangs in the balance. The clock is ticking. You could use the money. Which do you choose? You, a firm believer in the Constitution, are not intimidated and exercise your freedom of speech. You choose (B).

[Read the rest of this post at: Chicago Sun Times]

There’s a new power in America – atheism

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 16, 2009

[Originally posted at: Times Online]

The faithless are a growing force as the churches duck the challenges of the age

There is one thing that is not allowed in American national politics – and that is atheism. “In God We Trust” is on the currency; and the number of congressional members who avow no faith at all are about as plentiful as those who are openly gay (none in the Senate; five in the House).

Under the last president, religious faith – evangelical Christianity or Benedict-style Catholicism – was a prerequisite for real access to the inner circle. But the requirement is not just Republican. Among the more excruciating campaign events of last year was a faith summit for the Democrats in which candidates vied with one another to express the most piety. Barack Obama’s Christianity – educated, nuanced, social – is in many ways more striking than that of, say, Nixon, Truman or Eisenhower.

Americans are losing faith, though; and those who have it are moving out of established churches. The nonreligious are now the third biggest grouping in the US, after Catholics and Baptists, according to the just-released American Religious Identification Survey. The bulk of this shift occurred in the 1990s, when they jumped from 8% to 14% of the population – but they have consolidated in the past decade to 15%.

As elsewhere in the West, mainline Protestantism has had the biggest drop – from 19% to 13%. Despite heavy Latino immigration, the proportion of Catholics has drifted down since 1990, and their numbers have shifted dramatically from the northeast and the rust belt to the south and west. Take South Carolina, a state you might associate with hardcore Protestant evangelicalism. It certainly does exist there – but in that southern state, the percentage of Catholics has almost doubled since 1990 and the percentage of atheists has tripled.

[Read the rest of this post at: Times Online]

Why Evolution Is True: Book Reviews

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 16, 2009

It’s a good, well written review, but my main reason for posting this story is the unlikely source…

[Originally posted at: Christian Science Monitor]

Jerry A. Coyne is left utterly incredulous whenever he hears the term “theory of evolution.” As a point of fact, he suggests, the phrasing is an inaccurate and unfortunate pairing, though the word in question is not the one synonymous with pioneering British naturalist Charles Darwin.

In Why Evolution is True, his new book, the University of Chicago professor expresses sharp disdain for the modern portrayal of evolution as mere speculation and biological conjecture.
“The battle for evolution seems never-ending,” he writes. “And the battle is part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers to society.”

Nearly a century has passed since the “Scopes Monkey Trial” pitted celebrity attorneys Williams Jennings Bryant, a self-described Christian, against Clarence Darrow, an agnostic, in a Tennessee courtroom. Famously, they squared off over the legality of teaching evolution in a Bible Belt  public school.

Although the Scopes case ultimately helped establish evolution as a bedrock element of public science education in America, the clash between Darwinism and religious creationists rages on.

Coyne says the proponents of intelligent design often leave out a critical detail in their challenges to evolution: the ever-growing body of empirical evidence, which he insists is irrefutable, that moves evolution squarely from theory to scientific fact.

[Read the rest of this post at: Christian Science Monitor]