Lottery converts atheist to Catholicism!

By on November 22, 2011 | Discuss

Guess what!?  God finally presented evidence for His existence to an atheist!  I know, right–pretty amazing, huh?  Yeah, and apparently He decided that the best way to go about presenting evidence of His existence was to make some religious woman win the lottery!  Wow, what a truly novel and great way to show He cares about people!  This is certainly the kind of act through which the existence of an omnipotent Creator of the universe proves most convincing.   I’m sorry to keep you waiting.  All right, here’s Fox News–as always–with a fair and balanced report of the facts.

What I love about Sal is his high standard regarding what constitutes evidence.  We have a true skeptic here in Sal.

No we don’t, he’s a moron.

Fox has the hots for God and every credulous church-goer willing to tell their story.  Whether it be about how some little girl with cancer saw angels, or about a little deluded boy who saw Jesus, Fox News readily wallows in the trough of their muddy thinking.   This story is a little different in that nobody had any hallucinations, but instead had their faith confirmed by winning the lottery.  Yes, that’s right, the lottery.  I mean, who the hell has ever won the lottery? Continue reading…

Why do Catholics believe in evolution?

By on November 9, 2011 | Discuss

I first asked myself the above question when I attended a summer evolution institute at the University of California, Berkeley, titled “Think Evolution,” which consisted of a series of crash courses in current, frontier research in the field of evolution.  I received many amazing lectures from leading scientists in their field, and met some very interesting people who were in attendance.  One such person was a self-proclaimed Catholic and a biology teacher at a Catholic high school.  I asked her something along the lines of, “So, how is it teaching evolution to religious students?”  I remember her reply, “It’s fine, the Catholic Church is OK with evolution.”  I left the conversation at that, and we proceeded on with our tasks for the day.  However, I had held a question back in order to avoid offense; what I really wanted to ask her was this:  If the Catholic Church came out against evolution tomorrow, would you still accept it as fact?  Or, in other words, why do you believe in evolution?  Because it is fact, or because your religion permits you to?

I have become very interested in this question, but I find myself in a bind.  I am very concerned with what people believe, since beliefs are the basis of actions, and actions have real-world consequences.  But I am also very concerned with why people believe the things they do.  Catholics claim that their religion is compatible with evolution, although it must be noted that it is also compatible with its complete rejection.  And this is where it gets tricky; should we try to make Catholics justify their belief in evolution within the context of their religious beliefs, or should we avoid pressuring people who already believe in evolution into feeling the need to reconcile a dichotomy which may lead them to reject evolution in favor of their religious beliefs?  I don’t know the answer to this question, but I don’t think it can be formulated as a simple yes or no.  However, I will here demonstrate that the Catholic assumption asserting the compatibility between Catholicism and evolution is false, and then let you decide whether or not you wish to pursue this issue with individual Catholics. Continue reading…

Investigating Woo: Spring Forest Qigong “research”

By on October 29, 2011 | Discuss

This is a follow-up to my previous post investigating a study from the Mayo Clinic in collaboration with the University of Minnesota claiming that external qigong, a form of ancient Chinese medicine, is an effective treatment for chronic pain.  My critique apparently got on the nerves of at least one person, Drew Hempel, qigong enthusiast and woo extraordinaire, who offered his assurance regarding the validity of the study and its methodology.  Sadly, it’s not assurance that I am after—it’s evidence.  However, maybe I was wrong; maybe the study was academically rigorous and its conclusions actually sound.  After all, I am only an undergraduate (despite the fact that, in a recent blog post, Hempel incorrectly described me as a “university senior biologist”), and I admittedly only read the abstract.

Mr. Hempel has posted on internet blogs and forums statements such as the following:

Last fall there was a new study done by doctors from one of the top rated hospitals in the world — the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The study proved the existence and the efficacy of external qi (paranormal energy) healing transmission. . .  O.K. I want to emphasize the implications of this study. This is ground-breaking official proof of something that undermines the very foundation of science.

Such extraordinary claims require even more extraordinary evidence, and Hempel believes, along with many, many others, that this evidence exists in a study performed at the Spring Forest Qigong center in Minnesota, published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine.

After Hempel’s criticisms of my post and his request that I not “give up so easily” in my search for truth (I suggest Hempel do the same), I decided to check whether or not my university subscribed to the specific journal in order to obtain the full text of External Qigong for Chronic Pain (2010), the study that had supposedly demonstrated the efficacy of qigong.  Much to my surprise, they do, and I found it.  While reading the study, my initial criticisms based on the abstract alone became more and more cemented.  I am now–more than ever–convinced that the study is absolutely bunk from the top down.  The flaws are numerous, and I have included them below in point form, followed by a more in-depth criticism regarding the methodology behind each.

1.  Flawed sampling method.

2.  Lack of adequate controls.

3.  Subjectivity in data collection.

4.  Reliance on anecdotal evidence.

Continue reading…

Investigating Woo: Qigong

By on October 19, 2011 | Discuss

There is probably not a single phrase that is a more accurate  prelude to bullshit than “such-and-such is based on ancient Chinese wisdom.”  The idea that credibility is gained the older and more distant a practice becomes is nonsense.  It is similar to the common arguments one often hears when debating Christians:  “Well, people wouldn’t have believed in this for two-thousand years if it were false.”  For some reason there is an allure for practices surviving to modern times from a distant and tumultuous past.  A difficult notion for some people to accept is that modern man knows more than any primitive culture, and the allure should be reversed, favoring the advice of modern doctors or scientist over the scribblings of some ancient shaman from the Bronze Age.

This fascination with ancient teachings is interesting, and the direct proportionality of the age of an idea to the fervency with which it is believed is even more curious and nonsensical.  This is known as the logical fallacy of antiquity/tradition, or argumentum ad antiquitum: Because something is old, or has been done in the past, it should be valued.

I got to thinking about this while watching a Fox News story about some third-grade kid who espouses to have “healed his friend with Qigong,” an ancient Chinese practice.  See it for yourself.

Continue reading…

Why is religion considered philosophy?

By on October 7, 2011 | Discuss

I have always found it strange that people with a doctorate relating to religion get the designation Ph.D.  It’s the “Ph” that really gets me.  Why, I ask, is theology (with the exception of historical fields) considered a form of philosophy?  The way I understand it, philosophy is a way of critically thinking about some aspect of the universe.  Moral philosophy deals with explaining our moral impulses and creating coherent systems for real-world application.  Natural philosophy attempts to describe the natural world and come to logical conclusions about the state of nature.  And metaphysical philosophy attempts to construct and determine first principles that flow from the universal to the particular.  What do all of these philosophical systems have in common?  They all involve heavy discourse founded in an ultimate goal to describe the way things are, or aid in understanding.  They are built upon, changed, and are adjusted based on new facts and insights—their aim is to discover truth.  The same cannot be said of theology.

Theology represents stagnance.  Views and ideas are set down and are never changed (at least that’s the goal).  Theological systems claim that truth in its most pure form is already known through scriptures and supposedly “Holy” books.  Any new thought, any amount of mulling things over or adjustments are forbidden, since that would be seen as a desecration of what is already true and pure.  Truth is assumed a priori; no further investigations are deployed or are even seen to be needed.

Continue reading…

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