Saturday, August 30, 2008

What's The Harm?

If you haven't seen the site yet, check out What's The Harm. It lists thousands of stories about people who were harmed by stupid beliefs and quackery.

The developer of the site is also working on "Skeptical Software Tools." You can hear an interview with him on this week's episode of Skepticality.

One cool new feature of the site utilizes geolocation and Google maps to show where many of these events take place. Lots of witchcraft in Africa and lots of chiropracty in North America.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dick Dawkins Just Don't Get It

I recently watched the Channel 4 documentary "The Genius Of Charles Darwin" and I think it could have been retitled "Darwin Was A Genius But Dawkins Can't Get That Chip Off His Shoulder."

While I totally love Dawkins when he's talking science, unfortunately he can't say two sentences about evolution without telling us how stupid religion is. I wanted to see a documentary about how much of a genius Darwin was, and I would say about 70% of it presented just that. But a good portion was spent whining about the religious people who don't accept evolution.

The part where he really shows how he's out of touch with normal people (as opposed to the brilliant scientists he runs with) was in the third episode when he just couldn't understand why the high school science teachers were opposed to shaking up their student's religious beliefs. He just couldn't understand why these children would listen to lectures on evolution and not just understand it and reject their religion.

Would it hurt him to study that phenomenon...gasp...scientifically? Instead of gesticulating and convulsing over it?

He is presented with a group of children who for the last 15 years of their life have been presented with an acceptable (to a child) explanation of how the world came about. The closest and most trusted people in their lives assure them that it is the truth as handed down to them through generation after generation. At least once per week they go to church and hear it from another trusted authority that creation as presented in the bible is how the world was made. And somehow Dawkins doesn't understand why when presented with a strongly conflicting explanation by people who are NOT in their trusted circle of people, the children don't simply accept it as fact.

Why not instead of flailing helplessly doesn't Dawkins study this?

Anyway, I thought the second episode was the best. It touched a little on evolutionary psychology (hey, could that explain why the kids want to believe their parents?) which is a subject I'm interested in. The third episode presented an interesting look into what Darwin struggled with when he realized the implications of evolution.

All-in-all it is a good series. I leave you with Dick Dawkins, The Rap:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Changing Gears

I just couldn't get into Climbing Mount Improbable. I'll pick it up again later, though. Instead I started reading Jacob's Legacy a few days ago. Very interesting stuff! The author discusses his studies of Jewish genetics and things like tracing claims of Jewish priests back to a single common ancestor some 3000 years ago. Regardless of how much you believe their religion it is still interesting how things like this can be traced through the genes.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What Did/Do You Pray For?

If you no longer believe, what did you used to pray for?

If you believe, what do you currently pray for?

When I was a believer I usually kept my prayer simple, and prayed the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
If I strayed outside of that it was to help my previous marriage (scratch that one from the win column!) or for a healthy baby (1 spontaneous abortion and 1 very healthy and wonderful child, so 50% effective).

I never prayed for world peace or to feed the hungry. I can't say my prayers were extremely selfish but I have to admit that I DID only pray for MYSELF or my immediate family. Oh, those Selfish Genes!!!

I could have easily replaced the Serenity prayer with the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Both serve to calm the mind, one for alcoholics (or their children as is my case), the other for Bene Gesserit witches in Dune (AMAZING BOOK!). Each seems a bit Buddhist to me. Actually, it was Buddhism that I turned to after my divorce to help me deal with the fear and the stress.

So, does prayer work for you? I assume that if you don't believe in God anymore that prayer was one of the things that didn't work for you. My son prays every night for nice dreams, peaceful sleep, and for all his family and loved ones to be watched over. Even he noticed that even though he prays for sweet dreams he still has nightmares. And he hasn't made the connection yet but all the while he has prayed for his family to be watched over tragedy has hit multiple times.

While perusing the blog My Long Apostasy I came across a link to this study on prayer. I've heard reference to that study before as evidence that prayer is a load of hog wash. Basically, the people who were prayed for actually did WORSE than the people who weren't. They think that the people who knew they were being prayed for felt more stress than those who didn't...performance anxiety perhaps?

This brings me back to the Serenity prayer. It basically assumes that shit happens. Sometimes we can act in a way to make the shit stink less and sometimes we can't. Knowing when to act and when to just say "fuck it" helps to reduce your stress. It's no use worrying over what to do about something you have no control over. When the pilot dies in mid-flight and the plane is crashing just stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye. But if you know how to fly the plane then get up there and fly it.

So, does prayer work for you? Or is prayer simply a form of meditation to help clear your head and deal with life's uncertainties?

Update 8/19 - some current events that seem appropriate to add:
Do God and Prayer Trump Scientific Medicine?
Fay hits Florida; prayers answered
Group Thanks Lord for Lower Gas Prices

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jesus Even Died for our Environment!

GOP nutter Michele Bachmann says we don't need environmentalists saving the planet because Jesus already did that...

via TPM Election Central:
"[Pelosi] is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she's just trying to save the planet," Bachmann told the right-wing news site OneNewsNow. "We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet -- we didn't need Nancy Pelosi to do that."


Besides...he is said to have died for our SINS not for the air we breathe...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wetback Says "Gracias a Dios"

I just got through watching Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary and I found myself shouting at the TV because throughout the documentary the people kept talking about how they were "thankful to God" or if this was "God's will" then they were OK with it.

A guy with NO FUCKING LEGS because the train he was trying to jump on ran him over said something like "If this is God's will then I will just have to live with it." Um...hello! You have NO FUCKING LEGS!

Was it GOD'S WILL to put him in poverty so bad that he decided to risk his life to leave his country and travel thousands of miles to try to live the "AMERICAN DREAM"????

What's that? Oh, He works in mysterious ways! Yeah, that's it.

God's To-do List

Click to see full comic

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Abortion Jihad

Remember when terrorism in America meant an abortion clinic bombing, or an abortion clinic doctor being shot?

Back when these things were popular, in the 90's, I remember thinking we were headed toward an abortion jihad. A war between pro and anti abortion rights fighters. I envisioned abortion clinics being patrolled by Pro-Choice Paramilitary, waiting for an attack by the Pro-Life Liberation Army.

I wonder now how much the increased surveillance of American citizens produced by 9/11 resulted in a decrease in abortion clinic violence.

I've never been in the middle of something I felt so strongly about that I thought I needed to attack someone. But some of the people behind the violent anti-abortion movement feel just that way. Similarly, certain factions in the animal rights movement feel moved to violence or terrorism in an attempt to force their opposing view on others.

The Animal Liberation Front feels strongly about keeping animals from being tested on. So strongly that they have been implicated in violent acts. On the surface I don't see a difference between their tactics and the tactics of the anti-abortion crowd. The differences lie in the argument over whether the rights of animals are different than the rights of a human embryo or fetus.

-We either have the right to do with animals as we please or we don't.
-Animals experience pain and suffering in a way that is equivalent to or greater than the way we feel pain.
-There is a metaphysical existence that animals experience which makes experimenting on them morally reprehensible or there is not.

-We either have the right to end a developing embryo's life or we don't.
-Embryos experience pain and suffering in a way that is equivalent to or greater than the way we feel pain.
-There is a metaphysical existence that embryos experience which makes ending their life morally reprehensible or there is not.

I'm not ready to offer my thoughts on all of these items. I'm throwing them out there to see what responses they might generate. Without pushing my own opinions on you I'm curious to first hear what others thing about the points I list above. Which side of those issues they are on.