Miracle Baby Causes Atheist to Pray

The following news story seemed both politically and polemically relevant.

Gene Warner, “Women & Children’s Cares for Ontario ‘Miracle Baby’—Shortage at Hospital Where Ava Was Born Necessitated Journey,” Buffalo News, July 02, 2009


One-week-old Ava Isabella Stinson — all 2 pounds of her — has made quite a dramatic entrance into the world.

First her birth. Last Thursday, her parents, Natalie Paquette and Richard Stinson, rushed to a Hamilton, Ont., hospital, where she was born 20 minutes later — more than three months before her due date.
She weighed 2 pounds 4 ounces at birth.

Then came another complication that doctors couldn’t treat — there was no room at the inn for Ava in the Hamilton area.

Lack of any empty beds in a neonatal unit in Hamilton’s McMaster Children’s Hospital forced authorities to prepare to take Ava across the border to Women & Children’s Hospital in Buffalo.

But an intense storm that afternoon grounded the helicopter, so the McMaster neonatal transport team brought her here by ambulance…

“It happens all the time,” Ryan said [Dr. Rita M. Ryan, Women & Children’s chief of neonatology]. “They have a certain number of NICU beds [in Southern Ontario], and sometimes they run out”…

When there are no beds available at McMaster, hospital officials look for other neonatal beds in Ontario. If none can be found, they look to the United States…

Ava’s story, with all its cross-border twists and turns, also remains a human one.

Stinson said he has found only one way to explain the whirlwind of events in the last week.

“I was an atheist,” he said in a lengthy phone interview from his Hamilton home. “Now I’m considering going to church and being a believer. There’s got to be someone up there who’s saving our little daughter.”

On Tuesday morning, Stinson got up and prayed for little Ava. That day, he and Paquette learned their baby had been taken off the ventilator the day before.

“That’s enough for me to be a believer,” he said…

“She’s the smallest baby in the world,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
And he’ll never forget the first time he saw Ava.

“The first thing I did was cry. Then I cupped her head in my right hand. Her head was way too small for my hand. I was talking, and she reached up and touched my finger”…

The whole experience has changed Stinson, and not only in a religious way. He also has a different view of Americans.
“The American people have been so awesome, I’d like to go back there and vacation,” he said…

“I’m just going to tell her she’s a celebrity — and a miracle baby.”

Continue reading Miracle Baby Causes Atheist to Pray...


Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 5 of 6

Atheism is Dead now continues with “Some notes on Skepticism” authored by Rochus Boerner as part of the Scientific Cenobites series.

This segment will consider:
Accusations of Selective Reporting (the "File Drawer Effect")
Trying to End the Race when Their Side is Ahead
Theory overrides Evidence
Misapplying Occam's Razor
Dislike of the consequences
Refusal to see the totality of the evidence

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Accusations of Selective Reporting (the "File Drawer Effect")
One of the standard criticisms levered by pseudoskeptics against unconventional research that relies on statistics (primarily parapsychology) is that only successful experiments were reported and the unsuccessful ones were suppressed (by burring [sic] them in the "file drawer"). Unlike the previous criticisms, the file drawer criticism is valid in principle, but I mention it in this list anyway because pseudoskeptics obsess only about the (largely imaginary) file drawers of the parapsychologists while ignoring the large file drawers of suppressed conventional science.

To cite just a few examples of what has been buried in those file drawers: fundamental criticisms of relativity are a priori ineligible for publication in the mainstream scientific journals. That's why most physicists are not aware of experimental evidence that apparently refutes special relativity. Positive results on cold fusion are similarly banned from publication, as are papers that radically question the accepted time line of human evolution. Cremo and Thompson's Forbidden Archeology contains several hundred pages of archeological discoveries that have been left to be forgotten in that particular file drawer. Veteran astronomer Halton Arp, who has been made a persona non grata in astronomy due to his discovery that modern cosmology is catastrophically wrong, describes how most of his own papers ended up in the astronomical "file drawer" instead of the astronomical journals as follows (Arp, Seeing Red, 1998):

"In the beginning there was an unspoken covenant that observations were so important that they should be published and archived with only a minimum of interpretation at the end of the paper. Gradually this practice eroded as authors began making and reporting only observations which agreed with their starting premises. The next step was that these same authors, as referees, tried to force the conclusions to support their own and then finally, rejected the papers when they did not. As a result more and more important observational results are simply not being published at the journals in which one would habitually look for such results. The referees themselves, with the aid of compliant editors, have turned what was originally a helpful system into a chaotic and mostly unprincipled form of censorship."

[This was precisely the point made by Atheism is Dead in the post Atheism and "The Wedgie" Document which mentioned that the biologist Jonathan Wells is blacklisted from peer review journals even when he is writing strictly as a biologist and not as, you know; one of those people, a supporter of intelligent design]

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the file-drawer of medical and other profit-oriented research that has been suppressed due to economic conflicts of interest is at least as thick as the body of published research. The tobacco industry had suppressed evidence that smoking causes cancer for decades, and the chemical industry has likewise suppressed evidence of public-health risks caused by its products. Examples of manipulated drug trials in medicine are legion. On July 25, 2002, The Nation published a special report titled Big Pharma, Bad Science that gives the following devastating assessment of the quality of modern medical research:
"In June, the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most respected medical journals, made a startling announcement. The editors declared that they were dropping their policy stipulating that authors of review articles of medical studies could not have financial ties to drug companies whose medicines were being analyzed. The reason? The journal could no longer find enough independent experts. Drug company gifts and "consulting fees" are so pervasive that in any given field, you cannot find an expert who has not been paid off in some way by the industry. So the journal settled for a new standard: Their reviewers can have received no more than $10,000 from companies whose work they judge. Isn't that comforting? This announcement by the New England Journal of Medicine is just the tip of the iceberg of a scientific establishment that has been pervasively corrupted by conflicts of interest and bias, throwing doubt on almost all scientific claims made in the biomedical field."

"Unknown to many readers is the fact that the data being discussed was often collected and analyzed by the maker of the drug involved in the test. An independent 1996 study found that 98 percent of scientific papers based on research sponsored by corporations promoted the effectiveness of a company's drug. By comparison, 79 percent of independent studies found that a new drug was effective. This corruption reaches from the doctors prescribing a drug to government review boards to university research centers."

"Increasingly, the industry has converted academic research centers into subsidiaries of the companies. The billions of dollars of academic government funding essentially pays to flush out negative results, while private industry gets to profit from any successful result."

"And the results are expensive and sometimes tragic for the public. Experimental clinical drug trials are hazardous to participants and, more broadly, critical to those with life threatening conditions who need to know which treatments are fruitless to pursue. Yet researchers on industry payrolls end up pressured to suppress negative results. At the most basic level, researchers who defy their corporate sponsors know they may lose their funding."

Writer John Anthony West and geologist Robert M. Schoch have uncovered commanding geological evidence that the Egyptian Sphinx is thousands of years older than conventionally assumed, but their data has been, and is still being ignored by conventional Egyptology. When confronted with this research, Egyptologists have no explanation for it, but they insist that it cannot possibly be correct, because it contradicts their theories.

This site contains many more examples of suppressed and ignored discoveries spanning virtually the entire spectrum of human sciences. By the standards set by the pseudoskeptics themselves, therefore, almost all of science would have to be invalid. Pseudoskeptic Michael Shermer writes in "Baloney Detection" (Scientific American 11/2001, p. 36)
Watch out for a pattern of fringe thinking that consistently ignores or distorts data.

But "Consistently ignoring and distorting data" is pervasive in physics, astronomy, biology, medicine, psychology, archeology and paleoanthropology. The "file drawer effect", while not uncontrolled per se is therefore in practice an uncontrolled criticism. Due to the broken peer review system and massive conflicts of interest in commercial science, it applies to and invalidates much of accepted science.

Trying to End the Race when Their Side is Ahead:
In any scientific controversy, there will be confirming evidence from some scientists and disconfirming evidence from others. Otherwise, there would not be a controversy. Resolving such controversies takes many iterations of new and better experiments, publication and criticism. In a head-to-head race, the lead will change often. Sometimes, the confirming evidence will gain the upper hand, and then the disconfirming evidence is ahead again. Pseudoskeptics are always trying to end the race prematurely, when they're ahead, and declare victory. As an example, consider Randi's never-ending tirades against homeopathy. If you study his website, you will see that all he ever quotes is disconfirming medical studies, while the ones that confirm homeopathy are conveniently ignored.

Try it yourself. Use Google to search Randi's website for
Madeleine Ennis homeopathy
and see how many hits you get. One. And that one just mentions Ennis' name in the context of discussing a disconfirming study, and calls her a "pharmacist from Belfast." Relying solely on Randi's site, a reader would never know that the woman is a professor of Immunopharmacology at Queen's University, Belfast, and that she and others have produced a ground-breaking replication of Benveniste's seminal work on ultradilutions.

This kind of biased, selective reporting of evidence cannot be excused by ignorance. It is indicative of malice and constitutes intellectual fraud.

Theory overrides Evidence:
The pseudoskeptic holds a firm belief that certain phenomena are a priori impossible, regardless of the evidence. This belief is contrary to the scientific method were theory always yields to the primacy of observation. A theory that is contradicted by evidence must be modified or discarded, no matter how aesthetically pleasing or prestigious it is. If an observation is made that cannot be accounted for by any existing theory, then the observation must be carefully checked and double-checked for errors. If no errors are found, then the observation must enter into the canon of scientific fact, regardless of whether it is explained by theory.

Most pseudoskeptics operate on assumptions about science that are precisely contrary to this principle. Carroll makes a typical argument when he writes about homeopathy:
The known laws of physics and chemistry would have to be completely revamped if a tonic from which every molecule of the "active" ingredient were removed could be shown to nevertheless to be effective.

Indeed they would. This process is known as science, as opposed to the pseudoscientific dogmatizing of the fact-resistant pseudoskeptics.

In his August 6, 2004 What's New column, Robert L. Park delivers the following example of theory-over-evidence reasoning:


If it is, you may want to take cover, or seek professional help. In the August issue of Psychology Today, parapsychologist Dean Radin is quoted as claiming random number generators (RNGs) were uncharacteristically coherent in the hours just before the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and again before Madrid. Coincidences like that don’t just happen; "events with worldwide impact focus consciousness and that influences the functioning of machines." Radin heads the Global Consciousness Project, with 75 totally deluded researchers around the world monitoring RNGs to see if they predict terrorist attacks. Are RNGs the only machines that act up? What about elevators and missile launchers? This is scary. No, not the machines, the fact that there are that many researchers that haven’t got a clue about how things are, and people with money willing to fund them.

The argument is simple. Theologist Park just knows "how things are", and no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary can sway him. His argument consists solely of the application of ridicule and the ad-hominem, and is entirely devoid of scientific reasoning.

The pseudoskeptical principle of theory overrides evidence was spelled out explicitely [sic] in an article titled Natural Laws in the September/October 2000 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer. It concedes that "some [natural] laws are still 'under construction'-being debated by the scientific community". But then it confidently asserts:
Fortunately, in the macroscopic ('real') world, the subject of this article, physics has revealed to us definite rules by which nature always operates-rules for establishing what is physically possible and for eliminating the impossible. We have confidence in these laws because with all the observations and experiments that have been (and continue to be) performed, no exception to them has yet come to light; that is, they constitute the best explanation of the natural world available to us today.

This argument is breathtaking in its sheer ignorance and circularity. Mountains of anomalous evidence produced by 100 years of parapsychological and other kinds of heterodox research are ignored or rejected by the skeptic because these results "contradict the laws of nature", and because the laws of nature are assumed to be complete, and the completeness of the known laws of nature is in turn justified by the absence of evidence to the contrary! This thinking is so manifestly irrational, it can only be explained as the psychological condition of denial.

Misapplying Occam's Razor:
In science, the simplest explanation tends to be the best. Pseudoskeptics usually insist that this heuristic rule of thumb is an immutable law of nature! In addition, they usually confuse simplicity with familiarity, and explanation with rationalization. For example, given that for over 50 years, observers from all walks of life including university professors, airline pilots, military personnel, policemen, Senators and US presidents have witnessed unidentified flying objects with operational characteristics that far surpass current aircraft designs (such as ability to make right-angle turns at high velocities), that many of these unexplained sightings are backed up by radar observations, photographic, video or physical evidence, and given that UFO pseudoskeptics have to resort to far-fetched logical contortions, highly improbable coincidences and laughable ad-hoc hypotheses to explain away these observations (such as the idea that swamp gas can create the appearance of flying objects in the sky), one must conclude that the hypothesis that some UFOs represent real flying objects is the simplest explanation. The complicated ad-hoc "explanations" (really rationalizations) of the UFO pseudoskeptics cannot compete with the unified explanatory power of that simple hypothesis.

[the misunderstanding and misapplication of Occam's Razor is ubiquitous in atheist talking points and thus prompted Atheism is Dead to post Firmly By The Blade]

Dislike of the consequences:
Sometimes, pseudoskeptics will make the argument that a certain phenomenon cannot be actually occurring because the consequences would be too unsettling. For example, on CNN's Larry King Live, UFO Skeptic Philip Klass once responded to an argument that the alien abduction phenomenon is real by stating that "if these things were true, the social consequences would be intolerable"!

Park's argument quoted above is another example. He finds the research generated by the Global Consciousness Project wholly unpalatable because it scares him. The claim that the correct functioning of sensitive equipment that we entrust our lives to is subject to subtle mental effects is indeed frightening. But that does not refute the claim.

Refusal to see the totality of the evidence:
Any single case of an anomalous phenomenon, no matter how strong, can always be disposed of by claiming that the observer involved is a fraud, or was suffering from hallucination. But when there are hundreds, or thousands of similar cases, this explanation clearly becomes inadequate. There is a low, but nonzero probability that any single UFO sighting is fraudulent, but the combined probability that thousands and thousands of UFO sightings by credible, highly educated observers over five decades are all bogus is next to zero. There is a low, but nonzero probability that a single paranormal researcher might be a fraud, and reporting the results of fictional experiments, but the probability that there is a global conspiracy of scientists who spend whole lives counterfeiting research, which has been going on for over a century, is clearly next to zero.

The pseudoskeptic strictly refuses to appreciate the evidence as a whole. Every time she dismisses a case on the grounds that the evidence is not strong enough (because the probability of chance or fraud is technically nonzero), the pseudoskeptic forgets all about it and approaches the next, similar case as if there was no precedent. Or worse yet, the skeptic dismisses a new case solely on the ground that she has dismissed similar cases in the past! The pseudoskeptical case against cold fusion seems to rest almost entirely on this kind of attitude these days.

Allen Hynek wrote about this pseudoskeptical fallacy:
Probabilities, of course, can never prove a thing. When, however, in the course of UFO investigations one encounters many cases, each having a fairly high probability that "a genuinely new empirical observation" was involved, the probability that a new phenomenon was not observed becomes very small, and it gets smaller still as the number of cases increases. The chances, then, that something really new is involved are very great, and any gambler given such odds would not hesitate for a moment to place a large bet... Any one UFO case, if taken by itself without regard to the accumulated worldwide data [..] can almost always be dismissed by assuming that in that particular case a very unusual set of circumstances occurred, of low probability [...] But when cases of this sort accumulate in noticeable numbers, it no longer is scientifically correct to apply the reasoning one applies to a single isolated case."

F.C.S. Schiller remarked on the same subject:
"A mind unwilling to believe or even undesirous to be instructed, our weightiest evidence must ever fail to impress. It will insist on taking that evidence in bits and rejecting item by item. As all the facts come singly, anyone who dismisses them one by one is destroying the condition under which the conviction of a new truth could ever arise in the mind."

Continue reading Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 5 of 6...


God Is Not Probable In Sweden - Gud Finns Nog Inte

The Swedish Humanist
Association Gets on the Bus
The Swedish Humanist Association are the latest group of atheist who have such an overwhelming amount of money, and apparently do not know anyone in need, that they are purchasing ads.

The rise of atheism in America is being celebrated by atheists who have tremendous amounts of money and nothing better to do with it than purchase bus and billboards ads.
In the larger atheist population of the UK they are likewise rolling in the dough.
Now the latest astonishingly wealthy atheists of Sweden are following the lemming’s lead.

Their ads are to read “Gud finns nog inte” God is not probable or perhaps more literally God exist probably not.

The Swedish Humanist Association is desperate to make their plight heard as from a population of 9 million Swedes ONLY 7 million are atheists (or “do not claim to be religious” funny, most bible-thumping-evangelical-fundamentalist-born again-Christians would not claim to be religious).
Behind the advertisement we find the Swedish humanist society that seeks to promote humanism and debates about religion in politics and policy. In order to do that the advertisement comes with a questionnaire on the internet that will give you a verdict on your answers. Are you a full blown humanist, moderate or a believer in God’s law in society? During a time of worldwide recession atheists in the UK, USA and now in Sweden are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations not in order to help anyone in need but in order to purchase billboards and bus ads in attempts to demonstrated just how clever they think they are—need any more be said?

Continue reading God Is Not Probable In Sweden - Gud Finns Nog Inte...


Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 4 of 6

Atheism is Dead now continues with “Some notes on Skepticism” authored by Rochus Boerner as part of the Scientific Cenobites series.

This segment will consider:
Responding to Claims that were not made aka Demolishing Straw Men
Technically Correct Pseudo-Refutation
Making criticisms that apply equally to conventional and unconventional research
Demanding an Unreasonable Degree of Reproducibility
Profit Motive
Statistics can prove Anything!
Fraud cannot be ruled out!
In Medicine: It's Unsafe!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Responding to Claims that were not made aka Demolishing Straw Men
Benveniste (who showed that ultradilutions, i.e. homeopathic preparations not containing a single molecule of the original substance can still have a biological effect) was attacked by Nature editor John Maddox with the argument that dilutions of the kind used by Benveniste can simply not exist because they would require "1074 world oceans" (that is more water than contained in the entire universe) to manufacture. That is correct, if the definition of "dilution" requires that at least one molecule remain, but Benveniste (and generations of homeopaths) have readily conceded that very point! Everyone agrees that high homeopathic dilutions do not contain a single active molecule, so Maddox's argument is nothing but the ritual dissection of a straw man. He is not alone - "skeptical" discussions of homeopathy invariably spend a lot of time making this completely uncontested point.

Our favourite resource for invalid criticisms, the Skeptic's Dictionary, tries to downplay the important of the Gauquelin data by stressing that correlation does not imply causation. But astrologers do not claim causation! Both adherents and skeptics agree that astrology is a branch of magic, and as such is based on the principle of correspondences. This principles claims that nature exhibits meaningful, not necessarily causally mediated analogous behavior on all levels. The Gauquelin data shows correlation between the movements of the planets and certain aspects of human behavior; nothing more is claimed by astrology.

In a personal note published on James Randi's Website, Robert Park makes the following statement about the "Motionless Electromagnetic Generator", a claimed free energy device:
I've been following the MEG claim since Patent 6,362,718 was issued in the spring (What's New 4 Apr 02). The claim, of course, is preposterous. It is a clear violation of the conservation of energy.

But Park is only demolishing a straw man. The first law of thermodynamics states that the energy of a closed system is conserved. But the inventors of the MEG claim that their device takes energy from the zero-point field of the vacuum, thereby conserving the energy of the total system (which in this case would be the MEG and the surrounding vacuum). Whether it can actually do that is an open question. But the existence of the Casimir force proves that in principle such extraction of energy from the vacuum is possible (even though the potential energy gained from the Casimir force between two plates is negligible). Therefore, one cannot dismiss claims for free energy devices such as the MEG on a priori grounds of energy conservation. Since Park is a physicists, he could not possibly be unaware of this. By making this argument, he is therefore intentionally misrepresenting the claims of the MEG inventors. They do not claim to have found a way around the first law; they merely claim to have accessed a source of energy not previously accessible to human technology.
[Note: The author is aware of no legitimate scientific evidence that the MEG works as claimed. The purpose of this example is not to suggest that it is a legitimate "free energy" device, but simply to point out the invalid nature of some of the arguments against it.]

Technically Correct Pseudo-Refutation (credit for the term goes to Daniel Drasin):
Pseudoskeptics are fond of arguing that hundreds of respectable scientists believe that a certain idea is bunk, and therefore, it must be. When one points out to them that many scientific breakthroughs were ridiculed and dismissed by the scientific establishment of the time, they retort that not every idea that has been ridiculed or dismissed turned out to be correct. Correct, but completely irrelevant, because it responds to an argument that was not made. The argument was not that ridicule or dismissal by scientific experts is sufficient grounds for accepting an unorthodox claim, simply that it is insufficient grounds for rejecting it.

Robert T. Carroll, a Professor of Philosophy at the Sacramento City College no less, falls into this logical trap when he writes in his Skeptic's Dictionary about what he calls "selective thinking":
Let's begin with his version of the "they laughed at Galileo, so I must be right" fallacy, a non sequitur variation of selective thinking.

In his book Alternative Science, and on his web site under what he calls Skeptics who declared discoveries and inventions impossible, Milton lists a number of inventors and scientists who struggled to get their ideas accepted. Many were ridiculed along the way. But, like many others who commit this fallacy, Milton omits some important, relevant data. He does not mention that there are also a great number of inventors, scientists and thinkers who were laughed at and whose ideas have never been accepted. Many people accused of being crackpots turned out to be crackpots. Some did not. Thus, being ridiculed and rejected for one's ideas is not a sign that one is correct. It is not a sign of anything important about the idea which is being rejected. Thus, finding large numbers of skeptics who reject ideas as being "crackpot ideas" does not strengthen the likelihood of those ideas being correct. The number of skeptics who reject an idea is completely irrelevant to the truth of the idea. Ideas such as alien abduction, homeopathy, psychokinesis, orgone energy, ESP, free energy, spontaneous human combustion, and the rejection of evolution--all favored by Milton--are not supported in the least by the fact that these ideas are trashed by thousands of skeptics.

True, but irrelevant! Milton's argument shows precisely what it is supposed to show: that the skeptic's knee-jerk dismissal of unorthodox claimants as "pseudo-scientists", "fringe-scientists" and "crackpots" simply carries no evidentiary weight one way or another. In his skeptical zeal to convict Milton of blundering in the realm of logic, Carroll commits a much more elementary error than selective reasoning: he responds to an argument that is not being made. Milton's argument is not "they laughed at Galileo, therefore every unconventional claimant is right", it is merely "they laughed at Galileo, therefore unconventional claimants cannot be presumed wrong."
Carroll's attempt to hold Milton responsible for an argument not made is a variation of the popular pseudoskeptical technique of Demolishing a Straw Man.

Making criticisms that apply equally to conventional and unconventional research:
It should be obvious that a criticism is invalid if it applies just as well to established science as it applies to an unconventional claim (such a criticism is called uncontrolled). But pseudoskeptics get away with using this technique anyway. What follows are some common examples of uncontrolled and therefore invalid criticisms.

Demanding an Unreasonable Degree of Reproducibility:
Reproducibility means that a phenomenon can be demonstrated on demand, anywhere, at any time. Pseudoskeptics believe that an unconventional phenomenon can safely be considered nonexistent unless it is reproducible in this sense. But the same standard of evidence would invalidate much of accepted science. Discoveries in archeology are by their nature unique, non reproducible. Astronomy and geology are not reproducible in the strictest sense - astronomers cannot produce a supernova on demand, nor can geologists an earthquake. Even physics, the "hardest" of all sciences, is less and less reproducible in practice. Cutting-edge discoveries of high-energy physics, such as the discovery of the top quark are accepted by the physical community and then the public largely on faith, because no one else has the facilities to replicate them. The top quark is simply one of those discoveries whose experimental verification is beyond amateur science.

Similarly, the complete inability of ordinary humans to influence macroscopic systems with their minds alone, even in the slightest, strongly suggests that mind-matter interaction, if it exists, will be hard to demonstrate experimentally. A skeptic who rejects the conclusion of statistically sound meta-analysis of decades of mind-matter experiments because she feels that the phenomenon should be proven directly, by producing a person who can consistently, say, levitate objects, should similarly reject the discovery of the top quark until such time as a demonstration kit be made available that allows any physics high school teacher to produce said particle on the kitchen top. Either demand is unreasonable and denies the difficult nature of the subject matter.

Profit Motive:
Pseudoskeptics try to invalidate unconventional claims by pointing out that the claimants derive financial support from their research (through books, newsletters or speaking engagements), blithely ignoring that conventional scientists derive their livelihood from their work as well. If a cold fusion researcher who is trying to commercialize his discoveries is a priori suspect, should not by the same token the hot fusion physicist's 1989 dismissal of the cold fusion discovery be viewed with extreme suspicion, since their very livelihood depends on the continued flow of billions of federal research dollars into their field, a field that has produced no tangible results, despite 50 years of research?

To mention an anecdotal example, I have personally observed skeptics of the claim of adverse biological effects from microwave radiation produced by cellular devices having the gall to argue that critics of cellular technology cannot possibly be taken seriously because they make money from publishing their criticisms, while the same skeptics do not find fault with studies funded and written by the multi-billion-dollar cellular industry!
[Atheism is Dead noted that the scientist, biologist, zoologist Richard Dawkins quested the funding for The Atlas of Creation, a book which he did an utterly pathetic job of pseudo-critiquing]

Statistics can prove Anything!
Such is essentially the argument that the spokesman of the American Physical Society, Robert L. Park, makes against psychokinetic research in his book Voodoo Science (p. 199). In the context of a discussion of an obviously pseudoscientific Good Morning America report on anomalous phenomena (debunkery by association: as if TV shows were the principal outlet for reporting the results of psi research!), Park writes
Why, you may wonder, all this business of random machines? Jahn has studied random number generators, water fountains in which the subject tries to urge drops to greater heights, all sorts of machines. But it is not clear that any of these machines are truly random. Indeed, it is generally believed that there are no truly random machines. It may be, therefore, that the lack of randomness only begins to show up after many trials.
Besides, if the mind can influence inanimate objects, why not simply measure the static force the mind can exert? Modern ultramicrobalances can routinely measure a force of much less than a billionth of an ounce. Why not just use your psychokinetic powers to deflect a microbalance? It's sensitive, simple, even quantitative, with no need for any dubious statistical analysis.

There are many things wrong with this statement, and I refer the reader to my review of Park's book for details. For the purpose of this argument, I am interested in Park's assessment that effects that are only indirectly detected, by statistical analysis, are suspect. Where does that leave conventional science? Deprived of one of its most powerful tools of analysis. The cherished 1992 COBE discovery of minute fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation would have to be thrown out, since it was entirely statistical in nature, and therefore by Park's argument, 'dubious'. The most celebrated discoveries of particle physics, such as the 1995 discovery of the top quark, or the results of neutrino detection experiments, or the synthesis of superheavy, extremely short-lived elements, would have to be thrown out, since they, too, are indirect and statistical in nature. Modern medicine would have to be invalidated as well because it relies on statistical analysis (of double-blind trials) to prove the efficacy of drugs.

For comparison: the American Institute of Physics's Bulletin of Physics News, #216, March 3, 1995 gives the odds against chance for the top quark discovery as a million to one. A 1987 meta-analysis performed by Dean Radin and Roger Nelson of RNG (random number generator) experiments between 1959 and 1987, on the other hand, shows the existence of an anomalous deviation from chance with odds against chance exceeding one trillion to one (see Radin, The Conscious Universe, p. 140).

Park's argument is the quintessential uncontrolled criticism: accepted scientific methods that constitute the backbone of modern science suddenly become questionable when they are used on phenomena that don't fit his ideological predilections.

Fraud cannot be ruled out!
The pseudoskeptical argument of last resort. If a body of research supporting an unconventional claim is airtight, the pseudoskeptic will argue that since the conclusion contradicts established theories of nature (she will call them "facts"), and all other alternative explanations have been exhausted, the results must therefore be due to fraud. Of course, such an argument from theory turns the scientific method on its head (unless the skeptic can prove that fraud has actually been committed), but what is more important, the same argument can be made for any research. Indeed, when funding or scientific prestige are at stake, results are frequently faked in the conventional sciences, probably much more frequently than in, say, parapsychology where skeptical scrutiny is intense.

In Medicine: It's Unsafe!
A favorite argument of the professional "quackbusters" like Stephen Barret is that an alternative procedure is unsafe. On the Acupuncture page of his site, Barret states that
Improperly performed acupuncture can cause fainting, local hematoma (due to bleeding from a punctured blood vessel), pneumothorax (punctured lung), convulsions, local infections, hepatitis B (from unsterile needles), bacterial endocarditis, contact dermatitis, and nerve damage,

missing the mark of controlled criticism by a wide margin. Why not similarly list the dangers of improperly performed surgery and then denounce the whole field as quackery?

Continue reading Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 4 of 6...


James Randi - the Amazing Atheist, part 2 of 2

Let us continue our observation of James Randi devolving from rational skeptic to emotive besmircher.

Part 1, Part 2

Next we note the manner in which James Randi addresses the Christian God.

This is a God also that requires to constantly be praised, constantly praised like a petulant child. He wants to constantly be praised, and bowed to, and kneeled to, this sort of thing and, and be feared. Greatly feared because, look what he can do, he can do anything!
According to what I’ve been told about this, this particular deity. I’m talking about the Christian God now. This is a petulant child. Wanting constantly to be catered to, worshipped, kneeled down to all the time. I don’t like this God at all.

Even if James Randi felt that he had to critique the Biblical concept of God his words and tone betray more raw and irrational emotion than they demonstrate the rationale of an honest skeptic and researcher. Secondly, his statements are peppered with criticisms based on an anti-supernatural bias.

Christians should keep in mind something that may happen when the general topic of God’s existence is being discussed. If the atheist begins to besmirch the Bible and the character of the God it presents the Christian can point out that even if the Bible is not the word of God and is utterly unreliable in every way, this would not mean that God does not exist—it would only mean that one particular theology is inaccurate.

Let us note something that Jason Gastrich touched upon which is that praising, catering to, worshiping and kneeling down to God is not simply a one sided act done to a needy God who is in need of an ego boost. Human beings tend to seek something higher than themselves to look up to, to praise, to cater, to worship and to kneel to. This generally comes in the form of a deity or in some impersonal higher plain or spirit within or in the case of atheism; nature worship. In the case of atheism it may also be philosophers, professors, scientists or simply whom they behold in their mirrors. If God exists praise and worship is rightly offered to Him. If humans are going to praise and worship they ought to offer it to the proper object. Moreover, exactly what is wrong if a side effect of praise and worship is human fulfillment? After all, Richard Dawkins claims the same, and more, of atheism.

Now I will offer the confessions of an introvert as a metaphor for understanding whether or not God is a needy petulant child or even that He created humanity because He was lonely and lacked something. I am an introvert; in my youth I thought that I could get girls to like me not by talking to them but by withdrawing and looking lonely. As it turned out they would think it looks like he wants to be alone. But when I got older I realized that, as an introvert, I did not “need” friends. That is to say that I never chose my friends based on who was there for me when I need them. This is because as a pretty extreme introvert I did not “need” them. If I had a problem I dealt with it by myself. I chose my friends on the simple basis of whom I enjoyed being with, they were not truly required so serve any need.
I understand that some would claim that my apparent “need” for enjoyable people demonstrates that something was lacking in me and that I did require companionship. Well, maybe you do not know what being an extreme introvert is like. Then again, there may very well be some validity to that criticism after all, I am a mere mortal and do enjoy the friendship of various personages.
However, I think that it is problematic to take God’s anthropomorphic descriptions of His own “emotions” and make a one to one analogy to our own emotions. For one, our emotions are affected by many things to which the God of the Bible is not subject such as: misunderstandings, chemical imbalances, the influence of pharmaceuticals, prejudices, depression, etc., etc.
Moreover, the God of the Bible is a triune being, a Trinity, and thus has never, ever, for all of eternity lacked relationship (this was detailed in this post).

Now, we will point out what is perhaps the epitome of James Randi’s abandonment of rationale for full-fledged emotionally charged outbursts:

I know that they’ll also say they’re gonna pray for me, this is the most condescending, patronizing thing that I hear anybody say and I get very angry when I hear it. So please don’t tell me you’re going to pray for me….
I’m getting really tired about this, ah, this, this patronizing thing ah, and I’m, I’m, growing more and more impatient with it all the time. People are going to pray for me and to bless me

Let us momentarily grant that Christians are as ignorant, diluted, superstitious and irrational as James Randi thinks that they are. Is he really incapable of understanding that what people are saying to him in stating, “I’m going to pray for you”? He could take it to mean I give you my best, or I wish you the best, or good luck, or I’ll be thinking about you, or I love you so much that I want things to go well for you, etc. He could take it to mean any number of well meaning sentiments but he chooses to be “very angry” about people wishing him well. What more is there to be said?

At one point in the interview Jason Gastrich told James Randi about a time in his life when he was suffering serious problems with his vision. Jason Gastrich expressed that he prayed to God about the situation and that his vision was restored. James Randi asked just how restored vision could be attributed to answered prayer. He stated that perhaps it was changing peanut butter brands that cause the restoration of his vision.

Atheists disregard supernatural stories that have some validity to them and simply tell naturalistic stories that have no validity to them. Notice that while we may not be able to prove that his vision was restored due to an answered prayer all that James Randi can offer is virtually an infinite number of possible reasons for the restoration. Perhaps it was new peanut butter, or 2½ glasses of water per day, or the alignments of the planets, or pineapple and anchovies on the same pizza, etc. In other words, while on the surface James Randi’s response may seem validly skeptical we note two further points.

Apparently, someone could tell James Randi that their cancer was brought to remission due to chemotherapy and he would ask them if they had recently changed peanut butter brands. Doctors could conduct experiments that sought to ascertain whether chemotherapy caused the cancer to remit or not. But could they prove that it was not the peanut butter, or chemotherapy plus peanut butter, or chemotherapy plus patchouli incense? Another favorite pseudo-skeptical response to spontaneous healing is claiming psychosomaticism. This response may or may not be valid, although it surely is a convenient evidence-less answer.

Again, we may not be able to prove miraculous healing by answered prayer. But we have gotten a window into the mind of a person who has a strong faith based belief in materialism. C. S. Lewis, a former atheist, offered the following response to David Hume’s arguments against miracles:
Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false.
And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.[1]

The atheist presupposes that no miracles occur and so no claim of a miracle can be valid. The Christian can take a more liberal view in believing that while some claimed miracles are hoaxes or misunderstandings, some are valid. Ultimately, atheists commit this same logical fallacy when dealing with the issue of God’s existence. Since God does not exist there can be no evidence of God’s existence and since God’s existence has not been evidenced then God does not exist. No one has had an experience with God because God does not exist and since we know that God does not exist we simply dismiss all claims to experiences with God as illusionary, mistaken, hoax, etc.

Incidentally, if someone’s vision problems were healed by a miracle from God they could really care less than an atheist is unsatisfied with the lack of evidence—they are just busy praising God for the healing.

For years James Randi has put forth a front of unbiased interest in evidence, reason and experimentation. Yet, we find that mere minutes into a discussion with a Christian, the veneer falls away and the emotionally driven prejudice is fully exposed.

Let us pray for him.

[1] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1947), p. 123

Continue reading James Randi - the Amazing Atheist, part 2 of 2...


Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 3 of 6

Atheism is Dead now continues with “Some notes on Skepticism” authored by Rochus Boerner as part of the Scientific Cenobites series.

This segment will concludes the section:
Double Standards of Acceptable Proof and Ad-Hoc Hypotheses

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Skeptic has published an article on this subject titled The Aids Heresies - A Case Study in Skepticism Taken Too Far (vol. 3, no. 2, 1995) by Steven B. Harris, M.D. that seeks to affirm the correctness of the conventional viewpoint and, in typical pseudoskeptical fashion, ignores at least one key argument of the AIDS critics. That is the argument that HIV tests are completely invalid. The Perth Group had already made that case in 1993 in a paper published in Bio/Technology (Vol.11 June 1993). Their claims were reported in a headline story on June 1, 1993 in the Sunday Times of London. Yet, over one year later, Dr. Harris does not even mention this critical component in the skeptical case against the conventional theory of HIV/AIDS in his article. Instead, he misleads his readers into believing that AIDS skeptics recognize the validity of HIV tests in the first place by stating that "critics of the HIV/AIDS hypothesis have had to struggle to keep up with sensitivity increases in HIV testing".

To discuss an example in physics: University of Michigan physicist Gordon Kane writes about the Higgs Boson on the Scientific American Web site under the heading "ask the experts"

There are currently two pieces of evidence that a Higgs boson does exist. The first is indirect. According to quantum field theory, all particles spend a little time as combinations of all other particles, including the Higgs boson. This changes their properties a little in ways that we know how to calculate and that have been well verified. Studies of the effect the Higgs boson has on other particles reveal that experiment and theory are consistent only if the Higgs boson exists and is lighter than around 170 giga electron volts (GeV), or about 180 proton masses. Because this is an indirect result, it is not rigorous proof. More concrete evidence of the Higgs came from an experiment conducted at the European laboratory for particle physics (CERN) using the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider in its final days of operation. That research revealed a possible direct signal of a Higgs boson with mass of about 115 GeV and all the expected properties. Together these make a very convincing—although not yet definitive—case that the Higgs boson does indeed exist

A researcher making that kind of case for an unconventional phenomenon would be laughed out of town. A single sighting, so the skeptics would say, is anecdotal evidence and proves nothing. And that a theory requires it merely means that the scientists saw what they wanted to see. But particle physics is conventional science, hence different (i.e. much less stringent) standards of proof apply. Results are accepted, even said to be "convincing", based on relatively weak and purely indirect evidence, and because a handful of experts vouch for their accuracy.

Another example of established science that should not be so established is the neutrino. Neutrinos are ghostlike particles that were introduced by Pauli as an ad-hoc hypothesis to save the relativistic law of energy conservation (which fails to correctly describe radioactive beta decay otherwise). Neutrinos can not be detected directly, and require giant detectors for indirect (statistical) detection. Decades of neutrino detection experiments have failed to detect the correct number of solar neutrinos. To account for the discrepancy, physicists have come up with the idea of neutrino oscillations. In other words, the neutrino meets several of Langmuir's criteria of pathological science: the maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, the effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability or, many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results and criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses. Maybe there is no neutrino, and the relativistic law of energy conservation is simply wrong? Autodynamics is a proposed theoretical alternative to relativity that correctly describes beta decay without a neutrino, but you won't find it mentioned in physics journals or the pseudoskeptical literature.

So pseudoskeptics often fail to apply their skepticism to conventional wisdom. But worse yet, when confronted with evidence of unusual phenomena, pseudoskepticism itself will take refuge to outrageously arbitrary ad hoc hypotheses: swamp gas, duck butts and temperature inversions can create the appearance of flying vehicles in the sky, pranksters are able to produce elaborate geometrical designs in crops within seconds, in complete darkness, and without leaving footprints (but somehow changing the microscopic structure of the crops in a manner consistent with microwave heating), and shadows can conspire to make a mesa on Mars look like a face, an illusion that persists under different viewing angles and lighting conditions.

Critics of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (such as self-appointed "quackwatcher" Stephen Barrett) habitually employ this double standard. They will piously denounce alternative medical procedures for exceedinly [sic] rare adverse reactions, but ignore the fact that properly described conventional drugs kill over 100,000 in the US alone each year (Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN: "Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients." JAMA 1998;279:1200). They will condescendingly point to a lack of proper (i.e. double-blind) scientific studies supporting certain alternative procedures, and simultaneously ignore the fact that many conventional surgical procedures and drug protocols are equally unproven by the same standard. Worse yet, they will hold alternative medicine responsible for every case of malpractice that has ever been committed in its name, but they would not dream of applying the same standard to conventional medical practice.

The Friday, May 14, 2004 edition of Robert Park's What's New Column contains the following gem:
"Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM) is a new international journal that seeks to encourage rigorous research in this new, yet ancient world of complementary and alternative medicine...particularly traditional Asian healing systems." So begins an Oxford University Press announcement http://www.oup.co.uk/jnls/list/ecam/. All eCAM papers are available online at no cost and without subscription. Unlike other open-access journals there are no author submission fees.
Who pays, skeptics might ask? The "generous support of Ishikawa Natural Medicinal Products Research Center, co-owner of the journal with OUP." Yes, it’s the ancient-wisdom scam. (..) Other industries might be equally generous. Perhaps the Journal of Gambling Studies, which deals with gambling addiction, could cut a deal with the slot-machine industry. And perhaps Join Together Online, which opposes gun violence, could team up with the National Rifle Association. On the other hand, maybe not.

Park's double standard with respect to medical ethics boggles the mind. Corruption and violation of scientific ethics is endemic in the maintream medical system. Drug companies are permitted to write their own studies or to pay allegedly independent researchers to produce results, and to suppress results that are not favourable to their products. Medical journals receive significant funding from the pharmaceutical industry through advertising. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published on August 9, 2004, Marcia Angell, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, made the following statement:
Research is biased in favor of the drugs and drug makers. The pharmaceutical industry spends a great deal to influence people in academic medicine and professional societies. It does a super job of making sure [that] nearly every important person they can find in academic medicine [who] is involved in any way with drugs is hired as a consultant, as a speaker, is placed on an advisory board -- and is paid generous amounts of money. Conflicts of interest are rampant. When the New England Journal of Medicine published a study of antidepressants, we didn't have room to print all the authors' conflict-of- interest disclosures. We had to refer people to the website. I wrote an editorial for the journal, titled "Is Academic Medicine for Sale?" Someone wrote a letter to the editor that answered the question, "No. The current owner is very happy with it." That sums up the situation nicely.

Dr. Park has evidently heard of Dr. Angell, because he mentions her as a skeptic of CAM in his May 11, 2001 column. But when the same person makes public statements that confirm that conventional medicine is suffering from a large-scale epidemic of the very same disease that Park finds intolerable in the field of CAM, he shows no interest, at least not in his What's New column. If CAM studies are invalid because of financial conflicts of interests, should not the same ethical standard be applied to mainstream medicine? They should, but Dr. Park is apparently more interested in making a system of medicine he doesn't like look bad than in applying ethical standards even-handedly and dispassionately.
Marcello Truzzi, one of the original founders of CSICOP, deftly exposes the hypocrisy of pseudoskepticism when he writes
Those who leap to call parapsychology a pseudoscience might do well to look more closely at the social sciences in general. Those who laugh at the implausibility of a possible plesiosaur in Loch Ness should take a close look at the arguments and evidence put forward for the Big Bang or black holes. Those who think it unreasonable to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects might do well to look carefully at the arguments and evidence of those who promote current attempts at contacting extraterrestrial intelligence allegedly present in other solar systems. Those who complain about the unscientific status quo of psychic counselors should be willing to examine the scientific status of orthodox psychotherapy and make truly scientific comparisons.
Those who sneer at phony prophets in our midst might also do well to look at the prognosticators in economics and sociology who hold official positions as "scientific forecasters". Those who concern themselves about newspaper horoscopes and their influence might do well to look at what the "real" so-called helping professions are doing. The scientist who claims to be a skeptic, a zetetic, is willing to investigate empirically the claims of the American Medical Association as well as those of the faith healer; and, more important, he should be willing to compare the empirical results for both before defending one and condemning the other.

Cremo and Thompson, in Forbidden Archeology, p. 24, write under the heading "The Phenomenon of Suppression":
One prominent feature in the treatment of anomalous evidence is what we could call the double standard. All paleoanthropological evidence tends to be complex and uncertain. Practically any evidence in this field can be challenged, for if nothing else, one can always raise charges of fraud. What happens in practice is that evidence agreeing with a prevailing theory tends to be treated very leniently. Even if it has grave defects, these tend to be overlooked. In contrast, evidence that goes against an accepted theory tends to be subjected to intense critical scrutiny, and it is expected to meet a very high standard of proof.

Skeptics, both of the genuine and the pseudo variety, have elevated this double standard to a principle of science: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence! But this principle does not hold up to logical scrutiny, because a claim is only ordinary or extraordinary in relation to a theory. For the sake of making this point, let us assume a scenario in a hypothetical new science in which there are two pieces of evidence to be discovered, A and B, each equally credible, each one suggesting an obvious, but incorrect explanation (call them (1) and (2)). (1) and (2) are mutually incompatible, and a third, highly non obvious explanation (3) that accounts for both A and B is actually correct.

As chance would have it, one of the two pieces of evidence A,B will be discovered first. Let A be that piece of evidence, and further suppose that the scientists working in that hypothetical field all subscribe to the principle of the double standard. After the discovery of A, they will adopt explanation (1) as the accepted theory of their field. At a later time, when B is discovered, it will be dismissed because it contradicts (1), and because A and B are equally credible, but A is ordinary relative to (1) and B is extraordinary.

The end result is that our hypothetical science has failed to self-correct. The incorrect explanation (1) has been accepted, and the correct explanation (3) was never found, because B was rejected. I therefore submit that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is not suitable as a guiding principle for sound scientific research. All evidence, whether it supports accepted theories or not, should be given the same level of critical scrutiny.

Pseudoskeptics of course would argue that they simply do not have the resources to be skeptical about everything, so they have to concentrate on the obvious targets. But that doesn't get them off the hook. Pseudoskeptics apply the "extraordinary evidence" standard only selectively to controversial phenomena- namely, precisely when they fit their ideological preconceptions! When Doug Bower and David Chorley made the extraordinary claim that they had created all of the thousands of crop circles that had appeared in English fields between 1978 and 1991 (some of which had appeared on the same night in different regions of the country), there were no armies of skeptics loudly insisting that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Apparently, as long as the extraordinary claim is one that agrees with what the pseudoskeptics have "known" all along, it does not even require ordinary evidence. Bower and Chorley were never able to substantiate their claim, let alone prove it, but the "skeptical" community accepted it on faith - and without a trace of skepticism.

Continue reading Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 3 of 6...


EvilBible.com is Dead

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James Randi - the Amazing Atheist, part 1 of 2

It never ceases to amaze me how a person’s true personality comes out if they are simply given a few minutes to express themselves. I should say their true personalities comes out and does so complete with prejudices.

Part 1, Part 2

This is especially the case when two people who disagree have a discussion and are attempting civility. Some people can only sustain a fa├žade for a short amount of time so that by the end of the conversation their tone is harsh, accusatory, annoyed and perhaps even arrogant, sarcastic and insulting (this does not discredit their argument but is may be a window into their emotive motives).

This appeared to have been the case when Dr. Jason Gastrich interviewed James Randi.[i] James Randi aka The Amazing Randi is an atheist and pseudo-skeptic who is well known as a debunker of supernatural claims. He has been involved in various interesting investigations and experiments. For example, he once trained a young man to act, and speak, like a new age guru. He then had the young man give a series of lectures on new age spirituality where they sold power crystals. The young man soon came to be revered by many followers who came to seek his advice on spiritual matters and crystal power. Soon thereafter Randi exposed his own hoax/experiment and explained that the young man was doing nothing but acting a part. However, many people still sought the young man as a spiritual guide. They demonstrated that even when a sham is exposed by those who concocted it some people are so superstitious and desperate to be in touch with the paranormal/supernatural that they still held to a belief that had been disproved by the very person whom they sought as a guru.

James Randi has also exposed the frauds of various health-wealth-prosperity-faith-healers. One case was that of Peter Popoff who claimed receive divine revelation about people (such as knowledge of their illnesses). He would astonish the crowds by this miraculous knowledge. However, he was exposed as a charlatan because, as it turns out, before his appearances those in attendance would write down their prayer requests. Peter Popoff’s wife would collect them. Next she would direct him with whom to speak with in the crown via a small hearing device that he would wear. She would read from the prayer requests and he made it seem as if this intimate knowledge was coming from God.

In Jason Gastrich’s interview we meet two James Randis; one at the beginning of the interview and another at the end. The one at the beginning is reasonable, the intellectual, the fact finder, the open minded skeptic that merely requests evidence and who is willing to go where the evidence takes him. The one at the end is annoyed with Christian individuals, engages in petty complaints and expresses irrational emotional reactions to theology. Let us cite some examples.

James Randi sets up a straw man when he discusses a man who has convinced himself that he is the virgin Mary. James Randi states that the man may very well be the virgin Mary, but he doubts it. Jason Gastrich states that he doubts it also. To which James Randi replies that they doubt it for different reasons and states:
You already got it in the book, you see. You don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to reason it out. It’s already answered for you, it’s in the book.

In other words, since Jason Gastrich is a Christian he does not have to think because it is all in the Bible—which is misnomered the book. This is presumptive in various ways. One is that it assumes that Christians do not augment reason with what the Bible states and visa versa. It also touches upon a presumption that is a very common misconception in atheist circles. They seem to think that Christians learn what the Bible states at an early age, before they have had a chance to develop reasoning skills. From this early age they never dream of questioning any of it and never bother thinking about anything else. When any issue is raised they simply say, “The Bible says…” and that is the beginning and the end of it. This argument may indeed be indicative of some yet, it is far too generic and generalized to be of any real value particularly when you consider that the atheist proposing it likely rejected God as a child and has not developed their knowledge of theology or critical thinking (at least in that regard) since.

Moreover, Christians are known, or should be known, as people to constantly test and question the Bible. They research it and struggle with it just as the Bereans are praised for doing (Acts 17:11). Yet, the bottom line seems to be that if you found that a book on mathematics that stated 2+2=4 you may set that book aside and seek our own answers. However, you may discover that 2+2=4 and then come to realize that the answer was there in the book all along. We may then come to rely on this book for the answers. We may even constantly seek within and without the book and constantly find that the reasonable answer we found without was the same as that which we found within. This is what many Christians practice when they come to notice that that which makes sense in the realm of logic is the same that the Bible has stated all along. That the universe had a beginning and consists of time, space and matter and that the Earth is spherical and hangs on nothing or the First Law of Thermodynamics serve as examples of biblical statements that have been subsequently discovered.

It is interesting to note that both some atheists and some scientists put forth a front of being tenacious seekers of truth. They certainly are often just that. However, an interesting thing occurs with regards to the questions of how and why the Big Bang occurred and what caused it. You have never seen people so pleased to not have to consider, explain or even discuss an important and interesting philosophical, theological and cosmological issue (see Cosmology Part I, Part II).

Let us now point out a case of redirection. Jason Gastrich makes a statement and James Randi redirects the conversation by incorrectly restating Jason Gastrich’s comment. See if you can catch it:
James Randi: I want to live this time, now, and do the best I can ah, with, with what I’ve been given.

Jason Gastrich: …Christians too that are trying hard to change the world today. Trying to make advancements in science and, and—

James Randi: And why is that?

Jason Gastrich: For the love of people, for the love of God I suppose.

James Randi: Oh, “for the love of God,” yes. So we got the old fear thing again. If you don’t do this, boy, you’re gonna go to hell. And you know what hell is like? Ooh, that’s very hot, very nasty. It’s almost like Florida in the summer.

Notice that Jason Gastrich states that Christians do these things “for the love of God,” but James Randi states “the old fear thing again.” Jason Gastrich said love but since that did not play into James Randi’s preconceived prejudice, the atheist’s talking points, he redirects the comment. We thus move from Christians doing good because they love people and because they love God to Christians doing good because they are repressed by a vindictive, oppressive deity who has them deathly afraid of hell. Keep in mind that atheists complain about God allowing evil and then complain about what God does about evil.

Before we continue commenting on this issue we will point out another of James Randi’s comments:
Do something kind that, that doesn’t necessarily reflect on whether or not you’re gonna go to heaven and live forever in streets of gold and with a halo around your head.

Understand that another of atheism’s presumptive and misconceived straw men is to claim that Christians only do good deeds for fear of God, for fear of punishment, for fear of hell and not because they are good and decent people. Atheism is Dead has covered that in The Red Light of Punishment. Succinctly stated, there are two fallacies in one: the atheist presupposes to know that which they do not know—that they know other people’s thoughts and motivations—and mistakenly apply a works based salvation theology to Christianity which does not hold to such a theology.
In this specific case James Randi offers fallacious, non-Biblical, concept of damnation. Hell is not, as James Randi appears to claim, a place to where people are condemned for lack of good deeds. Hell is a place that was created for the devil and his angels and to which people choose to go when they choose to come before God having chosen to reject His offer of salvation.

[i] Dr. Jason Gastrich, The James Randi Interview—From Faith Healers to Psychics (Found at Sermonaudio)

Continue reading James Randi - the Amazing Atheist, part 1 of 2...


Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 2 of 6

Atheism is Dead now continues with “Some notes on Skepticism” authored by Rochus Boerner as part of the Scientific Cenobites series.

This segment will consider:
"Debate Closed" Mentality
Overreaching and Armchair Quarterbacking
Assuming False Scientific Authority
Double Standards of Acceptable Proof and Ad-Hoc Hypotheses

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

"Debate Closed" Mentality
Since Pseudoskeptics have by their nature made up their minds on any question long before the evidence is in, they are not interested in participating in what could become an involved, drawn-out debate. On the contrary, their concern is with preserving their own understanding of how nature works, so discordant evidence has to be disposed of as quickly as possible. When sound evidence to that end is unavailable, anything that sufficiently resembles it will suffice. Pseudoskeptics like to jump to conclusions quickly - when the conclusion is their own, preconceived one. Once the pseudoskeptical community has agreed on an "explanation" that is thought to debunk claim X, that explanation then becomes enshrined in pseudoskeptical lore and is repeated ad infinitum and ad nauseam in the pseudoskeptical literature. Subsequent rebuttals are ignored, as is new data that support claims X. Examples are legion.

- Gurwich's 1932 discovery of mitogenetic radiation is still derided by pseudoskeptics as a classical example of "pathological science" (Irving Langmuir, who coined the term, used it as an example), even though it has been vindicated by three decades of biophoton research.
- Pseudoskeptics continue their ridicule of Cold Fusion as a mistake, even use "cold fusion" as a metaphor to refer to what they deem pathological science in general, ignoring a full decade of successful replication of the effect.
- Parapsychology continues to be attacked by the hard-core pseudoskeptics with criticisms that were addressed and resolved long ago, leading Radin to remark that
(..) skeptics who continue to repeat the same old assertions that parapsychology is a pseudoscience, or that there are no repeatable experiments, are uninformed not only about the state of parapsychology, but also about the current state of skepticism!

Overreaching and Armchair Quarterbacking
Faced with contradictory or inconclusive evidence, the skeptic will only say that the claim has not been proved at this time, and give the claimant the benefit of the doubt. The pseudoskeptic will make the (incorrect) counter-claim that the original claim has been disproved by the evidence (and usually follow up with generous amounts of name-calling and other extra-scientific arguments discussed below).

This distinction between simply not accepting a claim and making a counter-claim is important because it shifts the burden of proof. The true skeptic does not have to prove anything, because she is simply unconvinced of the validity of an extraordinary claim. Pseudoskeptics, on the other hand, making the claim that the extraordinary phenomenon only appears to be extraordinary, and has a conventional explanation, have to bear a burden of proof of their own. Do they? The general answer is no. Most of the professional pseudoskeptics engage in mere 'armchair quarterbacking', conducting no research of their own. As far as parapsychology is concerned, Radin sums this situation up as follows:
The fact that most skeptics do not conduct counter studies to prove their claims is often ignored. For example, in 1983 the well-known skeptic Martin Gardner wrote:
How can the public know that for fifty years skeptical psychologists have been trying their best to replicate classic psi experiments, and with notable unsuccess [sic]? It is this fact more than any other that has led to parapsychology's perpetual stagnation. Positive evidence keeps coming in from a tiny group of enthusiasts, while negative evidence keeps coming in from a much larger group of skeptics.

As Honorton points out, "Gardner does not attempt to document this assertion, nor could he. It is pure fiction. Look for the skeptic's experiments and see what you find." In addition, there is no "larger group of skeptics." Perhaps ten or fifteen skeptics have accounted for the vast bulk of the published criticisms.

Assuming False Scientific Authority
Many high-profile pseudoskeptics pass judgement based on scientific expertise they don't have. James Randi, for example, shares the following tirade in a July 13, 2001 commentary on his web site:
Just so that you can see how pseudoscience and ignorance have taken over the Internet merchandising business, I suggest that you visit www.hydrateforlife.com and try to follow the totally false and misleading pitch that the vendors make for this product, magically-prepared "Penta" water that will "hydrate" your body miraculously. A grade-school education will equip you to recognize the falsity of this claim, but it's obvious that the purveyors are cashing in on ignorance and carelessness. Just read this as an example of pure techno-claptrap:
Normally, the water you drink is in large clusters of H20 [sic] molecules. That's because its [sic] been affected by air, heat, and modern civilization. PentaTM is water that, through physics, has been reduced to its purest state in nature — smaller clusters of H2O [sic] molecules. These smaller clusters move through your body more quickly than other water, penetrating your cell membranes more easily. This means PentaTM is absorbed into your system faster and more completely. When you drink PentaTM, you're drinking the essence of water. You get hydrated faster, more efficiently, and more completely than with any other water on earth.

Folks, water is water. It's burned hydrogen, no more, no less. The molecules of H2O — not "H2O" as these quacks write — do not "cluster," under any influence of the dreadful "air, heat, and modern civilization" that you're cautioned to fear. True, water exhibits surface tension, and the molecules do "line up" to an extent, though almost any foreign substance in there disturbs this effect — soap/detergent "wets" it readily. But water molecules in "clusters"? No way!
The illustrations you see here are totally wrong and fictitious. There's no such thing as "essence of water," by any stretch of scientific reasoning, or imagination. This is total, unmitigated nonsense, a pack of lies designed to swindle and cheat, to steal money, and to rob the consumer. And "through physics" has nothing to do with it. I await objections to the above statements. There will be none, because the sellers of "Penta" know they're lying, they do it purposefully, and they know they can get away with it because of the incredible inertia of the Federal agencies that should be protecting us against such deception and thievery. Those agencies just can't do the job, and they bumble about endlessly while the public continues to pay through the nose.
But notice: the Penta people, on their web page, beneath a family picture of the founders, clearly assert that: At first, [the Penta engineers] tested Penta on plants. They discovered that test seeds would germinate in half the time as the control seeds. Bingo! Hallelujah! We have the means for a test! A simple, inexpensive, clearly demonstrative, test! Such a demonstration would clearly establish the claim these folks are making. Ah, but will PentaTM apply for the million-dollar prize?
Dear reader, with your experience of Tice, DKL, Quadro, Josephson, Edward, and all the parade of others who have declined to be tested, I think that you expect, as I do, that PentaTM will apply as promptly as Sylvia Browne did. The PentaTM page advises us to "Penta-hydrate — be fluid." Translation: "Believe this — be stupid."

Randi could not be more wrong. Water is not simply "water- burned hydrogen, no more no less". It is a highly anomalous substance, and its fundamental properties are still the subject of basic research. Admittedly, the claims made for "Penta-Water" are scientifically extravagant. But can they be dismissed out of hand? Contrary to what Randi asserts with such rhetoric force and finality, water clusters are discussed in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The interested reader may want to visit Martin Chaplin's web site for an overview of scientific work on water clustering. Chaplin is not a stage magician, but a Professor of Applied Science at South Bank University, London and holds a degree in chemistry. He is also an active researcher in the field of water clustering, and concludes that
(..) there is a sufficient and broad evidential base for it's [sic] existence [the existence of the icosahedral water cluster], including the ability to explain all the 'anomalous' properties of water.

The existence of scientific evidence for water clusters does of course not imply that "Penta" and similar products have any merit, but it does caution against outright dismissal of these kinds of product. Randi's sweeping negative statements betray lack of knowledge on the subject and qualify him as a blundering pseudo-scientist. His petty, adolescent criticism of a simple typographic inaccuracy on the "Hydrate for Life" web site and his use of ridicule (he asserts that "Penta" is "magically-prepared" and works "miraculously" while the manufacturer simply states that the process is "proprietary") support that impression. And yet, Randi rhetorically assumes an air of scientific authority, even infallibility.

[see Atheism is Dead’s post on James Randi]

Pseudoskeptic Michael Shermer makes the following ignorant argument in "Baloney Detection" (Scientific American 11/2001, p. 36):
The biggest problem with the cold fusion debacle, for instance, was not that Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman were wrong. It was that they announced their spectacular discovery at a press conference before other laboratories verified it. Worse, when cold fusion was not replicated, they continued to cling to their claim. Outside verification is crucial to good science.

The argument against "science by press conference" is a good one, but it would be more credible if Shermer applied it to accepted science too. A prime example is Robert Gallo's announcement of the discovery of the "probable cause of AIDS" in a press conference in 1984 that preceeded [sic] publication of his research in Science and secured a political commitment to his alleged facts before critical scientific discussion could take place.

What makes Shermer's argument ignorant is his use of cold fusion as an example. Real scientists who have actually studied the evidence for cold fusion have come to very different conclusions. In February 2002, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center of the United State Navy in San Diego released a 310 page report titled Thermal and Nuclear Aspects of the Pd/D2O System that discusses the overwhelming experimental evidence that the cold fusion effect indeed exists. Dr. Frank E. Gordon, the head of the center's Navigation and Applied Sciences Department, writes in the foreword:
We do not know if Cold Fusion will be the answer to future energy needs, but we do know the existence of Cold Fusion phenomenon through repeated observations by scientists throughout the world. It is time that this phenomenon be investigated so that we can reap whatever benefits accrue from additional scientific understanding. It is time for government funding organizations to invest in this research.

Yet Shermer, a psychologist by trade, feels called upon to pass summary negative judgment on this field of research.

[for more on Michael Shermer see Atheism is Dead’s posts here and here]

Double Standards of Acceptable Proof and Ad-Hoc Hypotheses
The true skeptic will apply her skepticism equally to conventional and unconventional claims, and even to skepticism itself. In particular, the true skeptic recognizes an ad-hoc hypothesis regardless of the source. The pseudoskeptic, on the other hand, reserves her critical facilities for unconventional claims only.

William R. Corliss, the author of The Sourcebook Project (a comprehensive collection of anomalies and unexplained phenomena reported in scientific journals) gives a salient example of that kind of behavior in the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Vol. 16, 3 p. 446):
One would expect a lively interface between the Sourcebook Project and the several groups of skeptics, as typified by the Committee for the [Scientific] Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). After all, my catalogs do challenge those paradigms the skeptics defend so ferociously. Actually, there has been no traffic whatsoever. While mainstream Nature has reviewed five of my books, the skeptics have shown no interest in evaluating any of the Sourcebook publications. The skeptics, it seems, are never skeptical of established paradigms, only those observations that threaten to disestablish them.

The Skeptic's Dictionary, a leading pseudoskeptical online resource, gives us a great example of this selective blindness. Under the heading "ad hoc hypothesis", we find the following definition:
An ad hoc hypothesis is one created to explain away facts that seem to refute one's theory. Ad hoc hypotheses are common in paranormal research and in the work of pseudoscientists.

What Todd Caroll, the author of the Skeptic's Dictionary does not see fit to share with his readers is that some of the most celebrated "discoveries" of mainstream science are mere ad hoc hypotheses designed to cover the failure of theories to agree with observational evidence. Some of these ad hoc hypotheses, such as the hypothesis that almost all of the matter and energy of the universe exists in a form undetectable by the instruments of science, that there is a particle that causes mass (the Higgs Boson), and that people who fail to improve on AIDS drugs must be infected with a resistant mutation of HIV, are then taken as facts, with the strongest evidence for the existence being that accepted theory requires them! And yet, you will search skeptical publications in vain for truly skeptical discussion of these subjects (as opposed to ones that agree with the mainstream consensus). "The Mainstream Consensus Is Always Right" seems to be the motto.

The following is an anecdotal example of an ad-hoc theory in established science. In its June 2002 issue, Scientific American ran an article on AIDS that contained a chart titled "World AIDS Snapshot" (p. 41). Combining the absolute numbers of people who are HIV positive with population figures from the CIA world factbook, I found that in Australia/New Zealand, only one person in 1548 was HIV positive, while in North America (Mexico counts under Latin America, according to the UNAIDS website), 1 person in 329 was. Given that the predominant strain of HIV is the same in both regions (clade B), how can the rate of infection be almost 5 times higher in North America than in Australia/New Zealand? Sexual (mis)behavior in both regions is comparable, as evidenced by the fact that incidence rates for classical STDs are virtually identical (according to WHO figures for 1999):

I emailed Sciam staff writer Carol Ezzell and inquired what the cause of this discrepancy could be. I received the following reply:
Our statistics come from the UNAIDS (see the website at www.unaids.org). Australia/New Zealand has a 0.1 percent adult prevalence rate, whereas North America has a rate of 0.6 percent. Most of the cases of HIV infection in Australia/New Zealand occur in men who have sex with men. A key tipping point in the broadening of HIV infection occurs when the virus rages through IV drug abusers and then enters people (men and women) who have sex with those drug abusers. For whatever reason, this hasn't happened in A./N.Z.

Actually, the alleged broadening of HIV infection into a general epidemic that effects large numbers of heterosexuals has not happened anywhere in the developed world, even though it was widely predicted by experts in the 1980s. The claim that it somehow exists nonetheless, and, for some unknown reason, more so in North America than in Australia/New Zealand, is a perfect example of "a hypothesis created to explain away facts that seem to refute one's theory". Skepticism towards the prevailing view of "HIV/AIDS" seems to be called for, but you will find none in the pages of the Skeptical Inquirer and other "skeptical" publications.

Continue reading Scientific Cenobites - Some notes on Skepticism, part 2 of 6...