Archive for the “Metaphysics” Category

Aimless metaphysics of all sorts

The mass media once again dutifully follow and relay, as if it were true, the “alternative medicine” narrative, trumpeting how often people resort to alternative or “complementary” remedies (I guess this was a slow news day, huh?):

Many Americans turning to unconventional medicine

About four in 10 U.S. adults and one in nine children are turning to unconventional medical approaches for chronic pain and other health problems, health officials said on Wednesday. …

About 38 percent of adults used some form of complementary and alternative medicine in 2007, compared to 36 percent in 2002, the last time the government tracked at the matter.

For the first time, the survey looked at use of such medicine by children under age 18, finding that about 12 percent used it, officials said. The reasons included back pain, colds, anxiety, stress and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the survey.

Folks, this is not proof that alternative or complementary medicine works. Just because people do something, or believe something is true, does not grant it veracity. To believe this is known in Latin as argumentum ad populum, and in English by various names, such as appeal to popularity, bandwagon fallacy, argument by consensus, or authority of the many. Whatever name you give it, it’s wrong. Once upon a time most of humanity believed the earth was the center of a cosmos only a few thousand miles in diameter, with the sun, moon, etc. revolving around it. All of those people turned out to have been wrong.

In a similar way, that lots of Americans resort to questionable remedies, does not mean they actually work. It just means that lots of people think they work. Big difference.

The Reuters story continues:

Overall, the most common category of complementary and alternative medicine used was natural products such as herbal medicines and certain other types of dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals.

The problem with this is that, it turns out a lot of these herbal remedies don’t work! The more studies are done on them, the more we find out out how useless they are. Here are some stories showing how this is the case:

Echinacea unproven to have value as cold treatment

Ginkgo Biloba Does Not Reduce Dementia Risk, Study Shows

Saw Palmetto No Better Than Placebo For Enlarged Prostate

… and many more, all available by Googling “<herb name> effectiveness

In fact, I will have more to say about the effectiveness of dietary supplements in my next blog entry

Tags: , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Alternative Medicine Notes, Part 1

Religiosity has cost another life, this time that of an infant, as Fox News reports:

A young East Texas couple was arraigned Wednesday on capital murder charges accusing them of beating the woman’s 1-year-old daughter to get rid of “the demons.”

Authorities said that the child was also bitten more than 20 times.

Blaine Milam, 19, and Jessica Carson, 18, remained jailed Wednesday in lieu of a $2 million bond for each.

They were arrested Tuesday after Rusk County Sheriff’s deputies responding to a 911 call found 13-month-old Amora Bain Carson beaten. Investigators think the couple used a hammer to “beat the demons out” of Amora, Carson’s daughter.

It’s unfortunate this happened in Texas, because as I blogged back in June, that state has a “religious exemption” notion in its laws that permit people to harm others, so long as it’s done during a religious ceremony. The court in this case asked for a very high bond, however, this does not mean this case will not somehow “go away” once the hubbub dies down and the Texas authorities can cook up some excuse about how “religious freedom” must be preserved at all costs — even that of a baby’s life! — and after all, the haven’t the parents suffered enough already?

Let’s hear it for Texas, the Buckle of the Bobble Bayelt.

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on The Deadly Cost Of Religiosity

The new Visitors’ Center in the US Capitol just opened. Normally such occasions are when Congressmen congratulate each other over the completion of yet another massive boondoggle project and make long speeches about how great they are the country is. But Jim DeMint, Theocrat GOP Senator from Bibleland South Carolina, chose this grand occasion instead to whine and pout like a brat:

Delete Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) from the list of admirers of the new Capitol Visitor Center.

DeMint issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the new facility for “omitting the history of faith.” DeMint noted that the new tourist spot ignored his request to include the phrase “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Waah waah waah. Grow the hell up, Senator, and stop using your office to proselytize. Didn’t anyone tell you that it’s undignified for a US Senator to whine?

What DeMint and other theocrats do not understand — or else they understand, but choose to deny — is that the oft-said crap about the United States being “a Christian nation” is simply not true. And no amount of motto-izing or bellyaching over the Pledge of Allegiance can change that. The historical record is clear; continued denial by the forces of the Religious Right only make them look more juvenile than they already do.

Enough already.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Want Some Cheese With That Whine?

The widely-exalted Dalai Lama, considered one of the wisest people in the world, has come up with a solution to human ills. It’s a solution one might expect of him — given his personal history and vocation — but I’m not sure how realistic this advice is. If everyone followed the Dalai Lama’s advice, humanity would be doomed — not saved — because that advice is not to have sex:

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, on Friday said sex spelt fleeting satisfaction and trouble later, while chastity offered a better life and “more freedom.”

“Sexual pressure, sexual desire, actually I think is short period satisfaction and often, that leads to more complication,” the Dalai Lama told reporters in a Lagos hotel, speaking in English without a translator.

He said conjugal life caused “too much ups and downs.

“Naturally as a human being … some kind of desire for sex comes, but then you use human intelligence to make comprehension that those couples always full of trouble. And in some cases there is suicide, murder cases,” the Dalai Lama said.

He said the “consolation” in celibacy is that although “we miss something, but at the same time, compare whole life, it’s better, more independence, more freedom.”

Celibacy as a spiritual ideal is widely observed, and in more places than just in Tibetan Buddhism … many Greco-Roman mystics, such as the Pythagoreans, had ascetic and celibate lifestyles. Christianity itself adopted something of a celibacy ethic early in its history, as found in the New Testament:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it. (Matthew 19:12)

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 1:7)

However, becoming a eunuch or remaining celibate was never an expectation of all Christians, as Paul acknowledges later, himself:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)

So celibacy — while still viewed as a kind of ideal spiritual state — has never been a requirement, even in otherwise-furiously doctrinaire Christianity.

Yet the Dalai Lama never acknowledges this, and happily declares it to be a universal goal.

As I said, this is not unexpected, since the Dalai Lama was raised a monk from the age of 2 and knows no other life. For him, sex perhaps truly is optional. Aside from his travels and public-speaking, he was raised in, and remains in, isolation. Which only exemplifies how “out-of-touch” with reality he is — through no fault of his own.

As an aside, the manner in which he was selected for his exalted spiritual (and political) office is a curious and somewhat hilarious tale. After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama (Thubten Gyatso) in 1933, monks followed various omens throughout the land, in search of his successor. (The Dalai Lama at any given moment is believed to be the reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, who was the reincarnation of Chenresig, a bodhisattva or an “enlightened” soul who could ascend to Nirvana but chooses, out of compassion for others, to reincarnate and guide the unascended masses). These monks found a house in a village which matched one that a monk had seen in a vision; inside was a two-year-old Lhamo Thondup, who — upon seeing some of the most recent Dalai Lama’s things that the monks had brought with them — exclaimed “That’s mine!”

The rest, as they say, is history.

When I first heard this story, I found it difficult not to laugh. This is no way to select a nation’s sovereign (which the Dalai Lama was, prior to the PRC’s invasion and annexation of Tibet in the 1950s)! It reminds me far too much of this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Can you imagine a similar dialog being played out in Tibet? Instead of, “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government,” you’d have, “Little kids claiming ownership of trinkets is no basis for choosing the Fount of All Buddhist Wisdom!”) If by chance you’ve never seen it before, this movie scene is available on YouTube.

At any rate, if everyone followed the Dalai Lama’s advice, I suppose contention among human beings would end … because within a generation there would be no more human beings to contend with one another! It’s not a solution to a problem, any more than amputating a limb is the way to heal one if it breaks.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on The Answer To All The World’s Ills Is …

A little over a month ago I blogged about the UK Royal Society’s director of education, Michael Reiss, demanding creationism teaching in science classrooms. I wondered, then, what might have been going through the guy’s head. It turns out that in addition to his scientific degrees, Reiss is an Anglican priest — so my question was answered!

He resigned within a few days, claiming that he was misunderstood, and that he was talking about how to address creationism if a student brought it up in class. While he did discuss such a scenario in his remarks, and he later claimed to believe that creationism is not appropriate in a science classroom, his initial remarks included the following sentence:

I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.

Reiss’s problem, of course, is that — scientifically speaking — creationism is most assuredly a “misconception.” Whether or not it’s a worldview, is irrelevant, in light of that.

Reiss’s remarks and his subsequent resignation are controversial in Britain’s science world. There are some who think his position reasonable and that he should not have been fired for it. He also has vehement critics. A sampling of the matter:

A defender of Professor Reiss’ position on the BBC radio I heard argued that the creation myth was a metaphor, not to be taken literally. Hence scientists should not be so touchy. A critic could argue, however that if that were the case then that is exactly why the teacher should indeed to refer the pupil to poetry, drama or religious studies where parables as metaphor are appropriate. The problem is that as soon as you bring it into a science lesson you risk confusing science and parable. This is not helped by creationists who insist that the creation myth is not a parable but true and should at the very least be taught as a valid theory alongside evolution. This then makes a mockery of science.

That, of course, is the real problem here. If we were talking about a kid who — say — denies the reality of gravity, that’s easily addressed in science class, by explaining the workings of gravity and devising an experiment to show that it works.

But if a kid says, “Mah preacherman dun tol’ me we ain’t no apes, ’cause the Bobble dun says so,” there is really no way for a science teacher to address and debunk this … because nothing the teacher says or does can do so! The kid’s preacherman has pre-empted any possible scientific response, by convincing the child to take the literal word of the Bible over anything and everything else — including valid, time-tested science. It is, in short, a game that the science teacher cannot win.

What’s more, the science teacher’s failure would only become further “evidence” of creationism’s truth, in the eyes of the child. (There are, in fact, already apocryphal stories of believers demolishing atheist teachers, which are — in spite of their known apocryphal nature — used among other believers as “evidence” of the intellectual bankruptcy of atheism. So don’t think this cannot happen.)

Yes, creationism teaching is an insidious force in the lives of the world’s youngsters. Its goal is not only to indoctrinate them in certain metaphysical beliefs, but also to cheat them of the possibility of ever learning the truth. In short … it’s evil.

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on More on the Royal Society Controversy

It sounds unbelievable, but the latest advocate for teaching creationism in public-school science classrooms is Michael Reiss, who is director of education for one of the western world’s great bulwarks of science, the Royal Society. He wrote in the (UK) Guardian:

Teachers need to accommodate the differing world views of students from Jewish, Christian or Muslim backgrounds — which means openly discussing creationism and intelligent design as alternatives to evolutionary theory

Reiss’s justification for this is, in a word, bizarre:

Evolution and cosmology are understood by many to be a religious issue because they can be seen to contradict the accounts of origins of life and the universe described in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures. The issue seems like an ongoing dispute that has science and religion battling to support the credibility of their explanations.

I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.

Reiss is saying that because the religionazis of the world have defined evolution and cosmology as being their purview — merely by virtue of their holding metaphysical beliefs about them — that we are required to capitulate to this claim and allow their metaphysics to creep into science in return.

This is simply wrong, however. I’m well aware that believers truly consider themselves somehow “credentialed” as authorities on these subjects for the sole reason that they believe themselves to have such credentials … but they are not, in fact, so credentialed. It is therefore not in any way appropriate to act as though they have such credentials. Only scientists possessing the credentials to do so — and educators trained in science — are capable of deciding what is or isn’t science. Shoving creationism into public-school classrooms simply indulges believers’ mistaken, arrogant claim of possessing scientific credentials, and does nothing to correct the problem.

The answer to clearing up the minds of the young is not to allow the “forces of darkness,” to reimpose medieval thinking on humanity. No, the answer is, instead, to tell believers that their “faith” is not sufficient to allow them to determine what is or isn’t science — and if they don’t like it, well, too bad, no one said they had to like it.

Lastly, I agree with Reiss that creationism is a worldview … but that is precisely why it cannot be mixed with science. There are lots of worldviews, not all of them deserve a hearing in science classrooms. That the earth is flat, not spherical, is a worldview that a few, even today, hold to — but it should not be taught as science. I do not expect Reiss would propose the flat-earth notion to be taught in science classrooms … so why he would want creationism there, I have no idea.

Tags: , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Creationism In U.K. Public Schools?

This is one of those times I’m actually not surprised at all. The childish antics of fundamentalist preachers have long since become far too predictable ever to surprise me any more. I knew something like this would happen, as soon as I found out about the song “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry:

For 24 hours, the message board outside Havens Corners Church, 6696 Havens Corner Rd., read, “I kissed a girl and I liked it, then I went to Hell.”The message refers to the chart-topping song by pop artist Katy Perry “I Kissed A Girl.”Pastor David Allison said he didn’t put up the sign to draw attention to the church.“We didn’t intend to get into all this, but it’s become a bigger thing,” Allison said.  

First and most obviously, the pastor’s assertion that he’s not trying to call attention to his church — by putting something on a billboard! — is as laughable as anything I’ve heard in the last few months. Of course he’s using it to call attention to his church … the purpose of any billboard, after all, is to call attention to things, is it not? I mean … what other purpose can a billboard possibly serve? The article continues with yet another false claim by the pastor:

He was just very concerned about the implications of the song for teenagers and what he called a music video so suggestive it borders on pornography.“If anyone’s seen the video and understands how lewd and suggestive the video is for this song, that is not something young people should go toward,” Allison said.  

Please, if he’s going to post lyrics on his billboard for every song that’s ever had a suggestive video, he’d have to do it for most songs released, because almost all music videos are suggestive! Oh, and the article adds this wonderful remark by the pastor:

He thought the message would be a loving way to remind teenagers that the Bible denounces homosexuality.  

Ah yes, what more loving a message can one offer to one’s fellow human being, than to threaten him or her with eternal perdition? How special. And this article ends with this final expression of love from Pastor Allison:

Allison said they do welcome the GLBT community but believe they are engaged in sin.   

I’d say that this sentiment is far from “welcoming.” Although I’m by no means a fan of pop music these days, below is the video from YouTube as a kind of protest against wild-eyed fundie preachers like Pastor David Allison. Enjoy!

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments 12 Comments »