Saturday, May 30, 2009

History of Religion (in 90 seconds)

source: via,3893,n,n highlights comments

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Is God Dead? Or Just Not Riding the Bus?

source:,3897,n,n highlights comments

Is God Dead? Or Just Not Riding the Bus?

by Steven Gray - Time

Thanks to LWS for the link.,8599,1901301,00.html

blankDangling from the sides of Chicago public buses in recent days: large signs bearing the slogan, "In the beginning, man created God."

Lo and behold, the atheist bus war that raged through London earlier this year has led to the opening of a front in the U.S. The Chicago ads were purchased this month (for a total of $5,000) by the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign.

Despite Chicago's abundance of trains, the Indiana group preferred to buy ads that would appear on the outside of buses. "That way, cars can see them. People on the sidewalks can see them, as the buses go zipping by," says Charlie Sitzes, 73, the group's spokesman. Apart from the predictable blogosphere chatter, Chicago has largely greeted the ads with a quick, curious look and then a shrug. While the media attention has drawn donations to the group from across the country, there are no plans to extend the ads' run beyond mid-June. "You don't have to shake the believer tree too hard to get a discussion going," Sitzes says, adding, "We've already won."
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Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology

source:,3899,n,n highlights comments

Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology

by Cade Metz - The Register

In case you haven't heard of The Register before, doing a Google search turns up lots of hits - /Mike

Thanks to SPS for the link

Exclusive In an unprecedented effort to crack down on self-serving edits, the Wikipedia supreme court has banned contributions from all IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates.

Closing out the longest-running court case in Wikiland history, the site’s Arbitration Committee voted 10 to 0 (with one abstention) in favor of the move, which takes effect immediately.

The eighth most popular site on the web, Wikipedia bills itself as "the free encyclopedia anyone can edit." Administrators frequently ban individual Wikifiddlers for their individual Wikisins. And the site's UK press officer/resident goth once silenced an entire Utah mountain in a bizarre attempt to protect a sockpuppeting ex-BusinessWeek reporter. But according to multiple administrators speaking with The Reg, the muzzling of Scientology IPs marks the first time Wikipedia has officially barred edits from such a high-profile organization for allegedly pushing its own agenda on the site.

The Church of Scientology has not responded to our request for comment.

Officially, Wikipedia frowns on those who edit "in order to promote their own interests." The site sees itself as an encyclopedia with a "neutral point of view" - whatever that is. "Use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas – such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute – or to publish or promote original research is prohibited," say the Wikipowersthatbe.
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What you should know about chiropractic

Simon Singh is being sued by British Chiropractic Association - go to the Facebook site to support Simon and for information about the case.

BCA Press statement 29 may

and Jackofkent comments on this statement.

THURSDAY, 28 MAY 2009 BCA v Singh: The Official Ruling

This is the OFFICIAL text of the ruling of the English High Court on the question of meaning at the preliminary hearing of British Chiropractic Association v Simon Singh on 7 May 2009
The key paragraphs are 12 and 13 have added emphasis.
4. The words complained of were taken from the third paragraph of the article.
"The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organization is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."
12. What the article conveys is that the BCA itself makes claims to the public as to the efficacy of chiropractic treatment for certain ailments even though there is not a jot of evidence to support those claims. That in itself would be an irresponsible way to behave and it is an allegation that is plainly defamatory of anyone identifiable as the culprit. In this case these claims are expressly attributed to the claimant. It goes further. It is said that despite its outward appearance of respectability, it is happy to promote bogus treatments. Everyone knows what bogus treatments are. They are not merely treatments which have proved less effective than they were at first thought to be, or which have been shown by the subsequent acquisition of more detailed scientific knowledge to be ineffective. Bogus treatments equate to quack remedies; that is to say they are dishonestly presented to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public as having proven efficacy in the treatment of certain conditions or illnesses, when it is known that there is nothing to support such claims.

13. It is alleged that the claimant promotes the bogus treatments "happily". What that means is not that they do it naively or innocently believing in their efficacy, but rather that they are quite content and, so to speak, with their eyes open to present what are known to be bogus treatments as useful and effective. That is in my judgment the plainest allegation of dishonesty and indeed it accuses them of thoroughly disreputable conduct.

source: highlights comments

What you should know about chiropractic

29 May 2009 by Edzard Ernst Magazine issue 2710.

FOR many people, chiropractic appears almost mainstream. Some chiropractors even call themselves "doctor". In the UK, chiropractors are regulated by statute, and in the US they like to be seen as primary care physicians. It is therefore understandable if people hardly ever question the evidential basis on which this profession rests.

The origins of chiropractic are surprising and rather spectacular. On 18 September 1895 Daniel Palmer, a "magnetic healer" practising in the American Midwest, manipulated the spine of Harvey Lillard, a janitor who had been partially deaf since feeling "something give in his back". The manipulation apparently cured Lillard of his deafness. Palmer's second patient suffered from heart disease, and again spinal manipulation is said to have effected a cure. Within a year or so, Palmer had opened a school, the first of many, and the term he coined, "chiropractic", was well on its way to becoming a household name.

Palmer convinced himself he had discovered something fundamental about human illness and its treatment. According to Palmer, a vital force - he called it the "Innate" - enables our body to heal itself. If our vertebrae are not perfectly aligned, the flow of the Innate is blocked and we fall ill. Chiropractors speak of these misalignments as "subluxations" (in conventional medicine, a subluxation means merely a partial dislocation). The only true cure is to realign the vertebrae by manipulating the spine, and in the logic of chiropractic it follows that all human illness must be treated with spinal manipulations. Many chiropractors also assert that we need regular "maintenance care" even when we are not ill so that subluxations can be realigned before they cause a disease.

In the words of Palmer "95 per cent of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae, the remainder by luxations of other joints".

All diseases are caused by 'subluxations' blocking the flow of the 'Innate' - This bit of history is important because it explains why many chiropractors treat all sorts of conditions, not just back pain. In fact, in the early days, back pain was not an issue for chiropractors at all. Today they are divided into roughly three camps. One adheres religiously to Palmer's gospel - indeed, at one stage Palmer considered establishing chiropractic as a religion. Another has moved on and now employs a range of non-drug treatments in addition to manipulations, mainly for treating back pain. The third group is situated somewhere in between these two extremes and, at least occasionally, treats many conditions other than back pain.

If you find this hard to believe, here is the evidence. A 2004 survey by the UK General Chiropractic Council revealed that most chiropractors believe they can treat asthma (57 per cent), digestive disorders (54 per cent), infant colic (63 per cent), menstrual pains (63 per cent), sport injuries (90 per cent), tension headaches (97 per cent) and migraine (91 per cent). According to a 2007 survey, 69 per cent of all UK chiropractors see themselves as more than just back specialists, and 76 per cent consider Palmer's original concepts to be "an important and integral part of chiropractic".

So, are they right? Palmer's concepts of the Innate and subluxation are pre-scientific and wacky, but that in itself needn't mean that the treatment is not helpful. We therefore need to ask, how good is chiropractic spinal manipulation in treating anything?

The answer is not clear-cut. For back pain, there is some encouraging evidence. Chiropractic manipulations have been shown in several clinical trials to be as effective as standard treatments. One needs to know, however, that standard care is not very effective for bad backs, and studies that adequately control for placebo effects tend to arrive at less positive conclusions. When my team in Exeter reviewed data from these more rigorous trials we concluded that "spinal manipulation is not associated with clinically relevant specific therapeutic effects" (Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, vol 22, p 879).

For virtually all the other conditions which chiropractors treat, where rigorous trials have been done, the evidence is weaker. In some cases, the most reliable studies have found that spinal manipulation is ineffective.

Chiropractors and many of their professional associations often claim otherwise, but a few do acknowledge this problem. In 2001, one team of chiropractors looked at this issue, and their conclusion was blunt: "The largest professional associations... make claims for the art of chiropractic that are not currently justified by available scientific evidence". Since then, several investigators have come to similar conclusions.

The issue is not just whether chiropractic treatments work. There is also the question of the safety of chiropractic spinal manipulation, a matter that few people seem to be aware of. Several big studies have shown that a large proportion of patients experience side effects after receiving chiropractic spinal manipulation. Luckily these complaints - mostly pain - are not normally very severe and are usually gone after a day or two.

There have, however, been several hundred cases of potentially very serious complications associated with this treatment. Extreme chiropractic manipulation of the neck can damage one of the two vertebral arteries that run roughly parallel to the upper spine and supply part of the brain. The consequence of such a "vascular accident" can be a stroke, and several deaths are on record. Such disastrous events are, of course, rare; this is one reason why it is difficult to investigate this phenomenon systematically and not all studies show the same result.

In the book I co-wrote with Simon Singh, Trick or Treatment? Alternative medicine on trial, we dedicate a chapter to chiropractic. After weighing all the evidence, our conclusions were not flattering: "Warning: this treatment carries the risk of stroke and death if spinal manipulation is applied to the neck. Elsewhere on the spine, therapy is relatively safe. It has shown some evidence of benefit in the treatment of back pain, but conventional treatments are usually equally effective and much cheaper. In the treatment of all other conditions chiropractic therapy is ineffective except that it might act as a placebo."

Simon later wrote an article in The Guardian newspaper about chiropractic. In it, he quoted from the website of the British Chiropractic Association which, at the time, made fairly clear claims that chiropractors can effectively treat a whole range of childhood diseases, including asthma. The evidence for treatment of this condition is less than weak: no fewer than three controlled trials have found that chiropractic spinal manipulation has no beneficial effect. The best of these studies, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that "the addition of chiropractic spinal manipulation to usual medical care provided no benefit".

For alerting the public to all of this, and possibly preventing harm to unsuspecting children, Simon deserves much credit. Instead, he is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. I think this is a serious issue that raises two crucial questions. Is it acceptable that scientists and journalists are restricted in their criticism by the legal muscle of those who are being criticised? And is it acceptable that professional bodies, such as the British Chiropractic Association - or indeed any other organisation - are able to make therapeutic claims that are not supported by scientific data? I leave it to the reader to decide.

Profile Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK. In his investigations of alternative therapies, he has found only about 5 per cent are supported by scientific evidence; the rest are either ineffective or have not been tested properly.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Animals can tell right from wrong

source: via Dave Haith, HASSNERS Meetup. highlights
Interesting book on whether animals have morals.

Prof Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, believes that morals are "hard-wired" into the brains of all mammals and provide the "social glue" that allow often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups.

Skeptiko - Science at the tipping point

source: Dave Haith of HASSNERS Meetup

Here are some of the old podcasts from the Skeptiko site I mentioned:

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Christians battle each other over evolution

source: highlights comments

Christians battle each other over evolution

The Discovery Institute – the Seattle-based headquarters of the intelligent design movement – has just launched a new website, Faith and Evolution, which asks, can one be a Christian and accept evolution? The answer, as far as the Discovery Institute is concerned, is a resounding: No.

The new website appears to be a response to the recent launch of the BioLogos Foundation, the brainchild of geneticist Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and rumoured Obama appointee-to-be for head of the National Institutes of Health. Along with "a team of scientists who believe in God" and some cash from the Templeton Foundation, Collins, an evangelical Christian who is also a staunch proponent of evolution, is on a crusade to convince believers that faith and science need not be at odds. He is promoting "theistic evolution" – the belief that God (the prayer-listening, proactive, personal God of Christianity) chose to create life by way of evolution.

It sounds like a nice idea, but to my mind any time you try to reconcile science and religion by rejecting Stephen Jay Gould's notion of "non-overlapping magisteria" and instead try shoehorning them into a single worldview, something suffers. My concern is that science will take the hit – and Collins's speculative arguments about divine intervention via quantum uncertainty seem dangerously poised for the punch. The Discovery Institute's concern, on the other hand, is that Christianity will take the hit. "For Christians," they write on their website, "mainstream theistic evolution raises challenges to traditional doctrines about God's providence, the Fall and the detectability of God's design in nature." For them, reconciling evolution and religious faith is simply a hopeless endeavour.

I think it's interesting that the Discovery Institute – which has long argued that intelligent design qualifies as science – seems to have given up the game and acknowledged that their concerns are religious after all. It's equally interesting that the catalyst doesn't seem to be someone like Richard Dawkins pushing atheism, but Francis Collins pushing Christianity. Perhaps the Discovery folks realise that Dawkins's followers are never going to be swayed by intelligent design; Collins, however, might very well cut into their target audience of scientifically-curious evangelicals.

The Discovery Institute has now made it crystal clear that they have no interest in reconciling science and religion – instead, they want their brand of religion toreplace science. Which makes it all the more concerning when their new website includes resources and curricula for high-school biology classes, and promotes the pseudoscientific documentary film "Expelled" as part of their campaign to introduce non-scientific alternatives to evolution under the banner of "academic freedom".

Watching the intellectual feud between the Discovery Institute and BioLogos is a bit like watching a race in which both competitors are running full speed in the opposite direction of the finish line. It's a notable contest, but I don't see how either is going to come out the winner.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Richard Dawkins talks to Paul Davies

source: highlights comments

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Discussion between Richard Dawkins and Paul Davies (See many more talks from the Origins Symposium here) 

The full video of Richard Dawkins's appearance at the Origins Symposium on 6 April, a conversation with Paul Davies, is now up at The Science Network.

Richard Dawkins One Minute Summary of Darwins Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection

Science - Dumbest Religion Ever?

source: highlights comments

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Angels & Demons site at CERN

source: highlights comments


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Genesis Revisited Michael Shermer, FreePrometheus

source:,3880,n,n highlights comments

"To convey the logical absurdity of trying to squeeze the round peg of science into the square hole of religion, I penned the following scientific revision of the Genesis creation story. It is not intended as a sacrilege of the poetic beauty of Genesis; rather, it is a mere extension of what the creationists have already done to Genesis in their insistence that it be read not as mythic saga but as scientific prose. If Genesis were written in the language of modern science, it would read something like this." - Michael Shermer

Genesis Revisited
A Scientific Creation Story
By Michael Shermer

In the beginning—specifically on October 23, 4004 B.C., at noon—out of quantum foam fluctuation God created the Big Bang, followed by cosmological inflation and an expanding universe. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, so He commanded hydrogen atoms (which He created from Quarks) to fuse and become helium atoms and in the process release energy in the form of light. And the light maker he called the sun, and the process He called fusion. And He saw the light was good because now He could see what he was doing, so he created Earth. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be lots of fusion light makers in the sky. Some of these fusion makers He grouped into collections He called galaxies, and these appeared to be millions and even billions of light years from Earth, which would mean that they were created before the first creation in 4004 B.C. This was confusing, so God created tired light, and the creation story was preserved. And created He many wondrous splendors such as Red Giants, White Dwarfs, Quasars, Pulsars, Supernova, Worm Holes, and even Black Holes out of which nothing can escape. But since God cannot be constrained by nothing, He created Hawking radiation through which information can escape from Black Holes. This made God even more tired than tired light, and the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the continents drift apart by plate tectonics. He decreed sea floor spreading would create zones of emergence, and He caused subduction zones to build mountains and cause earthquakes. In weak points in the crust God created volcanic islands, where the next day He would place organisms that were similar to but different from their relatives on the continents, so that still later created creatures called humans would mistake them for evolved descendants created by adaptive radiation. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

And God saw that the land was barren, so He created animals bearing their own kind, declaring Thou shalt not evolve into new species, and thy equilibrium shall not be punctuated. And God placed into the rocks, fossils that appeared older than 4004 B.C. that were similar to but different from living creatures. And the sequence resembled descent with modification. And the evening and morning were the fourth day.

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life, the fishes. And God created great whales whose skeletal structure and physiology were homologous with the land mammals he would create later that day. God then brought forth abundantly all creatures, great and small, declaring that microevolution was permitted, but not macroevolution. And God said, “Natura non facit saltum”—Nature shall not make leaps. And the evening and morning were the fifth day.

And God created the pongidids and hominids with 98 percent genetic similarity, naming two of them Adam and Eve. In the book in which God explained how He did all this, in one chapter He said he created Adam and Eve together out of the dust at the same time, but in another chapter He said He created Adam first, then later created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. This caused confusion in the valley of the shadow of doubt, so God created theologians to sort it out.

And in the ground placed He in abundance teeth, jaws, skulls, and pelvises of transitional fossils from pre-Adamite creatures. One chosen as his special creation He named Lucy, who could walk upright like a human but had a small brain like an ape. And God realized this too was confusing, so he created paleoanthropologists to figure it out.

Just as He was finishing up the loose ends of the creation God realized that Adam’s immediate descendants would not understand inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, and evolutionary biology, so he created creation myths. But there were so many creation stories throughout the world God realized this too was confusing, so created He anthropologists and mythologists.

By now the valley of the shadow of doubt was overrunneth with skepticism, so God became angry, so angry that God lost His temper and cursed the first humans, telling them to go forth and multiply themselves (but not in those words). But the humans took God literally and now there are six billion of them. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.

By now God was tired, so He proclaimed, “Thank me its Friday,” and He made the weekend. It was a good idea.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Simon Conway Morris becomes a creationist

source: highlights comments

In yesterday’s Guardian the famous paleontologist Simon Conway Morris (describer of many of the Burgess Shale fossils and author of Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe) uses Darwin Day not as a reason to celebrate what the old man did, but to point out what he did not do, and to

engage in some atheism bashing
on the way:

Darwinian [sic] has reached near saturation and among the customary pieties there is little doubt that it will conveniently serve as a love-in, with much mutual self-congratulation, for atheism.

But perhaps now is the time to rejoice not in what Darwin got right, and in demonstrating the reality of evolution in the context of entirely unexceptional natural processes there is no dispute, but what his inheritance is in terms of unfinished business. Isn’t it curious how evolution is regarded by some as a total, universe-embracing explanation, although those who treat it as a religion might protest and sometimes not gently. Don’t worry, the science of evolution is certainly incomplete.

He then beats the drum for evolutionary convergence (the arrival of independent lineages as similar evolutionary solutions, like the camera eyes of vertebrates and squid).

His ultimate example of “convergence” (though it really isn’t one), is the high intelligence and mentality of humans. He claims that convergence shows the incompleteness of Darwinism.

What! Darwinism not a total explanation? Why should it be? It is after all only a mechanism, but if evolution is predictive, indeed possesses a logic, then evidently it is being governed by deeper principles. Come to think about it so are all sciences; why should Darwinism be any exception?

This is palpable nonsense. The “deeper principle” at work here is simply natural selection: organisms adapt to their environments. We can expect, in some cases, that different organisms facing similar adaptive problems will hit on similar solutions. Sharks, ichthyosaurs, and dolphins all adapted independently to life as fast-swimming predators in the ocean, and all developed similar shapes, for such a way of life requires fast, torpedo-shaped beasts with fins. And of course sometimes similar evolutionary problems are met by different solutions, and in those cases evolution is not predictable. Some fish, like seahorses, escape predators by being permanently camouflaged and hiding in a matching habitat, while others, like the flounder, can change their colors and thus be camouflaged while moving between different habitats.

Conway Morris then takes up Alfred Russel Wallace’s nineteenth-century position that the evolution of the human mind is inexplicable by evolution:

But there is more. How to explain mind? Darwin fumbled it. Could he trust his thoughts any more than those of a dog? Or worse, perhaps here was one point (along, as it happens, with the origin of life) that his apparently all-embracing theory ran into the buffers?

His solution? God of course. This is no surprise to anyone who has followed Conway Morris’s biological arguments in favor of the Christian God.

If, however, the universe is actually the product of a rational Mind and evolution is simply the search engine that in leading to sentience and consciousness allows us to discover the fundamental architecture of the universe – a point many mathematicians intuitively sense when they speak of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics – then things not only start to make much better sense, but they are also much more interesting. Farewell bleak nihilism; the cold assurances that all is meaningless. Of course, Darwin told us how to get there and by what mechanism, but neither why it is in the first place, nor how on earth we actually understand it.

In his peroration, Conway Morris, triumphant, asserts that the fact of human rationality and consciousness puts paid to atheism:

To reiterate: when physicists speak of not only a strange universe, but one even stranger than we can possibly imagine, they articulate a sense of unfinished business that most neo-Darwinians don’t even want to think about. Of course our brains are a product of evolution, but does anybody seriously believe consciousness itself is material? Well, yes, some argue just as much, but their explanations seem to have made no headway. We are indeed dealing with unfinished business. God’s funeral? I don’t think so. Please join me beside the coffin marked Atheism. I fear, however, there will be very few mourners.

I don’t want to fulminate at length about this terrible and misleading “logic,” but do want to make four points.

1. The conscious and rational human mind does not demonstrate convergence, because it is a singleton: it evolved only once–in the lineage leading to modern Homo sapiens. By definition, evolutionary convergence involves at least two species. I am puzzled why Conway Morris continues to use this example (well, not really puzzled–he wants to show that the evolution of the human mind is inevitable). I have criticized this viewpoint in a recent article.

2. Contra Conway Morris, there are many people who feel that consciousness is “material” in the sense that it arises from purely material causes in a material object: the brain. Understanding how and why consciousness evolved are hard problems, but to throw one’s hands up in despair and say, “God made it” is a ludicrous solution. Give biologists another century of work on the brain, for goodness sake!

3. This brings us to my conclusion that Conway Morris advocates a form of intelligent design. He seems to believe that things might have evolved as Darwin proposes–except for one thing. That, of course, is the human mind. Here a Creator must have intervened! In this piece he seems to go beyond his previously-published view that the evolution of our higher intelligence was simply inevitable; here he comes close to saying that it was impossible. It’s a bit confusing since he also makes the statement that mind was the result of an evolutionary search engine, but even if he is advocating only that God directed evolution to produce rational minds that could discover God (a rather circuitious way to create us!), that is still a form of intelligent design. Conway Morris has thus joined the ranks of what Dan Dennett calls “mind creationists,” a view that Dennett dismantled in his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

4. Conway Morris is way, way peeved at atheists. He mentions them several times in his piece. He thinks he has vanquished them with his “unanswerable” evolutionary arguments. But he has not. He is simply proposing a “God of the gaps” argument, and here the gap is our mind. It’s Alfred Russel Wallace recycled. He is wrong: neither will atheism die, or even flinch a bit, and we will, I predict some day understand, as Darwin believed, that the human mind is simply a product of the blind and materialistic product of natural selection.

Conway Morris is straying from the scientific path here, but he simply can’t help himself. He is a committed Christian, and has to find some way to show that the evolution of humans was inevitable.

Postscript: Over at Pharyngula, P.Z. Myers has done a far better critique and deconstruction of Conway Morris’s lucubrations. This paragraph analyzing C-M’s prose is sheer genius:

“I cannot bear it any more. I have to make a secondary complaint about Conway Morris’s piece. He seems to regard the English language as an axe murderer would a corpse: as an awkward obect that must be hacked into fragments, and the ragged chunks tossed into a rusty oil drum he calls an article. Continuity and flow are something that can be added after the fact, by pouring in a bag of quicklime. Unfortunately, one difference between the two is that Conway Morris will subsequently proudly display his handiwork in a newspaper, while the axe murderer at least has the decency to cart the grisly carnage off to the local landfill for anonymous and clandestine disposal. One can only hope that someday the paleontologist will perfect his emulation and take his work to the same conclusion”

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Friday, May 22, 2009

The agnostic atheist

source:,3871,n,n highlights comments

by Nick Spencer -

Thanks to Crapsquire for the link.

The question: What is agnosticism?

When Thomas Huxley coined the term "agnostic" in 1869 he did it to make a point.

A member of the "Metaphysical Society", a monthly discussion group of liberal churchmen, deists, Unitarians, positivists and the occasional atheist, Huxley found himself confronted with people who "were quite sure they had attained a certain 'gnosis,' – [who] had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence."

Huxley was "quite sure" that he had not reached any such resolution and, indeed, "had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble." Looking for a term that would free him from such certainties – and from accusations of atheism and materialism that were regularly, if inaccurately, levelled at him – he coined the word agnostic.

Huxley's neologism was not some arbitrary midway point between theism and atheism, as it has subsequently been treated. The "-theism" suffix is deliberately absent.
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New Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols attacks secularists

source:,3875,n,n highlights comments


In his installation service as the new leader of Catholics in England and Wales, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols called for a greater respect of religious belief.

He said that attempts to marginalise faith must not be allowed to succeed if the country is to overcome its problems of social cohesion.

Secularists, such as Richard Dawkins, who try to rubbish religion are encouraging intolerance, the archbishop told a congregation of 2,000 at Westminster Cathedral.

"Faith is never a solitary activity nor can it be simply private," he said.

"Some today propose that faith and reason are crudely opposed, with the fervour of faith replacing good reason. This reduction of both faith and reason inhibits not only our search for truth but also the possibility of real dialogue."

Prof Dawkins has described Christian theology as vacuous and argued that faith and superstition are incompatible with the rigours of "logic, observation and evidence, through reason".

In a Channel 4 programme, the Enemies of Reason, he said: "Today reason has a battle on its hands. Reason and a respect for evidence are the source of our progress, our safeguard against fundamentalists and those who profit from obscuring the truth.

"We live in dangerous times when superstition is gaining ground and rational science is under attack."

Archbishop Nichols countered that those who portray faith "as a narrowing of the human mind or spirit" are wrong.
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Cardinal Cormac: 'Atheism the greatest of evils.'

source:,3876,n,n highlights comments

by Ruth Gledhill - TIMESONLINE
Thanks to Alan for the link.
In light of the recent Catholics vs Irish issues this is even more disgusting. There is a petition to sign to oppose this sick, demented and thoroughly evil person at the top of the main page. Be sure to follow the links in the article. /Mike

blankThe outgoing Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, made a contribution at the end of Archbishop Vincent Nichols' installation that was at once touching, funny, serious and extreme. He said, rather controversially perhaps, that a lack of faith is 'the greatest of evils.' He blamed atheism for war and destruction, and implied it was a greater evil even than sin itself.

You can read our early online report here.

blankArchbishop Nichols also defended faith against the rise of secularism. In his homily he said: 'Faith in God is not, as some would portray it today, a narrowing of the human mind or spirit. It is precisely the opposite. Faith in God is the gift that takes us beyond our limited self, with all its incessant demands....Some today propose that faith and reason are crudely opposed, with the fervour of faith replacing good reason. This reduction of both faith and reason inhibits not only our search for truth but also the possibility of real dialogue.'
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Simon Singh and Free Speech - Against the BCA Libel Claim

source:,3857,n,n highlights
Most complete summary online to date.

Simon Singh and Free Speech - Against the BCA Libel Claim

by Facebook Group

Simon Singh, the highly respected science writer (Fermat's Last Theorem, etc), is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

(Chiropractic is an alternative/complementary therapy which purports to treat various ailments by manipulation of the spine.)

The BCA are promoting Chiropractic as treatment for children with (potentially serious) ailments such as asthma and frequent ear infections.

Simon Singh criticised this in a Guardian "comment" piece. In particular, he criticised the BCA for doing this without appropriate clinical evidence.

He is now being sued for libel.

The BCA want damages and an injunction against him saying such things in future.

Fundamentally this is about free speech and the use of evidence.

An informed and responsible science writer should be able to write about genuine concerns on an important public health issue (the correct treatment for children) without the threat and expense of High Court libel claims.

Even if he was wrong, it would surely be enough for the BCA to simply show their supporting evidence. But they are suing him instead.

In the words of Frank Frizelle: "Let’s hear your evidence, not your legal muscle."


Message from Simon Singh!

Dear Supporter,

For legal reasons, I am very limited in what I can say at the moment, but I hope to be back in touch soon.

In the meantime, I would like to take this chance to say thanks to everyone who has joined this group - your support is much appreciated and your postings are a real morale booster.

Bye for now.

Simon Singh


A primer on English libel law:

Read more at the facebook group page:
Jack of Kent’s blog is well informed and written from an expert’s point of view. Recent update postings include:

Googling words such as SIMON SINGH, BCA, LIBEL will take you to lots of blogs and articles about the libel case. Google news is particularly helpful (search “SIMON SINGH”, and you can also then click on the blog option.


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Monday, May 18, 2009

Origins, 3-6 April 2009



8:30 - 10:00am

Workshop for Journalists

  • Forefront questions in evolutionary biology - Richard Dawkins
  • Forefront questions on the beginning of time - Lawrence Krauss

11:00am - 1:00pm

Science Friday

  • Panel: Physicists and the Origin of the Universe
  • Panel: Origins and Evolution of Life

Session 1: The Universe, Multiverse, Physical Laws



  • Sid Bacon
  • Lawrence Krauss

The Big Questions

  • Frank Wilczek

2:10 - 3:10pm

Panel 1: How Far Back Can We Go?
Moderated by Michael Turner

  • Steven Weinberg
  • James Peebles
  • Brian Greene
  • Lawrence Krauss
  • Stephen Hawking

3:25 - 4:20pm

Panel 2: Is Our Universe Unique, and How Can We Find Out?
Moderated by Paul Davies

  • Andrei Linde
  • Alan Guth
  • David Gross
  • Sheldon Glashow
  • Alex Vilenkin

4:20 - 5:25pm

Panel 3: New Windows on the Universe: What is Knowable?
Moderated by Wendy Freedman

  • Barry Barish
  • Adam Riess
  • John Ruhl
  • John Mather
  • Maria Spiropulu
  • Roger Blandford


Session 2: The Galaxy, Planets, and Life

8:30 - 9:20am

Panel 1: Do We Have a Successful Theory of Galaxy and Star Formation and How Will We Know?
Moderated by Lawrence Krauss

  • Ben Moore
  • Carlos Frenk
  • Joe Silk
  • Rogier Windhorst

9:20 - 10:20am

Panel 2: How Common Are Earth-like Planets?
Moderated by Ariel Anbar

  • Alex Halliday
  • David Stevenson
  • Edward Young
  • Steve Desch
  • Phil Christensen
  • Jade Bond

10:35 - 11:30am

Panel 3: How Does Life Originate and How Do We Recognize It?
Moderated by Kip Hodges

  • Baruch Blumberg
  • Paul Davies
  • Antonio Lazcano
  • Steve Mojzsis
  • Everett Shock

Session 3: Origin of Species, Evolution, Human Origins

2:15 - 3:10pm

Panel 1: Origin and Evolution of Life and Phenotypic Innovations
Moderated by Manfred Laubichler

  • George Poste
  • Doug Erwin
  • Kevin Peterson
  • Randy Nesse
  • Peter Ward

3:20 - 4:05pm

Panel 2: Origin and Evolution of Sociality
Moderated by Jürgen Gadau

  • Richard Dawkins
  • Bert Hölldobler
  • Joan Strassman
  • David Queller

4:05 - 5:00pm

Panel 3: What is the Origin of Human Uniqueness?
Moderated by William Kimbel

  • Alan Rodgers
  • John Fleagle
  • Ian Tattersall
  • Donald Johansen
  • Curtis Marean


Session 4: Consciousness, Complex Cognition, and Language to Culture: Cooperation, Morality & Institutions

9:30 - 10:40am

Panel 1: Consciousness, Complex Cognition, and Language
Moderated by Roger Bingham

  • Steven Pinker
  • Patricia Churchland
  • Robert Seyfarth
  • Jerrold Seigel
  • Terrence Sejnowski

10:50am - 12:05pm

Panel 2: Human Uniqueness, Culture and Morality
Moderated by Roger Bingham

  • Sue Rosser
  • Kim Hill
  • Rob Boyd
  • Robert Kurzban
  • Polly Wiessner
  • Jonathan Haidt

12:00 - 12:40pm

Panel 3: The State, Social Norms, and Institutions
Moderated by Roger Bingham

  • A.C. Grayling
  • Michael Macy
  • Margaret Levi


Public Symposium, Gammage Auditorium, ASU Tempe Campus



9:30am - 12:30pm

  • Steven Pinker
  • Don Johanson
  • Brian Greene

1:45pm - 5:45pm

  • Richard Dawkins
  • J. Craig Venter
  • Lawrence Krauss

Nobel Panel
Moderated by Ira Flatlow

  • Baruch Blumberg
  • David Gross
  • Walter Gilbert
  • Sheldon Glashow
  • John Mather
  • Frank Wilczek

7:15pm - 8:30pm

World Champion of Magic

  • Jason Latimer

Panel on Science and Society
Moderated by Roger Bingham

  • Hugh Downs
  • Claudia Dreifus
  • Ann Druyan
  • Lucy Hawking
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson

Stephen Hawking: Why go into space?
Presented by Lucy Hawking

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Simon Singh case v Brit. Chiropractic Assoc

source: highlights comments

Costs of libel cases in UK are extraordinarily high compared to other European countries. Simon Singh faces potentially huge costs if he tries to defend himself against the BCA.

The role of a sceptic could be costly... More...

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Knowledge and genius | AC Grayling

source: highlights comments

May 01, 2009 22:30:00 GMT

Intelligence is about creativity and wit, not scoring well in tests – as Einstein, a poor student but a brilliant thinker, shows

It is a common presumption that if people know a lot, they must be intelligent. Anyone who can reel off capital cities or count to 10 in several languages – or, in the case of a two-year-old girl heralded in newspapers this week, tell an ­apple from a banana early enough – is counted a bright spark.

And often enough intelligence, a good memory and a well-informed mind go together because intelligence prompts curiosity, curiosity results in knowledge, and memory keeps the knowledge available.

But there is no automatic connection between knowledge and intelligence. There are plenty of very bright people who do not know the world's capitals and cannot count in other languages, because they have never had a chance to learn them. In rural Africa there must be millions of smart kids who know nothing but local lore; they are Thomas Grey's "village Hampdens" and "mute inglorious Miltons".

By the same token plenty of people know lots of facts without being creative, thoughtful, quick-witted, humorous and perceptive – the marks of true intelligence. Sometimes an overload of facts is the mark of a dull and pedestrian mind, the antithesis of intelligence.

Moreover, there are different kinds of intelligence, better described as different gifts of mind, so that a person can be wonderfully talented in one respect and hopeless in another. It is misleading to describe anyone as intelligent without specifying what form the intelligence takes. Some mental aptitudes are hard-wired: gifts for maths and music (which often go together) require no knowledge, and manifest themselves early in life. So does artistic ability. Many autists have extremely high-order talents in these respects without acquiring any knowledge, or even interacting much with other people.

But other aptitudes require training, data, experience and practice. Here intelligence and a body of knowledge meet, and the former acts on the latter in productive ways. One can train a parrot to reel off English kings and queens, but it takes an accomplished historian to tell us insightful things about them.

"Intelligence tests" have always been a matter of controversy. Practice improves scores, which raises a ­question mark over whether they capture ­anything objective. If someone scores high on verbal tests and low on spatial ones, what does that overall score tell us about the individual in question? ­Nothing very informative.

There are many "high IQ" societies, the best-known being Mensa, which admits people with IQs in the top 2% of the population.

At Mensa's 50th anniversary in 1996 one of the founders, Lancelot Ware, said he regretted the fact that members devoted far more time to puzzles than improving the world.

That prompts a thought: intelligence is a matter of output, not scores in a test. Einstein was unsuccessful at school and no great shakes as a mathematician, but he was creative and insightful, and saw a whole new way of thinking about gravity and the structure of space-time. A vivid interest in things, and an active desire to understand more about them, is a major characteristic of intelligence. When this leads to great creativity and important discoveries, we call it genius.

In the ancient world a genius was a creature who whispered ideas, ambitions and insights into your ear. The Romantics internalised genius, identifying it with their own inner selves – what Proust called le moi profond, the deepest me. As there are many kinds of achievement, so there are many kinds of genius suited to them. To all, the wonderful old cliche about 99% perspiration applies.

IQ tests rarely predict achievement or correlate with knowledge, and they are too blunt an instrument to capture the variety of human gifts. The latter are what matter. As with everything else, we know these gifts by their fruits, not by artificial ways of defining them.

A first look at Supersense by Tom Rees, Epiphenom

source: highlights comments

Tom Rees at Epiphenom takes....

A first look at Supersense

Supersense has just been published in the UK ... Like Konrad, I've only skimmed it so far - but here's some first impressions.

The book's billed as a kind of antidote to the uber-rationalists. What the author, Bruce Hood (Professor of Psychology at the University of Bristol) does is take a wide-ranging look at the quirky psychology that underpins superstitious beliefs.

You can get the gist of what he covers in his article published by The Guardian on the weekend. The common theme throughout the book is how we just can't help attributing mystical qualities to objects, people and places.

Careful how you use "bogus" by Stephen Law

source: highlights comments
Latest developments on Facebook.

Careful how you use "bogus"

Stephen Law ( 09, 2009 08:59:00 GMT

The Simon Singh court case had its preliminary hearing on the 7th and the news was very bad for Singh.

The two key decisions made by the judge are reported by Jack of Kent here.

The passage from the article in question is this:

"The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

The judge ruled that this passage is not "comment" but statement of fact. Second he ruled that "bogus" means deliberate and targeted dishonesty. Singh maintains this was not his intended meaning (he just meant the BCA was being reckless advocating treatments for which no evidence), but the judge has decreed that is the meaning - the meaning on which the case will turn: Singh was claiming the BCA were actually being dishonest, rather than just, say, stupid and reckless.

I do find this a very peculiar reading of Singh. Look, for example at the following piece by Robert Park (link below) about "bogus science". Park clearly is not suggesting that those promoting bogus science are necessarily dishonest (though some are of course). His criteria for bogusness are not criteria for dishonesty.

The seven warning signs of bogus science.

This author also clearly is not suggesting deliberate and targeted dishonesty when talking about the "bogus science of second hand smoke".

Yet the judge has now declared that by "bogus" Singh meant deliberate and targeted dishonesty. As a result, it is hard to see how Singh can win.

So, be very careful how you use the expressions "bogus science" and "bogus treatment", for the legal precedent has now been set, and you may be sued. Perhaps "bullshit science" and "bullshit treatment" are safer (following Penn and Teller).

Obviously there will need to be a whip round to support Singh.

I would fight for women's freedom | Sue Blackmore

source: highlights comments

May 13, 2009 09:04:25 GMT

If it came to it, like the suffragettes before me, I would fight – even die – for my freedom

The question: Are there beliefs to die for?

I am so lucky! I am a woman and I have not suffered the oppression and unfair discrimination that most women have endured throughout history, and many still do today, because I was brought up in Britain in the 20th century. I was educated at least as well as my brother, I went to one of the best universities in the world, I married the man I loved and got divorced when he and I wanted to, I brought up my children without religious indoctrination. I have been able to go where I want, pay my own way, and walk freely in the streets wearing whatever I like. I've had financial independence and an exciting and worthwhile career.

I have had all these things because other women long ago fought and even died for women's rights. Most of the suffragettes did not die, although many were repeatedly injured. Most did not have to harm, let alone kill anyone, but they certainly needed courage and many suffered abuse, discrimination, ostracism and rejection from family and friends. And some did die.

Would I be prepared to do the same? When I ask myself whether there is anything I would die for I wonder about this.

In Britain today religious oppression of women is creeping back. Children, who have no choice, are sent to faith schools where they are taught to believe ridiculous untruths, convinced that they will be sent into eternal agony after death if they disobey certain rules, and those rules can include the oppression of women by men.

In a sharia court a wife may be beaten and abused by her husband but refused a divorce; she may have to be completely covered up when she goes out so no one can see her bruises, a mother may have her children taken away from her and everyone around her accepts it; school girls are coerced to wear the veil and can neither learn to swim, enjoy team sports nor act in school plays.

What should those of us women who are free of all this do - stand by and say it's nothing to do with us? We can sign up to the One Law For All Campaign, or the humanists' campaign against faith schools, we can go on marches against sharia law. We can stand up to the popular mentality that suggests we are being racist or culturally insensitive when we demand that all women – Muslims, Christians and atheists alike, should be free of religious oppression, veils, and other symbols of subjection.

And then what? How far would I go if, by some horrendous turn of fate, my country was swept by religious fundamentalism and women's freedoms taken away? Would I be prepared to be injured? Would I be prepared to fight? Would I be prepared to die?

I don't want to fight, I don't want to injure anyone else or be injured, and I don't want to die. Yet I hope that, if this awful prospect really came to pass, my answer would be yes.