The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Purpose Driven Thingy - Day 12

"Developing Your Friendship With God"

Apparently, you've got to work on your friendship with the Creator of the Universe. Also, you've got to trust him when he asks you to do stuff...presumably like shoot up a school or physically assault a homosexual.
God doesn't expect you to be perfect, but he does insist on complete honesty
I love that Warren knows exactly what God wants. There was no irony in his voice at all. "Here's what the Creator of the Universe enjoys. I know these things and you can tell I'm serious because I'm slightly pudgy and have a slick goatee."

Side note here: The tone of Warren's voice is getting really irritating. It has been the same for the entire book so far and I'm assuming it will continue. It's as though he's talking to a slightly slow eleven year-old who's just not understanding how to tell time. "Ok, so one-quarter of sixty is fifteen, so that means that fifteen minutes after any hour is called 'quarter past' the hour. See? It's easy!"

Condescension from a place of ignorance. Lovely.

Good news alert! You can bargain with god! Abraham did it with the destruction of Sodom and Job bitched a bit and then God defended him (nevermind that God fucked with Job over a stupid bet with the Devil). Also, I guess Moses bitched a bit about the whole "wandering in the desert" thing.

Warren intimates that God is "bored with predictable pious clichés". Warren says:
Until we mature enough to understand that God uses everything for good in our lives, we harbor resentment toward God.
So giving your six year old a terminal cancer is just God trying to teach you something good that you wouldn't get through your thick fucking skull any other way. Got it? Making your crazy husband murder you with an ax in the woods so he can make a magical lottery charm from the fetus in your belly, that's just God trying to make a point about something good to your family and friends. That drunk driver who killed your brother? God just wanted to make sure you understood some aspect of goodness.
God always acts in your best interest, even when it's painful and you don't understand it.
Right. Forgive me if I don't believe you.

Jesus supposedly said, "You are my friends, if you do what I command." Quick note: I don't "command" my friends to do things. Seems like a bit of an odd definition of friendship. Maybe I'm weird.

Warren actually said this gem
We are friends with God, but we are not His equal. He is our Loving Leader...
Doesn't this sound creepily like something any random North Korean would say, through a thousand-yard stare, about Kim Jong Il?
"Because we've been forgiven and set free, we obey out of love"
Let me see if I understand this - you've been set free but you obey a "loving leader" blindly because you love him, even when you don't understand his commands and you've never even seen this supposed being. Gotcha.
It is better to obey than to sacrifice
Sure, but what if you're being commanded to sacrifice? Dammit....

Around this part of the chapter, my mind started to drift away. So much mindless blathering. Talking without really saying anything. I can't believe this piece of crap is a worldwide bestseller. It's actually depressing....
...you must care about all the people around you whom God cares about. Friends of God tell their friends about God.
Please stay the fuck away from me with your proselytizing nonsense. I'd prefer to sleep in on Sunday.
God loves it when we're passionate with Him.
Um, thanks, no.
You are as close to God as you choose to be.
Awesome. The 10-metre rule is in effect.

If you don't put effort into your "friendship" with God:
...don't be surprised when God allows pain into your life.
What a fucker. He'll kill your kid, but remember...
Pain isn't punishment, it's a wake-up call.
What incredibly fucking callous behavior. "Pay attention to me or I'll let really horrible shit happen to you and your family." Oh sure, "you're as close to God as you choose to be", but if you're not as close as He'd like, he'll let some psycho murder your mom, or a tumor kill your baby. Your fault! You could have prevented all that shit if you just kissed my Universe-creating ass a little more passionately. Ta-Daaaa! Wake up call!

Fuck Rick Warren and fuck his god. As another aside, Ugandan homosexual activist David Kato was killed - beaten to death with a hammer by some asshole. What does that have to do with Warren? Well if you check this article you'll notice this quote:
...homophobia has always existed in Uganda, but the catalyst for violence truly came following a presentation by three U.S. evangelists -- Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundidge -- in March 2009. As has been widely reported, they preached anti-gay lectures at a conference that laid the foundation for the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" spit out of the Ugandan Parliament in the fall of 2009 by David Bahati.
Those three names, Lively, Schmierer, and Brundidge, are all associates of one Rick Warren - check this article for the relevant details.

Preaching homophobic nonsense has consequences. It doesn't matter that Warren now condemns the "kill the gays" bill - which is exactly what it was, by the way. The Ugandan magazine/paper Rolling Stone printed the names, photos, and addresses of the 100 Top Homos but editor Giles Muhame was not happy with the murder of Kato. He said:
There has been a lot of crime, it may not be because he is gay...We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not for the public to attack them.
*sigh*/*facepalm*

Point to Ponder: I'm as close to God as I choose to be.

Verse: Draw close to God and God will draw close to you. James IV: verse 8

Question: What practical choices will I make today in order to grown close to God?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

CBC Marketplace on Homeopathy

The CBC investigative show Marketplace did an episode on homeopathy on Friday and it was pretty great. They looked at what is in the products (lactose and sucrose, no active ingredient) and showed that they are engaging in what amounts to a false advertising campaign. Additionally they showed how the Canadian government via Health Canada have supported homeopathy because they are ignorant of what they are legislating, thus lending unearned credibility to ridiculous nonsense.

Watch the entire episode here.

Roger Ebert on Women in Religion

I love reading Roger Ebert's writing. He is succinct and pointed with a very practiced use of language. I just finished reading his piece on women in religion and it is well worth a look. Do yourself a favor and bookmark his journal page.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Unmistaken Child

I watched a documentary recently entitled Unmistaken Child about the search for the reincarnation of a deceased Buddhist lama named Geshe Lama Konchog. I thought it would be an interesting and informative journey through Buddhism with great scenery of Nepal and surrounding area.

It left me feeling much worse about Buddhism than I had previously.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am no fan of religion of any stripe. Buddhism seems fairly benign overall, but this film laid bare the silliness and tremendous superstitious nonsense ubiquitous in Buddhism - like mold veins in cheese.

Firstly, the older lama who dies is cremated in a pyre and the other monks inspect the smoke direction and then the ashes. They find "relic pearls" and a footprint - although said print is undetectable by me upon a close up. This information along with a drawing of all four directions from the roof is sent to an astrologer in Taiwan for interpretation.

In case you were keeping track, that is at least four things that are nonsense compressed into one paragraph.

This - I hesitate to call it "information" - is used to aid the deceased monk's disciple in finding the reincarnation of Lama Konchog. After searching for a bit, a child is located in a poor farming village that fits the bill (that is, a kid whose father's name starts with "A" and whose village starts with "TS"). After further testing and a head shaving, the kid is brought before the Dalai Lama himself to be declared the reincarnation or not.

Now, I am not a fan of the Dalai Lama. His answers to questions seem simplistic and childish. When he was interviewed on Barbara Walters' Heaven special his answers did not impress me. Essentially they boiled down to, "Be nice and you'll get to Heaven and be reincarnated as something better, if you're a dick, you'll go to Hell and be reincarnated as one of those 'lower' animals, like a dog or something."

After checking in with the other monks about the "pearls", smoke, "footprint, and astrological reading, the Dalai Lama says that, yes, the kid is the reincarnation of Konchog. The disciple then has to ask permission from the kid's parents to take him to live at the monastery. It's heartbreaking to watch. Roger Ebert says this about it:
I know I am expected to believe the tenets of a religion on the basis of faith, not common sense, but during this film, I found that very difficult. How reliable are wind directions, the interpretation of ashes and astrological readings? Would you give over your son on such a basis? Would you trust such a chosen one as your spiritual leader?
Exactly. It was hard knowing that this was presented as if to say, "Wow, look at this amazing faith and how it works", but it only depressed me. All I could think of was that this was what would it would have been like in Gone Baby Gone if Morgan Freeman had gotten to keep the kid. Sure, the kid's going to likely have a better life, but at what expense? He's not around his family and his faculties for critical thinking and reason are going to never be fostered.

Maybe that isn't a big deal, but I liked the ending to Gone Baby Gone, and there's something to be said for being right regardless of what's supposedly "better".

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Purpose Driven Thingy - Day 11

Yes, that's right, it's back: The Purpose Driven Thingy Project! This is the year to finish the damn thing and here we are following up Day 10 a mere ten months later. A professional procrastinator is me. Ok, here we go (resume)....

Day 11: Becoming Best Friends with God.

God wants to be your best friend. Actually, he "yearns" for it. Sort of like Molly Ringwald watching Jake's girlfriend in the shower in 16 Candles and wishing she were her. You know...yearning.

Fear of God was more common in the Old Testament after the Fall. Jesus changed all that when He died for us. As Louis CK says, however, "It was a little presumptuous...He coulda asked first." Then comes the first weird quote of the chapter:
He planned the universe and orchestrated history, including the details of our lives, so that we could become His friends.
Geez, how hard up for friends can the creator of the universe be? I picture SadGod sitting on a cloud just gazing woefully down upon a New Year's Eve party and thinking about how rad it would be to just be a regular dude playing RockBand with his buddies.
He made the entire human race and made the Earth hospitable with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark, but actually find Him.
I've posted the video previously of Neil deGrasse Tyson discussing just how "hospitable" the Earth and universe are to humans, so you can go check that out if you are so inclined (at least 64 degrees is suggested).

Big news! Apparently, there are SIX SECRETS to friendship with God! We'll learn two today and then the other four tomorrow! Ooooooo...I can't wait!

So, first one is...talk to God. Sort of a let down, I'm not going to lie. It's a little anti-climatic. Warren says to talk to God all the time. Like, all. The. Time. "In Eden", says Rick as though he were there taking notes, "'worship' was not an event to attend, but a perpetual attitude." It's nice to know that we have people like Rick Warren around so we can have a first-hand account of what happened in the Garden of Eden. If only we had someone who was on the Death Star so I could ask what the deal was with independent contractors.Warren says that we should use "breath prayers", which he explains are prayers you can say in one breath. Sort of like the phrases I mutter under my breath while I'm listening to this tripe, only with less swearing and bitterness and more Jesus!

Seriously, I'm trying to get back into this because I really want to finish this self-assigned project, but it's really difficult because I drift mentally off while Warren drones on in his simplistic fatuity.

Rick then breaks down the difference between meditation and worry. Easy equation. Ready? Ok. Meditation = worry - problems + bible verses.

There you go. You're welcome.

Warren says, "The more you meditate on God's word, the less you will have to worry about." He is obviously discounting rent and utilities.

Ok, to recap, the two "secrets" for today were: 1. Prayer lets you talk to God and 2. meditation lets God talk to you. Remember these for tomorrow because I'm sure there will be a test of some kind.

Point to Ponder: God wants to be my best friend. BESTIES!

Verse to Remember: "Friendship with God is reserved for those who reverence Him." Psalm 25: verse 148

Question to Consider: "What can I do to rewire myself to think about God and talk to Him more often throughout the day?"

Day 12 soon! Bate your breath!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fisking Jenny

Jenny McCarthy wrote in (where else?) the Huffington Post today about Andrew Wakefield's crappy research and the non-link between autism and vaccines. Let's go through her piece, shall we?
Last week, parents were told a British researcher's 1998 report linking the MMR shot to autism was fraudulent (link here to Brian Deer's report in the British Medical Journal, BMJ) -- that this debate about vaccines and autism is now over, and parents should no longer worry about giving their children six vaccines at a single pediatric appointment or 36 by the time they are five years old.
I'm not about to check into the totality of childhood vaccines, but here's a link to the schedule in Canada. Feel free to see if they add up to thirty-six.
Is that the whole story? Dr. Andrew Wakefield's study of 12 children with autism actually looked at bowel disease, not vaccines.
Jenny, did you read the paper? You can, right here. See at the end where Wakefield et al. say, "We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine"? Also, in the "results" section in paragraph three they mention the MMR vaccine and talk about a specific case:
One child (child four) had received monovalent measles vaccine at 15 months, after which his development slowed (confirmed by professional assessors). No association was made with the vaccine at this time. He received a dose of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine at age 4·5 years, the day after which his mother described a striking deterioration in his behaviour that she did link with the immunisation.
So, sure, he wasn't talking about vaccines, he just implied that at least one child had a "striking deterioration" after getting his measles vaccine and that we should really look some more into this odd phenomenon. He notes the MMR vaccine multiple times in the chart in his paper as well (where he fudged the data). In my book, that's hardly keeping strictly to bowel disease.
Dr. Wakefield did something I wish all doctors would do: he listened to parents and reported what they said.
Which is great, but don't start saying that what parents say is science or in any way related to vaccines causing autism or any other disease/disorder.
Since when is repeating the words of parents and recommending further investigation a crime?
It's not a crime, Jenny. What Wakefield did was misrepresent what the children's symptoms were and also failed to note a major conflict of interest with respect to where his funding came from for the paper. Oh, and he was unethical in testing the children, doing things like unnecessary lumbar punctures (see note 18 from Deer's investigation paper).
Why does one journalist's (Brian Deer) accusations against Dr. Wakefield now mean the vaccine-autism debate is over?
One journalist's accusations don't mean anything. What means a lot is his documentation of what Wakefield did coupled with the fact that for the last 12 years no one has replicated Wakefield's results or even come close to showing that his hypothesis of a gut/autism connection is valid in any capacity.
I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son.
Richard Feynman said it best: "The most important thing is to not fool yourself, and you're the easiest person to fool." Jenny has not learned this lesson and is still full of "I know it 'cause I saw it" arrogance. This is a perfect example of what I was talking about in my previous post where believers value things like anecdotes over actual evidence. Here we see McCarthy steadfastly clinging to parental anecdotes - mostly her own - when there is twelve years of non-confirming studies and the discrediting of both Wakefield and his "research".
Why hasn't anyone ever studied completely non-vaccinated children to understand their autism rate?
This seems like a decent study to start with, I think. It compares 96 autistic kids and checks their symptom onset (before or after MMR). Worth a look. Still no association between vaccination and any disorder.
This debate won't end because of one dubious reporter's allegations.
"Dubious"? Why is he "dubious", Jenny? Because he came to a different conclusion than you did while looking at the evidence? It's the resort of the desperate to attack the person rather than their arguments. How about you address why Wakefield was paid by lawyers who were going to sue vaccine makers while simultaneously getting patents for his own "alternative" vaccine for the same conditions?

...in the distance, I hear crickets....
I have never met stronger women than the moms of children with autism. Last week, this hoopla made us a little stronger, and even more determined to fight for the truth about what's happening to our kids.
I have no doubt that the parents (it's not just moms, you know) of kids with autism or any other developmental delay are strong and are working to represent and advocate for their children. Their hearts, and Jenny's, are in the right place. The problem is that Jenny and others (Jay Gordon, Oprah, Bill Maher, etc...) are leading them to a place where their brains need to listen to the evidence which is clear in saying that vaccines are not the cause of their suffering. The task is to figure out how to get them to listen.

Other Links: Obviously, Orac stepped up to slap
Also, Kev Leitch weighs in on the topic at Left Brain, Right Brain. (H/T Liz Ditz!)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Different Evidence

One of the main problems I notice when I'm reading a debate or arguing with an "alternative" medicine proponent or religious believer is what we consider convincing evidence. We can both present cases filled with what each of us think is rock-solid, how-can-you-not-come-to-my-side evidence that is tossed aside as though it were meaningless. Why is that and who has the more solid ground to stand upon?

I think you know where my answer lies, but let's examine the question for inquiry's sake.

Oftentimes I will engage in conversation with, say, a believer in acupuncture. The most common point cited, in my experience, is that it is old. Thousands of years old. Something that has been around for that long has to be right because if it was not, it would have fallen apart by now. Nevermind that it's not thousands of years old at all and has no basis in reality - didn't you hear me? THOUSANDS!

Yeah, yeah, we are all saying the same thing in our heads: "argument from antiquity". The thing is, most people, believers especially, don't give two figs about logical fallacies; they care about what sounds correct from a "common sense" viewpoint. It's the old illusion that cave fish "lose" their eyes because they don't need them. It's totally wrong and the real answer is so much cooler and more interesting, but to many the first wrong explanation is stuck in their heads. Acupuncture works because it's old and it seemingly helps many people. End of story.

Not really. The trouble when having a discussion is that getting all sciency and technical seems pedantic. Belaboring a point that just feels right is like picking on something like Mother Theresa - "why do it, man? What do you have against helping people?" We have to pick both our words and our arguments carefully to avoid being seen as the condescending, science-worshiping a-hole.

It really is something to behold. I have been in the position before of (too often) citing Nobel laureates and had a comment thrown back at me that sounded a lot like: "Well look at this - oh, but it didn't come from a Nobel prize winner...nevermind." Sarcasm dripped like cold honey on that March day, my friends.

Also, the tactic of switching points is something to watch out for when you attempt to corner an alt. med. believer. In my experience, it usually happens when some "evidence" is presented - say, a study from a journal or a "fact" from the internet - and it is examined and you reply with specific questions. Think about an anti-vaxxer stating that there is antifreeze in the MMR vaccine. You point out that, no, there isn't and explain the difference between the chemicals concerned. Once that happens, you'll often see movement from discussing specifics to generalities about "toxins". I find that all this is is the believer turning away so they don't have to say that their mind has been changed. The next person they argue with will hear the same memorized point and Believer will just hope they can get away with it this time.

There are Creationists that have made careers out of that tactic. Ahem *cough-GISH-cough*

The main difference I note is the use and acceptance of anecdotes as valid evidence. Whether it's acupuncture, chiropractic, reiki, reflexology, or ear-candling, patients/clients say they feel better, therefore it works. End of discussion.

We as skeptics, science nerds, and critical thinkers can not leave it at that and we seem like Spocks for discounting people's experiences. Personally, I always make it a point to talk about Feynman's two things that people think that make any discussion between the skeptic and believer camps difficult: 1. People are very easy to fool. 2. No one thinks they're easy to fool.

Once this is established (ideally with some sort of cool sleight-of-hand trick), the argument, debate, discussion, or fight can jump off with some common ground.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Andrew Wakefield Gets Spanked Again, Is Still A Douche

I just finished reading part one of Brian Deer's investigative journalism piece that has been brewing for 12 years. It is damning stuff - I mean, check out this passage from the notes:
Ten children (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12) were found to have been subjected to invasive investigations for research purposes without ethical approval. In seven cases (1,2,3,5,8,9,12) this was found to be contrary to the child’s clinical interests..Eight children (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12) were caused to undergo colonoscopies which were not clinically indicated. Seven children (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 12) were caused to undergo barium meals and follow throughs which were not clinically indicated. Three children (3, 9, 12) were caused to undergo lumbar punctures which were not clinically indicated.
Seriously. The ethical violaitons alone should screw Wakefield and the other main doctor, John Walker-Smith. I highly recommend reading Deer's article in the BMJ as well as the second part to come soon.

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