Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Deepak Chopra Wisdom – Just a Jumble of Words

Deepak Chopra is a promoter of new age spiritualism.  His books, CDs, and DVDs sell millions.  He is a sought after speaker.  The thing is, most of what he has to say is bullshit.  Its all a mish-mash of new–agey mumbo jumbo.  

A great example of how his pronouncements that sound so profound are really just a steaming pile of nonsense can be found on a website that uses random words culled from Deepak’s Twitter feed to create phrases that sound like something Chopra would say, except that they are thrown together randomly.  

Of course, this doesn’t prove that Deepak Chopra is full of shit, but it does show that it doesn’t take much to sound deeply philosophical and spiritual like Chopra.

Go give it a try.  You know you want to.

June 23, 2012 Posted by | Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , | 1 Comment

An Excellent Example of Science vrs Pseudoscience

The website atheism.about.com has a really good article examining if astrology is pseudoscience or science.  While I agree that astrology is bullshit, that is not what, I think, is the real take away point from the article.  You could easily subsitute any number of questionable practices such as “psychic powers” or “homeopathy” for astrology.

The real importance of the article is how well it explains the scientific method.  The reason this is important is that so many people have no concept of what the scientific method is and how it works.  This leads to a gross misunderstanding and mistrust of science.  This is bad because it leads to the undermining of scientific advancement in our society, a society that, more and more, is very dependent on the technology that science gives us.

There is a sad and firghtening trend in this country of mistrust, and even hostility, toward science.  This kind of anti-science belief used to be confined to the radical right or left wing movements.  The religious right fights against science when it contradicts the Bible (which is does the vast majority of the time).  The radical left distrusts it because it is not “natural”, and they fear the possible misuses of science.  Now, however, anti-science beliefs and rhetoric have become the norm.  We see this in the current election cycle where Republican candidates are falling all over themselves to see who can be more anti-science than the rest.

It used to be that the GOP trumpeted the benefits of science as a way to make our society stronger, better, and safer.  Does anyone remember the “Star Wars” program of the Reagan era?  How about the Space Race?  In this country, the military has always been a major driving force in advancing science and technology.  It will be interesting to see how the military responds to the ever growing hostility of the GOP to science, considering that most of the military leadership has tended to be republican, as evidinced by the many generals who have gone into politics after retiring from their military careers.

This country used to be a leader in science and technology and that is what made it a great economic and military power.  If this anti-science trend continues, we can only sit back and watch as our scientific technological leadership slips away and our economy because a totally consumer driven one, dependent on the technology of other countries who put science above superstition.

November 5, 2011 Posted by | Science, Skepticism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally, A Power-like Band That Does Exactly What It’s Name Suggests

I got my Placebo Bands in the mail yesterday from the brilliant Skepticbros in Australia.

wpid-placebo_bands-sm-2011-01-24-22-33.jpg
Does wearing two of them make them twice as ineffective as just one?

Placebo Bands are the Skepticbros answer to Power Balance bands and others of their ilk. Unlike the unsubstantiated claims of Power Balance to be able to balance your body’s energy field, the Placebo Bands promise to do nothing, except perhaps becoming conversations starters.

When someone asks me about the band I’m wearing, I can proudly tell them that it is a placebo that does nothing, just like the Power Balance bands. With a knowing wink I will add that unlike the Power Balance bands that cost $29.99, I only paid $2 for mine. According to the Skepticbros, they used some of the same manufactures who make Power Balance bands using the same materials and manufacturing process to make their bands, but they didn’t get nearly the volume discount that Power Balance must be getting. The best thing of all about the Placebo Bands is that the approximately $1 profit per band goes to charity, while with Power Balance, $28.99 per band (with their volume discount, probably more like $29.50) goes into their pockets.

After telling inquisitive people all the stuff I just told you, my favorite part is telling them that the both have the exact same effect, which is none, except possibly a placebo effect for those who are gullible enough to buy into the body energy bullshit claims.

So if you really do believe in body energy and that a silicone band with a hologram in it can help balance it, save yourself $27.99 and go for the Placebo Band. They look the same, they feel the same and, most importantly, they have the same effect, which is to say, none at all.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Topic of the Week – Astrology

I haven’t written much about astrology before, except for one entry, and that is because I really have no interest in astrology and never have. I have always viewed it as a silly thing that was a left over from the time before science and empirical reason came to the forefront of human thought.

Growing up, I was fascinated with astronomy and was quite the amateur astronomer in my youth, spending countless nights, even in the coldest of winters, outside with my telescope. Knowing how the universe operated completely negated the possibility that astrology could possibly be anything but superstition and wishful thinking.

The Twitterspace has been, well, atwitter, about astrology ever since the director of the Minnesota Planetarium Society commented in a local newspaper interview that, due to the gradual shift in the orientation of Earth’s axis of rotation, called precession, that the Zodiac signs have changed since ancient times. Precession caused the stars to appear to gradually move over time in relation to fixed points on earth. For example, the current pole star, or north star, Polaris, will no longer be the pole star in another 12,000 years.

The precession also effects the ecliptic plane, which is where the Zodiacal constellations are located. As a result, the supposed sign you were born under is actually now not that sign anymore. As Phil Plait puts is on his Bad Astronomy blog:


“If you were born on March 22, you were an Aries… if you went by the original timing of when the Sun was in Aries. But now, millennia later, the Sun is actually in Pisces on that date. And it won’t be much longer before it’s in Aquarius in late March (hence “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”)”

Basically, astrology is based on the positions of stars and planets as they were known well over 2000 years ago. Their positions in the sky in relation to earth change over time and astrology has no way to account for this, so even if there were something to it (which there isn’t), it would slowly have become more and more inaccurate over time. Or course, there is nothing to it. At all. As Penn & Teller have said on their show, Bullshit, astrology is – bullshit!

I was chatting with a friend today and he related to me a conversation that he had with a friend who believes in astrology. He told her that he thought astrology was a bullshit belief. She got indignant and said something to the effect of, “Oh, you wouldn’t say something like about someone’s religion.” He replied, “As a matter of fact…”. That ended the conversation pretty quickly.

If you really want an excellent explanation of why astrology is complete and utter BS, you can’t do better than Phil Plait’s in-depth take down of astrology. I’d also highly recommend reading his book, Bad Astronomy. In it he corrects many common astronomy misconceptions.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Andrew Wakefield Goes Down Hard

I’ve written before about my strong support for vaccinating children and how, in the past decade or so there has been an anti-vaccination movement that has literally cost the lives of dozens of children in the US and UK of pertussis and measles. Now, the man who started it all, the darling of all the anti-vaxers out there has been shown to be, not just unethical and a sloppy researcher, but a fraud. I’m still digesting everything in the article and I’ll have more to say on that later, bur for the meantime, read it.

It’s good to know that sometimes the truth can win out.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skepticon 3 – Day 1

Due to issues with child care, I wasn’t able to get to the first day of the conference until the lunch break. Upon arriving I met up with my friend Maria Myrback and her husband Ken. She introduced me to Joe Nickel who did an awesome magic trick for me and told me that he would be happy to be interviewed for my book.

After the lunch break the next speaker was Debbie Goddard. Her talk was about diversity in skepticism. It was an excellent speech. She has a wonderful attitude that is funny, intelligent and poignant.

The next speaker was John Corvino who’s speech was entitled Coming Out Skeptical. He was a very engaging and very funny speaker. He compared coming out skeptically to his coming out gay earlier in life.

After this we broke for dinner and I sat with Maria, Ken, Randi, Mike Blanford and a great group of people from the St. Louis Skeptics group. One of the woman from this group had a 1920′s machine that runs an electrical charge through glass tubes that you can put on your skin and get a tingling sensation. They used to be promoted as cure-alls. Maria asked me to write an article for Swift about this.

After returning to the convention center, I bought Darwin tree earrings from Surly Amy. I told her how it was from her Flikr page that I found Skepchicks and from there got into skepticism. I got a nice hug for this.

The evening portion of the conference consisted of two panels: Confrontation vs. Accommodation and Does skepticism lead to atheism?. I enjoyed the first panel a lot, but in the second one everyone ended up pretty much in agreement so there wasn’t really any debate.

After the conference ended for the day, Maria, Ken and I went to Skeptics in the Pub. Maria and I had a wonderful conversation about all sorts of topics. When it was time to leave, Ken decided to go with a friend so Maria and I waited outside for a cab that Ken had order for us. I’d left my coat back at the hotel figuring I’d be going from shuttle to pub to cab to hotel. It was pretty fricking cold outside and while we were waiting, a college student rode up on a bicycle attached to a rickshaw like cab. He works for tips so Maria and I decided to have him take up back to the hotel. He had a blanket so we huddled under that. I froze my fricking butt off, but it was a really fun experience.

Next I introduced myself to Rebecca Watson, founder of Skepchicks. She saw my Surly Amy earring and I told her the same story I told Amy. She was really touched to hear that. I told her about the book I’m writing and she said to corner her after her talk Saturday night and that she’d give me an interview. I then got to listen to Rebecca talk about her Alaska cruise with the JREF where she met Richard Saunders, about how Richard always wears rainbow suspenders. She then told the story about how she did a workshop at TAM 8 that she turned into something she didn’t really want to do so she came up with the idea of discussing feminism by breaking people into groups and having them do a craft project. This became the famous Angry Vagina project.

Next it was onto the room party in the room of a wonderfully sweet, intensely cute woman from Minnesota named Briann (please forgive me if I misspelled your name!). There I had an amazing conversation with Amanda Marcotte, who’s speech I missed that morning. She is a professional writer and gave me some great tips on making a career as a writer. I also told her that I want to get a Darwin Fish tattoo (she has a beautiful double helix one on her left arm) and I asked her about the ins and outs of getting a tattoo. She told me that my lower arm near the wrist would probably be best because you want to put it somewhere were it won’t sag much as you get older and to make sure the tattoo artist is really good and experienced. She promised to talk to me again when we were more sober.

Speaking of which, I got completely hammered! I haven’t been that drunk in about 20 years!
I also talked with Sam Ogden of Skepchicks and got some good tips on writing, the main one being to find your voice in a way that makes you unique so that people will want to keep reading your work. In the same conversation with Sam was Cammie who is I absolutely adore! She is just such an open, engaging and fun person to talk to.

It was a fantastic first day! I’ll be reporting on today’s events hopefully tomorrow.

November 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review of Your Religion is False, by Joel Grus

I just finished reading Your Religion is False by Joel Grus. This is a light-hearted, very humorous book that pokes fun at just about every religion and belief systems that you can think of and tries to explain why they are false.

He takes on each religion, one at a time, as well as covering general dogmas that most religions have in common, using humor to point out the logical premisses they all have in common. Here are a few examples:

The existence of God: God exists because there’s no evidence he exists.
Perfection: People say god is perfect, so he must exist, otherwise he wouldn’t be perfect.
Divine revelation: Except for great-aunt Geraldine there’s no history of schizophrenia in the family, so those voices in my head must be god talking to me.

At times the humor borders on the blatantly absurd, but this works well as it reinforces the tone of the book, which is that all religions are absurd at their base.

He covers all the major and minor religions as well as cults and pseudo-religions like Hooliganism, Environmentalism, and Chopraism. The consistent theme that runs through the book is that, whatever your religion/belief system/deeply held belief is, it is false, and he bolsters this by satirically lampooning the convoluted and circuitous illogic that underpins all faith based belief systems.

For example, when giving a brief history of the Jewish religion, he takes the passages as they are in the bible and modifies them so that they become laser guided missiles of satire such as this gem:

The Jews complained about being hungry and water-thirsty and blood-thirsty, until Moses found them manna (nutritious psychoactive mushrooms), produced water by hitting a rock, and ordered eternal war against the Amalekites, who today are known as “atheists” or “freethinkers” or “the sensible.”

Or when commenting on the Ten Commandments he gives us this commentary:

I am god
No other gods
No making idols
Don’t use god’s name wrongfully
Celebrate the sabbath

These first five are what Biblical scholars often call the “domestic violence” commandments, as they are eerily similar to the hyper-controlling restrictions used by abusers in dysfunctional relationships: “Don’t look at other men!” “Did I say you could talk to your friends?!” “It’s after sunset on a Friday! Why the hell isn’t dinner ready?”

He is equally adept at skewing Christianity in his discussion of the concept of the trinity and how people who try to defend it give a mumbo-jumbo of mystical nonsense:

…they might offer the uncompelling analogy that an egg is three distinct persons (a yolk, a white, and a shell) combined in one “egghead,” ignoring the fact that the shell never claimed to be the yolk’s father and yet also a yolk, and also the fact that the white has never been claimed to dwell inside people who believe in eggs.

He can take something as supposedly secular as Environmentalism and use it as a metaphor of all faith-based beliefs when he says:

The most important Environmentalist holiday is Earth Day, celebrated each April 22 to commemorate the birthday of Vladimir Lenin. (Although Lenin was not himself a Gaiaist, he nonetheless embodied Gaiaist values like anti-capitalism, persecuting and demonizing one’s ideological opponents, and not tolerating dissent.)

At times he seems to veer of course to says something just to get a laugh, but that still has a bit of sarcasm in it:

While most people from India speak incomprehensibly (if you attended college you probably had such a person as a teaching assistant for your math courses), occasionally you will find one who speaks with a rich, beautiful, British-style accent. For reasons that are unclear but that probably have to do with the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, many people find these well-spoken Indians unrealistically credible. This, as far as I can tell, is the only explanation for the popularity of Deepak Chopra.

There are points, mainly in the last quarter of the book where, even though he is being humorous, the overall impact is one of deep seriousness. The following three quotes are examples of this and are quite sobering and really bring home the absolute ridiculousness of faith-bases beliefs:

Imagine that some television star … begins hearing voices in her head, commanding her to kill her fans. You and your moderate friends can argue over what the voices in her head “really” want her to do, but it would be much more practical (not to mention much less delusional) to point out that these voices are obviously hallucinations and to demand that she get medical help. Don’t we owe our “talks-to-Jesus” acquaintances the same type of concerned honesty?

Some people argue that religion is a necessary source of morality, and that if people all realized their religions were false, they would no longer have any incentives to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, to chop off the tips of their babies’ penises, to restrict poor people’s access to contraception, to censor cartoons, to make it difficult to purchase liquor on Sundays, to stone homosexuals, or to murder apostates and heathens. Society, they argue, would subsequently break down.

Overall, Your Religion is False is a wonderfully fun, satirical look at religious belief that pervades our society. Like all great satire, it uses humor and absurdity to highlight important truths about its subject. I would recommend this book to anyone was is at all interested in religion’s place in our society, especially those who are believers themselves, for perhaps while laughing at the author’s take on all the other religions, maybe it will make them step back and take a look at their own.

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Antipathy Towards Science Is Killing Us

I’ve spoken here before of the harms of religious thinking. Today I want to talk about something that is a threat to our modern society and that is the religious antipathy toward science.

Science has done more to advance the health and welfare of the human race than anything else humans have yet devised. In the past 100 years alone, the average human lifespan at birth has almost doubled. Humans are healthier, taller and live longer than at any point in our history as a species. This trend is due almost entirely to the progress that science has provided.

Science has allowed us to understand how the world we live in really works which in turn has allowed us to improve sanitation, housing, agriculture, food safely and production, health care and more. Without an understanding of how the world really works, we would still be in the medieval ages in terms of our well being and technology, beset by famines, plagues and pandemics that, until the middle of the 20th century, killed millions annually.

To illustrate just why and how science is important, I’m going to discuss evolution as it applies to bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Evolution is a fact. Yes, it is a theory, but it is also a fact just as much as gravity, which is also a theory, is a fact. Gravity exists. We know this to be true because we can successfully launch space probes and satellites, and we can predict where an asteroid or comet will travel.

In the same respect, evolution is a fact. We know it is a fact, for example, because we can see how bacteria evolves resistance to antibiotics. Because of our understanding of evolution we are able to predict how certain bacteria will likely evolve and use this knowledge to provided new drugs in time to treat bacteria that became resistant to older antibiotics. **

The problem we are now running into is that the funding for research and development into antibiotic resistance is in jeopardy because of resistance to science funding by the U.S. Congress, driven mainly by the GOP due to religiously motivated ideology.

Another problem that is possibly even more serious is the general lack of education in evolution in public schools. This lack of evolution education is caused mainly by religiously motivated anti-evolution groups all across the country.

The effect of this is that most students who enter college have littler or no knowledge of evolution or even science in general. This has lead to students who have little or on interest in science, or if they do, they tend to get discouraged because of the extra classes and work they have to complete just to get up to the level to be able to do college work in science.

This sad state of affairs means that the United States, once the undisputed leader in science and technology in the world, is quickly becoming a scientific has-been in the world. It is now countries like China, Russia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the European Union that lead the world in science and technology. It is no accident that these countries have very weak or nonexistent religiously based political groups.

In fact, if you look at countries that have the greatest infusion of religion in society and government, you will see that these countries are all scientific and technological backwaters. The Middle East is a prime example. Yes, they might embrace technology, but that technology is bought, not developed. Soon, unless we do something to change the current trend, the U.S. will also be a buyer of other’s technologies. We will become a nation of consumption instead of creativity and innovation. We will be entirely dependent on other countries for almost everything we need to function as a society. That is not a future that I think any of us wish to live in.

What is the solution? Get religious ideology out of government and public institutions. Base science funding and policy on what is proven to work or has the potential to work, not on religious dogma and ideology. Make science education as important as reading and arithmetic, just like we did in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

It is time to put religion back where it belongs, in our homes and churches, and keep it out of where it doesn’t belong, in government and our public institutions. If we fail to do this, we will soon find ourselves the greatest has-beens of world.

**Wikipedia, Antibiotic resistance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibiotic_resistance#Alternatives

October 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Freethinking For Dummies Media Site

I’ve set up a site, the Freethinking For Dummies Mediasite, where I’ll be posting audio and video related to the topics I cover on this blog.

If you have any videos or MP3s that you think might be of interest, please let me know so I can post them there.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Risks vs Benefits of Vaccines. Now Stop Being An Ignoramus And Get Vaccinated!

There was a comment on my post, Vaccines – The Need For Informed Consent, that caused a flare up of my Tourette’s syndrome.

““I told her that my coworkers held common misconceptions about vaccines, like they cause autism and brain damage, or that there is mercury in them and since they were misinformed they couldn’t make an informed decision about it.”

But then you are the misinformed one, because if you look at vaccine court cases won, there are plenty that were for brain damage and even autism.”

Ok, let’s get some facts straight here. This is directly from testimony by Dr. David Satcher, Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Surgeon General of the United States before the House Committee on Government Reform, August 3, 1999:

“Today there are far fewer visible reminders of the suffering, injuries, and premature deaths caused by diseases that can now be prevented with vaccines. So that we do not forget the past, allow me to share some examples:

Polio vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1955. During 1951 to 1954, an average of 16,316 paralytic polio cases and 1,879 deaths from polio were reported each year. As of 1991, polio caused by wild-type viruses had been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere. We have a goal that by the end of the year 2000, polio, like smallpox, will be a disease of the past.

A physician entering practice today may never see a case of meningitis due to Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Before the introduction of effective vaccines, in 1988, approximately one in 200 children, under the age of five, developed invasive Hib disease. Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under age five– accounting for about 60 percent of all cases. From 15 to 30 percent of affected children became hearing impaired and about 420 children died every year despite antibiotic therapy. In addition, Hib vaccine has prevented the leading cause of acquired mental retardation in the U.S. By 1998, vaccination of pre-school children reduced the number of Hib cases by more than 99 percent.

In the 1960s, many people witnessed first-hand, the terrible effects of rubella, commonly known as German measles. During an epidemic between 1964 and 1965, about 20,000 infants were born with deafness, blindness, heart disease, mental retardation, and other birth defects because the rubella virus infected their pregnant mothers. Today, thanks to nearly universal use of an effective vaccine, the rubella virus poses virtually no threat to the children of expectant mothers.

The costs of caring for a child with congenital rubella syndrome are staggering, which brings me to my next point. Vaccines not only save lives, reduce pain, suffering and disability, they save money. The individual and community protection provided by vaccines help make immunization one of our most cost-effective medical and public health interventions. Most vaccines recommended are cost-saving even if only direct medical costs–and not lost lives and suffering–are considered. Our country, for example, saves $8.50 in direct medical costs for every dollar invested in diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. When the savings associated with work loss, death, and disability are factored in, the total savings increase to about $27 per dollar invested in DTaP vaccination. Every dollar our Nation spends on measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination generates about $13 in total savings—adding up to about $4 billion each year.” **

Vaccines mitigate suffering, they save money and most importantly they save lives! Got it! Good!

Now go and get yourself and your children vaccinated so that you, they or someone you know doesn’t become another statistic.

** http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/t990803a.html

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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