The Harm Psychics Do

Out of Toronto, this jaw-dropping story: Colleen Leduc, a local mother, was accused by school officials of letting her autistic daughter Victoria be sexually abused - based on the word of a psychic! (HT: Boing Boing).Leduc's weird tale began on May 30, when she dropped young Victoria off for class at Terry Fox Elementary and headed in to work, only to receive a frantic phone call from the school telling her it was urgent she come back right away.The frightened mother rushed back to the … [Read more...]

Evolution Is Design

It's not often I disagree with Richard Dawkins, but I have to do so today. In the opening pages of Climbing Mount Improbable, he discusses what he calls "designoid" objects:Designoid objects are living bodies and their products. Designoid objects look designed, so much so that some people - probably, alas, most people - think that they are designed. These people are wrong. But they are right in their conviction that designoid objects cannot be the result of chance. Designoid objects are not … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically VII: Risk Assessment

Given that this is an atheist site, I feel compelled to start this post with a snappy anti-religion quip, so here it is: Children and teenagers are more likely to be molested or assaulted in church than they are on social networking sites like MySpace. Parents, do you want to protect your kids? Keep them home on Sundays and send them to the computer instead!But it wouldn't be fair to leave it at that. This statistic doesn't prove the inherent riskiness of going to church. What it proves is … [Read more...]

Evolution and the Problem of Evil

In the opening chapter of The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins penned the following words:An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable … [Read more...]

A Critique of the Learning Annex

The Learning Annex is a privately owned continuing-education school in New York. As a resident of New York City, I can testify to its success - its kiosks of free course catalogs are on nearly every street corner in Manhattan. It was founded in 1980 by Bill Zanker, who sold the company in 1991 and then repurchased it and resumed ownership in 2002. The 2007 Inc. 500, a list of the nation's fastest-growing private companies, ranked the Learning Annex at number 346 and said that it makes over $100 … [Read more...]

The View From the Ground

Over the past two months, I've written about the differing epistemologies of religion - where the individual's personal conviction is taken as a reliable guide to truth ("The Aura of Infallibility") - and science - where the assumption is that individuals are fallible and should work as a group to correct each other in a spirit of free inquiry ("Self-Correction").The question I now want to turn to is this: How does a lay person tell the difference? Why should people who are not particularly … [Read more...]

Regulate Psychics? Hell, Yes!

Via Reuters, a story out of the U.K. that made me very happy indeed: British "psychics" are protesting a new consumer-protection law which they fear will require them to offer actual proof of their alleged powers.The law currently in force in this area is the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which does in fact make it illegal to fraudulently claim to possess psychic or clairvoyant powers. But the key word is "fraudulently" - meaning that any enterprising prosecutor would have to prove that not … [Read more...]

"Were You There?"

"We need to ask ourselves this question: 'Where do we put our faith and trust? In the words of scientists who don't know everything, who were not there? Or in the Word of God — the God who does know everything — and who was there?'"—Ken Ham, "Were You There?"I've been reading this stomach-turning story about young-earth creationists taking groups of children on tours of real museums, using the exhibits and displays of real science in the service of lies. This isn't the first time this … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions IX: Numerology

As you can see from this picture, the building where I live has no thirteenth floor:But of course, what this picture depicts is a mathematical impossibility. My building does have a thirteenth floor; it's just that it's mislabeled as the fourteenth floor, with all the floors above it similarly mislabeled by one.This may be a small thing, but every time I step into the elevator, it's a jarring reminder of how superstitious beliefs still permeate our society. I can see the logic … [Read more...]

TV Review: Planet Earth

I recently finished watching Planet Earth, the award-winning BBC nature documentary series narrated by David Attenborough. As its title implies, Planet Earth is an effort of considerable ambition: the filmmakers set out to produce a series that would provide a survey of our world's natural grandeur and biodiversity. To a remarkable extent, I think they succeeded. Of course the full richness of Earth's biosphere could not be exhaustively chronicled, but this series touches on many of the high … [Read more...]


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