Popular Delusions XI: Satanic Ritual Abuse

One of the surest marks of a pseudoscience is that it stays forever the same, never altering its claims, even as the world changes around it and revolutions in our knowledge come and go. While science evolves over time, with theories becoming refined to more closely track the truth, popular delusions stay the same through the centuries, at most changing their outer robes to match the spirit of the times.I wrote about this in a past entry in this series, in which the demonic succubi and incubi … [Read more...]

We Are Myriad

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)—Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"Creationists who think themselves clever sometimes ask why, if evolution is true, we don't see bacteria re-evolving into multicellular organisms. But, as is often true of creationists, this taunt gets the situation completely backwards. Evolution is not a teleological march of progress but a blind algorithm, concerned exclusively with reproductive … [Read more...]

On Faith Healing Delusions

In April, I wrote about religious exemptions from child abuse laws, and today I want to revisit the topic.I bring this up because, a few weeks ago, I was walking by a Christian Science church and decided to take some of the free literature they had in a box out front. The literature turned out to be issues of the Christian Science Sentinel, a magazine which discusses world events and everyday life from the church's perspective. Most importantly, it contains numerous stories of … [Read more...]

Do You Really Believe That? (The Missing Pages)

Of all the major faiths in the world today, few surpass the bizarreness of Mormonism. The church was founded in the 1830s by Joseph Smith, Jr., who claimed to have been guided by an angel to a set of buried golden plates which he miraculously gained the ability to translate. These plates, supposedly, were the records of a lost American civilization, descended from a family of ancient Jews who had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and founded a large, advanced society in the New World. After … [Read more...]

Advice to Publicists: Know Your Audience

A publicist who obviously didn't read my site very carefully sent me this e-mail:Subject: wow...website is giving away free psychic readings with a famous psychicThought your audience would be interested in this. The savvy staff from the site, wowOwow.com, is offering a refer-a-friend sweepstakes that's unlike anything else ...wowOwow.com, whose contributors include Whoopi Goldberg, Marlo Thomas and "60 Minutes" Lesley Stahl, is offering four people the chance to win a free psychic … [Read more...]

Ten Questions to Ask Your Pastor

The New York Times recently ran a depressing article about the obstacles faced by public school science teachers. I don't envy teachers their job, as important as it is: between surly and unruly students, cash-strapped school districts, incompetent administrators, and the regimented, monotonous teaching needed to drill classes for standardized testing, they have more than enough to deal with. But this outrage may surpass all the others: religious students who have been programmed by their … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically VIII: Mill's Methods

Today's post on critical thinking concerns the five principles collectively known as Mill's methods, first presented together in 1843 by the Enlightenment philosopher John Stuart Mill in his book A System of Logic. Each of them is intended to illuminate the flow of causality in a different way, giving us mental tools to link causes and effects. In this post, I'll highlight past entries in my "Popular Delusions" series, and show how failure to properly use Mill's methods has duped the … [Read more...]

Run Your Car on Water! (No, Not Really)

The other day, I came across a pseudoscience site so laughably ridiculous I just had to share it:http://www.runyourcaronwater.com/(Warning: Page has sound.)As the URL indicates, the unknown people behind this site are selling a kit which they claim will enable you to turn your car into a "water-burning hybrid" that can use ordinary tap water as a fuel source. I'll go over the mechanics of why this is impossible in a minute, but first, I want to call attention to this curious claim:You … [Read more...]

Black Magic for Fun and Profit

A few months ago, I signed up for the mailing list of a site that has the chutzpah to call itself "Real Magic Spells". Practically every single day since, I've gotten a highly entertaining e-mail from the site's proprietor, one Frank Stevens, who endlessly boasts about how he's the real deal, how his voodoo spells really work (unlike all the other fraudulent sites out there), how much labor and danger he had to go through to learn this, how the powerful elders of voodoo magic are furious with … [Read more...]

The Uses of Pre-Scientific Cosmology

Before the dawn of the scientific age, humankind had only its unaided senses to examine the universe. Certainly, there were awe-inspiring sights, but those alone give little insight into natural phenomena. At night we saw the stars and the planets circle overhead; each season we felt the rains fall and the wind blow; and in moments of terror, we saw lightning split the sky and the earth shake under our feet. But none of these things gave any clue to what the true nature of the heavens might … [Read more...]