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

triskadekaphobia

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...]

Thoughts on the Expelled Affair

By now, I assume, the entire blogosphere has heard about the public-relations fiasco which the producers of the creationist film Expelled have brought upon themselves. If you haven't, here's a brief rundown: last week, everyone's favorite fire-breathing atheist blogger and biology professor, P.Z. Myers, went to see an advance screening of the film. It seems only fair that he'd get to see it - he was deceived into appearing in it by the producers, who told him it was going to be called Crossroads … [Read more...]

Do You Really Believe That? (V)

Anointing the SickThe New Testament's Book of James gives some very unusual instructions on how to treat illness:"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."—James 5:14-15In eras when human knowledge was far less advanced, it's not surprising that … [Read more...]

The Million-Dollar Challenge Ends

Some news from earlier this year you might have missed: James Randi is officially ending his million-dollar challenge to those who claim they have psychic or supernatural powers. The challenge will be offered for two more years, and assuming no one succeeds and claims the money, will be terminated in March 2010.It's not hard to see why Randi would do this. After ten years without a single successful applicant, I think he's made his point. Unsurprisingly, the best-known, most prominent psychic … [Read more...]

The Scars of Evolution

Human beings, like all other species on this planet, have a history. We came into existence through a process of slow, grinding trial-and-error, occurring over geological time via the sieve of differential survival. And like all species, our bodies and our genes reflect and bear witness to that history. Far from being perfect, one-time creations, we still bear the scars of the evolutionary process that made us.This post will discuss some of the lines of evidence which hint at humanity's past. … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically VI: Bayes' Rule

You've just been to the doctor, and she has some bad news. There's a deadly new disease sweeping the population - one which strikes 1 out of 100 people and invariably kills everyone who catches it. Medical science has developed a test that is 95% accurate during the incubation period: that is, when given to someone who has the disease, it correctly returns a positive result 95% of the time, and when given to someone who does not have the disease, it correctly returns a negative result 95% of the … [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X