Popular Delusions XII: Qi

A popular notion in traditional Asian cultures, as well as the garbled versions of Asian culture imported into the West by the New Age movement, is the idea of qi (or chi), the vital energy that permeates the universe and flows through living things. A wide variety of pseudoscientific beliefs are based on qi, and today's post will examine some of them, through the lens of an article in a local alternative newspaper I picked up touting qi's uses in interpersonal relations and healing.The … [Read more...]

The Story of Atheism

In my previous post, I wrote some thoughts on the power of storytelling and how atheists can use it to our benefit. In this post, I intend to apply those principles to tell a story: the story of atheism.Because gods are fundamentally human creations, this is also a story of humanity. It opens in the time when the human race was newborn, when we had first come of age as conscious beings who could look around and conceptualize the world. I don't know the exact nature of the beings in whose minds … [Read more...]

Do You Really Believe That? (Xenu/Thetans)

Although past installments of "Do You Really Believe That?" have skewered absurd beliefs from other sects, I doubt any religion has doctrines as laughably ridiculous as Scientology's beliefs about "space opera". Today's post will explore the most infamous of those.According to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Xenu was an alien overlord who, 75 million years ago, was in charge of a "Galactic Confederacy" consisting of 76 planets, including Earth (which, according to Hubbard, was then … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically: Testimonials

The testimonial is the favorite tool of pseudoscientists everywhere. Search the internet far and wide, and you'll have trouble finding a cancer-curing scam machine, thermodynamically impossible engine-conversion kit, or obscure psychic website that doesn't feature glowing testimonials from true believers. Eshu of Bridging Schisms gives many more examples, in his post "Testimonials and Research", like this gem from a satisfied client singing the praises of a psychic claimant:"I came to Philena … [Read more...]

Fertile Soil

We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements - transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting - profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this … [Read more...]

The Age of Wonder

If you search the internet, it's not hard to find New Agers and others who think that the dawning of the age of reason was a mistake. They envision a more "holistic" approach, one that properly pays heed to the mystery and complexity of existence, and castigate science for being cold, unfeeling, heartless in its probing, reductionist scrutiny of the natural world. For example:The reason things are advancing so slowly... is that science has neglected the (spiritual) indications necessary for … [Read more...]

Teaching the Controversy

When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives.In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief … [Read more...]

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...]