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...]

Popular Delusions X: Crystal Power

To mark the tenth installment of Popular Delusions, I'm turning my attention to one of the most common and enduring superstitions among the New Age set: the belief that naturally occurring crystals have some sort of special power to store, concentrate, or focus vaguely defined "energies".A web search readily brings up hundreds of sites discussing the magical potencies of various crystals, most of which have to do with their supposed healing powers. Here's an entirely typical … [Read more...]

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...]