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...]

February 2008 Science Updates

There's been so much important news pouring in this month that it's hard to keep up with it. But despite the flood of information, there've been a few especially significant discoveries that I think shouldn't be overlooked. There are three that I thought deserve special notice:• On February 13, astronomers announced the discovery of a new solar system that resembles our own more closely than any exoplanetary system that was previously known. The new system, given the unlovely designation … [Read more...]

Conflicting Miracles

"Saint Jnanadeva is revered for his Bhagavad Gita translation and commentary in the Maharastrian language. Among several miracles that established this 13th-century saint's reputation, the most famous involved a water buffalo. Challenged by the arrogant brahmins of Paithan that he was not qualified to recite the Vedas, Jnanadeva replied, 'Anyone can recite the Vedas.' He placed his hand upon a nearby water buffalo, which proceeded to correctly chant Vedic verses for more than an … [Read more...]

Is Sex for Procreation?

"Contraception is wrong because it's a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as 'natural law.' The natural law purpose of sex is procreation....sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation."—http://www.catholic.com/library/Birth_Control.aspAmong Christian religions, it is a common teaching that the … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions VIII: Anti-Vaccine Hysteria

In all of human history, the invention of vaccination should be classed as one of our greatest medical triumphs. This innovation has saved millions of lives and prevented untold suffering and misery; it has brought many once-epidemic diseases under control, and eradicated others altogether. Tragically, our era has seen a dangerous new strain of pseudoscience emerge, one that threatens all of these gains.The theory behind vaccines is conceptually simple. Human beings possess an exquisitely … [Read more...]

On the Limits of Knowledge

A common argument made by religious apologists is that atheism is unreasonable because, to exclude the possibility of God, a person would have to have total knowledge of all that exists in the universe. Otherwise, we might overlook a deity hiding in one of the gaps in our knowledge. As one Christian put it to me in an e-mail:And certainly, unless you have visited an appreciable portion of the cosmos and whatever else, there is at least a reasonable possibility that a creator exists. In other … [Read more...]

The Curiously Postmodern Modern Apologists

Back in November, a debate with a Christian in another comment thread took a curious turn:But I have faith in the gospel and what it promises me, just like you have faith in your readings. Your suposed facts and my suposed facts, what makes mine so wrong and your so right. Are facts from the bible so different from the facts you read from magazines, books and websites....nope. It all boils down to faith. Until you can tell me that you were there from the beginning up until now, you dont … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically V

Double-Blind TestsIn a post back in October, I dissected the claims of a spam e-mail that landed in my inbox to promote the "Detox Box", an expensive piece of snake oil claimed to be able to cure any disease through the power of pseudoscience. As is usual in these matters, an offended true believer showed up in the comments to proclaim her faith in the device:The Detox Box works for me and I wouldn't go without it. It is my personal results. I don't need a double blind study to know that it … [Read more...]

Do You Really Believe That? (IV)

The Zombie SaintsAccording to all three of the New Testament's Synoptic gospels, miracles attended Jesus' death: a mysterious midday darkness over all the land and the veil of the Jewish temple torn in half. (The Gospel of John omits these miracles, differing with the Synoptics in this point as in others.) However, there's one miracle that only one gospel records."And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, … [Read more...]

The Rise and Fall of the James Ossuary

In October 2002, a dramatic find exploded onto the scene in the field of Biblical archaeology. At a Washington press conference, Hershel Shanks, editor and publisher of the Biblical Archaeology Review, presented a large audience with what he called "the first ever archaeological discovery to corroborate Biblical references to Jesus." The find was an ossuary - a stone box used in the ancient world to bury the bones of a deceased person - with an Aramaic inscription reading, "Yaakov bar Yoseph, … [Read more...]


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