On Pushing Back

The recent violence in Lebanon, as well as the worsening sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, that have dominated the headlines in recent weeks remind us of the sheer unending vindictiveness of religious warfare. Indeed, of all the worst trouble spots in the world either currently or in recent memory - Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan, Sudan - religion has played a major causative role in virtually every one. The defenders of religion assert that it has brought into the world much good … [Read more...]

A Call for Truth in Advertising Laws


I was in New York City the other week, near Penn Station, when I was accosted by a well-dressed man in a business suit attempting to hand out fliers to passers-by. I did not take one, but inside the train station, I noticed one cast aside and lying on the ground. Out of curiosity, this time I picked it up and read it. It turned out to be promoting a revival meeting to be held in Madison Square Garden that weekend by the Korean evangelist Jaerock Lee, sponsored by a host of local churches. Below … [Read more...]

No Oracles

One of the major purposes of religion is and has always been as a way for human beings to seek knowledge about the world they could not otherwise attain. The ancient Greek oracle of Delphi, for example, is said to have foreseen the answers to supplicants' questions while in an ecstatic trance from breathing the vapors of her cave. Comets and other unusual astronomical events were believed to be portents from God presaging events of great earthly significance such as the downfall of kings. … [Read more...]

The 40th Skeptics' Circle

The doors of the Observatory are closed, and an eager crowd has gathered before them, milling about anxiously to await the unveiling of the newest Skeptics' Circle. Your host, Ebonmuse, steps up to a podium beside the doors and addresses the crowd thusly:"Step right up, folks, to the Daylight Atheism Museum of Superstition and Pseudoscience! Dare to plumb the most bizarre depths of the human imagination! Marvel at the fascinating beliefs cultures throughout history have dreamed up to explain … [Read more...]

Putting Humanity on a Pedestal

The history of the human species is, as Carl Sagan put it, a series of great demotions. Prior to the scientific age, humanity believed that we were the crowning glory of creation, and that all the universe existed merely to pay tribute to us. But the advances in understanding brought about by the dawning of the Age of Reason steadily undermined this belief, and though the partisans of superstition fought viciously against every new piece of knowledge, they have been steadily losing ground.The … [Read more...]

Seeking the Hidden Switches

Two juxtaposed articles in the June/July issue of Scientific American Mind offer some intriguing insights into how theistic beliefs may have first developed in the human species. First, an article titled Preschool Determinists:When cognitive scientists Laura E. Schulz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jessica Sommerville of the University of Washington tested preschoolers, they discovered that the kids were thoroughgoing "causal determinists." The children assumed that … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions II: Talking to the Dead

One of the most widespread delusions of our society is the belief in self-proclaimed psychic mediums who assert that they can speak to the spirits of the dead. John Edward, Sylvia Browne, James van Praagh, and Allison Dubois are some of the most popular, and command considerable fame and wealth for their alleged abilities, attracting attention such as prime-time TV shows, best-selling books, and personal consultations for which they charge hundreds or thousands of dollars per hour.However, … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions I: Astrology


I don't regularly read the New York Daily News, which could be generously described as a tabloid, but a story in the May 29 edition happened to catch my attention, and not in a good way. To the right is a scan of the page (click for larger version):Just below a story on the birth of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's newborn daughter is an article by the paper's astrology columnist, Susan Miller, confidently asserting what the girl's personality characteristics will be based on the date and … [Read more...]

Loose Marbles III

Shanksville / Flight 93The last of the four planes hijacked on 9/11 was Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after the passengers apparently attempted to storm the cockpit and regain control of the plane. Here it is somewhat difficult to tell what the filmmakers' hypothesis is, other than their certainty that Flight 93 did not crash in Pennsylvania as reported.00:57:15 The film extensively cites a video clip from 9/11 where a reporter from a local Fox affiliate at the … [Read more...]

Loose Marbles II

The World Trade CenterThe second part of this series deals with claims made in Loose Change about the collapse of the World Trade Center. Unlike the Pentagon, there is video evidence explicitly showing the two planes crashing into the Twin Towers, and so LC does not deny this (although other conspiracists have explained this away by appealing to secret Star-Trek-like holographic technology). Instead, the film asserts that the proximate cause of the Twin Towers' collapse was not the plane … [Read more...]