Right Now: A Conversation Between an Atheist and a Catholic

I don’t normally do debates, but at 3:00 (CT), I’ll be having an online conversation with one of Patheos’ Catholic bloggers Billy Kangas:

We’ll be discussing the importance (or not) of traditions, the World Vision U.S. controversy, the Pope, and whatever other questions you may have for us.

You can watch the whole thing right here (and feel free to chime in with questions):

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This Must Be the ‘Jenny McCarthy Effect’ in Action

When it comes to autism, what does the science tell us? And how does the media cover it?

Neuroscientist Sam Wang, in an essay for the New York Times, goes into both issues:

A study published last week found that the brains of autistic children show abnormalities that are likely to have arisen before birth, which is consistent with a large body of previous evidence…

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of studies linking autism to a wide variety of genetic and environmental factors. Putting these studies in perspective is an enormous challenge. In a database search of more than 34,000 scientific publications mentioning autism since its first description in 1943, over half have come since 2008.

That’s all well and good, but the graphic included in the piece is a doozy. It shows that when it comes to the science, we ought to be paying closer attention to genetic and environmental factors (the risk of autism is much higher if you have an autistic twin or had an injury to your cerebellum before birth)… and we should stop pretending that vaccines have any connection to it, as shown by the final item on the list:

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Church Full of Oil Salesmen Claims to Cure Everything from Heart Defects to Mental Illness

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Auckland, New Zealand has found the cure for damn near everything: “tumours, mental illness, stomach and bladder problems, marriage difficulties, strokes and heart defects.”

Their cure: Olive oil.

Don’t believe it, you say? Well, the oil was “blessed” in Israel… and it’s magical now. So there!

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I Saw Noah So You Don’t Have To

I feel the need to start this by saying that I really didn’t enjoy Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah independently of the fact that it was based on a Bible story.

I sort of walked out of the theater somewhat baffled, and now that I’ve made it to my laptop, I feel deeply apathetic about it. Which is a bummer, because when I found out that Creationist Ken Ham hated it, I thought “Well, I am going to love this!”

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New York Circumciser Illegally Shrugs Off Parental Consent for Mouth-to-Penis Suction: ‘I Did What I Had To Do’

I’ve written about metzitzah b’peh circumcisions more than once. The procedure involves the Orthodox-Jewish mohel putting his mouth on the infant’s freshly-circumcised penis and sucking away the blood. Metzitzah b’pehs have resulted in babies ending up with communicable diseases like hepatitis. We know of two cases in which the infant died and others where irreversible brain damage occurred.

In New York, with its Orthodox communities in which these dangerously unhygienic circumcisions are still rife, the city’s heath authorities have done nothing to rein in the practice, other than to require the parents to sign a consent form acknowledging that they’re aware of the risks.

But even that inadequate measure is going too far for some mohels. One of them is Rabbi Avrohom Cohn, 85, the chairman of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision. Cohn is one of the top baby-penis-cutters in the region, and he says he doesn’t need no steenking permission, the Jewish publication The Forward writes:

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