Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Have any of these benighted bothered asking?

Who would've thought that something as trivial as when to stand and when to kneel would still be up for debate? Well, some Catholics are facing a moral crisis with just that issue.

At a small Catholic church in Huntington Beach, the pressing moral question comes to this: Does kneeling at the wrong time during worship make you a sinner?

Kneeling "is clearly rebellion, grave disobedience and mortal sin," Father Martin Tran, pastor at St. Mary's by the Sea, told his flock in a recent church bulletin. The Diocese of Orange backs Tran's anti-kneeling edict.


"Kneeling is an act of adoration," said Judith M. Clark, 68, one of at least 55 parishioners who have received letters from church leaders urging them to get off their knees or quit St. Mary's and the Diocese of Orange. "You almost automatically kneel because you're so used to it. Now the priest says we should stand, but we all just ignore him."

The debate is being played out in at least a dozen parishes nationwide.

Since at least the 7th century, Catholics have been kneeling after the Agnus Dei, the point during Mass when the priest holds up the chalice and consecrated bread and says, "Behold the lamb of God." But four years ago, the Vatican revised its instructions, allowing bishops to decide at some points in the Mass whether their flocks should get on their knees. "The faithful kneel … unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise," says Rome's book of instructions. Since then, some churches have been built without kneelers.

You know there's an easy way to end all the wrangling. Do what God wants them to do. So does God want them to stand or kneel? Answer not in His book published a thousand years ago? Then why don't they just ask the Supremo?! Isn't it that He's available 24/7? Here let me do it for them.

YO! Big Guy high in the sky. You want your minions and toadies here to kneel or stand? ... Well? ... Sorry, I don't hear you dude ... Satan bit your tongue off or something? ... Hey, we don't have all millennium here you know.... Going once, going twice.... Sheesh! Guess there's no Big Daddy up there after all. Oh well.

Ok, all ye deluded, listen up. Go do whatever you like. Kneel, stand, sit, do somersaults, one-hand stands, kneel and lose yourself in your parish priest's crotch--whatever pleases you, whatever your cockamamie delusions compel you to do. Have a favor to ask though. Can you all book yourselves on the next flight to Pluto? Or better yet, heaven. You're just dying to go there, right? Goooood! Call me if you need help getting there.

Sigh. And for hundreds of generations to come those dang religionists will still be arguing over how many cherubims can tap dance on that pinhead (aka God). Can you imagine Roman priests during the time of Jeebus debating whether an offering of wine or the blood of Jews would please Jupiter more? And these Christians think what they believe in is for real? That out of the thousands of invented deities throughout history it is their invisible, absent, silent god that's the real McCoy?

Shoot me. I'm an alien living on Planet Woowoo.

God's chosen one is on the loose

Remember psychic judge Florentino Floro? He was booted out of office by the Supreme Court. Apparently, he's now hunting down those who wrote and blogged about him. God is for Suckers just received an email from Judge ESP. Here's a snippet:

I never used the word DWARVES in any DECISION, and I never consulted any imaginary dwarf to pen my decisions, my detractors submitted these false evidence or lies; and what I do believed in is: in the so-called SPIRIT GUIDES or PROTECTORS. LUIS, is the KING OF ALL KINGS of ELEMENTALS/spirits worldwide; and he is GOD’s ANGEL (Genesis, Exodus, etc.) What I believe in, is what St. Paul teaches: Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Prophecy and Spiritual Healing. I am GIFTED, and I never tried to develop my psychic powers, since what I believe in, is God’s GIFT to me of these — TO HEAL and TO PROPHESY, I never used these in DECISIONS.

I am not psychotic, and if you read the DECISION, it RULED that I can apply in other government positions that do not require dispensation of justice. I am a victim of INJUSTICE. On September 19, 1995, I stated that Atty. Teresita Cruz-Sison (Judicial and Bar Council Member) would suffer massive STROKE. HER VENGEANCE resulted in the submitting of FALSE EVIDENCE about DWARFS, ANGELS, PSYCHIC PHENOMENA, etc. Here in the Philippines, Judges, Justices are first NOMINATED by the Judicial and Bar Council (who selects 3) and the President of the Philippines appoints a Judge or Justice based on these 3 submissions.

I admit that GOD has chosen me to be the instrument to CLEAN the Philippine Supreme Court and Judiciary of CORRUPTION and abuse of power — by inflicting illnesses....


IN SUM, KARMA and the CURSE as we Catholics and Christians believe in have their own ways in revealing the truth; my clerk of court, Atty. Esmeralda G. Dizon, who submitted false evidence about dwarfs and psychic phenomena, to make it appear that I have brain damage, now, her first born, GELAY, 10 years old was inflicted with EPILEPSY, with 2x a week severe attacks. I admit that my GUIDE LUIS did all these, to impress upon the Philippine Judiciary, that receiving BRIBE money and abuse of powers, due to lust for glory, cannot remain unpunished in the laws of these UNSEEN, that are more REAL than we ever imagine. I REPEAT, LUIS, ARMAND AND ANGEL ARE NOT THE LOWLY DWARVES OR GNOMNES BUT SPIRIT GUIDES AND PROTECTORS THAT GOD HAD CHOSES AS INSTRUMENTS TO RID THE PHILIPPINE JUDICIARY OF MISFITS AND ROTTEN EGGS, THOSE THAT FAIL TO DELIVER IMPARTIAL JUSTICE BECAUSE OF MONEY, GREASE OR GRAFT MONEY.

Nuts, man. Plain nuts.

The brain creates supernaturalism.
Supernaturalism screws up the brain.

Hey, wait a minute. I wrote about this woowoo. Why hasn't he spammed me yet? No fair!

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Rat's non-question

The Rat visits Auschwitz and puts on a act:

"To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible -- and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany," he said.

"In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can be only a dread silence," he said, "a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent?"

Why is Shiva silent? Why is Kuan Yin silent? Why the heck do you suppose each and every supernat hero that's ever been worshipped silent? Geez, do we have to spell it out? Why the hell is it that Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Ironman, ... have never been around to save anyone in the real world? Duh!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ang Maputik na Daan (The Muddy Path), or How one gets mired in muck when there's no evidence for one's belief

I think most of us intuitively understand that the final arbiter in any argument as to whether X is true or false, exists or does not exist is evidence. If a party can present incontrovertible and overwhelming evidence for its claim then the matter soon comes to a close. If neither side has any evidence then the debate can hardly end. If the particular claims do not lend themselves to being tested (and are nonfalsifiable), if the claims cannot (perhaps in principle) ever have any evidence either for or against them, then the debate will go on ad infinitum (or until the proponents die out). Without evidence no one can know definitively whether the claims are true or false.

For instance in the case of "facilitated communication," study after study after study has shown that FC does not work as it is touted. Studies have repeatedly shown that when facilitators don't know the answers to the questions then what appears on the computer monitor are incorrect. Only when they know the answers will the child apparently type out the right answers. The implication is clear. It is the facilitator doing the typing (albeit unconsciously, perhaps through the ideomotor effect), not the autistic child. The confuting evidence is so strong that the American Psychological Association in a 1994 resolution stated that "facilitated communication is a controversial and unproved communication procedure with no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy."

On the other hand, supporting evidence for evolution is so overwhelming no biologist in his right mind would even dare suggest that evolution theory is crap. The flood of evidence comes from various fronts: from fossil records, homologies, selection experiments, DNA functional redundancies, transposons, redundant pseudogenes, endogenous retroviruses, .... While supporting evidence is legion there is thus far no evidence that refutes evolution.

In a recent "row" in an online discussion board the matter of presenting evidence regarding certain issues vis-a-vis Mr. Eliseo Soriano and his Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path) tv program came up. "Evidence counts," declared a Christian who's hardly sympathetic to Soriano, referring to video/audio tapes being aired by rival program Ang Tamang Daan (The Right Path) that's supposedly incriminating, evidence that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Soriano said/did so and so. Failing to firm up his allegations a member of Soriano's group retorted, "you cannot say things [on this forum] without evidence."

Clearly these Christians know that evidence is vital in showing whether a claim is true and not just idle (or libelous) claims. The producers of the Iglesia ni Cristo (trans. Church of God) program Ang Tamang Daan likewise know it is essential that they have proof Soriano said or did whatever it is they're claiming he said or did; thus they present (ad nauseam) a litany of video and audio clips in each of their episodes to make their case. (As to whether these AV clips have been doctored or taken out of context--we won't go off tangent and take up that issue. Needless to say, fudging and doctoring evidence is most unethical. That South Korean stem cell researcher got fired and internationally disgraced for doing exactly that). If there is good evidence for a claim then that claim has a good probability of being true. If there is no evidence then one must doubt whether it is true, and should not believe until such time good evidence is presented. Ostensibly, even Christians of various denominations/sects know the value of and need for evidence.

What is so ironic, therefore, is that the Christian forumers in those discussion threads fail to apply the same test to their core and collective beliefs--that the theological claims in the bible are in fact true. They fail to ask themselves: What objective evidence is there--outside the bible of course--that lend support to the theological claims therein, that evince they are more than just claims/beliefs by ancient writers? How do we know that those theological claims/beliefs actually have a basis in objective reality? Where's the evidence? If there is no good/testable/persuasive/compelling evidence should we believe these claims or must such lack give us pause? Should we ask for evidence only for certain matters while exempting others--specifically our treasured beliefs--from rules of evidence? Why? And what could possibly be the bases/criteria for deciding which matters are to be exempted from the need for evidence? How do we justify these criteria? If there is no evidence or no good evidence for claim Z and if Z is an extraordinary claim which does not cohere with the best of our current fund of knowledge (justified, evidence-based understanding) or if Z is not implied by the same, then is it rational to believe in Z? If so why?

The bias is pretty conspicuous. Evidence--and that means evidence with substance, evidence that will stand up to the rigors of critique (and intersubjective testing/verification)--is sought only for those beliefs that do not accord with what we want to believe in. For those beliefs that we cherish and have invested our hearts in, we relax the demands and requisites, and may not even ask for anything more than having others believing in the same. For instance, if we believe that aliens are in our midst then the flimsiest of evidence--e.g. I saw an unidentified blip streaking across the sky last night! Mr. To Pak said he fought off a couple of aliens trying to abduct him--is used to substantiate the belief. Then when confronted with the fact that such anecdotes don't prove anything and must be critically perused and investigated to rule out various other more parsimonious explanations, we resort to any number of fallacious arguments, or we declare, "Irrelevant. It doesn't matter. Because I believe in them!" And when told that mere belief (faith) does not make something true, that merely believing without evidence is wishful thinking and delusory, we unleash a storm of ad hominems and ad baculums and consign and damn our interrogator to extraterrestrial hell.

Such is the power of (strongly-held) beliefs. The power to derail and cloud our faculty to think clearly, critically, rationally, objectively.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

That nostrum called supplements

From Quackwatch:

Comprehensive dietary supplement reports issued. The National Institutes of Health has drafted a "state-of-the-science" report about whether multivitamin/mineral supplements (MVMs) and certain single nutrient supplements can prevent chronic disease. The conclusions expressed by the report's authors include:

  • More than half of American adults take MVMs with the belief that they will feel better, have greater energy, improve health, and/or prevent and treat disease.
  • Compared with nonusers, supplements takers tend to have a better diet, less need for supplements, and more risk of exceeding the safe upper limit (UL) of some nutrients.
  • There is insufficient evidence to recommend either for or against the use of MVMs by the American public to prevent chronic disease.
  • Few high-quality studies have addressed whether one or a few nutrients can prevent chronic disease in American adults, and only a few such studies have yielded positive results.
  • With few exceptions, neither beta-carotene nor vitamin E had benefits for preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataract, and age-related macular degeneration. Beta-carotene supplementation increased lung cancer risk in smokers and persons exposed to asbestos.
  • Folic acid alone or combined with vitamin B12 and/or vitamin B6 had no significant effect on cognitive function.
  • Selenium may confer benefit for cancer prevention but not cardiovascular disease prevention.
  • Calcium may prevent bone mineral density loss in postmenopausal women and may reduce vertebral fractures, but not non-vertebral fractures. The evidence suggests dose-dependent benefits of vitamin D with or without calcium for retaining bone mineral density and preventing hip and other nonvertebral fractures.
  • The FDA lacks the resources to collect adequate data and lacks the legal authority to safely regulate the dosage of individual ingredients.
  • Additional research and a mandatory adverse-event reporting system are needed for dietary supplements.

The draft statement was accompanied by a 321-page evidence report. A final statement is expected in July.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How much should we trust that test?

Imagine you've been under the weather lately. You've popped OTC analgesics, antipyretics, and what have you. Half a week has gone by and you just seem to be getting worse, so you go see your physician. He asks for the symptoms and does all those things with his stethoscope.

"I don't want to alarm you but there are indications you may have Krupp-Messerschmitt Disease," he tells you. You give your doctor a blank stare. "Well, it's a rather infrequent type of tumorous growth that can affect various organs. Afflicts 1 in 500 persons." "Are there drugs for this?" you inquire. "Unfortunately, surgery is the only remedy. But the important thing right now is to find out whether you actually have it. So I'm ordering a Tolkien-Rowling Test." Knowing that practically no diagnostic test is perfect you ask how accurate it is. Hoping to allay your fears the good doctor reassures you, "The latest research on this shows that if you actually have KM then 90% of the time the test will correctly come out positive, and should you not have the disease then 85% of the time it will correctly be negative."

Given the above figures how confident can you be that you have KM if the test comes out positive? That you're KM-free if it comes out negative?

Solution and answers.

How close were your estimates?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Size matters

Remember the hominid dwarf (Homo floresiensis) found in Indonesia a couple of years ago? Well, it may be that the "hobbit" isn't a species at all. She may have been suffering from a condition known as microcephaly.

Dissecting our brain

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci has a wonderful synopsis of the fascinating workings of the brain as unveiled to us by Cordelia Fine.

Two findings struck me. Vis-a-vis the finger-tapping experiment, the fact that the process of deciding to move the finger began as an unconscious twitch so to speak and only a fraction of a second later became a conscious decision to move the finger is a blow to the idea of (contra-causal) free will. If something is done out of free will then it must be conscious from the start--it should not be caused by something else, and certainly not by something nonsentient and primitive as brain cells. If the decision had started out unconsciously then it can't be "free." Well, from the Libet experiment there is definitely something biological/organic going on even before we consciously decide to move our fingers. Neurons begin firing which then causes us to consciously think/decide. Tom Clark of the Center for Naturalism will probably love this study.

Second, the experiment with the deck of cards brings to mind a recent European experiment. But darn I can't remember what exactly it was about! I vaguely recall it was something about deciding intuitively which is the better car(?). Bottom line of the study was--if my dendrites aren't all in a hopeless tangle--such shoot-from-the-hip non-analytical decision leads to a higher probability of success. These are interesting results. I'm sure the woowoo crowd would love one possible implication--humans have some form of ESP.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Islam is a religion of peace. Kill all the gays!!

In Baghdad religious militias are busy hunting down and snuffing out gays. And the casualty list is growing. However, not content with their fare (which may soon go extinct) Allah's blood-thirsty hounds are now expanding the range of their diet:

What scares the city’s residents is how the fanatics’ list of enemies is growing. It includes girls who refuse to cover their hair, boys who wear theirs too long, booksellers, liberal professors and prostitutes. Three shops known to sell alcohol were bombed yesterday in the Karrada shopping district.

God is all-loving. God hates fags! And nonbelievers. And pagans. And...

Friday, May 12, 2006

No to facilitators quacking

Just learned from the Bad Astronomer that Time has autism as its cover story. The article starts off with anecdotal evidence for facilitated communication.

Hannah, whose speech was limited to snatches of songs, echoed dialogue and unintelligible utterances, is profoundly autistic, and doctors thought she was most likely retarded. But on that October day, after she was introduced to the use of a specialized computer keyboard, Hannah proved them wrong. "Is there anything you'd like to say, Hannah?" asked Marilyn Chadwick, director of training at the Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University.

With Chadwick helping to stabilize her right wrist and her mother watching, a girl thought to be incapable of learning to read or write slowly typed, "I love Mom."

FC is still alive? I thought this delusion's been blown to smithereens.

The only good evidence thus far has been that FC = facilitator communicating. For instance, it has been shown that "when facilitators are unable to hear the questions, or hear conflicting information, the individual consistently responds incorrectly."

In 1992 a study was conducted by Wheeler, Jacobson, Paglieri and Schwartz where the facilitator and the child were separated by a divider which prevented the former from seeing what the child was being presented with, while still allowing FC to be conducted. The study "revealed no support for FC and suggested a strong facilitator influence on the children's response."

In a 1994 study Smith, Haas, and Belcher found that the child provided the correct responses only if the facilitator had knowledge of what the child was seeing and was fully assisting the child (hand-over-hand assistance with prevention of errors).

And from the findings of a 2001 review by Mostert of previous FC studies it can be said that "when methodologically sound procedures are used, no positive results for the use of FC are found."

"[Facilitated communication] takes the victims and their families for a brief joyride, then they find out that they’ve been conned, swindled, lied to." Given the various confuting evidence against FC who wouldn't be as angry as Randi at the Time article and its opening gambit? Can we really expect that not one parent of autistic children reading the article will get in touch with Syracuse or their friendly neighborhood facilitator?


Raymond G. Romanczyk, Laura Arnstein, Latha V. Soorya, and Jennifer Gillis. "The Myriad of Controversial Treatments for Autism." Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology. Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, and Jeffrey M. Lohr, eds. New York: Guilford Press, 2003. 366-369 .

Monday, May 08, 2006

The elastomer-based extraterrestrial

CSICOP's Joe Nickell reports that the (in)famous film of an alleged Roswell alien autopsy may be about to be shelved for good. Someone has come out of the (holly)woodwork to lay claim on his opus.

Manchester sculptor and special-effects creator, John Humphreys, now claims the Roswell alien was his handiwork, destroyed after the film was made. He made the revelation just as a new movie, "Alien Autopsy," was being released, a film for which he recreated the original creature. As he told the BBC, "Funnily enough, I used exactly the same process as before. You start with the stills from the film, blow them up as large as you can. Then you make an aluminum armature, which you cover in clay, and then add all the detail." The clay model was used to produce a mold that yielded a latex cast.

Humphreys also admitted that in the original autopsy film he had himself played the role of the pathologist, whose identity was concealed by a contamination suit.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ardent atheist eh?

Shoot! I'm only 77% atheist?!

The Ardent Atheist
The results are in, and it appears that you have scored 77%...

You are an atheist, pure and simple. You think God is just one big lie, and consider religious people to be both annoying and beneath you. Ardent atheists will argue tooth and claw for their position, and have no truck with people that won't listen. You think being an atheist is the only way to lead an honest life, and see no reason to accept the pleas of faith. Ardent atheists are the backbone of atheism. Be proud.

Ah! But the essential question is, Did I make it to the 99th percentile?

(via Anne)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Does God want us to pray?

Catholics beware. Praying may be hazardous to your health.

Five Mexican children were killed when a large metal cross they were praying at was struck by lightning in central Mexico, local media reported Monday.

Five children between 9 and 16 years old died and several others suffered burns when lightning struck a white-painted metal cross set on a hill in the town of Santa Maria del Rio early on Sunday, according to two newspaper reports.

“The lightning went straight into them and killed them instantly,” local Red Cross chief Eduardo Suarez told the daily El Norte.

What's that? God is all-loving? How about all-absent, all-imaginary?

Oh sure! God didn't do this. He wasn't at all responsible for this "act of god." It must've been his satan, the antichrist, or some renegade supernatural terrorist who's learned a thing or two from bin Laden & Co. who perpetrated this diabolical deed. And because of the Prime Directive, His Highness, the Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent One, was utterly impotent and couldn't snap his fingers to save a few innocent children since their ghastly death while praying to him is part of some friggin divine plan (all the world's a stage and we're pawns in a divine comedy that tickles him pink). And that we instead ought to be happy(!) and should rejoice(!) because the souls of these electrocuted, toasted corpses are now romping and prancing with the Almighty D*ckhead. And that yak yak yak blah blah blah yada yada yada.

For cripes sake, when will believers put an end to their flood of unjustifiable, unsubstantiable ad hoc rationalizations and face the empirical facts that contradict and confute their delusory, epistemologically unsupportable theologies?!

Belief in gods is the greatest bullshit ruse ever pulled off! It must be the most effective means ever invented to f**ck up people's brains.

(news via Pharyngula)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The psychic judge

Imagine courts being presided over by judges such at this.

Judge [Florentino] Floro, who was appointed RTC [Regional Trial Court] Judge in November 1998, admits to having "psychic visions," of foreseeing the future because of his power in "psychic phenomenon." He believes in "duwendes" [dwarves] and of a covenant he had with them. He also said that he can write while on trance and that he had been seen by several people to have been in two places at the same time. He also likened himself to the "angel of death" who can inflict pains on people, especially upon those he perceived to be corrupt officials of the Malabon RTCs. During court sessions, Judge Floro wore blue robes except on Fridays when he wore a black robe and black outfit from head to foot allegedly to recharge his psychic powers. He also conducted healing sessions inside his chambers during break time.

Fortunately, the Philippine Supreme Court justices have their heads screwed on right. The Court ordered Floro "separated from service" after he was diagnosed as suffering from psychosis. In its decision it said,

Psychic phenomena, even assuming such exist, have no place in a judiciary duty bound to apply only positive law and, in its absence, equitable rules and principles in resolving controversies. Judge Floro’s belief system, as well as his actuations in the eight months that he served as RTC judge, indubitably shows his inability to function with the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.

Quite relieving to hear that.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What would you do to save your child?

Here's a little exercise. Let's say that to our horror our toddler has just ingested a spoonful of rat poison pellets we've so carelessly laid in the corners of our kitchen. Let's assume a teaspoon is enough to take out a Rottweiler. Let's assume as well that we have no medical training and that inducing our child to throw up is not an option. Which of the following would you do and which do you think would most probably save her life?

1. Do nothing. You carry on as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

2. You sit beside him and assume the lotus position. You close your eyes, bring your brain waves down to the alpha level, and visualize white light dissolving the poison in his tummy. With more blinding white light you clean his entire digestive and circulatory systems. (For Old Agers out there, that's the Silva Method for treating any and all diseases)

3. You rush your child to a Chinese medicine man or a shaman or a chiropractor or a faith healer or a psychic healer or some "alternative medicine" practitioner.

4. You fall on your knees and start praying to Kuan Yin (the goddess of mercy), Allah, Buddha, Salus (Roman goddess of health), Feta (uh perhaps not), Baal, or whichever deity/deities you subscribe to.

5. In addition to #4 you run to the phone and call all your relatives and friends and ask them to pray with you. You also send SMS (text) messages to everyone in your address book to spread the word and get the whole world praying, chanting, lighting incense, ....

6. You rush her to the nearest ER or clinic and have doctors give her atropine (or whatever it is they give to counteract the effects of the poison) or get the poison out of her.

7. Number 6 and then #2, 3, 4, and/or 5. (#3 is done after her discharge from the clinic/hospital, while #2, 4, 5 can be performed while she's being treated by doctors).

If you choose #7, why do you think performing #2, 3, 4, and/or 5 in addition to #6 will or might help.

What do you think are the chances that supernaturalists and woowoos would choose #7 or a variation thereof?