Sunday, November 15, 2009
Needless to say the site is unabashedly blatantly biased. It publishes only those cases where there was prayer somewhere in the patient history after which the patient got better. So what may we ask about those who had the same condition and did have prayer (whatever kind and to whichever deity) but did not get well or even got worse? And what about those who had the same condition who didn't pray but whose condition improved? Moreover, what about the various medical treatments and procedures which the patients were undergoing at the time invisible genies somewhere in the universe or outside the universe were being dialed up? Would the patients have recovered without them? If prayer is a or the panacea and is effective against such a wide spectrum of diseases and medical conditions, why don't these God-intoxicated doctors just turn their cases over to Doc Jesus and have him snap his fingers and make them well? Just replace all doctors in their hospital or clinic with faith healers. If prayer is indeed efficacious then decommision the pharmaceutical industry and have MDs change careers. You don't even need diagnostics of any kind. Scrap all the equipment for X-ray, CAT scans, MRIs, PET scans, blood exams, etc. Just tell people to pray or head on over to the nearest healing priest/pastor/shaman the minute they feel something wrong. It's that simple if prayer really works. It doesn't work that way? Why? How do you know? What makes you think this (peri)omnipotent, (peri)omniscient deity of yours needs your help?
In Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Amazing Meeting 6 talk he declared that doctors are far from being smart. I thought that was a rather unfair blanket statement. Well, I apologize to Tyson. I'm beginning to think he may very well be right after all. Of course, there are doctors who can actually think critically (the skeptics community has a number of them--Steven Novella, Stephen Barret, Harriet Hall, David Gorski) but there really are lots of MDs who don't have their heads screwed on right at all and buy into cockamamie alternative medicine crap out there, including one of the most ridiculous--homeopathy.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
So far, with those patients who have used this formula as prevention, there have not been any cases of infection, at least not reported to me.
I distribute this formula every year to all the personnel at IHB during the periods of epidemics and since I began doing so, not one of the approximately 22 employees has contracted the disease, not even those who live in areas where it is endemic.
This of course is insufficient evidence for efficacy. When I read the above the image that pops in my head is that of Dreux tightly crossing her fingers behind her back praying her luck holds.
Despite belief in the efficacy of her anti-dengue nostrum, she cautions:
Of course homeopathy does not DO AWAY WITH or INTERFERE with the obligatory medical care in these cases, nor should we neglect to eradicate the vector (the Aedes aegypti mosquito) by eliminating its breeding sites.Well, if "obligatory medical care" and eradication of the disease vector weren't and aren't done away with, couldn't these be the cause of the lack of incidence? Setting aside ethical issues for the moment, if Dreux actually performed a double-blind trial and subjected half of a community to her brew and half to pure sugar pills--withholding any other form of treatment including "obligatory medical care"--perhaps she could have a better idea of whether her "medicine" actually works or not. As it is, Dr. Dreux is infected with dilution delusion. And not even an hourly dose of 100,000X (ultra powerful stuff indeed!) whatnot will cure her.
Dreux and her water institute aside, what is truly disturbing is what the doctor reveals in passing--that Brazil's health department has a homeopathy division. When government legitimizes quackery and itself peddles snakeoil then it has betrayed the people. One can only hope that there are Brazilians who are making noise and who are trying to inject sanity into its department of health.
Monday, October 19, 2009
1. Homeopathy and Homotoxicology by Biological Homeopathic Medical Corp (BHMC) / Ibarra Bio Med Int'l Trading Corp.
Let me begin with what may be a tragedy that's in the offing. After I started inquiring about their products alarms went off in my head when the representative at the booth boasted about their company having made a presentation before health officials for a preparation that addresses dengue. What these "medicines" actually are remains to be seen. I gather from the rep that they're alternative meds, perhaps homeopathic. In the recent past there have been homeopaths who prescribed homeopathic remedies for malaria. Such nostrums are completely ineffective against that disease. I'm betting that the treatment BHMC is purveying is just as bogus. These people are toying with lives. Dengue is a very serious condition. Homeopathy should be banned from peddling anything to treat/prevent such life threatening conditions. Hopefully the health department will not get duped. Lives--specially those of young children--are at stake.
Onto the reading materials I was provided. One of BHMC's flier lists the principles "proven and developed by Dr. Hans Heinrich Reckeweg":
1. Like cures like
2. The more the remedy is diluted, the greater its potency
3. An illness is specific to the individual
The first two principles were in fact laid down by the inventor of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann. And no they haven't been proven. The second principle doesn't even need testing. Given what we know about how chemicals work, it's implausible from the git go. It's the very opposite of what we know is true even intuitively--the more of a substance you administer the more pronounced its effect. The less of it you give/receive the less its effects--and that goes for what we commonly call poisons as well. Even cyanide poses no threat if you ingest but a microgram.
BHMC is affiliated with Heel, a company that has distributors in the US, Germany, Canada, Australia, among others. Dr. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch tells us that Reckeweg founded BHI (later renamed Heel) back in the early 20th century. In the last few decades the company managed to earn the ire of the FDA which regarded it as the "most flagrant law violators among homeopathic marketers." Barrett issues this warning:
Heel-BHI has been marketing products with outrageous and illegal claims for more than 25 years. The vast majority are irrationally formulated and have not been scientifically tested. Using them instead of proven therapy is a waste of money and could lead to delay in getting appropriate treatment.
The BHMC pamphlet lists its services:
Electroacupuncture by Dr. Voll
Super MORA Therapy
Bio Oxidative Therapy
Traditional Chinese Acupuncture
Natural, Nutritional and Biological Preventive Medicine
All of the above are unproved therapies. And the safety of some of them is questionable..
The other flier I was handed introduces their Detox Kit. It describes the contents of the kit as follows:
The Heel Detox Kit® combines three homeopathic complex remedies for a comprehensive effect.
Lymphomyosot® Oral Drops
activates the lymphatic system in order to detoxify the connective tissue and the mesenchyme
Nux vomica-Homaccord® Oral Drops
stimulates the gastro-intestinal excretion pathway as well as the hepatic system (liver)
Berberis-Homaccord® Oral Drops
activates the renal and the biliary systems (kidney, gall bladder)
I googled and found the composition of the Heel Detox Kit. The webpage lists all the active ingredients and even the amount of each per 100 milliliter bottle. With this data I created a spreadsheet which shows the actual amount each of the active ingredients taking into account their respective dilutions.
For the Nux vomica-Homaccord drops they list 22 substances:
Nux vomica D3
Nux vomica D10
Nux vomica D15
Nux vomica D30
Nux vomica D200
Nux vomica D1000
Bryonia alba D3
Bryonia alba D6
Bryonia alba D10
Bryonia alba D15
Bryonia alba D30
Bryonia alba D200
Bryonia alba D1000
Lycopodium clavatum D3
Lycopodium clavatum D10
Lycopodium clavatum D30
Lycopodium clavatum D200
Lycopodium clavatum D1000
You can't help but notice that in fact there are only 4 ingredients. They've merely used various dilutions of these four. If you look at the last column (% of total active ingredients) of the spreadsheet you'll see that the contributions of dilutions other than D3 are completely negligible.
You're probably wondering what this "Dx" rating is all about. In homeopathic terminology D stands for decimal. It's a scale to denote the degree of dilution. A D1 means there's one part of active to 10 parts inert ingredient. For a D2 it's one in a hundred. So it's a logarithmic scale similar to the Richter scale for earthquake intensity. Being logarithmic a D4 is ten times more dilute than a D3 preparation [10(4-3)], a D6 is a thousand times more dilute than a D3 [10(6-3)], and a D30 is a thousand trillion trillion times more dilute than a D3 [10(30-3)].
In the Nux vomica oral drops some of the substances are watered down to D1000. How dilute is a D1000? If you had one drop of active ingredient and were to dilute it in one go you'd have to mix that single drop with 101000 (remember, that's "1" followed by a thousand zeros) drops of water or alcohol. How much is 101000 drops? That's equivalent to 6.5 × 10992 cubic meters [see Note 1]. And just how large is that? Well, it's more than the size of our universe. In fact a lot bigger. If a bucket were the size of the universe you'd need 7.7 trillion buckets to end up with 6.5 × 10992 m3 [see Note 2]. After mixing (if you can even imagine achieving that) you can scoop a volume as large as the Earth or the Sun or the Milky Way and the chances of finding a single molecule of the active ingredient would still be exceedingly infinitesimal.
Since it is impossible to make extremely dilute preparations in a single step, homeopaths perform a series of successive dilutions. For example to obtain a D1000 they may mix a drop of the active ingredient in 105 drops of water--equivalent to 6.5 liters. This is now a D5 dilution. A drop from this is then added to another 6.5 liters of water to create a D10. And so on until it's been performed 200 times. Here's another way of looking at that. Let's say the entire Earth all the way to its inner core is made of water. You add a drop of the active ingredient and mix thoroughly. Take a drop of that and add it to another Earth-sized planet made of pure water. Remember to mix it real well. To end up with a D1000 you'd need to do this 45 times [see Note 3].
As we've seen homeopaths claim that the more diluted a preparation the more potent it is. Thus a D1000 is far more powerful than a D10 even if there's negligible chance of finding even a single molecule of the substance that's suppose to treat the condition. This is dilution delusion.
According to Heel the Detox regimen consists of "30 drops of each preparation in 0.7-1.5 liters of spring water to be drank during the course of the day." In the spreadsheet I've computed how much of the active ingredients one actually gets daily.
Nux vomica-Homaccord: 0.00030 drop (equivalent to 0.00020 ml)
Lymphomyosot (or Lyphosot): 0.0087 drop (equivalent to 0.00057ml)
Berberis-Homaccord: 0.084 mg.
These are very minuscule amounts indeed. Which means to say they probably have neither therapeutic nor adverse effects.
Just to get a perspective on how small those amounts are, let's compute for how many days it would take to ingest a drop or milligram of the active ingredients. To compute, just get the inverse of the above values. We obtain:
Nux vomica-Homaccord: 3,333 days / drop
Lymphomyosot (or Lyphosot): 115 days / drop
Berberis-Homaccord: 12 days / mg
Finally, is there anything to the notion of detoxification? None. It's bunk. It's crap. It's woo.
2. Shaolin Electronic Acupuncture Apparatus
The apparatus consists of an oval plastic device with a major diameter of around two and half inches, with "wings" on either side made of some pliable material under which are attached a black, sticky material they call the plaster or patch. Click the above link for photos. Here are a couple of infomercial videos I found on Youtube: the original is in Chinese but here's one in English.
The apparatus is manufactured by Zhengzhou HuiHao Technology Co.,Ltd in Zhengzhou, China. The device is powered by a coin battery and is said to incorporate a microprocessor. They probably mean microcontroller but then the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in reference to embedded systems.
The flier I got explains how it works:
A Microprocessor [sic] generates a low frequency magnetic field while [sic]controls a modulated pulse that provokes slight vibrations to simulate therapy by acupuncture. This function stimulates the channels and collateral in our body thru a patch helping to promote blood circulation to relieve pains; eliminates [sic] dampness to invigorate the kidneys; expel toxins to lose fat, etc. It also achieves [sic] and has very good healing effects on inflammations and aches of the neck, shoulders, waist, legs and joints.
The following are the diseases and conditions the device can purportedly "prevent and cure": Arthritis, diabetes, rheumatism, backache, sciatica, impotence, joint pain, Bell's palsy, kidney problems, stiff neck, vertigo, insomnia, constipation, gastroptosis, nausea, gastroenteritis, tennis elbow, hangover, hypertension, stroke, headache, gonarthritis, bone diseases, cervical spondylosis, scapulohumeral periarthritis, hip pain, inflammation of the lumbar discs, hemiplegia, carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also help rid (excess) fat, expel toxins, relieve pain, provide energy, free the "channels and collaterals", and promote blood circulation. I'm surprised they left out the big C--cancer.
According to the video the sticky patch contains a secret Shaolin concoction made from 13 herbs. These seep into the skin five times deeper than without the electronic apparatus. As to how deep the herbs penetrate without the device they don't say.
The exhibit representative urged me to try the apparatus for just ten minutes. Although reluctant at first I did give in and allowed myself to be a guinea pig just to see what the gizmo would do. Boy, was I in for a surprise. The lady strapped the device onto my forearm and pressed a button. Within seconds it started delivering electric shocks. Not very pleasant at all! My hand twitched violently with every shock as the device caused my arm muscles to contract. The pulse frequency was approximately one per second. But every half minute the frequency would change.
Given its shocking output I believe this gadget employs an inductor--a coil of (enameled) wire (probably with an iron core)--to produce a very short but high voltage output. Whenever current passes through a conductor a magnetic field is produced. When wire is formed into a coil the magnetic field around the entire length of that wire becomes concentrated--the inductance increases. When current stops flowing the magnetic field around the coil collapses. But that collapsing field now induces a voltage in the coil--a voltage that is many times that which was present when current was flowing. But while voltage is high there is very little current that flows--and it's the amount of current that can kill, not necessarily the voltage. Thus while static buildup in our body can easily reach a thousand volts, we don't feel more than a sting when we discharge the accumulated charge.
If the acupuncture gadget does employ an inductor then it works on the same principle as the ignition coil in a gasoline engine. But in this case you and I are the spark plug. Try the following (if you dare). With the engine off, pull the cable off one of the spark plugs. Hold the end of that cable--called the boot. Best if you hold a metal rod and stick it inside the boot so you can make contact with the metal shroud inside. Have that hand also touch the body of the car (ground). As a safety precaution put your other hand behind your back and avoid having any other part of your body in contact with the vehicle. Now let someone crank the engine. Unless your body is made of plastic, rubber, glass or some excellent insulator, you'll get a pulsing jolt. I've had my share of surprises when I was still tinkering with engines decades ago. So in case you want to experience electronic acupuncture, your automobile will gladly assist you.
A car's ignition coil delivers around 20,000 volts to the spark plug causing an arc to jump across the electrodes. It's this arc which ignites the gas-air mixture in the cylinder. Now think about that. What do you think will happen if you bring this acupuncture gizmo to the gas station and turn it on as you're filling up? Well most likely nothing (unless perhaps you put it right next to where you pump gas into car's gas tank). But put it inside a jar with a rich gasoline-air mix, set the gap between the electrodes to less than 5 millimeters, program the apparatus to maximum output, and maybe, just maybe, you'll have an early New Year's Eve celebration.
Instead of acupuncture the manufacturer should've called it The Portable Electro Shocker. Does it work? It certainly does! For those who have a masochistic streak in them, that is.
1. One drop = 0.065 ml = 6.5 × 10-8 m3
Cubic meter equivalent of 101000 drops:
101000 drops × 6.5 × 10-8 m3/drop = 6.5 × 10992 m3
2. Volume of the universe = 3 × 1080 m3
number of universe-fuls of water (or alcohol) required to dilute one drop of active ingredient to D1000:
[6.5 × 10992 m3] / [3 × 1080 m3] = 7.7 × 1012
3. Volume of the Earth = 1.08 × 1015 m3
Let 10x = volume of the Earth in drops
6.5 × 10-8 m3/drop × 10x drops = 1.08 × 1015 m3
10x = [1.08 × 1015] / [6.5 × 10-8]
10x = 16.6 × 1021
x log10 = log (16.6 × 1021)
x = 22.2
number of Earth-sized successive dilutions to achieve D1000:
1000 / 22.2 = 45 Earths
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Prof. Sandel begins his first lecture with the (classic) trolley (or train) problem. It exposes how we humans basically are utilitarian when faced with no option but to choose between the lesser of two evils. (By the way, Sandel sounds like Command Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation)
In the movie The Wrath of Khan the dying Spock tells Kirk--having sacrificed himself to save the crew: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one." That's utilitarian logic. And we all extol such such self sacrifice.
Seven years ago, after watching a Star Trek Voyager episode (you can watch it on Youtube) I wrote the following analysis of the ethical questions which it raised and tackled.
I. The Storyline
In the episode "Nothing Human" the crew of the starship Voyager comes to the rescue of an intelligent yet heretofore unknown alien species, one resembling a very large scorpion or lobster. Because its ship is badly damaged Captain Kathryn Janeway decides to beam the lone survivor to sick bay, knowing fully well that by bringing this 'stranger' on board her ship she is putting Voyager at risk.
Preliminary diagnosis indicates that the creature is ill or injured. Though at first docile this creature moments later pounces upon the ship's engineer B'Elanna Torres and attaches itself to her, pierces her neck, and starts injecting substances into her body and sending tendrils into her major organs. By so doing the creatures survives by parasitically siphoning her energy and nutrients (reminiscent of Dracula).
Unable to decipher its language consisting of shrills the crew has no way of understanding the motives of this creature. They don't know whether it has attached itself to Torres because it merely wants to survive or whether it has more long term malevolent intents.
Knowing nothing about this creature and its anatomy, Voyager's chief medical officer "The Doctor" (a hologram) decides he needs the assistance of a Cardassian medical expert on exobiology. The engineers toil to create a holographic representation of Dr. Crell Moset, a feat they manage to pull off. After the Doctor explains their predicament Moset proceeds to examine Torres and the alien creature. But because the equipment on board Voyager is inadequate he asks that his laboratory be recreated in order that he may have access to the specialized instruments he requires to further examine this creature.
While Doc and Moset try to learn about the creature and ultimately devise a method to remove it from Torres without killing her, one crew member, Ensign Tabor, by chance comes face to face with Moset. The Bajroan is aghast and is unable to contain his rage. He accuses Moset of having murdered his family by exposing them to all sorts of radiation and chemicals as part of his medical experiments. The Doctor cannot believe his ears. Surely there has been a mistake. The great Dr. Moset singlehandedly came up with a cure for a rare disease and saved thousands from the fatal epidemic. It must be a simple case of mistaken identity.
But alas, searching through the ship's database, the crew piece enough information that corroborates Tabor's allegations: the 'good' doctor indeed had performed horrible experiments on Bajorans directly causing the death of dozens if not hundreds of their people.
Captain Janeway calls for a meeting. Voyager is caught in a dilemma. How can they let Moset continue helping them when the very knowledge he's utilizing was gained from his murderous experiments? Given the fact that his expertise derives from many counts of heinous crimes, is it at all conscionable to use whatever Moset has to offer to save the life of Torres, notwithstanding that this Moset is merely a holographic representation? No, they say, not even if it's only a hologram since the representation relies on the actual Moset files found in Voyager's database. The debate among the officers heats up. Several want the Moset program terminated immediately. Even the Vulcan Tuvok agrees that it is logical for Torres to refuse help from Moset. However, a few believe that saving Torres is more important and that the chances of doing so drops to nill if Moset's expertise becomes unavailable. The captain must make a decision. And she is forthright and does not dally, giving us the impression she had already made up her mind even before she called for the meeting. For now she says Torres is more important to her than ethical issues and instructs the Doctor to continue working with Moset.
In Moset's recreated lab he and the Doctor successfully induce the creature to retract its tendrils and free Torres from its death grip, by applying a neurostatic shock to its nervous system. They move on to sickbay and try the method, for real this time. But while Moset wants to apply a large dose of electrical shock ensuring rapid retraction of the tendrils, Doc intervenes and takes over, and applies a less than lethal dose to the creature.
Meanwhile, the comrades of this alien creature have arrived and are pounding Voyager. Its energy shields are useless against the aliens' weapons. Voyager still does not understand the shrills even as the crew tries desperately to telll the aliens that they mean no harm. It is clear, however, the aliens want their comrade back.
Over in sickbay the Doctor manages to induce the creature to finally let go of Torres. With the separation complete engineers are finally able to lock onto the creature and beam it to its ship. With mission accomplished the alien ships depart without damaging Voyager. They even seem to say "thank you" on their way off.
In the aftermath Captain Janeway tells the Doctor that as the medical expert on board he must decide the fate of Dr. Moset. It will up to him whether to retain Moset or pull the plug on this most controversial hologram. The Doctor arrives at Moset's laboratory. The latter is stowing away his instruments while humming a tune he and the Doctor had sung during their most fruitful collaboration earlier.
The Doctor tells Moset that he has come to inform him of his decision. The Cardassian understands that the Doctor is still bothered by his shady past and so tries to persuade him that what is important are the results. That he was able to cure thousands during the war. Moreover, that the two of them were able to save both Torres and the parasitic alien creature should be considered a victory. The means by which they managed to do that is irrelevant. The eloquent Moset puts up a convincing argument. He even reminds the Doctor that humans had for decades used animals to test virtually everything that humans dare not try on themselves. But the Doctor has already made up his mind. No argument by Moset can possibly make him reconsider. He hails Voyager's voice-activated computer and commands it to delete the Crell Moset program and all files related to it. The laboratory and Dr. Moset, murderer and savior, disappear from the holodeck forever.
II. The Issues
A. Moset's Move
Was it right for Dr. Moset to conduct his medical experiments on Bajroans, to use them as guinea pigs and in the process maim, mutilate, and eventually kill them? No. I doubt any one of us would agree. Those who dare say yes should be ready to stand beside Moset and infect, irradiate, and eventually kill any number of people.
The end does not justify the means, certainly not in this case. But this is exactly the point around which Moset's argument revolves. The Cardassian doctor believes that the thousands who were saved did justify the (cruel) means he employed. Moset is a utilitarian, i.e., he believes that if a hundred thousand lives can be saved by sacrificing a hundred or a thousand then it is a good bargain and one must go for it unhesitatingly. Moset would further argue that with the knowledge gained from experimenting on Bajorans (or humans for that matter) medical science would be so served and advanced that the potential benefits may be even more than what is now apparent.
The utilitarian angle is an attractive argument and many throughout our history have so reasoned and rationalized their actions this way.Surely if I deny myself the several dozen books I would like to purchase right now and instead place that money in an investment that gives a return of a whopping 20% per month I'd be able to enjoy even more books next month. In this rather trivial case the small amount of pain that I suffer today from being deprived of much desired reading material indeed is more than offset by the greater amount of enjoyment I will experience in the near future. Delaying gratification, of course, if one of the signs of a mature person (very young children as we all know fail this test miserably). In this sense utilitarianism may be a good thing.
The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the founder of utilitarianism and made it famous (or infamous) with his formula that we must strive for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Doubtless our Cardassian doctor would gleefully assent. And to the sure delight of Bentham, Crell Moset is a utilitarian to the very end and in every circumstance. He is a doctor, but with a twist. He wants to save and cure people, yet he is ready to sacrifice a 'few' if that would ultimately enhance the life of more people. For Moset the injunction "Do no harm" is not absolute if in the end more will benefit.
On the other end of the scale is Ivan Karamazov of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan argues that if the salvation of the entire world were to be founded on the abominable suffering of but one little girl then it is not worth it at all. In fact it is unthinkable, so much so that Ivan would rather return his ticket to God. The price is simply too much to pay. Indeed who amongst us would agree to such a Faustian bargain—one tiny insignificant soul for the salvation of the entire world? Tempting sometimes, until you're handed the stick and asked to torture the child yourself.
B. Voyager's Move
The dilemma on board the Voyager is whether to allow Moset to continue counseling them, thereby directly benefiting from the murderous experiments he conducted, expert opinion which would probably save Torres; or whether to delete the Moset holographic program, thereby denouncing in no uncertain terms the crimes against humanity (or Bajorans) committed by Moset, a move which will almost surely lead to Torres' death.
Let us now tackle the argument by some of the crew members that it is absolutely wrong to reap any benefit from the work and expertise of Moset because they were gained through the most unethical means imaginable. Was it wrong for Captain Janeway to use Moset in saving Torres? Does her decision make her an accomplice to Moset's crimes?
My personal response is this: While it is incontrovertible that Moset's experiments were criminal in nature, that the harm he willfully inflicted upon the Bajorans cannot and should never be countenanced, the fact remains, today, that what happened had happened and that we now have in our possession the medical knowledge, the know-how which can and does allow Star Trek doctors everywhere to help cure and save lives, indispensable knowledge without which many will not be saved. I am of the opinion that we must not throw away that knowledge simply because it was derived unethically. If that knowledge is summarily discarded then the suffering of those who served as Moset's guinea pigs would have been in vain. Not only had they been tortured, but the only good that ever came out of their suffering and untimely death would be put to death as well.
We cannot change the past. History is like a moving hand that writes which, having writ, moves on (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam). That Moset committed crimes against humanity is undeniable. That he was able to use the knowledge gained from those crimes to save not a few cannot be denied as well. That the same knowledge will benefit others in future (as in the case of Torres) must also be acknowledged. Call it some form of pragmatism but it is not conscionable to me to deny a starving family a loaf of bread just because that particular loaf had been stolen. If that stolen loaf is the only sustenance available that will keep that family from dying tonight in their sleep, I see an imperative for all to immediately offer them that loaf however it may have been acquired. There are priorities. And life is one of them, as Captain Janeway correctly recognized.
On the other hand, if the knowledge we had derived from the suffering of those Bajorans was how to kill more people more efficiently and effectively, then, yes, we most certainly must immediately efface, erase, expunge, and raze all the knowledge Moset had acquired.
III. An Experiment of Our Own
Let us imagine that we have been transported to the time when Crell Moset was just about to conduct these experiments. Further, let us suppose that conducting these experiments is the only way the for the doctor to find a cure for the hundreds of thousands who are dying. Moreover, let us also suppose that we have enough authority and power to stop Moset from continuing with his experiments. Let us also assume that we can see the future well enough to know of the alien creature that will attack Torres which would thus require the services of Moset, and that if we stop him from performing his experiments now the future Torres will surely die. The question for us who can grant Moset the thumbs up or down is: Should we allow Moset to proceed unimpeded? Given our perfect foreknowledge can we deny the hundreds of thousands, and Torres as well, the medical knowledge that will cure and save them? How would you answer or change your answer if one of those who will eventually be saved will be your 4-year old child? How will you answer or change your answer if all of those who will be saved are the people who invaded your country and massacred your people, leaving you widowed?
If we permit Moset to conduct his experiments then we become utilitarians ourselves just like Bentham and Moset. Morevoer, we would become accomplices to murder and all the crimes Moset will commit in the name of medical science.
Although the experiments will surely yield the answers we need to cure a whole generation there is no rationale that can permit us to decide the fate of a few in order to save the many. The end does not justify the means, however much more good there will be (as if we can, with ease, quantify goodness, happiness and utility) in the end than what we started with.
Therefore, while knowledge that already exists should not be discarded despite the means by which it was gained, consenting to create new knowledge through such means is not an option.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Well, having said how much I am part of these children's lives and how I find it so fulfilling, my almost irrational reaction to what just happened last night to the eldest will be in context. I found out from my sister this morning that her husband was watching a TV program last night. Apparently, John was watching too. At one point he turned to his mom and asked why the man was bleeding. His mom replied that the blood isn't real and the man was just a statue--although a life-sized one. A couple of seconds later John burst into tears. His mom rushed over and hugged him, trying to console the frightened child. She told him not to be afraid, that it wasn't really blood, just red paint and that it's dripping because the artist hadn't finished his work yet. The scene so traumatized John that an hour after he was still in a state of unease, still asking about the blood. In fact it was so bad that even after bedtime he kept waking up. He was able to sleep soundly only past midnight.
So what exactly did my nephew see that rattled him the whole night? John saw a naked man impaled on a cross, complete with blood oozing out of his hands (and perhaps feet). The TV program was a mini documentary on the life and sainthood of that Catholic priest Padre Pio, a purported stigmatist.
We adults who've grown jaded and inured to seeing crosses can't imagine how frightening and nightmarish it must be for a young child to see it for the very first time particularly when they've already sustained previous injuries and understand pain. In John's case he's already experienced various cuts and even a fractured arm and knows blood and pain very very well.
So here's a human being, practically naked, hanging from pieces of timber--nailed! to it--and bleeding to death. How awfully disturbing that must be! I imagine in that child's mind, in some way, he was able to apprehend how he could or would share the same fate, that he would be subjected to the same pain and suffer the same tortuous death.
My sister knows very well that I'm an atheist. I told her that what happened to John has made me angrier than ever. Not at the parents of course. At religion. As others have already pointed out using other hypothetical examples, what if some religion had for its central symbol a depiction of how their holy teacher or god-man was racked, eviscerated and quartered, because that's how he gave his life to save humanity. How would Christians react to that? Would their pastors and priests see no psychological harm in exposing youngsters--particularly those whose parents belong to that disemboweled man's religion--to such pictures and "artistic" works? The cross with a lifelike depiction of a bloodied dying man is a gruesome image. To subject children to such violence is downright insane! It's so graphic that's it's porn. It should have an X rating. And yet weekly, we have children dragged to churches and treated to a giant cross behind the altar complete with naked, tortured Jesus on it. I think this qualifies as child abuse.
My sister now knows more than ever that she has to be careful what her kids watch on television. She's been pretty successful in keeping the tots from seeing violent programs (needless to say, toy guns and swords are absolutely banned in her home). I believe now she's also aware that she has to be on guard against religious insanities as well.
It's been half a day since the news but I'm still seething. My sister warned me not to ask John about the nightmarish scene he saw. He's suffered enough. We certainly don't want to resurrect the
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I'm really so hungry for signs. So without even having the foggiest idea of the thousands of medical events occurring daily worldwide, I find this one--in my medical and scientific ignorance--to be extraordinary and see it as a miracle--a supernaturally caused event. Forget the fact that this medical event is (merely) a statistical outlier (occurring at the tail end of the bell curve--the positive end of course, not the negative). And perish the thought that I'm calling this a miracle not because there is evidence for the supernatural but because I am--in my breathtaking ignorance again of course--at a loss for the real explanation. No one else seems to know or wants to provide a natural explanation, therefore, in unabashed hubris I declare that I do know and that it was caused by G, and mind you not just any G, but my G. It is a miracle because I want to believe it is and I say it is. Now f**k off and leave me to my delusions.
Folks, beware of this mind virus. Prevent infection and save your mind. Inoculate yourself at the nearest critical thinking clinic.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Can anyone explain and prove to me how mere concentration and utterance of words (in whatever language, terrestrial or otherwise, fictive or otherwise) can possibly affect malignant cells?
If chants and thoughts are indeed effective in curing ailments and disease why then is a faith healing "clinic" in New Zealand offering patients free prayer therapy but advises its patients "to not stop regular medical treatment"? If mumbo jumbo actually can zap cancer et al., what need is there for medication? And if the patient does get well, shouldn't the drugs receive the applause?
I'm sorry but I cannot have any respect for the cockamamie belief in supernatural friends (and in a supernatural family where the father is the son and vice versa) and belief that talking to them will get them to come thru as benefactors--in other words, genies. On the contrary, I only have unbridled derision for such beliefs. In the context of 21st century life, they're pure malarkey.
The anecdotes of cure these faith healers provide are no different from those of other forms of quackery. I could very well market pure water (without saying it's just water of course) aggressively and enthusiastically as a cancer cure, and after I've duped a few dozen into buying, I'd be able to glean more than a couple of positive testimonials which I can then use to further promote my absolutely bogus product.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
You: Uhh, what do you mean, God?
God: Duh! 30 years ago I prepared a welcome feast for your arrival. Grand party with choirs of angels and all. I rang you up. Sent a platoon of my elite pathogens so you could be here in a jiffy but still have time to say hasta la vista to your family. So did you wear your best suit for the homecoming? Nooooo! You went and took all those antibiotics for an entire month and annihilated my army! Needless to say, I was heartbroken. And then 15 years ago I buzzed you again. I thought that giving you a heart attack would make my invitation loud and clear. But no! Instead of kissing your wife goodbye, you had her drive you to the ER. And those minions of Satan--wolves in white clothing--got your heart up and running again. To add insult to injury you even thanked those doctors on your way out of the hospital.
Well, who the fuck do you think you are! Who do you think makes the rules around here! Well, I've had it playing Mr.Nice Guy.with you. Since you've been such a bitch, I decided to stop sending you invites altogether and just yank you up here. Yes, yes, yes, that bloke who pumped half a dozen 357s into your thick skull was Angel 007. He's been on missions 24/7 ever since that demonic Fleming guy concocted penicillin or you would've been here years ago. Well now that you've finally arrived, what do you think happens to those who make it a point to fuck up my plan? Hmmmm?
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Apparently, Armstrong is saying that religion as it is now is faux religion. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. with all their doctrines, dogmas, cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, are bogus religions. They're rogue, adulterated, corrupted forms of the real thing. True religion is one that does not say anything about God. In fact if you can talk about God, if you start spouting off God's properties, deeds, will, etc, then what you're talking about isn't God.
Well, that's exactly the same theme in Taoism (I guess the real Taoism, not the kind being practised by the superstitious Chinese masses--mind you, some of whom are probably my kinsfolk). The Tao Te Ching says, "The Way is eternally nameless." "The ways that can be walked are not the eternal Way; The names that can be named are not the eternal name." (Tao Te Ching, Victor Mair, Bantam, 1990, p. 59,99) If you can say something about it, describe it, circumscribe it, it isn't the real McCoy. Thus you just have to approach the subject of God/Tao with silence. You cannot intellectualize it. You cannot relate to it via belief, much less dogmas and doctrines. Once you do, you've lost God, you've tried to produce, so to speak, a 3-dimensional representation of what is an infinite-dimension phenomenon, and made an idol.
This is the religious tradition of apophasis, where silence toward the subject is the principal tenet. Which makes you wonder what apophatic masters teach. I imagine Lesson 1 goes: "God is that which you cannot speak of, think of, believe in." And Lesson 2: "There is nothing else to say or think about."
I think the problem with apophasis is that its adherents are a drop in the ocean. That kind of religion is completely foreign, perhaps even inconceivable to the run of the mill believer. Most people can't possibly subscribe to such a religion. What people are looking for are derivatives from religion such as attenuation of anxieties, comfort, pat certainties, unchanging rules, black and white answers.
Religions obviously have evolved and continue to change and develop, with all the denominations and sects as living proof of the number of variants and strains, whilst other forms have died off. Moreover, claiming that the apophatic religion is the true kind of religion is just that-- another claim. The Koran claims that its Islam is the true religion. It would be silly and unthinkable indeed if any religion declared, "Oh I'm sorry, but we're not a or the true religion. So why do we keep at it? We're plain nutcases, you see." So the charge (either by Armstrong or by Blackburn) that the Four Horsemen are tilting at windmills, roughing up a strawman is hardly true. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens are engaging the extant species of religion. It seems to me that Armstrong's trying to save an endangered form, a high form of religion, if you will, but one which will never become a dominant species ever or even come close to such stature. Or she's just defending a tradition she prefers.
Breaking News: Just read John Crace's "synopsis" of The Case for God. And I thought I was being a tad harsh on Armstrong!
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Science is only truly consistent with an atheistic worldview with regards to the claimed miracles of the gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Moreover, the true believers in each of these faiths are atheists regarding the specific sacred tenets of all other faiths. Christianity rejects the proposition that the Quran contains the infallible words of the creator of the universe. Muslims and Jews reject the divinity of Jesus.
So while scientific rationality does not require atheism, it is by no means irrational to use it as the basis for arguing against the existence of God, and thus to conclude that claimed miracles like the virgin birth are incompatible with our scientific understanding of nature.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that these issues are not purely academic. The current crisis in Iran has laid bare the striking inconsistency between a world built on reason and a world built on religious dogma.
Perhaps the most important contribution an honest assessment of the incompatibility between science and religious doctrine can provide is to make it starkly clear that in human affairs -- as well as in the rest of the physical world -- reason is the better guide.
I really don't understand why anyone bothers defending religion. It claims to have a valid epistemology. Well, ok, show us. What supernaturalistic claim does any religion have that's been verified to be true? We've been waiting for several millennia now. Face it. Religion has tons of supernatural claims. None have been found or is known to be true It has tons of empirical claims too (and it even claims to have a real epistemology) and a good number have already been disconfirmed (eg. the earth is not--as some sacred texts claim--flat, the age of the earth is way more than ten millennia, there is just no evidence for any worldwide deluge, evolution is the origin of species not some mythic anthropomorphic militaristic macho prick as claimed by a tribe in the Bronze Age, ....)
Provide us a means by which we can find out whether religious epistemology actually works. For instance offer a procedure by which revelation can be shown to be a valid way of knowing. And show that revelation (whereby a "truth" or idea is placed in someone's head by a supposed supernatural entity) actually is a revelation from a supernatural entity and not just natural firing of neurons. Show that whatever "truth" is supposedly uttered by this prophet is not true simply due to coincidence or was arrived at by other ways of knowing.
In contrast, science has demonstrated again and again and again over hundreds of years that its epistemology does work and does provide us reliable knowledge. If you've ever used a computer and know of the things called airplane and antibiotic and seen those stunning Hubble deep space photographs then you would be a freaking idiot to claim that science doesn't work.
Epistemic progess is of course a barometer of the validity of the epistemology that any discipline flaunts. So which domain has had epistemic progress? Yes that's a no-brainer. Which religion has had any epistemic progress vis-a-vis supposed supernatural "truths"? If this were a contest (and I think it is!) religion should've been booed out of the stadium eons ago.
Now tell me which of the two is arrogant: Science which lets reality be the ultimate arbiter as to which explanations, hypotheses, theories are true, or religion which rides roughshod over reality whenever any of its doctrines/dogmas are contradicted by reality?
Yes, I am so uber frustrated over the fact that even educated adults keep getting duped into clinging to superstitions in sheep's clothing.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Just to be sure that this wasn't another urban legend, I turned to Amazon.com. Well, Jane Plant and her book Your Life in Your Hand (the US edition is entitled The No-Dairy Breast Cancer Prevention Program: How One Scientist's Discovery Helped Her Defeat Her Cancer) checks out. So much the worse for Plant as you'll see. Go read the widely available excerpt from her book (that particular website goes to show how governments are not necessarily keepers of the light, enlightenment that is).
Allow me to put cart before the horse and provide you my conclusion: Geologist and professor Jane Plant is incompetent. I say that because she's supposedly a scientist and yet she commits errors in thinking and analysis that would earn science undergrads a failing grade. How she could, in the same breath, remind us she's a scientist and write as a woowoo is jaw dropping.
Now for my arguments.
Plant tells us that it dawned upon her that in China practically no one drinks cow's milk and that dairy products including cheese are not part of the diet. She also says that statistics show that only 1 in 10,000 women in China die from breast cancer, while the figures for Western countries is around 1 in 10. (Let's at the moment just take for granted that she has her numbers right, although those would need to be checked too of course--I'm suspicious of the 1 in 10 stat). So Plant puts two and two together and comes up with the hypothesis that dairy product consumption might be a or the culprit.
Can we jump to the conclusion that milk is dangerous to women's health? Most certainly not. There's a truism in statistics and science: Correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Correlation is the phenomenon wherein two or more variables/events are associated with one another. For example, the temperature of the ground is correlated with the time of day--the closer it is to noontime the warmer the ground is. And of course this is because the sun heats the earth up. However, just because two variables are correlated does not mean one causes the other. The clock we used in recording the time of day obviously does not cause the ground to heat up. Yet another example. Over two decades ago researchers in Taiwan found that there is a strong correlation between the number of electrical appliances (including toasters) that a household owns and the frequency of use of birth control methods. Does this mean then that buying more appliances causes people to resort to contraceptives more often? Or does it mean that higher frequency of employing contraceptives makes Taiwanese buy more appliances? One of these would have to be our conclusion if correlation were equivalent to causation. The truth of the matter, however, is that the above variables are both correlated with yet other variables, namely, income and educational attainment. And it is these two latter factors that cause the increase in both number of appliances owned and contraceptive use. Income and education are both correlated with the former two variables. They also are causal factors.
In summary, if X is correlated with Y then either X causes Y, or Y causes X, or neither X nor Y is a cause of the other. On the other hand, if Q is the known cause of P, then Q and P will by necessity be correlated with one another. So while correlation does not necessarily imply causation, causation necessarily implies correlation.
In discussing Plant's hypothesis, another friend reminded me of how the Chinese consume a lot of soybean in its various forms--tofu, soybean milk, soy sauce, salted soy beans, etc. That in itself would correlate significantly with breast cancer mortality since Westerners consume less soybeans than Orientals. Just as with dairy products we could also say something like, It might be that the high consumption of soybean products guards against the occurrence of breast cancer. And these surely are not the only variables that correlate with breast cancer incidence and mortality. You could scour the world for various factors and find correlations, both positive and negative.
Plant goes on to tell us that based on this correlation and hypothesis of hers, she stopped taking any product that contained milk. She narrates what happened soon thereafter:
About two weeks after my second chemotherapy session and one week after giving up dairy produce, the lump in my neck started to itch. Then it began to soften and to reduce in size. The line on the graph, which had shown no change, was now pointing downwards as the tumour got smaller and smaller.She goes on to conclude that based on her experience she was right in identifying milk as the cause.
It was difficult for me, as it may be for you, to accept that a substance as ‘natural’ as milk might have such ominous health implications. But I an i living proof that it works....Well, unfortunately for Plant, her reasoning is flawed. She commits the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (after this, therefore, because of this). This is a causal attribution error whereby just because event B comes after A, we conclude that A caused B. Thus, just because the sun rose after the rooster crows obviously does not imply that the chicken made the sun rise. But this is precisely what Plant is saying. She tells us that she stopped taking any dairy product after which she noticed that her lump started waning until it totally disappeared. She then attributes this to her diet change. This is a textbook case of causal attribution error.
But note how she herself tells us that she was simultaneously undergoing chemotherapy, a treatment modality that is known to work against cancer. Why does she not attribute the remission to chemo? So what actually caused her lump to up and disappear? Well, we don't know for sure. It may have been the chemo, the diet change, both of these, spontaneous remission, or something else. To jump to the conclusion that it was diet change is to commit the post hoc fallacy.
Furthermore, Plant has the gall to jump to a conclusion based on her own personal experience. One anecdote is not evidence. And even if a thousand other women shared a similar story, it would still not be evidence. Thus, the aphorism goes: The plural of "anecdote" is not data, it's "anecdotes." And even if this had been a clinical trial, it is impossible for it to be a randomized controlled study for the simple reason we'd need to have at the very least two participants in the study--with one serving as the control. A clinical study with a sample size of two is in itself laughable--the margins of error would be so huge as to make its results practically useless. Hence, a sample size of one is just absurd.
Linda Bily, a reviewer on Amazon.com of Plant's book, likewise apprehends the lack of critical thinking that Plant manifests and has this to say:
The premise that since Oriental women don't consume a lot of dairy products and have less incidence of breast cancer is plausible, but unproven. I shudder to think of the thousands of women who will change their diets based on this book. I am most concerned that the high intake of estrogens and phytoestrogens, especially in the soy products recommended, could be detrimental to some women. There is still controversy in the medical community about the use of soy. If you read this book as an interesting scientific, but unproven, premise, you will be fine. If you take this book to heart, without consulting your medical specialist, you could be opening a can of worms. Dr. Plant is a respected scientist in her field. As a breast cancer survivor and advocate, I question some of her findings. The studies she cites to validate her ideas are older, some of obscure practice and are not widely confirmed. I also take issue with her description of her own breast cancer diagnosis. It returned 5 times according to the author and yet she states that it was an early stage at diagnosis. The tumor on her neck disappeared during chemo and she credits only her non-dairy diet for this shrinkage. She says that it spread to her lymphatic system, but her lymph nodes were clear. The book is interesting reading, but while I do not doubt her personal beliefs or her expertise as an earth-based scientist, I do hesitate to recommend this book to anyone. I am afraid that too many women, looking for a quick fix, will adapt her lifestyle without question. There still is no known cause or cure for breast cancer. Feel free to search alternative options and methods, but please, discuss any changes in your treatment, diet or life with your medical team and make an informed decision.
So, is Jane Plant's hypothesis that dairy products are a casual factor in breast cancer wrong? Certainly not. Let me repeat that in case you think that's a typo. It may be that regular consumption of dairy products are (partly) responsible for breast cancer. My critique above does not imply that Plant's hypothesis is totally off the mark. What is utterly awry are the methods/reasoning by which she reaches her conclusion, which means it is nowhere close to being conclusive. Keep in mind that an argument may have false premises but true conclusions. When the argument contains various fallacies then the conclusion cannot be known to be true. However, if the argument is sound (i.e, the premises are known to be true and the argument contains no fallacies) then the conclusion must by necessity be true. Because Plant does not follow scientific protocol (ie., objective, unbiased methods of testing hypotheses) we cannot have any confidence in her conclusion.
As a scientist, what Plant could have done is applied for a grant and performed randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trials (RCT) employing at least several dozens of participants. Barring this (for ethical or whatever reason), she could've performed an epidemiological study (just as was done with tobacco use and lung cancer decades ago), although such studies hardly provide the degree of certitude of RCTs. (But since she has no degree nor expertise in medicine I doubt she would've been awarded research money in the first place; thus she should've left testing of this hypothesis to the experts).
It is said that when a layperson makes a mistake in matters of, say, rocket science then that mistake is out of ignorance. But when a rocket scientist commits an error involving rocket science, that's stupidity. Prof. Jane Plant claims to be a scientist. But she made elementary mistakes about hypothesis testing and induction. Now that's utter stupidity.
As we've seen above Plant says of her cancer treatment: "I am living proof that it works." No, Prof. Plant. You're living proof that you failed to learn the essentials of Scientific Method 101. For shame!
Sunday, June 07, 2009
Mad men should be put in mental asylums. Annie's dad is mad--he just berated her for one full hour for taking money from his wallet without asking permission. Therefore, Annie's dad should be carted away in a straitjacket and locked up in a mental institution. (example is adapted from Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking, 3ed., by Merrilee H. Salmon, Harcourt Brace, 1995, p.47)If that made you chuckle, then you hit the nail on the head intuitively. In the first sentence (statement) "mad" is used in the sense of "insane" / "mentally disturbed" / "demented". However, in the second statement "mad" is used in the sense of "angry." Because Annie's dad was angry and not insane, the conclusion (the last statement) simply does not follow. If you say that the conclusion does follow from the preceding statements then you're mad! (no, not angry, but nuts and off your rockers).
The use of the same term but with different meanings within the argument is known as the fallacy of equivocation. Professors of logic Copi and Cohen tell us that equivocation is an:
informal fallacy in which two or more meanings of the same word or phrase have been confused. If used with one of its meanings in one of the propositions of the argument but with a different meaning in another proposition of the argument, a word is said to have been used equivocally (p.688)
Equivocal arguments are always fallacious. (p.192)
[Irving M. Copi & Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic, 10th ed., Prentice-Hall, 1998]
As we've seen from the (facetious) example above the premises (1st and 2nd statements) have nothing to do with one another given that the same word "mad" was used to mean quite different things. The Philosophy Pages tells us that: "The inferential relationship between the propositions included in a single argument will be sure to hold only if we are careful to employ exactly the same meaning in each of them," in other words, if the terms are used univocally--with only one meaning--and not equivocally--several meanings.
As with other logical errors, equivocation is sometimes used in humor. Lewis Carroll, for instance, employs it in Through the Looking Glass:
"Who did you pass on the road?" the King went on, holding his hand out to the messenger for some hay.Moving on to more serious examples.
"Nobody," said the messenger.
"Quite right," said the King; "this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you."
(quoted in Copi & Cohen, p.192)
It's the duty of the press to publish news that's in the public interest. There is great public interest in UFOs. Therefore the press fails in its duty if it does not publish articles on UFOs. (Theodore Schick, Jr. & Lewis Vaughn, How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, 2ed., Mayfield, 1999, p.286)Did you catch how "public interest" shifted in meaning? From meaning "welfare of the public" in the first statement it changed to "what the public wants to read about" in the second.
Here's one that's requires some prior scientific understanding. It's also an example that has an ethical side to it:
[A] sugar advertisement ... argued for increased consumption of sugar on the grounds that "Sugar is an essential component of the body ... a key material in all sorts of metabolic processes." (Howard Kahane & Paul Tidman, Logic and Philosophy: A Modern Introduction, Wadsworth, 1995, p.311)It is true that sugar is an essential component of the body. But this "sugar" is glucose. On the other hand, the "sugar" which the advertisement is promoting is sucrose--table sugar. While both glucose and sucrose are examples of sugars (i.e., saccharides), using "sugar" to mean glucose in one part of the advert and "sucrose" in another part (even if just implicitly) is a blatant commission of equivocation. Given that this is an ad, it is almost certain that the ad makers were fully aware of what they were doing and intentionally took advantage of the equivocal meaning of "sugar" in an attempt to mislead and dupe the consumer (perhaps to counter the prevailing notion that table sugar in one's diet should be reduced to a minimum).
Now that wily, deceitful ad appropriately segues to an example of equivocation by a member of the sect/cult Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) who had the temerity of locking horns with an atheist using illogic and absurd claims. Like the above ad, his argument misleads readers by resorting to the equivocal use of a pivotal term.
This JW made the following argument:
The gods in the religion of the atheists are the atheists themselves. The atheists deny the existence of all gods. But the atheists believe that they are gods. So they idiotically deny their existence.If you're a bit nonplussed as to how and why he can make the claim that atheists are gods, he offers the following idiosyncratic definition of "god":
A god can be the true God, can be any powerful being, any person with power in high position or anyone can be a god over a group of people under him, anyone makes himself a god if he denies the true God, a god can be also a thing like money, sex, idol, etc.Going back to his argument about atheists, let's number the sentences/statements therein:
1. The gods in the religion of the atheists are the atheists themselves.
2. The atheists deny the existence of all gods.
3. But the atheists believe that they are gods.
4. So they idiotically deny their existence.
In #1 since atheists are human beings, natural (not supernatural) phenomena, we know that he uses "gods" in the sense he has defined it.
In #2 however, "gods" can only pertain to supernatural entities since that is what atheists don't believe in, that is what "gods" mean when atheists declare "I/We do not believe in gods". It cannot be in the sense that this JW has defined it since needless to say atheists believe in the existence of powerful persons in high positions, in the existence of other humans beings, in the existence of sex, money, and idols (presumably he means that sex, money and other objects in the world can be idolized, i.e., inordinately valued by some people to the point of obsession, reverence, etc.). This JW cannot of course claim that "gods" in #2 refer to a subset of the "gods" as he has defined it since he tells us that "atheists deny the existence of all gods" (emphasis added). Insisting that "gods" here is the same as in #1 would mean that premise #2 is false, pretty obviously so, thus pulling the rug from his argument.
In #3,ostensibly, he uses "gods" in the sense as he does in #1.
Given that this JW uses "gods" in two different senses, his argument commits the fallacy of equivocation.
#4 is the conclusion. But as we've seen and learned above this conclusion cannot legitimately follow from the premises because the word "gods" has been used equivocally.
In order to further see more clearly how the above argument in fact commits the fallacy of equivocation here is an example that uses "God" (capitalized) equivocally:
Some religious arguments can also include equivocations, for example:
It is not possible for the universe to exist without a cause, therefore there must have been a First Cause, which we can reasonably call "God." I already believe in the God of the Bible, and now you have no excuse for not doing so as well.[W]e can see that God is being used in two entirely different ways. In the first sense, God is simply being used as a convenient term to describe a First Cause of the universe, with no particular attributes beyond that which is necessary to cause a universe. But in the second sense, the term God is used for something much more specific and with many more attributes: a traditional Christian conception of God.
(Fallacies of Ambiguity: Equivocation)
In logic, a deductive argument is said to be valid if it contains no fallacies. In a valid argument the conclusion logically and necessarily follows from the premises. An argument is said to be sound if the argument is valid and all the premises are known to be or have been shown to be true. Given a sound argument the conclusion therein must necessarily be true.
It is important to stress that the premises of an argument do not have actually to be true in order for the argument to be valid. An argument is valid if the premises and conclusion are related to each other in the right way so that if the premises were true, then the conclusion would have to be true as well. We can recognize in the above case that even if one of the premises is actually false, that if they had been true the conclusion would have been true as well. Consider, then an argument such as the following:Given this primer on validity and soundness, is the argument by the JW a valid argument? No, since it contains at least one logical fallacy.
All toasters are items made of gold.Obviously, the premises in this argument are not true. It may be hard to imagine these premises being true, but it is not hard to see that if they were true, their truth would logically guarantee the conclusion's truth. It is easy to see that the previous example is not an example of a completely good argument. A valid argument may still have a false conclusion. When we construct our arguments, we must aim to construct one that is not only valid, but sound. A sound argument is one that is not only valid, but begins with premises that are actually true.
All items made of gold are time-travel devices.
Therefore, all toasters are time-travel devices.
(Validity and Soundness)
Is it a sound argument? No, since it is invalid. And we don't even need to ask if the premises are true (a necessary condition for an argument to be valid), because an invalid argument can never be sound (validity is also a necessary condition for an argument to be sound).
The lesson: Make sure you use terms consistently. You can preclude equivocation by defining your terms precisely and in detail at the very beginning and double checking that every instance of the term is consistent with how it has been defined. Remember: the existence of equivocation renders an argument invalid. And sometimes, if flagrant, it may make it rather silly too.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Oprah had made a mistake, a big one--for her endorsement had boosted sales of this title to millions of copies. But Oprah did something very few do--she admitted on a succeeding episode how she had made a terrible mistake. Oprah bit the bullet, swallowed her pride, and apologized to her audience and viewers and even invited Frey and censured him right on her show. She even told a Washington Post columnist who had criticized her as deluded that he was right--that she was wrong and that his criticism was appropriate.
Recently, Oprah committed a far more egregious mistake, one that puts lives on the line. She's endorsed anti-vaccine propagandist Jenny McCarthy. Oprah has practically given Jenny a carte blanche by providing her her own show on the Oprah network.
Three years ago Oprah owned up and showed America her integrity. Hopefully this time around she will do the same.
Shirley Wu has written an open letter to Oprah encouraging her to do the right thing.
...To me, it is clear that a significant number of people look up to you, and trust your advice and judgment. That is why it is such a huge mistake for you to endorse Jenny McCarthy with her own show on your network.
Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy. In fact, ten of the thirteen authors of the paper that sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement retracted the explosive conclusions they made due to insufficient evidence. Furthermore, it is now clear that the study’s main author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to support these shaky conclusions.
Go on over to Shirley's blog and read her missive in its entirety. If you think it's worth it spread the word. And let Oprah know about it if you can. Remind her about Frey.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the Catholic Church doesn't stand in the way of scientific realities like evolution, saying there was a "wide spectrum of room" for belief in both the scientific basis for evolution and faith in God the creator.
"We believe that however creation has come about and evolved, ultimately God is the creator of all things," he said on the sidelines of the conference.
But while the Vatican did not exclude any area of science, it did reject as "absurd" the atheist notion of biologist and author Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God, he said.
What?! When did Dawkins say evolution proves there is no God/gods? Firstly, science is not in the business of offering proofs. Can't they (and journalists) get that into their skulls? Secondly, the worst or best (depending on your perspective) that evolution can say is that the various extant species came to be via natural processes--that the "some deity zapped plants, animals, and humans directly into existence" hypothesis has been dealt a coup de grace.
The Catholic Church might be finally learning. It's shoving its deity into those regions where science cannot follow it (the Church, that is). Sure, you can be Deistic and say "God is the creator of the universe." For now--and perhaps a long time to come--it's nonfalsifiable and nontestable. But those Vat boys better cross their fingers and pray that scientists don't take that away from them as well. There are already alternative naturalistic hypotheses, you know.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Imagine the Aviator is the sole individual authorized and certified to operate the RCB which he has with him all the time, 24/7. (It has various hi tech security measures that makes it practically impossible for some one with malicious intent to gain access to the RCB's functions). In case of an emergency the Aviator is informed and he can proceed to try and bring the plane of the crisis.
Now let's say Flight 576 bound for Tokyo, carrying some 300 passengers, has radioed in and reports that they've been losing altitude over the past hour. Nothing the pilots have done has been able to bring them back up to a safe altitude. Media has already picked up the exchange between 576 and the tower. The latest word is that the aircraft is now flying less than 500 meters above the Pacific Ocean.
At present the Aviator is in a pub in Dublin. By sheer luck the telly is broadcasting the news about Flight 576. The Aviator watches and knows of course that the situation is about to end horrifically. But instead of immediately pulling out the RCB he sits back and continues sipping his drink.
Someone in the pub recognizes him. "Mr. Aviator! It's you, right? Hey that plane's going down. Aren't you going to do anything?" He waves the guy away. "Neither the tower, the FAA nor the IATA, or any of those in charge has asked for my help. If they don't buzz me, well, that's just too bad for the crew and passengers." The man is incredulous. "What?! You're just going to let all those people die?!"
Do you think you the Aviator had an ethical obligation to use the RCB to try and prevent the plane from crashing? Do you think he should be ethically and criminally liable for ignoring the crisis, for not doing anything to help?
One of the latest air mishaps--real one this time--occurred in Buffalo, New York last week. Continental Flight 3407 dropped out of the sky and crashed into a house, killing one on the ground and all 49 on board.
Who do you think had the RCB that could've prevented this tragedy?
We can be quite confident there were people on board who rung Him/Her/It up. They had beseeched their deity to save them from certain death. But even assuming not one supplication was beamed, this being is said to be all-seeing, all-knowing. This entity in a sense was watching the entire drama unfold on his heavenly 600-inch plasma tv. And what did it do? God just let all those people die horrifically.
If you're a theist who believes God had the power to prevent the accident, knew what was happening and what would eventually happen unless he stepped in, actually cares about human beings, is a good and loving being, then if you have the gall to tell me that your deity is not morally, criminally culpable then you are absolutely sick in the head. Conjuring up such explanations as "higher good" or "mystery" to absolve this being of responsibility is nothing but a quadriplegic excuse.
Theodicies are just psychological painkillers to stem the massive attack of cognitive dissonance.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
For exactly two minutes on March 6th at 11.00am our consortium of psychics and healers will act as a channel for the positive thoughts of the entire country.
All those positive thoughts will be just that--thoughts. It will be what these psychics, healers and participants are going to do, how they will act that'll have an impact on their lives and on those around them.
I wouldn't even have bothered blogging about this if it weren't for the following claim of theirs:
It is a proven scientific fact that thinking about something often causes it to happen. Some call this quantum physics. Others simply call it "faith."
Gee, I never knew this is already a "proven scientific fact." For decades I've been endlessly thinking/imagining/fantasizing/visualizing of being in bed with Zeus knows how many big screen actresses but, by Jove, not one of them--any of them--has come within a trillion miles, much less landed beside me naked. Ah! I probably am not thinking hard enough. I better start having sex on my mind 24/7.
I fired off this email to Faith of Britain:
Hello. According to your homepage, "It is a proven scientific fact that thinking about something often causes it to happen." Does that mean that if I think of my mom's diabetes and cardiovascular diseases going away, then it will happen? If day and night I think of being a billionaire when will I become richer than Bill Gates? How long does a person have to think of something before it comes true?
Can you please point me to the scientific evidence showing that thinking about something causes it to occur? In particular please provide the controlled experiments that were conducted and which have been replicated. In which peer-reviewed journals were these published?
You'd think that having two scientists on board would've prevented them from making such an untenable statement as "it's a proven scientific fact." Which makes me wonder what exactly Lisa Elmore and Isabelle Bonnaire mean when they describe themselves as "Scientists." Conspicuously, they fail to mention whether they're biologists, chemists, physicists or whatnot.
If I ever receive a reply to the email I'll post it.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Where did that "probably" come from? It doesn't suggest the sales staff is overly confident about its product. If my pilot told me "This flight to Paris probably won't crash," I'd think about taking the train.Indeed, I share the observation that "probably" does detract from the possible maximum impact the ad could've had. The lack of resoluteness, the apparent wishy-washiness of the proclamation all but kills the message. Contrast "There probably are no ghosts" with "There are no ghosts." By including "probably" the statement comes across to believers as "Gee, there's a chance that ghosts exist after all."
Unfortunately, we atheists, skeptics, "reality-based communities" will have to live with this problem. That there probably are no sky daddies is the truth. The reality is--our current state of knowledge is--not that "there is no god" but that those who claim its existence have not provided sufficient persuasive evidence. Were we to drop "probably" we'd have to lay on the table evidence which we simply don't have. Evincing such a universal negative is, needless to say, a tall order. It would've been great to emblazon vehicles with "THERE IS NO GOD!" But that would be a lie. We just don't know with 100% certainty. We don't have enough reasons and evidence to make that leap. And indeed proclaiming "there is no god" would be a leap of faith--belief that is disproportionate to the reasons/evidence at hand.
Were we so audacious as to imply that we are certain of the nonexistence of supernatural beings, religionists would be right in slapping us with one of our own principles of clear thinking: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. (Of course the fact that there is a dearth of evidence--for any X--ought to restrain everyone from believing in X, for doing so would be irrational--why believe in X if good reasons for doing so are absent?)
Many ads mislead. I would even say it's the norm. Even preachers, pastors, priests withhold the whole picture and fail to mention to their congregation the epistemic fine print. So we're not going to make the same mistakes as the faith-heads. We are not going to commit the very errors we're exposing and critiquing. We're here to inform and shed light, not distort the picture.
It stands: There probably are no gods.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Basically, Myer's opus is a defense of religion as a human phenomenon. He defends religion and religiosity by making an appeal to consequences. Not in the sense that he concludes his religion is the true religion and that his deity is real, rather in the sense that religion should be considered a positive force because it has in large measure produced good and made a great many people altruistic. For instance he shows through various studies and surveys that the religious have lower divorce rates, smoke less, and commit less crimes. The religious are into charities and hospital care and other pro-social activities. Towards the end of the book Myers does make it explicit that whatever comes out from religion does not validate his theistic beliefs, its consequences do not imply the existence or nonexistence of his deity.
I have no problem with the fruits of religions. It's empirically clear that various traditions (not just Christianity) have led to good (as well as evil as Myers freely admits). My primary concern is not whether belief in, say, Santa Claus produces better behaved children, but rather whether Santa is real or not, whether belief in Santa is warranted (by evidence and reasons at hand) or delusional. Other atheists may put more weight on religion's fruits but my main concern is with what's real and what's illusory. I'm concerned with the very core belief of theism, i.e., the reality of deities and the supernatural realm. Is there or is there not at least one god? Does the supernatural exist or not? Is belief in these things justified or not? Is there sufficient justification, reasons and evidence to warrant belief? Myers does not address these central, fundamental questions, which to my mind should be since he's addressing skeptics and atheists. He's more interested in showing how being religious, having a religion, having supernatural beliefs can be beneficial psychologically, emotionally, and socially. Reading Myers, I get the feeling he's telling me: Look at all the social, psychological, emotional benefits of harboring a delusion. Ain't it great! Well, feel free to climb on board. Plug into our beliefs; the Matrix is heavenly!
Very early on Myers wants to make it clear that he's one of us--a skeptic and one who espouses critical thinking.
[F]or the most part, my skeptical friends, I share your skepticism. As an appreciative longtime subscriber to The Skeptical Inquirer and to Michael Shermer’s interesting Skeptic’s Society mailings, I cheer on challenges to rampant irrationalism. Thus my Psychology (8th edition) begins with a chapter on “thinking critically with psychological science" and thereafter offers scientific analyses of alternative medicine, astrology, ESP, near-death experiences, repression, hypnosis, and lots more. I have critically examined the supposed powers of unchecked intuition (in Intuition: Its Powers and Perils). And I enjoy casting a critical eye on intriguing claims by asking “What do you mean?” and “How do you know?” (p.6)Myers may share our skepticism vis-a-vis astrologers, sCAM, psychics, crop circles, and other extraordinary claims, but he certainly shields extraordinary claims he believes in--sectarian in this case--from the light of skeptical inquiry. Need we point out that rather than being critical he's being hypocritical? I'd really like to bounce back one of the questions he enjoys asking: How do you know that your theistic beliefs are true? How do you know that a god exists and that it is your brand that's the real McCoy? How do you know?
Myers reveals to us that "God loves us" (p.125). I'm just wondering how he knows that. And if he doesn't what makes him believe in that quaint, namby-pamby claim? Has God shown this love of his? If so what is Myers' evidence? I'm all ears. Or is it that Myers posits a nontestable claim--e.g., that God will express his love after we are with him in heaven? Or could it be that he just likes the idea and the attendant feelings that come from truly believing there is a transcendent parental figure who loves us all?
Myers is a staunch evolutionist. He will have nothing of creationism, including its latest mutation Intelligent Design. He even includes as an appendix the International Society for Science and Religion's statement on ID. Furthermore, Myers doesn't believe that prayer works. (That's an interesting revelation). He says that a lot of believers equate prayer with magic and God with some genie or heavenly Santa Claus. Myers is also well aware of the ultimate futility of God of the Gaps arguments. But mindful of how science will, given enough time, eventually shine light into every nook and cranny, he hides his god in a gap that science cannot hope to illuminate--the untestable and the unfalsifiable. Hence, Myers can keep his belief in a preternatural realm and in a nondetectable, nonphysical being.
Given that Myers is a psychologist and that he's addressing skeptics and atheists, what I didn't expect was a homily. He sprinkles his missive with such irrelevant and inappropriate sermons as::
So let us observe and experiment, believing that whatever God found worth creating, we should find worth studying. Moreover, let us do so freely, knowing that our ultimate allegiance is not to any human authority or human doctrine but to God alone. (p.18)Myers should know better than to preach to skeptics and atheists. What could Myers have been thinking when he penned these lines? It's a mortal sin to preach to nonbelievers! They won't listen to such trash and will probably tune out. I almost did and nearly gave up reading.
Yet another thing that drives me (and I guess not a few atheists as well) up the wall is being subjected to interminable bible-quoting by faith-heads. It's like being nagged. And yet Myers does so as if he's preaching to the choir. Again, what could he have been thinking? Does he really think atheists are ignorant of his sacred text or that they'll be swayed by verses and passages?
The worst part, however, is that Myers reveals himself to be a cherry picker. He quotes from the bible, but he selects only those that affirm his beliefs, only those passages that are, shall we say, good and wholesome. Biblical teachings that are patently immoral or stories that are factually untrue and clash with science he's mum about. That a psychologist would fall into the trap of confirmation and selection bias is truly pathetic. In fact I say it's unforgivable. If one defends cherry picking as valid for one's sacred text then one has to accept that it's valid for any text. It also means calling it "sacred" is ridiculous since it's the reader who gets to pick and choose which parts s/he will hold sacred.
Myers admits that the "nasty practices" in Leviticus are not of the same ethical standing as those in Isaiah or the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament (p.15). This of course just shows that the bible is not inerrant, that it can't be the word of some perfect being. Moreover it shows that believers like Myers actively judge the bible, choosing to emphasize some parts, ignore others, and even dearly wish they could sweep the worst parts under the rug. But if cherry picking and the use of ethical discernment are valid in reading the bible then it is Myers who's creating his own god and his own religion. No longer is the bible sacred such that it as a whole dictates how Myers should think, live and eat but that Myers controls what he's going to accept as biblical in his life. He sifts through the text and highlights and heaps praises on those passages that he likes while conveniently turning a blind eye to those that he disapproves of and finds irrelevant.. Well, looks like Myers is just like most non-fundamentalist Christians--they fashion Christianity in their image.
While Myers may opt for delusion if that delusion bears sweet, succulent fruits, I on the other hand favor "reality at all costs" (a phrase by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which he used in describing what mental health means to him). Christians are fond of saying "the truth will set you free." Which is pretty ironic and odd given how their entire belief system is predicated on beliefs for which there is no good evidence. The truth? The truth is that they merely wish and hope they have not believed in vain. Here's Myers position on truth:
If religion is, on balance, adaptive rather than toxic—if it bends us toward happiness, health, and helpfulness—that is worth knowing. But it still leaves truth up for grabs. And truth is what matters. If religious claims were shown to be untrue, though comforting and adaptive, what honest person would choose to believe? And if religious claims were shown to be true, though discomfiting, what honest person would choose to disbelieve? (p.128)Let's emphasize that. Truth is what matters.
Thanks for trying to inform us and even tying to change our minds, Dr. Myers. But frankly I'd much rather reread Batson, Schoenrade, & Ventis' Religion and the Individual: A Social-Psychological Perspective. It's amongst the couple of psychology of religion works I loved reading cover to cover. The authors provided science, lots of it. You on the other hand brought in psychological studies alright but just as well talked from the pulpit and hosed your intended audience with theology and sectarian beliefs. The latter was a huge turn off. It mostly certainly detracted from the intention that your message be a "friendly" one.