Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What?! You got no religion?

Census taker came by this noon and I had to spend some ten minutes providing her the number of people in our household, birthdate, educational attainment, ethnicity, and religion. When she got to that latter item, I said I had no religion. With a quizzical look, she inquired, "What do you mean no religion?" Without hesitation I told her, "I'm an atheist." And she turned to her clipboard and started writing on the form. My eyesight is so bad I wasn't able to catch what she scribbled.

I gather that this particular individual (late 20s early 30s) has not come across a person who's answered "no religion" to her question. It's strange really that she wasn't prepared for such a reply. I'd like to think that the census office give their people enough training to expect the various possible answers before sending them off to collect data.

Today's experience shows me that there are some (as to the percentage I would say it's not insignificant) who still need consciousness raising. There are those who are still in that stage of innocence, assuming that everyone has a religion, in the same way that everyone has a birthdate and biological parents (even those who were conceived via IVF). Just as I had a rude awakening years ago that not every human on this planet celebrates Christmas and therefore not everyone would welcome or even understand being greeted "Merry Christmas", there are those who need to wake up to the reality that there are not a few who've never had a religion or been part of organized religion, or who were part of some tradition but have moved on and unfettered themselves from such belief systems.

Well, if anything, at least I may have nudged (I should hope jolted) this person out of her naivete.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I'm offended that you're offended

Richard Dawkins was recently in Australia and stole the limelight in a Q&A episode on religion [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6].

I have to hand it to Senator Stephen Fielding. He has guts coming out and admitting he's a young earth creationist. Perhaps Australian politicians are not unlike those in my country--they'll do anything to draw attention (and thus engendering name recall for future elections) even it means becoming the laughing stock of the audience (or the country). People like Fielding are truly deluded in the psychiatric sense. In the face of overwhelming evidence they still hold on to cockamamie beliefs. In fact for the utterly deluded no amount or quality of evidence will persuade them otherwise. They are absolutely closed to the idea that they are or may be wrong. As long as they have a minimum number of members (and who knows how many that is) who subscribe to the same delusion, as long as such a community of like-minded inmates exists, they will carry on.

Interestingly Dawkins is the only nonbeliever in the panel of six. I don't know if the audience was able to digest the fact--one that Dawkins eventually pointed out--that those in the panel had differing religious beliefs which were incompatible with one another to a lesser or greater degree. For instance none of the five of course would have anything to do with Fielding's inane "10,000-year old universe, God waved his wand and rabbits and humans magically came into being" worldview. I felt that Minster of Agriculture Tony Bourke and political opposition deputy leader Julie Bishop wanted to distance themselves as clearly as possible from the crackpot senator when they explicitly and repeatedly said that religion and specifically Intelligent Design should not be taught in science classes. And then there was Judaism represented by Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio, a religion which does not and, as far as its tradition goes, will never accept Jesus as God incarnate. Ninio's Judaism, by the way, seems to lean more toward Jewish mysticism--she talked about a God concept that continually evolves. Hardly fundamentalist. So even within this group of five you had a plurality of supernatural beliefs which couldn't all be simultaneously right (unless we're willing to throw out the principle of noncontradiction). Some ideas will be wrong and some may be right, or all of them might be false. That's inescapable. 

What I found so completely lame is that during the latter half of the program Bishop and then Bourke charged Dawkins with being disrespectful and ridiculing religion. Once Dawkins delved into specifics and pointed out biblical facts, these two whipped out the "you are being disrespectful" and "you offend me"card. Well, believers offend and disrespect me for being offended by rational critique. How dare they mock Dawkins' and nonbelievers' intelligence!

Dawkins is proved right. If this had been a discussion on political or economic systems, or science or engineering, this issue of respect of one's views wouldn't come up. Criticism and debate would be taken for granted as the norm. Somehow believers have this insane belief that belief in invisible superheroes and superfoes, in airy fairy, namby pamby notions should be respected. And "insane" is not inappropriate a description. For what could be sane about granting respect to and withholding criticism from such extraordinary ideas that have no evidential support whatsoever? What is a mockery is the believers' supposed treasuring of truth but all the while closing off the avenues toward reaching it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Another condition for which acupuncture is useless

A systematic review of ten RCTs for labor pain showed that needling was no better than no intervention, analgesics, or sham acupuncture. Edzard Ernst, one of the co-authors said:
Labour is a good subject to study the analgesic effects of acupuncture. Our analyses show that the effects of acupuncture perceived by women are largely due to placebo. Acupuncture has many qualities that maximise placebo effects: it involves touch and is invasive and, psychologically, is attached to the mysticism of the East. Our findings are in keeping with much of the recent research on acupuncture which demonstrates that the more one controls for such confounders, the smaller the effect of acupuncture gets.
How many more RCTs and reviews will it take before quacks throw in the towel? Unfortunately, they never will however compelling and overwhelming the evidence against their claims are. As James Randi would say, they're unsinkable rubber ducks.