The problem with poop pop science reporting

1/30/2008 | 4:56 PM | Evolved Rationalist

Sometimes, pop science reporting is partly to blame for the creationist misconception that an important part of evolutionary biology or the theory itself has been called into question. Let's see:

The discovery by Meave Leakey, a member of a famous family of paleontologists, shows that two species of early human ancestors lived at the same time in Kenya. That pokes holes in the chief theory of man's early evolution — that one of those species evolved from the other.

The complete skull of Homo erectus was found within walking distance of an upper jaw of Homo habilis, and both dated from the same general time period. That makes it unlikely that Homo erectus evolved from Homo habilis, researchers said.
So? How does the discovery that two species co-existed show that the earlier species could not have evolved from the later species? Here, we see how the sensationalist press reports every little discovery as the scientific breakthrough of the century.

The fact that a species co-existed with one of its evolutionary descendants does not mean that serious revisions have to be made to the theory. What this article is implying is that since both species coexisted, one could not be descended from the other. This is simply a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory.

Next comes the 'oooooohhhh.... the linear theory of evolution is wrong wrong wrong' tripe:
And it further discredits that iconic illustration of human evolution that begins with a knuckle-dragging ape and ends with a briefcase-carrying man.
Here we go again. The whole idea of a simple linear progression from ape to man was, for the most part, discarded decades ago. Why do people keep inflating stuff like this into groundbreaking, theory-shattering scientific revolutions?

The Wall Street Journal is even more bile-inducing. They claim that "Fossils Prompt New Evolution Theory" and claim that this discovery calls into question the evolution of our ancestors. Thank you for playing right into the creationists' hands, WSJ!

I would have just rolled my eyes and heaved a long sigh at the sensationalist press before closing the page, but thinking about how creationists rant and rave about how human evolution is WRONG, how Genesis is TRUE, and how Jesus SAVES, I'll end with one 'duh moment' from one of the many articles highlighting this 'discovery that overturned the old theory of human evolution':
...the surprisingly diminutive erectus skull implies that this species was not as humanlike as once thought.
*bangs head on the wall a few times*

Well, what did they expect? The earlier erectus fossils were more ape-like than the later fossils. This is perfectly consistent with the theory that erectus was descended from habilis.

It would certainly help if these people had the slightest clue about what they are attempting to talk about. Again, thanks to the sensationalist press, we'll just sit back and wait as the dumbfuck creationists and theists tell their sheep that human evolution is all a big demonic lie that has been finally refuted.


| 2:16 PM | Evolved Rationalist

From Friendly Atheist.

Any dumbfuck who claims that atheists should appease and bow down to religious nuts seriously needs a dose of reality, harsh as it may be.

Does faith healing actually work?

1/29/2008 | 6:16 PM | Evolved Rationalist

Ever wondered why people supposedly get out of their wheelchairs and run about on stage during a healing crusade; but no one has ever regrown an amputated limb?

There are a few possibilities:

1. God is not omnipotent. Regrowing an amputated limb is beyond what he can do. (Remember, this is the same 'god' who flooded the whole earth, parted the Red Sea, created humans from dust, etc). This obviously does not make sense even if you look at it from the theological side.

2. God refuses to regrow limbs due to reasons that we, being humans, are not supposed to comprehend. As the popular apologetic argument goes: We cannot understand god's ways. Most Christians that I have spoken to simply love using this cowardly cop-out. It certainly saves them the trouble of thinking, as most Christians lose their rational minds after some time.

Notice that this runs contrary to the Bible:

(Matthew 7:7) Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

(Matthew 21:21) I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

3. God does not want to be too obvious. He prefers to remain mute and deaf; thus ensuring that thinking, rational people would have no reason to believe. In the end, he deliberately sends all these people to hell. Sadistic, isn't he?

4. God is imaginary, and the faith frauds healers are simply deluded/deliberate charlatans.

Why, then, are so many people supposedly 'cured'? There must still be miracles to account for, right?


1. Some faith healers are plain frauds. Peter Popoff pretended to get messages from god while his wife was whispering through an earpiece backstage. She got her information from cards that the audience fill out when they attend. In the incredibly credulous atmosphere of his crusades, the audience fell for it hook, line, and sinker. This fraud was exposed in the 1980's by James Randi.

2. Some alleged cures have involved mistaken diagnoses that required no cure at all in the first place.

3. Psychosomatic illnesses respond positively to psychological manipulation. This never works in the case of amputated limbs.

God is imaginary and faith healing is bunk. This is the most logical explanation when we consider psychosomatic illnesses as opposed to amputated limbs.

4. In the excitement of an evangelical revival, the reduction of pain due to the release of endorphins often causes people to believe and act as if they have been miraculously healed (Nickell 1993).

5. The desire to be cured can relieve stress and bring about the effects of the power of suggestion; and testimonies are often exaggerated to please god, the healer, or simply to demonstrate that they are full of credulity faith. Nevertheless, the desire to be cured can sometimes bring adverse effects. One cancer patient at a Kathryn Kuhlman faith-healing performance was asked by Kuhlman to remove her back brace and run across the stage. She claimed her cancer was cured, but then died two months later after X-rays showed that a "cancer-weakened vertebra had collapsed due to the strain placed on it during the demonstration" (Nickell 1998).

6. Some serious ailments (etc. cancer), are unpredictable and may undergo spontaneous remission.

7. Failures are sometimes blamed on the patient for not having enough faith, or too much doubt.

8. Many patients refuse to admit that they have not been cured as they are ashamed that they "lacked faith".

9. Many cures have been attributed to the placebo effect, not divine intervention.

To fully comprehend the lunacy of faith healers, the following is an excerpt from the transcript of what Benny Hinn said on Paul and Jan Crouch's TBN television program (Praise The Lord, Trinity Broadcasting Network, October 19, 1999).

Here, Benny Hinn claimed that people would be raised from the dead in front of the television. Are we supposed to believe that this man can actually heal? Where are all the dead people that were raised from the dead? God must have forgotten his promise to Benny Hinn, or the man was merely lying. You decide.

[start of excerpt]

Benny Hinn: But here's first what I see for TBN. You're going to have people raised from the dead watching this network. You're going to have people raised from the dead watching TBN. It's not going to be a Benny Hinn saying "Stretch your hands." It's going to be your average teaching program, your normal Christian program that's blessing the church. There's going to be such power on these programs people will be raised from the dead worldwide. I'm telling you, I see this in the Spirit. It's going to be so awesome. Jesus I give you praise for this -- that people around the world -- maybe not so much in America -- people around the world who will lose loved ones, will say to undertakers, "Not yet. I want to take my dead loved one and place him in front of that TV set for 24 hours."

[end of excerpt]

So far, nobody has been raised from the dead by Benny Hinn or any of the other faith frauds. Wouldn’t raising someone from the dead show non-believers that there must be something to this god business after all?


A skeptical look at homeopathy

| 3:01 PM | Evolved Rationalist

A branch of ‘alternative’ medicine that has been gaining prominence in recent years is homeopathy. According to a homeopaths, homeopathy is the second most widely used system of medicine in the world. This is indeed cause for worry as the very basic foundations that homeopathy relies on does not stand up to any scientific scrutiny whatsoever.

Nevertheless, I personally know of skeptics who still believe that some element of homeopathy still works beyond the placebo effect. The cause of this would probably be the advent of homeopathy into mainstream pharmacies and the offices of qualified medical practitioners. Although nobody denies that there are qualified medical doctors who are also qualified as homeopaths, the very basis of homeopathy doesn’t render it suitable as a replacement or even as an ‘alternative’ to evidence-based conventional medicine.

The three main principles of homeopathy are:

  • Like Cures Like
    For example, if the symptoms of your cold are similar to poisoning by mercury, then mercury would be your homeopathic remedy.
  • Minimal Dose
    The remedy is taken in an extremely dilute form; normally one part of the remedy to around 1,000,000,000,000 parts of water.
  • The Single Remedy
    No matter how many symptoms are experienced, only one remedy is taken, and that remedy will be aimed at all those symptoms.

Let’s take a look at the first principle, the so-called like cures like theory. Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy believed that restoring the ‘vital forces’ of the body is the way to cure diseases that were incurable in his time. He also claimed that the very small doses of a medication would be enough to heal as the potency of a particular substance could be manipulated by succussion (vigorous shaking). He founded the like cures like theory after observing that quinine, which causes fever, cured malaria (in which one of the symptoms is fever).

He expounded further on the like cures like theory, by claiming (without any evidence whatsoever) that diluting the so-called cure minimizes its bad effects but maintains its full ‘curative’ power. Scientifically, this is utter nonsense. Is he speculating that some sort of metaphysical force in the water exists and diverts the harmful effects of the substance while maximizing its healing capabilities? That would probably be the only way his pet theory could work, after all. The development of homeopathy has taken place outside science; therefore its claims still lack justification or scientific evidence despite homeopathy being around for more than 200 years.

Some modern homeopaths even go so far as to claim that similar principals form the basis of conventional allergy treatment, where the allergic substance is given in a small dose and in vaccines where an impotent form of the virus is given to bolster the immune system against that particular virus. Again, this is merely a faulty analogy and an overdose of wishful thinking. The dilution process involved in homeopathy causes no active ingredient to be left in the medication itself, making it indistinguishable from plain water or alcohol. You might as well be taking an empty pill instead of a homeopathic tablet. This immediately renders their above claim as false. Firstly, there is no active ingredient entered into the body, or rephrased: NOTHING at all enters the body that triggers an immune response. Secondly, as opposed to the case of immunization, homeopathic medications do not stimulate the body to produce substances that may protect the body from a certain disease. Immunology is a tested, proven, verified branch of medicine, whereas the evidence for homeopathy is still non-existent.

Now, we move on to the second principle of homeopathy, the ‘minimal dose’. According to the calculations done by Dr. Simon Singh (a UK-based science journalist), for a homeopathic dilution to have even one molecule remaining of the active ingredient, the pill has to be the size of the planet Earth. Alas, these ever-so-wise homeopaths rush to proclaim that one of the many undiscovered, unproven magical properties is that it has the ability to retain a ‘memory’ of the active ingredient. Their claims are increasingly going off the deep end over the past few years. Jacques Benveniste even claims that a homeopathic solution's biological activity can be digitally recorded, stored on a hard drive, sent over the Internet, and transferred to water at the receiving end. Clearly, this is preposterous. Where is the evidence for all these shocking, outrageous claims? Some homeopaths also claim that homeopathic remedies have powers to ‘magically’ alter the molecular structure of water. (These were the same homeopaths that claim that homeopathic remedies are merely derived from natural elements around us, right?). Worse, there isn’t any evidence for the very basis of the ‘minimal dose’ theory, where it is claimed that one could minimize the negative effect of a ‘cure’ by significantly reducing the size of the dose Well, the least they could do is to prove that their fantastic ideas work, and be in the running for a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

The third and perhaps the most outrageous claim is the ludicrous ‘single remedy’ principle. It is a widely known fact that a disease is usually associated with a variety of symptoms. These symptoms help doctors identify the disease and subsequently prescribe a cure. The opposite seems to be the case for homeopathy. One cure is prescribed (diluted into oblivion first, that is) that supposedly cures one of the symptoms of the disease, thus curing all the other symptoms at the same time. In the homeopaths’ on words: homeopathy is system of medicine that targets the symptoms of a disease (as opposed to conventional medicine where the disease itself is targeted.)

Now let’s look at a little gem of contradiction here (from a homeopathy website):

Homeopathy is holistic. It treats all the symptoms as one, which in practical terms means that it addresses the cause, not the symptoms. This often means that symptoms tackled with Homeopathy do not recur.

Huh? Treating all the symptoms with a ‘cure’ directed at merely one of the symptoms addresses the cause of the illness? They contradict themselves in the last line by admitting that they merely target the symptoms, not the disease. Yet this is the exact opposite of what they said in the previous line ‘addresses the cause.’ Are you willing to place your health in the hands of a bunch of people who can’t get their symptoms and causes straight?

If homeopathic remedies seem to work, it is not because of the metaphysical properties of the ‘miracle water’, but the body's own natural curative mechanisms or the placebo effect. Although most homeopathic remedies are safe and merely ineffective, the danger is when a patient chooses not to seek proper treatment by a conventional medical doctor in cases where the patient could be helped by such treatment.

Responses to common Christian apologetic claims

| 2:47 PM | Evolved Rationalist

The Bible says the Earth is unsupported. (Job 26:7)
This is perhaps one of the best pick-and-choose Christian arguments, in which they single out a few Biblical verses that seemingly support modern science. Christians who make this claim seem to have forgotten to include these verses (Job 38:4-6) which clearly state that the earth has foundations. This is in exact contradiction to the fact that the earth is unsupported. It even directly contradicts the earlier verse that Christians use to claim that the Earth is unsupported. Anyone seeking to reconcile the Biblical view to the modern scientific view certainly has more than enough passages to select from and interpret; while ignoring others that make the Bible sound like nothing more than a fool's attempt at science.

The Bible describes the water cycle in astounding detail. (Ecclesiastes 1:7)
Astounding detail? This is what the verse says:
"All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again."

What is so astounding about that? The verse merely says that water returns to the source of the streams. It doesn't mention anything about condensation or evaporation. This is merely wishful thinking on the part of Christians who deceive themselves into thinking that some sort of divine revelation was needed here.

The Bible says the earth is round. (Isaiah 40:22)
The verse reads "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth". A circle is flat and without any volume (in contrast to a sphere). Anyone who cannot tell the difference between a circle and a sphere is clearly too stupid to have any level-headed intellectual discussions. Isaiah 11:12 refers to the 'four corners of the earth'. Why isn't the kook taking that as the indicator of the earth's shape? It seems that the so-called god of the Bible cannot make up his mind on what exactly to teach Christians. Is god suffering from short-term memory loss or is he just another schzoid?

The Bible has always proven to be factually correct.
Are these verses factually correct in light of modern science?

Leviticus 11:6- Rabbits chew their cud and have hooves.
Leviticus 11:20-23- Insects are four-legged, e.g. grasshoppers.

The Bible is historically correct and consistent.
Really? Well, that must be news because as far as I know, Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 cannot even agree regarding Jesus' lineage. There are historical records found in China that show life going on normally during the exact time the global flood was alleged to have taken place.

The worst part of this is that the above examples only represent the tip of the iceberg.

The Bible is reasonable.
Reasonable? Let's take a look at Genesis 30:37-39. Did anyone tell you that shoving striped rods in front of animals causes them to have striped offspring? God really needs to learn a thing or two about basic genetics. Uh, wait.....Christians claim that he's the creator of the universe, right?

God, please enroll in a remedial genetics class at once!

In Numbers 22:2-29, Balaam doesn't seem the least bit surprised to discover that his donkey could suddenly speak. I suppose this must be because stuff like that used to happen every day although the so-called god seems deaf and mute now.

The conclusion of all this is that although Christians may claim that the Bible is divinely inspired, there is nothing in the Bible that could not have been written by people in that particular period.