Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Human Heart proves evolution wrong!

Er ... no ... actually it doesn't. In fact this article from Yec Headquarters 6 Day Creation is so much non-science I have a hard time believing it isn't a poe. Here's an extract:
Recent medical findings have found that the human heart plays several roles with how we actually feel and think. In fact, the human heart is the only organ that can communicate with the brain in 4 different ways:
1) Neurological communication (nervous system)
2) Biophysical communication (pulse wave)
3) Biochemical communication (hormones)
4) Energetic communication (electromagnetic fields)
This would explain why our heart hurts when we lose some one near and dear to us. And it is now believed that one of the functions of the heart deals with our emotions and attitude. But because heart transplants have become more of the norm for a failing heart. Another unexpected side effect has come up. The people who received the donor heart can often experience:
1) The other person’s memories.
2) The other person’s food cravings.
3) Some of the other person’s attitudes.
4) And some of the fears, hates, and loves of different things.
Recent medical findings? No citations are provided, but they're hardly needed — just a cursory scanning of this utter BS is enough to falsify it. Need I bother? And check this out:
This would explain why Christ resides in a person’s heart when they are saved. It also explains why God said that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart towards Moses instead of changing his mind. God knew, even before medical science, that emotion of love and hate reside in the heart and not in our minds.
This is too ridiculous — one might be forgiven for thinking this was a tongue-in-cheek April Fool joke. Let me check the date of the article...

Burnee links catch-up for 2014

Why I'd Still Believe In God Even if the Bible Was a Fairytale | Mick Mooney
This chap should be told about Douglas Adams' sentient puddle. He probably thinks his hands were specially designed to fit in his gloves.

Everything You Need To Know About The UK's Most Ridiculous Election - BuzzFeed News
This is Buzzfeed avin a larf. Isn't it? Those names can't be real. Can they?

'This proves homeopathy DOESN'T work ': Scientist swallows 50 homeopathic sleeping pills in one go - and says she doesn't feel drowsy at all | Daily Mail Online
From the comments:
"Homeopathic meds are very mild." 
This is putting it ... mildly. (I need to speak to Avogadro. Anyone know his number?)

Matt, Mitch and Marsh for QED 2015 / Latest News / QED 2015
Next year's QED — from pretty good to super awesome at a stroke (or three)

Vaccines and Pesticides May Create The Perfect Storm To Initiate Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Oh dear. Amongst other general horrors, continues to promote a specious link between vaccination and autism.

Anger over move to teach intelligent design in schools | Herald Scotland
The article quotes Alastair Noble:
Alastair Noble, director of C4ID, said his organisation believed the petition was based on imposing a "particular world view" and would inhibit legitimate discussion in science lessons. He ­acknowledged the idea of teaching "for and against" evolution would be controversial, but claimed it was consistent with scientific method.
By all means discuss IDcreationism at university level, or even in religious education or philosophy classes at secondary school level. But in science lessons pupils should be taught accepted mainstream science. That's why they are attending science lessons. How much time do biology lessons devote to explaining the principles of the four humours, or the stork theory of procreation? How much time do physics lessons devote to explaining the astrological influences of the planets on the financial and romantic lives of humans? How much time do maths lessons devote to the numerological significance of particular numbers?

The problem with ID is that its proponents claim it is scientific, yet they never do any science to show how it is scientific. Speculations about the origins of biological life are all very well, but if you have a hypothesis that life was caused by "X" — do some experiments to establish whether or not that is the case. Until the IDists do that, IDcreationism remains unscientific and therefore inappropriate to be taught in school science lessons.

Full Moon FREE Distance Healing Event
I was invited to this. I considered joining, especially if I could use the energy to power my laptop.

Space Oddity | Chris Hadfield
It's back — the music video that, when first released, temporarily put every other music video ever made in the shade.

Transport to Faith Schools - Local Authorities Shouldn't Be Subsidising Segregation | Stephen Evans
MP complains about local authorities removing a special "faith discount" from religious parents. Thinks it's perfectly OK that nonreligious don't get the discount, but removing the discount altogether is "discrimination".

Brittany Maynard Didn’t Commit Suicide (What We Can Learn From 9-11′s “Falling Man”)
A Christian calmly reassesses his stance on assisted dying.

Alternative health: what is naturopathy? - Telegraph
“Bioresonance measures the electromagnetic output of every cell in the body. If there’s any discrepancy with the healthy frequency for that kind of cell that gives a diagnosis.”
One cell at a time? Or all together?
“I look to address the cause, not just eradicate the symptoms. If you simply suppress symptoms on a superficial level then you can drive an imbalance deeper into the body.”
Deeper than individual cells? Wow, that's deep!
"Hempel uses bioresonance to put healthy electromagnetic frequencies back into the cells."
What next? Pills containing "healthy electromagnetic frequencies"? (I hear 100.3 megahertz is a good electromagnetic frequency — plus you get classical music along with it.) Really, the Telegraph should be ashamed of itself for publishing such bilge.

Single adults banned from park - in case they are a paedophile | Western Gazette
Incredible. Frankly I wouldn't want to patronise any establishment where I was considered guilty until proved innocent. Or in the case of this particular establishment, guilty until... well, just guilty.

Schools are being infiltrated by cults, say secularists - News - TES
A report on the committee hearing.

The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi -
For those who have (or haven't) seen the recent documentary, this is a good summary.

Homeopaths all over the world to tip their remedies down the toilet in order to cure the oceans. No joke.
No joke? Shirley not... (And who knew water was multilingual?)

The Daily Mail is wrong — homeopathy can't cure Ebola » Spectator Blogs
The Daily Mail is wrong? Well, I am surprised....
(About as surprised as "not at all surprised".)

Egypt's Muslim, Christian authorities unite against atheism | Africa | Worldbulletin News
Atheism is a fad....

Our Unreliable Minds, with Paul Thompson - Skeptics and Believers Discussion Group, Henley-on-Thames (Henley-on-Thames, England) - Meetup
I am reliably informed that this thing is happening in January.

Copper & Magnetic Healing: How to Respond to Complaints | Honest Universe
Take action. It works.

BBC News - Lee Rigby murder: Internet firms must do more on terror, says PM
Is David Cameron serious about this, or merely pandering to constituents, or is he just clueless about how the internet works?
Terrorists are using the internet to communicate with each other and we must not accept that these communications are beyond the reach of the authorities or the internet companies themselves," he told MPs after the report was published.
Their networks are being used to plot murder and mayhem. It is their social responsibility to act on this.
Has he any idea how many posts and comments are written on Facebook every minute? Is he expecting Facebook employees to read everything posted?

Glasgow’s Intelligent Design Director has ”open mind” on age of Earth | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism
"...there is a lot of uncertainty about all scientific things..." Depends what you mean by "a lot".

Introduction to Intelligent Design, Alastair Noble (review) | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism
I wonder if this is the brochure that Alastair Noble keeps mentioning in his emails, available for £2 plus p&p — apparently only 32 pages long and easily made available as a freely downloadable PDF. If he's so keen to introduce ID, why charge for it?

James Randi: debunking the king of the debunkers - Telegraph
People are ... human. And we must never forget that Randi is in the deceit business. - Let’s talk about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
No True Christianity...

Provider for Christ Hunting Adventure | Frikkie du Toit Safaris
Marvel at the awesome beauty of God's creatures! And kill them!

'Homeopathy CAN cure Ebola but WHO officials are stopping us' | Daily Mail Online
Homeopathy "at the same time" as conventional medicine? About as effective as prayer at the same time as conventional medicine.

10 Things You Need To Know About "The Imitation Game"
The film is a great piece of storytelling, but contains a fair bit of artistic licence.

10 Jokes Only Engineers Will Understand. Who Says Engineers Don’t Have A Sense Of Humor?
Apparently there are no female engineers.

Stephen Collins on a Christmas ad – cartoon | Life and style | The Guardian
We did check?

PodCastle 341, Giant Episode: Balfour and Meriwether in the Incident of the Harrowmoor Dogs | PodCastle
My latest narration — this is a looooooong one.

What is this saucery?
Love this....

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee

Here's the BBC's video recording (from Democracy Live) of the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee hearing evidence from Spencer Fildes and Professor Paul Braterman of the Scottish Secular Society in support of their petition PE01530: "Guidance on how creationism is presented in schools."

Written representations to the committee can be seen here (including mine):

Sunday 2 November 2014

Burnee links catchup from since forever (or thereabouts)

Wow…. failed final observation. « James's thinking space
I know several teachers — I don't know how many of them endured this kind of disincentivization.

Timeline Photos - Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian
Now I see how this works...

Why the faithful need secularism
Say it enough times, maybe it will eventually sink in.

Why the Many-Worlds Formulation of Quantum Mechanics Is Probably Correct | Sean Carroll
Never mind the universe splitting, I think my brain is about to shatter.

Bird & Fortune - Admiral Sir George Parr - YouTube
The benefit of hindsight (or is it...?)

BBC News - Astrology-loving MP seeks health answers in the stars
"...a member of the health committee and the science and technology committee..." Shirley there's been some mistake?

Be Reasonable: Episode #019 – David Boyle « The Merseyside Skeptics Society
The unconnected strands of my DNA have all connected up and my mind has exploded!
Or maybe I've just listened to Michael Marshall interviewing David Boyle. Yeah, that seems more likely (though my brain still hurts).

Twitter / Justinsweh: What does it mean to 'Craig'? Via ...
So true

Why the Aliens Want Earth | Seth Shostak
Is Seth Shostak just making veiled excuses for why SETI hasn't confirmed any positive results yet?

Why You Can't Reconcile God and Evolution | Alternet
Are religion and science compatible? The politically correct answer is yes, but I've always thought it's the wrong answer.

BBC News - China plans its own 'Christian theology'
Wang Zuoan needs to swot up on L. Ron Hubbard.

The god of vapor is hardly any kind of god at all
So someone has tried to rescue the "compatibility of science and religion" from Greta Christina's spot-on critique. And failed, as pointed out here by an actual scientist (someone who's day job is teaching actual science to undergraduates).

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Reviewing James M. Rochford's Evidence Unseen

With a blurb like this:
In my opinion, this is the perfect book for the skeptic as well as the person who is just starting to learn about the role of Christian apologetics. I have already handed out some copies to people in our campus ministry and I continue to give some to seekers as well. I don’t want for one second to say this book is strictly for the young seeker. It can be used as a resource for any age group. My advice is to pick up a copy and give it to a friend. Time’s a wastin! (Eric Chabot—Founder and Director of Ratio Christi at OSU)
...or this:
“In showing the credibility of Christianity, Rochford effectively argues that it is worthy of serious consideration by honest thinkers. By providing so many references to thinkers on both sides of the issue, he invites his readers to explore and play fair with the facts.” (Lee CampbellPhD Neurosciences)
...or this:
“Aimed especially at college students and seekers, Evidence Unseen shows us that Christian faith is not a blind leap in the dark, but a humble dependence on the God of the Bible, who has revealed himself through substantial evidence. The author presents this evidence quite readably under four headings: internal evidence, external evidence, and evidence from Scripture, divided into fulfilled prophecy and the historical reliability of its message. He shows us that humans need God in order to be able to function consistently in this world; that nature universally and locally points to its creator and designer; that this designer has also controlled history to fulfill the predictions of the biblical prophets; and that the biblical narratives (here, the narratives about Jesus) show themselves to be fully trustworthy. I highly recommend Evidence Unseen for your own search for what life is all about, and for helping others in their searches. (Dr. Robert C. Newman—Emeritus Professor of New Testament & Christian Evidences—Biblical Seminary— PhD Theoretical Astrophysics, Cornell University)
...this book seems like it might actually be persuasive. Additionally it's free on Kindle at the moment (I don't know for how long), so I've decided to read it and (if in my opinion it merits a review) to review it here on the blog. I've not seen any reviews so far, and I don't intend to look at any until I've finished at least the first draft of my own.

Be aware, however, that my encounters with supposedly persuasive apologetics books has to date been less than positive, as you will see if you check out my previous reviews of such tomes:

Thursday 21 August 2014

Spooky story: "Down" by Christopher Fowler

For your listening enspookment, my narration of Christopher Fowler's short tale of the London Underground's otherworldly inhabitants, "Down", is now available for free at PodCastle, the fantasy podcast magazine.

Enjoy. (Then go and post a comment in the forum, and maybe support the Pod with some cash.)

Saturday 28 June 2014

Burnee linkee Saturdee

The official Dilbert website with Scott Adams' color comic strips, animation, mashups and more!
How to be successful.

The Simpsons' secret formula: it's written by maths geeks | Television & radio | The Observer
Simon Singh writes about the subject of his new book in the Guardian/Observer. Nice of him to wait until after his recent talk at Portsmouth SitP.

Why we must not let fundamentalist atheism destroy our Christian education system | Christian News on Christian Today
Ugh. David Robertson continues to use an incorrect definition of secularism despite being repeatedly corrected in the past. Is he merely forgetful or deliberately disingenuous?

National Secular Society - A “religious ethos” is not why faith schools succeed – it’s selection that does it
Terry Sanderson says it again.

Jesus and Mo
Inspired by the final programme of the most recent series of The Big Questions (Sunday, BBC1).

How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper: A Step-by-Step Guide for Non-Scientists | Jennifer Raff
A useful primer.

My Material Contribution to Materialism | John C. Wright's Journal
This was posted in the Unbelievable? Facebook group with the comment that it's an extended argument against materialism. It isn't. Wright articulates the arguments for materialism, then this:
"I leave the refutation of each of them as an exercise for the reader, and I give them freely to any man willing to arm himself against me."
Presumably any woman willing to arm herself against Wright will have to pay.

NeuroLogica Blog » Inflation Evidence Questioned
Science works. Go see it working.

Is God a vertebrate without substance? « Why Evolution Is True
But, but, but ... God is both apophatic and personal. You may think that's impossible, but that's cos you ain't ineffable like wot God is.

When Suits Become a Stumbling Block: A Plea to My Brothers in Christ* | The Salt Collective
Slut-shaming satire with a light touch. (No, that's not a euphemism, it's a metaphor.)

Normal Moments In Art History With No Murder
Seems perfectly innocuous...  

UK law is 'intolerant' towards Christians, says cardinal | Christian News on Christian Today
Off we go again. Look, it's really very simple. Just go to the NSS website and look at their definition of secularism:
"Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law."
When Cormac Murphy-O'Connor uses the words "too little" he's complaining that the law is not protecting the rights of Christians in preference to the rights of anyone else. Well, tough. That's what "equal before the law" means.

Science and the Supernatural (II); Why We Get It Wrong and Why It Matters | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism
Second part of Prof. Paul Braterman's examination of whether supernatural causes are a legitimate subject for scientific investigation.

What it's like to own a Tesla Model S - A cartoonist's review of his magical space car - The Oatmeal
This (along with its follow-ups) is quite something.

Saturday 21 June 2014

How not to encourage civil exchange on Facebook

A new member of the Unbelievable? Facebook group recently posted a lengthy demand for atheists to provide a summary of the applicable standards of evidence and criteria used for applying methodological naturalism to the question of God's existence. The subsequent thread included several explanations that it wasn't the job of atheists to state which of many gods they didn't believe existed, but the poster continued with what appeared a to be a veiled attempt to shift the burden of proof. Observing the protracted circularity I weighed in with the following:
It seems to me that the OP is a ploy to get an atheist to define God, to state what evidence would be apparent if such a god did exist, and then for the OPer to follow up with a statement that the particular god so defined is not the god believed in.

If I were to bite, this is how I would respond: we have two hypotheses — “a god exists” and “no gods exist”. We also have empirical evidence — we observe the world. We can compare the likelihood of the evidence we see given the two hypotheses. Given “a god exists”, how likely is the evidence we see? And given “no gods exist”, how likely is the evidence we see? Is the likelihood of the evidence we see more likely or less likely if “a god exists” rather than “no gods exist”?

Note that I’m not coming down on either side of this question, since that wasn’t what was asked. If we are to assess the evidence we observe using methodological naturalism we are not going to find anything supernatural, merely “unexplained”. If gods are supernatural, science cannot explain them, because methodological naturalism is restricted by definition to natural mechanisms.

Methodological naturalism can be used, however, to assess claimed supernatural effects, but will only be able to provide natural explanations (if any) of those effects. What it can’t do is to say “no natural explanations are currently available, therefore the explanation is supernatural.”

Some might conclude from the above that gods and other supernatural causes are entirely beyond explanation, and may even go further and say that since it’s impossible for science (using methodological naturalism) to explain anything supernatural, we therefore can have no knowledge of the supernatural.

So as far as knowledge of gods is concerned, we are left with “revelation” and nothing else.
This was largely ignored, but I reproduce it here because it summarises my position, and also because it is now unavailable on Facebook. After some further exchanges the thread appeared to be homing in on something, perhaps to a point where a degree of agreement might have been achieved. But eight hours later the entire thread had disappeared, so I posted a query:

What happened to Daniel Ray's thread querying the standards and criteria applicable to methodological naturalism? It was here last night, but this morning it's gone.
  • John Bradbury He's still a member of the group so perhaps he deleted the thread.
    [missing comment here]
  • John Bradbury That's a shame. I was enjoying reading the exchange between you and Paul Jenkins
    3 hrs · Like · 1
    [missing comment here]
  • John Bradbury That's an admirable attitude Daniel Ray but please don't delete your threads, just resist the temptation to keep posting! I usually get to a point, even in my own threads where I stop notifications and that might help you resist!
  • Paul Jenkins Bad form, Daniel. When a thread is deleted without warning, others who contributed to it are less likely to engage with other OPs from the same user.
    [missing comment here]
Even the thread above makes no sense, because after deleting the thread in question (and apologising for doing so) it appears that Daniel Ray's comments above have subsequently also been deleted. He may have deleted his account.

Either stand by your written word, or apologise for it. But don't delete it without warning, especially if doing so will delete everyone else's contribution — or as shown above, eviscerate a thread into nonsense.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Burnee links catch-up

Most of these links are old. But the main purpose of Burnee links is so that I have somewhere to keep links to stuff I'm interested in (so stop complaining about old links). Plus this is my 800th post. Thank you.

Christians aren’t being driven out of public life – they’re just losing their unfair advantages
Robin Ince's reply to Cristina Odone's crazed rant (to which there is a link at the top of Ince's article). An uncharacteristically even-tempered but nevertheless comprehensive rebuttal, to which all so-called "persecuted Christians" in the UK should pay heed.

“The Experience of God” Review – Introduction
James Croft tackles David Bentley Hart's latest tome.

More than just an illusion
This article from Christianity Today Australia demonstrates how religious belief can really mess with your mind. It's asking (and incidentally answering) the question: are stage magicians "of the devil"?

BBC News - Bletchley Park's bitter dispute over its future
Via James Thomas, who asks, "What the hell is this?" Indeed, the last thing Churchill's "golden geese who never squawked" need is to be Disneyfied.

Every Day Things Zoomed in at a Microscopic Level Look Trippy
Fascinating. The weirdest is surely the blood clot.

How “God’s Not Dead” Makes Christians Look Even Worse Than It Makes Atheists Look
Not so much one to miss then, but to actively avoid.

Creationism Is Not Being Ignored On 'Cosmos' -- It's Actually The Focus | ThinkProgress
Although creationism isn't science, it is a belief shared by a significant proportion of Americans. Cosmos is therefore making a point of showing how creationism is utterly wrong.

Cruel and Unusual » A Million Gods
Encapsulating the reasons against capital punishment.

The Creeping Danger of Conspiracy Theorists | Vanity Fair
This would be hilarious if it weren't so depressing.

Why Was Edwina Rogers Fired from the Secular Coalition for America?
It was a controversial appointment but they thought they could handle the fallout. Maybe it turned out they couldn't.

Man Trapped Overnight at Vegas Airport Shoots Ridiculous Music Video

Evolution is a lie says the school. Good curriculum, says England’s School Inspectorate | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism
Outright nonsense being taught in British schools. Until recently I thought this kind faux education was limited to American home-schooling.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Heavenly confirmation bias

Here's a video[1] of an Intelligence Squared[2] debate, on the motion that "Death is Not Final". The Three Pauls talked briefly about this on Skepticule episode 73[3], but I'm using this blogpost to set down a slightly more detailed account of my reactions to how the debate proceeded.

Eben Alexander[4] is a neurosurgeon who claims to have seen Heaven during a near-death experience (NDE) while under the knife on the operating table. He wrote a book about it, Proof of Heaven[5], using his credentials as a man of medical science to persuade the general public to take him on his word that he knows there is an afterlife because he was given a tour of the place. The book is a bestseller.

Supporting Alexander was Raymond Moody[6], who apparently coined the phrase "near-death experience"[7], but apart from that I don't think he contributed much of substance to the discussion. Indeed he seemed to be on another (astral?) plane altogether.

Opposing Alexander and Moody were Sean Carroll[8] and Steven Novella[9], who argued that, yes, death is final. Sean Carroll is a cosmologist and a good debater — as we saw recently[10] when he took on Christian apologist William Lane Craig[11], refuting Craig's arguments with ease and not a little aplomb. Steven Novella is a neurologist and another accomplished debater, so he was a particularly good choice to be put up against the afterlife proponents. I should point out here that though Alexander has made much of his credentials as a neurosurgeon, as far as I'm aware this is not the same as a neurologist (which is what Novella is). The difference between neurology and neurosurgery can probably be likened to that between fluid dynamics and plumbing, or between botany and gardening.

As is usual with Intelligence Squared, the debate format was semi-formal with a moderator, and an audience-vote before the debate and another afterwards. All four participants made opening statements, then there were rebuttals and questions. Alexander read his opening statement somewhat stiffly, whereas Carroll and Novella spoke extempore directly to the audience without notes. Moody, it seemed to me, just waffled.

Alexander and Moody took the position that consciousness is complicated and not understood, and therefore it might have a component that is separate from the brain. Moody was unhelpfully speculative on this point, while Alexander claimed to have proved it. Carroll and Novella on the other hand maintained that there is no evidence for consciousness existing apart from the brain, and that consciousness — and anything we describe as "mind" — is inextricably linked to the brain. Novella's phrase for this was: "The mind is what the brain does." Though consciousness is at present unexplained, much research is now under way, and the current lack of a full explanation is no justification for unevidenced claims for conciousness being mind-independent.

Alexander claimed that his tour through the afterlife took place when his brain was incapable of registering anything, but as Novella pointed out, he cannot know this. We don't know what time it is when we dream. As I see it, there's an even deeper flaw with Alexander's claim, which to me is so obvious I wonder how NDE's can ever be taken as evidence for anything other than being "near death". If Alexander's brain was all but completely non-functioning, how can he trust anything he perceived during that period?

By way of analogy, imagine this scenario. At a notoriously dangerous intersection a horrific traffic accident takes place, involving several vehicles, and everyone involved is killed. When the authorities arrive on the scene they find that one of the cars is relatively new, and so they decide to interrogate the engine management system (EMS) using standard computerised diagnostic tools. Though the car is a write-off, the electronics appear to be still partly functioning. The EMS is able to respond to the diagnostic tools, reporting that the vehicle is now — at the very moment the tools are probing — travelling at 90 miles per hour without consuming a drop of fuel. What does this indicate? Does it indicate that despite appearances (a crushed car incapable of motion) the vehicle is in fact moving very fast with impossibly low fuel consumption? Of course not — it indicates that the EMS is damaged, and its reports cannot be trusted.

This debate was a splendid example of confirmation bias. The idea of life after death is so attractive, some people will ignore the counter-evidence no matter how obvious it appears. Even after Novella had clearly stated that there were no reliably documented cases of NDEs and out-of-body experiences that produced information that could not have been obtained any other way, Alexander went on to state that there were too many cases that couldn't be explained — though he provided no citations for these.

Alexander further illustrated his confirmation bias (I'll assume that's what it was, rather than impute nefarious motives) when he stated that Carl Sagan[12] wrote in The Demon-Haunted World[13] that he was open to the possibility of consciousness independent of the brain — he even quoted the page number. Alexander was either naïve or mistaken, because while Novella could only splutter in astonishment that Sagan would never have said anything of the sort, several of those watching the debate's live stream simply looked up the page, photographed it, and posted the image on Twitter with the relevant hashtag during the debate — thus giving the lie to Alexander's rash claim.

At one point Alexander challenged the other side to provide a one-sentence explanation of consciousness, knowing of course that there currently isn't one. Novella stated again that there was ongoing research, but as Jonathan MS Pearce[14] has pointed out[15], he missed the chance to demand a one-sentence explanation of God. Despite this, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the after-debate vote confirmed that the motion "Death is Not Final" had been comfortably defeated.

Is Alexander's insistence that he has "proof of Heaven" based on anything more than confirmation bias? His stance seems so obviously flawed that I'm left wondering if there aren't some effects of brain-damage hanging around after his near-death experience. That's the kinder interpretation. Another interpretation, less kind, might be that a neurosurgeon's salary could be considered a pittance in comparison to royalties from a bestselling book.


1. YouTube: Death is Not Final
2. Intelligence2
3. Skepticule 073 —
4. Eben Alexander —
5. Proof of Heaven
6. Raymond Moody —
7. Near-Death Experience —
8. Sean Carroll —
9. Steven Novella —
10. YouTube: God & Cosmology
11. William Lane Craig —
12. Carl Sagan —
13. The Demon-Haunted World
14. Jonathan M. S. Pearce —
15. "Carroll & Novella vs Alexander & Moody. Some terrible, terrible arguments" —

Wednesday 26 March 2014

The Power of Prayer

In light of Kevin Friery's and Hayley Stevens' joint appearance on last Sunday's The Big Questions on BBC1, I'd like to draw attention to the final episode of the second series of BBC Radio 4's Out of the Ordinary, in which Jolyon Jenkins (no relation) investigates "The Power of Prayer". It's available on iPlayer until (almost) the end of the century:

Jolyon Jenkins
This sober and essentially skeptical investigation of the phenomena is hampered by the lack of hard evidence — a lack that in my view indicates the true nature of miracle healing.

Relevant also is a recent Unbelievable? episode from Premier Radio featuring Robby Dawkins and David Beebee:{FE862DAB-D422-40C6-B684-E98EC81DD15F}

The title of the above programme is "Do healing miracles happen?" Given that I think the supernatural claims of religion are untrue, you can guess my answer to that question.

EDIT: David Beebee blogs about his appearance on Unbelievable? here:

Saturday 11 January 2014

Burnee links for Saturday

New cross put up in window at Haycombe Cemetery | Bath Chronicle
The crematorium provides a cross if you want one, or it can be removed if you don't. Secularism in action — a Christian symbol is not imposed on non-Christians, and Christians are not denied such a symbol. (Though one might query who is paying for the cross — non-Christians pay Council Tax too.)

Not doing it for the kids | Julian Baggini | Comment is free |
Some good points, but it's been suggested that this attitude could explain why the non-religious appear to reproduce less than the religious. Baggini, however, makes no such correlation in this article.

Rise of the exorcists in Catholic Church - Telegraph
The need for exorcisms is “rare, very rare”, said Fr Vincenzio Taraborelli...
Infinitesimally so, I'd say. The supernatural claims of religion are untrue.

xkcd: Photos

15 ways atheists can stand up for rationality -
Say no to the “master-slave” ethos, among other things. No doubt "serious theists" will proclaim this agenda as simplistic, yet their sophisticated theology[TM] — when examined — will be revealed as the epitome of vacuity.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Which God don't you believe in?

Here's Father Robert Barron on the God he doesn't believe in.

Strip away his smug denunciations of those ignorant New Atheists[TM] and what have we got?

Nothing. After claiming that atheists don't understand God, don't know who he is and generally aren't worthy to occupy the same thought-space as genuine sophisticated "serious" theists among whom he is clearly a splendid exemplar, Father Barron tells us precisely what he means by God (for extremely nebulous values of "precisely"). The short version of his piece is this: "Atheists don't know who God is, and neither do I."

Religionists often complain that the God atheists claim not to believe in is a God they don't believe in either. The God they believe in isn't so crass as to exist in any way that mere mortals can apprehend. The God they believe in exists beyond or outside space and time, which means for all practical purposes he exists in a way that can only be described as "non-existent". And yet theologians expend hundreds of thousands of words on what this being is like. I think we've already established, beyond reasonable doubt, what this being is like. It is most like non-being, non-existence, nothing — it's a being without attributes.

I do not deny that it may be possible for something to exist beyond or outside space and time, but our access to such a realm is hampered by our cognitive facilities, which necessarily operate within space and time. Cause and effect are similarly confined to the space-time continuum (causes act in space and effects occur in time), so anything outside space and time must be non-contingent as well as lacking in the ability to cause effects. Since cause and effect operate only within our realm and not beyond it — they require space and time — it is impossible to establish if this other spaceless and timeless realm exists. Since we cannot know that it exists — even if it did exist beyond our knowledge of it — we cannot have access to it, or any knowledge of it, and we therefore have no reason to suppose it does exist. The lack of compelling evidence for something that is by definition inaccessible from the realm in which we exist, within space and time, strongly suggests that to all intents and purposes such a realm is in fact non-existent. If you want to believe it exists, however, be my guest — but understand you have no reason to do so, other than irrational desire.

Nevertheless, once you have decided to believe in a non-existent realm, you can populate it with whatever you wish: gods, angels, demons — or if you're so inclined, some kind of amorphous "ground of all being". Bear in mind, however, that no matter how many learned theological tomes are written about a non-existent realm, it remains non-existent.

So maybe I should make this my New Year Resolution, at least as far as discussions with theists are concerned: henceforth I will not engage with any theists about the God I don't believe in, unless they tell me — unequivocally — which God they do believe in.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

A brace of Skepticules

Two cracking Skepticule episodes for you, both with guests...

First we have Ariane Sherine on Skepticule 060:

This episode also has bad science, primary school proselytising and grateful but futile prayers.

Then there's our National Secular Society AGM special, Skepticule 061:

This has separate interviews with the NSS President Terry Sanderson and NSS council member Robert Stovold, while Dan Bye — another council member — guests on the show.

Christmas walks

A few shots from a walk on Christmas Eve and another on Boxing Day

All taken in Chilton Polden, Somerset