Category: Skepticism


Rainbows: they're caused by refraction in water droplets, not by the promises of sky fairies

Rainbows: they're caused by the refraction of light in water droplets, not by the promises of sky fairies.

A fundamental tenet of religion is faith. Faith is belief in something without evidence. In the Christian sense that would be a belief in Jesus Christ (among many other things). Christians in particular celebrate ‘faith’ since it’s the core of their religion: believe (without evidence) in Jesus Christ, accept him as your ‘Lord and Saviour’ and you’ll be ‘saved’ (go to heaven to live in paradise forever). Christians accept the ‘truth’ of the Bible, that their God exists and that He had a ‘son’ Jesus Christ on faith, without any empirical evidence.

Of course, every religion man has ever invented functions on exactly the same principle, including some ‘belief’ systems more appropriately called superstitions that sometimes pre-date Christianity by a fair amount. Some Christians believe the world is only 6,000 years old but we know, based on empirical evidence, that people have been around in Africa for significantly longer than that. Many African superstitions involve  worshipping ‘ancestors’ and a form of witchcraft that involves witch doctors and magic potions.

The following is an extract of an article posted on July 21 2011 at 09:26pm on the South African IOL website:

A witness watched as schoolgirl Masego Kgomo was mutilated, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Thursday.

Albert “Nono” Mathebula was testifying in the trial of Brian Mangwale, who has pleaded not guilty to of murdering and raping the 10-year-old Masego and selling her body parts for muti.

Mathebula was initially also arrested in connection with Kgomo’s murder.

He testified on Wednesday that he was smoking dagga with friends on the night of December 31 2009 when Mangwale arrived in a car with a man named Jan, a woman in sangoma’s clothing and a young child.

He and two of his friends accompanied them to a sangoma’s house in Soshanguve.

Mathebula went inside with the woman, who carried the child. His friends stayed in the car.

He told the court that he and Mangwale were given cooldrink which contained something that made him feel dizzy, out of control and hear voices in his head.

“On entering, we found initiates. They were dressed in sangoma clothing,” Mathebula testified.

“… The lady came in with a cloth. The child was not crying. It appeared she was also made to eat or drink something. When Jan cut her open, she did not scream.

“… I did not see the other parts. I only saw the internal organs. When she was cut open I looked so I could see what it is inside a woman’s body.

“Jan continued to cut open the child. When they were removing the organs I vomited,” he said.

Mathebula said the child’s body was later put into the car boot and he and his friends were dropped off at a party.

“My friends asked me what happened with the child. I did not tell them. I was afraid,” he said.

Mangwale’s trial was previously postponed for judgment, but Judge Billy Mothle called Mathebula and two other witnesses to shed more light on the killing.

The other witnesses, a magistrate and a senior policeman, testified that Mangwale made confessions and a pointing-out to them in March last year about the alleged murder and mutilation of another young girl.

They said Mangwale told them how the girl was lured into their car and taken to bushes near a river, where a sangoma called Jan Maleka cut out her tongue and cut off both her breasts before removing her womb.

The sangoma took the body parts with him when they left the child’s body behind in the bushes.

The full article can be found here: http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/when-he-cut-her-open-she-did-not-scream-1.1103672

Any sane person who reads that horrifying story should find it hard to believe that things like that happen; believe it, they happen, often. For clarification: a ‘sangoma’ is a witch doctor and ‘muti’ is what ingredients used in magic potions are called.

Now, it doesn’t take much for a civilised, educated westerner (and I am including all westerners, especially Christians – Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular) to look at that article and write all of it off as the barbaric actions of primitive uneducated people driven by ludicrous superstitions. And they are terrible,  ludicrous superstitions.

Being religious (Christian, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness) and writing those superstitions off as ridiculous though is disingenuous at best but completely unsurprising. Several million Christians in South Africa will do exactly that today: read the article and write it off to stupid superstition while happily continuing to believe what they believe.

No doubt Christians would object to and be outraged at me comparing their ‘faith’ based beliefs to… the ‘faith’ based beliefs of African witch doctors. After all, nobody wants their cherished beliefs to be compared to something that sickening and horrifying.

There are several issues with that misplaced outrage.

First and foremost, there is ‘Holy Communion‘. As with everything else Christian, what is actually believed depends on how fervently one believes it. You see, Catholics at the very least, believe that during Communion the little cracker (or bread, Eucharist) they receive physically changes into the body of Jesus Christ and the wine they receive physically turns into the blood of Jesus Christ. Catholics genuinely believe they are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a god-man. Normal people refer to this practice as cannibalism.

Of course, they believe this without evidence (actually, they believe this in spite of evidence to the contrary).

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that one shouldn’t accept blood transfusions because ‘blood represents life and it sacred to God’ as described in the Bible in Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:10, and Acts 15:29. Since the Bible is not proof of anything other than the existence of bronze age creation myths, this no-transfusion belief is accepted without evidence.

Clearly there are situations where refusing a blood transfusion is going to kill the person refusing the transfusion but some might argue that it’s their own choice and they should be allowed to choose that option. I tend to agree: if a cognisant  adult chooses to die, then who are we to say otherwise?

My problem lies with this ‘choice’ for suicide being forced on children. People are rightly outraged at the news story I posted earlier where adults butchered a child but in my opinion forcing a child to choose to die instead of live because of a ridiculous belief based on some obscure passages in an arbitrarily put together book chock full of contradictions, impossibilities, flat-out lies and horror is an order of magnitude worse.

Killing a child is one thing, forcing a child to choose to die is… possibly the worst thing I can imagine.

Christians outraged by that story may want to consider again how their Bible commands genocide, provides guidelines for slavery, commands the murder of children, commands the enslavement of virgin girls. They might want to consider how their entire religion is based on the torture and execution of an innocent to pay for the alleged crimes of the guilty.

Christians might also want to consider how for several thousand years they have been mutilating little babies by chopping off pieces of their penises.

Isn’t it interesting how people can be outraged at the superstition motivated actions of a foreign group of people while they are completely happy to carry on with their own, similar, superstition motivated actions?

So what is the argument for skepticism and empirical evidence?

People demand evidence for just about every other claim outside their religion. Religious people demand proof for the religious beliefs of other religions and refuse to accept the ‘truth’ of religions other than their own based on their lack of proof and evidence. This is the central point of John Loftus’ Outside Test For Faith: if a person had to examine their own faith with the same skepticism they reserve for other religions it will quickly become apparent that their own faith is exactly as unfounded as they perceive the faith of others to be.

When claims are made, evidence must be required and provided.

If evidence for efficacy were required before butchering a child for magic potion ingredients, the butchering wouldn’t happen since there isn’t any empirical evidence for magic potions working. If empirical evidence were required for refusing blood transfusions outright, no children would be forced to choose to die. If empirical evidence was required before slicing pieces off of a child’s penis, children wouldn’t have their penises mutilated. If empirical evidence was demanded to show that vaccinations caused autism, children wouldn’t be left unvaccinated, endangering the entire population and dying unnecessarily.

Faith without evidence makes parents choose to not get their children medical treatment but pray instead. Faith without evidence makes parents choose homoeopathy for treating serious diseases instead of actual medicine. Faith without evidence cause parents to not vaccinate their children.

Demanding evidence kills faith and saves people.

Homoeopathy, it’s a load of crap. Oh, there are a couple of other ways to say that but it comes down to the same thing. Horse shit or magic vibrations, doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t work. Believe it does work? Then make a million US dollars by proving to James Randi and the world that it does. Or… don’t bother with a million bucks because selling the shit is making you way more.

This is what PZ Myers has to say about “Faith in homoeopathy“:

Those two wretched words are “faith” and “homeopathy”. Please go kill it. Kill it, then burn it, then piss on the ashes, then use the ashes to fertilize a field and grow a tall stand of grass, then burn that, and then use the field as a fecal lagoon where you toss the waste from raising pigs, which you turn into bacon, thereby salvaging something useful from it.

How I laugh. That’s why PZ Myers is high up on the list of people I’d like to meet! He is filled with so much awesome that often some of that awesome spills onto his keyboard and produces treasures like the quote above.

“Faith” and “homoeopathy”, the refuge of the desperate ignorant.

Few people say it like xkcd says it. If you don’t know xkcd, you must check it out: http://xkcd.com/808/

Onward to the point:

The Economic Argument

I think that poster is spot on (as usual). If any of those woo related things worked, big business would be making money from it. Everything that helps make money, is used to help make money. If simple common sense isn’t good enough to convince you, surely simple capitalism is?

I don’t really have all that much more to say about that. Surely you people are able to do two simple things: 1) Read, 2) Think. Surely?

Well, luckily for you, people exist to make even those two things simpler. After you read this, say a quick thanks to Darryl Cunningham for making it so simple then apologise to the other people who’s lives you’ve endangered for no good reason.

http://tallguywrites.livejournal.com/148012.html

http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/

I first saw it at:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/the_facts_in_the_case_of_dr_an.php

I bet Mr. Andrew Wakefield didn’t see this vast explosion of idiocy coming either. He did it for money, what’s your excuse?

Ah, fellow New Zealand (and world wide) skeptics for the win!

You can read the full article here: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/GE1001/S00073.htm and read about the ten23 project here: http://www.1023.org.uk/

Some amusingly applicable passages:

A public mass overdose of homeopathic remedies has forced the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit openly that their products do not contain any “material substances”. Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that “there´s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry.

The NZ Skeptics, in conjunction with 10:23, Skeptics in the Pub and other groups nationally and around the world, held the mass overdose in Christchurch on Saturday to highlight the fact that homeopathic products are simply very expensive water drops or sugar/lactose pills. A further aim was to question the ethical issues of pharmacies, in particular, stocking and promoting sham products and services.

I feel like I am repeating myself a lot today, but here goes again: there is no controversy, homoeopathy is not science, it doesn’t work, it has no effect and if you think about it just a little, makes no sense. It, is, a, sham.

Look, I would be the first to admit that I will happily sell you a litre of water for $100 any day of the week but you must realise, that is exactly what a homeopath is doing, even if he firmly believes his exceedingly clean water, lacking in everything but water,  is going to cure you of anything except, possibly, dehydration.

My special water is very good for you, and it has extra dihydrogen monoxide that is exceptionally good for you. Without the proper amounts of dihydrogen monoxide you may die, in three days or less. It is essential to life and my product contains plenty of it.

Buy my dihydrogen monoxide enriched water instead of homoeopathic remedies; My product is guaranteed to work if used for the purpose for which it was intended. Seriously.

According to Juan Ignacio Molina the Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen observed the use of chiliquenes (a llama type) by native Mapuches of Mocha Island as plough animals in 1614

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