Archive for pseudoscience

Omega Point Theory – Resurrection! (Pun intended)

Posted in Philosophy, Physics, pseudoscience, skepticism, Spirituality with tags , , , , on September 10, 2010 by cpolsonb

It sure has been along time! Around 2 months since my last post and I do feel bad about it…

But what now has finally brought me out of my intellectual stupor? Why it’s my old buddy Omega Point Theory of course! For those who are interested or need a little refresher here are the two previous posts I’ve written on Omega Point Theory:

Omega Point(less?) Theory

Omega Point Theory – Redux!

After the long silence from Mr James Redford, presumably because he had not seen my blog entries, Redford has written a characteristically lengthy reply. Please sit back and relax while I examine this reply openly and honestly and see what it has to offer.

Without further ado, here is James Redford’s response.

Hi, Christian Polson-Brown.
Your write in reference to the abstract of my article “Jesus Is an Anarchist” (Social Science Research Network [SSRN], revised and
expanded edition, October 17, 2009 [originally published December 19, 2001] http://ssrn.com/abstract=1337761 ): “Mr Redford describes the implications his research have on the world as ‘profound’, a small slice of hyperbole if I’ve ever seen it!” It’s hardly hyperbole if Jesus Christ exists and he is God’s Messiah. Your response is the logical fallacy of circular reasoning, as you’re assuming as true that which has not been demonstrated to be true: that Jesus Christ doesn’t exists and he is not God’s Messiah.

For the historical reliability of Jesus Christ’s existence and his bodily resurrection, and the untenability of theories which deny his
resurrection, see Prof. William Lane Craig, “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”,
Truth, Vol. 1 (1985), pp. 89-95. http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth22.html For more on the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 3rd ed., 2008), Chap. 8: “The Resurrection of Jesus”, pp. 333-404, particularly pp. 360 ff.

It is empirically impossible to prove the non-existence of something, and science does not claim to. This point is articulated elegantly by Carl Sagan with his “dragon in my garage” story, printed in Demon Haunted World and available to read here. Burden of proof in this situation lies squarely on those making the claim of existence. For the life of Jesus of Nazareth to be accepted by the scientific community his existence needs to be proven, rather than his existence not disproved. Every argument that flows from the existence of Jesus is therefore based upon a false premise. The reference you cite regarding historical evidence for Jesus comes from a highly suspect journal. The journal “truth” existed for only three volumes and is written from an openly admitted “distinctively Christian perspective”.

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Skeptical Blogging and Preaching to the Choir

Posted in conspiracy thinking, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on June 26, 2010 by cpolsonb

The first time I seriously considered starting a blog was at a local Perth Skeptics event. The guest speaker was Kristjan Wager who runs the ProScience blog. He was talking to us about skeptical blogging in general, what got him started, what it involves and how he has found it. One of the guests there asked a rather pointed question about whether skeptical blogging serves any practical purpose, and whether we are merely “preaching to the choir” as they say. I’ve heard this sort of sentiment repeated elsewhere; the view that the blogosphere is merely an “echo chamber” of like minded individuals patting each other on the back. These people argue that our efforts would be best served elsewhere, maybe handing out leaflets on a street corner or engaging in direct confrontation of forums. In my short time as a blogger I have found that the reality is actually very different.

Thanks to the in-depth traffic statistics that wordpress keeps for all it’s blogs, I have been able to observe where the majority of my traffic comes from. Contrary to the echo chamber hypothesis, my statistics indicate that a good deal of traffic comes from search terms not typically associated with the skeptically mindset. Right up front the big exception to this conclusion is from very top search term “richard dawkins” or “dawkins” which has accounted for a full 9.54% of my total views. Who’s to say however that all those people searching for dawkins are doing so from a skeptical mindset? After dawkins the most popular search terms of all time are “omega point theory criticism” which I will concede seems like a directly skeptical search. Then you get into “global temperatures” & “earth’s atmosphere” which while still scientific indicate that non-skeptics may be stumbling upon my skeptical rundown of climate change denial.

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Brauer: Natural Quackery

Posted in health, pseudoscience with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2010 by cpolsonb

I was in a local pharmacy the other day when, as I normally do I sought out the “natural” alternatives that were made available. I guess I do this in the hope that once, just once the pharmacy won’t be selling utter nonsense to an unsuspecting and trusting public. That day has not yet come and as usual I located the rather extensive homeopathic range by Brauer Natural Medicine. Brauer is the quack medicine distributor I most commonly see in local Perth pharmacies and I have had the privilege of personally testing their product by taking a “dangerous” overdose of homeopathic pills as part of this years 10:23 challenge. So anyway, on this particular trip to the pharmacy I decided to pick up one of the free “product selector” booklets that Brauer medicine produce to peddle their snake oil. In this blog entry I present for you a quick run-down on what Brauer says about their product, why science says it’s total nonsense and why it is dangerous.

I won’t get into a long discussion about the history and nature of homeopathy as I wish to focus on the specific case of Brauer medicine. For a more detailed and referenced rundown on why homeopathy is bunk please check out these excellent resources: The 10:23 Website, The Skeptics Dictionary, SkepticWiki, Quackwatch. For a very quick rundown homeopathy is a system of claimed alternative medicine invented in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann. Since it’s invention it’s core beliefs have remained unchanged despite the world’s advancements in health and medicine including the discovery of viruses, bacterial infection, cancers, vaccines and genetics. It is by all accounts a relic of medieval thinking from a time when the leading hypothesis was that sickness was a result of imbalances in the four bodily humors (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile). Homeopathy itself is based on three laws; the law of similars, the law of infinitesimals and the law of succussion.

The law of similars says that in order to cure a problem you need to consume whatever causes the problem. This extends to such things as caffeine for sleep disorders, sore eyes with onion and rashes with poison ivy.

The law of infinitesimals says that the more diluted a substance the stronger it’s medicinal effect. This means that the vast majority of homeopathic solutions are diluted to the point that not a single molecule of the active ingredient remains, including dilutions of 1:1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000. Of course even if some of the active ingredient remained, the ingredient itself is worthless medically.

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The Big Libel Gig!

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by cpolsonb

This past Sunday (14/3) at the London’s Palace Theater in jolly old England, artists, scientists, authors and performers from all walks of life put on a show to help raise awareness (and money) for the fight for libel reform in the UK. For more information on what Libel Reform is all about take a read of my previous blog on the subject here. This Big Libel Gig really did have a stellar bill, including such talent as: Dara Ó Briain, Tim Minchin, Marcus Brigstocke, Robin Ince, Ed Byrne, Shappi Khorsandi, Professor Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Professor Richard Wiseman, Dr Peter Wilmshurst and Dr Ben Goldacre. All of these talented and gifted individuals gave wildly popular talks/performances many of which had the audience in stitches (figuratively).

Seeing such a group of people come together for such a worthy cause is just super awesome, how I wish I could have attended. Libel Reform is such a passionate issue of mine because it is well beyond a mere scientific issue, it is one of human rights. This is an issue that any member of the public can feel outrage over, regardless of their religious or philosophical viewpoint. For me it’s much more of a humanism fight than a scientific one. It is also a prime example of how a ground swelling of support from the skeptical movement can translate into a public issue. There is perhaps no better current example of the influence that skeptics and rationalists are actually capable of wielding. So far 197 members of parliament have signed “Parliamentary Early Day Motion 423″ and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, leading Tories and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP have all praised the Libel Reform campaign since 10,000 letters were sent to MPs. This comes on top of the chilling effect it’s had on UK chiropractors (a prime example of abusers of current libel) which you can read about in my blog entry here.

For a taste of what was in store at the Big Libel Gig I’ve embedded two videos of backstage interviews conducted by skepchick founder Rebecca Watson and host of the Little Atoms podcast Neil Denney. The first is with psychologist, author, magician and master of British wit Richard Wiseman and the second is with wildly popular musician and comedian Tim Minchin.

Enjoy!

Coarse Language Warning (including some Libel of their own)

What is Wrong With These People!

Posted in health, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on March 18, 2010 by cpolsonb

Okay, I’m ticked.

I’m almost at a loss for words. I’m trying to think about how to describe this video but the words escape me. The following is a shining example of the pathetic and cruel mud-slinging that pseudoscientists stoop too to defend their unscientific medieval beliefs from clean, concise and empirical evidence. Before you watch this video I’d like to give a quick rundown of who the target of this attack is, Yale neurologist and academic Dr. Steven Novella.

For those you who aren’t aware Dr. Steven Novella is the co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society, host of the massively popular podcast ‘The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe’ and author/contributor to many blogs including The Rogues Gallery, Neurologica, Science Based Medicine and TheSkepticBlog. Steven Novella is a long-term opponent of irrational and pseudoscientific beliefs, including but not limited to vaccine denial, homeopathy, health frauds like Kevin Trudeau and creationists. Steven Novella is a true skeptical hero of mine and I look to him as an exemplar of many of the virtues that I believe skeptics should aspire to. To begin with he is unquestionably motivated, he is tremendously passionate, incredibly well researched, eloquent, fair, compassionate, insightful and seems to take great care to avoid letting personal biases and personal attacks distort the clarity of his science based reasoning. Like every human he is capable of making mistakes, and rather than fawning over him like a disciple I instead merely respect, admire and aspire to achieve these same qualities in myself.

So with that in mind, please now take a look at this video by Homeopath John Benneth. The sheer insensitivity and incomprehensibility of the stupid boggles my mind, but please stick with it for at least 3 minutes.

I mean seriously? Accusing Dr Novella of committing a mass-murder by practicing science based medicine? I’m really struggling to put into words just how much I dislike this man. I’d like to write a whole essay on what a moron this guy is but really don’t think he’s worth my time. I usually refrain from personal attacks, particularly ones as harsh as I write here. I like the idea of this blog being a hate-free area that people can feel comfortable reading regardless of their personal beliefs. In this case though, it is the individual and his cruel personal attacks that I am responding too not his belief. Homeopathy is still a medieval, unscientific and discredited form of magic but that’s not the subject here.

What the message is here folks is that unlike leading rationalists and skeptics who make their arguments with evidence, practitioners of pseudoscience often respond to criticisms with hate-filled, vitriolic and personal attacks because lets face it there’s nothing else for them to defend themselves with. If the battle of homeopathy were a scientific one then it would currently be being fought in the papers of peer-reviewed medical journals, not juvenile youtube videos.

To read Dr. Novella’s response to John Benneth’s personal attacks read this entry from the Neurologica blog. In this blog Dr. Novella weaves together a more concise and eloquent response to John Benneth then I could possibly write.

Layman Answers to some Climate Denial Arguments

Posted in conspiracy thinking, pseudoscience with tags , , on March 15, 2010 by cpolsonb

This one goes out to those of you who are somewhat confused about climate change and where the most recent science lies. I’ll try to keep the questions and answers as non-technical as is possible. I’m not going to go over the details with a fine tooth comb, think of this more like a quick primer on how to defend yourself from common climate denial arguments. Much of the information I’m going to pull from comes straight out of the March/April 2010 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, and an article by David Morrison.

As a quick preface it’s useful to mention that the scientific argument over whether the planet is warming has died down considerably over the last decade. Note that I say ‘scientific’ argument as there remains a small but dedicated group of ideologically driven denialists who dispute even this. Since the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) latest report many who didn’t support the warming hypothesis have been swayed. The real scientific questions now lie in extracting the degree to which humans are forcing climate change. This human induced climate change or change acceleration is referred to colloquially as AGW (anthropogenic global warming). The questions that remain to be resolved are all a matter of degree, very few people and almost no climate scientists deny that the planet is warming at all.

I will now attempt to (very) briefly cover some of the most common arguments put forward by people who are either intentionally distorting the facts to serve an agenda or are too lazy to properly research climate change. These arguments range in goal from questioning whether climate change is a negative to disputing the accuracy of recordings and even accusations of fraud. Thanks once again to David Morrison’s fantastic article for most of this info.

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Omega Point Theory – Redux!

Posted in Philosophy, Physics, pseudoscience, skepticism, Spirituality with tags , , , on March 9, 2010 by cpolsonb

Just when I thought I was done with talking about Tipler’s Omega Point theory it starts swinging back in anger! First for a little background I recommend you go back and read my first post on Omega Point Theory (if you haven’t already) which can be found here. I mentioned and quote in my opening paragraph from a question posted on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe forum. As well as replying to the query on my blog I also shared my thoughts with the original poster back on the forum. He was appreciative of my summation and for a while it looked like the thread was going to sink into obscurity as all threads do eventually. That is until a brand new member signed up specifically to speak in defense of Omega Point theory!

James Redford (both his username and his real name) posted a 1,300 word reply to the original poster’s question followed by a 2,300 word specifically targeting each of my points! Quite honestly I was a little flattered to have caught the attention of such a die-hard Omega Point believer. It is quite obvious from Mr Redford’s writings that has studied Omega Point Theory in depth and I don’t doubt that he has a far deeper understanding of it’s inner workings than I do. I do not profess to be an expert on physics or quantum mechanics fortunately such expertise is not needed to point out the obvious flaws in the theory. Such flaws are covered in my earlier post on the subject with much help from Michael Shermer. Right now I will concentrate on Mr Redford’s defense of Omega Point Theory and will endeavor to write a blog post in the near future detailing some advice I have for other skeptics with how to deal with similar situations they might find themselves in.

Before I replied to Mr Redford I thought I’d take a look to see if I could find any of his footprints elsewhere online. The most obvious hit for the same James Redford came in the form of a paper published in the Social Science Network . The Social Science Network is not a scientific journal, nor is it peer-reviewed. Rather it a collection of papers written by interested individuals based not on their qualifications or expertise but on their association with others in the network. More about the way Social Networks operate can be found here. The paper that Mr Redford authored is titled “Jesus is an Anarchist” and the following abstract is given:

The teachings and actions of Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha’Mashiach) and the apostles recorded in the New Testament are analyzed in regard to their ethical and political philosophy, with analysis of context vis-a-vis the Old Testament (Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible) being given. From this analysis, it is shown that Jesus is a libertarian anarchist, i.e., a consistent voluntaryist. The implications this has for the world are profound, and the ramifications of Jesus’s anarchism to Christians’ attitudes toward government (the state) and its actions are explicated.

Mr Redford describes the implications his research have on the world as “profound”, a small slice of hyperbole if I’ve ever seen it! Mr Redford’s attempts at analysis of the story/myth of a 2000 year old pseudo-historical character are deeply flawed in premise. Whatever sliver of information regarding the life of a 2000 year old Jew named Jesus once existed has no doubt been stripped down, rebuilt and massaged to the point where no meaningful historical account remains. Whilst Mr Redford’s attempt at a scientific paper critically analyzing the exploits of a mythological figure do not invalidate any other argument he makes they do help us develop a picture of the ideology that may be driving his arguments. Based both on Mr Redford’s paper and our exchange on the message boards it is clear that he writes from a perspective that is firmly grounded in the Judeo-Christian myth of which he is a part.

Now comes the rundown of Mr Redford’s to the points I made against Omega Point Theory based on Michael Shermer’s arguments in his book Why People Believe Weird Things.

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