Category Archives: science

Seven Ways a Black Hole Can Kill You

One of the few things that most (and let me stress, most, not all) freethinkers have in common is a love for science.

Science is the tool that allows us to understand the universe. It’s the process that has allowed us to communicate over vast distances by typing into these little magic boxes (computers, I think they may be called). And, quite simply, it’s just really cool.

Obviously not everyone agrees with me. My own 11 year-old self absolutely loathed going to science class in school. But it can help to capture your attention if the particular scientific subject being discussed is entertaining or interesting. And there are few things as interesting or entertaining as contemplating your own morality and the destruction of the planet. Am I right?

If you think I am, check out the video below. Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy and president of the JREF, gives an hour long talk about 7 ways in which a black hole can kill you.

So enjoy. And try not to panic.

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The Right to Kill Your Child

Although she doesn’t know it, that is exactly what Colleen Hauser wants.

Forced Chemo

Police look for mom, son who fled to avoid chemo

SLEEPY EYE, Minn. (AP) — A courtroom clash between medicine and faith took a criminal turn, with police around the country on the lookout Wednesday for a Minnesota mother who fled with her cancer-stricken 13-year-old son rather than consent to chemotherapy.

(…)

Daniel has Hodgkins lymphoma, a highly curable form of cancer when treated with chemo and radiation. But the teen and his parents rejected chemo after a single treatment, with the boy’s mother saying that putting toxic substances in the body violates the family’s religious convictions.

Colleen Hauser said she had been treating the boy’s cancer instead with herbal supplements, vitamins, ionized water and other natural alternatives — a regimen based mostly on information she found on the Internet.

Thanks to those dreadful interwebz, this poor boy’s mother has become convinced in the efficacy of a pseudo-Native American superstition called “Nemenhah”. Rather than letting the doctor’s treat Daniel she’s taken the boy on the run, where he will almost certainly die while taking vitamins and squatting in sweat-lodges.

What’s probably the worst fact of this case is that the Hauser’s have convinced Daniel of their nonsense. Though it’s hard to blame him. Undergoing chemotherapy is not a pleasant experience. It can often cause more pain than the patient has suffered from the cancer itself when the chemo treatments begin. And at the age of 13, how could a sick boy do anything but listen to his parents?

As strange as it may seem, I am not against adults refusing chemotherapy or other modern treatments. I’m not terribly happy when anyone makes a decision that ends up killing them, but an adult should have the right to do so if they can’t be convinced otherwise.

But a child doesn’t have that right. We recognize as a society that children don’t know enough and don’t have enough experience to come to decisions about their own safety. And as much power as parents do hold over their children, parents do not own them.

In Ancient Rome, the paterfamilias had ultimate authority over his family. He could put his children to death if they disobeyed him. But that is not the world we live in. You do not have the right to kill your child.

I just hope that the police find Daniel Hauser before it’s too late.

A Science Lesson for Christians

Often times when discussing religion with Christians the conversation turns to science. I am not an expert in the sciences. My field is Philosophy. Just to make sure that I have all my facts straight, I e-mailed this blog to The Science Pundit for peer review. However, having gone to a fairly decent public school program which taught science fairly well, I would say that I have a slightly above average knowledge of the subject. I am beginning to think though that I am a bit more than just slightly above average. It seems that I run into the same problems over and over again. Many of the Christians that I talk to have no idea how the scientific method works.

The thing is that most of these Christians claim to know how science works and they claim to have studied in detail the relevant scientific theories that we are discussing. But then their mouths open (or in case of internet conversations, they write stuff). And based on what they are saying, it becomes painfully obvious that they have not studied the relevant theories and have no idea whatsoever how science works.

There are a few particular misconceptions that keep popping up. The first is that a “scientific theory” is “just a theory.” Here there is as Wittgenstein put it, a “Family Resemblance” between the two uses, but make no mistake that the term “theory” is being used in two very different ways. In the general sense the term “theory” is used to describe an analytic structure designed to explain a set of observations. As used in the scientific sense, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words, “just a theory” is very different than a “scientific theory” which has considerably more weight attached to it.

Another common misconception is that science is “faith based” just as faith based belief is faith based. These particular Christians don’t seem to understand the difference between the scientific process and the religious process. To them, all ideas are the same and deserve equal time. The problem is that all ideas are not the same.

Let’s start with religion. The way religious belief works, they start off with the belief in God and in the Bible. That belief supersedes everything else. Then they specifically look to find anything which might be considered supportive of their conclusion (This is called “confirmation bias.” The scientific method goes to extreme measures to minimize or eliminate this as all people—even scientists—are susceptible to confirmation bias). If evidence comes to light which disproves their belief, that evidence is attacked, ignored, and/or destroyed. Their view is that God exists and that the Bible is true and nothing “science” can say or show will convince them otherwise. Many times, they will even tell you that straight up.

Science doesn’t start with the conclusion. Science starts with observations. From the observations we make a hypothesis, which is an educated guess as to the explanation of an observable phenomenon or phenomena which makes predictions and is therefore testable. We then look for evidence and/or test the hypothesis through experimentation to see if our hypothesis holds up. One thing science tries to be very careful about is to make sure that when we run tests and look for evidence we do so in as non-biased manner as possible. We don’t want to fall prey to confirmation bias. We are not specifically looking to confirm or deny the hypothesis, just go where the evidence leads. If the evidence supports the hypothesis, then we keep looking for more evidence in the same unbiased manner. If the evidence does not support the hypothesis, then we revise the hypothesis and start the process over again. Science never draws a 100% certain conclusion. Science is always willing to change. But the more and more evidence which supports a given hypothesis the more and more certain we are that the hypothesis is correct. But we will never say that we are 100% certain. A theory is a more general model which includes facts, laws and hypotheses and explains a whole family of phenomena.

So as you can see, while science starts with observations and evidence and investigates as non-biased as it can, religion is the exact opposite. Religion starts with the conclusion and looks in a biased manner for anything which could be persuasive and rejects what does not fit with the already stated conclusion (i.e. God exists and the Bible is true).

Please keep in mind that this blog is only giving a basic and quick guide to science and the scientific method. I encourage anyone who lacks sufficient scientific knowledge to go online or pick up a science text book and learn more.

Check out my Daily Blog @ DangerousTalk.net and my atheist news blog @ Examiner.com

The Anti-Intellectualism of Christianity

One of the biggest issues that I have with Christianity is the anti-intellectualism that it perpetuates. It isn’t hard to miss. For starters, the majority of Christians in America are ignorant and proud. The fact that the most idiotic President in our nation’s history was elected mainly because of the support of the Christian Right, speaks volumes. A quick look back at history also shows that the Church and various organized religions have done everything they could to restrict science and knowledge. At every stage of scientific achievement, Christians were always their persecuting those who wish to expand human knowledge and human progress. One of the Humanities biggest loses came pretty early on too. In 415 CE a Christian mob brutally murdered Hypatia of Alexandria (I would go into more details about the brutality of that murder, but it is a bit graphic) who was one the bright lights of Science in her time. Even today, almost half of Christianity stands against the science of evolution and medical stem cell research.

The fact is that the more religious someone is, the less value they tend to place on science and education. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 93% of scientists express disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal deity. 72% outright disbelieve in a personified deity. These are among the brightest minds on Earth. Both Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking (widely considered the two smartest men who every lived) had issue with the personified deity of Christianity. These men joined the company of many of the most intellectual founding fathers such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and other.

The concept of “faith” is a slap in the face to science and intellectual curiosity. Faith stops questions while science encourages questions. Faith provides dishonest, unsupportable, and unquestioned certainty while science leaves every conclusion open to change with additional evidence and discoveries. With faith, no education is necessary because education is often a determent to faith. This is one of the biggest reasons why Christian fundamentalists are so keen on censorship and control. Even in the Bible, the character of Jesus elevates blind faith above intellectual rigor, reason, and evidence.

“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.” – John 20: 29

This is not the only instance in which the Bible attacks the intellect. Corinthians is full of such examples. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” – 1 Corinthians 1:27 and 5 “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:5, etc.

Science, reason, and intellectualism support the concepts of continued questioning, education, and human curiosity. Through the scientific method, the rules of logic, and the thirst to understand, people of reason are continually pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and helping to make life better and longer for us all. Yet, example after example, the Bible and Christianity stand against the intellect and continue to propagate ignorance, fear, and unreason. Between the Creation Museum and the absolute unquestioning certainty of a divine deity, Christianity remains one of the biggest oppositions to human progress and the greatest threat to intellectualism.

Checkout my Daily Blog @ DangerousTalk.net

Atheist Day

Apparently, there is a movement to make this Friday (tomorrow) “Atheist Day.” I am not entirely sure if this is to be an annual atheist day or just a one time event. Nor am I should I really want an “Atheist Day.” To me everyday is an atheist day. It isn’t as if I believe in deities for 364 days and than take a day to doubt.

In any case, part of the “Atheist Day” celebration calls for the greater atheist community to make our presence known online by displaying the Scarlet A as a profile picture on all social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. This I think is a good thing and something worthy of mass participation.

It is not that I think people will choose to reject belief in God because they see large numbers of atheists out of the metaphorical pew, but I do think that there are many Christians out there who quietly doubt or even outright disbelieve in their deity of choice but are afraid to make such doubts and disbeliefs public. This is understandable because atheism is still a minority and still faces major discrimination. But the more people make it know that they do indeed have doubts or disbeliefs about ridiculous bronze aged deities, the more others will be willing to reveal themselves as fellow freethinkers, skeptics, doubters, and disbelievers.

So tomorrow, please take part in this “Atheist Day” by making this image or images like this your profile image on all your favorite social networking websites. Let people know that you lack belief in ridiculous deities. Come out, come out, come out, and be free.

Please check out my Daily Blog at: DangerousTalk.net

Pi Day

As many of you may know, Saturday was March 14th or 3.14 or Pi Day. This is a day in which we should all celebrate math and science and make learning fun. Many in the greater atheistic community have wanted to create atheistic holidays to celebrate since we don’t really celebrate religious holidays. I don’t have a problem with that, but it should be emphasized that atheism is not a religion and so we don’t need holidays. Humanism can be considered a religion to some degree and so a humanistic holiday would make more sense. In any case, Pi Day should be such a holiday. I was a little surprised however to hear Congress discussing the holiday in open session. In fact, Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon sponsored a House Resolution honoring Pi Day. Here Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis addresses the Congress:

The really surprising thing about this House Resolution is that 10 Republicans actually voted against it!!! It seems the love of math and science is something they felt they needed to vote against. No money was appropriated with this resolution. No laws were created or changed with this resolution. All this resolution did was honor Pi Day and encourage scientific education through a simple acknowledgement. Yet 10 Congressman made the conscious decision to vote against this acknowledgement. So I am going to “out” these anti-science Congressmen:

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake
Nevada Congressman Dean Heller
Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson
Florida Congressman Jeff Miller
Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer
Texas Congressman Ron Paul
Indiana Congressman Mike Pence
Texas Congressman Ted Poe
Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster

Please check out my Daily Blog at: DangerousTalk.net

Jason Schnittker speaks about beliefs regarding mental illness.

Before I get to my regular post, I need to add a little something to my topic from last week. Tonight I watched the President’s address. On balance, I have to say that I really liked it. As is tradition, the opposition party broadcast a response following the address. The tradition is that the person chosen to give the response is a rising star within the party. Tonight was no exception: Bobby Jindal delivered the response.

I must confess that I didn’t watch the response. Tomorrow I’ll find out what he said, but I had absolutely no interest in hearing him speak. You see, Bobby Jindal is the evolution denying (pdf) exorcist Governor of Louisiana. And let me assure that these facts aren’t some closely guarded secret; it is common knowledge that Jindal is a creationist who claims to have once cured a woman of cancer by performing an exorcism on her. And yet (fully knowing his history) this is the man that the Republican party has chosen to be their face for this. It’s going to be a long, long, long, long time before I vote for a candidate from that party for any political office. [/political rant]

On the third of February, Jason Schnitker, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke to a snowy day depleted group at our monthly meeting. His presentation, An Uncertain Revolution: America’s Changing Beliefs Regarding Mental Illness, dealt with how the American public perceives mental illness (causes, treatment, stigma, etc.) and how those beliefs have evolved since 1950. The video is below, and his PowerPoint presentation can be found here (pdf).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Jason Schnittker: America’s Changing Attitudes towards Mental Illness from Freethought Society on Vimeo.