Things of questionable truth or effectiveness

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Suggested additions welcome.

most claims of perpetual motion. (somewhat containted in claims of sustainability)

crackpots claiming to disprove relativity theory or claiming theories of everything.

Pyramid schemes.

Ok, first thing I thought of and couldn't find: the Loch Ness monster

You have religious morality but I would just say religion in general. It's one of the best bullshit stories of all time.

I would love to hear from Listologists who reject 99% of these things but not one or two of them, and their reasons for doing so. That would be interesting.

I stopped reading at "chiropractor."

After my back injury I tried returning to normal activity. Then I tried rest, ice, heating pads, exercises, physical therapy, ultrasound and so on.

Then I went to see a chiropractor. She is now "my" chiropractor.

In less than a month and a half I went from having trouble driving to the appointment to being able to walk fairly well. By the time Spring was in full flower I was able to resume athletic activities.

By the Autumn I could leave my flat, drive an hour, pretend to be an athlete for a couple of hours and then drive back. It still hurt like hell but I was physically able to do it. If I couldn't recover on my own then my chiropractor would fix me.

My quite considerate medical professionals have indulged me by telling me that I've gone through two of the worst kinds of pain known to man: knee and (chronic) back. They also say I have a high tolerance for pain.

But to quote Daffy Duck, "I'm not like most people -- pain hurts me!"

In no way do I think it is for everyone but my chiropractor saved my life. I'm convinced of it.

Plus, it's pretty cool to have your vertebrae re-stacked, your hips cranked around like a corkscrew and your neck snapped.

I didn't say all chiropractic was bullshit, just original chiropractic. The linked article explains more. Here's a quote:

"Many chiropractors are rational people and are knowledgeable about sports medicine or back pain, and do provide good physical therapy. The best will often be openly critical of [original mystic] chiropractors and advise you to avoid any practitioner who follows the subluxation philosophy."

Original chiropractic is characterized by "those who stick firmly with Palmer's original concepts of innate intelligence, tend to reject modern medicine, and honestly believe that spinal manipulation can cure most any disease."

Is that the kind of chiropractic that has helped you? Or is it the modern scientific kind?

The first section that you quoted continues

"...who follows the subluxation philosophy.This is good, but it's not as good as receiving the same advice from someone who went to medical school and whose practice is built on medical science. My question to these Reform chiropractors is: If you are so critical of the chiropractic arts, then why are you a chiropractor yourself? ... [I]f you believe medical services should be based on medical science, then you should go all the way. I'm tired of hearing chiropractors be critical of chiropractic. It's the pinnacle of hypocrisy."
The distinction the author makes between practitioners of "original chiropractic" (ie "Straights"), Mixers and Reforms is that the Reforms are hypocrites.

When a chiropractor of any stripe provides the same (or similar) treatment that a doctor or licensed physical therapist might prescribe the author calls them liars and criminals. "Some of these chiropractors are doing conventional physical therapy but without having taken the training and passed the tests, and they're getting away with it because they're calling it chiropractic. Not only is that untrue, it's illegal, "And even when the chiropractor "also happens to be a licensed physical therapist" the author still considers chiropractic treatment invalid, "If you have a painful sports injury, you should be going to an orthopedist anyway, who is licensed to provide medical care."

The article concludes by saying that patients who are already receiving treatment from a chiropractor should go "to a medical doctor for a proper diagnosis" [emphasis mine] There is no possibility ("You can only do better") that chiropractic treatment might be sensible or effective. There is no distinction made between types of practitioners when the author uses a broad brush to tar " chiropractor[s] whose training is founded upon Palmer's 1895 conjecture of innate intelligence."

This seems to me as if the author is an advocate for the AMA. He is willing to throw out successful outcomes if they are not arrived at by proper (ie conventional) medical practice. These are the kind of people who would bleed me with leeches not so long ago.

But to answer your question directly: I assume that I am getting the "the modern scientific kind" of treatment. However, based on my experience with injury and pain, I don't care if my chiropractor is treating me by taking my money, burning it and then using it for fish food.

I also know that my chiropractor seems to know much more about the musculo-skeletal system than any doctor I've ever met. Perhaps doctors and licensed physical therapists know (or have been taught) more than my chiropractor but they have lost some of that information through lack of practice. It might be the case that my chiropractor's only advantage comes through constant practice, attention and focus on the muscles and spine. She may simply have more familiarity with the disc between my 3rd and 4th vertebrae, thoracic ganglia, my sacrum and all the muscles, tendons and ligaments that pull on them.

A vast amount of practical experience combined with specific familiarity with my case in a results-based course of treatment? Crack that whip!

Great reply.

I am very happy that chiropractic has worked for you. Especially since it is so cost effective.

I do disagree with Dunning about chiropractic hypocrisy. On the same note, maybe you shouldn't pay $150/hr to see a Ph.D psychological counselor when studies show that in many cases a well-informed and caring friend will do you 90% as much good. (The problem is finding a well-informed friend.)

I went to a chiropractor once and it worked for me, too. My chiropractor didn't mention anything about "inner intelligence" or vitalism or subluxation affecting my energy balance.

Chiropractic is unusual in that it started out as utter nonsense:

"A subluxated vertebra… is the cause of 95 percent of all diseases"
"Chiropractors correct abnormalities of the intellect as well as those of the body."
etc.

Most chiropractors today, however, have abandoned such foolishness and instead embraced scientific discoveries about anatomy and neurology. I wish they would call these practitioners by another name, to avoid confusion.

Hypnosis seems to be taking the same path. It started out as ignorant nonsense. Many hypnotherapists today still make silly and dangerous claims about rebirthing, past-life regression, hypnosis for curing cancer, etc.

But it's not total bullshit. Something seems to be going on here. In particular, hypnosis is pretty good for relieving chronic pain.

We don't have a good theory about how hypnosis works yet, and we're not sure how to use it most effectively. But it seems to be helping some people.

Scientific chiropractic theories are further along, but still need some work.

I'm not hatin' on modern chiropractic that helps people. I'm calling "bullshit" on original chiropractic that makes false promises about being able to heal 95% of diseases, improve your inner intelligence, and balance your life energy.

What do you see when you keep reading after chiropractic?

In the particular, that was just a politic way of avoiding the issue of creationism. I don't know what to think about that.

In the broader sense: I try to avoid applying the b******t label to other people's hot-button issues. Don't get me wrong. I consider myself a world-ranked b******t a***t. I just feel that the pejorative use leads us into a state of incessant warfare, Fab Four v. Piero, etc.

I'm not sure that I would take a lack of scientific theories to be proof of anything. The science and the scientists of this world, both very conservative and resistant to change, are often slow to validate something new and/or unconventional.

It wasn't that long ago that a guy could proselytize about avoiding processed foods, eliminating chemical additives and sugar from our diets, eating whole wheat flour and pursuing vegetarianism... and the whole town would call him a kook. That is, until he claimed this would cure alcoholism and promiscuity. That was visionary.

If only he knew that modern society has taken his teachings and covered them with melted chocolate and marshmallows.

And that's no b***...

I completely agree with 0dysseyus. The article that you linked to takes a lot of things out of context and uses them sufficiently well to create the desired effect.
Also, discrediting chiropracty because of lack of some scientific evidence...is hardly scientific itself. I think 0dysseyus was lucky that s/he went to a really good chirpractor - it is pretty much like going to a super specialist and it is spot on to say that the normal physicians "know (or have been taught) more than my chiropractor but they have lost some of that information through lack of practice". That is why super specialists exist.

At any rate, I really don't think any of the so-called alternate medical approaches are "bullshit", unless of course they rely on unapproved and (proven to be) dangerous drugs. The problem is, most of the practioners of the so-called alternate medicines are bullshitters - they hardly have the required scientific and proper background to effectively treat and heal. So well, they end up doing more harm rather than good.

That is not to say I am advocating alternate to replace the mainstream. It is about what suits you the best. If allopathy fails you (and let me tell you, it does) I don't see why anyone should suffer the pain of a subluxated vertebra(and believe me, it is damn painful - I have experienced it) and not try out anything alternate.

I have always enjoyed upsetting people. "Settled" makes me think of being planted head-first in the ground, unable to move. So "unsettling" has a positive ring for me. Not in a "my God is cooler than your God" way, but in a "well-behaved women seldom make history" way.

A Socratic way. If somebody's hot-button issues are upheld by solid evidence and reason, they won't budge. Nobody feels wounded when I start yelling that gravity (a strongly-held belief no doubt) is bullshit. They only get wounded when I tell them their dead grandma doesn't care who they marry.

If a hot-button issue isn't upheld by evidence or reason, one of two things will happen. Maybe (1) the believer will examine their beliefs and their world more closely. Or, (2) they will retreat further from any light and proclaim the darkness good. That's called "faith."

I can't help the true believers much. But I hope I can, just once in a while.

I have this hope because the best thing that ever happened to me was somebody who called "bullshit" on my most cherished beliefs. He did it with conviction, sarcasm, and even a hint of anger. But what he said made sense, so I couldn't dismiss it. I had to examine myself and my world.

And now I'm a much better person for it.

But can't I challenge people with self-examination and rational thought another way? A more diplomaticalistic way?

Yes. Many people do. But that's not me, at least not now.

I think a good message needs to be preached in many different ways, because there are different types of ears.

For 21 years, I had heard gentle dissent to my belief in a Bronze-age sky god who impregnated a teenager, who in turn gave "virgin" birth to a man-god. I would briefly wonder, then shrug it off as God's "mystery." It never really got through to me.

Listening to an atheist radio show was the first time I'd been slapped in the face and yelled at: "Hey, retard! You're an adult with an invisible friend! Grow up!"

That got me thinking, for the first time. My ears didn't hear the other ways of delivering the message.

There are probably other people out there like me, who will only respond to and appreciate cries of "bullshit!" And they are the people I can help the most, because we have something in common. We have a similar internal world.

A good message needs gentle mentors, bulldogs, and maybe even a few rabid bulldogs.

.........

Now, you're a what? A bullshit agent? A bullshit adept? A bullshit abbot? Or perhaps there are too few asterisks and you are a world-ranked bullshit artist.

They call anything "art" these days.

.........

Yes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But it does present an epistemic problem.

Most of 20th century geology was once pseudoscience. It had no good evidence or theory behind it. Before the evidence came in, it was on a level with phrenology and dolphin-assisted therapy.

But then continental drift and plate tectonics turned out to be true. Imagine my embarrassment at the time, had I been alive!

So what are we to do? I certainly remain open to new evidence. More than open, actually. I'm ravenous for it, in all fields and as-yet-pseudo-fields.

But if creationism, Emotional Freedom Techniques, feng shui, orbs, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and neuro-linguistic programming (which some of the coolest people I know swear by) have exactly the same amount of good evidence going for them, what are we to do? Do I need to seriously consider the Flying Spaghetti Monster as an open question? My current response is to tell all of them is, "Get back to me when you have some evidence."

The other problem is that some of these non-evidenced beliefs are so influential but so divergent from reality that they are dangerous, stifling and heart-breakingly delusional. To the individual, to the group, to a small mass, to society at large, to the world.

.........

The vegetarian is still a kook in rural Minnesota. Last I checked, anyway.

I feel like this essay was written for your enjoyment.

Hmmmm... Interesting.

Would you care to say why you feel that way before I speculate as to whether you are right or not?

Oh, you just have so much fun and skills with wordplay and pop culture.

This list is probably 50% stuff I agree is complete bullshit, 30% stuff I haven't heard of (dolphin-assisted therapy?), and 18% stuff I don't really know enough about to claim a strong opinion on.

The other 2% is largely religious stuff; I am still a practicing Jew. It doesn't bother me when people don't believe in gods or prayer, though, especially you, as I know how much soul-searching you've done to arrive at these opinions. The other part of that 2% seems to be things you've felt the need to qualify, such as global warming, fast food, and the morality of free range meat. I would add SUV phobia to this list too. All of these are things that, yeah, probably aren't as bad as some people think, but they're still bad, and I think I maintain a level head about them.

By the way, I find it odd that you single out Mormonism as the only named real religion on this list. If gods are bullshit, doesn't pretty much every religion belong on here?

Interesting, thanks for the breakdown!

I singled out Mormonism because Skeptoid had a funny article on it. :) I do also mention Scientology. But yeah, I'll remove Mormonism.

Yeah, I don't consider Scientology a real religion. :-)

Really? Why?

I was half-joking, half-commenting on its stupidity, but then I went on Wikipedia and found this article about how many European countries are refusing to recognize Scientology as an actual religion because they see it as a potentially dangerous cult. Life imitates bad jokes, I guess.

Be careful. One of my favourite singers created the Dream a Dolphin Foundation to help sick kids.

Then again, Toni Childs has always been a couple flippers short of a pod.

That would be me!

I didn't know about The Stanford prison experiment. I remember Michael Shermer interviewing the author and he pretty much went along with it, from what i can remember. I don't care much one way or another about it (and i havent read much about it), but i was surprised to see it here.

On a similar topic, have you seen this one? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083316/

i meant -- the author of a book *about* the Stanford Prison experiment

its called "the Lucifer Effect"

That TV movie looks interesting. I was hoping it had been YouTube'd, but alack.

"However, if you are attracted to treatments that use superstition, incantations, amulets, spells, and mantras then, by all means, try Ayurveda"

Now that's bullshit. This is a heavily loaded and unverified claim. I am surprised at the scientific inconsistency and inaccuracies of most of the links you've provided, let alone poor research and complete two hoots to neutrality.

Are you being sarcastic?

It is not the burden of a skeptic to prove a negative. The burden of evidence lies on every positive claim.

If I said, "There is within each of us an invisible spaghetti demon whose every masturbatory orgasm is the creation of a new thought in the mind of humans," would it be your duty to disprove me, or my duty to provide some reason for believing in the spaghetti demons?

Are you aware of good evidence that illness results from an imbalance of the three doshas? That Vata controls blood flow, elimination of wastes, breathing and the movement of thoughts across the mind? That Pitta governs all heat, metabolism and transformation in the mind and body, how we digest food, how we metabolize our sensory perceptions, and how we discriminate between right and wrong? That Kapha lubricates the joints; provides moisture to the skin; helps to heal wounds; fills the spaces in the body; gives biological strength, vigor and stability; supports memory retention; gives energy to the heart and lungs and maintains immunity? That herbs, diet, and meditation affect the doshas?

No, I am not being sarcastic.
And I also don't believe in the basic assumptions of Ayurveda, all that you just pointed out.
However I do know, with emphatic surity, that Ayurveda doesn't ask you to cast incantations, believe in any superstitions or ask you to year amulets. And that is what I was intending to point out as bullshit. The article attributes more wrongs to it then it deserves or is responsible for (which isn't all that terrible. Most of them were in the line of 'the earth is flat' or 'sun revolves around the earth').
And I do believe in the healing capabilities of some of the Ayurved drugs, which is backed by a lot of science behind it.

"if you are attracted to treatments that use superstition, incantations, amulets, spells, and mantras then, by all means, try Ayurveda."

I read that as meaning that Ayurveda is the same kind of treatment as ancient superstitions. I'm unaware of Ayurvedic practice that actually uses amulets and spells, though a great deal of superstition is still involved.

But maybe that's not what Todd Carroll meant.

I'm fairly sure that Todd Carroll meant to address Ayurvedic medicine in the United States when he begins by writing, "Ayurvedic medicine, in the United States, is..."

"Ayurvedic" can have several (if not more) different meanings depending upon where you live. Much like yoga, Mumbai and Desi, the names and definitions can change in the journey from the subcontinent to any one of ten thousand lakes.

Everybody knows that Desi Arnaz, Jr. is nothing more than an abomination to the true Desi.
Babaluuuuu... Aye!

Whatever he meant, he ends up discrediting all the 'meanings' of Ayurveda because of that. It is another of his pecularities, he doesn't bother with the specifics. And that is bad. Really bad. And I don't see what strong difference could be there in the meaning of the word in the USA so as to evoke a substantially different image than it is in India (as 0dyssues seems to be implying). If there is, I am very curious to know.

Moving on.

While I'm sure there are a lot of studies giving the proper scientific evidence with regards to the efficacy of Ayurveda that the skeptic so desperately demands, I am not very adept at finding them on the net. However, I did find one very interesting study about the actions of a particular medicinal preparation claiming to be equally if not more effective than generic antimicrobials.
Go here - http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/nem002v1

Now, it that study bullshit?

In my opinion, it is very easy to be a skeptic with regards to most of the things you see/ hear/ learn/whatever, when you've burned your hands once with something you were told to believe, something you were told is correct, something not to be questioned. What is difficult is maintaining a sense of scientific neutrality after that. I am sure you wouldn't have really bothered to check out the complete story before branding Ayurveda as bullshit. I don't blame you, I am not defending Ayurveda for my life and nor do I mean any offence or want to start any scalding fights where little sense is spoken amongst a sea of verbosity. I just want you to realize that for anyone who claims to practice critical thinking, it is imperitive to be objective and not to be clouded by what appears to be a convincing argument prima facie without checking it's source and verifying it's authenticity.

I don't think that study is b******t. But I don't know what it proves.

Perhaps it's because I have little idea what the difference is between Triphala and Triphala Mashi. They both exhibit anti-microbial activity but so does my dish soap. And I say, thank goodness for small miracles. I'm tired of picking up the dirty cereal bowls the microbes have left in front of the telly.

Mr. Skeptic cites some of the Indian history of Ayurveda but his critique is always of the Western practice. The citations themselves come from Western sources. (Western) Ayurveda is a practice brought to America by Deepak Chopra. Chopra sells stuff on QVC. I'd rather get healthcare advice from Tupac than Deepak. (Too soon?)

If I recall correctly Ayurveda products are stocked in long-haired, bark-chewing health stores. They're on the shelves right between the free-range algae and the tea tree motor oil. I could be wrong. I'm no longer allowed in that section because I keep coming back with different types of living yeast supplements for my amino acid reflux. It's probably for the best.

So my point is, or was, this: Western critiques of Ayurveda based upon Western understanding of Western studies of Western practices of the Western version of Ayurveda might as well be done by John Wayne. I don't think either culture (Indian and Western) can make heads or tails of how the other culture interprets Ayurveda.

It's like trying to ride a bike you've assembled using the Cyrillic instructions. It's like pedicures for jellyfish. Or haggis for dinner.

"...where little sense is spoken amongst a sea of verbosity." That's hitting me where I live.

What the study proves is this - the Ayurvedic Triphala is desirably effective against a spectrum of organisms without the dangers of toxicities associated with generic anti microbials (for eg., ( I quote from a text book, not the article) nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, nephrotoxicity, ototoxicity etc.) and the danger of the organisms developing resistance to it (this bit I am not entirely sure). Also, it suggests that it is effective against hospital acquired infections (see the last paragraph, 'Discussion'). From what I know, these are highly drug resistant and are a high potential threat to the effectiveness of existing drugs.

Yes, soap is antimicrobial but try eating soap for pharyngitis.

Well, if Mr. Skeptic is criticising the western practice of Ayurveda and ends up convincing people that 'Ayurveda' (without the 'western' prefix) is bullshit, I feel he should be clear that it certainly IS only about the Western practices that he is talking about and not use 'Ayurveda' as a wide generic term. People will certainly feel that he is talking about Ayurveda as a whole (well, most of them anyways) after reading his current article. Quoting a partial history of traditional Ayurved, not expounding it's current status and then using it to his convenience to discredit it entirely without providing a balanced view is hardly a neutral or objective perspective of the matter. Is this what his skepticism is all about?

'..hitting me where I live' - I'm sorry, I wasn't refering to you (or anyone specifically for that matter) !

Am I reading you right? Are you saying that certain major cultural differences are incommensurable? That whether or not Ayurveda works is a cultural issue, not a reality issue?

I haven't kept up with this whole discussion, nor do I know anything about Ayurveda, but I don't find that statement so out of the ordinary. I once talked to someone who was studying acupuncture and tried to get him to explain to me why acupuncture works in terms I was familiar with. He couldn't do it. In practice, acupuncture can be very successful, but it's founded on an entirely different way of thinking than Western medicine, and with an entirely different set of postulates, it's not even really on the same playing field as medicine we're used to. By Western medicine standards it may seem silly to stick a bunch of pins in a sick person, but oftentimes it works.

I also believe that a big part of healing is psychosomatic, more so than anyone in the health care profession wants to acknowledge, so maybe alternative medicine works better for people who believe it works. In which case, skeptics will always be making self-fulfilling prophecies, but the effectiveness of such things will indeed remain a cultural issue.

How does healing being a psychosomatic phenomenon become a cultural issue?

...Unless you are suggesting some cultures put more faith in such alternative routes to healing.

That is exactly what I'm suggesting.

It sounds like we have the same epistemic values. I always want to maintain scientific neutrality and critical thought.

All that mess about the doshas - quite central to Ayurveda it seems to me - is extraordinary nonsense without a speck of evidence behind it. That is enough for me to call Ayurveda bullshit, even though some of its herbs may be effective. In the same way, Christianity is still bullshit even if a few of its (non-Christian-specific) claims are true.

It may be that some of the Ayurvedic herbs really do enhance the specific bodily systems mentioned for each better than placebo, but if so I was also unable to find any evidence to suggest it. Again, the burden of proof lies on the one making the claim, and it does not seem that Ayurvedic researchers have much interest in scientifically demonstrating the truth of their claims.

Now, about the specific article to which you link. The first red flag is the journal that published it. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine is not a known, reputable journal like, say, Science or Nature. I don't know the nature of its peer-review process, the history of articles it has published, etc. That doesn't mean its standards are low, but it is clearly an agenda-based journal due to its title.

The second red flag is that all its authors are from Indian universities. India is not yet known as a reputable and rigorous source of primary research. American, European, and a few east asian universities are much more trustworthy.

Again, I'm not saying the article is suspect, but I would be much more persuaded by an article published in Nature by authors from major universities in Hong Kong, London, and Princeton.

I read the article but alas, medicine is not my area of expertise, so I could not tell if the experiment had been conducted properly. So far, I can only read psychology papers with such insight.

But even without medical knowledge, several things bothered me about the paper:

1. The authors seem most interested in proving the effectiveness of specific drugs mentioned by ancient texts. They are less interested in finding out what works best. They test a specific compound mentioned in ancient texts rather than testing several slight variations on the same compound.

2. The authors note that Triphala is used as Ayurvedic medicine to treat "headache, dyspepsia, constipation, liver conditions, ascites and leucorrhoea. It is also used as a blood purifier that can improve the mental faculties and is posseses anti-inflammatory, analgesic anti-arthritic, hypoglycaemic and anti-aging properties." Obviously, it would take many experiments to test all these claims, but the authors test none of them!

3. The authors use lots of persuasive language where descriptive language belongs. "Ayurveda is already well accepted and used since thousand years. Now it is time to give it modern scientific proof" should read, "Ayurveda has been accepted and used for thousands of years in Indian culture, but has met criticism among Western scientists. It is time to put Ayurveda to the test."

4. Scientists do not make conclusions before their experiment, yet these researchers appear to have done so: "we undertook this Triphala Mashi as a prototype to give it scientific proof."

5. The authors took Triphala from several locations but did not track those groups in the experiment.

And that's just from the part before we get into the real experiment. I can barely follow what they're saying after that. I'm not even sure what their findings were, because I don't know the subject matter.

But already there are major problems and red flags. You might say, "Oh, you can always find problems if you're that nit-picky."

No, not always. I can find such problems in other bad studies, like Zimbardo's Prison Experiment. But I can't find them in really good studies, like many of the ones that pass the peer-review process at Science or Nature.

So, I don't know. The basic ideas at the core of Ayurveda - the doshas - are extraordinary and totally lacking in evidence. And many claims are made about herbs, for which I have seen no compelling evidence.

If anyone can provide compelling evidence, I am happy to look over it. It will mean nothing to my life or pride if Ayurveda turns out to have real merit.

So if I read you correctly, -

1. You only trust Western journals for scientific accuracy.
2. You discard the authenticity of a study if it is published in a journal you haven't heard of. Even if the study furbishes the necessary data required to verify it's authenticity while adhering to the general protocols of research.
3. All drug discoveries should result from a generalized search for an effective one without any specific aims.
4. What you don't understand, you overlook.

I am sorry but I don't agree with any of the above!

-You say that the authors set out to prove something that has been already stated. What is wrong with that? If someone was told penicillin, which was discovered accidentally was effective and then he set out to prove it scientifically, would he be doing anything wrong? (actually that's how accidentally discovered drugs reach mainstream acceptibility)

- Also it would not take a lot of experiments to prove all of the claims. It only has to be proven that the drug is active against the class of organisms causing the symptoms. One class of organisms can cause all those symptoms (generalized pain due to hyperpyrexia, arthritic pain due to inflamtion of the synovial membrane, mental confusion due to meningitis, and aging due to damage at the nuclear level - there are a great number of pathogens that can cause all this).

- Where does use of proper grammar find it's use in proving scientific accuracy?! Most of this century's greatest scientists couldn't even speak english.

-Oh yes, scientists may claim a hypothesis to be correct and then set about to prove it. See the history of penicillin.

-The basic assumptions of Ayurveda are bullshit (and I agreed to it earlier). But (most of) it's efficacy isn't. That is proven. In that way, it is pretty much like traditional drugs. Only, the basic assumptions of Ayurveda even after being acknowledged as false, refuse to be discarded. That is wrong, I'll give you that much.

-Drawing parallels between Christianity and Ayurveda would be a logical fallacy. Ayurveda isn't only about some 'herbs' claiming to 'enhance bodily functions'. It is also about proper medicinal preparations that have been tested scientifically (albeit in journals not published internationally). Clearly, overlooking conclusive evidence just because you don't understand is hardly being objective or open minded. I already have posted the aims and the conclusions of the study in my reply to 0dysseyus. You might want to check it out.

1. I trust what has been shown to provide reliable data. Indian universities do not yet have the academic rigor of some Western universities, so they are less trustworthy. As I said, this does not make me dismiss the study.

2. I already said I did not discard the study because it was from a journal I hadn't heard of. I only said it would be more trustworthy if it was from a known journal of great reliability.

3. Uh, not what I said at all.

4. Again, not what I said. I very much wish I could understand the article; but it is outside my expertise. I can't judge it one way or the other, except based on its merits that I can understand. I don't have time to get a medical degree just so I can read a paper on Ayurvedic medicine.

What is wrong with setting out to prove something? Such an approach inserts bias into the experiment. "Science" is basically a word for "Methods we have found to be reliable ways of getting at the truth while eliminating as much human bias as possible."

If the drug is effective against a particular organism that causes those symptoms, then it should be said to be effective against that organism, not those symptoms. Those are very general symptoms and will have many causes. The drug cannot be said to be effective against those symptoms if really it is only effective against one pathogen that causes them, but is itself only 10% of common causes for those symptoms.

Bad grammar is just another red flag. This is an extreme example, but would you trust an article that began: "Ayurvedic medicin has long thought to be unscientific, but..." It might have just been a translation error.

As for Christianity and Ayurveda, I meant the analogy to be illustrative, not argumentative. No argument, no logical fallacy.

Even if this study does persuasively demonstrate the effectiveness of one Ayurvedic drug - and it might, but I didn't see any mention of basic conditions like a placebo control, or any details on sample size, effect size, etc. - that is a long way from saying that Ayurveda, with all its doshas and such, is valid. This is where my analogy to Christianity comes in. Lets say Christianity had a doctrine that believers should eat hemlock dipped in wine after every meal. And lets say it was much later shown that wine changes the composition of hemlock to make it an effective immune system booster. Would that validate Christianity? No. It validates wine-dipped hemlock.

I appreciate you hashing this out with me. This is how I learn, how I am challenged.

I see. Well... about is your distinction of symptoms and pathogens. Pathogens lead to symptoms by infections. So anything that is effective against them will be effective against the symptoms. But you're right in a way - the study should've mentioned the organisms in that statement rather than the symptoms. Again, I understand your scepticism about bad grammar.

Anyways, I'm sorry but I think I'll bow out of this discussion, simply because we have arrived at a deadlock, a stalemate. We both believe what we do with solid thought behind it (I think.. I hope) and nothing I or you will say will convince either of us about anything related to ayurveda. We will only run about in circles without any decisive outcome. It was fun, yes. It is fun. That's why I keep checking into Listology every now and then - it keep the mental muscle in shape. I am a medical student (proper allopathy student, not ayurved) and I this discussion has led me into taking drug claims and drug criticsms more seriously. I think a 'thank you' is due.

Mickipedia, you are so getting laid tonight. Call me.

"OH GOD I'M GONNA..."
".......what did you say??? Get out."

She doesn't look 30! (Yes, i looked up her profile.)

I hate to say it since it was kind of cute but the whole "spagehetti monster" thing is just starting to upset me. The reason why atheists never seem to have good conversation about God is because they say things like this to basically ridicule the beliefs of people who do believe, bringing their beliefs down to the level of something ridiculous and random. It reduces a complex debate into a soundbyte. People don't believe things because they sound cool, they believe because other people claim them true, or they've read something they claim as evidence, and so on. I mean there's proof of living things having auras isn't there? The scientific experiment where they cut a leaf in half and were able to form the other half from finding the 'energy'??

I respect the real skeptics out there and think it's encouraging to find that people are questioning authority. But when they start getting smug it just becomes tiresome. I don't know if you intended it, but this list sounds really presumptuous - "do you believe in any of these things? Then at least read some basic criticism!" Yep, the idea that you're right is indeed 'basic' and those who believe are indeed deluded. And much of this is conditional anyway. "Subliminal Advertising" isn't bullshit - maybe in the classic sense where flashing a quick ad garners extra sales it is, but the truth of subliminal advertising goes far beyond that. It's good to know you stay skeptical. But a scientific philosophy that ridiculues those who believe differently is a philosophy that will never find solid footing.

I don't hate you to say it.

Lots of people feel the same way. Thanks for piping up.

It is a complex debate. I've read the books by Craig, Plantina, Martin, Oppy, etc. "Complex" fits the bill.

What I am arguing for, and will back up whenever asked, is that all of these complex arguments that are offered as evidence of gods are baseless and, in fact, silly.

That may be insulting to you but realize that nearly all the arguments Christians give could also be given in the exact same way for Ahura Mazda (the Zoroastrian god).

The arguments are baseless because they are bad arguments using obvious logical fallacies. They are silly because the logical fallacies become immediately clear if you replace the name of your god with somebody else's. Try it.

"I know God exists because the giraffe's neck couldn't match the height of the trees by random chance; God must have created it." [BTW; calling evolution random chance is like calling dog breeding random chance.]

Rewind 1000 years. "I know Zeus exists because lightning couldn't just jump across the sky like that. Zeus must make it."

The silliness becomes clear when you put another god's name in the blank for any argument you offer in support of your god.

*

Let's talk about reducing a complex debate into a soundbyte. Yup, that's what I'm doing. There is a time for complex debate, and there is a time for soundbytes. I do lots of both.

Let's say there were 1.6 billion Zeus-worshippers on the planet. They were trying to vote their beliefs into law. You try to show them critical thinking and hope they'll realize Zeus ain't real. You speak with Zeus-believers several times a day. You even study advanced Greek theology.

Sometimes you have complex debates with the Zeus-worshippers. Often, in fact. But sometimes all you have time for is a quick soundbyte that hopefully shows that Zeus-worship is as baseless as Quetzecoatl worship.

Sometimes a good soundbyte even gets through to people where a 500-page tome by Graham Oppy won't.

(Christians complain that atheists attack common belief, not their advanced theological conceptions of God. We do attack common belief, because it is most influential and destructive. But Christians say we can't dismiss their advanced theology without studying it. Really? Did they study advanced Greek theology before dismissing Zeus? And in fact some atheists, like me, have studied many advanced Christian theologies.)

The problem is not that I've brought your beliefs down to the level of something ridiculous and random. The problem is that your beliefs are ridiculous and random.

That doesn't make you stupid, or uneducated, or uncultured, or uncool, or bad. Really, it doesn't. Some of my favorite people are Christians.

But I would say the same thing to my smart, educated, cultured, cool, virtuous, hypothetical friend who believes in Ahura Mazda. However cool he is, the problem is not that I think his beliefs are ridiculous, but that his beliefs are ridiculous and without merit.

He has 30 arguments and lots of evidence, but they are all bad arguments (as I can show in each and every case), and the evidence is not evidence for what he claims (as I can show in each and every case).

*

If Kirlian photography is proof of auras, you have a very low standard of proof.

Not to get too detailed, but two basic problems with the leaf thing. Kirlians photographed a leaf with high-voltage (which shows the corona that is interpreted as an aura), then cut the leaf in half, but the full aura partially remained. That was interpreted as showing that the "spirit" of the leaf remained intact.

First problem is, this can't be reproduced if the photographic plate is replaced between shots. So probably what happened is that the "cut leaf" phenomenon was caused by microscopic etching in the surface of the glass which occurred during preparing the images of the uncut leaf.

Second problem is, even inanimate objects show this "aura" when high voltage is applied. Oops.

*

"Presumptuous." I do not presume that the things on this list are bullshit. I've researched these subjects over the years and come to that conclusion. I can be persuaded otherwise, if good evidence is presented.

In any case, this criticism only rises to level 2 disagreement, which is 2 full levels below any criticism that would begin to show I am incorrect.

But maybe you're not that interested in counterargument, you just want to say, "Hey, maybe you'd be more effective if you didn't insult people." Maybe you're right. But actually, maybe not. Reference the first half of my post here.

*

Oops. I corrected my subliminal advertising entry. I think we agree on that.

I'm not exactly trying to convince you otherwise. I'm not here to get into a debate about evolution or any of that. I believe in spirits because I have a friend who's house used to be haunted, resulting in a lot of things I can't explain nearly 10 years later, but I'm not really interested in trying to defend things I can't prove.

My point is that people don't just go around believing these things randomly, they do because of some kind of personal experience they had or someone else had. I'm not going to start believing in UFO's because I like the concept, but if I saw one or saw enough people who claim they did I might think something's up. Western people who have had huge problems fixed with acupuncture are probably the same way. We don't know why it works; we just know that it does. So making arguments against alternative medicine by asking something like "Are you aware of good evidence that illness results from an imbalance of the three doshas?" is like asking "You know lightning comes from your imaginary Zeus? And since you made him up, there's no such thing as lightning".

And that wasn't exactly what I meant by 'proof of auras' but I can't find the original experiment I read about 5-6 years ago either, so forget about it. The idea was that they were able to cut something in half and then be able to perfectly replicate the missing half because 'something' was still there. Obviously I'm not just gonna read a wikipedia article and be swayed by it. It just seems like this list was taken from a skepdic index page or something and that you maybe haven't personally researched everything on it.

I'm not trying to 'level up' my argument and convince you otherwise, I'm not a scientist and I doubt anything I could say would convince you otherwise, so you don't really have to defend yourself. My friend's house that was 'haunted' had some pretty staunch people living there. His Dad tried hard to keep the same view you do, that there's "no possible way" these things could really happen or that they must have other explanations, but sure enough even he got freaked out a number of times. They know (and I know) belief in 'spirits' is ridiculous, and that they can't really send in scientific proof, and many times I've had people straight up call me an idiot for what I believe. It's not that I'm gonna ignore science - show me your sound scientific proof for why, say, a chair would get up and put itself on top of a table in the middle of the night and I'll stop believing. I think that's the kind of thing that believers in many of these things are looking for - believe me, I don't believe in ghosts because I take comfort in the fact!!

No, you're not going to convince me like that, that's for sure.

Evidence: chair on top of a table.

Possible causes:

- somebody surrounded by easily-spooked people got up in the middle of the night, put the chair on the table, and then pretended she didn't

- God did it

- a dead person's undetectable spirit decided to hang around the house, and decided the best way they could communicate with the living would be to make stairs creak and put a chair on top of a table

- aliens

- random quantum perturbation

- witchcraft

- telekinesis

- a million other possibilities

From my knowledge of nature and human nature, one of those is quite plausible, and many are so unlikely as to be dismissible.

You are right that people believe things because they had a personal experience, read something persuasive, met people who believe that thing, etc. People don't believe randomly, but they do believe without thinking clearly.

I'm a gadfly. I challenge people to think clearly. And I love it when they challenge me to think clearly.

Asking for evidence is like saying lightning doesn't exist? What?

Yep, kind of figured that would be your response. First of all, I'm not trying to convince anyone. Secondly, it's a little silly to just kind of assume my first thought was 'GHOSTS!' without assuming that I'd thought long and hard if someone had put the chair there? Do you really think I didn't consider that??? You're telling me that everything - including etching on the tiles, blood dripping from the walls, doors slamming, things flying off shelves was all the work of a mother trying to scare her 12-year-old son and his friends?

Given what we know of the universe, that would still be far more plausible than the idea that a soul (totally lacking evidence) survived bodily death, acquired magical powers such as invisibility, an odd mix of incoporality (can navigate through physical objects) and corporality (can move physical objects), the ability to manifest certain compounds (blood dripping down the walls), and perhaps other properties.

Not only that, but this soul decided it has nothing better to do than scare the shit out of people by making stairs creak and slamming doors. That idea has all the improbabilities of the mother hypothesis plus about a bajillion far more extreme improbabilities.

However improbable the mother theory is, it is several orders of magnitude more improbable that some kind of ghost did it with magical powers.

I'm not making claims to what a 'spirit' can or can't do. I realize in the science world it doesn't make much sense, and of course nobody was really sure of what to make of it or what the spirit wanted. I know by the time he was 16 he was telling me that he couldn't wait to move out because things were getting even weirder. When the walls started bleeding, they tore them apart trying to find out if it was a dead animal bleeding through. Seems like an awful lot to go through if we're just assuming that his mom was still trying to trick her son.

Like I've said it's great to remain skeptical and not fall for anything but I remain staunch in saying that as of yet there are no LEGITIMATE explanations as to the things that happened - EVEN IF we assume someone's just trying to scare us, it doesn't exactly explain how things can fly off the shelves when there's nobody else around. Needless to say since then I've been a little more wary about dismissing people's claims because they don't have hard scientific proof - it's just frustrating and honestly neither of us have talked about it for a while because people have already made up their minds on the matter.

Ah, this is the lukeprog I so fondly remember. Same music, different words.

I do get irritated by the many faulty arguments for religion, but I think that many people's perception of God can really be neither proven nor disproven. Sure, you can disprove creationism or the young earth theory and anyone who says otherwise is dabbling in pseudoscience, but the basic concept of a supreme being who never makes his presence obvious really goes beyond the realm of science, in my opinion.

I think other people have different experiences with faith than you have, and that it really goes beyond simply ignoring facts. The irony is that I feel like the people who are least secure in their faiths are the ones who feel the need to go out and make these pseudoscientific arguments to convince themselves more than others, whereas the people who are most secure are content to let the crowds argue and simply accept God's presence in their life.

I don't know how you feel about people who accept higher powers without feeling the need to advocate them, but I do believe in God while still feeling like, if some magic scientist could somehow prove God didn't exist, it wouldn't shake me up too much.

All that having been said, there's one argument I've come up with. It's a little detail, but I find it more convincing than that giraffe thing. Perhaps it's not original and you've heard it before, but I devised it without reading it anywhere else.

If I recall correctly, there's a passage in Genesis that says that after the flood, God decided no one should live to be much older than 120 years. Now in ancient times, lifespans were much shorter than they were today, without the benefits of modern medicine. I somehow doubt that anyone in those times lived to be 120 years old. People have lived to be approximately that age today, but not older. I've read that biologists think that might approximate the upper limit of the human lifespan. But if the Bible was written without any divine knowledge in ancient times, how the hell did they know this? Everyone in recorded history who has lived to be anywhere close to that age has died in the past 20 years or so.

Sure, maybe:

1) One person in ancient times, against all odds, managed to take care of himself or herself and live to 120 years old, then kicked the bucket, and the people who wrote the Bible were kept informed about this.
2) What I read about scientists thinking this was the upper limit of the human lifespan was wrong, and soon we'll see people living to 130 or 140.
3) It was a lucky guess.
4) Zeus told them.

But it kinda makes you think. I think so, anyway. Of course, maybe you don't find that remotely convincing, which is fine, because I don't really feel the desire to argue for religion. I offer it up more as an intellectual argument than one I'm incredibly invested in.

A Supreme Being who doesn't interact with nature is beyond the realm of science, yes. In such a case, I can't think of any more reason to believe in an invisible, inert Supreme Being as I can to believe in invisible, inert spirits living inside every object, or invisible, inert aliens hiding in the coldness of distant space, or whatever.

Was that what you meant, though?

Belief in an inert god doesn't trouble me. It's only when people believe in gods that supposedly dictate moral codes or facts of nature that I feel the need to argue.

(I never thought I would read the phrase, "magic scientist." It makes me shudder.)

You argument about the 120 years is an interesting one, of the "Biblical scientific foreknowledge" breed.

That breed is one of the few that might be persuasive to freethinkers, if it was successfully deployed. Ebon Musings listed it in his Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists.

But I do not think Genesis 6:3 indicates Biblical scientific foreknowledge, for precisely one of the reasons you list: "What I read about scientists thinking this was the upper limit of the human lifespan was wrong, and soon we'll see people living to 130 or 140."

It just so happens that at this moment in history, the upper limit is about 125. But the upper limit has been changing and fluctuating throughout human history. I don't know of a scientist in the world who thinks the upper limit is going to stop at 125. Everyone expects the limit to keep moving up as medicine improves and transhumanism arrives.

Anyway, we'll know the validity of this argument in the next 30 years.

But even if this one verse was compelling, it would still look pretty odd amidst the hundreds of predictions the Bible got wrong. I'm not sure what I'd think about that.

It is nice to hear arguments from somebody who wouldn't be upset if the argument failed, or perhaps even if their belief was wrong (two very different things).

That's how I feel about many things on my "bullshit" list. I couldn't care less whether they are true or false; but there are no good reasons to think they are true.

I don't feel quite that way about gods. I would follow the evidence wherever it leads, but I would be disappointed to learn that Yahweh existed. I certainly would not worship such a vile person. As Rupert Hughes wrote, "I can no longer adore in a god what I despise in a man."

If you actually want to get into my belief (which, I will warn you, does not feature any scientific proof), I actually believe in a God that does interact with nature, but only in ways to subtly lead to a grander purpose; never enough to reveal himself as a Supreme Being, but perhaps enough to hint at it. So I don't believe that the Bible's stories should be taken literally, but I do think that his inspiration led to the writing of it, at least in part. I think that this influence has caused our societal developments of morality over the years and so, I rather like Yahweh, because I think he is subtly causing the changes in our conception of morality. I don't buy a Supreme Being who would write a book thousands of years ago and just accept the fact that fewer and fewer people are embracing some of its teachings; I think he has something to do with the fact that we're now more accepting of homosexuals and less accepting of slavery.

Does this mean I think everything happens for a reason? Of course not, and I think that's a logical trap many people fall into. But I do think some things happen for a reason.

Is this optimistic and conformist? Perhaps a little, but I don't mean that it was Yahweh's wish for George W. Bush to become president or anything of the sort. I sort of have this feeling that he wants to intervene with the real world as little as possible so that we have the freedom to make up our own minds about him and about the world, so that explains why people like this guy are still around. If I were less satisfied with the way the world's morality was shifting, I might change my entire viewpoint, but for right now at least, I see progress.

Does this constitute dictating a moral code? Perhaps, but in the convoluted, subtle way I described God as working, I doubt anyone could stand behind anything as “definitely God's work.” After all, it's a grand plan, and even the things I listed as examples of the places God's morality has taken us are just my personal belief-based examples and not anything I'm sure about as divine work.

Why didn't we have these codes of morality thousands of years ago? I'm not sure, but humanity probably needed time to develop by means of the subtle ways God prescribed. Again, though, it's a grand plan and no can speak for God.

So even if my idea of God is rather ert [adj., not inert], I don't think the Bible is a science textbook, nor do I think that his morality is simple enough that people can dictate moral codes on the basis that it's what God wants. And I still feel there's no scientific basis to either confirm or deny these claims (which would be exactly what my conception of God would want).

"I don't know of a scientist in the world who thinks the upper limit is going to stop at 125." - The article I read did say that some biologists do indeed feel this way. Unfortunately I can't remember where I read this (it was a while ago). I can, however, direct you to the most reliable source of reliable sources, which states that although our average lifespan has changed largely due to decreases in infant mortality rates, our maximum lifespan has remained about 115-120 throughout recorded history. The comment is unsourced, unfortunately, and I can't claim to have much knowledge on this topic.

Even if this was true, it of course wouldn't prove the existence of God. Certainly a document that lists plenty of scientific statements and gets only one exactly right isn't that impressive. But if our maximum lifespan is indeed around 120, isn't that enough to make you think, "Well, maaaaaybe..."? I mean, that's a pretty damn specific number, in a time when the average life expectancy was probably about 30-50 at most. It's not like most of that scientific foreknowledge stuff where the Bible's comments have to be interpreted, where the ambiguity of the verses can be magically translated into truth; it states pretty explicitly that God decided to not let anyone live past the age of 120. It's stated pretty matter-of-factly too, unlike the creation story, which is full of poetry and bombast and even told two different ways.

My idea of God is one that would never make the evidence explicit due to issues of free will and such. But it's just like my Yahweh to do something like this to make you go "Hmmmm..."

That's a strange but rather harmless belief you have. If you can't ever know if something is God's will or God's effect or God's word, does your belief affect the way you live at all? I'm just curious at this point.

If God decided to stop people's lives at 120 (how arbitrary and bizarre of him), then he has failed once already and I suspect he will have failed dozens of times within the next 30 years.

I don't think it's all that strange. It's largely deism, except instead of God not interacting with the natural order of things at all, he interacts subtly and invisibly. Or sort of a subset of panentheism. Of course, I would imagine it might sound strange to someone of a Protestant background, but I get the sense that it's pretty standard for conservative Jews (who tend to not interpret the Bible literally) to feel that God has a significant but unobtrusive presence in our lives, and to feel that though God defined morality, that changes in our lives should cause us to constantly revisit and adapt, and hope that it's what God would want.

I've expanded on that a bit in ways that seem like logical extensions to me, and maybe not everyone would agree with that, but these basic ideas seem to be the way that the conservative Jewish movement is progressing. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the overseeing body on conservative Judaism, decided in 2006 to start letting conservative synagogues decide for themselves whether or not it is acceptable to hire a homosexual rabbi (whereas beforehand, it was unacceptable by conservative Jewish law), and I doubt they would make such a decision if they felt that it was in complete opposition to God's will.

Remember back when you were arguing for Christianity and I would say that you sounded far too certain about everything? It sounded weird to me perhaps based on my background in these beliefs. So yeah, I can't ever know if something is God's word, but I can make a reasonably good prediction. Judaism is all about different interpretations; the most important religious text is the Old Testament, but the second most important is the Talmud which is just different scholars' interpretations on what the Bible actually means. My own interpretation of my religion might be wrong, in which case I hope to be forgiven. I try to live by that, knowing that in large part, if I'm living by the ethical codes and morals of the society I'm living in, I'm 90% there.

Yes, I only meant "strange" to me.

I am quite glad to be less certain of everything now. Certainty is not unusual but it is absurd.

Thanks for sharing that.

Certainty is not unusual but it is absurd.

Definitely words to live by.

"If God decided to stop people's lives at 120 (how arbitrary and bizarre of him)"

One of the biggest tenants of those who do believe in God is that people cannot understand his plan. Atheists who always ask "why" God does certain things won't be able to find out - believers don't claim to know either.

Ugh. There is so much wrong with that type of reasoning.

I'm kind of curious, JAMOOL, What would convince you you're wrong about God?

Your argument doesn't exactly hold water. The notion of God is an all-powerful, all-intelligent being, and you think it's possible for humans to understand exactly how he works?

I'll try again...

Do you question the Great Invisible Pink Unicorn? So what if he's pink and invisible? It doesn't make any sense, but he is so far beyond our finite minds, do you really expect to understand him?

Clearly, you should not dismiss the Great Invisible Pink Unicorn so cavalierly.

...The problem is that no matter how many internal contradictions, impossibilities, absurdities, and grotesquities [Yup, new word. You're welcome.] are exhibited by Yahweh, the Bible, and other foundations of your religion, you STILL believe it. Because you just believe, no matter what. You can always dismiss it as God's "mystery."

And here's the hypocrisy. I'll bet that when you see laughable, ridiculous, contradictory, impossible stuff anywhere else, you immediately use that as an indication that it's not true. "Lightning comes from a mountain god who was raised by a magical goat? Okaaaaaaaaaayyyy..." "Xenu, the alien ruler of the Galactic Confederacy, brought humans to earth 75 million years ago in spacecraft resembling the Douglas DC-8? Yipes!" "In 600 BC, Nephi took a boat from the Arabian peninsula to America, and his ancestors prospered until they were killed off except for a guy named Mormon, who wrote down God's words in heiroglyphics on some golden plates and buried them near Palmyra, New York, where they were later found and translated by Joseph Smith. Riiiiiiiight."

"God impregnated a virgin who gave birth to a man-god who turned water into wine, sent demons into pigs, cursed a fig tree, then died, rose from the dead, and flew off into the sky, promising to return with an army of angels. Yes, I believe that with all my heart."

If you seriously think that the Christian God is on the same level as something you just made up on the spot, I think we have no argument to have. I'm arguing on the side of religion. Doesn't necessarily mean I'm a Christian. I do think there's *something* out there due to personal experience. I'm saying not everything has to be within the realm of science as we know it now, and I don't think any *true* scientist would close their minds off to the possibility. You're not a Christian; we get it.

No, no. In fact the vast majority of possible knowledge is outside the reach of today's science.

I think I'll just drop this...

EDIT: or not, see below.

Luke, I skimmed the Greta Christina blog and found it very interesting, agreeing with much of it. Fact is, though, I don't think the level of certainty in the sort of faith she is describing is really applicable to me or JAMOOL, although I'm not sure about JAMOOL so I will just speak for myself.

I am confident that God would have understandable reasons to not want to reveal himself to the world in any obvious means. So if you asked me what would convince me to become an atheist, yeah, I would say nothing. You could convince me certain parts of the Bible are wrong, or even convince me to be a little more doubtful, but there's pretty much nothing that would cause me to renounce my faith in God. At the same time, though, if you asked me, "Are you sure that God exists?", I would say no, and if you asked me what could prove to me that God does exist, I would also say nothing.

To be more fair, it would have to be nothing short of an blatantly obvious supernatural occurrence that is extremely clearly performed by God, but I'm about 99.99999999% sure that's not going to happen in my lifetime.

In reality, my faith in God is the same as my faith in anything in the secular world, except of course for the fact that it's near impossible to prove God's existence one way or another. The only reason it's harder to come with things to prove that God doesn't exist is that even for a religious person, the idea of life going on and seeming natural is to be expected, whereas an non-religious person could probably imagine a number of totally unexpected things that, if they happened, would cause one to wonder about the supernatural.

Fact is, I know I'm not, and I doubt JAMOOL is, as confident in the supernatural as you used to be. I don't know if you're trying to atone for years of preaching the gospels, but your arguments seem pretty overbearing for someone who's suggesting that there is potentially something supernatural out there. In the end, the thing about science is that it can't prove that things beyond science don't exist. It can disprove evidence of the supernatural's interaction in the physical world, but that's about it.

I think this was pretty much what I was trying to say. Obviously I don't think that it's too likely a ghost would haunt my friend's house; however I feel it much MORE unlikely that it's an elaborate setup over the course of many years with the sole intention of scaring a few kids, especially since it included some things I don't think any human is able to do without ridiculous amounts of work. I don't think anyone who really cares about finding "the truth" would just say, "well, it's obviously his Mom doing all this", as if that wasn't my first impression anyway.

There are lots of things we have no explanation for. Near-death experiences is one of them. The 'scientific' explanation is that it's a brain function, but even if it is, they haven't quite explained how a brain function that makes a person see such complex visions could have possibly evolved, given it would have no bearing on survival whatsoever. Now, you can say, "science will find the answer sooner or later", or you can just call everyone who has these experiences a liar or offer stupid but "more realistic" explanations (the doctors were playing a trick on you!) I would call one of those science and the other just wishful thinking.

I apologize. I have been attacking the kind of closed-minded, willfully ignorant, dangerous faith I grew up in, which may or may not have much similarity to your religious faith, or your paranormal faith.

I like what you're saying here and the way it challenges me to think.

See, I do think most knowledge has yet to be uncovered by science. Craig Venter can dip a bucket in the ocean and discover more gene families than the entire history of biology has throughout history.

And indeed, there is much that people agree on that hasn't been demonstrated by science yet. Science is a slow, rigorous, tricky, expensive process. It's by far the best way to get reliable truth about reality, but it takes a while.

So, if I already think that most of reality remains undiscovered by science, why do I dismiss gods and ghosts as being as unlikely as invisible pink unicorns?

This is a great question and one I feel the urge to develop a proper "essay" for. When I've worked out all my thoughts on the topic and worded them carefully, I'll post here.

Thanks for being a good sport while I ranted against my former self. :)

Well, believe me, I've been on both sides of this argument, so I know the feeling. I went to a religious school and got into these 'arguments' all the time. I think Christianity is a great religion that has been really hindered by misinterpretation and an unwillingness to adapt. One of the Brothers there really changed my views on the Bible - I had trouble understanding how people could believe it when we had a good theory of evolution - but he basically told us that a good portion of the Bible are just stories to illustrate a point. Instead of asking why God would need to take 6 days to create the universe and would have to rest, we should be asking the MEANING - that is, no matter how important your work is, it's important to always take a day off (Sunday), and yadda yadda yadda. I think the Bible is not really a good scientific textbook, but it's a great spiritual one.

I think the hardcore skeptic view can often be just as closed minded as the hardcore religious, however. One of the tenants of science is to question everything, and I feel this includes scientific study itself. Which of course means you have to question what you believe and are willing to admit that you're wrong when science proves otherwise. This is why I admire Buddhism (the Dalai Lama indeed said that if there is a clash between science and Buddhism, science wins out). Skeptics can be just as manipulative as the religious. Take Penn & Teller's show for example. They do a subject like UFO's or mediums, where they show an interview of some respected scientist or professor and contrast it against basically the craziest person they can find on the other side. Seems a little biased to me. It wouldn't be upsetting except they claim to be arguing on the side of "the truth" and against those who "manipulate".

I think a 'true' skeptic is one who questions rather than dismisses. When someone claims to talk to the dead I don't think the proper reaction is "don't you know how they do it??" It's not exactly impressive that one of them can guess you had someone die with a "B" in their name or guess with 50% accuracy the birthmonths of your family. However, sometimes, these guys can get 'readings' that are unusually specific and accurate. That's significant. I've read several articles about those who go to psychics just to debunk them and instead come out a believer - these are people who look for any reason NOT to believe. And then of course the skeptics say "well they were obviously duped" or "she obviously knew some other way". What if she didn't? They're the same people who looked at the Theory of Relativity and said, "nope, this doesn't fit what we know, and it's ridiculous to boot". And yet they claim to be in the name of science, a field whose entire perogative is "forward progress".

By the way, don't take this as an attack in any way. As someone who WAS very religious at one point I suspect there's still a part of you who still isn't closed minded to the idea the same way that there's a part of me that still likes Fatboy Slim (barf). I think arguments made by religious-turned-atheist or atheist-turned-religious hold more weight. I think there are convincing arguments made by skeptics and those who believe in weird stuff, and I do think that there's going to be SOME scientific model in the future that accomodates them both. For now, this could be a good start?

Others have defended skepticism better than I can. I'll put my own spin on it.

*

Many things are true and cannot pass scientific tests. (At least, not yet.)

What are we to do? We cannot dismiss everything not proven by science. That would be foolish! Entire subjects of life remain unsolved by science: Psychology. Dating. Society. Politics. Metaphysics. The further we get from math, the worse the science gets.

I'm not going to wait for science to prove that cocky comedy attracts women before I start dating with confidence and humor.

Likewise, I think some of the fears about global warming are true even though I don't think there's good evidence for them yet, and I think we should act now.

*

But here's the deal. There are way more lies out there than truths.

Take just one subject: gods. People believe in thousands of gods. We all agree that at least 99.9% of them are false. My bet is they are all false.

Or take science. Any scientific theory usually has dozens of competitors. At most, one can be true. Sometimes, none are true. There are even competing theories about gravity.

In short, the world is a bedlam of bunk. How, then, can we gain reliable knowledge - not just beliefs - about the real world?

*

Science is the best way. It is designed for this purpose. Whenever we find a way to make our observations more reliable and true, we add it to the scientific method. Replication, placebo controls, double-blind and triple-blind studies, etc. There are good reasons we trust science.

Science is not perfect, but it is far more reliable than other ways.

And by that I partially mean "more effective." A few thousand technologies have come from guesswork, chance, and bursts of uncritical insight. I can't think of any that have come from (supposed) supernatural revelation (though it would be fascinating to be proven wrong). Several billion technologies have resulted from science. I think the natural sciences are the most successful enterprises in human history. Has anything else progressed our world so rapidly and comprehensively? Heck no.

And when science is wrong, it corrects itself. There is a lot of incentive to disprove a well-accepted theory. If you do that you win awards and get funding. It is very difficult for a new scientific theory to become accepted by experts. Experts know that a few fresh and disruptive ideas turn out to be true (continental drift, general relativity, etc.), but infinitely more new ideas each year are false. Science tests new ideas thoroughly before accepting them.

And it can be hard for us laypeople to even know when science happens. Lots of people call their work "science" but do not follow the scientific method. If you are not scientifically literate, it can be hard to tell what is real science and what is pseudoscience. Even if you're a scientist, you need to have domain-specific knowledge. A biologist can't tell fact from flim-flam in a particle physics paper.

Still, when it's done right science does a good job of validating only the most well-supported, rigorously tested claims. That's very important, since there are a thousand times more lies in the world than there are truths.

*

Doubt it also a virtue because it counter-acts our natural leaning towards false belief. Human brains have a number of quirks that encourage us to believe unsupported claims.

Imagine it the other way. What if we were like Pyrrho? He found a friend stuck in a ditch but decided he could not be 100% sure that helping him would do good, so he passed him by. What if humans were naturally extreme skeptics?

If our brains naturally leaned toward dismissing everything like Pyrrho, I'd say we should push against our nature the other way, towards more open-mindedness. But we are already too open-minded, and it gets us in trouble.

*

Most of us fall in a middle ground between total gullibility and Pyrrhonic skepticism. Some lean toward open-mindedness, because there is so much we don't understand. I lean toward closed-mindedness for the good reasons given above. I like to think I am open enough to be persuaded of well-supported theories, however surprising - but closed-minded enough to sift through the vast majority of ideas, which are bunk.

How can we choose the best level of skepticism? If we set the bar too high, we will not be able to function, and we will miss out powerful new ideas. If we set the bar too low, we will waste our resources on an infinity of useless dead-ends and dangerously bad ideas.

Alas, there is no equation for this.

But there is a set of heuristics that make sense to me. I call this bag of tricks "critical thinking." I'll be calibrating each of them for the rest of my life.

*

I consider each knowledge claim seperately. I research the topic as much as time and interest permits. Then I try to clarify the issue, eliminate bias, consider opposing viewpoints, and think through the implications of each viewpoint.

After that, I ask a list of important questions? I've worded them here so that a "Yes" answer is an indicator of truth.

Is the claim defended by a majority of experts on the topic?
Do arguments in favor of the claim avoid logical fallacies?
Is the claim even knowable? (Consider the myth about how many spiders people swallow each year. How could somebody even measure that?)
Is the claim specific enough to actually mean something?
Does the claim fit with other knowledge I have from the same and other disciplines?
Is it the simplest, most natural solution to the mystery in question? (Does it make fewer unfounded assumptions than competing claims?)
Is there any data to support the claim?
Is there a plausible causal mechanism behind the knowledge claim?

*

History is also a good teacher. Consider the supernatural. Throughout history, millions of supernatural theories have been replaced by simpler, natural ones. Not once has a supernatural theory replaced a natural one. There are lots of issues still under debate, but as this pattern becomes stronger the chances of a supernatural explanation superceding a natural one become more remote.

At this point, any supernatural claim starts out in a pretty bad place. A supernatural claim:

(1) Contradicts each lesson in history.
(2) Depends on far more unfounded assumptions than even the most far-out natural theories.
(3) Is usually vague, unclear, and immeasurable.
(4) Usually does not even bother to offer a causal mechanism; it's just "magic."

It just doesn't look good for supernatural claims. Throughout history, millions of scientific claims have come to be uncontroversial around the world. Fewer and fewer supernatural claims are defended. And they were not defended by the majority of people (let alone experts) in the first place, since there are so many religions.

And there's that old problem with miracles.

Nevertheless, it may be that a supernatural claim is true! It's just extremely unlikely. Flying Spaghetti Monster unlikely.

*

Not everything of questionable truth is that unlikely.

What about string theory or the holographic principle? Maybe they're like continental drift circa 1920: a conceptually beautiful and specific theory that might one day be testable, but as yet has no evidence or causal mechanism.

I treat these theories like the theory of continental drift was treated. Scientists put it on the table next to a thousand other nice little theories, and waited for its probability to improve. Unlike nearly all the other theories on that shelf, its probability did improve, with certain discoveries in geology and palaeontology. At that time, scientists studied it more closely, and the theory of continental drift is now mainstream.

*

It's easy to put string theory and the holographic principle on the shelf for now because we're not sure what we'd do with them if we discovered they were true.

That's not true of other questionable theories.

What about alternative medicine? If its claims are true, we could improve the lives of millions! Should we really wait for the slow, laborious march of evidence? People are suffering now. And alternative medicine is often cheaper than heavily-tested medicine, at least in the United States. We can't just put all these promising solutions "on the shelf" and say, "Call us 30 years and $10 million from now when you've got some proof!"

And yet, we still have that old numbers problem. The vast majority of alternative, untested treatments are bunk, a waste of time and money. Some of them are actively dangerous. What can we do?

To me and most doctors, it's obvious that you should try what is most likely to cure you, first. That means the treatment that passed all kinds of safety and effectiveness tests (that is, science), and fits your symptoms and biology best. If that doesn't work, try the next most effective treatment. If that doesn't work, try the next one.

It seems to me like most people who use alternative medicine haven't tried the mainstream treatments that are most likely to help them. How foolish! Instead they throw their money at the most charismatic snake-oil salesman to come there way.

*

Alternative medicine does have one use that I'm not sure how I feel about, well-illustrated by an interview I saw with two guys who run a government health clinic in Beijing, which has both a mainstream medicine section and an acupuncture section. They send the patients in need of "real help" to the medical clinic. Those who come in with minor problems, emotion-related problems, or stress-related problems, are sent to the acupuncture ward. Acupuncture theory suggests that putting pins in certain points will cure certain ailments. Many of the acupuncturists in the hospital don't have these hundreds of points memorized, so they just stick the patient full of needles, tell them they should start feeling better soon, and send them on their way.

Of course, the patients do start to feel better, if they are gullible. They have received human touch and encouragement. Just as important, they believe they have been treated, and expect to get better. All these factors have been shown to improve recovery for a broad range of ailments, regardless of the therapy given. All that matters it that the patient believes the therapy will work.

The patient feels better and the hospital uses very little resources on these patients. Everybody wins! It won't work for serious problems that require antibiotics, other drugs, or surgery - but it does briefly improve the lives of millions of Chinese each day.

As long as the Chinese keep believing in acupuncture.

So, is it better to be a skeptic and guide yourself toward the treatments most likely to work? Or is it better to be very-openminded and benefit from positive expectation of nearly any treatment?

I prefer the skeptic's road because:

(1) Mainstream treatments actually work, based on rigorous testing.
(2) You can be optimistic of mainstream treatments, too.
(3) Many untested treatments are actually dangerous.

So, I'm sure a couple alternative treatments will turn out to be valid when the evidence comes in. More power to them. In the meantime, I think it's generally better to stick to science, for the above reasons.

Other alternative treatments will become mainstream not because evidence comes in, but because they change their claims. Chiropractic comes to mind.

And some alternative treatments can be dismissed for now alongside phrenology and praying to Odin, for exactly the same reasons (see Flying Spaghetti Monster discussion above).

*

The most dangerous breed of untested ideas is the highly improbable and highly influential kind.

Like, say, most forms of Christianity and Islam.

They are dangerous because their claims are almost certainly false, and yet millions of people live their lives as if they were true, and even try to get others to do the same.

The danger in acting en masse in ways against reality should be clear. Flying planes into buildings for 72 virgins in the sky. Telling AIDS-wreaked Africans that condoms don't work. Persecuting gays because an ancient book said sodomy was evil. Teaching kids to resist knowledge and fear eternal torment. Wasting millions of dollars on prayer chapels to waste thousands of hours in, praying to the cieling. Being persuaded by politicians and other leaders who pander to your beliefs, rather than those with the best policies. Letting your daughter die because you think god hates blood transfusions. Spending years of your life chasing a figment, rather than learning useful skills. The list goes on and on. Some dangers are more unfortunate than others.

*

Luckily, this is not a problem for many forms of religion. The uncertain belief of AJDaGreat seems harmless to me. He doesn't seem to waste many resources on his faith, either.

Religions are different from each other. The claims of original Buddhism may or may not be true, but they are not dangerously untrue like those of Christianity or Islam. The more deranged and extreme a Jain gets, the less dangerous she becomes. She wears a cloth over her mouth so as not to accidentally inhale and harm any bugs.

*

You said a true skeptic is one who questions, not dismisses.

Maybe we're just using words differently. When I "dismiss" something, it is ALWAYS a tenative dismissal. I'm always open to being persuaded otherwise. I can even be persuaded that the earth is flat or that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists if you present enough evidence.

But some things - the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Yahweh, the invisible undead scaring people with creaky stairs, specific points on the body (discovered by ancient, ignorant people) that cure specific ailments if they're poked with a needle - are soooooooooo improbable (after I investigate the evidence and reasoning behind them) that I am happy to "dismiss" them.

*

I don't think you really have a problem with this kind of "dismissing." It's probably exactly what you do with Santa Claus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

What you don't understand, maybe, is why I give roughly the same probability to Yahweh's existence as I do to Santa Claus. To me and many others, that is obvious. They're both fairy tales to me. But to you it does not seem obvious.

Tell me, why do you disbelieve in Ahura Mazda? Santa Claus? Bigfoot? Allah? The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

I'll bet they are many of the same reasons I don't believe in Yahweh.

Penn & Teller's show is very entertaining, but yes, they often use the same tactics as their opponents.

*

Christianity is a great religion? Surely, it has been misinterpreted. But I also think many of its most central, uncontroversial qualities are abhorrent. And, its good qualities are not unique at all to Christianity. What do you like about Christianity?

I think you're right that I may be attacking the kind of religion I come from and was surrounded by for 21 years, and also the type of religion that seems to be most prevalent in U.S. polls.

I will say the Jews I've known seem to have been taught more skepticism and logic than the adherents of many other religions, an observation that also fits with this data.

What the Hades has happened to you? You're just asking for a case of Salmoneus poisoning, a bolt out of the blue. Shut your Amalthea before the Thunderer puts a Capricorn up your ass.

Of course these things and beings exist. That's the nature of faith. You believe that it is there and your belief makes it so. Trying to disprove any of this using science or logic only "proves" an absence of faith.

It may be a cop-out, but it may also be the most realistic quality of a Supreme Being. I've described a God who is pretty logically understandable, but when you get right down to it, we're talking about a deity that functions at a much higher plane of existence than us.

So think about an amoeba or an insect, even. I would say that humans function at a much higher plane of existence than those creatures. How much do you think a gnat understands about how humans work or why they think the way they do? Probably about the same amount as we should be able to understand about a Supreme Being's ways... if one exists.

I've a friend who's a monk. Any idea how I could challenge his faith? :-)

I don't know. Ask somebody who's been successful at that.

It's hard to challenge people to think outside the box when someone takes 99% of their breaths inside the box, hearing their best friends saying, "Don't think outside the box!" You can't have much influence.

Is he happy? As a monk, he probably isn't hurting others, and he probably isn't voting ancient barbaric morality onto the rest of us. So maybe it wouldn't be best to shatter his worldview.

I was half-joking; it'd most definitely fail. Seeing that he's twenty something years older than me, I won't have much luck. And also, as you point out, he isn't doing any harm.

And hey, you might wanna accept my friend request at Facebook :-)

Additions:

-The "Official" story of 9/11 (while some of the claims made by the 9/11 Truth movement may be bogus, they are no more bogus than the fiction put out in the 9/11 Commisssion Report)
-Scientology
-T.A.P.S.
-Compassionate Conservatives
-Trickle Down Economics
-FOX News
-Capital Punishment
-Democracy

Things to remove:

-Oil Wars (Read Ted Rall's book Gas Wars then we can talk)
-Angels (FYI: They play home games in Anaheim)

Thank you for your suggestions!

I decided to just list "Religions" instead of listing each religion separately, including Scientology.

I would like to read Gas War. Does Rall explain how the Afghanistan war was about oil even though less than 1% of oil used in the USA comes from hostile Middle Eastern nations?

TAPS has so many meanings. Are you talking about the paranormal group, or the song, or what?

I'll have to read up on the political philosophy of compassionate conservatism.

I'll add trickle-down economics.

I could add FOX News, but I'm not sure other mainstream news organizations are much better. And of course they all do report a lot of truth on everyday things.

As for capital punishment, this list is really about things that can be shown to be false or ineffective. I don't think I'll start adding moral issues, such as capital punishment.

Democracy. Not sure how to handle that one. It's got it's problems, but the alternatives haven't been shown to be much better. What do you find to be "bullshit" about democracy?

All righty- we have a bunch of topics to deal with, and at present, for me, little time. I'll address what I can for now....

1. T.A.P.S. The TV show about (cue up spooky music) paranormal activity. Plumbers turned ghostbusters on SciFi channel. It's almost TOO ironic. But and however, the show would be able to fit into the far more broad topic of paranormal activity as a whole, so it probably doesn't stand on it's own as a bullshit.

2. Simply because only 1% of US oil comes from hostile countries does not mean the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have nothing to do with oil. This is a very minor piece of evidence that can be easily countered in two ways. First, just how much of world oil reserves do these two countries have? (Iraq has a shitload of oil and you can be sure we'll be seeing some of it at our pumps in the future- read the quick Wiki about the Iraqi situation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves#Iraq) That, and not how much of it we currently get would be the question. Seriously, why would we wage war for oil against a country that is already supplying us with oil? If wars for oil are about who controls the production and distribution of it, wouldn't it make sense to wage war against the country with the 4th largest reserves (Iraq)?

Rall's book provides details about a long standing pipeline project (first conceived by the Soviets in the 70's) that was begun once the US booted out the Taliban. It doesn't necessarily need to be about the production of oil, but can also be about transport.

Lastly, these wars are also about military bases in a volitile oil rich region- we're building them faster than track housing in Levittown. Thus there can be two other reasons for a war for oil (transport and bases) that have nothing to do with percentages or how much oil we get from which country.

3. I think you may have opened up a big can of worms by suggesting that capital punishment is merely a moral issue. There are quite a few other moral issues on your list, but I really don't wish to steer the discussion in that direction. I'll only state that it's ineffectiveness is why I consider it bullshit and perhaps we can discuss the issue on that term and not it's morality.

4. Read up on FIXED I mean FAUX I mean FOX news. More propaganda than any other news network and clearly a tool of the right.

5. Interesting that you addressed each of the additions or subtractions I suggested except the idea that the official 9/11 story is bullshit. I read the skeptic article on 9/11 conspiracy and let's just say that any article that uses Popular Mechanics as a major source is about as bullshit as you can get. I'd be more likely to take seriously an article that uses peer reviewed scholarly journals for evidence.

6. Democracy as bullshit is a huge issue. Let's do that one last. And in doing it last we might just find some helpful evidence in the other discussions. If you'd like to start the research now just take a quick look at the 20000 election in FLA and 2004 in OHIO. Without fair elections there is no democracy.

Renumbering...

1. No, no, I don't mean to suggest capital punishment is only a moral issue. If you want to discuss its effectiveness at deterring violent crime, let's do that. I'm aware of evidence that points both ways, and it's not clear to me which is correct. That's why I'm not ready to call it "bullshit," whatever I think about its morality.

2. I'm quite aware of FOX News' reputation for extreme bias. I follow their blatant bias every day as an amusement. I'll consider whether to include them or not.

3. Oh, 9/11. I've read up on about a dozen 9/11 conspiracy theories and they all fit the data much less well than the "official" story, however many holes the official story has. Are there any 9/11 conspiracy theories to you that fit the data better than the official story?

4. Whenever somebody says that the Iraqi and Afghan wars are about oil, many questions pop into my head. Why go to war (costly and unpopular) rather than drill our own vast reserves in Alaska and the Gulf? Why go to war against nations that supply such a tiny percentage of our oil that we'd barely notice if we were cut off from their supplies altogether? If these wars are about getting cheaper oil, why have pump prices skyrocketed since the war? Etc. But I'll have to research the issue more if I have time, so I'll take it off the list for now.

5. I'd love to chat about democracy. Surely, when democracy is done wrong, it fails. Democracy fails when citizens allow their civil rights to trickle away. Democracy fails when the rich can control the government. Democracy fails in voter fraud. Democracy fails when elected representatives have no accountability to their constituents.

But is there a better system? There might be, but we can't really know because we haven't seen enough tests yet. I'd love to see 15 1st-world nations give direct democracy a try, so we'd know whether or not that works. I'd love to see another 15 1st-world countries try a sternly libertarian government, to see if that works. I'd like to see more experiments in various degrees of anarchy. I think we've had enough experiments in various forms of despotism.

Democracy is any political system in which sovereignty is retained by the people, directly or through elected representatives. I think that's a great idea in world history, but it needs to be tweaked so it works better. But to say the whole democratic idea is bullshit, I'd need to hear you suggest something that works better. Anarchism? Aristocracy? Dictatorship? Communism? Meritocracy?

Woah, why did I renumber that? Sorry, I don't know why. :)

I'll stick to the current renumbering....hopefully after this we can narrow down the discussion to one or two of the more hot button issues.

1. Yes, it's the lack of effectiveness regarding capital punishment that makes it questionable (sticking to title change) As a moral issue the only question is whether it is applied 100% corectly- meaning it's only applied when the punishee is absolutely, unquestioningly guilty. Since this is certainly a criteria that has not been met, as there have been scores of innocent people executed in the US alone, it cannot be moral. To the debatable side of the issue, the evidence thast points to the lack of effectiveness seems, to me, far stronger than the evidence that capital punishment "works". What I have read, and postulated on my own, is that a state or nation that uses capital punishment as a deterrent to crime also can be seen as one that uses state sponsored murder as a solution to a problem. Or, violence as an answer. To me, this means that a state or nation condones the use violence and moreover cheapens the value of human life itself. The evidence points in that direction, as the nations with the highest murder rates among it's citizens are also nations that sanction capital punishment. It's all part of a culture of violence that tends to lead to a particular mindset among a nation's citizens and government alike. The US, for example, has typically used violence as a method of problem solving, and likewise it's citizens tend to use violence in the same way. Some data and sources: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=12&did=169

"For 2006, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 5.9, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 4.22"

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=12&did=168

2. Seems like a topic well covered. You go on ahead and consider.

3. 9/11. I've also read quite a few 9/11 conspiracy theories and also the official one. None add up all the way, but pieces of each theory seem to hold water. Have you seen the Journal for 9/11 studies? Rather than a true conspiracy site the Journal debates many of the salient points within the official story and presents them through the use of scientific experts, rather than bloggers. What's most fishy to me is the lack of expediency in the official investigation and the fact that the largest crime scene in NYC history was treated so unlike a crime scene. Those and the fact that two buildings collapsed at free-fall speed precisely into their footprints after damage that many experts believe insufficient to do just that. IMO the official story has not proven why the buildings fell the way they did. Even if the official story is the most reasonable answer, it falls far short of scientific proof.

4. This one seems to be the most complex of the issues. I will try to address each of your points:

Why go to war (costly and unpopular) rather than drill our own vast reserves in Alaska and the Gulf?

It is certainly reasonable to expect that the powers that be would want to do both. New drilling doesn't cancel out the need for imports, especially as demand increases. So I don't believe it's a "rather than" situation. Additionally, Iraqi oil can be brought to the table far earlier than any exploration/drilling could hope. Also remember that the military-industrial complex has a firm grip on those who make policy. The MIC can benefit from war far more effectively than drilling. The Halliburtons of the world can cash in on no-bid base building and the ammunition business gets a nice shot in the arm. Vietnam was as much about the ammunition business as it was foreign policy. We may someday reach the same truthful conclusion about Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why go to war against nations that supply such a tiny percentage of our oil that we'd barely notice if we were cut off from their supplies altogether?

I believe I covered this with the respose to the 1% suggestion. It's not about how much we currently get, but how much oil is actually located in the hostile countries. Iraq has the 4th largest reserves in the world. To war for oil it would seem to make more sense to invade Iraq rather than, say Libya, a nation perhaps even more responsible for world terror than Iraq, because Iraq contains nearly three times more oil than Libya. In fact, since Iraq has the 4th largest reserves, merely attacking, invading and occupying that country would raise immediate suspicion as to motive. Especially critical in this line of reasoning is the idea that the Bush administration tried on numerous occasions to maunfacture evidence that Iraq was involved in 9/11. Far easier would have been to find evidence that Libya was involved in 9/11, but, alas, Iraq has far more to offer.

If these wars are about getting cheaper oil, why have pump prices skyrocketed since the war?

Perhaps these wars aren't at all about getting cheaper oil, just access to Iraqi oil and regional hegemony. In WWII both the Germans and the Japanese warred for resources that had nothing to do with getting cheaper oil for their citizens, just access.

5. I included democracy simply to see what kind of response I would get. As a political system where power is vested in the people I believe nothing better has ever been suggested. But this is concept. In practice the idea of democracy has actually been used against the people as a way of deceiving them (us) into believing we have a say in the running of the government. This is what I find questionable about democracy. Well, along with the fact that a vested 2 party system is hardly a democracy. And we'll add the idea of fraudulent elections and say that American democracy is what I'd meant all along to question.

Personally I'd like to continue #'s 1, 3 and 4, but would be willing to wrangle endlessly with democracy for shits and giggles.

1. I'll read more death penalty research.

2.

3. Certainly, the official story falls short of proof. All the other stories fall much further short of proof. The controlled demolition story seems to have been rejected by most scientists and engineers.

4. I think the MIC is a far more likely cause of the wars than oil, but I'll keep reading about this. I wish California's library systems were half as good as Minnesota's; then I could get all the books I want.

5. I'm not going to add democracy to the list. But I do wonder how we can make democracies better. Better, less polemic education would help. The internet's democratization of information helps. I think having much smaller nations in which each person and community has more of a voice would help. Moving closer to direct democracy would help, but then we have to worry about a tyranny of the majority, as the founders did. I guess we could try to model places where democracy works better than it does here, like Switzerland.

1. Sounds like a sound idea.

2.

3. Certainly, the official story falls short of proof

So certainly the Official "Story" of 9/11 should go on the list along with the conspiracy theories, as both really are more theory than science, n'est pas? Falling short of proof seems to be the one thing that automatically gets a concept or idea on the bullshit list.

4. I think the MIC is a far more likely cause of the wars than oil, but I'll keep reading about this.

To bring it together, the MIC includes the military and the industrial, which certainly includes big oil. One really doesn't exist without the other and their vested interest is one and the same. IMO if you believe it's the MIC then by default some of that blame goes to oil.

5. I'm not going to add democracy to the list.

Of course not. As a concept democracy is pretty unique. It is in the application, especially the American version, that I find questionable. By definition democracy means one person one vote. What we really have is a representative democracy, where there are truly fewer than one thousand people out of millions that has any credible democratic power. For the rest of us true democracy is a mere illusion. And there's the crux of the biscuit.

Yes.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1888/

Now let's get back to what we think.

I read with interest Hossein-Zodeh's article and agree with many of the points presented. But what I got most from the article was a denounciation of the idea that the wars in the middle east were only about oil. Nowhere in the article did he convince me whatsoever that access to oil and hegemony in the oil rich middle east was not a major reason for going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since it has been proven that the war in Iraq is not about terrorism (and all, yes all of the reasons for going to war in Iraq provided by the Bush admin. were false) and Mr. Hossein-Zadeh does not believe it's about oil, what does he believe the war in Iraq is about? Until someone, anyone can come up with a reason for the war in Iraq that has absolutely nothing to do with oil (and nothing to do with the much more bogus claim thast it's about fighting terrorism) I remain unconvinced.

Nice article. I remain in suspended judgment. I'd love to be inside Bush's head, if only to slap him around a bit.

It's my opinion, but I believe in everything unless it is denied by science (or other kind of) facts.
But I don't believe in "The Secret", that's what I can say.

If that were true, you'd believe in an infinity of contradictory beliefs that are not denied by facts. You'd believe the universe was created by an invisible boar, and you'd also believe the universe was created by an invisible snake who specifically made invisible boars an impossibility.

That's not contradictory, because the invisible boar also made invisible snakes an impossibility, so they're even.

I have an invisible dragon in my garage. I want an invisible chameleon to feed him with.

why did you change the title of the list? it was effective, i'm not sure if i would have clicked on it if it wasn't called things that are bs.

It's a tough call. In the end, "questionable..." is more accurate because I know much less about some of these subjects than others.

I didn't see this before posting below. Stupid unrefreshing browser!

But it gave me a chance to thank you. Which I did and do.

The title was (very) effective.

But I'm glad that lukeprog changed it. Given this site's recent highly "disputatious" tone (and worse) I'm very grateful. I'm not accusing you of being a voyeur or that this list is a car wreck but slowing down to look at a car crash of a title is worrisome at best.

So I appreciate the change. I feel queasy about all of the recent aggressive, hurtful, provocative (not in the good way) and critical (also not in the good way) "list" topics. I try to avoid combative, negative, ill-informed and unsupported conversations and/or fighting, no matter how "clean" it is.

I try to set a different tone and I think lukeprog has helped me to do just that.

You should probably add Divining Rods (aka Dowsing Rods) and Time Travel. As well as Green Tea and Probiotics

Thanks!

Dowsing is there.

Some probiotics are helpful, some are harmful.

And now for something completely different. Lukeprog, in an earlier post you mentioned that you're including all religions as questionable and thus weren't going to include scientology as a stand alone. I must protest. I find that the central tenets of Buddhism are actually quite beneficial and lead to a higher understanding of human nature. Thus, by including all religions we're doing Buddhism a great disservice. Unless, of course, you would place Buddhism as more of a philosophy than a religion, and in that case my protest will remain mute. It's your list- it's up to you- I'd be just as comfortable calling Buddhism a philosophy as I would seeing each and every religion on the list.

In the case of religion, I am saying that the truth of its metaphysical claims are questionable. I can make no sweeping assessment of all religion's "effectiveness," as they have very different effects. Islam is a different breed than Jainism.

Of course, it depends on your own understanding and practice of a religion. There are philosophical "Christians" who do not defend any of its metaphysical claims. For example.

What type of Buddhism interests you?

Do we really know enough about the way the brain works to make any declarations on the evidence for or against psychiatry? Not that I'm all about the psych meds, but I think most scientists would admit that our knowledge of the brain is rather limited.

Besides, the article you link to is just about psychiatric drugs, not psychotherapy, which is another section of psychiatry entirely.

Not to mention that Peter Breggin is a world-class loon.

I couldn't find an article that nicely summed up what I think about psychiatry. (That's the case for all these entries, but here even moreso.)

I don't have time to research an essay on this one, but here are a few quick thoughts.

The problem with psychiatry is indeed that we don't know enough about the brain. Psychiatry decided to categorize a broad range of very common symptoms as "mental illness," and then treat them with drugs that seem to do as much harm as good. Some even reinforce the condition. I'm sure you're aware of the various scandals in psychiatry's history which demonstrated its questionable effectiveness.

Psychiatry, like psychotherapy before it, is probably moving toward something more useful, and many of its applications have merit in many cases, but I'd guess that it is doing almost as much harm as good.

But there's no way for anyone to know that, and I haven't taken the time to make specific arguments or mention specific evidence. I'm happy to throw it in a list called "questionable." If this was still a list of "bullshit," I'd be more prepared to back up my impression. Psychiatry is a lazy entry.

I think the books and articles of Bruce Levine sum up why I think psychiatry is very often bullshit.

As far as I can tell, Bruce Levine is opposed to Big Pharma, drug profiteers, pressuring pregnant women into taking drugs, marketing drugs to teens, the hypocrisy of drug laws, Peter Kramer, consumerism aaaaand discouragement. (Discouragement? Really?) Psychiatry seems to be a peripheral, if inexact and gullible, enterprise. In any case, Bruce Levine is a psychologist, not a psychiatrist.

What is more surprising for someone who attaches Ph.D. to his name: He doesn't use citations but he does cite the interviews of Jon Stewart to buttress his argument. Jon would be the first to tell you that nobody should ever cite anything he's ever said to support any argument. Fortunately Bruce E. Levine, Ph. D. says the same should apply to him,

Generally, a mental health advanced degree in and of itself should actually give its holders less credibility, as it is really nothing more than proof that one has completed a lengthy bullshit indoctrination.
I wonder what subject his Ph. D. is in. You've probably read (or are reading or will read) Levine's book, Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy but I'd rather read Lucy Van Pelt.

When I first read it thought that "Psychiatry is a lazy entry" referred to the field of Psychiatry. Now I take it to mean that you are saying the laziness is your own. I often use the writings of others to help me form my own opinion. (I'm lookin' at you, John Ratey.) I hope that I avoid using those writings as proxy for my own opinions and beliefs. This is especially true when I am questioning the truth and effectiveness of philosophies that others might hold dear. So I have some homemade platitudes for you:
Step up or Step down
Back it up or Zip it up
Deal with it or Cash in your chips
Tea or Coffee

If I ever find myself debating by citation I try to take it as a sign that I might not know what I think about a subject. And I probably don't know enough about the subject or my thinking. My impression is that this applies here. Whether or not this is the case I would like to learn "of the various scandals in psychiatry's history which demonstrated its questionable effectiveness." I hate Sigmund Freud so feel free to bash him. Even though psychoanalysis and psychiatry are not the same thing... I do hate him that much.

I agree with your sentiments totally.

For the record, I am not saying that all psychiatric drugs are ineffective or harmful. Just that many, many psychiatric claims are not supported by (or even contradicted by) the evidence.

I will prepare my argument. It will take a long time. If I'm doing it right, my argument will change some while I am preparing it.

*

This does not apply to psychiatry at all, but does one really need to thoroughly investigate everything thoroughly before putting it on the Very Very Improbable shelf?

For example, should I find and study the most sophisticated theological takes on Zeus and company? Ahura Mazda? Quetzalcoatl?

Do I need to thoroughly investigate the evidence for and against angel therapy, magical dolphins, etc.? (Though in these cases, I did spend some time reading the arguments on both side.)

I'm curious about all this. What's your epistemic method? Mine is certainly... unfinished.

*

Well, I have lots of work ahead. I'll take the coffee.

I don't want people to conflate "Psychiatry" with psychiatric drugs. Psychiatry does use psychiatric (psychoactive, psychotropic, whatever) drugs but the practice of psychiatry doesn't begin and end with chemicals.

Please don't feel that we're having an argument or that you have to prepare (for) one.

Or you can do what I do: prepare an argument, not publish it and hoard the collected information. But that's the great thing about preparing an interesting/intelligent argument, if you're "doing it right, [your] argument will change some while... preparing it." Just make sure to pretend that you've always held whatever conclusions you come to.

Where can I get a very very improbable shelf? I have the perfect kind of implausible shelf paper for it. You can't investigate everything. You can't know everything. In your private library you can use whatever Dewey Decimal system you'd like to sort out your shelves. But if you want to put something on the sale shelf in the display window under the "Questionable" banner... well, you'd better be ready to make your case.

I'm sorry but Zeus is not subject to debate. If you can't see that then there is something wrong with your mental faculties. As for those other frauds you should only "find and study the most sophisticated theological takes" only as long and as far as you are willing to go to understand an issue. Or to win an argument. If you want to debate how many Angels can dance on the head of a pin you have to do an almost-infinite amount of reading. The answer is obviously nine. But I don't care. So I will cede the argument.

How much do you care about angel therapy and magical dolphins? Don't tell me! Write your answer down on a piece of paper and put it in your front pocket. Now take it out of your pocket and rip it into four equal pieces. Put the pieces into this handkerchief. Now burn the handkerchief. Was the answer: What in the world would possess you to care about angel therapy and magical dolphins at all? Aside from the television show Flipperbelle, M.D., that is.

"Epistemic method." Mine is actually lazy, wily and lazy.

Stop me if you've heard this before: I was on a trivia program and one of the categories was matching romantic couples with the books they were in. Unfortunately there was no "Romeo & Juliet" in the couples column. But there was "Heathcliff & Catherine," there was a "Wuthering Heights" and I knew that the song "Wuthering Heights" had the lyrics, "Heathcliff, it's me, Cathy, I've come home, something something window..."

Well, after that we could suss out the remaining pairs. "Pyramus & Thisbe" was something from Shakespeare... the only Shakespeare up there was BOOM! Midsummer Night's Dream. "Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy" was veddy Masterpiece Theatre BOOM! Pride and Prejudice. "Jim Dillingham & Della Dillingham" were American-like BOOM! "Gift of the Magi" and then some French names BOOM! Les Miserables. After the program was over I was, mistakenly, hailed as an expert in classical literature. BOOM! goes the dynamite! I was not. I am not.

Years later, upon entering University, I heard Tori Amos's version of "Wuthering Heights." I learned that she had written the song. I found out that Pat Benatar's version was a cover of Amos's original performance. Which means that my reputation as a well-read expert in classical literature is based upon the fact that I owned the album Crimes of Passion. I never get tired of that story... and I'm the only one.

I learned that indirect knowledge can pass for real knowledge, that one tiny bit of knowledge can be leveraged into a huge stinking pile of knowledge, that if something is true then the trivial information it generates is usually true, that my friends knowledge of literature is not to be trusted and that love truly is a battlefield.

Thank you, Pat Benatar, for all that you have bestowed upon me.

These are just a few of my epistemological tactics to verify "truth." I have many other tactics and a few strategies... a surprising number of which involve large hollow wooden animals.

All after Kate changed her name to Tori, of course.

Great lyrics about great books from a lady who kant read...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

... So I asked one of my devoutly religious and God loving and fearing friends if he believes in the theory of evolution..and he said he does. So I asked him if he believes in the theory of creationism. And he said he does. And I asked him how? And he says,"Well, obviously something as complex as evolution couldn't have occured without the help of god"
I am simply at a loss to provide a logical discussion to this. I guess the best defence against illogical arguments is more of illogical arguments. Now I only have to make one.

The method that makes the most sense to me is analogy. I try to show people that they are making the mistake of special pleading for their belief, and if they made the same structure of argument for any other dogma it would be obviously false to them.

Examples:

"Something as complex as evolution couldn't have occurred without the help of God."

2000 years ago: "Something as unknown and impressive and lightning couldn't have occurred without the help of Zeus."

Many Christians point to the complexity of the eye as something that is too complex to have evolved. Actually, a lot is known about eye evolution and it is not very mysterious. In fact, we have eyes along every stage of development from single photoreceptor to eyes that are superior to human eyes in the living world today. We don't even have to speculate about ancient transitional forms. All these partially developed eyes exist, and are useful to their hosts, today.

Education and knowledge are among the best ways to combat ignorance and superstition.

Yeah, the eye isn't all that great. God, however, is too complex to have evolved, which therefore proves the existence of God.

Honestly, believing in evolution in the first place is a step up from many people, so let's give credit where credit is due.

Yes, however much I bitch, we are making progress. Of the thousands of gods that have been invented throughout history, only a relative few still have a significant body of followers.

It isn't as if they know the details of evolution. I asked a few of my practising Hindu friends to explain a bit about it and they really had no clue. They didn't even know about the primordial broth and the Sydney Fox experiment. They didn't know why evolution is so 'complex'.
"It just is, because it is impossible that something like this would happen without God".
It is sort of a self fulfiling prophecy. Because evolution is complex, it has the hand of God and because it has the hand of God, it is complex.
It is exasperating to talk to someone who has a firmly closed mindset.

But think how exasperated they must feel.

I don't think you can crowbar a mind open... or even an open mind (would that have to be a "barcrow"?) However I do think you can pose questions which ask you to pop the trunk.

I wonder if your friends think that people 500 years ago were either less religious. Was their faith less genuine because they thought that only a god could create the complexity of the stars and planetary motion across the night sky? Or were they less devout because they had no knowledge of the complexity of a god's evolution?

Perhaps in the last 500 years we have become more sanctified as we understand more and more of god's creation. Does the progress from the sun revolving around the earth, to a Newtonian sun-centered creation and then on to the current understanding of the universe -- does all of that mean that we are getting closer to touching the face of a god.

If we are continually getting closer to god's face does that mean that we shall reach it one day? What would that say about a god? About us? Does this god even have a face? The someone or something who came up with such a delicate process as evolution which, after billions of years, popped us out, must be surprised. If only a little.

Finally (at last!) how could this god look anything at all like we do? Considering that this god started us from scratch that would imply a single-celled supreme being. If the creator does look like us, wouldn't that mean there has been constant meddling with the evolutionary process?

And there the argument for evolutionary complexity signifying a god collapses. When evolution needs constant tending, nudging and tweaking it becomes nothing more than a Rube Goldberg contraption. A contraption that does not work. It is a Potemkim village or a Rock Ridge designed to simulate a real Rock Ridge/Hand of god.

But I'd be more tricksier than to lay it all out at once. I'd fight house by house, paragraph by paragraph, I am purported to be exceedingly wily.

If God exists, I hope heshe is like this.

They are not exasperated. Exasperated of what?
They simply don't want to listen to any questions. And even if they do, it is like dropping a drop of water on a huge bale of cotton. They swat off the question without understanding, or rather acknowledging it. I don't have a crowbar in my hand but they want to jerk their knees everytime I try to pop the trunk.
Most of the time they give the argument of complexity - the world is just too complex to have existed without God. Don't ask questions challenging that. And I ask them, what exactly is so complex that can't be explained on the basis of the simplest of the theories of science? And then, they bear me with a sporting and encouraging smile of all-encompassing understanding, a smile someone would sport while bearing their favourite faulting kid. It is maddening!
Their arguments balantly defy all logic. "But God is not logic."
You see what I mean? They don't want to discuss anything without bringing in a ton of logical fallacies.

Your argument as to why evolution as a hand of god collapses is convincing. And then I get the feeling you are (maybe) discarding it in the favour of Creationism? Talk about jumping from the pan into the fire.
I am pretty sure they don't base their faith on the progress of science, on the belief that science may one day bring us to a god.
For that matter I don't know what is the orgin of their faith. Don't say "Faith does not need a reason".

I don't necessarily think that's a good or bad thing. What I do think is that two of religion's major impediments to progress over the course of history are (1) when people kill in the name of religion and (2) when people use religious texts as science texts and thereby attempt to quash scientific progress. I am glad that compared to earlier history, both seem to be occurring with less and less frequency today, and people seem more and more willing to accept religion, science, and, er, non-genocide as coexisting peacefully. I have no vendetta against the belief itself, and I am not sure why you do.

Vendetta? No, this is no vendetta. They are muddling science with religion. They are giving credit to their god where clearly none is due. This is wrong, no matter how harmless. And then they take a leap of faith with their god in matters where science is yet to understand. They are conveniently twisting science to their use. I definitely have a issue against this.

"This is wrong, no matter how harmless." Exactly. Maybe it's not a vendetta per se but you and lukeprog do seem bitter that this is happening. Why are your feathers rustled by someone who has a belief system different from yours but which does the world no harm? I can understand being annoyed by someone who doesn't believe in evolution... but someone who does and merely credits God as the reason behind the way the world works? Why not? Does anyone know for a fact that there is no supreme force behind the universe? Can you rule that out as a possibility?

I am only "ruffled" by beliefs that cause harm. For example, I will argue with a deist for fun, not as an attempt to contribute value to the world.

But I do think many beliefs cause harm, even though they seem not to. Moderate Islam does not condemn extremist Islam (literalist Islam) as it should. Dogma of any kind (and I'm not suggesting your beliefs are dogma) inhibits open, critical thought. Etc.

Seances, communication with the dead, mystics etc? Sorry if you already have it under something different.

How do I not have ghosts? Geez...

Electronic voice phenomenon

It's on the list already, thanks.