Circumcision makes sexual promiscuity healthier

The American Association of Pediatrics has released a report that favors male circumcision on the grounds that it reduces the spread of sexually-transmitted disease among promiscuous heterosexuals.

Perhaps the most powerful evidence in favour of circumcision comes from randomized controlled trials in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. These found that, for men who have sex with women, circumcision reduced the risk of infection with HIV. (No protection was observed for men who have sex with men.) The South African and Ugandan trials also found that circumcision reduced infection rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes.

So if you have a sexually-active infant, you should talk to your pediatrician about getting him circumcised.

How do we know?

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we’ve seen that Pastor Stephen Feinstein would be ill-advised to propose that there are any material preconditions for the universe, “reasonable standards,” and epistemology. That which exists in the same form at all points in time is necessarily uncaused and uncausable, since there’s no point in time where it was not already what it is now, and therefore no opportunity for it to be changed from “non-existent” to “existing.” The laws of physics, the laws of logic and reason, the fundamental material aspects of the space-time continuum, and so on, are all uncreatable and have no material preconditions.

That leaves logical preconditions, i.e. the relationship between A and B that allows us to say B cannot be true if A is false, and thus if B is true then we know A must be true also. Given that there is no possibility that the universe, “reasonable standards” and epistemology could have supernatural causes, can we nevertheless reason our way from B (the universe, reasonable standards, and epistemology) back to some A that must also be true? Can we, in other words, find Pastor Stephen’s logical preconditions for the existence of the universe, reason, and epistemology?

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Miracles and the power of suggestion

According to a story in the New York Times, the placebo effect isn’t just limited to a drug’s expected benefits. People can and do suffer negative side effects as a result of believing they are taking real drugs. It’s called the “nocebo” effect.

In a curious study, a team of Italian gastroenterologists asked people with and without diagnosed lactose intolerance to take lactose for an experiment on its effects on bowel symptoms. But in reality the participants received glucose, which does not harm the gut. Nonetheless, 44 percent of people with known lactose intolerance and 26 percent of those without lactose intolerance complained of gastrointestinal symptoms.

In one remarkable case, a participant in an antidepressant drug trial was given placebo tablets — and then swallowed 26 of them in a suicide attempt. Even though the tablets were harmless, the participant’s blood pressure dropped perilously low.

Is it any wonder that people have reported similarly astonishing effects produced from things like God, or demons? Influencing the imagination can and does produce measurable physical effects on the body, even in the absence of the things that are supposed to be causing them.

Something to think about the next time you’re flipping through the channels and find some shiny clean evangelist “healing” people.

Primitive Creationism

One thing I think Ken Ham and Kent Hovind do rather well is to remind us how primitive young-earth creationism really is. They know, even without looking at any evidence, that the primitive God of Genesis 1 and 2 hasn’t got a chance of coming up with anything as advanced as our modern, scientific understanding of biology. Being a primitive invention Himself, He is limited to using only the techniques available to the imagination of unscientific and illiterate people.

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Bearding the lion

A long time ago, I heard a story about how young men in ancient times would prove their courage and manhood by sneaking up to the den of a lion, giving the lion’s beard a good sharp tug, and then running away without harming the lion. If I remember correctly, the bravest of the young men would do this without even bringing any weapons for self defense. The whole point of the exercise was to prove how bravely you could face a superior foe, and (ideally) to show that you were fast enough and agile enough to escape unscathed from such an encounter.

I can’t help but think that similar bravado lies behind creationists who try to take on people like Aron Ra, even though they’re going to get eaten alive, metaphorically speaking.

Texas scientists: It could have been us…

It seems I’m not the only one to notice this aspect of the Higgs boson story.

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have unveiled the discovery of a tiny particle Wednesday that may help them understand the nature and even the origin of the universe. It’s a breakthrough Texas lost its chance to try for almost two decades ago, when Congress defunded the costly project…

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Higgs Boson

I heard a rumor that somebody was getting ready to announce the discovery of the Higgs boson, and now I see the discovery being hailed as a done deed on CNN, so I guess they really did it. This is so cool and so awesome! It’s a bit ironic that the discovery was announced on July 4th, the American independence day, by European scientists—if it hadn’t been for penny-pinching anti-science bureaucrats in Washington, that discovery might have been made by, or in conjunction with, an American research team. But America has lost its drive to be pre-eminent in cutting-edge science, preferring instead to come up with innovative ways to mingle science and superstition in public school curricula.

But I digress, and I don’t want my curmudgeonly rant to cast a pall over this tremendous scientific discovery. Like so many in the field of advanced physics, it seems this answer only serves to raise more questions. And that’s the way science ought to work: each new discovery opens the door to making further discoveries. Yes, we have more questions, but now we know what the right questions are, and can start to work on answering them.

Of course, there’s one truly momentous question that’s on everyone’s mind right now, and I’m sure it’s one you all can’t wait to get answered…

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Well, ok, maybe just a LITTLE warming

The problem with trying to deny a worsening problem is that it becomes increasingly difficult to deny. And then what do you do? At Exxon, they’re trying the “admit it, but downplay it” approach.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson says fears about climate change, drilling, and energy dependence are overblown. In a speech Wednesday, Tillerson acknowledged that burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet, but said society will be able to adapt…

Tillerson blamed a public that is “illiterate” in science and math, a “lazy” press, and advocacy groups that “manufacture fear” for energy misconceptions in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ok, so maybe anthropogenic global warming is real, but it’s nothing we can’t handle, right? And those climate scientists who are turning out to have been right all along? They were just doing it to manufacture fear. But at least the public is basically illiterate in science and math, so they’re easy to bamboozle.

Considering how things are turning out, though, you have to ask: bamboozled by whom?

Science and the supernatural

In a comment over at my other blog, tokyotodd writes:

In order for a worldview to be capable of addressing questions about God or miracles, it must first posit some sort of methodology by which these objects (if they existed) could be detected and empirically verified. This requires knowledge of the objects being investigated, without which it would be impossible, or at least highly presumptuous, to make predictions about how we might expect to encounter or observe them. This would seem to rule out naturalism as a useful worldview, since it simply presupposes the nonexistence of the supernatural and therefore cannot really address questions about it (except to regard them as meaningless).

There are indeed difficulties involved in the investigation of the supernatural, but the scientific worldview isn’t one of them. Science (sometimes called “naturalism” in the same way evolution gets labelled  “Darwinism”) is entirely neutral on the question of natural vs. supernatural, and has routinely investigated phenomena that were popularly regarded as supernatural at the time. The problem with the supernatural is the vague and volatile definition of what “supernatural” is supposed to mean.

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Korean creationists get science out of textbooks.

It sounds odd to hear a story like this from Asia, but according to Nature.com, South Korea has a creationist problem as well, to the point that it’s negatively impacting science education over there.

A petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks claimed victory last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx.

I suppose one way to protect America from the negative consequences of sabotaging our own science education is to sabotage everyone else’s as well, but still.