Here’s an entirely hypothetical scenario.

You’re in a room with two exits, marked Door A and Door B. By each is a guardian, Guardian A and Guardian B. You need to go through one of the doors.

Door A is light and flimsy, easy to open—just turn the knob and you’re through it. Reasonably enough, before charging through, you ask Guardian A what’s on the other side.

“Joy and delight, an eternal life of perfect happiness, an end to doors and constant traveling…and all you have to do is turn that little knob, and believe.”

That sounds too good to be true, so you ask him how he knows, and whether he has been through the door.

“No, not yet, I can only go once my tour of duty here is done. But I dream of it every night, and I can also tell you that almost everyone who has come here has gone through Door A.”

You want confirmation, so you turn to Guardian B and ask if that’s true.

“Yes,” he says, “most people do go through Door A. I don’t know if it’s true about what’s on the other side, though.”

Door B is rather imposing: it’s a huge steel block, bristling with locks and complicated gadgets. It looks like it’s going to take a lot of time and cleverness and strength to get it open. It’s so intimidating, you’re not even sure that you’ll be able to figure out how to open it. You ask Guardian B if it’s as difficult as it looks.

“Oh, man, yes…it’s hard. At least it was when I was your age—now I’ve had so much practice at it that I can go through this door easily, all the time. I’m afraid I can’t just open it for you, though. I can give you suggestions and hints, but you really do have to do all the work yourself. It’s a kind of admissions test to see if you’ll be able to cope on the other side.”

This is not entirely encouraging, and you hope there’s something as good as joy and delight beyond the door, so you ask what’s over there.

“Knowledge,” says Guardian B. “Hard work. Interesting ideas. And doors—many more doors, each one harder than the next, and no end to them in sight. Clever people, all working together to open more doors. It’s a whole world, a good but complicated place.”

Guardian A screams, “HE LIES! There’s a tiger on the other side that will kill and eat you. I think it’s on fire, too. And worst of all, if you go through Door B, you’ll never get to experience the beautiful life behind Door A. Guardian B is evil, and he wants you to suffer!”

Guardian B just rolls his eyes. He’s heard this before.

“Look, kid, Guardian A means well, but he doesn’t know anything. I’ve told you the truth about what’s behind my door; maybe ol’ A is right about what’s behind his door, but all I’ve ever seen when someone opens Door A is a dark room beyond. You get to make the choice, at least so far—A and his friends want to seal off my door to ‘protect’ all the travelers who come through here.”

Your choice. What door do you go through?

That prayer boondoggle

The best analysis of American Heart Journal prayer study that I’ve seen yet is over at Rhosgobel. It uses solid methodology, and its results are clear: prayer didn’t help, and might even have hurt.

I’ve read the paper. It was hard. Every time I saw the word “prayer” on the page (and it’s used like several times per paragraph), my eyes would cross and I’d giggle, and then I’d get cranky because millions of dollars were wasted on this stupid, if well done, study. There was absolutely no justification given for this work, other than “Many patients report using private or family prayer to cope with this stressful experience [coronary artery bypass graft].” No mechanism was discussed. Its closing paragraph simply disavows any interpretations about religion…in a study whose sole motivation is a widespread religious belief.

The whole thing is based on a wild-assed guess plucked out of thin air, with an expectation that no matter which way it turned out, the results would be meaningless. That isn’t science, and it doesn’t matter that they carefully followed the forms of a scientific study—it was a waste of time. It wasn’t going to change medical or social practice, and wasn’t going to lead to any insight on how to better heal people. No one is going to discourage people from praying because of its result, although if the data had skewed the other way, you just know we’d never hear the end of it.

Once more into the breach

Hmmm. That creationist who emailed me a question the other day has sent me another. It’s like feeding raccoons—pretty soon they get the idea they should hang out in swarms around your house, they’re digging in the trash, and they’re pooping all over your lawn. Oh, well, one more time:

Here is another question for you kind consideration:

There are a very large number of species on earth; so many that no one has
been able to count them. Many of them are much older than humans, yet none
of them – not even one of them – evolved to a level comparable to that of
humans? What stopped them? Or, should I say, Who stopped them; and why?

First of all, Mr Creationist, both of your questions so far have been very, very poor—everybody has to start somewhere, I know, but they reflect a near total lack of understanding of anything about evolution or biology. Given that you know zip about biology, isn’t it rather arrogant of you to be questioning the fundamentals of the science? Aren’t you presuming a bit much to be pestering a biology professor with these things rather than cracking a book first and catching up on the basics? I have a list of recommended books; you might want to start with some of the kids’ books first. If you’re more ambitious, try Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Zimmer—it’ll give you the overview you need, with more meat that you can dig into.

But to answer your question briefly now…

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A little godless amusement

What’s gotten into the Huffington post? There’s a flood of entries making

fun of

Christian self-pity. Two possible interpretations: liberals are all god-hating elitists, or fundamentalist fanatics have made easy targets of themselves lately. I’ll let you guess which hypothesis I favor.

Laugh long and hard, everyone, and let’s all sing out, “I told you so!” Prayer is worthless. Despite his job description, I think I’d rather like Dr Koenig:

Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who did not take part in the study, said the results did not surprise him.

“There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no real theological grounds to expect a result either,” he said.

Science, he said, “is not designed to study the supernatural.”

Once again, the Templeton Foundation throws another bucket of money down a rathole of foolishness.

This is a very well-timed result since “The National Day of Prayer” is coming up on 4 April. How about celebrating a National Day of Reason instead? And how about doing something with an actual medical benefit?

Counter the “Day of Prayer” with Positive Action! Donate Blood!
If you decry the so-called “National Day of Prayer” as a forced encroachment of religion into our official
calendar, join us, the Center for Atheism (CFA) in celebrating
the supremacy of reason by donating blood on 4 May 2006 in a nationwide program.
Blood is a simple way that any secular person can observe the Day of Reason
in a positive way. Everyone can take part: There is no marching or picketing, no placards to make or carry, no
permit is necessary, there is no confrontation with authorities or the religious community. We call
our blood donation program B.L.O.O.D., an acronym for Benefiting Lives Of Others Donations, and we intend to do it every year on the Day of Reason.

No more coffee for Mr Witt

Jonathan Witt of the Discovery Institute has lost it. The string of defeats for the cause of Intelligent Design creationism has had its toll, first Dover and now the Ohio ID lesson plan, and the poor man is clearly suffering from the strain, as you can tell from his latest hysterical screed.

First we get evolution compared to Castro’s newspapers, with no criticism allowed; then the defense for including ID in Ohio is that there is a 3:1 margin of popular support. Two fallacies in one paragraph! Sorry, Jonathan, hyperbolic comparisons to communism and an appeal to popular opinion on matters of fact do not a defense of ID make.

Then he gets confused.

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