Celebrate Acupuncture Awareness Week with a poll

Apparently, someone decided 27 February-4 March is Acupuncture Awareness Week. I’m happy to help out.

You should be aware that acupuncture is total bollocks.

There. Is that enough? No, it is not. We must also crash a stupid online poll. Devastate it, please. It’s on a site run by dishonest quacks, so I think we have the potential to smash their poll so thoroughly that either they a) shut it down in embarrassment, or b) start faking the numbers.

Do you think acupuncture should be made more widely available on the NHS?

Yes 79.3%
No 20.7%

Somebody tell me why they have a gigantic picture of a happy family that totally dwarfs their tiny three line poll on the page?

Marcel Guarnizo is a sterling example of the priesthood

Guarnizo was asked to officiate at the funeral of a woman in Maryland. They should have got a humanist celebrant, because a humanist wouldn’t do what Guarnizo did next.

My friend Barbara, the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her, “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.” To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.

A funeral is an important event: it marks the end of a life, and is a moment when those who loved the deceased gather to share their pain and their good memories. It’s a huge responsibility to stand up and lead one. Guarnizo did not meet the responsibility he owed to that family. He is a disgraceful human being, or if I care to repeat myself, a priest.

He’s also a fanatical anti-choice activist who pretends to care so much about little babies, but when a living, conscious woman stands before him, grieving for her mother, all pretext of compassion abandons him and all he cares about is policing her sexual behavior.

Like I said, a priest.

Why I am an atheist – Matt Waldbrook

I’m afraid my history of unbelief is uneventful and boring compared to others. There was no blinding moment of insight; no dramatic discarding of the chains of superstition; no wild and passionate confrontations with theistic family or friends. I was born and raised in picturesque British Columbia, Canada, which bears the proud statistic of being the most godless state or province in North America. My father comes from a fairly devout Roman Catholic family; my mother from a United Church of Canada family. Neither were believers in any real sense. Our family never attended church besides occasional accompanying my Roman Catholic grandparents when we visited them in Ontario (by the way, my Catholic grandparents were saints, who never forced their beliefs on us as children, and were always supportive of our life decisions). Curiously, my family retained the habit of saying grace before dinner; a mere rote of “Bless us, O Lord, for these thy gifts, for which we are about to receive, amen”. There was never any faith behind it; it was like saying “Bless you” after a sneeze.

(As an interesting aside, one of my distant relatives (great-great-grandmother, I believe) was one of the people reportedly “healed” by the recently canonized Saint Andre of Quebec. If true, this marks the first and last time that God bestowed any gifts on me or my family.)

As a child, I loved learning about science and nature, particularly Astronomy. I read, re-read, and re-re-ad infinitum-read books on Astronomy. I was utterly enamoured by the cosmos; the silent grandiosity of galaxies, the terrifying power of supernovae, and the majestic constellations that grace our night sky. One book I had compared and contrasted the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin with the biblical Genesis. Though I was still young, and I did not fully grasp the scientific method yet, I remember thinking “How do they know the Bible is true? How can they back up the Genesis story with facts?”. Thus, I recognized early that the Bible, and religious ideology in general, was an empty promise; a mere story told to the gullible and the fearful.

Unfortunately, my skill (or lack thereof) with mathematics made a career in astronomy exceedingly unlikely. As a youngster, I also displayed aptitude for music, thanks to early piano lessons and the like. In high school, I was a part of virtually every musical group that my school offered. It was in high school music that I started having confrontations with religious classmates. Many had come from church choirs and the like, and wanted/demanded that we as a group pray before a performance. This irked me, and I would often reply with a snarky “shouldn’t we be praying to Dionsyus, the Greek God of wine, music and partying, instead of God?”. Or when someone tried to sell me the idea that Christianity is a religion of love, I would reply if it’s the same religion of love that murdered millions during the Crusades and Dark Ages. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I was a new atheist before I had any idea that such a thing existed.

After high school, I was left adrift. My confidence in my music skills was at an all-time low; I didn’t think I could make a career out of music. At my mother’s behest, I enrolled in night school, to add some courses that I had elected to skip earlier. It was here that I fell in love with Biology, and the sciences in general. I aced just about everything thrown at me (although I continued to struggle with Math). To cut a long story short, I went on to attain a diploma in Biotechnology, a BSc in the same, and an MSc in Microbiology. Today I work as a researcher in a local biotech/pharmaceutical company. I still enjoy music and play piano and guitar recreationally. Only recently (last 2 years or so) have I come to identify myself as a new atheist, and have started to read the works of the movement. I don’t do much in the community…as mentioned above, B.C. is a godless haven, and the religious have little influence on our society. But I fully support my brothers and sisters who, by accident of birth, are forced to live in areas where religious influence is strong.

Matt Waldbrook

I am officially disgusted with Alain de Botton

Unfortunately, he’s extremely talented at self-promotion, and keeps saying things that deluded god-botherers love to hear, so he keeps popping up in the media, saying the same stupid things. Now he’s on CNN, whining about atheists again.

Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is "true." Unfortunately, recent public discussions on religion have focused obsessively on precisely this issue, with a hardcore group of fanatical believers pitting themselves against an equally small band of fanatical atheists.

Fuck you very much, Alain de Botton.

He might find the question boring, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s central and important. Are we to live in a society that values truth, or one run by idiots like de Botton, who think the truth is irrelevant, in which we are governed by and our children taught by people who promote falsehoods? Who live their entire lives guided entirely by disproven myths and falsehoods, and evangelize that nonsense intensely?

Our culture is currently divided between three groups: Atheists, who think the truth matters, and want our problems addressed with real-world solutions; theists, who want a god or supernatural powers to solve our problems with magic; and fence-sitting parasites like de Botton who see a personal opportunity to pander to the believers for their own gain, who will ride the conflict while pretending to aloof from it, and win popularity with the masses by trying to tell everyone they’re all right. He is no friend to reason; he’s a really good pal to Alain de Botton.

Holy christ, but the Discovery Institute is full of morons

They’ve jumped on a bandwagon and written an opinion piece so stupid I thought my eyes might bleed. They are just tickled that Richard Dawkins said he was agnostic. Why, I don’t know, except that it illustrates how utterly unaware of atheist thought they are.

In an informal dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Dawkins surprised his audience by disclaiming the title of “atheist” — as in World’s Most Famous Atheist, as he’s been universally known up till now — in favor of “agnostic.” This prompted one Christian email correspondent of ours to speculate longingly on whether Dawkins could emerge as a sort of latter-day St. Paul, eventually seeing the light and embracing religious belief.

Nonsense. It’s exactly the same thing he wrote in The God Delusion. Really. I’ll show you in a moment.

Don’t hold your breath on that one, though Dawkins’s listeners were undestandably startled at his backing away from “atheism” in favor of the more modest descriptor, “agnosticism.” He explained that he can’t know with certainty that God doesn’t exist but on a scale of 1 to 7, (with a nervous laugh) he rates himself a 6.9.

Well, that would work out to 98.57 percent confidence.

No, it doesn’t. It’s a landmark on a continuous spectrum of belief, not a statement about the probabilities of certain outcomes. Cancer staging is a series from I to IV, with increasing severity; it is not a statement that cancers spend 25% of their time in stage IV, or if you’re in stage I that there is a 75% chance your cancer doesn’t exist. It’s complete misuse and misunderstanding of the metric.

And then the stupid goes mile high.

I happen to have a ten-sided dice handy — used in a game I play with my 10-year-old son — with which, by rolling twice, you can conveniently generate random numbers between 1 and 100. Let’s see how long it takes me to beat the odds against God.

You are witnessing a real-time scientific trial. (And they say intelligent-design advocates don’t do those!) Here we go: 68, 10, 27, 40, 64, 36, 77, 96, and…99.

That took 9 attempts and about 30 seconds. Dawkins said, “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.” Yet even at 98.57 percent, the odds were not that bad. I would be somewhat reluctant to bet a hundred bucks on that basis. If I were Richard Dawkins it sure does seem like, rather than continue a campaign of mockery against religion, the better-advised course would be to continue on my course of enhanced modesty and just be quiet.

That was an awesomely idiotic bit of rhetoric. He’s trying to get one of two results out of 100 possibilities: on average, if he were reporting it honestly, it would have taken 50 tries to hit the desired values, and his paragraph would have swollen to pointless tedium. He got it in 9 tries. That could have happened by chance, but more likely…he wasn’t reporting the run honestly. Given that it is an intelligent design creationist, I’d say it’s pretty damned likely.

But again, the 7-point scale is not a measure of the probability of existence of a god, and you can translate it into a 1.43% chance that god exists. It’s amazing that they think they can make a serious point with that claim.

Even worse is the faux-astonishment that Dawkins said he was agnostic, or that this represents some softening of his position. It’s what he has said consistently all along.

Here’s what he wrote in The God Delusion.

Let us, then, take the idea of a spectrum of probabilities seriously, and place human judgements about the existence of God along it, between two extremes of opposite certainty. The spectrum is continuous, but it can be represented by the following seven milestones along the way.

1 Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’

2 Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’

3 Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’

4 Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’

5 Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I don’t know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’

6 Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’

7 Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’

I’d be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated. It is in the nature of faith that one is capable, like Jung, of holding a belief without adequate reason to do so (Jung also believed that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded with a loud bang). Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 – I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.

I have no illusions that posting the facts will sway those batbuggering deranged goons at the Discovery Institute one way or another. But you rational people will at least be able to see how inane they are, and can now point and laugh at them.

Dawkins has his own account of the debate that prompted this silliness.

I am so glad I’m a science professor

I assign a fair bit of writing in my courses, but because it’s all about biology, the papers I get back might be full of cryptic words like mek and src and neoplasia, but they tend to have a straightforward narrative and avoid ambiguity…and since I’m at a good liberal arts college, most of the students are competent writers. But then every once in a while I get a glimpse from my colleagues of the world outside my mechanistic and straightforward world, and I feel a small thrill of horror. You should read the whole student essay, but here’s the concluding paragraph.

Because knowing what it knows now, it will never know peace. It will only know humiliation. For there are no limits on the number of Grade Change forms I can request, or if there are, I plan to collect them like an ignorant naturalist on a well-trodden shore and submit them in perpetuity.

Yeesh. The tortured syntax, the ambiguous referents, the vague threat of drowning the poor victim in paperwork…I do not want to live in that universe.

But still, this one is still the all-time champion worst.