Snake handling as a sign of faith

In general, the things that Jesus is reported to have said are fairly benign. (I do not want to get into the question of whether Jesus actually existed or said these things, which is something over which there is heated debate). But there is one thing that is highly problematic and that is found in the verses Mark 16:17-18 where, after his resurrection, he told his disciples the following:

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

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The Skepticamp talks are now online

The Monterey Skepticamp conference on January 2, 2021 where I gave a talk was enjoyable and informative, covering quite a range of topics. All the talks have been posted online. The full program is can be seen here.

The full video for the day’s program is 7 hours 27 minutes long. I give below the starting times for each talk which we were asked to limit to 20 minutes to allow for 10 minutes of Q/A . After the opening welcome remarks by organizer Susan Gerbic and a small quiz by Arlen Grossman, the rest of the talks were as follows:

35 minutes: András Gábor Pintér – Building Bridges – Why we need to organize to bring skepticism forward

1 hour 14 minutes: Janyce Boynton – Facilitated Communication – I Thought That Died in the 1990s!

1 hour 56 minutes: Stuart Vyse – Do Superstitions Work?

2 hours 27minutes: Kelly Burke – Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia

2 hours 54 minutes: Monica Ashly – Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia

4 hours 12 minutes: Richard Saunders (host of Skeptic Zone) –  So you want to do a Skeptical Podcast?

4 hours 53 minutes: Adrienne Hill – Tourette Syndrome: Stereotypes and CAM treatments

5 hours 29 minutes: Kyle Polich – Data Skeptic: “I don’t know anyone who has COVID-19”

5 hours 59 minutes: Mano Singham – The Copernican Myths

6 hours 30 minutes: Rob Palmer – Belief in Psychics: What’s the Harm and Who’s to Blame?

God is punking Pat Robertson again

Pat says he has received word from his god that the Holy Spirit is going to do something dramatic before January 6th to change the results of the election so as to keep Trump as president.

This is the latest in a long, long list of predictions that never come true. I wonder how long it will take for Pat to cotton on the fact that his god is a prankster who likes making him look like a fool by feeding him nonsensical predictions.

Or perhaps the question should be how long it will be before Robertson’s viewers cotton on the fact that he is just stringing them along so that they will send him money.

My talk on the Copernican myths

I will be giving a short talk on the myths surrounding the Copernican revolution from 3:45pm-4:15pm (Pacific Time in the US) on Saturday, January 2, 2021. The talk is part of the annual one-day Skepticamp conference held in Monterey, though this year it will be virtual on Zoom and free and open to anyone. To see the full program and the link to join, go here.

There are a lot of false beliefs surrounding the response to Copernicus’s ideas about the universe being heliocentric rather than geocentric, one of the most prominent being that his ideas were strongly opposed by the church because they demoted the Earth and human beings from the privileged position of being at the center of the universe.

My talk on the myths surrounding Copernicus

There are a lot of false beliefs surrounding the response to Copernicus’s ideas about the universe being heliocentric rather than geocentric, one of the most prominent being that his ideas were strongly opposed because they demoted the Earth and human beings from the privileged position of being at the center of the universe.

I have written on this topic before, including in my book The Great Paradox of Science, and will be giving a short talk on this from 3:45pm-4:15pm (Pacific Time in the US) on Saturday, January 2, 2021.

The talk is part of the annual one-day Skepticamp conference held in Monterey, though this year it will be virtual on Zoom and free and open to anyone. To see the full program and the link to join, go here.

Ignorance of statistics can kill you

An evangelical pastor in Fort Worth, Texas mocked and dismissed the covid-19 safety guidelines and said that he was going to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family with no restrictions.

Pastor Todd Dunn had been urging “Faith over fear!” since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March. Just before Thanksgiving, he posted a message on Facebook dismissing precautionary measures advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep wearing masks and avoid gatherings with family members who don’t live in the same house.

“I’m not wearing a mask when around my family like the CDC requests and we are traveling so we’ll take our chances,” Dunn’s Facebook post read. “And to top it off we are huggers so there you go! There will be no social distancing CDC. Faith over fear!!”

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Et tu, Pat?

It looks like Jesus has let Pat Robertson down. After promising his viewers that Jesus would ride in to save the day before the Electoral College meets, saying “this fraud will not stand and it will be exposed and that the lord himself will intervene before this country turns into something socialist”, he now says that it is all over and that Trump should concede the election. Worse, he says that Trump “lives in an alternate reality”, is “very erratic”, and that he has had his day and that it is time to “move on”. Being told by Pat Robertson of all people that you are living in an alternate reality has got to hurt.
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The covid-19 vaccines and prisoners

As I expected, there has been some controversy about how to prioritize the order of who gets the vaccines. For example, health guidelines suggest that those who are for whatever reason forced to be in very confined spaces or have to deal with large numbers of people should get it even before older people like me who are low risk because we have little contact with people and have no complicating risk factors. That sounds reasonable enough but that list of people who should have higher priority includes prisoners because, for obvious reasons, prisons have been the source of some of the biggest outbreaks of covid-19 and those outbreaks have not stayed within their walls but have also spread to the nearby communities because prison employees and visitors go in and out of the place all the time, thus aiding the spread.
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Vaccines, Catholics, and abortion

It turns out that in addition to other reasons for not getting the covid-19 vaccine, some anti-abortion zealots are saying that since the vaccines may have been developed from stem cell lines from aborted fetuses, it would be unethical to get it.

The Catholic Church is trying to tamp down that line of reasoning and saying that the greater good requires people to get vaccinated because the link connecting the vaccines to abortion it highly tenuous.
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Which came first – moralizing gods or civilization?

Reader Jason alerted me to this article that says that the emergence of all-powerful gods came after the rise of civilizations.

The idea that an all-knowing god was necessary for large societies to function and hence must have come earlier has a plausible argument.

One popular theory has argued that moralising gods were necessary for the rise of large-scale societies. Small societies, so the argument goes, were like fish bowls. It was almost impossible to engage in antisocial behaviour without being caught and punished – whether by acts of collective violence, retaliation or long-term reputational damage and risk of ostracism. But as societies grew larger and interactions between relative strangers became more commonplace, would-be transgressors could hope to evade detection under the cloak of anonymity. For cooperation to be possible under such conditions, some system of surveillance was required.

What better than to come up with a supernatural “eye in the sky” – a god who can see inside people’s minds and issue punishments and rewards accordingly. Believing in such a god might make people think twice about stealing or reneging on deals, even in relatively anonymous interactions.

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