On Further Thought

God of the Gaps pens the Misleading Pseudoscience for Dummies, and allegorical text that scores Z- in science.The best aspect of apologetic articles by creationists, deists, religionists, IDiots, besotttists, and reactive theists is not to be found in the articles themselves but in the spate of reactive critical thought provoked from atheists, evolutionists, humanists, and scientists.

After responding too hastily to Paul Davies' cosmological implication for design, I later read reactions from scientists and philosophers of science. I have not changed my mind that Davies' article was an attempt to twist science to deistic purposes, but I think that I am clearer about the nature of Davies' errors. I'll get back to that potentially lengthy topic later. In the meantime, I gave more thought to the important issues facing education in science and philosophy.

I am ever more convinced that all university degrees ought to include a core of critical thinking courses. In fact, my alma mater recently expanded all baccalaureates to 4-year programs and instituted compulsory, core courses on canons of critical thinking.

I think that this became necessary because high school standards had been steadily falling as the bar was lowered post-baby-boom. Matters became so dire, thanks to "whole language" primary teaching, that the universities brought in mandatory English testing for those who had not completed grade 13 English and had completed one year of university courses. Those who failed the compulsory test were required to take remedial English courses. (I considered this delay cruel – far better, I think, to ensure that students have adequate English skills before they lose money, and time, and confidence flunking their first year courses.) Eventually, the provincial government took action and instituted tougher, province-wide educational standards. Teachers complain that these demand more than the kids are ready for. I think that part of this problem stems from the fact that streaming of classrooms has not yet been reintroduced.

While I was completing my university education in science, philosophy of science was not a required subject for science students. Medical ethics and epidemiology were part of the medical curriculum, though many regarded them as a nuisance time-waster that distracted from the voluminous life-and-death material. Many of the humanities degrees did include a core requirement for a basic course in statistics, much to the dismay of students seeking to escape math and science.

Within the science faculties, the topic of philosophy of science was not even discussed amongst my friends and classmates. I suspect that those of us studying science subjects probably mostly dismissed PoS as superfluous. After all, we were already learning how to think along the lines of scientific methodology and interpretation of results. We did not need PoS to know what science did. Philosophy was regarded as that nebulous subject that obsessed itself with long-obsolete thinkers and self-obsessed, fanaticist fantasists who could not make up their minds.

Ironically, the creationist stupidity emanating from the US may be providing a much needed prompt to scientific and philosophical thinking. In the good old days – before YECers and IDiots set about giving the science-ignorant the impression that their religiously-motivated, uneducated opinions were just as valid as the hard-won knowledge of highly-educated experts – science and philosophy were rather rarefied, arcane, esoteric, and inaccessible mysteries about which most of us need not trouble our pretty little neurons.

Belatedly, and thanks to religiously-motivated pseudoscience and usurpation of science, scientists and philosophers have realized that the irritating gnat will not stop buzzing loudly around the ears of the uneducated. Finally, the public has become interested, and scientists and philosophers are beginning to team up to bring a semi-coordinated voice of reason and explication down to the level of those who did not chose to study science or philosophy at university.

...section index...

apologetics, atheism, creationism, deism, intelligent design, naturalism, philosophy, religion, science, theism, Paul Davies,

Regressive God

My parents inform me that I asked "why?" incessantly. Having been provided with an explanation, I would then ask, "Yes, but why?"

This "yes, but why?" question illustrates the principle of regress – for each explanation, we can seek a deeper, underlying explanation until we hit bottom.

"This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, like a child who asks "why?" over and over again."
(I must have driven my poor parents nuts! It's scarcely a surprise that I should have been drawn to science because scientific method examines explanatory regression in the most satisfactory way.)

"Bottom" is that ultimate, necessary condition for which there is no logical explanation, but which is merely the situation of inexplicable existence. What the just-God theists deride as being "just-so". Necessary conditions describe the fundamental physical forces and constants that underlie the nature of our cosmos: "All we currently know from fundamental physics and cosmology remains consistent with a universe that evolved by purely natural processes." (Stenger)

The NY Times has an op-ed argument entitled Taking Science on Faith. The piece was written by astrobiologist and deistic Christian apologist Paul Davies, whose career seems to have involved progression through increasingly less prestigious universities. This may be linked to his having won the Templeton Prize in 1995. His piece illustrates the problem with fallacious argument from regress.

Davies starts out with a little quote mining and a fallacious tu quoque that is lamentably common in Christian apologetics:
"The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system."

First, the notion of "non-overlapping magisteria" has been rejected by philosophers of science who are no longer bending over backwards to avoid offending twitchy religious sensibilities. If you make the claim that "supernatural" agencies interact with the natural world – by creating the cosmos or interceding in health outcomes, for example – then your claims can be tested by the scientific method. Period. Goodbye NOMA.

Second, although scientists must, for the sake of time-saving efficiency, accept that much received scientific wisdom established by other scientists is valid, the use of the term "faith" is a fallacious equivocation. Knowledge, in general, could not move forward if we did not accept the expert authority of Newton's giants. Religious "Faith" requires that believers adhere to doctrinal tenets despite the complete lack of any empirical evidence for belief – this is the exact opposite of received scientific wisdom. Davies' employment of this term is either ignorant, illogical, or deliberately deceitful. Given that Davies is a trained scientist, one must assume the latter.

Davies continues to expound upon this basic, fallacious argument as a build-up to his fallacious argument from regress:

"Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to "nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational."
Notice that he says "anti-rational" and not irrational. He is relying upon the unquestioning Newtonian-based experience of the theistically duped amongst his readers. It is neither unreasonable, anti-rational, nor illogical, to accept that some things simply exist without (yet) scientific explanation. (In fact, our day to day experience is that things do exist without an obvious explanation. Theists, however, have been instructed to believe that everything has an ultimate supernatural explanation.) It maybe intellectually unsatisfying not to be able to answer "why?" at this level, but this lack is no good reason to toss a God of the Gaps into the regression.

Davies moves on, after more anthropic waffle, to the fallacious implication that explanations of the cosmos must either be a counterintuitive multiverse version or his deistic anthropic principal pseudoexplanation.

"There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them."
Has to be? In whose cosmos must there necessarily be a further physical mechanism that bestows basic physical "bylaws". Notice the "by" in "bylaws"! It attempts to reduce our basic physical laws to a subordinate position. Subordinate to what? Why to Davies' Regressive God, of course. This is conclusion implied by terminology – a car salesman's ploy.

Davies ends with one of the most illogical non sequiturs that I have ever seen: "But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus."

That sentence is so illogical and ridiculous, that I need not comment beyond pointing out that science is about finding explanations for phenomena and it is not part of the requirement of methodological, or even metaphysical, naturalism that science must provide an (impossible) explanation for necessary existence. Part of Davies' flawed argument is that scientists do not presume to provide an explanation for the fundamental cosmic laws – to do so would indeed be to make a leap of faith, and Davies complained that scientists do not do this. He's trying to have it both ways and he probably is not even aware of this philosophical tension in his argument.

I really do believe that deists and theists, even those as well-educated as Paul Davies, ultimately have been forced away from logic by their emotional need to protect inculcated delusional beliefs.

atheism, deism, theism, naturalism, science, Paul Davies, New York Times,

God, what god?

Considering that atheism is the most logical position based on empirical evidence, the fact that so many are so deluded as to insist on the existence of nonexistent deities indicates the psychological and social urges that impel the deluded to believe the unbelievable.

While it is impossible to disprove the existence of purportedly supernatural deities, there are many good reasons to be certain that no such deities exist. . . contd.

If there were a God

If there were a God, the mucusoids of the Dissembly Institute and Lies in Genesis would not need to lie, invent pseudoscience, perjure themselves, and plagiarize the work of legimate cell and molecular biologists and medical animators.

Hermagoras has transcribed the imbecilically worded comments that Dembski used to imply that the video was the work of Behe and DIers.

"A colleague of mine, Michael Behe, wrote a book back in 1996, called Darwin's Black Box, in which he was looking at systems like this. And what he found was, he looked at the -- actually inside the cell, he's a biochemist by training, and so he was looking at -- what he found were molecular machines inside the cell. I mean, it's just marvelous the sorts of things that happen inside the cell. You've got self-replicating robotic manufacturing plants, information processing, storage and retrieval, signal transduction circuitry, high-efficiency, high-tech nano-engineered motors, transportation and distribution systems, automated parcel addressing, UPS labels, ZIP codes, I mean things have to be delivered from one place in the cell to another, -- you've got all this going on inside the cell -- complex monitoring and feedback control -- all of this in the cell in molecular biology. Now I want you to watch a little video, which as it were -- this is state-0f-the-art computer animation of what's inside the cell. And so just, watch and enjoy."

Blog Reactions : Creationist crooks pilfer Harvard's work : DI Fellows--EXPELLED for plagiarism : Plagiarism and Intelligent Design :

biological evolution, creationism, intelligent design, plagiarism, science, The Inner Life of the Cell, Michael Behe, William Dembski,

From UPA to Ineffable

I have a couple of books on the history of religious thought awaiting my completion of Daniel J. Boorstin's The Discoverers, which I am thoroughly enjoying, not least because Boorstin examines the history of dogmatic resistance to knowledge. Although it appears that others of his books would be too replete with American conservative hubris for my taste, his examination of human attempts to comprehend (and master!) the world seems quite balanced.

But, I digress. I intend to write on a hypothesis of mine concerning the evolution of the concept of the supernatural, and I want to commit myself before reading the books on religion. Obviously, this hypothesis will probably be subject to subsequent modification.

Humans appear to be distinguishable from other animals not by curiosity, but by a propensity for concocting explanations for that which we investigate. Obviously, I am assuming that your average kitty does not concoct metaphysical explanations for objects examined during fits of curiosity.

By UPA, I refer to Unidentified Physical Agencies, which I use to indicate those physical mechanisms that are not immediately obvious to the human observer. Grant LaFleche posted an interesting mention of Al Hazen's 10th century overturning of the notion that our eyes see by emitting rather than receiving light. It is extraordinary that none of those who viewed the eyes as actors rather than perceivers had never wondered why they could not see in the dark at the same time that others could not see in the dark! Surely, such miraculous eyes could have acted as the earliest flashlights – much more convenient than barking one's shins after nightfall.

My point as regards the UPA notion is that humans who could not explain mechanisms contrived explanations that were much more simplistic than the actual explanations for the phenomena. Understanding that the eye perceives incoming light is only the first step of the explanation for mechanisms of visual perception.

The simplistic, animistic UPA meme was amplified into the notion of Unifying Physical Agencies (deities) and ultimately into the notion of the Ultimate Physical Agency (Yahweh et al.) Now the UPA has come to be called the 'supernatural', a term that embodies both the purported supremacy of this 'ultimate physical agent' and the fact that this agent has proven physically undetectable.

When the best efforts of Christian theologians failed to construct an internally consistent theology that would account for the UPA's manifestations, a modification of the supernatural-meme proved useful as the concept of the ineffable. Now, not only was a supernatural agency conveniently removed by definition from physical scrutiny, but the failure of apologetics was explained away as demonstration of the perfection of an unknowable deity that defied explanation by we mere humans. Sneaky and as transparent a ploy as the cornea is to photons.

One wonders why a loving God – who wished to be feared, obeyed, and worshipped and who had accordingly dictated an admittedly inconsistent tome – would not have understood the frailties of his special creation and made matters clearer. He could have saved the discoverers a great deal of trouble.

Sum, ergo Cogito

Or, given that Descartes wrote the original conception in French, je suis, donc je pense.

"In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it." ~ John Archibald Wheeler

Philosophers focus on what we think about what exists, genetic epistemologists like Piaget and cognitive psychologists focus on how we set about thinking, and psychologists focus on why we think what we do.

We all exhibit some philosophical tension in our belief systems–simultaneously holding beliefs that slightly contradict others of our beliefs. (Yes, yes, I'm usually against making universal statements. Maybe you do not exhibit philosophical tension, but I doubt that I'm the only person who entertains mutually discrepant views. Why else would TPM online have set up the philosophical health check? It's fun, try it!)

It's interesting to trace individuals' motivations for belief along with their chains of rationalizing cognitive errors. These 'rationalizing beliefs' protect individuals from awareness of the shaky foundations of their beliefs.

Here's an example. I have to work with this guy (groan). Let's call him X. I have deciphered the pattern from discussions over an extended period:

  • Imperative motivation: parents who self-protectively denied X's experiential reality.

  • Personalized motivation: construction of a belief system that conforms to child-appropriate, victim-centered conclusions drawn from personal life traumas.

  • Expressed motivations: desire to think for self–not to think in the box, not to 'never have an original thought', not to think 'with the crowd'; not to feel 'stupid'.

  • Manifestation: a plethora of magic-thinking, pseudointellectual mythologies and 'spiritual' beliefs disguised as skeptical rejection of religion, and coupled with authority-blaming inventions.

  • Sources of supporting misinformation: 'alternative' opinions selectively drawn from websites and books written by similarly anti-expert individuals driven by grudges.

  • Maintenance of misinformation: refusal to consider any information that does not conform to emotion-distorted world view.

  • Maintaining illogic: plethora of ad hoc pseudoexplanations and fallacies of logic
    » [accepted explanations] "examples of group-think"
    » [expert explanations] "misguided explanations better explained by [X's] illogical pseudoexplanation."
    » [experts] "have never had an original thought in their lives."
    » [experts] "just protecting one another."
    » [experts] "just don't care about people [X]."
    » [experts] "will do whatever perversion they can get away with [X's sense of injury]."
    » [lack of evidence for believed-in supernatural entities] "people choose not to see what is there because they don't believe."
    » [alien abductions] "must occur because claimants' descriptions are comparable with respect to broad details"
    » [scientists] "all say the same thing." (As though this is a bad thing!)
    » [epidemiological evidence] "pure coincidence, disease frequency simply altered spontaneously."
    » [epidemiological evidence] "one potential negative outcome (X) is worse than tens of thousands of negative outcomes (others)."
    » [epidemiological evidence] "lack of connection between A and B is a cover-up, the two really are connected."
    » [holocaust] "statistics propagandistically altered by the Jews" (I'm not Jewish, but this one particularly infuriated me.)
    » [global warming] "a fiction – climate has altered without human interference during the planet's history."
    » [Jesus] "never existed (Something about which we might be able to agree. However, even if Jesus never existed, the 'teachings' have their origin in some human mind or other.)."
    » [creation] "the God-explanation is wrong – operation of a cosmic intelligence is responsible for creation, biological evolution, and connects us all."
    » the list could go on an on.
X not merely lacks education, he is so uneducated that he simply appears not to understand how logic operates or how knowlege differs from personal opinion. He is not completely without intelligence and certainly not wholly nasty, but his belief system is one of the most infuriating I've ever encountered.

X is not your average fundamentalist Christian, but his cognitive disorder is certainly reminiscent of the thought patterns of those who have not rejected the dogmatic, illogical myths that they were taught. In his case, he has rejected the unreligious atmosphere in which he was raised and he did so merely to seek an alternative mythology.

X certainly illustrates why psychologists say that personality disorders, which are merely the holistic manifestation of thought patterns, are very difficult to treat. I think that psychologists do not place sufficient emphasis on the fact that personality disorders are first, last, and foremost cognitive disorders of worldview. I also think that they have omitted one of the commonest of all personality disorders from their list, perhaps because the disorder is so common that it is viewed as normative rather than aberrant. I think of it as Fundamentalist Religiosity Disorder, or Arrested Cognitive Development in Emotionally Childish Individual, or Conservative Antisocial Disorder (CAD). As I've emphasized, it's similar to X's cognitive disorder except that its content is not even officially termed delusional.

Cluster A (odd or eccentric disorders)
Paranoid personality disorder
Schizoid personality disorder
Schizotypal personality disorder
Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic disorders)
Antisocial personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Histrionic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders)
Avoidant personality disorder
Dependent personality disorder (not the same as Dysthymia)
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (not the same as Obsessive-compulsive disorder)

The Selfishness Gene

Skepticism and freethinking are usually regarded as signs of liberal and atheistic attitudes. After all, atheists are so unconvinced by the total lack of evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity that they are unwilling to believe simply because they have been instructed to have faith.

Since skepticism is indeed logically compatible with atheism, how is it that so many theists are convinced to accept claims for a deity for which there is no good evidence? Why is it that theists are more likely than atheists to be political and social conservatives? Why is it that theists are more likely than atheists to be denialists of science in general and of global warming in particular?

The answer, I think, is not merely that theists are statistically more likely than atheists to score lower on IQ tests or to lack a good education in science. The answer, it seems to me, is that conservative theists are more likely than liberal atheists to have inherited the equivalent of a 'selfishness gene' that makes them prone to favor emotionally appealing, though unsupported and illogical, arguments.

Dispelling Bad Arguments

If there were any evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity, theists would not have to go to such lengths in vain attempts to 'prove' the unprovable. If there were indisputable social benefits to be reaped from belief, religionists would not need to resort to bad arguments. . . more.

Demands for Proof

Altered photograph of a white mute swan feather.Many theists seem to think in black-white absolutes – they use words such as 'all', 'none', 'every', 'only', 'never', 'always', 'forever', 'eternity', 'proof', and 'disproof'. If the apologists had not shunned any question of 'infinity' so as to make room for an 'unmoved first mover', many theists would be talking of 'infinity'.

Categorical thinking is prone to logical error – a single exception to a categorical statement negates the statement. Why, then, do so many theists think and speak categorically? These categorical thinkers have an emotional need for certainty, and preachers promise them certainty. Many theists also seem to lack that inner sense of logical discrepancy that sets "wait a minute, that doesn't make sense!" alarms ringing in many of us.

Their categorical thinking shows up in:

● insistence that moral absolutes were dictated by God,

insistence that atheists must disprove God's existence or failure to do so proves that God exists,

● insistence that God must exist because some unrelated reality does exist (sunsets, beauty, love, etc),

● insistence that theologians and apologists have 'proved' God's existence

● insistence that biological complexity 'proves' that macroevolution could only have arisen through the agency of God (aka, the designer)

● and so on.

The burden of proof lies with the claimant, so it is not up to atheists to disprove God's existence. This is particularly true since it is not logically possible to disprove a negative. If theists ask for this, then tell them where to put their request . . .

What's intelligent . . . ?

The best news that I have recently heard about intelligent [sick] design came from an acquaintance who asked, "What's Intelligent Design?" It's nice to know that the IDiocy campaign to dupe everyone is faltering somewhat, though the aquaintance is not the best informed of individuals when it comes to controversy.

Cockroach Hearing

"Believer: Cockroaches hear through their legs.

Skeptic: How do you know?

Believer: If I pick up a cockroach and tell it to walk, it will walk when I put it down.

Skeptic: How does that demonstrate that it hears through its legs?

Believer: If I pull off its legs, it won't obey my command."

Seems silly? We get the joke because it is obvious, so it does seem silly. Unfortunately, it's not that far removed from the illogic of some believers.

"There must be a God.

How do you know?

Sunsets are beautiful."

Just in case you have to know about cockroach hearing:

"Hearing is not very well developed in the cockroach. They respond to air movements and ground vibrations which are detected by hairs on the body and cerci. Cerci are feeler-like extensions located on the posterior. No tympanum or eardrum such as is seen in grasshoppers and crickets is present." . found here .

...section index...

LAME thinking

In this Misinformation Explosion Age, people are increasingly unaware that lay opinion, particularly biased opinion, carries no real authority about the natural world whenever lay opinion runs counter to established scientific knowledge.

Let's designate such people, Laypersons of the Misinformation Explosion, or LAMEs . . . more.

Ultimate Dissonance

Capuchins and four-year olds rationalize. And why not? Changing one's mind is a good emotion-protecting strategy whether faced with information that explodes cherished theories or minor preferences. Major preferences, like getting over a lost love, take a little longer.

The rationalization in question arises in response to a discrepancy between what we want/did/didn't do/expect and what we lost/didn't do/did do/got. Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance and today's NYT has an interesting article.

The ultimate dissonance? Blowing yourself to smithereens for someone else's political benefit on the promise of abundant virgins only to discover that you've been conned. No virgins. Not even used models. No nookies. Nada.

The good news? You've returned to nothingness, so you don't know you've been conned.

Cold comfort.

Go Ahead, Rationalize. Monkeys Do It, Too, John Tierney, New York Times, November 6, 2007. The Mystery of Buyer’s Remorse — Or, Should You Look for a Money-Back Guarantee?, John Tierney, NYT blog, 11/5/07
"The Origins of Cognitive Dissonance: Evidence From Children and Monkeys." Louisa C. Egan, Laurie R. Santos, Paul Bloom, Psychological Science, November 2007.
"Do Amnesics Exhibit Cognitive Dissonance Reduction?" Lieberman, M. D., Ochsner, K. N., Gilbert, D. T., & Schacter, D. L. Psychological Science, March 2001. (PDF)
"Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology." Edited by Eddie Harmon-Jones and Judson Mills. (American Psychological Association, 1999.)
"Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)." Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. (Harcourt, 2007.)

Blogs elsewhere rationalize like a monkey

Capuchin, cognitive dissonance, psychology,

Shamelessly Plagiarized

A Little Taste of Heaven

Haggard might be interested

Too funny!

Punch the name of Christian apologist, Lee Strobel, into a Google blogsearch and these are the fifth through seventh hits:

- http:/streaming-videos-sex-hot.blogspot.com/
- http:/free-hardcore-gay-clips.blogspot.com/
- http:/free-boy-sex-video-wv.blogspot.com/

(I took ‘/’s out to deactivate the links and not to lend 'authority'.)

I suppose that if you like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing you like.

I wonder how Lee Strobel would feel about that. Probably upset–unless he’s another Ted Haggard, which is statistically unlikely.

I did not visit the sites, but I presume that they must either belong to good Christians or there are more 'Lee Strobels' out there than we ever knew there were.

Incidentally, although I think that Haggard is a despicable character because of his hypocrisy and dishonest, mercenary theatrics (aka televangelism), I would not want the guy to burn in hell. The theatric expression inspired my modification of the photo.

When one thinks about it, only truly nasty people would be gleeful at the thought of anyone's burning in hell for eternity. Which proves one of my impressions about some fundamentalists – they are truly nasty people, 'God Bless'es notwithstanding.

An Unangelic Review

Statue of an angel at the Vatican.As promised, here's a response to one example of why reviewers should read all the books that they are reviewing. Like memes in a 'telephone' game, the depiction of what an author actually said is altered with each misrepresentation in a parasitic backlash book, or in the review of such a book.

In a less than heavenly article in TimesOnline, Sally Vickers reviews John Cornwell's backlash opus, DARWIN’S ANGEL An Angelic Riposte to the God Delusion.

The article is entitled Darwins Angel An Angelic Response to the God Delusion. Vickers claims:

“Dawkins hasn’t; or doesn’t show us that he has tried. He overlooks the big theologians altogether in favour of some pretty low-key, unknown figures.”

Faked image of an angel in a shaft of light at the Vatican. This image was passed off as an aparition by the eternally dubious Daily Mail.This reviewer must have a different printing of The God Delusion than I. Or perhaps she does not consider St. Thomas Aquinas a “big theologian”. She is probably overlooking, or ignorantly unaware, that the apologetic arguments trouped out by modern theologians are mere reworkings of ancient apologetic arguments. Full refutation is available elsewhere, as Dawkins points out, so his reiterating the critiques made by professional philosophers would have been redundant to his purpose and boring for the lay reader.

Recent and contemporary theologians have attempted to fill apologetic cracks with spackle, but they have not succeeded in concocting any acceptable ‘proof’ for God’s existence. Surely an omnipresent, omnipotent God should have left some unmistakable evidence of His existence, particularly given that we are supposed to take time out to worship Him.

One does not have to search far on the internet to find a religionist proclaiming, often in caps, that there is “PROOF of God’s existence”. Those who have believed in SkyDaddy since childhood, are prone to take anything and everything as evidence of God’s working in mysterious ways—sunsets, beauty, natural disasters, our very (evolution-denied) existence. You name it, they’ll erroneously attach a goddidit pseudoexplanation in a too prevalent example of circular reasoning. The God of the Gaps, after all, are merely a special family of Ad Crock Pseudoexplanations.

“For a start, only religious nutcases take the Creation story literally; it is not a new or radical supposition that even the first readers of Genesis would have been aware of its symbolic nature – or rather, would have distinguished between the fact of fact and the fact of fiction, a distinction that escapes Dawkins, who appears to have no concept of the “reality” of a thought, and only a very immature concept of the “reality” of a play, novel or poem. (As I used to ask students, is Hamlet real?)”
How’s that for a run-on sentence?!

In the midst of that verbiage, I found a kernel of truth: “only religious nutcases take the Creation story literally.”

Alas, there are plenty of religious nutcases in America who do exactly that—take an allegorical pseudohistorical fairy tale literally. The moderate religionious were taking pains to distance themselves from these nutters long before the so-called New Atheists took aim at the delusion that underlies even nuttier delusions.

Sally Vickers seems to have missed the metaphysics lecture in which the distinction between physical existence and conceptual existence (aka ‘meme’) was explained.

“Cornwell clearly believes, as I do, that angels are not wispy, winged beings in ethereal nightgowns, but something far more subtle and profound: archetypal images that dramatise the invisible realities. As such, they can act as symbols for the formless elements of physics; but also for the creative imagination.”

"Archetypal images that dramatise the invisible realities"? To which invisible realities, I wonder, does she refer? By "the formless elements of physics" is she referring to virtual particles or superstring theory, or merely that vast array of apprehended phenomena comprehended by science but not by Vickers?

If Vickers had read The God Delusion instead of merely reading Cornwell’s response to Dawkins, she’d probably have known that Dawkins had indeed distinguished between moderates and fundamentalists. She would also have known that Dawkins is not against morality, beauty, or the creative imagination. However, it remains the case that even had she been honest enough to read The God Delusion, she appears too be too committed to her version of “reality” to understand what Professor Dawkins was really saying.

Vickers is actually describing, in the “but also for the creative imagination” comment, one of the chief impediments to rationality—the commitment to Romanticism. Contemporary romantics mistakenly assume that Science is AntiRomantic, perhaps because they cannot comprehend science, they assume that scientists cannot comprehend the emotional side of experience. Such a supposition is unfounded rot. Some scientists may be 'unromantic' and 'unimaginative', but the design of scientific experiments requires creativity in addition to a propensity for analysis. Many or most scientists are driven to investigate by their sense of wonder at physical reality.

Although creative imagination has given us much that enhances the experience of being human, the creative imagination also gave us hate-filled superstitions that stand in the way of genuine understanding of reality. This is what Dawkins is saying. Dump the religious nonsense, and humans could open their minds up to beneficial enlightenment. Cornwell and Vickers demonstrate that this will continue to be an uphill battle.

Cornwell's response to Dawkins.Book reviewed: DARWIN’S ANGEL An Angelic Riposte to the God Delusion by John Cornwell

Articles: Darwins Angel An Angelic Response to the God Delusion : The importance of doubt : The Fourth Flea! by John Cornwell : Was there ever dog that praised his fleas? by Backlash Authors : The truth in religion by REVEREND John Polkinghorne, Times Online : The smallest signs of retreat : Picture: The ghostly Angel of the Vatican full-view, close-up. (Pull the other one–I just demonstrated that images can be faked. England's Daily Mail is a pulp paper only marginally elevated above the National Enquirer.)

Blogs: Read the goddamn book!!! : Younger offspring offers a new visual representation. : Darwin's Angel :

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Read the God Damned Book!

I'm not blaspheming (a victimless crime, in any case).

I am merely assuming that if there were a God, then He or She, would have placed The God Delusion on His or Her list of damned books. If God sees fit to bannish humans to eternal fires, then damning a book would not cause a twinge in the divine conscience.

Wouldn't religionists just love it if all copies of the book were to go up in a puff of malevolent smoke! That certainly would make headlines:
"God's Flaming Book Review."
"Holy Book Burning, Batman!"
"God consigns The God Delusion to Hell."
"Inflamed Allah Orders Fatwah against Books that Offend Religion."
"God proves He's offended by The God Delusion. Ergo, His Incendiary Temper PROVES He Must Exist!"

We must assume, on the basis of the fact that copies of The God Delusion have not undergone spontaneous combustion, that
a) He or She liked the book,
b) He or She is not sufficiently ominiscient to have 'read' the book,
c) He or She does exist but is not omnipotent enough to induce selective conflagrations,
d) He or She could not find willing book-burning dupes, or,
e) He or She does not exist.

The scarlet A is a clue to my pick.

On the website of a Slovenian student living in Australia, I found a good review of a Times article reviewing an anti-atheist book by John Cornwell. (Don't worry, the Slovenian's review is in English!) Here's my response on the topic of biased, religionist reviews of books that the reviewers have clearly not read . . .

. . . the image demonstrates that religionists can fake images too.

What's Wrong with Religious Apologetics?

Belief in fairies, or in any superstitious 'entities', starts with wishful thinking and proceeds through misinformation and illogic.What's wrong? Almost everything . . .

Christian apologetics, indeed all pseudoscientific, superstitious, and religious apologetics, faced with utter lack of evidence, or with counterevidence, necessarily relies upon fallacies of logic and ad hoc pseudoexplanations.

Some ad hoc apologist pseudoexplanations are very sophisticated indeed, reflecting the historic waste of great minds. . . . continued.

indexes Apologetic Failures . Fallacies of Logic .


In a fit of logodaedaly inspired by a particularly infuriating aginner, I have just coined this term to indicate the mythonuttical belief in a connection between autism and vaccination.

The aginner in question stubbornly and aggressively clings to a variety of idiotic beliefs that run counter to both evidence and expert opinion, and supports these beliefs with a panoply of fallacies of logic. All in all, this aginner provides a fascinating, if infuriating, nutcase study.

One of this collection of unfounded beliefs concerns the empirically invalidated claim that vaccination causes autism. Most of the authors of a 1998 study that postulated a connection based on woefully few study subjects have since retracted their erroneous speculations, yet the damage was done and the myth continues.

At 12 months of age, infants receive MMR vaccination against viruses that formerly caused illness, debility, and some deaths (measles, mumps, rubella). This also happens to be the age at which signs of early autism are first recognized in some affected infants. Many other events impact an infant in the first year of life, but a single event, such as vaccination stands out by virtue of its singularity and so is noticed even when there is no causative association. This fallacious assumption that correlation indicates causation arises whenever an unusual event precedes an unconnected event. Epidemiologists must study large numbers of cases to tease out any genuine causative associations from serendipitous associations.

"Other larger studies have found no relationship between MMR vaccine and autism. For example, researchers in the UK studied the records of 498 children with autism born between 1979 and 1998. (emphasis mine) They found:

  • The percentage of children with autism who received MMR vaccine was the same as the percentage of unaffected children in the region who received MMR vaccine.
  • There was no difference in the age of diagnosis of autism in vaccinated and unvaccinated children.
  • The onset of "regressive" symptoms of autism did not occur within 2, 4, or 6 months of receiving the MMR vaccine.
"Groups of experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that MMR vaccine is not responsible for recent increases in the number of children with autism. In 2004, a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that there is no association between autism and MMR vaccine, or vaccines that contain thimerosal as a preservative." (source)

If MMR vaccination caused autism then the percentage of children with autism would have been higher in the vaccinated group, and autism would have arisen sooner in vaccinated groups. These problems were not observed in large numbers of children in several studies. If autism were a result of MMR vaccination, health officials would have called a stop to vaccination, just as other medications such as Vioxx have been drawn from the market when unexpected health problems showed up. To claim otherwise is purely . . . misinformed.

As health professionals have become more informed of autistic symptomatology and are able to recognize milder cases, rates of identification of existing cases have increased. Numbers concerning prevalence are also confounded by the tendency to attach the flavor-of-the-month diagnosis to yet undiagnosed developmental complexes. Increased rates of identification do not necessarily indicate increased prevalence.

Research into the etiology of autistic neurobiological disorders continues, but the conditions are almost certainly multifactorial in etiology. Autism subtypes include early onset and regressive (Rett Syndrome, Glutaric Aciduriais). Autism is not a single syndrome and likely results from several different etiologies or combination of pathological mechanisms: genetic, infectious, neurologic, metabolic, immunologic, and environmental.

Vaccines act by priming the immune system to develop a clone of 'memory cells' that can respond rapidly to any exposure to live virus. Vaccines provide for a non-infectious, fake-first-exposure. On first exposure to live virus, the primed memory cells proliferate (as they would otherwise have proliferated on second exposure), pumping out monoclonal antibodies that bind specifically to the virus, enabling the rapid elimination of the infectious agent. The introduction of vaccines has enabled the eradication of smallpox and the virtual elimination of many childhood killers. Happily, vaccination has prevented horrific outbreaks such as the pre-vaccination polio epidemics that paralyzed children for life and forced thousands of children and adults into 'iron lungs'. The image at top left shows iron lungs assembled in a gym! (courtesy of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center). Image above right courtesy of Ontario March of Dimes.

"Mounting evidence indicates that immune dysfunction along with an environmental pathogen may be factors contributing to the development of some cases of autism. One of the immune deficiencies observed in autism is abnormal T-cell mediated immunity. Another is altered levels of certain classes of antibodies (immunoglobulins), including decreased levels of immunoglobulin A and deficient complement activity, based on the inheritance of a null allele of the C4B gene. In addition to the C4B gene, other genes on chromosome 6 also appear to be associated with autism. In the developing child, genetically determined immune deficiencies might increase the risk for autism in 2 ways: (1) A pathogen or its toxins might damage the brain, and (2) the pathogen might trigger an autoimmune mechanism that would interfere with brain functioning. In the mother, immune deficiency might allow a pathogen to persist in utero, damaging the fetal brain directly or triggering a maternal immune response that creates pathogenesis in the fetal brain." (Immune findings in autism)
These alterations are quite different than the effects observed after immunization.

Blogs Elsewhere : Single jabs : What happens to autism rates if we stop MMR? : Autism and "mental retardation"


Artistic license taken with a painting by Matthias Grünewald.Some people obstinately cling to the most extraordinary beliefs for the most ridiculous reasons and have the temerity to be angry at those who have opinions based on accurate knowledge.

Here's a formula followed by one mythonutter devoted to autivaccinism:
▪ Start angrily with a highly emotional interpretation of matters remotely connected to whatever original trauma;
▪ gather inaccurate information from biased sources that fit with personal prejudices;
▪ insist that the fact that other non-experts of biased 'experts' believe along the same lines provides validation of their beliefs;
▪ concoct a misinterpretation of the evidence that runs totally counter to logic;
▪ insist that the experts are lying and that those people who agree with expert interpretation of empirical evidence are victims of group-think;
▪ declare that those who accept expert opinion are exhibiting obstinate closed-mindedness in being unwilling to see the distorted personal version of 'truth';
▪ assume that the experts are lying because they do not care what harm comes to people and they wish to make a profit;
▪ and, assume, despite having no knowledge of science or epidemiology, that all experimental findings that do not fit one's prejudices merely represent insufficient testing.

Not only are such individuals grossly mistaken about their peeve-of-choice, they are also typically mistaken on a variety of topics, favoring antisocial alternative mythologies over knowledge. Such stupidity is sometimes merely annoying, but when mythonutters insist on making bad decisions about the health of others, their ignorant folly becomes potentially dangerous. Aginners such as these are typically utterly unwilling to consider any facts and expert interpretations that do no coincide with their prejudices. A personality disorder often coexists with the cognitive disorder.

"Personality refers to a distinctive set of traits, behavior styles, and patterns that make up our character or individuality. How we perceive the world, our attitudes, thoughts, and feelings are all part of our personality. People with healthy personalities are able to cope with normal stresses and have no trouble forming relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.

Those who struggle with a personality disorder have great difficulty dealing with other people. They tend to be inflexible, rigid, and unable to respond to the changes and demands of life. Although they feel that their behavior patterns are “normal” or “right,” people with personality disorders tend to have a narrow view of the world and find it difficult to participate in social activities." "DSM-IV R"

The image is modified from a Matthias Grünewald painting, The Temptation of St Anthony, ca. 1512-16. The original is a panel (third view) of the Isenheim Alterpiece, which is now on display at the Unterlinden Museum. (first view, second view)

...section index...

cognition, personality disorder,