How to be inoculated against antivax conventions

By Phil Plait | June 10, 2011 7:00 am

There’s a grand irony about skepticism and alt-med groups that I suspect most people don’t know. Skeptics are commonly seen as curmudgeonly cynics, poopooing new ideas and excluding anyone not in their club. Alt-med people are seen as warm, open, willing to try new things, and welcoming anyone to their group.

But that’s not the way it really works. In fact, skeptical groups welcome people who believe in various things we don’t (we’ve had them come to various TAMs; the effort we make in outreach could be improved, of course, but we certainly don’t turn them away — an important point, as you’ll see in a moment), and alt-med groups… well, they talk a good game, but when it comes down to a skeptic actually showing up at their meetings, their actions speak much louder than words.

But don’t take my word for it. You can read all about what happened to my pal and active supporter of real medicine Jamie Bernstein when she attended the antivax Autism One convention. She wrote up her experience in two parts: the first on Skepchick, and the second on Friendly Atheist.

The upshot? Despite behaving herself, obeying the rules, and being very polite, she was escorted out of the meeting by three security guards and four armed police officers, ejected on clearly trumped-up charges.

As Orac points out, does this sound like an open and honest movement? Or does it sound like people who are terrified of different opinions and quash dissent, even before it happens?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Skepticism

Comments (132)

  1. SLC

    Sounds like the episode where PZ Myers was expelled from a showing of the movie Expelled.

  2. Franklin

    They’re just like religious conservatives, in that projection is one of their favourite pastimes. If they say something bad about you, chances are, it applies to them at least that much. Just my own unscientific observation. And also what SLC said.

  3. Sledge

    She should take it as a compliment. A small girl (from the pic maybe weighs 100 lbs) who is so dangerous, she has to be physically removed by seven people, half of which have pistols. Such is the power of truth.

  4. Nigel Depledge

    Holy Moly!

    There’s paranoia for you. I wonder how Andrew “child abuser” Wakefield gets a standing ovation before even saying anything. Do those people really believe that the BMA (British Medical Association, the organisation that struck Wakefield off for his unethical experiments on children) are part of some conspiracy?

    Plus, also, what 1, 2 and 3 said.

  5. Gary Ansorge

    It might be effective to have a whole gaggle of skeptics attend one of these woo-woo meetings. I expect they’d eventually run out of security. While they’re tossing out one of us, the rest can make their voices heard.

    Gary 7

  6. Gary

    Being unable and unwilling to accept any criticism or challenge is a major weakness in this cult. Anti-vaxers make me sick, but to be fair, they make everyone sick!

  7. What I find particularly ironic about these alt-med woo peddlers is that they are up in arms about some faceless “Big Pharma” selling medicine (THAT ACTUALLY WORKS), but when some unqualified quack tries to sell them twigs and berries that do nothing, they gladly fork over their money…

  8. Jamie tweeted that she also managed to get a copy of the police report, where she found that the event organizer, Teri Arranga, told police that she and Ken were not allowed on the property, despite having properly registered for the event and at no time prior to that being told that they were not welcome.

    What gets me is that they welcome frauds like Wakefield and alleged felons like David Geier (charged with practicing medicine without a license), yet two people who have caused no problems, who have not broken any rules are booted.

  9. Chris

    Todd W., have you seen what Becky Fisher calls the Arrangas over at her JABSloonnies website?

  10. Gary: “It might be effective to have a whole gaggle of skeptics attend one of these woo-woo meetings. I expect they’d eventually run out of security. While they’re tossing out one of us, the rest can make their voices heard.”

    This wasn’t even trying to be heard. They just wanted to hear what Autism One had to say.

  11. Georg

    Do this special brand of antivaxxers have a mild sort of autism?
    Or are that people with autistic children looking for someone to blame for?
    Or both?
    Georg

  12. Carolyn

    That’s scary. On Radio 4 the other day (it may have been the Today programme in the morning) I heard someone who has written a book on the subject say that it is easier to stop people believing conspiracy theories in the first place than trying to change their minds once they’ve accepted them. The latter can be impossible, because they just extend the boundaries of the conspiracy.

    In Our Time (also) on Radio 4 yesterday: “Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of infectious disease”. One of the speakers said that vaccination has played a bigger role in the fight against disease than antibiotics.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011pldm

  13. Dan I.

    And I’m sure these people feel totally justified because clearly, if you aren’t a true believer, you’re there as some kind of spy for the machine.

    I highly recommend Jonathan Kay’s “Among the Truthers” which gets into this whole mindset they pervades all these conspiracies, from 9-11 Truth, to Birther, to Apollo Hoax, to Antivax. It’s all the product of the same broken logic processes.

  14. Bill

    Jamie was interviewed on last week’s Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast. You can grab the episode here:

    http://media.libsyn.com/media/skepticsguide/skepticast2011-05-31.mp3

  15. @Dan I.

    Actually, the spy accusation has been used to defend their expulsion. People claimed that they were merely there to “spy” on people and then post nasty things about them online, that attendees shouldn’t “have to be on guard”.

  16. I posted this on the Friendly Athiest after reading that the director of AutismOne, Teri Arranga, demanded the film from their cameras. (Despite their cameras being digital, of course.) I figured this might be a good point to make in case anyone else tries to attend an event like this and gets a similar confrontation:

    ===================

    To clarify a point of law (not that I’m a lawyer, but I am an amateur photographer and have heard of this kind of thing happening on many occasions), they have no basis for asking for your film or asking for you to delete the digital photos. (I know you did the latter willingly, but still they can’t “require” you to do so.)

    I can walk into a private yet, publicly accessible location (e.g. a mall) and begin taking photos. The owners can decide they don’t like me doing so and ask me to leave. I then must leave, of course, but they can’t demand the photos I took or say I must destroy them. (They definitely can’t try to confiscate your camera or memory card.)

    A good resource for any photographer is The Photographer’s Right ( http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm ).

    I know you were trying to be cooperative, but I just figured I’d clarify that you had every right to keep those photos intact while you left. In fact, you could undelete the photos (if you haven’t taken more on that memory card) and Teri/AutismOne couldn’t do a single thing to stop you from posting them online.

  17. @ Todd W.,

    Interesting. Even more so because they were never asked to leave initially. Instead, the police were told that they had been asked to leave and weren’t leaving. It’s hard to comply with a “leave the premises” order when you’re never given one.

  18. PayasYouStargaze

    Pretty shocking really. Hopefully this dangerous cult gets what’s coming to them.

  19. noen

    Contrawise Atheists also cannot tolerate anyone who effectively disagrees with their own dogma. Unless you are willing to play your part as their strawman fundamentalist Christian, atheists will do everything listed here and more.

  20. JB of Brisbane

    Way to set yourself up as a strawman fundie, noen.

  21. Wzrd1

    Noen, I’ve never found anyone who COULD effectively disagree with an atheist. Ever.
    At all. Every one that I heard or read ended up either sounding like a crackpot or an outright nincompoop.
    So, show me ONE that could effectively disagree with an atheist. Just one would suffice.

    Full disclosure, I’m not an atheist.

  22. Wzrd1

    All that I can say about the antivax convention is, where is Al Qaida when you need them…

  23. Ken

    Larian LeQuella @8: That’s one of the points Paul Offit makes in his book Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. The twigs-and-berries vendors can’t make money from real medicine – what with patents, licensing, and so forth – so they set up their own lines of woo where they can. Of course this does not stop them from joining the chorus of “you can’t trust doctors because they make money”.

  24. Todd Field

    Substitute “climate change activist” for anti-vax in this article and the story strangely is still the same. Phil, ever heard of “pot, meet kettle”?

  25. Todd Field (27): Bzzzzt. Nope.

    The activists for climate change are a very open group. All you have to do is look honestly at the data, and have no previous political or corporate bias when doing so.

    And mind you, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that the planet is warming.

  26. Many folks at that meeting may have had an axe to grind. Although vaccinations and autism are now thought to be unrelated, there was a time when it was still serious scientific inquiry. Many people look for reasons when bad things happen, like their child being autistic or similar disorders. Many, probably like those in this organization, are aware of no particular reason for autism and still believe in the vaccine causing hypothesis and the related cover-up hypothesis, even though there presently seems to be no accepted evidence to support it. These people would probably rather believe the vaccine hypothesis than genetics as a cause which could mean future children might have autism and scare some people from having more children, at least with the same mate.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Parenting/story?id=4114447&page=1

    A self-defense posture might have been the reason for their ire.

    BTW Phil, you both have a great smile :)

  27. @neon #22,

    From my experience atheists vary from person to person as much as the differences between people believing in totally different religions. Some atheists like to argue and are both defensive and offensive in their conversations on the subject, and others totally kick back and feel more at home with theists than with argumentative atheists.

    As an atheist myself, if I think I am talking to a person of faith, when asked what my beliefs are, I simply say that I am not religious. That usually ends the conversation on the subject, but if they ask further (often women), then I say that I prefer not to discuss such matters in a group but I will discuss it with you in private if you wish :) That has always ended such conversations for me. Also for the last umpteen years I have not enjoyed laughing at religion with other atheists.

    If I think someone is scientifically bent and probably not religious, and then am asked the same question, I generally will say that I am an atheist and no more. If they ask for clarification I might say that no one can prove that there is no god but based upon my studies, I believe man created god rather than the other way around. An argument on the subject does not appeal to me so that if one develops I might politely ask to be excused for some bogus reason, wishing not to argue the point or possibly decrease their faith or state of happiness.

  28. Daniel

    Other than the physical ejection, just how, exactly, is that attitude different from James Randi and other “skeptics” who flatly deny even the slightest possibility, no matter how small, that they just might be wrong in their opinions about things like ET’s visiting us; the possibility of collective brain-power influencing random number generators; etc.?

    Two hundred years ago, Randi would have been among the deniers of meteorites, because the Revealed Truth of Science (i.e., humanistic religion) said that such things simply were not possible.

    Scientists of years gone by scoffed at reports of the platypus; they scoffed at reports of mountain gorillas; yet most scientists and “skeptics” of today haven’t learned their lesson–they still scoff when they should humbly keep an open mind.

  29. Zathras

    @Daniel 31:
    There is one LARGE difference between Randi and the anti-vax folks/conspiracy believers:
    Show us a replicatable double-blind scientific experiment that shows brain-power influence, or hard evidence of ET visits (not some fuzzy photo-shoped picture of a pie plate).

    Last I noticed we have not only photos of playpuses and mountain gorillas, but skeletons and specimens of each species living in zoos. We also have metorite specimens that any scientist can look at and examine.

    To quote Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”

  30. tresmal

    Other than the physical ejection, just how, exactly, is that attitude different from James Randi and other “skeptics”

    Ummmm….. this?:

    In fact, skeptical groups welcome people who believe in various things we don’t (we’ve had them come to various TAMs; the effort we make in outreach could be improved, of course, but we certainly don’t turn them away — an important point, as you’ll see in a moment)

    My underline. That’s from the OP, did you read it?

    Two hundred years ago, Randi would have been among the deniers of meteorites, because the Revealed Truth of Science (i.e., humanistic religion) said that such things simply were not possible.

    Scientists of years gone by scoffed at reports of the platypus; they scoffed at reports of mountain gorillas; yet most scientists and “skeptics” of today haven’t learned their lesson–they still scoff when they should humbly keep an open mind.

    All scientists scoffed? At any rate scientists have changed their minds about platypods, mountain gorillas and meteorites.They changed their minds when presented with compelling evidence. That is a huge difference between skepticism and alt med and a host of other “alternative” beliefs. Present compelling evidence for any UFOs, ESP or any of a number of alt beliefs and they will change their minds again.
    You still don’t seem to understand skepticism. Skepticism is all about open mindedness. It’s nothing more sinister than open mindedness with standards.

  31. @Danial,

    I think there is a difference. James Randi, as the preeminent skeptic, goes to great lengths and expenses to expose those claiming truth in their magic. He does not make allegations but first looks for facts that might disprove claims of something real rather than a slight of hand. Like a prosecuting attorney he presents such evidence for all to evaluate, generally for the most outrageous claims only. He leaves it to those viewing the evidence to judge.

    Like Houdini, Randi himself is a magician and was an escape artist and does not ever disguise that there are “tricks” involved with his magic but said “I will not always reveal them.”

    He is best known today as a tireless crusader to expose those using “magic” and related tricks with claims that there are no tricks involved.

    He has never said that supernatural things do not exist, such as the paranormal and otherworldly actions for instance, instead he has investigated then said that all of his data is open for evaluation and you can make your own conclusions.

    …“skeptics” who flatly deny even the slightest possibility, no matter how small, that they just might be wrong in their opinions …

    As I said in another thread here, there are many definitions of a skeptic and one version of them, which I am, is very skeptical of what the mainstream believes, especially scientific theory — my favorites are natural selection and plate tectonics, and those that I think will fall: are the Big Bang model and the standard model of particle physics. Although I think these latter two theories are generally wrong, I also think that scientific belief is based upon a lot of so called evidence. As to ET’s visiting, and collective brain power possibilities, for instance, I believe such ideas have much less supposed evidence to support them.

    My type of skeptic is lightheartedly skeptical of all claims of validity (science or otherwise) since I am a theoretician. Hopefully, however, I am open minded enough to change my own theories and opinions concerning other theories when enough supporting or contrary evidence presents itself. As they say in Missoura: show me! (the “evidence”).

  32. HvP

    Daniel said, “Scientists of years gone by scoffed at reports of the platypus; they scoffed at reports of mountain gorillas”

    Unverifiable claims without evidentiary proof might have been scoffed at, however, based on those claims SCIENTISTS such as biologists, paleontologists, mineralogists, geologists, and naturalists explored the areas in question, gathered detailed evidence, wrote scholarly papers, and presented their findings (with supporting data) to the scientific community. And when the scientific community was presented with verifiable evidence they ACCEPTED the truth of their existence.

    Guess what? The scientific community HAS explored the various accounts of ETs, psychics, vaccine/autism claims, crystal energy, etc. and found them unsupported by the evidence. You’re going to have to do a lot better than the hollow assertion that scientists haven’t studied these things – because it is demonstrably false. A quick perusal of James Randi’s website alone will dispel the myth that he doesn’t test these assertions.

    The problem is simply that you don’t agree with the results, because when they are reasonably tested they fail every time.

  33. noen

    @ Wzrd1 Says:
    “Noen, I’ve never found anyone who COULD effectively disagree with an atheist. “

    Honey, atheism is a philosophical position, it is not the One Revealed Truth. Atheism /= science. “Effectively disagree” means “can present a coherent point of view”. The typical village atheist belief is “if you disagree with me, you must be wrong because I have The Truth.”

    I have never found an atheist who could tolerate a non-believer.

    “So, show me ONE that could effectively disagree with an atheist.”

    Go to any library and read. Or are you someone who never reads authors with whom they might disagree? The universe is not black and white, either/or. The universe is such that it admits of multiple conflicting truths. Relativity flat out contradicts QM which in turn flat out violates classical logic and string theory is so bad it isn’t even wrong. Or, at the very least, such is a viable position one can take.

    Whenever these topics come up and I see this atheist triumphalism on display I feel that I need to provide a counter balance. You see, I’m skeptical that atheism represents the One Truth. I rather doubt that.

    As to why anti-vaxers feel the way they do… I can sympathize. Governments lie, corporations lie, mercury is a neuro-toxin, heavy metals and pesticides are everywhere in the environment, mercury and arsenic is in our food, dioxin is in human breast milk, nearly every woman in the US has mercury in her womb, neuro-toxins are linked to autism, thimerosal was used in vaccines.

    So I can understand why people might not believe what they’re told. Your child, your beautiful wonderful child, got terribly sick almost right after her MSA. You know that governments lie and big pharma? Are you kidding? They have released drugs they knew would kill people just to make an extra buck… so hells yeah.. fear and distrust… it’s amazing more people aren’t in the anti-vaxer camp.

    Would you trust the life of your child to Donald Rumsfeld? You remember him, the war criminal who approved torture at abu ghraib. Who owned stock in the company that made Tamiflu. Who took the nation to heightened alert status over H5N1 for which Tamiflu was about the only effective treatment.

    Our wise and kind leaders would never put our children at risk just make a buck. Our wonderful corporations would never release products they knew to be harmful. Our government agencies designed to protect us would never become corporate revolving doors who would do “favors” for the very corporations they are suppose to police in return for a sweet deal. And no employee (umm, I mean scientist) has ever been pressured to falsify research data when billions in profits are on the line. So yeah, I can understand why some people might latch onto goofy ideas if it’s all they have.

    Because as we all know, mockery and ridicule followed by condescending dismissals are really effective means of convincing people of how right you are.

  34. HvP

    Noen,

    Everything you just said boils down to one basic premise. People are generally very very bad at risk analysis involving large numbers.

    Fact: Your child is at greater risk of contracting a preventable disease by NOT being vaccinated than of coming down with autism EVEN IF being vaccinated played any kind of role.

    Fact: Your child is at greater risk of complications from or dying of said preventable disease IF he/she contracts it than of having any severe handicap from autism IF he/she is diagnosed with it.

    Fact: Complications from said preventable diseases far outweigh complications from vaccines.

    Fact: The risks to your child from not vaccinating is FAR greater by every measurable standard than the risks to your child from vaccinating.

    Fact: Even if there was some small risk of a child coming down with autism from a vaccine (despite bountiful evidence to the contrary,) that small risk is still much more preferable than the child’s risk of developing much more serious and more likely complications from the disease which the vaccines guard against!

    Fact: Anyone concerned about the risks of vaccination have simply failed to understand the above points.

  35. Svlad Cjelli

    “The universe is not black and white, either/or.”

    Yes, it is. Shades of grey are patterns of black and white at a poor resolution more often than not.

    ” The universe is such that it admits of multiple conflicting truths.”

    No, it isn’t. Humans are such that they are all ignorant to some extent.

    “Relativity flat out contradicts QM which in turn flat out violates classical logic and string theory is so bad it isn’t even wrong.”

    Well, then those models are blatantly flawed, aren’t they? Why do you think we’re still working on them?

  36. @neon #36,

    Your showing a lot of knowledge in your postings but I suggest that your perspectives are a wee bit cynical :( Parts of science are contradictory because some of it is wrong, seems likely.

    Either god(s) exists or he doesn’t.

    Some have good motives and others don’t. All know this. I think it is wise to be aware of evil doers but concentrate on your sphere of influence and do the best that you can for goodness sake, or follow a religious guideline if you wish. But whatever you do try to be optimistic and have a smile on your face. It’s good for your physical and mental health, and it helps others feel the same way.

    ——-at least that’s my opinion :)

  37. Why would anyone in their right minds want to go to an antivax convention?

    So many diseases…

  38. PayasYouStargaze

    @40 Arik Rice: Most antivaxxers were probably vaccinated themselves when they were young. Unless they bring their kids along, it’s probably not that different to any large gathering of people.

  39. Lawrence

    Excellent point – I would guess the vast majority of anti-vaxers were vaccinated by their own parents, most of whom had first hand experience with the variety of diseases we now vaccinate for (measles, mumps, polio, etc).

    So, they turn around & deny those same benefits to their own children – way to go, not!

  40. noen

    HpV said:
    “Everything you just said boils down to one basic premise. People are generally very very bad at risk analysis involving large numbers.”

    Good morning. If that is what you got then I failed to communicate adequately. People just don’t *do* risk analysis based on scientific facts. They assess risk based on social realities. So my point then is that it is a waste of time and energy to cite scientific studies in an effort to convince people to join you in position XYZ.

    While I am diametrically opposed to him politically I do admire the work of Frank Luntz who crafts media messaging for the GOP. He bases his approach on real cognitive science on how people actually make decisions rather than how we might wish they did. My suggestion for effective messaging on the antivax (or global warming, or creation/evolution) controversy is *not* to recite science to people because you are just addressing those who are already on your side of the issue. You need to appeal to people in their emotional lives. Most people simply do not live a life of scientific analysis of relevant facts vs hypothesis.

    So… a more effective message then would either address people’s fears or, I don’t know, appeal to their social concerns. You just *will not* reach them citing research.

  41. Lakshmi

    I find it utterly disgusting how a bunch of stupid people with their antivax agenda will be responsible in driving this country back to the dark ages where diseases to which you and I are immune to will make a come-back because some idiots did not get vaccinated against them. Whooping cough, which was totally eradicated is making a come-back because some fundamentalist moron decided not to vaccinate their kid and sent them to schools to spread their ignorance. I would be amused to sit and watch this country’s fate in the hands of a bunch of fundamentalist idiots.

  42. noen

    Svlad Cjelli Says:
    “The universe is not black and white, either/or.”
    Yes, it is. Shades of grey are patterns of black and white


    People today seem to me to be incapable of thinking abstractly and interpret everything in concrete literal terms. I did not of course mean to refer to the colors black and white. The words “black and white” are abstractions not meant to be interpreted literally.


    “The universe is such that it admits of multiple conflicting truths.”

    No, it isn’t. Humans are such that they are all ignorant to some extent.


    That is a metaphysical position that you hold and through which you judge the value of contrary evidence.

    “Well, then those models are blatantly flawed, aren’t they?”

    Why yes you are absolutely right. If we get results that are contradictory or that violate classical logic then those results *must* be wrong. It just can’t be the case particles can interfere with themselves, it’s just *not possible* that something can be one thing, say a wave, and also it’s opposite, a particle. That just cannot *be*.

    At the very least this is a line of argument that intelligent people can pursue and is not patently absurd as your interactions with ignorant creationists or fundamentalists are. Which was my original point, that you (i.e. “the atheist community at large”) erect a strawman against whom you then do battle. My suggestion then is that you try intellectually *honest* debates with real opponents and not scripted battles with imaginary foes.

    If you are honest and a person of intellectual integrity then you will fairly represent those who disagree with you and not construct a false image, a round hole into which every square peg must be hammered into. In my experience the leading New Atheists simply do not do this. Richard Dawkins et al are intellectually *dishonest* and have imaginary battles with imaginary windmills and then proudly thump their chests when they defeat them.

    That kind of behavior is childish, immature and dishonest and is my primary disagreement with the atheist community.

  43. Autumn

    Neon, go over to pharyngula and check out the atheist convention videos. Plenty of people with contrary views were present, and were allowed, even encouraged to comment. Except for a group of disruptive protesters (whose protest was unrelated to the convention itself,) people weren’t kicked out, even after many repetitive and banal questions.

    So you are wrong in your initial assertion.

    I’ll accept your apology with grace.

  44. Autumn

    Oh, wait, now you’re claiming the ever-popular “Dawkins only addresses straw-man conceptions of religion” meme.

    You do realize that it is not a strawman if it is exactly what your interlocutor presents to you, right? Dawkins, and most people who disagree with religious ideas, address the actual ideas and beliefs as presented to them by believers. I do apologize if we have failed to look up the hundreds of philosophers who have managed to redefine “god” so much that the word has no relation to actual beliefs. We’ll find those guys after we’re done with the billions who define their gods in exactly the manner Dawkins and so many others address.

  45. Andrew

    >Relativity flat out contradicts QM

    Wrong – Quantum mechanics is completely consistent with special relativity – your science appears to pre-date 1928, which is relativistic QM was developed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirac_equation)

  46. Gary Ansorge

    45. noen

    ” If we get results that are contradictory or that violate classical logic then those results *must* be wrong. It just can’t be the case particles can interfere with themselves, it’s just *not possible* that something can be one thing, say a wave, and also it’s opposite, a particle. That just cannot *be*.

    Why? Just because we cannot detect such with our limited sensorium, cannot perceive such, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. In a sense, you’re right. Particles DON’T interfere with themselves however, since they have both wave and particle attributes, the wave aspect CAN and does self interfere. In quantum mechanics, a particle can be effectively, in two places at once. Quantum mechanics is the source of the technology you’re using to communicate with us. How can you claim it is invalid when these devices couldn’t even be built w/o that theoretical basis?

    Are the theories INCOMPLETE? Of course, they are. They’re approximations of reality, which is why we keep looking deeper.

    ,,,and your comment about string theory merely reflects current disagreements over whether we can ever successfully test it, which is also in error. String theory has certain consequences, as in the mass of the Higgs particle, for instance, which is one thing we’re looking for at the LHC. Different interpretations of string theory will fall by the wayside when we determine a Higgs mass. What’s left after that may point us in another direction. In either case, the Higgs particle will either confirm some versions of string theory or, if it doesn’t exist anywhere we expect it to exist, it will say the Standard Theory is wrong. One way or the other, one theoretical approach will fall.

    ,,,but that’s the essence of scientific progress. Make a theory, test the consequences and see where they lead.

    Personally, I’m hoping string theory prevails. It’s so much more interesting than the Standard Theory.

    Gary 7
    PS. Aristotle was wrong as often as he was right. He didn’t like the atomic theory. He was wrong,,,so much for classical logic.

  47. Acleron

    Noen:
    Have you noticed that the people here have engaged you politely? Have allowed you to discuss your viewpoints without trying to suppress your arguments? Have not deleted your postings or tried to eject you from the thread?
    This is not unusual in atheist/skeptical circles. :)

  48. noen

    #%$%#$ ate my reply to Autumn. Grrrrr. Maybe it’ll show up later.

    Gary Ansorge Says:
    “Particles … have both wave and particle attributes”

    My understanding is that this is not true. It is not the case that we with our thick fingers cannot help but mess things up when we attempt to measure the position and velocity of a photon. What is in fact the case, so I am told, is that there is no fact of the matter that obtains when a particle is not being observed. The Copenhagen interpretation remains as far as I know a viable position one can hold and it is seriously bizarre.

    “and your comment about string theory merely reflects current disagreements over whether we can ever successfully test it, which is also in error.”

    If you ask me a theory which we not only cannot ever practically test, but could not ever even *conceive* of testing is unfalsifiable and therefore is more akin to theology than science.

    Here’s a question, what if these incomplete theories *never* resolve? What if there is no “god equation”? What if physics is not the queen of the sciences? Imagine a world in which true statements about relativity conflict with true statements about particles and there just isn’t any way to ever bring them under a single narrative or model.

    What if your God, that there is one true description of the world, does not exist?

    There is not one shinning cathedral on the hill that is Science. There is not one glittering tower that is mathematics. There are multiple sciences, multiple maths, multiple logics all incommensurate with each other. The 19th century program to unify all of math under reign of set theory or logic was an utter failure. Todays mathematicians pick among the ruins of that once grand edifice. I suspect the same will happen to the physicists. That all attempts to unify science under the grand banner of physics will likewise fail utterly.

    What then?

  49. Gary Ansorge

    51. noen

    You might want to read the Scientific American.com exclusive online issue no. 29 that dealt with extreme physics. Of particular interest was an article on string theory by Raphael Bousso and Joseph Polchinski. Fascinating!

    ” That all attempts to unify science under the grand banner of physics will likewise fail utterly.
    What then?”

    The thing is, we can never KNOW if we’ve gone as far as it is possible to go or if we’ve merely gone as far as our MINDS can go.

    We just have to keep on trucking. It’s more about the journey than the destination,,,

    ,,,as to your “what if” questions,,,what if there IS such an equation? What if we Do find it? Wouldn’t THAT be cool?

    GAry 7

  50. @Gary Ansorge

    “… That all attempts to unify science under the grand banner of physics will likewise fail utterly. What then?”

    This, of course, is the S.A. author’s opinion. My opinion as a theorist is quite different. Little by little I believe we will gain the knowledge to realize the simplicity of it all. No extra dimensions, universes, etc. etc. etc. Everything that does not make sense now will either be clarified or replaced.

    “…The thing is, we can never KNOW if we’ve gone as far as it is possible to go or if we’ve merely gone as far as our MINDS can go…..”

    Don’t worry. In my opinion we have hardly scratched the surface concerning the fundamentals of how the universe works. Newton made a good start in explaining physics but little improvement has happened since, in my opinion. Much new, cool information is available but it is of little value if wrongly interpreted. I believe that reality is not complicated and all such ideas of a complicated universe today will unfortunately be one of the hallmarks of our confused times. Time will tell.

    I predict the fall and replacement of several major fundamental theories of today in the next quarter century, which is nothing in the grand scheme of time. In a couple hundred years I believe that the majority of today’s theories and beliefs will be replaced by much simpler and more correct theories and beliefs, again time will tell.

  51. Gary Ansorge

    53. forrest noble

    “In a couple hundred years I believe that the majority of today’s theories and beliefs will be replaced by much simpler and more correct theories and beliefs, again time will tell.”

    Well, YEAH! At least, I hope so. Today, we have lots of theories and far too little data to decide between them. As far as simpler,,,if you mean more likely to be comprehended by the average Joe,,,I doubt that will ever be the case. If by simpler, you mean elegant,,,maybe.

    ,,,and the above quote “That all attempts,,,” was NOT from SA. It was from Noen,,,

    Gary 7

  52. Gary Ansorge

    To return to the original subject, anti-vax, we must remain aware that people appear to desire two things(neurologically speaking), certainty and novelty. What we know(or THINK we know) provides a stable platform from which we can relax and find survival easy but novelty (and learning new things) is what we face when times become chaotic. Sometimes we become lost in the chaotic. That’s insanity, stressful and not likely to promote survival. Which is why only a few in any generation seek the edge,,,we lose some, occasionally(but sometimes, they bring back really useful knowledge). But that tendency to desire the novel, to learn something new is also an essential part of what we are. It’s what has allowed us to come this far. It’s also why the most creative among us often appear eccentric,,,and a LITTLE crazy.

    Those who adhere to simple, didactic solutions, even when they’re blatantly wrong, are just seeking to hold on to what they (think) they know, that ground that does not change,,,they’re really not like us.

    Gary 7

  53. Annexian

    Are you so sure that Vaccines are so good?

    What are you going to do when, say there’s a bad batch from some foreign lab that kills/maims thousands then a whistleblower says “There never was this syndrome this vaccine is for. We were ordering doctors under our belt to draw any connection and publish what we wanted. We even knew the Chinese lab had standards a basement biologist could beat.”???

    I’d like to think that actually you’d look into the issue and if it was likely correct make a statement. But, just one man’s opinion, I think you’d IGNORE it or if somehow you felt you had to address it, downplay it.

    You see, regardless of whether or not Bill Gates and the Reptilian overlords are using vaccines to slowly poison us for “Population Control” I am every bit as concerned for plain human greed and stupidity. I’ve said before and will say again a big corporation is literally built to avoid responsibility save making $ for investors. Combined with a special “Vaccine Court” paid by us, not them, there simply has to be a point where they cut corners enough and manufacture “Epidemics” to justify new vaccines (by media, or worse…) that some tragic accident happens. Then the public will bear the cost, the media will spin it, and some CEO will just retire to a private island despite having poisoned/killed 10s of thousands.

  54. Mike H

    @Annexian

    “Are you so sure that Vaccines are so good?”

    Compared to the alternative? Yup, absolutely. Especially in today’s world of near-unrestricted global travel (in sealed tubes of recycled air no less), the nightmare scenario is another natural pandemic like the Spanish Flu. Let’s not forget that it killed 50-100 million people, and infected approximately 1/3rd of the world population (stats from Wikipedia). Compared to your scenario that would require dozens if not hundreds of co-conspirators… I guess I’m just not that paranoid. For drug companies there are easier ways to make billions of dollars that don’t involve life sentences.

  55. Andrew

    Annexian: You never did get back to me with an apology for telling me my son was better off dead. I assume that’s an oversight.

  56. JB of Brisbane

    @Annexian #56 –
    “There never was this syndrome this vaccine is for. We were ordering doctors under our belt to draw any connection and publish what we wanted. We even knew the Chinese lab had standards a basement biologist could beat.”

    That’s a pretty big allegation, that pharmaceutical companies knowingly and deliberately push dangerous products which endanger public lives in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Got any proof?

  57. Chris

    Annexian:

    What are you going to do when, say there’s a bad batch from some foreign lab that kills/maims thousands then a whistleblower says “There never was this syndrome this vaccine is for.

    Go to your local public library. Find and check out the book The Cutter Incident. In it you will see a scenario much like you described that happened in the 1950s. You will also read what measures were taken to prevent it occurring again. If you open your mind a bit, you might actually learn something.

    Oh, do please apologize to Andrew about saying his son was better off dead. Truly saying “or worse, rather be dead than an Autistic ” is quite despicable.

  58. Mark Schaffer

    While I am certainly on the side of getting vaccinations and requiring that all children be vaccinated I cannot help but be concerned over the effects of profit on the actions of the pharmaceutical industry. See this clip from PBS on the same:

    http://video.pbs.org/video/1989920334/

    Keep in mind that the problem is not vaccinations but corruption by the profit motive.

  59. Mark Schaffer

    noen in post #36 wrote this: “As to why anti-vaxers feel the way they do… I can sympathize. Governments lie, corporations lie, mercury is a neuro-toxin, heavy metals and pesticides are everywhere in the environment, mercury and arsenic is in our food, dioxin is in human breast milk, nearly every woman in the US has mercury in her womb, neuro-toxins are linked to autism, thimerosal was used in vaccines.”
    You DO know that thimerosal was removed and the result on autism rates was nill don’t you? Oh well, knowledge marches on but you do not on this issue. I might even be inclined to agree with you on the wider concern of mercury release into the environment but try to keep your information up to date. Meanwhile I link back to an earlier Penn and Teller piece on vaccination that is very effective:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/30/penn-and-teller-take-on-vaccines/

  60. Chris

    Mr. Schaffer, please look at the table on page 30 of this report:
    http://timewellness.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/ihii_useofmed_report.pdf

    Where do vaccines fall in that table? Now you too need to get to your public library and check out the same book I suggested to Annexian. Plus you need to check out the latest from the same author that was released last December, which shows what happens when those same pharmaceutical companies decide not make certain products.

    Though, it should be noted that it was not a pharmaceutical company that decided people with tickets to a conference leave, and called the police. Now was it?

    Do you think that the vendors at the Autism One conference who sell hyperbolic chambers, supplements and expensive special food are more or less corrupt than the pharmaceutical companies? Are some of the presenters at the conference more or less corrupt? These included Andrew Wakefield who was removed from the UK medical registry due to committing research fraud, Dr. Mark Geier who has had his medical license suspended due to misdiagnosing and using dangerous therapies on children, and David Geier who is being charged with practicing medicine without a license.

  61. Annexian

    To Andrew,

    I am not and never going to apologize. I meant for ME, mmkay? Remember the “Andromeda Strain”? At the end of the movie they are trying to stop the nuclear bomb that’ll “Cleanse” the facility in any “Hits the fan” scenario and since they are breaking quaruntine, some are not helping fearing the horrible diseases stored there. It’s natural to fear disease, and the worst disease is Madness, that’s why crazy people have been shunned or put aside, people feared they’d infect them somehow. Oh, sorry to be so NON-PC…NOT. It’s time for PC to end once and for all. It’s not a nice, sugar coated world where we run around like teletubbies.

    JB – Proof:
    Let’s see:
    Thalidomide
    Asbestos
    Flammable Pajamas
    “Giving” breast milk formula in 3rd world countries until the mother’s milk dries, then charging full US retail price, starving babies to death for pennies.
    Draining wells dry in India, for cheap Cotton, for Soda pop manufacture…
    The Union Carbide moving a plant to Bhopal, India for a lesser $ issue WHEN not IF there was a disaster… (60 minutes exposed that years back, the If not when thing above negligence/liability)
    Oh, how ’bout how BP got a favor from former Veep Cheney to avoid the “Socialist” law forcing them to buy a new $100K blowout preventer…

    Oh, and THANK YOU Chris, for your contribution, more later…

    Long and short, if these companies somehow hold themselves to the standards you enshrine them for, they are men among men in the modern quick dirty profit. Matter of fact, they’d risk being taken to court by their investors for not doing every dirty thing to get the most money. What FAITH you have in these companies…

    Tell me, if you were a member of a major religious faith and a priest messed with you, would you lie prone in a church for priest after priest after priest to mess with you, because you can’t admit the org is corrupt…?

    Now, to Chris… I looked it up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutter_Laboratories
    They had a few resignations, perhaps some token fines. Can you say “Fall on your rubber sword, just to please the media?” And they went right back (at least) in the 80s for more bad drugs. Hemophilia drugs infected with AIDS…

    ——-“Another ex-manager John H Hink, who was also in the responsible team for marketing Koate to Asia, expressed regret in the documentary that management had required that old stock should be sold despite the HIV contamination.”

    Really, rrreally encouraging…thanks! Argues my point. The companies care about money, literally NOTHING else. Bad drugs that’ll kill people? Well the Vaccine Court uses OTHER people’s money to pay for their mistakes and they have a nice little niche that protects them from any and all liability.

    Make it clear, I’m for the science, but NOT for the “Big Companies”. IMO they are more evil and greedy than Reptilian Overlords who’d at least have a darkly cool sinister secret agenda over a long period of time, not just “next quarter’s profits and my 22nd yacht”. I think too many big companies make the vaccine with too little true risk and oversight and we are seeing the beginnings of what will become a deadly outbreak of disaster caused by institutionalized corruption on a scale never before seen.

  62. Andrew

    Annexian: I withdraw my request, and suggest that consult with a doctor about your various issues. Good day.

  63. @Gary Ansorge,

    “Today, we have lots of theories and far too little data to decide between them.”

    Here I’m talking about big theories that I believe will be replaced such as the BB model, the standard model of Particle Physics, Quantum theory and others.

    “As far as simpler,,,if you mean more likely to be comprehended by the average Joe,,,I doubt that will ever be the case. If by simpler, you mean elegant,,,maybe.”

    Of course this is just my opinion, but yes I think that reality is much simpler than present day theories indicate, and that future theories in general will be more correct and easier for the average person to understand. And I know you doubt this opinion, as you said.

    But as I said before, time will tell :)

  64. HvP

    “Today, we have lots of theories and far too little data to decide between them.”

    How do feel about the fact that it was the accumulation of new data that forced us to explore new theories in the first place?

    @forrest noble who said, “I think that reality is much simpler than present day theories indicate, and that future theories in general will be more correct and easier for the average person to understand.”

    I also find this unlikely. The trend over the past few thousand years has been away from intuitively easy to understand theories of reality. The Earth isn’t flat after all; it isn’t in the center of the universe; the stars are really big and unfathomably far away; the universe is so large than no person can actually comprehend either its size or exceedingly old age.

    I see no reason to believe that this trend will reverse. Simply put, our minds evolved to comprehend only those things that our biological senses could interact with over the course of the few short decades that has been the average lifespan of a human for the majority of human existence. We have had to invent ways of correcting for our evolutionarily biased presumptions about the universe.

    A bat can “see” sound in pictures, but your brain isn’t wired to do that. No person can truly grasp the immensity of how large one-trillion of anything is. Why should our understanding of the universe be any different?

  65. Chris

    Annexian:

    Thalidomide

    I was going to bring this up, but deferred as I thought it might confound the issue. But since you decided to post it without any explanation I have to ask some questions to see if you actually understand it as an issue:

    1) How many American children were affected by thalidomide?

    2) Who was Dr. Frances Kelsey and what was her role in regards to the use of thalidomide in the USA?

    3) What were the regulatory effects of Dr. Kelsey’s actions?

    4) Were there effects on medical products regulations in other countries?

    Please document your answers fully. I would suggest that you not use Wikipedia, because if we go on the one you cited, they can be quite incomplete. So my suggestion that you read the actual book is still valid.

    And finally some questions to understand your academic level:

    1) What and when were the last science and math classes you attended?

    2) When was the last time you read a non-fiction book?’

    3) Have you ever been to your local public library?

  66. Gary Ansorge

    56. Annexian

    If not for big corporations, spending on average 50 to 100 million dollars just to get thru the approval process for a new drug, who do you think should be manufacturing those drugs? They’re not going to be discovered, tested and approved by a guy in his garage and even he would have to make a reasonable profit just to stay in business. Do corporations and governments lie? Certainly! Are mistakes made? Without a doubt. But we are still better off today, with all those imperfections, because scientists, engineers and some of those bureaucrats we elect are the ones who find and correct those problems. We live longer, regardless of all these errors of judgement, so I guess overall, we’re doing something right. Usually, we learn something from our mistakes. I was born in the middle of WWII. I would not return to that time for all the iPads on earth and when you espouse the elimination of vaccines, THAT’S the society you seem to be longing for, when blacks couldn’t marry whites, when measles, mumps, polio and smallpox KILLED people, when civil liberties were generally more for the rich than the poor. We’ve come a long way, socially, medically and technologically. We’ve made mistakes and we’ll make more but we’ll learn from them. Welcome to the human race.

    66. forrest noble

    ” I think that reality is much simpler than present day theories indicate”

    IF it was simple, we’d have already figured it out. I expect we WILL bring concordance between relativity and QM. Perhaps with another bridging theory. I certainly don’t think reality is simple. I DO hope it’s elegant. Everything I’ve experienced in MY life suggests it is at the least,,,ambiguous.

    Some of us tolerate ambiguity very well. For those who don’t,,,tell you what, there’s a prediction registry on the web where you can go and place bets on what you think is going to happen(it’s on David Brins web site). Describe your beliefs and take a chance. You might win,,,

    Gary 7

  67. Mark Schaffer

    Chris,
    Since vaccines are powerful in their good effects and very low cost I am afraid your point is???
    Are you excusing pharmaceutical companies bad actions because they also do good? As to so called “alternative medicine”…quackery is the best description anyone could apply to it and note that there is overlap between it and traditional medicine when the interest revolves around profit over “first do no harm”.

  68. Gary Ansorge #69

    Thanks Gary for the tip on bets concerning my opinions of what will happen.

    “IF it was simple, we’d have already figured it out.”

    I think the problem is that current theories are far off the mark and therefore it is difficult for them to drastically reorganize the information available to recognize other possible perspectives and simpler possible models.

    Like other theorists my mathematics are not simple, but verbally my own theories are not complicated and have been generally understood by general-science readers. I think that simpler theories, as mine are, will in time replace those that presently are obviously complicated like the Big Bang model, for instance, which requires Inflation, an expanding universe, dark matter, dark energy, etc. My own model uses none of these.

    Click on my name and you will see my theories and can evaluate their relative simplicity whether right or wrong, as an example of why I believe reality some day will be shown to be relatively simple compared to the complicated theories of it today.

  69. Chris

    Mark Schaffer:

    Since vaccines are powerful in their good effects and very low cost I am afraid your point is???

    Um, and where is the answer to the question I actually asked? It involves a number. Did you miss that part? Along with the comparisons to the actions of Wakefield and the Geier family?

    Um, who in the big vast pharmaceutical vaccine organization have been stripped of their credentials? Come on! Break the news, give us their names! We want to know so that Wakefield, the Geiers and their merry band of quacks can continue to ply their wares to susceptible parents.

    And that you did not go to the library and read two books in less than a day. Or it is pointless if your reading comprehension is so poor that you missed that you should to a library and check out a book and actually read it. Or even answer the question you were actually asked?

    Or even missed what Dr. Plait’s article was even about? Here is a hint: it is about an organization that is so silly it cannot abide scrutiny from outside its closed ranks of pigeons, oh.. I’m sorry canaries. You know… the type of canaries that died when there was bad gas in a mine. Or wait, is it “pigeons” as in victim of a con artist? Sorry, in this context it is easy to get confused.

  70. Phyllis

    I cannot resist chiming in on the proclamation that it is impossible to effectively argue with an atheist. I think the intended meaning is that it is impossible to out-argue an atheist, or, by using religious arguments, to effectively convince an atheist that their position is wrong. One can launch very effective arguments without being successful in winning over the person with whom they are arguing, but that’s just me arguing over semantics, for more precise language. :-)

    My sweetheart is an atheist. He choses not to engage in never-ending debates, either. He does not feel that it is his responsibility to disabuse every religious person he meets of their “god delusion” (if I may borrow the phrase). Like me, he feels life is too short and would much rather get along with people than prove to them that he is right and they are wrong. I honestly don’t think he much cares who is right in the end, life is far more pleasant without such contentious debates. It is worth noting that one of his great friends is a devote catholic and they get along famously, despite having diametrically opposed world-views.

    My three children, at the moment, span the spectrum of religiosity (agnostic (like me), atheist and avid church-goer; it’s truly a fun household!!) and I’m teaching all of them to regard faith as an intimately personal and private issue that does not need to be paraded about in public. You would never ask an acquaintance what their sex-life is like, neither should you ask them what their personal faith or religion is – it’s none of your business, really. And, above all, every person is worthy of respect, regardless of what they believe in: we can disagree and still respect one another. My little atheist, in particular, I am teaching to be especially gracious, to always observe good manners and to be kind and accepting. Acceptance, by the way, does not imply or grant endorsement, it merely means that you acknowledge that something simply is what it is. Her belief that there is no god is no different than a christian’s belief that there is a god, since neither can provide hard evidence to support their position. That makes her no better and no worse than the christian, I tell her, and in the end, all we can do is to be kind to one another and try to make our little stretch of the world just a bit better than we found it. We do not need to agree on a religion in order to work together to make a difference.

    So, to proclaim that atheists, more than any other group of people, are impossible to argue with, because of a greater propensity on their part to be argumentative, is an erroneous statement. I have met just as many argumentative and confrontational protestants, catholics, montessorians, herbal remedy users, yoga practitioners and others who zealously defend their beliefs and go to any lengths to convert others to their world-views. I think this is not a trait or quality of those groups, but of those individuals. As for me, I think we could all use much more civility and acceptance in this world.

  71. Gary Ansorge

    The real problem is,,,faith has a hard time arguing with evidence and those pesky atheists keep falling back on evidence,,,

    GAry 7

  72. Mark Schaffer

    Chris,
    You have entirely missed the nuance of the point I raised. For the record the anti vaccers are dangerously delusional and risking harm to millions of people as a result. Vaccines are great and underfunded partly because they are not great money makers for an industry more interested in profit than public health.

    As Stephen J. Gould so elegantly put it, “Not being Mr. Brown doesn’t make you Mr. Green”. Chris, if you think about this statement the logic should be apparent to you. Because I raised a criticism of for profit medicine does NOT make me automatically a fan of the anti vaccination quackery.

  73. noen

    Phyllis said:
    “So, to proclaim that atheists, more than any other group of people, are impossible to argue with, because of a greater propensity on their part to be argumentative, is an erroneous statement. “

    Well it’s a good thing I never said that nor even implied it. What I said was that it *is* possible to give rational arguments that are not atheist dogma. Your husband notwithstanding, and I’m sure he is a fine person, my beef is with the New Atheist movement’s prominent leaders as well as certain online atheist personalities. In my experience these people are highly dogmatic, self righteous and bigoted. They don’t just feel that their belief system is the correct one, they arrogantly believe they have no beliefs and that atheism is not a philosophical position but the One Truth. Like all True Believers the New Atheists are willing and eager to impose their belief system on others, by force if necessary. The children of religious parents should be forcibly removed from their families and indoctrinated in the One True Faith by the state. Dawkins has also called for purging religious believers from the hallowed halls of science because, after all, thats what all totalitarians do. Sam Harris, aside from his full throated support of the Bush regime’s practice of torture, also claims that religious believers should *not* enjoy the rights to free speech those who hold the correct orthodox views enjoy. Then there is Pat Condell, well… just go listen to his spittle flecked racist tirades on YouTube. If you can stomach them.

    I judge trees by their fruit and if the fruit are poisonous then so are the roots that nourish them.

  74. Chris

    Mr. Schaffer:

    You have entirely missed the nuance of the point I raised.

    You mean you had a point other than a poisoning of the well? Because there has been bad marketing and fraud in some parts of the pharmaceutical companies does not make vaccines inherently bad. Especially since they would gladly get out of the vaccine market, and almost did happen in the mid-1980s. Something you would understand if you had actually looked at the table like I asked. Because how much profit can a company get from two MMR vaccines per child versus a lifetime of Gleevec at tens of thousands of dollars per year for the growing number of people it is keeping alive?

    It seems you have completely missed the point of the above article. It is about two people kicked out of a conference that they paid for just because the organizers did not like what they write. But, and here is the ironic point that you seemed to have missed: the same organizers allowed a man who has been convicted of medical fraud, another whose medical license has been suspended and one felon (which is what practicing without a medical license is) to stay and actually give presentations.

    Now, do try to stay on topic.

  75. noen

    “As Stephen J. Gould so elegantly put it, “Not being Mr. Brown doesn’t make you Mr. Green”. “

    Well it does if there is only the One Truth and all else be error. I do not object to the reality that vaccines do not cause autism, what I object to is the atheist triumphalism I often see on display whenever this and similar topics come up. So I take the opportunity to contribute my small voice in opposition.

    I am a skeptic and agnostic and as a skeptic I doubt that atheism is true. There is indeed a proud tradition of philosophical pragmatism (as well as other traditions) which serves as an effective and intellectually honest counter to the fundamentalist, black or white, absolutist, stinkin’ thinkin’ so popular today.

    Autumn spoke:
    “You do realize that it is not a strawman if it is exactly what your interlocutor presents to you, right?

    It is when you pretend that they represent the whole.

    “Dawkins, and most people who disagree with religious ideas, address the actual ideas and beliefs as presented to them by believers.”

    No, actually, they don’t. Just like Christian fundamentalists, atheist fundamentalists believe in orthodoxy and dogma. The orthodox say that there is but One Truth to which all else must bend their knee. Such black or white, totalistic, totalitarian belief systems are hardly confined to religion. They have found fertile ground in officially atheist nations as well. With predictable results. The fascination today with atheist fundamentalism will likewise have that same disastrous end.

    “I do apologize if we have failed to look up the hundreds of philosophers who have managed to redefine “god” so much that the word has no relation to actual beliefs.”

    It is your duty if you wish to be taken as a serious and honest intellectual to fairly represent those you accuse of the great and unforgivable crime of disagreeing with you. Failure to do so simply marks you as a child. Richard Dawkin may have once been a competent biologist 30 years ago but since that time he has shown himself to be little more than a prattling fool. Proudly thumping his chest and pontificating on things he is almost completely ignorant of. You don’t see him strutting about so much anymore. That is because arrogance + ignorance has a very short half life.

  76. HvP

    Noen said, “Well it does if there is only the One Truth and all else be error.”

    What are you talking about when you cite this possibility?

    You said, “There is indeed a proud tradition of philosophical pragmatism… which serves as an effective and intellectually honest counter to the fundamentalist” etc…

    So what philosophical position do you hold to then? Most atheists that I know honestly admit that they are agnostic atheists. They are comfortably aware that they cannot with any certainty prove the negative that no gods now or have ever existed. They simply withhold belief in something for which they have no logical or physical evidence. It’s kind of like the way that I’d guess you don’t believe I have a flying pink unicorn in my garage despite having no evidence to the contrary.

    Now if I were to become your representative in whatever jurisdiction you live in and started passing laws against planting certain grass in your lawn because eating that kind of grass makes the flying pink unicorn ill – would you not have a problem with that?

    There are many areas where the religious and non-religious can and do live peacefully and happily. Most of the time these philosophical beliefs are simply irrelevant. But there are issues where they are relevant. Putting society at risk of infectious disease is one of those relevant issues.

  77. HvP,

    Just “a little” elaboration on the points which you mentioned.

    As to the idea of an “agnostic atheist?”

    It is certain that nobody can prove that there is no Santa Claus. We can prove that he probably doesn’t live at the north pole, that it seems impossible that he has flying reindeer, that he delivers presents to all children on Christmas, or that he slides down all chimneys on Christmas eve, etc. For the same reasons one cannot disprove the existence of the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny — even though you can pretty much disprove the classical explanations of what they supposedly do.

    In the same way god could never be disproved. All you could say is that you are an “a”santa clause, or an “a”Easter bunny, even though you could probably find many people who would testify that they have faith that these entities exist, primarily children of course :)

    Only a generally uneducated person would say in the same way that there is proof that there is no god.

    From Wiki you get these definitions for atheism: 1) Atheism is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. 2) .. is the position that there are no deities (3) atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.

    In contrast theism in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

    The point is that if you believe there is no god, or more convincingly you have done the necessary homework and studies and have come to the conclusions that there is no god, that you should simply be called an atheist. If one says that they lack the certainty of belief in god, people who simply say that they don’t know, or who believe or think there is evidence to support both positions, they would likely call themselves an agnostic.

    Of course many atheists like theists are much more knowledgeable concerning “the facts” than others. Those that have less knowledge, such as those involved with state sponsored atheism for example, could be called “agnostic atheists” but atheists in this country do not fall into this category.

    As for myself, I am well educated on the matter and have come to the conclusion that man created god(s) rather than the other way around. As a teenager after becoming educated in many religions and much science for my age, I came to the conclusion at age 15 that god did not exist, and also that most major scientific theories of today were also generally or totally wrong. I became a skeptic but also decided which few theories did make sense to me such as natural selection and plate tectonics, to name a couple.

    I consider myself to be the opposite of a cynic and an eternal optimist believing that in time the general populous of most counties will wake up in their long intellectual slumber concerning the serious logical problems with many beliefs and theories of today.

    This, I believe, is a valid axiom: if it doesn’t make sense to you, don’t believe it! Each person is responsible for their own beliefs in religion or theory, and don’t blame anybody else if one day you wake-up to realize that some of the things that you presently believe are wrong.

    Other than religion vs. natural selection, most people are not committed to any particular theories and take an agnostic position concerning much of science. Only by education and study of a particular subject can your opinions of it become more committed or possibly more valid.

  78. Mark Schaffer

    Chris,
    Please quote the next sentence of what I wrote and think about what the word “context” means. Then stop getting so worked up against someone who is on the side of both the idea of vaccination and upping it’s use. Save your venom for those who kicked the skeptic out of their little coffee klatch. As for you, noen, for the record I am not an Atheist and was not commenting on that topic. If you must know I remain in the Agnostic camp.

  79. @HvP #67

    “The trend over the past few thousand years has been away from intuitively easy to understand theories of reality. The Earth isn’t flat after all; it isn’t in the center of the universe; the stars are really big and unfathomably far away; the universe is so large than no person can actually comprehend either its size or exceedingly old age.”

    I know here you were referring back to the ancient Greeks when you said ” the past few thousand years.” But in the last few hundred years I consider most of Newton’s material to be totally logical.

    Even though much of the Greek philosophers intuition has turned out to be wrong, it was partly because they had little experimental evidence to go by; at least they were probably always thinking. On the other hand I think much of today’s physics is devoid of common logic concerning the explanations of it. I think a prime example of this lack of logic is quantum theory, another is warped space — whether or not the mathematics are correct. Of course just because a theory does not seem logical does not mean that for that reason it should be changed, only that all should be skeptical when theories do not follow common sense, are contradictory, make few or no new predictions, continuously require changes and addendums, and when new observations result in continuous, unpredicted surprises. Such an example is the Big Bang model.

  80. HvP

    forrest noble,

    Re: definition of (agnostic) atheism: Mostly I agree that it is acceptable to simply refer to oneself as an atheist if you simply don’t believe in gods. I also agree with the definitions of atheism that you provided. Now, go and look up the definitions of agnosticism. You will find that it can be used as a qualifier to clarify a person’s position about why one believes what they believe.

    I am an atheist = I don’t believe in any gods.
    I am an agnostic = I don’t have the required evidence needed to believe in the existence or non-existence of gods.
    I am an atheist because I am agnostic.

    Some people are wired differently. Some people find it more comfortable to believe in gods until shown otherwise even if they admit that they cannot know for sure if they exist. They would be agnostic theists. Some people simply don’t care either way.

    I understand that the term agnostic has come to mean “undecided”, but that is a limited case of a broader meaning. Theism/atheism is a statement of belief. Agnosticism is a statement of knowledge. They are not mutually exclusive.

    And for the record, religion and the philosophy of science are areas that I have and continue to explore to my great satisfaction. I am not particularly concerned as to whether or not you Believe in the theory of the big bang. Suffice it to say that the data concerning the expansion rate of observed galaxies came first, and the theory to explain the data came next. The theory has served its purpose within the limits we now acknowledge. Surely, the theory will be refined or replaced to accommodate new data. Unlike you, I don’t believe that the underlying framework of the universe should be something we will understand. I only believe that we should make the effort to do so as much as we are able and I think that we have made progress towards that goal.

    But I do have a nagging concern. You state that you believe that quantum theory, and relativistic space warping are both devoid of logic concerning their explanations of reality. I assume that this must be a philosophical position on your part concerning the shall we say intuitiveness of that explanation. You cannot be seriously alleging that quantum theory and relativity are devoid of logic in the mathematical or scientific sense. They both deal heavily in the realm of statistical probability and measurable space and time. They both obey very rigid logical frameworks and are regularly supported by many thousands of experimental observations. Cellular phones, GPS navigation, flash memory, LEDs… well, pretty much the entirety of modern electronics follows the rules laid out by quantum mechanics and all precision satellite systems rely on relativistic theory. So if they do follow a different kind of logic than you desire, at least they all do it consistently.

    But that’s a practical matter. I’m assuming that you are more interested in the realm of intuitiveness than logic. People tend to be wary of things that they can’t relate to in common usage. After all, a hexadecimal system of counting is quite logical, but it doesn’t seem natural. I’m guessing your are bugged by the idea that our model of universal gravitation (for example) may not actually represent what’s actually down there doing the work.

    Honestly? It bugs me a bit too. But you know what? Molecules don’t look like little billiard balls on springs; electrons don’t leave behind little “holes” in their previous position when they move; and I’m sure that the idea that space bends like a rubber sheet is an over simplistic distortion (haha) of the reality.

    I do believe that molecules really exist and that they interact with each other in ways that can be modeled by our current theories. I do believe that electrons exist and do move between atoms in ways that carry charge as modeled by electromagnetic theory. And I do believe that galaxies are moving away from each other in ways that can best be explained by the current theory of the big bang.

    What I don’t believe is that these things must make sense to humans in the same way that things do in our normal daily lives.

  81. @HvP #83

    “I understand that the term agnostic has come to mean “undecided”, but that is a limited case of a broader meaning. Theism/atheism is a statement of belief. Agnosticism is a statement of knowledge. They are not mutually exclusive.”

    As to the root meaning of “agnostic,” “a” means not in Greek and “gnos” means knowing or knowledge. The simple meaning is to profess that you don’t know or don’t have knowledge. The most common application of the word concerns religion. As I just read, the word is fairly new in the English language tracing its source to English print in 1869. Of course it can mean “undecided” or have other nuisances as you suggest.

    “…You state that you believe that quantum theory, and relativistic space warping are both devoid of logic concerning their explanations of reality. I assume that this must be a philosophical position on your part concerning the shall we say intuitiveness of that explanation.”

    No it’s not a philosophical position. I am a theorist myself. Click on my name and you can view my theories and technical papers.

    In mathematics General Relativity (GR) requires dark matter, which is required since GR is not even close to explaining the rotation rates of stars in our galaxy or any other spiral galaxies (it is off by a factor of more than 200). As to warped space, as I said before there is no evidence of it since observations indicate that the observable universe via the Hubble telescope, appears to be “flat” (follows Euclidean geometry).

    The most “illogical” of all major theories concerning verbal explanations I believe is quantum theory. The mathematics of Quantum Mechanics follow both statistics and a long history of observation but I think the verbal explanations of the theory, in time, will be completely changed. What I believe what is theoretically missing from the theory are the “hidden variables” proposed by Einstein and many others including recent proposals.

    “I do believe that molecules really exist and that they interact with each other in ways that can be modeled by our current theories. I do believe that electrons exist and do move between atoms in ways that carry charge as modeled by electromagnetic theory.”

    My own theories are not much in conflict with these theories you mention above excepting that the fundamental structures of matter accordingly are looped stings of fundamental particles rather than the round particles in today’s theory. But different from string theories in general there are only 3 simple Cartesian dimensions.

    “And I do believe that galaxies are moving away from each other in ways that can best be explained by the current theory of the big bang.”

    The expanding universe is the keystone of the BB model. If that is wrong it would be obvious that the entire model is wrong. My own theory has a different explanation of galactic redshifts.

    The model proposes that all matter particles slowly unwind/ rewind causing them to become smaller by about 1/1000 part every 5 million years. This explains the observed redshift of galaxies (i. e. rather than space expanding matter becomes relatively smaller). The primary evidence for this process that I propose, other than the observed galactic redshifts, is the innate particle spin (angular momentum) of fermions which is otherwise unexplained. The model is generally a steady state model for the observable universe but proposes that matter, space, and time are finite but that the universe is much older than the BB model could allow. The model proposes that the beginning was tranquil and no different from particle spin today. The math of the model differs from the standard BB model but has similarities.

    best regards, Forrest

  82. Chris

    Mr. Schaffer, I think the people commenting on atheism are tiresome, and I have been ignoring them. You were going off topic by discussing the pharmaceutical companies, and not the behavior of the organizers of Autism One. Have you been paying attention?

    You were caught using a strawman argument and poisoning the well fallacy. Stop trying to deny it.

    Oh, and folks discussion atheism… what on blue blazes does this have to do with the topic at hand? It is just that Jamie does not have her own blog so she posted her story on two blogs, one of which has the word “atheist.” Now go read both of her blog posts, stop your silliness, and go play somewhere else.

  83. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (22) said:

    Contrawise Atheists also cannot tolerate anyone who effectively disagrees with their own dogma. Unless you are willing to play your part as their strawman fundamentalist Christian, atheists will do everything listed here and more.

    OK, then, ante up.

    Where – exactly – on Bad Astronomy has any atheist refused to accept a logical argument backed up with evidence?

  84. Nigel Depledge

    Forrest Noble (29) said:

    Many folks at that meeting may have had an axe to grind. Although vaccinations and autism are now thought to be unrelated,

    No. Not thought. Known. The studies have been done and the results are clear enough. If 500,000 Danish children isn’t enough statistical power, then the effect you’re looking for is trivially small in the first place.

    there was a time when it was still serious scientific inquiry.

    When was this?

    Was it ever really a serious consideration, or were the studies done simply to establish the data needed to refute the wacky claims of the antivaxers?

    Many people look for reasons when bad things happen, like their child being autistic or similar disorders.

    This is human nature. We all do this to some extent.

    Many, probably like those in this organization, are aware of no particular reason for autism

    To the best of my knowledge (it is not my field of expertise), no-one knows what causes autism. However, this is no way constitutes support for [pet hypothesis X].

    and still believe in the vaccine causing hypothesis and the related cover-up hypothesis,

    Your use of the word “hypothesis” here lends credibility where none is deserved. The “cover-up” idea was never anything more than wild speculation to cover up the application of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

    even though there presently seems to be no accepted evidence to support it.

    And a whole truckload of evidence to refute any link between vaccines and autism.

    These people would probably rather believe the vaccine hypothesis than genetics as a cause which could mean future children might have autism and scare some people from having more children, at least with the same mate.

    This, too, is human nature. But it does not change the harm the antivax movement does.

  85. Nigel Depledge

    Forrest Noble (30) said:

    Also for the last umpteen years I have not enjoyed laughing at religion with other atheists.

    Eh?

    I’ve not been aware of atheists who laugh at religion.

    I have, though, been aware of atheists laughing (and pointing) at some of the things religious people do in the name of their religion.

    Were you perhaps conflating these two possibilities?

  86. Nigel Depledge

    Daniel (31) said:

    Other than the physical ejection, just how, exactly, is that attitude different from James Randi and other “skeptics” who flatly deny even the slightest possibility, no matter how small, that they just might be wrong in their opinions about things like ET’s visiting us; the possibility of collective brain-power influencing random number generators; etc.?

    The very fact that you ask this question betrays a lack of understanding of reasoning processes.

    A major principle of logic (certainly when making comments about the world and the universe) is not to assume the existence of anything for which you have no evidence.

    There is no unequivocal evidence that alien spaceships have ever visited Earth. Everything that the UFO nuts cite as “evidence” has at least one more mundane – and overwhelmingly more plausble – explanation.

    As for “collective brain power” influencing random-number generators, this has been tested and found wanting. Any “evidence” that may seem, on the face of it, to support this phenomenon does not have the statistical power to convince anyone who does not already believe in the phenomenon.

    And so on.

    Two hundred years ago, Randi would have been among the deniers of meteorites, because the Revealed Truth of Science (i.e., humanistic religion) said that such things simply were not possible.

    Erm, probably not.

    If you take the trouble to, y’know, actually investigate what you allude to, you may find that people were sceptical of meteorites because there was – at the time – no good evidence for them (or more plausible explanations had not yet been ruled out). But, seriously, science today and the natural philosophy of 200 yeqars ago are very different things. The mid- and late- nineteenth century saw revolutions in the way in which we discover and learn about the world.

    Scientists of years gone by scoffed at reports of the platypus; they scoffed at reports of mountain gorillas; yet most scientists and “skeptics” of today haven’t learned their lesson–they still scoff when they should humbly keep an open mind.

    This is wrong.

    Those who discovered the platypus etc. did not return to Europe with evidence that was of a sufficient standard to convince the naturalists of the time. If you think about it, you will see that the claim of the existence of the platypus (i.e. a creature that is so very different from almost all other mammals or reptiles) is extraordinary. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Once live specimens of the platypus were brought to Europe, those self-same scientists who may once have scoffed accepted its existence. Because the evidence was convincing.

    Contrast this with the antivax moevement, where people actively avoid learning about evidence or concepts that might challenge their world-view. This is confirmation bias taken to the extreme. (Confirmtion bias, BTW, is also a very human characteristic, which is why sceptics must work so hard to avoid it).

    Randi has, on several occasions, put himself in a position to observe a proponent’s “evidence” for some phenomenon or other. In all cases, the alleged evidence has not withstood critical appraisal.

  87. Nigel Depledge

    Tresmal (33) said:

    Skepticism is all about open mindedness. It’s nothing more sinister than open mindedness with standards.

    Yes! This!

  88. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (36) said:

    Honey, atheism is a philosophical position, it is not the One Revealed Truth.

    This is a false dichotomy, because atheism is neither of these things.

    Atheism is the only logical conclusion one can reach about religion, but there are various degrees of atheism. Almost no atheists at all will claim that there is absolutely no god, because the god of the bible is impossible to disprove. A great many agnostics are functional atheists, becuase they do not participate in religious ceremonies on a regular basis.

    Any position that assumes the existence of god (or claims to “know” that god exists) violates the principle of parsimony and is therefore irrational. On the whole, humans are very good at being irrational.

  89. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (36) said:

    Whenever these topics come up and I see this atheist triumphalism on display I feel that I need to provide a counter balance. You see, I’m skeptical that atheism represents the One Truth. I rather doubt that.

    Fine.

    If you want to disagree, you disagree. But do so with reason and logic, not with dismissal or trivial soundbites.

    Present one logical argument, or one piece of evidence, to refute atheism. (And, please, not the strawman about atheists claiming that god does not exist – even Dawkins himself has publicly supported a campaign that stated god probably doesn’t exist).

  90. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (36) said:

    As to why anti-vaxers feel the way they do… I can sympathize. Governments lie, corporations lie, mercury is a neuro-toxin, heavy metals and pesticides are everywhere in the environment, mercury and arsenic is in our food, dioxin is in human breast milk, nearly every woman in the US has mercury in her womb, neuro-toxins are linked to autism, thimerosal was used in vaccines.

    While some of this is kinda true, it is still a load of garbage.

    People encountered toxic metals in the environment for many thousands of years before we had any means by which to measure them. What matters is the dose.

    If you consider all corporations to lie, what do you eat? How can you trust the food you put on your plate if you have not grown it yourself? (And, BTW, individual shopkeepers used to lie a lot more than big corporations in order to sell more, which is why brand names came into existence.)

    If you consider governments to lie, how do you choose what and whom to believe?

    Or do you – like 95% of the population – accept those statements with which you agree while rejecting (as lies) those with which you disagree. When was the last time you thought someone was lying when they said something with which you (at least vaguely) agreed? Do you consider yourself to know everything about everything or do you accept the possibility that you may be wrong about some things? If the latter, does this apply to every opinion you hold that concerns your government or only to some?

    While elemental mercury is indeed a toxin, it has never been used in vaccines. Like all toxins, the toxicity is in the dose (in fact, for a chemical substance to qualify as “toxic”, it must have a relatively low dose at which it can kill animals).

    Heavy metals, pesticides and so on may well be all over the place, but we only know this because we can detect these substances at levels that are – as far as anyone can tell – harmless.

  91. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (43) said:

    People just don’t *do* risk analysis based on scientific facts. They assess risk based on social realities.

    No, they don’t. People (generally) don’t assess risk at all. They just go with what they feel like.

    So my point then is that it is a waste of time and energy to cite scientific studies in an effort to convince people to join you in position XYZ.

    This depends. If someone is genuinely undecided or open-minded about an issue, then such facts and figures can be persuasive. If someone has already chosen a position, then quoting facts that contradict their chosen position can sometimes make them become entrenched in that position.

  92. Nigel Depledge

    Noen said:

    “The universe is such that it admits of multiple conflicting truths.”

    To which Svlad Cjelli replied

    No, it isn’t. Humans are such that they are all ignorant to some extent.

    And Noen’s response was:


    That is a metaphysical position that you hold and through which you judge the value of contrary evidence.

    And this is not an answer.

    Your initial statement, that the universe holds multiple conflicting truths, is only valid for an unusual definition of the word “truth”. By most standards of “truth”, the universe has one version, and one version only, of true. However, human attempts to understand the universe result in approximations to that truth that may have different levels of validity. The easiest example is Newtonian gravitation versus General Relativity. Newton’s theory of gravity turned out to be a special case of GR.

    Certain aspects of GR conflict with other theories (Quantum Mechanics in particular), and it may well turn out to be a special case of some even broader theory.

    However, what we can be certain about in this example is that GR is at the very least a good approximation to the truth of how gravity operates.

  93. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (45) said:

    Why yes you are absolutely right. If we get results that are contradictory or that violate classical logic then those results *must* be wrong. It just can’t be the case particles can interfere with themselves, it’s just *not possible* that something can be one thing, say a wave, and also it’s opposite, a particle. That just cannot *be*.

    I’m assuming you are being sarcastic, or did you fail to notice that Svlad Cjelli (38) stated that we are still working on those models?

    At the very least this is a line of argument that intelligent people can pursue and is not patently absurd

    Except, the way you phrase it, it is patently absurd. So, by your own standards, I must conclude that you are not intelligent. ;-)

    as your interactions with ignorant creationists or fundamentalists are.

    What aspect of Svlad Cjelli’s interactions with creationists or fundamentalists is absurd?

    And, while you’re at it, which aspect of the creationist / Christian fundie viewpoint isn’t itself absurd?

    Which was my original point, that you (i.e. “the atheist community at large”) erect a strawman against whom you then do battle.

    Er … no. The creationists really do claim some stupidly ludicrous stuff, which is blatantly contradicted by known facts. A simple example is the YEC claim that the Earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. There are at least a dozen different lines of evidence that flat-out contradict this claim, yet they cling to it. That is not a strawman, it really does deserve the laughing and pointing.

    My suggestion then is that you try intellectually *honest* debates with real opponents and not scripted battles with imaginary foes.

    Hey, you’re preaching to the choir here. This is what sceptics do. The people who don’t behave the way you exhort us to are the fundies, yourself included. For example, I have yet to see you back up your claims about atheists with real quotations from the atheist or atheists in question.

    If you are honest and a person of intellectual integrity then you will fairly represent those who disagree with you and not construct a false image, a round hole into which every square peg must be hammered into. In my experience the leading New Atheists simply do not do this. Richard Dawkins et al are intellectually *dishonest* and have imaginary battles with imaginary windmills and then proudly thump their chests when they defeat them.

    Well, in order for you to prove that you are not a screaming hypocrite, you ought to back up this claim with evidence.

    Who, among prominent atheists, has constructed strawmen? When did they do it, where was it published, and what were their exact words?

    That kind of behavior is childish, immature and dishonest and is my primary disagreement with the atheist community.

    And you have not demonstrated that atheists do any of these things, you merely assert it and expect everyone to accept that you are right. So, in essence you are guilty of constructing a strawman and then beating your chest in triumph when you defeat it.

    Hypocrite.

  94. Nigel Depledge #88

    I generally agree with your comments but have a more light hearted opinion of most people who follow movements, or join organizations like the anti-vaxers. They often are cynical or paranoid people to start with or have become that way because of unexplainable events that have greatly impacted their lives such as autism in the family. Many have not done their homework on all sides of the question and prefer interpretations of events that affirm their own world view. In the case of of autism, many probably have children or empathize with the parents of autistic parents. Although many, I think, would honestly wish to know the truth but would rather look for an external cause of autism such as vaccinations, rather than genetics which is presently thought to be the primary cause of autism according to the sources that I have read. There would be no one to blame if genetics were the cause.

    “I’ve not been aware of atheists who laugh at religion.”

    Sorry to say that in years past, when the internet was getting started, I participated in conversations concerning the stupidity of religions in general, particularly in this country as most of those conversation went. It was sort of a given concerning foreign religions. Those were often not discussed since there was too much agreement :) I no longer see the fun in it and view those that do as being less mature in their own atheistic belief.

  95. Mark Schaffer

    Chris,
    Whatever. For the record, one more time: Antivaxxers bad, skeptics good, evidence good, logic good, pharmaceutical companies amoral.

  96. Chris

    … and strawmen can catch fire.

  97. Noen,

    I don’t know where you live, but if you are ever in Chicago you are welcome to come to any of our skeptic events as my guest. It’s generally a respectful and fun group and we love having people there that do not necessarily agree with us. We don’t kick people out based on their beliefs.

    I’m completely serious. Send me an email if you’re ever planning on being in Chicago: jamie at womenthinkingfree dot org.

    Cheers,
    Jamie

  98. Gary Ansorge

    This link refers to the numerous genetic alterations found in autistic children as probable contributors to the syndrome.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=autism-genetic-mutations&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_EVO_20110613

    GAry 7

  99. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (51) said:

    Gary Ansorge Says:
    “Particles … have both wave and particle attributes”

    My understanding is that this is not true. It is not the case that we with our thick fingers cannot help but mess things up when we attempt to measure the position and velocity of a photon. What is in fact the case, so I am told, is that there is no fact of the matter that obtains when a particle is not being observed. The Copenhagen interpretation remains as far as I know a viable position one can hold and it is seriously bizarre.

    You seem to be confusing Heisenberg Uncertainty with wave-particle duality, but they are separate.

    Whether a particle (an electron, say) appears to behave like a wave or a particle depends on how you observe it. A theory (QM) that embraces entities with both wave-like and particle-like properties works. Theories that do not permit wave-particle duality do not work.

    At the end of the day, waves and particles are simply means by which we humans imagine the interactions of things in the sub-microscopic world. Classical chemistry, for example, generally works fine considering electrons as particles, but there are some molecules where you can only understand the electron orbitals if you accept that electrons are smears rather than points.

  100. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (51) said:

    If you ask me a theory which we not only cannot ever practically test, but could not ever even *conceive* of testing is unfalsifiable and therefore is more akin to theology than science.

    The commenter did not say that string theory cannot ever be tested, only that there is disagreement about whether it can or not. This morning, I read an article in New Scientist about a new measurement of the shape of the electron that has the potential to rule out several types of string theory.

    Who would have conceived (20 years ago, say) that such a thing would occur?

    Go back 100 years, and who could have conceived of MRI (for instance)?

    We cannot know what measurements may or may not be possible in the future, and what inferences may be made from the measurements that are made.

    Here’s a question, what if these incomplete theories *never* resolve?

    What do you mean, never?

    We can only know that a theory will never resolve when we stop trying to resolve it. Otherwise, you are expecting us to be able to predict things at the end of time, or something.

    Look at Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, or Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Each looked like making a dead end, yet they both have led to advances that could not have been imagined previously.

    What if there is no “god equation”?

    So what if there isn’t? The journey of finding this out will surely teach us lots about the universe anyway.

    What if physics is not the queen of the sciences?

    As a biochemist, I disupte this anyway. ;-)

    Imagine a world in which true statements about relativity conflict with true statements about particles and there just isn’t any way to ever bring them under a single narrative or model.

    We don’t need to imagine it. GR requires spacetime to be smooth, while QM requires it to be lumpy. At the moment, it’s a case of horses for courses. But the interface between GR and QM is a truly exciting area for exploring new ideas.

    Your comment makes it sound like you think this is a bad thing. What do you think the implications are of such a scenario?

    What if your God, that there is one true description of the world, does not exist?

    What of it?

    OK, I will dispute your use of the word “god”. That suggests something sacred, and the whole point about critical thinking is that nothing should be sacred. Unless it proves itself to be so.

  101. Nigel Depledge

    Annexian (56) said:

    Are you so sure that Vaccines are so good?

    Uh, yeah.

    No other human invention or discovery has saved as many lives as vaccination.

    What are you going to do when, say there’s a bad batch from some foreign lab that kills/maims thousands

    Rather than invent doomsday scenarios, let’s have a look at the systems that prevent such things from occurring.

    First, any new vaccine must be tested before it can be marketed. The testing goes through 4 stages. Pre-clinical trials, followed by phase I – III of Clinical trials. I believe I describe these further up the thread (or maybe that was in the previous thread that mentioned vaccines, I don’t recall exactly).

    Assuming that the results are generally positive (depending on the disease against which the vaccine provides protection, some adverse reactions to it will be tolerated), the regulatory authority (the FDA, EMEA, MHRA or whichever, depending on where the vaccine is to be marketed) will approve the vaccine for marketing. But actually, there’s at least two other steps in between. The regulator must audit the manufacturing site, and must audit the company that developed the vaccine. If they both comply to GMP, and if the Clinical trial results are positive, then the vaccine will get a licence.

    For a bad batch or bad product to kill thousands, one of two things must occur. Either:

    1. An undetected and dramatic adverse effect occurs, with such low incidence that it would only show up if the vaccine is applied to tens of millions of people (if it had higher incidence, it would show up in the clinical trials and the vaccine would never have been licensed). This is approximately what happened with Vioxx (although there was a trial that didn’t get published where the data did hint at the issue). But guess what happened once the data were in to show that prolonged Vioxx use was linked to heart disease? Vioxx had its licence withdrawn.

    or:

    2. The manufacturer of the vaccine dramatically fails to:
    a. comply with its own procedures and produces a batch that is contaminated with something dramatically toxic (although, this really is a stretch because I cannot envisage this occurring, given the number of hoops a process has to go through to get into GMP manufacture in the first place); AND
    b. detect the failure of compliance through a failure of post-manufacture audit of the documentation (and this also is pretty much inconceivable); AND
    c. detect the batch failure in the post-manufacture analysis of the bulk drug substance (and guess what? This also is pretty much inconceivable).

    Scenario 1. is very rare. Scenario 2. is inconceivable.

    then a whistleblower says “There never was this syndrome this vaccine is for. We were ordering doctors under our belt to draw any connection and publish what we wanted. We even knew the Chinese lab had standards a basement biologist could beat.”???

    WTF?

    How could this ever be done?

    I’d like to think that actually you’d look into the issue and if it was likely correct make a statement. But, just one man’s opinion, I think you’d IGNORE it or if somehow you felt you had to address it, downplay it.

    Wrong. Wrong in every way.

    The drugs industry is the most tightly-regulated in the world. I work at a site that conducts contract process development and manufacture of biopharmaceuticals, and I can definitively tell you that any regulator to which we submit for audit has the power to shut us down in an instant if we fail to comply with GMP in any major way (for minor infringements, we will be given time to sort out the failures, but no product from a batch that fails to meet standard will ever reach a patient).

    Have you ever heard of thalidomide?

    If you have not, go and look it up on wikipedia or somewhere. Thalidomide is the reason that the medicines industry is so tightly regulated. Prior to that tragic episode, pretty nearly any Tom, Dick or Harry could sell any old rubbish as a drug and get away with it. Now, not so much, unless it qualifies as a food supplement or a “natural” remedy.

    You see, regardless of whether or not Bill Gates and the Reptilian overlords are using vaccines to slowly poison us for “Population Control” I am every bit as concerned for plain human greed and stupidity. I’ve said before and will say again a big corporation is literally built to avoid responsibility save making $ for investors. Combined with a special “Vaccine Court” paid by us, not them, there simply has to be a point where they cut corners enough and manufacture “Epidemics” to justify new vaccines (by media, or worse…) that some tragic accident happens.

    This is just fantasy.

    Do you have any logical argument or any evidence to back up this insane speculation?

    Then the public will bear the cost, the media will spin it, and some CEO will just retire to a private island despite having poisoned/killed 10s of thousands.

    Not really, no. What has happened to the company responsible for marketing Vioxx? They’ve had to pay huge damages (or are being sued for large amounts of money), IIUC.

    I leave you with a quote from the 2007 edition of the Handbook of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, chapter 1.5, authored by Krishan Maggon, a Pharma Biotech R&D consutltant based in Geneva:

    During the 2001 – 2003 period, several companies . . . eliminated or greatly curtailed their anti-infective R&D. The reasons for pharmaceutical companies leaving the anti-infective area were slow growth in the West, unpredictable and seasonal demand, pricing pressure to donate supply or at cost to poor countries and patients, the vaccine unprofitability [sic], and low investment in vaccine companies. Vaccine companies were scared and hesitated to launch new vaccines with sales in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars because of the threat of billion-dollar punitive damage settlements. The liability issues and regulatory requirements for new vaccines have a negative impact on vaccine R&D. Public-private partnerships, along with NGO and public initiatives, have resulted in increased funding of newer vaccines for tropical, orphan and neglected diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and leishmaniasis.

    My bolding.

    Some of these factors have changed since 2003, which is why there are new vaccines. Other factors have not. Why bother spending $200 million* on discovering, developing and testing a vaccine when its total profit might only be $220 million?

    * A guesstimate, and a rather conservative one.

    Certain antivax supporters seem to be convinced that vaccines make huge profits, but the fact is that – compared against the huge cost of getting a new drug product to market – they do not.

  102. Nigel Depledge

    @ Annexian (64) –

    Oh, get a life.

    All of your big examples of companies being “evil” are way out of date. You mention thalidomide like it’s a good example, but what came out of it was the beginning of the modern drug regulation system. And it was the better part of 60 years ago! So, really, that example alone undermines your argument.

    You act like big companies are so much greedier than small or medium ones, when there are companies making and selling homeopathic “remedies” with no regulatory oversight (because of a loophole) and yet they are profiteering from people buying nothing more than sugar pills. At least the real pharma companies actually make stuff that helps people, even if the stuff is expensive.

  103. Nigel Depledge

    JB of Brisbane (59) said:

    @Annexian #56 –
    “There never was this syndrome this vaccine is for. We were ordering doctors under our belt to draw any connection and publish what we wanted. We even knew the Chinese lab had standards a basement biologist could beat.”

    That’s a pretty big allegation, that pharmaceutical companies knowingly and deliberately push dangerous products which endanger public lives in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Got any proof?

    To which Annexian’s response (64) was:

    JB – Proof:
    Let’s see:
    Thalidomide
    Asbestos
    Flammable Pajamas
    “Giving” breast milk formula in 3rd world countries until the mother’s milk dries, then charging full US retail price, starving babies to death for pennies.
    Draining wells dry in India, for cheap Cotton, for Soda pop manufacture…
    The Union Carbide moving a plant to Bhopal, India for a lesser $ issue WHEN not IF there was a disaster… (60 minutes exposed that years back, the If not when thing above negligence/liability)
    Oh, how ’bout how BP got a favor from former Veep Cheney to avoid the “Socialist” law forcing them to buy a new $100K blowout preventer…

    None of which supports the allegation you made in your earlier post. Or, indeed, has anything to do with the allegation you made in your earlier post.

    So, one can only conclude that you really are a raving loony.

    Until you have an intelligent and coherent contribution to make (or can even back up your raving with some actual evidence) please go away.

  104. Nigel Depledge

    Gary Ansorge (69) said:

    If not for big corporations, spending on average 50 to 100 million dollars just to get thru the approval process for a new drug,

    I’m afraid it’s more than this now. A single large Phase III trial alone can cost several tens of millions of dollars. Depending on the trial and the type of drug, you might spend $10,000,000 just to make the drug product for the trial.

    who do you think should be manufacturing those drugs? They’re not going to be discovered, tested and approved by a guy in his garage and even he would have to make a reasonable profit just to stay in business. Do corporations and governments lie? Certainly! Are mistakes made? Without a doubt. But we are still better off today, with all those imperfections, because scientists, engineers and some of those bureaucrats we elect are the ones who find and correct those problems. We live longer, regardless of all these errors of judgement, so I guess overall, we’re doing something right. Usually, we learn something from our mistakes. I was born in the middle of WWII. I would not return to that time for all the iPads on earth and when you espouse the elimination of vaccines, THAT’S the society you seem to be longing for, when blacks couldn’t marry whites, when measles, mumps, polio and smallpox KILLED people, when civil liberties were generally more for the rich than the poor. We’ve come a long way, socially, medically and technologically. We’ve made mistakes and we’ll make more but we’ll learn from them. Welcome to the human race.

    Hear, hear.

  105. noen

    This is getting to be an old thread but it still interests me

    @ 87 Nigel Depledge Says: “Where – exactly – on Bad Astronomy has any atheist refused to accept a logical argument backed up with evidence?”

    Neither atheism nor theism are scientific theories for which there could be any evidence. Both are value systems and values are not facts. What I object to is the conflation of atheism with science. It is not science, it is one worldview among many.

    @ 91 — “Atheism is the only logical conclusion one can reach about religion”

    This is completely false as there are many people who reach the opposite “logical” comclusion. This is why people see atheists as arrogant because saying that atheism is the only possible logical conclusion about religion is like saying that “Bach is superior to the Beatles” is the only possible “logical” conclusion one can have. Logic cannot rank competeing worldviews.

    “Almost no atheists at all will claim that there is absolutely no god”

    You just did. If it is true that atheism is the only possible logical conclusion one can have then it is necessarily true that there is no god. It is this confusion of necessary vs contingent truth to which I object. It is my position that the New Atheists muddle the fact/value divide and attempt to proclaim their value system, atheism, as if it were fact. Which it is not, and then abuse others who have different values than they do.

    “Any position that assumes the existence of god (or claims to “know” that god exists) violates the principle of parsimony and is therefore irrational.”

    Occam’s razor is a scientific principle, atheism is not science.

    “Present one logical argument, or one piece of evidence, to refute atheism.”

    Fundamental worldviews are not the kinds of things one can “prove” but if you like I can give you a logical argument.

    premise: Atheism asserts “God exists” is false.
    premise: “God exists” cannot be proven true or false.
    premise: beliefs that cannot be shown to be true or false must be false according to the law of parsimony.
    Therefore: atheism is false.

    Premise one is not a strawman because it is just the plain maening of the word. IF theism is “it is the case that god” then atheism must be “it is not the case that god”. Therefore Dawkins is not an atheist. What he is is an arrognat upper class twit who has latched onto a political movement to promote his ego and to abuse those he considers beneath his station. That is why he thinks that people like him, The Brights, are innately superior to others and who consequently then have the right to assume totalitarian powers and remove children from their parents to be raised according to the values of the state. Something we’ve not seen since the officially atheist state of the USSR engaged in the exact same practices.

    This always happens when a political belief system ignores the fact/value distinction.

  106. PayasYouStargaze

    @neon

    Just about everything you’ve said in post 108 is wrong. I would say I’d look forward to Nigel teaching you why, but he already has and you’ve ignored it.

    For one thing, your “logical” argument is flawed. Premise 1 and 2 are true by definition. Premise 3 mearly confirms that if “god exists” cannot be proven, then you must assume that it is false, which is the atheist position as stated in premise 1.

  107. PayasYouStargaze

    Oh. I got distracted and couldn’t do the edit in time. I thought I could clarify a bit.

    Using neon’s premises:
    premise 1: Atheism asserts “God exists” is false.
    premise 2: “God exists” cannot be proven true or false.
    premise 3: beliefs that cannot be shown to be true or false must be false according to the law of parsimony.

    The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from that is that due to premise 3, premise 2 is false, which is what premise 1 states is the atheist postion. As neon says before his rediculous tirade against Mr. Dawkins, premise 1 is true because that is the meaning of the word, so premise 3 does not apply to it anyway.

  108. Mark Schaffer

    Chris,
    Only in your feverish imagination do strawman arguments catch fire. Try to think a little please and realize that you are not the moral arbiter of this blog. You obviously didn’t do well in your logic class to so completely misunderstand my point.

  109. noen

    I guess this thread is getting pretty old but here goes.

    PayasYouStargaze Says: —“Just about everything you’ve said in post 108 is wrong.”

    Saying a thing is wrong is not the same as actually showing that it is.

    “Premise 1 and 2 are true by definition.”

    Well, that is your opinion, a great many people (esp. New Atheists) do not share your belief that atheism is defined as the denial of god’s existence. I have been told categorically by a great many that atheism absolutely does *not* assert that god does not exist, that it is a mere “lack of belief”. Which I reject. Secondly there is nothing wrong with putting definitions in one’s premises. Finally, your opinion that premise 2 is true by definition is also highly contentious. A great many people strongly believe it is possible to either prove or disprove that proposition and it is also highly dependent on one’s definition anyway. It is a typical atheist strawman to claim the Judeo-Christian god exhausts all concepts of god. It does not.

    “The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from that is that due to premise 3, premise 2 is false”

    I don’t always have a lot of time, as it was I didn’t even have the chance to check and close my bold tag. So I would change premise 3 to read “beliefs that cannot be shown to be true or false are unfalsifiable and therefore do not constitute knowledge claims” The conclusion then would be that atheism is a metaphysical belief and not a scientific fact. But… I had an appointment to get to.

    “As neon says before his rediculous tirade against Mr. Dawkins”

    One, that’s Ms Noen thank you and two, everything I’ve said about Dawkins and the other three horsemen is true. Dawkins really did claim that he and those like him are innately superior to lesser humans and he really did call for children to be removed from religious parents to be properly indoctrinated in his superior belief system. Dawkins has also called for the removal of scientists from official positions on the charge that their religious beliefs prevent them from being properly scientific and yes, all these behaviors really are identical to those of the officially atheist Communist Party in the former USSR. The only difference being that Dawkins thankfully lacks the power to execute his totalitarian desires.

  110. PayasYouStargaze

    @neon 112

    First. Apologies ma’am, but from your posts there was no way of knowing if you were a man or a woman.

    Now. I pointed out the flaws in your own logic. Your argument failed on that alone. The fact that you are contradicting yourself on premise one within the same post just compounds the wrong. I thought it was necessary because some people might read your nonsense and think it workable.

    You are under the impression that atheism is some sort of religion but it isn’t. Lack of belief is not a belief in itself, and when you understand that you may be able to open your mind to it. Remember it was you who brought up atheism in this topic. The topic was about vaccines and how a pair of sceptics were ejected from a conference simply for not agreeing with the dangerous woo peddlers.

    Now atheism is the only LOGICAL conclusion about something which we do not and cannot provide any evidence for. Parsimony actually states to not include unecessary terms, therefore we shouldn’t include the god term. Now if you want to believe in a god, that’s fine. Just try to understand our position and why it is logical.

    And you continue to spread lies about Mr. Dawkins. I would suggest you go out and read what he’d written and listen to what he’s said because it’s obvious you haven’t. But think about something. Do you think it’s correct if a person’s religious belief prevents them from doing their job properly? Should they keep the job? Let me help you, the answer is no on both counts. This applies to scientists, lawmakers, doctors, soldiers, you name it.

  111. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (108) said:

    @ 87 Nigel Depledge Says: “Where – exactly – on Bad Astronomy has any atheist refused to accept a logical argument backed up with evidence?”

    Neither atheism nor theism are scientific theories for which there could be any evidence. Both are value systems and values are not facts. What I object to is the conflation of atheism with science. It is not science, it is one worldview among many.

    This is not an answer to my question.

    In your previous post (22) that I was addressing, you claimed that atheists do exactly the same stuff that the BA highlights as the unacceptable behaviour of the Autism One organisers.

    So, either answer the question or retract your comment.

  112. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (108) said:

    Neither atheism nor theism are scientific theories for which there could be any evidence

    I have never seen any atheist claim that atheism is science. Can you provide a link or reference to where someone does? Or are you going to make another assertion that you refuse to support?

    Both are value systems and values are not facts.

    Actually, your first half of this sentence is wrong, but the second half is right.

    Atheism is not a value system (perhaps you conflate atheism with humanism?), but I agree that it is not a demonstrated fact. The god of the bible has properties that render disproof a logical impossibility.

    What atheism most defintiely is, though, is a rational conclusion. And this is where it differs from all religious positions.

    There is no evidence for the existence of any god. Therefore, assuming the existence of one (or more) violates the principle of parsimony and is thus illogical. All religions require an irrational precept. Religions are widespread and popular because humans are intrinsically irrational.

    If any god were to decide one day to provide unequivocal proof of its existence, then I suspect that all atheists would suddenly become religious. Because that would be the rational thing to do. In the absence of any evidence for a god, however, the rational thing to do is to assume that there is none, and to live your life accordingly.

    What I object to is the conflation of atheism with science. It is not science, it is one worldview among many

    Atheism is not science, but your complaint is a mere strawman. As far as I am aware, no atheist has ever claimed that atheism is science.

    However, atheism is the only rational outcome of any critical consideration of religions. So it arises through a process that is analogous to the processes whereby science allows us to learn about the universe.

    Science has, however, taught us that atheism is permissible. In other words, we have discovered, through scientific investigation of the universe, that there is no requirement for a deity to (for example) account for the diversity of life we see on Earth. The universe looks pretty much the way we would expect it to if it had developed according to natural processes.

  113. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (108) said:

    This is completely false as there are many people who reach the opposite “logical” comclusion.

    Here you show a failure to understand logic. That you put “logical” in quotes implies that you yourself do not believe that religion is logical.

    No religion is logical, because every religion violates the principle of parsimony. There are no grounds for assuming the existence of any “higher power”.

    However, just because anyone can quite convincingly argue that religion is illogical is not the same as saying there is anything wrong with it. Having said that, I do object (strenuously) when someone tries to argue that religion is rational or logical. Because it ain’t.

    Humans are, on the whole, irrational far more than we are rational (being rational takes some practice and effort). So being religious is perfectly normal for a human. But don’t ever try to say it’s rational.

    This is why people see atheists as arrogant because saying that atheism is the only possible logical conclusion about religion is like saying that “Bach is superior to the Beatles” is the only possible “logical” conclusion one can have.

    Utter tosh.

    Your analogy fails. (Also, argument by analogy is a logical fallacy, because the argument can only ever be as good as the analogy even if the argument is flawless). A more accurate analogy would be that saying Judaism is better than Christianity is like saying that Bach is better than the Beatles.

    What if there was no music, and no evidence that music existed? What would be the point of having a favourite musical artist then? (And, yes, I do recognise that I am stretching the analogy.)

    There is no evidence that there is any god. Therefore, all religions are irrational.

    Logic cannot rank competeing worldviews.

    It depends what you mean by a worldview.

    If you are talking mainly about how you interrelate with the rest of humanity, then neither atheism nor science* takes a stance on this (but humanism does take a stance). However, if you are talking about interacting with the universe, then atheism – as I said – really is the only logical conclusion, and science is the set of processes through which we arrive at our understanding of the universe.

    * Here I recognise that the social sciences may soon be telling us more about how we should behave, or at least informing us about which behaviours have the greatest likelihood of leading to undesirable impacts.

  114. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (108) said:

    You just did. If it is true that atheism is the only possible logical conclusion one can have then it is necessarily true that there is no god.

    Here you see only your strawman.

    Atheism is not a belief that there is no god. No atheist who understands logic will ever claim so. Atheism is the assumption that there is no god, based on the very reasonable premise that there is no evidence to support the existence of any god. In fact, atheism can be defined more broadly as living life without religion. In this case, a great proportion of the population of the UK is – functionally at least – atheistic.

    Don’t you dare ever to tell me what I do or do not believe.

    It is this confusion of necessary vs contingent truth to which I object.

    The confusion is in your mind because your argument only works if the atheist believes there is no god. You have therefore convinced yourself that all atheists perforce believe that there is no god. Even some dictionaries agree with you, but I don’t think anyone can know better what atheists believe than those atheists themselves.

    So, you are objecting to something that does not – for the mosdt part – exist.

    It is my position that the New Atheists muddle the fact/value divide and attempt to proclaim their value system, atheism,

    Atheism is not a value system. Again, you are conflating it with humanism.

    Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy? No? Does the fact that you don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy constitute any kind of value system? No, of course not. Similarly, not believeing in any kind of a god is not a value system.

    Probably the best summary of atheism that I have seen is this: There’s probably no god, now just get on with your life.

    as if it were fact. Which it is not, and then abuse others who have different values than they do.

    Again, you have not supported this assertion. Where does any atheist (new or otherwise) claim that atheism is some kind of “fact” (I have no idea how the absence of belief in fairy stories can be a fact by itself, but I’m always willing to learn)? Where does any atheist abuse people for not being an atheist?

    And please bear in mind that attacking a feeble argument or a baseless assertion is not abusing a person, even if that person is so invested in their argument that they feel bad about the argument being rtorn to shreds.

  115. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (108) said:

    Occam’s razor is a scientific principle, atheism is not science.

    Wrong.

    Occam’s razor is a principle of logic.

  116. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (108) said:

    Fundamental worldviews are not the kinds of things one can “prove” but if you like I can give you a logical argument.

    premise: Atheism asserts “God exists” is false.

    It depends on what you mean by “false”. I prefer to assert “god exists” to be groundless/unproven. As will most atheists of whom I am aware. The real world allows us to have another option “we don’t know”. Your scenario rules this out.

    premise: “God exists” cannot be proven true or false.

    Well, it cannot be proven false. It could be proven true any time god cares to do something unequivocally miraculous in public.

    Also, which god? Do you consider Thor, for instance, to exist? No? Then – according to your “logic” – you are an atheist.

    premise: beliefs that cannot be shown to be true or false must be false according to the law of parsimony.

    Wrong. If there are two opposing views and no evidence on which to choose between them, the principle of parsimony requires that we assume the simpler option to be true until evidence comes to light to indicate that the more complex option is closer to the truth.

    Rational people change their minds when presented with new information that contradicts a previously-held position. I hope this concept is not too alien for you to grasp it.

    Therefore: atheism is false.

    Wrong.

    Premise one is not a strawman because it is just the plain maening of the word.

    No, it is one meaning of the word, and probably not the meaning taken by most people who are functionally atheistic.

    To go back to an earlier analogy that may help to clarify what I’m saying: if you don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, does that mean you consider the Tooth Fairy’s non-existence to be indisputably proven?

    IF theism is “it is the case that god” then atheism must be “it is not the case that god”.

    This is a false dichotomy. First, you are assuming that there is only one god. Second, you are assuming that a person must either believe irrevocably in the existence of a god, or that they must believe that gods do not exist. There is a range of nuances in between that seem to elude you.

    For instance, there may well be many theists who consider a god of some sort to be likely, but who do not consider that god’s existence to be indisputably proven. You ignore the existence of agnostics altogether. And you ignore that most atheists do not abide by your definition of atheism. Most atheists of whom I am aware adopt the position that there’s probably no god, and would be more than happy to change their minds should some real evidence come to light.

    Therefore Dawkins is not an atheist.

    And you have officially lost your marbles. Did you try looking under the sofa.

    Seriously, go back and re-read your argument. Then think about it some more.

    What he is is an arrognat upper class twit who has latched onto a political movement to promote his ego and to abuse those he considers beneath his station.

    And what you are doing is perpetrating libel. I don’t care what you have to say about Dawkins or any other atheist unless you are prepared to back up your claims with actual quotes from their writing (in context, too, not mere quote-mining).

    That is why he thinks that people like him, The Brights, are innately superior to others and who consequently then have the right to assume totalitarian powers and remove children from their parents to be raised according to the values of the state. Something we’ve not seen since the officially atheist state of the USSR engaged in the exact same practices.

    Do you have one shred of evidence to back this up?

    This always happens when a political belief system ignores the fact/value distinction.

    Every theocracy ignores the fact/value distinction. In the case of a theocracy, they try to dictate their own facts based on their preferred values. Taking the case of the USSR, communism does not arise from atheism – the USSR applied official atheism because the church’s existence undermined the party dictat. But the USSR did many things for expediency and only pretended that those things followed from communist philosophy.

    Does mentioning Stalin also trigger Godwin’s law, does anyone know?

  117. Nigel Depledge

    PayAsYouStargaze (109) said:

    I would say I’d look forward to Nigel teaching you why . . .

    I hope I did not disappoint.

  118. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (112) said:

    Saying a thing is wrong is not the same as actually showing that it is.

    Well, maybe you should take your own advice.

    And then read my responses to your post #108.

  119. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (112) said:

    I have been told categorically by a great many that atheism absolutely does *not* assert that god does not exist, that it is a mere “lack of belief”. Which I reject.

    It is not your place to tell anyone else what they do or do not believe, you arrogant fool.

  120. PayasYouStargaze

    @Nigel 120

    [Thumbs up] I’ll have a go at some arguments on here, but I always enjoy your more complete replies. It’s very difficult to argue with someone such as our noble friend, probably because their minds are so inert. I swear I glow red when those arguments come up. (OK, enough with the chemistry jokes.)

    Now perhaps mentioning the USSR is a case of Godwinov’s Law?

  121. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (112) said:

    A great many people strongly believe it is possible to either prove or disprove that proposition and it is also highly dependent on one’s definition anyway.

    Well, technically this is true, but you really were thinking of the god of the bible, were you not?

    The god of the bible is impossible to disprove, because of the properties assigned to that god. In principle, gods of other religions are (or may be) susceptible to disproof.

    It has been my experience that any commenter claiming that theism is as valid as atheism because you cannot disprove the existence of god is actually thinking only of the god of the bible.

    It is a typical atheist strawman to claim the Judeo-Christian god exhausts all concepts of god. It does not.

    And it is a typical theist strawman to do exactly the same thing, and then to claim that it was the atheist who made the claim in the first place.

    Or are you going to back up your assertion with an actual quotation for a change?

  122. Nigel Depledge

    PayAsYouStargaze (123) said:

    OK, enough with the chemistry jokes

    Ooh, a bit of inorganic chemstry there!

  123. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (112) said:

    So I would change premise 3 to read “beliefs that cannot be shown to be true or false are unfalsifiable and therefore do not constitute knowledge claims” The conclusion then would be that atheism is a metaphysical belief and not a scientific fact.

    Atheism is not a metaphysical anything. You are again trying to create a false dichotomy.

    Atheism is a conclusion. In principle, it is provisional, in that it awaits the arrival of evidence for the existence of some god(s) or other. In the meantime, atheism adopts the assumption that there is no god. Most atheists are aware that it is an assumption, and that new evidence may come to light to contradict it.

    This is why you will find atheists describing atheism as a lack of belief in god rather than a belief that there is no god.

    By way of contrast, theists adopt an assumption that there is a god, but (AFAICT) most do not admit to its being an assumption.

  124. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (112) said:

    . . . everything I’ve said about Dawkins and the other three horsemen is true. Dawkins really did claim that he and those like him are innately superior to lesser humans

    Citation?

    Seriously, it’s time to put up or shut up.

    and he really did call for children to be removed from religious parents to be properly indoctrinated in his superior belief system.

    IIUC, he suggested children should be raised with no belief system.

    But, as before, what is your citation to support your assertion?

    Dawkins has also called for the removal of scientists from official positions on the charge that their religious beliefs prevent them from being properly scientific

    Again, citation needed. *Yawn*

    and yes, all these behaviors really are identical to those of the officially atheist Communist Party in the former USSR.

    How so?

    First, you should back up your claims about Dawkins et al. with actual quotes or references. After all, your claims about him are pretty outrageous.

    Second, for each behaviour you ascribe to Dawkins, you need to cite examples of how the USSR did what you claim that Dawkins is suggesting. Then the rest of us might pay some attention to what you are saying.

    However, you chose to comment on a critical-thinking blog. I should not have to tell you how to make a case. Do you seriously wonder why people dismiss your comments so readily?

    The only difference being that Dawkins thankfully lacks the power to execute his totalitarian desires.

    And, of course, all the other differences between Dawkins and the USSR (such as the fact that Dawkins’s work is based on evidence and / or reason, but don’t let such trivia stop you have a good old rant about Dawkins).

  125. Nigel Depledge

    I said (117) :

    The confusion is in your mind because your argument only works if the atheist believes there is no god. You have therefore convinced yourself that all atheists perforce believe that there is no god. Even some dictionaries agree with you, but I don’t think anyone can know better what atheists believe than those atheists themselves.

    Oops. I missed out the word “seemingly”.

    That second sentence should read “You have seemingly therefore convinced yourself . . .”

  126. PayasYouStargaze

    @Nigel 125

    Of course, that’s the best kind of chemistry, as dictated by our god, the all-powerful Atheismo! Unless you’re from that break-away denomination that believes in organic chemistry above all else. Then I clearly hate you and everything you stand for despite our minor differences in faith.

    Wait. I might be thinking of Protestants and Catholics…

    (PS. In case Ms. neon returns. This post is me having a joke with Nigel. This does not constitute evidence that atheism is a religion.)

  127. Nigel Depledge

    @ PayAsYouStargaze (129) –
    Well, since I am a biochemist, I quite obviously consider the only chemistry to have any interest to anyone to be that of bio-active molecules. Which is mostly organic chemistry.

    But metal ions matter too, since many biological processes are mediated by – for instance – calcium, sodium and potassium ions moving around; and many others involve metals (such as iron, cobalt, zinc and magnesium – full of transition-metally goodness, apart from the Mg) in the catalytic pathways.

    ;-)

  128. Nigel Depledge

    Interesting … no further posts from Noen.

    I notice that post #112 was a mere 13 – 14 hours after post #108, so I conclude that either she has no answer to my subsequent posts or did not hang around long enough to see them.

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