Evidently True

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on September 18, 2011

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I grew up in a Catholic household in a predominantly Christian part of the rural Midwest.  It seems like there’s a church on every street corner of my hometown.  The Christian world view was part of our culture and our identity.  As a young boy interested in science, it’s therefore no surprise that one of the sources of information that I was given was a cassette tape that talked about all the evidence of God’s work in nature.  I listened to this cassette repeatedly.

It’s been many years, so I only really remember one particular part.  The preacher (I assume he was a Christian preacher or minister that made the tape) was talking about the fact that when you look at the branch of a tree, you’ll notice that the side branches do not grow out of that branch in a random pattern.  In fact, they follow a repeating pattern where, for example, every fifth branch is pointing in the same direction.  This order was evidence of God’s hand in the creation of a tree.   God made the tree with a certain logic, and this was evidence of the creator’s work.

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There’s a new study that indicates..

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on October 2, 2011

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I recently watched a documentary called “Forks over Knives”.  The premise of this film is that you can avoid a lot of illnesses, especially cancers and heart disease, if you avoid all animal-based foods and eat only non-processed, plant-based foods.  Let me state right from the start that I immediately saw this for what it is – vegan propaganda.   I found some good blog posts that dissect the film bit-by-bit and point out what is wrong with the arguments and with the science.  That’s not the point of this post.

What I want to write about today is one particular bit of evidence that the film uses to make its case.  They refer to a study done in India that studied the effects of a diet high in casein (milk protein) on the incidence of cancer in rats.  They report that rats who received a high-casein diet had higher incidence of cancer than rats on a low-casein diet.  From this, the film draws the conclusion that diets high in animal proteins promote cancer growth, and thus all animal products should be avoided.

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Watered Down

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on August 13 2011

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I was recently traveling in France, and, as often happens when I travel, I found myself one day with a bit of nausea and general stomach trouble.  So, we went to the pharmacy and asked for an anti-nausea medicine.  The pharmacist gave us one that she said would work with no side effects.  I looked at the ingredients and found that it was a homeopathic medicine.  Since I know what homeopathic medicine is, I told her that I wanted something else, because homeopathic medicine doesn’t work.  She disagreed, but gave me a different medicine.  For this medicine, she warned me that there could be some side effects, such as drowsiness.   I thought that was fine, paid for the medicine, and left.

Why did I refuse the homeopathic medicine?  Contrary to what a lot of people think, homeopathic doesn’t just mean “natural” (as if “natural” equals “safe and effective”).   Homeopathic “medicine” was developed in the early 1800’s at least 30 years before Louis Pasteur’s work on germs and the development of our current understanding of how bacteria, viruses, genetics, and other factors are responsible for  disease.  Homeopathic was developed by only looking at symptoms of diseases, since the causes weren’t understood at that time.  It is based on two principles.  The first is the “law of similars”.  This “law” states that “like cures like”.  That is, if I have nausea, I should take a homeopathic preparation made from something that would induce nausea in an otherwise healthy person.  Of course, now that we know about germs, the law of similars is pretty ridiculous.  Some people confuse this with how vaccines work.  Vaccines inject pieces of the virus’s actual proteins and other molecules into the body to get the immune system to work as it normally does to produce an immunity.  This is completely different from using a homeopathic preparation based on a chemical that is nothing like what is causing the ailment, but happens to induce the same symptoms.

The second principle upon which homeopathic is based is the idea that water has memory.  Homeopathic medicines are made by taking the substance chosen based on the law of similars and then diluting it repeatedly.  The idea is that the water will remember the substance, thus increasing its potency, while diluting the toxicity.  Somehow the water only remembers the good parts, I guess.  Then, the water is either dropped onto a sugar pill or taken as a liquid to treat the ailment.  The dilutions used are listed on the box with numbers like 10X or 4C.   They represent how many times that a drop of preparation is diluted into 10 (for X) or 100 (for C) times the amount of water.   So a 5C preparation (like the anti-nausea pills I was offered) means that one drop of the preparation is diluted in 100 drops of water.  Then one drop of that solution is diluted in 100 drops of water.  Then one drop of that solution is diluted in 100 drops of water.  This is repeated two more times to get 5C.  This represents one drop of the original substance in 10,000,000,000 drops of water.  To put this in perspective, this is like dissolving an aspirin in a swimming pool of water.   The creator of homeopathy advocated a 30C dilution.  At this level of dilution, it would be equivalent to having one molecule of the original substance dissolved in a drop of water the size of our solar system.

Of course, at these levels of dilution, the explanation for how the “medicine” works is that the water remembers the substance.  With what we know about how H20 molecules float around randomly in a liquid water, there is absolutely no possible way that information could be stored by them.  It is a physical impossibility for them to have memory.  However, let’s think about it for a minute.  What if water did have memory, and thus homeopathic could work.  This would be incredible for the pharmaceutical industry.  They could make one batch of a drug and then just keep diluting it to produce more to sell.  All drugs would cost the same, since the cost of creating the original substance would be insignificant given the large quantities that could be produced from it.

Let’s go further with this.  If water had memory, then we would have “water archeologists” who would study the memories in water to discover information about those things the water has touched in the past (see my previous blog about how many things this could be).  Water could be used in forensics at crime scenes.  We would have TV shows like CSI:Water.  Water treatment plants would have to find ways of erasing the bad memories in water to make it safe to drink.  Who wants to drink water that has the memory of just being in someone else’s toilet?  When we go to the bar, instead of complaining that the bar is watering down our drinks, we would want them to.  It would make the drinks stronger without adding the cost of extra alcohol.   We wouldn’t have the concept of drowning.  If our lungs were deprived of oxygen, the water in the blood would remember the oxygen it carried before, and that would be sufficient to keep us alive.  In fact, perhaps we would only need to take a few breaths when we are first born, and that would keep us alive for the rest of our lives.   If water had memory, computer companies would be doing research on creating the equivalent of disk drives that use water for storage.  I would be bragging about how my new PC has 2 gallons of storage space or complaining because I lost my music collection when my storage sprang a leak.

The people who make and sell homeopathic medicine are banking on the fact that you don’t know how it is supposed to work.  It’s magical thinking.  They advertise “no side effects”.  Of course there are no side effects – there are no effects!   But they want you to confuse it with all the other “alternative” medicines that are out there that promise cures to your ills without having to trust your doctor or drug companies or hospitals.   To add to the confusion, a lot of pills being sold put the word “homeopathic” on the label when they really aren’t.  They may actually contain significant quantities of potentially active ingredients.   With true homeopathic pills, you can take as many as you like.  Since there isn’t any real active substance in them any more, they won’t hurt you.  In fact, there is a common stunt that skeptics do where they commit “homeopathic suicide” by eating an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills.   Of course, nothing happens when they do this.  I wouldn’t recommend this stunt with just anything marked “homeopathic” though.

When you see a box of pills marked “Homeopathic”, realize that what it really says is “we think you are a sucker and will pay good money for sugar pills”.   So if you have a real sickness, take real medicine.  Don’t waste your money and delay proper treatment trying fake “medicines” like homeopathy.

Evidence

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on May 21, 2011

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If you have been watching the news lately, you know that at least one Christian lunatic thinks that today is going to be the Rapture, marking the beginning of the end of the world.  Somehow, he’s managed to get a lot of media attention.  I’ve heard people mention it on the street, and local skeptic groups are having an End of the World Party to poke some fun at the idea.

When tomorrow comes around and we’re all still here, what will the Christians say?  Will the ones who believe in the Rapture actually change their beliefs based on the fact  that the Rapture didn’t happen as predicted?  Unfortunately, no.   In general, their belief that the Rapture will some day occur is based on their faith that the Bible is the absolute, unerring word of God.  It’s truth is permanent and unchanging.

On the other hand, if the Rapture did actually occur, if billions of people suddenly ascended into Heaven in a clap of thunder, skeptics would change their beliefs.  If I saw this happen, of course I would believe that some sort of superior being existed and these events happened as predicted in the Bible.  I would have to be delusional not to.

That’s the difference between “people of faith” and skeptics.  Skeptics understand that we don’t have complete knowledge of the universe.  Science is a process of gaining facts and modifying our understanding based on the observed facts.  History is full of cases where the scientific consensus was one thing at one time and then changed when a new hypothesis was introduced or new facts came to light that changed our understanding of the universe.   One only has to look at the history of medicine for ample examples of this.  It was once thought that bloodletting was a useful treatment for disease.  We now know that good health isn’t a matter of balancing the body’s “humors”.  We have a much better understanding of the mechanisms of disease and such practices have been rightfully abandoned.  Religious people see this as a fault in science.  They somehow think that admitting that you were wrong and accepting a new idea as a better representation of the truth is somehow a failing in science.  For them, it seems to be important to have beliefs that are absolute.  They do not change no matter what.  This, somehow, is a virtue.

I think that stubbornly sticking to your ideas and being unwilling to change is sad.   How can we grow as individuals if we are unwilling to accept that sometimes we are wrong?   How can we continue to grow and improve our family relationships if we aren’t willing to accept new ideas and change as our life situation changes?  How can we ever expect to improve our society if we aren’t willing to question the assumptions about the values of our culture, our interactions with others, and our relationship with our planet?

Being a skeptic is a positive world view.

It shouldn’t be confused with being a cynic, which is a pretty negative view.  Skeptics want to use all the tools of science, philosophy, and art to increase their understanding of the world.   They want to know the Truth, but they always keep in mind that our current understanding of what is the Truth can change, based on sufficient evidence.

Lack of Evidence

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on May 18, 2011

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In my previous post, I compared the evidence for the existence of God with the evidence for the existence of mosquitoes.  I’d like to take that idea a little further and generalize it a bit.

Given the claims that are made about the properties of the Christian God, the overwhelming lack of evidence of its existence provides a strong argument that it doesn’t exist at all.  Of course, lack of evidence is not proof of nonexistence.  Until recently, we had no evidence of exoplanets – planets orbiting other stars.  We now have lots of evidence of exoplanets.  They clearly exist.  The difference between exoplanets  and a god is that we simply didn’t have the proper technology to detect the exoplanets.  According to many Christians, their god is everywhere on Earth, and he is constantly involved with peoples’ lives.  We should have ample evidence of his existence.  It’s not the case that we’re just waiting for someone to build a sufficiently sensitive god-detector, and then, voila, there he will be.

But this blog isn’t intended to rehash the arguments of my last blog.  I want to apply the same concept to other supernatural claims.  Let’s take psychic powers as an example.  If humans had actually evolved psychic abilities of some sort, then we would expect that there would be lots of people walking around with some level of psychic ability.  In fact, I imagine that psychic ability, say the ability to read minds, would have incredible evolutionary advantage.  Imagine being able to walk into a room and being able to immediately know which person in the room is interested in mating with you.  I’m not talking about the perceptive abilities of a drunken frat boy who thinks that every woman in the room wants to mate with him.  I’m talking about the ability to actually read minds and know what other people want and think.  It would be an incredible advantage in dating, business, and politics.  It would be well known that people with these skills exist and who they are.  In fact, they would likely be so successful in mating and surviving that those genes would quickly be prevalent in the population.  Everyone would have a psychic ability just like everyone has a sense of smell.

Instead, we have people who claim to have psychic abilities and advertise them to con a few bucks off of gullible suckers.  Last year I was walking along the street in the Greektown section of Detroit.  I was directly across the street from the Greektown Casino.  I noticed a sign over a door advertising a Psychic.  Amazing.  Of course, if that person really had psychic abilities, they would just walk across the street into the casino and walk out with a fortune.  Instead, they have set up shop across the street and are preying on the statistically challenged (and obviously reality challenged) customers of the casino.  If this isn’t adequate evidence that this person’s claimed psychic
powers are a fraud, I don’t know what is.

You can take this same argument and apply it to lots of claims – Bigfoot, UFOs, alien abductions, cases of autism caused by vaccines, funny Adam Sandler movies, etc.  In all cases, the complete lack of evidence that such a thing exists is very strong evidence that it doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t prove it, but it’s a good first approximation.

The Existence of Mosquitoes

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on April 30, 2011

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Summer is approaching.  I’m looking forward to being able to go outside without a coat or jacket on.  I’m especially looking forward to the clear nights when I can get out my telescope and peer into the universe that surrounds us.  The one thing I don’t look forward to is the mosquitoes.  It’s extremely annoying to go outside and realize I’m just a big walking meal for thousands of little insects.  While mosquito repellents are effective, I hate having to take the time to apply them and then having to shower afterwards to remove them just to have an hour of comfort outside.

When I used to travel to India, we would take anti-malarial medicines because of the mosquitoes.  We would sleep with mosquito repellent coils burning in the room to protect us.  I have no idea what chemicals I was breathing.  These devices were generally effective.  We would only have a few bites in the morning.  I’ve heard that scientists are working on laser targeting systems that can detect mosquitoes and fire a tiny laser to kill them.  This would be amazing technology, and I wonder what it would look like when in use.  I can imagine a tiny laser light show shooting around the room.

We’ve all experienced the nuisance of mosquitoes. They are a part of our lives.  They are everywhere, and nobody doubts that they exist.  Why isn’t it the same way with God (meaning, the Christian god, but the same applies to all deities)?  If God really existed, why wouldn’t it just be an obvious part of the world, just like mosquitoes are?  Why would we need to “believe”?  You don’t have to believe in mosquitoes, they just exist, and that’s it.

Imagine what the world would be like if God really existed.  God would be visible and evident in some manner.  If natural disasters actually happened, the people who prayed would always survive.  I read today that an entire town in Alabama was destroyed by tornadoes, including all three churches.  If God existed, the report would be that the town was destroyed, but, of course, the churches were protected.

If God really existed, people wouldn’t have to make up convoluted arguments for why Evil exists in the world.   Either it simply wouldn’t exist, or God would make it perfectly clear to every human why it does.   We would never have religious wars, because it would be obvious to everyone what God was and how he acts.  Nobody fights wars over their belief in the nature of mosquitoes.

If it appears that I’m oversimplifying theology and I don’t understand the subtleties of the nature of the existence of God and the need for Faith or whatever, well, that’s not the case.   If an all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent entity actually existed, it would be obvious.  We wouldn’t need holy books full of opaque metaphors to explain it.  There wouldn’t be dramatically differing opinions on the matter. It would be as obvious as gravity, or the air we breathe, or mosquitoes.