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Robert Todd Carroll


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logo.gif (2126 bytes)the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 46

September 9, 2004

I realized early on that it is detailed scientific knowledge which makes certain religious beliefs untenable. A knowledge of the true age of the earth and of the fossil record makes it impossible for any balanced intellect to believe in the literal truth of every part of the Bible in the way that fundamentalists do. --Francis Crick

In this issue: A new essay on energy medicine, a new entry on supplements, a new chapter for an old book, and a few other changes; some comments on Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith; ID returns to Kansas schools; some feedback from Australia, Estonia, and western Pennsylvania; an atheist dating service; Peter Lamont interview; a cure for whatever ails you; promising new program from NOVA; Carla Baron exposed; New Age Gnostics; herbal remedies; and The Skeptic's Toolbox.

Changes to The Skeptic's Dictionary or Refuge

Since the last newsletter I posted an essay on energy medicine that is a response to an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on the same subject.

I've posted a new entry on supplements: vitamins, minerals, herbs, & "natural" products.

I've also posted an essay by Greg Haskins, who was kind enough to create a 14-page "guide to critical thinking" based on The Skeptic's Dictionary and my Becoming a Critical Thinker. (This past summer I revised the critical thinking text. Chapter one is available for preview now. The preview requires Adobe Reader. The second edition of the book should be out next spring.)

The entry on Freud has been updated to include links to three essays on the issue of Freud's science or lack of it. Normal Holland defends Freud. Frederick Crews replies to Holland and Robert Wilcocks piles on about Holland's "wretched piece."

The Aleister Crowley entry was updated to include a notice that Crowley came in number 73 when Britons voted on the top 100 Britons of all time in 2002. I also include a link to an article on Crowley in The Guardian by Tim Cummings.

The Atlantis entry was updated to include a link to an article about the theory of Swedish geologist Ulf Erlingsson that Ireland is the site of the real Atlantis.

I also posted several comments on items reported in the mass media:

The Case for Faith Pretty Weak

A reader recommended Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. I bought it and have read the list of the so-called toughest objections and I've read the entire response to the first objection, characterized by Mr. Strobel thusly: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving God cannot.

I feel a moral obligation to respond.

Neither a logical atheist nor a logical Zoroastrian would make the case against  Christianity by maintaining that the existence of evil and suffering are logically incompatible with a loving God. A Zoroastrian believes there are two basic principles in the universe, a principle of goodness and a principle of evil. The principle of goodness accounts for the good in Nature and the principle of evil accounts for evil. It doesn't follow from those assumptions that the existence of evil implies either no God or a non-loving God. A logical atheist would not maintain that evil and suffering are incompatible with the concept of a loving God as long as loving is not defined in such a way as to make it impossible by definition. But if the concept of a loving God means that there might be some unknown or unfathomable purpose that this loving God has for all the evil and suffering in the universe, then the concepts are compatible.

Strobel's lengthy response to this objection is little more than a straw man argument. In fact, it is a response to Charles Templeton's Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. Templeton believes there cannot be a loving God given the rotten state of our world. Believers sometimes feel a loving God is present when they witness something extremely beautiful, like a newborn child or one of the grander sights of Nature. But that feeling provides no more logical support for belief in a loving God than the feeling of revulsion at a starving child provides logical support for the view that there cannot be a loving God. Strobel might have cast some light on faith had he noted that there are two fundamentally distinct approaches to God questions: the emotional and the logical. Templeton's approach is emotional. Emotional responses tell us little more than why a particular person feels the way he does about an issue. Strobel's response is logical. He seeks out a Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft, who can easily demonstrate that there is no logical contradiction in maintaining that a perfect being might have a reason for creating a universe with evil and suffering. Kreeft's even written a book about it: Making Sense out of Suffering.

If you already believe in a loving God, you will respond to evil and suffering emotionally but not in the same way as if you don't believe in a loving God. If you begin without any strong belief about the existence of God, it is very unlikely that you will appeal to the existence of evil and suffering as evidence in support of the view that there is probably a loving God behind it all.

Strobel's naiveté about philosophy will probably endear him to readers who are equally unsophisticated, but anyone who's gone through Intro to Philosophy will not find Kreeft's attempt to use the existence of evil as evidence in favor of the existence of God to be that wondrous. The argument goes something like this: Evil exists and outrages me. Therefore, I recognize there is a difference between good and evil. Therefore, I must have a standard by which I judge good and evil. That standard is God. The argument fails because it begs the question. It assumes God exists and is the standard by which good and evil are judged in order to prove that God exists. An atheist might maintain that the standard is feeling or utility, not God. Atheists don't deny there is a real difference between good and evil, but we deny that we need God, loving or unloving, to either determine what that difference is or to help us figure out what we consider good and evil.

It is true, however, that there have been philosophers who have argued that God can't be all-Good and all-Powerful because of the existence of evil and suffering. The argument states that if God is all-Good, he would prevent evil if he could. So either he can't and isn't all-powerful. Or, he can but won't, in which case he is not all-Good. Again, this argument fails because one can imagine God as having some good reason for allowing evil and suffering.

Personally, I reject Christianity and all other religions not because evil and suffering exist but because none of the stories religions are based on resonate at all with me. Stay tuned. Strobel next takes on miracles and refutes the argument that since miracles contradict science, they cannot be true.

Intelligent Design in Kansas Again

You may recall that the folks in Kansas had a school board that voted in intelligent design a few years ago. Then an election followed that left a majority of the state board of education in favor of teaching just science in the biology classroom. Half of the 10 board members are up for re-election every two years. Now, another election has tipped the scales back in favor of the ID folks.

In District 6, Kathy Martin, an ID Republican and retired science teacher from Clay Center, defeated incumbent Bruce Wyatt of Salina by a vote of 22,432 (61 percent) to 14,393 (39 percent), according to unofficial returns on August 4. Martin will have no opponent in the November election and will return the board to a 6-4 majority for the ID folks.


Linda Harris writes: "I actually bought a copy [of The Skeptic's Dictionary] from Boffins bookshop here in Perth, Western Australia only yesterday and I can't put it down!" I'm glad to hear it, Linda. Another reader was surprised to find a copy in a bookstore in Estonia. Anybody find a copy in India or Saudi Arabia?


D. S. Fischer writes: "Just thought I'd drop a comment about Sylvia Browne's prowess [as a psychic detective]. I am originally from Western Pennsylvania and a couple of years back there was a case there where an elderly woman was missing. The woman's relatives got Sylvia involved and Sylvia claimed she saw her in a nursing home in Florida. As it turns out, they found the woman buried in a shallow grave a couple of miles from where she lived. The last I heard the deceased woman's relatives were going to sue Sylvia for emotional distress. On another note I just bought my 8th copy of the Skeptic's Dictionary. I have a habit of leaving it on my coffee table and visitors to my home always want to borrow it. I end up giving it to them, I feel it's a small sacrifice to end ignorance. Keep fighting the good fight."

The news about Sylvia doesn't surprise me, but every time I get a letter from someone who has bought multiple copies of The Skeptic's Dictionary to distribute to friends, relatives, libraries, etc., I am moved and inspired to keep fighting the good fight, as D. S. puts it.

Dating Site for Atheists

Adam Pedersen has established as a place for atheists to meet. "Secularity is a brand new meeting ground for the secular community. Meet compatible people who share a belief in the human spirit--not the supernatural! Membership is free to atheists and other freethinkers." I don't know what Adam is charging believers who want to meet atheists for fun and conversion.

Interview with Peter Lamont

I didn't interview Dr. Lamont, but this interview with a former president of the Edinburgh Magic Circle is quite interesting. He is the one who tracked down the Indian rope trick hoax. I highly recommend you check out this two-part interview. Part one (on magic and psychic phenomena) and part two (how magicians use psychology as an important tool in their performances and what constitutes magic.).


I received an offer from Melissa Ritchie, Executive Advertising/Marketing Director of Molo Cure to advertise on my website and pay me $10 for each sale I generate. What is Molo Cure? According to the Molo website "A.M.P. Molo-Cure® is not “Aloe Vera” as Aloe is commonly understood. A.M.P. Molo-Cure is the STABILIZED healing agent, which has been extracted from the Aloe Plant. It takes approximately Eight gallons of Aloe Vera to make just one ounce of A.M.P. Molo-Cure®. (1000 to 1 potency.)"

According to the website, this A.M.P. Molo-Cure will cure just about anything that ails you. It is the panacea we've all been looking for. Plus, it has no side effects! I was especially impressed by how Molo-Cure informed me of how screwed up the AMA and the FDA are! It was a great temptation but I had to say no to Ms. Ritchie.


Origins, NOVA's two-part four-hour special about the origins of the universe, earth, and life, airs on September 28-29, 8 to 10 PM. Andy Knoll discusses how life began. This looks like one of the few don't miss television programs.

Carla Baron

A group affiliated with the Center for Inquiry, called the Independent Investigations Group, has issued a report on the claims of self-proclaimed psychic detective Carla Baron. She's appeared recently on Court TV and was featured on ABC's Primetime Thursday. The investigation found that her claims are unfounded or fabricated. The group investigated fourteen specific cases that Baron claims to have worked on, including the O.J. Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, and the Elizabeth Smart cases.

If you haven't heard of Baron, she's the one who appeared on a British television show called "Dead Famous" where she allegedly channeled the spirit of Jim Morrison. (I wish I were making this up!)

New Age Gnosticism

I received an email from someone concerned about his son getting involved in a group of New Age Gnostics. I checked out their website at and found a group devoted to OBEs in the form of astral projection. The group is devoted to anything that can get them out of this ordinary world into a parallel universe where things are much better. Lucid dreaming is high on their list of things to learn. I think the attraction to such groups goes way beyond the desire to travel that many young people have. The members of this group are convinced that there is a double universe to the one we experience and that each of us travels to the astral plane when we sleep. Dreaming is an OBE. They practice visualization and creative imaging to take them on trips from Australia (where they are based) to Egypt and other exotic places without having to get on an airplane. (It's a nice way to avoid all the inconveniences of air travel, especially the new security measures that require elderly people to be humiliated by wand waving agents. I don't know about you but I feel a lot more secure when I see a cane taken from an old man and placed on the conveyer belt for deep analysis.) Anyway, back to the Gnostics. That's what they call themselves, though they don't trace Gnosticism back to ancient times. Rather, their hero is Samael Aun Weor, whose parents called him Victor Manuel Gomez Rodriguez, (1917-1977). He  published over sixty books on Gnosis and the Esoteric Path., books on tarot, tantra, astral travel, kabalah and dozens of other occult subjects.

The hope that there is something more than this ordinary existence drives many people to seek transcendence. A little ignorance of physiology and a few other matters leaves them vulnerable to those who offer followers the path to transcendence via dreams, visualization, meditation, etc. Wally Sampson recently turned me on to a book called The Psychology of Transcendence by Andrew Neher. The book might help seekers understand what they are going through without feeling foolish. Neher explains various physiological and conditioning effects in transcendental experiences. He explains how such experiences must be understood in their cultural context. He then relates the science to various mystical, psychic, and occult experiences. I think this would be a good book to help people understand that there may be naturalistic explanations for their extraordinary experiences. He does this without belittling or underestimating the value or power of the experiences.

Jim Lippard comments: "The approach of [Andrew Neher] is open-minded, to the extent of going too far. For example, claims of abilities to hear microwaves, or that some have hearing so sensitive that they can hear the subvocalized motion of the vocal cords which normally accompany thought (in effect hearing others thinking), are accepted uncritically. Aside from this, the book provides a unique, and very useful, approach to the investigation of extraordinary claims."

Ginkgo Biloba and AIDS

Eric from South Africa writes: 

I thought you might be interested to know that my mother was recently hospitalized due to a severe allergic reaction after taking ginkgo biloba.

It is worrisome that the purveyors of ginkgo biloba do not provide information about the possible dangers of taking this substance.

This recalls the African Potato (hypoxis hemerocallidea) which was promoted as an immune system booster. The South African Minister of Health, on several occasions, spoke of the virtues of this plant, and recommended it for people infected with the HIV virus.

However, it has been known for some time that consumption of hypoxis damages human bone marrow and suppresses the immune system. According to Professor Patrick Bouic of the University of Stellenbosch, a study into hypoxis was stopped a decade ago, after its effects on bone marrow became apparent.

AIDS dissident and advisor to the South African Health Minister, Dr. Robert Giraldo, recently recommended that HIV+ patients take a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and African potato.

To recommend that HIV+ people consume a substance known to suppress the immune system in a country with an estimated 7 million HIV+ people, strikes me as being criminally irresponsible.

It strikes me that way, too, Eric. As Randi might say: eye of newt, toe of frog.... Readers might be interested in this article on the dangers of so-called "dietary supplements." A young woman was covered head-to-toe in a rash, complete with itchy pustules on the soles of her feet after switching multivitamin brands to one with added ginkgo. In rare cases, according to this article, ginkgo can be contaminated with a poison ivy-like substance.

I have written before about the harmful policies regarding AIDS of South African President Thabo Mbeki. On September 5, 2000, I reported that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, South Africa's Minister of Health, was spreading the word that the Illuminati introduced AIDS to Africa through the smallpox vaccine in 1978 to reduce the African population as part of a worldwide conspiracy. He also claimed that the cure is known but is being kept secret until the death goal is met. Take two cloves of garlic and call me in the morning.

The Skeptic's Toolbox

I met Wally Sampson at the Skeptic's Toolbox, where he was one of several teachers for a very enlightening and enjoyable weekend in Eugene, Oregon, at the CSICOP-sponsored conference in mid-August. Wally brought up the idea of a list of key books that should be in libraries and one of the books he mentioned was Neher's book on The Psychology of Transcendence. This is a great idea. Unfortunately, the book is out-of-print, as are two other books I would like to see in libraries, Jim Alcock's Parapsychology: Science or Magic (Pergamon Press 1981) and Milbourne Christopher's ESP, Seers & Psychics (Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 1970). I have my own list of "essential" books posted online. Naturally, it's biased and personal. (By placing my own book at the top of the list I do not mean to imply that it is the best or most essential. My book is at the top only because it is my website and, like anyone else who has published a book, I like to promote my work.)

Those who attended the Toolbox will probably recognize the influence that Loren Pankratz's talk on hypnosis had on my essay on energy medicine. The title of this year's Toolbox was "The You You Don't Know." Participants were presented with the latest research in cognitive science, social psychology, and neuroscience regarding ways in which our thoughts and actions are controlled by brain processes that are beyond our awareness. The tendency to rationalize, to fabricate reasons to justify our beliefs or actions after the fact is just one of the interesting consequences of our complicated psychological makeup. Another is the tendency to falsely attribute the cause of our behavior to some outside agency, often an occult or paranormal one. Being unaware of nonconscious influences on our thoughts often leads us to misinterpret experiences. Of course, misperception and distorted memories also play a role in our rationalizations and misinterpretations of experience. Our lack of knowledge about basic sensory processes, the illusions created by our brain that allow us to perceive a colored, three-dimensional, rather stable world, and many other factors that affect our ability to understand our own experience were just some of the topics that were covered at the workshop.

One of the more interesting moments of the weekend occurred when Ray Hyman held up a book by Webster Riggs, who attended the workshop, entitled The You You Don't Know: Covert Influences on Your Behavior published by Prometheus Books. Ray swears that he and the other organizers did not consciously choose the title because of the book. We all agreed that this was a classic case of cryptomnesia. My wife and I happened to be sitting at the same table as Webster on the night of our banquet. I found him so interesting that I ordered his book. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to read it yet but Webster assured us that there is something in the book to offend everyone.

I think it would be a rare person who could come away from this workshop without questioning how much control we have over our beliefs, not just our paranormal and supernatural beliefs, but all our beliefs. On the other hand, as Jerry Andrus put it: we can only be fooled because of our wondrous, beautiful brains.

For more on The Skeptic's Toolbox, read my review of the 2003 sessions.



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