Robert Todd Carroll
March 18, 2003. Scientific American has the latest on research into the mind-enhancing drug known as ginkgo biloba: "A review of the experimental evidence both for and against its usefulness in enhancing brain functions suggests that the popular herbal supplement may slightly improve your memory, but you can get the same effect by eating a candy bar."
March 16, 2003. The Council for Secular Humanism is sponsoring a 3-day conference called One Nation Without God? Secularism, Society, and Justice on April 11, 12, and 13 in Washington, D.C. I wish I could attend. I'd love to hear writers Nat Hentoff and Christopher Hitchens. Michael Newdow will talk about his constitutional challenge to the "under God" phrase in the pledge of allegiance. Norm R. Allen Jr., executive director of African Americans for Humanism, will also speak. There are nearly thirty speakers on the program, so I can't mention all of them, but I'll mention one more: Taner Edis. I'm reading The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science. I'm finding it quite stimulating, especially since it is an extremely intelligent book, very scholarly, and argues against my position regarding the compatibility of creationism and intelligent design with natural selection.
The following week, Richard Dawkins (who also thinks ID and natural selection are incompatible) will be speaking at the 9th annual Atheist Alliance Conference in Tampa, Florida. Also speaking will be James Randi, Michael Shermer, Michael Newdow, and the atheist boy scout Darrell Lambert.
Maybe we should ask Congress to declare April Atheist Month.
March 13, 2003. Elizabeth Smart, missing for nine months, has been found alive and apparently well, no thanks to the 600 or so 'psychics' who called in with tips from their dreams and hallucinations. Many of the helpful psychics told the Smarts where they could find their daughter's dead body. Well, they had a 50-50 chance of being right about the 15-year-old being dead. PSI Tech, a Seattle-based company of remote viewers, claimed that more than a dozen of its members had determined the location of Elizabeth's body in a crypt that holds the skeletal remains of ancient American Indians. With hundreds of psychics making all kinds of claims, some of the psychics are bound to be right about some of the things they claim. I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before Sylvia Browne and others like her will shoehorn things they've said to make it appear that they predicted the whole outcome and deserve credit for Elizabeth Smart being returned safely to her parents.
March 12, 2003. Barry Karr, executive director of CSICOP (The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) announced that registration is now open for the The 11th European Skeptics Congress to be held in London, September 5-7, 2003. Anyone with an interest in promoting rational and scientific thinking and its application for human benefit is welcome.
The venue of the Congress is Franklin Wilkins Building, Kings College London, 150 Stamford Street on the south bank of the River Thames and is within walking distance of many famous attractions, including the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Globe Theatre, the Festival Hall and the New Tate Gallery. Early registration is strongly recommended, particularly if you are booking accommodation as this will soon become full.
March 12, 2003. Science may be the enemy of religion, but both are selling fear about the end of the world. If the Bible prophets are right, a war with Iraq is just what the doctor ordered, if the doctor is Ezekiel or the book of Revelation. If one scientist is right, Nature has an even better Apocalypse in store for the universe. Some days it doesn't pay to turn on the computer. Of course, both the religious and scientific prophets could be wrong, and the aliens could be right.
February 12, 2003 If you are at all interested in the latest in cosmology, you must read today's NY Times article by Dennis Overbye. "The most detailed and precise map yet produced of the universe just after its birth confirms the Big Bang theory in triumphant detail and opens new chapters in the early history of the cosmos, astronomers said yesterday." That's how the article begins and it just gets better and better. As Ed Sullivan might have said: "This is REALLY BIG news!"
February 4, 2003. Michael L. Dini, an associate professor of biology at Texas Tech University, is being investigated by the Justice Department after a complaint of religious discrimination from the Liberty Legal Institute, a group of Christian lawyers (NY Times). Micah Spradling, a 22-year-old Texas Tech student, says he was discriminated against because of his religious beliefs when Dr. Dini would not write him or any other student a letter of recommendation for medical school or graduate study in biology unless he gives up his anti-evolutionist views. Dini has posted on his Web site the following notice:
Micah claims he can't truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to the question because "that would be denying my faith as a Christian." Never mind that Dini is also a Christian and obviously does not think one must deny one's Christian faith in order to accept evolution. Dini gives several reasons for the requirement that Micah feels discriminates against his religious beliefs.
The fact that Dini's argument is eminently rational may not have any bearing on the issue of religious discrimination, which seems to have no merit on its face. I doubt whether he could make accepting evolution a prerequisite for taking his biology courses, any more than I could require accepting Kant as your personal savior as a prerequisite for taking a philosophy course. But writing letters of recommendation is a personal matter. Professors are not required to write them and, as far as I know, colleges and universities leave such matters entirely up to the professors. I doubt that it would be legal and know that it would be immoral to assert that you will not write any letters of recommendations for Jews or Muslims. But to say you will not write a letter to support someone's application for further study in an area based on biology unless that person accepts the central, unifying principle of that field, seems like common sense. The fact that Micah can't accept evolution because he believes it conflicts with the requirements of his Christian belief can't be used as a standard for religious discrimination. If a person's subjective beliefs and feelings become the standard for discrimination, rather than objective evidence of invidious and unlawful behavior, then none of us in education would ever be safe from the charge of religious discrimination. Any time we made a requirement of a student who felt or believed the requirement would require them to deny their faith, we would be subject to charges of religious discrimination. Also, it would seem that if just one other Christian student is able to accept the professor's requirement, the charge of discrimination against one's Christian faith will be refuted. It is not Christianity that requires that one oppose evolution. It is your own personal belief and it is a personal belief that could end up causing great harm.
To call Dini's requirement “open religious bigotry,” as did Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute (LLI), is pure rhetorical bombast. He says: “Students are being denied recommendations ... solely because of their personal religious beliefs.” Not true. Beliefs about the origin of species are not religious beliefs. They don't become religious beliefs, any more than belief in how old the oldest rocks on earth are, simply because a person or group declares them to be religious beliefs. What next? Somebody complaining that a math professor is discriminating against them because she requires her students to believe in "0" when his religion explicitly forbids the faithful to utter 'zero' or believe in "0"?
A reader who uses the handle "Reverend Mykeru" replies:
Someone named William Sappo wrote:
A quick search of TalkOrigins brought up the following about Mr. Hitching:
A physics professor wrote:
January 27, 2003. Penn and Teller's 13-part series on Showtime called Bullsh!t! started airing last Friday. The vulgar title and language used throughout the program is described by Penn as a legal ploy. They can't be sued if they use vulgar or obscene words to describe what people like John Edward and James Van Praagh do. If they call them liars and quacks or purveyors of scams, they can be sued.
Anyway, the first episode dealt exclusively with people like Rosemary Althea, Edward, and Van Praagh and their critics who claim that what they are doing is using cold reading techniques to take advantage of grieving people. The critics included Joe Nickell of CSICOP and Jim Underdown of the Center for Inquiry West, and magician/mentalist Mark Edward of Skeptic magazine who has infiltrated dead-can-talk performances and has put on some of his own. Mark Edward, unlike John Edward who is no relation, reveals to his audience that he has no special powers, only the tools of cold reading and surreptitious information gathering before shows begin or during breaks (a tactic known as hot reading).
What are these tools? Here are a few, as explained by Ian Rowland in his book The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading:
The next program in the series will be on alternative medicine. Click here for a schedule of the first six episodes. If you missed the first episode, it will repeat on Feb. 6 at 10:30 on Showtime. Or, if you can't wait, you can view in on the Infidel Guy's page. You have to register first (you can leave blank the boxes that ask for numbers). Then go to this site. That will take you to the link for the Penn & Teller program.
January 25, 2003.
Paranoid conspiracy theorists (PCTs) have
been thrown a bone by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
have been claiming that the government has been lying to us about American
Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 that was hijacked and flown into the
Pentagon on 9/11. The engineers have
issued a report explaining why there wasn't more damage done to the
60-year-old building and the people inside.
Good stuff! More about the feathery dinosaurs in Scientific American.
Robert Todd Carroll
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