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Robert Todd Carroll

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The Skeptic's Refuge

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July 27, 2003. I've received two copies of the The Skeptic's Dictionary from my editor and I'm pleased with the way it looks and feels. By the way, the picture on the cover of the man holding the Bigfoot shoes is not me. That is Dale Wallace, nephew of hoaxer Ray Wallace. If you want to see what I look like, check out my bookmark or poster.

July 25, 2003.  The Skeptic's Dictionary will begin shipping to stores around the world today. It is already available on-line in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. For more information click here.

Religion and violence. In a recent nationwide poll, 52 percent said they would not vote for a well-qualified atheist for president. (I wonder what the percentage would be if the people were asked whether they would vote for a well-qualified bright.) The poll was conducted nationwide and surveyed 2,002 adults between June 24 and July 8. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The poll, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, also found that 58 percent believe that President Bush's reliance on religion in policymaking is appropriate. According to the pollsters, 44 percent of the American public now believes that Islam is more likely than other religions "to encourage violence among its believers." I find this last statistic interesting in light of the fact that pre-emptive war and assassination are now an accepted part of American foreign policy and that this policy has been defended by the Bush administration's interpretation of various Christian principles. The policy of aggression in self-defense is also supported by many Christian religious groups and individuals. The evidence does not seem to support the view that any one religion is more likely to encourage violence among its believers. We've seen many individuals in recent years who have murdered people they consider to be immoral and a good number of these killers claim to be Christians. Israel sanctions the murder of Palestinians on an almost daily basis. Muslim Palestinians murder Jews on an almost daily basis, too, but we shouldn't pretend they are alone in this kind of behavior. Finally, there are probably many atheists and liberals who think these new policies are justified in light of terrorism.

As Bob Dylan once wrote: "This world is ruled by violence, but I guess that's better left unsaid." I might add that the world was ruled by violence long before religion arrived on the scene. I don't think religions, at least the ones I'm familiar with, encourage violence. Many people use religion to justify evil. Any religion will do. Right now the U.S. media reinforces the notion that Islam is a violent religion. The media do not refer to those who assassinate physicians who perform abortions as "Christian terrorists." If a Muslim did the same thing, the media would most likely bring in his religion as a major factor in the act.

Rather than ask the loaded question "why are some religions more violent than others?", we might well ask "why do we have this need to justify our evil?" We always find those who advocate violence against others providing a justification for their murders and rapes, etc. Religion is handy and is often the mantle worn by evildoers to make them appear good. But it isn't the only justification offered. Sometimes patriotism is the proffered justification. Demonizing some group as the cause of all one's ills is a familiar tactic as well. What really motivates the violent? Resentment perhaps, but not necessarily resentment of other's wealth or freedom. It might look like that, but the resentment may cut deeper. The enemy may be a perceived threat because they have some power over you or because you've become dependent on them. Greed and lust for power have certainly motivated some violent leaders. Saddam Hussein and sons seem to fall into that category.

In any case, I think we're barking up the wrong tree in this pursuit of "the most violent religion" award.

The people who order or commit these acts of violence have convinced themselves they they are not committing murder when they murder people. If you murder in the name of God, you are still committing murder. Just because you declare war on someone you consider to be a threat and just because you call killing people you've declared war on "acts of war" doesn't alter reality. It alters how you talk about reality and perceive reality. It alters how you try to get others to talk about reality and to perceive reality. Calling the killing of innocent men, women, and children "collateral damage" or a "suicide bombing" by a "martyr" doesn't lessen the reality of what you have done. A bomb is still a bomb even if you call it "ordnance." Bombing is bombing even if you call it "air support" or "servicing the target." The people killed are still people even if you call them "soft targets" or "potential terrorists." "Immediate permanent incapacitation" is still death. To "terminate with extreme prejudice" is still to murder. Terrorism is still terrorism even if you call it "retaliation."

Some people don't use religion to justify their violence. They use language.
[thanks to David Martin]

June 1, 2003. Rick Moyse informed me that Aveline Kushi, wife of Michio Kushi and longtime advocate of a macrobiotic diet as both a preventive and cure for cancer, died of cervical cancer. Rick has his own comments on macrobiotics:

If it is so healthy, why did Aveline Kushi die of cancer at age 76  (when the average woman lives to be 79)? [she was 78 according to the article Rick referred me to, which was dated July 28, 2001; the Associated Press article of 7/6/2001 can be read by clicking here.]

If it is so healthy, why did Michio and Aveline Kushi's daughter die of cancer in 1995 ( way younger than the average woman's lifespan)?

If it is so healthy, why did George Ohsawa suffer sudden death by heart attack in April 1966, at age 73 (when the average man lives to be 75)?

Perhaps if people looked at the actual results of an activity, rather than a fanciful pseudo-scientific fiction, we as a society would suffer less terminal stupidity.

Naturopath and carnivore Stephen Byrnes comments:

I feel that I should point out here what most of the public does not know concerning macrobiotics: many of [macrobiotic's] adherents smoke -- quite heavily -- as well as drink large amounts of coffee. Tobacco is viewed as a "yang" substance in macrobiotic philosophy.*

My comment is: There is no way to know whether Aveline Kushi or her daughter would have died earlier or later had they preferred, say, the Atkin's diet. Also, I found a macrobiotic site that claims tobacco is an extreme yin substance (part of the nightshade family, along with bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes). This site also claims that tobacco is not as yin as Coca Cola. I didn't know that. I also didn't know that

When George Ohsawa - the "grandfather of macrobiotics" - was in jail, he was given only yam to eat, which is very yin. Allegedly, he overcame the situation by chewing 3,000 times!

If you know how to balance yin and yang, everything is okay.

I feel better just knowing there are people capable of believing such things. They make me smile. If you chew tobacco 3,000 times can you overcome the carcinogenic effects of too much yin in your chin area?

April 28, 2003. An investigation into "alternative" medicines has led to the biggest medical product recall in Australian history, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Two hundred nineteen products have already been banned and eventually 70% of "complementary" medical products may be forced from the marketplace. The investigation began when 87 adverse reactions were caused by a travel sickness pill, Travacalm. Nineteen people had to be hospitalized. At least one lawsuit has already been filed.

The federal parliamentary secretary for health, Trish Worth, said "some people were very, very ill and tried to jump out of planes and off ships because of the hallucinatory effect it had." Testing found dosages varied from 0 to 700 per cent of that listed on the label.

Travalcam is produced by Pan Pharmaceuticals, Australia's largest contract manufacturer of alternative medicines. Pan's license to produce medicines has been revoked. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is considering criminal charges against Pan and has already found that Pan falsified test results and substituted ingredients for those listed on labels.

Since Pan produces products for many different companies, consumers were advised to stop using any alternative supplements until specific products can be checked out.

Bob Carr, the Premier of New South Wales, told reporters that it is time to end the hype over "alternatives" and do some proper scientific assessments of remedies touted as "alternative therapies." Carr said the public needed to be more skeptical about complementary or alternative medicines. "Let's encourage a healthy skepticism based on science," he said.
[thanks to Kerrie Dougherty]

The New Zealand Herald reports:: "The Food Safety Authority last night issued a list of 642 dietary supplements and vitamins sold in New Zealand that are made by or contain ingredients made by the disgraced Australian company.

It took three days to put the list together, mainly because complementary medicines do not have to be registered in New Zealand, so authorities have no record of what is being sold, who makes what, or where products come from."

further reading

April 24, 2003. The attack on Iraq must be over, at least for the media, since the Raelians and Clonaid are back in the news. The Boston Globe Online reports that an investigation has revealed that Clonaid "has no address, no board of directors, and only two employees." Also, Rael has changed his mind about how much the free publicity over claims of cloning humans has been worth. In January he said it was worth $500 million. Now it seems it is only worth $7 million. The value of watching the media make fools of themselves? Priceless.
[thanks to Keldon McFarland]

April 23, 2003. Even at a time when the entire Islamic world seems to think that America is at war against Islam, one might not expect the Pentagon to go on the offensive to prove we mean well. And in this faith-based administration we probably shouldn't expect the Pentagon to let Good Friday pass without a religious service. But we might have hoped that their honored guest wouldn't be an outspoken enemy of Islam. Yet, they invited Billy Graham's son Franklin to address them. He's the one who said after 9/11: "It wasn't Methodists flying into those buildings, and it wasn't Lutherans. It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith." (To which we might add our own non sequitur, it wasn't atheists or agnostics flying into those buildings, either.) According to Maureen Dowd, "in his last book [Graham wrote] that Christianity and Islam were 'as different as lightness and darkness,' and recently told the Sunday Times of London, 'The true God is the God of the Bible, not the Koran.'"

Dowd also writes that when Muslim groups complained that the Pentagon was endorsing Graham's attacks on Islam, he asked for a photo op with Muslim Pentagon employees, but they turned down his kind offer.

April 21, 2003. Reuters reports: "Desperately searching for a sure-fire cure for SARS, Hong Kong's hospitals will allow the use of traditional Chinese medicine [TCM] for the first time since World War Two, the city's health authority said on Monday." The death rate from SARS (so far) appears to be about 6%. If 90% recover after TCM treatment will proponents claim a causal connection?
[thanks to Jeffrey P. Donohue]

April 20, 2003. My local newspaper resurrected an old (March 31, 2003) New Yorker article by Seymour M. Hersh regarding the origin of the forged documents that were the basis for President Bush's assertion in his state of the union address that Iraq has a nuclear weapons program that is a threat to the security of the United States. It is an interesting study in deception, self-deception, wishful thinking, and a few other things.

update: In a BBC radio interview, Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, expressed concern that U.S. intelligence agencies did not detect the obvious forged document. He also claims U.S. officials deliberately tried to discredit his team.

April 19, 2003. The evidence mounts that the Raelians lied when they claimed to have cloned several humans. The journal Science reports that there seems to be a major obstacle to cloning primates. It "appears to be something to do with the way genetic material is parceled up as a cell splits into two during embryonic development. Cells end up with too much, or too little DNA, and cannot survive." Nevertheless, Dr. Panayiotis Zavos claims "he has created a cloned human embryo that he plans to implant in a woman in the next month if genetic tests show that the embryo is healthy."
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 7, 2003. Chalk up another one for the creationists. In Tennessee, the Blount County  Board of Education denied the adoption of three biology textbooks because they teach evolution but do not cover creationism. There are seven board members and four of them didn't even vote. One board member said he does not want people to believe he is against evolution, but wants it to be taught as a theory along with creationism. I wonder if he is for or against heliocentrism or electromagnetism.
[thanks to John Renish]

March 30, 2003. The Skeptic's Refuge is reviewed in, of all places, The Washington Times by Joseph Szadkowski.

March 28, 2003. James Randi reports today that Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams have teamed up for another session of false hope and pseudo-comfort. Lynda McClelland vanished three years ago. Browne appeared on Montel's show with two of McClelland's daughters and told them that "Lynda had ended up, confused but alive, in a Florida nursing home after disappearing in July 2000 from her Forest Hills home." Yesterday, police dug up McClelland's body and arrested McClelland's son-in-law, David Rapasky. An informant, who claims he helped bury the body, has provided some gruesome details about the crime, including that Rapasky had had sex with his mother-in-law before he killed her.

This isn't the first time Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams have teamed up to mislead the grieving and the gullible.

March 27, 2003. Over three years ago we reported that Erich von Däniken was soliciting funds for a large amusement park to be built in Switzerland that would feature replicas of such things as the Nazca lines, Stonehenge, and the Egyptian pyramids. The Observer now reports that the park is about to open. According to the Mystery Park web site, May 24, 2003 will be opening day. Von D. and his financial backers expect over half a million visitors a year and will charge about $35 a head. Investors poured in over $60,000,000 [CHF 86 million] to build the park. One of their press releases says that "Erich von Däniken knows that it is fantasists who change the world, not nit-pickers." What the release doesn't say is that this is not always a good thing. It also doesn't say that a nit-picker is anyone who thinks the things Von D. calls mysteries aren't mysteries at all.

The Raëlians and Sitchinites might enjoy the Mystery Park. According to the Observer,

Other attractions will include a giant Imax screen, 3-D films, and 360-degree 'all-round' cinemas - all geared to show our history is not human but created for us by beneficent aliens, who bred with our apemen ancestors to produce modern men and women.

Still, parts of the park could prove quite interesting. For example, there are plans for a building where "visitors will embark on a journey into the future with NASA, the North American Space Association. On a trip through our galaxy, they will learn how the colonization of Mars is to be achieved and just how advanced this project already is."* The North American Space Association?

March 26, 2003. Scott Adams has introduced a new paranormal person in his comic strip: the furniture psychic. Today, the furniture psychic plays at being John Edward or James Van Praagh.

On a more serious note, reports:

Last week, Al-Azhar, the highest, oldest (1,000 years) and most respected institution of religious learning in the Muslim world, issued a fatwa (religious edict) advising "all Muslims in the world to make jihad against invading American forces."

The statement warned that Islam itself is the direct target of the "new crusaders' invasion" which aims at humiliating and subjugating Arabs and controlling their resources....

Given its historical and religious symbolism and weight, Al-Azhar's ruling will likely resonate with the faithful, particularly outraged young men.

Although Islam possesses no organized church, the significance of Al-Azhar's call to Muslims could be compared to that of the Papacy if it were to call on Catholics to fight a just war to defend the faith.

Prominent Muslim clerics and political leaders have echoed Al-Azhar and sounded the alarm. Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, a reformist, who was one of the first clerics to condemn the 9/11 suicide bombings against the United States and to dismiss bin Laden's jihadi credentials as fraudulent, ruled that attempts to resist an American attack is "Jihad" and a "binding Islamic duty."

March 21, 2003. I just got around to reading Ellen Goodman's column on the Congressional vote to ban all forms of human cloning, which, in effect, is a ban on basic scientific research. This bill doesn't just ban eccentric narcissists from cloning themselves to achieve immortality; it bans "therapeutic cloning for research to cure diseases" as well.

March 20, 2003. If you are in need of a diversion from the "decapitation operation" in Iraq, you might try reading a book Dario Ventra has found: Reading Toes: Your Feet as Reflections of Your Personality by Imre Somogyi. Dario is the young man from Florence who is studying geology and in his spare time has begun translating The Skeptic's Dictionary into Italian. Il Dizionario dello Scettico is just beginning, but we have already posted seven items for our Italian readers. In his extra spare time he finds important items like Reading Toes, which is a way to discover personality and character by the size and shape of one's toes. The back cover of the book is posted on and is worth a read. Among other things, it says that Somogyi has tested his theory and it is over 90% accurate "and he is very insistent that he did not cheat." I wonder, what would George W. Bush's or Saddam Hussein's toes reveal?






©copyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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