Skepticism, Religion Archive

Friday, September 7, 2007

My Hundredth Blog Entry & An Announcement

Foreword & Disclaimer Added 2007-09-14

Okay, in the feedback I've gotten to this (from a blog comment, e-mail, and a especially some real, live conversations), people seem to have a problem with the word, "atheist." Atheist has different shades of meaning depending on who you ask, and in the more popular usage, perhaps I'd be better described as agnostic. In the comments to this entry, I brought up the term, "freethinker," and I'm beginning to think that I might like that even better, since, as I point out in another comment, I think the thought processes we use to arrive at our conclusions are as important as the conclusions themselves. And by stressing the process, and not always the final destination, it allows you to find more commonality with people who came to different conclusions. My point is, if you're reading this entry, please don't get hung up on the term, "atheist." Please read what my actual position is.

I'd also add, that if you read this, and find it very objectionable, and also happen to know where I work, don't take it as a reflection of the others where I work or the company. As far as I know, I'm the only non-believer. Plus, every other week when we go out to eat as a group, somebody always says a prayer (never me, of course).


Doing some maintenance on my blog recently, I noticed that I had 99 entries so far. That makes this entry 100. So, for my hundredth entry, I wanted to make it something kind of special. So, I have an announcement:

I'm an atheist.

Okay, so it's not an earth shattering announcement, but it's something I've been wanting to get off my chest for a while now. It probably comes as no surprise to many people - indeed, my family and many of my friends already know. And anybody that reads this blog and the essays on my main website would have seen how I'd been moving away from Christianity (such as this essay, where I'd finally decided that the Bible isn't divinely inspired). And, I've been leaving comments on other blogs discussing my atheism, even though I wasn't open about it on my own blog. I'd even already received some e-mail from people accusing me of being an atheist long before I actually became one, simply because I accepted evolution.

Okay, first things first, let me get a few things out of the way (by quoting and paraphrasing from other essays I've written). I didn't become an atheist just because I didn't like going to church Sunday mornings, or because I didn't want to have to follow the rules anymore. I don't "hate God" (it's a little hard to hate an entity you don't believe in). I read the Bible. I studied science. I read up on philosophy. I became an atheist because that's the way I think the universe really is. And don't confuse atheism with Postmodernism or Nihilism. I still think there's an objective reality. I still worry about how to be a good person. I just no longer see a god as being part of that.

Second, don't confuse atheism with certainty - I'm not absolutely one-hundred percent certain about anything. However, I'm about as sure that the Earth is a globe that orbits the Sun as I am that the Bible was written by people, and that a God as presented in the Bible doesn't exist. I'm not as certain that no type of divine being exists at all. I don't see an absolute reason why there would have to be one, and I haven't seen any good positive evidence for such a being, so the default position is to doubt its existence. But, I still can't be positive that a god/gods doesn't exist. So, I leave open the slight possibility that gods could possibly exist, but I base my worldview on the idea that they probably don't.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes

Sorry for not making a post last week, but I was on vacation with my family (who am I apologizing to? I don't have any regular readers). So, here's a short post to make up for not having one last week, and I'll try to write up something else before the end of the week.

Actually, this is just quick follow up to the post about Massai Barefoot Technology Shoes. I mentioned in the beginning of that post that it was in a pharmacy where I originally saw those shoes. To be exact, the pharmacy was Harvest Drug & Gift. I'd already intended contacting them about the shoes before visiting their website, but once I did actually visit the site this past Monday, I saw just how prominently they were displaying MBT shoes. So, I sat myself right down and wrote them an e-mail, copied below.

I recently visited your store and saw the MBT shoes you had on display. They piqued my interest, so I did a little research about them. Admittedly, I'm neither a doctor nor a scientist, but from the information I could find, I did have some concerns regarding these shoes. I would assume that as doctors, your primary concern is the well being of your patients, so I thought you might be interested in what I found.

I have a detailed write-up of what I found on my personal website at:
[link - I included the actual url in the letter, but it's so long it screws up the formatting on this page.]

Here are the major points:
  • MBT shoes do show promise, but the studies to date have only been preliminary - more follow up studies are needed to confirm their efficacy.
  • There haven't been enough clinical studies done with these shoes to identify possible negative side effects.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are serious side effects possible from long term use of these shoes.
  • One study which examined relieving knee pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis did not find a big difference between MBT shoes and "conventional" New Balance sneakers.

In light of the anecdotal evidence suggesting negative side effects, the lack of clinical studies addressing the issue, and considering that at least one study found significantly less expensive shoes accomplishing nearly the same results, I would suggest being very cautious in recommending these shoes to your customers, and possibly even recommending that they only use the shoes under the guidance of a physician or physical therapist (as was suggested by one therapist quoted in one of the articles I found). Perhaps you already do counsel your customers in such a way, or do have some warning signs posted that I missed, in which case this e-mail is completely unnecessary. Or perhaps you know of some studies which do address side effects, in which case I'd be grateful if you could pass them on to me so that I could update the article on my website.

Sincerely,
Jeff Lewis

If I hear anything back from the pharmacy, I'll post it on this blog. But seeing as how it's been a couple days already without even an acknowledgement of receipt, I'm not holding my breath. Maybe I'll try snail mail if I don't hear back from them within a couple weeks.


Added 2009-07-08 I realize that I mentioned my original MBT post at the beginning of this entry, but I just want to be sure that readers don't miss it. It contains a much more in depth look at the shoes, and has generated a good discussion in the comments section::
A Skeptical Look at Masai Barefoot Technology Shoes

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Skeptical Look at Masai Barefoot Technology Shoes

MBT Sport GreyI was at the drug store the other day waiting on a prescription, when I noticed people trying on some funny shapped shoes that had curved soles. So, I walked over to the display and took a closer look. They were called MBT shoes, which stands for Masai Barefoot Technology, and are made by the company, Swiss Masai. They had hand-out brochures, so I took one to read while I was waiting. (Note that I will refer to the company as both MBT and Swiss Masai in this essay, as it appears that the company does the same on their website.)

For some of the research for this entry, I used MBT's website. It's an annoying, flash laden site that doesn't let you just sit and read about the technology, without having some java script decide you've spent enough time on that section and then brings up something else. Also, I couldn't find some of the statements on the website that first caught my eye on that brochure - so if you go to visit the site looking for them, you may not find them, either.

Anyway, there are a couple issues I want to discuss in this entry - briefly, whether or not these shoes have anything to do with "barefoot technology," and then in more depth, whether or not these shoes might actually have some therepeutic value.

I realize now as I'm getting ready to post this entry, that it's grown longer than I'd originally anticipated, so I'll get right to the point up front, before addressing the details. MBT shoes do show promise for treating certain conditions. However, there is anecdotal evidence that they can cause significant negative side effects. Additionally, there are not enough clinical studies addressing their efficacy or possible side effects.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

NASA Administrator, Michael Griffin, Doesn't Think Global Climate Change Is a Problem

On the ride in to work this morning, I was listening to NPR as normal, and they were interviewing a couple people about NASA funding, Greg Easterbrook and NASA Administrator, Michael Griffin. Michael Griffin made a few comments that were so stupid, I had a hard time believing I'd caught his name right. After all, it's always a little tough to catch who they're interviewing when you pick up in mid stream, and when you're driving and have to pay attention to the other cars on the road more than the radio, but I checked the NPR website, and sure enough, I got it right.

Now the interview was about a lot more than just global warming, but it was one of the topics they brought up. Here's part of the transcript from NPR's website, with the interviewr's questions in bold, and Griffin's responses following.

It has been mentioned that NASA is not spending as much money as it could to study climate change — global warming — from space. Are you concerned about global warming?

I'm aware that global warming exists. I understand that the bulk of scientific evidence accumulated supports the claim that we've had about a one degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last century to within an accuracy of 20 percent. I'm also aware of recent findings that appear to have nailed down — pretty well nailed down the conclusion that much of that is manmade. Whether that is a longterm concern or not, I can't say.

So, he acknowledges that this is a real phenomenon, that people are responsible for it, and that it's already had a measurable effect. But then in the next breath says he's not sure if it's a longterm concern. Whaaaa?

Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?

I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

Whoah, I'm dizzy from that change in direction. In that first section I quoted, he admits that the current climate change is caused by people, and then here, one question later, he says we don't have the power to keep the climate from changing. And then he has the gall to say that people that want to stop human induced climate change are being arrogant! That's like someone going around and intentionally starting forest fires, and then when the firefighters show up, he calls them arrogant for assuming that potential future residents might not want trees in their back yard.

Look - it's not like the current situation is a natural phenomenon that we want to stop. Noone's suggesting something like stopping plate tectonics because we happen to like geography the way it is. The fact of the matter is that this is a human caused phenomenon, and the rates of change are going to be much higher than most times in that "millions of years of history" Griffin referred to. Sure, life on this planet will continue, and humanity will most likely make it through, too, but unless we start taking some drastic action now, it's going to be one hell of a ride before things settle out.

This was good timing. When I checked Pharyngula today, there was an entry about a new site devoted to answering climate skeptics. Go check it out to see some responses to common arguments. And don't forget to check out RealClimate, either, which has much more actual data.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Creation Museum/Creationist Rule of Thumb with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

There's now a follow-up entry to this post, written after the "museum" actually opened. If you want to read John Scalzi's reaction from his visit, or see his flickr set of photos from the museum, go to that entry.

Well, the grand opening of the Creation Museum is scheduled for this coming Monday, May 28th. I've blogged about this once before, lamenting the fact that $27 million was being wasted on this shrine to ignorance, but I figured that with the opening day approaching, it was worth making another post on this topic (and maybe get included in the upcoming Creation Museum Carnival, update - it's here).

There are two problems I had with this entry - the first being that this is a museum that I've never visited and that hasn't even opened yet. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), the organization running the museum, even wrote a short entry on his blog the other day, Name-calling against Creation Museum, whining about this very issue. That isn't really all that big of a deal, though. Since this museum is being run by AiG, I'm assumimg that everything in the museum is going to be consistent with the AiG website. I wouldn't imagine that there are any new, ground breaking arguments being unveiled in this museum that AiG hasn't already put up on their website. The real problem, is that AiG is such a reposity of stupidity, it's hard to narrow down your focus to one manageable topic.

I'd been planning on writing a blog entry about a certain topic for a while now, so I might as well use this opportunity to do it, and that is to state a simple rule of thumb for dealing with creationists. Anytime somebody tries to use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to refute evolution, you should realize you're dealing with somebody who doesn't understand science or who is a liar. If it's a website, you should save yourself the time, and just leave and go look somewhere else. This may seem like a bit of an ad hominem attack, and maybe it is a bit, but life is short. You shouldn't waste your time dealing with idiots and liars. Maybe, just maybe, a website that uses the Second Law of Thermodynamics this way will have some thought provoking arguments, but it almost certainly won't be because the person running the website understood the science - they got lucky (in the same way as a million monkeys at typewriters would eventually reproduce Shakespeare), or they parroted it from somewhere else. But in any case, especially under the liar scenario, you'd have to really be careful to figure out just what you could trust from that source, and you'd be much better going somewhere more reputable.

And guess what, AiG has a page all about it, The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to Critics. It's a little hard to figure out if it's based on ignorance or dishonesty. I'd guess a little bit of both, considering the author, Jonathan Sarfati, was competent enough to get a PhD. But the rule of thumb still applies - stay way from AiG if you're looking for good information.

This paragraph added 2007-05-24 After reading this, I'd imagine some people would think this rule of thumb could be even easier - anytime you're dealing with a creationist at all, you should realize you're dealing with someone who doesn't understand science or who is a liar. And, that could be true for the most part, but it's possible that creationists could be people that understand science, but haven't studied evolution/biology in particular, and don't actually know all the evidence in support of evolution, or that they have such strong faith, the evidence wouldn't matter to them, anyway. This misuse of the Second Law has nothing to do with fossil evidence, genetic evidence, or faith - it's just a complete misapplication of a scientific theory that should be obvious. So, that's why I still use this rule of thumb - it's not arguing over the interpretation of evidence (which still puts creationists on shaky ground), it's getting things wrong right from first principles. Creationists that use the Second Law of Thermodynamics argument really are the bottom of the barrel.

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