Skepticism, Religion Archive

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

E-mail Forward- Allah or Jesus?

Just the other day, I received an e-mail forward of a story written by a Christian about a supposed exchange he had with a Muslim about the Islamic attitude towards infidels. The basic gist of the story was to illustrate how superior Christianity is compared to Islam, and how intolerant Muslims are of others. The entire e-mail, interspersed with my comments and corrected for the formatting errors that come about with multiple forwards, is available below the fold.

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Thursday, March 2, 2006

Science and Engineering Indicators 2006

The new NSF report on Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 has been released. Below are the results of the "Scientific Understanding" section. While there has been some improvement, the results are still depressing. The numbers in the table are the percentage of people that responded correctly, while the correct answer is listed in parentheses after the question.

  United States (2004) China (2001) South Korea (2004) Japan (2001) Malaysia (200) EU-25 (2005) Russia (2003)
Lasers work by focusing sound waves (False) 42 16 31 28 34 47 24
It is the father’s gene which decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl (True) 62 39 59 25 46 64 22
All radioactivity is man-made (False) 73 46 48 56 33 59 35
The center of the Earth is very hot (True) 78 39 87 77 74 86 86
The universe began with a huge explosion (True) 35 17 67 63 41 NA 35
Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria (False) 54 18 30 23 21 46 18
Electrons are smaller than atoms (True) 45 24 46 30 42 46 44
Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? (Earth around the Sun) 71 59 86 NA 81 66 NA
Human beings are developed from earlier species of animals (True) 44 70 64 78 61 70 44
The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move (True) 77 45 87 83 62 87 40

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Friday, February 17, 2006

What Is the Value of Algebra?

Thanks to Pharyngula, Uncertain Principles, and Gene Expression over at Science Blogs for pointing this out.

Here's an interesting article in the Washington Post, written by some guy named Richard Cohen, who basically says that algebra is a worthless topic to most of the population, excluding the technical people who are going to need it for their careers. He argues that it shouldn't be a requirement for people to graduate from high school, which I think is just plain stupid.

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Monday, February 6, 2006

Religion- The Good and the Bad

This is an excerpt from another entry on this blog. The original entry was so long that I wasn't sure people would read the whole thing, so I've decided to pull out the best parts into their own entries.

My wife and I recently went on a medical mission trip to Guatemala. Since it was a mission trip, pretty much everybody that went was a pretty devout Christian. And it seemed like a big part of the reason that many of these people went was to do God's work to help these people. So obviously, religion can inspire people to do good things. I think I had the most liberal interpretation of the Bible of anybody there (see my Bible Interpretation Essay), and that most of those people accepted the Bible as a divinely inspired book. Like I said, this is a topic I've been thinking a lot about, recently, so seeing all of these people going to Guatemala to help so many strangers made me think that maybe I'd been thinking too harshly about religious fundamentalism, if it creates good things like this. But then, towards the end of the trip, we learned about all the mudslides Hurricane Stan had caused in that country, and about a bad earthquake that had just hit Pakistan (and don't forget that Hurricane Katrina had just caused all of that devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast), and it got the people to discussing those natural disasters. And what seemed to be the consensus was that the Bible talks about the end of the world coming, and these were just signs. And that really bothered me. It's a type of complacency - natural disasters happen, it's God's will so there's nothing we can do about it. What about global warming? We're screwing up the planet right now, and hurricane seasons are just going to get worse. Maybe this was just an anomolous year (random variability is going to make some years have more hurricanes than others), or maybe it was a symptom of global warming. Why not try to figure out the real reason - maybe we'll be able to change something to prevent this from happening in the future, or maybe we'll be able to predict these things better so that we'll be able to get people out of harm's way. But to just pass it off as God's will really irritates me.

So, after that conversation, it got my head back out of the clouds. Religion can inspire people to do good things, but I think that fundamentalism, or extremism in any sense, is bad. Let me repeat that, so that you don't skim through and miss it - the religious fundamentalism in our country right now is bad. You may say that you believe in Christ, but your actions are harmful. In the past, fundamentalism has lead to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, all of the fighting in Ireland, and countless other evils. The bad things that have been done in the name of religious fundamentalism (not religion in general, but fundamentalism) more than outweight the good things that have come out of it. So, be religious, but don't abandon sense and reason.

Monday, February 6, 2006

Exorcism, Homeopathy and Alternative Medicine

This is an excerpt from another entry on this blog. The original entry was so long that I wasn't sure people would read the whole thing, so I've decided to pull out the best parts into their own entries.

Yet again, watching T.V. with my wife, we saw a show on the National Geographic Channel, Is It Real? (which is turning out to be one of my favorite shows, by the way). This particular episode dealt with exorcisms. Actually, at the time of writing this, if you go to National Geographic's Video Archive, and do a search on "exorcism," you can find a short clip from the episode. And really, I don't know exactly how many people are buying into this, but from the video clips you could see on the show, there were some pretty big crowds at the services of one particular exorcist, Bob Larson.

While I was watching this man perform his exorcisms, I was struck by one thing, before they ever even introduced the skeptics (so I don't think I was being biased by their views), and that was how much the whole thing looked like stage hypnosis. There was the preacher, up at the front of a big crowd, with his "patient" there with him, and he kept talking to "the demons" possessing these people. I mean, the susceptibility of the human mind to the power of suggestion is a lot greater than most of us would like to believe. And it's not necessarily stupid people (Nobel laureate Richard Feynman discusses being hypnotized by a stage magician in one of his books), it's just that certain people have a disposition towards being hypnotized. So, I told my wife that's what was going on, and lo and behold, a few minutes later when National Geographic showed the experts, that's exactly what they thought was going on.

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