Skepticism, Religion Archive

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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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ray Comfort & His Horrible "Scientific Proof" of a Creator

Ray Comfort was one of the reasons that originally inspired me to start this blog. A guy at a flea market gave my wife and I a Comfort CD, and when we listened to it, the arguments in it were so horrible, I just had to vent somewhere. So, I wrote one of my first blog entries. Well, over the past couple weeks, Comfort's been making waves in the blogosphere, so I thought I'd add my two cents.

To give a quick background - Ray Comfort and his (hmm, sidekick is too demeaning, but I don't think he's an equal partner, so maybe...) protege, Kirk Cameron, of Living Waters Ministries (and also The Way of the Master website), challenged the originators of the Blasphemy Challenge, the Rational Response Squad, to a debate, wherein, according to the Christian News Wire, Comfort and Cameron "offered to prove God's existence, absolutely, scientifically, without mentioning the Bible or faith." I was hoping it was going to be better than the argumentum ad bananum, but unfortunately, it wasn't (in either the humurous sense or the actually making a good argument sense).

The televised, edited version of the debate should air tonight on ABC's Nightline, but there's already a clip on YouTube. Admittedly, the clip was put together by people sympathetic to the Rational Response Squad, and not Comfort and Cameron, but after listening to Comfort on that CD I mentioned above, I doubt he had any better arguments than what that video shows. Anyway, the televised version will be aired tonight, so if Comfort & Cameron did put forth any better arguments, they'll be made public soon.

Basically, the "scientific" argument Comfort put forth in the debate boils down to this - paintings must have painters, buildings must have builders, etc, etc; therefore creation must have a creator, i.e. God. That's just a horrible analogy. For one thing, all he's doing is listing things with known intelligent agents directly responsible for them, then listing those intelligent agents, and then somehow makes the jump that the universe must therefore have been created by an intelligent agent. The problem is, not everything we see was directly created by an intelligent agent. Many things, even ordered structures such as snowflakes and other crystals, or structures that appear intentional, such as the Old Man of the Mountain, are certainly the direct result of natural, unintelligent processes. So from that aspect of it - no, not everything must have an intelligent creator.

Another problem with Comfort's analogy, is that even though the same word, "create," can be used for all the things he's describing, it really is describing a different concept in the human vs. divine cases. All the human examples he gave were the result of physical entities merely rearranging materials that they already have to work with from their environment, while the divine creation of the universe was a supernatural agent creating all matter out of nothing. It's a big jump to go from the first to the second, since they aren't really the same thing.

Thirdly, even if Comfort's analogy could somehow be taken as proof of a god, it does nothing to prove the existence of the God of the Bible - it could just as easily be applied to Zeus. And finally, by Comfort's reasoning of everything requiring a creator, you're left with the question of where God came from in the first place. (I know, I know - it's not turtles all the way down; God is infinite, and doesn't need a creator; or else, He created time, so it's meaningless to ask what came before Him.)

Anyway, whether you believe in God or not, Comfort & Cameron's argument was far from a proof, and certainly not a scientific proof, for any god, let alone a proof for the Christian God. Don't use their silly, simplistic arguments to try to convince anybody of anything.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Intelligent Design Conference in Dallas Follow Up

Well, I'm late in getting to this like just about all my other blog posts, but... About a month ago, I made an entry about a then upcoming Intelligent Design event in Dallas. Well, Zachary Moore of the blog, Goosing the Antithesis, attended the event and wrote a 6 part series about it. Apparently, it was as bad as I would have thought it to be. Here are the links to the entries:

Darwin vs. Design: Lee Strobel
Darwin vs. Design: Jay Richards
Darwin vs. Design: Stephen Meyer
Darwin vs. Design: Michael Behe
Darwin vs. Design: Questions and Answers
Darwin vs. Design: Final Thoughts

Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog attended the Darwin vs. Design conference in Knoxville, which was apparently very similar. He gives his take on the event in a two part series:

Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part One
Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part Two


Selling Out