Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Science as a Religion?

I haven't posted anything here for several reasons ... who really cares if I do is probably the most important along with blogs are a dime a dozen and becoming less interesting. Anyway, I started this because I hoped I had something important to say about life, the universe, and everything (sorry Douglas) and how religion would hopefully have no place in our future. This was at a time when creationism was being given serious consideration for inclusion in our Science classrooms in Ontario of all places. This was something that crazy Americans did in the south but in Canada? Thankfully, it never came to pass.

There's only so much you can discuss when it comes to atheism and why organized religion isn't a great thing. With that in mind I stopped posting, it can become a tired argument fast. If I helped to convert even one person it was worth it. Hey, I sound like a missionary.

Lately however, there seems to be a more serious discourse on the place of religion in society. I think part of this stems with George Bush's unpopularity who's used religion as a guiding force in U.S. policy. Of course, it can help but be helped by doughheads like Ted Haggard who was ahemmmm, outted by a male prostitute who said ole Ted paid him for regular sex. Ted was the leader of the 30 million member New Life Church in the U.S. who often railed against gays. The irony escapes no-one I'm sure, except perhaps for a few members of his church if I had to guess.

Without a doubt, the very out spoken leader of this movement to rid ourselves of the superstition of religion is emminent evolutionary scientist and writer Richard Dawkins. I defy you to search for atheist literature and science vs. religion type events without his name popping up. His new book The God Delusion (and subsequent documentary) is currently number 5 in bestsellers in Canada and has enjoyed similar success around the world.

There are many other examples. This story in WIRED magazine describes the tenants of this new self proclaimed "crusade" against religion. Many other writers are also taking religion to task. I'm not going to link all these out but Sam Harris's books End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Mr. Harris has received the most hate mail from Christians of course. Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell calls for a rational and scientific discourse on religion. All of these were on the best sellers list. I find this not only incredibly exciting that it's being discussed but also that more and more are listening.

This past week, some of the leading practitioners of modern science were gathered last week in La Jolla, California, for a symposium entitled "Beyond belief: Science, religion, reason and survival". Some of the discourse was mentioned in the New York Times as a Free For All on science and religion. Very very encouraging stuff. All I can add to all of this is Go Team Go!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Rapture

For many born again Christians, the Rapture will mark the second coming of christ and the subsequent end of the world. Of course, those true christians will be saved and taken to heaven before the end takes place. The Rapture Index is a neat little formula that that aims to help them predict the prophecy coming true by looking at 45 categories of events and phenomena to come up with an index of how close the world is to ending. Any index value over 145 is news for Christians to "Fasten Your Seat Belts". It now sits at 157 after being recently updated.

The rapture isn't a concept shared by all faiths but I think most christian belief systems think there's a second coming at some point in the future. Eh, I guess it doesn't really matter what the differences are. They're all wrong!

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Power of Prayer, orrrr Not

The largest study ever of the effectiveness of prayer to help people recover from illness was just completed. Funded by the Templeton Foundation, the 2.4 million dollar study of more than 1800 heart by-pass patients was run for 10 years and found no benefits to praying for the patients in the study. A similar study at the Mayo Clinic reached the same conclusion. A Duke University study also yielded the same results.

The Templeton Foundation is often in the news for giving out prizes to scientists who purportedly further the advances of the scientific study of religion. I do have to applaud them for the publishing the results of this study. It has to be a huge blow to the cause. The naysayers are already out in force. “Anyone who seeks a prayer life guided by Scripture will not take this study seriously,” Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. Of course they wouldn't, it's an absolutely huge gaping hole in anyone's belief that if gawd exists, he cares.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Placebo vs. Placebo
Ted Kaptchuk recently published a study of the affects of two placebo treatments. Sugar Pills took on fake acupuncture to see which one worked better with a control group of volunteers who had chronic arm pain. The folks in the study were of course unaware that anything was pretend. Half the subjects received the sugar pills which they were told was a new drug for repetitive strain injury while the other half received acupuncture needles who's tips retracted so they never penetrated the skin.

The results? 25% of the fake needle group reported side effects including pain from the needles while 30% of the pill group reported side effects that included dizziness, dry mouth, and fatigue. 3 subjects withdrew from the study when reducing the dosage failed to control the side effects they were experiencing. In the end those taking the sugar pills indicated an average decrease in their pain of 1.5 points out of 10 while the needle group said their pain lessened by 2.6 pts on average. So those recieving fake acupuncture faired better than those taking fake pills.

That's pretty fascinating when you stop to think about it. What does it really mean? Are more elaborate forms of treatment better for your brain even if they do nothing physically at all? It does suggest this. For me I'm wondering if believing in something harmless that promises something good leads to a better mental state. But then how do we figure out what's really harmless?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

They're Fighting Over What?

Well the cartoon thing is hopefully drawing to close but I'm sure it'll resurrect itself again. So as they kill themselves over pencil drawings of the prophet, Iraq seems primed to degenerate into Civil War. The hardest part for me and I think others is understanding what the heck they're killing each other about this time? One day it's death to the west, the next it's death to each other. We can't keep track without a scorecard.

So apparently the Shia and Sunni sects of the Muslim faith don't always agree with one another. I won't try and pretend I totally understand why but here's what I could find. The split between the two groups dates back to almost the beginning of Islam. The Shias' believe that the calphate or leader of the Muslims should be a direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad while the Sunnis' believe that person should be elected from a group of people cabable of the job. So the Shia have not recognized the authority of any elected muslim leaders but instead follow Iman's they believe have been appointed by Muhammad since the last known descendent disappeared 11 centuries ago (heck, I 'm not even sure anyone can agree on how to spell his name from my searches). So the Imans and religous leaders of each group work the crowds up to kill each other more or less as they are the rightly divined leaders as per the Koran.

This was not always the case however. The disputed claim to the caliphate started almost upon Muhammad's death. The prophet's cousin Ali was the 4th leader of Islam but was deposed by a rival faction. Ali's son Hussein tried to reclaim the leadership but was defeated. The last bloodline Shia Iman is said to have disappeared into a cave 11 centuries ago. The Shia faithful keep a saddled horse ready every morning in anticipation for the return of the rightful heir. It is said he will reconcile Islam and bring peace and justice to all. I've heard that somewhere before? Waiting for the son of someone to return and bring about peace on earth? Oh yeah, now I remember.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Prophet Cartoons Incite Riots

The polarization of Western vs. Muslim culture came to task again recently when a few European newspapers republished cartoons from a Danish newspaper depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Perhaps ironically the cartoons were actually published last year. A quick search doesn't turn up to much and I'm not sure if that's because of the noise of the news of it or because of the fear of backlash at this point. One cartoon apparently shows the prophet telling his people to stop sending suicide bombers 'cause heaven in running out of virgins while another depicts him with a bomb for a turban.

There's been lots, well tons, of commentary on whether this was a good idea or not and whether this represents racism or a hate crime of some sort. I think this was inevitable and it will go a long way on supporting integration of the two cultures. Orrrrr, it's another example where oil and water just can't mix and violence is inevitable. So far it's a bit of both but the violence makes better press so that's 99% of what we read and see. A small group of muslims have supported the newspapers right to publish. I personally find the whole thing ludicrous but disturbing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Election Results

Senators 4 Leafs 3

HAAAAAAAA! Take that Leaf Nation! Ottawa has spoken for change by bringing in Heatley eh. Man I hope we meet the Leafs in the playoffs, if the Leafs make the playoffs that is.

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