Archive for January, 2009

Funny Youtube Video

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2009 by delivis

Remember the PrayerMAX 5000 video? Same guy makes a bunch of videos. Very funny..:) Enjoy!

The Devestating Effects of Homophobia and Family Rejection

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2009 by delivis

A recent study(link goes to the abstract of the study) that has come out recently has found some alarming and sad statistics on gay kids who have been rejected from their families.

While this particular study focused on gay kids in particular, family rejection happens, though less frequently i imagine, for many other reasons such as not accepting the religion or cultural of the parents and engaging in whatever other behavior, natural or not, harmful or not, that the parents consider unforgivable.

Here are some of the highlights, as the abstract summarizes:

Higher rates of family rejection were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes. On the basis of odds ratios, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection. Latino men reported the highest number of negative family reactions to their sexual orientation in adolescence.

That suicide statistic, as one medical blogger has pointed out means that:

“67 percent of study subjects in the high rejection group had attempted suicide by age 25!”

The subjects of the study were graded on the amount of “rejecting behaviors” they had experienced. They ranged from “low rejection” which included things like the parents disapproving of their sexuality to blaming anti-gay experiences on the child rather than the perpetrators to “high rejection” which can go as far as outright rejection like forcing the kid to move out and stopping financial support for school, etc. The above stat refers to the high rejection group.

I have read some detailed personal accounts and interviews with kids who were in situations like that. The worst ones tend to be in small towns where the communities are very insular but very supportive and caring as long as its members strictly cohere to the norms. Kids who did not are disowned by the parents, shunned out of their church, rejected by their friends, and essentially driven to leave the community all-together. Money that was promised to them for school suddently cut off, they have to make their own way. It is very heart-wrenching and devastating so i am not very surprised by stats like the ones these researchers found.

New Proposed Evolution Disclaimer

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2009 by delivis

I’m sure you have all heard the creationist anti-evolution strategy of placing “disclaimers” in biology textbooks warning students about evolution content in one way or another. A new bill in Mississippi wants to have the following disclaimer put in textbooks:

“The word ‘theory’ has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered a theory.

Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things.

Study hard and keep an open mind.” (emphasis mine)

How asinine. Can someone really believe that unless someone was there to witness something we can know nothing about it with any degree of certainty -that it is therefore just a theory (in the colloquial sense of a hypothesis)?

As far as i know, no one was around to witness all of the movements of the continents that we are pretty damn sure happened. No one was there to give us first hand accounts of of the formation of the Himalayas or the volcano at St. Helens. Why do geology textbooks not include a disclaimer? Why do we let geologists be so arrogant as to think they can know something they have never seen first hand and lie to the children when they present it as fact? Think of the children!

What about virtually all of astronomy and cosmology? No one was there when the big bang happened so how can we say anything in the big bang theory is beyond guesswork? No one was there during the formation of the first stars and the first nuclear reactions and the formation of elements either so how can our theories of nucleosynthesis not be deserving of a disclaimer? There are countless examples here. My goodness, do you realise we have never seen Pluto orbit the Sun? In the time since its discovery it has not had enough time to complete a single orbit and yet we tell kids that Pluto orbits the Sun.

Furthermore i hope the people who are pushing such bills are also trying to get a good chunk of the prison population freed. A lot of them are in for charges of rape and murder where there was no witness, where mere DNA evidence and semen and blood samples were used. We just guessed that they did it since no one saw them – no one who survived anyway. I look forward to seeing some efforts to bring the criminal and penal and legal codes of the US into a consistent evidence standard to only make witness testimony admissible.

The Alleged “Autism Epidemic”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2009 by delivis

If you have been watching Oprah or Jenny McCarthy’s various efforts or those of other anti-vaccinationist fear mongers, this term crops up very often. It is absolutely true that the number of autism diagnoses being made is on the rise and climbing steadily. The cause of this, however, is a hotly debated topic in the medical literature. It may be due to a real increase in autism rates, it may be due to a broadening of the definition of autism and an increase in surveillance, or some mix of both.

Various people and groups are quick to latch on to the rising number and point fingers of blame at toxins in our environment or vaccines or whatever else they want to arbitrarily attribute it to. Misinformation is uncritically flung about, statistics are abused, credulity abounds.

Here is a recent article by the Yale neurologist Steven Novella who has kept a watchful eye on this topic. He does a good job of summarizing the real scientific debate on this issue and separating it from the media-driven pseudoscience.

Famous SNL Skit Originated In The Inquisition

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2009 by delivis

In my study of religion i have read a good deal of the Malleus Maleficarum. Now, I know what you are thinking: “Delivis, what the hell is that? Why are you making me read crazy Latin words at this hour? I’m only on my second coffee, good man!”

Well actually, it is a very famous book. It is the “Hammer Against Witches”, the text that was the basis for the Inquisition. Hopefully you know that the inquisition is the Catholic Church initiative to eradicate witches and combat heresy. This text was used as a manual on how to find a witch, how they operate, how to interrogate and torture them, and of course how to kill them.

But enough of the cheery stuff. Some so called ‘Feminist” thinkers on the topic of religion have done a lot of writing suggesting (very convincingly) that a lot of what went into this book came out of the extreme sexual repression of the clergy in a male dominated society. Clergy, who were striving for celibacy, interpreted the feelings of arousal they had when a woman was in their sights not as an internal reaction they had to the woman but as a power or spell that the woman was using on them to influence and control them.

This grew into elaborate and complicated superstitions supported by hearsay and the endless supply of discovered witches which were generated by forcing each accused witch, under torture, to reveal the names of other witches. For instance there are tomes of accounts of women (witches) stealing the penises (the “members”) of men. The Malleus is filled with such accounts and the entire book is permeated with this kind of sexual fixation.

As an aside, these kinds of beliefs are still prominent today, believe it or not. In Africa the belief is very widespread that penises have magic powers and that various beings are obsessed with either cursing their genitals to diminish their power or to steal them to take their power. I don’t mean one or two cooks per city either, i am talking about widespread beliefs where the governments often have trouble quelling hysterical riots and mobs over such fears.

Putting that interesting, if perhaps very bizarre, story aside, onto the main point of the post. Reading the Malleus i came across an interesting passage.

And what, then, is to be thought of those witches who in this way sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird’s nest or shut them in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many and is a matter of common report? (Malleus Melleficarum, p. 121, as found on Google Books)

Male organs shut in a box? Holy shit, it is Dick In A Box…circa 1486! Was Justin Timerlake an Inquisitor? Is SNL working for the Church? Could this be a mere coincidence? Surely not!

For those who are also not aware of the now famous skit, here it is again….you be the judge (and in true form, the jury and interrogator and executioner as well!)

Surely at the very least SNL owes the Catholic Church some royalties.

Unfalsifiable Hypothesis – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2009 by delivis

As evidence for the existence of a god, one often hears from the religious about their personal feelings, things like “i feel the presence of Jesus (or Allah, or Buddha, or whatever god they believe in) in my heart”. This feeling is usually especially enhanced when they are performing the rituals and acts of the religion with others. One hears this sort of evidence is used as confirmation of beliefs very often. But what would happen if you lacked these feelings? Not just as an unbeliever, but as a committed religious person, you lost all such feelings of divine presence, what would your religious officials tell you?

Enter Mother Teresa. In late 2007 her letters to the Vatican were finally released to the public. In these letters she expressed extreme doubt, a crisis of faith. One of the most striking lines was:

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.

What do I labour for? If there be no God — there can be no soul — if there is no Soul then Jesus — You also are not true

Time magazine wrote:

Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love,” she remarks to an adviser. “If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.'”

Even when partaking in the sacraments she felt nothing. This is considered to be no small thing.

But what was she told from her correspondent at the Vatican? She was told, essentially, that this is a good thing. That the emptiness and pain and absence she feels is her taking a share of the pain of Jesus’ crucifixion. In her Public life she constantly (and falsely) professed to feel the presence of god. In her private letters she reveals that she felt a complete empty void there. Either way it means that what she feels is confirmation of a god.

A good line from the author Sam Harris sums up the idea of the unfalsifiable hypothesis very well:

Consider what it means when even the doubts of experts are used to confirm a doctrine.

Borat’s New Film Project – Opinions?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 12, 2009 by delivis

The actor behind the character Borat, as this article points out, has been sued by many different people over his last film. His next film features a black model playing Jesus in a loincloth and a crown of thorns and is sure to get even more flak than his previous film.

So two questions come to mind about these sorts of projects…

Firstly is do they do any good apart from their sheer entertainment value? Many think it is a good idea to do these blatant showcases of religious lunacy, like Bill Maher’s Religulous; they push the more fundamentalist religions out further to the margins of society. However, there are many critics which think that movies like this just give those of us who are not religious a bad name and a stereotype as militant, angry, out-to-insult, denigrating, curmudgeons. They say that instead we should focus on building common ground and being more inclusive. I do not think that this movie has any intention of weighing in on the religious debate in the US like Religulous clearly has, but it will have an effect nonetheless.

Secondly is there any holy ground when it comes to comedy? Is there any topic off limits, anything you can not or should not make a joke about? Can comedy go too far, and if so, when does it go too far?