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Radical Skepticism and Gullibility: Two Sides of a Coin

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“Facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored.” — Aldous Huxley

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” — Philip K. Dick

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams

Defenders of unscientific ideas use gullibility: “you have to keep an open mind,” and Radical Skepticism: “you can never have absolute certainty.” They use the former when they want to embrace a conclusion that is either known to be false or about which there is inconclusive evidence. They use Radical Skepticism (and often cite conspiracy theories) to avoid a conclusion which has broad scientific acceptance.

Both of these positions are intellectually dishonest, and destructive to the advance of knowledge. They are both a defense mechanism born out of cognitive dissonance and wishful thinking. They also showcase humanity’s abject failure to be able to step outside their own limited perceptual framework.

Here are a few examples:

  1. The trope of journalistic balance, that there are “two sides to every story.”
  2. The ad hominem attack “you’ve got your mind made up, you’re just not open to discussion.”
  3. The argument from popularity “lots of my friends have tried it and they get great results.”
  4. Accusations of scientific orthodoxy; rebranding science as a fallible and closed-minded scientism.
  5. Nietzsche’s famous quote, “there are no facts, only interpretations.”
  6. Claiming “naive realism” or “materialist literalism” is the same as fundamentalism.

Radical Skepticism must be distinguished from the healthy kind that promotes inquiry. The scientific method is very clear about how you go about proving or disproving a proposition. It’s very clear about the types of questions that cannot be answered scientifically, and the ones which can. The philosophical discipline of epistemology is concerned with the question of what can be addressed under the rubric of human knowledge. Healthy skepticism helps us wait until the facts are in, but it also requires that we accept a conclusion when the facts demand it. To do otherwise is to consign ourselves to being outside of knowledge, living in the shifting sands of our desires. In this desert we find only stagnation and diffidence, medieval “virtues” which have become for many a refuge against change they fear, or ‘dangerous’ knowledge they cannot control.

Radical Skepticism (hereafter RS, which also subsumes gullibility) as a mental operating system has produced a generation of postmodern humans who have the dubious “privilege” of living daily lives made rich and comfortable by a discipline whose very premises they deeply reject. As a rhetorical technique, RS allows one person with insufficient qualifications to confront the entire world’s scientific establishment simply by uttering the words “I don’t believe that,” the argument from personal incredulity. Freedom of speech, and a press that has long thrived on controversy means we’re subject to a lot of these professions of personal incredulity. In many cases, they drown out the notoriously PR-shy scientists. RS is quickly causing an existential crisis for humanity as it paralyzes us and hampers our response to climate change.

RS also has bad results in informal settings. A few days ago, D.J. Grothe started a thread by posting the Aldous Huxley quote above. Others added the Dick and Adams quotes. However, RS proponents derailed the discussion immediately into the subjective issue of qualia, how different people might experience a color or music. They claimed that proved there were no objective facts, that experience was the most important. I argued that no matter how the perception of green (the example we were using) changed from person to person, an instrument could measure the color infallibly. Even an alien with a different visual system could be taught that on Earth, the wavelength of 550 nanometers is called “green.” Our visual system is strong in that area because we were looking at a lot of leaves over the course of our evolution. Seems simple enough.

But apparently that idea still bothers some people. RS has convinced them that facts aren’t really facts.

In another discussion on Facebook, someone brought up the dubious New-Age modality of tapping. Which also got way off track with the RS-tainted assertions that it just might work, the promoter was sincere, or there might be some good things to learn from it, and even if none of that were true, it might be more fun than “dry objectivity.” I pointed out that the American Psychological Association calls it pseudoscience, a number of people on the thread still insisted it worked for them. Fine. I cited the placebo effect, and that it might be useful to find out more about how and why that works–to explore more about the mind-body connection–something that would definitely not be happening at a tapping seminar.

But these kinds of feel-good techniques get in the way of really learning about ourselves in the same way that prayer and religion do. And predictably, their promoters don’t want you to investigate them too heavily. “You don’t have to understand it to use it,” says Dr. Mercola on his tapping site (which also includes links to antivax propaganda). Eckhart Tolle says the same thing in The Power of Now. My New-Age cult leader parents used to say “shut down your carnal mind.” It’s all code for “don’t question me.” The naked egotism and authoritarianism of the New Age.

Problem is, when we deny facts and stop questioning, all sorts of bad things happen. Religion itself is a mere subset of that stubborn subjective mentality, which is in the category of solipsism (creating your own reality) or narcissism (imagining the entire world is really how you percieve it). When we get away from empiricism and objectivity, we have no way to evaluate claims of any kind. We have no way to make new discoveries. We become unaccountable, stuck in our own heads. It becomes all about following the formula, the recipe, the ritual.

Now I am woefully fallible in my own limited perceptions, and I’m well aware of it. In no way do I claim to “know everything” or “have all the facts,” as I’ve often been accused. But I do cultivate a basic respect for the structure of what constitutes knowledge and how we decide. Such questions are too important be left up to our flawed perceptions, and even society as a whole. They can only be answered by those who understand how the method works and also submit to rigorous peer review. I’m asking for a bit of humility. I’m asking for the understanding that reality is not up to us, nor can it serve a political or spiritual agenda. The scientific method is what works. It gives us data that come with degrees of uncertainty. We must live with that. But those uncertainties should never prevent us from action or avoidance when the preponderance of evidence demands it. Waiting until we’re 100% sure to act is a recipe for stagnation and crisis, jumping on something that is only supported by anecdotal evidence is a guarantee of boondoggles. We need to apply analysis, calculate probabilities, and take wise, rational action.

Otherwise RS makes us into impetuous children, either blindly shaking our fists at the universe, or trying to cajole it into giving us our way. Why can’t our fevered little egos just acquiesce to those immutable truths which are beyond our control?

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Comments (62 comments)

Bo Place / August 9th, 2009, 10:24 pm / #1

Regarding the placebo effect: capsules work better than tablets, big pills better than small, color makes a difference, and the more expensive the medicine, the better the effect.

Placebo injections and "sham" acupuncture treatment work better than placebo pills or capsules, while placebo surgery works best of all. http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-05-20#feature

Think about that for a moment in relation to the debate about health care, while I pause to vomit.

Okay, furthermore, telling the patient, “This will relieve your pain” works better than saying “This might help.”

And I'm sure skeptic.com, using the same scientific method, would ridicule shamanic healing practices as fraud. But consider the placebo hierarchy of effectiveness they present.

Then imagine growing up in an Amazonian tribe where the most respected member is a shaman. You get a fever with a bad stomach ache. He secretly puts a thorn in his mouth and confidently assures you that you will be healed.

He studies your stomach briefly and quickly locates an area to suck on for a few seconds. Upon finishing, he produces the thorn he had stashed in his mouth and gives a reassuring smile. You wake up the next day feeling better.

IMO, such a shaman should be praised for his understanding of the human condition and acting abilities. But since his ability to heal depends entirely on his performance and the nonconscious processes in the mind of his patient, the scientific method is not just useless here, but ultimately harmful. It makes him a fraud, and supports the insane health care system we have today.

BlackSun / August 10th, 2009, 12:42 am / #2

Bo Place,

Interesting info about the placebo effect. But what if the shaman worked his "mojo" and then the patient died instead of getting better. Like if they had appendicitis or something and it ruptured.

Sham cures only work on sham (psychosomatic) illnesses. I think maybe the fact that the word "sham" and "shaman" sound and look similar might not be a coincidence.

Bo Place / August 10th, 2009, 4:12 am / #3

$11 billion worth of antidepressants were prescribed in 2008. And yet, from the most widely-read journal for psychiatrists:

"More than half of the clinical trials (on antidepressants) sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies failed to find significant drug/placebo difference" http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/1...

So unless you consider all forms of clinical depression "sham illnesses," the placebo effect is actually quite versatile, depending on the individual brain and ailment involved.

But for you or me, seeing a shaman would be like being in a drug study and told that we're taking the sugar pill. When that happens accidentally, there is no placebo effect. So for us, seeing a shaman would be a sham. But not the $11 billion sham-wow! Big Pharma is pulling…

IMO, it gets down to faith, which is why I focused on your mentioning of the placebo effect in this post. I don't see how anyone can honestly, rationally and logically accept the placebo effect while simultaneously denying that people could derive real, tangible health benefits from a religious faith–that can't be proved by the scientific method for the same reasons that limit any study of shamanic practices or the placebo effect in general.

"We are wiser than we know"
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

BlackSun / August 10th, 2009, 4:29 am / #4

"More than half of the clinical trials (on antidepressants) sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies failed to find significant drug/placebo difference"

So it seems science has done its job by showing the medications are ineffective. The question is, why are they still being prescribed? And that's not a question science can answer.

As for the difference between placebo effect and faith-healing? Again, I think we need more study of the mind-body connection. Would it be useful, for example, to lie to a cancer patient about their odds of being cured so they don't lose hope and cause their body to stop fighting the cancer? These are once again ethical questions, not scientific ones. It is the job of science to learn as much as possible about why some people respond to suggestion or placebos.

As for faith-healing, I seem to recall a recent study showing that people who were prayed for in some cases did worse than the control group.

BlackSun / August 10th, 2009, 4:46 am / #5

Big Pharma often comes up when discussing the flaws of science or medicine. My general answer is yes, OK, Big Pharma is corrupt. Now what?

Drug companies have a conflict of interest, so are the worst possible organizations to put in charge of doing clinical trials. Why do many people take that as a negative reflection on science rather than a political issue of lobbying and influence peddling?

Double-blind trials are the only way to test procedures and medications. But it also matters who's conducting the study. So many skeletons in the health-care closet.

I don't think corruption in modern medicine is any excuse to give a pass to quacks in the so-called "alternative medicine" field. We need to crack down on fraudulent treatments no matter who's offering them.

Bo Place / August 10th, 2009, 9:01 am / #6

I don't believe prayer can help anybody but the person who says it, and only then if it is completely honest and heart-felt, especially if it's original (thus grounding the conscious act of speaking with a feeling of genuine emotion for a common goal that the unconscious mind can understand–and affect).

Different people have different neurons with different DNA and different life experiences, so nothing can work for most people, let alone everyone. There are common neural highways but everyone creates their own back roads with everything they do–or don't do.

Say a prayer with any doubt whatsoever (doubt can be unconscious, like anything else) or for anything that cells in your own body can't actually affect, and you're just insulting your unconscious mind (imo, what many call God) and wasting time talking to yourself.

We're all dealing with shared resources, conscious and unconscious impulses competing for the same neurons and synapses, and sending mixed signals will get you nowhere. Faith is crucial and ignorance can, in some circumstances, be bliss. In the right situation, it can allow a shaman to heal you.

“Divinity is found within…the highest revelation is that God is in every man….the religions of the world are the ejaculations of a few imaginative men…The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken and in heaps is because man is disunited with himself." Waldo again. Where is he? Oh yeah, he's dead. Sorry.

IMO, praying to God as if He's some invisible, all-powerful external force to be feared is not a practical means to affect change that can only come from finding your own unique language to communicate with love and respect to the parts of you that regulate your breathing, generate smiles and all forms of happiness—the unconscious mind, spirit, whatever you want to call it.

Personally, I think the creation of language is much like the scientific method—both gave us tremendous powers in many areas that created great progress, while fucking things up in other areas of our minds that we still cannot understand.

Some more Waldo: "The civilized man has built a coach, but lost the use of his feet."

Bo Place / August 10th, 2009, 10:26 am / #7

"We need to crack down on fraudulent treatments no matter who's offering them."

That depends on how a treatment is determined to be fraudulent. What should the criteria be? The scientific method can easily be manipulated to convincingly label a treatment as fraudulent or effective, when efficacy is largely dependent on nonconscious processes that can vary so extensively from person to person.

"The question is, why are they still being prescribed? And that's not a question science can answer." IMO, Science Daily has a big part of the answer:
"Big Pharma Spends More on Advertising Than Research And Development" http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/0801...

All you really need to know from the article is that Big Pharma spends twice as much on advertising as it does on R & D, which to me is essentially an admission that the placebo effect is the best hand they have to play.

It's more consistently profitable to make a bad drug or a bad movie–but market it effectively, than it is to actually create a good drug or a good movie. Capitalism has many weaknesses.

We both know that there are lots of drugs that are very effective. It's undeniable. Proven facts. But that widespread perception invites widespread abuse, via the placebo effect. Because most Americans know that lots of drugs really can help, they take any new drug with an expectation that it will help, especially if it's expensive and in a big, colorful capsule.

It could be a capsule literally filled with horse shit, but it's a play on faith that's not much different than most organized religions.

BlackSun / August 10th, 2009, 10:49 am / #8

Interesting discussion, but I'm not convinced. I think you're focusing on a lot of things outside of science that have influenced both the state of medical research and public policy. The solution is to improve our adherence to the scientific method in medicine, restoring integrity at its core. We need to get to the bottom of what's placebo and what's real. We need to discover if and when placebo-based therapies are appropriate. But above all, we should implement political and structural reform–not declare a failure of science because we've allowed other factors to distort the process.

darkeros / August 10th, 2009, 5:53 pm / #9

Well written and insightful piece, Black Sun… and good discussion here, though I agree with you in that we do need to get to the 'bottom' of what's placebo and what's real. This needs to be done alongside the science of psychology which includes the unconscious and how it functions. Sorting through 'what is what' can eventually give people who 'need' the placebo effect, shamanism, religion… the keys to what the hell is REALLY going on within them which is projecting out into all these different forms of phenomena. Then those who need healing from the imaginal psyche versus healing from chemo, can be sorted through and really given the 'true' prescription to their malady.

Keeping people 'dumb' to their own realities, whether physical or manifestations of their madness, serves no one and should never be used as a gauge for 'let them have their placebo and eat it too'.

anti_supernaturalist / August 10th, 2009, 8:50 pm / #10

Nietzsche is dynamite — handle with all due care

The purported quote from Nietzsche comes from the so-called Will to Power, a pastiche of notes from Ns Nachlass (literary remains).

Ns notorious sister Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche (fame seeking wife of vicious antisemite Bernhardt Foerster) and his faithful, but philosophically incompetent, sometime scribe and go-fer, Peter Gast, concocted this pseudo-work claiming that it was Ns magnum opus.

As with all the material in the notebooks — they are rough quarry stones, from 1883-1888. WP in its final incarnation appeared as 1052 selections, arranged by topics chosen by the two editorial counterfeiters, not by N himself.

They are not the final musings of the divine-one who lost himself in an atheism-induced smog of madness. His was an outbreak typical of late stage syphilis (at age 44).

The purported quote is not accurate. It probably derives from section 481 of WP. Its context is thoughts about "perspectivism" — it does not represent Ns final view on the matter of interpretation and perspectivism in epistemology. Perhaps N never managed to reach a publishable account —

However, N did see fit to publish a one line aphorism related to WP section 481, but in a context of a critique of moralities. In Beyond Good and Evil it appears as the whole of section 108

There are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena. [Kaufmann's translation]

N by no means denies the existence of moralities (plural) — but he is not a moral relativist. Human behavior can be interpreted as moral action according to a number of incompatible moral perspectives. And not all are of equal value. Moral perspectives cannot be evaluated by a moral yardstick — there must be non-moral criteria to rank them.

the anti_supernaturalist

BlackSun / August 10th, 2009, 9:49 pm / #11

I used the quote not to attack Nietzsche, but to illustrate how his words have been misused by those who try to undermine any degree of certainty in knowledge.

I think the perfect is the enemy of the good. The fact that we can't have 100% certainty on moral or factual questions doesn't mean we can't say anything definitive about them. We can and we should.

Thanks for your clarification.

BlackSun / August 11th, 2009, 2:13 am / #12

I agree, because it's our basic psychology (vulnerability, needs, woundedness, fear) that causes us to abandon critical thinking in the first place. If we could learn to face often unpleasant realities, we wouldn't have our reason enslaved to our passions.

Bo Place / August 12th, 2009, 3:31 am / #13

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play make Jack a dull man.
All work and no play, with the right DNA, can make Jack a PhD-wielding expert on the brain. Dr. Jack can then use his inflated conscious mind, which works impressively in so many productive ways, to authoritatively speak about the unconscious mind he spent his whole life destroying by working all the time and never playing.

I fear the influence of Dr. Jacks just as much as I fear the influence of someone like Dr. James Dobson.

BlackSun / August 12th, 2009, 3:53 am / #14

Respectfully, argument from fear is no more rational than argument from personal incredulity. What you are describing is–again–the weakness of an individual, not a weakness of science; which uses peer-review and critique as a memetic immune system and to guard against human tendencies toward demagoguery.

Furthermore, an inflated, unbalanced, overworked Dr. Jack is useless as a scientist. He should take a sabbatical or retire.

Go ahead. Take every human weakness, corruption or pathology and lay it at the feet of science. Or have the courage to support the development of a system to protect against the very thing you fear. Your choice. Is the glass half empty, or is it half full?

Should we give up on the human race?

Bo Place / August 12th, 2009, 4:06 am / #15

Dis-eases and states of ill health all involve unconscious processes in the mind and/or body…

Bo Place / August 12th, 2009, 6:45 am / #16

Blacksun, if I didn't respect your thinking and writing, I wouldn't read your blog. We're mostly on the same page.

Nietzsche: "The strongest knowledge–that of the total unfreedom of the human will–is nonetheless the poorest in successes, for it always has the strongest opponent: human vanity."

The pattern repeated throughout history that has caused more pain and dysfunction than perhaps anything, imo: Man escapes Plato's cave by becoming whole, living in the sweet spot of harmony between the conscious and unconscious minds.

Thinking is automatic, faster, more efficient and more accurate than any conscious mind is capable. Many, many things are suddenly understood–but the biological impulse or unconscious prioritization and allocation of resources, if you will, is focused on maintaining that state with great care, not storing a whole mess of newly and largely intuitive information accurately into conscious memory.

(The scientific method has been used in favor of my arguments, imo, thanks to two non-Dr. Jack psychologists from NYU via "The Unbearable Automaticity of Being." http://www.psychology.pl/download/emotions_and_mo...

But there's enough Dr. Jacks to spoil any consensus, thus debate continues and progress is stalled.

Recent research on how fallible eyewitness testimony is relevant here, but back to Nietzsche. So human vanity hits. Outside Plato's Cave, man naturally wants to tell others, write stuff down, gain respect and wealth or, I believe in most cases, honestly try to help as many people as possible feel as good and free as they do.

That conscious overload inevitably topples the delicate balance they found. All those conscious-heavy doing and not being efforts essentially tell the unconscious mind, "Thanks, you control how I feel all forms of pleasure, you are the source of true enlightenment, but I don't need you now. Go away."

The unconscious mind reacts somewhat like this: "Now I have to try to help you write and talk in a language that you never liked anyway and answer so many fucking questions that strain our limited resources and destroy the sweet love we had. Fuck you."

Being the more powerful force, what so many people call God, the unconscious mind ensures that what is produced exclusively by our rather limited conscious abilities, after all that great mind sex and harmony, will be riddled with falsehoods. You know them well.

I'd like to introduce you to others I doubt you've ever considered. But you have to be able to read a prayer like "The Lord is My Shepard," for instance, and process it for what I am certain it is: the product of an unconscious mind (like most song lyrics) that is happy with the way the conscious mind of the individual who transcribed or "channeled" the prayer has allowed the particular person's mind and body to be at a state of ease, safe and warm.

So, imo, millions of people are praying with their own conscious minds to what they think is an external God (in the form of Jesus Christ), what I see as one's own uniquely wired unconscous mind–yet the prayer originated from what they think is God, one person's unconscious mind–directed to what they consider themselves–what they consciously know and think they are.

Yes, it gets very complicated, which is why I could use help from people like you.

Bo Place / August 12th, 2009, 7:35 am / #17

To be clear, because I cannot emphasize enough the psychological damage of this human error, the following prayer is a prayer essentially FROM what people saying the prayer think of as God TO what people they think of as themselves….and yet it is recited with the exact opposite intention and understanding.

LORD = conscious mind GOD = unconscious mind

THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the
Lord forever.

Note: This essential human error answers lots of questions like, "Why is Glenn Beck on the air and what's going on with health care?"

BlackSun / August 12th, 2009, 5:51 pm / #18

Check out this link:

http://www.blacksunjournal.com/psychology/359_how...

I'm not a psychologist, but I do think objectivity comes partly from healing the split between our conscious and unconscious minds. After all, both are just the product of neural firings. Why can't we learn to stop repressing and become more integrated?

I also think that any brain simulation will necessarily have to model the unconscious, since it's part of who we are. That should be interesting to finally figure out how all that works. Up to now, psychology has been more theoretical than empirical, which is about to change.

I'll check out your links and get back to you.

BlackSun / August 12th, 2009, 5:51 pm / #19

Check out this link:

http://www.blacksunjournal.com/psychology/359_how...

I'm not a psychologist, but I do think objectivity comes partly from healing the split between our conscious and unconscious minds. After all, both are just the product of neural firings. Why can't we learn to stop repressing and become more integrated?

I also think that any brain simulation will necessarily have to model the unconscious, since it's part of who we are. That should be interesting to finally figure out how all that works. Up to now, psychology has been more theoretical than empirical, which is about to change.

I'll check out your links and get back to you.

Bo Place / August 12th, 2009, 8:40 pm / #20

Thank you, BlackSun. You've been very patient with me.

From your shadow post: "Rather it is exposing Shadow–bringing it into awareness and coming to terms with its message–that is worthy of celebration."

Well said. But Plato was right about those who escape his cave. "Wouldn't he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn't he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn't he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness?"

I am rather bad at "their game" now, but I'm getting better. Here's a quick summation of "The Unbearable Automaticity of Being" from a psych professor's blog. http://notdetroit.wordpress.com/category/the-unbe...

The last sentence of this blog post gets to the root of most of the problems we face today, imo, yet the professor seems to have no awareness of it's tremendous significance:

"…Here, the unconscious is often much more effective than the conscious. Interestingly, the more conscious thought that one puts into analysis, the less accurate the judgments or assessments often are."

That relates directly to my concept of Dr. Jacks and the Nietzsche quote I used earlier, which is quoted in the very beginning of the full text of The Unbearable Automaticity of Being.

GeauxGhoti / August 13th, 2009, 7:54 am / #21

I don't want to jump to any false conclusions BlackSun, so I was wondering if you'd mind explaining what, exactly, you mean when you say, "Defenders of unscientific ideas use gullibility: “you have to keep an open mind,”"?

I realize that this is simply one part of your statement, but it's the only part of the statement with which I could have a problem… Depending on how you mean it…

Thanx

BlackSun / August 13th, 2009, 8:06 am / #22

Well, since I said "unscientific ideas" that would mean those which had been proven false or for which there was scant evidence. People who still want to follow their pet notions (such as astrology, law of attraction, mediumship, ghosts, or pseudoscientific health practices such as homeopathy, cupping, or tapping, etc.) will often say to detractors, "you have to keep an open mind." But it is actually they who are not open to the lack of empirical evidence or even evidence against their beliefs. This is another variant on proof-burden shifting. "You can't prove it doesn't work."

GeauxGhoti / August 13th, 2009, 8:25 am / #23

Thank you for that clarification… Thus far, I completely agree with you… Let me ask you this, though: What is your opinion on accepted, yet unproved facts? That which has been "proved in theory" or even mathematically, but never proved or disproved in reality… In other words, would you consider evolution a fact, even though there are still so many unanswered questions? Would you consider the idea that nothing can travel beyond the speed of light to be a fact, even though we've never tried it?

For the record… I'm an Atheist who fully supports Evolutionary theory… I just want to know what you think, and how this post affects or reflects your beliefs…

Thanx

BlackSun / August 13th, 2009, 8:39 am / #24

Evolution is both a fact and a theory. Check out the Wikipedia article for the explanation of what that means.

As for faster than light travel, as you approach the speed of light, Einstein's theory says your mass approaches infinity, which would mean the energy to keep accelerating would approach infinity. This is part of the reason that particle accelerators are so big and take so much energy. And all those giant tunnels and superconducting magnets tens of miles in diameter at the Large Hadron Collider are just to accelerate tiny, tiny sub-atomic particles to near light speed.

We need to master higher energy technology before we can try it with anything on a real-world scale, or maybe it involves warping space like Star Trek. But do you see how quickly it devolves into speculation? If you can't say anything definitive, why say anything at all? Why not be willing to wait until the theory can be tested? That's how science is done.

I'd say the possibility of faster-than-light travel is therefore a known unknown, (meaning we already have a theory and we know how to test for it) which is a kind of fact.

ClintJCL / August 13th, 2009, 5:03 pm / #25

Another quote:

Homer Simpson: "Stupid Lisa! Facts can be used to prove *anything*!"

BlackSun / August 14th, 2009, 3:47 am / #26

So true, yet ironic. In a democracy when people can't agree on what the facts are you get the same result as if there were no facts at all.

AngieJackson / August 18th, 2009, 2:10 am / #27

You're the third fellow cult leader child/grandchild I've met in as many weeks. Maybe we can start a club lol

Thanks for this fantastic post. I do a Sunday School entry each week of awesome-ness posts and this one will definitely be appearing in next Sundays. Like I said, I was raised by a cult leader too so if you ever wanna compare notes, that would be awesome.

BlackSun / August 18th, 2009, 2:14 am / #28

Yes, I would very much like to hear your story. Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you found something of value.

AngieJackson / August 18th, 2009, 2:19 am / #29

I know anecdotal isn't good evidence, but I grew up in a faith healing cult. I was actually groomed and raised as a healer, and I used to "heal" people all the time. My Christian mom still swears I healed her headaches better than any aspirin. That was all placebo effect. I have no magic powers (which was kind of an ego blow when I figured it out).

The problem is some things can't be healed by placebo. The illness is too great or the trauma too severe. A boy I knew was stung by 427 yellow jackets. Faith healers were present and praying for him, including my grandma (cult leader, big time healer). The boy died. The placebo effect wasn't enough, especially on someone too young (he was 2) to really understand what the prayer was supposed to be doing. 1 to 5 kids in the US die of religiously inspired medical neglect or "faith healing". Just because the placebo effect exists doesn't mean it's a panacea or works in all cases.

AngieJackson / August 18th, 2009, 2:19 am / #30

1 to 5 kids per month. my bad.

AngieJackson / August 18th, 2009, 2:32 am / #31

You're welcome to come over to Angie the Anti-Theist. Here's a post I just did debunking some of my grandmother's writings. There are a lot of links to other posts I've done on the cult or other debunkings within that post. (It's kind of the mother-post I've been building up to for the past couple of months so it's loaded with stuff I can refer back to as I'm writing my book.)

In short: I was raised to be a faith healer by my cult leader grandmother. DominoRed/Gretchen (who comments on that post) is a deist blogger who escaped from the cult run by her mom and grandmother. Nate Phelps (he blogs on Atheist Nexus) is Fred Phelp's of Westboro Baptist Church's son and an awesome, sweet, teddy bear of a guy. So, we're the cult kids. I've also started talking with one of the escapees from the FLDS Warren Jeffs cult. Maybe we can have a webinar or online pow-wow sometime. :)

http://angietheantitheist.blogspot.com
Thanks

BlackSun / August 18th, 2009, 2:34 am / #32

My mom didn't actually preach faith healing, but she did have people come up to the altar to be touched by a giant synthetic ruby or emerald. She always told people they should see doctors, though.

The current leadership of the church is still advertising "blessings" with the gemstones for their followers.

AngieJackson / August 18th, 2009, 2:38 am / #33

Grandma taught that going to a doctor was essentially Satan worship. She said surgeons were performing witchcraft. She's crazy.

Going to a doctor was never allowed, no matter whose life was at risk. She wrote a chapter in one of her books about my mom almost dying in labor and writes it as a peppy "Just hang in there!" story about being willing to sacrifice your kid to god like Abraham did. (Seriously, she tells god it's okay to kill my mom. And then wrote it down in print.)

BlackSun / August 18th, 2009, 2:44 am / #34

Whoa… Well, my mom did plenty of other crrrrazzzzy shit. But she knew better than to let her followers start dying. Although one time, she let the antivaxers loose in the community, and a whole generation of kids failed to get their pertussis shots. Then they all came down with it, and it was a massive disaster. She learned her lesson on that one.

My middle son was 2 weeks old at the time (1989) and had to be put on IV antibiotics even though he had no symptoms They said if he got pertussis at that age it would kill him.

Fortunately now he is a 20 year old healthy young man. No thanks to religion.

AngieJackson / August 18th, 2009, 2:50 am / #35

Glad your son got through relatively unscathed. Antivax was a requirement in grandma's cult and I still don't have all of mine. Next time I have insurance I plan to get that done (if nothing else so I can preach at everyone else that they oughta do it).

But faith healing and home birth was her whole deal. She didn't actually promise to "promote harmony" or "balance" or anything New Age positive-sounding. She was a dark, depressed, narcissistic woman. She was a nurse and absolutely hates doctors, so she became a faith healer out of spite.And now she's stirring shit up in the nursing home, trying to get other old people to quit taking their pills.

AngieJackson / August 18th, 2009, 9:59 pm / #36

Hey I just looked your parents up on Wiki. We subscribed to their magazine Pearls of Wisdom. It's a small cult-world after all?

Bo Place / September 1st, 2009, 3:03 am / #37

How can you get a dog to stop humping your leg?

Pick it up and suck its dick.

I bet that would work, but would the scientific method shed any light on this issue? Probably not, unless a man and a dog are willing to experience potential psychological damage. I write this only in the hope to open some minds outside of the boxes most of us live in and as an example of the limitations inherent to using science to understand the human condition.

Jerry Posner / September 20th, 2009, 8:34 pm / #38

You might like some of these Robert Anton Wilson quotes: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/2918.Rober...

Best regards,
Jerry

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