Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

November 19, 2010

The Centre for Inquiry Canada is beginning a new skeptical campaign featuring bus ads and various educational events. It’s called the “Extraordinary Claims Campaign”, named after the quote that is often attributed to Carl Sagan. This is a campaign I hope gets brought to the U.S.

This week in god 11.17.10

November 18, 2010

Author’s Note: Though it wasn’t intentional, I discovered all these stories on The Friendly Atheist blog, so really this post is just drawing attention to several important stories that Hemant Mehta and his co-bloggers already reported. Sorry.

1. Tony Danza tells a priest to shove it – Well, okay. Not quite. Biographer Philip Carlo, a close friend of Danza’s recently died. At the funeral, the priest performing the service decided to talk more about Jesus than about the deceased. So Danza was all, “Ey oh, oh ey!” Actually, it was more like this:

“Tony, who was one of Carlo’s closest friends, walked right up to the priest and said angrily, Excuse me, but this is not about you. It’s supposed to be about my friend, and if you can’t do that, maybe you should let someone else speak!’

Good for Tony! I remember attending the funeral service for someone I went to high school with and being really upset that the deceased was hardly even mentioned in the service, which was exploited to celebrate Jesus. And I wasn’t even close to the deceased. So I can imagine how I’d feel if it were for a close friend’s service. If it had been, I’d like to think I’d tell off the guy too.

2. Atheists & Christians unite for forest restoration – I’m always a big fan of these charity projects where atheists work with the religious. If I were running an atheist or secular organization, I’d be pushing to do more of it. Not only does make a positive difference in the world but it can easily draw positive media attention to the organization while promoting tolerance at the same time. It’s win-win.

3. Anne Frank is in Hell – An interesting discussion about the inevitable logical conclusions of many Christian’s beliefs that Christians try to avoid like the plague. So often Christian evangelicals declare all who don’t follow Jesus, particularly not the exact way they do, are hell bound while anyone can be “saved” no matter what their crimes on Earth are if they repent. I often point out that under this system, that would mean six million Holocaust victims are in Hell while many of their Nazi oppressors could have made it to Heaven. Christians typically respond by bending over backwards to rewrite their dogma using tortured logic to make it more consistent with secular morality.  They do the same when presented with the question of whether it would be morally acceptable to lie to protect Anne Frank hiding in your attic from Nazis who come to your door looking for Jews after the Christians have already stated that even telling a single lie makes you deserving of Hell. Anne Frank makes for a superb example when demonstrating the absurdity of many Christian views about morality.

4. Battling Comfort with kindness – Possibly inspired by the Rally to Restore Sanity, one atheist group found a fun way to protest the preaching of hateful Jesus freaks, by killing them with kindness. They held up signs like “I’m an atheist but religious people are cool too!” and “You’re not going to hell. However you’re not going to heaven either!” as well as wearing t-shirts that said “Smile! :) You just met an atheist.” I don’t necessarily think this is the only approach atheists should take but it does still have the effect of highlighting the irrationality and hatefullness of the religious while displaying atheism in a positive light, so kudos.

Tree of Knowledge in jeopardy

November 18, 2010

For the last several years, the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia has put up as a holiday disaplay a tree decked in copies of the covers of books representing numerous philosophies and religions, as well as atheism.

But now the Chester County Commissioner’s Office is putting to a vote whether to “rescind all private, unattended winter holiday season displays on the Chester County Historic Courthouse property.” This legislation seems to clearly be designed for no other reason than to get the Freethought Society’s Tree of Knowledge display removed and give religious groups a monopoly on holiday displays.

According to the Freethought Society’s Margaret Downey:

“The Tree of Knowledge display conveys to passersby that there exists in America a strong united minority of nontheists which include freethinkers, atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, skeptics, rationalists, ethical culturalists and humanists.”

But this isn’t just some atheist attempt to co-opt the holiday season. The Bible and Koran, as well as several books representing other religions are present on the tree as well. The tree represents the diversity of thought in the world as well as in America.

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Harry Potter knows his elements

November 17, 2010

Fun with robots

November 14, 2010

News From Around The Blogosphere 11.12.10

November 12, 2010

1. Modeling autism in a lab dish

A collaborative effort between researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of California, San Diego, successfully used human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from patients with Rett syndrome to replicate autism in the lab and study the molecular pathogenesis of the disease.

Their findings, published in the Nov. 12, 2010, issue of Cell, revealed disease-specific cellular defects, such as fewer functional connections between Rett neurons, and demonstrated that these symptoms are reversible, raising the hope that, one day, autism maybe turn into a treatable condition.

2. Louisiana at war with textbooks over evolution – High school biology textbooks are being accused of putting “too much credibility in the theory of evolution.” And in related news, math text books are being accused of putting too much credibility in subtraction.

3. All life on Earth could originate from alien zombies -An interesting twist on the speculation of panspermia is that life on Earth could have emerged from alien viruses that were already dead but still carried enough information to spawn new life.

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A typical conversation with theists

November 11, 2010

News From Around The Blogosphere 11.9.10

November 10, 2010

1. Large Hadron Collider causes mini big bang

“The Large Hadron Collider has successfully created a “mini-Big Bang” by smashing together lead ions instead of protons.”

2. Spain’s LGBT community prepare to welcome Pope with kiss-in – Organisers are using Facebook to grow a  ‘queer kissing flashmob’ intended to congregate in front of Barcelona’s cathedral on Sunday:

“No placards, no flags, no shouting and no slogans. Only kissing allowed,” the Facebook page reads.

3. Liberty Counsel announces its 8th annual “Naughty & Nice list” – This is the Christian group that tries to discourage people from shopping at those evil stores that have the audacity to use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in their advertising. Here’s the official list. I plan on shopping only at the “naughty” stores and passing on the “nice” ones.

4. Skeptics in India launch their own paranormal challenge – Inspired by the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, skeptics in India are offering 50 Lakh rupees (about $112,000) to anyone who can definitively prove under proper scientific conditions that ghosts exist.

5. American Atheists puts up their first billboard and it’s going to be in NYC – The billboard is going up near the Lincoln Tunnel on the NYC side on November 23rd and will remain there for one month. I’m not all that crazy about it as I’d rather we dropped the whole holiday season schtick and addressed something of more substance, but I don’t hate it either. Here’s what it will look like:


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Breasts key to regenerative medicine?

November 4, 2010

Breasts, is there anything they can’t do?

According to Chris Calhoun, CEO of San Diego-based biotech company Cytori Therapeutics, leading to medical breakthroughs in tissue engineering is not on that list. As you may know, breasts are mostly made of adipose (fat) tissue. But what I personally didn’t know is that that adipose tissue is loaded with useful stem cells capable enhancing, healing, and rebuilding injured or damaged organs.

As Calhoun puts it:

“It’s the first practical cell therapy.” He pauses. “And it’s breasts.”

His plan is to put stem cells from breasts on the market to get around the public controversy over embryonic stem cells.

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Medical science vs. viruses

November 4, 2010

Well, the flu vaccine, like every other vaccine, has still not been linked to autism, but one thing it has been linked to is decreased risk of heart attacks.

Middle-aged and older adults who get the flu vaccine may be less likely to suffer a first-time heart attack in the following year than those who skip the shot, according to a study published Monday.

So yes, yet another great reason to get your flu shot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Vaccines save lives. Deal with it.

Of course vaccines aren’t the only weapon against viruses. A new virus-killing technique is hitting the market in a few days, and researchers believe it can even defeat the common cold.

Any immunology textbook will tell you that once a virus enters a cell, the only way to knock that virus out is to kill the entire cell. But a new study from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge has shown a way to kill a virus from within the cell, leaving the virus defeated and the cell victorious and intact. This could be huge–not just a cure for the common cold, but for all kinds of other viruses as well.

Suck it, cold!

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