Archive | February 2011

Belief Convinces Skeptics? Maybe Not.

In this article, (Click me Here)a writer attempts to make a case for accepting religious claims, specifically those of Christianity, based only on personal testimony and alleged experience, and compares the apostle Peter with a master salesman who could convince the most reticent of doubters.

There are several problems with the claims in this article, and I’ll go from the most likely premise which needs to be established as a truth-condition for the claims to the least likely, each assumption hinging on the ones prior to it:

First, there is the premise that Peter historically existed as a real person, not a fictional or mythical character. This is possible, and even likely, though I haven’t seen any definite confirmation of this by biblical historians and scholars, so I have the fewest problems with it. It could very well be, even with some considerable exaggeration in the accounts of him over time.

Second, dependent on the first, is the premise that what Peter has been credited as saying, he actually, literally did. It is likely that some of what he has been credited as saying he did, and that some has been added to and embellished by others after him. This happens a lot in the evolution of religious narratives and scriptures.

Third, and finally, this argument assumes as a given that everything Peter said is actually true, not merely that he believed it so, and no rationale is given to accept Peter’s claims unless one is already inclined to accept both the validity of the source, and the truth of the claims. These claims both beg the question and are based on fallacious appeals to authority and pragmatism (“I’ve been there, done that, I say it, and it works for me, so it must be true…”)for their establishment, and I’m afraid that to those who don’t already believe and know something about logical fallacies, they aren’t very convincing at all.

I remain skeptical, but it was a nice try, and an interesting exercise for putting my thoughts in order.

Homeopathic Blues

One of the things that scares me as a skeptic is the possibility of someone I care for, someone close to me, falling victim to some quack alternative medical scam because they weren’t thinking critically at the time.

Alternative medicine?

Alternative to what, medicine that’s based on genuine evidence?

For one thing, it’s inventing a false dichotomy of alternative vs. science-based medicine, since if the majority of alleged alternative treatments actually worked, and could be shown to work in properly controlled studies, they wouldn’t BE alternative.

They’d be, well, medicine, and that would be it. Some of them are, despite being hijacked by Alt med advocates as their own.

Those claimed alternatives that really do work, and I mean better than placebos do, better than sugar pills, have been shown to work and are currently being used as part of regular medical practice.

But it’s not the alternative treatments that have some small efficacy that bother me, it’s the treatments that have no real support from reasonably-conducted studies, many of which are based on debased magical ideas with no scientific plausibility to begin with, much less being not even being supported by the data.

It’s no surprise that those who practice such implausible modalities shun the use of controlled and blinded experiments because those things rather inconveniently ‘don’t work for them.’

I wonder why….? *crickets chirping*

There is a spectrum of efficacy for differing medical modalities, all the way from the completely worthless, implausible treatments to those well-supported by medical research.

The more implausible treatments have either not been shown to work under reasonable test conditions or have been shown not to work under those same conditions.

I have yet to see someone suffer from even frequently repeated overdoses of entire bottles of, say, homeopathic sleeping pills much less just doze off into la-la land, despite the recent spate of skeptics overdosing all over the world, to no effect, not even a yawn.

What’s kept me from doing it is the fact that the local pharmacies I’ve been to so far have more integrity in the stock they carry than I’ve anticipated. Damn. Well, maybe I should be pleased – bully for them.

I’m afraid the only thing homeopathy will ever cure is your thirst, and to paraphrase comedian Dara O Briain, while you can’t overdose on it, you can f**king drown from it. After all, it’s just water.

By the way, my diabolical Big Pharma paymasters have just emailed me to inform me of the payment in my sooper sekret Swiss bank account for writing this post. Baaah!