Response to Ashley Smith — Part IV

Her first email read like this:

You are grossly uninformed and uneducated on this topic:

There is NO SUCH THING as “THE Scientific Method.” There is NO SINGULAR method that scientists follow. What we all learned in 6th grade is WRONG.


Science and spirituality are NOT at war, you uneducated Internet fool. They are totally SEPARATE entities and areas of life. Dawkins is blatantly and COMPLETELY MISUSING and ABUSING science for his AGENDA. The man should know better.

I STRONGLY SUGGEST that you EDUCATE YOURSELF about what science actually is and is NOT- what it can and cannot do.

THIS link, from the University of California at Berkeley is the BEST ON THE INTERNET ( and it is reputable) for information about what science is. YOU simply do NOT understand that God falls WAAAAAY BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES of what science can actually address. Science is SILENT on the matter- COMPLETELY SILENT. It does NOT get involved , NOR IT IS EVEN ABLE TO.


[Censorship is my own]

Well that was lovely, calm, thoughtful and respectful!

On her first point, that there is no one ‘scientific method’ that all scientists follow. I have since challenged her in multiple emails she has replied to on that claim, each time she has restated her claim, but with no evidence what-so-ever. I asked her for one piece of published, peer-reviewed science that didn’t follow the Hypothesis-Test-Conclusion structure, but she has not presented anything. She has no evidence for her claim.

“Laws, Theories and Hypothesises have no hierarchy whatsoever, nothing is upgraded.” She then states. She’s right, I have never said anything to the contrary on my blog, or anywhere else, ever. So I don’t know what relevance it has to the topic. It is true, hypothesises are not the same as theories or laws, but that bares no relevance to the topic.

“Science and spirituality are not at war you uneducated internet fool” she goes on to say. Like I said earlier in response to a comment, I think that they are polar opposites and must necessarily be at war, because their beliefs and claims are in stark contrast to each other.
Its also worth saying that she claims science and spirituality are not at war, and then goes on to attack science in defence of her spiritual beliefs. Ironic really.

I suggest you all visit the link she sent me, it not that long so its not heavy reading. After you read it, formulate your own opinion as to the intent of the link.

okay… Its pretty weak isn’t it, and like her emails and comments, it has no evidence to back up its claims, and just says what it wants to say. It’s not in-depth, its not thorough, its quite a poor page, and its credibility is not great, seeing as there is no author. It may be on a university website, but some universities also endorse homeopathy and other ridiculous alt-med claims, so it is of little value credibility-wise.

On to the next email.

You are a total fool. The best cream of the crop theories we have are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS AT BEST. There are many theories outright WRONG.Even accepted quality science has been very wrong.

Our best scientific genuises in history were ONLY fog fighters struggling mightily to understand the world.

Get off the pedestal. Scientists are EXTREMELY FALLIBLE and no better than anybody else.

and followed shortly after, before I could respond, was this:




The first email she sends is a lot nicer, I wish she wrote like that more often.

I’ll talk about it first.
Her first claim, that our best scientific theories are estimations at best. This is just wrong. Our cream of the crop theories, Evolution, the Big Bang Theory, Germ Theory of Disease, General and Special relativity, these have all been tested countless times before, over and over again, to the utmost detail, and never has an experiment contradicted any of them to date. This doesn’t mean they are right, we can never prove anything completely correct in science, but it suggests that they are. Even if they are not, they are pretty close to how it would be. Just like Newtons Laws of motion, they’re pretty good, but relativity is just a little bit better. So if they are wrong, they are basically right because they fit every aspect of the universe that we have measured with precision.

Her second argument made in the email is that scientists are fallible, just like any other human beings. Again, she’s right, but it doesn’t prove her point at all. Scientists are fallible like the rest of us, but science was designed to eliminate those errors, and other things like bias which would interfere with observation. Science is the perfect way to eliminate the fallibility of humans.

I will now address her second email.
This is no more than a blatant ad hominem attack, it makes no arguments, it assumes it is correct without any evidence, and it uses vulgarity to try and beat me as opposed to actual evidence. Nothing needs to be said about this email other than that it demonstrates her style of argument, the level of her intelligence when faced with actual reason, and the rigidity of her arguments.

I made short responses to her again, warning her that vulgarity was not the wisest thing for her appearance. She responded to my thus:



The best scientific theories we have are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS- NOTHING MORE. Even they CAN be either wrong or need work . And some of the lesser theroies are likely wrong.

Don’t you understand ANYTHNING?


In another email shortly after


Science does NOT “prove” OR “disprove” ANYTHING ( including even scientific subject matter- which the supernatural and God are NOT ).

Furthermore, science CANNOT disprove God. This is BASIC knowledge. It does NOT deal with that. It is SILENT and NEUTRAL. YOU ARE A STOOGE. DAWKINS IS A TOTAL HACK AND ABUSING SCIENCE. HE IS A DISGRACE AND HAS AN AGENDA.




and one more!




She makes no new arguments in her first email in this series, other than bringing up a new layer to an old argument, that science itself is fallible too, because it is a human creation. Okay, lets look at that. Yes its a human creation, but it has been refined over the years to because a flawless way of testing reality. How do we know its flawless? Well we know it is prefect because the evidence surrounds us, if science was even a little bit long I surely wouldn’t be writing to you on my iPad, and you wouldn’t be seeing it almost instantaneously wherever you might be in the world. We wouldn’t be able to send probes across the solar system and track them precisely, reading from their instruments from billions of miles away. If it was even a little off, it wouldn’t work, so if it is wrong, its PRETTY DAMN CLOSE.

On to the second email in this series.
Her only claim here in this aggressive email is that science does not disprove god. Obviously, nothing can be disproved completely in science, just like nothing can be completely proven. But, in over 2000 years of observation of the natural world, we have not one scrap of evidence that god does exist, save a few holes in theories which always get plugged up over time. If there is no evidence for something, it doesn’t disprove it, but it very strongly suggests that it is incorrect.

Her response to this would be that God falls beyond the boundaries of science, and therefore cannot be tested by science. Well, like I have said before, If science tests reality (which it does) and God has an effect on reality (sure it would seeing as he made it all and performs miracles on it) then we should be able to find some ‘God’ lying around, but we haven’t. We haven’t seen anything. Anybody who denies that there is no substantial proof for god is clearly kidding themselves, as they can never produce any evidence themselves.

And her final email.
Her only interesting and non-ad hominem filled argument in this email is that Einstein dreamed of teaching philosophy and enjoyed Kant. SO WHAT?! I like Harry Potter, I like the moral story it teaches, just like I like the moral stories in Animal Farm, and I want every child to read both of these books, because they are amazing. It doesn’t mean I think any of it is science.

Philosophy is a broad topic, and the philosophy if Kant is a long way off the philosophy of your religion. This is also a prime example of the argument from authority, she seems to believe that Einstein is the be-all and end-all on what science is.

One more email remaining, this one came after the others.

This is it:

You need an EDUCATION badly. Feel free to use this because it IS TRUE:

THERE IS NO SUCH THINGS AS “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD.” There are MANY, MANY, MANY METHODS used in science. What we all learned in 6th grade is NOT an accurtae representation of how science works in the real world as used by professional scientists…….. IT IS WRONG.

You Internet twats are either STUPID or MISINFORMED.

Worth noting that this is all in 30pt red text, but I cannot make it appear this way with the iPad version of wordpress, and I didn’t pack my laptop when I came to Germany.

Also note the complete arrogance demonstrated on her behalf by saying “feel free to use this because it is true”, despite this claim she has presented no evidence to prove it, so she may as well be shooting herself in the foot.

That’s all, also note that I have once more challenged her to prove her main claim in the last email, and she has not replied yet. She has had plenty of time and opportunity, so I will assume she has none.

Summing up, Ashley has given no substantial evidence to support any of her claims, nor has she demonstrated any level of basic debating skills, quickly resorting to derogatory, ad hominem and vulgar attacks in order to try and prove her point. I look forward to her future response to this blog post, I’m sure she will be rather vocal, and I think I can say there will be another follow-up blog post when she replies again.

Response to ashley Smith — Part III

the third comment reads:

Science ITSELF DOES have limits. You are grossly uneducated and misinformed about this topic if you think it does not. You are MISUSING science.

Science ITSELF rests on several ASSUMPTIONS ( that we HOPE are true).

Remember, WITHOUT PHILOSOPHY, there would be NO science. Einstein himself said his reading of Kant ENABLED him to come up with and invent General Relativity.

We can be wrong, BUT we can NEVER be completely right in science. EVERYTHING in science is tentative.

Science is a HUMAN CREATION and ENDEAVOR. You have lost your way badly.

I will address this comment briefly, as it is predominantly a summation of previous arguments, or not worth too much discussion.

The first paragraph fails to present any argument to support itself, it just makes a claim, so I will ignore it until an argument is made.

What’s the big deal with Philosophy? Okay, Kant may have helped Einstein get his head around relativity, in the same way the Hungry Caterpillar helped to get my head around the life cycle of a butterfly. Kant didn’t tell him the answer, Kant merely inspired him. Even so, philosophy is quite broad, it branches from science to spirituality to politics to humanity, so claiming one philosophy helped a scientist in no way validates another part of philosophy.

Of course science is tentative, that’s what makes it great. It never makes any assumptions, it always double-checks, triple-checks and checks a million times more everything it claims, so as to be absolutely rigorous in its claims. This is not a fault of science, and it only strengthens it, making it more correct. Unlike in spirituality where the answer has been determined before even the basic facts have been observed, and then the beliefs are held to…well… religiously… until the bitter end. The fact that science is tentative is good for it.

Its a human creation and endeavour, yes, but that in no way brings it into doubt. Science’s main aim is to eliminate the human element in observation, that’s what science does.

It was after this comment that Ashley took her arguments to email, and sent me an email. I responded to the email in a rather brief manner, not making any arguments, only telling her that my arguments would be in a few post I was putting up soon. She responded in a rather angry manner, and a few exchanges have happened since, mostly involving Ashley talking to a brick wall, seeing as I was not going make any arguments until I could put up a post. Email responses will be in the final part of my blog post.

Response to Ashley Smith — Part II

Here is the second comment she left on my blog:

Science cannot demonstrate what I dreamed last night ( although it really happened) , nor if a mother loves her daughter, nor tell us how to live our lives, nor determine the value of something , nor tell us if Guns N’ Roses has betetr music than Soundgarden etc.

Science is great for APPROXIMATIONS of the natural world. Approximations-that is it. And it HAS LIMITS. A subject matter MUST be scientific ( natural- natural phenomena that is testable) for science to address it and study it.

There are many things that science is SILENT on.

Our greatest cream of the crop theories are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS- nothing more. Our greatest geniuses in the area of science were ONLY fog fighters struggling to understand the NATURAL world.

Okay. Lets discuss the first paragraph, which is her first argument in this comment. This is a very old argument always put up by religious people and spiritual people alike, whenever they wish to displace science or show that it is not perfect. So I’m quite familiar with the argument, and have thought about it in-depth before.

I’ll address each piece separately.
Yes it can demonstrate what you dreamed last night, science is unable to do it at the moment, but there is no reason to suggest that we cannot do it in the future. There are constant improvements in science relating to reading brain signals, and our understanding of the brain is getting better every day. Every piece of evidence points to the fact that everything you think, everything you dream, it all can be found somewhere in the grey matter inside most of our skulls. Similarly it is quite easily able to demonstrate that a mother loves her daughter by observing the levels of particular hormones and activity of certain areas of the brain.

The next thing brought up is science and morality, the claim is made that science cannot tell us how to live our lives. No, it can’t, because morality is a value judgement at its core, and science only deals with facts. Morality however is not a fact of reality, so it can be excluded from this topic. It is worth pointing out though that once a judgement has been made on the value of things, science is perfect for advising morality, as it gives the most likely consequences of actions, so that one can judge what is the best course of action. Not smoking, for example, is a way science can advise you on how to live your life.

The last point brought up in this paragraph is that science is unable to make judgements on art, specifically that science cannot determine whether Guns’N’Roses is better or worse than any other band. I say that to the extent of FACTS, which are what is important to science, and to the current discussion of reality, science can help us. Surveys, the most basic of science, can easily explain to us which band is best in the eyes of the public. Now this may not prove that Guns’N’Roses is better than Soundgarden, but ‘better’ is not a fact, it is a personal opinion.

I’m going to address the next 3 paragraphs in the comment together, because they are part of the one topic. They simply say that science can only judge on natural topics, those which are scientific, and that science only makes approximations, never concrete statements. It finally states that Science is silent on a number of topics.

She’s correct to some extent, but lets look at what that means.

The first point, that science only makes approximations. That is true, but they are so much stronger than approximations. The theory of Gravity, for example, is ‘only a theory’, it is just an approximation of reality. But it hasn’t been proven wrong yet so if it is wrong, to the extent we can measure it, its right.

Science is naturally tentative, because it can never prove something completely right or wrong, but that merit doubt in the uncertainty. Like I said, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are ‘only theories’, but they are theories which have not a single piece of evidence against them, which is why they are still accepted theories. In the words of Einstein, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”
This is one of my favourite quotes, because it sums up science perfectly. This is how science works. The theory is still accepted because no experiment has proved it wrong. In the case of most theories, they have come up against millions upon millions of experiments, all of which have agreed with the theory.

So the claim that science is just a “best guess” is a claim which demonstrates little understanding of the true meaning of the word ‘theory’ when used in scientific terms.

The second point, that science can only judge on natural topics, is also true. But she neglects to see what that means for her religious beliefs. Seeing as there is no evidence to date of god, and the creator of the universe is surely a natural topic (he created it all, so he must be observable somehow) it is a safe judgement to say that either: God does not exist OR God has no tangible effect on reality, therefore rendering him non-existant.

The final point, that science is silent on a lot of topics, is also true. Science doesn’t get involved in politics, morality, everyday lives, personal decisions etc., science can inform these topics on the facts, but it cannot ever become involved in these areas because a level of judgement is always required. This doesn’t mean science is wrong, it just means science cannot make judgement calls, because they are not facts. However god is definitely not a judgement call. Your religion maybe, but not the facts of God’s existence. On to the third and final Comment, which is in Part three of this blog post.

Response to Ashley Smith — Part I

Hello skeptics, Good evening, Good morning, whatever,

This is the first time I write on my own personal blog during my time in Germany, and strangely, it has nothing to do with Germany. I wish to discuss today a recent string of comments and emails sent to me by an “Ashley Smith” (I assume by the non-gendered first name and common last name that it is a pseudonym, I will refer to them as a ‘she’ for simplicities sake) concerning the topic of the distinction between science and the supernatural. This is a topic I find quite interesting, and it’s a topic that I have talked about before. I will discuss specifics through the post, but in general, this topic surrounds the question of what is testable and what is not testable by science, and what it means for the supernatural, and specifically a universe-creating, all powerful Deity.

The three comments left on the blog can be found in my article here Science is the Only Way to Test Reality if you wish to respond to them, or look at them first hand and the post that provoked them. However for the sake of making my own notes on the comments, I will have them here.

The first comment reads like so (Italicised to break it from the body of the post):
You have no idea what you are talking about. Science has its considerable limitations and things it does NOT do. It CANNOT and does NOT address the supernatural OR God. This falls WAAAAY beyond the BOUNDARIES of what science can actually do. Science and spirituality are NOT at war. That is an Internet MYTH perpetuated by clueless and uneducated people. They do different things. Science does not get involved in that.

What Dawkins does is a complete misuse and abuse of science for his underlying dubious agenda. He should know better.

Lastly, there is NO such thing as “the scientific method.” There is NO singular method that all scioentists follow. What we all learned in 6th grade is a VERY INACCURATE picture of how science works as conducted by professional researchers around the world. It is outwright wrong and far too simple.

I suggest you educate yourself. The Internet contains A LOT of MISINFORMATION.


Lets tackle some of the claims made in this comment. I’ll try and respond to her points in order.

The first claim made by Ashley (can I call you Ash?), is that the supernatural and God fall beyond the limits of science. This is the main claim I have a problem with from this commenter. YES, it is true that the supernatural and God fall beyond the limits of science, because these hypothesises are unable to be disproved. There is no way that a testable hypothesis can be made about these two things, which means they fall beyond the realm of science. Lets look at it closer.

Now, science, as I discussed in the blog post I linked to, is, in my opinion, the only way to TEST reality. This is because science is the only effective method we have for testing things that exist. Things that exist are in reality. If we make the assumption that things that exist and have some tangible effect on reality can be observed in some way, then this means they can be tested by science.

Lets take God for example, because he’s a hot topic issue. We’ll take the claim that God exists, created the universe and occasionally comes down and messes with it in so-called ‘miracles’. We can make the assumption that such a being would have an effect on reality, quite a tangible effect, seeing as he created it all. So, we can also then assume that we should be able to measure this effect, by either observing a miracle or by looking into the past and finding that it just doesn’t add up without the huge assumption of a God who started it all. Is it only coincidence then that we haven’t seen any verified, proven miracles yet, and our knowledge of the beginning of time is getting greater and greater every day?

Nothing in Science points to God. Science is the only way that we can observe things that have an effect on reality. Therefore, by claiming that God is outside of the realm of science, a statement which I agree with, we are forced into two options. Either God exists but influences reality in no way what-so-ever, didn’t make it, doesn’t perform miracles with it, and doesn’t take our brain to his house when we die, OR God doesn’t exist. Neither option I think my commenter would like to agree to.

So she’s right, but it means God does’t exist.

Next is her claim that Science and Spirituality are not at war, and that the idea that they are is an internet myth perpetuated by clueless and uneducated people. Uneducated people like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris? If you call them uneducated and clueless, then you are quite wrong, nothing else. It is not an internet myth, it is a fundamental problem with the two endeavours. The basis of Science and Spirituality are polar opposites. Science believes that the universe is orderly, follows a set of rules, is constant, and is ruled by cause-and-effect. Spirituality is exactly the opposite, the belief that all of the rigidness of reality science claims can be completely disregarded if you pray hard enough. They must be at intellectual war, there is no other way about it.

Next her statement against Richard Dawkins. She presents no evidence whatsoever for this claim, just makes it out of thin air. However she seems to be part of a group with a specific agenda against Richard Dawkins, one of those who thinks all atheists worship him and Charles Darwin.

The last point raised in this comment is the notion that there is no such thing as ‘the scientific method’. No evidence is put forward to prove that, but the claim is made that not all scientists follow the scientific method in their research. This is completely false. Every single piece of scientific research ever done follows the same process.
1. Observation
2. Hypothesis made from observation
3. Hypothesis is tested using rigorous standards and bias and variable control
4. Conclusions are drawn from results.
5. If hypothesis was correct, good, make another one. If it was incorrect, bad luck, make another one.
6. Rinse and Repeat.

I challenge Ash to present one piece of published, peer-reviewed, credible scientific research (if she’s ever read a scientific paper) which does not follow the structure of hypothesis-test-conclusion. Then we can discuss the scientific method and how it’s not true. Now onto the next comment, which will be in the second instalment.

Pioneer Anomaly: New Physics or Bad Maths?

1972 and 1973, NASA sent two unmanned spacecraft on a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system and beyond, Pioneer I and Pioneer II. These two spacecraft were sent to take pictures of the gas giants and give us insight into their structure, they did their job, scientists oohed and aahed at the results, updated all the relevant textbooks, and moved onto the next big project in science. But because scientists are inquisitive, and care about the well-being of the Pioneer craft, they kept tabs on them, to make sure they stay fit and healthy. This was meant to be just a routine check-up every now and then, just to see how far they go, but physicists discovered something strange. The distance between where Einsteins physics predicted the spacecrafts should be and where they actually were was different. Somehow, the crafts where slowing down. Now, they amount of deceleration was very small, less than one nanometer per second per second, but this was enough for scientists to really consider revising physics books, because nobody could think of anything that would cause this extra deceleration.

For scientists, this was a prime time to witness a paradigm shift, something key to the process of science. Some may think that science is just a steady progress of learning about nature, but its not. It actually involves rapid changes of ideas most of the time, in so-called paradigm shifts. This is a stage in science which occurs when evidence comes up which is contradictory to current science. After new evidence shows up, there will be further investigation from scientists to try to figure out what is the correct model, if the first evidence is overturned, and science stays with the current theory, this is not a paradigm shift. When the evidence is confirmed and new evidence supports it, scientists will formulate a new model which accounts for this evidence, and this is known as a paradigm shift.

Paradigm shifts are very important to science, as they mean deeper knowledge of the universe. But a possible paradigm shift which turns out not to be one is good too, because it means that our current model is pretty good. Pioneer was worthy of study to find out if the physics textbooks needed a re-write.

For almost 30 years, there hasn’t been enough evidence to formulate a hypothesis either way, and it has been an unsolved mystery to science, often called the Pioneer Anomaly. But now, a team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California have an answer. The team published a paper in Physical Review Letters in which they demonstrated that some electronic components on the craft where producing small amounts of heat, and the force imparted on the craft from this heat was enough to cause the deceleration. “I think it is solved for good” said lead author of the report Slava Turyshev.

Great! The mystery is solved. Just put this down as another proof of Einstein’s Gravity. As a good scientist, you should know that any result is a good result. Confirming evidence just means one more piece in the puzzle which proves our theories, contradicting evidence means new physics, which is also good.

Higgs Boson Discovery

hallo skeptics,

Yesterday was witness to one of the biggest events in scientific history. A triumph for the scientific method. At the university of Melbourne, a large congregation of physicists and science journalists were assembled to listen to what was hyped as an important presentation. There was leaked information which suggested that this was going to be a big story in the scientific world. After a large amount of formalities, introducing of speakers, explanation of the processes and equipment involved, and then they got down to the results. (never mind the comic sans typeface) Here is a graph of the data:

that red line jumping above the green line means… Higgs Boson!

When the results were shown, every thing went crazy, though I wasn’t in the room, I was following the live blog and as soon as that was read on the screen, my twitter feed exploded with tweets about the Higgs Boson and for a few minutes, only Higgs related material was trending world-wide. The Higgs Boson had been discovered at 125.3 GeV with 5 sigma certainty.

Sigma is important in physics, so I’ll explain it briefly here. Sigma is the term used to describe Standard deviation, used to work out probabilities. Standard deviation is the maths relating to how far a result deviates from the mean, or in more layman’s terms, how likely it is that something is just a fluke of data noise. In any experiment, there is noise, random fluctuations which occur in the data, it isn’t large, but it has an effect. so when a result is measured, you have to ensure that it is unlikely the result is noise. The gold standard for this is 5.0 sigma. I won’t go into the maths of calculating sigma, but 5.0 sigma is equal to 0.0002% chance the result is just a fluke of noise.
Previous tests have been done which have shown results around the 3 sigma range, but physics errs on the side of caution and needs 5 sigma certainty for something to be claimed a discovery. And last night, they hit the target and confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson.

The Higgs boson was first predicted in 1964 by physicist Peter Higgs, Who was present yesterday. It is the particle predicted by the standard model which gives mass to all the other particles in the universe. Since its prediction in 1964, physicists the world over have been trying to find this particle. It was one of the holy grails of physics, to be able to prove the existence of this particle.

I’m not going to talk about the meaty parts of the Higgs and its field, and what it does for the universe, but I am going to talk about how much of a triumph for science it is.

Science predicted this particle to exist, and the whole story of the Higgs is a case example of how the scientific method should be conducted. A scientist, from looking at data and doing maths, predicts that this certain particle should exist. Then, science goes out and tries to find it. We test the hypothesis that the Higgs exists in a certain place, we don’t find it, so we hypothesize another place and look for it there. After hundreds of trials-and-error, we finally pinpoint where it is, but we don’t have enough evidence yet, we are only at 3 sigma, so we look with finer tools and better measuring devices to see if we can more definitively say it exists. And alack, we find it.
It is a testimony to science, and now, I wish to put up another prediction.

As it has been with all other scientific discoveries for the last 400 years, science has found out that something exists, and then for the next few weeks, while the scientists are off partying about their discovery, the religious scholars comb through their respective texts to see if there is some vague scripture reference that could be twisted, manipulated and exaggerated to sort-of fit with the scientific discovery of the time. I talk about it here –> in-depth, but I’ll summarize here. When science (back then it wasn’t science but the religious) said the earth was flat, “The circle of the earth” meant a flat disc which is a circle. Then, when real science looked at the issue and decided, “No, it’s really actually a sphere”, then “The circle of the earth” was interpreted as how a sphere is viewed in 2-D. This sort of manipulation of text occurs every time science finds out something ground breaking. Even when its a flat-out contradiction, it suddenly becomes “Just a metaphor.” from then-on-in.

The Higgs boson discovery is a triumph for science and a great testimony to the effectiveness of the scientific method, and is going to be the arbiter of a lot of new physics for years to come. Tomorrow, I will be blogging on about the Boston Celtics, as well as about a person who is using the discovery of the Higgs as evidence for his claims, Deepak Chopra, and I will be tackling the claims of his cosmic consciousness.

Confirmation Bias

Hallo skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about one of the most commonly used logical fallacies out there, confirmation bias. It is used in a range of topics including alternative medicine, religion, UFOlogy, astrology, psychics, mediums, and almost all topics which skeptics keep tabs on. Confirmation bias is a logical fallacy which is often referred to as cherry-picking, however is slightly different. While similar, cherry-picking refers to picking single studies from a sea of negative papers, confirmation bias is the picking out of specific results, not specific studies.

One of the most simple and common uses of confirmation bias is praying. I recently saw one of those Facebook like-hoarding pictures which asks for likes to confirm ones religious views, which read “Like this photo and in the next 120 seconds god will do you a favour”… it had over 30 000 likes. I read that and immediately saw it as a perfect example of confirmation bias. To anybody who likes that status, I can almost guarantee that something good will happen to them in the next 120 seconds. The reason is that people want it to come true. If something slightly good happens to that person in the next 120 seconds, they will attribute that to liking the photo… your basketball team makes a buzzer-beating game winner? God did that. Mum decides to give you a little extra ice-cream for dessert? god did that. Get a new twitter follower? god did that. Whatever happens, god is the reason.

It doesn’t even have to be within 2 minutes, you will remember anything that happens for the whole rest of the day and give credit to god… because a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years, or some post hoc reasoning like that. Even if nothing good happens, that means the devil was going to do something bad to you but god saved you because you liked the photo.

This photo is a perfect example of how confirmation bias works. Another common example is in alternative medicine. Lets say somebody gets cancer, and they decide to, along with their doctor approved, scientific medicine, have a chiropractor try to fix it. Once the cancer has been removed, the patient might only remember the chiropractic treatment that cured the cancer, and forget all the scientific medicine that actually removed the cancer.

Confirmation bias is one of the most common fallacies out, and is often combined with other fallacies like post hoc ergo proctor hoc, placebo, reliance on memory and the availability heuristic to form the greatest of all fallacies, the anecdotal evidence.

Is Democracy What people Think it is?

Hallo Skeptics,

Today’s post comes to you from a quote I read from Isaac Asimov recently which got me thinking about democracy. “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” This quote is an extremely well written way of saying what has been said for a long time by skeptics. When I saw it, it made me think about what democracy truly means. For obvious reasons, as pointed out by this quote, ignorance and knowledge are not equal in a good society.

A meme around in the religious/atheist interplay is the notion that in most cultures, the percentage of people who believe in god, and those who believe in creationism is extremely high. A study in the United States showed that 43% of Americans believe the earth was created in its current form less than 10 000 years ago. Apparently, to the religious, this points towards the truth of creationism. They say “Surely 43% of Americans can’t be wrong!”, as a good skeptic, you would immediately point this out as an argument from popularity, ad populi (latin makes you sound much smarter). No amount of belief makes something fact. The universe doesn’t care what people think, it just does what it does.

The view that many people have of democracy is that everybody has an equal say in the running of a country. However, as highlighted by Isaac Asimov’s quote,  this doesn’t seem like the right think to do. If 40% of the population believe in a talking snake, oh wait, they do, bad analogy, if 40% of  the population believe that the best thing to do in today’s evil society is flood it… Damn it, another bad analogy… if 40% of the population believes that toothpicks would be the best weapon for army soldiers, it is the job of the logical people in society to tell them that’s retarded.
A real democracy is not about having an equal say, it’s about having a fair say. And what is important about a fair say is open discussion and debate. It doesn’t matter what 40% of the population think, if they can’t defend what they think in a debate, then their fair say shouldn’t be as much of a say as those who are better at defending their position.

The ideal democracy is one with plenty of open debate and criticism of all views and opinions, and this is how society should be run.

String Theory – Science or Sermon?

Hello skeptics and others,

I recently came across a question on twitter which went as phrased “String Theory, Science of Philosophy?” and I thought, as I had not done much with string theory, that now would be as good a time as ever to tackle this question which comes up with string theory often. But first, a bit of background on string theory.

String theory is the name given to a set of sums which attempt to explain things about the things we observe in particle physics. It is basically the claim that the 3 spacial dimensions and 1 time dimension we observe in our universe, are the left overs and that there are possibly up to 8 other dimensions which are all just packed in very tight so that we cannot see them. To explain this to you, I will use the same method Stephen Hawking has done.
Imagine a plastic drinking straw. From up close, you can easily see that it is a three-dimensional object, with height, width, and breadth. If you back it up to a distance of a few metres, the drinking straw starts to appear as two-dimensional, with only length and breadth, you can no longer make out the depth of the straw. As you back out further to a distance of about 20 metres, you can only observe one dimension, it only has length, and you can no longer observe the width of the straw.

Now, the other 2 dimensions still exist, but you can only make out one from this resolution, so for all intents and purposes, the straw is 1 dimensional. The same is true with the hypothesized extra 8 dimensions of string theory. They still exist, but we cannot observe them because they have been compressed in so small. It is physicists belief that these extra dimensions, ‘strings’, carry along them the elementary particles which create the four fundamental forces, gravitons, photons etc. in the world of particle physics. String theory is also said to be the most favoured path for the elusive Theory Of Everything (TOE).

String theory often comes under attack for a few reasons, being that it makes no specific predictions about the universe, it is no different from other theories about observed phenomena and there is so far no test of the ‘theory’. These criticisms all have legitimate reasons behind them.

It is true that string theory makes no predictions and it is indifferent about what we are already observing in the universe. String theory has not been of any real use to us yet other than jobs for people to do the maths behind string theory. In that way (except the maths), string theory is just like creationism… it makes no predictions or offer a hypothesis to test.

However, I think that just because string theory has not provided any scientific worth so far, it is in no way something we should give up on. It is a theory which has held up to all that maths has to throw at it, so there are no real internal problems with it, but the real question is “Is this how reality really is?” and that question is a long way off. String Theory is a path worth following, as it could be of value to future scientists. At best it is still only a hypothesis… not a theory, and should be treated as such. But it is worth the time and effort to work with and who knows, it may cough up a test for us, and it is worth waiting around for.

Was I indoctrinated to Atheism?

Hello skeptics the world over,

Recently, in a discussion with my mother about whether I should be heading to church on Sunday, she made the claim that I was indoctrinated by podcasts such as ‘The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe’ and other science and skeptical podcasts and websites, and said that I am ‘just as brainwashed’ as I claim Christians to be. I will be hoping to respond to this question in-depth tonight.

The first thing I will point out is the contrast of ‘indoctrinations’ between my skepticism and Christianity as a child. When I was indoctrinated to Christianity as a child, I was given the whole nine yards, Genesis creation, the flood and Noah’s Ark, Tower of Babel, Jesus, all the bible had to offer. When I was ‘indoctrinated’ into skepticism and atheism, it was almost the exact opposite. Instead of being given a list of things I had to believe, how to believe them and a book to read it from, when I was indoctrinated by The Skeptic’s Guide, I was only given a list of things which are logical, and most importantly, a list of things which weren’t logical. That’s why I am a champion of skepticism, not atheism. yes I am an atheist, but I am an atheist because of skepticism. Skeptics don’t tell you what to believe, they just give you the package of logic and evidence.

I wasn’t told to become a skeptic and an atheist by ‘the skeptics guide’, I was just told, “Hey, some of what you believe is not very logical and has no evidence to support it, look at what we think, be logical and look at the evidence, and make your decision.” and look at where I am now.

The other main difference between my two ‘indoctrinations’ is choice. When I was indoctrinated into Christianity, I didn’t know about atheism, humanism, naturalism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or any other amount of religions. I was just having Christianity handed to me on a silver plate, with a bit of evolution thrown into the mix, as I still had to have some science. But there wasn’t much choice for me. When I was introduced to skepticism, I had heard about all the other religions and world-views, and I chose to go with agnostic atheism, and later onto agnostic anti-theism. That’s also why I am a champion of free-thought, because giving a child the choice is the most important thing they can have. I will talk about free-thought and children in a later post.

I was not indoctrinated into atheism or skepticism like the way children born into christian homes are indoctrinated, I was given a choice and I was not forced into it, and that is the key difference… choice. That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from an anonymous author/sayer of words, “Trying to close a mind that has not yet had the chance to be opened, is the worst form of child abuse.”