Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Earthquakes and the Quacks that predict them's newsletter eSkeptic features an article called "Quacks and Quakes" by Donald Prothero re: the fools that get airtime due to their faulty predictions of earthquakes:
Among those that got their 15 minutes of fame during the post-quake media blitz was a well-known crank, Jim Berkland, who got a full interview promoting his ideas on Fox News on March 17 (but on no other network). First, the reporter put up a map of the “Ring of Fire” of volcanoes and earthquakes around the Pacific Rim, pointed at Chile, then New Zealand, then Japan, and implied that this circle of quakes might end in California. Apparently, he never consulted a geologist, who would have pointed out that each of those regions is an entirely different type of plate boundary and they have no tectonic plates in common. Then Fox gave Berkland a full five minutes to spout his ideas, with the same credulous reporter tossing him softball questions, and no rebuttal from any other geologist or seismologist.

Yes, that's some sloppy reporting right there. Berkland makes a vague prediction based on complicated, sciencey-sounding terminology; a few months later there's an earthquake somewhere, and a local reporter hails him as a prescient genius. When his next predictions fail to pan out, the media doesn't seem to notice or care. The technical term for that is 'counting the hits and ignoring the misses,' and its brought Berkland some undue attention.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christianity - An Irreverent History

Tim DeLaney writes a humorous monologue for the Secular Web Kiosk:
There is an omnipotent, omniscient God who has always existed. How do I know this, you ask? Well, I just do. Your mommy and daddy probably told you this; who are you to doubt them? Of course, the notion of omnipotence is a bit strange. Where did we get the idea of a God with infinite power? Why not just a God with great power, or one with quite a bit more power than we can imagine? I get the impression that theologians aren't very smart when it comes to infinity. It's probably better if you don't think too hard about it.

One day, presumably after having existed for the eternal past, He decides to create the universe. Why did He wait so long? For a negative eternity, He just sat there; we can only guess what He was thinking. Maybe He was counting down the integers, starting with the largest, and when He got down to zero, He did the creation thing. This seems as good a theory as any. Actually, the stock answer is that God is not subject to time. Well, maybe, maybe not. But it seems like a suspiciously convenient answer that was just made up because of the awkward question. Like the omnipotence thing, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason to suppose God exists beyond time.

The rest is worth a look. Who made all this stuff up, anyway?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Episode 17 - Brian Greene - The Elegant Universe

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Brian Greene, a professor at Columbia University, a theoretical physicist and string theorist. He's written several books on String Theory, the structure of the universe, and cosmology. Greene is most well-known for his PBS television special called The Elegant Universe, based on his popular science book of the same name, from which today's excerpt can be found.

You can subscribe in iTunes or directly download it here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pascal: God's bookie

Just be sure you bet on the right horse.

(Link to webcomic Calamaties of Nature.)

Episode 16 - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - Holy Wars

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Neil DeGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, author, and science popularizer.

This excerpt comes from an essay of his called, "Holy Wars," which can be found in his book, "Death By Black Hole."

You can download the podcast from iTunes or directly from here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Billy Graham: Atheists argue because they are unsure of their unbelief

In the Kansas City Star, a reader asks Billy Graham a question about an atheist friend:
DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: My friend claims to be an atheist, and I don’t know what to say to him. I am a Christian, but he bombards me with questions I can’t answer and I feel stupid. He really needs Jesus because his life is kind of messed up, but I’m afraid I’m not a good witness. What can I do? — P.G.
I'm not sure how "messed up" is being used here--is the atheist messed up due to personal or financial difficulties, or because he isn't a Christian? At any rate, Billy Graham's answer is enlightening:
DEAR P.G.: The most important thing you can do is to pray for your friend. You can’t change his heart and mind; even if you answered every argument he threw at you, he’d probably still keep clinging to his unbelief.
I'm also not sure how someone clings to an unbelief any more than someone stubbornly refuses to collect stamps. But when Christians hold true to their faith, come what may, that's supposed to be virtuous.

The Holy Spirit is far greater than we are, and he is able to break through even the hardest heart. The Bible says that “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
In this case, 'sin' is probably, 'not believing in the existence of the Holy Spirit.' So we find ourselves in the situation where the Holy Spirit will some day induce guilt in atheists for not believing in the Holy Spirit's ability to induce guilt in atheists due to a lack of evidence of the Holy Spirit inducing guilt in atheists.

The other thing you can do, however, is to be an example to your friend of Christ’s love and transforming power, both by your words and your life. Even the strongest argument can’t stand up to the reality of a changed life. The Bible says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5).
Now that's good advice, and a decent scripture verse as well. Be wise to outsiders and live a good life.

I suspect that down inside your friend is unsure of his convictions; otherwise why would he feel compelled to argue so much?
Says the preacher who argued for his faith before millions.

Don’t be discouraged, and don’t give up on him. Some of God’s greatest servants over the centuries were once atheists.
And many notable atheists were raised Christian, but perhaps they fall under the category of 'messed up.'

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jason Rosenhouse reviews Giberson and Collins' 'The Language of Science and Faith'

I  have nothing to add, except I enjoyed Jason Rosenhouse's review of Francis Collins' and Karl Giberson's new book called  The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, published by InterVarsity Press.  Collins and Giberson attempt to make science and particularly evolution more palatable for those who live by faith, and as Rosenhouse explains very well, their attempt fails:

There is plenty more that is wrong with this book, but I think you get the idea. In the end there is not a single thought or example here that is original, and Collins and Giberson repeatedly fail to grapple with the real concerns people have about evolution. All is standard boilerplate, about how to read the Bible, or resolve the problem of evil, or preserve notions of human specialness, or to protect any meaningful role for religion in modern life. They will need to do better if they really want to persuade sincere Christians that their worries about evolution are unfounded.

Episode 15 - Michael Shermer - Why Darwin Matters

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Michael Shermer, American author, founder of the Skeptic Society, and Editor in Chief of Skeptic's Magazine. This excerpt comes from his book called, "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design."

You can download the podcast from iTunes or directly from here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind - Episode 14 - Greg Epstein - Good Without God

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Greg Epstein, a published author and advocate of Secular Humanism. He currently serves as the secular humanist chaplain at Harvard University. This excerpt comes from his book called "Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe," published by Harper Collins in 2010.

You can get the podcast from iTunes or directly download it from here.
I hope you enjoy it.