Friday, August 3, 2012

Timeline of the Universe — A representation of the evolution of the universe over 13.7 billion years. The far left depicts the earliest moment we can now probe, when a period of “inflation” produced a burst of exponential growth in the universe. (Size is depicted by the vertical extent of the grid in this graphic.) For the next several billion years, the expansion of the universe gradually slowed down as the matter in the universe pulled on itself via gravity. More recently, the expansion has begun to speed up again as the repulsive effects of dark energy have come to dominate the expansion of the universe. The afterglow light seen by WMAP was emitted about 380,000 years after inflation and has traversed the universe largely unimpeded since then. The conditions of earlier times are imprinted on this light; it also forms a backlight for later developments of the universe. (Credit: NASA / WMAP Science Team)
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Timeline of the Universe (Credit: NASA / WMAP Science

Nothing is Negligible
Why There is Something Rather than Nothing

by Michael Shermer
Why is there something rather than nothing? The question is usually posed by Christian apologists as a rhetorical argument meant to pose as the drop-dead killer case for God that no scientist can possibly answer. Those days are over. Even though scientists are not in agreement on a final answer to the now non-rhetorical question, they are edging closer to providing logical and even potentially empirically testable hypotheses to account for the universe. Here are a dozen possible answers to the question
The Definitive Dozen
1GOD. The theist’s answer to the question is that God existed before the universe and subsequently brought it into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo) in a single creation moment as described in Genesis. But the very conception of a creator existing before the universe and then creating it implies a time sequence. In both the Judeo-Christian tradition (along with the Babylonian pre-Judeo-Christian cosmogony) and the scientific worldview, time began when the universe came into existence, either through divine creation or the Big Bang. God, therefore, would have to exist outside of space and time, which means that as natural beings delimited by living in a finite universe, we cannot possibly know anything about such a supernatural entity. The theist’s answer is an untestable hypothesis and thus amounts to nothing more than a god-of-the-gaps argument.
2WRONG QUESTION. Asking why there is something rather than nothing presumes “nothing” is the natural state of things out of which “something” needs an explanation. Maybe “something” is the natural state of things and “nothing” would be the mystery to be solved. As the physicist Victor Stenger notes in his book, The Fallacy of Fine Tuning: “Current cosmology suggests that no laws of physics were violated in bringing the universe into existence. The laws of physics themselves are shown to correspond to what one would expect if the universe appeared from nothing. There is something rather than nothing because something is more stable.”
3GRAND UNIFIED THEORY. In order to answer the question, we need a comprehensive theory of physics that connects the subatomic world described by quantum mechanics to the cosmic world described by general relativity. As the Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll notes in his book From Eternity to Here: “Possibly general relativity is not the correct theory of gravity, at least in the context of the extremely early universe. Most physicists suspect that a quantum theory of gravity, reconciling the framework of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s ideas about curved spacetime, will ultimately be required to make sense of what happens at the very earliest times. So if someone asks you what really happened at the moment of the purported Big Bang, the only honest answer would be: ‘I don’t know.’” That grand unified theory of everything will itself need an explanation, but it may be explicable by some other theory we have yet to comprehend out of our sheer ignorance at this moment in history.
4BOOM-AND-BUST CYCLES. Sean Carroll also suggests that our universe may be just one in a series of boom-and-bust cycles of expansion and contractions of the universe, with our universe just one “episode” of the bubble’s eventual collapse and re-expansion in an eternal cycle, and therefore “there is no such thing as an initial state, because time is eternal. In this case, we are imagining that the Big Bang isn’t the beginning of the entire universe, although it’s obviously an important event in the history of our local region.”
5DARWINIAN MULTIVERSE. According to the cosmologist Lee Smolin, in his book The Life of the Cosmos, our universe is just one of many bubble universes with varying sets of laws of nature. Those universes with laws of nature similar to ours will generate matter, which coalesces into stars, some of which collapse into black holes and a singularity, the same entity out of which our universe may have sprung. Thus, universes like ours give birth to baby universes with those same laws of nature, some of which develop intelligent life smart enough to discover this Darwinian process of cosmic evolution.
6INFLATIONARY COSMOLOGY. In his 1997 book The Inflationary Universe, the cosmologist Alan Guth proposes that our universe sprang into existence from a bubble nucleation of spacetime. If this process of universe creation is natural, then there may be multiple bubble nucleations that give rise to many universes that expand but remain separate from one another without any causal contact between them.
7MANY-WORLDS MULTIVERSE. According to the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are an infinite number of universes in which every possible outcome of every possible choice that has ever been available, or will be available, has happened in one of those universes. Thismany-worlds multiverse is grounded in the bizarre findings of the famous “double-slit” experiment, in which light is passed through two slits and forms an interference pattern of waves on a back surface (like throwing two stones in a pond and watching the concentric wave patterns interact, with crests and troughs adding and subtracting from one another). The spooky part comes when you send single photons of light one at a time through the two slits—they still form an interference wave pattern even though they are not interacting with other photons. How can this be? One answer is that the photons are interacting with photons in other universes! In this type ofmultiverse you could meet your doppelgänger, and depending on which universe you entered, your parallel self would be fairly similar or dissimilar to you, a theme that has become a staple of science fiction (see, for example, Michael Crichton’s Timeline).
8BRANE UNIVERSES. A multi-dimensional universe may come about when three-dimensional “branes” (a membrane-like structure on which our universe exists) moves through higher-dimensional space and collides with another brane, the result of which is the energized creation of another universe.
9STRING UNIVERSES. A related multiverse is derived through string theory, which by at least one calculation allows for 10500 possible worlds, all with different self-consistent laws and constants. That’s a 1 followed by 500 zeroes possible universes (12 zeroes is a trillion!). In his book The Unconscious Quantum, Victor Stenger published the results of a computer model that analyzes what just 100 different universes would be like under constants different from our own, ranging from five orders of magnitude above to five orders of magnitude below their values in our universe. Stenger found that long-lived stars of at least 1 billion years—necessary for the production of life-giving heavy elements—would emerge within a wide range of parameters in at least half of the universes in his model.
10QUANTUM FOAM MULTIVERSE. In this model, universes are created out of nothing, but in the scientific version of ex nihilo the nothing of the vacuum of space actually contains the theoretical spacetime mishmash called quantum foam, which may fluctuate to create baby universes. In this configuration, any quantum object in any quantum state may generate a new universe, each one of which represents every possible state of every possible object. This is Stephen Hawking’s explanation for the fine-tuning problem that he himself famously presented in his 1996 book (co-authored with Roger Penrose) The Nature of Space and Time: “Quantum fluctuations lead to the spontaneous creation of tiny universes, out of nothing. Most of the universes collapse to nothing, but a few that reach a critical size, will expand in an inflationary manner, and will form galaxies and stars, and maybe beings like us.”
11M-THEORY GRAND DESIGN. Stephen Hawking has continued working on this question, and this month, he and the Caltech mathematician Leonard Mlodinow present their answer in a book entitledThe Grand Design. They approach the problem from what they call “model-dependent realism,” based on the assumption that our brains form models of the world from sensory input, that we use the model most successful at explaining events, and that when more than one model makes accurate predictions “we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” Employing this method, they write, “it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.” The dual wave/particle models of light are an example of model-dependent realism, where each one agrees with certain observations but neither one is sufficient to explain all observations. To model the entire universe, Hawking and Mlodinow employ “M-Theory,” an extension of string theory that includes 11 dimensions and incorporates all five current string theory models. “M-theory is the most general supersymmetric theory of gravity,” Hawking and Mlodinow explain. “For these reasons M-theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe. If it is finite—and this has yet to be proved—it will be a model of a universe that creates itself.” Although they admit that the theory has yet to be confirmed by observation, if it is, then no creator explanation is necessary because the universe creates itself. I call this auto-ex-nihilo.
12NOTHING IS UNSTABLE, SOMETHING IS NATURAL In his 2012 book, A Universe From Nothing, the cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss attempts to link quantum physics to Einstein’s gravitational theory of general relativity to explain the origin of something (including a universe) from nothing: “In quantum gravity, universes can, and indeed always will, spontaneously appear from nothing. Such universes need not be empty, but can have matter and [electromagnetic] radiation in them, as long as the total energy, including the negative energy associated with gravity [balancing the positive energy of matter], is zero.” And: “In order for the closed universes that might be created through such mechanisms to last for longer than infinitesimal times, something like inflation is necessary.” Observations have revealed that, in fact, the universe is flat (there is just enough matter to eventually halt its expansion), its energy is zero, and it underwent rapid inflation, or expansion, shortly after the Big Bang as described by inflationary cosmology. Thus, Krauss concludes, “quantum gravity not only appears to allow universes to be created from nothing—meaning…the absence of space and time—it may require them. ‘Nothing’—in this case no space, no time, no anything!—is unstable.”
Putting Something to the Test
Many of these dozen explanations are testable. The theory that new universes can emerge from collapsing black holes may be illuminated through additional knowledge about the properties of black holes. Other bubble universes might be detected in the subtle temperature variations of the cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang of our own universe. NASA recently launched a spacecraft constructed to study this radiation. Another way to test these theories might be through the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) that is designed to detect exceptionally faint gravitational waves. If there are other universes, perhaps ripples in gravitational waves will signal their presence. Maybe gravity is such a relatively weak force (compared to electromagnetism and the nuclear forces) because some of it “leaks” out to other universes. Maybe.
After a column I wrote in Scientific American on this topic (“Much Ado About Nothing,” May, 2012), I received an email from the Columbia University theoretical physicist Peter Woit cautioning me not to put too much emphasis on any one of these hypotheses/answers to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, noting that even these proposed tests probably themselves lack validity, if they could ever be conducted in reality. He explained that his skepticism came not out of religious conviction: “I’m as much of an atheist as anyone, and I’m really disturbed to see arguments being made that are going to end up discrediting skepticism and atheism.” He then posted a blog commentary on my Scientific American column, noting that my “authority here is the Hawking/Mlodinow popular book, but he’s also convinced that WMAP and LIGO are somehow going to provide evidence for multiverses, something that even the most far-out theorists in this field aren’t claiming.” Regarding my comment that perhaps gravity “leaks” out to other universes Woit responds: “Nobody seems to have told Shermer that this is not an idea taken seriously by a significant number of theorists, or that LHC data has shot down the hopes of the one or two such theorists.” Woit was prescient in that the prominent Intelligent Design creationist William Dembski did highlight Woit’s skepticism at his blog Uncommon Descent (“Serving the Intelligent Design Community”), quoting Woit and commenting: “Don’t nobody tell Shermer. It’s more fun this way.”
Given the fact that I appreciated Peter Woit’s skeptical book on string theory (Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law), I queried my sources. Physicist Victor Stenger responded: “The multiverse is not nonsense. It is based on good theory, but only theory. It is, in principle, detectable by measuring an anisotropy in the cosmic background radiation. That’s why I did not rely on it in The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning. I agree with Woit on M-theory, though.” Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow said he doubts that either he or Woit knows what “most physicists” think about the multiverse, and then opined that “most cosmologists certainly believe it,” recalling that Brian Greene “outlined the general thinking (as opposed to, say, Hawking’s particular views) very well in his book on it” (The Hidden Reality). Finally, Caltech physicist and cosmologist Sean Carroll noted: “You are completely correct, the multiverse is an idea that pops out of inflation (and string theory), not one that is put in out of desperation. Here is a column of my own making exactly this point. Carroll then cautioned: “Obviously the entire set of ideas is controversial and speculative, and should be presented as such, but it’s taken very seriously by a large number of extremely smart and respectable people.” For example: Leonard Susskind, Alex Vilenkin and Alan Guth (on the pro-multiverse side) and David Gross, Paul Steinhardt, and Edward Farhi (skeptical of the multiverse side).
God, Science, and the Great Unknown
In the meantime, while scientists sort out the science to answer the question Why is there something instead of nothing?, in addition to reviewing these dozen answers it is also okay to say “I don’t know” and keep searching. There is no need to turn to supernatural answers just to fulfill an emotional need for explanation. Like nature, the mind abhors a vacuum, but sometimes it is better to admit ignorance than feign certainty about which one knows not. If there is one lesson that the history of science has taught us it is that it is arrogant to think that we now know enough to know that we cannot know. Science is young. Let us have the courage to admit our ignorance and to keep searching for answers to these deepest questions.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Skepticism 101

WELCOME TO SKEPTICISM 101! The Skeptical Studies Curriculum Resource Center

THE SKEPTICAL STUDIES CURRICULUM RESOURCE CENTER is a comprehensive, free repository of resources for teaching students how to think skeptically. This Center contains an ever-growing selection of books, reading lists, course syllabi, in-class exercises, PowerPoint presentations, student projects, papers, and videos that you may download and use in your own classes. Lessons in these resources include:
  • what science is, how it differs from pseudoscience, and why it matters
  • the scientific method and how to use it to investigate and conduct skeptical analyses of extraordinary claims
  • how to construct effective arguments and rhetorical strategies
  • how to effectively use presentations and papers to present an argument
  • reason, logic, and skeptical analysis
  • the psychology of belief
  • how ideas are presented within academia
  • how peer review works
  • and much more…
Skeptic » Skepticism 101 » Welcome to Skepticism 101! The Skeptical Studies Curriculum Resource Center:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God via Scientific American

Why are some people more religious than others? Answers to this question often focus on the role of culture or upbringing.  While these influences are important, new research suggests that whether we believe may also have to do with how much we rely on intuition versus analytical thinking. In 2011 Amitai Shenhav, David Rand and Joshua Greene of Harvard University published apaper showing that people who have a tendency to rely on their intuition are more likely to believe in God.  They also showed that encouraging people to think intuitively increased people’s belief in God. Building on these findings, in a recent paper published inScience, Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia found that encouraging people to think analytically reduced their tendency to believe in God. Together these findings suggest that belief may at least partly stem from our thinking styles.
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Friday, March 23, 2012

Tests of the supernatural fail again: new study can’t replicate findings of precognition

from Why Evolution Is True 

Tests of the supernatural fail again: new study can’t replicate findings of precognition:
Who says that you can’t test the supernatural?  Intercessory prayer, near-death experiences, and ESP—all have been tested (and refuted) using science; all are classical “supernatural” phenomena whose mechanisms, if they existed, would seem to defy the laws of physics (I’m not going to get into arguments about the definition of “supernatural” here).  And now there’s a new paper in PLoS ONE by Ritchie et al. (free download at link, reference below) that refutes a recent paper presenting evidence for precognition: the idea that somehow one could have intimations in the present about stuff that hasn’t yet happened.
The original paper, published in 2011 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Daryl Bem of Cornell University (download the paper here, and see my post on it here), gave statistically significant evidence for precognition in several experiments.  In brief, experimental subjects who were asked to memorize a list of words, and then type as many as they could remember onto a computer, did better at remembering those words to which they were subsequently exposed when presented with random selections of the initial word list and irrelevant “control” words. This implied that seeing the words later increased one’s ability to remember them in the past.
The paper, appealing as it did to many people’s love of psychic stuff, got a lot of attention; it was, I believe, a subject on my radio interview with woo-meister Alex Tsakiris at Skeptiko. (Alex loved it of course.)
Bem’s experiment was criticised by other scientists, and I think there are still some attempts to replicate it in the works; my own judgment was that the results couldn’t be replicated by others.  That seems to be the lesson of the paper by Ritchie et al., who took Bem’s most significant experiment and replicated it three times in three different laboratories: The University of London, The University of Edinburgh, and the University of Hertfordshire.
The results are simple: none of the three replications achieved anything near statistical significance. The respective probability values (the values that results as extreme as those seen could be due solely to chance) were 46%, 94%, and 61%; the overall probability was 83%.  For “one-tailed” tests like these, results are considered significant only if the probability of attaining them by chance is 5% or less; and the replication results didn’t even come near that threshold.  Conclusion: Bem’s results are severely in question.
What happened in Bem’s study if his results really were wrong? Ritchie et al. have several theories:
  • There were statistical and methodological “artifacts” outlined by several critics (see references 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 in their paper)
  • Other variables, not recorded by Bem (subjects’ use of self-hypnosis or meditation, anxiety level, etc.) could have been responsible for the results. I don’t really understand this criticism because it seems that the “supernatural” character of precognition would be unaffected by those variables
  • the effect might be genuine but is hard to replicate. Ritchie et al. note that this is a common claim by psi advocates when results aren’t replicated. It’s like theologians who say, “God cannot be tested.”
The authors favor the hypothesis that Bem’s original result was due to “experimental artifacts.” They also note that there is at least one other published report of a failure to replicate Bem’s response: the paper by Robinson (2011) cited below.  The PLoS paper ends with a cute conclusion:
At the end of his paper Bem urges psychologists to be more open towards the concept of psychic ability, noting how, in Alice in Wonderland, the White Queen famously stated, ‘Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’. We advise them to take a more levelheaded approach to the topic, and not to venture too far down the rabbit hole just yet.
Bem has published a response to Ritchie et al.’s piece: it’s basically a non-response, calling for more work and floating the possibility that the negative attitudes of Ritchie et al. could have had an effect on their results (that, too, would be a paranomal result). As Bem said, “Ritchie, Wiseman, and French are well known as psi skeptics, whereas I and the investigators of the two successful replications are at least neutral with respect to the existence of psi.” That’s a pretty lame defense. Why would you re-test someone’s results if you weren’t a skeptic? On Thursday Ritchie et al. published a response to Bem’s critique.
An interesting side note: Chris French, one of the authors of the Ritchie et al. paper, wrote a piece in the Guardian, “Precognition study and the curse of the failed replications,” giving his take on Bem’s study and describing their own difficulties in getting their failure of replication published. It was rejected by three journals, including the original journal—the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—before it was finally accepted in PLoS ONE!  The unwillingness of the original journal’s editor to even send Ritchie et al.’s paper out for review is reprehensible, particularly in light of the splash made by Bem’s paper.  Extraordinary results deserve extraordinary scrutiny.  As French notes:
This whole saga raises important questions. Although we are always being told that “replication is the cornerstone of science”, the truth is that the “top” journals are simply not interested in straight replications – especially failed replications. They only want to report findings that are new and positive.
Most scientists are aware of this bias and will rarely bother with straight replications. But straight replication attempts are often exactly what is required, especially when dealing with controversial claims. For example, parapsychologists are typically happy to accept the findings of a new study if it replicates a previously reported paranormal effect. However, if it fails to do so, they are likely to blame any deviation from the original procedure, no matter how minor. It was for this reason that we chose to follow Bem’s procedure as closely as possible (apart from a minor methodological improvement).
Given the high cost of paper publications and the high submission rejection rate of “top” journals, it might be argued that rejecting replication studies was defensible in the pre-internet era. But what would prevent such journals from adopting a policy of sending reports of replications, failed or otherwise, for full peer review and, if accepted, publishing the abstract of the paper in the journal and the full version online? Otherwise, publication bias looks set to remain a major problem in psychology and science in general.
Doubt and replication are the sine qua non of science, and journals must always send out failed attempts to replicate for peer review, and find a way to publish them if they’re sound.

h/t: Diane G.
Bem, D. J. 2011. Feeling the future: experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. J. Personality Social Psych. doi: 10.1037/a0021524:DOI: 10.1037/a0021524.
Ritchie, S. J., R. Wiseman, and C. C. French. 2012. Failing the future: three unsuccessful attempts to replicate Bem’s ‘Retroactive facilitation of recall’ effect. PLOS ONE 7(3): e33423. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033423
Robinson E. 2011. Not feeling the future: A failed replication of retroactive facilitation of memory recall. J. Soc. Psychical Research 75:142-147.

Two Hands Working...


Thursday, March 22, 2012

You Don't Have Free Will

March 18, 2012
You Don't Have Free Will

By Jerry A. Coyne

The term "free will" has so many diverse connotations that I'm obliged to define it before I explain why we don't have it. I construe free will the way I think most people do: At the moment when you have to decide among alternatives, you have free will if you could have chosen otherwise. To put it more technically, if you could rerun the tape of your life up to the moment you make a choice, with every aspect of the universe configured identically, free will means that your choice could have been different.

Although we can't really rerun that tape, this sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics. Your brain and body, the vehicles that make "choices," are composed of molecules, and the arrangement of those molecules is entirely determined by your genes and your environment. Your decisions result from molecular-based electrical impulses and chemical substances transmitted from one brain cell to another. These molecules must obey the laws of physics, so the outputs of our brain—our "choices"—are dictated by those laws. (It's possible, though improbable, that the indeterminacy of quantum physics may tweak behavior a bit, but such random effects can't be part of free will.) And deliberating about your choices in advance doesn't help matters, for that deliberation also reflects brain activity that must obey physical laws.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tricks of the Psychic Trade How psychics talk (and manipulate)

By Karen Stollznow.

Psychic mediums perform one-on-one sessions for sitters. Stage mediums typically offer personal readings, but they also perform short psychic readings to an audience. Unless the stage medium performs a hot reading, otherwise known as cheating, the main tool is cold reading. This involves observation, psychology and elicitation to provide the appearance of psychic powers. Let's look at the typical formula used by stage mediums, and explore some commonly used linguistic and psychological techniques.
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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Atheists Are NOT Wasting Their Time

By Thomas Keane from  doubtingthomas

***NOTE: This article was originally published by the people at and is reprinted here with their permission.

One of the most common criticisms Atheists are confronted with is the question of why we waste so much time discussing religion, god worship, the bible, etc.? Why do we focus so much time on something we don’t believe in? Don’t we have anything better to do with our time? The reason why these questions are always so frustrating has less to do with how often we are confronted with them and more to do with how obvious the answers should be. When your child tells you they believe there is a monster in their closet or under their bed, do you ignore them or tell them the truth? If she told you that the reason she believed there was a monster under her bed was because she had read a story that told her about these monsters, wouldn’t you be curious to read this story in order to better understand how your child came to her erroneous conclusion? Now what if your daughter is 21 and has a 3 year old daughter of her own. Her boyfriend, the father of her child, is involved with a group that believes their founder (Avalon) is the second coming of Christ and is in direct communication with God. If you discovered that your daughter had also become a follower of Avalon and was teaching/raising your 3yo granddaughter to believe in the same things, would you be wasting your time if you decided to speak up and express your belief that Avalon was a fraud and even offer proof to support your opinion?

What if your daughter refused to listen and instead ran away with her boyfriend, your granddaughter and Avalon to an isolated compound somewhere and you didn’t see them again for another fifteen years? What do you think the likelihood is, that once you are finally allowed to see your, now 18yo, granddaughter, that anything you say will convince her that what she has been raised to believe isn’t true? The odds are that your words would fall on deaf ears; however, that doesn’t make your efforts meaningless. Nor does it mean you should give up. The more you learn about this cult that swallowed up your daughter and granddaughter the greater your ability will be to address the issues you have with it. After all, even the strongest barrier of misinformation can’t withstand a constant barrage of truth.

There is a reason why the majority of god worshipers are devoted to the same god that the people who raised them worshiped. It isn’t because their god is any more legitimate than any of the other 2,000+ gods mankind has invented over the years. It is simply because once myth has been established as fact in a child’s innocent, naïve mind, it is very difficult, even as an adult, for that person to shake that belief. Faith is not a synonym for fact, it is a synonym for hope and it is the definition of foolishness to devote one’s every life decision around thehope that a thing is true.

Once upon a time, people believed that the earth was the center of the universe and everything (including the sun) revolved around it. Once upon a time people believed that tossing a virgin into a volcano or carving out their still beating hearts was the only way to appease their god(s). Once upon a time people believed Zeus’ wrath resulted in thunder and lightning and Poseidon’s resulted in tidal waves. Once upon a time people believed that you could take ‘it’ with you and as a result they built elaborate tombs and filled them with treasures and even servants so that in the afterlife they would continue to enjoy the lifestyle to which they were accustomed. Once upon a time people believed in a great many things that we now know to be erroneous.

If we discovered that there were people in the world who still believed in established myth, would we be wasting our time to confront them with evidence that reveals the fallacy of their beliefs? And when a Christian or Mormon missionary travels deep into the Amazonian jungles to tell the native people there that the gods they worship are false and that they should instead believe in this or that god, aren’t they doing the same thing that an Atheist does when they contradict Christian beliefs? The only difference here seems to be that an Atheist supports his beliefs with evidence while a believer relies only on hope, AKA – faith.

What could possibly be more admirable than knowing the truth of something and, when encountering someone who only knows the lie, taking the time to share with them what you have learned. How could this ever be considered a waste of time? How many people ‘wasted their time’ trying to talk reason with a follower of Jim Jones (900 dead, 300 of whom were children). How many people ‘wasted their time’ pleading with family and/or friends who were members of the Heaven’s Gate cult? How many of the 80+ followers of David Koresh, 21 of whom were children, who died in the Waco, Texas catastrophe might have been spared if more people had ‘wasted their time’? If an Atheist had encountered a member of any of these groups you can bet that they would have spoken up. Are we to believe that a Christian would have tucked their bible away and bit their tongue?

It is in all of our best interests that we resist the tendency to dismiss the opinion of another simply because it differs from our own. If someone is willing to take the time to challenge something you believe in, the least you can do is take the time to listen and consider. Christians like to act all mystified as to why Atheists spend so much time discussing something they don’t believe in but the fact that they never protest when an Atheist wastes his or her time playing Guitar Hero or watching an American Idol marathon reveals that what they are really expressing is anxiety, not confusion. No one likes to be confronted with the prospect that what they accept as truth could possibly be a lie. But such a revelation can only benefit us, individually and as a society.

If anything it is the religious who are wasting their time. Just consider how much further along we would be as a society, not to mention as a species, if it weren’t for religion. The endless struggle for religious supremacy has led to innumerable wars and countless lost lives. Consider the incomprehensible amount of literature that was hunted down, confiscated and/or destroyed by the church. How much knowledge have we lost because of the fears of the religious? How many of our greatest minds were persecuted and imprisoned because they dared to disagree with someone’s concept of one god or another? How many dreams, ideas and inventions were snuffed out by worshipers of gods? How many more men like Aristotle, Galileo, Voltaire and Socrates would we have if not for religion? Consider all the trials, the imprisonments, the banishments, the riots, the persecutions, the genocides, the repression, the bigotry, the sexism, the mutilation and the division, so much division. Has anything in history ever divided one man from another more than religion? But it’s the Atheist who is wasting his time? Could anything be more laughable? Just imagine where we would be now as a people if we had focused on peace, coexisting, civilization, progress and philosophy instead of saving souls and deciding whose god was better than another’s. No one has wasted more of their own time, and worse, humanity’s time than the religious.

If the human race has any hope for a bright future it certainly doesn’t rest with the religious or whatever god they may worship. Their god will not create peace on earth. Your god will not protect our children from the evils of the world. His god will not reward us with eternal life. Her god will not assure our armies of success in battle. We can only rely on ourselves and on each other. There simply is no one else. And it’s not a waste of time to say so.

Thomas Keane (DoubtingThomas)

Please visit my main page ( to gain a better understanding of where I am coming from. There you will find all my observations regarding religion and the bible categorized on the Right hand side of the page. Please feel free to read through them and leave a comment or two if you like.

My Top 25 Substantive Posts in 2011

Here they are:

25) I Stand in the Gap

24) The Top Ten Misconceptions About Atheists

23) The Ten Marks of a Deluded Person

22) Once Again, Atheism is Not a Belief Nor a Religion

21) In Defense of Debates

20) Ten Ways How To Resist Preaching to the Choir

19) Science Based Explanations vs. Faith Based Explanations

18) Christians demand that I must show their faith is impossible before they will see that it is improbable

17) The Danger of Belief is Thinking You Believe What God Does

16) The Problem of Miracles

15) Answering Once and For All The Christian Complaint That Skeptics Would Refuse to Believe No Matter What God Did

14) Who Answers Prayers?

13) An Omniscient God Solves All Problems and Makes Faith Unfalsifiable

12) How Christian Apologists Work

11) When Christians Criticize Each Other I Think They're All Right

10) A New and Better Pascal's Wager: If God Asked You to Wager Before Being Born What Would You Choose?

9) The Deuteronomist and King Josiah

8) The Outsider Test is Not Hard to Understand

7) Responding to Thomas Talbott: On Why I Think There is a Material World

6) Assessing The Minimal Facts Approach of Habermas, Licona, and Craig

5) Does a Religious Context Increase the Odds of a Miracle?

4) Michael Licona's Book is Delusional on a Grand Scale

3) William Lane Craig On Whether the Witness of the Spirit is Question-Begging

2) In Defense of William Lane Craig 

1) Let's Recap Why William Lane Craig Refuses to Debate Me

Monday, January 30, 2012

What makes scientists tick?

 from the

Psychologist Greg Feist is trying to find out what drives scientific curiosity, from ways of thinking to personality types

You are championing a new discipline: the psychology of science. What exactly is this?
It's the study of the thought and behaviour of scientists, but it also includes the implicit science done by non-scientists - so, for instance, children and infants who are thinking scientifically, trying to figure out the world and developing cognitive conceptual models of how the world works.
What areas interest you and what discoveries have you made in this field?
My area is personality. I look at the personality characteristics and qualities that distinguish scientists from non-scientists.
The personality characteristic that really stands out for predicting scientific interest is openness to experience: how willing and interested someone is to try new things, to explore, to break out of their habits. Open people get bored with routine. Another thing I've found is that social scientists tend to be higher in extroversion whereas physical scientists tend to be a bit more introverted.
I understand that certain people - Jewish people, for example - are more likely than average to become scientists. Why?
I was brought up Catholic and I married a Jewish woman. I spoke to my wife's rabbi and asked him this question. He said that in Judaism there is no hierarchy. No one person who has more access to the "truth" than anyone else. And there is a healthy tradition of debate. That way of critical thinking and debate is more congruent with the scientific attitude than Catholicism, say, which is based on dogma and hierarchy.
In the US, only 2 per cent of the population is Jewish, yet about 30 per cent of the members of the National Academy of Science and 30 per cent of the Nobel prize recipients are from a Jewish background. That's no coincidence.
What other areas of the psychology of science are ripe for research?
A couple of graduate students and I have started investigating if there is evidence that any kind of mental disorder is associated with scientific thought and behaviour. The general answer is no. In fact, most disorders seem to be screened out to a greater extent in the sciences than in the arts.
Have psychologists looked into the issue of how objective the scientific process really is?
Scientists are human. They're not perfectly objective and rational, but the scientific method tries to limit that as much as possible by having repeatable, observable, empirical methods to minimise the subjective element. The more we understand about the psychology of scientists the more we can mitigate the effect of cognitive bias.
How will this new discipline benefit science?
One of the things it will do is shed light on how and when people become interested in science. And why do some kids, who started out with an interest in science, then leave it? In the US it's a pretty big deal to discover what is lacking in our training and development of young scientists.


Greg Feist is at San Jose State University, California. He is president of the International Society for the Psychology of Science and Technology, and author of The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind (Yale University Press, 2006)

Friday, January 27, 2012

inFact: Conspiracy Theories

Are conspiracy theorists really as crazy as they sound?

Answering 13 Questions About 2012 by Kyle Hill

Via Psychology Today, arm yourself against the pseudoscience of 2012 apocalypse with answers to 13 questions about the supposed end of the world.
[spoiler alert: the whole theory is bogus]

The Mayan Apocalypse is Nonsense

Here are the questions you will find answers to, with a short summary of the answers (read the full article linked to above for the complete explanations):
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?
Is the “Jesus of History” any more real than the “Jesus of Faith”?

(From the upcoming book,Jesus: Mything in Action, by David Fitzgerald)

Psych 101: Controlling This Tendency Will Make You Happier and More Productive

Psych 101: Controlling This Tendency Will Make You Happier and More Productive

Screen Shot 2012-01-18 at 8.40.26 AM
Your coworker is late. You’re angry. “He’s always late!” you say to yourself. Instead of thinking of the myriad of external sources that could potentially explain his tardiness, you default to the fact that he is always late. Does this sound familiar?
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