Thursday, December 23, 2010

BBC - Alternative remedies 'dangerous' for kids says report

A BBC story about the dangers of so-called "alternative remedies" which are, in fact, not remedies at all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I get an email about "EFT"

See here for my earlier warning about EFT.

An email arrived regarding my rather dismissive comments as follows.  The email is in red.
Hi It's a shame people are so skeptical without giving something a chance. 
I haven't given shooting myself in the head a chance either, but that doesn't mean I should try it.
I've been using EFT for 7 years on myself, as a practitioner and trainer and I can honestly say that many of the claims for it are broadly true based on my experience and the shifts I see in others. I see some amazing things happening on a regular basis. 
"broadly true based on my experience"?  Is that meant to seem like evidence?
My background is in IT and I'm totally uninterested in fake or airy-fairy techniques that are not really delivering the goods. 
I'm not sure that qualifies you as an expert.  I would rather have decently constructed double-blinded scientific studies investigating the claims made by a treatment but perhaps I'm just old-fashioned?
This is the real mackoy and delivers well above placibo. So give it a chance and try it out. There are free manuals on the web. Thanks, Peter
The word is "placebo".  Forgive me if I don't try something that is based on pseudoscience, was invented by a charlatan and makes extraordinary claims but without any extraordinary evidence.

Peter's own web site include the following, remarkable statement:
"EFT is based on a revolutionary new discovery that violates most of the beliefs within conventional psychology. It contends that the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body's energy system. With remarkable consistency, EFT relieves symptoms by an unusual (but scientific) routine of tapping with the fingertips on a short series of points on the body that correspond to acupuncture points on the energy meridians. Where there is an imbalance, there is a corresponding blockage in the flow of energy through the meridian system.

The tapping serves to release the blockages that are created when a person thinks about or becomes involved in an emotionally disturbing circumstance. When this blockage is released, the emotions come into balance. Once balanced, the person cannot get upset about the circumstance no matter how hard they try. The memory remains but the charge is gone."
Note: any particularly attractive people are welcome to come over to my place for a glass of wine and a vigorous "tapping" from either me or the wife!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Christopher Maloney is a quack

For more details of his deeply silly pseudo-legal threats against PZ Myers see here.  Seems like he doesn't have a natural remedy for being exposed as a quack who is simply NOT a doctor, despite the ridiculous laws in the US state of Maine where it looks like anyone can be called a "doctor" if they have a natural medicine "degree".

For Maloney's own laughable "medical" site, see here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Baiting a "traditional doctor"

OK, not a scammer, a traditional healer this time but a liar and a charlatan nevertheless. This is his advertisement:

I SMSed a number of "doctors" who placed advertisements in local papers yesterday and today as follows:

His response and our subsequent conversation went like this:

He is "Dr" Kachule and his cellphone number is 75916409.  I'm sure he'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A real man

Courtesy of Pharyngula. As the father of three young sons I find this a very useful example of what a "real man" might be. Morally strong, courageous and protective of his loved ones in a crisis. In fact just like a "real woman".

Saturday, September 25, 2010

BBC News - Alert issued on danger supplement

BBC News - Alert issued on danger supplement

"Food watchdogs have issued an alert after finding that a chemical marketed online as a health supplement was similar to industrial-strength bleach.

'Miracle Mineral Supplement' is 28% sodium chlorite - which becomes bleach when mixed with citric acid.

Even taken as instructed, experts say it can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea - and mixing it wrongly could lead to respiratory failure."

419ers take council for £100k • The Register

419ers take council for £100k • The Register

"A Scottish local authority lost £102,000 to an African gang after being duped by a targeted letter scam.

The letter, received at the end of July, purported to come from one of South Lanarkshire Council's legitimate suppliers, and requested that payments be made into a different account."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Warning - "Emotional Freedom Techniques"

An email came in from a consumer asking our opinion on a workshop to be held in Phakalane next month entitled “Relax And Repair With EFT” or “Emotional Freedom Techniques”.

This utter nonsense was made up by someone called Gary Craig. His profile says:
“Gary Craig is neither a psychologist nor a licensed therapist. He is an ordained minister through the Universal Church of God in Southern California, which is non-denominational and embraces all religions. He is a dedicated student of A Course in Miracles, and approaches his work with a decidedly spiritual perspective. However, there is no specific spiritual teaching connected to EFT or its Practitioners.”
In other words he’s not a scientist and it’s not scientific, he’s spiritual because he’s been ordained by a silly made-up church in the home state of silliness, but his ridiculous EFT isn’t spiritual.

In fact EFT is based on what they very scientifically call “tapping”. The EFT people say that:
“although based on acupuncture, EFT has simplified the realignment process by gently tapping on key meridian points on the head, torso and hands.”

So they just tap you? On your non-existent “meridian points”? So it’s like acupuncture, which all the evidence suggests is pseudo-mystical, pseudo-scientific claptrap, but without the one thing that might plausibly do anything?

These charlatans claim that EFT can be used to treat asthma, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cyctic fibrosis and even sexual abuse trauma.

Based on these extraordinary claims I say we should run these extraordinary charlatans out of town!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Who deserves respect? Botswana Guardian

In the Botswana Guardian last week Abdullah Moahi wrote a letter in response to another written by the very reasonable Ali Haider. This correspondence began when Moahi’s fellow Muslim, al-Hasan, wrote a letter complaining about recent cartoons featuring images of the Prophet Muhammad. I later responded by suggesting that if Muslims want to restrain themselves from portraying their prophet then that was fine but I felt that the rule didn’t apply to non-Muslims like me.

Well, al-Hasan and Moahi clearly disagree with me. They feel that people of another faith or those like me who have put superstition in the same place we put Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy must live by their rules whether we like it or not.

Obviously I disagree. My point was simple. I obey the law, do my best to be a good neighbour and I pay my taxes. So don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, OK?

Moahi and al-Hasan are confusing two different things. I believe that they, as individuals, deserve some basic respect. I won’t email them pictures of the prophet, I won’t invite them to eat pork and I will do my very best to leave them alone. I will offer them some basic respect. I expect them to offer me the same courtesy.

However I don’t think I am under any obligation to respect their belief system and they shouldn’t feel obliged to respect mine. I don’t think belief systems, whether they are religious or political, themselves deserve respect. It’s people who deserve some basic respect. If they want more they can earn it.

I also don’t think that anyone looks respectable if they write letters to The Botswana Guardian that are full of anti-Semitism and hatred like al-Hasan did a couple of weeks ago. Again I think he is confusing two different things. His letter is full of insults aimed at Jews, blaming them all for everything that is wrong in the Middle East. His target should obviously be the despicable Israeli Government, not every member of Israel’s main religious belief system. Jews and Israel are like Muslims and Iran. Not the same thing. Both the Israeli and Iranian governments frequently behave despicably but that doesn’t mean all Jews or Muslims are psychopaths. It’s not too hard to see the difference between a nation, a religion and people, is it?

Yes, I know I’m an atheist, according to al-Hasan a devil worshipper (he doesn’t exist, how could I be?) and an infidel. I have enormous respect for my friends who are believers in whatever faith they have but I don’t respect them because of their religion. I respect them because they are decent, hard-working and charitable people. Unlike some people the worst excesses of religion hasn’t corrupted them.

Moahi ended his letter with the words “silence is consent”. In that one thought we agree. I do not consent to my freedoms being constrained by any religion. I will not remain silent. Nor should anyone else who values their freedom to express themselves.

Friday, June 04, 2010

A right to be respected - Botswana Guardian

In the Botswana Guardian last week al-Hasan wrote a lengthy letter suggesting that Muslims have a right to be respected. He specifically implied that the rules within Islam that forbid the portrayal of the prophet Muhammad must somehow apply to non-Muslims. I disagree.

al-Hasan’s letter was no doubt prompted by the recent “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” day which prompted death threats to cartoonists around the world. The cartoon I suspect he refers to, by Zapiro and published in the Mail and Guardian, portrays Muhammad on a psychiatrist’s couch complaining that “Other prophets have followers with a sense of humour!” Already Zapiro has received the inevitable death threats.

I am not a Muslim or indeed a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Rastafarian so I don’t consider myself bound by the rules within each of those religions. I eat pork and beef, I consume alcohol, I have been known to use what some people would consider rude words and I often work on a Sunday. The internal rules of religions I don’t belong to don’t apply to me, nor do they apply to any other non-members of those religions. The rules that apply to me, that govern my conduct, are the laws of the country I live in. Of course I also acknowledge that in addition to the basic laws there are certain community values so I have learned to moderate my behaviour when necessary, that’s just simple courtesy. I don’t swear loudly in public, I wouldn’t blaspheme in a religious gathering and I wouldn’t demand beef from a Hindu host or a bacon sandwich from a Jew.

But outside of those situations I am free to express myself. So long as I do not encourage violence, I am not constrained from expressing my views. To put it simply, I am entitled to draw a picture of Muhammad, just as I can draw a picture of Jesus, Buddha or Haile Selassie. What’s more I firmly believe that I have a right to challenge other people’s beliefs, just as they have a right to challenge mine. Muslims and members of any other religion are free to evangelise. They can advertise, broadcast religious programs on the radio and TV and post me letters and emails trying to persuade me of their beliefs. That’s the wonder of living in a democracy, the range of divergent beliefs that surround us. It’s also what makes a democracy so irritating sometimes. Often the beliefs of your neighbours are annoying, sometimes infuriating. As an atheist, I dislike being told by people like al-Hasan that I don’t respect other people’s beliefs, am a worshipper of Shaytaan (Satan) or that I “rape and kill Muslim women and children”. However I’m sufficiently grown-up to see stupid allegations as nonsense and to ignore them.

I also think that at a time when Islam is being used, obviously by a tiny, psychopathic minority, to terrorise the world and to drag us back to the Middle Ages, people like al-Hasan would do better to show their more moderate, tolerant and understanding side and not threaten the rest of us with eternal (and immediate) punishment for expressing ourselves.

My feelings about free speech are simple but are best expressed by a ruling by Lord Justice Sedley in the UK on the freedom to evangelise who said:
“Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I get mail about atheism and morality

Every part of the comment has been published, unedited, shown in blue.
This is a respond to a note wrote by Richard Harriman, I am not against atheism, I believe we all have reasons to belive in something or nothing but what matters the most is how well you justify your lifestyle
in my lifetime, I have had countless arguments about atheism and I might as well applaud you on your view points because they seem well thought of but one thing that seems to be lacking is the logic behind them.
Thanks again, I think.
If you are against believers I assume you practice what you preach and you have trully come to the conclusion that there are no deities.
I'm not "against" believers, some of my best friends are people of faith but yes, I have come to the conclusion that the possibility of deities existing is so vanishingly remote that it's as good as non-existent.
all religions has simillar practices to a certain extent but if we were to take christianity as a whole and trace it's many churches roots then we can agree that they all came from one source.  Because of brutality towards christians during the roman rule and the many philosophers of that time, people interpreted Christianity in different ways henceforth the many churches present today. 
I'm not sure your suggestion that Christianity was interpreted in various ways because of oppression is true.  The Church began as a single entity until the Reformation when the rule of Rome began to be eroded.
I point this out to show you that when you decided to be an atheist you simply started your own movement influenced by what you see as most appropriate.
Non-sequitur.  I haven't started any movement, I don't want to be part of a movement, I wouldn't be part of any movement that would have me.
This movemnt or idea of life of yours had to answer questions which serve as pillars to your existence and coincide with the moral standards of the society you are based in. If yes great, if no then i seemed to have overestimated your analogy to rationalize your thoughts.
As I said, there is no "movement".  I'm also not sure that I need "pillars" to my existence. It's also possible that I don't agree with all the standards of the society I'm based in.  Maybe 90%? I'm not sure what "If yes..." means. Yes to what, exactly?
Making moral decisions is not influenced by beliefs, instead it's the general populance you reside in that decides what is percieved as wrong or right. Take a look at how the limitations on how to behave amongst each other has rapidly increased over the centuries to become known today as breaking the law. It's true we are all capable of rape and murder 
I disagree.  Of course moral decisions are influenced by beliefs.  I'm sorry but I don't understand the rest of this point.
Another main influence is also the order of things, as humans we have the ability to be considerate,feel and act rationaly. Meaning most of us treat the next person as we wish they should treat us, this common mannerism enables us to co exist not religion. This disputes your notion about what prevents us from doing wrong things.
What is the "order of things"?  What notion is it that you think I have about why we restrain ourselves from doing wrong things?
If more than half of the world would rather belive in God so that they can be able to sleep at night or live a life with meaning so be it, but claiming that your life is more/going to be more fulfiling if you live it the way you are explaining it then Your logic and reasoning behind it is shallow as the explanation behind it. i believe in God and philosophy is a hobby I picked along the way, again this was wrote with the artmost respect but sometimes the latter overlaps the other
Just because a majority have been led to believe something, doesn't make it true.  I don't think my life without superstition is more fulfilling, but I DO believe it's truer and truth brings me pleasure and fulfillment.

I'm glad philosophy is a hobby but I think you need more practice.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Michael Tellinger - Botswana Guardian

Tonight, if you're reading this on Thursday, we'll have the privilege of a visit from "scientist, explorer and international author" Michael Tellinger who is due to speak at the Civic Centre in Gaborone. According to the announcement I saw he will be speaking on the "Origins Of Humankind and Ancient Civilisations Of South Africa". Sounds fascinating, don't you think?

Well, it does until you do a little research into Tellinger's theories. Instead of talking about the origins of humankind with the benefits of science, anthropology and those irritating things called FACTS, Tellinger has some rather different ideas, bizarre ones to say the least. In fact his crackpot theories remind me of those from the so-called "Church" of Scientology. Scientology novices are finally taught (after they've coughed up truly vast quantities of cash) that 75 million years ago Xemu, the head of the Galactic Federation, decided to cure his over-population problems by murdering excess aliens by bringing them to Earth and killing them with hydrogen bombs. The souls of these people now haunt us all and cause us all our mental health problems.

You can see why the Scientologists aren't too keen to publicise this hogwash until after they've got your cash, can't you?

I suspect that Mr Tellinger is in a similar position. I think he'd rather get your P100 entrance fee and perhaps even your $18 for his downloadable book BEFORE you discover what exactly he believes. In his book "Slave Species of God" Tellinger tells us that aliens from the planet Nibiru came to Earth nearly half a million years ago to steal our gold. Once they got bored doing all that hard work digging they mixed their DNA with that of primitive earthlings and produced human slaves. These humans, being rather dim-witted, then worshipped the aliens as gods. Telinger claims to have learned all this from translated ancient stone tablets. Curiously nobody else seems to have translated the tablets the same way and the real academic world has missed the spaceships, gold smuggling and all that juicy inter-species cross-breeding.

[Thanks to the 01 and the Universe blog for the book review]

By all means go and hear Tellinger and his delusions but my recommendation would be to go round the corner and spend your money at a certain spicy chicken restaurant instead. At least you'll go home with a tingle on your lips and a full stomach instead of just an empty head.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Morality is a human virtue - Mmegi

Original here.

Like Don-Martin Takudzwa Whande I don't want to get into a letter-writing argument about atheism and religion.

That wouldn't entertain any Mmegi readers and I seriously doubt that it would help change anyone's minds. He is probably as committed to his beliefs as I am to mine. However his last letter seemed to revolve around one particular point that I disagree with profoundly.

He said that atheism "automatically means that life has no meaning. It simply means everything is permissible because there are no laws and therefore no one is accountable to anyone. However, if that is so,what then is the reason why we now have laws to govern behaviour today unless there was a law giver?"

He seems to believe that because I don't believe in Father Christmas (or any other make-believe people), my life is meaningless and I must have no morals.

Maybe he should get to know me before assuming I'm a sociopath? I am at least as moral as anyone who believes they have invisible friends and my life is just as meaningful as theirs. The difference is that I have found my own meaning, not one that was taken from a book of ancient superstitions. Ironically I suspect that his morality and mine will be remarkably similar. I'm sure that we both oppose murder, theft, rape and deceit. We both believe in honesty, respect and charity.

The difference is that I believe these values to be of human origin, not divine. It's interesting that regardless of which religion is dominant, all countries in the world have adopted roughly the same moral values whether the countries are theocracies like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UK or secular democracies like the USA and Botswana. The thing all countries have in common is humanity, not superstition.

I think it's also interesting to ask a question of religious folk. Is the only reason you don't go around murdering, raping and stealing because God tells you not to? That's not exactly flattering is it? I don't do these things because I don't want to and because they're all morally wrong. I don't need superstition to tell me that.

I believe that the time has come for secular humanists like me to be more open about our atheist beliefs and morality. They are just as valid as religious beliefs and frankly a bit more practical.

Don-Martin Takudzwa Whande's response - Mmegi

Original here.

Although I do not usually like to respond to a response to my articles, I felt obliged to respond to Harriman's letter of January 22 because he shares some really interesting thoughts.

It's important for the reader to understand that I am not trying to start a Holy War with atheists, but I simply desire to connect with my colleagues and try reach an understanding, if possible, by presentation of facts and ideas. First of all, I do understand when atheists say that there is no God. However, such a belief automatically means that life has no meaning. It simply means everything is permissible because there are no laws and therefore no one is accountable to anyone. However, if that is so,what then is the reason why we now have laws to govern behaviour today unless there was a law giver?

In simple, if life has no meaning then each and every one of us has to live as they please. So Harriman,wouldn't you agree with the fact that we have rules to govern behaviour and conduct in the universe simply because this universe has a meaning? C.S. Lewis, who was once an atheist but is now convinced that there is God, had this to say: "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has an idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this world to when I called it unjust? If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning."

What C.S Lewis was trying to say was that when atheists say this universe is unjust and has no meaning, to what are they comparing it to? How can one say life is unjust and has no meaning unless he or she has an idea of a meaningful and just life? Let me use an everyday example. Is it possible for me to say to a person she is beautiful unless I have an idea of what an ugly person looks like?

This, I believe, is the same trap that many atheists find themselves in. This is the last aspect of reality that atheists should now consider before they can conclude that life has no meaning. A closer analysis of the above question will reveal that this universe has meaning after all because to every bad thing, there is always the good side.

One thing is for sure, Harriman. If a person is truly convinced about his/her religion, then that person should not be afraid to come out in the open about his/her faith. For example, you rightly pointed out that many atheists are afraid of coming out in the open because they fear being rejected by the community. This is the same quandary homosexuals find themselves in.

But surely, if one is sure and confident about his or her faith, why are there a lot of atheists, in this country for that matter, being afraid of coming out and professing their faith? I believe it is because of the lack of absolute truth that makes people do this. It is also because atheists are aware that life is meaningful and therefore cannot afford just to come out in the open. The society has a moral obligation to accept or not to accept Christianity, Atheism, amongst many other religions. But if life has no meaning, as you say, why are some of your people (atheists), just like homosexuals, afraid of coming out in the open? Why do Atheists care about criticism if life is meaningless?

With all due respect, I also think atheists should simply stop trying to behave as if they understand the Bible. I am saying this because of the way Harriman dismally failed to interpret the Bible. In your letter to the Mmegi on January 22, you rightly pointed out that "I don't believe in the Bible", which is evidenced by your saying that the Bible is littered with endorsements of murder, rape, genocide and human sacrifices. Harriman seems to have moved from being a 'non-believer of the Bible' to a 'perfect interpreter of the Bible.'

If you do not believe in the Bible, that is good enough. Do not contradict and embarrass yourself by trying to interpret the Bible that you seem to be so appalled with. If I were to say "I do not believe there is a language called Setswana", is it then 'rational and logical' for me to try and interpret it? Maybe you would like to ponder about that. I am still radically sure and utterly convinced that there is God around us.

However life is a matter of choice. There are good and bad ideas, right and wrong as well as some ideas in between. No one, however, is supposed to be forced into the belief of deity. Each decision we make ultimately has a bearing in our lives and we are all accountable for our actions and choices in life. We are here for a purpose and we are all custodians of our individual lives.

Don-Martin Takudzwa Whande

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thank you rational atheists - Mmegi

Original here.

I would like to express my thanks to all the people who have approached me or have sent me messages by email or on Facebook supporting my letter last week entitled "Atheists are rational and logical". I confess that I expected a negative response but in fact everyone has been remarkably positive. It's often surprising to learn that although the religious might be in the majority a surprising number of people reject superstition in all it's forms and embrace the rational, the logical and the real.

However it saddens me that some people explained how they couldn't "come out" as atheists because of their fear of rejection by their communities, families and friends. One of the most objectionable things about any rigid belief system must be that, whether it's religious or political, Christian, Muslim or Marxist, dissent is unwelcome and often forbidden. In extreme but distressingly common situations heresy and apostasy are treated as capital crimes. People have been killed just for expressing their free thinking.

Thankfully I live in a country where enlightenment is not an offense.

A final point. Isn't it curious that many Christians refer to the ultimate evil as "Lucifer", a word that means "bringer of light". It's ironic that the Devil is seen as the one who enlightens, not the religion.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Atheists are rational and logical - Mmegi and Monitor

Original here.

In a column in Mmegi on 15th January Don-Martin Takudzwa Whande argued that atheists like me somehow fail to see the overwhelming evidence for the existence of God. He's wrong. I think we atheists have a clear, rational, logical and above all, reasonable view.

There are many arguments against the existence of an invisible friend in the sky but I would rather be constructive and offer him a suggestion. I think his approach of using endless quotes from the Bible to persuade us non-believers is wrong. Why would the Bible persuade me? I don't believe that god exists and I don't believe the Bible has anything particular to teach us.

Of course people will say that there is wisdom in the Bible but there is in all religious texts, whether Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist. And crucially there is at least as much wisdom in many non-religious texts. What's more, for every delightful, inspiring, poetic quote from the Bible there is another that is vicious, cruel or just plain evil. The Bible is littered with endorsements of murder, genocide, slavery, rape, human sacrifice and the mass slaughter of children. And I'm meant to give this book respect and be persuaded by it?

The same goes for many religious leaders. Last week, the esteemed (by some, certainly not by me) american TV evangelist Pat Robertson said that the people of Haiti had brought the recent catastrophic earthquake upon themselves. His exact words were "they got together and swore a pact to the devil" and that consequently "ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other". 

Need I say more? OK, I will. Robertson is a nasty, vicious, hateful old bigot and those who use religion as a cover for their hatred deserve to be shunned by all reasonable people.

Anyway here's a challenge for those who feel the need to convert us atheists to religion. See if you can come up with a persuasive, thoughtful, rational argument that doesn't involve a single quote from your religious texts. Then we might consider them.