Ken Ham Mad at Miley Cyrus for Not Being As Stuck Up as He Is

Ken Ham, best known these days for losing a debate to Bill Nye the Science Guy, has always held some… colorful opinions. The best that I can say for him, really, is that at least his organization distanced itself from Kent Hovind (see Arguments to Avoid at Answers in Genesis, and Maintaining Creationist Integrity at talkorigins’s Hovind page).

But now he’s gone off in a rather unintentionally-entertaining manner against Miley Cyrus, who posed nude at Paper. In particular, Ham didn’t like this part of the article:

Although she was raised Christian, Cyrus maintains a particular contempt for fundamentalist lawmakers who rally against this sort of progressive, potentially life-saving change. “Those people [shouldn't] get to make our laws,” she says. Those people — the ones who believe that, say, Noah’s Ark was a real seafaring vessel. “That’s fucking insane,” she says. “We’ve outgrown that fairy tale, like we’ve outgrown fucking Santa and the tooth fairy.”

except that the two instances of the word “fucking”, even when reduced to “f–king” by Fox News, were enough to give him the vapors, and he had to bowdlerize them still further.

He also has the sads because Cyrus doesn’t share his superstition (emphasis added):

The same expletive was used a number of times in the interview. As you read what she reportedly said, it becomes very obvious that it’s not just the biblical accounts of the Ark and Flood in Genesis she is dismissing, but she is rejecting our Ark of salvation—Jesus Christ.

Of course what she means is that she wants to make her own “laws”! And she uses her “laws” and beliefs to judge Christians as her aggressive judgmental attitude toward Christians is so apparent, though in reality it is really about her attitude toward God and His Word.

Um… of course. Don’t we all want our values to be represented in the law? And of course we use our beliefs to judge those around us. As for making her own laws, isn’t that what democracy is about?

The article goes on to state,

Sexually, Cyrus said she is “down with” anything. She views her sexuality and even her gender identity as fluid. “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult—anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me,” she said. “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”

Question for her: Why not involve an animal? On what basis does she decide that?

I’ve highlighted the word “consenting”, because Ham seems to have missed it. Animals can’t give consent. Neither can children. In the latter case, it’s more complicated, but our society has come up with 18 years as a not-entirely-arbitrary dividing line between children who can’t give consent, and adults who can.

He goes on to quote a bunch of Bible passages because he’s a Christian fundie, and that’s what they do. But I think this post says a lot mor about Ham than it does about Cyrus. In particular, that he thinks of morality in terms of obedience and disobedience; that he can’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t, say, fuck a sheep if he thought he could get away with it.

It also sounds as though he’s been drinking his own Kool-Aid, and actually believes that

in her heart she knows God exists (Romans 1) […] she has a conscience (as seared as it is because of her sinful rebellion) because the law is written on our hearts (Romans 2).

Someone who’s been telling himself he’s right so hard and for so long that he’s now convinced himself that everyone knows he’s right, and anyone who disagrees with him is only doing it to be contrarian. And that’s sad.

Won’t stop me from laughing at him, though. Just, maybe, not quite as hard as I would otherwise.

Encouraging Islamic Reform

In 2010, Ayaan Hirsi Ali participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate on whether Islam is a religion of peace. In it, she made the argument that while Islam is not currently peaceful, it can become peaceful if it reforms.

More recently, her latest book, Heretic, lists specific recommendations for an Islamic reformation. Things like accepting non-literal interpretations of the Quran.

So I was heartened when I listened to the Intelligence Squared US debate, and heard the the two pro-Islam debators argue that certain verses needed to be “contextualized”, or understood within the culture that Mohammed lived in. To my ears, this sounded an awful lot like “you’re taking it out of context” and “oh, but that’s the Old Testament!”

These are, of course, two of the rationales that Christians love to use to explain away those passages of the Bible that they don’t like. Those two will do the trick 90% of the time, even when “that’s not in my Bible!” won’t.

The problem is that these excuses are, well, excuses. Don’t get me wrong: they allow Christians to get along with other people in the 21st century. It’s bad enough that there are any people left who still believe in witchcraft; let’s not encourage them to believe that “Do not allow a sorceress to live.” is still accepted as mainstream.

Clearly, we want to encourage people to ignore, downplay, or reinterpet the less-savory parts of their holy books. The problem is, how to sell this without being too obvious that that’s what’s going on?

Christianity benefits from the fact that most Christians don’t bother to read the Bible. That means that they tend to be unaware of passages advocating slavery or genocide, unless their pastor chooses to mention them, which I think most pastors are loath to do. For those who do want to read the Bible, there are Bible study materials and ready-made apologetics to explain away the inconvenient passages.

I’m guessing that similar interpretations and apologetics exist for the Quran as well. But how widely are they used? And how can we encourage more people to gravitate toward the hip-and-groovy interpretations?

Did the Duggars Just Bring A Spotlight on the Quiverfull Movement?

The news story du cycle is the one about a teen Josh Duggar fondling young womens’ privates, including his sisters. But here are a few stories from the periphery of that story, that I ran across in the past couple of days:

The Washington Post is mainstream media. The Daily Beast wants, I think, to be mainstream. And while Right Wing Watch and Gawker should probably be classified as “citizen journalism” (i.e., blogs) or “watchdog organization”, I think they at least try to present news without being completely biased. More importantly, they’re outside of the atheosphere, the cluster of atheist blogs and sites where everyone knows who Hemant, PZ, and the FSM are.

So it may just be that some of the media spotlight may be directed not at Josh Duggar and his family, but at the culture in which the Duggars live: a far-right Christian society in which men are manly, are the sole breadwinners, and make all the decisions; and women are subservient, expected to be pregnant as much as possible to outbreed all the other religions, and be ready for sex whenever their man wants it.

I think the Quiverfull movement is dangerous, with cult-like aspects, and certainly anti-feminist. Maybe this story will help to bring some attention to that.

It’s Still Shamanism

Vatican Radio reports, Reliquary of St. Barbara visits Athens. The silver casket of Saint Barbara, martyred in the 3rd century, has been brought to Athens, where (emphasis added):

People of all ages and social backgrounds waited for hours in the sun for a chance to touch the reliquary, hoping for an answered prayer.  The casket contains the remains of Saint Barbara, who according to legend was martyred in Asia Minor in the 3rd century AD.

Last week the reliquary was taken to the Saint Savvas cancer hospital in Athens, where it was literally mobbed by people seeking a healing.  It’s due to be flown back to Venice at the end of this week, where it’s been housed since the Byzantine Empire sent it there about 1,000 years ago. […]

Worshippers questioned by reporters said that Christianity, and the saints, were their only hope after the failure of politicians and economists to right the world’s ills.

I honestly fail to see the difference between this and going to a shaman to use his healing fetish, other than the officials’ clothes having more gold thread and fewer feathers.

This particular juju happens to be Orthodox, but the Catholic church is also very big on relics, intercessory prayer, and healing miracles. As far as I know, the higher-ups in the church endorse such things officially, or at least don’t do anything to dissuade people from accepting such superstition.

Can anyone familiar with Orthodox or Catholic theology explain to me how sophisticated theology™ can coexist with such primitive superstition?

FDA Homeopathy Circus, Day 2

Yesterday was day two of homeopathy hearings at the FDA. There were some audio and connectivity problems, and again, I was distracted, but I tried to pay some attention.

One or two presenters tried to explain why you can’t perform randomized double-blind clinical trials to demonstrate the efficacy of homeopathic remedies. Apparently it boils down to “homeopathy doesn’t work that way”, though I didn’t catch the specifics. Apparently you can’t test homeopathic remedies on animals because, um… I’m not sure. Also, a homeopath will prescribe a whole array of remedies, tailored to the needs of the individual patient; just like what oncologists do, and somehow that gets in the way of studying homeopathy, but not cancer. And homeopathy often involves evaluating subjective self-reported symptoms, so you can’t study homeopathy clinically, even though doctors study self-reported subjective symptoms like pain all the time. So the upshot of this line of argument was that homeopaths should be exempt from the rules that say you have to demonstrate that your medical treatment actually works.

In fact, one presenter, if I heard him correctly, went so far as to claim that all the other homeopaths have it wrong. This guy had a slide saying that when you dilute a substance, the “Initial substance transits to a new physical condition”. I’ll just leave that authentic frontier gibberish there for you to marvel at.

Another line of argumentation, advanced by several presenters, particularly those on the business end of things, was that homeopathy is big business and growing, and therefore it should not be regulated. I think one person at least tried to make that into a coherent argument by claiming that regulating homeopathy would throttle innovation. You know, kind of like how you never hear from Novartis, Pfizer, or Merck these days because they’ve closed up shop.

Throughout the day, there was a steady drumbeat of “homeopathic remedies are safe”, although usually with an caveat: “properly-prepared homeopathic remedies are safe”. Properly-prepared homoepathic remedies are just distilled water, which I agree is safe. But homeopathy is currently unregulated, or nearly so, and thus no one is checking to make sure there’s nothing bad in your expensive distilled water.

In fact, as we heard in the previous day’s testimony, a lot of times manufacturers will combine things, e.g., take a regular zinc supplement and sprinkle homepathic water on it, and sell it as a hybrid or stick a “homeopathic” sticker on the box. People who have heard that homeopathy, whether it works or not, is at least safe, can and do take more than the recommended dose, and ingest unhealthy amounts of zinc. That by itself should be an argument for regulation and proper labeling.

But perhaps the most depressing aspect of the hearings were the practicing doctors testifying in favor of homeopathy, using the same arguments as everyone else: “I’ve seen it work. And it’s popular. Plus, it’s safe”. These are smart, well-educated people, who every day prescribe medications that have gone through rigorous controls to eliminate things like personal bias and proof by anecdote, committing those very errors.

At any rate, the current phase of the circus is over. With any luck, the FDA will start cracking down on this woo. I’d call it snake oil, but statistically speaking, there’s probably not a single molecule of the original oil left.

FDA Homeopathy Circus, Day 1

Today and tomorrow, the FDA is holding hearings to see about updating its regulations for homeopathy. Or, as NPR puts it, FDA Ponders Putting Homeopathy To A Tougher Test. Here, “a tougher test” means applying the same rules to homeopathy as to every other proposed medical treatment: see whether it works.

So to that end, they’re holding two days of hearings. I was able to stream part of the proceedings, and even hear some of it (though I was busy, and thus missed a lot).

If you want to follow along tomorrow, it’ll be at https://collaboration.fda.gov/hprapril2015.

But first, it might be good to review what homeopathy is. homeopathy.com explains:

Homeopathy’s basic premise is called the “principle of similars,” and it refers to recurrent observation and experience that a medicinal substance will elicit a healing response for the specific syndrome of symptoms (or suffering) that it has been proven to cause when given in overdose to a healthy person.

[…]

Most homeopathic medicines are made by diluting a medicinal substance in a double-distilled water. It should be noted that physicists who study the properties of water commonly acknowledge that water has many mysterious and amazing properties. […]

Each substance is diluted, most commonly, 1 part of the original medicinal agent to 9 or 99 parts double-distilled water. The mixture is then vigorously stirred or shaken. The solution is then diluted again 1:9 or 1:99 and vigorously shaken. This process of consecutive diluting and shaking or stirring is repeated 3, 6, 12, 30, 200, 1,000, or even 1,000,000 times. Simply “diluting” the medicines without vigorously shaking them doesn’t activate the medicinal effects.

In other words, you find a substance that produces a given symptom in healthy people; you dilute that substance in water until there’s none of it left, and you give your bottle of water to a person who suffers from symptoms like what you found earlier.

Or, as Mitchell and Webb described it, “trace solution of deadly nightshade or a statistically negligible quantity of arsenic”:


So the question before the FDA is to determine whether homeopathic substances, which are touted as remedies for everything from gout to nonspecific unease, should be subject to the same regulations as, say, Tamiflu or Ibuprofen or Viagra. The sorts of regulations where if you say that your product is good against X, the FDA comes along and says, “proof or STFU”.

Apparently Michael de Dora of the Center for Inquiry testified early on, but I missed it. His testimony can be summed up as “Science has known for a long time that homeopathy doesn’t work. The US government knows this. Hell, the FDA has said as much. This year. Let’s not support pseudoscientific quackery.”

The first speaker I caught was giving an overview of studies on homeopathy. At first, he couldn’t do better than saying that there are studies that show that it works, and others that don’t. But he was able to drag in other factors, like the file drawer effect (that negative results tend not to get published) and the Hawthorne effect (people who know they’re being watched behave differently) to cloud the issue enough to be able to say that the science isn’t settled. Sadly, he was one of the most reasonable speakers of the day.

Several ideas came up in different people’s testimony before lunch:

  • That homeopathy has organizations of practicing professionals, therefore it works.
  • That homeopathy has a standard reference book, therefore it works.
  • That there’s quality control (i.e., people check that your bottle of 99.99999% water really does contain 99.99999% water), therefore it works.
  • That members of the general public don’t really know a lot about homeopathy (this might become significant, later).
  • That I just know that it works, therefore it works. (Who needs double-blind clinical trials when you have feelz?)
  • That homeopathy is popular, therefore it works.

One speaker made the argument that France has an excellent public health-care system, and that homeopathy is popular in France (therefore, presumably, homeopathy works). He also mentioned, or implied, that it had been approved by Swiss healthcare regulatory bodies. During the Q&A period, he was asked how French and Swiss researchers had evaluated the effectiveness of homeopathy, and in response he went off on a tirade against US regulators. I believe that’s called evading the question.

During the afernoon session, several more ideas came up several times:

  • Homeopathy works in conjunction with other treatment (I had a headache, so I took an aspirin and a homeopathic remedy; my headache went away; therefore, homeopathy works).
  • Homeopathy is popular, therefore there’s no need for stricter regulation. (I wonder if that argument also applies to heroin.)
  • Homeopathy is big business, therefore there’s no need for stricter regulation.
  • Homeopathic remedies are already marked “homeopathic”. What more do you people need? Informed customers (which morning testimony said many people aren’t) can make an informed choice.

One shining light was Luana Colloca of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She actually cited studies and showed empirical results, and even graphs with error bars, mirabile dictu! She gave an overview of the power of the placebo effect, though I’m not sure what her point was. Was it that hey, placebos lessen people’s pain, therefore let’s let people have their sugar pills?

But beyond that, the theme seemed to be that things are fine the way they are; informed consumers can caveat emptor their way through drug store aisles. And besides, it’s popular, and big business. So why should Big Alt-Med be regulated the same way as Big Pharma? Unfair!

What I found notably missing from the proceedings, and which I would gladly have welcomed, was anything along the lines of “Yes, homeopathy is effective against X, Y, and Z. And we have the double-blind, statistically-significant clinical trials to prove it.” I suppose that was too much to expect. Ah, well. I still has feelz. And a tall drink.

I’m Moving to Indiana, Land of Freedom

By now we’ve all heard about Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Law, which

says that the state cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it is furthering a “compelling government interest”

And already we have the First Church of Cannabis moving in on the grounds that pot is a sacrament in their religion, and is less dangerous than alcohol, which is legal even in Indiana, so the government doesn’t have a compelling interest in stopping them.

But why stop at goofy, ad hoc recently-invented religions? I keep being told that atheism is a religion (also here, here, here) and that atheists can’t know right from wrong (also here, here, here, here). So obviously Indiana’s Religious Freedom law says that I can do pretty much whatever I want.

I can double-park. I can pee on the lawn in front of the capitol in Indianapolis. I can bring outside food to baseball games. I can fail to pick up my dog’s poop. There is no end to the debauchery I am permitted in Indiana.

I’ll let you know when to start collecting boxes for me.

Not Impressed By the “Power of Prayer”

This past week, Bill Donohue took a break from complaining about perceived slights to his religion of choice, and posted something more inspirational, entitled The Power of Hope and Prayer. He tells of a family whose newborn son had a heart disease, but who was cured thanks to hope, prayer, and the best medical care that a Fox News anchor’s salary can afford.

Here’s a sampling of what Donohue has to say about the power of prayer:

[…] Bret and Amy were not alone—they were one with the Lord. Bret’s prayer was quintessentially Catholic: he was not angry with God—he thanked the Lord for the gift of his son and asked for his help. But most of all, he did not despair. By praying for Paulie’s “recovery that will follow,” he evinced optimism and hope.

Jesus said at the Last Supper, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” How can this be? […] New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan put it in a way that really drives home the essence of Jesus’ words. He explored what he called “the theological reasons for laughter.” Why are people of faith happy, he asked. “Here’s my reason for joy: the cross. You heard me right: the cross of Christ!” The death of Jesus was not the last word. His resurrection was. After Christ was crucified, Dolan says, it “seemed we could never smile again…But, then came the Sunday called Easter! The sun—S-U-N—came up, and the Son—S-O-N—came out as He rose from the dead. Guess who had the last word? God!” […] It is a theology grounded in hope, and hope is the natural antidote to despair.

When Pope John Paul II died, I happened to be at the studios of the Fox News Network in New York City. I knew he was dying, but I had no idea that I would be the first guest to go on the air when he passed away. When asked by Shepard Smith what my thoughts were, I answered, “On the one hand, great sorrow. On the other hand, great joy. Sorrow that he’s no longer with us. Joy that he’s with God, with his Lord.”

For those who skipped past that, he basically says that prayer makes people happy and gives them hope. Basically, pretty standard inspirational-chain-email stuff.

I can’t help noticing that he fails to mention any kind of medical benefit or, indeed, any benefit to the patient. All of the benefits he mentions could, it seems, be provided equally well by prayer to Krishna, or a sacrifice to Dionysus, or even by meditation.

People can get these benefits of Donohue’s religion even if they’re not true. It’s enough that people believe them. In other words, from everything Donohue has said, Jesus might as well be an imaginary friend.

If he’d left it at that, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this. But he had to throw in some digs at atheists:

The Baiers are practicing Catholics. What would they have done had they been atheists? It must be tough going it alone, and indeed the evidence shows exactly that.

Note that he doesn’t actually mention what any of this evidence might be.

And in case you were wondering about ellipses, above:

Jesus said at the Last Supper, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” How can this be? It is not something atheists can grasp. It eludes the secular mind. New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan put it in a way that really drives home the essence of Jesus’ words. He explored what he called “the theological reasons for laughter.” Why are people of faith happy, he asked. “Here’s my reason for joy: the cross. You heard me right: the cross of Christ!” The death of Jesus was not the last word. His resurrection was. After Christ was crucified, Dolan says, it “seemed we could never smile again…But, then came the Sunday called Easter! The sun—S-U-N—came up, and the Son—S-O-N—came out as He rose from the dead. Guess who had the last word? God!” There is probably nothing more baffling to an atheist than this “theology of laughter.” It is a theology grounded in hope, and hope is the natural antidote to despair.

I know that Donohue has been around long enough, has spoken to enough atheists that this can’t be dismissed as simple ignorance. He’s going out of his way to insult a class of people with whom he doesn’t agree.

And coming from the guy who throws a fit every time someone dares point out some bad about his religion, that’s pretty rich.

The Blaze Warns of New Threat to Christian Televangelists From Atheist Roku Channel

Over at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (so you know it’s sane and rational), Billy Hallowell warns, “Do Christian Televangelists Have Something to Fear? Atheists Reveal New Effort to Impact Culture”.

By this he means that American Atheists have announced that they’ll be launching an atheist TV channel for the Roku set-top video-streaming box. So yeah. I have a Roku, I’m happy with it, and I expect it’ll be something like The Young Turks or one of the more popular cable-access-ey YouTube channels.

But the headline asks whether Christian televangelists have anything to fear. From what? From one Internet streaming channel on one device, somehow sneaking past your kids’ defenses and indoctrinating them into godless atheimism and satanic debauchery or anything? Well, I suppose that’s something to worry about. I mean, it’s not as if there are any religous channels on Roku already, is it?

Unless you count

Those are just the religious channels that were added in May and June 2014 (Sources:1 2 3 4 5 6)

Yes, how can Christians possibly compete with one atheist channel? They’re obviously doomed. Doooooooomed.

All the etcetera that's fit to read.