I ran across a lady in my area on Google Plus recommending a chiropractor/acupuncturist: Dr. Max Norris of Ozark Herb & Spice. She said anyone suffering should try him out. Browsing his website, he lists quite a lot of conditions that he can cure through acupuncture, including:
- Migraine headaches
- High blood pressure
That’s quite an exhaustive list. But how well do these claims hold up to scientific scrutiny? Being limited in time, I decided to focus on just one claim, depression. I asked Dr. Norris what sort of studies had been done for this. He provided me list of 12 studies backing up the claim. I don’t have time to read up on 12 studies, so I asked which one had the best evidence. Since I never got a response, I decided to pick the very first one.
The Efficacy of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Major Depression in Women. Psychological Science, September, 1998; Vol. 9, No. 5: pp. 397-401.
In this study, the experimenters broke people up into three groups.
- Specific treatment – these people would receive acupuncture specifically designed to treat depression.
- Non-specific treatment – these patients would receive real acupuncture, but the treatment would targeted towards something besides depression.
- Wait list – These people would remain on a wait-list for 8 weeks, and after that receive 8 weeks of treatment.
So, it seems like they made a reasonable effort to blind the study and have control groups to measure against. That’s good.
Results from the abstract:
Following treatments specifically designed to address depression, 64% of the women (n = 33) experienced full remission. A comparison of the acute effect of the three 8-week treatment conditions (n = 34) showed that patients receiving specific acupuncture treatments improved significantly more than those receiving the placebo-like nonspecific acupuncture treatments, and marginally more than those in the wait-list condition.
According to the abstract, they received a 64% success rate out of 33 people. However, If you read further into the study, it says:
“Patients were randomly assigned to one of three conditions (specific treatment: n = 12, nonspecific treatment: n = 11, or wait list: n = 11) and to one of the acupuncturists).”
So, actually, there were 38 total in the entire experiment. 5 dropped out, leaving 33 total. Only 12 were in the group that got the real treatment.
That sample size seems pretty low. Don’t scientific studies need large sample sizes to have accurate results? Are the results in this study really better than flipping a coin? I’m no scientist, and I don’t understand statistics. Being a programmer, I decided to write a program to test this. This is coded in python. It flips a coin however many times you tell it to and outputs the results.
from __future__ import division
num_heads = 0
num_tails = 0
times_flipped = 0
num_flips = 12
for i in range (num_flips):
result = random.randrange(2)
if result == 0:
num_heads += 1
num_tails += 1
percentage_heads = num_heads / num_flips * 100
percentage_tails = num_tails / num_flips * 100
print str(num_flips) + ” iterations”
print str(num_heads) + ” heads, ” + str(num_tails) + ” tails”
print “%.2f%% heads” % percentage_heads + “, %.2f%% tails” % percentage_tails
I ran through 10 tests. Here are the results:
6 heads, 6 tails
50.00% heads, 50.00% tails
7 heads, 5 tails
58.33% heads, 41.67% tails
5 heads, 7 tails
41.67% heads, 58.33% tails
4 heads, 8 tails
33.33% heads, 66.67% tails
7 heads, 5 tails
58.33% heads, 41.67% tails
4 heads, 8 tails
33.33% heads, 66.67% tails
9 heads, 3 tails
75.00% heads, 25.00% tails
7 heads, 5 tails
58.33% heads, 41.67% tails
8 heads, 4 tails
66.67% heads, 33.33% tails
4 heads, 8 tails
33.33% heads, 66.67% tails
Wow! Over half the time, we get results of 64% or more on one side or the other, purely through simulating a random coin toss. I’m not trained in statistics, but this would seem to me to show that, although the 64% success rate seems good, it’s really no better than random chance.
What happens if we increase our sample size of coin tosses to 10,000? See below:
4929 heads, 5071 tails
49.29% heads, 50.71% tails
4999 heads, 5001 tails
49.99% heads, 50.01% tails
4991 heads, 5009 tails
49.91% heads, 50.09% tails
4955 heads, 5045 tails
49.55% heads, 50.45% tails
5041 heads, 4959 tails
50.41% heads, 49.59% tails
4970 heads, 5030 tails
49.70% heads, 50.30% tails
5037 heads, 4963 tails
50.37% heads, 49.63% tails
4963 heads, 5037 tails
49.63% heads, 50.37% tails
4961 heads, 5039 tails
49.61% heads, 50.39% tails
5074 heads, 4926 tails
50.74% heads, 49.26% tails
As you can see, when the number of coin tosses is 10,000, not once do we get a result higher than 64%. In fact, we don’t even get a result of 51%. Maybe there is something to this large sample size thing.
I’m in no way a scientist, of course. I’m not even good at math. So, I remain humble and ready to admit mistakes if anyone finds any. But it seems to me, with my uneducated opinion, that the results of this study are no better than random chance. If I find the time and am not shown to be completely incompetent in the results above, then I’ll explore the other studies listed.
From a letter to the editor by Butch Blancq recently:
A different definition
Definition of an atheist: First person to start praying in an earthquake.
So, once again, you have a guy who’s so overpowered by religious delusion that he literally can’t imagine someone not believing in God. To an atheist, his statement is obviously laughable. To a theist, it’s obviously true. If we went to the trouble to disprove it, they would just ignore us.
There’s already a big list of Atheists in Foxholes that’s been started. I suppose now we’re going to have to start an Atheists in Earthquakes website? Why bother? This could go on forever. We could create a list of thousands of atheists who didn’t pray in earthquakes only to have the saying change to nuclear bombs or tsunamis. Isn’t this a little childish? Why can’t theists just accept that some people don’t believe? Step outside yourself for just a second. It’s the first step towards empathy.
In a recent letter to the editor, Gary W. Lemon wrote:
God, through his son Jesus Christ, offers us a free gift just for the asking. It’s called salvation. When we ask and receive the gift we have a euphoric feeling of peace and realize nothing else matters but him. Plus, we have the promise of a euphoric heaven. We are called conservatives. Many so-called Christians and preachers never had this experience and have formed pseudo-churches that are nothing more than community centers.
BOOM! It’s the No True Christian card! Can I play this card on people too, or do I have to be self-righteous first?
Let me tell you something, Mr. Lemon: Your euphoric feelings don’t mean shit. You can experience euphoria from anything if you get yourself in the right state of mind. The brain is very powerful. You can make yourself feel and see anything you want. You can’t trust your personal experiences. Start filtering out your brain’s natural biases, and you’ll be shocked at what you find.
To all the liberals, atheists and socialist Communists, what can you offer to top that experience? You’ve made a world heaping full of vile filth and degradation. You want us to believe if we are tolerant with people whose only intent is to kill Christians and Jews, thereby removing God from the earth, everything will be hunkydory. What inflated egos you have to believe you can change what was predicted 2,000 years ago. And you call us foolish. These are wars of good and evil and cannot be stopped with peace talks, treaties or negotiations.
Atheists offer reality. There is comfort in knowing that your beliefs have the highest chance of being true, because they’re based on good evidence. We may be wrong sometimes, but we can change our views when more evidence is discovered. Each time new evidence comes to light, our worldview becomes more and more accurate. Additionally, our position on things can actually change if someone offers a compelling argument.
We offer a system of morality that’s based on reason. We believe in building a better world, because it’s the only one we’ve got. Rather that waiting around for the end times, we value the life that we have right now. We believe that individual responsibility builds character, because if I kick you in the balls and then apologize to God for it, I’m still a dick. And is it really fair to punish my kids for it?
Atheists believe in lots of things. If you’d actually talk to them instead of calling them scum and damning them to hell, you mind find out that we are a nice, diverse bunch of people.
I am often asked why I criticize religion. There is a widespread belief that if we leave theists alone, they will leave us alone. Everyone can live together in peaceful harmony. I’d like to throw out a couple quotes I’ve seen recently that demonstrate otherwise:
Thank God for Becky Guthrie and those who have brazenly joined with her in calling upon the true and living God, for his help.
Hebrews 4:15 (NIV) says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”
God is the only real source for our nation’s problems. Until our nation turns whole-heartedly to him there will be no recovery.
We have plenty of fools like John Brummett, who does not express the feelings of most people in Arkansas or the United States. He calls for anything that is religious to be thrown out. People who think like him should move to China or Russia, where they would welcome ungodly views. But really, they just need to be saved.
It seems that a large percentage of Arkansans are in favor of our government endorsing Christianity. People like Becky Guthrie and Mary Crider want everyone reciting Christian prayers in state-sponsored settings, even Atheists, Muslims, and Hindus. If the non-Christians are uncomfortable with it, they can just leave the country. Or at the very least, we should sit down and shut up. These people see secularism as a disease that’s corrupted our country.
I have to wonder if they would feel the same way if it was Muslim prayers being spread around their children. That’s the thing about being in the majority. You have to try to understand what’s it like to be in other people’s shoes.
Is this the face of a people want to keep their beliefs to themselves? Their ideology is clear to me. If you’re not right with God, then you can’t be good. We should be good, therefore we need to force everyone to submit to my brand of religion.
Regardless of what you believe, it should be obvious that Fundamentalist Christians are on a mission to insert their religion into everything. And with good reason! After all, it is the source of all morality. But to say that we should just sit down and let them be is to placidly accept the theocracy they want our nation to become.
The Louisiana Ten Commandments Monument
Just one more quote. Foundation For Moral Law spoke recently on their blog on how awesome their progress has been on getting a monument of the Ten Commandments installed on the Louisiana capitol grounds. The bit at the bottom where they speak about the opposition is relevant:
But not everybody is happy about it. Rep. Rosalind Jones argued that a monument to the Napoleonic would be better and that, although most of the state has a Christian background, “we do represent a large percentage of the population that does not follow the Ten Commandments.”
Representative Jones, that sounds like an excellent reason to install the monument!
So, the general feeling is that if people don’t follow the ten commandments and aren’t Christian, that’s even more reason to plaster Christian relics all over government property. After all, they’re heathens who are going to hell! Non-believers need to get on the bandwagon or get the hell out of the country.
The first five of the ten commandments are completely stupid and don’t reflect my morality in any way. And many of my morals aren’t represented in the list, like being against slavery and torture. This list of commandments is pretty far from something I would hold ideal.
But who cares what I think? I need to leave the country! I need to shut up! I am in the minority, so I don’t matter. That’s the message this sends me.
These aren’t the worst moral offenses theists have done. I’ll have other blog entries for those. These just show that not only do many of them not care about secularism, they are actually opposed to it. And they have very good reasons. If Christianity is the only way we can be good, then these actions make perfect sense. Why waste time fending off the tentacles when you can attack the root of the problem? You can be good without God!
That is why I speak out.
This was brought to my attention by the Little Rock, Arkansas Society of Freethinkers.
Quoted from here:
If I may have a few moments of your time, I’d like to tell you about an event that will have a significant impact on educators who are a part of your church. On Thursday, July 28th, the Nehemiah Network presents the 3rd Annual Called to Teach seminar. Called to Teach is sponsored by Fellowship Bible Church, The Church at Rock Creek, Immanuel Baptist Church, and Geyer Springs First Baptist Church.
Called to Teach is a conference designed for Christians who serve in the field of education. The idea is for educators to come and learn practical ideas for living their faith in the classroom. This year, Ray Moore and Scott Habeeb return as presenters; their presentations will inspire both new and returning attendees.
I would like to ask you to consider promoting this event in your church. Also, if your church has a school/church partnership, it would be a tremendous help if you would promote this not only to your educational members, but to your partnering school.
Called to Teach is a significant opportunity for us to encourage educators by equipping them with the tools necessary to live out their faith in the classroom.
Would you like to learn how to inject your religion into the classroom? Nehemiah Network is here to help! Just call 1-800-GAA-AAWD!
So, the goal of this seminar isn’t to teach you how to break the law by proselytizing in class. They state clearly in their videos that they want to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. They understand that you can’t preach in class. They just want teachers to be a shining example of goodness to their kids. They figure if they let the holy spirit work through the teachers, the kids will just naturally come to Christ on their own. It’s explained in a little more detail in this video:
They want to share “Christ in the Classroom” without breaking the law. I’m still struggling to understand how this is possible. It seems like they are asking teachers to straddle the line of legality here. Religious language permeates their powerpoints and videos. Some of their materials talk about focusing on “teachable moments” outside of the lectures. They call it “Wayside Teaching”. It encourages teachers to focus on the small 2-5 minutes conversations you have with students in between lectures. They say these opportunites can be used to build a good relationship with the kids. The idea is the more the kids trust you, the more they’ll accept what you’re teaching them.
With all the language about bringing kids to Christ, though. I worry that the “Wayside Teaching” techniques that help build trust between the teacher and the student will just be used to prime the kids for learning about Jesus.
I understand where they’re coming from. Many of the sermons I’ve listened to recently talk about how religion needs to fill every aspect of your life. A lot of pastors seem to feel that in order to be a “true christian”, your faith should be evident in everything you do. It’s only natural that this would extend to their teaching. If they truely believe that the unsaved will go to hell, then the only moral choice is to find any way possible to reach the kids.
Here’s a couple more videos to give you a taste of what’s taught in the seminar. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!
According to some, it wasn’t chance some people in Joplin survived the tornado. Because those people prayed, God spared them.
He allowed me to pray over him and we briefly talked about the fact that his closet being literally the ONLY thing left on his structure wasn’t luck or chance. Chuck said that he and his wife don’t pray, but his wife began praying when they heard the sound of a freight train coming at their house. I can honestly say I feel like God has clearly revealed his power and himself to Chuck, and Chuck is searching and thinking through some things.
Do you have any idea how insulting this is? What about the 142 people who died? Is the assumption here that they were all atheists, Muslims, and Hindus? Given the distribution of religious beliefs in our area, I think we can safely say that most of them were probably Christians. In fact, I think many of them were probably on their knees praying before they were brutally killed by a tornado that God could have stopped.
This is confirmation bias in its sickest form. I can’t fathom the rationalization that must occur for someone to believe that God is capable of saving someone from a tornado but isn’t willing to stop the tornado entirely. And furthermore, that he’s not willing to save ALL Christians from the tornado. I mean, come on. The tornado slammed a hospital directly. Why would an intelligent and benevolent being allow that to happen? Isn’t it more likely that God doesn’t exist and shit just happens?
Prayer does not work. If you drank hot tea in the closet and the tornado didn’t kill you, you could just as easily say that drinking hot tea repels tornados. Stop ignoring the times when your magic doesn’t work! Pay attention to the misses!
You know what I say? The next time a natural disaster comes by and destroys your community, throw your hands in the air and shout, “Hasa Diga Eebowai”.
Pictured above are the bible tracts that Greta MacLean’s son brought home from school recently. Her son got them from the bus driver during the last week of school. He had been handing them out to kids along with candy. What was stamped on the back of each tract? “Calvary Chapel Tulsa”.
I found all the tracts on Ray Comfort’s website. That’s right, mister banana-man himself! You can read the contents of them here:
Greta is a member of the Atheist Community of Tulsa. So naturally, she was concerned about this. She called the Tulsa Public Schools Education Service Center. The person she spoke to said that this was in clear violation of their policies and assured her that disciplinary actions would be taken. Apparently, the candy violates policy as well, due to some children potentially having food allergies or diabetes.
Clearly, theists have a high incentive to proselytize to children. Kids often accept whatever they’re told because their higher reasoning functions haven’t fully developed yet. They also don’t have the experience to know when they’re being fed a pack of lies. If theists can get kids when they’re young, they most likely have a believer for life.
Thankfully, the school seems to understand the law here. I’m glad this was just the actions of one person and not a policy of the entire school. However, it is another incident to add to the many church-state violations that have been popping up recently. Is this happening more often, or are we just starting to notice more?
From his blog:
Question: Why are atheists so “evangelistic” (for lack of a better word)?
The Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason promotes the need for community on their website. “Atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, skeptics, non-religious, lost tourists, and the confused are all welcome to join us!” (http://unitedcor.org/central-arkansas/page/home) They encourage coming together for informative activities and dialogue – their own version of church, I guess.
The motivation behind their “evangelism” (their version of good news) is that man can be good without God. As they put it, “Our understanding of what is good relies on human reason and compassion, and not on theistic or supernatural beliefs.”
Hey, this guy gets it! It’s really refreshing to hear from a pastor that actually understands our position. Lots of nonbelievers are good people, and they form their morals on the basis of their reason and compassion. He might disagree, but at least he gets where we’re coming from.
I can explain the evangelistic part (although I’ve written about it before). There are tons of people in our community who think we’re evil, despicable people who wouldn’t think twice about raping women, slaughtering babies, or even cheating on our taxes. It’s just prejudice, plain and simple. It’s so bad that teenagers have been kicked out of their house when their parents realize their child is an atheist. We want people to know that we’re good people.
Another part of it (which I’ve also written about here) is that because theists base so many of their beliefs on faith instead of reason, they can be almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation with. That’s not to say theists don’t have valid viewpoints. They often do. However, if your position is taken from the bible, there’s no point in discussing it with you because your position isn’t very likely to change. Atheists want to meet up with other atheists in a community of their own so they can enjoy conversations with others who have beliefs that can be reasoned with.
And therein we find the heart of the issue. This isn’t just about whether or not God exists. This is also about sin and depravity. This is about whether man must repent, believe and be born again to be restored to goodness before a holy and righteous God or whether man can reason himself out of the quagmire of evil into a state of moral goodness without God.
UnitedCoR is taking this good without God gospel to the streets. “…atheists can on occasion feel isolated when the religious community is so organized and outspoken on issues. We deserve to be heard.”
Yep. This guy gets it!
Yet their desire to be heard affirms their own deep suppressed realization of God’s existence. If God doesn’t exist or even if one truly doesn’t know that he does, why care what anyone else thinks, says or does? The truth is we know. They know. Humanity knows. Man has since the Fall cried out against the God they know to be there.
Whoah! Where in the heck did all that come from? Okay, I’ll be reasonable.
Atheists do not believe in God. I don’t know how I could convince you of that, though, other than by just stating it.
So, why would he think that? Is it because he can’t think of any other reason why atheists would be so outspoken? How about the fact that if God doesn’t exist, millions of people are living a lie? Isn’t that reason enough to speak out? Or the fact that major political positions are now being shaped by those false beliefs? These beliefs do affect us, you know.
Or perhaps it’s because belief in God is so deeply entrenched in the pastor’s mind that he literally cannot imagine the concept of someone not believing in a God. I’ve been a believer before, and it was 100% dead-simple obvious to me that God existed. To suggest otherwise would have been ludicrous. I didn’t understand the fallacies involved, of course. But when religion is that deeply entrenched in your mindset, you really can’t think outside of yourself.
Pastor, if you’re out there, I’d be curious to hear more from you!
Coalition of Reason Files Lawsuit Against Little Rock Transit Authority Over Refusal To Run Billboard
The United Coalition of Reason is filing a federal lawsuit against the Little Rock, Arkansas Transit Authority for refusing to run their “Good Without God” ads.
(Little Rock, Arkansas, June 1, 2011) A federal lawsuit was filed today against the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) and its advertising agent, On the Move Advertising, for declining to run $5,260.00 worth of bus ads aimed at attracting local atheists and agnostics. The queen-sized ads, to be placed on the sides of 18 buses serving Riverfest, would have said: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” A blue sky with clouds was to be the background behind the words.
Here’s the billboard that would have run:
On the page of the press release, they have a bunch of emails obtained from FOIA Requests against the transit authority. The emails provide for very interesting reading. It shows the transit authority accepting church billboard requests while at the same time rejecting the Godless billboard.
The first objection the transit authority gave was that the ads would just be vandalized. They asked for a security deposit in light of this, something that has never been asked before of any other client.
The emails also show the employees discussing potential strategies:
This Coalition of Reason REALLY has me thinking! And I hope I’m not over stepping my boundaries. Please let me know if I am..
Maybe we should let them run their signs. We’ve told them in several emails that if there is vandalism to the buses, their signs will be taken down, and their entire balance is due immediately. If we have, let’s just say, 10 complaints in a span of 2 weeks, then the signs will all come down, and their money will be refunded. That way, we all win. They get to run the ads they want, and we get their money. Honestly, the likelyhood of their signs NOT being vandalized is like one to six billion. Just something to think about. That way, we avoid getting sued. And by the way, they did agree to those terms, IN WRITING!
Have a good day!
They also discussed running a religious ad on the buses at the same time in order to “balance out” the CoR’s message:
Just so you know, the Christian Science Church of North Little Rock has calls for avails at the same time because they have a ‘fabulous’ speaker coming in late May. (Makes me wonder if it’s the same, or an opposing message that would help balance the other message?) I tried calling her back and had no call.
It’s sad that this has to come to a lawsuit. Why is the idea that atheists can be good people so controversial? Frankly, I find this all very disrespectful.
If you are praying for Joplin, you are wasting your time. Those that lost their lives are not coming back. The buildings are not going to magically reassemble. The devastation has happened. We cannot turn back the clock. Saying “I’m sending out prayers to Joplin” is as good as doing nothing at all. Actually, it’s worse, because it makes you feel like you’ve done something when you actually haven’t. Any assistance the affected families receive will be because of what we in the community do to help them.
Lots of churches have been using their organizational muscle to form relief efforts. Taking food donations, offering shelter, etc. I applaud this effort. Helping our neighbors is a big part of what our community is all about. But why bother praying if you’re just going to go and fix it yourself? If prayer really worked, shouldn’t you just be able to sit on the couch and fix the problems with your magic? The church communities will also doubtless credit God for the disaster relief they are participating in, even though they are the ones that did it. Why would you think that God is helping in the relief effort? If he really wanted to help, couldn’t he have just stopped the tornadoes in the first place?
We need to have a clear view of what works and what doesn’t. Prayer does not help in the slightest. Donating food does help. Donating money helps. Volunteering helps. Stop talking to yourself, and start taking action. And if you do both, start taking credit for the things you do.
I’ve listed below some criticisms I would expect to hear from people.
It does too work!!!
You’re praying for things that might or might not happen. If it happens, you chalk it up to “the power of prayer”, even though there’s a good chance it probably would have happened whether you had prayed or not. If it doesn’t happen, you rationalize that God must not want it to happen, and don’t even give it a second thought. It’s called confirmation bias. Trying praying for something that’s absolutely impossible, like turning a rock into a chicken or teleporting to Japan.
Whenever a double-blind study is put together in order to remove the confirmation bias effect, it shows that prayer has no more effect than random chance. No doubt there will be rationalizations for why this is wrong. They are just that: rationalizations. That’s why the scientific method is important. It’s specifically designed to take human bias out of the equation.
Is this really the best time for this argument?
When people take ineffective measures to remedy real-life problems, I think that’s the perfect time to point out the mistake. What better time could there be? When there’s no danger? When no one is listening? Perhaps what you really mean by this is that you don’t want me criticizing it at all.
People need prayer because it makes them feel better.
You know what makes me feel better? Having an accurate view of reality. The security of knowing I don’t live in a fantasy land. Knowing that it was me who donated goods and money, not some magical being.
Does Neil Beagley feel better because his parents prayed for him? No, he doesn’t, because he’s fucking dead. Last year, his parents prayed instead of taking him to the hospital. Why? Because the magical power of prayer will heal our son! Because there weren’t doctors there to help him, he died. Because his parents were religious nutjobs, he died.
Now, most religious parents would take their kid to the doctor and pray for them. It’s the doctors that are helping them, not the prayer. I think the above story demonstrates this. Stop wasting your time and snap back to reality.
It’s not right to criticize other’s beliefs. You’re just being negative!!
Is making the world a better place by shattering delusions a negative thing? I don’t think so. I think these delusions are harmful to society. It certainly does make people angry when their false hope is questioned. That’s not my goal. I’m trying to show people what’s real and what’s not.
Our actions during a disaster matter. Doing something that has no effect while thinking it’s having an effect is what’s negative. Pointing it out when someone does it is called enlightenment.
No one actually prays and does nothing else. They take action, too! You should pray and donate money or volunteer!
What’s the point of the prayer, then? You’re taking action in the world yourself to rectify it. Your own actions will have an effect and the prayer will not. Let’s stop glorifying magic and start crediting our own actions.