Thought of the day

C.S. Lewis is a terrible philosopher.

Homeopathic 'medicine'

Homeopathic ‘medicine’

Forget Jesus

Which is crazier? I'm torn.

Which is crazier? I’m torn.

NOVA tonight

Nova will be airing a 2 hour special titled What Darwin Never Knew. It’s all about evo-devo, the science behind how embryological development is so important to evolution as a whole.

It’s on at 8pm ET/7pm CT on PBS.*

*It saddens me that it’s likely necessary I need to point out what station NOVA is on.

False equivalence and just not getting it

Jeff Gaither is a blathering moron who contradicts himself, doesn’t have an iota of science straight in his head, and has no intelligent offerings for the world.

The truth is the big-bang theory and the theory of evolution are every bit as groundless as the idea of divine creation.

Upon reading this I suspected Gaither would go into that old game of false equivalence that creationists love: “We both have the same facts, just different interpretations!” The problem with that is that “different interpretations” means a lot. For instance, instant creation is a plainly stupid interpretation of any fact(s). Evolution by natural selection, however, is the greatest interpretation of anything since man had such reasoning abilities. But Gaither takes a slightly different approach. Rather than saying we all have different interpretations, he says we all have equally bad interpretations. Still false equivalence.

However, the big-bang theory does not explain a darned thing about the origins of the universe. It claims that originally all the matter in the universe was condensed into a single point. But, so what? Where did the point come from? Where did all the matter come from?

So what? So what? So it offers the framework and logical underpinnings by which physics views everything it does. Just as evolution is essential to a proper understanding of biology or atomic theory is necessary for any chemist to know, the Big Bang is a key piece of any physicist’s knowledge.

Take careful note, though, of Gaither’s point that the Big Bang does not explain the origin of the singularity which started everything.

Many scientific-types like to pretend the big-bang theory is logically superior to the idea of divine creation. But, really, it is less satisfactory, because it offers no explanation, not even a supernatural one, for the origin of things.

Sort of like how the MLB rulebook is not satisfactory. Sure, it explains everything it purports to explain, but does it tell us of the origin of baseball in the first place? And what of the Universe itself? What does Major League Baseball have to say of that? HUH?!

Evolution is another issue on which many rationalistic muckity-mucks like to look down on the spiritually minded. Evolution, as the entire world knows, states life began in the “primordial soup” of early earth, and through natural selection those early cells and amoebas evolved into trees, platypuses and people.

Evolution says no such thing. It states that life evolved from a common ancestor. How that original population of ancestors came to be is a separate question. Thank you, creationist canard #14.

Where did that first cell come from? How did life begin? The answer usually given is, “Uhh, lightning struck the ocean, and that created life.”

Take a moment to let this sink in. It’s silly on its face, but it doesn’t especially add to the stupidity already present – he covered that by already mentioned primordial soup in an inappropriate context. Soaked it in yet? Okay, good. Now read on.

But since when does lightning create life? If a woman goes outside in a thunderstorm and is struck by lightning, does she become pregnant? No, she dies. The function of lightning is to electrocute, not impregnate.

B-b-b-but how is this immense knowledge of electricity satisfying at all?! It doesn’t say ANYTHING of origins!

Science has never been able to answer the question satisfactorily of how life began. Once one accepts life began, evolution is a fine and completely satisfactory theory. But from whence came the first cell?

Haha, hang on a moment. A second ago evolution was the stuff of “muckity-mucks”. Now it’s all fine and actually “completely satisfying“?

The big-bang theory and the theory of evolution are very similar in the way they operate. They begin their explanation immediately after some incomprehensible phenomenon, carry that initial state to the present, and claim to have given the end-all and be-all on a fundamental question.

He just doesn’t get it. The Big Bang starts 13.7 billion years ago. Evolution, as far as Earth is concerned, starts about 3.9 billion years ago. Neither theory purports to explain any more.

If you corner a scientist and ask him where the cosmic point of the big-bang theory came from, or how life originated, he will be forced to admit, “I don’t know.” And if scientists don’t know, all their research and all their great theories are basically nullified.

Oh, wow. I had no idea that hundreds of years of research was invalid. I bet no scientist knew this either. Good thing Jeff Gaither has cleared the whole issue up. Maybe next he can tell MLB that because they cannot explain the origins of bats (bats, trees, marine plant life, bacteria, BUT THEN WHAT, BUG SELIG?!), that all their work is null and void.

Science must admit the universe and life originated in circumstances we cannot explain


and if they cannot explain how the universe came about, then how is their stance in any way superior to religionists who found their creation-doctrine on God?

Empirical evidence which supports everything science and specific theories purport to explain?

True, we cannot understand an eternal, omniscient God; but we can’t understand the Big Bang or evolution, either.

No, no. Jeff Gaither cannot understand any of these things.

The big-bang theory implies that at the moment of creation, the Universe was so dense the current laws of physics had no meaning. I’d like to expand this proposition, and state at the beginning of the universe, the laws of logic had no meaning.

That isn’t an expansion. It’s essentially a repetition of what has already been said. If no law of physics existed, then nothing which is derived from them existed either. There’s no need to say as much – especially when you’re a jackass with little to no understanding of basic scientific concepts.

And how is it that Gaither is willing to reject the Big Bang, but embrace a beginning to the Universe?

Indeed, it is possible to prove this. There could have been no “beginning of time,” since the notion of “beginning” presupposes time.

It presupposes no such thing. The beginning of time marks the moment when the Universe began expanding. Space and time are one. Maybe Gaither is just a big static state guy, I don’t know. He may want to revisit the scientific literature of the past 100 years or so if that’s the case.

But I guess he wants to re-institute “the laws of logic” since he rejects a beginning to the Universe.

But if the universe has always existed, then there must have been infinity of time before I was born, and since infinity of time would take forever, I should never have been born at all.

First of all, the Universe has not always existed, so shut the hell up. Second, shouldn’t Gaither also think “infinity of time” presupposes time in his demented world?

Okay, so a beginning of time must be wrong because Gaither thinks that presupposes time in the first place. He’s wrong, but that’s his position. But an infinite Universe must be wrong because he would never have been born. This is densely stupid.

Since the laws of logic don’t apply to creation, there’s no reason to suppose there is any unique truth about universal origins. The scientists are right, and the creationists are right too. These respective sides need to acknowledge the equal validity of their respective positions and leave each other in peace. There’s no point in arguing about something we can’t understand.

Methinks the lack of understanding is characteristic of only one party here.

Quack attack: A source of pride

Earlier this month I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper disparaging the practices of naturopathic ‘doctors’. They aren’t especially qualified. I would sooner go to a grad student than one of these guys. Of course, not everyone feels the same way. As such, a couple of people felt compelled to write their own letters. This first one is from Richard Maurer.

A fellow physician relayed a letter by Michael Hawkins, who used inflammatory language against an entire profession. Because his letter was printed, I am compelled to respond to his inaccuracies.

It’s a good thing Maurer didn’t read the original letter I wrote. I directly called a naturopathic ‘doctor’ a charlatan and quack, said he directly lied, and also effectively called him a mountebank. Fortunately for him, my local paper is concerned about libel (though it would never be honest enough to admit that), so I only managed to say that ‘doctor’ “misrepresented facts” in the letter that did get published.

Hawkins claims that Maine is only one of several states to license naturopathic doctors. He claims that naturopathic doctors “have no relevant medical training” and even questions the title “doctor.”

Maine is one of 17 states that licenses naturopathic doctors. Licensure here depended upon passage by the Business and Economic Development Committee, the Legislature and approval by the governor.

Yes, one of 17 is also “one of several” in my book. But I wasn’t making the point that Maine is “only” one of several states; the point was never to say that naturopathy is bad because so few states give it credence. I made that point in my previous letter, and did so in a far more direct, succinct way: I said two states actively prohibit the practice of naturopathy.

No, the point was instead that the fact that several states allow prescription rights to these ‘doctors’ is a dangerous thing. I pretty much directly said that. I was bemoaning the fact that so many lives are at risk, not pointing out the lack of validity in naturopathy amongst state governments.

Naturopathic doctors in Maine have a four-year undergraduate premedical degree, followed by a four-year residency-based naturopathic medical doctorate, more than 1,500 hours of clinical training, passage of both basic science and clinical board exams. Continuing medical education is necessary annually.

His last sentence is the closest thing that matters here. He just needs to change “annually” to “daily”.

Much of the training for naturopaths come from schools which also offer several false degrees: ones for chiropractics, acupuncturists, even one which features training in the practice of “cupping” – the ‘art’ of lighting a match inside a cup to create suction, removing the match, and then placing the cup on a person’s body. It’s obvious with what sort of practices naturopathic supporters are willing to associate.

Naturopathic doctors in Maine offer a wide range of proven natural therapies and can prescribe classes of medications such as hormones, antibiotics and immunizations when necessary.

Show me the evidence. The best anyone can expect from naturopaths is non-original research which becomes predictably distorted. And those prescription rights are dangerous given the lack of training from proper programs.

But wait! There’s more! Emily Albee of Readfield has written in.

Michael Hawkins Dec. 12 letter, “Naturopathic medicine is not science, untrustworthy,” infers that those who participate in naturopathic medicine are “quacks.”

To be fair, I did want to outright say it.

Specifically, Hawkins was referring to Dr. Christopher Maloney’s opinion on alternatives for combating and treating the H1N1 virus.

More specifically, I was referring to his non-medical opinion.

My experience working in public schools and having the privilege to work with tremendous young people has taught me illness is a risk.

As opposed to my statements that illness is all fun and water slides?

Dr. Maloney’s recommendation of a daily regimen of elderberry and garlic supplements has helped me maintain an excellent level of health during a very difficult flu season. I trust his opinion because his recommendations work.

I liked Maurer’s letter for not using anecdotes. I like this one for filling my expectations.

There is evidence for jack squat. Research does not indicate black elderberry acts as a vaccine. The nutritional benefits of garlic are well-known; it contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. It also can help with infections. Beyond that, the research gets fuzzy. Naturopaths are willing to prescribe it for several different ailments without any proper evidence (and certainly no original research). They routinely go beyond what they know and delve into what they wish were true.

Recently, I suffered from extreme vertigo. Constant debilitating dizziness made for the worst six months of my life. Numerous non-naturopathic doctors and multiple antibiotic prescriptions ($45 per prescription) later, I was left with no relief or hope that this nightmare would ever be over.

There’s this constant, underlying notion that because real doctors cannot cure everything, pretend doctors must have the answers. It isn’t true.

Dr. Maloney took the time to listen and, after a thorough exam of my ears, he diagnosed chronic ear infections as the source of my vertigo. He recommended a treatment of daily garlic supplements and garlic eardrops. This naturopathic remedy is the only thing that was able to stop the perpetual dizziness.

This isn’t evidence that naturopathy is at all valid. First of all, why were the real doctors prescribing antibiotics? They must have recognized some sort of infection. Second, the fact that they were prescribing something indicates that they did not miss a diagnosis only a naturopath could have made. Third, there’s no way to know if it was actually the garlic which cleared up the infection. Fourth, there’s no way to tell from this if Albee was taking some other medication prior to the garlic ear drops which had the side effect of vertigo.

Naturopathic medicine under the care of Dr. Maloney has brought innumerable benefits to my family and me. I would argue Dr. Maloney is a rare gem in this world of corporate and policy-driven medicine.

Ah, there it is. The real doctors are just evil and American health care sucks. Thus naturopaths.

I am safer for it despite Hawkin’s opinion that naturopathy is “malarkey.”


More directly, my opinion is actually that unevidenced medical claims are malarkey. Incidentally, that includes naturopathy.

Dirty mud-sucker!

Fossilized cetaceans provide for one of the more robust evolutionary records. Especially with whales, it is abundantly clear that it takes the fundamental underlying theme of all of biology – evolution – to explain all that pesky empirical evidence we have. Now some light has been shed on the origin of baleen.

The fossil whale, thought to be between 25 and 28 million years old, hints that mud sucking might have been a precursor to the filter feeding used by today’s baleen whales.

Many modern whale species use hair-like structures called baleen to filter tiny prey such as krill from seawater. Baleen species include the humpback, the minke, and the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, the blue whale.

The newfound fossil whale, which measures just nine feet (three meters) long, shares the same distinct jaw and skull structures as today’s baleens.

But the tiny whale also had teeth, said study author Erich Fitzgerald, a paleontologist at Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.