The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘afterlife’

The Skeptical Teacher to be Interviewed on Darkness Radio – LIVE!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 14, 2012

I know I’m posting this a little late, but I wanted to let you all know that I’m going to be interviewed tonight (Monday, May 14th) live on Darkness Radio at 11:00pm CDT.  If you recall, I blogged some time ago – almost two years – about a very interesting discussion I had with paranormal investigator Dave Schrader at Convergence 2010 on the topic of “ghost hunting”.  Despite the fact that Dave’s a believer in ghosts and the paranormal and I’m a skeptic, we hit it off and he invited me to be on his show so that I could give my perspective as a skeptic… well, it took awhile, but tonight’s the night! :)

If you can catch the show, please click the Darkness Radio icon below to listen live.  Otherwise, try looking it up on the Darkness Radio archive afterwards.

Darkness Radio 

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

12 Hottest Celebrity Atheists and Agnostics

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 31, 2012

I just wanted to share with you a blog post from my friend Phil over at Skeptic Money titled “12 Hottest Celebrity Atheists and Agnostics” which outlines some really good looking celebrities.  But more important than the sexy pics (rowr) are some of the things they say. Check out Phil’s post; meanwhile, I’ll share my favorite… Mr. George Clooney :)

George Clooney on why he's an atheist/agnostic

I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I don’t know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life–the only thing I know to exist–to be wasted. (LA times)

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Physics Proves the Existence of Ghosts?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 24, 2011

I’ve blogged here before about “professional” ghost-hunters and their woo.  And in many cases I have taken such “professionals” to task for not really following any kind of decent, consistent protocols (such as knowing how their instrumentation works, duh) but instead favoring stories that seem to be a combination of the Blair-Witch Project and various kinds of techno-babble.  But now I just have to mention a couple of things about how many ghost-hunters just seem to get basic physics (pardon the pun) dead wrong.

My skeptical colleague Ben Radford recently wrote an article for LiveScience.com on this very point…

Do Einstein’s Laws Prove Ghosts Exist?

… Despite years of efforts by ghost hunters on TV and in real life, we still do not have good proof that ghosts are real. Many ghost hunters believe that strong support for the existence of ghosts can be found in modern physics. Specifically, that Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, offered a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts. …

Now hold on a minute.  As we’ve seen before, it is not uncommon for pseudoscientists and cranks of all kinds to try glomming onto Einstein’s coat-tails as one of the most well-known and respected scientists of the 20th century as a way of trying to gain traction for their ideas.  It is as if they think that by simply invoking Einstein’s name and theories, despite the fact that they have no real understanding of those theories, that it will somehow, magically make them correct.  Of course, this simply displays a fundamental flaw in the thinking of ghost-hunters, because it shows they have no real knowledge of how science (much less physics) works.

Specifically, in this case the ghost-hunters are claiming that Einstein’s theory of relativity “proves” the existence of ghosts:

… For example, ghost researcher John Kachuba, in his book “Ghosthunters” (2007, New Page Books), writes, “Einstein proved that all the energy of the universe is constant and that it can neither be created nor destroyed. … So what happens to that energy when we die? If it cannot be destroyed, it must then, according to Dr. Einstein, be transformed into another form of energy. What is that new energy? … Could we call that new creation a ghost?”

This idea shows up — and is presented as evidence for ghosts — on virtually all ghost-themed websites as well. For example, a group called Tri County Paranormal states, “Albert Einstein said that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change from one form to another. When we are alive, we have electrical energy in our bodies. … What happens to the electricity that was in our body, causing our heart to beat and making our breathing possible? There is no easy answer to that.” … [emphasis added]

Actually, the answer is pretty easy, as long as you understand how energy is related to matter as outlined in Einstein’s theory.  It can all be summed up in what is probably the most well-known, but one of the least understood, equations in all of science… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Skeptical Teacher Interview on The Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 13, 2011

During my time at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9, one of the things I got to do was engage in a fun interview with my friend Ted Meissner, who runs the Secular Buddhist podcast, and his colleague Dana Nourie. The info on our interview is below, and I hope you find it (pardon the pun) enlightening :)

Episode 77 :: Matt Lowry and Dana Nourie :: Fun With Physics and Walking Through Walls

Dana Nourie and Matt Lowry join us to speak about physics, the natural world, and quantum misperceptions.

Lately, there seems to be an unfortunate mixing of Siddhattha Gotama’s teaching and practice around the existential experience of dissatisfaction, and science. Certainly we do see wonderful scientific studies about what’s going on in the brain during meditation, for example, but that’s a far cry from levitation and walking through walls. Buddhism is not about physics, despite our seeing false patterns of synchronicity between the two.

Of course, I’m not a physicist. Fortunately my good friend Matt Lowry is, and was also in attendance at The Amazing Meeting, and joined Dana Nourie and I to discuss a few questions about physics, and how they might apply — or not apply — to assertions not in evidence. …

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Hypocrisy of the Creationist “Teach All Views” Argument

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2011

In my time tracking & critiquing the creationist movement, I have spent much time and many electrons typing articles pointing out the flaws in their various arguments.  I will continue to do so, but every now and then something seems to come along which puts it into perspective.  For example, I recently saw the following headline about a pastor who was fired from his church for not teaching “the correct” view on the afterlife…

Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence

Image: Rev. Chad Holtz poses for a photo in Durham, N.C. Holtz

Sara D. Davis  /  AP file — Chad Holtz was fired from his position as pastor of a church in Henderson, N.C., after posting on his Facebook page a defense of a forthcoming book by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, in which Bell challenges millions of Christians’ understanding of the afterlife.

DURHAM, N.C. — When Chad Holtz lost his old belief in hell, he also lost his job.

The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson.

“I think justice comes and judgment will happen, but I don’t think that means an eternity of torment,” Holtz said. “But I can understand why people in my church aren’t ready to leave that behind. It’s something I’m still grappling with myself.”

The debate over Bell’s new book “Love Wins” has quickly spread across the evangelical precincts of the Internet, in part because of an eye-catching promotional video posted on YouTube. …

So what?  What if some church decides to can their pastor because they don’t like the religious message he’s sending?  I normally might not care myself, except I’m going to guess that the reason why Mr. Holtz is now unemployed is because he was the pastor of a more traditional, conservative congregation which wasn’t receptive to his more moderate view on the afterlife.

In addition, couple this with the fact that many of the more conservative Christian churches in the United States also seem to be rather supportive of the teaching of creationism in public science classes.  How many times have we been subjected to the “teach all views” or “teach the controversy” argument espoused by creationists as they try to wedge their non-scientific, purely religious ideas into the science curriculum?

And therein lies the problem.  You see, the inherent hypocrisy of the creationist movement favored by these conservative, more fundamentalist Christian churches is laid bare when they attempt to make the “teach all views” argument.  After all, look what has happened to Mr. Holtz and those like him who try to teach a different view of heaven & hell in church: they get fired.  In another ironic example, think about how intelligent design proponent William Dembski got himself into trouble when he openly questioned his institution’s account of Noah’s Flood.  Why?  What’s wrong with “teaching all views” in church or at a religious institution?

Of course, I am being quite sarcastic, but I’m doing so to make a particular point.  I don’t honestly care one way or the other if Mr. Holtz’s church or Dembski’s religious school threatens to fire them or actually fires them.  It is the prerogative of those institutions to act in a manner in accordance with their particular religious faith.  On the questions of religious faith, the nature of heaven & hell, and the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, I am perfectly content to let the theologians in their various seminaries continually run in circles, threatening each other with eternal damnation because someone else believes something different than they do.  In fact, I’m quite amused by the show they put on in the process :)

And while the theologians like to have their (in my view) useless arguments, in the real world it is the prerogative of the scientific community to dictate what is & isn’t science by virtue of the scientific process which has steadily evolved over the last 400 years or so.  Thus, professional scientists rightly have the knowledge & power to dictate the proper and established science that should be taught in public school science classes.  They also have the know-how to point at pseudoscientific notions such as creationism and label them as not suitable for the science curriculum.

So, the next time you hear a creationist say “we should teach all views in the science classroom”, accept their argument.  But only so long as they’re willing to “teach all views” or “teach the controversy” in their church first.

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Skeptical Teacher to be Interviewed on Darkness Radio

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 25, 2010

**Update: It seems that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the interviewed may have to be postponed.  Stay tuned!

==============================

As a follow up to my earlier post regarding Dave Schrader’s talk on paranormal investigation at Convergence/Skepchicon in Minneapolis, I wanted to let everyone know that Dave will be interviewing me for Darkness Radio in the next few days.  I’m not exactly sure when the interview will be airing (probably within the next week or so), but if you watch this blog I’ll be letting you know.

The nature of the interview will basically be me & Dave talking in general about the paranormal, ghost-hunting, and the role that science & skepticism play (or, as is often the case, don’t play) in such investigations.  Here are some points that I plan to bring up in my discussion with Dave…

1. What is a “ghost”?  Has anyone ever come up with any kind of quantifiable definition for such an entity?

2. What is the proposed mechanism by which ghosts interact with the physical world around us?  How can they be measured?  Why would ghosts interact in this manner with the world?

3. How can we distinguish a potentially legitimate “ghost signal” from other phenomena?

4. Do any ghost hunters conduct double blind experiments?

5. Are the investigations by some believing ghost hunters replicable by skeptics?

6. Is there any way to “catch” a ghost, or its essence (ectoplasm, etc), for study?

7. Why is it that much of ghost hunting seems to be arguments from ignorance (i.e., ghost-of-the-gaps reasoning, I call it)?

I’ll also tell some stories from my own experiences ghost hunting, going all the way back to my high school years, as well as why I’ve come to the conclusions that I’ve never seen any evidence for a ghost or anything supernatural or paranormal during my life.

I anticipate that this will be a fun discussion, and I eagerly look forward to it.  If you have suggestions for topics to discuss and/or questions for me to ask Dave Schrader, please let me know.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2010

On the second day of Convergence/Skepchicon, one event especially caught my eye – a talk titled “The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review” given by Dave Schrader, the host of Paranormal Radio. Almost immediately I was skeptical, as I have analyzed the claims & methods of various ghost hunters before and found them to be quite dubious.  In addition, many of my skeptic colleagues cringed a bit when they heard his name and my mention of his talk.  Thus, in the spirit of learning more for myself I attended his talk and took many notes – in the end, I was both a bit impressed with Dave but also quite disappointed.  Read through my notes, which is a transcription of his talk, and please see my specific comments in italics. Also please make sure to read my closing question to Dave Schrader and his response…

The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

How to investigate the Paranormal, from setting up a team to reviewing evidence.  Presented by Dave Schrader, host of Paranormal Radio and author of The Other Side: A Teens Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal.

Dave is walking around handing out info TAPS, ghost hunting, and talking about a local [Minneapolis] show called Ghostbustin’ 911 (lolz).

How many people have ever gone on a ghost hunt before? [a few hands raise, including my own]

I’m going to show you a bizarre, demonic picture from a possible demonic haunting.  The lady of the house claimed she was smelling weird smells like rotting meat or poop along with strange cries.  While there I was taking photos and got a shot of a demonic, and here it is… [shows photo of a little kid in a costume – laughter]

Title: A Common Sense Look at Paranormal Investigating and Evidence Review…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Skeptical Advice Column: Ask Surly Amy!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 14, 2010

In one of those “why didn’t I think of that?!!” moments, I just saw an awesome post over at Skepchick.org – one of the Skepchicks, Surly Amy, has decided to start an online advice column for skeptics.  Check it out! :)

Ask Surly Amy

June 14th, 2010 by Amy · 5 Comments

No Gravatar

Recently, Dear Abbey screwed up big time. Some poor lady wrote in asking for help because she was afraid that when her family died they’d follow her around watching her poop and stuff. Dear Abby’s response? Yeah, the ghost of her dead mother-in-law probably WILL watch her get it on with the MIL’s son, but just because she’s so frigging happy for them and not because she’s a giant ghost perv.

We need a new, more rational advice columnist and we need her NOW. That’s why we’re introducing a new feature: Ask Surly Amy. Send your questions using the contact form and be sure to choose “Ask Surly Amy” from the menu, and our resident surly girl will dish out skeptical advice on anything from relationship problems to etiquette questions to pervy hauntings.

Here’s our very first installment. Enjoy!

~Rebecca

Ask Surly Amy

Hello there.
I have a bit of a problem and it’s kind of a niche one and I don’t
have anyone really to ask so I thought someone here could help me?
I’m just gonna come right out and say it. This guy I’m sorta kinda
dating is a conspiracy theorist. I like him, but I have certain
standards that he’s not meeting. Namely being a skeptic.
Now, I know love is out there for me in the form of a skeptic man, and Rebecca taught me that.
Should I pursue a relationship? His conspiracy stuff
is gonna bother me and I’ll always be afraid that I can’t just let it
be. In a friend, I’ll tolerate ghost belief, alt med, and all other
forms of nonsense, but I don’t think I could have a boyfriend who
believes that stuff. I know people of different opinions can have a
relationship, my mother is jewish and my father is a lutheran, but
this is a big one.
Any advice? I know you can’t decide for me, but I’d like some
outside skeptical input.
Thanks so much!

First of all, thank you for being our very first Ask Surly Amy participant! Your prize is our gratitude and the following advice.

Explain Occam’s Razor to the guy this way:
Either you stop pursuing irrational belief systems or I am going to cut you (out of my life.)

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one and the simplest explanation here is for you to dump the con-nut.

Some things you can totally overlook. Like if your significant other enjoys listening to Barry Manilow, that’s completely fine. At least it is something you can deal with. But if your significant other likes to listen to Barry Manilow while trying to convince you that Lady Gaga conspired with George Bush to take down the twin towers to divert attention away from the war, well then it’s clearly time to move on.

My advice is to lose Mr. paranoid-delusion AND get yourself a ticket to TAM this year! You will be pleasantly surprised by how many hot skeptics will be hanging out at the bar and at the Skepchick party!

See you then!

~Surly Amy

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

*Ask Surly Amy is meant for entertainment purposes only. All advice should be taken with as much skepticism as anything else, really.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“What the Hell was That?!” – Ghosts & Other Paranormal B.S.

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2010

I recently came across a neat website which really does a good job of dissecting the various “ghost-hunting” TV shows that have been popping up like crazy over the last couple of years.  Of course, I’ve written before about how ghost-hunters are essentially deluding themselves because they have no clue what they’re doing, but this website – What the Hell was That? – does a far better & more thorough job than I ever could.  That’s mostly because if I took the time to watch that much stupidly bad TV, I think I’d have to drive a spike through my skull to put myself out of my misery.

As an example, check out the latest entry on a show called “Ghost Adventures” – ooh, sounds spooky :)

Ghost Adventures, a Kindly Review

Travel Channel

Fridays at 9pm

Of all the fake ghost hunting shows, Ghost Adventures probably qualifies as the most annoying.

Hosted by the ever-preening Zak Bagans, a film school graduate with a penchant for horridly overwrought prose like “When darkness falls, we chase the darkness.” He must write the stuff himself because he delivers each painful line as though he is reading from scripture.

2e4et83

Zak is also one of the world’s worst actors, which is a shame since he does a lot of acting in each show. He approaches each case with an absurd tough guy act, constantly challenging ghosts: “Bring it on.” Zak loves to gesture, pro wrestling-style, putting his hands right into our faces when he is trying to make a worthless point. It all comes across as trying just a little bit too hard.

Zak often interviews people who have claim some experience on the site. His outrageously leading questions sometimes make even the interviewees squirm. Of course, like all the other shows, the events described as occurring on the sites vastly outstrip what the ghost hunters actually find. We hear of full body apparitions, glowing eyes, spectral faces, etc., etc. But never, never is anything like that ever actually found by Zak or his team. Sometimes the best he can manage is to feel cold spots, or spectral touches. These allow him to really stretch out his acting skills, to great comedic effect. He also often presents the standard lame EVP’s, dubious door slams, and unclear images.

Like many of the shows, recreated images and sounds are mixed in with the “real” stuff, making it impossible to determine what is being presented as “evidence”. We can see the heavy ham hands of the producers as they try to wring out the maximum oooga booga for their indiscriminate audience.

Ghost Adventures also uses tons of dubious gadgets (see my Bag of Tricks article for some examples). Since none of the little electronic boxes are documented or explained, I view all of them with great suspicion. As I documented, one of their gadgets was just a cheap flashlight.

Some questionable stuff from a recent show, set at an abandoned prison:

• Batteries were drained “instantly” from the wireless mics but NEVER from the cameras (then there would be nothing for the show!). There was some priceless overacting “What? What?…I just put new batteries in 5 minutes ago!”

• The crew claimed then claimed that the audio for the on-board camera mics went out, too. It’s hard to prove that they are lying but I would be willing to bet that they simply turned down the input for the drama. It is too convenient that the video never went out. The whole incident had all the earmarks of  prearranged corny dramatic stunt.

• A supposed mist was shown behind Zak that was obviously just a reflection in the low quality night vision image.

Ghost Adventures is an example of lowest common denominator TV, cheap, dumb and patently false. The silly host makes this one particularly loathsome.

Not A Ghost.com Grade: F

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Psychic Scumbags Are Like Buzzards

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2009

Wow, some people have no shame.  Take, for example, all of the psychic woo-meisters who are taking advantage of Michael Jackson’s death to promote their flim-flammery…

Psychics see magic in Michael Jackson’s life

When Glynis McCants looks at Michael Jackson’s life, she sees the number five.Numerologist Glynis McCants says that with his numbers, Jackson was a draw to fans.

Numerologist Glynis McCants says that with his numbers, Jackson was a draw to fans.

Jackson’s talent was discovered when he was 5 years old, he came to fame as a member of the Jackson 5 and he planned a series of 50 concert dates in London, England, as part of a comeback tour before he died on June 25 at the age of 50.

For McCants, a noted numerologist and author, those facts are very telling: “Five is the number for drama, and it was in his life his whole life.”

It just gets worse from there, with practically every huckster from Uri Geller to the local crazy old bat reading chicken entrails on the corner attempting to ride this bandwagon of stupidity.  A more appropriate title for the article would be “Psychics see dollar signs in exploiting Michael Jackson’s death”. These opportunistic scumbags don’t ever seem to miss the chance to make a quick buck – whether it is this or by claiming, like uber-douchebag John Edward, to be talking to the dead, they’re like buzzards picking over the meat of a carcass. Gah…

What’s worse, this is a big story on a major, mainstream news outlet – freakin’ CNN of all places!  My respect for CNN has just dropped by about five orders of magnitude.  If you’re as disgusted as I am about CNN giving serious attention to this lunacy, contact them and let your thoughts be known.

Posted in media woo, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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