The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘criticism’

The Mythology of Mother Teresa

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 4, 2016

Chances are that if you mention the name “Mother Teresa” to a random person, they will associate her with all manner of great and wonderful activities, such feeding the poor and aiding the sick and dying. Indeed, MT is almost universally accepted as the model of a good and selfless person. But, as with all myths, the reality is quite different and not so rosy.

Since the Vatican is about to declare Mother Teresa a “saint”, I think it’s appropriate to remind people of some unpleasant facts about her. One of MT’s earliest and harshest critics was Christopher Hitchens, who authored this article for Slate in 2003, wherein he refers to her as a “fanatic, fundamentalist, and fraud.” Here’s an excerpt:

… MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

And if that isn’t bad enough, check out this investigation of MT and the con job of her mythology and its propagation by the Vatican from Penn & Teller’s show Bullshit (warning: some of the images are disturbing).

Last, but not least, there are critics of MT from within India, who have been demanding accountability from her organization for years. One such critic is Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, who grew up in Calcutta amid MT’s organization that supposedly helped the sick and dying poor of the city. His article in the New York Times is scathing:

Over hundreds of hours of research, much of it cataloged in a book he published in 2003, Dr. Chatterjee said he found a “cult of suffering” in homes run by Mother Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, with children tied to beds and little to comfort dying patients but aspirin.

He and others said that Mother Teresa took her adherence to frugality and simplicity in her work to extremes, allowing practices like the reuse of hypodermic needles and tolerating primitive facilities that required patients to defecate in front of one another.

Wow. That’s pretty rough stuff. It almost makes one want to question the motives of the Vatican, doesn’t it? Why would the Catholic Church create and propagate this myth of Mother Teresa, her “saintliness”, and the supposed miracles she performed? Maybe it has something to do with the institutional corruption and scandal brought on by rampant sexual abuse and related cover-ups?

Ah well, nothing like that old-time religion to distract one from some unpleasant facts.

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Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Religious Extremism, the ISIS Attacks on Paris, and the Need for Honest Dialogue About Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 14, 2015

**UPDATE (11-21-15): For those wishing to get informed about the way ISIS thinks (as in “know your enemy”), take a serious look at this article; it provides solid evidence that, yes, they really are an apocalyptic, fundamentalist religious cult. And you might want to pay particular attention to point #3 regarding what ISIS *really* fears (hint: it isn’t death).**

Like many, it was with both great sorrow and frustration that I read this morning about the attacks in Paris, France by members of ISIS. As I’ve argued many times before on this blog and elsewhere, such as on my post about the Charlie Hebdo attacks and Draw Muhammad Day and my numerous posts regarding creationism plus the one about the religiously-motivated attacks on Planned Parenthood, I think it is absolutely critical for us to openly and honestly examine religion and religious belief and their roles in our modern society in a critical manner.

Let me begin by stating that I am not inherently anti-religion, though I openly declare myself to be an atheist. I can and do see how religious belief can serve to give many people a feeling of purpose or hope where they might otherwise have none, and I understand how it can help motivate many others to do works of great good. That said, too often I hear people speak of religion in terms that are only positive, as if things like religious belief and faith can only be good. For example, how many times have we all heard some believers state that one cannot be moral without a belief in God? I view this argument as detrimental for two reasons:

  1. It argues that people who either don’t believe in God (or who believe in the wrong god, whatever that may be) are inherently immoral. The counter to this argument is that there are many forms of useful and functional secular morality, so one can be moral without religion. This is, I think, especially relevant given the fact that secularism and non-religiosity is on the rise here in the United States (up to ~25% by some recent surveys).
  2. It seems to implicitly assume that religion necessarily promotes morality. Given the recent events in Paris, I think this assumption is highly questionable, not to mention the fact that recent studies have shown that the religious are no more moral in their daily behavior than are the non-religious.

I think we should stop placing religion and religious belief on a pedestal, and we should take a reasoned and critical look at religion just as we do with any other human endeavor. We need to understand that there is nothing inherently special or moral about religion, and it can be used for good or ill regardless of the beliefs espoused by the faithful; yes, the reality is that religion doesn’t lead to any kind of objective morality. Some people think this critical analysis of religion is not only not necessary, but they say they are offended by it. To that I respond the same way I did in my post titled “The Dangers of NOT Offending Religious Sensibilities” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year:

First, I think that there has been a fundamental error in how much of this discussion has been framed. Too many people, mostly those who wish to not have their “religious sensibilities” offended and their weak-kneed allies, are asking the question of what are limits to free speech and should “offensive” speech which attacks and/or ridicules religion be allowed? This viewpoint isn’t to be dismissed as trivial in light of the fact that almost 20% of Americans think religion shouldn’t be satirized.

I think this is entirely the wrong question to be asking, for the simple reason that it appears to place the onus for responsibility of religious violence in the wrong place: on people whose only crime is to speak their mind openly and freely. There is an implicit and dangerous naivety behind such framing: it makes the assumption that if only people wouldn’t be critical of religion or poke fun at religious figures then murderous violence such as that on display recently in Paris would be curbed.

Really?! Not mocking religion means that there’s going to be a reduction of religiously-motivated violence? Try telling that to the thousands upon thousands of Muslims (and others) who are, even now, being enslaved, victimized, and barbarically killed by the extremists in ISIS. I’ll wager that the vast majority, if not all, of those being brutally oppressed and killed by ISIS never said or wrote one offensive word about Islam or Muhammad. Yet they are being slaughtered in the name of radical Islam none-the-less.

In my mind, a much more proper question to ask is this: What is it that it can so easily generate such a murderous certainty among the most ardent, fundamentalist believers of religion? The right way to respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and atrocities committed by ISIS isn’t to demand less scrutiny of religion but quite the opposite; we must demand more scrutiny of religion, especially radical, fundamentalist variations. …

… if we allow “offensive” speech to be curbed or outlawed, we run the risk of letting these vague notions of what is offensive to be defined by the most extreme members of religion. Take, for example, the case of Saudi Arabian blogger and dissenter Raif Badawi, who is undergoing a brutal punishment involving receiving 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks, followed by years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. His crime, according to the Saudi Arabian authorities, was “insulting Islam”; Raif had the audacity to run a website called Free Saudi Liberals (now closed down) where he advocated for a secular government in Saudi Arabia. Yes, political dissent is viewed as an insult to religion, justifying – in the minds of the extremists – the most brutal of tortures and disproportionate punishment. Raif Badawi’s torture makes the case that, if anything, religious sensibilities need to be questioned, and if that makes some people uncomfortable or offends them, so much the better!

Now, lest you think this discussion is exclusively about Islam, think again. It has become clear of late that many more than just some Muslims are jumping aboard the “curb offensive speech” bandwagon. Consider, for example, the reaction from various branches of Christianity to the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Famous religious right and fundamentalist Christian broadcaster Bryan Fisher suggested that God allowed Islamic terrorists to carry out their attack in Paris as punishment for blasphemy. Further, in his radio broadcast he stated “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain… They [Charlie Hebdo] made a career out of taking the name of God, the God of the Bible, the father of the Lord Jesus [in vain].” So, according to Fisher, it wasn’t the satire of Islam that led to the attacks, it was the satire of Christianity and Jesus that is to blame! It should also be no surprise that Fisher is among those who would impose so-called anti-blasphemy laws in the United States.

Not to be outdone, prominent radical Catholic and head of the Catholic League Bill Donohue stated that the victims of the Paris attacks only had themselves to blame for insulting religion and angering people. “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated,” he explained in a press release. “But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”

Now one would expect such nutty rhetoric from commonly-known Christian fundamentalists such as Fisher and Donohue, but what is more disturbing is that the most widely known religious figure on the planet, Pope Francis, who is regarded by many as a “progressive Pope” appears to agree with these sentiments! “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” the Pope stated on a recent trip to the Philippines. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others,” he continued. Wow, so much for that “turn the other cheek” nonsense that Jesus espoused.

What I see now is an emerging unholy alliance between right-wing extremists and naïve left-wing multiculturalists against secular critics of religion. The former want little more than power and control, and they view silencing criticism of religion and its related power structures as a way of attaining these goals. The latter are often well-meaning but clueless and unrealistic idealists who believe that sitting in a circle and singing “Kumbaya” will result in less religiously-motivated power grabs and violence. Both groups view secular critics of religion as either an enemy of the faith or callous and disrespectful loud-mouths who are somehow a threat to a healthy society. And this is not simply an academic debate; political correctness, introduced by the naïve among the multicultural left, has now been co-opted by right-wing fundamentalists to justify everything from the denial of contraception to women to the inclusion of pseudo-scientific notions of creationism in public schools. Under the guise of “religious liberty”, these fundamentalists insist that not allowing them to impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of society is offensive.

In closing, allow me one more criticism of religion and religious believers; but this criticism is not directed at the fundamentalists, it is directed at the moderate religious believers who, either knowingly or not, provide cover for the fundamentalists and their dangerous ideologies. As author Sam Harris argued so eloquently in his essay “The Problem with Religious Moderates”:

… While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question-i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us-religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness. …

… Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience. …

… With each passing year, do our religious beliefs conserve more and more of the data of human experience? If religion addresses a genuine sphere of understanding and human necessity, then it should be susceptible to progress; its doctrines should become more useful, rather than less. Progress in religion, as in other fields, would have to be a matter of present inquiry, not the mere reiteration of past doctrine. Whatever is true now should be discoverable now, and describable in terms that are not an outright affront to the rest of what we know about the world. By this measure, the entire project of religion seems perfectly backward. It cannot survive the changes that have come over us-culturally, technologically, and even ethically. Otherwise, there are few reasons to believe that we will survive it.

Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word “God” as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world-to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish-is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Yet More Evidence the Bible is Being Edited Even Today

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 29, 2013

One of the most popular posts I’ve made on this blog was about how the Bible has been edited in recent decades to promote a specific political agenda related to abortion. Since writing that post, it has become even more clear that the Bible continues to be edited in order to promote a very modern, right-wing, and fundamentalist worldview. What’s more is that those engaged in this effort, namely those paragons of intellectual honesty and virtue at Conservapedia (where they believe that Einstein’s physics theories are a “left-wing conspiracy”), are openly admitting what they are doing. But don’t take it from me, read what they have to say on their very own page for their Conservative Bible Project:

The Conservative Bible Project is a project utilizing the “best of the public” to render God’s word into modern English without liberal translation distortions. A Colbert Report interview featured this project. We completed a first draft of our translation of the New Testament on April 23, 2010.

Already our translators have identified numerous pro-abortion distortions that omit or twist clear references to the unborn child.

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

*lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
*lack of precision in modern language
*translation bias, mainly of the liberal kind, in converting the original language to the modern one.

Experts in ancient languages are helpful in reducing the first type of error above, which is a vanishing source of error as scholarship advances understanding. English language linguists are helpful in reducing the second type of error, which also decreases due to an increasing vocabulary. But the third — and largest — source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate. [emphasis in the original] …

So there you have it. The folks at Conservapedia abandon all pretense and openly admit their political agenda; no doubt the phrase “best of the public” refers only to those people who share the fundamentalist worldview of Conservapedia’s authors. But what about their so-called claims to be addressing “lack of precision in the original language” and “translation bias”? Well, this article has some interesting info on that…

Right-Wing Group Seeks Help Rewriting the Bible Because It’s Not Conservative Enough

The King James Bible and more recent translations are veritable primers of progressive agitprop, according to the founder of Conservapedia.

… Don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew or ancient Greek? Not a problem. What they are looking for is not exactly egghead scholarship, but a knack for using words they’ve read in the Wall Street Journal. They have a list of promising candidates on their website— words like capitalism, work ethic, death penalty, anticompetitive, elitism, productivity, privatize, pro-life—all of which are conspicuously missing from those socialist-inspired Bibles we’ve been reading lately. …

Uhhh, yeah. Because ancient societies totally used the word “capitalism”, despite the fact the word didn’t even exist until the mid-19th century. But wait, it gets better!

… To give a sense of how to go about your own retranslation, here are some examples of changes the editors have already made.

Take that story where the mob surrounds a woman accused of adultery and gets ready to stone her, but Jesus intervenes and says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 7:53-8:11). It might have been a later addition that wasn’t in the original Gospels, according to some right-thinking, or rather right-leaning scholars. So the editors have excised this bleeding-heart favorite from the Good Book, and they’ve also removed Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“The simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing,” Schlafly points out, proving that, “Jesus might never had said it at all.”

Another thing Jesus might never have said at all is, “Blessed are the meek.” Change that one to, “Blessed are the God-fearing,” the translation’s editors advise, which is far less touchy-feely than the King James version.

Where Jesus teaches that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24) our mentors at Conservapedia recommend that we scratch the word “rich” and replace it with either “fully fed and entertained” or, if you prefer, “idle miser,” which have none of the Occupy Wall Street-ish sour grapes of the better-known translation.

When Jesus greets his disciples with the blessing, “Peace be with you” (John 20, 26), the editors cleverly change the wording to, “Peace of mind be with you,” so that nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks Jesus was some kind of lilly-livered pacifist.

Likewise where Jesus says, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but to save it” (John 3, 17), they change “world” to “mankind,” so it is clear the Christian savior is not advocating environmentalism here. Hey, you can’t be too careful!

Finally, when Jesus admonishes hypocrites to, “Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,” the conservative Bible replaces the word “hypocrite” with “deceiver,” since hypocrite is often “misused politically against Christians.” Good point! …

I think you get the idea.

However, there is one overwhelming fact that should be emphasized in all this: regardless of what the “original Bible” (an oxymoron for many reasons) did or did not say, what this whole fiasco proves, without a doubt, is that the Bible – like all religious texts – are the work of humans! The fact that the folks at Conservapedia are doing what they’re doing in such a blatant manner shows that they are, like all religious believers, I think, simply projecting their own beliefs and value systems onto what they believe to be an all-powerful god.

And therein lies one of the great ironies of the entire thing: so many right-wing fundamentalists have justified their worldview in the past by pointing to the Bible and saying “See? It says so in the Bible!” Yet now we see a bunch who are so wedded to their right-wing political worldview that they are openly changing the Bible (which they often claimed is inerrant and unchanging) to be more in line with that worldview.

If this isn’t evidence that those espousing this right-wing ideology and religion are doing so in a blatantly subjective and relativistic manner, I don’t know what is.

It also makes you wonder just how many times in the past such holy books have been edited to promote a specific, and wholly human, agenda, doesn’t it?

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical “Inerrancy”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 5, 2012

Recently, while on vacation, my wife and I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  For those who don’t know, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known writings of the Old Testament of the Bible in existence.  They are roughly 2000+ years old, and written in a variety of languages; plus, the story of their discovery and excavation is quite fascinating.

Image Source

A few things in particular struck me about the entire exhibit, which included some of the actual scroll fragments (and their translations); specifically, these things I observed about the scrolls seemed to come into direct conflict with the notion of Biblical inerrancy espoused by so many religious fundamentalists these days…

First of all, the fragments were just that… fragments.  The scrolls were terribly decayed and incomplete, which is to be expected after over 2000 years of exposure.  Now this wouldn’t seem to be that much of a big deal, were it not for my other observations…

Second, there was a lot of material within the Dead Sea Scrolls which doesn’t appear within the Old Testament Bible.  In other words, the Old Testament Bible seems to be a whittled down version of these more original writings.  Which begs a question: why did some of this original material make it into the Bible and other material was excluded?  The obvious answer is that at some point, someone (that is, people) had to decide what to include and what to exclude.  In other words, even at the very formation of what we call “The Bible”, it was going through a very real editing process by very real human hands.  And this leads me to my third, and probably most damning, point…

The Dead Sea Scrolls themselves give differing, and even contradictory, accounts of various Old Testament Biblical stories.  That is, they are not even consistent within their own writings, and these are the earliest (and therefore most original) Biblical writings we have!  Why would this be, if the Bible is supposed to be error-free?  The answer is simple, yet difficult for some to accept: the scholars who have painstakingly analyzed the scrolls for decades have found that these writings were written in a variety of different communities by a variety of different authors (most likely local priests or community leaders).  As a result, each author had their own “spin” they wanted to place on various stories, which led some accounts to conflict with other accounts.

The conclusion is obvious: far from being inerrant in nature, the Bible is, and apparently always has been – even back unto the days of the Dead Sea Scrolls before “The Bible” even existed – a work of wholly fallible humans.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Embarrassing Truth About the Bible: It’s STILL Being Edited

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2012

[**Update (8-16-15): While I’m pleased this is one of the more popular posts on this blog, it is important to see how this post fits into the larger fight by the “pro-life”/anti-choice movement against science. For more details on that, see this more recent post 🙂 ]

As most skeptics and atheists (as well as a number of well-educated religious believers) know, the Bible is a work of humans.  As such, just as any other book, it has been edited and revised quite a lot over the last couple of thousand years.  It’s not the purpose of this blog post to go into the details of who wrote what parts of the Bible when, nor will I get into the question of the numerous inconsistencies and contradictions contained within this supposedly “divinely inspired” book. (Though if you’re interested in those topics, I suggest starting with a basic primer on textual criticism of the Bible.)

Rather, I would like to address something which is easily verified by anyone: the fact that the Bible, contrary to the claims of many fundamentalists, is actually STILL being edited.  And sometimes these edits have made quite significant deviations from the “original” text.  Further, some of these edits have been made for what appear to be contemporary political purposes.

“You mean… it’s NOT the same as it was only 45 years ago?!!” — Image source

In order to prove my point, I would like to reference an excellent article on this topic from the Slacktivist blog over at Patheos.com titled “Mischief follows in partisan Bible translations”.  The basic point behind this article is that contrary to the claims of various fundamentalist factions that the Bible is unchanging and inerrant, it has in fact been edited quite recently.  Specifically, the evidence proves that the Bible has been edited for partisan political purposes on the issue of abortion as recently as the late 1970s (which is within the lifetime of many readers here!)  Read this excerpt from the Slacktivist article for more on this:

… As I noted earlier, this change in the words and meaning of the Bible is more recent than the introduction of the Happy Meal.

The New American Standard Bible is a popular English translation, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It was completed in 1971 and then revised and updated in 1995. I want to highlight one major change in one passage of the NASB — a case in which the 1995 update alters — and is intended to reverse –  the text of the 1971 NASB.

Those dates are important in understanding the reason for this change. …

Now, let us look at the analysis of come critical Bible verses which have been edited in the context of contemporary views on abortion:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 53 Comments »

The Blurring of Science With Media Spin: NASA’s Announcement About “Arsenic-Based Life”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 11, 2010

I have to say that last week I was pretty upset with NASA, because – if you recall – there was a lot of hay being made by NASA about a big scientific discovery they were going to announce.  In the process, there was a great deal of media spin & speculation on whether or not it was going to be an announcement of the discovery of “alien life” or something similar.

But when it came time for the announcement, it ended up being something quite less spectacular: it was about how a group of NASA scientists had uncovered a form of bacterial life which seems to have adapted itself to living in the harsh conditions of a lake laced with heavy concentrations of arsenic – the original NASA press release can be accessed here.

NASA has made a pretty big deal out of this discovery, but there are some problems with how they’ve rolled it out, in my opinion.  I am of the view that they’ve oversold this thing, with overly dramatic phrases (from the above press release) such as…

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

and…

This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth.

Upon hearing about this discovery, and not being a biochemist or evolutionary biologist myself, I decided to look past the spin being put on this by both NASA and the news media in general and go to people who know the field far better than me.  In a short amount of time, I found a great post by PZ Myers over at Pharyngula on the matter, wherein he states, among other things…

It’s not an arsenic-based life form

… I finally got the paper from Science, and I’m sorry to let you all down, but it’s none of the above. It’s an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substiting arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry. It’s perfectly reasonable and interesting work in its own right, but it’s not radical, it’s not particularly surprising, and it’s especially not extraterrestrial. It’s the kind of thing that will get a sentence or three in biochemistry textbooks in the future. …

… So what does it all mean? It means that researchers have found that some earthly bacteria that live in literally poisonous environments are adapted to find the presence of arsenic dramatically less lethal, and that they can even incorporate arsenic into their routine, familiar chemistry. …

… This lake also happens to be on Earth, not Saturn, although maybe being in California gives them extra weirdness points, so I don’t know that it can even say much about extraterrestrial life. It does say that life can survive in a surprisingly broad range of conditions, but we already knew that. [emphasis added]

And, unfortunately, it seems that the story could get worse for NASA, because if you know anything about how the scientific community operates, you know that when someone makes a really bold claim (such as how the NASA researchers did) then other scientists are going to want to review the work & offer criticism.  Well, upon doing so, there has been some quite withering criticism coming from many DNA & biochemistry experts about the manner in which the NASA researchers conducted their work…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in aliens & UFOs, media woo, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Skeptic’s Annotated Bible Needs Your Help!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 11, 2010

If you’re like me and you are rather skeptical of various claims made by religious fundamentalists regarding the accuracy, or “inerrancy” as they call it, of their holy books, then you might find a useful resource in the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (SAB). Actually, the SAB critically analyzes not just the Bible, but also the Quran (Koran) and Book of Mormon as well. I have found it an extremely useful resource when arguing with someone who claims their “literal” reading of the Bible is sensible or even consistent; note that the SAB, to my knowledge, doesn’t really get into the question of God’s existence, it tends to just stick with the question of the logical fallacies within these holy texts…

In any case, the reason why I say the SAB needs your help is simple: there is, as of this writing, no iPhone or similar app for the SAB. The creator of the SAB, Steve Wells, and I have been in contact about creating just such an app, as we both think it would be a great way to get these critical arguments out there, but Steve has neither the time nor technical expertise to program an app.

So, I told him that I would write a blog post asking the skeptical community for help, and here it is.  If you, or anyone you know, has experience writing app’s for the iPhone (or Droid, etc) and you’re interested in helping Steve out, please let him know – his email is swwells [AT] gmail [dot] com – tell Steve I sent you 🙂

Posted in internet, religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

 
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