The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

The Pope Tries to Have It Both Ways on Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2015

Like many, I was pleasantly surprised when Pope Francis recently made public comments about climate change, wherein he stated that a) it was real, and b) it is largely due to human activity. This is good news because, rightly or wrongly, the Pope is looked up to by billions of people around the world, and when someone of his stature speaks, people listen; and it seems his words are having a positive effect. It is also interesting that so many global warming deniers are beside themselves, even going so far as to label the Pope’s stance as off base and that he should (get this) leave “science to the scientists” (pardon me while I laugh at the irony of that comment). Of course, what do you expect from people who continually confuse weather with climate?

Now, while I’m happy to see these developments, I also urge caution. It’s not like Pope Francis is suddenly a big booster for science. Like too many high-profile public figures, he is a science-booster when it works for him and a science-denier when it works against him. Case in point: I was also a tad disappointed when the Pope visited Turin, Italy a few days ago, and he took some time to pray before the much-revered Shroud of Turin.


(Image source)

So why does this matter? It matters because, to put it bluntly, it has been shown rather conclusively that the Shroud of Turin, which many claim is the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, is fake. For instance, there is the historical evidence which dates it to a time (around the year 1300 C.E. – roughly 13 centuries after Christ’s supposed burial) when supposed “holy relics” abounded in Europe; then there is the radio-carbon dating which dates it conclusively to the same time frame; then there is the evidence that, despite claims by the Vatican to the contrary, that it is actually rather easy to fake the phenomenon of the Shroud. All of this evidence pointing to the fakery that is the revered Shroud is nicely summed up in this entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Which leads to an obvious question: If Pope Francis is such a science-booster, why is he avoiding the entire question of the Shroud’s authenticity? Why are his statements regarding the Shroud little more than veiled references to Jesus and the Christian faith? Could it be because he wants to have it both ways, like Sen. Rick Santorum, and leave “science to the scientists”, except when he doesn’t like the answers science reveals?

Officially, the Vatican hasn’t taken a stance on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, but apparently that won’t stop the Pope from giving every indication that he believes it is real and thus influencing millions of Shroud-believers. Taking this stance is essentially to make one big argument from ignorance – that’s what this entire endeavor basically boils down to: we don’t know whether or not the Shroud is real, so therefore it really was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

So because you don’t know, you know???

Seriously? That’s the argument? Using such sloppy logic I could just as easily argue that the Shroud was created by invisible leprechauns, but somehow I don’t think the Catholic Church would go with that explanation. And that’s the silly thing about arguments from ignorance: once you use such thinking as an acceptable method of argumentation, just about any kind of crazy idea (without any evidence to support it whatsoever) becomes fair game.

Ah well, at least the Pope got it right on climate change.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, global warming denial, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“The Limits of Skepticism?” Panel from Dragon*Con 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2014

In honor of the upcoming Skeptrack at Dragon*Con 2014, I wanted to share the video of my favorite panel from last year’s Skeptrack, titled “The Limits of Skepticism?”  In this panel, we discussed a variety of heady topics related to skepticism, philosophy, religion, God, politics, cultural issues and how far skepticism can and cannot go.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.

And, with that, here’s the video.  Enjoy! :)

The Limits of Skepticism?

The Limits of Skepticism 2 - DragonCon 2013


Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Vatican Pulls a Boner with St. Peter’s Alleged Remains

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 29, 2013

In light of the upcoming Holiday Season, I wanted to do a quick post regarding an interesting bit of news out of the Vatican recently; apparently, the Vatican is putting the supposed bones of St. Peter on public display for the very first time.  However, these may not be the bones true-believers are looking for…

Saint Peters Bones - maybe

It would be a real boner if the remains turned out to not be those of Saint Peter, wouldn’t it?(image source)

St. Peter’s Bones: Vatican ‘Verifies’ Remains Despite Archaeological Skepticism

As far as St. Peter’s bones go, many Catholic’s will no doubt be planning a pilgrimage to the Holy See, to view the bones purported to belong to St. Peter. The remains were revealed Sunday at St. Peter’s square, and the revelation was performed at St. Peter’s Square at the conclusion of the Catholic church’s “Year of Faith.”

This also happens to the first time St. Peter’s bones have ever been put on display since being discovered in 1939. But there is no DNA sample with which to make a comparison and no way of proving who the skeletal remains actually belong to. But the Vatican is declaring their “verification” regardless.

Pilgrims 8.5 million strong have journeyed to see the Vatican’s relics collection over the last year, but many are questioning whether or not the bones really belong to St. Peter. Peter was believed to have been martyred in Rome in 64 C.E. by being crucified upside down, and then buried in the city. Pope Paul VI said of St. Peter’s bones:

“[They had been identified] in a manner which we believe convincing.”

… Despite the lack of verification, and the fact that archeologists have disputed that they actually found St. Peter’s bones, the Vatican has found the identification “convincing” and has officially declared the bones to belong to St. Peter.

Pardon me if I’m just a bit skeptical of these claims, especially since there has been no independent verification that the remains are indeed those of St. Peter.  Sadly, the history of the Catholic Church is full of examples of pious frauds (such as the much-lauded Shroud of Turin) passed off on the faithful as the real thing when, at best, their authenticity is highly dubious.

Of course, in a time when the Church is struggling to keep asses in pews and money coming into the coffers, I suppose they’ll grab onto anything – no matter how questionable or tenuous – that they can.


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

DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack Panel – Limits of Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 6, 2013

The second panel in which I participated this past Labor Day weekend at DragonCon was a Skeptrack panel titled “Limits of Skepticism”.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.  In this discussion we ranged far and wide on the question of what is skepticism, what are the tools of skepticism, what are the limits of skepticism, and how skepticism can apply beyond the so-called “traditional” topics (UFOs, Bigfoot, creationism, etc).  I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!

DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack – Limits of Skepticism

Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

When Faith Fails: Vaccine-Denial Gets Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2013

Many times we think of vaccine deniers and picture Jenny McCarthy as the spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement.  She goes on and on about how her “mommy instinct” trumps all of modern medicine and insists it’s acceptable to prevent them from getting vaccinated; this despite the fact that kids can die without their vaccines.

Well, there is a disturbing new trend in the anti-vaccine movement: some parts of it have gotten religion… literally.  Apparently there is now a confluence of faith-healing with anti-vaccine sentiment, and it has gotten popular enough in some circles that it is – surprise – causing the outbreak of diseases such as the measles which were once thought to be practically wiped out.

Read on for more information:

There’s a Measles Outbreak at Vaccine-Denying Pastor Kenneth Copeland’s Fort Worth Church


Image source

For several days now, state health officials have been sounding the alarm about a nascent measles outbreak in North Texas. As of Friday, there had been nine confirmed cases, a number that will grow as new reports from local health agencies filter up to the state.

The epicenter of the outbreak is Tarrant County, which has now confirmed 10 cases, and the epicenter of cases in Tarrant County seems to be at Eagle Mountain International Church.

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivered the news in a sermon last Wednesday:

“There has been a … confirmed case of the measles from the Tarrant County Public Health Department. And that is a really big deal in that America, the United States has been essentially measles free for I think it’s 10 years. And so when measles pops up anywhere else in the United States, the health department — well, you know, it excites them. You know what I mean I don’t mean. I don’t mean they’re happy about it, but they get very excited and respond to it because it doesn’t take much for things like that to spread.”

The sermon was awkward, to say the least. Pearsons is the eldest daughter of megapastor Kenneth Copeland, and her church is one of the cornerstones of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, his sprawling evangelical empire. He’s far from the most vocal proponent of the discredited theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism, but, between his advocacy of faith healing and his promotion of the vaccine-autism link on his online talk show, he’s not exactly urging his flock to get their recommended shots. …

Hmm… a plague has struck these supposed chosen people.  The way I see it, you can have all the faith you want, but the infectious diseases out there don’t give a crap how devoted you are to your particular religion and/or god; it’s that simple.

In closing, if you’ll permit me a snarky comment directed towards the faith-healing crowd: perhaps this plague a sign from God, people… that you should vaccinate yourselves and your children!!!

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

“Evolving Universe / Evolving Faith” Series

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 10, 2013

Darwin Day is coming up, and I am happy to announce a new series on the issue of evolution, science, religion, reason, and faith from our friends at The Clergy Letter Project and Darkwood Brew.  The series is titled “Evolving Universe / Evolving Faith” and it starts on Sunday, Feb. 10th; check out the trailer below:

Posted in creationism, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Myths and Misconceptions About Christmas

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 15, 2012

Once again the season is upon us, when much of the world’s population celebrates Christmas and all the holiday trappings thereof.  I’ve made numerous posts on the subject before, including The Physics of Santa Claus, how the idea of Santa Claus can be used as a tool to teach critical thinking to kids (including a podcast interview I did on the subject), and the tongue-in-cheek celebration of Newtonmass :)

And, of course, along with all of that, there is not to be missed the chance to spread some skepticism and critical thinking regarding Christmas in general.  To help with that, my skeptical colleague Phil over at Skeptic Money has once again posted the Ultimate Christmas Quiz that you can use to test your (and that of your friends and family) knowledge of the holiday.  You might be surprised to learn about all of the myths and/or misconceptions which exist in popular culture about Christmas…

Ultimate Christmas Quiz

Ultimate Christmas Quiz

Note:  if you enjoy this quiz, check out The Ultimate Easter Quiz.

There are 12 questions below, how many will you get right?  Can you do better than your friends?  Your christian friends?

Pull out a piece of paper and mark your answers.

FYI… The answers are at the bottom (no cheating….) count your correct answers and see how you score.

The Ultimate Christmas Quiz – By David Fitzgerald

1. What year was Jesus born?

a. We don’t know for sure, since the gospels disagree irreconcilably.

b. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was during the reign of Herod the Great (died around 4 B.C.).

c. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 A.D.).

d. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was the year the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars.

e. D’uh! The year zero, of course.

2. According to the Gospels, what day was Jesus born?

a. Dec 25th.

b. Dec 24th.

c. No date is given in any gospel.

d. The day of the Winter Solstice.

e. The third night of Hanukkah.

3. What pagan holiday did later Christians “borrow” to celebrate Jesus’ birthday?

a. The Greek Brumalia festival

b. The Roman feast of Saturnalia

c. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”)

d. All of the above

e. None of the above

4. So what day was Jesus really born? 

a. Jan 6

b. Feb 2 (Groundhog Day)

c. March 25

d. We can’t be certain.

e. Sometime during Sukkoth, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles

5. According to Mark (the oldest gospel) where was Jesus born?

a. He doesn’t say.

b. By the chimney, with care.

c. In his parent’s house in Nazareth.

d. A manger in Bethlehem.

e. A cave in Bethlehem.

6. According to Luke, who were the Wise Men?

a. A group of 2 – 12 Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia.

b. Three kings of orient bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from afar.

c. There were no Wise Men.

d. Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.

e. Melchior of Persia, Caspar (or Gaspar) of India, and Balthazar of Arabia.

7. According to Matthew, who showed up on the night of Jesus’ birth?

a. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night

b. An angel and a multitude of the heavenly host

c. The prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna

d. Ten lords a-leaping

e. No one.

8. What happened after Jesus’ birth?

a. Impossible to say for sure – two of the gospels tell completely contradictory stories, and the other two say nothing.

b.  Good tidings were brought for him and his kin; and then figgy pudding, for they would not go until they get some.

c. Scary stuff: An angel warns Joseph via a dream to flee their home in Bethlehem for Egypt. Herod kills all the baby boys in the region. After Herod’s death, they return to Judea but are afraid of Herod’s son, so they move to Nazareth in Galilee instead (evidently, Matthew forgot that Galilee was ruled by Herod’s other son!).

d. Happy stuff: The shepherds spread the good news to all, baby Jesus is circumcised, and after the obligatory 40 days for ritual purity, brought to the temple in Jerusalem where prophets hail him as the Christ. They return home to Nazareth and go back to Jerusalem every year for Passover until Jesus is twelve.

e. We aren’t told, the gospels immediately cut to his adulthood.

9. Which of these traditional Christmas elements were originally pagan?

a. Christmas Trees

b. Yule Logs

c. The Birth of the Savior

d. Boughs of Holly and Sprigs of Mistletoe

e. All of the above

10. Where does the word “Yuletide” come from?

a. It’s an abbreviation of the Latin ultimus ides, “last holiday of the year.”

b. From Germanic/Old Norse “Jul-time” or “Jól-time” (the midwinter fest).

c. Named after Julius Caesar, who invented Sanctus Clausius, the Roman Santa Claus.

d. Named in honor of Hywll Tydd, ancient Welsh god of reindeer and socks.

e. Nordic priests copied the name from the Christian Christmastide.

11. Who started the War on Christmas?

a. True American Christian Fundamentalists and the Founding Fathers

b. Richard Dawkins

c. Godless atheists, the liberal media, gays and lesbians, activist judges, science teachers, lawyers, the ACLU, democrats and everyone else we hate.

d. The Jews

e. Al Qaida

12. Our familiar modern American “Santa Claus” is based on all these earlier figures, EXCEPT for:

a. The English Father Christmas, Charles Dickens’ characters and the Victorian cartoons of Thomas Nast.

b. The Dutch Santa, Sinterklaas or Goedheiligman

c. A de-horned, sanitized, anagram of Satan.

d. Mighty Norse thunder god Thor’s father, Odin

e. St. Nikolaos, 4th-century Greek bishop and patron saint of children.

Bonus Question! (re-gifted from the Ultimate Easter Quiz)

13. Who wrote these gospels, anyway?

a. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – I mean, come on, it says so right there.

b. Actually, none of the gospels even claim to be written by eyewitnesses -all were originally anonymous and written at least a generation later.

c. Well, it’s more like the end of first century for Mark and sometime in the early to mid 2nd century for the others, if you must know.

d. Hold on – Not only that, but Matthew and Luke just reworked Mark gospel, adding their own material and tweaking Mark’s text to better fit what they thought it should say.

Incidentally, if you want the answers, then you have to go visit Phil’s website for them.  Cheers! :D


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

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, Member of House Science Committee, Says “Evolution, Embryology, Big Bang Theory are ‘Lies Straight from the Pit of Hell’ “

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2012

But don’t take it from me, take it straight from his mouth…

First, allow me to state the obvious:

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system… we see two things from this idiotic tirade from Rep. Broun:

1. He engages in the typical creationist fear-mongering about evolutionary science that it is inherently evil, etc (hence the “Pit of Hell” reference).  I suppose we needn’t bother Rep. Broun with the annoying fact that many of his Christian brethren think evolution is just fine.

2. He, like far too many of his conservative colleagues in our government (I’m talking about YOU, Rep. Todd Akin), seem to have gone out of their way lately to declare war on any form of science they deem contrary to their ideology.  This includes not only denying evolution and denying climate science, and apparently basic info on human reproduction, but also rejecting certain pesky historical facts along the way.

Folks, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want people like this running my federal government.  This is why I so strongly support efforts like Science Debate, and why I think you should, too.  It is also why those of us who are defenders and advocates of science and skepticism should be involved in our political process.

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

“Creation Evidence Expo” Exposed

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 3, 2012

Recently, one of my skeptical colleagues – Louise Kellar – attended the Creation Evidence Expo in Indianapolis, IN and she wrote up a guest blog on it over at Freethought Blogs.  I wanted to share it with you here for two reasons: 1) it is a really thorough (and funny!) write-up of the whole event, and 2) Louise must have a much stronger stomach than me, because I don’t think I could have managed to attend this thing without rage-facing my brains out.

The entire post is quite long, but I wanted to emphasize one section which I considered to be very important…

Creation Evidence Expo Report

Louise Kellar – kickin’ it at the Creation Evidence Expo :)

… Dye kept putting up slides about education. “The aim of education should be to convert the mind into a living fountain and not a reservoir” and “Education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave.” After that he went on about how god was taken out of school in 1963 and shared some statistics with us. Now bear in mind these statistics are all the direct result of God being taken out of school. (Also this is the short list)

  • Violent crime up 995%
  • Suicide up 300%
  • Single parent families up 117%
  • STDs up 226%
  • Average SAT score down 80 points
  • Assaults on teachers up 7000%
  • Birth rate of unwed 10-14 year olds up 325% *last year he claimed it was 553%
  • 84% of cities are in financial trouble
  • 4000 churches close annually
  • No new members added to 50% of churches
  • 1400 pastors quit each month.

My mind was reeling from all these phony statistics, and of course he didn’t stop there. I am not even sure how he segued into the next topic. It was all about how evolutionists will try to trick you into not believing and he began explaining all the ways animals try to kill humans. He kept talking about how evolutionists will show up to your events and try to trick you. They will also stalk you and they will try their best to lead you away from god. “They kill, steal, and destroy.” He repeated that phrase about every minute. It appeared very much to be an attack on anyone who didn’t believe in creationism and how evil those people are. At one point he even mentioned that people will write bad things about him on the internet. I wonder if he saw what I said about him last year?

ZOMG – BEST FLOWCHART EVAR!!! Really, you can’t make this stuff up… even though the creationists kind of DID just make it up :)

This goofy flowchart (and the meme behind the statistics that Dye quoted above) were what I really wanted to make the focus of my comments in this post.  Those things clearly show what we who call ourselves skeptics and defenders of science are up against when we fight against creationism: namely, we are up against a worldview which is completely devoid of any scientific understanding at all.  Creationists are not only ignorant of scientific facts, they are ignorant of the entire process of science itself; and not only that, in many ways they are outright anti-scientific in their views because they have been convinced (likely through a lifetime of brainwashing in church and at events like the Creation Expo) that to accept evolutionary science will automatically turn one into a raving, immoral, baby-eating, murdering, AIDS-infested atheist intent on destroying all that is good and decent in society.  Hence, stupidity like the flowchart above *facepalm*

And, quite frankly, when you’re up against that kind of crazy, all the science in the world won’t help you win these folks over.

Which is why, in many cases, I don’t try to fight a creationist with whom I’m arguing solely with scientific facts (since they seem to be largely impervious to such facts); instead, while I mention scientific information, I also try to engage them in a bit of a different manner, one which I think is more effective… I use religion.  Specifically, I point out that the “evolution = atheism = evil” argument is completely bogus for one simple reason: there are numerous Christians (and people of other religious faiths) who accept evolution!

That one fact alone destroys their entire argument.  Showing them that people of their own religion (Christianity, usually) disagree with their views on creationism is a killer, and it can lead to – pardon the pun – quite a lot of soul-searching on the part of more thoughtful creationists.  In addition, I also engage them on the entire morality argument by challenging the assertion that atheists are inherently immoral and evil; this can, and often does, lead into deeper philosophical discussions on the nature of good, evil, ethics, etc.  While they may be ignorant of science, they’re all about morals, so why not engage them on those terms using language they can understand?

I’m not saying that it will win them over to the PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins camp of evolution, but one thing it will get them to do is THINK.  And that’s the first step.

Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Clergy Letter Project Adds Buddhists to List of Clergy Asking that Evolution be Taught in Public Schools

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 3, 2012

In a welcome bit of science education news, the Clergy Letter Project has announced that it is expanding its effort to include Buddhist clergy.  In case you don’t know, this is an effort to get clergy men and women to speak out publicly in support of teaching science (specifically, evolutionary science) in the public schools.  These clergy do not see any conflict between their religious beliefs and science, and I think it is an excellent way to counter the blatantly anti-scientific arguments espoused by many creationists.  Read on for more info…

American Buddhists join the Clergy Letter Project asking for the teaching of Evolution in public schools

Clergy who want science, including Evolution in schools, created the Clergy Letter Project and the chosen theme for this years “Evolution Weekend” is “Religion and Science” and marks the seventh year for the gathering of clergy to discuss science.

“Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.”

They believe that modern science, including Evolution, and religion are in harmony with each other.

To that end, American Buddhist clergy join in the voices of Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist clergy in writing letters supporting the teaching of Evolutions in public schools. …

Click here to read the entire article

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


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