Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Burzynski Clinic is a scam run by juveniles who threaten and intimidate

The Burzynski Clinic is a Houston-based “alternative” cancer treatment center. They prey on people’s desperation in the face of disease to charge exorbitant fees for a cancer “treatment” that doesn’t work.

This is not news. Info on Burzynski and his bogus treatment (called “antineoplaston therapy”) has been available on the web for a long time. What is news is that several months ago a high school student in Wales wrote an article for his blog in which he harshly criticized the Burzynski Clinic for exploiting people with cancer, and then the clinic responded by sending a fake lawyer to intimidate with threats of a libel suit. The “lawyer,” as you can see from his emails, is a real classy guy.

Rhys,

This is my THIRD AND FINAL WARNING to you.

Please convey this message to your entire Skeptic Network, which includes but not limited to, Ratbags.com, thetwentyfirstfloor, quackwatch, etc. I represent Dr. Burzynski, the Burzynski Clinic, and the Burzynski Research Institute. I’ve attached Azad Rastegar, and Renee Trimble from the Burzynski Clinic for your confirmation.

In the following weeks I will be giving authorization to local attorneys in multiple countries to pursue every defamation libel case online, including your online libelous statements. I suggest you shut down your entire online defamation campaign about Dr. Burzynski, and remove ALL recent or previous comments off the internet IMMEDIATELY. The minute you post any libelous comments online about my client I will pursue you and your parents/guardians To the Full Extent of the Law. I have no obligation to train you, or teach you, the meaning of defamation. Google it, or go to the library and research it.

This is a very serious matter. Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as (my address). If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.

Again, this is my FINAL WARNING TO YOU.

Regards,

Marc Stephens

(Screen capture of Google Maps satellite view of my house)

“DO AS I SAY OR ELSE! I’M TOTALLY SERIOUS!”

I love the part where he includes a picture of Rhys’ house as seen on Google Maps. I’m not sure if this makes Marc Stephens look more like a lawyer or a stalker – but he sucks at both. This guy has all the powers of intimidation of a five year old.

Rhys is handling all of this extremely well, despite his young age (I would not have done so well when I was 17, I’ll tell you that). You can read the details of the Burzynski Clinic’s attempts to silence him at his blog.

One of the wonderful things about charlatans trying to silence and intimidate on the Internet is that it always backfires. Rhys has asked other bloggers for a bit of help with this:

Add a link to this blog from your website so that it will increase the PageRank for this blog so that when patients search for Burzynski, they discover this blog as well as Dr Burzynski’s propaganda. This way, they can discover the whole truth and determine for themselves whether it’s worth investing in his treatment.

Many skeptical bloggers have done just that. Here’s one more.

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The Catholic Church wants us to believe in exorcism, but not Harry Potter

The idea of an exorcism is, I think, one that I would have found ridiculous even when I was a believing Catholic. It just smacks too much of the kinds of magical explanations invented by ancient humans who had no idea how the world works. Apollo drives the sun across the sky each day? Sure, why not.

Christianity got its start during these times, and it hasn’t let go of the old mythologies, even though the rest of the world has moved on when it comes to blindly accepting as true magical explanations that cannot be verified. Case in point: exorcism.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches, in all seriousness, that the Devil takes control of people’s bodies. From a 2010 New York Times article on the subject:

Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned; extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.

Now if you could take control of people’s bodies and you wanted to sow evil in the world, would use your power to make people bite themselves? I would think it more effective to take a person in a position of power, say in the government or in a large corporation, and use that power to perpetuate violence or economic collapse. Maybe start a war, maybe enslave the masses. Something like that. But biting yourself? Seems like that’s aiming a little low.

But see, I’m already thinking about this more than those who create such myths. Someone was acting crazy? The Devil made them do it. Mystery solved! It’s best not to bother with all the little details (and the devil is in those too, you see).

These stories are silly. Any person with half a brain can see that. And if you can believe in this nonsense, what else can you believe in?

Harry Potter, apparently. A brand new article in The Telegraph quotes a Catholic priest saying some very silly things about demons and wizards (the least of which being that he thinks one of those is real).

Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”.

Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest…

The Harry Potter books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, “seem innocuous” but in fact encourage children to believe in black magic and wizardry, Father Amorth said.

I would think that any misconceptions a child had about the existence of magic would be allayed upon realizing that it isn’t really possible to fly on brooms or turn people into frogs. But even if some young Harry Potter fans have been deluded into thinking that their fantasy books are, um, not fantasy, is there really much harm in it? Eventually they’ll realize that all events, even the most magical-seeming ones, have natural explanations, and that’s what makes reality different from fantasy. The truth is right there for you to see.

Ah, that’s the problem then. Religious people such as Father Amorth actually want children, and adults, to believe in magic – as long as it’s their kind of magic. Amorth doesn’t want us to reject “truths” that can’t be verified, because then we’d reject the mythology that is his religion, as well. This is why it’s common for religious people to act as if they’re threatened by mere fiction – because if you’re already amenable to believing one set of myths about reality, what’s to stop you from believing another? A rational person would say the idea of making objects float using magical words is silly. But you can’t think Harry Potter is silly without thinking that demon possession and zombie messiahs are silly as well. And that’s the problem for the Catholic Church – they want you to buy their stories, but not anyone else’s.

(via Pharyngula)

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Being honest about who’s having sex

Bah, there have been a whole bunch of good articles and blog posts that I’ve wanted to comment on over the past couple of weeks, and I haven’t had the time! So for the next couple of days, I’m going to try and crank the posts out, so that my comments end up only being slightly dated. ;)

The first thing I want to do is share with you a thought experiment that Greta Christina stole from Darrell Ray. In this post, Greta was explaining how the research on sex shows that religious people (who have multifarious rules about sex) have just as much sex and break just as many of those “rules” as non-religious people.

Believers and atheists have about the same kinds of sex at about the same rate: they’re just about as likely to have gay sex, have extra-marital sex, have kinky sex, watch porn, masturbate, etc.

This is true. For example, 95% of Americans have had premarital sex. This is morally wrong according to much more than 5% of the country, but we do it anyway, and we’ve been doing it since at least the 1950’s.

So religious people have made up these rules for themselves, but they by-and-large do not follow them! And what Darrell Ray has provided is an interesting way of picturing this. According to Greta, Ray was giving a talk at an atheist conference last month, and he asked the audience, “How many of you masturbate? How many of you have had extra-marital sex? How many of you have watched porn?” Most people unabashedly put their hands up. Ray then pointed out that this absolutely would not have happened if he’d asked the question at any church, synagogue, or mosque. However, we know from research on sexual activity that the answers would have been the same! Just as many people would have been required to put their hands up! The main difference between the religious and the non-religious isn’t what sexual acts they engage in, but the fact that former feel ashamed for doing it.

This is a powerful image for me. I imagine a speaker asking these questions at mass at the church I used to go to, and the vast majority of the adults in the room raising their hands. I say to myself, “Most of these people think they’re wrong for having done this!”

But are they? If you’re religious, imagine this scene at your own place of worship. The people raising their hands are your friends, family members, and neighbors, people who do good things in their personal lives and in your community. Is there really a problem with this picture? Have they really done anything that they should be ashamed of?

I would say “no.” There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex for its own sake… with a friend, with a fling, or with the love of your life. What matters is whether or not you treated the other person well (and why wouldn’t you? You’re a good person!) What matters is being honest, communicative, thoughtful, and giving towards your partner. That’s what real morality is all about.

So how about we all just admit that we like sex, and that’s okay. Then we can start talking about how to treat others well, and making sure we’re treated well in return.

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Filed under Atheism, Morality, Religion, Sex

Making sense of Christianity

I like this a lot.

Dear Evangelical Christians:

God here.

First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,000,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous. Grow a brain.

Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors, their credibility or their possible ulterior motives, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims…

Click here for the rest.

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William Lane Craig explains how he gave up on reason to become a Christian

William Lane Craig is a well-known theologian, author, and Christian apologist. People I associate with tend not to like him very much, because he ignores the substance of his opponents’ arguments during debates, he’s a pompous windbag, and he thinks genocide and infanticide are a-okay if God says so. (This article explains the last two.)

But I’ve just come across the story of how Craig became a Christian (it’s part of a Q&A on his website), and it’s quite amazing. In his answer to a Christian asking him how he deals with doubt, Craig admits: he didn’t accept Christianity because of the evidence, he wanted very badly for Christianity to be true, and ignoring reason played a large part in his conversion. This is fascinating, because in debates Craig always attempts to give a strong rational argument for why his religion must be true, and yet in this letter he admits that his beliefs do not rest on reason at all – but on the intricate machinery of self-deception. Craig tells us all this without seeming to understand how damning an admission it is!

The Q&A begins with a question from a 21-year-old Christian, named Steven, who asks Craig how he deals with doubt. Steven is very honest:

Right now it feels like I believe in God on a good day but doubt His existence on another day. But even on those good days it only really feels like I take comfort in the prospect of God’s existence and it’s not that I actually believe in Him. I want to believe in God more than anything. I understand what happens if God doesn’t exist and I can’t live with thinking that. But the thing is I can’t force myself into belief. There will be days when I have to tell myself there’s meaning just so I can take joy in being with my family and friends, that it isn’t all pointless. It’s as if I’m in a balance of belief and non-belief, tipping back and forth as the days go by.

Bravo to Steven for his intellectual honesty! He desperately wants to believe in God, but he just doesn’t find the idea convincing. It’s a shame he thinks “it’s all pointless” without God, because as millions of affirmed atheists around the world can tell him – it isn’t. But if I were to give Steven advice, I would say it’s important to recognize that the only reason he’s still searching for evidence for God is because doesn’t like the alternative. He’s not searching for evidence because he thinks there’s anything to find – but because he wants to escape a conclusion that he finds unappealing. It’s a bad idea to let your emotions influence you in this way if what you’re interested in is truth.

Enter Craig, with an account of how he dealt with doubt on his own road to evangelical Christianity.

Craig starts off by admitting that he became a Christian not because it made sense, but because it made him feel good.

…I became a Christian my third year of high school, not through any careful consideration of the evidence, but because the Christian students who shared the Gospel with me seemed to be living on a different plane of reality than I was. Their faith in Christ imparted meaning to their lives along with a joyous peace, which I craved.

After high school, Craig went off to study theology at Wheaton College, where the prevailing atmosphere was that one’s beliefs should be based on argument and evidence. One of Craig’s theology professors commented that if he thought Christianity were unreasonable, he would renounce it. Sounds like a good idea to me, especially if you’re interested in whether or not Christianity is true.

This commitment to reason scared Craig, however, and he did the thing that many religious people do when they find the evidence for their beliefs lacking: he gave up on reason.

Now that frightened and troubled me. For me, Christ was so real and had invested my life with such significance that I could not make the confession of my professor. If somehow through my studies my reason were to turn against my faith, then so much the worse for my reason! It would only mean that I had made some mistake in my reasoning.

If you give up on reason, then how do you know whether what you believe is true? What else can “faith” mean here other than “what I want to believe, because it feels safe and comfortable”? Craig seems to think it is convincing proof of Christianity that the idea of Christ invested his life with such significance – as if no person has ever made themselves feel better with a lie. Surely this must be what Craig thinks every member of every other religion is doing – deluding themselves, deriving meaning and comfort from mistaken beliefs about reality. How does Craig know he isn’t doing the same? Reason and evidence are the tools he would have needed to distinguish between truth and self-delusion. But Craig threw those tools away so that he wouldn’t have to question the beliefs that were so important to him.

Then Craig denigrates the very concept of evidence:

God has provided a more secure foundation for our faith than the shifting sands of evidence and argument.

Ah, yes – the troublesome “shifting sands” of evidence. Never mind that these shifting sands have given us knowledge that is rock-solid enough to eradicate smallpox, put humans on the moon, and calculate how old the universe is. It is the sands of evidence for Christianity and other superstitions in particular that seem to keep shifting. Has Craig ever considered that this might be because there is no evidence?

So what are Craig’s beliefs based on if not evidence? The answer is: feelings.

I hold that argument and evidence play an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true, but a contingent and secondary role in our personally knowing Christianity to be true. The proper ground of our knowing Christianity to be true is the inner work of the Holy Spirit…

Also:

[God] has given us the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit as the proper foundation for our knowledge of the great truths of the Gospel.

Basically, you just feel it in your heart that two thousand years ago the son of God was born of a human virgin, performed miracles, absolved us of our sins when he died, and then rose bodily into an ethereal other realm. That’s some pretty specific information to derive from a feeling! But no matter, Craig says it can happen. It’s fine with me if people claim to have such feelings, but again, how do we know these feelings tell us something that’s true? How can we differentiate between the people who feel Krishna or Allah in their hearts (who are clearly mistaken), and the people who feel Jesus? The “testimony of the holy spirit” is hardly a foundation for knowledge if you have no reason to believe it exists.

Nonetheless, Craig advises fledgling Christians to assume that the holy spirit exists, to invite God into their hearts, read the Bible, pray, confess their sins, and go to church – basically to be Christian – and then the holy spirit will make itself known to them.

Of course, people have done this. People have earnestly and honestly asked God to come into their hearts, and still been left out in the cold (I really urge you to read this short, yet powerful story of such by Langston Hughes.)

Craig would blame these people for their failure to believe. Their mind wasn’t truly open to the holy spirit!

But why does the holy spirit need such assistance? Having an open mind means not ruling out possibilities before you’ve started your investigation. Craig, however, wants us to rule out the possibility of Christianity being false! He advises us to assume that God is real, to have conversations with him, and to socialize with other humans having the same delusion… and then we will come to believe!

Is it any wonder?

Yes, human psychology is such that if you bias the mind in this way, especially if you have people act as if something is true, their thoughts will come to coincide with their actions. You hardly need a magical spirit for this to occur – wishful thinking, socialization, and dissonance reduction will do it for you.

Keep in mind that every non-religious truth that humans have discovered did not require a mind biased in favor of that truth to accept. One does not have to assume the existence of atoms or continental plates to be convinced they are real – the evidence is convincing enough, and it has convinced even those who did not want to be (aka those who were biased against the hypothesis.) One wonders why God cannot be more convincing than plate tectonics.

In the end, Craig not only eschews the need for evidence of God, but he makes belief in God completely unfalsifiable!

Be on guard for Satan’s deceptions. Never lose sight of the fact that you are involved in a spiritual warfare and that there is an enemy of your soul who hates you intensely, whose goal is your destruction, and who will stop at nothing to destroy you. Which leads me to ask: why are you reading those infidel websites anyway, when you know how destructive they are to your faith? These sites are literally pornographic (evil writing) and so ought in general to be shunned. Sure, somebody has to read them and refute them; but why does it have to be you? Let somebody else, who can handle it, do it. Remember: Doubt is not just a matter of academic debate or disinterested intellectual discussion; it involves a battle for your very soul, and if Satan can use doubt to immobilize you or destroy you, then he will.

Yes! Once you become convinced that Christianity is true, you must be sure to never think too hard again, because what looks like reasonable doubt might actually be Satan!

And thus is Craig’s abrogation of reason complete. In his account, Craig made it clear that he accepted belief in Christianity because it gave him comfort, and he looked for ways to sustain that belief in spite of what his intelligent mind was telling him. Now, he is so committed to maintaining that delusion that he has come up with ways to justify never questioning his beliefs again.

If you see Craig in a debate, or read one of his books in which he lays out arguments for God’s existence, keep in mind that his belief does not actually rest on evidence or reason. He merely uses arguments to win people over to his side.

(h/t Dia Pente)

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