A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 13 No. 5

May 2014

"If the brain evolved by natural selection...religious beliefs must have arisen by the same mechanism."--E. O. Wilson

What's New?

Skeptic's Dictionary new: GMOs and 10 Facts About Skepticism (a tongue-in-cheek list based on a transcendental meditation page).

Unnatural Virtue podcast on Skepticalitythe clustering illusion and dead bankers.

Reader Comments: Emotional Freedom Techniques; the JREF $1,000,000 prize.

Skeptic's Dictionary revised: Rudolf Steiner.

Skeptic's Dictionary updates: homeopathy; shroud of Turin; facilitated communication; and the chiropractor who advertises as an expert on the thyroid.

Dreaming Impossible Dreams

Escher staircaseI remain fascinated by the many Escher staircase minds I've encountered. Now there is a website for these folks: The Museum of Unworkable Devices (MUD) created by physicist Donald E. Simanek. In some ways MUD is a tribute to Bob Schadewald (1943-2000), whose sister edited a book collection of some of her brother's best published and unpublished work. Worlds of Their Own, a Brief History of Misguided Ideas was reviewed by Simanek for Skeptical Inquirer in 2008. The blurb on Amazon.com for Schadewald's book claims that "the modern 'intelligent design' movement is almost a carbon copy of the 19th century flat-Earth movement in its argumentative techniques." Some historians of skepticism might find this book worth resurrecting.

Speaking of Escher Staircase Minds....

I read The Unpersuadables: Adventures With the Enemies of Science by Will Storr after reading a review by Michael Shermer. Storr examines the work (and sometimes the character) of such people as David Irving, Rupert Sheldrake, John Mack, and a host of others who believe such things as that climate change is a hoax and who defend such things as past life regression, creationism, homeopathy, a weird form of yoga taught by Swami Ramdev, Vipassana meditation, and recovered memory therapy. He also has a chapter on people who claim to have Morgellons. Shermer writes in his review that "Storr’s purpose is to understand more than it is to debunk, but he gives his readers enough information to test the verisimilitude of his characters' claims" and "the subtle brilliance of The Unpersuadables is Storr’s style of letting his subjects hang themselves by their own words." (Note: Outside of the U.S., Storr's book is titled The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science.)

After reading the book, I felt like Shermer left some important things out, such as mention of the chapter on James Randi where Randi admits that he's a dishonest liar and that he favors voluntary sterilization of mentally defective people. Shermer also didn't mention that he interviewed Richard Wiseman and found Wiseman to be on par with Rupert Sheldrake in terms of confirmation bias and confabulation. Nor did Shermer mention that Storr attended a skeptic's conference in England where the 10:23 stunt by skeptics was performed in various places around the world. The stunt was to demonstrate the folly of homeopathy by committing "mass suicide" with homeopathic sleeping pills. Storr interviewed several skeptics and was not impressed with their rationality or their claims of evidence-based beliefs. He found the skeptics cocksure and unyielding. Both skeptics and true believers are portrayed by Storr as thinking of themselves as heroes and their foes as demons.

For many Skeptics, evidence-based truth has been sacralised. It has caused them to become irrational in their judgements of the motives of those with whom they do not agree. They have also sacralised reason. When we spoke, James Randi was chilling in his expression of where pure logic can ultimately lead.

After reading the book, I went to Shermer's blog and read his review again to see if I had missed anything. I hadn't. Then I read some comments on his review and found one that resonated with my thoughts: "I read the book based on Michael Shermer’s very selective and misleading review. The Unpersuadables is a fascinating read, but not for the reasons Shermer suggests, and probably less than half the book deals with the people Shermer mentions." A good part of the book deals with Storr's own personal problems, a review of the latest research in the UK and Australia on the brain and a few salient cognitive biases and illusions, and his eloquent but ultimately unconvincing argument that our beliefs are just stories we've concocted to bolster our intuitions (formed in the unconscious mind) and build our self-esteem. He sums up and elaborates on this notion of story building in an epilogue that cries out for an editor to cut, cut, cut. I think Storr drones on and on and on in the epilogue because his intuition told him that he's got it wrong, while his ego urged him to keep on keeping on. He even admits he has it wrong.

I am also concerned that I have overstated my argument. In my haste to write my own coherent story, I have barely acknowledged the obvious truth that minds do sometimes change. People find faith and they lose it. Mystics become Skeptics. Politicians cross the floor. I wonder why this happens. Is it when the reality of what is actually happening in our lives overpowers the myth that we make of themselves? Are we simply pursuing ever more glorious hero missions?

Or maybe, just maybe, some people some of the time, overcome their natural inclinations to confirm their biases and confabulate. Anyway, that's the position I take in The Critical Thinker's Dictionary. Like Storr, I believe that unconscious biases drive us to believe and do things that the conscious mind explains in self-serving stories, making us appear more rational to ourselves than we really are. But I also believe that, while difficult, it is possible to train ourselves to overcome or at least mitigate the effect of our biases. In each of the more that sixty entries on biases, fallacies, and illusions reviewed in The Critical Thinker's Dictionary, I try to offer at least one tip on how to overcome them. One way, for example, to mitigate biases regarding patterns and causal reasoning is to choose the results of properly done randomized, control-group studies over the intuitions of personal experience. Storr recognizes the power of randomized, blinded, control group studies that are designed to minimize the effects of bias. No method is perfect, but to depict all of us all of the time as making stuff up and confirming our biases seems obviously false. Storr is right: "We are creatures of illusion . We are made out of stories." But that's not all we are. And it is worthwhile to try to work out a method to distinguish which stories are keepers and which should be tossed on the trash heap.

Ignorance

In addition to being story makers, we are also curious investigators of nature, ourselves, and our relationship to the people and world around us. Ignorance: How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein demonstrates just how valuable our curiosity is even though we can't achieve absolute certainty. Why? Well, critical thinkers have learned that one of the most effective ways to minimize bias in thinking is to try to falsify rather than try to confirm a claim or a belief. We also benefit from asking ourselves what we don't know rather than just looking for more evidence to support what we think we already know. Firestein provides several case studies that are good examples of how the search for knowledge is not just the search for confirmation of our biases.

Another book that counters the notion that we are nothing but confabulators and mythmakers is The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery by journalist George Johnson. His wife was diagnosed with cancer and Johnson set out to learn everything he could about the disease and the various treatments now used or proposed by those who treat cancer. He had no set of beliefs to confirm when he started his quest. There would be no advantage in fooling yourself about cancer or cancer treatments. Your self-interest should drive you to weed out the wheat from the chaff from the unknown. The Cancer Chronicles is a compelling read, full of information that should make it clear to anyone who understands what we know about cancer that the story science tells is significantly more probable than the story told by homeopaths or other quacks who claim to be able to cure cancer with vibrations, prayers, or coffee enemas. This last point is hammered home by Michael Shermer in his book The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. While the title of Shermer's book reveals that he agrees with Storr (and yours truly) that many of our beliefs are constructed and reinforced by cognitive biases such as confirmation bias. But unlike Storr, Shermer understands that science, while not perfect, has methods far superior to those of us who collect our beliefs the natural way, driven by evolutionary forces that have made our brains such great deceivers. Shermer may write that "Homo rationalis—that species of human who carefully weighs all decisions through cold, hard logic and rational analysis of the data— is not only extinct but probably never existed." But we are not helpless. Science, Shermer notes, is the best tool we have for discovering the truth. Anyone who can ponder the entirety of the scientific corpus and proclaim that these are just stories, is either mad or a liar. I take this point one step further in The Critical Thinker's Dictionary. We must be skeptical even of science. Scientists can unconsciously bias the way they set up their experiments. Just because the methods used in science have been designed to reduce bias does not mean that scientists are immune to all the follies that plague the rest of us.

Me, Myself, and My Brain

That's the title of chapter one of Patricia Churchland's memoir about her life and how it connects to her career as one of the founders of neurophilosophy. Churchland (b. 1943) had a distinguished academic career, including serving as Chair of the Philosophy Department at UC San Diego from 2000-2007. When I left UCSD in 1974 with my Ph.D. in a box, neurophilosophy didn't exist, though there were plenty of philosophers going back more than two millennia who denied the existence of non-material reality. There were even a few twentieth-century philosophers who identified the mind with the brain. One was Gilbert Ryle, whose Concept of Mind was the text for a course taught by visiting professor Raziel Abelson and attended by just one student: me. (About all I remember of my time with Abelson was that we met once a week in his office to discuss each chapter of the book and he usually showed up with a fencing sword in one hand and a helmet in the other.)

Churchland's Touching a Nerve: the Self as Brain is an interesting, informative, and entertaining read. Central to her story is that the brain and the mind are two aspects of the same thing. Her view of the self isn't much different from the view that Storr defends in The Unpersuadables: much of who we are is driven by unconscious processes. Churchland, however, emphasizes that it is misleading to refer to the self as an illusion just because it is a construction of the brain. The ancient Greek idea of know thyself has been shown by neuroscience to be impossible, but it doesn't follow from that that we can know nothing about ourselves any more than the fact that we can't be absolutely certain that our scientific theories are the best models of reality possible means that we must remain totally ignorant of the universe we find ourselves in. And even though an essential part of who we are--our memories--are constructed just as our perceptions are constructed, that doesn't mean that there are no accurate memories or perceptions and no way to distinguish between the accurate and the inaccurate ones. The fact that we can only know the world as it appears to us rather than as it is appears to other creatures with other sensory apparatus tells us something about the nature of our knowledge. It doesn't tell us that there is no such thing as knowledge.

One of the more interesting chapters in Churchland's book is on Aggression and Sex. And one of the more interesting sections in that chapter concerns how the brain affects gender identity and sexual preference. Needless to say, it's complicated, but here is a point where neuroscience clearly shows that the philosophical or theological belief that being gay or feeling like a man in a woman's body or a woman in a man's body is not a moral choice. Hence, any moral judgment that being gay or transgender is immoral is simply wrong.

Churchland is optimistic that neuroscience will eventually help us discover the essential nature of consciousness--I know, essences are a thing of the past--or what is really true about consciousness and how the brain gives rise to consciousness and the sense of self. Neuroscientist Robert Burton, on the other hand, thinks there may be limits to how much the brain is going to reveal about itself (speaking metaphorically, of course). Burton's A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves provides a kind of balance between Storr's pessimism and Churchland's optimism regarding the scientific quest to understand ourselves. Burton's earlier book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, is also an excellent read. (Harriet Hall reviewed both of Burton's books.)

Another interesting book on the brain and consciousness is The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley. I bought the book years ago, started reading it, got distracted, and set it on a shelf where it waited patiently for over a decade for me to return and dust it off. There is much about the book that is pure speculation and does not resonate with me. I'm referring to Schwartz's belief that he may have discovered a new force in nature--the mental force--and that quantum physics is the key to understanding consciousness. Anyway, the part I find interesting is in the discussion of the relationship of the brain to the mind. The brain gives rise to the mind, but the mind can affect the brain and through the brain the rest of the body. That much Descartes knew several hundred years ago. I was not convinced by Descartes or by Schwartz (or his intellectual comrade in arms, David Chalmers) that this fact means that the mind is a separate kind of reality and exists (or can exist) independently of the brain. But the fact that the mind can affect the brain does imply, in my opinion, that the two are not identical. The brain is not the mind and the mind is not the brain.

Schwartz exploited this power of the mind to affect the brain in developing a type of treatment for OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) patients. He taught them to use their minds to remind themselves when the obsessive thoughts kept churning through their consciousness that it was their brain at work. The patients were to then give their minds and bodies something else to be occupied with (for example, gardening) to drive out the compulsive ideas.

Schwartz writes that "neuroplasticity means rewiring the brain," i.e., establishing new neural pathways. This can happen automatically, as when the brain rewires itself after an injury to a part of the brain. For example, a particular motor action, like moving your left arm, might be linked to a particular part of the right hemisphere. If that part of the brain is damaged rendering the left arm immobile, another part of the brain might take up the task of linking itself to movement of the left arm, thereby restoring a motor function that may have been lost due to, say, a stroke or an accident. Rewiring can also occur in response to behavior and this is the kind of rewiring that Schwartz was interested in with his OCD patients. Schwartz developed a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that, he says, rewires his patients' brains.

In the late 1980s, he and some colleagues did PET scans of twenty-four patients and compared the scans to those of "normal controls." Here is what they found: "....our OCD volunteers showed hypermetabolic activity in the orbital frontal cortex [OFC]....The scans showed, too, a trend toward hyperactivity in the caudate nucleus. Another group [of researchers] had found that a closely related structure, the anterior cingulate gyrus, was also pumped up in the brains of OCD patients....By 1990, five different studies by three different research teams had all shown elevated metabolism in the orbital frontal cortex in patients with OCD....Other research indicated that the function of the orbital frontal cortex is to detect errors, alerting you when something is amiss. When expectations and reality are in harmony, this area of the brain quiets down." OCD patients, Schwartz found, can't quiet down this area of the brain. He found a form of CBT that quiets down the OFC as well as another overactive area of the brain of his OCD patients, the striatum. He called the overactivity "brain lock" and compared it to being in a loop that you can't get out of. The loop was between several parts of the brain, which he called the OCD circuit. Schwartz refers to his treatment program as the Four Step Method. It involves training patients to recognize that they have "a brain wiring problem" due to "an abnormality in their brain's metabolism." Then patients must "refocus on a pleasant, familiar 'good habit' kind of behavior." According to Schwartz, "refocusing changes which brain circuits become activated." The last step of the method involves recognizing that you are not your brain and that your faulty brain is what causes your obsessions and compulsions. The patient learns to devalue his symptoms and attends to them as if he were a spectator.

To test his method, Schwartz did PET scans on "eighteen drug-free OCD patients before and after they underwent ten weeks of the Four Steps....Twelve of the patients improved significantly....In these, PET scans after treatment showed significantly diminished metabolic activity in both the right and left caudate, with the right-side decrease particularly striking. There was also a significant decrease in the abnormally high, and pathological, correlations among activities in the caudate, the orbital frontal cortex, and the thalamus in the right hemisphere....The interpretation was clear: therapy had altered the metabolism of the OCD circuit." Schwartz considered this the first evidence of any form of non-drug treatment for a psychiatric disorder having "the power to change brain chemistry in a well-defined brain circuit." He called this "reprogramming the brain." The patients had replaced pathological neural circuitry with healthy neural circuitry.

Schwartz also provides two striking examples from musicians that illustrate the pros and cons of neural rewiring. In one case, a musically gifted young woman suffered from severe seizures that led her to have large parts of her brain removed, including a section of the right temporal lobe where the brain stores musical memories. Yet, after the surgery, her musical memory was intact. Doctors suspect that her brain had been damaged when she was a toddler, perhaps by the measles, and that other regions of her brain took up the task of musical memory. The second case involves a pianist who started playing the piano at age six and practiced for up to eight hours a day for the next thirteen years. Then suddenly, the woman whose fingers could "fly over the keys in a blur" while playing the difficult and demanding Mozart Twentieth Piano Concerto in D Minor, couldn't find the correct notes and could barely get her fingers to the keyboard. "The thumb on her left hand drooped and refused to rise to the keyboard. Other fingers, on both hands, would rise unbidden when a neighboring digit reached for a note." After being rebuffed by a hand doctor, a psychiatrist, and several doctors, she got desperate and tried acupuncture, Alexander technique, yoga, and breathing exercises. Nothing worked. Finally, one doctor told her that she had "focal hand dystonia." It involves loss of control of individual finger movements and "can strike pianists, flutists, guitarists, and other string players and is believed to reflect the brain's response to many hours of daily practice that serious musicians engage in, often from a young age." For most accomplished musicians, practice is what lays down the neural pathways that allow them to perform so well. But for some, the neural wiring backfires. The technical name is use-dependent cortical reorganization. The brain gets rewired alright, but the result is not pretty. I've wondered if something analogous to focal hand dystonia doesn't happen to some athletes. Suddenly, an excellent pitcher or second baseman can't control throwing a baseball. In golf, we call it the yips. The cases of Steve Blass, Chuck Knoblauch, and Steve Sax come to mind.

Neurotheology: Gateway to The Brain's Greatest Story?

How, asks Matthew Alper in The "God" Part of the Brain, might it have been an advantage to believe in a spiritual reality, if, in fact, no such thing exists? The short answer is that belief in non-existent beings and processes can alleviate fear and anxiety. We think of ourselves as the only animal fully aware of our own mortality. Sure, every animal does what it can to preserve itself. We want more than preservation. We don't want to die at all. So we invent stories about a glorious afterlife to be enjoyed for all eternity after our brief stay on planet Earth. As an added bonus to our emotional gratification, we invent stories of terrible torments to be suffered by our enemies long after they are dead.

Alper was one of the first to apply the principles of the new science of sociobiology--now usually referred to as evolutionary psychology--to religious beliefs and practices. This line of inquiry now has a name of its own: neurotheology. Unlike many true believers or true atheists who decide to write a book about religion and belief in gods, Alper comes out of no particular discipline with no particular axe to grind. He presents himself as an inquirer wanting to believe in a god and an afterlife but also wanting to know the truth regarding what we know about the existence of a being corresponding to the idea of the god of the medieval Christian and Jewish theologians: a being with almighty powers, eternal, all-knowing, creator of all that is. His quest is guided by science, however, not by the speculations of generations of philosophers and theologians. In particular, Alper is guided by neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Like many evolutionary psychologists, he finds the idea of god to be an adaptive mechanism, primarily beneficial for helping us cope with our fear of death.

The author's style and manner makes The 'God' Part of the Brain an easy read. In chapter after chapter, Alper asks questions and investigates, following the evidence and the logic wherever it seems to go. Along the way, he looks into many issues, including why America is so religious and how morality is independent of spiritual or religious notions.

We humans have created many stories about gods and life after death. None of them are likely to be true. And whatever benefits religions may have brought to groups of people, they have also brought much misery. Whether Alper and the neurotheologian's story that puts 'god' in the brain as an adaptive mechanism with no referent outside the brain, much less outside the universe, is true is not something I'm prepared to judge. I'm not sure I agree with Alper that a world without belief in god would be a more peaceful and happy world. There are lots of reasons humans are cruel and vicious; religious reasons are just one type. I do agree that religion and gods are not necessary for morality. I also think there is a better way than belief in immortality to overcome the fear of death: spend a long time thinking deeply about what it would be like to live forever.

Supremes Give Thumbs Up to Prayer at Civic Meetings

"By inviting ministers to serve as chaplain for the month,...the town is acknowledging the central place that religion and religious institutions hold in the lives of those present," said Justice Anthony Kennedy. If some citizens hear prayers that "make them feel excluded and disrespected," they should ignore them, he said. "Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable." In other words, in your face, non-Christians! Forget the fact that the town meetings are held to deal with such problems as patching up the potholes in the roads or restricting water usage during a drought. I guess it's good to know if your elected officials think they need help from an invisible guy in the sky to guide them in planning their city's future.

I think Justice Kagan got it right in her dissent: the majority might view the matter differently had a "mostly Muslim town" opened its session with Muslim prayers or if a Jewish community invited a rabbi every month.

Whatever else one reads into the ruling that civic events with chaplains and denominational prayers do not violate the First Amendment's prohibition of making laws respecting an establishment of religion, the 5-4 decision hammers home once more the old adage that the Constitution means whatever at least five of the Supremes say it means. Despite the lip service paid by some justices to "originalism" and "strict constructonism," the justices seem to rely on original intent only when it serves their political ideologies. In this case, though, I think the originalists might have a case. The ink wasn't dry on the Constitution before Christian chaplains were introduced in both houses of the federal legislature. Then there's the "in God [sic] we trust" on our paper money and the approval of "under God [sic]" in the Pledge of Allegiance. There have been crosses on many public lands for most of this country's existence. These traditions may have been allowed to start and to continue because the Founders didn't mean to abolish religion from the public arena. They simply meant to forbid establishing a state religion. To them that meant that neither Episcopalian nor Presbyterian nor Methodist nor any other Christian sect would be favored by the government. But it didn't mean that Christianity would be barred from the town square.

Whatever the Founders intended doesn't matter anyway. The only way for non-Christians to prevent being bullied by Christians is to pack the Supreme Court with justices who think like Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginzberg, and Breyer.

Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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reader comments

I have read your newsletter and website for over a decade. When I opened up and read your latest email newsletter, I was bit surprised by your attack on Wiseman and Randi in your book review of the Unpersuadables (a book which I haven't had an opportunity to read yet). Do you think Storr's criticism of Wiseman and Randi stand up? I had heard about Randi's alleged Social Darwinism, but when I asked someone who knows him about it, the person claimed that Randi had been maliciously misquoted.

Sincerely,

David Harding

reply: I suppose if I were a cautious journalist I should have put 'allegedly' before 'admits' when stating what Storr says about Randi. I don't think I needed any qualifier when stating Storr's depiction of Wiseman. As for my opinion: I think Wiseman is an infinitely better scientist than Rupert Sheldrake. The story Storr tells about Randi and lying to folks at the University of Arizona about Stanley Krippner agreeing to work with Randi in evaluating some work of Gary Schwartz seems true. Storr claims he contacted Krippner, who denies having made such an agreement. If Storr is lying about Randi's lying, that means he's lying about Krippner as well. As for the bit about voluntary sterilization, here is what Storr wrote, quoting Randi:

I begin to feel as if I am ambushing Randi. Perhaps it is his age, but it almost feels as if I am committing some sort of violence upon him. He deserves some air. So I move on to an area which I believe that he will find easier to discuss, and presumably dismiss. I quote some of his comments that have concerned me, about his wish for drugs to be legalised so that users will kill themselves.

But, to my surprise, he does not dismiss them. Not even slightly. ‘I think exactly the same thing about smoking,’ he says. ‘They should be allowed to smoke themselves to death and die.’ ‘These are quite extreme views,’ I say. ‘I don’t think so.’ ‘But it’s social Darwinism.’ ‘The survival of the fittest, yes,’ he says, approvingly. ‘The strong survive.’ ‘But this is the foundation of fascism.’ ‘Oh yes, yes,’ he says, perfectly satisfied. ‘It could be inferred that way, yes . I think people should be allowed to do themselves in.’ ‘These are very right-wing views.’ ‘I don’t look at them that way,’ he says. ‘I’m a believer in social Darwinism. Not in every case. I would do anything to stop a twelve-year-old kid from doing it. Sincerely. But in general, I think that Darwinism, survival of the fittest, should be allowed to act itself out. As long as it doesn’t interfere with me and other sensible, rational people who could be affected by it. Innocent people, in other words. These are not innocent people. These are stupid people. And if they can’t survive, they don’t have the IQ, don’t have the thinking power to be able to survive, it’s unfortunate; I would hate to see it happen , but at the same time, it would clear the air. We would be free of a lot of the plagues that we presently suffer from. I think that people with mental aberrations who have family histories of inherited diseases and such, that something should be done seriously to educate them to prevent them from procreating. I think they should be gathered together in a suitable place and have it demonstrated for them what their procreation would mean for the human race. It would be very harmful . But I don’t see any attempt to do that because everyone has the right to do stupid things. And I suppose they do,’ he concedes. ‘To a certain extent.’

Last March, Sharon Hill posted a response from Randi on Doubtful News:

The statement “I’m a believer in social Darwinism,” did not come from me. In fact, I had to look up the expression to learn what was being referred to. This attack appears to be calling me a Nazi, nothing less. I demand that Mr. Storr refer me to the original sources to which we assume he has referred. Until then, I’ll only say that he has carefully selected phrases and statements out of context, not the sort of referencing that I would have expected from him.

Apparently, the interview was taped (which makes sense, doesn't it?). Haley Stevens, a friend of Storr's, claims to have heard the tape and concluded that Storr did not quote mine. Also, Randi has defended "survival of the fittest" before on his website. In any case, I would think Storr would be concerned about his reputation in journalism (he's quite established in the UK and Australia, though not so well-known in the U.S.) and legal problems were he to make stuff up or maliciously distort Randi's words. Stevens says that Storr doesn’t want to put the audio online because he doesn’t want to “start a war.”

7 May 2014
I've just read your latest Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter, where you mention the Supreme Court OKing public Xian prayers. I am a retired university librarian (Alberta & Idaho) as well as a long-time member of both the National Center for Science Education and the Society of Biblical Literature. I have some suggestions for fighting fire with fire.

1) Quote from the Sermon on the Mount what Jesus supposedly said about public prayer: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6).

2) Why is the sky blue? Because of the water that God himself put up there several thousand years ago. We can read all about it on page one of the Holy Bible in Genesis 1:6-10. And we can still observe it with our own eyes on any clear day. It's obvious to me that many Xians don't believe God, and they don't believe his son Jesus either.

3) Why do they put "In God We Trust" on all of our money? Because money is the actual God of the United States.

Ralph Nielsen

 

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