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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Poisoned by Secular Dinosaurs!

Last night the Ark Van ministry visited a local church, so we got together a small group of atheists and went along for a bit of a laugh.

When we arrived, the van was outside the church so we went and had a look at the model of the ark, which was complete with little dinosaurs and all!

We milled around and tried to contain ourselves before they began the night's activities inside the church. I now know why I don't go to church. It was sooooooo boring!

The evening was opened with a hymn, before moving on to the longest, hardest and most boring bible quiz EVER! That's not to say we did too bad. The top four scores were 89, 92, 98 and 135. We scored a mighty 2 points! Perhaps we should have done our homework!

After about an hour and a half of faffing around with the quiz, interspersed with hymns and skits from the children of the church, Rod Walsh got up to talk about the Ark.

He began by explaining how hard it was to build the ark. It took him 200 days work, some of it with teeny weeny tweezers. He then invoked Hoyle's fallacy by saying that the big bang argument is silly, the model ark was not created by an explosion in his garage but by hard work and intelligent design.

This wasn't the most ridiculous of his arguments, either. Throughout the night, some of his points included:

  • Evolution is not true. If it was, there'd be people in zoos with all the other animals.

  • Outback shacks are not pyramids, therefore people were better builders in ancient times.
  • That humans are de-evolving rapidly. We used to live for 900 years, now we're lucky to get to 100
  • If you plant carrots, you won't get lettuce leaves
  • 'Deep litter' could have absorbed over a year's worth of manure
  • Biracial people are called 'mid-brown'
  • That Shem makes a nice cup of tea
And my favourite argument of the evening.
  • Looking at fossils we can see evidence of a global flood by the surprised look on the fish's faces! This indicates that a sudden traumatic event occurred and is backed up by fossils of fish mid-mouthful and halfway through giving birth.

Now I'm no archaeologist, but a fossilised fish can look surprised because the bones around it's eyes would not have been compressed as easily as the flesh surrounding them, giving a bulging appearance (and some fish just have bulging eyes anyway). A fossil of a fish 'mid-mouthful' could be because the fish choked to death and was fossilised as such, or the two fossils are just overlaid. Finally, a fossil of an animal mid-birth could occur if the animal were to die during childbirth, which is a common problem amongst god's perfect creations...

The main arguments used throughout the night were the argument from design, the argument from personal incredulity and the argument from biblical truth. Over the night, the talk went from details of the ark, evidence of the flood and the problems of science.

Details of the Ark

The design of the ark was spoken about in detail. "The bible tells us some dimensions, the rest of the model's layout was the result of prayerful thought and careful contemplation." In other words, "we made up most of it, but i think it looks cool".

We were told:
  • the ark was 300x 30x 50 cubits (150m long, 25m wide and 15m high)
  • Noah took 100 years to build it (he lived till around 900 years)
  • It was 400x more stable than moderns ships
  • Modern oil tankers are now built in the shape of Noah's Ark
  • Each 'kind' taken on board was a species (so 2 dogs, not 2 of each breed)
  • Big animals were taken on board as infants
  • it was 4-5 stories high, it had three levels 5m each
  • It's capacity was 52 rail cars, or 125000 sheep
  • there was no need to muck out the animals, because they used a deep litter method
Evidence of the Flood

  • The grand canyon strata layers are so close that they can't be 1000's of years apart because there would have been erosion between them.
  • The geological time frame given by science is wrong. Just look at the erosion of the 12 apostles and other events.
  • Mt St Helen's deposited 8 meters of strata in 3 hours, showing that traumatic events can mess with geological knowledge.
  • All of the water drained into the pacific ocean afterwards because god rearranged things after the flood, which is how we get buckled strata layers.
  • Polystrate trees (Fundy explanation here and sensible explanation here)
The Problems With Science

  • When Rod Walsh (the speaker) was born, there were only 2 billion people, now there's over 6 billion, so the old-earth cannot be right or there would be many more people at that rate.
  • 'Mid brown people' (don't get me started on that one!) have the genes to 'go one way or the other in one generation'
  • Dinosaur bones have been found in Montana with flesh, bone and red blood cells
  • Dinosaurs were in the bible as leviathan and behemoth. Also dragon stories are dinosaurs
  • We killed the dinosaurs, just like we did to the Tasmanian Tiger, Whales and the Moa.
  • There is a difference between experimental science (Bunsen burners etc) and historical science (anything that disagrees with the bible)
  • Nebraska man was a blunder and Piltdown man was a hoax by evolutionists
  • Don't believe the fallible words of man over the infallible words of god

The last part of the night was a shameless plug for creation magazine. If you bought a subscription, you'd get a free back issue, a picture of some old boat (an ark of some sort), a paper model of an ark that you can use to evangelise to your brother at a dinner party and a DVD (presumably something to do with the ark). Then he said that there'd be two free subscriptions for the first two people under 18 to go to the stage, to which there was a mad rush for the stage. Sadly, the kids seemed to have bought it hook, line and sinker.

Finally they had a prayer 'for those who were deluded and deceived by the lie of evolution'.

I must totally admit that I am still poisoned by secular dinosaurs and deluded by the lie of evolution. Sorry Jesus...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dawkins Hate Mail

This is a rather funny video of Richard Dawkins reading out some wonderful emails he has received from those all loving Christians. Hilarious.

Sydney Atheists Rawk

Yet another great meetup last night for the Sydney Atheists at the Atheist Social Lounge! A great turnout of enthusiastic and motivated atheists and freethinkers, with loads of fun had by all. We launched the freethinkers lending library, comprising of a variety of books and DVDs which will expand over time. We are certainly well on our way to some very exciting times ahead, which we will keep updating on this blog.

There are a group of us tomorrow who will be attending the Ark Van Tour. The Ark Van Ministry, a team of young earth creationists, will be showcasing their three Noah's Ark models, which is designed to help people understand "how real the Ark was, as not many people have had the opportunity to see up close how plausible the biblical Ark was". Rod Walsh will be able to expertly answer all of our questions that other Christians are unable to answer, such as "were there dinosaurs on the ark?" Hopefully we will have the opportunity to ask some questions. Should be fun, so come along if you are in the area!!

And now for some thing completely different. Here is a very cool video of a prime example of pareidolia. See if you can make out "the face of god".

And this video is very cool too. It's lightning striking in slow motion. Nature is awe inspiring.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Michael Shermer on ABC radio

You can hear Michael Shermer on ABC Radio here.

There is also a full transcript at the link above.

It was recorded for the 'all in the mind' show, which is a weekly radio show and is podcatchable.

The blurb for the Shermer Show is as follows:

Are markets moral? Is our hunter-gatherer brain geared for modern capitalism, and do economies work like evolutionary organisms? The rise of neuroeconomics, the extinction of Homo Economicus and more -- with outspoken founder of the US Skeptics Society, Dr Michael Shermer, and shareholder activist and Crikey founder, Stephen Mayne.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michael Shermer at the Wesley Centre

Here's some video of Michael Shermer at the Wesley Centre, Sydney during his debate with John Lennox on Saturday.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

And Here's a photo set, thanks to John

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Michael Shermer at the Big Night of Science

Here's a video of the discussion between Shermer and Willis during the Big Night of Science on Friday.

Thanks to Mike.

Michael Shermer's Adventures in Sydney- Friday 22/8 (Part 2)

After our lunch at the American Club, we headed over to the Powerhouse Museum, where Shermer would be speaking at the "Big Night of Science" as part of the Ultimo Science Festival and National Science Week.

We had some time to kill, so we went to a pub near by for a few quick drinks and a bite to eat. Before too long, a few of our friends from the Australian Skeptics turned up, followed soon after by Michael Shermer and Paul Willis!

(L to R) Ian, Me (Alan), Rachel, John, Margaret, Michael Shermer, Paul Willis, Richard, Jason and Amanda.

This was a blast! we never thought that he would just mosey up to the divey little pub that we were at, and it was a great chance to have a laid-back informal chat with both Michael and Paul.

It also afforded us the opportunity for a bit of a beer-skulling comp!

Shermer was good, but couldn't beat Dave the Happy Singer!

Before long, we left the pub and went to the Big Night of Science. There was a live Jazz band playing and plenty of wine for all.

The first talk of the night was by Simon Pampena, the Stand-Up Mathematician, with his Maths Olympics show.

It was a blast, he was tragically funny, with an over-the-top comedy/maths blend that went down really well with the audience. He also called for two participants from the audience, my mate, Nathan, and girlfriend and critical mass blogee Rachel.

I'd like to see this guy again, he was great. I'm sure he would go down pretty well with school audiences too.

Next up was something completely different, Dr Jim Partick gave a talk about bionics and cochlear implants, which was interesting to me because of the number of clients I have who benefit already from such bionic devices.

The third stop on the program was the discussion between Paul Willis and Michael Shermer, which was supposed to be about the nature of genius, but became more of a QnA with Shermer about his past works, latest book and life experiences. It was a really interesting talk and when question time began, I'm sure the museum was staring to regret the free wine offered earlier!

The last talk was by Dr Fred Watson, who spoke about space tourism. He explained a lot about the difficulties faced by those hwo are trying to provide space tourism at the moment, what is being developed in the field of space torism and what the future may have in stall for space tourism.
It's a tremendously interesting subject and there are so many different avenues being explored that it looks like there may be a likelihood of affordable space tourism within our lifetime. As soon as I can afford it, you can bet that I'll be zooming through the cosmos like Rocky Jones!
The whole night was heaps of fun, and to make it even better, we (a whole rabble of atheists and sceptics) went out for dinner with Michael Shermer in chinatown, where we chatted until late into the night about all th things we don't believe in (and some of the things we do!)

Michael Shermer's Adventures in Sydney- Friday 22/8

Now I've finally got the photos up, I can say a bit more about our wonderful weekend. Friday, we stated at an exclusive lunch at the American Club, where Michael Shermer and John Lennox held an informal debate on the topic of 'Has science buried God'.

There was a fair group from the Australian Skeptics there
(From left to right) Me, Frode, Barry Williams, Margaret, John, Rachel and John.

(L to R) Margaret, John, Barry, Michael, Jason

John Lennox was the first speaker. He argued using all of the same weak arguments that we've heard time and time again coming from the religious front, such as that science cannot deal with abstract concepts such as love, poetry, music; Darwinism implies atheism; atheism is a religion; atheism is a philosophy, not science, etc etc etc...

Lennox also posited that atheism and theism are worldviews and the question is with which of these science is closer related;
Christianity gave us science, therefore they must be inseparable;
the atheistic worldview tells us that consciousness is unguided, so why should we believe it?;
atheism undermines the basic rationality needed to explain science because information cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry.

He concluded with asserting that mind must precede matter, not matter before mind, and his closing statement was that either in the beginning were the particles and a cold process of gradual movement from simple to complex forms, or in the beginning was the word...


Michael Shermer then took to the lectern. After a few jokes, including an anecdote about his past life as an evangelical door knocking christian which was followed by a period of militant atheism where he went around knocking on the same doors and taking it all back!

Shermer made the points that atheism only answers the question of belief in a god which makes no positive assertion about what an atheist believes. He also spoke about all of the other groups, such as agnostics, secular humanists, naturalists, brights etc that have tried to escape from the negative connotations associated with the term 'atheism'. He went on to explain that American religion is so virulent because of the separation of church and state, which means that the churches have to compete with each other for money, like businesses; and because of the poor social services by which religious groups are the safety net for those who don't get the care they need from the state, as happened during hurricane Katrina.

Shermer also spoke about the difference between a top-down or bottom-up view of nature. God represents a top-down process, whereas Darwin proposed a bottom-up process, the difference between them being the testability of their claims. Science and religion intersect where religion makes testable claims, which led to a discussion on the efficacy of prayer studies (1,2,3)

Shermer concluded by saying that even if there was evidence to support the existence of god, science would still want to know the process by which she stared it all off. There is nothing that intersects with the physical world that lies outside of the scope of science.


There was then a break and Michael Shermer made a b-line for Rachel, remembering her from TAM (I didn't get recognised nearly as quickly, but then again, I'm not a pretty blonde!)

We had a chat with him and congratulated him on a great speech, before getting an obscene amount of photos. It was really good to see him, he is such a nice guy that has time for anyone who wants it. Before long, we were being called back to our seats for the QnA side of the luncheon.

The questions included "What about other gods?"
Shermer: The world of a deistic god is not as satisfying as a world where the god interacts in people's lives, so the theistic gods appeal to people much more than the deistic gods. The reason that these debates are about the judeo-christian god is that it is the god that our society mostly identifies as 'God'. It would be frivolous to debate the existence of a god that people don't believe in anymore.

Does god interact with the world and can we test it?
Lennox: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is history and enough to prove Christianity.

Has science buried god? Whatever the answer, who cares?
Shermer: The recent boon of interest in the subject of religious criticism shows that there are many people that seem to care.
Lennox: The question of if there is or is not a god has a huge significance either way. If atheism is true, no victim of terror will ever achieve justice.


Concluding statements:

Shermer- If there is no god, justice must be carried out in the present. Furthermore, we need to concentrate on the present without wishful thinking of an afterlife for which there is no evidence. The naturalistic worldview gives much more importance to the here and now.

Lennox- Justice in this world is an important thing to have, but there is an ultimate justice that exists. If atheism is right, there is no hope of justice for so many people.


Afterwards, we all mingled together. There were a few heated debates with Lennox and John Dixon

And a photo opportunity or two

(L to R) Margaret, John, John Lennox, Frode, Rachel, Me (Alan) and John.

And that was just the beginning... more posts coming soon!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What a massive day!

WOW! We have had such an unbelieveable day.

Michael Shermer is in town and it's been a non-stop day of activities and events.

We went to an invitation only lunch where Shermer and John Lennox held an informal debate on the topic 'Has science buried God?' During the break, Shermer recognised Rachel from TAM and came up and gave her a big hug. We had a big chat with him and got loads of photos. The debate was good (more on that to come) and the club was really nice.

We went to the Powerhouse Museum after lunch and decided to get a snack and a brew at a pub up the road and guess who strolls in?.... Michael Shermer, with Paul Willis, just there for a drink before their talk on the topic of genius. We had a real good time chatting to him about all manner of things, from cycling to god's exisance with a whole bunch of wheatgrass juice jokes.

Next on the to-do list was the 'Big night of science', with live jazz and winein between a variety of talks which included a hilarious mathematics olympian, a presentation on cochlear implants, Shermer and Willis chatting about a bunch of different topics, and Fred Watson, who spoke about the future of space tourism. In between topics we spent even more time chatting to Shermer and catching up with all the other people from the various groups (sceptics, atheists etc)

Shermer invited an entourage of about fifteen people to go to dinner with him after the talks and we all tramped over to chinatown and took over a sall restaraunt. We left the dinner at close to midnight absolutely buzzing from such an exciting day.

And there's still more to go! Tomorrow, we're having lunch with Shermer, then we'll hang out with our sceptical and atheist friends until the big debate between Shermer and Lennox, after which we'll be going for drinks with Shermer.

It's a non-stop joy ride!

We'll be posting more extensive notes on each of the events along with the pictures later this weekend.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Memories From The Amazing Meeting 6

My very talented and wonderfully skeptical Dad has put together a fantastic video production of our collection of photos from TAM 6! Check it out!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sceptics Dinner Meeting with Victor Stenger

Last night was the sceptics dinner meeting, where we were graced by the presence of Vic Stenger, author of the bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis.

As always, the dinner meeting was a great opportunity to chat with fellow questioners of bunkum and the turnout was quite impressive, with 170 attendees all up. The agenda favoured the buffet dinner over the guest speaker, which was a slight dissapointment (RSL club buffets aren't the most vegetarian friendly affairs, it was roast pumpkin and lettuce all the way!). We were lucky to get there early enough to get some good seats and ended up in the company of 'the regulars' from sceptics in the pub.

At about 8:30pm, after dessert was served, Richard Saunders gave a news rundown where he spoke about the recent bigfoot controversy and his involvement in 'The One' before handing the mic to Martin Hadley, who introduced Stenger.
Stenger began with a joke. "Australia got all the convicts, America got the christians. Australia must have had the first choice" before moving on to explaining that agnostics are actually atheists and defining the god that his work referrs to as the theistic god of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions, which he differentiated from the pantheisic and deistic varieties of god mythologies. He will be covering the other types of gods in his next book "The Quantum Gods".

Stenger's argument is based on the assumtion that if the theistic god existed, there should have been some evidence to support it by now. He rejects the common addage 'abscence of evidence is not evidence of abscence' and says that the abscence of evidence means that we have no reason to believe in the proposition of a god and that the evidence against the existance of a god, through testing the claims made by religious followers (such as prayer, supernatural intervention etc), leads one to the conclusion that the existence of god has been disproved beyond a reasonable doubt. This definition of 'proof' has more in common with the legal tradition than the scientific model, which has been one of the main arguments against Stenger's book.
Stenger then went on to quickly debunk the main arguments for the existence of god;
the cosmological argument;
the argument from creation/design, to which he explained some instances of 'unintelligent design' including the single hole for food and air leading to hundreds of deaths by choking each year;
the argument from revelation, which could be supported if anybody produces new information through a revelation experience;
the fine tuning argument, to which the inherent hostility of the universe was enough;
and the hiddenness argument, where Stenger said that a god that deliberately hides from people who want to believe cannot be a moral god. "An evil god would btter fit the data" was Stenger's response.

The night then opened up for a QnA session.
Stenger was asked to clarify a point where he refered to a 40 billion year old universe, which he explained as an artifact of the expansion of the universe, to which the age is 13.7 billion years, but there are objects 40 billion light years away.

Stenger was then asked to speak about his involvement in paranormal research. He explained that his interest in the subject lies in the misuse of quantum mechanics and spoke about some particularly terrible examples such as 'What the Bleep do we Know?', 'The Secret' and Deepak Chopra's work on quantumn healing.

All in all, it was a pretty good night. I wish Stenger had have been given more time, but it was a good quick overview of his major arguments. After his talk, we had the opportunity to meet him and have a quick chat and we found him to be quite personable.
Stenger will be taking part in the IQ2 debate on Tuesday 19th of August. The topic will be "We'd be better off without religion". It will be a 3 a side debate and Stenger will be flanked by Richard Ackland and Lyn Allison. They will battling it out against John Lennox, Suzanne Rutland and Ian Plimer.
We'll let you know how it goes.

For more info on Stenger, look here. To read some reviews on God: The Failed Hypothesis, go here and here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Widsom of Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort's blog, wittily entitled "Comfort Food" is a excellent resource for learning evolutionary theory. "How's that?" you ask, "I was under the impression that Ray was a scientifically illiterate creobot" Have a look at a recent entry from Comfort Food, and then read the comments. Everything you wanted to know about the transitional species Tiktaalik.

Resources for Freethinkers:Books

Books are probably the best source of information when it comes to the topics covered by freethinking, which include science, religious criticism, scepticism, philosophy etc. The importance of books is getting somewhat lost amongst the milieu of information available to the regular broadband-packing layman. In a world of point and click soundbite snippet based media it's important to take a break from the digital intertubes and hold a few pounds of paper in your fist and do some old school learning.

This list is by no means comprehensive, and is in no particular order. It is the first 50 books that came to mind which I felt were important to the freethinking world. If you think I've left out a particularly important book (which I no doubt have) please feel free to let us all know by posting a comment.

Demon Haunted World- Carl Sagan

The God Delusion- Richard Dawkins

God is not Great- Christopher Hitchens

The Origin Of Species- Charles Darwin

Why People Believe Weird Things- Michael Shermer

God: The Failed Hypothesis- Victor Stenger

Atheist Universe- David Mills

Skeptics Guide to the Paranormal- Lynne Kelly

Letter to a Christian Nation- Sam Harris

The End of Faith- Sam Harris

The Science of Good and Evil- Michael Shermer

Darwin's Dangerous Idea- Daniel C. Dennet

Unweaving the Rainbow- Richard Dawkins

The Cannon- Natalie Angier

The Atheist Manafesto- Michael Onfray

Climbing Mount Improbable- Richard Dawkins

Why Darwin Matters- Michael Shermer

Bad Astronomy- Phil Plait

Origins- Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Quirkology- Richard Wiseman

The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick- Peter Lamont

Skeptical Essays- Bertrand Russell

Why I am NOt a Christian- Bertrand Russell

The Varieties of Scientific Experience- Carl Sagan

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion- David Hume

Brocas Brain- Carl Sagan

The Portable Atheist- Christopher Hitchens

The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing- Richard Dawkins

The World Treasury of Modern Science Writing- Timothy Ferris

Last Chance to See- Douglas Adams with Mark Carwardine

Evolution vs Creationism- Eugenie Scott

The Stuff of Thought- Stephen Pinker

The Blank Slate- Stephen Pinker

How the Mind Works- Stephen Pinker

Death by Black Hole- Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Sky id not the Limit- Neil deGrasse Tyson

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural- James Randi

Flim-Flam!- James Randi

The Faith Healers- James Randi

The Doors of Perception- Aldous Huxley

The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Psuedoscience- Michael Shermer

How We Believe- Michael Shermer

The Pandas Thumb- Stephen Jay Gould

The Gods and Other Lectures- Robert G Ingersoll

The Voyage of the Beagle- Charles Darwin

The Descent of Man- Charles Darwin

A Brief History of Time- Stephen Hawking

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy- Douglas Adams

Brave New World- Aldous Huxley

The Discworld Series- Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ray Takes Comfort in Credulous Ideas

The creationists are at it again. Oh sorry, I mean, "Intelligent Designers". But we all know that Intelligent Design is just creationism in a really cheap tuxedo. Intelligent Design proponent Ray Comfort recently did a radio interview, which was originally intended as a debate with biologist PZ Myers.

The format was changed to two separate interviews, which allowed people to call in and challenge and ask questions. Ray does nothing more than come out with the same old tired arguments that he just cannot let go of - "a painting must have a painter", "if there is no god, we would all be sinning all over the place", "we are god's special creation and do not have common ancestors", and, one of my personal favourites, "you never see a puppy hatch from a chicken egg do you?" No Ray, we don't see puppies hatch from chicken eggs, nor do we see "crocoduck". He clearly does not understand the mechanisms of evolution, and arguments such as this demonstrate his complete ignorance to the way science and evolution work.

He also takes many opportunities to preach on with bible babble, claims he has undeniable evidence for intelligent design (we are still waiting for it) and claims the "atheists" took his banana argument out of context, which is a lie. Here is the full video:

PZ discusses the elegance and beauty of the theory of evolution, and how it explains the diversity of life on this planet. Though this does not automatically lead to atheism, it negates any need for the idea of an intelligent being creating the universe. PZ also comments on the recent "wafergate" situation, where he has received many death threats for throwing a piece of bread in the bin. It is such a shame that people care so deeply about bread products.

The biggest challenge to evolution we face? Ignorance. Nice one, PZ.

Listen to both interviews here.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Resources for freethinkers: Podcasts

Here's a list of the podcasts that I listen to.
I hope there's something here that people will find interesting.
In particular, I would recommend The Atheist Experience, The Non-Prophets, The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, Point of Inquiry and the Infidel Guy Show.
Happy podcatching!


American Freethought

Another Goddamned Podcast


Atheist talk- Audio

Atheist viewpoint from American atheists

Freethought radio

Godless Heathen Podcast

Point Of Inquiry

The Atheist Experience

The Non-Prophets

The good atheist

The bible

The Reason Driven Podcast

Reasonable Doubts Podcast

Secular Nation Podcast

The Way of Reason- An Infidel Guy Production


The Amazing Show Starring James Randi

Are We Alone (SETI)

Audiomartini with Rick Wood

Bad Astronomy QnBA

Bad Science

Quack Cast


The Skeptics Guide 5x5

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe



Astronomy Cast

Brains matter

Evolution 101

Here's why

Logically critical

The royal society- audio podcasts

Science Talk Australia

Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American


Mr Deity

Pat Condell's Godless Comedy

Speaking in tongues

Sunday night safran

Christopher Hitchen Vs Dr John Lennox

This morning i had the pleasure of attending a debate between the uncompromising Christopher Hitchens and Dr John Lennox.

Im sure most people aware of Christoper Hitchens and his outspoken commentary on religion, however i was not so familiar with Dr Lennox. For more information visit

The debate was titled "The New Europe Should Prefer The New Atheism", which i found not particularly inspiring. The debate was organised by "The Trinity Forum" and "The Fixed Point Forum" so i assume that they chose the debate title.

The debate was filmed and will be broadcast, possibly on the BBC later this year, and so will inevitably find its way onto the web.

In brief, here are some of the arguements proposed by Lennox:

  • Intelligent Design should be considered as a viable scientific theory
  • Atheism leads to communism
  • The resurection was not a miracle, therefore Hume was wrong.
  • The evidence for Jesus Christ being god in human form is overwhelming (Lennox did forget to provide said evidence)
I will post a link to the video of the debate when it becomes available.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Visit To A Psychic Fair

Today we went along to a “Psychic Fair”. We did not hold high expectations as it was in a very small nearby suburb, however upon arrival we were surprised to see a fairly good turn out. Out the front were signs promoting “psychometry”, “clairvoyance” and “tarot readings”. It was $15 for a reading of your choice, held in a hall at small tables. There were lots of women holding crystal balls, pendulums, tarot cards and other woo. There were large queues for a reading, with a ticket issued upon payment. There were a variety of stalls selling books on "past life therapy", "tarot", "life after death", "homeopathy" and even UFO's! One woman told Alan that he was "smiling too much!", and she didn't even know we were skeptics... (or did she...!). We purchased a variety of books (for a dollar each) which will certainly provide a number of hours of enlightened reading. There was a stall selling "psychic wax pictures" - "As seen on the Kerri Ann Show!"... (Alan too was seen on the Kerri Ann show).

On our way out, I took some photos of the signs out the front, and a man came over to us and exclaimed that he had never had anyone take photos of his signs. He then showed us his palms and said "see this line here? that means I should work with animals." He told us a number of anecdotal stories about palm reading, and I could no longer hold back. I began to question some of the claims he was making, for example he claimed that a television in his house jumped two or three feet off the ground, but the vase stayed on top and didn't break. "TWO OR THREE FEET?" I asked, demonstrating with my hand how high that is. "Well," he said, "it jumped off the ground" and then he moved off that topic onto another. I told him about the Australian Skeptics $100 000 prize for anyone who can demonstrate what it is they can do under experimental conditions. He said that they are not interested in the money, so I asked why they were here charging $15 for a reading on a Saturday, to which he replied it was fund raising for their church. We pointed how great for them it would be for their church if they took the test and won the money, but he kept jumping from topic to topic. I tried to give him an Australian Skeptics card with details on it, but he refused to take it, and even refused to give it to anyone else. He also said that he feels very sorry for James Randi, as he just doesn't believe in anything... I happily told him that we has met Randi just a few months ago at The Amazing Meeting 6, and explained that he is extremely happy, has led a very fulfilled (and honest!) life. He ended the discussion by saying to us that we will one day believe. "Show us one shred of evidence, and we'll be happy to believe" we replied.

It is often hard to tell apart the people who are truly deluded and those who are out right frauds. Many of the people attending for readings are desperate people who are looking for answers and help in their lives. Unfortunately, they turn to this type of money making credulous woo woo, instead of seeking out practical and constructive methods that will actually help them. We ran into a lady we know who is a single mum and has a severely autistic son, which she is really struggling with. It is terribly sad to think that she, and countless others, are taken advantage of by this type of rubbish.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Phil Plait Becomes President of the JREF

The James Randi Educational Foundation is the keystone of rational thinking. James Randi has been running the show now for 12 years, but it seems that it is time for him to pass the baton and hand over the presidency.

Yesterday, it was announced that Phil Plait has taken up the presidency of the foundation, while Randi will now chair the JREF board of directors and work on his next two books 'Wrong!' and 'A Magician in the Labratory.

It will be interesting to see where this change takes the foundation, already Phil has said the he will concentrate on the educational side of the organisation and will produce books for children. After seeing Phil talk at TAM and chatting to him in person, his vigour and enthusiasm make him the perfect candidate for the position.

Great news, Phil. I'm sure you'll live up to expectations and take the JREF to new heights.
For more info, go to the JREF press release, The Bad Astronomy blog and Skepchick. There's sure to be a flood of other blogs (like this one) on the subject and i'm sure everyone will know about it before too long.