Archive for the ‘Science!’ category

Calling a Myth a Myth

April 20, 2010

Recently, there has been a a bit of a brew ha ha over a biology text book titled Asking About Life because, within the text, it refers to the ancient Hebrew creation story as a “myth”.

Firstly, the Biblical creation story would  most definitely classifies as a myth. Secondly, there’s nothing inherently insulting about that. In fact, it’s probably it’s only redeeming quality. Myths are an important part of world culture; every society has them. The fact that the movie industry is currently the largest export America has is a testament to the social importance myth making has on human psychology.

So, why bother writing anything debunking a 3 thousand year old myth? Because, the only reason the use of the word “myth” is considered controversial is because there exists a large percentage of the population of our country that is not aware that the story is a myth. And who’s fault is that? They, apparently, have been told throughout their lives that the universe exists solely because a big powerful creature wished it into existence, and then revealed that knowledge to a single group of nomads living in the middle east.  Why? God only knows. I do get the impression that very few of them have actually ready the story, though. I mean, if I were under the impression that I could get the history of the entire earth written down on a single page, I would definitely read it. And, once anyone reads Genesis, it pretty much debunks itself.

The first problem that comes up is that there are at least two creation stories in the Bible, one right after the other; and they don’t agree. Most people when speaking of the “creation story”, are referring to the first one, which starts at Genesis 1:1, and ends at Genesis 2:3. Reading beyond that point is apparently seen as extra credit by most fans of the book, because the differences that come up make the two pretty incompatible. The second story (The Eden story) starts at Genesis 2:4,and continues onward.

In the Genesis 1 story, God (Elohim) creates the earth through a period of 6 days.
In Genesis 2, the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim), created the heavens and the earth in a single day.

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.”

-Genesis 2:4 (NAS)

And, because he is able to make the earth in a single day, it is pretty obvious to me that the god in Genesis 2 is a much more powerful god.

In Genesis 1, the earth was formed over a series of 6 days
In Genesis 2, the earth and heavens were created in a single day

In Genesis 1, Man and woman are created at the same time
In Genesis 2, man is made first,”formed” from dirt, woman is created later out of a rib bone once Yahweh Elohim realized that the man he made needed help (tending the garden, presumably)

In Genesis 1, Light is created right away, but the sun, moon, and stars (the sources of the light) aren’t created until day 3. Also, the grass, trees, and other chlorophyll dependent plants are created on the 2nd day, prior to the creation of the sun.

In short, it’s about as mythical a story as you  can get. Adam (or Adom, since Semitic languages have no vowels) isn’t even a proper name, it simply means “man”, the primordial man, or mankind in general).

Other hints that it is a myth:

Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.
-Genesis 4:20

and this one

His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute.
-Genesis 4:21

And then, of course, the flood came, killing their descendants, no one lives in tents or plays the flute anymore.

Well, both Genesis 1 and 2, as well a lot of other stuff in the Bible is indeed mythology. And it’s not insulting to call it such. After all, how in the world would the ancient Hebrews know anything about the formation of the world?

It’s a myth through and through. All cultures on earth have myths of some sort. Proposing that the Hebrews did not is ridiculous.

Is Artificial Pork Kosher?

January 16, 2010

Scientists in the Netherlands have been working for years to turn stem cells into pork!

Dutch scientists have been growing pork in the laboratory since 2006, and while they admit they haven’t gotten the texture quite right or even tasted the engineered meat, they say the technology promises to have widespread implications for our food supply.

Great invention, huh? It may seem a bit odd at first, but if meat protein (not tofu, meat) could be grown instead of raised, millions of acres of land could be cleared up, a major source of pollution (animal waste) would be removed, millions of gallons of fuel (truck shipment) would disappear, lessening our dependence on foreign oil which his a major source of international strife. Seems like a good thing, right?

But, is it kosher?

And the swine, because he parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, but cheweth not the cud, he is unclean unto you. Of their flesh ye shall not eat, and their carcasses ye shall not touch; they are unclean unto you.
-Leviticus 11:7-8

Pork that is created in a laboratory not only never had cloven hooves, but never ate food, cud chewing or not.

Mary Douglas, in her book Purity and Danger, theorized that the Jewish kosher laws, that were derived from the Levitical Code, were all about categorization; that they were an early attempt at at natural philosophy by the writers of the Priestly Code. That’s why pigs, shell fish,and homosexuality were all called abominations (loosely translated, unclean in a ritualistic sense)*.

These may ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, that may ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are an abomination unto you,
-Levitcus 11:9-10

The theory goes like this, fish swim in water and have scales. Yet, there are these creature that swim in the water but do not have scales. What are they? It’s not a fish because it doesn’t fit all the criteria of a fish, therefore it’s not part of God’s creation; it is therefore verboten, off limits.

Cattle, which we can eat, have cloven hooves and chew the cud. Pigs have cloven hooves, but do not chew the cud. Don’t fit. Abomination.

Homosexuality: not the norm, must be an abomination.

Seems to fit. But, what will the rabbis say?

It is this categorizing of nature in Leviticus that makes me accept the late dating of the Priestly Code, citing that it was written after the Babylonian Exile. During the Exile, the Jewish people came into contact with Zoroastrianism which had a dualistic view point of the natural world: the nice things in it were created by the all good god Ahura Mazda, the nasty creep crawly things were created by his evil counter part, Ahriman. In Zoroastrianism, this duality makes perfect sense since Ahriman, being an equal but opposite god to Ahura Mazda, can create. In Judaism, however, it does not fit. All things on earth would be a creation of Yahweh, so there should be no evil creations. This ill fitting scheme seems to imply that the theory behind Kosher laws is an import into the religion.

The Global Warming Hoax Emails

December 5, 2009

And now, a lesson on quote mining and McExperts “interpreting” data.

Or: Why Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Alex Jones are fucking idiots that don’t even have the ability to read emails written in English.

Be forewarned, you’ll have to watch a 10 minute video and the only yelling or crying is done by the aforementioned idiots (hmmm, if scientific papers were read by someone either yelling or crying would conservatives start paying attention?).

A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss

October 22, 2009

Richard Dawkins on Real Time with Bill Maher

October 3, 2009

Evolution of the Giant Tortoises – Richard Dawkins

September 24, 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

September 8, 2009

Religion Linked to Immoral Behavior

August 14, 2009

Of course, there have been a few studies that have come to the same conclusion over the last few years (the least religious countries in the world have the lowest crime and social problems), so this isn’t too surprising. Do remember, this is about the over all views of a society, not about the views and behaviors of any particular person.

Hawaii as a Nursery of Evolution

August 2, 2009

Wonderful video on fruit fly evolution on the Hawaiian Islands.

Beware the spinal trap

July 29, 2009

The following is an article by Simon Singh. It got him sued by the British Chiropractic Association because of accusations of libel even though it brings up some very legitimate dangers of the chiropractic trade.

It is also posted at Respectful Insolence and Pharyngula, both of which have some very insightful comment threads going on.


Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Saturday April 19 2008

This is Chiropractic Awareness Week. So let’s be aware. How about some awareness that may prevent harm and help you make truly informed choices? First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

I can confidently label these treatments as bogus [changed to “utter nonsense” in the scrubbed version] because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Professor Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Bearing all of this in mind, I will leave you with one message for Chiropractic Awareness Week – if spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

· Simon Singh is the co-author of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial