28 October, 2010

Religious intolerance rife in the USA

This cannot go on. Shame on all you non-Christian Americans. I imagine the Buddhists are particularly oppressive.


22 October, 2010

Useful links for exposing Sye TenB

I've put together some links to particular comments from Sye in which he has made inconsistent or just down right silly claims. These should prove useful to expose the absurdity of his worldview and presuppositionalist argument.

1) Sye contradicting himself and lying all in one go

Sye always says that his worldview is proven by the 'impossibility of the contrary'. I challenged him to refute my position that the Invisible Pink Hammer was actually the real omnipotent omniscient creator of the universe and could reveal things to me for certain and he replied:

"Although I do not believe that it would be possible, I have never claimed that it would be impossible, I am simply challenging you to formally debate our respective deities and revelations from same. You are unwilling to(for obvious reasons)." [Bolding mine]

I think the inconsistency between 'impossibility of the contrary' and 'I have never claimed that it would be impossible' is clear for all to see. And by stating the latter, he is simply lying. Indeed, many others have similarly requested that he refute all possible alternative worldviews, and yet he never does - he simply asserts that they are refuted.

2) Sye being a hypocrite

Sye refuses to address claims that his opponent does not actually hold, as they are just 'wasting his time'. Of course, when I proposed the Invisible Pink Hammer worldview, it was to illustrate the problem with his argument - that he cannot refute my position without also refuting his own. In this sense, I was adopting a hypothetical situation which showed the absurdity of his argument. Sye wouldn't play (for obvious reasons). But of course when he can use this type of argumentation to his advantage, Sye will use it, as he does here in a debate with another Christian.

Opponent [talking about the position that Sye does not hold]:
"Since this is an argument that anyone could easily make, you should be able to easily find me someone who has, in fact, made it. Even internet hack atheists don't make this argument."

"I’ll make it then John, and you refute me. Here goes: “Perhaps someday there will be a naturalistic explanation as to why a body which was dead for 3 days came back to life.” There ya go John, refute me."

What a complete hypocrite. For further details on this particular incident, see here.

3) Another example of Sye lying

Over at Dawson's blog, Sye's website got an 'absolute' trouncing (pun intended). You'd think Sye would go through Dawson's criticisms and point out all the errors, but alas it seems that he didn't have the time:

Sye TenB said...
Maybe someday I'll have the time to read all that.

Perhaps a debate is in order sometime. What say?

AUGUST 27, 2010 9:17 PM

When Dawson responded and asked him to reconsider, Sye replied:

"Erm, cause I don't have the time to take right now...I will be away all week, and simply do not have the time to sift through such a long post. It's not like I haven't heard these criticisms before, or that you have not heard the resolutions, so I don't feel a pressing need to answer them. As I said, perhaps when I have the time I will get to this."

So he didn't read the post, or even have time to 'sift through' it, and yet he knows exactly what all the criticisms are?

Another lie.

Sye does try to squirm out of this by claiming that although he stated that he didn't have time to read it - "Erm, I skimmed it. Same ka ka, just more words."

So, he didn't have time to 'sift through' it, but he did have time to 'skim' it...!!?? Right. This smells of something. It smells real bad.

4) Sye admitting that an omnipotent omniscient being could, if it so desired, fool him into thinking he is certain

Sye's whole worldview relies on his claim that God can reveal things to him for certain. The trouble is by admitting the above possibility, he has also admitted that it is possible he is being fooled into simply 'thinking' he is certain. Here are the relevant quotes:

I asked:
”As for my claim that an omniscient omnipotent being fooled you into thinking you are certain. You have yet to confirm or deny that this is a possibility. You really want to deny it is possible but you know you can't because this would be denying what an omnipotent being can do, a position you yourself claim is absurd.“

Sye replied:
"Not at all, I do not address it because it is IRRELEVANT. OF COURSE an omnipotent omniscient being could do this, and He could also reveal in such a way that we can be certain that HE has not! (Quote mine away)." [Bolding mine]

The fact that an omnipotent omniscient being could do this automatically negates any claims to certainty as delivered by said being. Because of this admission, Sye can never know whether certainty is being revealed or not.

5) Sye admitting that his interpretation of the bible is not infallible

Everything Sye knows about God comes directly from scripture. So his claims of certainty are derived directly from bible passages. And yet here he admits that his interpretation of the bible is not infallible:

" Reply by SyeTenB on August 16, 2010 at 4:04pm
...I have never said, nor do I claim that my interpretation is infallible, it is merely my claim that God can make us certain about some things, like the fact that He exists. I have never claimed that my interpretation of Romans 1 is infallible, but your argument against it is making me want to :-)"

Surely to be absolutely certain of anything, your interpretation of it must be infallible. In short, since Sye's interpretation of the bible is not infallible, his whole argument could be wrong, since it comes directly from the bible.

6) Sye admitting that he doesn't know how God reveals certainty

In order to know for certain that certainty is being revealed, Sye must know exactly how this is happening. Otherwise, it is simply impossible to know it with certainty. Here Sye admits that he doesn't know, and even if God told him, he wouldn't understand the explanation:

by SyeTenB » Sat Aug 22, 2009 12:40 am
"No, I would not call it an ‘illusory feat.’ I am more of the position that even if God did explain it to me, I would not be able to understand it."

This admission reduces his absolute-100%-logically-certain-proof-style of argumentation to mere faith. He doesn't understand how God reveals certainty, so he has to take it on faith that he does.

7) Sye making inconsistent claims

Sye likes to claim that a non-believer's position is inconsistent with their wordlview. Here is an example of Sye being inconsistent.

Sye said to Paul Baird:

You still don't get it Paul. I do not claim that the argument fails, you do. Problem is without an absolute standard of logic NO ARGUMENT CAN FAIL, and your claim is refuted.

But later he changed his mind to say:

The claim may or may not be true, but your attempt at justifying knowledge of its truth is refuted since you cannot account for truth.

So in one comment he asserts that his opponent's claim is refuted, and in another he says that it might be true. And he expects us to take his position seriously?

Please let me know if I've missed any of Sye's other stupid and/or inconsistent statements and I'll add them to this thread...


19 October, 2010

TAM London Day 2

After a night on the beer, Day 2 of TAM London started off with a lot of water and coffee...

The first talk of the day was by Marcus Chown, who gave a talk on the "Top 10 Bonkers Things About The Universe" (much of which is covered here). For instance, all the matter that makes up the human race is actually only the size of a sugar cube - by virtue of the fact that the majority of an atom is empty space. Also, time isn't constant as it is influenced by gravity. The closer you are to a strong gravitational force (i.e. large mass), the slower time actually goes, meaning someone at the top of a staircase is ageing faster than someone at the bottom. Oh and he ended with a space montage to the sound of Ziggy Stardust. Nice.

DJ Grothe then gave probably the only talk of the weekend that was solely about skepticism. He issued a bit of a rallying call and encouraged everyone to be more active, in setting up skeptical blogs, sceptical meetings and so on. So I'll dedicate this post to you DJ. Happy? :-D

Today's panel discussion was hosted by Rebecca Watson and was on "Technology and New Media". The panelists were Gia Milinovich, Kate Russell, Neil Denny and Martin Robbins (who live blogged the whole conference). They spoke about blogs, podcasts, twitter as well as 'old media' and the vast differences between them.

Melinda Gebbie was the next speaker and she was interviewed by Rebecca Watson about her new book, Lost Girls, which is basically a pornographic story made from the point of view of women. She wrote the book to fill a niche that she explains exists because almost all pornography is currently made from a man's perspective. As one of the questioners said, basically porn with a plot then. This segment didn't seem to have much to do with skepticism though, as one blogger points out here.

The last talk before lunch was one I was really looking forward too. Unfortunately, Stephen Fry couldn't make it and the consolation was a pre-recorded interview with him and Tim Minchin. It wasn't bad, but to be honest, Minchin (understandably) isn't much of an interviewer (it was more of a two-way conversation really) and whoever edited the footage needs to be sacked. So I was a bit disappointed but it was interesting to hear his opinion on skepticism and his mastery of the language was evident on several occasions.


Graham Linehan was interviewed by Jon Ronson straight after lunch, an encounter that was always likely to be entertaining. Although the subject matter of Twitter did provide for some interesting discussion (and several very funny videos), I was hoping to hear a bit more about Linehan's experiences writing Father Ted, Black Books, etc. Down with this sort of thing...

The next speaker was guaranteed to get a good reception. PZ Myers talks about tone and how "we shouldn't gratuitously obnoxious, we should be purposefully obnoxious." His talk was good but the highlight was the Q and A session. The organisers gave him a bit longer than other speakers as it was obvious a lot of people would want to ask questions. And PZ is in his element when he has to think on his feet. His answers were always engaging, concise and appropriate. Oh and did I mention that I met him. Just in case here's the pic again...


The last talk of the weekend went to Alan Moore, creator of comic book franchises such as Watchmen and V for Vendetta. I have to be honest, I was struggling as this stage, the previous night was really catching up with me. Moore proceeded to recite a poem about the town where he grew up that seemed to go on for at least 20-25 minutes. Not the best end to the weekend in my opinion (then again, I'm not a comic book fan).

And that was it! Randi closed the conference and everyone said their goodbyes. All in all, it was an Amazing experience and I would recommended it to anyone who is interested in skeptical thinking and general science. Or if you just want to have 3 nights on the beer in a row.


17 October, 2010

TAM London Day 1

I'm just back from TAM London. It was amazing alright. Here's a brief summary of Day 1...

(photos from various TAM London Facebook members - cheers!)

Richard Wiseman was the host and he did a great job all weekend, breaking up each talk with a few jokes or a magic trick. My favourite was probably this:

I've just signed up to Reincarnation Weekly. It was a bit expensive - £200 - but then I thought, what the hell, you only live once

Susan Blackmore was first up. She spoke about her journey from being an avid believer in the paranormal through to becoming a skeptic. She talked us through some of the experiments she did on paranormal activity and ESP, including when she debunked a series of ganzfeld studies. Her talk was very interesting and she is a good enthusiastic speaker. She is also known for expanding on the theory of memes, although she didn't go into this aspect of her work.

Next up was Richard Dawkins. He gave a lecture entitled "Evolution: The New Classics" in which he proposed the idea that evolutionary mechanisms tie into to almost all other aspects of education and are important for many seemingly unrelated subjects, including engineering, computer science, etc. I was glad that he came up with new material for the talk as I had been worried that he might just rehash the same old stuff we've all seen him say a million times. So I was impressed, although I heard a few other participants say otherwise. Dawkins doesn't really engage with the crowd much and comes off a bit robotic so this might have disappointed some people.

Cory Doctorow gave a talk about copyright law and related issues. This area isn't of great interest to me so my mind tended to wander a bit but he is a great speaker and I would recommend going to see him talk if this is your thing.

Adam Rutherford was next up and his talk was very entertaining. He mostly spoke about his experiences in the Alpha Course, a program which attempts to re-educate and re-convert Christians who have fallen away from Christianity. He spoke of how they use airy fairy language to make points about Christianity and regularly use strangely conceived metaphors and analogies about the Bible including, apparently, several references to Frodo and Lord of the Rings!


First up after lunch was Andy Nyman, who is probably best known for being the co-creator of all of Derren Brown's TV shows and live performances (or at least this is how I know of him). He was interviewed by Richard Wiseman and spoke a bit about his work with Derren, but most of the time was spent discussing Ghost Stories, which is a live horror play he created. I haven't seen it, but am planning to go soon.

Paula Kirby came next and gave a talk about the political manifesto of the fundamentalist Christian Party. It was quite entertaining, especially when she read out some of the more absurd statements - and there were plenty of those to choose from, e.g. “The fact that we’re not allowed to hit children any more is the root of all crime in society”. Nuff said.

A panel discussion discussing Skeptical Activism was then hosted by Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science. The panelists were Simon Singh, David Allen Green (who blogs as Jack of Kent) and Evan Harris (Lib Dem politician). This was an interesting discussion and there was a lot of talk about alternative medicine. Indeed, in the Q&A session, Jonathan Ross's daughter, Honey, informed the room that her school gives out homeopathic remedies to the kids - a revelation that stunned many of the crowd.


The last official talk of the first day was actually an interview of James Randi by comedian Robin Ince. This was a great end to the day and Randi told some stories about how he messed with Uri Geller and Peter Popoff back in the 70s and 80s.

Randi then presented two JREF awards - one to Ben Goldacre and a special one to a 15 year old boy called Rhys Morgan with Crohn's disease who managed to take on the dodgy drug companies and get an alternative remedy called Miracle Mineral Solution off the market, because it was basically just bleach. Brilliant!

The evening event with Tim Minchin and friends was optional and I went along. It was very funny and they premiered Tim's new short animated video Storm - trailer below.

Sorry for the short synopsis but if you want more see the Guardian Live blog here. Day 2 (and some photos) to follow...


16 October, 2010

PZ Myers....and me....and beer!

TAM London starts today. I went to register yesterday evening in the Hilton Metropole, following which I sauntered up to the hotel bar. Who was standing there, but only PZ Myers!

We spoke over a beer for about 15-20 minutes. Really nice guy. I mentioned to him that he had linked to my blog in the past, with respect to my email debate with Casey Luskin. Actually, PZ also left a comment here on another thread.

Anyway, good start!

I also saw Randi, sporting a full length black cape and hat. Nice.



11 October, 2010

Anyone going to TAM London...?

I'll be there. Let me know and we can meet up for a drink...


10 October, 2010

When in Rome...

Visit the Vatican.


08 October, 2010

Spammers are getting plain lazy

I've posted before about those email scammers who try to convince you that you've won some lottery you never entered or need your help getting large sums of money out of a central African country. You know what the email usually entails, a convoluted story and a plea for help.

Well, it seems they are getting lazy. Check this one out that just came into our work email address:


I am Mrs Stella Ethan, a Christian. I have picked you for an inheritance, Everything is available. Please contact me for more details. Private contact email: mrs.stallaethan@jpwind.com

They're just not putting the same effort in these days, huh?


05 October, 2010

Flight of the Conchords Yo!

Just found this live show filmed in Amoeba Records in New York...

Here are a few of my favourite FOTC tracks:


01 October, 2010

A reply to homeopath Sheelagh Behan

I recently co-authored a letter to the Irish Times in response to a letter from homeopath Sheelagh Behan, in which she offered a defence of homeopathy following an earlier anti-alternative medicine article by Paul O'Donoghue (founding member of the Irish Skeptics Society). The letter wasn't published and so I have posted it here instead.


Sheelagh Behan's defense of homeopathy (letters, 17th September) uses some fairly common strategies employed by homeopaths to bolster their art, but she fails to actually provide any compelling reasons to endorse the prescription of water for medical conditions more serious than dehydration. Her arguments can be summed up as a combination of the fallacies; i) appeal to the people, ii) appeal to authority, and iii) pseudo-scientific language.

i) Yes homeopathy is widely used; so were leeches, but no matter how many people used them they were never more effective than a placebo. Science is not a democracy - it relies on reproducible experimental evidence.

ii) Regarding the two studies actually mentioned; the first, a study of E. coli in Dutch piglets was published in a journal entitled "Homeopathy", an outlet unlikely to critically examine homeopathic hypotheses. The second, namely Luc Montagnier's study of electromagnetic signals from DNA in water did not even directly test the power of dilution but instead attributed an effect to dilution following a *filtration step*. Indeed, unfiltered bacteria gave no signal at all when diluted, in direct contrast to the central tenet of homeopathy. Also, the electromagnetic signals reported following filtration were mostly unaffected by dilution rather than enhanced by it, and the authors make no claim to have shown a mechanism for homeopathic efficacy. All in all, their results might be true, but using Occam's razor one would first need to rule out simpler explanations, such as the filtration process introducing a contaminant that may emit the signal. (Edit: see here for a thorough rebuttal of Montagnier's study)

iii) Lastly, hormesis, the belief that a little poison is good for you, is neither widely accepted in toxicology nor does it validate homeopathy's second principle of so called "potentization". It is closer to Murphy's law (which isn't a law) or the 80-20 rule (which isn't a rule) than to any scientific law and it does nothing to prove there is any trace (or memory) of the original "remedy" left after so many dilutions. If there are such traces (or memories), then patients would also receive the effects of whatever else the water has previously diluted.

While people in any free society should have the right to seek whatever treatment they prefer, they should be completely informed as to what they might be paying for, whether directly or through health insurance premiums. Homeopathy makes claims that its treatments are more effective than a placebo and, therefore, does not reliably inform patients and the public.

As Dara O'Briain says, when alternative medicine works, it simply becomes *medicine*...