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Stardate 10.014

Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team

Skeptic

European woman in NZ before Capt. Cook?
It has been reported in the media that a skull of a Caucasian female, aged 40 to 45 years old, was found on a river bank north of Wellington, NZ. The mysterious thing about this skull is that it has been carbon dated and results indicate that this woman died somewhere between 1706 and 1742 CE. Skull It's mysterious since there weren't supposed to be any Caucasian/European women in NZ at that time. To put this in perspective, Abel Tasman is believed to be the first European to sight NZ, in 1642 CE. He had no women on board and didn't land. Next was Captain James Cook in 1769 CE, who did land but again didn't have any women on board. It is believed the first European women arrived in NZ in 1806 CE.

A cursory viewing of the TV News items and/or newspaper reports results in the following being presented as certainties, as facts: The skull belonged to a European woman. She died in NZ around 300 years ago. She was not murdered. The question then becomes — What was a European woman doing in NZ prior to Cook's voyage?

But how confident can we be of these assertions? As so often happens the media turns possibilities into certainties. Are there simple ways to explain this skull without needing to rewrite history? Yes there are. Of course this doesn't mean that the scenario as presented can't be correct. It's quite possible that a European woman could have been in NZ 300 years ago. It doesn't break any 'laws of nature'. But it's not about whether it's possible. Is it likely? Does the evidence really support it? Let's look at what the experts quoted in the articles really said rather than just how the media interpreted their statements.

One article quoted two Auckland forensic pathologists, Dr Rex Ferris and Dr Tim Koelmeyer as saying, "the skull was not Maori... and was almost certainly a European woman." Another article quotes them as saying, "the skull was... not Maori, and was probably Caucasian." These slightly different assertions — 'almost certainly' and 'probably' — appear to be the reporters' words. We wonder what the pathologists really said to describe their level of certainty. A third expert, a Wellington forensic pathologist, Dr Robin Watt, was quoted as saying, "the woman was probably of European origin... but he could not discount the possibility of Maori ancestry." Why does the media give us the impression that 'probably' means 'definitely'? That's like us saying the All Blacks will probably win the Rugby World Cup. Note also that the third forensic pathologist, who is described as a forensic anthropologist in other articles, states that it is possible the skull is Maori and not European.

So it is not conclusive that the skull is European. It appears to have some European characteristics and thus could be European, but if not, it might be Maori. Remember also that only a partial skull was available for examination. The rest of the body that could have provided further clues was never found. Also what expertise do these pathologists have in examining ancient remains?

What about the age of the skull? The skull has evidently been radiocarbon dated to determine it's age. Most articles quote Masterton coroner John Kershaw as saying the "skull... has turned out to be a European woman... who died between 266 years ago and 302 years ago." Yet the articles often quote the following as well - "In 2005, GNS Science indicated a radiocarbon age between 296 years — plus or minus 34 years." This translates to between 262 and 330 years ago, and adjusted for 2008 CE, 265 and 333 years ago, not 266 and 302 years ago as the coroner claims. His dates would only take us back to 1706, but the GNS Science dates would take us right back to 1675 CE. The GNS Science dates are more likely to be the correct dates as they are presented in the format that radiocarbon dating uses ie X years plus or minus Y years, and they were the company that performed the test. The coroner's dates would more correctly be presented as '284 years plus or minus 18 years'. Why doesn't the coroner's date match that of the company that did the test? Why didn't the coroner or the reporters notice that they were different? If the coroner could get confused over what the true dates were, what else might he have been confused over?

If we ignore the differences and accept merely that carbon dating puts the skull at around 300 years old, where does that leave us? Well we need to ask if it can be believed. I have great faith in carbon dating but errors can be made. If a date is obtained that seems improbable, as in this case, then it must be verified by further testing. However there is no mention that it has been re-tested or independently tested, nor have other tests that could shed light on its origin been carried out. Apart from the historical problem, there is another factor that suggests it may not be as old as carbon dating suggests. When Dr Robin Watt first examined the skull, (he's called a 'Forensic Anthropologist' in this particular article, not a 'forensic pathologist'), he said, "I suggested initially that it was probably 40 or 50 years old, going back to the 1940s because the right side was really quite well preserved." So a visual examination by an expert as to its age tends to contradict the carbon dating. Two opposing results, which is correct?

Let's now suppose that the skull is in fact European, female and around 300 years old. Does that support the article's contention that a European female was living in NZ before historical accounts say Europeans first arrived? Not at all. Carbon dating can only tell us when something died, not where it died, or where it lived. This old and long dead skull could have been brought to NZ in "recent" times, ie the 19th century or later. Perhaps by European immigrants bringing the bones of their ancestors with them, or perhaps a doctor or medical student brought the long dead skull to NZ for reference purposes. This skull and maybe other bones were eventually buried in South Wairarapa and perhaps due to earthquakes, floods etc the skull has resurfaced. Although the skull is here now, the woman probably lived and died in Europe, not NZ. For example, I have a Russian coin minted in the 1700s in my possession. But you shouldn't infer from this that the Russians were minting coins in NZ in the 1700s. It was simply brought here much later from Europe, by my grandfather. Likewise a 300-year-old female European skull in NZ doesn't mean that she actually lived here. Furthermore there is no supporting evidence that a European — female or male — was present in NZ at this period in history. Gareth Winter, an historian consulted regarding the skull, said that a Maori chief told Capt. Cook somewhere between 1772 and 1775 of a ship that had been shipwrecked and its survivors eaten many years earlier. However there are no records of European ships going missing or being shipwrecked in NZ waters prior to Cook's visit. Furthermore Maori were very quick to acquire and adopt European technology when it became available in the late 1700s. It's unbelievable that they would have destroyed all trace of European artefacts that a shipwreck and its crew would have offered. Metal knifes, pots, axes, shovels, belt buckles, mirrors, clothing etc would have been retained even if the crew were immediately killed and eaten. Even strange things like books and sextants would have been kept as curiosities and handed down from generation to generation. Yet not one item of European origin has ever been produced by Maori that predates Cook's arrival.

There is another possibility that allows the woman to live in NZ and be 300 years old. And that is that the skull didn't belong to a European. She was Maori. As we've already said, the pathologists are not absolutely certain that it is European, with one pathologist saying that while it looks European, it could be Maori. Apart from some European characteristics of the skull, there is no other evidence that places a European female in NZ at this time.

A less likely but still possible solution to the mystery is that it's a hoax. Someone planted an old European skull in order to fool investigators. However Gareth Winter, the archivist who considers himself an expert witness, said that, "the possibility of a hoax could confidently be ruled out." This is extremely naive on his part. Why can a hoax be ruled out? A hoax like this would be extremely easy to commit, just drop an old skull where it's likely to be found. We wonder if he would say the same thing about that bogus Roswell alien autopsy? Too many academics delude themselves. Since they would never consider perpetrating a hoax, some believe no one else would either. There are people pushing theories that Europeans in the form of Celts, Vikings etc colonised NZ long before Maori arrived. Here's what 'Billybob of London' had to say when he read the skull article in the international media, "I have been informed by many Kiwis that there's archaeological evidence proving the Maori were not the first people in New Zealand although any discussion of this has been totally banned by NZ's PC govt. Hmmm?" We're amazed that people believe this alternative history crap, but even more amazed that they also believe that our government has banned us from discussing it. The level of some people's arguments is truly pathetic. There is no evidence to support these claims, nor is there evidence to support that the skull is a hoax, but it is certainly feasible that someone might want to manufacture evidence for their bogus claims. A hoax can't be ruled out just because Mr Winter says it can.

Another bogus belief that surfaced regarding this skull was that she was not murdered. On TV3's Campbell Live, John Campbell informed us that since people might be curious about a small bullet-like hole in her skull, the experts have said that the woman most definitely did not die by foul means. Yet how can they say that with any confidence? She could have been stabbed a thousand times, poisoned, strangled and decapitated. Only part of her skull was recovered, nothing else. The coroner said that, "One of the reasons some work was done on the skull was because it had a number of puncture wounds. We don't know how this lady met her death, although the historian we used indicated drowning was a reasonable guess." This is astounding. We have two forensic pathologists, a forensic anthropologist and a coroner examining the skull, and yet it is left up to an historian to "guess" how she may have died!! This doesn't give us a lot of confidence in how forensic pathologists reach conclusions.

Searching on the internet for references to this skull, the only thing that we found were media reports which all appeared to be a rehash of one unsighted original media release. The majority of the text was common to all articles, while some statements were unique and some contradicted each other. We found no discussion or articles on the skull from academics. If this discovery was so controversial, so important, so well supported by evidence, why was the academic world not noticeably involved? Remember this "discovery" has been known in scientific circles for three years, since 2005. The pathologists and historian have known about this "history rewrite" for three years but none seemingly thought it important enough to tell anyone.

This skull story is merely another example of the media taking a mystery and giving it a meaning and emphasis that is not warranted. It appeals to those that prefer mysteries to knowledge, to those that prefer fanciful histories to well supported historical accounts. Yes this skull story could be true, but until they come up with more supporting evidence, we need to stick with accepted history.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 08 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Keri, 10 Aug, 2008

    I support your finely argued points: as a Maori-Pakeha ANZer, who has a good working knowledge of taha Maori, history, & archaeology, I am so frustrated by the Barclays & Wisemans & Doutres et al, out there in the undergrowth. "Silly Beliefs" is a recent but treasured resource to spread around both family & friends - thank you! No reira, mihi koa mai na, n/n Keri

  2. Comment by Phillip, 11 Aug, 2008

    Like you I was somewhat disappointed by the lax reporting of the media. As you correctly point out, even if the skull is off a European woman and even if the radio carbon dating is correct, this is still not proof of European's in New Zealand before Cook. The most likely explanation is, as you have said, that this skull was brought to New Zealand at a later date, perhaps by a medical person. I suspect the real mystery of this case is how it came to be where it was found.

Islam means peace — or does it?
Once again we learn through the media that Islam Awareness Week is upon us. We discover from their website that it "provides an opportunity for the wider New Zealand community to learn about the beliefs, values and practices of Muslim New Zealanders". We're also told that their website is our "source of accurate, high-quality information." So far so good. There are a lot of myths out there regarding Islam which need exposing. Unfortunately many Muslims seem to entertain as many myths about their religion as do non-Muslims. A favourite myth among Muslim and non-Muslim alike is that Islam is "the religion with the name that means peace". This claim was made on a TV3 News item by Yvonne Ridley, a British Muslim apologist flown in for Islamic Awareness Week in 2005. On their website we find the statement "interactions during Islam Awareness Week provide a chance for all of us to... learn basic facts, such as that... Islam means peace." It doesn't seem to matter how many times this lie is exposed — even by other Muslims — many Muslims still claim it is true and many non-Muslims believe it. Regardless of what peaceful values the religion itself may have, the word Islam is Arabic for "submission to God" and Muslim means "one who submits". It does not mean peace as in 'the absence of war or other hostilities, harmonious relations with others' etc., and it is disingenuous to pretend it does. The Islam Awareness Week website even ends their article with the words "Salaam/Peace". This demonstrates that they know very well that the word for peace is salaam, not Islam. Their website says they hope to "reduce ignorance and misconceptions" about Islam which "often result from misinformation through news media". They criticise the media for propagating misinformation but they themselves continue to provide the media with misinformation. Namely that Islam means peace. If in their initial communication with us we detect a blatant lie, how can we believe anything else they might claim? If Muslims — or anyone one — have to resort to falsehoods to further their belief, then they have already lost.

This 'Islam means peace' deception is also used when some Muslims explain the meaning of "dar al-Islam". This is the state that any and all true Muslims want the world to be in. They define it as the "house [or domain] of peace", implying that they wish a world of peace. However there is an alternate state that Muslims believe the world can be in, one called "dar al-Harb" or the "house [or domain] of war". Since Muslims seek the "house of peace" this all sounds positive, until we remember that Islam doesn't mean peace and thus "dar al-Islam" actually means "house of submission". This generally refers to those countries under Muslim governments, under Muslim submission, whereas "dar al-Harb" (house of war) refers to countries not [yet] under Muslim rule. The duty of every Muslim to enlarge the "house of submission" doesn't mean spreading peace, it actually means to bring other countries under Muslim domination. Let's not confuse Osama bin Laden with Mahatma Gandhi. Radical Muslims are promoting submission not peace.

Remember too that all Muslims should be striving for this outcome, not just fundamentalists. Yet many Muslims do live peacefully in what is called the "house of war", ie non-Muslim countries. So why aren't they fighting to change it to a "house of submission" you may wonder? Well one reason could be that Muslims are granted a dispensation while their numbers are insufficient to bring about a change and win the war. They are told to bide their time until their numbers grow. Their religion allows this. But I suspect that most Muslims are peaceful and decent citizens because like most Christians, they have either consciously rejected barbaric commandments from their holy book or they are totally ignorant of them. Just as most Christians don't execute homosexuals, psychic mediums or people that eat shellfish, even though their Bible says they should, most Muslims wouldn't think of attacking their non-Muslim neighbour even if they safely could, and even though their Koran says they should. I've worked with Muslim men and women in NZ, Iran and Malaysia and generally found them warm, intelligent, friendly, decent people, no better or worse than Christians I've worked with.

That said, I still believe that fundamentalist Islam is one of the main threats the world faces today. It's where Christianity was in the times of the Inquisitions and Crusades, utterly convinced that every word in their holy book was true and certain that they should be controlling the world. Unfortunately Muslims that aren't fundamentalists are busy trying to convince the NZ public that Islam means peace and that they are not a threat to our society. This may well be true, but it can lead people to assume that all Muslims, even Muslim fundamentalists or Islamists are really seeking peace. You know, Muslim groups like al-Qaeda and the taliban and the Muslims that carried out terrorist attacks in NY, London, Madrid and Bali. It's almost as if they want us to believe that these terrorist acts were mere nightmares and that these 'evil' Muslims don't really exist, it was all just media misinformation. In distorting true Islam and watering down its intentions to what they may truly wish it to be, they are in effect deflecting attention and criticism from Muslims that do indeed mean us harm. They have kept what they consider the good bits from the Koran and rejected the nasty bits, and want us to believe that this "civilised" version is the real Islamic religion. Unfortunately the religious fundamentalist is still obediently following their religion as spelt out in the Koran and Hadith. They're doing what their god really demands, and they're as dangerous as hell.

People need to realise that if Muslims really believe in their religion and follow it devoutly, then they are to be feared, just as devout Christians in the Middle Ages were to be feared once they gained power over others. Muslims need to reach a position that most modern Christians have reached, a psychological condition know as "cognitive dissonance", where one's actions conflict with one's beliefs. That is, most Christians say they believe in God and the Bible but they tend to live their lives as if they didn't. They believe that God said that eating shellfish is an abomination but they continue to eat it anyway. Muslims need to reach this stage where they can believe in Allah and the Koran and comfortably ignore it at the same time. Hopefully, thanks to modern communications and more open debate, Muslims will reach this stage a lot quicker than the centuries it took Christians. Muslims in NZ could be playing their part by affirming to us that harmful and barbaric elements of their religion do exist and that they have rejected them. As long as they waste their media time perpetuating myths such as 'the word Islam means peace' rather than denouncing the motives of radical, fundamentalist Muslims, they will continue to feel ostracised from society.

For an insight into what Islam really says, we would recommend 'Why I Am Not a Muslim' by Ibn Warraq, an ex-Muslim fundamentalist from Pakistan, and 'The End of Faith' by Sam Harris.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 09 Sep, 2008

    I've just finished reading "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is an excellent book and I Ali thoroughly recommend it. To quote the rear of the book, it "tells her astonishing life story, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia to her intellectual awakening in the Netherlands..."
    The following is a comment that Ayaan made regarding Islam and peace:

    "Most Muslims never delve into theology, and we rarely read the Quran; we are taught it in Arabic, which most Muslims can't speak. As a result, most people think that Islam is about peace. It is from these people, honest and kind, that the fallacy has arisen that Islam is peaceful and tolerant."
    I can't remember the exact quote but another aspect of this 'Islam is peace' claim involves Muslims claiming that the Prophet insists that they show friendship, hospitality, loyalty etc and live peacefully with others. This is true to a degree, but they neglect to highlight that the "others" that the Koran refers to are other Muslims, not non-believers. Non-believers they are supposed to avoid and even kill.
Paranormal powers or mere coincidence?
I've just read about Sheila Wall, a 71 year old living in Brighton, Dunedin, who claims to be a medium. That is, someone who believes they can communicate with dead people. In fact she claims to be an international medium and runs her business from Dunedin. In describing this "gift" she states that, "Clairvoyance is a natural ability we all have. Most people will have had an experience some time in their lives that they can't explain, like knowing who is calling them before answering the call. Some of us are just more sensitive and in tune with these abilities and use them in a professional and responsible way." Rubbish. This isn't clairvoyance, it's a delusion brought about by mere chance, by coincidence. It's amazing how when people can't explain something, due to their ignorance, some immediately jump to utterly bogus conclusions. Wall and others like her fail to realise that unusual events can happen merely by chance. She prefers to belief she has magical powers. For example, wining first prize in Lotto is a rare and unusual event, to which no cause can be attributed. It is simply chance. Anyone that could reliably predict who was going to win lotteries would be suspected of fraud, that they had somehow rigged the outcome. If we dream of winning Lotto, and then we do, we're merely lucky, but Wall believes that if we correctly guess who might be ringing us — just once in a lifetime — then we have psychic powers.

Georges Charpak and Henri Broch in their book "Debunked! ~ ESP, Telekinesis and other Pseudoscience" took an even more impressive spooky experience than what Wall described and calculated how often this experience would be expected to happen by mere chance alone. Rather than simply guessing who might be ringing you, they look at the claim of people who say they've suddenly thought of someone and then almost immediately discover, by a phone call or on the TV news perhaps, that they've recently died. They asked, "What is the probability that, having thought about a person, we will somehow learn in the next five minutes, purely by coincidence and without any paranormal influence, that the person has died?" They based their calculation on the USA and revealed that about 23,782 people in the US will have this "spooky" experience every year. That's around 65 people a day!! When I worked it out for little old NZ, it's about 380 people per year or on average, one a day. Think about this. It means that for every day of the year, someone in NZ — perhaps you or one of your family, friends or associates — might exclaim, "Wow, I had this strange experience last night. I thought of my cousin and then I got a phone call telling me they had just died. How weird is that? I must have psychic powers."

Well sorry, but you don't have psychic powers. It's just a fluke. A coincidence. Everyone will have met someone who thinks they have sensed the death of someone or simply guessed who was on the phone. They don't have special powers. I'm even dumbfounded regarding the number of people who have expressed surprise when I've answered my cell phone saying their name. They exclaim, "How did you know it was me calling?" They're all familiar with Caller ID, but rather than simply realise that I'm using that information, they sway towards some paranormal explanation. It's time for these believers in things spooky to start using reason, to learn a little about random chance and probabilities, and to realise that believing the dead are communicating with them or a friend is a delusion.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Bob, 02 Aug, 2008

    You are right of course. The difficulty is people who want to believe in the paranormal just won't listen to explanations. In fact some get angry if you dare question it. When you talk of coincidence this must involve a number of people with numerous experiences to see how they work out statistically. A lady living on her own with just a few family and friends doesn't know the experiences of a large number of people to see the overall picture. She thinks her coincidence is evidence of the psychic.

    I'd like to tell you of an experience which involved me on the periphery. My father died in 1970. I was overseas and unable to go to the funeral. It was in fact several months before I did get back home. My mother who has since died filled me in on the circumstances. My father died in a public street from sudden heart failure. The police called to tell my mother who naturally was very shocked through not expecting it. A day or two after his death my mother was standing in the living room looking througth the door at the door of her bedroom. She distinctly saw my father walking out of the bedroom rolling up his sleeves heading for the bathroom. She told me it frightened her so much she was glad when my brother arrived home from work.

    I never knew my mother to be interested in the paranormal. She had her feet firmly on the ground. I told her she hadn't really seen him. It was just an hallucination brought on by severe stress. She never actually answered me and never mentioned it again. Now for years my father came home from work, walked into the bedroom, took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and washed before eating. I have no doubt this was the mental image in my mother's mind which came to the fore under stress. It goes to show how people can be fooled into thinking they really have had a psychic experience.

    Psychics such as the one you mention are either bogus or self deluded. The difference is whether they charge for readings or not. It is interesting to see James Randi in some Youtube clips challenging well known psychics to take his test and collect $1million dollars he has put aside. That prize has been added to with lesser amounts by Skeptics in other countries including here. In 10 years nobody has collected the prize. That should tell you something. Psychics have all sorts of excuses to weasel out. Randi's test is designed to fail applicants or the power can't be turned on and off at will. Nobody knows what is going to come through. Randi counters that by saying it seems to come through on the dot at 7.30 on a Tuesday night just in time for a theatre performance.

    For those who are deluded it is very difficult to convince them. They are sure they are right. This is a problem not only with the paranormal but with religion, alternative medicines, new age - you name it. I subscribe to the NZ Skeptics. I did suggest to them once it would be good if they could make up kits on logical thinking for schools and the need to question everything. Of course that society is too small in membership to carry out such an exercise. There is hope though in the demise of the old superstitions and the rise of science.

    I want to add [that] I was very pleased to see the article about "Sensing Murder" in today's Sunday Herald. In all the cases highlighted no useful information has been supplied to police, no names of suspects have resulted in any arrests. In short no crimes have been solved. The only value is that publicity generated has brought some useful information from the public. The article confirms as I said in a previous post that these shows generate a lot of money.

Do you enjoy graphic violence on TV?
Many people these days rave about TV shows like The Sopranos and Underbelly that involve criminals and psychopaths killing and beating the shit out of innocent people. Frankly I violence don't understand why some people enjoy watching realistic graphic violence, especially where the criminals are the main characters or "heroes" of the show. In NZ, even as we are fighting against the problem of public and domestic violence, a local TV drama that is winning awards and being sold to the world is Outrageous Fortune. It portrays a trailer-park-trash criminal family living in Auckland — and depressingly — this dysfunctional family of deadbeats, who often resort to violence, are the "heroes" of the show. We even have a US show on TV called Dexter where the "hero" is a serial killer. Then we have multiple crime shows such as CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds, NCIS, Women's Murder Club, SVU: Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Suspicious Minds, CSI: New York, Murder etc that are all on our screens at present. Why do normal people go out of their way week after week to watch these TV shows? To watch extended, graphic, realistic, disturbing footage of a woman being raped or a policeman being strangled or a child being buried alive and left to suffocate? It's a little scary that your neighbour or colleague enjoys these images and storylines. We arrest people that just look at images of child sex abuse, even if it's staged and even if there was no actual abuse, with the images merely being of children in provocative poses. Yet images of violence and sexual abuse perpetrated on adults drive some of our most popular shows and movies.

When was the last time you saw pubic hair on TV or a penis, let alone an erect penis? I saw Fanny Hill on TV last weekend but I didn't see one shot of male or female genitals, yet this is a film of a famous pornographic novel. There is nothing obscene or illegal about nudity but seemingly we can't be exposed to it on TV, even though we see it in the shower every morning. Yet obscene, disgusting, disturbing and completely illegal violence can flood our most popular TV shows and movies and people lap it up. If directors believe that they can successfully tell the story of Fanny Hill without full nudity and no graphic sex whatsoever, then why can't they tell a murder story without us viewing the actual murder over and over again, often in slow blood-splattering motion? Remember in the old days movies by Alfred Hitchcock never showed the actual murder and police shows like Starsky and Hutch never went out of their way to graphically portray the murders. I'm sorry but I just don't understand why people happily pay to watch people get murdered and horribly beaten in graphic detail (albeit acting and special effects) but get all upset when Janet Jackson "accidentally" exposes her right breast for less than a second on TV. I think of the real deaths and atrocities I've witnessed on the TV news and current affairs programs and yet both TV1 and TV3 News had the hypocrisy to censor the Auckland Boobs on Bikes parade. This is where a few topless women, mostly strippers, rode down Queen St on the back of motorbikes. TV management have felt we had to see a real headless corpse or a real patient in Iraq with both hands blown off or a real woman horribly disfigured after being set alight, but decreed we couldn't see a single boob, most of which would have been fake anyway. We really have got our priorities screwed up. Personally I'd rather teenagers see someone enjoying getting screwed on Fanny Hill than someone getting tortured and sliced up on the likes of SVU: Special Victims Unit. If they say that people seeing nudity and sex on TV might make them want to experience it for themselves, then surely the same argument applies to violence, rape and other crimes. I just can't grasp why people don't see that there is a dual standard here, that they can freely watch graphic violence, which is illegal, immoral and psychologically disturbing, yet have no gripe that they can't see graphic sex or even nudity which is legal, moral and pleasurable. From a Christian perspective, I guess they would say that Satan is winning the battle. Perhaps Satan is moonlighting as a TV programmer? Not that Christians are necessarily against the portrayal of graphic violence on our screens. Arguably one of the most graphic and gratuitously violent movies ever produced was made and promoted by Christians: The Passion of the Christ.

I'm not pushing to get more nudity and sex on TV, although I wouldn't argue against it. I'm merely using it as a clear example of something that is censored on our screens, whereas graphic violence is permitted. Why the difference? Why is the portrayal of natural, healthy and legal acts banned but visions of dangerous, disturbing and illegal acts permitted and promoted? And I'm not talking about the violence one sees in a Rambo or Die Hard movie or even a Roadrunner cartoon. I'm talking about shows and movies that spend an inordinate amount of time and detail in portraying a violent and often sadistic act, attempting to make it as realistic, disturbing and as drawn out as possible, like the aforementioned movie The Passion of the Christ. And most people that I observe watching these scenes do grimace and recoil at their graphic nature, yet still watch episode after episode. Of course most people will say that there is no harm in watching violent acts on TV. They know violence is wrong and would never even contemplate acting out what they see on TV. So why the ban on nudity and sex on TV? Of course it's quite possible that many people that love these shows with graphic violence would prefer it if they had graphic sex and nudity as well. But getting nudity and sex on TV wouldn't change the problem in my view. My gripe is that promoting criminals as the main characters in movies and TV dramas and/or graphically portraying their violent and criminal actions can hardly have positive outcomes. How do these portrayals influence the thinking of today's youth? How does viewing rap music videos where gang members wave guns around and talk about dealing to their bitches improve how teenagers interact with others? How does bonding with the criminal family on Outrageous Fortune or The Sopranos affect how you view criminals in real life?

This is a challenge to those that get some sort of enjoyment or gratification from watching acts of graphic violence on TV and in movies and/or rooting for the criminally motivated hero. Is it psychologically healthy to be continuously exposed to acts of graphic violence, when for example viewing nudity seemingly isn't healthy? Is it ethically responsible viewing for impressionable viewers to watch the hero commit crimes, when for example watching people have sex is seemingly harmful? Does it make sense to censor nudity while completely ignoring graphic violence? What does it say about the person who tunes in week after week to see another victim being murdered and yet complains if some character on some other show displays a little too much flesh or says 'Fuck' too many times or blasphemes their god. I'd prefer my friends and people on the street were thinking about sex, swearing or blaspheming rather than thinking about torturing, murdering or stealing. I'd rather that they were enjoying TV shows like Family Guy and South Park rather than Criminal Minds and Criminal Intent. I'd prefer that they got their ethics from Star Trek and Stargate SG-1 rather than from Dexter, Outrageous Fortune and Shortland Street.

In short, I find it a little disturbing that some people enthusiastically follow the criminal exploits of fictional characters and get their jollies from viewing violent material. I wonder how it affects their view of the world and their relationships, and even if they don't go on to commit violence or crime themselves, how it helps them become better human beings.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Jul, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Damian, 01 Aug, 2008

    Hi John, I really enjoy your site and appreciate all the hard work and wisdom.

    I harbour a deep hatred for the television and TV violence, and am up for a bit of a rant.

    For me, TV violence starts with the news.

    The "news". The way camera crews are on scene at accidents and incidents makes me feel nauseous. Whether they're filming a wrecked car, a body under a blanket, or a blood stained murder weapon, they subject us to our own televised misfortune like it's important. If I'm not watching, then I'm not being kept informed or I'm not "getting close to the news" or whatever the slogan is.

    The news is not a service, it's a carefully contrived and marketed production, designed to make us watch. The most expensive advertising time on TV is when then evening news is on. The context of the information is secondary to the fact that it's delivered by people that have perfect hair, teeth and makeup, and who talk like actors. They do their little turns into different camera shots, and as they do it, they always make sure their expression is perfectly appropriate too. It's a misconception to think that "Hilary" or "Mike" has just sat on their overpaid ass all day long sipping mocha's, but that in truth, they've worked bloody hard to bring you that piece about politics, sports, culture, and the body under the bloodstained blanket.

    Always keeping you informed, 24x7. With 5 minutes of useful and informative, obligation free ads every 15 minutes.

    I'm 37 and I'll always remember late one night when I was about 11 years old, watching a war documentary on TV with my father. During the program there was some footage of a Vietnamese man being executed with a bullet to the head and it shocked me so much that I knew then and there, that I didn't ever want to get used to seeing things like that. I've tried hard to make sure I'm still deeply affected by things like this.

    A few weeks ago, someone in my office sent an email to about half a dozen of us "guys" of someone getting hit by a car. It was just a simple piece of footage from a traffic light camera of a car losing control and hitting a pedestrian. I'll never understand why people get regularly wrapped up in the lives of fictional characters, or why people regard footage like this as just part of their day. I almost willingly lose my temper in circumstances like this because it is a huge liberty to assume that I'm fine with watching things like this. I enquired to the sender as to whether he would have forwarded the same piece of video, had it been one of our brothers or fathers hit by that car. He obviously said that no he wouldn't have sent it, and when I asked him why not, it was obvious that it was something he'd simply never thought about. He's just used to seeing things like this. He regards the result of a human life coming to an end on camera, as a tid-bit of entertainment in his day.

    But this seems to be the way things are, and it seems that I'm the freak for reacting so strongly.

    If I'm watching TV with my Mum, I'm much more comfortable seeing someone get tortured and killed than I am seeing them get boned.

    A rugby player is never escorted from the field by a policeman if he assaults another player, but a person running across the field naked is.

    I shudder to think of what our grand children will find shocking.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Aug, 2008

    Thanks for your comments Damian. I especially like the bit where you say that you feel more comfortable watching violence on TV than sex when in the company of your mother. I suspect this goes for most people. What does it say about the values we grow up when, in the presence of our parents, we are more comfortable with an act of violence than an act of affection?

    As for the news footage, I agree it's all about ratings these days, and I'm not at all impressed with the standards of much of our news reporting. When deciding what is shown, as the saying goes, "If it bleeds it leads." I do believe we need to see a minimal amount of footage of violent events and its after-effects on the news. We need to see the aftermath of a terrorist bomb in a crowded market and the carnage caused by an earthquake or tsunami otherwise we remain ignorant of their true impact on society. But these images must not be gratuitous. They must be used only to educate and inform us and to allow us to empathise with those affected by these disasters or crimes. They must be shown in such a way that we never become comfortable with these images, and as you say, so we remain "deeply affected by things like this."

    As an example, I've read a little about female "circumcision", more correctly called female genital mutilation, and it truly sounded barbaric. However it wasn't until the Penn & Teller: Bullshit! TV series showed an actual image that the true horror hit home. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

    Unfortunately the graphic violence on TV shows and in movies has in many cases reduced the shock value of real events. I often find myself thinking when watching footage of real disasters, 'That doesn't look very real', because it doesn't have as much blood and gore as in the movies, or the explosions aren't as impressive. Real disasters and deaths don't have the same impact on my psyche as they should due to the desensitising effect of movies. This doesn't bode well for a humane society.

  3. Comment by garth, 24 Mar, 2011

    Hi John, i always enjoy your articles.

    I was bought up with this kind of programming my parents were very lenient in what they let me watch even from a very young age, about 7 they let me start to watch adult shows and i must ask myself the question, would i view the world differently if they had made me wait until i was older to watch allot of that stuff, i have been to psychiatrists in my teen years and have been told that i am desensitized from all that kind of thing, this was explained to me as an example of if i were to see someone get stabbed or murdered in the street that it would not have any emotional or mental effect on me whatsoever, i should probably point out that i would commit such acts of violence or murder, just that if i saw it i wouldn't care, obviously i would ring the police and an ambulance i just wouldn't feel "bad" about witnessing such a thing. Now if that is me and i am 24 years of age and the t.v violence was nothing compared to what it is today think of how badly it could possibly be effecting the youth of today.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Mar, 2011

    Yes Garth, I think this desensitising effect of TV and movies is something experts should be looking into. Some studies suggest that violent movies and computer games etc have no effect on viewers, but others are not so sure. Most experts say that children shouldn't be exposed to real violence or sex acts in the home or community, and yet have little to say about fake violence and sex in the media. How can kids tell the difference?

  5. Comment by Phill, 07 Apr, 2011

    Hi John, I keep coming back to this rant because its one of the few you've written that I don't entirely agree with. Your points seem to be that there is a double standard where violence is acceptable on television but sex is not. That many of the popular shows on television are all about violence to people. That where you have shows which are about sex they cut the sex out. Finally that many shows (Outrageous Fortune for example) make heros of criminals, and murderers.

    I must admit that my first reaction on reading this is what television are you watching? Television in New Zealand is notorious for pushing the boundary's on what they are willing to show. Some of the shows you describe, are cable only shows in America, they are not free to air. I have to admit I never saw the Fanny Hill production and would agree with you that Fanny Hill without the sex is a little like Robin Hood without the archery. But that would be a rarity. TVNZ happily played Lady Chatterly's Lover with the sex and nudity (go Sean!) and I recall two versions of Moll Flanders which were also reasonably graphic. Outrageous Fortune is interesting in that there are far more depictions of sex than violence.

    Is there are double standard? Yes there is, there always has been, I'm not a sociologist or psychologist so I cannot tell you why, but I would argue that this double standard is through out society not just on television. Is it changing? Perhaps, New Zealand television has tended to take its model from the UK, which itself has tended to have a more mature European attitude to sex and violence, rather than from American television which gave us the shock and horror of Janet Jackson's exposed tit. Yes the New Zealand news media reported the shock and awe that this caused in the land of the free, but did anyone in New Zealand truly take this seriously I mean really? Hell the closest we ever came to it was when the late Angela D'Audney went topless in a locally produced TV play (and that was sometime in the eighties) and even then that was more like wow um, and then we went back to our humdrum lives and she went on reporting the news.

    You mention old shows like Starsky and Hutch (S&H) and Alfred Hitchcock which did not go out of their way to be graphic. Perhaps, but shows like S&H used what I would call cartoon violence and often had a surprisingly high body count. I recently watched an episode of the High Chaparral (one of the really great TV westerns from the seventies) which had a body count of fourteen. I haven't seen S&H in twenty years (or possibly thirty) but seem to recall that there was gun play and people died. The trouble I have is that back then it was no big deal. They blasted the guy away but there was no blood, and no consequences. No one had to write a report or go through a hearing, and it also seemed to have no impact on the characters at all. Death in the sixties and seventies was not a big deal for the hero's of these shows it was just a ho-hum part of life. Yes the violence was limit and low key but it was also pretend; the classic clichéd lets knock this guy out by hitting him over the head with a hard object. As we know you hit someone hard enough to render them unconscious they ain't gonna be getting up five minutes later and shaking it off. They are likely to have a fractured skull and could be at risk of brain damage or even death. As for Hitchcock, yes his violence is goreless, but it may have had more to do with the censorship in place during that time rather than his own inclination. Reports are that his last movie (planned for but never made) would have broken quite a few barriers in terms of what he could do.

    Today we do see more graphic violence but often the violence is more realistic, is this a good thing or bad thing? Is it more detrimental to society to see a gunshot wound with blood than with out? Should the effect of coshing someone over the head with an iron bar be revealed as the truly dangerous thing it is or should it be pretend?

    Of course this leads us to the next big question does the graphic violence on our screens lead to graphic violence on our streets? I've been debating that one with Jovehovah Witness' for years, they are arguing that we are living in an age of increasing violence (and earthquakes and other calamities) which means that the end times are coming and I'm throwing back that we still have yet to reach the murder and violence highs of our colonial past (latest crimes stats violence is down on all fronts except domestic but that for another time). I've come across countless studies which seem to be either for or against the effects of violence on television, though in the end, most seem to say that if you have a propensity to be violent then seeing acts of violence may set you off, just as if you have propensity to rape then seeing graphic acts of sex may set you off.

    Now one of the shows you threw into your list of shows that support violence was CSI and possibly by definition all other CSI spin offs (Miami, New York et al). This surprises me. Yes the shows focus on incidents of violent crime, mostly murder. But often you do not see the actual event except in flashback and even then often in such minute detail (bullet penetrating skin and hitting bone in CGI) that it makes it more of a laboratory example rather actual teen inspiring blood and gore. They will show you the after effects of the violence and its impact on others (there is always a body on the slab, there are always interviews with those most closest to the victim) you may not agree, but I tend to think of this as a good thing especially after the drop 'em and forget 'em sixties and seventies. But more importantly in a time of increased television woo woo and mumbo jumbo where we can solve crimes by talking to spirits (Medium and Sensing Murder) CSI is a show that is utterly pro science, crimes are solved using scientific techniques (even if they are pushing the envelope on some of them). Murderers are brought to justice not because the dear departed told a medium but because forensic technicians matched their DNA with samples taken from the scene or were able to lift their finger prints or by using other techniques based firmly on scientific method. Yes sex is nice, but quite frankly there is far more sex on New Zealand television than good basic science and that's what really worries me.

    Your second point is your gripe about portraying criminals as hero's on television. Now this is an interesting point because it does fly in the face of one of the great traditions of literature. One of the great early folk hero's is Robin Hood an outlaw; a thief. The criminal hero has always being there, Dick Turpin, Jack Shepard, Jesse James (the last three as fictional heros, not the actual crims), Long John Silver, Raffles, and so forth. In the last five hundred years (and no doubt for much longer)people have lapped up stories of criminals, and pirates. If I was a literature graduate I might even be able to give you an explanation as to why but I can't. My own, uninformed opinion, is that as normal crimeless members of society the fictional criminal gives us a safe mental out, we can delight in someone who breaks the rules we have to live by. It is also interesting that these characters are often folk heros to the lower classes in society especially those that are seen as acting against the ordered authority of the system (for instance Robin Hood).

    Is this a bad thing? Does watching the antics of hero criminals lead us into a life of crime? I would argue it depends on what the ethics of the story are. The story may be about the criminal but the ethical values may be very sound. Take Long John Silver, we witness Silver murder an innocent seaman who will not join his mutiny, we know that Silver has conspired to take over the ship and was once a pirate himself. Yet Silver shows compassion and protects Jim Hawkins from the other pirates, even when Jim has shown how he has hoodwinked and betrayed them. The ethics of this tale are: good out does evil, and the strong protect the weak, which lifts Long John from the realms of pure villainary and puts him somewhere else.

    You attack Outrageous Fortune as being about a family of trash white criminals yet this is a show that I think was one of the most ethical shows on television. Starting from the moment Cheryl the matriarch decides to lead an honest life. It supports a good ethical approach to life, and supports strong family commitment. It also shows what happens when bad choices are made. It was also honest in its appraisal of family, in that not all family members are decent and not all act for the betterment of the family, and demonstrates the despair and chaos caused when this happens. I've always seen it as something of a Waltons for adults. My only reservation about OF was its constant anti cop stance which never seemed to change and I've always thought that was unfortunate and not its most redeeming feature.

    So what are we left with, well, there is sex on New Zealand television as well as graphic violence sometimes in the same show (Rome for instance) I'll agree that there is a double standard, we find violence more acceptable than sex but this is not just a television thing but is through out society (just look at the average game of rugby). You ask if its psychologically healthy to be exposed to graphic violence, I would argue that it depends on the context and the underlying ethics of the show. (Forgive me but I spent two years battling structuralism have never gotten over the experience). To my mind the depictions of sex or violence are immaterial what is vital is what is the story trying to tell us both on the overt level and underneath. Nor do I agree that depictions of graphic sex are necessarily better than graphic violence. I haven't been into the adult section of my local video store and the last time I saw a porn movie all the way through pubic hair was still in fashion. But most of the ones I saw were often anti-woman in that they showed women being submissive to men and wanting to be treated badly by men. To my mind this is no more acceptable than the violence porn of Friday the 13th or the Saw films (neither of which I should point out I've ever seen, except for the very first F13 back in 1981). I don't watch a show or film for the sex or violence but watch it for the story and the characters and how they interact with each other, which occasionally leads me to watch things inspite of the sex or violence (Spartacus (TV) for instance.) What I take from such a story are not the scenes of sex or violence but the interactions of the characters and what the story as a whole was trying to tell me. There are those who will argue that if the story is that good you don't need to show either sex or violence but as you yourself have pointed out some stories require it, you can't have Fanny Hill with out the sex, just as you can't have Alien's without the graphic munch and crunch. The story does not necessarily hang on these scenes but they add to the whole. In the end what makes my decisions about what is appropriate are the underlying ethics, in my house Two and a Half Men is banned. Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the other hand is encouraged. It is the underlying ethics which count not whether heads are chopped off or tits are exposed.

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 11 Apr, 2011

    Thanks for your comments Phill, and it's made us think about what we said. Overall we agree with what you've said, but there are some minor points we'd debate.

    We're not sure NZ TV is really pushing the boundaries on what we can see, since none of the shows that we mentioned (apart from Outrageous Fortunes) are NZ made. All these shows (eg The Sopranos, Criminal Minds, Dexter etc) and movies have been made mainly for the US, have already screened there, and are very popular there. Our channels are just showing what they have already shown. And dare we say it, Outrageous Fortunes is just copying what Kiwi viewers like from US shows. They do this very well, but there is nothing in Outrageous Fortunes that hasn't already been done in an American, British or Aussie show. I agree that some Americans get upset over nudity on TV (eg censoring Janet Jackson), but then our TV showed Jackson but censored the Boobs on Bikes parade. Hardly pushing the boundaries and showing how mature we are. And we've also had groups protesting over the likes of South Park, just like America. We aren't pushing the boundaries since what violence, sex and nudity we see on TV is only because the Americans and British sell it to us, and they aren't making it solely for the NZ market with our broad minded viewers. We are merely following.

    You do agree that there is double standard in TV and movies, that violence is far more acceptable than sex or nudity. And you're right, this double standard is throughout society, not just on TV. We see someone get violently assaulted in a rugby game and no one even thinks of ringing the cops, and yet people complain when they see a woman sunbathing topless on the beach or breastfeeding in a restaurant.

    Our gripe is not with violence in TV or movies, it's often a necessary element, and we watch lots of shows with violence and would complain if they didn't include it. Our gripe is with the cases where they dwell excessively on the violence for gratuitous reasons. As we said, where viewers are forced to watch extended, graphic, realistic, disturbing footage of a woman being raped or a policeman being strangled or a child being buried alive and left to suffocate. And we are often shown these scenes in slow motion, from multiple angles and over and over again in flashbacks. It's not just important that we know that they died or suffered, we seemingly have to experience that suffering in such exquisite detail that we can emotionally feel their pain. I have watched scenes of such appalling violence on TV (shows and movies) that I have refused to continue watching the movie and thoughts of those scenes have haunted me for some time afterwards. It is not the 'cartoon violence' as you describe it that we have a problem with. Violent acts in old TV shows and movies were shown, people did get shot and stabbed and raped, but we were not forced to watch the back of someone's head explode and his wife get splattered with blood and brain matter. Old TV shows have always shown the grief and consequences of murder and rape etc, in fact the shows perhaps concentrated more on the consequences, for both the victims and the perpetrators, rather than concentrating on the violent act itself. Describing the old shows you say that 'the violence was limited and low key but it was also pretend'. We agree that it wasn't always graphically realistic, but we all knew that when someone was murdered, even though we didn't see his head come off or watch him drown slowly in his own blood, we knew that it was 'real' in the context of the story. And we knew that these things happened in real life too. We know that you can't just safely knock people unconscious with a karate chop and that six shooters don't have unlimited bullets, but likewise modern shows take liberties as well. We know that much of what is shown in their forensic labs is science fiction and won't be found in your local police department. Even forensic experts involved in the recent Christchurch quake have complained about what they called 'The CSI effect', the public's belief that what they see on these shows is real. And we know that hardly any accused suspect conveniently confesses to his or her crime when the cops knock on their door.

    For producers to imply that we must experience a murder in such detail for us to be able to truly grasp its impact on the victim and family and friends is to suggest that murders we hear of in real life from the media must necessarily fail to impress on us their seriousness. How can we comprehend the horror of a murder in real life without ever seeing the body or a graphic re-enactment of the murder? But seemingly we do manage to understand. If we can grasp the horror of real life violence and its consequences without actually seeing it, why do some TV and movies feel their stories would be misunderstood without graphic violence that truly shocks? Not violence, but graphic violence.

    As for our gripe of some shows where criminals are the main characters or "heroes" of the show, I'm not sure that it is one of the great traditions of literature. We agree that there have always been villains, but in Treasure Island Long John Silver is not the hero, young Jim Hawkins is the one we are expected to identify with and root for. But of course colourful villains are remembered, often more than the actual heroes. Mention Star Wars and far more people will recall Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker. But Darth Vader was not the hero, even though he's the one we all remember, like Long John Silver. As for Robin Hood, I think that story was about good and evil, of doing the right thing. Technically Robin Hood was a thief, but he was taking the ill-gotten gains from the evil rulers and returning it to those it had been stolen from. This is vastly different from a vicious thief stealing the life savings of an old lady. Robin Hood was standing up for justice, just as someone who kills in war in defence of his country is a soldier, while someone who kills in peace time is a murderer. The shows and movies that we were thinking of are where the main characters are the villains, where there is no Jim Hawkins or Luke Skywalker, and whose criminal exploits we are expected to follow week after week, eg the Mafia family in The Sopranos, the serial killer in Dexter or the bikie gang in Sons of Anarchy. We have movies like James Bond where there is a hero and a villain, but we also have movies today that feature only villains, such as Ocean's Eleven and its sequels. And we are expected to empathise and even sympathise with them and cheer them on. Because they're all good looking and charming we're expected to accept that theft is OK if done in a exciting way and no 'innocent' people get hurt. And they're only stealing from some faceless corporation that no doubt got the money by shady means, modern day Robin Hoods, except that they keep the money.

    But these are minor points compared to your belief that it 'is the underlying ethics which count not whether heads are chopped off or tits are exposed'. We agree wholeheartedly. Violence, sex, nudity, criminal behaviour etc can all be entirely appropriate, perhaps even essential, as long as ethically the correct messages are put forward. This doesn't always mean that the good guys must win and the guilty are punished, but it means that viewers should at least know who deserved to win, how decent people should behave and what is appropriate in real world situations. We can not glorify the lifestyles of Mafia families, assassins, serial killers, bikie gangs and small time criminals in West Auckland. By all means expose the lives that these people lead, show the disastrous impulses that drive them and the flawed decisions that they make, but don't let viewers leave with the impression that it's just another acceptable life choice and that they're actually nice people underneath their criminal activities, at least to those in their immediate family.

    Although not criminal and in a completely different category, we wonder how many young women naively became prostitutes after watching Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? But this analogy clearly shows how TV and movies can completely misrepresent a career choice, all in the name of entertainment. And look at the recent Cheryl lookalike competition for 'Outrageous Fortunes'. For the women it was all about hair, clothes and boobs, not one mention of a new found philosophy, of doing the right thing, of turning your life around.

    We also agree that there is little in the way of science on TV compared to the number of shows on. At the moment on Prime there is MythBusters and two documentaries: 'Can We Believe The Science?' and 'Life'. We suspect that far more people watch the forensic shows such as 'Bones' and other CSI type shows, but where the science ends and the fiction begins is often hard to tell, and these shows are more about the crime, the hunt and the characters' real life problems than the forensic science. There is more science in these shows than there used to be years ago, but it has always been about the murder, the drama, the suspense. You actually say that 'there is far more sex on New Zealand television than good basic science'. Aside from 'Outrageous Fortunes', perhaps you could let us know what programs you're watching. ;-) We've seen bare backs, exposed thighs, plenty of cleavage, and lots of groaning under sheets, but we have never seen sex on TV portrayed as realistically as they often treat violent acts. Sex is treated in the same way that Alfred Hitchcock and old TV shows treated murder, it is implied by veiled actions and sounds. Like you, 'the last time I saw a porn movie all the way through pubic hair was still in fashion', and you wouldn't know from TV or the movies whether the natural look was back in fashion or not. But from TV I do know what a decapitated body looks like, what severed limbs look like, what bullet entry and exit wounds look like, what noise bones make as they're broken, how a face contorts as a person is strangled and how skin flays off as it is struck by a cat-o'-nine-tails. Or at least how Hollywood imagines these things. But pubic hair, it's obviously forbidden territory able to corrupt society with a mere flash. Our gripe is not just about graphic violence, but why acts these acts that are illegal, immoral and psychologically disturbing are common place on our screens yet graphic sex or even innocent nudity which is legal, moral and pleasurable is deemed totally unacceptable. In some countries, eg Malaysia, kissing is cut from movies, and no doubt people have to resort to illegal movies to see someone kiss. If sex and nudity were treated more openly, the way we treat it in our own lives, then it would be considered a natural part of movies, just like kissing and murder.

  7. Comment by Phill, 12 Apr, 2011

    Hi John those are good points — and I still disagree with some of them. However I suspect this is the kind of thing best debated over a beer.

  8. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Apr, 2011

    We agree Phill, but I think that on the important points we are on the same page, the ethics are the key.

The Divinity Code by Ian Wishart
I've just read an excerpt from Ian Wishart's latest book The Divinity Code. He has released online the Prologue and the first chapter in PDF format. The book is his attempt to counter the arguments put forward by Divinity Code authors such as Richard Dawkins — The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens — God is Not Great, Sam Harris — The End of Faith, Daniel C. Dennett — Breaking the Spell, who all argue against religion and the existence of God. Wishart — a Christian fundamentalist — pushes the view that evidence of god's presence in the universe is convincing. We've already written an article demonstrating how deluded Wishart is when it comes to his view of religion, and judging by this excerpt, his book The Divinity Code is equally flawed.

Going by the number of falsehoods, contradictions and misleading statements in his excerpt, we can just imagine how many there must be in the entire book. The local library has a copy so I will try and get it out and read it all, if I'm really, really bored. I have no intention of buying his silly book and wasting one hard-earned cent on his bullshit. Some people just aren't any good at writing believable fiction, and Wishart is no exception. Yes his book does produce laughter and gasps of surprise, but these are unintentional. Wishart no doubt thought he was writing serious non-fiction, but it's as fictional as Harry Potter and it's assertions as trustworthy as if spoken by a crooked politician. If you have received it as a gift, the only position it deserves in one's personal library is as a coaster for your coffee mug. It's too light for a doorstop and its pages aren't even suitable for emergency use in the toilet. Our advice is: Don't buy it. There are many excellent books out there discussing religion. This isn't one of them. You can stop reading now, this is all you need to know about The Divinity Code. However some people will insist that we detail some of the faults we found with The Divinity Code, or else will accuse us of criticising him merely because we are atheists. So here goes.

For example he asserts in the preface that: "The truth is... there's a growing, gnawing, accelerating suspicion within the scientific community that god may indeed exist and — horrors — be engaging with the natural world." Oh right, sure there is. This is pure wishful thinking on the part of Wishart. Yes there are some deluded scientists that believe god does or might exist, but their numbers are so low that there are probably more paedophiles in your local Catholic church and scout group than god-fearing scientists on the entire planet. Wishart neglects to provide any support for this claim whatsoever — no list of world class scientists that are moving towards god and away from science, no list of scientific theories that are crumbling under new evidence, no list of scientific explanations moving from natural to supernatural, no survey statistics showing scientists moving towards belief in god. While the USA is one of the most religious countries on the planet, a 1998 poll demonstrated that only 7% of America's elite scientists (US National Academy of Scientists) believed in a personal god. While Joe and Jane Public may believe god exists, the scientific community most definitely doesn't. Wishart is simply lying in claiming that scientists are beginning to accept that god exists. Self-deluded bible thumping fundamentalists like him can make this claim all they want, but it won't make it true. He goes on to say that "I discovered that the atheist and skeptical literature I'd read had left out a lot of crucial info... data and information that didn't fit the argument and so was deliberately put to one side or dealt with out of context." Again no mention of what this literature was, or that he is going to provide more details elsewhere in his book. Just the unproven vague accusation that he believes 'someone' lied to him. In reality, the crucial information that Wishart probably believes was left out was no doubt numerous quotes from his silly Bible. But since Wishart doesn't provide any examples of these misleading arguments, we'll just have to ignore this claim as well. He then begins his attempt to discredit evolutionist Richard Dawkins: "Unlike Dawkins, who has been known to avoid confronting evidence that doesn't fit his arguments, I have taken the opportunity in The Divinity Code to examine the best evidence I can find from skeptics..." This is a serious claim by Wishart, accusing Dawkins of committing fraud in order to convince his readers of his argument. Yet once again, no support whatsoever is given by Wishart to support his accusation. He could have scored valuable points here by clearly documenting where Dawkins has deliberately misled the public. The fact that he hasn't would suggest that this evidence doesn't exist, that it is in fact Wishart who is lying to his readers. We've read many of Dawkins' books and articles and viewed several of his TV documentaries, and we're unaware of arguments that he presents that only succeed because he has omitted crucial facts, nor are we aware of others pointing out this deception by Dawkins. Wishart's book is an attack on Dawkins more than any other scientist or atheist and evidence of deception on Dawkins' part would have been far more damaging than any one of the arguments that Wishart pushes in his book, yet he merely accuses Dawkins of deception — without supporting evidence — and moves on. And let's remember that Wishart is an investigative journalist, he spends his day digging up evidence to support claims made in his articles, and yet in these three mentioned claims he fails to provide one shred of evidence in support. Wishart of all people knows that accusations without evidence are worthless, and yet he provides none.

Before we've even got to the first chapter Wishart has falsely informed us that the scientific community is increasingly accepting god, that atheist and skeptical literature is lying to us — distorting or omitting evidence that is harmful to their argument — and that this applies specifically to scientist and author Richard Dawkins. Having falsely accused the opposition of deception, and in doing so creating his own deceptive literature, Wishart then promptly goes on to deceive the reader with his view of ancient human history. The first chapter appears to challenge the conventional view of the origin of religious belief, from primitive religions with multiple gods, all different from culture to culture and from era to era through to our modern versions with generally only one god. Wishart's view is that we don't really know what happened in prehistoric times and hops into the camp of those pushing alternative histories of mankind. He claims that at the end of the last Ice Age sea levels rose by around 150 metres, and that ancient humans who had built their cities on the seashore were wiped out — "As the ice melted somewhere between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago (and by many accounts it happened quite fast), the sea rose again quite rapidly, quickly drowning the villages and cities lining the shores in those ancient times." We're told that "any hope of finding these cities... would be akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack." Thus Wishart asserts that "the vast majority of human history is submerged and lost to us." He states that "Scientists are digging... far from the larger settlements on the [now submerged] coast..." and that "We have no way of digging up the vast herds of creatures who roamed the plains closer to the coastlines." Yet what good evidence is there that humans were building cites at least 6,000 and maybe greater than 10,0000 years ago? Remember that this is when Wishart claims that they were destroyed, so the cities and the civilisations that built them had to be older still. Wishart maintains that "humans traditionally built settlements close to the sea" but at the same time maintains that our knowledge of these ancient humans is lost, so how does he know that humans at this time lived close to the sea, let alone that they built cities there? He is using modern historical and scientific knowledge to maintain that we can know nothing of ancient history. He goes on to say that because of this ignorance we can therefore claim that these ancient humans that we know nothing of lived close to the seashore and built cities and were thus civilised and technologically adept. Wishart claims that "the sea rose again quite rapidly, quickly drowning the villages and cities", suggesting that the people, and the animals, had no chance to flee and drowned, and thus were lost to history. Yet sea level rise would actually have taken hundreds and thousands of years, giving people and animals seemingly unlimited time to slowly move safely to higher ground. And the humans would have taken whatever technology they might have developed with them. They wouldn't have left their knowledge of building, agriculture, metallurgy and cell phones to the waves and happily reverted back to a hunter gatherer lifestyle. Wishart wants us to believe that humans that would have lived on the now flooded coastlines during the last Ice Age were sophisticated enough to build cities but not bright enough or quick enough to move when the sea started to rise. They are all dead, and the archaeological evidence we now find all belongs to their stupid cousins who lived in the mountains. And these hillbillies who weren't bright enough to build cities are our ancestors. Of course this could be true, perhaps groups of sophisticated humans did live on the coasts and were obliterated, since the evidence of their existence is submerged. To support his claim that there is almost no hope of finding these cities and that their history is lost to us, Wishart then goes on to tell us that several have been found. He doesn't even seem to realise that his claim that ancient submerged cities — and pottery, sculptures, human remains etc — have been located contradicts his claim that our ancient history is lost to us. But even if he did, none of the claims of ancient submerged cities are accepted by modern science, plus they don't support his claims anyway. For example he talks about "what appears to be an underwater city... off Cuba, 650 metres below the surface... around 7,000 years old" Remember that Wishart tells us that because of the last Ice Age sea levels were 150 metres lower than they are today, but even with this drop in sea level, this "city" off Cuba would still have been 500m below sea level even then. Rather than humans, was this ancient city built by an extinct species of intelligent fish? Also the shapes that researchers claimed to have seen were from sonar scans, not video cameras as Wishart claims. Researchers were going to take further surveys in 2001 to see if they could determine if the shapes were man-made or had a natural explanation. Perhaps it is telling that we have heard no more reports suggesting the shapes are man-made, and that all reference to this story online is found on sites that push alternative history theories and/or support the Lost City of Atlantis myth. You don't find reputable scientists spending any time on it. Wishart goes on to ask: "Is it possible that we reached high civilization before, only to lose it? Yeah it's possible, but it doesn't feature in orthodox history books where the assumption — based on modern-centric evolutionary principles of advancement — is that we are the creme of the human crop." Of course it doesn't feature in history books, simply because there is no evidence for it, not because of any bias on the part of historians or the theory of evolution. Wishart again shows his ignorance of evolution by claiming that evolution means each species will be more 'advanced' than the previous one. And in fact even within the accepted version of human history we have many examples of civilisations rising and technology advancing and then collapsing again, eg the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Mayan etc. Even if there were similar undiscovered advances made prior to known history, this wouldn't have one iota of an effect on the evolution of humans. An ape-like being turning into a human being is evolution, ancient humans building a city is history, not evolution. Wishart doesn't seem to know the difference. He then mentions a contentious artefact commonly know as the Baghdad Battery"It is well documented that ancient civilizations appear to have developed electric batteries, similar to the ones powering your radio or flashlight today. What were Mesopotamians or Egyptians doing with the equivalent of a Duracell battery?" This is misleading rubbish. There is only one occurrence of what 'could' be a battery, found in Mesopotamia, not Egypt, and it in no way resembles those Duracell batteries in your radio. If it was a battery, and this is debatable, it resembled a wet cell battery like your car battery, and not dry cell batteries like Duracells. Even if some ancient did discover electricity there is no evidence that it was utilised in any useful manner, ie no lighting, no appliances and certainly no battery powered radios, flashlights or electric drills. There were no wires or conductors found with it and its design would have to be altered for it to even function as a battery. The TV science show MythBusters even demonstrated that you can get more voltage out of a single lemon than you could out of a Baghdad Battery. This is not to say that ancient man may not have stumbled across a method of producing an electric current, but to imply that they were hooking it up to sophisticated technology is bogus. Plus this artefact was developed in historic times, not in the cities of the prehistoric times that Wishart was initially talking about. Wishart then goes on to talk about the Lost City of Atlantis myth, "I raise the Atlantis legend only to illustrate that no matter how much we think we know through science, we probably don't know the half of it." But this is a silly statement. This claim would only have weight if the Atlantis myth had been proven true and science false, if science had denied its existence and then it had been found, demonstrating that science doesn't know everything. But this hasn't happened. Until then it's as silly as Wishart inserting the Tooth Fairy legend in place of the Atlantis legend in his claim. And science has never said it knows everything, and never will. It's only people that are anti-science that try and give it this false, arrogant, dogmatic attitude. They confuse science with religion. Wishart then challenges the modern view of history and evolution with, "Modern authors like Dawkins... [believe] that human civilization has no surprises, that we have all merely "evolved" from peasant to physicist, from simple beliefs to a 'modern, enlightened, scientific view' of the world." Let's assume that human civilization has risen before and fallen, is Wishart suggesting that these early humans "evolved" in reverse, from physicist to peasant, or that human civilisations popped into existence with fully qualified physicists? Well, actually yes. Wishart believes in the Adam and Eve myth, that humans were divinely created fully formed. But rational people don't believe this. Whenever and how many times civilization arose, surely it had to "evolve" from primitive to sophisticated? Whether civilization rose and fell many times throughout prehistory, this has nothing to say about gods and religion, and everything to say about a species struggling with the natural environment. In reality, for the human species to rise and fall numerous times, as it has even in accepted history, it would indicate that they had no powerful, loving god concerned with their wellbeing. Multiple failures at maintaining a civilisation is an argument against the existence of god, not for it. He also attacks Prof Lloyd Geering's view of human history — "Pontificates Geering: "the ancient storytellers saw nothing odd in attributing creation to the utterance of words."... Oh really? Was he there, then?" Wishart rejects Geering's view simply because Geering wasn't there in person to observe history in the making. This is a version of an old Creationist favourite, rejecting the evolutionist view simply because evolutionists weren't there when life began to evolve. Yet Wishart confidently insists that God created life, even though he wasn't there either. If an evolutionist's view can be dismissed simply because he didn't witness evolution of early life, then equally a Christian fundamentalist's view can be dismissed simply because he didn't witness God create anything either. I doubt that Wishart doesn't realise how stupid this ploy is, but he must think his Christian readers are fooled by it. I mean, Wishart has just been lecturing us on his version of ancient history, now he tells us that you shouldn't take any notice of people that weren't there. He also makes out that Geering is saying that the mere ability to speak is powerful, and ridicules him for this simplistic view, yet Geering is saying that certain incantations spoken to a god or by a god were believed to have power. As the Bible says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." JN 1:1-4. Genesis is also full of lines like, "And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light." GE 1:3. Wishart would no doubt agree that his God brought things into existence by words alone, yet here he ridicules Geering for saying the same thing. He does this simply because he views Geering as an atheist, and atheists must be discredited, even if they agree with you.

But enough of this. Ian Wishart's book The Divinity Code is crap. It's bad fiction masquerading as fact and will fool no one that isn't already a true believer or intellectually impaired. If you really want someone to tell you lies, then hire a prostitute and ask him or her if you're really a great lover. It might cost you slightly more but at least it will be more pleasurable than swallowing Wishart's bullshit.

UPDATE: I have since read the entire book. My initial advice still stands. It's crap.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Jul, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Lynn, 23 Jan, 2009

    Lucifer is alive and well in Godzone.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Jan, 2009

    I think you're confusing Lucifer with a real person. And surely if I were Lucifer, or I at least worked for him, I could manage something a little more evil than a scathing book review?

Catholic youth get excited by old man
I've been watching the silly antics of Catholics gathering to idolise their leader in Sydney, screaming and fawning as if the Pope was a rock star. They also lugged around a large cross and an Pope icon of Mary and Jesus. Doesn't the Ten Commandments say that Christians are not to worship false idols? One media report stated that "The arrival of Pope Benedict XVI for World Youth Day has revived questions about the future and relevance of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Pell... warned of a crisis if young people continued to accept views made popular through advertising." Pell, the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, believes there is a crisis in the Western world and one of the challenges facing Australia "is the Australian temptation to believe that you can have a good, happy life without God." In another article the Pope warned the crowd that "In so many of our societies... a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair." His message was that youth "had to avoid that 'falsely conceived freedom' and look for that 'underground river' of Christian values that will help them built their lives on firm foundations."

I love to see statements from church leaders where they acknowledge that the majority, and especially the youth, is rejecting their silly beliefs. They admit that the youth have dispensed with their childish spiritual explanations in favour of the options and answers that modern society provides. Like science and philosophy. The church leaders realise that for many Christianity is now an "underground river", hidden from view and influence, and that membership of this underground cult is akin to membership of a white supremacy group or a sadomasochist sex club. That is, openly admitting that you blindly follow a long dead carpenter called Jesus is not something you admit at most dinner parties these days. It's depressing and offensive that in the 21st century there are still morons like Cardinal Pell that think people can't have "a good, happy life without God." A fast growing proportion of the world's population are proof that atheists (and agnostics and those that couldn't care less) can and do lead good and happy lives without submitting their every thought and action to an imaginary being. The Pope's message that the youth needs to reject a 'falsely conceived freedom' and get down on their knees like a slave in front of his barbaric sky fairy is disgusting. The major problem that the Church has at present — apart from it being a lie — is that too many youth have already got down on their knees in front of too many Catholic priests and had their innocence ripped from them. And the Pope's god, if he exists, watched on drooling and did nothing to stop this sexual depravity. If god exists, he obviously has homosexual, paedophile and voyeur tendencies. If he was our neighbour we would call him a monster, but Christians call him Father and Master.

Note also that the event was called World Youth Day even though it actually goes on for six days. It's another example of the church being loose with the facts. It should have been called something like the Youth Indoctrination Gathering instead. Also media video showed that many of those attending were far from young. Even NZ Catholic Church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer who is hardly a youth was there getting down with people that could have been her grandchildren. The Pope is 81 years old and look at the average age of the bishops and priests. It must have been like a visit to an old folk's home on fancy costume day, with old men dressed in smocks, long dresses and funny hats. Thankfully it will be three more years before another Catholic youth gathering, when their influence will be even less and the number of complaints of sexual abuse will be even greater.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 22 Jul, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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'Healing by Prayer' Scam
Praise the Lord, those living in Dunedin now have the services of faith healer Michael Mangos to turn to. According to an article entitled 'Prayer the cure', (published in 'D scene', a weekly tabloid style newspaper delivered free to Dunedin households) Mangos "claims the power Mangos of prayer is curing the sick and infirm." The article stated that Mangos, a member of the International Association of Healing Rooms, is an Australian who has moved to Dunedin supposedly on a mission from God. He now manages "three-strong prayer teams to expel malevolent spirits from those seeking help", operating from four healing/prayer rooms in his house. The article said, "Michael Mangos says swapping pills for prayer can lead to "miracle impacts"." Rather than disease and illness being brought about by natural causes, Mangos believes that it is "evil forces that do the dirty work." So rather than seeking medicine to provide relief or a cure, Mangos wants us to resort to prayer.

Thankfully the article quotes Dr John Mills, a Faculty Board member of the Otago Southland Royal College of General Practitioners who issues a warning: "It's potentially dangerous. I think they need to liaise with the customer's medical practitioner... Some things may be straightforward but if things are complicated there is the potential to make things worse." Mangos's take on causes is 'totally untrue", he says. "When you have an infection it's obvious what's caused the problem," Mills says."

Mangos claims that his prayer sessions cured a woman of a "five-week bout of diarrhoea'... Doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with her," Mangos says. "She was losing weight. She was desperate." Oh please, give us a break. Is this all their all-powerful god is capable of these days? They claim he created the universe and all life and yet today he's limited to working with diarrhoea. And not even straight away, it still takes him 5 weeks to bring about a cure. And did God really cure her at all, or did it just clear up by itself as many illnesses do naturally? And even if the doctors didn't know exactly what was causing it, I suspect they probably still gave her a course of antibiotics or the likes. I sincerely doubt that they just said something like, 'We don't know what's causing it, so you might as well leave.' Christians, thanks to science, have been forced to reduce their god from an all-powerful and all-knowing being to a pathetic shadow of the most ineffectual god imaginable. He's no longer all-knowing, you have to get three person teams to pray in unison about somebody's illness before he's even aware of it. Or if he is already aware, it seemingly requires a minimum of three people begging before he can be bothered to take an interest. And once you have his attention, even then God more often than not puts your case in the 'too hard' basket and moves on. Remember that diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers in the Third World, one that could be easily eliminated with hygienic living conditions and modern medicine. Yet an all-powerful and all-knowing god is at a complete loss of what to do, and so does nothing, letting people die in the millions. Instead God unashamedly lets some of his deluded followers believe he has cured a woman in Dunedin, when in fact nature or modern medicine no doubt really brought about the cure. But of course this god doesn't exist at all, so we can't blame him for any deaths or injustices, instead we must turn our focus onto deluded people like Mangos and his followers.

Scientific studies have shown that there is no beneficial outcome from praying for others (intercessory prayers), that is, praying doesn't bloody work. Some studies have even shown that it may be detrimental to your health in certain cases. If praying to mythical gods actually worked, there would be no illness, no loss of life due to natural disasters, no poverty or starvation and world peace would have been achieved millennia ago. Do morons like Mangos not realise that millions of poor unfortunate Christians in war torn countries or those suffering in the Third World are praying furiously to his god, and yet still they die horrible deaths? If Mangos is to be believed, his god ignores this monumental suffering and prefers to spend his time in a house on the Otago peninsula, spying on people with psychiatric problems and fooling them into thinking that he is helping them. The only person that is benefiting from this scam is Mangos, demanding payment for a bogus cure from people whose worldview belongs in the Middle Ages.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Jul, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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'Sensing Murder' returns, morons rejoice
As if we haven't got enough worries with rising fuel and food prices and electricity woes, we've just heard from the guys at the new Kiwi skeptical blog Evidence Based Thought that a new series of Sensing Murder starts next week, where psychic mediums pretend — and fail — to solve real-life murders. While there was talk last year of a third series, we were hoping that this wouldn't eventuate, but I guess their accountants have said they'd be silly not to make another series. The Aussie series of Sensing Murder got pulled part way through the first series, but in NZ we are now onto our third series. Why could the Aussies see through it but we as a nation can't? It's quite strange really. I mean, we are one of the least religious countries in the world, so why do we have so many morons sucked in by mediums talking to the dead? Remember that for most people the existence of an afterlife, of heaven, of souls, of a god are all necessary for mediums to have something to contact. Without these vital religious components people would laugh at the idea of mediums as we do. Yet a great number of people that we know that believe in mediums aren't particularly that religious. Sure they have a fuzzy belief in god, but they never go to church and they live their lives as if there wasn't a god. But since they are firmly convinced that souls exist and there is an afterlife, why aren't they more concerned about how their daily actions on Earth will impact on their place in this afterlife? Why aren't they striving in their lives to make sure they go to the Heaven version of the afterlife and not to Hell? How can they be so convinced that an afterlife exists yet be so indifferent about their behaviour that dictates where they will fit into this afterlife? My guess is that — apart from being morons — they just haven't thought about it at all. For those interested, we've already written a piece entitled What is the afterlife really like? in our article on medium Jeanette Wilson. Unfortunately these morons will once again idolise the psychics and mediums that appear on Sensing Murder and no doubt we'll again get silly psychic sideshows travelling around the country ripping off little old ladies and stupid trailer park trash alike.

We need to remember that not one murder has been solved by the two previous Sensing Murder series or by any of the dozen or so other incarnations of Sensing Murder worldwide, nor by any of the other numerous psychic detective programs on TV such as Psychic Private Eyes, Psychic Detectives, Psychic Investigators etc. And mark our words, not one murder will be solved by psychic means in this new series either. It will be a dismal failure like all the rest. Unfortunately, regardless of the fraudulent nature of this piece of television crap, the fortunes of Ninox Television and the psychic mediums involved in the series will benefit at the expense of rationality and integrity. And a worrying proportion of gullible NZ'ers with the worldview of ignorant medieval peasants will once again hop onto their soap boxes expounding their silly belief that many more unsolved murders will soon be resolved. And pigs will fly.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 06 Jul, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Bob, 07 Jul, 2008

    An article I was reading recently about television programmes said psychic shows are popular with the stations because they draw large audiences so make a lot of money. No wonder they fob off skeptics.

    Television depresses me. It is a wonderful medium for education and information. Yet a first class science show will draw perhaps 3% of the viewing audience while rubbish like Sensing Murder and soaps full of plastic people with shallow plots draw large audiences. Personally I watch only the news, current affairs and programmes from which I learn something. My programmes are usually shown on Sunday mornings.

    I don't want to sound like a snob but television is a wonderful medium which is largely wasted. Yet the public gets what it wants. There is a business saying which is so true "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public".

Creationism and Intelligent Design
You never see or hear much about Creationism and it's poorly disguised cousin, Intelligent Design, in NZ, and a good thing too. I recently purchased two excellent books arguing against these silly beliefs from the sale rack at Dunedin's University Bookshop: Evolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. Scott and The Counter-Creationism Handbook by Mark Isaak. These titles had never been available for normal sale, coming in from a bulk sale purchase from the States and going straight to the sale rack. It made me realise once again that books debunking Creationism and ID just aren't needed here as few people are pushing for these falsehoods to be taught in our schools. Of course there are many churches and individuals in NZ that believe in Creationism and/or ID, but their battle to have it accepted, taught or even debated has fallen well below the radar, unlike the US where their movement is a powerful force. But we still have morons like Ian Wishart and Leighton Smith and the odd Christian school arguing for Creationism/ID and against evolution, so it is important to stay alert. Most intelligent, educated NZers see Creationism/ID for the crock it is, but every now and then a deluded crackpot gets a chance at publicity for his ranting and raving. Case in point, last weekend the Otago Daily Times published two book reviews by Geoffrey Vine, a Dunedin journalist and Presbyterian minister. One review was for God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John C. Lennox. This book attempts to defend Intelligent Design, and Vine tells us that us that the author's 'approach is to deconstruct the atheists' claims by turning their own weapon - science - against them.' But why is Vine attacking atheists? It's not atheists that do science but scientists. After all Vine began his review by discussing science and scientists, not atheists. He told us of an encounter he had with a doctor, who when he informed her that he was taking a homeopathic remedy, stated that she didn't want to know. This led him to reach the following conclusion: 'Bizarre as it may sound, that head-in-the-sand attitude is common in the scientific community and never more so than when it comes to religious belief.' Yet the doctor was quite right in ignoring his silly homeopathic remedy, it is just plain water after all. She would have been only interested in substances that may have affected his condition and would have been too busy to waste time listening to him rave on about his imaginary medicine. Rather than science ignoring his silly belief — burying its head in the sand — it has already examined it and rejected it. Vine misleads the reader by insisting that science has a close-minded attitude and that 'Science has elected itself the final arbiter of whether the universe is the product of intelligent design - and the answer is "No".' Vine is wrong to insist that 'Science has elected itself the final arbiter.' Science has simply looked at the universe, examined the evidence and reached a view as to what makes it tick. Science will, and has, changed its theories over the centuries to fit the best evidence available. It is devious of Vine to claim that science is unchanging and authoritarian when in fact everyone knows that it is religion that is dogmatic in its views.

Vine goes on to explain the motivation for Lennox's book: 'In recent years, populist authors such as Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins and Daniel Dennett have propelled the post-Christian bandwagon to new heights, reading the Last Rites over the theist corpse and prompting John Lennox, a mathematician and philosopher at Oxford University, to ask: "Has science buried God?"' Note how Vine describes Lennox as 'a mathematician and philosopher at Oxford University', yet lists Dawkins, Atkins and Dennett as merely 'populist authors'. No mention of their scientific qualifications or university connections. He elevates the prestige of the academic that he agrees with while suppressing and ignoring the impressive reputations of those he opposes. He makes no mention that Lennox the mathematician is not really qualified to debate evolution with Dawkins the evolutionary biologist. To demonstrate this, Vine writes: 'Stating the case for neo-Darwinism, Dawkins has said that information lies at the heart of every living thing. Lennox counters by pointing out the DNA in the human genome contains 7 billion "bits" of information and it has to be in an exact order to work. He does the maths to show that the possibility of this happening by random chance is absurdly low.' This one statement shows that Lennox — and Vine — are completely ignorant about evolution due to natural selection. They have no understanding of how it works, or if they do, are deliberating lying to their readers. It is a myth that evolution is all about random chance. Dawkins especially acknowledges that it would be nigh on impossible for the human genome to arise by chance. It is disingenuous of Lennox and others to pretend that evolutionists believe it's all about random chance. Genetic mutations do arise by chance, but then non-random natural selection takes over, keeping the mutations that benefit a species survival in some way and rejecting those that don't. That's the very idea of evolution, that humans and their complex genome didn't just pop into existence fully formed — like religion says we did — we evolved from very simple lifeforms and took billions of years to reach the complexity that Lennox is examining. It's no wonder that Christians that have no understanding of evolution immediately reject it when people like Lennox state that evolution claims that humans appeared by mere chance. We would all reject it if this was the case, but it's not. Vine goes on to further demonstrate his ignorance with 'At times, Lennox's sarcasm is heavy-handed but Dawkins does invite ridicule by advancing the notion that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite supply of paper and typewriters could, using one random keystroke at a time, eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare. Lennox points out the ways in which Dawkins "cheats" by presupposing an intelligent editor to choose which simian efforts to retain.' Again Lennox and Vine prove they have no grasp of how evolution works, even with the help of Dawkins' analogy. The random typing represents the chance mutations of genes, and then the job of natural selection takes over, represented by the editor keeping the good bits and rejecting the rest. People like Lennox and Vine describe evolution as just the random typing part, conveniently ignoring the next crucial part, which Lennox describes as 'cheating', that of the editor or natural selection that selects which bits to retain. And of course it must be remembered that in Dawkins' example, the editor is making an intelligent, rational selection, but in evolution the selection is perfectly natural, there is no intelligence involved. It's a fact that without random chance mutation of genes evolution would never happen, but without a mechanism to then select one chance mutation over another, evolution would also fail. Random chance is crucial, but random chance must be combined with non-random selection. Neither Lennox or Vine seem to understand this. But honestly I find it difficult to believe that Lennox can't understand how evolution is said to happen, even if he doesn't believe it. Thus I suspect that he is deliberately ignoring key parts to make it appear silly to those in the pews. He is deliberately hoodwinking Christians who want to have reasons to believe evolution is false. Is the Reverend Vine in the same camp? Is he also distorting the facts to support Creationism and ID or is he honestly ignorant of how evolution works?

Vine then quotes Lennox restating a modern version of the old watchmaker design argument popularised by William Paley in 1802, an argument which was convincingly demolished by evolution: 'When we see handwriting, we infer the existence of an intelligent author. Similarly, science accepts that if an information-rich message is received from outer space, the scientific inference would be of an intelligent source. Lennox applies this to the proven existence of information-rich DNA messages and infers the existence of an intelligent source for Creation.' The fact is that science has NOT accepted that an information-rich signal would imply intelligence. For a very short time the signals from pulsars were suspected of being artificial signals from aliens, but further research showed them to be perfectly natural. And note it would be initially treated as a 'signal', not a 'message', as message immediately implies intelligence. Science would ask whether this signal and the information contained within could arise by natural means, by a natural process? Every SETI signal must be examined under this criteria. Information in a system doesn't necessarily mean intelligence. Look at the intricacy of a snowflake. Are they individually handmade by an intelligent creator or mass-produced by nature? If 'an information-rich message is received from outer space' and if we don't understand how a natural source could have caused it, then we may suspect that it was generated by an intelligent source. But the information in the human genome is different, because while for millennia we couldn't understand how a natural source could have generated it, now we do know — evolution by natural selection. In the future we may be equally confused over a signal from space, unsure whether it means an intelligent alien or a natural source. But regardless of our confusion over a SETI signal, it in no way changes our view of evolution. Evolution has been solved, it's natural and no intelligent creator is required, and this lesson should make us very wary of jumping to conclusions with signals from space. The argument from design has long been relegated to history as false, but Christians like Rev Geoffrey Vine refuse to let go of the past, supporting authors like Lennox who deviously attempt to use science to demonstrate that science is flawed. And neither seems to see the futility in this exercise, or at least hope their readers don't. The use of smoke and mirrors is seemingly justified to convince gullible people that their intelligent creator exists. While these books have the obvious negative feature of bolstering the confidence levels of the religious believer by means of bogus arguments, they also have the unintended function of bolstering the confidence levels of atheists like myself. I'm always curious when I see these books that claim to easily demolish the arguments of scientists, philosophers and historians that support the natural worldview. I wonder what the secular scientists might have missed, how they might have misinterpreted the evidence, how their reasoning was flawed. And yet without fail, when their argument that challenges conventional wisdom is explained, I always find myself asking: "Is that it? Is that really your argument? Do you honestly find that convincing?" It's very important to always consider both sides of a debate, and these books fulfil a valuable role in elucidating the arguments of the religious team. It's all very well understanding the scientific arguments, but it's important to keep an eye on the opposition as well. These silly books pushing Creationism and Intelligent Design give me the confidence to say their arguments are full of crap.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 03 Jul, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Alison, 31 Jul, 2008

    Excellent post, but I'm not sure that I agree that we don't have to worry about this issue in NZ. An outfit called Focus on the Family has sent cdesign [Creationism and Intelligent Design] proponentists' materials out to secondary school science departments — 3 times that I'm aware of — and while the majority of teachers bin it there are others that will be only too happy to use the stuff in their classrooms. Either because they're that way inclined already, or because they're desperate for resources & don't recognise it for the (glossily-packaged) junk that it is. Even science departments in some 'good' schools (& I work closely with teachers so hear a lot of comments from them on this) have their share of creationists in front of classes.

    Grab your virtual gumboots for Science on the Farm
    Visit the "Evolution for Teaching" website
    Read the Bioblog
    and come along to Cafe Scientifique

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Jul, 2008

    You're right of course Alison that we do still have to worry about Creationism and Intelligent Design getting a foothold in NZ, hence the reason I'm still reading books that provide arguments against these beliefs. But we are "lucky" that it is not as readily accepted in our schools as it is in certain areas of the USA, no doubt thanks in part to people like yourself speaking out against it. The teaching and acceptance of evolution appears to be the norm in most schools but we definitely need to remain alert against public figures like Ian Wishart, Leighton Smith and the Focus on the Family group you mentioned. I guess that because they have a relatively low profile in NZ at present and operate under the radar, unlike in the US, they could gain an unwanted influence before we realised it. A high school biology teacher told me a few years ago that she was reducing the amount of time she spent on teaching evolution because she was sick of the complaints she was getting from religious students and their parents. I was surprised that she was getting enough complaints to make a difference, and that she wasn't prepared to make a stand, since she supported evolution. So yes, we definitely do still need to worry about people pushing Creationism and Intelligent Design in NZ.

  3. Comment by Pete, 03 Sep, 2008

    My experience is somewhat similar to Alison, I have a friend who teaches general science, chemistry and physics to the appropriate age groups at a high school in Tauranga. She teaches both lines of beginnings because that's the material that's available and she says she's no longer so quick to dismiss design because the science is strongly persuasive.
    I'm an engineer, my wife's a biologist, I'm design & she's evolution, that's because our initial course content was slanted that way at university & two different uni's, albeit back in the 1970s.
    A son of a friend is at Canterbury to become a chemical engineer, he has found the same holds true for him and he now holds to design as a result of course content (and much heated discussion on campus).
    So it seems in our limited experience that it may depend on the line of education that one takes that dictates the theory taught.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 Sep, 2008

    Pete, we don't think any specific courses push ID, it's more likely to be the teacher. Persuasive teachers can influence their students and ones with religious or ID leanings could, deliberately or otherwise, sow seeds of doubt regarding evolution. And the more removed a course is from biology and science in general, the more ignorance of evolution increases. It's only to be expected that a humanities student might know far more about literature or medieval history than about genes and evolution.
    We tend to suspect that teachers that push ID were, as Alison said, "that way inclined already". It's very difficult to find people that support creationism or ID that aren't religious, and often devout or even fundamentalist. Are they merely supporting ID because it affirms their faith? Likewise those that argue that that the science behind intelligent design is "strongly persuasive" are either ignorant of the real science involved or again, are religiously motivated. They used to say that the eye couldn't have evolved, then they went on about the wing, with silly claims of "What good is half an eye or half a wing?" Now called 'irreducible complexity', their present poster boy is a bacterial flagellum. All these ID challenges to evolution have been debunked.
    You say you're an engineer who supports ID and that your wife — a biologist — supports evolution. On questions regarding evolution I'm afraid we're going to have to side with the biologist, not the engineer.

  5. Comment by William, 31 Aug, 2009

    Hi John, [as I argue in my blog] I think creationism should be a mandatory subject in school.

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Sep, 2009

    Hi William. I agree in principle but disagree in practice. It would be great, as you envisage, having intelligent design, aka creationism, torn to shreds in a blow by blow comparison with evolution in our schools.

    Unfortunately schools struggle now to even teach their students about evolution without having to delete subject matter to make room for the ID debate.

    The US courts decided that ID was not science and thus shouldn't be part of science classes. Putting it in science classes will convince many that it must be science since it has now been included, and remember that many students don't take science, and also some will think that there must be considerable evidence for ID for it to be able to go head to head with evolution. It creates the illusion that ID is a valid alternative. Remember that there are science classes in the US that do teach ID/Creationism alongside evolution, and if the teacher is religious and pro-ID, they teach it in such a way that evolution looks ridiculous compared to ID. The things that you — and I — would have the students being shown would only happen if the teacher believed in evolution.

    And unfortunately the appearance of 'giving in' to ID supporters would open the floodgates to other supporters of nonsense. Should we also teach the holocaust denial argument? What about science classes for those that believe the moon landing was a hoax or that alien abduction is real? Should we cover prayer and Reiki verses germ theory? Should history classes spend time debating alternative ancient histories? How long should we allocate to debating who really wrote the Shakespearean plays in English classes?

    What I'd prefer see happen would be to teach all these nonsense things as part of a critical thinking class, that way we don't just shoot down ID, we shoot down all the nutty things the students have been told or will be told in the future. We must teach them how to think skeptically, and by all means use ID to do that, but it's got to be in a critical thinking class, not a science class. Explaining the scientific method could be a part of this class. I believe critical thinking classes could be of immense benefit to all students. Even now we have students taking science who still can't think skeptically, not to mention those that don't even take science. Even a history student or painter needs to be able to evaluate ID or Nigerian Bank scams.

  7. Comment by William, 01 Sep, 2009

    Hi John, this may surprise you but I agree entirely with what you say. I guess I wrote that piece to have a chance to have a go at the creationists, (not that anyone reads my blog that I can detect). Having Creationism as part of a critical thinking course sounds like a great idea but then you would have to have your science based teacher hold back to let the students come to their conclusions by themselves. Not an easy thing to do. It would be such a temptation to push the science line rather than just presenting views and evidence. Your religious teacher would probably push his view unashamedly which might actually back fire on him with the present lack of respect for teachers in the schools. Who knows. It's an interesting world and takes all kinds. If you actually had such a course, the flack in any western country today would be immense. As I said earlier, I have read that about 40% of yanks (good name for them) believe in the creationist story. Science types are so often unwilling to take on religious types. I can't remember the name of the chap who is often on one of the radio stations. You probably know him. He takes on religion all the time and is really sharp. Connoly comes to mind but that's the comedian.

  8. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Sep, 2009

    No, it doesn't surprise me at all, since I can see we're both trying to achieve the same result. The thing I like about a critical thinking course is that you teach people how to analyse claims, how to think skeptically, how to use reason and logic, how science comes to its conclusions and what would cause them to revise their textbooks etc. You then give them a claim, be it UFOs, Loch Ness monster or ID, and ask them to apply what they've learnt and judge the claim. They would, as you say, decide for themselves as to the validity of a claim. Ideally you could start with claims which were once thought true but now everyone knows are bogus, and thus they could concentrate solely on technique and no one would be worried about trying to support a personal belief. Later in the course you could offer the more controversial claims like ID, and if you taught them well, believers in ID might realise that they can't honestly support it anymore.

    There are a few universities in the US that offer critical thinking courses, and of course philosophy courses often challenge religious beliefs, but it would be great if high schools and even lower offered them, rather than wasting their time on some of the crap they do teach.

    As you say, many science types are often unwilling to take on religious types. For several reasons no doubt, but mainly I think it is either this false respect thing — we're taught not to ask people about their sex life or how much they earn, and challenging someone's religious beliefs is seen as equally invasive, or people are not willing to admit that they themselves haven't managed to completely thrown off religion. They may accept evolution and don't believe in heaven and hell, but still suspect that there must be something out there. Rather than having to reveal this belief, they just steer clear of religious discussions. Unlike days gone by, for many people today, admitting to believing in gods can be embarrassing, like saying you believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden, and so they don't challenge any religious claim for fear that their belief might be exposed.

The power of Feng Shui
Rachel, one of our group, has discovered why she has felt it cold of late. Thinking it was just winter setting in she has since discovered that it has actually been caused by a concentrated flow of negative energy or chi. It seems her neighbour has one of those octagonal Feng Shui mirrors designed to reflect negative energy back to its source. It used to be in her Mirror neighbour's lounge window directly facing Rachel's lounge, but she has noticed that it has now moved to the outside wall. No doubt the glass was diluting some of its power. Her neighbour is of Chinese descent so that may go someway to explaining her belief in Feng Shui, but she also has a science degree which should cancel out her cultural predilection. While her neighbour tended to keep to herself, she always waved and greeted Rachel in a friendly manner, yet in recent times she ignores Rachel and only acknowledges her presence if forced to. Maybe it's Rachel's anti-religion bumper stickers that have alienated her neighbour, who knows, but the Feng Shui mirror would suggest that she believes Rachel's house is a source of bad energy. And what better protection than a Feng Shui mirror? Beam that negative energy back to its source.

It's amazing that seemingly intelligent people are prepared to waste their money and clutter their homes with such worthless crap. The ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui claims it can influence a life-force know as chi, that the arrangement of things around us and the use of auspicious symbols can enhance good Feng Shui or positive energy and minimise the bad aspects, like Rachel. While the common sense arrangement of items in your home or office and the logical, efficient design of buildings makes perfect sense, the idea that you are influencing some mystical energy flow is complete nonsense.

A friend is a fan of Feng Shui and I once skimmed through one of her books. One suggestion was that it was bad Feng Shui to place large, heavy items on the rear parcel shelf of your car when you were driving. Well duuuh! It's pretty obvious to intelligent people that unsecured items in your car could turn into lethal missiles in the event of an emergency stop. It seems it's not obvious to believers in Feng Shui though. It must be spelt out to them, and not in a way that suggests it is dangerous, but merely that it creates an undesirable flow of chi. It's also amazing that an ancient Chinese belief had the forethought to include advice for 21st century car owners. These passages must really have confused peasants back in the Tang dynasty.

The TV show Penn & Teller: Bullshit! did an episode on Feng Shui and demonstrated that it was indeed bullshit. They got three independent Feng Shui 'experts' to rearrange the furniture layout of a modern house and suggest colours that should be included or avoided. Personally I preferred the original arrangement and colours that the house owner had already picked. Anyway, all three 'experts' put the furniture in completely different arrangements and recommended different colours, eg one said to rid the house of red, another said to swamp the house with red. Yet all three Feng Shui 'experts' claimed to be using the very same ancient skills and knowledge to reach these decisions, yet they all contradicted each other. Why? If the basis of Feng Shui is factual then they should all have given the same advice. This is akin to going to three different qualified motor mechanics with a car that won't start, and the first says you have under-inflated tires, the second says your ashtrays are full and the third says this is a common problem with red cars. Anyone with a little mechanical knowledge would know they were being conned. Likewise anyone with a modicum of common sense should realise that Feng Shui practitioners are ripping them off as well. Don't waste your money on their advice or by purchasing a silly money frog or fountain for your lounge. The best description I've seen of this superstitious nonsense is this:

'Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art that rearranges the contents of your wallet or purse'.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Jun, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 26 Jun, 2008

    Why do we have so many killjoys around ruining perfectly good beliefs? I have to admit it must be frustrating to be a real estate agent trying to sell to Asians when a perfectly good house is turned down because the door faces a window or whatever.

Should atheists fund Catholic Schools?
According to a recent Radio NZ National news item "Catholic schools are appealing to the Government for help as they face the greatest threat to their future in 20 years." It seems they can't afford to maintain their school property and they're falling into disrepair. Furthermore it seems "The Catholic Education Office says the only way out of the crisis is a government suspensory loan, which after 25 years would be written off. It says it is making good progress in talks with the Government." Note the solution the Catholic Education Office proposes for their financial crisis — a "government suspensory loan, which after 25 years would be written off." It's not a loan if it's going to be written off, that is, not paid for. It's just a taxpayer donation to promote Catholic fairytales and build up their asset base, which is already obscenely wealthy. How could a school even think they could pay back a loan, they're not a moneymaking business? They're not selling children for a profit. If the schools were generating an income that could service a loan then they wouldn't be in this situation, since that income could maintain their buildings. Yet it sounds as though our government is well on the way to approving this donation.

So should non-Catholics — such as Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics and atheists — be funding Catholic schools? Well all non-Catholics in NZ, whether we like it or not, already are, since through our taxes we provide funding to all 'integrated schools'. In NZ taxpayer funding doesn't just go to the secular state schools. Any private, independent, religious school can join the state system of 'integrated schools' as long as they follow a few conditions. In the private schools that belong to the scheme, things like teachers' salaries and resource materials are paid for by every taxpayer, but school property is purchased and maintained by the school's owners, in this case the Catholic Church. So we have the situation where an atheist — me — is in essence funding religious instruction. My hard-earned dollar is being diverted from secular programs to pay a Catholic teacher, lots of them actually — and numerous other Christian school teachers and even the odd Muslim and Jewish school teacher etc — to brainwash vulnerable children with superstitious nonsense. The 'integrated schools' system was only really brought into law because years ago Catholic schools were struggling financially and consequently delivering substandard education to their students. Thus the government, in 1975, decided to bail them out by providing funding to all religious schools that wished to join the state education system, while at the same time allowing them to retain their religious character and continue providing religious instruction to their students. This sneaky move overruled the secular nature of state education, in that now the state is directly funding religious instruction, a condition that was prohibited by the 1964 Education Act.

So the 'integrated schools' system was only concocted to lift Catholic schools out of financial ruin — and the great majority of 'integrated schools' today are still Catholic — yet they are now claiming financial strife again and expecting the non-Catholics of NZ, via the government, to come to their aid — again!

Catholics, and the other churches involved in integrated schools, no doubt love the thought that non-believers to their faith are nevertheless helping to fund their religion. But is this fair in today's diverse society? Think about it. Would you willingly donate money to a school that is teaching its children that your personally held beliefs are false? You are paying people to discredit your views, to paint you as ignorant in the ways of the world and deficient in spiritual knowledge. If you were a Christian would you donate money to a Muslim school or a Jewish school to further their beliefs? If you were a Muslim would you donate to a Catholic school? Even if you were a Catholic, would you willingly donate money to Protestant schools? Even if we just describe you as religious, would you donate part of your wages to an organisation that promotes atheism?

We need to return to the Education Act that existed between 1877 and 1975, that required primary schools to be secular in nature. Not atheistic as some Christians might claim, but secular — without religion. A state of affairs where no religion is favoured over another. If Catholics (and other religions) want to teach their children their silly religious beliefs, then have them attend their church Sunday schools. And what's wrong with teaching them at home? Do Catholic parents not know enough about their own religion to teach their children? If religious parents are ignorant of the details of their faith, but can nevertheless get through life (and death) without this knowledge, why can't their children? The fact is that most religious parents are largely ignorant about their own religion, and thus must rely on religious instruction in schools to provide the details. The parents provide the basics — such as "God made you and me", "Adam and Eve ate the apple and condemned us all as sinners" and "God exists and will torture you for all eternity if you masturbate" — but beyond these simple fairytales most parents know no more about their religion that does their family pet.

If Catholic schools need money, then the Catholic Church needs to come to their aid by selling off some of their assets. After all the Catholic Church is filthy rich when it comes to their assets, such as buildings, land, gold, artwork etc, much of which is unused and not required in today's world with religion on the decline. They need to start funding their own fairytales rather than expecting the heathens to do it for them. Or better still, why can't they ask their bloody God for help? Why, when things get desperate, is it always secular organisations and individuals that have to come to the aid of religious organisations and individuals? Why when they're in danger do they call on emergency services and not God? Why when their car malfunctions do they consult a mechanic and not God? Why do they put their faith in insurance policies and not God? Why when their religious schools are struggling do they appeal to the government and not God? Simple. Deep down they know what I have long known, but they are unwilling to acknowledge. There is no fucking God!! It's high time our government, especially in an election year, forced asset rich promoters of religious fairytales to fund their own schools. Non-Catholic taxpayers should not be paying the salaries of teachers who promote myths, let alone adding to the coffers of the Catholic Church by maintaining their properties. And don't get me started on the sexual abuse. I hate to think that some of my money has helped keep a sexual deviant in front of a classroom.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 24 Jun, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Rock flies first class to China
The Christchurch City Council has gifted a pounamu stone (also called greenstone or jade) to Wuhan, a city in China. However this chunk of rock got to fly first class as the Maori tribe that donated it — Ngai Tahu — insisted it would have been "culturally insensitive to put it in the hold." It was also said that "Maori protocol prescribes that a precious gift from an iwi becomes more than an inanimate object as it is imbued with the spiritual force of the tribe and so needs to be treated accordingly. Protocol also states the gift must be handed over by people who have mana in the iwi." This meant that two members of the tribe (iwi) had to accompany the rock to China, or in simple terms, two members of the tribe got a half price trip to China (The Council paid for one person, the tribe the other. Air NZ paid for the rock's fare). The two flew economy, not first class like the spiritually imbued rock. Not only did the Christchurch ratepayers have to pay for one return fare to China, they also paid for the "sourcing and preparation" of the rock. (Read the full article here.)

While the rock occupied two seats on its flight from Christchurch to Auckland, it actually got stuffed into a compartment in the first class section on the flight to China. Thus it was unable to partake of the free drinks, choose from the numerous movies on offer or appreciate the extra legroom. So why was it culturally insensitive to put it in the hold but not culturally insensitive to stuff it into a cupboard? This is just non-Maori being forced to perform really silly (and expensive) actions based on superstitious nonsense. Do Ngai Tahu Maori really still believe there is an actual spiritual force in the rock? If they do then they need to wake up, they need a large dose of reality. If they no longer believe this, if they realise it is just symbolic, then their chunk of rock can go in the hold with everyone else's equally valuable belongings.

Believing Maori when they claim that a stupid rock must fly first class accompanied by two servants is little different from believing that financial proposals from Nigerian Banks will net you millions of dollars. In both cases you are being scammed.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Jun, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Positive attitude won't cure cancer
We came across an interesting article recently that stated in essence that "The popular belief that a positive attitude can help fight cancer has been debunked by a group of Australian specialists... The Melbourne researchers say... that a fighting spirit does not improve a patient's survival chances... You cannot influence your cancer with positive or negative thinking, depression, a fighting spirit, or any other factor. A positive attitude is great and it clearly helps quality of life when you're going through treatment but it makes an undetectable difference to disease." The full media article can be read here, and another media commentary here.

This research contrasts strongly with many alternative therapy centres that claim a positive attitude is paramount in defeating cancer. Here's what one Internet advert for a well known Australian cancer treatment centre says:

"The Gawler Foundation is committed to an integrative medicine approach to health, healing and wellbeing that includes the body, emotions, mind and spirit... The philosophy is that every person is worthy of great respect. Each person has the same pure essence... While all forms of external treatment are respected, the core belief is that true healing comes from within. The aspirations of the Gawler Foundation are to support each individual to seek their own inner truth, to realise it and to live by it."

While the Gawler Foundation doesn't suggest that one should avoid seeking conventional medical treatments such as chemotherapy if one chooses, it does push the idea that there is a more powerful way of curing disease and remaining healthy, that is, "that true healing comes from within."

This is bullshit, and this new research proves it. While attitude can play an important part in how someone reacts to a diagnosis of disease and how they interact with family and friends, a positive attitude won't cure them. In the article Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips, a medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne said, "People often really beat themselves up and blame their attitude if their cancer relapses. We've shown absolutely that you're not at fault."

NZ now has its own version of the Gawler Foundation in Central Otago called the Canlive Charitable Trust, which according to one recent article "aims to help people with cancer through holistic healing and an improved quality of life" and "taught ways of fighting cancer using an improved diet, a more balanced life, eradication of negative emotions, and meditation." Another article stated that participants "learnt about meditation, healthy eating, and positive thinking." They were told that "Meditation was regarded by some as the most beneficial way of reducing the risk of getting cancer, as well as a way for sufferers to increase chances of survival, Mr Burt said. "Meditation can reduce the risk of getting cancer by up to 55%. It is the first thing patients are taught in our programmes."

More bullshit Mr Burt. Why isn't the government and health boards pushing meditation courses — along with five fruit and vege a day — and why don't schools have compulsory meditation classes if it's proven that it can reduce our risk by over half? I had a friend in her early forties who got cancer and she did the chemotherapy bit and participated in the Gawler Foundation program twice when it relapsed. And yet she is still dead. You couldn't have met a more bubbly, friendly, outgoing, positive person and yet her attitude didn't save her. If Gawler and Canlive were correct and a positive attitude could cure you, she should not only have beaten her own cancer, she should have cured all cancer sufferers in a hundred kilometre radius. Just yesterday another friend died of cancer, again in her forties, and again her positive attitude was amazing, and yet again, she still died. I'm all for support groups that help people deal with disease but I'm dead against those that push false hope by offering bogus cures, often at great financial cost.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Jun, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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The Great Global Warming Swindle
On Prime TV recently we watched the film The Great Global Warming Swindle. The film confidently informed us that man-made global warming is a false belief. The first scientist we see — a former Professor of Climatology — tells us that he definitely believes in global warming but he doesn't believe that it is being caused by human produced CO2. This seems to be the major thrust of the film — that CO2 produced by human activity has no effect on global warming. Most of the sceptical scientists shown do not deny that global warming is happening — although some do, claiming that the planet is actually cooling. But most claim that the global warming or climate change that we are experiencing is part of a natural cycle, and that humans, and especially CO2 produced by humans, have nothing to do with it. Unfortunately a cursory look at the film and its very title would lead one to believe that their contention is that global warming isn't happening at all, that it's all a big con or swindle. That we can safely ignore any mention of global warming in the media and continue life as normal. Many believe that the hype behind climate change is just the same as that behind the 'Millennium bug' in 1999. "All that hype, all that scare-mongering and nothing happened" they moan. Yet the 'Millennium bug' wasn't a scam, it was real. Nothing happened because the public was made aware of a problem and the necessary changes were made. Yes some gullible members of the public got ripped off by needlessly replacing their microwaves but this was due to their ignorance of the problem. Of course now they feel that if global warming is just a scam as well it's going to cost them a lot more than the price of a new microwave and PC.

If you argue that man is not the cause of global warming, but still accept that global warming is actually happening, as most in the film do, you still need to ask what can we do to alleviate its effects? Targeting CO2 emissions is pointless, but what measures should we be putting in place? If sea rise is still occurring, although not caused by man, we still need to take action. If polar ice is melting and polar bears are threatened with extinction, how can we help them? Global warming is still the same threat to mankind, only its cause has changed. The film concentrated solely on proving CO2 innocent of all charges, not on proving that global warming wasn't happening or that it wasn't still a threat or what we might do about it. And who benefits from CO2 being found innocent? All the major CO2 emitting industries and countries that rely on them. These industries aren't offering any solutions to global warming, they just want the gaze and especially the enormous financial burdens taken off them. Are they arguing because they know the science is wrong or because it will cost them a fortune to comply with CO2 reduction regulations?

If you've watched both Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth and the film The Great Global Warming Swindle, how is the layperson to decide which to believe? Two convincing documentaries each chock full of scientists each reaching the opposite conclusion.

Having viewed a few documentaries, movies and lectures that try and drum up support for various fringe beliefs such as Creationism over evolution, the Moon landing hoax, alien autopsies, banning genetic engineering and 9/11 conspiracies, we saw many similarities in The Great Global Warming Swindle and the studio debate that followed.

The details of climate change can be very complex it seems, as with much of science. Thus we must put our trust in scientists to analyse the data for us and then try and explain their conclusions in simple terms to the public. But unlike other controversies — say science verses religion — science seems to be on both sides of this debate, a true scientific debate. As could be seen in both films and in the studio debate, claims from one scientist are quickly decried by a scientist on the opposing team, and viewers don't have the expertise to pick one over the other. So rather than debate the actual science — which is beyond most of us — we believe it is still possible to make a reasonable decision based on the bigger picture.

Where do the majority of scientists stand on the debate? Do the majority support one theory over another or do they have equal support? Might the scientists be biased in any way? For example, are they working for companies that would prefer one answer to the other? Think of scientists that worked for the tobacco companies who said smoking wasn't harmful or scientists that are fundamentalist Christians who claim evolution is false. Are their claims compromised by their employment or fundamental beliefs? Do people have any expertise in the field they're debating? Remember that a professor in biology talking about meteorology is no more qualified to debate climate science than is a plumber. Are they misrepresenting a theory by highlighting a small area of the science that is undecided or conflicting while completely ignoring a raft of evidence that is supportive of global warming? Are they posing seemingly embarrassing questions about global warming but refusing to actually ask other scientists if they have an answer? Do they give the opposition an opportunity to explain their case, or are they simply leaving it up to the viewer — the layperson — to reach a conclusion based solely on their statements representing only one side of the debate?

Fact: The majority of the world's scientists now support man-made global warming, and sceptics can't explain why this should be the case. This majority consensus can mean one of three things. 1) This is where the best evidence available points. 2) The majority of scientists are stupid. 3) The majority of scientists are a willing part of a massive worldwide conspiracy.

Global warming sceptics believe option one is false, that the best evidence shows that man-made global warming is not happening. Thus they must believe that either other scientists are too stupid to see what is obvious to them, or other scientists are falsifying data as part of a conspiracy.

Yet it's unbelievable that the majority of the world's scientists are too stupid to understand conflicting evidence that is so obvious even to a layperson who is a global warming sceptic. So why do the scientific arguments of global warming sceptics only manage to convince laypeople that have no scientific knowledge or expertise and fail to convince other scientists, the very people that can understand their arguments in their full complexity? Isn't it far more likely that other scientists have reviewed their arguments and have discounted them because they could see errors in their arguments that a layperson couldn't? One such layperson and global warming sceptic who featured in the studio debate was Leighton Smith. I would love to be able to ask Smith why he can see that the complex scientific evidence offered for man-made global warming is flawed, but scientists with numerous degrees in the required scientific fields and years of experience can't? Why should we believe him — on a matter of science — rather than a gaggle of scientists? After all, how credible is Leighton Smith in analysing matters of science? He's a radio talkback host, not a scientist or even a science journalist. Leighton Smith has already given us an example of his ability to analyse science when it comes to evolution, since Smith is an avowed Creationist. On his radio talkback show he decried evolution while supporting creationism and intelligent design. This was around the time when Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion came out and he informed listeners that he had no intention of reading it, even thought he was happy to criticise it. He also informed us that he was reading two books on Creationism that he recommended. So this is the standard of Smith's research. He can see nothing flawed in a silly belief like creationism, a belief that is rejected by the majority of scientists. He happily criticises and ridicules the opposition — Dawkins and science — while refusing to examine their argument. He studies only the argument for the side that he supports. To me the arguments he gave for supporting Creationism were of the same type and just as flawed as those he gave for supporting the global warming sceptics.

Likewise it is unbelievable that the majority of the world's scientists plus lab technicians, university lecturers, graduate students, science journalists etc have all signed up to a secret conspiracy to push a lie and not one person has decided to spill the beans. We find it hard to believe that a scientist would happily go to work every day, year in year out, possibly for decades, to work on a project that he or she knew was a lie, a falsehood. Science is about the search for the truth, about answers, whatever they might be or wherever they might lead. Real scientists with integrity would not sacrifice this quest merely for the guarantee of continued employment or because some politician told them to. If the majority of scientists are saying that the available data suggests man is causing global warming, then they are doing so because that is where the evidence points. They are not doing it because they are part of some political conspiracy. Sceptics must therefore explain why they believe the scientific community willingly suppresses contrary data and why scientists believe that pushing the lie of man-made global warming is more important than furthering scientific knowledge? Why are they prepared to sacrifice their careers for global warming? If the sceptics could convince us that scientists were lying to us for some greater good, then their case would be strengthened, but merely claiming that they're being naively manipulated by politicians is unconvincing. The idea that politicians could convince scientists that their interpretation of their own scientific data was erroneous is unbelievable. The sceptics case is made worse because some of the scientists claiming to be sceptical of global warming are in the employ of companies who would be financially disadvantaged if global warming were accepted as fact. Most scientists on the other side of the debate however have no discernible bias as to the validity of global warming. In fact most scientists, like most politicians and most of the public, would prefer it if global warming were shown to be not happening. It's like scientists claiming that a large asteroid was about to hit the earth. They would only claim this if they thought it were true, not because they wanted it to happen. The fact that they are supporting a conclusion that they would rather not be true is a point in their favour. Why would scientists supposedly support a lie that will cost the world a fortune in monetary terms rather than a lie that would save the world the same fortune? If scientists are prepared to lie to us, why not give us the lie that saves us money — that global warming isn't a problem — and allow us to carry on as normal? No reputable scientist would support global warming simply so he could get funds to further research a lie — global warming — and happily spend his days making up more lies about it.

We don't believe that the majority of the world's scientists are too stupid to understand the arguments put forward by the sceptics or that they are part of a conspiracy, but could they simply be wrong in their interpretation? Most definitely. However it is up to the sceptics to first convince the scientific community of this, don't target the layperson. Scientists are not influenced by how the public believes things work. One should always be wary of scientists that are busy trying to convince laypeople that their controversial theories are correct rather than other scientists, publishing lightweight books and articles for the public rather than publishing scientific papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Usually this is because the scientific community has already convincingly debunked their theories, and having lost the argument with real science, they appeal to the gullible public. And a worrying number embrace their view, unconcerned about why these scientists couldn't convince other scientists.

So global warming sceptics, rather than just showing us scientific data — graphs of CO2 verses temperature over time or the varying energy output of the sun or explanations of the green house effect — need to also explain why the majority of scientists won't accept their arguments. We need to hear their argument and the counter argument. If they believe scientists are being manipulated by politicians or coerced in some way they need to provide proof of this, not just opinion. Until then we'll accept that man-made global warming is real and will even consider trading in the Hummer for something with a smaller carbon footprint.

An excellent article that was published in the Skeptical Inquirer by Stuart D. Jordan Ph.D is well worth reading. Entitled 'Global Climate Change Triggered by Global Warming', it was published in two parts over two issues, but both can be downloaded in the one pdf file. He also did a short follow up in a later issue: 'The Global Warming Debate: Science and Scientists in a Democracy'.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Jun, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Matthew, 09 Feb, 2009

    While I think your review of the movie itself was spot on (ie. it wasn't balanced) I do think you might want to apply your excellent skepical powers to the whole debate. I used to be a dyed in the wool believer in man made global warming (just as I was once a devout Christian until I actually started thinking it through in my very late teens) but after spending the last 2 - 3 years reading everything I could get my hands on I have a lot of doubts. My problem, like most others, is that I'm no scientist so rely on the findings from scientists to draw my conclusions and there is very little consistancy from either side.

    Your main argument (correct me if I'm wrong) is that most scientists are now in concensus that global warming is happening and that its man made. I'm not so sure — from what I can see, it is the scientists that advocate the existence of global warming that are getting the funding. It scares me that the ones who raise doubts are not only told they are wrong — they are shunned and in some cases hated! This smells a lot like religion to me and its disturbing that even I can't raise my doubts with some people without raising their shackles. I don't for a minute think there is a conspiracy but I do think that
    1.Some scientists are loose with the truth to ensure continued multi-million dollar funding.
    2. There is far too much sloppy science. Computer modelling that relies on too many assumptions. None of the models that the IPCC have run previously have been accurate with regards to global temperatures today and yet we are expected to believe that the models they run currently will be?
    3. The scientists who question global warming are largely ignored or simply can't get funding. If they can get funding it's unfortunately likely to come from somebody who benefits from no CO2 penalties like oil companies.

    The best website I can point you to is www.climatescience.org.nz which is run by scientists and the majority of the submissions are from scientists too. Just as you implore your readers to think through the silly beliefs that we tend to agree on I implore you and your team to read through some of the articles on this site. Question everything :)

    For the record, I'm a greeny. I live in West Auckland close to the Waitakere ranges and the sea and have joined the odd group to stop urban sprawl, preserve the green belt, oppose rezoning of land, etc. I believe that any proposals to reduce pollution are a great thing but this doesn't automatically mean I can't doubt global warming. Ponder for a minute that global warming is just a natural cycle caused by the sun or some other phenomena we're still learning about... how much good could have been done with the billions upon billions of dollars that are now swallowed up by the global warming machine?

    I could write screens more on what I've uncovered over the last few years on this site but your probably busy so I'll leave you to do your own digging (which you will probably enjoy just as I did!).

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Feb, 2009

    Thanks for your comments Matthew. Yes the ol' global warming debate is a tricky one, and I freely admit I know very little about the technical details. Like you I must also rely on the info we are getting from scientists, from both sides.

    I have spent some time in the past perusing the climatescience.org.nz site, but their involvement with Ken Ring caused me to doubt their objectively.

    I assume you've heard of Ken Ring, the moron that claims to predict the weather by the moon? He seems to have a much higher profile in Auckland than down here in the deep south, although many farmers still buy his weather forecasting books. It annoys me when bookshops put them in the Popular Science section when they should be in the New Age/Astrology section. It was a run in with him that motivated me to start our website. Any how, when the climatescience site started, Ken Ring was one of the first contributors and spent a bit of time debating on their forum with critics. The fact that other contributors wouldn't criticise his methods — or worse still — were perhaps unable to recognise flaws in his arguments, worried me. Were they prepared to sacrifice their integrity just to increase supporter numbers? Did they feel that any criticism of global warming, even if it was complete nonsense, was worthwhile to their cause? If they couldn't recognise mistakes in Ring's work, what hope would they have in analysing far more complex scientific data? When Augie Auers died, Ring wrote that he and Augie would fly around the country together giving talks on global warming. The fact that Augie was prepared to be associated with Ring greatly affected my opinion of him as well.

    I had a quick look again at their website yesterday and the list of available articles is daunting. I'm not sure I'm going to live long enough to read even a fraction of them, hell, the universe may not even last that long. But I will attempt to read a bit more when time permits.

    To give you an idea where my thinking lies at present, the paper that I mentioned at the end of my blog is well worth reading. It even touches on concerns that you mentioned, such as natural cycles and solar influence, bias of scientists due to funding and reliability of computer models.

    I think the debate is quite complex because even if everyone eventually agrees with the scientists who say we're the problem, we still won't all agree with the solutions offered by politicians, like the silly "fart tax". I think this debate will be going on for some time.

  3. Comment by Bob, 07 Jan, 2010

    The headline on weather the last few days has been that the past decade was the warmest on record. A new headline today says the increase in temperature is in fact so marginal as to be meaningless. It happens so often that some authority will issue a statement without giving the full story. It is seized upon by the media who give it front page treatment. Later when more facts come to light a modified story is given small space inside the paper if at all. I have read several times now that in fact before 2000 temperatures actually fell. That lead to a discussion on the effects of sunspots on weather on which scientists can't agree.

    For us here in New Zealand last summer was a good one. So far this summer the weather has been warmer than usual. If that is global warming I can take a lot of it. There is so much rubbish spouted about global warming and it's effects. I have heard that if the temperatures rise in the North Island we will become subject to tropical diseases. Queensland which is on average 5 or 6 degress hotter than here does not have a tropical disease problem. I have been surprised at the lack of insects on the Gold Coast fewer than I have in my backyard. What is wrong with being able to grow bananas here? No doubt global warming will adversely affect some people by altering weather patterns but the effects will produce advantages and disadvantages for different people.

  4. Comment by Ian, 27 Jan, 2010

    Hi, in your discussion as to which of three catergories people slot into. Why stop at three?

    I can think of a forth reason straight away. The status quo assumes that there is no problem, no man made global warming. Therefore we don't need to fund a project to fix a fault that does not exit.

    On the other hand if you can convince polititions that we potentially have a huge problem that could end the world as we know it, but just give us a couple of billion bucks so we can verify it. Anyone with a brain (especially the study instititions who have always struggled for funding) are not going to applaude when some genuine researcher shows that it's "just a cyclic variation" — This thing will be bleed for every drop!

  5. Comment by Bob, 31 May, 2010

    My own feeling is that even if human activity is helping to cause global warming it's effects are exaggerated. Global warming will turn out to be a damp squid. The greatest danger to the earth is the inexorable rise in the human population. Cut the numbers back from 6 billion to 2 billion and a lot of problems would automatically be solved. However it doesn't hurt for industry to clean up it's act reducing emissions. That can be seen by comparing photos of factory complexes from 100 years ago to much cleaner complexes now.

Princess Di killed by drunk driver?
Who would have guessed? That the combination of a speeding car driven by an inebriated driver trying to out run pursuing photographers might crash into a concrete pillar in an underpass? Or that all the occupants of that car that weren't wearing seat belts might die from the impact? It staggers belief really. That so many unrelated things could come together at the same time and place and cause such an unusual accident. Or so Mohamed Al Fayed would have us believe. That the British Royal Family, especially Prince Philip, Diana's arch-nemesis, plotted with MI6 to have her killed so that she couldn't marry Al Fayed's son Dodi. His crime was being a Muslim. Seemingly screwing other men behind the back of her then husband Prince Charles wasn't a problem with Prince Philip, or at least not enough to kill her. Nor did it seem that Prince Philip had a problem with a Muslim heart surgeon exploring her mossy grotto prior to her relationship with Dodi. But when a Muslim supposedly has the audacity to want to marry her, then this was just going too far. Who does the blighter think he is? Adultery? We can live with that. Embarrassing our family on the worldwide stage? We will survive. Screwing Muslim men? No problem, variety is the spice of life. But thinking of marrying a Muslim, for this she must die.

Mohamed Al Fayed must be one bitter man. I believe he can't get British citizenship, even though he owns "Harrods", that most British of all shops, and he may even have a genuine gripe against the British, but to convince himself that the Royals orchestrated a brilliant plot to kill his son and Diana is simply unbelievable. Even if they did want to prevent a marriage, and for which there is no evidence that one was even planned, it would have been far easier and far more sensible just to kill Dodi. As cruel as it sounds, the world wouldn't have cared or even noticed if a rich Muslim playboy was killed in a car crash. Remember the purpose of the plan according to Al Fayed was to stop the marriage, not to rid the world of Diana. And never mind that the photo supposedly showing Diana as pregnant was taken before she met Dodi, or that Diana had her period in the week or two prior to her death according to a girlfriend who Diana was on holiday with. No, let's not let inconvenient facts get in the way.

And Prince Philip is not exactly the sharpest pencil in the box, for him to come up with this plan, then convince MI6 and others of the crucial need to carry it out, and then to be able to keep quiet about it, is again unbelievable. Of course the even more worrying aspect of this conspiracy of Al Fayed's is that an enormous number of other people also believe that the death of Diana was not an accident. We can explain Al Fayed's delusion through a combination of animosity towards the Establishment, the need for some sort of revenge for the death of his son and simple grief. And perhaps even a little mental instability. But why do thousands of others latch onto these silly conspiracies for which there is no evidence? Why are they blinded to reason and the weight of evidence? Why when given the choice of a well supported answer and a silly answer, do some people opt for the silly one? Is the refusal to accept that the world isn't fair, that things just happen, that there is no fate or loving god looking after princesses forcing this denial on some people? Surely someone like Princess Di couldn't just be the victim of a stupid drunk driving accident they ask? Consequently someone must have killed her. I mean it's unheard of, princesses being killed in accidents on the streets of Paris.

One bit that is frustrating is that even though the inquest blamed the deaths on the grossly negligent driving of chauffeur Henri Paul and the following paparazzi, they nevertheless called the deaths an "illegal killing" and not an accident. I guess this is just legalese but it doesn't help in anyway to quell the conspiracy. If asked to think of another word to describe an "illegal killing" I would probably offer "murder". Even Al Fayed is now on record as claiming that the jury found that the deaths weren't an accident, but an "illegal killing", or in his view of the phrase, a murder. Adding that he wasn't taking it any further, he said, "I'm leaving the rest for God to get my revenge." So obviously his god also believes that Prince Philip was the villain, but strangely Allah didn't offer any testimony at the inquest.

And so the conspiracy will survive, along with others of our time like the 'fact' that the moon landing was faked, that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by President Bush, that JFK was killed by the Soviets/Cubans/Martians and that Elvis is alive and well. If only conspiracy theorists would put as much effort into researching and understanding the evidence as they do in propagating this crap. But for them I guess it's all about the mystery and combating the threat of "Big Brother".

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 Apr, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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The silly cult of Scientology
A BBC Panorama investigation that screened on TV1's Sunday last weekend served to further highlight what a devious and dangerous organisation the semi-religious cult called the Church of Scientology really is. It featured Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis (son of actress and Scientologist Anne Archer), who appeared to be a rather scary cross between Tom Cruise and the evil Agent Smith character from the Matrix movies. We learnt that they threaten families with what they call 'disconnect'. If a member's family disagrees with the cult's teachings (and what rational person wouldn't?), then the member breaks off all contact with their family, in a way similar to that old Mafia saying, "You are dead to me." The Catholic Church called it 'excommunication', and numerous other Christian denominations and other religions have similar techniques for separating their members from the non-believers. This is deplorable behaviour. They also spy (rather ineptly) on people as a form of intimidation. As Cult Investigator Rick Ross said, "They want you to know that they're following you, they want you to be afraid, to be very afraid of them, to be intimidated, and the idea of following you all around is to create that kind of fear that they're watching you..." Hubbard wrote that "Enemies of the church could be injured, tricked, sued, lied to or destroyed." That's a nice philosophy for a religion to have.
It's amazing that someone turned a really bad science fiction story into a religion and a multibillion dollar business, and that people such as John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kirsty Alley, Patrick Swayze, Issac Hayes (the voice of Chef in South Park), Anne Archer, Juliette Lewis and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), actually believe it. Perhaps being actors they have trouble separating fantasy from reality?
Russell Miller, author of the 'Bare Faced Messiah' was quoted as saying "The whole religion is based on the word of a congenital liar and a brilliant confidence trickster". But the Church of Scientology does claim to be a religion, and a very silly one at that. Of course it only wants to be a religion because of the enormous financial rewards, tax exemptions etc afforded to religions in the USA and elsewhere, including NZ. Scientology has somehow managed to become legally recognised as a religion in the USA but Britain has correctly refused to give it such recognition, and rightly so. We're not sure what its status in NZ is. It does have a small branch in Auckland, and perhaps other centres, but mercifully you almost never run across Scientologists in NZ. Long may it continue.
Readers may or may not be aware (and as we've mentioned before), that the core belief of Scientology revolves around an alien being called Xenu who lived a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The story was invented by the late science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and it all begins with the alien ruler Xenu transporting billions of surplus aliens to Earth from numerous planets, sticking them around volcanoes and blowing them to pieces with atom bombs. Since this all happened 75 million years ago the aliens would have been able to observe dinosaurs while awaiting their execution. While their bodies were vaporised, the 'souls' of these aliens weren't destroyed however, and after lolling around for millions of years they eventually became parasitic on modern humans, which evidently explains the emotional problems that we humans have today. Even when he first thought up this science-fiction story it made a pretty pathetic plot, but with modern knowledge of space, aliens and the non-existence of souls, it becomes laughable. According to Hubbard the alien's 'space planes' were exact copies of old Douglas DC-8s, except they didn't have propellers, and their civilisation and technology looked exactly the same as Earth in the 1950s and 1960s. It's unbelievable that they could have had a Galactic Confederacy with 1950s technology. And yet Scientologists still believe exactly this today. They haven't changed their DC-8s to starships with warp drive to match modern knowledge. They answer these criticisms by simply refusing to talk about the origins of Scientology. Seemingly many new members are even unaware of the true origin of their 'religion', and I guess this isn't surprising. It's really no wonder that Scientologist leaders are not as willing to rave about Xenu the way Christians rave about Jesus. It's about as silly as an adult believing in Santa Claus.
Since Scientology doesn't involve gods or the supernatural or praying to Xenu for favours, and since Xenu was a real evil bastard and he isn't credited with creating the Universe or even humans or anything else normally attributed to gods, it's difficult to see why they think it's a religion. Of course some people ignorant of what a 'religion' is even say the likes of science and atheism are religions, but if this were true then everything can be called a 'religion' and the term becomes meaningless. Put simply, Scientologists believe an alien entity — something akin to a parasitic virus — has taken up residence in some people's brains and is influencing their behaviour in a negative way. By an expensive process known as auditing, they pretend to analyse what influence these alien entities called Thetans have on people. And of course they promise to rid you of their effect. This isn't a religion, it's a medical procedure. But of course the alien entities don't exist so actually it's a scam. A scam that will separate you from your family and your bank balance. Oh, and if you really want to annoy them, call their belief by its correct description — a cult.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 03 Apr, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Should we talk about suicide?
This is one of those 'friend of a friend' stories (a 'foaf'), where a 'foaf's young teenage son committed suicide. None of us knew those involved, and if it wasn't for our 'foaf' we would have been unaware that this tragic event had even occurred. Unlike other deaths — natural, accidental or criminal — suicides are treated like state secrets. We don't hear about them on the nightly news or read about them in the paper. Even the newspapers, normally renown for giving us the facts, conspire to hide the truth in their published death notices. In fact, in this specific case the Otago Daily Times categorically refused to allow the cause of death to be stated as suicide. Why this secrecy?

Apologists for hiding the truth about suicide believe that talking about it will only encourage others to try it for themselves. But think about this claim. When a young person at school commits suicide every kid at that school knows about it. And every kid at every nearby school knows about it. They all know who did it, how they did it, and who found them. Some even know why they did it. Even if they don't get the 'real' facts about the suicide, the rumour mill will fill their heads with plenty of bogus 'facts'. By keeping it quiet the only people that remain ignorant of the incidence of suicide are adults in the general public who then insist suicide isn't a problem in their town. The very people susceptible to suicide — the teenagers — know all about it, but the adults that might be able to prevent it are kept in the dark, denied the knowledge that it's even happening in their community. Parents may neglect to broach the subject with their kids, while nevertheless tackling sex, drugs and recycling, ignorant of the fact that a suicide threat might even exist. And if not talking about something really stopped kids from trying it, why don't we stop talking about alcohol, drugs and sex? Yes some people may be influenced by the suicide of others, but this is why it is vitally important that we should openly discuss how stupid, futile, meaningless and unnecessary those suicides were and of how much pain they cause to family and friends.

Let's be realistic here. No problem has ever been solved by keeping quiet about it, by not discussing it, by failing to acknowledge it even happens. On an unrelated TV3 news item recently, NZ's 'Victim Support' organisation mentioned that 'suicide often accounts for more deaths each year than the road toll'. I didn't know that! And look at the money, time, resources and TV advertising we throw at trying to reduce the road toll. Why are we doing far less for an equally serious problem?

There are obviously many reasons people give for contemplating and committing suicide, and we're not about to pretend that we have the expertise or knowledge to solve them, but we certainly believe that one must try. Regardless of their motivation for suicide, we also believe that there's one thing that helps some in their resolve to carry it through, especially kids, and that is — surprise, surprise — religion. An article I read last year on suicide began with a woman contemplating suicide, not to simply end her life, but to join her dead friends. Join them where? It also quoted teenage friends of those who had committed suicide, eg: "I know you're in a better place now", "can't wait 2 see u in heaven" and "hope the weather's nice where you are". These comments smack of religion. Adults need to stop lying to children (and themselves). Stop telling children that their hamster and great aunt Mildred have gone to the other side, to heaven, passed on. Religion's continual reinforcement is that people go to a better place when they die, to another world where all is rosy. No pain, no problems, everyone's your friend and your second 'life' will be all you ever wished it could be. Who wouldn't want to go on to a better life? You're not dying really, you're just upgrading to a better world, with better people and better friends. And stop giving credence to silly mediums who tell us that the dead are happily watching over us in their new lodgings. Religious belief can only reinforce to the youth that it's silly to suffer in this life when there's a much better one waiting. Adults want their children to believe in the next life, but then belatedly contradict themselves by trying to convince youth contemplating suicide that death is final, that there is no paradise where their problems will be miraculously solved. Yet their attempt to undo the childhood brainwashing seldom works. So much better if they hadn't spun this fantasy in the first place.

The longer we refuse to talk about the tragedy of suicide with our kids, but at the same time continue to fill their heads with stories of a magical afterlife, the longer some kids will see suicide as the rational option when problems occur in their life. Thinking that hiding suicide from the public gaze will solve the problem is — to quote one of our favourite TV shows — Bullshit.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 29 Mar, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 29 Mar, 2008

    I'm inclined to agree with not publicising individual suicides because it is so painful for the family. After all suicide reports can be anonymous but be reported as statistics. Even the causes such as drug use or the incidence of depression can be highlighted. I don't think religion has much to do with it. Generally people commit suicide because they can't face life. One psychologist said most suicides are depressed. An expectation of a trouble free existence after death might influence some. People in a state of depression are basically mentaly ill. I always think it is sad when people take their own lives particularly young ones.

    I was reading a Catholic article on the internet on death. It accused suicides of being cowards in not facing up to life. I had by then read the psychologists article. I felt incensed at them being so judgemental and lacking sensitivity but then their principles always mean more to them than the problems of ordinary people.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Mar, 2008

    Bob, we agree that publication of suicides will be painful for families, but no more than the likes of fatal motor accidents where wrecked cars are plastered across the papers and on the 6 o'clock news. And these are often far more painful for families because their child has not only killed themselves, but innocent bystanders as well. Why are these innocent families forced to continually relive the tragedy, and be identified (and often insulted and abused) on the street, but those of suicides are given anonymity? Our understanding is that suicide is an illegal act. We're not suggesting that suicides should feature prominently on our nightly news, or even that names be provided, but at present there is no reporting whatsoever that a suicide has occurred. As in the case we mentioned, the newspaper point blankly refused to allow suicide to be mentioned in the death notice, even though the family requested this. If other families don't want to acknowledge the cause of death that's their choice, but why censor those that do? Proponents normally argue that the secrecy is to stop copycat suicides, not to lessen the pain of families. Why should the mother of a suicide victim — who may have happily ignored signs of a pending suicide — be actively protected by the media, while the mother of a drunk driver — who may have done everything in her powers to stop drink driving — is hounded by reporters for comment? Secrecy doesn't work. Parents refusing to talk about homosexuals won't stop their child becoming one. The public can't donate time, money, resources and ideas to the problem of suicide if they don't know the problem exists, if they think it's only a problem in Japan. As far as we're concerned, suicide certainly isn't a problem in the communities where we live. But is that really true, or just a smokescreen created by the authorities?
    Whether it be suicides or road accidents or whatever, we have only admiration for families that while obviously suffering great pain, and embarrassment, speak out in an attempt to lessen the chance that another will die in similar circumstances.
    Also we don't believe we suggested that religion is a cause of suicide, we merely said that when suicide is contemplated, for what ever reason, most likely depression as you said, it would "help some in their resolve to carry it through". Think of the Muslim terrorists. It's a similar case. They wouldn't be so willing to die if it weren't for the promised rewards in heaven. A large proportion of the population claim they believe in an afterlife, and I think it would be naive to believe that this belief wouldn't feature in their thoughts of suicide, even if only as a minor consideration. And even if belief in the afterlife only contributed to, say, 1% of suicides, if removing this religious belief stopped even these few suicides then it's a positive start.

  3. Comment by Eddy, 23 Sep, 2009

    As a scientist I was fascinated to read the "silly beliefs" page and it is a pity it is so full of personal attacks on individuals and does not contain much in the way of ORIGINAL thoughts or ideas. Stephen Hawkins, who I imagine has a little more understanding of most what is claimed on this site, has never showed such bias.
    The URL simply continues to expound on many varied and conflicting theologies and religious ideas of scientists who have run to the end of their own thinking and are desperately trying to hold their end up. It also contains many popular misconceptions and heresay about religions that I suspect the author has not studied the various religions personally, rather just observed them from an 'outside' POV.

    One objectionable thing to me is your comments about suicide. I have spent many years in counselling and sometimes wish I could go back and talk to the young people I have been told about afterwards. Maybe if people spent more time talking to these people who are suicidal, rather than spouting their own nonsensical ideas about 'WHY' , a few would be saved from such a tragic and untimely death. From my personal experience of many years, suicide is about broken relationships with peers, lovers or family. Depression is the pre-cursor symptom quite often, but not the cause. If people have a hope and a chance to talk out their fears and grief over the breakdown of their relationships they can often be saved from taking that final step.

    The name "Silly Beliefs" is very fitting, so congratulations for an excellent title.

    I realise it is one tiny mans opinion on his personal blog, but my opinion is equally as 'simple' and possibly as factually based: - The whole page is, to quote the author, crap! I know you will appreciate me talking bluntly as your blog is written without hypocracy and is blunt.

    I got involved in Scientology many years ago,,,, before I came to my senses and do agree with you.

    PS. The thing that puzzles me in all these types of arguments is, where are the people like Einstein who can think outside the 'box' or the entire physical universe (Time/Space/Energy) and actually realise two possibilties?

    1. There could be another dimension. ?????
    2. It could be the 'Spiritual' and though related to the physical, be totally 'out of this world' hahahaha

    If these two posibilties are real, then a Creator with infinite power can exist, period.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 24 Sep, 2009

    Thanks for your comments Eddy, although I'm not at all sure what you mean by some of them.

    While you may interpret our articles and comments as personal attacks on individuals, they are aimed at their silly beliefs, claims and actions, not them personally. We never criticise anyone's appearance, dress style or choice of pet. While we do have articles on the likes of Ian Wishart, Jeanette Wilson and Ken Ring, they are an attempt to debunk the claims that each is a spokesperson for, that is, Christian fundamentalism, psychic mediums and weather forecasting by the moon respectively. Exposing the flaws in their claims without mentioning their names would be like trying to explain why Nazism was wrong but being careful never to say anything that might reflect badly on Hitler. These people all push their personalities to sell their products, and if their claims and actions make them look foolish then that is something they will have to deal with. I'm not familiar with anything that Stephen Hawkins (who ever he is) has made regarding the topics we write about, so I can't talk about any lack of bias in his comments.

    You state that we 'expound on many varied and conflicting theologies and religious ideas of scientists who have run to the end of their own thinking'. Not quite sure what you mean here, unless you thing that scientists supporting evolution and the Big Bang are discussing religious ideas. Likewise, I'm not sure what popular misconceptions regarding religion that we talk about since you give no examples, unless you mean the one about it all being true? And yes, we comment on religion from an 'outside POV'. How could I do it otherwise? I'm an atheist. I can't somehow become a true believer in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. and observe beliefs from within. It's like saying that a psychiatrist can't truly comment on mental illness unless he is personally insane. In reality, an independent, outside point of view unencumbered by prior beliefs is often what is needed to see through false ideas, concepts and unwarranted beliefs that have been blindly accepted down through the ages.

    I have no idea what you find objectionable in our blog on suicide. We make no 'nonsensical' comment on why people might commit suicide. You say that counselling and talking to people who are suicidal is vital, and yet you apparently take offence at our wish that the prevalence of suicide in our society be brought to the public's attention. How can pretending it's not happening bring us around to talking to those at risk?

    Re your puzzlement around a Creator, of course a Creator or god can exist, the question is whether it is at all likely that one does exist. As for your argument why a Creator can exist, I see it as quite weak. To demonstrate why, I will 'prove' a different Being exists using only your logic:

    1. We know there are facilities at the South Pole, therefore there could easily be a secret facility at the North Pole.
    2. We know some things fly, and that reindeer exist, therefore flying reindeer might exist somewhere.

    If these two possibilities are real, then Santa Claus can exist, period.

    With your argument you can prove anything you wish. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and a Creator God might exist, one can't prove they don't. However, any sane person using reason and looking at the available evidence would accept that they don't.

    You say that there might be another dimension. Being a scientist, you should be aware that if superstring theory is correct, then there are at least 7 or 8 other dimensions. However I think many people confuse other dimensions with parallel worlds. We are three dimensional beings. We could not travel to other dimensions the way TV shows portray. Other dimensions would be just as 'physical' as the ones we are aware of, but our bodies couldn't suddenly grow extra dimensions. Conceivably there could be four dimensional beings watching us the way we watch a two dimensional cartoon, but we are stuck here the same way Homer Simpson is stuck in Springfield. Homer and his family will not migrate to our world when the series is finally cancelled and they cease to exist in their dimension. You ask where the scientists like Einstein are. They are out there, but they are investigating the natural universe from a scientific perspective. The people looking for spirits in another dimension are priests and psychic mediums, not scientists.

  5. Comment by Eddy, 25 Sep, 2009

    Thank you for the lengthy reply.

    I am surprised of your lack of knowledge of many things and thus realise you are only repeating other persons ideas and I suspect most is hearsay.

    I am equally surprised you do not know who Stephen Hawkins is and yet on your page are happy to point out how you somehow have knowledge or answers about many cosmic ideas. Like a jury, you cannot judge unless you have ALL the facts before you.

    You also state Christianity can push people towards suicide! This, without knowing the statistics or anything about the person at the centre of the belief. I have observed christianity (via others) as being perhaps the most positive belief in regaining a persons self worth. That will always be a weapon against the scourge of suicide.

    Being a scientist does not make or prove a persons intelligence, rather it only states his interests and learning. You are totally incorrect in claiming "They are out there, but they are investigating the natural universe from a scientific perspective. The people looking for spirits in another dimension are priests and psychic mediums, not scientists." Many scientists believe in and actively pursue a spiritual dimension. Please check the facts.

    You need to do a lot more research as you speak about things as if you have the total answer and yet your very words "However I think many people confuse other dimensions with parallel worlds. We are three dimensional beings." (how do you know?) are pure conjecture on the part of the person who authored that.

    I speak from personal experience of many years. We can dribble on all day here and never conclude anything, because neither of us have the answer to many of the subjects your URL covers. Man will always come to a solid wall in his search for the answer to the basic questions of life. After that there only remains death and then he will know! So, time is the acid test.

    Ideas that were 'intelligent' (about space for eg.) in 1965 were superceded in 1969, and so scientists continue to be perplexed by things they discover that refute so much of what was believed earler. I personally cannot understand why Darwins theory is still being taught when DNA blew it away years ago! Well maybe I can, because man is thick skinned and even slower to learn by his own mistakes. I have been involved in the medical field since 1971 and there has been huge changes in how we look at the human organism.

    Some people are happy to slate other cultures, religions, philosophies, theologies, thesis, ideas, beliefs and faiths, and yet never come up with anything intelligent, profound or new!

    For me, I am happy to leave you with this one thought. If there is a God, then it is good to discover Him before we step off this tiny little ball amidst the Cosmos. I have had several personal encounters with the entities behind UFO's etc., and assure you, do not think you are seeing the full picture! Please be very careful as within the next decade a lot more will be revealed.

    I wish you well in your pursuit of the truth and encourage you to look away from the confusion of ideas and begin to examine the very fundamental evidence of our existence that a layman can observe easily.

    The secret is to keep searching and forget all the trivia and theories bla bla bla,,, and focus on 'who are we' and 'where did we come from' and don't try to take the world (Hawkins, Dawkins, Wishart) on.

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Sep, 2009

    I'm sorry Eddy but I find your viewpoint confusing and contradictory. You encourage my pursuit of the truth but also tell me I'm wasting my time since 'Man will always come to a solid wall in his search for the answer to the basic questions of life'. By admitting that you don't know and will never know, are you saying that the rest of us should give up as well? You tell me to keep searching but also advise me to ignore 'the confusion of ideas... and theories'. But your view is a confusing idea so you're actually advising me to ignore you! You say I should endeavour to discover God but tell me that certain things are being deliberately hidden from science and the world. And we're to believe that your UFO encounters have told you this? Did they enlighten you before or after your anal probe? You tell me that I shouldn't challenge the world and the likes of 'Hawkins, Dawkins, Wishart', yet going against your own advice you feel the need to challenge my view.

    You say that I should 'examine the very fundamental evidence of our existence that a layman can observe easily'. Sorry, but we've already tried the layman's view of reality. That gave us a flat world at the centre of a very small universe populated by many gods who caused disasters and disease on a whim. It gave us a world that the layman thought was controlled by primitive superstition and magic. Being a scientist you should realise that discovering the fundamental nature of the universe is out of the reach of the layman. We don't have the resources or qualifications to built particle accelerators, radio telescopes, electron microscopes or gene sequencers. A layman that thinks he can easily observe the fundamental nature of our existence will only return to the primitive superstition and false knowledge of our distant past.

    When you mentioned 'Stephen Hawkins' you were talking about religion. I now gather that you must actually mean Professor Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, rather than Hawkins. I know that, like me, he is an atheist who sees no need for gods in explaining the universe. However I am not aware of anything that he has written debunking religion in general or Christianity specifically.

    Regarding suicide, if you reread my post and following comment I quite clearly say that religion does not cause suicide but might in some cases make the option once considered less daunting. Religions, and Christians especially, are forever going on about how wonderful the next life will be. It would be naïve in the extreme to claim that those contemplating suicide weren't influenced by this belief. Nor do I not single out Christianity, any belief in another life that is paradise compared to this world is dangerous, ie Islam and their 72 virgins.

    You also say that you have 'observed Christianity (via others)', implying that you are not a Christian, yet in your previous comment you criticised my view because it relied on an 'outside POV'. If I am ignorant of Christianity and religion in general because I am observing it rather than living it, then so it appears are you.

    You claim that 'Many scientists believe in and actively pursue a spiritual dimension'. You are confusing a scientist's personal religious belief and their normal scientific endeavours. Yes, I am aware that there are scientists who teach their students that the universe is billions of years old during the week and then preach in their church on Sunday that it is only a few thousand years old, but this duplicity is something they should be challenged on. I'm also aware that there are a handful of scientists trying to prove that there are billions of spirits are out there somewhere, all living it up in some wonderful afterlife, that the dead are communicating with people in darkened rooms holding hands, and that multi-dimensional being are watching over us, but it is disingenuous to suggest that this is what your typical scientist is doing. At work, real committed scientists are doing science, not dabbling in religion. These are the facts. You say you work in the medical field. I would seriously hope that if you were examining a medical scan, a blood sample or DNA sequence that you were using scientific knowledge and not listening to some spiritual dimension. And furthermore, if scientists thought spirits were manipulating their experiments then science would be futile. Science only works because it assumes a naturalistic universe where experimental results can be relied on. Science has succeeded because it has ditched the old assumption that some spiritual dimension is pulling our strings.

    How do I know we live in a three dimensional world? To state that the view that we live in a three dimensional world is 'pure conjecture' is as silly as saying that the existence of gravity is pure conjecture. Suggesting that there is no good evidence for this view is little different to claiming that reality is an illusion and what we perceive is nothing but a fantasy like the movie The Matrix. Yes this could all be true, but I challenge you to produce evidence accepted by the scientific community that we're not beings that live in a three dimensional world. Yes, there may be hidden dimensions as posited by superstring theory, but visiting other dimensions is not like visiting other countries. I challenge you to move in the fourth spatial dimension, or fifth or tenth. It is a scientific fact that life as we know it can only exist in three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension.

    You claim that neither of us have the answers, and what's more, man will never answer the basic questions of life. You state that 'there only remains death and then he will know! So, time is the acid test'. Well no, that's not necessarily true, and I don't understand why religious people can't grasp this. If you die and there is some sort of afterlife, then you will have that question about whether there is life after death answered. But, as is more likely, when you die your consciousness simply switches off, and you cease to exist. In the same way that you don't remember any existence before you were born, you won't remember anything after you die. If I'm right, when you die you won't be conscious to look around and realise that there is nothing there, and be able to curse, 'Damm... the atheists were right all along'. Why do religious people think that no matter who is right, everyone will be hanging around after their death to have this question answered? Time is not the acid test. Only if an afterlife exists will people get an answer, and even then it may not be the answer they wished for. Image a Christian arriving in Heaven to find it fill of Muslim suicide bombers and the gates locked. They'll be just as screwed as the atheists.

    You say that 'scientists continue to be perplexed' (this must include yourself), and that so many scientific beliefs are being refuted. You say that you work in the medical field and that there have been huge changes, but if what you're saying is correct, everything you accept now will be refuted in the years to come. If scientific claims are unreliable, then the scientific claims around DNA must be unreliable, so you can't use unreliable data to 'prove' that evolution is wrong. This implication that scientists are perplexed and continually proving themselves wrong demonstrates an ignorance of what science has achieved in the last few centuries. Modern society is a result of scientific knowledge and advancements, not confusion and false beliefs. The fact that you and I are having this discussion is a result of science — the invention of electronics and the debunking of religion as a voice of authority. It is the success of science combined with the demise of religion that has created our society.

    You criticise us with the statement, 'Some people are happy to slate other cultures, religions, philosophies, theologies, thesis, ideas, beliefs and faiths, and yet never come up with anything intelligent, profound or new!', and yet you have become the very person that you belittle, someone happy to slate other views without coming up with anything intelligent, profound or new.

  7. Comment by Eddy, 29 Sep, 2009

    Mr Silly Believer, I haven't read past your comment about an anal probe,, why? because you are simply one of millions of numbsculls, in the truest sense of that word, that bleat on without adding one piece of decency to the world around you. Furthermore you have no original ideas, only endless slagging of everyone elses personal beliefs.

    Q. What do you actually believe? Q. Why not just spend your doing something useful to humanity?

    The name of your site is prophetic, and sums up what you and your fellow 'non-believers' are!

    Thank God for my solid belief in someone other than man!

  8. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 29 Sep, 2009

    Sorry Eddy, did my mention of alien anal probes bring back repressed memories? But let's remember Eddy, that it was you that first felt the need to 'slag off' our personal beliefs, calling our website silly, unoriginal and crap. You went on to accuse us of ignorance and of plagiarising the ideas of others. You chose to go out of your way to communicate with us solely to criticise our world-view. And we have no problem with people disagreeing with our views, robust debate is healthy and informative. But to think that we will meekly accept your criticism and not question whatever vague belief it is that you're pushing indicates arrogance and naiveté. You claim that our entire website is 'crap' and 'contains many popular misconceptions and heresay about religions', yet you give no examples that we might even contemplate revising. All we have to question is the little you tell us about your world-view, and it doesn't appear coherent.

    Yet you respond by calling us 'numbsculls' [sic] and questioning our decency. What happened to religious platitudes like 'Love thy enemy' and 'Turn the other cheek'? Or better still, solid arguments?

    Frankly I have little confidence in the opinions of someone who claims to have got his knowledge from 'several personal encounters with the entities behind UFO's'. Not only that, you refuse to divulge further information about this supernatural or alien conspiracy, merely telling us to be careful and that more will be revealed in the next decade. Yeah right. Do you see yourself as special, as The Chosen One, since out of six billion people you have been elected to reveal the first hints of the destiny of humans?

    You finished with, 'Thank God for my solid belief in someone other than man!'. I wonder about someone who so despises his own species that he gives his loyalty to beings from other worlds, presumably in return for future rewards.

    And yes, we believe in our own small way we are doing something useful for humanity, in fact something quite vital — helping open the eyes of those mired in superstition, and supporting those that have already seen the light of reason. As Catherine Fahringer said, 'We'd be 1,500 years ahead if it hadn't been for the church dragging science back by its coattails and burning our best minds at the stake'. If we can convince even just a few people that belief in gods is as silly as belief in the Tooth Fairy, then it's all been worth the effort.

The Maori flag on council buildings
Maori flag Maori sovereignty groups have requested that the Manukau city council fly Maori flags on its buildings. These would be the tino rangatiratanga (image right) and kingitanga (Maori King Movement) flags. In a vote yesterday councillors agreed, or rather didn't agree on whether to fly them, but to spend ratepayer's money on a three-month draft report on the issue. (And people wonder why our hospitals, schools etc are struggling!) Transit NZ has already been approached to fly the tino rangatiratanga flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and the request was denied. And rightly so.

We think there are a number of issues here.

Is the flag and the goal of its promoters supported by the majority of NZers? Even if it is, are we opening up a can of worms by allowing whatever group that asks permission to fly their flag on government or local government property? Manukau evidently has 185 ethnic communities that might want to fly their flag, and then we have other groups like Greenpeace, the World WildLife Fund, the Red Cross, CanTeen and the NZ Skeptics. Where would it all end? For those that believe that councils and the harbour bridge etc should have to fly the flags of outside groups, ask yourself how you would respond if a group whose policies you didn't agree with made a request, or in an extreme case, if neo-nazis wanted to fly a swastika on Hitler's birthday. Would you support them? Are you supporting the individual right of other groups to fly their flag, or are you merely supporting groups whose beliefs you agree with?

And then we have the other side of the coin. Rather than general support, if flying the flag raises conflict, should government property be used as a protest site for their movement? The stated goal of those wanting to fly the flag is Maori sovereignty, a political agenda. As Teanau Tuiono explains (one of the spokespeople that requested the flags fly on the Harbour Bridge), "Flags are symbols... for me Tino Rangatiratanga is a postive [sic] idea, it encapsulates our aspirations for indigenous self-determination, the revitalisation of our language and culture and the right to control what is ours..." Any movement that promotes splitting NZ down racial lines, that allows one race to have it's own government and its own laws is a backward step in our view. And this is what the Maori sovereignty flag symbolises to many NZers — racial division. Most Kiwis don't what to be reminded of this division every time we go to our council building or cross a bridge.

Another argument is that as a Treaty partner Maori have the right to fly their flag. But if this were true then we shouldn't be flying the NZ flag at all. Instead the Maori flag should fly alongside the Union Jack — the flag of the Crown — the other Treaty partner. The NZ flag actually symbolises the union of two cultures, of two Treaty partners. The Union Jack combined with the stars of the Southern Cross. While it's probably doubtful that Maori had any input into it's design, the stars could be seen to represent the impressive seafaring skills of Maori using stellar navigation. And remember that Maori were not a united culture and had no flag prior to the arrival of Europeans. Even today there are several Maori flags and no consensus among Maori over whether they should even have a flag, let alone which one. The NZ flag's design may not be the best way to represent modern New Zealand, and may need updating, but at least it represents all New Zealanders, not just some. Also, if it's really a case of flying the flags of the Treaty partners, as some Maori insist, why don't maraes and Maori protestors fly the NZ flag alongside the Maori flag? Why only the Maori flag? If it's proper that the 'Crown' should fly both, why not Maori?

Another issue is that some are seeing the refusal to fly the Maori flag on government buildings etc as racial discrimination and/or an attempt to outlaw the flag. This is not the case. You, and this obviously includes Maori, have the personal right to fly a flag of your choice on your property, but you don't have the right to demand that someone else flies YOUR flag on THEIR property. Why should someone else be forced to fly a flag pushing your beliefs? Why should local government buildings be promoting another group's political agenda, in effect promoting their own downfall?

By all means push for Maori sovereignty if you believe it will somehow improve your lot in life, but do it on it's own merits, convince us with reason, don't force your way onto council buildings like a parasite with the insidious goal of destroying the host.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Mar, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Adrian, 27 Dec, 2008

    Re: "Another argument is that as a Treaty partner Maori have the right to fly their flag... Instead the Maori flag should fly alongside the Union Jack the flag of the Crown the other Treaty partner."

    Is the terminology you have used actually inadvertently reinforcing another misconception? Insomuch that the idea of Treaty partners has been latched onto by so-called self-determinists (aka apartheid apologists) when really the Treaty was not about creating partners and all that could be construed to imply but about applying with absolute equality to "all the people of New Zealand". The Treaty of Waitangi, in Maori or English, speaks of everyone's "customary rights". There is no "partnership" being offered. (Last quote from http://www.onenzfoundation.co.nz/The final treaty draft.htm).

    P.S. We to hear a lot about Treaty partners these days and the term seems to have been hijacked from its intended meaning, Treaty signatory, and now regularly has separatist/apartheid connotations attached to it, contrary to the Treaty's intention. At least, I think the intention was about unity, but I could be wrong.

    P.P.S. The blog post on "The Maori Flag on Council Buildings" is, my nitpicking question aside, excellent.

    P.P.P.S. Silly Beliefs - superb website. Well done. Keep up the good work!

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Jan, 2009

    You're quite right Adrian. This talk of treaty partners is a bogus argument. That's why I suggested that if these treaty partners still existed, then they would be Maori and the English Crown, not Maori and the New Zealand government or NZ people. As you say, "treaty signatory" is a far more accurate description than "treaty partner". On signing, the fusion of these "treaty partners" erased their independence and created a new country, a new citizenship and a new identity — New Zealander. New Zealanders of Maori descent, of English descent, of Irish descent, of Chinese descent etc., but regardless of origin, all New Zealanders governed by the same laws. I agree that the intention of the treaty was about unity, not division. Nothing good can come from a group that feels alienated, subjugated or persecuted and rather than learning to live in the modern world, they try to create a fantasy world based on flawed visions of the past. Radical Maori groups pushing for their own government and laws are at best naïve and at worse dangerous, potentially leading to terrorism, eg Hamas, Hizbollah, Tamil Tigers, PLO, IRA etc. Traditionally Maori never had flags nor were they united as a people, so it seems a little delusory that these elements are even claimed to be part of their traditional Maori world view. Of all the problems facing Maori today, you'd think that flying a westernised symbol of their mythical unity on council buildings would be the least of their concerns. If they think that success in this matter will suddenly bring them prestige, prosperity, good health, longevity and lighter prison sentences, or that perceived relationships with other NZers will improve, then they are sadly mistaken.

Josie Bullock fired for speaking out
Dismissed from her job as a probation officer at the Corrections Department in Dec 2004 for speaking out against sexual discrimination, Josie Bullock is back in the news. If you remember, Ms Bullock had refused to sit behind all the men at a Maori ceremony marking the end of a course for offenders. Rather than recognise the inequality based on sex of this situation — and the fact that this sort of discrimination was illegal — the department reprimanded her for taking this stance. Unhappy that she was being treated unfairly, and based on the department's unwillingness to acknowledge any discrimination, she took her story to the media. The public's response was mixed. Some said women must sit at the back in Maori ceremonies and Ms Bullock was at fault, others could see an injustice in Josie's situation. It must be remembered that the Corrections Department is not a Maori marae. Not all its inmates nor all its staff are Maori. It's a secular government department where Maori protocol doesn't take precedence. Nevertheless, Ms Bullock was dismissed, supposedly for speaking to the media, and has ended up working as a bus driver. Having no luck with her complaint in the outside world, she eventually took her case to The Human Rights Review Tribunal who have just decreed that she had indeed suffered "detrimental treatment" because of her sex. But it also said she wasn't entitled to any compensation. No compensation for loss of career, for loss of two years wages or for humiliation.
However people cannot argue, as some now do, that the Tribunal's ruling of no compensation supports their belief that there was no discrimination in the Maori ceremonies, and thus Ms Bullock's stance was wrong. Remember that the Tribunal said there most definitely was discrimination, that she had suffered "detrimental treatment". Not only this, the Corrections Department now agrees and has made changes so that it doesn't happen again. Josie Bullock's claims have been vindicated. But she won't get her job back or receive compensation. Why not? Supposedly because the Corrections Department claims to have dismissed her on the grounds that she broke her employment contract, ie speaking to the media. They did not dismiss her for refusing to participate submissively at Maori ceremonies. If they had, no doubt she would have got compensation, but because they fired her on a technicality — breaking her gagging contract — legally she has no comeback it seems. We need to remember that while Corrections have changed their practices, it was only because Josie's actions forced them to. They then fired her on a technicality for exposing their discrimination to the public. Admitting that they were wrong, they still decided to punish Josie for highlighting this. This is hardly ethical behaviour. It's not something we should be proud of as we push our views on human rights on to other countries.
We believe that Josie should receive some form of compensation. Compensation for exposing an injustice in a government dept. that she worked for and losing her job as a consequence of speaking out.
We New Zealanders love to tell everyone that our government was the first to give women the vote, now we can add that one of our government departments was the first to dismiss a woman for not sitting at the back of the room. We should be ashamed.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Mar, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Should we pick on medium Deb Webber?
Australia medium Deb Webber was on Maori TV's 'Native Affairs' recently and sucking up to her Maori interviewer, saying that in NZ she feels gods or spirits in 'absolutely everything... in the water, in the hills, in the mountains' and claiming that she believes she is a reincarnated Maori woman. Everything she said in an attempt to explain the 'spirit world' was the typical superstitious and New Age nonsense that said a lot but told you nothing. Chanting meaningless crap like, "I am one with the universal mind. I am one with all life forms." What, even the bacteria in my colon? What's it like down there Deb?
Then she got on to skeptics (like us) that believe what she's does is all a scam. "Skeptics are just people with you know... a lack of understanding. It fascinates me though. If you're a real skeptic and you keep knocking something, well why don't you go get a life? Why don't you go do something that actually makes you feel good? Why follow something that you don't believe in unless you want to believe in it?... Hmmm?... they want to believe in it but they have a hard time doing it."
Webber's statement "Why follow something that you don't believe' should really read 'Why challenge something that you don't believe?', since skeptics don't 'follow' her like adoring fans, we challenge what she does. Let's consider some other beliefs and apply her silly conclusion that following her performances means we actually support her. That is, why challenge racists or paedophiles or terrorists 'unless you want to believe in them.' Following, and challenging, the exploits of racists, paedophiles or terrorists would mean, according to Webber's flawed logic, that you actually support them, but you're just having a hard time admitting it to yourself. People follow what Islamists like Osama bin Laden are doing, so does that mean we really support bin Laden? No of course not, just the opposite. We follow what they're doing because we want to limit the damage they're causing, and likewise skeptics follow the likes of Webber because we want to point out that their philosophy is also false and harmful. We want to limit the negative effect, especially financial, that Webber and other mediums have on people. We would also like people to see the world as it really is, not as Webber imagines it to be.
Also notice how Webber says that the behaviour of skeptics fascinates her. Yet she can't grasp how her deluded beliefs and silly proclamations fascinate us skeptics in turn. Fascination works both ways, another concept Webber can't grasp. We simply can't understand how seemingly normal people like her can be so stupid. She also asks why we don't go and do something that makes us feel good. Well I can reassure her that exposing her as a fraud does make us feel good, and she also provides us with many laughs as we listen to her making silly things up. We also derive great satisfaction from the knowledge that we may have stopped somebody from wasting good money on her delusion.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 19 Mar, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 21 Aug, 2008

    If Deb Webber cares to go to the US and contact James Randi of the Randi foundation he will be only too happy to pay her $1 million dollars. That applies to any psychic who can demonstrate claims to Randi's satisfaction. In 10 years he has not been able to give the money away. That sum has been added to by Skeptic organisations in other countries. The usual weasling out comes with the excuses:
    There is no $million dollars.
    Randi's test is impossible for anyone to pass.
    Randi wouldn't accept it anyway.
    Randi's response is that he and staff have tested many people and found nothing proven so far. In fact he says he uses staff now to sift claimants because they waste too much of his time. He refutes the claim he wouldn't believe. He says he would love to find a genuine psychic because it would change our whole attitude and allow us to see ourselves in a different light. These people are nothing more than charlatans. I am talking about those smart enough to get public attention and sell books. I am not talking about the deluded lady who reads tea leaves for the neighbours.
    The prominent psychics have the talents and abilities of sales people. They are similar to the ladies who do home party plans, very personable, chatty and able to empathise with people. People like them because they are friends who make them feel good with lovely warm smiles. By contrast the obvious scepticism and seriousness of a James Randi actually puts people off. Believers want to be bolstered not debunked. You only have to watch a show like Winifred Opry to see how far a winning personality goes. I am of course not suggesting Opry isn't genuine just the demonstration of an ability to attract people. Appearance and personality have always been the trademarks of the successful fraudster.
    See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzkgskUkOlE
    I saw this woman on television doing an act in a mall to advertise herself and her show. She picked out a sad couple who had lost their 17 year old son in a motorcycle accident. She tried several suggestions on them which had the couple looking blank then said I "I see a pair of shoes". She was leaning forward slightly peering intently into their faces obviously looking for a clue. The husband spoke to his wife "that must be the golf shoes we bought him". The psychic visibly relaxed having scored a hit. I just felt disgusted.

  2. Comment by Rob, 30 Jun, 2008

    As another series of sensing b*llshit approaches, I would like to point out that a broken clock is more accurate than deb webber and friends, at least its right twice a day...

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