Are You More Clairvoyant Than a 4th-Grader?

November 26, 2013

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities. 

First off, yesterday CFI gave a big, sincere "thank you" to everyone who contributed to our drive for typhoon relief. Again, thank you. 

Lindsay Beyerstein interviews Paul Offit about alt-med on the latest Point of Inquiry

Two pieces at Skeptical Inquirer look at the fallout fake-psychic Sylvia Browne's life. Bryan Farha recounts the ways he and others exposed her as a phony over the years:

A few days after Sylvia made several predictions on the Montel Williams Show for the entire upcoming year of 2005, I asked my niece’s fourth grade class, individually, to predict on the same measures. Data analyses indicated that the fourth-graders were, collectively, 25% more accurate than Sylvia was—and these children were literally guessing on many items they knew nothing about (like world affairs, natural disasters, and politics). This was the real Sylvia Browne. 

Ryan Shaffer tallies up her wrong predictions as a "psychic detective." 

CSI Fellow Mark Boslough does a pair of facepalms over a Pew quiz checking science literacy: over half of respondents didn't know that a laser is light, not sound, but more importantly...

There was something that bothered me even more than the laser question, because it revealed more about the quiz creators than it did about the quiz takers. I didn't like this question: "What gas do most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise?" Why was it posed in a way that fuels the perception that this is simply a matter of opinion (or even worse, "belief")?  

Clergy Project director Catherine Dunphy posts at Friendly Atheist about the heartbreaking rift between her and her mother after she came out as an atheist:

The worse transgression, in her opinion, was that my actions were an affront to her status, and I owed her the decency of coming back to the faith. I attempted to appease her without compromising my integrity but unfortunately she interpreted this as a continuation of my “abhorrent and disrespectful behavior.” I tried again and again to negotiate common ground, but after being confronted by continually escalating histrionics, in which she characterized me as “the devil” and declared my husband and I to be “immoral,” I recognized the cold fact that her faith was more important to her than our relationship. 

Catherine discussed some of this in her interview with me on my little podcast a few months back.

I don't know how I missed this yesterday, but you should go ahead and rethink your faith in the Heresy. Anyway, a federal judge put the smack down on the parsonage tax exemption:

In the court’s opinion, Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin wrote that 26 U.S. C. § 107(2) “violates the establishment clause… because the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.” 

The FDA makes genetic-testing company 23andMe stop selling its kits

Pope Francis (the nice pope, remember?) in a homily declares curiosity (the quiality not the rover) to be ungodly:

[T]he spirit of curiosity is not a good spirit. It is the spirit of dispersion, of distancing oneself from God, the spirit of talking too much. And Jesus also tells us something interesting: this spirit of curiosity, which is worldly, leads us to confusion. 

Congratulations to CFI-Portland, the newest member of the Oregon United for Marriage, a coalition working for marriage equality.

It's American Atheists vs. the pope, as Rene Lynch at the LA Times prods AA over their latest ads. (Here's the ads.)

Joe Nickell picks apart the deceptions behind "cryptic photos" of spirits. 

The Buddha may have been born a good three centuries earlier than previously thought.   

The way John Gray described Malcolm Gladwell's work at TNR, you'd think he was talking about religion (and even accuses Gladwell of "scientism," which I think is way off, but this bit is good):

This is, perhaps, the essence of the genre that Gladwell has pioneered: while reinforcing beliefs that everyone avows, he evokes in the reader a satisfying sensation of intellectual non-conformity. . . . He is a high priest in the cult of “studies.”

xkcd has something to say about "studies."

Speaking of studies, here's one that says that three-quarters of charitable giving goes to religious organizations.  

Kimberly Winston (not "Kimberley" as I sometimes type) reports on the support of and resistance to Sunday Assemblies

Stroke victim successfully sues the chiropractor that cracked him. 

The Pope meets the Putin.  

Kickstarter to fund a film about the love between an agnostic and devout Muslim launches:

[T]his type of story is important, particularly in today's society. We believe that something amazing happens when two people, from drastically different points of view, are able to sit down and connect with each other 

Hey look, The Christian Post has a handy guide to what constitutes "blasphemy" and "heresy"! See how many offenses YOU can tick off! 

Quote of the Day

Andrew Sullivan gets blowback from believers and nonbelievers alike on a post fuzzily describing God-the-unknowable. There's lots of good stuff in the post, but here's one I liked:

Whenever I hear about the version of god that is beyond our comprehension and beyond our reality I just don’t understand how this helps the theist make their case for their particular religion.

Such a god could be any god. Such a god could be an alien machine intelligence running a simulation on an alien supercomputer to see how organics may have created the first machine intelligence (and we are that simulation). Such a god could be as concerned about humanity as we are about the bacteria that grows around volcano vents a mile below the ocean.

How exactly does such an undefinable god tie back to the beliefs of any religion? How does that help make the case that Jesus was anything other than a man that was killed by other men? How does that help make the case that Moses didn’t carve the Ten Commandments himself? How does it make the case that Joseph Smith was wrong?

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