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Monday, June 15, 2015

2015 New England Trip

Welcome sign at the entrance to the USS Nautilus

Indian protest plaque at Plymouth Rock

The most libertarian warning sign ever at the USS Cassin Young
Sand Beach at Acadia National Park

View from road to peak of Cadillac Mountain
Shrine at Karme Choling, VT

IED Casualty speaks

Why the US painted its tanks to look like tigers during the Korean War

Monday, December 15, 2014

Talking to a Dowsing Believer

I was talking to a co-worker today who expressed belief in dowsing. He said that he had personally experienced the force that caused dowsing rods to cross. He speculated this was caused by some kind of magnetism.

"From water?", I asked. "What would happen to dowsing rods if you walked next to a lake? Would they stick together really hard?"

He was puzzled by this. I then pointed out that some dowsers use a y-shaped branch instead of metal rods to dowse. Wood does not react to magnetic fields.

I got more puzzled looks from my co-worker. I told him to look up James Randi's dowsing tests and the ideomotor phenomenon. He said he would and also wanted to do his own test.

I told him if he wanted to make sure he wasn't unknowingly moving the dowsing rods, he should put them on a cart and then either push or pull it along. Bury some water in the ground, move the cart over it, and see if the rods move. If the rods only move when people are holding them, then it must be the people who are moving them.

I look forward to seeing a new skeptical outlook in my co-worker.  

Does atheism undermine morality?


Everyone's empathy fails from time to time. A small percent of people lack empathy entirely. They cannot understand why they should not do whatever they want if they can get away with it. So how can you promote good behavior given these imperfections?

All societies promote it with surveillance and punishment. People tend to behave when they feel they are being watched and will be punished if they break the rules. However, physical surveillance and punishment is expensive and has limits. It turns out that supernatural surveillance and punishment, which requires much less expense, can also promote good behavior.

A study found that college students who were told a classroom was haunted were far less likely to cheat on a test than those who did not hear the ghost story.  

So now we see the main reason why almost all societies have some kind of religion.

But there is a problem: people who voice skepticism of religion undermine its power to promote good. Skeptics counter that they also undermine its power to promote evil. Is religion the noble lie Plato spoke of?

It is true that skepticism undermines the good of religion, but all the good that comes from religion can be had without it. But there are kinds of evil that can only come from religion.

Steven Weinberg said it best: "'Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."