The "Scarlet A" of the Out Campaign
Atheism is the lack of belief in a God, gods or any supernatural being, whatever claims are made for them, from creating thunder to creating the entire universe. Atheists tend to hold this view because of the lack of evidence for the existence of any of the hundreds of gods and goddesses that have been proposed to exist throughout history. The lack of belief in specifically religious deities, or a specific religious doctrine to go with them, is considered to be the default state for any human being.
Atheists are one of the most distrusted minority groups, particularly in the US. In many places, there are still laws restricting non-believers (such as from holding public office), even when equality on the basis of race or sexuality has been enshrined in law.
 Autism omnibus trial
Autism omnibus trial
Chemical structure of thiomersal. The light gray atom is the dreaded "Hg".
The autism omnibus trial stems from nearly 5000 lawsuits that have been filed claiming that vaccines have caused autism in young children who received them. The omnibus was created to handle this overwhelming caseload in 2007. The case concluded in February 2009, ruling that the plaintiffs who claimed MMR and thiomersal-containing vaccines caused autism were not entitled to compensation.
This article discusses many of the aspects of the cases as well as the evidence presented.
 The Edge of Evolution
In 2007, intelligent design advocate Michael Behe posted a series of "questions" and answers regarding his book The Edge of Evolution on his Amazon author page (found at archive.org). In the series of questions and answers, he asked himself about his opinions on naturalistic evolution, such as how powerful he thought it could be and what he perceived to be its limits. He also asked himself how ID differs from creationism, despite the fact that in the field of science, and increasingly in courts of law, there is no difference.
Many of Behe's arguments are points refuted a thousand times, whereas others appear to stem from him jumping to a conclusion when the evidence is neither conclusive nor convincing. In this article, we look into Behe's questions and answers and offer refutations of them.
 Birth control
What is it about this piece of rubber that scares some people?
Birth control, also known as family planning, is the practice of taking steps to prevent pregnancy or childbirth as a result of sexual activity. Birth control is often used synonymously with contraception, although some of the practices discussed on this page (such as abortion or abstinence) are not contraceptive, they can still be classed as birth control since they prevent reproduction.
Some forms of contraception, such as the condom, can also help prevent transmission of STDs.
There are several broad groups of birth control methods, including barrier methods, hormonal suppression of ovulation, surgical sterilization, and wishful thinking. Why some people object to contraceptives and spread misinformation about them is also discussed.
 Chelation therapy
Chelation therapy is a practice whereby certain substances are administered to a patient to "clear them of toxins". The idea behind chelation therapy is that the "chelator" binds "bad stuff" in the body, and then it is harmlessly excreted. There are a very limited number of situations where chelation is used legitimately, primarily for heavy metal poisoning; for example, in iron overload states where deferoxamine is used as the chelating agent. Promotion of chelation for other indications is considered quackery and is potentially dangerous.
Typical ad for chelation therapy
This article looks at the evidence in respect of chelation therapy and the claims made by its proponents.
 Common descent
The circular Tree of Life. 12:00 to 9:00 is bacteria, 9:00 to 10:30 is archaea and 10:30 to 12:00 is everything else.
Common descent is the theory that all living organisms on Earth descended from a common ancestor. Biologists have evidence that all life developed from a common ancestor that lived just under 4 billion years ago, and the concept is accepted by virtually all scientists working in the field. The structures and functions of all living organisms are encoded in the same basic nucleic molecules, DNA and RNA. Similarities in amino acid sequences between various organisms also suggest common descent, and the fossil record also shows cases in which one plant or animal type evolved into different types over time.
Creationists reject common descent as it implies an evolutionary model. Young Earth creationists, as Biblical literalists, reject it outright, believing that life was created within a few days less than ten thousand years ago. Intelligent design proponents may accept some aspects of common descent, as long as they are allowed to claim that the "designer" mucked with the genes and mutations along the way, but usually just claim "we don't know" what happened. Cdesign proponentsists probably believe a muddled overlap of these positions.
 Conservapedia mathematics
The complex plane does not exist, or should not exist.
The folks who create Conservapedia's "content" sometimes go off in fascinating directions other than the usual relentless attacks against anything that doesn't fit their strange, right-wing fundamentalist mindset.
In the case of articles relating to science and math, Conservapedia's charter is often less than clear. Their front page seems to specify "educational, clean, and concise entries", and states that it "is rapidly becoming one of the largest and most reliable online educational resources of its kind." But Conservapedia contains no quality technical, or non-technical, articles on mathematics.
In this article RationalWiki recounts the events that led to this state and the fates of those individuals who tried to help.
 Conservapedian relativity
In the 108 years since Einstein's annus mirabilis transformed our view on the physical world, much has been written about his Theory of Relativity. None of it however is quite anything like what has been written on Conservapedia.
The sysops at Conservapedia are concerned about a link between scientific relativity (special and general relativity) and moral relativism, even though they have nothing whatsoever in common other than the word "relativity." Based on this comically misguided premise, and perhaps their mistrust of science in general (derived from their opposition to the biological theory of evolution), they attempt to denigrate the science of relativity as part of their anti-moral relativism agenda. As a result, the Theory of Relativity article at Conservapedia is riddled with incorrect interpretations, distortions of fact, out-of-context quotes from scientists and scientific journals, and elementary errors.
This article chronicles the truly bizarre arguments that have been raised against relativity on Conservapedia.
 Evidence against a recent creation
Fossil areas across landmasses, supporting continental drift.
One of the most widespread beliefs that does not reflect reality is that the world is only a few thousand years old. This article presents the evidence against a recent creation, or a "young Earth", which is the core belief of young Earth creationists, biblical literalists and fundamentalists of many religions.
This is a whistle-stop tour of all the evidence gathered by scientists over the past few hundred years that show the Earth is much older than a literal reading of an old book suggests. From dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, that show the Earth is more than 10,000 years old, to radioactive decay and distant starlight, that show that the world is more than a billion years old, it is an indisputable fact, based on all the evidence we can gather, that the world is far older than creationists claim.
A silhouette of human evolution.
Evolution refers to the change in a species' inherited traits from generation to generation. These traits are the expression, or "phenotype", of genes which, at least on earth, are stored in DNA. All species on earth are thought to have come about by the mechanism of evolution. Evolution occurs as random genetic changes build up over time, and those that prove to be negative, or harmful, are weeded out as the organisms that have them are rendered less able to compete with the general population. Conversely, the organisms that had received beneficial alterations to their genes would be more likely to pass on those genes to successive generations, which may occur through increased survivorship, improved reproductive success, more abundant or viable offspring, or through other methods.
 Expelled:Leaders guide
The producers of the "documentary" feature film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (featuring Ben Stein) created a "Leader's Guide", intended to structure debate on the topics raised by the movie. The guide is intended for "leaders" (whomever they might be) to steer the discussion along the movie's talking points - that the science of evolution is being questioned, that the people questioning the "Darwinian orthodoxy" are being singled out and punished, and that teaching evolution leads to abortion, eugenics, and genocide.
This article is a point-by-point critique of this Leader's Guide and ultimately the message of this movie.
Fundamentalism is a tendency exhibited by significant minorities within most major religions. Fundamentalists seek to recapture a supposed ideological "purity," often by reasserting the primacy of their own idiosyncratic interpretation of religious texts over centuries of acquired knowledge and practice. This puts them at odds not only with the secular world and members of other religions, but also with their less zealous brethren.
There is an actual movement among English speaking, especially American, protestant Christians whose leaders sometimes describe as "fundamentalism." Founded at approximately the same historical moment as the First World War, the movement reflected the cultural disorientation of poorer, more rural, less well educated Americans in a rapidly urbanizing America.
 Herbal supplement
Herbal supplements are non-pharmaceutical, non-food substances marketed to improve health. Herbalism (herbal medicine, botanical medicine) is the use of plant-derived substances, and sometimes other environmental substances, to treat or cure medical conditions. Herbalism recognizes that pre-industrial cultures had a great deal of practical medical knowledge, most of it botanical, and seeks to make use of this. Definitions are problematic. There are no unified practices, and relatively few guidelines for practitioners. There isn't even a clear definition of what an "herbal remedy" is. A large number of currently available drugs are originally plant-derived, which means herbalism is basically pharmacology's petulant, stubborn little brother.
 Holocaust denial
Template:Cover abstract/Holocaust denial
Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy.
Homeopathy is a supposed medical practice based on the ideas that "like cures like" and that dilution increases potency – ideas that contradict all known medicine, chemistry and physics. Despite clinical trials showing that it has no effect beyond that of a placebo, it remains one of the dominant alternative medicines.
The absurdities underlying homeopathic medicine are well documented. Given that homeopathic remedies are typically diluted to the point that not even a single molecule of the active ingredient remains in solution, there is no plausible mode of action. Purported explanations for homeopathic efficacy, such as claims that water has a "memory" of substances previously dissolved in it, would overturn most of modern science if true. The evidence available indicates that homeopathy works solely through the placebo effect and that homeopathic claims can be dismissed as fantasy.
 Intelligent design
Use of the term "creationism" versus "intelligent design" in the various editions of Of Pandas and People
Intelligent design (often referred to as "design", or "ID") maintains that certain aspects of the physical world, and more specifically life, show signs of having been designed, and hence were designed, by an intelligent being (usually, but not always, the God of the Christian religion). The concept is older than science, but only since the 1980s has the term "intelligent design" been in circulation. Supporters of intelligent design usually claim that the theory is not based on Christian creationism, although this link has been proved by the existence of the Wedge Document. Attempts to have ID taught in public schools have been defeated in court, and science papers proposing a "designer" cannot get past peer review. Intelligent design has been criticised for its failure to state what mechanism drives it, its lack of falsifiability, and other problems.
 Lenski affair
Center: Ara-3, the bacterial population that evolved to use citrate.
The Lenski affair was a poorly conceived stunt by Andrew Schlafly of Conservapedia to denigrate the groundbreaking research of National Academy of Science member Richard Lenski, in which Lenski and his student Zachary Blount actually observed evolution happening. Schlafly's stunt backfired completely and led to one of the best responses to creationism to date. It is now one of the most famous incidents in creation/evolution circles on the Internet. The fame of "the affair" left the safe confines of the Internet in September 2009 when it received a brief mention in Richard Dawkins' book The Greatest Show on Earth following a longer discussion of the results themselves.
This article documents the situation as it unfolded on Conservapedia and RationalWiki, with the letters from Andy Schlafly and subsequent replies from Richard Lenski.
 New Age
New Age is a catchall term for a wide range of spiritual and social movements that developed out of the likes of the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Characteristic of the New Age movement is the focus on spiritual matters, with emphasis on individuality. These beliefs often are attributed to real or alleged Asian mystics (particularly Indian and Tibetan), and indeed many New Age beliefs draw heavily from Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism.
The New Age movement lacks intellectual rigor and shuns scientific approaches to reality, ostensibly due to the perceived separation between science and spirituality. Practitioners of New Age beliefs usually adopt a pick and choose approach to spirituality, adapting beliefs and practices from a wide variety of sources such as Hinduism, neopaganism, Zen, or any other concept that appeals to them. Particularly if it involves money.
 Non-materialist neuroscience
Non-materialist neuroscience is one of the latest fronts in the war on science. Modern neuroscience is rapidly reducing much of human thought, emotion and behavior into component pieces of neuronal interactions. The combination of computational modeling and non-invasive imaging of living brains has allowed researchers to begin describing how complex thought emerges from the firing patterns of neurons. In a way, neuroscience is the death knell of dualism. When materialist causes become both necessary and sufficient to explain all of human thought then parsimony dictates that references to a soul or other supernatural entities can be tossed out.
Non-materialist neuroscience is a reaction to these discoveries, a rallying cry for dualism. Like creationism and intelligent design this "new" neuroscience is a reactionary movement against science. Rather than a hypothesis that leads to predictions and experiments, it is simply a catalog of things modern neuroscience supposedly cannot yet explain.
 Peer review
Peer review is the process of subjecting scientific work to review by other experts in the field. The first, and most notable, step is when a piece of scientific work is looked at by reviewers - peers - for approval prior to publication. After publication, peer review is an ongoing process where a work is open to scrutiny by the scientific community at large, including attempts to replicate the original results independently. The process is designed to ensure that the work meets the standards of the field in question and of science in general.
What peer review is and, quite importantly, what it is not, is key to understanding how science works in practice. The reasons why science uses peer review and its potential problems - bias, mistakes and the limitations of the system - are also important to bear in mind while analyzing how science works in practice.
 Poe's Law
Poe's law states: Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.
The law was formulated by ChristianForums user Nathan Poe in response to the fact that so many people can mistake parodies of fundamentalism for the real thing and, equally, mistake the real thing for a joke. This article discusses many of the examples that the Internet provides.
 FAQ for the newly deconverted
RationalWiki's Atheism FAQ for the Newly Deconverted is a series of questions and answers on the nature of disbelief in the supernatural or any religious doctrine. The FAQ has been a collaboration of many members of RationalWiki for some time.
It covers free will, sex, drugs, creation, morality and a few less obvious things. It aims to give practical advice to those who may have recently lost faith and reassurance that it's okay not to believe. It also serves as a primer for sceptical thinking and gives good additional reading for anyone interested in the subject of evidence-based thinking.
 Same-sex marriage
The wedding of Michael Hendricks and René Leboeuf, the first same-sex marriage in Quebec, 1 April 2004.
Same-sex marriage is the union of two individuals of the same sex in a marital relationship, with the full legal rights and responsibilities allotted to this contract in a given jurisdiction. Legally defined marriage of homosexual couples is rare indeed; more common is a "civil union", which includes many of the all-important legal trappings, without the title "marriage" and the religious overtones some think are implied by the word.
Arguments for same-sex marriage to be allowed are numerous: equality, human rights, happiness and so on. Arguments against it or to expressly prohibit it range from the blatantly bigoted to the slightly odd, such as marriage being "only for producing children" (which would render any infertile person, heterosexual or otherwise, ineligible).
 Andrew Schlafly.... eugh
Andrew Layton Schlafly is a conservative Christian activist, Harvard educated lawyer and a former electrical engineer. The son of John Fred Schlafly Jr. and well-known American conservative author and activist Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, Andrew Schlafly runs a homeschooling program in his home state of New Jersey, where he has taught at least 170 homeschooled teenagers since 2002.
He is also the founder of a website called Conservapedia, which promotes staunchly conservative Republican and American-exceptionalist values, and a strictly Young Earth Creationist view of the history of our universe, planet, and life. Intended as an educational resource and promoted as "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia", Conservapedia has caused great controversy in print, and online, primarily over the accuracy of the information that the website provides.
 Vaccine hysteria
Vaccine hysteria is the modern phenomenon of distrust in vaccination. Anti-vaccination proponents blame vaccines or their ingredients for a range of maladies (often childhood illnesses) whose mechanisms are not currently fully understood. The ubiquity of vaccination often makes it an easy target for blame.
Vaccine-preventable disease has been a major cause of illness, death, and disability throughout human history. The advent of the modern vaccine era has changed this significantly. In fact, most North Americans and Europeans have little memory of the pre-vaccine era, when diseases such as mumps and measles (to say nothing of polio and smallpox) were very common. In more recent times, there has been much debate regarding vaccine safety; namely what possible side-effects vaccines might cause and whether these outweigh the risks of leaving a population without a vaccination program. Vaccines have been alleged to cause all manner of illnesses; autism is a prominent example, as its direct causes are still fairly mysterious and probably very wide-ranging, with no single cause or lifestyle risk-factor being identified. Some very prominent Americans have spoken out vociferously about the supposed danger of vaccines.
 Young Earth Creationism
Young Earth creationism (YEC) is the belief that the planet Earth, and indeed the entire universe, was created from nothing in six days, approximately six to ten thousand years ago, by the god of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). Adherents to young Earth creationism are known as "young Earth creationists".
The Creation of Adam
A firm belief in the Biblical worldwide flood and the story of Noah is also a cornerstone of young Earth creationism. The flood is used by proponents of YEC to explain almost all observations that scientists have interpreted as pointing to a significantly older Earth.
This article examines and critiques the lack of evidence to support any of these claims.