Skeptic News: Newton's Flaming Laser Sword

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword

During lockdown, the Wellington Skeptics in the Pub group have been meeting online every week. It’s been great to be able to continue our social meetings, but I also think it’s a good way to keep us all sane! That connection of being able to chat and have a fun social time with others seems to be really good at helping with the feelings of isolation and worry that lockdown can bring to some of us.

At our meeting just over a week ago, someone mentioned that they’d been reading up on “theological noncognitivism”, and wondered what everybody thought about the idea. Of course, we were all at our computers (after all, it’s a Zoom meeting) and someone shared the link to the Wikipedia page, so everyone immediately jumped on the page and started reading. After a few minutes talking about the idea that concepts of god may be necessarily nonsensical, someone noticed a much more interesting sounding idea at the bottom of the page: Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword.

Of course, we all loved the name of this philosophical razor, so named because a laser sword is supposedly sharper than a razor. If you’re interested in understanding this idea, that it’s futile to argue over something if it can’t be tested, I can highly recommend reading the original article written by Alder - it’s not only erudite, it's also very funny. And Alder’s article ends with an important warning worth heeding:

"While the Newtonian insistence on ensuring that any statement is testable by observation (or has logical consequences which are so testable) undoubtedly cuts out the crap, it also seems to cut out almost everything else as well. Newton’s Laser Sword should therefore be used very cautiously."

All of this is a very long-winded way of not only introducing this week’s newsletter, but also to invite all of you, wherever in the country you are (or overseas), to join our Wellington Skeptics in the Pub meetup group and RSVP for our next weekly online meeting. I’ll be there, with a beer or two, and if you’ve been to any of our events or conferences over the last ten years or so you’ll probably recognise some of the others there as well. We're a welcoming group, so come along and join us if you find yourself at a loose end on Friday evening.

Mark Honeychurch
My intellectual contribution to the conversation was to change my Zoom background to a picture of Sir Isaac Newton with a flaming laser sword.


Don’t take Horse Dewormer

Obviously as skeptics we’re pretty clued up on the idea of not using unproven therapies, especially when there’s positive evidence that they don’t work. It’s been apparent for a while now that the evidence for Ivermectin as a COVID treatment or preventative is not very good, and it’s been sad to see how many people don’t seem to care about the lack of evidence and are taking it anyway.

There’s been so much in the news about Ivermectin recently, given that it seems to have really reached a tipping point for those who are looking for an alternative to masks, vaccines, and other science based answers to our pandemic, that I figured I’d just summarise the news with a paragraph or so for each of a few stand out stories:

Joe Rogan, an influential podcaster who hosts a popular podcast on Spotify, has contracted COVID and has said on his podcast that he’s taking Ivermectin. However, he’s also taking monoclonal antibodies, prednisone, a NAD drip and a vitamin drip, some of which might actually be effective in helping him fight the virus. My money is on Joe proclaiming Ivermectin to be a miracle drug once he’s beaten the virus, but I think it’s worth heeding Joe’s own words when it comes to whether we should trust anything he says:

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a fucking moron, and I’m a cage-fighting commentator who’s a dirty stand-up comedian... I’m not a respected source of information - even for me.”

Merck Sharp & Dohme, who sell Ivermectin in New Zealand under the name Stromectol, reported that they have been seeing “unusually high buying patterns” of Ivermectin recently. Medsafe has also reported an increase in attempts to import Ivermectin - 100 of 114 consignments of Ivermectin destined for New Zealand this year have been turned away by Customs after consulting with Medsafe.

Ivermectin poisonings in the US are on the increase, as an inevitable result of both an explosion in use of the drug and a large number of people self-medicating. The National Poison Data System reports that the number of “exposure cases” has jumped in the last month, and a lot of this is coming from people who have been buying a version of Ivermectin which is formulated for treating animals rather than humans. However, as skeptics we should always be wary of false news, even when it fits our existing narrative - and in this case it turns out that the recent report from a doctor in Oklahoma that hospitals are turning away gunshot victims because of the lack of beds due to the sheer number of Ivermectin poisonings is false. The local health system has said:

“Dr. McElyea has not worked at our Sallisaw location in over 2 months. NHS Sequoyah has not treated any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin. This includes not treating any patients for ivermectin overdose. All patients who have visited our emergency room have received medical attention as appropriate. Our hospital has not had to turn away any patients seeking emergency care.”

One change I’ve been happy to see recently is the number of news agencies who have moved from just using the drug’s name, Ivermectin, to instead describing the particular formulation that many people in the US and elsewhere are buying - horse dewormer. As much as this might feel like a low blow, I think that if talking about horse dewormer causes some people who were previously unsure about taking this medicine to steer clear of it in the context of COVID, that’s a good thing.

Of course, all of this is not to say that Ivermectin isn’t a useful drug - it absolutely is. The discoverer of Ivermectin was awarded a Nobel prize in 2015 for his work, and the drug is listed by the World Health Organisation as an Essential Medicine for humans. But taking it for a condition where there’s no evidence it will help, and a clear risk of dangerous side effects, is not a good idea.

I’ll leave the last word to the US Food and Drug Administration, who said on twitter a couple of weeks ago:

“You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it.”


The Satanists are doing god’s work

Texas has recently introduced a draconian new abortion law, one that feels not only perverse (in that it allows for civil lawsuits where anyone can sue those who are involved in providing abortion services), but also seems to be yet another attempt to test the Supreme Court’s willingness to overturn Roe v Wade (the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion that has allowed for legal abortions in the US for many years). And, so far, it seems that the Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, is willing to court this kind of testing of the waters.

However, The Satanic Temple are doing what they can to help women in Texas who require abortion services. They have applied for a religious exemption that would allow them to purchase and distribute abortion pills to their members. It’s a weird way of going about trying to push for a change in law, but it’s far from the first time The Satanic Temple has attempted to use this kind of tactic to do good. I for one have been a big fan of their work for a while now.

The Satanic Temple has used some interesting tactics in the past to fight against religious privilege in the US. They have erected statues to baphomet on government property, as a way to force the hand of those who erected statues of the Ten Commandments, and they’ve also pushed for the inclusion of Satanic prayers to open state and city political meetings.

Other projects have included “Menstruatin' with Satan” (a menstrual product drive), “Educatin’ with Satan” (including several after school Satanist clubs and a Satanist colouring book, as a way to challenge the legitimacy of Christian after school clubs), and a Pink Mass (at the grave site of Fred Phelps’ mother). And the local New Zealand Satanists have even joined in, running Soles for Satan (raising money to buy socks for those in need) and Blood for Satan (a blood drive).
 

It’s obvious that The Satanic Temple is being used by its members as a tool to fight for religious equality, ensuring that the privilege often afforded to Christianity in western countries, especially the US, is challenged wherever possible. Rather than argue for Christian privilege to be revoked, the group argues for inclusion - that their Satanist beliefs are promoted alongside those of Christian groups by government organisations. I’ve even taken a leaf out of their book in the past, and organised a counter-protest when the Jesus for NZ group were arguing on the lawn of parliament that the name of Jesus should be re-added to the parliamentary prayer. Instead of us protesting for the status quo, we carried signs arguing for the inclusion of all gods in the prayer. After all, if Jesus is able to get a mention every day in our parliament, why shouldn’t Ganesh, or Thor, or Cthulhu?

If you’re still in doubt about The Satanic Temple, here’s a copy of their seven Tenets, which I honestly find hard to fault:
 
I - One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.

II - The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.

III - One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.

IV - The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one's own.

V - Beliefs should conform to one's best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one's beliefs.

VI - People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one's best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.

VII - Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

The last tenet I especially like, as it seems to me to be a direct challenge to the claims of major religions that their unchanging rules should be followed whatever the cost, and however much our understanding of the world may change.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Satanic Temple and what they do, there’s a great documentary on Netflix called “Hail Satan?” that you can watch:


NZ Skeptics Awards

We’re currently looking for nominations for our annual awards. Specifically, we have a Bent Spoon award for whoever has “has shown the most egregious gullibility or lack of critical thinking” over the last year, Bravo awards for journalists who have done good skeptical work, and a Skeptic of the Year award for someone in New Zealand who’s been active in skepticism and fighting the good fight against nonsense.

You can see more details, including previous years' winners, on our website:

https://skeptics.nz/awards

Feel free to respond to this email with any nominations you may have, and I can add them to our list. Thank you!

 

Coming soon...

We're excited to announce the combined NZ and Australian Skeptics Conference/Skepticon. We're holding this in person (COVID willing!) in Wellington and Sydney simultaneously on the weekend of 19th - 21st November.

There will also be the option to purchase a livestream ticket.

The conference will feature speakers from both sides of the Tasman as well as some exciting international speakers.

We're seeking registrations of interest so that we can gauge numbers.

Please visit the registration of interest page (hosted on the Australian Skeptics site) at the following link:

Register your interest

If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
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