Freedom to criticize Religion

In all modern democracies, one of fundamental citizen rights is that of a Religious freedom. There is no state-backed religion and there is no discrimination of people based on their religious beliefs. At least in writing, as something similar is undoubtedly written into Constitution of your own Country.

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For example in my native Croatia, Article 40 of our Constitution says:

“Jamči se sloboda savjesti i vjeroispovijedi i slobodno javno očitovanje vjere ili drugog uvjerenja.”

 

which roughly translated means that freedom of consciousness and religion and free public display of said religion or other  belief is guaranteed. Or in the US, with the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

 

This is, of course, an important right. Let’s just remind ourselves briefly why. There was no small amount of instances through history when people who had religion different than the majority was persecuted and executed. This is still practiced today in some countries, for example Burma, where intolerance, discrimination and violence against Muslims is provoked by the Buddhist community (PDF). (ah, those religions of peace …). So, I believe we can all agree that freedom of Religion is important.

The thing is, Freedom of Religion also ensures the rights of people to change their minds about their religion. This basically means, if you have another religious idea, other than the one you currently practice, you are free to act upon that idea and leave your old idea behind, you are free to change your religion.

So, this is to me evidence that as far as countries are concerned, Religion is, and should be only an idea and it should have no more privilege when it comes to criticism, than for example, politics. And we all know that a lot of politicians leave their old political parties behind, only to spew criticism on them from afar.

This is only one example. You can criticize everything, so why should only Religion be spared? Why is Religion the only thing nothing bad can be said about?

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A Few words about Conspiracy Theories

Some studies1 are saying that people who believe strongly in all sorts of conspiracy theories have one thing in common: They feel like they don’t have control over their lives.

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Image by FreeImages.com/Cheryl Empey

Basically, it seems that most conspiracy theories appear in times of uncertainty. This is when our brains are in overdrive, trying to figure out what is happening and why is it happening. Human brain is wired to look for patterns, as this behaviour helped our ancestors survive when they were roaming the African savannas. This means we are looking for patterns everywhere, in every situation. And sometimes brain will malfunction, connecting two things that are not really connected in reality.

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Another pro-choice point - Spontaneous abortion

To be perfectly clear, when it comes to abortion issue, I have always been pro-choice. I really, really believe that a woman's body is her own business and should be her choice.

The abortion issue is really a complicated one, but it seems to me a lot of times science and scientific research is ignored. For example, why should we only look when "life" begins? It has been suggested that instead we should try to define when does somebody become a person. Because, if you think about it, bacteria are alive.

Recent (some might say rampant or fanatical) anti-abortion happenings in my native Croatia has give me some reasons to look into abortion as such. What I recently discovered came as news to me.

An anti-abortion fanatic will tell you that embryo is granted a soul in the moment of conception by god and that abortion is the same as murder because of this. Well, if you say and accept that this embryo is a person and that killing it is murder, what are you going to do with these "murders" that just happen by a woman's body spontaneously rejecting it? Sex and even fertilization does not every time result in a baby.

Embryos are rejected (aborted) and not carried to term all the time. Basically, as much as 75% of egg fertilizations do not result in a baby.

As many as 75% of all conceptions miscarry
This statistic is an estimate for the percentage of fertilized eggs that do not go on to result in a full-term pregnancy, factoring in miscarriages but also failed implantations that usually pass without the mother ever missing a period. - verywell.com

 

A large portion of them don't implant successfully in womb. OK, we might not really consider these a "spontaneous abortion", but the bottom line is that they do not result in a baby and are in a way "rejected".

Around 31% of successful implantations end in a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion. So of all egg fertilizations that do implant successfully, 31% ends in spontaneuos abortion. "About half of miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities, making these problems the single most common miscarriage cause." - verywell.com

The following table is copied from RationalWiki, it assumes that 200 eggs are in an environment with sperm nearby.

Successfully fertilized 168 are successfully fertilised[1] 84% left alive
Successfully implanted in womb (1-2 weeks from fertilization) 138 68% left alive
Survive 4 weeks from fertilization 84 42% left alive
Survive to become a fetus (8-11 weeks from fertilization) 70 35% left alive
Survive to term and are born alive (38-42 weeks from fertilization) 62 31% born

Data from rationalwiki

Religious anti-abortion fanatics claim that a fertilized egg is a "human", "baby" or whatever endearing term they choose to use. So, it seems to me a valid question is "Why does god murder all those babies?"

Anyway, in my opinion, embryo has a potential to become a person, a human being. Whatever woman drinks, eats, etc has a influence on embryo. Embryo is inside a woman and DEPENDS on a woman. By this very fact in my opinion it cannot be considered a person. Person is somebody who is physically separate. It seems to me that a person is born. So a person is not killed by the act of abortion. Because embryo depends on a woman, it's a woman's right to decide whether to support it, to subject her body to it for 9 months. Of course, we are not machines and this decision is never made lightly, but sometimes it's easier to be blunt to make a point across.

We should also take a look at other factors science can tell us, for example that fetus "is not capable of feeling pain until the third trimester", (Wikipedia) while it is certain that women can feel pain right now. So, the subject of "suffering" is better brought into the light by science. But I digress. This post is supposed to be about spontaneous abortion in humans. Other things that motivate me to be "pro-choice" will be dealt with in some future blog post.

The statistics themselves are rather dry, but are easily verifiable. Sources for numbers used in this blog post are:

Scientific Theory

Making sure to avoid any confusion about what "scientific theory" in context of evolution means, Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution wrote:

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact.

- Richard Dawkins

 

What I'm guessing he meant is: evolution did happen and it's still happening. This is proven and solid. Evolution also uses and incorporates other facts that support the conclusion that evolution did happen. In this sense, evolution is a scientific theory and it is supported by facts. And of course, it is true and should be universally accepted as the truth. Creationists would not agree with this, but I would say this doesn't really matter to educated people.

But still, a lot of people say things like "that's only a theory", "why should we base our lives on a theory?, etc when they're talking about evolution, for example. Yeah, like a belief in a sky-wizard is something to base your life on? But I digress - the point of this brief post is just to share a understanding about what scientific theory is.

First thing you'll notice about scientific theories is - there's really PLENTY of evidence for them. This very fact makes them different from what we usually mean when we say "Theory" in normal speech.

Triceratops mounted skeleton at Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles, United States of America, by Allie_Caulfield Derivative: User:MathKnight - File:LA-Triceratops mount-1.jpg (by Allie_Caulfield), CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

By using words such as "FACT", instead of "theory" Dawkins does not confuse people that might not be familiar with scientific meaning of the word "theory" and sometimes I wish other scientists would do the same when talking to the public, just to hammer the point more clearly. If you read Dawkins' quote again, there's no second thought about what he meant evolution is.

Let's not get tangled in words too much, but get right into the point about evolution and other well established scientific theories. So, what does actually mean when a scientist says something is a "scientific theory"?

Well, if you simply ask Wikipedia, it will tell you:

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed, preferably using a written, pre-defined, protocol of observations and experiments. Scientific theories are the most reliable, rigorous, and comprehensive form of scientific knowledge.

 

Basically, when scientists use word "theory", they are talking about something completely different than what general public understands under "theory". When you use word "theory" in everyday speech, you actually mean "hypothesis" or "conjecture", something not tested or proven. When scientists use this word, they mean almost the same thing Dawkins meant: That what you and I mean by "fact" in normal speech.

To make an additional point, here are some scientific theories:

  • Special Relativity
  • General Relativity
  • Plate Tectonics
  • Evolution by natural selection
  • Information theory

All these theories have stood the test of time, fought-off challenges, have practical effects and are well-proven pieces of knowledge humanity has. So, don't be fooled by the words and cheap arguments that something is "only a theory". But do be critical and do try and see for yourself. A good rule of thumb would be: if there's evidence for something, it's on it's way to being true and if a idea doesn't have any evidence but requires "faith" or "trust" from you, or only focuses on trying to find flaws in competing idea, it most likely isn't true.

Request For Comments: Nutritionism

Currently thinking about "Nutritionism". I know almost nothing about it, but yet, it doesn't sound right to me. Just think about how many times have you heard "eat this and you will be healthy", only to hear that same advice declared bullshit in the very next study?

Image by Peggy Greb - This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID K11083-1.

It seems to me that Nutritionism as a science, if it indeed does belong into science has no solid foundations. Just think about it, when was the last time you heard for example that theory of gravity was debunked? Yet, I somehow have the impression this happens very often with Nutritionism.

Just look at the picture above. Wikipedia description reads:

Good sources of magnesium: bran muffins, pumpkin seeds, barley, buckwheat flour, low-fat vanilla yogurt, trail mix, halibut steaks, garbanzo beans, lima beans, soybeans, and spinach.

A reminder, "A NUTRIENT is either a chemical element or compound used in an organism's metabolism or physiology. A nutrient is essential to an organism if it cannot be produced by the organism and must be obtained from a food source."

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutritionism)

So, I would say, when Nutritionism finds that a certain nutrient is good for you, it seems to me most of the Nutritionists will hurry to recommend foods which contain this, possibly at the expense of other foods that also contain this nutrient, but that also contain other useful things. And here my friends is where I see the potential for Nutritionists to be on the payroll of huge corporations, usually recommending products that these corporations are producing.

So, this seems to me a very dubious practice to judge foods only based on this. Because, by definition, food must contain a lot of beneficial, nutritional substances. Also, as it's discussed in this New York Times article - Most "nutritional science" involves studying one nutrient at a time, which at least to me seems shaky at best.

Yes, science when proven wrong acknowledges that mistake and goes back to the drawing board, But it seems to me that the only stable thing Nutritionism has is "eat fruits and vegetables". And not even this seems very stable. Actually, if you look at Wikipedia, it seems that Nutritionism is nothing more than the idea that the nutritional value of a food is the sum of all its individual nutrients.

Here's another article from The Scientist magazine. In this article author argues that Nutrition research uses "pseudoscientific measures". Well worth of reading.

As I said before, I know nothing about this. My instincts may be completely wrong and I hope that they are, because I believe in science and I do believe that science has a lot to say on a variety of topics, so why should be food be excluded? But I also believe in critical thinking and I believe in deciding for yourself.

This is my first attempt at doing so with regards to this field. I encourage you to do the same. If you have an opinion or a good (preferably layman-friendly) resource you recommend to read, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for visiting!

Nasim Baglari is 29 years old - and banned from University in Iran

The title and the video say it all, really. Video is courtesy of Education is not a Crime.

Not that I support this Bahá'í religion, from what little I have read, it's more or less the same as other monotheistic religions (one creator, loving god, source of all creation, bla bla ...) and I really don't care for any religion whatsoever. They're all false, and none of the religious stuff is true, is my belief.

But the point is that once again, religion is used as an excuse to discriminate against a group of people and this is wrong, plain and simple.

Bahá'ís continue to be persecuted in Islamic countries, as Islamic leaders do not recognize the Bahá'í Faith as an independent religion, but rather as apostasy from Islam. The most severe persecutions have occurred in Iran, where over 200 Bahá'ís were executed between 1978 and 1998, and in Egypt.

The rights of Bahá'ís have been restricted to greater or lesser extents in numerous other countries, including Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Morocco, and several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

- Wikipedia

To deny somebody an education based on an interpretation of a book written thousands of years ago is simply appalling. An to deny an education is a mind consequence, because the penalty for apostasy from Islam is Death.

The bad thing is, this is just one example of this religion and Islam. People are still discriminated against based on their beliefs (or lack of beliefs) and every case like this should get as much publicity as possible, because every time somebody is discriminated against, we all lose. Go and spread the word. Go.

Quick Facebook Page Tip - Post in Multiple Languages

I don't spend much time on Facebook, and I'm sad to say, even my Facebook page is not very active. Also, I'm not a social media guru, so I missed the announcement and no doubt lengthy discussions about page posts in multiple languages.

As a Croatian, who lives in Germany, but posts in English, I find this option awesome. Now I can make posts in both English and Croatian ... maybe even German, when my German gets much, much better.

So, here's how to turn it on.

1. Go to your page -> Settings

Sure you can find this, it's in the bottom right corner, next to "Help".

2. Simply turn on the option "Post in Multiple Languages"

There's also a Facebook explanation next to it, if you simply hover over the question mark.

3. Make a post

If you simply save changes and go to your page, you'll be given a option to post in multiple languages.

Note that Facebook will automatically suggest a translation of your post to a language of your choice. While it is certainly good to offer a translation, this option also enables you to write different content for a different language.

For example, in the following post, non-Croatian audience needs to know what is going on first, and then a comment, while Croatian audience knows very well what is going on and is only interested in a commentary.

BTW, try not to have totally different posts in different languages, as there also exists something called Audience Optimization and it's probably better suited for these scenarios.

Here's how posting in Croatian and English looks like:

Pretty cool, huh? They know what they're doing.