Reiki found to be no better than placebo for cancer patients

October 12, 2011

Seems like kind of a “Duh!” headline, but there you have it. I had a friend in university who trained as a reiki master and took another friend and me through the paces of learning how to do it, too. Masters claim they can heal from afar, but our buddy just gave us lessons on the laying of hands and waving away the bad chi after a session. I always felt like a tool performing that last part, but the laying of hands at least had a little benefit – nowhere near as good as a decent massage, though. Body heat radiating from your own hands warms the area, even though you aren’t physically touching the person. The residual heat still provides some comfort, though, and the patient’s own gullible mind provides the rest. It’s too bad that there are people drawn into believing it’s a legitimate cure for what ails you.

The Guardian reports on a study out of the States involving trained reiki practitioners, who promised patients they’d channel healing energy into them, and untrained fake practitioners who claimed they were trained but just went through the motions. The results are pretty unsurprising to these eyes. Each technique worked equally well for making patients feel better.

The scientific stance may appear heartless and cruel in light of the suffering of cancer patients, while the attitude of the nurses seems patient-centred and caring. This impression is wrong. By insisting that patients must not be treated with placebos like reiki, scientists also advocate that they receive treatments that demonstrably work better that placebo. For instance, massage has been shown to improve the wellbeing of cancer patients beyond a placebo effect. If a patient receives a massage with empathy, sympathy, time, understanding and dedication, she would benefit from the placebo effect – just like the reiki patient – but, in addition, she would also benefit from the specific effect of the treatment that massage does and Reiki does not offer.

Like I said. Many of my relatives have had to undergo chemotherapy for their bouts with the disease, with varying degrees of success. One of them had prayer for a placebo on top of all that but it didn’t stop the bone cancer from decimating every piece of her. Of course people would rather find ways to cure cancer in ways that don’t involve radiation and the like. But reiki not the course to take in order to do that.


Was reminded last night..

September 28, 2011

about Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. I hadn’t forgotten it existed, but it had been a while since I checked out the site. Today’s comic had me snickering pretty hard, I must admit:

And while hunting around for another comic strip I vaguely recalled but can’t remember the name of, I landed on Ape, Not Monkey, a science vs religion strip that’s also entertaining. I like this one:

Happy Wednesday.


Australian Christ of interest to neuroscientist

September 18, 2011

A sudden boost in hits on an earlier blogpost about Alan John Miller, a man in Australia claiming to be Jesus, got me wondering what led up to it. Apparently he was recently featured on television and a neuroscientist by the name of Dr. Louise Faber has been studying some of his followers to see how their experience of “divine love” affects their brains. She happens to be a follower as well but hopes her work will pass peer review.

As part of the research she performed an EEG on believers to test electrical activity in their brain as they experienced Miller’s “divine love”.

Dr Faber said the results were similar to brain activity seen in monks during meditation. “We’ve found the divine love causes quite a lot of changes to the brain,” she said.

She added: “It’s the first study that’s ever been done of this kind so it’s very exploratory.”

Brain reactions to the belief that divine love is being experienced is probably what she’s actually measuring but whatever. At least she’s curious about why this guy elicits such a mental response. What is it about a charismatic personality that can change people to such an extent?


Cloud footage reveals “Face of God!!1eleventy1″

August 12, 2011

It takes until 1:46 before the face appears to appear in the sky, but like any windy day cloud formation it vanishes quickly.

It’s iPhone footage taken by Denis Laforge, of Grand Falls, N.B, who started recording because he saw a pig face initially that morphed into a shape looking remarkably human. He reported to the Toronto Star, an “eerie feeling to say the least.”

“We’ve had a freaky summer for weather, that was the main reason why I bought this iPhone. I’m not a storm catcher but I’ll definitely be on the lookout.

“I can’t look at clouds the same way anymore.”

He wouldn’t admit one way or the other to thinking if God or the Devil had paid him a personal visit just because he bought an iPhone or something zany like that. He let Youtube fans have all the fun speculating.

Kudos to the Star for getting a skeptic and scientist to offer some feedback at the end:

George Isaac, a senior cloud scientist with Environment Canada, was quick to play down the significance of the faces. Although he didn’t see the clip, he said there are variety of factors that could work together, including cloud turbulence, water vapour pockets and specific lighting, that cause dramatic and changing cloud formations.

“Clouds come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, air currents can carry funny patterns,” he said.

We’ve evolved to see patterns in randomness. To seek out connections between unrelated events. We’re capable of creating meaning and messages out of anything. While it’s probably a good thing we can do it, we still wind up deluding ourselves into thinking our crazy conclusions matter more than they actually do.


CFI-Saskatoon thanks Pastor Sandra Beardsall for a fantastic talk on feminism and the United Church

June 19, 2011

Don’t you all wish you were in Saskatoon and members of this awesome group? It was terrific. Sadly koinosuke couldn’t be at today’s meet but she’s the one who contacted the Pastor about talking to us so I promised I’d take copious notes and report back. Hopefully my notes don’t make hash of what she said or misrepresent any of it. If any Freethinkers who were there want to add comments, please do. I’m going to do this in parts, the second to drop tomorrow morning, and a third in the afternoon if needed.

Sandra is currently a professor of Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College on the U of Saskatchewan campus. She participates in research related to Christian history and the development of interfaith/interchurch dialogue. She talked about the history of Enlightenment and how the philosophies of René Descartes and others ultimately affected the Church.

Thanks to those writers in the 16th and 17th centuries, ideologies evolved from an automatic given that God was the root of all things to people developing theories and mindsets with a more internalized, self-based origin to thought and philosophy. “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes eventually declared and that was a bigger deal than I ever realized. It was a big deal for philosophers at the time, too, as they worked on ways to build on this wild epiphany and completely new thought process. This was the Enlightenment of humanity, finally being able to give humans credit for their own minds and thoughts instead of automatically assuming (without question) a god’s personal hands were guiding everyone.

The Church and theologians had some trouble with the idea that the self could be the center of knowledge. Sandra listed several reactions they had to this concept.

The first she mentioned was the creation of a more deistic approach to God, the notion that a prime mover of sorts got the world rolling but overall has left us the hell alone to do our own thing, for good or ill. Deists, she said, focus mostly on ethics and behaviour, the need to do one’s duty, employ reason, and delight in creation. (Not to be confused with Creationists, though. Different ball of wax.)

The second was the development of orthodoxy and a retreat in some circles toward a focus on “correct belief.” She went on a bit of a tangent here to discuss Europe’s changing political structure at the time that had a lot to do with why the orthodox movement enamoured so many believers. The feudal system had collapsed or was on the verge or something and merchant-based commerce and trade was starting to gain in popularity, shifting money and power around in bunch of good and not so good ways. I scribbled down “guard turf” for some reason… She was talking about how the nature of Authority was changing at this time, so the social stress of that helped lead people back into thinking of the past and past beliefs being better for people. Safer, I suppose, traditional? (That part’s lost to my brain now. I have large gaps in my history knowledge and this is one of them. If I feel like it later I’ll look for some links to expand on this and learn more. You see why I say this was fantastic, though, right?)

The third reaction was a move toward “pietism” and the creation of the Evangelical and Spriritualism movements that gained a lot of popularity later on. Germans get the credit for jump-starting this, apparently. (I’ve got Quakers written down here and Jacob Bain — I guessed on spelling and might have gotten that completely wrong. Some spiritualist/mystic styled guy of some reknown.) The emphasis for these people was to bring belief to the heart, I guess could be said, to share experiences of God from very personal perspectives, independent of doctrine or theology. I wrote “emphasis on interior experience, feeling; congruence of the inner and outer self” here.

From all these diverse paths, more things grew out of them. Those I’ll get to in part two.


If it’s a religion, I’m an ahockeyist also.

June 2, 2011

I’ll quote from the Vancouver Sun, in regards to the finals for the Stanley Cup this year. The Calgary Vancouver [only noticed this booboo thanks to a comment. Oopsie.] Canucks have managed to stay in until the end and many Canadians have faith that in this icy battle of good and evil, the black hearted Boston Bruins are going down. I don’t care either way, but:

“You can really see a lot of similarities between the attention paid to holy relics of the saints and spiritual heroes and the way Canadians, in particular, have treated their hockey heroes and the products they’ve created,” said Denis Bekkering, a PhD candidate in the Wilfrid Laurier-University of Waterloo, Ont., joint program in religious studies.

Which reminds me, back in 2008 I wrote about a professor in Montreal, Quebec who was going to teach a theology class around the religious-like passion for the Canadiens in that province. I wonder how that went.

He bases his theory on previous research suggesting Americans rally around the “unifying civic religion” of politics, including sacred places (Washington, D.C.), martyrs (Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy) and objects (the Liberty Bell).

Lacking this larger-than-life political mythology, Canada has built its collective religion around the rink, Bekkering says, and specifically around international competitions such as the Olympics, which turn a Team Canada jersey into a national talisman.

“It’s a real point of integration,” he said. “It’s a way for us to have markers along our shared Canadian history.”

Then I’m a bad Canadian, I guess. I don’t mark the years by Stanley Cup wins. My sense of identity isn’t tied into how many gold medals Team Canada can get in any given year. I don’t care who’s playing, I don’t care where they’re playing.

I’m actually more concerned about the lasting damage the sport has on the people who play it and what’s being done to improve player safety beyond better equipment.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine has had been able to study the brains of 40 athletes but only a couple hockey players. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy causes memory loss, behaviour changes, depression and dementia.They’ve found it in at least 30 of those they studied and would probably love to check everyone but actual evidence of CTE can only be determined post-mortem. Researchers are hoping this information will make players and their families more willing to consider brain donation in the event of death.


Are prophecies more likely to appeal to gamblers?

May 17, 2011

I don’t have any stats to back that up but it’d be interesting to investigate, wouldn’t it? Maybe someone qualified will consider tracking that after May 21st. If researchers go back into the lives of people fleeced (and possibly bankrupted) by Harold Camping’s latest idiocy, I wonder how many of them would have a history of monetary risk taking, or risk taking in general.

I found an article at the Vancouver Sun noting work done in the 1950s by a psychologist named Leon Festinger, who had an opportunity to study a different end times cult. I can’t recall if his name ever came up in my university Psych classes but I was also in the habit of ditching them for coffee with a friend instead so who knows. Anyway, he and his team determined that cognitive dissonance had a big part to play in a person’s ability to buy into beliefs anyone else might scoff at. Why? Because when those beliefs fail to deliver the expected results, hard-core followers don’t usually conclude that they’ve been betrayed. They’ll find a way to rationalize it, turn it around, and stay positive. Again, and again, and again. It’s not even limited to prophecies. People rethink and reanalyze this way on a daily basis to justify any number of bad/sudden decisions.

Which is why I thought about problem gamblers who expect their luck to turn “any minute now” rather than conclude the game is rigged for failure and quit playing. Maybe playing this prophecy game is evidence of impulse control issues, too. Studies done with rats have found links between good decision making and serotonin levels, comparable to what humans experience in gambling situations.

Believing we stand at the end of the world is a hell of a gamble and it’s not going to pay off for anyone.


“Rain and rainbows are great reminders…”

May 8, 2011

that refraction is pretty damn cool. Which reminds me.. ever watch this?

Hopefully kids today are learning about sunlight and the prism effect of water droplets. “That wasn’t happening 20 years ago.” Sure it hell was. I was a sprinkler dodger in my youth and well familiar with the phenomena. It’s happened for as long as there’s been sunshine and water droplets. So, at least 6000 years, dontcha know…

I’ve taken my blog post title from the title of a different article, one about Noah’s Ark by Barrett Vanlandingham.

Genesis 7:11-12 tells us, “–On that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.”

When the water receded, Noah left the ark and sacrificed some of the animals on an altar.

God was pleased. So, He placed a rainbow in the sky as an agreement between Himself and all life on earth (ref: Gen. 9:18) that He would never again destroy the earth by flood (v.21).

A rainbow must have been quite an impressive sight since it may also have been the first time one had ever appeared.

This wonder of nature is still an incredible sight today.

It certainly was for the woman in the video. Wow. I wonder what her reaction would be to sun dogs. I expect she’s too far south to ever see them, but she’d probably blame contrails or something.

Given what we know about the way light acts when it passes through water, “incredible” isn’t really the word for it. It’d be far more incredible if conditions were right to create a rainbow and one did not appear where we were looking for it. They are typical, not atypical. They are expected. Not because God’s happy. Not because he apologized to what he let live on earth and thought they’d be amused at this point by some pretty colours. Because it’s the way our eyes and brain translate and display the passing of light through water droplets. That is all it is.

The message it has brought for over four-thousand years now continues to paint a beautiful picture of hope for believers, and should strike fear in the hearts of non-believers.

The colors that arch through the clouds remind us that God keeps His promises.

He promises he won’t flood the planet. He’ll just allow the descendants of the sinful Adam and Eve do it, as an effect of humanity’s curse on the world.

No wonder we’re supposed to do what the author suggests next:

So, what does this mean to us today? The message of Jesus Christ is true! But sadly, scripture says that most people will not choose the righteous path that leads to salvation (Matthew 7:13-14).

Yes, this fact poses a challenge for Christians who spend their lives telling their friends and family the Gospel story of salvation through Jesus Christ.

But, it will be a bigger problem for non-believers who, just like in Noah’s days, refuse to listen until it is too late. May God bless your efforts to win souls this week.

Which reminds me, supposedly the countdown is on to Judgement Day (May 21st), so there aren’t many days left for this soul winning competition. I wonder if they participate on an individual level, or compete as church teams for the grand prize.

I don’t really care who’s in the running to “win” that. When the end of the world does not happen on October 21st, I’ll be laughing my ass off watching believers move the goal posts somewhere else. This November’s a contender, too, and there’s still December 21st of 2012 to get ready for. Still gotta worry about those Mayans. Pascal’s wager leaves room for the possibility that all these Christians should have been worshiping Chac, just to be on the safe side.

Bringer of rain, as it turns out:

Very important for harvests and growing, CHAC sends rain into the world by weeping from his large benevolent eyes.

How fortuitous. Now you’re going to think I planned that. I assure you that I did not. It’s just funny how things work out.


Curses, choices, blame and bad ideas

May 7, 2011

This is part two of what’s shaping up to be a rather long screed rebuttal to an opinion piece. Reverend Jeff Barnes of Newsong Fellowship Church believes Adam and Eve cursed the entire planet when they ate the forbidden fruit. And:

In the same way, this curse has fallen upon humanity as well. Things like cancer, viruses, birth defects, unnatural sexual urges, mental disorders and the like can be traced back to the distorting effects of the curse.

I find this kind of idea both troubling and perplexing. How can anyone in this day and age believe this? There’s evidence that certain cancers have an environmental root caused by what we’ve done as humans but to claim it all started because of what happened in Eden? Seriously? We’re supposed to read that and believe that’s the whole reason? Facts stated? Q.E.D? Seriously? Read the rest of this entry »


“Did God save Mapleton, Iowa?” No.

April 24, 2011

I’ve never seen a tornado in action. Saskatchewan has a few sightings every summer but those that touch ground tend to rip up fields and crops rather than people. There are exceptions but most of the time cities and towns are exempt from displays of their destructive power.

Does this mean God has a special place in his heart for residents of this province? Hardly. Our million or so people are spread out across the equivalent area of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas and little ole Iowa. How populated are all those states? Plus, Saskatchewan is far enough north so weather conditions rarely get to a point that will generate the storms that birth tornadoes, compared to all those states I named that just happen to fall in the geographic area nicknamed “Tornado Alley.”

Tornadoes aren’t aimed and they can’t be guided. They don’t have brains or ambition or malice. They just do what they do and it doesn’t matter what might be on the ground in front of them. They land or they don’t. They shred houses or they veer off. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to any of it, which is what makes the study of tornadoes so important.

Last year the largest ever tornado study got underway with the intention of trying to work out what characteristics in a storm are mostly likely to cause them. Hopefully all the technical work done by the VORTEX2 teams resulted in a lot of useful data. The site states that current warning systems only provide a 13 minute window and most of those calls wind up being false alarms anyway. Longer, more accurate warnings would go a long way toward making sure people can get somewhere safe.

Which brings me to today’s article. A tornado struck Mapleton, Iowa on April 9th and the three churches in town just happened to be buildings not heavily damaged. According to witnesses, the twister “skipped right over the top of St. Mary’s Church” and they all seem convinced that they experienced a miracle in action. Gene Kaderabek, co-elder at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, certainly thinks so. While he credits the police for tracking the storm and alerting the townsfolk in time,

“It was a true miracle no one was even hurt seriously,” Kaderabek said, noting there were more incidents and accidents after the tornado left town, with people running around in the dark and hurting themselves. “I mean, the good Lord, he prepared us and he was watching over us.”

Watching people run around in the dark hurting themselves, but not actively moving shit out of their way or guiding their paths so they wouldn’t injure themselves by accident. Yes, miracles abounding there. Yeesh.

While some folks may attribute the lack of fatalities to luck, don’t tell that to the Rev. Karen Garrison, pastor of St. John’s Methodist Church.

“I don’t believe in good luck,” she said. “I believe that God takes care of all of us. And it has to be because God was protecting us. There were some incredible stories about people who were hiding in ditches, underneath shelters, out in cars, and nobody got hurt. That was wonderful. That was a miracle.

“Somebody said that they were wanting Lent to be different this year. They were wanting it to be special this year in a way that it never had before. And this Lent is full of mercy. We’ve seen the mercy of God.”

But not mercy enough for God to have moved the tornado far enough away from town in the first place. Clearly this is something a god can’t do. Hardly that, I’m sure they’d argue. God could have, but he didn’t, because a really important lesson had to be learned!

As for the future, Garrison predicts Mapleton will experience the rebirth epitomized by the Easter story.

“As you go around town, you can see little tiny places that are just completely free of rubble,” she said. “And you might see a flower coming up. You might see trees starting to bloom. You see babies and … a lot of interesting things. The town is not dead. The town is alive. And the people, their attitude is alive. There aren’t too many people whose attitude is really down. They’re going to make it together.

“And I think that’s’ rebirth. I think it’s rebirth of the town and coming back to God and celebrating. It will be exciting to see how Easter turns out this year as we celebrate the rebirth of Christ.”

God’s in the tornado

Just as God is proverbially found in every wartime foxhole, Garrison sees Him in the tornado

Apparently God thinks it’s a lot more fun to teach a lesson via destruction like this, or other injuries and near-fatalities.

“God was definitely here because he took his finger and went like this,” Kaderabek said, his hand squiggling in the air, mimicking the uneven path of the twister which spared much of the town. “He sort of veered it off.”

Oh, I apologize for being wrong. God gave them the finger, but in a good way. Good grief.

It’s great that the town wasn’t completely trashed by the storm. It’s great that the community wants to come together and be joyful that they escaped serious harm. Terrific terrific. But I’m sure I’m not the only one put off by their “We’re special!” attitude, like God picked them specifically to live through a modern day Noah’s ark scenario.

They’re no more special than anybody else who’s survived the same.


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