Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book Review: Examining Alternative Medicine

I have commented in a previous blog of my bafflement at Christians who seem to lose their concern for truth once they enter into the world of alternative medicine. I was visiting a church last year where, after the service, a man got out his box of bottles containing all sorts of substances which he uses to test "allergies". Apparently, he can get a person to hold a bottle, extend their arm, and test the arm for changes in strength. If he pushes down on the person's arm before and after holding the bottle of substance, he can allegedly tell by the variation in strength whether the person is allergic to the substance or not. Once diagnosed, it is possible to use magnets to counter the influence of these substances. Speaking of magnets, I know of Christians who use magnets to treat pain and other ailments. I have come across those who put faith in iridology to diagnose and treat illness. Some put their faith in homeopathy. There is no evidence for the effectiveness of any of these practices and some of them rely on principles that are actually inconsistent with Christian beliefs. And yet many Christians dive headlong into using these practices, often simplistically criticising conventional medicine for its imperfections along the way. Of course, there are some problems with the approach of conventional medicine and there are some positive aspects of the alternative health movement. But how do we make our way through all the competing ideas offered by these often opposing approaches to health? Paul Reisser, Dale Mabe, and Robert Velarde have written a brilliant book looking at this whole issue. Examining Alternative Medicine: An Inside Look at the Benefits & Risks is an engaging, balanced, informed, and rigorous examination of the alternative health movement. They begin by observing the enormous impact of the alternative health movement, particularly in the United States. Carefully defining what is meant by alternative therapies, they provide a "reality check" tour of alternative medicine, discussing why people are drawn to these therapies. The authors identify the flow of energy (and related ideas) as the key theme of many of the alternative therapies. They are very fair in their descriptions of the world views of the alternative therapists and demonstrate how irrational and unscientific many of the alternatives are. They examine, in depth, a number of specific health practices including Deepak Chopra's Ayrvedic approach, homeopathy, and Therapeutic Touch. In doing so, they show how certain postmodern approaches to epistemology are drawn on by these practitioners, along with a distorted understanding of quantum theory and physics, to provide a veneer of scientific respectability to their ideas (whilst, ironically, criticising science for its materialistic approach to reality). At the end of the book, there is an excellent chapter entitled Is God a Dependent Variable? that evaluates the research into prayer. The authors are not against all so-called alternative health practices. And they honestly point out some of the less-than-adequate features of conventional medicine. The book is a model of clear thinking that is realistic and fair minded. Every Christian interested in any form of alternative medicine should read this book. In fact, anyone, Christian or not, would benefit from it. Despite the authors clearly coming from a Christian perspective, the majority of the book deals with alternative medicine from an evidence-based point of view and critiques the theories behind it using straightforward critical thinking strategies. Specific Christian discussion is kept to a minimum in the book overall. It's an excellent, well-written, well-argued perspective that provides a greatly needed and timely corrective to the highly subjectivist approach to health promoted by so many ill-qualified people. Related Links

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Movie Review: Monster House 3D

I have to admit being a sucker for 3D. So I couldn't resist taking the family off to the movies to see Monster House 3D (which is also showing in normal mode). It's one of the better animated films we've had lately -- which is something to be grateful for. DJ (Mitchel Musso) has been left home in the care of a young, rather neglectful babysitter when strange things start happening at the house across the street. Mr Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) has been living there for years and has a reputation that ensures no child ever ventures onto the front lawn. Mr Nebbercracker confiscates anything that happens to land there -- toys, balls, bicycles, anything and everything. But things get really strange when DJ believes he has caused Mr Nebbercracker to collapse and die. As the grass in the lawn tries to hang on to Nebbercracker's ambulance barouche to keep him there, we know that there is something very ominous about this house. Even when his body has been taken away, things and people seem to be disappearing inside the house. DJ and his two friends, the dim-witted Chowder (Sam Lerner) and the sophisticated Jenny (Spencer Locke) decide to investigate when the babysitter's boyfriend, Bones (Jason Lee), disappears and the police won't believe their tall story - it is Halloween, after all. After some nasty experiences and close calls, they uncover a dark secret that places them in great peril. Will they be able to survive the house? Monster House is wonderfully animated (enhanced by the 3D experience!) with some genuinely funny moments. The characterisations of the kids are great -- and I know because I have a teenager! The story is entirely unbelievable (as all good fantasty should be) and there are some very tense moments -- probably too tense for really young kids. Some of the supernatural themes may also make some children (and perhaps some adults) a little uncomfortable. All in all, it is an enjoyable, entertaining, nicely paced, ultimately feel-good horror yarn that both kids and adults will enjoy. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) My 12-year-old's rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'The most imaginative and delightful computer-animated movie of recent years outside of the Pixar brand, Monster House is a Halloween ghost story by way of monster-movie adventure.' - Sean Axmaker/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Negative Review 'A grisly, often cynical piece of work whose joyless, aggressive spirit is made even less appealing by its soulless visual style.' - Ann Hornaday/Washington Post Content Warning scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language Australia: PG USA: PG

Monday, September 11, 2006

For first time, doctors communicate with patient in persistent vegetative state (Guardian)

Check out this fascinating report by Ian Sample, science reporter for the Guardian. For the first time, doctors have been able to detect possible awareness in a patient in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) -- a state where someone is unconscious with sleeping and waking cycles but show no other signs of brain activity -- until now. It is considered to be one step up from being in a complete coma. A new test has provided the opportunity to test out whether a woman in a PVS is aware of her surroundings. If this test shows what it claims to (and there is still much to be done in proving this) it has enormous implications for end of life decisions. You can check out the full article here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Movie Review: Snakes on a Plane

Well... given the hype over Snakes on a Plane I thought I'd better go and check it out for myself. I was pleasantly surprised -- if that is the right phrase for it. It is totally cliched, totally predictable, but as far as a horror/action/thriller goes, it is pretty slick and enjoyable escapism. Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) has witnessed a gruesome murder of a prosecutor and runs for his life. But the killers are after him when the police intervene and convince Sean to become a witness to bring the murder to justice. Neville Flynn (Samuel L Jackson) has the job of escorting Sean to Los Angeles on a plane for the trial. Only problem is, the assassin has smuggled 450 of the world's most poisonous snakes onto the plane and automated their release once the plane is in flight. The snakes are very edgy and aggressive from breathing in pheromone-laced leis and they are set to go! From there on we see the grossest, most horrifying forms of death by snakes that the makers of this film can come up with. Be warned -- there is no subtlety here. This is not a movie for the young kids in the family. There is one explicit sex scene and there are relentless sequences of terror and violence. As I said, the movie is saturated with cliched characters and plot devices and, guess what -- Samuel L Jackson is the hero of the day -- but it is all done smartly and the movie speeds along at a breathtaking pace. Snakes on a Plane has the feel of those old matinee horror/monster movies updated with amazing CGI effects. The only purpose this movie has is pure, unadulterated, manipulative entertainment. This won't be a movie for everyone -- particularly if you have a snake phobia! But if you want to subject yourself to some full-on action/horror trashiness that requires no thinking, then you might like to give it a go. But don't get snakey with me if you don't enjoy it. Make sure you take the content warning below seriously. This is a movie with real bite! And I wouldn't be surprised if there are more plane flights to come with every other human phobia-related creature to scare us all to death. My Rating: *** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Snakes was the most exuberantly trashy delight of this summer movie season or last.' - Scott Foundas/LA Weekly Negative Review 'Not since Pet Rocks riveted the nation have so many gotten so excited over so little.' - Nathan Rabin/The Onion (A.V. Club) (This review contains some coarse language) Content Warning a scene of sexuality and drug use, and intense sequences of terror and violence Australia: M USA: R

NeXt Bible

I am sitting in front of my computer with my jaw banging on my keyboard. I am stunned -- amazed at what I have on the screen in front of me. It is the NeXt Bible, powered by What is it? It is an online Bible reference tool that is absolutely incredible -- and FREE! What does it do?
  1. You can look up any Bible reference -- Old and New Testament.
  2. There is a choice of the NET Bible (an excellent literal translation with thousands of translation notes); the KJV with Strongs numbers for every word and a link to the Strong's dictionary; and a Hebrew-Greek translation with Strong's numbers and links to Strong's dictionary.
  3. Cross references from the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.
  4. Cross references for every name in the text to other places in Scripture where they are mentioned.
  5. A list of pericopes/section titles for the book you are viewing.
  6. A list of links to articles from on the book you are viewing.
  7. When viewing the NET Bible, there is a Discovery box with links to information about the book you are viewing.
  8. A Study Dictionary.
  9. A Sermon Illustration database.
  10. A Daily Reading Guide.
  11. The ability to listen to the chapter you are studying in audio!

There are other features that make using this tool very easy. You can look up multiple verses in specific ranges (eg, John 3:16; Rom 5:8-10; Rom 8:32; 2Co 5:19-21; 1Tim 1:15-16) and they are all listed on the same screen; you can double-click on a word to get information; and more.

This is truly a stunning Bible study resource. Check it out NOW!!!!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Book Review: A Tapestry of Faiths

Winfried Corduan's book A Tapestry of Faiths: The Common Threads Between Christianity & World Religions is one of the freshest books I have read on comparative religion. Reading it has given me new insights into the perspectives of other major world religions besides Christianity; the uniqueness of Christianity and other world religions; what it means to dialogue with other faiths; and much more. Corduan is deeply respectful of different world views and rigorously tries to understand them on their own terms rather than making the mistake of constantly evaluating them in terms of Christian faith. Too frequently, Protestants (in particular) assume that, for example, because Christianity is a religion based on and defined by its Scriptures, that one can understand the essence of other religions by merely evaluating their Scriptures. For Corduan, this sort of approach is at the heart of Protestant/Evangelical misunderstandings of other peoples' faith. Although Corduan wants to, ultimately, draw comparisons between other faith traditions and Christianity, he genuinely attempts to understand them first on their own terms before making the comparison. This is the real strength of this book. There is no doubt that Corduan writes from a Christian perspective. He is interested in what is common and different between these other faiths and Christianity. But he carefully avoids construing them in ways that distort their perspectives and his discussion is finely nuanced as he takes us on an empathetic journey into other faith traditions. A diverse range of issues is explored including general revelation and original monotheism (Corduan argues that monotheism was the original religious perspective historically); special revelation and the nature of non-Christian Scriptures; morality and guilt; creation and redemption; the debate over grace and redemption; and eschatology. In addition, he offers a fascinating model of religious experience that identifies what is common in all religious experience. Corduan's overall purpose is not just to describe the differences and commonalities between religious faiths. His practical aim is to "find fords [the things that divide] and build bridges [across the fords]" that allow genuine dialogue between those who take their faith seriously. He offers useful advice for living out the implications of his discussion in the real world. His aim is apologetic but with an absolute commitment to respectful dialogue. This is a great book which left me with a new appreciation of other religions, my own religious beliefs, and inspired a commitment to really listen to those who take a different perspective on faith. I won't be the same after reading this book -- nor will you.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Magnet Therapy: A Billion Dollar Boondoggle (Skeptical Inquirer)

It is fascinating how some Christians, despite the general promotion of thinking carefully in Bible study and evaluating doctrine to make sure we don't get it wrong, don't apply the same careful attitude when it comes to alternative health practices. One such practice I have seen some Christians use and praise is magnet therapy. In fact, as Bruce Flamm points out in his article for Skeptical Inquirer, Magnet Therapy: A Billion Dollar Boondoggle, it is a complete waste of money. You can read his article here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Movie Review: Thank You for Smoking

It is a mystery, to me, how someone can get up each morning and go to work to promote a product that kills thousands of people every day. I am, of course, talking about the people who work for tobacco companies. They must have a way of distorting their thinking to the point where what is black is white. The satirical Thank You for Smoking pointedly critiques the "spin doctors" of our society who are expert at finding a way to make the most negative sound the most positive. Aaron Eckhart (Nick Naylor) is employed by the Big Tobacco Company to come up with strategies for persuading the consumer that smoking is good. He is a master at his job -- one of the best. While doing this, he has to try to be a good role model for his son who is a mirror that makes thinking about what he does unavoidable. There are moments in Thank You for Smoking that are hilariously caustic and indiscriminately poke fun at the do-gooders as well. Katy Holmes (pre-TC) is excellent as the journalist who will stop at nothing to get her story. Robert Duvall is great as "The Captain" of Big Tobacco and William H Macey is great as Senator Ortolan Finistirre who is out to "get" the tobacco industry. Thank You for Smoking is uneven in its humour with a few moments standing out, like the on-air persuasion, by Eckhart, of a cancer-boy that the cigarette companies are good and his "bribing" of the dying Marlboro Man to keep quiet about the cause of his illness. The plot is good and the director handles the story lightly without preachiness or condescension. Despite its flaws, Thank You for Smoking is probably one of the most intelligent and courageous satires to come out of Hollywood for years, particularly if you have noticed the increase in smoking in the movies lately -- obviously a funding source! What it says is relevant to much of the corporate world and media where, as Eckhart says at one point in the movie, one 'requires a moral flexibility that is beyond most people.' If you feeling like inhaling a politically incorrect, funny, thought-provoking social commentary, then check it out. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review 'A sly, smart and very funny caricature of corporate politics and image culture.' - Sean Axmaker/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Negative Review 'For a film that's ostensibly about modern American society's love affair with addictive behavior – sex, drugs, rock & roll – its bark is much worse than its bite.' - Marc Savlov/Austin Chronicle Content Warning Language and some sexual content