Brent Rasmussen's picture

Of Cancer And Foxholes And Atheists - An Inspiring Profile In Courage

Esther Damaser of Yellow Springs, Ohio has a rare form of cancer called "ocular melanoma" which is resistant to treatment and almost 100% fatal after it has metastasized. Over her 28 years since being diagnosed with the disease she has basically taken treatment into her own hands. It's not that she doesn't trust doctors - indeed she says that she "marvels" whenever one of them freely offers their knowledge to her while she is seeking out treatments - but rather that she wisely recognizes the reality of her situation. That is to say that her cancer is a rare form that does not receive a lot of research dollars, and that doctors, while helpful and educated, are not omniscient. It is a "do it yourself disease", as she quips, and she has been remarkably successful as evidenced by her long-term survival and quality of life.

She's also been an atheist all her life.

The process of seeking new treatments and trials, taking risks, then finding if those risks have added time to her life or taken it away has sometimes been wrenching, Damaser says. And while many people find that facing a life-threatening illness leads them to become more religious, she has not taken that route. A lifelong atheist, Damaser found she hasn’t followed the maxim that “there are no atheists in foxholes” — those who find God while in a life-threatening situation.

“I’m in a foxhole here,” she said. “I’m facing my imminent demise. And I’m still an atheist. Religion gives me no comfort.” -[Original news story written by reporter Diane Chiddister of Yellow Springs News Online]

My very best wishes to Esther, and here's to her courage and tenacity! She's truly an inspiring human being.

Jim Downey's picture

Where were you?

Do you recognize these words?


Of course you do. That's the transmission sent to NASA Mission Control from the Moon on this date in 1969.

I was at a Boy Scout camp outside of St. Louis when it happened. That night, we all sat around a big firepit, and tried to watch a small black and white portable television with bad reception as Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) E. Aldrin, Jr. made the first human steps onto the Lunar surface and spoke these words (links to audio file on Wikipedia):

"That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."

And the world was changed forever.

So, where were you?

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to my blog.)

Jim Downey's picture

Would you?

So, a fascinating interview with Douglas Richard Hofstadter last year, now translated into English. In it, he makes the following comments concerning Ray Kurzweil's notion of achieving effective immortality by 'uploading' a personality into a machine hardware:

I think Ray Kurzweil is terrified by his own mortality and deeply longs to avoid death. I understand this obsession of his and am even somehow touched by its ferocious intensity, but I think it badly distorts his vision. As I see it, Kurzweil's desperate hopes seriously cloud his scientific objectivity.

Jim Downey's picture

Oops there goes another one!

So, how many more kids have to die in the name of religious belief?

Teen's death blamed on faith healing

GLADSTONE, Oregon (AP) -- Authorities say a teenager from a faith-healing family died from an illness that could have been easily treated, just a few months after a toddler cousin of his died in a case that has led to criminal charges.

Tuesday's death of 16-year-old Neil Beagley, however, may not be a crime because Oregon law allows minors 14 and older to decide for themselves whether to accept medical treatment.

"All of the interviews from last night are that he did in fact refuse treatment," police Sgt. Lynne Benton said Wednesday. "Unless we can disprove that, charges probably won't be filed in this case."

An autopsy Wednesday showed Beagley died of heart failure caused by a urinary tract blockage.

A urinary tract blockage which could have been corrected easily using modern medical science. But of course that shows a 'lack of faith' in the Sky Daddy. Nevermind that the Sky Daddy showed a lack of competency in keeping Neil alive, though.

Jim Downey's picture

It's phlogiston!

PZ's got a good post up wherein he discusses yet another critique of his Courtier's Reply (also see the Wiki entry). If you're not familiar with the term, look at those links, but basically it is saying that there is an assumption that only those well-versed in Theology have the subtle understanding necessary to question the existence of God - and that someone like PZ, or Richard Dawkins, or any of the rest of us uppity atheists are just plain too ignorant to be listened to. PZ, et al, say that's nonsense - first you come up with some evidence for God, then you can debate the finer points of the theological implications.

Jim Downey's picture

Placebos of the mind.

I was busy this afternoon, working in my bindery, listening to NPR's All Things Considered with part of my brain while I was working on a 18th century book. And I heard an interesting commentary amongst the news stories. This one. As I listened, this portion stood out:

And I don't buy the argument that a placebo pill is just like putting a "Band-Aid on a boo-boo." We know it doesn't make any difference, but we tell the kids that it does. Sure, there are kids who end up wanting a Band-Aid for every possible problem, but I have never seen an adult Band-Aid addict. I have seen lots of adults who want a pill for every ill.

Jim Downey's picture

I admit it. I'm an addict.

Hello, my name is Jim. I've got a writing problem.

Via PZ and Evolutionblog, news that blogging (and writing in general) is actually a therapeutic form of self-medication:

Blogging--It's Good for You

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Jim Downey's picture

R.A.H. would smile.

Yeah, ol' Robert would get a chuckle out of this news item:

Robotic suit could usher in super soldier era

Rex Jameson bikes and swims regularly, and plays tennis and skis when time allows. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound software engineer is lucky if he presses 200 pounds — that is, until he steps into an "exoskeleton" of aluminum and electronics that multiplies his strength and endurance as many as 20 times.

* * *

Jameson — who works for robotics firm Sarcos Inc. in Salt Lake City, which is under contract with the U.S. Army — is helping assess the 150-pound suit's viability for the soldiers of tomorrow. The suit works by sensing every movement the wearer makes and almost instantly amplifying it.

The Army believes soldiers may someday wear the suits in combat, but it's focusing for now on applications such as loading cargo or repairing heavy equipment. Sarcos is developing the technology under a two-year contract worth up to $10 million, and the Army plans initial field tests next year.

Jim Downey's picture

Well, glad that's settled.

You may have heard - the Vatican has said that it is OK to believe in E.T. No, not that silly puppet, but actual aliens, "our brothers" (like this kind?):

VATICAN CITY - Believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God, the Vatican's chief astronomer said in an interview published Tuesday.

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said. "Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother,' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'? It would still be part of creation."

Because - I shit you not -

Ruling out the existence of aliens would be like "putting limits" on God's creative freedom, he said.

Jim Downey's picture

What could possibly go wrong?

We humans have a long and twisted history of doing bizarre things to ourselves in the quest for increased attractiveness. Tapeworms were popular in the 19th century to help people lose weight. Arsenic was taken to "improve complexion". And about 20 years ago people decided to start injecting neurotoxins into their skin to remove wrinkles.

Yeah, I'm talking about Botox. And gee, guess what? Turns out this was not really a good idea:

Dirk Diggler's picture

Atheist Statistics 2008

These stats really don't come as a surprise to me.

Jim Downey's picture

Be sure to take your meds first.

I'm going to be completely preoccupied with another project for the next several days, but I just could not resist passing on this delightfully wacky site. Here's a little excerpt, from one of their posts titled "WHY ALL EVOLUTIONISTS ARE CRIMINALLY INSANE":

Well, first, for this edition of this web page, we will not be addressing the criminal nature of evolutionists’ insanity. That we will do at a future time. So, for now, why are all evolutionists insane? They are all insane because they have no “legend of empirical advent.” What is a legend of empirical advent? It is “one or more things that demonstrate or imply the existence of something unseen.” And keep in mind it doesn’t matter whether these things are real or imaginary.

Jim Downey's picture

Just in case . . .

OK, just in case you haven't seen this over at PZ's or elsewhere, here's a hilarious and brilliantly done satire:

It takes some deconstructing, but the consensus is that it is indeed pro-science/skepticism.

UPDATE: Here are the lyrics, and here is a brief bit on the 'cast' - kudos to both authors!

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Universe: Explained

A-ha! It all makes perfect sense now! (Click to embiggen.)

(Original here.)

Jim Downey's picture

Sex! Sex! Sex!

(This post is part of the Blog Against Theocracy Blogswarm.)

OK, now that I have your attention . . .

. . . let's talk about sex. Or, more accurately, how religious nuts want to control your sex life, your access to information about sex, and your sexual health - all through the government.

Theocracy, anyone?

Specifically, I want to talk about how some in the health-related professions think that they should have the "right" to deny you services or information if something about your sex life disagrees with their religious beliefs.

First off, here's a nice bit from Illinois:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A group of pharmacists asked the Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday to throw out a rule that forces them to dispense emergency contraception despite moral objections, claiming it amounts to illegal coercion.

Jim Downey's picture

The one thing you know.

(I wasn't planning on cross-posting this from my blog, but it took a rather philosophical turn, and upon reflection what I have to say has a lot to do with why I am an atheist. So, I thought I'd share. -Jim )

There is one thing, absolutely, that you know - but most people don't really believe it. That you are alive, and that you are going to die.

"Wait!" you say, "That's two things!"

No, it's not. Life and death are two aspects of the same thing. It is the fundamental duality of our nature. Now, the first part of that equation is generally accepted, but the second part is widely denied - hence the desire to split it into two separate items.

But it hasn't always been like this. Most of human history, people have understood the connection - they were familiar and comfortable with death (even if it wasn't to be desired). I'd even go so far as to say that much of the world today is still this way. It is really only in the last couple-three generations that those in the richer countries have lost a day-to-day connection with death.

Jim Downey's picture

There's a sucker . . .

. . . or at least a desperate sick-person, born every minute. That's the basic premise of most cold medicines, and it was certainly the case with the much-hyped "Airborne", as seen in this news item:

Makers of Airborne Settle False-Ad Suit With Refunds

The following news may not astonish many of you, but feel free to quietly claim your cut: The makers of Airborne, a line of popular herbal supplements that was marketed as a “miracle cold buster,” have decided to settle the false-advertising complaints in a class-action lawsuit for $23.3 million, according to one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

* * *

Jim Downey's picture

Hand me that electric drill, will you?

It never ceases to amaze me the things that people will do to themselves in the quest for kicks or 'enlightenment'. Like this:

Diary Entry: 03-22-00

This weekend I had a hole drilled through my skull. I read that this increased one's consciousness permanently. I read about the supposed de-conditioning properties. I read about more parts of the brain working simultaneously as there would be more blood up there to help this happen. The arguments for it all seemed to be quite lengthy, quite detailed, thought out and researched, and very intelligent. The arguments against it were based solely on the opinion that it is 'crazy' and talk like, "What's more conscious than conscious?". I heard from an acquaintance on telephone that she was glad she had done it, felt more mental energy, and had days of brilliance. I came to believe that the key to a permanent consciousness increase was a hole in the skull, to restore the full brain pulsation of infancy.

Jim Downey's picture

“This is just like Pearl Harbor.”

A good friend uses this quote from Robert Heinlein (from Time Enough for Love) as part of her .sig:

"There is no such thing as luck.
There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe."

Which is a nice reformulation of my favorite Louis Pasteur quote:

"Chance favors the prepared mind."

Which is why I grieve for the future of my country when I read things like this:

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment (from the NY Public Library following the 9/11 attacks), she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

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