“Straighten up” (UpWalker)

The UpWalker is a touted as a revolutionary development in senior mobility, with a supposed ability to facilitate pain-free walking, moseying, and shuttling about.

The product is advertised as being preferable to its lower-sitting predecessors and other alternatives. Commercials show can users humped over and being forced to endure pain in their back, wrists, and shoulders. By contrast, peppy UPWalkers are upright and looking straight ahead.

Visitors to the product’s website are told that traditional walkers cause users to hunch over, which leads to painful pressure in the aforementioned places. This, compared to the UpWalker, whose design will “support you in a secure upright position, giving you better posture so you have more confidence and less pain.”

Boosting self-esteem seems a bit beyond the abilities a mobility device, but let’s focus on the assertions that other walkers cause pain and a stooping posture. In truth, neither canes nor properly-adjusted walkers will force the user to look down, hunch over, become pained. Those with spinal deformities sometimes use walkers or canes but it is of course the deformity which causes stooping and no piece of merchandise will fix this condition.

Similarly, elderly persons do tend to begin stooping but this is not aggravated by walkers or canes and won’t be helped by the UpWalker. And if one’s wrists, shoulders, back hurts, they will continue to do so no matter what mobility device is being employed.

One UpWalker claim is that it products distribute a user’s weight onto forearms instead of the wrists. Even if this is true, walkers and canes are designed to improve balance and stability, not to carry weight, so there would be nothing to be gained by switching to the UpWalker.

Further, properly-adjusted walkers and canes never force the user to hunch or to have pressure applied to wrists, backs, and shoulders. If a person is leant over while grabbing a walker, it either means they either have a physical condition that predisposes them to do so or the walker is set too low. If the former is the cause, the user will be unable to lift themselves high enough to use the UpWalker. If is the latter, the UpWalker will confer no advantage over traditional walkers.

When walkers are properly adjusted for the patient’s height and used as intended, the patients remain upright and do not suffer back and wrist pain unless those are their usual conditions. In short, the company has created an artificial problem that it then sells the solution for.

“Mach behavior” (Sound barrier)

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The sound barrier refers to the sharp increase in aerodynamic drag which aircraft experience when approaching the speed of sound. Chuck Yeager was the first to conquer this barrier, which requires more than just great flying skill. It also requires rigorous aircraft design.

For as aircraft approaches Mach speed, airflow over some plane parts exceeds the speed of sound, creating shockwaves which force the craft to nose down. Only planes designed to overcome this will be capable of making it to 767 miles per hour.

While Yeager is credited with being the first to do this, a few alternate histories hold that others accomplished it before he did.


Some think German World War II pilots managed this, but captured intelligence documents make no mention of this having happened.

Still, tales persist that Messerschmit Komet pilots were the first to break the sound barrier. Heini Dittmar is one name associated with this supposed accomplishment. However, this was never referenced until a 1990 book, the contents of which contain no documentation from the 1940s, when these flights are said to have taken place.

Besides, as Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted, the Komet’s design would have made reaching such a speed impossible. He wrote, “The Komet had fabric-covered elevons on the trailing edge of the delta wing, which would always be shock stalled.”

Another key item is the imprecise nature of airspeed indicators of the time. Aircraft designed for below-sonic speed will in all likelihood yield unreliable readings because of the shockwaves. By contrast, aircraft designed to be supersonic employ a Mach indicator, which Dunning explains corrects for static air pressure.

There are two other supposed pre-Yeager Mach speed flights cited by alternate historians, both taken by civilian test pilot George Welch. He putatively took an XP-86 fighter prototype and, in a powered dive from 35,000 feet, broke the sound barrier. Anecdotal stories say that a sonic boom was heard on the ground.

But author Robert Kempel contends that for Welch’s aircraft to break the sound barrier with an J35-C-3 engine would be impossible, and Welch never himself claimed to have made it to Mach speed.

“Hit for teacher” (TikTok challenge)

When my oldest children were toddlers and preschoolers, moral panics which targeted parents such as myself focused on the likes of satanic kidnappers and human traffickers. While there are rare instances of children being snatched by strangers, there are no recorded cases of it being done to funnel the victims to a diabolical den. And while human trafficking is real, it is usually done by someone who knows the family and grooms the child. It if not committed by someone camping out in a Wal-Mart restroom or scouring social media pages to find when school releases for the day so they can have a victim smorgasbord to choose from.

My children are now old enough that the moral panics are focused on them as the potential perpetrator, not the targeted. In an article for Vice, David Gilbert outlined a recent example, which holds that tween and teen TikTok consumers are being urged to slap their teacher and upload the videotaped results. Like the Luciferian lurkers, these pedagogue poundings are the stuff of urban legend.

For decades, these legends have been spread by school districts, law enforcement agencies, and local media doing shallow reporting. This trio seems to again be the panicky purveyors this time.

Gilbert cited California Teachers Association President Toby Boyd, who warned of this threat and the legal peril those who partake in it will find themselves in. Meanwhile, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong called for TikTok executives to outline what steps they are taking to halt this unruly usurpation of their platform.

This is not to say that no student has assaulted a teacher anywhere at all during this school year. But if this happened, it was likely the result of anger, immaturity, or loss of control, not a premeditated assault in hopes of gaining social media followers.

Gilbert interviewed Abbie Richards, whom he described as “a disinformation researcher who focuses on TikTok.” She said, “As far as I’m aware, not a single story has actually included evidence of an initial threat. And when I looked into this, I couldn’t find a single TikTok actually endorsing this behavior. All evidence indicates this is a hoax turned into reality by local news and school districts reacting to completely unconfirmed rumors.”

For example, the CTA highlighted an instance in Lancaster, S.C., where a TikTok teacher assault allegedly happened. The school district’s director of transport and safety, Bryan Vaughn, claimed an elementary school student perpetrated this as part of the TikTok challenge.

However, Gilbert noted some inconsistencies with this assertion. First, elementary school students are usually too young to have a TikTok account. Second, there was no mention that the assault was recorded and uploaded to TikTok, which is a necessary element of the alleged phenomenon. In other words, there may have been a student assault on a teacher, but it was unrelated to this putative challenge.

While urban legend origins are usually lost to time and space, the starting point may be known in this case: An online document which lists supposed monthly TikTok challenges. However, there is zero evidence this list exists outside of the document decrying it, and there is no reason to suspect it has ever been acted upon.

Indeed, there is a dearth of reports confirming tween and teen arrests for teacher assaults. Like most moral panics panics, no name is ever associated with these alleged occurrences. There are just breathless warnings about the happenings and the stiff consequences for those who perform them. Gilbert noted there are no videos showing students striking teachers, and even if there were, that would be insufficient evidence of a social media connection.

So this is just another hoax. Besides, if satanic kidnappings and human trafficking had been as widespread as advertised, there would be no teenagers left to take up this challenge.

“Immune to reason” (Natural immunity)

One canard from the anti-vax throng is that contracting and surviving a disease will leave the person with immunity from further instances of the condition. While this might sometimes be true, dealing with the unpleasantness of the condition can be avoided altogether through vaccination. There is also the significant matter of a disease perhaps leaving a person with lifelong immobility from polio, or dead from the likes of Whooping Cough. The lifelong immunity the anti-vaxxers tout is desirable but is also available through vaccination. Asserting that immunity gained through disease contraction is superior to immunity via vaccination is to commit the naturalist fallacy.

This is a common trope from anti-vax and alternative medicine types and has found fertile ground among religious groups, which equate natural with their deity. Prolific skeptic blogger David Orski cited a commentator on the evangelical Christian network Victory TV who beamed, “I personally choose God-given natural immunity over the new experimental vaccine for the safety and protection of myself and my family.”

But even if this natural immunity were conferred via a god, goddess, or spirt, it still requires the person to suffer through the physical symptoms and mental anguish of the disease, it leaves the person at risk of follow-on complications, and thus cannot by any reasonable standard be considered superior to a solution whose greatest unpleasantness is usually 10 minutes of a sore arm. I had three rough hours the day after my second COVID vaccine dose, but compared to a multi-week hospitalization, ventilator hookup, or death, this experience was minor.

A vaccine preps the immune system by using a dead pathogen or protein so that the body will respond efficiently if the genuine pathogen later enters the person. While contracting the disease and making it through might leave a person immune, there are issues with post-infection immunity that make vaccination, even after recovery from COVID-19, desirable.

For example, Gorski cited studies which showed that more than a third of COVID-19 infections result in zero protective antibodies. Another concluded that natural immunity fades faster than vaccine immunity, particularly after mild infection. A third found that natural immunity alone is but half as effective as natural immunity combined with vaccination.

As for the study form Israel which suggested that those receiving the Pfizer vaccine were 13 times as likely to be hit with the delta variant than those who had recovered from the coronavirus, it has yet to be peer-reviewed. Bypassing peer review and taking one’s claims straight to the public is usually a pseudoscience giveaway. Further, many key items from the study were buried.

Gorksi wrote, “You have to dig into the text to see that the absolute numbers of infections were quite low (for example, only 19 reinfections in one group) and actually do the math yourself to figure out that the breakthrough infection rates after vaccination were low. In model number one, the breakthrough infection rate was 1.5 percent; in model number two, it was 1.4 percent. This study actually showed that the Pfizer vaccine was quite effective. It also showed that those who had recovered from COVID-19 and were later vaccinated were much less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.”

So the numbers the anti-vaxxers found favorable were cherry-picked and highlighted, while the most significant results of the study were ignored. Naturally.

“Research caper” (DIY research)

When a scientist speaks of research, he or she is referring to a years-long systematic process of collecting data, testing hypotheses, and going where the evidence leads. This is done objectively via methods that are explained to fellow scientists, who then attempt to replicate or contradict the findings. When submitting for peer review, those conducting the research will outline their findings, data sets, and statistical analyses, then submit it all for peer review.

By contrast, the guy who exhorted us to “Wake Up Sheeple” in a message I saw plastered to his vehicle has a different take on the matter. When he claims to have done his research, he means he has utilized a search engine, then clicked on the first link which confirmed his bias. For him, peer review is having his likeminded friends take a look at the YouTube link he messaged them.

This difference was starkly illustrated by Flux writer Melanie Trecek-King, who explained, “Real research is about trying to prove yourself wrong, not right.”

Hellaciously complex topics such as vaccines, climate science, and evolution require years of specialized learning and gaining an understanding broad terminology. There is also corroboration and debate with those in the field, while conducting genuine research as outlined above.

Because of this complexity, high-quality studies conducted by experts can arrive at different conclusions. Critics of science, such as the one with the rolling sheeple billboard, highlight these contradictions to insist that the field is unreliable.


This is to misunderstand what science is, that is to say a messy, self-criticizing, self-examining process aimed at finding the truth. While science has arrived at conclusions later shown to be wrong, it was further and better science that uncovered the error.

Similarly, when there are accusations that scientists are involved in a massive cover-up, this ignores that healthy conflict exists among scientists, and also glosses over the fact that the most revered scientists are those who upended conventional thinking.

The Scientific Method is crucial to all this, but perhaps no step in the process is as paramount as peer review. It would be one thing to convince two dozen sympathetic lay people that polio vaccines cause kidney failure. It would be quite another to successfully make such a case to hundreds of experts who will peruse your methods and findings.


Further, no single study will be the end-all. Conclusions must be repeatedly replicated before becoming a consensus.

As to this consensus, it does not refer to an agreeing of opinion based on confirmation bias or groupthink. As Trecek-King explained, scientific consensus is “the result of highly specialized experts independently evaluating the body of evidence and arriving at a similar conclusion.”

Any consensus remains open to challenge but a complete novice will not upend it by spending the afternoon on Google. Major changes to scientific thinking are announced by the Noble Prize Committee, they are not posted to a right-wing conspiracy theory site. Such sites insist that 10,000 scientists are eschewing fame, fortune, and career satisfaction in order to further enrich a shadowy cabal by staying silent.

Almost universally, experts are trusted. If persons are not trained in the field, they do not attempt to fix a malfunctioning intake manifold, they do not replace their home’s faulty wiring, and they do not perform their own gall bladder surgery. That some folks make an exception for vaccines, masking, and distancing would be comical were it not for the deadly results.

China, where the coronavirus originated and with four times the U.S. population, has yet to record its 5,000th COVID death. The U.S., meanwhile, just passed the grim 700,000 milestone. Put another way, the pandemic has shown Americans to be incapable of dealing with a national emergency requiring mild inconvenience.

“Right is wrong” (Pandemic partisanship)

The most perplexing aspect of the pandemic is its partisan nature. The shutdown should have been a time when we bonded over our collective misery and came together for the common good. That was, in fact, the case for about six weeks before some right-wingers became enraged at their inability to go to Arby’s and began plotting gubernatorial assassinations and the storming of capitols as a result.

Again, this left me baffled. Since a virus has no concern with its host’s political leanings, the pandemic should have been the ultimate nonpartisan issue. Instead, a nation already divided by a petulant child masquerading as a head of state become even more fractured. It has gotten so wacky lately that talk show host Dennis Prager insisted that anyone who wears a mask outdoors would have been a willing Nazi accomplice. Vaccination clinics today, Auschwitz tomorrow. Logical leap.

In a parallel development, the anti-vax movement that was once part of the burned-out hippie fringe has now completed a bewildering transformation to mainstream conservative thought. While the great majority of Republican federal lawmakers, governors, and Fox News blathering heads have received the COVID vaccine, they caution their followers against doing the same.

To be sure, describing the anti-vax movement as having shifted from Jenny McCarthy’s terrain to Tucker Carlson’s is a bit simplistic. There here have always been anti-vaxxers of varying political stripes. This included libertarians whose belief in limited government was so extreme they felt it should take no action to prevent the spread of disease, no matter how deadly. And there were Republicans who, having bought into the rugged individual American myth, preferred to go it on their own, or at least thought that’s what they were doing. A motorcycling free rider who eschews helmet usage boasts he’s doing it all on his own, without thinking about how the highway got there or how his bike got manufactured. Similarly, some feel they are going their own way on vaccines without realizing that others getting immunized brought anti-vaxxers the herd immunity they are enjoying. Now let’s look at how much worse it has gotten.

A huge factor was a 2015 California law passed in the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak. This eliminated nonmedical school vaccination requirements. During the bill’s debate, right-wing lawmakers, while having gotten jabbed themselves, learned the political gain of employing buzzwords like freedom, choice, religious liberty, and parental rights.

From that groundswell, we now have objection from nearly all elected Republicans to any COVID control measures. For these politicians, mounting deaths and the overwhelming of the medical system pale in importance to getting reelected. China, where the virus originated and with four times the U.S. population, has yet to hit 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Meanwhile, the “pro-life” party leads resistance to vaccines, masks, testing, tracing, and distancing, as the number of U.S. COVID deaths approaches 700,000.

This wasn’t always the case. Mississippi has long required schoolchildren to be vaccinated against nine diseases and allowed no religious exceptions.

Today, that mindset has been brushed aside in favor of gaining political capital and getting one over on those silly pro-science liberals and skeptics. Many elected Republicans such as Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Marjorie Taylor Green, Mo Brookes, and Josh Hawley have dispensed with the pro-freedom façade and now openly embrace opposition to vaccine science.

Still, there are still some who may frame their opposition as one of choice. Two years ago, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey fought an attempt to broaden school vaccination exemptions. But this year he forbid local governments from requiring COVID vaccines for employees, calling the type of initiative he had championed in 2019 to now be “dictatorial.”

It’s reminiscent of Gov. Orval Faubus fighting to keep Little Rock Central segregated. His motivations were based more on political expediency than a personal bigotry. But history rightly reviles Faubus for his stance, regardless of why he took it. The same fate awaits those who today are embracing the more repugnant options available during the pandemic.

“Disease, please” (Germ Theory denial)

Why did people get all worked up over 9/11? Americans had a 99.99999 percent survival rate that day. And some of those killed were obese, diabetic, or had high blood pressure, and so were on limited time anyway.


While this take would be rightly reviled if a speaker seriously suggested it, there is little difference between this position and those of the anti-vax, pro-COVID crowd. Arguing that terrorism victims deserved their fate would be an incredibly offensive position, but so too is the notion that COVID-related deaths are meaningless since such patients represent a small minority or they had a medical condition.

This stance also dismisses the science behind vaccines and masks, and overlooks that the unvaccinated are 29 times more likely than the vaccinated to be hospitalized for the coronavirus.


Among this group, there is an even more extreme subset which holds that the COVID and other viruses don’t exist, and therefore cannot be transmitted, cause disease or be fatal. In this alternate reality, illnesses are the result of lifestyle choices and environmental factors. These Germ Theory deniers are more dangerous than their flat Earth brethren, who are merely wrong and impossibly stubborn. Those who deny Germ Theory harm not only themselves, but others as well by not taking preventive measures like hand-washing, vaccination, and anti-biotic treatments.


Germ Theory came from the brilliant mind of Louis Pasteur, though there were competing hypothesis at the time from his contemporaries, Claude Bernard and Antoine Béchamp.


The former proposed the concept of milieu intérieur. In an online piece, journalist Beth Mole wrote this idea suggested that disturbances to the body’s internal equilibrium caused disease and pathogens were a nonfactor. Meanwhile, Béchamp proposed a similar idea, thinking the body manifested pathogens in response to an internal change.

Subsequent scientific findings by the likes of Robert Koch and Joseph Lister validated Pasteur’s idea that invading organisms led to disease. However, the postulations by Bernard and Béchamp still find favor in the conspiracy theory and alt-med crowds. While still on the fringe, Germ Theory deniers have experienced an uptick in their numbers during the COVID-19 era.

They believe that bacteria is a symptom of a disease, not a cause. They also assert that viruses are incapable of passing from person to person. They, just barely, believe in disease, but feel that a condition called toxemia is its lone manifestation. And this, the deniers say, is the fault of the afflicted for having made poor nutritional and lifestyle choices. In their universe, disease symptoms are merely a ravaged body’s attempt to detoxify itself.

Their solution is to overload on fruit and avoid just about anything else, to include meat, dairy, eggs, breads, pasta, soy, nuts, oils, potatoes, garlic, onions, cereals, salt, coffee, and drugs, be they recreational or medicinal. Vaccines, antibodies, and doctor visits are also verboten.

To a denier, the promotion of vaccines and medicine is part of a cover-up. This is another reminder that the defining point of most conspiracy theories is that any contrary evidence is part of the conspiracy. The SkepDoc, Harriett Hall, tells of a raw food enthusiast she encountered who declared that vaccines were unable to prevent disease and existed only to enrich pharmaceutical companies. Any statistics showing a decrease in disease when vaccines are administered were fabrications aimed to hide the truth.

Hall also related that she knew a chiropractor who felt disease was caused by spine misalignment. He refused immunizations and felt keeping his spine in check made him immune from all disease and sickness.

Many such theorists subscribe to a litany of alt-med practices that supposedly relieve the body of toxins. Which toxins are being removed and the method by which this happens are unexplained. They also commit a correlation-causation error by arguing that those who see the doctors the most often are the sickest. This is usually true, but only because people by and large go to the doctor when they are sick. They don’t go when healthy, only to be made ill by the appointment.

Meanwhile, it’s a matter of reasoned debate as to whether the deniers’ stupidity is the cause or a symptom of their condition.


“Tired and tested” (IQ)

The Hungarian mathematical giant Paul Erdős would meet any reasonable definition of genius. He is so revered in his field that the “Erdős Number” refers to how many degrees of separation one is from having collaborated with the man. A number of 1 is assigned to those privileged enough to have co-authored a paper with him, a person who worked with that co-author would have a number of 2, and so on.


Besides incessant work habits which produced more than 1500 papers, Erdős was also known for his minimalist, transient lifestyle. He had almost no possessions, no significant interest beyond mathematics, and not even a home. Not that he ever wanted for a roof over his head. He traveled extensively to seminars, during which world-class mathematicians competed for the honor of having him stay with them so they could engage in problem-solving pursuits with Erdős.


During one such sojourn, a heavy thunderstorm sent rain shooting through an open window, which caused the somewhat-panicked Erdős to awaken the homeowner and express his alarm and confusion. This, as opposed to shutting the window. A man whose trophy case and walls of accomplishments would be absurdly expansive were he the type to have trophy cases and walls was unable to do what the average soaked dimwit would have done in the situation.


This amusing anecdote highlights one of the problems with Intelligence Quotient tests. They focus on specialties like problem-solving, reasoning, and planning. Erdős would have scored extremely high on such a test, perhaps achieving the most stratospheric number ever. But the test would fail to account for his ability to manage common-sense actions like weather-dependent room adjustments.

Similarly, an IQ test subject may have ingenuity but produce only mediocre grades in established academic classes. Another may struggle with slightly advanced mathematical principles but know how to recognize and exploit business opportunities. The idea that there is a single notion of intelligence, much less a way to adequately test everyone, in untenable.

In the early days of IQ tests, the quotient referenced the subject’s mental age, divided by the actual age. So a 10-year-old who reasoned at what the test considered average for a 15-year-old would score 150.

Later adaptations of the test graded on a curve so that the number represented a placement within the distribution of aggregated scores. So the “quotient” in IQ is no longer literal, although the term is still used.

But the tests fail to adjust for cultural differences and some critics argue that the testing more measures social class than intelligence. There is also the issue of those who don’t “test well,” while having a better ability to analyze and solve problems in real life.

Another drawback is the IQ tests revert perpetually to a normalized measure, with 100 being forever average and 68 percent of testers always scoring between 85 and 115. This keeps the focus on maintaining norms more than it does the stated goal of determining brainpower.


One needn’t be Paul Erdős to know all this doesn’t add up to a meaningful test.

“Inflamed issue” (Anti-inflammatory diets)

The Alternative Medicine Holy Trinity consists of boosting the immune system, detoxing, and decreasing inflammation.

As to the first point, except in extreme cases like late stage cancer or treating AIDS patients, boosting the immune system is neither possible nor desirable. An elevated immune system is characterized by autoimmune conditions such as lupus, celiac, and multiple sclerosis.

Meanwhile, detoxing is only genuine if a known toxin is being removed by a medically-understood process. An example would be a person exposed to a dangerous level of arsenic being treated by a toxicologist. Of all the “natural detoxing regimens” being touted, the only legitimate one is having a working liver and kidneys. And if those are shutting down, you need the ER, not an acai smoothie or mineral salt footbath.

Now onto the idea of reducing inflammation, which will be the bulk of this post. The usual idea is to avoid foods that will cause inflammation and subsequent unpleasant conditions, though exactly how they are doing that and what is being inflamed is often unexplained.

Indeed, there is no science suggesting that disease is caused by inflammation, that inflammation needs to be avoided, or the food avoidance would accomplish that.

While alt-medics wish to boost the immune system, which would be harmful were it possible, they wish to decrease inflammation, which could likewise be detrimental. One manifestation of inflammation is redness and swelling, which results when the body heals from injury or battles an infection. As Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning explained, “The capillaries dilate, allowing more blood to flow through, and also stretching open their pores, allowing white blood cells to escape the capillaries and inundate the damaged area. Inflammation is your body’s natural, healthy immune response to some problem.”

In most instances, alt-med proponents would welcome an all-natural, immune system-based response, but here such a solution is dreaded.

It should be noted that inflammation is not always the body’s way repairing tissue or fending off infection. It cases like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, it can worsen the conditions. But this does not mean that there are specific foods that can help the patient reduce the inflaming.

Dunning cited the SkepDoc, Harriett Hall, who informs us that inflammation is a complex response involving many different physiological processes and is not a single phenomenon that could be addressed by a uniform response.
In those instances when inflammation is detrimental, there are anti-inflammatory medicines that can help with this, but are there any food that would do the same? Not according to anything that food scientists have uncovered. However, it should be noted that many alt-med websites focus more on what foods to avoid rather than ingest to combat inflammation. And here, they may be right, but nor for the reasons they think. That’s because avoiding all foods through fasting may have some impact.

Dunning explains: “When you fast, there’s a slight increase of lactic acid in your blood, along with beta-Hydroxybutyric acid, which is associated with ketones. These trigger some chemical reactions that turn off inflammasomes.”

Adopting the other extreme, gorging, will likewise increase inflammation. “If your gigantic meal is high in saturated fats, this effect is greater,” Dunning wrote. “The increased inflammation is associated with your body’s overdrive effort to metabolize this giant meal, and it subsides once the food has been digested.”

In summary, inflammation in a healthy person is the immune system’s way of fending off disease or tissue damage. Trying to fight that is both counterintuitive and futile.

“Points shaken” (Creationism)

In a column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat argues that science supports creationism. However, he never gives scientific support for any intelligent design hypothesis, nor does he explain how a god came to be or which deity is the correct one.

While science has yet to confirm the existence of Yahweh, Vishnu, or Ra, it has explained many phenomena previously attributed to gods, such as extreme weather, healing plants, and eclipses.

Let’s run through Douthat’s five points and examine them.

First, he claims that fine-tuning in the universe proves the existence of God. I am disappointed that he trots out such a hackneyed, many-times-refuted assertion. I enjoy a good intellectual spar and having a New York Times columnist, in a fresh work, resort to something this lame is, well, lame. His thinking is akin to arguing that a puddle holds the precise amount of water that it does is because the water was designed for puddle-filling purposes.

In a more original and thought-provoking point, Douthat posits that the notion of a multiverse strengthens the idea of God since some of those universes – or one of anyway – are suitable for human life.  But University of Chicago biology professor emeritus Jerry Coyne suggests that points away from such a deified notion. Coyne writes, “If God wanted to simply create life, with humans as its apotheosis, why did he go to all the bother of setting up multiverses, many of which don’t allow life?”

Douthat’s third point is that consciousness proves God. He claims physical processes are inadequate to explicate the complexities of consciousness, which run the gamut from comprehending the idea of color to doctoral theses on Greek philosophy.

This is at once the god of the gaps fallacy and special pleading. Further, Coyne notes that naturalism has shaped our understanding of consciousness, specifically, “the parts of the brain that are necessary for the phenomenon to appear in our species, the chemicals that can take it away and bring it back, and so on.” Moreover, science is an ongoing process that admits it doesn’t know everything and continues to search for answers. As Coyne explained, “Consciousness will be explained when we know all the parts required, and how they interact, for a being to become conscious.

Onto point four. Douthat feels that the comprehensibility of the universe itself proves God. However, this is more special pleading since whatever created God would have to  have instilled that comprehensibility in him, then the even more advanced god have done the same before that, ad infinitum.

He next argues that reputed sightings of demons, along with near-death experiences and feelings of overwhelming spirituality vindicate the notion of god. But if this is the case then ALL gods are real, along with ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, and psychic powers. 

What’s more, these experiences can be replicated with drugs, chemical mixtures, and deep meditation. Astronauts in training often report mental and physical reactions similar to near-death experiences. Persons with psychosis or other severe mental issues also report profound, very-real-to-them accounts like this.

Finally, Douthat thinks that because evolution leads us to believe in things that are real and true, a ubiquitous belief in God points to his existence. However, no amount of belief makes something true.

Taken in totality, Douthat’s work breaks little new ground and the few original tidbits fail to satisfy the book’s stated goal of proving God through science.