30 July 2012

Knowing what you're paying for

I'm a guitar player. And I've noticed over the years that guitar players have a tendency to really fuss over elusive, high-priced gear. Hand-wound pickups, hand-wired "boutique" tube amplifiers, and USA-made guitars.

So recently, on a forum, I spied this sexy custom Jackson seven-string:

Like, damn. Clearly this is a very unique and beautiful axe. And if you think the price tag on this guitar would probably be a smidge high, well, you'd be right. Custom Jacksons, even with relatively simple appointments that aren't much different than their production guitars, can easily run $3500-$4000. I have no idea what this fellow paid (it belongs to Chris Letchford of the band Scale The Summit), but I think $5k would be a reasonable, possibly even conservative estimate.

29 July 2012

Richard Muller on climate change

I remember some time back I read a post by ol' creationist/conservative/evangelical Jack Hudson where he claimed that Richard Muller of UC Berkley was a skeptic of man-made climate change. In the comments section, I pointed out that Muller had conducted his own review of the data and subsequently retracted his skepticism. Jack's response:
[Y]ou are reading what I wrote with your Al Gore glasses on. I am agreeing with him that a reasonable response is necessary, not the typical left-wing radicalism you favor. Destroying our economy by tying it to global treaties which don’t solve the problem is insane.
Jack was pulling this out of his butt, since I never said anything at all about what kind of environmental policy I favor, and Muller wasn't saying anything about policies or treaties either. The issue at hand was whether human beings were causing climate change. I'd encourage you to read the whole post and the subsequent comments, because I think it's clear as day that Jack flat-out lied and tried to weasel out of the actual arguments he made in his post, like this:
“A scientist I find credible on the issue is Richard Muller, Professor of Physics at Berkeley and author of the book Physics for Future Presidents. He has been critical of some of the data and methodology used to support theories of climate change in favor anthropogenic warming.
Well, obviously, the minor detail Jack conspicuously omitted, and what I was calling him out on, is the fact that Miller subsequently reviewed the data, changed his mind, and said so publicly. I was beyond frustrated that Jack lacked the humility to correct such a simple error and instead resorted to the red herring of painting me as a radical leftist, whatever that's supposed to be. And now, because every once in a while I really like to hammer home how right I was, here's Muller taking his position even further, courtesy of Huffpo (emphasis mine):
Muller wrote in an NYT op-ed that after exhaustive research, he believes that an increase of greenhouse gases can be closely linked to the rise in the earth's temperature. He explains:
Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.
Boom. A major skeptic of climate change, once hawked as an ally of conservative agendas, comes out to shove da troof right down their willfully ignorant throats. The best part is that he did it only after exhaustive research. He was a skeptic, but the healthy type of skeptic – his views were amenable to evidence, and he altered them accordingly.

Unlike some, this guy knows when to admit he was wrong
Now obviously, how this translates into policy is another matter entirely. But in order to have sound policy, you first have to correctly identify the problem. Republicans have been crowing for ages that climate change is not the result of human beings, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus, and once counted Muller as an ally – or at least a legitimate skeptic who bolstered their denial. It's clear now that Muller is firmly in the other camp.

A few thoughts on Intelligent Design

I was perusing the algorithmically-generated recommended videos on Youtube the other day when I found a creationist video that claims to be a refutation of Richard Dawkins' "best evidence for evolution video". Turns out this chap has his own blog, called The New Creationist, which is an Intelligent Design advocacy website – which basically means it criticizes evolution all the time, since ID basically amounts to "evolution can't explain it, ergo the best explanation is Goddidit".

As a layman, I'm reasonably well-versed in physics. Which is to say that I've read several popular science books on physics by people like Lisa Randall, Brian Greene and Stephen Hawking. I've read lots of stuff by Sean Carroll at his blog Cosmic Variance, and I've read many articles in Scientific American over the years. In every case, these are people who have achieved prestigious academic positions and whose work is rigorously peer-reviewed. But that doesn't mean I fancy myself a physicist, or have any idea how to make sense of a page full of equations. It's just that I have a good enough grasp on the concepts to know when someone is representing them dishonestly – which is why I've spent many a blog post criticizing the Christian apologist William Lane Craig for positioning himself as some sort of expert on physics while spreading all kinds of misinformation.

27 July 2012

A quick thought on Chik-Fil-A

I love that the Jim Henson Company withdrew their toys from the restaurant after the CEO's bigoted, idiotic remarks (and how Chik-Fil-A was caught red-handed lying about it). I love that people are protesting and, y'know, not eating there.

I'm not really a fan of mayors or other government figures interfering with free commerce. If someone wants to open something like, I dunno, The Klu Klux Klan Steak Soup and Sandwich Co., they have every right to do that. And people who have a problem with their viewpoint do not have to support them.

I think that it may be lost that Chik-Fil-A, to my knowledge, does not require its employees or managers to affirm their opposition to gay marriage in order to be hired. Most people who have such jobs are probably just normal folks trying to make ends meet. The personal politics of the CEO really aren't anyone else's business. That's not to say I don't think that his remarks warrant a boycott by conscionable people, because they do, but it's naive to blame the whole chain for the remarks of one douchebag millionaire. 

Personally, I avoid Chik-Fil-A mainly because it's shitty food.

24 July 2012

People see an angel in Aurora

KOKH FOX 25 in Aurora, CO, is reporting that there has been a huge response to a picture they posted of the theater where the shooting occurred, with many people saying that they "can see the outline of an angel in the clouds above the theater."

Okay, so, here's the image:

Yup, that's clearly an angel. Or the Eye of Sauron. Or... some clouds.

This is yet another fine example of how dumb people can be when they're up to their ears in religious delusions. Hey, maybe instead of hovering over the place in the clouds, that angel could have gotten off his ass and stopped the shooter before he killed a bunch of people.


23 July 2012

Jeff Foxworthy to host a Bible-themed gameshow. Seriously.

Jeff Foxworthy, who apparently is a comedian by trade (who knew?), is going to be hosting a show called The American Bible Challenge. The slogan? "If you don't know the Bible, you haven't got a prayer!" Here's the exciting trailer...

Wow! This has never been done before! OR HAS IT...................

22 July 2012

A quick thought on William Lane Craig's forthcoming lecture in Tulsa

I want to go, but I don't really want to pay $30 to see a guy who has gazillions of videos on Youtube, a podcast and a free website. Plus, FreeOK was only $10. But that's okay – I'm pretty sure I already know what Craig is going to say. From the article in the Tulsa World (emphasis mine):
Craig will speak in Tulsa on what some atheists have called the Achilles heel of Christianity: how can a good God allow suffering?

He said he will argue that "the suffering in the world is neither logically incompatible with the existence of God, nor does it render God's existence improbable."

"The atheist has to say, when he sees suffering, that it is highly improbable that God could have a morally justifiable reason for permitting this to occur." 
This is a perfect example of how thick the sophistry is with Christian apologetics. This answer really amounts to nothing more than: "The Lord works in mysterious ways". Craig is saying that the atheist cannot disprove the idea that God has justifiable reasons for allowing suffering to happen. Whether we actually know what those reasons are is irrelevant, because God knows more than we do (being omniscient and all). So the theist only has to trust that God has his reasons for allowing suffering – y'know, 'it's all part of His plan' and all that jazz – and since the atheist cannot demonstrate that to be wrong, Craig declares victory. Checkmate, atheists!

Here's why that is complete and total bullshit:

This answer assumes that in the end, God will right all the wrongs. Suffering will go away. People who love God will live in eternal perfect happiness; those (like me) who don't believe will live in eternal misery and suffering, or something unpleasant like that. The bad people, like Hitler, will be punished forever. In the end, there will be justice.

But how does that change anything? Let's say that Hitler goes to hell and suffers infinite punishment for all eternity. Well, the nice thing about infinite punishment is that it can never get any worse! But making Hitler suffer would not change what happened. It wouldn't erase the pain and suffering of the millions of victims of the Reich. It wouldn't erase the agonizing loss that the victims' loved ones had to endure.

I've told the story before about how, when I worked as a physical therapy tech, I saw an eight-year-old girl dying of brain cancer. Let's say she goes to heaven and has infinite happiness. Well, the downside to infinite happiness is that it'll never get any better! But all her eternal happiness will not change what she endured, as she wilted from a spirited child to a vegetable without the ability to speak, walk, and play. Just as nothing can make up for the loss of Holocaust victims, nothing can make up for the suffering that so many innocent people endure.

And above all, Craig's response ignores the most important part of the problem: that God, if he is omnipotent, did not have to have a divine plan which requires suffering. And if God could not have a divine plan without suffering, he's not omnipotent.

Why would God's plan require little girls to die of brain cancer? Why would anyone want to be a part of that plan? Of course, apologists like Craig cannot answer these questions. They can only say that God works in mysterious ways, and you just have to have faith that everything is a part of his Perfect Divine Plan.

Well, guess what? You don't have to buy it. There's a much simpler explanation for suffering – one that fits with observation and does not require us to make excuses for a deity with unknowable motivations:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." - Richard Dawkins

21 July 2012

William Lane Craig will be in Tulsa

My favorite apologist punching bag, William Lane Craig, is coming to Tulsa. He'll be speaking on God and suffering as part of a two-day conference at a local church. I had to chuckle at the quotes from the article in the local paper:

Craig, who will speak in the Tulsa area next weekend, in recent years has debated the so-called "four horsemen of the new atheism" - Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens.

"In each case," he said, "they were not able to effectively argue for the truth of their view, nor were they able to respond to criticisms of their position. ... They've been surprisingly weak in responding to criticism."

Errr... I'm pretty sure he hasn't debated Dan Dennett (who, being a philosopher by trade, would probably make a formidable opponent). And he hasn't directly debated Dawkins. But anyway, I gotta love how self-congratulatory he is. According to himself, he's soundly defeated every atheist he's debated. Did any of his opponents admit defeat, or even to a specific weak argument? Is there a lick of evidence that his debates have effectively persuaded a significant number of atheists to switch sides?
Craig said the rash of books, debates and programs about atheism is a recent phenomenon that is accurately called the "new atheism."

"One of the differences is that the new atheism wants to eliminate religious belief, not merely from the public square, but even from the private lives of citizens," he said.
We do? That's news to me. Although I suppose it depends on what you mean... if you mean we want to persuade people to think critically and reject religion voluntarily, yes! If you mean we want to stop other people from acting on their religious freedom, no! In fact it's atheists, far more than Christians, who have been busy defending egalitarian religious liberty against Christian privilege in this country. (NY mosque debate, anyone?)

He said students may give lip service to moral relativism, but very few actually believe it and none of them live it.

"Students are deeply committed to moral values and moral absolutes.

Objective morality does not exist (and nobody believes in it anyway)

Self-congratulatory grin ENGAGE

I may go to this, just for the sake of seeing this quasi-celebrity continually try to break his record for "most bullshit spoken in the least amount of time."

A little meme I made in response to Rick Warren's tweet on the Aurora shootings

Rick Warren says Aurora shooting is because we teach evolution

The Onion's article proves true again (see previous post) with another stupid quote from a religious nut. This one is from Rick Warren, author of the Christian bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. This is his Tweet:

Sigh. I could go off on this one, but I already saw a great response from Youtuber Evid3nc3, via his Facebook page:
The theory of evolution in no way diminishes the differences between humans and other animals. It is easily verifiable that humans are substantially more intelligent, empathetic, and thoughtful than other animals. Just because we share a common ancestor with vicious animals in no way means we have to act like them.

To the contrary, it is precisely because we have evolved larger brains than vicious animals that we can recognize this behavior as destructive to our future survival. And survival is what evolution is all about.
I would also add that, as Frans De Waal has often said, most species survive through interdependent group living, not through individual conquest. Animals – especially primates – share food, divide labor, care for the sick and wounded, and mourn their dead. Our ability to empathize and sympathize with each other forms a continuity with our evolutionary ancestry – it's not something we invented.

20 July 2012

How to prevent shootings: Jesus and guns

It had been no more than a few minutes after I read this priceless piece over at The Onion...

Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting's Aftermath Will Play Out

...which contains this great line...
"The nation's citizens also confirmed that, any time now, some religious figure or cable news personality will say something unbelievably insensitive about the tragic shooting."
...when I read this....

Louie Gohmert: Aurora Shootings Result Of 'Ongoing Attacks On Judeo-Christian Beliefs'

...which contains priceless quotes like this:
"People say ... where was God in all of this?" Gohmert said. "We've threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God's name, they're going to be jailed ... I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don't want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.
And this one which (I think) is from former Rep Ernest Istook of my home state of Oklahoma:
"It does make me wonder, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?"

Okay. Breathe, Mike.

How stupid is all of this? Let me count the ways. I mean golly, let's first go back to those idyllic, halcyon days when everyone was a Christian and there was no murder, no injustice, no slavery, no genocide... oh wait, that's right, Christians have spent the vast majority of their history doing those things.

And let's ignore the fact that although news stories like this give the impression that violence is on the rise, violence is actually on the decline and has been for quite some time, even as religion has become less and less important to Americans. Or we could ignore the fact that per capita, the "Bible belt" states are more violent than more secular coastal states.

Oh, but the guns. Yes, why didn't everyone have guns? Surely this is powerful evidence we need open-carry laws. So what happens when someone starts shooting in a dark movie theater, and everyone starts whipping out their guns? Who shoots who? Everyone is scared shitless and shooting at each other in the dark. That couldn't possibly go wrong! Then the cops arrive on the scene, and instead of one shooter, they have a whole theater full of them. Who started it? Who's the bad guy? 

Well, we've got the requisite stupid conservative quote. Now we just need someone blaming it on video games and heavy metal.

17 July 2012

Update, and a talk from Sean Carroll

I apologize for the slow going lately. It's a combination of being slammed at work and being totally smitten with a fantastic woman. The free time I have left has been spent practicing guitar, which always takes precedence over blogging.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be back in the groove soon as work settles down, but in the meantime here's an outstanding talk from Sean Carroll. First he contends that our understanding of the universe doesn't leave room for spirits or higher purpose and meaning; then he explains how we can still find purpose and meaning. It mirrors my own thoughts on the subject almost exactly, but he's a way smarter guy than I am.

14 July 2012

What is secularism?

Yet another superb video from QualiaSoup. There's a lot of stuff about religion in the UK, but it's still a great discussion of the meaning and implications of secularism and why it is just as important for the religious as it is for the non-religious.

11 July 2012

Foundation Beyond Belief members raise tens of thousands for charity

I remember reading some time back  that believers are supposedly more charitable givers than non-believers. If that is indeed the case, I suspect that most of the discrepancy lies in the fact that church-based charities are so commonplace and readily accessible. It may be a little tougher for non-believers to get involved with communities that give them easy access to secular charities. You know, herding cats and all that jazz.

But, we're getting more organized. One of the cool things is that it's getting easier for non-believers to find various secular charities. So yesterday Hemant Mehta had some encouraging news: Foundation Beyond Belief members have raised over $42k in just the last three months – for a variety of charities.

I strongly believe that religious people who give to charity do so the vast majority of the time not out of some sense of religious duty, but out of their sense of human solidarity – nothing more than a desire to help others because it makes us feel good about ourselves and makes the world a little better place for all of us. This number is undoubtedly a very, very small sliver of charity from non-believers (since it's strictly FBB members), but it's encouraging. It proves yet again that we can be good people just for the sake of being good, without having to believe in a supernatural dictator.

10 July 2012

Heavy metal is Satanic witchcraft music

... and if you listen to it, you will go to hell!

Whenever I see stuff like the video below, in this day and age (as in, not the 1980s) I keep thinking it's gotta be a joke. Surely no one is really this deluded. But yes...

The anthropologist Pascal Boyer, in his book Religion Explained, contends that it's a myth that people believe in religion because it gives them comfort. The reason is that religious beliefs themselves function by fabricating a pathology, and then offering a cure from their own disease.

Think about Christianity: its fundamental doctrine is that you are corrupt. You deserve to burn in hell for all eternity. And it's not necessarily anything you did – you were simply born this way, as a fallen sinner. There's nothing you can personally do to change your fate – no good deed or life well lived can save you; only by accepting Jesus as your savior can you be saved from the horrible fate you were thrust into simply because of your mere humanity.


The practice of religion is the same. Believers see themselves as being under constant threat from the rest of the world, from demons or other malicious spirits, from worldly temptations of all kinds, etc. etc. Witness, for example, the hilariously dumb "Christian side hug" that some churches promote because they're just that scared that hugging someone will lead to promiscuous sex.

Which brings me to this video I saw earlier today. Being a metalhead to the core, I can't help but chuckle a little at the sheer stupidity on display here. But more so, I just don't envy these Christians at all. They live in constant fear of the world around them. It's them vs. everyone else. What a shitty way to live.

08 July 2012

George Will on climate change: "It's just summer"

According to political analyst and, apparently, climate change expert George Will, the hot weather we're experiencing is "just summer" and we should "get over it".

Right, except for the fact that 16 of the last 17 years have been the hottest on record.

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Michio Kaku on the possible Higgs discovery

One of the constants of the science of physics (well... all science, actually) is that it has a way of doing away with religious claims about the nature of reality. Because let's be honest... religious claims are just tales that primitive people made up. Science is actually based on, y'know, evidence. Here Michio Kaku talks about how the Higgs Boson will allow us to peer where Pope John Paul II once warned Stephen Hawking not to peer – before the big bang, before the so-called "moment of creation".

07 July 2012

An interesting perspective on fine-tuning

I really just wanted to re-post this from Debunking Christianity, where a user by the moniker D Rizdek had a great comment on this thread. It's a unique perspective on the old fine-tuning canard that I've never heard before, and I'm only going to add to it with a little topical self-promotion. Anyway, here's the quote:

Fine tuning only makes sense if there is no god. If there is no god, then it is quite remarkable that all the universal constants seem to be "just so" such that matter/energy comes together in atoms, then molecules, that gravity is "just right" so that planets and suns form that give off light that nurtures life, blah blah. But that's only remarkable if there's no god. But of course that indicates there's no god.

If there IS a god, then it's all mundane. It's all arbitrary. Matter and energy can behave anyway this god wants it to. There need be no universal constants at all, or they can be ANYTHING this god desires, because,well, it's god. God can design things any it want's to. Life need not have a planet it live on IF god designed it otherwise. Matter/energy need not come together to form atoms, planets and stars. What would be the point if life doesn't need them. Besides, if god wanted atoms, planets or start, they'd just appear without any constants. Because that's what gods do. It's only after applying human limitations on god that one can use the argument from fine tuning. The reasoning is that because WE are limited in how we must interact with the immutable physical universe, somehow the theist becomes ingrained in thinking their god must also be thus limited. They believe he must come up with "just so" constants otherwise nothing would work.

Giant gas cloud in lifeless void, clearly proving the universe was designed to support life

05 July 2012

On the Thunderf00t debacle at Freethought Blogs

I thought Freethought Blogs was a stupid idea when I first heard it, because I knew it would just encourage a groupthink mindset... you know, the kind of thing that we self-proclaimed "free thinkers" generally desire to stay away from.

Thank you, PZ Myers, for proving me right. As if you hadn't gone downhill enough already during 'Elevatorgate'.

And this once again shows that for whatever reason, dissent of any kind on topics related to 'feminism' – even if it is simply misperceived – turns certain people in the atheist community into raving idiots who just shout past each other. I'm extraordinarily disappointed in the behavior of PZ, Greta Christina, and countless commentators who laced the posts with bitter vitriol and straw-man arguments. This whole charade has shown that "Freethought Blogs" is really nothing of the sort, and anyone with a modicum of common sense who is still blogging there should run for the hills.

04 July 2012

Da Fourf

I think it's kind of odd that we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence instead of the end of the Revolutionary War. The war ended some seven years after the Declaration was signed, so if we'd lost the war it would have been... I dunno, kind of embarrassing maybe.

Anyway, this is what I did for the fourth. If you pay attention, you can spot me for like two seconds.

NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

More anticlimactic Higgs hype

Honestly, the whole "We think we may be close to finding the Higgs boson!" or "We had data that indicates we may have found it!" stuff is getting old.

What was announced today is not that the Higgs has been found. According to an article over on PBS,
ATLAS and CMS won’t find the Higgs itself, though; it disappears too quickly, decaying into other subatomic particles. It’s those particles that we’re looking for in the ATLAS and CMS data. Depending on the true mass of the Higgs boson, it could decay in several different ways. Seeing an excess of these decay products is an indication that we might have discovered the Higgs.
And that’s what we found! In the shrapnel of the LHC’s powerful collisions, the CMS experiment detected more pairs of photons and Z bosons than we can explain without some new kind of physics appearing.

Don't get me wrong, that's definitely exciting... well, in a massively nerd-tastic sort of way. But come on. Umpteen blogs and news outlets were following the conference at CERN today. Many a fellow geek on Facebook shared update after update. And the end result? A resounding maybe:
It is very important to stress that neither experiment team has claimed to have observed the Higgs boson. They have observed something without a doubt, but the Standard Model Higgs boson is a very specific thing. To be sure we’re seeing the Higgs boson and not a lookalike, we need to see it in all of the predicted decay modes.
Oh, so basically just another "we're getting closer!" announcement. Sigh. Just call me when they actually find the damn thing, alright? Geez.

In case this Higgs boson stuff is all Greek to you, Sean Carrol's live blogging of the seminar has some tidbits that nicely explain why it's a big deal in physics, and you can get a more complete explanation from this older entry at Cosmic Variance by John Conway.

02 July 2012

Sloppy science reporting on spanking

Just for the sake of disclosure, I'm going to make my stance on spanking children clear at the outset: I'm against it in all forms and all circumstances. There's no evidence that it's effective, and plenty of evidence that it could be harmful. Spanking is fine among consenting adults, and that's pretty much it. Perhaps the only reason it persists is because of dogmatism that holds the Biblical adage "spare the rod, spoil the child" above actual scientific research. The American Academy of Pediatrics is abundantly clear on spanking:
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child for any reason. If a spanking is spontaneous, parents should later explain calmly why they did it, the specific behavior that provoked it, and how angry they felt. They also might apologize to their child for their loss of control. This usually helps the youngster to understand and accept the spanking, and it models for the child how to remediate a wrong. [1]
Not that science has ever deterred Bible-thumpers ("the AAP is a bunch o' liberals!" I can hear them crying, stupidly).


An article posted on Yahoo! today shows some sloppy science reporting that's reporting on some sloppy science. The headline is sufficiently alarmist: Spanking Linked to Mental Illness, Says Study.

Wait a second though. What to they mean, "linked to"? Has a study established a causal relationship here, or is it merely correlational? Let's find out!
Researchers examined data from more than 34,000 adults and found that being spanked significantly increased the risk of developing mental health issues as adults.
Ah. So, it's an epidemiological study. That means the data is correlational, not causal. Such studies can be highly misleading – they can have hundreds, even thousands of correlations. But we have to guard against the fallacy of cum hoc, ergo propter hoc – correlation does not prove causality. The article continues:
According to their results, corporal punishment is associated with mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, as well as personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse. They estimate that as much as 7 percent of adult mental illness may be attributable to childhood physical punishment, including slapping, shoving, grabbing, and hitting. The study reports that spanking ups the risk of major depression by 41 percent, alcohol and drug abuse by 59 percent, and mania by 93 percent, among other findings.
Since the data is correlational, it's possible that spanking doesn't actually cause or even directly contribute to any form of mental illness. It could be that people who are raised by parents who themselves suffer from mental illness and/or addiction are more likely to be spanked, but that the actual mental illness is the result of genetics and/or other environmental factors.

The article is also a little fudgy on what, exactly, is meant by "spanking". Spanking, like many facets of child discipline, exists on a spectrum of severity and frequency that is thick with gray.
"We're not talking about just a tap on the bum," study author Tracie Afifi, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, explained in a statement. "We were looking at people who used physical punishment as a regular means to discipline their children." However, the analysis excluded individuals who reported more severe maltreatment such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence.
So this becomes critical: even if a causal link could be established between spanking and mental illness, where along the spectrum of severity does spanking's impact cross from "trivial" to "problematic"? And note that the study's authors aren't solely referring to spanking, but also to "slapping, shoving, grabbing, and hitting". That just makes the article's headline, and the researchers' conclusions, even more dubious.

Epidemiological studies have their place, but we have to be careful not to draw direct conclusions from them. If anything, this study is little more than a stepping stone that says we ought to investigate the relationship between mental illness and spanking – if there is one – a bit more closely.