The Shroud Comes to Plano

Old NTS Logo

This is from 24 years ago. I don’t see the Shroud of Turin in the news much now. In 1990 the world of the gee-whiz was still getting over the result of some analyses of the Shroud. Two years previous the keepers of this artifact allowed carbon-14 tests to be conducted by the University of Oxford, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Working independently these agencies had “concluded with 95% confidence that the shroud material dated to 1260–1390 AD.”

The original was published in our early newsletter, which was hard copy only, and there was not much opportunity for embedded links (the WWW was still a few years away), and our ability to do images was about nil. I have revised this from the original by inserting links and an image.

by John Blanton

On a Saturday in August a friend of mine who is an ardent creationist phoned me to tell me about an exhibit he had just attended. A shopping mall in Plano was featuring a rather impressive display of photos and history of the famous “Shroud of Turin,” said by its proponents to have been the burial cloth of Jesus, and said by its detractors to be a fourteenth century artifact. The evidence, I was told, was impressive. I took this as some testimonial by someone who was not a Catholic and resolved to take in the exhibit before it closed.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

The display lived up to all of its billing. The centerpiece consisted of three large color transparencies fitted together to form a life-size photo of the cloth (which usually is kept in a silver case at a church in Turin, Italy). Mounted display panels told the story of the Shroud and vouched for its authenticity. Furthermore, two highly articulate speakers lectured at length to a very attentive crowd.

The two speakers (who later introduced themselves as Larry [Crowder] and Chuck) were with the Shroud Society of Texas, which may or may not have some association with STURP (the Shroud of Turin Research Project). After Larry had talked mainly about the historical and the religious significance of the shroud, Chuck got into the meatier aspects.

Allowing the carbon 14 dating tests to be performed, Chuck told his listeners, was a big mistake. Proponents had miscalculated gravely in letting a single test determine the shroud’s authenticity. The tests, he announced, had been badly botched in a number of ways: 1) The chain of custody of the samples had been broken (they had been left unattended for some time in a room). 2) The samples had been taken from a region where reweaving indicates some repairs have been made using newer material. 3) Besides that, carbon 14 dating is old hat. The uranium-thorium process has superseded the C-14 process. Chuck further related how the results of the tests had been unscrupulously leaked to the press in October of 1988, prior to publication in a legitimate scientific journal. Fortunately, Chuck explained, an unauthorized test (that presumably did not have all of these problems) had dated the fabric at AD 200, which, apparently, was close enough.

Chuck saved his best for last. He told of STURP scientist John Jackson‘s “vertical mapping” process which led him to conclude that the image on the cloth had been imprinted as the cloth (previously resting on the supine body of Jesus) fell straight down through the body to the table below. This, we were told, was an example of a new kind of physics. This was the physics of miracles. An event that happens once and cannot be repeated is not natural, but is miraculous. When I later asked Larry about this analysis, he referred me to Jackson’s published work. He told me to check Applied Optics, 1982 and 1984 for particulars, and he went on to say that Jackson will publish his actual calculations in the future (where, we were not told). NTS Secretary Mark Meyer was able find “Correlation of image intensity on the Turin Shroud with the 3-D structure of a human body shape” in Applied Optics, Vol. 23, No. 14 (pp 2244 – 2270). It is a very detailed article, with charts, photos and computer-generated images. I have not had the time to read it.

After Larry’s talk, and before Chuck got up to speak, I went up and introduced myself to Larry. He saw that I was taking notes and asked me if I was an interviewer. By way of introduction, I gave him a copy of The North Texas Skeptic (a mistake, as it turned out) and allowed him to read it while I listened to Chuck. When Chuck was finished I once again conversed with Larry, and he began by stating that he hated to offend me by accusing me of being non-objective (I told him to go right ahead).

Relations between Larry and me seemed to go down hill from there, and he later came up to me a couple of times to tell me he did not have time to talk to me. The speakers had previously announced that the SST held regular meetings in this area and that the public was welcome to attend. When I indicated to Larry that I was interested in attending, he declined to reveal anything about meeting times or places, and he said that I (and the rest of us Skeptics) would not be welcome there. I was crushed. He said they only wanted believers at their meetings. He asked how would I like it if he came to one of our meetings and asked a lot of embarrassing questions (I told him to go right ahead). He said he didn’t think he would do that, because in his line of work he saw a lot of human injuries. I couldn’t make any sense out of that line of talk, but Larry was so pleasant about it that we went on to other issues. He says that the SST provides objective information and makes no attempts at conversion. He, Larry, presents his own opinion.

So there you have it. If we were to rely on what we read in Scientific American or Newsweek for our information we might go on thinking the shroud was manufactured in the fourteenth century so that someone could charge admission for its exhibit. We might not know how faulty the C-14 dating process is (especially when mishandled by a bunch of skeptical scientists). And we would probably not know about the physics of miracles.

At one point during our conversation, Larry accused me of planning to write a biased article, but I promised him that I would be completely objective. How am I doing so far, Larry? Lest readers think this is a one-sided testimonial for the authenticity of the shroud, allow me to present a few words from the other side. Readers will have to follow up on these leads for themselves. You are not going to hear anything derisive from me.

CSICOP Fellow, Joe Nickell, has written a book entitled Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, and excerpts have been printed in “Unshrouding a Mystery: Science, Pseudoscience, and the Cloth of Turin”, appearing in the spring issue of the Skeptical Inquirer. Joe Nickell’s article lists several references, pro and con. Here are some of them:

Heller, John. 1983. Report on the Shroud of Turin. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Schlafly, Phyllis. 1979. Proven by Shroud of Turin “The Most Remarkable Miracle in History.” St. Louis Globe Democrat, December 13. Stevenson, Kenneth E., and Gary R Habermas. Verdict on the Shroud. 1981. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books. Wilson, Ian. 1979. The Shroud of Turin, revised edition. Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books.

Also, in Science Confronts the Paranormal, edited by Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier and consisting of excerpts from S.I., is an article by Marvin M. Mueller entitled “The Shroud of Turin: a critical appraisal.” In the same volume is “Shroud image is the work of an artist” by forensic microanalyst Walter McCrone.

MIOS

Old NTS Logo

This is one of the first items I wrote about MIOS for The Skeptic, as our newsletter was called back then. This was one of the more enjoyable aspects of my visits to these creationist meetings. I met Clyde McKnight and his wonderful family. Clyde and people like him kept reminding me that creationists are not a mass of uneducated people. Dr. McKnight is like so many well-educated people who follow their faith rather than the facts presented to them.

REPORT ON MIOS PROGRAM ON WATER CANOPY

by John Blanton

The Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) is a local group supporting the “creation science” concept. MIOS meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Wadley Blood Center. I urge skeptics to attend these meetings and weigh the evidence presented there. Contact me for details. The following is a report on one of their meetings, which was attended by Scott Faust, Ron Hastings and myself:

The speaker of the evening was Dr. Clyde V. McKnight, who holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Nevada at Reno. Dr. McKnight spoke on the physical basis for a water canopy that would have preceded Noah’s flood (and would provide the flood waters themselves). We three from the NTS were there, eager to hear what support a qualified scientist could provide for the biblical flood story.

Dr. McKnight started by citing some of the usual, non-scientific, bases for the flood, such as the direct description of the flood in the Bible and the biblical implications of conditions in the time preceding the flood. Then, before he detailed his thoughts on the physical basis for such an event, particularly the basis for the water canopy, he outlined some of the personal beliefs that have helped him form his hypotheses.

Dr. McKnight stated that he firmly believes the “laws of physics are operative at all times (e.g., gravity and the second law of thermodynamics always apply). However, he went on to state that “Miraculous events are not subject to scientific analysis,” that “the effects of miracles are [however] subject to scientific analysis,” and, finally, that “the laws of physics are at the discretion of God.” He went on to state that “Unfounded conclusions have no scientific basis,” and there is “no [such thing as] continuous miracles.”

The four concepts for a water canopy are, as Dr. McKnight described them, 1) an ice canopy model, 2) a water canopy model, 3) a cloud canopy model and 4) a water vapor canopy model. Dr. McKnight quickly threw out the first three models as having no valid bases. They were either insupportable by physical laws or else do not coincide with the biblical record. The vapor canopy model, however, he asserted was the “most logical model.”

The hypothesized water vapor canopy in the earth’s atmosphere would be equivalent to forty feet of liquid water covering the surface of the Earth, and it would be stabilized by temperature inversions. Its presence during the biblical period prior to the flood would have the following effects:

Heat from the sun would be trapped in the earth’s atmosphere (the greenhouse effect). Differential heating of the vapor canopy (equatorial solar heat flux versus polar heat flux) would produce jet stream-like flows in the atmosphere (Dr. McKnight concedes this is only a guess and that no analysis has been done to support this contention). These jet stream flows would produce uniform ground temperatures from the equator to the poles (and result in a more ideal earthly climate).

There are objections to this vapor canopy model, and Dr. McKnight has outlined them: A temperature of approximately 220 degrees F at its base would be required to keep this layer in vapor form, and the addition of a regular atmosphere of air below this layer would result in a two-atmosphere surface pressure. Dr. McKnight, however, sees this doubling of the surface pressure resulting in the presence of larger animal life forms [than we have now] prior to the flood. He credits this possibility to the increased partial pressure of oxygen under these conditions, and he cited hyperbaric chamber evidence (without giving specifics) to support this.

Finally, the condensation of all of this water over a short period, Dr. McKnight stated, would result in the release of 10.86 X 10^24 calories of heat energy, and this would cause a 2100 degree Celsius temperature rise in the atmosphere. I was sitting in the front row while Dr. McKnight was giving his talk, so I could not see Ron Hastings sitting in the back, getting ready to make an objection. This last statement stopped Ron cold. The figures agreed with what Ron had come up with, and he just threw up his hands. There was no need for a skeptic to come to a meeting to get a physics lesson from a creationist.

Dr. McKnight stated that due to these facts, the flood could “not [be] supported by the laws of physics,” and “a miracle is the only answer.”

I, personally, had no trouble with that. My only objection would have been with any contention that there was a scientific basis for the flood. Dr. McKnight and I both work for the same giant electronics company, and the following day I sent him a note through the company mail telling him how much I enjoyed his talk and how I agreed with his contention that there was no scientific basis for the flood. The following is Dr. McKnight’s reply in full:

March 11, 1990Dear John,

Thanks for your note – giving talks is not exactly my cup of tea. Most of the people I know would not try to do away with the miraculous, but there may be some problem knowing exactly what part of such an event supersedes natural laws – esp. an event like the flood. There are some who have a problem ever finding a specific point where they will say it was supernatural. Other events which we would call “miracles” do not violate any natural laws – as in many of the events of the book of Esther.

As to there being no physical, scientific basis for the flood, it depends on what you mean. I believe that the cause of the flood was supernatural in some respects. There is, however, a physical, scientific basis for the flood in the geologic record. Modern science is no longer comfortable with the idea of a world-wide flood and its possible religious implications. It has set about to reinterpret data which was previously accepted as resulting from such a flood. I did try to emphasize that science can evaluate the results of a miracle -this would include the flood.

I really feel that belief in the miraculous is an area where we have much in common with evolutionist. Although there is no real evidence to support the theory of evolution (and much to the contrary); yet the theory is adhered to with an unshakable religious faith because “the only alternative is unthinkable.”

Sincerely yours,

Clyde

One of the benefits of putting out your own newsletter is that you get to have the last word.

Dr. McKnight has missed the point entirely. By hanging his argument on a miracle, he has defeated it entirely. If he is allowed to invoke a miracle whenever his thesis gets into a bind on a scientific basis, then he can have anything he wants. He doesn’t need to do field research, and he doesn’t need evidence. He is free to make any assertion he wants (even one that does not agree with the biblical account), and no one can successfully contradict him. There is absolutely no way to rationally counter an argument that allows for miracles (in favor of the argument). To attempt to do so would be like playing chess with an opponent who has his hand on your king. Check your opponent and, bingo, the game is over. He invokes a miracle and removes your king.

To validate his case, Dr. McKnight must prove it from the weakest position. He must discard all of his special privileges and his what if’s. He must then bring forth real evidence of such overpowering magnitude and credibility that no argument will stand up against it. That is the way that science works. That is what stands behind the laws of gravity, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. And right now, that is what stands behind the present theories of biology and geology.

Chris Kyle Saga Continues

338MAG

In my review of American Sniper by Chris Kyle I mentioned his run-in with another former Navy SEAL, Jesse Ventura:

The death of Chris Kyle did not put to rest the litigation with former SEAL Jesse Ventura. In his book, without explicitly naming Ventura, Kyle recounts the former governor made disparaging remarks about current SEAL activities, and Kyle decked him in a barroom fight. Ventura denied the encounter ever took place and sued Kyle for defamation. One might think that Kyle’s untimely death would have put an end to the suit, but Ventura has continued the litigation, this time against the Kyle estate. The issue has not been resolved as of this date.

Here is what Kyle said in his book:

We went back over to our side of the bar and had a few more drinks. In the meantime, Scruff started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it. President Bush was an asshole. We were only over there because Bush wanted to show up his father. We were doing the wrong thing, killing men and women and children and murdering.

And on and on. Scruff said he hates America and that’s why he moved to Baja California. 9/11 was a conspiracy.

And on and on some more.

The guys were getting upset. Finally, I went over and tried to get him to cool it. “We’re all here in mourning,” I told him. “Can you just cool it? Keep it down.”

“You deserve to lose a few,” he told me.

Then he bowed up as if to belt me one.

I was uncharacteristically level-headed at that moment.

“Look,” I told him, “why don’t we just step away from each other and go on our way?”

Scruff bowed up again. This time he swung.

Being level -headed and calm can last only so long. I laid him out.

Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.

Kyle, Chris; McEwen, Scott; DeFelice, Jim (2013-10-15). American Sniper: Memorial Edition (p. 311). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

That was some bad stuff, and it goes  heavily against the former governor of Minnesota. Except for three things:

  • In the book Kyle never mentioned Ventura by name.
  • Ventura denied this stuff ever happened.
  • Subsequently in interviews Kyle stated the person in question was indeed the former SEAL.

Chris Kyle included a brief account in his book of a confrontation at a bar in Coronado, California, with a man he called “Scruff Face.” In promotional interviews, Kyle identified the man as Ventura, a former SEAL who became a pro wrestler and movie actor before being elected for one term as Minnesota governor in 1998. Ventura was in Coronado for a SEAL reunion and graduation ceremony.

Ventura may not be the most popular person in SEAL society. For one thing, he was never in combat:

Ventura has frequently referred to his military career in public statements and debates. He was criticized by hunters and conservationists for stating in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribunein April 2001, “Until you have hunted men, you haven’t hunted yet.”

In January 2002, Ventura – although he had never outright claimed combat service in Vietnam, but heavily suggested it – disclosed that he had not seen combat. He was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines, and for this he received the Vietnam Service Medal, given to all military personnel who supported the war effort even though stationed outside South Vietnam.

[Some links deleted]

Also, he does not fit the traditional mold of a John Wayne conservative. While conservatives like to picture our war fighters as deeply devout Christians, Ventura voiced the opinion that “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.”

Ventura sued Chris Kyle for defamation, and the suit went forward after Kyle was murdered last year. Now a jury in Minneapolis has ruled in favor of Ventura:

A jury in Minnesota awarded $1.845 million in damages Tuesday to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, deciding that he was defamed by the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle who said he punched Ventura out in a bar in 2006 after the former governor said the SEALs “deserved to lose a few” in war.

That may not settle that. The Kyle estate may appeal the verdict. That might be difficult. Many present at the alleged bar fight have testified that the events in questioned never happened. If the story is not true, then why did Kyle put it in the book? And why did he not offer a retraction in the face of testimony to contrary. The problem is there was not all that much time. Kyle’s book came out in 2012, and he was killed a few weeks later. Not much time for lawyers to straighten things out.

A continuing problem is that other statements by Kyle have not checked out:

As described in D Magazine but not in his autobiography, Kyle was accosted by two robbers at a Dallas area gas station in 2010. According to Kyle, the two robbers were armed and asked for money as well as Kyle’s truck. Kyle was able to divert the robbers’ attention by claiming he had to find his keys, after which he shot and killed both robbers. According to this report, Kyle was released by police after they called the Department of Defense and were told that Kyle was one of the country’s most skilled fighters. Kyle also claimed to, with a friend, shoot and kill 30 looters from the roof of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. Reporters have unsuccessfully attempted to verify both stories.

[Some links deleted]

All that said, sentiment still runs against Ventura. Not known for being a right-wing conservative, CNN reporter Anderson Cooper has decried the continued suit against a dead man. Weighing in on the controversy, Kyle has a strong following among conservative groups. When he was killed last year one of my conservative Facebook friends lamented that President Obama ordered flags lowered over the death of singer Whitney Houston, but not for American hero Chris Kyle. In the true fashion of much conservative comment, this had a couple of things going against it. The President did not order the flag lowered for Whitney Houston, and if we lowered the flag for every war veteran killed at home in a gun fight we would have no use for the top half of the flag pole.

Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you want, but in spite of his short comings I am a fan of Kyle. I even bought his book.

I am also a fan of Jesse Ventura. I never was into the phony wrestling game, but I enjoyed his movies, especially when he teamed up with Schwarzenegger in Predator. I also enjoy that Ventura has a way of telling it like it is in the face of conservative opposition.

Ventura claimed in his suit that he lost revenue (he’s a public performer) due to Kyle’s defamation, and he wanted to get some if back. Kyle’s book has brought millions to his estate, and the movie, coming out next year, is likely to bring in more. Kyle left a widow and a young child, so Ventura’s gain is going to be their loss. I am guessing Kyle’s survivors will still be set for the future even after paying the award and the lawyers. From what I have heard about the case and the other background information, it might be best if his widow lets the matter drop.

Some have remarked that everybody loses this one. I agree.

Palin Palin

Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil from Wikipedia

Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil from Wikipedia

The low down is that I have been catching a lot of flak the past few months. There are complaints that I waste too much blog space on former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Nah.

The fact is I waste just the right amount of blog space on Sarah Palin. And besides, I haven’t been catching all that much flak.

Here’s what I had to say a few months ago:

It was summer of 2008, and I swear I was minding my own business. The news item on my computer screen said that John McCain had just picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. That’s the instant I knew.

It was game over. The next president of the United States was going to be Barack Obama. Thank you, Sarah.

This country will never forget how much it owes the since resigned governor of Alaska. And I won’t, either. I can only hope that, unlike Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin remains active on the political scene for years to come. At least until the time comes when I am no longer able to crawl to my keyboard.

So, Ed, what gift does Sarah Palin have for today’s guests? I’m glad you asked, David. It’s a Facebook posting:

[27 July, 2:07 p.m.]

My Challenge to the Washington Post

To reclaim your credibility (and the mainstream media’s, at large), I challenge you to engage in the same aggressive investigative journalism you courageously employed 42 years ago covering President Nixon. The public knows of our current president’s incompetence, denials, and cover-ups, but would be well served if we could count on your resources to dig deep for truth in all matters pertaining to Team Obama.

One example: your reporters kept tracking an obscure break-in story and that led to revealing a grave problem in the White House. The Washington Post’s reputation soared as the model of good journalism. Today, you’ve fallen like a lead balloon. Whereas you once doggedly covered the 18.5 minute gap in Nixon’s White House communications, you’ve virtually ignored the Obama Administration’s 1.2 million minutes of deleted communications by just one of the agencies under Obama’s executive branch. I’m speaking of the Lois Lerner IRS harassment-of-conservatives scandal wherein Lerner “lost” pertinent email communications. You’ve allowed Obama to skate with his proclamation that absolutely no wrongdoing occurred at the IRS, “not even a smidgen.”

The list of Obama abuses and impeachable offenses is long. I challenge you to lift a finger and help protect democracy, allow justice for all, and ensure domestic tranquility by doing your job reporting current corrupt events fairly. If not, you prove yourselves incompetent and in bed with Obama, not caring one iota about media integrity.

Those running the Washington Post’s show now, compared to those during the Nixon era, are too afraid of being uninvited to the permanent political class’ cocktail parties and petty gossip fests, making you all a bunch of wusses. I challenge you to get to work.

– Sarah Palin

That’s what Sarah Palin is all about. She’s looking out for us and setting The Washington Post straight on some things. See, this is what happened: The Washington Post used to practice good investigative journalism. Forty years ago Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, working for The Washington Post, latched onto the story of a burglary at the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Party, and they kept digging and kept uncovering juicy details until they were finally able to lay bare the facts that brought down President Nixon and some criminal elements associated with him.

Those days are gone now, according to Palin. The Post has lost its vim. It’s a shadow of the public service it was 40 years ago. It’s a lead balloon.

And Palin illustrates with an example.

The list of Obama abuses and impeachable offenses is long. I challenge you to lift a finger and help protect democracy, allow justice for all, and ensure domestic tranquility by doing your job reporting current corrupt events fairly. If not, you prove yourselves incompetent and in bed with Obama, not caring one iota about media integrity.

See that? The Post is in bed with the current administration. They have lost their moral compass (my interpretation).

Sure, Obama and his cohorts are getting away with all sorts of nefarious stuff. and the Post is keeping quiet about it, because they are “too afraid of being uninvited to the permanent political class’ cocktail parties and petty gossip fests …” And how does Palin know all this Obama stuff is going on? She has her own sources, just as we have our own sources. One of the sources she cites it The Washington Post.

[20 July 2014]

Obama Knew of Border “Crisis” Prior to Reelection; Lied About That, Too!

The Washington Post has a bombshell article out about how “top officials at the White House and the State Department had repeatedly been warned of the potential for a further explosion in the number of migrant children since the crisis began escalating two years ago.”

The White House didn’t want to deal with the issue because they were focused on Obama’s 2012 reelection and the push for amnesty, and this burgeoning crisis didn’t look good for the President politically. So they willfully ignored it and in fact actively stoked it when Obama issued his own version of the DREAM Act by executive fiat, which led the illegal immigrants to believe they would be granted amnesty.

Here are the two questions Congress needs to demand answers to: What did the President know and when did he know it?

You may recall that those questions were asked of another President who was also the subject of a Washington Post expose.

– Sarah Palin

See, The Washington Post gave Sarah Palin the ammunition she needed to slam The Washington Post. If that’s not poetic justice, then I’m a Duck Dynasty dude.

What is good that has come out of this is we now know Sarah Palin is back to reading national news publications. Those bad old times of being waylaid by the likes of Katie Couric are hopefully in the past.

COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?

PALIN: I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media, coming f—

COURIC: But like which ones specifically? I’m curious that you—

PALIN: Um, all of ’em, any of ’em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years. Um, I have a va—

COURIC: Can you name a few?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where, it’s kind of suggested and it seems like, ‘Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C. may be thinking and doing when you live up there in Alaska?’ Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

Sarah, if The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Los Angeles Times and those other rag sheets won’t give you the lowdown on the evils of government, you can always read my blog. Only, please promise not to be too harsh on me. I have a gentle nature and am easily offended.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

MIOS

Recently I’ve been thinking about the old days when I would attend meetings of the Metroplex Institute of Origin Science. (MIOS). The newsletter archive of The North Texas Skeptics has a collection of items I wrote about these meetings, and I’m thinking some new readers may be interested in what goes on at a young Earth creationist (YEC) group. This appears to be the first MIOS item I ever posted. It’s from the July/August issue of The Skeptic:

NTS Logo

By John Blanton

The Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) is a local group that claims scientific validity for creationism. At every MIOS meeting there is at least one Skeptic, and we try to keep you informed of their latest claims and developments.

The April MIOS program was billed as a discussion by vice chairman Don Patton on “The Laws of Thermodynamics (devastating evidence against a naturalistic explanation of life, evolution, the universe.)” We were less than devastated.

Don, making use of a high quality, computer-generated slide presentation that would be the envy of a lot of corporate executives, ran up most of the arguments creationists use under this heading:

  1. Things do not get better on their own, they get worse (implying, we were led to understand, that life might spontaneously get shabby and even disappear from this Earth, but it would not develop and thrive on its own).
  2. Life forms represent thermodynamic systems which, according to the famous second law of thermodynamics, must not decrease in entropy (implying that developing life forms represent an increase in organization and a decrease in entropy, something which should not happen without an outside source adjusting the system with his finger).
  3. The information needed to construct a living creature (said information being contained within the genetic material of the life form) is simply too complex to have been formed by accident from the disorganized elements in the atmosphere and the oceans (implying that life forms did not originate spontaneously from a lifeless environment).

Don’s first point is unarguable, since it really does not make any scientific claims. It is just Murphy’s law working.

Don’s second point (as he stated it in his presentation) ignored the correct statement of the second law, which pertains to closed systems. I agree that if any life form is put into a closed box without any interaction with the universe outside of the box, that life form will (given time) decline and fail.

Don’s third point seemed groundless to the Skeptics sitting in the audience. He depicted the spontaneous creation of the genetic code for a specific, highly developed life form as being improbable to the point of being non-existent. None of us disagreed (although Don’s math seemed a little off, I could not follow it closely enough to tell what I was seeing), but none of us had considered that a life form would get started so dramatically. David Dunn took such strong exception to this numerical razz-ma-tazz that he rebuked Don Patton severely during the question and answer period and called him a liar, which accusation Don took quite calmly, to his credit.

John Thomas (who has a degree in physics) and I (with only a couple of B’s in thermodynamics) talked to creationist Clyde McKnight afterward. Clyde exhibited a thorough comprehension of the scientific aspects of the evening’s program, and later that week he sent me a copy of a paper from Physical Review that illustrated the tie-in between the classical second law of thermodynamics and Claude Shannon’s information theory. I pondered how a man, who so had effortlessly put his hand on this technical paper, could hang onto conclusions that are in conflict with his scientific training.

At the May MIOS meeting, chairman Rich Summers announced that MIOS was planning to hold a debate on creation science with delegates from the NTS at one of their future meetings. “We enjoy a debate,” he stated. So do we, Rich. No program was billed for the May meeting, but, after discussing organizational matters, vice chairman Don Patton announced startling revelations concerning the “Burdick Track.”

The “Burdick Track” is a fossil track that was removed from the Glen Rose limestone in the 1940’s by a local inhabitant and kept in his possession until he passed away. It is not supposed to be one of the fake tracks carved in the limestone to attract tourism during the 1930’s. In any event, the implication is that this is the track of a human foot and that it demonstrates that people and dinosaurs lived at the same time. This was the fossil that would put the lie to scientific geology and, thereby, to evolution.

So that was it. Evolution was dead. Killed not by layer after layer of Permian sediment deposited on top of Jurassic stone, not by a fossil australopithecine skull lodged in the petrified jaws of a tyrannosaur, not even by the bones of a jawed fish embedded within a mass of Cambrian rock. No, modern geology, evolution, even large bodies of the sciences of physics and astronomy had been done in by a piece of stone that’s presumably been kicking around somebody’s garage for over forty years. Text books would have to be rewritten, research papers would have to be withdrawn (many posthumously), and geologists and biologists would have to find other lines of work. Provided this really were a human footprint in Cretaceous limestone.

In response to questions about the authenticity of this track, MIOS has had the fossil sectioned (using a lapidary saw) to demonstrate that the material under the pressure points of the footprint exhibits signs of being compressed (signs which are not likely to be there if the footprint were carved). On this night, Don was showing photographs of the fossil and the new cross-sections. Being a Skeptic, I was a little hard to convince. NTS Secretary Mark Meyer was sitting with me in the audience, and I told him, “That doesn’t even look like a human footprint” (it was much wider near the toes, making somewhat triangular in appearance). Wrong again, Mr. Skeptic. Don next threw up a photo of a man with a foot that looked very much like the print. Well, what could I say?

The most startling revelation came after the meeting. I could contain my curiosity no longer. Where did this fossil come from? Is there a left foot to go with this right foot? Is there even a whole trail of footprints? Alas, there was no answer. Don just had the piece of stone (now several pieces) and no field notes from the 40’s to guide paleontologist to the site. There must be some scientific data on this remarkable piece of evidence.

“How old is this footprint?” I asked finally.

“About 110 millions years.”

I was astounded. “You think there were people back then?”

“Oh, no. I don’t believe that.”

“Then who made the footprints in that 110-million year old rock?” I finally got Don Patton to admit that he really thought the rock was only 4500 years old and that the various layers were laid down about twelve hours apart by the daily tides during the great flood (maybe I’m in the wrong business).

Later Mark and I talked to Clyde McKnight about methods for dating rocks. While we indicated we thought radioactive decay methods provided the most reliable approach to computing the age of rocks, Dr. McKnight discounted them completely. He expressed the opinion that radioactive decay rates in times past had been much faster, making the rocks appear much older than he thought they ought to be.

MIOS has since published the photos of this fossil in their newsletter Dino Trax, which is available for interested people at NTS meetings.

I consistently come away from these meetings wondering, “Where is the science in creation science?” I see an undocumented fossil that may or may not be a human footprint being touted as the death knell of biological evolution. I see a pop-culture presentation that purports to refute evolution using well-respected laws of physics. I see postulated historic events or even variations in physical laws being invoked to account for conflicts between hypotheses and data. And I see no real research being performed, no papers being published, nothing concrete being proposed. I invite MIOS vice chairman Don Patton to deliver to our hands, for our study and comment, any statement of scientific principle that has been derived from creation science and by which they are willing to stand.

Christian Nation

True source of racism

From Google Images

I may have been a bit premature. Rash at any rate. Sometimes I make statements without getting all the facts. Like this time a few days ago:

So Ben Stein (and the CSC) want us to know that Darwinism contributes to racism. Really? I wonder if Stein and those at the CSC know what deep-dyed racism looks like. I decided to search out the soul of racism in America, and here is what I found.

What happened was I was reviewing the creationist video Expelled featuring Ben Stein, and in the video Stein and others, some of them creationists, were trying to make the case that Darwinism (otherwise known as the modern science of biological evolution) promoted racism and even contributed to Nazi suppression of Jews including the Holocaust. My impression, without checking my facts, was that a Christian source fostered racism in this country, and in a spirit of over exuberance I posted some photos of a popular American racist organization. That organization is the KKK, the Ku Klux Klan, and I wanted to give readers the impression that this was a Christian organization. I carefully picked for illustration photos that showed KKK members juxtaposed with Christian crosses. See, I wanted readers to think these people were all Christians. But, as I said, I didn’t check my facts. I should have waited:

The leader of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is tired of “a few rogue Klansmen” ruining the group’s reputation, and argues that the group is a non-violent Christian organization.

There, I hope that corrects my earlier mistake. “Frank Ancona, the group’s Imperial Wizard,” went on to make sure it’s understood that they don’t hate other races (those that are not “white”). They just don’t want racial mixing. They want to keep the “white” race “pure.”

The KKKers have been catching flak for leaving recruitment fliers in people’s driveways.

“We want to stay white,” Ancona said. “It’s not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy.”

Similar activity by the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan wasreported in Tinley Park, a suburb of Chicago, in December, after promotional fliers were found in several driveways throughout the town.

“You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake!” the fliers said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

And I don’t know about the rest of you readers, but I know I’m going to sleep tonight knowing Ben Stein and the other creationists are awake and protecting us from Darwinism and other forms of knowledge.

De-constructing Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens (now deceased) has written God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I have not read the book. I need to clear some stuff off my plate before I can take on another review. However, others have read it, and some of the remarks are interesting. Some even object.

Superfluous title

One of those complaining is Curtis White, of all people.

Curtis White is an American essayist and author. He serves as professor of English at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, and as President of the board of directors of the Center for Book Culture. Most of his career has been spent writing experimental fiction, but he has turned recently to writing books of social criticism.

[Some links deleted]

Here is what Curtis White had to say about the Hitchens book, among other things:

While a scientist like Richard Dawkins might be forgiven for not having his philosophic/aesthetic house in order, no such tolerance should be allowed for his notorious comrade-in-arms Christopher Hitchens. In spite of the fact that Hitchens regularly invokes the authority of empiricism and reason—he condemns anything that “contradicts science or outrages reason,” and he concedes something that no poet would: that “proteins and acids … constitute our nature”—he was not a scientist but a literary critic, a journalist, and a public intellectual. So, you would think that the perspective of the arts, literature, and philosophy would find a prominent place in his thought. But that is not the case. He proposes to clear away religion in the name of science and reason. Literature’s function in this brave new world is to depose the Bible and provide an opportunity to study the “eternal ethical questions.”

White posted this on Salon, and it’s an excerpt from his book The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a a Culture of Easy Answers.

One of our most brilliant social critics—and the author of the bestselling The Middle Mind—presents a scathing critique of the delusions of science alongside a rousing defense of the role of art and philosophy in our culture.

The so-called new atheists, most famously Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, made a splash in the new millennium, telling the evangelical and the liberal believer that they must give up religion and submit to science. More recently, neuroscientists and their fans in the media have delivered a variation on this message: the mapping of the human brain will soon be completed, and we will know what we are and how we should act. The message is nearly the same as that of the new atheists: submit to science.

With the growing acceptance of these arguments, argues Curtis White, the rich philosophical debates of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are being abandoned. Though an atheist himself, White fears what this new turn toward “scientism” will do to our culture if allowed to flourish without challenge.

In this brilliant multipart critique, White aims at a TED talk by a distinguished neuroscientist in which we are told that human thought is merely the product of our “connectome”—neural connections in the brain that are yet to be fully understood . . . he examines the ideas of a widely respected physicist who argues that a new understanding of the origins of the universe trumps all religious and philosophical inquiry . . . and ends with an eloquent defense of the poetry and philosophy of Romanticism, which White believes our technology- and science-obsessed world desperately needs to rediscover. It’s the only way, he argues, that we can see our world clearly . . . and change it.

The foregoing review of the White book casts a queer perspective. It’s jarring when juxtaposed against reality. “[T]elling the evangelical and the liberal believer that they must give up religion and submit to science?” I recently critiqued an interview of Richard Dawkins by creationist Ben Stein, and the issue of giving up religion, even abolishing it, came up. Dawkins was blunt with his notion that people who favored religion should be allowed to keep it. They should in no way imagine that religious beliefs reflect fact, but they should hold it close to them if it makes them comfortable.

TheScienceDelusion

Anyhow, that’s just a review of a review of Hitchens’ book. Since I have yet to read either book I’m going to have to give this topic superficial treatment and get serious with another post on down the road. But back to White’s Salon piece. I will just quote a complete sentence:

In spite of the fact that Hitchens regularly invokes the authority of empiricism and reason—he condemns anything that “contradicts science or outrages reason,” and he concedes something that no poet would: that “proteins and acids … constitute our nature”—he was not a scientist but a literary critic, a journalist, and a public intellectual.

That’s saying a lot of things. I do not know what a “public intellectual” is, so I will have to just let that pass. However I could not help noticing that White seems to challenge that “Hitchens regularly invokes the authority of empiricism and reason.” Unless I have grossly misinterpreted the Universe, empiricism and reason are the tools by which people are able to manage the real world. Bankers know empirically that people who do not pay their bills are poor credit risks. They keep their stock holders’ assets safe by reverting to empiricism instead of peering into a crystal ball. And reason? That monster of the human mind raises its ugly head again. Great at designing bridges and rocket ships, but utterly worthless in a poetic couplet. And White takes issue with “proteins and acids … constitute our nature.” Unfortunately for White, proteins and acids and such do constitute our nature at its base. That it’s difficult to infer human nature from this base does not make this fact less true. Hopefully it is truth we are talking about. If we’re not discussing truth, then I am done here. There is no point continuing.

White’s Salon title is “Christopher Hitchens’ lies do atheism no favors.” White notes that he, himself, is an atheist, but he considers Hitchen’s approach dishonest. Like where? White quotes William J. Hamblin:

In discussing the exodus, Hitchens dogmatically asserts: “There was no flight from Egypt, no wandering in the desert . . . , and no dramatic conquest of the Promised Land. It was all, quite simply and very ineptly, made up at a much later date. No Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode either, even in passing. . . . All the Mosaic myths can be safely and easily discarded.” These narratives can be “easily discarded” by Hitchens only because he has failed to do even a superficial survey of the evidence in favor of the historicity of the biblical traditions. Might we suggest that Hitchens begin with Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt and Ancient Israel in Sinai? It should be noted that Hoffmeier’s books were not published by some small evangelical theological press but by Oxford University—hardly a bastion of regressive fundamentalist apologetics. Hitchens’s claim that “no Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode [of Moses and the Israelites] either, even in passing” is simply polemical balderdash.

Dogmatically? This is a reverse. Yesterday dogma was the assertion in the face of known facts that the ancient Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt and that Moses was a real person. Today’s dogma is that there is no archaeological evidence of a Hebrew flight from Egypt, the Pharaoh’s army being swallowed up by the Red Sea and the Hebrew entry into the Promised Land.

Twelve years ago James Cunliffe presented a program for The North Texas Skeptics on biblical historicity. He drew heavily on an item False Testament published in the in the March 2002 issue of Harpers by Daniel Lazare. At the time a number of points came out:

But it ain’t necessarily so. Here are a few of the points of contention raised by recent archeological studies:

  • Use of camels. Abraham sent out a servant with camels to find a wife for his son, Isaac. This was about 2100 to 1800 BCE Actually, camels were not much used for transport in this area until after 1000 BCE
  • Isaac and Abimelech. Abimelech was king of the Philistines, and Isaac sought help from him, which could not be much later than 1800 BCE Problem is, there were no Philistines present until after 1200 BCE
  • Heshbon and Edom. Hebrews fought King Sihon at Heshbon and also the king of Edom. But these two cities did not exist at the time of the supposed battles.
  • Forty years in the Sinai. Archeologists cannot find any trace of such a large number of people living in the Sinai during the time the Jews were supposed to be wandering or camped there.
  • Invasion of Canaan. There is no indication of an invasion. It appears “a distinctive Israelite culture arose locally around 1200 BCE as nomadic shepherds and goatherds ceased their wanderings and began settling down in the nearby uplands” according to Lazare. The Israelites were there all along and were much like other cultures in the area at that time. They differentiated themselves from the others by abstaining from pork, as evidenced by a lack of pig bones in the archeological digs.
  • Envy of the hillbillies. Supposedly David and Solomon of Judah built a great civilization and lived lavishly during the time 1005 to 931 BCE and also ruled over the kingdom of Israel to their north. Archeological evidence does not indicate the southern mountain tribes were all that prosperous. Evidence does exist for a prosperous and worldly tribe of Israel, and there is no indication the two nations were ever joined.

Hamblin faults Hitchens for failing to “survey of the evidence in favor of the historicity of the biblical traditions.” Here first, let me give thanks for calling these “traditions” and not facts. Second, let me note what Hamblin could have cited in favor of the historicity of the biblical traditions:

  • Egyptian writings that mention the enslavement of the Hebrews or even their mere presence in great numbers.
  • Evidence of the destruction of the Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.
  • Evidence that 30,000 people spent 40 years in the wilderness (in or around the Sinai Peninsula).
  • Evidence that a new people with a different language and different ways of doing things moved into sites on two hill tops in what was then Palestine at the time outlined in the Bible.
  • Evidence that camels were used for transportation in the region about the time Abraham sent out a servant in search of a wife for his son.
  • Evidence of Philistines in the area about 1800 BCE.

He could have cited these “facts” if they existed. He did not, because they do not.

In response to White’s Salon piece and my need to follow up, I purchased Kindle editions of both books. I notice the jacket of the hard copy has a note by Molly Ivins, “Splendidly Cranky,” which may be an apt take on White’s approach.

LeftBehindFlood

White faults Hitchens for dishonesty, apparently for dismissing the cultural value of religious belief. Just out of his view stands the monumental dishonesty of reincarnation, miraculous creation, life after death and historical deceit.

Making History

WhatsSoGreatAboutAmerica

It’s time, people. It’s time again for us to be lectured by the religious right. Actually, we get the same kind of service from the religious left, so let’s just say it’s time for us to be lectured by people who pull their information out of the air. This time up it’s Richard Land, former head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. What we really need is a lecture on history and especially a lecture on the history of slavery.

Movies and books like Dinesh D’Souza’s book ‘America’ are so important because if you are younger than forty and you’ve been taught in the public schools, you have not learned the real story of America. You have been taught a lie about America as a colonial power, as a rapacious power. As Dinesh points out, we ended slavery, we didn’t bring slavery to North America. Slavery was there, the Native Americans were enslaving each other before we got here. Eventually, we ended slavery. We have been a civilizing influence in the world.

Land was “[s]ubbing for Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on [21 July 2014] ‘Washington Watch’ radio show …” Being ever clueless, I was puzzled about Dinesh D’Souza and his book:

Born in Mumbai, D’Souza came to the United States as an exchange student, graduating from Dartmouth College. He became a naturalized citizen in 1991. The author of several New York Times best-selling books, and has written the Christian apologetics, What’s So Great About Christianity and Life After Death: The Evidence. D’Souza is also a notable critic of New Atheism. In 2012, D’Souza released 2016: Obama’s America, a documentary film based on his 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Both posit that Barack Obama’s attitude toward America derives from his father’s anti-colonialism and from a psychological desire to fulfill his father’s dream of diminishing the power of Western imperial states. The film has been the highest-grossing conservative documentary film produced in the United States.

The book at issue is What’s So Great About America:

It’s easy to see the appeal of D’Souza’s patriotic cheerleading. A former domestic policy analyst under Reagan, he sees the world in black and white: on one side, America “the best life our world has to offer” on the other, “the enemy, which conducts its operations in the name of Islam.” To his credit, D’Souza (Illiberal Education, etc.) lays out his case well, although little here is new: America, he says, is a land of opportunity and freedom (D’Souza himself immigrated to the U.S. from India), and those who oppose American policy are simply jealous. But he doesn’t stop with exhortations to fellow citizens about why the war against terrorism is righteous. D’Souza, a leading conservative thinker, revels in thumbing his nose at his ideological opponents: one of his chapters is provocatively named “Two Cheers for Colonialism.” In this chapter, D’Souza trumpets the science, democracy and capitalism that he believes have led the West to global supremacy. Along the way, he spares no chance to bash those who he thinks have “denigrated” America and trivialized its freedom: multiculturalists, feminists, hippies and vegetarians. For the most part, D’Souza steers clear of criticizing his fellow conservatives, and when he does, as when he lectures them about the need to combine morality with freedom, he lacks specifics. In the end, reading D’Souza’s book is similar to spending an hour listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio his fellow travelers will love it; readers on the left will love to hate it.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

It’s likely Richard Land obtained his ideas about slavery in American from D’Souza’s book. Land (by way of D’Souza) is correct in noting that slavery was already here when Europeans came to America:

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners of war and debtors. People unable to pay back a debt could be sentenced to work as a slave to the person owed until the debt was worked off. Slavery was not usually hereditary; children of slaves were born free.

Most victims of human sacrifice were prisoners of war or slaves.

First Nations of Canada routinely captured slaves from neighboring tribes. Slave-owning tribes were Muscogee Creek of Georgia, the Pawnee and Klamath, the Caribs of Dominica, the Tupinambá of Brazil, and some fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaska to California. The Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, Tlingit, Coast Tsimshian and some other tribes who lived along the Pacific Northwest Coast were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California and also among neighboring people, particularly the Coast Salish groups. Slavery was hereditary, with new slaves generally being prisoners of war or captured for the purpose of trade and status. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes about a quarter of the population were slaves.

[Some links deleted]

Any notion by Land (D’Souza) that the United States brought about the abolition of slavery is pure imagination on somebody’s part. Slavery existed in the British Empire even before the 13 colonies made their break, but the Empire abolished slavery in 1833, thirty years before the United States did, in the midst of a civil war. Mexico and most other progressive nations abolished slavery well in advance of the United States. Africans weren’t the first slaves in the 13 colonies. The first were English who were enslaved due to indebtedness and other transgressions. As African slaves became available the notion of enslaving Europeans became less popular. Prior to the Civil War the abduction and enslavement of Africans was a thriving industry fueled by this country’s need for (nearly) free labor.

In summary: Slavery existed in America when Europeans got here, and slavery is now illegal in America—true but not relevant. Dinesh D’Souza, and by proxy Richard Land, want to write history. Their source would seem to be a fertile imagination fueled by a particular world view.

The Skeptic

This is from way back. The premier issue of The Skeptic, the newsletter of the North Texas Skeptics came out 27 years ago.

This is not the actual newsletter. It’s a recreation of the first issue, converted to a Web page. There was nothing but hard copy, and the printing was primitive by today’s standards. Desktop publishing was not distributed to the masses in those days, but somebody had a dot matrix printer and a computer, and stuff got written and transcribed. Flats of the issue were produced and taken to an offset printing company.

Co-founder John Thomas did most if not all of the writing, and I was not even a member. It took a few years before the NTS newsletter to grow into a somewhat slick on-line journal that delved into creationism and other hokum. The links you see on this page were added when this issue was converted for the Web. You can go to the NTS Web site and see this and all the back issues. It provides quite a history.

1987 Logo
The Newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics

Volume 1 Number 1 www.ntskeptics.org Summer 1987

In this month’s issue:


DSTOP reorganizes, changes name to North Texas Skeptics

The not-for-profit organization known as the North Texas Skeptics (NTS) was founded in 1983 as the Dallas Society to Oppose Pseudo-science (DSTOP). and in the spring of this year was renamed and reorganized to encourage critical examination of paranormal phenomena and pseudoscience claims, and to provide on alternative source of information to the news media and general public

NTS encourages public education in the methods of critical thinking and scientific investigation, endorses scientific inquiry as the best approach for obtaining knowledge, and investigates paranormal phenomena and pseudo-science claims. NTS is associated with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) with which it shores principal interests and goals. And the NTS organization is comprised of persons who reside. work. or maintain substantial interests in the North Texas area,

Goals and purposes

Copies of a new organizational charter. approved by majority vote, will be available at the next meeting and will explain in detail the goals and purposes of NTS. Briefly, NTS does endorse the principle that the scientific method is the most reliable approach for obtaining knowledge about the universe. The organization does not. however. endorse the a priori rejection of paranormal phenomena and pseudo-science claims. but believes such claims must be subjected to the fair and systematic testing which rational inquiry demands,

In the North Texas area, the organization will assist local schools and institutions of higher education in teaching the methods of scientific inquiry. and will alert educators and students to the dangers of uncritical acceptance of paranormal phenomena and pseudo-science claims.

Additionally, NTS will monitor local media. and whenever necessary, will remind members of the press that, when reporting on paranormal phenomena and pseudo-science claims. journalists ore not exempt from their duty to present “both sides” and to provide fair and accurate coverage,

NTS will also facilitate the scientific testing of persons who ore involved in pseudo-science activities or who claim to possess paranormal abilities, and will conduct research for and provide information to CSICOP concerning local paranormal claims. pseudo-science activities, and groups which shore the objectives of NTS and CSICOP.

Membership categories

Membership in the NORTH TEXAS SKEPTICS is open to those persons in the North Texas area who share the concerns and objectives outlined above.

Members’ views may represent a brood spectrum of beliefs concerning paranormal phenomena and pseudo-science. However, all members should hold in common the principle that truth can be established only through rational inquiry. while misinformation, irrational inquiry, and fraud serve only as deterrents to truth Membership is open to all persons, regardless of race, sex, ethnic group, age, or religion.

Following ore the four membership categories: Patrons, Scientific and Technical Consultants, Fellows, and Associates.

Patrons are those individuals or organizations endorsing the goals and ideals of the NORTH TEXAS SHEPTICS while making significant contributions of services, resources, or funds to aid in investigations. special events. print production. and other organizational business. Patrons are nominated by the board of directors and approved by the Fellows and ore given formal recognition for their trust and assistance. Patrons ore non-voting. unless they ore also Fellows of the organization.

Scientific and Technical Consultants ore those per-sons appointed by the board of directors to assist in investigative and educational Activities. Typically, a Consultant will be a professional or an expert. experienced in investigating paranormal phenomena, unorthodox medical claims, or other pseudo-science activities, and who has demonstrated the ability to examine such claims fairly and critically. Usually such persons will have academic training in science, medicine, psychology, technology, or related subjects. Consultants receive no payment for their Services and are non-voting unless they are also Fellows of the organization. Consultants do not speak for NTS unless approved to do so by the board.

Fellows are the voting members of the organization, and they appoint, remove. and replace the board of directors, Patrons, Fellows and Associates. Fellows also place items on the ballot and request mail-in votes, set membership dues, and act on any other business not explicitly a duty of the board of directors. Only Fellows serve as board members or committee chairpersons. They receive the organization’s newsletter and any mail-in ballots distributed by the organization. And Fellows may attend all activities at no cost or at reduced rates. Fellows may also serve as Scientific and Technical Consultants.

Associates are non-voting members who receive the organization’s newsletter and announcements of activities. Associates may attend activities at no cost or at reduced rates, may attend Fellow’s meetings as observers, may serve on committees, and may serve as Scientific or Technical Consultants.

To become a Patron, Consultant, Fellow, or Associate, please complete the membership questionnaire located elsewhere in this issue.

Police investigator to discuss crimes of Gypsy fortune-tellers

No federal, state, or municipal laws exist to prohibit fortune-telling in this area, and law enforcement statistics indicate that the practice is widespread and replete with fraud. Police officials report that locally. unreported earnings for some fortune-tellers reach $200,000 annually in monies token from customers during legal sessions and illegal schemes. And interestingly, police say almost all fortune-tellers who advertise in this area are Gypsies – members of a culture which officials say is growing in North Texas.

Descendants of ancient nomadic tribes from India and Pakistan, early Gypsies migrated west to Eurasia and Europe before coming to America. Today, it is estimated that more than 1.5 million Gypsies, deriving their major source of income from fortune-telling, now reside in the United States. While no overall Statistics are available for the North Texas area, law enforcement officials say the advertisements of fortune-tellers, coupled with group encampments outside of Dallas, reflect a rise in local Gypsy population, bringing with it on increase in fortune-telling fraud.

W.J. Hughes, an investigator with the Swindle and Fraud Unit of the Dallas Police Deportment, will address the culture, history, and crimes of Gypsy fortune-tellers at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 14 at Brookhaven College, 3039 Valley View Lane in Farmers Branch. (Enter the college near the flagpoles, and look for the NTS Sign with directions.) While pointing out that not all Gypsies are involved in illegal fortune-telling, Hughes will explain his deportment’s concern about the criminal segment of the Gypsy population whose very existence, he says, is based on theft by deception, fraud, and swindle.

Hughes. a 20-year law enforcement veteran, Says his deportment becomes involved only when a crime has been committed, and admittedly, proof of such crime is hard to come by, it is not against the law, he says, to receive payment for the “service” of telling fortunes, and the law is broken only when a practitioner makes false Statements, asks the customer to give up property, or uses slight of hand.

Proving that such criminal actions have occurred, though, is always difficult and often impossible, since many customers are not aware of or cannot document the scheme. Others, says Hughes, are simply too embarrassed to admit that they were victims of such fraud.

Worse yet, says Hughes, many customers are actually pleased with the service they receive from fortune-tellers, and return regularly with increasing amounts of cash or goods. Often, these customers are lonely, despondent or emotionally disturbed, Hughes explains. and are easily duped into placing great faith in the “powers” of the fortune-teller who, after gaining the customer’s trust asks for “proof of loyalty” in various forms of payment.

In his June presentation, Hughes will give detailed accounts of the crimes of local Gypsy fortune-tellers and will present a locally-produced slide show documenting those crimes and the often bizarre props and schemes used to perpetrate them.

Fieldtrip and picnic set for creationist “mantracks” site

In the lower Cretaceous limestone along the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas. creationists lost decode reportedly found human footprints or “mantracks” alongside those of dinosaurs.

Most scientists and skeptics who viewed the tracks were surprised at how very little actually comprised the basis of claims made by the creationists, but because of those claims, children in fundamentalist Christian schools began and continue to be taught that human prints were actually found near those of dinosaurs; creationist-written books and films were produced, attesting to the same; and the Paluxy River “mantrack” claims became a major subject of the creationist museum of the Institute for Creation Research.

These and other claims hove perpetuated. largely because prior to 1982 scientists generally ignored creationist “mantrack” claims which had been common since the early 1930s when carved replicas of human footprints were made and sold near Glen Rose.

But until the 1980s. the impact of these efforts seldom came to public attention outside the sectarian circles of the creationists themselves. Creationist “mantrack” claims were generally dismissed by the scientific community, especially by those investigators who had actually explored the banks of the Paluxy River and found that the so-called “mantracks” could be otherwise explained. But in 1982 when the Rev. Carl Baugh began calling public attention to newly exposed “human” prints. and when biology textbooks in public schools had greatly reduced coverage of evolution (justified in part by the discovery of “human” tracks in Cretaceous limestone), many scientists and skeptics could no longer ignore the “mantrack” claims.

One of those persons was Ron J. Hastings, Ph.D., chairman of the North Texas Skeptics. and director of computer services and instructor of physics and higher math at Waxahachie High School. Hastings conducted intensive investigations of the so-called “mantracks” and along with three other colleagues authored the special issue of “Creation/Evolution, Issue XV, The Paluxy River Footprint Mystery Solved,” (C/E XV) (Cole, 1985), which focused on general “mantrack’ claims by Rev. Baugh and his coworkers at the site on the Paluxy River. The foursome, which included Hastings, was collectively known as “Raiders of the Lost Tracks, and to his credit, Hastings is the only investigator involved in all major “mantracks” investigations since 1982.

In short. Hastings and his colleagues, including scientist Glen Kuban, in their scientific investigation of “mantracks” along the Paluxy River found no evidence of human tracks, and furthermore concluded that the tracks in question were..

  • man-made carvings
  • erosion features
  • distorted dinosaur tracks
  • misinterpreted trace fossils
  • marks left by dinosaur toils
  • elongated dinosaur footprints

The impact of the investigations by Hastings and other scientists was significant. While the creationist community did not completely nor consistently recant its past “mantracks claims, statements were issued by authors of several “mantrack” books and films advising other creationists not to cite the Paluxy River footprints as evidence against evolution or represent the tracks as proven evidence of human existence during the deposition of the Cretaceous rock system.

Hastings concedes, however, that the hoped-for response from creationists – an unequivocal declaration of all “mantracks” sites as dinosaurian has not yet come because many creationists continue to draw conclusions based on the religious assumptions to which they are committed, rather than on scientific evidence.

Hastings will lead a field trip to the dinosaurian and “mantracks” Sites along the Paluxy River near Glen Rose on Sunday, July 19 Members of the North Texas Skeptics and their guests are invited to participate in the field trip which will include viewing of the tracks, a midday picnic, and on afternoon fossil hunt. Members will participate in the field trip at no charge, while non-members (family or guests) will be asked to donate $2.50 per person toward handout materials. Hastings recommends that only children 10 years of age or older, who are capable of serious participation. attend.

The field trip schedule is as follows:

8:00 a.m.: Meet at the flagpole entrance at Brookhaven College. 3939 Valley View Lane in Farmers branch. to carpool or form a caravan10:00 a.m. Arrive at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose. $2 per vehicle entrance fee. Investigate dinosaur tracks inside the park.

2:00 p m Picnic along the Paluxy River. Please bring your own food and drinks

1.00 p.m. Investigate “mantracks’ site outside of but near the park.

3.00 p.m. Stop for refreshments in Glen Rose

3-30 p.m. Fossil hunt.

Because the field trip will be conducted in or near shallow water, wear appropriate clothing and bring a sturdy pair of wading shoes with non-slip soles. Additionally, the sun in mid-July is likely to be quite intense, and the use of sunscreen is recommended. To prevent dehydration, all participants are asked to bring ample supplies of water and soft drinks.

Activist, Ex-fundamentalist To Address Scandals, Conflicts in Religion

Anne McKinney was raised in an ultra-fundamentalist Catholic home by a violently abusive and alcoholic mother and an abusive father When as a child she turned to church officials far help, she was told by religious leaders that her parents’ discipline was an appropriate response to her own bad behavior.

Disillusioned with her church and suffering from low self-esteem. McKinney turned as a teenager to a more progressive, non-denominational church where she quickly became caught up in the Jesus-movement of the 1970s,

Finding no long-term solace there, she withdrew from organized religion altogether, and soon married a man who had recently left the Baptist Church. Although McKinney had not even known her husband when he renounced his faith, she was nevertheless blamed by his father (a deacon), his mother (owner of a Christian book store), his brothers (both ministers), and his sister (a Sunday School teacher).

Throughout her 20s, McKinney struggled not only with that blame, but with the loss of her own faith and the affirmation it had once brought her. Anger, resentment, and a feeling of failure continued to overshadow her happiness and success in an otherwise normal life, until finally, she learned of Fundamentalists Anonymous (FA), a non-profit support group for the religiously-injured who have left or who are leaving the fundamentalist faith

Through counseling at FA, and through association with other ex-fundamentalists, McKinney not only found help for herself. but also learned that when people leave fundamentalist religions, an average of 10 years passes before they are able to reconcile the feelings of bitterness, anger, low self-esteem, a negative self-image, loneliness, isolation depression, distrust of groups, inability to discuss church involvement, fear of divine retribution, occasional lapses into fundamentalist consciousness, sexual dysfunction, and fear of harassment, persecution, or coercion by other fundamentalists. Now 30, McKinney says it did, indeed, take her the projected 10 years to reconcile her fundamentalist past.

Less than three years after first seeking help, however, McKinney is now five-state regional coordinator for Fundamentalists Anonymous and an organizer of the Dallas chapter. A well-known political, religious, and reproduction rights activist, the Plano woman spends up to 25 hours a week monitoring the television broadcasts of PTL, Word of Faith, Church on the Rock, W V Grant, James Robison, Tim and Beverly LeHay, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart. TBN, and the 700 Club. She also monitored Peter Popoff until programming was cancelled in this area.

Additionally, McKinney is the organizer of last year’s Labor Day march against Jerry Falwell and the Southland Corporation, and is in demand throughout the state as a speaker and comedian. A regular at the Comedy Corner in Dallas, McKinney is scheduled to appear on “Latenight with David Letterman later this summer, where her act will include political and religious humor, and she will sing “The DART Twist,” a self-penned tribute to her recent bottle with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) over lack of restrooms in the system’s transfer centers. (She won the battle; DART will install the toilet facilities, along with enclosed waiting rooms, benches, and water fountains. at a cost that McKinney estimates to be at $2.5 million.)

McKinney will address the North Texas Skeptics at 3 p.m., Sunday, August 16, at Brookhaven College, 3939 Volley View Lane in Farmers Branch. (Enter the college near the flagpoles and look for the NTS sign with directions.) Mixing seriousness with humor, She will discuss the scandals, power struggles, and conflicts among top-ranking televangelists and local religious lenders, along with their effect on believers and non-believers alike. And McKinney will tell of the thousands of calls, many from the frightened, the suicidal, the elderly, and the poor which have been placed to FA in the woke of recent revelations about local and national religious lenders. She will also describe what she believes is forthcoming for fundamentalist religion in this area. and will outline ways in which NTS might respond to post and future developments in the fundamentalist community.

Briefly

Newsletter to Expand In Upcoming Months

The Summer 1987 issue of The Skeptic is a maiden publication and does little more than outline the reorganization of NTS and announce events scheduled for the summer. Beginning this fall, however, the newsletter will expand to include columns, investigative reports, an “in the news” listing, feature stories, reports of local paranormal and pseudo-science activities, and other important information.

Membership input into the newsletter is not only welcome, it is vital. Please mail story ideas and related information to newsletter editor Vicki Hinson-Smith at the NTS address listed elsewhere in this issue.

Bibliography Materials List is Needed for NTS

The North Texas Skeptics is compiling a bibliography of relevant books, magazines, articles, video tapes, and other published or private materials which relate to pseudo-science, paranormal phenomena, and skepticism.

Since it is beyond the Organization’s means to purchase such a collection, NTS must rely on the personal collections of members and friends.

If members possess or are aware of materials in the above categories, please compile a list of the names, publishers, and descriptions of the materials and mail the list to resources chairman Mark W. Mateer at the NTS address listed elsewhere in this issue,

It is not the organization’s intention to “raid” the personal libraries of its members, but merely to publish a bibliography for reference use by members, the press, and other interested persons.

Subject and Speaker List Being Compiled for Future

The subjects are endless: creation science, UFOlogy, telepathy, scientology, pyramid power, psychokinesis, precognition, faith healing, psychic archaeology, lost tribes, medical quackery, levitation, kirilion photography, astrology, hypnosis, ghosts, dowsing, divination, clairvoyance, biorythms, Atlantis, ancient astronauts, Bermuda Triangle, psychic surgery, palmistry, witchcraft, post-life regression . . . et cetera, ad nauseom.

Well-informed speakers on these subjects are harder to come by, however.

Suggestions for speakers for the coming year are now being accepted. Particularly helpful would be a list of members’ own contacts with scientists, educators, noted speakers, well-known skeptics, physicians, and other persons who could address the organization.

Please send the names of suggested speakers, along with contact information, to chair Ron J. Hastings, Ph.D., at the NTS address listed elsewhere in this issue. Also, feel free to include personal preferences regarding subjects or topics for future meetings.

Board of Directors Elected

The North Texas Skeptics recently appointed the following persons to its board of directors.

Chair: Ron J. Hastings, Ph. D.

Hastings is director of computer services and instructor of higher math and physics for an area high school. As chair. he will preside over all meetings of the board of directors. as well as meetings of the Fellow’s membership. He will also review and sign all official correspondence and ensure that official resolutions and decisions of the organization are executed.

Co-chair: James P. Smith, Ph.D.

Smith is a consulting scientist and an instructor of chemistry and physics for an area college and university. As co-chair he will assist the chair, and in the absence of the chair, perform the duties thereof.

Treasurer: John Thomas, J.D.

Thomas is an attorney and an Oil and gas investor. He also serves as legal advisor for NTS. As treasurer, he will maintain financial records of all receipts and disbursements, prepare financial statements, and report to the board and membership an all financial matters.

Secretary: Mary Hunter

Hunter is an instructor of biology for an area high school. As secretary, she will record and maintain minutes of meetings and will also mountain membership rolls.

Liaison: Vicki Hinson-Smith

Hinson-Smith is a communications consultant and public relations professional. As liaison, she will edit and supervise the production and distribution of the organization’s newsletters, reports. press releases, and other publications. She will also provide media relations for the organization.

MIOS

I posted this nearly twenty years ago in The Skeptic, the newsletter of the North Texas Skeptics. It’s interesting. This was before the World Wide Web came into its own, so there was no opportunity to Google topics and expand on them, and there weren’t any Web pages to link to in the newsletter. Besides, this was in the days before the newsletter was posted on the Web. It’s hard to believe twenty years have gone by so quickly.

MIOS was alway an interesting topic. I attended a number of Don Patton’s talks during those times past and obtained an inside peek into the world of Young Earth Creationism. I will post more MIOS articles in the weeks to come.

Creationism’s youth kick

By John Blanton

The Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) is a young-Earth creationist group based in Dallas. They hold monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of each month at the Ridgewood Recreation Center on Fisher Road. MIOS Chairman Don Patton hosts this lecture series, which usually consists of a talk by Patton or some invited speaker. October’s topic, however, was a video presentation of a talk given by Russell Humphreys, a Ph.D. physicist working at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

The young-Earth creationists stick to the literal time scale of creation in the Bible, thereby implying the Earth and the universe are in the order of 6000 years old, certainly less than 10,000 years old. Humphreys stated up front in his presentation that Christian fundamentalists need to demonstrate this very elementary tenet of Genesis, or else they will be unable to defend the more subtle biblical principles. Humphreys’ talk bore down on five points that he considers severely limit the age of the Earth.

In his pamphlet, “Evidence for a Young World,” he cites 100 such examples, but he apparently finds these five the easiest to explain. Some of his examples would be better left in the filing cabinet for the sake of his young-Earth argument, but others raise thorny and quite legitimate issues for mainstream science to answer. I’ll go over the main points of these arguments and will just discuss some of the more interesting explanations from mainstream science. For a more thorough discussion of both sides of the issue the reader is referred to Authur Strahler’s excellent book Science and Earth History the Evolution/Creation Controversy:1

1. Galaxies Here’s the rub. Look into the sky and you see spiral galaxies; clouds consisting of billions of stars spinning about a common center in a pinwheel formation (see Figure 1). Measurement of the rate of motion of the individual stars discloses a troubling concern. The stars near the center of the galaxies are moving at such a rate that they will circle the center more quickly than stars farther out. A quick mathematical analysis will show (and Humphreys has done so) that after a few million years a spiral galaxy gets “wound up” by this process. The spiral shape completely disappears within a half billion years, leaving us to wonder what happens in the remaining fifteen-plus billion years of the universe. Why aren’t all galaxies wound into flat disks by now, especially the Milky Way galaxy where we now are and where we have been for over four billion years? Young Earth creationists will assert that these galaxies have been in existence much less than four billion years, maybe even less than 10,000 years. Of course this misses the question of why the galaxies got wound into a spiral in the first place, a process that ought to take at least a million years.

Galaxy
Figure1. Spiral galaxy photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope

Strahler cites a work by Steven Dutch2 explaining that even spiral galaxies are approximately flat disks of stars and that the spiral features are bands of new stars that shine more brightly in the blue spectrum, giving the overall galaxy its spiral appearance. Even with this explanation the spiral galaxy argument will continue to provide fuel for the creationists for years to come, since the new star explanation will not be easy to understand by the population at large.

2. Comets are another favorite for creationists. They would like to remind you that a 5-billion year-old solar system should present a very stable structure. It should not look like something that has just been born or that is about to die soon. Roll the clock back a few million years, and you should see the same thing you see now. The problem is that comets always seem to be dying, witness Shoemaker-Levy 9. Why are there still any comets left after five billion years?

Good question, and I wish I had thought of that one. Mainstream science can only postulate mechanisms for the creation of new comets to replace the ones constantly being destroyed. One proposed explanation is the so-called Oort cloud, a region of comet material thought to lie in a region 10,000 to 100,000 astronomical units out from the sun. Needless to say, creationists get a good belly laugh when you try to propose something like this. That’s probably how it will stay until mainstream science is able to provide experimental evidence to support either the Oort cloud hypothesis or else some worthy alternative.

3. Erosion Humphreys also likes to talk about erosion of the continents and the sediment that should result from this erosion. He states that with current rates of erosion the North American continent, for example, should be washed flat in fifteen million years. Yet there stand the Rockies (and even Comanche Peak). Humphreys asserts it’s safer to believe the continents were formed a few thousands years ago. Then there was a great flood that fairly well shaped the landscape as we see it now. Since the flood erosion has been going on much as we see it today.

4. Salt Humphreys’ fourth topic was salt in the sea. This is a classic creationist argument, and it goes something like this: Rivers wash salt into the oceans, but nothing seems to wash salt out of the oceans. Evaporation removes water from the oceans, and some it winds back up on land through rainfall. If this process has been going on for millions of years, then the oceans should be a lot saltier.

5. Population Perhaps Humphreys’ weakest argument was the one he finished up with, and it’s based on people, or population. Here is what he had to say about that: Mainstream science asserts that the stone age of civilization lasted about 100,000 years. Given the estimated average human population for that period about four billion people should have died during this time. The question Humphreys poses is, “Where are all of their graves?”

. . . . . O.K.

Following the video presentation, Don Patton fielded a few questions. He seemed to make some reference to the decaying speed of light conjecture, and I asked him if he was talking about Barry Setterfield, so we got off onto that subject. Setterfield has asserted that the speed of light was much faster in the past than it is now (it’s quite fast even today). This provides creationists with a way to explain why we can now see things millions of light years away if the universe is only a few thousands of years old. I cautioned Don against standing behind this thesis, since it is absolutely indefensible, but he still wants to stick with it. If you want to read up this subject some more, once again see Strahler’s book.

Patton’s lack of scientific acumen on the Setterfield conjecture and other topics seemed to bother others besides me in the audience. Glenn Morton stood up and reminded those in attendance that he is a creationist who once published in favor of the young Earth. He now renounces that position because the evidence is too much against it, and he urged others to abandon the idea. A problem he mentioned is that after you teach this concept to your children and then send them to college where they will learn otherwise, their loyalty to your other teachings will be threatened. One cheerful member of the group offered a solution: “Don’t send them.” In a subsequent phone conversation, Morton offered to debate against the young Earth argument if the matter comes up. That opportunity may come soon.

Prior to the meeting I had sent Don Patton a letter inviting him to address the NTS early in 1995, and at the meeting Don expressed his willingness to do so. We previously invited MIOS to give a presentation back in 1990, but Patton declined at that time, saying he didn’t think a 45-minute format gave sufficient time to explain the science of creationism. MIOS had initially agreed to the 1990 program, but that was before they consulted with Patton. Since we didn’t get word of the MIOS withdrawal until the day of the meeting we were left without a speaker. However, MIOS member Ron Huffman, not knowing of Patton’s cancellation, showed up, and we persuaded him to talk on the subject. It was a good presentation, and we had a lively discussion. Hopefully we will have another one this coming February.

MIOS is not the only creationist group based locally, but they are the only group with regular meetings open to the public that I know of. Early in October I received in the mail a notice that Kent Hovind would be presenting a creationism conference over a three day period at the Canyon Creek Baptist Church in Richardson. I took this as an invitation and showed up the first night, sitting in the very front row. This is the first I heard of Hovind, who seems to have a thriving, nationwide creationism conference business. Hovind is quite an interesting piece of work, and I will cover his presentation in the next issue.

References:

1. Strahler, Arthur N., Science and Earth History – the Evolution/Creation Controversy, (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY).

2. Dutch, Steven I., A critique of creationist cosmology, Journal of Geological Education, vol. 30, pp. 27-33 as cited in Strahler.