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.

Standing Pat

godspeaks

I know I have said this so many times, but it never seems I have said it enough. “If Pat Robertson did not exist, we would have to invent him.” It never ends:

In an email, a viewer named Dianne told the TV preacher that her son had “painful shock-waves thru his body” that originated in his stomach while she was praying for him and calling on “the name of JESUS.”

“My son said it felt like something hit him very hard in the stomach,” the mother wrote. “I know this is not of God. He is a Christian. Can Christians be attacked by demons?”

Instead of recommending that the mother seek medical attention, Robertson said that the boy could be “oppressed or possessed by demons.”

“You need to get somebody with you who understands the spiritual dimension and doing spiritual warfare,” he continued. “If I were you, I would look back in your family. What in your family — do you have anybody involved in the occult, somebody in witchcraft or tarot cards or psychic things?”

This is so ironic. Just this morning at a breakfast meeting with the Free Thinkers Association of Central Texas (FACT) we were discussing childhood influence of religious indoctrination. The notion is that indoctrination prior to the age of five instills a life-long inclination toward belief in the supernatural. Could Pat Robertson have been the victim of such early indoctrination? It can only be surmised from his upbringing that Robertson had early exposure to religious mythology. Some of his public comment seem to bear out the impact:

  • In late 1976, Robertson predicted that the end of the world was coming in October or November 1982. In a May 1980 broadcast of The 700 Club he stated, “I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.”
  • In May 2006, Robertson declared that storms and possibly a tsunami would hit America’s coastline sometime in 2006. Robertson supposedly received this revelation from God during an annual personal prayer retreat in January. The claim was repeated four times on The 700 Club.

These weren’t controversial? I guess not. Then check out these:

  • Robertson prayed to God to steer hurricanes away from his company’s Virginia Beach, Virginia headquarters. He credited his prayers for steering the course of Hurricane Gloria in 1985, which caused billions of dollars of destruction in many states along the U.S. east coast.
  • On his November 10, 2005 broadcast of The 700 Club, Robertson told citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania that they had rejected God by voting out of office all seven members of the school board who support intelligent design.
  • “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected him from your city”, Robertson said on his broadcast.
  • In May 2006 Robertson began claiming on his web site that through training and his “Age-Defying energy shake”, he is able to leg press 2,000 lb (907 kg) while others claim he is a liar, pushing a common energy formula. Two-thousand pounds would be an exceptional accomplishment for a world-class athlete, to say nothing of Robertson, then in his seventies. For comparative purposes, when Dan Kendraset the Florida State University record of 1,335 lb (606 kg), the leg press machine required extensive modifications to hold the proper amount of weight, and the capillaries in both of Kendra’s eyes burst during his successful attempt. Thus, Robertson’s claimed achievement would add 665 lb (302 kg) to the best-ever total of Kendra, a top athlete in his physical prime, who later played in the National Football League and tried unsuccessfully to become a Navy SEAL
  • On the January 13, 2010 broadcast of The 700 Club, Robertson blamed the Haitians for making a deal with the Devil during their 1791 slave rebellion, resulting in the Haiti earthquake of January 12, 2010 and other misfortunes. He told viewers of his Christian Broadcasting Network:

…something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it, they were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil, they said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the French, true story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free, and ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.

Ouch! That stuff has got to hurt. But is all of this totally a result of early religious indoctrination?

Being of a skeptical mind set, I decline to accept the likely conclusion. Contrary evidence was presented at the FACT breakfast today. More than one person testified to an early inoculation of balderdash, which apparently had no lifelong effect. My own case is of one who early suffered the wooing of the occult and later shrugged it off.

Whatever infected Pat, we are glad for it. This blog might be deadly dull without a twice yearly does of Pat.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

Siamese twins walk into a bar in Canada and park themselves on a bar stool.

One of them says to the bartender, “Don’t mind us; we’re joined at the hip. I’m John, he’s Jim. Two Molson Canadian beers, draft please.” 

The bartender, feeling slightly awkward, tries to make polite conversation while pouring the beers. “Been on holiday yet, lads?” 

“Off to England next month,” says John. “We go to England every year, rent a car and drive for miles. Don’t we, Jim?” Jim agrees. 

“Ah, England!” says the bartender. “Wonderful country… the history, the
beer, the culture…”

“Nah, we don’t like that British crap,” says John. “Hamburgers and Molson’s beer, that’s us, eh Jim? And we can’t stand the English – they’re so arrogant and rude.”

“So why keep going to England?” asks the bartender.

“It’s the only chance Jim gets to drive.”

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the eighth and final installment of my review of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I dealt with the creationist argument that Darwinism (the modern science of biological evolution) has provided a basis for racism and genocide. Dr. Michael Egnor, a prominent neurosurgeon alluded to a relationship between Darwinism and racism, and narrator Ben Stein visited scenes of Nazi euthanasia and genocide atrocities to make the case that Darwinism was to blame. The video (not exactly a documentary) cites six people who have been “expelled” for fostering creationism or else for doubting Darwin. Ben Stein goes forward to argue that Darwinism leads to racism and genocide and finally to the war on religion.

The War On Religion

This is the crazy part. See, the Intelligent Design people, especially those at the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC) insist Intelligent Design is not a religious concept. This was the argument put forth by the defense in the case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The CSC was originally interested in this case but dropped out before it went to trial. At the end, Federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Intelligent Design is a religious concept, and this brought forth all manner of objections from the CSC people.

Judge Jones offered three mains reasons for his conclusion that ID isn’t science, all of which fall apart on close inspection.

Jones asserted: “We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.” No. Design theorists argue that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Jones countered this point by noting that most design theorists believe in the Christian God, untroubled by the fact that he is here committing the genetic fallacy, dismissing an argument based on its source (here Christian scientists and philosophers). Commented one legal scholar, “It is worse than horrible, if that is possible. Essentially, what the judge has concluded is that if one is a religious citizen who offers an argument for a point of view consistent with your religious worldview, you will be segregated from the public square. But not because your argument is bad, but because of your beliefs and the company you keep or may have kept. I can’t believe this could happen in America.”

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

It is difficult to keep in mind that this video is supposed to be about science when watching this interchange between Richard Dawkins and Ben Stein:

Ben Stein: You have written that God is a psychotic delinquent invented by mad deluded people.

Dawkins: No, I didn’t say quite that. I said something better than that.

Stein: Oh, well, please tell me what you said.

Dawkins: Well, I would have to read it from the book.

Stein: No, please.

[Dawkins reads from The God Delusion]

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Stein: – so that’s what you think of God.

Dawkins: – yeah.

Stein: How about if people believed in God?

This goes on for a while and gets into belief in a loving caring God. Ultimately Stein persuades Dawkins to attach a number to his the probability of no God. Here is where I believe Dawkins makes a big mistake. He says “99%.” That’s not enough for Stein, and he asks Dawkins why 99%. Why not 49%. Dawkins says no, he’s satisfied with 99%. Stein asks about 97%. You can see where this is going.

Professor Dawkins, the real number is 100%, and you should have said so.

Stein then asks, “Then who created the Heaven and the Earth.” Dawkins reminds Stein that this is begging the question. I like that in Dawkins. He is well schooled and knows the meaning of the phrase “begging the question.” Stein has asked the question “Who,” which question contains the answer, “Somebody.” That’s the definition of “begging the question.” Stein presses. How did it all get started? It turns out he means how did life get started. Dawkins answers that it was by a very slow process. Stein presses. What process? The first self-replicating molecule. Stein presses. He wants an answer. Dawkins can’t give him an answer.

Stein: So you have no idea how it started.

Here’s where Dawkins makes his second mistake. He is to generous in his response. He tells Stein that nobody knows. He should have been more direct. He should have paused dramatically, taken a deep breath, looked Stein straight on and said, “No, and neither do you, Mr. Stein.”

People debating this issue with religious people need to press home to them that they do not have the answer. If they respond with God, then they need to be told that if they do not know the answer they are not allowed to make one up out of thin air. They need to be bluntly faced with the fact that they are living a lie.

The dialog gets interesting. Stein presses Dawkins about the possibility that life on Earth had an intelligent origin. Dawkins, being a dead-on realist, concedes this is in the realm of possibility. Paraphrasing Dawkins: A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… There could have been an intelligent life form (created by purely natural processes) that for fun decided to experiment with life forms.

Stein takes what he has been given.

Wait a second. Richard Dawkins thought Intelligent Design might be a legitimate pursuit?

And he finally makes his point.

So, Professor Dawkins was not against Intelligent Design, just certain types of designers, such as God.

And that’s it. That’s what Intelligent Design is all about. It’s about God. All the posturing by the CSC people that Intelligent Design is not a religious movement evaporate with statements like that. Judge John E. Jones came to the same conclusion after hearing all the evidence put forward by the defendants in the Kitzmiller case. The Intelligent Design movement has the sole purpose of promoting God. It’s a religious movement. Teaching Intelligent Design in public science classes has the sole purpose of proselytizing for a particular religious view at public expense, and that is something we said over 200 years ago that we would not do.

Stein continues after his interview with Dawkins. He continues to drive nails into the coffin of the CSC’s argument:

But if the Intelligent Design people are right, God isn’t hidden. We may even be able to encounter God through science if we have the freedom to go there. What could be more intriguing than that?

Back at the podium from the video’s opening clip, Stein continues:

We take freedom for granted here in the United States. Freedom is what this country is all about. And a huge part of freedom is freedom of inquiry. But now, I’m sorry to say, freedom of inquiry is being suppressed.

The video shows President Reagan speaking in front of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall, I presume, is a symbol of suppression. It’s also the wall that separates science and religion. But unlike the Berlin Wall, something is not being kept in. Something is being kept out. Religion is being kept out of science.

Stein at the podium:

There are a lot of people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch a higher power, cannot possibly touch God.

We see Jeffrey Schwartz:

If you believe in God, and you believe there’s an intrinsic order in the Universe, and if you believe that it’s the role of science to try to pursue and better understand that order, you will be ostracized.

Elsewhere he says:

When we see an elite – and it is an elite – an elite that controls essentially all the research money in science saying ‘There is no such thing as moral truth, science will not be related to religion.’ I mean, it’s essentially official policy at the National Academy of Sciences, that religion and science will not be related.

The video shows a clip of somebody knocking chips out of the Berlin Wall with a hammer.

Yes, the video is finally about science versus religion. And that is a matter that has given many people such wonder. Why is the entire business so couched in perfidy? Somewhere in Expelled Stein is talking about spirituality (meaning, I assume, the human spirit, the joy of life), and the moral benefits of religion. Where are these in the production of this piece of propaganda?

Serious scientists, including Richard Dawkins, PC Myers and Eugenie C. Scott were duped into participation in the production:

he movie has been criticized by those interviewees who are critics of intelligent design (P.Z. Myers, Dawkins, Shermer, and National Center for Science Education executive director Eugenie Scott), who say they were misled into participating by being asked to be interviewed for a film named Crossroads on the “intersection of science and religion”, and were directed to a blurb implying an approach to the documentary crediting Darwin with “the answer” to how humanity developed:

It has been the central question of humanity through the ages: How in the world did we get here? In 1859 Charles Darwin provided the answer in his landmark book, The Origin of Species. In the century and a half since, geologists, biologists, physicists, astronomers, and philosophers have contributed a vast amount of research and data in support of Darwin’s idea. And yet, millions of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith believe in a literal interpretation that humans were crafted by the hand of God. The conflict between science and religion has unleashed passions in school board meetings, courtrooms, and town halls across America and beyond.

— Defunct Rampant Films site for Crossroads

[Some links deleted]

I get no indication this was a production sponsored by the CSC, but they surely carried a lot of water for it:

Organizations affiliated with the Discovery Institute helped publicize the film.[104] It used its evolutionnews.org website and blog to publish over twenty articles tying its promotion of Expelled to its effort to pass the “Academic Freedom Bill” in Florida.

Stein appeared in the cable television programs The O’Reilly Factor and Glenn Beck to talk about the film. In his interview on O’Reilly commentator Bill O’Reilly characterized intelligent design as the idea that “a deity created life”, and Stein responded that “There’s no doubt about it. We have lots and lots of evidence of it in the movie.” The Discovery Institute quickly issued a statement that when Bill O’Reilly conflated intelligent design with creationism he was mistakenly defining it as an attempt to find a divine designer, and lamented that “Ben referred to the ‘gaps’ in Darwin’s theory, as if those are the only issues that intelligent design theory addresses.”

[Some links deleted]

Continuing to illustrate the moral benefits of religion, Ben Stein leans heavily on quote mining to make his point. Found particularly galling is a use cited in the Wikipedia article:

In support of his claim that the theory of evolution inspired Nazism, Ben Stein attributes the following statement to Charles Darwin‘s book The Descent of Man:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The original source shows that Stein has significantly changed the text and meaning of the paragraph, by leaving out whole and partial sentences without indicating that he had done so. The original paragraph (page 168) (words that Stein omitted shown in bold) and the subsequent sentences in the book state:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself,hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage.

According to John Moore writing in the National Post:

Stein quotes from a passage in Darwin’s writing that appears to endorse the notion that for a species to thrive the infirm must be culled. He omits the part where Darwin insists this would be “evil” and that man’s care for the weak is “the noblest part of our nature.” When I asked Stein about this on my radio show he deadpanned, “If any Darwin fans are listening and we have misquoted him, we are sorry; we don’t mean to diss Darwin.”

Ben Stein apologize? Much too late:

But before the interviewees were approached, the movie had already been pitched to Stein as an anti-Darwinist picture:

I was approached a couple of years ago by the producers, and they described to me the central issue of Expelled, which was about Darwinism and why it has such a lock on the academic establishment when the theory has so many holes. And why freedom of speech has been lost at so many colleges to the point where you can’t question even the slightest bit of Darwinism or your colleagues will spurn you, you’ll lose your job, and you’ll be publicly humiliated. As they sent me books and talked to me about these things I became more enthusiastic about participating.

Plus I was never a big fan of Darwinism because it played such a large part in the Nazis’ Final Solution to their so-called “Jewish problem” and was so clearly instrumental in their rationalizing of the Holocaust. So I was primed to want to do a project on how Darwinism relates to fascism and to outline the flaws in Darwinism generally.

— Ben Stein, “Mocked and Belittled”, World Magazine

[Some links deleted]

If you are looking for one more reason to keep religion out of science, the low moral standards of religious supporters will be a significant addition.

Not strictly on the science versus religion topic, but worth mentioning at this point is a closing clip featuring Richard Sternberg:

What I’m asking for is the freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Does Sternberg really want to follow the evidence wherever it leads? Let’s see. Let me propose a scenario:

Out on the plain there is noticed a huge metal cube. It appears to be made completely of lead. It’s about 100 feet on each side. So massive is it that the very crust of the Earth sags under it’s weight. What is it? Where did it come from? Why is it here? People want to know.

People ask scientists. “Please explain this. Answer these questions.”

The scientists say they do not have an answer. They do not know where this object came from, how it got to be here or what purpose it might have.

People are sorely disappointed. Here is a riddle scientists cannot answer. But scientists do not need to answer these questions, because some other people have already supplied the answers.

  • The cube is the source of all life.
  • Its purpose is to give meaning to our lives and to caution us to live moral lives.

Scientists have considered a number of possibilities as to how this cube came to be here. They have been working to discover the answer for decades and have made little progress. They do, however, reject the answers posted above.

To scientists the assertion that there is an magical, invisible person who created the universe and all life and wants us to live a moral existence is in the same region of absurdity as the above.

Richard Sternberg and all those other people with the CSC already have the “freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads.” They can do their own research. (They do.) They can hold their own conferences. (They do.) They can publish their work in their own journals. (They do.) What they cannot do is sidle up against legitimate science with the expectation that some of the luster will rub off onto them.

Sternberg and others want you to think they are being denied a voice. They are not. Their message is welcome at any number of pulpits in churches across this nation. Millions will come and listen with rapture. However, it is a mistake for these charlatans to think that serious people are going to pick up and carry their message for them or even to, in the face of all known facts, acknowledge that message has any scientific merit.

Expelled is posted on YouTube. Turn on the captions to see what is being said.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

 

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the seventh installment of my review of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I reviewed the case of Dr. Michael Egnor, a prominent neurosurgeon who opposes the modern theories of biology. My review included some quotes from Dr. Egnor, one of which is interesting:

I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution?

Dr. Egnor chooses to be ignorant of some basic biology and wants to make the case that this ignorance does not affect his work. It would seem that his work extends beyond his medical practice. He is a principal contributer to the Evolution News blog run by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), a major proponent of creationism. A recent contribution includes the following paragraph:

Scopes’s legacy consists entirely of inviting prosecution by proudly teaching human evolution from a eugenic racist textbook. Coyne offers no explanation for his embrace of Scopes’s legacy. He instead assures us that his feelings weren’t hurt by our posts, and castigates David and me for lying “in service of Jesus” (I’m Catholic, and David is an Orthodox Jew). Coyne insists that “an apology is in order” — our apology to him — yet he believes an apology is “about as likely as Egnor confessing that he’s finally seen the truth of evolution.” Ironically, telling the truth about evolution — telling exactly what Scopes taught to his students — is precisely what David and I did. Coyne replies to our simple observation by dissembling, changing the subject, and pouting.

This quote and the one before indicate some of the hazards of stepping outside one’s area of expertise. In the first quote Dr. Egnor displays either basic ignorance of some basic science or else merely some carelessness in stating his case. He makes a point of calling biological evolution a random process, which is not a complete and therefore not an accurate description. The modern theory of evolution involves random processes that induce changes in the genome of a species, but that is about the extent of randomness. Dr. Egnor would have been more accurate, more erudite, if he had emphasized that biological evolution is undirected. The facts be known, what creationists object to so much about biological evolution is not the random processes involved, but the lack of direction. That there is no guiding hand (God) involved is what gives them (including Dr. Egnor) heartburn. What do not like is the absence of God.

The second quote displays an ignorance about the Scopes trial, an ignorance that could have been resolved by reading any of a number of books about the trial. Specifically, Dr. Egnor should have known that John T. Scopes did not teach evolution. His prosecution was a sham, set up by prominent citizens of Dayton, Tennessee, along with the ACLU, to test the legality of the Butler Act. Not knowing some basic information and then revealing this ignorance might not damage Dr. Egnor’s ability to practice medicine, but it dims his light as a commentator on public affairs.

The Hitler Connection

An anti-evolution work of any great length would be incomplete without diving into the Hitler connection, and Expelled has it. But first we are treated to a view from the past—a clip of Uncle Joe (Stalin) waving bravely from the reviewing stand at Red Square. Then we see Ben Stein visiting the Hadamar Euthanasia Center in Germany.

Beginning in 1939, the Nazis used this site as one of six for the T-4 Euthanasia Programme, which performed mass sterilizations and mass murder of “undesirable” members of German society, specifically those with physical and mental disabilities. In total, an estimated 200,000 people were killed at these facilities, including thousands of children. These actions were in keeping with the eugenics ideas about racial purity developed by German researchers. While officially ended in 1941, the programme lasted until the German surrender in 1945. Nearly 15,000 German citizens were transported to the hospital and died there, most killed in a gas chamber. In addition, hundreds of forced labourers from Poland and other countries occupied by the Nazis were killed there.

[Some links deleted]

Ben Stein interviews Uta George at the center. She explains why all these people were killed. They were deemed unfit or undesirable.

The scene cuts to a clip from a Nazi propaganda film. It shows a deer in a natural setting:

We humans have transgressed the law of natural selection in the last decades…

The clip goes on to show images of undesirable people. They are homely to the extreme, some would even say ugly. They may be Jews. We have allowed such useless people to propagate. The error needs to be corrected. Stein asks her to confirm that this is a “Darwinian concept.” She does. He suggests a Malthusian connection. She does not understand. He mentions the economic theories of Thomas Malthus. She does not know Malthus. He mentions “limited resources.” That idea connects. She understands these people needed to be eliminated because their existence strained at society’s limited resources.

Ben and Uta tour this relic of institutionalized murder to lay bare the inhumanity. Here is the corridor down which “patients” took their final steps. Here is the examining table where brains were removed from skulls. Here are the two ovens where bodies were cremated. Darwinism.

Next Ben Stein journey’s with Richard Weikart to that world renowned site of inhumanity, Auschwitz in Poland. As a Jew, this place has a more specific meaning. Jews were murdered here and at similar sites on an industrial scale until European Jewry was nearly eliminated. The two discuss Weikart’s view that Darwinism promotes, and has in the past promoted, racism. Weikart’s book is From Darwin to Hitler.

From Darwin to Hitler: evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany is a 2004 book by Richard Weikart, a historian at California State University, Stanislaus, and a senior fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute. The work is controversial. Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky wrote that “numerous reviews have accused Weikart of selectively viewing his rich primary material, ignoring political, social, psychological, and economic factors” that helped shape Nazi eugenics and racism.

“No Darwin, no Holocaust” is a quote that comes up in this video and frequently in anti-evolution propaganda. To those who mouth this phrase I reply, “You wish.” If you want that to be true then you might be required to explain where racism and genocide got its drive before 1849. I will give you something to start with. Here is where racism and genocide come from:

Zephaniah 2:12-15King James Version (KJV)

12 Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword.

13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.

14 And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds; for he shall uncover the cedar work.

15 This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.

And here:

Judges 1:1-8King James Version (KJV)

Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?

And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.

And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.

And Judah went up; and the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men.

And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.

But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.

And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.

This is where people learn to hate. There’s more if you care to look.

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. Here is what racism looks like. I found these in Google Images:

And this:

kkk4-650x479

And finally these:

KKKandCross ku-klux-klan

This is what racism looks like, Ben Stein. Please note the symbol that is a common denominator in all these images. Do you feel more comfortable now?

I point out that these people are not Darwinists. They are dead sure that God created the Earth and also created man in his own image.

Next up in the review of Expelled—the war between science and religion.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Winning Friends And Influencing People

That piece of shit finally hit the fan.

MH17-malaysia-crash-sitecopy

When the inevitable finally happened the whole nasty business had the imprint of the Russian President:

Rebel’s Social Media Post At Center Of Blame Game For Ukraine Plane Crash

The leader of the pro-Russia rebel group that controls the area where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed on Thursday reportedly posted a warning on social media just as news about the commercial jet was breaking.

“We did warn you — do not fly in our sky,” it reportedly said.

According to Mashable, Igor Gorkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, said that “a plane has just been downed” on VK.com, Russia’s Facebook-like social network, around the same time that Flight 17 went missing.

Strelkov “deleted the post when he found out it was actually a commercial jetliner carrying 295 innocent people — not a military aircraft,” Mashable reported.

As they would say in Russian, “Oй!”

Somebody who wasn’t saying “oops” was our own golden Rush Limbaugh. As it was, he seemed to get some lift from it:

Rush Limbaugh Claims Malaysian Airliner Was Shot Down In a Conspiracy To Help Obama

RUSH: Holy cow, folks. Have you seen the news? A Malaysian Airlines flight has been shot down by a missile over Ukraine, at least according to an advisory to Ukraine’s interior ministry. The Interfax News Agency — which has nothing to do with fax machines. It’s what the Soviets used to call their news agency, Interfax. You didn’t know that, did you?

They even had a hotel chain called Interfax and everybody thought, “What? Is it fax machines?” and it had nothing to do with that. Anyway, it’s a Malaysian Airlines jet. You know, I’ve got the British Open on to the top monitor. I haven’t had CNN on all day. What do you bet they have broomed everything and are covering wall-to-wall the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down by a missile?

Way to go, Golden Boy. Score points while you can. The shine is about to come off this gift from your friend Vlad.

We used to think Vladimir Putin was a fairly mean character, but some in this country have more recently attempted to give him a face lift:

Republicans, conservative pundits, and evangelical fanatics have lined up behind their prototypical conservative Putin, and contrary to what some may think, it is not solely because they hate President Obama they have spent no small amount of time comparing to the Russian president. This past week Fox News strategic analyst Ralph Peters was effusive in praising Russia he asserted “has a real leader, while our President is incapable and unwilling to lead.” Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani could barely contain his enthusiasm for Putin and said “Putin decides what he wants to do and does it in half a day. He makes a decision and executes it quickly and everybody reacts. That’s what you call a real leader.”

But if you really want the lowdown on Mad Vlad you need to listen to somebody who should know, because she can see Russia from her office:

Look, the perception of Obama, of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness … People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.

Vlad, we don’t care if the rest of the world thinks you’re a mindless thug. If all MH17 business makes it too hot for you, then you can always come here. You can even run for president. Just kidding. What need have you for elections?

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the sixth of the series of reviews of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I reviewed the case of Pamela Winnick, a journalist supposedly “expelled” for even mentioning the term “Intelligent Design.”

Winnick has written the book A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion, published in 2005 by Thomas Nelson and sold by HarperCollins Christian Publishing (established in 2012). Thomas Nelson is a centuries-old publishing concern that now has a presence in America:

Thomas Nelson, now based in Nashville, publishes leading Christian authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, John Eldredge, John Maxwell, Charles Stanley, Michael A. O’Donnell, Ted Dekker, John Townsend, and Dave Stone.

So why am I bringing all this up? Maybe it’s because I find it curious that an author setting out a case against modern science is seeming to market her work to a Christian readership. Her response to a critique by Wesley Ellsberry is also enlightening:

 Those of you out there accusing me of being a creationist merely because I gave the PBS series a bad review (deservedly so) and have a foundation to explore, from a media standpoint, the evolution debate out to know that I’m a practicing Jew and a liberal Democrat and a native of New York City.

I am also an attorney.

Also FYI, the paper I write for, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has strongly endorsed the teaching of evolution (and properly so in my opion)–primarily because I was the only reporter in all of PA who scooped the story of how PA almost adopted standards that might have allowed the teaching of evolution.

I am, however, writing a book about the subject showing how the media and scientific elite has stifled meaningful debate on the subject. In doing so, I am indeed supported ($25,000) by the Phillips Foundation, an organization which takes absolutely no position on the subject of evolution, but which seeks to promote fair and balanced reporting in all subject areas.

Whoever out there who is mis-identifying my purpose a ought to have the courage to identify him/herself. There is terribly reminiscent of the McCarthy period and reflects terribly on all of who seek to defend Darwinism.

[This was an RSS post, apparently written in haste. I have left the typos in place.]

A liberal Democrat? That is interesting. I have been in the creationism business for 25 years, and I have found few Democrats and fewer liberals siding with creationism. I was not able to track down Ellsberry’s original critique, but his response to Winnick’s response is available. Some of his remarks are notable:

The Phillips Foundation clearly states that the fellowship is about exploring the lack of “tolerance” for “teaching creationism”. It says nothing about “meaningful debate”. This contradicts Winnick’s claim that the Phillips Foundation takes “absolutely no position on the subject of evolution”.

Further, the content of the Phillips Foundation site gives no support to the claim by Winnick that the Phillips Foundation’s only concern is promoting fair and balanced reporting. Consider, for instance, this page, which repeats the phrase, “liberal bias”, throughout.

Other pages which belie the stated goal of “objective journalism” include this page, which lists the projects picked out by the 1999 fellowship recipients. It’s not just me who can see this, for this page on Contests and Scholarships: Free-Market Conservatism lists the fellowship program of the Phillips Foundation right at the top.

Full disclosure: I am a Wesley Ellsberry fan. He worked with the National Center for Science Education in preparing a case for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, and we have hosted him at the North Texas Skeptics in years back. It will be interesting in future posts to explore the Pamela Winnick controversy at greater length.

In the mean time I will get on to the next and the final of the souls who suffered expulsion in the Ben Stein video.

Michael Egnor

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Michael Egnor is a prominent neurosurgeon and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook University. He became inoculated against evolution (the science of biological evolution) after reading  Michael Denton‘s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Egnor has aligned himself with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), one of the leading creationist organizations in this country and likely the absolute leader in support of the Intelligent Design version of creationism. An excerpt from one of his posts on the CSC’s Evolution News blog may be characteristic:

Scopes was put on trial for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching human evolution to schoolchildren in Tennessee. What Scopes actually taught, if anything, is unclear, because Scopes was untruthful about what he did, and the trial was a legal ploy to spur a Supreme Court ruling. The truth was a secondary consideration at best to Scopes and to his team.

Hunter’s textbook Civic Biology was racist and taught eugenics. It was vile stuff. If a teacher taught from it today, he would not be prosecuted for violating the Butler Act. He would be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.

If Dr. Egnor had a great interest in laying out the facts about the Scopes Trial he could have further elaborated:

  • The ACLU advertised for somebody to participate in a test case of the Butler Act.
  • John T. Scopes was a college student at the time, on a break in his education, teaching high school physics in Dayton, Tennessee. He was also the baseball coach.
  • Prominent citizens in the town decided to bring the ACLU case to Dayton, and the persuaded Scopes to volunteer as the subject.
  • Scopes did not teach evolution. That was never a secret. The high school principal taught the section on evolution, but nobody wanted him to be prosecuted.
  • Students of Scopes were tutored by the defense not to reveal that Scopes had not taught evolution. This was an open secret, because everybody involved wanted a trial.

What is refreshing is that Dr. Egnor did go to the trouble to read George William Hunter’s A Civic Biology. The original copyright is 100 years old this year, and Amazon’s Kindle edition became available two years ago, with a free version appearing on Amazon in December of last year. Being on a tight budget (currently unemployed) I obtained the free version. The book contains 11 uses of the word “eugenics.” In one case the word is used twice in reference to selective breeding of plants and animals (not people). There is one section on eugenics involving people. The remaining uses of the word are in references to other publications and in the index. Here is an excerpt on human eugenics:

Eugenics.—When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.

Hunter, George William (2012-12-18). A Civic Biology Presented in Problems (Kindle Locations 3261-3264). . Kindle Edition.

The section goes on to describe stories of two famous families, one exhibiting the flower of human intellect and achievement and the other exposing the worst of human nature. I will send a copy of the full text of this section to anybody who requests one.

In his desire to enlighten his readers Dr. Egnor has glossed over a number of points:

  • John Scopes did not write this book.
  • John Scopes did not cause this book to be purchased for the school. The Dayton, Tennessee, school system did.
  • John Scopes was not the biology teacher. He taught only some classes.
  • Eugenics has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution relates to evolution facilitated by natural selection. Selective breeding of plants, animals and even humans is not natural selection.

Then what was it that got Dr. Egnor expelled?

Summary

The Alliance for Science, a citizen’s group in Virginia, sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution,” to highlight the important role of evolution in the medical sciences. Physician Michael Egnor posted an essay on an intelligent design blog in response, claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine. This was more a statement of Egnor’s ignorance about evolution than a reflection on evolution’s place in medicine.

The Claim

“When neurosurgeon Michael Egnor wrote an essay for high school students saying doctors didn’t need to study evolution in order to practice medicine, the Darwinists were quick to try and exterminate this new threat.” (Ben Stein, Expelled)

This is from the NCSE Expelled Exposed site. They provide some additional elaboration:

The Claim

Michael Egnor says in Expelled that he expected criticism, but was shocked by the “viciousness” and “baseness” of the response.

The Facts

Michael Egnor had apparently never been on the Internet before.

Yes, tell me about it, Dr. Egnor.

Back in 2007 Burt Humburg posted on The Panda’s Thumb blog a doctor’s response to Dr. Egnor’s assertion that physicians do not study evolution and do not need to know or accept evolution:

[Egnor]

Isn’t it “a funny question” whether we would want physicians to know evolution? There are basic sciences that are taught in medical school that must be “important to medicine” like anatomy and physiology. Doctors don’t “study evolution in medical school”, “there are no courses in medical school on evolution,” “there are no professors of evolution” in medical schools,” and “there are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools,” and “no evolutionary biologists” would provide useful information to a medical team in hospital. Therefore, evolution just isn’t important to the practice of medicine. I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution? “I do use many” understandings provided by basic science in my work, such as population biology, “[but] evolutionary biology itself, as distinct from these scientific fields, contributes nothing to modern medicine.” “No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.” So I wouldn’t want my doctor to have studied evolution; that answer wouldn’t win the “Alliance for Science” prize, but it would be the truth.

[Humburg]

Section 1: Evolution is a Vital Basic Science for Medicine
I’ll start off my fisking by criticizing an aspect of medical practice and, to make sense of it, those who aren’t physicians need to know that there’s a great divide in the practice of medicine between the physicians who practice to simply the “standard of care,” (the kind of practice you’re expected to know for quizzes, tests, and boards and the level of care you need to meet to not get sued) and the physicians who know the basic science behind why the standards of care are what they are.

For example, when someone is having a heart attack (and daily after they have one), they need to be on aspirin because of the pathophysiology of heart attacks. (I review much of it that pathophysiology here.) Briefly, the aspirin irreversibly inhibits the platelet enzyme involved with forming clots. But you don’t have to know about the irreversible acetylation of cyclooxygenase that occurs in the presence of acetylsalycylic acid in platelets; all you have to do is give people aspirins after heart attacks. The “divide” I refer to is between the physicians who know the biochemistry behind that reaction and the doctors who are content to know only that they should give aspirins after heart attacks. Make no mistake: one can be a great doctor and simply practice to the standard of care knowing not a whit of the basic science that provides that standard’s underpinnings. But if you can know the reasons why the standard of care is the way it is, why on Earth would you limit yourself by choosing to not know it?

The example I’ve given here is limited to a single therapeutic regimen in cardiology, but ideally there’s basic science that undergirds everything we do in medicine. There’s a reason why it’s no big deal if you’re not wearing lead in the radiology suite (thanks to the inverse-square law, as long as you’re three or four feet away from the radiation source, the dose you get is negligible). There’s a reason why diazepam – a drug we use to treat seizures – can cause seizures (much of the brain’s neurons are inhibitory and their suppression leads to increased seizure activity). There’s a reason why two different rheumatological diseases can require separate therapies (diseases involving deposition of immune complexes wouldn’t likely be amenable to an exchange of antibiodies as much as they would be to suppression of the immune system overall). Again, there are doctors who know or want to know the reasons behind the practice and there are doctors who don’t know and/or don’t want to know those reasons.

Doctor Egnor seems to like being in that latter category. More than that, he seems to recommend not knowing the basic science that undergirds the practice of medicine, to the extent that he perceives evolution might have had a hand in developing the state of the art. I see his perspectives as nothing more than ignorance advocacy for the basic sciences, writ large and not limited whatsoever to evolution.

Michael Egnor has thrown in his lot with the science deprived at the CSC, and as a result a lot of shine has gone off his “M.D.” My personal perspective: I live in a city with (what seems to be) a highly religious population. My own personal physician asks me my religious affiliation. (?) I told him I am a Texan. My beloved spouse goes to a doctor in this city’s vast medical establishment. There are copies of prayers on the wall in the waiting room. I’m still alive and doing well, but I would get great comfort if my personal physician would talk dirty to me. Tell me about the biological origins of human diseases. All that nasty stuff. I think I know my doctor well enough to be sure he is up to speed and knows all about modern biology. That’s the assurance I need, not an appeal to some higher power that erupted in the brains of primitive tribes thousands of years ago.

More later on Michael Egnor. Next up I will renew my review of Expelled with a discussion of Hitler, the Holocaust and how Darwin is to blame.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

The Liberty Counsel?

I sometimes give money to the Texas Freedom Network, and I get updates on their blog. The TFN is a good place for me to start when I’m looking for something interesting to post about Texas politics and general craziness elsewhere. My usual approach is to follow the sources from the TFN and do an analysis.

This was so intriguing I decided to repost it in its entirety without additional comment. It’s one of those cases where the thing speaks for itself:

Lunch with Liberty Counsel

Rev. Michael Diaz

Religious-right propaganda distributed at the event by Liberty Counsel.

Late last Thursday I received an invitation to a “Who Will Stand?” pastors meeting at Grace Community Church in Houston hosted by Liberty Counsel. It was short notice but my interest was piqued by the speaker line-up: “Governor Mike Huckabee, self-taught historian David Barton, Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver, and many, many others.”

About 10 people were present, and maybe five were actual local church pastors with a few bringing their significant others. That’s right, only 10 people showed up in a room set up for 80 – with a catered lunch from Chick-fil-a boxes, of course! I must say the small turn-out surprised me, considering the build-up given to the event.

The speakers “appeared” on a 70-minute DVD designed to mobilize “Christians” to vote in November. Their main message centered upon the fact that churches are allowed to lobby politically, and that no church has ever lost their tax exempt status from the IRS for lobbying. Mr. David Barton gave more revisionist history about “England attacking all preachers in the 18th Century, and that’s why America was founded as a Christian nation.” Did the English monarchy (a Protestant monarchy!) really attack ALL preachers, including those in the Church of England? One of the speakers admitted the “religious right” is no more, and that’s why there’s a need for “Christians” to vote.

The meeting ended with a song about standing up and fighting, defending our “Christian” nation against “secular socialists.” Nice try.

I was surprised no one was present from the Houston Area Pastor’s Council, except for the infamous Kendall Baker, the epitome of Christian values. It made me wonder again just how it is that the “religious right” has created such fear among progressives.

In any case, I took the meeting message to heart: Who will stand in November? Whose voice will be heard from the voting booth when Texas’ future leadership is decided and measures like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance stand or fall based on turn-out? As a person of faith, I plan to do all I can to ensure it is the voice of inclusion my congregants and Texas’ leaders hear.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

JealousGod

This is the fifth in the series on Expelled, the video by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. Previously I told the case of Robert Marks, who did not exactly get expelled. He is Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University, and he got to keep his job and about everything else. Baylor University just disassociated itself from his advocacy for Intelligent Design, and Professor Marks is no longer allowed to host his website on a University server or to attach his personal agenda to the name of Baylor University. Bummer!

Something interesting about that story is it pokes a hole in the story spread by creationists that the science behind biological evolution is a conspiracy to suppress religious doctrine. If atheists are working to turn people away from God, then they are getting a lot of help from Christians. Please note that Baylor is not a secular institution:

Baylor University is a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas, Baylor is the oldest continuously operating university in Texas and was one of the first educational institutions west of the Mississippi River. The university’s 1,000-acre campus is located on the banks of the Brazos River next to freeway I-35, between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Austin. Baylor University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Baylor is notable for its law, business, science, music and English programs.

[Some links deleted]

Let’s see who else teaches biological evolution and expels Intelligent Design from its science curriculum:

  • Southern Methodist University
  • Texas Christian University
  • Brigham Young University
  • Wheaton College
  • Notre Dame

Who does support creationism? Liberty University comes to mind:

Liberty University teaches young Earth creationism as an explanation for the appearance of life on earth. The university works with young Earth creationist organizations including Answers in Genesis. In biology classes students are taught both creationism and evolution and that creationism offers a better explanation of biological diversity than evolution. In October, 2006 the university published an advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education in an attempt to recruit staff to its biology department. The advertisement stated that the university was “seeking faculty who can demonstrate a personal faith commitment to its evangelical Christian purpose” and specified that “compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy [is] required.”

[Some links deleted]

Now, that’s academic freedom!

Pamela Winnick

One of those featured in Expelled is Pamela Winnick. Her appearance in the video (just now watched the clip) is brief, so I rely on what the NCSE has to say:

The Claim

“I was not taking a position in favor of creationism, I was writing about intelligent design…. And having merely written on a subject was enough to put you on this blacklist. If you give any credence to it whatsoever, which means just writing about it, you’re just finished as a journalist.” (Pamela Winnick, Expelled)

The Facts

Winnick’s earliest known writing on intelligent design appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during the adoption of the Pennsylvania science education standards in late 2000. At the time, her articles regularly used phrases and characterizations about evolution that derived from intelligent design talking points. Her position did not necessarily support intelligent design in particular, but communicated the general notion that “fairness” required access to the marketplace of ideas and that students were somehow poorer for not hearing about intelligent design (and similar alternatives that falsely claimed scientific status).

However, this relatively innocuous coverage was only the beginning. In February 2001, Winnick interviewed intelligent design proponent Michael Behe with a collection of softball questions and presented his answers uncritically. Later that year she wrote a review of PBS’s Evolution series where she criticized it for not covering “the Intelligent Design movement, which began about a decade ago when serious scientists – many with doctorates from prestigious universities – began to tackle evolution on scientific grounds.” This is not “just writing about” intelligent design. This is an endorsement.

So Winnick was advocating intelligent design. Even so, this sounds like a poor basis for being blacklisted as a journalist – but there is no evidence that this ever happened. As a supposedly “blacklisted” reporter, Winnick continued to write for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette until August 2002, almost two years after she began her supposedly career-ending articles on intelligent design; she continues to write occasional guest columns for them (including an anti-evolution opinion piece in December 2005), and has written recent articles for the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal.

Winnick’s interview with Michael Behe contains an interesting bit:

Q. Has your questioning of evolution affected your academic career?

A. My questioning of Darwinian evolution has brought me notoriety in some circles, but hasn’t brought any negative repercussions. I still teach and publish as before, although my research interests have shifted toward more explicitly evolutionary questions. I’m frequently asked to lecture on college campuses. I’m having a lot of fun!

Talk about being expelled!

Winnick’s review of the PBS documentary gives the indication she is not a fan of Charles Darwin:

In yet another tedious re-enactment, we’re shown the eventual demise of Darwin’s own religious faith. Having flunked out of medical school, he had flirted briefly with joining the clergy — but eventually he loses all belief in God.

We witness this when Darwin’s daughter dies at age 10. Others in the grieving family go to church, but Darwin lingers behind and — in what is supposed to be a portentous moment — cannot bring himself to follow the others into church. What causes his atheism? Did it spring from his own theories? Or from the sheer cruelty of life?

It took 21 years for Darwin to write “Origin of Species,” suggesting that he suffered profound inner turmoil at the implications of his theory and its eventual reception by the public. A genuinely dramatic rendering of Darwin’s life would have portrayed this struggle. Instead, we’re subjected to banalities and melodrama.

Once having undertaken to show us Darwin’s life, the producers had the obligation to give us the whole truth — a very dangerous terrain into which few care to tread.

But why will no one speak of Darwin’s vicious racism, so amply set out in his book “The Descent of Man,” in which he plainly states that blacks are inferior to whites? Why not also tell us about the influence he exerted, however unintentionally, on the eugenics movement and on Marx and Hitler?

This is a story about the development of a scientific theory. In her review Winnick exhibits an obsession with the inner Darwin. There is the matter of 19th century racism and the matter of evolutionary theory driving eugenics (Marx and Hitler). A look at Darwin’s book reveals maybe half a hundred uses of the word “Negro” or Negroes.” This book is, after all, about the descent of man. A typical use is this example, talking about the impact of geography on racial differences:

Our naturalist would then perhaps turn to geographical distribution, and he would probably declare that those forms must be distinct species, which differ not only in appearance, but are fitted for hot, as well as damp or dry countries, and for the Artic regions. He might appeal to the fact that no species in the group next to man–namely, the Quadrumana, can resist a low temperature, or any considerable change of climate; and that the species which come nearest to man have never been reared to maturity, even under the temperate climate of Europe. He would be deeply impressed with the fact, first noticed by Agassiz (7. ‘Diversity of Origin of the Human Races,’ in the ‘Christian Examiner,’ July 1850.), that the different races of man are distributed over the world in the same zoological provinces, as those inhabited by undoubtedly distinct species and genera of mammals. This is manifestly the case with the Australian, Mongolian, and Negro races of man; in a less well-marked manner with the Hottentots; but plainly with the Papuans and Malays, who are separated, as Mr. Wallace has shewn, by nearly the same line which divides the great Malayan and Australian zoological provinces. The Aborigines of America range throughout the Continent; and this at first appears opposed to the above rule, for most of the productions of the Southern and Northern halves differ widely: yet some few living forms, as the opossum, range from the one into the other, as did formerly some of the gigantic Edentata. The Esquimaux, like other Arctic animals, extend round the whole polar regions. It should be observed that the amount of difference between the mammals of the several zoological provinces does not correspond with the degree of separation between the latter; so that it can hardly be considered as an anomaly that the Negro differs more, and the American much less from the other races of man, than do the mammals of the African and American continents from the mammals of the other provinces. Man, it may be added, does not appear to have aboriginally inhabited any oceanic island; and in this respect, he resembles the other members of his class.

Charles Darwin (2014-07-04). The Descent Of Man (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 3332-3347). . Kindle Edition.

In discussing race Darwin speaks the language of 19th century science and society, such language now considered less than polite. Not emphasized by present day enemies of Darwin is that he was a staunch abolitionist and an advocate of equal treatment.

Darwin’s final word on the subject would not seem to fit Winnick’s agenda:

Through the means just specified, aided perhaps by others as yet undiscovered, man has been raised to his present state. But since he attained to the rank of manhood, he has diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more fitly called, sub-species. Some of these, such as the Negro and European, are so distinct that, if specimens had been brought to a naturalist without any further information, they would undoubtedly have been considered by him as good and true species. Nevertheless all the races agree in so many unimportant details of structure and in so many mental peculiarities that these can be accounted for only by inheritance from a common progenitor; and a progenitor thus characterised would probably deserve to rank as man.

Charles Darwin (2014-07-04). The Descent Of Man (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 11484-11489). . Kindle Edition.

Regarding eugenics, Marx and Hitler—

If Hitler found comfort in Darwin he had a different way of showing it. The University of Arizona has placed on line documents relating to books scheduled to be burned by the Nazis:

6. Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).

Don’t ask me what Monism is, but Wikipedia’s item on Ernst Haeckel has this:

Haeckel founded a group called the “Monist League” to promote his religious and political beliefs.

Karl Marx thought Darwin’s studies supported his social theories, but Darwin did not return the favor.

Karl Marx (1818 — 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820 — 1895) published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, with Marx’s work Das Kapital published in three volumes in 1867, 1885 and 1894. These works established the principles of communism, which had at its core the evolution of societies by advancement between different states. This, they argued, was caused by class struggle, and the proletariat should co-operate to overthrow the bourgeoisie.

When Karl Marx read Darwin’s work on evolution he immediately believed that it supported his worldview and theory of class struggle. Karl Marx sent Darwin an autographed copy of his Das Kapital; Darwin responded with a polite “thank you” letter, but never read the book. Marx believed that Darwin’s work both helped to explain the internal struggles of human society, and provided a material explanation for the processes of nature, something which his philosophy was heavily based on. However, he had difficulty accepting the apparent support Darwin’s book gave to the theories of Thomas Malthus.

In 1861 Karl Marx wrote to his friend Ferdinand Lassalle, “Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle. … Despite all shortcomings, it is here that, for the first time, ‘teleology’ in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained.”

The radical economist Herbert Spencer (1820 — 1903) coined the phrase survival of the fittest in his 1851 work Social Statics to describe his revolutionary liberal economic theory, which in 20th century terms would be considered right-wing. Spencer supported the Whig Malthusian argument that programmes to aid the poor, (i.e. the proletariat) did more harm than good, in direct contrast to Tory paternalism, and to communism which advocated “to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability”.

[Some links deleted]

Do we want to consider for a moment that Darwin’s work did give aid and comfort to Marx and Hitler? Let’s do and then see what derives.

First note that Marx caused no harm. He did not kill anybody, he did not put anybody in prison or confiscate anybody’s property. He never exercised political control over people. He only wrote papers and books and spoke in favor of his peculiar social ideas. In America that is called freedom of speech.

But suppose that Adolph Hitler and the other Nazis did get inspiration from Darwin before going off to start wars and to exterminate by murder millions of innocents. This would not invalidate Darwin’s theories. If Darwin was right, then that’s the matter. The consequences of an idea do not invalidate the truth of the idea. Tough it out.

R.G. Price has posted an item titled The Mis-portrayal of Darwin as a Racist. Among other things he has this to say:

Darwin’s View of Race

In contrast to the existing views on race, Darwin showed that:

    • People cannot be classified as different species
    • All races are related and have a common ancestry
    • All people come from “savage” origins
    • The different races have much more in common than was widely believed
    • The mental capabilities of all races are virtually the same and there is greater variation within races than between races
    • Different races of people can interbreed and there is no concern for ill effects
    • Culture, not biology, accounted for the greatest differences between the races
    • Races are not distinct, but rather they blend together

Pamela Winnick may have gotten her peculiar slant from her inner self, or she may have gotten it straight from the producers of the Expelled video, because Ben Stein eventually gets around to the Darwinian inspiration for racism, eugenics and genocide. It’s a heartwarming thing to witness.

Winnick’s problem as a serious journalist is her injection of personal views (or the views marketed by the creationists) into what should have been objective reporting. Editors tend to shy away from contributors who can’t submit a straight story. This is not so much expulsion as it is good journalism. Her book is A Jealous God, available from Amazon in hardback and Kindle editions.

Coming next, world class neurosurgeon Michael Egnor.

Wacko Come Home

Texas' own

Texas’ own

I keep telling myself, “I can stop any time.” Really, I can. But before I do, just this one more:

Mocking non-believers for failing to grasp the logic behind the existence of God, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) cited an exchange with the late Texas entertainer Bob Murphey to disprove atheism during a prayer rally in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

“Bob Murphey used to say, ‘You know, I feel so bad for atheists, I do,’” Gohmert recalled at “Celebrate America,” a three-week-long revival event. “‘Think about it, no matter how smart they think they are, an atheist has to admit that he believes the equation: nobody plus nothing equals everything.’”

“How embarrassing for an intellectual to have to say ‘Yeah, I believe that,'” Gohmert said, citing Murphey. “Nobody plus nothing equals everything.”

Gohmert delivered his final point to a chorus of applause as he concluded, “You couldn’t get everything unless there was something that was the creator of everything and that’s the Lord we know.” Gohmert did not elaborate on how he leapt from something to nothing to everything to the “Lord we know” rather than to, say, a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Gohmert also neglected to explain who would have created the Lord he knows, or whether the Lord created Himself before He existed.

I want readers to take a step back and look at this exchange through a wide angle lens:

  • An elected official representing voters from a major state is using this argument.
  • Grown people, people who can drive cars and vote, are eating it up.

Where’s my bunker? The zombie apocalypse has already started.

But wait. Maybe it’s not the zombie apocalypse after all. Maybe it’s just stupid people being stupid. Let’s start with the wisdom of Texas’ own Congressman Louie Gohmert of District 1. Casey Michel of the Houston Post has honored us with a snapshot:

  • So when [caribou] want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline. … So my real concern now [is] if oil stops running through the pipeline … do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing?
  • [Regarding the shooting rampage in Aurora, Colorado] You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place. … 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.
  • [N]ominating Florida Rep. Allen West as Speaker of the House … after West had already lost his reelection bid.
  • This administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.
  • [Terror babies] [The children] could be raised and coddled as future terrorists [and] twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.

I have previously noted the undeniable fact that Oklahoma fosters its home grown wacko just to make Texas look good. The problem with that ploy is that excess wacko keeps filtering south across the Red River.

Keep trying, Oklahoma. We need all the help we can get.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

The Journey Not Taken

This should be funny. The problem is that it is not. Following is a photo of an actual person’s car, and the troubling thing is the person is serious about the message on his window. Dead serious.

Take me away.

From Google images

Everybody keep calm. Notice the date. October 21, 2011 has already passed, and nothing happened. More specifically, the world did not end. How do we know. Well, we just know, that’s all.

First, pay attention to the referenced website:

Harold Camping’s Family Radio Suffering Economic Woes?

BY KATHERINE WEBER, CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
May 14, 2013|7:40 am

Recent reports indicate that the California-based Christian radio network Family Radio, run by evangelist Harold Camping, may be facing dire economic straits, as seen by public tax documents and alleged interviews with former Family Radio employees.

The evangelical radio network, which has been on-air since 1958, has reportedly sold its three largest FM radio stations: WFME in Newark-New York City, WFSI in Annapolis, Md.-Washington, D.C., and WKDN in Philadelphia.  Additionally, the Associated Press reported Monday that “tax records show the nonprofit network saw its net assets drop to $29.2 million by the end of 2011, from a net worth of $135 million four years earlier.”

You might not recognize Family Radio, but if you don’t recognize the name Harold Camping, then here is a quick refresher:

Harold Egbert Camping (July 19, 1921 – December 15, 2013) was an American Christian radio broadcaster, author and evangelist. Beginning in 1958, he served as president of Family Radio, a California-based radio station group that broadcasts to more than 150 markets in the United States. In October 2011, he retired from active broadcasting following a stroke, but still maintained a role at Family Radio until his death. Camping is notable for issuing multiple failed predictions of dates for the End Times, which temporarily gained him a global following and millions of dollars of donations.

Camping predicted that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21, 2011, whereupon the saved would be taken up to heaven in the rapture, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world. He had previously predicted that Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994.

His prediction for May 21, 2011, was widely reported, in part because of a large-scale publicity campaign by Family Radio, and it prompted ridicule from atheist organizations and rebuttals from Christian organizations. After May 21 passed without the predicted incidents, Camping said he believed that a “spiritual” judgment had occurred on that date, and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the final destruction of the universe by God. Except for one press appearance on May 23, 2011, Camping largely avoided press interviews after May 21, particularly after he suffered a stroke in June 2011. October 21, 2011, passed without the predicted apocalypse, leading to comments that Camping’s ministry would collapse after the false prophecy.

[Some links removed]

In fact, Harold Camping has passed this way before:

But then, let’s get serious. What has Harold Camping been predicting? The Rapture. The what? Camping has been predicting a fictional event? He needs to get real. Predicting something that cannot and will not happen is the first disastrous misstep on the road to ruin. He needs to start predicting something that can actually happen. He needs to start predicting real stuff. But what?

If you get the idea that Harold Camping was a modern day William Miller, then you are well into the game:

October 22, 1844, the day Jesus was expected to return, ended like any other day  to the disappointment of the Millerites. Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some Millerites continued to look daily for Christ’s return, others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium, the “Great Sabbath“, and that, therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” O. J. D. Pickands used Revelation 14:14-16 to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud, and must be prayed down. Probably the majority however, simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives.

Some members rejoined their previous denominations while a substantial number became Quakers. Hundreds joined the Shakers, who believed that Christ had already appeared for the second time in the person of Mother Ann Lee. The “Advents'” impact was greatest on the Shaker villages at Union Village and Whitewater, Ohio, Harvard, Massachusetts, and Canterbury, New Hampshire. Some remained Shakers for the rest of their lives; others left after a short time.

The modern day  Seventh-day Adventist Church is a lingering flicker of Millerism.

But to the main story. Jay Parini has written an opinion piece for CNN and has provided some additional details:

Even Jesus wouldn’t buy ‘the rapture’

By Jay Parini
updated 12:59 PM EDT, Sun July 6, 2014

Editor’s note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. He has just published “Jesus: The Human Face of God,” a biography of Jesus. Follow him on Twitter@JayParini. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — HBO has just launched a new TV series based on a novel by Tom Perrotta called “The Leftovers,” which in turn is based on the fundamentalist Christian idea of the rapture. Apart from the title, which suggests a refrigerator full of stale food, the series looks promising.

It’s a terrific premise: Jesus returns and calls to heaven 140 million people, leaving behind billions of stupefied, confused, and grief-stricken others. In the show, a mother loses her baby, who disappears. A boy’s father seems to have vanished as he pushes a shopping cart. Cars collide as drivers go missing. Chaos strikes in the fictional Mapleton, New York — and throughout the world.

How to cope?

The famous “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins was already out there. It consisted of 16 best-selling novels on the same premise, and it’s about to come to the big screen again, in a film starring Nicholas Cage. The original film adaptation (of three) appeared in 2000. And then there is the Christian real-time strategy video game called “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” If anyone hasn’t noticed, the rapture has become a commercial juggernaut, endlessly shape-shifting, finding new and highly entertaining outlets.

But what about the theology behind this industry?

It turns out there is a lot less to the rapture than meets the eye.

The concept of the rapture, in connection with premillennialism, was expressed by the 17th-century American Puritan father and son Increase and Cotton Mather. They held to the idea that believers would be caught up in the air, followed by judgments on earth, and then the millennium. The term rapture was used by Philip Doddridge and John Gill in their New Testament commentaries, with the idea that believers would be caught up prior to judgment on earth and Jesus’ second coming.

There exists at least one 18th century and two 19th century pre-tribulation references: in an essay published in 1788 in Philadelphia by the Baptist Morgan Edwards which articulated the concept of a pre-tribulation rapture,[25] in the writings of Catholic priest Emmanuel Lacunza in 1812, and by John Nelson Darby in 1827. Emmanuel Lacunza (1731–1801), a Jesuit priest (under the pseudonym Juan Josafat Ben Ezra), wrote an apocalyptic work entitled La venida del Mesías en gloria y majestad (The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty). The book appeared first in 1811, 10 years after his death. In 1827 it was translated into English by the Scottish minister Edward Irving.

[Some links deleted]

Save Jesus

Save Jesus

The relevant biblical passage is from Thessalonians:

 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 New King James Version (NKJV)

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Bible.org provides some explanation of the rapture concept:

The Issue

Pretribulationists believe that Christ will return in the rapture, prior to the tribulation, to take believers to heaven. They understand the second coming of Christ in judgment to be after the tribulation (as in diagram).

Posttribulationists believe that the rapture of Christians and the second coming occur together after the tribulation.

Other less popular views are that the rapture will occur in the middle of the tribulation (midtribulationalism) or that the rapture will occur before the tribulation but only spiritually mature Christians will go (partial rapture theory) or that the rapture will occur during the last half of the tribulation but before the final judgments (pre-wrath rapture view).

Parini’s take is that the rapture is a modern concept pulled out of the air by some people with too much time on their hands (my interpretation):

The rapture concept is relatively new. It started with an Anglo-Irish theologian, who in the 1830s invented the concept. This may come as a shocker to many, but it’s a fact: Before John Nelson Darby imagined this scenario in the clouds, no Christian had ever heard of the rapture.

The idea was popularized by Cyrus I. Scofield, an American minister who published a famous reference Bible in 1908, one that developed the idea of an elaborate series of final periods in history known as dispensations. Scofield, like Darby, read the Book of Revelation as a vision of the future, not a fiery dream of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.

The latter view remains, in fact, the most common interpretation of the Book of Revelation by mainstream theologians and was described recently by Princeton scholar Elaine Pagels in “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.”

It’s a problem, however, for rapture-minded Christians that the word “rapture” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, unless you’re willing to think in broadly metaphorical terms. Rapture thinking is most often traced back to the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, where he writes: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be snatched up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

My take is there is a bunch of people with more fingers on their hands than cells in their brains, and they are looking for interpretations in something that never existed in the first place. Except that it’s a nice springboard for political statements of a certain brand:

Praise the Lord

From Google Images

Aren’t you glad you live in Texas?

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.