Fool’s Argument

Eighth of a series

This is the eighth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode continued with creationist Stephen C. Meyer, discussing the concept he featured in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time around Meyer argues for the return of the God hypothesis. That is, we should accept the hypothesis that a supernatural being, with thought processes much like human thought, is behind the wonders of the Universe and of life, itself. Above we see host David Stotts, camping out in the mountains at night, taking in the wonders of the Universe.

Meyer kicks off his discussion. Illustrations are screen shots from Episode 8, and viewers should take note. Once I copy an image on my computer screen I use Corel PaintShop Pro to massage it. I enhance brightness and contrast to make key features easier to pick out from the small images I post with the story. Apologies for anybody whose picture comes off a bit weird.

Meyer talks of “Those who have gone before us.” These are great scientists of olden days who accepted the God hypothesis a priori and even employed it as a motivation for their study of nature.

He recalls his days at Cambridge University. Over the Great Cavendish Door (at the Cavendish Laboratory), was this slogan.

Here it is so search engines can  find it.

The Great Cavendish Door

“Magna opera Domini exquista in omnes voluntates ejus.”

“Great are the works of the Lord, sought out by all who take pleasure in them.”

Meyer mentions Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and James Clerk Maxwell, supposedly as those who took pleasure in the works of the Lord.

Meyer launches into the thesis of this episode.

Thesis

Theism—with its affirmation of a transcendent, powerful and intelligent Creator—provides the best explanation of the key evidences concerning the origin of the universe and life.

I could let this pass and get onto my analysis of Meyer’s talk, but I have to take issue with the foregoing. What is actually true is that Theism is a made-up hypothesis that can explain anything and everything, making it a fairly useless basis for scientific inquiry.

That said, here is a chart that recapitulates from previous episodes. The title is “Multiple Competing Hypotheses.”

The competing hypotheses are Deism, Naturalism, Theism, and Pantheism. Meyer is going to eventually cross off all of these except theism, which is going to rule the day. I am going to start by crossing off pantheism, because I have no understanding of it, and my intellectual depth does not plumb Meyer’s discussion of it.

Meyer crosses off naturalism, due to arguments he has made previously. Nature cannot explain the miraculous origin of the universe and the wonders of the world around us. That leaves the competing deism and theism.

Deism Meyer throws out immediately, as would all thinking people. Deism is the idea that God—or whatever—started things off and then went on vacation, having nothing more to do with us. Meyer knows this is not the case, because the Universe was around for billions of years before there were plants and animals—and people. And God, or whatever, is needed to explain these late developments.

Biology

What runs the show in biology is information.

Strictly speaking, this is correct. What runs the show in a mechanistic world is information. Information is a the medium of cause and effect. The Earth goes around the sun because of gravity. Gravity transmits to the Earth the information that the sun is there. A bullet leaves the barrel of a gun at high velocity. This is a manifestation of the bullet receiving information about the burning powder in the cartridge. You cry because your receive an email from your girlfriend saying she has dumped you. And so on. This is cause and effect. This is the transfer of information. Meyer wants to make more of it.

And that is unfortunate for Meyer.

Best Explanation

Information is the product of intelligent activity.

Obviously not. See the preceding examples.

Meyer cites examples in the history of the Universe where information was introduced.

Loci of Design

Fine-Tuning of the Laws of Physics … Origin of First Life … Cambrian Information Explosion

These relate to:

Big Bang 13 bya … 3.85 bya (first life) … 530 mya [Cambrian Explosion]

13 Billion Years of Cosmic History

As a side note, this will not go over well with the Young Earth Creationists, e.g., the folks at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), now located in Dallas, Texas. Most interesting is the way people like Meyer and those of the ICR team up, discarding principal talking points, to push their central theme, “God did it.”

Now Meyer launches into the manufactured controversy of the Cambrian Explosion. This video is by now eight years old, so we have to wonder whether the Discovery Institute still pushes it. And the answer is yes, they do. Here is an item by the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

The Cambrian explosion remains one of the severest evidential challenges to Darwinian evolution. Recent fossil finds adduced to support evolution deserve a closer look.

Ediacaran Fossils

Since our recent posts about the “Ediacaran Explosion” and the enigmatic Dicksonia fossils, a couple of news items have appeared about Ediacaran organisms.

Rangeomorphs. At New Scientist, Andy Coghlan invites readers to “See inside the 580-million-year-old creature no one understands” – the rangeomorphs that resemble large petals or leaves. Most fossils of these creatures appear as flattened impressions in the rock, showing only their outer surfaces. Now, for the first time, University College London scientists performed CT scans of rangeomorphs found in their original 3-D condition in Namibia. This is the first look “inside” these organisms. What was found?

[Alana] Sharp and her colleagues think all six fronds may have been inflated like long balloons. They may even have touched one another – meaning that a horizontal section through Rangea would have looked more like a slice through an orange rather than one through a starfruit.

“Our work supports a lifestyle of absorption of nutrients through membranes inflated to the maximum, increasing the surface area across which these organisms seemed to feed,” says Sharp. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, these creatures had no organs, no systems, and no body cavities. The researchers found a central stalk filled with sediment that may have helped “support the creature like a primitive skeleton.” But it isn’t a skeleton; it’s just a “cone-shaped channel.” More importantly, rangeomorphs looked nothing like the true animals that appeared later in the Cambrian explosion. Sharp added, “they are the first of the truly large, multicellular organisms that radiated broadly before the first true animals evolved.”

Yes, Intelligent Design is going to flog this argument for as long as they can mine any perceived absence of data.

It’s interesting to note that in his talk Meyer gives the Cambrian Explosion a geologically narrow window,  “between two and ten million years.” This is at variance to the 20 to 25 million years typically ascribed to the period. I can only guess that Meyer does this in order to intensify the compression of any evolutionary development attributed to the Cambrian Explosion. I recall that creationist Jonathan Wells does something similar:

Wells also plays fast and loose with definitions. The Cambrian explosion is not synonymous with the entire Cambrian period. Even though Wells gives a length for the explosion of 5-10 million years, he also considers groups to have originated in the explosion if they appeared at any time during the Cambrian, a period of over 50 million years.

In invoking the supposed miracles of the Cambrian Explosion, creationists employ this and other devices to exaggerate the apparent rate of evolutionary development and also the lack of complete fossil evidence.

Meyer’s illustration summarizes.

In “older rocks,” prior to 600 million years ago, we see no evidence of fossils representing the multiple phyla in the modern world. In “younger rocks” we see fossils of arthropods and other creatures with body plans we would recognize today. Meyer’s deduction: something miraculous happened. God intervened (my wording).

He illustrates with a cladogram. These modern body plans originated from a “Common Ancestor.” Next we can presume he is going to ask, “What was that common ancestor, and where are the intermediate fossils?”

Meyer cites examples (to him) of unexplained “Sudden Appearance” of species.

Examples of Geologically Sudden Appearance

Mammalian radiation (shows bear, horse, gorilla)

“Big bloom” of flowering plants (shows blossoms)

Marine Mesozoic revolution (shows a drawing of a marine dinosaur)

Cambrian explosion

The fossil record shows a radiation from as few as “two lineages of Eutherian mammals” at the end of  the Cretaceous period. Twenty million years later we find that “most of the twenty or so present-day mammalian orders are identifiable.” I’m getting the idea Meyer thinks this is unbelievably fast for evolutionary development to work. We must come to think Meyer has equal heartburn with flowering plants and marine dinosaurs.

Next, Meyer launches into a foray into Michael Behe‘s “high-tech in low life.”

Behe began to pop up in the anti-evolution scene at the 1992 conference “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University. Other heavy hitters of the Intelligent Design movement were there, including Phillip Johnson, the so-called godfather of modern Intelligent Design. However, I failed to notice Behe until 1996, when he came out with his book, Darwin’s Black Box. You can catch Behe’s appearance in the 1997 Firing Line debate on YouTube.

Anyhow, take a look at the computer screen Meyer is using in his talk. It shows an illustration of a favorite Behe talking point. It is the bacterial flagellum and its driving mechanism. Don’t look for me to go into  detail here. YouTube has a video of Behe giving his pitch.

A problem with this argument, proposed by Behe and now pushed by Meyer, is that scientists working in the field have real issues with Behe’s argument:

Evolution myths: The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex

Actually, flagella vary widely from one species to another, and some of the components can perform useful functions by themselves. They are anything but irreducibly complex

It is a highly complex molecular machine. Protruding from many bacteria are long spiral propellers attached to motors that drive their rotation. The only way the flagellum could have arisen, some claim, is by design.

Each flagellum is made of around 40 different protein components. The proponents of an offshoot of creationism known as intelligent design argue that a flagellum is useless without every single one of these components, so such a structure could not have emerged gradually via mutation and selection. It must have been created instead.

In reality, the term “the bacterial flagellum” is misleading. While much remains to be discovered, we now know there are thousands of different flagella in bacteria, which vary considerably in form and even function.

Please note, this was published prior to Meyer’s presentation (2009). In a setting such as this, a dramatized argument for Intelligent Design, Meyer might not be required to take note of valid and counter arguments. In a presentation at a professional conference what Meyer is doing would be considered fraud.

Meyer states what he thinks he has demonstrated.

Evidence for intelligent design:

is beyond reasonable doubt.

To which I will add, “In your wildest dreams.”

Meyer reinforces his argument by citing famous thinkers, in this case Anthony Flew:

Antony Garrard Newton Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was an English philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, Flew was most notable for his work related to the philosophy of religion. During the course of his career he taught at the universities of OxfordAberdeenKeele and Reading, and at York University in Toronto.

For much of his career Flew was known as a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death, the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. In 2003 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III. However, in 2004 he stated an allegiance to deism, more specifically a belief in the Aristotelian God. He stated that in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believed in the existence of a God.

What is doubly interesting, regarding the reference to Anthony Flew, is:

  • Flew moved from atheism to deism, not to theism.
  • The news item pictured appears in the Washington Times. This newspaper was “Founded on May 17, 1982, by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon.” It reflects religious and politically conservative views and is an unabashed supporter of Intelligent Design, in opposition to Darwinian evolution. Jonathan Wells is a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design. He is a follower of Moon and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

That latter part would rightly not bother Meyer’s reference to Anthony Flew. I am sure a similar item appeared in other publications at the time.

And Meyer concludes with the slogan of today.

The return of the God hypothesis

Good to see it’s back. I was afraid these creationists would sashay into science and mess things up. We might be required to start teaching Intelligent Design in public science classes.

Coming up is Episode 9, “The Moral Necessity of Theism.” This is going to be interesting. People who insist that science recognize the supernatural in the study of nature are now going to convince us that human morality derives from this supernatural force. Here’s what Amazon has to say about the next episode:

It is impossible to live as a moral relativist. Everyone believes in some standard of right and wrong. But what is that standard and where did it come from?

This should be interesting. I’m almost finished. Episode 10 is the final one, and there is also a “bonus extra.” I don’t know what that is about, but I will have a look and do a review if one is warranted. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Advertisements

Fool’s Argument

Seventh of a series

This is the seventh in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode featured creationist Stephen C. Meyer, continuing his discussion of the concept he elucidated in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time Meyer makes a number of unrealistic assertions regarding intelligence and information.

The episode kicks off with narrator David Stotts (above) in a dramatized hike through some mountain country. He comes to a stream, and there on a rock is an arrangement of stones spelling out “DAVE.” He asks if we should conclude this arrangement was the result of natural forces. He cites wind and water. Of course not. Somebody placed those stones there to spell out his name. I noticed that Dave differentiates actions by people as outside natural causes. Hint, Dave. People are natural entities.

That gets the story rolling, and creationist Stephen C. Meyer takes over from there, presenting his case in a dramatized college seminar. I am posting a number of Meyer’s presentation foils by way of illustration. I will added the text to enable search engines to locate the material.

Meyer expresses wonder at reading Charles Lyell. Little did we know that Lyell, the “father” of modern geology, had the right idea all along.

The text:

“Principles of Geology:

Being an attempt to  explain  the former changes of the Earth’s surface by reference to causes now in operation.”

Meyer jumps on this and elaborates it into a justification for asserting that causes now in operation will include mental activity in the creation process. What Meyer fails to notice is that we do not presently observe mental activity in running the processes of the Universe. The Universe chugs along without, or maybe in spite of, mental activity.

He quotes Henry Quastler.

Here is the text:

Henry Quastler

The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.

I do not know whether Meyer expects anybody to read up on Henry Quastler. In any event, Quastler is clearly wrong on that matter, or at least Meyer is wrong in ascribing any useful implication. The fact is that, given a clockwork (deterministic) Universe, no new information is created. Everything can be inferred from the current state. The Universe is not clockwork. Purely random processes produce new information.

The theme of Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell, is that DNA looks an awful lot like computer code produced by a hard-working programmer.

The text:

When we find information in [a] DNA molecule, encoded in  digital form, the most logical conclusion is that the information had an intelligent source.

I m going to let that statement speak for itself.

Here is a diagram that shows we can rule out chance, necessity, and a combination of two, leaving only Intelligent Design to produce specified complexity or information. The conclusion is wrong in the strictest sense, for reasons previously discussed.

Meyer drills down on the previous.

Neither chance, nor necessity have provided a cause that is known to produce information.

Meyer is wrong in concluding chance does not produce information. It is the only thing that does.

He emphases his proposition, possibly in an effort to make it be true.

If you use Darwin’s method of reasoning, and apply it to what we now know about the inner working of the cell, you come to a decidedly non-Darwinian conclusion.

Meyer continues to emphasize that only a mind can explain information.

Wrapping up, Meyer contends that mainstream science insists you put on blinders and employ only natural methods to develop theories (explanations).

He cites the case of Scott Minnich.

Scott A. Minnich is an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Idaho, and a fellow at the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture. Minnich’s research interests are temperature regulation of Yersinia enterocolitica gene expression and coordinate reciprocal expression of flagellar and virulence genes.

Here is additional background on Scott Minnich:

There were two more scientific experts for the defense to dispense with first, but they added little to the case and seemed to do as much damage as good to the cause of intelligent design. Scott Minnich, the microbiologist from the University of Idaho, reiterated Behe’s testimony about the flagellum, but also admitted that in order for ID to be considered scientific, science would have to be expanded to include the supernatural. Coming at the very end of the case, and after a mind-numbing return engagement by the bacterial flagellum, this surprising agreement with the critics of ID was barely noticed among the exhausted spectators; but as the plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Harvey later noted, “We could win the case on that admission alone.”

Humes, Edward. Monkey Girl (p. 306). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The book is about the federal court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. In 2005 Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the Dover school system illegally attempted to introduce Intelligent Design into the science curriculum. In his 139-page ruling he found, among other things, that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. The defendants (Dover Area School District) failed to demonstrate a scientific basis for Intelligent Design.

Meyer and others initially planned to testify for the defendants, and for Intelligent Design by extension, but that did not come off:

Just before the scheduled depositions of three of the experts from the Discovery Institute— Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell— they all decided that they wanted their own attorneys present to watch out for their legal interests. (The other witnesses from Discovery, Minnich and Behe, had already been deposed by that point, without their own lawyers.) The attorney retained by Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell happened to be the attorney who represented the publisher of Pandas, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and it was clear from comments made by Bill Dembski on his blog that the push for legal representation was coming more from the publisher, and perhaps the Discovery Institute, than from him.

Humes, Edward. Monkey Girl (p. 240). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

But here, Meyer recalls the situation at UI, where Minnich was an associate professor. The reaction of the science faculty was adverse, as Meyer explains. He goes on to elaborate the encounter a star pupil had with one of Minnich’s colleagues. The teacher asked his class if anybody believed in Intelligent Design, and this pupil raised her hand. The professor was amazed, and he was equally amazed when others chimed in, saying they found Intelligent Design to have merit.

Meyer continues with the discussion, recapitulating the stories heralded in the video Expelled, that features actor and economist Ben Stein. He repeats the false premise of the video that people were unfairly demeaned and persecuted for expressing support for Intelligent Design or else for casting  doubt on Darwinian evolution. The National Center for Science Education has posted a rebuttal of claims made in the video, rebuttals which Meyer does not disclose in  his discussion. For example, Meyer repeats from the video the assertion that people have been expelled, lost tenure, lost access to research funding. The case of Richard Sternberg is typical:

 

Expelled claims that Sternberg was “terrorized” and that “his life was nearly ruined” when, in 2004, as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he published a pro-intelligent design article by Stephen C. Meyer. However, there is no evidence of either terrorism or ruination. Before publishing the paper, Sternberg worked for the National Institutes of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (GenBank) and was an unpaid Research Associate – not an employee – at the Smithsonian. He was the voluntary, unpaid editor of PBSW (small academic journals rarely pay editors), and had given notice of his resignation as editor six months before the Meyer article was published. After the Meyer incident, he remained an employee of NIH and his unpaid position at the Smithsonian was extended in 2006, although he has not shown up there in years. At no time was any aspect of his pay or working conditions at NIH affected. It is difficult to see how his life “was nearly ruined” when nothing serious happened to him. He was never even disciplined for legitimate violations of policy of PBSW or Smithsonian policy.

The NCSE site points out that, for example, Sternberg did not lose access to his research facilities at the Smithsonian, as Expelled contends. He was not forced to hand over the keys to his lab. Instead, another project needed his lab space, and more. Sternberg and another researcher were told to give up their space to make room  for the other project. Sternberg was offered a different space. He declined that offer. He was offered another space, which he accepted. The Smithsonian changed their access control and replaced mechanical keys with card keys. Sternberg was forced to surrender his mechanical key and to use a card key.

Meyer does not mention any of this. He exhorts his students—there must be some balance. A dichotomy exists. There are two competing views of science. There is a view that science deals only with natural phenomena and a competing (equal?) view that the supernatural must be given consideration.

Methodological Naturalism:

…only considers material  processes as explanations

There is something to be said about that statement. Methodological naturalism predominates modern science, and a compelling reason is that supernatural processes are never observed. Nothing supernatural has ever been observed in all human history. More specifically, I and a number of my friends have put up an award of $12,000 to anybody who can demonstrate the supernatural. The award was originally posted over 25 years ago, and no serious attempt has ever been made to collect the prize. A note to Stephen Meyer: the prize is here. Come and get it.

Episode 8 of this series is titled “The Return of the God Hypothesis,” and I will review that next. From Amazon: “When one takes all the evidence into account, there is a compelling case to be made for the existence of God. In fact, it may be the best plausible explanation for the origin of the universe and life itself.”

Bad Moon Rising

Where did this come from?

I see the bad moon rising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin’
I see bad times today

So, what does this have to do with the Kecksburg conspiracy stories? First I need to bring you up to date. Plans are ramping up for a motion picture, and pitchmen are turning up the heat. From INDIEGOGO:

A mystery solved, Government lies exposed!

This feature film will help drive interest and solve a 52 year old mystery.  The US government has refused to tell the truth, even to the Clintons.  What is so secret that even they can’t know?  But to expose the truth, we can’t just depend on traditional film financing, we need your help.

The producer is Cody Knotts, originally from Taylortown, PA., and the above link leads to a pitch for crowd-funding to get the picture off the ground. The pitch, apparently penned by Knotts, stresses these additional points:

  • The public deserves to know the truth about Kecksburg. Our government has no right to continue to hide the truth.  Even Hillary Clinton can’t get the records, but this feature film can help keep Kecksburg in the public eye.  Even more important, this film can help drive tourism to the Pittsburgh region and Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Roswell gets $95 million annually and Kecksburg nearly nothing.
  • Are you tired of your government lying to you?  Then join our fight, help us make this film.  Help us expose the truth.
  • Do you care about Pittsburgh?  Would you like to help change a region for the better?
  • Films are forever.  They last beyond our lifetimes.  This is our chance to tell a story that has fascinated the public for decades.  Bryant Gumble, Ancient AliensUnsolved Mysteries and the History Channel  have all investigated Kecksburg but no one has brought the legend to life, until now.  We need your help and we want you to be a part of the legend.

There is a load of appeal to logic and reason here.

Actually, there is not, and a quick review of the story is worth considering.

On 9 December 1965 a significant fireball (meteor) was observed above the United States northern tier, roughly along the border with Canada. There are multiple accounts, giving differing conclusions. Here are two from the same Wikipedia entry:

Sky and Telescope

Several articles were written about the fireball in science journals. The February 1966 issue of Sky & Telescope reported that the fireball was seen over the Detroit-Windsor area at about 4:44 p.m. EST. The Federal Aviation Administration had received 23 reports from aircraft pilots, the first starting at 4:44 p.m. A seismograph 25 miles southwest of Detroit had recorded the shock waves created by the fireball as it passed through the atmosphere. The Sky & Telescope article concluded that “the path of the fireball extended roughly from northwest to southeast” and ended “in or near the western part of Lake Erie”.

Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

A 1967 article by two astronomers in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (JRASC) used the seismographic record to pinpoint the time of passage over the Detroit area to 4:43 p.m. In addition, they used photographs of the trail taken north of Detroit at two different locations to triangulate the trajectory of the object. They concluded that the fireball was descending at a steep angle, moving from the southwest to the northeast, and likely impacted on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie near Windsor, Ontario.

Wikipedia points out the obvious. The two reports are contradictory. On one point they both agree. The object in question landed near the western end of Lake Erie. Something equally obvious is not pointed out. The western shore of Lake Erie is a long way from Kecksburg, PA. So, where does Kecksburg come into this? Your guess is as good as mine.

That notwithstanding, following the flash in the sky, there were reports of an object landing near Kecksburg. Again from Wikipedia:

However, eyewitnesses in the small village of Kecksburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, claimed something crashed in the woods. A boy said he saw the object land; his mother saw a wisp of blue smoke arising from the woods and alerted authorities. Another reported feeling a vibration and “a thump” about the time the object reportedly landed. Others from Kecksburg, including local volunteer fire department members, reported finding an object in the shape of an acorn and about as large as a Volkswagen Beetle.

And the story devolved from there. There are claims that government officials came and cordoned off the area, confiscated photographic film and audio recordings, some of which were produced in preparation for reports on the incident. Anyhow, the sum total of the story is an amazing abuse of government power and of an attempt to cover up, something. Amazing, provided any or all of these reports are true.

In 1967 there was a follow-up investigation. From Wikipedia:

A 1967 article by two astronomers in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (JRASC) used the seismographic record to pinpoint the time of passage over the Detroit area to 4:43 p.m. In addition, they used photographs of the trail taken north of Detroit at two different locations to triangulate the trajectory of the object. They concluded that the fireball was descending at a steep angle, moving from the southwest to the northeast, and likely impacted on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie near Windsor, Ontario.

Again, others besides those involved in the story are pinpointing the site of the landing hundreds of miles from Kecksburg.

Nearly forty-four years after the event Space.com published a report on another investigation headlined “Is Case Finally Closed on 1965 Pennsylvania ‘UFO Mystery’?” and the essence of which is:

NASA’s resulting search, monitored by the court, was completed in August 2009. The outcome of the investigation is available in Kean’s paper, which was posted online this month to the coalition’s Web site.

Despite, “posted online this month to the coalition’s Web site,” no such report is found on the coalition’s Web site. Regardless, the conclusion of Kean’s paper is supposedly this:

The report, flatly titled, “The Conclusion of the NASA Lawsuit – Concerning the Kecksburg, PA UFO case of 1965,” explains how the process worked and the results of the search after the 2007 settlement in federal court.

The bottom line: No smoking gun documents were released, Kean notes, but many provocative questions and unresolved contradictions were raised by what was received, as well as by the fact that many files were missing or destroyed.

All this leaves ample room for the development of conspiracy theories and for the people who make them into a business. And business this appears to be. From the INDIEGOGO site:

Roswell generates $95 million annually, Kecksburg nearly nothing.  Although Kecksburg has more documentation, more witnesses and more mystery… it has never been commercialized.  This film is the key element in changing that dynamic, both shedding a light on the truth and jump starting the local economy of Pittsburgh, the Laurel Highlands, Westmoreland, Somerset and Fayette Counties.

As part of these efforts, we are working with local political leaders to bring this film to life. In addition, local Pittsburgh stars like Curt Wootton (Pittsburgh Dad), Shane Douglas (5 time world wrestling champion) and Richard John Walters (My Bloody Valentine 3D) are all part of the cast.

And more. There is additional language on the INDIEGOGO site concerning commercial appeal. For example:

You can be listed as an Abductee in the film, get cool alien statues and even be in the film.  Even better you could have a movie poster with YOU on it!  If you can make it to the premiere, you can hang with the cast, walk the red carpet and help shed light on a 52 year old mystery.

Apparently in return for helping to underwrite production.

Running throughout is the theme of government malfeasance and mysterious doings that might include contact with extraterrestrials. These kinds of themes find great appeal with a segment of the population. And that’s how I came to hear about it. A friend of Knotts posted a link to the INDIEGOGO site on Facebook, and that started a conversation. After a few exchanges I chimed in, posting a link to my review of the movie Fire in the Sky and comparing it to the Kecksburg production. I got this response:

…and you label “Kecksburg” as being based on fantasies by… having seen the script, perhaps? Having weighed witness testimonies in THAT incident?

..and “based on an actual event” still indicates fiction is involved, right?

Well, yes. Fiction is almost always involved in a dramatization. But there is more depth. I responded:

“as being based on fantasies” I know the Kecksburg story, and there is a load of fantasy involved. I have not read the script, but I see the promo headlining the following: “Kecksburg: It’s time for the truth! For 52 years the US Government has hidden what happened in Kecksburg. Now the truth will be known.”

I’m a reasonable person, not prone to jump to conclusions. But this has all the smell of a supposed expose of a supposed conspiracy. Stand by for an analysis of the Kecksburg story, coming soon to a blog post near you.

Hence this posting.

I cannot be sure my Facebook friend concedes to the theme of the  movie, but there are others who do, and they are legion. They are the drivers of a thriving  industry in this country and around the world. The movie JFK is unabashed in its proposal for an alternate theory of President Kennedy’s assassination. I have encountered at least one person who finds the movie to be evidence. I previously worked with some French researchers, and one remarked to me his amazement at learning many Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Fact is, the French may be more inclined to accept these notions than we are. I have a book by Thierry Meyssan that goes to great length to fabricate a defiant version of the 9/11 attacks.

Full disclosure. The producer of Southern Fried Bigfoot approached me a few years ago and asked whether I would be willing to be interviewed on camera about cryptozoology. As a result I wound up with an IMDb screen credit. Also a copy of the video for those interested in watching it.  So I have contributed in a small way to this industry.

If and when the Kecksburg movie comes out I will do a review. There will be more. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Tuesday again and another reminder it’s not just Jesus who coaxes believers to their deaths. Here I present the sad story of Timo Degen:

Timo Degen, a 31-year-old kindergarten teacher from Munich, died in March 1997 after reading about Greve’s quasi-mysticism and the “liberation from the drudgery of food and drink” on one of her many internet sites. On day 12 of his diet he reported having visual problems and a week later he slipped into a coma. A hospital spokesman said Degen had suffered “an almost total circulatory system collapse” and looked as though “he’d been in a concentration camp”; after four weeks on intravenous drips he recovered, only to fall over and die from a head injury.

Well, that’s bad enough. The story from Cult Education Institute follows up with additional enlightment:

Greve’s followers have been unrepentant, and the German new age magazine Esotera announced that “one death in 5,000 is not too high a price to pay to fight world hunger”.

Greve is, of course, Ellen Greve, also known as Jasmuheen. I recently reviewed her book Pranic Nourishment, which is a revised edition of her earlier Living on Light. In it she echoes the sentiments of the Esoteria writer:

Through introducing the idea and method of fine-tuning it is our intention to aid in the elimination of world hunger through pranic nourishment which will also then benefit the environment and create a more sustainable future for the planet.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2769-2771). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Believe what you want, but I am thinking Greve’s teachings will most quickly eliminate world hunger by eliminating people.

Whole Cloth

I was looking for a title—something to call this. Help was on the way:

For example, a cotton shirt cannot be made until the cotton has been sown as seeds, then grown, harvested and woven, and from this fabric many types of garments can be made. Our baseline is like the cloth, a weave that runs through all.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 4248-4250). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

And that’s about the substance of this book. It has all the appearance of being cut from whole cloth—meaning it’s made up.

What got me onto this was something we covered 15 years ago for The North Texas Skeptics:

Before we get on to Wiley Brooks we need to talk about Ellen Greve. Greve is a former Australian business woman who now calls herself Jasmuheen. She is a New Age guru promoting avoidance of food. Her cult is said to have a following of 5000 world wide. At least one wiseacre has conjectured these may not be the same followers from one year to the next. Her followers tend to be claimants of the famous Darwin Awards.

Australian follower Verity Linn succumbed while attempting to follow Jasmuheen’s guidelines near Cam Loch in Scotland in September 1999. Prior to that in the summer of 1998 Lani Morris of Melbourne breathed herself to death, and Timo Degen, a German kindergarten teacher, did the same in 1997.

Yeah, people were dying under the false belief that, properly conditioned, a person can live without food. Interest in the subject picked up recently, and Greve updated her book. The previous title was Living on Light. You can still get a copy from Amazon from $1044 (paperback). The new edition is Pranic Nourishment, and I have the Kindle edition ($7.77). The much revised edition acknowledges the danger of actually practicing what Greve preaches.

March 2006 with Jasmuheen:

I feel guided to add additional points regarding caregivers …

At the end of the nineties an Australian women, Lani Morris, died in Brisbane Australia. Her caregiver said that she was experiencing many difficulties but refused to stop and that on day 7 she drank 1.5 litres of pure orange juice, consequently she collapsed into a coma and was later taken off life support. Her caregiver Jim Pesnak and his wife – a couple who were in their 70’s who I had never met – were arrested and charged with manslaughter and jailed. The court said that it was their duty to stop this woman from proceeding as soon as they noticed she had difficulty. At the time they felt that as a responsible adult it was her choice whether to go on or stop.

Personally I feel that the only caregiver we need is the Divine One Within and as I keep stressing, if its guidance and voice is not 100% clear and trusted by you then the 21-day process is not for you.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2389-2397). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Obviously Greve does not completely shoulder responsibility for the multiple deaths of people attempting to follow her advice. We are  left to believe fault lies with the caregivers.

Make no mistake. The principles of chemistry and physics still hold. Greve’s wacko ideas have no basis in fact and seem to have been  pulled straight out of a fevered brain or drawn from half-baked New Ageisms. Without digging into the book’s narrative, I  will just illustrate with some excerpts. Start here, first paragraph:

I have come to understand that the process that I – and many others – have undergone to allow the body to be sustained by light; is about utilising photon energy to sustain us via a process like photosynthesis. Rather than take the energy from the sun as plants do we have developed the ability to tap into and absorb the Universal Life force or ‘chi’ energy directly into our cells. This occurs via mind mastery where command and expectation utilizes the Universal Law of Resonance where like attracts like. Because I expect the pranic forces to nourish and sustain me having undergone the 21-day process as outlined in the latter chapters, it does.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 206-211). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Greve means that literally, “allow the body to be sustained by light; is about utilising photon energy to sustain us via a process like photosynthesis.” No. There is no evidence anything like that has ever happened or can happen. The hard, cold fact is that Greve is a fraud. The signature attempt by her to demonstrate her philosophy ended catastrophically:

In 1998, she appeared in her first film, a six-part direct to video documentary called The Legend of Atlantis: Return of the Lightmasters. The Australian television programme 60 Minutes challenged Jasmuheen to demonstrate how she could live without food and water. The supervising medical professional Dr Beres Wenck found that, after 48 hours, Jasmuheen displayed symptoms of acute dehydration, stress, and high blood pressure. Jasmuheen claimed that this was a result of “polluted air”. On the third day, she was moved to a mountainside retreat about 15 miles from the city, where she was filmed enjoying the fresh air, claiming she could now successfully practice Inedia. But as filming progressed, Jasmuheen’s speech slowed, her pupils dilated, and she lost over a stone (6 kg or 14 lb) in weight. After four days, she acknowledged that she had lost weight, but stated that she felt fine. Dr. Wenck stated: “You are now quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%.” The doctor continued: “Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risk if she goes any further is kidney failure.” Jasmuheen’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly due to acute dehydration, despite her contrary insistence. Dr Wenck concluded that continuing the experiment would ultimately prove fatal. The film crew agreed with this assessment and stopped filming.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Greve continues with the nonsense to this day, as evidenced by the book. Fact is, a hot book (I purchased a copy) is strong motivation.

It’s also a hilarious display of the codswallop devoured by a sizable chunk of 21st century society. Examples abound:

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra in his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, every atom is more than 99.9% empty space and the subatomic particles moving at great speed through this space are bundles of vibrating energy which carry information and unique codings. He calls this “thinking non-stuff” as it cannot be seen by physical eyes.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 222-225). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

First of all note the reference to the equally delusional Deepak Chopra. If we accuse Greve of making all this stuff up, she can fall back on pointing out she is merely quoting another authority, disregarding that the other authority is just as whacked out as she is. More:

When a Being is vibrating at a lower frequency, it permits many other forms of energies to mix and mingle with its pool of energy and its cycles. When this happens, the thoughts have a tendency to get confused which causes a being to experience frustration.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 315-317). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

This is excerpted from a more expansive paragraph, yet it is significant. “Lower frequency?” Where does she get this stuff? Assume it’s not Deepak Chopra. There are no facts relating to “beings” (people?), vibrational frequencies, “energy cycles” that back this up. She’s pulling stuff out of the air. It’s the very definition of “whole cloth.”

There are said to be seven cosmic planes – physical, astral, mental, Buddhic, atmic, monadic and Logoic.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 339-340). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Don’t you just love it when a writer puts down, “there is said to be…?” Gives you a lot of confidence in what you’re reading. No, it doesn’t. It gives you confidence that stuff is being pulled out of the air.

This is an interesting concept and one well explored by the Theosophists among others. The exact midpoint between the in and out breath is said to be in the year 2012, this date is the last date of the Mayan calendar and is foretold by the Hopi Indians and many other civilisations. This year marks a time of wondrous change with multitudes awakening to their true divinity.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 344-346). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Hopefully it won’t be necessary for me to post any more clips from the book. Evidence is that Greve is making stuff up.

I can’t leave off this topic without opening a look into a remarkable bit of self-delusion—something revealing. Items of this sort are dropped, almost randomly, through the book.

So since June 1993, I have existed on tea and water, then for pleasure tasted ‘white’ food (a potato phase due to boredom and lack of mind mastery) or the odd mouthful of chocolate and regardless of these indulgences I know that the only thing that nourishes and sustains me is Light.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1453-1455). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

I began to exchange my pure fruit juice preference for the odd cappuccino or the odd mouthful of chocolate just because I felt like the flavour of something sweet but I also learnt to transmute these things.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2657-2659). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

For me, as an absolute food purist for some 20 years, the process was extremely liberating! To be nourished from pranic energy and then be free to have a stage of tasting chocolate, or to have a potato scallop now and then through winter just for fun was fun!

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2659-2661). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

And more. The woman is eating. Is there another way to spell fraud? Let’s go further. Her claims about food intake are demonstrably false.

Since June 1993 I have existed on an average of 300 calories per day which covers the calorie content of sugar and milk in my tea.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Location 1473). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Hard information has it that an adult human cannot subsist on that daily energy intake:

“The basal metabolic rate of a human is about 1,300-1,500 kcal/day for an adult female and 1,600-1,800 kcal/day for an adult male.”

Now it’s time for me to pull stuff out of the air and make statements without citing any references. The above figures are likely for an active person. Walking, talking, grocery shopping. If you slow down, do nothing, lie on your back, look at the ceiling, you can survive on maybe 900 calories per day. The history of war prisoners held by the Japanese in World War Two bears out that an active person cannot survive on 900 calories per day.

Greve can claim to tone her metabolism to 100% efficiency, but there are some physical facts that cannot be ignored. A grown person, merely living, dissipates energy at 100 watts. That’s 8,640,000 joules per day. At 4184 joules per Calorie, that’s 2965 Calories per day, in conflict with the numbers referenced above. That means my estimate of 100 Watts is too high, but not by that much. In order for Greve to turn down her thermostat and only put out 300 Calories of heat per day, she’s going to have to be stone cold. She is definitely at odds with some basic physics in her wild-ass claims.

Bottom line, whack job of a book, a few people dead, money in Greve’s pocket, 21st century public not much better off than their ancestors from 1000 years back. That’s progress.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

This is a continuation of the story from last week.

Breatharian couple convicted of killing fasting woman

The Sunday Mail/AAP, November 21, 1999

A COUPLE who believe they can live on air alone have been convicted of killing a fasting woman for whom they delayed getting medical aid. Jim Vadim Pesnak, 60, and his wife Eugenia Pesnak, 63, both of Beckwith Street, Ormiston, in bayside Brisbane, had pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of Lani Marcia Roslyn Morris, 53, between June 12 and July 2 last year.

The jury took only three hours to bring in the manslaughter verdicts. The Pesnaks are followers of the breatharian philosophy and believe humans do not need food to survive and can live on air alone.

Ms Morris travelled from her Melbourne home to undertake a 21-day initiation process into breatharianism which involved seven days without any nourishment at all including water, and then a further 14 days on limited liquids.

After a week, Ms Morris appeared to be paralysed down one side, could not talk, was vomiting a black tar-like substance and eventually was so ill she had trouble breathing.

Mr Pesnak stuck a tube down her throat to help her and only hours later, did he call an ambulance.

The Pesnaks are followers of Ellen Greve, who writes under the name Jasmuheen:

February 1996:

I have come to understand that the process that I – and many others – have undergone to allow the body to be sustained by light; is about utilising photon energy to sustain us via a process like photosynthesis. Rather than take the energy from the sun as plants do we have developed the ability to tap into and absorb the Universal Life force or ‘chi’ energy directly into our cells. This occurs via mind mastery where command and expectation utilizes the Universal Law of Resonance where like attracts like. Because I expect the pranic forces to nourish and sustain me having undergone the 21-day process as outlined in the latter chapters, it does.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 205-211). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Jasmuheen is additional proof that Jesus is not the only attraction drawing people to an early death. The demonstrable fact is that people cannot draw energy for living from sunlight. Whatever you might think about the mind, the soul, the human spirit, it remains that our bodies are chemical processes subject to well-established principles of nature. You ignore this fact and any number of others at your peril.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Some readers complain… Actually, I don’t receive a bunch of complaints about this series, including nobody complaining when I blame Jesus. So, people must be cool with blaming Jesus on a bunch of untimely deaths. The facts being, Jesus is more often not to blame. Stupidity in the form of false belief is alive and well without the benefit of Jesus, as evidenced by the Breatharians:

Prior to her death Verity Linn had announced her intent to follow the Breatharian quest, and a copy of Jasmuheen’s book was found near her body. However, it is not apparent the notorious demise of Jasmuheen’s followers resulted in major hit on her popularity. Besides “Living on Light,” she has two other books, “In Resonance” and “Our Camelot,” listed on Amazon.

The book mentioned, “Living on  Light,” is now in its fourth edition and retitled Pranic Nourishment, with the subtitle “Nutrition for the New Millennium.” I just now purchased a Kindle edition, and you should be looking for a review (possibly not favorable) in the near future.

As mentioned in the referenced item from The North Texas Skeptic:

[Ellen] Greve is a former Australian business woman who now calls herself Jasmuheen. She is a New Age guru promoting avoidance of food. Her cult is said to have a following of 5000 world wide. At least one wiseacre has conjectured these may not be the same followers from one year to the next. Her followers tend to be claimants of the famous Darwin Awards.

The Wikipedia entry for Jasmuheen contains detail of additional interest:

Jasmuheen developed financial and business management skills working full-time in the finance industry. In 1992 she began combining her experience in business and finance with meditation, selling access to workshops and seminars on the topic and, by deed poll changed her name to Jasmuheen.

In 1998, she appeared in her first film, a six-part direct to video documentary called The Legend of Atlantis: Return of the Lightmasters. The Australian television programme 60 Minutes challenged Jasmuheen to demonstrate how she could live without food and water. The supervising medical professional Dr Beres Wenck found that, after 48 hours, Jasmuheen displayed symptoms of acute dehydration, stress, and high blood pressure. Jasmuheen claimed that this was a result of “polluted air”. On the third day, she was moved to a mountainside retreat about 15 miles from the city, where she was filmed enjoying the fresh air, claiming she could now successfully practice Inedia. But as filming progressed, Jasmuheen’s speech slowed, her pupils dilated, and she lost over a stone (6 kg or 14 lb) in weight. After four days, she acknowledged that she had lost weight, but stated that she felt fine. Dr. Wenck stated: “You are now quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%.” The doctor continued: “Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risk if she goes any further is kidney failure.” Jasmuheen’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly due to acute dehydration, despite her contrary insistence. Dr Wenck concluded that continuing the experiment would ultimately prove fatal. The film crew agreed with this assessment and stopped filming.

Sadly, there are additional deaths due to people following Jasmuheen’s eternal wisdom. So, who needs Jesus?

I will profile additional such deaths in future posts. And may Jesus have mercy on my soul.

The Condescending Tone

I post on a number of topics, and sometimes I obtain feedback in the form of comments posted by readers. Some of the responses are helpful—they fill in where I failed to provide adequate coverage, and sometimes a comment will set me straight on an error I have made.

Many of the comments I receive are from people who reject completely the point I am attempting to make, and on rare occasions these comments are thought out and well put. It’s the “rare” aspect that worries me. Too often the person so terribly offended is:

  • Completely fact-deprived and indicates no knowledge of the topic under discussion.
  • Knowledgeable, but nonetheless skilled in making his point.
  • Comes off as completely unhinged.

It is this last case I want to discuss. The example for today relates to a post from last July. The original post carries the title 44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults. My post does not provide 44 reasons evolution is a fairy tale. The title is from an item posted by Michael Snyder on a site called D.C. Clothesline and subtitled “Airing Out America’s Dirty Laundry.” How this site came to be a vehicle for a creationism-oriented rant is a guess for somebody else. I felt it worth a response.

Snyder did list 44 reasons, and I (read the original post) took each of the 44 and penned a short response. Many of my responses reduced to stating that Snyder had not provided any evidence to support his point. He had quoted somebody else, and following  which he went on to his next point. My response to such attempts was to point out this fact and to note that repeating what somebody said in the past does not count for evidence in science. An example is Snyder’s point number 3. My reply is the bold text following Snyder’s point:

#3 Even some of the most famous evolutionists in the world acknowledge the complete absence of transitional fossils in the fossil record. For example, Dr. Colin Patterson, former senior paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History and author of “Evolution” once wrote the following

“I fully agree with your comments about the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them …. I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.”

Again, it’s interesting to note that Colin Patterson said this, but again speech is not scientific evidence.

Anyhow, that has been out there for several  months, receiving one helpful comment almost immediately, and finally another one today. Here it is, exactly as posted:

idiot..i have one thing ti say…al the hearsay and lack of evidence you attack the writers of the article you were going after, you did as well. i can quote several times you didn’t explain..give examples…evidence…but guess what..just spoken or “written” words in your case. you did nothing and achieved nothing for most of this long article. also..you use circle reasoning thru-out, of which im sure you will use again to rebuttal this. asking some one to use evolution based world view foundation to disprove evolution or else anything said is wrong by inherent basis is like me requiring you to use creation based world view ” as the science is the same, just different world views direction how evidence is interpreted or rationalized”, to completely disprove creation. neither theory can be proven or disproved via the scientific method of observable and repeatable”,and neither are fact. where we get pissed of is your blind faith and enforcement of your theory as fact…when only reason you do so is cause the only other option besides everything made it self is some one else made everything.

In the past I have refuted people’s arguments and have been accused, in turn, of using condescending language. Here is an excerpt from a previous post. I had previously obtained a copy of Ben Shapiro’s small book How to Debate Leftist and to Destroy Them. Shapiro considers the science behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to be a leftist (his term) agenda, and he frets that leftists attack by calling their opponents stupid, mean, corrupt, and maybe all of the preceding. Here’s how the discussion unfolded earlier this year:

Shapiro’s response to fiery criticisms of his stance on AGW and also his stance on a number of other issues is to note the quality of his attackers. Continuing the section quoted from the book above:

This is a more useful question, and it also avoids the left’s preferred line of argument on global warming, which is a variation on their preferred line on gun control: “Global warming is man-made. Don’t agree? That’s because you’re stupid and hateful.” As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt. Sarah Palin is supposedly stupid; Mitt Romney is supposedly mean; Dick Cheney is supposedly corrupt. Take away those lines of attack and watch the discomfort set in.

[Page 24]

Yes, it really is bad form to start calling names and making wild accusations in response to a philosophical affront. In a debate, in a dispute over a point of fact, the person who throws an insult is revealing he has no facts. However…

Shapiro says, “As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt.” The last two are way out of line, but number 1 is a valid argument. If you are arguing with a person who says the Earth is flat, then, “You’re stupid” might be an appropriate response. I run into into this at times:

Daniel G. Kuttner You have no idea of my qualifications. You throw your ample supply of tomatoes at me, rather than my assertions, which are backed BY science (e.g. that engineering reference link). Thus, you were replying ad hominem, literally.
I could be a bum on the street and still report correct – or incorrect – science. My lack of a white lab coat has no import.
If you are so full of science, where is your scientific refutation of my numbers? All I see from you is condescension and sarcasm.
Saying something is “clearly wrong” is not refutation, it’s disagreement; an opinion. You are, of course free to have those.

I have highlighted the operative text. Because Dan’s information was ridiculously false, and I pointed this out, I was being condescending and sarcastic. Bad form? When is being honest and forthright being condescending and sarcastic?

It’s that latter part that is critical. I found Dan taking the same stance Shapiro does. In point, Dan makes a completely ludicrous statement, one that galls the intellect. Then when somebody responds by pointing out the obvious, Dan comes back by chiding the other party for being condescending. And other terms. That’s what we are about to have here.

Snyder, in responding to my argument, appears to  have gone completely off the rails, beginning with a typographical monstrosity before settling down to a face-deficient rant. It’s usually at this point that I begin to become condescending.

I am not going to call Snyder a creationist nut case, partly because the phrase contains an obvious redundancy. My object is to approve his comment as posted and then allow it to hang out there as evidence of whatever anybody wants to conclude about Snyder.

After approving Snyder’s comment I sent him an email asking him if he would care to elaborate, hopefully to improve, on his comment. If ever I hear back from Snyder I will revisit the matter in another post.

There may be more to come. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on my soul.

Psychic Frauds

The term surely must be redundant. On Friday ABC Nightline presented a segment titled Psychic Detective, featuring “psychic detective” Troy Griffin:

Griffin is a self-proclaimed psychic detective. Shunning the crystal ball, tarot cards and tea leaves of his fellow intuitives, he says he uses his psychic powers to solve crimes.

“I’ve worked on … about a 100 cases overall,” Griffin said.

He says he’s built a business out of bringing the paranormal into police work, charging up to $250 an hour for his investigative work.

He recently worked a missing person’s case that gripped the nation. Kelsie Schelling, 21, was eight weeks pregnant and disappeared in February 2013 after making a late night drive from her home in Denver to see her boyfriend in Pueblo, Colorado. Her family never saw or heard from her again.

[Emphasis added]

And Kelsie Schelling is still missing, despite all the efforts of psychic detective Troy Griffin.

skepticism-psychicdetectives-01

His claim to have worked “100 cases” does not pan out. Local police have no knowledge of his working  with them.

skepticism-psychicdetectives-02

The show also featured phony psychic Silvia Browne. Browne died over three years ago, but before that her damage became lasting. She famously declared dead a missing woman named Amanda Berry.

But psychic readings, especially those in the public eye, have not been exempt from scrutiny. One example was a 2004 reading famed psychic Sylvia Browne performed on “The Montel Williams Show” for the mother of then-missing girl Amanda Berry. Browne told Berry’s mother that her daughter was dead, but nine years later, in May 2013, she was found alive.

skepticism-psychicdetectives-03

Berry’s phone call to police and the rescue of two other missing women held captive by a deranged man failed to dim Browne’s candle:

Prior to her death in November 2013, Browne released a statement saying in part, “I have been more right than wrong. If ever there was a time to be grateful and relieved for being mistaken, this is that time.”

skepticism-psychicdetectives-04

Wrapping up for those who live on this planet is well-known paranormal investigator Joe Nickell.

skepticism-psychicdetectives-05

Skeptical fans will be interested to know that Joe Nickell is still going strong. Originally from Kentucky, he apparently now lives in Buffalo, New York. His Wikipedia entry has additional information of interest:

In late 2003, Nickell reconnected with his college girlfriend, Diana G. Harris, and learned he had a daughter, Cherette, and two grandsons, Tyner and Chase. Harris and Nickell married in Springfield, Illinois on April 1, 2006. Harris has assisted Nickell in his investigative work. Cherette had always been told that her biological father was her mother’s first husband, although she questioned the lack of family resemblance. On her wedding day, one of the guests mentioned that her parents weren’t married when she was conceived. Later Cherette asked her mother about her father and sensed an equivocation in the answer. More conversations with her mother and a DNA test proved that Nickell was her father. Nickell used his daughter’s claim that her search was the result of an intuition as the basis for an article on the unconscious collection and processing of data. Nickell concluded,

Wow! Even skeptics have interesting lives. I have touched on the endeavors of Joe Nickell previously. Follow the link.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

altmed-placeboextrastrength

I set aside Tuesday to commemorate those who (mostly) die due to false belief. Here is another case from Quack Watch:

My Wife’s Death from CancerSubmitted by Richard Craven of Pelham, New HampshireIn the summer of 1997, my wife Lucille detected a small lump. She obtained a biopsy in the early winter. She met with an oncologist who diagnosed a small, pea-sized carcinomatous breast tumor. He recommended mastectomy and lymphectomy with a course of chemotherapy. She concealed her meetings with her physicians and her diagnosis from me and our children, and from members of her own family. I recall an argument I had with her in that period when she stated she did not want to ‘be cut, burned, or poisoned’ in the event she was ever diagnosed with cancer.

Lucille consulted a physician in another city, a physiatrist, with whom she had an acquaintance. This physician urged her to obtain a second opinion, which she did. The second opinion was the same, but Lucille was determined to obtain nontraditional treatment. She prevailed upon her physician acquaintance to find an individual to provide such a treatment. Together they visited a naturopath who claimed to cure cancer. However, at their meeting he requested an advance payment in full of many thousands of dollars as well as agreements signed by all family members excusing him from any liability.

Lucille determined to find another person to treat her illness. She began to read books with titles like “The Cure for All Cancers” and “The Cancer Encyclopedia.” One such book was by a chiropractor in a nearby state. Lucille sought treatment at his clinic. After their first meeting, she believed he could cure her cancer. She began to visit his clinic on a regular basis, although it was almost 150 miles away. She wrote him frequently to keep him updated with the progress of her disease. During her visits, he extracted blood and examined it in a dark-field microscope, showing her the field of view. At some point, he recommended that she use 714X, an injectable medicine promoted by a Canadian doctor. So she sent for it and began giving it to herself.

Meanwhile she continued to consult her physician acquaintance who examined her periodically, sold her homeopathic remedies, and provided blood irradiation services (a technique of extracting blood into a quartz vessel illuminated by ultraviolet light).

She continued to conceal both her disease and the true purpose of her homeopathic treatment from all in her family. She described her behavior as a search for a healthy lifestyle. I witnessed a gradual buildup of dozens of homeopathic remedies and the conversion of our family to organic-only food; and finally I discovered her self-injection treatments. She knew I disapproved strongly of these and of her visits to the chiropractor. I began to print and leave around articles which I found at the CDC website on the dangers of nonlicensed medicine. In hindsight, this was far too little, too late. However, being married for 33 years to this woman who was wonderful in other ways made me too tolerant.

Eventually her untreated cancer broke through to the surface of her breast. Her physician acquaintance explained that the cauliflower-like nodules were “carbuncles” caused by an excess of lymph. Her self-treatment became even more extreme and she purchased a device with two headlights on wands at a cost of many thousands of dollars. The instructions with these show a diagram of the human lymphatic system and they were intended to “promote lymphatic flow.”

By this time, two years had passed since the initial diagnosis. The chiropractor stated that he couldn’t help her any more and suggested she go to Germany to be treated there. Lucille discovered through a casual remark by his staff that his other patients were receiving chemotherapy. Lucille felt misled by him because he had caused her to believe that chemotherapy was harmful and not desirable.

The growing tumor had metastasized and Lucille’s left arm developed extreme lymphedema (swelling caused by blockage of drainage of the lymphatic system). This was not concealable, and I began to question her. Eventually she disclosed her condition and within a few days I convinced her to see another physician both of us had worked with and whom she also trusted. He arranged for immediate admission to his hospital and for the case to be taken over by an excellent oncologist. We obtained her cooperation to this ‘conventional’ treatment. Her oncologist did not criticize her homeopathic, naturopathic health providers even as he gave us a prognosis of months. She was released from the hospital on a fearsome regimen of chemotherapy. A surgeon consultant and radiation therapist consultant found her untreatable; and she died approximately 4 months later — a few days short of her 55th birthday.

At this point no more needs to be said. A collection of similar stories is on-line at What’s The Harm?