Bat Shit Crazy

Ninth of a series

creationism-genocideandincestpark

It’s Wednesday. What’s bat shit crazy today? How about that weird theme park in Kentucky. Start with the story by Ed Mazza in The Huffington Post:

Creationist Ken Ham’s Giant ‘Noah’s Ark’ To Feature Dinosaurs vs. Giants Diorama

A new display going into the creationist Noah’s Ark attraction in Kentucky shows what appears to be gladiator-style fights involving humans, giants and a dinosaur.

Ken Ham, founder of the group that runs the attraction, tweeted images of the new diorama on Thursday.

If there is a reason to reject religion, this is one of them. Ham’s Answers in Genesis is described by Wikipedia as a parachurch organization promoting pseudo science:

Answers in Genesis (AiG) is a fundamentalist Christian apologeticsparachurch organization. It advocates a literal or historical-grammatical interpretation of the Book of Genesis, with a particular focus on a pseudoscientificyoung Earth creationism which rejects any results of scientific investigation which do not conform to their literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative. The organization sees evolution as incompatible with scripture and believes anything other than the young earth view is a compromise on biblical inerrancy.

AiG began as the Creation Science Foundation in 1980, following the merger of two Australian creationist groups. Its name changed to Answers in Genesis in 1994, when Ken Ham founded the organization’s United States branch. In 2006 the branches in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa split from the US and UK to form Creation Ministries International. In 2007, AiG opened the Creation Museum, a facility that promotes young Earth creationism, and in 2016 the organization opened the Ark Encounter, a Noah’s Ark themed amusement park. AiG also publishes websites, magazines, and journals.

Readers of this blog have previously been exposed to creationist Ken Ham:

If you’re like me, you are by now saying, “This is really neat stuff.” Also, if you’re like me by now you’re saying, “How come none of this is mentioned in the Bible?” Creationists (and many devout Christians) tell me I should look for answers in the Bible. I have seen statements in the past that the Bible is the only book we need. I have heard that all usable knowledge comes from the Bible. Creationist Ken Ham comes close to this:

And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the “Godman,” to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind.

Unbelievable!

That said… I spill a lot of ink making fun of religion and those who buy into it. The fact is, religion is one of those human foibles that has lasted throughout history. There doesn’t seem to have been any time and in any culture where belief in the unbelievable has not been rampant. The young-Earth creationists, as epitomized by Ken Ham and AiG is one more, albeit egregious, example.

Back when I lived in Dallas I attended the creationists’ meetings and got to know people like Don Patton, leader of a local group. One thing that kept coming out was that many have religious conviction so based on the Bible that the Bible must be literally true to validate their lives. Despite protestations of some religious people, a literal take on the Bible is that the Earth and everything else turned 6000 years old back in 1997. It was a date easily marked, and I observed the exact date with a small celebration with friends. It was also my birthday.

The age of the Earth is critical to this brand of creationism, and to validate this, dinosaurs and humans must have co-existed. At this point religious faith runs head on into a considerable body of fact, making religion and science mutually exclusive. All evidence indicates the last of the dinosaurs left their fossils about 65 million years ago. Then the dinosaurs vanished forever from this planet. The oldest fossils considered to be from direct human ancestors are in the order of three million years old. This leaves a sizable interval when neither dinosaurs nor humans existed, making the story of Ken Ham’s diorama the height of absurdity. Bat shit crazy.

The story behind Ham’s Ark Encounter theme park involves more than private religious faith. It involves other people’s money:

A state agency remade by Gov. Matt Bevin last week has approved $18 million in tax breaks to a Grant County amusement park that will feature a “life-size” Noah’s Ark.

The $92 million Ark Encounter project, owned by the same company as the Creation Museum in Petersburg, is scheduled to open July 7.

The tax break initially was approved by the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority in 2014 under Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, but it was later canceled after tourism officials learned that the theme park would hire only Christians. Bob Stewart, then secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, said the U.S. Constitution prohibited the state from assisting a religious endeavor.

Ark Encounter officials sued the state in federal court, saying the state’s decision to withhold the tax break violated its free speech. In January, U.S. District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove ruled that the theme park was eligible to receive the tax incentive, which has neutral requirements that can be met by religious and secular groups alike. Gov. Matt Bevin said the state would not appeal the decision.

Most interesting. A theme park, which is little more than an edifice to proselytize for a religious sect is given public money in the form of a tax incentive. Make one thing clear: the state of Kentucky is not just giving the theme park a pass on paying certain taxes. This is tax money raised from other sources. Dan Phelps, known to us when he lived in Texas and was a member of The North Texas Skeptics, was also interviewed:

Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, has said previously the project will hire only Christians but won’t discriminate among denominations.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the state is giving tax incentives to an organization that will discriminate against Kentucky citizens,” said Daniel Phelps, head of the Kentucky Paleontological Society and a longtime critic of the project.

In particular, note what Ken Ham has said. Jews and Muslims need not apply. I’m guessing this goes for atheists, as well. Somewhere the meaning of the Establishment Clause has been lost.

And this is just bat shit crazy.

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Vindicated Science

This is being cross-posted from the North Texas Skeptics blog.

A satellite view of Antarctica is seen in this undated NASA handout photo obtained by Reuters February 6, 2012. Russian scientists are close to drilling in to the prehistoric sub-glacier Lake Vostok, which has been trapped under Antarctic ice for 14 million years. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

A satellite view of Antarctica is seen in this undated NASA handout photo obtained by Reuters February 6, 2012. Russian scientists are close to drilling in to the prehistoric sub-glacier Lake Vostok, which has been trapped under Antarctic ice for 14 million years. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

This is something that’s been going around for over 20 years, and it’s been an issue atThe North Texas Skeptics. The NTS is neither a liberal-leaning organization nor a politically conservative organization. We have always hosted a political spectrum, and some of that is apparent.

A former member is unabashedly conservative and early on announced his opposition to environmentalism, which term I will not define further. This member is an excellent writer and during his tenure supplied our newsletter with a wealth of professional quality material. Often enough, a tilt to the right was glaringly apparent:

Since my last column was run, we have finally gotten some reputable scientists weighing in on the “pro” side of global warming. A group of meteorologists brought together by the U.N. agreed (not unanimously, but in a majority, anyway) that man-made pollutants have altered the Earth’s temperature (I’m assuming here that the U.N. picks meteorologists more carefully than they pick military strategists). It’s not quite the Apocalypse that many environmental alarmists would like: the consensus was that the Earth’s temperature has risen, on the average, one degree Fahrenheit since 1900 … but what the heck, it’s something!

Of course, this could be connected to changing rainfall patterns, etc., but it seems a stretch to blame Chicago’s killer heat wave on that one degree uptick. Having lived for awhile in the northeast, I think I have an idea of why so many people died from the heat in Chicago, and the concerned citizens in the environmental movement have it in their power right now to prevent it from happening again. They don’t even have to lobby Congress or drive one of those dorky electric cars.
Most of the victims of the Chicago heat wave were elderly people in poor health, living alone, without air conditioners or the money to buy them. They weren’t acclimated to the heat, they weren’t able to overcome it, and they had nobody to look in and help them (many of the victims were buried by the city because nobody claimed the bodies). It wasn’t so much ozone breakdown that killed them as it was societal breakdown.

I do not recall whether at the time I called Pat’s attention to an odious misunderstanding of basic science on display, but here it is now:

  • While Pat is on the mark regarding the measured rise in global temperatures, he passes over the consequences of such a small increase. My guess is he never went much farther in his reading.
  • Pat correctly recognizes that a degree rise is not the basis for the deaths “environmental alarmists” hoped for. However, he incorrectly, through lack of diligence or else deliberately, absolves the notorious heat wave. The fact is, these victims would have been in the same situation regardless of the heat wave, but the heat wave made the difference between life and death.
  • The reference to ozone cannot be explained. Whether Pat is being facetious or whether he was at the time unaware there is no connection between ozone layer depletion and anthropogenic global warming is something I never explored.

Anyhow, during the time Pat contributed to the newsletter I looked forward each month to reading his column. Good writing is always a pleasure. Eventually, Pat lost interest in bashing the issue of ozone layer depletion. This was about the time some real scientist won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in studying the problem:

Press Release

11 October 1995

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to

Professor Paul Crutzen, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany (Dutch citizen),

Professor Mario Molina, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Department of Chemistry, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA and

Professor F. Sherwood Rowland, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA

for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone.

THE OZONE LAYER – THE ACHILLES HEEL OF THE BIOSPHERE

The atmosphere surrounding the earth contains small quantities of ozone – a gas with molecules consisting of three oxygen atoms (O3). If all the ozone in the atmosphere were compressed to a pressure corresponding to that at the earth’s surface, the layer would be only 3 mm thick. But even though ozone occurs in such small quantities, it plays an exceptionally fundamental part in life on earth. This is because ozone, together with ordinary molecular oxygen (O2), is able to absorb the major part of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and therefore prevent this dangerous radiation from reaching the surface. Without a protective ozone layer in the atmosphere, animals and plants could not exist, at least upon land. It is therefore of the greatest importance to understand the processes that regulate the atmosphere’s ozone content.

My observation over the past decades has been that political conservatives have not so much been troubled by science as they have been troubled by the consequences of scientific discoveries. When scientist observe a problem that can be addressed by government action, conservatives look toward discrediting the science rather than toward implementing a solution that will require government involvement. In the case of AGW, the government solution would be to impose measures to curb the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In the case of ozone layer depletion government action was to ban the production and sale of certain fluorinated hydrocarbons. This amounted to direct interference into people’s private lives and into the conduct of profitable business practices. In the case of ozone layer depletion, the scientist prevailed, governments worldwide stepped in, and the problem started to be resolved:

Bright spot: Antarctica’s ozone hole is starting to heal

I learned about it early this morning when my electronic issue of Science magazine arrived by the magic of the Internet, another intrusion of government into private industry:

Ozone layer on the mend, thanks to chemical ban

Since it was discovered in 1985, the Antarctic ozone hole has been a potent symbol of humankind’s ability to cause unintended environmental harm. But now comes a glimmer of good news: The void in the ozone layer is shrinking. “It’s a big surprise,” says Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “I didn’t think it would be this early.”

Although the hole will not close completely until midcentury at the earliest, the healing is reassuring to scientists who pushed for the Montreal Protocol. The 1987 international agreement phased out the industrial production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): chlorine-containing chemicals that help trigger the destruction of stratospheric ozone, which screens out cancer-causing ultraviolet light. “You want to be sure that the actions we’ve taken have had the intended effect,” says Solomon, who led the study published online by Science this week.

When I mentioned previously that the NTS is a cross section of the political spectrum, I failed to mention that liberals predominate in this science-oriented group. This is not to say that science always comes down on the left-wing side of matters, as evidenced by the truth about genetically-modified organisms and the vaccination controversy. A requirement of the NTS is that we are always going to take the direction pointed by the evidence. It is tragic that a sizable block of elected officials consistently put politics over fact. It may be no coincidence that conservatives largely make up this block.

[This writer is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science magazine.]

Breathtaking Inanity

One of a continuing series

Yes, readers, we have seen a lot of this stuff before. This one is going to have more sides than a game of dodge ball. We need to start with some background.

Let me tell you how stars are formed. In the cold of (nearly) empty space between stars and between galaxies clouds of hydrogen gas exist. The gas is so thin, like a molecule per cubic meter or even less, that you can’t tell it’s there. But it’s there.

Hydrogen molecules, like all particles of matter, have mass, and mass attracts mass. If the hydrogen molecules are distributed exactly evenly throughout space, then nothing much happens. Any hydrogen molecule experiences the same gravitational attraction of all the other hydrogen molecules from all different directions. And nothing much happens.

Except there are variations in the distribution of the hydrogen molecules, and the attraction is greater in some directions. The result is that molecules are disproportionately attracted in the direction of the nearest and greatest density. Positive feedback occurs. Regions of concentration become even more concentration, attracting more molecules from regions farther away. The process snowballs, and eventually billions of tons of hydrogen cascaded into a giant ball and form a star.

Much the same thing happens with jake leg. Jake leg attracts more jake leg, and presently you have a huge concentration of jake leg. Where does this lead. Let me explain.

For several years I worked for a company in Irving, Texas. That’s a suburb of Dallas. The Dallas Cowboys football team used to have a huge, domed stadium there. Where I worked was across the freeway. And when going to and from work I was always careful driving in Irving, Texas. Why? Because I wanted to avoid any possibility of a newspaper headline that read, “John Blanton Killed in Irving.” I did not want my name and “Irving, Texas,” to be in the same sentence.

I always considered it too bad that an otherwise decent city like Irving, Texas, came to be associated with jake leg. It was an unfortunate circumstance of nature that jake leg attracts jake leg, and it kind of concentrated in this suburb of Dallas, no stranger to jake leg, itself. Evidence? Sure:

  • I worked with and came to know a number of people living in Irving. “Jake leg” applied.
  • Pseudo scientist Carl Baugh apparently gave himself a Ph.D. from a center of learning that he, himself had established—in … You guessed it.
  • In regional elections citizens of Irving, Texas, could always be counted on to provide the jake leg vote.

This is my personal perspective and should be taken for what it’s worth, the observation of someone who worked eight years in the town.

More back history is helpful. My youthful behavior is within reproach. My buddies and I did some things that would land us in Guantanamo in the current century. In our defense I must state that through all of that there was only one incident that required hospitalization. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

My walk on the wild side continued past high school.

img352loadingammunition-01

Now you have the background. Move forward to the summer of ’15. Jesus Christ, what’s going on in Irving, Texas?

Irving’s police chief announced Wednesday that charges won’t be filed against Ahmed Mohamed, the MacArthur High School freshman arrested Monday after he brought what school officials and police described as a “hoax bomb” on campus.

At a joint press conference with Irving ISD, Chief Larry Boyd said the device — confiscated by an English teacher despite the teen’s insistence that it was a clock — was “certainly suspicious in nature.”

School officers questioned Ahmed about the device and why Ahmed had brought it to school. Boyd said Ahmed was then handcuffed “for his safety and for the safety of the officers” and taken to a juvenile detention center. He was later released to his parents, Boyd said.

IrvingJakeLeg-03

Full disclosure: I have played tennis at this high school.

Yes, that’s a 14-year-old high school student in handcuffs. This is a contest, readers. How many different ways are there to spell “jake leg?” And what did young Ahmed Mohamed do to get himself detained and cuffed? You are going to have as much difficulty believing as I am. He built this:

IrvingJakeLeg-01

IrvingJakeLeg-02

And he took it to school.

Pause for a moment here. Look at the photo byline in the first of the two above. That’s Pulitzer Prize-winner David Woo for the Dallas Morning News. I and at least one other reader of this blog will recall having him present at meetings of our camera club back in Dallas.

Now look at the bottom photograph. This is what had an Irving, Texas, school administration so alarmed. This is what got young Ahmed arrested. Now take a closer look. Look very closely. What is it that you see. Actually, what is it that you don’t see. That’s right. You do (not) see it. It’s the principal ingredient of any bomb. It’s the explosive. Where’s the Torpex? Where is the PETN? Where’s the TNT? Where’s the black powder I and my buddies made back in Granbury sixty years ago? Where is the bomb? Where is the right thinking that is expected of 21st century adults? Gone to jake leg apparently.

Pile it on. Irving, Texas. The jake leg just keeps coming:

To her supporters, Irving, Texas Mayor Beth Van Duyne is a tough-as-nails politician who’s not afraid to take on Islam.

To her critics, Van Duyne is a fear-monger who stokes the flames of Islamophobia.

So both Van Duyne’s fans and foes can surely find a talking point in the Monday incident where Irving police arrested 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a homemade clock to school that they thought looked like a “movie bomb.”

Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne at a job fair Thursday, July 19, 2012, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne at a job fair Thursday, July 19, 2012, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Mayor Van Duyne is no accident. Remember, jake leg attracts jake leg:

Irving, Texas Mayor Beth Van Duyne is defending law enforcement and school officials who were involved in the arrest and suspension of Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim 14-year-old ninth-grader who brought a homemade clock to school that teachers mistook for a bomb.

“I do not fault the school or the police for looking into what they saw as a potential threat,” Van Duyne wrote in a statement posted to her Facebook page Wednesday.

Van Duyne said school and law enforcement officials were simply following school protocols when a “possible threat” or “criminal act” is discovered.

“To the best of my knowledge, they followed protocol for investigating whether this was an attempt to bring a Hoax Bomb to a school campus,” Van Duyne wrote. “I hope this incident does not serve as a deterrent against our police and school personnel from maintaining the safety and security of our schools.”

Breathtaking inanity. Rest easy, dear readers. Jake leg is still alive and well in some parts of our country.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Computer Evolution

This originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. I’m reposting it for no other reason than to remind us what we were doing ten years ago.

by John Blanton

Creationists of the “Intelligent Design” variety have a habit of making the claim that evolution by means of genetic mutation combined with natural selection cannot generate novelty. Many of their arguments are similar to the ones we heard before from the young Earth creationists (YEC). The YECs, for example, will agree that domestic dogs are descendents of wild wolves. However, they maintain that the divergent characteristics of domestic dogs, from the diminutive Chihuahua to the St. Bernard, to the stretch dachshund and the pug-nosed bulldog, are just variations on a theme, and nothing new has been created.

Particularly, creationist author William Dembski likes to point out that a passive and unintelligent process (like evolution using natural selection) cannot generate anything new, but can only take what exists and shape it into different forms (my interpretation of Dembski’s words). Dembski’s most recent book is No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence.1

Nothing is free, Dembski tells us. If you want novelty out you have to put novelty in. Unintelligent agencies are not able to provide any lift on their own.

Computer scientists are not so quick to agree. The idea of using mutation and selection to guide machine-based invention has been around since the 1950s. With the advent of cheap, high-performance computers, the impetus to use them in this enterprise has grown. Today computers employing genetic algorithms are developing new designs and solving problems previously left up to carbon-based thinkers.

Figure 1 helps to illustrate the problem and the approach to a solution. The wavy line represents a problem for the computer to solve. The computer knows the line as just a mathematical function. Given any position on the x-axis, the computer can quickly determine the corresponding height of the line at that point. The specific problem to be solved is a little more difficult. The computer must find the highest point on the line.

1-D solution space
Figure 1
The problem: Find the highest point.

Figure 2 illustrates one approach. First pick a point and determine the height of the line on either side along the x-axis. If one side is higher, then pick a new point on that side and repeat the process.

Which way is up?
Figure 2
The micro approach: Climb the nearest mountain.

Eventually this algorithm will draw the search to point A, at which time it may be convenient to stop and declare victory.

However, the line illustrated in Figure 1 may present some difficulties. Using my remarkable human brain and eyesight, I can readily determine that point A is the highest point. However, the computer is not gifted with my eyesight and certainly not with my remarkable brain. If the search is started in the wrong place, the computer may quickly locate and settle on one of point B, C, D, or even one of the other, minor, unlabeled peaks in the line. That’s because once the computer finds itself at one of the lesser peaks it has no reason to look elsewhere. In every direction away from the point it is only down, and the computer is looking for up.

But what if we told the computer to mount multiple, simultaneous searches? And, furthermore, what if the instructions were to “get outside the box” so to speak. Look beyond the next peak.

Occasionally shake things up a bit and pick new search points, not so close to home, beyond the next peak or valley. That’s the essence of genetic algorithms, and that’s the essence of evolution by mutation coupled with natural selection. Mutation is what shakes things up, and natural selection is what determines that the higher of several choices is the better one.

If the problem of biological evolution were as simple as this illustration then everybody, and not just the creationists, would give a big yawn and look around for something more entertaining. Fortunately for our entertainment value there is more to life than a wavy line. The example shown in the figure is a linear search problem, because it’s a line, in one dimension. Imagine next we are searching a mountain range for the highest mountain peak — better, but still nothing that would raise a lot of excitement.

The problem of life, however, is not just one or two-dimensional. It is multi-dimensional in a grand scale. The number of dimensions of life’s search space is the size of the genome of an organism. The dimensionality of a genome is the millions of base pairs that make up the organism’s DNA, and the organism, in searching this multidimensional space, can vary any of its base-pair sequences that code for a protein. Mutation can produce a change in any code sequence (three-base-pair codon), and we can see what results from that. In living organisms what happens is usually nothing of much consequence, and often times it is bad to fatal. On rare occasions the result is beneficial, and the organism’s offspring climb the hill along one of the dimensions of its genome space.

For an organism, “climbing the hill” as opposed to “descending the hill” is whatever produces an offspring that will have a better chance of reproducing (and producing more copies of the new genome).

Computer scientists have been remarkably successful at co-opting nature’s idea of evolution. It works much like this: The problem of interest has a large number of variables, often mutually independent, that affect the performance of a system to be invented, designed, or merely improved. For example, the performance of an internal combustion engine will be affected by a combination of design parameters, such as the cylinder diameter, the compression ratio, the size and number of valves, the positioning of the spark plug, and more. For the problem to be tractable for the computer it must be possible for the computer to determine the resulting performance of the system, knowing all the design parameters. The computer will determine the performance characteristics by using the design parameters in a simulation of the system. The computed performance characteristics as a function of the design parameters is the solution space of the problem. In real life, the solution space can be as wildly variable as the line in Figure 1, and more so. A real solution space is apt to be very nonlinear—another way of saying that doubling the change in an input variable does not double the change in the output.

A typical approach using a genetic algorithm will mimic life by starting with a large population of trial solutions. Continuing to mimic life, the quality of the different solutions is evaluated, and higher quality solutions are given extended life and allowed to continue to the next generation of the solution population. The algorithm may mimic sexual reproduction by swapping parts of the genomes of the better solutions and introducing mutation by ratcheting some of the genome’s components up or down. This is possible, because in the computer the genome will be represented by sets of numbers that get swapped around and modified.

Let’s take a look at how well this method works. Adam Marczyk has summarized the whole issue of Genetic Algorithms and Evolutionary Computation in a Web article of the same name.2 I will describe just two of his examples:

Edward Altshuler and Derek Linden used a genetic algorithm to design a circularly polarized, seven-segment antenna with hemispherical coverage. The resulting design is “unusually weird” and “counter-intuitive.” It has a nearly uniform radiation pattern, and it closely matched the design specification.3 Kumar Chellapilla and David Fogel used a genetic algorithm to develop checkers-playing neural networks. Using only six months of computer time, the algorithm produced a neural network that plays checkers at a rating of 2045.85. In one game the neural network defeated a player ranked 27 points below master level.4 Dembski is having none of this, of course. He argues all the intelligence exhibited by these computer programs has been “smuggled in” by their designers. In effect he is saying the designing programs were designed to win—to produce good designs. Their makers built the solution in by carefully describing what they wanted out.

If I were inclined to cut Dembski some slack here I would agree that these designer programs were designed to succeed. Once their designer wrote all the code, entered all the initial parameters, and typed the run command, the result was pre-ordained. Even though these programs simulate randomness by using pseudo random number generators, they are, in principle, completely predictable.

But that’s all the slack Dembski gets. Whether the computer programs provide (in principle) predictable results or not, their designers at the beginning cannot predict the results. They cannot rig the programs in advance to produce optimal designs. The programs follow the rules of life, and the results are the same as is often the case in life: The successful candidates survive the winnowing process of, in this case, unnatural selection.

Dembski and the “intelligent design” creationists can attack from another front: “Life does not tell you to design an ideal antenna or a master checkers player. It only tells you to survive. It’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”5 He might further elaborate: “Just because your genome is working (unintelligently) to survive and make copies of itself, that doesn’t explain why you have eyes.”

And it doesn’t. The best answer to that argument is that eyes are so useful—even essential—to survival, that not only do I have eyes, but other creatures have eyes of vastly different designs from my own.

Finally, Dembski and the other “intelligent design” creationists make a lot of noise about “intelligence” and “complexity.” I am not sure they or most other people involved in this argument have a correct grasp of these two terms. How can you tell “intelligence?” Is an Apollo spacecraft the result of intelligent activity? Is an anthill? The creationists seem to be looking for a master designer who exhibits human qualities and wants to do what people do. People design things for the same reason they rearrange furniture in a room. They want to make themselves more comfortable. They want to extend their existence. They want to survive.

Ouch! We’ve come full circle. “Intelligence,” if there is such a thing, is just a manifestation of the need to survive. It’s a product of evolution. A product of nature. A product of the chemistry of carbon-based molecules. Just like William Dembski.

References

1 You can buy this book from Amazon. The link is at http://www.ntskeptics.org/books/creationists.htm.

2 http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/genalg/genalg.html

3 Altshuler, Edward and Derek Linden. “Design of a wire antenna using a genetic algorithm.” Journal of Electronic Defense, vol.20, no.7, p.50-52 (July 1997).

4 Chellapilla, Kumar and David Fogel. “Evolving an expert checkers playing program without using human expertise.” IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation, vol.5, no.4, p.422-428 (August 2001). Available online athttp://www.natural-selection.com/NSIPublicationsOnline.htm.

5 See Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates, A critique of William Dembski’s book No Free Lunch by Richard Wein. http://www.talkorigins.org/design/faqs/nfl/

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

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.

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.