False Testament

Number 3 of a series

This is number three in my review of the video Is the Bible Reliable, produced by Focus on the Family and featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. This installment covers episodes 4-6 of 10, concerning principally the biblical  kingdoms of David and Solomon and the stories of the conquest of the nations of Israel and Judah. The first episode dwells on Meyer’s argument that the David and Solomon are real characters from history, and furthermore the related biblical stories are true. Meyer introduces the prevailing skeptical views. He begins with the minimalist view, which is the notion that these kings existed but that their importance is much puffed up in the biblical narrative.

The Minimalist View

  • Israel Finkelstein  and colleagues at Tel Aviv view Saul and David as leaders of a small tribal confederation.
  • Tenth century B.C. Judah shows little or no evidence of permanent population, urban centers, capital, temple or big building projects in Jerusalem.
  • Some textual critics (Thomas Thompson) still deny that David existed.

Meyer is going to dispute Finkelstein and Thompson, so it is worth reviewing what minimalist (nihilists?) have had to say. First Finkelstein:

Israel Finkelstein (Hebrewישראל פינקלשטיין‎‎, born March 29, 1949) is an Israeli archaeologist and academic. He is the Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University Finkelstein is widely regarded as a leading scholar in the archaeology of the Levant and a foremost applicant of archaeological data in reconstructing biblical history. He is also known for applying the exact and life sciences in archaeological and historical reconstruction. Finkelstein is the excavator of Megiddo – a key site for the study of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Levant.

He has this to say about Saul. Again from Wikipedia:

Finkelstein dealt with a variety of themes related to the archeology and history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He proposed that the first North Israelite territorial polity emerged in the Gibeon-Bethel plateau in the late Iron I and early Iron IIA. He found archaeological evidence for this in the system of fortified sites, such as Tell en-Nasbeh, Khirbet ed-Dawwara, et-Tell (“Ai”) and Gibeon. Historical evidence for the existence of this polity can be found in the campaign of Pharaoh Sheshoqn I in this region in the middle-to-second half of the 10th century BCE. According to Finkelstein, positive memories in the Bible of the House of Saul, which originated from the North, represent this early Israelite entity. He suggested that this north Israelite polity ruled over much of the territory of the highlands, that it presented a threat to the interests of Egypt of the 22nd Dynasty in Canaan, and that it was taken over during the campaign of Sheshonq I.

Additionally, there is this concerning King David:

Finkelstein has recently dealt with the location of the ancient mound of Jerusalem (with Ido Koch and Oded Lipschits). The conventional wisdom sees that “City of David” ridge as the location of the original settlement of Jerusalem. Finkelstein and his colleagues argued that the “City of David” ridge does not have the silhouette of a mound; that it is located in topographical inferiority relative to the surrounding area; and that the archaeological record of the ridge does not include periods of habitation attested in reliable textual records. According to them, the most suitable location for the core of ancient Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The large area of the Herodian platform (today’s Harem esh-Sharif) may conceal a mound of five hectares and more, which – similar to other capital cities in the Levant – included both the royal compound and habitation quarters. Locating the mound of Ancient Jerusalem on the Temple Mound resolves many of the difficulties pertaining to the “City of David” ridge.

According to Finkelstein, the history of Jerusalem in biblical times should be viewed in terms of three main phases: A) Until the 9th century BCE, Jerusalem was restricted to the mound on the Temple Mount and ruled over a modest area in the southern highlands. Accordingly, Jerusalem of the time of David and Solomon can be compared to Jerusalem of the Amarna period in the 14th century BCE: it had the size of a typical highlands mound (for instance, Shechem), ruled over a restricted area, but still had impact beyond the highlands. B) The first expansion of Jerusalem came in the 9th century BCE, perhaps in its second half, when the town grew significantly in a southerly direction. Remains of the Iron IIA were unearthed south of al-Aqsa Mosque, above the Gihon Spring and to the south of the Dung Gate of the Old City. In parallel to this development, Judah expanded to the Shephelah in the west and Beer-sheba Valley in the south, and for the first time became a territorial kingdom rather than a city-state restricted to the highlands. C) The most impressive phase in the settlement history of Jerusalem commenced in the late 8th century BCE and lasted until its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. At that time Jerusalem expanded dramatically, to include the entire “City of David” ridge, as well as the “Western Hill” (the Armenian and Jewish Quarter of today’s Old City). This expansion was the result of the arrival of Israelite refugees after the demise of the Northern Kingdom in 722-720 BCE. These groups brought with them traits of Northern material culture, and more important – their foundation myths, royal traditions and heroic stories. These Northern traditions were later incorporated into the Judahite Bible.

Israel Finkelstein has collaborated with Neil Nasher Silberman, and one outcome has been the book The Bible Unearthed. From Wikipedia:

The methodology applied by the authors is historical criticism with an emphasis on archaeology. Writing in the website of “The Bible and Interpretation”, the authors describe their approach as one “in which the Bible is one of the most important artifacts and cultural achievements [but] not the unquestioned narrative framework into which every archaeological find must be fit.” Their main contention is that:

“ …an archaeological analysis of the patriarchal, conquest, judges, and United Monarchy narratives [shows] that while there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of them, there is clear archaeological evidence that places the stories themselves in a late 7th-century BCE context. ”

On the basis of this evidence they propose

“ … an archaeological reconstruction of the distinct histories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, highlighting the largely neglected history of the Omride Dynasty and attempting to show how the influence of Assyrian imperialism in the region set in motion a chain of events that would eventually make the poorer, more remote, and more religiously conservative kingdom of Judah the belated center of the cultic and national hopes of all Israel. ”

As noted by a reviewer on Salon.com the approach and conclusions of The Bible Unearthed are not particularly new. Ze’ev Herzog, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, wrote a cover story for Haaretz in 1999 in which he reached similar conclusions following the same methodology; Herzog noted also that some of these findings have been accepted by the majority of biblical scholars and archaeologists for years and even decades, even though they have only recently begun to make a dent in the awareness of the general public.

In their book, Finkelstein and Silberman devote Appendix D to “Why the Traditional Archaeological of the Davidic and Solomonic Period is Wrong.” Here is part:

The Davidic Conquests: A Ceramic Mirage

The most important archaeological evidence used to link destruction levels with the Davidic conquests was the decorated Philistine pottery, which was dated by scholars from the beginning of the twelfth century BCE until about 1000 BCE. The first strata that did not contain this distinctive style were dated to the tenth century, that is, to the time of the united monarchy. But this dating was based entirely on biblical chronology and was thus a circular argument because the lower date for the levels with this pottery was fixed according to the presumed era of the Davidic conquests around 1000 BCE. In fact, there was no clear evidence for the precise date of the transition from the Philistine style to later types.

Moreover, recent studies have revolutionized the dating of Philistine pottery. In recent decades, many major sites have been excavated in the southern coastal plain of Israel, the area of strong Egyptian presence in the twelfth century BCE, and the region where the Philistines settled. These sites included three of the cities mentioned in the Bible as the hub of Philistine life— Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron (Tel Miqne) as well as several sites that served as Egyptian forts. The latter disclosed information about the Egypto-Canaanite material culture in the last decades of Egyptian hegemony in Canaan. Their finds included Egyptian inscriptions related to the imperial administration of Canaan as well as large quantities of locally made Egyptian vessels. Some of the inscriptions date from the reign of Ramesses III— the pharaoh who fought the Philistines and supposedly settled them in his forts in southern Canaan.

The surprise was that the strata that represent the last phases of Egyptian domination in Canaan under Ramesses III did not reveal the early types of the decorated Philistine vessels, and the earliest Philistine levels did not reveal any sign of Egyptian presence, not even a single Egyptian vessel. Instead, they were completely separated. Moreover, in a few sites, Egyptian forts of the time of Ramesses III were succeeded by the first Philistine settlements. In chronological terms this could not have happened before the collapse of Egyptian domination in Canaan in the mid– twelfth century BCE. The implications of this revelation for the archaeology of the united monarchy create a sort of domino effect: the whole set of pottery styles is pushed forward by about half a century, and that includes the transition from Philistine to the post-Philistine styles.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts (pp. 340-341). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[I note in the Kindle edition the name Israel is misspelled in page attribution.]

Wikipedia has this concerning Thompson:

Thomas L. Thompson (born January 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan) is a biblical scholar and theologian. He was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993 to 2009, lives in Denmark and is now a Danish citizen.

Thompson is closely associated with the minimalist movement known as The Copenhagen School (other major figures include Niels Peter Lemche, Keith Whitelam, and Philip R. Davies), a loosely knit group of scholars who hold that the Bible cannot be used as a source to determine the history of ancient Israel, and that “Israel” itself is a problematic concept.

It is critical to evaluate the level of analysis given to the matter of biblical historicity by Meyer against that given by serious scholars. Meyer’s presentation is not, nor should ever presume to be, a scientific discourse. First, the lectures presented in the video are less than 30 minutes each, leaving little time for deep analysis. Second, there is no way to escape the conclusion there is never any intent at a factual presentation. Meyer’s lectures are aimed at impressionable minds with a goal of keeping them convinced of the veracity of the Bible and to reinforce a reliance on the supernatural.

In the remainder of this review I am not going to provide any depth at disputing Meyer’s presentations. I will post some salient points and offer a top-level discussion.

Meyer urges that the discovery of a fortified wall is evidence of David’s kingdom.

David’s Kingdom: The Fortress of Elah

  • Great big fortified wall, but there is no city inside.

There is the matter of the Tel Dan Stele:

The Tel Dan Stele is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993–94 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. Hazael (or more accurately, the unnamed king) boasts of his victories over Omri, the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David” (bytdwd). It is considered the first widely accepted reference to the name David as the founder of a Judahite polity outside of the Hebrew Bible, though the earlier Mesha Stele contains several possible references with varying acceptance. A minority of scholars have disputed the reference to David, due to the lack of a word divider between byt and dwd, and other translations have been proposed. The stele was not excavated in its primary context, but in its secondary use. The Tel Dan stele is one of four known contemporary inscriptions containing the name of Israel, the others being the Merneptah Stele, the Mesha Stele, and the Kurkh Monolith.

The Tel Dan inscription generated considerable debate and a flurry of articles, debating its age, authorship, and authenticity; however, the stele is generally accepted by scholars as genuine and a reference to the House of David. It is currently on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

David: The Tel Dan Stele

  • Found in 1993 at Tel Dan, inscribed in the mid-9th century B.C.
  • “I (King Hazael) killed Joram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and I killed  [ ]yahu son of [ ] of the House of David” (Lines 7-9).

There is the Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III:

The inscription on the Shalmaneser III Stela deals with campaigns Shalmaneser made in western Mesopotamia and Syria, fighting extensively with the countries of Bit Adini and Carchemish. At the end of the Monolith comes the account of the Battle of Qarqar, where an alliance of twelve kings fought against Shalmaneser at the Syrian city of Qarqar. This alliance, comprising eleven kings, was led by Irhuleni of Hamath and Hadadezer of Damascus, describing also a large force led by King Ahab of Israel.

Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III

  • Specifically mentions King Ahab.
  • King Ahab sends over 2,000 chariots and 10,000 men to fight in the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.c.
  • In the record of those defeated by the Assyrians are the names of Ahab, king of Israel, and Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, who appears in 1 Kings 20:33.

And that finishes the review of Episode 4.

Next, Meyer launches into Episode 5, “The Assyrian Invasion.” From Amazon:

This lesson examines the archaeological record of Sennacherib’s assault on Judah. Learn how the evidence backs up the Bible’s account of the defense of Jerusalem.

Historians do not doubt that about 2749 years ago invasions and conquests from nearby people threatened and ultimately brought an end to the dynasty of the Davidic kings. From all appearances, Meyer seeks only to demonstrate the Bible’s account jibes with history.

Hezekiah and Sennacherib

  • According to the book of 2 Kings, in approximately 732 B.C. the Assyrian Empire invaded the norther kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:3).
  • By ca. 722 B.C. Israel had been defeated, and King Hoshea had been taken captive (2 Kings 17:6).
  • In about 701 B.C., following the conquest of Israel, the Assyrians moved on to attack the kingdom of Judah, ruled by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:13).
  • This culminated in a siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. Under Sennacherib, however, the Assyrians failed to capture Jerusalem and returned to Nineveh (2 Kings 19:36; 2 Chronicles 32:21).

There is the Sennacherib Prism:

Sennacherib’s Annals are the annals of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. They are found inscribed on a number of artifacts, and the final versions were found in three clay prisms inscribed with the same text: the Taylor Prism is in the British Museum, the Oriental Institute Prism in the Oriental Institute of Chicago, and the Jerusalem Prism is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Taylor Prism is one of the earliest cuneiform artifacts analysed in modern Assyriology, having been found a few years prior to the modern deciphering of cuneiform.

The annals themselves are notable for describing his siege of Jerusalem during the reign of king Hezekiah. This event is recorded in several books contained in the Bible including Isaiah chapters 33 and 36; 2 Kings 18:17; 2 Chronicles 32:9. The invasion is mentioned by Herodotus, who does not refer to Judea and says the invasion ended at Pelusium on the edge of the Nile delta.

Sennacherib (or Taylor) Prism

“As for Hezekiah,the Judean who did not submit to  my yoke, I Surrounded and conquered 46 of his strong-walled towns…by leveling with battering-rams and by bringing up siege-engines. 200,150 people…I brought away from them and counted as spoil.”

More conquests. Here is the Attack on Azekah.

Attack on Azekah

The Azekah inscription, ca. 701 B.C., describes the Assyrian attack of Sennacherib on the Judean stronghold of Azekah.

“I overwhelmed the district of Hezekiah of Judah…Azekah, his stronghold, which is located between my land and the land of Judah.”

The corresponding excerpt from 2 Kings relating to the event.

I will just quote from the bible:

2 Kings 18:13-17 King James Version (KJV)

13 Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.

14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king’s house.

16 At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

17 And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field.

From 2 Chronicles 32:9-12

From BibleGatway.com:

2 Chronicles 32:9-12 King James Version (KJV)

After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, (but he himself laid siege against Lachish, and all his power with him,) unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem, saying,

10 Thus saith Sennacherib king of Assyria, Whereon do ye trust, that ye abide in the siege in Jerusalem?

11 Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, The Lord our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria?

12 Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it?

The God of Abraham at this point intervened.

2 Kings 19:35-36:

2 Kings 19:35-36 King James Version (KJV)

35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.

But now the Sennacherib Prism is silent on the matter, and Meyer takes note of that silence, and for what reason? Is it possible Sennacherib was embarrassed by this miraculous defeat and left it unrecorded?

Conspicuous Silence

“He himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage…Fear of my lordly splendor overwhelmed that Hezekiah. The warriors and select troops he had brought in to strengthen his royal city Jerusalem, did not fight…

From the Sennacherib (or Taylor) Prism

When extra-biblical sources fail to mention the miracle, Meyer interprets it as an embarrassment for Sennacherib.

Meyer winds down Episode 5 by posting four competing hypotheses regarding the Old Testament narrative.

He will eventually cross out all but the one in the lower right, the “divinely inspired” hypothesis. Yes, the Bible is divinely inspired.

Episode 6 has the title “The Babylonian Conquest of Judah.”

From Amazon:

This lesson describes the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, thereby ending the Davidic monarchy. Due to Israel’s rebellion against God, He handed them over to their enemies to be taken into exile.

Here is what is interesting about the use of language. Whenever God fails to protect the Jews, it is because they displeased God, and God was punishing them. Whenever a miracle saved the Jews (185,000 dead enemy soldiers), then it was God intervening to  protect his chosen people.

The Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem

  • Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Jehoiachin’s  uncle, Zedekiah, to be King. After nine years Zedekiah rebelled.
  • This rebellion ended in the summer of 587 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem after a siege of over a year.
  • From 605BC-587BC [sic], all of the fortified cities of Judah fell to the Babylonians, and 3 kings of Judah either died or were captured.

Next Meyer invokes the Lachish Letters:

The Lachish Letters or Lachish Ostraca, sometimes called Hoshaiah Letters, are a series of letters written in carbon ink in Ancient Hebrew on clay ostraca. The letters were discovered at the excavations at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir).

The ostraca were discovered by James Leslie Starkey in January–February, 1935 during the third campaign of the Wellcome excavations. They were published in 1938 by Harry Torczyner (name later changed to Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai) and have been much studied since then. Seventeen of them are currently located in the British Museum in London, a smaller number (including Letter 6) are on permanent display at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Lachish Letters

Letter 4 indicates Lachish and Azekah as among the last cities to be conquered.

Letter 4: “We are watching for the signal stations of Lachish, according to all the signals you are giving, because we cannot see the signals of Azekah.”

This is further confirmation to Meyer that the biblical account is historically correct.

From the biblical account:

Bullae from city of David

Jeremiah 36:10-12 King James Version (KJV)

10 Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the Lord‘s house, in the ears of all the people.

11 When Michaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, had heard out of the book all the words of the Lord,

12 Then he went down into the king’s house, into the scribe’s chamber: and, lo, all the princes sat there, even Elishama the scribe, and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, and Elnathan the son of Achbor, and Gemariah the son of Shaphan, and Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the princes.

Additionally:

Jeremiah 36:22-24 King James Version (KJV)

22 Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him.

23 And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.

24 Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.

Meyer highlights key words from the Bullae from the City of David.

Here is what is archaeologically significant:

Bullae from the First Temple period found in the City of David excavations

Shedding light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem

A collection of seals (bullae) from the late First Temple period, discovered in the City of David excavations, shed light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem

A collection of dozens of sealings, mentioning the names of officials dated to the days of the Judean kingdom prior to the Babylonian destruction, was unearthed during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park in the area of the walls of Jerusalem, funded by the ELAD (El Ir David) organization.

The sealings (bullae- from which the Hebrew word for stamp, “bul”, is derived) are small pieces of clay which in ancient times served as seals for letters. A letter which arrived with its seal broken was a sign that the letter had been opened before reaching its destination. Although letters did not survive the horrible fire which consumed Jerusalem at its destruction, the seals, which were made of the abovementioned material that is similar to pottery, were actually well preserved thanks to the fire, and attest to the existence of the letters and their senders.

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “In the numerous excavations at the City of David, dozens of seals were unearthed, bearing witness to the developed administration of the city in the First Temple period. The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures; it appears that instead of writing the names of the clerks, symbols were used to show who the signatory was, or what he was sealing. In later stages of the period–from the time of King Hezekiah (around 700 BCE) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE–the seals bear the names of clerks in early Hebrew script. Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service.”

This is archaeological confirmation of this portion of the scripture. Meyer cites the biblical events confirmed, or at least not invalidated, by science.

Events in the Babylonian Conquest of Judah: Top Points of Agreement

  • Sometime after the appointment of Zedekiah the Babylonians completely destroy Jerusalem.
  • The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar took many Jews captive to Babylon.
  • Cyrus the Great, a Persian emperor, conquers Babylon in roughly 539 B.C.
  • Cyrus allows the Jews to return from Babylon.

What has happened is this. As Judaic scribes started recording events as they happened, the biblical text began to come more in line with the actual history. Gone were the absurdities of Genesis and Exodus, and gone also were such that Finkelstein and Silberman note in their book:

The first question was whether Moses could really have been the author of the Five Books of Moses, since the last book, Deuteronomy, described in great detail the precise time and circumstances of Moses’ own death.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts (p. 11). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Meyer lists biblical persons identified in history.

Top Characters Attested: Great and Small

  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Jehoiachin, king of Judah
  • Necho, king of Egypt
  • Cyrus the Great
  • Possibly Jeremiah, “the prophet”
  • Baruch, son  of Neriah
  • Yerame’el, son of the king
  • Elishama, servant of the king
  • Gemariah, servant of the king

Concluding Episode 6, Meyer makes an astounding assertion.

The Bible is true and accurate in all the things it records.

Particularly:

  • In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

  • 15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.16 And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the Lord shut him in.

    17 And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.

    18 And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.

    19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.

    20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

    21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:

    22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.

  • 21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
  • [Supposedly written by Moses]

    34 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lordshewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan,

    And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea,

    And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar.

    And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.

    So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.

    And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.

  • 18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof.19 And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

I am so glad Meyer can assure me everything in the Bible is true and accurate, because I am daily battered by a flood of facts to the contrary.

For Meyer that is the end of the Old Testament. He next launches into the New Testament and the story of Jesus, which story will cover the final four episodes. Episode 6 is titled, without surprise, “New Testament.” From Amazon:

Recent archaeological finds have unearthed mounds of evidence that are slowly bringing an end to Biblical skepticism. By looking at this evidence, studying the recent findings and corroborating the stories, we realize the accuracy of the New Testament.

I will likely summarize the final four episodes in the next (final) review. Keep reading.

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Fool’s Argument

Ninth of a series

This is the ninth 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 dealt with the return of the God hypothesis. Creationist Stephen C. Meyer argued that public discourse should return to accepting the hypothesis that God is behind everything. In Episode 9 Meyer abandons science altogether and unfolds his inner core argument. Judeo-Christian (Muslim, too) religious dogma is the only right and acceptable basis for human morality. He states this up front. See the screen shot above.

Meyer has formal education in science, a degree in physics and earth science, and he earlier worked down the street from where I used to work, in Plano, Texas. But then he earned a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University, and he has been involved in promoting religion since, with little attention paid to actual science. Here he waxes entirely philosophical and theological.

We are treated to the wisdom of that world-renowned thinker Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“If God is dead, then all things are permissible.”

Yes, there is a real question whether we should base our lives on the thoughts of a 19th century writer of fiction.

Meyer illustrates with some sound logical inferences, using well-grounded philosophy.

The presentation foil says:

Is ≠ Ought

Murder hurts people.

Hurting people is wrong.

Therefore, murder is wrong.

The first part I translate to “what exists is what should be.” Then comes a statement that responsible members of society will agree to, namely that killing people is bad for the people being killed. Meyer is presenting to some students, and he initially leaves the part about hurting people being wrong and just shows the last part, murder is wrong. He asks students to fill in the blank. A student provides the obvious and missing part: hurting people is wrong. The matter then lands on where we got the part about hurting people is wrong. That’s the basis of human morality. We need to figure out what is wrong and what is right. We need to figure out what we ought to do. Meyer is going to argue that this answer cannot come from logic and  reason but must come from theism—from God.

Meyer quotes a number of famous people. Here is one such.

Here’s what it has to say:

There Are No Objective Standards of Morality

“Morality … is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive end… In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.

[Attributed to Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson]

Michael Ruse is a retired professor of philosophy:

Michael RuseFRSC (born 21 June 1940) is a philosopher of science who specializes in the philosophy of biology and is well known for his work on the relationship between science and religion, the creation–evolution controversy, and the demarcation problem within science. Ruse currently teaches at Florida State University. He was born in England, attending Bootham School, York. He took his undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol (1962), his master’s degree at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario (1964), and Ph.D. at the University of Bristol (1970).

Edward Osborne Wilson is a biologist:

Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929), usually cited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he is the world’s leading expert.

The statement, attributed to the two of them together, seems brash on the surface, but it contains some embedded logic. There is a view, held by me and by others, that human morality is basic. I start by observing that mothers, with exceptions, do not kill their babies. Else there would be no human race. Further, there would be no human race prior to the rise of Judeo-Christian thinking. Hence, human morality existed at a basic level for a long time without benefit of Judeo-Christian morality. I extend this line of thought to higher levels of ethics and morality.

You don’t take other people’s stuff, because if you do, then that’s going to make them angry, and they’re going to come after you, and you are going to spend your time fighting to stay alive, whereas if you left other people’s stuff alone, and they left your stuff alone, then everybody would get along and we would all be more productive.

And that’s the basis of the Ruse-Wilson argument,  Stephen C. Meyer notwithstanding.

Meyer cites additional examples. Here’s famous trial lawyer of 100 years ago, Clarence Darrow. In 1924 Darrow defended two privileged white kids who murdered a young boy in an exercise to demonstrate they were smarter than anybody else.

What Darrow did is what any good defense lawyer does. There was no doubt the boys did it, and a guilty plea was entered. What Darrow did was to successfully argue before the sentencing judge that the boys were shaped by evolution and society and should not be executed for the crime.

Meyer’s invoking of the Darrow defense might lend merit to his argument against innate morality, but he steps into a giant cow cookie while invoking Darrow. Specifically:

[Darrow] was sent by the ACLU out to Chicago to defend [Leopold and Loeb].

Absolutely false, and I have to wonder where Meyer got this. The ACLU did not send Darrow to defend two murderers. Leopold and Loeb were from wealthy families, and they did not need a civil rights lawyer to defend them. They could afford the best lawyer in the country, and what happened, according to a biography of Darrow’s life, is that the uncle of one of the boys went to Darrow’s home and pleaded, promised to pay whatever was demanded, to get Darrow to take the case.

Call me cynical if you wish, but Meyer’s reference to  the ACLU appears to be a bit of Intelligent Design. The Intelligent Design folks are not known for stand-up honesty, and the temptation  to suck the ACLU—which has confronted state-sponsored anti-evolution at every step—into the narrative was possibly too tempting to resist. Do I think Meyer and the other creationists were still smarting from the drubbing ACLU lawyers gave Intelligent Design in the Kitzmiller case? Inquiring minds would like to know.

The religious doctrine espoused by conservative thinkers, the Discovery Institute included, leans toward being highly-judgmental. The word on the street is these people recoil when they think somebody is having too much fun. “The Kinsey Reports” refers to two volumes published in 1948 and 1953 and based on interviews with a few thousands of subjects.

What’s Natural is Good

“The Kinsey Reports … have inspired sex education programs in high schools and encouraged several generations of sex therapists to tell their patients, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ [Attributed to] James H. Jones.”

Regarding James H. Jones:

James H. Jones is a Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. 

He is the author of Kinsey: A Public/Private Life and [also] Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Meyer does not cite a reference for the Jones quote, but assume it is true for the sake of argument. A broad interpretation is that if nobody is harmed, then it is all right to do it. This is something religious fundamentalists seem to have issue with. Call me out on this if I am wrong, but my observation is that many conservatives in this country and elsewhere, in the interest of smaller government, want people to quit having fun wherever there are no consequences attached.

Meyer invokes the United States Constitution, as it is based on religious morality.

This is possibly a misstep on his part, because the Constitution, as originally adopted, was not steeped in morality and human rights:

Section. 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

[Emphasis added]

 

Yes, the Constitution, adopted in 1789, had no provision for protecting human rights, and it had text particularly worded to accommodate slavery.

In the video one student is seen bringing up the matter of slavery, and Meyer is quick to respond that that was then, and this is now (my words). Just because somebody else does it wrong, or just because everybody used to do it wrong, that doesn’t mean we should not presently be doing it right. He completely glosses over his wrong assertion that the Constitution was inspired by a Judeo-Christian morality.

Once again he invokes David Berlinski. I have to go back to the video to recall what this was about.

And here it is. Berlinski is seen saying that no system that sought to ensure morality, absent religion, has been successful. Berlinski may have some support here. In a previous century I was acquainted with the late science fiction writer and acknowledged atheist L. Sprague de Camp. At a dinner gathering once he made this observation. We need religion, the fear of God, to make people do right.

While I  can possibly, based on observation, agree with Berlinski and de Camp, I have never found it necessary in my own life to require fear of the supernatural to keep me in line. That observation holds for a large gathering of my atheistic friends and family. On the other hand I note the great number of people being killed in the name of God. God’s ways are mysterious, to be sure.

Meyer concludes.

Three Key Conditions for an Objective Morality

  1. Objective standard
  2. Free will
  3. Intrinsic value of humans

I find no fault with that position. How I differ with Meyer is that an imaginary God is not necessary to attain that objective.

This entire episode has been soaked in religion and philosophy, and Meyer’s presentation quotes a number of philosophical sources, including Berlinski and Dostoyevsky. And that is supposed to mean a lot. People who know me really well are acquainted with my view of philosophy as a study and philosophers in general. God put philosophers on this planet with an eye toward making used car salesmen look good.

That said, what to make of Meyer’s argument, specifically that  we need a God, particularly we need a religion, to obtain  morality? More specifically, people did not come up with morality, cannot come up with morality, on their own. There must have been some supernatural force to inject morality into the human consciousness. It’s a proposition that does not pass the Skeptical Analysis test.

First, assuming the God to which Meyer refers is the source of this morality. Surprise! This God is a human invention. People existed many thousands of years before the Abrahamic God was introduced, and people had morality. Doubt me? Take note of this. The famous Ten Commandments existed in various forms prior to the time Moses was supposed to have brought them down from Mount Sinai. From all appearances, the writers of the story of Moses adopted these ideas, and placed them on the stone tablets.

But, let’s pretend that God really is the source of our morality. Then what a wonder of morality it is. Examples abound:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 King James Version (KJV)

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Some more:

Exodus 12:29 King James Version (KJV)

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

More:

Ephesians 6:5 King James Version (KJV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

More:

1 Timothy 6:1-2 King James Version (KJV)

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

And I can go on ad nauseam. And I will if anybody from the Intelligent Design camp wants to challenge that I am picking and choosing from the Bible. Meyer might come back to me and remind me some of these quotes are from the Old Testament, before Jesus forged a more benign morality, but Timothy is New Testament, and the Old Testament is from the God of Abraham, who created the Universe and humankind, and imbued us with basic morality, which we would not otherwise have.

Any distinction between Meyer’s presentation and a deceptive propaganda exercise is difficult to discern.

There is one more episode to review, and then there is the promised bonus extra. I should be finished in two more days.

Episode 10 is titled “The Moral Necessity of Theism, Part 2: We Need God.” From Amazon:

Dr. Meyer provides overwhelming evidence that the theistic worldview is the only one that can provide a coherent explanation for an objective and meaningful system of morality.

I can hardly wait.

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.

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

It’s Tuesday again. That means another person has died from stupidity. This week:

Mr Xiao is wanted over the death of the young diabetic boy who allegedly died a few days after attending his alternative medicine seminars in Hurstville, NSW in April 2015.

Emergency services found the Year 1 student unconscious and not breathing at the Ritz Hotel in Hurstville after the boy and his family left the workshop.

The boy’s father, mother and grandmother also face charges.

Paramedics performed CPR but the boy could not be revived.

Police allege the boy was deprived of food and insulin during the course, run in Tasly Healthpac medical clinic.

Mr Xiao, Fairfax Media reports, claims to be a former Wall Street banker who developed an alternative medicine technique known as a paidalajin.

Paidalajin involves stretching, fasting and slapping the body to the point of bruising.

That was this year, 16 years into the 21st century. Foolishness dies hard. Often innocence is collateral damage.

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.

Heart Of Dumbness

Possibly a new series

What got me to looking at this? Oh, yeah. It was a debate featuring Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. In 2002 the pair got together, along with radio host Todd Friel, and formed The Way of the Master, a Christian evangelism ministry based in the United States. Cameron is a former child actor, star of  Growing Pains, a popular sitcom series that ran six seasons starting in 1985. More recently Cameron produced and starred in Saving Christmas, which I reviewed last Christmas. Ray Comfort is remembered for his claims about the design of bananas. His claim is that bananas were designed especially for the convenience of  humans, despite their having been cultured by people from an inedible tropical fruit.

And that sets the stage. My searches turned up this interview, apparently staged in Austin over a public access channel. The video is posted on YouTube:

Uploaded on Mar 29, 2011

The Atheist Experience #702 from March 27, 2011, with Matt Dillahunty and Russell Glasser. Interview with Ray Comfort. Matt and Russell have a conversation “across the divide” with professional apologist Ray Comfort.

You might want to watch the video. It runs for 58 minutes, with Dillahunty and Glasser live in the studio and Comfort phoning in. I watched the entire 58 minutes, but the first few exchanges give the flavor of Comfort’s argument:

Regarding how to determine absolute truth, Comfort says as a Christian he can ascertain what is truth. He says he found absolute truth. “Jesus said, ‘I am the truth,’ and I don’t know if any atheist can point to some atheist that said that or point [to] anything that you can say, ‘This is absolute reality.'”

That’s an amazing argument, to say the least, and it points to why so many straight-thinking people cock their heads sideways when listening to Ray Comfort.

Russell Glasser takes up Comfort’s challenge and says,  “I am the way, and every thing I say is true.”

Comfort responds, “So now raise yourself from the dead, and I will believe you.”

At this point Glasser responds,  “Well how do you know that happened?” The matter is that Comfort is taking the story of resurrection as a given and going from there. Glasser could well  have responded by saying he, himself, rose from the dead, and he would have the same proof Comfort gives for the resurrection of Jesus.

The conversation gets into the scientific method, and Dillahunty elaborates. He refers to Comfort’s discussion of the age of the Earth in his book, You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think. The subtitle is Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. The discussion centers on how science has handled the age of the Earth. Rather than recap from the video, I will quote something from the book:

Could you tell me how old you believe the Earth to be, and why?

I have no idea how old the Earth is, but I’m not alone in this. Science can’t make up its mind either. Just over one hundred years ago, scientists thought that the Earth was about 100 million years old. Soon after, they changed their minds and came to the confident belief that the correct number was 500 million years. Then they changed their minds again and the figure jumped to 1.3 billion years. It wasn’t long until they did a double take on that one and said that they believed it was perhaps 3 billion years old. Of course, now they think that it may be 4.55 billion years old, give or take a billion years. I’m sure that contemporary scientists think they have the right number this time, until they change their minds again when more data comes along…and, of course, none of the “faithful” will question it.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 326-332). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

People originally did not concern themselves with the age of the Earth. Then they made up stories, such as Genesis, which pegs the creation of the Earth about 4004 B.C. Later, after science developed as a human exercise, scientists figured the Earth must be much older, in the order of millions of years—this from geological deduction. Not mentioned in the conversation is Lord Kelvin’s (William Thompson) computation, limiting the age to 500 million years. Subsequent investigation made use of the decay of radioactive substances, and the age was extended to in excess of 4.5 billion years. Comfort interprets this as waffling, indicating scientists don’t have a clue. Christians, however know for certain, and the answer appears to be Genesis.

A number of topics get batted back and forth in the video, and one of  them is slavery, which seems to  be condoned in  the Bible. Actually, the Bible does condone slavery. However, Comfort attempts to weasel out of this difficulty by pointing out the difference between slaves kept by the Israelites and unfortunates kidnapped in  Africa and transported to the Americas. He hangs briefly on descriptions of Israelite prisoners of war being enslaved, but the two atheists remind him of other Israelites being made slaves. And the Bible is OK with that. Here is one example from the Bible Gateway site:

Exodus 21:2-6 King James Version (KJV)

If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.

If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.

If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

An underlying quantity is Comfort’s reliance on his experience with God as a basis for truth. He tells people (my interpretation) that if they truly have faith in God, then questions will be answered. It is a weird argument. It’s true because you believe it’s true.

If you want to follow through, there are a number of Ray Comfort debates on YouTube, and you can also follow the Atheist Community of Austin. Here’s a link: http://atheist-community.org

And may Jesus have mercy on your 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?

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

altmed-homeopathyairguitar

Another Tuesday and another death due to reliance on unwarranted belief. From Quack Watch comes a story of death by cancer:

My good friend Debbie Benson died July 15, 1997, at age fifty-five. I had known her for thirty years. Her official diagnosis was breast cancer, but she was really a victim of quackery. Conventional treatment might have saved her, but she rejected the advice of her oncologist and went to “natural healers.”

Debbie was a registered nurse at the Kaiser hospital in Portland, Oregon, but she had a deep distrust of standard medical practice. She didn’t have a mammogram for nine years, and when she did — in March 1996 — it showed a cancerous lump in her breast. She had the lump removed, but she refused the additional treatment her doctor recommended. Instead she went to a naturopath who gave her — among other things — some “Pesticide Removal Tinctures.”

Readers, when you’re dying Jesus will not come to save you, and it’s for certain medical quackery won’t either.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

AntiVaccine-01

Dying to believe? How about something slightly less than dying? It’s not always the believer who suffers the consequences:

Two Kenyan boys, horribly mutilated in the mistaken belief that their genitals could be used in the treatment of HIV/Aids, have told the BBC of their ordeal.

Late last year, Philip Barasa and Oscar Kituyi, both from the remote northern region of Bungoma, had all or part of their genitals cut off to be sold for the making of an HIV/Aids potion. Another boy, six-year-old Omandi, was also attacked in a similar way.

Philip and Oscar have been treated at the Levante Rehabilitation Centre in the Spanish city of Valencia, where they have undergone reconstructive surgery; Omandi is expected there later this year.

Life’s tribulations are horrendous enough when people act through malice coupled with reason. Eliminating reason from the balance aggravates the tragedy.

Keep reading. Jesus is waiting for you.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

altmed-davidwolfe

This is old stuff. Nearly 25 years ago medical charlatan Charlotte Gerson came to town, peddling what was then called “the Gerson cancer cure.” The North Texas Skeptics newsletter reported on it at the time:

Max Gerson seems to have been a very self-reliant man. At an early age he found he could cure his own migraine headaches by controlling his diet, and as a medical doctor he found diet to be a cure for a multitude of other complaints. The list is impressive. According to the flier distributed by the Gerson Institute, the Gerson Therapy can cure or prevent: cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, arthritis and “other diseases of civilization that kill and cripple us.” Just wait until the AMA hears about this.

Max’s daughter, Charlotte Gerson, is living proof of the effectiveness of the Therapy. At age seventy, she looks the picture of perfect health. Slim and vigorous and very neat looking with white hair and wearing white sandals and slacks with a blue blouse and a string of pearls. She looks the way you would like your grandmother to look (or the way you would hope your wife looks at that age). You would never believe that 58 years ago her father cured her of “incurable” bone tuberculosis. Indeed, the only sign of malady she exhibited (that could not be attributed to seventy years) was a “Band-Aid” patch on the middle finger of her right hand.

Charlotte’s free lecture was presented at the Unity Church of Dallas on Forest Lane.

And there was more.

Anyhow, run the tape forward 12 years, and the Gerson therapy was still alive and well, this time with the moral support of high royalty:

Now Charles backs coffee cure for cancer

Angry doctors warn of dangers as Prince of Wales lends support to controversial alternative treatment. Health Editor Jo Revill reports

Prince Charles has never made a secret of his love affair with alternative medicine. Now he has infuriated the medical profession by backing a controversial cancer treatment which involves taking daily coffee enemas and drinking litres of fruit juice instead of using drugs. Charles gave an enthusiastic endorsement last week to the Gerson Therapy, which eschews chemotherapy in favour of 13 fruit juices a day, coffee enemas and weekly injections of vitamins.

Cancer specialists have told The Observer that there is no scientific basis for the theory and that it can be dangerous because patients who are seriously ill often come off their normal treatment to try something unproven which may leave them badly dehydrated.

The problem with scams like the Gerson cure is threefold: They don’t work. They entice patients to avoid therapies that do work. They are expensive beyond all reason and worth. For any and all of these reasons, avoidable death can be a consequence.

The Guardian article by Jo Revill notes, “An estimated 1,000 people are following it worldwide, but the cost of the injections – more than £20,000 a year – means many cannot afford the treatment.” Tragedy reaches to the highest levels of society:

Another of Charles’s associates, the hereditary peer and crossbencher Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, went to the Tijuana clinic in 1996 when his wife Sally was seriously ill with breast cancer. She spent eight weeks at the clinic, followed by another two years of using the regime at home. Her disease recurred and she died three years ago.

Keep reading, and always keep Jesus close to your heart.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

religion-biblelimbo

Death by unreason is the most tragic of all. It’s not all faith healing. Stupid cuts deep and shows no  mercy:

(CNN) — Deep in the Himalayas, the night rolled in and a girl in a tiny hut lit a fire to keep warm.

As she slept, the 15-year-old died of smoke inhalation. She was alone, separated from her community because of a biological function that half the world’s population will experience.
The girl, from Gajra village in western Nepal’s Achham district, was taking part in chhaupadi, a common practice in the far west of the country in which women, considered unclean during menstruation, are banished for the extent of their periods.

Lest readers conclude this is representative only of a primitive society, please follow the back links to previous posts about other people Dying to Believe.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

altmed-cinnamonhoneycncercure

Every con job requires two to complete the deal. A con artist may be devious of mind and sharp of tongue, but if the mark does not perform his part, the thing falls through. Fortunately for this page that does not happen often enough to starve me of weekly material. It’s Tuesday again:

Six years ago, [James Arthur] Ray wouldn’t run out of a kitchen unless it was to speak to thousands of people—or the audience had paid four figures each for the privilege. After being featured in the book and movie of self-help sensation The Secret in 2006, Ray was propelled onto the national stage. At the time, he was touted as the latest in a long line of prominent self-help gurus who claimed to hold the keys to living a happy and successful life. Two appearances on Oprah followed, as well as his 2008 New York Times best seller Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want. The price of joining Ray’s World Wealth Society—a program of one-to-one mentoring—peaked at $90,000, and he bought a luxurious home in Beverly Hills. A glowing profile in Fortune magazine dubbed him heir to Tony Robbins’s motivational-speaker throne.

Then, in October of 2009, three of Ray’s followers died.

The good news, depending on how you define “good,” is that in 2013 the resilient Mr. Ray was released from prison, having served his two-year sentence for negligent homicide. On that fatal day in 2009 two people died immediately from heat stroke and another died nine days later of “organ failure.” The victims were among approximately 75 people who offered themselves to Ray’s cure, submitting to temperatures of 200 F inside a tent heated by rocks.

Back in business (as of March last year), Ray continues peddling “harmonic wealth.” It’s “the idea of energy fields attracting similar energy fields.” He will be successful so long as his dupes perform as scripted. He should not require much help.

The Age Of Embarrassment

Update: I fixed some flawed language in this posting.

Sixth of a series

science-agw-scottadamsmodel

This keeps coming up. Makes my day. Dan Kuttner likes to jump on items supporting the denial of AGW (anthropogenic global warming). For that I am thankful.

This time it relates to a post on the Scott Adams blog. Scott Adams, if you recall, is the cartoonist/commentator who has for over two decades ragged American corporate structure and our idiosyncratic social fabric. No scientist, himself, he likes to take on AGW, which he appears to doubt. Here’s the item in question:

SCOTT ADAMS’ BLOG

I keep hearing people say that 97% of climate scientists are on the same side of the issue. Critics point out that the number is inflated, but we don’t know by how much. Persuasion-wise, the “first offer” of 97% is so close to 100% that our minds assume the real number is very high even if not exactly 97%.

That’s good persuasion. Trump uses this method all the time. The 97% anchor is so strong that it is hard to hear anything else after that. Even the people who think the number is bogus probably think the real figure is north of 90%.

But is it? I have no idea.

So today’s challenge is to find a working scientist or PhD in some climate-related field who will agree with the idea that the climate science models do a good job of predicting the future.

Notice I am avoiding the question of the measurements. That’s a separate question. For this challenge, don’t let your scientist conflate the measurements or the basic science of CO2 with the projections. Just ask the scientist to offer an opinion on the credibility of the models only.

Remind your scientist that as far as you know there has never been a multi-year, multi-variable, complicated model of any type that predicted anything with useful accuracy. Case in point: The experts and their models said Trump had no realistic chance of winning.

Your scientist will fight like a cornered animal to conflate the credibility of the measurements and the basic science of CO2 with the credibility of the projection models. Don’t let that happen. Make your scientist tell you that complicated multi-variable projections models that span years are credible. Or not.

Then report back to me in the comments here or on Twitter at @ScottAdamsSays.

This question is a subset of the more interesting question of how non-scientists can judge the credibility of scientists or their critics. My best guess is that professional scientists will say that complicated prediction models with lots of variables are not credible. Ever. So my prediction is that the number of scientists who ***fully*** buy into climate science predictions is closer to zero than 97%.

But I’m willing to be proved wrong. I kind of like it when that happens. So prove me wrong.

I pasted as much as I consider pertinent on the possibility it will be withdrawn in the future.

As you can see above, I posted a response to Dan’s posting on Facebook, inquiring whether he felt safe in venturing into this wilderness again. This considering his performance in a prior exchange:

In a previous conversation Dan made some claims related to atmospheric science. One went something like this (I do not have the exact quote), “Carbon dioxide weighs [some number] more than the rest of the atmosphere.” That statement struck me as odd to the extreme. The German physicists Wolfgang Pauli is noted as having said something like, “Das is nicht einmal falsch,” that is not even false (wrong).” It related to something so absurd that it went beyond not being true. Dan’s statement regarding carbon dioxide and the atmosphere is such a statement. Some explanation.

Carbon dioxide is a chemical compound, not a physical object. The atmosphere is a physical object. Any statement comparing a non-physical object with a physical object is beyond false. In this case there was no way for me to respond to Dan’s statement. The conversation unraveled from there.

So Dan has asked, “Did you answer his challenge?” I responded that I am in the process now, which is what this is. I need to answer Scott Adams’ challenge.

But first, what is his challenge? That may take some deciphering. The critical language is:

So today’s challenge is to find a working scientist or PhD in some climate-related field who will agree with the idea that the climate science models do a good job of predicting the future.

A trivial response to Adams’ challenge would be to find “a working scientist…” who will naively proclaim the models do a good job of predicting the future. I will not go that route. The matter concerning AGW is worth more attention than that. It is also worth more attention than Adams’ challenge. As stated, it would be impossible to address. For example, we would all have to agree on the meaning of the word “good” used to assess the quality of the models. Everything breaks down from there.

If Scott Adams will propose a challenge with more precise, even lucid, wording, it would be something everybody could work with. Something that would have to go would be any requirement that a model predict frequency and severity of hurricanes, future drought or flooding with great accuracy. Once again, an unquantifiable adjective is “great.”

Scott Adams’ challenge is really a phony challenge. Less than what he demands would be adequate. All Scott Adams needs to do to challenge the reality of AGW is to refute demonstrate one of the following:

  • Carbon dioxide, methane, and other such gases do not trap heat from solar radiation in the atmosphere.
  • The concentration of these gases is not increasing and has not been steadily increasing for the past 50 years and more.
  • Human activity is not contributing significantly to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Specifically, human activity is not responsible for the increase of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere represented by the Keeling Curve.
  • The temperature of the combination atmosphere and hydrosphere is not increasing and has not been increasing for the past 50 years and more.
  • Events beyond human control are alone responsible for the warming.

An additional point that is not part of the science behind AGW is the following:

  • The increase in global temperatures will have little or no impact on human well-being.

And all of this has nothing to do with models.

Update

As I was in the process of working this up, additional comments came in. Here is one:

David Varner The idea of constructing models without measurements sounds like something Dilbert’s pointy haired boss might have come up with.

As a retired scientist and engineer I  take exception to David’s remark. Properly, constructing a model does not rely on measurements. I have constructed models, computer simulations, that presuppose initial conditions. The idea of the model is to determine the consequence of a set of initial conditions, the measurements.

If by “measurements” David means measurements of the atmosphere and such to assess the validity of models, then he has not been keeping up with the science. Atmospheric/oceanographic models are constantly assessed against progressive measurements.

Update:

Dan posted a comment on the Scott Adams blog:

I challenge your basic assumptions.

1. The term “Fossil Fuels” was coined by John D. Rockefeller. He wanted to emphasize the supposed scarcity of oil in order to inflate its price.

2. Many old “dry” oil wells are filling up FROM THE BOTTOM. There’s evidence going at least back to Immanuel Velikovsky that petroleum has a non-organic origin, probably low in the Earth’s mantle.

What is to be said of this? I hope it is meant as a joke.

  1. What difference does it make who coined the term and for what reason? Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are fossil fuels. Fossil is a well-defined scientific term.
  2. Citing evidence going back to Immanuel Velikovsky is like citing evidence going back to Miguel de Cervantes. Does anybody care to follow up on that?

This post, and the ones in this series are titled The Age Of Embarrassment for a reason. Let’s not take that as a challenge and try to outdo each other.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

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Whoa! It’s not just faith healers dying to believe. Fatal misconceptions abound in many walks of life, and death:

BAGHDAD — Despite major bombings that have rattled the nation, and fears of rising violence as American troops withdraw, Iraq’s security forces have been relying on a device to detect bombs and weapons that the United States military and technical experts say is useless.

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.

Didn’t The North Texas Skeptics already cover this? Here is something from six years ago:

Consider, for a moment, that Darwin could have been right all along.

OK, forget Darwin. Consider for a moment that there is a species on this planet so incompetent it deserves to go extinct right now.

That would be us.

Recent developments bear this out. I will elaborate. I made a joke a few years back about dowsing for land mines, but I should have been more circumspect.1 The truth turns out to be ludicrous beyond belief.

In a recent blog post, Bob Park alerted us to a scam that just will not go away. In the UK a company known as ATSC has for several years marketed their ADE 651, a device for detecting dangerous explosives, including bombs carried by enemy agents. The technology would be undeniably beneficial, if only it worked. In reality, the device is little more than a dressed up water dowser. Its evolution is akin to the genesis of Intelligent Design from young-Earth creationism.

We should have been warned, because ADE 651 has an antecedent dating back more than ten years. In his post from 12 January 1996 Bob Park highlighted the remarkable Quadro Tracker.2

What’s cuckoo: high-tech dowsing rod locates timid laboratory.

The Quadro Corporation, which markets the QRS 250G Detector, a dowsing rod with an antenna that outperforms old fashioned willow branches, says the device can locate anything from weapons to buried treasure–well worth the price of $995 each. But a Sandia National Labs scientist thought it might be a good idea to test one. It failed to locate anything; dissection found just plastic! Sandia sources tell WN that management directed scientists to remain silent in the face of a threat of legal action by Quadro.

An entry in Wikipedia notes that between 1993 and 1996 “[a]round 1,000 were sold to police departments and school districts around the United States on the basis that it could detect hidden drugs, explosives, weapons and lost golf balls.”3

Developments unfolded, and the FBI obtained a permanent injunction to keep the device from being marketed in the United States. Principles of Quadro Corp. of Harleyville, South Carolina, were brought to trial for fraud but were acquitted on all charges.

Move forward and across the pond.

In the UK ATSC Limited has the following product description on their Web site:4

ADE651® is the latest generation of long-range detector products offered by ATSC. As with other ADE™ substance detectors, it incorporates long-range electromagnetic attraction to enable the effective identification of even the most difficult substances including explosive and narcotic materials. Unlike other trace detectors, that are limited by the need to have actual physical contact with the item sampled, the ADE651® is able to detect programmed substances at long distances safely and without the need to have actual physical contact with the substance. As such, the ADE651® continues to set standards for the detection of substances.

As with Quadro, ATSC seems to have sailed right past the consciousness of all concerned—then somebody woke up. The Independent reported on 23 January this year:5

Hundreds of people have been killed in horrific bombings in Iraq after a British company supplied “bogus” equipment which failed to detect explosive devices.

The head of the company, which has made tens of millions of pounds from the sale of the detectors, has now been arrested and the British Government has announced a ban on their export to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Accounts of the ADE 651 indicate it works through the user’s expectations, much like the traditional “water witch” dowsing rod. The ADE 651, like all such devices, requires physical contact with the operator, and this allows subtle, usually subconscious, operator actions to affect the device and to influence indications of detection. In what may be an oversimplification: The operator expects there is no bomb, the device confirms his expectation—reality notwithstanding.

What is so bizarre about the Quadro-ADE 651 is how easy it should have been to falsify its claims. Put some explosive in a vehicle, or not. Don’t tell the operator. Is the device correct significantly better than chance?

In about twenty minutes a conscientious appraiser would have rejected these devices and sent their purveyors packing. Instead, numerous government agencies, representing budgets of billions of dollars annually, saw only the glitter and the promise of an easy fix. And they pulled out, not theirs but the taxpayer’s, checkbook.

The legion of the duped is impressive. An item on Wikipedia reports the following purchasers/users of the ADE 651. Some of these reports derive from ATSC promotional materials and not from actual observation:6

Iraqi Police Service and Iraqi Army: The Interior Ministry purchased 800 items in 2008 for $32 million and 700 in 2009 for $53 million. Top price was $60,000 per unit.

Mexican state of Colima: One was purchased for $60,000.

  • Lebanese Army
  • Chinese Police
  • Royal Thai Police
  • Interior Ministry of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Hotels in Jordan: Required by the government
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Indian police
  • Police in the Belgian municipal region of Geel-Laakdal-Meerhout (Used to detect drugs)
  • A Belgian drug squad
  • A Hong Kong correctional facility
  • Chittagong Navy (Bangladesh)
  • Pakistan’s Airport Security force: To detect bombs at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi

It does not warm the heart to learn that superstitious nonsense is not the exclusive purview of uneducated yokels from the outback. Sit down at a conference table to discuss project planning at a high-tech concern in this country or elsewhere, and it is possible the person sitting next to you is ready to buy into the Quadro Tracker, the ADE 651 or the next baseless gimmick to follow. The fictional Jed Clampett would have been able to hold his own with this crowd.

People ask me, and other skeptics, why we take such a passion for the truth. What’s the harm, they say, if people have their little myths, their little fantasies? Sometimes I shrug off these annoying complaints with a glib remark. Such as, “Because people can die.”

References:
1 http://www.ntskeptics.org/2000/2000september/september2000.htm#ink
2 http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN96/wn011296.html
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadro_Tracker
4 http://www.atscltd.com/products-services.html
5 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/head-of-bomb-detector-company-arrested-in-fraudinvestigation-1876388.html
6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADE_651

Time to revisit the Darwin Awards.