Posts Tagged ‘pseudoscience’
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2013
I make no bones about how I feel about various psychic charlatans who take advantage of the desperate, grieving, and bereaved: they’re pretty close to scraping the bottom of the barrel, in my view. At the top of this list is none other than the queen of psychic charlatans: Sylvia Browne.
Ms. Browne has made a career, literally, out of taking advantage of any opportunity, no matter how sleazy, to get in front of cameras in order to promote herself and her supposed “psychic powers”. In many cases, this takes the form of her going on a popular daytime television show, such as the Montel Williams Show, and giving readings to various audience members. And sometimes, she has stooped so low as to give authoritative-sounding psychicly-guided advice to people who have lost loved ones.
Of course, such psychic predictions can backfire when people actually take the time to examine them critically (such as keeping track of the New Year predictions made by prominent psychics which are complete and total duds). But sometimes, especially when dealing with those who are really going for the gusto (like Ms. Browne), these predictions can fail in a truly spectacular and despicable manner, as it did with what is turning out to be a huge fiasco regarding the discovery and rescue of kidnapping victim Amanda Berry in Cleveland, Ohio. It just so happens that not long after their daughter went missing over 10 years ago, Amanda’s parents went onto the Montel Williams Show to consult with Ms. Browne, who told them – rather unequivocally – that their daughter was dead…
… yup, dead. Which is kind of exactly the opposite of what Amanda really was… you know, alive and hoping someone would find her? Whoops…
Sylvia Browne is coming under fire after the television psychic told the family of Cleveland kidnapping victim Amanda Berry that their daughter was dead.
The case made national headlines this week when Brown and two other kidnapped girls were found safe in Cleveland. But for the family of Amanda Berry, that does not undo the heartache caused by Sylvia Browne.
Browne was a weekly guest on The Montel Williams Show, and in 2004 Berry’s mother Louwana Miller appeared to talk about the case.
As Miller pleaded for her for information on her daughter’s whereabouts, Sylvia Browne, got it completely wrong:
Miller: Can you tell me if they’ll ever find her? Is she out there?
Browne: She’s — see, I hate this when they’re in water. I just hate this. She’s not alive, honey. And I’ll tell you why, here we go again. Your daughter was not the type that would not have called you.
Miller: So you don’t think I’ll ever get to see her again?
Browne: Yeah, in heaven, on the other side.
Brown was correct on the last prediction, though it does not appear to be intentional. Berry’s mother would die of heart failure two years later — her family said she died of a “broken heart” after her hopes of a rescue were dashed by Browne’s vision.
Now Sylvia Brown has come under assault, with commentators calling her a “grief vampire” and her Twitter page coming under assault. [emphasis added]
And to me that is one of the real tragedies of this whole sordid affair. Not only have Ms. Browne and similar psychic charlatans used the grief of people to take advantage of them in their most vulnerable moments to promote themselves and their cheesy, pseudoscientific agenda, but they have also propped themselves up as some kind of authority with no evidence to support their claims. And then they go making terribly irresponsible statements such as what Ms. Browne did regarding Amanda Berry; sadly, because Louwana Miller gave some kind of credence to Ms. Browne and her psychic claims, because she trusted Browne, she was horribly and terribly deceived… eventually dying thinking that her daughter was dead.
[ **Side note: Lest you think I'm being a bit too hard on Ms. Browne, it should be noted that this isn't her first high-profile grade-A screwup. For more history, check out her involvement in the Shawn Hornbeck fiasco. ]
I’m not one to say there should be a law against being a douchebag, especially such a self-aggrandizing and deceitful one such as Ms. Browne and her psychic ilk, but I do think it is incumbent upon those of us who call ourselves skeptics and critical thinkers to call these charlatans out on their lies and douchebaggery. We need to call them out long and loud on their lies and deceit, and we need to use these sad episodes as a lesson in teaching others the use of thinking a bit more critically about such extraordinary claims.
Posted in psychics | Tagged: abduction, accuracy, Amanda Berry, charlatan, cherry pick, Cleveland, cold reading, dead, death, died, esp, fail, failed, fake, hits, hot reading, kidnapping, medium, mentalism, mind reading, misses, Montel Williams, New Year's Eve, New Years, paranormal, post diction, prediction, predictions, pseudoscience, psychic, psychics, Shawn Hornbeck, skeptical activism, skepticism, Sylvia Browne, talking to the dead | 15 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2013
Wow, sometimes the good guys win one. In case you didn’t know, there has been a long-running skeptical campaign against a pseudoscientific fraudster, James McCormick, who sold bomb dowsing kits to the Iraqi military. Yes, you read that correctly, dowsing kits – as in “water witching”! And no, dowsing doesn’t work. And yes, it resulted in a lot of people getting killed, because these things didn’t do squat to detect bombs. And yes, it pleases me greatly to see this criminal finally receive justice…
McCormick’s fake bomb detectors were used at Iraqi checkpoints staffed by the British military
A millionaire businessman who sold fake bomb detectors to countries including Iraq and Georgia, knowing they did not work, has been convicted of fraud.
James McCormick, 56, of Langport, Somerset, is said to have made £50m from sales and sold more than 6,000 in Iraq, the Old Bailey heard.
Police said the devices, modelled on a novelty golf ball finder, are still in use at some checkpoints.
One Iraqi bomb victim described him to the BBC as a “morally bankrupt” man.
During Tuesday’s hearing at the Old Bailey in London, the court was told McCormick’s detectors, which cost up to $40,000 (£27,000) each, were completely ineffectual and lacked any grounding in science.
Richard Whittam QC, for the prosecution, said: “The devices did not work and he knew they did not work.”
McCormick had claimed the devices could bypass “all forms of concealment”, detecting drugs and people along with explosives, the court heard.
He claimed they would work under water and from the air, and would track an object up to 1km (3280ft) below the ground.
The bomb detectors came with cards which were “programmed” to detect a wide array of substances, from ivory to $100 banknotes.
Other substances could be detected, it was claimed, if put in a jar with a sticker which would absorb its “vapours” and was then stuck on a card that would be read by the machine.
In reality, McCormick’s device was based on $20 (£13) golf ball finders which he had purchased from the US and which had no working electronics.
Police said McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those who used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection. …
Serves this scumbag right. I hope they throw the book at him, not only for his crimes but also to send a clear message to the other fraudsters and charlatans out there: we’re watching you. Skepticism matters.
Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: ADE651, ATSC Ltd, bomb, conviction, corruption, court, crime, criminal, detection, detector, dowsing, dowsing rods, explosive, fake, FBI, fraud, Iraq, Iraqi, James McCormick, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, Jim McCormick, JREF, justice, military, pseudoscience, Quadro, Randi, security, terrorism, trial, UK, United Kingdom | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 29, 2013
Okay, so this news has been all over the Internet in recent days: a California creationist is challenging anyone to disprove the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. More on this:
…The wager is $10,000, the arena is a minitrial (featuring a bailiff and a court reporter along with the judge), and the rules state that evidence must be “objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.”
“They [evolutionists] are not stupid people, they are bright, but they are bright enough to know there is no scientific evidence they can give in a minitrial,” Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, who has a PhD in kinesiology and taught biomechanics and physiology at a California University for more than 25 years, told The Guardian. “It turns out that there is nothing in the universe [that] is evolving — everything is devolving, everything is going in the opposite direction.”…
And here are the rules as outlined by Dr. Mastropaolo…
- The non-literal Genesis advocate puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
- The literal Genesis advocate and contributing writer for the Creation Science Hall of Fame, Joseph Mastropaolo, puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
- If the non-literal Genesis advocate proves that science contradicts the literal reading of Genesis, then the non-literal Genesis advocate is awarded the $20,000.
- If the literal Genesis advocate proves that science indicates the literal reading of Genesis, then the literal Genesis advocate is awarded the $20,000.
- Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.
- The preponderance of evidence prevails.
- At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both checks.
- The judge is a superior court judge.
- The venue is a courthouse.
- Court costs will be paid by the prevailing party.
Please make note of that bolded point in particular, because it really begs the question as to what exactly Dr. Mastropaolo (and other Young-Earth Creationists) consider to be “scientific evidence”. And this is nothing new, as Mastropaolo has been here before, calling this challenge the Life Science Prize in the past. As this excerpt from an article by Dr. Michael Zimmerman (creator of the Clergy Letter Project) details, in his previous attempts to put on these show trials, Mastropaolo seems to play fast and loose with definitions:
… When I proposed that we agree on definitions of evolution and creationism as a starting point, things went awry pretty quickly. In response to my suggestion that we use the classic textbook definition for evolution (a change in allele frequencies in a population over time), Mastropaolo’s second argued that “change in allele frequency is about as meaningless a definition of evolution as can be offered.” Mastropaolo himself countered with the following: “evolution is the development of an organism from its chemicals to its primitive state to its present state.” My Ph.D. in evolutionary biology didn’t help me make any sense out of that definition. Mastropaolo went further and said that I “may not be competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.”
He very much liked the phrase “competent to contend for the Life Science Prize, also warning me that “Evolutionist hallucinators so out of touch with reality are psychotic by medical dictionary definition, and therefore not mentally competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.” … [emphasis added]
This displays a flaw common to creationist thinking: they define evolution to be something other than what scientists (or “evolutionists”, as they call them) define it to be! So by playing around with the definitions like this, the creationists can stack the deck in their favor through simple equivocation.
But it gets better. This whole thing seems to be copied from the famous JREF Million Dollar Challenge; a problem with how this is set up which is different from the JREF challenge: it is asking the challenger to prove a negative, whereas the JREF challenge is asking the challenger to demonstrate a particular claimed ability. This is a big difference, because by asking the challenger to prove a negative, it allows the creationists in this case to play fast and loose with definitions, standards of evidence, etc. – just as Mastropaolo has done in the past.
Last, but certainly not least, creationism has been put on trial as recently as 2005, and it lost quite badly. Does anyone remember a little thing called the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial?
Posted in creationism | Tagged: academic freedom, Bible, challenge, Christ, Christianity, court, creationism, creationist, Dover, Dover v Kitzmiller, evolution, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, Genesis, God, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, Life Science Prize, Mastropaolo, prize, pseudoscience, science, teach all views, teach the controversy, trial, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2013
Some time ago I posted about the Next Generation Science Standards (in the United States) and how important it is for teachers and those who support science and education to speak up about the NGSS. Since then I have been fortunate enough to get more involved with this process, learn more about NGSS, and think ahead about its implementation.
First of all, let me note that I got all this information first-hand from Dr. Carol Baker, who is a member of the writing team for the NGSS and who also gave me and my colleagues an excellent presentation on the topic. Some facts I think are important for everyone to know about the NGSS:
*It is not a federal mandate. The NGSS is funded by private organizations – most especially by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching - and it is a collaborative effort between these private sources and a number of states in the U.S. States may choose to accept the NGSS or not, but it should be noted that if they do accept them it will cost the states nothing. Essentially, they get the standards for free!
*Right from the outset, the people organizing and drafting the NGSS wanted to get “buy in” from the states, so they invited every state in the country to send representatives to serve on the writing team for the standards. 26 states (called Lead States) sent representatives and have been directly involved in drafting thse standards as a result. Here is some more information about these states (highlighted in blue below)
So you can see that these states have a broad demographic representation, are bipartisan in breadth, and they also account for over 58% of public school students, and most require three years of science for high school graduation.
*As the NGSS were drafted, the writing team sought feedback from educators in the Lead States, and after the second round of such revisions almost 95% of the original draft has been reworked based upon this feedback. So this is definitely a bottom-up process!
Now, I’d like to mention something very interesting about that last point: it ends up that one of the states which gave the most feedback was Kentucky (which was actually 3rd – beat out only by California and New York). And it appears the vast majority of the feedback from Kentucky educators was in support of emphasizing evolution within the NGSS.
In fact, Dr. Baker (and I agree) seems to think that this is, in effect, a reaction to the Creation Museum residing in Kentucky and the subsequent trouble it makes for science teachers in that state. It also appears that many teachers from many other states are likewise fed up with the political tactics employed by creationists and global warming deniers in their attempts to dumb down the teaching of evolution, climate science, etc.
Bottom line: Teachers are getting tired of this nonsense, and the NGSS is giving them a way to fight back in a very broad manner. The NGSS emphasizes, unflinchingly and unapologetically, evolutionary and climate change science; the states that choose to adopt the NGSS will have the most up-to-date science standards that show creationism and global warming denial to be the pseudosciences that they are. And they will be held to those standards. Good, it’s about damn time!
I would like to close by sharing Dr. Baker’s response when questioned on this topic about the fight this could create. She said, ”Bring it on!”
Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: Carnegie Foundation, climate change, content, Creation Museum, creationism, denial, deniers, Dr. Carol Baker, education, evolution, global warming, Kentucky, lead states, national, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, pseudoscience, public, review, schools, science, standards, teachers, teaching, United States, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 5 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 15, 2013
Tonight I stumbled across an excellent blog post from the Skeptical Raptor on the most recent spate of anti-science bills (i.e., anti-evolution, anti-climate science, etc) that have cropped up all over state legislatures in the United States so far in 2013. Rather than rehash what is an already well-researched and written post, I shall simply reblog it below:
It’s a new year for the individual US state legislatures, and after a relatively unsuccessful 2012 in passing anti-science laws (with the notable exception of Tennessee’s Monkey Bill), the conservative Republicans are back trying to remove real science teaching from our kids. The anti-science legislation comes in the form of either teaching creationism (or more subtle forms, like intelligent design), usually combined with climate change denialism, and, strangely, anti-human cloning (which is not exactly a serious line of research today). But the goal is, and will probably always be, to teach creationism.
Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magic, rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic principles of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is ”a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional book.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, specifically prohibits any government entity from establishing a religion (which courts have ruled to include teaching religion in schools). Decades worth of Supreme Court rulings have found that teaching creationism in schools is equivalent to teaching religion. As recently as 2005, in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, a Federal Court continued the tradition of considering creationism as religion, and ruled against a school district, costing the Dover Area School District nearly $1 million in legal fees. That money probably could have been used to teach their students better science.
Despite these legal rulings, eight states have introduced antievolution or anti-science bills since the beginning of the year…
Click here to read the rest of Skeptical Raptor’s post
Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: academic freedom, anti science, anti-evolution, Bible, Christ, Christianity, creationism, creationist, denial, denialism, Discovery Institute, evolution, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, God, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, legislation, politics, pseudoscience, science, Skeptical Raptor, states, teach all views, teach the controversy, truth, truth in education, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 14, 2013
In a bit of unexpected good news, I ran across this recent article from The Atlantic magazine which outlines a new trend within the circles of evangelical Christian homeschooling. If you know anything about the United States homeschooling movement, you know that it tends to be dominated by evangelical or fundamentalist Christians who eschew evolutionary science in favor of teaching some varient of psuedoscientific creationism. However, it seems that this unfortunate trend could be under challenge from a new generation of evangelical homeschoolers who are, quite frankly, tired of all the science-bashing from their fundamentalist brethren. Read on
For homeschooling parents who want to teach their children that the earth is only a few thousand years old, the theory of evolution is a lie, and dinosaurs coexisted with humans, there is no shortage of materials. Kids can start with the Answers in Genesis curriculum, which features books such as Dinosaurs of Eden, written by Creation Museum founder Ken Ham. As the publisher’s description states, “This exciting book for the entire family uses the Bible as a ‘time machine’ to journey through the events of the past and future.”
It’s no secret that the majority of homeschooled children in America belong to evangelical Christian families. What’s less known is that a growing number of their parents are dismayed by these textbooks.
Take Erinn Cameron Warton, an evangelical Christian who homeschools her children. Warton, a scientist, says she was horrified when she opened a homeschool science textbook and found a picture of Adam and Eve putting a saddle on a dinosaur. “I nearly choked,” says the mother of three. “When researching homeschooling curricula, I found that the majority of Christian homeschool textbooks are written from this ridiculous perspective. Once I saw this, I vowed never to use them.” Instead, Warton has pulled together a curriculum inspired partly by homeschool pioneer Susan Wise Bauer and partly by the Waldorf holistic educational movement. … [emphasis added]
Further on the article goes on to outline the interesting history of the anti-evolution movement…
… Theologically conservative Christians were not always so polarized. “By the late 19th century,” says David R. Montgomery author of The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, “evangelical theologians generally accepted the compelling geological evidence for the reality of an old earth.” However, Darwin’s idea of natural selection scared away many fundamentalists, who saw “survival of the fittest” as an atheistic concept. Over time, those who insisted on a literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of creation came to reject both geology and evolutionary biology. …
Which was, to say the least, an unfortunate development that has led to a multi-generational effort to dumb down the teaching of evolutionary theory in particular and the teaching of science in general in the United States. But perhaps these new evangelicals can change the movement from within. I think they can have some success, but only with some help from those of us who are the traditional champions of evolution.
Despite my atheism, I think those of us within the skeptical/atheist community should embrace these “evolutionary evangelicals” and consider them allies. Rather than focus on what divides us (i.e. differences on belief or non-belief in God, etc), I think our efforts can be better served by allowing our common desire to see evolutionary science taught properly to unite us.
Now I know there are some “purists” within the skeptical/atheist community who would likely shudder to see me suggest allying ourselves with evangelical Christians, at least in part because our theological/philosophical differences are so vast. But I take the attitude that, even within the skeptical/atheist community there are deep divisions on a variety of topics, but I don’t find myself turning my back upon it; so if I can find some common ground with an evangelical Christian on a pro-science issue, why not pursue some bridge-building?
Posted in creationism, education, religion, skeptical community | Tagged: academic freedom, atheism, atheist, Bible, Christ, Christianity, creationism, creationist, education, evangelical, evolution, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, God, homeschoolers, homeschooling, intelligent design, Jesus, pseudoscience, religion, science, teach all views, teach the controversy, The Atlantic, truth, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 4, 2013
This past weekend I had the honor of speaking at the Chicago Skepticamp 2013, and I chose to do my talk on a topic on which I’ve written before here – the communication gap that we skeptics and science-supporters have with creationists and other psuedoscientists.
I recorded the talk (which is only about 16 minutes long), and I include that along with the slide presentation I made below. Audio is on the first slide. Mouse over it and you should see the tab for it. Enjoy!
Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap – WITH AUDIO
Posted in creationism, psychology, skeptical community | Tagged: 2013, argument, astronomy, believer, Bible, biology, Catholic Church, Chicago, church, communication, conference, creationism, Earth, evidence, evolution, Galilei, Galileo, Galileo Was Wrong, geocentrism, geocentrist, heliocentrism, literalism, physics, pseudoscience, psychology, religion, science, seminar, skeptic, SkeptiCamp, skeptics, talk, worldview, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 6 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2013
If you’ve been following the ongoing saga over the years that is the Texas Board of Education and their textbook adoption process, then you no doubt understand that there has been a far-right conservative faction of people who have attempted to push their ideology (including creationism) into Texas public schools. Now the recent history of this saga has been chronicled in a PBS documentary titled “The Revisionaries”. I encourage you to take the time to share and watch this important documentary, which you can do online here until February 27th:
“Somebody has got to stand up to experts!” — Don McLeRoy, former Texas BoEd member
Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: academic freedom, biology, board of education, Christianity, creationism, democracy, documentary, Don McLeroy, evolution, fundamentalist, history, ID, Independent Lens, intelligent design, PBS, politics, pseudoscience, Public Broadcasting Service, publishing, religion, science, scientific creationism, Texas, Texas Board of Education, Texas Citizens for Science, Texas Freedom Network, textbook selection, textbooks, The Revisionaries, theocracy, video, Wedge document | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2013
Sometimes pseudoscience is stupid, sometimes it is annoying, sometimes it hurts our educational institutions… and sometimes it is outright frakking deadly. Case in point, medical frauds who perpetuate nonsense to vulnerable, desperate people; such as when quacks push supposed “cures for cancer” which are anything but or have yet to be proven, such as in the case of Stanislaw Burzynski and his “cancer clinic”. In such situations, it is literally a matter of life and death because when cancer patients delay reliable medical treatments in favor of pseudoscientific B.S. the delay can cost them their lives. Skeptic James Randi helps to break it down in more detail here:
But rather than curse the darkness, let us instead light a candle…
I am happy to announce that the Skeptical Teacher will be joining a coalition of skeptical activists called the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP). The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients is a grassroots group devoted to the promotion of promising, ethical, and transparent cancer research. For more about this project and the group sponsoring it, visit thehoustoncancerquack.com or visit their Facebook page. Also, please consider donating either some of your time by promoting the cause (if you have a blog or media contacts) and/or your money to the legitimate scientific research of cancer.
Some more background and info on Burzynski:
*Dr. David Gorski has a new Science-Based Medicine post out as of this past Monday on Burzynski’s antineoplastons treatment. Science-Based Medicine » Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s antineoplastons versus patients.
*Burzynski gets warning from FDA: Stop promoting your treatment as “safe” and “effective”
The U.S. FDA has sent a letter to the Burzynski Research Institute to cease claiming that their brain tumor treatment, antineoplastons, are safe and/or effective for the purposed for which they are being investigated. In other words, Burzynski’s claims on websites and promotional materials that this treatment WORKS is a violation because supposed to be testing that!
* Supporters often use patient anecdotes to sell his unproven treatments at the Burzynski Patient Group. We have started curating a collection of patient stories at The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group, the ones Burzynski would rather you not hear. Also, these stories can be exported to your own website IN THEIR ENTIRETY via the storify site they were created on. Free content, people. Just sayin’.
*Orac, an oncologist, cancer researcher, and patient advocate, has written extensively about Burzynski at Respectful Insolence.
*Learn the whole story at Josephine Jones’s Blog. She has kept a comprehensive list of content about Burzynski, his clinic, and his chemotherapy on the web. An invaluable resource!
*You might be interested that the EMPLOYER of one of our members (of SPCP) was recently contacted by one of Burzynski’s misguided supporters.
Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: antineoplastons, Burzynski, cancer, chemotherapy, clinic, cure, doctor, FDA, fraud, health, Houston, medicine, Orac, patients, pseudoscience, quack, Respectful Insolence, science, science-based, science-based medicine, Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients, SPCP, Stanislaw Burzynski, Texas, The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group, thehoustoncancerquack.com, treatment | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 14, 2013
I have spent many electrons typing on my keyboard and posting online about those who would use the government to impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of us by undercutting science education in our public schools. In fact, the most published category on my blog is in reference to creationism, that bugaboo which never seems to go away, like a bad game of Whack-a-Mole that you can’t ever finish.
Like many who call themselves skeptics of pseudoscience, the paranormal, and religion, I have some friends who are into one of more of the aforementioned areas. Specifically, I have friends who proudly call themselves creationists, in the sense that they adhere to the most common variant called Young-Earth Creationism (where their reading of the Bible says the Earth/universe is roughly 6000-10,000 years old). What I want to do here is to recount a conversation I had with one of these friends and how it opened my eyes into how the creationist mind seems to work.
A couple of years ago, I had posted an article on my blog about an upcoming geocentrism conference, which was titled “Galileo Was Wrong” – in the sense that the participants in this conference were actually arguing the Sun isn’t the center of our solar system and that astronomy and physics for the last 400 years or so is completely wrong. In my post, after presenting a plethora of scientific reasons as to why geocentrism is outright wrong, I took some time to focus upon one of the primary arguments presented by the geocentrists: their reading of the Bible.
On my blog entry, I stated:
… Last, but not least, it seems that the motivation for modern geocentrists to hold these loony views, despite all of the evidence & science against them, is based in their particular reading of the Bible. In other words, their particular set of religious beliefs trump all of scientific reality. Or, to put it another way, they are engaging in some really interesting mental gymnastics to come to the conclusion of “the Bible is literally true” and retrofit all evidence (through liberal use of cherry-picking, goalpost moving, and in some cases outright lying) to jibe with their religious views.
Yes, just like Young Earth Creationists, they call themselves “Biblical literalists” and use their reading of various Bible passages to justify their pseudoscience (btw, it seems that all of these modern geocentrists are YECs, but not all YECs are geocentrists). I must say that it is nice to see that while most YECs may reject modern evolutionary science on the basis of their “literal” interpretation of the Bible, a large number of YECs aren’t quite so far gone as to go down the rabbit hole of geocentrism. Which, interestingly enough, begs a question: how can two different groups of people (geocentric vs. heliocentric YECs) claim two disparate “literal” readings & interpretations of Biblical scripture? How can the two groups claim to be reading & interpreting The Truth from the Bible, yet also disagree on this topic? Hmmm…
In every interaction I have had with geocentrists, whether it be perusing their “Galileo Was Wrong” website or looking through their literature (my favorite one is a book mailed to me at the school where I teach titled “The Geocentricity Primer: The Geocentric Bible #7”), I have found their arguments placing a heavy emphasis upon their reading of the Bible.
Enter my discussion with my YEC friend. After posting my blog article onto my Facebook page, my friend was among the first to comment that these geocentrists were nuts. I agreed, but then I began to engage him in a deeper discussion as to why he thought they were nuts. His initial response was pretty simple, saying that it was pretty much because of the scientific reasons I outlined in my blog post (i.e. geocentrism cannot explain inner planet phases, parallax, retrograde motion, and is inconsistent with basic physics). Upon seeing his response, I asked him another question: “Did you notice that these geocentrists based most of their arguments upon their reading of the Bible?”
He responded quickly: “Well, they’re wrong.” To which I responded: “Yes, but why do you think they’re wrong? You stated just now that it was because of the scientific arguments that I presented. Therefore, you must agree that science can trump someone’s reading of the Bible.”
He saw where I was headed with this line of thought, and he quickly changed his tune. “Well, their reading of the Bible is incorrect. That’s why they’re wrong,” came his reply. Never mind the fact that he never bothered to point out to me any kind of Biblical evidence, such as Scriptural passages, which outlined exactly what was wrong with the geocentrist arguments. When I pointed out to him that he was changing his argument he became increasingly uncomfortable, especially when I followed up with the logical conclusion: if you think that scientific facts can trump a geocentrist reading of the Bible, then why can’t scientific facts trump a YEC reading of the Bible?
At that point, I could see that my friend had cognitive dissonance in full swing within his mind, as he kept insisting that “all you need is the Bible to see the truth” and whatnot. I insisted on pointing out to him that the geocentrists, whom he labeled as nuts, would make exactly the same argument contrary to his personal reading of the Bible. Once again, he squirmed, merely insisting that he was right and they were wrong. Eventually, I let the matter drop, but not until after I had planted that skeptical seed of doubt. Hopefully, one day, it will start to grow.
This entire interaction taught me something which I hadn’t quite internalized until that point, and I think this is something which skeptics and supporters of science often struggle with. We often lament about how many people seem to be almost willfully ignorant of science and its wider implications, as if we simply expect everyone to give science as much credence and importance as we do. Now, don’t get me wrong – YECs and geocentrists alike enjoy the fruits of science’s labors, such as TVs, computers, the Internet, planes, cars, etc. But what they seem to fight, and where the aforementioned cognitive dissonance seems to come in, is when the questions go beyond the mere “toys” of science to larger issues of one’s belief system and/or worldview. Once science starts to encroach upon that territory with its pesky facts and logic, many are willing to either ignore science or even fight against it openly!
So it seems to me that we have a pretty serious communication gap with people like YECs, in that we naively expect them to think like us, when nothing could be further from the truth. In many ways, those of us who embrace the scientific mode of thinking are the exception, and even then you don’t have to look far to find a skeptic who all-too-easily slips back into the more common mode of unscientific thinking. Because of this gap, in many ways when attempting to engage in discussion with them, we are literally speaking different languages: we are coming to the issue from a naturalistic, science-based framework, and they are coming to it from what they consider a Biblically-oriented worldview. And, in many ways, never the twain shall meet, as the saying goes.
So, what to do? How can we bridge this gap? I think my interaction with my YEC friend on the question of geocentrism might provide a lesson in how to address this question. Rather than argue with him about how YEC was scientifically unsound, which I had futilely attempted to do before, I went right to the core of his arguments: I used his own language of “truth in the Bible” against him by providing him with an example of a worldview (geocentrism) which he considered incorrect, even though that worldview made exactly the same kinds of appeals to Biblical literalism which he himself had so often made!
Now, will such argument be effective? I don’t know, only time will tell. But I think it will accomplish two things: 1) it will give my friend some pause to think, in a manner in which he is able to think, and 2) it can keep the conversation going because now we are, in some way, at least sharing the same language.
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