The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Dangerous Nonsense’

Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Entry 5

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

First off, let me apologize in advance, because I’ll likely have to cut out before the end of this particular lecture.  That said…

Speaker #4: Dr. Dario Maestripieri, professor of evolutionary biology, on “What Primatology and Evolutionary Psychology Tell Us About the Evolution of Human Behavior”.  Some evolutionary biologists consider the study of behavior to be outside the realm of their field – this is because behavior is notoriously difficult to quantify and measure.  Another reason is that many think that behavior is an effect of environment and culture.  Then there is the dreaded “free will” problem, and some people are uncomfortable with the idea of their behavior being the product of some kind of deterministic evolutionary process.

The Lieberman Experiments: people were wired up to electrodes and asked questions, and the result was that the electrodes read that their brains had actually made decisions before they had consciously decided on the answer.  The point is that it seems that we have the illusion of control and that we make decisions even before we are aware of them!

Most evolutionary biologists study fruit flies, but Dr. Maestripieri studies monkeys and other primates, in order to study and make conclusions about human behavior.

Dr. Maestripieri also does research on humans in order to analyze the evolutionary processes which influence human behavior.  This sort of work is very controversial because of a variety of reasons, so not many evolutionary biologists do this kind of research.

In fact, some evolutionary biologists think that the field of evolutionary psychology is non-scientific.

Basic Outline:

*brief history of primatology

*some basic concepts

*primatologists, evolutionary psychologists, human behavioral ecologists, and their critics

*evolutionary psychology: science or bunk?

In 1872, Charles Darwin wrote “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” where he focused on the behavior & emotions of animals and how that reflects the psychology of man.  He felt that these behaviors in animals (primates) formed a continuum with human behavior.  In the process, like in his earlier research, he gathered evidence from around the world and attempted to formulate a theory of human behavior via evolution.

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Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Entry 4

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Now it is time for some fun… The Mentalist ‘Mystopher’ and Carolee, “Serving Fork-Fulls of Magic and Imagination”.  Mystopher used to be a Baptist preacher back in the day…

He became interested in magic & deception from the shell game which takes place all too often on the streets of Chicago.  He calls himself Mystopher because when he wanted to bring this magic show to his church but ran into resistance his fellow church-goers didn’t want to do it because “magic”, “illusion”, etc were somehow evil.

Okay, Mystopher is now working on his tricks, so I’m going to stop blogging because I’m going to miss them!…

What’s the difference between magic, luck, and miracle?  “God did it!” (joke from the audience)

I just got pwned in a great card trick by Mystopher – very slick & well done! 🙂

Now the straight-jacket is coming out – this is going to be good… he has been put into the straight-jacket, tied up with locked chains, and is now escaping this mess – wow!!!  He has one arm free and is opening an envelope to get a deck of cards so he can perform a reveal… undoing the back of the jacket now, both arms free… less than one minute to go!

30 seconds to go… he’s free and the revealed card is coming out of his mouth! Awesome!!!

The next trick is to disappear a $20 bill, make it into a $1 bill, and the original $20 bill (signed) was reappeared into a lemon.  I have no clue how he “miracled” the $20 bill into the lemon. Nice…

Now for some mentalism.  Mystopher’s wife Carolee has come to the front and been blindfolded by Adam Walker’s tie.  In the meantime, Mystopher is regaling us with some poetry… miracles for less.

Now some interesting mentalism from Carolee, using “clairvoyance” to tell people’s names on their nametags, what is in their pockets, how many fingers they’re holding up, the name on the back of a man’s tie, a picture in an envelope, etc.

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Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Entry #3

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Speaker #3: We’re back from lunch!  Our speaker is Dr. Ron Pine, explorer, retired biology professor, and debunker of “Intelligent Design”…

He’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and he’s here talking about evolution & creationism (and the newest version of creationism – “intelligent design”).  One argument by creationists often used is to “teach the controversy”.  In ID, there are basically no new arguments – the roots of ID are actually older than Flood Geology, Biblically based Young Earth Creationism.  Thus, these ID arguments have been thoroughly refuted for a long time, yet the argument is back with new terminology.  Essentially, the ID argument boils down to claiming that “we have proved the existence of God using science!”

That’s a pretty enormous claim, especially considering that there is no science in modern ID – it’s just a bunch of essays written by the proponents.  They use all the standard creationist arguments against evolution which have been debunked for many years.

William Paley’s Watchmaker Argument: from the modern ID movement, it is clear that their version of the Intelligent Designer is their view of the Christian god.

Irreducible Complexity & Specified Complexity – IC is complexity which can not be broken down any simpler.  SC speaks to specific functions (i.e., DNA, etc)

Law of Conservation of Information: basically, it is impossible for natural processes to come up with SC – wtf?!

The entire ID argument boils in large part down to an argument from incredulity – “I cannot conceive that God didn’t do it, therefore evolution is wrong & God did it!”  When presented with explanations via evolution for what we observe, they essentially deny the evidence & rationalize it away.

Another ID argument is known as god-of-the-gaps… in the past, in the absence of natural explanations for various phenomena (earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, etc) the explanation of “God did (does) it!” comes to the front.  However, as we learn more and more about the natural world, the god-of-the-gaps gets smaller and smaller, which is one reason why intelligent theologians do not like this line of argumentation.

The Center for Science & Culture via the Discovery Institute pushes ID through their Wedge Strategy, internal memos which explicitly state that they are attempting to push a Christian theocracy on U.S. society.  They believe that this “wedge” will lead to a replacement of evolution in science by ID, and this will better society as a whole – note that they say specifically that they aren’t interested in science, rather they are interested in pushing their ideology.  Questions such as Young Earth Creationism vs. Old Earth Creationism are said to be answered after evolution is replaced.

At least in YEC, there is some kind of model to be tested, making it at least a legitimate pseudoscience, whereas the modern ID movement is not even wrong, it’s not even a pseudoscience, because it doesn’t even have a model which can be tested in the first place!

ID proponents claim they have a theory, yet they don’t – no model to test – just a bunch of articles.  They take advantage of the public’s misunderstanding of the word “theory”, which they imply is “just a guess.”  Sadly, many high school texts don’t help with the manner in which scientific terminology is mangled (e.g., hypothesis is more than “a prediction”).  This includes mixing up various terms such as scientific law, theory, etc.

There is no ID “theory” – it is simply an assertion.  And scientists shouldn’t even use such language in reference to ID, because it gives them more credit than they deserve. …

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Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” – Entry #2

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Speaker #2: Dr. Michael Albrow , physicist at FermiLab, talking about “What’s True and What’s Untrue in Physics Today?”

Opening joke: please take away from this that physics is much simpler than biology! 🙂

Some knowledge is as certain as certain can be, while some things are necessarily uncertain.  There is much we know is not possible, but there is much which we know is also outside of our domain.

The beginning of modern science probably started with Galileo and his conflict with the Church.  Differences between science & religion…


*distrust authority / only Nature is authority

*criticism encouraged

*all hypotheses are testable by repeatable experiments / observations

*try to fault existing theories, make progress

*theory = explanation

*disagreements are healthy

*accepted standards of statistics & evidence



*questioning / criticism not encouraged

*not fundamentally upheld to testing

*”theory” = speculation

*disagreements discouraged / when scientists disagree that mans they’re wrong

*poor understanding or misuse of statistics & numbers

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Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Conference – Entry #1

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Well, here I am at the Chicago CFI’s conference titled “Dangerous Nonsense: Exploring the Gulf Between Science and Its Imposters” in lovely, foggy downtown Chicago.  Adam Walker, director for Chicago CFI is getting ready to get us started this morning.

There’s about 100-120 people in attendance today, and a nice number of people who are from out of town (about 20%).

Adam Walker is talking about how we should (as Americans) be reigniting the love of learning, learning how to ask questions, digging deeper, rejecting pat answers.  However, we see tens of thousands of young people tromping through the Creation Museum in KY – of course the Grand Canyon was carved in a weekend!  We also see the Obama administration appealing the ruling by a federal court ruling that the National Day of Prayer is a constitutional violation of church-state separation.  We also grit our teeth as the State Board of Education in Texas is giving Phyllis Schlafley the same status as Thomas Jefferson’s framing of the Constitution equal importance in history textbooks.

This is where groups like CFI Chicago comes in: we stand for reason & rationality.  We also provide opportunities to skeptics & freethinkers to join together and socialize.

Today’s topic is “Dangerous Nonsense”, because when America allows itself to be influenced by fakers & deniers because it eats away at our core principles of the Enlightenment & rationalism.

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