Posts Tagged ‘illusion’
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2015
Ten years ago today, on Dec. 20th 2005, skeptics, scientists, and science-boosters celebrated a huge win in the perpetual creationist war against evolutionary science: the historic ruling in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial. The ruling by federal judge John Jones in the Dover case was a no-holds barred beat-down against the notion of so-called “intelligent design” (ID) as science.
Judge John Jones – my hero :) (image source)
For those who don’t know, it is important to understand the historical context: in the early 1990s, creationists were trying to figure out a way to move forward after having suffered a major setback when, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism wasn’t science and therefore could not be taught as such in public schools. Through the 1990s on into the early 2000s, creationists came up with a new way of branding their ideas, which they called Intelligent Design (ID). The Intelligent Design Movement (IDM – which is just another way of saying “creationist movement”) put together a slick and well-funded think tank known as the Discovery Institute, whose sole purpose at the time was to write about and promote the whole notion of ID as a scientific concept. However, some digging revealed that ID was simply a thinly-veiled attempt to rename and relabel the old-fashioned creationism that had been defeated time and time again through both scientific analysis and courtroom rulings; further investigation also showed that the IDM’s motives were explicitly religious in nature and had little or nothing to do with science. In fact, the IDM’s own stated goals were to, among other things, completely overturn and re-define the entire endeavor of science so as to be in keeping with their narrow religious worldview; in fact, the IDM explicitly stated as much in their now-infamous Wedge Document (an actual PDF of the original document can be found here) in the section titled Goals…
- To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
- to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.
Five Year Goals
- To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
- To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
- To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.
Twenty Year Goals
- To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
- To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
- To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life. [emphasis added]
The IDM pushed the idea of ID in the popular press, trying to avoid any religious overtones, attempting to make it look like a scientific concept. But all along, the real goal of the IDM and Discovery Institute was to get a federal court ruling in their favor stating that ID itself was a scientific concept so that they could “push the thin edge of their Wedge” into public school science classrooms as part of their larger goal to, in their own words, have their narrow religious beliefs “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”
In 2004 the IDM got what it wanted in the form of a federal court case wherein ID was put on trial after the school board of Dover, PA tried to force science teachers in the town’s public school district to teach ID as science. The IDM and Discovery Institute thought this case was going to be a slam dunk for them, partly because Judge Jones was both a Republican and appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush and they thought he would be sympathetic to their worldview, but also partly because they really believed they had good arguments. As it turned out, they were wrong on both counts. Here’s just a taste of what Judge Jones had to say in his ruling of Dover v. Kitzmiller (a more thorough break down, including the all-too-predictable reaction from creationists, can be found here)…
(from p. 63 of the ruling):
“After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position,ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.”
(from p. 88-89 of the ruling):
“After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM [Intelligent Design Movement] is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”
(and the money quote, from p. 136 of the ruling):
“The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”
More juicy quotes from Judge Jones can be found here and here.
So after this high-profile defeat of their pet “theory”, what did the IDM do? Sadly, they kept on doing the same thing: misrepresenting evolution and science in an attempt to give ID some thin veneer of credibility. But it was too late, because Dover clearly showed the emperor had no clothes, and only those already committed to the creationist cause kept up their attempt to promote ID as science.
Some years after the Dover ruling, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Casey Luskin, who at the time worked for the Discovery Institute, and I was interested in seeing whether or not ID’s biggest proponents had lived up to their talk of ID being science. That’s because actual science adapts and evolves, refining theories as a result of observation and experimentation. But I saw no evidence of this in Luskin’s talk; in fact, I saw quite the opposite: little more than a sad rehashing of the same tired old creationist arguments against evolution, lame attempts to label ID as science, ranting against the evils of materialism, and a general collapse of all arguments under even the barest scrutiny. Here is my more detailed account of Luskin’s talk, and here is his response to my criticism. Lastly, in the spirit of throwing Luskin and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute a bone, I even came up with an experimental method for testing a key aspect of ID, but – ironically – they have yet to take up that (or any other) challenge and actually test out this supposedly scientific concept.
Of course, to say that creationism is dead and buried would be incorrect. After all, once the IDM could no longer promote ID as science, they fell back on the time-honored creationist tactic of attacking evolution and science in general, and these attacks still continue; a great way to keep track of attempts by creationists and others to tamper with science education is to stay tuned to the National Center for Science Education. Fortunately, the evidence suggests that creationists are, slowly but surely, losing the fight as more and more Americans become accepting of evolutionary science and view creationism with suspicion. It’s been a long, hard fight, but it’s one well worth having, given the stakes. And we’ll continue the fight as long as it takes.
Last, but not least, I cannot help but point out the irony of the timing: right around now is when the writers of the Wedge Document stated that they had hoped to have ID “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life”, and – thanks in large part to the Dover ruling – that certainly hasn’t come to pass.
Happy 10th birthday, Dover v. Kitzmiller :)
Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: 10th anniversary, anniversary, atheism, Bible, biology, Casey Luskin, Center for Science and Culture, Christianity, court, creationism, Dembski, design inference, DI, Discovery Institute, Dover, Dover trial, Dover vs Kitzmiller, education, evolution, God, ID, IDM, illusion, intelligent design, intelligent design movement, Jesus, John Jones, Jones, judge, Luskin, materialism, model, pareidolia, public schools, religion, schools, science, theology, Wedge document, Wedge Strategy | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 8, 2013
I ran across two articles recently about the latest research regarding the Loch Ness Monster. And by “research” I really do mean serious scientific work: it seems that many supposed Nessie sightings over the years have been accompanied by audible rumbling and gas bubbling up to the surface of Loch Ness. There seems to be a plausible geological (note: “geological” does NOT equate to “big freaking monster”, just to clarify) explanation for these phenomena.
As a lesson in critical thinking (or a lack thereof) in the media, let us compare the coverage of this research from two different sources, the Scientific American blog and the Huffington Post. First, the SciAm blog…
Summer is traditionally Silly Season, when newspapers publish strange stories about aliens and monsters again and again to bridge holiday time – and so will July on “History of Geology” be dedicated to frivolous science stories…
In 2001 the Italian geologist Luigi Piccardi presented during the Earth Systems Processes meeting in Edinburgh a hypothesis explaining the supposed appearance of the sea/lake monster “Nessie” as a result of geologic forces.
According to Piccardi’s idea the historic description of the monster – appearing on the surface with great (earth)shakes and rumours – could be associated with bubbles emanating from the bottom of the Scottish lake of Loch Ness in response of seismic activity along the Great Glen fault system, passing below the lake. …
… Not only biological constrains, also the geology don’t seems to support the existence of an earthshaking monster in Loch Ness. Common earthquakes from the Loch Ness area range between magnitude 3 to 4, larger events were recorded only in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901. These earthquakes don’t coincide with the years of supposed increased activity of Nessie (like 1933). Even the largest Scottish earthquakes were anyway too weak to cause any observable effects on the surface of Loch Ness (curiously the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 generated waves on Loch Ness, but no Nessie sighting is reported for this year).
Piccardi himself sees the value of his hypothesis more in the possibility to make geologists aware of the geological origins of some myths, as to propose verifiable cryptozoology.
Well, that seems pretty good: a well thought-out article regarding an area of actual scientific research, even going so far as to note the limitations of Piccardi’s hypothesis.
Now, let’s see what the HuffPo has to say…
… The first claimed sighting of “Nessie” occurred in the sixth century, according to Scientific American. Legend has it that the creature appears along with earth tremors and bubbling from the bottom of Loch Ness, one of Britain’s largest freshwater lakes.
Formed as a result of a long-ago collision between the northern tip of Scotland and the rest of Britain, the loch sits over the 62-mile Great Glen fault line. Piccardi argues that this position may have fueled centuries of Loch Ness Monster rumors.
“Loch Ness is exactly on the fault zone,” Piccardi said in 2001, according to The Telegraph. “When there are small shocks, it can create a commotion on the water surface. Along the fault there can be gas emissions, which can create large bubbles on the surface. There are many surface effects which can be linked to the activity of the fault.”
But Piccardi’s theory is not without critics, especially among Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts like Gary Campbell, president of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club in Inverness, Scotland.
“Most of the sightings involve foreign objects coming out of the water. There’s two most common — one’s a hump, and the other is a head and neck,” Campbell told ABC News. “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable. There’s something physical in there.” …
Where to begin? First of all, the fact that the HuffPo elevates a pseudoscientific hack – in this case, the Gary Campbell who runs a fan club for the Loch Ness Monster – to the level of a serious critic of a pretty plausible area of scientific research speaks volumes. Apparently, to the HuffPo, “scientist” equates with “anyone who can make sh*t up”.
Next, pay attention to Campbell’s response: “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable…” So that proves… what exactly? That there isn’t a full explanation? And how exactly does a lack of an explanation provide any validity to the explanation via invoking Nessie? This is a classic argument from ignorance, and one could just as easily invoke leprechauns or unicorns as an explanation using such shoddy logic.
Last, but not least, is the final few seconds of the video at the HuffPo link, wherein the host shows some TV anchors moaning about how they don’t want to accept the geological research of Piccardi because they like the idea of Nessie. The HuffPo host summed it up as follows:
“Sometimes you just don’t want scientific reasoning, and you just want to believe.”
Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: bubbles, creature, cryptozoology, earthquake, fault, gas, geologic, geology, Great Glen, Huffington Post, illusion, Loch Ness, Loch Ness Monster, Monster, myth, Nessie, Piccardi, quake, ripples, Scientific American, Scotland, Scottish, sea lion, seismic, video, wake, water, waves | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2012
I’ve been meaning to post this for awhile, but I keep forgetting to do so. During my summer vacation to the Adirondacks in New York, my wife and I took a break from hiking to get some dinner. As we were getting ready to chow down, lo and behold, I observed the following “miraculous” appearance in my wife’s soup!…
Laugh if you will, unbeliever, but you should tremble in awe at the miraculous appearance of…
… Mr. Bill! Ohhhh Noooooo!!! :(
Of course it isn’t Mr. Bill in my soup, folks. It’s just another classic case of pareidolia, the same phenomenon by which people think they see dogs or cars in the clouds, the so-called Face on Mars, the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast, or visions of Jesus in a window. Essentially, our brains work as pattern-recognition machines, and one of the most familiar patterns which we are evolutionarily programmed to recognize is other human faces. So we tend to see human (or human-like) faces in bits of random data even when there really is no face there to begin with!
I really like how skeptical magicians Penn & Teller put it during their Bullshit! episode on supposed “miracles”, so I’ll let them have the last word :)
Posted in humor, psychology | Tagged: appearance, Bullshit, deception, face, fun, God, human, humor, illusion, James Randi, Jesus, Jesus Christ, miracle, miraculous, Mister Bill, Mr. Bill, pareidolia, pattern recognition, Penn and Teller, psychology, religion, Signs from Heaven, Virgin Mary | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 27, 2012
I was inspired to write the following JREF Swift blog post as a result of my earlier posts (here and here) on the question of gasoline prices in the United States and the powers (perceived or real) of the U.S. president. I hope you find it enlightening…
On my blog, I recently put together a post – Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction – about higher gas prices and how people are blaming President Obama for it. As I pointed out there, Republicans blaming him for the increase in the price of gasoline (and oil in general) are wrong for the same reason as when Democrats blamed former President Bush back in 2007: the President doesn’t really have that much power to influence oil and gasoline prices.
So, if it is true that no such power exists for the leaders of our government to affect the price at the pump (and that is true, as the prices are set more by market factors such as global supply and demand of oil), why is it that people want to lay blame upon our mostly blameless leaders? I struggled with the answer to this question for some time, but I think I have finally hit upon a possible answer: many people, either consciously or not, attribute powers to the President of the United States and Congress that simply do not exist.
And that asks the next obvious question: why do people attribute such powers to our political leaders? Why is it that many of us assign almost god-like abilities to our decidedly non-god-like and wholly fallible authority figures?
I think the answer is multi-faceted and can give some interesting insights into how we think about a lot of things, especially regarding politically oriented topics. In addition, an analysis of this topic can lead us into a deeper discussion of a philosophical concept known as “agency”.
First, I think (somewhat cynically) that there are some, if not many, politicians in government who, either actively or inactively, encourage the notion that they have more power than they are in reality. After all, this is one of the reasons why people vote for candidates running for political office: because they make promises and we expect them to deliver on those promises, whether or not those promises are in any way, shape, or form realistic to achieve. This also goes for the various subsidiaries which surround the government, such as lobbying groups, political action committees, etc. But it’s too easy to stop there.
Second, I think that in many ways we are somewhat hard-wired to make inferences to the existence of things which are not there. In philosophy, this is sometimes referred to as “agency”, where we assign some kind of powers and abilities to an entity through our beliefs about that entity or our behavior towards it. For example, how many of us have been in the middle of some very important work on the computer when suddenly the program crashes? No doubt that many of us then engaged in a certain amount of cursing at (not necessarily about) the computer, as if it could not only hear but understand us. (Aside: my wife works with computers for her career, and she will swear up and down that “they know what we’re thinking”) The computer itself is real enough, but what about the agency which we assign to it?
But when you step back and think about it, it’s downright silly to rant and rave at the computer. The most obvious reason for this is that it simply doesn’t work. Yell at the computer all you want, but that won’t fix the problem; actually trying to solve the relevant hardware and/or software problem will fix things. The other reason is that, let’s face it, at the end of the day the computer is simply a collection of circuits, wire, switches, and assorted electronics. Does it really have a mind with which to interact? The answer, so far with today’s common technology, is a negative, yet for some reason we engage with the computer as if it did have such a mind. And in so doing, we assign agency to the computer. …
Click here to read the rest of the post
Posted in economics, philosophy, politics | Tagged: 2012, agency, belief, blog, cars, conspiracy, conspiracy theory, crude, Democrats, economics, economy, election, fact, fiction, gas, gasoline, God, gods, GOP, illusion, market, money, myth, Obama, oil, Paul Brandus, Peak Oil, philosophy, politics, power, president, President Obama, price at the pump, prices, pump, recession, Republicans, Skeptic Money, spike, The Week, United States | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 3, 2011
As a fun way of sharing some skepticism of “miraculous vision” claims, I wanted to share with you a really funny YouTube a friend sent me. It pokes fun at the phenomenon of pareidolia, wherein people claim to see all manner of wild things – Jesus, the Virgin Mary, aliens, Michael Jackson, etc – in everything from the clouds to their shower curtain. Of course, we know from modern science that these are illusions of perception, because our brains are marvelous pattern recognition machines, causing us to sometimes see things that are not really there.
Okay, enough seriousness. Time for some fun… check out the “Jesus Toast” video, and share it with a friend. Enjoy! :)
Posted in humor, psychology | Tagged: Christ, Christianity, fun, God, grill cheese, humor, illusion, Jesus, pareidolia, perception, psychology, religion, satire, spoof, toast, video, Virgin Mary, youtube | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 11, 2011
Here’s a new one for the “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” files: a halfway serious ABC News report on a really bad video shot by someone who claims to have evidence of a lake monster in Canada called Ogopogo (basically, the Canadian equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster). Below is the video footage in question…
That’s it?!! That’s all there is to this supposedly astonishing story sweeping the world? Some ripples/waves in the water which are likely caused by debris?
Sometimes I weep for humanity; if this is the best that cryptozoologists can come up with (and it pretty much is the best they can come up with), then it is no wonder they are mocked. I think the following comment on the ABC News story sums it up best…
How come most quickly taken video’s are crystal clear but any UFO – Yeti – Nessie videos look like they were shot by a 2 yr. old with a Fisher Price camera???
‘Nuff said, folks.
Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: ABC News, Bigfoot, British Columbia, Caddy, Canada, chubacabra, creature, cryptozoology, hunters, illusion, lake, lake monster, Lake Okanagan, Loch Ness, Monster, Nessie, Ogopogo, ripples, sea lion, video, wake, water, waves | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2011
This is the solution to the puzzle presented in my previous blog post – Self-Tying Knot Trick from TAM9 – wherein I show you how to supposedly tie a knot in a length of rope without releasing the ends. Of course, it is a trick, so watch the video carefully to see just how the trick is done. And have fun with some friends, family, or (if you’re a teacher) students with this puzzle. It is a wonderful exercise in critical thinking!
Check out the Youtube video for the answer…
One last thing: I cannot claim credit for inventing this trick. I learned about it from Penn & Teller’s old book “Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends”, so credit should go to them :)
Posted in education, magic tricks | Tagged: critical thinking, education, fun, illusion, james, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Las Vegas, magic, math, mystery, puzzle, Randi, rope, skepticism, string, TAM, TAM9, teacher, teaching, The Amazing Meeting, topology, trick | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2011
So there’s this video going around the Internet where some fishermen claim to have discovered a new “Loch Ness Monster”… in Alaska. Here is the article and related video wherein witnesses claim to have found evidence of the creature…
Move over, Montauk Monster. Step aside, Nessie. There’s a new sea creature in town–maybe. Footage of a 20- to 30-foot long creature caught on tape by fishermen suggest we have an Alaska bonafide marine-creature mystery.
The black and white footage from 2009 is by no means definitive. It is taken on a rainy day with a shaky camera, which make it all the more confounding. But you can check out the testimony of people who say they witnessed the creature’s appearance in the video above.
The Alaska-dwelling creature has been labeled a “Cadborosaurus willsi,” which means “reptile” or “lizard” from Cadboro Bay, British Columbia, where it was originally spotted centuries ago. Called “Caddy” for short, it has a “long neck, a horse-like head, large eyes, and back bumps that stick out of the water,” according to a report on MSNBC. …
So “Caddy” is the newest craze to hit the cryptozoology community of “monster hunters”, it seems. Sadly, the supposed “evidence” here is no better than the best ever provided for the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or any other of the many mythical creatures that cryptozoologists claim exist. In this case, we have a video of very poor quality – it is out of focus, grainy, and shot under bad weather conditions.
The claims that “this cannot be a sea lion” are also very questionable, because this assumes that the “humps” appearing behind the head that surfaces are actually part of the creature’s back without any kind of confirming evidence. But here is a more reasonable and plausible explanation: as any seafarer knows, oftentimes when a sea lion, boat, or any other waterborne craft/creature is moving across the surface of the water it produces a regular pattern of ripples, such as those shown below…
Looking at this boat and its pattern of ripples from the side at a distance can certainly make it appear like there is a series of humps breaching the water behind the boat, but that is simply an illusion. It is my guess that this is the same kind of illusion which has fooled these fishermen into thinking they are seeing “Caddy”.
One would think that if cryptozoologists are actually serious about investigating their claims, they could come up with something better than blurry photos, crappy video footage, and a profound lack of alternative explanations which are consistent with the environment they are observing. Color me unimpressed.
Posted in cryptozoology | Tagged: Alaska, Bigfoot, Cadboro Bay, Cadborosaurus willsi, Caddy, chubacabra, creature, cryptozoology, Deadliest Catch, Discovery, Discovery Channel, fishermen, fishing, hunters, illusion, Loch Ness, Monster, Nessie, ripples, sea lion, video, wake, water, waves | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 18, 2011
Well, I’m back from The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, and I’m slowly but surely getting caught up on things. I just wanted to take a moment to share with everyone a trick I showed off during my “Skepticism in the Classroom” lecture at TAM9. In this video, I show how to use a simple nylon rope to perform a *seemingly* mathematically impossible feat: having the rope tie a knot in itself without releasing either end of the rope. I show this to my students as a lesson in skepticism and critical thinking, and it never ceases to catch their interest.
Can you figure out the trick? Stay tuned to my Youtube channel for the solution ;)
Posted in education, magic tricks, mathematics | Tagged: critical thinking, education, fun, illusion, james, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Las Vegas, magic, math, mystery, puzzle, Randi, rope, skepticism, string, TAM, TAM9, teacher, teaching, The Amazing Meeting, topology, trick | 2 Comments »