I’m the One Full of Love, You Jerk!

castanza7For those who don’t know, Christopher Hitchens has cancer.  It’s become this weird kind of big deal as a lot of the people who have been his intellectual adversaries have been fumbling all over themselves to let everyone know that they are praying for him.  I find that odd in the first place because I don’t see 1) why they presume that anyone would think otherwise, and 2) why they would think that if someone did think otherwise that their coming out and saying anything would change that person’s mind.  I mean, if I thought you were the kind of bastard who would wish someone dead by way of a terrible disease that causes a great deal of suffering over an intellectual disagreement, strenuous though it might be, why would I believe you when you tell me that you’re really not a bastard at all? 

Regardless, a quick web search would tell you all you need to know about that.  But then there’s a new thing that occurred on Wednesday.  David Brog, a long-time critic of Hitchens, came out over at HuffPo to tell everyone that not only is he praying for Hitchens, but that he, and other Christians, are all better than Hitchens, too.  After talking about how it is only natural that he and his fellow Christians in the media would wish Hitchens well and pray for him, Brog take the opportunity to get in the amazingly low blow.  He writes,

I doubt we’ll ever hear Hitchens apologize for blaming almost every evil in human history on those with whom he disagrees: Christians, Jews, and other assorted faithful. Hitchens is fierce and downright ugly in his attacks on religion and the religious. He and the generation of new atheists he lead don’t just disagree; they demonize and dehumanize.

Don’t hurt yourself with all that Christian “charity” there, buddy.  Yea, it’s not just Hitchens who is a jerk.  It’s all the “new atheists.”  You’d never catch them wishing anyone well if they got cancer!  Jerks!

Then it gets even more strange.  Brog writes,

The fact is that people of faith have been the driving force behind every one of the West’s most important human rights struggles. It was devout Christians — and only devout Christians — who fought the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the American Indian. It was believing Christians — and only believing Christians — who fought to end the slave trade and then slavery itself in both Great Britain and America. Our civil rights movement was largely a movement of the churches led by pastors. And today, those at the forefront of the struggle to relieve the debt and disease of Africa are typically committed Christians and Jews.

That’s right, it was ONLY devout, believing Christians who opposed the wars against American Indians, opposed slavery, and who fought for civil rights for minorities here in the US.  None of those jerk atheists, self-described agnostics, deists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus (fuck you, Gandhi!), Buddhists, or anyone else ever stood with Christians on those issues!  Jerks!

Groan.  All I can hear is Weird Al singing “Think you’re really righteous? Think you’re pure in heart?  Well, I know I’m a million times as humble as thou art!” from “Amish Paradise.”

It’s difficult not to wonder if this is some kind of bizarre joke.  I can’t help but be curious if Brog even showed this to anyone else before he published it.  It’s hard to imagine that no one noticed the irony of the piece before it was published, that it’s quite an odd juxtaposition to claim the moral high ground while attacking a guy who likely won’t have much time to respond seeing as he’s battling throat cancer.  Basically, Brog is telling us that he is better than Hitchens because he would never attack someone personally the way Hitchens does, but in doing so he’s not criticizing any particular argument Hitchens has made or even his larger position.  Rather, he’s just saying that he thinks Hitchens, and all “new atheists,” is a jerk, he’s attacking Hitchens personally, and he’s doing so while patting himself on the back for being big enough to pray for Hitchens while he has cancer.  Man, what a jerk move.

Brog finishes with this:

Christopher Hitchens’ arguments have never persuaded me. But it is his behavior — especially when contrasted with that of believers — that has done the most to convince me of the limited value of his ideas.

Wow.  Irony.  I can’t help but wonder if that’s going to come back to bite him.


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Prince Charles Blames the World’s Ills on…Galileo?

Charles, Prince of Wales outside the White Hou...
Image via Wikipedia

In an article published in the Times Online yesterday, Prince Charles, the person next in line for the throne in England, said that science is to blame for the various issues, from environmental to economic, facing the world today.  In specific, it is the mechanistic view of the world at the core of scientific explanation that the Prince believes has led to the West being “de-souled,” and that is the root of all our problems.  He said,

This imbalance, where mechanistic thinking is so predominant, goes back at least to Galileo’s assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion.  This is the view that continues to frame the general perception of the way the world works, and how we fit within the scheme of things.  As a result, Nature has been completely objectified — “She” has become an “it” — and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.

Yes, the very same science that is responsible for the incredible increase in quality of living, human lifespan, knowledge of how the world works, and countless other things is what is at the heart of every problem we have.  Or not.

This kind of absurdity always annoys the piss out of me.  I don’t know that it’s possible to overstate the benefits that science has afforded our species.  Certainly, if you take things like eating, drinking, giving birth to fertile offspring, protection from the elements, community and interaction with loved ones, or any of the other aspects of human life that we generally think to be desirable and valuable, science is the single greatest boon we could ever imagine.  All of that stuff has increased thanks to science.  Yet, here we have someone who is learned and supposedly knowledgeable making the ridiculous assertion that it is, in fact, this very same science that is the cause of human misery.

And what’s the cure?  Apparently something mystical and mysterious.  It’s hard to say.  From the article:

Speaking at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to mark its 25th anniversary, the Prince — who is patron of the centre — said that the West had been been “de-souled” by consumerism.

He said that the present approach to the environment was contrary to the teachings of all of the world’s sacred traditions. The desire for financial profit ignored the spiritual teachings.

“Over the years, I have pointed out again and again that our environmental problems cannot be solved simply by applying yet more and more of our brilliant green technology — important though it is.

“It is no good just fixing the pump and not the well,” he said. Talk of an “environmental crisis” or of a “financial crisis” was actually describing “the outward consequences of a deep, inner crisis of the soul”.

Honestly. I’m not sure what the Prince is actually proposing here.  Putting aside the question of whether our “present approach to the environment” really is “contrary to the teaching of all the world’s sacred traditions,” though I am wildly skeptical about such a claim, what is it that spiritual teachings are supposed to do for us?  How are spiritual teachings going to give homes to the homeless, feed the hungry, provide for the poor, or heal the sick?  What exactly are these teachings supposed to do at all?  Further, once we have figured out what these great cures are supposed to be, how are these spiritual teachings going to achieve those goals?  I can only assume that the Prince is aware that spiritual teachings were the dominant means of solving problems for most of human history.  It is only recently, by the Prince’s own counting since Galileo, that science has been the means by which we come to solutions for the bulk of our problems.  And yet, it does not appear as though the times when spiritual teachings dominated that environmental and economic problems all magically went away (see what I did there?).  Given that, what reason is there to think that abandoning the amazingly successful solution machine of science in favor of the old failed method of spiritual teachings is going to help us out with anything at all?  I see none.

While I’m taking apart the nonsense the Prince said, Nature is not a “She.”  Nature does not have a sex.  It does not even have a gender.  Nature cannot be harmed, it cannot be destroyed, and it cannot be betrayed.  Nature does not care. When we all die, Nature will continue to be the same, and it will not even notice our passing.  Seriously, what kind of hubris must one have to think that Nature is human-like?  Hey, guy, you’re just not that cool.  Get over yourself.

It is hard to believe that someone of the level of sophistication of a future King could be so woefully ignorant and clueless.  But here we are.  At least we can be thankful that he is mostly just a figurehead with little genuine power or influence.

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Junk Science, Hypocrites, and Rentboys

I want to say something about the story of George Rekers, the Southern Baptist Minister and co-founder of the Family Research Council who was recently caught in the company of a male escort.  Stories about religious leaders who preach a standard of sexual purity which they themselves fail to practice abound.   But even in the world of Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard, the hypocrisy of George Rekers is a special case.   His hypocrisy is not merely farcical and outrageous, it is also a lesson about the dangers of junk science.  This is because for the past 25 years Rekers has been a figurehead of the conversion therapy movement which holds not only that homosexuality is caused by environmental influences (rather than genetic) but also that it can be cured.

I am not going to rant about how infuriating it is that the same guy who was called as an expert witness to defend bans on gay adoption in Arkansas and Florida was recently perusing Rentboy.com in search of a 20 year-old with an eight-inch penis.  It may very well be the case that George Rekers thinks homosexual sex is wrong and that a homosexual lifestyle is harmful, and at the same time he can’t resist the urge to dial up a rent-boy on occasion.  It may also be the case that Rekers genuinely believes that homosexuality is caused by environmental factors such as family dynamics and early sexual experiences, which would mean some parents are responsible for raising their children to be homosexuals.  Of course, I think both of these positions are absurd*, but I can grant that Rekers might believe all of this stuff and still, at the same time, like to get his rocks off with young men.  If it it were only that Rekers were a weak Jimmy-Swaggart-type, preaching the virtues of one lifestyle while secretly indulging his dark side, I could be satisfied with a sigh of disgust and the vindication of knowing that his hypocrisy is now a public spectacle.

The problem is that Rekers is also a liar, and not just a liar about his own personal life.  Rekers is a liar because he is an officer and figurehead of NARTH, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality a group which purports to offer “effective psychological care” for “individuals with unwanted homosexual attraction.”  To be fair, the group does not promise full homosexual-to-heterosexual conversion to every person seeking treatment, but it does promise that there are “positive alternatives to homosexuality,” either in the form of abstinence or in conversion, and it publishes numerous quasi-scientific articles arguing that homosexuality is a choice influenced by experience, while minimizing or entirely ignoring the overwhelming body of contrary data published and peer-reviewed by the American Psychological Association and other mainstream medical science authorities.

It may be the case that George Rekers thinks homosexuality is wrong, it may be the case that George Rekers thinks homosexuality is caused by bad parenting, and it may be the case that George Rekers thinks that homosexuality can be “cured” either through conversion therapy or the abstinence support offered by NARTH and its partner agencies.  But I just don’t see how it can be all three.  That is, I don’t see how it can be the case that George Rekers believes it’s bad to be gay, and believes he knows how to “fix” being gay (he has, in fact, profited by telling other people how to “fix” being gay), and yet he still chooses to hire male escorts for sexual romps.  I am certain that a psychologist could map a convoluted web of competing and contradictory desires and beliefs to describe how Rekers probably justified all of this to himself, but the explanation from the outside couldn’t be more simple or more clear:  Conversion therapy to “fix” homosexuality just doesn’t work.  Rekers’ organization can’t “fix” gay in other people.  They couldn’t even “fix” it in him.

Groups like NARTH and the Family Research Council and a whole host of other religiously-bent, political lobbying machines insult our intelligence by offering up dogma and ideology and calling it “science.”  When confronted with research that does not fit their political conclusions, they ignore it or condemn it as a part of a liberal, secular conspiracy.   It is a sad fact of contemporary American life that these groups maintain disproportionate political power by mimicking the language of non-partisan scientific authorities, and pretending to have legitimate scholarly intentions.  In the wake of this scandal, these groups have already begun to distance themselves from Rekers, and we should not let them.  However they may want to portray Rekers’ indiscretion as an isolated incident, it is a case-study in why the conversion therapy/ex-gay movement has failed.  We shouldn’t let them forget it.

*To be clear, I do not think it is absurd to acknowledge that sexual orientation may be the result of both environmental and genetic factors.  In fact, I think the bulk of the data strongly suggests this.  But the mere fact that environmental factors play a role in sexual orientation does not imply that parenting is the most significant (or even a significant) factor in sexual orientation, nor that later-life therapy can significantly alter a person’s orientation.  And, I feel compelled to add, even if it were the case that homosexuality was a choice, this in no way implies that a homosexual lifestyle is immoral nor that homosexual sex is wrong.

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If You’re a Homeopath, Why Do You Sell Anything?

I want to do my part to spread the word about World Homeopathy Awareness Week, but it’s difficult to think of anything interesting.  (WHAW is a very real event put on by homeopaths for the purpose of telling everyone about homeopathy.  Check the link.)  I’ve written on here before about the terrible consequences of trusting your and your loved-ones’ health to this pseudoscience, so I have little to add in that respect.  Also, there isn’t much I can add to the arguments and analyses provided over at Science-Based Medicine.  The most I can do is offer a brief explanation of homeopathy, embed a couple of well-known videos put out by homeopaths that purport to explain the mechanism of homeopathy, and raise an issue that seems obvious and which has always bugged me, though I don’t pretend that it’s original.

First, homeopathy is supposed to be a medical treatment.  It is based on the idea that “like treats like,” also called the “law of similars.”  This is the idea that, if you want to cure something, you need something that is similar to your ailment.  Something that causes an ailment in large doses will cure it in small doses.  For example, popular homeopathic sleep remedies contain highly diluted caffeine.  Caffeine causes sleeplessness, so it can cure it as well.

This brings us to the idea of dilution.  That’s how homeopathic remedies are supposed to get their power, by diluting it with water, and succussion, which is just shaking the diluted substance forcefully.  Not only is the substance diluted, but the more diluted it is, the stronger it is.  Most homeopathic remedies are diluted to such a degree that not a single molecule of the original substance remains.  Water is supposed to have a memory, so that’s not a problem for the homeopath, however.  Something of interest is that one popular homeopathic remedy for the flu, Oscillococcinum, is supposed to be diluted by 1 part per 10−400.   To give you an idea of just how diluted this is supposed to be, there are an estimated 1080 atoms in the whole observable universe.  Doing the math, that would require there be 10320 more universes to simply have one molecule in the final substance (pointed out by Robert Park in his Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science).  Now that’s diluted!

That, then, is the rundown of homeopathy.  You take something that is in some “like” your ailment, dilute it to the point that it no longer exists, and this cures you because the water in which you diluted it has some kind of “memory”  that allows it to retain the healing powers of that substance…but only when it’s not there.

If you’re shaking your head at this and wondering exactly how this is supposed to work, I can do no better than to post videos from homeopaths themselves.

I’m hoping those of you reading this know enough basic science to understand the complete absurdity of the claims in those videos, because they are just nutty.

So, here’s my question, then.  If water is able to remember all the substances that it dilutes long after no molecule of that substance remains, then, as the water we drink has had all that stuff in it at some point, we should be able to drink tap water and get all the healing effects one would find in any homeopathic remedy they purchased.  For example, if I were suffering from insomnia and wanted a sleep aid, I should be able to drink tap water as it certainly is merely the result of sophisticated filtering processes that remove substances that were in it, and lots of caffeine has been poured down drains, so that water should have the memory of the caffeine.  If homeopathy is correct, I should never suffer from sleeplessness at all.  That goes for all the other remedies as well.  All that stuff has been in the water that eventually gets to my tap at some point, and it has been diluted to such a point that no molecules of those substances exist.  That should make it perfect for everything.  I should be in perfect health as long as I drink water from the tap regularly.

What’s funny about that is that homeopaths should know this.  Hence, there is absolutely no need for them to sell anyone anything.  As such, even if they are not hucksters in the sense of trying to sell you a product that does not work, they certainly must be in that they are trying to sell you a product of which you already have an ample supply.

If homeopathy is correct, then we don’t need homeopaths at all.

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Why Global Warming Skepticism Is Not a Legitimate Scientific Position

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the Earth is getting warmer, and human activity is the best explanation for why. As the Earth continues to get warmer, we may see cataclysmic results as land near sea-level is covered with water, plant and animal life struggles to exist in a warmer environment, and climate refugees crowd moderate climes.  There is no guarantee that we can slow the process of global warming, but there is good reason to think that doing nothing will exacerbate the phenomenon, making it more likely that we will feel more catastrophic results sooner. With the outlook this grim, it is easy to understand why some people are tempted to deny global warming, or at least, anthropogenic global warming (AGW).  After all, if the Earth isn’t getting warmer, or if the Earth’s warming has nothing to do with us, then we don’t have to alter our way of life.  The impulse to live in denial about AGW is, if not defensible, at least understandable, but this does not mean that AGW-denial is a legitimate scientific position.

Last week, Frank Furedi, a British sociologist and columnist for the web-magazine Spiked, published an essay arguing that, because of the high moral stakes of global warming, the process of peer review in scientific journals has been compromised.  In other words, Furedi thinks that scientists are so worried about the cataclysmic consequences of ignoring global warming that they are no longer giving fair consideration to the arguments and research of legitimate climate-change skeptics.  Instead, Furedi, thinks that scientists and other academics use the process of peer review to shut out controversial or unpopular theories so that they will never have the authoritative status of journal-published research.

The charge that contemporary scientists are complicit in what Furedi calls a "noble lie," willfully ignoring the research of climate skeptics in order to bolster the authority of the theory of AGW, is serious.  I would be tempted to congratulate Furedi on his courage and insight were it not for a glaring oversight in his argument.  Simply put, the best explanation for the scientific consensus about AGW, is that AGW is real.  Moreover, the realness of AGW is not just the best explanation for the consensus but also the best explanation for why, if there were such a conspiracy or "noble lie" in place, scientists would be complicit in promoting it.  But, of course, if AGW is real, then it’s hard to see how the scientific community is lying.  More moderately, Furedi could just be making the point that the scientific community, while not dishonest, has become myopic to new climate research, ignoring data that does not fit in with the consensus view because they view climate skepticism not simply as incorrect but as dangerous.   However, this charge, while less extreme, is no more reasonable.

For the sake of argument, let us grant that the publication of scientific research can have moral consequences.  It is perfectly reasonable to assume that the editors of research journals may be wary of publishing controversial research that may exert disproportionate influence on public opinion.  We all know about the disastrous consequences of the bogus vaccine research published in the British journal, Lancet, which charged that MMR vaccine causes autism, a dangerous myth that has survived despite the retraction of the article and the apology of its lead author.  But, unlike vaccine skepticism, AGW skepticism doesn’t just have the potential to be dangerous, it also has the potential to be extremely profitable*.

Reducing emissions is costly.  Telling people that they have to give up comforts or pay more for them is unpopular.  So, if there were legitimate scientific research that challenged AGW, surely industrialized nations that have a vested interest in their carbon-burning economies would want to fund and publish that research.  It is more than improbable that every major institution and individual in the scientific community, from the U.S. to Finland to China, is so worried about the possibility of being wrong that not one would take the risk of publishing promising data.  After all, scientists make their careers by publishing research that challenges the established consensus.  Moreover, because scientists and scientific institutions build their reputations by conducting novel research that challenges conventional understanding, it is absurd to suggest that all of these competing institutions are complicit in a global scientific conspiracy to ignore the very information that could set them apart and make them important.  If there were any even remotely plausible rival to AGW, LOTS of scientists would be studying it, and it is very likely that the scientific community would significantly exaggerate its importance.  Scientists like good news too, after all.

The best explanation for why peer-reviewed scientific research journals have not published legitimate theories to rival AGW is that there are no scientifically legitimate rival explanations.   Global-warming deniers may consider themselves skeptics, but that term implies no shrewd deliberation or depth of consideration when applied to them.  We don’t have a good reason to doubt AGW, and characterizing AGW skeptics as thoughtful rather than willfully ignorant is offensive.

*This is not to suggest that the Lancet vaccine research was unbiased by the potential for profit.  It is now known that the lead author of the paper was under the employ of a rival vaccine manufacturer when published falsified data suggesting that the MMR vaccine might cause autism.

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Using the Bible to Learn about…Atlantis?

via PZ Myers

atlantis2 The Answers in Genesis crew does more than run the Creation Museum.  They also attempt to teach you how to use the Bible to gain insight into a variety of questions.  One of these questions, you might be surprised to learn, is whether or not Atlantis existed and, if it did, where it was.  Let me spoil it for you:  Bodie Hodge, the author, has no idea.  That’s right, AiG went to the trouble to put up an essay in their “Answers in Depth” section on a subject with little to no legitimacy that provides no answers at all.  What it does provide, though, is some insight into the depths of goofiness of this strange group of creationists.

Let me point out at the beginning of this that there almost certainly was no lost continent of Atlantis.  There is a general consensus amongst scholars that Plato was using a fictional historical account to make a point about law and society.  Further, if you accept plate tectonic theory, and you should, the idea of any lost continent becomes simply implausible.  For these reasons, the entire question of whether or not Atlantis existed already has an answer without looking to biblical text.  But that doesn’t stop Hodge from using a lot of words to say nothing at all.

Hodge correctly points out that the earliest mention of Atlantis comes from Plato.  In fact, all further mentions of Atlantis rely on Plato’s account.  With that in mind, exactly what sort of illumination does Hodge think can be provided by the Bible?  Well, first, if it existed, it sank post-flood (that would be the Noahic flood).  Hodge writes,

Since the modern continent scheme was changed significantly from the Flood and Plato was referring to post-Flood places, it is very unlikely that this Atlantis was pre-Flood. Plato’s book Critias gives details of the island and much more (such as the ancient Egyptians originating the account), implying that if it existed, it was likely post-Flood. Egypt was formed by Mizraim, Noah’s grandson, and is still known as Mizraim in the Hebrew language. So, for Egypt to be aware of it requires Noah’s grandson Mizraim to have existed to begin Egypt. If so, descriptions given by Plato appear to place it outside of the Mediterranean in the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, those familiar with Plato’s writing probably find this odd, and this is for the simple fact that the war between the Athenians and Atlantians was supposed to have occurred nine thousand years before the life of the Athenian lawmaker Solon, who lived from 638 BC–558 BCE.  In Plato’s Timaeus the character Critias, recounting an Egyptian priest speaking to Solon, says “As touching your citizens of nine thousand years ago, I will briefly inform you of their laws and of their most famous action…”  That action turns out to be the ancient Athenians fighting off the Atlantians, and that war ended with Atlantis sinking.  That puts the sinking of Atlantis at almost twelve thousand years ago, an event three times older than the supposed Great Flood.  That makes it difficult for Atlantis to have been post-flood, but why let reason get in the way of whatever this is supposed to be?

It is quite peculiar that Hodge would take Plato’s account of an ancient civilization from, at that time, about nine thousand years earlier, seriously but think they missed the mark by seven or eight thousand years.  In fact, it’s even weirder than that.  On the possible date of the sinking of Atlantis, Hodge eventually writes, “To be generous, let’s set 600 BC as the latest date. So, we have a range of 1818 BC to about 600 BC.”  So, 600 BCE becomes the most recent on the possible range, and that’s pretty funny given that Solon, the supposed origin of this report for the Athenians, was born in 638 BCE.  That would put Atlantis sinking during his lifetime.  Of course, this is really being reported by Plato, and Plato was born in 438 BCE.  Still, given the records kept by the Athenians, one would think they would have a record of the war with Atlantis of which Critias is speaking if it had occurred so recently.  Again, that puts the war  in Solon’s lifetime, and they knew of Solon, but they did not know of this war, so that clearly cannot be anywhere close to correct.

Now, someone might suggest that we should be more generous to Hodge in his dates as 600 BCE is at the end of the range.  But the point here is that putting something within that range is absurdly sloppy scholarship for the reasons listed above.  Moreover, it is just weird to suggest that we should take part of the account of the character, Critias, seriously, that there was this mysterious island nation of Atlantis, but that we should discount the rest of his story that puts that island sinking thousands of years before AiG says the world was created.  That’s just goofy.

Hodge has some other oddness in this piece.  He suggests that Atlas, in this story the son of Poseidon, was a real person, as was Poseidon.  Why would anyone, especially a Christian, suggest that the Titans, the forbearers of the Greek gods, were real?  Well, because Hodge thinks that the name “Cronos,” the father of Poseidon, sounds like “Kittim.”  He writes, “take note that Poseidon was son of Cronus, which is a variant of Cethimas/Kittim (Cronus/Kronos, Κρόνος). Biblically, Kittim is the son of Javan, the son of Japheth, the son of Noah. With this mind, Atlas was likely Noah’s great, great, great grandson.”  Oh yea, “likely” indeed.  So that means that Atlas, the ruler of Atlantis, was likely real, and that gives weight to the idea that Atlantis was real.

Hodge has some other dodgy math, but I won’t get into it.  He goes on to suggest that it was rising sea levels resulting from melting ice caps that really caused Atlantis’ disappearance.  He writes, “Keep in mind that an island being overtaken by rising sea levels appears identical to an island sinking!”  Sure, except for that whole happening in a single day bit and the fact that, surely, the Egyptians and Athenians would have noticed the rising sea levels taking over their own lands, thus preventing them from describing Atlantis as sinking.  But, except for that stuff, sure.

Perhaps the funniest aspect of this entire post is Hodge reporting the possible location of Atlantis.  He says, “If it did exist, it was most likely a post-Flood island somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the Strait of Gibraltar.”  That’s some great research, there, putting it exactly where Plato did.  Awesome.

It’s hard to know what to think of these people.  This entire piece seems so strange and wrong-headed that it is difficult to imagine why they would even write something like this.  I seriously don’t get it.  Then, when they do write about it, they produce this.  The possible location of Atlantis is identical to what Plato said, the likelihood of its actual existence is a shrug of the shoulders, and the possible time frame is simply absurd.  At my most generous, I’m just left think “What the hell?”  Seriously, guys, what the hell?

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Sometimes People are so Crazy They Scare You

I’ve struggled for a couple of days to figure out what to say in this post. Sometimes you read things that are…well, they’re just batshit crazy.  I recently read something like that.  It’s batshit crazy.  There is simply no other way to describe it.  I would like to think that when Linda Kimball wrote “Evolutionism: the dying West’s science of magic and madness” that she was merely lying for Jesus.  As terrible as that may be, it’s at least a somewhat rational action that one can understand, even if one cannot approve.  But this article is so nuts, so madly over-the-top, that it’s near-impossible for me to believe that such is the case.  Rather, it looks like Kimball is, instead, completely insane.  That said, this is a longer post, and, in the end, I feel like I haven’t said very much.  I tried to make substantive points, but it gets hard when the points to which you’re replying are, again, just crazy.

The article in question appears on Alan Keyes’ site, Renew America, so I knew going in that the tone was going to be of the far right-wing and fundamentalist Christian.  Even so, that did not prepare me for what I read.  Kimball begins by opining about the rise of the “occult intelligentsia” that, apparently, came out from the Renaissance.  She says,

since the Renaissance, a powerfully influential occult community existing at the highest levels of society has been both the intelligentsia and the real powers behind what has been variously called the Progressive Underground, the Anti-Establishment, and the Counter Culture, the aim of which is twofold: first, the total destruction of the Old Order based on Christianity , and second, the creation of a utopian New World Order which is to rise out of the smoldering ashes of the Old Order.

So, already we have the assertion that sometime since the 14th to 16th century there has been some ruling elite who have been attempting to destroy the “Old Order,” that order, I guess, being the order from the Medieval period, since most people would consider the 1500’s pretty old at this point.  Is there any way to read that?  It would seem that the ruling elite, the “powerfully influential community existing at the highest levels of society,” for the past 500 years would be the ones behind the old way of doing things, but that 500 year-old order is explicitly not her complaint.  Rather, they’re the ones still hammering away at the Old Order, the one preceding the Renaissance.  Maybe that Old Order was feudalism?  Who knows.  It’s unclear on exactly what that Old Order is beyond it being Christian and Right.  At any rate, it just goes downhill from there.

Kimball moves on to a discussion about how the occult intelligentsia is obsessed with magic, and ends up saying, “The return to the ancient science of magic produced two currents of animism: Eastern/occult pantheism and rationalist/materialist/secularism.”  Yes, she said that rationalism-slash-materialism-slash-secularism is a form of animism, a kind of magic.  I hope you’re scratching your head on this one and hoping for some clarification.  I was.  And here it is: 

Essentiality, animism is the belief that not only is all of nature animated — including both living and non-living things — but that the animating force or spirit conveys power and influence. Western occult-pantheism speaks of animating spirit or soul while materialism speaks of miracle-producing ‘knowing’ energies that in their modern forms, animate and inform what can be viewed as either discarnate entities or ‘force and/or voice ideas’ called memes, genes, dialectical matter, chance, causation, determinism, evolution, and neurons, for example.

Yep, genes, neurons, evolution (I know, I know, the category error here is painful), and even causation are all “miracle-producing ‘knowing’ energies,” whatever that means.  Though it shouldn’t be necessary, I guess I’ll point out that it is a radical mischaracterization of materialism to suggest that it is any form of magic, animism included.  In fact, as we normally think of it, it is antithetical to magic.  And saying that genes and neurons are considered as some kind of magical energy by those who use the terms positively is…nuts.  It gets it exactly backwards.  They are explicitly not magical.  They are natural.  That’s the point.  (As an aside, dialectical matter?  Really?!)

Kimball then proceeds to write some really bizarre stuff about Hegel and Marx, saying they were part of a tradition of Hermetic mysticism.  She writes, without the least bit of humor,

The foundations of Hermeticism are forbidden knowledge — revelations — revealed to Hermes during an out-of-body experience. The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurias Trismegistus relates Hermes mystical encounter with The Great Dragon. Calling itself Poimandres, the Mind of the Universe, the Dragon transformed itself into a glorious being of Light and proceeded to ‘illuminate’ Hermes with the forbidden knowledge that would eventually find its’ way into Hegel’s dialectic and from there into Marx’s dialectical materialism.

Regardless of what you think of Hegel or Marx, the suggestion that they in any way believed that their work was the result of a Great Dragon Laser Beam giving them forbidden knowledge is beyond silly.  It’s…well, you know.

It’s at this point that Kimball gets to her real issue:  “naturalistic evolutionism”!  She says,

Though taught under the guise of empirical science, naturalistic evolution is really a spiritual concept whose taproot stretches back to the dawn of history. It was then, reports ancient Jewish historian Josephus, that Nimrod (Amraphel in the Old Testament) used terror and force to turn the people away from God and toward the worship of irrational nature. Moving forward in time to the Greco-Roman world, evolution serves as the mechanism of soul-transference in metempsychosis and transmigration of souls. In the ancient East, the mystical Upanishads refine evolution and it becomes the mechanism of soul-movement in involutions, emergences, incarnations, and reincarnation. In that both rationalist/materialist/secularism and its’ counterpart Eastern/occult pantheism are modernized nature pseudo-religions, it comes as no surprise that evolution serves as their ‘creation mythos’.

I bet you didn’t learn any of that stuff in your biology classes.  Who knew that evolution was about “soul-transference,” “transmigration of souls,” or had anything  to do with souls at all?  I think I must have been absent the day they taught us to use evolution to terrorize people, turn them away from their gods, or force them to worship anything.  I’d love to know how talk of mutation and selection can bring about worship to some god-entity.  Except, of course, that’s just crazy.

From here Kimball falls into the usual creationist/fundamentalist drek of using definitions of evolution that no biologist holds, claiming that science relies on Christian principles, and informing us that “many scientists have already rejected [Darwinism] as useless.”  I’d like to note here that Kimball seems to criticize science throughout most of this piece, then wants it to be ok because it’s actually a Christian project, and finally attempt to appeal to the authority of scientists, most of whom, according to her earlier parts of the essay, are occultists.  Yea.  Even better, when she actually quotes “scientists,” she doesn’t.  It’s great.  Under the heading “What Some Scientists are Saying About Naturalistic-Evolution she quotes four men:  George Wald, David C.C. Watson, Robert Andrews Millikan, and T. Rosazak.  Of those, Watson was an English teach with a degree in Classics, and Rosazak was an historian.  Neither were scientists in any sense of the word.  The other two were scientists, but they don’t work so well for Kimball, either.

The quote she takes from Wald reads thus in Kimball’s essay:  "When it comes to the origin of life on this earth, there are only two possibilities: Creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved 100 years ago, but that leads us only to one other conclusion: that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds, therefore we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance."  Here I want to thank the hard work of the people at the Quote Mine Project over at the TalkOrigins Archive.  There’s an entry for this quote, and it turns out that it is actually fabricated.  That’s right; it’s made up.  The quote supposedly comes from the September, 1958 issue of Scientific American.  Here is the actual quote from that article.  It is quite lengthy, but quoting only part of it will fail to capture the point of the issue that Wald is addressing.  It follows,

Throughout our history we have entertained two kinds of views of the origin of life: one that life was created supernaturally, the other that it arose "spontaneously" from nonliving material. In the 17th to 19th centuries those opinions provided the ground of a great and bitter controversy. There came a curious point, toward the end of the 18th century, when each side of the controversy was represented by a Roman Catholic priest. The principle opponent of the theory of the spontaneous generation was then the Abbe Lazzaro Spallanzani, an Italian priest; and its principal champion was John Turberville Needham, an English Jesuit.

Since the only alternative to some form of spontaneous generation is a belief in supernatural creation, and since the latter view seems firmly implanted in the Judeo-Christian theology, I wondered for a time how a priest could support the theory of spontaneous generation. Needham tells one plainly. The opening paragraphs of the Book of Genesis can in fact be reconciled with either view. In its first account of Creation, it says not quite that God made living things, but He commanded the earth and waters to produce them. The language used is: "let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life…. Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind." In the second version of creation the language is different and suggests a direct creative act: "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air…." In both accounts man himself–and woman–are made by God’s direct intervention. The myth itself therefore offers justification for either view. Needham took the position that the earth and waters, having once been ordered to bring forth life, remained ever after free to do so; and this is what we mean by spontaneous generation.

This great controversy ended in the mid-19th century with the experiments of Louis Pasteur, which seemed to dispose finally of the possibility of spontaneous generation. For almost a century afterward biologists proudly taught their students this history and the firm conclusion that spontaneous generation had been scientifically refuted and could not possibly occur. Does this mean that they accepted the alternative view, a supernatural creation of life? Not at all. They had no theory of the origin of life, and if pressed were likely to explain that questions involving such unique events as origins and endings have no place in science.

A few years ago, however, this question re-emerged in a new form. Conceding that spontaneous generation doe not occur on earth under present circumstances, it asks how, under circumstances that prevailed earlier upon this planet, spontaneous generation did occur and was the source of the earliest living organisms. Within the past 10 years this has gone from a remote and patchwork argument spun by a few venturesome persons–A. I. Oparin in Russia, J. B. S. Haldane in England–to a favored position, proclaimed with enthusiasm by many biologists.

Have I cited here a good instance of my thesis? I had said that in these great questions one finds two opposed views, each of which is periodically espoused by science. In my example I seem to have presented a supernatural and a naturalistic view, which were indeed opposed to each other, but only one of which was ever defended scientifically. In this case it would seem that science has vacillated, not between two theories, but between one theory and no theory.

That, however, is not the end of the matter. Our present concept of the origin of life leads to the position that, in a universe composed as ours is, life inevitably arises wherever conditions permit. We look upon life as part of the order of nature. It does not emerge immediately with the establishment of that order; long ages must pass before [page 100 | page 101] it appears. Yet given enough time, it is an inevitable consequence of that order. When speaking for myself, I do not tend to make sentences containing the word God; but what do those persons mean who make such sentences? They mean a great many different things; indeed I would be happy to know what they mean much better than I have yet been able to discover. I have asked as opportunity offered, and intend to go on asking. What I have learned is that many educated persons now tend to equate their concept of God with their concept of the order of nature. This is not a new idea; I think it is firmly grounded in the philosophy of Spinoza. When we as scientists say then that life originated inevitably as part of the order of our universe, we are using different words but do not necessary mean a different thing from what some others mean who say that God created life. It is not only in science that great ideas come to encompass their own negation. That is true in religion also; and man’s concept of God changes as he changes.

Lest you miss the most important point, let me highlight one sentence:  “Our present concept of the origin of life leads to the position that, in a universe composed as ours is, life inevitably arises wherever conditions permit.”  Contrast that with the sentiment of the fabricated passage that Kimball presents, and you’ll see that Wald’s point is precisely the opposite of what Kimball suggests.

That leaves us with the last of Kimball’s “scientists,” Millikan.  Millikan was a physicist, not a biologist, and the quote Kimball uses is from 1925.  The man has been dead for 57 years.  This is not exactly cutting edge stuff, here, and this is the only genuine quote from a genuine scientist.  Let the weight of that sink in for a moment.  Kimball brazenly asserts many scientists have rejected Darwinian evolution, and in support of this she provides a single scientist speaking 85 years ago.  Nuts.

Kimball next briefly slams the environmental movement as satanic before attempting to use an article from a 1980 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer to suggest that it is really non-Christians who believe nutty stuff.  If that is an attempt to insulate herself from the criticism from being nuts, it failed. 

In the end, I can’t do justice to this piece.  It’s too far out there.  It’s so crazy that I would not even mention it, except it comes from Renew America.  You might disagree with most the stuff they do and say, and I certainly do, but, hyperbole aside, they are not the blog of some emotionally and psychologically unstable individual who clearly needs medication.  They are, for lack of a better description, a “respectable” source.  That is why this essay is so mind-blowing.  It clearly is the work of an emotionally and psychologically unstable individual who clearly needs medication, and pronto.  Again, and this is also hyperbole aside, it’s crazy.  Yet, it was published on a serious site.  That’s terrifying.

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