Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tales of Abject Horror - Happy Halloween!

Its 31 October and I am afraid. I am not terrified of ghosts, goblins, or rampaging hoardes of Uri Gellher fans but rather the implications of what CNN is reporting: "Some Christian congregations, particularly in lower income, urban areas, are turning to an unlikely source for help -- the Church of Scientology" [1].

Good Lord and butter! The implications could truly be dire! What would happen if Pentecostalism formed an unholy alliance with Tom Cruise and his band of militant scientologists? How would 'evanglism' evolve with the perfect storm convergence of the passion and tactics employed by either group in gaining converts? How would this influence the construct of 'creationism' and pseudoscience in the science classroom? Alien visitations and Intelligent Design united to reify the Star Trek mythos of 'galactic seeding' as not only alternative evolutionary theory but also church dogma!

Oooh... Scary....

I can't wait for my copy of the Bonded Leather Deluxe Thompson Chain Reference The Chariots of the Gods (red letter edition). I wonder how this will reinterpret the famous devotional My Utmost for His Highest?

-Safari Bob


Friday, October 26, 2007

Poll: Many Americans are Gullible

CNN is reporting that in a recent poll, one third of Americans believe in ghosts [1]. "The poll, conducted October 16-18, involved telephone interviews with 1,013 adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points." Unfortunately, CNN did not provide the survey for scrutiny.

This poll also found "Three in 10 have awakened sensing a strange presence in the room. For whatever it says about matrimony, singles are more likely than married people to say so." This experience is known as "Hag Phenomena" and is a hypnogogic hallucination often associated with sleep paralysis [2] that, although often terrifying, is harmless and natural. I do find it interesting that more people in this poll that reported this experience are single.

Also, this poll reports that 48% believe in ESP. In fact "Those who find credibility in ESP are more likely to be better educated and white -- 51 percent of college graduates compared to 37 percent with a high school diploma or less, about the same proportion by which white believers outnumber minorities." Why, oh why would more educated people be more likely to believe in ESP? I think this is simply wish fulfillment; certainly the evidence seems to debunk ESP as a natural or existing phenomenon [3]. In fact, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab closed after 28 years of investigating ESP with no evidence of ESP existing [4].

This poll does support one conclusion: Many Americans are Gullible. Turn off the the 'Ghost Whisperer,' 'Medium' and "Phenomenon" TV shows and use your imagination more creatively to enjoy life rather than the pursuit of shadows.

-Safari Bob



Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Suggestion to Skeptics and Creationists - Part 2

In the debate between skeptics and creationists, the skeptics have it good. Not because they argue from a position of truth (or Truth) but because they assume a defensive position. The creationists attack some aspect of evolution (why I am still not sure) and the skeptics simply demonstrate that that attack is at least erroneous and often asinine. The creationists continue to win the battles in the hearts and minds of the population while the skeptics win in the courts (thank goodness!). I ask this question: why do the skeptics not attack creationism?

I certainly can understand why science does not attack creationism - this is not its concern. Skeptics, on the other hand, are in a unique position to take the battle to the creationist's arena. Many (if not most) Christians do not believe in a literal six day creation event (and for good reason). Simply stated, a literal six day creation is not proported by scripture - at least not in Genesis.

Genesis 1-11 is not written to be interpreted as literal events; it is poetry or allegory. Certainly fundamentalist hold to a literal interpretation but the majority of Christianity does not. Why not take the discussion of whether or not a possible literal six day creation event is even tenable within a scriptural exegesis?

The Amazing Randi has done an excellent job of debunking paranormal claims because (1) he studied the techniques they use and (2) he met (and continues to meet) them in their arena. Why do skeptics resist similar tactics with creationists? Why not take the debate to religious platforms such as magazines, blogs, and public lectures? I believe that, unlike creationists willing to infiltrate the science classroom, it is bad form to debate this subject in church meetings - unless invited - but there are other venues available.

So my advice is as follows:
1. Study some commentaries on Genesis
2. Look at some Hebrew poetry resources
3. Begin a dialogue in traditionally 'safe zones' of creationists (but not Sunday School)
4. Apply the same level of argumentation and reason to these dialogues

In a future blog I will address some reasons for Christians to be skeptical about a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11.

-Safari Bob

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Excursis: The Nature of Logic

As I prepared a lesson plan concerning Logical Fallacy in Argument, I ran across the following article: "Atheism: An Irrational Worldview" in Answers, an online creationist magazine. Frankly, I was searching for examples of logical fallacies in argument when I encountered this article that does contain many. Still, I was shocked by the following claim:

Laws of logic are God’s standard for thinking. Since God is an unchanging, sovereign, immaterial Being, the laws of logic are abstract, universal, invariant entities. In other words, they are not made of matter—they apply everywhere and at all times. Laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature. And they are necessary for logical reasoning. Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God [1].

Essentially, this article appears to argue this syllogism: (1) atheists focus on a natural or material world, (2) logic is abstract and, of course, not material, and therefore (3) materialists are irrational and illogical. What a wonderful enthymeme! Here is their assertion concerning atheists and logic:

The materialistic atheist can’t have laws of logic. He believes that everything that exists is material—part of the physical world. But laws of logic are not physical. You can’t stub your toe on a law of logic. Laws of logic cannot exist in the atheist’s world, yet he uses them to try to reason. This is inconsistent. He is borrowing from the Christian worldview to argue against the Christian worldview. The atheist’s view cannot be rational because he uses things (laws of logic) that cannot exist according to his profession [2].

I am not an atheist but to assert that because someone who looks at the natural world in order to understand how it works is irrational because logic is an abstract concept..well..frankly this position is so absurd that it really merits no response. Truly this article resembles a laughable farce! All thinking and reason is abstraction; this is one attribute that identifies humanity as unique. This article, however, may demonstrate a complete escape from reality and seems to me to be an excellent example of irrational drivel. No wonder critical thinking is at a premium today.

-Safari Bob

[2] Ibid.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Suggestion to Skeptics and Creationists - Part 1

Why do creationists attack evolutionary theory? This may seem a silly question, at least to those embroiled in battle, but even if evolution could be debunked, this would not prove a literal creation event as recounted in Genesis. This seems to me to be a pointless exercise; after all, there seems to be enough work for proponents of literal creation to do to persuade other Christians that a literal creation event occured - let alone all the other theists (ie Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc.). Why do they attack evolution?

Certainly proposing that creation be taught in the science classroom is asinine; even most creationist must see that it is not science. Intelligent Design theory seeks to incorporate science and religion but still cannot offer a testable hypothesis - a requirement for science. This should not be a surprise as religion and science have different methods for discovering 'truth' and both have different purposes in applying these 'truths.'

For instance, consider the category of time. Both science and religion define and struggle with such a complex human construct. In the past, the border between science and religion was more blurred in some cultures (Myan, Sumerian, etc.) but I will focus on modern science and modern fundamentalist Christianity that is most likely to assert a literal creation as portrayed by their interpretation of Genesis. Essentially, science approaches time diachronically while religion approaches time synchronically.

Synchronic time is concerned with specific events, of both the past and the future, and are tied to specific locations. This is a topic for a future post but basically this view of time conveys a sense of 'timelessness' or 'the eternal now.' The image to the left depicts an 'axis mundi' or an event in which the divine occurs and "a region impregnated with the sacred, a spot where one can pass from one cosmic zone to another" [1]. Here, a believer can often enter into an event outside of time or at one point of time that may have or may yet happen (ie Catholic Eucharist, The Great White Throne Judgement, Zion, etc.). Synchronic (eternal or sacred) time is usually seen as being recursive and outside of 'real' (diachronic or profane) time. This notion of time is central to most professions of fundamental Christianity.

Science is not concerned with sacred time but is obsessed with diachronic observation of time. The speed of light, the revolution of planets, the division of hours, and so on are defined by the direct observation of events in a natural world. Sometimes the vast periods of time boggle the mind - who can truly understand 14 billion years? - and the natural world is explained through eras. Even these are based on empirical observation and collected or demarked in such a way as to build a diachronical timeline.

My point is that science is based on the observations of a natural world while religion (in general) and fundamental Christianity (in specific) is concerned with sacred events that occur outside of diachronic time. Sacred time events cannot possibly be tested by observation - they are outside of this category. Why would creationists subject sacred ideas to profane scientific scrutiny even if this were possible? Can a literal creation event performed by a supreme being be tested and possibly falsified through direct observation?

Suggestions to Literal Creation Proponents:
1. Focus on promoting your beliefs to other theists; this is the proper arena
2. Leave science in the science classroom; it cheapens religious beliefs to center them in 'profane' time
3. Incorporate ID into religious epistemology but do not subject it to falsification

My next post will concentrate on Skeptical strategies to talk with literal creationists.

-Safari Bob

[1] Eliade, M. (1996). Patterns in Comparative Religion. Rosemary Sheed, trans. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, pp. 99-100.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Roberts Consults God on Legal Issues - God Councils Deny!

Richard Roberts, son of Oral Roberts and President of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa OK, is accused of the misappropriation of funds and tax evasion. This is unfortunate and indicative of the conduct of televangelists in our society. At least two news agencies report that Roberts has recieved word from God to deny these allegations:


At a chapel service this week on the 5,300-student campus known for its 60-foot-tall bronze sculpture of praying hands, Roberts said God told him: "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit ... is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion." [1]

News OK:

Saying he'd spoken with God, school President Richard Roberts told students and faculty during a weekly chapel service, "Here's what he told me to say to you, ‘We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not." [2]

I well remember in the late '80's when Oral Roberts recieved word from on high to demand 8 million dollars from the faithful or else God would 'call him home.' In fact, I tried this approach; I informed several people that God told me that they should give me $50 or 'God would punch me in the nose.' Unlike Oral Roberts, I recieved no money and I was ducking for years.

Why, oh why, does this 'God told me therefore' approach work? Can't people see it is a ruse? This kind of conduct reminds me of an old expression: "This makes my butt tired."

-Safari Bob


Friday, October 5, 2007

ESP in the USA

I was curious; is there reliable data showing how prevalient belief in ESP in the USA? Judging by new TV shows, I thought that it must be rampant. Here is what I found:

- Poll (2002): 57% Americans believe in paranormal phenomena like ESP [1]
- Poll (2005): "About three in four Americans profess at least one paranormal belief, according to a recent Gallup survey" [2].
- Article (1997?): New Poll Points to Increase in Paranormal Belief [3]

Most articles quote and compare two Gallop polls (1976 and 1986) but unfortunately I cannot get access to the actual poll numbers. USA Today and CBS seem to also have done some inquiry and then, of course, all the other non-scientific sources one can find as links to MySpace quizzes and so on. I am surprised that this data is not readily available online! I may have to investigate this phenomena myself.

-Safari Bob


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Contra Expanding Earth Theory

Understanding and sensibility, with us, can determine objects only in conjunction. If we separate them, we have intuitions without conceptions, or conceptions without intuitions; in both cases, representations, which we cannot apply to any determinate object. [1]
Immanuel Kant

I am not a scientist; I have said this before. I am a doctoral student in Technical Communication and Rhetoric (TCR) and my Master's is in Religious Studies - not Theology. I feel that this should be understood before I examine EE Theory. TCR is concerned with Rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, in writing. As such, logic and common fallacies are of primary concern in my field. In short, I study how people construct arguments and how people convey these arguments to specific audiences. In addition, one of my concentrations is research methods and methodology. I also study the Rhetoric of Science.

My particular approach to any theory is whether or not it is reasonable; is a theory based on (1) an understanding of the field in which the theory inquires and (2) is there any empirical data to support the theory? As Kant noted, without either one has only intuition without conception [2].

Neal Adams is perhaps the leading proponet of EET [3] and even a cursory glance demonstrates (to me) that he does not seem to grasp the fields of geology, astronomy, or physics in which he centers his theory. For instance he posits, "The fact is most, if not all, the mountains on Earth were created since 200 million years ago, and most of them are 60 million years old and younger" [4]. If not all? What about the St. Francois Mountain Range in the Ozark Plateau [5], as an example, which is dated to the Precambrian Era (540 Million - 3.8 Billion Years ago) [6]?

Scientists are better equipped to debate the claims of EET than I am but this theory seems to be intuitive rather than reasonable. "It is now known, and has been discovered by seismic scanning, that only 4% of the asthenosphere (under the crust) is molten and most of that, if not all, is located under the rifts. Some is under volcanic areas, to be sure, but they are the exception that proves the rule" [7]. Current studies in the asthenosphere seem to contradict this claim [8] but my point is that Adams simply dismisses any current studies; in short his conclusions seem to be based in little understanding and even less empirical data. In other words, EET seems to me to be unreasonable.

-Safari Bob

[1] Kant, I. (1990). Critique of Pure Reason. J. M. D. Meiklejohn, trans. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, pp. 166-167.
[2] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.