The ignorati rise

Chapman University recently published the results of a depressing, but hardly surprising, survey that shows American believe in codswallop continue to rise. Not political codswallop – this is the supernatural, paranormal, wingnut type.  And the numbers are huge. Or yuge as the ignorati-in-chief would say.

The article notes, “nearly three-fourths of Americans do believe in something paranormal.” While we expect that sort of muddle-headed, superstitious thinking to be widespread in the 13th century, that’s truly sad in the 21st century. And we don’t expect it in the country that put a man on the moon, invented the iPad and the PC. You can’t do that when you believe in ghosts, goblins and magic.

WIngnut beliefs

These are truly, deeply unsettling scary figures. Almost 20% of those surveyed believe “psychics” and “fortune tellers” can “…can foresee the future.” These so-called psychics are constantly being debunked and revealed in the media as con artists,  swindlers and charlatans. Yet millions of Americans believe they have some ability to see the future. Depressing. But it gets worse. According to the results,

  • 55.0% believe that ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed;
  • 52.3% believe that places can be haunted by spirits;
  • 35.0% believe aliens have visited Earth in our ancient past;
  • 26.2% believe aliens have come to Earth in modern times;
  • 25.0% believe some people can move objects with their minds;
  • 19.4% believe fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future;
  • 16.2% believe Bigfoot is a real creature.

The rise of Donald Trump and the rapidly growing culture of anti-intellectualism, anti-science, faux Christianity and the alt-facts version of reality promulgated by the theocratic right parallel this growing belief in superstitious and religious claptrap. It’s a deliberate, planned attack on Americans to make them stupid. And it appears to be working.
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Ghostly claptrap

Ghosts are fakeDoes the Large Hadron Collider Actually Disprove Ghosts? That’s the question asked in a recent article posted on Gizmodo. Well, of course it doesn’t. The LHC doesn’t disprove invisible pink unicorns, either. It can’t disprove what doesn’t exist.

No matter how many wingnut websites promise to reunite you with your long lost loved ones (for a fee, of course), ghosts are all in your imagination. Along with goblins,orcs, vampires, werewolves, dragons, angels, fairies, demons, and, yes, invisible pink unicorns. Nothing the LHC does will change that.

Sure, ghosts make for great stories and allegories, add spice to religion and make charlatans rich. As literary figures go, they’re indispensable for whole genres of fiction and generally entertaining in the movies. But in the real world they join Harry Potter and chemtrails as imaginary creatures.

To be fair, the author of the article is using the words of someone else to extend his own thoughts on the stuff of the universe (as I am doing with his words as my own springboard). The actual source goes back to comments made by physicist Brian Cox, speaking on the BBC’s show, The Infinite Monkey Cage (listen here)

What Cox actually said was,

“If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies.”

Cox’s point seems to be that if anything persists after death it would leave an energy trail and the LHC – its sensors being so good at identifying energy signatures – would have spotted it.

But no one is really looking for ghosts with the LHC. Nor should it be used for such frivolous purposes. It wasn’t designed to be used in some fake-reality TV show episode about the afterlife, one of those egregiously silly “ghost hunter” episodes. But if it were, and something was there that had any measurable energy, the LHC would very likely find it.

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Modern Credulity Sucks

Nope, not tornadoesPeople believe a lot of crazy things. I’m talking about really seriously bat-shit crazy  stuff that somehow people you thought were normal believe and now you look at them like they have grown extra heads. It’s like discovering a whole family of cousins you’ve been inviting for Xmas dinner all those years are actually Scientologists. Or Westboro Baptists. Islamic Jihadists. Harperites. That sort of crazy.

The sort of crazy that makes saner folks frightened enough to hide in the basement and hope for the apocalypse to end having to suffer such people any longer.

Sometimes what people believe is so damned stupid you have to shake your head and wonder how these folks can do anything as complex and demanding as tying their own shoe laces. In a country more prone to violence and gun worship, I would be seriously frightened by those who believe this stuff. Stupidity without guns is scary enough.

Take a look at that image on the top right. It’s still being spread around the internet (Facebook is, if not the source for much of this nonsense, its incubator…), described as a photograph of a group of tornadoes that appeared around Inola, Oklahoma. And the gullible eagerly share it with deep, penetrating comments like “OMG!” and “Glad I don’t live in Oklahoma!”

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Conrad Black: Wrong on Religion, Again

QuoteAtheists renounce and abstain from religions; they don’t reform them. So said Conrad Black in a recent National Post column. Black seems to be increasingly theological in his writing; perhaps he has had some sort of epiphany in prison. If so, it seems to be pushing him towards a Pauline-style intolerance and exclusivity, religiously speaking. That attitude is not conducive to dialogue, but it certainly suits the writer.

And, as he has been in the past, he is wrong about both religion and atheism. He speaks from the position of the True Believer for whom no other perspective, let alone dissent, is tolerable. Black, a convert to Catholicism, wrote contemptuously of other religions in 2009:

… Anglicans, moreover, have never really decided whether they are Protestant or Catholic, only that they “don’t Pope,” though even that wavers from time to time. Luther, though formidable and righteous, was less appealing to me than both the worldly Romans, tinged with rascality though they were, and the leading papist zealots of the Counter-Reformation.
The serious followers of Calvin, Dr Knox and Wesley were, to me, too puritanical, but also too barricaded into ethnic and cultural fastnesses, too much the antithesis of universalism…
Islam was out of the question; too anti-western, too identified with the 13th-century decline and contemporary belligerency of the Arabs; and the Koran is alarmingly violent, even compared to the Old Testament. Judaism, though close theologically, is more tribal and philosophical than spiritual. … the 80% of the early Jews who became Christians, starting with Christ, had correctly identified the Messiah than that the proverbially “stiff-necked” rump of continuing Jewry are right still, ostensibly, to be waiting for Him.
It need hardly be said that the Jews are the chosen people of the Old Testament, that they have made a huge contribution to civilization, and that they have been horribly persecuted. But being Jewish today, apart from the orthodox, is more of an exclusive society, and a tradition of oppression and survival, than an accessible faith.*

Let’s start with a simple clarification: everyone is an atheist in that there are many gods a lot of people don’t believe in. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts Conrad doesn’t believe in Moloch, Zeus, Baal, Ahura Mazda, Krishna, Hera,  Shiva,, Ganesh or Odin. That makes him and everyone else who doesn’t believe in them an atheist to those who do. Those whom many people normally label as atheist merely believe in one less deity than those who claim to be believers. Atheism is thus relative.

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Jade Helm 15 and the Madness of America

FactsFor a guy who gets great entertainment from reading the wild and wacky conspiracy theories that sprout like mushrooms online, I was surprised that I missed the rapid growth of the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy. I only noticed it as a surface ripple until this past weekend, when I realized it had blossomed into a full-blown madness.

Jade Helm 15 goes beyond the usual tinfoil-hat conspiracies: it’s full tinfoil body armour stuff.  And it’s been raised to the level of a hundred voices in an audience all screaming ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre – that being, of course, the internet. But there’s no fire. Not even smoke: it’s all in their imagination.

From the outside, it’s as zany and illogical as chemtrails and creationism, but it plays to a very specific American mindset.* That mindset – a heady mix of isolationism, xenophobia, racism, fundamentalist Christianity, paranoia, suspicion and guns – has been around, brewing up conspiracies since at least the Civil War days. It is the same mentality that created the Red Scare – not once, but twice in US history. It’s the mindset behind the armed Grant’s Pass insurrectionists in Oregon right now. It’s the fuel for the New World Order conspiracies.

Not surprisingly, the adherents of these conspiracies all seem to be white Republicans. I’m sure Democrats believe in some wacky things too – medicare, livable wages, a clean environment, taxing the rich, that sort of thing – but they don’t get the social media play that the Republican conspiracies garner. Maybe there are more paranoid Republicans than Democrats. Or maybe there are simply more paranoid Republicans on Facebook.

As a recent NatPost story tells us, the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy has reached full-blown craziness that scares outsiders:

It’s a window into a worldview where malevolent forces are supposedly preparing to seize control of the United States — and its adherents are extremely grateful to Texas politicians for promoting their cause.

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Extraordinary Claims

Extraordinary claimsAs the poster for the Centre for Inquiry notes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It’s a popular catchphrase for the skeptical movement, but should be an intellectual policy for everyone.

Regardless of what is being claimed, it requires evidence at the same level of the claim.

Anecdote is not evidence, please note, especially personal anecdote even with the corroboration of other witnesses. People often “see” what they choose to see, and interpret events and objects according to preconceived ideas. Seeing UFOs instead of ordinary aircraft, or chemtrails instead of mundane contrails are examples of this. Evidence is something concrete; a body of facts, not simply interpretation or disingenuous claim.

The Centre lists many claims as the poster indicates – a list that continues to grow – along with a brief introduction to each: claims, evidence and conclusion. Some like leprechauns, the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, dragons and Xenu seem pretty obviously mythological or (like Xenu) totally fabricated. Others will certainly raise an argument among some religious believers  or the superstitious – angels, magic, Heaven, hell, the afterlife and similar religious topics included (it does not yet list Santa Claus, but I expect it will come)..

As RationalWiki puts it,

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence was a phrase made popular by Carl Sagan. It is central to scientific method, and a key issue for critical thinking, rational thought and skepticism everywhere.

The actual phrase was coined by sociologist Marcello Truzzi, but it has been around in other forms for several centuries. In his 1748 work, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (chap. 10.4.), David Hume wrote:

In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence… No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.

Simply because a lot of people believe in something, or accept it as factual doesn’t mean it is true. In a letter to Adam Smith, Hume wrote:

Nothing indeed can be a stronger presumption of falsehood than the approbation of the multitude…

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