“Guarding of the change” (Antikythera Mechanism)



Some pseudoscientists belittle science for its ability to adapt to new information. For instance, Ken Ham wrote, “I’m glad the Bible’s not a textbook of science as it would change all the time.” In fact, the Bible does change, as the first chapter of Genesis has plants being created before humans, while the subsequent chapter transposes that order. Then in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus said he came to fulfill Judaic law, while the seventh chapter of Romans changes this so that the messiah’s coming instead freed persons from having to follow it.

But getting back to science, adjusting one’s thinking to square with new research and evidence is perhaps the field’s most defining hallmark. While Ham ridicules scientists for their suppleness, other pseudoscientists take the opposite approach and portray scientists as hostile to change and threatened by new ideas. A creationist blogger at thetruthofjudgement.com wrote, “Evolutionists are not comfortable with people objectively looking the evidence and coming to their own conclusion, and instead prefer to brainwash kids.” Upping the hyperbole even further, Mike Adams wrote, “Big Pharma is terrified that you might discover a simple, powerful truth: You can prevent, reverse and CURE serious disease yourself without doctors, drugs or surgery.”

Neither of these assertions contained evidence that ran contrary to standard scientific positions. If they had, scientists would evaluate the claims and test them. And despite the insistence that terrified scientists quake at the notion of new ideas, we will see that it is usually pseudoscientists who are most resistant to altering their views.                                                                                                       

Consider interpretations of the Antikythera Mechanism, which was found in 1900 as part of a long-ago shipwreck in the Mediterranean. At 2,200 years old, the device altered the timeline of technological history. It displays a complexity and precision of calibration that archeologists initially thought did not appear in machines until a millennium later. The device is so sophisticated that it almost certainly is the result of incremental progress, yet no similar device has ever been uncovered, nor has any reference been to it been found in ancient scientific or mathematical journals. This is not surprising since the difficulty of producing one would likely have necessitated that it by made in tiny quantities, with few corresponding instruction manuals.

The mechanism incorporated a series of brass gears and dials that mounted in a case. Its inscriptions indicated it to be an instrument for predicting eclipses, moon phases, and planetary positions. It was also capable of nifty tricks like mathematical calculations and letting the users know when the next Olympic Games would be. It could reasonably be called the first known computer and would have been the latest smart phone of its day. A modern reconstruction of the device can be seen here.

It is unclear who used it, though Brian Dunning at Skeptoid suspects it was for the elite. The labor required to create it would have dictated that it be available only to the affluent and influential. Despite this, it may still have served a public good. An article in Nature noted that “Calendars were important to ancient societies for timing agricultural activity and fixing religious festivals.”

When cranked, the Antikythera Mechanism’s main gear would turn many subordinate smaller gears to reveal the desired feature, such as key dates, moon phases, and eclipses. The eclipse dates came with a corresponding color that likely represented a specific omen. For all the advances of the civilization that created the mechanism, they were still subject to superstition, much as how one can find an online astrologer today.

This is an instance where reality is fascinating, yet pseudoscientists insist on fabricating a still more amazing narrative. Those favoring a more elastic interpretation deduce that since no other known culture had the mechanical acumen to construct such a device until 1,000 years later, the Antikythera Mechanism must have been crafted by aliens. Or Atlanteans. Or time travelers. Or time traveling alien-Atlantean hybrids.

Working against the alternate hypotheses is that the instructions are in Greek, rather than in whatever type of script aliens or Atlanteans would have devised. While the find did alter the technological timeline, this speaks to the adaptability that science is known for. Such discoveries are welcomed by most scientists, especially the ones who make the find. Scientists do not fear new evidence and conclusions, but welcome them if they pass the requisite tests.

In the case of the Antikythera Mechanism, anthropologists and archaeologists gained a better understanding about the development ancient technology. It is a validation of the Scientific Method and stands in contrast to the pseudoscientific method of plugging in gaps with one’s pet cause.  

For instance, theancientaliens.com wondered, “How could the Greeks of the first century achieve this amazing feat when they were still using crude iron and bronze tools? There is only one possible explanation. Beings with advanced knowledge…created the device or gave the knowledge for its creation to someone during the first century B.C.”

Meanwhile, atlantisevidence.com lists the mechanism as one of its top 10 pieces of evidence for the lost continent. Unlike the affirming the consequent example in the previous sentence, this website doesn’t even offer even a feeble, supposed proof of a connection between Atlantis and the Mechanism, it just asserts there is one.  

Finally, in Time Travel: A New Perspective, J.H. Brennan acknowledges only two possibilities: That a time traveler created the mechanism in the modern day and took it with him to ancient Greece, or that he went back in time and created it there. He then presumably made a layover in 1980 to purchase Apple stock.

In lieu of one piece of evidence, discovery, or research, Brennan offers the logical fallacies of an argument from ignorance and affirming of the consequent. He wrote, “Nothing we have found in modern physics denies the theoretical possibility of time travel and prehistory seems peppered with sufficient anachronisms to allow some credence to the data.”

As these examples show, it is pseudoscientists who most reject evidence that doesn’t fit their narratives and who show the least adaptability – two traits they regularly try and project onto scientists. As Dunning noted, “When confronted by a discovery, stopping at the supernatural explanation is guaranteed to lead you nowhere.”

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