“Moon loon tune” (Lunar landing denial)

MOONLAND

The 50th anniversary of the moon landing will be in 2019, but don’t expect a golden year from those who insist it was a hoax. After 49+ years, this bunch still resorts to long-disproven scenarios, while summarily dismissing any discomfiting evidence.

As to why NASA would pretend to go to the moon, deniers have speculated it could have been seen as a Cold War victory, that it distracted from the Vietnam War, or that it would ensure the space administration would continue being funded. While those all might have been consequences of a successful moonshot, that’s separate from it being proof the whole thing was staged. Using this line of thinking is to commit the Affirming the Consequent fallacy.

Since a sizable majority think we went to the moon and most who feel otherwise are incapable of being persuaded, why blog about it? Primarily because there may be a 12-year-old who is hearing denier points and refutations to them for the first time. Scientific knowledge is always one generation from extinction. Plus, addressing these points is a rejoinder to those who claim skeptics and scientists are the truly closed-minded and are mindless sheep who instinctively swallow what we are fed.

After the Apollo and Gemini launches, early flat-Earthers Samuel Shenton and Charles Johnson responded with launches of their own, in the form of charging they were fabrications. This included an evidence-free assertion that Arthur C. Clarke directed, wrote, and produced the moon-landing script. This was updated to become Stanley Kubrick in another narrative. The latter assertion was initially a parody of the Clarke claim, but has come to be interpreted as serious by some deniers. This is similar to how some flat Earth folks are coming to believe there is no Finland or Australia, ideas that were written as satirical criticisms of flat Earthers. However, fashioning a Poe against these types is nearly impossible because it will come to be taken as true by those without the mental acumen to realize they are being mocked.

The question deniers have most difficulty answering is why NASA would fake five  subsequent landings. The moving pieces that would have to be seamlessly assembled for one successful hoax would be astronomical, and each further attempt would run further risk of getting caught. The return trips were interpreted by deniers as attempts to continue the momentum, while the fact that we haven’t been back since 1972 or set up  moon colonies are said to be proof it was staged. So return trips and a lack thereof are both considered evidence of a hoax by the conspiracy theorist.

According to Sketoid’s Brian Dunning, 400,000 persons worked on the moon mission. Yet, all were able to overcome the desire for wealth that an exposé might bring. None were overcome with guilt, none let something slip in an unguarded moment, none got drunk enough to say something, none made a deathbed confession. Dunning further noted that 3,500 journalists investigated, researched, reported, and observed every second of Apollo 11 and were unable to uncover anything suggesting it was a charade. To a conspiracy theorist, that means another 3,500 persons were in on it. To everyone else, it’s more solid evidence of the moon launch and landing being authentic.

Now let’s plow through some of the denier points. One of the more frequently-parroted is that persons attempting to leave Earth’s orbit would be fried by the Van Allen belts. This is an example of what Dr. Steven Novella means when he says pseudoscientists and alternative medics use science like a drunk uses a lamppost: For support, not illumination.

The radiation belts have been discovered, understood, and explained by science. Moon landing deniers, a subset of pseudoscientists, use this discovery to try and score a point for their side, whereas they generally have a jaded view of science. Religious flat Earther Philip Stallings insists the Van Allen belts are another name for the firmament God set in place in Genesis. However, never has a scientific explanation been replaced by a religious one. Scientists did not discover, define, and explain the Van Allen Belts, only to be supplanted by those penning Genesis. Those religious writers did not discover errors in the original Van Allen belt research, leading to our understanding of the firmament. Rather, Genesis authors came up with what their eyes and their very limited knowledge of the natural world permitted. A few millennium later, science learned the truth. Still, Stallings claims that we cannot penetrate the firmament, which he thinks is the Van Allen belt, or that if we could, it would not be survivable.

They key here is that astronauts traveled thorough the belts in a rocket, not in an extended stay hotel. They made it through this high-radiation zone in an hour, only one percent of the the time necessary to start experiencing radiation sickness.

Another argument deniers try to make is that a loud rocket motor would make it impossible to hear astronaut voices. However, viewers could hear the communication with NASA because where the astronauts were, there was no air and therefore no sound. Secondly, the microphones were inside insulating helmets.

A third point deniers raise is that photos of the Lunar Module on the surface are missing a blast crater that presumably should have resulted from its landing. Of this, Dunning wrote, “When the Lunar Module came in to land, it came in with horizontal velocity as the pilot searched for a place to land. Once he found one, he descended, throttled back, and a probe extending over a meter below the landing pads touched the ground and shut off the rocket motor. It was only a very brief moment that the rocket nozzle was actually directed at the landing site, and only at reduced power.”

A similar point is that the Lunar Module’s landing rocket would have blasted all the dust away from the area, so any footprints would have been obliterated. However, there is no air on the moon and no resulting shockwaves. The powerful flames and swirling smoke associated with rocket launches happen because exhaust is being pushed into the air. With no wind or air in the equation, there is no consequent explosion.

The one claim so hackneyed that almost everyone has heard is that the U.S. flag is flapping in a supposedly-nonexistent breeze. This was caused by two factors. First, the flag was folded for the moon trip and the seeming rustling is actually just the creasing that resulted. Second, the apparent movement only happens when an astronaut is adjusting the pole.

Still another denier objection centers on photos of an astronaut that feature another moonwalker’s reflection in his helmet visor. This is supposedly crucial because neither astronaut has a camera to his face. However, this is because astronaut cameras were affixed to their spacesuit. Keeping with camera points, deniers say film would have melted in the 250-degree weather. However, Apollo astronauts used cameras and film specifically made for and insulated against such temperature extremes.

There were other still objections raised by deniers that I handled during this blog’s nascent days if one wishes to read more.

For years, deniers challenged NASA to provide photos of landing sites with vehicles left behind. In 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter provided just such proof. Two years later, the same craft produced clearer images. Like those who considered President Obama’s release of his long-term birth certificate to be MORE proof that he was Kenyan-born because of layers or the timing of the release or whatever, those who thought Armstrong and Aldrin never left orbit were even more convinced of this after the 2009 and 2011 images were made public. They were computer-generated or otherwise fabricated. They were not released in 1975 or 1985 because of technology limitations – not with satellites, but with PhotoShop. To a hardcore conspiracy theorist, any disproving evidence is part of the cover-up.

Besides these photos, a second key piece of evidence that the moon landing happened is the extensive monitoring of Apollo flights. Astronomers, academics, journalists, and excited amateurs all employed telescopes, radios, and radar to track the mission. This included enemies such as the Soviets. Observatories and hobbyists worldwide reported sightings of the Apollo spacecraft. Had the Apollo spacecraft remained in Earthly orbit, it would have been easy to spot even without a telescope.

Then there are the rocks brought back by astronauts. These rocks have been radiometrically dated as being nearly four and a half billion years old, more ancient than any naturally-occurring Earth rock. Dunning further noted, “The moon rocks have impact craters only a millimeter across, created by impacts from micrometeors traveling about 50,000 miles per hour. This is impossible on Earth because the atmosphere blocks them, and it can’t be faked because we don’t have anything that can accelerate small projectiles to that speed.”

What say you to all this, Philip Stallings? From his blog: “1969. That was the year you were told we went to the moon. Do you see anything suspicious about that number? Three 6’s.” I’m only seeing one six myself. Maybe the two nines got turned upside down when they hit the firmament.

 

 

 

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“Hang a leftie” (Southpaw shaming)

trumpleft

In my early teens at church, some older youth were talking about a tabloid article which purported that all lefthanders were from outer space. This led the preacher’s southpaw son to say into the fountain pen he was holding, “They’ve discovered us, Master.”

Funny as that impromptu line was, it obscured the fact that being a lefthander in church just a few hundred years before that would have been no laughing matter. Just how long the church considers something evil will vary by sin. Gays and evolution have sat near the top of this Luciferian list for more than a century. Meanwhile, excoriations of Catholics and dancing have moved to the fringe of Christianity. And congregations who consider mixed fabrics and lefties to be Satanic spawn are virtually extinct.

While southpaws were traditionally reviled in most societies, there have been exceptions. Ancient Andeans thought lefthanders were bestowed with magical and healing properties. Also offering left-handed compliments were Greeks and Celts, the latter associating them with femininity and, therefore, the continuation of life. Jews and Christians likewise tied left-handedness to womanhood, but given the misogyny prevalent in those religions, adherents considered this a detrimental trait. Believers viewed lefties like they did their womenfolk: Inferior, weak, and destined for subservience.

In the book of Matthew, souls gather at check-in to see where their eternal reservations have been made and are told, “He shall say unto them on the left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” While the malefactors are tossed into a burning lake, Jesus sits at God’s right hand. With these images in mind, more than a few left hands were bruised by a nun’s ruler and it was common fairly deep into the 20th Century for schools to forcibly retrain lefthanders to use the correct side.

Christianity claimed no monopoly on this southpaw shaming. Even today, many Muslims and Hindus use their right hand for honorable tasks such as greeting friends, signing contracts, and accepting gifts. Meanwhile, the lowly left is reserved for actions considered unclean. These habits grew from sanitation issues. Since the right served as the dominant hand for 90 percent of the population, persons used it when eating, handling food, and interacting with others. The left hand, meanwhile, was used for hygienic activities. These customs were uniform with no consideration of an individual’s dominant hand so the left came to be considered unclean.

And these were minor annoyances compared to how other cultures dealt with left-handedness. Some 19th Century Zulu tribes scalded youngsters’ left hands so they would no longer be of use.  Perpetrators of the Spanish Inquisition and Salem Witch Trials went one worse, sometimes executing persons for using the wrong hand.

Tired of religion having all the fun out in left field, pseudoscientists got in on the act. Downplaying the morally degenerate angle, they instead considered lefties to be a biological mistake. In the early 1900s, criminologist pioneer Cesare Lombroso offered precisely that take with writings that would make a Klansman proud. Switching the blame from Beelzebub to the brain, Lombroso insisted that “as man advances in civilization and culture, he shows an always greater right-sidedness as compared to…women and savage races.” Lombroso further associated left-handedness with the primitive and the barbaric, while considering right-handers to be civilized and peaceful.

Around the same time, a McClure’s article informed readers than southpaws were “more common among the lower strata, negroes, and savages.” If desiring a viewpoint even more, um, right wing, consider what Austrian physician and psychologist Wilhelm Stekel wrote in 1911: “The right-hand path always signifies the way to righteousness, the left-hand the path to crime. Thus the left may signify homosexuality, incest, and perversion, while the right signifies marriage.”

This bigotry faded over the next few decades, though it lingered in some quarters. In the 1970s, psychologist Theodore Blau was still calling left-handed children sinister, academically suspect, and prone to mental illness. And just three years ago, an Oklahoma preschool teacher forced a 4-year old southpaw to use his right hand. When pressed for an explanation, the teacher referenced a publication that branded lefthanders evil, unlucky, and sinister. She also made note of Satan’s supposed southpaw status.

One of the few nuggets of accuracy in all this is that nine out of 10 humans are left-handed. And this biological determination runs very deep. In a Discover article, retired University of Kansas anthropologist David Frayer discussed how he deduced that 1.8 million years ago, Neanderthals had the same 9-to-1 preference.

He observed a series of ridges on the outer surfaces of Neanderthals’ upper front teeth. As to how this indicated hand preference, the article explained: “One direction of diagonal marks, either from upper right to lower left or upper left to lower right, would dominate. Individuals working with tough, fibrous material could have held it between their teeth and one hand, then used an edged stone tool to saw off a small piece with the other hand.” These observations showed the 9-to-1 ratio.  

As to why it was happening even way back then, one theory holds that the brain’s hemispheres split tasks for purposes of efficiency and this division of labor included favoring the right hand for most manual activities. That would explain why most persons are right-handed, but what answer is there for the relative few who become lefties?

Neuropsychologist Chris McManus theorizes that lefties result from a mutation that began occurring around 60,000 years ago. This mutation does not precisely mandate left-handedness, but it cancels the bias for the right and gives those who inherit it a 50-50 chance of being left-handed. That clears up how a set of identical twins can include a righty and a lefty. And what McManus and Frayer have discovered likely explains why lefties are among us without needing to resort to demons, defects, or alien preacher children.

 

“Wishing for the end of the end times” (April 23 apocalypse)

THISNIB

It’s just about time for this year’s end of the world. On April 23, Earth will meet its demise, courtesy the rouge planet Nibiru. Sometimes going by the more sinister-sounding Planet X, Nibiru brings together two normally disparate groups: End-time Christians and those who prefer a more alien or deep space flavor to their ultimate mass extinction events.

These groups normally don’t get along, though the antagonism is mostly from the former camp, whose members consider the other bunch to be messing with demonic gateways akin to astrology, fortune telling, and Ouija Boards. The star searchers, meanwhile, are normally indifferent to the religious pronouncements of doom, although some occasionally use Biblical interpretations to bolster their case. Such persons are notionally religious and have undertaken a conversion of convenience because they can use one small aspect of a faith to support their cause.

For example, self-described Christian numerologist David Meade has interpreted upcoming celestial arrangements as a “sign exactly as depicted in the 12th chapter of Revelation. This is our time marker.” However, most Christians reject such definitive statements as, “The world will end on April 23,” because of Matthew 24:36. This verse declares of Earth’s final moments, “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Still, a  minority of Christians see it otherwise and will point to verses which suggest that discernment and signs in the skies make it possible to know when God is about to call them home.

The latest Nibiru cataclysm – there have been many – embraces the biblical apocalypse angle. An alleged alignment of planets on April 23 is said to be referenced by Revelation, which tells of a “great sign in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.”

With their being no reference there to Earth, April 23, or the destruction of every man, woman, child, dog, ladybug, and fern, how does one manage such an interpretation? Elizabeth Howell at space.com wrote that Nibiru believers think the verse references the second coming of Christ and the advent of the rapture.  

Hence, believers conclude that on that day, the sun and moon will be in the constellation Virgo, as will Jupiter. The latter is said to be a euphemism for Jesus, though this conclusion seems to be reached only because Jupiter will be in Virgo, not because there would is any logical reason for our solar system’s largest planet to represent a Galilean Jewish religious leader.

In any event, Howell notes that celestial bodies will not be arranged the way doomsayers are expecting. “Jupiter is actually in Libra all day and night on April 23, while the moon is between Leo and Cancer,” she wrote. “The sun, out of view when Jupiter and the moon are in the sky, is by Pisces.”

While not occurring on April 23, the arrangement cited by believers does occur every 12 years, which would be a huge strike against the notion of it portending gloom and doom. This has led to an ad hoc rationalization that Nibiru represents the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and that its addition to the alignment will push us over the cataclysmic brim.

This planet, for which there is no evidence of existence, is touted by enthusiasts as a rocky giant in a massive, haphazard orbit, which will eventually bring about our destruction, though the dates and methods keep changing. In fact, if we all wake up on April 24, the Nibiru doomsayers already have a backup apocalypse in place, as they say it is on target to pass near Earth in October and unleash volcanic fury. I’m not much on guessing the future, but somehow I think I’ll be writing about that prediction again in early November.

 

“Think tanked” (New Thought)

GIANTBRAIN

The New Thought positon can be summed up as, “Believing something makes it so.” By that logic, since I believe that the New Thought movement is bonkers, it is. But let’s delve a little deeper.

Proponents do not believe that if I think that I am a cow, I am. Rather, they think that consistent and correct thinking regimens will lead a person to get what they want out of life, be it money, love, peace, or that extra-cushy recliner.

The movement’s central point is that our thoughts or beliefs determine our existence, especially in the  health realm. New Thought began in the 19th Century and, rare for the time, was primarily led by women. It had been founded, however, by a man, Phineas Quimby, in days when people were named Phineas Quimby.

He felt that that tapping into the power of the mind was how Jesus performed healing miracles attributed to him in the Gospels. While Quimby was unable to manage the instant fix that his savior did, he saw about 500 patients annually and explained to them that their condition or disease was something their minds could control. By combining low overhead with religious trappings, Quimby developed an ideal business model. Customers came in, emptied their pockets without getting a product or service in return, and left to recruit others.

One of Quimby’s disciples, Mary Beth Eddy, formed the Christian Scientists, who maintain a form of New Thought with their extreme faith in the power of prayer. Contrary to popular belief, Christian Scientists are free to seek medical care in limited circumstances, but the church holds that prayer is most effective when there’s no accompanying treatment. Using medicine is seen a demonstrable lack of faith and if the patient would only show more trust in God, he would heal them.

One of Eddy’s students, Emma Hopkins, took the New Thought movement national. Her contemporary, William Atkinson, attributed his recovery from mental, physical, and fiscal setbacks to the power of belief.

They and others in the movement downplayed creeds and rituals, and most departed from traditional Christianity by rejecting, or at least redefining, the notion of sin. They projected an optimistic view of human nature and felt that the divine could be found within all of us. This gave rise to the idea of a power being inside everyone, and this power could be harnessed to change one’s lot in life, including the vanquishing of mental and physical ailments.

Despite their iconoclastic views, they embraced the Bible when it fit their agenda, such as favoring Mark 11:24 (“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”) These days, the Home of Truth follows the teachings of Hindu advisor Swami Vivekananda and the New Thought movement has some Buddhists in its ranks. Most adherents, however, are quasi-religious in nature and a few are even secular.

One secular example is Tony Robbins, who while not completely onboard with the movement, ascribes an unrealistic amount of potency to mental exercises, affirmations, and self-confidence. Another secular example was Norman Cousins, who treated his collagen disease with intravenous Vitamin C, comedy movies, and a peppy attitude. While he recovered, exactly how much his unorthodox treatment had to do with was never ascertained.

Among the quasi-religious, Deepak Chopra argues that quantum physics enables persons to seize control of all aspects of their lives through the right thinking process. Another quasi-religious version is touted by Esther Hicks, who highlights the Law of Attraction. This holds that humans can bring into their lives whatever they focus on, be it good or bad. Yet all NFL players concentrate on winning the Super Bowl, yet only one team does so. And lovelorn persons obsessively think about the object of their affection without that object ever coming around.

While there are various New Thought schools, most emphasize that something ubiquitous is in control of our lives and is ready to benefit us, if only our thoughts can access this mighty force. It may be described as a god, spirit, energy, or life force, but in any case, health, wealth, and other desirable outcomes are inevitable if we think about them the right way. Adherents believe they can determine their situation by willing a deity or mystical energy to do it for them. This can be attractive because it is free, painless, easy, and gives the practitioner a feeling of being in charge.

But while the power of positive thinking can help with attitude and performance, scientific tests of the power of belief to cure serious illnesses have been uniformly negative. Carol Tavris of Skeptic Magazine wrote that a research team catalogued 179 patients with lung cancer over eight years and found that optimism, pessimism, and neutrality all had no bearing on cures or long-term survival rates. Thinking that the techniques work results from post hoc reasoning, selective memory, and the Forer Effect. And since less-serious illnesses usually fluctuate, their eventual end is credited to finally getting the thought process right.

As far as thoughts helping one succeed in life, we hear stories about Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, or Mark Cuban, and the massive dreams they stayed with until fame and fortune resulted. In these tales, the figure’s positive outlook is referenced. But highlighting only these stories is to commit survivor bias. We never hear about the much more voluminous instances of dreamers who never wavered but also never achieved. The only benefit to their positive outlook was to feel more positive; it did not lead to the desired results.

Indeed, one of the philosophy’s problems is that it equates feeling empowered with being empowered. Another issue is that New Thought holds uncompromisingly negative views of doubt, fear, and worry, even though these are sometime necessary and, in the long-term, often beneficial. A seasoned employee, put on a 90-day probationary period, can use the consequent fear to work harder and become more efficient. A person with a potentially fatal diagnosis can use this fear to get their affairs in order, reconcile with those they’ve hurt or been hurt by, and reevaluate what matters in life. By contrast, a person convinced they can whip leukemia with good vibes and happy thoughts will do none of those things while also succumbing to the disease.

Other detriments of being overly optimistic can include unreasonable amounts of gambling and being unable to realistically analyze one’s financial picture, romantic relationships, or job prospects.

Most distressing is New Thought’s rejection of Germ Theory and our knowledge of how diseases and cures work. Members of Idaho’s Followers of Christ church consider pharmaceuticals to be satanic, while others think mental states are what cause disease. Believing that health and illness are determined by the amount of one’s faith and the fervency of one’s thoughts will lead that person to feel it’s their fault if the conditions stagnate.

And in the end, the strongest evidence against persons being able to control their health and lives by wishing for it is that adherents of such notions keep dying.

“Doctor and the clerics” (Alphabiotics)

BANGHEAD

Alternative medicine and religion are both areas I have addressed on this blog, the former being a much more frequent topic than the latter. The subjects would seem to have little in common, with a smattering of exceptions. For instance, there is Reiki, which could reasonably be considered a form of Japanese faith healing. And I have sporadically happened upon Christian fundamentalists who feel God has provided grasses, barks, and herbs to heal us, if only we can find the right one for our condition through a mix of experiment and prayer. This is separate from pure faith healers, who are content to let their children die horrible, preventable deaths without trying plants, pills, potions, or anything beyond petitions to a deity.

Today, though, we address an alternative medicine-religious hybrid known as alphabiotics. Just how much it is a purported medicine or a religion, however, is debatable. For instance, websites promoting the field lack quantifiable specifics as to what alphabiotics is, how it works, or what it does. A terse description of the alleged process would be that it is neck manipulation meant to relieve stress and thereby usher in multitudinous, though mostly undefined, benefits for the body, mind, and soul. According to adherents, the procedure is meant to enhance energy flow and remove blockages that cause illnesses. This makes it one of dozens of mostly indistinguishable practices that make similar claims. The only difference here is that an attempt is made to douse the field in religious vernacular and to cloak it with a spiritual veneer. While the two parties don’t get along, alphabiotics is an outgrowth of chiropractic, with the former solely manipulating the neck.

Alphabioticbalance.com ostensibly tries to explain how the field works, informing the reader that “unrelieved stress causes your brain to lateralize, meaning that the dominant hemisphere of your brain begins seizing control, trying to work harder, not smarter, and attempting to operate entirely from its perceived area of singular strength.” It further warns that ignoring this will lead to an unbalanced skeletal system that will be deleterious to one’s muscles, nerves, and organs. An additional claim is that most persons have one leg shorter than the other and that this will put pressure on the hips and spine and even impact persons at the cellular level, as “blood is sent to the extremities of your limbs in a futile effort to correct and operate inefficiently aligned limbs.”

To fix it, a practitioner will employ a “gentle, safe, non-invasive hands-on technique” to make a patient’s legs the same length, to cause its blood to flow to the right places, and to make everything balanced. A similarly glowing report at alphabioticinfo.com describes “a process that deals directly with the negative impact of unrelieved, off-balancing stress on the brain and body.” It makes the unsubstantiated, outrageous claim that up to 90 percent of illness is stress-related and that alphabiotics techniques will result in “lower stress levels and improved health, happiness, disease prevention, and longevity.”  Another website promises reduced muscle tension and an enabling of “the wisdom of the body to better do its job of regulating, controlling, and coordinating physiological function, as well as normal mental activity. Strength is restored, brain-fog is lifted, and people’s lives began to work better.”

This pseudoscientific babble is based on no cited research or clinical studies. The impossibly vague, unquantifiable notions are accompanied by no explanation of what mechanism would cause or how the physiology works. Adherents fail to bolster their claims with even one double blind study, instead favoring testimonials by patients identified only by their initials. And it is all supposedly accomplished in just half a minute by “sending sensory input to the brain that a defensive stress response is no longer necessary.”

The field is awash in empty words instead of solid evidence. It bandies about baffling terms like  “brain hemisphere balance,” “joy of whole person congruence,” “hidden causes of denigrating one’s self,” the “true meaning of inner peace,” and the alt-med mainstay, “maintaining balance.”

One attempt to explain it goes thusly: “The Alphabiotics Alignment involves a process of unification of brain hemispheres and integration of higher levels of life force. It instantly unifies the brain hemispheres, balances the energies within the nerve system and muscles, and releases stress held within the mind and body, manifests our dreams and keep us in a constant state of physical, emotional, and spiritual balance and harmony, achieves inner peace, connects to their inner source of power, and takes advantage of the body’s natural capacity for wellness.” Man, for supposedly lifting brain fog, alphabiotics is leaving my noggin right muddled.

So we have pseudoscientific language, over the top claims, and anecdotes in lieu of double blind studies. There is no empirical evidence, but they do have a positive review in the book, “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About.” So all this takes care of the alt-med portion, but where does religion fit in? That’s hard to say because on alphabiotics websites, the spiritual aspect is even more vague than the health claims.

But for starters, this practice is only available to members of the International Alphabiotic Association. This isn’t a religious stance per se, but to the best of my knowledge, this requirement is unique among supposed medical ventures. It is more akin to church membership than a medicinal field, even the pretend kind. Next is verbiage that hints of an esoteric or supernatural nature, such as “being in tune with your inner source of power,” and “mind-spirit connectivity.” Practitioners call themselves priests and insist their neck manipulations are sacraments in the Church of Alphabiotics. Founder Virgil Chrane bestows the title “Doctor of Divinity” to those who complete enough training under him.

Beyond this, adherents don’t seem to say much about the religious aspect publicly. The movement seems threadbare with regard to philosophy, tenets, rites, or instruction on morality, afterlife, and miracles.

It is probable that the adherents adopted the religious veneer in order to avoid taxes and medical licensing. Indeed, Seattle Weekly ran a profile of Karen Labdon, who suffered a stroke while enduring a decidedly invasive, non-gentle alphabitoic treatment at the bruising hands of practitioner John Brown.

Rather than questioning the claims Labdon made against him, Brown merely said that the accompanying investigation by Washington state officials violated his religious freedom. He further described himself as a minister in what’s called the Alphabiotic Church and he stated he was performing a sacrament on a parishioner. He compared his technique not to a chiropractor but to a Pentecostal performing a laying on of hands.

Whatever Brown was doing, Labdon ended suffering extreme vertigo and violent vomiting as a result, and Brown was prohibited from practicing for 10 years and fined $30,000. In the end, while alphabiotics purports to be both a medicine and a religion, most available evidence points to it being neither.

“Another bad creationist” (Evolution denial)

MONKEYMAN

Perhaps the most common misperception about evolution from those who deny it is encapsulated by the question, “If man came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” While memes asking this are a Facebook semi-regular, the dozen or so fulltime professional creationists actually know that evolution does not teach this. On the Answers in Genesis website, Tommy Mitchell wrote, “The evolutionary concept of the origin of humans is not based on humans descending from modern apes but argues that humans and modern apes share a common ancestor.” Similarly, John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research noted that, “Evolutionists insist that both man and the apes came from an ape-like ancestor. Also, evolution does not propose that all members of a type evolved into another type, but that only a small group of individuals, genetically isolated from the others, evolved.”

While Mitchell and Morris disagree with these conclusions, they do acknowledge that these positions accurately reflect what evolution teaches and they stress that the field does not hold that monkeys turned into men. However, they and other Young Earth Creationists ask an equally misinformed question, which could be paraphrased as, “If evolution has been proven, why are there still evolutionary biologists?” They consider the expanding and refining of evolutionary knowledge to be a weakness. As Ken Ham Tweeted, “I’m glad the Bible’s not a textbook like those used in public schools, as it would change all the time.”

That’s because, while Darwin nailed the basics that random mutation and nonrandom natural selection cause species to adapt to their environment and evolve over succeeding generations, his theory has received periodic upgrades. That is consistent with how science works. The finding of transitional fossils, the discovery of DNA, and Mendel’s experiments with heredity helped further our knowledge of evolution. Yet YECs insist the theory’s adaptability and refinement show it to be flawed, and they sometimes dub these changes “Revisionist Darwinism.”

However, the Wright Brothers are not invalidated because today’s jets fly 100 times faster and 5,000 times farther than their original creation. Alexander Graham Bell is not a fraud because we carry a small phone that can perform multitudinous functions, while his bulky stationary contraption served just one purpose. Antibiotics, vaccines, and open-heart surgery should not be avoided as “revisionist medicine” just because physicians once treated patients with trepanation, bloodletting, and homeopathy.

Science is not static, an unbending set or rules, but is the continual search to refine, expand, and yes, revise knowledge. It is an unending cyclical process that is self-correcting and self-criticizing, which invites scrutiny, and which changes when warranted by the evidence.

And this owning up to previous errors is laudable. I wrote a post about the hunt for Bigfoot and included a tidbit that no North American primate fossil has ever been found. A reader pointed out this was in error and she included a link to reputable source, Popular Science. The article quoted a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History as saying a 43 million-year-old primate fossil was discovered in Texas. I thanked the reader for bringing this to my attention. I want all nonsense exposed, even if that nonsense appears on this blog. I have adjusted my thinking with regard to North American primate fossils and will never make this claim again. I will not deny what the paleontologist said, nor declare him corrupt, inept, or a Sasquatch hunter’s shill. I will not posit that he was wrong, then seek out evidence to support this preconceived conclusion.

By contrast, Young Earth Creationism relies on faith and the rejection of facts its proponents find unpleasant. Not only can they not accept evidence that contradicts their religion, they are incapable of incorporating newfound knowledge into their belief system.

Brian Dunning at Skeptoid compared the reactions from biologists and creationists when scientists learned DNA was the genetic material by which inheritance passes from one generation to the next.  The response of the former, Dunning wrote, was to welcome and celebrate the news: “The discovery of DNA and the understanding of genetics, unknown in Darwin’s time, was a huge windfall. Whole chapters of proposed mechanisms were thrown out of the evolution textbook, volumes of new chapters were added, and unanswered questions were explained by the thousands. The theory of evolution improved immeasurably. Genetics was the single most important discovery in the history of biology.”

Meanwhile, the creationists fittingly refused to evolve their thinking. Dunning wrote, “Did anyone go back and improve Genesis? Did they add a footnote or a verse to explain how the thing with Adam’s rib worked, given the new understanding of genetics? No. The most important and significant discovery in the history of biology was completely ignored.”

Even though religion is the central feature of their lives, YECs criticize the concept of faith by declaring evolution to be just another belief system. Yet if that were true, things like the DNA discovery that expanded knowledge would be rejected.

YECs confuse faith with trust. Trust is accepting what reputably-sourced, continually proven evidence shows. Faith is believing something regardless of the truth, facts, or proof. Something that one believes on faith could be true, but this truth is not necessary for the belief to continue.

As an example of the difference between trust and faith, Dunning explained why he believes what calculators tell him. These instruments have been so reliable and consistent that he can reasonably trust their conclusions. By contrast, if the calculators’ long-term performance was spotty, Dunning’s uncompromising acceptance of the revealed equation would be faith.

He added that humans used to think Earth was flat and supported on the back of a giant turtle. Scientific breakthroughs have since shown our planet to be round and orbiting a star. Most people accept this, though a few deny it. But some who accept these truths still use the previous delusions regarding’s Earth’s shape and motion as reasons to reject what biologists teach today. Now, what science has previously taught should be rejected if the reason for the revision was arrived at through the Scientific Method of observation-hypothesis-prediction-experiment-analysis-interpretation-publication-replication. But it should not be rejected if the reason for doing so is to hold onto an unbending position in order to protect a pet cause.

“The story of the moral” (Self-righteousness)

BETTER

People of different religious viewpoints can get along, depending on the person.  I have had nothing but positive interaction with the friendly imam at our neighborhood mosque, while others who read the same book that inspires him would interpret it as a fatwa to slit my throat.

There are Christian extremists like John Hagee, who has called for all atheists to leave the United States. He is apparently OK with a trade that would see his country lose 67 percent of its scientists and .02 percent of its prisoners. Even more extreme is Bryan Fischer, who has declared that no atheists should be allowed in the military, that belief in evolution makes one unpatriotic,  and that Native American genocide was beneficial because Christians were given the land and resources. Fischer also has supremely creative reading comprehension skills. He was written that the Constitution’s Article VI, which reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” is a mandate that only Christians be allowed to serve in public office.

At the other end of the spectrum from Hagee and Fischer are the dozen military chaplains I have worked with, who have been among the most cordial, compassionate, and hardworking men I have known.  

The nonbelief side has its extremists as well. Although stopping short of calling for expulsion or death, the late Jon Murray of American Atheists once wrote that only atheists could accurately teach the history of religion and he chastised anyone who labeled themselves an agnostic, humanist, free-thinker, apatheist, or similar moniker. He considered this a wussy way to avoid the dreaded atheist label. Similarly, I have seen many a Facebook thread where agnostics are viciously attacked by atheists for not taking the doubt far enough, even going so far sometimes to say that there is no such thing as an agnostic. The argument generally goes like this: If you’re not sure there’s a god, it means you lack a belief in deity, so this makes you an atheist. This is almost invariably followed with personal attacks and character assassination directed at the agnostic for failing to realize what they  are. A similar argument is used against atheists by some Christian extremists who insist atheists believe in God, but are in a state of denial, hate, or rebellion, or are wanting to continue in their sin.  

There also exists a subset of Christians who feel that their belief in an invisible sky creature entitles them to the moral high ground. There are many examples, but I will focus on Dennis Prager and Frank Turek since they have been the most vocal and persistent about this stance over the last few years.

On his online site, Prager makes this astounding claim: “If there is no God, murder isn’t wrong.” Given that in the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon, the Abrahamic god is responsible for the slaughter of 2,476,633 persons, in addition to an unknown number of flood, plague, and famine victims, a more logical conclusion would be, “If there is a God, murder isn’t wrong.” But let’s keep our focus on what Prager and Turek have written. 

In a takedown of Prager’s assertion, skeptic leader Michael Shermer noted the cosmic chicken-and-egg conundrum that arises when one cites a god as source of morality.  

Plato asked, “Is what is morally right or wrong commanded by God because it is inherently right or wrong, or is it morally right or wrong only because it is commanded by God?” Shermer picks up on the Greek philosopher’s point by asking, “If murder is wrong because God said it is wrong, what if he said it was okay? Would that make murder right?”

This is not a hypothetical question, as there are instances of God acting more like a Godfather and ordering hits on victims for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from hitting the ground (2 Samuel 6:7), for picking up sticks (Numbers 15:36), or for looking over their shoulder (Genesis 19:26). Prager and Turek would have to be OK with these divine executions. There is no room for considering other angles, mitigating circumstances, appeals, reasoning, talking it through, societal values, norms, traditions, or human input.  

Also, Prager and Turek present a false dilemma between either a deity-dictated absolute morality or a secular relative morality where there are only opinions with no actual right and wrong. This often leads to an insistence that without a god-based morality, persons have license to commit all manner of mayhem and mischief without being immoral.

But the false dilemma is a logical fallacy where the interlocutor posits that if the opponent’s position is wrong, the speaker’s position is right. This is mistaken because an debater must actually prove one’s point, not just try and tear down the opponent’s. Prager and Turek also commit the begging the question fallacy, assuming without supporting evidence that the correct position is that their god established right and wrong and that his dictates were all uncompromisingly correct.

Prager and Turek say that if I insist arson is wrong, this is merely an opinion. They might be right on this point. But that’s all Prager and Turek have too, an opinion. In their case, they accept the opinions written by Bronze Age Middle East nomads. There’s nothing wrong with any of those traits, but those opinions belong to just another man.  Even if we graciously allow that a god wrote it, it’s still just another opinion. Might does not make right and Prager and Turek never establish why Yahweh saying something makes it correct. Supernatural abilities such as creating or destroying a planet are separate from having keen insight into right and wrong.

Besides, Shermer wrote, there is a third option between absolute morality and relative morality, which he calls provisional morality. He defines this as “Moral values that are true for most people in most circumstances most of the time.” He continues, “All societies throughout history and around the world today have sanctions against murder. Why? Because if there were no proscription against murder no social group could survive, much less flourish. All social order would break down. We can’t have people running around killing each other willy nilly.”

At the same time, Shermer explained, there are exceptions such as self defense, war, and executions. These exceptions do not wipe out the provisional morality that murder is wrong. Likewise, most societies have considered human cannibalism wrong, yet most persons would understand the reasoning and actions of the 16 Andean plane wreck survivors who resorted to eating deceased passengers as a last-ditch way to stay alive.

Consider one more example. Stealing is wrong, but this can be mitigated or involve extenuating circumstances. A man with literally no money or food who swipes a bucket of friend chicken to feed his children their first meal in two days would be looked at differently than an online hacker who helps himself to millions in ill-gotten gain for the thrill of it and to prove that he can. Our legal system would almost certainly treat these offenders differently, yet Biblical justice calls for no distinction to be made and for the punishment to be as harsh for the destitute family man as the affluent cyber criminal.

Sources of provincial morality can include parents, peers, mentors, society, teachers, solitary reflection, life experiences, books, culture, and one’s conscience. Shermer noted that since the Enlightenment, “religious-based theocracies have been replaced with Constitution-based democracies, and the result was the abolition of slavery and torture, the democratic rule of law, the decline of violence,” and the granting of rights to minorities, women, gays, and animals.

Prager and Turek insist our rights come from God, but the Bible endorses execution for blasphemy and for practicing Wicca instead of embracing freedom of speech and religion; it favors slavery over emancipation; it requires stoning to death for a woman having premarital sex instead of forbidding cruel and unusual punishment; and the Torah includes no prohibition on warrantless searches or self-incrimination. To see just how in error Prager’s and Turek’s assertion is, contrast the First Commandment with the First Amendment. The former mandates worship of the Abrahamic god under penalty of death. The latter guarantees the right to worship any god or goddess or none at all.

Taking morality from a book requires no thought, whereas morality arrived at through introspection, debate, and experience requires the person to justify their conclusion. Were Turek to take his morality from the Bible, he would have to believe that his daughter’s rapist, instead of becoming a prisoner, should become his son-in-law, regardless of the daughter’s wishes (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Citing a god as the source for morality runs into another problem. Different scriptures have different rules and they can’t all be right. Here, Prager and Turek have little trouble here with a retort, simply making a begging the question assumption that the god they were taught to believe in since preschool is the correct one. But belief in absolute morality can lead to the conclusion that anyone who believes differently has departed from the true path and can be dealt with accordingly, in line with punishments in the believer’s holy book. Such thinking has led to the Inquisition, witch trials, and holy wars.

But looking at it from an objective standpoint and having been impacted by the influencers mentioned two paragraphs ago, I can see that the 10 Commandments gets right the prohibitions against murder, stealing, and adultery. But it consciously allows child abuse, rape, and slavery while forbidding innocuous actions such as talking back to one’s parents, uttering profanity, and building a bronze and iron sculpture.  

On another topic, it is a disingenuous debate to ask whether torturing an innocent man to death is morally correct. I truly believe Prager and Turek are capable of figuring out murder is wrong on their own. Further, no atheist is going to read Prager’s or Turek’s pieces and decide, “Whoa, if I don’t convert to their religion, I’m going to go out today and commence with raping, pillaging, and burning.” Their assertions are meant to establish their moral superiority, which ironically can be used to commit immoral acts such as the Crusades, Jonestown, and flying airplanes into tall buildings.

Prager tries to tie Stalin and Mao into this and asserts godlessness leads to genocide. But this is the composition fallacy and this decade there have been atheist heads of state in Australia, Greece, Croatia, Belgium, and New Zealand without corresponding bloodbaths.

And a minor point, but Mao and Stalin killed in the name of communism, not atheism. These two built personality cults and the same has been done in North Korea. These communist cults mimic religious extremism by basing a system on the supremacy of an all-wise leader, from whom any departure is worthy of scorn, ostracism, exile, imprisonment, or death.

Shermer makes the argument that murder could be worse if there is no god than if there is. In Prager’s universe, the murder merely creates a painful but temporary separation. If a hundred years from now, the victim and his family are together in paradise and will be there a million millennia after that, murder ends up seeming not so bad. This also brings up a point raised by Richard Dawkins: If one is following the instruction manual because of a belief of being incessantly watched and thinking they are subject to calamity if they stray, is the person really being moral, or just pragmatic?

Going back to Turek, one of his essays contained this strawman headscratcher: “To be a consistent atheist you can’t believe that anyone has ever changed the world for the better. You have to believe that rescuing Jews from the ovens was not objectively better than murdering them. You have to believe that loving people is no better than raping them.” Earlier in the essay, Turek wrote that atheists could be good people, but he then abruptly switches to a position that atheists by nature feel that rape is proper and that the holocaust was fine and dandy. He also wrote, “In an atheistic universe there is nothing objectively wrong with anything at any time. There are no limits. Anything goes.”

Yet Turek’s assertion that belief in the Christian god equals morality is inconsistent with what we see when looking at religions in different cultures. The most secular countries are in Scandinavia, which are perpetually among the most affluent and educated and which enjoy high quality of life, excellent health care, and low crime rates. By contrast, the overwhelmingly religious countries Guatemala and El Salvador are riddled with crime and poverty. Further, since Turek stipulates that his god is the true one, Japan, which is just two percent Christian, should experience unending epidemics of decapitations and machete attacks instead of having the planet’s fourth-lowest crime rate. Travelers to the country report seeing no bicycle locks because so few people there would ever think to help themselves to another person’s form of conveyance.

For all anyone knows, Prager or Turek may someday be saved by an atheist surgeon, a person they would would insist has no moral concern with whether someone lives or dies. Prager and Turek would also have considered Ted Bundy to necessarily be a good, moral person if  he had practiced their religion.

They’re wrong on these counts, of course. A few years ago, there were Muslims who slaughtered Yazidis for their beliefs and other Muslims who risked their lives to save those Yazidis. Beliefs don’t make a person good or bad; actions do.