“Good Lourdes, No” (River healing)


The 19th Century featured its allotment of 14-year-olds whose purported visions ignited prominent religious undertakings. Joseph Smith founded Mormonism as a result, while Bernadette Soubirous transformed the River Gave near Lourden, France, into a Catholic holy site after saying that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her many times there.

The Roman Catholic Church credulously and uncritically swallowed this claim and has put its stamp of blessing on 67 specific miracles that supposedly have taken place near the shores. There is no independent verification of these cures, no experiments, no controls, and no winning of the James Randi Challenge.

Furthermore, the miracles have been of the relatively modest variety and are mostly explicable through medicine or human physiology. No one has regained sight, regrown a limb, or risen from the dead.

Curiously, Soubirous claimed only that Mary had appeared to her and made a few announcements. The teen never asserted that she was on the receiving end of a miracle or that the apparition promised future divine interventions on the riverbed.

Still, Catholic believers flock each year to the site. The steady stream of claims that flow from there is as uninterrupted as the river itself. And they are comparable to those made from persons who undertake secular pilgrimages to Loch Ness.

Cognitive dissonance and the desire to believe combine to make the observer impervious to reality. No one wants to admit the traveled all this way for nothing. They saw a beast or received some godly blessing, con sarn it!

Very few of these putative miracles are considered as such even by the Church. The Vatican has criteria for what it considers to be miraculous. The gist of it is that a group comprising nearly two dozen medical doctors must acknowledge that an ailment could not have been cured by means known to science. If a treatment or product could have been the reason, no miracle is proclaimed.

But even when no explanations emerge, it is appealing to ignorance to conclude that the Christian deity, working through magic water, was responsible. Indeed, why would an all-powerful, omnipresent force induce someone with a serious illness to undertake arduous travel to another country or continent to receive healing?

Even when a genuine improvement has taken place, it is post hoc reasoning to attribute this to Lourdes, by way of a supernatural conduit. Many illnesses are cyclical, and the improvement may have taken place if one had gone to the Nile or stayed home. There also may have been other medicine or treatments taking place before, during, and after the trip.

The last Lourdes miracle claimed by the Church was 20 years ago, when the Church insisted that a man was freed of his multiple sclerosis after 12 years. Less fortunate was Soubirous. For being the embodiment of miraculous healing, she made out poorly. She suffered from lingering cases of tuberculosis and asthma and died at the not-so-ripe-old age of 35.

“Watch botch” (Watchmaker fallacy)


A creationist canard holds that if you find a watch lying on the ground, you would know it had to have been created, and therefore, when we look at our world, we know that it too was created.

This is mistaken for a number of reasons. First, most of us today know what a watch is and how it is made. But someone who had never been exposed to a watch before, say a time traveler from 500 CE or an inhabitant of the Nicobar Islands, saw one, he or she would have no reason to presume the timepiece had been designed.

An Answers in Reason blogger using the pseudonym Artificial Agent wrote that if the same person happened upon a cave, they would have “no reason to assume it was man-made, nor that it formed naturally as a result of plate tectonics and rocky structure.”

I saw a documentary in which Papua New Guinea natives were spooked by mirrors and fascinated by matches. With the islanders’ highly limited frame of reference, these inventions may have seemed like supernatural, intelligently-designed products, but this inference would not make it so. Similarly, Artificial Agent cited a BBC program in which a tribesman was taken into an urban area and interpreted a large truck to be a strange beast. This shows what happens when observers lack a frame of reference, and this lack or reference dooms the watchmaker analogy.

On a related note, Artificial Agent wrote that a person might see a puddle and presume the ground was made specifically for it since the puddle had just enough space to hold the water. The truth, of course, is inverse, and the puddle formed the way it did because of the ground’s shape.

And as stated before, we know how watches are made. But have no idea how a planet would be constructed. Thus, it is mistaken to infer that our universe has been created by an intelligent designer just because a watch was made by human hands.

Enlightenment philosopher David Hume argued the universe and a watch have too few similarities to assert that both were created. The universe consists of organic natural substances, while a watch is made of artificial mechanic materials.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argued that a person could only make a watch if they were more complex than their creation, and this goes for all things created and their creator. Therefore if Earth was created, it would have to have been designed by something more complex than itself. That creator, then, would have to be created something even more complex, and the creator’s creator made by something more complex yet, ad infinitum. 

“Khmer Ruse” (Angkor stegosaur)


There exists an ancient temple carving in Cambodia that is interpreted to be a stegosaur by some folks. “Some folks” in this case being a euphemism for Young Earth Creationists. So anthropology professor Scott Burnett investigated these claims by spending two weeks at the site, named Ta Prohm, and at adjacent Khmer locations in Angkor Archaeological Park. He reported his findings in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer.

Young Earth Creationists use the supposed stegosaur depiction as evidence that dinosaurs and humans were contemporaries. YECs maintain that all extinct and extant life arose by supernatural means less than 10,000 years ago, so dinosaurs dying out 150 million years back would throw a T- Rex-sized bone into that idea. Even by YEC standards, the Ta Prohm stegosaur hypothesis puts dinosaurs crazily close to the modern day. The Khmer Empire lasted from the 9th to 15th Centuries, a period that includes Joan of Arc’s brief lifetime.

The stegosaur claim made by YECs rests on these four points: 1. The carving resembles a stegosaur; 2. The image is ancient and not a modern hoax; 3. There are other known animals represented at Ta Prohm, so the carving represents a real creature; and 4. Stegosaurs had to have been known to the sculptor.

YECs are correct on point two, so we will not delve anymore into that assertion. As to the first point, while the carving somewhat resembles a stegosaur, this interpretation is primarily based on one item – apparent dorsal plates in a ridge pattern along the creature’s back. However, conspicuously missing from this supposed stegosaur are a long neck, a small plain head, and cool tail spikes, all of which are associated with this particular dinosaur.

YECs retort that the carving’s large head and horn-like appendages represent a muzzle, and that its tail spikes were removed for safety reasons by the captive stegosaur’s owner. This ad hoc reasoning is indicative of one reaching a predetermined conclusion rather than examining the evidence. There are zero anthropological or paleontological discoveries that suggest dinosaurs were alive 1,000 years ago, much less any proof that they were domesticated by Mekong Delta inhabitants.  

Further, Burnett argues that the muddled muzzle notion guess fails to account for other anatomical inconsistencies. For example, the animal’s limbs are uniform, whereas stegosaurs had long hind limbs but short, stout legs up front. As to the putative dorsal plates – the one seeming consistency with stegosaurs – there are explanations that negate the need to jump to the dinosaur conclusion. For example, Burnett pointed out the supposed plates might instead be background foliage or decorative elements. We’ll come back to that point a little later.

For now, on to the YEC’s third argument – that since there are known animals depicted at Ta Prohm, the bas relief carving is therefore a stegosaur. This is at once the affirming of the consequent fallacy and a refusal to acknowledge that mythological creatures are represented at the site.

YECs are correct that some of the carvings are of known animals. Nevertheless, Burnett cautions against exaggerating “our ability to interpret art across cultures, let alone those separated by over eight centuries, and particularly out of context.” He added that the site includes mythological animals, as well as genuine beasts who are riding atop deities. What’s more, the dividing line between natural and supernatural fauna is a blurred one in Khmer imagery.

As to the specifics of Angkor Archaeological Park carvings, they are laden with Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. The artist who created the bas relief in question may have been depicting one of those religions’ mythological animals, which has a superficial similarity with a stegosaur.

Similarly, several carvings of supposed animals at the site may not be what YECs presume them to be. Rather than being a monkey or deer, they may be a mythological beast, in the same sense that Bigfoot looks like an oversize upright gorilla and the Loch Ness Monster could be taken to be a plesiosaur’s cousin.

Burnett points out that the Indian epic Ramayana is a frequent subject matter of stone carvings in the Khmer region. The tale includes anthropomorphic primate brothers who pursue a demon that lured their sister away assuming the form of a beautiful golden deer.

“The ruins are full of Hindu and Buddhist iconography and symbolism,” Burnett wrote. “Mythological and supernatural beings abound at sites in the region. Some are chimeric in nature, including at Ta Prohm a muscular animal sitting upright, with a bird beak and long ears or horns. It also bears plates along the back reminiscent of the ‘stegosaur.” This seems a fatal blow to YEC contentions that the carving has to be of a real animal and that stegosaurs must have been known to the sculptor.

To gain a wider perspective, Burnett spent 10 days visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park, accessing and analyzing dozens images. Burnett had suspected that the supposed dorsal plates could instead be background foliage. So he searched for other animal carvings with similar features to this one, and he also looked for any images that seemed to be of the supposed stegosaur but without the plates. He explained that he looked for carving of animals with “five key characteristics — quadrupedal posture, thick limbs of roughly equal length, an arched back, ornamented head, and long tail, in the absence of a sixth characteristic—dorsal plates.” And he did uncover a depicted animal that satisfied those criteria.

As to his suspicion that the plates were actually foliage, Burnett “found clear evidence suggesting that ornamental elaboration and vegetation are much more parsimonious explanations for the appearance of the animal. Dorsal ornamentation or vegetation is clearly associated with the animal immediately above the stegosaur. Even higher in the column of images that appear to be conveying a narrative of sorts, are plate- or petal-like depictions. On other occasions, vegetation might be seen underneath or behind animals.”

Finally, the YEC assertion lacks any evidence from the time period that would be consistent with dinosaurs living amongst the Khmer people. There are no dinosaur images on ceramics, paintings, or drawings from the era. More crucially, anthropologists have yet to find dinosaur bones among cultural deposits from this period. The terrible lizards are nowhere to be found among the exhaustive species lists compiled from Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions at Angkor sites. Additionally, Zhou Daguan served as Chinese ambassador to Angkor barely a century after the supposed stegosaur image was created. He kept a journal that included descriptions of animals from that time and place, and he jotted down nothing that would be consistent with a late Triassic herbivore.

“Darwin abhorred” (Michael Behe)


Persons sometimes hold two jobs simultaneously, but no one has a more oxymoronic dual employment than Dr. Michael Behe. He serves as a fulltime a scientist for Lehigh, where he is a biochemistry professor. Meanwhile, his moonlighting gig is as a pseudoscientist for the Discovery Institute, where he argues against a specific plank of evolution.

Behe differs from most creationists, partly because he is of the Old Earth variety, a comparatively rare subspecies. More significantly, he acknowledges that life has evolved over billions of years and that all living organisms have a common descent. He also acknowledges that mutation and natural selection drive the processes that lead to the diversity of life. All this, in fact, capsulizes the theory of evolution. But Behe veers sharply from the scientific landscape when he proposes that there is an intelligent design mechanism which is causing the genetic changes that enables evolution. He stresses that point repeatedly in his latest book, Darwin Devolves.

In this work, Behe insists that mutations can only make things worse, absent intelligent intervention. This is consistent with his longstanding belief that anything science cannot completely figure out means that his god is responsible. This is the God of the Gaps gaffe and is a common pseudoscience error.

Behe makes no attempt to falsify the idea, nor does he give fellow scientists any experiments to try and replicate. He has not observed intelligent intervention in action, he makes no predictions about how it would function, and he subjects the idea to no peer review. In short, he offers zero science to support his claim that a deity is driving evolution’s key mechanism.

Compare that to what he expects of those with the opposing position. In an essay for skeptic.com, John Jay College professor Nathan Lents wrote, “Behe holds modern evolutionary theory to an impossible standard, declaring it insufficient if we cannot pinpoint every point mutation and every intermediate genetic step, all in the right order.”

Behe argues that mutation should be fatal to evolution because most genes that spark adaptation have been irreparably broken and have also been inactivated by mutations. And a dead gene, he says, tends to degrade further and can only be reactivated by a supernatural agent.

But biology professor Jerry Coyne writes that this position requires ignoring the following: Adaptive mutations which do not inactivate genes, including genes that are accidentally copied twice, with the copies diverging in useful ways; Changes in how and when a gene is turned on and off, such as mutations producing lactose tolerance in milk-drinking human populations; The repurposing of ancient genes acquired from viruses; Chimeric genes that are cobbled together from odd bits of DNA; And simple changes in DNA sequence that alter proteins without breaking them, such as is see in tolerance of low oxygen levels in geese.

Most importantly from a scientific standpoint, Behe only tries to find flaws in the other side instead of offering examples of designed mutations or providing evidence for a supernatural mechanism.

A key point to remember is that evolution never has an end-goal in mind. It’s about adapting to present conditions. It will even reverse course if that is advantageous. While the sci-fi concept of devolution, such as is seen with the Land of the Lost Sleestaks, is a cool one, it never happens in real life. In fact, a step-back is still evolution if that’s what the environment dictates.  

Behe tries to ride the coattails of Richard Lenski to make his case. Lenski oversees an ongoing, 30-year e. coli experiment that started with 12 originally-identical populations. These 12 experienced dramatically accelerated growth and showed a gradual loss of many abilities necessary to thrive in other environments. While this is literally observing evolution in action, Behe maintains it strengthens his position since none of the bacteria have developed creative new abilities.

However, these bacteria are in manufactured laboratory conditions and are not adapting to nature. And even in this environment which Lenski specifically designed to not prod bacteria toward new abilities, the cells have gained functions. Lents wrote that Lenski “has discovered variants of essential genes — not just dispensable ones — for the cell wall, DNA packaging and architecture, and a variety of tweaks that enhance, not diminish, the function of the encoded proteins. Perhaps the most exciting discovery is one culture’s new ability to import and metabolize citrate as a carbon source in an aerobic environment. This is all incredibly unlikely, as only one of the 12 cultures achieving this feat in more than 70,000 generations. This means random mutation has been seen to cause a new function.” That it could do this refutes Behe’s insistence that such a mutation requires divine intervention.

Let’s move from the lab to the outdoors and from the microscopic to what we can see with the naked eye. Behe touts Galapagos finches as an example of how animals can manage only incremental changes without supernatural assistance. He gloats that the birds have failed to develop the large-scale body redevelopment that occurred with organisms during the Cambrian Explosion.

The analogy is lacking since Cambrian diversification took more than 10 times as long and involved smaller, simpler, and faster-reproducing life forms. A larger issue is that when finches arrived on the islands, the Galapagos was already filled with other birds. This meant that the finches’ only path to success was stagnation. Diversification only occurs when animals fill unoccupied niches.

Lents pointed out that Madagascar lemurs provide a spectacular example of how this works. From the first pair 50 million years ago, we now have well over 100 species “including the smallest known primates and nearly the largest. There are burrowers, leapers, grazers, climbers, and everything in between. Lemurs have accomplished this because they were free to inhabit the ecological niches normally occupied by other animals. With no rodents on Madagascar initially, the mouse lemurs emerged. With no true sloths, we have the sloth lemur.”

This breadth of lemurs means the animal has achieved the taxonomic level of Family, something Behe claimed unguided evolution could never do. His retort was to feebly offer that this may have been made possible by “intelligently-provided information carried by the ancestor of lemurs.” He failed to explain how that hypothesis might be tested.

According Coyne, Behe’s rationale for designed mutations is circular. Behe claims biochemical pathways are designed rather than evolved because they’re based on a “purposeful arrangement of parts.” To this, Coyne asks, “Which arrangements are those designed with a purpose? They’re simply the pathways that Behe sees as too complex to have evolved. This is a classic example of begging the question, which is assuming what you’re supposed to prove.”

That last line, in fact, would work as a concise review of Darwin Devolves.

“Holey book” (Biblical contradictions)


If one’s favored holy book contradicts itself, how is a follower to handle it? For Muslims, the verse which appears later in the Koran overrules the previous dictate. The contradiction is still there but at least there’s consistency with how to approach these discomforting occurrences.

Christians have much more complex ways of dealing with Biblical contradictions. Some deny their existence, but this requires extreme pretzel logic when there are  opposing statements as blatant as what is entertainingly detailed here. Exhaustive lists of such contradictions exist elsewhere and we won’t rehash them here. Rather, we will focus on the way the problem is handled by believers.

Christian fundamentalists tout the Bible as an immaculate work created by a flawless, all-knowing being. But it reads more like a hodgepodge product of Bronze Age Middle East nomads who took their limited knowledge of human nature and the natural world, then came up with magical explanations to fill in the sizable blanks.  

They also created Old Testament rules that were largely wiped out by Jesus. And the afterlife, which received barely a nod or description in the Torah, becomes a focal point of the New Testament, which lays out an everlasting Heaven in glorious detail. The gospels and epistles also introduced the doctrine of the Trinity, which was never referenced in the OT, and which in fact stands in sharp contrast to the overarching theme of that work – that there is one omnipotent, all-powerful, controlling god who gets riled by the notion of usurpers or contenders to his throne.  

The explanation for contradictions that I am most open to is translation errors. The Bible has been copied into many languages and each scribe has been encumbered with his own experiences, biases, and shortcomings. In fact, it would be stunning if there were no contradictions in a voluminous work patched together by dozens of writers over several hundred years. A seamless final effort could be a sign of divine authorship or at least extremely tight refinement and editing.

Now onto some other arguments I find less persuasive. Some believers have described the scriptures as a continuing revelation of God to Mankind. The deity refrained from revealing his full knowledge at the outset, but whenever he said anything, it was true. Some say this progressive revelation continues today.

That’s why Latter-Day Saints leaders keep coming up with new stuff, as do organizations ranging from upstart cults to the Catholic Church. In the 19th Century, a revelation from God to Mormon leaders decreed that marriage between races be forever forbidden. A later revelation cancelled that prohibition, and in this ever-changing system, the anti-miscegenation dictate could again be pronounced.

A major issue with the progressive revelation explanation is that it comes from persons who demand scriptural support for other positions, particularly iconoclastic ones. And there is no biblical verse which states God’s handiwork is ongoing, which suggests the Ten Commandments were a rough draft, or that scriptures were ever incomplete.

Another argument is that God delivered what folks were ready for, so people in different times and cultures would get told what they needed to hear. Again, this is not Biblical, which should matter if one is zealously defending the Bible. The likes of Ken Ham and Bryan Fischer regularly gloat that the Bible never changes, yet we see many instances of that, including verses involving key messages and doctrinal issues, such as the afterlife, how one gets there, and whether there is one form of God or three.

The most frequent answer is that Jesus is the key, but why would he be the stopping point? What negates later revelations to Mohammed, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, and many lesser-known cultists and charismatics? The next-to-last verse in the Bible, Revelation 22:19, reads, “If anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City.” Yet its placement near the end was merely the way the final product was arranged; Biblical books II Peter, Titus, and I and II Timothy were penned after this warning in Revelation.

Blogger Bob Seidensticker noted that after the Bible was complete, “there were doctrinal inventions from 21 ecumenical councils,” which took place from 325 CE to 1965. Besides this, there were “many schisms within the Christian church,” to the point of having 37 varieties of Baptist.   

If the Bible were complete and unambiguous, these later interpretations would have been unnecessary and divisions among those genuinely seeking godly knowledge would not have taken place. A perfect, unchanging text would require no adaptations, interpretation, or explanation.


“Pilot episode” (Reincarnation)


Reincarnation tales are almost always from people remembering their past lives as brave knights, Russian empresses, or trailblazing scientists. We never hear from someone reminiscing about their former experiences as a plumber, vagabond, or serial killer.

One of the more prominent tales in recent years centered on James Leininger. By the time he was 2, James had memorized the names of many airplane models and he also had recurring nightmares in which he piloted a crashing Corsair.

His precocious abilities and terrifying nighttime visions were fused by his parents to create an implausible tale that James had lived a past life as a heroic Allied fighting ace who met his demise at Iwo Jima. In fact, he had merely had a normal childhood interest and an overexcited mother and father.

The mom, Andrea, looked into other tales of past lives, while his father, Bruce, pored over narratives of World War II aerial battles. James, after much prodding, and receiving praise for giving appealing answers, learned how to give the “correct” response. All supposed evidence for his past life is, of course, anecdotal and are explained away as confirmation bias and cherry picking.

There’s no telling how many inconsistencies had to be dismissed or how many undesirable answers had to be ignored for his parents to arrive at their “conclusion,” which clearly was crafted ahead of time. They also had an accomplice, a self-described past lives therapist named Carol Bowman. The trio plugged in sizable gaps in James’ “recollections” and inferred what they wanted to from the sessions and after filtering discomfiting information. Eventually, they cobbled together a consistent narrative, which they presented as fact.

Bowman encouraged the parents to continue James’ fascination with World War II planes, and to let him know he was a reincarnated pilot. This notion hadn’t come from the toddler, who would have no idea what reincarnation, death, or rebirth were. Being a toddler fixated on airplanes, he naturally relished a fantastic tale where he played the role of a heroic pilot. And like most youngsters, he sought approval from adults in general and his parents in particular.

ABC ran a shamelessly credulous profile of the story, with the blogger Skeptico outlining the selective memory and reporting that it entailed. For example, Mrs. Leininger showed her son a toy plane and pointed out what she presumed to be a bomb. James told her it was instead a drop tank. She acted as though there was no way a child his age could know this. However, per the Pittsburgh Daily Courier, the Leiningers had visited flight museums, including ones that featured World War II aircraft with drop tanks. That he would remember this detail is much more likely due to his being a young boy obsessed with airplanes than it is because he is a reincarnated fighter pilot.

“Blue it” (Project Blue Beam)


Project Blue Beam refers to a purported plan that will use NASA technology to usher in the antichrist. This will be done in the most ostentatious manner imaginable: A worldwide, visually-stunning, thunderous announcement from the skies that an almighty entity is usurping all power. This will place all religions under one tightly-controlled umbrella and all governments will be subservient to our new overlords.

This idea was the brainchild of the late journalist Serge Monsat. Proponents allege that his heart attack death was actually an assassination to keep the plot secret. Like all good portents of certain doom, Blue Beam has a sliding timeline. First it was going to happen in 1993, then 1995, then 1996, then 2000. Similar to doomsday evangelicals like Jack Van Impe and John Hagee, Monsat cast a wide net, ensnaring disparate events and cramming then into his sinister scenario.

For, example, alleged UFO abductions are actually test-runs of devices that will simulate the Rapture. Jurassic Park was also part of the plot, as it included an implied endorsement of evolution. Indeed, the Blue Beam theory maintains a focus on high-tech and sci-fi films. Believers assert these entertainments are used to inure persons to fantastic visions and to prep them for hostile takeovers via advanced science. In fact, Blue Beam largely mirrors a shelved Gene Roddenberry work about a flying saucer which dispatches beings who pose as prophets. And like most conspiracy theories, Blue Beam takes advantage of fear of the unknown, specifically cutting-edge technology.

There are all kinds of issues with these grand accusations, such as how an image in the sky would be able to be seen by persons anywhere on Earth. There is also the sizable obstacle of convincing the most hard-core Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and atheists that there is now one true religion and all that you have thought before must now be jettisoned. This also presupposes that no one could see through this mirage or question if it were a hoax, power grab, or other fabrication.

There is no real reason to tag NASA as the perpetrator, as opposed to Rothschilds, Bilderbergers, Reptilians, the Illuminati, or Bohemian Grove members. The agency was likely picked because the ruse involves space technology, but to hopelessly understate the case, there is no evidence to tie NASA to a plot involving a religion made up for the purpose of world dominion.

This nefarious plot goes through four stages. The first focuses on the disintegration of accumulated archeological knowledge. The plan is to stage earthquakes that reveal long-lost artifacts and writings from the One True Religion. This will include explanations of how all other religions have gotten it wrong. Again, this requires getting the likes of Fred Phelps, the Ayatollah, and Hindu terrorists to all concede that their faith is, in fact, a false one.  

Stage Two is where NASA begins to earn its money (presumably a lot of it) by fabricating a spectacular show in the night sky. The viewings will be suited to the culture, with the images depicting how the dominant deity in the region is most often portrayed. It will feature 3-D holographic laser projections that can be seen by anyone anywhere. Except for the blind, I guess, although maybe there’s a more advanced stage of this theory where they are miraculously given sight. At the end of this light show, the deities merge to form a type of super-god like the one Jim Croce sang about.

Since the images are to be seen worldwide, this necessitates that enemy nations work together. This scheme also requires that countries where state and religion and inseparable, such as Saudi Arabia and Vatican City, would agree to take action meant to wipe out their faith and means of control.

Even if such a logistically overwhelming, worldwide spectacle were managed, there are still the issues of getting everyone to fall for it and of convincing them to worship this technologically-created divinity. Monsat had no issue with this premise, writing that the images would “set loose millions of programmed religious fanatics on a scale never witnessed before.”

As unlikely as Stage Two is, it at least involves modifications and improvements on existing technology. Stage Three takes Blue Beam to a more unhinged level by using extreme low frequency radio waves and somehow, magically, using them to telepathically communicate with persons and make them think the message is coming from the smorgasbord super-god.

Stage Four involves convincing the duped populace that an imminent onslaught will wipe out the planet and its inhabitants. In the ensuing mass panic, persons grow desperate enough to swear a loyalty oath to their almighty enlightened leader. This brings about the New World Order. The few resisters will be used as slaves, concubines, or medical experiment subjects.

As implausible as the whole scenario is, it is now even more unlikely to succeed since, if real, it has already been exposed.


“Unholy cow” (Science and religion)


When it comes to the conflict between science and religion, I argue that, on linguistic grounds, there is none. That’s because a conflict indicates there are two hostile parties. Yet here, the assault is unilateral. No biologists are trying to force churches to teach evolutionary science. No cosmologists are calling for equal time in Sunday School class. By contrast, some activists with a religious agenda make unceasing attempts to foist mandatory creationism and Bible study classes onto public education students.

A second reason why there is, in a strict sense, no conflict is because science and religion are concerned with separate questions. Religion concentrates on rituals, dogma, and attempts to solve moral dilemmas.

As to science, it is a process that attempts to explain the natural world and those who inhabit it by following this method: 1. Define the question; 2. Develop a hypothesis; 3. Make a prediction; 4. Test that prediction; 5. Analyze the results using proper statistics; 6. Attempt to replicate findings; 7. Submit findings for peer review; 8. Share data. The process doesn’t end there, as other scientists use the same method to further test if the conclusions are sound or mistaken.

Religion has its literal sacred cows, while there are no figurative ones in science. The field goes where the evidence leads and positions its thinking accordingly. University of Chicago biology professor emeritus Jerry Coyne writes that, “Religion adjudicates truth not empirically, but via dogma, scripture and authority – in other words, through faith, defined in Hebrews 11 as ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ In science, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue.”

One problem with relying on faith is that different religions make competing claims. Without witnessing the claims in action, without examining them, without testing them, without experimenting on them, and without utilizing the Scientific Method, it’s impossible to assess their validity.

There are up to 4,200 religions to choose from, and these are forever dividing like cells that some of those religions are probably denying the existence of. There are 37 varieties of Baptist and more than 100 offshoots of Mormonism, which itself an iconoclastic take on Christianity. Judaism ranges from the ultraorthodox, whose adherents hold dim views of gays, women, and other religions, all the way to reform denominations, which emphasize individual autonomy, pluralism, and evolved ethics, and which reject strict beliefs and practices. In between those extremes are orthodox, conservative, and liberal Jews, with each of these categories being broken down to even more specific strains.

Likewise, there are many schools of Buddhism, from saffron-robed, shaven-headed monks who believe in assorted deities and the power of prayer, to Phil Jackson’s form of Zen, which is little more than a leadership and success philosophy served with a side dish of meditation. The massive problem, then, with deciding things on faith is that one has to presuppose that their specific religious view – which they likely were instructed from preschool to adopt – is the correct one.

Yet, no religion has proven or disproven the existence of any god, goddess, demigod, angel, demon, miracle, or fulfilled prophecy. Coyne asks, “How many gods are there? What are their natures and moral creeds? Is there an afterlife? Why is there moral and physical evil? There is no one answer to any of these questions. All is mystery, for all rests on faith.”

Meanwhile, were it not for successful employment of the Scientific Method, you would not be reading this right now. Science has also yielded benefits in the form of medicine, food quality, safety, transportation, and so much more.

Still, some persons chide science for previous errors, but this is to misunderstand the scientific process. It is a means of continually questioning its findings, trying to disprove itself, with an end goal of increasing our knowledge of how things work. It is a self-correcting process. These detractors might, as one example, belittle science for once thinking that asbestos was safe. But these folks are inadvertently admitting that science works because it was through the trial-and-error method which defines the field that we came to know asbestos is dangerous.

Additionally, admitting errors and adjusting a position as justified by the evidence is admirable. That’s a much better response than being proudly stationary and unbending, and remaining incapable of being moved by any evidence, reason, or persuasion.

While some on a religious bent criticize science, they are selective in this derision, as they will latch onto a point if it seems to further their religion. Science blogger Bob Seidensticker told the story of Catholic priest and cosmologist Georges Lemaître, who suggested that the universe is expanding and formulated what became the Big Bang theory. When strong evidence for the Big Bang emerged, Pope Pius VII noted Lemaître’s Catholicism and declared the Big Bang to be affirmation of Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light.”

Lemaître responded by calling it a poor strategy for Christians to intermingle science and religion. Because to be consistent, they would also have to embrace science when it contradicted their faith. Such as what happens when one considers the geologic column in light if Genesis, which if taken literally, teaches that fully-formed animals were spoken into existence in their present form 5,000 years ago.

The Dalai Lama said if science and Buddhism collide, you have to go with the science. From the reasonable, supple positions of Lemaître and the Dalai Lama, we venture 180 degrees to find Christian apologists such as Ken Ham, William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, and Frank Turek. Cosmic background radiation and the amount of light elements provide strong evidence for the universe being 13.4 billion years old, yet even that amount of time would be insufficient for Ham to make the same concession about his religion that the Dalai Lama made with Buddhism.

Ham and the rest have zero interest in the truth and are only interested in furthering an agenda. As Seidensticker noted, “The last thing they would do is say, ‘If you show my scientific claims to be false, then I will no longer believe.”  Ham admitted as much in his debate with Bill Nye. They arrive at their conclusion first, seek out confirmatory evidence, and dismiss anything that disproves their idea.

Craig, Strobel, and Turek are not submitting work for peer review, are not increasing our understanding of the natural world, and are not collaborating on papers with biologists, astrophysicists, and chemists. Instead, they pose questions that might make for intriguing parlor games, but whose answers rely not on experiment or evidence, but on faith.

One example would be the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The gist of this logic is: 1. Whatever begins to exist had a cause; 2. The universe began to exist; 3. Therefore, the universe had a cause; 4. The god I believe in was that cause. Other instances are the fine tuning and design arguments, which assume things could only have turned out this way if given a supernatural boost. This is the begging the question fallacy and fails to satisfy even the first step in the Scientific Method. It neglects to even define the question and jumps to the conclusion that the Christian god did it.

The earliest humans invented and rationalized supernatural beings as a way of trying to explain the world around them. It provided a handy answer for wind, lightning, and natural disasters. Later, it might have been used to answer why there was disease, death, or misfortune visited on a tribe or village. As science explained more, there was less need for a deity, and gods were relegated to increasingly-shrinking gaps. Religious believers still issue challenges as to how the first living being came to be or how humans acquired a sense of right or wrong. They insist that if science has yet to find the solution, the challenger’s favored god must be squeezed into the equation. So far, however, neither magic nor the supernatural has ever proven to be the answer.

“Snakes and blathers” (DNA in ancient artwork, India anti-science)


Today, we will examine a pair of claims floated in the past year that were presented as furthering human knowledge, but which were supported with almost no evidence. One is secular, the other religious, but our concern here is not with any spirituality or lack thereof, but with the truth.

The first example comes courtesy Jordan Peterson, a somewhat eclectic and iconoclastic Canadian psychology professor. While not a religious extremist like those in the other example, Peterson maintains friendly ties with the Christian right and on the rare occasions he has spoken about atheists, has had nasty things to say. In this instance, however, his claims don’t have a religious bent. He has periodically proclaimed, with inconsistent degrees of certainty, that entangled serpents in ancient artwork depict DNA strands.

Short for deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA is a molecule that contains a person’s hereditary blueprint and decides which amino acids are embedded in certain proteins and in what order they lie. As to its shape, Skeptic blogger Emil Karlsson writes that strands in a DNA double helix run anti-parallel, or in a head-to-toe fashion. The double helix also has a major groove and a minor groove, which are formed by the DNA molecule’s backbone.

A winding staircase would more resemble DNA than entangled snakes in artwork. The suggestion that disparate ancient people had all acquired knowledge of a structure that scientists only became aware of during the nascent years of rock and roll is grandiose claim, one which Peterson fails to support with evidence beyond suggesting a similar appearance.

There are better explanations than long-lost knowledge for why ancient artists would have employed twisting snakes in intimate positions. First, snakes entwine themselves when mating, so the images may represent reproduction, creation, or childbirth. In other cases, the serpentine symbols may depict a culture’s deities. They could also represent fear, as snakes fascinate many of us in a macabre sense. Some are venomous and they have striking differences from humans, with no arms, legs, eyelids, or visible ears, and having a narrow, forked tongue. It’s easy to see why an artist would consider them to be striking subject matter.

Peterson makes the point that intertwined snakes existed in ancient art from places as far apart as China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Australia, and India. The insinuation is that the artists were drawing from a common source. Such thinking is a frequent error committed by Young Earth Creationists, ancient alien aficionados, and cryptozoologists. They think because lookalike images crop up in cultures that never intermingled, the characters existed in real life.

But this more accurately speaks to the commonality of the artistic process. Besides, the supposedly similar creatures usually don’t look that much alike. With snakes, the similarity is there, but that’s because humans know what the slithering reptiles look like, which is not the case with dragons, Yetis, and Andromedans. This leads to another strike against Peterson’s hypothesis: The ubiquity of snakes. Snakes existed in all these places, so their portrayal in artwork requires no extraordinary explanation.

Perhaps the most important point is that entangled snakes in ancient artwork have only negligible resemblance to DNA. Karlsson pointed out the substantial differences. First, the snakes do not mirror the DNA strands’ anti-parallel positioning. If the snakes were depicting DNA, they should run in opposite directions from each other, not be head-to-head. Second, the art does not include any structure resembling nucleotides, which run horizontally in DNA strands and which would connect the snakes is the artist was modeling DNA. Next, there are no structures akin to 5 carbon sugars, the part of DNA which resembles Tinker Toy assemblies. Finally, the snakes are without grooves.

Moving on to the second example, a trio of speakers this month at the Indian Science Congress made shocking claims that attribute relatively modern developments and ideas to writers of ancient Hindu scriptures and they deities they crafted.

Chemist and university vice-chancellor, Gollapalli Rao, cited an ancient Indian poem as proof that stem-cell research and test-tube babies existed in India thousands of years ago. And anyone with an in vitro fertilization appointment at that time could have flown there on one of the airplanes the country had been blessed with by Ravana, a deca-headed demon-god. Rao based this claim off his reading of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Such claims always run in one direction. A religious person might try to bolster a favorite theological text by extracting a supposedly scientific interpretation from it. By contrast, no scientist ever tries to strengthen a peer-reviewed article by pointing out its consistency to a 4,000-year-old religious tract.   

Meanwhile, paleontologist Ashu Khosla credited dinosaurs as the work of Brahma. But at least he didn’t deny the behemoths’ existence, and Rao affirmed the science behind in vitro fertilization and flight. Much worse was speaker Kannan Krishnan, who contested the theories of Einstein and Newton because of Krishnan’s interpretation of Hindu scripture.

Fortunately, this highly-creative science was limited to three persons out of hundreds of attendees. In another piece of cheering news, event organizers promised that next year they will vet the speakers. So I’m guessing we won’t be hearing from Jordan Peterson and his snakes.

“Facial miscues” (Intelligent design)


Since Intelligent Design is not testable, falsifiable, or provable, it has no place in science class. It would be OK for philosophy course, but even then the idea withers under scrutiny.  While the body has some amazing attributes, its numerous flaws speak against the notion of it having been designed by a flawless, all-knowing, all-powerful being. However, our bodies make sense when one considers the limits and misfires of evolution.

The SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, wrote that examples of a lack of design in humans would include backward retinas, tail stump remnants, and an inability to naturally produce needed vitamins and minerals.  

Most Young Earth Creationists accept what they call microevolution, or minuscule changes within a species. This might include fur becoming darker so the animal can blend into brush to escape a predator. But an intelligent designer creating flawless masterpieces should produce flora and fauna that never require any change.

However, we do change and are mostly the better for it, but it hasn’t always gone well and there have been some evolutionary errors. This is to be expected in an ongoing, imperfect cycle of random mutation and natural selection. These defects come in three types: Characteristics that developed in our distant ancestors as they fought to survive in a prehistoric world much different from the one we occupy; incomplete adaptations, such as the knee being ill-suited to our bipedal stride; and shortcomings that are constrained by evolution’s limits. For example, we have inherited structures that are inefficient but will never be re-designed through random mutation. Or as Hall put it, “No robot arm will ever be designed to imitate our nonsensical bone structure.”

And it’s not just arms that are the issue. There exists a great meme of Ken Ham calling the eye a perfect organ created by a perfect designer – said while Ham is wearing glasses. The only thing Ham and I have in common is that we use eyewear, as do one-third of Westerners and a whopping 75 percent of Asians. This would never happen with perfect design, to say nothing of those who are born blind or become so through congenital defects.  

Meanwhile, the eye’s facial neighbor, the nose, contains nasal sinuses that drain up instead of down.  Not only does this fail to take advantage of natural gravity, it leaves us move vulnerable to colds and sinus infections than other mammals, whose sinuses run the other way. Then there’s the question of why illness would exist at all in a world created by a benevolent being incapable of error.

But with evolution, this again makes sense. Biology professor Nathan Lents explains, “Evolution cares little about the individuals who will die of cancer. This is a sacrifice worth making for the diversity that comes from mutations.” Hall adds, “If a mutation causes harm late in life after the individual has reproduced, such as in Huntington’s disease, natural selection is powerless to stop it.”

Moving down to the throat, the windpipe’s positioning opens the possibility of choking to death through accidental inhalation of food. An intelligent designer would place the path to the lungs and the path to the stomach in separate compartments.

Hall wrote about another throat feature that belies intelligent design: “Our recurrent laryngeal nerve loops under the aorta, following a circuitous path that is more than three times as long as it needs to be. The error originated in fish, which don’t have necks and have a circulatory system very different from that of humans.” Again, this would never happen with intelligent design but can be seen as the result of man and fish having common ancestors.

Those are some flaws in our bodies, now consider what we have to put in it and how that also discredits ID. Unlike most animals, humans are incapable of making nutrients that our diets lack.  To maintain optimal health, we need to eat a varied diet to provide vitamins and micronutrients because we are incapable of producing them internally.  

But that eating often does us in. In the wild, one never sees a fat feline, obese ostrich, or rotund rabbit. But some humans overeat to the point of obesity and this is partly the result of the evolutionary drive to stuff ourselves in order to offset the long stretches of being unable to successfully forage or hunt. So if all this has been produced by an intelligent designer, that creator is also getting in a cruel joke at our expense.