Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Tag Archives: evolution

Astral Parasites, Chakra Balancing and Other “Occult” Nonsense

Astral bullshit

New Age woo is a convoluted mixture of eastern mysticism and pseudoscientific abuse of modern scientific research, primarily medicine and physics. This includes misunderstandings of crucial concepts such as energy, vibration, frequency as well as the flawed claim that diseases are caused by negative attitudes that attract bad things in life. This post will survey some contemporary discussions among New Age and “occult” circles on the Internet by looking at some of the topics discussed on the r/occult subreddit.

These range from being laughably absurd to being potentially hazardous for your health. It might be entertaining to read about New Age speculations about he next step in evolution, whether this or that spirit can make you more witty or people who think they are being followed by the number 13. However, it is very troubling to read about astral parasite delusions that causes self-harming, tarot cards against suicidal depression, or people wanting to find ways to protect themselves against astral rape or the negative psychic energy by the people around them.

Being infected with astral parasites?

One poster described a very disturbing situation where he or she had been dealing with several malicious astral parasites that had led to several hospitalizations and even to almost convince him or her to cut off a finger:

I have been dealing with at least 4 very intelligent, very cunning, and very manipulative astral parasites for about 2 years now. They’ve tricked me time and again into having me think they are actually here to help me and not harm me. Finally, after all this time I do realize their true nature, but I have no idea how to get rid of them at this point. I can go into much more detail about all this, but my first question is has anyone had full success in ridding themselves of these things? They’ve put me in the mental ward 4 times now, and the last episode they almost convinced me to cut off my pinky finger. You could say things are getting pretty serious. And the nightmares they give me are just absolutely horrendous. I made the mistake of trying to befriend them, to appeal to some consciousness they apparently don’t have. I’m also constantly fatigued just about every day now. Thanks for reading. All advice and any questions are very much welcome and needed.

Although it is hard to speculate and one should generally avoid making judgement of a psychiatric nature on the Internet, this may indicate some form of psychiatric condition involving delusions, such as schizophrenia. The delusions seem durable and fixed and this has been going on for multiple years with several stays at a mental ward. On the balance of the evidence, this is much more likely to be a psychiatric problem than anything involving supernatural “astral parasites”. Some comments with more information from the original poster explained that he or she was also suffering from nightmares and night-time paralysis.

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The Triumph of the Peppered Moths and the Failure of Creationism

Peppered Moths

The peppered moth, Biston betularia, is a species of nocturnal moths that can be found across the Northern hemisphere. In Britain, the two most common morphs are called typica (white with dark irregular patches and spots) and carbonaria (dark melanic). There is also an intermediate morph that is known as insularia.

Before the early 1800s, the melanic morph was unknown. About a hundred years later, this morph completely dominated the population. This coincided with the industrial pollution of forests, thereby depriving the white morph of its good camouflage and allowing the melanic morph to better hide in the surroundings, since trees had been darkened by soot and a lot of lichens died due to sulfur dioxide. This became known as industrial melanism. From the 1960s and to the present, this trend has been reversed. As the air and the environment became less polluted, the melanic morph fell in prevalence and the white morph rose again.

Research of the prevalence of different morphs at different places and times can be found in many scientific papers, such as Kettlewell (1956), Grant, Owen and Clark (1996) and Cook and Saccheri (2003).

Why are peppered moths a case of natural selection in the wild?

This is a fantastic example of natural selection in the wild, because there was a shift in the prevalence of the two forms due to selection from the environment and this occurred both during increased and decreased pollution. This has also been observed in many locations in both Europe and North America, further solidifying the case.

Later research showed that the major mechanism behind this change turned out to be bird predation. Before the pollution, white morphs had a good camouflage against light trees. During the strong pollution era, these were easier to spot by birds against the blackened background, whereas now the melanic morphs had a better ability to hide. As the environment improved, the situation was reversed again.

Creationists try to spread misinformation about these mechanistic details and how frequent these moths rests on different parts of the trees, but whatever they claim, their assertions do not disprove the fundamental fact that natural selection caused the shift in the prevalence of different morphs over time.

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In Defense of Paranormal Debunking – Part VI: Aliens and Creationism

Note: This is the sixth and final installment of an article series refuting claims made by the online book “Debunking PseudoSkeptical Arguments of Paranormal Debunkers” written by Winston Wu. For all posts in this series, see the index post here.

Winston Wu

Previously, we have examined the many problems in the thirty-part online text “Debunking PseudoSkeptical Arguments of Paranormal Debunkers” by Winston Wu. Concepts that have been explored are deceptive methods used by alleged psychics, flawed experiments that purport to show evidence of paranormal abilities, the statistical ignorance of a belief in prophetic dreams, the problems with alternative medicine and the skeptical relevance of principles such as Occam’s Razor and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

In this sixth and final installment, we will take a closer look at the purported evidence for aliens and UFOs, common creationist misunderstandings of evolution as well as Wu’s claims about The James Randi Million Dollar Challenge.

Misunderstood principle #26: Innateness

Wu starts by misrepresenting the mainstream scientific position on why people have paranormal beliefs. Instead of discussing the myriad of different contributing factors that actual research has uncovered, he merely presents a single one (“Paranormal beliefs are childish fantasies for dealing with a cold uncaring world.”) and does a poor job at explaining the idea. Wu completely ignores research on cultural, social and cognitive psychology.

His major argument in this section is that the deity of Christianity must be true because he thinks a belief in such a deity is innate. But there are hundreds of beliefs that are innate (operationalized as being often held by children) and completely wrong, such as intuition-based physics about astronomy, magnetism, vision, weather, measurement, space and so on:

– Stars and constellations appear in the same place in the sky every night.
– The sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west every day.
– The sun is always directly south at 12:00 noon.
– The tip of a shadow always moves along an east-west line.
– We experience seasons because of the earth’s changing distance from the sun (closer in the summer, farther in the winter).
– The earth is the center of the solar system. (The planets, sun and moon revolve around the earth.)
– The moon can only be seen during the night.

[…]

– The only “natural” motion is for an object to be at rest.
– If an object is at rest, no forces are acting on the object.
– A rigid solid cannot be compressed or stretched.
– Only animate objects can exert a force. Thus, if an object is at rest on a table, no forces are acting upon it.
– Force is a property of an object. An object has force and when it runs out of force it stops moving.
– The motion of an object is always in the direction of the net force applied to the object.

etc.

These are obviously not true simply because children hold them as “innate beliefs”.

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You Know You Are a Pseudoscientific Crank If…

crank

Are you sick of always failing to convince us scientific skeptics that GM crops kill people, that homeopathy cures cancer or that climate change is a socialist myth? Do you feel frustrated by being asked to provide peer-reviewed scientific papers to support your position? If this matches your experience and you still do not know why, see how many of the following statements match your behavior to see if you qualify as a pseudoscientific crank.

You denigrate the knowledge of scientific experts, but compare yourself with Galileo and Einstein.

Just because you are criticized by knowledgeable people who provide scientific evidence to back up their arguments does not mean that you are an oppressed genius. Sometimes, you are just a rebel trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. In the end, the flawed notion that criticism means that you are actually right is a pathetic defense mechanism to avoid responding to objections or backing up your claims with evidence.

You are not Galileo or Einstein. They convinced their peers with evidence. You have no evidence whatsoever.

You claim mainstream medical treatments are unsafe and ineffective, while promoting quack treatments that are dangerous and untested.

There is a lot of hate towards modern medicine by proponents of quack treatments. This may be based on envy from quacks who never got into or failed medical school or because of postmodern belief that everyone is an expert. This is yet another example of confirmation bias and selective thinking.

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Khalid Elmekki and “Questioning Evolution” Redux

Questioning evolution

It is fascinating how creationists, despite having had their errors explained to them in exquisite detail, continue to insist that their trivial misunderstandings of biology threatens to undermine evolution. If they were really interested in learning more about the world that science shows us, a simple Google search would reveal their errors. Instead, they prefer to wallow in their own ignorance.

One such example is Khalid Elmekki. Elmekki and his false claims about evolution has been refuted previously on this website after he make a video where he tried to lay out some of the reasons for why he rejected evolutionary biology. He later removed the video, presumably because of the backlash to some of the more embarrassing statements he made. Elmekki has also a number of other questionable videos on his Youtube channel where he claims that the U.S is a communist regime and promotes Illuminati conspiracy theories and so on.

Recently, Elmekki put up a re-make video were he attempts to discuss some of the “problems” that he sees with modern evolutionary. Elmekki has stopped using some of the most ludicrous arguments that could be seen in his previous video on the subject. He no longer states that he rejects evolution because it feels disgusting. He has also left out a lot of the material about phylogeny and systematics, such as the claim that birds evolved from pterodactyls. Unfortunately, a lot of creationist claims remain: such as the “if we evolved from apes…” and the feeble attempt to connect Charles Darwin to racism and ethnic cleansing. Despite denying that he is a creationist, Elmekki also throws in a couple of classic creationist falsehoods that he did not talk about before such as the equivocation of the theory concept and the denial of scientific evidence. Interestingly, he even produces some home-made arguments, such as claiming that cicadas are almost extinct because they have a long life-cycle and that humans and other apes cannot share a common ancestor because there are no non-human apes listed in human genealogies. For what it is worth, at least Elmekki tries to be original. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Creationism, Scientific Theories and Entropy

Feedback email

Time to respond to yet another reader feedback email! If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page. For more answers to feedback emails, see the mailbag category.

This time, I got a feedback message from Joe who seems to have some issues with modern evolutionary biology. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the problems Joe sees with this scientific discipline is based on the same old creationist misunderstandings that have been discussed and destroyed thousands of times before: the equivocation of the term “theory”, flawed ideas about entropy and evolution, misunderstandings of taxonomy and the impact of culture on intelligence. Read more of this post

Howard Bloom and Entropy

Note: The following treatment of the second law of thermodynamics makes a number of simplifications for clarity. In reality, entropy is not completely equivalent to “disorder” (in certain situations, such as liquid crystals in e. g. computer screens, entropy is relatively high but the “disorder” is relatively low) and the second law of thermodynamics is a statistical description of how particles behave.

Howard Bloom and Entropy

Howard Bloom is a well-known publicist, having worked for Michael Jackson, Kiss, Lionel Richie, Bette Midler and many others. He is also an author and has written several books, including The Lucifer Principle and The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates and has had articles published in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the Washington post.

Since the middle of 2010, Bloom has been featured on the Youtube channel of The Amazing Atheist, such as episodes of Howard The Humongous. He has also created his own Youtube channel. Recently, Bloom was featured in a video entitled “Entropy is Wrong” explaining his views on entropy, stating that he rejects the second law of thermodynamics as applied to the big picture of the universe. Needless to say, this was a very controversial stance, leading to a lot of backlash. Read more of this post

The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part IV: DNA

Note: This is the fourth installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This time, we take a closer look at her wacky ideas about DNA. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.

Bliss and DNA

So far, Stasia Bliss has failed spectacularly in understanding the scientific background to cystic fibrosis, genetically engineered foods and the sun and the moon. Among her most absurd claims so far is the flawed notion individuals with cystic fibrosis have themselves to blame because they allegedly eat too much acidic foods and have too much negative foods, that microRNAs in genetically modified foods are dangerous despite the fact that these same microRNAs exist in conventionally bred plants as well and that staring into the sun for extended periods of time heals your eyes as well as gives you supernatural powers such as telepathy, astral projection and unaided human flight.

In this installment, we will be refuting the assertions made in her post about DNA. Contrary to the beliefs of Bliss, DNA is more like a recipe than a blueprint, a DNA double helix consists of two strands and not twelve, gene transcription do not transform you to a silica-based or a crystalline life-form, there are four space-time dimensions and not three, epigenetics is not the same as “activating non-coding DNA”, epigenetics is unrelated to traumatic growth and gene transcription does not give you psychic abilities. Read more of this post

Questioning Evolution…by Spouting the Same Old Creationist Canards

I am frequently amazed at individuals who sincerely put forward what they consider strong “arguments” in favor of a particular form of pseudoscience when these assertions have already been debunked and destroyed thousands and thousands of times. I often wonder if these people have even bothered to perform a simple Internet search to see if those arguments have been rebutted before. After all, there are many websites on, for instance, evolution that efficiently refutes creationist arguments (such as Index to Creationist Claims). Then again, if they used the Internet for gathering credible scientific information, they might decide against making such arguments.

The Youtube user Khalid Elmekki recently uploaded an anti-evolution video entitled Questioning Evolution. In it, he put forwards some classic creationist assertions that lack any evidential or rational support whatsoever. Let us take them apart, one by one.

Evolution is not a belief

Throughout the video, Elmekki insinuates that evolution is a belief system. On the contrary, evolution is a well-supported scientific explanation for the observed diversity of life, backed up by tons and tons of evidence. One can read about some of this evidence in the National Academy of Sciences publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism or in the online book 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent by Douglas Theobald. Even the Wikipedia article on the evidence for common descent gives a good introduction to the topic.

Saying you “believe” in evolution is just as silly as saying that you “believe” in gravity. Evolution, gravity or any other scientific model is not something you believe in, it is something you accept based on the evidence.

Creationists use the term “Darwinism” as a rhetorical tool

Originally, the phrase “Darwinism” use to refer to the Darwin’s models for evolutionary biology, predating the New Synthesis. This was done to distinguish it from other forms of biological change over time, such as Lamarckism and Mutationalism, and from religious doctrines for the origin of different kinds of species such as creationism.

Today, creationists use the term “Darwinism” to make it look like modern evolutionary biology is an ideology (-ism) and not science, and to suggest that “Darwinism” and creationism are two different -isms on the same level. In reality, modern evolutionary biology is a well-supported scientific explanation, whereas creationism is pseudoscience that does not accurately describe reality. Read more of this post

The Uninformed Creationist Assault on Bill Nye

Bill Nye

Big Think is “a knowledge forum featuring the ideas, lessons, stories and advice of leading experts from around the world”. They often post videos with scientists such as Stephen Pinker and Neil deGrasse Tyson, talking about various issues. A video was posted on the Big Think Youtube channel featuring Bill Nye, a scientist and a popular science educator. The video topic is creationism and how it is inappropriate for children. As far as I can tell, most of the things that Bill Nye said was completely rational and evidence-based. However, among young-earth creationists, this sparked vitriolic attacks, culminating in the production of not just one, but two video responses. One of them was from Dr. David Menton and Dr. Georgia Purdom at the Creation Museum. According to the video, both have PhDs in life science. The second video response is from Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum.

This post will outline the statements made by Bill Nye, the rebuttals by the young-earth creationists and why they fail.

What arguments did Bill Nye make?

More specifically, the arguments and points made by Bill Nye are the following:

  1. Denial of evolution is unique to the United States, as it is one of the most technologically advanced nations with a lot of intellectual capital in the form of the general understanding of science.
  2. Evolutionary biology is the grand unified explanation of biology much in the same way that plate tectonics is the grand unified explanation for geology.
  3. The worldview of creationists is “fantastically complicated” and “untenable”.
  4. If you want to rejection evolution, that is fine. But do not indoctrinate your children into creationism as the future needs scientifically literate individuals (e. g. “voters”, “taxpayers”, “engineers”).
  5. There is no evidence for creationism.

As far as I could tell, these were the substantive points made in Bill Nye’s video.

Were Bill Nye’s arguments reasonable?

Evolution is the grand unified explanation of life science and creationism does not reasonably explain a lot of the observations we see around us, such as distant starts or nested hierarchies, at least not without a credulous flood of ad hoc assertions. There is no evidence in favor of creationism and it seems reasonable to suppose that scientific literacy matters for the direction of a society. So far so good.

The only statement that I found to be debatable was the first. I can think of two possible interpretations: (1) creationism is unique to the U. S. in the sense that it is not widespread outside of the country or (2) U. S. is unique in being a technologically advanced society at the same time that a large proportion of the population are creationists. The first interpretation is wrong. Creationism is quite prevalent in the Middle East and creationist have a noticeable presence in other geographical areas as well, such as Australia, Great Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Turkey (Numbers, 2006; Numbers, 2009). The second interpretation is more reasonable. The graph Nye is probably thinking of is the one from Miller et. al. (2006) that depicts the acceptance of evolution in 34 countries, where the U. S. finishes at the bottom of the list, just above Turkey. In this sense, the U. S. stands out: despite its technological level, it has a very low acceptance of evolution. It is not entirely clear which of the two interpretations that is closest to what Bill Nye said or meant (others like Gould and Lewontin has made the claim in the first interpretation), but one could charitably assume that it was the second.

So in summary, the claims made by Bill Nye hold up pretty well.

The creationist retorts and their flaws

The two videos made by the creationists at the Creation Museum can be found here and here. In rough order, the arguments made by the creationists are as follows:

1. The first argument is an attack on the first interpretation of the uniqueness of creationism argument. It can be countered by noting that the second interpretation is probably closer to what Bill Nye meant, and so the creationist argument is really a straw man.

2. The second argument is a standard false balance argument: children should be taught both evolution and creationism. This can be rejected by noting that it is unfair to teach scientific falsehoods as if they were evidence-based facts. As Glenn Branch explains in Scott and Branch (2006, p. 135):

The power of the appeal to fairness is so strong that it is wisest to reply in kind: there is nothing fair about the creationist ambition for public education. It is not fair to citizens of a republic in which a basic constitutional principle is the government’s religious neutrality. It is not fair to tax payers , who run the risk of footing the legal bills due to lawsuit over actions that compromise the teaching of evolution. It is not fair to teachers, who have a professional duty to teach in accordance with the scientific consensus. Most important, it is not fair to the students, whose scientific literacy is on the line.

3. The third assertion is the classic “there are no mechanisms to gain genetic information” to become more complex over time. This astoundingly erroneous assertion was delivered by Dr. Purdom, PhD in molecular genetics. Gene duplication with subsequent adaptive divergence fulfills any potentially relevant definition of “genetic information” in biology. Read more of this post

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