Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Theologian's Nightmare

"The eminent theologian Dr. Thaddeus dreamt that he died and pursued
his course toward heaven. His studies had prepared him and he had no difficulty
in finding the way. He knocked at the door of heaven, and was met with
a closer scrutiny than he expected. "I ask admission," he said,
"because I was a good man and devoted my life to the glory of God."
"Man?" said the janitor, "What is that? And how could such
a funny creature as you do anything to promote the glory of God?"
Dr. Thaddeus was astonished. "You surely cannot be ignorant of man.
You must be aware that man is the supreme work of the Creator." "As
to that," said the janitor, "I am sorry to hurt your feelings,
but what you're saying is news to me. I doubt if anybody up here has ever
heard of this thing you call 'man.' However, since you seem distressed,
you shall have a chance of consulting our librarian."

The librarian, a globular being with a thousand eyes and one mouth,
bent some of his eyes upon Dr. Thaddeus. "What is this?" he asked
the janitor. "This," replied the janitor, "says that it
is a member of a species called 'man,' which lives in a place called 'Earth.'
It has some odd notion that the Creator takes a special interest in this
place and this species. I thought perhaps you could enlighten it."
"Well," said the librarian kindly to the theologian, "perhaps
you can tall me where this place is that you call 'Earth.'" "Oh,"
said the theologian, "it's part of the Solar System." "And
what is the Solar System?" asked the librarian. "Oh," said
the theologian, somewhat disconcerted, "my province was Sacred Knowledge,
but the question that you are asking belongs to profane knowledge. However,
I have learnt enough from my astronomical friends to be able to tell you
that the Solar System is part of the Milky Way." "And what is
the Milky Way?" asked the librarian. "Oh, the Milky Way is one
of the Galaxies, of which, I am told, there are some hundred million."
"Well, well," said the librarian, "you could hardly expect
me to remember one out of so many. But I do remember to have heard the
word galaxy' before. In fact, I believe that one of our sub-librarians
specializes in galaxies. Let us send for him and see whether he can help."

After no very long time, the galactic sub-librarian made his appearance.
In shape, he was a dodecahedron. It was clear that at one time his surface
had been bright, but the dust of the shelves had rendered him dim and opaque.
The librarian explained to him that Dr. Thaddeus, in endeavoring to account
for his origin, had mentioned galaxies, and it was hoped that information
could be obtained from the galactic section of the library. "Well,"
said the sub-librarian, "I suppose it might become possible in time,
but as there are a hundred million galaxies, and each has a volume to itself,
it takes some time to find any particular volume. Which is it that this
odd molecule desires?" "It is the one called 'The Milky Way,'"
Dr. Thaddeus falteringly replied. "All right," said the sub-
librarian, "I will find it if I can."

Some three weeks later, he returned, explaining that the extraordinarily
efficient card index in the galactic section of the library had enabled
him to locate the galaxy as number QX 321,762. "We have employed,"
he said, "all the five thousand clerks in the galactic section on
this search. Perhaps you would like to see the clerk who is specially concerned
with the galaxy in question?" The clerk was sent for and turned out
to be an octahedron with an eye in each face and a mouth in one of them.
He was surprised and dazed to find himself in such a glittering region,
away from the shadowy limbo of his shelves. Pulling himself together, he
asked, rather shyly, "What is it you wish to know about my galaxy?"
Dr. Thaddeus spoke up: "What I want is to know about the Solar System,
a collection of heavenly bodies revolving about one of the stars in your
galaxy. The star about which they revolve is called 'the Sun.'" "Humph,"
said the librarian of the Milky Way, "it was hard enough to hit upon
the right galaxy, but to hit upon the right star in the galaxy is far more
difficult. I know that there are about three hundred billion stars in the
galaxy, but I have no knowledge, myself, that would distinguish one of
them from another. I believe, however, that at one time a list of the whole
three hundred billion was demanded by the Administration and that it is
still stored in the basement. If you think it worth while, I will engage
special labor from the Other Place to search for this particular star."

It was agreed that, since the question had arisen and since Dr. Thaddeus
was evidently suffering some distress, this might be the wisest course.

Several years later, a very weary and dispirited tetrahedron presented
himself before the galactic sub-librarian. "I have," he said,
"at last discovered the particular star concerning which inquiries
have been made, but I am quite at a loss to imagine why it has aroused
any special interest. It closely resembles a great many other stars in
the same galaxy. It is of average size and temperature, and is surrounded
by very much smaller bodies called 'planets.' After minute investigation,
I discovered that some, at least, of these planets have parasites, and
I think that this thing which has been making inquiries must be one of

At this point, Dr. Thaddeus burst out in a passionate and indignant
lament: "Why, oh why, did the Creator conceal from us poor inhabitants
of Earth that it was not we who prompted Him to create the Heavens? Throughout
my long life, I have served Him diligently, believing that He would notice
my service and reward me with Eternal Bliss. And now, it seems that He
was not even aware that I existed. You tell me that I am an infinitesimal
animalcule on a tiny body revolving round an insignificant member of a
collection of three hundred billion stars, which is only one of many millions
of such collections. I cannot bear it, and can no longer adore my Creator."
"Very well," said the janitor, "then you can go to the Other

Here the theologian awoke. "The power of Satan over our sleeping
imagination is terrifying," he muttered."

This just never fails to boggle my mind. Can one be rationally justified in believing that we have a special place in this universe after knowing our little place in it? A question I find interesting that was posed by Christopher Hitchens:
"Would we have adopted monotheism in the first place if we had known:

That our species is at most 200,000 years old, and very nearly joined
the 98.9 percent of all other species on our planet by becoming
extinct, in Africa, 60,000 years ago, when our numbers seemingly fell
below 2,000 before we embarked on our true "exodus" from the savannah?

That the universe, originally discovered by Edwin Hubble to be
expanding away from itself in a flash of red light, is now known to be
expanding away from itself even more rapidly, so that soon even the evidence of the original "big bang" will be unobservable?

That the Andromeda galaxy is on a direct collision course with our own,
the ominous but beautiful premonition of which can already be seen with
a naked eye in the night sky?"

I personally find it unlikely. What do you think?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Is the universe as we know it a hologram?

A recent modification to the hypothesis that the universe is a hologram (holographic principle) yielded some testable hypotheses. These predictions came true and may be evidence for a holographic universe. Essentially, if the universe is a projected hologram, we should be able to measure the blurriness of it.

Read more here,

And Here, because I can't explain it as well as actual scientists can...

Thank you string theorists for contorting my brain.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some scientific stuff

Scientists create 5mm doll out of living cells
Japanese scientists experiment with organ fabrication as well as building complex systems that operate as a living organism.

Great overview of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
If it worked - why is it called 'complimentary' or 'alternative'?



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On Ouija Boards...

Some testimonies from Amazon:

"First off, a Ouija board is not a toy! I have not really used one seriously since around 1989. I can tell you that several absolutely unexplainable things happened of which I will not go into too much detail in this particular forum. While all of the things that happened were freaky, one in particular involved driving to a location that the board spelled out for myself and my girlfriend (at the time). We didn't know if the address actually existed but thought we'd go there since it wasn't too far away if it really did exist (this was before the days of the Internet when I could have looked it up on Yahoo or Mapquest). When we got there, we could not believe that the address was real, but neither of us was willing to get out of the car and knock on the door (looking back, I almost wish we had). When we got back to her place, the first thing the board spelled out was, "I saw you outside my window." This is not a joke. This happened and it is one of several incidents. My girlfriend got scared and didn't want to play anymore and I've not really touched the board since. I can't explain the things that happened. I only know that several unexplainable things occurred and that I am telling the truth. The unknown is fun and exciting, but it can also be scary and dangerous! Play at your own risk!"

"The talking board is only a tool- neither good nor evil. However, it is a tool far different from divination aids such as the tarot, runes, or the various I Ching methods. With all talking boards you are openly inviting the influence of disembodied entities. Be very careful what you are opening the door to. I wouldn't even consider using it without deep and sincere prayers for protection. Low-level spirits can only influence those who are "vibrating" on the same low level. Examine your motives and your maturity before you experiment here."


Like millions of people around the world, I was raised in a Christian household where topics such as Ouija boards, Ghost Hunting, Divination, etc. were all seen as taboo, and as "the devil's work". I've heard thousands of stories like the above, and, sometimes I genuinely believed them. I always loved watching TV shows like "ghost hunters", "the paranormal", "America's most haunted", and a million others. Usually these shows are nice enough to provide a Skeptic's opinion on the topics, though they usually give him 10 seconds of air time. I personally used to hate skeptics, I always saw them to be anti-fun arrogant smart asses who thought they knew everything and wanted to take away from the mysteries of life and the thrill one felt when thinking about the supernatural. But, alas, I've grown up a little, and today I look up to these men, who seem to be few and far between, skeptics such as Michael Shermer, James Randi and a slew of others take on these taboo topics head-on armed tooth and nail with the weight of science.
So, what do the skeptics have to say about these Ouija boards? Well...pretty much that its nonsense.

People think that it is the supernatural that is behind the movement of the plank, but it is the user, either consciously or unconsciously who is the one that moves it. Simple little experiments have showed this, for example, try to have someone blindfolded while using the board, while a bystander who isn't blindfolded takes notes on what words or letters are selected, usually the results are completely unintelligible.
Another one is to try blindfold the users and flip the board upside down without their knowledge, and again, it spells absolute nonsense. One has to wonder why any spirit of demon would be fooled by this little trick.

"The movement of the planchette is not due to spirits but to unconscious movements by those controlling the pointer. The same kind of unconscious movement is at work in such things as dowsing and facilitated communication"

This is what's known as the ideomotor effect: "a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously. As in reflexive responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action. For instance, tears are produced by the body unconsciously in reaction to the emotion of sadness."

Religious folk and me are in agreement that kids should stay away from these boards, but for very different reasons. To the Christian, using these boards is dabbling into the occult, it is a rebellion against God in the sense that you are consulting 'unclean spirits' for knowledge or wisdom that one should only ask from God. At least that was what I was always told. I on the other hand, think kids should be taught to stay away from these things because they encourage superstitious thinking. Kids should get better hobbies than wasting their money on these wooden pieces of junk and attributing any minor muscle movement to the supernatural.

It is possible that part of the appeal of these things is that they provide comfort and hope to those who have lost loved ones in their past, it fills them with the hope that they'll be able to contact their lost relatives again, and as with everything in the world today, there will always be an entrepreneur just waiting to capitalize on this grief, and that's what psychics and game companies like these do.

Here's an interesting excerpt:

"Although Ouija boards are usually sold in the novelty or game section of stores, many people swear that there is something occult about them. For example, Susy Smith in Confessions of a Psychic (1971) claims that using a Ouija board caused her to become mentally disturbed. In Thirty Years Among the Dead (1924), American psychiatrist Dr. Carl Wickland claims that using the Ouija board "resulted in such wild insanity that commitment to asylums was necessitated." Is this what happens when amateurs try to dabble in the occult? Maybe, if they are suggestible, not very skeptical, and a bit disturbed to begin with. However, even very intelligent people who have not gone insane are impressed by Ouija board sessions. They find it difficult to explain the "communication" as the ideomotor effect reflecting unconscious thoughts. One reason they find such an explanation difficult to accept is that the "communications" are sometimes very vile and unpleasant. It is more psychologically pleasing to attribute vile pronouncements to evil spirits than to admit that one among you is harboring vile thoughts. Also, some of the "communications" express fears rather than wishes, such as the fear of death, and such notions can have a very visible and significant effect on some people.

Observing powerful messages and the powerful effect of messages on impressionable people can be impressive. Yet, as experiences with facilitated communication have shown, decent people often harbor indecent thoughts of which they are unaware. And the fact that a person takes a "communication" seriously enough to have it significantly interfere with the enjoyment of life might be a sufficient reason for avoiding the Ouija board as being more than a "harmless bit of entertainment," but it is hardly a sufficient reason for concluding that the messages issue from anything but our own minds"

Oh yes, and here's something my skeptic friends will appreciate, its the James Randi board!

"If there really is an afterlife, I'll bet the best way to contact it is through a plastic, mass-produced board game from Milton Bradley!"--Mad Magazine

Here's a very simple experiment by Penn & Teller. Pay special a attention to the rationalizations made as to why it doesn't work when one is blindfolded.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Interesting News

Here are some interesting and strange things I found from over the weekend - enjoy.

Feel free to comment on any of these.

  • Any Favorites?

Man accused of running Ponzi scheme in Catholic newspapers
More schemes and scandals. The man took advantage of the trust people had in their clergy and church to rip them off.

Atheist's protest silences Lord's Prayer in N.J. town council
Separation of church and state stuff - a small victory for secular folk.

Man refuses to drive 'No God' bus
This guy doesn't approve.

New light on Mars methane mystery
More on the recent proposal that large pockets of methane gas on Mars could mean there is something living. Living in the sense of something biological, like microorganisms.

Somali executed for 'apostasy'
This is pretty horrible.

Bendy gadget future for graphene

Awesome technology advancement (thank science!)

Young girls married to frogs for disease prevention

5 World Leaders Who Were Accused of Being the Antichrist (LOL)

Leamington man loses $150,000 in Nigerian scam (sad)
Incredibly sad - we were just talking about this at one of our meetings.

Prejudice study finds gay is the new black

Worst Diet Fads

Top 10: Widely Believed Myths
Some of these I have never heard. Did you believe any of these?

America Must Improve Scientific Understanding
So true.

Stem cell treatment could fight Aids


Neil deGrasse Tyson: Europa's Ocean May Support Life
Neil deGrasse Tyson was the keynote speaker at The Amaz!ng Meeting last year (the one we're going to this year) - and is a phenomonal voice for science and reason. This is a video of a speech he gave about Europa's potential for life.

Glimpse before Big Bang may be possible
The "glimpse" the title refers to is a little misleading. Its not an actual glimpse per se, its more of an inductive theory that allows us to extrapolate what happened via the current data and theory we have about the origins and early stages of the universe. Very cool nonetheless.

Kids find a new way to adjust: Chiropractors (frightening)
This is pretty scary stuff. There is not much to be found in chriopracy - and this is evident within this article alone where they refer to is as 'Alternative and Complimentary Medicine.' This is one of the best marketing ploys put forth by woo doctors - but phrase is completely void of positivity. Medicine is medicine - if there is something that is shown to work time and time again - it gets included. If it not, then it is cast out. The problem is, some cling on to it and put it under the CAM umbrella and dodge clinical trials, proper research, peer review, and the FDA.

The State of the STD (gross)
Gross, but interesting.

This wasn't in the email - but one last link that I had to share with you came from a friend of mine. Although it is not an accurate analogy for natural selection (I just want to clear that up now) - its really funny (although it relies on a misconception)

eugenics of M&M's



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Meet our new Advisor, Dr. Scott Moody

Dr. Scott Moody from the biology department here at OU recently signed on as our group's adviser. As a fellow skeptic he was glad to see a student organization committed to critical thinking and scientific inquiry. I've posted his teaching philosophy below, in order to give you an idea of what he's all about:

Scott M. Moody – Brief comments on my teaching philosophy

“My Mom takes me to church every Sunday; my Dad gives me all the science books he can. Personally, I don’t know what to think.”

This is a quote from 15 year old Jeremy Hurst of Lebec, California, January 2006. His father is suing the school board of his high school for offering a course on creationism although they called it “philosophy of design.” And what is wrong with his statement philosophically? Actually, he should have concluded: “I don’t know how to think.”

I teach two general education courses here at Ohio University as well as several major-only courses:
BIOS 103 Human Biology I which is a Tier II natural science class
T3 420d Biology thru Biography which is a capstone Tier III synthesis class
BIOS 364 Forensic Biology primarily for majors in the Forensic Chemistry Program

The primary goal of my teaching is to help students develop their critical thinking and analytical skills. Hopefully, I am able to show them how to recognize and correct logical fallacies when evaluating ideas, hypotheses, theories and models presented in textbooks, lectures, documentary films, newspapers and magazines, discussions with other students and faculty, and so forth.

I really enjoy having contact both with mostly incoming freshmen in the first course and then later with the soon to graduate seniors in the second course. Personally, I would love to be able to teach all freshmen to help them with the transition from high school (which in most regards doesn’t prepare students for independent learning) to college. I would also love to have all of them again four years later in a senior capstone course emphasizing synthesis such as my T3 course.

Unfortunately the nature of secondary high school education leads to the failure to educate students on “how to think” but instead focuses on spoon-feeding content to memorize and regurgitate as “what to think.” In addition, many students simply are afraid to think for themselves and are not rising to the challenge when in college to learn how to think critically and to understand the process of science which is a way of learning. Perhaps what George Orwell wrote in his thought-provoking book 1984 about the social programming of the masses is now becoming true in the USA:

"War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength."

A good college education and indeed the philosophy of a “liberal education” as originally intended by the academic professors who taught at the great universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Heidelberg, Crakow, Prague, Florence, Bologna, Amsterdam, Vienna, etc., during the latter part of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, is designed to challenge beliefs, ideas, hypotheses and theories, in all disciplines: philosophy, economics, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, etc.

"Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. "
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The questions of scientific hypotheses and theories must be based on:

1. Logical inquiry following the rules and definition of scientific reasoning, which are:

a. Guided by observation and study of natural phenomena, living and non-living
b. Explanatory, logical and bounded by natural laws, not supernatural hocus pocus
c. Empirically measurable & testable through observations and experiments
d. Tentative, never fully proven, as hypotheses and theories
d. Falsifiable as explanatory hypotheses and theories if data doesn’t fit the model

2. Factual information and evidence, not beliefs based on anecdotes, lies, distortions, wishful and whimsical thinking, misinformation, bias, prejudice, hatred, mythology, etc.

Statement made by Dr. Barbara Snyder, executive vice president and provost, on the introduction of Senate Bill 24 (so-called academic bill of rights) in 2004 in the Ohio General Assembly: "Universities adhere to fundamental values of academic freedom and open inquiry so that students learn to become independent thinkers. To that end, we support and encourage wide-ranging and robust explorations of the universe of ideas. The Ohio State University has long been committed to principles of academic freedom and responsibility in carrying out our missions. Further steps by the General Assembly to codify academic freedom, such as those outlined in proposed S.B. 24, are unnecessary. Such a move also calls into question the professionalism and integrity of academics who have devoted their lives to teaching and to the principles of free expression and the open exchange of ideas."

The following quotations hopefully guide my teaching:

“Those who think they know what in fact they do not are not wise at all.” Socrates, Greek Philosopher

“Most of our so-called reasoning consists of finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.” James H. Robinson, historian

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questioning.” Antony Jay, philosopher

"The only difference between a problem and a solution is that people understand the solution."
Charles K. Kettering (1876-1958) American Engineer, Inventor

“What we observe is not nature itself, but merely nature exposed to our method of questioning” Werner Heisenberg, physicist, early 20th century

"In the fields of observation chance favors only those minds which are prepared."
Louis Pasteur, chemist and biologist, France 19th century

“Theory dictates how we should interpret observations” (NB, this is a sarcastic tongue-in-cheek statement) Albert Einstein, 20th century theoretical physicist

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." William Arthur Ward, author, editor, pastor, teacher

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
Confucius (551-479BC) Chinese Ethical Teacher, Philosopher

“Read not to contradict and confute, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.” Sir Francis Bacon, English Renaissance Scientist

“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” President of the USA: Thomas Jefferson, Scientist, Architect, etc.


Feb. 12th is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, as well as the 150th aniversary of his book 'Origin of Species.'

So, in light of this, there are 'Darwin Day' events going on all over the world, and fortunately for us, we have a few things going on in Athens. Also:

Darwin Bicentennial Seminars at Ohio University



Dr. Nina Jablonski will present “Darwin’s birthday suit: the evolution of human skin and skin color” featuring biological and cultural aspects of human skin - a highly visible and excellent example of evolution by natural selection acting on the human lineage.
Dr. Jablonski is internationally known for her work on primate biology, culture and language and is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University.
Celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday on February 12th at NOON in Baker Center Ballroom.

****A Book signing/ meet & greet will follow in the Trisolini Gallery in
Baker Center
****A Social for Darwin’s 200th Birthday will be held at the Dairy Barn
from 5- 7 on the 12th – all are welcome.

THE 2009 OCEES KITZMILLER LECTURE honoring the people who established that intelligent design is creationism.

Dr. Kevin Padian will present “Darwin, Dover and intelligent design” featuring his experiences with the Kitzmiller vs. Dover court case.
Dr. Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology and Curator in the University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley.

The Kitzmiller lecture will be on April 6th, 2009, at 4:10 pm in Baker Center Ballroom.

See for info

I'll see you there,


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Public Education Ethical Dilemma

Columbus Dispatch Editorial: Teaching moment

Mount Vernon school district learning the hard way to nip problems in the

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Supporters of fired Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater are
right about one thing: It's a shame the school district has spent $200,000
to date to defend the firing.

Since the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education voted in June to
fire Freshwater, the district has racked up legal expenses. The appeal
hearing, to which Freshwater is entitled by state law, began in October and
has been delayed two months by attorneys' scheduling issues.

This is an expensive lesson.

The unfortunate experience should be a cautionary lesson to other school
districts dealing with teachers whose personal beliefs get in the way of
their responsibility to educate: Don't look the other way for years, even
if the teacher is well-liked and personable. The mistake was not in firing
Freshwater but in waiting so long to do it.

Freshwater, who was hired to teach science, lost his job because an
independent report concluded that he pushed his Christian beliefs onto
students in his classroom and that he used an electrical device to burn
marks onto students' arms.

Though Freshwater says the marks were meant to be Xs, branded students say
they were to represent crosses.

The complaint of the "branding," brought by one student's parents, was
shocking, but it wasn't new to school officials; neither were the
complaints about Freshwater's religious comments nor, most important, that
he used a science classroom to promote nonscientific, religiously based
ideas of creation.

The controversy gained notoriety last spring, when Freshwater defied orders
to remove a Bible from his desk and other religious items from his
classroom. His popularity throughout the case has been evident. Some
parents and students have denied that he pushed his religion on anyone;
others have said that, even if he did, he was representing the beliefs of
most people in the school district.

Even if that's true, it doesn't excuse Freshwater's actions. All
public-school students are entitled to education free of religious
indoctrination, yet he told students that homosexuality is a sin and
declared that some non-Christian religions are false. He told his students
that the law required him to teach the theory of evolution but that it
can't be true because it isn't supported by the Bible.

A high-school teacher testified that she often had to re-teach the basics
of evolution to students who had been in Freshwater's classes, for fear
that they would fail that part of the state proficiency test.

Parents had been complaining of Freshwater's proselytizing for at least 11
years. If officials had reined in his behavior when it first surfaced,
perhaps he would have been more likely to respect his bosses' orders to
stick to science.

Allowing him to become entrenched made a warranted dismissal much harder.

The supporters packing the hearing room where Freshwater's appeal is being
heard show that he has lots of community support. That suggests he could
build a career as a motivational speaker, an activist for Christian causes
or a teacher in a religious school.

But his demonstrated disregard for science, not to mention his poor
judgment with the electrical device, disqualifies him to teach in public

Other school districts with budding John Freshwaters should take heed.
Confronting a popular teacher is controversial, but preserving sound
education is essential."

If you were on the school board 11 years ago, what would you have done?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Meetings for Winter Quarter


MEETINGS are held weekly on Wednesdays at 6:10PM in Baker 341 for the Winter Quarter.

For any other information or any other questions just email us @



Sunday, January 4, 2009

Anecdotal evidence and Expelled!

At OU Skeptic Society meetings, we’ve discussed the problems associated with anecdotal evidence, and how this sort of evidence is not enough when trying to establish greater phenomena as a fact. Examples of this include UFO accounts, faith healing stories, superstition, alternative medicine testimonials, etc. Usually someone who is giving such an account believes that their experience is attributable to some greater, mystical occurrence when usually this isn’t the case. Although shocking anecdotes can serve as a starting point to an investigation as to what is going on – they do not serve as proper conclusions.

As it turns out, a shocking anecdote is what inspired the financiers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed to make their movie. Walt Ruloff, the idea man behind the film, was inspired by an account given by a few friends of his in biotechnology that basically said they weren’t allowed to think outside the box in science, especially on origin-of-life issues and especially not to question the “atheistic materialism” that dominates science.

"You're supposed to question the current paradigm, the orthodoxies, of science. But we're not allowed to challenge the premises of so-called neo-Darwinism. It's crazy," Ruloff said.

Ruloff was not happy about this – properly so. Especially when he later had his fears confirmed by university professors who claimed to have been fired for being intelligent design supporters. He then went on to create a film to show that this was happening, and that it was a serious problem.

However, in making the film – Ruloff and his associates went off the deep end.

I’ve seen the movie, and the claims it makes are so absurd and exaggerated that it’s tough to even imagine. After adding Ben Stein to the mix, the crew making the movie decided to spice it up by making the climax/conclusion less about science and university professors and more about how Darwinian thinking bee lines society to Nazi Germany and eugenics. This blurring of the lines between the insane, mad scientist-like application of the concepts of evolution and what evolutionary fact/theory actually says is rather insane.

They do actually cover the claims of the college professors that maintain they lost their jobs due to being ID proponents, and that evolution has nothing to say about how life began – but the central theme is that Darwin’s ideas are evil and false.

Those who have claimed to have been ‘expelled’ for being ID supporters have turned out to have been lying. They were university professors who, mostly, were simply denied tenure for not publishing enough to contributing enough to the university or scientific research. However, they would wish we believe the reason is because they believe in intelligent design. To be granted tenure, one has to really prove they are worthy of the honor by contributing in terms of research, education, and service. These professors hadn’t, thus they weren’t given tenure. The anecdotes given by these people have been shown to misleading and even outright false. From this, Ruloff made his conclusion – and I would assume it was because it was confirming some sort of bias he has.

And it’s true, evolutionary theory/fact does not have much to say about the origin of life. This is something covered by a different field called abiogenesis.

Anyway, the point is that Ruloff didn’t do his homework – and used the money he’s earned in technologies to promote an agenda via propaganda, misconception, lying, and shock and awe – all based a few bias confirming stories.

Moral of the story, anecdotal evidence isn’t enough. As a skeptic and critical/freethinking person, understanding this concept is very important – otherwise you might end up believing and acting on something that can ultimately harm you, like buying Airborne next time you get a cold.