Tag Archives: Unconventional Beliefs

Warning to Lone Researchers Challenging Mainstream Scholarship

Many readers by now have surely heard of the embarrassment that has fallen upon Naomi Wolf just prior to the release of her new book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, in which she claimed historians of Victorian Britain have misread or overlooked the evidence of numerous instances of capital punishment being administered for the crime of sodomy.

Wolf based her view that dozens were executed for sodomy on her reading of court records that used the term “death recorded”. She had assumed that the words meant that the death penalty had been carried out. She learned, however, in a radio interview that the term was in fact legalese that indicated that the death penalty was most likely commuted or suspended. According to an article in The Guardian,

The historian Richard Ward agreed, adding that the term was a legal device first introduced in 1823. “It empowered the trial judge to abstain from formally pronouncing a sentence of death upon a capital convict in cases where the judge intended to recommend the offender for a pardon from the death sentence. In the vast majority (almost certainly all) of the cases marked ‘death recorded’, the offender would not have been executed.”

As we read in The American Conservative‘s discussion of this fiasco, it is natural for anyone to assume that “death recorded” means, well, someone’s actual death was recorded. But it is another thing to assume that all other historians who have presumably looked at the evidence have been wrong or negligent in some way. As an outsider it would be far wiser to take up the question, the apparent dissonance between what seems like conclusive evidence in the archival record on the one hand, and historians’ claims about Victorian justice and legal practice on the other, … to take up the question of that dissonance with the historians themselves. Don’t just assume they are all miscreants or incompetent.

Recall another lone historian taking on the professional establishment, https://vridar.org/2019/05/09/understanding-denialism/ , David Irving, who claimed that Holocaust historians got far more wrong than they should have:

Expressing Irving’s opinion, Evans writes

Historians were inveterately lazy. “A lot of us, when we see something in handwriting, well, we hurriedly flip to another folder where its all neatly typed out. … But I’ve trained myself to take the line of most resistance and I go for the handwriting.” Most historians, he averred, only quoted each other when it came to Hitler’s alleged part in the extermination of the Jews. “For thirty years our knowledge of Hitler’s part in the atrocity had rested on inter-historian incest.” Thus Irving contemptuously almost never cited, discussed, or used the work of other historians in his own books. Irving was evidently very proud of his personal collection of thousands of documents and index cards on the history of the Third Reich.

The point to notice that I added was this:

In other words, Irving was not engaging with the scholarship of his peers (as in the sense of fellow-historians). That’s worth placing on a sticky note and keeping it in a prominent place for future reference.

A perusal of the articles about Naomi Wolf suggests to me that she is not at all like David Irving who remained stubborn to the end, but rather that she has been willing to accept the correction pointed out to her.

Posts that I have perused and that you may find of interest:

The point is clear: pause and ask questions when you find something in the sources that appears to undermine the views of mainstream scholarship. They may be wrong, yes, but at least remove the possibility that it is you who is wrong before you point the finger and claim to have discovered “The Truth” that others have supposedly denied.

 

A Novel for Ex-Worldwide Church of God members and others once (or still) in love with British Israelism

Who would have believed it! Someone (namely D. A. Brittain) has actually written a novel about Jeremiah taking the stone of destiny, Jacob’s “pillow stone”, from Jerusalem along with a surviving daughter (Teia Tephi) of the wicked king Zedekiah to Ireland to marry up with another descendant of Judah in order to preserve the Davidic dynasty from extinction after the Babylonians captured the biblical kingdom of Judah in 587 BC. The novel is Judah’s Scepter and the Sacred Stone.

How could I resist! Belief in all of that stuff was once the focus of my life as a member of the Worldwide Church of God for so many years. One of our most exciting books was The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy (later changed to The United States and Britain in Prophecy as the decades took their toll on the unity and white racial dominance of the Commonwealth nations). Britain includes a bibliography that warms old memories with titles I also ferreted out from a dingy old room that housed the local British Israel society at the time. Luckily I was able to look up one of those references to find the inspiration for one of Brittain’s concluding scenes:

From that day forward, the marriage of Eochaid and Teia was forever symbolized on the new flag that Eochaid had commissioned to be flown across the land of Erin. The flag displayed the red hand of Zerah, fitted on the Star of David, under a single royal crown that symbolized to all the union of Yahweh’s two-kingdom nation.

Brittain, D. A.. Judah’s Scepter and the Sacred Stone (Kindle Locations 4343-4345). First Edition Design Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sure enough, here it is in W. H. Bennett’s Symbols of Our Celto-Saxon Heritage, albeit with the addition of the George Cross background to make the arms of Northern Ireland.

For those not in the know, the red hand in British Israel symbolism represents the royal line of Zerah, one of the two branches of Judah’s royalty, as taken from this passage in Genesis 38 speaking of the birth of Judah’s two sons:

27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. 3Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.

If you want to know how that little incident is relevant to Queen Elizabeth II today then you can still order a chart setting out the family lines from the Covenant Publishing Company. (And in case you’re wondering how a scarlet thread turned into a red hand I think we were meant to assume that ancient artists did not know how to draw red threads around wrists.)

Here is a key section of one of the charts I once collected: read more »

The Secret Power of Psychics, Astrologers, Tarot and Palm Readers . . . .

I used to do astrological birth charts for people and I thought I was pretty good at it. Each one required hours of work, too, since I was able to work with so much detail: sun signs, ascendants, house cusps, positive and negative angular relationships, etc etc etc. Even people who did not believe in astrology admitted that my birth chart readings were often accurate. Some sceptics, on the other hand, pushed what I considered to be an unreasonably narrow interpretation on what I had said to “disprove” my claim. My interest in the field was sparked by a hitch hiker I picked up one day while driving through “hippie” commune territory in northern Queensland: just like the Samaritan woman who was astonished when Jesus was able to tell her all about her life, so I was astonished that this stranger was so quickly able to tell me “all about myself”, even my time of birth. I had to find out how he did it and that eventually led me to believing I was investigating how astrology worked.

I was too smart, of course, in my own mind to believe that the planets had some sort of mystical powers on persons so I convinced myself that I was trying to understand the apparently hidden scientific reasons it “really worked”.

With that background I bookmarked Mano Singham’s blogpost, Are all mentalists frauds?, back in January this year and finally today I managed to catch up and read it.

[T]he psychology department chair called me into his office one day, closed the door, sat me down, and proceeded to dress me down for doing palm reading, for taking people’s money under false pretenses, that there was nothing to this paranormal stuff, etc. I sat there listening to him and after he calmed down I said, “would you like me to read your palm?” So he stuck his hand out and I did a reading on him. Then I left.

Two weeks later he called me back into his office, shut the door, sat me down, stuck his hand out, and said “tell me more”!

This really showed me how powerful this stuff can be. — Ray Hyman in the interview.

Mano nails what lies at the core of their “powers”. At least what he says coheres perfectly with my own experience and explanation. At one point Mano quotes Ray Hyman, an erstwhile palm reader, in an interview with a psychologist:

By high school, even though I was a skeptic about most things, I believed in palm reading because it seemed plausible to me since the palm is physically connected with the body.

[T]he late Stanley Jaks convinced me to do a palm reading on someone and tell them the exact opposite of what I would normally say. So I did this. If I thought I saw in this woman’s palm that she had heart trouble at age 5, for example, I said, “well, you have a very strong heart,” that sort of thing. . . . . She told me it was the most impressive reading she had ever had.

(My emphasis)

We see what we expect to see.

The scales began to fall from my own eyes when I faced up to the fact that the more details I included in my birth charts the more opportunities I was creating to find points of contact with the subject.

I also undertook detailed comparison of the various sun signs and what I had till then too often swept to the back of my mind finally came thuddering to the fore: if we removed the headings (Pisces, Gemini, Taurus…) from each description and put all of those anonymous character profiles in a bucket, then have persons pull them out one by one until they found “the one” that describes them, I think we would more often than not have a problem. Without the birth date identifiers attached to each description I believe most people would have great difficulty assigning any one of them to themselves.

In other words, it is the recognition of the birth date that predisposes one to recognize and identify with the connected character description. Yet if we mixed up the birth date labels I think many of us would identify with much of what the new description has to say.

Are you diplomatic? You fit the Libra profile. But if you are adaptable, you are a Gemini, or a Pisces. The different terms can and do apply to pretty much the same personal habits of behaviour, at least close enough for a sensitive and thoughtful person to fit with any of those profiles. Are you analytical? Then you must be Virgo; but if understanding, then Pisces. Or if intellectual, then Gemini or Aquarius. And so forth.

If your sun sign was significantly wrong in some respects then we had your moon sign, or triangular or square patterns between “significant” points in the chart, or the overall shape (bucket, cluster, splay…) of the points on the chart, or which planets were in retrograde, and on and on and on. There is always something there to explain whatever needed explanation.

And if someone didn’t fit a description at all we would suspect his birth was premature or delayed, and sure enough, we’d find out we were right even about that!

Here’s an exercise I would love to try out on a group of people. Write out each character trait used in all twelve astrological sun signs (preferably get a few authorities so we are not relying upon one author alone) and then have each person select, say, 6 traits that best describe them. Next step: see which sun sign those 6 selected attributes match and ask if they are the same as their sun sign. No doubt there will be some matches, so the next step is to assess whether the number of matches are statistically better than mere chance.

Ray Hynam’s account (I have truncated a longer passage that Mano Singham quoted and linked to) hits the mark. I presume a book he addresses, The Full Facts About Cold Reading by Ian Rowland, does the same.

Time to reflect on conspiracy theories, once again

Derek Arnold

Twenty years since Princess Diana’s accidental death in a car crash, or is it the anniversary of her murder by British Intelligence acting on behalf of the royal family? The Royal Family certainly had motive enough to want her dead. She was destroying their reputation as a bastion of conventional morality and without that bastion the royal family could not survive. So — arrange for a drunken chauffeur, lots of paparazzi, a narrow tunnel on the route, a pre-positioned strobe-light and alert operator,  and plots to delay ambulances, and the deed is done.

Salon.com alerted me to a Conversation article by Derek Arnold, Why Princess Diana conspiracies refuse to die. Excerpts I find especially pertinent:

I’ve found that belief in conspiracy theories is more about a refusal to accept the randomness of life and tragedy than it is about the existence of evidence (or lack thereof).

Sounds like the same reason “we” believe in God, ghosts, angels, superstitions, fate, diets.

As political scientist Michael Barkun details in his book “A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America,” conspiracy theories usually hinge on three core beliefs:

  • Nothing happens by accident. For this reason, the horrible machinations of “evil” conspirators become more believable than a fluke or an accident.
  • Nothing is as it seems. Successful conspirators hide their identities and actions; we must, therefore, always be wary, even when there’s little reason for suspicion.
  • Dots can always be connected. Though conspirators attempt to hide their actions, patterns exist everywhere.

Another book I would like to read.

Today’s 24-hour news cycle also cultivates an opening for conspiratorial thinking. Among journalists, the race to break a story can lead to gaps or errors in reporting. We also tend to forget that as readers, many stories, especially breaking ones, are a work in progress. It can take months – even years – to ever know the full story.

Oh yes. One really notices the differences among various media here. A few (less popular ones, unfortunately) conspicuously stress how little is known in the early days, and they do not broadcast speculative figures of “numbers dead” or “suspected identities” of perpetrators of atrocities in the first twenty-four hours of an event — which I suppose is why they are too boring for a wider audience.

But perhaps the biggest reason we tend to give credence to conspiracy theories is our own mortality.

Studies have shown that many of us feel that we have little control over our own lives. This leads to something called “anomie,” a type of weariness that makes us view the world as an adversary, with people and systems out to get us.

Return to the similar reasons for believing in god.

To simply think of Princess Diana’s death as a “tragic accident” gives us less control over own fate. No matter how logically messy the details of a conspiracy theory might be, they do, strangely, soothe our own sense of worth and place in our world.

Like asking Jesus or Mary or God, lords of the universe, to take time to interfere with a burst of rain to allow us to get to an important appointment on time.

(I bet the Queen really did order MI6 to get rid of Diana, though.)

 

 

Ethics of Conspiracy Theories

As a follow on from my recent posts on conspiracy theories here is a discussion from another slant:

The ethics of conspiracy theories

The page includes a link to the full audio interview with philosopher Patrick Stokes.

Previous posts:

Conspiracy Theories: About More Than Mere Evidence

conspHere’s another couple of interesting observations from Rob Brotherton’s Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. Just to recap first from the previous post, The Conspiracist Style (with my own formatting):

With all these caveats in mind, let’s recap our portrait of a conspiracy theory. The prototypical conspiracy theory is

an unanswered question;

it assumes nothing is as it seems;

it portrays the conspirators as preternaturally competent;

and as unusually evil;

it is founded on anomaly hunting;

and it is ultimately irrefutable.

These characteristics do a good job of teasing apart the two versions of 9/ 11 that we began the chapter with. Even though saying that al-Qaeda hijackers conspired to pull off the attacks poses a theory about a conspiracy, the claim doesn’t fit the bill of a conspiracy theory, whereas claiming it was an inside job fits the description to a T.

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 1238-1243). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

In the next chapter Brotherton provides two sure indicators that conspiracy theories are not really about studying the evidence. The reason this would be so is because conspiracism is actually

a lens through which the world can be viewed, and it has the potential to distort everything in its field of view. 

So if you ask a conspiracy theorist why the conspirators don’t attempt to silence those who go around telling the world about them and their nefarious acts, you are likely to be told that the conspirators even employing those conspiracy theorists to do what they are doing! Example: read more »

The Conspiracist Style

suspiciousAustralia’s national radio broadcaster, Radio National (RN), aired an interview with Rob Brotherton, Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London, trying to explain to us why conspiracies are generally “all in the mind“. Obviously Brotherton and RN are controlled by the Illuminati and are being used to convince a gullible public that a secret cabal is not manipulating the world economy, the world’s governments, the events in the Middle East and major terrorist attacks in the West.

Sucker that I am I raced out and grabbed a copy of Brotherton’s book, Suspicious minds : why we believe conspiracy theories. I began serious reading at chapter 3, What Is a Conspiracy Theory? Early on I came across this interesting passage:

There’s no denying that the label has less-than-favorable connotations in some intellectual circles, at least. “If you’re down at a bar in the slums, and you say something that people don’t like, they’ll punch you or shriek four-letter words,” Noam Chomsky once said. “If you’re in a faculty club or an editorial office, where you’re more polite— there’s a collection of phrases that can be used which are the intellectual equivalent of four-letter words and tantrums. One of them is ‘conspiracy theory.’”

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 931-935). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Ah, so that’s why a handful of scholars sometimes toss out “conspiracy theory” at arguments they appear not to have seriously investigated and that for all the world seem to me to have nothing to do with “conspiracy theories” at all.

I just want to isolate and share one thought from chapter 3 in this post. Brotherton rightly points out that defining what we mean by conspiracy theory is problematic given that at some point “one person’s conspiracy theory is the next person’s conspiracy fact. . . . ” so “blithely asserting that conspiracy theories are bullshit doesn’t get us very far.” Instead, Brotherton speaks of a conspiratorial style:

Richard Hofstadter, an influential scholar of conspiracism, talked about conspiracy theories as a “style” of explanation. Much as a historian of art might speak of the motifs that collectively constitute the baroque style, or a music critic might parse the subtle differences between dubstep and grime, our task in distinguishing conspiracy theories from regular old theories about conspiracies is to identify some of the most important rhetorical themes, tropes, and flourishes that collectively constitute the conspiracist style.

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 925-929). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Not that these style-points are foolproof rules, either. Think of them more as indicative guides, Brotherton says.

So we’ve laid out six crucial elements of the conspiracist style. Before we take stock and move on, however, a note of caution is required. Coming up with a checklist can give a false impression of objectivity . . . .  

Think of our six characteristics as useful rules of thumb, rather than immutable laws. . . . 

It’s worth reiterating that none of the features we’ve talked about, in and of themselves, distinguish conspiracy fact from conspiracy fiction. Just because a claim meets our six criteria doesn’t mean it can’t be true.

Brotherton, Rob (2015-11-19). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Kindle Locations 1198-1215). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

So what are those “six crucial elements”?  read more »

Inside the Minds of Flat-Earthers

flatearthUntil I read Christine Garwood’s book Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea my idea of people out there who really believed the earth is flat was that they could only be as mysterious and unfathomable as leprechauns. But they really have existed these past 200 years and courageously taken on the whole world in what they have believed is their fight for sanity and reason.

The most enlightening insight I took from Garwood’s history is that flat-earthers for most part have been motivated by the same noble ideals as the best of us. It’s just that, well, they see things a little differently. Or rather, they see the same things we see but they want the rest of us either to use more common sense and/or have more faith in the Bible. They hate the idea that most of us are gullibly swallowing what the professional elites are trying to sell us. They want science democratized and the demos to be more true to God.

How can we fault anyone for living by such ideals?

Christine Garwood further informs us that much of the ridicule we direct at flat-earthers is fueled in part by our own ignorance. When we assume that flat earthers are no more advanced than the people of the dark ages or even earlier primitive times then we are actually demonstrating a key point of the flat-earthers. Flat earthers argue most of us blindly accept, uncritically and without any request for supporting evidence, whatever the professionals tell us. We trust too readily. Even many of the professionals are deluded. The fact is, and Garwood explains the evidence for this extensively, that since the fourth century BCE most people who are on record as having given the question any thought have believed the earth is round. How we came to think otherwise and how myths about Columbus became common knowledge is explained in the prologue and first chapter of Flat Earth. Hint: Washington Irving of Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle fame is largely to blame for the mischief.

That should be a mildly discomforting thought. If so, it segues into the questions of the relevance of the history of the flat earth movements. (We can’t have a history book that’s written just for entertainment alone, after all.) read more »

The Myth of the Flat Earth Myth

The idea that the earth was flat was never part of medieval Christian doctrine.

Men and women of any education around AD1000 were perfectly well aware that the earth was a sphere.

I never knew that till I read God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam. The only thing I know about James Hannam is from the dust jacket blurb that says he is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge where he gained a PhD in the history of science, and that he has written a very interesting book.

So where did the idea that medieval folk believed the earth was flat come from?

James Hannan attributes this understanding to Sir Francis Bacon:

The myth that a flat earth was part of Christian doctrine in the Middle Ages appears to have arisen with Sir Francis Bacon (1562-1626), who wrongly claimed that geographers had been put on trial for impiety after asserting the contrary. (Hannam’s citation for this is John Henry, Knowledge is Power: How Magic, the Government and an Apocalyptic Vision Inspired Francis Bacon to Create Modern Science, 2003. p.85)

Hannan does add that “there were a few authentic flat-earthers in antiquity, but none among the scholars of the Middle Ages proper.”

So why have some historians fallen for the idea of the flat earth idea?

One of the main reasons that some historians have previously fallen for the flat earth idea is because of the existence of mappae mundi (Latin for ‘maps of the world’) like the famous example at Hereford Cathedral.

Hannan illustrates with the map depicted here. Known as the T-O map, the O represents the ocean that encircles the inhabitable landmass, while the T represents the Mediterranean Sea, the River Nile and either the River Volga or Don. This T sea/river pattern split the landmass into the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. Jerusalem was usually placed near the centre.

It is easy to assume from such a map that those who drew it thought the earth was flat. But in fact the map was only intended to show the area of the earth that is inhabited.

Francis Bacon, From a Painting
Image via Wikipedia

Gospel myth – Atlantis myth: Two “Noble Lies”

Okay, I’m sure there will be a few differences if I stop to think seriously about it, but I have just read the introduction in Benjamin Jowett’s Critias by Plato in which are cited the reasons Plato’s lies have managed to convince so many people of the historical truth of the myth of Atlantis. And hoo boy, how can anyone fail to notice certain echoes of the arguments used — even by professional scholars! — to argue for the historicity, and even the contemporary sophistication, of the gospels?

He begins:

No one knew better than Plato how to invent ‘a noble lie’.

I skip here the earlier discussion found in the companion treatise, Timaeus, in which Plato’s character Socrates explains the necessity for a myth or lie such as that of Atlantis. So here are the ten reasons Jowett cites for why so many generations have fallen into the trap of thinking the tale of Atlantis was based on something historical. I add a few remarks to draw attention here and there to their similarity to arguments even biblical scholars (not only fundamentalist lay people) have advanced to justify acceptance of the Gospels themselves as reflecting some genuine historical reality. read more »

Surely not ALL reports of alien adbuctions, haunted houses and miracles are erroneous?

Eddy and Boyd in a classic case of special pleading argue for the reality of demon-possession today:

We do not wish to dispute that some, if not the majority, of these reports [of “demonization”] may be explained in naturalistic terms. But what justification is there for assuming that all such reports of the supernatural can be reductively explained in naturalistic terms? (The Jesus Legend p.70)

Roy Williams uses the same special pleading to argue for the reality of miracles:

My own view is that the consistency of such reports through human history is suggestive that miracles do — rarely — occur. Has the Catholic Church always been wrong when, as a precondition to conferring sainthoods, it has accepted reports of miracles? I doubt it. (See earlier posts on God, Actually)

This is the same as saying:

We know that natural explanations have been found for most things that we observe in the world, but there are still a few things we have not yet explained. Therefore we can have confidence that anything as of today that is still not understood in terms of natural processes is the work of supernatural powers.

Or even

If there was a natural explanation for cancer we would have discovered a cure for it by now, so we can be assured that only prayer and exorcism have the power to cure cancer.

This is certainly a strong indicator of a will to believe despite all first hand evidence to the contrary. The grounds for one’s belief are removed to hearsay, to the word of a friend of someone who knows someone who read about someone of impeccable honesty who said they saw someone who . . . . and so forth.  Or simply, my devoutly religious granny says she experienced an angel visiting her and she wouldn’t lie.

Or if we do experience something unexplained or mysterious first hand, how often are we willing to investigate alternative explanations or simply hold an opinion in abeyance until the answer does emerge.

I used to experience sleep paralysis, but since I had no idea what it was at the time, and being very religious, and comparing the experience with other reports I heard from fundamentalist friends, I did fear I was being visited by demons. One can begin to see all sorts of shapes and movements in the dark in that condition.

The Nightmare
Image via Wikipedia

Later when I read about some people’s experiences of alien abductions I recognized much of what they described as nothing more than that very mundane (admittedly scary) “sleep” condition. How one interprets or explains it depends on one’s cultural environment. Even though those alien abduction or visitation accounts added a few details that did not exactly fit sleep paralysis, I could recognize a tendency to somewhat exaggerate or mix one’s interpretations with the actual experience itself and so present something that was just a wee bit beyond the actual experience, even if personally believed to be part of it.

In a pre-scientific age there is really no way of arriving at a “scientific” explanation for such experiences, of course. So when Eddy and Boyd, and with them Roy Williams, suggest that there is no justification for believing that ALL prescientific (or current nonscientific) reports of unusual experiences have a natural explanation, they are sort of arguing in a closed box.

A passage in Mark’s gospel reminds me of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Many people today still want to believe there is something to magic after all, that there is or was an Atlantis, that aliens do regularly visit us, that BigFoot/Yeti/Yowie really does exist, that King Arthur’s or the Bible’s adventures really happened, and that angels do exist and miracles happen today just as they always did, as we read about in the New Testament.

I seem to recall that as a child there were some stories I read that I agonizingly wished were true.

I once even had a dream in which I was playing with a toy truck, and so in love was I with this toy truck that as I felt I was coming out of a dream, my dream state told me that if I held on to the truck as tightly as I could in my dream, that when I woke I would find the truck in bed beside me. Well, I did wake up, and was disappointed, but not surprised, to find my clenched fists were holding absolutely nothing! 🙁

Australians believe in Space Aliens, Americans believe in God

I am glad I live in Australia rather than America.

Many of us here have cancelled plans to emigrate to New Zealand or Nepal since our erstwhile reactionary Prime Minister John Howard lost his seat at the recent election.

But even more happily invigorating is the latest HarrisInteractive poll on American beliefs, giving us the opportunity to compare the intellectual climate and health of the two countries.

82% of Americans believe in God, a statistic that makes me think of black overcast skies and Cromwell’s dreary England. Compare Australians. It is a statistical fact that “more Australians believe in space aliens than believe in God, despite the fact that more Australians have been to church than have been abducted by UFOs.” (Dale, 100 Things Everyone Needs to Know about Australia.) To be fair, space aliens in the original source refers strictly to the possibility of intelligent life out there and not necessarily to those little green creatures that abduct people in their sleep. But who’s splitting hairs?

See, Australians have checked out church and found it only has a ceiling or arch or stained glass up top. But no-one can justly accuse them of being incorrigible sceptics simply for the sake of scepticism. Australian’s can’t deny space aliens.

And the best part is that space aliens don’t make any claims on how people should vote or run the country or what films should be censored or what sexual leanings should be the basis of legal rights.

And they make much more interesting discussion topics than God when there are a few beers to get things going. I’m also sure they can offer much more fertile material for pick-up lines than God. One only has to compare “Have you had a close encounter lately?” with “Have you prayed today?”

And space aliens are much sexier than God. God positively frowns on sex. He will only reproduce by remote control through genetic-spirit implant into a virgin, — and he only ever went that far once in all eternity! Space aliens do much more interesting things while still working in mysterious ways with their abductees, as we all know.

Why Space Aliens are a more positive Belief Object than God

  1. Space Aliens don’t divide people morally over whether people believe in them or not
  2. Space Aliens don’t threaten to send you to hell if you don’t believe in them
  3. Space Aliens do not justify any wars
  4. Space Aliens do not make rules that mess up people’s sexual health
  5. Space Aliens expect you to believe in advanced technology but not in miracles
  6. Space Aliens do not command earthlings to keep impossible or silly rules
  7. Space Aliens do not censor the arts or any creative activity of earthlings
  8. Space Aliens do not want your money or your soul. (Some do want your body but only for a moment of experimentation after which it is returned without discernible after-effects.)
  9. When earthling attempts to communicate with Space Aliens are reciprocated it will be a scientifically verifiable event
  10. Space Aliens do not make any promises they can be accused of failing to keep
  11. Space Aliens do not take offence or get angry, — ever (even if you make graven images of them or have a laugh at their expense)
  12. Having a personal relationship with a Space Alien is entirely optional
  13. If you do decide to have a personal relationship with a Space Alien you are not required to go from door-to-door telling others about it.

Atlantis — another 21st! century myth

This is a temporary break from themes biblical….

It’s damn depressing to see in this 21st century first world country so many university educated peers actually believing in past lives, the literal text of the bible, spirits, ‘mystical healings’ too bizarre and embarrassing to describe, various mantras and ‘dream catchers’ and silly myths like Atlantis.

I once actually took the time to write a partial rebuttal of a well-known book (at least well-known among Atlantis believers) by W. Scott-Elliot, titled “The Story of Atlantis“, in a very faint hope of somehow ‘redeeming’ a work colleague of mine who could see no reason to doubt the story.

I’m half-pleased to say that I think this piece, along with similar pieces I wrote critiquing nonsense like auras and Noah’s flood, did have a positive impact — although only for a year or so. So I finally decided the truth of the proverb that says:

those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.

Nevertheless, knowing that most sensible clear thinking people will not bother to take the time of day to write anything so futile? as a critique of the myth of Atlantis, for those who might appreciate stumbling across one piece of ammo to throw at other misguided innocents, here is what I wrote about one aspect of Scott-Elliot’s book some years ago:

Testimony of Ancient Writers

Aelian belonged to the second century CE and wrote many credulous and fabulous tales in an age of gullibility. (People believed in phoenix birds being resurrected every few hundred years; in natural springs of wine; in islands that floated like boats; in real virgin births (not just Christians); in gods walking around among them in disguise; in spirit worlds above the clouds and beyond the stars, just a few hundred metres away; in giant men and turtles carrying the earth,….) Aelian believed that beavers knew they were hunted for their testicles so they when hunted they would bite off those testicles and throw them into the path of the hunters; but if hunters despite this trick continued to chase them they would stand up on their hind legs facing the hunters to show they had no longer had their testicles so the hunters would leave them alone. He wrote gullibly to entertain the gullible and compiled tales of the fabulous to tittilate his audience.

Scott-Elliot writes: “Aelian … states that Theopompus (400 B.C.) recorded an interview between the King of Phyrgia and Silenus ….” This is contextualized by preceding the passage with words like “testimony” and “evidence”. What is not immediately clear from Scott-Elliot’s “newsbite” is that the characters are all mythological. Silenus is, in fact, the name of a satyr! Yet Scott-Elliot presents an image of a serious interview between a king and a wise man by a court recorder as matter-of-factly as if it were a piece of surviving historical “evidence”!

What Aelian narrated was that the mythical Midas had his shepherds pour wine into a river so the grand Satyr who taught the god Dionysus would fall asleep after he had drunk from it. Once asleep he was captured by Midas’ shepherds and forced to reveal divine secrets to the king. The sorts of secrets he revealed:

1. In a far away land there are 2 types of trees on either side of a river, and if a traveller eats of one of those types, he will begin to grow younger. From that day on he will age in reverse until he finally becomes a little baby and then eventually vanishes altogether.

2. Another was how he (Silenus) and his divine pupil Dionysus, the god of wine and lust who was followed everywhere by lots of lesser satyrs, had just returned from showing people far off how to cultivate grapes and make wine.

3. Another was of a vast mythical land beyond Oceanus (not “Atlantis” as Scott-Elliot writes.)

4. And yet another, of course, was how he would allow Midas to ask to be granted any wish for releasing him… which led to the famous story of all he touched turning to gold.

There is no more obvious reason to believe any of these tales than there is to believe in the existence of satyrs, or that beavers bite off their testicles and throw them at chasing hunters, or any of the other myths told about Dionysus, satyrs or mythical kings.

The second ancient writer Scott-Elliot lists is Proclus. Proclus wrote in the second century CE and was a commentator on Plato. Since Scott-Elliot later lists Plato as another source it is wrong to cite Proclus to sound like an independently supporting witness. Proclus wrote about what Plato wrote.

Diodorus Siculus’ reference can more justifiably be seen as a reference to Britain or the Canary Islands. The Coast of Africa was adjacent to Spain, both bordering the “Pillars of Hercules” (Strait of Gibraltar) and was the main territory of a Phoenician kingdom. It would be a mistake to assume that ancient sailors, even the Phoenicians, passed on an accurate size or shape or even number of land masses in those times. We need only observe some of the bizarre distortions of islands and land areas in ancient maps to appreciate the difficulties, misconceptions and ignorance that bedevilled ancient geographers. It is not hard to imagine how the idea of a large land mass “a few days” west could have emerged in the consciousness of sailors used to hugging the coasts as they sailed and who may have been swept out away from their African journey, making various sightings of what were in fact the somewhat sizeable Canary Islands before their return.

Plato frequently created his own myths to illustrate his views of human nature and the world. Two of his most famous literary creations are his Cave and Republic. Just because Plato said his story of Atlantis was “true” does not necessarily make it so. The literary context of this claim must be assessed. We know even today of many tales that begin with an assertion of their truth yet where our cultural background makes it clear to us that such a claim is made only for dramatic effect. Similarly there are many examples of ancient writers clearly writing fiction but who employ many techniques to make their tales sound true and convincing. One of the literary techniques used was to create scenes with masses of incidental details to give an aura of eyewitness recollections and veracity. Homer’s epics are the most famous of early examples of this. If detail and colour were evidence of eyewitness testimony then we would have to believe in magical caves of nymphs, and in the truth of the minutiae of the hundreds of soldiers and ships of each of the named scores of kings who led them to Troy, in the reality of the graphically portrayed Hades complete with its list of who’s who seen among its hapless ghosts, and in the various specifically dilineated layers of astral orbits surrounding the earth.

Atlantis was a sort of Utopia myth created by Plato and its “truth” lay in the fact that he was creating it to warn his fellow Athenians of the dangers of pride and evil ways no matter how great they had been. And he created it with such elaborate detail with so many literary subtle assurances of its truth to add to its impact that it is as memorable and believable like any good story. In such a creation he was no different from those who created so many other ancient mythical tales. And no doubt many ancients did take his story as true, just as they took stories of testicle tossing beavers as true. It was a gullible age. Magicians could literally float through the air, dogs and horses could speak to humans, and living creatures could spontaneously emerge out of thin air. They knew such things were true because they had always heard them from someone who heard them from someone they could trust.

Distribution of Flora and Fauna

Similarities across continents has many explanations. Australia and South America have strange birds and animals with odd similarities. One might postulate a lost continent once joining them. Or one might accept the evidence for continental drift and fossil and genetic evidence that leads to understanding that Australia and South America were once joined to what is now the Antarctic and the flora and fauna that was known to this land mass followed variant natural adaptations after the land masses separated.

Deep-Sea Soundings

Scott-Elliot notes that the depth of the “Atlantis continent” is 100 to several 100 fathoms underwater now. That such a land mass was at any time in the history of humans above sea level is simply incredible and on a par with the Creationist belief in a literal Noachian flood. The New England Skeptical Society have written the following:

From a geophysical point of view, islands don’t just “sink” of their own accord, overnight or even over a few days, years or centuries. Being less dense than the crust and the interior of the Earth, the continental masses just float on the denser material. Rising sea levels may flood parts of continents, but the levels of continents themselves vis-a-vis the Earth’s solid crust change little or not at all. Even if the seas had risen high enough to inundate Atlantis, all of its continental landmass would still be visible underwater.

Scott-Elliot’s method

The method of Scott-Elliot is to interpret scientific debate over certain questions at the time (1896) as meaning such things were a “mystery” or “unfathonable”, and that his theory of Atlantis would give a neat answer to “the question”. Such a method of logic is invalid. Firstly, this greatly misrepresents what scientists do know about such questions and misunderstands (or is ignorant of) what the scientific debates are actually about and what they really do concede and understand. Scientific debate is what advances and refines scientific understanding. Secondly, to simply postulate an idea and say it answers pretty much everything means nothing. Ideas, theories, must be tested and therefore they must be testable. Otherwise they have no more validity than saying that God or Satan or aliens or gremlins did it or the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause are real. If they are untestable assertions they are really matters of faith, not evidence.

Scott-Elliot for most part appears to be summarizing secondary sources and is often vague on details that would enable a reader to check these and trace back to the original documents. This is odd. If one wishes to persuade and one has specific verifiable citations or evidence that clearly clinched his case (not secondary assertions or imprecise generalized statements) then one would surely present them.


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