The New York Times touts religious miracles as proof of God

December 26, 2022 • 12:00 pm

UPDATE:  Here’s what my primary-care physician, Dr. Alex Lickerman, says about the diagnosis of “glioma” below:

Glioma is a broad term used to delineate all types of primary brain tumors. The prognosis varies tremendously from type to type, with glioblastoma multiforme being the worst. You need a biopsy to determine which kind it is. Not being a radiologist, I don’t know how confident you can be in diagnosing tumor type purely on the basis of an MRI. If he truly does have only scar left, that suggests the original lesion was more inflammatory than anything. Again, without a biopsy, who the hell knows what this really was?


The New York Times applies stringent reportorial scrutiny to many claims: the value of vaccinations and mask mandates, the bogus argument that there’s no anthropogenic climate change, and so on, but there’s one thing it rarely scrutinizes—or at least applies a minimal level of scrutiny: the truth claims of religions. (As a matter of fact, the NYT loves all kinds of woo—especially channelers and dowsers.)

In a big “guest essay” by historian Molly Worthen, a piece which must have passed the editors, the paper claims to document lots of medical miracles as evidence for God. Against this hokum, she offers only one real skeptic, Michael Shermer, to contest miracle claims. Now I don’t know if Worthen, who writes a lot for the paper, is herself religious, but for all the passes she gives faith in this article, she might as well be.

It’s a very long “guest essay”, but I want to quote bits that support the view that there are real miracles of a religious nature, as well as the much smaller bits that question this.

Click below to read, or find it archived.

Worthen’s title question mentions two important issues. First is that of “proof”, which is really irrelevant to a scientist since we don’t think of empirical “proof” of God—or of anything.  We speak of the strength of evidence, which, to me, is strong for the formula of a water molecule having two hydrogens and one oxygen, and far, far weaker for an omniscient and omnipotent being who cares for each one of us.

Nevertheless, we can in principle get empirical evidence for gods. In Faith Versus Fact (pp. 118-119), I consider (as did Darwin and Carl Sagan before me) what evidence would convince me that there was a God. Indeed, I lay out a scenario that would convince me that this God would be the God of Christianity, i.e., the father of/part of Jesus.  Now this would be “provisional” convincing, for “absolute proof” is beyond the realm of science. But it would make me a believer.  The scenario involves restoring the limbs of amputees and so on, and of course we don’t see that (see below).

Second, the question remains that if there are inexplicable cures, Worthen wants proof that those cures were effected by God. I presume she doesn’t mean Vishnu or John Frum, as she mentions only Abrahamic conceptions of God.  There are of course medical remissions for which doctors have no clear explanation, but that still leaves us with either a naturalistic explanation we don’t understand, or God. Given the absence of evidence for God (see below again), and the prevalance of evidence that things once imputed to God (lightning, disease, evolution, etc. ) are now understood as naturalistic, I think the priors rest with naturalism.

On to the article. The centerpiece is the personal testimony of Josh Brown, director of neuroscience at Indiana University, and of his wife Candy, regarding Josh’s miracle “cure” of glioma, a form of brain cancer. It turns out, of course, that although the disease is almost invariably fatal, Brown got no official diagnosis or biopsy of glioma. (I should mention that the Browns are Christians.) Here is their story recounted by Worthen:

Candy Brown was nine months pregnant when her husband had a seizure in the middle of the night. “I went to bed, and when I woke up the next morning, I was in an ambulance,” he said. Two and a half weeks later, newborn in tow, they got his diagnosis: an apparent brain tumor called a glioma. (He provided The New York Times with medical records to support this account.) He was 30 years old. “Chemo, radiation and surgery don’t statistically prolong the life span with what I had. There was nothing to do but get ready to die, basically.” Doctors prescribed no treatment other than anticonvulsant medication to manage symptoms.

The Browns grew up in Christian families but not the sort that expected God to intervene ostentatiously in modern life. Still, he was desperate. He started traveling the country seeking out Christian healing revivals, dragging along his wife and baby daughter. “I needed to find out what was going on,” he said. “If there was any reality to it, I wanted a miracle.”

Candy Brown recalled more disturbing details: the morning after her husband’s diagnosis, they began to pray together, but mentioning the name of Jesus seemed to trigger a frightening physical response. “Josh shoots out of bed, starts turning somersaults,” she said. “I’d say, try worshiping Jesus, and he couldn’t say the name Jesus. I was thinking of the herd of pigs,” she said, recalling the unlucky swine run off a cliff by demon possession in the Gospels. “He was hoarse and exhausted. For that 45 minutes, there was such a palpably evil presence in that room that hated the name of Jesus. If I ever had doubted whether Jesus was real, I couldn’t now.”

Well, there’s your proof: not only God, but demons!  I’m amazed he didn’t vomit pea soup. But Josh got better!

Josh Brown began traveling with healing missionaries. He told me he saw things he couldn’t explain — like a blind man on a street in Cuba who appeared to instantly regain his sight after missionaries prayed for him. Months later, after many sessions of prayer for healing and deliverance, an M.R.I. revealed that his tumor had turned into scar tissue.

He quickly volunteered to me that he never had a biopsy, but doctors often diagnose this type of tumor on the basis of M.R.I.s and the patient’s symptoms. “One way or another, the tumor went away,” he said. “I’ve been symptom-free for 19 years. The doctors said very little.” The Browns felt grateful — and perplexed. “At that point I wondered why, when I had seen so many things that seemed miraculous and difficult to explain, why was there so little careful investigation of these things?” he said.

I’ve asked my doctor to assess this claim about glioma, so either return in a few hours or check the comments.

Convinced that God and Jesus had healed him against the power of Satan, Josh got a Templeton Grant (of course) to travel the world “investigating healing claims” (he found many, of course), and he later founded the Global Medicine Research Institute, which publishes studies of cures for which there’s supposedly no naturalistic explanation.

Below I’ll show some of Worthen’s piece suggesting (with a few caveats that Worthen quickly knocks down) that miracles are real, God-given events. First, the events witnessed, with a bit of a caveat:

In 2009, on a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the Browns flew to Mozambique to investigate the healing claims of Global Awakening and Iris Global, two ministries focused on healing and revival. They brought audiometry equipment and eye charts to test people who requested prayer for deafness and blindness. The sample size was small — they tested 24 people — but they found statistically significant improvement beyond placebo effects and hypnosis.

“I was standing right there next to this woman who could not tell how many fingers were held up when you were a foot in front of her,” Candy Brown told me. “Then five minutes later, she’s reading an eye chart with a smile on her face.” She and her colleagues published the results in The Southern Medical Journal — not a prestigious publication but a respectable one with peer review — and she drew on the research for her 2012 book, “Testing Prayer.”

This is the kind of stuff that healing evangelists do all the time in the U.S., and of course it’s hokum.

Skeptics complained about the Browns’ methods and field conditions. They pointed out that the hearing tests were in a noisy setting, there was no control group and test subjects would naturally want to please those who prayed for them by showing results. “That simple trick explains why both hearing and sight appears to have dramatically improved among these poor, superstitious villagers,” one critic declared. (The study explained in detail how the researchers did their best to weed out false data.)

If you want to evaluate people’s experiences at a revival in rural Africa, you probably need to give up on double-blind studies in a perfectly controlled environment. But let’s imagine for a moment that researchers could meet such standards (and that an all-powerful deity humors us and submits to this scrutiny). They might persuade skeptics that something strange happened. But is there any evidence that would persuade a nonbeliever that God was behind it — that we do not live in a closed system in which all causation is a matter of natural laws?

And indeed there is such evidence! Medical histories! (My bolding):

Christians have sought to scientifically evaluate miracle claims at least since the 16th century, when the Council of Trent tightened up the verification process for canonizing saints. But the Christian God does not work in randomized, repeatable trials. He works in history. So maybe medical histories are a more appropriate approach. “Medical case reports rely on a different epistemology, which is more of a historical epistemology,” Josh Brown said. “It’s not something you can necessarily recreate, whatever the time course of a disease.”

In 2011 the Browns helped found the Global Medical Research Institute, which publishes case studies on the small number of inexplicable events that its staff members can scrupulously document — like a blind woman who, while praying one night with her husband, regained her sight and a teenage boy who depended on a feeding tube until his stomach suddenly healed itself during an encounter with a Pentecostal minister. “When we write these case reports, we’re not claiming these must have been a miracle of God, but these are the facts of the case,” Josh Brown told me.

The fact that you can’t use random repeatable trials to test God’s healing power is flat wrong. Of course you can, and it has been done—in another study, funded by Templeton, on the power of intercessory prayer in aiding recovery from heart surgery. Unfortunately, prayer didn’t work; in fact, those prayed for were marginally worse off than those who were not. No, medical histories themselves, unless the condition is NEVER known to show spontaneous remission, like amputated limbs, are insufficient. There are certainly ways to test religious healing, just as there are way to test antibiotics and other forms of naturalistic healing.

Next Worthen uses the large number of miracle-healing claims as evidence that it works (all bolding henceforth is mine):

But the Browns’ experiences and research — not to mention the abundance of healing testimony from other witnesses, especially outside the West — deserve serious consideration. Watertight proof of divine causation may be an impossible goal, but the search for it forces us to confront the assumptions that prop up our own worldviews — whether one is a devout believer or a committed skeptic.

. . .The Browns’ experiences are striking because they operate in one of the most antisupernaturalist subcultures in the modern world: secular academia. But in a global context — and we are in the midst of a worldwide Christian revival — stories of unexplained healing in response to prayer are common. (Although healing is central to Christianity, other religions claim their share. One Christian response is that God shows himself to non-Christians in partial ways, and some Christians I interviewed described non-Christian healings that, they claimed, later proved false.)

Scholars estimate that 80 percent of new Christians in Nepal come to the faith through an experience with healing or deliverance from demonic spirits. Perhaps as many as 90 percent of new converts who join a house church in China credit their conversion to faith healing. In Kenya, 71 percent of Christians say they have witnessed a divine healing, according to a 2006 Pew study. Even in the relatively skeptical United States, 29 percent of survey respondents claim they have seen one.

You can quarrel with the exact figures, but we are talking about millions of people who say something otherworldly happened to them. Yet most secular people — and even many religious believers — are oblivious to this or shrug off miracle stories on principle as motivated reasoning, hallucination or fraud.

If millions say it, well then it MUST be right!

But as Hume noted, the priors for “motivated reasoning, hallucination, or fraud” are higher than for the working of God, especially given that God hasn’t been able to regrow limbs or eyes or even make himself manifest in more obvious ways (Sagan mentions several, including God spelling out messages in the stars), and also that we know from investigations of American “miracle cure” preachers that they were simply committing fraud.

Worthen treats doubters as unreasonable skeptics, as if the evidence is so strong that she deems skepticism about religious miracle cures as a form of faith, dogmatism, and yes, even racist colonialism!

Western skeptics have disregarded witness testimony from places like Nigeria at least since David Hume complained in his 1748 essay on miracles that “they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations.” Such dismissal is more awkward for 21st-century secular liberals, who often say that Westerners should listen to people in the Global South and acknowledge the blindnesses of colonialism. “Some people claim that the best thing to do is to listen to people’s experiences and learn from them,” Dr. Chinedozi said. “Yet these people will be the first to find a way to disprove experiences in other cultures and contexts.”

Witness testimony in general has come in for a drubbing lately. Courts have overturned convictions when DNA proved that witnesses who sounded sure of themselves on the stand turned out to be horribly mistaken. Yet we rely on it all the time in the course of ordinary life. “If your epistemology is that eyewitness evidence doesn’t count, then there goes most historiography, journalism, even anthropology and sociology,” Craig Keener, a professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, told me. (He included Dr. Chinedozi’s and Dr. Adewuya’s stories in his book “Miracles Today.”)

Among those who deny miracles, “the presuppositions are so strong,” Dr. Keener said. “There’s a dogmatism there, just like a religious dogmatism. It looks to me like it’s so ideologically driven — if you’re starting from the standpoint that a miracle claim is not true if we could possibly come up with another explanation and one of the explanations can be, ‘We don’t have an explanation now, but maybe someday we will.’” When I asked Dr. Shermer what he thought about this analogy, he objected. Belief in future scientific discovery “is not faith,” he said. “It’s confidence that the system works pretty well from experience.”

Yep, there we have it. What are you going to believe: science or “lived experience”? Especially when that lived experience comes from the “oppressed” people of the “Global South” whose oppressors are of course us “colonialists”. But Worthen is completely ignoring Hitchens’s Razor: “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” Claims of miracle healing by God is a strong assertion, and “lived experience” does not suffice.  And, of course, the reason we need science is because a lot of our assumptions based on everyday experience are simply wrong.

Worthen’s piece goes on, ending with a bump as Bill Dembski, the doyen of Intellgent Design, is dragged onstage to say that he, too, believes in miracles, but that they “require scrutiny”.

What about the critics? Well, nearly all the tepid criticism offered by Worthen has already appeared in this post, but Michael Shermer is enlisted as the single Token Skeptic, only to be pulled offstage quickly:

Most professional scientists won’t go for this. “Case methods are fine as a way to start,” Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and a historian of science, told me. “But how do you shift from case studies to more experimental protocols that are the gold standard?”

Dr. Shermer sometimes asks believers about all the times prayer fails to heal. “Their answer is, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ It’s just hand-waving,” he said. Divine mystery is central to Christian faith, but it creates problems for a scientific method premised on the assumption that the laws of cause and effect are uniform — and will yield up their mysterious ways if you test and measure again and again.

Earth to Ms. Worthen: there is no “laws of cause and effect” in science. But we’ll let that be and move on to the several questions I’d like to ask Worthen, questions that she really doesn’t answer.

1).  How do you know it’s the Christian God (aka father of Jesus) who did the healing? Yes, it’s often done by Christian preachers, but is there a control for religious healing by Muslims or Hindus? I doubt it. Therefore, you have no strong evidence that your God is the best God, or whether there are multiple gods. (This is the least important question I’d pose.)

2). If God wanted to make himself known, why does he do it through a few paltry miracles instead of making Himself manifest in undeniable ways, ways that Sagan discusses in The Varieties of Scientific Experience (a book I heartily recommend)? Can’t he spell out “I AM WHAT I AM” in the stars?

3). As Shermer notes, why does God pick and choose whom He heals instead of healing everyone? Worthen attempts an answer, but it’s not convincing. She brings in Candy Brown, who just punts, arguing that those who aren’t cured aren’t sufficiently vulnerable or hopeful.

If God can heal, why does he do it so rarely? The world is full of suffering people who pray with no relief. “Even people who believe in miracles often don’t pray for them because they’re afraid of disappointment,” Candy Brown said. “I’ve had people die on my watch. It’s incredibly painful. You ask, ‘Is it my fault?’” She speculated that many Christians’ belief that miraculous healing ceased after New Testament times springs from “protection against pain, protection against feeling ill will toward God or other people. It takes hope and vulnerability to be open to healing.”

For Christians, it also takes spiritual maturity to remember that miracles are not the point. Miracles are signs meant to help humans see the greatest miracle of all, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ— God’s ultimate intrusion into ordinary life, by which he eventually “shall wipe away all tears,” according to the Book of Revelation.

Well, maybe miracles aren’t the point, but they’re sure touted by Christians as proof of God’s existence. Absent evidence for God’s existence, there’s no reason at all to buy the stories of the New Testament.

4.) We saw a few days ago that one of the latest “miracle healings” at Lourdes was unconvincing, for, as my doctor said, the diagnosis was not believable.  I think the same may be true of Josh’s glioma. But one thing would be convincing to many: the regrowing of lost limbs or missing eyes—things not known to happen naturally. So why doesn’t God prove His power by growing back an arm or a leg, or restoring a missing eye? It’s telling that only those maladies not known known to spontaneously disappear are the very ones that we don’t see at Lourdes or other Places of Miracles. That, to me, is telling. In fact, there’s a whole website devoted to this vital question, “Why won’t God heal amputees?” The answer, of course, is that God doesn’t heal anyone, because God doesn’t exist.  (The faithful do have answers to the amputee question, but they’re laughable.)

In the end, Worthen comes off as just about as credulous as the Browns. Her vetting of the healing claims is laughable. Did she interview any skeptical doctors? And the New York Times comes off as even more credulous, because they actually published this stuff and offer no rebuttal save a few words from Shermer.

Why is the NYT engaged in so much faith-pushing? Could it be that it’s decided not to “follow the science” because the woke paper, like many woke people, believe in “other ways of knowing” or that “lived experience trumps data”? I would find that hard to buy, but if the New Yorker has gone down this route, so can the New York Times.

Shamanism makes comeback in New Zealand

November 9, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Yes, there are some sensible advocates of Māori knowledge, which of course becomes part of scientific knowledge in general. Here’s a quote from an article by three Māori who are able to separate the wheat of truth from the chaff of superstition ideology, undocumented tradition, morality, and religion:

“In short, uncritical acceptance of Māori knowledge is arguably just as patronising as its earlier blanket rejection.”

—Nā Dr Michael Stevens, Emeritus Professor Atholl Anderson and Professor Te Maire Tau

Sadly, too many Māori as well as sympathetic descendants of Europeans can’t seem to grasp this simple distinction, which explains why in NZ, more than in any other country, “indigenous ways of knowing” are valorized.  In that country, there appears to be no stopping Mātauranga Māori—the gemisch of trial-and-error empirical fact, woo, and rules of conduct that constitutes the indigenous “way of knowing”—from snuggling in beside science, the only real way of knowing we have.

Now we have news of the convening of a conclave of tohunga, the Māori equivalent of the “medicine men” of indigenous North American tribal groups—or “priests” of religious groups:

It was the role of tohunga to ensure tikanga (customs) were observed. Tohunga guided the people and protected them from spiritual forces. They were healers of both physical and spiritual ailments, and they guided the appropriate rituals for horticulture, fishing, fowling and warfare. They lifted the tapu on newly built houses and waka (canoes), and lifted or placed tapu in death ceremonies.

I refer in this piece mainly to the role of tohunga in curing physical ailments, which, before science-based medicine arrived, was based largely on herbal medicine. Some may have even worked, but we don’t know as they were never tested, and they are powerless against ailments that can be cured by scientific innovations like antibiotics or antivirals.

But this traditional “way of healing” may be coming back.

Click to read this article from the NZ site, 1News:

The gist:

Some of the country’s top experts in mātauranga Māori, known as tohunga, have gathered in Whakatāne for a symposium on the present and future of its role.

Held at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, the event is being led by Tā Hirini Moko Mead and Tā Pou Temara, two leading mātauranga experts.

Sir Hirini said: “Tohunga were the experts who helped the people maintain a balance between the human world and the spiritual world.”

Sir Pou said: “[The tohunga] was not able to cure everything, but because they were the educated person of the tribe he or she knew where to send a person to get satisfaction for the affliction.”

The role of the tohunga was almost completely stamped out by laws like the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act, which was intended to stop traditional Māori practices.

Sir Pou said it was an attempt to wipe out an entire knowledge system. He said that in some areas it was driven underground, but in others, it ceased to exist entirely.

The penultimate line is a gross distortion bordering on a lie. First, the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act wasn’t designed to “stop traditional traditional Māori practices”, but rather to replace dangerous and ineffective Māori ways of healing (and unfounded prognostications) with scientific (called “Western” medicine). Here’s the Wikipedia description of the Act (which, by the way, was wholly repealed in 1962, so that now Māori can subject themselves at will to the dangerous ministrations of tohunga)

The Act contained only four clauses, the first of which simply gave the short title. The second clause stated that “Every person who gathers Maoris around him by practising on their superstition or credulity, or who misleads or attempts to mislead any Maori by professing or pretending to possess supernatural powers in the treatment or cure of any disease, or in the foretelling of future events, or otherwise” was liable for prosecution. The first offence could be subject to a fine of up to 25 pounds or up to six months imprisonment. Subsequent offences could lead to a prison term of up to a year. However, no prosecution under the Act could be commenced without the consent of the Minister of Native Affairs.

The third section enabled the Governor of New Zealand to gazette regulations to enable the intention of the Act to be carried out. The fourth section repealed subsection 5 of section 16 of the Maori Councils Act 1900, which allowed Maori Councils to license tohunga.

See also this paper recounting the history and intent of the Act, which was concentrated on healing.

More important, the Act was promoted not just by one Westerner, but by a whole passel of Māori advocates who wanted the benefits of modern medicine for their people (my emphasis):

It was introduced by James Carroll who expressed impatience with what he considered regressive Maori attitudes.  Officials had been concerned for years about the sometimes dangerous practices of tohunga. The Act was introduced in part to target Māori prophet, faith healer and land rights activist Rua Kenana, but it was never used against him.

It was praised by many influential Maori at the time, including Māui Pōmare and all four Maori MPs (Āpirana NgataHōne Heke NgāpuaTame Parata and Henare Kaihau). According to Willie Jackson, the prevailing concern raised by Ngata was the harm arising from improper medical practices, rather than the destruction of Matauranga Maori.

Particularly important here was Sir Māui Wiremu Pita Naera Pōmare, trained as a physician in the U.S. and then returning to NZ to improve Māori health and to serve as a member of Parliament and as Minister of Health.

For this article to imply that Westerners suppressed native culture when in fact this was largely a Māori initiative and was aimed at health and superstitious prognostication, not an entire culture, is the kind of distortion we’re used to in NZ reporting.

As I said, this Act is no longer in force, so healing can proceed on the basis of MM or other superstitions.

At any rate, the tohunga are making a comeback. From the article above:

[In] 1984, when Sir Pou credits Sir Hirini Moko Mead with beginning the revival of tohunga, when he arranged for tohunga to take part in the Te Māori exhibition.

. . . . Forty years on from those discussions, Sir Pou said Māori knowledge systems had come a long way.

“The tohunga who are now leading out and teaching their own cohorts of tohunga, these tohunga are beyond colonisation.”

“They’ve gone through that and they’re now reclaiming what is rightfully their heritage and their right to practice,” he said.

Right to practice woo, that is—and the right to deprive credulous people from the benefits of scientific medicine.

Now there’s one sentence implying that maybe the tohunga might learn something about modern medicine, but it’s misleading:

As well as upholding Māori knowledge systems, they now have access to the knowledge systems of the entire world, Sir Pou said.

Does that mean scientifically based medical knowledge? Not a chance. It means religion and philosophy. 

“They can draw upon Confucius, they can draw upon Buddha, they can draw upon the great philosophers of the world, of Greece.

“And then relocate it back into Aotearoa [the Māori word for “New Zealand”] into their Māori world, they marry that up with the mātauranga Māori that must be the bedrock of their tohunga knowledge,” he said.

Sir Pou Temara said he was pleased to see the students that he taught now teaching students of their own, a web of reclamation that continues to spread.

Yes, a spreading web of ignorance and credulity that will doom some Māori to illness or death. Applauding the spread of the tohunga is like applauding the spread of faith healing. Indeed, that’s much of what the tohunga do!

Freddie deBoer disses New Atheism while attacking psychic phenomena and “hooey”

July 21, 2022 • 10:00 am

Well, let me clarify my title above.  In the article below on his Substack site, deBoer claims that he started his career attacking New Atheism, and he still sees issues with it, but now thinks he went too far, especially in light of the Vice article he cites. That article notes a rise of Internet scams dealing with supernatural phenomenon like clairvoyance and tarot cards, and he sees that the doubt about faith promoted by New Atheism could be used now to quash these other issues that victimize the credulous. But the so-called demise of New Atheism has deprived people of those tools.

Unfortunately, deBoer, whose writing I admire (but seems to be writing too much these days), still feels he to get in a few licks at Dawkins and Co., and I think those licks are gratuitous and unfair. Still, his call for a revival of skepticism and demands for evidence is absolutely the mark. Faith is faith, whether it involves pastors or psychics.

Click the screenshot to see deBoer’s piece:

There are, I think, six main reasons for the “backlash” against New Atheism, which I see as the reinvigoration of faithlessness by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens (Pinker was a player as well):

1.) People bridle at criticism of religion, especially when it is passionate and vigorous. Religion is sacrosanct, and seen by many as off limits to criticism.

2.) People accused the New Atheists of being strident and trying to wrest religion from believers.

3.) People were jealous of the success of New Atheist writings

4.) Because Muslims are considered “people of color,” opponents of New Atheism were especially critical of its perceived “Islamophobia.”

5.) The perception, often without evidence, that New Atheists were sexists or even sexual assaulters.

6.) The claim that New Atheists ignored social justice because they concentrated too much on addressing, analyzing, and attacking religion. These critics see “progressive social justice” as inextricable from New Atheism, and thus New Atheists were fighting a battle but ignoring a wider war.

In this article, deBoer seems to sign on to reasons 1,2, and 4, though he’s walked back his criticisms a bit: he says that by criticizing New Atheism’s concentration on the need for evidence, people have become susceptible to new forms of woo. That sounds good, though I don’t know if it’s true, and too much of his piece still engages in atheist-bashing.

(Regarding #4, New Atheists often concentrated on Islam because it was in their view (and mine) the most dangerous species of faith in today’s world, as Catholicism was in medieval Europe. I don’t see that as “Islamophobia”, if you conceive of that word as meaning “bigotry against Muslims”. But a “fear of Islam” could also mean “a worry about how that religion is sometimes used to oppress and kill people.)

First, deBoer cites the article below in Vice, which describes the “fake” psychics (they’re all fakes, of course, but there are some who pretend to be other people)—fakers who are now being attacked on social media. (All deBoer’s words are indented).

An actual story from Vice:

I’ll say no more about the Vice article as you can read it for yourself. I was more interested—and distressed—by deBoer’s criticisms of New Atheism, which wasn’t really a “movement” but a term invented to describe the rise of unbelief largely prompted by the authors named above.  Granted, deBoer has backed off some, but not far enough for me. The bolding is mine:

The first thing I ever wrote that got more than a couple dozen views, the piece that made the rounds in the blogosphere and in so doing kickstarted my writing career, was a piece of the type “I’m an atheist who can’t stand New Atheism.” Pieces in that vein became quite common over the years, but in 2008 it was still novel enough to attract all of that attention. This was an era in which the New Atheists still enjoyed a degree of cultural cachet, before the pomposity and shrill tone of so many in the movement curdled its public reputation, to say nothing of the accusations of Islamophobia. It was a different time. The basic contours of the piece still seem correct to me – atheism is almost certain factually true, and I am an atheist, but I have no interest in browbeating believers. I have no interest in converting believers into atheists, and atheism is not a movement. But not only would I not write that piece today, it’s one of very few pieces that I sometimes genuinely wish I had never published at all. Because the ground changed underneath us to such an extent that, well, millions of functioning adults proudly endorse astrology and other hooey in public.

Note first the attacks on New Atheism, but also his assertion that he wish he wouldn’t have written the piece not because he misunderstood or unfairly attacked New Atheism, but because his attack on the movement may have enabled people’s increased belief in woo. Also note, as I claim below, that deBoer is engaging in a form of virtue signaling here: not addressing the arguments of New Atheists but simply calling them names in a way that would appeal to atheist liberals soft on faith (“faithiests”).

Yes, the last sentence is true, though I’m not sure how much criticism on New Atheism enabled the rise of “hooey”. But I also think that deBoer is unfair by attacking New Atheists, especially the prominent ones, for being “pompous and shrill.”  In what way, for example, were Dawkins and Company “pompous and shrill”? Perhaps some of their followers were (actually, some surely were given their numbers). But both of those words could be replaced by “passionate.”

Notice that when New Atheists are accused of stuff like this, no examples are ever given. What is called “shrillness” as a pejorative term strikes me as a nasty word for “writing passionately and strongly,” which doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Were Hitchens or Harris—or any of the five people named above—”shrill”? I don’t think so.

Moreover, I doubt that deBoer would call anyone writing about politics with that same passion as “shrill”. “Shrill and strident” are usually reserved for those who criticize religion, not politics. And these are ad hominem terms, for what was really important about “New Atheism” was its arguments, not the tone of its adherents.

At least, though, deBoer recognizes that what New Atheism—as “antitheism”—was mainly about: demands for empirical evidence for what one believes. It was largely an attack on faith, and on faith that is of the most damaging kind. But deBoer can’t resist saying that some atheists are “annoying,” and again I don’t think he’d say that about politicians with whom he agreed.

He continues and begins to walk back his earlier opinions:

At some point in the 2010s, the backlash to New Atheism became so commonplace, particularly on the political left, that it seemed clear to me that we had communally missed the forest for the trees. That is to say, no matter how annoying some atheists must be, the most important question when it comes to atheism remains (and must remain) whether or not God is real. If God is real, that is the single most important fact in the universe. Issues of comity and messaging take a backseat to the existence of a divine creator, and there’s something strange about being more concerned with how we express our skepticism about such a divine creator than about its actual existence. And while many people who disdain New Atheists will admit to a casual atheism themselves, they’re far less animated and passionate about that atheism than about their hatred of the New Atheists. On a really basic level this seems to be a failure of priority.

He’s correct in the last sentence, but he’s hasn’t retracted his claims about “Islamophobia” or New atheist “browbeating believers” or “converting believers into atheists.” But, after all, if you are arguing logically and rationally against the existence of God, and are arguing with the faithful, what else are you doing but “browbeating believers” (I’d use the term “arguing with believers”; for “browbeating” is a pejorative word). And if you are making empirical arguments against a divine creator, then of course you are also, even if unintentionally, “converting believers into atheists.” Every argument for a moral, political, or ideological stance is an attempt at conversion—to change people’s minds. deBoer spends his time “browbeating Republicans” in a “shrill way”, and trying to convert those with whom he disagrees. How does he differ from New Atheists in these respects.

There are other zingers against New Atheism, too. deBoer, while saying (admirably) that he probably went too far, still goes too far, saying that the demise of New Atheism was “self inflicted”.  His inability to stop dissing New Atheism, although he recognizes its central merit—demand for evidence—is seen in his last paragraph (my bolding).

Ultimately, I think we should work to restore attention to the supernatural claims themselves rather than to the social ephemera that surround them. Of course we should want atheists to be circumspect and friendly and to avoid empty provocation. The question is when this concern about manners overwhelms our fixation on the central questions at hand; the fact that Reddit atheists are annoying can’t make God real. And for the record I think there’s a way to live life that avoids a cloying scientism and witless literalism while still not permitting any lazy mysticism to find its way into your day-to-day practices. There’s also a lot of low-hanging fruit when it comes to people believing things for no reason. I’m perfectly happy to say that I think we should restore a little stigma towards entertaining the idea that the date that you’re born (based on a largely arbitrary and human-made calendar system) dictates your mood, your love life, and your professional success. Maybe sometimes a little stigma is the healthiest option available to us.

So yes, here he admits that there’s too much woo, and the analysis of religion by New Atheists can also be extended to psychic phenomena, taro cards, and so on. But what is this “empty provocation” that deBoer speaks of? And the comment about “cloying scientism and witless literalism”—who, exactly, does that refer to? As most of us know, “scientism” is only used pejoratively, to criticize those who you think rely too much on science and evidence.  It would have been nice if deBoer gave us some examples of “cloying scientism” from some of the well known New Atheists.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the point of deBoer article is a good one: faith applies not just to religion, but to wooish hooey—to all “supernatural” psychic phenomena. But he devalues this point by his inability to resist getting in some unwarranted licks at New Atheism.

In the end, deBoer is doing with New Atheism precisely what he criticizes with ideology: he is trying to tarnish ideas he agrees with by using pejorative words and ad hominem arguments—all because he doesn’t like the way those arguments are expressed. That is what the Woke do! And he’s appealing to popular ideology by bringing up “Islamophobia”, “scientism”, and “shrillness” in attacks on religion. In other words, I think he’s engaged in signaling his virtue.

deBoer should be remorseful for his own athiest-dissing not just because it enabled the Rise of Hooey (actually, I doubt that it did), but also because it was unfair and misguided.

Is New York mayor Eric Adams a woo-meister?

July 11, 2022 • 12:45 pm

After I read Maureen Dowd’s pretty positive assessment of Mayor Eric Adams of NYC in the NYT—someone touted on this site as a potential Democratic Presidential candidate in 2024)—I was surprised to find this in last Thursday’s Guardian.  Yes, Adams would be wrong if he thought his city got “special energy” from crystals, but does he think that? Maybe. Does it matter? Nope.

Click to read:

 

Well, the Guardian is exaggerating a bit. Here’s how its article starts:

Healing crystals have long been a fixture in the spiritual and celebrity worlds – with Adele using them to ward off stage fright and Nicole Richie wearing a clear quartz around her neck for protection.

But the New York City mayor, Eric Adams, believes that they have even more power than that: he professed in a recent interview that he believes there is a “special energy” that comes from the city he presides over, citing its location on a store of rare gems and stones.

As the New York area news website Hell Gate has deftly pointed out, Adams may be the first “crystal guy” of politics. He regularly wears “energy stone bracelets” featuring an array of powerful crystals. And when he proclaimed a “vibe shift” is upon New York City, he wasn’t just talking about the return of low-rise jeans.

I didn’t see any mention of Adams in the New York Magazine piece, but it became paywalled before I finished reading it.

And yes, the bedrock that allows Manhattan to have so many skyscrapers does have a lot of minerals in it. But crystals? The article isn’t sure:

The mayor is right about one thing, says Andrew Pacholyk, a New York-based crystal expert: the city, indeed, is seated on unique bedrock that has been known to produce more than 100 varieties of mineral. Called the Manhattan schist, it was formed about 450m years ago in a collision between what is now the east coast of North America and the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

So what effect might crystals be having on the lives of New Yorkers? Pacholyk is vague on specifics but believes that certain areas in Manhattan do have a “special energy” owing to the unique mix of minerals found there – including quartz, kyanite, and dumortierite. He says it can be felt more strongly in natural areas with exposed rock, like Central Park.

Adams, who shockingly declined to comment for this piece, appears to wear several varieties of quartz himself. Pacholyk analyzed a photo of Adams at a December 2021 event and found the bracelets the mayor wears feature at least a dozen varieties of crystals including amethyst, rose quartz, lapis lazuli, citrine, and aventurine.

Big deal! The loon here isn’t Adams but Pacholyk, who admits above and below that crystals have supernatural properties on humans.

Not of those minerals mentioned (save quartz) is in NYC bedrock, and even if the mayor thinks that the minerals give the city a special energy when we know they can’t, I can’t be too worried about that. After all, we admire public figures for being religious, and being, say, a Christian requires far more suspension of disbelief and far more belief in woo than does being a guy who wears a crystal bracelet and thinks it has some effect on him.

And “shockingly declined to comment for this piece”? Why is that so shocking? It’s like someone asking Mike Pence, “Mike, do you really believe all that crap about the Crucifixion and Resurrection?” I doubt that Pence would comment on that, too, and he’s far more public about his religion.

As for the “recent interview” mentioned above, it was in Politico, and says this, with additional tarring of Adams because they he’s an adhereian to the Deepak-ian form of quantum woo:

[Adams] learned that New York sits on a store of rare gems and stones, and believes that as a result, “there’s a special energy that comes from here.” On his right wrist he wears a pair of multi-colored energy stone bracelets. He has read several books by Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist and faculty member at Honolulu’s Quantum University whose bestseller, Becoming Supernatural, teaches that we can transform our physical and emotional state through the teachings of quantum physics.

The rest of the Guardian article talks about the booming crystal industry and a claim that crystals don’t do squat, which happens to be true. But even for that they must rely on Michael Shermer; they can’t bring themselves to proclaim that there is no fricking evidence that crystals have healing properties. Fortunately Shermer gives a sensible response:

Michael Brant Shermer, an author and executive director of the Skeptics Society, says there is not a shred of scientific evidence to show crystals have a measurable effect on humans or cities like New York. Still, he says, while Adams may be the first high-profile candidate to publicly declare a love of crystals, the metaphysical has found its way into politics in the past.

As in religion! You can barely get elected to dogcatcher in America if you are an open atheist. Shermer goes on:

. . . Shermer says as long as Adams does not let his personal beliefs color his policies, the interest in crystals is harmless.

“Adams shouldn’t think, ‘What should we do about gun violence? Let me consult my crystals,’” he says. “That is a hard enough problem as it is using all the best science we have. Let’s not compound it with crystals. But I think of it the same way that I think of it in other areas of life: if it’s for entertainment purposes only, it’s fine.”

Good response, Michael. But the Guardian then lists three minerals found under NYC (quartz, dumorierite, and black and blue kyanite, and quotes crystal maven Pacholyk on the genuine magical properties of these stones. Here are two examples:

Quartz

“Quartz is known as the ‘master healer’ of stones,” Pacholyk says. “Our own body has quartz in it as a mineral, so it is believed we resonate to its properties vibrationally and magnetically. If you are open to it, you can feel it.”

Dumortierite

Dumortierite is the stone of “tolerance and tranquility”,” Pacholyk says, promoting “self-discipline, cleanliness, courage, trust, accomplishment, harmony, positive attitude, patience and tolerance”.

And so ends the article. So what’s the Guardian’s answer to its title question? It doesn’t give one, but does leave the reader thinking, “Hey, maybe there’s something to this crystal stuff after all!”

Below photo from the Guardian showing Adams wearing a bracelet, but is it a crystal one?

Photo by Getty Images in the Guardian

Indigenous psychiatry: how valuable is it?

July 5, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’ve written a lot about how New Zealand is valorizing indigenous knowledge, and the educational system is on the path to teaching Mātauranga Māori (“MM”)—a mixture of myth, legend, practical knowledge acquired by trial and error, and spirituality—as “science”, coequal to science in science classes.  There is some science in MM, but as a whole it is certainly not the same thing as modern science, and many of its claims are either dubious or palpably false. To teach MM in science classes is to deprive the children of New Zealand of an understanding of science.

Many New Zealanders seems to regard everything about its indigenous people as not only valid, but admirable. A lot of it is, but many Kiwis are too cowed to stand up to some of the more  questionable claims of the Māori, including the claim that their Polynesian ancestors discovered Antarctica centuries ago. I know about this fear because Kiwis who do stand up against nonsense get persecuted, and I get emails from lots of them who agree with me but say that they dare not speak up because they’ll lose their jobs.

The latest effort to “indigenize” knowledge is the bestowing of a huge pot of money on Māori organizations to use “ancestral knowledge” to help cure mental health issues among the indigenous people. This is described in the Newshub article below, which you can click to read:

The article notes that “The new Māori Health Authority has a budget of half a billion dollars and CEO Riana Manuel has allocated $100 million of that to support centuries-old treatments.”

And there is a need for treatment, for the article also notes this:

Māori have the highest suicide rates of all ethnic groups in New Zealand. Mental distress among Māori is almost 50 percent higher than non-Māori and 30 percent are more likely to be left undiagnosed.

Now of course we can’t attribute this to problems that are unique to Māori, as I doubt there was a control for levels of income and other stressors that differ among ethnic groups. But there is a push to use Māori-centered therapy to cure mental illness in that ethnicgroup, and 100 million dollars for using “centuries-old treatments” is a lot of money.

What are these treatments? It’s not clear, but they’re based on lunar cycles and what can only be called psychoastrology. It’s confusing because the article is, as so often happens in Kiwi news, larded with Māori terms that even non-Māori can’t understand. See if you can suss it out:

Not so well known to non-Māori is their tradition of using the moon and stars to help treat mental health issues.

It’s called maramataka and will be incorporated into treatment by the new Māori Health Authority.

Rereata Makiha is on a mission to share ancestral knowledge with the next generation.

He’s an expert on maramataka Māori, or the Māori lunar calendar, and forecasting based on the moon cycles, star systems, tides, and the environment.

“The maramataka helps you, helps us to predict when things are going to happen, to tell us when the fish are going to run, when the eels are going to run – all those sorts of things,” he said.

“When you understand it a lot it’s a brilliant guide on when you should be doing certain things.”

Rikki Solomon teaches at-risk rangatahi and whānau how to use maramataka for improving mental health and knowing when to spend time doing certain activities in nature or around whanau.

“If we find that a whanau has had a low time or they may feel low, what we use is the maramataka to identify their cycles, their highs, and their lows,” Solomon said.

“What we observe in those low areas is what are some rituals at that time. And what I mean about rituals is what is the environment that they can connect to, because our environment is our biggest healer.”

That doesn’t really clear things up, but here’s more on the practice, with quotes from Riana Manuel, CEO of the Māori Health Authority:

“Connecting people back to those spaces and places that have been long forgotten is certainly something that will be investing in,” Manuel said.

Just like they do with Matariki, Māori use maramataka as a way of reading the cosmos to prepare for what’s coming.

“It’s a way of rebuilding the body, your wairua, and rebuilding your energy and getting prepared for the high energy days ahead,” Makiha said.

“So it goes in waves like that and if people understand it and go back to that rather than rush, rush, rush every day, I think that’s what drives a lot of the ill-health.”

If you can figure out what they’re doing from this, you’re a better person than I am.

Now there may indeed be a benefit to using Māori practitioners and ancient Māori practices to treat mental illness. After all, people often feel that therapists who have a background similar to their own are more desirable.  Women, for example, often feel that a woman therapist will treat their problems better, and the same goes for ethnic minorities.  So there may be something to shared experience and background that is therapeutic (there’s also, of course, a placebo effect).

My criticism here is simply that these practices are being adopted in the absence of clinical trials, and so there is only a “traditional” basis for the therapy. Might Māori be helped more with other practices, like cognitive behavioral therapy, practices that have been tested and shown to be efficacious? Or even medication, which has a significant effect on things like depression. (A combination of talk and drug therapy seems to be the most curative).

As a colleague wrote me, this absence of scientific testing of a method that will absorb $100 million is the same issue raised with MM: what is claimed (or assumed) to be “scientific” has not been vetted using the scientific method. To quote the colleague:

This is exactly the problem that led me to raise concerns about MM versus science in the first place. We now have two alternate sets of “facts.” One is based on scientific evidence, and the other may be supported by some evidence but has never been tested in a way that would be considered acceptable for medical science.

Mental health is a form of health, and this is like treating diseases using astrology and “traditional methods” that have never been subject to genuine scientific tests. Doesn’t it seem wise, before investing $100 million in mental-health treatment, that the government of New Zealand be sure that those treatments actually work? 

Sadly, that’s not the way the New Zealand government rolls.

Sheldrake vs. Pigliucci

May 31, 2022 • 9:15 am

Remember Rupert Sheldrake, a notorious quack who combines his pseudoscience with an extraordinarily thin skin, so that when his quackery is called out, he cries that his “good” scientific ideas are being unfairly suppressed?  He’s still here, which disturbs both Pigliucci and me. The good news is that serious scientists have dismissed Sheldrake’s ideas a long time ago, and it’s only the credulous public that keeps him going, for he says what they want to hear.  Also, he doesn’t rant, but speaks with a Received English accent, which makes him seem saner than he is.

I used to post about Sheldrake all the time (see pages at this link), as his ideas were so unbelievably crazy that I couldn’t resist. Further, he was given the platform of a TEDx Whitechapel talk in which he expounded scientific misconceptions, and when TEDx moved the talk from their YouTube channel to another site because of its errors, Sheldrake claimed censorship.  As Massimo Pigliucci notes in the article below:

Like many purveyors of pseudoscience, [Sheldrake] suffers from Galileo syndrome, the belief that he is a lonely genius who sees further than anyone else, but whom the scientific establishment fights against in order to preserve the status quo.

Click below to read Pigliucci’s critical take on Sheldrake, who’s still hanging about like a bad penny.

In many ways Sheldrake resembles Deepak Chopra, another self-styled “misunderstood genius”. Among Sheldrake’s questionable ideas are that of “morphic resonance”, the notion that people can sense when others are staring at their backs, as well as the claim that dogs can be psychic. But let Massimo outline some of these (all have been debunked or explained as naturalistic phenomena):

But let’s get to the substance of what Sheldrake has been claiming now for decades. Back in 1981 he published a book, A New Science of Life, which prompted a devastating review by John Maddox in Nature, part of which is quoted at the beginning of this article. That’s where Sheldrake proposes his notion of “morphic resonance,” an entirely new phenomenon that is meant to account for both known and still unexplained phenomena, from biological heredity to the alleged “fact” that when a rat learns to navigate a maze in a laboratory other rats, in other locations, mysteriously acquire the same knowledge.

The notion, as much as one can make any sense of it, is that the entire universe is actually a living thing (Sheldrake also endorses the idea of panpsychism) characterized by a “morphic field” that makes all these things (and many more thereof, including telepathy) possible through a kind of diffused memory.

Morphic fields are reminiscent of the Jungian (itself pseudoscientific) notion of archetypes, with the difference that Jung limited his particular bit of empirically unsubstantiated speculation to the human subconscious, while Sheldrake goes cosmic.

The idea of morphic resonance — like pretty much all of Sheldrake’s ideas — is also not at all original. To begin with, it closely resembles the long discredited concept of a vital force, or élan vital, proposed by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1907 book Creative Evolution, and actually tracking all the way back to first century BCE Stoic Posidonius of Apamea. I don’t know whether Sheldrake is aware of these forerunners, but he does acknowledge the influence of the neo-vitalist Hans Driesch and his philosophy of entelechy (a term originally coined by Aristotle).

Needless to say, but let’s state it clearly anyway, there is absolutely no evidence that life forces, morphogenetic fields, and related concepts have any correspondence with the real world. Accordingly, Sheldrake hasn’t been able to publish his ideas in real scientific journals. Which I’m sure he attributes, conveniently, to a worldwide conspiracy against him.

Then again, some of his claims have been subjected to test even when the pertinent evidence (and only part of the methodology) appeared only in Sheldrake’s own books. For example, psychologist Richard Wiseman has investigated multiple claims made by Sheldrake, and found them wanting. In a paper entitled “The Psychic Pet Phenomenon: A Reply to Rupert Sheldrake” Wiseman tried to replicate an experiment carried out by Sheldrake using a “psychic pet,” which turned out to be a dog named Jaytee. The claim was that Jaytee would hang around the porch of his owner’s house for longer periods whenever the owner was on his way home. Wiseman’s explanation of the alleged phenomenon is far more prosaic than dog telepathy: the data is consistent with a dog’s natural waiting behavior, and specifically with the tendency of the dog to prolong visits to the porch the longer the owner had been away. As Sam Woolfe puts it in a critical article on Sheldrake, “this is evidence of a dog anticipating the arrival of their owner, instead of knowing it through psychic abilities.” Physicist Freeman Dyson (quoted by John Greenbank in an article Philosophy Now) added:

“Recently Rupert Sheldrake did some interesting experiments on ESP in dogs. Dogs are much better than humans for such experiments. Dogs are dumb, they are not interested in the outcome of the experiment, and they do not cheat. Unfortunately Rupert Sheldrake is not a dog. He is human, and his essential role in his experiments makes his results questionable.”

Wiseman, in his near infinite patience and intellectual honesty, also checked another of Sheldrake’s bizarre ideas. In his book, The Sense of Being Stared At, Sheldrake claims that after tens of thousands of trials, 60% of the subjects reported a feeling of being stared at when they, in fact, were. This would be higher than the expected rate by chance, which is 50%. But Wiseman repeated the experiment and found no statistically significant deviation from the 50–50 rate. Naturally.

Sheldrake has also argued that the speed of light has been dropping over time, a view for which there is absolutely zero evidence. If you go to his talk (link above), he claims that this change in the speed of light “is the most embarrassing episode in the history of science”. (There was no change.)

Yet despite the fact that he’s a palpable quackpot, Sheldrake still gets invites to talk. As Massimo notes in the article, Sheldrake has been invited to the “How the Light Gets In” Festival at Hay in Wales, a generally serious venue that I spoke at once. In fact, Sheldrake has been invited several times, and for no good reason that I can see. It’s not to demonstrate quackery; it’s because Sheldrake’s message, which is antimaterialistic, pro-panpsychism, teleological, and gives a purpose for nature, is like cream to those cats who demand purpose in their science.

Here’s Sheldrake being asked about the supposed death of New Atheism. Instead of answering the question, he immediately goes back years to kvetch about his “banned” TEDx talk, which clearly still smarts, and to argue that his “cancellation” (his talk wasn’t removed, just put on a new site) was in fact the beginning of the death of New Atheism. This is a man who vastly overrates his own influence.  The “Galileo Syndrome” is quite evident.

It’s ironic that in the Facebook clip above, Sheldrake mentions the “reproducibility crisis” in science as an example of how science is unreliable, for none of Sheldrake’s own contentions have been replicated.

In a way I feel sorry for Sheldrake, who must wake up each morning feeling aggrieved that his greatness hasn’t been recognized. But on the other hand I despise his pushing woo and dissing science when there’s no substantive basis for his assertions. In the end, I agree with Massimo’s assessment (The Science Delusion is one of Sheldrake’s books.)

. . . the scientific approach to understanding the world has been around for five (if you count from Galileo) or 25 centuries (if you count from Pre-Socratics like Thales of Miletus). And for all the “alternative ways of knowing” that people like Sheldrake keep throwing up, it has been extremely successful and unparalleled. Meanwhile, none of the alleged alternatives has produced anything other than vague and untestable speculations. That’s why, in the end, I have to agree with Greenbank, who writes:

“The Science Delusion, is disturbingly eccentric. Fluently superficial, it combines a disorderly collage of scientific fact and opinion with an intrusive yet disjunctive metaphysical program.” (Philosophy Now)

h/t: Daniel

Shades of Nostradamus: the NYT touts precognition

May 11, 2022 • 1:15 pm

The tweet below from Steve PInker, which is spot on, brought this NYT book review to my attention. Once again, the paper dilates on the supernatural without any warning to the reader that there’s no evidence for the efficacy of “precognition”—being able to see into the future, a form of extra-sensory perception (ESP). Yet the book review implies that there might be something to it.

Here’s the tweet:

The NYT piece reviews this book (note the title). The account may be true, but the “death foretold”? Fuggedabout it.  (Click to go to Amazon link):

The author of this big of clickbait is W. M. Akers, whose bona fides, as given by the NYT, are “W.M. Akers is the author of “Westside,” “Deadball: Baseball With Dice” and the newsletter “Strange Times.” His most recent novel is “Westside Lights.”

The review (click to read):

Knight’s book tells the story of a British psychiatrist named John Baker, who was drawn to the supernatural and especially to precognition. He thought that if he could suss out credible instances of people foreseeing disasters, he might be able to prevent those disasters (think of a non-crime version of precogs in “Minority Report”). Here’s one instance of precognition that got Baker’s juices flowing:

n Oct. 21, 1966, Lorna Middleton woke up choking. The sensation passed, leaving behind melancholy and a sense of impending doom. After a lifetime of experiencing premonitions of misery and death, Middleton, a North London piano teacher, recognized the signs. Something hideous was on the way.

A few hours later, workers on a heap of coal waste in South Wales watched with horror as the 111-foot tower of “spoil” collapsed and cascaded down the mountain toward the village of Aberfan — thousands of tons of slurry and rock bearing down on the primary school. It was just past 10 in the morning and the classrooms were full of students doing spelling exercises, singing songs, learning math. When a 30-foot wave of refuse slammed into the building, they were buried alive. One hundred and forty-four people died that day. One hundred and sixteen were children, most between 7 and 10 years old. It was the sort of horror that makes people demand meaning — the sort for which meaning is rarely found.

Now that’s not a very precise example of precognition, is it? In fact, thousands of people probably had bad dreams that night, and where is the coal spoil in Middleton’s nonspecific dream? This seems like nothing more than pure coincidence. And how could precognition work, anyway? This doesn’t appear to be a subject of much interest to Knight—or Akers.

But in fact coincidence is what Baker was trawling for, looking for cases in which real “precogs” could be used in a practical way. If only the exact nature of the disaster could be predicted! Baker got to work, teaming up with Alan Hencher, a postal employee whose migraine headaches were supposed to predict disasters (but of what sort?) and Lorna Middleton, who had the bad dream that was followed by the coal-spoil avalanche::

Barker used his connections at The Evening Standard to solicit premonitions of the disaster. He found 22 he believed credible, including Middleton’s — he believed any vision accompanied by physical symptoms to be particularly strong. On the back of this research, The Standard recruited Barker to create a standing “Premonitions Bureau” that could catalog predictions and check to see how many came true. The Standard brass saw it as an offbeat way to sell papers. Barker considered it his chance to save the world.

“He wanted an instrument that was sensitive enough to capture intimations that were otherwise impossible to detect,” writes Knight. “He envisaged the fully fledged Premonitions Bureau as a ‘central clearinghouse to which the public could always write or telephone should they experience any premonitions, particularly those which they felt were related to future catastrophes.’ Over time, the Premonitions Bureau would become a databank for the nation’s dreams and visions — ‘mass premonitions,’ Barker later called them — and issue alerts based on the visions it received.”

So were any disasters averted? Nope, of course not. What we got is what we expected: there were dozens of premonitions, and  some of them roughly matched something that happened, but most (more than 97%) did not. And even when they didn’t, they stretched the premonitions so they’d be sort-of true:

In the first week of 1967, Barker and the Standard staff began sorting predictions into categories like “Royalty,” “Racing,” Fire” and “Non-specified disasters.” (The science correspondent Peter Fairley often drew on the racing file for betting tips.) Once categorized, they would wait to see what happened, and attempt to connect the tragedies on the news page with the prophecies in their files.

Along with Alan Hencher, a postal employee whose migraines seemed to anticipate disaster, Middleton became Barker’s best source. He greeted her successful predictions with glee. When the death of the astronaut Vladimir Komarov bore out her warning of peril in space, Barker wrote to say, “You were spot on. Well done!” When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated after months of her warning that his life was in danger, Barker called it her best work yet.

But what about Middleton’s unsuccessful predictions—her “worst work”? The review says nothing, except that they fudged the unsuccessful guesses to make them seem more accurate:

If they sometimes had to stretch to make the news fit what Middleton and her fellows dreamed up — letting tornadoes in the Midwest satisfy a prediction of catastrophic weather in California, for instance — Barker saw no problem. He was overjoyed with the success of his star psychics and hoped to scour the country to find more like them. He believed second sight was as common as left-handedness. It didn’t matter that the premonitions were rarely specific enough to be useful, warning simply of a train to derail somewhere, an airliner to crash at some point. Barker believed he was onto something cosmic.

Rarely specific enough to be useful? Why don’t they give us one instance in which a predication was useful, and evidence that the predictions that proved accurate were more common than could be accounted for by coincidence (e.g., was there one person whose precognitions were almost invariably accurate?) If this worked, that person would have won a million bucks from James Randi (nobody ever did). Even according to the author’s count, only 3% of the predictions “came true” (mostly from MIddleton and Hetcher). And that, I’m sure, is stretching it.

The text here gives one no assurance that anything other than coincidence was involved. To make a scientific and definitive statement about the efficacy of precognition, you’d need a rigorous and accurate set of tests, tests incorporating fraud-detectors like James Randi. There are no such tests that have proved successful. The NYT does not mention this.

But wait! There was one “successful” prediction: Middleton and Hencher predicted that Barker would soon die (they give no date) and a year and a half after the “predictions bureau” was founded, Barker had a cerebral hemorrhage and croaked. Is that uncanny, or just coincidence?

The review concludes that the precog experiment was indeed “worth a shot”:

Barker’s psychics’ predictions had proved accurate, but they did not help him avoid his fate. He had hoped to use the Bureau to change the future. It had not even come close. By Knight’s count, only 3 percent of the Bureau’s predictions came true — nearly all of the successes from Middleton and Hencher. It found no useful data and prevented no tragedies. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth a shot.

“We confer meaning as a way to control our existence,” writes Knight. “It makes life livable. The alternative is frightening.”

Three percent is better than nothing. Even false meaning is preferable to fear.

I’m sorry to have to say this, but that conclusion is bullshit.  If “false meaning is preferable to fear”, then we should all become religious. And, anyway, what kind of fear does 3% of coincidental matches dispel? What is the frightening abyss into which we must gaze if none of the predictions were even remotely true? The last two paragraphs are pure New Yorker-style prose: they sound good, but they say nothing.

Some of the evidence for precognition that people found convincing came from Daryl Bem. This evidence has not held up (see also here).  Doesn’t the NYT or its authors owe us that information, or the fact that there is no conceivable way that the laws of physics could even allow precognition?  No, because the paper is are wedded to cosseting our “spiritual” side.

 

NPR promotes tarot

February 6, 2022 • 9:45 am

It seems that many venues of the “mainstream liberal media”, like National Public Radio (NPR) and the New York Times, are devoting more space to woo: dowsing, tarot, talking to the dead, astrology, and so on. Now the MSLM has become a bit savvier about this nonsense. It often claims, as in the NPR “Life Kit” article below, that these things don’t really work through magical methods, but they help you get in tune with your feelings and become psychologically more astute. (Any person with more than a few neurons would ask an astrologer or tarot reader, “How come you’re not rich from forecasting the economy or stock market? And people are getting smarter about that.)

Still NPR, in the article below, walks a fine line between psychology and magic. And if you need psychological support or help in making a decision, there are always friends (preferably women, who are less prescriptive and tend to listen more than do men), or, if you want to pay, there are therapists, who don’t profess any magical abilities.

NPR is funded in part by the government, so it’s our money that funds about 11% of this nonsense. Click on the screenshot below:

 

First come the caveats (“it doesn’t predict the future”) and then the promise (“it helps you make decisions”). But seriously, is looking at cards that have specific meanings going to be a better way to make a decision than to talk to good people? After all, the cards are just a matter of chance, and there could be considerable confirmation bias involved in having them “help you” to decide what you want, which may not be the best decision.

The caveats (all emphases below are mine):

I didn’t always listen to the readings, but the rituals provided me a space to ruminate on and figure out my own answers to the question that’s being asked of the cards. Years later, along with many others, I’ve returned to the practice as a way of staying grounded during this time of indecision and overwhelm.

As tarot reader and writer Michelle Tea puts it, some people mistakenly come to tarot for a prediction of the future, when it’s really about self-reflection. “If you’re a person that wants to integrate more spirituality into your life or to look at life a bit more philosophically, it’s a great tool to even just pick a daily card.”

Modern tarot, which derives from mid-15th century European playing cards, has rules and structure that often feel inaccessible to newcomers: even if you’ve gotten a reading before, you may be intimidated by the cards, or wondering whether you’re witchy or cool enough to practice tarot yourself.

But what is the “spirituality” you want? Is this a sneaky way of talking about the numinous, or a kind of woo? What you want to integrate into your life is rationality, not spirituality.

And if you get a reading from someone else, well, the chances that you are using them to forecast your life is much higher, as these people are practiced grifters and cold readers, though some may employ a form of therapy. (They are not, of course, trained in therapy.)You can see an actual reading below by the subject of this NPR article (and interview), reader Michelle Tea, who’s touted for “her prescient readings” (see below).

Then things get a bit more numinous as you learn to pick more cards from the pack of 78:

Tea says this is yet another common misconception about tarot. “Tarot is incredibly welcoming for a novice. If I could learn it, really anybody can,” she says. “It’s just about becoming comfortable with the imagery, learning them by heart and understanding how the cards talk to each other so that when you pull a series of cards, you understand how they flow into a type of story.”

The story, of course, is really one you tell yourself; the pretense is that there’s some pattern, a pattern violating the laws of physics, that will guide your life and answer your questions.

And then it gets more numinous yet, with a helpful chart on how to use the cards:

A standard tarot deck has 78 cards divided into two groups, 22 major arcana cards and 56 minor arcana cards. The major arcana showcase big life events, while the minor arcana look at the strokes and speak to our daily lives, though much of this, of course, varies on the reader.

The major arcana are composed of the archetype cards like the sun, the magician and the lovers. They’re often numbered as zero (the fool) to 22 (the world). “When major cards come up in readings, they usually talk about a moment that is really significant,” Tea explains, “like a peak moment in our lives or a significant learning opportunity, a lesson that’s going to be very impactful for us.”

The minor arcana are divided into four elements, similar to traditional playing cards — running from one to 10, followed by face cards. Elements are represented by symbols, which Tea breaks down here. . . .

So the cards begin to assume meanings to guide you.  The helpful chart (click to enlarge):

credit: Clare Marie Schneider/NPR

And the tarot can help you!

And now we get to the real woo:

Ask specific questions:

To receive more insightful readings, try to avoid asking big picture questions that cover the span of a year or speak to your general mood.

“If you’re overwhelmed and you want the tarot to reassure you, that’s really not the tarot’s job,” says Tea. “The tarot isn’t here to tell you everything’s going to be okay, but if you’re having a challenging moment, the tarot can help you deal with it.”

You can still, of course, lean on the cards. Rather than asking a muddy question like “Is everything going to be okay?” you can reframe it to “What actions could I take?”

Tarot can also respond to yes or no questions like “Should I leave my job?” Or even day-to-day questions like “How should I talk about splitting chores with my roommates?” If you disagree with the cards, that’s okay, too. As Tea says, “The tarot is a tool for you to be proactive in your own life, and to move into your own destiny with confidence.”

In other words, why use cards at all if it’s fine to disagree with them?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, and comrades, what we have here is your taxpayer money going to tout a bunch of bogus card therapy.

You can find a 15-minute conversation between tarot reader Michelle Tea and and NPR Host Janet Lee here. It’s even worse. It turns out that Lee, who co-wrote the article above, isn’t exactly skeptical of tarot, for she says this:

“Today, I keep up with the spiritual practice by giving tarot readings. I spent years practicing on my own before reading for other people, but when I first started, I felt like I wasn’t witchy or spooky enough to learn tarot at all. What convinced me otherwise was a book by writer and tarot reader Michelle Tea.”

And Tea says this:

TEA: And you can also pick cards about just sort of, you know, what should you do with your career, what should you do with your art practice, you know, where should you live? Should you ask that person on a date? Like, tarot also responds wonderfully to all of our sort of petty (laughter) – the petty concerns that feel very important to us as human beings.

“Tarot responds. . . “.  In other words, these ancient cards tell us what to do with our lives.

The first line of the blurb for Tea’s Amazon book on tarot is this:

Long before Michelle Tea was winning awards for her poignant memoirs, she was a scrappy misfit on the streets of San Francisco, supporting herself by giving eerily prescient tarot readings.

Prescient means this: “Having or showing knowledge of events before they take place.”

Ah. . . there we have it.  Note that in the reading below, there are clearly predictions about the future. As usual, the readings are so ambiguous that they can be construed any way they want. That’s where the cold reading comes in.

It’s clear that the folks who pay or buy cards to engage in this kind of mishigass do want answers, and thus may use a human reader first before they try to deal personally with the cards. But the important questions for us are these:

  1.  Has there been a scientific test of tarot to see if it’s better than no tarot (or fake cards) in helping people with their lives, or better than a therapist or talking to a friend?
  2. Why is NPR touting this nonsense? If it wants to help people in difficulties, shouldn’t its Life Kit present proper solutions instead of woo?
  3. Where are the scientific caveats about the usefulness of traditional packs of 78 cards in helping you or predicting the future, whether or not you take specific actions? Why did they not interview any tarot skeptics. The coverage is thus grossly unbalanced.
  4. And why are places like the NYT or NPR so into this kind of nonsense? Is it a replacement for religion.

Let’s get a reading with Tea, shown in the video below.

If you don’t think she’s using this to prognosticate, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. (I am a monkey’s distant descendant, though.) One thing is for sure: we don’t need no stinking tarot cards in our Life Kit.

h/t: Ginger K.

Wired touts astrology as a practice that works

January 7, 2022 • 9:45 am

The other day, when I criticized the op-ed in Scientific American that tarred E. O. Wilson (along with others like Mendel and Darwin) as a “racist”, I added the usual observation: the magazine is getting terminally woke and nonscientific.  One hopes it would regain its former status as a sought-after place for laypeople to learn about science, but that won’t happen until they replace the Editor-in-Chief and/or get a new philosophy.

One commenter, though, suggested that a good replacement for Sci. Am. is Wired.  I haven’t read Wired much, and have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. But this new article—yes, an article, not an op-ed—suggests that Wired, too, may be the victim of woo, and bears watching. Click on the screenshot to read:

It’s the usual modern apologia for astrology, which can’t bring itself to admit that astrology is a “science” that cannot make accurate predictions, and also argues that astrology is much more than just a form of “cold reading” or therapy: the stars and planets really do affect our futures in some way we don’t understand.  Since there is no evidence that tests of astrology, properly conducted, show any ability to predict personality or the future (see below) this is basically Wired magazine’s presentation of woo—without any criticism. It is touting astrology, which victimizes people who pay good morning for nothing.

It’s even worse, for the author is identified this way:

Diana Rose Harper is a professional consulting & teaching astrologer currently living in southern California.

Yes, it works! And it’s historically justified!

ASTROLOGY IS A predictive art. And though many astrologers twist themselves into intellectual knots in an attempt to legitimize astrology within a scientific materialist paradigm—thereby creating a boundary between astrology and less-reputable “fortune-telling,” and avoiding guilt-by-association proximity with swindling “psychics”—there is no mechanistic explanation for how it works. Empirical astrological data, while extant, fails to satisfy the craving for clearly replicable quantitative results. The massively subjective nature of astrological interpretation doesn’t help: Two astrologers can look at the same planetary configuration and come to decidedly different conclusions, and sometimes, they’re both right.

Check out the link for “extant”, implying that there are actual data justifying the use of planetary and celestial positions in helping people. It just goes to the journal for astrologers!

And here’s a historical justification:

Still, rulers of nations and empires have a long history of relying on astrologers as part of the growth and maintenance of power; there’s just as long a history of astrologers being imprisoned (or worse). The ability to predict is precisely what makes astrology so potent, and exactly what brings risk into astrological practice.

There’s no test of the ability to predict that shows it works, and a “long history” proves nothing. There’s a long history of people praying to God and Jesus, but that doesn’t mean either that these figures exist or that prayer works.

Gobbledygook! It works but it requires a combination of stars and empathy!

But the celestial charts are still important!

As Sam Reynolds, an astrologer who started out as a skeptic and has served on the board for the international astrology organization ISAR, points out, even character analysis via the natal chart is essentially a form of thematic forecasting: “By virtue of looking at your character, [astrology] can bespeak what is likely to manifest, what we’re likely dealing with,” an extension of Heraclitus’s dictum that “character is destiny.” Character influences how we navigate the circumstances life throws at us. “Fate has two arms: one of them is yours,” he says. “Astrology is about learning how to work the arm that you can work.”

Working the workable arm of fate is what astrologer, teacher, and CUSP app cofounder Kirah Tabourn does for herself and for her clients. A planning-focused astrologer, Tabourn considers prediction to provide “more grounding in the present by having some idea of the patterning of the future,” including the precious gift of organizing one’s life. “[Astrological timing] helps people feel like there’s some structure, an order to things,” she says. “It helps people make decisions.”

. . .However, knowing that people make choices based on astrology comes with an imperative to be as ethical as possible when translating celestial movements for clients. “Our clients and content consumers are often in a space of putting a lot of weight into what [astrologers] say,” adds Tabourn. “Being really mindful of that power dynamic is super important.”

The downside to the immense meaning-making potential of astrology? It renders the practice vulnerable to misuse by uncareful types with dubious commitment to honorable behavior. An astrologer more concerned with being right or being (in)famous than they are with being helpful runs the very real risk of chasing sensationalism at the expense of integrity. This results in people who use astrology as an excuse to be an ambulance chaser or to create viral, fear-mongering social media content. Astrologers without deliberate training in counseling skills or trauma-informed practice, even those with the very best intentions, run the risk of inadvertently distressing their clients rather than supporting them. Some professional astrological organizations attempt to address these issues through codes of ethics, but because there’s no governing body dictating who can and cannot call themselves an astrologer, such codes are limited in their capacity to reign in practitioners behaving irresponsibly. Additionally, those codes, by their very nature, cannot fully address ethical differences across cultures or generational divides.

Note the emphasis on counseling and empathy. If her astrology “works” (and that has yet to be ascertained), it will surely be due to the “friend/counselor effect”. Talking to anyone who empathizes with you, whether or not they are “paid friends”, is better than doing nothing.

I’ll draw this piece to a merciful close, though Harper says a lot more that one could parse. But why bother; there’s no material way the alignment of stars and planets when you are born could affect your personality or future. Until we think there’s a naturalistic way this could happen, I’ll just end with Hitchens’s Razor: What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

For astrology, as with many species of woo, there is no evidence for it at all, much less “extraordinary” evidence. In this case, Wired is not only “unscientific”, but antiscientific. Let us dismiss it with prejudice!

Two bits of Irish woo

December 23, 2021 • 11:15 am

There’s a time when “blarney” becomes crazy and harmful, and we have two cases that appeared at the same time.  The first represents the New York Times‘s recent presentation of woo in extenso, with almost no critical remarks. The editors are soft on astrology, they’re soft on dowsing, they’re soft on religion, and now they’re soft on a mixture of religion and spiritual healing. Click the screenshot to read:

As the article reports, there are a number of faith healers in Ireland who have what they call “the cure”. It’s nothing new; it’s the old “laying on of hands” by believers, often accompanied by prayer, holy water, etc., to effect cures. The guy in the photo above, Joe Gallagher in Pullough, is the seventh son of a seventh son (not that rare in Catholic Ireland, but increasingly rarer), and this is supposed to give him special healing abilities. Here’s how the author, Megan Specia, describes “The Cure”:

Mr. Gallagher is just one of hundreds of men and women across Ireland who are healers, or have “the cure,” an approach to health care that interweaves home remedies with mysticism, superstition, religion and a sprinkle of magic.

It’s part of a belief in folk medicine, curing charms and faith healers that is still a way of life for many in Ireland, if a fading one.

Some who are believed to have the cure are seventh sons, like Mr. Gallagher, a birth order long thought to bestow special powers.

Others are keepers of family customs that range from rituals, prayers and charms to herbal tinctures, offered up as treatments for everything from burns and sprains to rashes and coughs.

Since his childhood, people have sought out Mr. Gallagher. “I think you must have the belief,” he said, acknowledging that the process doesn’t always work. “I wouldn’t say that I can do miracles.”

Indeed!

People come from miles around to see healers like Gallagher, who are reputed to cure things like:

  • burns
  • sprains
  • coughs
  • rashes
  • warts
  • shingles
  • ringworm (in dogs, too!)

An example:

Bart Gibbons, 57, who owns a grocery store in the village of Drumshanbo in County Leitrim, has a cure for warts that was passed down from his father and his father’s father before him.

It involves taking a bundle of rushes and saying a combination of prayers as they are held over the affected area. Then, he buries the reed-like plants. The belief is that when they decay, the warts are gone.

They don’t get paid, so at least that’s good, but have they done controlled trials with these shamans? I don’t think so. At least they’re cheaper than doctors, but isn’t there a form of national healthcare in Ireland? And, as you know, warts sometimes go away by themselves.

The only comments that are negative in this longish piece are these:

Attributing positive outcomes of the cure to something like a placebo effect makes sense to Ronald Moore, an associate professor of public health at University College Dublin who has spent years researching folk cures and who emphasized there is little scientific evidence for the efficacy of these practices.

Well, then, why not just give the people sugar pills? And the statement above is quickly followed by this:

But that doesn’t mean the medical community completely dismisses potential benefits, with some doctors known to send their patients for the cure, often for skin issues or other minor troubles.

“Modern practices on the one hand pooh pooh this, as scandalous and outrageous and quackery,” Dr. Moore said. “But in fact, and in reality, they utilize it.”

Those doctors are shameful. At least they don’t send patients to the Irish shamans for maladies like cancer and heart disease. (Shamans may, however, try to cure people of more serious stuff.)

Although the practice is “deeply religious”, it works on dogs, too!  Can dogs lose their ailments by “The Cure”? I thought Edward Feser maintained that dogs don’t have souls. But here’s the last picture of healing in the piece; I’ve included the paper’s caption. The picture makes me laugh out loud: a real LOL:

Mr. Keane performing the cure for ringworm on one of the dogs from a neighboring house in Cloghans.Credit…Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Once again the New York Times is touting quackery by publicizing it and only bringing in one lone dissenter, who is immediately countered by a physician enthusiast. What is going on with this newspaper?

****************

This article with its hilarious title is a serious piece in another Times—the Irish Times. Being a Catholic coutry and all, I suppose papers there have more article like this one. If you read the piece, you’ll see that “lay theologian” (indeed!) Brendan Butler is deeply besotted with God and baby Jesus, the “eternal Cosmic Christ.” And Jesus is said to be the “culmination of 13.8 billion years of evolution.” This implies that evolution in humans has stopped, but yet we’re still evolving and so is every other species.  Read and weep to find out why Jesus is the End of Evolution:

Okay, here’s the whole scientific explanation of why Jesus is the culmination of evolution (it’s part of a longer piece that sounds like a sermon):

How to reconcile a human and a divine nature in one person became the subject of controversy until it was resolved in 431 at the council of Ephesus by declaring Mary as ‘Theotokos’ – the mother of God.

But this led to another question: why did the eternal creator God become a mortal and fragile human creature? Various explanations were put forward, with the most common being that it was necessary for God the Son to become human and die on a cross for the sins of the human race.

However, another explanation associated with the Franciscan theologian John Dun Scotus, fits in with our post-Darwin, post-Einstein and post-Hubble world. In this view the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was the culmination of 13.8 billion years of the evolutionary process.

He was born with the substance of the stars and molecules of prehistoric life present and active in his body. In this Christology the baby is not just a child of the universe but the eternal Cosmic Christ who released that primal energy which burst forth and created the universe.

Evolutionary process

This Christ remained an integral part of the evolutionary process, sustaining it and driving it forward towards greater and greater complexity until the apex of that movement emerged as homo sapiens.

It was always God’s plan that the creator Christ, already present in the universe as an invisible presence, would become fully human and be born as a human being.

I think Mr. Butler should take a course in evolution, where he’d learn that there is no evidence that evolution is teleological, and that it was going on for 3.5 billion years before Baby Jesus was born. Who sustained evolution until then?  But I’m pleased to learn that Jesus, like the rest of us, was made of billion-year-old carbon. Still, he’s got to get himself back to the garden (of Eden).

It’s just tripe, of course, but why would the Irish times give a millimeter of space to stuff like this?

Below: the author with the paper’s caption; Butler is apparently Jesus’s ghostwriter:

Brendan Butler is a lay theologian and author of My Story by Jesus of Nazareth

h/t: Kieran, Alexandra