Sunday, October 19, 2014

#1184: Thomas M. Strouse


Far out on the fringes of the fringe you will encounter people like Thomas Strouse, member of the Dean Burgon Society and the dean at the Emmanuel-Newington Theological Seminary in Connecticut. Strouse is one of today’s leading … geocentrist. What is his evidence? Well, nothing, really, but a proper reading of the KJV chapters of Genesis suggests geocentrism. And if his favored reading of the Bible suggests this, then everyone else’s reading of the book of nature must be wrong. A priori. (A paper is here - and yes, it contains exclusively Bible interpretation – no discussion of data.) His book He Maketh His Sun to Rise: A Look at Biblical Geocentricity, deals with “geocentric verses in Scripture and exposes the fallacious arguments for heliocentrism and the unbiblical presuppositions that geocentricity's creationist critics labor under;” non-creationists aren’t even on the radar. (He also calls himself “Dr. Strouse”, but his “Ph.D.” is in theology from Bob Jones University, which gives him somewhat less credibility than if he had bought the degree online – for online degrees there are no standards and everything goes; Bob Jones is famous for correcting everything that might otherwise be correct among their students’ beliefs to ensure that the candidate is sufficiently delusional and fanatic – they have anti-standards).

What is really scary is that these self-professed fundamentalists, like Strouse, are organized and plentiful. And yes, they have their own conferences, journals and institutions – which are usually a closed book to those of us who care more about the real world. Geocentrism may be a fringe position, but it is considered a legitimate alternative in these environments. Evolution is, of course, not even under discussion (as you can see e.g. in Bob McCabe’s critique of Strouse here). At least – and as opposed to many ordinary creationists – they explicitly reject all of science and often proudly admit to not having any other evidence than Scripture to back up their positions. Take, as a random example, the Way of Life group here, and the literature they promote (e.g. David Cloud’s comments on “rock music” – or Jeff Royal’s discussion of whether country music is a “safe alternative” –  or his article “The Creation Museum: Many Infallible Proofs” – “The Creation Museum is the center for serious education,” according to Royal).

Diagnosis: Truly, profoundly scary. This fuming, unhinged fanatic has quite a substantial flock behind him, and he is surely not up to using it for the world’s benefit.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

#1183: Whitley Strieber


Whitley Strieber is best known for two things: his horror and scifi novels, including The Wolfen and The Hunger, and his horror and scifi novels Communion and its sequels. The thing is that whereas Strieber admits that the first two books are works of fiction, he claims that the latter are not.

Communion recounts the tale of the author’s alleged abduction by non-humans in 1985. Though he is careful not to characterize his abductors as extra-terrestrial aliens (indeed, they sound much more like something out of Twin Peaks) and as a matter of fact seems to admit that the abductors may exist only in his own mind, later works has not focused much on the latter possibility (it might be argued that he seems to struggle with the distinction itself). Nonetheless Communion turned out enormously popular and pushed Strieber to the forefront of the various lunatic strands of the esoteric movement.

When the book editor of the Los Angeles Times’ pronounced the book to be fiction and removed it from the non-fiction best-seller list Strieber played the victim card and the Galileo gambit: “Placing this book on the fiction list is an ugly example of exactly the kind of blind prejudice that has hurt human progress for many generations.” He had to acknowledge, however, that the non-human beings in the “autobiographical” accounts (Strieber was partially responsible for popularizing the Grays) were remarkably similar to elements of his horror stories. That could, of course, be because he was already unconsciously aware of these beings when he wrote said horror stories, but there are some other, more obvious, potential explanations that don’t reflect as well on Strieber as a rational agent.

Anyways, Communion’s success led to a demand for more mysterious experiences, so Strieber followed by a series of book describing new mysterious experiences, including The Secret School (1996), which examined strange memories from his childhood (suggesting conspiracy theories and mind control by the military), and Solving the Communion Enigma: What Is to Come (2011). In the latter he reflects on how advances in scientific understanding since his 1987 publication may shed light on what he perceived: “Among other things, since I wrote Communion, science has determined that parallel universes may be physically real and that time travel may in some way be possible,” which is apparently supposed to suggest that his alleged experiences are backed up by science. It also contains musings on UFO sightings, crop circles, alien abductions, Roswell, and cattle mutilations in an attempt to discern any kind of meaningful overall pattern. He concludes that we as a species are being shepherded to a higher level of understanding and beingness within an endless “multiverse” of matter, energy, space and time. In other words, when Strieber relates his experiences to “science” he does not mean science by “science”.

Other works include The Master of the Key and The Coming Global Superstorm (with Art Bell), which was the inspiration for the blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, and his website Unknown Country. His podcast Dreamland used to be a companion show to Coast to Coast AM. Dreamland once described Linda Moulton Howe as “our Dreamland science reporter”.

He has also appeared in other roles, such as the role of producer for NBC’s “Confirmation: The Hard Evidence of Aliens Among Us?

Diagnosis: Though he tries to convey an image of calm rationality he has some serious troubles keeping it up for more than a few sentences at a time. Serious tinfoil-hatter.

Friday, October 17, 2014

#1182: William Strauss & Neil Howe

William Strauss

Pseudoscience presented as bullshit; no more, no less. But the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe is nevertheless taken rather seriously by many across the political spectrum. Their basic idea is that society turns on a repeating set of four 20-year cycles, and by identifying these cycles they purport to be able to tell the future. It really isn’t much better supported by actual evidence than crystal ball gazing, but since their theory can be used, like crystal ball gazing, to make people hear what they want to hear it hasn’t been particularly hard to get people to listen. For some, Strauss and Howe seem to promise a reaction to the current climate of social change back to the social conservatism of the 40s. For others, they seem to promise a change out of Reagan-Bush economics and back to the Keynesian economics of the 40s – or whatever else you may want to hear. As true fortune tellers, Strauss and Howe’s predictions are complete with a soon upcoming Big Crisis – a prediction based not on structural features of the present, but on quasi-religious fatalism based on the mythos magic of transcendent cycles. And the signs are everywhere – in politics, economics, and even culture; the very topics of Hollywood blockbusters are taken to support their woo.  

Neil Howe
But good grief were their bullshit not popular, particularly in the 90s. The media loved them and their “insights” on Baby Boomers and Generation X, and their books, Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy (1997), were apparently highly popular. Their work, including their marvelously selective use and interpretation of evidence to fit their theory, is discussed here (a more professionally dry review here). In fact, the Strauss-Howe version isn’t much different from other, famous historical figures who have constructed teleological interpretations of history based on recognizing patterns that fit their narrative.

Now, as a matter of fact, Strauss has recently wandered off and died, and is thus technically disqualified from an entry in our Encyclopedia, but Howe seems to be around still, so we couldn’t really skip this pair either.

Diagnosis: Amazing pseudoscience bullshit, the kind that would pass as profound in the English classes at an unaccredited fundie institution (or any institution promoted by Norm Shealy). It’s rather sad and exasperating that they get away with this kind of silliness, but so they seem to do.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#1181: John A. Stormer


Yes, he is apparently still around. John Stormer is a fundamentalist protestant and anti-communist whose books have, over his career, sold an impressive number of copies, warning America about the communist infiltration of American society, politics and culture. He is one of the movers and shakers in the John Birch Society, and his books certainly help set their agenda in the 1960s.

In particular, his 1964 book None Dare Call It Treason argued that America was losing the cold war because it was being betrayed by its elites who were secretly procommunist and Soviet agents and had infiltrated all institutions of power in the US; it managed to sell some six million copies and was enormously influential on the hardline right during Barry Goldwater’s bid for the presidency. It is a magnificently crazy rant deeply steeped in delusional conspiracy theories, and that one was written before he turned into a religious fundamentalist: The 1968 sequel, The Death of a Nation, however, predictably linked collectivism to the work of Antichrist and discussed signs of the End Times as well. It failed to reach the classic status of its prequel. In 1990, though, Stormer published None Dare Call It Treason ... 25 Years Later, which contained the original book but expanded it with an equally long update arguing that Perestroika and Glasnost were merely Soviet propaganda tools, illusions of a moderate retreat from hardline communism as a way of seducing the West. That his predictions sort of rather obviously failed doesn’t seem to have made him question his analytical powers and hypotheses: His more recent None Dare Call It Education argues how education reforms are undermining academics and traditional values from the point of view of an evangelical (teachers are teaching evolution because they hate God and America-style), and Betrayed by the Bench is a standard rant about how judicial activism has destroyed America by coming to conclusions based on the Constitution that Stormer doesn’t appreciate because he is a fundamentalist bigot who hates freedom.

Since 1977 Stormer has apparently also conducted weekly Bible studies for members of the Missouri State Legislature, been president of the Missouri Association of Christian Schools and published a periodic newsletter, Understanding the Times, which focuses on how to fail to understand the times by trying to reinterpret current affairs from a fundamentalist wingnut point of view.

Diagnosis: Old, angry and deluded, Stormer can in fact look back on a career as one of the central strategists for the religious right’s most fervent nutjobs. That his conspiracy rants remain influential should beggar belief but they apparently do.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#1180: Perry Stone


Perry Stone is yet another flaming fundamentalist. Director of the ministry The Voice of Evangelism, Stone is – unsurprisingly, and for every reason and none – convinced that we are currently living in the end times. Even RaptureReady finds him to be on the extreme side of things (partially because of his ventures into Bible code-related speculations). You can read some of his rantings – Stone likes to present himself as a prophecy expert because, well, he sometimes feels as if certain prophecies might come true at undetermined points in the future – in The Voice of Evangelism magazine and listen to his weekly telecast Manna Fest. You can even see him teach you how to interpret your dreams and visions on youtube, though I won’t link to that; we have standards. And yes, Stone does dismiss evolution as the “opinion” of secular know-nothings. That may, of course, be because evolution is not based on the kind of evidence that Stone himself seems to favor – vague dreams, visions and unsupported assertions.

Diagnosis: I can’t be bothered too put in too much effort detailing this idiot. Standard fundie. Moderately dangerous.