Thursday, June 28, 2012

#339: Hugh Ross

Hugh Ross (not to be confused with Marcus Ross) is an astrophysicist and creationist Christian apologist. According to reliable sources he is Canadian-born, but at least he lives in California and is thus qualified for inclusion in our encyclopedia. He is president of “Reasons to Believe” (that’s Fuz Rana’s home organization as well) and may be related to the vice president of that organization, one Kathy Ross.

Hugh Ross has a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics, and appears to know what he is talking about – to his credit he has avidly criticized young earth creationists such as Russell Humphreys for their utterly delusional, ad hoc approaches to the distant starlightproblem. On the other hand, his own theologically inspired ramblings aren’t quite founded on science either.

His attempts to reconcile an old universe with a literal interpretation of Genesis itself engenders some ad hoc hypotheses (the Flood was local, day-age, and so on). Young earth creationist critics of course latches on to that like fleas, failing to realize that ad hoc hypotheses concerning religious beliefs are – for obvious reasons – more easily sustained than scientific ones.

Ross has even granted that Intelligent Design per today is not a scientific hypothesis and should not be taught in schools. Luckily, he does have his own “testable” version at hand. His view of testability is peculiar, by the way: He claims that “UFO's come from the Devil”, and points out that it can be tested as follows: “according to the Bible” demons only attack people who dip into the occult and make themsleves vulnerable. Hence, “[a]ll that is necessary to further prove the conclusions of demonic involvement […] is to continue surveying people to ascertain who has encounters with residual UFO's and who does not. If the demonic idenficiation of the RUFO phenomenon is correct, researchers should continue to observe a correlation between the degree of invitations in a person's life to demonic attacks (for example, participation in seances, Uija games, astrology, spiritualism, witchcraft, palm reading, and psychicreading) and the proximity of their residual UFO encounters.” (more here). If you fail to see the problems here, you don’t know enough about scientific methodology.

Ross, however, thinks there are reasons to wonder why scientists won’t test his hypothesis. Oh, of course we know: “One reason why research scientists and others may be reluctant to say that demons exist behind residual UFO's is because such an answer points too directly to a Christian interpretation of the problem.” Since scientists are atheists, they wouldn’t want to do that, would they? Seems that Ross has borrowed the UFO idea from Norm Geisler; our old friend Gary Bates also has something to say.

Ross claims that evolution is impossible in anything but bacteria. So how does Ross explain the transitional fossils for large animals? “God loves horses and whales. He knows because of their huge size and small populations that they will go extinct rapidly. When they do, he makes new ones.” That, apparently, is the testable hypothesis supposed to replace evolution. At least Martin Gaskell is a fan.

Worthwhile responses to Rusty Lopez’s strongly Ross-inspired “testable creation hypothesis” are here and here.

Diagnosis: The fact that Ross, by comparison to most young earth creationists, comes across as eminently reasonable should not be allowed to obscure the fact that he is a loon. It just tells you more about the profundity of young earth lunacy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

#338: Pat Robertson

Robertson is a founding member of the Taliban satellite known as the 700 Club, a Christian ultra-extremist terrorist group funded by TV telethons. When people call in, Robertson will cure them for whatever illness they may have by hollering his ever-faithful servant, God, and make Him perform the trick – or to smite down people Robertson doesn’t particularly fancy. Robertson views himself as God’s personal messenger on earth (read that as “Pat da boss, Jesus his muscle man”), and claims to have direct contact with the prophets (yes, those prophets). This is a source of information Robertson uses to predict disasters that will happen to people who don’t behave the way Robertson thinks God ought to want people to behave. He often makes his predictions after a disaster has already struck, but there are the annual exceptions (we are still waiting for Orlando to be destroyed by a meteor). In fact, Robertson strikes one as a slightly eccentric, utterly delusional and repugnantly evil version of the wizard Tim: “Hurricane, In the name of Jesus I take authority over you and command you to change course. In the name of Jesus I command you to turn away from Virginia Beach now. You will turn south and then east and strike the wicked godless heathen land of Cuba instead. Amen.” Chants Pat. He also prophesied the end of times to happen in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1996 and 2007. His 2012 predictions are here (he also has first-hand testimonial from Jesus that Obama will disintegrate America, the only remedy being prayer and sending Robertson money).

For example, 9/11 is really the responsibility of the ACLU and abortionists, and the Haiti earthquake can obviously be blamed on the Haitians’s old pact with the devil. In fact, Robertson is a full-scale conspiracy theorist; his claim that Obama is directly behind the Occupy Wall Street protests is just one example among many. In 1982 he published a book called “The New World Order” which dealt with, you know, the new world order, and relied heavily on the writings of certified madman Eustace Mullins as well as (allegedly – though Cumbey is not an entirely trustworthy source) plagiarizing Constance Cumbey. Robertson’s expertise on matters meteorological and geological is described here.

Robertson, whose views tend toward the anti-semitic, also claimed that Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke because of his ungodly leniency toward the Palestinians. That did not go down particularly well with the Israeli government, but then, despite his support of Israel, he doesn’t think much of Judaism and does claim that all Jews must convert to Christianity – in order to not prevent but usher in the end times. Robertson has also claimed that feminism leads to witchcraft, infanticide and gay socialism, and that “Many of those people involved in Adolph Hitler were Satanists. Many of them were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together,” though he didn’t provide any sources for the claim. You can find more anti-gay quotes here. A novel one is: “[Gays] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers.” And there is, of course, this one.

Robertson, not being satisfied with his role as a fire and brimstone prophet, faith healer, Televangelical and media mogul (he also founded the Christian Broadcasting Network, which is currently run by his son Gordon), is also a dietary and healthcare advisor and lifestyle consultant – he is famous for bragging about how he leg-pressed 2000 pounds, all because of his wonderful special protein shake.

But really, Robertson is without doubt one of the most repugnantly evil people alive. For example - The 700 Club runs the charity called Operation Blessing. Operation Blessing is advertised as helping people in need in 3rd world countries. That, however, is just for telethon purposes. In reality, Operation Blessing is a front for Robertson's multifarious crimes against humanity in Africa. In the 1990s, for instance, Operation Blessing used money collected to help refugees in Rwanda to finance planes transporting diamond-mining equipment for the Robertson-owned African Development Corporation, a venture Robertson had established in cooperation with Zaire's then-dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Seko was an old friend of Robertson’s – as was Liberia’s dictator Charles Taylor, whom Robertson tried to help by swaying the American government because Robertson owns a gold mine in Liberia. Robertson also supported Gbagbo, by the way, presumably because he was of the right religion. Although he hasn’t explicitly hearted Anders Breivik, this comes dangerously close.

Robertson’s general level of insanity can be discerned from this selection of quotes. For instance: “Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history.” No, Mr. Robertson, I don’t think you are entirely accurate here, and I don’t Christians count as a “minority” in the US. But then, Robertson is legendary when it comes to failed analogies. And failed reasoning.

And his views on evolution? “I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected him from your city.”

There’s another (slightly overlapping) list of quotes here. And there’s of course this one. In fact, Robertson has said rather a lot of stupid things. To reach something close to the bottom, you can read about him interviewing James Inhofe here. Or watch his reaction to the fact that America is taking steps to prevent gay people from getting killed around the world.

Here is Robertson’s cohost Kristi Watts not quite understanding the Establishment Clause.

Diagnosis: He’s Pat Robertson! What more diagnosis do you need?

#337: Jay Richards

In the previous post we lamented the demise of several prominent and insane conspiracy theories. Well, the present religious wingnut, creationist and global warming denialist, is really worthy of Zechariah Sitchin himself, even though his lunacy stays within more socially accepted bounds. Jay Richards has a Ph.D in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and is a Discovery Institute Fellow. He has written many books about science, which he does not understand. He has done no scientific research.

With Guillermo Gonzales he wrote “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery” (“the little that is new in this book isn't interesting, and what is old is just old-hat creationism in a new, modern-looking astronomical costume” – William Jeffreys, a real astronomer). Richards has also written “Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem,” so of course global warming has to be a conspiracy; if it weren’t the terrain would cause problems for his map. The latter seems to be his main obsession these days, but he sometimes breaks loose to argue that Intelligent Design creationism is “good theology”. We have independent reason to think AGW is a lie, and we have independent reason to think evolution is a lie. This shows that there is a conspiracy to brainwash us, and is further evidence that both theories are lies (besides, scientific consensus = conspiracy). Thus goes Richards. It doesn’t strike him that there may be a simpler explanation for the data.

Diagnosis: Idiot with capital “D” and standard denialist: “since X would really be a problem for my presuppositions, X has to be false” is not a good methodological rule for determining facts.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

#336: Jeff Rense

A.k.a. The poor man’s Alex Jones

The last few years have seen many mad conspiracy theorists taking down their signposts (Sitchin, Pabst, Carr, Ferguson, Kaysing, Mullins and others), and our planned next entry Ralph Rene joined them in 2008. I have no idea whether Susan Joy Rennison is American (she “has an honors degree in physics and geophysics from a British university” (not named), and is an independent researcher and author of “Tuning the Diamonds - Electromagnetism & Spiritual Evolution”); her website is here (see also this), but she appears to be European (and mad as a hatter).

Well, there’s always more where they came from. Jeff Rense is your Pabst-worthy conspiracy theorist, and he combines it with alternative medicine peddling of Gary Null-like levels of lack of touch with reality. He runs the website, which competes with for crankery, and he has his own show on satellite radio.

Among his many topics (the conspiracies are generally endorsed) are 9/11 conspiracy theories, UFOs, Holocaust denial, Jewish conspiracy theories (a British fellow chimes in here), Big Pharma conspiracies, AIDS denial, and the Illuminati, but you’ll find plenty of food for pretty much every other conceivable conspiracy theory on his sites.

It is rather hard to distinguish advertisements from “editorial content” on Rense’s webpage. Visiting it is not recommended for the faint of heart.

Diagnosis: All aspects of lunacy in one. Utter madman. Even the dimmest bulb should have recognized that. The fact that they don’t bodes ill for the future of humanity.

Friday, June 15, 2012

#335: George Alan Rekers

A.k.a. Rentboy Rekers

George Rekers is an instance of Haggard’s law. In 2010 this former Southern Baptist minister was caught at the Miami International Airport with a young man hired “to carry his bags” from (turns out there were other incidents as well). Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that Rekers was an associate of James Dobson and associated with the Family Research Council. Rekers has in fact written several books about the dangers, evil and sinfulness of homosexuality, like this one. (Maybe he was just doing research?) Notice that he is included in the Encyclopedia because of that. Hypocrisy is not enough (though Rekers, a staunch opposer of gay adoption, has himself an adopted son).

Diagnosis: Hilarity concerning the situation should not let us overlook the fact that Rekers is an appallingly repugnant human being.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

#334: Lyn Redwood (and SafeMinds)

The Coalition for SafeMinds (Sensible Action For Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders) is a non-profit organization “dedicated to investigating the risks of exposure to mercury from medical products” – or more accurately an organization devoted to claiming that mercury in vaccines (thimerosal) causes autism and other neurological disorders, regardless of the fact that the claim is false and the connection thoroughly refuted by science (“conspiracy” shouts the SafeMinders, as expected). SafeMinds, like all crackpot organizations (indeed, this is a very characteristic trait of crackpot orginazitions, from the creationist ones to global warming deniers), has continued to pursue the issue in the political and judicial arenas, and has also attempted to sway the public. But they are, of course, not doing actual scientific investigations, which, as any rational person who cares about truth and accuracy knows, is what would actually, you know, settle the issue. More here.

Lyn Redwood is the president and co-founder of SafeMinds, and a nurse. Her son is diagnosed with PDD-NOS, and no one doubts that Redwood actually sincerely cares. She is not evil (except in the sense of Grey’s law). But she is thoroughly misguided by confirmation bias and her failure to understand science, and she has e.g. testified before the United States House of Representatives Government Reform Committee as such (no, no science, just the ‘better be safe than sorry’ gambit – which hardly works in the case of life-saving vaccines). She has taken her work abroad as well.

Other prominent members of SafeMinds include its executive director and co-founder Sallie Bernard (one of their most devout conspiracy theorists and a member of the panel that issued a 2007 federally-funded study that found no link between thimerosal exposure and neurological problems, although Bernard did not agree with the findings – showing decisively that the conclusion is already given and no amount of evidence could change that), and lobbyist and co-founder Elizabeth “Liz” Birt.

As with other antivaxxers and woo-peddlers, Redwood and SafeMinds are fond of the Big Pharma shill gambit. They like to point out to policy makers that researchers have conflicts of interest – failing to recognize that the fact that they themselves are involved in lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies may count as a conflict of interest as well.

But then, what need is evidence or reason when you have a good ad hominem attack?

Diagnosis: A significant detrimental force in modern civilization, SafeMinds is a typically vigorous, ardent crackpot organization that has no interest in truth and reality if it does not support dogma – and fails to realize that this is exactly what their governing idea is. Extremely dangerous.