SocraticGadfly: 4/10/05 - 4/17/05

April 15, 2005

I skept, therefore I am

This, of course, is what Monsieur Descartes meant to say, and why we’re all assembled here.

But, first, a little sympathy to one of our ailing members.

Saint Nate says he’s been suffering from a cold.

Good skeptic that he is, he decided to try various and sundry advertising and unskeptically word-of-mouth shilled over the counter remedies. But going to Tijuana in person appears to be a bit too much for him right now.

“Achoo,” he hear him in the back rows, trying to sniffly quietly.

“Doorknob bless you,” genial host Socratic Gadfly says. “You’re not worried that this is the avian flu, are you?”

“At least you’re not an Asian bird,” Girl Scientist chimes in. “You’d be dead by now, smothered at the hands of heartless bird slaughterers.”

She tells us that East Asia is a perverse Hitchcock fan’s dream of sweet revenge, as this time “The Birds” really get it. Unfortunately, this really is for the birds, as many aren’t even dead when “dead-and-buried.” The sad part is, modern agricultural techniques could save the lives of many of them.

She’s got some earlier background about bird beheading or other untimely Asian avian demise here. She promises a part III is, er, on the wing.

Meanwhile, Danny Boy is ready to steer our Saint Nate, ironically, away from faith healing or faith-based miracle workers.

After giving the case of Miss Emma a look, he’s ready to tell our still-sniffling Saint Nate that neither Emma nor her wounds are divine. Miss Emma is following in the footsteps of the well-known Padre Pio, but with her stigmata even less convincing. No touch of holy healing from here, Danny says.

Our still unblessedly sick Saint can’t expect any divine help from the Vatican, even help from ET phoning Rome.

Danny Boy tells us that the lights that were on over St. Peter’scertainly don’t mean little green men, harp-playing angelic saucerers or anybody else from above dropped in to pay John Paul II an otherworldly adieu.

With the skeptical eyes now looking squarely at the spiritual realm, Joseph reminds us that even scientific claims about spirituality issues deserve a solid skeptical squint and stare. That old will-o’-the-wisp, evolutionary psychology, is claiming twin studiesshow a genetic basis for spirituality. Not really, says the saintly-named one; if anything, they show a genetic basis for survey completion.

Meanwhile, Nate is digging for more Kleenix. (Please, Nate, no Dirty-X, let alone Dirty-XXX, this is a family atmophere.

“Your cold, Saint Nate, lies in your stars, not yourself.”

Or so an astrologer might claim.

Richard decided to ask the practitioners of this ancient craft. “How did they do it back in the day”? Their variety of nonanswers is amusing, showing that their predecessors probably weren’t any better at predicting Caesar’s assassination or his later salad fame.

Small consolation to Nate.

“At least you’re still living, unlike a Chinese chicken,” Gadfly consoles.

“Psychics may catch colds, too, but they can’t find dead bodies, human or chicken,” Mark says.

“Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while.” Mark across the pond shows us what appears to be the Appalachian psychic equivalent, as Lynn Ann Maker is so good, she can’t even explain how she found a dead body.

But that’s OK. Nate wasn’t ready to meet his Maker yet anyway.

Meanwhile, even the dead get no rest in Florida, as conspiracy theory related to last November’s election doth darkly befoul the air. The conspiracy-minded Brad claims Florida Inspector General Raymond Lemme’s death is murder, not suicide, over voting machine rigging allegations.

Not so, says level-headed Charlie in response. Noting that problems in Ohio may indeed raise concerns about election rigging, at least among us progressive-minded skeptics, numerous signs here point to suicide.

Talk of death may be giving Nate and his cold some cold chills, but it will warm his heart to hear more international hard-headed skepticism.

So we jump back across the pond, where Joe points out that, at least with pseudoscience, the BBC has learned the wrong meme from American media about “fair and balanced” presentation of pseudoscientific “theories”.

If that’s not bad enough, Joe adds that some people expecting “fair and balanced” treatment claim smoking-related diseases are all a concoction of British Big Pharm. American Big Pharm is probably wondering where it missed the boat on this cash cow. “Call for Philip Morris!”

“But what’s the harm in it all?” the skeptically uninitiated continue to ask.

If they’re trying Saint Nate’s not so beknighted alternative medicine, there’s plenty of harm possible, says our oracular Orac.

The punster in me says, after reading Orac’s comments on colon cancer quackery, “Orange you glad you didn’t have this problem, Nate?” The serious skeptic in me says, “That’s a horrible way to die, and unnecessarily. And speaking of Tijuana doctors, how many years does it take for Americans to learn?”

Richard is ready to lighten our mood. Norman Cousins showed that laughter is, at the least, better medicine than this, so he tickles our funnybones by telling us we can learn to talk to angels. And, like him, I didn’t know you could get a Ph.D. in metaphysics. I never metaphysician who was that academically rigorous!

“Hey, host’s privilege, Nate! Maybe a few post-pundial groans will take your mind off your cold.”

Hell, Ms. Choquette is even a “vibrational alchemist.” I’ll bet Paracelsus, not to mention Lao Tzu, is just rolling over in his alchemical grave right now. (Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a skeptic!)

Meanwhile, we’re getting to the meet of our meeting — Intelligent Design. Yours truly earned a graduate divinity degree, and a real one, not by mail order or from the metaphysical order, before getting further education in the school of skepticism. (You’ll see several posts on this in the host’s archives, lovingly pointing out the foibles of ID’s Bobbsey twins, the BeDemski duo.

Matt starts us off by politely but firmly pointing out that it would help if creationists and IDers actually knew some science. A splendid hope, Matt, but please don’t hold your breath. As we’ve just seen, even a Ph.D. doesn’t guarantee intelligence, although it may help you make big bucks skimming and scamming the even more credulous.

Joshua then shows us that not all Kansans have handed their biological knowledge over to the right wing of the Kansas Board of Education, and steals a page from my punbook in the process! As the group looks at “Why we call him Dumbski”, a hearty “Hear, Hear!” breaks out across the room.

If Skeptics’ Circle founder Nate is our saint, then surely Dumski is our secular Screwtape, at the least.

Speaking of that, our blessed Saint Nate appears to be breathing quietly and smoothly now. Perhaps, as we skeptics know happens, the cold is running its natural course.

Having been gracious with the floor, or so he hopes, Steve, the SocraticGadfly himself, offers his own thoughts on the ID issue to close the festivities.

“I’m sure you’ve all heard the IDers and creationists claim evolution is as likely as a tornado hitting a junkyard and spontaneously creating a Boeing 747. Well, I have a few speculative, skeptical thoughts about turning that analogy on its head”.

“Fellow Skeptics, I thank you for letting me host you. Please make yourselves at home. Nate, can I offer you some holistic, vibrationally alchemical zinc lozenges?”

April 14, 2005

My counterargument to creationist analogies
between evolution and 747 self-assembly

A favorite argument from analogy by creationists and IDers against the likelihood of evolution is that it is like the probability of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and self-assembling a Boeing 747.

I disagree, and am willing to pick up the gauntlet of challenge of their analogy.Rather, it’s like beginning a single sheet of metal with a hole in it, a bolt, and a mini-whirlwind. With the bolt poking up, the whirlwind swirls the metal up into the air until it falls right and slides down the bolt. Then the wind picks up a washer. Then a second sheet of metal, not quite overlapping the first, let’s say. Then a nut. When the nut lodges on the bolt, the wind whirls until the nut ratchets itself down.

Picture hundreds of thousands of similar sheet metal assembling at the same time with other winds, in the same general area. Then picture each set of not-quite-overlapping sheets being battered about further by this wind and water, inducing curvature.

Meanwhile, at the same time, various organic compounds — rubbers, glues, oils, etc. — are all decaying.

Now picture these curved sheets being swept together by the wind, with some of that organic gunk accumulating on the edges as glue Some of these paired sheets will bind to others. As they bind to the top and bottom, they start forming the curve of a fuselage. As they bind left and right, they extend that.

Ditto for wings and other and for electronics. Likewise for motors, etc.

Add the element of similar things happening at different junkyards around the world, remembering that, to make this analogy more true, each junkyard is equivalent to just a couple of liters of water out of our oceans’ vast storehouse. Add in also the element of time, far beyond human scale.

This is not itself meant to be an exact analogy, rather to suggest that modern IDers’ 747 analogy — or Paley’s watch analogy for that matter — can readily be stood on their heads.