The Ark Encounter: Wood, plus animal noises

I visited Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter today, and my title says it all: it’s a big wooden box full of more fake wooden boxes, with recorded animal noises playing constantly to make it seem like there’s something more. A hollow cacophony. Maybe if you’re a church-goer, you’re used to that, but I’m not. I tweeted a bunch of stuff as I went along, and I’ll post that below with a litte more commentary below.

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They scam horses, don’t they?

Hey, veterinarians have to be pretty smart and disciplined to even be in that career, so it’s nice to see how many of them have to be rigorous and skeptical. Here’s an example of the universal problem of quackery explained by a vet:

One reason that many products and treatment methods remain on the market is because of this simple, and not entirely irrational, thought process: “I tried it, my horse got better, so it works!” Unfortunately, even when a horse’s problem improves following treatment, this, by itself, often cannot prove that the therapy was responsible for the improvement. Here’s an example. In other times, people did rain dances when the weather was dry and occasionally, it must have rained. Thus, they kept on dancing. That’s the same bit of logic I’m talking about as applied to determining whether treatments really work, or not.

There are some ethics involved here, as well. I believe that people who provide treatments and therapies for animals have a moral and ethical obligation to prove, first, that they are safe and, second, that they are effective prior to selling them to horse owners (NOTE: Not everyone agrees, as evidenced by the buckets of BS that are currently being peddled). It’s usually not that hard to demonstrate that a therapy doesn’t do any harm to an animal – the treatment is given, the animal doesn’t die, and there you go. Proving that it’s effective can be quite another matter, even if effectiveness is easy to claim.

This is a very common psychological exploit. Most organisms do have natural healing abilities; I’ve noticed over the years that if I have a cut, it magically heals, even though I don’t understand everything that is going on. Unscrupulous humans are able to hover over that ongoing process and claim that they’re the ones responsible for activating the magical healing power, even when they’re not, and there isn’t anything magical about it. We’re usually quite eager to have wounds and disease go away, so we’re psychologically willing to accept the ‘aid’ of said unscrupulous guru.

It’s especially potent for problems that have a variable progression, like cancer or back pains.

And it works on horses, too. Well, not actually on horses, but on gullible horse owners, who often have a deep emotional and financial investment in their animals. Once you’ve got the horse folk convinced, it’s an easy jump to bilking humans over human diseases.

My favorite example is Tellington TTouch, a kind of psychic massage therapy.

[TTouch] is a bodywork and training method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body. The intent of the TTouch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence — “turning on the electric lights of the body.” The TTouch is done on the entire body, each circular TTouch complete within itself. It is not necessary to understand anatomy to be successful in speeding up the healing of injuries or ailments, or changing undesirable habits or behavior.

And, according to the unqualified and untrained woman who peddles this crap all over the world, it cures just about everything. Stress, migraines, depression, arthritis, stroke…it even enriches your relationships!

That’s a pretty impressive list of accomplishments for a system of touching rituals made up by one person based entirely on her own intuition. Unsurprisingly, however, there is absolutely no reliable evidence to support any of these claims. The TTouch web site claims, “We have also gathered a rich legacy of anecdotal evidence to support the effectiveness of TTouch to enhance personal wellness and quality of life” without any apparent recognition that this is meaningless in terms of validating the claims made for the treatment.

Unfortunately, the reason it’s my ‘favorite’ quack therapy is that it is heavily promoted by my university (well, one branch of my U — the backward and problematic Twin Cities branch) at the Center for Spirituality and Healing, the ongoing embarrassment thriving at the heart of one campus in this system. I’m looking at the long, long list of faculty and staff associated with this disgrace and thinking about how the science division at my campus is understaffed, and how all across the university we could use more support for the social sciences and humanities and arts, and how our students keep facing tuition increases, and right there is a fine piece of useless fat that could be cut away, and the loss would immediately benefit the University of Minnesota.

It’s a clear example of bad thinking doing actual harm.

I never get to feel smug about atheism anymore

The Southern Baptists had a big fight among themselves at their conference. What triggered it, among all the mundane minutia, was a proposal to repudiate the alt-right and reject racism.

…[a lot of “whereas”s citing the Bible deleted]

WHEREAS, there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing; and

WHEREAS, this toxic menace, self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism” and the “Alt-Right,” must be opposed for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples; and

WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation. The SBC officially renounces the “curse of Ham” theory in this Resolution; now be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, AZ, June 13-14, 2017, denounces every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called “Alt-Right” that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system; and be finally

RESOLVED, that we earnestly pray, both for those who lead and advocate this movement and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of their perverse nationalism, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.

It was initially rejected, and they refused to bring it to a vote, which led to outrage and fury, especially among the black pastors, as you might guess. I’m reading a summary of the conference where all this battling went down, and feeling kind of smug and superior for an ephemeral moment, since we atheists would never have such a conflict. How can Southern Baptists be so obtuse and bigoted?

And then I remembered…you all must remember a few years ago when the big schism that split the atheist community was a simple statement that guys should maybe not hit on attendees at atheist conferences. Remember how people blew up at the very idea that there ought to be anti-sexual harassment policies at our conferences? Remember how some jerk atheist was made a pariah because he dared to publish an account of the rape of a young woman by a prominent speaker at those conferences? Or how about the long roster of loud atheist youtubers who are mouthpieces for misogyny and racism and the alt-right?

I’m also noticing that we atheists also do not have an organization that has formally denounced racism, sexism, and the alt-right as firmly as the goddamned primitive ‘stupid’ Bible-wallopers of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has done better than atheists on this one, and there’s very little likelihood that we’ll improve, since the official policy everywhere seems to be that atheism will not take a stand on issues of moral significance. There is the Copenhagen Declaration, which is brief and general and takes a step in the right direction, but could use some greater specificity and should be updated to reflect current issues, and definitely should be at least as strong as the SBC statement.

By the way, despite the wrangling, the Southern Baptists eventually accepted a revised version of the proposal; the major change seems to be a deletion of the repudiation of the “curse of Ham” nonsense, which is unfortunate, since that was a major argument that led to the Civil War, among other ongoing atrocities.

It’s also not perfect. It still has a line about opposing “racism…and vice“, which is code for continuing discrimination against different sexual orientations. But at least they took a stand against Nazis, which is something atheists should do, too.

And probably won’t. Too many alt-right, Nazi, libertarian crapsacks in our ranks.

I love infuriating creationists!

We have angered Ken Ham!

In a recent blog post to his Answers in Genesis website, leading creationist Ken Ham laments the supposed power of atheists and the “secularist media,” complaining that they are damaging the reputation of his Ark Encounter, and the economy of the surrounding local businesses, writing:

Recently, a number of articles in the mainstream media, on blogs, and on well-known secularist group websites have attempted to spread propaganda to brainwash the public into thinking our Ark Encounter attraction is a dismal failure.

Sadly, they (atheists and the secular media) are influencing business investors and others in such a negative way that they may prevent Grant County, Kentucky, from achieving the economic recovery that its officials and residents have been seeking.

In other words, Ken Ham blames atheists for his trouble. Ham is refusing to take responsibility for his own failure, and refusing to take responsibility for his broken promises to the citizens and business community of Grant County, Kentucky.

Uh-oh. A collision is coming. On one side, a bitter, pissed-off creationist who wants to blame atheists for every failing of his horrible phony theme park.

On the other, a certain atheist who is planning to visit said theme park and to write mocking, sarcastic posts about it (unless, of course, they finally convince me that science is wrong) this weekend. Yeah, that’s me: I’m flying to Cincinnati tomorrow for the 2017 Midwest Zebrafish Meeting, and before that meeting starts I was going to zip out to the Ark Park on Friday morning. Maybe it’ll be a very quick visit if the creationists happen to recognize me.

I should warn them that bad things happen to people who throw me out of creationist events. Better to let me wander about and gather ammo for ridicule.

Not even Gwyneth Paltrow believes in Goop

There was a Goop Summit in LA, where people paid $500-$1500 for the privilege of buying Goop merchandise and listening to goofy pseudoscientific quackery.

In the day’s first lecture, Sadeghi spoke for nearly 90 minutes about integrative photosynthesis, spiritual Wi-Fi, laterality to the body, neuro-vegetative signs and the ontological experience called your life.

He spoke of June 4, 1997, the day Paltrow first reached out, as the most important of his entire life, moreso than his marriage or the birth of his two children. He’s saved every email she ever sent him, and spent half an hour walking the audience through a detailed explanation of Paltrow’s first bloodwork, her then-recurrent urinary tract infections and an ovarian cyst that, he said, threatened to blow out her back. (One of the enduring mysteries of Paltrow’s success as a health and wellness guru is her endless stream of medical ailments.)

Sadeghi went off on some interesting tangents. What makes water wet? he asked, more than once. I nearly got a master’s in electric chemistry asking that question.

He stated that we still don’t know how birds fly, despite the Wright brothers inventing the airplane by observing birds in flight. I am probably one of the most authentic human beings you will ever meet, he said, a pronouncement usually reserved for anyone working a con.

The whole thing was oozing bullshit, but at least it was overpriced luxury bullshit.

What I found most interesting is that Gwyneth Paltrow did an interview on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, and it was incredibly revealing. She knows nothing about the stuff she sells! When asked about various items in the Goop catalog, all she provides is nervous laughter and embarrassed looks and denial.

It’s obvious that she is not a True Believer, so my impression of her intelligence grew a notch. Unfortunately, that means she’s a knowing con artist so my impression of her integrity and honest shrank two notches. I wonder what it’s like to be trapped in a lucrative job that you do not respect?

Actually, I also wonder what it would be like to be trapped in a lucrative job, period.