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Robert Todd Carroll


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logo.gif (2126 bytes)the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 54

April 14, 2005

"The true critical thinker accepts what few people ever accept -- that one cannot routinely trust perceptions and memories." -- Jim Alcock, "The Belief Engine"

In this issue:

Praise the Lord and pass the candy

Russell Stover Candies Inc. offered chocolate, caramel-filled crosses for Easter basket treats this year and took a bit of flak for it. A spokesman for the company said that a "molded Jesus ... would not be a good call and a cross with Jesus on it wouldn't be a good idea either." But Joseph McAleer, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic diocese in Bridgeport, Conn., had a different opinion. "The cross should be venerated, not eaten, not tossed casually in an Easter basket beside the jelly beans and marshmallow Peeps," he said. "It's insulting."* Tell that to Oriental Trading Co., which offers an array of religiously tainted candy. My favorite are the Testamints, candies wrapped in Bible verses.

The God who wasn't there

Reformed Christian fundamentalist Brian Flemming is coming out with two movies for atheists and anti-Christians. The Beast is scheduled for release on 6-6-06. If you liked The Da Vinci Code, you may like this movie. Here is a synopsis:

When her father, a biblical scholar, mysteriously disappears, a Christian high-school student named Danielle investigates. She discovers that he had stumbled across a cover-up of Christianity's best-kept secret: That Jesus never existed. Now that she possesses proof of this dangerous fact, Danielle confronts two strong forces: A band of fundamentalist Christians who will stop at nothing to suppress the truth, and her own desire for Jesus to be real. The Beast dives into factual territory well-explored by scholars but largely hidden from the view of the public.

In the meantime, Flemming will release on DVD "The God Who Wasn't There, which is being billed as "the first documentary ever to examine the Jesus myth theory." It's scheduled for release on 6-6-05. (At 6 minutes and 6 seconds after 6?)

For those interested in the historical Jesus question, I recommend The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede by Albert Schweitzer.

Kosher Capsules

In 1998 Viagra was ruled "not kosher," but Mordechai Eliahu, a leading Israeli rabbi, has now ruled that the pill can be can be taken by Jews on Passover if it is encased in a special soluble kosher capsule first. At least, that's what the BBC says.


In the last newsletter, I responded to a critic who thinks that I should have an entry for 'love' in The Skeptic's Dictionary. I said that I might write such an entry if somebody starts claiming that love can cure cancer. Nick Harrison called my bluff and informed me of a website where I found "The Love Cure for Cancer and Other Diseases" by Walter Last.

If you have a disease or health problem in a specific organ or area of the body, you can now supply it with all the energy and emotional support that it needs for healing, in addition to the nutritional and other support that you may provide. On a regular basis fill yourself with love and then mentally send it with an inner smile to the organ in need of healing. In addition breathe more energy into it or lead it there from the storage area behind the navel. Feel it getting warm or tingling or just feeling good. At the same time see it filled with a brilliant white healing light. Intensify the vision and the feeling and hold it for a long time. Know that you are being healed.

His belief is based on something to do with chakras. So, perhaps I should add "Love as a Cancer Cure" to the list of items to investigate. Somehow, I have a feeling there hasn't been much scientific research in this area - mainly due to the problem of defining and measuring 'love' - but if there has been, Mr. Last doesn't mention it.


Regarding Uri Geller's latest interjection of himself into the news by claiming he can lift an alleged curse possessed by a cursing stone in Carlisle, England, Chris writes:

Carlisle suffered some very severe flooding recently ( due to heavy rain ) and Uri himself (on TV) claimed to have stopped the rain! It seems to me that it was not long ago that people like Uri, who claim to be able to control the weather, would have been given psychiatric help or regarded as the village idiot. Now they are given air time on TV news.... While we are at it, how come there is no heading for David Icke in the Skeptics Dictionary? Imagine a world where people like Icke had absolute power - a frightening prospect.

Icke and his bizarre ideas are discussed in the entry on paranoid conspiracy theorists.


Nathan Braun added this to the news of the Carlisle curse:

The main objection [to keeping the cursing stone] came from one member of the city council who blamed a run of unfortunate events that have affected Carlisle over the past few years--culminating in the worst floods in over century last January--on the stone. The concerned councilor tabled a motion either to destroy the stone or remove it outside the city boundaries. He blamed the city's bad fortune on the fact that the cursing stone was a non-Christian object. Uri Geller offered to put the stone in his garden and exorcise it to neutralise the curse!. However, the Carlisle City Council voted against the proposal to either destroy the stone or banish it. We in England (although I'm Welsh) do live in a modern industrial society but unfortunately still have a large number of people who believe this sort of superstitious claptrap. But we also have our fair share of skeptics.

Nathan, I know there are many skeptics in Britain - as there are in this country - but we don't seem as successful as the Gellers of the world are at managing the media.


Several readers wrote to explain to me what it means for a soccer team to "drop a league" - something that happened to the Carlisle football team. For those who don't know, you probably don't need to know anyway, but here is my newfound understanding of the phrase. There is a hierarchy of leagues and at the end of the season the team in last place in a league is dropped to a lower league. The team dropped from the lowest league loses its professional status and becomes an amateur team.


Jeff Omalanz-Hood writes:

Of course those boobs at the Global Consciousness Project are wrong! As you and others have pointed out, their results do not give strong evidence for their conclusion: that strong emotions during global events cause fluctuations in order as shown by deviations from the norm in the generation of random numbers. One obvious problem with their argument (among many) is that in some cases the pattern deviation is said to have started hours before the triggering event. How can this be, if the deviation was caused by the emotional reaction of people experiencing the event? Are they saying that the fluctuations can travel time? If so, how can they tie them to specific events? If the effect travels time, there is no way to know if it is related to an event occurring simultaneously with the measurement; and, if the effect does not travel time, the early-starting readings for 9/11 and the Asian tsunami cannot be shown to correlate to those tragic events (since the events had not happened at the time the fluctuations began).

I suppose the believers can appeal to Global Precognition to explain early fluctuations in their graphs. Later fluctuations might be explained by Global Psi-missing or Global Retrocognition or Global Retroactive Clairvoyance. Maybe Global Displacement or the Global Experimenter Effect is at work. There are many loopholes to be explored here!

This temporal contradiction not only deflates the GCP’s argument, it hints at a much better explanation for the fluctuations in order they supposedly observed. The GCP’s “eggs” use quantum tunneling to generate random numbers. If the folks at the GCP are on the up-and-up, and if they are not just shoehorning observed data to fit convenient events (something I’m sure they would never do!) I see only one possible answer. The fluctuations must be caused by the influence of time travelers from the future coming back to observe these important events. As any adolescent sci-fi fan can tell you, most proposed time travel technology works around quantum tunneling. This answer would explain the fluctuations recorded by the “eggs,” would better fit the timing of the abovementioned measurements, and (as fantastic as it is) has a more coherent operating process than the fuzzy “it must be caused by our feelings somehow” (I paraphrase) hypothesis put forward by the GCP. It is only surprising that a journal with the scientific stature of did not come up with this answer themselves!

Jeff's right, of course. It's possible that aliens or time travelers are causing the fluctuations. Or it could be Zeus, as Jim Alcock might say.

It also occurs to me that the time travelers must know that I discovered their secret. I wonder what they will make of it. Oh well, only time will tell. In the meantime I….hmmm….there is a strange light outside my window. I am also feeling a strange quantum tingle. I wonder what it could be? I think I’ll just go and check the…

Sorry, I guess we lost Jeff. Maybe we can bring him back if we all concentrate real hard...all together now: BRING JEFF BACK!

There. I'm sure he's fine now, thanks to our focused energy.

IMAX and evolution

There was an interesting article by Cornelia Dean in the New York Times about IMAX theaters censoring films that support evolution. Her article begins: "Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject [evolution] - or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth - fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures." Dean writes that Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said the museum decided not to offer the movie after looking at the results of a survey of 137 people who were shown the film.  According to Murray, "some people said it was blasphemous." Others made statements like "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact," or "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence."

So far, the number of IMAX theaters censoring science is small but some consider it alarming, nonetheless.

According to, Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science, responded to the Times article by sending a letter to the members of the Association of Science-Technology Centers expressing "strong concerns about increasing threats to science that endanger our shared missions and to offer our support and partnership in dealing with them....The suppression of scientifically accurate information as a response to those with differing perspectives is inappropriate and threatens both the integrity of science and the broader public education to which we all are committed. It is also objectionable to many stakeholders -- including many with strong religious convictions -- who understand that religion and science are not in opposition."

Edna DeVore, Director of Education and Public Outreach for SETI, writes on that according to the Associated Press, "IMAX theaters in several Southern cities have decided not to show a film on volcanoes out of concern that its references to evolution might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs. "We’ve got to pick a film that’s going to sell in our area. If it’s not going to sell, we’re not going to take it," said Lisa Buzzelli, director of an IMAX theater in Charleston that is not showing the movie. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution." Maybe she should order The Flintstones for those people. Or maybe she could do movies for young earth creationists on Mondays, old earth creationists on Tuesdays, Raelians on Wednesdays, Sitchinians on Thursdays, Scientologists on Fridays, atheists on Saturdays, and professional wrestlers on Sundays.

Scientology volunteers honored by Jeb Bush as "Hurricane Heroes"

Scientologists think they have discovered the key to the human spirit, which, they claim, is "the only truly therapeutic agent in this universe."* Furthermore, their volunteers swoop in after disaster hits, as they did in New York after 9-1-1 and in Florida after the hurricanes hit, and offer "assists" to the survivors. These assists are described on Scientology's website; they involve some sort of hocus-pocus contact with the Thetan in us, L. Ron Hubbard's term for spirit.

As they say on their website, a "Scientologist can help make an individual well and happy simply by addressing the human spirit."* This is what they claim to have done in Florida and Jeb Bush honored them for it.* Cynics might say that the Scientologists are taking advantage of vulnerable people. How? Just by offering comfort to strangers you make them feel better and they might misattribute their improved mood to the voodoo spirit contact claimed by the assisters. The Scientologists get a lot of free publicity and direct contact with potential recruits. And, the Scientologists can leave the area feeling sure they did some good, even though they won't be back to see if the short-term mood improvement lasted. But seldom will they get such a publicity boost as that given by Gov. Jeb Bush.* All in a faith-based day's work, I guess.

In case you are wondering why the Pope got ill and died, Scientology has the answer.

Injury and illness are predisposed (made more likely to occur) by the spiritual state of the person. They are precipitated (brought on) by the being himself as a manifestation of his current spiritual condition. And they are prolonged (extended in time beyond normal limits) by any failure to fully handle the spiritual factors associated with them.*

After reading Scientology's page on giving an assist to unconscious persons, I'm surprised Gov. Bush didn't call in the Scientologists to give an assist to Terri Schiavo. According to their website: "With this assist you can help to get the person into communication with you and his surroundings, and so bring him from unconsciousness back to life and livingness. It is an easy assist to learn and to do."*

If Scientology's assist fails, contact John Edward. He says he heard from Terri Schiavo before she was taken off life support. Check out this Fox News Exclusive!

Intelligent design

The following letter was published by the Los Angeles Times in response to Michael Shermer's op-ed piece "Not Intelligent, and Surely Not Science," an evaluation of the scientific worth of intelligent design.

Shermer wants to limit scientific inquiry to the purely natural, which perforce rules out any design possibilities. That's like saying, "Let's discuss a proper diet, but don't say anything about vegetables. That's ruled out."

Actually, it's more like saying "Let's discuss proper diet, but don't say anything about chi or the yin and yang of foods." But never mind; it doesn't matter.

Why not try something novel, like letting science be about the truth, wherever it leads? If we find Darwinism to be so lacking as to be preposterous as a working hypothesis, and biological life so complex that it appears to be designed, why must we shut down the brain? It is Shermer's approach that is "not intelligent.

I have heard this response before, from Jed C. Macosko, a warrior for the Discovery Institute. Let science be about the truth, "wherever it leads." According to this way of thinking, if you don't let science appeal to miracles whenever a ready naturalistic explanation for something is lacking, then you're labeled as not really searching for the truth.

When you appeal to direct design by God (or anyone else) and reject the claim that some particular item in nature isn't natural, you're invoking a miracle. A scientist has to believe in natural laws. To believe that some things are better explained by appealing to a violation of natural laws (i.e., miracles) rather than to something as yet not understood or not yet plausibly explained by current natural laws, is to abandon the search for truth. Why not be honest about it as just say "Let faith and belief be our guide and the hell with scientific truth."


Another writer who recently took some flak for his views on intelligent design is Jay Mathews of the Washington Post for his suggestion in "Who's Afraid of Intelligent Design?" that teaching ID along with Darwin would make for an exciting science lesson.

In a follow-up essay ("Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Me") Mathews wrote: "The ID researchers seemed to be grasping at gaps in the fossil record, rather than seeing the irresistible Darwinist logic of what scientists have discovered. But comparing their arguments to Darwin's was, I thought, a wonderful way to teach Darwin. I could not understand why important educators and scientists were spending money on lawyers to keep ID out of the classroom. In my op-ed I said we ought to let ID be explained to students so that they could understand how it defied the scientific method, just as the flaws of perpetual motion theory, I said, should be a part of a physics course and the fallacies of the Steady-State theory should be part of an astronomy course."

The response was overwhelmingly against Mathew's suggestion. He's waiting to hear, however, from high school teachers who try to teach their students how science works by dealing directly with the claims of the ID folks. He's sure they're out there...somewhere.

Military intelligence and psychic spies

For those who may be wondering why our military intelligence appears to be failing to live up to its full potential, one might do worse than consider who's in charge. No, I'm not referring to the commander-in-chief. I'm referring to  Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine III, the head of U.S. Army Intelligence & Security Command (INSCOM) from1981-1984, who commanded a Black Op unit of soldiers who doubled as psychic spies. According to Jon Ronson in The Men Who Stare at Goats, Stubblebine repeatedly tried to walk through walls as he worked on developing his psychic abilities. The title of the book comes from one of the talents Stubblebine hoped to inculcate in his "Warrior Monks": the ability to kill goats by staring at them.

Stubblebine is known to have held numerous "spoon-bending parties." After an incident involving an officer who had a "psychotic episode" at the Monroe Institute, Stubblebine resigned as head of Army intelligence. And who says your tax dollars are not well spent by the military?!

Psychic finds body; dumb luck say police

If a psychic finds a missing person, does that prove she's psychic? No, according to police in Ashburn, Georgia. Lynn Ann Maker, 33, is a self-described psychic detective and wannabe private investigator. She was contacted by the missing man's family and found his body in a nearby lake. According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Maker says she was "pulled" to the lake by a feeling. Police say it was luck that she found the body. Maybe they're both wrong. Maker might just be a better detective than the folks working for the local police department.

The case involves a 30-year-old man, Greg Wallace, who was driving to work on March 14, 2005, but never arrived. A few days later, his abandoned car was found near the lake "parked off a highway with the hood up and the keys in the ignition." The family must have called in the psychic early in the investigation because she made the 150 mile trip from her home south of Atlanta and found the body just five days after Wallace went missing.

Maker says she felt Wallace was near the car. No psychic ability needed for that surmise. She says she felt him submerged, but we don't know whether the memory of this feeling came to her after she saw the body in the water or before. An autopsy didn't reveal the cause of death and apparently Maker didn't hazard a guess on that subject.

Doug Hester, 68, a retired deputy sheriff, said, "I think she was just lucky."

Maker said she's been sensitive to things beyond the normal range of perception since childhood and that God led her there. She didn't say whether it was God who led Wallace to the lake.

Gary Schwartz's latest adventure

In an interview with Psychic Times, Gary Schwartz claims he's no longer just testing psychics to see if they pass his tests for being "genuine."

"We're now asking questions as to what the afterlife is like. That takes the work substantially further," says Schwartz. I'll say it does. Is he going to tell us what it's like to get inside someone's head and hear an M sound? or feel "something in the chest area"? The world awaits the results of these breathtaking studies.

How will he dazzle us next? He doesn't want to reveal too much but he will tell us that

when people are 'dead' it’s easier for them to 'multitask' in the afterlife. Meaning, to do multiple things at the same time but also to be in 'multiple places' at the same time as well. The capacity for doing non-local and multi-process activities is just easier than when you are in the physical and located in a very specific place. That’s something that has been universally observed.

I have to agree that it is probably easier to multitask in the afterlife if you are dead. But universally observed? I need to see the evidence and I look forward to his next book: Multitasking Spirits: Breakthrough Universally Observed Scientific Evidence for What Happens in the Afterlife.

Taxes: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

What would tax season be like without a cheery little story about a fellow who took a stand against the government and refused to pay his taxes because he knows that  federal income tax laws were repealed in 1939? Al Thompson of Redding, California, was recently found guilty of "tax resistance" by a federal jury. He hasn't paid his taxes since 1999 and owes $259,000. He also ran a business and failed to withhold taxes for his employees. The judge called Thompson incorrigible, fined him $7,500, and sentenced him to six years in prison. He could have gotten up to 63 years and been fined $3.25 million. Thompson told the court that even though he isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, he can read and he knows that income earned by most citizens doesn't meet the definition of taxable income under U.S. Treasury regulations. He added, "My first responsibility is to God and the Ten Commandments." If he's lucky, they'll be posted on the wall of his cell and even in his dull state he may have them memorized by 2011.

Logic in the news

Two stories in the news provide us with a mini-logic lesson. One concerns a report about a protest in Iraq that involved thousands of protestors chanting "U.S. Get out of Iraq!" and "Down with Satan America!" The Sacramento Bee reported that such protests may be a sign that democracy is working in Iraq. (Remember: our purpose in being there is no longer self-defense but to spread democracy in the Middle East.)

The other story was about Erich Rudolph, whose bombs--including one at an abortion clinic and one at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia--killed two people and injured 123 others. Rudolph plea bargained and agreed to plead guilty to four bombings in exchange for a life sentence, thereby avoiding the possibility of receiving the death penalty. He also issued a statement in which he says he believes abortion is murder and since he was trying to stop abortions, his murders were justified.

New stuff in the Skeptic's Dictionary or Refuge

  • Noted Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone's appointment as attack dog on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code;
  • Noted a study that found no benefit to taking vitamin E supplements;
  • Noted that James Van Praagh, whose live show as a medium who gets messages from the dead was cancelled shortly after its inception, is trying his hand at writing a TV script about a fictional medium who gets messages from the dead;
  • Noted the fourth edition of The Skeptic's Circle;
  • Posted comments about Noreen Riener's alleged psychic abilities;
  • Posted another item to the What's the harm? page;
  • Added two new dictionary entries: one on the Nigerian scam (advance fee fraud) and the other on Mayan prophecy.

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