Listener Feedback: Creationism and More Dead Paul
Some updates, notes, and extra information sent in by listeners about recent episodes.
by Brian Dunning
November 28, 2017
This week we've got some feedback on past episodes, probably the best such collection yet. We have a couple new bits of information that add a lot to some recent episodes you've heard, some followups, I engage in bitter disputes with some of you, and I read an old Beatles fanzine. But to get us started, here's me going off on a rant, since I know that's why you're here.
I'd like to begin with the episode that I've received more feedback on than any other in recent years, and it was episode 579 on measuring the age of the Grand Canyon. I focused on one particular case, that of a coalition of Young Earth Creationists, led by the Director of Research for Answers in Genesis, the group that runs the Ark Encounter in Kentucky, which I described as "perhaps the greatest monument to anti-science on the planet." They applied to do some research inside the Grand Canyon intended to prove that the canyon was formed recently, during Noah's flood, and were turned down for a number of valid reasons. However, they eventually went thermonuclear and sued the National Parks using the bottomless bankroll of the evangelical litigation group, the Alliance Defending Freedom. Grand Canyon was forced to capitulate and had to grant the permit.
Here's where I ruffled feathers in the episode. The creationists brought in Arizona congressman Trent Franks, who wrote a letter to the National Park politely and diplomatically threatening them with legal action based on religious discrimination if they didn't grant the permit — brazenly ignoring the fact that the permit application was scientifically and procedurally bogus; it was "violate your policies and grant our invalid permit, or we'll sue you for religious discrimination." When I introduced Franks in the episode, the only description of him I gave was that he was "co-chair for the International Religious Freedom Caucus, and [a] noted anti-abortion advocate."
Feedback was fast and furious. I got enough of these to fill Noah's Ark but I'll read just two of them. From @IrishDemocracy on Twitter:
@BrianDunning what does a congressman's view on abortion have to do with national park research issues?
And from listener Steve via email:
What does being a noted "anti-abortion advocate" have to do with anything in this context?... From a logical, scientific standpoint, I don't see how wanting to save babies could put anyone in the category of being unscientific... Surely this must fall into the category of one of the reasoning errors or logical fallacies you so often mention. Keep up the otherwise good work.
I did reply to all of these people and told them basically the same thing, that he was brought in because of his activism on behalf of religious causes — it's not like he's a geologist. Granted I could have worded it better to make that more clear, but I was disappointed that so many of those I replied to then told me that being anti-abortion has nothing to do with religion, that's a position anyone can hold regardless of their religious beliefs. Obviously that's true, but you have to be consciously disingenuous to pretend that it's the case here. Frank's anti-abortion advocacy is what put him on the map. It is the significant manifestation of his evangelical activism. If it wasn't, why else would the creationists have brought him in for their Grand Canyon research project? Some even made the absurd assertion that there is no connection between anti-abortion groups and Christian groups.
In short, these commenters were making the same basic threat to me that Congressman Franks told the National Parks: "Pretend that religious activism was not the shared purpose here, or we'll say you're committing reasoning errors and logical fallacies."
Listeners know that I'm personally non-religious, but also that I never attack people of any religious faith for their beliefs — but I won't give an inch when a factually untrue claim is made, such as the Grand Canyon was formed in Noah's Flood, and I won't accept being called anti-religion for that.
Dead horse beaten. Moving on.
I have a brief followup on episode 480, "The Nazi of Nanking", about John Rabe, the Nazi party official who saved so many Chinese lives during the Japanese destruction of Nanking, the so-called "Rape of Nanking" in which some 300,000 civilians were murdered. For a long time, John Rabe's house in Nanjing has been open as a museum, as he is a greatly revered figure there. But so much of that can be credited to the late author Iris Chang, who brought knowledge of the massacre to the world outside of China (and to whom my episode was dedicated, something I rarely do). On April 7, 2017, the new Iris Chang Memorial Hall was opened in Huai'an, in the Jiangsu province. It's a gorgeous museum. If life happens to take you to that area, there are worse favors you could do yourself than to swing by.
Let's turn to episode 576 where I had listeners send in your stories about strange things you'd witnessed, and we talked about all the stories that were about mysterious UFO lights streaking through the sky. I discussed how we should go about determining whether these are alien spacecraft. Listener @Pletched tweeted:
@BrianDunning in your "lights in the sky" episode, no one said anything about the lights being aliens, but you made that cognitive leap!
True. None of you said that. In fact one of you said explicitly that he didn't think it was extraterrestrial. So, a fair enough comment by @Pletched. What I was really addressing, and which I didn't point out in the show as it was what I was talking about and didn't really need to be redundantly pointed out, is that this is the most common type of UFO report I've seen and almost without exception, people on the Internet who report it have positively identified these specks as alien spacecraft — it's the explanation of "I don't know what it is, therefore I do know what it is."
I wanted to use these stories to talk about how we go about analyzing what they mean. I didn't want to limit the discussion to any one particular story, or group of stories, but to the phenomenon as a whole, and to the most common explanation that people make. Nevertheless, @Pletched is right. It wasn't most appropriate to use four stories from people who didn't conclude their UFOs were alien spacecraft, to talk about the people who do make that conclusion. Apologies to any of the four of you who thought that I was making that leap.
Another followup, this time on episode 362 about the apocryphal video game console Polybius, which seems to be getting more and more popular over time. Researchers all seem to be in agreement that an anonymous posting on the gaming wiki coinop.org was the original use of the game's name Polybius, but I said its best inspiration was the movie The Last Starfighter that came out some 15 years before the posting. Turns out there's an even better inspiration, which I found researching the story further for a video. The same year that The Last Starfighter came out, there was a novel published, called Arcade by Robert Maxxe. It was a near-perfect match for the Polybius urban legend. The game in the book was called Spacescape, and playing it caused kids to lose their minds. Thus was the Polybius legend thoroughly precedented and inspired. Whether the coinop.org poster read it or heard of it or not we can't know — unless it's true that the poster was Kurt Koller, the owner of coinop.org, at whom some have pointed their finger for being the likely author of the post. We could always ask Kurt if he ever read Arcade. (He didn't reply to me.)
Here are a couple of emails I got on episode 589 about the Big Pharma conspiracy — specifically, that pharmaceutical companies suppress the existence of a freely available, all-natural cure for all cancers. There are a lot of logical problems with this particular conspiracy theory that make it virtually impossible to be true, and I focused on a few of them. Listeners wrote in with others that I didn't go into. Let's hear what they are. The first one is from listener Zev:
I thought you missed one of the most compelling arguments against the "Big Pharma is suppressing a cure for cancer," specifically, that Big Pharma execs and their relatives die of cancer too. Or does a BP exec say something like "Well, I've got the cure to rid myself/spouse/parent/child/whoever of cancer, but I'm just going to let myself/loved one suffer and die, just to make a few more bucks."
Listener Jared added:
Also, any company that cured cancer would make ALL THE MONEY EVER, which is a pretty big lure for companies that are supposedly holding out for treating cancer for money over time.
So, add those to the long list of reasons why we shouldn't expect this conspiracy theory to be true.
Finally, a pretty significant update to the "Paul Is Dead" story from episode 594, which discussed the 1969 origins of the urban legend that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash. A Facebook comment from listener RB pointed to a blog post that mentioned the documentary Good Ol' Freda about their fan club secretary. In it, she reads a blurb from one of the Beatles Monthly Book issues saying Paul is alive and well. I couldn't find the blurb she read in the film, but I did find a bit more, and it's in the February 1967 issue of The Beatles Book, which I have here in my hand (and just getting ahold of it was no small feat). It says:
False Rumour: Stories about the Beatles are always flying around Fleet Street. The 7th January was very icy, with dangerous conditions on the M1 motorway, linking London with the Midlands, and towards the end of the day, a rumour swept London that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash on the M1. But, of course, there was absolutely no truth in it at all, as the Beatles' Press Officer found when he telephoned Paul's St. John's Wood home and was answered by Paul himself who had been at home all day with his black Mini Cooper safely locked up in the garage.
So this pushes the origin of the legend back to January 1967. I skimmed the other issues of the fanzine back through November 1966, the date given for the crash in the modern version of the legend, and found no mention of it. So unless some London newspaper ran a mention of the rumor, this may be its earliest print reference. I'm sure someone out there is listening to this and will come up with something even older, and when they do, you can rest assured I'll pass it along here.
So keep that feedback coming, folks; 200,000 heads are better than one, and this is the way we improve the quality of this resource for everyone. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any and all awesome and amazing feedback.
By Brian Dunning
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback: Creationism and More Dead Paul." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
28 Nov 2017. Web.
13 Dec 2017. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4599>
References & Further Reading
Chang, I. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Dean, J. "False Rumour." The Beatles Book. 1 Feb. 1967, Number 43: 29.
DeSpira, C. "Arcade: Polybius Legend's First Appearance in Fiction?" Retro Bitch. Cat DeSpira, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2017. <https://retrobitch.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/arcade-polybius-legends-first-appearance-in-fiction/>
Editors. "Paul Is Alive!" The Beatles Book. 1 Feb. 1967, February Issue.
Elektro, D. "Secrets & Lies." GamePro. 9 Oct. 2003, October 2003 edition.
Maxxe, R. Arcade. Garden City: Doubleday, 1984.
NPS. "Grand Canyon National Park Research Permitting Policy." Grand Canyon National Park. US National Park Service, 28 Feb. 2015. Web. 4 Jul. 2017. <https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/nature/research_permits.htm>
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