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Not Intelligent & Surely Not Science

March 2005

According to Intelligent Design Theory (IDT), life is too specifically complex (complex structures with specific functions, like DNA) and irreducibly complex (reduce a complex structure by one part and it loses its function, like eyes) to have evolved by natural forces. Therefore, life must have been created by a supernatural force – an Intelligent Designer (ID). (continue reading…)

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The Fossil Fallacy

March 2005
Creationists’ demand for “just one transitional fossil” reveals a deep misunderstanding of science
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Nineteenth-century English social scientist Herbert Spencer made this prescient observation: “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” A century later nothing has changed.When I debate creationists, they present not one fact in favor of creation and instead demand “just one transitional fossil” that proves evolution. When I do offer evidence (for example, Ambulocetus natans, a transitional fossil between land mammals and modern whales), they respond that there are now two gaps in the fossil record. This is a clever debate retort, but it reveals a profound error that I call the Fossil Fallacy: the belief that a “single fossil” — one bit of data — constitutes proof of a multifarious process or historical sequence. In fact, proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry — multiple, independent inductions all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion. (continue reading…)

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ITConversations

February 2005

Michael Shermer, speaking with Dr. Moira Gunn, teaches us about being skeptical.

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You Can Judge This Book by its Cover

February 2005
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A review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking.

Anyone who does a lot of public speaking knows there are certain questions that inevitably arise from the audience in a Q&A session. In my case, lecturing on pseudoscience and the paranormal, I am almost always asked: (continue reading…)

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Abducted!

February 2005
Imaginary traumas are as terrifying as the real thing
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In the wee hours of the morning on August 8, 1983, while I was traveling along a lonely rural highway approaching Haigler, Neb., a large craft with bright lights overtook me and forced me to the side of the road. Alien beings exited the craft and abducted me for 90 minutes, after which time I found myself back on the road with no memory of what transpired inside the ship. I can prove that this happened because I recounted it to a film crew shortly afterward.

When alien abductees recount to me their stories, I do not deny that they had a real experience. But thanks to recent research by Harvard University psychologists Richard J. McNally and Susan A. Clancy, we now know that some fantasies are indistinguishable from reality, and they can be just as traumatic. In a 2004 paper in Psychological Science entitled “Psychophysiological Responding during Script-Driven Imagery in People Reporting Abduction by Space Aliens,” McNally, Clancy and their colleagues report the results of a study of claimed abductees. The researchers measured heart rate, skin conductance and electromyographic responses in a muscle that lifted the eyebrow—called the left lateral (outer) frontalis — of the study participants as they relived their experiences through script-driven imagery. “Relative to control participants,” the authors concluded, “abductees exhibited greater psychophysiological reactivity to abduction and stressful scripts than to positive and neutral scripts.” In fact, the abductees’ responses were comparable to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients who had listened to scripts of their actual traumatic experiences. (continue reading…)

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