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Joe Nickell: Ancient Astronauts and the Nazca Lines
Posted: 14 September 2006 01:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Not quite sure what to make of your post here, George.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]BTW, I am not sure to which category Nickell belongs. His claims that von Daniken is “implicitly” (as Doug Smith has suggested) a racist and his phantas magoria explanation of the origins of Nazca lines (the ritualistic walking paths) are just pathetic.

You’ve made a similar claim before, but it is not backed up by any sort of argument. Why is his explanation “pathetic”? It may be speculative, but at least it is a speculation that makes sense given what we know of the culture. It also makes sense of the fact that these pictures are drawn with a single curved line. It also makes sense of the fact that each of these pictures includes long, straight, parallel entrance and exit lines: these would have been the ritual entrance and exit to the figure.

So what evidence do you have that Nickell’s explanation isn’t at least a plausible speculation?

[quote author=“George Benedik”]Now take Dawkins for example. “The Selfish Gene”: good. The “memes” theory: interesting. “The God Delusion”? It’ll probably be an embarrassment. Dawkins is a biologist, not a psychiatrist. Before criticizing the existence of religious believe, we need to understand why it exists to begin with and if we can do without it.

Since none of us have read Dawkins’s new book, how do you know he doesn’t deal with such issues?

And what do you mean “if we can do without it”? What is so important about religious belief that we might not be able to do without it?

It would certainly appear to me that there are many aspects of religious belief that it would be very well for us to “do without”: the notion of supernatural causation, of supernatural beings for which we have no evidence, that there are various ‘chosen peoples’, that there exists hell and damnation, et cetera.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]The mission of The Point of Inquiry tells us that it “seeks to promote among its listeners a thoroughly scientific outlook”. Just because you hate religion, it doesn’t give you a scientific outlook.

True, but there are a few issues here that we need to get clear on. First of all, ‘religion’ is a very big topic. There are some good aspects to religion, to begin with, it has produced some very fine artwork. So to be against religions in general isn’t to say that they are universally and always bad.

But I would say the bigger threat today is people who are unwilling to criticize religion for fear of being labeled “haters”. How often do you see people on television criticizing religion? How often, on the other hand, do you see people, in sports, in politics, etc., invoking their notions of god?

Also, the biggest threat to scientific inquiry in the world today is religious bigotry and intolerance. That has stifled research into contraception for decades. It stifles research into stem cells today. It stifles knowledge of evolution in schools. And we all know that in the past it arrested and burned people at the stake for doing research into the heavens.

So yes, I would say that a properly scientific outlook is going to involve at least some healthy skepticism about religious claims.

BTW, glad you enjoyed Neil Tyson’s talk. He’s great. If you want to read some of his views on the intersection between religion and science, read his wonderful essay The Perimeter of Ignorance .

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Posted: 14 September 2006 04:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Posted: 14 September 2006 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]None. But a plausible speculation is also von Daniken’s, Reiche’s, Woodman’s and others. Ptolemy’s Earth-centered universe was also a plausible speculation. And so was Lemark’s theory of evolution. I have to accept though that my disagreement with Nickell is ad hominem. I really found his accusation of von Daniken being a racist distasteful. 

I am not familiar with Reiche’s or Woodman’s theories. What was under discussion before was von Daniken, and the whole problem with that theory is precisely that it’s (in your words) “pathetic”. It isn’t plausible in the least that these are lines made for alien spaceships. There is no independent evidence whatever for spacemen, spaceships, or extra-terrestrial visitations of any sort. So any so-called “explanation” of Nazca lines based on them is not plausible, a priori.

I should add that Ptolemy and Lamarck were great thinkers, who made many advances in their day. Ptolemy developed what may well be the first accurate system for predicting planetary motion. Lamarck believed in evolution before Darwin ... and although the mechanism he proposed is, in fact, false, nevertheless he was clearly an incisive thinker.

Von Daniken, OTOH, is no sort of scientist at all, and in fact largely a fraud. His speculations about the Maya in particular are literally laughable.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]The topic of the existence and importance of religion is a complicated one. As I said my previous e-mail, Hemingway thinks that “All thinking men are atheists”. And I think I agree. But what about the rest? The “non-thinking” ones? Can they do without religion? I am not sure. According to Leo Strauss the society needs some kind of ideology to stay functional.

Well, it’s one thing to say that people are inclined to religious beliefs, and another thing to say that they should have these beliefs. Incidentally, I wouldn’t say that religious people are non-thinking, although I do think they would do better to question the fundamentals of their beliefs ... and ask, for example, why they believe their holy books to be accurate in any important way.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]Is Sweden doing economically better than Spain because the majority of its population are atheists or are they atheists because they have the money? I believe it’s the second one. Now I don’t wish to sound racist but the reason why Sweden has more atheists and money than Spain is probably because the average IQ of a Swedish is above the one of a Spaniard.

I will preface this by saying that I know many spaniards, and what you say sounds racist to me, and pretty offensive, actually.

I don’t think you can link money to atheism so immediately. There are many complex cultural interactions that make cultures wealthy, or that make them religious. Sometimes, like in the US, those tend to go together. After all, the US has an extremely high standard of living, and is also probably the most religious first-world country.

Spain is actually not very religious now, certainly not by american standards. Their new socialist government even made gay marriage legal recently, something that would be impossible here.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]I still don’t think that CFI needs to criticize religion. The scientists need to make science more accessible to the general public to begin with. It’s very easy for an average person to walk into a church and find “a satisfactory solution to their problems”.  Can you imagine some sort of “science church” (not Scientology) where a guy with four kids who works fifty hours per week for $10.00 an hour walks in and seeks some kind of advice on “how to go on”? He had never heard of Galileo, Dawkins, Nietzsche or Camus. What would you tell him? “Well, buddy, this is it. The only meaning of life is life’s continuation. You will always be poor and, BTW, this is the only life you’ll ever have. After you’ll die there is nothing. So go back to your unsafe neighborhood and your hungry kids and deal with it.”

But what you’re doing here is putting up a straw-man argument. No atheist, nobody at CFI that I know of, would ever say something so silly as what you suggest. Indeed, the person you create sounds not to be a humanist, but rather a nasty misanthrope.

Of course the CFI has to make science accessible, but there are many other organizations that do that very well: schools, science museums, NOVA, Scientific American, the Science Channel, Discovery Channel, etc., etc. Not that we don’t criticize these from time to time, but there’s a large amount of science journalism and instruction around ... not nearly enough, but still it’s a job with strong players.

What the CFI does is precisely what these don’t do. The CFI, first, investigates issues of pseudoscience. These are theories which the general press takes as plausibly scientific, but the actual people who work in the field know is either fraudulent or scientifically without merit. (Von Daniken is in this group). This is extremely necessary work of public education, which is done, basically, by nobody else. Yes, NOVA did do a good hour on von Daniken, but they do very little on pseudoscience in general. Skeptical Inquirer is the world’s greatest source on this topic, bar none, read literally around the world.

Second, the CFI investigates religious claims from a scientific point of view. Again, basically nobody else in the country does this, and precious few in the world. And it is clearly extremely important work, since so much of religion is bunk—literally false. Further, so much religious bunk is actually harmful.

So no, the CFI should not become a “science church” as you suggest. No way. But the work it does to investigate and inform the public is absolutely essential, and work done almost literally nowhere else.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]It’s easy for a bird to fly as, I am sure, it is equally easy for you to be an atheist. But not them. The majority of individuals in today’s society doesn’t have the necessary wings to fly.

Well, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be available to those who do have the necessary “wings”. I think it’s best not to have a defeatist attitude about this whole project.

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Posted: 15 September 2006 01:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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MIDDLE HEAD: He buggered off.
RIGHT HEAD: So he has. He’s scarpered.

... well, that was odd ...

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