Friday, April 27, 2012

Carl Sagan's Alien Moon Base and Vintage UFO Sensationalism: Frank Edwards Tells His Tales

As an undirected, wandering student, I used to really enjoy fantastic tales that purported to be real. So, the old, battered 1960’s paperbacks by Frank Edwards, a sort of Art Bell for the 1960’s. His books were collections of short tales of mysterious disappearances, unexplained phenomena, UFO’s…you know, all the stuff that conspiracy theorists think are absolutely true but are being systematically covered up to prevent the people from knowing what’s really going on. 

Oddly, I never really caught the “true believer” bug of the conspiracy theorist, but I always enjoyed the titillation of the breathless narrative that made everything SEEM like it must be a genuine occurrence of the extraordinary. As a child, I wished that aliens would land in my front yard and take me with them. I dreamed of working side-by-side with Mr. Spock as a sort of junior science officer. And somehow, in the misty past of the 1960’s, it seemed that the edge of the unknown was important government business. After all, the whole decade was dedicated to reaching the Moon.

This morning I found a youtube video from those fuzzy-outline days, a series of slides overlaying a radio presentation by that very same Frank Edwards, “Flying Saucers, Serious Business.” I have the paperback here—somewhere. I read it years ago in a fit of bedside dreaminess. 

I was interested to find, right around the 34 minute mark, a reference to Carl Sagan, who Edwards claimed was the “advisor on extraterrestrial life to the military.” Well, I didn’t see that on his other online biographies!  Here, Edwards notes Sagan’s speculation that we have probably already been visited by beings from other worlds. But wait! He also says these aliens (the imagined probable ones that are out there somewhere) could have bases on the dark side of the Moon. It seems there was a common belief in the early 1960’s that we might have already been beaten to the Moon by space aliens, and that we might have to be prepared to fight for our lunar territory. How fascinating to see such popular rumor and how it arises! Edwarrds tells it all in that matter-of-fact vintage reporter style. 

Of course, now that we’ve seen the other side of the Moon, that speculation has to be thrown out. Only the woo types who believe we have never set foot on the Moon can hold on to it now. That’s why it’s “woo.” For those of you out there who want to see the dark side of the Moon, here’s footage!   So far, no alien moonbase.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Presuppositional Apologetics Can Eat My Shorts

My graphic depiction of the disconnect between Bible literalists and the scientific worldview. Images from Wikimedia Commons, public domain license.

I admit I have not been very regular in writing on this blog. I made the cardinal mistake of assuming I should have something real to talk about, with real substance behind it, before I delved into the business of putting the idea into words. Lately, I decided that, if I wait for that kind of inspiration, I probably wouldn’t write another word for months. So I took a bit of advice from this helpful article  and decided to just pick something that irritates me. Unfortunately, it still took me 2 days to put together the whole post (mainly because of visiting relatives and annoying constant interruptions-yeah, I’m making excuses!)

If you’ve seen my Twitter profile, you’ll read that I identify myself as an “apathetic agnostic,” which is lazy-speak for “I’m not religious, and I don’t really care about the fine points of religion.” Somehow that doesn’t ring completely true though, when I decide my favorite podcast of the week is Seth Andrews’ The Thinking Atheist , which explores the human side and the social realities of being atheist in a predominantly Christian society (middle America). The fine points of the atheist vs. Christian worldview often escape me, but I found my interest growing when I realized how intrusive religious dogma was becoming, extending now to children’s classrooms here in Tennessee, where the so-called “Monkey Bill” has opened the door to allowing degreed scientists (who should know better) to spread misinformation and lies to the open minds who will lead the next generation. That way lies the new Dark Ages, and that is what really scares me. But on to Presuppositional Apologetics, which I consider to be somewhat of a dishonest parlor game, rather than an honest attempt to prove God’s existence.

Few things irritate me more than blatantly ignorant assertions that refuse to allow dissension or even a peep outside the narrow world of the proponent. The field of Presuppositional Apologetics has got to be the single most annoying and closed-minded mind trick that literalist Christians have come up with thus far to redefine reality. Proponents Eric Hovind (son of “Maximum Security Kent” Hovind) and his bulldog Sye ten Bruggencate have been making the rounds of atheist talk shows online lately, spreading the massive headache that cuts off all possibility of rational communication.

I blame tenBruggencate in particular for ruining my enjoyment of DPR Jones’ The Magic Sandwich Show and Seth Andrews’ The Thinking Atheist podcasts with his willful refusal to allow arguments based on fact and reason. In fact, I think the succinct and peremptory response of the folks at the Fundamentally Flawed podcast had the right idea. I don’t even think Sye got 30 seconds in, because he refused at the outset to abandon his insistence that the Bible must be taken as the basis of all knowledge before he would even begin to allow an exchange. No neutral ground here…

That’s the real problem with this dishonest philosophical framework known as Presuppositional Apologetics. The very premise it dictates, that the Bible is the source of all knowledge and nothing can be known without “presupposing” its integral part in reality, then anyone attempting to argue for a reality without reliance on literal Biblical inerrancy cannot even begin to set forth an argument. It is basically “ Bible Blinkers ,” disallowing any worldviews that do not take the Bible as canonical reality at the outset. Who can argue with someone who will not listen even to your first utterance?

So, like Jim, Alex and Kat at Fundamentally Flawed, it seems wise to say “Bye-bye Sye” and simply focus on using reason and testable evidence to prove the existence of reality that makes a literalist Biblical approach less and less probable simply by accretion of proof that contradicts Young Earth Creationism and other small-minded outgrowths of the unfortunate phenomenon of Christian literalism. What ever happened to an acceptance of Bible stories as allegorical tales? The literalists are shooting themselves in the foot when they assert that a thousands-year-old book can tell us scientific truths about our modern world. It is backward-thinking and poses a danger to the younger generations who will carry the human race into the future.

I am no debater, nor am I a theologian or philosopher, so I cannot speak to the finer points of this doctrine of presuppositional apologetics, but I’ve seen it play out in conversation, and it is not pretty. My scientific training causes me to cry out in disgust of the blatant disregard for the testable nature of reality as it is observed in the natural world.  It is the very worst of closed minds championing a lost cause, hanging on to a crumbling world view simply on the power of wishful thinking. If you want the best ammunition against a presuppositionalist, I highly recommend this counter-apologetic from C0nc0rdance, another of the regulars on the biweekly Magic Sandwich Show.  In a way, this clear-thinking answer to the frustrating deafness of Sye ten Bruggencate vindicates the efforts of DPR Jones and the rest of the MSS crew, who were obviously massively put off and somewhat taken by surprise by Sye’s refusal to engage in adult discussion from a neutral ground. Now that the beast of Presuppositional Apologetics has lost its shock value, we can see that it has no real substance, and it can now join the ranks of dishonest arguments that only hurt the cause of Christianity.

I mean, really. Why don’t mainstream Christians denounce these nutcases? Their aggressive, bullying tactics only make the whole of Christendom look bad. At least Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury had a civil, polite and decorous conversation, each retaining respect for the other through polite disagreement. Even William Lane Craig’s “I win because I say so” arguments follow the rules of debate. Eric and Sye belong in time-out on the kindergarten playground. Their methods are evasive and dishonest. Is this sort of con game what Christians want to represent their world view?

Some frustrating and/or amusing encounters between atheists and presuppositionalists Hovind and tenBruggencate, along with some postgame analysis :

The Magic Sandwich Show (Sye, Eric Hovind , Thunderf00t , DPRJones , AronRa , C0nc0rdance ) 
The Thinking Atheist podcast w/DPR Jones and Sye
Grappling Ignorance (with lots of links to other videos dealing with Presuppositional idiocy) 
PZ Myers Talks to Sye as if to a 6-year-old child