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SWIFT July 4, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   
Thursday, 03 July 2008 14:55

How Ridiculous Can You Get?, More Needles-in-Your-Face, Saunders Is In Action, TAM6 Preview, Giggle Time, In Closing.

RCKC

We may have an answer to this simple, basic, question, taken directly from the very interesting SkepticWiki site at http://www.skepticwiki.org/index.php, which I recommend you visit often, especially since one of the hilarious and very effective Richard Wiseman videos is currently featured. Please, since you’ll be convulsed with laughter at the truly incredible naivety of the Comfort/Cameron team, read this in private. SkepicWiki tells us:

Table of Contents
  1. How Ridiculous Can You Get?

  2. More Needles-in-Your-Face

  3. Saunders Is In Action

  4. TAM6 Preview

  5. Giggle Time

  6. In Closing …



HOW RIDICULOUS CAN YOU GET?

RCKC

We may have an answer to this simple, basic, question, taken directly from the very interesting SkepticWiki site at www.skepticwiki.org/index.php/Main_Page, which I recommend you visit often, especially since one of the hilarious and very effective Richard Wiseman videos is currently featured. Please, since you’ll be convulsed with laughter at the truly incredible naivety of the Comfort/Cameron team, read this in private. SkepicWiki tells us:

"Bananas: The Atheist's Worst Nightmare" is a particular variant of an argument from design which describes how the banana's features reveal its true cosmic origins. The argument traces back to [creationist] Ray Comfort and former “Growing Pains” actor Kirk Cameron's evangelical Christian talk show, and it is summed up as follows:

Note that the banana:

Is shaped for the human hand
Has non-slip surface
Has outward indicators of inward content:

Green – too early,
Yellow – just right,
Black – too late

Has a tab for removal of the wrapper
Is “scored” on the wrapper
Has a bio-degradable wrapper
Is shaped for the human mouth
Has a point at top for ease of entry
Is pleasing to human taste buds
Is curved towards the face to make the eating process easy

To say that the banana happened by accident is even more unintelligent than to say that no one designed the Coca Cola can. [Direct quote from Kirk Cameron]

This argument is of such dubious quality that it could very easily be mistaken for a parody, and hardly merits serious discussion at all. However, in the rare instance that you come across a creationist sufficiently starry-eyed to fall for it, then it could be helpful to keep in mind some of the problems of the argument:

In a wild banana, note the black, rock-hard seeds. Since wild bananas are inedible by humans and contain such large seeds, this fact would would appear to be contrary to the belief that bananas were designed with humans in mind. Seedless bananas, while preferred by humans, are useless to the banana plant, which, being sterile, has to be artificially cultivated by vegetative cloning (i.e. taking cuttings).

Cultivated bananas were not designed by cosmic intervention, but were produced by humans using artificial selection. Bananas are one of the first fruits domesticated and cultivated by human beings a little more than 7,000 years ago. Humans have bred bananas selectively for smaller seeds and a tastier banana, in much the same way we have cultivated seedless grapes and watermelons.

The modern banana is the result of a well-documented chance mutation during the nineteenth century. Those first bananas that people knew in antiquity were not sweet like the bananas we know today, but were cooking bananas or plantain bananas with a starchy taste and composition. The bright yellow bananas that we know today were discovered as a mutation from the plantain banana by a Jamaican, Jean François Poujot, in the year 1836. He found this hybrid mutation growing in his banana tree plantation with a sweet flavor and a yellow color – instead of green or red, and not requiring cooking like the plantain banana. The rapid establishment of this new exotic fruit was welcomed worldwide, and it was massively grown for world markets.

If this argument were really given serious consideration, then it is really a wonder why many other edible fruits and seeds have thorns or tough husks. These are perfectly reasonable features to expect as a product of evolution, but quite incredibly awkward when considering them as products of divine design.

As is typical with design arguments, it is unjustifiably anthropocentric. In particular, as much as the colors of a banana would serve as an indicator of its inner content to humans, it very likely served as an indicator to animals. In this case, the colors of the banana are a product of evolution, not foresight into future human consumption. In nature, it is beneficial for soft fruits with tough seeds (like the wild banana) to have an attractive exterior. This encourages animals to eat them, spread their seeds and allow the fruit to reproduce (see our main article on Means of Dispersal for more information). This would indicate that the fruit's appearance is nothing more than natural selection at work, rather than a divine designer trying to impress us with shiny surfaces.

Further anthropocentric bias is the remark that bananas are shaped for the human hand, and shaped for the human mouth. There is no reason to believe that the banana is intended for human mouths and hands any more than it is intended for monkey mouths and hands.

Much of the cited evidence for design are superfluous, such as pointing out that the banana has a biodegradable wrapper. What makes the banana any more special than the billions of other organism wrappers that biodegrade in nature?

The comparison between soda cans and bananas is a false analogy. The theory of evolution does not address the origins of things that do not reproduce.

There is an amazing array of things much more wonderful and complex than a soda can, for which we need not assume any intelligent design or purpose. They all share at least this property: a billion-year evolutionary heritage. Lacking this, the soda can does not belong in this class, and we must admit another explanation.

And finally, for those with a mind in the gutter, the argument is ripe (no pun intended) for parody value. The author of GodlessBastard.com has put together a telling parody about the banana fruit as a perfectly-engineered sex toy.

I’ll offer no comment on that last sentence…

For some reason, I happen to know something about the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike” variety of cultivated banana which my generation got to know so well. That was the main variety – carefully selected out by human hands, and not by divine authority – exported to the USA and Canada, up until the 1950s. It was better suited to shipping, could be picked and shipped green – ripening along the way and arriving in just the right state – and it did not bruise easily. Then it began to show a susceptibility to a fungus which attacked the roots of the banana plant on the plantations, and it was replaced by another. Much less care had been required to ship the thicker-skinned Gros Michel than the now-common Cavendish banana.

Think, folks – Comfort has to think this way; Cameron just decided to, and his celebrity status far outranks that of Comfort. If you still doubt that these guys are serious, go to youtube.com/watch?v=aLqQttJinjo and look at the 2-minute video. Again, this is apt to induce uncontrollable laughter, especially the misattribution of god-belief to Albert Einstein, so be warned…!

I hope that my readers will refer to www.skepticwiki.org often for frequent updates on such matters…




MORE NEEDLES-IN-YOUR-FACE

RCKC

Reader Richard Hillier notifies us:

While browsing the news, I found this article, the direct link being: tinyurl.com/4zlz8t.

The story is about London acupuncturist and celebrity “facialist” Linda Carter, about whom it says that many top celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, have called upon for her services. This “skincare evangelist,” it says, is touting her “Cosmetic Acupuncture Facial,” which

…combines 800-year-old techniques with cutting-edge technology and spiritual wellness… aimed at people who are serious about anti-ageing but want a natural alternative to invasive surgery, harsh chemical peels or Botox… A deep tissue massage on the upper back, neck and shoulders to relax the mind and body, and relieve any underlying tension… is followed by body acupuncture, during which needles are inserted into key points to increase energy flow… hair-thin needles are inserted into specific points in the face and manipulated to wake up the muscles… The process brings blood rushing to the surface and works to increase production of collagen and cell renewal.

Yes, a needle stuck in my face would wake up my yelling muscle, I can assure you.

The initial treatment costs £250 [US$500] and further specifics can be found at www.incredibleyou.co.uk.

As Richard points out, recently imposed restrictions indicate that the UK is finally getting their act together when it comes to “psychics” and “mediums,” but they still allow nonsense like this to be advertised unchecked, with no disclaimers about whether these treatments are scientifically proven or not. I can see much hope on the horizon, but until such practices as homeopathy are brought into focus and handled there, the UK remains heavily afflicted by quackery…




SAUNDERS IS IN ACTION!

Richard

As most of us know, Aussie Richard Saunders – many references on SWIFT – has taken his skeptical attitude to TV, Down Under, and we’re looking forward to his coming series, which will be searching for a genuine psychic – a vanishingly rare variety of protoplasm. In a recent interview, Richard said:

My role is being a skeptical judge, someone who can size up the contestants and give a rational explanation for what they do. I'm a pretty tough judge because I'm looking for definite psychic or paranormal happenings… It's not set out to be a Mythbusters type of program. It's difficult because I'm involved… Normally on these shows they have a token skeptic, and in the past I've been one. One of the things about this show is that I get to present my point of view.

Richard – by whom TAM6 attendees were charmed just last month – says that there are relatively few outright fakes out there, and credits most psychics as dedicated, hard-working and sincere:

A lot of people sincerely believe that they have psychic powers. They have actually been using a technique called “cold reading,” which is a psychological technique used to get information out of people. And that's very interesting, because that can often fool both the psychic and the person being read. That's not to say they aren't sincere in their belief.

The “Believer” role on the Australian show is taken by Stacey Demarco, who teaches metaphysics and has written books on how the naïve should apply witchcraft in the boardroom and the bedroom. She says:

I'm a rational type of expert, I'm not the purple tie-dye type of witch. I just want people to come into this with a really open mind. It's not a circus act or an act of any kind. The contestants are normal people, they've got husbands, wife, kids, pets, a house in the suburbs and they are considered weirdos, freaks, satanists just because they have these abilities.

Well, no, Stacey. More correctly, because they believe – perhaps genuinely – that they have such abilities. The show is designed to determine the facts about those beliefs, and Richard Saunders will be vigilantly watching the proceedings to see if there is any evidence of witchcraft being shown.

But already, dangerous accusations of bias are entering the procedure. Only a few episodes have been taped, but complaints have been heard that the pressure of actually having to do what they say they can do, has interfered with the production of miracles by the contestants. Though they depend on these powers for their livings, the Australian performers are afraid that having to prove them might lead to failure. It was ever thus…

The show’s host, Andrew Daddo, has stated:

When I was approached to go on the show I was expecting something very tabloid, very exploitative, but they came at it very respectfully, very scientifically. We’re going to tell the truth and they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to make this thing a quality production. Even though Richard comes across with the scientific stuff, my job is to translate how these people get the messages and what they do, this is their process.

All well and good, but he closes that comment with this incredible statement:

For example this person is using psychometry that's just as scientific.

That’s just like saying, “This doctor is using genuine homeopathy, which replaces antibiotics, of course.” Lotsa luck, Richard! Be prepared, along about episode six – when any psychic forces have still failed to be manifested –- to hear rumblings about this scientific approach being inapplicable to the mysterious forces that are being pursued, and the opinion that things should be loosened up so that spiritual abilities will be more likely to show themselves. My experience has shown that there is an inverse relationship between “control” and “positive results” – never better illustrated than by my friend Piero Angela’s Parapsychology Results meter:

meter


TAM6 PREVIEW

Tyson

Go to www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/08-07-02.html for a report by Derek & Swoopy on the sensational contributions made by keynote Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson and MythBuster Adam Savage to the impressive success of TAM6 – just concluded. In his presentation, Tyson put to bed the notion that science is a dull and tedious subject; he just bounced us off the walls with his humorous and informative speech. We’ll all look forward to hearing him again. As for Adam, he was – as always – the very approachable and genial man we’ve always known, and his presentation was enthusiastically received. Thank you, both.

Just a note to Dr. Tyson: The History Channel is currently featuring an extensive coverage of certain excesses to be found in our universe – and his comments have been dropped in from time to time. I’d really like to know what high school sophomore wrote the text delivered by the voice-over. They refer to “heat” as the “catalyst” that brings about winds – it’s the cause, not a catalyst; a reference is made to the “air around Jupiter,” and we’re told that “Venus tries to cool itself off”; if we mean the goddess, that’s much more likely…

Sheesh…




GIGGLE TIME

From the tinyurl.com/5f4k9d I gleaned a most excellently-written article by Al Kamen. Wish that I could write with that quality of wit! It would be best that my readers go directly there and enjoy this hilarious account of what happens when the blue-noses get frustrated and alarmed. Enjoy!




IN CLOSING…

Had to rush this out, having just returned from Boston/MIT, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas… Busy, busy, busy. Lots of comments on the Geller photo from last week – I simply could not believe that he would actually publish such a ludicrous item, but it proves once more what a limited – and vapid – repertoire he has.

I'm currently negotiating serious TV overtures from Turkey, Netherlands, UK, and Hungary designed to answer the recent “Successor” nonsense. I’ll keep you informed…


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