Date: Sun, 9 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 9, 1996 nn nn AANE

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Date: Sun, 9 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 9, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 58 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/9/96 In This Edition... * Intelligent Life At NBC? Pseudoscience Sleaze On The Tube * In Search Of... You, Too, Can Have A Career In Journalism! * aachat -- Listfun for AA Members * From The LISTMASTER. Serv-ing Up Cyber Details & More * About This List... NBC ''DUMBS DOWN'' COUNTRY WITH SATURDAY M.O.M. RE-RUN When NBC aired a program titled "The Mysterious Origins of Man last Feb. 25, scientists from throughout the country voiced astonishment and disapproval at the fraudulent, unsubstantiated claims which were transmitted into millions of American households. According to NBC, "The program presented startling evidence suggesting man may have made the climb from Stone age to civilization more than once; that present-day man is just the latest in this cycle, and that Darwin's Theory of Evolution has serious flaws..." The "startling evidence" turned out to be a re-hash of pseudo-scientific and biblical creationist claims, touching upon subjects like Atlantis, Stonehenge, pyramids, and the discredited "giant man tracks" found at the Paluxy Riverbed near Glen Rose, Texas. And last evening, the network re-broadcast "Mysterious Origins," after sending out a press release claiming that "University profs want special banned from the airwaves," and (The program) sparked heated controversy within the academic community..." Editorialist John Carman of the San Francisco Chronicle, though, put a somewhat different slant on the program in his June 7 opinion column. "A survey released last month revealed that we are a nation of scientific simpletons. Fewer than half of Americans know, for example, how long it takes the Earth to go around the sun. In fact, one in five of us is pretty sure that the sun rotates around the Earth." Carman added that "Mysterious Origins" gave "credence to claims that would make most scientists gag." So outlandish were the M.O.M. claims that a small war of words has been fought over the past several weeks in cyberspace between the academic community and the show's producers. The fray has been joined on one side by an army of skeptics who fear that a steady intellectual diet of such pseudo-science is "dumbing down" the American culture, and a growing segment of biblical literalists, new agers and devotees of crank conspiracy theories. M.O.M. echoed a number of claims which have found popularity in both new age and biblical-fundamentalist subcultures, including: * Evolution is simply one of many "possible narratives" or ways of interpreting geological and anthropological evidence, that "many scientists" really "disagree" with evolution as a mechanism of explaining how life arose on our planet, and that Darwinism is simply a "faith" lacking substantive, supportive evidence. * Science has lost its spirit of inquiry and fairness, and has devolved into a a "religion" where contrary ideas are suppressed and ignored in almost-conspiratorial fashion. * Evidence which questions or contradicts theories concerning evolution or the origins of human culture has been "ignored" (until now, thanks presumably to the producers of programs like "The Mysterious Origins of Man). Indeed, "the world is bigger than scientists can explain, and some of them want us to believe they can explain everything" (NBC Press Release quoting M.O.M. producer Bill Coate.) + A Media Feeding Frenzy of Religious Mysticism, Pseudo-Science + "Mysterious Origins of Man" is not the first program to present such ideas and unsubstantiated claims. In addition to the "big three" commercial networks, UPN and Fox have found that contemporary pseudo-science and mysticism, when packaged properly, can bring in advertising bucks and high audience ratings. Even though much of the material is re-cycled and discussed traditional themes such as Atlantis, UFO's, Stonehenge, pyramids, apparitions of the Virgin Mary and other artifacts of pseudo-science pop culture, the use of graphic special effects and interviews with "researchers" and "experts" often lends a veneer of credibility and excitement to the program. Often, program creators use effective techniques to create the impression that one is watching a credible, "investigative-style" news show. As noted in a previous article concerning the TV special "Mysteries of the Millennium," shows like "Sightings" employ a professional looking stage-set which resembles a news room. As a serious announcer reads the dialogue, people can be seen in the background sitting in front of computers, walking around with files or papers, or conversing. The "working news room," which has become popular with network stage designers as a prop for the evening news, is imported to create the appearance of serious journalism. The use of celebrities ia also an effective tool. Jonathan Frakes of "Star Trel" fame narrated a controversial, even whimsical special recently known as "Alien Autopsy," which purportedly showed film of a medical exam performed on a dead extra-terrestrial. ("Or is it just a hoax?") In "Mysterious Origins of Mankind," Hollywood heavyweight Charlton Heston appears serious and avuncular, a role played earlier by the late and robust Orson Welles in a similar TV production "The Prophesies of Nostradamus." Another technique of producers has been to portray conventional scientific viewpoints on "hot button" topics like evolution as a dogmatic creed enforced through intolerance and vague, conspiratorial machinations. Contrary speculation is treated as competing theory, regardless of the quality of the evidence. Evolution, plate techtonics and dating techniques are questioned not on the basis of credible, challenging evidence but by generalized statements of certain "researchers," "experts" and "writers." In "Mysterious Origins of Man," one such "expert" was identified as Dr. Carl Baugh, who believes that human beings and dinosaurs once co-existed. For biblical literalists and creationists -- those who consider biblical accounts of human origins to be literally true -- such coexistence is a necessary component in accepting other religious teachings, including the story of a global flood and Noah's Ark. Dinosaur tracks found in the Paluxy riverbed in Texas, along with what some claim to be giant human footprints, are often cited as evidence. In the 1970's, it was revealed that several of the "man tracks" at Glen Rose were hoaxes carved half-a-century before by a local resident named Wayland Adams. A number of these carved "tracks" had been cited in creationist literature as being actual footprints deposited by humans during the dinosaur era. Following the February broadcast of "Mysterious Origins," newsgroups, websites and publications were quickly pointing out the lack of good, credible evidence for the Paluxy tracks. In addition, the use of Carl Baugh as a scientific-expert on M.O.M. highlights a practice used by writers and producers of many pop-culture pseudoscience "specials." Readers or viewers of such fare are often not told the entire story, let alone presented with the overwhelming evidence put forth by more reputable scientific authorities. Even some creationists such as the Creation Science Foundation question the statements and credentials of Mr. Baugh. The Christian Answers Network Homepage, for example, notes that while "We are positive about biblical creation (sic) ,...we are negative about the spreading of misinformation in the name of Christ." CANH then noted that the Foundation had written to "Dr." Baugh "asking for documentation regarding such astonishing claims as chlorophyll being found on a T. rex tooth, alleged tapes of Neil Armstrong, a NASA experiment showing that eggs do not hatch outside of a magnetic field, and a tomato plant that grew to 30 feet tall and produced 5,000 tomatoes when grown under light supposed simulating pre-Flood conditions. The only reply we received had enclosed 'documentation' which was nothing of the sort." Baugh's credentials have also been questioned. The Talk.Origins Archive (http://members.aol.com/Paluxy2/degrees.htm) includes a concise, six-page discussion of Baugh, including academic awards from either non-existent, bogus or non-accredited institutions. Claims of advanced doctorates by Baugh's associates, such as Don Patton of the Metroplex Institute of Origins Science near Dallas, Texas, are also examined. M.O.M. is O-U-T Other problems plague many of the claims and speculations in "Mysterious Origins of Mankind." * Although M.O.M. script referred to "cover-ups," extensive investigation and data into phenomena such as the Paluxy tracks was selectively ignored. Frank Steiger's point-by-point dissection of the program as published in Talk.Origins Archive, for instance, cited the work of scientists such as Laurie Godfrey, John Cole, R.J. Hastings, Jim Farlow and Glen Kurban. * Claims by "author researcher" David Hatcher Childress concerning geological time scale are contradicted by scientific finds and even the historical record of ancient peoples, including the Egyptians. Childress also proposes that dinosaurs may be alive even today in remote environments, and cites as possible evidence a photograph of a decomposed marine animal hauled up by a Japanese fishing vessel. Notes Steiger: "It was never proven to be a plesiosaur, as claimed. But (M.O.M. narrator-host) Heston reversed the burden of proof by stating: 'Although its authenticity has never been disproven, skeptics claim that it's merely the body of a decomposing shark.' Charlton Heston is a very accomplished actor, and has the ability, by gesture and facial expression, to make even the most flimsy 'evidence' sound convincing. That, of course, is why they hired him." * M.O.M. echoes an old creationist chestnut, that the "missing link" of evolutionary theory has never been found, and that "there is little support for man's connection to the apes." Just the opposite is true; nearly every year, more of the fossil record supports the growing evidence for human evolution, including the skull findings of Australopithecus and Neanderthal hominids. The "lucy" skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson reveals a definite transitional stage between ape and human, and is not -- as claimed by the "Mysterious Origins of Man" producers -- simply another extinct ape. * Viewers were presented with the dubious theory of Rand Flem-Ath and Charles Hapgood, that approximately 12,000 years ago, the outer crust of the earth shifted, thus moving temperate regions into a polar position. As evidence, they cited the remains of a wooly mammoth which had buttercups in its stomach. Notes Steiger: "The possibility the animal had lived at the edge of an advancing icecap, had died, was preserved by cold conditions and later covered by snow and the advancing icecap was not even considered." Indeed, had such a remarkable and sudden shift taken place, substantially more and better evidence would be uncovered on a regular basis. Flem-Ath and Hapgood also propose a bizarre scenario which in the 1970's was novelized as "The Habb Theory." In this account, the accumulation of ice at the polar regions creates a weight-imbalance, and an immense "slip" resulting in a re-alignment of geographical features. Gravity pulls the northern cap "down" in a southerly direction; presumably, the "lost continent of Atlantic" -- another mysitcal, new age topic -- is quickly moved to the pole and is promptly encased in ice. But this "slippage" is impossible; it assumes an enormous source of gravity outside of the earth itself which, somehow, acts on the polar ice. Where, and what could this be? Basic physics shows that even when aligned, the moon and sun exert nowhere near the required gravitational attraction; indeed, only by convincing viewers and readers that a southerly direction is somehow "down" can the Hapgood-Flem-Auth tale even begin to have a semblance of veracity. For More Information About "Mysterious Origins of Mankind"... * The NBC web site (http://www.nbc.com) has links to M.O.M. * Search engines like Altavista will provide links as well, including the Talk.Origins Archive. Check out Frank Steiger's critical review, which includes other examples of poor research, unsubstantiated claims and misinformation which appeared in M.O.M. Follow links to http://rumba.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/mom/, which includes a critical discussion of the Oronteus Finaeus Map of 1532, and the claim that artifacts found in California provide evidence for the existence of modern-type humans dating back 55 million years. Author Paul Heinrich constructs a skillful and devastating critique of these unfounded and distorted assertions. ****************** In Search Of... No, we aren't looking for flying saucers or pieces of the True Cross. We ARE looking for aanews readers who would like to help out by sending us news clips from their local papers and other information dealing with Atheism, state-church separation, religious superstition and related topics. A fax machine is useful, but e-mail works as well. Interested? Just contact us at aanews@atheists.org. Let us know where you are, and what local newspapers and other sources you have. You probably WON'T win the Pulitzer Prize, but you WILL be helping to expand the coverage of AANEWS! ** Are You A Member of American Atheists? * AA Members are invited to participated in our moderated discussion list, aachat. Topics include Atheism, First Amendment concerns, AA activities and events, religious belief, and weighty questions such as "Jesusist vs. Jesusoid." (Seriously!). For more information, contact aachat@atheists.org; please include your name and mailing address. ************* We're Still Working On It... * The American Atheist web site is nearing completion... so, please, be patient. Once finished, you'll be able to peruse and download files, and order directly from our on-line catalogue of books and other products. **** A Word From The LISTMASTER... * I can now safely predict that computers will NOT be taking over the world and running our future, at least any time soon. Hardly a day passes when I don't see some evidence that computers and networks, for all the wonders they are capable of, are nevertheless pretty stupid. Computers (at least the ones I use!) haven't caught up with Chaos Theory and Fuzzy Logic; they are notoriously picky, even a bit (byte?) anal-retentive when it comes to instructions. A misplaced dot, an ommitted letter, an accidental keystroke -- make these sorts of nano-world goofs and your program may not run, or the nefarious MAILER DAEMON bounces your e-mail.So, gentle readers, kindly note the following about AANEWS. Our domain name is "atheists.org" (plural). Send mail to the singular form and it comes bouncing back into your mailbox and onto your drive. We are presently working to make sure that this does not happen with the web site, but for now, our mail server recognizes only "atheists.org" And for some unfathomable reason, a program which services lists -- which logically would be called "list serve" is compressed and abbreviated to "listserv." That's minus the dot at the end of the sentence. I'm too embarrassed to say how many early AANEWS dispatches came bouncing back from the DAEMON, all because I had simply typed out "listserve" instead of "listserv." Finally, who dreamed up some of this terminology? A DAEMON is a being ranking somewhere between a god and a man in the Greek scheme of things. Perhaps we need to re-christen this cyber-entity the MAILER PEST. So, in subscribing/unsubscribing, or simply sending us regular e-mail, be sure to check your spelling. ************ AANEWS is a free service of American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about American Atheists, just send e-mail to: info@atheists.org. Be sure to include your name and mailing address. For subscribe/unsubscribe information on this list, send e-mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks) in the message body. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and AANEWS. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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