Friday, November 21, 2014

#1215: Jeffrey P. Tomkins

The unfortunate demise of John Todd leads us to another stock creationist, Jeffrey P. Tomkins, “research associate” at the Institute for Creation Research. Tomkins has a PhD in genetics (Clemson University) and a master’s degree in “plant science”, and his “research” for the ICR accordingly focuses on genetics, particularly (as per 2011) on the genetic similarity between humans and chimpanzees. He has already discovered that the similarity between humans and chimps was “merely” 86– 89% by failing to understand some rather central distinctions (he never told us what the differences were, but did claim that evolutionist attempts to sequence the genome were biased). His 2012 article on the sequencing of the Gorilla genome, “Gorilla Genome Is Bad News for Evolution,” promptly failed to understand the science (detailed explanation here).

Needless to say, Tomkins avoids serious, scientific journals for his rants, but instead likes to publish his “results” in venues such as Answers, the house journal of Answers in Genesis. For volume 4 of that journal he published, in addition to his human-chimp difference paper, “Response to Comments on ‘How Genomes are Sequenced and Why it Matters: Implications for Studies in Comparative Genomics of Humans and Chimpanzees’,”, a response to (creationist) criticisms of said paper. He continued the confusion in volume 6.

His latest project is apparently concerned with the “concept of genetic diversity in biological adaptation.” We are still waiting for any insights.

Diagnosis: Clueless moron, whose understanding of central concepts in biology seems to be – willfully – more or less non-existent. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

#1214: Renee Tocco

A.k.a. Renee Hunter

Renee Tocco is a Michigan-based chiropractor well known in the anti-vaccine movement, and signatory to the International Medical Council on Vaccination’s list of people … well, anti-vaccinationists (and, yes, IMCV is a belligerent anti-science organization). She is also the founder of Hope for Autism, another group devoted to proposing unsupported claims about the causes (and potential solutions) of the probably mythical autism epidemic. And of course the vaccines are to blame. According to Tocco there is a conspiracy going on in the medical community to protect (for rather nebulous reasons) the idea that autism has a genetic component and exonerate vaccines.

She also has the solution: “I truly believe that chiropractors, as primary health care physicians, are destined to change the world of autism.” The reason is that instead of medication, Tocco thinks, chiropractors can use woo. In particular, her woo. “Hope For Autism offers BioNutritional Care training for both chiropractic physicians and the general public. Bionutritional Care utilizes diagnostic tools and methods of testing to determine the underlying physiological causes of symptoms particular to an individual suffering with a disease or condition. These underlying physiological conditions include, but are not limited to, chronic fungal, bacterial, viral or parasitic infection, nutritional deficiency, food and inhalant allergies, heavy metal toxicity, systemic inflammation, and immune system deficiencies. Then, with a focus on natural and non-invasive treatments and modalities, an individual’s fundamental diagnoses are addressed with methods that have been shown to be effective.” Evidence for efficacy? How dare you even ask – it is “natural.” And the approach can, in a few easy steps, take care of a lot of things in one fell swoop, non-invasively, which is the hallmark of good woo.

Diagnosis: I kinda hope this entry is greeted with a yawn. There is nothing new or original here. Just the standard admixture of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and spamming.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#1213: Herb Titus

Herbert W. Titus is an American attorney, writer, politician, and supporter of the Christian Reconstructionism movement, known for his dabbling in pseudohistory (he made an appearance for instance in Kirk Cameron’s 2012 “documentary” Monumental) and for running for Vice-President of the in the 1996 U.S. presidential election on the Constitution Party ticket (running mate of the late Howard Phillips). He was once a respected law scholar, but left his tenured position as professor of law at the University of Oregon in 1979 to become a member of the charter faculty at Oral Roberts University and later dean of Regent University’s law school.

We note that Ed Brayton repeatedly denies that he is a dominionist, but Titus’s actions make it fair to label him a “supporter” of certain dominionist views – he is committed to exercising what he believes is a “dominion mandate” to “restore the Bible to legal education,” i.e. to teach that Christianity is the basis of our law, that lawyers and judges should follow God’s law, and that the failure to do so is evidence of a “tyrannical,” leftist agenda; and if not necessarily dominionism proper it is definitely an attempt to make fundamentalist religion the foundation of the law. Indeed, Titus claims that religion, as used in the Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) does not mean, religion. Rather, Titus insists that this clause means that Congress cannot make you do anything that you are otherwise commanded by God to do: in other words, Congress cannot flout God.

To get a further idea of what kinds of positions he supports, Titus has argued that the Bible shows that Obama is ineligible for the presidency of the US. According to Titus, both your parents need to be citizens of the US (that’s established by the Bible), and “the form that was produced by the Obama administration indicates that his father was not an American citizen. Where people said, where race usually you put ‘black’ but it has ‘African,’” which settles the matter: “I think this president does have a divided loyalty. I think he is more loyal to his African father than he is to the American nation.” Yes, the argument is as mind-bogglingly, hysterically insane as it appears to be (elaboration here). Titus also appears to think that Obama is the harbinger of fascism for signing an executive order establishing the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council; his tortured reasoning was duly reported by the WND, of course.

As for marriage equality Titus has said that the government should define marriage based on Leviticus and “screen out those people who were violating the rules the Bible laid down as to who could be married and who could not be married.” He was also a signatory to what has become known as the mother of all prop 8 briefs.

As for gun rights, Titus maintains that the NRA “compromises” on gun rights. According to Titus the Second Amendment isn’t solely about firepower: “You have to see it in its spiritual and providential perspective.” It’s not only a matter of a right to bear guns; you have a religious duty to do so. Indeed, we have a religious duty to arm Americans against the government and the “totalitarian threat” posed by “Obamacare” and “what Sarah Palin said about death panels.”

Along with our old friend Roy Moore, Titus was an original drafter of the Constitution Restoration Act, which sought to take out of federal court jurisdiction cases that involved public officials that acknowledged God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government, and provided for the impeachment of federal judges who disregarded the act.

Diagnosis: Dangerous and crazy. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#1212: Frank Tipler

The creationist rants of Bill Tingley are pretty typical in their display of profound ignorance of science and, in particular, evolution. But we haven’t really managed to find much other information on this guy, so we’ll leave him alone in favor of one of creationism’s big fish.

Frank Jennings Tipler is a once-good scientist turned crackpot. He is still professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane, and in his early career Tipler published technical work on general relativity that were well received by the scientific community. His writings gradually morphed into eccentric pseudoscientific books on intelligent design and Christianity in an attempt to scientifically prove the existence of God. He has thus far failed.

His most famous contribution to pseudoscience is the Omega Point, a ghastly pseudo-scientific mix of cosmology and theology that supposedly proves God’s existence and the immortality of intelligence. His book on the matter, The Physics of Immortality, was described by George Ellis as a “a masterpiece of pseudoscience … the product of a fertile and creative imagination unhampered by the normal constraints of scientific and philosophical discipline.” In essence, the Omega point is a state in the distant proper-time future of the universe occurring after intelligent life has taken over all matter in the universe and eventually forced its collapse. During that collapse, the computational capacity of the universe diverges to infinity and environments emulated with that computational capacity last for an infinite duration as the universe attains a solitary-point cosmological singularity – the Omega Point, or God. With computational resources diverging to infinity, Tipler states that a society far in the future would be able to resurrect the dead by emulating all alternative universes from its start at the Big Bang – in other words, he thinks he has proved the immortality and resurrection of the Bible by physics alone. The whole thing is theological nonsense, of course, blithely misapplying the laws of probability, but made to sound “plausible” to laypeople (who don’t really understand the terminology) by using the technical language of physics. Martin Gardner dubbed Tipler’s “Final Anthropic Principle” (used to derive his results) the “completely ridiculous anthropic principle” (CRAP). Michael Shermer devoted a chapter of his book Why People Believe Weird Things to Tipler’s theory, and Lawrence Krauss described the book as the most “extreme example of uncritical and unsubstantiated arguments put into print by an intelligent professional scientist”.

But really, what qualifies Tipler as a loon isn’t so much his unsubstantiated ravings on theology and metaphysics, but how it affects his views on real science. At present Tipler is also a Fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, and a signatory to the Discovery Instititute’s petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism; he also writes for Uncommon Descent.

And yes, his rants and ravings are utter crackpottery, complete with misuse of technical vocabulary, random capitalization and failure to understand how science works (a scientific theory is only truly scientific if it makes predictions “that the average person can check for himself,” says Tipler) – some examples are discussed by Sean Carroll here.

He also endorses global warming denialism: People say that anthropogenic global warming is now firmly established, but that’s what they said about Ptolemaic astronomy! Therefore, I am like Copernicus (Carroll’s paraphrasing). In other words, that a theory is established in the scientific community is no reason for me to accept it, even though I lack any expertise in the field. To back up the claim, Tipler engages in a lengthy description of the woes ofGalileo. His dismissal of global warming involves ranting about sunspots (apparently unaware of the literature, of course) and alleging that the data has probably been fabricated since it was very cold outside when Tipler was writing his rant. (Another example here.)

In addition to the already mentioned Physics of Immortality, Tipler’s books include The Physics of Christianity (2007) and The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986). The Physics of Christianity (reviewed here) attempts to give tortured explanations of the Shroud of Turin and various Christian miracles (desperately trying to avoid the obvious explanations). It is easily dismissed as profoundly silly, but as Lawrence Krauss points out: “As a collection of half-truths and exaggerations, I am tempted to describe Tipler’s new book as nonsense – but that would be unfair to the concept of nonsense. It is far more dangerous than mere nonsense, because Tipler’s reasonable descriptions of various aspects of modern physics, combined with his respectable research pedigree, give the persuasive illusion that he is describing what the laws of physics imply. He is not.” For instance, Krauss continues, “he argues that the resurrection of Jesus occurred when the atoms in his body spontaneously decayed into neutrinos and antineutrinos, which later converted back into atoms to reconstitute him. Here Tipler invokes the fact that within the standard model of particle physics the decay of protons and neutrons is possible, although he recognises that such decay would likely take 50 to 100 orders of magnitude longer than the current age of the universe: thus, the probability of such an occurrence is essentially zero. However, using a strange ‘Christian’ version of the anthropic principle, a subject he once co-authored a book about, he then claims that without Jesus’s resurrection, our universe could not exist – therefore, when one convolves this requirement with the almost, but not exactly zero, a priori probability, the net result is a near certainty.” Elements of the religious rightwing media were quite impressed, however.

Diagnosis: A crackpot’s crackpot. This guy is really a phenomenon. His (mis)use of scientific vocabulary in the service of sheer crackpottery may perhaps convince some, but I hope even the reasonably educated layperson will quickly understand, upon encountering his books, that they are in the presence of some serious gibberish. Yeah, right.

Monday, November 17, 2014

#1211: Robert Tilton

Robert Gibson Tilton is a legendary televangelist who achieved notoriety in the 1980s and early 1990s through his infomercial-styled religious television program Success-N-Life. At its peak it brought in nearly $80 million per year, and was described as “the fastest growing television ministry in America.” It lasted until ABC’s Primetime Live aired an expose of Tilton’s fundraising practices (including testimonials of miraculous recoveries), thereby spurring a series of investigations into the ministry. Tilton’s program subsequently disappeared from the air.

The investigations were started in part after the Trinity Foundation, who works with homeless and poor people in Dallas, started noticing the pervasiveness of people who had lost everything to Tilton. When confronted with the fact that he would just throw away the prayer requests sent to him (which admittedly would have been just as effective) but keep the money – after ABC investigators found said requests in the garbage – Tilton went into denial, saying that ABC had stolen them and put them in the dumpster, that he had “lai[n] on top of those prayer requests” so much that “the chemicals actually got into my bloodstream, and ... I had two small strokes in my brain,” and that he had needed plastic surgery to repair capillary damage to his lower eyelids from ink that seeped into his skin from the prayer requests. He also thought he was justified in using the money to purchase multiple multimillion dollar estates. He also had some problems with some fraud lawsuits, and an incident where he sent a letter to a woman claiming that he just spoke to God and that God was going to heal her husband several months after her husband had died, thus proving that he was lying and knew that he was lying.

Like Jesus, he later returned to television, first in 1994 with a new show called Pastor Tilton that emphasised “demon blasting” exorcism practices usually involving Tilton shouting as loudly as possible at demons supposedly possessing people suffering from pain and illness. It wasn’t very successful (people prefer being defrauded with fluffy self-help advice), but he has more recently returned via his new version of Success-N-Life airing on BET and The Word Network, where he still performs miracles such as making bones grow together (though the embedded video sort of suggests that the patient’s bones did not grow together). A typical fundraising letter is discussed here.

Tilton is the author of several self-help books about financial success, including The Power to Create Wealth, God’s Laws of Success, How to Pay Your Bills Supernaturally [wheee!] and How to be Rich and Have Everything You Ever Wanted. And yes, you can probably discern the nature and quality of the advice from the titles.

Diagnosis: The question mark is obvious. If Tilton believes in the miracles he professes to believe in, then he is a loon. But there is plenty of evidence suggesting that Tilton is perfectly aware of the nature of his business, which would technically disqualify him.