Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#1186: Robert Sungenis

We recently covered geocentrist Thomas Strouse, but the leading proponent of geocentrism in the US is Robert Sungenis. Sungenis is a Catholic apologist, founder of The Bellarmine Report, and president of CAI Publishing, Inc. It is probably needless to point it out, but Sungenis has no scientific background relevant to astronomy or physics; rather, he possesses a “Ph.D.” from the Calamus International University, a private distance-learning institution located in Republic of Vanuatu, which is, diplomatically put, not a recognised or accredited university within any jurisdiction of the world. But he offered them a 700-page dissertation on geocentrism (since number of pages can ostensibly make up for lack of actual research), later expanded to 1000+ pages and published, with one Robert Bennett, as the two-volume set Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right, a work aiming to “give Scripture its due place and show that science is not all it’s cracked up to be.” For years his website would offer a $1000 reward to anyone who could prove heliocentrism, though before you submit your attempt, remember that Sungenis himself would be the judge of whether any entry counted as proof, and Sugenis doesn’t have much time for science or empirical observation interpreted without presupposing the inerrancy of the Bible.

Even hardcore young earth creationist cranks such as Todd Wood have dismissed modern geocentrism as … well, Wood seems unwilling to call them “crazy”, but he seems very, very tempted to do so. Criticisms of modern geocentrism can be found here, here, here and here, if for some reason you should need it. Of course, once again, Sungenis and Bennett are pretty much forced to reject all of modern science (evolution is just the start) in the process – and most of modern technology – but they are perfectly ready to do precisely that. A report on one of the Sungenis gang’s attempts to make a documentary can be found here – and yes, they tried, and managed, to catch (and judiciously edit) real scientists in the process by approaching them without telling them that they were geocentrists. Since nothing makes baby Jesus happier than a good deception in his name. They did get Kate Mulgrew to narrate it, though she claims – reasonably – foul play.

It is worth mentioning that Janet Porter’s group Faith2Action has used Sungenis’s website as a source of information to support their anti-gay campaigns. Here is their communications director, Ross Conley, trying to justify that.

Given his rather tenuous relationship with truth, accountability, and reason, it is little wonder that Sungenis is the victim of a severe case of crank magnetism (NASA, for instance, needs to be part of a Satanic conspiracy). The Southern Poverty Law Center calls him “virulently anti-semitic,” partially because of his expressed doubts about the Holocaust (“there was no large difference between the number of Jews living in 1939 as there were living in 1948;” that SPLC article also covers such Catholic luminaries as John “Few have the courage to speak the truth about the six million Jews that supposedly died in the concentration camps of Germany” Maffei and Catholic conspiracy theorist John Vennari). Sungenis has also written about the involvement of Jews and Israel in a Zionist Satanic conspiracy aimed at world domination. The views have caused some problems for his relationship with the Catholic Church, but that hasn’t prevented Sungenis from later reminding his readers that the 1911 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia “predicts the anti-Christ will come from Jewry” or posting several articles, for instance by Ted Pike, attacking Jewish “power.” Sungenis is also a columnist for The Remnant, where, in a piece entitled “The New World Order and the Zionist Connection,” he detailed a massive conspiracy aimed at getting Satan to rule Earth: “Among the major forces in the ascent of the New World Order,” he explained, “are the Jews, Judaism and the land of Israel.”

Diagnosis: Yes, there really is a community of anti-science loons that even your village young-earth creationist would consider pseudoscientists, and yes, they do seem to have a modicum of influence in certain circles. A relatively recent survey shows that 79% of Americans agree that the Earth revolves around the Sun. That leaves a scary number of millions of people. I don’t have the figures for Holocaust denialism.

Monday, October 20, 2014

#1185: Matthew Stucky

“Brother” Matthew Stucky is a disciple of pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church of Mesa, AZ. But Brother Stucky deserves his own entry. To give you an idea, Stucky says that Santa Claus (which he spells “Clause”, presumably because he is a delusional moron) is satanic and is “corrupting people all over the world.” And the reindeer are all gay. “These 8 reindeer are supposed to be 8 MALE reindeer. Take a look at those names again. Male reindeer named Dancer, Prancer, Vixen & Cupid. I think from these names we know Vixen, Dancer, Prancer & Cupid are queer reindeer. Let’s go back to the story of Rudolph & I prove this is true. Rudolph gets shy around girls & his nose turns red. As a result, the other reindeer won’t let him play any reindeer games. That sounds sick, perverted & homosexual.” Yes, Stucky is serious. And no, I don’t know quite what to make of it. But at least Stucky knows what we should do: “According to the Bible homosexuality should be punishable by death. I would be overjoyed if every single queer in the entire world died today. The Bible makes it clear they are reprobates who are past the point of salvation. The Bible also makes it clear they are rapists & very wicked people. They have no chance to get saved and no saved person could ever become a queer. Therefore, I would be overjoyed if they all died tonight & our government would actually follow what the Bible states. The death penalty should be enacted for the queers.” That would take care of those reindeer, I suppose.

And just to quote the conclusion as well: “People are going to read this & say I’m crazy but hasn’t Hollywood always been trying to pump in homosexual themes into kids movies & cartoons. One of the teletubbies is gay. Bert & Ernie are gay. In Scooby Doo Greg is gay. Hollywood has always had agendas they are trying to push and one of those major agendas is homosexuality is ok. It’s no big deal. Another one they are trying to push is ‘It's ok for women to work.’ The truth is Santa Clause is being used by Satan to corrupt kids at a very young age.” I think the “but” in that passage is misleading, Matthew.

Anderson’s and Stucky’s group are sufficiently insane to even blacklist Jack Chick and Kirk Cameron as heretics.

Stucky also gave name to The Grackle’s Nest’s Matthew Stucky Award. Steven Anderson himself is a proud recipient.

Diagnosis: I have to admit a certain guilty pleasure when encountering someone who, after all these entries, still leaves me astounded. Stucky himself needs love, comfort and help, though.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

#1184: Thomas M. Strouse

Far out on the fringes of the fringe you will encounter people like Thomas Strouse, member of the Dean Burgon Society and the dean at the Emmanuel-Newington Theological Seminary in Connecticut. Strouse is one of today’s leading … geocentrist. What is his evidence? Well, nothing, really, but a proper reading of the KJV chapters of Genesis suggests geocentrism. And if his favored reading of the Bible suggests this, then everyone else’s reading of the book of nature must be wrong. A priori. (A paper is here - and yes, it contains exclusively Bible interpretation – no discussion of data.) His book He Maketh His Sun to Rise: A Look at Biblical Geocentricity, deals with “geocentric verses in Scripture and exposes the fallacious arguments for heliocentrism and the unbiblical presuppositions that geocentricity's creationist critics labor under;” non-creationists aren’t even on the radar. (He also calls himself “Dr. Strouse”, but his “Ph.D.” is in theology from Bob Jones University, which gives him somewhat less credibility than if he had bought the degree online – for online degrees there are no standards and everything goes; Bob Jones is famous for correcting everything that might otherwise be correct among their students’ beliefs to ensure that the candidate is sufficiently delusional and fanatic – they have anti-standards).

What is really scary is that these self-professed fundamentalists, like Strouse, are organized and plentiful. And yes, they have their own conferences, journals and institutions – which are usually a closed book to those of us who care more about the real world. Geocentrism may be a fringe position, but it is considered a legitimate alternative in these environments. Evolution is, of course, not even under discussion (as you can see e.g. in Bob McCabe’s critique of Strouse here). At least – and as opposed to many ordinary creationists – they explicitly reject all of science and often proudly admit to not having any other evidence than Scripture to back up their positions. Take, as a random example, the Way of Life group here, and the literature they promote (e.g. David Cloud’s comments on “rock music” – or Jeff Royal’s discussion of whether country music is a “safe alternative” –  or his article “The Creation Museum: Many Infallible Proofs” – “The Creation Museum is the center for serious education,” according to Royal).

Diagnosis: Truly, profoundly scary. This fuming, unhinged fanatic has quite a substantial flock behind him, and he is surely not up to using it for the world’s benefit.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

#1183: Whitley Strieber

Whitley Strieber is best known for two things: his horror and scifi novels, including The Wolfen and The Hunger, and his horror and scifi novels Communion and its sequels. The thing is that whereas Strieber admits that the first two books are works of fiction, he claims that the latter are not.

Communion recounts the tale of the author’s alleged abduction by non-humans in 1985. Though he is careful not to characterize his abductors as extra-terrestrial aliens (indeed, they sound much more like something out of Twin Peaks) and as a matter of fact seems to admit that the abductors may exist only in his own mind, later works has not focused much on the latter possibility (it might be argued that he seems to struggle with the distinction itself). Nonetheless Communion turned out enormously popular and pushed Strieber to the forefront of the various lunatic strands of the esoteric movement.

When the book editor of the Los Angeles Times’ pronounced the book to be fiction and removed it from the non-fiction best-seller list Strieber played the victim card and the Galileo gambit: “Placing this book on the fiction list is an ugly example of exactly the kind of blind prejudice that has hurt human progress for many generations.” He had to acknowledge, however, that the non-human beings in the “autobiographical” accounts (Strieber was partially responsible for popularizing the Grays) were remarkably similar to elements of his horror stories. That could, of course, be because he was already unconsciously aware of these beings when he wrote said horror stories, but there are some other, more obvious, potential explanations that don’t reflect as well on Strieber as a rational agent.

Anyways, Communion’s success led to a demand for more mysterious experiences, so Strieber followed by a series of book describing new mysterious experiences, including The Secret School (1996), which examined strange memories from his childhood (suggesting conspiracy theories and mind control by the military), and Solving the Communion Enigma: What Is to Come (2011). In the latter he reflects on how advances in scientific understanding since his 1987 publication may shed light on what he perceived: “Among other things, since I wrote Communion, science has determined that parallel universes may be physically real and that time travel may in some way be possible,” which is apparently supposed to suggest that his alleged experiences are backed up by science. It also contains musings on UFO sightings, crop circles, alien abductions, Roswell, and cattle mutilations in an attempt to discern any kind of meaningful overall pattern. He concludes that we as a species are being shepherded to a higher level of understanding and beingness within an endless “multiverse” of matter, energy, space and time. In other words, when Strieber relates his experiences to “science” he does not mean science by “science”.

Other works include The Master of the Key and The Coming Global Superstorm (with Art Bell), which was the inspiration for the blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, and his website Unknown Country. His podcast Dreamland used to be a companion show to Coast to Coast AM. Dreamland once described Linda Moulton Howe as “our Dreamland science reporter”.

He has also appeared in other roles, such as the role of producer for NBC’s “Confirmation: The Hard Evidence of Aliens Among Us?

Diagnosis: Though he tries to convey an image of calm rationality he has some serious troubles keeping it up for more than a few sentences at a time. Serious tinfoil-hatter.

Friday, October 17, 2014

#1182: William Strauss & Neil Howe

William Strauss

Pseudoscience presented as bullshit; no more, no less. But the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe is nevertheless taken rather seriously by many across the political spectrum. Their basic idea is that society turns on a repeating set of four 20-year cycles, and by identifying these cycles they purport to be able to tell the future. It really isn’t much better supported by actual evidence than crystal ball gazing, but since their theory can be used, like crystal ball gazing, to make people hear what they want to hear it hasn’t been particularly hard to get people to listen. For some, Strauss and Howe seem to promise a reaction to the current climate of social change back to the social conservatism of the 40s. For others, they seem to promise a change out of Reagan-Bush economics and back to the Keynesian economics of the 40s – or whatever else you may want to hear. As true fortune tellers, Strauss and Howe’s predictions are complete with a soon upcoming Big Crisis – a prediction based not on structural features of the present, but on quasi-religious fatalism based on the mythos magic of transcendent cycles. And the signs are everywhere – in politics, economics, and even culture; the very topics of Hollywood blockbusters are taken to support their woo.  

Neil Howe
But good grief were their bullshit not popular, particularly in the 90s. The media loved them and their “insights” on Baby Boomers and Generation X, and their books, Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy (1997), were apparently highly popular. Their work, including their marvelously selective use and interpretation of evidence to fit their theory, is discussed here (a more professionally dry review here). In fact, the Strauss-Howe version isn’t much different from other, famous historical figures who have constructed teleological interpretations of history based on recognizing patterns that fit their narrative.

Now, as a matter of fact, Strauss has recently wandered off and died, and is thus technically disqualified from an entry in our Encyclopedia, but Howe seems to be around still, so we couldn’t really skip this pair either.

Diagnosis: Amazing pseudoscience bullshit, the kind that would pass as profound in the English classes at an unaccredited fundie institution (or any institution promoted by Norm Shealy). It’s rather sad and exasperating that they get away with this kind of silliness, but so they seem to do.