Tuesday, September 2, 2014

#1143: M. Night Shyamalan


M. Night doesn’t need much introduction. In fact, it is probably pretty obvious how he qualified himself for an entry in our Encyclopedia as well. He might have successfully hid his delusions of grandeur, SPAGs and general ignorance for some time, but at least with the release of the movie “The Happening” in 2008 even his most ardent fans were sort of forced to admit not only that the movie is shit but that it is shit because Shyamalan is a loon.

The movie in question centers around a high-school biology teacher caught in an epidemy of mass suicides. The movie explains these mysterious suicides as being driven by the “spontaneous evolution” of a “toxin” in plants, and the protagonist, in a poignant turning point of the movie, gets to dismiss those so-called scientists’ ability to explain anything, since it (evolution) is all “just a theory”: “Science will come up with a reason to put in the books but in the end it’s just a theory. We fail to acknowledge forces at work beyond our understanding.” Therefore God, or at least some fluffy New Age variant of God (big-N Nature, perhaps). The grand finale of the movie consists of a monologue about the limits of rational thought delivered by a supposed scientist (and you can see Shyamalan himself try to invoke the placebo effect as proof that nature is beyond rational thought here. It’s pretty feeble.)

Of course, a film maker does whatever he wants, but given the circumstances it is hard to avoid interpreting the movie as reflecting some apparent insight Shyamalan is bent on sharing with his viewers, and that insight is absolutely moronic. The movie itself is pretty much an anti-science screed based on Shyamalan’s failure to grasp science, reason and rational thought, as well his endorsement of Intelligent Design Creationism. There is a comparison between the movie and “Expelled” here, and a discussion of what the movie reveals about Shyamalan’s attitude toward and understanding of science here.

In an interview Shyamalan also claimed to have been motivated by Einstein’s alleged religious conversion fueled by the unknowable universe, which is a myth. The movie is also thoroughly sexist. His previous flick, “Signs”, is arguably little better.

Diagnosis: Choprawoo combined with Intelligent Design is not a great combo, and after “Unbreakable” (at least) Shyamalan has been unable to keep his crazy delusions out of his movies.

Honorable mention to Ridley Scott as well for the abysmally moronic “Prometheus”.

Monday, September 1, 2014

#1142: George Shollenberger

Yes, there are pictures of
Shollenberger himself
available on the Internet,
but we thought we should
give him a pass.

I am a little unsure about whether we should really include George Shollenberger. There are extenuating circumstances. Then again, he does not seem to be a nice guy. And he has (self-)published a book purporting to provide the first scientific proof of God, and it seems to be occasionally available on Amazon. It contains barely coherent, completely amazing gibberish. To take a nice example: “Today, both mathematicians and scientists are saying that the universe has an end. This statement is made without any proof. My research shows that this saying is false. The danger of making such statements in any nation is great. For instance, the Muslim’s say that a suicide bomber will be rewarded by God. This saying is false and causes errors in human behavior in the Muslim nations. Saying that the universe has an end causes errors in human behavior in all nations.” And thus the stage is set.

Of course, Shollenberger himself noted the absence of reviews of his incoherent ramblings in any serious venues, and concluded from this that what he claimed was right. There is a review here, however (though Shollenberger claims it is just a character assassination and a concentrated effort to stop the propagation of his book). He was not happy with that one, and complained to the “scienceblogs website” (no idea), complaining that “[Scienceblog’s] mathematicians are practicing atheism […] In the USA, the practice of atheism is […] illegal”.

And then there is his attempt to disprove the theory of relativity.

Diagnosis: Perhaps we should have given him a pass. But then again, if you enjoy incoherent ramblings Shollenberger provides bang for your buck like no one else.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

#1141: Walid Shoebat


We can’t be bothered to cover Priscilla Shirer. Shirer is a Biblical motivational speaker who has authored mountains of tripe, but looking through it for a single, concrete claim in the nebulous, wooey clouds of fluffy gibberish is simply too daunting a task. She’s disqualified on technical grounds. And Andrew Shirvell needs a hug more than an entry in our Encyclopedia.

At least they pale in comparison with the amazing Walid Shoebat. Shoebat is a central actor in what seems to be a burgeoning industry of fake and questionable “former terrorists” who are selling their alleged expertise to the FBI, local police departments and – first and foremostly – lunatic wingnut talkshow hosts and columnists (Kamal Saleem is another). Shoebat is a self-proclaimed “Former Muslim Brotherhood Member Now Peace Activist,” ex-terrorist and terrorism expert, with an emphasis on “self-proclaimed” – those investigating his background has found anything resembling evidence for any terrorist or even particularly radical Muslim background, and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary (there are, for instance, no record of the terrorist attack in which he claims to have participated, and his story contains some impressively blatant contradictions) – and even if correct his background would hardly make him an expert on terrorism, something he has had ample opportunity to demonstrate. Nevertheless Shoebat, as a fundamentalist Christian, currently makes his living as an expensive lecturer and co-author of silly, paranoia-pandering books like The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America's Final Warning, and has become a pretty familiar face on fake news outlets such as Fox News. (Investigations into his finances and accountability have also led to some curious results, but that’s a different story).

And in his lectures and media appearance he gives you precisely the kinds of idiocy you’d expect someone willing to pay 5000 bucks to listen to a guy like this would want to hear. Apparently based on his background, Shoebat is in a good position to point out that Obama is a Muslim – “no one is called Hussein unless he is Muslim. So it is very clear that Barack Hussein Obama is definitely a Muslim,” says Shoebat, evidently unaware of how names work. And Obama’s pro-Islaimist worldview is motivated by Satan. “This is a demonic influence and the more America becomes liberal, the more that kind of influence prevails in America,” according to Shoebat (also here), who warns that liberals will dispose of the First Amendment in order to ban criticism of Islam and “the homosexual agenda” because … right. He managed to top most of the usual suspects on the Huma Abedin “case” – not only is Abedin a terrorist agent, “[i]t is extremely rare to have Muslim women marry non-Muslims, much less to have conservative Muslims look the other way, unless Huma has a ‘higher calling’ and a unique exception was made for her, since she is an ear into top U.S. sensitive information, or Anthony Weiner has converted to Islam or even both.” Yes, that’s how the mind of Walid Shoebat works.

Though most of his ranting concerns the evils of Islam, Shoebat does not shy away from criticizing other religions (or fail to see that they are different from Islam). So Shoebat has, for instance, accused Glenn Beck and David Barton (!) of attempting to bring about “Islamo-Mormon deistic universalism” because Islam and Mormonism are, well, the same (never mind that Barton’s vision of government would make Oliver Cromwell’s look like a pagan orgy) – according to Shoebat, Beck is a practitioner of “Chrislam”. And don’t get him started on Buddhism: “The reality is that Buddhism is just as violent, just as tyrannical, just as dangerous, and just as demonic, as Islam. Anyone who thinks otherwise is dictated by the now and the present, and not by prudence. The reason why Buddhists have, for a long time now, given an aura of peace, is because Buddhism is not in a position of power from which to commence violence and war. Buddhism has the concept of the use of false peace to deceive one's enemy, just as in Islam there is the use of false peace, or hudna (temporary truce), in order to trick the opponent to buy time and regain strength.

In his role as Bible scholar (which also produced this, which we are not even going to try to make sense of; this is rather confusing as well), Shoebat has also determined that Allah is the antichrist of the book of Revelation, claiming that “the evidence is overwhelming”. It tells you a bit about Shoebat’s standards of evidence. At least it means – to Shoebat – that the war on terror (to him the just war against Islam) really is “God’s war on terror”. And yes, the terrorists are apparently all Muslims; for instance, when Shoebat noticed that one of the victims of the Boston marathon bombings was a Saudi guy he immediately concluded that he must be among the conspirators (after said victim had been cleared immediately by the FBI, of course) and berated Michelle Obama for visiting him during her visits to the bomb victims. But then, Muslim attempts to take over the US are, apparently, everywhere and include for instance Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erodogan; proof? In 2013 a Turkish-American Cultural Center was being built in Maryland. What more do you need (especially given Shoebat’s aforementioned standards of evidence)?

His son Theodore Shoebat seems to be following in his father’s footsteps, and we’ll return to him in a future entry.

Diagnosis: Well, at least he has the mindset of a raging Taliban fundie, we’ll grant that much. He seems to have a softer spine, however.

We're back

We apologize for dropping off the face of the Internet for a while, but due to moving (to Gerald Allen territory) things have been a bit crazy lately. Can't promise that updates will be quite as frequent as they used to be, but we'll try.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#1140: Frank Sherwin


Frank J. Sherwin III is a research associate, “Senior Lecturer” at, and “Science Writer” for the Institute for Creation Research, sometimes coauthoring with Brian Thomas for the ICR newsletter Acts and Facts. Apparently he has a master’s degree in zoology, which is not (apparently) quite sufficient to confer any authority on his rejection of virtually his whole area of expertise.

He has also published in Answers in Genesis’s house journal Answers, including “Louis Pasteur’s Views on Creation, Evolution, and the Genesis of Germs”, with Alan L. Gillen (which, one wonders, is supposed to show exactly what?) and “A Possible Function of Entamoeba histolytica in the Creation Model”, which contains absolutely no research (“the Scriptures teach” doesn’t count) but plenty of conjecturing concerning a micro-organism before and after the Fall. Sherwin is, however, perhaps most famous for taking the Cambrian explosion to be one of the “four irrefutable arguments” against evolution – not that he ever pauses to consider what biologists actually have to say about it.

According to his sister Elisabeth, Sherwin is a creationist because he is “irritated by the arrogance of evolutionists who claim to have all the answers,” which sounds like a pretty lame reason; also, “the world view of a person who thinks they came from bacteria is likely to be substantially different from the world view of someone who thinks they were created in God’s image,” which is not a particularly well-considered reason either.

Diagnosis: Pretty much your standard fare among creationists. Because of Despite the complete absence of actual research (or critical thinking) efforts, Sherwin nevertheless remains a figure of authority in the creationist movement.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

#1139: Daniel Shenton


Yes, there are still people believing that the earth is flat, and they do have an organization, founded by one Samuel Shenton in the 1950s. Daniel Shenton is the current president (and he is, curiously, apparently not even related to Samuel). According to Shenton, it is not gravity that pins us to the ground but the rapid upward motion of a disc-shaped planet (that Newtonian thing about constant motion seems to have escaped him), and you can indeed fall over the edges. He also uses a GPS when riding his motorcycle, apparently.

Of course, to accept a flat earth cosmology you have to accept some conspiracies, and Shenton is happy to grant for instance that the moonlandings were faked. Apparently the idea that motivates him is Zeteticism, which according to Shenton “emphasises experience and reason over the ‘trusting acceptance of dogma’,” and the earth feels flat to him. Actually, it doesn’t really, but whatever. Apparently the evidence that convinced him was Thomas Dolby’s 1984 album The Flat Earth.

In fact, Shenton comes across as a rather curious case. He has no problem with evolution, and he does think there is good evidence for man-made climate change; he was accordingly deeply offended when Obama compared global warming denialists to flat earthers.

Diagnosis: It is, to be honest, a bit unclear how deeply committed Shenton is to his idea, and it is hard to imagine his society having any lasting, detrimental effect on civilization. Indeed, one may compellingly argue that they provide a good and helpful illustration of how denialism works, and how silly it actually is.