The silliest thing I read last week

| 71 Comments

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a “silliest thing” post, but I’ve got a good one. I was perusing the 2002 book The Case for Angels. The book is written by philosopher/apologist Peter S. Williams, and Dembski wrote a foreword strongly endorsing the book. In fact, Dembski concluded his foreword with the following:

There exists an invisible world that is more real and weighty than our secular imaginations can fathom. I commend this book as a way of retraining our imaginations about that reality. (Dembski foreword, p. xii)

No, he’s not talking about dark matter, although technically that fits the description perfectly. He’s not even talking about the existence of God, which of course is a famous debate. No, Dembski and Williams are talking about angels…and demons, which, if it wasn’t obvious, are the bad angels. For some reason, demonology is a topic that regularly trips up fundamentalist evangelicals. I posted one example from a modern ID advocate; another well-known example is Norman Geisler’s testimony for the creationists in the 1981 McLean v. Arkansas case. See below for Peter Williams’s take.

In the middle of The Case for Angels, Williams spends a chapter reviewing eyewitness reports of demon possessions. Partway through, he summarizes and then moves to an additional case:

So, we have several cases of scientifically minded men, all trained in matters of mental illness (in psychology and psychiatry), convinced, against the grain of their initial scepticism, of the reality of demon possession.

The Revd James LeBarr, as Time magazine recently reported, ‘is chaplain at a psychiatric hospital and is well aware of the danger of mistaking psychological symptoms for spiritual ones’. Hence he calls in a psychiatrist and a medical doctor before any exorcism, but notes: ‘there comes a point, when somebody is climbing up the wall or floating on the ceiling or talking a language they’ve never studied, when it’s harder to put in the “psychological-problem” bin.’43

[Peter S. Williams (2002), The Case for Angels, Paternoster Press, p. 125.]

Now, so far we just have uncritical citation of a vague claim quoted in a secondary source. This is just your average run-of-the-mill silliness, not worthy of a Silliest Of The Week (SOTW) award. (By the way, Williams used the quote in this online debate with Steven Carr) No, what caught my eye was Williams’s elaboration in footnote 43:

43 James LeBarr quoted in ‘If You Liked The Movie…’ by David Van Biema, Time Magazine @ (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/a[…]5722,00.html) [Note 1: now online at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/a[…]5722,00.html. ] [Note 2: Time and Wikipedia say it’s “LeBar”, not “LeBarr.”]

To respond to LeBarr’s report of someone ‘floating on the ceiling’ (assuming he means this literally) that ‘Levitation can’t happen this can’t be a real possession’ would be question begging. Professor Main, head of physics at the University of Nottingham, worked on a project to levitate a frog using an effect called diamagnetism: ‘By changing the energy of electrons whizzing around in the nuclei of atoms, you create a force that acts on a molecular level. “In our experiment, we actually levitated the frog by acting upon its molecules,” says Main. The trick lies in balancing the force of gravity against the force of magnetism … you need exactly the same field to levitate a human as a frog, just a much bigger magnet’ (Focus no. 109, December 2001, p. 70.) Isn’t it conceivable that a demon could replicate this effect by acting directly upon the electrons in a body?

[Peter S. Williams (2002), The Case for Angels, Paternoster Press, pp. 125-126. Bold added.]

See, there’s no reason to be suspicious that mere laws of physics might pose a problem for this levitation claim. Demons just invoke their power to act like superconducting magnets, and the problem is solved. This makes me wonder if Professor Main might want to take up a second career as a demon hunter – surely if you get a big enough magnet you could use the demon’s power against them and trap a few for scientific observation. You know, like in Ghostbusters.




PS: In fairness, the footnote continues (it’s a one-page footnote):

Being open to evidence doesn’t mean believing every supernatural claim, but it must mean being ready to accept sufficient evidence as warranting a supernatural explanation. Empirical evidence for demons is necessarily evidence for unusual phenomena. Someone keeping their feet on the ground hardly constitutes evidence of possession; whereas someone defying gravity without the use of a very large and expensive magnet might well do! Perhaps a contemporary eyewitness report by the chaplain of an American psychiatric hospital isn’t sufficient to warrant belief in a supernatural occurrence. If it isn’t, this doesn’t disprove levitation or demon possession.

[Peter S. Williams (2002), The Case for Angels, Paternoster Press, p. 126. Italics original.]

Unfortunately, the whole discussion is based on Williams’ misapprehension of what James LeBar actually said. Fortunately for us, the reporter for Time apparently had an ounce of skepticism, and did ask the obvious question:

LeBar is chaplain at a psychiatric hospital and is well aware of the danger of mistaking psychological symptoms for spiritual ones. He calls in a psychiatrist and medical doctor before any exorcism, but, he notes, “there comes a point, when somebody is climbing up the wall or floating on the ceiling or talking a language they’ve never studied, when it’s harder to put it in the ‘psychological-problem’ bin.” The highest levitation he has witnessed, he says, was of a woman who “rose up above pew level and stayed there a little bit and went back down.” Some cases of possession, he says, can take decades to resolve.

Hmm, I guess the demons only have enough magnet power to provide a few feet of lift, not enough to get you to the ceiling. Wikipedia gets us a little closer to what happened by linking to this interview with Court TV:

boberrybisquit asks: Have you ever seen someone levitate like in the movie?

Father James LeBar: If the devil were to make people levitate, the way its shown in “The Exorcist,” movie I think everyone would be so scared that the devil’s purpose would be totally frustrated. I myself have never seen a major levitation in the course of an exorcism. However, in one case in the preliminary investigation, I had a person who rose up above the pews of the church and was suspended there for a few minutes.

So LeBar’s “highest” witnessed levitation is actually the only one, and even here he leaves it unclear whether or not he actually saw it, or (for example) he just heard about it while conducting a “preliminary investigation.” Over in this Newsweek interview eagerly copied into a sermon given at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles, we have another statement from LeBar:

Have you seen anything like Linda Blair’s Regan in “The Exorcist?”

Much of what’s in there, I’ve seen. I’ve never seen any high levitation, though. I’ve never seen any spitting up of material.

One would think that levitating above the pews would be high enough to mention there, but I guess not. In yet another interview, also from 2000 (when The Exorcist was re-released) the best LeBar does is someone “gliding” across a room on a chair:

‘It pretty much shows what it can be like,’ he says. ‘It’s a compilation of things that happen in different real exorcisms; the levitation, the expectoration, the screaming. All of those things take place in every exorcism’. [Except the 40 that LeBar says he has done without witnessing a levitation, I guess – I assume this was a Freudian slip, or maybe a magnetodemon targetting his tongue.] LeBar describes occasions in which his subjects do howl when sprayed with holy water and speak in languages they have never studied. ‘Sometimes they have great strength and what we call clairvoyance.’

Even the pea-green vomit is only an exaggeration. ‘In one or two cases, there has been an extraordinary amount of gagging,’ he said. In one instance, he says, a ‘victim’ glided across the room on a chair, without touching the ground.

Did this chair have wheels, I wonder? Maybe the demons just gave the victim a little push…

71 Comments

My favorite manifestation of angels is when they like to have sex with human females and produce giants as offspring (Genesis, chapter 6 I think, right before the Noachian flood). This is way cool for two reasons. First, I can totally relate to their actions, and second, if we could just find fossils of those giants, everyone would believe.

Perhaps a folk legend of relations between those robust Neanderthals and the gracile sapiens?

The genome may tell the tale.

I guess the bible suggests, therefore, that angels have DNA. And sexual organs. Pretty wild if you ask me.

Now go sequence the angel DNA, Biologic Institute! ICR? Anyone?

Related to previous ice crystals topic.. “.… ice crystals only grow when an outside agent [God] is driving the process against the natural decay process described by the second law of thermodynamics.” - Institute for Creation Research (http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-162.htm)

But God is busy..so millions of millions of millions of angels are needed here. What about angels and demons in physics lessons in schools ? “Error or something crazy happened in this experiment.. could it be mark of demons and cremlins ?”

…Hence he calls in a psychiatrist and a medical doctor before any exorcism, but notes: ‘there comes a point, when somebody is climbing up the wall or floating on the ceiling or talking a language they’ve never studied, when it’s harder to put in the “psychological-problem” bin.’

I notice this guy doesn’t mention the point where you grab a camcorder to prove your claims of demonic posession to us skeptics. Or do demons use magnetic fields to make exorcists forget to record evidence?

I’m surprised Dembski hasn’t told us that “Dark matter is demons pooping all over the Universe to spite God.” If I’m really the first person to think of that, then the creationists have completely run out of imagination.

Of course the angels have sexual organs! Haven’t you ever seen a Victoria’s Secret ad?

Besides, angels – male, female or androgynous – have always been good-looking. If they didn’t have sexual organs, they wouldn’t be Intelligently Designed.

That stuff about angels copulating with humans - where, may I ask, do you think garden gnomes come from??

Personally I’d be happy to float a foot or two above a church pew, since it gets too dang hot on the ceiling.

Really ugly angels copulating with really ugly humans?

I notice this guy doesn’t mention the point where you grab a camcorder to prove your claims of demonic posession to us skeptics. Or do demons use magnetic fields to make exorcists forget to record evidence?

It’s been done. Maybe you saw the documentary, The Exorcist.

This should help cement Dembski’s reputation as a serious scientist.

Cements it to what? The bottom of the East River?

Williams has nothing on this guy. Meet the new John A. Davison:

http://www.americanchronicle.com/ar[…]icleID=18585

What the…??? Angels surely have no sexual organs. Haven’t you seen Dogma ?

My favorite manifestation of angels is when they like to have sex with human females and produce giants as offspring (Genesis, chapter 6 I think, right before the Noachian flood). This is way cool for two reasons. First, I can totally relate to their actions, and second, if we could just find fossils of those giants, everyone would believe.

Can’t resist… Must make obvious gag…

If you doubt this is possible, how is there are pygmies + dwarfs??

Behe and astrology, Dembski and his demons and angels and fairies… What a wonderfully magical world they live in…

I suppose its only a matter of time before their excuse for no research to support their views will be “We did experiments that proved ID is true, but then LEPRECHAUNS stole our notes!! Liberal, atheistic, secular leprechaunist LEPRECHAUNS!”

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 3, column 35, byte 166 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

If you doubt this is possible, how is there are pygmies + dwarfs??

Wow… Maybe… the rest of us are actually the giants, and Adam and Eve were only 3 feet tall to begin with.

Oh, man! I gotta go think about this for a while… now where did I put my patchouli oil?

My favorite manifestation of angels is when they like to have sex with human females and produce giants as offspring (Genesis, chapter 6 I think, right before the Noachian flood). This is way cool for two reasons. First, I can totally relate to their actions, and second, if we could just find fossils of those giants, everyone would believe.

You mock in ignorance.

See here for all your angelic answers:

http://www.stevequayle.com/Giants/index2.html

I dunno. This is pretty silly, but I don’t think it’s nearly as silly as what Dembski said he’d do if he was president of a university. It made the rounds, but I don’t think Dembski got nearly as much ridicule for it as he deserved (although I did my part ).

I commend this book as a way of retraining our imaginations about that reality.

This is another way of saying that ID is all about converting minds to “see the true reality”. It could be Platonic, it could be Christian, but you know with Dembski that it’s mainly Christian (which is still Platonic, but modified).

I guess after Dover, one might as well admit that ID is all about “retraining our imaginations about that reality,” though he wouldn’t connect the two as closely as I just did. One doesn’t need the explicit connections if the mind is “retrained”, of course.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Posted by Boo on January 17, 2007 8:51 AM (e)

“Williams has nothing on this guy. Meet the new John A. Davison:

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewAr…”

: 0

He was making perfect sense until he started making his case for human intelligence being “supernatural”. I felt as though I really was watching something going down in flames in real time… Chris

Posted by Boo on January 17, 2007 8:51 AM (e)

“Williams has nothing on this guy. Meet the new John A. Davison:

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewAr…”

: 0

He was making perfect sense until he stared making his case for human intelligence being “supernatural”. I felt as though I really was watching something going down in flames in real time… Chris

Maybe I “stared” at his drivel too long…

Thanks, Joe, but where’s the angel sex video on the Internet? We need scientific proof, dammit! Enquiring minds want to know, you know? (And it can’t possibly be less watchable than Paris Hilton…)

Wow. This reminds me of my childhood best friend”s mom who used to talk to us about demons taking hold of people with Dungeons and Dragons, heavy metal and Madonna. She had documentation too. Would someone just please reproduce these things under testable conditions or in front of some skeptics? Please. Bah.

Every time I read that IDCers don’t want to investigate who/what the “designer” is, I cringe. It’s just embarassing.

Angels of the Lord in the Bible — You don’t want to be visited by an angel of the Lord. Can’t recall his name, but X was visited by an angel of the Lord and so was struck dumb for weeks. When he could again, he was asked what to name of his new son was to be. Don’t recall the exact reply, but it is the most unusual name in the Bible.

The modern medical terminology for being visited by an angel of the Lord is stroke.

Got demons? Call Buffy!

With all this talk of angels it’s timely to re-introduce Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite. Google for more info - it’s not particularly interesting but it is a wonderful name.

The Minister at our local church is quite clear that angels exist. He says they’re simply messengers and tend to be ordinary people, not wholly bad or good, who are quite unaware that they are carrying a message. On that basis, yes angels probably do have genitals although it might be impolite to ask.

I got a kick out of the suggestion that demons might replicate the effect of levitation of a frog in a strong magnetic field by “acting directly upon the electrons in a body”.

The levitation of the frog in a magnetic field is a diamagnetic effect produced by the very strong magnetic field of the superconducting magnet. In order for demons to do the same, they would have to fill the entire area with as strong a magnetic field and then everyone in the area would be levitating as the cars in the parking (and every other ferromagnetic object in the surrounding county) came flying into the room at them. Did anyone observe that happening?

Gives you some idea of the level of understanding of physical phenomena these believers have.

WAD:

There exists an invisible world that is more real and weighty than our secular imaginations can fathom.

Finally, the guy makes a prediction: the invisible world has weight. Or, maybe, more accurately, “weightiness.” Or, if ya wanna get hypertechnical, mass that carves out a path under the influence of gravity. Something of that sort, kinda like dark energy skewing the rotation of galaxies.

Maybe Nick has sussed out a more specific hint of where exactly ID’s secret experiments are heading: they plan to weigh the “supernatural essence” that imbues mere matter with design and intent!

But weight! Er, I mean, wait! Didn’t the spiritualists already run that experiment? Doesn’t a corpse–if you include all the gases and such that are given off–weigh the same as the pre-decedent did immediately before the deceaseful event?

Well, at least they’re creeping in the direction of falsifiability…

Please consider that effeminate arguers might include the lovely belly-dancer on our side, and some very good-looking gay male biologists who are all about Darwin.

No homophobia intended. I have never heard a woman or a gay man refer to her/himself as “effeminate,” but perhaps some have and I am wrong… (I certainly never use the word in referring to myself. I’m one of those so-called male-identified women who hates shopping.)

Darth Robo — No, it is the same ‘Dr. M&M’ troll.

Have you even bothered to take a read at anything that Creationists have to say except in court cases where they are often misrepresented?

If the Creationists misrepresented themselves in court while they were there, wouldn’t that be kind of their own fault?

Personally I consider court cases to be just about the only even barely reliable source of creationist opinions, because it’s the only context where the creationists cannot misrepresent without negative repercussions.

Since, y’know. If you misrepresent yourself in court, it’s illegal.

Even crackpots with PhD’s can’t fake it forever among real scientists. “Dr.” Mikey Martin apparently thinks HE can?

I got to say, this post seems a bit outside. I’d understood Panda’s Thumb to be dealing with issues of evolution and ID. This post seems to be more attacking widely held metaphysical beliefs, one’s specifically outside science’s purview according to NOMA. You may be right in everything you say, but it just feels out of place on Panda’s Thumb to me.

It seems to me this material is quite relevant to Panda’s Thumb if only because of the participation of William Dembski in the post’s subject.

What is WRONG with you people? Of COURSE Angels exist. Ask anyone in Anaheim. But bad Angels don’t become Demons– they get traded to the minors. Or maybe (sob, Chicago girl that I am) they become Cubs.

By changing the energy of electrons whizzing around in the nuclei of atoms, you create a force that acts on a molecular level.

Anyone who uses this language to describe the relationship between electrons and atomic nuclei needs no further attention.

Angels into Cubs? Sounds like macroevolution to me. Got any proof, smart guy?

Behe and astrology, Dembski and his demons and angels and fairies… What a wonderfully magical world they live in…

“Behe live or Behe dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.” [Jack’s Giant]

I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 16, 2007 8:00 PM.

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