Christians and “Coincidences” or Is There a Hex in the Patternicity?

This article has many images and footnotes; I encourage the reader to download it as a pdf here: Shogren_Christians and Coincidences

It happened just the other day: I had been thinking about James Bond, and later when I pulled out a form of identification for the bank teller, I noticed that my ID number began with 007! Was I a secret agent? Perhaps one suffering from amnesia?

Or, let’s say a man “has a system” for beating the Vegas roulette table. He has noticed that black has come up eight times in a row. So he bets everything on black, because “there’s clearly a pattern to the wheel tonight.” Meanwhile, a man across from him is thinking to himself, “I’d better put everything on red, since it looks like it’s due to come up.”

A child and her companion lie on their backs, looking up at the clouds. “That one looks like a giraffe!” she says. “And that one a camel!” “No, not a camel, look at it upside-down, it looks just like an octopus.” One child says, “An angel!”; another says, “Actually, it looks quite like Charles Darwin!”

We have all played this game without realizing that we were doing pattern recognition. As Paul Simon wrote many years back, in the song “Patterns”:

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Leaves, shadows, trees, indecipherable scrawling – these can all seem like messages because of our human tendency for patternicity. So can tortillas and numbers and corporate logos, as we shall see.

This is why astronomers speak of the Horsehead Nebula, which was not modeled after a terrestrial animal, but just sort of looks like a horse!

From ages past, people have imagined patterns in the stars and constructed “constellations” of animals, gods, heroes. And we can get a cross-check on patternicity by seeing how different cultures “read” the same stars –  it’s Orion in European legend, but the same stars are a hunter and his dogs chasing a deer in India. Mr. Rorschach invented his famous ink blots on the basis of human pattern recognition (“Ummm…is it, maybe, two ducks kissing?” “Okay, Mr. Anderson, we’d better make it three sessions per week!”)

We are wired to quickly detect patterns in the data we see and hear. This is a huge help to get us through the day: when our alarm clock goes off, we don’t have to puzzle over, “Now, what could that buzzer possibly mean?”

But for some people, that recognition faculty goes beyond what is useful (more…)

What I read in 2016, the short list

I have always been a big reader, but never anything close to my list for 2016. That’s when I began to use the wonderful online group, Goodreads.com, to log the books that I have read, am reading, and want to read. I am up over 1900 books that I have logged as “read” in my lifetime, so far, but I know there are hundreds I cannot remember; I imagine the number should be more like 2500.

“Do you want that reading list Super-Sized?”

Over Christmas break 2015 I decided to join their Reading Challenge for 2016, and set a (as it turns out, too ambitious!) personal goal of 150 books/plays this year, including the complete works of Shakespeare, the Koran, and others, let alone material for class prep. Typically I am reading eight books at a clip; some short documents, some long tomes, some Audible recorded books from Amazon.

Overall, I read a lot more non-fiction this year than I usually do, although I also read some marvelous fiction.

Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:

Russian themed. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862) was excellent. I am about a third of the way through the fictionalized biography of Trotsky by Leonardo Padura, The Man who Loved Dogs. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1868-69) is a Christ-allegory. All are available on Kindle.

George Orwell beyond 1984 and Animal Farm. I have read 1984 a dozen times since Junior High, and decided I should branch out. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a novel (more…)

Is the Earth a flat disc after all?

Is it just me, or is anyone else running into Flat Earth proponents lately? (Check this ARTICLE) People who think NASA is doing mind control over us, that no one has ever been to space, that the Bible teaches the earth is a disc? Yeah, it’s a thing. It’s conspiracy thinking at heart. Basically an extension of the chemtrail/anti-flouridation/man-never-landed-on-the-moon approach to truth and reality. Airlines supposedly fake their travel times, no-one has ever been to the South Pole, all of those outer space pictures were Photoshopped, all Aussies lie about how long their country is (see the map below to deduce why – in a FE model, it would have to be the size of Russia), time zones are a fake, and the stars are just points of light in an umbrella, fixed maybe a few hundred miles up.

01 Flat Earth Society Map (Charles K. Johnson).jpg

Like so

Just for one example, here is a meme I ran into this week, one which “proves absolutely” that the world is flat and the center of the cosmos, and that the stars whirl about us in unchanging position.

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One can disprove it, I think, with a 10th-grader’s knowledge of math and the stars.

To begin with, the first two figures are a smokescreen, since our daily rotation and our annual revolution around the sun would not be expected to alter the shape of constellations in any way. So these two are moot and can be put aside.

As for the third datum, the rate of speed is relevant, although it’s off by a factor of 10! It should be 45,000 mph; this goof doesn’t fill me with confidence in the meme. In cosmic terms, by the way, 45,000 mph is a creeping pace, a little bit more than twice the speed of the space shuttle. The same shuttle that, at top speed, would need 165,000 years to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.

Anyway, the sun is moving at 45,000 mph in relation to an imaginary fixed point in space, but the meme fails to take into account that the other stars in our sector of the galaxy are all in motion through space as well, and more or less in the same direction. So it’s a bit like asking, “If that horsie on the merry-go-round is really moving at 10 feet per second, then how come he doesn’t move further and further away from the other horsies??? Therefore, the horsie is not moving at all, and if NASA tells you otherwise, they’re lying!!

"I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! What gives??"

“I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! Neigh! What gi-i-i-i=ves??”

Another point, is that in fact constellations do shape-shift over time, but it takes so long that they wouldn’t have seemed to move much in the few thousand years that people have been imagining patterns in them. HERE’s a good short article on the phenomenon, showing that stars have slightly changed their positions over the past couple of thousand years. And thousands of years from now, the Big Dipper will look slightly less like a dipper.

Not that this evidence will change anyone’s mind. As with all such theories, you can cut off one head (or disprove one meme!) and a hundred others will grow up to replace it. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt to prove that the earth is really a sphere: I’m following my Golden Rule, “Cans of Worms shall not be Opened on This Blog.”

imagesToxicity warning: Flat Eartherism as such is a relatively harmless notion, but it does seem to come tangled up with anti-Semitism (the Zionists control NASA!), Nephilim mythology, Who Really Killed Diana theories, “Fold up a dollar bill and tell me you don’t see the Illuminati!” handcrafts, and other conspiracy thinking. As careful study has shown, “people who believe in one conspiracy are prone to believe others.” If we need proof, Alex Jones is Exhibit A. Conspiracy thinking is, as the earlier article notes, almost resembles a religion, with a fervor that rivals jihadism for its fury, single-mindedness, and closed thinking. In this case, NASA is the Flat Earther’s Antichrist, Galileo really was a heretic, and “Like the tobacco companies, NASA is now trying to target children with their lies!”

Strange days indeed.

Recommended Link

IBRI has excellent studies on science and faith

Our friend Dr. Bob Newman has a fine article; the title gives it away, but he takes a gentle, pastoral approach to alternative science: Evangelicals and Crackpot Science

Related Posts

Christians and Myths

“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

“Is the Earth a flat disc after all?” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Christians and myths

Gullibility is not a fruit of the Spirit. Yes, Paul did say that a Christian “believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), but what he meant was, “to whatever extent possible, believe the best about other people”.

It’s important to establish this up front, since Christians are regularly bombarded by rumors, many of which are false. Wait ‘til you hear this! someone breathlessly informs us:

They are banning all Christian radio! A guest preacher spoke in our church. “The famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair is leading a movement to take away our freedom!” he exclaimed. “If we don’t act now, then Christian radio programs will be banned!” He gave some details of the crisis, and I signed the petition to the FCC to reject the atheistic petition RM-2493 and keep the gospel message on the airwaves.

The only trouble is, I was sixteen when I put my signature on the petition. Yet decades later, that same warning keeps circulating, given new life by email and then Facebook. (more…)