Friday, 29 August 2014

Wandering Stones - A Lesson for Creationists

'Wandering stones' of Death Valley explained : Nature News & Comment

The 'mystery' of the 'Wandering Stones' of Death Valley, California has been definitively solved by, surprise! surprise!, science - and there is a subtle but crushing lesson for creationists and other magical thinkers in the mystery. Actually, the stones aren't in Death Valley but in Racetrack Playa in a valley in nearby mountains. The mystery was how they move across the flat dried-up lakebed, apparently without any assistance.

The answer had been proposed earlier but observation - the basis of all good science - has finally proved that thin ice sheets form when the normally dry ancient lakebed floods to a depth of a few centimeters and then freezes over. The water under the ice then drains away, the ice breaks up into smaller sheets, leaving ice 'sails' attached to the stones which catch the wind and move the stones.

Previous attempts to show that wind alone could move the stones had failed because the normal power of the wind across the lake bed acting on the surface area of the stones alone was not enough to overcome the inertia of the stones and the friction of the sand. Sheets of ice attached to the stones changes that formula and this has now been confirmed by observation. Changes in direction simply reflect changes in wind direction. (Some of the more convoluted tracks are undoubtedly hoaxes)

Racetrack Playa from space
Previous attempts to explain this phenomenon had, as one might expect, included all manner of supernatural, extraterrestrial, conspiracy and paranormal hypotheses, none of which had established a priori that the putative cause actually existed and, in typical woo style, used circular reasoning to claim the fact that the stones moved proved the hypothetical cause existed. About the only hypothesis not to have been proposed was that the stones never have moved and have always been there since the world began.

This is of course identical in form to the normal religious apologetic which ascribes cause of a given phenomena such as the existence of the Universe, life on Earth, human consciousness, etc to whichever god is being promoted then uses the existence of that phenomena as 'proof' of the existence of the god. However, we know that religious apologetics is all about giving believers reason to remain believers and providing them with confirmation for existing bias, not with arriving at objective truth, and we know that intellectually lazy people are willing to settle for easy answers, even magical ones, no matter how lacking in real evidence they might be, so it comes as no surprise that so many woo theories had grown up around these stones.

But there is an even more interesting aspect to the 'Wandering Stones' which illustrates how woo-thinkers aren't too bothered about intellectual consistency. Bearing in mind the claim, universally made until now, that no one has ever seen the stones moving, look at the picture of the stones top right and explain how we know they've moved.

Fairly easy, no? Who in their right mind would look at that picture and conclude there is no evidence for the stones moving; that the tracks are not conclusive evidence that the stones had moved across the lake bed? All the evidence is there, even the ridges of sand pushed out to the sides as the stone scraped it off the surface. There is absolutely no doubt at all that the stones have moved because we can see the tracks.

Yet nobody saw them move!

Creationists frauds like Ken Ham make great play of the 'fact' that no one has seen an organism evolve or one species give rise to another, telling their gullible victims that the only way to know something for sure is to see it happen. Ham teaches his credulous victims to kill any scientific discussion with "Were you there?", even boasting about how he got a nine year-old girl to 'embarrass' a scientist with the question rather than asking the scientist how she knew - the last thing Ham wants his victims asking.

Is there a creationist, or other woo thinker, prepared to argue that the 'Wandering Stones' couldn't have moved and must always have been there because no-one has seen them move? Of course, just as with the 'Wandering Stones' we don't need to witness the event to know it happened when we have the evidence. We can see the tracks, just as we can see the tracks of evolution through the fossil, genetic and cladistic record. Just as with the stones, the only serious explanation for the tracks is that the stones moved, so the only explanation for the fossil, genetic and cladistic record is that species evolve.

To be a dedicated woo thinker one has to know when to abandon this 'it has to be seen to be sure it happened' mode of thought and instead use the 'we know it happened because we have the evidence for it happening' mode. Not only do woo thinkers cherry-pick the evidence they think is easiest to force-fit into their sacred conclusion but they cherry-pick the 'logic' by which they force it to fit.

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5 comments :

  1. I think associative thinking and circular reasoning are related to each other. Their common denominator is absence of rationality, lack of understanding what logic is, and lack of knowledge of how to objectively do scientific research and analyses.

    Magical thinking and religious reasoning are like two sides of a coin. Magic is a prerequisite of religion, i.e. religion can't survive without magic and magical thinking.

    BTW, here's another puzzle probably solved: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1408/1408.3603.pdf . It's about how physicists think the pyramids in Egypt were built. Believe it or not, they propose it was done without any help from extraterrestrial aliens or gods. It can't be fun to be a (UFO) woo and/or creationist these days.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I accidentally deleted a comment and I can't remember who it was from. It was about posting a link to this blog. Sorry. Please feel free to repost it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Can it be this comment you deleted by mistake, Rosa?

    Shaw Kenawe has left a new comment on the post "Wandering Stones - A Lesson for Creationists":

    Thanks to Infidel753 for linking to this informative post by you. I posted on it as well and linked to it on my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's the one. Thanks. How did you find it?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh, just a bit of divine revelation. ;o) No, of course not. Here's the explanation: I've activated the "Notify me" function of your excellent blog.

    ReplyDelete

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